Ohio State’s 24-21 loss to Penn State was shocking to many, including the team. The then-No. 2 Buckeyes played in a difficult atmosphere at Beaver Stadium in College Park, Pennsylvania, and suffered their first defeat of the season. While the Nittany Lions weren’t the team fans might have circled as a hiccup on the OSU schedule, nor was Virginia Tech in 2014.
The offensive line had its worst game of the year, allowing 11 tackles for loss and six sacks. The wide receivers struggled to create separation downfield for redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett to deliver the ball. The special teams had several blunders that led to the game-winning score. The defense surrendered several chunk plays in crucial moments.
All in all, OSU has things to learn from the debacle in Happy Valley.
However, looking forward, the No. 6 Buckeyes remain in the hunt for the coveted College Football Playoff.
“We got every goal still alive,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said after the game. “We’re not a great team right now. We got to regroup and get guys healthy and come back and keep swinging. I talked to the team and then Raekwon McMillan and some other players talked to the team like, ‘let’s go, it’s time to get to work.’”
The 2014 Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech in the second game of the year and looked to be on the fast track to a miserable season, for OSU standards. Then, the team regrouped and won 13 straight to capture the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Each unit on that team showed progress each week. Barrett began to assert himself as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, the offensive line proclaimed themselves as “The Slobs” for their brutish play, and the defense capitalized on opponents’ mistakes, finishing ranked fifth in the nation in takeaways per game.
Last season’s loss to Michigan State came late in the season and left no room for error. Even then, a Clemson loss in the ACC Championship Game might have put OSU in the playoff for a second consecutive season.
The Penn State loss was the seventh game of the season, which is certainly no death sentence for the Buckeyes.
“The crazy thing is we have only lost five games in five years. We sit here and, you know, the world is ending and … the sun came up and it’s incredible. It’s just like, wow,” redshirt junior guard Billy Price said on Monday. “We’ve been here before. This isn’t an occurrence that happens often, but we grow from this. We grow tighter together and we focus in on us and we don’t worry about anybody else.”
For many Buckeyes this is the first time they are experiencing a loss at a significant contributor to the team. So this adversity is new to them. It’s not new as in the first time they have ever witnessed a loss being from the sidelines, but the gravity of defeat weighs a bit more as a starter.
In the last two games following losses for OSU, the Buckeyes played Kent State at home in 2014 and at Michigan in 2015. OSU looked flawless on offense in each game, winning 66-0 against the Golden Flashes and demolishing their rival Wolverines 42-13.
Barrett said it doesn’t matter who the opponent is following a loss, the approach is still the same, but there’s a smaller margin of error now.
“I think we just have to go to work. Losing happens in football. We do the best we can to prevent it,” he said. “We try our best to succeed and not lose but losing happens and now you go back to what we are built on and that’s toughness and grinding. I think that’s what we’re going to go back to and make sure this doesn’t happen.”
Currently sitting two spots out of the top four, based on the Associated Press ranking, OSU has enough chances on its remaining schedule to move up at least two spots. After this week’s matchup versus Northwestern, No. 7 Nebraska comes to Columbus for a primetime showdown. The Cornhuskers play No. 11 Wisconsin this week, so they could very well jump a few spots if they come away with a road win at Camp Randall.
Then, obviously, OSU wraps up the season with current second-ranked Michigan. Win out, and OSU will be in the Big Ten championship against another ranked team with a strong shot at a play-in game for the College Football Playoff.
Penn State currently sits with one loss in the Big Ten and does not have another ranked team on its schedule. Its lone loss was to Michigan.
There remains a possibility for a three-way tie between OSU, Michigan and Penn State. Given OSU wins out, Michigan’s only loss is to the Buckeyes and Penn State wins out, the following Big Ten Conference guidelines would be the order in which to determine a tiebreaker with three or more teams.
- The records of the three tied teams will be compared against each other.
- The records of the three tied teams will be compared within their division.
- The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish.
- The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.
- The team with the best overall winning percentage (excluding exempted games) shall be the representative.
- The representative will be chosen by random draw.
Through the first four guidelines, OSU, Michigan and Penn State would all still be tied. On the fifth tiebreaker, OSU and Michigan would own a higher winning percentage than Penn State, and the Buckeyes then have the head-to-head over Michigan, granting the berth to the Big Ten Championship Game.
Price said that the team isn’t viewing its chances to reach the playoff, rather having a week-by-week approach.
“Our goal is to go out and execute each game, every week and take care of things up front. With that, that comes the Big Ten championship, that comes the College Football Playoff,” he said. “All our goals are still obtainable. We control our fate and we’re just going to take care of each week and go from there.”
The 2014 team was ranked 16th when the first College Football Playoff poll was released. The first poll of 2016 will be released on Nov. 1.
With a win against Northwestern, OSU should be well in line to be in the playoff by the unveiling of the first rankings.