Wins Over Penn State and Notre Dame, Defense Top Reasons Why Ohio State is Ranked No. 1

By Andy Anders on October 31, 2023 at 8:55 pm
Ryan Day post-Wisconsin

Defense wins championships, at least in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Ohio State's defense is a big reason why committee chairman Boo Corrigan said that the Buckeyes landed at the No. 1 spot in the initial CFP rankings. That, and big wins at Notre Dame – ranked No. 15 after the committee's first release – and against No. 11 Penn State.

"As we looked at it, the big win at Notre Dame, the win over Penn State, the top-five defense, the difference makers on offense like Marvin Harrison Jr., who is an elite player – as we looked at it, we came to a conclusion as a group that Ohio State deserves to be the number one team," CFP committee chairman Boo Corrigan said on ESPN after the rankings release.

Corrigan elaborated more on the Buckeyes earned the top spot on a conference call with media from around the country.

Ohio State's offense hasn't been at its sharpest of late, scoring 44 combined points against Penn State and Wisconsin. All told, the Buckeyes rank 38th nationally in scoring and 40th in total offense, their worst marks of the Ryan Day era if they stand for the rest of the season.

That didn't stop the committee from elevating OSU’s No. 2 scoring and No. 4 total defense, however.

"As we look at it and as we evaluate it, it is part of the evaluation but a top-five defense that's given up about 10 points a game really does factor into it as well," Corrigan said when asked about the Buckeyes’ offensive performance. "So to pick on, completely, one side when the other side is so dominant, and I think the offense is really, really good. So we've got to take all of that into account as we're looking at it."

While the defense impressed the committee most, the committee doesn't look unfavorably upon Ohio State's offense either.

"The win against Penn State, the win at Notre Dame, the win at Wisconsin – they've proven they can do it at home, they've proven they can do it on the road," Corrigan said. "They have explosive plays. Down a receiver (Emeka Egbuka). Marvin Harrison Jr. is clearly one of the top players in the country."

“The win against Penn State, the win at Notre Dame, the win at Wisconsin – they've proven they can do it at home, they've proven they can do it on the road.”– CFP committee chairman Boo Corrigan on Ohio State

Michigan had a similar argument in terms of dominance, ranked first nationally in both scoring and total defense. What separated Ohio State from its rivals to the north is who it’s beaten. The Wolverines, who have yet to play anyone ranked in the initial CFP top 25, came in No. 3 behind Georgia in the first batch of rankings.

"When you can point to, from a Georgia standpoint, Florida and Kentucky, with Ohio State you can point to Penn State, the win at Notre Dame, the win at Wisconsin," Corrigan said. "While UNLV, Rutgers, Nebraska, Minnesota are good wins (for Michigan), I think looking at it in total, even with the dominance offensively and defensively, defensively giving up about six points a game, it really turned the committee's head from that standpoint, but that was the reason they came in at third."

Another key factor in Ohio State coming in ahead of Georgia is the committee's "blank sheet of paper" approach to the new year's first rankings.

The fact that the Bulldogs are two-time defending national champions is taken off the table. It only matters how they have played in 2023.

"The committee begins each week with a blank sheet of paper. What happened last year does not matter," Corrigan said. "The conferences that teams play in does not factor into our decisions. We don't look at public polls. Instead we are instructed by our founders of the playoff to consider teams' records, their schedule, their head-to-head matchups and results with common opponents."

Ohio State's evaluation can fluctuate based on how it plays after getting star receiver Emeka Egbuka back and now that TreVeyon Henderson is fully in the fold again. Injuries in general affect how the committee looks at each individual game, Corrigan said.

"It certainly is a factor. We look at all conditions around games and make sure that we have the latest information, whether that's coming from the conference, as we talk to the conferences," Corrigan said. "But again, we still viewed Ohio State as the top team in the country based on their wins, based on their defense, and again, their offense is doing well enough to win games and be 8-0."

The Buckeyes will strive to keep their resume and their defense in good order over the next five weeks ahead of the only playoff committee rankings that actually matter – the final ones, released on Dec. 3.

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