Ohio State’s 31-point loss to Iowa was supposed to be the dagger through the heart of its national championship chances.
Although the four weeks that passed after that loss gave the Buckeyes renewed hope of making the field of four, that loss did ultimately keep Ohio State out of the College Football Playoff when the final rankings were announced on Sunday.
Going into Sunday’s selection show, Ohio State had seemingly built a legitimate case for leaping over Alabama and earning the fourth spot in the playoff field along with Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia. By beating previously undefeated Wisconsin in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game, the Buckeyes earned a win over a team that was ranked fourth and is still ranked sixth in the CFP standings.
With wins also over Penn State and Michigan State, the Buckeyes finished the season with three victories over teams ranked in the top 16 of the final College Football Playoff rankings. Alabama's only wins over teams ranked in the final top 25 came against No. 17 LSU and No. 23 Mississippi State. And while Ohio State won a conference championship on Saturday, Alabama sat at home with no threat of suffering another loss.
College Football Playoff selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt had said Tuesday that there was "very little separation" between Alabama and Ohio State in last week’s rankings, seemingly making it appear as though a Big Ten Championship Game win over Wisconsin would be enough for the Buckeyes to climb above the Crimson Tide.
Ultimately, though, Hocutt said the committee just couldn’t get past the 31-point loss when it made its final decision early Sunday morning.
"The selection committee looked at a one-loss Alabama team, that final loss coming against the No. 7 team Auburn and a very competitive game," Hocutt said on ESPN after Sunday’s announcement. "We compared that to a two-loss Ohio State team, obviously the one loss at home to No. 2-ranked Oklahoma, but more damaging was the 31-point loss to unranked Iowa."
Hocutt said the committee "just favored Alabama’s full body of work over that of Ohio State."
"And it was consistent over the course of the year," Hocutt said. "As we saw Alabama play week in and week out, our rankings show, when we start with a clean sheet of paper each and every week, that the selection committee believed that Alabama was the better football team.
"When you looked at (Ohio State’s) resume, the wins that they have over CFP top-25 team, it was impressive, but it wasn’t enough for the selection committee to place them over Alabama," Hocutt added.
In more simple terms, saying that Alabama’s full body of work was better than Ohio State’s is to say that the committee felt the Buckeyes’ second loss to Iowa carried more weight than anything else, because Alabama’s body of work – in terms of having outstanding wins – truly doesn’t jump off the page. But a two-loss team has never made the College Football Playoff, and the committee decided Sunday that it did not want to break that precedent.
Ohio State benefited from that precedent last year, when it made the playoff over two-loss Penn State despite the Nittany Lions, by virtue of a head-to-head win over the Buckeyes, winning the Big Ten Championship Game last year. Those Buckeyes also seemingly had a much stronger resume than this year’s Crimson Tide, with three wins over top-10 teams during the regular season.
The first four years of the College Football Playoff, though, have made one clear indication: If you lose two games during the season, you’re probably not going to get in, even if that means putting in two teams from the same conference and/or a one-loss team that didn’t play in its conference championship game. The committee likely would have broken that precedent if two-loss Auburn had beaten Georgia in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday, but it wasn’t going to break that precedent with a team that lost by 31 points to Iowa.
“The selection committee believed that Alabama was the better football team.”– College Football Playoff committee chairman Kirby Hocutt
Now, the Buckeyes must wait just a little longer to find out who they will be playing in a bowl game this year, with New Year’s Six selections set to be announced at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The Buckeyes will still have a chance to play in a marquee bowl game against a highly ranked opponent, and therefore a chance to finish their season with a statement win in the national spotlight.
No matter how the season plays out from here, however, the Buckeyes won’t be able to help but look at what happened at Iowa in early November and think ‘What if?’ Because it was ultimately that game that kept Ohio State – a team that won its conference championship and had a real case for being one of college football’s best four teams – from having another opportunity to compete for a national championship.