If Ohio State can win its final four regular-season games and the Big Ten Championship Game, the Buckeyes should be in good position to make the College Football Playoff.
The Buckeyes are ranked 10th in the first playoff rankings of the year, which might be lower than they want to be and is certainly lower than they would have been had they not suffered a 49-20 loss at Purdue. They’re not in control of their own destiny. But it’s still likely that between now and Dec. 2, enough will happen that Ohio State will find its way into the four-team field if it can win out.
As of now, here’s what we can assume:
- If No. 1-ranked Alabama wins the remainder of its games, it will make the College Football Playoff. The same can be said of No. 3 LSU, which plays Alabama this week. It can also likely be said of No. 6 Georgia and No. 9 Kentucky, who play each other this weekend, as the winner of that game will likely play the winner of Alabama and LSU in the SEC Championship Game. Aside from Alabama, it’s unlikely any of those other teams will make the playoff if they suffer additional losses.
- No. 2 Clemson and No. 4 Notre Dame are also locks to make the College Football Playoff if they win out.
After that is where the real debate begins, especially if Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame all win out, which would leave just one spot remaining in the playoff for a one-loss team. Considering that all three are currently undefeated, it’s also possible that any of them could lose a game and still make the playoff, though it would become a debate at that point.
Outside of the SEC – which is only likely to get two teams in the playoff if the same scenario plays out as last year, where Alabama loses to LSU and misses the SEC Championship Game, but both the SEC champion and Alabama finish the season with one loss – the Buckeyes are currently also behind three other one-loss teams: No. 5 Michigan, No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 9 Washington State.
The Buckeyes, of course, play Michigan in their final game of the regular season, which would be a resume-boosting victory for Ohio State if it pulls off the win, especially if both teams win out in the interim. The biggest question for Ohio State, beyond just winning the rest of its games, is how it would hold up in a comparison of resumes with Oklahoma and Washington State if those teams win out.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Ohio State's resume is that its one loss wasn’t by just a few points to a top-ranked team, but by 29 points to Purdue. A close loss to a ranked team would likely be viewed more forgivingly in the eyes of the committee than one in which the Buckeyes were thoroughly embarrassed by an unranked team.
Committee chairman Rob Mullens said Tuesday, though, that each team’s entire body of work is considered in each week’s rankings.
“Everybody wants to narrow down to one small piece, but really, when you’re looking at a resume, you’re looking at all the games,” Mullens said. “Whether they’ve played seven or eight games, you’re looking at every single game, and we don’t (ignore) margin of victory, but we do watch the games and understand how they play out, so that is a part of the discussion.”
Even beyond the loss to Purdue, the Buckeyes’ resume isn’t overly impressive right now, as their 27-26 win over Penn State (which checked in at 14th in the initial rankings) is their only win over a team currently ranked in the top 25. Mullens said the committee did factor into the equation, though, that TCU – which has lost five of its last six games – was a stronger opponent on Sept. 15, when Ohio State beat the Horned Frogs 40-28, than it would be now.
“We look at a whole body of work, and when you look at Ohio State, they’ve had an offense that’s carried them,” Mullens said. “Quality road win against a CFP-ranked Penn State. When you look at Ohio State’s resume, when they played TCU, that was a healthy TCU team on a neutral site in Texas. So that does factor in. But obviously the loss to Purdue does weigh as a part of that, and I think that’s why you see Ohio State at No. 10.”
Ohio State’s clearest path to the playoff would be one in which Oklahoma and Washington State both lose, as that would likely ensure that the winner of Ohio State’s final regular-season game with Michigan, if that team also wins the remainder of its regular-season games and the Big Ten title game, would make the playoff field of four teams.
Yet even if all three teams win out, there’s nothing stopping the committee from moving Ohio State ahead of Oklahoma or Washington State later – especially with potential wins remaining over Michigan, and Iowa if it makes the Big Ten title game, though the Buckeyes could certainly help their case by starting to beat teams in more impressive fashion than they did against Indiana and Minnesota before their loss to Purdue.
“Everybody wants to narrow down to one small piece, but really, when you’re looking at a resume, you’re looking at all the games.”– College Football Playoff chairman Rob Mullens
It certainly helps to be ranked higher than 10th in the initial rankings, as 14 of the 16 teams who have made the first four editions of the playoff have been within the top seven of the first batch of rankings each year. Of course, one of the exceptions was Ohio State in 2014, which was ranked 16th in the initial rankings that year – proof that there could be a lot of movement in the standings over the next five weeks.
Additionally, no one-loss champion from the Big Ten has ever missed the playoff in its first four years (Penn State in 2016 and Ohio State in 2017 both had two losses).
For right now, the most important thing for Ohio State is to just focus on winning every game left on its schedule, which is much easier said than done. The season-ending rivalry game to Michigan looms as a very tough test for the Buckeyes, considering that they are the fifth-ranked team and have won seven straight games. And as the 29-point loss to Purdue before the bye week certainly showed, Ohio State can lose to any team remaining on its schedule – Nebraska, Michigan State, Maryland or certainly the Big Ten Championship Game if it makes it there – if it doesn’t play better than it did in West Lafayette.
Ohio State needs to play much better than it did against Purdue and in many of its other games this season – particularly in eliminating big plays on defense, being able to move the ball in the running game and finishing drives in the red zone – to actually be capable of winning a national championship this season. But there’s still plenty of reason for optimism that the Buckeyes will at least have an opportunity to compete for one in the playoff if they can win five games in a row before the playoff field is set.