Starting 11: The Big Ten’s a Mess Edition

Maybe picking four playoff teams won’t be so easy after all.

Right now my four playoff teams would be: Alabama, Notre Dame, LSU and Michigan.

Just on the outside of the playoff picture I’d have Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida.

Alabama is the unquestioned best team in college football and I think there’s a decent chance the Tide doesn’t just win the national championship, I think they may beat every team on their schedule by double digits, making a solid case for being the best college football team of all time.

But that remains to be seen. For now Alabama as your one seed is the only certainty the college football season has provided us.

Let’s dive in and I’ll explain my playoff four and break down all the rest of the college football picture as well.

1. My playoff four: Alabama, Notre Dame, LSU, and Michigan. 

I think Alabama and Notre Dame are pretty self-explanatory as my top two teams.

So why do I have LSU and Michigan as my three and four? LSU’s only loss is on the road against my number seven Florida Gators team and Michigan’s only loss is on the road to my number two team, Notre Dame. LSU has also beaten my number five team and a decent Miami team in a neutral site game. While Michigan’s wins aren’t as impressive, they have won two straight top 25 match ups by double digits and aside from a slow start on the road against Northwestern have not been challenged since their week one loss to Notre Dame.

I think you can also make a strong argument for pretty much everyone in my top ten at this point, but the reason I have Michigan edging out Notre Dame is because the Wolverines lost a close game against a top five team on the road and Georgia got blown out at LSU.

2. So what happens in the Big Ten with Ohio State’s loss?

First, the Big Ten is in real jeopardy of not getting a team into the playoff for a second straight year. What would need to happen for that to occur. It would really only take one upset — Penn State over Michigan or Michigan State over Ohio State, for instance — and then the Michigan-Ohio State winner would need to be the team that was upset.

Then, boom, every team in the Big Ten, including the ultimate champion, has at least two losses.

The best case scenario for the Big Ten now, in fact, probably the only way the conference gets a team in the playoff, is if Michigan wins out and plays Ohio State, which also wins out. Then 11-1 Ohio State or Michigan, the team that wins the final game of the regular season, would need to win the Big Ten title game to get to 12-1.

Honestly, I think that’s the only way the Big Ten gets a team in the playoff.

And right now I’m much less confident in Ohio State winning out than I am Michigan. I’m not that confident that Ohio State will win out at Michigan State, at Maryland or against Michigan to finish the season. The Buckeyes are getting a bit worse every game. They can’t run the football and their defense has been spotty all season.

Worst of all for Buckeye fans, this is the second straight year — last year was Iowa — where Ohio State has gone on the road and gotten dominated by a .500 caliber team. It’s one thing to lose a close road game in college football to an inferior opponent — it happens to everyone except Alabama — but Ohio State gave up 55 to Iowa last year and now has given up 49 to Purdue. That’s not acceptable and suggests something is rotten with the Buckeye defensive prowess.

Put it this way, can you ever imagine a Nick Saban team giving up 49 or 55 to an unranked opponent?

The only positive I can see for Ohio State is there’s no way Urban Meyer will remember it come this morning.

And, honestly, this game won’t matter if Ohio State runs the table and finishes 12-1, the Buckeyes would still be in the playoff.

The wildest question in the Big Ten right now is this — who is going to win the Big Ten West? With Purdue’s win over Ohio State Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa and Purdue are all 3-1 or better in the conference.

Can you imagine if a Big Ten West team pulled off the upset and won the conference?

What would Purdue or Northwestern Big Ten title odds have paid off? Especially after Purdue started 0-3 and after Northwestern lost to Akron?!

3. Are you going to apologize to Jim Harbaugh now?

Of course not.

I’ve never said Jim Harbaugh wasn’t a good coach, I’ve simply said he doesn’t deserve to be put in the same category with Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney, as among the top coaches in college football. I’ve said that based on his results so far Harbaugh is the most overrated coach in college football history.

And I stand by that.

So far Jim Harbaugh’s results, even including the win over Michigan State which made him 2-5 against his top rivals so far in four seasons in Ann Arbor, are more befitting of Gus Malzahn level acclaim than they are proclaiming him a top coach in college football.

Harbaugh, at Michigan, is all hype, no substance at this point.

Now if Harbaugh wins the Big Ten and advances to the playoff and beats Alabama en route to a national championship then his resume changes a ton compared to the start of the season.

And I’d have to adjust my opinion on him then, but we’re a long way from that happening at this point in time.

4. So who benefits the most from Ohio State’s loss? I think it’s the Big 12 champ, provided that Big 12 champ can emerge with only one loss. 

Right now I continue to project it will be Oklahoma and Texas meeting in the Big 12 title game.

But we’re a long way from that happening and the conference is wide open.

