Week 13 - Three Big Ten teams in the Playoff??
By Martin Magers
The Game, follow up.
The Game between Michigan and Ohio State on Saturday was one of the most watched college football games of all time. It was a clash between two rivals who absolutely hate each other, both were ranked in the top 3, and it went to double overtime. Surely it will be an all-time classic, right?
For most Michigan fans, it won’t be. Rather, it will be a haunting reminder of why in College Football you have to be able to run the ball, why you can’t turn the ball over, and why defense may win championships but the defense still needs the offense to ice the game. And it will also be a reminder of what can happen when the field is heavily tilted against you.
Don’t get me wrong. Michigan, both players and coaches, made critical errors on Saturday that usually cost you the game. Too many turnovers. No offensive production in the fourth quarter. Questionable use of time outs. Failure to creatively get Jabrill Peppers the ball in open space. Dropped passes. Missed blocks.
However, even with those errors, Michigan’s championship caliber defense kept them in the game, and had it not been for blatant homer officiating, Michigan wins that game. It is unquestionable that the Wolverines outplayed the Buckeyes. It is also unquestionable that the referees missed two crucial, obvious pass interference penalties against OSU on Michigan’s first and last drives, that the referees made a questionable pass interference call against Michigan on an uncatchable throw which extended OSU’s final regulation drive, and that the referee most responsible for calling or not calling pass interference is a self-described OSU fan. In fact, he was recused from officiating the 2006 Michigan vs OSU game because of that very reason. So why was he wearing the black and white stripes on Saturday? Your guess is as good as mine (for reference, his name is Kevin Schwarzel, and you can fact check everything I just wrote).
And, for the record, JT Barrett was definitely short on fourth down, but it is extremely difficult to overturn a ball spot on a replay. If that was the only bad call against Michigan, Harbaugh would absolutely deserve his $10,000 fine for blasting the officials, and his critics would be accurate in labelling him a whiner. But it wasn’t, and he isn’t. Between that call, the blown pass interference calls, the absurd personal foul on Harbaugh, and the lack of any substantial penalties against the home team, Harbaugh had every right to throw shade at the officials. I mean, Michigan had eight sacks and OSU never tried to hold the defensive line? Ridiculous. Taco Charlton was being grabbed by the neck at times, but he still earned 2.5 sacks and a large payday in April’s draft.
So what did Saturday mean for the playoff? Well, it appears the committee is valuing the eye test over conference championships. Most pundits will tell you that Alabama, who beat Auburn, and Ohio State are locks for a playoff spot, leaving two open spots for Clemson, Washington, Penn State, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Michigan (yes, Michigan) to fight over. Clemson rolled South Carolina on Saturday, and with a win over Virginia Tech in the ACC championship this week is likely in the playoff. That leaves one open spot, and if Washington, coming off a big win over Washington State, can beat Colorado on Saturday, they will likely round out the fourth spot. That would leave the champions of the Big Ten and Big Twelve out of the playoff.
Alternatively, if either Clemson or Washington stumble, and if the committee is consistent with what they have done thus far, Michigan could sneak into the fourth spot. Michigan has wins over potential Pac-12 champion Colorado and both teams vying for the Big Ten championship.
Before you call me a homer, let me just say that I hate this system. Penn State not only may win the Big Ten, but they also beat OSU in head to head competition. Thus, if the Nittany Lions keep riding their unexpected success to a Big Ten championship on Saturday, they absolutely, 100% deserve a spot in the playoff, as do Washington and Clemson if they also win. That would mean the four playoff teams are Alabama, Clemson, Washington, and Penn State. Unfortunately, the committee has made it clear that if only one Big Ten team goes, it was to be the winner of the OSU vs UM game, completely undermining the core of the competitive spirit. College athletics are supposed to be decided on the field, not on paper. Penn State has positioned themselves such that they deserve a playoff spot if they win on Saturday. But they likely won’t be given it.
Now, if you take the actions of the committee to their full end, remaining steadfastly consistent to the idea that the playoff is to include the four best teams, conference champions be damned, here are the four teams they should take, in no particular order: 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Michigan, 4. Winner of the Penn State/Wisconsin game. I know, including three Big Ten teams is insanity, but the Big Ten is clearly the best conference right now. Aside from possibly winning their conferences, Clemson and Washington haven’t actually done anything impressive this year. The same goes for Oklahoma. If the goal truly is the four best teams, put your rankings where your mouth is and take three Big Ten teams. On the other hand, I’d also be ok with just awarding Alabama the national championship and letting Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin/Penn State, and either Washington or Clemson duke it out for second place.
This weekend will be interesting…