Alex Hickey: Ohio State picks up crucial win over Alabama from CFP committee, giving Buckeyes hope
Ohio State doesn’t have a game this week courtesy of Saturday’s distressing 45-23 loss to Michigan. And for many Buckeyes fans, it’s likely quite difficult to focus on anything else at the moment. That’s the kind of L that sticks with you for the entire offseason.
But perhaps the offseason isn’t here just yet.
Despite being idle, Ohio State entered this week with a pair of must-win matchups. The first came to fruition Tuesday, when the Buckeyes crucially beat out Alabama for the No. 5 spot in the penultimate 2022 College Football Playoff rankings.
Bama, which also isn’t playing in a conference championship game, has no avenue to reach the Playoff ahead of Ohio State. (Unless unranked Purdue blows out Michigan and somehow alters the equation, but that seems quite unlikely.)
Now the Buckeyes need one more assist. And they’ll likely need it from another program formerly coached by Urban Meyer.
Columbus is Ute Country
At 12-0, the top 3 teams in the CFP seem securely fastened regardless of what happens championship weekend.
The seed order might change, but Georgia, Michigan and TCU will still have 1 more win than Ohio State even if any of them are upset. The Horned Frogs might be vulnerable with a huge blowout loss to No. 10 Kansas State, but it would have to be even uglier than Ohio State’s 22-point loss to the Wolverines.
The Buckeyes need No. 11 Utah to beat No. 4 USC in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night. And the more decisively the Utes do it, the better.
USC’s only prior loss was at Utah, when the Utes converted a late 2-point conversion for a 43-42 win. If the rematch also comes down to the wire, the CFP committee may be inclined to give the Trojans the nod over the Buckeyes.
Sports Betting in Big Ten Country
Sports betting in Ohio is officially launching on January 1, 2023.
Pre-registration is now open at FanDuel Ohio for an extra $100 bonus. Go pre-register now.
21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.
At the very least, they’d be stuck with a fascinating dilemma.
What’s more damaging? A pair of losses to the nation’s No. 11 team — on the road and at a neutral site — by a combined total of, say, 4 points? Or a singular 22-point home loss to the nation’s No. 2 team?
The debate gets even trickier when you look at their mutual opponent. Ohio State opened the regular season with an 11-point home win over Notre Dame. USC closed the regular season with an 11-point home win over Notre Dame.
Ohio State has the best win of the two, beating No. 8 Penn State in Happy Valley. But the Nittany Lions and Fighting Irish are the only ranked opponents the Buckeyes have beaten this season. The Trojans have 3 ranked wins — Oregon State, UCLA and Notre Dame.
So it would again come down to what the committee finds more impressive — beating No. 16 and No. 17, or beating No. 8.
A decisive Utah victory would better position Ohio State to win that debate.
Ohio State’s path looks familiar
Blowout losses are supposed to be a death knell to a team’s CFP chances.
There’s no better example of that than Ohio State, which saw its 2018 Playoff hopes extinguished with a 49-20 loss at Purdue. The Buckeyes were No. 2 in the AP poll heading in, then made their CFP rankings debut all the way down at No. 10 a couple weeks later.
The scenario then is almost a carbon copy of the one Ohio State currently finds itself in.
The Buckeyes worked their way back up to No. 5 in the CFP by the end of the regular season. But No. 4 Oklahoma’s only defeat was by 3 points against Texas. The Sooners avenged that loss in the Big 12 championship game to clinch the final Playoff spot.
It’s the same story here. Ohio State is wedged behind the final team in the CFP field, which has a chance to avenge its lone loss of the season in the conference championship game.
Ohio State fans will have to hope that’s where the similarities end. And perhaps they will. The rest of the Pac-12 has some pretty hard feelings toward USC and UCLA for their pending departures to the Big Ten, so presumably Utah would have no issue piling on the Trojans if the opportunity somehow presented itself.
It’s not unheard of for a team to play for the national championship after a blowout loss, either. Not even in the final game of the regular season.
In 2001, Colorado pounded No. 1 Nebraska 62-39 in the final game of the regular season. The 23-point win put the Buffaloes in the Big 12 championship game. But even though the Huskers didn’t win their conference or their division, they were eventually paired with No. 1 Miami in the BCS national championship game.
That was an entirely different system of selecting championship opponents, and the outcome prompted a manmade revolt against the computers. Thus, the fact it happened then does not create a precedent for the CFP era.
But Nebraska fans in 2001 probably had the same mindset as Ohio State fans this week — stunned and stuck hoping for the unlikely to happen.
Sometimes, it does.