How Three Big Ten Conference Teams Could Make it into the CFP

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Never in the two years of the existence of the College Football Playoff (CFP) has a conference had two of its teams represented in the same season. But with how good the Big Ten Conference was this past season, that may very well happen. In fact, three teams from the Big Ten Conference may end up in the CFP if everything goes right. Here’s how.

Let’s start off easy. The Alabama Crimson Tide of the SEC will be in the CFP, likely as the #1 overall team, regardless of how their SEC championship game against the Florida Gators turns out this weekend. That leaves three spots open with four Big Ten Conference teams still in the hunt.

The Ohio State Buckeyes of the Big Ten Conference were ranked #2 by the CFP committee even after barely surviving the Michigan State Spartans two weeks ago, and they were ranked #2 by the CFP committee after edging the Michigan Wolverines. Despite not qualifying for the Big Ten Conference championship game this weekend, the Buckeyes are essentially a lock to get into the CFP. That leaves two spots open for three more Big Ten Conference teams still in the hunt.

The #3 and #4 spots are currently held by the ACC’s Clemson Tigers and the Pac-12 Conference’s Washington Huskies, respectively. The Tigers will play in the ACC championship game against the #23 Virginia Tech Hokies, while the Huskies will play in the Pac-12 Conference championship game against the #8 Colorado Buffaloes. Clemson and Washington effectively control their own destiny to make it into the CFP if the CFP committee’s rankings truly represent their thought process and nothing unexpected happens on selection day this coming Sunday, December 4th, 2016. If they win, they’re in.

The other three Big Ten Conference teams are lined up at #5, #6, and #7, with the Michigan Wolverines, the Wisconsin Badgers, and the Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions making up those spots in that order. The Badgers and Nittany Lions will meet this Saturday night to determine who the Big Ten Conference champion is in the Big Ten Conference championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. That will leave one of those two teams and Michigan left to contend for a spot in the CFP.

If and only if Clemson and Washington both lose, Michigan and whoever becomes the Big Ten Conference champion will be the frontrunners for the final two spots in the CFP, which would put three teams from the Big Ten Conference into college football’s “Final Four”. That said, if Colorado wins the Pac-12 Conference championship game in a convincing blowout and the winner of unofficial Big XII Conference championship game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Oklahoma State Cowboys does the same, both Colorado and the Big XII Conference champion could end up getting into the CFP instead. It is not a likely scenario that both teams would jump both Michigan and the Big Ten Conference champion, but even if one manages to jump over Michigan or the Big Ten Conference champion, it would allow a maximum of two teams from the Big Ten Conference to get into the CFP instead of three.

If either Colorado or the Big XII Conference champion did win their respective conference championship game in a blowout, the question would become if they do jump either Michigan or the Big Ten Conference champion, which would it be, Michigan or the Big Ten Conference champion? That is a whole other argument. Michigan did beat both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania State this season, but Michigan will not have the Big Ten Conference championship to their credit. If this happens, it will all come down to a combination of what the CFP committee is going to value, which includes head-to-head results, strength of schedule, how well the team is playing as of selection day, and results against common opponents. But because this would mean only two teams at most from the Big Ten Conference would get into the CFP, we won’t touch on it in too much depth in this particular article.

Despite no conference having ever gotten two of its teams into the CFP in the same season before, there is potential for the Big Ten Conference to see three of its teams get there this season. With four teams ranked in the top 7 in the latest CFP rankings and games still left to played, it is a real possibility and could happen come selection day this Sunday.

 

-Asher Fair

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