It has been three years since a Big Ten team has been in the College Football Playoff. It’s been even longer since a Big Ten team has scored in a College Football Playoff game, way back in 2014.
Ohio State won the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014 as a No. 4 seed, upsetting No. 1 Alabama 42-35 in the semifinals and defeating No. 2 Oregon 42-20 in the final. But since then, the Big Ten has only two College Football Playoff appearances – Michigan State’s 2015 semifinal and Ohio State’s 2016 semifinal – and zero points to show, as both the Spartans and Buckeyes were shut out.
Despite the drought, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, speaking in New York City in December, told me and other reporters that the playoff “doesn’t define” the Big Ten.
The league has other priorities, he said.
“What we created in our structure is not exclusively for the (College Football Playoff),” Delany said. “It’s for the season-ticket holder, it’s for the players, it’s for our institutions to build a conference. That’s why they play nine (conference games). If we wanted to get in and that was the holy grail, the No. 1 objective, maybe we would be at eight. Maybe we would be playing (more FCS opponents like other leagues).
“But that’s not the only objective.”
Our objective here is providing insight on the Big Ten’s best bets to win the College Football Playoff. And yes, we know, a Big Ten team has to get in the playoff to win the playoff.
All week, we will list the national title odds for each of the Power 5 conferences and the top non-Power 5 teams along with the 2019 power ratings from Collin Wilson of the Action Network.
Coming Thursday: the Big 12.
Odds to win 2019 national title via Westgate Superbook @LVSuperbook for each Big Ten school:
Ohio State 12/1
Penn State 100/1
Michigan State 200/1
Power ratings entering 2019 via Collin Wilson, the Action Network for each Big Ten school:
6. Ohio State
21. Penn State
26. Michigan State
The Favorite: Ohio State
Even with several key losses, including Head Coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Dwayne Haskins, the Buckeyes are the best in the Big Ten. Georgia transfer Justin Fields, if he is successful receiving a hardship waiver from the NCAA, will take over for Haskins. J.K. Dobbins, a 1,053-yard rusher from last season, will help ease Fields’ transition to the Big Ten.
The majority of Ohio State’s defense returns from a unit that ranked 10th in the Big Ten. Still, the Buckeyes remain the league’s most talented team.
New coach Ryan Day will have the benefit of facing the majority of the Buckeyes’ toughest conference opponents at home – Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State – before ending the regular season at Michigan. The Wolverines and coach Jim Harbaugh will be looking to end a seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes.
Dark Horse: Nebraska
If it’s not too late (and it probably is), let’s try and beat the rush on what will be the trendiest pick of the summer: the resurgence/return of Nebraska. That’s because of the remarkable job Scott Frost did in the second half of last season, rebounding from an 0-6 start with a 4-2 finish, with the only two losses by five points at Ohio State and three points at Iowa.
No one will be sleeping on the Cornhuskers, as evidenced by Nebraska’s low national title odds. Despite last season’s 4-8 record, Nebraska’s national title odds are only 30-to-1. To put that in comparison, the next-lowest odds for a team coming off a losing season last year belong to USC at 80-to-1.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez returns to direct an offense that scored at least 28 points in seven of its final nine games and will benefit from an opportunistic Big Ten schedule. Nebraska gets its toughest Big Ten opponents all at home – Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa. Its toughest Big Ten road trips? Purdue and Minnesota.
Best Value: Wisconsin
Last season was supposed to be the year for the Badgers. However, Wisconsin’s preseason No. 4 ranking in the AP Poll lasted all of one week before a home loss to BYU in Week 3 dropped Wisconsin out of the Top 10. The Badgers then proceeded to alternate wins and losses in their final eight Big Ten games and became only the eighth preseason AP Top 10 team in the last four years to finish the season unranked.
Because of last year’s disappointment, Wisconsin is more under-the-radar than usual, which might be a good thing. Wisconsin is listed at 60-to-1 to win the national title, the league’s fourth choice based on odds from the Westgate Superbook. Running back Jonathan Taylor returns after rushing for nearly 2,200 yards along with a few offensive line starters, so the Badgers will again have a strong running attack. So if UW – and stop me if you’ve heard this before – can get consistent play from the quarterback position, it could be the top team in the Big Ten West and perhaps make a College Football Playoff run.
To do so, the Badgers have to take advantage of a lopsided schedule. After opening the season at South Florida, Wisconsin plays its next five games at home before closing the second half with four of its final six games on the road, including trips to Ohio State and Nebraska.