Ohio State could certainly be in a worse position than it is in the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings.
As the sixth-ranked team in the second-to-last set of rankings, Ohio State only needs to jump two of the five teams in front of it to get back into the top four. The College Football Playoff selection committee currently views Ohio State as a better team than Texas and Alabama, who are ranked seventh and eighth in this week’s rankings, even though they all now have identical 11-1 records.
The problem for Ohio State is that Texas and Alabama will both be playing for conference championships this weekend, whereas the Buckeyes will be watching from home as Michigan plays Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game. While the Buckeyes can’t do anything more to impress the committee before Selection Sunday, the Longhorns and Crimson Tide can. If Texas wins the Big 12 Championship Game and/or Alabama wins the SEC Championship Game, it would come as a surprise if their 12th win didn’t propel them ahead of Ohio State.
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Beyond needing to fend off those two teams, Ohio State will need to jump two teams currently in front of it. And there are likely only three teams the Buckeyes could realistically jump at this point.
Even if Georgia lost to Alabama in Atlanta or Michigan lost to Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game, it would be a big surprise if Ohio State jumped either of them. Georgia was already ranked ahead of Ohio State before its loss to Michigan and remains in the No. 1 spot ahead of Michigan even after the Wolverines’ win over the Buckeyes. The second-ranked Wolverines will have a head-to-head win over Ohio State and at least one more win than the Buckeyes, regardless of the result in Indianapolis.
At least one of the other three teams currently ahead of Ohio State is guaranteed to lose, as No. 3 Washington and No. 5 Oregon – the only one-loss team ranked ahead of the Buckeyes this week – will play each other in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Oregon certainly won’t be in the top four if it loses to Washington for a second time; the bigger question is whether the Huskies, who have yet to lose this season, would drop behind the Buckeyes with only one loss.
The same question applies to No. 4 Florida State, who plays No. 14 Louisville in the ACC Championship Game this weekend, as the Seminoles already have 12 wins compared to Ohio State’s 11 with no regular-season losses.
College Football Playoff selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan didn’t offer much clarity on what that debate might look like during his media teleconference on Tuesday night, though he said matter-of-factly that “you can't get closer than 3 and 4 and 5 and 6” when asked about the grouping of Washington, Florida State, Oregon and Ohio State. He did indicate that Ohio State will be a part of the conversation for a spot in the four-team playoff even though it won’t be playing this weekend, and that every data point will be considered when comparing Ohio State to the teams that win and lose this weekend.
“It happens every year, something along these lines. Maybe not seven of eight playing in a championship game, but typically there's one team that does not play,” Corrigan said. “And as we said from the very beginning, it's never one single data point. It's everything combined, and it's 13 different people (on the selection committee) that are all committed to doing it the right way, committed to doing it with integrity and committed to getting it right.”
|SEC Championship Game vs. Alabama
|Big Ten Championship Game vs. Iowa
|Pac-12 Championship Game vs. Oregon
|ACC Championship Game vs. Louisville
|Pac-12 Championship Game vs. Washington
|Did not qualify for Big Ten Championship Game
|Big 12 Championship Game vs. Oklahoma State
|SEC Championship Game vs. Georgia
Objectively, it would be hard to argue that Ohio State is more deserving of making the CFP than any of the teams currently ranked in the top four, considering all of them have already won more games than the Buckeyes and qualified for their conference championship games while Ohio State did not. But CFP executive director Bill Hancock said Tuesday that the selection committee’s charge is specifically to pick the four best teams rather than the four most deserving.
“It is best. Most deserving is not anything in the committee's lexicon,” Hancock said. “They are to rank the best teams in order, and that's what they do. Just keep that word in mind, best teams.”
That distinction is what Ohio State leaves with a chance – albeit an outside chance – of making the CFP.
No one-loss team that didn’t win a conference championship has ever made the CFP over a Power 5 conference champion with one loss or fewer, so the Buckeyes’ chances will likely drop to zero if Texas or Florida State wins on Saturday. But in a scenario where Florida State, Texas and Alabama all lose, Ohio State could win an argument that it is the fourth-best team behind Georgia, Michigan and the Pac-12 champion.
After all, Ohio State was ranked above both Washington and Florida State in each of the first four rankings while the three teams were all unbeaten. The Huskies have had a lot of close calls, winning by no more than 10 points in all of their last eight games, while the selection committee took note of the Seminoles needing a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Florida this past weekend in their first game since star quarterback Jordan Travis’ season-ending injury.
“They're a different team. It's pretty obvious, with Jordan Travis not playing and Tate Rodemaker playing, they're a different team, just as anyone would be if they lost their quarterback in that situation,” Corrigan said. “Player availability, if you will, it's a big part of the conversation.”
It’s hard to know exactly how those conversations might play out among the selection committee this weekend, but it is safe to say that the Buckeyes need help in the form of favorable conference championship game results to make the top four. Specifically, Ohio State needs two of the three teams directly in front of it to lose (one of which is guaranteed) and both of the teams behind it to lose – if all of that does not happen, it’s unlikely any debate will result in a top-four ranking for the Buckeyes.