College Football Playoff Notebook: The Ohio State Conundrum Has an Easy Fix

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 2, 2020

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields throws a pass against Indiana during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State beat Indiana 42-35. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson remain atop the College Football Playoff rankings, but Ohio State is the biggest story of the week.

Because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the program, the No. 4 Buckeyes didn't travel to Illinois last Saturday. As a result, they're now in jeopardy of falling below the Big Ten's arbitrary six-game minimum to compete in the Big Ten Championship Game.

That scenario has stirred concern about Ohio State not winning a Big Ten title and impacting its CFP hopes. If either upcoming game (at Michigan State on Saturday or vs. Michigan next week) is canceled, the Buckeyes would fall short of six pre-championship games.

However, it shouldn't be this complicated.

The best (and easiest!) decision is entirely in the Big Ten's control. It's this simple: Eliminate the six-game minimum and put Ohio State against Northwestern on the championship stage.

Results have almost officially shown this is what should happen. Indiana lost to the Buckeyes, and no other East Division program is better than 2-2 (Maryland). Ohio State and Northwestern can both clinch a division title with one more win.

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Ohio State beat Northwestern in the 2018 Big Ten title game.
Ohio State beat Northwestern in the 2018 Big Ten title game.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Might some critics believe the Big Ten is catering to Ohio State? Who cares? Since the Buckeyes are the best option to represent the league in the playoff, make it happen!

This six-game minimum is exclusive to 2020a year in which we're making it up along the wayso why should this suddenly be an immovable obstacle?

Just look at the ACC.

Hours before Tuesday's CFP release, the ACC announced it will evaluate Notre Dame, Clemson and Miami on a nine-game league schedule instead of 10. The league literally removed a game for No. 2 Notre Dame and is not rescheduling a 10th for No. 3 Clemson. Yet the only people even mildly upset at the decision are those who believe the ACC is protecting both teams' playoff hopes.

So what?

This isn't difficult.

Is the Big Tenthe conference that canceled the season first because it expected the rest of the sport to follow, said it would not reconsider, in fact reconsidered and started in late Octoberactually scared of some bad press? Maybe.

But just imagine the backlash if Ohio State is left out of the CFP because it didn't win a conference championship. That would be markedly more intense than a quick-to-fade perception that the Big Ten wants to protect Ohio State's playoff hopes.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren
Big Ten commissioner Kevin WarrenMichael Conroy/Associated Press

Sure, this hypothetical might be irrelevant in two weeks. If the Buckeyes play both Michigan State and Michigan, they'll either be 6-0 and heading to the Big Ten Championship Game or, after a loss, removed from CFP consideration.

These are not mutually exclusive points, though.

Unlike the Big Ten, the College Football Playoff selection committee has no minimum requirement for the number of games to be considered. In theory, Ohio State could be undefeated, not appear in the Big Ten title game and still be slotted as a playoff team.

Based on two weeks of evidence, that's entirely probable, too.

If you're convinced Ohio Stateas long as it's undefeatedhas practically sealed its place as a Top Four team, we wouldn't argue. Only two outcomes, really, can alter that perception.

First, let's say Florida wins the SEC and Clemson the ACC. Ohio State would be compared to one-loss champions (Florida, Clemson) and highly respected runners-up (Alabama, Notre Dame). While not certain, it's plausible Ohio State could be left out.

The second would be the CFP committee calling Cincinnatiafter it wins a conference titlea comparable team. But this is far more unlikely to happen than the first scenario.

After the initial poll, per Dan Hope of Eleven Warriors, committee chairman Gary Barta said there was "no hesitation" to place Ohio State at No. 4. Neither team played last weekend, so nothing changed in this week's poll. If the Buckeyes and Bearcats are not viewed as comparable, the "championships won" portion of the committee's criteria does not apply.

Yet if having that championship bolsters Ohio State's resume, the Big Ten should be scrambling to provide the opportunity. If any of the conference's 13 other schools were in Ohio State's spot, they'd rightfully be seeking the same adjustment.

           

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.