Big Ten Playoff Chances

October 31, 2018

The first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2018 season have been released, and no Big Ten teams are in the top four. With one loss each, Michigan and Ohio State are in the top ten, at five and ten, respectively. The Big Ten still has a shot to have a team in the Playoff, but they’ll need some help. Here are the chances each Big Ten team has at making the Playoff.



At 7-1, fifth-ranked Michigan represents the Big Ten’s best chance to make the Playoff. They lost by a touchdown on the road to Notre Dame, who has gone undefeated this season, to open the year. Since then, they have rattled off seven straight wins, including a 20-17 comeback road win over Northwestern, a 38-13 beatdown of Wisconsin, and a solid 21-7 win over rival Michigan State in East Lansing.

Behind the nation’s best defense, Michigan has put themselves in a position to make the College Football Playoff if they win out and finish the season at 12-1 with a Big Ten championship. To do so, they would have to beat number 14 Penn State and tenth-ranked Ohio State in Columbus before facing either number 16 Iowa or a Northwestern in a rematch in the Big Ten championship game.


Michigan probably has the best chance of any Big Ten team at the moment. Assuming they beat Penn State on Saturday, they will look to run the table the rest of the way and slide into the Playoff. In order to secure a Playoff spot, Michigan will possibly have to cheer for Alabama and Clemson to finish unbeaten. Depending on who the loss comes to, Alabama or Clemson could get the benefit of the doubt from the committee for the fourth spot over a team like Michigan. Michigan should also hope that Notre Dame loses one game down the stretch to clear the way for Power Five conference champions.


Ohio State

The Buckeyes are 7-1 just like Michigan, but their road to the Playoff will be a little more difficult. Unlike Michigan’s seven point loss to a top four team, Ohio State traveled to Purdue, who is now 4-4 after losing to Michigan State, and lost 49-20. Ohio State has struggled defensively, as they have missed tackles and given up big plays at a higher rate than they are used to in Columbus. With Nick Bosa now gone from the team, fixing these struggles will be an uphill battle despite having talent on that side of the ball.


Despite defensive struggles, Dwayne Haskins is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and he looks to lead Ohio State back to the College Football Playoff. They will need to win out, and will win the Big Ten if they do so. Their final stretch of the season includes a trip to Michigan State and they host Michigan on the final weekend of the regular season.


While their road is tougher than Michigan’s, Ohio State can certainly make the Playoff. A Notre Dame loss benefits the Buckeyes just as it does for Michigan, as does Alabama and Clemson remaining unbeaten. To make the jump from number ten to the top four, Ohio State needs teams ranked five through nine to lose, and hope that Michigan is ranked highly enough that a win would vault them into the top four. At 12-1, Ohio State can probably jump 12-1 Washington State. Number 6 Georgia plays number 9 Kentucky on Saturday, and the winner will play the SEC West champion, with a loss clearing two spots for the Buckeyes.


Ohio State has a solid chance to make the College Football Playoff, but due to the margin of their loss, the struggles they have shown relative to Ohio State teams that have made the Playoff, and the spot they started at, they will need at least Notre Dame, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky to lose in addition to winning out to make the jump into the top four.


Penn State and Iowa

At two losses, the Playoff chances for these two teams are very slim. Penn State holds a head to head matchup, but is fourth in the Big Ten East, behind Michigan and Ohio State and losing the head to head battle against Michigan State. Both teams have proven to be good, but not great teams who will be competing for good bowl games if they keep winning.


If Penn State had beaten either Michigan State or Ohio State, they would be at least 7-1 and traveling to Ann Arbor to play Michigan in a battle for the division and looking to build the Playoff resume. They lost those two games, however, by a combined five points. Penn State, probably behind Florida, has the best chance of any two-loss team to make the Playoff, but outside of Michigan, their remaining games are not tough enough to earn the respect of the committee.

If the Nittany Lions beat Michigan on the road on Saturday, they will return to Happy Valley yo play Wisconsin, likely as a top ten team. If Wisconsin was a better team, that two-game stretch would be a launching pad for their Playoff hopes. Unfortunately for Penn State, Wisconsin has struggled this year and is currently 5-3 and unranked. If Penn State wins out and finishes 10-2, they would need Michigan to lose to either Rutgers or Indiana but beat Ohio State. They would also need Ohio State to lose to Nebraska or Maryland before falling to Michigan to force a tie with Michigan at the top of the division. They would then need to win the Big Ten title game and hope for more chaos at the top to have a chance of making the top four.


Iowa’s Playoff chances, unfortunately, are next to none. They have two losses already, and one is to unranked Wisconsin at home. In order to make the Playoff as a Big Ten West team, they need to go undefeated, as there is a lack of respect nationally for the strength of the division. If they win out, they can finish 10-2 and make the Big Ten title game, with a win potentially sending them to the Rose Bowl, but the Playoff is out of the picture for the Hawkeyes in 2018.

Penn State has a chance to make the Playoff, but it is a small one, and they will need to rely on a lot of outside help to get there.


The rest of the Big Ten

No team with three or more losses has a chance to make the College Football Playoff. Nationally, none are ranked higher than 18th, and no Big Ten team with three losses or more are ranked. 5-3 Northwestern currently leads the West with a 5-1 record and can play spoiler to Notre Dame on Saturday or to Michigan or Ohio State in Indianapolis, but their Playoff hopes are gone.


Michigan and Ohio State are the two Big Ten teams that have a significant chance to make the College Football Playoff. Ohio State has made the Playoff twice, winning the inaugural Playoff in 2014 and lost 31-0 to Clemson in 2016. They were fifth in the final rankings a season ago, being shut out of the Playoff by 11-1 Alabama, who didn’t even make the SEC championship game. Michigan is looking for their first Playoff berth, as they have only made a New Year’s Six bowl once, losing 33-32 to Florida State in the 2016 Orange Bowl.


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