Big Ten gets cold shoulder in first playoff rankings

Teddy Greenstein
Chicago Tribune

When Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany finally gave his blessing to a playoff, it was a nod to hyperventilating college football fans and a thumbs up to extra TV money.

Another benefit: Given that the SEC champion was practically guaranteed to advance to the BCS title game, only one other spot remained. By expanding to four teams, the playoff would create two more "access points," as Delany called them.

Well, four might not be enough for the Big Ten. Shoot, eight might not do it.

Of course, we're six weeks from the final decision, but the early results are far from encouraging.

Michigan State checked in at No. 8 in the initial playoff rankings, behind five other one-loss teams: Auburn, Mississippi, Oregon, Alabama and TCU.

Nebraska is 15th, where it was expected, but Ohio State is 16th, stuck behind the likes of Arizona, Baylor and Arizona State.

In ranking the Buckeyes so low, the selection committee made two things clear: Ohio State's massive margins of victory over Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers didn't impress. And the 12 members certainly frowned on the Buckeyes' Week 2 home loss to Virginia Tech, which is 4-4.

The Buckeyes are not getting a mulligan even though it was the second career start for quarterback J.T. Barrett, who replaced the injured Braxton Miller.

"I wouldn't call it an albatross, but it was not a good loss," committee chair Jeff Long said on ESPN. "Ohio State has opportunities on its schedule to play up, as many of these teams do. We're still early in this process. While I wouldn't get that excited about Ohio State's placement, we do think based on the other teams they have played to this point, this is where they deserve to be ranked."

Long later said Oregon's injuries on the offensive line were discussed in relation to the Ducks' loss to Arizona, so perhaps the distinction is that Miller was lost for the season before it began.

Unblemished Mississippi State and Florida State are 1-2, ahead of Auburn and Ole Miss. That's three from the SEC West and one from the ACC.

"We don't analyze it by conference," Long said, stressing a focus on the "body of work."

Big Ten teams have much work to do to surge into the top four. Two games that will help determine the conference's fate: Ohio State-Michigan State on Nov. 8 and the Big Ten title game Dec. 6.

If Nebraska and the Ohio State-Michigan State winner enter Lucas Oil Stadium with one loss each, the Big Ten champion will have a reasonable chance — especially if it's Michigan State.

After all, Michigan State was 22nd in the BCS standings at this time last year. Six weeks later, the Spartans would have made a four-team playoff.

Time might be on their side.