Nov. 4, 2017: Iowa 55, Ohio State 24.
Oct. 20, 2018: Purdue 49, Ohio State 20.
If it wasn’t for those two losses, Ohio State would have made each of the last two College Football Playoffs.
Instead, they’ll be forced to watch from home for the second straight year.
Ohio State has been left out of the College Football Playoff despite winning the Big Ten championship for the second year in a row. And once again, the Buckeyes can point to a lopsided midseason road loss to an unranked opponent as the reason why they didn’t get the chance to compete for a national championship.
Ohio State had only one regular-season loss this year, not two, which was a big factor in the Buckeyes being left out last year in favor of 11-1 Alabama, which made the playoff last season (and went on to win the national championship) despite failing to make the SEC Championship Game.
This year, however, the Buckeyes actually finished behind a team with two losses – as Georgia came in at No. 5 in the final rankings despite losing the SEC Championship Game, while Ohio State finished at No. 6 – along with three other conference champions who finished with one loss or less – Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma – as well as Notre Dame, who finished the season with an undefeated record to secure its berth in the playoff despite not playing in a conference championship game.
There’s a case to be made that Ohio State should have been the fourth team in the playoff, ahead of Oklahoma, considering both teams had one loss and Ohio State arguably had the two best wins of either team with its 62-39 win over Michigan and its 27-26 win over Penn State. There’s certainly a case to be made that Ohio State should have been ranked ahead of Georgia, considering that the Bulldogs had two losses and didn’t even win their conference championship game.
College Football Playoff committee chairman Rob Mullens said Sunday that there was not a clear-cut consensus among the committee regarding which order those three teams should be ranked.
“There was at least one member on every one of these combinations – for 4, 5 and 6 – that was representing a case for each of those teams to be 4,” Mullens said. “There was strong debate, there was even division in the room … The committee voted that no one was unequivocally better than the other. So then we leaned on the protocol, and as we leaned on the protocol … the book came out that Oklahoma was 4, Georgia was 5 and Ohio State was 6.”
The College Football Playoff committee lists five protocol that it uses to decide between teams that are considered comparable: Conference championships, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, outcomes of common opponents and other relevant factors.
Mullens didn’t specify during his appearance on ESPN which protocol led to Oklahoma and Georgia both being ranked ahead of Ohio State, though strength of schedule and the catch-all “other relevant factors” would seemingly be the case, considering that Ohio State won a conference championship and Georgia did not, and that Georgia and Ohio State did not play any common opponents.
Mullens preached once again on Saturday that the College Football Playoff committee looks at each team’s entire body of work in setting each week’s rankings, so the Buckeyes’ exclusion from the playoff isn’t solely based on their one loss. If Ohio State had been able to dominate Northwestern like it did in its 59-0 Big Ten Championship Game win over Wisconsin in 2014, that might have propelled the Buckeyes up the rankings. If the Buckeyes had won convincingly in November games against Nebraska and Maryland, instead of struggling to beat those unranked opponents, perhaps that would have given them a better chance to be ahead of the Sooners and Bulldogs.
If it wasn’t for the loss to Purdue, however, the Buckeyes would have been in without a doubt, giving the committee an easy decision to put them in instead of giving the committee an easy reason to leave them out.
Going into the year, and even after the Purdue loss, there was reason to feel confident that even if the Buckeyes lost one game, they would make the playoff as long as they didn’t lose a second game and won the Big Ten championship. After all, no Power 5 team with one loss or fewer that won a conference championship game missed the playoff in its first four years.
Sunday’s rankings made it clear, however, that one bad loss can be all it takes to keep a team out of the playoff, even if it wins all the rest of its games.
And that means that going forward – at least as long as the playoff remains at only four teams – the emphasis on winning every single game on the schedule will become that much greater.