When Penn State and Wisconsin take the field in Indianapolis this Saturday, it will mark the end of the most interesting and top-heavy Big Ten football season in at least a decade. With four teams in the top 7 of the CFP rankings, the Big Ten has become a grinder where survival should likely be rewarded.
However, both of these teams will come into the game with two losses, guaranteeing a two-loss conference champion. Meanwhile, another two-loss Big Ten team (Michigan) defeated both of these squads in the regular season, and yet another (Ohio State) has a better record at 11-1! Both of those latter teams sit at home this weekend.
Sorting this mess out is indeed a difficult task.
Unfortunately, that sorting was largely predetermined by geography. While Wisconsin could afford to lose to both of the East Division powers it faced thanks to being able to sweep through the West Division, the other three competitors had to duke it out via tiebreakers after a 1-1 split for all three teams. The deciding factor for Penn State? Michigan’s November loss to Iowa, a team which Wisconsin and a few others took care of this season. Michigan vs. Iowa decided the East Division representative in Indianapolis.
Does that sound fair? Does it make sense to leave out Ohio State at 8-1 after beating both of the 7-2 teams Wisconsin and Michigan, just because geography puts them in the same division with the one team the Buckeyes lost to?
No, it does not.
Put simply, Ohio State and Penn State have earned the right to play for a conference title by being 8-1 and better than everyone else in the Big Ten this season. After that weird and somewhat fluky finish to their game in October, who wouldn’t want to see if a much-improved Penn State team could do the job again against the Buckeyes? The loser would take on a second loss and make it unquestioned who should be in the College Football Playoff.
It’s not just because this is Ohio State. If Michigan held that lead last weekend or won in overtime, then it would be better to see if Penn State at 8-1 could avenge that decisive September loss to the Wolverines (who would also be 8-1) to prove it belongs in the playoff. Yet had Michigan won, it would be UM against UW, and Penn State would be left out in the cold.
Instead, we will be treated to a battle between two teams who may not actually be competing for a playoff spot at all. And it’s all thanks to having divisions and splitting them based on geography.
Some years it works out, like in 2015 when Iowa was 8-0 and the two 7-1 teams (MSU and OSU) settled it on the field two week before the championship game with a Spartans win. Other years like 2016 are not as fortuitous.
The Big Ten is not alone in this conundrum. The College Football Playoff committee cherishes conference championships, but these are often decided between the best team in a league and the third, fourth, or fifth best team rather than the second best team thanks to uneven division splits.
Take a look at this upcoming weekend alone:
- ACC Championship is Clemson (7-1) against Virginia Tech (6-2), while Louisville and Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson (7-1) stays at home thanks to being in the same division as the Tigers. The best game of the ACC season cannot be repeated as a result.
- SEC Championship is Alabama (8-0) against Florida (6-2), and while the West Division has no other teams better than 5-3, it’s beyond doubt that the SEC East is terrible across the board and has boosted the Gators to this position while LSU or Auburn might actually be better. If the Florida-LSU game had gone the other way, LSU would still not have a chance to replay that 10-0 showdown despite having a better record than the Gators.
The two teams which played for the national championship in 2015 should receive the best tests possible to earn the conference titles and playoff berths, yet that will not happen this weekend. So the Big Ten is not alone, and the problem all comes back to divisions.
And while I like to see the committee tested with tough questions like 2016 presents, some of them would be avoided entirely if divisions were scrapped and the proper Big Ten Championship were played between PSU and OSU this weekend. How much easier would the committee’s job be if one of OSU or PSU eliminated itself this weekend?
The Big 12 has it (recently) figured out thanks to being defective enough to not be able to hold onto 12 good teams. The NCAA is allowing the Big 12 a conference championship without divisions! This arrangement guarantees there will be two data points between the best teams in the Big 12 conference to decide the title.
That setup without divisions also works better for these ever-growing mega conferences. Old school Big Ten fans have watched the games between the original 10 teams dwindle down as the league expands and divides half the league into a separate division. Nine conference games helps that problem, but it would be more fair to scrap divisions altogether and play everyone (outside protected rivals) on a full rotating basis.
