As the clock ticks closer and closer toward the end of the season, talking heads across the country are weighing exactly how the rest of the college football season will play out, and which four teams will end up in the playoffs this year.
There’s talk that both UGA and Tennessee could make the playoff, with an undefeated, SEC-champ UGA as the 1-seed, and 1-loss Tennessee as a 4-seed. Bear in mind that those two teams have already played each other, with Tennessee being walloped 27-13.
Or, there’s discussion that we could have four unique conferences in the playoffs, such as UGA, OSU, TCU, USC. I wouldn’t mind that, assuming those teams are all their conference champs. This would also apply should Michigan beat OSU and head to the playoff as the undefeated Big Ten champ.
But there’s a scenario that is not getting as much attention, and that’s the possibility of both OSU and Michigan making the playoff.
Is it likely? Who knows. The Game would need to be extremely close, a 1-score game, and the winner would then have to obliterate the West rep in the conference championship game. USC and Tennessee would look to spoil such a setup as well.
But the fact that that scenario exists at all got me thinking about your Penn State Nittany Lions.
In that scenario, the Lions would have two losses on the season, to two playoff teams. And in that scenario, the Lions would end up as Rose Bowl participants, as the highest ranked non-playoff team from the B1G.
Think about just how nuts the B1G East is right now, that there’s a legitimate scenario where 2 of the 7 teams are in the playoffs, and 3 are in New Year’s Six bowl games.
Even if the loser of OSU/Michigan doesn’t go to the playoffs, and instead heads to the Rose Bowl, there are still plenty of chances that Penn State ends up in either the Orange or Cotton Bowl, New Year’s Six games both.
Let’s look at the other Power 5 conferences and see how many teams have realistic playoff or New Year’s Six aspirations:
- Atlantic: Clemson (9-1)
- Coastal: UNC (9-1)
No other teams in the ACC have fewer than 3 losses, let alone in the same division.
- TCU (10-0)
No other teams in the Big 12 have fewer than 3 losses.
- USC (9-1), Oregon (8-2), Utah (8-2), UCLA (8-2)
The Pac-12 has put together a rather nice year, with four teams having 2-losses or fewer. However, the USC-UCLA and Oregon-Utah games are both this weekend, meaning at least one of Oregon-Utah will drop to 3 losses, while either USC drops to 2 losses, or UCLA drops to 3. Add in that the top two teams in the conference play for the conference championship, and this list of teams will shorten considerably by the time bowl selection rolls around.
UGA and LSU are locked in for the SEC championship, and the odds-on favorites are UGA, which would hand LSU its third loss of the year. Tennessee likely finishes 11-1, and their playoff hopes are dependent on the rest of college football; they’ll be a NY6 team either way, so we have at least one other division in college football with multiple playoff/NY6 teams in it.
In the West, Bama likely finishes at 10-2, while Ole Miss still has to play Mississippi State, who were a difficult opponent earlier in the season. Still, Bama and LSU at a minimum will be in NY6 games; Ole Miss is likely locked into the Citrus Bowl, which is not a NY6 game.
- East: OSU (10-0), Michigan (10-0), PSU (8-2)
- West: Nobody
Which brings me back to my point, which is how stacked the B1G East is called, or B(1G)East if you prefer.
OSU and Michigan are locks for the playoffs or NY6, and as noted above, the Lions are in prime position to make a NY6 game as well. Are they locks for it? No, the chaos of the rest of college football will likely determine their fate, be it Rose, Orange, Cotton, or Citrus.
But the fact remains that no other division in college football is poised to have three teams in the playoffs or New Year’s Six.
On the one hand, it’s obnoxious having to play a mini-playoff before the end of the regular season, simply due to the geographic boundaries established by the B1G when they crafted the current divisions. On the other hand, it’s nice knowing that Penn State can play very competitively against playoff-caliber opponents, and in the weeks after their losses to those teams look even better.
This could all be moot if a hundred different scenarios play out in the next 3 weeks, but there’s no denying that the Big Ten East is a monster division, and I for one am looking forward to division realignment when USC and UCLA join the fray in 2024.
For now, let’s just buckle in and enjoy the ride.