The College Football Playoff selection committee says it takes injuries into account when judging which teams are worthy of a spot in the final four.
Now chairman Jeff Long and his 11 committee cohorts have a big one to consider.
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State's fabulous redshirt freshman quarterback, broke his right ankle in the second half of the Buckeyes' 42-28 victory over Michigan.
Ohio State took a while to shed its bitter and beleaguered rivals to the north. It was 21-all midway through the third quarter, but Ohio State scored three straight touchdowns to put the game away, the final two after Barrett was carted off with an aircast on his leg.
The injury cast a shadow on a thrilling rivalry Saturday brimming with playoff implications.
"With all the scrutiny he's been under since the loss to (Virginia Tech), for him to rebound the way he did and for him to lead our offense it's been huge. Next man up when it comes to quarterbacks," Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee said.
Ohio State has been written off twice so far this season. First when star quarterback Braxton Miller was lost to a shoulder injury in August, and then again when Barrett and the Buckeyes lost at home to Virginia Tech in early September.
They haven't lost since and have risen to sixth in the playoff rankings, with Barrett turning in an season worthy of Heisman Trophy consideration, accounting for 45 touchdowns.
Ohio State is currently in a beauty contest between TCU and Baylor trying to secure the fourth playoff spot. Mississippi State was in that mix, too, but a 31-17 loss at Mississippi dealt the Bulldogs' playoff hopes a death blow.
Alabama, Oregon and Florida State appear to be in control of the first three spots.
Ohio State's performance against Michigan was OK. The bigger question is: What now?
The Buckeyes will play in the Big Ten championship game next week against Wisconsin. It's their last chance to impress the committee. Their resume has one excellent victory (at Michigan State) and another very good one (at Minnesota).
If Ohio State adds another one without Barrett, how will the committee view the Buckeyes? Sure, the panel factors in injuries, but in a subjective process where just about everything is taken into account, how — and how much — is impossible to quantify.
Ohio State cannot be as good with Barrett's replacement, Cardale Jones. Does that leave the committee less likely to advance the Buckeyes?
Or, if Ohio State can beat a very good team without Barrett, does that prove the Buckeyes are even more worthy of a spot in the playoff?
Another quarterback went down later Saturday. Baylor star Bryce Petty missed a chunk of the Bears' 48-46 victory against Texas Tech with a concussion. Baylor hosts Kansas State next week.
With a week to go before the final rankings are released and the playoff field is set, the committee's decision just got tougher.
Barring some shocking upsets still to come, the SEC will have to live with one team in the College Football playoff — if that.
The strongest conference in the country whittled itself down to one team with one loss: Alabama, which pulled away from Auburn 55-44 with a huge second half.
Not only did Ole Miss take out Mississippi State but the Atlantic Coast Conference went 4-0 in rivalry games against SEC East teams.
Sure the power is in the SEC West, but the conference's air of invincibility took a hit.
And if East champion Missouri were to pull an upset in Atlanta in next Saturday's SEC championship game against the Crimson Tide, suddenly the conference that won seven of the least eight BCS championships is far from a shoo-in to get even one team in the first playoff.
JUST ANOTHER SATURDAY
Florida State fell behind early, rallied, held on, won a one-score game. Just another Saturday for the Seminoles.
Jameis Winston threw four picks against rival Florida in a 24-19 win in Tallahassee.
"Survive and advance," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "That's what we did."
The ACC championship game and Georgia Tech (10-2), which snapped a five-game losing streak against Georgia, awaits the 'Noles in Charlotte, North Carolina. It won't be easy.
PROJECTING THE NEXT TOP FOUR
Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, TCU.
PROJECTING THE FINAL FOUR
Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State.
AP Sports Writers Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, and Kareem Copeland in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP