Ohio State vs. Michigan, Part II? The CFP committee could make it happen, even if no one wants it

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Saturday night callers to 97.1 The Fan here ranged from desperate to depraved with a healthy dose of drunk sprinkled in. These were not well-adjusted folks. These were not comments full of patience or perspective.

Hours prior, the Michigan Wolverines had ran over, around and from Ohio State for the second consecutive season, this time a 45-23 emasculation that left Buckeyes fans seething and in search of a scapegoat.

They, not surprisingly, settled on head coach Ryan Day, and sports talk radio served as a cathartic, if chaotic, outlet to vent about the fourth-year OSU coach.

Firing Day, despite his 45-5 record at the school, was a standard opinion. The absurdity, let alone improbability of it, didn’t matter.

That’s the pain that comes with losing to your most hated opponent in college football, with the hours after a defeat just the start of the 365-days of darkness to come.

It never gets better until the next time offers a chance to change the narrative.

Which, in this case and in this season, might not be a full year away.

It doesn’t take much for circumstances to leave the College Football Playoff committee to set up a near-immediate rematch next month and give the world “Ohio State-Michigan, Part II.”

Ohio State Buckeyes fans would perhaps relish at the opportunity to get another shot at Michigan in the College Football Playoff. But do we really need to run this rivalry back? (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ohio State Buckeyes fans would perhaps relish at the opportunity to get another shot at Michigan in the College Football Playoff. But do we really need to run this rivalry back? (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Start with this, it’s likely that even with the loss, Ohio State will remain in discussion for a playoff spot. The Buckeyes came in at No. 5 in the penultimate rankings on Tuesday.

They will trail some order of Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC, all of whom have to play a conference championship game this weekend and risk a loss while the Buckeyes sit home idle with a de facto bye.

We are on the record suggesting that a team that doesn’t play a 13th game shouldn’t be allowed to jump back into the playoff field due to a loss by one of the top four teams playing a 13th game. It places undue burden on the more accomplished team and actually rewards the weaker one.

However, the committee has historically disagreed with that reasoning. In 2017, a 12-0 Wisconsin team dropped from No. 4 in the rankings after losing the Big Ten title game. No. 5 Alabama, with an 11-1 record, moved up despite not playing.

It could easily happen again, with USC and perhaps even TCU at risk of falling out of the playoff with a loss this weekend. Ohio State would then be back in by backing in.

Michigan, meanwhile, could easily wind up as the No. 1 overall seed, perhaps surpassing Georgia this week.

The Wolverines' best win — at AP No. 5 Ohio State — is better than Georgia’s best win — at home against No. 7 Tennessee. Michigan’s second-best win — over No. 8 Penn State — is also superior to Georgia’s second-best win — vs. No. 15 Oregon.

As such there is a relatively clear path for the committee to wind up with No. 1 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State … in Atlanta for the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31.

Which means … oh my.

Ohio State and Michigan have played annually since 1918 — with the exception of 2020. The game has been either in Columbus or Ann Arbor. Since 1934, it has been staged in late November, almost always the regular season finale.

It was the build-up for the season and then either a joyous or painful result to stew over. That’s the tradition.

Yet in the above scenario, the game would likely take place on New Year’s Eve in Atlanta. Michigan, as the top seed, would get to choose its semifinal game location and would almost certainly go with that site over Glendale, Ariz. The teams could also wind up 2-3 and play in Arizona (presuming Georgia was the top seed).

All of which would make this entire thing feel, well, strange.

Day would get a chance at immediate redemption, in a game with even higher stakes than last Saturday’s. The chance to retool the defense, make more aggressive decisions on fourth down and milk that fresh disappointment could change everything.

Of course, Michigan would likely be healthier — it was essentially without its best offensive player (running back Blake Corum) and defensive player (pass rusher Mike Morris). And even though the Wolverines prevailed, there is no doubt plenty Jim Harbaugh would do differently as well.

Rematches aren’t without precedent in college football.

Georgia and Alabama played in both the SEC and national championship games last year. The 2011 season concluded with a LSU-Bama rematch in the BCS title game. In both cases, the original loser wound up winning.

As league’s move away from divisions and stage their title games with the two best teams, it increasingly will happen — both TCU-Kansas State and USC-Utah are rematches this year. And when the national playoff expands to 12 teams, then things like this might happen often.

Yet this one, so soon after that game?

Saturday wasn’t just a victory for Michigan and a loss for Ohio State, it felt like an historical marker, a seismic moment in a long and storied rivalry.

Now we are one upset and one committee decision from running it back, far sooner and in a stadium farther away than anyone, even those depressed Buckeyes talk radio callers, could have imagined.