Edson: Big Ten’s Big Three? No U-M, MSU

If you’ve watched much college football this fall – and I’ll admit, I have – then you know who the “big three” are in the Big Ten college football race.

They are No. 4 Ohio State (6-0), No. 8 Wisconsin (5-0) and No. 9 Penn State (5-0).

All three teams are heading toward a possible Big Ten championship, a premier bowl game and a spot in the four-team post-season playoff to determine who is No. 1 in the country.

Chances are, only one Big Ten team will earn a coveted “final four” spot. But that just shows you the strength at the top of the league.

Where does that leave Michigan and Michigan State?

Well, if you watched the Wolverines slip past Iowa 10-3 or Michigan State lose to Ohio State 34-10, you know that these aren’t championship caliber teams.

What’s puzzling is that after the game Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh claimed that his Wolverine offense is “hitting its stride” right now.

Huh? The game I watched saw U-M struggling on offense all day and gaining only 267 total yards all day – 120 rushing and 147 passing.

Sure, they got the win to go to 4-1 and they will be favored to beat Illinois next. But after that comes a trip to unbeaten Penn State on Oct. 19 and a home game against No. 10 Notre Dame on Oct. 26.

That will all lead up to the Ohio State game on Nov. 30 in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes not only whipped Michigan State on Saturday night, they looked more like an SEC team than a Big Ten team. That means the speed factor is a difference maker for coach Ryan Day’s team.

At this point, I think Day’s team is a good bet to return to the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2016.

Their speed starts with quarterback Justin Fields and spreads to the rest of offense and defense.  Let’s face it, this team is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. And on top of that, the Buckeyes play hard from start to finish. They don’t take plays off.

So if Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State are the top three teams in the league, where does that leave Michigan and Michigan State?

Well, if U-M can win at Penn State and at home against Notre Dame, it can still be looking at a big bowl game and a shot at a Big Ten title. But realistically, from what I’ve seen, I think a New Year’s Day bowl game would be a good accomplishment for this under-achieving team.

Michigan State always seems to come up with enough wins to nab a bowl game invitation under coach Mark Dantonio. But the Spartans don’t have the talent to contend for a Big Ten title.

It all means we’ll be watching a three-team race for the Big Ten title that won’t include a team from the state of Michigan.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.