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The Big Ten Needs to Shed its "Weak" Conference Perception
The Big 10 needs to Win. All of their Non-Conference games. Why? Because after watching several college football shows on ESPN, many of the experts such as ESPN's Kevin Carter, Jason Sehorn, and even a Big 10 Alumni Matt Millen, all agree that the national perception of the Big 10 is of a weak conference. The SEC and PAC-12 are strong, the ACC gets the benefit of the doubt due to having a big time program in Florida State, and oh by the way, they are the national champions. Wisconsin was dominating LSU 24-7 in the 3rd quarter of their Week 1 game, but LSU chipped away and finished with a 28-24 victory, giving the SEC a nice win. The Big 10 desperately needed that win, to improve their standing with the College Football Playoff committee. The Big 10 needs to not only win, but dominate these non conference games before going into Big 10 conference match-ups starting in Week 5.
The Big 10 must win now, before the College Football Playoffs slip away even though the season has just started.
Michigan State Needs to Beat Oregon
The big game on slate that is being showcased and highlighted by both ESPN and Fox Sports is the biggest game of the year between 2 of the highest ranking teams, the blue-collar Michigan State Spartans against the high flying mighty Ducks of Oregon. This match-up pits an innovative offense against a dominating defense. While a loss this early on the road to a higher ranked team doesn't kill Michigan State's chances, it hurts the chances of weaker perceived teams such as Nebraska, Iowa, or Penn State. Michigan State can still make the College Football Playoff with just one loss, however, may be left out if the Spartans are in a tie-breaker situation. A blow out loss could doom the conference completely from the playoffs. Oregon is favored by 11 points.
Ohio State's JT Barrett Needs to Grow Up Fast
The devastating injury to QB Braxton Miller not only dashed Ohio State's hope of making the College Football Playoff, but has also taken a dent into the Big 10's reputation. One of the criteria of the 13 member CFP committee is "Key Injuries", much like the NCAA basketball criteria. Ohio State is now weaker without its two time Big 10 offensive player of the year. The Big 10 has lost its most popular and dynamic player in Braxton Miller, also a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate for best college football player. JT Barrett, a redshirt freshman who will now lead the Buckeye offense, will need to ramp up as quickly as possible especially facing perennial power, the Virginia Tech Hokies in Week 2. OSU looked sluggish against Navy in Week 1, understandably so, with Barrett getting his first start.
Ohio State needs to continue to improve as they still have some goodwill with the committee in coach Urban Meyer, but if OSU struggles while winning, then they will start to bleed down the rankings. A win over Michigan State on November 8th in East Lansing will certainly put them into the Big 10 driver's seat and will boost their chances of a birth in the College Football Playoff especially if MSU can pull off an upset against Oregon.
Middle of the Pack Big 10 Teams Need to Emerge
Another way for the Big 10 to gain strength in perception is for middle tier teams to have some success and head into big games against Michigan State and Ohio State with undefeated records. Michigan can make a statement by beating its old and bitter rival Notre Dame in South Bend in Week 2. While both programs are not as powerful this year as in year's past, a Michigan blowout of the Fighting Irish will certainly be emphasized by the cable sports pundits and will have an impact on the CFP committee. Michigan will then carry that momentum and buzz into its final two non conference games.
Nebraska is a ranked team and if they can string together some wins and beat division rival Wisconsin, not only do they have a chance at winning their division, but the Big 10 title and an outside chance at the College Football Playoff. Unfortunately, Nebraska's strongest non conference game is against the University of Miami Hurricanes, who lost in a prime time last Monday night game against Louisville.
Iowa is another team that could make a difference. They play two respectable non conference games against interstate rival Iowa State from the Big 12, and Pittsburgh, now in the ACC. They will play ranked teams Wisconsin and Nebraska in the last 2 games of the season. If they somehow go undefeated into these games and respectively beat those 2 teams, then they will have a legitimate chance of making the CFP if they face and defeat a strong Michigan State team in the conference championship.
During one of the panel discussions on a College Football show on ESPN, former Oregon Ducks coach and ESPN analyst Mike Bellotti believes that even though the Big 12 does not have a conference championship(the Big 12 only has 10 teams, and the NCAA requires that conferences have 12 teams to form 2 divisions and a conference championship), the Big 12 conference champion is in a good position to make the CFP as each Big 12 team plays the other 9 teams in the whole conference. Other conferences have up to 14 teams where they will not play against the whole conference. This gives the Big 12 an advantage for the playoff, but the conference champion needs to go undefeated in conference play as a 1 loss team without a conference title may not be enough to convince the committee for a coveted spot.
Because of their strong reputations and strengths, most of the ESPN analysts agree that the conference champions of the PAC-12 and the SEC will automatically make the College Football Playoff. If defending champion Florida State wins the ACC, they will have the benefit of the doubt even with a weak schedule. That leaves the Big 12 and Big 10, the perceived weakest conferences, to battle for that final spot.
With the weak perception of the Big 10 across the country, the best chances of the Big 10 to secure a spot in the college football playoff would be for either Michigan State or Ohio State to go undefeated or have only 1 loss. Both are ranked in the top 10 now, and can move up into the top 5 as wins start accumulating. One of them will drop off when they face each other in East Lansing on November 8th. Here are my picks for the College Football Playoff.