The Big Ten has four teams in the top eight of the current College Football Playoff rankings, and the Houston Cougars helped the conference get one step closer to potentially having two teams invited to the four-team tournament.
Houston throttled No. 5-ranked Louisville, 36-10, on Thursday night, likely knocking one of the three teams in the way of two Big Ten playoff teams out of the running for a bid. The Cougars, themselves once considered a potential playoff team before losses to SMU and Navy, dominated the Cardinals and contained Heisman Trophy favorite Lamar Jackson.
Assuming No. 1 Alabama will not lose two games between now and when the CFP committee makes its selections, there are three open slots. Barring any stunning upsets of No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 8 Penn State, those two programs could play in the Big Ten championship game if No. 2 Ohio State defeats No. 3 Michigan in Columbus next weekend.
The three teams that appeared to be in the way of two Big Ten teams making it were No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 Louisville and No. 6 Washington. One of the three Big 12 teams (No. 9 Oklahoma, No. 11 Oklahoma State and No. 14 West Virginia) could also win out and wedge its way into the discussion.
The Louisville loss also does not help Clemson, because a close home win against the Cardinals is the Tigers’ best win this season. Clemson finishes the season at Wake Forest, at home against rival South Carolina and likely against Virginia Tech, which fell out of the CFP rankings this week after a loss to Georgia Tech.
A loss by Clemson or Washington could be the final result needed to help the Big Ten get two teams into the Playoff. It’s also possible that Wisconsin or Penn State could win out and jump over Washington even if the Huskies do not lose to Arizona State, Washington State or in the Pac-12 title game.
If Michigan beats Ohio State, it will be tougher for the Big Ten to get two teams in, but given the amount of chaos in the past two weeks it would still be possible.