B1G Debate: Should Ohio State be a Playoff team, even with a Big Ten title?
Editor’s note: The B1G Debate tackles the biggest topics in the Big Ten and college football. This week, Saturday Tradition Managing Editor Dustin Schutte joins columnist Ryan O’Gara.
This week’s topic: Should Ohio State be a Playoff team, even with a Big Ten title?
RYAN: The Big Ten has been under a ton of scrutiny, and with good reason. The decision to postpone the season to the spring, then reverse that decision with the intention of playing 9 games in 9 weeks has left a sure-fire Playoff team, Ohio State, with just 5 games played. Even though there are teams in the SEC and ACC that have played 10 games, Ohio State is still No. 4 and on track to reach the Playoff with a win in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game against No. 14 Northwestern.
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I think whether this is fair and whether it’s the right thing to do are 2 entirely different questions. Of course it isn’t fair that Ohio State (5-0) has played half the games of its greatest competitors, like Alabama (10-0), Notre Dame (10-0) and Clemson (9-1). But should the Buckeyes still be a Playoff team? Absolutely.
Ohio State is obviously 1 of the 4 best teams in the country. It has the third-highest margin of victory among Power 5 teams, winning by an average of 23.4 points per game. It has a player, Justin Fields, who is arguably the best in the country. And it has been in control of every game it has played, trailing for just 5:05 of game time (in the first quarter of the first game). If the Big Ten hadn’t mismanaged this season and Ohio State had played 10 games, we would be debating whether or not the Buckeyes or Alabama should be No. 1 rather than the Buckeyes simply being included.
In my opinion, any Playoff that does not include an undefeated Ohio State should have an asterisk next to it. This is a team that has a legitimate chance to win it all. Can you say the same about Texas A&M, which already lost to Alabama by 28? Can you say the same about Iowa State, Florida and Georgia, each of which has 2 losses? Can you say the same about Cincinnati, which lost to Ohio State 42-0 last year and hasn’t played a Power 5 team this year?
With how good Ohio State has played when it’s actually been on the field, how can you leave them out?
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DUSTIN: There’s little question in my mind that, if this was a normal season, Ohio State would fit into the College Football Playoff’s ambiguous “four best” category. All the points brought up about margin of victory, controlling opponents and having an NFL roster are valid.
At some point, though, the games have to matter. Ohio State didn’t have to play Maryland, Illinois or Michigan, and though the Buckeyes were heavy favorites in all three of those games, there’s still a chance they could have lost. Remember Iowa in 2017? Or how about Purdue in 2018?
If Florida hadn’t played LSU last weekend, we would’ve assumed the Gators pummeled the Tigers into oblivion, putting Dan Mullen’s squad one step closer to a College Football Playoff berth. But because Florida took the field, they took the risk of losing and it may have drowned its national championship hopes.
We’ve essentially said that Ohio State is one of the four best teams in college football because that’s what we thought before the season started. Having games canceled has benefited the Buckeyes more than playing games has helped Texas A&M, Cincinnati, Miami, Coastal Carolina…should I go on?
This isn’t about talent. We know Ohio State has it. This is about games actually mattering in college football. And if the Buckeyes are in, it’s hard to argue that they actually do.
RYAN: If there were 4 ACC, SEC or Big 12 teams with rock-solid resumes, I would agree with you; games played should be a tiebreaker and give those with Playoff-worthy credentials a leg up. But right now, I only see 3: Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson. If Florida had beaten LSU and then Alabama, and then Clemson beat Notre Dame to leave all 4 teams at 10-1, I would’ve seen no problem leaving Ohio State out of the field. If you leave Ohio State out, though, who are you putting in?
Ohio State obviously could have lost to either Maryland, Illinois and Michigan. Though the Buckeyes would’ve been favored by 30 points in all 3 games, let’s say that hypothetically, they were upset in 1 of them and were 7-1 heading into the Big Ten Championship. After beating Northwestern, they are 8-1. Then would they be in? Would you really put a 2-loss Big 12 team like Iowa State or Oklahoma in over Ohio State? Would you put a 2-loss Clemson in (that will have lost to Notre Dame twice)? Would you put a 2-loss Florida team in (with an awful loss to LSU)? Would you put a Texas A&M squad in that has just 1 more win than Ohio State and hasn’t looked remotely as dominant? The Group of 5 teams like Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina, while great stories, are never getting in over a 1-loss Power 5 champion.
