This wasn't exactly a banner season for Big Ten football. Ohio State looks like a high ceiling team, finishing 6-0 with the Big Ten Championship, but the Buckeyes were significantly challenged by both Indiana and Northwestern, the two other bright spots in the league this year.
The only other team to finish over .500 was 6-2 Iowa. The other 10 teams were a combined 26-45, something of a miraculous mark considering the league only played conference games this year. College football as a whole got more top-heavy this season, but it was especially stark for the Big Ten.
Many had issues with how the league kowtowed to Ohio State during the season. The league changed its six-game requirement to reach the Big Ten Championship at the last minute, to get the Buckeyes into the game, adding a big final data point to their College Football Playoff resume. That win over Northwestern gave them a second ranked win—and second win over a team over .500—on the year. Now, the league has shifted its 21-day quarantine period for COVID-19. Many thought that was too aggressive to begin with, given how much longer it is than CDC guidelines call for, but it is specifically being instituted to help the Buckeyes heading into the College Football Playoff. ESPN's David Pollack has been turned off by how the league has acted this year.
"Again, if the (College Football Playoff selection) committee did that and put (Texas) A&M in there over Ohio State, I would've been OK. It would not have been the end of the world for me because I understand that the Big Ten put them in this position," the ESPN analyst said on Monday's episode of the CFB Podcast with Kirk Herbstreit and Kevin Negandhi, per 247Sports. "And by the way, I've got to do it because it just is what it is: how many times is the Big Ten going to change the rules, for God's sake?"
"I guarantee you, by the way, you can put it in stone: every Ohio State player will be on the field, every single one, despite protocol, despite anything. 'Here's our schedule for college football — canceled, we're out, we're not revisiting. We're back, we're only going to do X. You have to make, play a certain number of games.' I mean, you talk about mismanaging and screwing up your stuff, bro, they did a phenomenal job of it this year.
"And the Big Ten, just the conference — listen, we have to do this year by year. It's a year-by-year conversation. The Big Ten is really bad, really bad. Like, Michigan (2-4), Penn State (4-5), Wisconsin (3-3), those aren't good at all. They're bad football teams. So naturally, Northwestern's better. Indiana's better, a great coach and great story, awesome program. But it's a bad league. And now you're saying you're going to put in a team that only played six games from that league in there, no out-of-conference? I get the gripe, man. I understand it."
Big Ten fans probably won't take kindly to it, but Pollack is right. The league underachieved this year, and essentially prioritized Ohio State over the two teams that far exceeded expectations, Indiana and Northwestern. Now, OSU is Playoff-bound, and No. 11 Indiana will face an under-.500 Ole Miss team in the Outback Bowl, and No. 14 Northwestern gets an Auburn team that fired its head coach in the Citrus Bowl.