For the second straight season, Ohio State goes into bowl season as the Big Ten Champion.
The Buckeyes returned to Lucas Oil Stadium as the No. 6 team in the country and defeated No. 21 Northwestern 45-24 to go to 12-1 on the season.
But for the second straight season, it appears likely that Ohio State will be a Big Ten champion sitting outside of the College Football Playoff.
After No. 5 Oklahoma defeated No. 14 Texas 39-27, it appeared the Buckeyes would need a dominant victory to even have a chance.
The 21-point win, Northwestern’s biggest loss of the year, is an impressive one, but likely not one enough to jump the Buckeyes past both the Sooners and No. 4 Georgia.
Head coach Urban Meyer thinks the committee has a lot to think about with his team.
“It’s a tough situation they’re in. There’s a lot of great football teams out there. And we’re one of those great football teams,” Meyer said. “I think there should be a lot of merit in winning your conference, which we did.”
In three of the four quarters, Ohio State looked like the dominant team it needed to be.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins picked apart the Wildcats’ zone defense on the way to 499 passing yards and five touchdowns for the game, both Big Ten Championship game records.
In the first, second and fourth quarters, Ohio State outscored Northwestern 38-10.
But the Buckeyes were outscored 14-7 in the third quarter, and were picked apart to start the second half on smart play calling from Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
The problems were not limited to the third quarter, with the Wildcats opening their scoring on a 77-yard score by sophomore running back John Moten IV.
Even with an imperfect victory, redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones believes the Buckeyes did enough to make the top four.
“I think we do, I think today we had a struggling third quarter, but besides that, I think we played in a stylish fashion and won in a stylish manner,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, we lost one game. Doesn’t matter who it is, I feel like we have a good resume behind us.”
But even if Ohio State ends up outside of the playoff and into the Rose Bowl as Big Ten champions, it is not looked at as a failure by the team.
After an up-and-down year, a 29-point loss to six-win Purdue and a 23-point win against then-No. 4 Michigan, the Buckeyes are still Big Ten champs.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Terry McLaurin is satisfied with the effort the team put out to get to this point.
“I felt like we did our part, it’s out of our hands now, I’m just so happy for what our team went through and the resilience that we’ve gone through from the beginning of the season to now,” McLaurin said. “We’ve had some ups and downs, we had some losses, but people had us counted [out], I think I saw one time we were supposed to finish fourth in the Big Ten, then we’re back-to-back champs, so that says a lot about our team.”
When looking at the resumes, Meyer said Ohio State should have an advantage over the Sooners.
“You look at the road wins we had — at Penn State, at Michigan State, at TCU. And then, obviously, the way we played against the fourth-ranked team in America. And the way we played tonight,” Meyer said. “I don’t know if we’re in a position to start making statements about where we belong. But I know they’ve got a tough decision to make, because we’re a heck of a football team.”
Ohio State’s most likely fate is a matchup against Washington at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
For McLaurin, he said he’s wanted to play in Pasadena since the Reggie Bush era in USC.
For redshirt junior wide receiver K.J. Hill, a Rose Bowl matchup isn’t a disappointment because the team did what it had to do.
For Meyer, the goal is always a championship. But College Football Playoff or not, he said this is a special team in Meyer’s illustrious career.
“The ultimate prize is a national championship,” Meyer said. “I’ll never forget this team … One of the most unselfish group of players I’ve been around.”