By Seth Gruen–
(CBS) It’s probably fair to say you would stop reading some 15 seconds into this column if all I wrote about was how big this week was for the Big Ten. I would be surprised if any of you who read this weekly take didn’t know that.
To any college football fan, it’s obvious that games that feature No. 12 Michigan State at No. 18 Notre Dame and No. 3 Ohio State at No. 14 Oklahoma, both which kick off at 6:30 p.m. Central, are head-liners. Not to mention the conference’s undercard: Nebraska hosts No. 22 Oregon and No. 4 Michigan hosts undefeated Colorado (2:30 p.m. kickoffs).
We know these are big games because of the numbers next to the schools, conference affiliation or tradition. What wins or losses could do to the conference as a whole, though, requires a bit more explanation.
Don’t worry, I’m here to help. And luckily there’s more to gain than there is to lose.
The biggest storyline heading into this season asked the question as to whether a two-loss team could be selected into the College Football Playoff, which has never happened before. So if either Ohio State or Michigan State — both considered CFP contenders to start the season — lost, it wouldn’t necessarily completely torpedo their seasons. What wins would do, however, is vault the conference to a status it hasn’t enjoyed in the combined BCS-CFP era.
With a win, the Buckeyes are sure to, at least, hold their spot at No. 3 in the Associate Press poll. If the Spartans edge the Irish, Michigan State would have a chance to vault into the top 10. No. 2 Florida State plays No. 10 Louisville. The loser is sure to fall.
Assuming No. 9 Wisconsin takes care of business against Georgia State in the early slate, it could give the Big Ten five teams in the AP top 10, with No. 13 Iowa lurking. Aside from the fact that this is a nightmare scenario for an SEC fan, it’s important to understand the impact of such a scenario in shaping how the conference is perceived.
Strength of schedule has proved most important in the CFP selection. If the Big Ten ends the non-conference slate with a litany of highly ranked teams, it allows more margin for error when the conference schedule begins in Week 4.
It could even mean that the Big Ten gets two teams into the CFP, a first in the format’s three-year history. Or it could mean that the conference could be the first to have a two-loss team selected.
Then, finally, the Big Ten might be able to boast being the nation’s best.
So while the Big Ten’s best teams carry the conference’s teams, what can you do on Saturday? Make sure you’re sitting in front of multiple televisions.
1. Ohio State (2-0) — Feels a little like the CFP Champion of two seasons ago.
2. Michigan State (1-0) — The Spartans will have had two weeks to prepare for Notre Dame.
3. Michigan (2-0) — More style than substance? We’ll see with their first (kind of, sort of) real test.
4. Wisconsin (2-0) — Georgia State then Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa to start the conference slate.
5. Iowa (2-0) — Don’t sleep on the Hawkeyes.
6. Nebraska (2-0) — Playing up to standard this season.
7. Minnesota (2-0) — The Gophers are averaging 44 points per game.
8. Penn State (1-1) — It doesn’t feel important anymore.
9. Indiana (2-0) — The Hoosiers usually start out well but never finish that way.
10. Maryland (2-0) — One of the easier first-half schedules.
11. Illinois (1-1) — The Illini played a disappointing second half against North Carolina.
12. Rutgers (1-1) — Congrats on beating Howard.
13. Purdue (1-1) — Can’t believe Drew Brees once played there.
14. Northwestern (0-2) — Head-scratching.
Seth Gruen is columnist for CBSChicago.com, focusing on college sports. You can follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.