Today I’ll be discussing the conference championship games and Ohio State playing Wisconsin specifically, and the takeaways that their are from that matchup. I still think it’s important to discuss as rematches don’t always go the same exact way, and while Ohio State could still potentially make the playoff with a loss that’s not a risk you want to take. I personally don’t trust the committee and wouldn’t want to put in their hands to decide whether they are a playoff team or not. I’ll also talk about the idea of 2 SEC teams being in the playoff and whether that would be right or even good for the sport, although I think LSU will beat Georgia anyway. There also may be potential debate between Utah and Oklahoma if both win for the final playoff spot, and I’ll talk about why the number 1 seed as compared to the 2 seed is really important this year. It’s a big deal and I can’t really remember a year of the playoff yet where being the number 1 team going into the playoffs mattered this much.
As far as the Big Ten Championship goes, this is a rematch of a game between Ohio State and Wisconsin where Wisconsin was in the game in the third quarter before Ohio State pulled away and won 38-7. Now personally I didn’t think the game really felt close even when it was 10-7 and I’ll explain why. I’ve heard some people giving Wisconsin a chance in this game by pointing out how close the score was in the third quarter, and while that’s a fair point I believe it’s misleading. The first game was played in the rain and to a degree that neutralized Ohio State’s talent and speed advantages over Wisconsin, but even that only helped for so long before the Ohio State offense broke out. I believe that Ohio State is just a bad matchup for Wisconsin, because Ohio State is good enough to eliminate star running back Jonathan Taylor from the game and force Wisconsin to utilize other players and to throw the ball. It’s interesting to me how Wisconsin is built to beat everybody in the Big Ten but struggle whenever they go up against the Buckeyes, and Wisconsin can’t really do enough other things well to make up for it when Ohio State takes their running back out of the game.
Wisconsin is always so reliant on the run game that they aren’t used having to throw to win and frankly struggle when they can’t run the ball. There was honestly a point where I thought they were going to get shut out in the first meeting, because they couldn’t get anything going with Taylor being taken out of the game and unable to make an impact. When Wisconsin did score to make the game 10-7 it felt more fortunate than anything else and didn’t really seem like the game was going to change. I say that because Ohio State scored a field goal and a touchdown their two drives before half in their first meeting, showing that they were starting to wear them down and figure things out. Wisconsin scored off of a bad punt and was simply a good play they scored a touchdown on. That’s important because Wisconsin never actually drove the length of the field to score on Ohio State all game. While the score itself was close and 10-7, anybody watching the trend could have foreseen what happened next or at least not be surprised by it.
It’s worth pointing out that on Ohio State’s final drive of the first half they started to find success throwing the ball. While they didn’t throw the ball a lot, they threw it enough and affectively. Once Wisconsin came within three, Ohio State rattled off four straight touchdown drives to end up winning 38-7. They wore down the Wisconsin defense and imposed their will running the ball and the Badgers had no answer. For the game Ohio State had 431 total yards and Wisconsin only had 191. Ohio State had 264 yards rushing and averaged 5.3 yards per rush, while Wisconsin had 83 and only averaged 2.4 yards per rush. It’s hard to imagine the rematch going much better for Wisconsin, as this game will not be played outside in the rain and instead will be in a dome. That’s definitely worth pointing out and talking about, as the rain may have been the only thing slowing down the Ohio State offense in the first place.
While Wisconsin offensively will no doubt have some new wrinkles and concepts that weren’t used in the prior game, but Ohio State will now be able to open up their entire playbook and utilize that from the start. Yes Wisconsin will also be able to do the same, but there’s a reason playing in the rain gave them an advantage in the first place. While Ohio State also relies on the run game, they definitely aren’t as reliant on it as Wisconsin. With or without rain Wisconsin is a run heavy offense, but run heavy with the running back specifically. The Wisconsin quarterback is not a run threat, making it easy for Ohio State to eliminate their running game success. Ohio State had little trouble running the ball in the first meeting especially in the second half, and I suspect the Ohio State offense has even more success the second time around because Wisconsin will have to be more concerned with the pass game. Defending Ohio State’s offense a second time around in a dome will actually be harder to stop, and I don’t think Wisconsin will have the success on offense to stay with Ohio State for an entire game. I also can’t help but notice the last few times the two teams have met that there was a clear speed gap between Wisconsin and Ohio State, and that will be another advantage for Ohio State. I think this game will be similar than the first meeting, but am interested to see what Wisconsin will try to do differently on offense this time around. I look forward to this game, but playing Minnesota for the first time this year would have been more interesting. Instead, they get a rematch with Wisconsin.
I’m not gonna spend a lot of time on the other matchup’s, but I do think LSU will beat Georgia and I’m not sure it will be close. I don’t think that shows how great LSU is but will more be an indictment on Georgia simply being average on offense. Even when healthy they have been a bad offensive team all year, and it’s even more concerning when they aren’t even healthy on offense going into this game. They are missing two of their top receivers and while he is playing, running back D’andre Swift is playing but even he is banged up heading into the game. Their offense and quarterback Jake Fromm have been bad all year long but nobody talks about it. It’s not like the loss to South Carolina was a fluke either. I watched that game and South Carolina was just better. Must be because they are in the SEC but that just goes unnoticed by ESPN and the committee. Georgia does have a decent resume but I have a hard time believing their are only three teams better than them in the entire country. I think Georgia is ranked too high and simply not that good. While they do have a great defense I expect it to get worn down because Georgia’s offense struggles to score no matter who they seem to play, and Georgia hasn’t faced an offense like LSU’s all year. LSU will win and the SEC will only get one team in the playoff.
The final playoff spot will likely then come down to either Utah or the Big 12 champion, and I don’t really have a prediction on either game. I also believe that whoever gets that fourth spot isn’t going to win their playoff game anyway if it’s against Ohio State. The importance of getting the number 1 seed is that there is a significant drop off from Clemson and any team that gets in the playoff behind them whether it’s Utah, Oklahoma, or Baylor. Considering the committee put Ohio State back at number 1 after a top 10 win over Penn State I expect them to stay number 1 if they beat Wisconsin Saturday. Ohio State would prove they have been the best team all year and the most consistent, but you can never truly trust the committee. If Ohio State and LSU both win it can’t be guaranteed that either one will be number one, even though the clear choice should be Ohio State.
It will be interesting to see what happens and how this weekend plays out, as everything is on the line and there is a clear advantage in getting to play the Big 12 champ or Pac-12 champ Utah in the semifinal game as opposed to Clemson. The reason I say that is that while Clemson has no good wins this year, they are the defending champs for a reason and are playing as good as anybody right now including Ohio State. While Ohio State is more battle tested, I believe to prove they are the best team they will have to beat Clemson at some point, whether it’s in the semifinal game or the title game. Will be fun to see how the weekend plays out and stay tuned for my post next week. If you have any questions feel free to ask and I will get to those as I’m able to.