No conference title? No problem. It's happened before
Ohio State didn't win the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes will play for a much bigger prize. Their national title hopes are still very much intact.
That's rare, but not unprecedented.
Ranked second by the AP and third by the playoff committee, the Buckeyes will take on Clemson in a national semifinal . Ohio State is the first team in the playoff's three-year history to be included despite failing to win its conference.
During the Bowl Championship Series era, however, three teams made it to the title game after falling short within their conferences. Here's a look at how it happened:
NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS (2001)
Why They Didn't Win Their Conference: The Cornhuskers were undefeated heading into their regular-season finale at Colorado, but the Buffaloes drubbed Nebraska 62-36. That prevented the Cornhuskers from even playing in the Big 12 championship game.
''We really had a big dream,'' Nebraska QB Eric Crouch said after the game. ''Those are over with now. This is going to be a tough one to swallow.''
What Happened Next: Nebraska fell from first to fourth in the BCS standings after the loss, trailing Miami, Florida and Texas. Florida lost to Tennessee the following week, and Texas fell to Colorado in the Big 12 title game. Tennessee briefly held the No. 2 BCS slot before losing to LSU in the SEC championship game.
Nebraska, which hadn't played at all since being routed by Colorado, ended up back at No. 2 in the BCS standings, just ahead of Colorado and Oregon. Both major polls had Oregon No. 2.
What Happened In The End: Nebraska was ranked No. 4 in the AP poll when it took the field for the BCS title game at the Rose Bowl. The Cornhuskers were overmatched. Miami led 34-0 at halftime and went on to win 37-14.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS (2003)
Why They Didn't Win Their Conference: The Sooners went unbeaten during the regular season but were routed 35-7 by Kansas State in the Big 12 title game.
''I'm not going to sit here and lobby for any bowl,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said afterward. ''We just got whipped. They outplayed us in every part of the game.''
What Happened Next: Stoops didn't need to lobby. Oklahoma was No. 1 in the BCS standings before it lost to Kansas State – and still No. 1 afterward. The Sooners ended up facing LSU in the BCS title game. Southern California was left out despite being No. 1 in both polls.
The Final Result: Playing in its home state at the Sugar Bowl, LSU held off Oklahoma 21-14 to take the BCS title. USC, which beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl, won the AP national title.
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (2011)
Why They Didn't Win Their Conference: Alabama hosted LSU in a matchup of unbeatens on Nov. 5, with the Tigers prevailing 9-6 in overtime. Neither team lost for the rest of the regular season, so it was the Tigers who represented the SEC West in the league title game.
''I'd be honored to face that team again,'' LSU coach Les Miles said after the victory over the Crimson Tide.
What Happened Next: Alabama fell only one spot to No. 3 in the BCS standings after losing to LSU, but there were a few undefeated teams still to contend with – Oklahoma State at No. 2, Stanford at No. 4 and even Boise State at No. 5. Stanford and Boise State lost the following weekend, and Oklahoma State's double-overtime loss to Iowa State on Nov. 18 opened the door for an LSU-Alabama rematch in the BCS title game.
The Final Result: In another defensive struggle, Alabama held LSU to five first downs, beating the Tigers 21-0 to claim the national title.
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25 .
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister