COLUMBUS – Have you noticed that Ohio State has been involved in probably the biggest debate about who deserves to be in the College Football Playoff every year since the playoff was introduced in 2014?
The No. 1 playoff question going into this weekend’s conference championship games is if Oklahoma or Ohio State deserves the No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoff if Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame get the other three.
There are a lot of variables. Ohio State plays Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game. Oklahoma takes on Texas, who won their regular-season match-up, in the Big 12 title game. Alabama plays once-beaten Georgia, who is ranked No. 4 this week, in the SEC championship game. Clemson will play Pittsburgh in the ACC championship game.
The College Football Selection Committee had Oklahoma at No. 5 and Ohio State at No. 6 in this week’s rankings, which would seem to indicate they were positioning the Sooners to move up one spot if, as expected, No. 1 Alabama beats No. 4 Georgia.
If Alabama and/or Clemson loses, then predicting what happens gets a lot harder. But for Ohio State to have a chance, it needs to win and needs Oklahoma to lose
Historically, Ohio State got a favorable outcome in the playoff rankings twice (2014, 2016) and wasn’t happy with the rankings the other two times (2015, 2017).
The first year of the College Football Playoff, OSU jumped over TCU and Baylor in the final rankings to get the fourth spot and eventually went on to win the national championship.
Baylor and TCU didn’t have a conference championship game to play in and Ohio State was helped greatly by its 59-0 demolition of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
In 2015, with most of the players from 2014 back, Ohio State was upset 17-14 by Michigan State for its only loss of the season. Since it was an East Division game, Michigan State went to the Big Ten championship game and OSU stayed home.
Ohio State was seventh in the final playoff rankings, four spots behind the team it lost to on a last-second field goal. Big 12 champion Oklahoma lost 37-17 to Clemson and Big Ten champion Michigan State lost 38-0 to Alabama in College Football Playoff semifinals, which only strengthened the belief of some OSU fans that the Buckeyes belonged in the playoff.
In 2016 Ohio State got the benefit of the doubt when, even though it missed the Big Ten championship game and lost to Penn State in the regular season, it got to go to the College Football Playoff instead of the Big Ten champion Nittany Lions.
And last year, some people argued that a two-loss Big Ten champion Ohio State team deserved a playoff spot more than a one-loss Alabama team that did not even reach its conference championship game.
You can analyze all sorts of numbers this year. You can debate whether Oklahoma having a terrible defense is more disqualifying than Ohio State’s terrible loss at Purdue.
But it all comes down to this for Ohio State:
One bad loss, even one as bad as a 29-point thumping by a 6-6 Purdue team, doesn’t necessarily keep you out of the College Football Playoff. And letting .500 or worse teams like Maryland, Nebraska, Minnesota and Indiana stay in games for far too long doesn’t, either.
But the two of them together are not a good look. And the College Football Playoff selection committee can see that.