Phil Steele Blog • August 27, 2015



What Conference has the best chance of landing two playoff bids in 2015?


First of all let me state that it will be difficult for any conference to get two teams into a 4 team playoff format. There are Five Power 5 conferences that all have commissioners that expect their conference champs to be in the playoffs. The fact that only 4 spots are available already means one of those guys is mad and if one conference was to land two teams, then 40% of the Power 5 conferences would be upset with the system. Also the Playoff Committee has said it will stress conference champions in the criteria. That was proven last year when the Big 12, with their Co-Champs, was left out of the mix.

I would give the chance of one conference landing two bids at less than 10% as it would take some unusual circumstances to have two conference champs left out of the 2015 playoffs.  Still, in the current format, the committee is supposed to choose the best four teams for college football so I could envision a scenario with two teams getting into the playoffs from the same conference this year.

I will take you back almost a full year. If you go back 346 days we will find that the conference that has the best chance of landing two teams in the playoffs in 2015 is one that NO one would have guessed 346 days ago. Had I made the same conclusion less than one year ago it would have been a shock to you and been laughed at. 

The conference I am choosing is the Big 10 and let me explain why. First of all this year the Pac 12 and the SEC conferences are brutal. They are among the top two conferences in college football and it will be tough for either of those two conferences to get one team with just one loss or less through the entire gauntlet this season. I cannot envision a scenario where there are two teams from either the SEC or the Pac 12 that have zero or one losses in 2015 so I do not see a chance of them landing two teams in the playoffs. The Big 12 has a tough November conference schedule and just having one team make it in the playoffs would be an accomplishment since they do not have a championship game. I do not see one powerhouse team in the ACC that even makes the playoffs therefore I do not think they have a chance of two teams actually making it. I have basically just eliminated the chances of any of these power 5 conferences landing two teams. That leaves one conference.

Now let's take it back to September 14, of 2014. At this point in the season the Big Ten was coming off a second straight poor bowl season and lost all of their key non conference games. Ohio St lost to Virginia Tech at home, Michigan State lost to Oregon,  Michigan lost to Notre Dame, Wisconsin lost to LSU, Northwestern lost to Cal. Iowa was upset by Iowa State. At this point the chances of the Big 10 even landing one playoff spot in 2014 seemed very low and they were generally regarded as the fifth best conference in college football.

Now flash forward to 2015. The Big Ten had a highly successful bowl season. Not only did Ohio State win the national Championship, knocking off both Alabama and Oregon but, Michigan State beat Baylor in their bowl game and Wisconsin upset Auburn. The Big Ten status has risen greatly. In fact, this year I rate it the third best conference in college football.

Now let me get to the exact scenario where I think the Big Ten can land TWO bids. They have two powerhouse teams.  Ohio State is the consensus preseason number one team in the country and received all 61 votes in the AP poll. They deserve this honor as they are loaded talent wise and have a schedule where they are double digit favorites in every game. Let's assume the Buckeyes win every game this year.  How does the Big Ten get a second team into the playoffs?

The answer is Michigan State. Michigan State in week 2 hosts Oregon with the Ducks breaking in a new quarterback and I think the Spartans will win that game. Michigan State should be favored in all the other games with the exception of Ohio State. Michigan State has my number one rated offensive line and number two rated defensive line along with a veteran senior quarterback. Assume they win all the other games including road trips to Nebraska and Michigan.  That means they would go into Columbus on November 21 undefeated and likely in the top three in the polls for their showdown with Ohio State. The visitors actually have won four in a row in the series.  Let's say Michigan State takes the powerful Buckeyes to the limit, losing by three on the road. That means at a neutral site the game would've been a tossup and many fans will be clamoring for a potential rematch. I will say that the Big 12 has a clear cut champ in TCU. The SEC Champ is Alabama. The ACC champ has two losses. The Pac 12 Champ is Oregon with either one or two losses. While Oregon would be a conference champ, Michigan St would have the head to head win and either the same record (1 loss) or a stronger record if the Ducks lose another game. I think the committee would take Michigan St over Oregon.

In this scenario both the Pac 12 and the ACC would be out and the 4 best teams would be in the playoffs and that would include two teams from the Big Ten, the conference that was regarded as the weakest in College Football just 1 year ago.

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