The Big Ten is in a very tricky situation when it come to the College Football Playoff.
Yes, the conference has had a better go of it than any other this season, placing four teams in the top seven of the most recent rankings from the selection committee. That would figure to not just set things up for one of the league's teams to make the sport's final four but perhaps two.
Things get weird, though, when you realize that the Big Ten's two best teams — which squared off in a double-overtime epic Saturday afternoon in Columbus — are not playing for a conference championship next weekend in Indianapolis.
Ohio State is the clear No. 1 squad in the Big Ten. After defeating rival Michigan, it will keep its No. 2 spot in the Playoff rankings, and there doesn't seem to be much of anything that can knock it out of the Playoff bracket, mostly because the Buckeyes don't have to play another game between now and selection Sunday. Penn State won the head-to-head matchup, meaning the Nittany Lions are representing the Big Ten East Division in Indy.
So if Ohio State has a Playoff spot on lockdown — and the same can be said for No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Clemson, should those two teams win their respective conference title games next weekend — who gets that last Playoff berth? It figures to go to a Big Ten team, but which one?
The logical answer is whichever team wins the Big Ten title game: sixth-ranked Wisconsin or seventh-ranked Penn State. Whoever wins, they'll add another top-10 win to their resume, something far more important for the Badgers, who boast No. 16 (and soon to be lower) Nebraska as their best victory. The Lions, meanwhile, have a win over Ohio State. Getting a second top-10 win would all but certainly cement them into the Playoff.
The mystery becomes what the committee thinks between a potential one-loss, Pac-12 champion Washington team and whoever emerges from the Wisconsin-Penn State clash. Ohio State and Michigan have remained ranked ahead of Washington for weeks. But the Huskies could add their own top-10 win in the Pac-12 title game over Colorado. That would become a signature win at just the right time for Washington and perhaps enough to vault it into the final four.
But here's another question: What about Michigan?
The Wolverines lost Saturday in Columbus, and the thinking is that without an opportunity to play for a league title and their now two-loss record there's no way Jim Harbaugh's team could reach the Playoff. But if Ohio State is able to lock up a Playoff spot without a conference championship, will the thinking on conference title apply elsewhere? Michigan is a two-loss squad with a sparkling resume: wins over three top-10 teams in Wisconsin, Penn State and Colorado and a double-overtime loss to another top-10 team in Ohio State. Even whichever team wins the Big Ten title game won't have a resume like that. There looks to be a case made that the Wolverines would be more deserving of a Playoff spot than either the Badgers or Lions.
If the selection committee's appeared preference for the Big Ten holds true, it wouldn't be difficult to see two of the four Playoff teams hailing from the conference. But as for which one it will be, there's plenty left to be determined.