Will the Undefeated Big 10 Champs Miss the Playoff?

Texas A&M just beat Tennessee 34-13 to finish the SEC regular season with a record of 8-1. In his postgame interview, Jimbo Fisher made it clear that he believes the Aggies deserve a shot at the College Football Playoff.

He has a point. The Aggies’ only loss was to the Alabama Crimson Tide, who has been dismantling their opponents by record-setting point spreads. The Tide are head shoulders above the rest of college football at the moment.

The SEC is the toughest conference in college football and the Aggies are among its elite. They were ranked number 5 in the nation coming in to the week. So if they were to make the top 4, who’s out?

The top 5 teams in college football going in to the weekend were

  1. Alabama (10-0)
  2. Notre Dame (10-0)
  3. Clemson (9-1)
  4. Ohio State (5-0)
  5. Texas A&M (7-1)

Alabama plays Florida on Saturday evening for the SEC Championship. Even if the Gators (8-2, 7th in the nation) were to pull off the upset, the Tide stays in. They have been absolutely dominant this season.

Notre Dame just lost to Clemson 34-10 in a revenge game for the Tigers. Each of them finishes the season 10-1, with their only losses were to each other – they stay in the top 4.

Which means that the undefeated Big 10 Champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes, should be out.

Why? They simply haven’t played enough football.

Slow to Start

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren in an announcement that changed the landscape of college football.

In the midst of a pandemic, in the interest of player safety, the Big Ten decided to postpone their season.

Many other conferences kept on. It wasn’t until there was a proof of concept, not until other conferences played and were able to pull it off safely, that the Big 10 began to rethink their position.

Eventually, the Big 10 changed their minds. The conference has been met with harsh critique, since it seems that their reinstatement of football was financially motivated. After all, risk of contracting coronavirus continues to increase – numbers are at all-time highs.

But the Big 10 was fading fast. Other conferences were playing on national television while the Buckeyes and the Wolverines and the Hawkeyes were at home – out of sight, out of mind. How could they allow that to happen, especially with signing day approaching?

To add insult to injury, Big 10 student-athletes in other sports were dropping like flies. Iowa cut four sports almost immediately. Without football, the University was staring down the barrel of  $100 million in lost revenue.

So the Big 10 changed their minds. They decided to play.

Too Little, Too Late

Ohio state played their first game on 10/24. They were behind the rest of the country and they have not done enough to catch up.

Ohio State has only played 5 regular season games. By the time Ohio State played their first game, Alabama had already won almost as many game (4) as Ohio State would play in their entire season (5).

It took another rule amendment by the Big 10 to get them into the Championship game, where they edged out Northwestern University 22-10. Northwestern’s run-defense was exposed, but it was not an otherwise dominant outing for the Buckeyes.

Texas A&M’s Fisher notes the obvious gap in schedule, adding that “we’re out there a month longer – the bangs, the bruises, the practices – all that stuff matters …”

Ohio State has played half as many games as the other top teams in the nation. Their best win came in a one score game against upstart Indiana University.

What Matters Most

Ohio State should be out. No big deal. But it’s the players who matter most.

The Ohio State players will say that they did everything they could – won every game they played in, including the Big 10 championship – and there’s not much else they can do. They will say that COVID was the reason for their lack of schedule.

That’s a fair sentiment. And it shines an interesting light on the current state of our nation. How many Americans are saying the same thing right now?

One cannot walk down the streets of Chicago without seeing boarded-up windows and new “For Lease” signs where small businesses once thrived. A local business run by a family I know and love has been in jeopardy of going under due to the COVID regulations – their future is still uncertain. They have been operating for more than 40 years, employing family, building a staff of friends, and serving their community.

They have done nothing wrong. But this year has been a tough one for them. They had to close one of their locations and let go of staff members who had been with them for 20 years. It didn’t work out as they had planned.

Buckeyes, you’re in the same boat.

The Buckeyes did everything they could, but the context of this moment combined with the system within which they operate (the Big 10) has limited their chances of success. That’s something we could all take a moment to reflect on…

The best case scenario would be that the teams who have played full schedules and won will be able to duke it out for a National Championship.

Ohio State should go to a top tier bowl game with the chance go 7-0… which would still be at least 5 games fewer than many of the top teams (who will play 12-13 games).

Their players should let this fuel the next stage of their careers and their lives.

It’s a bitter pill for Ohio State to swallow. It can either debilitate them or fuel them – that much is still in the hands of the Buckeyes.

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