B1G debate: Does B1G deserve an automatic bid to the College Football Playoff?
Editor’s note: Ryan O’Gara and Connor O’Gara grew up following sports in suburban Chicago. The brothers, separated by 20 months, debated about their favorite teams and players so often that their father would often have to remind them, “This isn’t PTI.” Each week, they’re bringing that debate to you, centered around the Big Ten and college football as a whole.
This week’s debate: Given how the season has played out so far, does the B1G deserve an automatic bid to the College Football Playoff?
RYAN: Before we dive in, let me first say that it’s great to be back. We took a break from this weekly staple on Saturday Tradition while the Big Ten took a break from fall football, but since the B1G’s break is just about over, so is ours. And we’ll be debating a topic each week through the end of the season.
It’s been a wild college football season thus far. Oklahoma, Texas and LSU — each of which was in the top 14 of the preseason AP poll that included all teams — will have (at least) 2 losses before a B1G team even plays a game. And now there is only 1 undefeated SEC team, Alabama after crushing Georgia. The ACC hasn’t been particularly inspiring outside of Clemson, though Notre Dame still is unbeaten. North Carolina had been until it lost Saturday at FSU. And the Pac-12 also hasn’t played a game.
As we near the start of the B1G season (Wisconsin kicks it off against Illinois on Friday), should we automatically pencil the B1G in for the CFP? While there is officially no automatic bid for any conference, by that phrasing I mean, should the CFP committee look at the strength of the Big Ten and conclude that whoever emerges as the league’s champion is in?
It’s tempting to view the B1G that way, given the chaos that has already broken out. The Big Ten doesn’t have any nonconference games to hurt its image the way the Big 12 did against the Sun Belt. And it will have a more substantial schedule than the Pac-12.
But as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.”
While I think the B1G will have an excellent case for the CFP — and frankly, it would be stunning if it didn’t get a team in — I think it is best to let this season play out. There are plenty of people who believe Ohio State will contend for a national title and even win it all, myself included, but it’s not unreasonable to think the Buckeyes could stumble in Week 2 against Penn State and also lose another random game on the schedule. The COVID-19 virus has the potential to decimate a team’s roster in any given week.
What if Ohio State and Penn State falter like Oklahoma and Texas? What if Georgia upsets Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and both finish with 1 loss? What if Oklahoma State runs the table in the Big 12?
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While it seems unlikely the B1G is left out, I’m not penciling it in just yet.
CONNOR: First off, yes, it’s good to be back. I’m glad that we actually have a season to discuss and it won’t just be me talking at you about SEC things.
While technically nobody has an “automatic Playoff bid,” I actually find myself trending in that direction for the B1G after the start we’ve seen in college football. You made a lot of the points that I was already planning to make. That is, the Big 12 is a mess, the ACC still looks like Clemson and everyone else (I’ll believe it when I see it with Notre Dame) and the SEC only has 1 unbeaten team left.
Oh, what about the Pac-12, you ask? I forgot that was happening. I’m sure the conference that hasn’t been to the Playoff since 2016 will totally captivate the nation when it plays its 7 regular-season games (at most) and a conference title game that’s played on a Friday night with a MAC viewing audience.
Does the Pac-12 have an automatic bid at a Playoff spot? Nope. Is anyone other than an undefeated Oklahoma State squad representing the Big 12? Um, don’t bank on it. That means the only “automatic” Playoff bids belong to the SEC winner and Clemson/whoever it is who somehow beats Clemson. Why shouldn’t that spot automatically go to the B1G winner? The B1G had 6 teams start in the AP Top 25. That was the same as the SEC, which proceeded to beat up on itself in the early going, yet still looks like it’ll be in position to have an “automatic bid.”
And again, “automatic bid” isn’t saying a 4-loss team who wins the conference should get in. It’s saying that as long as there’s a team with 1 loss or fewer that emerges, that team should be deemed Playoff-worthy.
I wouldn’t have said that before this season started, but after seeing the way things played out across the country so far, I’d say this might actually be shaping up to be an ideal year for the B1G to get the benefit of the Playoff doubt.
RYAN: I’ll be honest, I actually think it’s more likely that the Big Ten gets 2 CFP teams than 0. I could totally see Penn State or Ohio State losing in a close game to the other and then both running the table the rest of the way. Or Wisconsin going unbeaten in the regular season and losing a close game in the conference title game. There are some intriguing avenues for the Big Ten for getting 2 teams, but things will have to break right.
Here’s my opinion on the current state of the SEC. Florida losing at Texas A&M severely hurt the chances of 2 SEC teams getting in. And with Georgia’s loss to Alabama, it gets even more difficult to get 2 teams because then you know Florida or Georgia is going to have at least 2 regular-season losses and the other is going to potentially play Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and potentially pick up another loss. If Alabama is as good as I think (defensive issues aside), no one in the SEC West is beating them.
Back to the Big Ten, I guess I just want to see a few games before I declare that the conference is safe. I thought Oklahoma was a safe pick for the CFP, and it has looked awful so far. Even before it lost to FSU, I didn’t think North Carolina was a serious contender. I don’t think Oklahoma State is, either, but so far, so good.
The B1G’s reputation is rising, but its contenders need to take care of business once games start and not falter like Oklahoma, Texas, LSU and Florida have.
CONNOR: Waiting a few weeks is totally fine. By then, we’ll probably see a few more preseason top-15 teams that have multiple losses. That number is currently at 3. In a season without nonconference games with Power 5 teams, that’s especially important. What we think of conferences in 2020 is largely shaped by the preseason discussion.
That’s why the more I think about Ohio State or Penn State, the more I think that winner is set up especially well. Both have remained in the top 10 in the AP Top 25. That’s because perception is these are still going to be elite teams, and a 7-1 regular season would confirm that.
I mean, UNC and Notre Dame actually looked pretty average in 2 of 3 games so far this year, yet both crawled into the top 5 of the AP Top 25. UNC dropped, of course, after its loss, but Notre Dame actually moved up to No. 3 after an uninspiring win against Louisville. The B1G is going to covet that national attention when it makes its delayed debut, much like the SEC did. By the way, the SEC only has 1 unbeaten left, but it has 4 teams in the top 10. The B1G, with how much parity there is in these conferences, is also going to be able to survive a loss even with just 8 regular-season games.
I see that remaining true for the duration of 2020 … as long as half the schedule doesn’t get wiped out.
RYAN: The thing that gives me pause is the possibility of the B1G champion having 2 losses, and it’s a team like 2015 Michigan State or Iowa that doesn’t necessarily “wow” you with athleticism or flashy plays. If Oregon or USC runs the table, if Oklahoma State runs the table or is a 1-loss champion, if Clemson or Notre Dame runs the table or is a 1-loss champion and the SEC has 2 1-loss teams, who knows?
I do know that it’s always fun to look ahead and project all these scenarios and have them make us look very dumb 2 weeks later.
On that note, we’ll talk again Friday. Cheers to surviving the final weekend without Big Ten football!