1. The B1G Story

We’re all chasing the wrong thing here. Conference expansion isn’t leading a paradigm shift in college football.

Playoff expansion is.

“The Playoff, at 12 teams, will be bigger than anything else in the sport,” an industry source told Saturday Tradition. “Bigger than the SEC, bigger than the Big Ten, bigger than anything anyone envisioned. What’s happening in those Playoff (format) meetings will change everything.”

Why, you ask? Because it’s easy money.

And it may be the final nudge for Big Ten presidents still dragging their feet over expanding and adding more West Cost teams.

Because unlike the 2024-25 seasons with a 12-team format that includes specific benchmarks for admission (6 highest-ranked conference champions, 6 at-large teams), the next Playoff format — the contract begins in the 2026 season — will likely have no benchmarks.

Translation: 12 at-large selections.

Both the Big Ten and SEC favor 12 at-large selections, and why wouldn’t they? It gives each conference more opportunity to secure spots in the Playoff, and that means more payout by percentage.

The biggest, most powerful — and here’s the key: biggest television draws — properties in college sports reside in the Big Ten and SEC. It would be foolish to think either conference would agree to a format that would limit the number of teams it could qualify for the Playoff.

And that, as much as anything, will factor into further Big Ten expansion.

2. The next move

The conference wasn’t going anywhere on expansion with former commissioner Kevin Warren still in the building through the end of April 2023.

Now expansion might be further delayed with the mess of a television deal that Warren left new commissioner Tony Petitti. In short: There’s funny money that may or may not be available, and revenue that television partners will claw back.

To say nothing of the conference championship game that was given to a secondary network (NBC) without the knowledge of No. 1 partner (and co-owner of the Big Ten Network) Fox.

The next big step in expansion will not come from the Big Ten, but from the Pac-12 — and its chase for media rights dollars. If the Pac-12 can’t secure a deal that keeps all 10 members happy — and many in the industry feel it’s a long shot — the Big Ten could get 2 West Coast teams at bargain prices.

One industry source said it’s not out of the equation that the Big Ten adds Washington and Oregon at a reduced number — but a number that would be a significant increase from what the Pac-12 is offering.

In other words, if the new Pac-12 deal guarantees $30 million per school, the Big Ten could find a partner — likely streaming — to cover the annual cost of adding Washington and Oregon (and maybe Stanford and Cal). For example, Amazon pays the Big Ten $100 million annually for a specific number of Big Ten games, and Washington and Oregon receive $50 million annually from that deal.

It’s not the same annual revenue as the other 16 Big Ten teams (estimated $60-70 million initially, and escalates over time), but it’s significantly more than what they’d receive from the Pac-12. That move gives the Big Ten greater flexibility for scheduling in all sports (not just football), decreases cost of travel for all sports and all schools (not just USC and UCLA), and reduces academic stress for all student-athletes (not just football players).

3. The Playoff impact

No matter what you hear publicly from presidents and commissioners, the ability to generate new forms of revenue is driving college sports. It’s all about money and preparing for the inevitable of pay-for-play.

University presidents don’t want to be blindsided again like they were with the reckless rollout of NIL and free player movement. They want to proactively prepare for what could be next with pay-for-play.

That’s why the next Playoff contract will be 12 at-large selections. If the current Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 expansion setup for 2024 is used in the past 4 Playoff final rankings and run through a 12-team format, it’s clear where the sport is headed.

The SEC (with Oklahoma and Texas) would have had 17 appearances. Of the 48 possible appearances over 4 years, the SEC would have had 35% of the spots.

The Big Ten (with USC and UCLA) would have had 12. Combined, the 2 leagues would have claimed 29 of the 42 available spots, or 60%.

Meanwhile, the Big 12 (with Cincinnati) had 7, the ACC and Pac-12 had 5 and Notre Dame had 2.

A true reflection of what should be beginning with the new Playoff contract in 2026 — considering the heft of the properties in the Big Ten and SEC — is closer to 70% or more of the spots.

4. The money train

The new Playoff contract won’t distribute money like the current deal, where a majority of the money goes to the Power 5 conferences.

The new contract will likely use a “units” system, where conferences receive revenue based on how many of their teams participate.

That leaves the 2 super conferences at a distinct advantage.

It’s simple math. The SEC’s new media rights deal with ESPN beginning in 2024 will generate $829 million annually. The addition of Texas and Oklahoma to the conference will push that number well over $900 million.

The Big Ten’s new media rights deal beginning this season will, after Petitti deals with the unwieldy mess, be similar to the SEC’s deal.

The Playoff contract will at least match those deals, and multiple industry sources say annual revenue could reach nearly $1.5 billion.

Now do you see why conference champions or the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion won’t be connected with the new Playoff contract?

