The Big 12 is kicking itself. The Pac-12 is kicking itself. The ACC is kicking itself. The best teams in their conferences (Oklahoma, Oregon and Clemson) sputtered this season, and they didn’t have another contender emerge.

The Big Ten, meanwhile, could’ve been in a similar situation as those conferences. Ohio State wasn’t at the level it has been the last few years, but fortunately for the B1G, Michigan stepped up and is firing on all cylinders.

While Michigan had a case for No. 1, it ultimately was awarded the No. 2 seed in the final College Football Playoff rankings released on Sunday afternoon. And because of Michigan, the Big Ten separated itself even further from the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC. This was a unique season in which only 2 Power 5 conferences got bids for the first time in the 8-year history of this format, and it didn’t impact the Big Ten. That’s a great sign moving forward.

The Big Ten has now had 3 programs make the CFP (Michigan State in 2015 was the other), and that matters. The SEC is the only other conference that has 3 current members to have made it. The Pac-12 (2), ACC (2) and Big 12 (1) can’t say that.

Outside of the SEC, there’s a perception that there’s really just 1 team in each league that can compete nationally. And I think that’s fair. Just look at the evidence:

  • The ACC hasn’t had a team aside from Clemson even contend for a spot since Florida State made it in 2014.
  • The Big 12 has only ever had Oklahoma make it, and before Oklahoma State and Baylor contended this season, it had been since 2014 when TCU and Baylor were on the cusp that it had any other program in the mix.
  • The Pac-12 hasn’t had a team make it since 2016, and usually only Oregon is even considered a threat to make it.
  • Before this season, it had been since Wisconsin in 2017 went undefeated in the regular season that a B1G team other than Ohio State had seriously contended for a CFP spot.

Why does any of this matter? Because perception is king in college football. It heavily influences preseason rankings, which heavily influence in-season rankings.

This is the SEC’s biggest advantage over the rest of college football. Georgia was the third SEC team in the last 3 years to roll through the regular season unbeaten and at No. 1. Every year, the SEC has multiple national title contenders. No other league has been able to say that, ever. While some want to cry SEC bias (and there may be some), it’s somewhat understandable given that the conference has multiple programs that can compete on this level.

Michigan’s breakthrough puts the Big Ten in that rare category, and its inclusion in this year’s field will pay off for the Big Ten the next few years. The conference will get the benefit of the doubt a little bit more now that it has proven it is more than just Ohio State. The Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC desperately need for someone to go on a similar run and change the perception in those leagues.

It’s important, too, that Michigan is legitimately good enough to win it all. This isn’t Michigan State in 2015 that snuck by Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game and had the No. 73 offense in the country. Michigan possesses a top-20 offense and defense, beat the brakes off Iowa in the conference title game and convincingly defeated Ohio State the week before. Strip away the names of Alabama, Georgia and Michigan and just look at the resumes, and you could easily conclude that Michigan is the best. Who knows if Michigan will beat Georgia, but the important thing is that it very well could, which isn’t something you could say about Michigan State in 2015, which lost to Alabama 38-0.

Even with a flawed Ohio State team, the Big Ten found a way into the CFP for the third straight season. And because of the way it happened, the conference’s credibility will be even higher in the coming years.