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Ohio State is not yet out of the Playoff hunt

Despite a loss to Penn State, the Buckeyes still have a shot..

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NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

“Every goal is still alive. We’re not a great team right now, we’ve got to regroup and get guys healthy, come back and keep swinging.”

-Urban Meyer, via Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports

Saturday’s loss to Penn State was certainly a setback in the Buckeyes’ quest for a spot in the College Football Playoff, but, unlike just a few years ago in the BCS system, it was not a death sentence. While Ohio State dropped from the No. 2 spot all the way to No. 6 (behind four undefeated, Power-5 teams and a one-loss Louisville), the Buckeyes could still run the table and find themselves in the top-four come season’s end--assuming that they don’t drop another game.

Unfortunately, this prospect comes at the price of cheering for Michigan to remain undefeated until the Wolverines come to Columbus Nov. 26. If Ohio State beats Michigan, and Penn State wins out, all three teams will finish the season with one conference loss. Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, however, due to a rule change prior to the start of the season, their out-of-conference loss to Pittsburgh in week two would be counted against them, so the head-to-head win against Ohio State would be irrelevant in this case. The new system seems to emphasize good wins as opposed to bad losses, which means that losing to a lesser opponent does not lock a Power-5 team out of the playoff--especially if that loss does not prevent a conference championship (a la Ohio State’s loss to Virginia Tech in 2014). For example, Michigan State was able to bounce back from a loss to Nebraska last season, but Louisville’s hopes of a playoff berth ride on Clemson losing to Florida State this weekend.

In many ways, the loss to Penn State provides an opportunity for the Buckeyes to get back on track to what we saw early on in the season. The offense certainly sputtered Saturday, and was not much better last week versus Wisconsin. Even Ohio State’s performance against Indiana was spotty at times. While the loss certainly presents a complication in terms of postseason hopes, it was also a wakeup call.

“Welcome, perhaps, to a different era in the Big Ten. If we’re going to praise the conference for its newfound depth--four league teams are in the top 11 of this week’s polls, while Penn State also cracked the top 25--then we’ll have to be prepared for a few more losses by the top dogs.”

-Brian Bennett, ESPN

Penn State’s upset of second-ranked Ohio State Saturday was undoubtedly a stunning upset, especially in the Big Ten where the Buckeyes have dominated the competition so handily under Urban Meyer during his tenure. But the past two weeks have been a tough stretch, even by Meyer’s standards, with two nationally televised primetime road games in a row in two of the toughest environments in college football, let alone the Big Ten. While a win over Penn State may have seemed automatic prior to Saturday (especially given the Buckeyes’ victory over Wisconsin), the Buckeyes were heading into a rough battle with a conference opponent who represents the steady, upward progress of the Big Ten in recent years.

Now, with three teams in the top-10 (and Wisconsin just outside at No. 11), as well as a ranked Penn State squad, we have to acknowledge that power is no longer concentrated solely at the top of the conference. Teams like Indiana, Northwestern and--yes--Penn State have made steady improvements to their programs, as even Northwestern’s loss to No. 20 Western Michigan doesn’t look that bad anymore. Especially as Michigan State, who was ranked in the top-15 to start the season, is now on a five-game skid after losing to Maryland, Penn State has stepped up to take its place in the Big Ten East.

It is, perhaps, this depth that could keep the Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff top-four, assuming that they win out and defeat Michigan in November, and which vicariously benefits the rest of the Big Ten. While Saturday’s score may have been unexpected heading into the game, it improves the prestige of the entire conference. A close loss on the road to a ranked opponent is not a “bad loss” for Ohio State, and is something that could be looked past by the committee.

“That’s right, on a per-pass-rush basis, Joey Bosa has been more productive than Von Miller.”

-Sam Monson, Pro Football Focus

He may have only played in three games thus far this season, but former Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa is making his presence felt for the San Diego Chargers. Already, Bosa has recorded 20 pressures on just 130 snaps this season, giving him the highest pass rush productivity score in the NFL among edge rushers and proving dominant in both pass rush and run defense for the Chargers.

San Diego sits at 3-4 on the season--last in the AFC West--and are 1-3 without Bosa in the lineup. The four losses have been by a combined 14 points, the the Chargers have given up an average of 32 points in each of those matchups. It is easy to wonder if the result of those games would have been different if Bosa--who is second on the team in total pressures, despite playing just a third of the snaps of many of the starters--would have been on the field. With protracted contract discussions limiting Bosa in the preseason, and a hamstring injury keeping him off the field for the first four games of the year, the Chargers could have used their first-round pick’s full strength in their early losses.

While Bosa’s talent is not necessarily surprising, the ease with which he has transitioned from college to the NFL, perhaps, is moreso. He was the top-rated edge defender in college for both his sophomore and junior seasons at Ohio State, playing at defensive end, but has been able to transition between outside linebacker and both sides of the defensive line while maintaining a high level of productivity. Even with missing four games, Bosa is one of the league’s top-performing rookies, with most of his competition playing on the offensive side of the ball. Even so, if Bosa maintains his current level of play, his name will almost assuredly be part of Rookie of the Year conversations come the end of the season.

“It was the Nittany Lions first win over a ranked team since Franklin took over three years ago. And their first against a top-five team since 1999 (Arizona).”

-Mike Kern,

Prior to the start of the 2016 season, Penn State head coach James Franklin was widely considered one of the most high-profile coaches on the hot seat in college football, having accrued a 14-12 record in his first two seasons with the Nittany Lions. Criticism over Franklin’s management of the program was rampant even well into the season, especially following Penn State second loss of the season by 39 points to Michigan in Ann Arbor, already having lost to its renewed rival, Pittsburgh in week two. Under Franklin, Penn State lacked any sort of signature win, never having pulled a major upset or an unanticipated win.

Now, however, Franklin seems to have saved his job security--at least for the time being. With Penn State’s win over No. 2 Ohio State, Franklin earned not only his first win over a ranked team, but the program’s first win over the Buckeyes since Joe Paterno’s final year at Penn State in 2011, when Luke Fickell was interim head coach. With the win, the Nittany Lions snapped the Buckeyes’ 20 game winning streak in dramatic fashion, having come back from 14 points down in the fourth quarter.

Franklin’s turnaround actually started several weeks ago, when Penn State scored an overtime win against Minnesota, just a week removed from their 49-10 loss to Michigan. The Nittany Lions followed up with a 24-point victory over Maryland before facing the Buckeyes.

Now, Penn State is ranked No. 24 in the country, which marks the first time the program has been ranked in nearly five seasons.