Ohio State Likely to Play Louisville in Orange Bowl As It Needs Significant Help to Make College Football Playoff

By Dan Hope on November 27, 2023 at 9:20 am
Orange Bowl
Robert Goddin – USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State will likely end its 2023 season by playing Louisville in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30.

Per the terms of its contract, the Orange Bowl will feature either the ACC champion or the highest-ranked ACC team that doesn’t make the College Football Playoff and the highest-ranked team from either the Big Ten or SEC that doesn’t make the CFP. Those two teams are likely to be the Cardinals and the Buckeyes.

Louisville appears to be a virtual lock to play in Miami regardless of whether it wins the ACC Championship Game this weekend. The Cardinals won’t make the CFP with two losses, so they’d clinch the Orange Bowl berth if they beat Florida State on Saturday night. If Florida State wins that game, the Seminoles would be destined for the CFP as a 13-0 team – which means the Cardinals would make the Orange Bowl even with a third loss, as no other ACC team is within striking distance to jump them in the CFP rankings.

Ohio State, meanwhile, will be the second-highest-ranked Big Ten team in the final CFP rankings but is unlikely to make the final four-team playoff after its loss to Michigan – unless chaos ensues on conference championship game weekend.

The winners of the Pac-12 Championship Game (Washington vs. Oregon) and SEC Championship Game (Georgia vs. Alabama) will both be in line to make the CFP. So too is Michigan if it beats Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game – and even if it doesn’t, it would certainly remain ahead of Ohio State in the CFP pecking order. Florida State can lock up a CFP berth if it beats Louisville.

Should Florida State slip up, one-loss Texas would be the next team in line for a CFP berth if it beats Oklahoma State to win the Big 12 Championship Game. Texas could possibly even knock the SEC out of the CFP if Alabama beats Georgia, considering Texas has a head-to-head win over the Crimson Tide and both would have 12-1 records – but that wouldn’t help Ohio State, as Georgia would also likely remain ahead of OSU in the CFP pecking order even with a loss to Alabama.

CFP Contenders Entering Conference Championship Weekend
Team Record LW CFP Rank This Week
Georgia 12-0 1 SEC Championship Game vs. Alabama
Michigan 12-0 3 Big Ten Championship Game vs. Iowa
Washington 12-0 4 Pac-12 Championship Game vs. Oregon
Florida State 12-0 5 ACC Championship Game vs. Louisville
Oregon 11-1 6 Pac-12 Championship Game vs. Washington
Texas 11-1 7 Big 12 Championship Game vs. Oklahoma State
Alabama 11-1 8 SEC Championship Game vs. Georgia
Ohio State 11-1 2 (lost since) Did not qualify for Big Ten Championship Game

Two things appear absolutely certain: If Ohio State is to have any shot at making the CFP, Louisville must beat Florida State and Oklahoma State must beat Texas. That would leave only three Power 5 conference championships with one or zero losses, putting Ohio State into a debate with other one-loss teams that didn’t win their conference title.

As mentioned above, Ohio State likely also needs Georgia to beat Alabama. Considering Georgia was already slotted ahead of Ohio State in last week’s CFP rankings before the Buckeyes lost to Michigan, it’s highly unlikely a loss to Alabama would drop the 12-1 Bulldogs below the 11-1 Buckeyes.

To that end, Ohio State might also need Washington to beat Oregon. While it’s not a certainty that Washington would remain ahead of Ohio State with a loss to Oregon, considering the Huskies were ranked behind the Buckeyes last week, there would be a strong argument in Washington’s favor that it should get into the CFP before Ohio State. After all, the Huskies have already won more games than Ohio State can possibly win before Selection Sunday, while Washington’s only loss would be to a CFP team it already beat during the regular season.

Even if all of those things happen, Ohio State wouldn’t have a guaranteed path into the CFP, as Florida State would still have an argument to remain ahead of OSU with its 12-1 record. That’s a debate the Buckeyes would have a better chance of winning, though, given that the Seminoles would have a loss to a non-CFP team and that their star quarterback Jordan Travis is out for the season.

That would open the door for Ohio State to earn the fourth spot in the CFP behind Georgia, Michigan and Washington if Oregon, Texas and Alabama all suffer a second loss in their respective conference championship games, given that a two-loss team has never made the CFP.

However, you probably shouldn’t get your hopes up for all of that to happen. A parlay with picks of Georgia, Washington, Louisville and Oklahoma State all winning this weekend carries odds of +7640 on DraftKings – which could make you a lot of money if it happens, but indicates it’s a real long shot to actually happen.

That would leave Ohio State destined for the Orange Bowl unless any of Georgia, Michigan or Alabama finishes ahead of Ohio State in the CFP rankings but misses the top four. That’s not out of the question if Florida State and Texas both win and either Georgia or Michigan lose this weekend. Should Georgia or Michigan fall out of the top four but remain ahead of Ohio State – or Alabama move ahead of Ohio State but remain out of the top four – the Buckeyes could end up in any of the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach Bowls, none of which are tied to picking teams from specific conferences.

Assuming Georgia and Michigan both win to lock up the top two seeds in the CFP, though, it’s presumable 11-1 Ohio State would be ahead of 11-2 Alabama in the final rankings, punching the Buckeyes’ ticket to South Florida.

Should that happen, Ohio State would play in the Orange Bowl for just the third time ever (not counting the CFP National Championship Game at the end of the 2020 season, which was played at Hard Rock Stadium, the site of the Orange Bowl). The Buckeyes last played in the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2013 season, when they lost to Clemson; Ohio State’s only Orange Bowl appearance before that came at the end of the 1976 season, when they defeated Colorado.

The projected matchup would be just the third matchup ever between Ohio State and Louisville. The Buckeyes and Cardinals previously met at Ohio Stadium for a pair of regular-season games in September 1991 and 1992; Ohio State won both contests.

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