Each week, college football insider Matt Hayes tackles the hottest topics in the Big Ten. 

1. The B1G Story

The path to Heisman Trophy glory is right in front of Aidan Hutchinson. And it’s more viable than anyone could’ve imagined a week ago.

So it goes with the strangest Heisman race in years. It’s not that there aren’t legitimate candidates, it’s that there aren’t Heisman moments.

Until last week.

Until Hutchinson was a one-man wrecking ball off the edge for the Michigan defense. Until the nation saw what NFL scouts have been saying over and over for the last three months: Hutchinson is the best player in college football.

“If I had to give you an answer right now, knowing that draft needs change almost weekly, I’d say (Hutchinson) will be the first player picked (in the 2022 NFL Draft),” one NFL scout told me this week. And that’s the consensus of a lot of personnel (departments) in this league.”

The more pressing college question: How can Hutchinson get a consensus of Heisman voters to make him the second defensive player to win the greatest individual award in sports?

It began last week with a 3-sack performance in a rout of Ohio State. The Michigan defense, abused so many times over the last decade in the one-sided rivalry, dominated the hottest offense in college football.

Hutchinson, who is third in the nation in sacks (13), was the most impressive player on the field in the biggest game of the season. Those moments stick with Heisman voters.

But Hutchinson, who could’ve left Michigan for the NFL after last season and been a first-round pick, has two legitimate obstacles to overcome to win the Heisman – both from the same school.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young has been the quasi-leader for the award since early in the season, and his performance last week in a come from behind win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl only underscored a remarkable season (3,901 yards passing, 40 TDs).

Then there’s Alabama DE Will Anderson, who plays the same position as Hutchinson and has far better numbers. He leads the nation in sacks (14.5) and tackles for loss (29.5). Hutchinson has half the tackles for loss (14.5).

But he also has the Heisman moment that can sway voters. He has the fresh emergence of Michigan, which has underachieved for years, rolling into the Big Ten Championship Game as the No.2 team in the nation.

And he has Alabama playing No.1 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, and fair or not, that’s where Young and Anderson will be judged. If Georgia beats Alabama, there’s an opening for Hutchinson if Young and/or Anderson don’t shine.

Hutchinson also has positioning: The Big Ten Championship Game is the last game of the night (along with the ACC Championship), and the choice between Michigan-Iowa or the ACC game isn’t remotely an issue.

Michigan is the hot team now, even though its massive win over Ohio State has been subdued somewhat because of a few wild moves in the coaching carousel.

If Georgia does to banged-up Alabama what it has done to everyone else this season, Young and Anderson would have a hard time catching Hutchinson if he turns in another huge performance against an Iowa offense that has had problems in pass protection this season. The Hawkeyes are 13th in the Big Ten in sacks allowed (31).

Stranger things have happened before in the Heisman race, including the only time a defensive player won the award. That was Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997, who used a huge performance in a win over Ohio State to beat favorite Peyton Manning of Tennessee.

Maybe Hutchinson follows that path, and uses his stellar performance in the Ohio State game — and another in the Big Ten Championship Game – to jump another SEC quarterback and win the Heisman.

History has a way of repeating itself. Why not now?

2. The Playoff push

One of the craziest seasons in nearly 15 years is set for a wild ending, one that could finish with both Michigan and Ohio State in the College Football Playoff.

Michigan is a lock for the Playoff with a win in the Big Ten Championship Game against Iowa, and possibly with a close loss (there are too many Championship Saturday iterations to explain, but Michigan is in great position and unbeaten Cincinnati is far from a lock). Ohio State, meanwhile, needs help — but the Championship Saturday moves aren’t that difficult to envision.

How Ohio State gets in:

  • Georgia beats Alabama.
  • Michigan beats Iowa.
  • Baylor beats Oklahoma State.

In that scenario, Georgia and Michigan are in, and the Playoff is looking for two teams.

Ohio State has losses against two conference champions (Oregon and Michigan), and would be measured against 1-loss Notre Dame, 2-loss Alabama and 2-loss Baylor.

