Big Ten Takeaways: Sorry, Penn State. Ohio State is the real playoff deal.

While we were watching the highlights, my wife, who’s a casual sports fan, saw that Ohio State had won.

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``So do they go to the Rose Bowl?’’ she said.

``No, there’s a Big Ten championship game first.’’

``Who are they going to play? Are they going to play the Badgers?’’

She knows I’m a Badger.

``No, the Badgers are going to play Penn State.’’

``Penn State? What about Ohio State?’’

``I believe Ohio State is going to play for the national championship. But the Buckeyes didn’t qualify for the Big Ten championship.’’

``So does Michigan go to the Rose Bowl?’’

Here in the Midwest, the Rose Bowl is sort of like. . . heaven. Or Disney World. She’s been a couple of times—to Pasadena—and it lives up to its billing.

``No. Not sure where Michigan goes yet. They probably have to send the Big Ten champion to the Rose Bowl. Either the Badgers or Penn State.’’

By now, this is too much information. She’s firing up that Tiny House show—the one where people live in a trailer like ants, but it looks really cool.

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``Think of it this way: You know how in politics, the person who gets 2 million fewer votes can be elected President? This is the football version of that.’’

By now, she’s moved on.

But here’s the difference: The Electoral College isn’t going away. On the other hand, the eight-team playoff, which can accommodate league champions and the best wild-card teams, will solve the football world’s problems. And it can be changed without an act of Congress.

In the meantime, here’s how I expect the College Football Playoff and the Big Ten bowls will sort themselves out.


Alabama and Clemson are locks if they win their conference championship games.

I also believe Ohio State is a lock. Because the Buckeyes have proven they belong. They won at Oklahoma and at Wisconsin, and they just beat a very playoff-worthy Michigan in a classic that will be long remembered. That's three big-time wins, if you're keeping score at home.

Yes, there is that little matter of the upset loss at Penn State. And the talking heads on TV will tell you that The Committee is on record as saying that it places a high value on conference championships and head-to-head meetings. Which it does.

But The Committee places on an even higher value on The Best Teams. Especially if they are among the All-Time Elite football programs.

It’s like the tax code. The Committee can, and will, come up with all kinds of justifications for picking Ohio State, same as accountants can come up with all kind of reasons and precedents for why it’s better for all of us that millionaires don’t pay more taxes.

To recap: Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are no-brainers.

The knotty problem is what to do with the fourth slot.

The correct choice will be Washington, if it handles its Pac-12 championship game responsibilities.

With that quartet, you have the four best teams from four of the five conferences. I’m not going to say the four best conferences because I don’t want to debate conferences.

In a perfect world—an eight-team playoff—Oklahoma would be very worthy of a slot. But like my beloved Badgers, the Sooners had their chances in the regular season—which still matters a lot and will matter a lot in an eight-team playoff world.

Both have lost to the Buckeyes. Oklahoma also lost to Houston, and the Badgers to Michigan. They don’t have a four-team playoff case. Although I would advise Washington to play a tougher nonconference schedule in the future, the conference-championship thing matters.

As for Penn State vs. Ohio State, if they played 10 more times, how many would the Nittany Lions win? In other words, all credit to the Nittany Lions for playing a magical game on Oct. 22. But how about losing to Pitt? And getting stomped at Michigan? I know. Injuries, Yada yada.

And what are Penn State's other quality wins? Iowa is a good one. But not top-10 good. And yeah, they beat Nick Saban's alma mater (Kent State). Not ezactly Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Michigan, though.

The key point is, if you had to risk your house on one team or the other in a winner-take-all, are you placing the deed in the hands of the Nittany Lions or the Buckeyes?

I expect all of this will be moot after Wisconsin beats Penn State in the Big Ten championship game.

But if it isn’t, The Committee will pull out its Tax-Code reasons for selecting Ohio State.

The only difference is, the reasons for selectiing Ohio State make a lot more sense than the reasons that millionaires don’t have to pay taxes.


The good news for Washington is that I expect it to be in the four-team field. The bad news? It gets the No. 4 seed, and plays No. 1 Alabama.

That leaves No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson.

I’m guessing the Crimson Tide even get the easy trip to Atlanta, which will give the Huskies another thing to howl about.

Buckeyes fans and Clemson fans, who both travel well, will sign on for the Phoenix-area Fiesta Bowl. Big time.


And now, here’s a stab at your Big Ten bowl projections. (Please don't book any non-refundable flights yet, though.)

It sure looks like the stars are aligning for four Big Ten teams in the New Year’s Six:

Ohio State: College Football Playoff. Vs. Clemson.

Wisconsin: Rose Bowl. Vs. USC/Colorado

Michigan: Orange Bowl. Vs. Florida State

Penn State: Cotton Bowl. Vs. Western Michigan

Nebraska: Outback Bowl. Vs. Florida/LSU

Iowa: Holiday Bowl. Vs. Washington State

Minnesota: Music City Bowl. Vs. Arkansas.

Pinstripe Bowl: Maryland. Vs. Georgia Tech

Foster Farms Bowl: Indiana. Vs. Stanford/Utah

Heart of Dallas Bowl: Northwestern vs. Western Kentucky





1, Ohio State (11-1, 8-1): Best Damned Division Runner-up in the Land. The Buckeyes await their invite to the College Football Playoff semi-finals. (No. 1 last week)

2, Michigan (10-2, 7-2): Yup. Harbaugh of a season. But heartbreaking OT loss at Ohio State means they’ll slip, but still earn an attractive New Year’s Six bowl slot. (No. 2)


3, Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2): Will make fourth Big Ten championship appearance, a conference record. With a pair of taut setbacks vs. Ohio State and Michigan, the Badgers have a case for being the best two-loss team in the nation. (No. 3)


4, Penn State (10-2, 8-1): What a season. James Franklin goes from the hot seat to coach of the year. And it appears that the Nittany Lions, who will battle Wisconsin for the Rose Bowl, are in position to keep going toe-to-toe with The Juggernauts in years to come. (No. 4)


5, Iowa (8-4, 6-3): Interesting year that included a huge loss to FCS power North Dakota State and a huger win over FBS power Michigan. Kudos for strong finish. (No. 7)

6, Nebraska (9-3, 6-3): Set the bar high with 7-0 start vs. manageable schedule. Came back to earth with 2-3 finish. Still, it was a very good second year under Mike Riley. (No. 5)

7, Minnesota (8-4, 5-4): Eight wins for the Gophers? With a coach in his first full season? Take a bow, Tracy Claeys. (No. 6)


With modest wins over hapless Illinois, Purdue and Rutgers on Saturday, Northwestern, Indiana and Maryland got off the 5-6 hump and qualified for under-card bowls.

Before you scoff, remember the words of Michigan State legend George Perles: ``Bowls are like ham. I never had a bad slice of ham.’’

8, Northwestern (6-6, 5-4): Mildcats. Wildcats. Mildcats. Wildcats. They went back and forth all season, it seemed. Considering the youth and the returnees, NU’s 2017 prospects are very intriguing. (No. 8)

9, Indiana (6-6, 4-5): Slipped into their second straight bowl bid with a final-game victory vs. Purdue. Previous two appearances? 2007 and 1993. Nicely done, Hoosiers. (No. 9)

10, Maryland (6-6, 3-6): Never mind the rough ride after a 4-0 start. Terrapins looked well-coached in their first season under D.J. Durkin and they’re bowl-bound. Both are good things after a coaching change. (No. 10).


11, Michigan State (3-9, 1-8): Yeah, they’re entitled to an off-year after double-digit wins in five of the previous six years. But a seven-game losing streak? Mark Dantonio and his Spartans will need to pick themselves up and dust themselves off—and that will be challenging in the rugged Big Ten East. (No. 11)

12, Illinois (3-9, 2-7): It was a mostly-painful year, but that wasn’t surprising as Lovie Smith embarked on putting a shattered program back together. Key is what happens from here. (No. 12)

13, Purdue (3-9, 1-8): A much-needed new coach is coming in. Will it be P.J. Fleck, who worked wonders at Western Michigan? He sure looks like the right kind of guy to try and revive the misfiring Boilermakers. (No. 13)

14, Rutgers (2-10, 0-9): Not much to say here. New coach Chris Ash has his work cut out for him. (No. 14)[/membership]