COLLEGE PARK, Md. — No. 5 Ohio State entered Saturday’s contest at Maryland needing a little help from its Northern rival in order to make the College Football Playoff. If No. 3 Michigan won out until playing the Buckeyes, and OSU won that game, the Scarlet and Gray would be the representative from the Big Ten East, setting up a win-and-you’re-in scenario in the Big Ten title game.
But, just like every college football season, chaos unfolds. Undefeated Clemson, Michigan and Washington all lost on Saturday — two to unranked opponents. No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 all suffered a loss.
Welcome to November college football.
When the committee votes on Tuesday, the Buckeyes will likely be ranked No. 2 behind Alabama in the College Football Playoff poll. That second spot in the rankings looks pretty for OSU right now, but the Michigan loss makes it nearly impossible for the Buckeyes to go to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
As it stands
OSU, Michigan and No. 10 Penn State all sit tied atop the Big Ten East division. For coach Urban Meyer’s team to advance to Indianapolis in the first week of December, the Buckeyes must win out and pray for the Nittany Lions and coach James Franklin to self-destruct in the final two weeks of the season.
Left on its plate, Penn State has Rutgers (2-8, 0-7 Big Ten) in New Jersey and then Michigan State (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) at home. If Penn State wins out, it will represent the Big Ten East in Indianapolis.
For Michigan, just winning out guarantees the Wolverines a spot in the Big Ten title game. Michigan beat Penn State earlier in the season, which gives Jim Harbaugh’s team the edge in the head-to-head tiebreaker.
However, even without a Big Ten championship for OSU, the Buckeyes no longer need help from other teams. The Buckeyes will be granted a final four berth on merit alone — or so it’s perceived.
OSU is currently playing its best football after two consecutive 62-3 thrashings of Big Ten opponents. There’s no question that the Michigan loss to Iowa on Saturday night doesn’t help OSU, but it doesn’t necessarily hurt either.
OSU has at least two games remaining on its schedule, the last one being Michigan. From the past two seasons, the college football world has learned two things about the College Football Playoff committee: it places emphasis on conference championships and the last final impression is a lasting one on the committee. With that final game being against a Michigan team that could still be in the top four come Tuesday, OSU has the opportunity to separate itself from the rest of the field fighting for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the playoff.
For the committee, this is uncharted territory.
For starters, the committee has never put a two-loss team in the College Football Playoff, and this could very well be the year. Penn State and likely Big Ten West representative Wisconsin are just a Big Ten championship away from garnering serious consideration for a spot in the final four. This is a nightmare situation for the committee.
How does it value a two-loss conference champion against a one-loss Louisville or a one-loss conference champion Clemson or Washington? Or heck, a one-loss OSU?
To think that just winning out sends OSU into the playoff is ludicrous. The Buckeyes know better than anyone that a conference championship can lift a team by two spots. It can just as easily send a team back a couple spots.
The final verdict will be made on Dec. 4 when the playoff committee decides the final four. Although two convincing wins by OSU likely gives them the chance to play for its second national championship in three season, the Michigan loss on Saturday night almost definitely cancels the notion that OSU controls its own destiny.