The Rivals, Part XV: The Wait

The regular season is over, and neither Ohio State nor Michigan will appear in this year’s Big Ten Championship Game. The only left to do now is wait and see where each team lands in the post-season.

For the Wolverines, the Citrus Bowl is the unanimous pick of experts, and the bowl representatives themselves have expressed interest in Michigan if—as expected—Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State are already off the board. The popular choice for an opponent is Florida, which would be a rematch of the 2008 edition of the game, which Michigan won 41-35. That, you may remember, was Lloyd Carr’s last game as Wolverine head coach, and yes, Urban Meyer was on the other sideline.

As for which sideline Urban Meyer will be stalking this post-season, most experts are projecting the Fiesta Bowl, taking on either Houston or Notre Dame. Either matchup would be intriguing. The former would pit Urban Meyer against Tom Herman, which would poetically tie up one of the year’s biggest storylines: Ohio State’s erratic and often anemic offense. The latter would be a rematch of the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, which Ohio State won 34-20. It would also pit the Buckeyes against former Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly, who famously commented in August that he preferred his two quarterbacks over Ohio State’s.

But, of course, Ohio State fans are hoping for a different outcome. Currently sitting at #6 in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Buckeyes could stand to benefit greatly if a giant chaos storm blows through today’s conference championship games. While I personally think Ohio State’s playoff chances are too slim to consider realistically, there’s no way to know for sure what the committee will do if the upsets start rolling in tonight.

So, what should we be cheering for?

Florida beating Alabama for the SEC title is the least likely outcome of all possibilities. It’s also one of the least dangerous upsets in terms of Ohio State. An 11-2 Gator team, currently #18 after a terrible loss to Florida State, is not going to find themselves in the top four just by beating Alabama. Nor is an 11-2 Crimson Tide team, with no conference championship, going to stay ahead of Ohio State.

Despite having four losses, USC is only a slight underdog to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. Why does Stanford, with two losses and currently ranked one spot behind Ohio State, matter? Because after tonight’s game, they’ll have played twice as many teams with winning records as the Buckeyes, and that has been identified as one of the primary pieces of information the committee considers. With a win, they’ll also be a conference champion and that combined with a strong résumé, would likely be enough to land them ahead of Ohio State in the final rankings.

There are some who believe that with a win over Clemson, North Carolina would have a case to make the playoff. The Tar Heels also have only one loss, but the committee has made their opinion of UNC’s weak schedule, which features two FCS teams, abundantly clear. They’re ranked behind three two-loss teams, including conference-mate Florida State. Unless they blow the Tigers off the field tonight, North Carolina is not cracking the top four.

An argument could also be made that Iowa, should they lose the Big Ten championship game, would be more deserving of a spot than Ohio State, who didn’t even make the game. And if their loss also came on a final-play field goal, there would be some merit to that. But with the way the committee has ranked Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State in consecutive spots, it appears very likely that the loser tonight will drop out of the running. All things considered, it’s probably still best for Iowa to win, but I really don’t think it will be an issue either way. If the Big Ten puts two teams in this playoff, the Buckeyes will be one of them.

Ultimately, if any two of USC, North Carolina and Florida win today, there is a very strong chance that Ohio State will return to the College Football Playoff for a chance to repeat as national champions. But even if it doesn’t work out for us, it looks like we’ll get an intriguing bowl game anyway.

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