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No. 4 Ohio State could now be ineligible for Big Ten title after Michigan game gets canceled

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Michigan and Ohio State will not play as scheduled on Saturday.

The game has been canceled due to COVID-19 cases at Michigan. The Wolverines were unable to play Dec. 5 against Maryland and do not have enough players to compete against the No. 4 Buckeyes.

“The number of positive tests has continued to trend in an upward direction over the last seven days,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement. “We have not been cleared to participate in practice at this time. Unfortunately, we will not be able to field a team due to COVID-19 positives and the associated quarantining required of close contact individuals. This decision is disappointing for our team and coaches but their health and safety is paramount and it will always come first in our decision-making.”

The cancellation is Ohio State’s third of the season. That means the Buckeyes (5-0) are, for now, ineligible for the Big Ten title. The conference implemented a rule before the season that made a team with three or more canceled games unable to play for the conference championship.

Will the Big Ten ultimately change that rule? Without the rule being changed or the Big Ten finding a team to play Ohio State on Saturday via another COVID-19 cancellation, Indiana will represent the Big Ten East in the conference championship game vs. Northwestern. Ohio State beat Indiana earlier this season, 42-35.

The Buckeyes could get to a sixth game by playing an opponent from the West on the same day as the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 19. The conference announced ahead of its postponed season that it would have cross-divisional games on the same day as the title game. At the moment, the Buckeyes would play Iowa. The Hawkeyes are the No. 2 team in the Big Ten West.

Before Michigan’s announcement, Ohio State coach Ryan Day said at his weekly news conference that his team was preparing to play like usual.

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 30:  Ohio State Buckeyes running back J.K. Dobbins (2) runs into the end zone for a touchdown during a regular season Big 10 Conference game between the Ohio State Buckeyes (2) and the Michigan Wolverines (10) on November 30, 2019 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ohio State and Michigan won't play for the first time since 1917. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

No game for first time since 1917

Ohio State and Michigan have played every year since a hiatus from 1913-1917.

The Buckeyes have won every annual rivalry game since Michigan’s 40-34 win in 2011 and were set to be a big favorite Saturday. Before the cancellation, the Buckeyes were four-touchdown favorites.

Big Ten’s statement

The Big Ten said in a statement that it was committed to transparency and that it would continue to work with its member schools on any changes to its title game requirements.

“The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is one of the most important rivalries in all of sports. The conference shares the disappointment of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, partners and fans. The conference is committed to transparency and will continue to collaborate with its member institution stakeholders to determine Big Ten championship game participation requirements as well as tiebreakers.”

How does this impact Ohio State’s playoff hopes?

Will a six-game schedule hurt Ohio State’s chances at making the playoff?

Ohio State should stay at No. 4 in the third set of playoff rankings released on Tuesday night. And Ohio State will have the benefit of No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Clemson also having an off week on Dec. 12 and No. 5 Texas A&M not playing Ole Miss as scheduled before next week’s rankings come out. It’d be bizarre to drop Ohio State for a canceled game while Clemson and Notre Dame weren’t penalized and A&M didn’t play either.

As of now, the nightmare scenario for Ohio State’s playoff hopes remains a Clemson win in the ACC title game coupled with a win by No. 6 Florida over No. 1 Alabama in the SEC championship game. In that situation, an undefeated Ohio State could find itself outside four one-loss teams in the top four that have played nearly twice as many games and have only losses to top-six opponents.

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