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Football: Examining Ohio State playoff chances

Fans wave a flag on the field after the Buckeyes' game against Michigan on Nov. 26 at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes won 30-27. Credit: Mason Swires | Assistant Photo Editor

Fans wave a flag on the field after the Buckeyes’ game against Michigan on Nov. 26 at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes won 30-27. Credit: Mason Swires | Assistant Photo Editor

The Big Ten Championship game will come and go without a glimpse of the No. 2 Ohio State football team. As the Buckeyes watch and wait for the outcome of the matchup between No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 7 Penn State, the situation might be more favorable than meets the eye for OSU.

After falling to the Nittany Lions 24-21 in State College, Pennsylvania, the Buckeyes are a perfect 5-0, and have averaged a margin of victory of 25.2 in the last five weeks. Penn State is hitting its stride at the perfect time as well, giving up an average of 86 rushing yards per contest, and have given up a total of 12 points combined in two weeks.

However, an extremely tough Wisconsin team lies in wait for coach James Franklin’s Nittany Lions. The Badgers gave OSU a run for their money, forcing overtime in Madison. While the Buckeyes have struggled with both units, neither side seems to have the upper hand.

Even with all eyes on Indianapolis this week for who will wear the Big Ten crown, OSU might just be finding themselves in a spot that has already given them a playoff berth. Here are a few of possible scenarios for the Scarlet and Gray and the postseason.

Penn State loses in blowout fashion to Wisconsin

Given how both teams are playing right now, it would seem unlikely to see one team rollover the other. However, this scenario is a little more realistic when one thinks about other performances by the Badgers this season.

Wisconsin not only pushed OSU to the brink, but was just a touchdown away from pushing Michigan to overtime. While the Badgers lost 14-7, Penn State was on the wrong end of a 49-10 drubbing at the hands of the Wolverines.

Wisconsin lost by a touchdown to two, top-five ranked opponents. The Nittany Lions, on the other hand, have lost to Pitt. The Panthers, even with a win over Clemson, are far from an excusable loss, as their 8-4 record has been padded with wins over the likes of Villanova and Marshall.

If Penn State were to be blown out, it would boost the resume of Wisconsin, making a convincing case for a playoff spot. However, that overtime loss in primetime to the Buckeyes would be looming over Wisconsin, and gives OSU a spot in the final four.

Wisconsin loses in blowout fashion to Penn State

This creates a bit more of a problem for the Buckeyes, as the red-hot Nittany Lions would most likely be out of the top 10 with a blowout loss to Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions, representing the lone loss for OSU, picking up a win over a team OSU struggled with at times would shed a bad light on the Buckeyes, considering Wisconsin would fall from the top 10.

Penn State isn’t known for blowing out quality teams, but has picked up some solid wins and stayed competitive with tough, competitive units. A gritty team always creates some tension in games, and would create some drama that always drives up television ratings.

With a win over OSU, and a win over the Badgers by a margin greater than seven, Penn State would be a tough team to leave out of a playoff spot. This scenario seems the most likely to keep the Scarlet and Gray from the playoffs.

Neither team impresses

Remember Iowa’s win over Michigan? A drawn-out, gritty game that ended with a last second field goal and neither side being relatively impressive on offense was the outcome. A flat Big Ten title game is one of the best possible scenarios for OSU to make the playoffs.

With neither side showing much in terms of life, the College Football Playoff committee would be reluctant to put in such an uninteresting team just to get them destroyed by a superior opponent.

If Wisconsin and Penn State put forth a disappointing show, expect to see OSU in either Phoenix or Atlanta.

One of the other potential playoff teams loses this week

No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington are all going to be playing in conference title games this weekend. The Crimson Tide face No. 15 Florida, Clemson faces No. 19 Virginia Tech and Huskies square off against No. 9 Colorado.

All games have the potential for fireworks, with stiff competition throughout. Although Alabama appears to be an invincible force at this point, teams like Clemson and Washington have been swapping places with other teams for the last few weeks in the No. 4 spot.

A loss by one of these two teams would cause No. 5 Michigan to rise back into the top four spots, and OSU will not be dropping below a team they beat just a week prior. This scenario would be the best chance for OSU to reach the playoffs.

Only time will tell where the Buckeyes end up. The final selection show by the College Football Playoff committee will air on Sunday on ESPN at noon.

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