A Big Ten team won the inaugural College Football Playoff on the strength of an emergent Cardale Jones. Since Ohio State’s remarkable run, though, the conference has been a non-entity. For the third straight year, the Big Ten champion hasn’t been invited to the final four party. For the second straight year, no Midwestern team will be involved. Worse, the conference hasn’t scored a playoff point since the Buckeyes’ national championship win.
Michigan State was blanked by Alabama, Ohio State by Clemson. The combined score of those games? 69-0. Not nice. And not good for a conference that, while not as deeply territorial as the SEC, fashions itself a worthy competitor for supremacy.
So what gives? Is this a rough patch or a sign of deeper problems? The answer, like most, is a bit complicated. The Big Ten has some structural problems, to be sure. The West is largely a wasteland of non-competitive teams while the East may be the toughest division in the nation. Getting a team through undefeated is a tall task and will continue to be so if alignment remains the same.
At the same time, the Buckeyes would have loved for the bottom of the conference to show up the last two years to a level where quality wins could be attained. No team has had more of a complaint, no team got closer without getting in in 2017 and 2018 than Ohio State. To be fair, the committee made the correct decision in both cases.
The biggest factor among many is Urban Meyer’s unfortunate new tradition of losing to mediocre opponents by big, crooked numbers. There was Iowa last year and Purdue a few months ago. A competitive showing in either likely would have meant a playoff berth.
So the sky isn’t falling. The margins have been slim. None of that will cheer anyone up, of course. What might is the conference’s ability to elevate a team capable of competing for it all. That Michigan State team had no business on the same field as Alabama. And the Ohio State side that Clemson dismantled was not a vintage variety.
But Ohio State last year, Penn State last year, and certainly Ohio State this year had the offensive weaponry to go head-to-head with the big boys. It’s just Jim Delaney’s shiny objects keep stubbing toes on the way to the dance.