No. 8 Ohio State’s hopes for a berth in the College Football Playoff hinge on Saturday’s Big Ten championship game against No. 4 Wisconsin.
This has been obvious for essentially the entire season.
The Buckeyes’ title hopes are alive, as they are just four spots out of the final four in the second-to-last CFP rankings.
Ahead of them are two ACC teams — No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Miami — that will play one another in the ACC championship game and two SEC teams — No. 2 Auburn and No. 6 Georgia — that will meet in their conference title game. No. 3 Oklahoma, which plays No. 11 TCU in the Big 12 championship game, also stands in front of Ohio State, as do No. 5 Alabama, whose season has ended, and the Badgers.
At this point, the only guaranteed spots will belong to the winner of the ACC and SEC title games. And should Oklahoma, the favorite, beat TCU, the final spot will come down to Alabama and the Big Ten champion. If that happens to be Wisconsin, the Badgers will almost certainly claim the final spot. If it is Ohio State, a debate will rage in the room of the CFP committee as to whether the Buckeyes’ stronger slate of wins is enough to offset their two losses when compared to Alabama’s one loss.
After the rankings were released, the committee’s chairman, Kirby Hocutt, said on ESPN that losses will be a factor in deciding the final spot, but he added so will any big wins.
“As we get to this time of the season and study each team’s resume, we look at everything from performance on the field each week to strength of schedule to quality wins, and then the losses do come into discussion,” Hocutt said.
The Buckeyes could get in along with the Crimson Tide. Should TCU upset Oklahoma and the Buckeyes win, both Alabama and Ohio State could reach the College Football Playoff.
But assuming the favorites to win both Big 12 and Big Ten championship games prevail, the committee will be faced with comparing the resumes of Alabama and Ohio State. Alabama has three ranked wins on the season. They beat No. 17 LSU, dominated No. 25 Fresno State and a had a narrow 31-24 victory against No. 23 Mississippi State, a team that just lost 31-28 at home to a 6-6 Ole Miss team. It’s only loss came on the road to the now-second-ranked Auburn Tigers.
The Buckeyes, on the other hand, enter with wins against No. 9 Penn State and No. 16 Michigan State, and would have a win over the only undefeated Power 5 team in the nation in Wisconsin. That win also would deliver a conference title to the Buckeyes, something the Crimson Tide would not have.
But the two losses hurt Ohio State. The first loss, a 31-17 loss to the third-ranked Sooners in Week 2 was not the end of the world. The second loss, a 55-24 stomping at the hands of a very pedestrian Iowa team, looks ugly for Ohio State. Though it was on the road in the hostile confines of Kinnick Stadium, the Hawkeyes came into that game having scored more than 25 points in only three of their eight games and finished the regular season with a 7-5 record.
Ohio State might have to win convincingly against the Badgers Saturday to be put ahead of Alabama. It might not have to. It might only have to win to be in. That is for the committee to decide.
As Hocutt said Tuesday, it is hard to differentiate when looking at comparable teams. Many factors come into play, and it is only the decision of the 13 members of the committee that decide how to separate the teams.
“At those times, through our protocol, the commissioners gave us four different criteria to look at: conference championships, strength of schedule, head-to-head matchups, and results against common opponents,” Hocutt said. “But they do not order those in priority. They do not tell us they are to be weighted equally.”