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Big Ten conference already in poor playoff position

By Alex Wise / Staff Writer

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With the BCS era behind us and the College Football Playoff era now underway, every college football game is crucial to the initial legacy of the new system. Every Power-5 conference program is giving its all to be one of the teams left fighting for a shiny new trophy at season’s end.

It’s evident that after just two weeks, the Big Ten will not be part of that initial legacy.

“Anyone who writes the story of the 2014 football season after two weeks, that’s premature,” said Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany.

Well, then, I’m premature — at least in the case of the Big Ten.

The first two weekends of the season were crucial for the B1G. The conference’s apparent top four programs — Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin — each took part in a marquee matchup against a formidable out-of-conference foe. The B1G was thwarted in each of those games, Wisconsin being the only one to at least make things interesting. Delany released a statement Monday that warned the nation to watch out. Though down, he said the Big Ten is not out.

In the first year of the College Football Playoff, the selection committee will obviously aim to pick the four best teams in the country — with conference affiliation not being a factor — to compete in the miniature tournament on New Year’s Day. If those participants happen to be four SEC teams, for example, so be it. The Big Ten missed its chance to snatch a big time non-conference win, and that will haunt them come December.

The first opportunity for the Big Ten to take down a major opponent came in the first week of the season when Wisconsin traveled to Houston for a prime time matchup with SEC bully LSU. Les Miles’ Tigers prevailed in a close game, a loss that Wisconsin probably should not be heavily punished. But it’s no secret that a one-loss SEC or Pacific-12 team will historically be favored in playoff selection over a one-loss Big Ten team, and Wisconsin’s chances of running the table from here out are slim, anyway.

Out goes Wisconsin.

Next was Michigan State, who traveled west to Autzen Stadium to face a speedy Oregon Ducks team. Sparty took a slim lead into the halftime locker room, but chasing Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and company all over the place proved too tiring a task in the second half. Oregon won handily, scoring 46 points against what’s considered one of the nation’s best defenses.

Michigan State’s conference schedule from this point forward is even less favorable than Wisconsin’s. The Badgers’ only true conference test is Nebraska. Michigan State is left with Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska among others. If the Spartans continue to go undefeated, I’ll streak across Heinz Field at Pitt’s final home game.

Just kidding. But out goes Michigan State.

Michigan traveled to South Bend, Ind., for an under-the-lights matchup at Notre Dame Stadium, and it was everything I ever wanted it to be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of the Irish. But I am a fan of watching Michigan getting blown out, and Notre Dame enabled me to do that Saturday night. The scoreboard showed 31-0 at game’s end, the first shutout pitched to the Wolverines in decades.

Not that they were ever in, but out goes Michigan.

And finally, we reach the supposed juggernaut of the Big Ten: the Ohio State Buckeyes. Expectations were higher for this team than for any other on the east coast – that is, until the wheels fell off. 

Recruiting took a hit. Star defensive end Noah Spence was suspended for the first two games of the year after testing positive for MDMA, which he said “must’ve been slipped” into his drink by somebody else at a party. The suspension caused him to miss this weekend’s contest with Virginia Tech, a 35-21 outcome favoring the Hokies. And the worst news among all this is that former Heisman hopeful quarterback Braxton Miller is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

It’s Murphy’s Law incarnate in Columbus this year, but the worst may still be ahead. Unless coach Urban Meyer can find some big boys to protect his new quarterback J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes may have an uncharacteristically down year.

Out goes Ohio State.

One could make a small, illegitimate argument for Nebraska, and some people have supported the idea of Iowa being good. But the past indicates that the Huskers will lose at least one or two games they shouldn’t lose. And common sense indicates that Iowa just isn’t good enough. Which leaves us with…

Penn State.

“It’s our year now!”

“We’re going to the Super Bowl!”

Reactions to the lift on Penn State’s bowl ban were chronicled all over the Internet Monday night: Images of celebration and pictures of students drinking adult beverages out of bowls (how clever) swarmed many Twitter feeds. It’s a moment of happiness in Happy Valley, and I’m just as excited as the next Lions fan.

The difference lies in the fact that I view Penn State football in a cynically realistic manner. 

Whereas many seem to actually believe that coach James Franklin’s squad can make the playoff, I understand that these people are delusional. Even Delany isn’t that unrealistic.

Pitt fans, rejoice: Penn State will lose at least three games this season. Chalk up Ohio State and Michigan State as defeats now. Pick a third – and a fourth if you wish – from the collective of Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana and Northwestern. And if any fellow Penn State fans happen to be reading this, please don’t be foolish enough to believe that this is “our year!”

If, from here on out, a conference’s success is measured by the number of teams that conference gets in the four-team playoff, then go ahead and call this year as a waste for the Big Ten. The playoff is too elitist — and rightfully so — in its inaugural season to allow for mediocrity with which the B1G swells. The conference is better than last year, perhaps, and it is undoubtedly on the rise. But Delany is a fool for believing the conference stands a chance this year.

Out goes the Big Ten.

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Big Ten conference already in poor playoff position