When the initial College Football Playoff rankings were released a week ago, three Big Ten teams made a legitimate case to be included in the final four in December.
Following a zany weekend of Big Ten football, that list appears to be down to one.
Undefeated Wisconsin came in at No. 8 in the second CFP Top 25 poll, which was released Tuesday night, while Ohio State and Penn State dropped out of the top 10. The Badgers are the only Big Ten team with fewer than two losses and now represent the league’s best chance of playoff inclusion.
Wisconsin defeated Indiana 45-17 to move up one spot in the poll. Miami leapfrogged Wisconsin from No. 10 to No. 7 this week after defeating Virginia Tech 28-10.
Three other Big Ten teams found themselves in the top 15 this week: No. 12 Michigan State, No. 13 Ohio State and No. 14 Penn State. Michigan State rose 12 spots thanks to a 27-24 victory against Penn State. Iowa entered the rankings at No. 20 following its 55-24 drubbing of Ohio State.
Last week, Ohio State was ranked No. 6, while Penn State was No. 7.
One Big Ten team has qualified for the playoff in each of its first three years of existence. In 2014, Ohio State used the strength of a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin in the conference championship game to earn a playoff berth as the fourth and final team. Ohio State went on to defeat Alabama and Oregon to capture the national title.
Michigan State earned a playoff berth in 2015 after outlasting previously undefeated Iowa 16-13 in the league championship game. Eventual national champion Alabama then hammered Michigan State 38-0 in a semifinal.
Last season, Ohio State made the playoff despite not competing in the Big Ten Championship Game because Penn State held the tiebreaker in the East Division. Ohio State lost 31-0 to eventual national champion Clemson in the semifinals.
This time around, there is no guarantee the Big Ten will have a playoff representative, even if Wisconsin runs the table. In fact, the losses by Ohio State and Penn State could hurt Wisconsin’s chances. Wisconsin could play Ohio State, Penn State or Michigan State in the league title game. Each of those teams has two losses.
The good news for Wisconsin is that it can begin making its climb up the rankings with strong showings against the best competition on its schedule.
According to the Sagarin Ratings, Wisconsin’s strength of schedule ranks No. 68 in the country. But Wisconsin has a victory under its belt against Northwestern, which came in at No. 25 in the CFP poll Tuesday. No. 20 Iowa is up next on the schedule, followed by a solid Michigan team next weekend.
No undefeated Power 5 conference team has missed the playoffs. But the Badgers likely will need some help to reach the final four.
No. 1 Georgia or No. 2 Alabama figures to make the playoff as the champion of the SEC. Those teams appear to be on a collision course for the conference title game. The question is whether the losing team would drop out of the top four, enabling another conference champion to move in.
No. 3 Notre Dame’s lone loss was a 20-19 defeat against Georgia. The Fighting Irish have beaten nationally ranked foes USC and North Carolina State. No. 4 Clemson lost to unranked Syracuse but has victories against four teams that were ranked in the top 20 at the time of their game: Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech and N.C. State. The Tigers seem to possess a clear path to the playoff as well.
Saturday represents a huge opportunity for Wisconsin to move up. No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 6 TCU play each other, as do No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 7 Miami in games that are de facto playoff elimination affairs. If Wisconsin beats Iowa, the Badgers figure to move up to at least No. 6 in the CFP poll next week.
At this stage, Wisconsin has established itself as the Big Ten’s best bet for a playoff contender. Whether the Badgers can carry that flag all the way to the final four remains to be seen.
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