All Ohio State can do now is wait.
While the Buckeyes will be playing one more football game this season, they won’t know who or when they’re playing until Sunday, when this year’s bowl selections will be announced. Unlike the past four years, when Ohio State was playing in the Big Ten Championship Game to either secure a berth in the College Football Playoff berth or at least make the case that it belonged in, the Buckeyes will be watching this weekend’s conference championship games from home, giving them no additional opportunity to bolster their résumé before bowl selections are made.
From a College Football Playoff perspective, that leaves the Buckeyes with slim to no chance to make the CFP. While Ohio State made the playoff the last time it failed to make the Big Ten Championship Game in 2016, that team had only one loss. No two-loss team has ever made the CFP. Even in a scenario where that would change this year, the Buckeyes might be too far back, as no team has ever come from further back than sixth in the penultimate rankings to make the CFP.
As the No. 7 team in this week’s CFP rankings, Ohio State would almost certainly need at least three teams in front of it to lose – and even that probably wouldn’t be enough. Georgia is a virtual lock to make the CFP even if it loses to Alabama, while the 11-2 Crimson Tide could remain ahead of 10-2 Ohio State even with a loss. Michigan, at 11-2 with a head-to-head win over the Buckeyes, would have a strong case for staying ahead of Ohio State even with a loss to Iowa.
A scenario in which No. 4 Cincinnati loses to Houston, No. 5 Oklahoma State loses to Baylor and the committee decides to hold Brian Kelly’s departure against No. 6 Notre Dame might be the Buckeyes’ best hope, but even that seems unlikely, as Baylor – currently ranked ninth – could jump Ohio State as a two-loss conference champion. Moving the two-loss Buckeyes above the one-loss Fighting Irish would be a highly controversial decision, especially now that the Fighting Irish have Marcus Freeman lined up as their new head coach. Even No. 10 Oregon could theoretically jump back ahead of Ohio State in the rankings if it avenges its loss to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Given all of that, we wouldn’t recommend holding your breath hoping for Ohio State to back its way into the playoff this weekend. The Buckeyes need chaos to ensue in conference championship games just to get back in the conversation, and even then, you’d have to stretch to make the case that they belong in over the other teams they’d be in the conversation with.
Nonetheless, Ohio State will still almost certainly play in one of this year’s premier bowl games. Since the advent of the College Football Playoff, every team within the top nine of the final CFP rankings has made the New Year’s Six every year, so the Buckeyes are securely positioned to play in a New Year’s Six game.
Whether the Buckeyes end up playing in the Rose Bowl, Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl, and who they play wherever they end up, will be determined by what happens over the course of conference championship weekend, particularly in the Big Ten Championship Game.
If Michigan beats Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State should be safe to book its trip to Pasadena. As a non-playoff bowl this year, the Rose Bowl will feature either the Big Ten champion or the highest-ranked non-playoff team from the conference. Since Michigan will make the CFP if it wins the Big Ten title, the Rose Bowl berth would go to the Buckeyes, who would make their second trip to the Rose Bowl in four years after most recently playing there in a non-playoff game against Washington at the end of the 2018 season.
Ohio State would then play the winner of Friday night’s Pac-12 Championship Game in the Rose Bowl, potentially setting up a rematch of its 35-28 loss to Oregon in the second week of the regular season. If Utah beats Oregon for a second time, as it is a betting favorite to do, the Buckeyes would play the Utes for just the second time ever (Ohio State defeated Utah 64-6 in the only previous meeting between the two schools in 1986).
Although playing in any non-playoff bowl can be viewed as a consolation prize, the Rose Bowl may be the most desirable destination that remains realistic for the Buckeyes, considering the tradition of the game that was historically the game Ohio State once aspired to play in every year before the Bowl Championship Series and later the College Football Playoff came into existence. And it would make the bowl game more special for C.J. Stroud and the other California natives on Ohio State’s roster.
“Of course it’s not the game that we want to be in or the games that we want to play for, but it’s definitely an honor even to be considered to play back home,” Stroud said Wednesday on Big Ten Network. “That’s been a dream of mine since I’ve been a little kid, playing in the Rose Bowl, and I feel like if we can do that, I can just go out there and just have fun, be home, have a home atmosphere and I think that would be awesome.”
However, the Buckeyes will have to root for Michigan on Saturday if they want that to happen.
Should Iowa beat Michigan, the Hawkeyes (who are too far back to jump into the CFP as the currently 13th-ranked team) would earn the Rose Bowl berth as the Big Ten champion. That would leave the Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, both of which make their selections on an at-large basis rather than tie-ins with specific conferences, as potential New Year’s Six destinations for the Buckeyes, with Ohio State and Michigan likely each going to one of those two games.
A return trip to the Fiesta Bowl would be familiar territory for the Buckeyes, who have played in the Fiesta Bowl nine times – more than any other school. Ohio State’s last two trips to the Fiesta Bowl were both CFP semifinal losses to Clemson, but the Buckeyes have fonder memories in previous appearances in the game; most memorably, the Fiesta Bowl was the site of Ohio State’s national championship win over Miami at the end of the 2002 season, while Ohio State was victorious over Notre Dame in its last non-playoff Rose Bowl appearance at the end of the 2015 season.
Ohio State has never played in the Peach Bowl – the only New Year’s Six bowl it hasn’t played in – which was an ACC vs. SEC bowl game before it joined the playoff semifinal rotation in 2014.
|PEACH BOWL||DEC. 30, 7 P.M.||MERCEDES-BENZ STADIUM (ATLANTA, GEORGIA)||AT-LARGE vs. AT-LARGE|
|COTTON BOWL||DEC. 31, 3:30 OR 7:30 P.M.||AT&T STADIUM (ARLINGTON, TEXAS)||CFP SEMIFINAL|
|ORANGE BOWL||DEC. 31, 3:30 OR 7:30 P.M.||HARD ROCK STADIUM (MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA)||CFP SEMIFINAL|
|FIESTA BOWL||JAN. 1, 1 P.M.||STATE FARM STADIUM (GLENDALE, ARIZONA)||AT-LARGE vs. AT-LARGE|
|ROSE BOWL||JAN. 1, 5 P.M.||ROSE BOWL STADIUM (PASADENA, CALIFORNIA)||BIG TEN vs. PAC-12|
|SUGAR BOWL||JAN. 1, 8:45 P.M.||SUPERDOME (NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA)||SEC vs. BIG 12|
Given the Peach Bowl’s historic affiliation with the ACC, a likely opponent for the Buckeyes in Atlanta would be the winner of this weekend’s ACC Championship Game between Wake Forest and Pittsburgh, who will receive an automatic berth in the New Year’s Six.
Ole Miss could be a potential opponent in either the Peach or Fiesta Bowl if Georgia defeats Alabama and knocks the Crimson Tide out of the playoff and into the Sugar Bowl, which will feature the highest-ranked non-playoff team from the SEC and either the Big 12 champion or highest-ranked non-playoff team from the Big 12. Another Fiesta Bowl matchup with Notre Dame could also be a possibility if the Fighting Irish don’t make the playoff, while Houston could also nab a berth in one of the two at-large bowls if it upsets Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference championship and knocks the Bearcats out of the CFP.
Regardless, Ohio State will have to wait until Sunday afternoon to know for certain when, where and against who it will play its final game of the season, but a Hawkeye upset over the Wolverines would leave much more uncertainty for the Buckeyes going into Sunday than a Michigan win would.