COLUMBUS — The key word is almost. Ohio State almost still controls its own destiny after grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory last Saturday night at Penn State when it watched a 14-point lead disappear in the fourth quarter.
If Ohio State and Penn State win the rest of their games and the Buckeyes beat Michigan on Nov. 26, there would be a three-way tie at the top of the Big Ten’s East Division and the title would belong to OSU on a tie-breaker.
If Ohio State would go on to win the Big Ten championship game, it is hard to imagine a scenario where it would be left out of the four-team College Football Playoff with a 12-1 record and a dominant win over Oklahoma, the probable Big 12 champion.
But for things to work out that way, Ohio State has to hope Michigan’s only loss comes on Nov. 26 in Ohio Stadium.
If Michigan loses twice and Penn State (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) and Ohio State (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten) finish the regular season with one loss, the Nittany Lions would win the tie-breaker because of their victory over OSU in head-to-head competition.
So, as difficult as it might be for some people, if Penn State continues winning then Ohio State fans have to hope Michigan (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) can be victors valiant and conquering heroes and all that stuff in its next four games against Michigan State, Maryland, Iowa and Indiana before coming to Columbus.
Penn State has Purdue, Iowa, Indiana, Rutgers and Michigan State left on its schedule. Ohio State’s next four opponents before Michigan are Northwestern, Nebraska, Maryland and Michigan State.
Michigan is the only Big Ten East Division team that totally controls its own destiny at this point in the season.
If Ohio State would find itself in a three-way tie with Michigan and Penn State at 8-1 in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes would win the East Division on the fifth tie-breaker and advance to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
The first tie-breaker if head-to-head competition doesn’t decide it, according to the Big Ten website, is “the records of the three tied teams will be compared against each other.”
Since that would not produce a winner, the second tie-breaker would be the record of the teams inside their division, but they all would have the same record. The third and fourth tie-breakers would not be conclusive, either.
No. 3 is the records of the teams compared to the “next-highest placed teams in their division in order of finish,” which wouldn’t break the tie.
No. 4 is “the records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.” Since they would not have lost to anyone except each other, there still would be no decision.
The fifth tie-breaker, which finally would settle things, is overall winning percentage. If Ohio State wins out, it would have only one loss. If Penn State wins the rest of its games, it would have two losses.