Not only would teams not go five or six year stretches without playing, which is inconceivable when being in the same conference, but the conference race would end with the best two teams playing one another based on being compared with everyone else in the conference. If the conference championship games are to be valid final tests of playoff competitors, this alignment with no divisions would assure that the best matchup actually happens in each conference between top competitors for playoff spots.
The road to conference championships should be fair and equal for everyone. For now, with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State in one division, that is simply not the case. It is no fluke that Wisconsin will be making its fourth championship game appearance in six years. The Badgers are far and away the best program in the Big Ten West, and it’s unclear if that will change.
Which is great if you cheer for the Badgers and maybe if you are a West Division hopeful having a rare great season (Iowa, 2015), but not at all for the “blue bloods” all sitting together in the East Division.
PSU and Wisconsin will complete a round robin between these top four Big Ten teams, but here’s where the standings sit in that round robin:
- Ohio State is 2-1
- Michigan is 2-1
- Penn State is 1-1
- Wisconsin is 0-2
No offense to Wisconsin and the 2016 Big Ten Championship, but the Badgers had their chance already against the other top teams and lost. Even with a UW win, the round robin for the Big Ten season would end with OSU and Michigan better off than the teams playing in Lucas Oil Stadium. A Wisconsin loss simply sets us back to the original conclusion that the three Big Ten East teams are the best in the conference, and evenly matched.
It’s time for divisions to be scrapped. We can’t save the 2016 Big Ten Championship, but that event and college football at large would be much better off in the future if divisions and arbitrary groupings based on geography or the like are removed from the equation. Earn it on the field, not in the gerrymandering of a conference alignment room.
Only then will there be an unquestioned “one true champion” of each conference, which would further legitimize the current CFP rules strongly favoring such conference champions over all others.
Ohio State Makes Its Case For A Playoff Appearance – Beats Wisconsin For The Big Ten Championship
When news broke that J.T. Barrett underwent surgery on Monday after getting injured on the sideline last Saturday in The Game by a cameraman, the first thought was that there’s no way he’s going to play.
Barrett somehow, someway got some miracle treatment from the Ohio State training staff and wobbled his way onto the field in Lucas Oil Stadium as the starting quarterback in 2017’s version of the Big Ten Championship Game. After just six days with his date with a surgeon.
His play was understandably as mixed as noodle casserole, but he made just enough plays to will Ohio State to victory over an undefeated and No. 4 ranked Wisconsin Badger team that was looking to hoist the trophy and punch its own ticket to its first ever playoff.
Early on it looked like no contest. Ohio State’s speed on the outside looked to be too much for a stout Wisconsin defense. Both Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell did some work after the catch with two long touchdown passes of 84 yards and 77 yards.
And it wasn’t just in the passing game either. OSU freshman J.K. Dobbins gashed the top rated Wisconsin defense for 174 yards on just 17 carries (10.2 avg.). It was inevitably a game of big plays for Ohio State as it racked up 449 yards against a defense that normally averages giving up just over 230 per game.
A glaring wart for OSU though has continued to be mistakes. Once again, it almost cost the Buckeyes the game, and more than anything, kept the Badgers in the game. Barrett threw two interceptions — one for a pick six — and Mike Weber lost one on the turf. There were also some costly turnovers that either sustained Wisconsin drives, or hamstrung further scoring for the OSU offense.
It is a story to the season that could make Ohio State look foolish further down the road if it doesn’t find some way to improve the discipline in all areas.
Speaking of the Scarlet and Gray’s next hurdle, the waiting game now begins. Ohio State will undoubtedly be compared to Alabama for the fourth and final spot. It appears for all the world that Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma are locks. USC will scream for inclusion, but it’s unlikely the Trojans will come from outside the Top Ten to have a real shot. That means it all comes down to ‘Bama and Ohio State — two mainstays in the early history of this whole playoff thing.
Ohio State can boast about two wins over top ten teams, and three against top fifteen with Michigan State thrown in there, but my, oh my those ugly losses against Oklahoma at home, and an unranked Iowa team on the road. Neither game was close. On another positive note, the Buckeyes do have a conference championship, something Alabama doesn’t have.
