Down in the wiregrass section of Alabama, where the swamps eventually converge with pine forests, the locals don’t much care for Ohio State. The Buckeyes are not real popular in the Black Belt Prairie area, either. Ditto the Highland Rim.

On Saturday, however, an overwhelming portion of the Yellowhammer state will be loving them some O-H-I-O. Alabamians not associated with Auburn will be pulling for Ohio State to take care of business against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, because then the Crimson Tide will be in business.

At least that’s how they see it down in Dixie. If the No. 8 Buckeyes defeat the No. 4 Badgers, Wisconsin will drop from playoff consideration and there is no way Ohio State jumps the Tide for the fourth and final spot in the College Football Playoff. Assuming that No. 2 Auburn defeats No. 6 Georgia and No. 3 Oklahoma defeats No. 11 TCU, Alabama would move from No. 5 to No. 4 and that would be that.


Unless …

There is one potential catch, which is if the Buckeyes give the Badgers such a shiner that it grabs the attention of the playoff selection committee in the same way that the playground crowd gathered to watch Ralphie pound on Scut Farkus in “A Christmas Story.”

If that happens, things will get nervy down in the Cumberland Plateau and adjoining areas where Saban worship is a real thing. The Crimson Tide are in trouble if Ohio State blows out Wisconsin.

Remember 59-0? No. 5 Ohio State was a playoff bubble team in 2014 before it embarrassed the Badgers in the Big Ten championship game and hopped No. 3 TCU to gain the fourth spot in the playoff. The Buckeyes went on to defeat Alabama in the semifinals and then Oregon in the title game to make the selection committee look smart.

Alabama remembers. It also recalls 2015, when Ohio State lost just once, 17-14 to Michigan State in the penultimate regular-season game, costing the Buckeyes a chance to play in the conference championship. Without that showcase, OSU sat home watching other teams impress the committee and ended up No. 7 in the rankings.

Alabama is idle this weekend, too, after its loss last week to Auburn knocked it from Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game. Tide fans will be spectators when Ohio State and Wisconsin play in Indianapolis, hoping the Buckeyes win a close one and the committee treats Bama the way it treated Ohio State last season, when OSU made the playoff despite not playing in its conference championship game.

How will the committee have voted when the results are released at noon Sunday on ESPN? Anyone claiming to know for certain is clueless. But a few factors are worth considering.

In Ohio State’s favor:

• Beating Wisconsin would give the Buckeyes three wins over teams currently ranked higher in the top 25 than any team Alabama has defeated. Ohio State has defeated Wisconsin, No. 9 Penn State and No. 16 Michigan State. Alabama has beaten one No. 17 LSU, No. 23 Mississippi State and No. 25 Fresno State.

• Gene Smith. The Ohio State athletic director is a member of the selection committee. It’s true that Smith must recuse himself when the committee discusses where to slot the Buckeyes. It also is true that Smith eventually will re-enter the room, whereby the other committee members potentially will have to explain why OSU did not make it. Humans being nonconfrontational by nature, it would be much easier to explain why the Buckeyes are in.

• The Buckeyes attract a ratings crowd. With its huge alumni base and brand power, Ohio State is a TV network’s delight. Fox posted its highest overnight rating ever (6.7) for a regular-season game last Saturday for Ohio State-Michigan.

• Defeating Wisconsin would mean Ohio State wins its conference championship game, which supposedly weighs heavily in the playoff criteria. Also, no team losing its final game has ever made the playoff.

In Alabama’s favor:

• The Crimson Tide did not play a meaty schedule, but it also did not lose to an unranked team the way Ohio State got throttled by unranked Iowa. The Hawkeyes crushed the Buckeyes 55-24. Committee members must ask whether they can imagine Alabama ever giving up 55 points to a team with five losses? The answer does not bode well for the Buckeyes.

• Alabama attracts viewers, too. Last Saturday’s Iron Bowl, pitting Bama against Auburn, drew a 7.8 rating on CBS, the best of any college game this season.

• Alabama’s pedigree is hard to overlook. The committee stresses that past success (or failure) has nothing to do with current selections. Right. Alabama has won four national titles the last eight seasons. The Buckeyes are coming off a 31-0 loss to Clemson last season in the semifinals.

I see Ohio State needing a convincing win against Wisconsin to leap Alabama and make the playoff; at least a two-touchdown margin, which will be difficult. Against common opponents, the Badgers averaged 34.5 points and allowed 13.5. Ohio State averaged 45.6 and 23.

Down in Tuscaloosa, they’ll be pulling for an Ohio State win. Just nothing too impressive. No 2014 this time. If that happens, Ohio State is in.