After getting blown out by an Iowa team that was an 18-point underdog the hopes and dreams of a National Championship seemed all but lost for the Buckeyes. It was Ohio State’s second loss of the year and put them firmly behind a host of undefeated and one-loss teams. Despite the playoff hopes of the Buckeyes turning grim they were still in control of their Big Ten destiny. If they won out they would be playing for a Big Ten championship.
For many fans last week’s game against No.12 Michigan State was more than just a game. It was a picture into the minds of these Buckeye’s.
One of the biggest criticisms of former Buckeye coach John Cooper was that he sold Ohio State as a path to the NFL. As a result, his players didn’t always love or care about winning for Ohio State. Their focus was on making it pro. I have heard former players say that was the reason they lost to Michigan every year, despite being more talented.
With National Championship hopes almost gone, a question loomed of whether or not this Buckeye team would show up against Michigan State.
Last week that question was answered with an emphatic statement not just to the Big Ten, but to the rest of the nation with a 48-3 dismantling of Michigan State.
From the opening drive the Buckeyes dominated the Spartans. It was easily Ohio State’s best and most balanced game this year and continued their path to a Big Ten championship.
“Credit to the leadership and the young guys following our lead,” said junior defensive end Sam Hubbard. “We had a meeting early in the week talking about the Big Ten standings and what we needed to do from here on out. It was mentioned that if we won this game we would swap as head in the Big Ten East and that was our focus.”
The other question many Buckeye’s fans had was answered Tuesday night: Will the two-loss Buckeyes have a shot to get back in the playoff hunt?
Ohio State sat at No.13 before last Saturday but with a big win and Georgia and Notre Dame both losing on Tuesday night the rankings committee moved them all the way up to No.9. It was a jump that, depending on who you talk to, gave the Buckeyes a shot to get back in the playoffs.
8. Notre Dame
9. Ohio State
Without breaking down everyone’s schedule I’ll give the cliff-notes version of how Ohio State can get back to the playoff.
Obviously Ohio State needs to win out which would put them above Notre Dame and Wisconsin (moves them to #7). If Alabama wins out it means Auburn would get a third loss and Georgia would again lose (moves them to #5). Clemson and Miami will most likely play in the ACC championship game and the committee would have to drop the loser of that game just one spot to keep them in the top 4 and keep Ohio State out. Unless Clemson and Miami play a triple overtime greatest college game in history it would be tough to keep Ohio State out at that point.
So to put it simply, if Ohio State and Alabama win-out there is a real good chance the Buckeyes will find themselves in the playoff.
But all of this talk about playoffs and Big Ten championships means nothing if the Buckeyes can’t take care of business against the 2-8 (0-7 Big Ten) Fighting Illini of Illinois. And head coach Urban Meyer knows it.
“There will be zero conversation around here [about the playoff], especially when you guys talk to the players there will be zero conversation about what happened before and what’s going to happen in the future,” Meyer said. “Zero.”
After starting the year 2-0 second year head coach Lovie Smith and the Illini have dropped 8 straight. At this point in the year the only motivation the Illini have is playing spoiler and Smith is pushing that mindset.
“I think the guys are looking for a great opportunity,” Smith said. “Where we are in our season, two games left to go… you’re last road game is playing against a team like this?”
As the Buckeyes prepare for their last home game of the season the focus is on Illinois. Not Big Ten Championships. Not National Championships. All of that stuff will take care of itself as long as Ohio State takes care of business.
What: Ohio State Buckeyes vs Illinois Fighting Illini
When: Saturday November 18, 2017 at 3:30 PM ET
Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Spread: OSU -41
Money Line: OSU -16964, IL +27500