Ohio State is playing one of its biggest games in recent memory -- just by playing its next game. The schedule says the opponent is Michigan State. We all know COVID-19 is more formidable.
No. 4 Ohio State has been the highest-profile team significantly affected by the coronavirus in this weird season. The program has been dealing with some level of outbreak since at least last week.
With two games left, Big Ten rules say the Buckeyes have to play both of them to be eligible for its conference championship game. Whether they gets in those all-important eight quarters over the next two weeks is a tipping point for college football.
Ohio State desperately wants to play. The Big Ten desperately wants the Buckeyes to play to the point it may change its six-game requirement for the Big Ten Championship Game to accommodate.
"It'll probably be the hardest three hours of my life," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said of missing the Michigan State game. Day will be at home after testing positive for COVID-19.
At this point, the Buckeyes could probably beat the Spartans with you or me coaching. The larger point is how the entire system may treat an Ohio State that we know is good.
At some point, doesn't it have to play to prove it? Think of an undefeated Ohio State in the College Football Playoff chase playing four or five games less than a 9-1 Texas A&M or a 10-0 Cincinnati.
Then contemplate an undefeated Pac-12 champion like USC or Washington. The last and only time an undefeated Power Five champion didn't play for a championship in the BCS/CFP era (since 1998) was Auburn in 2003. Ironically, that got the ball rolling toward today's playoff. Then-SEC commissioner Mike Slive vowed it would never happen again.
College football revealed a lot about itself this week. Desperation has set in the closer we get to the $475 million annual chunk of change ESPN pays the CFP.
On Tuesday, Kirk Herbstreit made the unfortunate "wave a white flag" comment about Michigan's impact on Ohio State's pursuit. He said he misspoke and apologized. That same day, the ACC preserved the "integrity" of its title game by providing Notre Dame and Clemson a cleaner path to the playoff via Dec. 12 game cancellations.
On Wednesday, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel reacted to Herbstreit's comments with an emotional blast. That as Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez suggested the Big Ten change its own rules so Ohio State can play in the Big Ten title game if it only ends up playing five games.
That same day, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey called out the ACC and promised the SEC would not undertake similar actions for Alabama and Florida.
Meanwhile, Ohio State the program has been silent all week, no doubt waiting to determine whether it will play, rather than go through the usual game-week media car wash talking about how it will play. The signs have all been trending in the right direction.
However, Ohio State has been secretive about its number of COVID-19 positives citing "privacy" issues. That shouldn't fly during what experts have been calling the darkest days of the pandemic. The number of players in the community infected with COVID-19 is a public health issue, not a privacy issue.
Which way Ohio State's season heads will go way beyond any corner-bar argument.
At stake are draft positions, millions of dollars, careers and a potential Heisman Trophy (for Justin Fields).
Whether the Buckeyes make it to that Big Ten Championship Game is the sport's main issue at the moment. Allowing a football factory ineligible for its own league title game to play in the playoff might violate a sense of fairness that would go beyond the CFP Selection Committee.
If we've learned anything this season, those are the breaks. COVID-19 is calling all the plays.
- The SEC Championship Game should be finalized by the end of Saturday. No. 6 Florida (7-1) needs to beat Tennessee to grab the SEC East. Alabama (8-0) clinches the SEC West if it beats LSU. Both games are on CBS.
- No. 2 Notre Dame (9-0) is in. It clinched a spot in the ACC Championship Game when the conference cancelled its Dec. 12 game. No. 3 Clemson (8-1) can clinch a spot by beating Virginia Tech.
- No. 9 Iowa State (7-2) clinches a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game with a win over West Virginia or a loss by No. 15 Oklahoma State (6-2). No. 11 Oklahoma (6-2) clinches its spot with a win over Baylor.
- No. 12 Indiana (5-1) would clinch the Big Ten East with a win over No. 16 Wisconsin (2-1) and Ohio State not being able to qualify for the championship game. No. 14 Northwestern (5-1) clinched the Big Ten West when this week's Minnesota game was canceled. Ohio State needs to beat Michigan State and Michigan consecutively to get itself in the Big Ten title game.
