WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two years ago, the college football community had written off his league by Week 2 — of course the Big Ten wouldn't get any teams into the four-team College Football Playoff. Then, Ohio State went on to win the whole thing as a No. 4 seed.
Now, Jim Delany's conference is riding high. He's got four teams in the top 10 of the latest Amway coaches poll, with No. 2 Ohio State, No. 4 Michigan, No. 9 Nebraska and No. 10 Wisconsin. Not only is the champion of his league a sure bet to make the Playoff, it's even possible — albeit a long shot — that two Big Ten teams could nab two of the four coveted spots.
The loser of the Michigan-Ohio State game on Nov. 26 would have a compelling case for inclusion, if its only loss of the season was in that game. If both teams continue to play at such a high level, they'll pass the so-called eye test with flying colors. Ohio State's nonconference schedule included a win at Oklahoma, and Michigan's included a home win over Colorado. Both victories will look good in the committee's eyes, over Power Five teams that are pretty good this year.
Throw in wins over the likes of Wisconsin — which boasts one of the nation's premier defenses — and Nebraska (on Ohio State's schedule), and these are very strong overall resumes.
If we're nitpicking, Ohio State will have a better shot than Michigan at getting into the Playoff as a non-conference champion due to a tougher schedule. But the Wolverines will deserve a close examination as well, if they were to not win the Big Ten.
Certainly, the Big Ten would need to root for some chaos — one- and two-loss champions in other leagues, and maybe even some major upsets in conference championship games — for this scenario to come to fruition.
Delany thinks it's "far too early" to talk about the potential for two Big Ten teams to make the Playoff.
"We have two years of experience, and I think champions have always been a powerful tiebreaker," Delany told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday. "For a non-champion to be included in the field, that non-champion would have to be unequivocally better. Which means, to me, that's a very high bar. That's not to say that it couldn't happen.
"But with teams with similar records and similar resumes, a conference championship is the tiebreaker. Is it impossible? No, because we're looking for the four best teams."
Delany said that, during the creation of the Playoff model, it was always very important to stakeholders that a conference championship carry great weight.
"So a conference championship would win most tiebreakers — unless it's crystal clear," he said.
And while Delany is pleased with his league's start to the season and the respect its top teams have garnered nationally, he's hesitant to pat anyone on the back or declare it a good season for Big Ten football in mid-October.
"We were scripted out of it two weeks into the season two years ago, and our teams kept playing, our coaches kept coaching and opportunities developed," Delany said. "You can't judge a season after two weeks, or even six weeks.
"You judge a season after 12, 13 weeks and then the Playoff."
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