With Michigan’s arrival on the College Football Playoff scene a long time coming, there are useful things to be learned by looking back at the prior successes and failures of the Big Ten in the CFP. By and large, the conference has done alright, but everything pales in comparison to Clemson and the SEC as a whole. Ohio State has obviously been one of the upper echelon teams, but is only 3-3 historically in the CFP. Let’s take a deeper dive into the results of the Big Ten. Keep in mind that the CFP has only been around since the 2014 season.
2014-2015: Ohio State (W vs. Alabama, W vs. Oregon)
The Big Ten started with a bang as the fourth-seeded Buckeyes knocked off No. 1 Alabama 42-35. Cardale Jones managed the game for the most part, but Ezekiel Elliott was the star of the show. The stud running back ran for 230 yards and two touchdowns, easily out-dueling Alabama’s Derrick Henry. The sheer amount of NFL skill-position stars on the field that day was impressive between Elliott, Henry, TJ Yeldon, Amari Cooper, OJ Howard, Michael Thomas, and Curtis Samuel.
Ohio State followed that performance up by winning the national championship 42-20 over Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks. Once again, Zeke stole the show as he ran for 246 yards and four touchdowns. In my opinion, he’s underrated in the echelon of the all-time greats at running back in college football history.
2015-2016: Michigan State (L vs. Alabama)
Thanks to Michigan State’s stunning 17-14 upset win in Columbus, Connor Cook and the Spartans represented the Big Ten in the CFP in 2015. The Spartans had been a top-10 team for most of the year but needed the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Buckeyes to win the Big Ten East. Once in the CFP, it was a whole different ballgame for Michigan State. The Spartans failed to score a point as Alabama ran away with it, 38-0. Derrick Henry pounded them on the ground while Calvin Ridley beat the Spartan secondary over the top. It was truly a night to forget for Michigan State.
2016-2017: Ohio State (L vs. Clemson)
The Buckeyes made their triumphant return to the CFP just in time to run into the buzz-saw that was Deshaun Watson the Clemson Tigers. Ohio State was shut out, 31-0, for just the second time ever in a bowl game. It was also the first time Urban Meyer had ever been shut out in his career. The Tigers tallied over twice as many yards (470) as the Buckeyes (215) and thoroughly dominated throughout.
2019-2020: Ohio State (L vs. Clemson)
Following a two-year drought for the conference, Ohio State once again returned in December of 2019. In an instant classic in Glendale, the Tigers once again prevailed over the Buckeyes, 29-23. Justin Fields and Ohio State led for a majority of the fourth quarter before Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne connected on a 34-yard touchdown pass with 1:49 to play. A late pick thrown by Fields would end it with just 37 seconds left on the clock.
2020-2021: Ohio State (W vs. Clemson, L vs. Alabama)
The third time was the charm for Ohio State against Clemson as they finally broke through, 49-28, thanks to a monster second quarter. Justin Fields and the Buckeye offense were virtually unstoppable. Fields threw for 385 yards and six (!!!) touchdowns. In addition, Trey Sermon ran for 193 yards and a touchdown. Not to be outdone, Chris Olave caught six passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
However, Ohio State’s joy was short-lived as they were cut down by Nick Saban and Alabama in the championship game, 52-24. Mac Jones, Najee Harris, and DeVonta Smith picked apart the Buckeye to defense to the tune of 621 yards. The Crimson Tide jumped out to an 18 point halftime lead and never looked back.
2021-2022: Michigan (TBD vs. Georgia)
The Wolverines are only the third team to represent the Big Ten in the CFP, as the conference has routinely lacked parity. Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines have never been here while this is Georgia’s second appearance. The Bulldogs lost in the championship game to Alabama in 2017-2018, 26-23 in 2OT after winning a shootout over Oklahoma.
The Orange Bowl for Michigan provides the Big Ten with a chance to climb back to .500. Currently Ohio State is 3-3 with one national title while Michigan State is 0-1. For context, only the SEC has an overall record of over .500 in the CFP at 11-4. Michigan and Cincinnati are just the 12th and 13th teams, respectively, to have ever made the CFP semifinals. Here’s to hoping the Wolverines can be just the fourth unique school to win a national title in the CFP era.