Everything else in Week 14
Running back a classic: Alabama-LSU was the 2019 game of the season. It is supposed to be a blowout on Saturday at Death Valley (8 p.m. ET on CBS). But something tells me the Tigers have a surprise for the Crimson Tide. Maybe not an upset but a surprising effort. LSU hasn't played at home in six weeks. It has allowed only two third-down conversions combined in the last two weeks (2 of 26). Super freshman Arik Gilbert is the leading receiver now that Terrace Marshall has opted out. Take LSU and the 29.5 points.
Tiger ambush: Auburn hosting No. 5 Texas A&M (6-1) seems like one of those games. The Tigers (5-3) haven't been great this season but might catch the Aggies looking ahead to a CFP berth. Coming off a horrible game against LSU where he completed just 11 of 34 passes, Texas A&M's Kellen Mond should watch out for Auburn's Colby Wooden, who has at least 0.5 TFL in every game but one this season.
Call it a kickoff to the bowl season: BYU-Coastal Carolina has turned into the most delicious exhibition game ever in the middle of this pandemic. When Liberty had a COVID-19 outbreak, Coastal pivoted this week arranging a game we all want to see. Two of the seven undefeated teams below the Power Five meet with … what exactly at stake? Lots. For starters, it's just nice to see the flexibility for this arranged marriage. A win in this game significantly enhances No. 13 BYU's New Year's Six bowl chances. Eight spots are already taken. BYU (9-0) would have to be one of the next four highest-ranked teams. Six of those teams are currently ranked ahead of the Cougars. That means a final ranking of No. 10 or better in the CFP, and BYU could get to its first major bowl in 23 years without playing a Power Five team. No. 18 Coastal (9-0) has its own path. If No. 7 Cincinnati (8-0) doesn't win the AAC, a Chanticleers win would make it a Group of Five favorite to play in (most likely) the Peach Bowl. Both coaches (BYU's Kalani Sitake, CCU's Jamey Chadwell) are national coach of the year candidates.
Barry Bowl: The Arkansas-Missouri game just might be for SEC Coach of the Year. In his first season, Eli Drinkwitz has the Tigers at 4-3. Mizzou was dumped on in the reconstituted SEC lineup having to play both Alabama and LSU. The Tigers have had to maneuver around COVID-19 while beating LSU to get within bowl shouting distance. Arkansas, picked last in the SEC West, is 3-5. First-time head coach Sam Pittman contracted COVID-19 while making the Hogs surprisingly competitive. His defensive coordinator is Barry Odom, who recruited a large swath of the Missouri roster. Odom was fired last year after four seasons as the Tigers' coach. Let the emotions run high.
USC's path: As long as we're this far along and the season has been this nuts, we might as well consider whether the No. 20 Trojans (3-0) can get into the playoff. It starts with Notre Dame beating Clemson for a second time. That eliminates the Tigers from the top four. Then, Ohio State has to lose somewhere along the way. Only then does USC have a shot -- and only a small one at that. It probably has to blow out the remaining competition in Washington State, UCLA and whoever it would then face in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Ascending to the playoff from No. 18 in the first CFP Rankings would be a record.
Miami shaft: Wonder what No. 10 Miami (7-1) is thinking this week about being all but eliminated from the ACC Championship Game? That's what happened when the ACC decided that Notre Dame and Clemson wouldn't have to play the last week. The Hurricanes are cool with it. I spoke with Miami AD Blake James, who explained it like this: If Miami, Clemson and Notre Dame all played their full schedules, the Canes lose in a three-way tiebreaker. Notre Dame beat Clemson head-to-head. Clemson was 1-1 against Notre Dame and Miami. Miami lost to Clemson. Meanwhile, Miami can make a strong case for a New Year's Six game (probably the Orange Bowl) by winning out.
Quick kicks: It case you missed it last week, Trevor Lawrence may have tipped his hand after the Pittsburgh game referring to it as his "last game in Death Valley." A Heisman now seems unlikely for the projected No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft who has missed two games. Lawrence has played into the fourth quarter in only 20 of his 37 career games … UTEP (3-4) is having its best season in years but had last week's game against Rice canceled after testing revealed 11 COVID-19 positives. Turns out, 10 of them were false positives. Ten! In this crazy season, that has to be some kind of record. Worse, those "positive" players had to take a bus 750 miles and 11 hours back to El Paso after the game was canceled. The Miners haven't played at home since Sept. 17.