If Ohio State falls, who’s going to the College Football Playoff: Penn State or Wisconsin?

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

The Ohio State Buckeyes are Big Ten favorites to make the College Football Playoff, but if the Buckeyes get upset, who is the Big Ten’s biggest threat?

Oddsmakers have revealed their updated Big Ten odds and to the surprise of no one, the Ohio State Buckeyes are the favorites with 2/5 odds. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten and made the College Football Playoff last year, the first under head coach Ryan Day and quarterback Justin Fields.

Ohio State trails only Clemson for the best national title odds this season and are the best bet to bring a national championship trophy back to the Big Ten.

Of course, the other Big Ten teams are hoping to win it for themselves and not let Ohio State handle their business for them. Among the contenders in the Big Ten, who presents the biggest threat to the Buckeyes path to the playoff?

Let’s get this out of the way right now, it’s not Michigan. The Wolverines haven’t beat their rivals since 2011, which is also their lone win vs. Ohio State since 2003. And Ohio State hosts Michigan this fall. Not a threat.

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The biggest threat in the Big Ten East is undoubtedly Penn State who has played the Buckeyes tougher than anyone in the conference the last three years. James Franklin always gets his teams ready to play Ohio State and counts one of his signature wins of his career against the Buckeyes four years ago.

After one-point losses in 2017 and 2018, Ohio State won by double-digits last year. Penn State always keeps it close, even in losing efforts. The talent level is more comparable where the Nittany Lions have recruited better than Michigan. Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons is the best defensive player in the Big Ten and maybe in the nation. He can single-handedly keep change the game and pull off an upset. Penn State hosts Ohio State this year so that type of road environment can’t be dismissed. It’ll be the toughest environment Ohio State sees all year.

If not Penn State, it’ll be in the Big Ten Championship Game where they’ll likely see either Minnesota or Wisconsin, who is the betting favorite, and a potential preseason top-five team. I like Wisconsin a lot, but I don’t know if they are a top-five caliber team right now. Losing Jonathan Taylor will hurt and I don’t think Minnesota is a one-year fluke either. The Gophers might be able to take the next step in their ascent under P.J. Fleck and win the division. I don’t really have much confidence in either competing with Ohio State in a potential Big Ten Championship Game, however.

If Ohio State loses a Big Ten game, Penn State is the most likely opponent, and the most likely team to snatch their projected ticket to the College Football Playoff. It would represent the first playoff appearance for Penn State and for Franklin. I don’t see Ohio State losing a second game so for Penn State to make it, they’d have to go undefeated or be a one-loss team with that one loss being a one-score type of game where they lose to a great team.

What gets tricky is if Penn State’s one loss is at Michigan. If it’s a competitive loss, what happens if Ohio State routs Michigan in the season finale? Penn State would have the win over Ohio State and head-to-head is what’s important, so in this scenario, the Buckeyes would need Penn State to lose twice.

Then again, maybe there’s a chance the Big Ten gets two teams in the playoff and joins the SEC as the only conferences to have more than one team in a single postseason. That year, Alabama beat Georgia in the National Championship Game. Maybe we’ll see Penn State and Ohio State in the National Championship Game?

Chances are the SEC would petition the NCAA for a mulligan if that happened.

Ohio State is the Big Ten favorite but Penn State is their biggest threat to the conference crown and a playoff spot.

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