Sparty, The Bucks, and a conference title that should matter

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It’s a Big Ten “playoff for the playoff” this weekend in East Lansing, which I guess is the way this whole playoff thing was supposed to make us feel (what with its devaluing of the regular season or maybe not doing that), but who really knows?

Regardless of the outcome of this game betwixt Ohio State and Michigan State, the winner should without question be on a path to the CFB Playoff no matter what anyone says, at least if the committee takes itself and its rules as seriously as the rest of us are supposed to.

The conference championship argument is sure to elicit plenty of discussion as we try to navigate, on a weekly basis, the relative merits of a multi-loss non-conference champ from a perceived better conference as opposed to a conference champ with fewer losses from a perceived lesser grouping.

If the CFB Playoff committee is honest with itself, it needs to stick to the conference championship argument, which is what it’s supposed to do. The winner of this game in East Lansing will have a great chance to become a one-loss Big Ten champion, barring a loss to Nebraska, which — if it also stays with one loss — should be in the conversation on the morning of Dec. 6, when the Big Ten Championship Game is played in Indianapolis.

Both of these teams — Michigan State and Ohio State — exist on their own merits regardless of what you think of the Big Ten.


Michigan State’s best win was against Nebraska … which hasn’t lost to anyone else. Ohio State slipped up against Virginia Tech, but sometimes this thing happens that media hates considering: “teams get better.”

The Big Ten is caught in this vortex of poor public opinion: when one of its elite teams pounds a conference member, the thought process is, “Well, they’re drubbing a lousy Big Ten team … they should.” If it’s close the thought process is, “If they’re struggling with a Big Ten team, they stink. Off with their heads.”

Regardless of the outcome, this win for either Sparty or Brutus will be the watershed win of the season for the one who emerges victorious. With watered-down out of conference schedules and conferences so large that everyone no longer plays everyone else, this will emerge as the centerpiece on the resume for the victor.

That seems to be what the CFB Playoff committee is worried about … who have you beaten. Oregon and Michigan State took a chance — they were willing to deal with the unenviable rhetoric that accompanies a loss to a fellow power conference team early in the season.

Oregon is still feasting publicly (and rightly so) off that win, and MSU is still being flogged for losing it.

Some of that changes this weekend, however, because a win for either squad would surely cause them to shoot up the rankings if the committee is being honest with itself.

The idea that all conference championships aren’t created equal is true. However, it isn’t some bulletproof argument for why they shouldn’t matter as much. They should.

An individual team cannot control the fortunes of the other teams it plays in games they are not even a part of. So bear with me, but this is truth: in theory, you can be the best team in a lousy conference and still be the best team in the country as well.

The kicker is, if that champion doesn’t get to play for all the marbles, we don’t know that. What we DO know is that the champion from a perceived stronger conference IS better than the teams it defeated along the way to that title.


No, all championships do not come evenly, but that truth doesn’t disqualify the champion of a lesser conference from being considered the best team in the country. After all, it was in 2006 when Michigan and Ohio State clashed for a right to play for the BCS championship with top-5 Wisconsin on the outside looking in. That conference championship HAD to mean more than whoever won the SEC that year, right?

Wrong. Florida won it, then went on to punish Ohio State, proving that forced narratives and perception are sometimes … aghast … wrong.

You know what? It’s wrong right now regarding this game in East Lansing.

Two of the best teams in college football will do battle for the right to keep their ultimate goals and dreams alive. One will play for a conference championship that could, and rightfully should, get it into a playoff.

Nebraska might have something to say about it, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. No matter what you think of the Big Ten, Saturday in East Lansing is a bridge to the playoffs if this thing is going to work out long term for all of us.