Ohio State defeated Michigan State in dominant fashion last weekend, and the College Football Playoff selection committee was paying attention.
The Buckeyes certainly made the case that they deserved to be ranked as one of the top two teams in the country with their 56-7 win over the then-seventh-ranked Spartans on Saturday, and the CFP committee rewarded them for it on Tuesday night, when Ohio State jumped Alabama to move up to the No. 2 spot in the rankings while the Crimson Tide dropped to No. 3.
Last Tuesday, the committee opted to stay status quo when it kept Alabama at the second spot in the rankings and Ohio State in fourth. The question of whether the Buckeyes would jump Oregon with their dominant performance over Michigan State took care of itself when Oregon suffered a 38-7 loss to Utah that dropped the Ducks all the way out of the top 10 this week, but whether Ohio State would jump Alabama remained uncertain after selection committee chairman Gary Barta said last week that the committee had “a lot of conversation” about how the Buckeyes stacked up with the Ducks and Crimson Tide.
There’s no denying, though, that Ohio State’s most recent win over Michigan State – in which the Buckeyes raced out to a 49-0 halftime lead over the Spartans – was more impressive than Alabama’s 42-35 win on Saturday over Arkansas, which was the Crimson Tide’s second straight win by only one score against a Power 5 opponent. And that was enough for the Buckeyes to overtake Alabama as the top one-loss team in the rankings.
“Two great teams, both Ohio State and Alabama. Both of them have Heisman Trophy candidates at quarterback. This past week, though, the dominating win over Michigan State certainly got the committee’s attention,” Barta said Tuesday night. “Alabama comes in at 3 coming off a relatively close win against Arkansas. In the eyes of the committee, that result when you combined it with Ohio State's performance against Michigan State resulted in the ranking of those two teams.”
Now that the Buckeyes have moved up to the No. 2 spot in the rankings, the question becomes whether they have a path to the No. 1 spot in the rankings. Georgia remains the clear-cut No. 1 in the current rankings as the only remaining undefeated Power 5 team, but Ohio State has the chance to make another statement this week when it plays No. 5 Michigan. Both No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 Alabama will have the chance to make a big statement before the final rankings, though, when they play each other in the SEC Championship Game.
Although it seems unlikely that anyone would jump Georgia if the Bulldogs defeat Georgia Tech this week and Alabama next week, Barta said the committee had discussions this week about how Ohio State and Alabama stack up with Georgia, coming to the consensus that the Buckeyes have the best offense of those three teams.
“All three of those teams received great conversation,” Barta said. “Ohio State offensively is considered to be the strongest in that group ... Georgia may be the best defense there.”
The real question, however, is what the rankings could look like if Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC title game and all three teams finish with one loss. Would a win over the Bulldogs be enough to vault the Crimson Tide back ahead of the Buckeyes, or could Ohio State finish the rankings in the No. 1 spot? That might not actually matter either way – the committee probably isn’t going to be inclined to set up an immediate rematch of Georgia vs. Alabama in the semifinals, so the Buckeyes playing the Bulldogs in the semifinals is presumably the most likely outcome if Alabama wins the SEC Championship Game – but it’s nonetheless a scenario that could force the committee to make a challenging decision about who deserves the top seed.
For this week, though, the far more immediate concern for Ohio State is just beating Michigan in a game that will now be a clash of top-five-ranked teams, as the Wolverines have impressed the committee and put themselves right where they need to be to make the playoff if they can upset the Buckeyes.
“We've talked, especially the last several weeks. about just them being a complete football team,” Barta said. “Very good football team, well-balanced, and obviously looking forward to watching Ohio State and Michigan play this weekend.”