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Could Ohio State make the College Football Playoff if it loses to Michigan?


A loss at home to Michigan would certainly complicate things for Ohio State’s chances of making the College Football Playoff this season.

While the winner of Michigan at Ohio State will be strong, powerful and poised to make the College Football Playoff as the presumptive Big Ten champion, what about the loser?

Both bitter rivals have three conference games left, including the latest installment of their marquee matchup in The Horseshoe over Thanksgiving Weekend. Ohio State and Michigan are both 9-0 and ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. However, does The Game’s loser have any realistic shot of making the four-team field this season?

Here is essentially what would need to happen for a division runner-up Buckeyes team to make the College Football Playoff with an 11-1 (8-1) record.

How Ohio State can make the College Football Playoff with a loss to Michigan

To get to the required 11-1 (8-1) record for potential playoff entry with a home loss to Michigan, Ohio State needs to win its two conference games before The Game: Home vs. 3-6 Indiana on Saturday and at bowl-eligible Maryland in The Shell next week. And to be quite frank, it serves Ohio State in this scenario for Michigan to win all of its games, plus the title bout in Indianapolis.

For Michigan to come out of Indianapolis undefeated, the Wolverines would need to beat Nebraska at home, a potentially ranked Illinois team at home and a top-three Ohio State team in Columbus. They would also need to beat either Big Ten West frontrunner Illinois at Lucas Oil Stadium, or whoever comes out of the West for that matter, if Illinois collapses in late November.

By having a 13-0 (9-0) Big Ten Champion Michigan team already a lock to make the playoff, this potentially gives the Buckeyes the best loss of anybody on the schedule, should they keep it tight. A one-loss, division runner-up in the Big Ten East could in theory be essentially on par with a one-loss division runner-up in the SEC, whether that be likely Tennessee, or even potentially Ole Miss…

In short, we are not getting two Big Ten and two SEC teams into the four-team field this season. Maybe one of the two Power Five conferences gets a pair of teams in, but not both. Regardless, a one-loss, division runner-up Ohio State would need some help from the four other Power Five conferences. Let’s discuss for a minute what would need to happen for them to potentially get in.

First things first, Ohio State would need only one team to come out of the SEC this year for the Buckeyes to have any realistic shot of getting in. Georgia getting to 13-0 is the most likely outcome, but it leaves one-loss, division runner-up Tennessee fighting for that last spot with Ohio State. The good news for the Buckeyes is the Notre Dame win is looking way better by the week.

Tennessee has a ranked win in the non-conference at Pitt, but the Panthers have fallen on hard times, whereas the Irish have found their footing for the most part since starting out the year at a dreadful 0-2 after the Marshall loss. Overall, the Vols would be the Buckeyes’ biggest competitor in this scenario. It really comes down to how good Ohio State would look in defeat vs. Michigan.

In reality, the Buckeyes would probably want to see the Vols drop a game to either Missouri, at South Carolina or at Vanderbilt. That would remove them from any serious playoff discussions after suffering a second conference loss on the campaign. After that, Ohio State would need two of the other three Power Five conferences to cannibalize each other over the next three weekends.

As weird as it sounds, the two to bank on are the ACC and Big 12. Clemson and North Carolina both have one loss on the year, both coming to Notre Dame, a team Ohio State beat at home over Labor Day Weekend. The Tigers and Tar Heels are favored to meet each other in Charlotte. Would the crucial 13th data point get a weak ACC champion in over a strong non-champion in Ohio State?

As far as the Big 12 is concerned, it is TCU or bust for them. While the Horned Frogs may not have to be 13-0 (9-0) coming out of Arlington to get in, a one-loss Big 12 champion could be devalued like the one coming out of the ACC will surely be. A 12-1 TCU would be in discussion for the last spot in with a 12-1 ACC champion, while the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 champion all would get in.

So could the Pac-12 cannibalize itself? Sure, as it has a not-proud history of doing so. However, the Pac-12 having five ranked teams, including four in the top 13, signifies what the Selection Committee thinks of the Power Five conference this year. In short, if Oregon, UCLA or USC win out to win the Pac-12, the Ducks, Bruins or Trojans will be making the four-team field, 100 percent.

Ultimately, Ohio State can get in with an 11-1 (8-1) record and a Michigan loss as long as the three other teams getting in are essentially Georgia, Michigan and Oregon. The Buckeyes would need to beat out presumably a 12-1 TCU team, a 12-1 ACC Champion Clemson team and an 11-1 Tennessee team. Pedigree is in the Buckeyes’ favor, but it is quite the parlay for playoff inclusion.

A home loss to Michigan does not eliminate Ohio State entirely, but it makes playoff entry difficult.

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