What a 9-game conference schedule could mean for Big Ten playoff hopes
The unbalanced home-road splits (five home, four road OR five road, four home) are a problem, at least when a team has only four home games.
But it’s also worth monitoring the Big Ten’s playoff hopes.
When the Big Ten used an eight-game conference slate, recent seasons usually concluded with a conference unbeaten going into the league’s title game. In fact, it’s happened in each of the past four seasons: Iowa in 2015, Ohio State in 2014, Michigan State and Ohio State in 2013, Ohio State in 2012 (though ineligible).
This year, the Big Ten joins the Pac-12 and Big 12 by going to 9-game conference schedules. Since the start of the College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 and Big 12 are also the only two Power 5 conferences to NOT have a representative in each of the two playoffs. The other two power conferences (SEC and ACC) are sticking with a 8-game schedule — and are both two-for-two in sending a playoff representative.
Since going to a 9-game slate prior to the 2011 season, the Big 12 has yet to have a team go through conference play without a loss. The Pac-12 went to nine games for 2006 and has seen an undefeated team in league play only once: Oregon in 2010.
On the plus side, as non-conference scheduling requires tougher opponents, the playoff committee may put more of an emphasis on impressive wins than in the past. This could mean 1- or even 2-loss playoff teams become more of the standard.
Of course, there’s no way of knowing what will happen until the games are actually played. And, at least for this season, the Big Ten’s most likely playoff contenders (Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State) all play in the same division anyway.