Which Big Ten teams are the biggest Playoff threat to the SEC?
It almost happened, but it shouldn’t have even been that close.
Ohio State and Alabama were battling for the last Playoff spot until the finish, despite the fact that the Buckeyes’ second loss of the season was a 31-point defeat at Iowa. Still, many convinced themselves that the Buckeyes deserved the final Playoff bid. That technically would have been stealing a Playoff bid from the SEC.
But that didn’t happen because common sense prevailed.
Now, it’s a new year. There will be new résumés to critique and new conference supremacy arguments to have. While it doesn’t seem likely that the Big Ten would box the SEC out of getting a lone bid, crazier things have happened. And perhaps we could see another situation like last year in which a second SEC team is battling a B1G team.
There’s also the next phase. As in, which Big Ten team could actually put up a fight against an SEC squad in a Playoff matchup? You know, like Ohio State did in 2014 and Michigan State didn’t in 2015?
Let’s take a look at the 3 B1G teams that could threaten the SEC’s Playoff aspirations:
Believe it or not, I’ve been saying since February that I had more confidence in Wisconsin than Ohio State in 2018. That has nothing to do with strength of schedule or Urban Meyer’s situation. I just think Wisconsin has the better team.
In case you wrote off the Badgers as frauds for losing last year’s Big Ten Championship, you might have missed that they beat Miami in a road New Year’s 6 Bowl. You might have also missed that they return their entire offensive line — one that’s loaded with NFL talent — to block for a Heisman Trophy candidate tailback in Jonathan Taylor. This has potential to be a special ground game, which is saying something for Wisconsin.
That group shouldn’t have any problems plowing the way to a Big Ten West title (the preseason media poll had Wisconsin as the unanimous pick). With another favorable schedule, getting to the Big Ten Championship with 1 or fewer losses is the expectation. Given the turmoil at Ohio State right now, that certainly doesn’t hurt considering Meyer is undefeated against Wisconsin.
As for the SEC, I don’t buy the notion that Alabama, Auburn or Georgia would dominate an experienced Wisconsin offensive line. That battle would be much closer than people think. The Badgers’ upside is simple. If Alex Hornibrook develops into a solid quarterback and cuts down his 15 interceptions, they’re a legitimate national title contender. Period.
Bruce Feldman told me that he thinks Wisconsin can not only get to the Playoff, but do some damage when it gets there. Anyone thinking Wisconsin vs. an SEC foe would be an Alabama-Michigan State 2015 repeat is mistaken.
I would hve loved to have seen that 2016 Michigan team battle Alabama in the 2016 semifinals. Why? Michigan had 11 NFL Draft picks on that team. It was crazy talented, and despite that horrific finish to the season, I think the Wolverines would have been a scary team to watch after getting over that Big Ten Championship hump.
Having said that, I think this 2018 Michigan team could be better.
Shea Patterson is the guy who can finally take this Wolverines program to the next level. There are plenty of people who are skeptical about his potential — some are still saying he might not be Michigan’s starter — but I saw enough of him at Ole Miss to know what he’s capable of. He has the arm strength, mobility and experience to thrive under Jim Harbaugh’s tutelage.
SEC fans who soured on Patterson would probably point to his struggles against LSU and Alabama, and assume it’ll be the same story against Penn State and Ohio State.
What they’d be forgetting is that Michigan’s defense is galaxies better than Ole Miss’. Not enough people are talking about a Michigan defense that returns 83 percent of its production after it ranked No. 3 in yards allowed last year. That was with a disastrous quarterback situation. Even if Patterson’s offenses don’t average 40 points per game, the Wolverines are still due for a significant increase in wins.
Don’t forget that they have that Notre Dame game in South Bend to open the season. We saw how huge that was for Georgia to have on the Playoff résumé. With matchups vs. 5 teams who start in the Coaches Poll top 12, the Wolverines’ schedule could even be good enough to even warrant 2-loss consideration. Am I getting ahead of myself? Absolutely.
But don’t sleep on the Wolverines with Patterson running the show.
3. Ohio State
As of this writing, we don’t know Meyer’s fate at Ohio State. I’d say it’s a coin flip as to whether he’ll survive this Zach Smith scandal. But the Buckeyes could still threaten the SEC with or without Meyer. A Meyer-less Buckeye team is talented enough to follow the 2017 Oklahoma model of success, which saw Lincoln Riley nearly lead the Sooners to a national championship berth.
The Buckeyes might not have a Baker Mayfield on their roster, but they could have their best passing game numbers in a long time with Dwayne Haskins. They also have one of the top backfield duos in America with J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber. Add in the possible No. 1 overall draft pick Nick Bosa on the defensive line and yeah, the Buckeyes aren’t lacking all-world potential.
The question is if they can actually string it together for an entire season. Those who have actually watched Ohio State the past 3 years (since the 2014 national title) would tell you that they’ve been extremely inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. They play down to their competition far too often for an elite program, and as we saw at Iowa last year, there’s no predicting it.
As prolific as he was, the Buckeyes were predictable on offense under J.T. Barrett. One would tend to think that Haskins’ superior passing ability would change that, which is why they could threaten the SEC for a Playoff bid or even beat an SEC team in a 1-game scenario.
Whether Meyer is fired or not, the wild card is if OSU takes on an “us-against-the-world” mentality like it did when it was written off after the Virginia Tech loss in 2014. Even Alabama couldn’t slow down the Buckeyes then. That was the last time they faced an SEC team.
Maybe that drought will end in 2018.