After the party is over and the celebrants have slept off the effects, the world can look a little different. So it is that the view after selection Sunday comes with a sunny smile and a hangover headache for Ohio State and the Big Ten: The Buckeyes' move into the No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoff represents an incredible opportunity and a significant risk.
After the party is over and the celebrants have slept off the effects, the world can look a little different.
So it is that the view after selection Sunday comes with a sunny smile and a hangover headache for Ohio State and the Big Ten: The Buckeyes' move into the No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoff represents an incredible opportunity and a significant risk.
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Ohio State's 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game was one of the most amazing performances of the season in a lot of ways - the shutout of the Badgers, the shutdown of running back Melvin Gordon and third-string Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones earning the MVP trophy. A Buckeyes team that often looked vulnerable during the season probably couldn't have reached the four-team playoff with anything less, which made the performance all the more impressive.
The flip side can be daunting, however. The reward for this is a Sugar Bowl matchup with No. 1 Alabama on Jan. 1.
Saturday's Ohio State team can beat Alabama, certainly. But it almost goes without saying that the Crimson Tide will be the best team the 10-point underdog Buckeyes have played this season, which is where the risk comes in.
The Big Ten has been desperate to regain its lost respect in football. There are lots of people wandering Midwestern streets who believe the Southeastern Conference's football dominance is overblown, even though it won seven national titles in a row from 2006 to 2012.
But the only way the Big Ten can regain its place at or near the top of the football pecking order is by winning important interleague games such as this one - the best teams in the SEC and Big Ten facing off for a place in the national championship game.
The other big bowl games will give the Big Ten similar opportunities. The Michigan State-Baylor matchup in the Cotton Bowl offers a chance for the Big Ten to show that No. 5 Baylor didn't deserve that final spot in the playoffs. Even if Ohio State loses to Alabama, Michigan State can quiet those who said Baylor or TCU deserved the fourth playoff spot.
A Minnesota victory over Missouri in the Citrus Bowl, a Wisconsin victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl and an Iowa victory over Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl might also help.
But when fans, media and members of the playoff selection committee debate the relative strengths of conferences, their opinions won't be based on what the 7-5 Hawkeyes do against the 6-6 Volunteers. A league's perceived strength or weakness centers on the top teams, which is why Ohio State-Alabama is so important.
Whether it's fair to expect the underdog Buckeyes to beat the No. 1 team is another question to consider, at least in terms of how it reflects on the conference. Anyone who remembers the end of the 2007 season knows how misleading this can be.
Ohio State was ranked No. 1 going to the second-to-last game of the regular season and was upset by unranked Illinois 28-21. That should have eliminated the Buckeyes from national title game consideration - they fell to No. 7 - but after they defeated No. 23 Michigan 14-3 and the dominoes started falling like rocks in a landslide, they found themselves in the title game against LSU.
With Ohio State so elevated, other Big Ten teams moved up and played better bowl opponents. When the Buckeyes lost their second straight title game, 38-24, and the conference went 3-5 in bowls, this added to the perception that the Big Ten wasn't what it used to be.
A similar scenario could skew this year's results. If Ohio State loses to Alabama, Michigan State loses to a Baylor team OSU might have beaten and TCU beats 9-3 Mississippi of the SEC, it will "prove" the Big 12 is stronger than the Big Ten only because Baylor and TCU didn't have to face No. 1 Alabama.
It all becomes irrelevant if Ohio State beats Alabama, of course, which is why the Sugar Bowl represents a golden opportunity.
In the end, the only way to prove the Big Ten is back on the SEC's level is to do it on the field.
Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.