Jim Delany is not a smoker, but no one would blame the Big Ten commissioner if he lighted a cigar at 8:17 p.m. ET Saturday in Indianapolis.
At that exact minute, the Big Ten championship game will kick off between No. 4 Iowa and No. 5 Michigan State. One team will emerge victorious at Lucas Oil Stadium, but the truth is Delany and the league already have won.
The Big Ten has a playoff spot locked up as its title game functions as a national championship quarterfinal. It is the main event this championship weekend, the only matchup of top-5 teams. The SEC's undercard bout of Alabama and Florida, meanwhile, might be best stopped in the first round.
"It's the dreams of the players and the coaches to be in games like this," Delany told ESPN.com. "It's a high-energy, high-profile, high-impact game."
Big Ten teams occupy the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 spots in the CFP selection committee rankings. The Big Ten has five teams in the CFP's top 15; no other league has more than three. If certain things go batty in championship games elsewhere, the Big Ten could become the first league with multiple participants in the playoff. Ohio State, at No. 6, the defending national champion that finally looked the part against No. 15 Michigan, hopes for a chance to repeat.
"It's a statement for college football in this conference," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
Surprised by all of this? The Big Ten's quiet renaissance has been no B1G deal, mainly because the league isn't loud about its success. Maybe being college football's dumping ground for the better part of a decade has that effect. But the Big Ten, still glowing from Ohio State's title last season, has a chance to retain the spotlight.
"Each year is its own story, and this is a big story," Delany said. "A lot of interest in the game and a lot on the line. It's unique to be able to know with some degree that you're in the middle of a serious conversation among the committee about participating."
The Big Ten's rise shows how quickly things can change in college football.
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