NC State

Late Hits: Despite loss, Ohio State still can win Big Ten, gain playoff spot

Penn State coach James Franklin celebrates with the crowd after a 24-21 win against Ohio State on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa.
Penn State coach James Franklin celebrates with the crowd after a 24-21 win against Ohio State on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa. TNS

Penn State’s upset of Ohio State on Saturday night might not have fundamentally changed the Big Ten race, or by extension the playoff race, but it was a good reminder that there’s a reason they play the games.

The Nittany Lions, 39-point losers at Michigan a month ago, completed only eight passes and converted only twice on third down but still found a way to hand Urban Meyer a rare Big Ten loss, 24-21 in Happy Valley.

Meyer, in his fifth season at Ohio State, has won 34 of 36 conference games. There was little to suggest before the game, or even after the Buckeyes took a 21-7 lead into the fourth quarter, that Penn State would win.

The unexpected is good. In an era where Alabama seemingly wins everything all the time (even when it doesn’t), a little chaos can go a long way.

Ohio State’s loss means there are only seven unbeaten teams left in the “Power 5” conferences with the potential for four to be left standing after the conference championship games on Dec. 3.

The only problem with Ohio State’s loss is it might not mean much come Dec. 4, when the four playoff spots are chosen.

The Buckeyes (6-1) still get cracks at Michigan (7-0) and Nebraska (7-0) during the regular season and both games are at the Horseshoe.

So if Ohio State runs the table, the loss is unlikely to mean much by Selection Sunday.

Of course, the SEC (Alabama), ACC (Clemson), Pac-12 (Washington) and Big 12 (West Virginia or Baylor) could all produce unbeaten champions.

Alabama, after another impressive win over a ranked team (its fifth this season), is in a league by itself. There is no sure thing among those other four schools.

Any and all road games become potential traps in November.

However unlikely a perfect finish is, that would mean a 1-loss Ohio State would be left on the outside looking in for the second straight year.

As the saying goes, “there’s a lot of hockey left.” The more upsets, between now and the start of the playoff, the merrier.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

Who’s trending

A weekly review of who’s trending:

Virginia Tech: The Hokies bounced back from a terrible loss at Syracuse with a 37-16 mop-up of Miami on Thursday night. Their path to their first Coastal Division title since 2011 is pretty clear: beat Pitt this week.

UNC, which handled Virginia with relative ease, needs Virginia Tech to slip up once. The Panthers offer UNC’s best hope.

Louisville: Lamar Jackson is ridiculously good. He threw a couple of lasers in Saturday’s 54-13 romp of N.C. State, and his speed is off the charts.

David Cutcliffe tutored the Manning brothers, helped Tennessee win a national title with Tee Martin at quarterback and took Duke to the ACC championship game, but bottling up Jackson goes high up on Cutcliffe’s coaching resume.

American Athletic Conference: The Pac-12 is considered the wacky conference but there might not be a more interesting one than the AAC.

Houston beats Florida State (in last year’s Peach Bowl) and Oklahoma in consecutive games but has dropped two of its last three conference games to Navy and SMU.

Navy is the only unbeaten in league play, but there are five one-loss teams that could still take the conference title.

Big 12: Yeah, get off my lawn. Oklahoma and Texas Tech each had 854 yards of total offense — in regulation — in the Sooners’ 66-59 win in Lubbock. You gotta play some defense. If that makes me old and crotchety, so be it.