Don't look now, but a CFP nightmare scenario lurks for the Big Ten
2021 has been a historically great season for Big Ten football.
At the high-water mark in October, there were 5 Big Ten teams in the AP Top 10 for the first time ever. And at pretty much every point of the season, there were 3 teams in the Top 10. Only Michigan State’s loss at Ohio State in Week 12 changed that tune.
So for all this time, it’s felt like a given that the Big Ten champ would be representing the league in the College Football Playoff.
Now it’s only a 50-50 proposal. If Michigan wins the Big Ten championship game, the Wolverines are a lock for the CFP. But the euphoria of the B1G showing it’s more than just Ohio State’s playground could be replaced by horror if Iowa upsets Michigan.
In that scenario, there will be 4 Big Ten teams with 2 losses: Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. And it will prove highly difficult for any of them to do the proper gymnastics — or get the needed help — to reach the CFP.
The SEC problem
An Auburn choke job in the Iron Bowl leaves the door wide-open for a 2-loss Alabama team to reach the CFP even if the Crimson Tide lose to Georgia in the SEC championship. That path would not have been available to a 3-loss Bama team, which is the scenario that would have faced the Tide had the rival Tigers prevented them from driving 99 yards in the game’s final 2 minutes.
Given the reverence the committee has shown Alabama all season, there seems no chance it will dip below any 2-loss B1G counterpart. Losses to Georgia and Texas A&M figure to earn more respect from the committee than Michigan’s losses to Michigan State and Iowa.
And though you could correctly point out that Michigan’s win over Ohio State trumps anything Alabama has done, do you trust the committee to see things that way?
The Big 12 problem
A Michigan loss would serve as a tremendous favor to anyone who comes out of the Big 12.
Oklahoma State would be 12-1 with a conference championship. And if 2-loss Baylor springs the upset, the Bears would probably jump the B1G’s playoff candidates after winning a conference title.
Baylor came into the final week of the regular season 7 spots ahead of Iowa in the rankings, so they’re unlikely to lose a head-to-head comparison to the theoretical B1G-champion Hawkeyes. And if you put the Bears’ resume up against a 2-loss Michigan, the Bears would have the benefit of winning their championship game against a much stronger opponent than Iowa.
The Notre Dame problem
In this case, having no chance of losing a conference championship game suits the Fighting Irish. At 11-1 with the lone loss coming to Cincinnati, Notre Dame is probably in if anyone ahead of it stumbles — even including Alabama.
The Cincinnati conundrum
There is one very chaotic wrench that could be thrown into the works — unbeaten Cincinnati losing the American Athletic Conference championship game to a very good Houston team.
The first 2-loss team in line to benefit from the Bearcats’ demise would almost surely be Alabama. The only thing that might prevent that would be Georgia blowing out Bama — but even then a 2-loss B1G team would still need to jump the Big 12 champ. That seems unlikely.
It’s Michigan or bust for B1G
If you’re a fan of Iowa, Ohio State or Michigan State, it will be easy enough to root against the Wolverines in Indianapolis. But anyone else who is a fan of Big Ten football needs to hope Michigan comes through.
Because of Alabama’s comeback win at Auburn, there no longer appears to be a viable path for anyone from the Big Ten to reach the CFP with 2 losses.