What happens for the Big Ten’s College Football Playoff chances if Penn State beats Ohio State?
Whenever Penn State has come up in the College Football Playoff talk the last two weeks, the discussion always includes something to the tune of, “Everything is in front of them.” Meaning they have to beat No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday or else they’re eliminated.
But I haven’t heard much chatter about what happens if No. 8 Penn State actually wins. And hey, maybe that’s somewhat understandable because it’s difficult to imagine any Big Ten team beating Ohio State, which has undeniably been the most complete team in the country to this point. To that point, the Buckeyes are favored by 19 — a somewhat ridiculous spread considering this is a matchup of a 10-0 team and a 9-1 team.
So, hypothetically, let’s say Penn State wins. What does that mean for the Big Ten? Is it a good thing or a bad thing for the league as a whole?
My initial reaction is that the league should definitely be rooting for the undefeated team that is ranked second overall (and could potentially move up to No. 1 with its grueling end-of-season schedule). No need to mess with that.
But Ohio State losing this game wouldn’t mean the end of its CFP hopes; it would mean that the Big Ten would still have three teams alive (including Minnesota). I think there’s a case to be made that the Big Ten has the best chance to get two teams in — even better than the SEC. There are multiple scenarios where the Big Ten gets multiple teams in the CFP, while the SEC has just one viable route, absent absolute chaos: Georgia beats LSU in the SEC championship game. (That’s right, there is no path for Alabama without absolute chaos.)
The caveat for the Big Ten is that these all involve close losses (not like Ohio State to Purdue last year). That’s a counter to the narrative out there that the SEC still has a really good chance for two CFP teams.
The All State Playoff predictor says it's still more likely than not we see multiple SEC teams in the CFP pic.twitter.com/tT6by0w0Uf
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) November 19, 2019
If Minnesota beats an undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, the Golden Gophers are undoubtedly in, and a one-loss Buckeyes team with four top 20-wins (Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan) would still have a stronger resume than Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma and Alabama – basically any non-LSU squad, and that one would certainly be up for debate. In fact, Kirk Herbstreit and Reece Davis speculated Tuesday night that it would be Ohio State that got in over LSU if this scenario played out.
If Penn State edges Ohio State and goes on to win the Big Ten title, it is obviously in (it already has four wins over Power Five programs with winning records). If Ohio State went on to win at Michigan the following week, it would still have a great case at a top-four spot over the other one-loss teams. With the way the Buckeyes have dominated – they are one of two teams in the last 100 years to win their first 10 games by at least 24 points – it just doesn’t seem possible that any of the one-loss teams make it in over them.
The danger for Ohio State is like 2015 all over again – when the Buckeyes lose at home by just three points for their only loss, get left out of the Big Ten championship game and the CFP, despite spending 10 weeks at No. 1. The difference is that this year’s team is absolutely steamrolling opponents and has looked near flawless every step of the way, while the 2015 squad had several close calls before the loss. Anyway, if Oregon or Utah win convincingly over the other in the Pac 12 title game, or LSU suffers a narrow loss to Georgia, that would be trouble for Ohio State in this scenario.
This is all possible because Tuesday’s rankings looked very good for the Big Ten. While the SEC may have the top unbeaten, one-loss team and two-loss, the committee clearly thinks highly of the Big Ten as it has five of the top 13 and six of the top 17. That means lots of chances for quality wins, and it helps that Michigan and Wisconsin have continued playing well.
The SEC only has five ranked teams, and it seemed notable that it put a 6-4 Iowa State team at No. 22 and didn’t rank a 7-3 Texas A&M squad. (The Aggies are ranked No. 24 in both the AP Poll and Coaches Poll.) If Texas A&M isn’t ranked now, it surely won’t be after playing Georgia and LSU the last two weeks and finishes 7-5. That matters because A&M is Alabama’s best win. Alabama’s best chance at a quality win is Auburn, which is down to No. 15 and could wind up near 20 by the end of the regular season. Without Tua Tagovailoa, it is even harder to justify a one-loss Alabama squad based on the “eye test.”
For now, these rankings are just fodder, and we’ll have a much clearer vision of the Big Ten’s CFP outlook after this week. But even with an Ohio State loss, the league is set up to end its two-year CFP drought.