Perception is reality in 2020.

The perception entering the 2020 season was that the SEC was the nation’s best conference. Why? The SEC had 7 teams ranked in the Associated Press preseason Top 25, 6 of which were ranked in the top 13. Reality is that there are conference-only schedules this year and that we won’t see Power 5 conferences truly face off with one another until the postseason.

Hence, the perception of the SEC is that it’ll essentially have an automatic Playoff berth. That’s reality.

The perception of the B1G heading into this bizarre 2020 season has been, well, a bit all over the place. Under normal circumstances, the conference would have been firmly established as the No. 2 conference with Ohio State, which was and is a legitimate contender to win it all.

But then opt-outs happened. Stars elected not to participate in whatever was in store. A postponed season didn’t just put the B1G’s perception on the back burner; it was taken off the stove entirely.

Now, however, perception has changed. At least it should have.

The latest key opt-in for the B1G was Rashod Bateman, who ironically enough, was the first big-time college star to initially pass on the 2020 COVID season. Bateman’s return followed in the footsteps of fellow preseason All-American receiver Rondale Moore, as well as Ohio State preseason All-Americans Wyatt Davis and Shaun Wade.

No, Micah Parsons isn’t coming back. That’s about the only thing that could have helped the B1G’s perception more.

And by “perception,” I mean “Playoff chances.”

RELATED: Rashod Bateman’s return changes complexion of B1G, college football in 2020

In the same way the SEC wins the offseason battle on a seemingly yearly basis, the B1G needed to regain some momentum after those opt-outs. When the decision to have a fall season was actually official — and not just rumored by Mr. Large Boat — the B1G didn’t want to give off the vibe that it was a watered-down league lacking the All-Americans who would have played under normal circumstances. It couldn’t just be Justin Fields doing all the heavy lifting.

I say that not to slight the conference. Lord knows there’s star power well beyond Fields. Guys like Tanner Morgan, Pat Freiermuth, Cole Van Lanen and Paddy Fisher coveted national attention in the preseason, as well.

But in a year like this, the B1G’s winner can’t look like it faced a bunch of depleted squads.

It’s going to be difficult enough for the conference to pump out a 9-0 champion. Part of that is because of the obvious COVID contact tracing guidelines, and the other part of it is because it’s just not easy to go 9-0 in a Power 5 conference. Last year, Ohio State was the first Power 5 team to run the table with a 9-game conference schedule and then win a conference title en route to a Playoff berth. The expectation is that the Buckeyes will follow a similar path this year.

The good news for a team like Ohio State is that with Wade and Davis opting back in, this will still be mostly the same squad that was preseason No. 2. Why is that significant? Because preseason perception told us that at full strength, the Buckeyes were better than every SEC team. That means even if someone like Penn State or Wisconsin beats Ohio State, there won’t be a perception that they faced a Buckeye squad that lost multiple All-Americans before the season even started.

It was interesting seeing this week’s AP Top 25. It’s a mess, no doubt, but after the SEC kicked off its season, we got a little insight as to what the perception of the B1G was (this was before Bateman opted back in)

  • No. 6 Ohio State
  • No. 10 Penn State
  • No. 19 Wisconsin
  • No. 23 Michigan

On the surface, one would look at that and say, “wow, the B1G contenders are going to continue to take hits by not playing.” To be fair, that’s to be expected. If a team is 3-1 with wins against 2 ranked teams while a B1G team is sitting there at 0-0- yeah, that 3-1 team should get the benefit of the doubt.

What was important was that Ohio State still got 4 first-place votes compared to Alabama’s 3 (Clemson got the rest of the first-place votes). Penn State, meanwhile, is still in the top 10 despite the fact that 3 other Power 5 conferences played in Power 5 games.

Perception is that the B1G, when it returns to play, has 2 legitimate Playoff contenders. Reality is that as long as they don’t trip over their own shoelaces to start the year, that won’t change. While I was skeptical of what the narrative would be if a team like Wisconsin or Minnesota won the B1G, I think the key is Ohio State and Penn State staying in that contender range and having as close to full rosters as possible. Easier said than done.

Shoot, even a team with some major question marks like Michigan is going to get a much more noteworthy boost if it goes into Minnesota and stymies a Gopher squad with Bateman.

The B1G is sitting in this odd position where it’s trying not to be an afterthought. It needs star power. It needs to earn a national audience. Moore and Bateman are worth the price of admission on any given day, while Wade and Davis might not jump off the screen, but they certainly give Ohio State a better chance of showing on a weekly basis that the B1G’s top team is Playoff-worthy.

After months of shooting itself in the foot, the perception of the B1G is finally turning back in the right direction.

Four preseason All-Americans deserve credit for that.