Ohio State, Michigan State in College Football Playoff? How it could happen

Ohio State and Michigan State are on the trajectory to possibly both making the College Football Playoff. AP Photo, USA Today Sports

After Michigan State's 31-28 victory over Oregon on Saturday, a popular sentiment has emerged: the Big Ten could actually claim two of the four spots in this year's College Football Playoff.

If the selection committee were to release its first weekly rankings Tuesday night, then the Spartans and Buckeyes would almost assuredly both crack the top four. But they don't start doing that until Nov. 3, and as we learned last season, trying to predict how things will turn out after just two weeks of games is a fool's errand.

Still, it's a tantalizing possibility for Big Ten fans and especially for supporters of Ohio State and Michigan State, who could theoretically meet in a rematch in a playoff semifinal, 40 days after their Nov. 21 showdown in Columbus. The odds remain significantly against the Big Ten claiming half the playoff field, not only because so much needs to happen in both teams' favor but also because the committee showed last season that it places a premium on conference championships.

But ... we're saying there's a chance. And here's what would probably have to happen for it to become a reality:

  • Ohio State finishing undefeated and Michigan State going 11-1 with its only loss a close call in Columbus. The Buckeyes might be able to get in if the Spartans were to win in the Horseshoe because of their standing as defending champs. But coach Urban Meyer's team would not have any wins over a ranked team in that case, unless a future opponent like Michigan or Minnesota cracks the Top 25. And we saw how the committee didn't exactly treat last year's reigning champion with hallowed respect, handing the undefeated Seminoles a No. 4 seed. Michigan State would have the victory over Oregon, and its only loss would be on the road to the No. 1 team. That's strong.

  • Oregon winning the Pac-12. That would give the Big Ten a trump card over the Pac-12 champ, and it would take some mental gymnastics for the selection committee to choose the Ducks over the Spartans based on the head-to-head result.

  • At least one mediocre champion from the ACC, Big 12 and SEC. Last year was unusual in that every Power 5 league had a champion with one loss or fewer. A two-loss (or worse) title-winner from a power league would help Michigan State's cause. The ACC seems like the most prime candidate here, as the Big 12 probably isn't deep enough for its champ to lose twice and the SEC winner could get in even with two losses because of the respect that league gets. An upset in the ACC or SEC championship games would also help.

  • Notre Dame being out of the picture. The Irish are a long shot for the playoff but would be considered with an undefeated or even a one-loss season. The flood of injuries that coach Brian Kelly's team is currently dealing with would seem to make the path even more difficult.

Even if all of these things occurred, that still wouldn't guarantee two spots for the Big Ten. We simply don't know how the committee would view a team that didn't win its division, much less a conference championship. Alabama made the BCS title game in 2011 despite not winning the SEC West, but that was under the old system (and complaints about it helped lead to the formation of the playoff). A loss in late November shouldn't count more than a loss in September, but it might just because of how the human mind works.

And, naturally, there's a whole lot of season left. Michigan State and Ohio State will get other challenges besides just their head-to-head meeting -- especially the Spartans, who have to play at Michigan and at Nebraska before going to Columbus.

But a playoff that's 50 percent Big Ten is on the table. It's 100 percent fun to think about.