And we’re off again.
The third College Football Playoff rankings of the year were just released, and four Big Ten teams still sit in striking distance.
Ohio State and Iowa still sit near the top of the heap, but don’t count out Michigan State and Michigan quite yet. There’s still a lot of football to be played over the next three weeks, and there are some savory matchups amongst a number of the teams at the top, meaning almost anything can happen.
Here’s a look at what the Big Ten teams still in contention need in order to get an invitation to the biggest party in college football:
Ohio State, Week two CFP ranking – 3
Last Week – 3, no change
Why the ranking should be higher: The Buckeyes remain one of only five undefeated teams in the country, and the defense continues to get better each week. J.T. Barrett is back under center and should provide some punch to an offense that needs to get in gear to make another run towards glory.
Why the ranking should be lower: Where’s the quality win? The Playoff Committee continually preaches about strength of schedule with teams coming out of the Big Twelve, but there’s not a whole lot of difference with the schedule OSU has played. The offense looks nowhere near the juggernaut that stormed through Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon last year.
What needs to happen: It doesn’t matter because the schedule is about to go through the roof. There’s the game against a No. 9 Michigan State this week, at No. 12 Michigan next week, then likely a top ten Iowa team if the two matchup in Indianapolis. Simply take care of business and Ohio State will end up in either the Orange or Cotton for a semi-final.
Iowa, Week two CFP ranking – 5
Last Week – 5, No Change
Why the ranking should be higher: Like Ohio State, the Hawkeyes remain unbeaten and have some very good wins to boast about. There’s the quality victory at Wisconsin and the win over Northwestern. Iowa has also been able to absorb some injuries which speaks to the depth and quality of the team.
Why the ranking should be lower: There’s not an elite win yet. The Northwestern win is great, but the Wildcats came in at No. 20 this week. And if you are using the so-called “eye test” as a measure, the Hawkeyes won’t jump out at you. They are solid and balanced, but appear to lack the elite athletes of some of the other teams.
What needs to happen: Just keep winning. Iowa probably won’t get a Mulligan with a loss, but if it takes care of business and keeps posting victories all the way through the Big Ten Championship game, it’ll be in. A win over a quality opponent in Indy will be more than enough to send the Hawkeyes into the playoff.
Michigan State, Week two CFP ranking – 9
Last Week – 13, Up four spots
Why the ranking should be higher: The lone loss was a tough pill to swallow because of a controversal official judgement call. The defensive line can control the game at times, and the Spartans are led by an experienced and talented quarterback in Connor Cook. The team has shown that it belongs in the upper-echelon of the country over the last few years.
Why the ranking should be lower: This year’s version of the Michigan State Spartans has looked nothing like the last couple. The secondary has been letting more people go than Moses, and the offense isn’t nearly as balanced, relying on the right arm of Connor Cook way too often. There have been several underwhelming performances this year.
What needs to happen: There might be a little help needed, but it’s not as bad as you would think. If the Spartans can beat Ohio State this week, Penn State the next, and then derail an Iowa team in the Big Ten Championship game, it’ll be hard to keep them out of the playoff. Root for some things to happen at the top, but even if they don’t Sparty might still get invited to the party if it wins out.
Michigan, Week two CFP ranking – 12
Last Week – 14, Up two spots
Why the ranking should be higher: It’s hard to say that the ranking should be higher. The Wolverines continue to be the highest ranked two-loss team despite some narrow wins against unranked teams over the last couple of weeks. Of the two losses though, one is on the road to a Utah team still ranked in the fifteen, and how can we forget the one that got away at home against No. 9 Michigan State?
Why the ranking should be lower: The defense is starting to show some cracks and leaks once the team has begun to play teams with abilities on offense. There have been a lot of Houdini acts throughout the season even with the two losses.
What needs to happen: It wouldn’t hurt for some communicable diseases and plagues to strike other teams to have a better chance to get in the mix, but it’s not as far-fetched as you think. For starters, it needs to root for Michigan State to drop another game so it doesn’t lose out on the tie-breaker. The Wolverines of course need to win out, including the Big Ten Championship game to have a sniff at getting an invite to the playoff. With the best teams in the Pac-12 with no less than two losses, the decks are beginning to clear, but they’ll still need a bit of chaos to reek havoc on teams in the Big Twelve and SEC.
Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to talking10.com. He is also a the founder of Big10news.com and featured contributor to collegefootballews.com and occasionally campusinsiders.com. You can follow him on twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org If that doesn’t work, you can find him in the doghouse at home.