Hello, Big Ten Fans!
For the second year in a row the Big Ten Conference Football Championship Game champion is sitting outside the College Football Playoff. Last year it was the Penn State Nittany Lions and this year it was the Ohio State Buckeyes. Last year it didn't hurt as much as Ohio State did make the field as an at large bid and Penn State was able to go to the Rose Bowl as Big Ten champion on New Year's Day like old times. This year, Ohio State has to play on December 29th in the Cotton Bowl as the Rose Bowl hosts a national semifinal between the SEC Champion and the Big 12 Champion (can we just play the national semifinal in the Cotton Bowl and Ohio State-USC in the Rose Bowl?). Worse of all, the Big Ten is completely shut out of the CFP this year for the first time in history.
Penn State fans probably feel poetic justice that Ohio State had happen to them what happen to Penn State in 2016. But in reality this is an issue that affects the entire conference. There really is an easy fix to the problem. The question though is will it be popular?
2016 Penn State and 2017 Ohio State will probably be forever linked.
Both teams are conference champions shut out of the national championship, both finishing ranked #5 in the final CFP rankings.
Both teams finished with two losses. That is probably the most visual statistic when it comes to the reason why these two teams didn't make the final field. In four years of the CFP, still no team has made the Playoff with two losses. Auburn almost certainly would have this year with two losses. I thought that Auburn's loss hurt Alabama's chances as it made their loss to them look more pathetic but it only gave them an excuse to leave Ohio State out.
Both teams were blown out in a loss. Penn State last year lost 49-10 in Ann Arbor to the Michigan Wolverines while this year Ohio State lost at Iowa City to the Iowa Hawkeyes 55-24. Both games are certainly mentioned as reasons why both championship teams have been left out of the field.
But let's look at Penn State's and Ohio State's other loss these two seasons. Penn State's was at Pittsburgh last season and Ohio State's this season was at home to Oklahoma. Both games were out of conference! You can talk about the 49-10 and the 55-24 all you want. But if Penn State or Ohio State doesn't lose out of conference, do you think either one of them is out of the Playoff? Doubt it.
Now Penn State really has no one to blame but themselves for losing to Pittsburgh. They should have been able to beat them and it's a rivalry game they should play. I've said in my playoff projections the last few weeks that the message you send and did send by leaving Ohio State out is that you are punishing Ohio State for having the guts to schedule Ohio State for scheduling Oklahoma. If Ohio State hadn't played Oklahoma this season and scheduled MERCER or another FCS cupcake, they'd be in the field right now instead of Alabama. That's what the Committee said.
Penn State fans last year blamed Ohio State when they didn't make the Playoff last year. I thought Ohio State deserved to make the field as well as Penn State. They beat Michigan which we (I am a PSU alum) didn't (although they had them at home and we didn't) and unlike this year they were able to beat Oklahoma (at Oklahoma no less). The team that didn't belong in the CFP last year? Washington. Their non conference schedule last year? Rutgers (we know them), Idaho, and Portland State, an FCS school (just like Alabama padded their record with Mercer this year)! So Ohio State didn't steal our bid, Washington did. They were the last team in, they were the #4 seed, they were the one who played an FCS bid. If they had played a Boise State and lost, they would have been out and we would have been in.
Supposedly, expanding the Playoff field was supposed to allow teams more leeway when it comes to losing games and allow them to be more daring when it comes to scheduling. We were going to have more Ohio State-Oklahoma games or Alabama-Florida State games which I will give Alabama credit for this year. On the other hand the SEC does play eight conference games instead of nine. If that ninth conference game had been Georgia this year Alabama would have out of the CFP (or Georgia would be out). Imagine if the Big Ten only played eight conference games and Ohio State didn't play Iowa this year.
