Teams & Conferences

Ohio State Beats Michigan State, But Barely. What Are The CFP Implications?


Ohio State came into East Lansing looking to solidify its standing with the College Football Playoff Committee. It left with a cloud of doubts. But what does the close win mean in the grand scheme of things?


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The unexpected

Can this college football season get any more unpredictable?

Aside from Alabama, there isn’t a team in this great country of ours that’s a solid lock to put up a consistent showing on a weekly basis. Michigan State came into this matchup with an underwhelming 3-7 record, while the Buckeyes seemed to be on a roll after back-to-back 62-3 wins against Nebraska and Maryland.

So, of course this one would go according to script right?

Wrong. On so many levels.

A perfect storm

First things first, who knew that home field advantage for the Spartans meant old man winter showing up beating his chest and paining his face green and white? Weather can be the great equalizer, and it certainly played a part here.

The game started with snow flurries, very windy conditions, and the first real cold snap of the season. It made you think the football gods have a cuddly relationship with a Spartan program that got some rainy and windy conditions to surface last year in Columbus.

But the wintry mix wasn’t all Ohio State had to deal with. This was senior night for the Spartans, and there are 28 players from the state of Ohio on the Spartan sideline. Heck, Dantonio is an Ohio guy.

And with what’s occurred in the Big Ten over the last few years with Ohio State and Michigan State trading blows for Big Ten supremacy, it’s no wonder this thing was built up as a rivalry that did in fact level the talent level.

In the end, Ohio State walked away with a one-point win that could have, and maybe should have gone the other way if not for some mile-marker type of coaching decisions by Mark Dantonio.

The impact

A win is a win is a win. Right?

Maybe, and maybe not. So what does it all mean for the crowded field chasing for a spot in coveted four-team College Football Playoff? Let’s dissect it shall we? There are those already making the case that this showing against a underachieving Spartan team means a lot.

First things first that we have to get out of the way. There are so many “what-ifs” that could occur. What we think we know can change week-to week. However, one thing that’s been all-so-important is the CFP selection committee’s emphasis on winning a conference championship.

To date, we’ve had eight teams in the playoff, and eight conference champions. Yep. That’s a 1:1 relationship. That’s highly important when you factor in the fact that there are five power-five conferences. One of those conference champions is already going to be left out yearly. At minimum.

We also know that Ohio State is currently on the outside looking in when it comes to booking airfare and hotel rooms for Indianapolis, where the annual championship game is held for the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have to beat Michigan next week or none of this matters, but we also know that if Penn State wins out then it owns the tiebreaker in getting to Indy.

That means no shot at an official league championship unless the Nittany Lions stumble. That also means the committee would need to go against the trend and precedent it has set for Ohio State to get into the top four without league hardware in tow.

Could this be the first year the committee puts two teams in from the same conference?

But that was the case whether OSU won or lost today’s contest. With the poor showing today in East Lansing, does that hurt the committee’s chances of overlooking no conference title?

I say this game is a throw-away effort for the committee. You have to look at a team’s body of work, and not one week where a bunch of variables came together. If it was a loss, that would be one thing, but Ohio State was able to tough its way through a trap type of game before the big one next week in Ann Arbor.

Ohio State’s credentials

On the Buckeyes’ résumé, you have a win on the road against a top ten Oklahoma team, an absolute thrashing of a top twenty Nebraska team, and a win on the road against another top ten Wisconsin team.

And there’s still an opportunity to win against a top five Michigan team next week — if the Bucks can pull it off.

And it’s worth mentioning one more thing because of the narrative that has been thrown out there about Ohio State not winning its own division. Remember, the Buckeyes won’t go to Indy should the Nittany Lions win out because of a tie-breaker. A tie-breaker only kicks in … if there is a tie. 

So yeah, Ohio State would be a division winner and recognized by the Big Ten conference with a division crown just like it was last year when Michigan State won a tie-breaker to go to Lucas Oil Energy Stadium over an East division co-champion Buckeye squad.

In fact, this is straight from the Big Ten last year:

This is far from the scenario that we saw at the end of the 2011 season when an SEC West second place Alabama team that finished one game behind LSU for the division championship found its way into the two-team BCS Championship game. And of course the Tide won to tie the series up one game a piece yet walk away with the national title.

So yeah, if everything stays the course, then you could have a one-loss Ohio State team sitting at home, with no shot at a Big Ten trophy, but with one of the best credentials you can find of any team out there, champion or not.

Because of that, this close win on the road in East Lansing means no worse for the wear.

Ahem, until it does …