Big Ten may have hurt Ohio State’s College Football Playoff bid

Big Ten may have hurt Ohio State's College Football Playoff bid

There was always this possibility. There was always a chance the Big Ten’s decision to begin its season in late October would come back to bite the powerhouse conference.

COVID-19 doesn’t care about the College Football Playoff. It doesn’t care about fairness.

As the regular season winds down, there is a distinct chance the Big Ten will be left out of the playoff. Ohio State, clearly by the eye test, is one of the four best teams in the country. It recently defeated Indiana, the second-best team in the Big Ten. It is loaded with pro prospects. With a full schedule, quarterback Justin Fields has a legit shot at the Heisman Trophy. But it has only played four games due to the virus and now if one of its final two games — against Michigan State and Michigan — are unable to be played, the Buckeyes would be ineligible for the conference championship game unless the average number of games played throughout the Big Ten falls below six, which is extremely unlikely.

Ohio State had to call off Saturday’s game against Illinois due to a rash of positive tests, which included coach Ryan Day, and the team has paused football activities. Next Saturday against the Spartans is very much in doubt.

Previously undefeated Northwestern, which could’ve been an alternative for the playoff committee in place of Ohio State, played its way out of consideration by losing to mediocre-at-best Michigan State on Saturday. It’s hard to envision Indiana, which was ranked 12th in the committee’s first top 25 on Tuesday, getting in with its loss to Ohio State and really no other notable victories.

The committee cannot include the Buckeyes with any less than seven games, when the other teams they are competing against will have played 10 games, the eye test be damned. There is no minimum threshold of games a team has to play to be considered, but it is common sense. Six games, or possibly even five, is just not enough.

This isn’t meant to criticize the Big Ten’s decision to initially hold off on playing. The league was being safe. It was listening to its medical experts. But when it decided to do a 180 and jam in eight games in eight weeks, there was always a chance it could find itself in this predicament.

Look, maybe Ohio State can play next Saturday. It’s possible the Buckeyes could get through this outbreak within its football program. Day said he would need one true practice to feel comfortable to return to the field. But if the Buckeyes can’t, if the Big Ten winds out without a representative, don’t blame the committee. The conference’s decision to start late — prudent and safe as it may have been — will be the reason.

Look on the bright side

Despite all the cancellations, rising seemingly every week, the limited or absent crowds, Saturday provided an example of why this season has been worth it. It’s why sports are still so important, even amid a pandemic that has brought so much grief and despair. There will be asterisks, but there will also be history we can look back on fondly.

Sarah Fuller
Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller gets a fist-bump from Missouri head coach Eliah Drinkwitz.AP

Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play in a power-conference game when she kicked off for Vanderbilt to open the second half of its 41-0 drubbing at the hands of Missouri. Buffalo junior running back Jaret Patterson equaled the FBS record for touchdowns in a game with eight in a blowout of Kent State and ran for 409 yards.

Fuller hopefully is remembered for starting something meaningful, as a trailblazer for other women to follow her path. Patterson shone a bright light on the talent that exists in the lower levels of Division I college football. These were headlines for all the right reasons, something about this season we can look back on fondly.

Red redemption

The biggest Rutgers fans couldn’t have imagined this. Not from this roster. Not considering the limitations the offseason entailed. But in six Big Ten games, Greg Schiano has led the Scarlet Knights to two wins — two more league victories than they produced the previous two seasons. They have been blown out once. They really should have a third win. Schiano was recruiting well before this season, mostly based on his track record. Now he has tangible results to show recruits, coaches and their families. The future really is bright in Piscataway.

Top 10

1. Alabama (8-0) (Last week: 1)

The Crimson Tide’s playoff drought will end at one year. Even with a loss in the SEC title game to Florida, Nick Saban’s team is going to get selected. It passed its final regular-season test in impressive fashion on Saturday by overwhelming outclassed Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

2. Notre Dame (9-0) (3)

Consider this the latest example of why the Irish are a legit title contender: They held North Carolina’s 12th-ranked scoring offense to just 17 points in a Black Friday victory.

3. Clemson (8-1) (4)

Three weeks after it last took the field, in that double overtime loss to Notre Dame, Clemson thrashed Pittsburgh, 52-17. The Tigers could roll out of bed and beat anyone in this conference other than the Irish by three touchdowns.

4. Ohio State (4-0) (2)

The Buckeyes should send Michigan State a gift basket. The Spartans’ upset of Northwestern makes it unlikely any Big Ten team could make the playoff over Ohio State if Ryan Day’s team is ineligible for the conference title game due to having not played enough games.

5. Florida (7-1) (5)

That’s five straight wins for the Gators, all by at least 16 points. That streak should continue through the end of the regular season, against Tennessee and LSU.

6. Cincinnati (8-0) (6)

Saturday’s COVID-19 postponement of the Bearcats’ game against Temple hurts. They need every opportunity to impress the committee. Two chances, a trip to No. 25 Tulsa and the AAC title game, remain.

7. Texas A&M (6-1) (7)

There is a path, albeit unlikely, for the Aggies to reach the playoff. Ranked fifth in the first College Football Playoff top 25, they at least have a puncher’s chance if they can win out.

8. Indiana (5-1) (8)

This is what a legit program does. Its best player, quarterback Michael Penix Jr., was injured and ineffective, and it didn’t matter. The defense came up huge in a commanding victory over Maryland.

9. BYU (9-0) (10)

The College Football Playoff committee sent BYU a message by ranking it 14th: Add a big game, play somebody. Otherwise, your undefeated record won’t mean much.

10. Iowa State (7-2) (NR)

A win over West Virginia locks up Iowa State’s first Big 12 crown in program history. Coach Matt Campbell, who has guided the Cyclones to four straight winning seasons, is going to be a hot name for open jobs in both college and the NFL yet again.

Dropped out: Oregon (3-1)

Heisman Watch

(predicted finish)

QB Kyle Trask, Florida

This has shades of Joe Burrow, a quality player exploding his senior year as arguably the best player in the country, having already thrown 34 touchdown passes, just three interceptions and completing 71.4 percent of his passes.

Kyle Trask
Florida quarterback Kyle TraskAP

QB Mac Jones, Alabama

Jones’ Iron Bowl numbers in two games: 44-for-65, 637 yards and nine touchdown passes. Remember, he showed this potential last year against Auburn.

QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Rust? What rust? In his first game in nearly five weeks, Lawrence was brilliant, throwing for 403 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout of Pittsburgh.

QB Zach Wilson, BYU

Wilson should have been paying attention to Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson’s eight-touchdown performance on Saturday. He needs that kind of attention-grabbing effort in his finale in two weeks.

QB Justin Fields, Ohio State

As I wrote weeks ago, COVID-19 would determine the Heisman Trophy winner. Unfortunately for Fields, it’s basically taken him out of the race.