Even though the gap has closed, the SEC is still the best conference in college football.
At least, that's the opinion of the College Football Playoff committee. A year after putting two SEC squads into the four-team playoff, the 13-member group nearly did it again. Two-loss Georgia was ultimately left at the doorstep, a spot ahead of your one-loss Big Ten Champion: Ohio State.
And even before the Bulldogs suffered their second defeat of the year, national pundits were arguing for their inclusion regardless of the outcome.
"If they play well, lose a close one, I would be a very strong advocate of saying that they still have an argument to be recognized as not the most deserving 4, but as one of the best 4."@KirkHerbstreit on the case for Georgia even in a loss on Sat. pic.twitter.com/mHCDpQ51Ti
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) November 27, 2018
That's the kind of treatment the best conference in college football receives. It's the kind of pull Ohio State fans wish they had the last two seasons, which is why they need to root for every Big Ten team this bowl season.
And yes, that includes Michigan.
The conference sent nine teams to bowl games this year, all of which play over the span of seven days.
|Bowl Game||Big Ten Team||Opponent||Date|
|QUICK LANE BOWL||Minnesota||Georgia Tech||12/26|
|NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL||Wisconsin||Miami||12/27|
|MUSIC CITY BOWL||Purdue||Auburn||12/28|
|PEACH BOWL||No. 7 Michigan||No. 10 Florida||12/29|
|REDBOX BOWL||Michigan State||Oregon||12/31|
|HOLIDAY BOWL||No. 22 Northwestern||No. 17 Utah||12/31|
|OUTBACK BOWL||Iowa||No. 18 Mississippi State||1/1|
|CITRUS BOWL||No. 12 Penn State||No. 14 Kentucky||1/1|
|ROSE BOWL||No. 6 Ohio State||No. 9 Washington||1/1|
With five ranked opponents on the schedule, the league has a huge opportunity to build on the momentum they gained last bowl season.
A year ago, the Big Ten won its first seven postseason matchups, needing only Michigan to defeat South Carolina in the Outback Bowl for a clean sweep. The Wolverines surged to what looked like an insurmountable 19-3 lead late in the third quarter, but the Gamecocks scored the final 23 points of the game to come away with a 26-19 victory.
Even with that loss, it was still one of the most impressive bowl showings for a conference in college football history. And if the league puts up similar results this year, the perception of the Big Ten will continue to shift.
But the most important games are those with the league's biggest brands, and apart from Ohio State, Michigan moves the needle the most.
The Wolverines are a 6.5-point favorite, and they've had good results in their matchups against the Gators in the past. Lloyd Carr's last game on the sideline was a win over Urban Meyer's Florida team that featured Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow. And in Jim Harbaugh's first year in Ann Arbor, Michigan thumped Florida 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl.
It's hard for a majority of Ohio State fans to muster anything outside of contempt for "that team up north." But if the Buckeyes, and by extension the Big Ten, want the kind of pull the SEC has on a national landscape, then it starts with postseason success.
That means rooting for your fellow league members this week... including Michigan.