No. 4 Ohio State might be short on players in an even shorter season, but the Buckeyes showed again Saturday they are full of talent.
The Buckeyes throttled Michigan State 52-12 in the team’s first competition since Nov. 21, and that should reserve their spot in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings for another week.
No. 4 Ohio State might not have a full roster next week; the Buckeyes might not even play rival Michigan, which is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak of its own. The Buckeyes, however, remain the favorite to stay unbeaten over the next two weeks in the Big Ten, no matter who they play.
The rest of the conference faces long odds in changing that outlook.
Ohio State (5-0 Big Ten) was without 23 players because of illness or injury for Saturday’s game against Michigan State, including six starters. The Buckeyes didn’t have coach Ryan Day either. It didn’t matter.
There’s a reason Ohio State tweeted a picture of quarterback Justin Fields Friday night. As long as he’s on the field, the Buckeyes can beat anybody.
Fields gave the Heisman Trophy voters more to think about with an all-around effort against the Spartans: He finished 17 of 24 passing for 199 yards and two touchdowns, adding 13 carries for 104 yards and two more scores. Fields even sprinted the length of the field to throw a block on Michigan State’s Tre Person to cap a touchdown by running back Trey Sermon.
Ohio State blocks this up perfectly and it’s probably a touchdown anyways, but watch Justin Fields *sprint* down the field to make a block to ensure the score. Love that mentality from him. pic.twitter.com/u08TkkNrPp
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 5, 2020
Ohio State returned to the field, won in convincing fashion and should be able to play at least one of the next two weeks. Will that six- or seven-game sample be enough to get into the College Football Playoff?
The short answer is yes. The Buckeyes need to stay unbeaten, get healthier and continue to pour on the style points against their next two opponents. That should be enough to keep their spot among the heavyweight corner with No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Clemson — a playoff field that is going to be tough to break up.
What are the hurdles?
The Buckeyes’ strength of schedule still leaves a lot to be desired. Ohio State’s opponents have a combined record of 15-23, a winning percentage of .395.
If Michigan can’t play next week, the Buckeyes might have to scramble to find a sixth opponent. The Big Ten championship requirements will be a subject of discussion if Ohio State can’t find somebody to play. There might be a perception the conference is protecting the Buckeyes if that eligibility requirement is waived.
Who cares? The Big Ten should protect Ohio State. A game against Michigan before a final matchup against either Northwestern or Wisconsin isn’t going to change what has been the long-running theme in the Big Ten for the past four seasons.
The Buckeyes can be down an entire string of players and still blow out the in-conference competition.
As long as that happens, this team will stay right where they need in the College Football Playoff picture.