Big Ten’s 2014 Playoff Chances

Spartans Stadium
This week the Michigan State Spartans will host the Ohio State Buckeyes in what will most likely amount to being the deciding game in determining the Big Ten East Division representative in the conference championship game and will likely determine if the Big Ten has a chance at putting a team in the College Football Playoff.  Both the Spartans and Buckeyes are 4-0 in the division and 7-1 overall with their lone defeats coming from non-conference opponents.

This is the biggest, and most expensive, game remaining on the Michigan State schedule with the median price for Michigan State vs. Ohio State football tickets currently at $143. Michigan State’s earlier home victory over Nebraska was the only other game on the home schedule versus a ranked opponent.  The Spartans won convincingly, entering the fourth quarter up twenty-four points, though the Huskers were able to rally to make the final a respectable 27-22.

This will most likely be the final Big Ten matchup featuring two ranked teams.  One of the biggest debates this college football season has been the relative disappointment of the Big Ten teams.  Though Michigan State and Ohio State both have impressive records at 7-1, a look inside the numbers shows a completely different story.  Ohio State’s best win may just have been the opener when they won 34-17 against Navy.  All other victories came against teams that will either not be eligible for bowls or will just sneak into a bowl game with 6 or 7 wins.

Michigan State’s resume is a bit better with the victory over Nebraska, but their other wins are against similarly non-descript opponents.  The Spartans’ loss in Week 2 was considerably more impressive than the Buckeyes lone defeat, a 46-27 drop to the Oregon Ducks on the road in a game that was closer than the final score indicated.  The Buckeyes home loss to Virginia Tech is getting worse and worse as the Hokies struggle to beat ACC competition.

Nonetheless, the question is do either of these two teams have enough to get into the College Football Playoff?  In the initial College Football Playoff Rankings from the Playoff Committee, the Spartans were ranked 8th and the Buckeyes 16th.  There will be at least one SEC team in the final four and if Florida State, Oregon, and TCU find a way to finish the remainder of the season without any blemishes, there’s a very strong chance the winner of this game could go 11-1 and the Big Ten would still miss out on the first ever College Football Playoffs.

But neither team can look ahead too far as a loss will surely end either team’s opportunity to be in the playoff conversation. The Buckeyes are 3.5 point underdogs, the first game all season in which they are not favored to win.  Expect a low scoring affair in which turnovers may ultimately decide the final result.  Ohio State quarterback J.T Barrett has thrown seven interceptions this season, two more than Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook’s five picks.  If the quarterbacks can hold onto the football, chances are strong they will put themselves in position to win the game late in the fourth quarter.