Blessing and a curse? The B1G might have actually hurt Ohio State's College Football Playoff chances with schedule
Is it safe to assume that we all shared the same thought around 11 a.m. on Saturday afternoon — that the B1G was playing the role of overprotective parent to Ohio State, making life as easy as possible for the team perceived to be the conference’s best shot at a College Football Playoff berth?
When the league’s revised schedule was released in full during FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff pregame show on Saturday, that was my initial thought. It appeared to be a conference-wide consensus that the B1G was protecting its best team. Michigan defensive lineman Kwity Paye summed it up best by saying “They gave them boys the easiest schedule,” in a quick Twitter post.
There’s no debating Ohio State was the biggest winner from the new 2020 schedule. The Buckeyes will play just two opponents that were ranked in the Associated Press Preseason Poll — No. 7 Penn State and No. 16 Michigan. Each of the other 13 B1G teams will face at least three ranked teams from the initial Top 25 from August.
Ohio State drew Nebraska and Illinois in crossover games, two teams that posted a combined 11-14 record in 2019. The Buckeyes will not play teams that finished last season with winning records in consecutive weekends. The Penn State game is set for Week 2. Michigan is on the docket for Week 8.
The B1G bulldozed every imaginable roadblock that could obstruct Ohio State’s path to an 8-0 record. A win during Champions Week to finish 9-0 and claim another conference championship would firmly place the Buckeyes in one of the four College Football Playoff slots.
Unless…it actually doesn’t.
What if the assistance from the B1G turns into a hindrance for the selection committee? What if the blessing of favorable matchups becomes a curse due to a lack of quality competition? Is it possible that Ohio State’s schedule actually hurts its national championship aspirations?
The B1G is already behind the 8-ball compared to other Power 5 conferences. Not only is it starting a month after the ACC, Big 12 and SEC, the conference’s teams will play a maximum of nine games — and that’s a best-case scenario. With the league creating a nine-game schedule in a nine-week stretch, there’s absolutely no opportunity for make-up dates, should a team be forced to cancel on a given weekend.
Teams in the ACC are playing 11 games with a conference championship. Both the Big 12 and SEC are moving forward with 10-game models for the 2020 season, and both will also be hosting conference title games at the end of the year. Sure, it’s possible that other conferences experience postponements — we’ve already seen quite a few — but there is some built-in flexibility to reschedule those contests.
It seems more likely, at least on the surface, that those other three leagues are able to play their full allotment of scheduled conference games.
Even if Ohio State runs the table and finishes with a 9-0 record and beats “every team by 50 points,” as ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit suggested, it will be compared to teams that played 10, 11 or even 12 games. During a year in which the Buckeyes are only playing two ranked teams — three assuming their Champions Week opponent is listed in the Top 25 — does an undefeated season serve as the trump card to potentially some one- or two-loss teams from ACC, Big 12 or SEC?
Realistically, there are only a handful of teams competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff this year. Most of them will be playing more teams that were ranked in the preseason polls (for consistency purposes) than Ohio State:
- Alabama – 5 ranked opponents (10 games + CCG)
- Georgia – 4 ranked opponents (10 games + CCG)
- Florida – 4 ranked opponents (10 games + CCG)
- Oklahoma – 3 ranked opponents (10 games + CCG)
- Texas – 3 ranked opponents (10 games + CCG)
- Penn State – 3 ranked opponents (8 games + Champions Week)
- Wisconsin – 3 ranked opponents (8 games + Champions Week)
- Clemson – 2 ranked opponents (11 games + CCG)
- Notre Dame – 2 ranked opponents (11 games + CCG)
In any other year, an undefeated Ohio State probably gets the nod over a one-loss Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma or Notre Dame without debate. That’s far from a guarantee in 2020.
Paving a clear path to an undefeated season for Ohio State was essentially a business decision the B1G made. Earning a spot in the College Football Playoff should net the conference some much-needed cash during a period of financial crisis for athletic departments. Attempting to secure those dollars and cents is an understandable move.
But the B1G might’ve been wise to split up the crossover games. Replacing Illinois with Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesota — while slightly decreasing the likelihood of an undefeated season — would’ve been a resume booster for the Buckeyes. All three were ranked in the preseason poll and finished the 2019 season with double-digit victory totals.
A win over one of those three teams would give Ohio State a much stronger argument for a College Football Playoff bid.
There is one legitimate reason the B1G didn’t add one of the West’s top three teams to Ohio State’s schedule this fall — one that doesn’t accuse the conference of manipulating the eight-game slate in the best interest of its top program.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who chairs the scheduling committee, said that the conference will attempt to avoid rematches for Champions Week, which will pit East vs. West based on order of finish (No. 1 East vs. No. 1 West; No. 2 East vs. No. 2 West; No. 3 East vs. No. 3 West; etc.). There’s a strong possibility the B1G expects Ohio State to win the East and either Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesota to emerge from the West. Perhaps the conference is attempting to secure a true B1G Championship Game on Dec. 19 without having a rematch.
We also have to remember that the weakness of Ohio State’s schedule is based on the preseason polls. Perhaps Nebraska and Illinois will be better than expected and creep into the Top 25. Maybe Mel Tucker will have Michigan State playing well relatively quickly. Or maybe the Buckeyes do win every game by 50 points this season and are undeniably one of the four best teams in the country.
There are still plenty of unknowns.
Right now, the Buckeyes appear to have one of the easier schedules in Power 5 football. Yes, the B1G was trying to do Ohio State, and itself, a favor, but it may actually end up doing more harm than good.