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What Big 10 Football Returning Means for the College Football Playoff

The Big 10 announced today that the league will start playing games on October 24th. The plan is to play eight conference games, and then on championship weekend, each Big 10 team will play the cross-divisional opponent in the same spot. So No. 1 Ohio State could play No. 1 Wisconsin, while No. 2 Michigan could play No. 2 Iowa.

This is a reverse for the league. Previously the Big 10 voted to play in the spring. The league claimed that increased testing capacity and reduced concerns about heart issues allowed them to start in late-October. Whether that’s a face-saving move to justify playing is another possibility. I believe the Big 12, SEC and ACC made the right decisions to play because the risk of the virus isn’t greater from playing. The risk of contracting COVID-19 is present going to class, and college football players get tested. The Big 10 has now joined the non-PAC-12 in playing.

My guess is that if the league champions are close, the playoff committee will just take the ACC, Big 10, Big 12 and SEC champions. If Oklahoma finishes 9-1, then it’d be tough to leave out the Big 12 champion for a 9-1 non-champion team. While maybe the SEC runner-up will be better than the Big 12’s best team, without much non-conference data (aside from the Sun Belt dominating the bottom of the Big 12), it’s hard to cross-compare conferences. Instead, the committee can just take the four champions. The committee’s basic principle has been to take the team with the fewest losses, and then to break ties by favoring conference champions. I’m fairly confident, barring a two loss champion in one of the power five leagues, we’re going to have the four conference champions in the playoff.

Maybe things get a little complicated. If Oklahoma wins all their regular season games, then loses to a two loss team in the Big 12 title game, the committee might—and probably should—take Oklahoma still over the Big 12’s champion. The Sooners would have already knocked off the team they lost to in the championship, and they’d have fewer losses than the Big 12 champion.

The committee will have too tough a time justifying a team with the same number of losses earning a second conference playoff spot. The Big 12 could produce a two loss champion, which would mean the SEC or ACC could sneak a second team into the playoff. But as long as the ACC, SEC, Big 10 or Big 12 champ has one or zero losses, they should be in the playoff. I’ve called the field each year (despite believing Baylor deserved a spot over Ohio State in 2014, I though they’d pick the Buckeyes). And in 2020, the committee should have an easy task picking the respective league champions. Or we’ll have uneven outbreaks and get to argue if 5-0 Ohio State and 5-0 Wisconsin each deserve spots over 9-1 Oklahoma. Let’s hope everyone can play a full season, and we get an easy playoff.

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