Throughout the 2016 Big Ten season, the power of the conference has shown. The 14-team conference currently has four teams in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff poll. So it begs the question, can the Big Ten have two teams reach the final four?
The playoff committee is believed to choose the best four teams in college football, not the best four records. Looking around college football, the Big Ten’s depth is unrivaled. Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan are all top ten teams at the moment. Considering the competition left on the schedules of the Big Ten teams in contention for the final four, the playoff committee could have a difficult decision to make on Dec. 4.
If OSU wins out, the Buckeyes could very well clinch a playoff spot. Fivethiryeight.com gives OSU a 56 percent chance to make the playoffs as is, which are the third-best odds in the nation. Here are some scenarios in which teams could make the playoff along with OSU.
Penn State has proven this year that it deserves some recognition. Former freshman All-American running back Saquon Barkley has become a household name this season with more than 1,100 yards and 15 total touchdowns. The Nittany Lion defense has also stepped up its play since its early season loss to Michigan. If Penn State wins out, the Nittany Lions will represent the Big Ten East in the Big Ten Championship Game. Penn State has had a tough schedule this year, and is sitting pretty at the No. 8 spot in the playoff rankings. Its only losses came against Pittsburgh, who just beat then-No. 2 Clemson on the road, and No. 3 Michigan. With a win over OSU and a blowout win over Iowa earlier in the year, the Big Ten Championship Game could put Penn State in a great position to reach the playoff at the fourth spot.
The playoff committee is keeping its eye on Wisconsin, who is currently one spot ahead of Penn State at No. 7. The Badgers’ schedule has been full of challenges with LSU, Michigan, OSU, Nebraska and a potential Big Ten championship opponent. Wisconsin has been strong against every team, barely losing to both OSU and Michigan. A Big Ten championship matchup against the likes of Penn State, Michigan or OSU could easily propel the Badgers into the top four.
Although it’s a stretch, Michigan has a chance to reach the playoff even with a loss to OSU. The Wolverines have a ferocious defense that ranks first in the nation in total defense and first in scoring defense. Heisman Trophy contender Jabrill Peppers is one of the most versatile players in the NCAA, having played at several different positions on offense and defense. Quarterback Wilton Speight’s season status is uncertain, leaving the Wolverine defense without an identity at the moment. However, Michigan has a defense that could neutralize any offense in college football. With a couple miracle losses in the top ten, Michigan has a very outside chance to be selected by OSU in the college football playoff.
Then again, Michigan controls its own destiny. A victory over Indiana, No. 2 OSU and then the Big Ten championship would lock the Wolverines into the top four.
Of course, all these scenarios are hypothetical. But if two Big Ten teams reach the playoff, it’s only going to make OSU and the rest of the Big Ten look even stronger. Don’t be surprised if the Big Ten is the first conference to have two teams in the playoff.