CFP chair and Iowa AD Gary Barta avoided speaking directly to Cincinnati’s viability at No.4 (because there is none, and because Houston is a legitimate threat in the AAC Championship Game), and said the loss of coach Brian Kelly to LSU could impact Notre Dame’s Playoff chances.

You see where this is headed, right?

The two conferences that have separated from the rest of college football – the Big Ten and the SEC – could get two teams each in the Playoff.

(1) Georgia vs. (4) Ohio State
(2) Michigan vs. (3) Alabama

Those would be the most-watched semifinals in CFP history, and more than likely, the best played semifinals in CFP history.

3. Steady in the West

Quick: Which Big Ten team not named Ohio State or Wisconsin is among the top 10 in wins for Power 5 programs since 2015?

That would be Iowa — the same team rolling into the Big Ten Championship Game this weekend with nothing to lose and a Rose Bowl invitation to gain.

So yeah, Iowa and its 63 wins since 2015 will be ready for Michigan Saturday in Indianapolis. Even if it has zero confidence in what’s going on at the most important position on the field.

Or the offense, in general.

“We’re not the prettiest car in the lot,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Frankly, the offense is a jalopy.

Iowa is 87th in the nation in scoring offense (25.7 ppg), 123rd in total offense (299.1 ypg), 110th in passing offense (177.9 ypg), 106th in rushing offense (121.17 ypg), 105th in third-down conversion percentage (34.71) and 113th in red zone scoring (75.61 percent).

The Hawkeyes have also given up 31 sacks.

Still wondering why QBs Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla have combined for a TD/INT ratio of 11/7, or why they’re completing 52 percent of their passes?

Petras came off the bench in last week’s rivalry game against Nebraska and engineered a second half comeback by – ready for this? – completing 7 of 13 passes for 102 yards. If that doesn’t scare the wings off the Michigan helmets, what will?

But understand this: The Hawkeyes, despite the 3.3 average yards per rush, have a weapon in TB Tyler Goodson – one of the most dangerous players in the Big Ten.

He has 1,320 all-purpose yards and 7 TDs, and has the speed to outrun the second level of defenses. So if Michigan’s aggressive defense over-pursues, Goodson can hit it with an explosion play.

It’s how Iowa has won all season, relying on a stingy defense and the offense stumbling along until Goodson rescues it. As long as Iowa isn’t careless with ball security, this will be a fourth quarter game.

4. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: postseason plans.

1. Michigan: The Playoff is a lock with a win over Iowa, and maybe still with a close loss.

2. Ohio State: Rose Bowl vs. Oregon (unless something crazy happens on Championship Saturday, then the CFP is a possibility).

3. Michigan State: Fiesta Bowl vs. Notre Dame.

4. Iowa: Citrus Bowl vs. Arkansas.

5. Penn State: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Arizona State.

6. Minnesota: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Louisville

7. Wisconsin: Outback Bowl vs. Kentucky

8. Purdue: Music City Bowl vs. Mississippi State

9. Maryland: Guaranteed Rate Bowl vs. West Virginia.

10. Illinois: Scoring the transfer portal for a quarterback.

11. Nebraska: Trying to convince quality offensive assistants to join a one-shot, make-or-break season.

12. Rutgers: Getting better on the lines of scrimmage through the transfer portal.

13. Northwestern: Dig a hole and bury this anomaly of a season.

14. Indiana: Find the magic, the team unity, from 2020. And get QB Michael Penix Jr. as healthy as possible.

5. The Weekly Five

Five picks against the spread (bonus Championship Week edition)

Iowa (+10.5) vs. Michigan
Georgia (-6.5) vs Alabama
Baylor (+5.5) vs. Oklahoma State
Wake Forest vs. Pittsburgh (-3)
Oregon (+3) vs. Utah
Houston (+10.5) vs. Cincinnati
Utah State (+6) vs. San Diego State
WKU vs. UTSA (+2)
Kent State (-3) vs. Northern Illinois
Louisiana (+3) vs. App State

Last week: 3-4
Season: 44-23