Alabama is headed to the national championship game, but if Ohio State had beat Iowa on Nov. 4, the Crimson Tide wouldn’t have even been in the College Football Playoff.
The Crimson Tide failed to even make its own conference championship game, leaving many to argue that the Buckeyes should have been the No. 4 seed in the playoff instead after winning the Big Ten Championship Game. That never would have even been a conversation, though, if Ohio State hadn’t lost a second regular-season game.
Alabama certainly validated the College Football Playoff selection committee’s choice on Monday night, when the Crimson Tide scored a 24-6 win over Clemson in the playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide beat the Tigers down in a manner that the Buckeyes likely would not have been able to, and likely will enter next week’s all-SEC title game against Georgia as the oddsmakers’ favorite.
Still, Ohio State and its fans can be left to wonder what could have been if the committee had made a different choice or if, more simply, the Buckeyes hadn’t suffered what remains a difficult-to-explain blowout loss in Iowa City.
Ohio State’s defense wasn’t nearly as consistently dominant – especially in pass coverage – as Alabama’s defense has been this year, so it’s unlikely the Buckeyes would have stifled the Tigers offense in the same way Alabama did, holding Clemson to six points and 188 yards. Coupling that with the inconsistencies Ohio State had on offense, also especially in the passing game, the Buckeyes might have been unable to make up that difference.
Given that, being snubbed from the playoff might have actually been a blessing in disguise for the Buckeyes. A second straight playoff semifinal loss to the Tigers certainly would have furthered the narrative that Clemson’s football program has surpassed Ohio State’s. To the contrary, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he expects the Buckeyes’ season-ending 24-7 win over USC in the Cotton Bowl to be a momentum-builder for the Buckeyes heading into 2018.
"Momentum is very, very important," Meyer said after the Cotton Bowl. "It’s a very healthy program."
At the same time, there’s no question that the Buckeyes would have liked to have the opportunity to compete for a championship instead of watching from home. And considering that Clemson looked far more beatable on Monday night than it did in beating Ohio State and Alabama to win a national championship last year, it’s certainly plausible to think that the Buckeyes could have turned the tables on the Tigers this year.
Had the Buckeyes not lost to Iowa, they also might have been a higher seed in the playoff and ended up playing Georgia or Oklahoma instead, and even though Ohio State lost to Oklahoma in Week 2 of the regular season, it’s also plausible to think the Buckeyes could have beaten either of those teams on Monday, considering the way both defenses struggled in the Bulldogs’ 54-48 double overtime win at the Rose Bowl.
Alabama looked like the best team in the country on Monday, at least on the defensive side of the ball, so in the CFP committee’s stated goal of selecting the four best teams in college football, it looks like they got it right, considering that Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia were all clear-cut choices for the playoff as one-loss Power 5 conference champions.
One would think, though, that the Buckeyes can’t help but wonder what they might have been able to do on Monday, considering how close they came to being in the playoff field and how many felt they deserved to be in, even with their two losses, over the Crimson Tide.
"I just don’t think Bama deserves to be there," Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins said last week, according to Land of 10’s Austin Ward. "I think we should have been there. I mean, we shot ourselves in the foot [against Iowa]. But the committee is all about who is the best team. I think the last few games of the season, we proved that we were one of the best teams."