The new College Football Playoff system revealed its first ever rankings Oct. 28 with an emphasis on who team’s have played and who they’ve beaten.
Three teams from the Southeastern Conference were included the top four of the rankings, which will ultimately be where every team aspires to be in the end.
Despite posting four consecutive games of 500 or more yards of offense and defeating Penn State in a tough road environment, Ohio State debuted at No. 16 in the rankings, which is relatively low for one of the best teams in the Big Ten and a team ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press top 25.
OSU and the Big Ten took huge hits to their reputations during the latter years of the Bowl Championship Series. After the Buckeyes lost convincingly to SEC teams Florida and Louisiana State University in consecutive national championship games between the 2006 and 2007 seasons, it has been an uphill battle for the conference to regain its credibility.
But the new playoff system should be designed to place conference champions in the “Power 5” against each other. With two teams likely making the final four from the SEC and defending national champions Florida State looking poised to stay undefeated, that leaves just one spot open.
And that spot should be reserved for the Big Ten champion, as long as it has just one loss.
Michigan State — the Big Ten’s highest ranked team (No. 8) in the College Football Playoff standings — lost an early season matchup against then-No. 3 Oregon on the road in Eugene, Ore., but it’s been impressive ever since.
The Spartans’ defense has long been the strength of the team under coach Mark Dantonio, but the offense has been explosive this season as well.
Michigan State is fifth in the country in scoring with 45.5 points per game and its running game has accumulated about 254.9 yards per game.
When OSU and Michigan State meet in East Lansing, Mich., on Saturday, it will be a matchup of two of the top five scoring offenses in the nation. Both teams are hitting on all cylinders and the winner should have an inside track to making the College Football Playoff bracket.
There are two one-loss teams remaining in the Pac-12 and three one-loss or undefeated teams in the Big 12 that could challenge for a playoff spot, but the Big Ten’s best have continued to look dominant in the face of pundits that claim they cannot compete with the nation’s best.
The Big 12 has lost a lot of steam since serious contender Baylor took a road loss to No. 24 West Virginia and Oklahoma took losses to No. 6 Texas Christian University and No. 9 Kansas State.
Oregon appears to be on a crash course to face Arizona State in the Pac-12 Championship Game. If the Ducks can win their conference, they are perhaps the only team that can stand up to the Big Ten’s elite because they defeated Michigan State head-to-head.
But the College Football Playoff committee ultimately needs to put an emphasis on conference championships in its inaugural season. The committee needs to set a precedent that going through an entire season and finishing at the top of your respective conference should give you a chance to play for it all.
The winner of the Big Ten will have to at least defeat the smash mouth defense of Michigan State, the elite offensive firepower of OSU, or Nebraska’s senior running back Ameer Abdullah, a top Heisman candidate.
If given the chance to compete for it all, the Big Ten will have a lot more to show in 2014.