Three weeks ago, it looked all but certain Ohio State would be on the outside looking in when the final College Football Playoff rankings were released in December.
But then Notre Dame fell, along with Washington, TCU, and Georgia.
All of the sudden, following a 45 point victory against an always-tough Michigan State team, the thought of Ohio State in the College Football Playoff didn’t seem that far-fetched. Add in Miami’s astonishing loss to the 5-7 Pitt Panthers this Friday, and the Buckeyes’ path to a second straight College Football Playoff looks even likelier still.
Here are the three events that must happen for the Buckeyes to (probably) reach the College Football Playoff.
1. Ohio State wins out, wins B1G Championship comfortably
It goes without saying that Ohio State has to win. Already sitting with two losses — both by double digits — the national perception of Ohio State is, to say the least, inconsistent. Another loss would mean certain elimination from playoff contention.
But wins against Michigan and a (hopefully) undefeated Wisconsin in the B1G Championship should help change that negative stigma. Especially if those wins look anything like the Buckeyes’ beatdown of Michigan State two weeks ago.
Wisconsin is one of only three remaining undefeated teams in college football (Alabama and UCF), and although their strength of schedule is far from desirable (42nd after last week), undefeated is still undefeated.
The Badgers, provided they get by rivals Minnesota this week, will be ranked at least fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings going into the B1G Championship game. And much like 2014, the Buckeyes will need a nearly flawless showing to prove to the playoff committee that they belong over another two-loss team (Miami/Georgia, Notre Dame, Georgia).
And as long as running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber continue carrying the load — 445 between the two backs in the last two weeks — the Buckeyes should do just that.
2. Alabama (11-0) wins out, wins SEC Championship
Three teams from the SEC currently hold their own destiny in relation to the College Football Playoff. Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn — if they win out — will 100% make the final four rankings come December. The caveat, however, is that only one of those teams can win out, as the winner of the Iron Bowl today will play Georgia in the SEC Championship.
Both Auburn (9-2) and Georgia (10-1) can’t afford another loss this season if they are to make the College Football Playoff. But the same can’t be said for the Crimson Tide.
That’s where the Buckeyes comes in.
Currently undefeated and ranked number one in the CFP rankings, the Crimson Tide face a similar situation to what the Buckeyes saw last season. Should Alabama fall to either Auburn today or Georgia in the SEC Championship, Nick Saban’s squad would still be one of just five teams with one or fewer losses this season (UCF notwithstanding).
Ohio State, with their two double-digit losses to Oklahoma and an unranked Iowa — even with a B1G Championship — would almost certainly fail to stack up against a one-loss Crimson Tide both via “eye test” and overall resume.
However, if Alabama does end up running the table in route to a fourth straight SEC Championship, Auburn would have accrued three losses and Georgia two. That, and only that would open the door for the Buckeyes to sneak their way into the fourth and final playoff spot.
3. Oklahoma (10-1) wins out, wins Big 12 Championship
Ironically, after falling to the Baker Mayfield-led Sooners earlier this season, the Buckeyes now have no choice but to root on the likely Heisman-winner if they’re to have any chance at the playoff.
All because of the Horned Frogs, who still might have an outside chance at the last College Football Playoff spot.
TCU, currently sitting at 9-2 with losses to both Iowa State and Oklahoma, has one last opportunity to prove their worth to the College Football Playoff Committee. Next week the Big 12 will host it’s first Conference Championship since 2010, pitting the Sooners and Horned Frogs against each other for a second time this season.
If TCU were to prevail, it’s likely that their resume would trump Ohio State’s overall body of work; even with an impressive victory against the Badgers in the B1G Championship.
Not only that, but a TCU victory would give the Sooners two losses as well. How could the Playoff Committee justify putting a two-loss Ohio State in over a two-loss Oklahoma when the Sooners beat the Buckeyes handily in the Horseshoe this season?
To avoid this mess, Ohio State needs to hope Oklahoma can avoid a second loss by defeating both WVU today and TCU next week in the Big 12 Championship. The Sooners would guarantee their spot in the top four while simultaneously eliminating TCU by handing them their third loss of the season.
That would still leave the Buckeyes with an outside opportunity to grab that last playoff spot.
How everything would look
1. Alabama (13-0), SEC Champions
2. Miami/Clemson (12-1), ACC Champions
3. Oklahoma (12-1), Big 12 Champions
4. Ohio State (11-2), Big 10 Champions OR Georgia (11-2) OR Notre Dame (10-2)
Because of Miami’s shocking loss to Pitt on Friday, Ohio State no longer has to rely on the Hurricanes to win out, as now the loser of the ACC Championship — be it Clemson or Miami — will have two losses to close out the season.
That leaves Ohio State, Georgia, and Notre Dame to fight for the last playoff spot.
The tiebreaker, in all likelihood, would be Ohio State’s Conference Championship over a then-undefeated Wisconsin squad. Yes, the Buckeyes lost embarrassingly to the Hawkeyes by a score of 55-24 just three weeks ago, but if they can prove the doubters wrong with an emphatic victory over the Badgers next week, it’s difficult to see a scenario where the committee doesn’t pick the only conference champion in Ohio State.
But should Oklahoma or Alabama trip up just one in the next two weeks, and it won’t matter even if the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin by 70. So pay attention today Buckeye fans, your playoff hopes depend on it.
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