After Ohio State’s 2017 Big Ten Championship Game win over Wisconsin, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer genuinely believed his team was going to make the College Football Playoff.
After winning this year’s Big Ten Championship Game over Northwestern on Saturday night, however, Meyer didn’t have that same feeling.
“I actually thought we were in last year,” Meyer said. “I didn't really think that this year. I'd hoped, but I really thought we were going to go to the playoff last year. This year, just when I saw Oklahoma win over a very good team, I thought it's going to be hard to jump them.”
Based solely on its record this season, Ohio State appeared to be in a better position going into this year’s College Football Playoff debate than it was last year. The Buckeyes lost just one regular-season game this season, as opposed to two. Yet they actually finished one spot lower in this year’s final rankings, coming in sixth after finishing fifth last year, as Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma earned the four spots in the playoff field while Georgia – with two losses – came in fifth.
Going into Saturday, it appeared that Ohio State needed both Oklahoma and Georgia to lose in their respective conference championship game in order to seize the fourth spot in the playoff field. But Oklahoma beat Texas, 39-27, and Georgia came close to beating Alabama before ultimately losing by just one touchdown (35-28), which ended up being enough to keep the Bulldogs ahead of the Buckeyes despite the Buckeyes’ 45-24 win over Northwestern.
Meyer acknowledged that he “was a little surprised” that Georgia finished ahead of Ohio State in the playoff rankings, but he didn’t want to gripe about it in his press conference following the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl selection on Sunday afternoon. Describing Georgia as “a heck of a team,” Meyer said he respected the work of the College Football Playoff committee and understood that they had a tough decision to make between the Sooners, Bulldogs and Buckeyes.
“The thing you can't do is stand up here in front of a microphone and start criticizing the committee,” Meyer said. “We're not going to do that. First of all, that devalues what our team just did, and it certainly devalues the opportunity to go represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. So that conversation is going to be quick and move on.”
Ohio State defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said that he was “a little surprised, a little bit disappointed” when he saw that the Buckeyes had finished sixth in the rankings on Saturday.
“We expected to be in that playoff run, and being sixth too after a two-loss team … it's a little bit of a déjà vu moment (after missing the playoff last season), only thing is we didn’t have two Ls,” Jones said.
Jones also said, though, that the Buckeyes had no one to blame but themselves – pointing to their 49-20 loss to Purdue on Oct. 20 – for failing to make the playoff for a second consecutive year.
“We should have blown them out,” Jones said in reference to the Purdue loss. “I feel like we left our destiny in the hands of the committee instead of our own hands.”
“I'm not going to say we took it for granted, but we didn't really put a lot of emphasis like I thought we should have, and it definitely hit us in the mouth and humbled us a lot,” Jones added. “If we're going to lose, I don't want to lose by 29 or 30. At least make it close. It was our fault. We shouldn’t have did that. That definitely was a deciding factor, I think.”
Meyer agreed with Jones that the Buckeyes lost their right to complain about being left out of the playoff by losing that game to Purdue.
“My father taught me that you never put your family, your career, your life in the hands of other people,” Meyer said. “And when you lose a game, it's in the hands of other people. It's very simple, don't lose. And three teams didn't lose, so those conversations aren't having them. So that's the way I’ve looked at it, and that's kind of the way I’ve looked at life. At a young age, I was taught that. Handle yourself, take care of your business.”
“The thing you can't do is stand up here in front of a microphone and start criticizing the committee. We're not going to do that. First of all, that devalues what our team just did, and it certainly devalues the opportunity to go represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.”– Urban Meyer
That said, Meyer is proud of his team for bouncing back from that loss to win the Big Ten championship, so he’s focused on celebrating that conference title and preparing to coach in the Rose Bowl – a game he says he has dreamed of coaching in since he was a kid – for the first time in his career.
“There's a board, I think Coach Tressel started it, right across from my office. The great teams in Ohio State history, I think it is,” Meyer said. “And I put our '12 team on there, the 12-0. Obviously the '14 team (that won the national championship). I put last year's team on there, Big Ten champs. And if we find a way to win this Rose Bowl, I'm going to put that team on there, because I think 13-1, if we can find a way to beat Washington, 13-1 team, back-to-back Big Ten champs.”