The 2 super conferences with the most valuable properties aren’t going to willingly give Playoff money out of the goodness of their hearts. And television partners aren’t paying for another Georgia-TCU national title game — which was the least-watched college football national championship game in the history of the Playoff and BCS. An expanded field filled with more SEC and B1G teams greatly reduces the odds that a team like TCU can reach the final.

5. The Weekly 5

The top 5 games that stress Nebraska’s win total line of 6.5.

1. Sept. 30 vs. Michigan: The talent discrepancy will be difficult to overcome.

2. Aug. 31, at Minnesota: Season-opener against an experienced defense, and an offense with huge potential at quarterback.

3. Nov. 18 at Wisconsin: 10 weeks in, who has the better new coach buy-in: Badgers or Huskers?

4. Nov. 24: vs. Iowa: A wildly underrated rivalry — and a sneaky-good Iowa team that’s consistent QB production away from winning big games.

5. Oct. 7 at Illinois: It wasn’t that long ago that losing to Illinois was rock bottom for former coach Scott Frost. Now look.

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Michigan RB Donovan Edwards.

“He’s a guy that’s going to really test well at the Combine and his Pro Day. He looks the part, and he has that gamebreaking speed, and the ability to make you miss. You’re going to hear a lot about Blake Corum, and he’s a terrific player. But (Edwards) is the home-run hitter, and he’s barely at 150 career carries. I absolutely love him in the pass game. Soft hands, explosion after the catch.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: Biggest offseason addition.

1. Michigan: G LaDarius Henderson. Arizona State transfer solidifies a strong middle 3 on the offensive line.

2. Ohio State: CB Davison Igbinosun. Big, physical man cover corner will fit perfectly with DC Jim Knowles’ aggressive scheme.

3. Penn State: WR Dante Cephas. Former Kent State star didn’t participate in spring practice but officially enrolled last month.

4. Wisconsin: HC Luke Fickell. A whole lot of new in Madison: from Fickell’s hands on, demanding coaching style, to a completely different offense.

5. Iowa: WR Kaleb Brown. New QB Cade McNamara is important, but Brown gives Iowa something it hasn’t had in years: an elite difference-maker on the outside who was lost on a deep depth chart at Ohio State.

6. Minnesota: WR Corey Crooms. A speedy, dynamic option (14.3 ypc., at Western Michigan) on the outside for QB Athan Kaliakmanis.

7. Illinois: DC Aaron Henry. Played for Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, began his coaching career with Bielema at Arkansas — and gets his first coordinator job with Bielema.

8. Maryland: OC Josh Gattis. It didn’t work at Miami, but Gattis and Terps coach Mike Locksley made it work as co-offensive coordinators at Alabama with Tua Tagovailoa. Can they recreate that magic with Taulia Tagovailoa?

9. Purdue: HC Ryan Walters. Waited for the right job and the right spot. Can he take advantage of it at Purdue?

10. Nebraska: QB Jeff Sims. Huskers placing a lot on a quarterback with a history of uneven play and injuries.

11. Michigan State: DT Tunmise Adeleye. Former bluechip recruit lost on a loaded Texas A&M defensive line could be disruptive force for Spartans.

12. Indiana: Edge Andre Carter. A playmaker all over the field at Western Michigan: 7 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 INT, 68 tackles.

13. Rutgers: CB Eric Rogers. Injuries slowed his development the past 2 seasons, but he played at high level when healthy.

14. Northwestern: QB Ben Bryant. Wildcats haven’t had consistency at QB since 2020. Maybe Bryant, who had 2,732 yards and 21 TDs at Cincinnati in 2022, brings it.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: What do you make of Payton Thorne leaving Michigan State? A 2-year starter leaving for another program doesn’t look good. — Tom Connor, Chicago.


The best way to explain it is Thorne didn’t get better from Year 1 to Year 2 as a starter. In fact, he regressed.

Part of that can be traced to struggles in the run game. The Spartans’ offense is based on play-action throws, and when you can’t run the ball, an offense based on play-action throws is exposed.

That’s why Thorne’s average yards per attempt fell from 8.3 to 6.9, which a significant decrease. The ball didn’t go downfield, and defenses sat on short routes.

No run game and a predictable pass game translates to a lot of problems making plays in the passing game when it mattered most. Thorne competed this spring with Noah Kim, but players sometimes just need a fresh start — and it’s no fault of the player or coach.

9. Numbers

17.3. Here’s what made Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr. 1 of the top 3 receivers in college football in 2022: He averaged 17.3 yards per catch against ranked teams.

That number increased nearly 6 yards from his 2021 season, when he was the No. 4 receiver and averaged 11.8 ypc. As the No. 1 receiver last season, he had 27 catches for 467 yards in 4 games against ranked teams.

10. Quote to note

Penn State coach James Franklin on WR Omari Evans: “He’s got all the tools. We’ve got to grind through it, and continue to get him good at his craft because he mainly played quarterback in high school. He’s strong and he’s physical, and he’s getting more and more confident.”