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Ohio State poses test for committee

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Sportsmanship Takes Center Stage (1:25)

Gene Wojciechowski says that in the midst of one of the most heated rivalries in sports, sportsmanship made a long overdue return. (1:25)

PREGAME SPEECH

Things I'd rather be than a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee:

• Pooper scooper at a Great Dane dog show.

• Pop-culture translator to Kansas State's Bill Snyder.

• Philadelphia 76ers season tickets account representative.

• Fundraiser for an Urban Meyer statue -- in Ann Arbor.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any more complicated for the 12-person CFP selection committee, Ohio State wins and loses all in the same game.

In all likelihood, the Buckeyes put a merciful end to the Brady Hoke era at Michigan (otherwise known for the past two seasons as "The Days of Darkness"), finished a third consecutive Big Ten regular season with an undefeated record and are a Big Ten championship game win away from a 12-1 record. So far, so good.

Now the not-so-good part: J.T. Barrett and his right ankle underwent surgery Sunday.

(It goes without saying that the heartbreaking news of OSU senior defensive tackle Kosta Karageorge's death overshadows all things football. Karageorge had been missing since Wednesday, and the worst fears were realized when his body was discovered and identified Sunday. Police say all indications point toward suicide.)

Meanwhile, Barrett, who has been a revelation at quarterback this season, fractured his ankle in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 42-28 victory against the Wolverines. As Barrett lay calmly on the Ohio Stadium turf (he knew), you could've heard a strand of hair drop.

It was a sobering football scene. Barrett already had accounted for three touchdowns on the day, had further secured his place as the Buckeyes' quarterback of the present and future, and could soon count on an invitation to the Dec. 13 Heisman Trophy awards ceremony.

Then there was a pile of Michigan and Ohio State players mixed together like chocolate chips and cookie dough. Barrett was caught in the middle. The next we knew, his leg was in an inflatable cast.

We wish Barrett the best, of course. The same can be said of the CFP selection committee, which now has to make sense of Barrett's injury and how it relates to Ohio State's ranking.

The obvious reaction is to say the Buckeyes are CFP toast. Ohio State without Barrett, who is among the nation's leaders in points responsible for, is like the Mona Lisa without a smile.

But didn't we say the same thing after Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in August?

I know, different circumstances. Barrett made his Ohio State debut against unranked Navy back in late August, with more than 10 days to prepare. Barrett's replacement, redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones, will make his starting debut against 10-win, 14th-ranked Wisconsin in early December, in the Big Ten championship game, with a playoff spot at stake, with a week to prepare.

If you're the committee, what do you make of the Buckeyes? Do you downgrade them because they're on their third quarterback in four months? Do you look at their season body of work or at Barrett's injured body part?

And even if OSU beats the Badgers, can the committee really consider the Buckeyes one of the four "best" teams in the country, knowing Jones' second career start would come in the CFP semifinals?

This is where CFP metrics and computer calculations should recuse themselves and where committee members Barry Alvarez, Tom Osborne and Tyrone Willingham -- former head coaches who know exactly the challenges Meyer faces this week and beyond -- should step forward. They need to remind the rest of the committee that Barrett's injury, while devastating, shouldn't automatically eliminate Ohio State from top-four discussion.

Jones isn't Barrett. But he also isn't a scrub. Jones is 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and can run, which is a must in Meyer's offense. He also can pass, though he's sometimes accuracy-challenged with his throws. And remember: Meyer arrived at Ohio State in November 2011; Jones enrolled early in January 2012, so he's had three full seasons in Meyer's system.

If I'm on the committee, I vote the Buckeyes this week based on their season record and not based on the sight of Barrett leaving the field on an injury cart. If that's fourth, fine. If it's a little lower, that's fine, too. Just don't dismiss OSU out of hand.

Next week? Good question. Difficult question. Here's guessing the Big Ten championship game, the SEC championship, the ACC championship, the Pac-12 championship, K-State at Baylor and Iowa State at TCU will provide some answers.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to discuss Nicki Minaj with Coach Snyder.

