Big Ten shakes up College Football Playoff picture with decision to play this fall

SportsPulse: Paul Myerberg breaks down what the Big Ten’s restart means for the college football landscape and why a playoff and title game without the conference involved was always going to be questioned.

USA TODAY

The Big Ten’s regular-season reboot will reintroduce some of the best teams in the Bowl Subdivision and dramatically alter the state of the College Football Playoff, which for the first two weeks of the 2020 season seemed destined to be dominated by the ACC and SEC.

There is still a chance that holds true. While the SEC won’t begin the regular season until Sept. 26, the conference has eight teams in this week’s Amway Coaches Poll, including four of the top six. The ACC has Clemson and one-year addition Notre Dame, as well as several dark-horse contenders in North Carolina, Miami and Louisville.

It’s more likely the Big Ten, which had six teams in the preseason Coaches Poll, leaps back ahead of the ACC to reclaim a place alongside or just behind the SEC among the four Power Five leagues. (The Pac-12, which postponed its season just after the Big Ten, does not seem close to returning to play.)

The league’s return will create a more balanced and unpredictable playoff race that now includes Ohio State, Penn State and more. Before the Big Ten was removed from the most recent poll, the No. 2 Buckeyes were joined in the top 25 by the No. 7 Nittany Lions, No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 15 Michigan, No. 18 Minnesota and No. 23 Iowa. Another two teams, Nebraska and Indiana, received votes.

From the perspective of the entire FBS, bringing the conference back into the fold greatly improves college football’s overall product and raises the number of teams in competition to 90, below the normal count of 130 but more than enough to conduct a similarly abbreviated regular season and postseason.

Crucially, the Big Ten’s inclusion means the 2020 season will end with an undisputed, asterisk-free national champion. Ohio State reclaims its position atop the Big Ten and as one of the favorites to reach the playoff and win the national championship. The Buckeyes’ return means that every notable preseason playoff contender, with the exception of Oregon, will now be part of the postseason chase. 

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Even those Big Ten teams which don’t figure to be in the playoff mix benefit enormously simply by being able to play a 2020 season and avoid the long-term impact on recruiting, roster management and player development that may have come with postponing until the winter or spring. 

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