Michigan and Ohio State are about to play the highest stakes rendition of The Game in a decade. The last time their annual meeting had this much national relevance, Jim Harbaugh was at the University of San Diego – his first job as a head coach. Urban Meyer was two months away from winning his first national championship and Nick Saban was still with the Miami Dolphins.
It’s safe to say the college landscape has been slightly altered over the past ten years. For the first time since that 2006 meeting, The Game is likely a play in to compete for a championship, both Big Ten and national. Only this time there’s a playoff involved rather than the much-maligned BCS and the effects of the result will reverberate from coast to coast.
The Big Ten has a lot to gain with an Ohio State victory. With a win, the second-ranked Buckeyes would likely earn a trip to the playoffs despite not reaching the Big Ten championship game where Penn State would represent the Big Ten East as long as the Nittany Lions take care of business against Michigan State. Why would that interest the Big Ten? Because a two-loss Big Ten champion is all but assured a spot in the playoffs this year, especially if that team is Wisconsin. “Two playoff teams for the Big Ten? Sign me up!” – Jim Delany, probably.
That scenario is exactly why the rest of college football (and the committee) will be rooting for Michigan to win out. A Big Ten championship for the Wolverines would make things easy on the committee. They would be in the playoff as the likely two seed and no other Big Ten team would have a real argument for inclusion. After Alabama, that leaves two spots to grab for the PAC 12, Big XII, and ACC champs. There would be some debate but things would likely sort themselves out with relative ease. Less chaos makes the committee’s job much easier.
It also makes each of the remaining contender’s paths to the playoff more viable. With two Big Ten teams in the playoff (and Alabama of course), there would only be one spot for the remaining three power five conferences. There is no scenario where the Big XII champion makes the playoff with two Big Ten teams. Washington? You better pray for a surprise Clemsoning. Clemson themselves would have zero room for a slip-up. The Big Ten’s dream scenario is nightmare fuel for every other contender.
Make no mistake, the Big Ten does have two of the top four teams in football and arguably three of the top four. No team will be eager to see Michigan, Ohio State, or Wisconsin in the College Football Playoff. The rest of football is praying there’ll only be one.
For just a little while it’s “Go Blue!” across the country.