COLUMBUS, Ohio — If Ohio State wins out, it will almost certainly be in the College Football Playoff.
Actually, let’s just remove the almost. The Buckeyes will not get left out as a one-loss conference champ thanks to wins over Penn State, Michigan and (presumably) Wisconsin. But it never hurts to get some help along the way. So with plenty of big games on deck while Ohio State rests, here are the teams Buckeye fans should root for Saturday.
Maryland at No. 5 Wisconsin (Noon, FOX)
Unless Wisconsin somehow loses three games in one of the worst Power 5 divisions in the country, the Badgers are heading to Indianapolis. If Ohio State makes it to the Big Ten Championship Game, they would prefer to face a Wisconsin team that’s undefeated. That means beating Maryland on Saturday.
Root for: Wisconsin
Iowa at Northwestern (Noon, ESPN2)
Iowa is on Ohio State’s schedule. Northwestern is not. So there you have it.
Root for: Iowa
Indiana at No. 18 Michigan State (3:30 p.m., ABC)
Nobody will retroactively give Ohio State more credit for beating Indiana if the Hoosiers pull off the upset one week after nearly beating Michigan. People are too lazy to re-evaluate what wins from two months ago might be more or less significant than they once appeared. As unfortunate as this is, wins or losses are primarily defined by the reputation of the team when the game is played. If Michigan State comes into Columbus with two losses (the Spartans play Penn State the week before they play the Buckeyes), it’ll obviously be a much bigger game than if Michigan State is 6-3 or 5-4. Nothing at this point is going to make people think the Indiana win was a good one, so Buckeyes fans might as well root for future gains.
Root for: Michigan State
Tennessee at No. 1 Alabama (3:30 p.m., CBS)
I was going to say root for Alabama because the Tide will win, and it’s nice to be right about things every now and then. Maybe cheering for Alabama would make it slightly more tolerable to watch the Tide put up 65 points on poor Butch Jones. But there’s a lot to be gained from Alabama losing, so throw those positive thoughts into the universe for the Volunteers. Undefeated Alabama is Ohio State’s primary obstacle to a No. 1 seed if the Buckeyes run the table, so any loss would help. Two Buckeyes commits also are expected to be in Tuscaloosa for the game, and a loss probably wouldn’t help Alabama in its quest to do some poaching.
Root for: Tennessee (lol)
No. 9 Oklahoma at Kansas State (4 p.m., FOX)
Some people disagree with me on this, and that’s fine. But it’s better for Oklahoma to be out of the playoff picture. A number of voters are (perhaps rightly) keeping the Sooners ahead of Ohio State in polls because each team has a loss, and Oklahoma beat Ohio State on the road. So as things currently stand, there’s a cap on how high the Buckeyes can climb. That might change with Ohio State potentially beating Penn State, but it definitely would change if Oklahoma had a second loss. The last thing the Buckeyes want is to be fighting for a playoff spot with a team that has the same record and a win in Ohio Stadium. Plus, history has demonstrated that bad losses are less consequential than big wins (remember 2014?), so an Oklahoma nosedive won’t hurt the Buckeyes.
Root for: Kansas State
No. 11 USC at No. 13 Notre Dame (7:30 p.m., NBC)
There are so many complex layers in this one that it feels fruitless to even try. Who knows which result will be better at the end of the year? But I’m going to choose the simplest one. A USC win means Notre Dame will not be going to the College Football Playoff, which (likely) means only one conference champion will be shut out. Plus, it never hurts for a recruiting rival — such as the Irish are — to lose a big game at home.
Root for: USC
No. 19 Michigan at No. 2 Penn State (7:30 p.m., ABC)
Ohio State still has to play both teams, so theoretically neither result would be the end of the world. But the Buckeyes play Penn State next, and that matters. As mentioned before, it’s all about the perception of teams the day the game is played, and it sure would help Ohio State if Penn State comes to town undefeated. If Michigan wins, an Ohio State win against PSU makes it a win against a two-loss team and an Ohio State loss to the Nittany Lions would look even worse. On the other hand, a win against unbeaten Penn State has the Buckeyes squarely in the playoff picture. There’s just not much to gain from a Wolverines win because they don’t offer Ohio State as much prestige for a win.
Root for: Penn State