The rationale for keeping the Buckeyes out is that they *could* lose a game. My argument is that even if they did lose 1 of those games, wouldn’t they still be in? Wouldn’t it probably take 2 losses to eliminate them? I don’t think there is anyone in the world who thinks Ohio State is losing to 2 of those teams, absent the entire 2-deep getting COVID.
Let’s note, though, just how unlikely even 1 loss would be, much less 2 losses; in its last 75 games against Big Ten teams, Ohio State is 71-4. With Justin Fields at QB, the Buckeyes have had just 1 of their 15 games against B1G teams in single digits (Indiana). As mentioned before, it’s rare for Ohio State to even trail, much less actually lose.
DUSTIN: You bring up a great point, an 8-1 Ohio State team with B1G title to its name would absolutely be in consideration for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But I don’t know that it’s a lock that the Buckeyes would be in, given Texas A&M’s circumstances.
Sure the Aggies were dominated by Alabama earlier in the season (52-24), but if you’re comparing losses, A&M would have lost to the No. 1 team in the country while Ohio State’s loss would’ve been to a 2-win team (Maryland, Illinois or Michigan). There would definitely some fireworks on Selection Sunday.
The other issue I have comes with USC. Let’s just assume, as you say, the committee is never going to give serious consideration to a Group of 5 program like Cincinnati or Coastal Carolina, and keep their undefeated records out of the conversation. Shouldn’t the Trojans, at 5-0, be ranked higher than No. 13? They’re undefeated in a Power 5 league, and let’s face it, the competition USC has faced isn’t much different than Ohio State.
I know USC hasn’t looked as impressive as Ohio State this year, but we seem to be giving the Buckeyes a pass. Why isn’t USC sitting somewhere within striking distance as a potential Power 5 champion with a 6-0 record, the same credentials as Ohio State?
It goes back to two things: Eye test and preseason perception. In my opinion, those are really dumb way to determine which teams get to play for a title and which are stuck in the Citrus Bowl. This isn’t the first time the committee has made those two things a priority, but it’s no less frustrating when teams can make their case on the field.
Essentially, different teams play by different rules in the committee’s eyes. And Ohio State is getting the rubber stamp of approval not because of what it does on the field, but because of the amount of dollars and cents it can bring to the cash registers.
RYAN: Preseason perception probably comes into play (how else can you explain Georgia still sitting at No. 9?), but I think USC is properly ranked. I’m not sure what is wrong with incorporating the eye test, especially in a season like this when there are almost no non-conference games. How else can you rank teams?
USC has obviously struggled this season, despite the 5-0 record. It has won 3 games in the final 2 minutes. That’s over half its wins! I think the Committee’s requirement with the Pac 12 and Big Ten has been that those teams must prove, without a reasonable doubt, that they are worthy of that ranking. Ohio State, with the third-highest margin of victory among Power 5 teams, has done that. USC, with the 14th highest margin of victory among the 19 Power 5 teams in the Top 25, clearly does not. In a sport with such a limited sample size (and in a season with such a limited sample size), it doesn’t make sense to elevate a team that has failed to distinguish itself from the worst teams in its league (like Arizona).
I don’t think it is preseason perception that differentiates Ohio State and USC, nor is it narrative. College football as a sport badly needs USC to be relevant again. The only thing holding back USC is itself.
Where would you have Ohio State and USC ranked? Who is your fourth Playoff team? What is the Committee overlooking by using the eye test and perception?
DUSTIN: I think Ohio State belongs ahead of USC, so I’d be fine with the Buckeyes around No. 5 and the Trojans a few spots back in the Top 10.
As for the fourth spot? Put Texas A&M in there. Or Cincinnati. Or maybe the most deserving is Coastal Carolina — the Chanticleers actually have beaten multiple ranked teams this year.
In a year like this, why not allow a Group of 5 team an opportunity? And it’s awfully frustrating, in my opinion, that a team like Coastal Carolina played 11 games, could have 3 wins over ranked teams and still get no shot for a spot in the Final Four.
Again, it’s not that Ohio State doesn’t have the talent, it most certainly does. But if we’re going to allow a team into the field having played just 6 games when others are playing between 10 and 12, why play the games at all? Why not just line up the four best teams based on recruiting rankings each year and see how that goes? That’s essentially what has happened.
I’ve always held the belief that the most deserving teams should be included in the College Football Playoff. This year, it’s hard to argue the Buckeyes deserve it based on their body of work.