This will be the sixth season in which the College Football Playoff is used to determine college football’s national champion, and over the previous five installments, we have learned a lot about what the committee values in the teams it selects. Basically, don’t lose twice and don’t get blown out, especially by inferior opponents.
Although it’s important to have context for each year, we’ve also learned about how the committee — and the greater college football sphere at large — has viewed each conference. Here’s the number of CFP selections by conference over the five-year span.
SEC: 6 (Alabama 5x, Georgia 1x)
ACC: 5 (Clemson 4x, Florida State 1x)
Big Ten: 3 (Ohio State 2x, Michigan State 1x)
Big 12: 3 (Oklahoma 3x)
Pac-12: 2 (Oregon 1x, Washington 1x)
Independent: 1 (Notre Dame 1x)
Sure, the context here is important to note. The ACC, largely, has not been a strong conference. It’s just being carried by a dynastic Clemson program. But still, there’s something to be said for the lack of the success of the Big Ten during the College Football Playoff era. For being the most powerful conference in college athletics, it’s lagging behind with its on-the-field results.
Regardless, this article isn’t so much about why the Big Ten champion has failed to reach the College Football Playoff in the last three seasons, but rather, if that will once again be the case this coming season.
First and foremost, let’s ask this question: “Is the Big Ten West good?” Perhaps the answer is “yes” if we are grading on a comparison scale to where the division has been the last five years, but man, it still kind of sucks.
Sure, maybe the West won’t be as dreadful as usual — only Illinois appears to be a true walkover — but it just seems like it is mostly filled with average-to-good teams, and not one that can stand above the fray. When you think about it, that hasn’t been a recipe for success for the West. The closes the division has been to getting into a CFP was when Iowa (2015) and Wisconsin (2017) ran the table on the backs of Mister Softee schedules. While there are still some soft schedules in the West — hello, Minnesota — there seems to be enough depth of okay teams that any one team running the table seems unlikely. And with that being the case, I wouldn’t bet on 2019 being the season where the Big Ten’s CFP hopeful comes from the West. Sorry to Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois, and Purdue.
Oh, and then there is Nebraska. Nebraska, Nebraska, Nebraska. Talk about the darlings of the college football media world this offseason. You start 0-6, show a semblance of life, and all of a sudden the Cornhuskers are back. Bill Connelly included them in an article titled “How each top CFB contender can win the national title.” Nebraska. “Top CFB contender.” Nebraska. “Can win national title.” Nebraska.
Did everyone get roofied or am I the only one to remember Nebraska going 4-8 in a weak Big Ten West last year? Okay, they finished 4-2 with impressive wins over Bethune-Cookman and lllinois, and played it close with Ohio State and Iowa — congratulations. That doesn’t change the fact they were 4-and-freaking-8.
I don’t mean to rain on the Nebraska parade. They’ll make a bowl game next year — on account, you know, they play in the weaker Big Ten division. But goodness gracious, Nebraska is not a CFP contender, and the fact that they were good in the 90s doesn’t change that.
So as always is the case, we are all in agreement the Big Ten champion will come from the Big Ten East? Good.
We can start with the obvious: Rutgers, Maryland, and Indiana, sorry but you’re not doing much in this realm. Thanks for coming, thanks for trying, but the Big Ten East crown isn’t going through Bloomington, College Park, or Piscataway. Especially Piscataway.
That leaves you with four programs — the three power programs that have won the conference this decade, and then there’s also Michigan too.
To be honest, any of those four teams could go 11-1 and it wouldn’t surprise me a ton. Ohio State is Ohio State. Michigan might just open its offense up. Penn State is the most talented its been in forever. And Michigan State — okay, Michigan State going 11-1 would surprise me. But the point being here is that all of these teams could realistically finish in the top 15. The issue, though: will any of them finish inside the top four?
To bring it back to my Big Ten West diatribe, but I get a similar feeling from the East — it’s just on the larger national scale. There’s four really good teams, but will any of them separate themselves from the pack? Right now, there appear to be more questions than answers — or, at the very least, more reasons for concern than in previous offseasons. Ryan Day is not Urban Meyer. Josh Gattis has never called plays. Mark Dantonio’s big offensive shakeup was moving his QB Coach to offensive coordinator, which sounds like the opposite of innovating. And of course, we know Penn State has its concerns.
It just seems to me that for as likely as an 11-1 champion comes from that group, that a 10-2 champion does as well — which is problematic for those teams, and the league itself when it’s hoping to end a CFP drought.
With Alabama and Clemson feeling like a 2005 USC-Texas scenario, the Big Ten champion (hopefully Penn State) will be fighting with the Big 12 champion, the Pac-12 champion, and a potentially 12-1 Georgia for one of the final two spots. If you’re the Big Ten, would you feel hopeful?
This isn’t to say the Big Ten will get left out of the CFP this year. I have no idea — it’s July 31 after all. But man, the perception of the league nationally doesn’t feel great. In most other years, my thought process was pretty simple: win the Big Ten and you’re more than likely in. But as we have continued to see time-and-time again, that isn’t the reality — and apparently, it never was either.