Of all the teams who are still in the College Football Playoff conversation but also need to jump other teams in front of them to make the playoff, no team has a bigger opportunity to improve its resume this weekend than Ohio State.
Whether that will be enough to propel the Buckeyes into the playoff, however, is becoming increasingly questionable.
Ohio State plays its annual rivalry game on Saturday against Michigan, who is currently the No. 4 team in the playoff standings, and a win over the Wolverines would be the signature win the Buckeyes need to state their case that they are one of college football’s four best teams.
The problem for the Buckeyes is that they now have just two weeks to climb six spots.
Despite winning its last three games against Nebraska, Michigan State and Maryland, Ohio State hasn’t moved up in the CFP rankings at all. The Buckeyes have stayed stagnant at No. 10 in each of the first four weeks of CFP rankings, even as teams in front of them have lost. This week, the Buckeyes were jumped by UCF – who defeated Cincinnati, previously ranked No. 24, on Saturday – keeping them in the 10th spot despite West Virginia suffering its second loss of the season.
Coming a two-point conversion away from losing to Maryland before finally escaping with a 52-51 win on Saturday didn’t do Ohio State any favors.
"While UCF may not have the depth of talent of Ohio State, the committee felt that right now … UCF has the more all-around complete team," College Football Playoff chairman Rob Mullens said Tuesday. “We watched UCF have a strong performance against Cincinnati … and then when you watched Ohio State, you saw a team that struggled a bit against Maryland, and in the end, again, the committee felt that UCF was the more complete team at this time.”
The fact that the Buckeyes are still ranked 10th – behind teams that include No. 7 LSU, which has lost two games, and No. 9 UCF, which remains a longshot to make the playoff as a Group of 5 team – indicates that they have not impressed the committee with their recent play despite their 10-1 record.
“When you watched Ohio State, you saw a team that struggled a bit against Maryland ... the committee felt that UCF was the more complete team at this time.”– CFP chairman Rob Mullens on ranking UCF ahead of Ohio State
If Ohio State can finish its season with a win over Michigan and a Big Ten Championship Game win over Northwestern, who is now ranked No. 19, it will have a shot to make the final field of four. To do that, however, the Buckeyes must make an unprecedented move up the rankings in the final two weeks.
In the first four years of the CFP, no team that has ultimately made the playoff has ever been lower than seventh in the standings (Georgia last year) with two weeks to go.
Should Ohio State beat Michigan on Saturday, the Buckeyes should presumably move up at least three spots. The Buckeyes would certainly jump ahead of the Wolverines, and a win over the maize and blue should be enough to push Ohio State ahead of UCF and LSU, too, considering the Knights’ weaker schedule and the Tigers’ two losses.
Whether the Buckeyes can move ahead of the other three teams currently sitting between them and Michigan, however, is very much in question.
They might need some help.
Aside from a loss of its own, the biggest nail in the coffin to Ohio State’s playoff hopes would likely be a scenario in which No. 5 Georgia defeats No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game two Saturdays from now. Assuming Alabama beats Auburn this Saturday, it’s likely the Crimson Tide would still be in line to make the playoff over Ohio State – along with Clemson, Notre Dame and Georgia if all win out – even with one loss.
The other result that would significantly help Ohio State’s chances would be a loss by No. 6 Oklahoma, either this week against West Virginia or next week in the Big 12 Championship Game (likely against Texas). Considering that the No. 13 Mountaineers and No. 14 Longhorns are both ranked in the top 15 of the CFP standings, and Oklahoma is still four spots ahead of Ohio State, it seems likely that the Sooners will have the edge for a possible playoff spot if both teams win out.
Some Ohio State fans have taken exception to Oklahoma being ranked four spots ahead of Ohio State, noting that the Sooners’ defense has struggled even more than Ohio State’s while the Buckeyes have a similarly explosive offense. Oklahoma’s only loss this season, however, was a three-point loss to Texas, while Ohio State lost by 29 points to Purdue, who is unranked and just 5-6 this season.
“When we look at their full body of resumes, with Oklahoma we see one of the top offenses in the country with a dynamic quarterback, understanding that their defense struggles, and their only loss is to a ranked Texas team on a neutral site,” Mullens said when asked about where Oklahoma and Ohio State are ranked on Tuesday night. “And we understand that Ohio State has a quality road win over Penn State, they keep finding the way to win, a close overtime win at Maryland, again with their offense carrying the weight.”
Asked Rob Mullens why Oklahoma is 4 spots above Ohio State. Response: "We dont put measurements of separation. We discuss the teams, we look at the full body of work and their resumes, and then we rank them. And this week, the committee put Oklahoma at 6 and Ohio State at 10." https://t.co/jrf4bDATSp— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) November 21, 2018
The other team that could stand in Ohio State’s way is No. 8 Washington State. If the Cougars beat No. 16 Washington this week, they will face No. 17 Utah in next week’s Pac-12 Championship Game. It seems more likely that the Buckeyes could jump the Cougars than the Sooners if all three win out, considering that Washington State is just two spots ahead of Ohio State and still behind LSU, but a win by the Huskies this week or the Utes next week would certainly help the Buckeyes’ chances, too.
For now, all of Ohio State’s focus is on beating Michigan, as it always is this week of the year. A loss to Michigan would not only eliminate the Buckeyes’ chances of making the playoff, but also serve as a season-defining disappointment, so they have to keep all of their focus toward trying to win what should be a very tough challenge against the fourth-ranked Wolverines.
If Ohio State can win that game, it should move up in the rankings; if Ohio State loses that game, the rankings will no longer matter. Should Ohio State find a way to extend its winning streak against Michigan to seven years, though, next week’s rankings could be very telling in regards to whether the Buckeyes have a shot to make the playoff.