Of all the conferences, the Big Ten had perhaps the most interesting night with the first College Football Playoff rankings.
Michigan, despite ranking No. 2 in the major polls, was “only” No. 3. Penn State, at No. 23 in the Coaches Poll and 20th in the AP, is stunningly No. 12 in the CFP rankings. In all, five Big Ten teams were in the first 12 spots.
Clearly, the committee is impressed with the top Big Ten teams. But what does it mean for the league’s bowl outlook? ESPN’s Brett McMurphy and Mark Schlabach updated their bowl teams following Tuesday night’s first CFP rankings.
Right now, Michigan is an obvious pick to make the CFP, with Ohio State the leading contender to play in the Rose Bowl. Wolverines fans shouldn’t worry about being third right now. Michigan would leave a lasting impression on the committee if it beats Ohio State and then a 1- or 2-loss team in the Big Ten title game. That looks like a No. 2 team at least.
The question after that is if the Big Ten could get one or two more teams into a New Year’s Six game. Going by the first CFP rankings, Wisconsin is next in line, as the Badgers’ schedule becomes very manageable after Saturday’s trip to Northwestern.
After Wisconsin, both Nebraska and Penn State have New Year’s Six hopes. Penn State would likely need to win out and finish 10-2 to get a look, which is possible. If Penn State, already No. 12, wins the rest of its games, it’s likely the committee would continue to move up the Nittany Lions — especially if Ohio State closes on a strong winning streak to end the regular season. A 10-2 Penn State team would be difficult to pass up for a New Year’s Six game.
As for the Huskers, Nebraska has a huge game at Ohio State on Saturday. A good performance there (even in a loss) would cement the Huskers in the committee’s eyes as a team worthy to make a big-time bowl. If Nebraska goes 10-2, it will get a very long look for a New Year’s Six game, even if the Huskers don’t win the Big Ten West. The Nebraska-Wisconsin race for the division race is going to be interesting, as the Badgers beat Nebraska but need the Huskers to lose again to win the division.
In the end, the Big Ten champion looks like a sure thing to make a playoff barring a catastrophic regular season. A 1-loss team would get in and even a 2-loss team would have a very strong argument: Wisconsin has two losses and is still No. 8 in the rankings as the highest-ranked 2-loss team. If the Badgers win the rest of their games, win the division and win the Big Ten title, Wisconsin would be thinking CFP.
Here’s where ESPN has Big Ten teams in bowl games:
Michigan: College Football Playoff vs. Clemson (Schlabach)/CFP vs. Clemson (McMurphy)
Ohio State: Rose Bowl vs. Utah/Rose Bowl vs. Washington State
Wisconsin: Orange Bowl vs. Louisville/Orange Bowl vs. Louisville
Nebraska: Holiday Bowl vs. USC/Cotton Bowl vs. Western Michigan
Penn State: Outback Bowl vs. LSU/Outback Bowl vs. Florida
Northwestern: Foster Farms Bowl vs. Stanford/Holiday Bowl vs. Utah
Iowa: Music City Bowl vs. Kentucky/Music City Bowl vs. Tennessee
Minnesota: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Georgia Tech/Pinstripe Bowl vs. Pitt
Indiana: Quick Lane Bowl vs. NC State/Foster Farms Bowl vs. USC
Maryland: Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. Louisiana Tech/Quick Lane Bowl vs. NC State