Associate Sports Editor
In only its second year, the college football playoff system is doing exactly what the NCAA was hoping it would do. The buzz and excitement of making it into the final four has every team clawing to represent their conference this December.
Today is conference championship day. Tonight the winners of the SEC, ACC, PAC-12 and Big Ten will be crowned.
The winners of these four games will greatly impact who will grab the final seeds. These games will also determine if we see not one, but two firsts for the new playoff system; a team making back to back playoff appearances and two teams from the same conference making the final four.
The one team that has the opportunity to be these firsts, Ohio State.
The easiest spot in the playoffs to give away is to Oklahoma. Claiming dominance in the Big 12, who do not play an official conference championship game, Oklahoma is currently sitting at number three in the nation with nothing to knock them down from their pedestal.
The next spot in the final four will go to the winner of the Big Ten championship game. The game between Iowa and Michigan State will kick off tonight in Lucas Oil Stadium. Ranked fourth and fifth respectively, Iowa and Michigan State will act as just an extension of the playoffs, as whoever wins this game will not only secure the conference, but a spot in late December.
That leaves two spots to be decided amongst four teams; Clemson, Alabama, Stanford and, you guessed it, Ohio State. Despite being in talks for making another playoff appearance, Ohio State will need a lot of help from other teams and a bit of luck. Their playoff chances hinder on whether or not the other three teams win or lose their conference games tonight.
Clemson is currently ranked first in the nation going into tonight’s game against ACC rival North Carolina. If they win this game, Clemson is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, likely as the first seed. If they lose, then Clemson will not be able to fight for the national title and North Carolina will claim the conference title.
Alabama ranks right behind Clemson at the second spot. Their conference championship game will be against Florida. Alabama will secure its spot with a win this afternoon in a game where they are 17 point favorites. If Alabama happens to lose, much like with Clemson, they will not be in the final playoff rankings and will not be national champions this year.
The last game that will decide Ohio State’s fate is for the PAC-12 championship. Stanford is currently on the outside looking in, just like Ohio State. Their opponents are the USC Trojans and, like the rest of the teams playing tonight, they need to win if they have any hope of making the playoffs in December. Much like Ohio State, they will also need a bit of luck to make it into the playoffs. Along with winning, they need either Alabama or Clemson to lose tonight to make the big dance.
How Ohio State gets in is simple to explain but hard to have happen. Of the three teams that are trying to secure a spot in the final four, two of those three teams need to lose. If Clemson and Alabama lose, then Ohio State and Stanford take the last two spots. If Clemson and Stanford lose, Ohio State will enter with another team from last year’s playoffs, Alabama. If Alabama is upset in the swamp and Stanford loses, then Clemson and the Buckeyes will join the fray in the final four.
Is it possible for Ohio State to make another run for the national title? Yes. Is it likely? No. Ohio State will need a lot of luck to secure a spot this time as they are not in control of their own destiny. Unlike last year, when Ohio State destroyed Wisconsin 59-0 to secure their chances in December, this year is out of the hands of Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. The only certainty is that it will be a long night in Columbus.