It was a victory for the ages. And yet a win that was, as ESPN analyst Danny Kanell put it, “inconsequential.”
Welcome to the College Football Playoff. Every game (only sort of) counts.
All of Chicago is excused for not knowing what transpired in the Ohio State-Penn State “whiteout” game Saturday night. Perhaps you were kissing your honey in front of the Wrigley Field marquee or shouting, “Four more wins!”
Here’s what you missed: Ohio State was invincible (78-0) since 2004 with a fourth-quarter lead of at least two touchdowns. Now the Buckeyes are 78-1. Penn State rallied from 21-7 down, taking the lead on a scoop-and-score following a blocked field goal. The Nittany Lions completed eight passes all night (versus 15 incompletions) but controlled the line of scrimmage and won, 24-21.
As recently as three years ago, the loss would have crippled the Buckeyes. The BCS system allowed for two teams to play for the title – in essence, the SEC champ versus Opponent TBD.
Now we have four. I dig the playoff, don’t get me wrong. But every decision has consequences, and turning a victory important enough to cause a rioting in State College into an “inconsequential” result bugs me.
Here’s the situation: Michigan leads the Big Ten East at 4-0 and 7-0 overall. Ohio State is 3-1 and 6-1. Penn State is 3-1 and 5-2 overall with losses to Michigan and Pitt.
If Ohio State beats Michigan (at home) on Nov. 26 and all three teams finish 8-1 in the league, the Buckeyes win the Big Ten East. Why? Because the Big Ten tiebreaker punishes Penn State for its non-conference loss.
If the Buckeyes triumph in the Big Ten title game, I figure there’s a 98 percent chance they make the playoff. (The two percent hedge accounts for a weird combination of events, such as Washington winning out AND the selection committee taking two ACC teams or two SEC teams making the playoff with an Alabama loss in the SEC title game.)
Michigan, by the way, should plow into Nov. 26 undefeated. Its only real challenge figures to come at Iowa in three weeks.
Ohio State on Saturday hosts Northwestern, which has won three Big Ten games in a row by getting all the basics right, according to coach Pat Fitzgerald: “I’m not an exotic guy … I married my high school sweetheart. She’s a babe. I way outkicked my coverage.”
The playoff has made college football more popular than ever, so again, no major complaint about the current system from someone who had been a non-playoff guy.
But the new system has left us with some oddities, such as this: Which team does Ohio State need to root for over these next four weeks? Archrival Michigan.