By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
Trying to get ahead of the game has put the Big Ten and Pac-12 far behind the rest of college football.
With Ohio State’s second cancellation of the season following positive COVID-19 tests within the program last week—including head coach Ryan Day, the Buckeyes are on the fringe of being ineligible for the Big Ten Championship. Throw in Northwestern’s loss to Michigan State on Saturday and the league could find itself on the outside looking in on the College Football Playoff.
The Pac-12 has had its share of cancelations with some of its better teams being impacted. USC had its game against Colorado declared a no contest. Then Oregon lost to Oregon State Friday night. With so few games and no extra weeks built-in, it’s hard to imagine the Pac-12 having a seat at the playoff table either.
That’s the price those leagues pay for suspending their seasons, then trying to throw a makeshift plan together weeks after the rest of the country started playing.
There’s still some hope for Ohio State if it can get itself cleaned up this week and win out, but an undefeated team with a mere five or six games on its schedule may not be enough. It doesn’t help that the Buckeyes have one win against a team with a winning record.
This season has been a logistical nightmare, but most of the country is into the latter stages of its season with top teams vying for a playoff spot. The Pac-12 had most of its footprint restricted beyond its own power, but the Big Ten’s nose-in-the-air approach to the pandemic could leave it without a playoff berth in a year where its best team looked like a legitimate title contender.
So as we also say goodbye to Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason following the Commodores’ 0-8 start, we say hello to this week’s good, bad and ugly.
The Good: Iowa State. The Cyclones have nearly clinched a spot in the Big 12 Championship game thanks to Friday’s 23-20 win over Texas. A win or losses by either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State will put Matt Campbell’s team in a position to win its first conference title since 1912 in the school’s pre-Big 12 era. Iowa State has never played for the Big 12 Championship. It’s really hard to believe this season started with a loss to Louisiana.
Honorable Mention: Notre Dame. After a wild first quarter, the Irish locked down Sam Howell and the North Carolina defense en route to a 31-17 win. Notre Dame shutout North Carolina in the second half and played mistake-free football against a team that has the potential to be explosive. With Syracuse and Wake Forest remaining on the schedule, the Irish should be set to compete for the ACC Championship in three weeks.
The Bad: Texas. Iowa State deserves a lot of credit, but Tom Herman’s tenure at Texas continues to be filled with the failure to meet expectations. With Texas leading 20-16 midway through the fourth quarter, Herman elected to pass on a 30-yard field goal to convert a 4th & 2. The Longhorns failed to convert, went three and out on their next possession and gave up a 69-yard touchdown drive to Iowa State to surrender the lead. Texas then had to settle for a 58-yard field goal attempt to force overtime that Cameron Dicker hooked to the left. A win could’ve put the Longhorns in the Big 12 title game. Instead, Texas is left wondering what could’ve been again.
Honorable Mention: Arizona. Kevin Sumlin’s third season in Tuscon got off to a disappointing start and is getting worse. After giving up the game-winning touchdown to USC with less than a minute to go in its opener, the Wildcats have lost back-to-back games in one-sided fashion to Washington and UCLA. With just two games left on the schedule, it means Sumlin will go into his fourth year without a winning season at Arizona.
The Ugly: Northwestern. The good news is the Wildcats still control their own destiny to win the Big Ten West. The bad news is Northwestern looked flat in a 29-20 loss to Michigan State. Northwestern committed four turnovers, fell behind early and couldn’t get going on offense as it watched its undefeated season come to an end. The Wildcats need to reset quickly with a capable Minnesota team up next.
Honorable Mention: Oregon. The Ducks blew a 12-point, fourth quarter lead and lost the Civil War to Oregon State 41-38 after Beavers backup quarterback Chance Nolan scored from a yard out after Tristan Gebbia had to leave with a leg injury. Oregon turned the ball over three times and couldn’t stop Oregon State’s Jamar Jefferson, who ran for 226 yards and a pair of scores. Oregon was presumably the Pac-12’s best chance at the College Football Playoff. With such a short schedule, it doesn’t seem likely a one-loss team is getting in.