Starting 11: The Big Ten’s Big Mess Edition

Let’s start here: what the SEC, the ACC, and the Big 12 have all accomplished is one of the most impressive achievements in college football history. No hyperbole, I mean that. In the middle of a coronavirus outbreak that caused much of the American public to lose their minds, these three conferences aren’t just on track to complete their conference seasons and crown a champion, but they’ve managed to do so while playing with fans present for all their games.

If the coronabros in the sports media — and their fear laden supporters had gotten their way — no college football games would have been played at all this fall.

Make no mistake, that’s what they wanted to happen.

The absolutely monstrous stones of all these conference leaders, their coaches, their players, their parents, and their partners deserves unending praise because without their backbone in  the face of unrelenting criticism we would have seen no games at all.

It truly is remarkable.

But unfortunately not every conference was as brave, fearless and forward thinking as the SEC, ACC, and the Big 12.

Which brings us to the Big Ten and the Pac 12, two conferences that have completely failed this summer and fall when it comes to their leadership and decision making. I’m going to write a column this week just examining the Big Ten’s failures, but the July decision to cancel their season — a decision that was copied by the Pac 12 — goes down as the single most disastrous failure of leadership in college sports history.

I mean that too.

No hyperbole.

The decision to cancel the Big Ten and Pac 12 seasons, which was made in July, set in motion all the failures to come. And it has left us here, where effectively the Big Ten and the Pac 12 may well be playing a season for no reason whatsoever. A season where they are unable to crown a legitimate champion and a season when their leaders failed so tremendously that they took away a season from the players, coaches, parents and fans of their respective teams.

I’ve been saying this for months, but you know when I’ve ended up being the strongest proponent of Big Ten football in the media in the entire country that 2020 is truly an upside down world.

The failures of the Big Ten and the Pac 12 are made all the worse because all these two conferences had to do was shut up and follow the lead of the SEC. That’s it. They could have completely copied every decision the SEC made — or the Big 12 and the ACC — and they’d be fine. The SEC, right now at least, is on track to play all seventy scheduled conference games. That is, every team has a pathway to play ten conference games between now and December 19th. To be fair, I’m not sure that every scheduled game will happen, but I know that the SEC is going to crown a legitimate champion and I know the same thing is true of the Big 12 and the ACC.

And I also know that no one in the entire country is going to question the legitimacy of that champion.

What’s more, they didn’t just play all these games in these three conferences THEY’VE DONE IT WITH FANS PRESENT!

The Big Ten and the Pac 12 aren’t just going to fail to complete their seasons, they’re going to fail to complete their seasons without a single fan present as well.

This is epic level failure, the kind of thing that if the sports media was doing its job would be a staple of media coverage. It’s the kind of epic level failure that, honestly, business schools may well teach to their students in the decades ahead. Failures in Leadership 101: The Big Ten Conference 2020.

What makes this failure all the more glaring and indefensible is this: The Big Ten didn’t need to do anything, but shut up and follow the lead of the smarter conferences! Those conferences had already taken the risk, they’d trailblazed a path to play. The SEC, the ACC, and the Big 12 were the Lewis and Clark expedition. All the Big Ten and the Pac 12 had to do was follow their trail.

Instead of doing that the Big Ten — and the Pac 12 who followed their lead — ended up completely lost and marooned in the covid wild.

It’s a complete failure of leadership, but even worse than that, it’s a failure of leadership when the pathway to success was wide open and clear to anyone with a functional brain.


Again, I’m writing on the Big Ten’s failures later in more detail, but let’s dive into the Starting 11 in the meantime.

1. What happens in the Big Ten now?

Now that Ohio State had to cancel another game the Buckeyes have to play against Michigan State and Michigan or they aren’t eligible to play in the Big Ten title game. The fact that Ohio State canceled this game, I think, is significant because it makes it harder for the Buckeyes to argue they weren’t responsible for other teams canceling on them.

Unlike with Maryland, this cancellation was entirely of their own doing.

So what happens if Ohio State doesn’t play enough games to qualify for the Big Ten title game?

I’m told there has already been a discussion about playing Ohio State vs. Wisconsin on the Friday before the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.

This would create a potential shadow Big Ten title game since Wisconsin isn’t eligible to play in this game and Ohio State might not be either.

This would be the Big Ten’s hail mary to try and get Ohio State eligible for the college football playoff.

Because the Big Ten title game might well be Northwestern, who lost as a two touchdown favorite yesterday to Michigan State, and Indiana, who lost by a touchdown to Ohio State last week.

