The Big Ten earned some respect in the eyes of most of the country last season through its performance in the postseason. And the College Football Playoff selection committee showed it has a healthy respect for the league in the first set of weekly rankings that were released Tuesday night.
Five Big Ten teams made it into the Top 25, and three are in the Top 10. Northwestern, which isn't ranked in either the Associated Press or USA Today coaches' poll, nevertheless checked in at No. 21 in the committee rankings. The 6-2 Wildcats will therefore count as a quality win for both Iowa and Michigan, and its opening victory over Stanford (No. 11 in the CFP rankings) obviously carries weight.
Michigan, at No. 17, is the highest-ranked two-loss team in the rankings, even ahead of an Ole Miss team that won at Alabama. The Wolverines, perhaps, were not punished too much for the way they lost in the final seconds against Michigan State.
Perhaps most importantly for the Big Ten, Ohio State is in the top four at No. 3. That ranking comes despite some early-season struggles by the Buckeyes, who haven't always looked like the team that should have topped both the AP and coaches' polls all season long.
But it's not great news for all Big Ten teams. The league's other two undefeated teams, Iowa and Michigan State, didn't come particularly close to cracking the top four. The Hawkeyes are ninth, while the Spartans are seventh. Both have to be wondering why they're so low.
According to the committee's own rankings, both Iowa (Northwestern) and Michigan State (Michigan) have wins over Top 25 teams. The Hawkeyes also won at Wisconsin and beat Pittsburgh, while the Spartans took down Oregon at home. Compare those résumés to Ohio State, whose best win was over unranked Penn State at home. Or to Baylor, which is at No. 6 despite not playing any ranked teams thus far this season.
Clearly, more than just body of work and strength of schedule were at play in the committee rankings, or else Iowa and Michigan State would be higher than Ohio State (and whatever voodoo Alabama continues to hold over voters continues, as the Crimson Tide checked in at No. 4 despite that home loss to Ole Miss). The committee must either be using the eye test or respecting last year's title run for the Buckeyes.
All of which is OK, both logically and for the future. Ohio State probably is the best team in the Big Ten, but the Spartans and Hawkeyes will each get their shot to prove otherwise. Michigan State plays at Ohio State on Nov. 21. Iowa, assuming it holds on to its commanding lead in the West Division, would likely play one of those teams in the Big Ten championship game. When the committee's final rankings come out in December, there should be no doubt which Big Ten team is the best.
And as long as that Big Ten champ is undefeated, it will be in the playoff. The committee proved Tuesday night that it has plenty of respect for the overall strength of the league, which is all that really matters at this early stage of the rankings.