Why Penn State must make the College Football Playoff over Ohio State with a Big Ten title
Over the past couple days a verrrrrrry interesting conversation surrounding the College Football Playoff has emerged: Is it really possible that Penn State will be left out of the final four in favor of Ohio State, even if the Nittany Lions were to win the Big Ten title game?
To quote Ted Wells, “It seems more probable than not,” as the committee has firmly stated that Alabama and Ohio State are its top two, with Clemson and Washington behind them. Therefore, if the Tide, Tigers and Huskies win this weekend (with the Buckeyes not playing), it looks like the Nittany Lions could get squeezed out of the playoff. If anything, it seems like the Nittany Lions are battling with Washington more at No. 4 for a playoff spot, than Ohio State.
It’s insane that Penn State could be left out in favor of the Buckeyes. And although the committee seems to be hinting otherwise, I’m not willing to concede that Ohio State is a “lock” to make the Final Four. The Buckeyes aren’t, and with a big statement win Saturday, Penn State could make a heck of case it should be in.
How strong is that case? Here are five reasons Penn State should be in the playoff over Ohio State with a win in the Big Ten title game:
Head-to-head has to matter
I understand that “head-to-head” can’t be the only metric by which we measure these teams. If that were the case, Pitt would be headed to the playoff ahead of Clemson (same with USC and Washington). We all know it’s preposterous, but we also can’t dismiss it. And in case you haven’t heard, Penn State did beat Ohio State in Happy Valley, 24-21, back in October.
At some point, especially when resumes are so close, doesn’t the actual game on the field have to matter? Don’t we have to go somewhere beyond our “gut” or who we “think” looks better and use actual, tangible data? I actually think Michigan is better than both teams – the Wolverines smoked Penn State and were a bad referee’s call away from beating the Buckeyes. So if we’re going simply by “feel” and “opinion,” why not plug in the Wolverines over both?
Of course, you can’t just put in Michigan because in the eyes of most college football fans that would be preposterous – the Wolverines just lost to Ohio State! Only that’s the exact rhetoric we’re using in favor of the Buckeyes.
Penn State will be the Big Ten champs
Again, doesn’t winning your conference have to actually mean something in picking playoff teams (at least when resumes are close)? Otherwise, what’s the point of actually playing the game?
If I were James Franklin, I’d be playing that up more publicly. I’d use every platform to reference the fact that the committee is trying to turn the Big Ten title game into a glorified exhibition. If that’s the case, the committee should do the right thing and just tell Penn State “nothing you do in Indy matters.” Then the Nittany Lions can truly treat it like the exhibition the committee is trying to turn it into. They can rest their starters, get some of their younger guys reps and prepare for bowl season. Since you’re telling the Nittany Lions that the Big Ten title game doesn’t matter, why shouldn’t they treat it like such?
But if we’re going to actually play conference title games, they have to actually mean something. And being a conference champion – again, when virtually everything else is equal – should mean something. Especially when you consider…
Are we sure Ohio State is better than Penn State?
One of the biggest factors I continue to hear in Ohio State’s favor (at least from the public) is that it's simply “better” than Penn State is. First off, “eye test” isn’t a measure the committee uses. Second, are we even sure that’s the case?
Yes, Penn State lost two games compared to Ohio State’s one, but the Nittany Lions are also easily the hottest team in the Big 10, if not the country. They’re currently sporting an eight-game win streak since losing to Michigan (that includes a win over the Buckeyes) and have won their last four by an average of over 28 points per game.
By the way, am the only one who remembers that a week before Ohio State toppled Michigan (in the most controversial fashion) the mighty, unbeatable Buckeyes had to hold on for dear life in a 17-16 win over Michigan State? Yeah, that’s the same Michigan State team that lost by 33 to Penn State a week later, for what it’s worth.
Penn State’s resume isn’t complete
This is the biggest factor that no one – even smart people – seems to understand. Yes, Ohio State is No. 2 this week. And it should be. But when the committee makes its final selections, it isn’t measuring Ohio State and Penn State’s resumes now. It is measuring them after Saturday. And while the Buckeyes can’t do anything to improve their resume, Penn State can. Actually, beating Wisconsin would be a big part of the Nittany Lions' overall body of work. And they can’t be accurately measured until the game is over.
And that’s a factor that no one is considering. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Penn State goes out and crushes Wisconsin this weekend. Let’s say the final score is 49-3 (I don’t expect this to happen, but let’s say it does). Isn’t that a HUGE part of Penn State’s resume? That it just destroyed the No. 6 team in the country? One that nearly beat Ohio State earlier this year?
It’s unfair – and factually incorrect – to call Ohio State a “lock” to make the playoff at this point. There’s still a week of football left.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY SportsMatthew OHaren
There is a historical precedent for this
Which ironically, Ohio State came out on the right end of two years ago.
As we all remember, the Buckeyes went into the final weekend of the 2014 season ranked No. 5 in the country, behind both TCU and Florida State, which just so happened to be Nos. 3 and 4 in the polls heading into that weekend. Then the Buckeyes absolutely laid waste to Wisconsin, beating them 59-0 in the Big Ten title game. Less than 24 hours later, the Buckeyes jumped TCU into the Final Four.
The committee has shown a willingness to move teams around after a big win on the final weekend, and use a championship game victory as a major measuring point in a team’s resume.
Will the committee do the same this weekend? It should. With a win, Penn State should be in the College Football Playoff over Ohio State.