Big Ten champion belongs in playoff field

Commentary

The simple answer here is yes, and I say that whether Penn State or Wisconsin win Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

And if it’s not yes, then why bring everybody to Indianapolis for the championship game? Why not just play out the regular season and then have a vote?

College football’s regular season has long been the best of any sport because every game is so meaningful, and every game has significant postseason implications.

And its playoff has long been the worst because that’s when the polls, backroom decisions and different individual interpretations take over.

Is the committee looking for the best teams or the most deserving? Each member probably has their own criteria.

Ideally, each conference would be represented, but if a conference has not had a great year, like the Pac-12 when traditional powers Stanford and Oregon were shadows of themselves and almost everyone else allowed 35-plus points per game, there should be no annual guarantees.

The Big 12 has paid the price in the past, and it may do so again this year, in part because it has no title game.

The Big Ten finds itself in a unique situation as its top-ranked team, Ohio State, did not win its division, the Big Ten East, and won’t win the conference title.

And even though the Buckeyes lost at Penn State, I will concede that they belong based on their three wins over Top-10 teams (Michigan, Wisconsin and Oklahoma) and 11-1 record.

The Buckeyes, like it or not, are in. Obviously, Alabama is, too. Ditto Clemson, presuming a victory over Virginia Tech in the ACC final.

All eyes are on the fourth spot. Colorado could help the case by taking out Washington (11-1) tonight, but don’t count on that after the Buffs had to suspend two players just this week.

Washington has a good resume. Its lone blotch is a home loss to improving Southern Cal.

But what of Washington’s non-conference schedule, a supposed high priority for the committee to evaluate? Would Washington have gone to Pitt and won? Maybe, but we don’t know: It was too busy playing Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State as its non-league foes.

So that’s another reason Saturday night’s winner should get consideration.

An additional growing impediment to the Big Ten champion is the sudden love for Michigan, which staggered down the stretch to two losses in its last three games and looked inept offensively.

It lost 14-13 to an Iowa team that Penn State pounded into submission, 41-14, the previous week.

Yes, the Wolverines mauled the Lions, 49-10, on Sept. 25. PSU gets a demerit for that, and it should, but why isn’t Michigan being penalized for its recent play?

If Penn State goes 11-2 and ends the season on a nine-game win streak, it’s more deserving than Michigan, and I’ll say better today than the Wolverines, who coughed up the lead they were gifted in Columbus — by a team that isn’t playing too well offensively itself.

Wisconsin is deserving as well, having opened the season with a win over LSU and lost by one score to the Buckeyes and in Ann Arbor.

Being in the conference championship game and staying strong through a now 13-game season — especially if Washington loses — should trump extending Michigan the consideration it’s apparently getting.

That’s if the committee wants to be consistent.

It apparently puts value on the Wolverines’ 39-point win over a Penn State team that was totally depleted defensively, and yet it has Florida State and Louisville, a pair of 9-3 teams, ranked No. 12 and 13, respectively.

Even though Louisville beat Florida State 63-20.

So while the committee wrestles with whatever complex formula it arrived at in placing Florida State over Louisville, it could simplify matters by just deciding that the Big Ten champion deserves to be in over Washington and Michigan.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com. You can also follow him on Twitter@neilrudel.

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