For the first time since 2012, Ohio State will be sitting at home when the Big Ten Championship Game kicks off in Indianapolis Saturday night.
Thanks to a 17-14 loss to Michigan State on Nov. 21, the Buckeyes finished second in the Big Ten East Division, allowing the Spartans to battle an undefeated Iowa team for conference supremacy.
It’s an unfamiliar situation for an Urban Meyer-led Ohio State team. Each of the last two seasons the Buckeyes went undefeated in conference play in the regular season, winning their division of the Big Ten. The Buckeyes were left out of the title game in 2012, but Ohio State was undefeated and missed it not because of failures on the field but because of sanctions from off-field incidents.
In 2015, the Buckeyes have their own on-field deficiencies to blame.
“It won’t feel good,” safety Vonn Bell said of watching the Big Ten Championship Game. “I won’t know what to do. I’ve been in every Big Ten championship since I’ve been here.”
The Buckeyes’ loss to the Spartans was a culmination of uneven offensive play throughout the season. Ohio State redeemed itself last weekend, dominating rival Michigan to the tune of a 42-13 win, but it could do nothing to erase the Nov. 21 outcome.
The fact that Ohio State is left to depend on outcomes around the country and unable to make its case in the final weekend is a frustrating position, left tackle Taylor Decker said.
“I hate that we don’t control our own destiny right now because we obviously want to make the playoff, but whether that happens or not it’s out of our control and it’s our own fault that it’s out of our control,” Decker said.
Michigan State made sure of that by dominating Penn State, 55-16, in the final week of the regular season to secure its second trip to the conference title game in three years.
“Especially this team, we are used to being in the championship at the end of the year,” Bell said after the win over the Wolverines. “We responded well today, that’s what I would say about the game today.”
Bell added that he felt the Buckeyes would be a worthy representative in the College Football Playoff, feeling that his team should have the right to defend its 2014 title. For that to happen Ohio State will need a number of things to go its way this weekend, and even if all the dominos fall just right, nothing is guaranteed for Urban Meyer’s bunch.
“We have a lot of momentum right now coming off of that (Michigan game),” guard Pat Elflein said. “I just wish we could play this weekend coming off of that. We did all we could with what we’ve got, and we are waiting for chaos to happen this week and try to slip in the playoffs.
“We are just kind of sitting back and waiting to see what is going to happen to us.”
What follows is a look at the Power 5 conference championship games taking place this Saturday with an eye on how the results could impact Ohio State. All rankings listed are those released from the playoff committee Dec. 1.
SEC: No. 18 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama, 4 p.m.
The first power conference championship game of the weekend is an important one for Ohio State. A Florida win would create a two-loss SEC champion and make it likely that the conference that has been the most dominant in the sport in recent years would get shut out of the top four.
The Gators would have a conference championship to their name and wins over two ranked teams in No. 13 Ole Miss and No. 2 Alabama, but they’re coming off a loss to Florida State and have not been good offensively since Treon Harris replaced suspended starter Will Grier at quarterback. Their loss to LSU looks worse with each passing week.
A two-loss SEC champion in Florida would not be a very favorable option for the committee. It also likely won’t come to fruition. The Gators opened as a 17-point underdog to the Crimson Tide, and if anything that betting line has moved even more in Alabama’s favor.
Florida has the 92nd-ranked scoring offense in the country, and the odds of the Gators putting a lot of points on Alabama’s third-ranked scoring defense seem long. The Gators do boast the No. 5 scoring defense on the other side, but the Crimson Tide’s 34th-ranked offense led by running back Derrick Henry seems likely to grind out enough to get past Florida.
The Buckeyes need the Gators to pull one out, but it doesn’t look good for Meyer’s former team.
Pac-12: No. 20 USC vs. No. 7 Stanford, 7:45 p.m.
After the SEC Championship, Ohio State fans can shift their focus out west.
Stanford sits one spot behind the Buckeyes, and despite two losses – one to Northwestern to open the season and a two-point loss to Oregon – a conference championship could push it ahead of Ohio State.
The committee has said conference titles will be used to break ties between what are thought to be comparable teams, and though the Buckeyes have one loss to Stanford’s two, their résumés may be similar enough for the conference championship to be enough to tilt things to Stanford.
Both of Stanford’s losses came to teams ranked by the committee, and it also has wins over No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 20 USC.
While it’s no guarantee that Stanford would jump Ohio State with a conference title, it’s a clear possibility, and it’s obvious that a four-loss USC wouldn’t. A Trojan win would remove at least one obstacle for the Buckeyes.
Big Ten: No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Iowa, 8 p.m.
This one doesn’t really matter for the Buckeyes. The winner of the Big Ten Championship Game is in the playoff, while the loser is out and likely behind Ohio State in the polls.
Buckeye fans should probably root for Michigan State. That would leave Iowa and Ohio State as one-loss teams without conference championships. The committee has liked the Buckeyes all season and would probably jump Ohio State over the Hawkeyes in that scenario.
Despite the Spartans’ win over the Buckeyes on Nov. 14, a two-loss Michigan State team would probably be behind a one-loss Ohio State in the committee’s eyes. To be safe, however, a Spartan victory seems preferable for fans of the Scarlet and Gray.
ACC: No. 10 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Clemson, 8 p.m.
In the most important game of the weekend for Buckeye fans aside from the SEC title game, Ohio State needs North Carolina to knock off the nation’s top team.
Clemson has been No. 1 in the committee’s eyes each week since the playoff rankings began, and that is sure to remain the case if it tops a one-loss Tar Heels team. The question is how a one-loss ACC champion North Carolina team would be viewed relative to the Buckeyes.
If the Tar Heels top the Tigers – not unrealistic considering UNC is on an 11-game winning streak – they would have an impressive win, for sure, but Clemson is by far the best team that North Carolina has faced this season. The Tar Heels enter this game not having played a ranked team and with a loss to 3-9 South Carolina, though that came in the first week of the season.
It’s certainly conceivable that the Buckeyes could be put in the playoff ahead of the Tar Heels despite the disparity in conference championships, while Clemson is a shoo-in with a win. Ohio State should hope for a North Carolina win here as a six-spot climb in the final rankings may be too tall a task for the Tar Heels.
But that’s all the Buckeyes can do – hope. Thanks to the loss to the Spartans, Ohio State lost the control of its title defense. If certain things go the Buckeyes’ way – namely wins by Florida, USC and North Carolina this weekend – they have a chance at backing into the College Football Playoff, but even in that scenario there is nothing guaranteed.
And Ohio State has no one but itself to blame.
“Chaos, that’s what we want, we want chaos,” linebacker Joshua Perry said. “The good thing for us is I think we showed what everybody wanted to see the last time we were on the field. We beat a team that was top-10 at the time on their home turf, and our offense did some things to them that people weren’t supposed to do. So at that point all we can hope for is chaos. We’ve shown people what we can do, so we have to see if the chips fall in the right place.”