Big Ten

The curious case of Ohio State: Buckeyes are Big Ten's best, future No. 2, but could miss out on conference title game

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The curious case of Ohio State: Buckeyes are Big Ten's best, future No. 2, but could miss out on conference title game

An absolutely insane Saturday in college football seemed to mean instant euphoria for one team in particular: Ohio State.

The Buckeyes entered the weekend as the No. 5 team in the College Football Playoff rankings, the first team to move into the much-desired top four in case one of those top-four teams tripped up some time in the regular season’s final three weeks.

Well it happened. Boy, did it happen. The Nos. 2, 3 and 4 teams in the rankings all went down Saturday: previously unbeaten Clemson lost to Pitt, previously unbeaten Michigan lost to Iowa, and previously unbeaten Washington lost to USC.

So Ohio State won’t just inch forward in next week’s rankings. It should vault up to the No. 2 spot after taking care of its business, putting a 62-3 whooping on Maryland a week after beating a ranked Nebraska team by the exact same score.

The Buckeyes look deserving of that No. 2 spot, and while the regular-season finale against the aforementioned Wolverines remains titanic, wrapping the regular season at 11-1 should have Ohio State in a perfect position to earn one of those Playoff slots, right?

Well hold everything, because that’s not exactly the case.

The Buckeyes boast a stellar 9-1 overall record and are getting plenty of warranted love from the selection committee and others nationally. But it’s important to remember that one loss, a defeat that came at the hands of Penn State, a team also playing great football at the moment. The Nittany Lions are currently ranked 10th and will probably move up a few spots thanks to the chaos in the top 10 — two other teams, No. 8 Texas A&M and No. 9 Auburn, lost in addition to the three teams in the top four.

But that loss means that Penn State holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with Ohio State, so if the two teams tie at the top of the division standings at season's end, it’ll be the Lions, not the Buckeyes, playing for a conference championship in Indianapolis.

And that looks like a mighty possible scenario at the moment. If Ohio State wins out, it will beat Michigan State and Michigan, handing Michigan its second conference loss and knocking the Wolverines out of the current three-team tie at the top of the East. But if Penn State wins out, it will beat Rutgers and Michigan State — two teams with one combined Big Ten victory this season — and finish with one conference loss. If both those things happen, there’s a two-way tie between the Buckeyes and Lions, which the Lions win.

Obviously, if Michigan beats Ohio State in The Game, the Buckeyes won’t be competing for a conference title, either. Michigan plays Indiana next weekend, and should it win that one and the regular-season finale, it will finish with one conference loss, Ohio State will finish with two. Even if Penn State wins out in that scenario, Michigan goes to Indy because of the head-to-head tiebreaker owned by the Wolverines.

So the only way Ohio State plays for a conference championship is if Penn State trips up in its final two games. That’s possible, sure, but very unlikely considering the quality of the Lions’ final two opponents.

So after all that — Michigan losing to Iowa and two other top-four teams losing to boost Ohio State up to No. 2 in the rankings — the only team in the Big Ten East that still “controls its own destiny” is the Wolverines.

And it’s going to take a lot of luck for the No. 2 team in America and the highest-ranked team in its conference to reach its own conference championship game.

That’s a big deal. The Playoff has only been around for two years, but the eight playoff spots have all gone to conference champions. Obviously the day will come when a non-conference champ has a resume better than conference champs, or at least one worth considering. Maybe that day is rapidly approaching and that team is the Buckeyes.

But if the selection committee holds a conference championship as a prime criterion in determining Playoff worthiness, then Ohio State could be in real trouble. Despite being one of the two best teams in college football.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?