It was a wild night in college football, and no place more-so than in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, where the first, big shake-up in the race for the playoff occurred. Penn State returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown with just over four minutes to go, to stun No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21.
This was Ohio State's first loss, and one in a different era — like the BCS days just a few short years ago — that might have ruined its season. While folks all over the internet are going be writing “the-sky-is-falling,” “all- hell-is-breaking-loose” narratives, here’s the simple truth for Ohio State: The loss, while not ideal, is not necessarily season-defining.
The reason is simple. At this point, the Buckeyes need to do exactly what they had to do when they woke up Saturday. They need to win the rest of their regular-season games including Michigan in their season finale, beat whomever they would face in the Big Ten title game, and they’re in the playoff. It’s that simple.
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Looking at the big picture, the playoff race is starting to shake itself out. Alabama is in the driver’s seat in the SEC, Clemson in the ACC and Washington in the Pac-12. The fourth spot will likely go to the Big Ten champ; although Baylor and West Virginia are making things interesting in the Big 12. That’s also why it all comes down to the game against Michigan for Ohio State, and then the Big Ten title game.
For starters, it's worth noting that if Ohio State wins out and beats Michigan, it would win the Big Ten East, even if Penn State wins out. All three teams would end with one conference loss (against each other), however the first tie-breaker is overall losses. That would eliminate the Nittany Lions from the Big Ten title game (the technical Big Ten tie-break rules are below).
And then if Ohio State were to win that game, well, its resume would be as impressive as any one-loss team in college football.
The Buckeyes would have a conference championship, with wins over a likely Top 5 Michigan team, a Top 10 Wisconsin team (on the road), a Top 10 Nebraska team (who they play next week), and likely another Top 10 team (either Nebraska or Wisconsin) in the Big Ten championship game. Not to mention, they also have a head-to-head win over Oklahoma, which could be the Big 12 champ when it’s all said and donel. That’s a staggering resume, even more so when you consider how much the College Football Playoff committee values out-of-conference scheduling and winning your conference championship.
Point being, this feels like a dark day for Ohio State, but it isn’t.
The road back to the College Football Playoff and a potential national championship is in front of Ohio State.
The Buckeyes know what they have to do … whether they do it is another story altogether.