Big Ten’s late arrival may shake up College Football Playoff

Big Ten teams are still eligible for the CFB Playoff, but how will the committee treat teams that started so late?

Big Ten teams are still eligible for the CFB Playoff, but how will the committee treat teams that started so late?

Image By: Courtesy of Wiki-Commons

The announcement of the return of Big Ten football last Wednesday has players and fans all across the country excited to see their teams back in action. But with the other conferences starting play weeks before the Big Ten, the College Football Playoff outlook is now changing for the other Power Five conferences.

The Big Ten has scheduled an eight-game conference-only season that will conclude with the conference championship on Dec. 19, the day before the College Football Playoff’s selection committee releases their final rankings. Due to the late start date of Oct. 24, no team will have a bye week. 

This late start, however, doesn't allow the Big Ten to play as many games as the other Power Five conferences — or at least the ones that are still scheduled to play this fall. The others have at least two more regular season games scheduled than the Big Ten — the SEC and Big 12 are both playing a 10-game regular season and the ACC is playing an 11-game season.

The differing schedules presents an interesting question: will the College Football Playoff selection committee punish the Big Ten for its late start and fewer games?

When creating their rankings, the selection committee considers five factors: each team’s performance on the field (including key injuries), strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparable results among common opponents and the conference championship. But, at the end of the day, all they are really looking for is the answer to the question, “who are the four best teams in the country?”

In previous seasons, the committee has let teams with comparatively weaker schedules into the playoffs. But those weaker schedules consisted of 12 games, which was the same number of games that the stronger scheduled teams had. Will fewer games be viewed in the same light as weaker schedules have been?

This is the first time the committee has truly had to compare apples to oranges. How do you fairly compare a one-loss Notre Dame, for example, to an undefeated Wisconsin, when Notre Dame gets to play 33 percent more games than Wisconsin?

Basically, every game is going to be 33 percent more important for the Big Ten than the other conferences — one loss and you’re potentially out of the running.

The final score of games is also going to be comparatively more important for the Big Ten. Even if a team goes undefeated, if the “cupcake games” are won by a small margin, fewer games will make a tighter score more difficult to excuse. The more points a Big Ten team can win by, the better chances they have of making the playoffs. 

The “key injuries” component of the ranking process is what can save the Big Ten from potential omission. Just as a star player could be sitting out due to COVID exposure, the Big Ten had all of their teams sit out the first six weeks of the season due to COVID exposure — that should be considered just as an injury would.

There is also the possibility that entire teams will have to sit out games due to COVID exposure across the team. Just two days ago, Notre Dame’s week-three contest against Wake Forest was postponed due to the Fighting Irish managing a COVID-19 outbreak. This would then even the playing field as more teams would then be playing fewer games. 

As the season progresses, we will receive more clues on how a shortened schedule impacts each team. The selection committee’s first vote will take place on Tuesday, November 17, only four weeks into the Big Ten’s season, versus eight and 10 weeks into the SEC/Big 12 and ACC seasons, respectively.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said (via ESPN) that he has “ultimate trust” in the College Football Playoff committee. “I’m confident they’ll do the right thing. I just think as you look over 2020, this is really an aberration,” he admitted. “This has been a complex, complicated year. The answers — everyone is trying to figure them out as we go.”

As we embark into uncharted territory, it’s safe to assume that if any Big Ten team has a chance of making the College Football Playoff, they must win the Big Ten Championship and go undefeated.

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