Can Ohio State Make The College Football Playoff Without Playing for The Big Ten Championship?

By Eric Seger on November 13, 2016 at 12:42 am
Could Ohio State make the College Football Playoff without even playing for the Big Ten Championship?

What a wild college football Saturday.

One that started without hardly any "marquee" matchups ends with the three teams ranked No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings losing. Clemson fell on a late field goal to Pittsburgh, the fighting Kirk Ferentzs beat Michigan as time expired with their own kick and USC upended Washington. So what does that mean for Ohio State?

Michigan’s loss to Iowa muddies and already cloudy Big Ten East picture, one that puts the Buckeyes in a hole in terms of the divisional race. Ohio State should be in the top-4 come Tuesday night in the next batch of College Football Playoff rankings and if it wins out there is an excellent chance Urban Meyer and Co. are sitting at home Dec. 3 instead of playing for the Big Ten Championship.

The Buckeyes annihilated Maryland on Saturday afternoon 62-3, another step forward in taking care of the things they can control before the regular season finale against the Wolverines in two weeks. But because they lost to Penn State last month, the Nittany Lions now find themselves in better position because of Michigan’s loss. Penn State holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Ohio State due to that victory, which means the Buckeyes needed to play (and beat) an undefeated Michigan team on Nov. 26 to earn a trip to Indianapolis. More on that here.

But should Ohio State beat Michigan State next week then do the same against the Wolverines in Columbus (and assuming Penn State beats a terrible Rutgers team then also takes care of business against the Spartans) Urban Meyer’s team will be in the top-4 before conference championship weekend. Even if it doesn’t play in the conference championship game.

So, could the Buckeyes be the first team to make the College Football Playoff without winning its conference, or let alone being their division's representative in the league's title game? The committee's brief two-year track record shows a conference title holds a ton of weight, especially when teams meet at a neutral site to determine a champion.

But the Buckeyes would make a compelling case to get there without being a champion. Victories over 3-7 Michigan State and a top-10 Michigan team would give Ohio State four wins over top-15 teams—the Wolverines, at Oklahoma, at Wisconsin and Nebraska.

The lone loss would be to Penn State on a pair of blocked kicks in State College, one which the Nittany Lions returned more than 60 yards for a touchdown when they denied Tyler Durbin's late 45-yard field goal attempt. That game represented the second road contest in as many weeks for the Buckeyes against teams entering a night game on their home turf with extra time to prepare in the form of an off weekend.

The Nittany Lions will likely find themselves anywhere from No. 7 to No. 9 in the new rankings on Tuesday night with Texas A&M and Auburn both losing this weekend. So the Ohio State's lone loss would be against potentially a top-7 or higher time on the road at night and its College Football Playoff résumé would contain four wins over ranked teams, two on the road.

Naturally, this is all just speculation. Penn State could lose in the next two weeks. Ohio State could too. But should the Buckeyes be left home from Indianapolis with an 11-1 record, an extremely strong set of wins and powerful national brand that brings ratings, they will give the committee plenty to think about.

Chaos brings with it speculation, which will only continue over the next two weeks.

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