COLUMBUS (AP/WCMH) — Ohio State is a 29.5-point favorite in its game Saturday against Michigan, but the overarching question is, Will The Game even be played?
The Buckeyes must wait this week for COVID-19 tests to determine whether Michigan can travel to Ohio Stadium.
With two games already canceled, the Buckeyes (5-0) must get in a sixth game under current conference rules to be eligible to play for a fourth consecutive Big Ten championship. But even that might be up in the air.
The Big Ten could decide that Ohio State, even with only five games, will still represent the East Division in the Dec. 19 title game, at least in part because the conference doesn’t want to hurt the Buckeyes’ chances of earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State is holding on to the fourth and final spot in the playoff rankings last week but could use a solid win in The Game, and a conference championship, to add to its resume and persuade the selection committee to keep it in front of Texas A&M (7-1) and Florida (8-1) despite playing fewer games.
Ohio State has had its own problems with the coronavirus. An outbreak in its facility led to the cancellation of the Nov. 28 game at Illinois. Among those affected was coach Ryan Day, who had to stay home and watch the Michigan State game on TV. He was expected to return to coaching duties Monday.
“I’m hoping the worst part is behind us and we can look forward,” Day said Saturday.
Ohio State’s list of unavailable players included 23 names before defeating the Spartans 52-12. They included three starting offensive linemen and a starting linebacker. Three assistant coaches also were out.
“I’m honestly surprised that I didn’t get it,” said quarterback Justin Fields, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more. “I guess it was just God looking out for me. We were just glad we got the opportunity to play.”
Michigan (2-4) reported an increased number of positive tests last week, leading to the cancellation of its game at Maryland. The size of the outbreak has not been disclosed by the school.
Day said he was proud of how the Buckeyes moved past the rough, uncertain week to dominate Michigan State. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson was the stand-in for Day, with offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson calling the plays that produced 521 yards.
“It was rough,” said running back Trey Sermon, who rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown, his best day since transferring to Ohio State from Oklahoma in the offseason. “But (as) our coaches were saying — it’s adversity, we’re going to face it.”
Said Fields: “This week really brought us together as a team.”