Now that there is momentum for the College Football Playoff to expand to 12 teams, there is going to be more room for some underdogs in the CFP. While for us it has been fun to see Ohio State in the playoff, we are sure that many around the country are sick of seeing the Buckeyes in the CFP — much like we are tired of Clemson and Alabama being in the playoff pretty much every year.
This year’s NBA Playoffs have been a perfect example of just how fun it can be to root for the underdogs. Coming into the season, nobody gave Phoenix and Atlanta much of a chance to make the NBA Finals, and now we see both teams in the Conference Finals. A little fresh blood is always good to keep things fresh.
So that got us thinking on the underdogs that we’d like to see the most in the expanded playoffs. For today’s question we are going to identify one Big Ten team, as well as one other team that we’d most like to see in the College Football Playoff. While there really isn’t an exact criteria on what constitutes an underdog, you can count on Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma being on the short list of teams that wouldn’t be considered underdogs.
Today’s question: Which underdogs (one Big Ten team and one other team) would you most like to see in a 12-team College Football Playoff?
We’d love to hear your choices. Either respond to us on Twitter at @Landgrant33 or leave your choice in the comments.
Brett’s picks: Iowa (B1G) and Memphis (Group of 5)
I’m obligated to pick Iowa because of what the Hawkeyes did to the Buckeyes in Iowa City in 2017. While I don’t care for Kirk Ferentz, I’d have to imagine he is going to be retired by the time expansion actually hits the College Football Playoff. The Hawkeyes should be in pretty good shape as long as AIRBHG doesn’t return with a vengeance.
I mostly want this for the Iowa fans, since I’ve met plenty of great Hawkeyes over the years. Iowa fans have definitely dealt with some weird football over the years, and have been really close to the top at points, but haven’t quite been able to find their way into a BCS title game or playoff spot. Plus, I want to see Iowa get a home playoff game just so we can see “The Wave” after the first quarter.
The reason I’m going with Memphis as my other pick is just because I love the city. I have family in Memphis, and have spent a few Christmases down there. Not only have I attended a Memphis Grizzlies game, but I also went to a couple Memphis Tigers basketball games when they played at The Pyramid (which is now a giant Bass Pro Shop). I even have a picture from the plane of the Liberty Bowl as my flight was on its descent into Memphis.
If just the city itself wasn’t enough, at least since 2014, the football in Memphis has been very good. The Tigers have won at least eight games in each of the seven seasons since the start of the 2014 season, and in 2019 won 12 games before falling to Penn State in the Cotton Bowl. Memphis usually plays a fun style of football, where they put plenty of points on the board. I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing the Tigers try and take down a Power 5 foe in the playoff.
Meredith’s pick: Northwestern (B1G) and Cincinnati (Group of 5)
Okay, we’ve beaten to death the fact that there is basically no parity in college football. But now, with an expanding College Football Playoff, we have an opportunity to see something we haven’t in a really long time: teams not called Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma competing for the chance at a championship. Heck, we might even see a Pac-12 champ in the mix! (lol).
But who are the underdogs we might reasonably expect to see? It’s interesting when one looks at the Big Ten, because Ohio State still looks like the perennial favorite to win the conference in a given year. But, now there might just be an at-large pick from the Big Ten...
There’s a couple different ways to look at this scenario. For starters, it would make sense to pick the winner of the Big Ten West, since a team that didn’t manage to win even its own division might have trouble making its case to the committee. However, there’s a recency bias we’ve seen from the committee that would work against the Big Ten West champ, since that team would inevitably lose to Ohio State in its final game ahead of CFP selection.
While Penn State is the obvious choice (besides Ohio State) in the Big Ten East, my vote goes to Northwestern out of the West. Obviously the Wildcats get no respect at the national level. They were not in any Playoff discussion despite playing in the Big Ten Championship last year, nor were they considered for a New Year’s Six game. But the reality is that Pat Fitzgerald’s team has won the West twice in the last three years.
Yes, Northwestern is actually good. The Wildcats have won four-straight bowl games, including destroying Auburn in the Citrus Bowl last season. An expanded Playoff presents the perfect opportunity for a team like Northwestern to see how it actually stacks up against the perennial powers.
When it comes to the Group of Five, there are a lot more options (because there are obviously a lot more teams). I’m staying local, because Cincinnati has a lot going for it, and despite what we saw in 2011, Luke Fickell has grown to be a really good coach.
The Bearcats won the American Athletic Conference last season, going 9-0 in-conference this past year after winning their division in 2019. Fickell has taken the Bearcats to three-straight bowl games, winning two and narrowly falling in the third to Georgia this past season.
Plus, the AAC really has come on strong in recent years, with many of the non-Power Five stories coming from the likes of Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.
An expanded Playoff means that the assumptions we all have — that Cincinnati and Northwestern would not be competitive at the championship level — can be challenged, because the committee has the space to fit them in the bracket. The Wildcats get demolished in the first round? Fine. Some might even say it was expected. But the reality is we’ve never known how good they actually are on a national level, but now we have the opportunity.