Why Big Ten Will Miss College Football Playoff, Again

jim harbaugh

Jay Pryce

Thursday, May 17, 2018 3:49 PM UTC

Thursday, May. 17, 2018 3:49 PM UTC

The Big Ten missed the College Football Playoff for the first time last year, and chances are high it could happen again in the 2018 season. The competition is strong and divisions unbalanced. Expect the league to batter each other once again. 

The Big Ten is deep and competitive, making for a punching bag between some of the nation’s best programs. Five of the top 11 betting choices to win the national championship in college football futures betting are from the conference: 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 issue here is no Big Ten team has made it through their conference schedule unscathed in the last three years. One has to go back to Ohio State’s 2014-15 title winning season to find the last time a program went undefeated against its closest rivals. This is critical since the playoff committee has made win-loss record the unofficial bar among Power Five programs to receive an invite. Lose two games and a program is instantly out of consideration.

In our article supporting the fact the Big Ten will return to the playoff, we argued the key is for representatives to ace their out-of-conference schedule. This belief is rooted in the fact that at least two teams have only lost one conference game in each of the last five seasons. This year may be different. With no clear-cut favorite among five contenders, a burgeoning Nebraska program, and always-tough Northwestern and Iowa teams, each program may be destined to lose multiple conference contests. This occurred last in 2011 after Wisconsin topped Michigan State 42-39 in a thrilling Big Ten Championship Game.

The 2018 conference schedules certainly sets up this scenario. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Ohio State has the best shot at winning the conference at 28.1 percent, the lowest rate of any Power Five favorite. Its toughest test is a Week 5 trip to Penn State. The Buckeyes' only two conference road losses under head coach Urban Meyer have come in their last eight contests, and each was against ranked opponents: Penn State in 2016 and Iowa in 2017. Since 1994, Ohio State is 6-6 SU and 5-7 ATS in Happy Valley. A Week 10 date at Michigan State could set up similarly, and then there is a potential Big Ten title matchup against the West Division winner.

In addition to hosting Ohio State, Penn State welcomes Michigan State in Week 6 and Wisconsin in Week 10. The Nittany Lions have not lost a home matchup to a West Division opponent since 2014. The Spartans test is trickier. Michigan State is 5-3 SU and ATS behind coach Mark Dantonio head-to-head, including taking three of four at Beaver Stadium. Penn State also travels to The Big House to take on Michigan in early November, where it has dropped seven of its last eight.

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Sparty gets Michigan in East Lansing this season. Dantonio is 8-3 SU and 10-0-1 ATS all-time in the clash for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Besides likely receiving underdog status against Penn State and Ohio State, Michigan State has to travel to Lincoln to take on Nebraska in its final road game of the regular season. The Spartans have fallen flat in this spot in recent years. They are 6-5 SU and 1-10 ATS vs. West Division foes in Big Ten play since 2014, failing to cover a -7.7 average line buy 9.1 points per game. They have kicked off favorites in each. Trap game anyone?

Wisconsin owns arguably the toughest road schedule of all in the Big Ten. It squares off at Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue. In the last 15 years, the Badgers are 14-12 SU and ATS away from home in these matchups, despite kicking off 3.0-point favorites on average.

The Wolverines, meanwhile, have the toughest overall schedule among Big Ten contenders. They not only open the season at Notre Dame, but have to travel to Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s squad also hosts Wisconsin and Penn State. Not to rub salt in a wound, but the Wolverines are 5-24 SU against ranked competition in Big Ten play since 2006. This includes a 2-6 SU and 3-5 ATS mark under Harbaugh. Three, if not four, conference opponents will fall under this umbrella. Michigan appear destined for multiple losses, as well as the majority of the Big Ten programs.

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