So what about the Tide? Yeah, it has looked dominant for most of the year, but the schedule has been lighter than a grocery bag full of feathers. It’s best win? Yep, it was against a top twenty team LSU. That’s it. There are no other Top 25 wins on the resume now that Fresno State went down, and there isn’t a conference championship to tote into the CFP committee’s room. But, it does have just one loss, and has the mystique that goes along with being Alabama.
Let the arguing, teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing commence in earnest in Tuscaloosa and Columbus.
But let’s Ohio State enjoy this one for just a night. This is a talented team, and when it’s limiting mistakes and playing to its potential, it can hang with — and beat — anyone in the country.
It might just get yet another shot to show everyone.
Phil Harrison is a contributor to Talking10.com. He is also the Featured Big Ten Writer for CollegeFootballNews.com. Follow him
Rutgers at Ohio State Preview: Can Ohio State Keep Rolling?
When: Sat. Sept. 30; 7:30 pm ET
Where: Piscataway, NJ; High Point Solutions Stadium (52,545)
All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 3-0
Last Meeting: Ohio State won 58-0 last year
Line: Ohio State (-28.5)
Ohio State appears to be on a roll after the Oklahoma fiasco, but the level of opponent is nowhere near where it needs to be to really get a gauge on how far the offense has come. Unfortunately, that doesn’t figure to be the case this week either.
Let’s call it what it is. Rutgers is out-manned and outmatched against a deeper and more athletic Ohio State team that’s out to unleash fire and brimstone to try and get back into the College Football Playoff discussion. The Scarlet Knights are just the next plate of butter to cut through.
Or are they? At times this season, Rutgers has actually looked like a real-live, American college football team. Washington came into Piscataway and had to break more than a sweat to escape the mystery of the night in week one. Since then though, the Rutgers team has looked like a team resigned to its fate to some degree.
On the other hand, the Buckeyes have looked dynamic with the Big Ten’s leading rusher, a senior quarterback that has all the leadership qualities you’d want, and an explosive playmaker at the hybrid position, Parris Campbell. On defense, there’s been some things to clean up at linebacker and on the back-end with pass defense, but the D-line is as talented as any in the country.
Last year Ohio State administered a public flogging to the Scarlet Knights in Columbus, but you can expect it to be a closer contest in 2017. But how close remains to be seen.
1 Burning Question: How far has Rutgers come from last year?
There’s not a lot to learn from a 58-0 beat down. In fact, most coaches will take the tape of a game like that and chew it up, spit it out and put in the rear-view mirror. All indications point to head coach Chris Ash making strides with this program, but how much remains to be seen against the top of the league.
Ohio State provides that true indicator, and while nobody expects it to be 58-0 again, we’ll want to all see how the athletic gap has been closed. It’s probably too much to ask for a tight affair here in High Point Solutions Stadium, but being more competitive throughout is a statement that must be made for the team to continue to climb the staircase set before it.
2 Key Stats:
520: That’s how many rushing yards freshman sensation running back J.K Dobbins has through the first four games for Ohio State.
It’s Dobbins, not Saquon Barkley that leads the league in rushing — despite all the hoopla. He’s just a freshman, but the 5-10, 208 lb. freshman has quick feet, explosiveness through the hole, and enough strength as a youngster to be a three-year wonder at the least in Columbus. OSU will look to continue the development of the passing game, but look for Dobbins to get plenty of touches again. It may not be as many as previous weeks with Mike Weber apparently back in the fold, but anyone watching this team knows which back is the more dangerous of the two.
163.5: It’s the amount of passing yards per game for Rutgers in 2017.
That’s not going to get it done, especially against an Ohio State team that is tough to run through. That D-line that is so deep and talented will wreak havoc on a team that can’t throw the ball. If there’s good news for Rutgers, it’s that Ohio State’s pass defense is ranked 80th in the country. And that stat got a boost from playing two straight run-heavy teams in back-to-back weeks. If QB Kyle Bolin can get time to throw, there should be some opportunities through the air.
3 Key Players:
Kyle Bolin, QB (Rutgers): It’s already been mentioned, but for Rutgers to have any shot at this thing, Bolin has to play the game of his life and make some plays down field. There’s just not going to be that much room to run against Ohio State, so scoring points is going to be an effort through the air. OSU will score. The Scarlet Knights have to find a way to keep up, and the best bet on that front is with Bolin’s arm.