Presuming that one of those teams wins that game and doesn’t lose again — which may be a large presumption — you’re talking about, potentially an 8-1 Big Ten champion Indiana or Northwestern. Would 5-0, 6-0 or 7-0 Ohio State deserve to be considered in front of that champion?

Would either team get in the playoff at all?

Your guess is as good as mine.

The Big Ten’s incompetence has now created a huge mess for all the teams in the conference, but particularly for those like Ohio State with playoff aspirations.

It’s such a mess that I even wondered this, could Ohio State send an intramural team to play Michigan State — even if that team lost –so the “real” Ohio State could remain eligible for the Big Ten title game? Also, what happens if Michigan pulled a Florida State on Ohio State and decided on the day of the game they couldn’t play, effectively ending Ohio State’s season without even playing? That’s seriously in play right now.

In the meantime, the absolute best case scenario for the Big Ten is that Ohio State plays — and wins — its final two games against Michigan State and Michigan. If that happens 6-0 Ohio State would advance to the Big Ten title game and have a chance to beat Northwestern, probably, to get to 7-0.

At this point a 7-0 Ohio State Big Ten champion is the best case scenario for the conference to make the playoff.

But that could get complicated too.

How so?

What if you have, let’s say, 10-1 SEC champion Florida, 10-1 SEC championship game loser Alabama, 10-1 ACC Champion Clemson and 11-1 ACC title game loser Notre Dame.

Would 7-0 Ohio State deserve a spot in the playoff over any of these four teams? (And that doesn’t even consider 9-1 Texas A&M or undefeated Cincinnati or BYU.)

I’m not sure they would.

Not because Ohio State’s not a good football team, they are, but because all these other teams would have played complete schedules against top competition and Ohio State wouldn’t have played anywhere close to the same schedule against the same level of competition.

Again, the Big Ten’s failure of leadership may end up screwing Ohio State.

Let’s continue to unpack this situation.

2. The SEC is cruising towards a December 19th finishing Saturday where three teams are legitimate playoff contenders.

Alabama has absolutely destroyed everyone they’ve played so far. If anything, honestly, we are underrating Alabama’s dominance because of all the covid chaos.

Even without Nick Saban on the sideline, Auburn had no real chance in this game.

That leaves the Tide with games at LSU and against Arkansas. It’s fair to say that a loss in either of these games would be a tremendous upset. I just don’t see it happening.

But even if Alabama lost one of these games, they’d still be in the playoff if they beat Florida in the SEC championship game.

Put simply, Alabama, I believe, will punch its ticket for the SEC championship game with wins in each of the next two weeks. That is, whatever happens against Florida in the SEC title game will only matter for purposes of seeding.

Florida, meanwhile, has games remaining at Tennessee and at home against LSU. Win both of those games, as Florida will be a substantial favorite to do, and the Gators would roll into Atlanta at 9-1, needing to beat Alabama to snag a place in the college football playoff.

Finally, Texas A&M has three games, theoretically, left to play: at Auburn, Ole Miss, and at Tennessee. The final game would be played on the final Saturday of the season, leaving the college football playoff committee with an opportunity to assess the Aggies one last time.

Win these three games and the Aggies would be 9-1 at the end of the season and squarely in the college football playoff conversation.

So the SEC has at least one spot locked up in the playoff and could have as many as, believe it or not, three playoff spots before all is said and done. (Three in the playoff is unlikely, but possible. What would need to happen for three SEC teams to make the playoff? Florida beats Alabama in the SEC title game and Florida and Alabama finish 10-1 with Texas A&M finishing 9-1. Then Notre Dame wins out and everyone in the Big Ten has at least one loss. Or Ohio State is unable to play enough games to impress the committee as to their availability. Then you could end up with three SEC teams).

3. The ACC has two teams alive for the playoff and both have great shots to make it.

Notre Dame got a big win on the road at North Carolina, meaning the Fighting Irish now have Syracuse and at Wake Forest left on their schedule.

Win both of those games and the Irish would be 11-0 headed to the ACC title game.

If Notre Dame were to beat Clemson again then the Irish would clearly be in the college football playoff at 12-0. But what if Clemson wins out — the Tigers have only Virginia Tech scheduled right now — to finish 10-1. Beat the Hokies — and who knows whether the FSU game will be made up, that feels unlikely — and Clemson just needs to beat Notre Dame — this time with Trevor Lawrence back — and the Tigers would advance to the playoff.

But what happens to Notre Dame in that scenario?

I think both ACC teams would go to the playoff.

