Big day for the Big Ten on Tuesday with the release of the first 2016 College Football Playoff rankings. The league had five teams in the rankings, and, thanks to a surprising jump for Penn State, all five were ranked in the top 12.
Best rankings-release day yet for the Conference of Broad Shoulders?
Probably, but it depends on how you’re counting.
The Big Ten’s history with the CFP rankings didn’t get off to a sterling start. When the first set was released in week 10 of 2014, the conference only had three teams in the top 25 and the top-ranked team was Michigan State at No. 8. Two weeks later, however, the conference was up to five for the first time thanks to Minnesota sneaking in at No. 25.
The Big Ten also had at least five teams ranked in every set of CFP rankings released last year and that total climbed to six teams in weeks 11 and 12. But does five in the top 12 trump six in the top 25 in the always annoying conference-strength debate?
It should. There was little debate that, during its remarkable run of national titles, the SEC was the toughest conference in the country. But that designation, no matter which conference it is going to, is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy that is set in the preseason. Once it’s widely believed that Conference X is the toughest conference, all of the conference results are then viewed through the “toughest conference” lens. Losses become less costly.
The Big Ten is verging on that territory right now and it has a decent shot to stay there through the end of the season. There are only two games left on the schedule between teams in the first set of CFP rankings: Nebraska at Ohio State this Saturday and Michigan at Ohio State on the final weekend.
Penn State probably isn’t going anywhere unless it gets upset. The Nittany Lions are in a great spot, not to get to play in the conference title game, but with games left against Iowa, Indiana, Rutgers and Michigan State, Penn State has a pretty straight shot to 10-2. Wisconsin (Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota) does, too.
In fact, if you wanted to root for the ultimate Big Ten rankings bonanaza, it would probably be both of the above scenarios plus Nebraska wins out, Ohio State loses to the Huskers but wins its last three (including a win over Michigan) and the Wolverines win everything except the Ohio State game.
What would those rankings look like going into conference championship weekend with Nebraska and Michigan set to square off in Indianapolis at 11-1 and Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin all at 10-2? It obviously would depend upon what was happening elsewhere, but you would almost certainly have to have all five in the top 10, maybe even the top eight.
That’s extremely unlikely of course and Nebraska is probably in the worst spot here — it will be interesting to see what happens to the Huskers’ rank should they lose in Columbus — but Jim Delany can dream, right?
I doubt this will make many Husker fans feel a ton better about the non-call in overtime last week, but BTN’s Gerry DiNardo broke down the controversial non-pass interference against Wisconsin after talking to Big Ten director of officiating Bill Carrollo:
Are you buying that justification? I have to say, it makes some sense.
That said, it’s not easy to try and determine a player’s intent in a live-game setting.
The Grab Bag
- If you missed the special Sam Foltz tribute episode of BTN’s “The Journey” last night, you can watch the entire thing online: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
- Really cool interactive graphic from FiveThirtyEight.com that allows you to see how wins and losses of your choosing would affect conference title and playoff odds.
- Ohio State is struggling to hit the deep ball and Huskers’ defensive backs coach Brian Stewart hopes that will remain the case on Saturday.
- Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com lists his overrated and underrated teams based on the CFP rankings.
- Eleven Warriors looks at the special challenge Tommy Armstrong Jr. presents for the Buckeyes’ defense.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.