B1G Debate: What should the Big Ten do about Ohio State?
Editor’s note: Ryan O’Gara and Connor O’Gara grew up following sports in suburban Chicago. The brothers, separated by 20 months, debated about their favorite teams and players so often that their father would often have to remind them, “This isn’t PTI.” Each Friday, they’re bringing that debate to you, centered around the Big Ten and college football as a whole.
This week’s topic: What should the Big Ten do about Ohio State?
RYAN: Ohio State, the only Big Ten team with a chance at the College Football Playoff, is in a precarious position. If Ohio State has one more cancelation, it won’t be eligible for the Big Ten Championship Game. While the Buckeyes are proceeding as if they will play Michigan State this weekend (which would be a bit surprising considering every other team with a COVID outbreak has had to cancel multiple games), it’s far from a guarantee that they will be able to play Michigan next week. This is obviously a very troubling development for the Big Ten, as its premier program is on the verge of being left out of the conference title game and the College Football Playoff for having games canceled and not actually losing on the field.
So, what should the Big Ten do?
The first order of business should be to scrap this dumb minimum games requirement in order to qualify for the title game. Yes, it was agreed upon before the season, though probably in the midst of the rush to just get this season off the ground. The rule was probably not intended to keep the best team out of the title game, but rather to keep an inferior team out of the title game that goes 3-0 by beating lower-tier teams like Rutgers, Illinois and Maryland (no offense to Rutgers, Illinois and Maryland) and by luck avoids tougher teams Ohio State, Wisconsin, etc. Ohio State is clearly the best team in the conference, as it has proved on the field by beating Indiana, and no one can deny that.
Even though a conference title is not a qualifier for the CFP, it sure as heck doesn’t hurt to have that on the resume.
I thought Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez’s comments from earlier this week on that topic were interesting. “I would think that if something would happen to Ohio State and they’d have to cancel another game, that that’s something that we’ve got to revisit. They’re sitting up there still ranked No. 4. Our league can’t keep them from having the opportunity if they have a chance to be in the finals.” He also added, “Those are things we talk about and certainly you’ve got to consider, or reconsider.”
To me, that’s a very encouraging sign that there are those in the Big Ten who are willing to be flexible. We’ve seen the Pac 12 allow teams to schedule games on the fly, contrary to what the Big Ten’s stance was earlier this season. We’ve seen the ACC rework its schedule to ensure an equal playing field for its title game participants.
Is this the right course of action for the Big Ten? Should it be doing more? Something different than what Alvarez is suggesting?
CONNOR: First of all, what a wild thought that this is a conversation that we’re having in December. When we look back at sports in 2020, they’ll need to be remembered for being the biggest free-for-all in human history. College football as a whole is usually so regulated, and talking about what a league should do with a team’s remaining schedule would’ve baffled me in any non-2020 year.
As for what the league should do, I actually don’t know how important it is to scrap the B1G Championship. At this point, does it really matter? I don’t think the selection committee is really going to make a determination about Ohio State based strictly on that. I think at this point, it’s more about getting Ohio State the most matchups. While the B1G could scrap the minimum games requirement — something that was put in place to make sure a 2-1 team didn’t play for a conference title — this is going to come down to games played.
Alvarez gets it. Why? He’s been on that selection committee. He understands the importance of this stretch right now. This isn’t a forgone conclusion that Ohio State can just play 5 games and assume it’ll get in. Alvarez is right that the B1G needs to create some flexible scheduling, even if that upsets teams like Nebraska. It’s different when it’s all being played within the league, and the protocols can still be followed. It’d be foolish not to have some wiggle room.
You’re right that the Pac-12 has done a fine job of scheduling games on the fly. Even the non-Power 5 conferences have done well with that. I mean, BYU and Coastal Carolina just created a matchup on Wednesday night roughly 2.5 days before the Chants were set to host Liberty for College GameDay. I don’t want to hear any excuse of “there’s not enough time.” If there’s no tickets to sell, there’s absolutely enough time.
Pivoting Ohio State’s schedule is about the only option of flexibility that the B1G has. If Ohio State were to only wind up with 5 games because the league stood by its original “all gas, no breaks” scheduling model, this could come back to bite the league in a major way. It always has been about making sure the league has a chance to earn a Playoff bid, and at this point, anything that’s done to jeopardize that is incredibly blind.
