After a crushing loss to Iowa took the wind out of their sails and seemed to close the door on their dreams of reaching the playoff, Ohio State is not out of it just yet. While the Buckeyes certainly do not control their own destiny, a wild weekend in college football has reopened the door for the Scarlet and Gray.
Ohio State mightily helped out their own cause by trouncing 12th-ranked Michigan State 48-3 in the Shoe. They again looked like a team capable of competing at the highest level, returning to the ground game and controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Winning out, even in blowout fashion, will not be enough to secure a spot in the final four. They are going to need a ton of help, which they started to get this weekend when four top-10 teams lost in stunning fashion. Here is what will have to happen in each of the Power Five conferences moving forward for the Buckeyes to make the playoff:
As much as they won’t like it, Ohio State fans must root for Alabama to win out and take home the SEC Championship. With Georgia suffering their first loss of the season this weekend to Auburn, it significantly decreases the chances of two SEC teams making the playoff. If Alabama runs the table, defeating Georgia in the title game, a two-loss Bulldogs team would be dropped from contention. What the Buckeyes do have to worry about, however, is the possibility of Auburn beating Alabama in the Iron Bowl at the end of the year. That could once again open the door for a two SEC team playoff bracket, where Auburn gets in as conference champion and Alabama gets in with their one loss to a top-10 team.
Best case scenario for the Buckeyes here is a conference championship for Miami. With Clemson and Miami already claiming their spots in the ACC title game, a Hurricanes win would give the Tigers two losses. Clemson’s resume is not exactly stellar, albeit with a good win over Auburn. Their loss to Syracuse still looks very bad, and they have not been blowing the doors off lesser opponents, scoring over 40 in conference play just once. An undefeated Miami would obviously be a lock for the playoff, and a two-loss Clemson team would most likely miss the cut.
Another conference where Ohio State fans will not like it, but they must root for Oklahoma. The Sooners are the only Big 12 team with less than two losses after defeating TCU this weekend. Without divisions in the Big 12, it is still undecided who they will take on in the Big 12 title game, most likely being TCU. Oklahoma winning the conference would place them firmly in the playoff with just one loss, knocking out entirely a conference runner up that would finish with three losses.
The Pac-12 has done a good job of beating themselves up and will most likely not be represented in the playoff regardless of outcome. Their best chance of a team making the final four would be a two-loss USC. The Trojans resume does not give them the edge over any other playoff hopefuls, their only good win coming against a three-loss Stanford team. With their opponent in the conference title game being either Stanford or Washington State, neither of which would make the playoff with a win, the Pac-12 is effectively not a threat to Ohio State.
Which brings us to the Big Ten, the only conference in which the Buckeyes control their own destiny. Ohio State will obviously have to win their remaining two regular season games and the Big Ten Championship. The Buckeyes should be rooting hard for Wisconsin in their final two games, especially this weekend when they take on Michigan. A Michigan loss and an OSU win over Illinois secures the Buckeyes’ spot in the conference title game. Should Ohio State take down an undefeated Badgers squad in the conference championship by a wide margin, it would be a monumental step toward the playoff, especially with the committee putting heavy stock into conference champions in past years.
With Notre Dame losing for a second time this weekend, it is tough to see the committee putting the Fighting Irish into the top four with two losses and no conference title to add to their resume. That being said, we would see four of the Power Five conferences represented in the College Football Playoff: SEC (Alabama), ACC (Miami), Big-12 (Oklahoma) and the Big Ten (Ohio State).
Anything can happen in college football, and all the Buckeyes can do is handle their business and hope to get some help elsewhere. At the end of the day, Ohio State’s path to the playoff is a bumpy one, but one that should not be discounted.
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