Janarion Grant, WR (Rutgers): Will he suit up or not? If he does, how effective will the senior playmaking wide-receiver/kick returner be? Grant has yet to be cleared medically at the time of this preview because of headaches experienced after taking a shot to the head against Morgan State. He’s the one guy that measures up athletically with the OSU defense and can make the explosive plays needed to keep it close. Rutgers has already been offensively challenged this year and it gets worse without him on the field.
Parris Campbell, WR (Ohio State): The Buckeyes will want to continue the reps through the air, as long as the Scarlet Knights allow them to. That means the hybrid position with the biggest threat to take it the distance will see plenty of action. Campbell has had a bit of an issue snatching the ball out of the air at times this year, but when he does and turns up field, he can be a handful. He’s also leading the Big Ten in kick returns, so he could flip the field in favor of Ohio State at any time.
Ohio State 38, Rutgers 17
There’s just not enough talent for the Scarlet Knights to hang in there — not yet anyway. Head coach Chris Ash continues the molding of this program in just his second year, so it’s still too early to expect a shocker. It won’t be the blitzkrieg that happened last year in Columbus, but OSU just has too many weapons for this to be close for too long. The Buckeyes win by three touchdowns.
College Football Playoff: Individual team odds of being selected
The second edition of the 2016 college football playoffs were released on Tuesday as the rest of the nation was looking in on presidential election results.
With only four weeks of the season left, it is officially time to begin hypothesizing about each team and their chances of making the playoff. We know that the playoff participants will be teams from the College Football Playoff Top 25, but we also know that plenty of teams are already eliminated from consideration within that top 25.
Florida State is ranked No. 18, but the Seminoles already have three losses and are three games back of Clemson in the ACC Atlantic Division. They will not be selected for the playoff this season.
Western Michigan may very well run the table and go 12-0, but they are sitting at No. 21 in the rankings and have zero top 25 teams on their schedule, which ranks 103 out of 128 FBS teams in the nation.
Western Michigan will not be selected for the playoff due to a lack of good wins. Playing in the MAC hurt them greatly.
Boise State sits at No. 22 in the new rankings but will also not be selected for the playoff due to a lack of good competition and a head-scratching loss to Wyoming.
LSU, which dropped from No. 13 to No. 24 in this week’s rankings, will not be selected for the playoffs after the loss against Alabama guaranteed that LSU will not win the SEC West, let alone the conference title this season. With three losses, the only way the Tigers would be considered is if they won the conference and that simply isn’t happening.
Arkansas, which sits at No. 25 in the rankings, will also not be selected for the playoff since Alabama will win the SEC West division, meaning that Arkansas will not win the SEC conference this season.
The other 20 teams in the rankings all have a statistical chance to make the playoffs if they win out and things fall their way. Obviously, some teams have much greater odds than others. I will be examining each teams’ chance of making the playoffs as we move from power conference to power conference.
Let’s start with the Big Ten. The Big Ten has five playoff contenders at the moment. In the Big Ten East division, Michigan controls its destiny for both the Big Ten championship and the playoffs.
Michigan – currently No. 3 in the CFP rankings. Chance to make playoff: 50%
Analysis: Michigan has very good odds at making the playoff. If they can survive a sneaky tough road game at Iowa and win The Game in Columbus Ohio against the Buckeyes, then they will be extremely difficult to leave out of the playoff, even if they lose the Big Ten Championship game to Wisconsin, Nebraska, or Minnesota.
Ohio State also controls its destiny for the playoff, the Buckeyes need to win out, including wins over Michigan and whoever they would ultimately face in the Big Ten Championship game.
Ohio State – currently No. 5 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 40%
Penn State needs Ohio State to beat Michigan in The Game to win the Big Ten East by tiebreaker. Penn State would need the extra boost of winning the Big Ten to be a reasonable candidate for the playoff.
Penn State – currently No. 10 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 5%
In the Big Ten West, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Minnesota all control their own destiny inside the Big Ten West division, but only Wisconsin controls their destiny for the playoff. Wisconsin would need to win out and defeat whoever they face in the Big Ten Championship game to guarantee a playoff bid.
Wisconsin – currently No. 7 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 30%
Nebraska needs to win out convincingly and hope Wisconsin loses once more. In the hypothetical Big Ten championship game, Nebraska would need to win convincingly against whoever they faced. An unlikely scenario to say the least, but the Cornhuskers are not out just yet.
Nebraska – currently No.19 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: less than 1%
In the SEC, the Eastern division has already bowed out of the playoff race, but three SEC West teams remain. Alabama is the favorite to land a playoff spot, followed by Auburn and Texas A&M. Alabama and Auburn control their own destiny, while Texas A&M needs to win out and hope for chaos.
Alabama just needs to defeat Auburn and they will be in the playoffs, regardless of how they perform in the SEC championship game.
Alabama – currently No. 1 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoff: 80%
Auburn also controls its own destiny for the playoff. Auburn must win out, including wins over Georgia and Alabama, and must win the SEC championship game against whoever they would face. All in all, Auburn is in decent position for the playoffs.
Auburn – currently No. 9 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoff: 30%
Texas A&M must win out and root for chaos to ensue. Alabama going unbeaten would strengthen their argument, but losing to Mississippi State and losing QB Trevor Knight is bad news for the Aggies moving forward.
Texas A&M – currently No. 8 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoff: 5%
In the Pac-12, things get a little bit tricky. In the South division, Colorado, USC, and Utah all have an opportunity to reach the Pac-12 championship game. All three teams need to win out, win the Pac-12 championship game, and hope for chaos.
Colorado – currently No. 12 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 5%
USC needs to win out and do it convincingly, hope to face Washington for a second time in the Pac-12 title game, and defeat them again to make a statement to the selection committee. With three losses, USC is facing an uphill battle, as no three-loss team has ever made the playoff before. Their chances remain very slim
USC – currently No. 20 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: less than 1%
Utah needs to win out, do it convincingly, and win the Pac-12 championship in the process. Similar to Colorado but Utah didn’t face Michigan in non-conference play, which will help the Buffs.
Utah – currently No. 15 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 1%
In the North division, Washington and Washington State remain unbeaten in conference play. The Huskies are huge favorites to win the Pac-12 and make the playoffs now, but things could change if Luke Falk and Washington State upset the Huskies in a few weeks.
Washington – currently No. 4 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 50%
Washington State – currently No. 23 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: less than 1%
In the Big 12, Oklahoma rode a dominate finish to the 2015 season to the playoffs and is looking to do the same in 2016. Oklahoma and West Virginia have not been mathematically eliminated yet, but are long shots to reach the playoff. All three teams need to win out and do it convincingly. No Big 12 title game hurts the conferences chance at the playoff selection table.
Oklahoma – currently No. 11 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 10%
Oklahoma State – currently No. 13 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 1%
West Virginia – currently No. 16 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 1%
In the ACC, Clemson and Louisville are the favorites and playoff front-runners, but North Carolina and Virginia Tech have yet to be mathematically eliminated.
In the Atlantic Division, both teams need to win out, Louisville could benefit from style points and Clemson and Florida State to continue to look dominate, as Louisville needs their lone loss to Clemson to look as good as possible going into championship week.
Clemson – currently No. 2 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 75%
Louisville – currently No. 6 in CFP rankings: Chance to make playoffs: 25%
In the Coastal division, North Carolina needs Virginia Tech to lose another game in addition to winning out in dominate fashion in the hopes of reaching the ACC title game, in which they would need to defeat Clemson to get the selection committee’s attention. Still a longshot. Virginia Tech needs to win out, defeat Clemson, and hope for chaos. Slightly better odds.
North Carolina – currently No. 17 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: less than 1%
Virginia Tech – currently No. 14 in CFP rankings: Chance to make playoffs: 1%
Based on these projections: the playoffs will consist of:
No 1. Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington
No 2. Clemson vs. No. 3 Michigan/Ohio State winner
Teams in Control of Their Own Destiny:
Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Washington, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Auburn.
Teams Rooting for Chaos:
Louisville, Texas A&M, Penn State, Oklahoma, Colorado, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, Utah, West Virginia, North Carolina, Nebraska, USC, and Washington State.