Right now Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas Tech all have one or fewer losses.

Two of those four teams are likely to play in the Big 12 title game.

One of them would need to emerge with a 12-1 record to be in the playoff mix. But that’s looking much more likely with Ohio State’s loss than it was beforehand. Now you can sketch out a scenario where the playoff four are: Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson, and a 12-1 Big 12 team.

Put simply, Ohio State’s loss makes it much more likely the Big Ten could miss the playoff.

5. Can Notre Dame now lose a game and still make the playoff?

That’s looking increasingly likely to me as well.

Because how could one loss Notre Dame be left out of the playoff if Michigan wins the Big Ten?

I don’t think they could.

Right now Notre Dame has Navy, at Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse, and at USC remaining on its schedule. Honestly, this is no cakewalk.

12-0 Notre Dame would be in the playoff beyond a shadow a doubt, but I also think a one loss Irish team with a close loss to one of these teams would also have a very good shot at the playoff if 12-1 Michigan wins the Big Ten. So if you’re an Irish fan, I think you should be rooting for Michigan to continue to roll in the Big Ten.

6. Does the SEC have a chance to get two teams in the playoff?

Yes, but it would require someone to upset Alabama.

That’s the only pathway I can see at this point for the SEC getting two teams in the playoffs. Because unless someone beats Alabama it’s impossible for every SEC team not to finish with at least two losses.

The easiest way this could happen would be if Georgia ran the table and then upset Alabama in the SEC title game. Then, I believe, both 12-1 Georgia and 12-1 Alabama would make the playoff.

I could also see Alabama making the playoff if LSU upset Alabama in two weeks and then 12-1 LSU won the SEC title. I don’t think the committee would leave out 11-1 Alabama, given the Tide’s dominance so far.

But those are pretty much the only two pathways I see to the SEC getting two teams in the playoff.

If you’re a fan of any other conference — or Notre Dame — you want Alabama to go 13-0 and eliminate any other SEC team from playoff consideration.

By the way, we had a fun group here in London to watch the game in a pub last night, but the best part of this game was my eight year old son saying, “Dad to make you happy, I”m rooting for Bama to only win by 30.”

How in the world did I end up with a Bama fan son?

What incredible karma this is.

7. Is the Pac 12 dead in the playoff race?


Washington State is the only one loss team remaining in the conference now and the Cougars are unlikely to finish 12-1 given they still have games at Stanford, at Colorado, and at home against Washington before they would play a Pac 12 title game.

And even at 12-1 I’m not sure Washington State would have the juice to get into the playoff mix barring a ton of upsets and playoff chaos.

I think the Pac 12 is likely to miss the playoff for a second straight season and I’m not sure there will even be any playoff drama down the stretch of the season for the conference.

8. Tua has won the Heisman trophy barring a significant injury. 

This is going to be the least dramatic Heisman trophy race of all time because Tua has been your leader since September.

Tua now has 25 touchdowns and no interceptions on the season and he’s captaining one of the most explosive offenses of all time.

Given that Bama’s last road game of the regular season is at LSU in two weeks, even if the Tide didn’t play that well there it’s likely he could rebound in the final three weeks and post impressive stats to complete the year.

But if he goes out and plays well on the road at LSU, which I think he will, this thing would be wrapped up at that point.

I don’t see Kyler Murray or Dwyane Haskins having any chance to catch him if Bama beats LSU in two weeks.

If Tua stays healthy, the award is his.

9. Since everyone loves tough playoff scenarios — this is like 20% of all the Tweets I receive in November — here’s the toughest playoff scenario I can envision at this point. 

What if Alabama loses to LSU and no one finishes the season undefeated in college football. Then you end up with the following one loss resumes: 12-1 SEC champ LSU, 12-1 Big Ten champ Michigan, 11-1 Notre Dame, 11-1 Alabama, 12-1 ACC champ Clemson, 12- 1 Pac 12 champ Washington State, and 12-1 Big 12 champ Oklahoma?

Which four get in?

I think it’s probably LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame and Alabama.

But can you imagine the reaction if there were only two power five conferences with playoff teams?

1o. Here’s the Outkick National Top Ten:

1. Alabama

2. Notre Dame

3. LSU

4. Michigan

5. Georgia

6. Clemson

7. Florida

8. Texas

9. Oklahoma

10. Ohio State

11. The Outkick SEC power rankings:

FYI, I feel like the top six are pretty easy to distinguish after eight weeks, but 7-12 are a total crapshoot at this point.

1. Alabama

2. LSU

3. Georgia

4. Florida

5. Texas A&M

6. Kentucky

7. South Carolina

8. Mississippi State

9. Tennessee

10. Auburn

11. Ole Miss

12. Missouri

13. Vanderbilt

14. Arkansas

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.