The one thing that absolutely could not happen to the Big Ten in its first time sending 2 teams to the College Football Playoff did. And it may be a long, long time before we hear the end of it.

The conference that hasn’t produced a football national champ in 9 years or a men’s basketball national champion in 23 years couldn’t possibly gag this opportunity away.

A full 50% of the CFP field from the B1G. A chance at The Game of All Centuries — an Ohio State-Michigan rematch for the national title. Combine that with the $7 billion media rights contract the conference just signed in 2022, and the sense would be that the brand has never been hotter.

Instead, the bigger the stage, the bigger the choke job.

The Buckeyes and Wolverines are brothers in broken dreams after squandering their semifinal chances.

Coaching decisions loom large

Neither Big Ten team was blown out on what was the single greatest day in College Football Playoff history. Michigan and Ohio State scored a combined 86 points and lost by a combined total of 7.

The talent gap, which appeared to be an issue for the B1G as recently as Michigan’s loss to Georgia a year ago, was not a factor. Neither the Wolverines nor Buckeyes was overmatched by its opponent.

Indeed, both B1G teams probably should have won. But a pair of curious decisions by each coach loomed large in games decided by razor-thin margins.

For Michigan, it was an early decision that was a head-scratcher. The Wolverines shoved the ball down TCU’s throat for their entire first drive before stalling out at the 2. A momentum-changing fourth down loomed.

Instead of running the ball behind the country’s best offensive line, or giving quarterback JJ McCarthy a run-pass option, or even just taking the points, Michigan chose a different path. The Wolverines tried turning a true freshman tight end into a quarterback.

It’s hard to tell what stunk worse — the call or the execution.

Probably the call, because no amount of execution would have made it work against a TCU defense that looks like it practices against the “Philly Special” every day of the week, sometimes twice.

Had Michigan merely failed on a regular play call, TCU would have been backed up at its own 1 on its first offensive snap. Talk about a pressure cooker.

Instead, because Jim Harbaugh got cute, the Horned Frogs opened their first possession at the relative comfort of the 10-yard line. There was still 55 minutes of football remaining, but everything about how that Michigan drive ended set the tone for what would come after.

The Horned Frogs felt they could compete with Michigan all month. After that stop, they knew they could. Hope is the most potent fuel for an underdog, and Harbaugh fed it to the Frogs.

Ohio State’s coaching gaffe came at the opposite end of the game.

The Buckeyes were separated from the end zone by 31 yards and 24 seconds, but had 2 timeouts to work with. Surely, the move was to keep the pedal on the medal. Even if Ohio State didn’t get all the way to the end zone, it could shave 10-20 yards off Noah Ruggles’ game-winning field goal attempt.

But for whatever reason, Ryan Day decided Ruggles was close enough. He handed the ball off on first down, actually losing a yard. CJ Stroud had to throw the ball away on third down, meaning the Buckeyes ran 1 play that had any chance of success in their final 3.

If the ball was at the 15, this would have been sound strategy. But asking a college kicker to nail a 50-yarder with all the pressure in the world on him is absolutely delusional.

When will B1G bounce back?

At this point, there is no overstating the B1G’s championship failures in its 2 tentpole sports. The issue is even more acute in basketball, where 9 teams reached last year’s NCAA tournament and none of them made it past the Sweet 16.

“At least we’re not the Pac-12!” is not an inspiring battle cry. And it grows even sadder when you resort to raiding that conference for its highest-profile programs.

And perhaps that is the answer to ending the Big Ten’s droughts — more shots at the net.

Sure, 1 in 14 teams can’t get a title. But maybe 1 out of 16 will. Though in that case, it’s not wait ’til next year. It’s wait ’til 2024.

Though given the way things are going for the B1G in the 21st century, what’s another couple years without a title?