In the history of the College Football Playoff, there has never been more than one Big Ten team in a season.
And that’s likely to be the case this year, too, even though there are scenarios where both No. 3 Michigan and No. 2 Ohio State gets in, depending on how things shake out in the battle of unbeatens this weekend in Columbus, Ohio.
Most analysts believe Ohio State (11-0) could get in even if it suffers a narrow loss to Michigan (11-0). Analysts don’t like it the other way around, even if Michigan loses a close one.
More:UM sticks at No. 3 in playoff rankings; Georgia, OSU, TCU round out the Top 4
“If Michigan loses this week, it’ll be a little bit more difficult,” said Johnny Avello, head of DraftKings Sportsbook. “It’s definitely the (strength of) schedule, and who’s perceived as the better team right now — Ohio State.
“But there’s still some football to be played.”
In the latest College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night, Georgia (11-0), the defending national champion, is No. 1, followed by Ohio State, Michigan and the other unbeaten in college football, TCU (11-0).
Georgia plays Georgia Tech this week, before meeting LSU (9-2) in the SEC championship game. TCU plays Iowa State this week, before playing either Texas or Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game.
Michigan and Ohio State are playing for a berth in the Big Ten championship game, against either Iowa, Purdue or Illinois, depending on how this weekend shakes out. Most assume the winner of the Big Ten title game will come from the East Division, as it has every year since the East/West configuration began in 2014.
Any undefeated teams are heading for the four-team playoff, of course, and a one-loss Georgia team probably is, too. The question is, what other one-loss teams could go, depending on how things play out? Southern Cal is 10-1, and so is Clemson. No two-loss team has ever made the College Football Playoff, but LSU (9-2) was ranked fifth Tuesday night, leaving that door open — should it beat Georgia in the SEC championship game.
“TCU feels like a loss waiting to happen, which is a shame, because I like that program,” said Joshua Perry, former Ohio State linebacker and a current Big Ten Network analyst. “The USC thing, I am fully convinced that Notre Dame is going to beat them. So there’s an opportunity here. I would say certainly the game would have to be a close one for people to consider that. And there would be some outside forces, but would I love to see it happen? Absolutely. I’m tired of all this SEC lovefest.”
Michigan has uncertainty in the running game with Blake Corum, a Heisman hopeful who missed most of the second half of last week’s game because of a leg injury, and Donovan Edwards, who did not play Saturday. The Wolverines are looking for a second straight win over the Buckeyes, and a second straight CFP trip.
Ohio State is looking for a fifth trip to the College Football Playoff.
Both teams are coming off lackluster wins: Michigan over Illinois and Ohio State over Maryland.
“You need USC to lose,” said Jake Butt, former Michigan tight end and also a current BTN analyst, when asked if both Michigan and Ohio State can make the CFP. “There’s a chance both get in, yeah, but they need help.”
Ohio State would get more credit with one loss, analysts believe, because it beat now-No. 13 Notre Dame in the non-conference schedule. Michigan’s nonconference schedule was horrifically light. Ohio State’s schedule ranks as the 37th-toughest in the country, still not great, but far better than Michigan’s ranking of 63rd.
For ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, the game has the feel of 2006, when they met as unbeatens and Nos. 1 and 2 in the country, just days after Bo Schembechler died.
Ohio State won that game, 42-39, also in Columbus.
“I don’t know if it is truly winner-take-all, but it certainly feels that way when you show up undefeated vs. undefeated and everything is on the table,” Herbstreit said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
“They’ve been building everything to get to this point.”
The Michigan-Ohio State game, playing in its traditional noon slot, in front of a huge Fox television audience that will be buoyed by the stakes, as well as the fact that it will be the most-wagered game of the weekend. That’s despite a 9 am Vegas kickoff.
Ohio State is a 7.5-point favorite, a line that could move to 8, but probably not down to 7, Avello said. Ohio State was a 7-point favorite when it lost to Michigan last year in Ann Arbor. DraftKings has the over-under number at 57. It also has Ohio State at +230 to win the national title, and Michigan at +1000.
We’ll know soon enough if one of the rivals will get to play for it all, or if both of them do.
“This is down to really eight teams,” said Avello, who includes the four unbeatens, Southern Cal and Clemson, as well as LSU and Oregon on the fringes. Regarding the Michigan-Ohio State game, he leans towards the Buckeyes, given the injury questions with the Wolverines, and Ohio State’s edge at QB, with CJ Stroud over steady-if-not-spectacular JJ McCarthy.
“If (Ohio State’s) lose the game and it’s a close game, looking at everything they’ve done all year long, they’ll still be in the mix.”
Angelique S. Chengelis contributed.