Saturday was a banner day for the Big Ten.
The Big Ten had a historically bad day. Outside of Ohio State, which asserted control in the second half to beat TCU 40-28, the league’s performance has been ordinary at best through three weeks of the season. Akron’s 39-34 win at Northwestern won’t have any impact on the playoff race, but it continues the well-established narrative that the middle of this league is exceptionally mediocre. This week, it was BYU coming into Madison and punking Wisconsin, 24-21. It was Troy upsetting Nebraska, 24-19. It was 0-2 Temple going to Maryland and dominating for a 35-14 victory. And it was Missouri coming away with a last-second field goal to beat Purdue, 40-37. Obviously, the Buckeyes are very good and are well-positioned to make the College Football Playoff. But this isn’t a one-week trend. Michigan State melted in the desert last Saturday night. Michigan’s loss to Notre Dame in Week 1 erased the Wolverines’ margin for error. Obviously the Buckeyes can carry the banner for the Big Ten all the way to the semifinals, but it would be hard to draw up a worse start for the league than what it has experienced.
From a CFP perspective, as bad as that was, the Pac-12’s playoff picture already appears to be reduced to a heap of smoking rubble.
Which leads me to this question for those of you who advocate that the playoff field should be populated by conference winners only: should Alabama and Georgia live up to early expectations and run the regular season table (if you check out their FPI projections, you’ll find that the Dawgs have only one game with a win projection under 80% and Alabama has none), what team keeps the loser out of the semi-finals field?
The Big Ten has two contenders in Ohio State and Penn State, but as they’re both in the same division, one of those two won’t even make it to their conference title game. Oklahoma looks to be the class of the Big 12; if it turns out that Oklahoma State is a legitimate threat, those two will play each other twice, which will eliminate one or possibly both. The ACC is Clemson.
If you’re an advocate of the best teams playing for the national title — which is supposed to be the selection committee’s guiding principle — essentially all of those teams would have to run the table to avoid being ousted from the semis by the loser of the SECCG. If that doesn’t happen, but any or all of those teams win their conferences, which would you put in ahead of what looks like right now to be one of the country’s two best teams losing to the other?