If Ohio State wins both of its next two games, it's likely to be the No. 1 seed in this year’s College Football Playoff.
With the Buckeyes’ move back into the top spot of the playoff rankings on Tuesday, which comes after their first top-10 win of the season over Penn State on Saturday, their path to the top seed in this year’s four-team field appears to be clear.
No. 2 LSU, which had held the top spot in the playoff rankings for the past two weeks, still has one more chance for a big résumé-boosting win over Georgia, which is currently ranked No. 4, in the SEC Championship Game. Ohio State, however, still has an opportunity to add two more top-15 wins to its résumé – against No. 13 Michigan on Saturday and against whoever wins this weekend’s game between No. 8 Minnesota and No. 12 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game – which should be enough for it to fend off LSU, which finishes its regular season against an unranked opponent in Texas A&M.
Going into Tuesday night’s rankings update, the selection committee could have justified keeping status quo. Multiple national analysts speculated that the Buckeyes had fumbled away their chance to move up to the No. 1 seed by beating Penn State by only 11 points – in a game Ohio State really could have won by four or five scores if not for costly turnovers – and LSU still has a case for the strongest résumé with three top-15 wins (No. 5 Alabama, No. 11 Florida, No. 15 Auburn), including the 46-41 win over the Crimson Tide that had propelled the Tigers into the spot for the past two weeks.
Ohio State, though, had a clear argument in its favor: Statistically, the Buckeyes have been a far more complete team than LSU this year. While Ohio State’s defense currently leads the nation in points allowed per game, yards allowed per game and yards allowed per play, LSU currently ranks 42nd, 43rd and 44th in those same categories. One could argue that LSU has a better offense than Ohio State, yet the Buckeyes also lead the nation with 49.4 points scored per game (.9 more than LSU). The Buckeyes also have still won all 11 of their games by double digits, while LSU has had three single-digit wins.
That, along with Ohio State having three top-20 wins (No. 10 Penn State, No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 19 Cincinnati), is what ultimately made the College Football Playoff selection committee decide that the Buckeyes deserved to move back into the top spot.
“Ohio State’s been really good on both sides of the ball,” selection committee chairman Rob Mullens said Tuesday night. “The committee felt that that win over Penn State again solidified that Ohio State’s a little better on the defensive side of the ball.
“That win over Penn State and how consistent Ohio State’s been and balanced on both offense and defense, the committee felt they deserved to be No. 1 this week,” Mullens added.
Even if Ohio State still wins out, it’s still possible that LSU could jump back ahead of the Buckeyes, if only because the committee insists that it starts fresh each week and is not beholden to its previous week’s rankings. Therefore, if the committee feels that LSU is more impressive in its next two games against Texas A&M and Georgia than Ohio State is against Michigan and either Wisconsin or Minnesota, the Tigers could still end up with the top seed.
Unless the Buckeyes struggle to win both of their next two games and LSU rolls to blowout victories in its next two games, however, it would be hard to rationalize the Tigers suddenly having a better résumé now if both teams finish 13-0.
“Obviously LSU has a very strong offense. But to date their defense isn’t quite as strong as Ohio State’s.”– Rob Mullens on why Ohio State is ranked ahead of LSU
Ohio State’s players and coaches themselves won't be spending any time thinking about where they stand in the CFP rankings this week. For the rest of this week, the Buckeyes will be solely focused on winning their rivalry game, which would be their priority regardless of whether there were any potential College Football Playoff implications on the line.
The No. 1 spot is a really good spot for the Buckeyes to be in, though, because it could lead to a more favorable semifinal matchup if they can hold onto it. Clemson, which looks to be firmly entrenched in the No. 3 spot in the rankings if the three remaining unbeaten teams all win out, is the nation’s most complete team other than Ohio State; the Tigers rank fourth nationally in points scored per game (45.9) and are tied for second in points allowed per game (10.7).
The fourth spot in the playoff field remains up for grabs, though, and none of the teams most likely to earn that spot – assuming LSU and Ohio State win out, the top candidates for the fourth spot right now would be No. 5 Alabama, No. 6 Utah, No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 9 Baylor – look nearly as dangerous on paper as Clemson.
Sitting in the No. 1 spot with just two weeks to go also increases Ohio State’s margin for error for its next two games. Mullens would not say that when asked on Tuesday, insisting that the committee does not project ahead, but it seems more likely than ever that the Buckeyes’ résumé would be strong enough for them to still make the playoff with a 12-1 record.
Winning the Big Ten championship game and losing to Michigan would probably be better for the Buckeyes’ chances than the other way around – because the lack of a conference championship could hurt them in a debate between one-loss teams – but the Buckeyes will have reason to feel very good about their playoff chances if they win in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
Ohio State, of course, should just simply focus on winning its rivalry game this week and winning its conference championship next week. If the Buckeyes can do that, they’ll be able to rest easy going into Selection Sunday knowing that they’ll be earning a playoff bid and most likely, the No. 1 seed – a feat Ohio State has never accomplished before.