Ohio State is going to have to look in the mirror and ask did scheduling Oklahoma this year cost us a shot at the Playoff? I say absolutely! If they played anyone else, they're in the field no doubt. In fact last year, Oklahoma won the Big 12 Championship and finished with two losses, one to Ohio State. What if they didn't play Ohio State last year and played Mercer or Portland State instead? Then they're 12-1 and they get in over Washington (or it's close). In many leagues, it is near impossible to finish a league undefeated, even the SEC. In all of FBS only three teams this year finished regular season conference play undefeated, Wisconsin, Central Florida, and Florida Atlantic. So why should anyone challenge themselves out of conference anymore? In fact, consider all of the conference champions in the last three seasons that were left out of the College Football Playoff.
Stanford, 11-2, lost at Northwestern and at home to Oregon
Penn State, 11-2, lost at Pittsburgh and at Michigan
Oklahoma, 11-2, lost at Houston and at home to Ohio State
Ohio State, 11-2, lost at home to Oklahoma and at Iowa
USC, 11-2, lost at Washington State and at Notre Dame
All five of them lost twice and all five of them lost at least one non-conference game (2016 Oklahoma lost two non conference games!). Most of these teams were blown out in at least one of the two but Stanford's losses were by 10 points and 2 points. They were stuck because all four teams in 2015 were conference champions and they were the easy team out unlike this year when there was a non champion with a loss. Would they have gotten in had they not played Northwestern at Evantston? I'd say for sure USC would have been in if they didn't play Notre Dame.
So if the CFP Committee is going to say strength of schedule means nothing and two losses is a deal breaker, then why schedule Ohio State-Oklahoma or Alabama-Florida State anymore when the loser has no margin for error in conference play? Maybe we should be like the SEC and Pathetic 12 and go all out FCS crazy, In fact, SB Nation writer Alex Kirshner hinted that in this article the same thing I am saying now when it came to Washington over Penn State.
So the solution is easy. The question is do Big Ten teams want to give up home and homes with Oklahoma and other top schools and play Mercer and Portland State instead?
Meanwhile, the only chance in the near future for a Big Ten team to make the final four in 2018 looks to be a Big Ten champion winding up with one (or no) losses. Let me round up the usual suspects and their schedules and see if they have a chance to make it through the season with just one loss.
They have to go to Pittsburgh which was their downfall in 2016 and they screwed Miami on Black Friday. Get past that and they get Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin in State College next year but go to Ann Arbor. The other road games are Illinois, Indiana, and Rutgers. On paper they look to be the favorite if they hold serve at home and beating both the Buckeyes and Badgers at home will score points with the Committee. Of course they probably will have to beat Wisconsin twice next year.
http://www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com/sports/m-footbl/sched/osu-m-footbl-sched.html(have to switch to get to 2018-19)
Not good news. They have to go to Penn State and Michigan State and they have to go to Arlington to play TCU (essentially a road game!). That's three tough road games. They will have to win two of them to have a chance at the Playoff.
Also not good news for the Badgers. They travel to Iowa (ask Ohio State how that turned out for them), Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue. Records? 7-5, 8-4, 9-3, 10-2, 6-6. It will be a major accomplishment if they can make it through that schedule with just one loss.
Jim Harbaugh couldn't beat Michigan State or Ohio State at home this year. Next year he has to play them both on the road. He also opens at Notre Dame. Not next year.
http://www.msuspartans.com/sports/m-footbl/sched/msu-m-footbl-sched.html (again switch to get to 2018-19):
The big test is at Penn State. They also have to go to Nebraska and Arizona State. Ohio State is at home.
Based on schedule alone it looks to be Penn State's to lose. I would say Penn State will play Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship if they beat Ohio State at home and if they beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship then the Big Ten will be playing in the CFP in 2018-19! If Wisconsin wins, we will be shut out again but not because of non conference schedule but because they will lose two conference games). Or Penn State can lose to Pitt and Michigan, beat Wisconsin in the B1G Championship Game, get left out again, and go to the Rose Bowl. Hey better than getting stuck in the Desert Bowl! Seriously, who wants to go to Arizona?