Ohio State football: Why the Buckeyes deserve to be No. 1 in first Playoff rankings
On Tuesday, when the inaugural rankings of the CFP arrive, there’s not going to be a ton of mystery. Georgia will be in that all-important top 4. As will Tennessee. As will Ohio State. The 4th spot probably goes to Michigan, maybe Clemson. But here’s the thing. The Buckeyes should be No. 1.
Ohio State has faced the best competition of the sport’s big 3. The Buckeyes are the most balanced. And they’ve had an answer for every question thrown at them. Yes, the Michigan game will still matter. But as of right now, at the end of October, Ohio State should be college football’s top dog.
Start with competition. Playing in the B1G won’t do Ohio State any favors. The SEC’s “it just means more” propaganda is strong. And yet, ratings wizard Jeff Sagarin has Ohio State’s schedule as the 29th strongest in college football. Georgia’s is 50th. Tennessee’s is 47th.
Wait, didn’t Tennessee beat Alabama (which Sagarin still has No.2 overall)? Yes the Vols did. They also bested LSU, but that’s the only other UT win against a team in Sagarin’s top 30. UT’s 3rd-best win is against Kentucky, which looked completely lost in Neyland Stadium (and is 36th in Sagarin’s rankings). That big win at Pitt? Well, the Panthers are 4-4 and 61st in the Sagarin rankings. Tennessee beat them by 1 score. Florida? 39th. UT beat them by 1 score.
Georgia’s situation is even uglier. It beat Oregon to open the season. That’s its lone top 30 win. Georgia’s second best win? That’d be its last game, against No. 39 Florida.
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Meanwhile, Ohio State bested Penn State (14th per Sagarin) and Notre Dame (18th). Add in Wisconsin (24th) and even Iowa (38th). Yes, Ohio State has 4 wins better than Georgia’s second-best W.
Ohio State is also the best team in the sport because of its balance. The Buckeyes returned college football’s best offense, and despite massive injuries on that side of the ball ranks 2nd in the nation in scoring and 6th in yardage. Defensively, Ohio State has struggled in recent seasons. Now, they’re 10th in the nation in scoring defense and 6th in yardage allowed.
Yes, Tennessee can score — they’re the one offense ahead of OSU in that regard. The Vols are also 127th in the nation in pass defense. Ohio State is 3rd in the nation in allowing the fewest 10+ yard plays (66). Tennessee is 87th (118).
Georgia, on the other hand, knows how to defend. The Bulldogs are elite on defense, but just kind of adequate on offense. Georgia actually has more passing yards than Ohio State. But they’re 26th in the nation in passer rating, while Ohio State is 2nd. Georgia averages 8.8 yards per pass and has 13 touchdowns against 3 interceptions. Ohio State averages 10.5 yards per pass and has 30 touchdowns against 4 interceptions. Georgia has 15 plays of 30+ yards (74th in FBS) while Ohio State has 28 (4th).
Finally, and most intangibly, Ohio State has had an answer for every question thrown at it.
With an 8-0 record, Ohio State has played 2 competitive games this season — the opener against Notre Dame and last week at Penn State. Both times, the defense made up for so-so games from the offense.
Against Notre Dame, it took the form of just shutting down the Irish. In the second half of that game, which Ohio State entered trailing 10-7, the defense’s drives against Notre Dame went like this: punt, punt, punt, punt. Notre Dame had 72 yards in the second half.
Against Penn State, the Buckeyes found themselves trailing early in the fourth quarter. The next 3 defensive series went like this: strip sack setting up a 24-yard touchdown drive, field goal, pick 6. It was a very different look than the Notre Dame game, but while Penn State outgained the Buckeyes, Ohio State forced a 4-0 turnover edge, setting up short fields or scoring on its own behalf.
On the other hand, Tennessee needed overtime to outlast Pitt, made Anthony Richardson look like Randall Cunningham in giving up 453 passing yards against Florida, and got a handful of insanely lucky breaks (and 17 penalty flags) to outlast Alabama.
Georgia sleepwalked to a 17-point win against Kent State, got some officiating help in a 4-point win over 4-4 Missouri, and let Florida close a 28-3 halftime deficit to 28-20 before waking up and finishing that game.
Tuesday night, Ohio State should be the CFP’s No.1 team. In the big picture, even before the Michigan game, they’ve earned it.