Wisconsin Football: How the Big Ten can get two teams in the CFP

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30: A.J. Taylor #4 of the Wisconsin Badgers carries during the first half of the 2017 Capital One Orange Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30: A.J. Taylor #4 of the Wisconsin Badgers carries during the first half of the 2017 Capital One Orange Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images) /

What will it take for Wisconsin Football to be one of two Big Ten teams in the College Football Playoff?

Last year marked the first time in the College Football Playoff’s brief history that two teams from the same conference made the final bracket. Both Alabama and Georgia from the SEC made and advanced in the Playoff.

Georgia took the traditional route by winning the SEC Championship Game outright. They lost in the regular season but was a no-brainer as a 12-1 conference champion. Alabama lost their own division to Auburn, but that was its only loss of the season after being ranked at the top of AP Poll and Playoff rankings all year. They beat out Big Ten champion Ohio State for the final spot. The controversial decision was likely attributed to Ohio State’s blowout loss to Iowa. The Buckeyes had also lost earlier in the year to Oklahoma, so its second loss was what separated it from Alabama, who only had one.

Scenario #1

So that blueprint to get two teams in from the same conference has been laid out. For example, Wisconsin could lose a game and still go to and win the conference championship and be selected as a Playoff team as Georgia in this scenario (I don’t think Wisconsin has the name power of a program like Alabama to play that role here). In the Big Ten East, Ohio State would have to be undefeated all year until it lost to Michigan, who also has one loss but would own a tie-breaker over the Buckeyes. Ohio State would have one loss but would be left out of the conference championship game. When Michigan loses to Wisconsin in this scenario, it opens the door back up for Ohio State. This, of course, assumes there’s another conference champion that lost by 30+ points to an unranked team for Ohio State to then replace. The irony in this scenario is top notch.

Wisconsin's College Football Playoff Scenarios. light. Related Story

Scenario #2

While that’s a fun playoff scenario to break down it’s simply not that likely. What is more likely is if the Big Ten has two dominant teams that run into each other in the Big Ten Championship and both are deemed worthy of a playoff spot, period. This is played out easiest with Wisconsin and Ohio State or Michigan State since Wisconsin doesn’t play either team in the regular season. If both the Big Ten West and East winners are undefeated heading into the conference championship, it’s very possible they both get into the playoff regardless of the outcome.

Scenario #3

That scenario, while more likely than the first, still isn’t very likely either though. Wisconsin has a tough crossover schedule and running through the regular season undefeated for a second year in-a-row is no easy task. And the Big Ten East is a gauntlet. If only one team in the conference championship makes it through undefeated it’s possible they still both receive berths.

Let’s imagine Wisconsin drops a game here to either Penn State or Michigan. This allows any team from the Big Ten East to go undefeated and play Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. If Wisconsin wins the conference title, they’ll be a shoe-in for a playoff spot leaving the committee to make a decision on a team it’s never had to deal with. An undefeated team who loses even later than Alabama did and suffers its only loss in the conference championship still has a great case for making the playoff, especially if it’s a Big Ten East team and especially if they ended up splitting with Wisconsin, the eventual Big Ten champion (the last point only applies to Michigan and Penn State).

This scenario doesn’t play too well for Wisconsin if it’s reversed. An undefeated Wisconsin losing for the first time in Indianapolis would still have a good claim to a Playoff spot, but it’s possible the committee is happy to see them lose and boots them from the top four. Brand matters in college football, unfortunately.

It’s simple for the Badgers. Win in Indianapolis and you’re in the College Football Playoff. All three scenarios have Wisconsin as the team winning the title and being the easy choice for the committee. Losing and trying to make a case for the second Big Ten team is much more difficult for a program like Wisconsin.

What matters more than the Big Ten holding up their end of these bargains is how the rest of the conferences play out. Only the SEC has the talent and capability to get two teams into its championship game with resumes good enough for the Playoff. The ACC, Pac 12, and Big 12 can only dream of getting two top-four teams into their conference title games.

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If any of those eventual champions are not playoff worthy, with three losses, for example, the door is suddenly wide open for the Big Ten to get two teams in.