After Ohio State’s big win over Michigan State a short while ago, their path to the College Football Playoff seemed relatively clear: If Alabama, Miami and Oklahoma all won their remaining games, the Buckeyes would be in the playoff should they win out. Fast forward two weeks, however, and the madness that is college football has muddied the waters a bit. Have late-season stumbles by the Tide and the Hurricanes ruined the Scarlet and Gray’s chances at a playoff bid?
Ohio State has handled their own business in the quest for the postseason. In the last two weeks, they dominated Illinois 52-14 and defeated the rival Michigan Wolverines 31-20 in the Big House, setting up a Big Ten Championship matchup with a likely top-three Wisconsin team. However, currently sitting at number nine in the CFP committee rankings with a record of 10-2, OSU may have a tough time reaching the playoff.
In order to breakdown the Buckeyes’ chances of finishing in the top four, we must first look at the other teams likely to make the playoff. Had Alabama and Miami been able to win out, they both would have been guaranteed spots. However, with the pair of teams losing this weekend, it has made things much less clear. Obviously, for Ohio State to make the playoff they would need to beat the Badgers in their conference title game. Outside of that, they may need some help.
The SEC Championship will be played between Auburn (10-2) and Georgia (11-1). The winner of this game will receive a spot in the playoff, with the loser being eliminated. The same can be said about the Big 12 Championship, where Oklahoma (11-1) will take on TCU (10-2) who they beat earlier in the year. If TCU were to win the conference title, it is possible they could still miss the playoff with two losses and a sub-par schedule.
The ACC Championship is a little more interesting, as Clemson (11-1) faces off against Miami (11-1). Should the Tigers win the game, they would receive a playoff bid (likely the top seed) and the Hurricanes would not make it with two losses and an extremely easy schedule. However, should Miami win, they would receive a playoff bid and Clemson could remain in the conversation. The committee has already shown that the Tigers’ loss to Syracuse is less damaging as they were without their starting quarterback for half the game. Even though they would finish with two losses, in the committees eyes it would be more like one and a half and they could still find themselves in a playoff spot.
Hypothetically, if the early Vegas-odds favorites in each game were to win, that would guarantee playoff spots for Oklahoma, Auburn, and Clemson. In this scenario, where Ohio State is the winner of the Big Ten title game, the fourth and final spot would likely come down to OSU or Alabama.
On paper, it would seem as thought the Crimson Tide would be the clear choice, notably only having one loss to the Buckeyes’ two, however it may not be that easy. Alabama finished the season with the 49th best strength of schedule. Their best win of the season was on the road against Mississippi State, a game they won on a last second touchdown to a team that finished with four losses and who may not be ranked to end the year. Their early win against Florida State that looked huge at the time looks meaningless now with the Seminoles finishing just 5-6. Outside a 24-10 win over LSU, the quality wins just aren’t there for Alabama.
Ohio State’s argument is tough, having both great wins but a terrible loss. The Buckeyes took down, at the time, a second-ranked Penn State (currently 10th) 39-38 in one of the more thrilling games of the year, also throttling a 12th-ranked Michigan State by 45 points. Beating a third-ranked Wisconsin in the conference title game would give Ohio State three wins in the top 12, Alabama having no such wins. Their early loss to Oklahoma can be forgiven, losing to a top team before having the chance to find their identity this season. However, their seemingly unexplainable 55-24 loss to Iowa looms large.
At the end of the day, the committee is going to have their hands full should Ohio State win the Big Ten. Much like in 2014, when the Buckeyes controversially made the playoff before going on to win the National Championship, OSU will really need to impress in their title game to earn a playoff berth. Should they be coming off a big win over a top-three team, the committee will have to decide which is better: Alabama’s 11-1 record on a weak schedule without a conference title, or Ohio State’s strong resume at 11-2 with a bad loss but with a conference title. Regardless of which way it goes, both fanbases will be on the edge of their seats come the final rankings.
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