The Buckeyes didn’t control their own destiny, but they took care of everything within their control today, storming back to beat Michigan 30-27 in double overtime. With the win, the Buckeyes finish the regular season 11-1, 8-1 in Big Ten play.
Despite that sterling record, and a probable #2 spot in the Playoff rankings which will be released on Tuesday, Ohio State can’t win the Big Ten. Thanks to Penn State beating Michigan State, the Nittany Lions win the tie-breaker in the Big Ten East, winning the division. Penn State will face Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. The Badgers struggled, but beat Minnesota to finish their regular season today.
So, can Ohio State still make the playoff? And if not, where could they go? Let’s take a closer look.
Ohio State could still make the playoff
After all, the Buckeyes are ranked second in the playoff rankings, and just knocked off the #3 team in the country. It seems highly likely that when the rankings come out this week, Ohio State will still be #2, with Clemson (assuming they beat South Carolina) and Washington rounding out the top four.
Alabama, Clemson and Washington all still have one more game to play, and Ohio State doesn’t. But the Buckeyes’ resume, which includes wins over Michigan, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Nebraska, is substantially better than Wisconsin or Penn State.
The Selection Committee has never picked a non-conference champion to the Playoff, and being overly declarative one way or the other doesn’t seem prudent. The committee could, after all, decide to elevate the Big Ten champ. But given Ohio State’s overall body of work, it seems possible, perhaps even probable, that the Buckeyes will remain in the top four. If Clemson or Washington loses their conference championship game, their chances should get even better.
Ohio State could go to the Rose Bowl
In the event that Ohio State doesn’t go to the Playoff, they would be overwhelmingly likely to go to the Rose Bowl, which is obligated to match up a Pac-12 team with a Big Ten team. It would be very hard to imagine a second Big Ten team jumping Ohio State in the rankings, and given Ohio State’s huge fan base, the Rose Bowl would probably want to welcome them back anyway.
Assuming Washington makes the Playoff, Ohio State’s Rose Bowl opponent would be either Colorado or USC.
Ohio State probably won’t go anywhere else
The Big Ten will probably earn multiple other spots in the New Year’s Six. The Orange Bowl is obligated to grab either a Big Ten or Big 12 team, and a third Big Ten team will almost assuredly be ranked above the loser of the Oklahoma/Oklahoma State game. But with an 11-1 record, it’s hard to see a scenario where Ohio State falls this far. This game could be a landing spot for Penn State or Wisconsin to take on either Louisville or Virginia Tech.
Who should Ohio State fans root for?
Wisconsin will probably be ranked behind Penn State in the next playoff rankings, so Buckeyes should probably root for them. After all, the Badgers don’t have a head to head win over Ohio State, and the lower ranked team should be less likely to jump the Buckeyes. Ohio State fans should probably also root for Clemson or Washington to lose their championship games, freeing up more potential spots for non-conference champions to grab a spot in the field. If that’s what the committee has to do, it would be nearly impossible to argue another non-champion had a superior profile to the Buckeyes.