FIRST QUARTER

In: Alabama's Amari Cooper (in fact, hard to find three better receivers on the same college football field than what we saw Saturday in Tuscaloosa: Cooper and Auburn's Duke Williams and Sammie Coates), Georgia Tech's resiliency, Florida State's Dalvin Cook (the Seminoles wouldn't be undefeated without the freshman running back), Michigan State's Jeremy Langford (another 100-yard rushing game), Stanford's mind-meld over UCLA, Wisconsin's mind-meld over Minnesota, Oregon's mind-meld over Oregon State, TCU defense (turnover festival in win against Texas), Arizona's Scooby Wright III (if he played in the Eastern or Central time zones he'd be on a magazine cover by now), Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall (Bama's Nick Saban will be happy when he's gone), Clemson's Deshaun Watson (all the freshman QB did was help beat South Carolina on one good ACL), Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram, Illinois and Tennessee's bowl eligibility, USC quarterback Cody Kessler (wishes he could face Notre Dame's defense every week), Indiana's Tevin Coleman (breaks the 2,000-yard barrier), Louisville's Gerod Holliman (14 interceptions this season, which would tie him for 23rd in NCAA team INTs), AP preseason top five (FSU, Bama, Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State) vs. now, Rutgers' comeback win over Maryland (down by 25 late in first half), Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty (eight TD passes in 67-66 win against previously unbeaten Marshall), CFP selection committee definition of "best."

Out: Nebraska's Bo Pelini, Auburn's defensive coordinator, Texas A&M's defensive coordinator, the CFP chances of Mississippi State, the CFP chances of Georgia, the CFP chances of UCLA, Michigan's Brady Hoke, Florida's Will Muschamp, possibly Everett Golson and his starting quarterback job at Notre Dame (Golson was pulled from the lineup during the second quarter of ND's 49-14 loss to USC), Marshall and the Top 25, Ohio State's Barrett, UCLA's Brett Hundley (see you in the NFL draft), South Carolina's mind-meld over Clemson, Kentucky and bowl eligibility (how'd that stomping on the Louisville logo work out?), monetary payment if you correctly name the five teams without a conference win (spoiler alert: SMU, Iowa State, Colorado, Vanderbilt, Georgia State), Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty (he suffered a concussion on a personal foul hit by Texas Tech linebacker Sam Eguavoen) vs. K-State?

SECOND QUARTER

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon -- coach killer?

Sort of.

As they write the Nebraska football obituary of Bo Pelini, a sentence or two should be saved for Gordon and his part in Pelini's firing. In other words, would Pelini still be the Cornhuskers' coach if Gordon hadn't rushed for a then-FBS-record 408 yards against Nebraska on Nov. 15?

Probably not. But Gordon's day -- and the 59-24 whupping of Nebraska that came with it -- likely sealed Pelini's fate.

Pelini, who made his coaching bones on the defensive side of the ball, couldn't figure out a way to make the Blackshirts respectable again. Maybe you've seen the stat: Since Pelini's first season in Lincoln in 2008, Nebraska has lost 10 games by 20 or more points. Not good.

There's also Pelini's history of sideline meltdowns and his often intense but entertaining news conferences. It didn't help that Pelini was 8-17 versus AP ranked teams or that the Cornhuskers never reached a BCS bowl game or won a Big Ten title on his watch.

Still, the guy won 67 games, leaves Nebraska 40 games over .500 and won at least nine games each season. Do that at, say, Ole Miss or Mississippi State -- or a lot of programs -- and you probably get a pay raise.

But Nebraska isn't like a lot of programs. Nebraska thinks it is better than 9-3 -- or, more accurately, thinks it is better than Pelini.

We got the predictable statements from Nebraska after the firing: Pelini "served our university admirably," athletic director Shawn Eichorst said. Yes, he served it so admirably that Nebraska fired him.

Pelini spoke his mind as coach; it would have been nice if Nebraska had done the same. Instead of the usual post-pink slip platitudes, how about this: "Bo wasn't us. Didn't fit us. Rubbed us the wrong way. Didn't win the games that matter."

Pelini might have disagreed with the premise, but he would have appreciated the honesty.

Nebraska is a college football cornerstone brand. But unlike Florida and Michigan (two other marquee brands looking for new head coaches), the Cornhuskers can't offer the same player recruiting pool. It has the same expectations as Florida and Michigan but without the same toolbox.