I just don’t see how the playoff committee is going to knock Notre Dame from number two in the playoff rankings all the way down to five or worse because they lose to Clemson in the ACC title game.

At some point, I think the playoff committee is going to have to consider the discipline required to win 11 football games in the middle of this covid madness. That’s a pretty incredible accomplishment. Especially when all 11 of those wins would be in a power five conference.

Remember, as I mentioned, above, I think it hurts Ohio State that they were the ones to cancel the Illinois game. In other words, unlike against Maryland where it was the Terrapins who canceled, the Buckeyes weren’t able to play on Saturday. That is, Ohio State has no one to blame but themselves — and the stupid Big Ten leadership failure — for their game cancellation.

As a result, are you telling me that if Notre Dame goes 11-1 and Ohio State goes, for instance, 6-0 or 7-0, that those are functionally equal resumes? Or, even wilder, that Ohio State’s resume is better than Notre Dame’s? I just don’t see how that’s a decision that a reasonable committee could make.

When could a situation like that arise? If, for instance, Florida upset Alabama in the SEC title game and Clemson beat Notre Dame. In that scenario we’d have Alabama and Florida both in from the SEC, each team would be 10-1, and you’d have Clemson in as the ACC champ. Then your decision could come down to 11-1 Notre Dame or 6-0 Ohio State. (The Buckeyes could also be 7-0 if the won out and won the Big Ten title.) Either way, is 7-0 Ohio State more deserving of a playoff spot than 11-1 Notre Dame? I think that’s a tough argument to make, honestly, and 7-0 Ohio State would be the best case scenario for the Big Ten right now.

4. What about the Big 12?

The Big 12 has no chance at all to make the college football playoff.

I do, however, want to give credit to the Big 12 for getting their season played and I want to give a shout out to Iowa State here too.

The Cyclones have not won a conference championship since 1912.


And right now they are close to advancing to the Big 12 title game and playing for that title.

That’s a hell of a story, especially since the season began with a loss to Louisiana.

Every college football fan with a soul should be rooting for the Cyclones and their fans to win a conference championship.

5. What about the Pac 12’s playoff chances?

The Pac 12 has (virtually) no chance at all to make the college football playoff. USC, Washington and Colorado are the only undefeated teams remaining in the conference and the best either of these teams could do is get to 6-0, which feels unlikely given the fact that the conference may not even be able to finish the season.

And as much as I’ve ripped the Big Ten, the Pac 12, arguably, is worse. Remember when you were a kid and you tried to excuse your behavior by pointing to another kid who’d done the same thing and your mom said, “Well if (insert kid’s name here) jumped off a cliff would you do it too?”

And you’d say, “No!”

And then she’d say, “Well, just because (insert kid’s name here) did it, doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to do it too.”


The Big Ten was stupid and made idiotic decisions, but at least the Big Ten made its own choices. The Pac 12 just went full on lemming and followed the Big Ten in jumping off the cliff and dashing its playoff hopes on the rocky shore below.

That is, as dumb as the Big Ten was, the Pac 12 was arguably worse.

And now with USC’s game canceled and Oregon having lost to Oregon State I have legit questions about whether the Pac 12 is even going to be able to finish their season and crown a champion at all.

The state of California is going insane and all these politicians drunk with their own power are shutting down football. Right now Stanford might only be able to finish its season by leaving campus and playing in another state.

Is that going to be possible?

Who knows?

Worse for the Pac 12, most of their fans are such coronabro sheep that even if the season gets shuts down they won’t care.

The point here is pretty clear: the Pac 12 is done in the playoff race, may not be able to crown a champion, and made even dumber decisions than the Big Ten did, which is virtually impossible to manage.

The stupidity is just mind boggling.

6. Florida State canceled a game on the day of the game for the second straight week.

This is absolute incompetence by Florida State.

Can you imagine traveling with your entire team in the middle of this covid madness to Tallahassee, waking up on the day of the game, and then having Florida State say they can’t play FOR TWO STRAIGHT WEEKS!

I would lose my mind if I were Clemson or Virginia.

I really would.

I don’t see how anyone can blame either Clemson or Virginia here. And I think the ACC should mandate that FSU pay back all the costs associated in traveling for games that aren’t going to end up played.

7. Vanderbilt had a female kicker, Sarah Fuller, kick the ball off to begin the second half and predictably social media lost its mind over this story.

First, as a double Vanderbilt alum — I have a law school degree and an MFA from Vandy — I’m always happy to see my alma mater have kids succeed.

But, I’m going to be honest with you, this felt like a stunt designed to distract from Derek Mason’s winless season more than it did Vandy selecting the best kicker in the student body.

