With the drive to the College Football Playoff now about to hit fifth gear, the Big Ten is creeping up in the rear-view mirrors of the Pac-12 and Big 12. As those conferences begin to pick themselves apart and SEC West cannibalism about to get really interesting, the Big Ten could once again be fielding two teams worth considering in the playoff hunt; Michigan State and Ohio State. So, which team has the best case to represent the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff?
Both Michigan State and Ohio State lost their premier non-conference match-ups this season. The Spartans let one get away on the road against Oregon. Ohio State lost at home to Virginia Tech. Since then though, both teams have hit a stride and continue to string together strong performances. The Spartans dodged a bullet last week on the road at Purdue and followed that up by managing to pull away from Indiana on the road once again this week. Ohio State has been more convincing in recent weeks with blowouts of Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers. The two programs appear to be heading toward the Big Ten’s game of the year in East Lansing trending in slightly different directions, but the rematch of last season’s Big Ten championship game should bring out the best in both teams.
Neither team should be looking ahead, but Michigan State and Ohio State should be considered solid favorites in Big Ten play this week. Michigan State hosts Michigan. Ohio State plays on the road at Penn State. Both the Wolverines and Nittany Lions had bye weeks to prepare for these tests, but considering the state of each program, Michigan State and Ohio State should still have a decided advantage once the teams take the field. Assuming both get by without being upset this week, the stage will begin to be set for the colossal meeting on November 8. Michigan State has a bye week after playing Michigan and Ohio State has a home game against Illinois.
With the discussion about best one-loss teams starting to pick up steam, it will be important to know just how the College Football Playoff selection committee would view each potentially one-loss team with a Big Ten championship. The Spartans, in theory, could go 12-1 with a Big Ten championship game victory over a potentially ranked Nebraska or perhaps Wisconsin (or Minnesota?). A victory over a ranked Ohio State team would be nice as well, but up agianst a one-loss Pac-12 champion in Oregon would likely give the Ducks an edge if it came down to one spot remaining.
How would a one-loss Ohio State be viewed though? The Buckeyes have certainly played better on a weekly basis and quarterback J.T. Barrett has come a long way since his week two defeat at the hands of Virginia Tech. Would Ohio State be rewarded for improving along the way? If injuries are to be taken into consideration, would the committee not recognize Ohio State was playing with an inexperienced quarterback against Virginia Tech after losing Braxton Miller for the year, and would the committee not consider how the team has played as the season played out?
This is all hypothetical conversation, of course. One of these teams will lose at least one more game, but the Big Ten’s two best teams are beginning to warrant the same kind of consideration a number of other one-loss teams might be getting.