There will be no shortage of quality candidates. It is a wonderful job and a cool football place, and it pays well enough -- enough to buy more than a few shares of The Oracle of Omaha's stock (Warren Buffett lives just down Interstate 80).

HALFTIME SPEECH

Memo to the Heisman Trophy folks: Do the right thing, and invite Ohio State's Barrett to the presentation ceremony as a finalist. Season-ending injury or not, he has earned a trip to New York.

THIRD QUARTER

And the Heisman Trophy goes to ... Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

If you think it's a coin flip between Mariota and Wisconsin's Gordon -- and it might be, at this point -- then the Oregon quarterback wins the tiebreaker based on the Ducks' record and CFP standing. Mariota added six more touchdowns in the Civil War win against Oregon State.

Also in attendance for the presentation: Wisconsin's Gordon, Ohio State's Barrett, TCU's Trevone Boykin.

In a parallel universe in which one interception is worth three touchdown passes: Louisville's Holliman.

FOURTH QUARTER

Top 10

1. Alabama

Do I think they're unbeatable? No. Auburn put the fear of Gus Malzahn in the Crimson Tide. That wasn't joy you saw after Bama beat the Tigers in the Iron Bowl; it was relief. And though I still have concerns about Bama's defense, kicking game and performance differential at home and on the road, the Tide is the most complete team at the moment. Now they face a confident Missouri team with zilch to lose in the SEC championship game.

2. Oregon

Seven points -- and Arizona -- separate the Ducks from an undefeated season. Arizona beat Oregon at Autzen on Oct. 2. Hello, rematch. The two teams meet Friday in the Pac-12 championship game.

3. Florida State

Well, I hung in there as long as I could. The Seminoles are the only unbeaten team in the FBS, but it's a deceiving unbeaten record. It's one thing for FSU coach Jimbo Fisher to keep saying the Seminoles need to play better, but at some point they actually have to, well, play better. Against a more accomplished opponent -- not a Florida team playing for a lame-duck coach -- FSU likely wouldn't have survived four Jameis Winston interceptions. It's hard to ignore that FSU's past three victories have come by a combined 12 points. I'm not bailing on the Noles, but they're simply not playing like a No. 1 team in the country. Maybe that changes when FSU faces Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game.

4. Baylor

Quarterback Bryce Petty said he's going to play against K-State in Baylor's season finale. But the doctors might have a different opinion.

5. TCU

The Horned Frogs are more No. 4B than No. 5. I give Baylor the slight edge because the Bears beat TCU in October. Compared to Baylor, TCU has it easy this week: a home game against 2-9 Iowa State.

6. Ohio State

Think of the Buckeyes as No. 4C.

7. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs need a hug after losing to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and losing out on a chance to stay in the middle of the CFP discussion. The second half of November was cruel to Hail State: two losses in three games.

8. Arizona

If the Wildcats beat Oregon for a second time this season, win the Pac-12 championship and finish with 11 victories, will that be enough to attract the attention of the CFP committee as a safety net choice? Whatever happens, Arizona is glad Michigan got rid of Rich Rod.

9. Michigan State

If not for Oregon and Ohio State ... Anyway, the Spartans will make a big-time bowl very, very happy.

10. Wisconsin

The Badgers grind out wins and the Big Ten West title the old-fashioned way. Now they face Ohio State's third-string quarterback on a neutral field.

Waiting list: Kansas State, Missouri, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, Georgia.

POSTGAME LOBBYING

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Baylor

Great, just what Saban wants to see: Another offense for which first-to-100 wins. Then again, Baylor would have to figure out a way to stop Bama. The Bears could barely stop Texas Tech.

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

FSU hasn't played anybody like Mariota since Auburn's Nick Marshall in the past season's BCS Championship. The closest they've come to a Mariota this season might be Notre Dame's Golson, pre-turnover meltdown. Meanwhile, Oregon's defense has faced Michigan State's Connor Cook, Washington State's Connor Halliday, Arizona's Anu Solomon, UCLA's Hundley and Cal's Jared Goff. I'm just saying.