It was supposed to be simple. Before the college football season started, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State were all ranked in the top twelve. The three teams were expected to battle all fall, with the Big Ten East Division title coming down to the Michigan-Ohio State game, and the winner going to the four-team national playoff.
Well, the best laid-plans, and all that. After compiling an amazing 36-5 record over the past three years, the Spartans won their first two games, before losing their next seven. The wheels have all but come off in East Lansing, where they’re just playing for pride.
Well, no matter, because surely the Buckeyes of Ohio State would run the table – right? Guess again: After tearing through the first half of the season, the Buckeyes faced Penn State, a team that had already been blown out by Michigan. Many expected their coach, James Franklin, to be fired.
With Ohio State ahead, 21-7, in the fourth quarter, Penn State managed to block not one, but two kicks. They converted the second block into a touchdown, and a 24-21 upset.
Not only did that game bump the Buckeyes behind the Wolverines, it propelled Penn State on a winning streak that has pushed them to the top eight nationwide. Instead of getting fired, Coach Franklin now has a real chance to get his team into the playoffs.
Well, so what? Going into the final turn, Michigan was still undefeated, blowing teams out by 56, 60, even 78 points. All the Wolverines had to do was knock off Iowa, which had been dispatched to the land of misfit toys, then beat Indiana this weekend, to set up the grand finale against the Buckeyes.
Funny thing happened. Well, not that funny, I guess, if you’re a Michigan fan. Against Iowa, the Wolverines played their worst game of the season – missing blocks, missing passes, dropping the ball – while Iowa played its best. That combination allowed Iowa to notch a one-point upset. Even worse, Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight was injured, and will be out for a little while.
Now, with two games to go, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State all have identical 6-1 conference records. And this is where it gets really funky. If all three win this weekend, and Michigan beats Ohio State, Michigan advances to the conference title game, just like you’d expect.
But if Ohio State beats Michigan – Penn State is your champion! Thank you, Big Ten tie-breakers.
Just for fun, throw Michigan State back into the mix. The Spartans finally snapped out of its losing streak last weekend against Rutgers – one of the Big Ten’s truly great high school teams. At 3-and-7, the Spartans aren’t going anywhere this year.
But they do play Ohio State this weekend, and Penn State the next. If they want to play spoiler, this is their chance to really screw up the playoff picture.
And if any of them lose this weekend, the whole thing’s an even bigger mess. Normally, I’d say there’s no way that could happen. But that’s exactly what I would have said a few weeks ago, before all this happened.
And that is why I love college football.