If you recall from last offseason, the B1G has adopted a tiered-system for sending teams to a bowl. As opposed to locking a team into a bowl based almost entirely on where they finished in the conference, the B1G has given themselves more flexibility by segregating the bowls into tiers. Obviously, the Rose Bowl takes the top B1G team (except when they're hosting a CFP Semifinal, which, SURPRISE, they will be doing this season) and the other tiers break down as such:
Tier 2: Capital One, Holiday, Outback
Tier 3: Music City / TaxSlayer*, Kraft FIGHT HUNGER**, Pinstripe
Tier 4: Quick Lane, Heart of Dallas
(*The ACC and the B1G are sharing the bids to these games to offer more flexibility. Essentially, over the next six seasons, each conference will send a team to each bowl three times. No specific order or schedule, they just have to appear in both bowls three times between now and 2019.)
(**This is "technically" the San Francisco Bowl now, but that name is too good and I'm using it forever.)
B1G in the CFP?
Through one week, it's not looking good for the Big Ten to have a representative in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The only two teams within proverbial "striking distance" of the top 4 are Michigan State and Ohio State.
Michigan State: MSU's hopes of finishing in the top 4 ride exclusively on their performance next week in Eugene. Oregon is the only challenge in their non-conference, as Mark Dantonio seems to gravitate closer to the Tom Crean School of Scheduling as opposed to Tom Izzo's (who recently lost their accreditation after he submitted a 13 game non-conference slate that contained an exempt tournament round-robin against three reincarnations of the 1992 Dream Team, to be played upon a disintegrating comet currently hurtling towards the sun.)
If MSU can come out on top of the Ducks, they'll be in good shape. But that's a big ol' if; and should the more likely result occur, the Spartans probably don't have the SoS necessary to get back into the discussion even if they finish 12-1.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes put a scare into their fanbase as they headed into the tunnel at halftime trailing Navy 7-6. They found their mojo in the second half and pulled away to a 34-17 victory. OSU would appear to be on the threshold of the CFP but, much like MSU (and any B1G hopeful, really), their SoS is going to be a bugaboo all year long. Outside of their date with Michigan State, OSU's conference schedule is pretty doughy, as they've avoided Wisconsin and Nebraska.
However, undefeated means undefeated. If OSU can run the table (and actually win the B1GCG this time around) they'll likely have a spot. I don't see a scenario where a Power 5 team that is 13-0 gets shut out but, then again, we've never done this before. Still, do we think a Braxton-less OSU beats MSU in East Lansing?
That's the problem with B1G prognostications at the moment. The most likely scenario has MSU losing to Oregon and OSU losing to MSU, leaving the conferences two best bets with bruises and not enough quality wins to cover them up. Wisconsin would probably join that one-loss crowd, as they dropped their game to LSU after losing Melvin Gordon in the second half and will likely obliterate their "Big Ten" schedule, as they don't have to worry about the Buckeyes or Sparty.
Ultimately, it looks to me like the winner of the B1G Championship will be either MSU or Wisconsin. If either of them is 12-1 then maybe they get discussed, but I don't see the B1G getting into the CFP without someone running the table.
We've Tiered the Bowls, Now Let's Tier the Teams
Through the first week, this is how I see it, Hoosier-bias and everything:
Tier 1 (New Year's Day Worthy): Michigan State, Ohio State
Tier 2: Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan
Tier 3: Iowa, Indiana, Maryland
Tier 4: Minnesota
Maybe Next Year: Penn State, Northwestern, Rutgers, Illinois, Purdue
Lots of room to move around here, obviously, with so little to go off of, particularly between tiers 2 and 3. I'll get a better feel for these guys next week when IU is off and I can watch them all. I'm sure there'll be plenty of disagreements, but we're going off a tiny, inconsistent sample; interpretations will vary.
So Where Am I Headed for the Holidays?
I think Michigan State and Ohio State snag at-large bids on the "New Year's Day Bowls." The Rose Bowl is serving as a CFP semifinal, meaning that the B1G's auto-bid is shared with Notre Dame and the SEC in the Orange Bowl. I don't think they'll get it over the second place SEC team (as the winner will almost surely be in the CFP), unless the SEC sends two to the CFP, then perhaps.
MICHIGAN STATE: At-Large Bid to the Cotton Bowl against Baylor
OHIO STATE: At-Large Bid to the Fiesta Bowl against Stanford
WISCONSIN: Outback Bowl against Ole Miss
NEBRASKA: Capital One Bowl against LSU
MICHIGAN: Holiday Bowl against Arizona
IOWA: San Francisco (FIGHTIN' HUNGER) Bowl against Arizona State
INDIANA: Music City Bowl against Mississippi State
MARYLAND: Pinstripe Bowl against Miami
The Big Ten leaves a couple bowl bids on the table for now, as I don't see them having enough eligible teams to fill out the billion bowl bids the conference gets.
I predicted Indiana to get to 8 wins before the season because
I enjoy setting myself up for crippling disappointment I believe it's possible for this roster. Should they do that, they're probably moving up into the second tier of bowls. But I'm keeping them in Tier 3 for now and a date against a different MSU in Nashville. This could also very easily be Tennessee or even Florida.
It's a very fluid situation, as these are all based on one week of observations but I'M BOOKING THE PENTHOUSE SUITE IN THE NICEST NASHVILLE HOTEL I CAN FIND GO HOOSIERS WOOOOOOOOOOOO.