1. The B1G Story

It didn’t take long for the Big Ten and SEC partnership, or working group, or whatever you want to call it, to finally find a common enemy.

The Playoff selection committee.

In a matter of weeks, the Big Ten and the SEC — the 2 heavyweight superconferences poised to changed the landscape of college sports — came to the realization that months (and in the SEC’s case, nearly 2 years) of politicking for no automatic qualifiers for the 12-team Playoff format wasn’t the way to go.

Want to know why the SEC and Big Ten have done a 180 on their Playoff format preference, pushing instead for a format that gives each 3 automatic qualifiers and guarantees a top 2 seed — and a first-round bye in the tournament — in every Playoff, every year?

Because they don’t trust the Playoff committee to get it right.

“I don’t think we can ignore the elephant in the room,” a Big Ten athletic director told Saturday Tradition. “There are too many opportunities for (a Playoff vote) to go horribly wrong.”

Before we go further, understand this: The uncertainty about the selection committee’s ability to get it right doesn’t center around Florida State’s snub for the 2023 Playoff.

The Noles were the first unbeaten Power conference champion to miss the tournament in the Playoff era. That’s not what has the Big Ten and SEC sideways.

Here’s what does: Georgia became the first No. 1-ranked team on Championship Saturday to lose — by 3 points to No. 8 Alabama in a conference championship game — and drop out of the tournament field. That, and Ohio State’s treatment by the committee after a regular-season loss to Michigan.

It’s not as simple as Alabama beat Georgia and won the SEC, and they’re in. And if Alabama is in, then 1-loss Texas — which beat Alabama on the road in mid-September — is in, too.

That simplistic decision, the SEC believed, ignored strength of schedule among the 3 teams (Texas, Alabama, Georgia), and the complete change in the Alabama offense since the Texas loss.

The Big Ten, meanwhile, wasn’t thrilled about Ohio State dropping from No. 2 in the nation entering the final week of the regular season, to No. 6, after a 6-point loss at No. 3 Michigan — while driving late in the game with a chance to win it.

The Big Ten gripe: Why was FSU at No. 4 entering Championship Saturday? If the season-ending injury to QB Jordan Travis was a deal breaker on the final vote of the season, it most certainly was after FSU nearly lost to Florida in the regular-season final.

Then there’s Oregon, which was clearly slotted at No. 5 to allow an easy jump into the Playoff had it beaten Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Oregon had 1 win vs. Top 25 Playoff poll team (No. 20 Oregon State), while Ohio State had wins over No. 10 Penn State and No. 17 Notre Dame.

Those “misses,” as another Big Ten athletic director said, will be magnified in the 12-team field — especially with the strength of the 2 super conferences compared to the rest of the FBS field.

2. Finding the flaws

These 2 conferences do nothing without detailed research, and the work this time was quick and painless.

Using an all at-large format in 2 of the past 3 seasons (2021-22) with the 2024 conference alignment, 13 of the 28 Playoff spots would’ve been earned by schools not in the SEC and Big Ten.

Of course, in 2023, 12 of the 14 spots would’ve been taken by the SEC and Big Ten.

Using the proposed 3-2-1 format in the 2023 season — 3 auto bids each for the SEC and Big Ten, 2 each for ACC and Big 12, 1 for Group of 5 — the Big Ten and SEC go from 12 bids (with no automatic qualifiers) to 7. In that scenario, No. 15 Louisville, No. 20 Oklahoma State and No. 23 Liberty all make the Playoff.

No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 12 Oklahoma do not.

But here’s what has the Big Ten and SEC concerned: In 2022, half of the tournament in an all at-large format — TCU, Clemson, Utah, Kansas State, FSU and Oregon State — would’ve been outside the super conferences.

In 2021, 8 of the 12 Playoff teams — Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Utah, Pittsburgh and BYU — would’ve been outside the super conferences.