Let me explain why it feels that way to me.

It’s pretty simple.

How many times have you seen a kicker injured in an NFL game? It happens a decent amount of time, right? What usually happens in that situation? The punter or kicker switches over and does both jobs. That is, if your field goal kicker gets injured during an NFL game, the punter is generally the back up kicker. And vice versa.

This happens in the NFL a decent amount of times, probably once a year or so on average, because the game day rosters are much smaller so you end up without any legitimate back ups in those scenarios.

In other words, even if covid quarantining is new this year in college football, there are a ton of precedents for this exact same scenario in the NFL. It’s not uncommon for the starting kicker to be unavailable.

Well, what did Vandy do at punter for the game? Vandy’s Harrison Smith punted the ball seven times for an average punt distance of 43.3 yards. That’s a very solid performance. Especially when you consider that punting, which requires you field a snap and kick the ball while being rushed, is far more difficult to do in a game than kicking off is.

Vandy only needed to kick off once, to begin the second half.

So are you really telling me that the punter, who was healthy enough to boom the ball down the field seven different times, during which time he was obligated to help tackle too, couldn’t have kicked off one time as well as Sarah Fuller did?

Of course he could have.

Remember, Vandy was down 21-0 and for the opening kick of the second half they elected to directionally kick it right at the 35 yard line, effectively giving up very good field position to their opponent. How many times have you seen a college team voluntarily give up possession at the 35 to start the second half? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it.

Yet that was Vandy’s plan.

Imagine if Sarah Fuller wasn’t the kicker and Vandy had started off the second half with a kick that a male kicker had done that looked the exact same? Are you telling me that Vandy fans wouldn’t have been cursing the kick? Of course they would have. And are you telling me that Harrison Smith, the punter who was capable of booming two punts for 51 yards on Saturday and averaged over 43 yards per kick, wasn’t able to kickoff to start the second half better than Sarah Fuller did? I just don’t believe that to be true.

And I don’t believe Vandy’s football team believed it to be true either.

They’ve seen Harrison Smith punt the ball for multiple years now and then suddenly they bring in a new kicker and don’t allow him to do the job?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Vandy put together their worst performance of the season. getting thoroughly dominated on both sides of the ball by Missouri. The Tigers put up 603 yards of offense to Vandy’s 185.

For anyone who watched the game, this was an epic beatdown and it was Vandy’s worst performance all season long.

In college football, fans regularly question the decisions of coaches. There is even a phrase for it — Monday Morning Quarterbacking — that has become a part of popular cliched discourse. So how is it that this is probably the only place on the Internet you’ll see someone ask a simple question: why couldn’t the punter have handled kickoffs and extra points, if needed, on Saturday for Vanderbilt? And why is that many blue checkmarks on Twitter even recoil from asking a basic question like this?

Again, we question every decision that coaches make. And we’ve done that on this website in the Starting 11 for nearly a decade. But asking whether having Sarah Fuller kick off to start the second half is a bridge too far?

No way, no how, it’s an eminently reasonable and fair question. It’s not sexism to hold a woman to the same standard you’d hold a man to, it’s sexism to hold a woman to a lower standard than you’d hold a man to and right now it seems to me that Sarah Fuller’s kicking is being held to a very low standard.

Look, I want every Vanderbilt student, male or female, to be successful. I love Vanderbilt. I met my wife at the law school and it was the best three years of my life.

Many of my best friends in life are still people that I met there during those three years in law school. But I don’t want Vandy students or graduates to be successful because of stunts, I want them to be successful because they are the best and most qualified person to attain that success.

This felt like a stunt to me. A stunt by a coach who is 0-7 on the season and is just 27-55 overall, 10-46 in the SEC, 1-15 in his last 16 conference games.

When you consider all of these factors along with what her kickoff actually looked like, I don’t believe that Sarah Fuller was the best kicker available to Vanderbilt’s football team on Saturday. I think it’s pretty clear Harrison Smith was.

And I think his teammates all knew this too, even if they were afraid to say so publicly for how the mob would respond to them.

That’s a question that’s asked about every football player every week. And we’re not allowed to ask it about Vandy’s kicker just because she’s a girl? I think the standard should be the same for all players and all coaches, regardless of their identity.

Regardless of how you feel about this situation, Vanderbilt not scoring a single point to allow their female kicker the opportunity to attempt an extra point or a field goal was about as Vanderbilt football as you can get.

