At the very least, Ohio State has a chance to be in the conversation for a College Football Playoff berth this weekend.
That much was confirmed on Tuesday night when the Buckeyes were slotted fifth in the penultimate CFP rankings. With the next three teams in the rankings being teams who also won’t play in conference championship games this weekend – No. 6 Alabama, No. 7 Tennessee and No. 8 Penn State – the Buckeyes are clearly positioned to be the first team currently ranked outside the top four to receive consideration for a playoff berth if one or more of the teams in front of them lose this weekend.
College Football Playoff selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility that the order of those teams could still change in Sunday’s final rankings even though none of them are playing this weekend, though he said the committee felt this week Ohio State belonged ahead of Alabama, which has two losses and has not beaten any team ranked higher than 20th (Texas), and Tennessee, which also has two losses including a 63-38 loss to South Carolina two weeks ago.
“Ohio State and their two good wins over Penn State and over Notre Dame overshadowed Alabama and Tennessee from the standpoint of two close losses for Alabama, a couple good wins over Texas and Mississippi State,” Corrigan said on a teleconference. “And then with regards to Tennessee, I think that loss against South Carolina really weighed with the committee.”
After losing to Michigan last weekend and failing to qualify for the Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State undeniably needs help if it’s going to make the playoff. Ohio State has no ability to improve its résumé this weekend, so No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 TCU and No. 4 USC are all safe bets to remain in front of the Buckeyes if they win their conference championship games.
All of them are favored to do so, but TCU and USC are not heavy favorites, as the third-ranked Horned Frogs are favored by only 2.5 points against No. 10 Kansas State – a team they beat by 10 at TCU earlier this season – while the fourth-ranked Trojans are favored by only three points against No. 14 Utah, who beat the Trojans 43-42 at Utah in October.
Should any of them lose, the selection committee will have a tough decision to make: Should a team be punished for losing in its conference championship game, and if so, will that be enough for Ohio State to jump ahead of that team in the final rankings?
When asked Tuesday how the committee would feel about punishing a team for losing a conference championship game while rewarding another team for not making a conference championship game, Corrigan didn’t answer directly but said all results this weekend will be factored into each team’s body of work.
“We're going to come back in here on Friday and get together and watch games on Friday and Saturday and go back into the room and make sure that we select the right four teams, and quite frankly the right 25 teams to be ranked, and certainly that's going to be part of their body of work,” Corrigan said. “That championship game will be part of their body of work. That will be part of the determination as we go through this whole process.”
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It’s very unlikely Ohio State would jump Georgia or Michigan, considering Georgia was already ranked ahead of Ohio State before its loss to Michigan and the Wolverines now have a head-to-head victory over the Buckeyes. It would be a surprise if either of those teams lost on Saturday anyway, as Georgia is a 17.5-point favorite over LSU and Michigan is a 16.5-point favorite over Purdue.
The conversation will get more interesting if either TCU or USC loses, especially if the Trojans fall to the Utes.
TCU would have the stronger case for remaining ahead of the Buckeyes, considering the Horned Frogs already have 12 wins (though one of those wins is against Tarleton, an FCS school) compared to Ohio State’s 11 and would still have the same number of losses. Corrigan said the committee viewed TCU, who is unbeaten along with Georgia and Michigan, as the clear-cut No. 3 team in this week’s rankings.
“Some real quality wins that they have, and they continue to win games,” Corrigan said TCU. “They continue to find ways to win. Their defense has gotten stronger and stronger, and really where we are this week, where do we have them this week, and we have them clearly at No. 3 this week.”
USC, on the other hand, would have an 11-2 record compared to Ohio State’s 11-1 record, with Ohio State owning a top-10 win over Penn State while no team USC has defeated is ranked higher than 15th. It might not necessarily be a lock that Ohio State would jump USC if it loses again to Utah this weekend, though, considering the committee ranked USC ahead of Ohio State this week despite their identical 11-1 records.
Corrigan indicated that one factor in moving the Trojans above the Buckeyes this week was that USC’s regular-season loss to Utah was by only one point while Ohio State’s loss to Michigan was by 22 points, along with USC having wins over three currently ranked teams (Oregon State, UCLA and Notre Dame) compared to Ohio State’s two (Penn State and Notre Dame).
“Ohio State has nice wins over Penn State and Notre Dame, and that Michigan game was a whole lot closer early in the fourth quarter than it was (at the end), but then you look at USC and their recent wins over UCLA and Notre Dame, they also have a win over Oregon State. Their one loss is a two-point conversion against Utah in an emotionally charged game,” Corrigan said. “As we looked at the full body of work of both teams, we came out with USC in the No. 4 spot and Ohio State in the No. 5 spot.”
|Wins over .500+ Teams**
|2 (#10 KANSAS STATE, at #20 TEXAS)
|3 (at #15 OREGON STATE, at #17 UCLA, #21 NOTRE DAME)
|2 (at #8 PENN STATE, #21 NOTRE DAME)
|*Based on current CFP rankings **FBS teams only
Corrigan also said, though, that the committee continues to think highly of Ohio State as one of college football’s top five teams. And he said the committee did take note of the fact that The Game was more competitive until late in the fourth quarter than the final score indicated, though he also said “you can't completely dismiss the way the fourth quarter ended with Michigan kind of taking over the game there late.”
“There's a lot of respect for Ohio State in the room and the wins they've had this year,” Corrigan said. “So again, taking the full body of work, (the score of the Michigan game) was certainly something we looked at, but it wasn't, ‘It's a blowout, let's move on.’”
As he has all year and as selection committee chairmen have consistently over the years, Corrigan refused to make any projections about how Sunday’s final rankings might play out. But he certainly didn’t shut the door on the possibility that Ohio State could end up in the top four on Sunday depending on how this weekend’s conference championship games unfold.
“We deal with where we are right now,” Corrigan said. “There's a number of championship games to be played, and we'll deal with the championship games and everything from that point moving forward.”