No. 2 Ohio State announced late Friday that it had to cancel its game with Illinois on Saturday due to a COVID-19 outbreak of some scale within the program. The only person we know for sure to have contracted the coronavirus is coach Ryan Day as the university does not allow for the release of names or even the total numbers of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.
What we do know is that the Buckeyes have now had two games canceled -- the other was Nov. 14 against Maryland -- and that is the most they can have drop off their schedule and still remain eligible for the Big Ten Championship Game. We also know that the first two Big Ten teams to have a game canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak on their own squads did not just have one game drop off their schedules but two.
Wisconsin had to cancel games on Oct. 31 and Nov. 7 when COVID-19 hit, and Maryland's games on Nov. 14 and Nov. 21 were canceled when the Terrapins had to deal with an outbreak. Minnesota joins Ohio State as having to cancel its first games due to the coronavirus this week. That puts the Buckeyes' game at Michigan State and the Golden Gophers' home tilt with Northwestern next week in some doubt.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in a Zoom call Saturday that the team could have played but did not feel it was right to do so. That keeps open the possibility that the Buckeyes take the field next week and only lose one game to the outbreak.
The Big Ten rule on conference title eligibility states that a team must play at least six games unless the average number of games played by each team in the league is less than six with that average is rounded to the nearest integer. In that case, a team can qualify if it plays a minimum of two fewer games than that average.
So far, six conference games have been canceled. In order for a team to qualify for the Big Ten Championship Game having played only five games, there would have to be at least 18 total Big Ten cancellations in the regular season. That would necessitate 12 more games being canceled out of the 19 remaining, including this Saturday's remaining contests.
Even if Ohio State can qualify for the Big Ten Championship Game, any players who have a confirmed positive test on Saturday or later would not be eligible to play in that game due to COVID-19 protocols that require players who test positive to sit out 21 days.
So, what happens if Ohio State finishes 5-0 in the regular season and does not qualify for the Big Ten title? Well, the Buckeyes would still get another game on Dec. 19 for a chance to go to 6-0. That game would likely be against Wisconsin.
There is no minimum in terms of games that must be played for Ohio State to qualify for College Football Playoff consideration. As of now, the CFP Selection Committee has not set any such requirement, and there never has been a rule that a team be a league champion or even play in its league championship game.
The committee is evaluating these teams each week based on what they know about them so far. The fewer games played, the less the committee can learn about a team.
Ohio State could be in a situation where it is competing for a playoff spot with 9-0 Cincinnati, 8-1 Texas A&M and undefeated Big Ten champion Northwestern.
The Buckeyes' chances to make the four-team field would probably depend on how dominant they look in their remaining games. Style points mean more this season than ever before, and that would be especially true for a team playing three fewer games than its competition in the rankings.