Potential CFP Committee Dilemma: Michigan or the Big Ten Conference Champion?

Photo Credit: Wisconsin Badgers

The latest College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings were revealed on Tuesday, and they revealed that the Big Ten Conference’s Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1) and Michigan Wolverines (10-2) were still seen as better teams than the two teams actually playing for the Big Ten Conference championship this Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Wisconsin Badgers (10-2) and the Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions (10-2).

Ohio State was ranked at #2 with Michigan ranked at #5, Wisconsin ranked at #6, and Pennsylvania State ranked at #7. Ohio State is essentially a lock to get into the CFP since they are not in action this weekend and therefore cannot lose, so their impressive one-loss record will be preserved come Sunday, December 4th, 2016, when the CFP selection committee will meet to pick the four teams that get into the CFP.

It is quite possible that all three of Ohio State, Michigan, and whichever team is the Big Ten Conference champion could make it into this season’s CFP, which you can read about HERE. However, if only one other team from the Big Ten Conference gets into the CFP besides Ohio State, which will likely be the case if either the #3 Clemson Tigers lose in the ACC championship game to the #23 Virginia Tech Hokies or if the #4 Washington Huskies lose in the Pac-12 Conference championship game to the #8 Colorado Buffaloes, that could be an interesting decision for the CFP selection committee to have to make.

There are many factors involved in determining who would get into the CFP if the final spot came down to two teams. Those factors include but are not limited to head-to-head result, record against common opponents, conference championships, record, and strength of schedule.

If Wisconsin beats Pennsylvania State, the decision will come down to Michigan or Wisconsin. In terms of a head-to-head matchup, Michigan won by a score of 14-7 back in October at home in a game that was close throughout the entire game. It would be hard to give Michigan the complete advantage just because of this game, but they do get a slight advantage.

In terms of record against common opponents, Wisconsin’s other loss came at home to against Ohio State. Michigan also lost to the Buckeyes, but that game was on the road, which should not make a huge difference, but it is something the CFP selection committee will have to factor in nonetheless. Michigan’s other lost came on the road against the Iowa Hawkeyes, who Wisconsin beat on the road. In terms of record against common opponents, Wisconsin would have the upper hand.

In terms of conference championships, obviously if Wisconsin is able to beat Pennsylvania State, they will have the Big Ten Conference championship to their credit while Michigan will not, so they will have the advantage there. The same thing goes for record. A win against Pennsylvania State would make Wisconsin’s record 11-2 with an 8-2 in-conference Big Ten record while Michigan’s record would be 10-2 with a 7-2 in-conference Big Ten record, giving the Badgers the advantage.

In terms of strength of schedule, Wisconsin played against five teams that were ranked inside the top 8 (and the entire top 25) at the time of the game and won three of those games. They played against four teams currently ranked inside the top 21 (and the entire top 25) and won two of those games. Michigan played against two teams that were ranked inside the top 8 (and the entire top 25) at the time of the game and won one of those games, which was the game against Wisconsin. They played against four teams currently ranked inside the top 8 (and the entire top 25) and beat three of them, with their only loss coming against Ohio State. In terms of strength of schedule, Michigan may have the slight advantage.

Given how the advantages are pretty evenly split among Wisconsin and Michigan in the separate categories but Wisconsin would have the Big Ten Conference championship to their name, it is hard to see the CFP selection committee turning down the Badgers in favor of the Wolverines come selection day this Sunday. I could be wrong if the Big Ten Conference championship game is weighted less than I expect it to be, but unless Wisconsin plays terribly in a win over Pennsylvania State, it will be tough for Michigan to stay ahead of them.

If Pennsylvania State beats Wisconsin, the decision will come down to Michigan or Pennsylvania State. In terms of a head-to-head matchup, Michigan won by a score of 49-10 in September at home in a game that was never close. Michigan would have the clear advantage in the head-to-head matchup category.

In terms of record against common opponents, Pennsylvania State’s other loss came on the road against the Pittsburgh Panthers. Michigan’s losses came on the road against Ohio State and against the Iowa Hawkeyes, both teams that Pennsylvania State was able to beat at home. Despite having played in two home games against teams Michigan had to play on the road, Pennsylvania State has the upper hand in terms of record against common opponents because of the fact they beat two teams that Michigan could not.

In terms of conference championships, obviously if Pennsylvania State is able to beat Wisconsin, they will have the Big Ten Conference championship to their credit while Michigan will not, so they will have the advantage there. The same thing goes for record. A win against Wisconsin would make Pennsylvania State’s record 11-2 with a 9-1 in-conference Big Ten record while Michigan’s record would be 10-2 with a 7-2 in-conference Big Ten record, giving the Nittany Lions the advantage.

In terms of strength of schedule, Pennsylvania State played against two teams that were ranked inside the top 4 (and the entire top 25) at the time of the game and won one of those games, which was the game against Ohio State. They played against three teams currently ranked inside top 25 and beat one of them, with that win coming against Ohio State. Michigan played against two teams that were ranked inside the top (and the entire top 25) at the time of the game and won one of those games, which was the game against Wisconsin. They played against four teams currently ranked inside the top 8 (and the entire top 25) and beat three of them, with their only loss coming against Ohio State. In terms of strength of schedule, Michigan has the clear advantage.

Given how the advantages are pretty evenly split among Pennsylvania State and Michigan in the separate categories but Pennsylvania State would have the Big Ten Conference championship to their name, it is hard to see the CFP selection committee turning down the Nittany Lions in favor of the Wolverines come selection day this Sunday. I could be wrong if the Big Ten Conference championship game is weighted less than I expect it to be, but unless Pennsylvania State plays terribly in a win over Wisconsin, it will be tough for Michigan to stay ahead of them.

Hopefully the CFP selection committee evaluates each team like they have been saying they will and selects the nation’s best four teams to play in this season’s CFP, which they have said time and time again is their number one priority. If that is the case and we end up with a scenario where either Michigan or the Big Ten Conference champion gets into the CFP, look for these types of analyses to be used to try to sort out which team is slightly superior.

 

-Asher Fair

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