If history has any relevance here, Ohio State’s loss to Penn State worked in their favor since the earlier a team loses, the less affect it has on the final college football playoff rankings. Although in Ohio State’s case, that loss could have much more of an impact since it could cost them an appearance in the Big Ten Championship game.
There’s still a lot of football left to play, but Ohio State does not control its own destiny. Yes, if they beat Michigan in the final week of their regular season, it would almost cement their spot in the College Football Playoff, but as we’ve seen before, a team that leaves their fate in the hands of a committee that selects teams, can be burned.
Here’s the situation in the Big Ten, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are all tied with a 6-1 conference record in the East division. Michigan defeated Penn State, so if they win out (vs Indiana & Ohio State), they win the division. Penn State needs to win out and for Michigan to lose a game. Ohio State needs to win out, which means defeating Michigan, and they need Penn State to lose.
Penn State has the easiest road to win out, since their remaining games are at Rutgers and then at home against Michigan State. Both teams have struggled this season and are under .500. Ohio State would essentially need a hail mary if they hope to play in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis.
Who could leapfrog Ohio State in the rankings if they don’t make the Big Ten Championship game?
If Ohio State wins out, that means Michigan wouldn’t leapfrog them.
Clemson owns a tiebreaker over Louisville, so if Clemson wins out, Louisville wouldn’t leapfrog Ohio State. They would most likely play either Virginia Tech or North Carolina in the ACC Championship game. Neither are a marquee team, so a win wouldn’t necessarily boost them enough to leapfrog many teams, unless it is a blowout.
Washington could leapfrog Ohio State, but they would need to win out. The Huskies have one conference loss, but face Washington State, who is currently undefeated in the conference. Washington has a shot of playing either Colorado or USC, both are good opponents and would help them in the polls.
If you’re wondering about any teams from the Big 12 leapfrogging Ohio State, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State both have a shot. They play each other the in the final week of the season, so one team will leave that game with a big win. Also, the Big 12 doesn’t have a championship game, so that hurdle of ‘should the committee select a team that didn’t make their conference championship game’ doesn’t apply for either team. Although, if Oklahoma wins out, it could work in Ohio State’s favor since the Buckeyes beat the Sooners in Norman early this season.
The next two teams that could leapfrog Ohio State are in Big Ten. We already mentioned Penn State earlier and if they make the Big Ten Championship game and knock off another highly ranked team, like Wisconsin (the other Big Ten team that could leapfrog Ohio State), it would almost be an automatic inclusion in the Playoff.
On the other side of the coin, If Wisconsin beats Penn State, it would be a no-brainer. The Badgers would be in the College Football Playoff.
A Wisconsin/Penn State Big Ten Championship game would be the worst case scenario for the Buckeyes. The Badgers are currently tied with Nebraska in the West division and hold a tiebreaker over the Cornhuskers. Ohio State will need to root for Nebraska and against Wisconsin.
Could Ohio State make the College Football Playoff without making the Big Ten Championship game?
It would take a lot of favorable upsets to happen. Washington State would need to beat Washington, Wisconsin and Penn State would both need to lose and either Clemson or Louisville would need to lose in the ACC Championship game.
The Big Ten currently has four teams in the top team, so it’s plausible the committee would want to reward the conference and throw a second Big Ten team in the playoff as the #4 seed. We have seen crazier things happen late in the year, so Ohio State should still keep their hopes high.
Bobby Roberts (otherwise known as Sweetbob) is the creator of ‘America’s White Boy’ and contributor at Project Shanks. His writing has been featured on ESPN’s ‘SportsNation’, Sports Illustrated’s Hot Clicks, Guyspeed, and various other sites. You can follow him on Twitter at @Sweetbob.