College Football Playoff Committee Had “No Hesitation” Ranking Ohio State Fourth Despite Questions About Defense, Strength of Schedule

By Dan Hope on November 24, 2020 at 9:18 pm
Justin Fields and Julian Fleming

Ohio State has played only four games, including only one game against a team with a winning record, and its defense has been shaky so far this season.

That was enough to put the Buckeyes behind Clemson in the first College Football Playoff selection committee rankings of the year, but not enough to keep them out of the top four.

Ohio State came in at No. 4, one spot lower than it was ranked in this week’s AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll, with Clemson taking the No. 3 spot in this year’s initial CFP rankings behind Alabama and Notre Dame. When CFP selection committee chairman Gary Barta was initially asked on ESPN why Clemson was ranked ahead of Ohio State, he gave a questionable explanation that seemingly ignored the Tigers trailing into the fourth quarter and winning by only six points against currently unranked Boston College.

“They’ve really dominated every team that they’ve played against, other than of course the No. 2 team in Notre Dame, and they were (short-handed), they didn’t have Trevor Lawrence, they didn’t have some of their best defenders,” said Barta, who is also the athletic director at Iowa. “But they’ve got a solid win against a 10th-ranked Miami team and at the end of the day, the committee just decided that Clemson deserved that No. 3 slot.”

That explanation aside, there is a valid case for ranking Clemson ahead of Ohio State. The Tigers have played eight games while Ohio State has played just four, and while both teams have a comparable best win – Clemson beat Miami, who’s ranked 10th, while Ohio State beat Indiana, who’s ranked 12th – the Buckeyes’ other three wins all came against teams that haven’t won more than one game yet this season (Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers).

Still, the committee viewed what Ohio State has already done this season favorably enough to slot them in the top four ahead of everyone else, including 5-1 Texas A&M at No. 5, 6-1 Florida at No. 6 and 8-0 Cincinnati at No. 7.

“First of all, Ohio State has an incredibly dynamic offense, led by Justin Fields and so many weapons,” Barta said of the Buckeyes, who currently rank seventh nationally in points scored per game (45.3) and eighth in yards gained per game (535.3), during a Tuesday night teleconference with reporters. “So it’s clear to the committee that Ohio State’s a very good football team. But as you look at the rest of their schedule ... Indiana’s certainly ranked high, 12th in the country, but the other three teams they played have a combined record of 2-12. So that certainly factored in, it was one factor in where Ohio State ended up, but Ohio State is a very good football team, and the committee certainly believes that.”

After Ohio State gave up 491 passing yards on Saturday against Indiana, Barta said the selection committee does have some concerns about the Buckeyes’ defense – which is currently ranked 42nd in points allowed per game (26.0) and 51st in yards allowed per game (389.5) – but that ultimately didn’t keep the selectors from believing Ohio State is one of the four best teams in college football.

“We’re gonna keep an eye on Ohio State’s defense,” Barta said. “There’s a lot of talent there as there always is, but just so far in the four games we’ve watched, that’s certainly an area we’re keeping an eye on. But again, no hesitation to put them at the fourth spot, but that’s probably an area that we’ll just keep an eye on in the games moving forward.”

Asked about how the committee evaluated Ohio State’s 42-35 win over Indiana, in which the Buckeyes led 35-7 early in the third quarter before Indiana scored four second-half touchdowns, Barta indicated that the committee is impressed by the Hoosiers, so the Buckeyes’ inability to hold their big lead wasn’t held too strongly against them.

“The fact that Ohio State got off to a quick start, that doesn’t surprise me, because they have so much firepower on offense. But I also would tell you, it didn’t shock me that Indiana came back, because Indiana’s an extremely talented team,” Barta said. “Ohio State’s a very, very good team … the fact that Indiana came back, maybe part of that is on Ohio State but part of that is just that Indiana’s a very good team as well.”

Top Six Teams in CFP Rankings
Rank Team Record Opp. Record Points Per Game Points Allowed Per Game
1 ALABAMA 7-0 24-25 49.4 (3rd) 19.3 (17th)
2 NOTRE DAME 8-0 27-39 37.6 (22nd) 16.6 (11th)
3 CLEMSON 7-1 31-29 45.4 (6th) 19.5 (18th)
4 OHIO STATE 4-0 6-13 45.3 (7th) 26.0 (42nd)
5 TEXAS A&M 5-1 20-24 33.3 (36th) 25.0 (41st)
6 FLORIDA 6-1 21-28 44.7 (8th) 28.1 (58th)

While Ohio State and its fans might feel slighted about being behind Clemson, what’s important right now is that the committee views the Buckeyes as a top-four team. And though Barta, like his selection committee chairman predecessors, didn’t want to get into hypotheticals about what could happen over the rest of the season, the fact that Ohio State is already ranked in the top four affirms the notion that the Buckeyes shouldn’t have any worries about making the playoff if they win out.

Ohio State won’t be able to add any big wins to its résumé over the next few weeks, as Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan all also currently have losing records, so the No. 4 ranking could leave the Buckeyes a tad vulnerable to another team jumping in front of them into the top four – but they probably don’t have anything to worry about.

“Ohio State is a very good football team, and the committee certainly believes that.”– CFP selection committee chairman Gary Barta

Ohio State could certainly help its cause over the next few weeks by playing better defense and really dominating its next few games, but the Buckeyes also still have a potential Big Ten Championship Game with Northwestern, who’s ranked eighth in the initial CFP rankings, giving Ohio State a game that should be a résumé-booster on the final Saturday before playoff selection if it can win its next three games before then.

There’s still a lot that can happen over the next four weeks, especially given that the COVID-19 pandemic is still a threat to cancel games and/or render key players unavailable, but what matters for the Buckeyes right now is that the committee views them as a top-four team even though they’ve played only four games and only one opponent with a winning record. That signifies that while fewer games than other contenders and a forgiving schedule could hurt Ohio State in terms of seeding, it’s probably not going to keep the Buckeyes out of the top four as long as they win every game they have the opportunity to play.

“We’re gonna identify the top four teams and the top 25 teams based on the games they do play and how strong they are, so we’re not gonna hold somebody back because they played a certain number of games,” Barta said.

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