-Alex Fry (‘19)
For a long time running, the Big Ten has consistently been host to powerhouse football teams. Whether it was Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions, Bo Schembechler’s Wolverines or more recent teams such as Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes and Mark Dantonio’s Spartans, the Big Ten has always had a team feared throughout the nation. Along with these great teams always came an appearance in the College Football Playoffs, a four-team tournament reserved for the four best teams in the nation. This year however, the Big Ten is in peril. With a conference full of good but not excellent teams and inconsistent play, the Big Ten has a lot to worry about. Here is a rundown of the conference’s best teams, and their current shot at making the playoffs:
The Michigan Wolverines came into the 2017 season as a dark horse candidate to make the playoffs. Despite only having five returning starters from their 2016 roster, Michigan was still ranked 11th in the country in the preseason as a lot of trust was placed into Jim Harbaugh and his ability to develop young talent. This confidence, however, was misplaced, as Michigan struggled early in the season against weak opposition, mainly on the offensive side of the ball. Michigan lost at home to Michigan State 14-7 in a shocking upset, and has since been trending downwards. They got blown out by Penn State 42-13 and have yet to figure out their quarterback problem with Harbaugh’s reluctance to give freshman QB Brandon Peters more passing attempts. For the most part, Michigan is out of the playoff picture.
So far, Michigan State has been a pleasant surprise for the Big Ten. After finishing the 2016 season at an abysmal 3-9, the Spartans were overlooked by just about everyone in the NCAA. Everyone except Mark Dantonio. The Spartans started out the season with a loss to Notre Dame, who is currently the third ranked team in the nation. They then proceeded to shock the conference by picking up wins against Michigan on the road and Penn State at home. With only a loss to Notre Dame and an underrated Northwestern team in triple overtime, there were high hopes for the Spartans this season. That was until they traveled to Ohio State and got blown out 48-3. It is now clear that the Spartans are not worthy of being a playoff team, as three-loss teams never make the playoffs.
Ohio State entered the season as the heavy favorite to not only make it to the playoffs, but possibly win it all. They entered the season ranked number two in the nation, but that rank quickly diminished at the hands of Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners, who dominated the Buckeyes at home. J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes have since then silenced the critics with bigs wins over Penn State and Michigan State. But with a 55-24 blowout loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Buckeyes will have to win out the rest of the season to even get a chance at making the playoffs.
Penn State was another heavy favorite to make the playoffs. With two outstanding players and heisman candidates in Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, the Nittany Lions had a lot to be optimistic about. They even got as a far as ranking second in the country until they lost back-to-back heartbreakers against Michigan State and Ohio State. Their inability to win big games was their ultimate downfall, and the Nittany Lions are likely out of the playoffs.
Wisconsin was yet another team in the Big Ten that was deemed to have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. And so far they have lived up to the hype. Under the play of quarterback Alex Hornibrook and standout running back Jonathan Taylor, the Badgers have won all their games thus far, winning all but one game by double digits. Unfortunately for the Badgers, their greatest downfall could be because of their schedule. The teams that Wisconsin have played so far have been everything but good. Not only have they played no teams within the top twenty, but they do not have any teams within the top twenty scheduled on their remaining schedule either. Since Wisconsin really has no teams to prove themselves against, it is likely that the playoff committee will pick a one or two-loss team with one or two ranked victories rather than an undefeated team with none. The Badgers’ fate is likely out of their own hands, as they are going to have to hope for their higher-ranked counterparts to suffer some big upsets for a shot at the playoffs.