Could Ohio State still make the College Football Playoff?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: It’s a long shot. A two-loss team has never made the College Football Playoff, and Ohio State isn’t just any two-loss team – it’s a team with two losses by margins of 15 points or more, including a 55-24 loss to a then-unranked Iowa team this past weekend.
Ohio State would need a lot of help, and it would certainly need to win out – a task that will be a big challenge in itself, given that the Buckeyes play No. 12 Michigan State on Saturday, still face their annual rivalry game with Michigan and would have to win the Big Ten Championship Game, a game that will likely be played against Wisconsin, which is currently undefeated and ranked No. 8 in the latest set of College Football Playoff rankings.
That said, there’s still a minuscule chance that Ohio State – which is ranked 13th in this week’s rankings – could make one final playoff push if it wins out, because as our Beau Bishop said on Tuesday’s Eleven Warriors Web Report, “there's a lot of chaos that can happen between now and the first weekend of December.”
After all, Ohio State was ranked 14th in the second set of CFP rankings in 2014, when they went on to earn the No. 4 seed in the playoff and win the national championship. That team, of course, had only one loss at the time; those Buckeyes also still had four games to play in the regular season, and jumped up to eighth the very next week. But there is at least a precedent for Ohio State making a big jump by winning big games in the waning weeks of the season.
While no two-loss team has made the College Football Playoff in its first three years, a two-loss team not only made but won the BCS National Championship Game in 2007 – when only two teams had a chance to play for the title – when LSU, which went on to beat Ohio State, got in by virtue of winning the SEC championship, while multiple one-loss teams in front of it were defeated in the final weekend of a season that was dubbed the "Year of the Upset" in college football.
Additionally, Ohio State already has a history of being selected for the playoff – even when there has been debate over whether the Buckeyes deserved to be in the playoff – when it has managed to win its way back onto the bubble. Ohio State could have been left out of the playoff in favor of Baylor or TCU in 2014, but was moved ahead of those two teams into the No. 4 slot after an emphatic, 59-0 Big Ten Championship win over Wisconsin. Ohio State became the first team to make the playoff without winning its conference championship in 2016, when many people felt Penn State – by virtue of beating Ohio State and winning the Big Ten championship – should have been the first two-loss team to make the playoff instead.
You shouldn’t get your hopes up for Ohio State to make it back into the playoff, because the Buckeyes already needed a little bit of help even before they lost on Saturday. But if you’d prefer to remain optimistic about what the Buckeyes could still do this season, here’s a look at the chaos that would need to ensue to make it a realistic possibility.
Conference Championships Must Be Rewarded
Ohio State’s hopes of getting back in the playoff picture lie in the fact that the Buckeyes still control their own destiny in the Big Ten, and that the College Football Playoff committee has tended to favor conference champions, with 11 of the first 12 playoff bids going to teams that won their conference titles. If Ohio State was to win out and win the Big Ten championship, that would likely put the Buckeyes ahead on the pecking order of any two-loss teams – and potentially even some one-loss teams – that didn’t win their conference championships.
That still probably won’t be enough, considering that it wasn’t enough for a two-loss Penn State last year, but the committee hasn’t always been consistent in which criteria it values more than others each year. If enough teams lose in front of the Buckeyes, a conference title could enough to give them an argument.
SEC Runner-Up Must Lose Twice
As it currently stands, the SEC looks like a real candidate to put two teams in this year’s playoff – especially if the Big Ten ends up getting shutout – with No. 1-ranked Georgia and No. 2-ranked Alabama both being unbeaten. If both of those teams remain undefeated before meeting in the SEC Championship Game, the loser of that game would still be a sure bet to make the playoff over Ohio State or any other two-loss teams. But if one of those teams was to lose twice – a real possibility given that both still have regular-season games remaining against No. 10 Auburn – that team would likely not be ahead of a two-loss champion from another Power 5 conference.
Notre Dame Must Lose Once, and Maybe Twice
Should the playoff conversation devolve into an unprecedented situation of comparing résumés of two-loss teams – which, again, is what Ohio State needs to happen to have any chance – Notre Dame would be an interesting case if it was to lose another game. The No. 3 Fighting Irish have one of the strongest schedules in the country, which is why they currently have the best ranking among all one-loss teams. Notre Dame’s independence from conferences, and therefore lack of ability to win a conference championship, could hurt the Fighting Irish at the end of the year. But the Fighting Irish are probably safe if they win out – with a game against No. 7 Miami on the horizon – and might need to lose twice to give the Buckeyes any help.
Both Top-12 Teams Must Lose in ACC, Big 12 or Pac-12
As it currently stands, the Big Ten’s only good bet to make the playoff is Wisconsin, who is still ranked only eighth despite being 9-0, but would presumably find its way into the top four by running the table and going 13-0 with a conference title.
The Big Ten has put a team in each of the first three College Football Playoffs, but if its top candidate ends up being a two-loss conference champion – a real possibility if the winner of Saturday’s Ohio State vs. Michigan State game wins out – then the Big Ten would be locked out by any one-loss conference champions from the other four Power 5 conferences (or a one-loss Notre Dame).
For a potential two-loss Ohio State conference champion to be in the conversation for a spot, the Buckeyes cannot have more than two total one-loss teams from the ACC, Big 12 or Pac-12 – assuming the SEC will end up with at least one spot – in front of them. They currently have two teams from each conference in front of them.
No. 4 Clemson and No. 7 Miami would currently be slated to play each other in the ACC Championship Game, while No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 6 TCU would play each other in the Big 12 Championship Game and No. 9 Washington and No. 11 USC would play each other in the Pac-12 Championship Game. That should knock three of those teams out of the playoff picture on championship game weekend, but that’s not enough to help a two-loss Big Ten champion, so the Buckeyes would both of those teams in one of those conferences – and probably at least two of those conferences – to have a shot at getting in.
Win Out, and Win Convincingly
This is by far the most important thing that needs to happen for Ohio State to have any shot at getting back into the playoff conversation – even though it’s also the most obvious – which is why it gets a bigger subhead than the rest. This might all prove to be a moot conversation anyways, but it will certainly be a moot point if the Buckeyes lose another game.
If the Buckeyes don’t play much better against Michigan State than they played against Iowa, they could lose their third game by the end of the week. If the Buckeyes can beat the No. 12-ranked Spartans by any margin, that will prove that they are a better team than they appeared to be against Iowa. But the Buckeyes probably also need a big statement win at the end of the year – like that which they had against Wisconsin in 2014 – to convince the CFP committee that they deserve another playoff shot.