The Big Ten is smarting from two straight seasons of missing out on the College Football Playoff. Ohio State won the Big Ten last year but had two defeats and was 11-2 when it was bypassed for 11-1 Alabama in the selections for the final playoff spot. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten this year with a 12-1 record, but 12-1 Oklahoma was picked instead.
Critics have pointed out that the last few years, a championship game format change likely would not have helped.
In 2016, going into championship weekend, Penn State and Ohio State tied for the Big Ten East at 8-1, with Michigan third at 7-2. Wisconsin won the Big Ten West at 7-2. But in the playoff rankings, Ohio State was No. 2, Michigan No. 5, Wisconsin No. 6 and Penn State No. 7. Penn State had the tiebreaker over Ohio State, so Penn State played Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Penn State won on to the Rose Bowl; Ohio State went on to the playoff. No harm to the Big Ten, no foul.
In 2017, going into championship weekend, Ohio State had won the East at 8-1 (10-2 overall), while Wisconsin had won the West at 9-0 (12-0 overall). Wisconsin was fourth in the playoff rankings; if the Badgers had beaten Ohio State, they would have been in the playoff. So it wasn’t the format, it was the title game itself that impeded the Big Ten.
This year? Ohio State and Michigan were tied atop the East at 8-1, with the Buckeyes having the tiebreaker. Northwestern won the West at 8-1, but was 8-4 overall. If you put Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten title game, and sure, the Buckeyes could have beaten the Wolverines and conceivably could have jumped ahead of OU. But if the Wolverines had beaten Ohio State, would 11-2 Michigan been picked ahead of 12-1 Oklahoma? Unlikely.
The Big 12 format works because it doesn’t have divisions and it has a round-robin schedule. The Big Ten could scrap divisions but it couldn’t play a round-robin schedule. Fourteen teams, remember?
Keeping divisional scheduling but scrapping divisions is not a good idea. That just enhances the idea that a team from the weaker West could post as good or better of a record than a team from the stronger East. Again, this year, Northwestern, Ohio State and Michigan all finished 8-1.
What the Big Ten needs more is to politic for better scheduling across other conferences. The more pressure that other leagues can put on the SEC and ACC to upgrade scheduling, the better. The SEC, particularly, schedules three virtually-automatic victories per year per school. The Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 members typically schedule no more than two.