Despite Big Ten’s late start, the College Football Playoff Committee showed respect in initial rankings
The Big Ten started playing games a month and a half after the Big 12 and ACC and one month after the SEC. The biggest worry for the Big Ten was how such a late start would impact the way the conference was perceived by the College Football Playoff Committee. If the league plays 3 or 4 fewer games than those conferences, would the Big Ten even have a chance?
As it turns out, there was nothing to worry about.
Ohio State is safely in the top 4 in the committee’s initial rankings, which came out Tuesday night. Northwestern got a ton of respect at No. 8, Indiana was at No. 12, Wisconsin at No. 16 and Iowa at No. 24. The Big Ten had more teams in the CFP rankings (5) than in the AP or Coaches poll (4). Iowa is 41st in the Coaches Poll and 30th in the AP. Ohio State and Northwestern can both play their way into the CFP from those spots, and since both are likely to be undefeated when they meet in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Big Ten seems assured to get a team in.
The Pac 12, even though it started just 2 weeks after the Big Ten, looks all but assured to not get a team in. Oregon came in at No. 15 and USC at No. 18. Wisconsin, which has played just 3 games due to COVID, was ranked 2 spots ahead of USC — and the Badgers have a loss! That’s a sign of respect for the Big Ten and Northwestern.
Unbeaten BYU, which has already played 9 games and has just 1 left on the schedule, is at No. 14. Indiana, which has played 4 fewer games and has a loss, is 2 spots ahead. BYU, according to committee chair Gary Barta, was dinged for its strength of schedule. While I do think the Hoosiers are legit, as they showed at Ohio State last week, they haven’t beaten anyone either. Their 4 wins (Penn State, Rutgers, Michigan and Michigan State) are a combined 4-15. It appears that the way Indiana battled back from a 35-7 deficit to Ohio State was a huge factor in its ranking. With Maryland (2-1), Wisconsin (2-1) and Purdue (2-2) left on the schedule, Indiana has plenty of chances for quality wins. I didn’t expect the Hoosiers to be above BYU so early in the process. Score another one for the Big Ten.
I don’t buy the notion that Northwestern got shafted, as some in the media have opined. The Wildcats control their own destiny, and that’s all you can ask for at this point. Everything else is just noise. I actually thought they got some well-deserved respect from the committee, which had the Wildcats 3 spots higher than the AP and Coaches polls. If a contender had won its last 4 games by an average of 6.4 points, we would rightfully be a little skeptical — or at least penalize them a bit. Heck, Ohio State only beat Indiana by 7, and that probably dropped the Buckeyes down a spot. So for Northwestern to be within striking distance of the top 4 is a good sign. There have only been 3 teams in the 6 years of the CFP that have been ranked 8th or worse in initial rankings and made it, so Northwestern obviously has its work cut out for it. But one of those was No. 16 Ohio State in 2014, and that team went on to win it all.
There may be some Ohio State fans who disagree with me, but I don’t think putting the Buckeyes at No. 4 was any sort of slight. I personally had them at No. 3, but I totally get it. They have only played 4 games (just 1 more than the Pac 12 teams, who are 11-14 spots lower), and their opponents’ combined record is 6-13. It would’ve been easy to put Ohio State at No. 6 or 7, behind Texas A&M and Florida, and allowed the Buckeyes to play their way in, instead of already slotting them in the top 4. Ohio State’s schedule is incredibly soft this season, as the Big Ten didn’t give the Buckeyes any potential roadblocks from the West in its reworked schedule. (It doesn’t help that Penn State and Michigan are down this season, either.) That’s fine if your goal is to get to the CFP, but if you want to be ranked higher, you need quality wins. Ohio State is just fine at No. 4, and it’ll have a chance to move up pending what happens in the ACC and SEC.
Do these rankings matter? Yes and no. The rankings mostly just generate interesting discussion at this point.
At the same time, they are helpful in understanding where the Big Ten is starting this race. Even though it began the season behind, it has mostly caught up and is in good position for the home stretch of the 2020 season.