A history of the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Syndication: Detroit Free Press /

The CFP is going into its eighth year of inception this year, and the Big Ten has been well-represented throughout those eight years.

A Big Ten team has made the college football playoff six out of eight times, with Michigan football being the sixth time this year, obviously.

Despite the Big Ten being well-represented throughout the years, unfortunately, there hasn’t been much parity in the conference overall in terms of Big Ten teams making the playoff.

Ohio State has made the playoffs as the lone Big Ten representative every time but twice, since the inception of the playoff in 2014.

Here is a brief breakdown of how Big Ten teams have historically fared in the CFP:

January 2nd, 2015: (4) Ohio State vs. (1) Alabama 

This game was a tale of two halves. Ohio State looked like nothing for pretty much the entire first half, trailing 21-6. All of that would change in the second half though.

Some guy named Ezekiel Elliott went nuclear and had a rushing performance for the ages. Ezekiel Elliott had 230 rushing yards, as Ohio State scored 28 straight unanswered points.

Amari Cooper and Alabama made things interesting to keep the score close at the end, but, it was too little too late.

That rushing total still stands as a Sugar Bowl record to this day.

Ohio State 42, Alabama 35 

January 12th, 2015: (4) Ohio State vs. (2) Oregon

It’s pretty crazy that the playoff has been around for eight years now, and the PAC-12 has only had two teams ever make it.  Oregon had some guy named Marcus Mariota at QB (that year’s Heisman winner).

Once again, Elliott went crazy, scoring three touchdowns in the final 16 minutes of game action. He finished with 246 rushing yards.

A lot of people might not remember this year, but this was the year where J.T. Barrett broke his leg against Michigan.

It in turn set off a crazy sequence of events after that game against Michigan which resulted in OSU winning the national championship on the back of their third-string QB in Cardale Jones against Oregon.

This game still makes me shake my head. It’s still one of the wildest playoffs in the playoff’s history.

Ohio State 42, Oregon 20

December 31st, 2015: (3) MSU vs. (2) Alabama

(Alabama 38 Michigan State 0) 

Nothing much to write here. The game was an absolute blowout. Alabama had two otherworldly players on offense in Calvin Ridley and Derrick Henry.

Michigan State only rushed for 26 yards as a team and Spartan QB Connor Cook threw for less than 250 yards and had two interceptions.

Hopefully, Michigan football at least puts points on the board against Georgia. As long as Michigan isn’t embarrassed like some of their Big Ten rivals, I personally won’t care if Michigan loses a hard-fought, close game.

Speaking of embarrassing performances from rivals…

December 31st, 2016: (3) OSU vs. (2) Clemson

This was the year that Ohio State made the playoff without winning their conference championship.

If you’ll recall, this is “The Spot” year. A lot of craziness happened this year.

Michigan beat the brakes off of Penn State in Ann Arbor 49-10, but Penn State got better and better and ended up beating OSU in Happy Valley, and winning the Big Ten championship, and earned a Rose Bowl bid.

In terms of the actual playoff game, again, nothing to say here. Ohio State was held scoreless to a very dominant Clemson team with Deshaun Watson at QB.

Clemson would end up beating Alabama in the national championship game that season in a classic.

Clemson 31, Ohio State 0

December 28th, 2019: (2) Ohio State vs. (3) Clemson

This was the rematch of the ‘16 playoff game three years in the making. It was an instant classic.
Ohio State jumped out to a 16-0 lead early but had to settle for FGs, and this proved costly.

Clemson slowly clawed their way back into the game. Clemson took the lead midway through the third quarter with a Trevor Lawrence-led Clemson squad and it looked like Clemson had all of the momentum at this point.

Ohio State took the lead early in the fourth quarter, but with about two minutes left, Clemson got the ball back with a chance to win.

Win they did, and that unfortunately for the Buckeyes, it was not meant to be.

Clemson 29, Ohio State 23  

January 1st, 2021: (3) Ohio State vs. (2) Clemson

Once again, Ohio State would seek its revenge. This was in the first season of COVID so there were a lot of shutdowns, pauses, cancellations, and inactive bowl games last year.

This was also the year where Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney famously had Ohio State ranked #11 in his Coaches Poll, giving Ohio State more bulletin board material and need for revenge.

Boy, revenge they got. Trevor Lawrence and Clemson never really stood a chance.

Justin Fields and Chris Olave diced up Clemson’s secondary all day long in this game. Fields had six touchdowns and 385 passing yards as Ohio State rolled.

Ohio State 49, Clemson 28 

January 11th, 2021: (3) Ohio State vs. (1) Alabama

This game was just one team having a Heisman winner and the other not having one. That guy was Alabama WR DeVonta Smith.

Alabama had a dream season last year. Nobody knew Mac Jones would be as good as he was last season, and nobody knew that DeVonta Smith would be unstoppable.

Ohio State did all they could, but Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith were way too much to handle for Ohio State’s secondary.

Alabama was just too good last year, and it was pretty obvious that they wouldn’t let anyone get in their way. Not even Ohio State’s own high-powered offense.

Mac Jones finished with 464 passing yards and five touchdowns and DeVonta Smith had 12 catches for 215 yards (and he didn’t even play much of the second half because he was hurt).

Alabama 52, Ohio State 24 

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