Big Ten, updated CFP previews

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

The Big Ten is back in contention for the College Football Playoff, and after their schedule release Saturday morning, it’s time to see how the conference season will unfold and where the Big Ten fits in the updated playoff picture.

After announcing their plans to resume the season Oct. 24 and releasing stringent medical protocols, the Big Ten has been on a roller coaster summer, from postponing the season Aug. 11 to the resumption Wednesday. 

Now, the conference has released their eight-game schedule, with several interesting match-ups to watch. Before getting into my predictions for who will win the Big Ten and how they fit into the CFP picture, here is a highlight of the key games that will determine who wins the conference.

  • Oct. 31, Ohio State @ Penn State: Although the atmosphere will either be dulled (or silenced) from a traditional White Out at Beaver Stadium, the Nittany Lions will certainly pose a challenge to the Buckeyes. Losing stand-out linebacker Micah Parsons, the Nittany Lions will have their hands full against Justin Fields, Trey Sermon, Master Teague and one of the best receiving groups in the Big Ten.
  • Nov. 14, Wisconsin @ Michigan: Ohio State and Penn State are likely to be the cream of the crop in the Big Ten East, Michigan will certainly still be a major contender. On the other side of the field, Wisconsin is likely the favorite to win the West division, and a healthy does of returning starters on a defense (9 of 11 starters) that ranked in the top ten in several important defensive categories. The winner of this game will be primed to contend with Ohio State and Penn State.
  • Nov. 28, Minnesota @ Wisconsin: Last year, this match-up determined the winner of the Big Ten West when the two teams met to close out the regular season (Wisconsin won 38-17). Minnesota returns just 13 of 22 starters from last year’s 11-2 team, but the strides that head coach P.J. Fleck has taken this team on have been impressive, and will be tested against the West-favorite Wisconsin.
  • Dec. 12, Michigan @ Ohio State and Wisconsin @ Iowa: “The Game” between the Wolverines and Buckeyes is always a thrill to watch and could be important in determining the Big Ten East. Likewise, a rivalry between the Badgers and Hawkeyes (“Heartland Trophy”) could determine the West division. Based on my predictions, I have the Wolverines coming in to face the Buckeyes (7-0) with a 6-1 record, meaning a win could push them into the Big Ten Championship Game; and I also have the 5-2 Hawkeyes hosting the 6-1 Badgers for a place in Indianapolis on Dec. 19.

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Now, into my predictions for the final standings of each division:

East

  1. Ohio State (8-0)
  2. Penn State (7-1)
  3. Michigan (6-2)
  4. Michigan St (4-4)
  5. Indiana (3-5)
  6. Maryland (1-7)
  7. Rutgers (0-8)

West

  1. Wisconsin (7-1)
  2. Iowa (5-3)
  3. Minnesota (5-3)
  4. Illinois (3-5)
  5. N’western (2-6)
  6. Nebraska (2-6)
  7. Purdue (2-6)

These standings not only determine the match-up in the Big Ten Championship Game (Ohio State-Wisconsin), but also the “seeded games” on Dec. 19 (No. 2 vs. 2, 3 vs. 3, etc.).

Ohio State has too much talent for the rest of the Big Ten, and that’s why I have the Buckeyes cruising past the Badgers to finish 9-0, making a strong case to be in the CFP.

Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 17

Now, onto my updated predictions for the CFP, where I originally had No. 1 Clemson beating No. 4 UCF, and No. 2 Alabama over No. 3 Oklahoma. In those predictions, I had Clemson once again defeating Alabama to win their third championship in five years.

But the inclusion of the Big Ten in the CFP race will not be ignored, especially if a team runs the table. However, I expect the committee to give more credit to 12-0 Clemson over 9-0 Ohio State in their final rankings, likely to be released Dec. 20.

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

No. 1 Clemson (12-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (10-1)

Not much has changed in how dominant Clemson will be, as evidenced by their 37-13 win over Wake Forest last Saturday. However, Spencer Rattler looked ready to play, throwing for 290 yards and 4 TDs, albeit against FCS-team Missouri State. But Clemson just has too much talent and recent winning experience for the Sooners, winning to advance to the National Championship Game for the sixth time in seven years.

Clemson 38, Oklahoma 28

No. 2 Ohio State (9-0) vs. No. 3 Alabama (10-1)

The last time Ohio State faced Alabama, the Buckeyes came out on top 42-35 to win the 2015 Sugar Bowl (CFP semifinal) to advance to the National Championship, where they beat Oregon 42-20 to win the inaugural CFP. Now, head coach Ryan Day’s Buckeyes are hungry after blowing a 16-0 lead over Clemson in last year’s CFP semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl. This should be another thrilling match-up, but I think Justin Fields leads the Buckeyes back to the championship game.

Ohio State 31, Alabama 27

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National Championship Game

No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 2 Ohio State 

Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade’s last collegiate play could have been a targeting call against Trevor Lawrence of Clemson in last year’s 29-23 loss to the Tigers. Now, the captain leads an Ohio State defense that ranked No. 1 against the pass and yards allowed per game. Although the loss of menacing defensive end Chase Young will be tough to overcome, the offensive attack of Justin Fields, running back pair Trey Sermon and Master Teague, and a wide receiver group led by Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson will give the Buckeyes a distinct advantage. Historically, the Buckeyes are winless against the Tigers (0-4), but I think this is the year they turn things around. In a season defined by questions, the Buckeyes will answer the biggest one and take down Dabo Swinney’s Tigers to win the ninth championship in program history.

Ohio State 41, Clemson 31

A fractured college football season is finally coming together, with four of five Power 5 conferences now scheduled to play. Although the questions and uncertainty are everywhere, college football Saturdays are back and the race for the CFP is officially on.

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