Although Urban Meyer seems to be building an SEC-like juggernaut at Ohio State and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio has quietly built a national title contender, the rest of the Big Ten seems in flux. Iowa and Nebraska have been treading water the past few seasons, and Wisconsin seems a notch or two below the Buckeyes. Worse, Michigan is sliding and Penn State is handcuffed by NCAA probation.
The Big Ten's recent history suggests it might have been better off in the BCS format, under which its teams' rabid fan bases and TV appeal were big reasons for their inclusion. A playoff selection committee might have selected the Spartans as the No. 4 team last season -- or it might have chosen Stanford instead because of the Cardinal's superior schedule strength. But in each of the previous five seasons, the Big Ten probably would have been shut out of the playoff altogether.
In the five seasons after No. 1 Ohio State lost to No. 2 LSU 38-24 in the 2008 BCS National Championship, only one Big Ten team finished in the top five of the final BCS standings (No. 5 Wisconsin in 2010). In fact, a Big Ten team didn't even finish in the top 10 of the final BCS standings in 2012, when the unranked Badgers upset Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game and played in the Rose Bowl.
Unless Ohio State or Michigan State continues to ascend (or another team gets better in a hurry), the Big Ten champion doesn't necessarily seem like a slam dunk for the four-team playoff.
Fact: Because the Big 12 decided to remain at 10 teams after Missouri and Texas A&M bolted for the SEC in 2012 (adding TCU and West Virginia as replacements), it is the only Power Five league to play a true round-robin schedule. Big 12 teams play each of their nine conference foes and only three nonconference games each season. The Big 12 is the only Power Five league that doesn't stage a conference title game and allows regular-season play to determine its champion.
Propaganda: OK, we get it. Big 12 teams play every other team in their conference, unlike the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, which are too big to allow for round-robin play. I'm sure Baylor coach Art Briles is counting his blessings that the Big 12 was gracious enough to schedule the Bears an off-week between their Oct. 18 game at West Virginia and their Nov. 1 home game against Kansas. Whew!
I understand the benefits of round-robin play. Everybody plays everybody, which results in a true league champion, unlike in the SEC, where Ole Miss can win the SEC West by beating Tennessee and Vanderbilt from the East while Auburn has to play Georgia and South Carolina. It's more equitable, and there are no complaints about fairness.
Here's my beef with the Big 12: It doesn't matter how many conference games a team plays if it doesn't beat anybody of consequence from outside its league. You can count on one hand the number of games Big 12 teams won against opponents from the other Power Five leagues during the 2013 regular season. Actually, you just have to raise your index finger -- because it was one!