Can The Big Ten Get Two In The College Football Playoff?
It hasn’t happened yet, but the domino will fall eventually where two teams from the same conference will get into the CFP. The Big Ten might be the first to break the seal in 2017.
We’re just getting ready to get the fourth installment of this whole playoff thing launched, so who knows where it’s all going? There’s not really a precedent for many things that will ultimately happen, but one of the biggest questions remain: When will a conference get two teams into the four-team College Football Playoff?
It’s only a matter of time
It’s going to happen at some point, and when it does, you can bet there will be hand-ringing and teeth gnashing from two Power-Five conferences that are left on the sideline. Heck, the Big Ten almost pulled it off last year. The Big Ten pushed down the notion that a non-conference champion wouldn’t get in.
It has a another shot this year.
Before you cavalierly disregard that argument, stay with me for just a wee-bit. Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin all appear in the preseason top ten. And although those rankings mean about as much as a trace of rain to quench a drought, it does say what the four teams have in the returning talent department.
Now, I am not here to say that what’s on paper always translates on the field (I’m looking at you 2016 Michigan State), but those four programs have the pedigree and players to make a run at some pretty special things.
A bit of chaos
First things first though, for two teams from the same league to get into a very young CFP, there needs to be a little chaos across some of the other Power-Five leagues. What you probably need to have is a dearth of undefeated and one-loss teams. Anything outside of that, and the status quo probably still remains.
So let’s start there. Here’s how it happens. Florida State loses to Alabama in week one and then drops another somewhere along the way in league play, but goes on to win the ACC. Oklahoma loses to Ohio State in week two and then stumbles elsewhere, but still wins the Big Twelve. That’s two conference champs already with two losses, and that’s not even far-fetched.
From there, Alabama beats up on everyone that drinks sweet tea and we have an SEC we all expect with all other teams having more than one-loss. The PAC-12 sorts itself out between USC and Washington per se, but at the most only one is undefeated.
To recap, that’s at the most two undefeated Power-Five teams before we get on with what could happen in the Big Ten.
And now …
Ohio State, Penn State or Michigan wins the East Division like we all anticipate with just one-loss or less on the season, and swashbuckles their way to Indy to seal the deal. There they meet …
Ahhh, the Badgers. This is where it gets interesting. Remember that brutal schedule from last year? LSU, At Michigan State, AT Michigan, Ohio State, AT Iowa, Nebraska. Somehow, Paul Chryst’s crew came out the other side and almost made it into the CFP anyway, but now that ship has thankfully sailed.
By contrast, in 2017 Wisconsin misses playing arguably the two most talented teams, Ohio State and Penn State. It gets Michigan at home. Outside of that, there is a tricky game at BYU, and probably the toughest test on the road in Lincoln.
Bottom line: There is a good chance Wisconsin will be favored in every single game it plays, aside from maybe the home game against the Wolverines. But you and I both know how hard it is to win in Mad-Town.
And here’s the deal; Wisconsin is good folks. Good enough to play with and beat about anyone in the country. The offensive line will be healthier and more seasoned. You know the running game will bounce back from a rather mediocre showing by Badger standards in 2016. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has an extra year under his belt and will be more of a threat in the passing game on a more consistent basis.
The defense loses some key players like linebackers Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt, but we all know how well the culture of the defense has been established and can refill the ebbs and flows of season departures. There won’t be much of a drop off there.
The end case scenario
So here it it is. Let’s say Ohio State wins the East and rolls into the Big Ten Championship Game with at the most one-loss. It meets and undefeated Wisconsin team (not out of the question), and wins to give the Badgers their first loss of the season.
You then have an undefeated or one-loss Big Ten champ that gets in hands down. Alabama gets in by publicly flogging the entire SEC. USC or Washington get in from the PAC-12. That leaves one more spot between a two-loss Oklahoma, two-loss Florida State, and one-loss Wisconsin team that lost only one game to one of the CFP participants.
I say Wisconsin gets in. It would be close because of strength of schedule, but all other things being equal, a close loss to Ohio State would mean more than two-losses by the other two conference champions.
Now, before you dump Twitter rage on me, this is all theoretical, and this is before any games are played. But it’s a real-live and legitimate shot for 2017.
Of course it’s also a legitimate shot that our next president could be a former reality show host. Oh wait …
Buckle up. It’s going to be a fun ride.
Phil Harrison is the lead Big Ten writer for College Football News. Follow his opinion and analysis all year long. Follow him on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB