As expected, an anticlimactic week in college football led to an anticlimactic release of College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night.
Ohio State is still ranked ninth. The Buckeyes are behind the same eight teams that they were last week, with the only change coming at the No. 2 slot, as Miami moved up one spot while Clemson dropped one spot to No. 3.
Staying in the same spot feels like it should be bad news for the Buckeyes, considering that the final set of rankings that will determine the College Football Playoff field is just two weeks away, and the Buckeyes still need to move up five spots.
In reality, though, Ohio State’s chances to make the playoff are just as good now as they were last week.
At least one of the teams ranked ahead of Ohio State will lose this Saturday, when Alabama plays Auburn. At least three teams ranked in the top nine will lose next week, when the winner of Alabama-Auburn plays Georgia, Miami plays Clemson and Ohio State plays Wisconsin. Add in the fact that Notre Dame’s season ends on Saturday, without an opportunity to play in a conference championship game, and the formula exists for Ohio State – which would likely jump the No. 8 Fighting Irish even if both teams win out – to climb all the way into the top four.
That said, it remains uncertain what the CFP committee will ultimately value most – conference championships or number or losses – and the Buckeyes still probably need some help, starting this weekend, to better their chances.
Roll Tide Roll
Outside of rooting for the Buckeyes to beat Michigan and Wisconsin, the primary rooting interest for Ohio State fans over the next two weeks should be Alabama.
That probably sounds sacreligious for Ohio State fans, but the Buckeyes might actually need the Crimson Tide to beat Auburn this week and Georgia to make the playoffs. If Ohio State can win out and win the Big Ten championship, it would presumably move ahead of a two-loss SEC runner-up Georgia and a three-loss Auburn. Should one of those teams beat Alabama, however, it opens the door for both the SEC champion and a one-loss Alabama to make the playoff, which would likely eliminate the Buckeyes’ spot.
It’s All About The U
The one thing this week’s rankings appear to clear up that wasn't as clear before: Ohio State fans’ rooting interest in the ACC Championship Game two Saturdays from now should be Miami.
Although Miami needed a second-half comeback to beat Virginia on Saturday, its win over a Football Bowl Subdivison was enough to move the Hurricanes’ resume ahead of Clemson’s, in the College Football Playoff committee’s eyes, after the Tigers played a Football Championship Subdivision team (The Citadel) on Saturday.
"The committee took note of Miami's increasingly impressive body of work, its unbeaten record, and it made the Hurricanes No. 2 by a very close margin over No. 3 Clemson," committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said after the rankings release.
Like in the SEC, the ACC’s prospect of getting two teams in the playoff could become reality if Clemson wins out and Miami only loses in the conference championship game, as both teams would only have one loss, which could keep both of them ahead of the Big Ten champion if Ohio State beats Wisconsin. It would certainly help Ohio State's chances if Miami lost to Pittsburgh this week, but Buckeyes fans might not want to hold their breath on that.
Ohio State, as a two-loss conference champion, would presumably have the upper hand on a playoff spot over a two-loss non-conference champion Clemson, but the prospect of getting in over a one-loss Power 5 team is murky, especially given Hocutt’s latest comments on the Buckeyes on Tuesday night.
"Ohio State has been impressive in their play in the last two weeks, but … the two losses they have were in convincing fashion, to Oklahoma earlier in the year and then to Iowa," Hocutt said. "That is a bad loss to Iowa that sits there on Ohio State's resume. Not sure what else to say about that. Obviously a talented team. They've played well the last two weeks. But two convincing losses sit there on their resume."
The other team that Ohio State fans will probably want to root for on conference championship game weekend is Oklahoma, given the Sooners’ head-to-head win over the Buckeyes earlier this season, which makes it less likely that the Buckeyes would jump the Sooners even if they lost another game and Ohio State won out.
On the other end of the equation, it’s uncertain whether TCU – who will play Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game if both teams win this week – would make the College Football Playoff even if it beats the Sooners. The Horned Frogs already have two losses and are three spots behind the Buckeyes, so Ohio State would presumably remain ahead of TCU if it wins out. But the possibility of TCU winning out and jumping the Buckeyes is probably one Ohio State wants to avoid, given that the committee could side with putting a two-loss Oklahoma in the playoff over a two-loss Ohio State.
Just Win, Baby
We say it every week, and we’ll say it again: None of this matters if Ohio State doesn’t win its next two games, and that’s a task that’s easier said than done. If the Buckeyes lose to Michigan this week, the stories next week won’t be about whether Ohio State can make the playoff, but about how Ohio State is having its worst season if the Urban Meyer era. If the Buckeyes lose to Wisconsin in the conference championship game, the Badgers will earn a spot in the playoff – assuming they don’t lose at Minnesota this week – but the Buckeyes certainly won’t.
If Ohio State can win convincingly over Michigan, however, and follow that up with a win over a Wisconsin team that is currently undefeated and ranked fifth, that could bolster the Buckeyes’ resume enough to move them into the top four on decision day.