The foundation is being laid to diminish anything Ohio State accomplishes
On the heels of an emotional loss to an undermanned LSU squad on Saturday night, Florida coach Dan Mullen was asked whether a 2-loss SEC champion deserves to be in the College Football Playoff. In other words, should a 9-2 Florida squad that beats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game get in?
Here were the relevant parts of Mullen’s answer:
“I guess probably the best thing to do would’ve been to play less games, because you seem to get rewarded for not playing this year in college football.
“… It’s a good question for the Committee. … That’s their deal, (to decide) what’s important.”
There’s no other way to read that than as a shot at the Big Ten and, specifically, Ohio State. The No. 4 Buckeyes (5-0) have played half the number of games as No. 1 Alabama (10-0), No. 2 Notre Dame (10-0) and No. 3 Clemson (9-1), plus barely more than half of No. 5 Texas A&M (8-1).
A few days earlier, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney made similar comments regarding Ohio State potentially making the CFP, opining that the discrepancy in games between the SEC and ACC versus the Big Ten is too much.
“It’s almost like you’ve got to have 120 hours to get a business degree and yet these people over here only need 60 hours to get a business degree,” Swinney said.
I understand the frustration from both of these coaches; as has been rehashed over and over again, the Big Ten botched the 2020 season in just about every way imaginable, contrary to the SEC, ACC and Big 12. That said, let’s consider the messenger, too. Both Mullen and Swinney could wind up 9-2 after next weekend, compared with a 6-0 Big Ten champion. Of course they are going to advocate for their own personal interests, and they would have the opposite opinion if their own squads were 6-0 due to canceled games. In fact, I haven’t heard a peep from them (or any ACC or SEC coach) about the lack of fairness in the SEC and ACC only playing 8 conferences games, while the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12 each play 9 conference games in normal seasons. (Note: A team playing 9 conference games has never won the CFP title.)
It’s around this time of year that college football coaches and pundits morph into politicians. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong, but we do have to take what they say with a grain of salt; there’s always an agenda. In this case, it’s to weaken Ohio State. The Buckeyes are obviously a major threat to win it all.
Reading between the lines of these comments, it seems that the foundation is already being laid to diminish whatever Ohio State goes on to accomplish in the next month. And that’s unfair. If Ohio State makes the College Football Playoff, it’s because they were 1 of the 4 best teams in the country, which is the criteria the CFP Selection Committee uses to select the teams. If they wind up beating Clemson and Alabama for a national title, it’s because they were the best team in the country, not because they played less games. (I don’t buy the argument that Ohio State will have an advantage of being more rested, either. The defense, especially the secondary, would benefit tremendously from playing 4 more games before facing Trevor Lawrence and Mac Jones.)
Remember, the Buckeyes fought tooth and nail to get this season played. They voted to play this season, 1 of 3 Big Ten schools to do so (along with Nebraska and Iowa). Ohio State could not control the Big Ten’s handling of this, nor COVID spikes at Maryland and Michigan during the weeks the Buckeyes were supposed to play them. The Buckeyes, by the way, were the only B1G team to have 2 games canceled because of the other team’s COVID issues.
There has never been a 2-loss CFP team, and Mullen (or Swinney) using the Big Ten as an excuse to put one in this year is disingenuous. With Justin Fields at quarterback, Ohio State is 15-0 against Big Ten teams with an average margin of victory of 30 points (and just 1 game, Indiana, within single digits). The odds of the Buckeyes losing are extremely slim.
And sure, the counter to that is that these slip-ups do happen — look at Ohio State losing by 31 at Iowa in 2017 and by 29 at Purdue in 2018. But guess who didn’t make the CFP in 2017 and 2018? Ohio State. Bad losses like that (and Florida’s this past weekend) are normally disqualifying. Hitching your wagon to Ohio State not getting enough chances to mess up (the Buckeyes would’ve been 30-point favorites against Maryland, Illinois and Michigan) seems desperate.
If Mullen’s take that teams are rewarded for playing less were true, undefeated USC (5-0) would be higher than 15th. Indiana (6-1), with just 1 loss by single digits to an undefeated team, would be ranked above 2-loss teams like Oklahoma (7-2), Georgia (7-2) and Iowa State (8-2). There’s a reason that Ohio State — with 4 wins by 13 or more points — is 11 spots higher than USC — which has won 3 games in the final 2 minutes — going into the next round of rankings on Tuesday night: The Buckeyes are way better than the Trojans.
This is college football. It’s impossible to make everything “fair” all the time. The only thing the CFP Selection Committee can do is pick the 4 best teams, which right now includes Ohio State. And contrary to what Mullen or Swinney will say, the Buckeyes are in this position despite having played less games, not because of it.