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Ohio State over Penn State? It’s logical, but still not fair

22 October 2016:  Penn State TE Mike Gesicki (88) leaps over a defensive back. The Penn State Nittany Lions upset the #2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes 24-21 at Beaver Stadium in State College, PA. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)
Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire

Frankly, I don’t blame fans of the Penn State Nittany Lions for losing their minds.

Penn State won the Big Ten Conference’s East Division.

On Saturday night, if Penn State defeats Wisconsin, it will win the Big Ten title, the program’s first since 2005.

That would be Penn State’s ninth-straight victory in this amazing turnaround season. You’d be hard-pressed to find another team playing that well down the stretch.

On Oct. 22, Penn State upset Ohio State, 24-21.

Yet unless the favorites lose in other conference championship games this weekend, Ohio State will go to the College Football Playoff semifinals.

Penn State will not.

Where’s the fairness and logic in that?

It may not be fair… but it is definitely based in logic — just not the same logic most of us grew up with in college football.

It’s CFP logic.

It’s worth remembering that the CFP selection committee protocol clearly states that a non-champion of a conference can be selected into the semifinals if it is “unequivocally’’ one of the four best teams.

The worth of conference championships and head-to-head results? They can be used as “tiebreakers between teams that look similar.’’

Ohio State was No. 2 and Penn State was No. 7 when Tuesday’s CFP standings were announced.

“There’s still separation there … they’re not close in the eyes of the selection committee,’’ said CFP selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt.

Hocutt said the committee’s protocol is “to select the four very best teams in college football. When the selection committee believes there are comparable teams, (when) there’s razor-thin margins between the two, that’s when we go to the protocol and the metric.’’

So what is the separation between Ohio State and Penn State?

Win-Loss Record: The Buckeyes are 11-1. The Nittany Lions would be 11-2 if they win the Big Ten.

Interesting Comparable Game No. 1: Ohio State defeated Michigan 30-27 in double overtime. Penn State lost against Michigan 49-10.

Interesting Comparable Game No. 2: Ohio State survived Michigan State 17-16 (when the Spartans failed on a gutsy 2-point conversion attempt). Penn State defeated Michigan State 45-12.

Record Against Top 10 Teams: Ohio State is 3-1 (beating No. 5 Michigan, No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 9 Oklahoma, while losing against No. 7 Penn State). Penn State would be 2-1 (beating No. 2 Ohio State and No. 6 Wisconsin, while losing against No. 5 Michigan).

This might be Ohio State’s ultimate end-game statistic. The Buckeyes have three wins against teams that could have 10 victories — Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Michigan — and a narrow road defeat against another 10-win team (Penn State).

Penn State can’t match that.

No team can match that.

Ohio State beat non-conference foe Oklahoma by three touchdowns. Penn State lost against non-conference opponent Pittsburgh — reviving an in-state rivalry that had been dormant for 16 years — 42-39.

PSU does have the head-to-head victory — a crazy game that turned on the return of a blocked field-goal attempt — but that doesn’t have the end-of-argument power it once did in a past life.

These sorts of things do have precedent, even in the Bowl Championship Series era.

In 2000, one-loss Florida State was selected over one-loss Miami to play unbeaten Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl’s national championship game, even though Miami defeated FSU 27-24 in a head-to-head showdown.

In 2001, Nebraska was picked for the BCS Championship Game, even though it didn’t win its Big 12 division, and even though it finished with a 62-36 loss against Colorado.

In 2003, Oklahoma was picked for the BCS Championship Game, even though it lost 35-7 against Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game.

So Penn State is just the latest team to feel frustrated and wonder what more it could’ve done.

Here’s the kicker.

Let’s say Clemson loses in the ACC Championship Game or Washington loses in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Which team slides into that No. 4 slot to become the last CFP semifinalist?

Probably Michigan, meaning that possible Big Ten champion Penn State could be passed over for TWO teams in its own division. This time a head-to-head result (Michigan 49, Penn State 10) will be held up as a key justification.

We can already hear the reaction from Penn State fans.

Grrrrrrrrrrr.

I understand the rage and the incredulousness… but this is the CFP era, and we’ll be living with those results on Sunday. It might not be fair, but it’s logical in a CFP kind of way.

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