INDIANAPOLIS – A few minutes after the confetti shot up early Sunday morning, as Ohio State began to depart the Big Ten championship stage following its 45-24 conference title victory, a faint yet familiar sound arose from off in the distance.
The same three words that have been uttered over and over since Nick Saban turned the Crimson Tide into a dynasty sounded out from the stands.
We want Bama. We want Bama.
Sitting among thousands of fellow jovial Buckeyes fans in the southwest corner of the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd, a small group of folks began the chant while the team walked toward them to sing “Carmen Ohio.” Some fans from the section began to join the chant, but it never truly caught on.
Nothing is quite yet decided, including whether the Ohio State fans celebrating the conference championship truly want Bama, and especially whether they’ll get a chance to watch the Buckeyes take on the Crimson Tide.
“So I don't know if we're in a position to start making statements about where we belong. But I know they've got a tough decision to make, because we're a heck of a football team.”– Urban Meyer
It didn’t take long for Urban Meyer to make his pitch, though.
After accepting the Big Ten championship trophy, he addressed the tens of thousands of scarlet and gray-clad fans and pitched to them – and those watching on television – about why his team deserves a shot.
“Well, I think all you have to look at is the body of work,” Meyer said after the game. “We went on the road and had some tough wins – TCU, Penn State, Michigan State. And then to come back and play against our rivals the way we did. And then we went and represented the Eastern Conference and had a great game here. I think we deserve a shot,” Meyer said.
And if the Buckeyes earn that final spot, Dwayne Haskins is prepared.
“If the committee makes a decision to put us in the playoffs, I’m gonna put on a show,” Haskins said on the podium after accepting the Big Ten championship most valuable player award.
Haskins might not get that shot, though.
Alabama and Clemson – a pair of undefeated conference champions – are locks to make the four-team College Football Playoff field, which will be released at noon Sunday. Uncertainty remains with the other two spots. Notre Dame, having completed a 12-0 regular season, should expect a spot in the playoff. Georgia, which earned a No. 4 spot in last week’s rankings, should expect to fall out of the top four, despite some people suggesting the Bulldogs remain in contention.
So, last week’s debate between Ohio State and Oklahoma continues to rage on.
The committee placed the Sooners fifth and the Buckeyes sixth last week, and both teams won conference titles on Saturday. Ohio State beat Northwestern, the 21st-ranked team in last week’s rankings, by 21 points, and Oklahoma defeated No. 14 Texas by 12 points.
Was that enough for playoff committee chairman Rob Mullens and the rest of those charged with making the decision to leapfrog Ohio State over Oklahoma?
No one can be sure. Likely, not even the committee knows, yet. Saturday provided the final data point, but much was already known about the teams and the Sooners had an edge led by an offense that Mullens called “historic.”
While the Buckeyes beat the Wildcats by three touchdowns and the Sooners knocked off the Longhorns by a touchdown-and-a-half, both games remained tight for a while.
Ohio State, leading 24-7 at halftime, had a chance to make a statement with a win similar to the 59-0 blowout of Wisconsin that pushed the Buckeyes into the first-ever playoff in 2014, but Northwestern scored 14 unanswered points to open the third quarter to close the gap to three points.
A 29-yard Haskins-to-Chris Olave touchdown strike gave the Buckeyes a 10-point lead before the Wildcats cut the edge to seven points with a field goal with 10 minutes remaining in the game. Touchdown receptions from Johnnie Dixon and J.K. Dobbins eventually extended Ohio State’s lead to 21 points, but the showing wasn’t dominant for much of the game.
The Sooners struggled for a while, though, as well. The Big 12 title game entered the fourth quarter tied at 27 points apiece before a field goal, safety and touchdown pass from Kyler Murray completed the victory.
The Buckeyes needed a blowout, no-doubt-about-it victory, and Saturday’s certainly wasn’t that type of performance. If the committee viewed Ohio State behind Oklahoma, what did the Buckeyes do to not only bridge the gap, but jump the Sooners?
Parris Campbell, like Meyer, believes Ohio State’s performance merits that leap.
“I think this team has shown resilience. Obviously, we took a loss early on against Purdue,” Campbell said. “This team never gave up, kept swinging. We've got a lot of top-25 wins. I think this team deserves a shot.”
Ohio State’s blowout victory of Michigan was arguably the best win in the nation before Alabama beat Georgia. However, like Campbell said, the Buckeyes also have the worst loss among teams competing for the final spot. That 29-point defeat drastically hurts the Buckeyes’ chances and played a big role in their No. 6 ranking going into this week.
Many still people believe Ohio State deserved a spot above the Sooners last week, following the win against Michigan. But the Buckeyes still sat one spot below. A 21-point victory against Northwestern to win the Big Ten championship might not be enough to change the mind of the decision-makers in the room.
After the game, in his press conference, Meyer didn’t go as far as he did earlier in the night to declare that Ohio State should have a spot among the final four, instead emphasizing the toughness of the impending judgement.
“I don't really want to get into that tonight. I think those people – I think they're in Dallas, wherever they are, and it's a tough situation they're in,” Meyer said. “There's a lot of great football teams out there. And we're one of those great football teams. And I think there should be a lot of merit in winning your conference, which we did. You look at the road wins we had – at Penn State, at Michigan State, at TCU. And then obviously the way we played against the fourth-ranked team in America. And the way we played tonight.
“So I don't know if we're in a position to start making statements about where we belong. But I know they've got a tough decision to make, because we're a heck of a football team.”
For much of the season, Ohio State wasn’t, as Meyer described it, a “heck of a football team.” A four-game stretch of unconvincing wins against Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska, along with a loss to Purdue, left many questioning the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes rebounded with three wins over teams that were ranked in the top 25 at the time in their final four games, including victories against Michigan State and Michigan and a conference title. It might have been too late to make the push, though.
Ohio State will soon find out, and if it somehow leaps the Sooners for the fourth spot, the fans in Lucas Oil Stadium will get their wish.
If not, a Rose Bowl trip will be in order.