Ohio State Back in the Thick of College Football Playoff Conversation, But Oklahoma Still Has the Edge for Final Spot in Four-Team Field

By Dan Hope on November 27, 2018 at 9:26 pm
Kyler Murray vs. Texas
Kevin Jairaj – USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State did exactly what it needed to do on Saturday against Michigan to get itself back into the College Football Playoff conversation.

Whether that will be enough for the Buckeyes to actually make the playoff, however, remains as uncertain as ever.

Ohio State moved up four spots in the College Football Playoff rankings to No. 6 on Tuesday night – moving ahead of Michigan, LSU, Washington State and UCF this week – after its 62-39 win over the Wolverines on Saturday.

The problem for the Buckeyes now is that they have just one more week to move up two spots, leaving it uncertain whether a win over Northwestern in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game will be enough for Ohio State to make the final field of four.

No. 3 Notre Dame is a virtual lock to make the College Football Playoff, as it has already concluded its season with a 12-0 record. The winner of Saturday’s SEC Championship Game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Georgia will certainly make the field of four, and No. 2 Clemson is also a sure bet to make the playoff as long as it beats Pittsburgh in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game.

Assuming Clemson wins on Saturday (the Tigers are a 26.5-point favorite), that will leave just one remaining spot in the playoff field, and it looks like Ohio State might need to not only beat Northwestern, but have Alabama beat Georgia and Texas beat Oklahoma, in order to get that spot.

If Georgia beats Alabama, there’s reason to believe that Alabama will get in over both Oklahoma and Ohio State even if the Sooners and Buckeyes both win. The Crimson Tide have been No. 1 in each of the first five weeks of playoff rankings, and even with a loss to Georgia, Alabama would still have the strongest resume of the three teams – having won each of its 12 regular-season games by 20 or more points – and its only loss to another playoff team.

Alabama is widely projected to beat Georgia, though, which would hand the Bulldogs a second loss and presumably eliminate them from Sunday’s debate, considering that no two-loss team has ever made the playoff.

Given that, the real question coming out of Tuesday’s penultimate playoff rankings is whether there is any scenario in which Ohio State can jump ahead of Oklahoma and earn the No. 4 spot in the playoff field if both teams win.

There’s no clear-cut answer to that question – or at least you’re not going to get one from College Football Playoff chairman Rob Mullens, who refuses to speculate about what could happen in the future in his weekly teleconference with reporters.

But based on the fact that Oklahoma is still ranked ahead of Ohio State after the Buckeyes’ signature win of the season, and what Mullens did say on Tuesday about why the Sooners are still ranked ahead of the Buckeyes, it seems as though even a dominant win over No. 21 Northwestern might not be enough to propel Ohio State in the top four as long as the Sooners can avenge their only loss of the season in Saturday’s Big 12 Championship Game against No. 14 Texas.

“Oklahoma has a little bit stronger schedule than Ohio State at this point,” Mullens said. “You look at Oklahoma, you see their only loss is to a ranked Texas at a neutral site, impressive road wins against ranked West Virginia, ranked (Iowa) State. You line that up against Ohio State with a loss against Purdue, then obviously an incredibly impressive win versus Michigan last week, then a quality road win over Penn State.”

When comparing Ohio State’s schedule side-by-side with Oklahoma's, the Buckeyes’ win over Michigan certainly stands out as the most impressive victory by either team. Furthermore, No. 7 Michigan and No. 12 Penn State are both currently higher in the CFP rankings than any team Oklahoma has beat, with No. 16 West Virginia and No. 23 Iowa State standing as the top teams the Sooners have defeated.

Oklahoma's Schedule
Date Opponent Result
Sept. 8 UCLA W, 49–21
Sept. 15 #23 IOWA STATE W, 37–27
Sept. 22 ARMY W, 28–21 (OT)
Sept. 29 BAYLOR W, 66–33
Oct. 6 #14 TEXAS L, 48–45
Oct. 20 TCU W, 52–27
Oct. 27 KANSAS STATE W, 51–14
Nov. 3 TEXAS TECH W, 51–46
Nov. 10 OKLAHOMA STATE W, 48–47
Nov. 17 KANSAS W, 55–40
Nov. 24 #16 WEST VIRGINIA W, 59–56
Ohio State's Schedule
Date Opponent Result
Sept. 1 OREGON STATE W, 77–31
Sept. 8 RUTGERS W, 52–3
Sept. 15 TCU W, 40–28
Sept. 22 TULANE W, 49–6
Sept. 29 #12 PENN STATE W, 27–26
Oct. 6 INDIANA W, 49–26
Oct. 13 MINNESOTA W, 30–14
Oct. 20 PURDUE L, 49–20
Nov. 3 NEBRASKA W, 36–31
Nov. 10 MICHIGAN STATE W, 26–6
Nov. 17 MARYLAND W, 52–51 (OT)
Nov. 24 #7 MICHIGAN W, 62–39

Mullens said the committee was impressed by the Buckeyes’ win over Michigan, leading to their four-spot jump.

“It was their most complete game of the year, an impressive win,” Mullens said. “The committee certainly took note of that.”

It wasn’t enough to jump them ahead of Oklahoma, however, and there might not be anything other than an Oklahoma loss that will be.

Mullens has consistently praised Oklahoma’s offense, describing it Tuesday as “historic” and “superior,” and rightfully so, considering that the Sooners are No. 1 in both total offense (583.8 yards per game) and scoring offense (50.3 points per game). But Ohio State’s offense hasn’t been far off, ranking No. 2 in total offense (543.9 yards per game) and No. 7 in scoring offense (43.3 points per game), and its defense – although it has struggled – has been better, ranking 67th in total defense and 56th in scoring defense compared to 111th and 99th in those same categories for Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma has a little bit stronger schedule than Ohio State at this point.”– College Football Playoff chairman Rob Mullens on Oklahoma vs. Ohio State

When asked to explain how the committee views both of those teams, Mullens has given essentially the same answers about both.

  • On Ohio State: "The defense played better against Michigan, but that still is probably the shortcoming. Their offense has been able to carry them."
  • On Oklahoma: “When you look at the numbers, while their defense has been a challenge, their offense has been superior. They find a way to win the games based on the talent that they have. That lines up that the offense carries them.”

Mullens won’t say it outright, but you can read between the lines: The biggest reason why Oklahoma remains Ohio State – and why Ohio State sits at the bottom of the rankings among college football’s only three one-loss teams – is that the Buckeyes’ 49-20 loss at Purdue on Oct. 20 is the worst loss any of the three teams have.

If Ohio State can dominate in a win over Northwestern, and Oklahoma just barely beats Texas, perhaps that could be enough to persuade the committee that the Buckeyes belong in over the Sooners.

At this point, though, it appears what the Buckeyes really need is for the Longhorns to beat the Sooners and the Crimson Tide to beat the Bulldogs – which would give both Georgia and Oklahoma a second loss, and make Ohio State the clear-cut choice despite its loss to the Boilermakers.

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