Ohio State Left to Wonder What Could Have Been After Georgia Cruises to National Championship Game Victory

By Dan Hope on January 9, 2023 at 11:35 pm
Luke Wypler and C.J. Stroud in the Peach Bowl
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

As Georgia began to pull away from TCU in the first half of Monday night’s national championship game, Teradja Mitchell tweeted five words that surely resonated with every Ohio State fan watching at home.

“Damn, this hard to watch,” the former Ohio State linebacker said.

After Georgia took a 38-7 lead into halftime, Ohio State director of player personnel Mark Pantoni and wide receivers coach Brian Hartline tweeted GIFs that certainly summed up how many Buckeye fans watching the game were feeling.

Monday night would have been a painful night for the Buckeyes no matter how the national championship game had played out. Ohio State had reason to feel like it should have been playing in Monday night’s game after losing to Georgia by just one point in the College Football Playoff semifinals, especially considering all of the close calls and bad breaks that went the Bulldogs’ way in the Peach Bowl.

Watching the Bulldogs cruise to a 65-7 victory in Monday night’s season finale made it impossible not to wonder what could have been.

After pulling off a surprise win over Michigan in its CFP semifinal, TCU looked completely overmatched against Georgia. The Horned Frogs were outgained by more than 400 yards as the Bulldogs carved up TCU’s defense and stymied TCU’s offense all night. Georgia continued to dominate even after putting its backups in the game in the fourth quarter.

It’s far from guaranteed Ohio State would have had the same success. The Bulldogs were the most dominant team in college football all year, while the Buckeyes had plenty of uneven play throughout the season. Considering TCU put up 51 points against the same Michigan defense that held Ohio State to just 23, the Horned Frogs may have been far more competitive against the Buckeyes than they were able to be against the Bulldogs and a Georgia defense that was the best in the country two years running.

Still, the lopsided nature of Monday’s game was all the validation anyone needed to think the game Georgia and Ohio State played nine days before was the game that really decided the national champion.

It certainly gave the Buckeyes and their fans reason to think that if Noah Ruggles had made his 50-yard field goal attempt in the game’s final seconds – or if Ohio State could have gotten closer to the end zone on its final drive to give Ruggles a more makeable field goal, or if the Buckeyes could have held Georgia without points on even one of its three fourth-quarter possessions – that Ohio State would have been the team celebrating a national title on Monday night in Los Angeles.

Just knowing how winnable the national championship game would have been makes Ohio State’s loss to Georgia its most devastating loss of the playoff era.

While Ohio State’s close loss to Clemson in the 2019 College Football Playoff semifinals was equally if not more heartbreaking than this season’s CFP semifinal loss at the time, there was less reason to believe the Buckeyes would have gone on to win the national championship that year. LSU earned a decisive 42-25 win over Clemson with an offense led by Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson that was one of the best in college football history, so it’s likely the Buckeyes would have been hard-pressed to stop that offense, too.

Ohio State actually made it to the national championship game in 2020, but the Buckeyes didn’t come close to hanging with Alabama in that 52-24 loss. Ohio State’s 31-0 loss to Clemson in 2016 was certainly the hardest game for Buckeye fans to watch, but no one left that game thinking the Buckeyes were anything close to a national championship team this year.

The Buckeyes can take consolation in knowing they came closer to beating the national champion than anyone else did this season. Ohio State’s lackluster defensive performance in the Peach Bowl doesn’t look as bad compared to Georgia scoring nine touchdowns on a whopping 589 yards against TCU, while its 41-point offensive performance looks all the more impressive after Georgia finished the year with just 14.3 points allowed per game. Georgia’s dominant performance Monday night only further legitimized that the Buckeyes belonged in this year’s CFP and were one of college football’s best teams this season.

Moral victories, however, are never the goal at Ohio State. Anything short of being the team actually celebrating the national championship inside SoFi Stadium was going to be a disappointment for this year’s Buckeyes. And the way Monday night’s game played out only gave them more reason to feel like it could have been them, should have been them and would have been them if they just had made a few more plays nine days before.

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