Michigan fans don’t want to hear it right now.

These are the days to focus on Jim Harbaugh’s career underachievement. A combined 3-9 record against Michigan State and Ohio State. Zero Big Ten titles. Not even so much as an appearance in the conference championship game. Even Northwestern has done it twice, for heaven’s sake.

But the first release of College Football Playoff rankings make it abundantly clear that there is a path for 2 Big Ten teams to get into the field. And at No. 7, there is very much a pathway for the Wolverines to be that second team.

Or if complete chaos reigns, potentially the only team.

What Michigan controls

If Michigan State wins out, there’s no jumping Sparty. In that scenario, the best outcome would be joining Sparty at the party.

Michigan’s last 4 games have just the right mix of softness and saltiness to stay in the mix. Indiana and Maryland should be easy wins. Penn State and Ohio State are currently ranked by the AP, with the Buckeyes also high up in the CFP, of course.

Of the teams ranked behind Michigan, only Oklahoma provides a substantial threat to overtake the Wolverines. The Sooners have No. 11 Oklahoma State, No. 12 Baylor, Iowa State, plus a rematch with one of those 3 in the Big 12 championship game. But it’s reasonable to think Oklahoma isn’t good enough to run the table, or it would be ranked higher than 8th with a 9-0 record.

Given the disrespect the committee has already shown for No. 6 Cincinnati, it’s also safe to say Michigan would jump the Bearcats given the potential weight of wins at Penn State and an Ohio State team that could be in the Top 4 by the regular-season finale.

There’s no telling what fate may befall current No. 4 Oregon, because that’s how the Pac-12 rolls. The Ducks may well win their remaining 4 regular-season games only to be penalized by losing the Pac-12 title game, thereupon falling behind a Michigan team that didn’t play in its conference championship game.

Potential landmines await Michigan State

The above scenarios lay out paths in which Michigan could join Michigan State in the College Football Playoff. But it is potentially more likely that the Wolverines will be the Big Ten’s only representative.

In order for that to happen, Michigan State needs to lose twice, granting Michigan a seat at the Big Ten championship game should the Wolverines finish 4-0.

For the Spartans, this week’s game at Purdue is very much within the danger zone, as Mel Tucker noted at his press conference.

Even if the Spartans survive that road challenge as expected, far greater ones loom ahead. As good as Michigan State has been all season, a back-to-back finishing leg of Ohio State and Penn State seems nearly impossible to get through unscathed.

It also raises a potentially fascinating tiebreaking scenario.

Let’s say Ohio State beats Michigan State, then falls to Michigan the following week. The teams would be in a 3-way tie for first in the Big Ten East, at which point the team ranked highest by the CFP committee would earn the division title.

But would they give more weight to Michigan State for beating Michigan head-to-head, or Michigan for beating the Ohio State team that the Spartans would have lost to? The scores and overall feel of those games may factor into the calculus.

Brutus Buckeye may brutalize Big Ten

It’s quite likely that Ohio State will represent the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff. And in that scenario, it would be virtually impossible for a second B1G team to get into the field.

That’s because any Buckeyes path to the Playoff requires wins over the Spartans and Wolverines.

With 2 losses, Michigan would be done. Michigan State would need a multitude of things to shake in its favor, because it would fall behind both Oregon and Ohio State. And probably even Cincinnati, which had a better overall showing against mutual opponent Indiana. Unless Alabama loses to Auburn or anyone else before the end of the regular season, Michigan State can ill afford any defeats.

Which brings us to the ultimate nightmare scenario: no Big Ten teams in the CFP. Which is also very much in play.

Perhaps unlikely, but possible: Ohio State loses at Nebraska this Saturday in a job-saving win for Scott Frost. Giggle now, but the Cornhuskers have played 2 Top 10 teams down to the wire this year — No. 3 Michigan State and No. 8 Oklahoma. Maybe they actually finish the job this time around.

The angry Buckeyes would then stomp everyone remaining in their path, winning the Big Ten but getting locked out of the Playoff.

Taming the West

In theory, the Big Ten championship game should not be a factor in determining whether there are 0, 1 or 2 B1G teams in the CFP.

The West champ is 0-7 all-time in Indianapolis, and the current frontrunner in the division has a loss to Bowling Green. Wisconsin performed feebly in a home loss to Michigan, and it’s hard to see any combination of Minnesota, Wisconsin or Iowa beating the team that comes out of the East.

One way of the other, the Big Ten Playoff picture will be determined by the 3 teams still vying for a place in the CFP field.