After the thumping of Michigan last Saturday, the Buckeyes reasserted themselves back into the playoff race. With a shake up in the top ten, many of the Buckeyes faithful believed Ohio State would be slotted at six overall, with a few fans and analysts also making the claim for being fifth. With the Buckeyes officially slotted at number six, they will need to have one of their best games of the season against Northwestern to make their claim that they should enter the top four of the playoffs. After a night to digest it all, here is what we learned.
Ohio State, in terms of what they need to do, is pretty simple. They need to have a dominant performance against Northwestern and score as many style points to impress the committee as they can. Win by 20-30 points, and the Buckeyes make themselves a serious threat for a top four spot. Win unconvincingly, and you can kiss the playoff chances goodbye. The Buckeyes know that, and being that the Oklahoma versus Texas game is a noon kickoff, the Buckeyes will know exactly what they have to do come Saturday night.
The other important component to examine here is Michigan and Penn State being ranked 7th and 12th, respectively. This is big for many reasons. First, they value Ohio State as a good team and only dropped Michigan three spots to seven, and still ahead of undefeated UCF. Second, if Oklahoma is to beat Texas, Texas would fall at least a few spots in the rankings, meaning the committee believes that the Buckeyes have two wins (Michigan, Penn State) that are better than Oklahoma’s best win, which would be Texas, West Virginia, or Iowa State, depending on the final ranking.
However, the thing that may have hurt Ohio State’s chances is that Northwestern fell from 19 to 21 in the rankings this week, following a win against Illinois. Yes, it was not a dominating win against Illinois, but did the committee actually watch the game or just look at the score? In the third quarter, Northwestern had a sizeable lead and pretty much rested all of their starters for the championship game and brought in their second and third team guys. That made the game a lot closer than it should have been, and it seems Northwestern was penalized for that. The issue now is if Ohio State wins big, the committee more than likely could drop the Wildcats from the final rankings. They were 19 last week, and they should at least have jumped up a few spots this week.
Oklahoma is in the same boat as the Buckeyes, they need a dominating win, and a loss or a close game from Ohio State to help really cement their case in the top four against Texas. There are a few things that work well for the Sooners. One, they are already slotted ahead of the Buckeyes, and if Georgia loses, you could argue they should just move up and take the fourth spot. Two, they get to play the team they lost to earlier in the season. If they beat Texas, they avenge their earlier season loss, making it clear in the committee’s eyes that they are the better team.
Another thing working for Oklahoma is the possibility that the committee ranks Army in the final top 25, given they beat Navy this week. A win would give Army 10 wins, and an eight game winning streak. I do not see how the committee would not have them in the top 25, giving Oklahoma another top 25 winner to bolster their resume. In that scenario, the Sooners would have top 25 wins over: Texas, West Virginia, Army, and a likely Iowa State team still as well. Compare that to the Buckeyes final top 25 wins over: Michigan, Penn State, and possibly Northwestern still.
The potential downside here is if the Oklahoma versus Texas game is a shootout. The committee has said that the Oklahoma defense is not great, but that their offense is “so dymanic” that it makes up for it. That’s one of the biggest gripes many Buckeye fans have, and deservingly so. However, look at the facts. Oklahoma has given up at least 40 points in four straight games. If Texas makes it five, is that really a team that deserves to be in the top four? I guess that’s something the committee will have to decide.
Just like last year, the SEC has the potential to throw a wrench in the final rankings of the season. Last season, it was Alabama losing the Iron Bowl and still getting in the playoffs, as well as the SEC Champions, Georgia Bulldogs. This year, there is a similar scenario. Alabama are the playoff media darlings, and I do not see any way they would miss the playoffs, even with a loss to Georgia. And then for the longest time, we were all convinced that a Georgia team losing to Alabama in the championship game would eliminate the Bulldogs. However, The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel, made a great point last night about the rankings. He asked if anybody else thought that the committee was setting it up for a two loss Georgia team to stay in the top four, given how the rankings were.
At first, I thought he was crazy and was just trying to start controversy, but take a closer look. If Georgia were to lose a close one against Alabama, they’d have losses against the number one and ten teams this year. To go along with that, they would also have wins against 9th Florida, 15th Kentucky, and 24th Missouri. By the committee absolutely stacking the rankings with SEC teams, it really seems like there could be an outside chance that they would keep Georgia at four, if both the Buckeyes and Sooners struggle. But, what would it take? Would both have to lose? What if they both wins by single digits, would that be enough for them to keep Georgia in at four?
