The Spread, Week 8: Sending Out An SOS

Perception seems to be the theme here at MotSaG this week, and let’s face it: Perception may turn out to be Ohio State’s toughest opponent all season. After all, we play in the Big Ten, which is apparently the weakest conference that ever conferenced.

It’s no secret that I despise the concept of “strength of schedule.” I’ll spare you the rant, but know that I believe it to be a fake statistic incapable of validity and if you’ve got a spare half-hour, I will convince you of that fact beyond all doubt.

Instead, I want to talk about some practical issues surrounding SOS, especially as it relates to Ohio State and the national championship. First, this is something I actually heard on the radio this week, from a well-respected national sports journalist: Northwestern losing to Wisconsin hurts Ohio State, as does Michigan losing to Penn State. Now, I can maybe see if the argument is that it would be better if Ohio State was the only team to beat Michigan. Still, that would be tempered by the fact that Penn State (who Ohio State also must beat) would be perceived as weaker because of the extra loss. In fact, I think Penn State beating Michigan has the potential to greatly help Ohio State, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

But first let’s hit the Wisconsin/Northwestern concern. This one really baffles me, because I don’t see how anything changes if the outcome is reversed. Wisconsin had a previous (somewhat bogus) loss to Arizona State before losing to Ohio State. Northwestern was undefeated when we beat them. So, how would a 5-1 Northwestern and a 3-3 Wisconsin be any better for OSU than a 4-2 Northwestern and a 4-2 Wisconsin? If both teams win out (or even lose once more) they will be ranked at the end of the season. I’m just not sure how the result of a game between two teams we’ve already beaten can really have much impact on us at all.

Now Penn State: Up until Saturday, the Nittany Lions did not have an impressive win over a good opponent, which Michigan appears to be (for now anyway). This game, and its exciting ending, instantly puts Penn State on Michigan’s level, something that seemed impossible after losses to UCF and Indiana. If Penn State can perform well for the rest of year (after losing to Ohio State, of course) then it should significantly improve the perception of the Big Ten and Ohio State’s schedule.

As for Michigan, they lost in four overtimes. And while I enjoyed it as thoroughly as I have all other misfortunes that have ever befallen the Wolverines, if that ends up being their sole blemish before The Game, will they have taken that much of a hit, perception-wise? More likely the opposite, since many (including me) think they’re going to tank now.

What is it about the Big Ten that draws so much derision from national analysts? If you’re expecting me to answer that, it’s not happening. I don’t know. I don’t get it. Are we a great conference? Probably not. But after six games, every team in the Legends division has at least four wins. Only one team in the entire conference has a losing record. That’s at least as good as any other conference right now. In just a few weeks, the only major conference that will even have a chance at multiple unbeaten teams is the SEC, and that’s only if Missouri can beat Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee in consecutive weeks and if Alabama gets past LSU.

Hopefully the new College Football Playoff Committee completely ignores outside strength of schedule ratings and uses their own judgment when evaluating a team’s accomplishments. If that happens, the sport may have finally emerged from its dark ages.

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