If you’ve been worried that Ohio State’s loss to Oregon would keep the Buckeyes out of the College Football Playoff even if they win out, you can stop worrying.
Even though Ohio State didn’t make the top four of the initial College Football Playoff rankings, the No. 5 ranking the Buckeyes received from the selection committee on Tuesday – and the rankings of multiple teams Ohio State will still play – should safely ensure Ohio State will make the CFP if it wins its final four regular season games and the Big Ten Championship Game.
Ohio State should certainly jump ahead of No. 3 Michigan State if it beats the Spartans on Nov. 20. While College Football Playoff selection committee Gary Barta isn’t one to predict what will happen going forward, he said Tuesday that head-to-head is a significant factor for the committee as it determines where to rank teams – which Barta said was the primary reason No. 4 Oregon was ranked ahead of Ohio State.
The Buckeyes also play No. 7 Michigan on Nov. 27, making Ohio State the only team in the country who will still play two more regular season games against teams currently ranked in the top seven. That likely protects the Buckeyes from being jumped by any other team behind them as long as they win the rest of their games.
There’s plenty of room to quibble with the selection committee’s initial rankings, especially if you’re a fan of No. 6 Cincinnati, No. 8 Oklahoma and No. 9 Wake Forest, who all ranked behind at least two one-loss teams despite being unbeaten. Ohio State fans (and Michigan State and Oregon fans) can reasonably question why Alabama is ranked second, considering the Crimson Tide lost to Texas A&M, who’s ranked 10 spots lower than Oregon.
Ultimately, though, Ohio State fans should be thrilled with where the Buckeyes were slotted in the initial rankings. It’s evident Ohio State has the committee’s respect even though it’s lost a game and even though Barta said the Buckeyes don’t yet have a “signature win,” as their only win over a team currently ranked was against No. 20 Minnesota in their season opener.
“Ohio State is playing great football. Since (the loss to Oregon), they’re on a roll. They’re explosive offensively,” Barta said Tuesday. “They won at Minnesota and they beat Penn State, that was a good game the other night. Offensively, who can argue with what’s happened with (C.J.) Stroud and (TreVeyon) Henderson and (Chris) Olave and (Garrett) Wilson? That’s been impressive.”
If there’s any scenario that could keep Ohio State out at this point, it would likely be one in which Alabama wins out and beats Georgia in the SEC Championship Game while Georgia loses no other games and Oregon and Oklahoma win out. Given that the Sooners still have two regular season games on their schedule against teams currently ranked in the top 12 (Oklahoma State and Baylor), they certainly should be poised to move up the rankings if they remain undefeated, so if anyone was going to jump Ohio State without the Buckeyes losing, it would likely be Oklahoma.
Ohio State being ranked where it is right now, though, still makes it a near-guarantee that the Buckeyes make the playoff if they win out. While the head-to-head win has Oregon ahead of Ohio State right now, that might not be the case even if they still have identical records in five weeks. The Ducks don’t have any remaining regular season games against teams currently ranked in the top 25, and with no other Pac-12 teams currently ranked in the top 25, they might not play another ranked opponent for the rest of the season even if they make the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Given that, the only thing Ohio State needs to worry about right now is actually winning the rest of its games, which will be much easier said than done. Michigan State and Michigan loom as major threats at the end of the month, but first, the Buckeyes need to focus on beating Nebraska and Purdue in their next two games. Because while winning their next four games and the Big Ten Championship Game would likely lock the Buckeyes into their third straight College Football Playoff berth, a second loss would almost certainly lock the Buckeyes out of the CFP.
“It is March Madness,” Ryan Day said Tuesday. “You watch across the country, week in and week out, a lot of things have happened this year. So we can’t let that happen to us, and we can’t have any regrets. And the only way to do that is to focus on right now and not be distracted. If you start looking ahead, if you start worrying about tomorrow, that’s where you get distracted. We’ve gotta stay disciplined in that area.”