Big Ten Championship Win Over Wisconsin Could Be Enough For Ohio State To Jump Alabama, Make College Football Playoff

By Dan Hope on November 28, 2017 at 9:04 pm
Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Urban Meyer
Saban photo: Marvin Gentry – USA TODAY Sports

Of the seven teams that remain ahead of Ohio State in the College Football Playoff rankings, six of them are set to play another game this weekend.

It could be the one team that doesn't play, however, that Ohio State ultimately needs to jump to make the playoff.

Should No. 8 Ohio State beat No. 4 Wisconsin in Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game, the Buckeyes should presumably jump at least three teams ahead of them.

In addition to moving ahead of Wisconsin, Ohio State would likely also move ahead of the loser of the ACC Championship Game between No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Miami, as well as the loser of the SEC Championship Game between No. 2 Auburn and No. 6 Georgia, as the losers of both of those games would each have at least two losses – like Ohio State – but no conference title.

On the other end of the spectrum, the winners of both of those games are almost certain to earn berths in the playoff. No. 11 TCU shouldn't jump Ohio State if both teams win their conference championship games, but a loss by No. 3 Oklahoma to TCU wouldn't necessarily help the Buckeyes because of the Sooners' head-to-head win over Ohio State, which could convince the committee to keep Oklahoma ahead of Ohio State if both teams have two losses, even though that would mean the Sooners would not have a conference championship.

It's possible, for that matter, that Clemson or Auburn – though it seems doubtful – could stay ahead of Ohio State even with a loss, considering the comments made by College Football Playoff committee chairman Kirby Hocutt on Tuesday night.

"There was a clear cut with the top four teams in the rankings," Hocutt said during his appearance on ESPN after this week's rankings were revealed.

Ultimately, though, it seems unlikely that Ohio State's fate will be decided by what happens in any of the other conference championship games.

Obviously, Ohio State needs to beat Wisconsin to make the College Football Playoff. It wouldn't hurt the Buckeyes' cause if they beat Wisconsin convincingly, like they did in 2014, when their 59-0 win over the Badgers propelled them ahead of Baylor and TCU and into the fourth spot in the field.

At the end of the day, though, that's just one factor in the debate that will likely take place if Ohio State wins on Saturday: Should Ohio State, who would have two losses but a Big Ten title, earn the fourth and final spot in the playoff field over Alabama, who would have only one loss but is not even playing in its conference championship game?

A two-loss team has never made the College Football Playoff, but a one-loss team without a conference championship has; that's how Ohio State got in the field last year, when it was selected for the final four over two-loss Penn State even though the Nittany Lions won the Big Ten championship and had a head-to-head win over the Buckeyes.

Alabama, however, doesn't have nearly as strong of a resume this year as Ohio State had last year. While Ohio State had three wins over teams that finished in the top seven of the playoff rankings last year, Alabama – which is currently ranked fifth – hasn't beaten a team ranked higher than 17th (LSU) in the current standings, with their only other top-25 wins coming against No. 23 Mississippi State and No. 25 Fresno State.

And even though it wouldn't be unprecedented for a non-conference champion to make the College Football Playoff, it would break precedent for two teams in the same conference to make the final four – a precedent that the committee will claim is not a factor in its ultimate decision, but still might be.

More than anything else, though, the question that would decide whether Ohio State would make the playoff over Alabama is much more simple: Is a win over a team that is currently undefeated and ranked fourth, as well as winning a conference championship, enough for the Buckeyes to jump the Crimson Tide?

Hocutt certainly makes it sound like it might be.

While Hocutt would not answer directly whether he felt a win by Ohio State would be enough for the Buckeyes to move ahead of Alabama, he did say on a Tuesday teleconference that there is "very little separation in the committee's eyes between teams five through eight." Hocutt also said that a victory over Wisconsin "would be an impressive win that Ohio State would add to their body of work."

"A conference championship being added to the resume is important when being compared to comparable teams," Hocutt said.

While Wisconsin would appear to be assured of a playoff berth if it beats Ohio State – which would also likely leave Alabama on the outside looking in – one can only guess as of now how an Ohio State win would ultimately shape the playoff picture in the committee's eyes.

Although Hocutt says "the way that Ohio State has played and executed these last three weeks have been very impressive," he also said the Buckeyes' 55-24 loss to Iowa before those three weeks is still a factor that sits on their resume that the committee references when evaluating Ohio State.

At the same time, though, Hocutt's assertion that there is little separation between where Alabama sits and where Ohio State sits – coupled with the notion that a conference championship carries weight – does seem to set the stage for the Buckeyes to leap-frog the Crimson Tide, which should be enough to earn the fourth seed in the playoff field, if they can beat the Badgers.

If Ohio State can take care of business on Saturday, we'll find out on Sunday shortly after noon, which is when the final set of playoff rankings are set to be announced.

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