Where does the Big Ten fit into the CFP race?
The Big Ten is finally back.
Intercollegiate football returns to the Midwest in just over a month, starting Oct. 24.
Though the start date is the sign of a miraculous turn of events for the conference, it also brings a conundrum when it comes to the College Football Playoff picture.
The conference announced a schedule beginning in late October, with the pushed back start date meaning less games played than other three Power 5 conferences already on the field.
The 14 members of the Big Ten will face an immediate uphill battle when they return to play. There will be no members of the conference in the AP Top 25 come the season’s start, and the ACC, Big 12, and SEC will already be at least three weeks deep into the football season.
In early August, after multiple conferences announced later start dates and conference championships, the CFP selection committee released pushed-back dates for the playoff selection and games.
The final rankings will be released on Dec. 20 and the playoff is set to begin on the first day of 2021, followed by a Jan. 11 championship game in Miami.
That gives the Big Ten just over nine weeks of football to make an impact on the selection committee, barring any postponements or cancellations. With a condensed schedule and less time to make a playoff case, teams will have to hit the ground running to preserve a chance of making it to Miami.
With two teams in the top ten of the preseason AP Poll and five in the top 20, the Big Ten has its share of contenders. Where those teams stand now, however, is uncertain.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and athletic director Gene Smith have repeatedly said they won’t worry about postseason play until the time comes, but the Buckeyes compete for a playoff spot on a yearly basis, and Day made it clear that this year’s team was no different.
“This team is special. It’s special because it’s talented,” Day said in a press conference shortly after the Big Ten’s original postponement. “It’s special because it has leadership. It’s special because of the character. It could have been in a once-in-a-lifetime team.”
Two starters have already declared for the NFL Draft, and the Buckeyes’ marquee non-conference matchup with Oregon has long been cancelled. Facing a multi-game hole to preseason favorites Alabama, Clemson, and Oklahoma, the pressure will be mounting from day one.
However, with the return of Justin Fields likely, Ohio State will still have the majority of the “once-in-a-lifetime” team Day described. It will have plenty of time to make a playoff case.
With no non-conference matchups on any Big Ten schedule this season, meaningful games will take place as soon as the first weekend gets under way.
The CFP committee is not releasing its first batch of rankings until Nov. 17, giving every conference a chance to get under way, and the Big Ten time to make up for lost weeks.
"At this time, the thresholds to participate in the CFP are being bowl-eligible under NCAA standards and being chosen by the selection committee," CFP executive director Bill Hancock said in an interview with ESPN. “As with everything about 2020, we have to be patient and allow events to play out. The committee's job is to evaluate the teams based on the games played on the field, and that's what they'll do."
The only year in which a conference ended up with two teams in the playoff was 2017, when two SEC teams were selected. With only four of the five "power" conferences playing in 2020, there exists a possibility that each conference could send one representative to the CFP.
If a team like Ohio State or Penn State goes undefeated against conference competition, the combination of program and conference reputation should be more than able to make up for any loss of games to an ACC or Big 12 second-place team.
The end result should not vary much from the normal selection process, even with differing conference timelines.
Each conference will be measured on the games it plays- not penalized for the games it does not play. The Big Ten has more than enough time to insert itself into the playoff picture.