Translation: It’s a gamble — and it’s not one the Big Ten and SEC want to take with the selection committee.

3. Moving forward

The SEC and Big Ten can make this play for 3 auto qualifier spots and a guarantee first-round bye beginning in 2026 — without reservation or hesitation — because the rest of college football needs them.

One industry source told Saturday Tradition that if the SEC and Big Ten pooled and shared media rights among the 34 schools — and scheduled between leagues for all nonconference games — they would command “considerably more” in media rights deals.

“They could sell that product to multiple media entities, including cable and streaming, and make a killing,” the industry source said. “It’s no different than the NFL.”

The NFL this season had regular season and Playoff games on Fox, CBS, ESPN, NBC and 2 streaming services (Amazon, Peacock). The SEC and Big Ten are projected to make nearly $2 billion combined annually beginning with the 2024 season.

“They may be able to double that,” the industry source added.

This is what the ACC, Big 12 and remaining Group of 5 conferences — and Notre Dame — are staring at. And why the SEC and Big Ten can name their price with the Playoff format beginning in 2026.

4. The remaining pieces, The Epilogue

This is just the beginning for the Big Ten and SEC working group, its impact affecting future revenue pooling and sharing with players, rules enforcement and an end of football’s connection with the NCAA.

But none of those paradigm shifts happen until Florida State finds a way out of the ACC, and opens the door for the ACC’s other premier programs.

It would be foolish to think the current conference landscape will remain the same over the next couple of years, and certainly won’t be the same by the time the second Playoff contract ends in 2031.

The SEC and Big Ten most certainly will change. There’s too many elite properties hanging in the balance.

With that as the backdrop, the rest of college football will more than likely do whatever it takes to placate the SEC and Big Ten and prevent them from pulling away — and taking Playoff riches with them.

The second Playoff contract (2026-2031) is worth an estimated $1.3 billion annually. If the SEC and Big Ten presidents decide to pull away from the NCAA and go it alone, that Playoff deal goes with them.

The rest of college football would then become a different division with its own postseason, with significantly less revenue.

5. The Weekly 5

Five Big Ten players who increased their NFL Draft stock at the Senior Bowl and Combine, per multiple NFL scouts.

1. QB JJ McCarthy, Michigan: “He didn’t do everything (at the Combine), but he clearly showed he’s a Day 1 guy.”

2. WR Rome Odunze, Washington: “I know at least 2 teams who have him as their No. 1 (receiver) on their board.”

3. Edge Chop Robinson, Penn State: “An athletic freak, and a guy whose production is much better than the numbers.”

4. WR Troy Franklin, Oregon: “He did just about everything right (at the Combine), and he interviewed really well. Very impressive.”

5. S Tyler Nubin, Minnesota: “I wouldn’t be shocked if he goes late in Day 1. He has so much good tape.”

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: USC S Calen Bullock.

“He’s long and athletic and he can run. Where do you play him? He’s undersized right now (6-3, 190) to play in the back end. But he can play nickel corner, and you’re not losing anything in coverage. His skills are that good. He finds the ball out there, too, no matter where he’s playing. He just needs to do the little things better: angles, getting off blocks, pursuit.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll: Ranking the best coaching values, with 2023 salaries.

1. Northwestern: David Braun ($750,000): Keeping the embattled program afloat was huge. Then he won 8 games — including a bowl win over Utah.

2. Oregon: Dan Lanning ($6.62 million). Ducks won 12 games, but 2 losses to Washington by a combined 6 points eliminated a Pac-12 title and Playoff appearance.

3. Washington: Jedd Fisch ($3.25 million). Arizona was a dead-end job when Fisch arrived. By year 3, he won 10 games and beat Oklahoma in a bowl game.

4. Michigan: Sherrone Moore ($1.15 million). Was 4-0 as Michigan’s head coach, including big wins over Penn State and Ohio State.

