When the newest College Football Playoff rankings were announced Tuesday night, one possibility became especially clear.
The Big Ten Championship Game could end up serving as a de facto play-in game for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Iowa was ranked No. 4 and Michigan State was ranked No. 5 in the latest rankings. The Hawkeyes have already punched their ticket to the Big Ten title game, and the Spartans just need to win Saturday against Penn State to clinch their spot. In other words, big doings about to go down in Indy.
Now, whether the rankings of these two teams are the same a week from now remain to be seen. A lot can happen in the season's final week. Oklahoma, the country's new No. 3 team, has a big showdown with Oklahoma State this Saturday in their annual rivalry game. Notre Dame, the No. 6 team in the rankings, has a top-10 matchup with Stanford, providing an opportunity for the Irish to impress and do better to enhance their chances in the conversation for a Playoff spot.
Plus, there are the possibilities of Iowa and Michigan State losing in their respective regular-season finales.
[MORE BIG TEN: Hawkeyes up to No. 4, Spartans up to No. 5 in Playoff rankings]
The Hawkeyes' much-maligned strength of schedule would likely keep them out of the Playoff should they suffer an unexpected loss to Nebraska this weekend. A loss would figure to drop Iowa way down in the rankings, meaning even a conference-championship win might not be able to vault them back up high enough to reach one of the final four spots.
Not only would a Spartan loss to Penn State hurt Michigan State's resume, it'd definitely end any Playoff hopes, as it would mean either Ohio State or Michigan would win the Big Ten East title and play Iowa in the conference championship game.
But, if Iowa and Michigan State take care of business this weekend, the conference title game in Indy would figure to be a matchup of two top-five teams, meaning the winner would almost certainly secure a spot in the Playoff.
Now those are some stakes.
Remember, it was Ohio State's performance in the Big Ten title game a season ago that allowed the Buckeyes to reach the Playoff over one-loss teams from the Big 12. Ohio State took advantage of its opportunity, beating Alabama and Oregon en route to a national championship.
[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Hawkeyes gear right here]
Is there any way, though, that if Iowa is undefeated or Michigan State has just one loss, the Big Ten champ would be left out of the Playoff?
No, it doesn't seem that way.
The Spartans suddenly have a sterling resume thanks to the way things have played out. Road wins have come against both Ohio State and Michigan, a pair of current top-10 teams. And a Week 2 win over Oregon, which looked great at the time and then wasn't so great once the Ducks spent the majority of the season unranked, again looks terrific as Oregon is the No. 17 team in the latest rankings. If Michigan State could add a win over a top-five Iowa team to that resume, you'd almost have to be surprised if the Spartans weren't the No. 1 team in the Playoff seeding.
Meanwhile, though the Hawkeyes have been criticized for the strength of their schedule all season long, they have not lost any of those games. Only one other team in America can say the same, and that's the No. 1 Clemson Tigers. Iowa's signature win is a good one, crushing Northwestern — currently ranked No. 16 — on the road and looking better and better each week. But outside of that? No wins over currently ranked teams. That would all change, of course, with a win over a top-five Michigan State team in the Big Ten title game, not only keeping the Hawkeyes undefeated but giving them a top-tier win, as well.
Any way you slice it, if these two teams avoid upsets in their regular-season finales, the winner of the Big Ten Championship Game would figure to be going to the College Football Playoff.