And with games theoretically left against Georgia and Tennessee the real story Vanderbilt football should be focused on is this: are the Commodores going to set a record for all time losses in an SEC season, at ten, that will likely never be equaled again in SEC football history?

The answer may well be yes.

And no kicker, regardless of gender, is going to erase that level of futility.

8. Do BYU or Cincinnati have a chance to make the playoff?

I don’t think it’s very likely, but here’s what would need to happen.

First, Alabama would need to win out and Texas A&M would need to lose to Auburn, Ole Miss or Tennessee.

Second, Notre Dame would need to win out.

Then BYU or Cincinnati would need to win out, potentially featuring a game between these two teams before the season is over. Then you’re left with Alabama and Notre Dame as the one and two seeds in the playoff with two spots still open.

Let’s give one of those spots to Ohio State because I think the Buckeyes would be in a great spot then.

So who gets the final spot? It would come down to an undefeated Pac 12 champ or an undefeated Cincinnati or BYU. Given that USC, Washington and Colorado are the only undefeated Pac 12 teams left and the most games these teams could win is six, I think you’d end up with Cincinnati or BYU picked over this team. (There would be arguments for two loss teams to make it, but I think those would all lose out).

So that’s the pathway to the playoff for the non-power five.

It’s unlikely, but not completely blocked.

9. The Heisman race appears to be down to Kyle Trask and Mac Jones.

I think Trask has to be a substantial favorite at this point and I’m curious whether he can effectively end the race with good games against Tennessee and LSU.

If so, he’d enter the SEC title game as such a substantial favorite that he’d just have to avoid disaster to win the award.

What would happen if he played disastrously? I think Mac Jones might end up snagging it, presuming he played well on the other side of the field.

Given that Justin Fields didn’t play this weekend and that Trevor Lawrence may only have two games left after already missing two games with covid, it would appear very difficult for anyone else to catch him other than Mac Jones.

Right now I’d make it a two horse race: I think Trask or Jones will hoist the Heisman hardware.

10. Outkick’s National Top Ten

1. Alabama
2. Notre Dame
3. Clemson
4. Texas A&M
5. Florida
6. Ohio State
7. Cincinnati
8. BYU
9. Indiana
10. Georgia

11. SEC power rankings 1-14

1. Alabama
2. Texas A&M
3. Florida
4. Georgia
5. Auburn
6. Missouri
7. Arkansas
8. Ole Miss
9. Kentucky
10. LSU
11. Tennessee
12. Mississippi State
13. South Carolina
14. Vanderbilt

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.


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  1. Great starting 11 Clay. As I finished I heard the Broncos were petitioning the NFL for a coach to QB todays game. Knowing the NFL these day, they would have a better chance having a female approved. They could send her out, take the first snap hand it off top the running back and jog off the field.

    Littles girls and Coronabros would all be crying rainbows and unicorns.

  2. There still are passionate fans in the Pac 12 and the Colorado Buffs is the feel good story of the year. Our coached ditched us in the middle of the night in February. We had no spring practice, no returning QB and yet we are 3-0 after many pundits said the Buffs wouldn’t win a game. I think USC used Covid as an excuse not to play us. Kudos to Coach Karl Dorrell and his staff for the job they’ve done.

  3. Has a single CFB player been hospitalized with Covid? A single coach? How accurate are the PCR tests used to determine infections? Answer: not very. So the Big Ten has completely wrecked its season with bad medicine and bad science. Excess mortality In the country is nil. Covid is likely less lethal than the flu. We are destroying our youth and our country over something less lethal than the flu. Beyond idiotic.

  4. Excellent article clay I do think that Ohio State and the big ten ruined it by having their stupid rules as you say they should have just copied the SEC. Therefore I think it’s very appropriate that the SEC and other conferences say, due to big ten incompetence they are not eligible for the playoff. We the SEC ACC etc have teams who followed the science and are eligible.

  5. But the Little 14 was always intended to FAIL — between the DemoKKKrat gauleiters (Wolf, Pritzker, Murphy, Whitmer, and I’ll include that morbidly obese RINO excretion Hogan) in many of these states and that POS Kevin Warren, these teams were set up to fail. 21 days after a positive test? That kept real citizens (not the DemoKKKrat BurnLootMurder simian army) from rioting and ensured that Little 14 football was doomed.

  6. Always great stuff Clay. What are the chances Mac Jones wins the Heisman, and then loses to the better QB Trevor Lawrence (with weaker personnel at Clemson) and Brent Venables in the championship. game. And what are the chances Heisman darlings Jones and Trask will be picked #1 ahead of Trevor Lawrence?

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