INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State deserves to be in the College Football Playoff.
The Buckeyes left no doubt after Saturday’s 59-0 embarrassment (there’s really no other way to put it) of Wisconsin. The Badgers’ Melvin Gordon, a surefire Heisman finalist, was held to just 76 yards on 26 carries. And Cardale Jones, Ohio State’s third-string quarterback, only needed 17 pass attempts to rack up 257 yards and 3 scores.
And the Buckeyes’ reward is the No. 4 spot in the playoff and a tough draw against No. 1 Alabama. Given the matchup, it’s tempting to root for a Crimson Tide rout. For fans of any Big Ten program, nothing would be sweeter than watching Buckeyes’ coach Urban Meyer falter in the postseason once again and seeing Jones go back to playing school.
But Northwestern fans should be rooting for Ohio State.
As a student, it hurts me to write that. Last year’s contest between the Wildcats and Buckeyes, a game that brought the excitement of ESPN’s College GameDay to campus but ultimately sent the Wildcats into a tailspin, still feels like a fresh wound.
Sadly, Ohio State is the only hope for the conference. From the inception of the four-team playoff, the Big Ten has looked like the odd man out of the Power Five conferences.
Michigan State had a shot that quickly diminished after an early season loss to eventual Pac 12 champion Oregon. Meanwhile, a weak-looking Big Ten West had some experts believing Iowa or even, yes, NU (remember when the Cats were 2-0 in conference?) might make a run to the conference championship game. Neither situation made the Big Ten look very appealing.
And then the Buckeyes emerged. Despite losing starting quarterback Braxton Miller to injury before the season even started, the team became the conference favorite by besting the Spartans 49-37 on Nov. 8 and then, down to its third quarterback, did the unthinkable to the Badgers on Saturday.
Meyer has cemented himself as one of the best coaches in the country. It was his Florida team that blew out Ohio State in the 2007 BCS National Championship to establish the Big Ten’s long-standing reputation for bowl game mediocrity.
Because of him, the Buckeyes are far and away the best choice to represent the conference nationally, and that’s not going to change any time soon.
Traditional powerhouses Michigan and Nebraska have to cope with coaching turnover next season, and heavy-hitters Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State hardly looked poised for sustained runs of dominance.
That leaves Meyer to bear the standard. If Ohio State loses, the refrain will (accurately or not) be that the Big Ten is the inferior conference and can’t compete on a national level. But if the Buckeyes pull off a victory, the conference is catapulted back into relevance. A national championship would solidify that even further.
I know it feels wrong, but as followers of a Big Ten institution, NU fans should be pulling for Ohio State. A few extra refrains of “O-H-I-O” are a fair price to pay for a bigger spotlight on the national stage and a more assured seat at the table for future College Football Playoffs.
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