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After 2 big upsets, the Big Ten’s in real danger of missing the Playoff for the 1st time

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The league is a mess, except for Wisconsin, which has a problem of its own.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

There’s nothing in the College Football Playoff’s rulebook that says a two-loss team can’t make the field of four. But none have done it in the event’s first three seasons, which means unless the committee breaks with precedent this year, the Big Ten’s now down to one possible Playoff team: the 9-0 Wisconsin Badgers.

Ohio State and Penn State both got second losses on Saturday, the Buckeyes gored by Iowa and PSU edged in a marathon at Michigan State. The Spartans join Ohio State as the East division leaders, and MSU’s got Ls at the hands of Notre Dame and Northwestern.

This was a really, really bad Saturday for the conference.

Before, it had three teams with one loss or fewer. In other words, it had three teams that still hadn’t lost more games than any Playoff team ever.

Now it has one such team. That team has played a bad schedule all year and could well be an underdog in the league championship. Other than that, good Saturday!

The Big Ten’s only clear Playoff path is Wisconsin winning the league after a 12-0 regular season.

Wisconsin’s on cruise control in the West, a division the Badgers will clinch with their next win. They’ll play in the Big Ten Championship on Dec. 2 in Indianapolis, and if they don’t lose before then, it’ll likely be a Playoff play-in for them.

Let’s just assume the Badgers win their last three games. If they don’t, their weak schedule likely precludes them from making the Playoff.

It would be mind-blowing for Wisconsin to make the Playoff with anything less than a Big Ten title and an unbeaten record, because the Badgers have spent their season beating up on Marylands and Indianas and Purdues and BYUs and you get the picture. The Badgers’ best win would be against, uh, Iowa? That’s not a Playoff resume.

But if you go 13-0 in the Big Ten, then yeah, you’re in.

If the East champion beats UW in Indy, the Big Ten’s probably out.

So the Big Ten would have to hope one of its two-loss teams — whichever one has beaten Wisconsin in the title game — becomes a Playoff trailblazer and gets in.

Ohio State is the likeliest two-loss Big Ten champ, for what that’s worth.

The Buckeyes are more talented than anyone else in the division (whether they always play like it or not), and they still control their own destiny in the East race. So does Michigan State, which visits Columbus next weekend. Mark Dantonio’s Spartans have beaten OSU at the Horseshoe before, but the winner has outright first place.

If the Buckeyes win out, they’ll be something like 4-1 against Playoff top-25 teams on Selection Sunday, plus a horrible loss to Iowa. That record would be about average for a Playoff participant ... plus a horrible loss to Iowa. It would not be helpful if the Buckeyes’ two losses were absolute destructions.

A two-loss Big Ten squad making it would also require chaos elsewhere.

Several of these teams would have to go:

  • The winner of the impending Alabama-Georgia SEC Championship Game will take one Playoff spot. It’s possible that the loser will take another.
  • The winner of the impending Miami-Clemson ACC Championship Game will take another, unless Clemson gets a second loss before then or Miami loses twice.
  • If the Big 12 champion has one loss — possible if it’s Oklahoma or TCU — that team’s taking one spot.
  • Notre Dame’s still around, as are Washington and even two-loss Auburn.

The Big Ten’s still not totally cooked.

But it’s certainly on the ropes. If Ohio State or Michigan State winds up beating the Badgers in December, the league might have its face pressed up against the glass.