5. Michigan State: Jonathan Smith ($4.85 million). The 8 wins probably should’ve been 10 — losses to Washington State (by 3) and Washington (by 2) were both winnable games.

6. Indiana: Curt Cignetti ($677,311). Won 11 games in James Madison’s 2nd year of FBS transition, with the only regular-season loss by 3 points in overtime — at Sun Belt power App State.

7. Ohio State: Ryan Day ($10.27 million). Nearly $1 million per win (11), and another loss to Michigan.

8. Penn State: James Franklin ($8.5 million). Another 11-win season, another lost opportunity with losses to Michigan and Ohio State.

9. Iowa: Kirk Ferentz ($7 million). Doesn’t matter what it looks like. It’s hard to argue with 10 wins.

10. Rutgers: Greg Schiano ($4 million). Got Rutgers to a bowl game for the 1st time since 2014, but didn’t win a game of significance.

11. Maryland: Mike Locksley ($5.5 million). Rout of Auburn in the Music City Bowl soothed the sting of a 2-5 finish to the end of the regular season.

12. Wisconsin: Luke Fickell ($7.625 million). The 7 wins is tough enough. Losses to Washington State, Indiana and Northwestern can’t happen again.

13. Nebraska: Matt Rhule ($5.5 million). Had the postseason all but wrapped up — then went 0-for-November with 4 losses that should’ve been wins.

14. Minnesota: PJ Fleck ($6 million). Kept bowl streak alive because of academic prowess, then beat Bowling Green for a 6th win.

15. Illinois: Bret Bielema ($6.5 milllion). A significant step back in Year 3, with too many winnable games getting away late.

16. USC: Lincoln Riley ($10 million): The defense is in disarray. Lost 5 of 6 to finish the regular season, and only win was by 1 over Cal.

17. Purdue: Ryan Walters ($4 million). By just about every metric, 2023 was a failure — somewhat saved by 2 wins in the final 3 games.

18. UCLA: DeShaun Foster ($385,000). UCLA’s running game (2,573 yards, 4.9 ypg., 21 TDs) was the best part of the program in 2023, and Foster was running backs coach.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: There’s so much new at Michigan right now. If you’re Sherrone Moore, where do you start to make your mark? — Kevin Ball, Detroit.


Quarterback. And there’s not a close 2nd. Everything revolves around the most important position on the field, and Moore needs to find smart, consistent play.

As much as anything, he needs someone to seize the job in spring practice and lead the team in the offseason. The absolute worst-case scenario is a group of quarterbacks competing for the spot, and no one separates from the field.

Jack Tuttle more than likely won’t even participate (UCL rehab), and would’ve been a long shot, anyway, with his history of injuries.

Alex Orji, the running option in 2023, is a much better thrower than anyone outside the program knows. His arm strength reminds many in the program of former Wolverine Joe Milton III.

Then there’s Jayden Denegal, the most intriguing of the group. He’s 6-5, 235 pounds, and he’s raw. But the potential is exciting.

Freshman Jadyn Davis enrolled early and practiced with the team during the Playoff, and Moore called him a, “very impressive young guy” at the Rose Bowl Media Day.

One of those 3 healthy players — or former walk-on Davis Warren — must take a big step this spring toward winning the job. A team in transition with uncertainty at quarterback is a disaster waiting to happen.

9. Numbers

11.3. It’s hard to look at Miller Moss’ production in the Holiday Bowl for USC and not think he could be the next quarterback thriving in Lincoln Riley’s quarterback-friendly offense.

He threw for 372 yards and 6 TDs against the ACC’s No. 3 defense (Louisville), and completed 70 percent of his passes. More impressive: he averaged 11.3 yards per attempt, and drove the ball accurately on 2nd- and 3rd-level throws.

10. Quote to note

Penn State coach James Franklin on new DC Tom Allen: “We wanted to find somebody that philosophically aligned with what we’ve done, understood our personnel, the conference, where we’ve been and where we need to go.”