If you, for some reason, napped through all of Saturday, you missed a day of college football nearly unprecedented since the sport’s inception. Saturday saw five top-ten teams, including undefeated No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Washington, all lose, shaking up the previously-seemingly-clear picture into something very confusing. Meanwhile, No. 7 Wisconsin handled Illinois at home 48-3, and is now an 8-2 (5-2) Big Ten team with a very realistic shot of making the Big Ten championship.
So how does the picture look for Wisconsin now? We’re here to break it all down for you.
The Big Ten Picture
It was a very regular day in the Big Ten on Saturday (minus one game), on a day that looked very confusing elsewhere. No. 5 Ohio State clobbered Maryland 62-3, No. 7 Wisconsin slaughtered Illinois 48-3, and up-and-comer No. 10 Penn State held out against Indiana 45-31. And then, the key upset of the year for the Big Ten: a 5-4 Iowa team eked out a walk-off field goal to take down No. 3 Michigan 14-13.
What looked clear before is now shattered. Michigan would supposedly go undefeated into the November 26 Ohio State game, and Ohio State would have only one loss itself. The winner of this game would slide into the playoff against the winner of the West, likely Wisconsin.
Now, things get a lot more confusing. Here’s how the East might play out.
- Michigan: the Wolverines (9-1, 6-1) get a weak but upstart Indiana team at home next week, then face off against Ohio State on the road. Assuming the Blue can get past Indiana, a win against OSU would put them at 11-1 and send them to the Big Ten championship game. A loss would essentially mean no more playoff hopes, but a decent bowl.
- Ohio State: weirdly enough, Michigan’s loss bore a huge brunt on the Buckeyes (9-1, 6-1). They, too, have only one Big Ten loss, but if they found themselves in a tiebreaker scenario with Penn State, they would lose out, because Penn State won head to head on October 22. Assuming OSU can take out Michigan State next week, they’ll reach the Michigan game. Here’s where things get weird: pending a Penn State win, an OSU win over Michigan would send Penn State to the Big Ten championship, because OSU and PSU would be the only 1-loss teams in the East and PSU has the tiebreaker.
- Penn State: less than a month ago, the Nittany Lions (8-2, 6-1) weren’t even ranked – then, they beat Ohio State at home. Now, at No. 10 in the latest CFP poll, they have a chance to reach the Big Ten championship. If they can beat an abysmal Rutgers team next week and an also-terrible Michigan State team the following week, they’ll be in striking distance of the championship. They’ll need an OSU win over Michigan to get there.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2) must beat Purdue (3-7, 1-6) on the road and Minnesota (7-3, 4-3) at home; if they can complete this, they’ll face whoever wins the aforementioned mess in the Big Ten championship.
In terms of who reaches the CFP, things are very much still up in the air. Penn State’s chances aren’t very high because unless they make it to the championship against Wisconsin and win, which is unlikely, it’s still probably not enough to propel them into the top four. Ohio State is the only marquee win on Penn State’s calendar.
Ohio State is in an interesting position. If they win out, including against Michigan, they’ll be a one-loss team not playing in its conference’s championship game, a rare occurrence. There’s not much data to go off of in this area with the CFP, but it would be pretty surprising to not see an 11-1 OSU team in the CFP, even if they didn’t get to play for the championship.
Michigan is also likely to get in with one loss, but that would mean they would need to beat Ohio State and the West winner. Two losses, one in either of those games, would essentially crush their path to the CFP.
Wisconsin needs to win out and win the Big Ten championship to even be considered for the CFP.
What to look for elsewhere
One thing’s for sure, and it’s that Alabama is almost assuredly in the CFP as early as this week. This week saw 3-of-5 undefeated NCAA teams lose, with only Alabama and Western Michigan (…) left alive. Alabama has a cupcake at home against Chattanooga, then Auburn at home in the Iron Bowl. Even a loss there and a win in the SEC championship (probably against Florida) would get them in.
No. 2 Clemson suffered a one-point home loss to unranked Pitt. While they do have two quality wins over Louisville and Florida State, this loss doesn’t look good. But things get more complicated when you throw N0. 6 Louisville in the picture.
- Clemson: the Tigers (9-1, 6-1) look great besides this loss to Pitt. Assuming they can take care of Wake Forest on the road and South Carolina at home, they own the tiebreaker over Louisville and will play in the ACC championship against either North Carolina or Virginia Tech, both of which have been unimpressive all year.
- Louisville: despite owning a clear Heisman frontrunner, the Cardinals (9-1, 7-1) don’t control their own destiny, because they lost to Clemson. If they can beat non-conference Houston on the road (not an easy task) and Kentucky at home, they’ll miss out on the conference championship game and find themselves in the same kind of situation Ohio State might as a 1-loss non-division champion.
Meanwhile, No. 4. Washington got taken down by No. 20 USC, putting the Huskies (9-1, 6-1) in a problematic position. With their best win all season coming at Utah, Washington would need to win out and probably get some help in order to make the playoff. Of the five one-loss teams remaining in contention (along with Louisville, Clemson, Ohio State and Michigan), they’re by far the weakest in terms of win value.
Most other teams are pretty much out of the picture. Oklahoma has two home losses, but one was against Ohio State. Penn State might be considered if they win the Big Ten. Auburn and Texas A&M both lost tonight, essentially ending their playoff runs.
You’re free to play these scenarios out however you want, but a couple of notices:
- Alabama is basically a lock as of right now to make the playoff.
- Pending results of the ACC championship game, either Clemson or Louisville will probably occupy one spot and the other will be out.
- Ohio State would need to beat Michigan to remain in contention, but would likely be in if they did so.
- Michigan and Wisconsin will likely both need Big Ten championship wins to be in contention.
It’s all pretty confusing right now, but a lot of things will clear up in a couple of weeks when conference championship games are decided. Until then, keep watching diligently, college football fans – we’re in the heart of what’s playing out to be an absolutely incredible season.