The ‘eye test’ didn’t apply for Ohio State in 2015, and it shouldn’t for Alabama or anyone else in 2019
There was a lot of talk leading up to the showdown last week between Alabama and LSU regarding whether the loser was still a contender for the College Football Playoff. The last three years, a non-conference champion has made the field (Ohio State in 2016, Alabama in 2017 and Notre Dame in 2018).
If you’re just picking the four best teams, they argued, then Alabama and LSU would both be in if the only loss between them was a narrow one to the other. Sure enough, LSU won by five, and Alabama – despite no quality wins – still sits at No. 5 in this week’s rankings, seemingly right on the edge of the coveted top four with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
Alabama still has the fourth-best chance at the CFP at 40 percent, according to ESPN’s AllState Playoff Predictor. There’s just an assumption that as long as Alabama wins out and LSU beats Georgia in the SEC title game, Alabama would be back in. Shaun Alexander, a former Alabama running back who is still close to the program, joined the Saturday Down South Podcast this week and said, “At Alabama, we earn what we earn. We didn’t win the (LSU) game so we’ll go out there and we’ll finish the season. The way it looks, it could be LSU and Georgia in the SEC Championship. If LSU beats (Georgia), there’s no way in the world we’re not in the top 4.”
Alexander is far from the only person who believes that. But I don’t think theories like that take into account that there are better resumes out there than what Alabama will have after 12 games.
While Alabama has steamrolled opponents with an average margin of victory of 29.1 points per game, it still should be a longshot for a sixth consecutive year in the CFP. For as well as Alabama has played in some games, it likely won’t have the same resume as its one-loss counterparts. The results have to matter, not the reputation. And I think that’s important to keep in mind in 2019. Let me explain.
In light of all the talk about Alabama and its CFP chances this week, the 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes are an interesting case study. Ohio State finished the regular season at 11-1 (before beating Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl to go 12-1), like Alabama could potentially finish. Ohio State would have been favored on a neutral field against just about any team in the country, just like Alabama.
Barring massive chaos, Alabama shouldn’t be in the CFP, just as Ohio State wasn’t – because neither earned it. Both had close home losses at home to top teams, and both are plagued by their weak schedules and lack of quality wins.
Consider the striking similarities between the two (assuming Alabama runs the table and finishes the regular season at 11-1):
- Ohio State was the defending national champion in 2015, so it had the same established credibility that Alabama enjoys. The Buckeyes were the preseason No. 1 team and stayed at No. 1 for 10 weeks. Alabama, meanwhile, is always in the top two of the preseason poll (and rightfully so).
- Ohio State lost just once in 2015, and it was by three points at home to No. 9 Michigan State, a fellow unbeaten. The Buckeyes fell 17-14 on a field goal as time expired. Alabama’s lone loss could potentially be by five points against the current No. 1 team in the country.
- Ohio State and Alabama could each potentially finish with one win over a ranked team. Ohio State beat No. 12 Michigan 42-13 that year, and Alabama may only have Auburn at the end of this season.
- Ohio State finished the regular season No. 2 in the country in point differential, with an average margin of victory of 21 points. Alabama is third in the country right now.
We keep hearing the argument about who would be favored on a neutral field, Alabama or whichever team someone else is arguing. The Crimson Tide, no doubt, are loaded with talent and probably would be favored against any team other than LSU, Ohio State and maybe Clemson. Mel Kiper has five Alabama players in the top 15 of his most recent Big Board. But that can’t be a qualification.
Ohio State had a whopping 12 players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, three more than any other team and five more than eventual national champion Alabama. It had two in the top four (Joey Bosa and Ezekiel Elliott) and five in the top 20 (and that doesn’t even include second round pick Michael Thomas, who is arguably the best receiver in the NFL right now). The Buckeyes were absolutely loaded with talent, and NFL teams agreed.
And here’s where Ohio State in 2015 has perhaps an even stronger case than Alabama. The Buckeyes trailed for a total of 68:31 in game time in their 13 games that season. The Crimson Tide have trailed for 62:15 in their nine games. In Ohio State’s lone loss, it did not spend one second of game time trailing. Alabama trailed for the final 54:15, including 30:14 by double digits – over half the game! Ohio State trailed by double digits for just 3:17 of game time in 2015.
Despite all that, Ohio State finished seventh in the CFP rankings, so it really wasn’t all that close. If Oregon – which trailed for all of nine seconds in its lone loss to Auburn – finishes as a one-loss Pac 12 champion, it would have a better case than Alabama. If Minnesota loses in a close game to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship for its lone defeat, it would have a stronger case than Alabama with three quality wins to presumably just one for Alabama (Auburn).
If chaos ensues in the Big Ten, and Penn State, Minnesota and Ohio State all have one loss, each would have more quality wins than Alabama. Baylor is still undefeated and would potentially have more quality wins than Alabama.
The point is, just because a team looks great and has a bunch of studs, it doesn’t deserve a pass for a lackluster resume. It has to earn it. Ohio State learned that the hard way in 2015, and Alabama should in 2019.