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Iowa and Northwestern: Locks for the Playoff

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The Wildcats and Hawkeyes are playing the best ball in the country right now. Will their meeting on October 17th be a preview of the title game? Yes. Yes it will be.

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With 25% of the regular season already over, we are starting to see teams fall into place. For most teams, all we can do is make educated guesses, but there are still a few things we know for certain:

  • The Rutgers program has turned into a dumpster fire. Or, more accurately, a burning pile of gold chains and spray tans in the bottle service section of a dirty nightclub.
  • Iowa State still wouldn't finish in the top half of the MAC
  • Auburn and Alabama have exactly as many conference wins as Vanderbilt
  • Nick Saban is still 5'6"
  • Jake Rudock is really *meh*
  • Pat Narduzzi wears tinted glasses
  • Iowa and Northwestern are the two best teams in the country's best conference.

The Wildcats and Hawkeyes are the only undefeated teams left in the West division. Meanwhile, Illinois is in free-fall, Nebraska has traded a perpetual 9-4 record for a perpetual 7-5 record, and Wisconsin's best option at quarterback is still Joel Stave. What about the East? The only serious contenders are an Ohio State team that just barely beat a directional Illinois team in MACtion last week, and Michigan "Let's only beat an FCS quarterback by 3 points" State.

How did we get here?

Simple. First take Northwestern. The Wildcats finished the 2012 season with an impressive 10-3 record, winning their first bowl game since 1949. There were high hopes for 2013, but it wasn't meant to be and Pat Fitzgerald's team put up back-to-back 5-7 records. Northwestern made a statement week 1 by completely shutting down Stanford's hard-hitting offense. Week 2 was a top-to-bottom dismantling of Eastern Illinois, a game that would serve as a warm-up for Week 3's victory against defending Sun Bowl participant, Duke. Like all great teams, Northwestern is doing things with their defense. The Wildcats have only allowed 16 points all year, and are currently on pace to outscore their regular season opponents 304-64 while recording 4 shutouts. That's not just good, it's goddamn dominant.

What about Iowa? The Hawkeyes have been treading water since the 2009 season ended with a victory in the Orange Bowl. It took until his 4th season, but offensive coordinator Greg Davis seems to have finally hit his stride. Iowa has a true gunslinger at quarterback for the first time since Ricky Stanzi. Greg Davis and Kirk Ferentz have cut down on the horizontal passes to develop an efficient and balanced offense. The Hawkeyes convincingly won a very tough match-up against a team that was one or two plays away from winning the national championship (*cough* FCS) last season: Illinois State. The following week, they put their usual beat down on Iowa State. Don't let the fact that the Cyclones are one of the worst teams in all of college football fool you into thinking they were an easy out: The annual Cy-Hawk game is very much the Super Bowl for Iowa State players and fans, so you know they weren't pulling any punches.  Finally in week 3, Iowa beat a Pittsburgh team coached by one of the greatest defensive minds of the millennium, and it didn't even take overtime.  Like the Wildcats, the Hawkeyes are mostly getting it done on defense. They are only allowing 51 rushing yards per game, 1.9 yards per carry, and have yet to allow a rushing touchdown. Good luck passing, by the way. Desmond King already has 3 interceptions on the year.

What's Next?

Iowa and Northwestern will meet at Ryan Field on October 17. Assuming the whole world isn't destroyed, this game will likely determine the national champion. Or will it? The NCAA switched to its current playoff format for this very reason. When a team plays in the best conference in the entire country, you have to allow for them to notch a conference loss or two. It's only natural that they will beat each other up over the course of the year, leaving nobody unscathed. It would be completely unfair for the playoff committee to punish a team for playing in the toughest conference. This isn't the SEC where everyone gets a couple extra bye weeks by having Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Kentucky on the schedule. This is the B1G, which features the defending national champions, the winningest team in college football, and a trophy shaped like a goddamn pig. BOTH Northwestern and Iowa are going to make the College Football Playoff. ONE of them is going to win it.

Even though the four best teams at the end of the year are obviously going to be Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State and Michigan State, it would look bad for the committee to choose 4 B1G teams. It's stupid and it spits in the face of reality, but that's what will happen. Instead, they likely will take the winners of the SEC and the PAC 12. The College Football Playoff bracket will end up looking something like this:

1) IOWA  VS 4) SEC CHAMP----------1a) NORTHWESTERN vs 3) PAC 12 CHAMP

At this stage we all need to show our conference pride. A simple way to do this is through a catchy chant. By having a uniform conference chant to use for out of conference games, lesser teams like Penn State and Indiana can live vicariously through Iowa and Northwestern. Don't bother having school pride, let those dirty southerners know what conference you are there to represent. BIG-TEN    BIG-TEN    BIG-TEN sounds kind of clunky. A 3 syllable chant will roll off the tongue more easily. I suggest B-1-G    B-1-G    (BEE-ONE-JEE    BEE-ONE-JEE    BEE-ONE-JEE). It doesn't matter if Purdue beats the defending SEC champion, or if Ohio State pounds a 6-6 Kentucky that beat out a Sun Belt team for an at-large bid in the Bojangles.com Famous Chicken n' Biscuits Breakfast Bowl. You better chant loud, and you better chant proud.

Finally, once the championship game features an obvious rematch of the two best teams in the country, we can all rest easy, for we'll know that the system works. I'm not going to make any predictions because I won't have much to go off of; the only games all year where Iowa and Northwestern will truly be challenged will be in their regular season match-up, and their national championship appearance against each other. I have no idea who is going to win the game-to-beat-all-games. I only know two things for certain: In heaven there is no beer, and bring your champions, they're our meat.