Let the debate begin.
The stakes were pretty clear for undefeated No. 4 Wisconsin in Saturday night’s Big Ten title game. If the Badgers knocked off No. 8 Ohio State, they would pretty much guarantee themselves a spot in the College Football Playoff. An undefeated Big Ten champion just would not get left out and would presumably join fellow conference champions Oklahoma, Clemson and Georgia in the field of four.
But the Buckeyes wanted to make things more interesting for the CFP selection committee.
OSU stormed out to a 21-7 lead and held off a late charge from the Badgers to win the Big Ten championship, its second under Urban Meyer, 27-21. Now, it’ll be either Ohio State or Alabama for that final spot.
Ohio State dominated in the early going. Wisconsin’s first six drives resulted in five punts with an Alex Hornibrook interception sprinkled in. By the 11:10 mark of the second quarter, the top-ranked Wisconsin defense, which entered the game giving up an average of 238 yards per game, had allowed 262 yards, including plays of 84, 57 and 77 yards.
Two plays after the aforementioned Hornibrook interception in the red zone, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, playing less than a week after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, lofted one downfield to Terry McLaurin for an 84-yard touchdown, opening the scoring.
Barrett gave it right back a few minutes later with an ill-advised throw that was intercepted by Wisconsin’s Andrew Van Ginkel and returned for a touchdown, tying the score at 7-7.
The good vibes for Wisconsin’s defense didn’t last long. On the fourth play of OSU’s next chance, Barrett found Parris Campbell, who broke a Wisconsin tackle and took off for a 57-yard touchdown.
After another WIsconsin punt, standout freshman J.K. Dobbins, who finished with 174 yards, reeled off a 77-yard run, setting up a short Barrett TD plunge on the very next play.
An Ohio State fumble allowed Wisconsin to cut the lead to 21-10 going into the break, but the Buckeyes had the game in hand.
The second half was a little different.
The teams traded field goals in the third, making it 24-13, but another Barrett interception gave the Badgers some life. This time, Wisconsin capitalized with a touchdown with Chris James diving in from a yard out. A two-point conversion followed, and all of a sudden the OSU lead was down to just 24-21 with 12:39 to play.
Ohio State went 15 plays and 79 yards on its next drive, taking more than seven minutes off the clock in the process. However, the Buckeyes, even after converting a fourth-and-one at the Wisconsin 13, opted to kick the field goal on another fourth-and-one, this time from the 3.
Sean Nuernberger’s chip shot extended the lead to 27-21 with 5:20 to play and Wisconsin had serious life.
But the Badgers’ lack of explosive play ability on offense showed itself when it mattered most. Wisconsin punted it back to OSU after the field goal, but got another chance on offense after its defense stopped the Buckeyes (well, Barrett missed a wide open Dobbins, one of several throws he missed on the evening).
This time, regaining possession at its own 29 with 2:53 to play, Hornibrook led the Badgers into OSU territory — but barely. On first and 10 from the OSU 43, the Badgers were flagged for holding, making it first and 20. Quickly, the first and 20 turned into fourth and 20 and Hornibrook was intercepted by Damon Webb to seal the Big Ten title for OSU and Wisconsin’s fate on the outside looking in for the playoff.
Now it’s up to the committee to decide: Will it be one-loss Alabama or two-loss Big Ten champion Ohio State in the College Football Playoff?
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