Big Ten Likely to Sit Out of Initial Playoff

Big Ten Likely to Sit Out of Initial Playoff

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An early look at the upcoming college football playoffs.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This year, the Big Ten Conference was supposed to compete with the other four Big 5 conferences, but through the first three weeks of the season, the conference stands 1-10 against its chief rivals. And that win was a victory by “lowly” Rutgers on the road against Washington State. As it stands right now the B1G is standing on the outside looking in at the top teams in the nation, each representing the other four power conferences.

Indeed, No. 1 Florida State (ACC), No. 2 Oregon (Pac 12), No. 3 Alabama (SEC) and No. 4 Oklahoma (Big 12) would each be a lock for the college playoffs if that determination was made today. Fortunately, there are at least nine games left in the season and much change can still happen, including a surprise run for glory by the two remaining Big Ten teams that are still undefeated.

Penn State and Nebraska

One of those teams, Penn State, wasn’t even in the running for the playoffs until the NCAA ruled last week that the Nittany Lions could accept a post season bid. After falling behind 10-0 at Rutgers, the Lions rallied to defeat their New Jersey rival 13 to 10. The victory certainly wasn’t big on style points, but it was a “W” nonetheless. The Lions catch a reprieve the next two weeks with games against Massachusetts and Northwestern, before taking on Michigan and Ohio State. Penn State finishes the regular season against Michigan State.

Nebraska is the other Big Ten team with a spotless record. The Cornhuskers, unlike the Lions, are currently ranked and are sitting in the No. 24 position. Easy wins against Florida Atlantic and Fresno State were bookends to a narrow victory over McNeese State, a game that wasn’t decided until late. After Miami this week, Nebraska has two ranked teams on its schedule, away games at No. 11 Michigan State and No. 19 Wisconsin. Should either the Cornhuskers or Lions run the table this season, the Big Ten could very well have a playoff contender.

Power Conference Games

What could hold back either Penn State or Nebraska is how the conference performs against the other power conferences. Going 12-0 may not be enough for a Big Ten team if the conference’s record against the four other conferences does not improve. A 12-0 record in the Big Ten may not carry the same weight as 11-1 in the ACC or 10-2 in the SEC, as Big Ten intraconference wins could be devalued.

The Big Ten still has an opportunity at redemption, but that chance is fading fast. After this weekend, most games from the fifth week on will be against conference foes. There will be almost no chance to improve the conference’s Power 5 rating once Saturdays contests are done.

Games that could make a difference for the conference include the following: Maryland at Syracuse, Utah at Michigan, Indiana at Missouri, and Miami at Nebraska. Three of those games are winnable. Split the four and the Big Ten is in trouble. Win only one game and you can kiss the Big Ten’s playoff chances good bye.

BYU a Wild Card?

It is easy to overlook the non Power 5 conference teams when it comes to the playoffs. That could prove to be a big mistake, especially if any school on the outside finishes the season undefeated.

Right now, BYU, an independent football program is the only ranked team that is not a Power 5 member. The No. 21 Cougars are also 3-0, including a huge 41 to 7 victory on the road against the Texas Longhorns. A good Virginia team comes to Provo this weekend and there are still games against Nevada, Boise State and California that could present a problem. Run the table on the season and a perfect BYU team might place ahead of a Big Ten program in the bid for a key playoff spot.

See AlsoCollege Football: Week Two Highlights and Low Points

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