Blame it on conference expansion. Blame it on a Charmin-soft schedule. Or don’t blame it on anyone or anything.
We bring you this breaking news as a public service announcement as we approach the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s first set of rankings, which will be released Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.
Wisconsin (8-0) has the easiest road because — for starters — it has the easiest schedule. So soft there is a good possibility the Badgers could head to the Big Ten title game without having played a ranked team. The next/only regular-season chance of that happening is Nov. 18 against Michigan, but don’t count on the Wolverines being in the Top 25 by then.
The selection committee doesn’t necessarily consider the human polls. They do consider numbers like these: To date, the Badgers have zipped through opponents who have a combined record of 25-29. Wisconsin’s schedule strength is second worst in the Big Ten, according to this metric, and 74th nationally (last in the Big Ten), according to the NCAA.
Wisconsin would be deserving — the rules are the rules — but would it be one of the four best teams in that scenario?
The further we get away from true round-robin conference schedules of the past, the harder it is to determine a true conference champion.
Why should Alabama even have to test itself against a team from the SEC East, which hasn’t beaten a team from the West Division in the league title game in nine years?
The age of the super conference (14 teams) has diminished the actual value of winning that conference. Example: It took Wisconsin four years (2013-16) to play all 13 other Big Ten schools after the league expanded. This year, it will not play Ohio State, Penn State or Michigan State. Last year, it played Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State in a row along with LSU to open the season.
Again, Wisconsin has nothing for which to apologize. Similar schedule quirks might have allowed Georgia to get to the 2012 SEC title game and Iowa to get to the Big Ten’s title game in 2015. Hey, it happens. You put that many teams together, things can wind up working out this way — to the point where they aren’t really conferences anymore but scheduling agreements.
In 2015, Iowa missed Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State on its Big Ten schedule and came within 27 seconds of winning the league and advancing to the playoff. In 2012, Georgia missed Alabama and LSU and came within five seconds of defeating Bama in the SEC title game. Meanwhile, Ohio State has to play Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State every year in the East Division.
Wisconsin can’t help it that BYU, its best nonconference opponent, is historically bad this season — or that the Big Ten West is by far the weaker division in the league. But in the above scenario, all Wisconsin would have to do is play 60 quality minutes of football against the East Division champion — most likely Ohio State — to get to the playoff.
Tell me that can’t happen. Wisconsin has played four of the six Big Ten Championship Games, winning two of them. Its style of football — a physical, ground-based, clock-eating attack — plays anywhere. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, a former selection committee member, brought that style to the Badgers and nurtured it for nearly two decades as coach.
Also tell me that Notre Dame — on track to play six ranked teams — wouldn’t be a bit peeved.
The logic is that the committee would never leave out an undefeated Big Ten champion. The last time something like that even came close to happening was 2004. Auburn was left out of the BCS title game at 12-0. That incongruity created early momentum to expand to a four-team playoff.
Add to all of this that the competition for Wisconsin is dwindling. The Pac-12 and Big 12 are already guaranteed to have a champion with at least one loss.
Be advised to avert your eyes from these first rankings. History proves they have little to do with the final product. Only five of the 12 teams in the initial top four have actually made the playoff since the CFP began.
What you’re watching these next five Tuesdays is largely a reality-show mini-series. All chair Kirby Hocutt needs is a studio audience to react to his pithy one-liners.
We kid, we kid. But not about Wisconsin. With 32 days to go before the only rankings that count — the final edition on Dec. 2 — it’s the Badgers playoff berth to lose.