There's this weird debate about what happens if Penn State wins the Big Ten Championship on Saturday. In that situation, do you take Ohio State, or do you give the Nittany Lions the leg up for a head-to-head win and a conference title? It is a doomsday scenario for the Playoff committee, one that could be avoided if Wisconsin wins on Saturday and it can just take the Buckeyes' head-to-head win over the Badgers as gospel.
But if Penn State wins, we're in for a hoard of takes about the value of head-to-heads and conference championships. Hell, look at what happened on ESPN last week when the mere possibility of OSU vs. PSU for a Playoff spot came up.
Good friends going at it over OSU/PSU scenarios. pic.twitter.com/0M4ohS1Xgm— Eleven Warriors (@11W) November 23, 2016
It's a tough question to answer when it's just a hypothetical. Imagine what will happen if we get to a point where we need to have this answered to determine the Playoff field. It would be awful.
So I would like to present a very simple solution to this conundrum, and I will bold and italicize it to get the point across: If you think Ohio State is better than Penn State, just say so.
"Best" vs. "Most Deserving"
There are two schools of thought with how the Playoff field should be determined. The first is that the field should be made up of the four-best teams in America. The second is that the field should be made up of the four most-deserving teams in America. Speaking for myself, I think either of these are perfectly fine as long as the committee is consistent in their decision making.
But let's dive into these two scenarios. The second one is much easier to discuss: if you look at every team's resume without their names attached, you select the four teams that most deserve to be there. Good. Great. Grand. Wonderful. There's a little room for argument, but for the most part, this is the safer of the two options for the committee.
The issue comes if the committee selects teams based on which teams are the best. How you define best leaves a ton of room for interpretation, but in the FAQ section on the Playoff's website, it literally says "The format of the College Football Playoff is simple: the four best teams, two semifinals played in bowl games and a national championship game played in a different city every year..."
A former committee member told ESPN's Heather Dinich "Not the four most deserving, not the fan favorites, not the Cinderellas. None of that language is in there. It says the four best teams, and so that might mean something different to everybody in the room, but it's still a constant reminder, here's our mission, let's stick to it."
Where does that leave OSU vs. PSU?
Looping this back around to a potential Ohio State vs. Penn State debate, the committee has to choose between these two things. If you are looking at things like conference titles and head-to-head as more important – which I think would fit under "deserving" more so than "best" – then yes, the Nittany Lions should be in, even if it lost one more game than the Buckeyes.
But if you're going by best, and you think the Buckeyes are better, that's ok! That is perfectly fine. Essentially every single advanced metric – S&P+, FEI, F/+, FPI (which is trash) – think Ohio State is the superior football team. If you watch both teams play, maybe you will go "hey, I think the team in red is better than the team in blue." Perhaps you'll look at the box score from the time they played and go "Ohio State was the better team, Penn State just happened to score more points."
That's fine! That is completely fine. I will disagree with you on most things (it's hard to disagree with advanced stats over the sample size of an entire season), but if you want to say "after considering everything, I just think Ohio State is better," you can. We have this wonderful thing called the First Amendment that lets you, like, have opinions and vocalize them and stuff.
The issue has come when people try to add details to seem smarter because they know that, as experts, they can't get away with "i juss think there bettr k?" As Dan summed up earlier today, the argument that a win that occurs because of a special teams play doesn't count is absolutely ludicrous. If anything, winning a game because of a special teams play against a team coached by noted special teams savant Urban Meyer is an even bigger deal, as he has placed emphasis on special teams being one-third of the game for his entire career.
There are the people who will be tasked with the question and respond by going "Penn State got blown out by Michigan and Ohio State beat Michigan." That's a terrible answer! We are not talking about Michigan, we're talking about Penn State against Ohio State as the Big Ten's potential representative in the College Football Playoff if the committee can only take one team. Hell, I'll just say the Nittany Lions comprehensively destroyed Iowa, which turned around the next week and beat Michigan. This is a red herring to try and justify thinking that Ohio State is better than Penn State even though the Nittany Lions won the head-to-head and could win the conference title, which again, is fine on its own.
Please, if the Nittany Lions win on Saturday, and you honestly think that Ohio State is better than Penn State, just say so. It's way better than trying to make up some garbage excuse.