Rooting for Chaos: Ohio State's Extremely Slim Chance to Make its Second Straight College Football Playoff

By Eric Seger on November 30, 2015 at 8:35 am
Dissecting Ohio State's unlikely chance to make the 2015 College Football Playoff.

When the Michigan Stadium clock was close to zero and Urban Meyer nearly dodged a Gatorade bath attempt from Taylor Decker and Michael Thomas, the Ohio State Buckeyes became Penn State fans.

"Our season kind of rests on their shoulders right now," running back Ezekiel Elliott said Saturday afternoon, minutes after he burnt Michigan for 214 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-13 dispatch of the Wolverines. "We're cheering them on to get that W today so we can continue on to our Playoff aspirations even after that hiccup we had."

The Buckeyes did their part Saturday, emphatically defeating their arch-rivals to keep a chance at winning the Big Ten East alive. The Nittany Lions didn't, though, conceding a 55-16 loss to Michigan State in East Lansing a few hours later.

Penn State's performance was so haphazard and uninspiring, head coach James Franklin dismissed offensive coordinator and tight ends coach John Donovan Sunday. The Nittany Lions finished the regular season 105th in total offense.

Still, the Buckeyes bumped up two spots to No. 6 in the AP and Coaches Polls Sunday. Even though those polls don't matter, such a dismantling of Michigan on the road clearly caught the nation's eye even after Ohio State's woeful performance in a 17-14 loss to Michigan State a week earlier.

Sure, The Game is always going to be a popular view in the national scope due to its history, but Urban Meyer's team looked the way it was supposed to all season Saturday. A stout defense rose to the occasion in the second half to shut down Jake Rudock and Co., while Ed Warinner's move to the press box and assumption of the bulk of the play calling duties yielded nearly 500 yards of offense against the nation's second-best defense.

"Incredible effort by those kids. But it all starts up front," Meyer said. "I will say this, Ed Warinner gets blistered and that's part of the title that comes with it. He did a marvelous job coaching."

J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes put together their most complete performance Saturday.

So what does it all mean? Well, after Stanford stormed back to beat Notre Dame with a field goal at the buzzer Saturday night, the door to Ohio State's second straight College Football Playoff remains cracked open ever so slightly.

Oklahoma — who trounced Oklahoma State 58-23 to secure the Big 12 title — should be in the Playoff. The same could be said for the Big Ten Champion, whether it be Michigan State or Iowa. Since the Fighting Irish fell for the second time this season, their chances at a Playoff berth are all but finished as they do not have a conference championship game to better their résumé.

In order for Ohio State to get the best shot at being the apple of the committee's eye, though, complete chaos must come to fruition.

For starters, two teams ahead of it must lose. That much is obvious. Since Oklahoma and the Big Ten champion cannot, the Sooners, Spartans and/or Hawkeyes are out of the equation. That leaves the nation's top-2 teams, Clemson and Alabama.

The Tigers haven't lost all season, but face a blistering hot Marquise Williams and North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game Saturday night. The Tar Heels haven't lost since their season opening gaffe to South Carolina.

The Crimson Tide rode the immense shoulders of running back Derrick Henry — who is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy — to nine straight wins. They face No. 15 Florida in the SEC Championship Game Saturday afternoon.

The Gators scored two — yes, two — points in their regular season finale against Florida State Saturday. Their offense is horrendous, so the Tide is an early 17-point favorite in the game. Frankly, the chances Alabama loses are about a slim as Ohio State's Playoff hopes.

However, say Alabama takes care of business and secures one of the top-2 spots. Oklahoma and the Big Ten champion are also in. Who fills the No. 4 slot?

If Clemson falls to North Carolina and USC beats Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the committee will likely be left to pick between four teams for the final Playoff spot: The Tigers, Tar Heels, Big Ten title game loser and Buckeyes.

Who's in? That's been the question all year. The committee members will be the ones deciding, but picking Ohio State in that scenario would establish a pretty hefty precedent for the years to come.

Clemson has a better résumé than the Buckeyes — two wins over ranked teams, Ohio State has only one — and North Carolina would be a conference champion, albeit in the ACC, the weakest of all Power 5 conferences. And, it lost to South Carolina, who finished 2015 with a 3-9 record. The Buckeyes lost to Michigan State, a top-5 team.

Also, selecting Ohio State over the Big Ten's runner-up in that scenario would mean the committee thinks the Buckeyes are the conference's second-best team. That might certainly be the case on paper, but they didn't show it on the field by losing to Michigan State the way they did. That's a part of the Playoff system — you get punished for losing.

Ohio State might have the most talent in the Big Ten, but it didn't win the games that counted most. Will it matter come Sunday? We'll see. The guys at fivethirtyeight say the Buckeyes have a 22 percent shot at the Playoff.

For now, the Buckeyes are no longer Penn State fans, but fans of chaos.

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