INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State made its case to be included in the College Football Playoff with a 27-21 win against previously unbeaten Wisconsin in Saturday night’s Big Ten championship game.
Whether the committee considers the Buckeyes worthy won’t be revealed until Sunday afternoon.
If selected, eighth-ranked Ohio State would become the first two-loss team under the current postseason format to be awarded one of the four berths to contend for a national championship. The Buckeyes also are seeking a second appearance in the four-year history of the College Football Playoff.
In winning its second Big Ten championship game, Ohio State (11-2) forged a 14-point lead in the first half and owned an 11-point margin heading into the fourth quarter before No. 4 Wisconsin rallied. The Buckeyes sealed the win when safety Damon Webb intercepted Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s final pass with 69 seconds to play.
“I’m extremely proud of our group of players,” Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer said. “This is not an easy season, as they never are, but to win a championship, first of all to win the Eastern Division, which arguably is one of the top divisions in America, and then to come in against the number four team in the country, I’m much appreciative of our players and hope some good things happen down the road.”
Wisconsin had its playoff aspirations almost assuredly extinguished after its 13-game winning streak dating from last season’s Cotton Bowl ended in front of a packed house at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Badgers (12-1) fell to 0-5 in the Big Ten championship game and lost for the first time since last year’s conference title game.
Less a week removed from knee surgery, quarterback J.T. Barrett accounted for three touchdowns for Ohio State, which amassed 449 total yards of offense and overcame three turnovers. Running back J.K. Dobbins added 174 rushing yards on 17 carries to earn MVP honors, and the Buckeyes held Wisconsin to one offensive touchdown in front of an announced crowd of 65,886.
Place kicker Sean Nuernberger’s 20-yard field goal with 5:20 to play in regulation provided the final margin for the Buckeyes, who held on thanks to a pair of defensive stands down the stretch.
An interception by Wisconsin linebacker Jake Collinsworth had set up a touchdown that drew the Badgers to 24-21 with 12:39 left in the fourth quarter. Running back Chris James’s one-yard plunge cut the lead to five, and after a lengthy delay to repair a patch of ripped turf at the goal line, Hornibrook completed a two-point conversion throw to tight end Troy Fumagalli.
Ohio State moved in front, 21-7, early in the second quarter on Barrett’s one-yard run. His touchdown immediately followed Dobbins’ 77-yard run that in the process set the Buckeyes single-season freshman rushing record, breaking the mark Maurice Clarett set in 2002.
Wisconsin, which scored its first points on Andrew Van Ginkel’s nine yard interception for a touchdown in the opening quarter, went into intermission trailing, 21-10, after Rafael Gaglianone’s 28-yard field goal with 3:42 to go in the half. The Badgers settled for three points after recovering a fumble at the Buckeyes’ 11-yard line but netting just one yard on the possession.
“Guys in the locker room understand the work we put in and the way we fought through the season,” Barrett said, “and I think our resume speaks for itself.”
The most compelling argument for Ohio State earning a playoff bid, based on what the College Football Playoff committee has indicated it values most, is winning a Power Five conference championship. The Buckeyes also own three victories over top-25 opponents, with one of their losses coming against Oklahoma, the Big 12 champion and a lock for the College Football Playoff.
But detractors will counter that both of Ohio State’s losses came in rather lopsided fashion, including 55-24 to Iowa. In addition, they can point to Penn State last year and Stanford in 2015. Both two-loss teams had three victories over top 25 opponents and won their conference championship, but neither made the College Football Playoff.
And unlike Ohio State, the Nittany Lions and the Cardinal each had one loss by single digits.
Concerns about the College Football Playoff aside, Ohio State prepared this past week uncertain how much Barrett would be able to play, or if he would be effective doing so.
The senior aggravated his already sore right knee last week in a 31-20 win against Michigan when a cameraman tried to squeeze by him on the sideline, drawing condemnation from Meyer during Ohio State’s postgame news conference.
Barrett confirmed he had arthroscopic surgery last Sunday to repair his meniscus.
“How you keep him out of a game, I just don’t know how it happens,” Meyer said of Barrett, who practiced on Thursday, at which time he was cleared to play in his first Big Ten championship game.
Freshman backup quarterback Dwayne Haskins, a former All-Met at Bullis, performed admirably in relief last week but watched from the sideline as Barrett marched onto the field for the first series. Barrett absorbed his first significant contact while being tackled during a third-down scramble on the opening possession but popped right up without any apparent discomfort.
His throwing form didn’t suffer either when Barrett completed an 84-yard touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin on the Buckeyes’ next series. The play with 6:31 left in the first quarter capped a 96-yard drive, the longest in terms of yards in Big Ten championship game history.
The lead swung back to the Buckeyes for good, 14-7, courtesy of Barrett’s 57-yard toss to running back Parris Campbell, who broke multiple tackles to conclude the scoring in a riveting first quarter.
“It’s just amazing how important this playoff is and how the whole world revolves around it,” Meyers said with a hint of sarcasm. “I hope we get a shot.”
More college football: