Hope is not lost, as the Buckeyes get the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night. A win there, and the Scarlet and Gray have to have their foot in the door for a playoff berth, right?
As the debate gets ratcheted up as we get closer to the full slate of conference championship games this weekend, let’s take a look at what appears to be the best way Ohio State finds themselves playing in a semifinal contest at the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl.
Clemson beats Miami (FL)
Newly minted as the No. 1 team in the land, the Clemson Tigers can help make things less complicated by beating the Miami Hurricanes in Charlotte for the ACC Championship.
If Miami, who is ranked one spot ahead of OSU at No. 7, beats the Tigers, then things get a little hairy. Clemson has quality wins over Auburn, South Carolina, Virginia Tech and Louisville, so there is a real chance they could end up in front of a Big Ten Champion Ohio State.
Oklahoma doesn’t goof up the Big 12 Championship to TCU
This one may be hard to swallow, but Buckeye nation should be rooting for Baker Mayfield and the Sooners to wallop the TCU Horned Frogs in the reboot of the Big 12 Championship Game.
Since the Sooners picked apart the Buckeyes in Columbus, and seeing how the committee has treated head-to-head matchups, it wouldn’t be too far out of the realm of possibility that Oklahoma winds up a spot ahead of Ohio State.
Granted, the committee does like the conference champion aspect of things. However, if enough chaos occurs, who knows how exactly this cookie will crumble.
Georgia blows Auburn out of the water
Auburn, the No. 2 team, has slayed then-No. 1’s in Alabama and Georgia throughout the regular season. Now, it seems to benefit OSU if Georgia absolutely smokes Auburn in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.
Why a Georgia win, though?
Well, Auburn is the best of the two-loss teams right now. In the previous three years, the playoff committee has never a) selected two teams from the same conference and b) selected a two-loss team to a playoff semifinal.
If Auburn and Ohio State win, the committee will have to have the conversation to put multiple two-loss teams into the playoffs, while a couple teams (Wisconsin and Alabama) are left out with just one loss.
Ohio State beats Wisconsin by a respectful margin—but doesn’t 59-0 them again
Wisconsin’s strength of schedule has been frowned upon; they are the lone unbeaten team among the Power 5 conferences, and have secured the No. 4 spot in the latest playoff rankings. It’s safe to say that the Badgers could’ve gotten a little more respect for beating 10 of their 12 opponents by 14 points or more.
However, if the Buckeyes steamroll Wisconsin like they did back in 2014, it may have a boomerang effect. A blowout in Indianapolis sets up the college football version of Schrödinger’s Cat: the Badgers were a great team in one of the toughest conferences in America, or the Badgers were overrated in an overrated conference.
Depending on how the Big Ten Championship Game goes, that paradox could be coming into the forefront by Sunday morning. Ohio State is favored by six points right now, so a victory by 14 is respectable. With the way the committee is viewing Wisconsin, I’m not entirely sure that they are buying the Big Ten—as well as Wiscy’s non-conference schedule—as firm playoff options. (If we think that way, it makes a little more sense why the committee put Alabama in the No. 5 spot. They’re banking on at least one upset.)
The precedent of last season complicates things even more: Ohio State getting in without winning their conference. Sure, Ohio State defeated Oklahoma and Michigan last season to improve their playoff stock, but the optics didn’t look good when the Buckeyes proceeded to get their proverbial door blown off the hinges when they lost to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.
Is there an unknown bias toward the Big Ten? It doesn’t seem like it. But after watching the Big Ten East cannibalize itself, that theory echoes a little louder as the scapegoat for why OSU wouldn’t get in. Also, a 31-point loss at Iowa will be hard to ignore, even if the Buckeyes do win the conference crown.
It’s entirely possible that all these things happen, and Alabama somehow still slips into the fourth playoff spot. The only people who know how this thing will shake out are the playoff committee members who put together the rankings.
However, the scenarios listed above appear to give the best chance for Ohio State to get in.
Is there a better way for the Buckeyes to get in? Scenarios that weren’t listed but are entirely plausible? Let us know in the comments.