Michigan State offensive lineman Jack Allen runs for a nine yard touchdown against Penn State during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 55-16. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Michigan State offensive lineman Jack Allen runs for a nine yard touchdown against Penn State during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 55-16. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Big Ten title game is playoff quarterfinal

  • By RALPH D. RUSSO
  • Sunday, November 29, 2015 1:04am
  • Sports

Michigan State joined Iowa in the Big Ten championship game, making Indianapolis the site of what looks like a de facto College Football Playoff quarterfinal and further burying Ohio State.

The Spartans (11-1, No. 5 CFP) routed Penn State 55-16 to clinch the Big Ten East on Saturday and will play the Hawkeyes (12-0, No. 4 CFP) next Saturday at Lucas Oil Field in a game that should send the winner to the playoff.

The defending champion Buckeyes bounced back from their loss to Michigan State by turning the first matchup between Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh into an Ohio State rout. Ezekiel Elliott got plenty of touches this week and the Buckeyes ran all over the Wolverines 42-13.

Ohio State needs at least an upset or two to get back in the mix. Maybe North Carolina can knock off Clemson in the ACC title game. Maybe Florida beats Alabama in the SEC championship. Even then the Buckeyes will have to hope the committee is very forgiving. The selection committee protocol emphasizes conference championships.

The Buckeyes could end up in the Rose Bowl. Not a bad consolation prize. The Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl would also be a possibility. The Buckeyes (11-1, No. 8 CFP) stand a good chance to be ranked high enough by the committee to end up playing in one of the New Year’s Six games.

Michigan State has no such concerns. All the talk leading up to the season in the Big Ten was about Harbaugh’s arrival and Meyer’s budding dynasty. Instead, it will be Mark Dantonio’s often-overlooked powerhouse heading into December with national championship hopes and victories against both Ohio State and Michigan.

1-2 punch

Rivalry games can be tricky and both Clemson and Alabama had difficult times pulling away in their annual in-state grudge matches.

The Tigers (12-0, No. 1 CFP) again gave the selection committee some reason to reconsider whether they should be No. 1. Deshaun Watson was great, running for three touchdowns and passing for another, but the Clemson defense had a tough time containing South Carolina in a 37-32 victory.

“I’m just looking to be 13-0 next week,” said Watson, who bolstered his Heisman Trophy credentials.

Clemson takes a 15-game winning streak into the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game against North Carolina (11-1, No. 14 CFP), which has won 11 straight since a season-opening loss to South Carolina. Something about those Gamecocks (3-9) against ACC teams.

Unlike the Big Ten, the ACC can’t count its champion as playoff lock. North Carolina would have a long way to move up the rankings and beating Clemson would be its only marquee victory.

Alabama (11-1, No. 2 CFP) hammered Auburn with a heavy dose of Derrick Henry (46 carries, 271 yards) in a 29-13 victory. Defense and Derrick have served the Crimson Tide well this season and it will likely be more of the same next week in the SEC championship game against Florida.

A more dominant performance by Alabama might have given the committee reason to flip the Tide and Tigers. While Alabama’s overall resume features more wins against good teams, Clemson gets the edge in big victories with wins against Notre Dame and Florida State.

Body of work probably still goes to the Tigers.

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