If the conference championship games requirement isn’t changed, Ohio State and Wisconsin seems like an obvious Dec. 19 pairing, doesn’t it?
RYAN: Ohio State and Wisconsin (or Iowa) would arguably be a better matchup than facing Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game. But I still think it’s important for the Buckeyes to get that primetime slot on Dec. 19 and all the attention that comes with it. It’s still important for that visual of the Buckeyes hoisting that trophy and Ryan Day getting interviewed on FOX about why they deserve to be in. I think Alvarez understands that, which is why he made those comments.
Here are 2 more questions worth considering, and I think they’re somewhat connected.
1) How many games does Ohio State need to play?
2) Does Ohio State control its own destiny?
If Ohio State plays the next 3 weeks to get to 7 games, then yes, I think it controls its own destiny. But if Ohio State only plays 2 of the next 3 weeks, then the Buckeyes are going to need some help.
In a scenario where Florida beats Alabama in a close game in the SEC Championship Game and Clemson edges Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game, who do you leave out of those 4 for Ohio State? It would be very difficult to make the case to omit any of those 4. Even in a scenario with Ohio State at 7-0, that’s a difficult discussion. Ohio State should be rooting hard for Notre Dame and Alabama in those conference title games. That’s to say nothing of Texas A&M, which could be sitting there at 9-1.
It’s strange to think now, but the Big Ten’s revised schedule protected top teams like Ohio State and Penn State in order to give them the clearest path to the CFP, but in the end, it’s going to hurt them. Ohio State needs more quality opponents on the schedule, thanks to Penn State and Michigan underperforming. That’s why I think that yes, Ohio State needs more games, but it also needs a few headline grabbers, like the Big Ten Championship Game.
And one last question: How does the Big Ten justify all of this to other league members, like Nebraska? Because manipulating the schedule now will be viewed as favoring Ohio State, when the B1G wouldn’t bend the rules for Nebraska earlier this season.
CONNOR: The “control their own destiny” question should probably go on the back burner for anyone and everything in 2020, right? But in a weird way, I actually don’t think that the Buckeyes are in that spot anymore. Barring something like a Texas A&M/Clemson/Notre Dame/Alabama/Florida regular season loss — something that’s still pretty unlikely — I think they do need to get 3 more games in and then HOPE that your scenario doesn’t play out.
If Alabama goes 10-0 with all of its wins by at least 3 scores, it’ll have a bid clinched before the Playoff. That’s an incredible accomplishment for anyone in a Power 5 conference even if the SEC isn’t what it was pegged to be this year. If Notre Dame goes into the ACC Championship unbeaten and doesn’t lose 38-0 to Clemson, I think the selection committee looks at an Irish team who won every road game by at least 14 points and says that’s still a Playoff team.
That’s the problem for Ohio State. While I don’t think Florida will beat Alabama in the SEC Championship, the Gators upsetting Alabama would create the scenario in which the SEC and ACC took all of the Playoff spots. And as you mentioned, it’s not like the B1G could even just line up 3 consecutive top-10 opponents for Ohio State to leave no doubt. There’s no real scenario in which Ohio State ends up with more quality wins than those 4 teams IF Florida were to win the SEC Championship. Sure you could line up Wisconsin, but who else could Ohio State play that would be deemed a quality win?
The Buckeyes should be rooting for Alabama and Notre Dame. If those teams win out, the Buckeyes breathe a whole lot easier knowing that a 6-0 or 7-0 mark should be enough.
How does the league justify this to its members? That’s a tricky question. Lord knows the B1G aren’t writing the book on communication. Maybe you just let Ohio State getting to the Playoff or perhaps the national championship do the talking? There’s no question the league benefits when one of its members wins a title. At this point, I think you’ve gotta just hope that your athletic directors understand the bigger picture.
RYAN: The biggest issue would’ve been if Ohio State couldn’t play against Michigan State this weekend, but as of this writing on Thursday, the game is still on. That’s a very positive development for Ohio State. The Big Ten will hopefully have an idea early next week about the status of Michigan’s availability, with plenty of time to adjust if necessary.
This is going to be a day-by-day, week-by-week situation from here on out. Let’s hope the Big Ten gives Ohio State the best possible chance to determine its fate on the field.