With one controversial game-winning touchdown, Nebraska might have not only killed Michigan State’s playoff hopes, but also potentially influenced the Big Ten’s own standing within the college football landscape. While Michigan State had been hanging on to its undefeated season by a thread all year, squeaking out numerous close calls, that thread finally broke, providing what might be a fatal blemish to their once historically promising season. However, one must ask if that horrific “L” on their schedule actually is a fatal blow to the Spartan’s quest for a College Football Playoff berth. This foreshadows a much larger question at hand as well: Could a one-loss Big Ten champion be deserving of a College Football Playoff spot?
Given that Michigan State still has to play Ohio State, who also has to go on the road to Michigan in their finale, the conference’s two preseason playoff contenders could very well have that one loss. However, each loss is not the same as the other, and that will be taken into consideration.
If Michigan State pulls off what will now be an upset over Ohio State and finishes the rest of the season unscathed, there will be a huge dilemma for the committee. The Nebraska loss is an especially ugly one, as the Cornhuskers may not even reach bowl eligibility this season. However, as one may recall, Ohio State suffered a similar loss last season to Virginia Tech, a team that underwhelmed the rest of the season. That being said, the Buckeyes closed the season with a bang (a 59-0 bang over Wisconsin, to be specific) which convinced the playoff committee to give them a spot.
If Michigan State can beat Ohio State and dominate the rest of their schedule, including the Big Ten title game, then it should be in a position similar to last year’s Buckeyes. If not, the Spartans, despite a victory over Ohio State, are likely toast.
However, if there is a loss that would ever muck things up, it would be Ohio State losing to either of the Michigan schools. In that case, I believe Ohio State would be eliminated regardless of future outcomes.
Let me elaborate. If Ohio State loses to Michigan State, they are effectively eliminated from the Big Ten championship game, as the Spartans would hold the tiebreaker in that scenario. Even if the Buckeyes win the following week over Michigan, an absence in the Big Ten title game would be too glaring for Ohio State to make up.
A loss to Michigan would have a similar effect, assuming that the Buckeyes had beaten the Spartans the week before. In this scenario, the Spartans’ second Big Ten loss to Ohio State eliminates them completely from Big Ten title conversation. However, an Ohio State loss to Michigan means the Wolverines improbably win the Big Ten East, shutting the Buckeyes out of the conference title game, which will have similar implications for their College Football Playoff hopes.
So while one loss for Ohio State would almost guarantee its elimination from the national picture, Michigan State’s case becomes a bit more interesting. If they finish off the regular season with blowouts along with a victory over Ohio State, their résumé, which also contains a nice non-conference win over Oregon, would be quite strong.
However, it will really depend where a lot of teams outside the Big Ten stand. If a one-loss SEC champion, undefeated Clemson and undefeated Big 12 champion exist, Michigan State would have to battle a one-loss Pac 12 champion, a potential one-loss non SEC champion or one-loss Notre Dame. If the only blemish on Notre Dame’s schedule is a two-point loss at Clemson, it is in. Sorry Michigan State.
If Notre Dame loses again, then the battle between Michigan State and either Utah or Stanford (the likely Pac 12 one-loss candidates) or LSU (the likely one-loss SEC non-champion) becomes interesting. If this is the scenario, LSU likely punches its ticket to the playoff. With their one loss being on the road at Alabama, they boast the “best” loss, and will have gone through the rest of the SEC gauntlet untouched, a notion the committee really seems to favor. However, if LSU is out of the picture, then it is really just Michigan State vs. the winner of Stanford and Utah. In this case, whoever seems to be playing the best down the stretch, like Ohio State last season, will earn a playoff spot.
Thus, if you are Big Ten fan who just wants to see the conference represented, it’s time for you to either hop on the undefeated Ohio State bandwagon or the Michigan State bandwagon and root like hell against Notre Dame, LSU, Utah and Stanford.
Does Ohio State have what it takes to make another run at a national title, or is it the Spartans’ year to go all the way? Email Rushad at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your College Football Playoff outlook.