Outside of Alabama, Clemson appears to be the best team in the country and they are starting to get on a serious roll now. Trevor Lawrence is excelling and the defense is as good as any in the country. Going against Pittsburgh this Saturday, they are the heavy favorites in the game. Win, and they will claim the two seed, unless Alabama was to lose. There is not much debating there.
However, if Clemson is to lose to Pittsburgh, an interesting situation occurs. With the ACC having a very down year, could the Tigers fall out of the top four? They would have wins over currently ranked 19th Texas A&M and 20th Syracuse. On one hand, a Clemson loss would be just another one loss team that the Buckeyes would be compared to, given they win. On the other, the conversation of Clemson falling out of the top four obviously would not even happen without a Pittsburgh win. In the sense that Clemson did lose, the Buckeyes’ wins over Michigan and Penn State would once again be better than any win from the Tigers. Clemson last played Pittsburgh during the 2016 season and lost, so this will definitely be a game to monitor and watch closely this weekend. If the Tigers fall and Ohio State and Oklahoma both win, the playoff committee is going to have a very interesting decision to make regarding who gets in, and who would be seeded where.
Sitting at an undefeated season at 12-0, Notre Dame seemingly does not have anything to worry about as the playoff committee makes their decision for the top four. If all goes according to plan, the Irish most likely finish third and will play Clemson in the playoffs. But over the last couple days, the ESPN FiveThirtyEight chart actually gives Notre Dame less of a chance to make the playoffs if both the Buckeyes and Sooners win. Personally, I do not see how the Irish do not get in the playoffs sitting at an undefeated 12-0. Yes, they are not in a conference and do not have a game this weekend, but they do have wins over 7th Michigan, 20th Syracuse, and 21st Northwestern as of right now. From there, also being that the fact that Pittsburgh is represented in the ACC Championship game can be viewed as a positive for their resume.
However, if Ohio State and Oklahoma both come out and win their conference championship game by 20-30 points, the Irish may be sweating out the decision of the committee a little more than they probably would have expected. I still think Notre Dame would get into the playoffs in this scenario, but that is just one more thing to think about. Could the Irish even drop to four if the Buckeyes or Sooners play an exceptional game on Saturday?
I expected the Buckeyes to be slotted at six overall going into Tuesday night, so no complaints there. However, I definitely expected Northwestern to move closer to around the 15-17 slot, not 21. But, at the same time, I also thought the committee was going to move Texas closer to the top 10, than 14, even with the close seven point win against Kansas. You can even argue Texas should have dropped with only beating Kansas by seven.
The committee last night said that Oklahoma has a “little bit stronger schedule right now than Ohio State,” and that might be the nail in the coffin for the Buckeyes. Given both teams win, Texas is a higher ranked team and would seemingly give the Sooners an even better schedule in the committee’s eyes. And then it goes back to my earlier point that if the Buckeyes blow out Northwestern, the Wildcats very likely may not even be ranked come the final rankings. A team like Michigan State for example, who is almost always ranked, having a down year, hurts the Buckeyes. That is usually a top 20 win to add to the resume. Go along with Purdue. After they beat the Buckeyes, they were 4-3 and in the top 25 of that week. If they kept up that momentum, that could have been viewed as a lot better of a loss. Instead they now sit at 6-6 and it is viewed as the worst loss by far of any team competing for a playoff spot, and the main argument against Ohio State.
My final point is when it comes down to the final rankings before championship Saturday, look at the sneaky movement the committee does. This year, it’s Missouri sliding into the rankings at 24th. Against the current top 25, they are 1-3, with the win being a 21 point win over number nine, Florida. Sure, Georgia did not play Missouri, but that is another potential final top 25 team to help boost the resume of the SEC in general. Look no further in the SEC, Florida at 9, and LSU at 10. Is the committee really that impressed with Florida’s wins over Mississippi State and LSU? Mississippi State could have finished 6-6 this season and still somehow been in the top 25. When the SEC finishes with the highest no loss, one loss, two loss, three loss, and four loss team in the rankings, it at least needs to draw some confusion and eyebrows. All I am saying is that Florida and LSU are not top ten teams. However, I guess to their point, do we really think teams ranked 11-13 for example, (Washington, Penn State, Washington State) are top ten teams? That’s up for debate, but there are definitely valid points to be made as to why they could or should be ahead of Florida and LSU.
So buckle up, and get ready Buckeye fans. Oklahoma plays at 12:00 EST, so the Buckeyes will know exactly where they stand going into the showdown against Northwestern Saturday night.
Until then, Roll Tide and Hook ‘Em Horns. Man, that sounds weird to say..
(Image via College Football News)