COLUMBUS, Ohio — So Ohio State is now fifth in the College Football Playoff rankings, trailing No. 1, Alabama, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Michigan and, controversially, No. 4 Washington.
For the second consecutive week in the playoff rankings — the Buckeyes ranked sixth in the initial rankings release — Ohio State remains in control of its own destiny.
And so long as the Buckeyes — and the Wolverines — keep winning, that won’t change.
Path to the playoff
Ohio State has three games left on its regular-season schedule — at Maryland, at Michigan State and vs. Michigan — and if the Buckeyes win all three games, they will likely secure a spot in the Big Ten title game, where a potential rematch with No. 7 Wisconsin could await.
What do I mean, “likely?”
As I explained last week, Ohio State doesn’t totally control its own destiny. If the Wolverines suffer a loss between now and Nov. 26 — either at Iowa this weekend or vs. Indiana the next — Penn State would gain control of the Big Ten East, so long as the Nittany Lions win their remaining three games (at Indiana, at Rutgers, vs. Michigan State). So if you’re a Buckeyes fan, you need either Michigan to win in each of the next two weeks or Penn State to lose in one of the next three.
And, of course, for Ohio State to keep winning.
While the Buckeyes’ resume is impressive — hence Urban Meyer’s squad sitting just on the outside looking in of the coveted top four — it’s hard to imagine Ohio State getting there without reaching the Big Ten title game. Assuming the Buckeyes win out and beat Michigan, only the team that beat them, Penn State, could stand in their way.
Ohio State’s biggest test of the season remains Michigan, which on the field has been as impressive as any team in college football this season. Through nine games, the Wolverines’ margin of victory has been the best in college football at plus-37.3 points per game, more than six points higher than the second place team in that category — Ohio State.
Going on the road the next two weeks could be a potential cause for concern, but Maryland hardly has the talent to hang with the Buckeyes, and at 2-7, Michigan State has been a mess for most of 2016. Mark Dantonio is the only Big Ten coach to have beaten Meyer twice, but it’s hard to imagine him adding a third victory over the three-time national champion head coach to his resume this season.
Just as it always has, this season appears destined to come down to a de facto Big Ten East title game between the Buckeyes and Wolverines. After that, it’s win the Big Ten and you’re in. Until further notice, that’s Ohio State’s only path to the playoff.