The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and the status of The Game? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
What is your call on if/who we play this week?
— BuckeyeBorn&Bred (@buckeybornnbred) December 7, 2020
Every effort is going to be made to play The Game.
Obviously that was never being questioned at Ohio State, which not only lives the rivalry every single day but also needs to play once more to guarantee eligibility for the Big Ten title. But it’s also true at Michigan, which is clearly struggling to the possible finish line of the Jim Harbaugh Era but remains proud of its tradition and wouldn’t want to miss out on the chance to ruin the season for the Buckeyes.
There wasn’t much optimism from either party over the weekend that Michigan would be ready to travel to the Horseshoe by Saturday, and that started a number of conversations about contingency plans for the Buckeyes heading into the final week of the regular season. There were encouraging signs in Ann Arbor on Monday, though, with indications that Harbaugh’s program would return to practice in the afternoon and was planning to work out again on Tuesday.
That doesn’t guarantee anything by high noon on Saturday, of course. But it’s clearly a step in the right direction to ensure that the best rivalry in sports gets to continue without interruption during this pandemic-challenged season.
If there’s a setback, though, what would the backup options be for the Buckeyes? According to conversations with Lettermen Row sources familiar with the situation and the potential options, this is what would be on the table for Ohio State.
Ideal Outcome: Michigan returns to practice, plays Ohio State
Ohio State was expecting to have daily conversations with Big Ten and/or Michigan officials on the status of The Game, and the most pressing issue was when the program would end its pause on team-related activities. The Wolverines shut down with similar circumstances to those that forced Ohio State to cancel its trip to Illinois, and they did so early enough last week that they should have had the same opportunity to get the spread under control. Given what appears to be a manageable number of positive tests for Michigan based on what it has publicly confirmed, returning to practice on Monday and Tuesday will send signals that it should be able to play.
Backup Opponent: Ohio State makes up trip to Maryland
There are a couple different scenarios that could play out with a contingency opponent, but the most likely match for the Buckeyes would be Maryland. That Big Ten East Division game was cancelled earlier in the season due to COVID issues for the Terrapins, and making that game up provides the most common-sense, logistical decision. If Minnesota’s roster situation makes it too difficult for it to return to action, that provides a simple fix for the Big Ten by sending Rutgers to Nebraska and having the Buckeyes head to Maryland. The Gophers are also showing signs that they could be ready to return by this weekend, and that would make it a bit trickier for the league since it would potentially need to just cancel the Rutgers-Maryland game to ensure Ohio State gets a sixth opportunity to play. The Scarlet Knights and Terrapins could then play during “championship week,” which might help ease the scheduling burden for the Big Ten since it would like to make up the rivalry game between Minnesota and Wisconsin then. Either way, that decision would need to be made by Wednesday according to the rules the Big Ten has established for scheduling different opponents.
B1G Decision: Buckeyes don’t play, minimum-games waived
The conference has already had a key decision-maker acknowledge that it wouldn’t make sense to keep Ohio State out of the Big Ten championship or potentially the College Football Playoff when it’s undefeated and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Indiana in the East Division. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez went on the record last week and indicated the league would have to revisitÂ its decision to institute a minimum requirement of six games for a team to be eligible for a title shot in Indianapolis if the Buckeyes had another matchup cancelled. Ohio State is currently working under the impression that the Big Ten has no interest in changing that rule — though that might simply be a matter of it still being a hypothetical situation at this point. Either way, if Michigan can’t play on Saturday, the Big Ten might have a major problem on its hands with key broadcaster FOX, which would potentially be losing its most powerful draw in the Big Noon Kickoff window for both of the final two weeks of the season. For the good of its future partnership, for the sake of awarding a credible Big Ten crown and for the financial benefit of the entire league by trying to give a team a shot at the College Football Playoff, the Big Ten will have to act if the worst-case scenario arrives. If they don’t want to shuffle the schedule, it will have to scrap the misguided rule for championship qualification.
At this point, the ideal outcome looks brighter for Ohio State and Michigan. But as always this season, nothing is guaranteed.
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