This is why the Big 12 isn’t done yet.
It’s why the Ohio State-Michigan game just got even bigger — even though it’s also why the Big Ten lost its chance to get both teams in the semifinals.
It’s why the 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee don’t release their first ranking until Oct. 30, because the story is just beginning to unfold, and one upset can cause a ripple effect throughout the entire cast of contenders.
When Purdue upended No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday night 49-20, it opened the door for another great debate on Selection Day, as the Big Ten is now guaranteed to have a conference champion with at least one loss — and so are the Big 12 and Pac-12. Instead of the luxury of separation that comes with being undefeated, Ohio State or Michigan needs to finish as a one-loss Big Ten champ — and even that might not be enough for the Buckeyes if Oklahoma can run the table and wow the selection committee in the Big 12 title game.
In spite of their blemishes, though, both Ohio State and Michigan are still very much in contention to finish in the top four and have the strength of schedule to do it, just not together. Until today, the Big Ten’s best chance to get two teams in would have been Michigan winning out and winning the Big Ten. That way Ohio State’s only loss would have been to the Wolverines.
Now? It boils down to one or the other on Nov. 24 — assuming, of course, neither stumbles again before then. Ohio State is now looking up at Michigan in the Big Ten East standings.
“We get a chance to be 8-1, that’s the focus,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after the Purdue loss. “There’s some serious shortcomings right now we gotta get fixed.”
Schedule and win-loss records only get teams so high in the committee’s ranking. Cracking the top four also requires teams pass the so-called eye test, and Ohio State didn’t do that on Saturday. The Buckeyes got hammered — just like last year, when they suffered a 31-point deficit the committee couldn’t get over (Ohio State had also lost to Oklahoma). It was the second straight year the Big Ten champion was left out of the top four and a reminder there’s no guarantee in a system as subjective as the playoff.
“What happened last year versus Iowa … we can still make the Big Ten championship and do what we do to possibly make the playoff,” said Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
On the same day Ohio State lost, Oklahoma beat TCU 52-27, and the committee compares common opponents (Ohio State beat TCU 40-28 on Sept. 15 in Arlington). Ohio State was in the red zone five times against three-loss Purdue and came away with two field goals, and the Buckeyes’ defense has allowed 35 plays of 25-plus yards this season — already five more than all of last year. Haskins (two touchdowns, one interception, 73 pass attempts) was outperformed by unheralded Purdue quarterback David Blough (three touchdowns, no interceptions).
“I thought we were going to come out here and play our tails off,” Meyer said. “I think we had opportunities to get right back in it. Every time you thought we were going to swing and get back in it, didn’t score in the red zone … have a turnover or give up a big hit.”
Both Ohio State and Michigan should finish with a better schedule strength than Oklahoma, though the Sooners still have a chance to beat a ranked West Virginia team on the road and possibly avenge the regular-season loss to Texas by beating the Longhorns in the Big 12 title game.
Ohio State has a neutral site nonconference win against TCU and a road win at Penn State, and it could further impress the committee with a win at Michigan State on Nov. 10 and a home win over rival Michigan on Nov. 24, plus the Big Ten title. Michigan, which could wind up having the best loss in the country if Notre Dame remains undefeated, would also have a playoff-worthy résumé if it wins the Big Ten. The Wolverines are in the midst of a three-game stretch against ranked opponents, having already defeated No. 15 Wisconsin and No. 24 Michigan State.
Ohio State is all-too familiar with being on the brink of a semifinal spot, as the 2014 Big Ten championship game was exactly the boost the Buckeyes needed to get into the top four, while last year’s Big Ten title win over Wisconsin wasn’t enough for the two-loss champs.
Ohio State’s loss to Purdue was another reminder not to prematurely eliminate one-loss teams like Oklahoma from the conversation — and Ohio State might not be the last undefeated team to fall. Clemson, Alabama and Notre Dame can all still lose — and so could Oklahoma.
This is why Ohio State might not be done yet, either.