2024 Big Ten Championship Game: Ohio State-Oregon leads five most likely matchups for new 18-team title race

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The 2024 Big Ten football season will be unlike any other in the conference’s rich history, welcoming in a West Coast contingent that expands the league’s membership to 18 teams.

The additions of USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington have not only loaded up the schedule with even more high-quality matchups, but they’ve created a new scenario for the Big Ten title race. When the first Big Ten Championship Game was held in 2011, the conference had 12 teams divided into “Legends” and “Leaders” divisions. The 2014 expansion that brought in Maryland and Rutgers sparked a reorganization to a more geographically focused East and West divisions. Now, divisions have been cast aside, and starting in 2024 the title game will be decided by conference winning percentage and tiebreakers with all 18 teams competing for two spots. 

It was announced earlier this week that the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game of the of the 18-team era will be broadcast on CBS and Paramount+. That sparked conversation about what the game, and more specifically the matchup, might look like when we do get to the first Saturday in December. We decided to break it down by predicting the five most likely Big Ten Championship Game matchups for 2024.  

Reaching the Big Ten title game for a fourth consecutive season would be quite a statement for Michigan in the wake of losing coach Jim Harbaugh and 13 NFL Draft picks from last year’s national title team. In this specific scenario, it would also likely mean a fourth-consecutive win against Ohio State. That comes comes with its own set of “what ifs” and hypothetical drama, especially because a title game appearance by Oregon likely means both teams here would have defeated the Buckeyes on their path to Indianapolis. Coach Dan Lanning and the Ducks have the roster to make a thunderous entrance to the Big Ten in 2024; what better way to do it than make the title game and square off against the reigning champs?   

The Ducks have the second-best odds to win the Big Ten, so it’s clearly in bounds to include them in multiple potential matchups. But gaming out their path reveals a tumultuous November with the title race on the line nearly every week. Oregon plays Michigan (Nov. 2) and Wisconsin (Nov. 16) on the road in the final four weeks before the regular-season finale at home against rival Washington (Nov. 30). Ohio State is on Oregon’s schedule as well, but Penn State is not. The Nittany Lions, in fact, have a chance to really surge in Year 2 of Drew Allar as the full-time starting quarterback, maintaining a high talent level on the roster and facing a schedule that does not include Michigan or Oregon. A key game against Ohio State on Nov. 2 would likely kick the door open when it comes to securing tiebreakers, but bookending it is a road trip to Wisconsin the week before and a home date against Washington the week after. 

3. Ohio State vs. Michigan 

One common thread in our first two hypothetical matchups is the need to beat Ohio State to make the Big Ten title game. The reason those scenarios are No. 4 and No. 5, and not inside the top three, is that it seems unlikely Ohio State will lose every game against another conference title contenders. Will the Buckeyes take a loss in a schedule that includes Oregon, Penn State and Michigan? It’s possible, if not probable, they’ll get tripped up somewhere along the way. But losing all three of those appears out of the question, so now we’re looking at different ways to get rematches of regular-season games involving the Buckeyes. 

First up is “The Game, Part 2”: a scenario in which both Ohio State and Michigan enter their rivalry game undefeated in conference play and clear of the rest of the teams in the standings. That may seem crazy given the depth of the conference, but Ohio State and Michigan have entered their rivalry game with undefeated conference records in each of the last two seasons, and over the last three years, they have just one loss combined to a team outside of the rivalry (Michigan at Michigan State in 2021). If the Big Ten had already picked its title game participants based on winning percentage, an Ohio State-Michigan rematch would have been the matchup in each of the last three years.   

2. Ohio State vs. Penn State 

An Ohio State-Penn State rematch would carry a bit less rivalry drama but more intrigue; the two teams will play in Happy Valley on Nov. 2 before, in this hypothetical, squaring off in Indianapolis on Dec. 7. What makes this rematch scenario seem plausible is the fact that both teams have a path to win out after the first game, so the loser on Nov. 2 could rebound and — with some help elsewhere — make it back into the top two of the Big Ten standings. If, for example, Penn State knocks off Ohio State in the regular-season meeting, the Buckeyes would then get a run of games in which they will be heavy favorites (Purdue, Northwestern, Indiana) before hosting rival Michigan in a regular-season finale that could hold key tiebreaker implications. The Nittany Lions don’t have as many heavy hitters on the back end of the schedule for tiebreakers, but a slate of Washington, Purdue, Minnesota and Maryland should be manageable for a group that we expect to be among the 10 best teams in the country heading into the season. 

1. Ohio State vs. Oregon

It seems like oversimplifying to pick the top two teams on the odds board for the Big Ten Championship Game, but we’re also talking about two of the four most loaded rosters in the entire country. The Buckeyes are heavier on star power at the top thanks transfer portal additions of players like Caleb Downs, Quinshon Judkins and Will Howard, but also because potential 2024 NFL Draft picks (JT Tuimoloau, Denzel Burke, Jack Sawyer, TreVeyon Henderson, Emeka Egbuka) decided to return to for another year in Columbus. 

But Oregon has future pros, too. Lanning has built out the roster with a combination of top-notch high school recruiting and transfer portal additions to address needs and built out depth. The Ducks don’t have a lot of holes or areas of concern on paper, which is why 2024 is the time for this program to take the next step. Oregon and Ohio State will square off in the regular season on Oct. 12 in Eugene, Oregon, and that might as well be the pivot point for the entire Big Ten title race. Both teams will still have challenging games left on the schedule — both play Michigan, for example — but in the case of both Ohio State and Oregon, they have the squad to be able to run the table, even in the event of a midseason loss. 

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