Could Big Ten get greedy, send Spartans & Buckeyes to playoff?
Two weeks into the 2014 season, we collectively eliminated the Big Ten from the College Football Playoff. Ohio State lost. Michigan State lost. So did a bunch of their future opponents. Snarky jokes abounded. Conference commissioner Jim Delany tried to do damage control.
You know what happened come January.
So allow me to do the exact opposite through two weeks of this season. After watching Ohio State hammer Virginia Tech on the road last Monday and after watching Michigan State mostly control the game (wording intentional) in a 31-28 win over Top 10 foe Oregon on Saturday, the Big Ten may place two teams in this year’s playoff.
Imagine seeing this pairing come up on the selection show in early December: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Michigan State. Or vice versa. Exact order to be determined November 21 in Columbus.
The SEC may well secede from college football if that happens. But it’s entirely plausible.
You know well the loaded Buckeyes, which sleepwalked their way through a 38-0 win over Hawaii on Saturday. No need to rehash their bevy of star quarterbacks, playmakers and defenders.
The Spartans, however, made an impressive statement Saturday night. No, they did not blow out the Ducks – it came down in fact to a last-minute defensive stand – but they never trailed after the early first quarter and led by 10 points with four minutes remaining. They showed off both a balanced, efficient offense and a largely suffocating defense.
As we know, the best way to slow down Oregon’s fast-paced offense is to keep it off the field, a strategy many have attempted over the years but only a select few have succeeded (see: Stanford 2012-13). But the Spartans did just that, not only with the impressive tailback tandem of Madre London and LJ Scott but Connor Cook’s controlled passing attack.
But just as impressively, they bottled up the Ducks’ normally dominant rushing attack, holding them to just 123 yards on 43 attempts. Mark Dantonio’s had a lot of great defensive fronts, but this is his most athletic, and it showed. With the onus almost completely on him, Oregon QB Vernon Adams Jr. threw for 309 yards and nearly led a last-minute comeback. But he also threw two interceptions and endured four sacks, including Chris Frey’s devastating third-down drop on the Ducks’ final drive.
Both the Buckeyes and Spartans will be heavily favored in any remaining game not against each other. They could well meet each as 10-0 foes in their conference’s biggest game since the 2006 Ohio State-Michigan showdown.
What happens after that will depend on A) Which team loses, B) How close the game is and C) What the other power conference champs’ records are. But if Michigan State runs the table from here but loses a close one to the Buckeyes, it could finish as an 11-1 non-division champ with this Oregon win in its back pocket. The committee would then decide whether that’s a more impressive resume than, say, an 11-2 ACC champion.
All of that’s a long way from actually coming to fruition. As I learned last year, don’t try to forecast a playoff field after just two weeks of games. But if Michigan State keeps playing the way it did Saturday night, the two Big Ten teams scenario becomes an intriguing, and realistic possibility.
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.