Somehow, Big Ten still topical in playoff conversation

Andrew Logue
Mark Dantonio's Michigan State program has become of the Big Ten's elite.

Just a few weeks ago, the Big Ten seemed destined to be a playoff afterthought.

Then parity kicked in.

"I think there's a lot of good football teams out there," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said during a Tuesday teleconference. "And you could probably make a case for 15 different teams to be in that conversation."

There wasn't much talk about the Big Ten sending a representative to the first College Football Playoff after Dantonio's Spartans and Urban Meyer's Ohio State squad suffered early losses.

But let's take a look at the current roster of potential qualifiers for a new four-team postseason format:

-- The Southeastern Conference features four national title contenders, all in the Western Division.

Top-ranked Mississippi State (6-0) visits No. 4 Alabama (6-1) on Nov. 15. Third-ranked Mississippi (7-0) hosts No. 5 Auburn (5-1) on Nov. 1. The Mississippi schools face off Nov. 29.

So don't bet on anybody coming out of the SEC unscathed.

-- Kansas State (5-1) sits atop the Big 12 standings, but the Wildcats lost a non-conference showdown with Auburn.

No knock on coach Bill Snyder, but it takes more than genius to navigate a nine-game, round-robin schedule against league foes.

Baylor (6-1) might have a chance, but the Bears played an embarrassingly easy out-of-league schedule.

-- Oregon (6-1) remains the best hope for the Pac-12. Same with Florida State (7-0) and the ACC.

In other words, the Big Ten is still in pretty good shape.

This is probably not much of a surprise to Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who once talked about his preference for a plus-one approach, which would allow four teams to compete for a title while maintaining the traditional bowl system.

"It's certainly created a good interest, and I think it's a positive thing for college football," Ferentz said Tuesday. "I think the committee concept; it remains to be seen how it pans out."

The 12-person committee – former quarterback Archie Manning is taking a leave of absence -- will meet Monday and release its first CFP rankings Oct. 28.

Michigan State (6-1) and Ohio State (5-1) will likely be included, and the winner of a Nov. 8 meeting in East Lansing, Mich., will have an inside track on receiving a bid.

"My feeling is the Big Ten champion should be in a playoff, probably, if that particular team is a one-loss team,'' Dantonio said. "That's just me. That's just me as a fan."

Of course, if the Spartans or Buckeyes win the Big Ten's East Division, they'll have to survive a conference title game against the West Division winner.

Meyer makes a yearly tradition out of warning his players about looking too far ahead.

"Usually, it's mid-October when the players have to go meet with the media and they'll get some questions fired at them (about postseason possibilities), and so they're hearing it," Meyer said. "I'd rather go move to a desert island and just worry about going to school and worry about playing a game."

For everybody else, speculating about scenarios is fun, and it sure as heck beats the alternative.

"I would consider myself a pretty good scoreboard-watcher," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "It's our passion as coaches, and I think many of us sit there and watch scores and watch as much football as we can."