Could a 13-0 Big Ten champion be left out of the College Football Playoff?
``I think that would be very difficult to do,’’ Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told ESPN.com. ``There’s no part of me that says if you go undefeated as a Power 5 and win your conference championship, and you’re not going to be in the final four? I don’t see that. That would shock me.’’
And yet, that’s a very real possibility for Alvarez’ Badgers. Which is why he is starting the lobbying campaign.
At first glance, it sounds ridiculous to think that there could be four more qualified teams than an unbeaten Big Ten champion. This is a league that had three of the top six slots in the mid-season AP poll.
And yet, as I sit here in my brand-new Badger-logoed fleece top—why was that on sale the other day at Columbia outfitters? Do they know something we don’t know?—I can see plenty of ways Wisconsin gets left out.
The Badgers are No. 8 in this week’s poll, with a very realistic chance to move up to No. 6 next week—after No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 7 Miami, and No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 6 TCU, go head-to-head on Saturday.
Down the road, No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama are on a collision course in the SEC championship game. But if that’s a tight game, do the Badgers move ahead of either of those teams?
Wisconsin also faces an uphill battle to move ahead of Clemson.
Anyway you slice it, if things don’t break right, the Badgers could wind up sixth in the final rankings. And for all the griping that will come out of the Dairy State, even this Badger alum would be hard-pressed to disagree.
HOW THE BIG TEN CAN FIX THIS
The problem, obviously, is strength of schedule. Which Wisconsin doesn’t have.
It’s not the Badgers’ fault that their nonconference marquee opponent, BYU, is having an uncharacteristically bad year. Stuff happens.
What the Big Ten can do is change the way it makes up its conference schedules.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
It’s time to stop pulling the crossover games out of a hat. Random scheduling, or striving for balance over a multi-year span, may sound fair.
But it’s not smart.
It’s time for the Big Ten to take a step toward assuring conference strength-of-schedule by doing things the way the NFL does:
There needs to be a component that factors in where teams finished the previous year when the crossover games are scheduled.
I’m not holding my breath on this happening. But if the Badgers go 13-0 and don’t receive a College Football Playoff berth, that might be a big incentive for the Big Ten to take crossover scheduling more seriously.
It won’t be perfect. And it will have unintended consequences. But in the modern world, it’s a necessary step.
For one thing, super conferences like the Big Ten, ACC and SEC are essentially two leagues that get together in a championship game. That’s one reason I’m not a fan of more than 12 schools calling themselves a conference—and even that is pushing the envelope.
In the old days, when a Big Ten team played eight of its 10 league rivals, it didn’t matter as much. But it still mattered. A lot.
In 1995, when Northwestern had its big breakout year, going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since Truman was in the White House, it went 8-0. And it didn’t play 7-1 Ohio State.
Do ‘ya think that game might have changed things?
In 1996, the Wildcats and Buckeyes both went 7-1. And Ohio State went to the Rose Bowl—the Augusta National of bowl games—while NU was shipped to the Citrus Bowl—the Bay Hill.
Do you think the Cats would have liked a chance to play for another Pasadena trip?
Last year, Wisconsin opened Big Ten play against these three opponents: Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State. It also had played a nonconference game against LSU.
It had no strength-of-schedule issues.
This year, Wisconsin’s crossover games are Michigan, Maryland and Indiana.
Do you think substituting Ohio State or Penn State for Maryland or Indiana would have changed the narrative about the Badgers’ strength of schedule? And by the way, who wouldn't want to see that game? Or play in it?
The point is, quirky random scheduling was fine in simpler times.
But the world has changed. There’s a playoff. There are more zeroes in the payouts.
It’s time for the Big Ten, and other super-sized conferences, to do the scheduling math. Or risk having a champion that doesn’t measure up at College Football Playoff time.
Until recently, I agreed with Alvarez. I thought there was no way an unbeaten Big Ten champion doesn’t get one of the four playoff berths.
The way things are headed now, I believe it’s a very real possibility. And I won’t have a problem with it.
Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson/Miami, and Oklahoma/TCU all are tracking for better resumes than the Badgers.
I didn’t study math at Wisconsin. But I know this much: Six into four won’t go.
So you better do all you can to be among the chosen four.
And I know this, too: Jim Delany does not miss any tricks. If the Badgers go 13-0 and don’t receive a playoff berth, the Commissioner will make sure the Big Ten gets smart about about scheduling its crossover games.[/membership]