The College Football Playoff Committee released its first College Football Playoff rankings of the season Tuesday evening and surprised many by ranking Ohio State (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) No. 6.
The Buckeyes were ranked behind No. 1 Georgia (8-0), No. 2 Alabama (8-0), No. 3 Notre Dame (7-1), No. 4 Clemson (7-1) and No. 5 Oklahoma (7-1). This ranking comes as a stark contrast to this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll, which ranked Ohio State third, behind just Alabama (No. 1) and Georgia (No. 2).
Here are four takeaways from the first playoff rankings of the season.
If Ohio State wins out, it’s probably in…
Let’s be clear, if Ohio State loses one more game, it will not make the College Football Playoff. But if it wins the four remaining regular season games and wins the Big Ten championship game? Well, there is a great possibility it would make its third-ever playoff.
The Buckeyes lost to Oklahoma 31-16 in the second week of the season. But since then, Ohio State has rolled, winning its past six games by a combined 211 points. Last week, it made its biggest statement, coming back from a 15-point fourth quarter deficit to take down Penn State 39-38 in a game against what might end up as Ohio State’s best opponent.
If Ohio State beats Iowa and Michigan on the road and takes down Illinois and Michigan State at home, it will have 10 straight victories. Then, the Buckeyes would have a chance to extend the streak to 11 with a Big Ten championship game showdown against the Big Ten West champion, which will likely be No. 9 Wisconsin (7-0).
It would be hard, bordering on nearly impossible, for the playoff committee to leave out a Big Ten team that ran the table in the conference and won the Big Ten title. The committee will consider Ohio State’s win against top-10 Penn State and other victories and potential wins against Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan favorably. Then, in the Big Ten championship, the Buckeyes would have a shot at a statement win just days before the committee releases the final rankings.
Also, the five teams ranked ahead of Ohio State play difficult schedules and it is unlikely they all remain unblemished throughout the final weeks of the season.
One Big Ten team has represented the conference in the playoff every year since it was created. Given Ohio State’s win versus Penn State and the potential to end the season on an 11-game win streak, the Buckeyes have the conference’s best shot to represent it in either the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl, with the chance to win a shot to play in the national championship game in Atlanta.
…but Ohio State does not necessarily control its destiny
Sure, if Ohio State wins out, it will likely make the playoff. But scenarios exist in which the Buckeyes would not be rewarded with a bid, even if they went undefeated in their last four regular-season games and won the Big Ten championship.
At least one team from the SEC — either Alabama or Georgia — will likely represent the conference in the playoff. But if both teams enter the SEC championship game undefeated and they play a close, back-and-forth game, even the loser would have a good argument to earn a playoff bid over the Buckeyes.
Notre Dame has upcoming games at Miami (Fla.) and Stanford, which could be possible losses. But given the Fighting Irish’s only loss came by one point to Georgia, and it has an impressive strength of schedule, Ohio State would likely finish ranked below the Irish if both teams won out.
The committee ranked Clemson two spots higher than Ohio State. Given both teams’ remaining schedules, the Tigers would likely spoil the Buckeyes for a second year in a row if each team won out, this time ranking higher than head coach Urban Meyer’s team rather than beating it.
Oklahoma plays one of the most difficult remaining schedules with games at Oklahoma State, against TCU and possibly the Big 12 championship standing in the Sooners’ path to the playoff. But with a win against the Buckeyes and a tougher remaining schedule than Ohio State, Oklahoma would likely earn a higher seed, if it won out.
Ohio State has a good chance to make the playoff if two teams ranked ahead of it slip up or if one team loses and two teams ranked ahead lose. But the Buckeyes do not control their playoff destiny.
Ohio State needs to continue to win impressively
Do not discount Ohio State’s 31-16 loss to Oklahoma. The Sooners trounced the Buckeyes and though the score was close at halftime, the game felt like the Sooners dominated for four quarters, and the final score eventually reflected that.
In the past, the playoff committee has overlooked a loss if a team finishes strong and looks like an altogether different, improved team by the end of the season.
The Buckeyes do not have a multi-touchdown win against a good team. Their fourth-quarter comeback against Penn State showed they had the ability to fight through adversity, but Ohio State was forced to battle back due to falling behind early. If Meyer and his team want to feel comfortable about their playoff standing, they have to extend their dominant stretch.
Though Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan might present formidable challenges, Ohio State will be heavily favored in every game. The Buckeyes must take advantage of every remaining challenge.
Ohio State burned the committee last season when it was selected as a third seed, but proceeded to lay an egg, losing 31-0 to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. The playoff committee might be wary of being burned again, so the Buckeyes must prove this team is different than last year’s.
It would help Ohio State if ranked Big Ten teams kept winning
Last year, four Big Ten teams ended the regular season in the top eight of the final College Football Playoff rankings. This season, three teams — Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin — are listed in the top nine. Only one other Big Ten team, No. 24 Michigan State, is ranked in the top 25. With the Spartans playing Penn State and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks, they will likely fall out of the top 25 as they are expected to fall to both teams.
The Buckeyes would benefit from Penn State and Wisconsin winning their remaining regular-season games because neither team would leap Ohio State in the rankings, but would boost the Buckeyes’ perceived strength of schedule, helping them in the eyes of the committee.
With Michigan dropping out of the crop of playoff contenders this year, wins against Penn State and Wisconsin matter more than last year.