The Big Ten has arguably been the best conference in college football this year. When the College Football Playoff rankings are released on Tuesday, it will be clear that — despite fine top-line talent — the Big Ten is in dire danger of not having a team in this year’s final four.
This afternoon, Ohio State road into Kinnick Stadium as 21-point favorites over Iowa. It rode out with a sore hide courtesy of an unexpected 55-24 whooping at the hands of the Hawkeyes. It was the second loss of 15-plus points for the Buckeyes this year (Oklahoma). Urban Meyer’s team is now tied atop the Big Ten East with Penn State and Michigan State after the Spartans’ 27-24 upset over a stifled Saquon Barkley.
Ohio State holds the tiebreaker over Penn State thanks to last week’s victory. Michigan State visits Columbus next weekend. The winner there will be in the driver’s seat for Indianapolis and the title game. Each would have two losses. MSU would a slightly more impressive body of work. Both would need so many thing to fall in place in order to sneak into the playoff.
There’s also the outside chance of a four-way tie atop the East between these three teams and Michigan, though the Wolverines would not advance in such a scenario.
That leaves Wisconsin, the team that just keeps winning. The undefeated Badgers were No. 9 in the initial rankings. One has to believe that going 13-0, no matter how soft the schedule, will be enough to get in. But any loss figures to be an eliminator.
Wisconsin has home games against Iowa and Michigan before a season finale at Minnesota. That Iowa game suddenly looks much scarier. Any Badgers loss also hurts the East winner’s case.
There’s plenty left to shake out, but it will take a lot for any Big Ten team other than Wisconsin to make the playoff. And Wisconsin, though without a blemish, has a difficult road ahead.
Jim Delany and proud Midwesterners everywhere should be feeling a bit nervous about the conference’s prospects.