INDIANAPOLIS — Once upon a time, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was quite the advocate that only conference champions should reach the College Football Playoff.
It sounds like he's OK with losing that fight, though, as one of his conference's teams, Ohio State, looks ready to become the first team to reach the Playoff without winning its conference championship.
Delany joined the crew of ESPN's College GameDay on Saturday morning in Indianapolis and discussed the current Playoff picture, which is a little clearer — and a little worse for the Big Ten — after Washington won the Pac-12 championship on Friday night.
With Alabama and Ohio State looking like Playoff locks, Washington seemingly punched its ticket to the final four with a dominating performance in a 31-point clubbing of eight-ranked Colorado. That would leave one spot up for grabs, and another Big Ten team that will finish the year without a conference championship, Michigan, is certainly still in the mix. So too are Wisconsin and Penn State, who play each other in Saturday night's Big Ten title game. The other team competing for and perhaps the favorite for that fourth spot is Clemson, currently ranked third and playing Virginia Tech in Saturday night's ACC title bout.
So Delany provided an assessment of the landscape on GameDay, though his comments revealed some politicking for either Michigan or the Big Ten champ, as he left two spots open without acknowledging Washington.
The idea that two of the four teams in the Playoff field, should both Ohio State and Michigan find their way in, would box out three champions of Power Five conference clashes with the argument Delany made just a few years ago.
"Well I was a campaign manager four years ago for the four best conference champions. We lost that election, and what we decided on was the four best teams, which I'm fine with," Delany said. "Obviously this year's unique in some ways. We have the two divisional champions playing head to head here today for the conference championship, and they won their division and they should be respected for that. The committee has another role, and that is to pick the four best teams in the country. I think there are a couple teams that are unequivocally among those four best. I think Alabama has had a great year, Ohio State. It seems to me like there's probably winners of games today plus Michigan who the committee's going to have to sort through to fill out those next two spots. But in my view, this event has been great for this conference, and the College Football Playoff has been terrific for college football in large part because people are playing people. So it should be about who you play, who you beat.
"For sure you have to — when teams have similar resumes and records are similar — you have to look at conference champions, but there are 10 conference champions. Not all conference champions are equal, OK? There are 10 in the FBS. Several conference champions are going to be evaluated, including the one out of this conference, the one out of the Pac-12, the one out of the Big 12, the ACC. I myself think Alabama has done enough whether they have a conference championship behind their resume or not. I think Ohio State has done enough. I think the committee has suggested that in their early years. So what we have right now, I think, are two slots available and probably three, four, five teams fighting for those. Conference champion is relevant, but also who you played head to head, who you beat. Who'd you play in the non-conference, who'd you beat."
Again, that seems to be some not-so-subtle campaigning for either Michigan or the Big Ten champ. The Wolverines boast a resume with three top-10 wins, including a non-conference game against Colorado. Ohio State, too, won a big non-conference game on the road against a top-10 Oklahoma team. Penn State has already beaten a top-10 team in Ohio State, Wisconsin opened the season with a non-conference win over LSU, and Saturday's winner will gain another top-10 win. Washington earned its first top-10 win Friday night after playing non-conference games against Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State.