COLUMBUS, Ohio – For most of the season, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has barely feigned knowledge of or interest in the College Football Playoff.
That all changed on a Big Ten championship game teleconference.
The third-year Buckeyes coach was asked if he thought the CFP panel might just downgrade his team because star quarterback J.T. Barrett broke his ankle in Saturday's win over Michigan.
"I think that's wrong, if that happens," he said, clearly upset. "Whether it's Ohio State or some other team, I don't know how you do that."
The thinking goes that Ohio State is less worthy of one of the four playoff spots because it's not as good a team without Barrett, who took over for the injured Braxton Miller and had a sensational season with a school-record 35 touchdown passes and 3,772 total yards.
The sixth-ranked Buckeyes (11-1, 8-0 Big Ten, No. 6 CFP) are preparing redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones to start against the Badgers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday.
Ohio State quarterbacks coach Tom Herman, who helped turn Barrett into another Miller, is now assigned to turning Jones into another Barrett.
He, too, can't imagine if the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin that it could be held against them that they overcame two crippling injuries at the most valuable and vulnerable of positions.
"I think that would be crazy," he said. "To say do I expect it or not expect it or whatever, I don't know what to expect. But I can't imagine that would be the case."
It was considered a body blow to Ohio State's season hopes when Miller — a three-year starter, two-time Big Ten MVP and considered a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy as a senior — reinjured his throwing shoulder in August and was lost for the year.
But the Buckeyes weathered that storm.
They overcame an early loss to Virginia Tech to win their final 10 games, capturing the Big Ten's East Division and a spot in the conference championship game.
But then Barrett went down. He had surgery on Sunday and is out until spring practice, when he'll have a limited role while he and Miller have an interesting battle for the starting job.
Of course, should the Buckeyes lose against 11th-ranked Wisconsin (10-2, 7-1, No. 16 CFP) — and they're 4-point underdogs, largely because of Barrett's injury — they undoubtedly will drop in the CFP rankings which determine the teams in the playoffs.
"Then obviously that handles itself," Meyer said.
But what if they win and a healthy team on the rise is up for consideration against the Buckeyes for a playoff spot?
A somewhat similar situation, also involving Ohio State in what was also a pseudo Big Ten title game, took place in 1973. The unbeaten No. 1 Buckeyes and undefeated fourth-ranked Michigan battled to a 10-10 stalemate before 105,223 at The Big House.
In the days when the Big Ten only sent one team — its conference champion — to the Rose Bowl, the tie meant that the 10 athletic directors had to vote to determine who would go.
One of the extenuating circumstances was that Michigan's standout quarterback, Dennis Franklin, broke his collarbone against the Buckeyes.
The ADs created a firestorm by voting to send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl, delighting Woody Hayes and infuriating Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.
Meyer believes that Ohio State should get credit for overcoming the injuries, not punished for suffering them.
"You lose one Heisman Trophy candidate before the season starts, and then another guy in game (12) who's also a Heisman candidate," Meyer said. "That's a positive that your team can still function. It tells you about the talent and depth on your team."
Almost everyone, with Ohio State's team and around the nation, was amazed how quickly Barrett stepped into Miller's role as a game-changing signal-caller.
Meyer was asked Monday whether Jones could make a similar transformation in one week.
"Well, we're going to find out," he said.
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