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Do the resurgent Buckeyes, with a new star in their galaxy, really have a chance at the playoff? Not if they fail to beat Wisconsin.
In the polls/CFP
The new College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night will have a major shake-up in the wake of losses by last week’s No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Miami. The two major polls certainly did. Clemson was the new No. 1 Sunday followed by Oklahoma, Wisconsin — the lone remaining major unbeaten — and two-loss Auburn, coming off the win over Alabama. Ohio State moved up one spot in the coaches poll to No. 7 — behind No. 5 Alabama and No. 6 Georgia — and remained at No. 8 in the media poll, behind No. 5 Alabama, No. 6 Georgia and No. 7 Miami.
The starting quarterback debate, now that Dwayne Haskins Jr. has proven himself capable in a tough circumstance. It came because J.T. Barrett had to limp off with what he’s calling a hurt knee, not an injured one, late in the third quarter. Barrett said he’ll be good to go against Wisconsin. Haskins showed he’s good to go, rallying the Buckeyes with three scoring drives.
What’s even hotter?
Unlike a year ago when Ohio State had just one receiver who could be counted on in a pinch, at Michigan, Austin Mack took a smack but hung on to the 27-yard pass from Haskins on a third-and-13 that turned the game around. K.J. Hill had two major third-down, drive-sustaining catch-and-runs. Tight end Marcus Baugh broke open to haul in a TD toss from Barrett. Those are some of the reasons why the diverse Buckeyes, with a stout running game (J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber), are favored over the Badgers.
What’s not hot?
Ohio State had given up just one punt return for one yard headed into The Game and led the nation in punt return defense. Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones returned three for 54 yards, including a 42-yarder that set up an early touchdown. New ranking: OSU now has given up four returns for 55 yards, an average of 13.75 per return, which dropped it to No. 122. That’s not counting OSU getting flagged once for punt catch interference, and getting flagged for holding in protection on that long return, giving Michigan the ball at the OSU 5-yard line.
The status of Barrett will be the major question as the week ensues.
Urban Meyer said Sunday he wants “laser focus” on the Badgers, but the possible distraction isn’t just playoff talk. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, former head coach at Rutgers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was reported Sunday to be the No. 1 choice for head coach at Tennessee.
Wisconsin, which capped its first undefeated regular season since 1912 with a dominating win over Minnesota. Coach Paul Chryst has his team in the Big Ten title game for the second straight year, and the Badgers are in it for a league-leading fifth time overall. They are No. 1 in the nation in total defense (236.9-yard avg.) and boast the nation’s third-leading rusher, freshman Jonathan Taylor (1,806 yards).
This week’s challenge
To put their case in the hands of the CFP selection committee to debate the merits of a two-loss team with a 31-point fall still deserving a chance to play for it all, the Buckeyes have to close their argument by beating the Badgers. Like in 2014, except this Wisconsin team has arguably the best defense OSU has faced this season. But after that loss at Iowa, nobody said it was going to be easy.