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Ohio State defensive end Chase Young (2) pressures Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan (17) during a game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019.
Ohio State defensive end Chase Young (2) pressures Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan (17) during a game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (Kyle Robertson/The Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

Welcome to the college football overreaction index, where we examine the most important storylines from the past weekend of games to determine what’s worth paying attention to and what’s getting a little too much attention.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Week 9.

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Ohio State is the best team in the country.

Verdict: Not an overreaction.

This is a question of team quality, not strength of schedule or resume. LSU, with three top 10 wins, clearly has the best claim to be the top-ranked team in the country. But the Buckeyes look like the most talented.

Ohio State dominated Wisconsin, which, despite its loss to Illinois, entered Columbus as one of the nation’s most efficient teams. The Badgers shut out four of their first six opponents, boasted one of the most prolific rushers in NCAA history in running back Jonathan Taylor and saw growth from starting quarterback Jack Coan. It was enough to keep Saturday’s game at 10-0 at halftime. But in the second half, the Buckeyes’ talent took over.

After starting slow, Ohio State did whatever it wanted on offense and defense, rushing for 5.3 yards per carry while holding Wisconsin to an average of 2.4 yards on the ground. The Buckeyes nearly doubled up the Badgers’ in yards per play (6.0 to 3.7) and held Taylor to just 52 yards on 20 carries.

But the story of the game was Chase Young, the Buckeyes’ star defensive end who finished with four sacks and five tackles for loss, both tying school single-game records, and two forced fumbles. Young was already considered one of the best players in the country and a future top NFL draft pick, but Saturday’s performance vaulted him into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Only four defensive players — Ndamukong Suh, Tyrann Mathieu, Manti Te’o and Jabrill Peppers — have been Heisman finalists in the past 10 years. It’s likely that Young joins that group, and he has a pair of teammates in quarterback Justin Fields (1,978 total yards, 33 total TDs) and running back J.K. Dobbins (1,242 total yards, 11 total TDs) who could meet him in New York.

There are still questions about how Ohio State will play against another truly elite team, and we might not find out until the College Football Playoff. But the Buckeyes have been historically dominant, becoming the second team in the AP poll era (since 1936) to open conference play with five consecutive games scoring at least 30 points and allowing 10 or fewer, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Sure, their strength of schedule doesn’t hold up to LSU’s, but Ohio State has two wins over teams currently in the Top 25 (Cincinnati and Wisconsin), and its opponents are a combined 36-18 in other games.

The Buckeyes jumped to the top spot in SP+ rankings and are the only team in the country ranked in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Through nine weeks, they’re the nation’s most complete team.

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) scrambles in the first half against Auburn in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) scrambles in the first half against Auburn in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Joe Burrow is the most valuable player in the country.

Verdict: Not an overreaction.

The LSU quarterback might not be the best player in the country — Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts probably have more raw talent, and the statistics to back it up — but he’s been the engine of a retooled LSU offense, which has propelled the Tigers to an 8-0 start with three wins over top 10 teams. No other SEC team in the AP poll era has knocked off that many top 10 opponents in its first eight games.

Burrow wasn’t his best Saturday, but that’s compared with his own high standards. Against a fearsome Auburn defensive front that was in his face most of the game, he still completed 76% of his passes for 321 yards and a touchdown. He made plays with his legs, too, rushing for a crucial touchdown on a QB draw in the fourth quarter and often scrambled to avoid pressure and pick up first downs. He even bounced right back up after taking a huge hit along the sideline on a first-down run early in the game, much to the delight of his teammates. Once again, he was unfazed by a strong, hard-hitting SEC defense, and the Tigers are still undefeated as a result.

With his lone touchdown pass Saturday, Burrow became the first SEC quarterback to throw 30 in his first eight games since Kentucky’s Tim Couch did it in 1997. He’s on pace to have one of the best statistical seasons of any SEC quarterback ever, and he’s doing it at a school that has often been held back by its mediocre quarterback play.

If the Tigers can beat Alabama on Nov. 9 and win the SEC, there’s no question who the Heisman Trophy belongs to. But Burrow has been so good, and playing with so much confidence, that LSU is thinking about an even bigger piece of hardware.

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Penn State's Pat Freiermuth, left, Michal Menet, center, and Justin Shorter celebrate Freiermuth's touchdown catch against Michigan State on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in East Lansing, Mich.
Penn State's Pat Freiermuth, left, Michal Menet, center, and Justin Shorter celebrate Freiermuth's touchdown catch against Michigan State on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in East Lansing, Mich. (Al Goldis/AP)

Two SEC teams and two Big Ten teams can make the playoff.

Verdict: Not an overreaction.

Let’s lay out the scenario.

Ohio State and LSU both go undefeated and win their respective conference championships. Along the way, they beat Penn State and Alabama, respectively, who each finish the regular season 11-1.

Oklahoma or Baylor wins the Big 12 and finishes 12-1. Oregon or Utah wins the Pac-12 and finishes 12-1. Clemson is tripped up (maybe by *checks notes* Wake Forest?), but still wins the ACC and finishes 12-1.

So who gets in?

The committee might favor Penn State and Alabama because of strength of schedule. The SEC and Big Ten are the two strongest conferences by almost every metric, and losing to the eventual conference champion — which likely finishes the season ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the country — would be the Nittany Lions’ and Crimson Tide’s only blemish. In this scenario, the other Power 5 conference champions would each have a worse loss.

Considering the backlash such a final four would elicit — just imagine the stern statements from the other Power 5 conference commissioners — it seems unlikely. But if the committee’s stated goal is to pick the four “best” teams — not the most deserving — it could conceivably land on four teams from the two best conferences.

Maybe this is the “Armageddon” scenario that finally gets the ball rolling toward a six- or eight-team playoff.

Kansas State defensive end Wyatt Hubert (56) and linebacker Eric Gallon II (1) celebrate as Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) picks himself up off the ground after getting sacked during the first half in Manhattan, Kan., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019.
Kansas State defensive end Wyatt Hubert (56) and linebacker Eric Gallon II (1) celebrate as Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) picks himself up off the ground after getting sacked during the first half in Manhattan, Kan., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (Ian Maule/AP)

The Big 12 is in big trouble.

Verdict: Not an overreaction.

All four betting favorites in the Big 12 lost on Saturday, highlighted by Kansas State’s shocking 48-41 win over Oklahoma. Favored by 23 ½ points, the Sooners fell behind by as many as 25 in the fourth quarter before surging back and forcing an onside kick that was inches from being recovered legally.

Baylor, now 7-0 and ranked No. 12 under Matt Rhule, is the conference’s best hope to get into the playoff discussion, and the Bears still have Oklahoma and Texas remaining on their schedule. But with how competitive conference play has been (Texas lost to TCU, Texas Tech fell to Kansas and Iowa State was knocked off by Oklahoma State on Saturday), it seems unlikely a champion will emerge with just one loss. And with the way things are shaping up in the Big Ten and SEC, a two-loss Big 12 champ would be a long shot to make the playoff.

Parity is great for a conference’s overall health, but strength at the top is what matters in the Power 5. With the Big 12 hierarchy murkier than ever nine weeks into the season, the conference is in danger of being nationally irrelevant over the final few weeks.

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