For Ohio State, this very well could be one of those “win the battle, lose the war” type scenarios.
The battle in this case is The Game, with OSU using a 28-point second half to pull away from archrival Michigan 42-28 in the Horseshoe in Columbus. It was the Buckeyes’ third straight win in the series and the 10th in the last 11 (including vacated 2011 win).
Ezekiel Elliott‘s 46-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-one play with under five minutes to play stretched the lead to 35 28 and essentially put the game out of reach. A 33-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Darron Lee exactly one minute later served as the icing on the rivalry cake and likely brought an end to the Brady Hoke era with the Wolverines.
The win, though, was overshadowed mightily by injury. Or, specifically, an injury that could cost the Buckeyes the war.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, OSU starting quarterback J.T. Barrett went down with what appeared to be a very significant injury to his lower right leg and was carted off the field. While there’s been no official word from the school on the severity of the injury, it looked very much like something that could sideline Barrett for a period of months, not weeks.
In the worst-case scenario, Barrett would miss both the Big Ten championship game next Saturday as well as whatever bowl game for which the Buckeyes qualify. As OSU is also involved in the chase for one of the four College Football Playoff spots, and based on the committee’s own selection protocol, Barrett’s injury, if it’s determined to be serious enough to knock him out for the remainder of the year, could have a detrimental impact on the team’s playoff hopes.
From the official “College Football Playoff Selection Committee Protocol“:
2. Principles. The committee will select the teams using a process that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams by considering:
- Conference championships won,
- Strength of schedule,
- Head-to-head competition,
- Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory), and,
- Other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.
The bolded part is where the Buckeyes’ playoff chances may come crashing down, if that’s what they end up doing.
Barrett has essentially been OSU’s offense in 2014 in his first season as a starter. He entered Week 14 second in the country in passing efficiency, and he’s accounted for 45 of the Buckeyes’ 66 offensive touchdowns. His 938 yards rushing are second on the team.
Cardale Jones, Barrett’s backup, had only thrown 16 passes in his collegiate career coming in, with all but two of them coming in mop-up duty this season. It would stand to reason that the committee would look at the Buckeyes as a lesser team without Barrett; one could also argue, though, that the same thing was being said about a Braxton Miller-less Buckeyes team back in August when the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year went down with a season-ending injury. In other words, the Barrett then wasn’t the Barrett now.
The question now becomes, though, just how would the selection committee view a Buckeyes team that beats Minnesota/Wisconsin in the conference championship game next week without its star quarterback? And will it depend on how the redshirt sophomore Jones, if he is forced into the starting lineup, performs what would be his first-ever start?
Regardless of how it ends up, it will prove to be a good test for exactly how the playoff committee approaches the selection process. Whether that would be good news or bad for OSU’s playoff aspirations remains to be seen.