Ohio State could still make College Football Playoff with loss to Michigan

Joey Kaufman
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit is one of many who believe Ohio State could lose to Michigan and still make the College Football Playoff. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

Throughout its history, Ohio State's national championship aspirations have rested with the final regular-season game.

A loss to archrival Michigan could doom them.

That might not be the case this fall.

The viewpoint from some college football analysts and other close observers maintains that the unbeaten Buckeyes could withstand a loss to the Wolverines and still make the four-team College Football Playoff field.

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That includes ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback.

“The fact they haven't had any close calls,” Herbstreit said, “they've been so dominant, they've had a couple slow first quarters, but for 60 minutes there's not another team in the country that you can say has done what they've done on both sides of the ball.

“That's why, if they were to trip up in Ann Arbor, they should still be rewarded as one of the best four teams. How can you say they're not? Now if they go to Ann Arbor and get beat 34-6, maybe that's not the case.”

This hypothetical scenario, involving a loss to Michigan and reaching the playoff, still requires Ohio State to win next week in the Big Ten championship game against either Minnesota or Wisconsin.

But if there is margin for error for the Buckeyes, it's owed to their current positioning. They stood No. 1 in the playoff rankings this week, and to fall outside the postseason picture, a loss would need to drop them four spots.

There are also only two other undefeated teams left, including No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Clemson, meaning the Buckeyes wouldn't be any worse than the teams ranked fourth through ninth in this week's rankings. All of them have one loss.

Rob Mullens, the chair of the selection committee, declined to speculate how much a loss could damage the Buckeyes' resume.

One reason that the Michigan game is not thought to be an elimination game for the playoff is because it won't affect Ohio State's chances of winning the Big Ten.

Since the playoff debuted in 2014, there have been 12 one-loss major conference champions to make the field.

But a loss reduces their odds for qualification, as well as possible seeding. Three one-loss major conference champions have missed the playoff, including last season when it was Ohio State, which had stumbled once, a rout at Purdue. Previously, Baylor and TCU, who were the co-champions of the Big 12 in 2014 after each suffered a loss, fell outside the top four.

No undefeated major conference champion has ever missed the playoff.

Making time for turkey

Ohio State's practice for Thanksgiving Day was scheduled to take place in the morning rather than in the afternoon as it is during most game weeks.

The team moved the session ahead to earlier in the day to accommodate coaches and players who were planning to celebrate the holiday with family or friends in the afternoon.

“Pretty similar to what we've done in the past,” coach Ryan Day said.

The practices on Tuesday and Wednesday followed the usual time frame.

The Thanksgiving break for the university began on Wednesday.