COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Some final observations on Ohio State’s 62-3 win over Maryland and Michigan’s defeat at the hands of Iowa.
College football is a crazy place in 2016. One minute you appear to be peaking at the perfect time, playing your best ball of the season when it matters most. The next, your hopes of winning the Big Ten title — and your College Football Playoff hopes — appear to be on life support.
That’s the position the Buckeyes now find themselves in following Michigan’s 14-13 loss to Iowa on Saturday night. Beating Michigan will now no longer be enough for Ohio State to win the Big Ten East. The Buckeyes now need Penn State to also suffer a loss in one of its final two games. If Ohio State beats Michigan and the Nittany Lions win out, Penn State will head to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game. Crazy, right?
Can the Buckeyes still make the playoff? It’s possible, but it’s also complicated.
There’s no denying that conference championships matter to the playoff committee. If Ohio State were to make the playoff without even appearing in its league title game, it would be the first team to do so in the three-year history of this postseason four-team format.
On the plus side for OSU: At this point, Alabama is the only team that appears locked into a playoff spot. A one-loss Clemson and a one-loss Washington likely still get in, so long as they each possess conference championships. Michigan remains the Big Ten’s best candidate for now, but the Buckeyes’ will have an opportunity to knock them out of the playoff picture in two weeks.
Could a two-loss Big Ten champ in Wisconsin or Penn State really jump the Buckeyes based on the title game alone? I think it’s more possible than Ohio State fans are giving it credit for. But if the committee is actually committed to selecting the four best teams — and not just the four most-deserving teams — the Buckeyes could be in a position where if they win their next two games against Michigan State and Michigan, they’re in the College Football Playoff.
At this point, here are Ohio State’s two best bets — win out and root for chaos. The more crazy things that happen, the less help the Buckeyes’ will need — if they even need any in the first place.
At this point, I also wouldn’t rule out Michigan State beating Penn State in two weeks and rendering all of this debate and discussion meaningless.
Back to back
As for Ohio State’s own outing on Saturday, the Buckeyes were impressive, blowing out Maryland by the same score they beat Nebraska by a week ago. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer often talks about competing for championships in November and two weeks into the month, his team is playings its best ball. That’s a promising sign for the Buckeyes heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
I wrote after the game that H-back Curtis Samuel re-entered the Heisman Trophy discussion with his 123-yard, three-touchdown showing in less than two quarters’ worth of work on Saturday, but J.T. Barrett may have actually made the more convincing case vs. the Terrapins. With 300 total yards and four touchdowns to his credit in 2½ quarters of action, Barrett remained on track for a potential trip to New York.
• After the game, Meyer was asked who his Heisman candidate is, Samuel or Barrett? His answer: “Beat Michigan State.”
• Regardless of who receives the glory, it’s encouraging to to see Ohio State hitting on all cylinders. After a month of sluggish showings in October, Ohio State appears to be back on track — just in time for its two most physically demanding games of the year.
It will be interesting to see how the added pressure of the next two weeks affect him, but to this point, Meyer has been as loose as I’ve seen him in his five years at Ohio State. The first question of his postgame news conference pertained to a timeout he had called at a point in the game in which he seemed frustrated. The inquiry confused Meyer.
“We just won 62-3,” Meyer reminded the reporter. “Thanks for that question.”
Meyer’s looseness has also manifested itself in a running joke of sorts the past few weeks. When he receives a question he doesn’t like, Meyer has a new method of deflecting. “Beat Maryland” was last week’s mantra. Now “Beat Michigan State” is the mantra.
Speaking of which…
When the 2016 schedule was first released, this looked like another brutal stretch for the Buckeyes, ending the year once again with back-to-back games against Michigan State and Michigan. Last season, it was enough to derail Ohio State’s playoff hopes.
Could a similar scenario play out this year?
With the Spartans holding a 3-7 record this season, it doesn’t seem likely, but it certainly is possible. Michigan State just regained some of its mojo with a 49-0 rout of Rutgers. And if there’s one coach in the Big Ten who’s successfully schemed against Meyer on a consistent basis, it’s Dantonio, who lays claim to a 2-2 record vs. the Buckeyes’ head coach.
Factor in this game being played in East Lansing and it’s hard to see Ohio State walking away with a third consecutive blowout.
Then again, betting against the Meyer-coached Buckeyes in a revenge game scenario is hardly a more appealing option. I asked Ohio State guard Billy Price about the revenge factor of the Buckeyes’ upcoming game. He downplayed it. I expect that to change in the coming days.
Either way, Ohio State has its work cut out of itself in these final two weeks and on top that, the Buckeyes have some scoreboard watching to do. With Penn State facing Rutgers next week, the Nittany Lions will likely enter the final week of the regular season with their Big Ten East title hopes very much alive. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, need to win out and then go from beating the Spartans to rooting for them in their regular season finale vs. Penn State.
As Saturday showed us, it doesn’t take much for your life to change in an instant in the world of college football. For now, Ohio State’s playoff hopes are still very much alive. But the Buckeyes’ final two weeks just got even more interesting than they already were.