Expect to See Big Ten Back in College Football Playoff

Jay Pryce

Wednesday, May 16, 2018 3:01 PM UTC

Wednesday, May. 16, 2018 3:01 PM UTC

The Big Ten surprisingly missed out on the College Football Playoff for the first time last year. Expect a return in the 2018-19 season. Here’s why:

The Big Ten is one of the most dominant college football conferences in history. It’s not surprising representatives went 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS in bowl games last season. What is shocking is that it failed to send a team to the College Football Playoff. In its short four-year history, Michigan State and Ohio State twice had played in the four-team knockout tournament to determine the national champion. What happened?

To receive and invitation to the playoff, teams can’t lose more than one game in the regular season. Toss power rankings, strength of schedule, and other factors aside and that is clearly the unwritten standard set by committee. This works as a disadvantage for the Big Ten, as it is one of three (Pac-12, Big 12) Power Five conferences to play a nine-game league schedule. Arranging a lesser FBS or FCS opponent to avoid a slip-up weekend is not an option. The SEC and ACC can do this. They are also the only conferences to send a school to the playoff in each season.

The Big Ten proved a victim of its own strength and depth last season. For the third year in a row, every team suffered at least one conference loss. The 2014-15 Buckeyes are the last squad to go undefeated in league play. The gap between the top and bottom is continually shrinking. In Week 11, six Big Ten schools ranked in the AP Top 25 poll. For what it’s worth, the league went 5-1 SU and ATS in ranked matchups against out-of-conference foes last season, then-No.5 Ohio State’s 31-16 Week 2 defeat to No. 3 Oklahoma the only blemish. Overall, the conference went 6-4 SU and 8-2 ATS against out-of-conference ranked opponents, covering a 5.5 average line by a whopping 7.9 points per game. Big Ten fans would not shed a tear to see the current favor to win-loss records by the CFP dumped sooner rather than later. The conference was robbed of a spot last year.

A Big Ten program with playoff aspirations, therefore, must run the table in their out-of-conference matchups to play for the title. Currently, five programs sit in the top 11 betting choices at 5Dimes to win the national championship: No. 3 Ohio State (+750), No. 5 Michigan (+1400), No. 7 Penn State (+2000), T-8 Wisconsin (+2500) and No. 11 Michigan State (+3000).

The Badgers own one of the easier out-of-conference schedules out of the group, hosting Western Kentucky, New Mexico and BYU. One has to go back to September 2013 to find the last time they lost an out-of-conference meeting to a non-SEC program. Wisconsin’s biggest hurdles are road tests at Michigan and Penn State. If they can sneak a win in either, watch out.

The Buckeyes are the likely team from the Big Ten headed to the CFP. Non-conference opponents include home dates against Oregon State, Tulane and a neutral-site encounter against a rebuilding TCU squad. The toughest games on the schedule are a late September trip to Happy Valley and a Week 10 test at Michigan State. Coach Urban Meyer is 23-2 SU on the road in Big Ten play, both losses coming against ranked opponents.

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Got Wins? - Since 2000, the Buckeyes have been filling up the W’s on the record sheets at an elite level. #GoBucks pic.twitter.com/grpfjupWZh

— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) May 10, 2018
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The Nittany Lions are in the mix too. The out-of-conference schedule is cupcake galore, hosting App State and Kent State — though facing a tricky test at Pitt in the Keystone Classic. The league schedule is brutal, however, with dates against Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Wolverines are the lone road clash, but coming out of that run with one loss, including a potential rematch in the Big Ten title game, appears far-fetched. Pass.

The Spartans play Utah State, Arizona State and Central Michigan in their out-of-conference schedule. Their undoing will likely come in clashes at Penn State, hosting Ohio State, and a November matchup in Lincoln against a likely improving Nebraska bunch. They get Michigan in East Lansing, but an offense that scored 21.8 points per game against conference foes last season leaves a lot to be desired.

The Wolverines own the eighth-hardest schedule in the nation according to ESPN’s projected Football Power Index. They’ll kick off underdogs at Notre Dame in the opener, before hosting Western Michigan and SMU prior to conference play. Michigan has not beaten a ranked conference opponent on the road since at least 2006, going 0-14 SU and 4-10 ATS in this span. They travel to Michigan State in Week 8 and Ohio State in the regular-season finale. One has to assume the Buckeyes will be ranked headed into the matchup; the Spartans, probably. Oh, and Michigan hosts Penn State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and travels to Northwestern. If the Wolverines escape this schedule with one loss, crown Jim Harbaugh a genius.

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