Suddenly the Minnesota Golden Gophers are the Big Ten's worst enemy, if you can imagine that.
Previously both unassuming and undistinguished, at least on 100 yards of chewed turf, the Gophs are about all that stand in the way of the Big Ten's last chance to rise above its now second-tier status. That's because the Gophers get Ohio State this week, and, by virtue of a win over Michigan State last week, the Buckeyes are the conference's last best chance to crash the college football playoff.
A quantum of solace for the Gophers, who are no slouches themselves at 7-2 and 4-1 in the conference: Even if the Buckeyes get past them, it's hard to say how they get into the show.
As of this morning they sit eighth in the latest CFP poll, and, of the four times currently in the top five, three of them aren't likely to slip between now and the end of the season. You've got Oregon at No. 2 and TCU at 4, and most of their major tests are behind them. Ditto for Florida State, hanging in there at No. 3. , Only No. 1 Mississippi State, which still has to play Alabama and Ole Miss, looks like a candidate to fall -- and if it's to No. 5 Alabama, that will move the Tide into the Final Four.
So Ohio State essentially has to hope Mississippi State wins in Tuscaloosa to knock the Tide out of it, and then Ole Miss has to knock off Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, and Arizona State (No. 6) has to lose to Arizona and then beat Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. Oh, and somewhere in there, Baylor (No. 7) would have to lose, too.
A tall order. Especially with a likely run-in with Nebraska in the Big Ten title game ahead for the Buckeyes if they win out.