Since the loss to Purdue, a lot of Buckeye fans have not even bothered to take a serious interest into the college football rankings. Sure, the loss was embarrassing on all fronts, but it seemed like the Buckeyes still had everything to play for in front of them. Fast forward to a few weeks later, with wins of Nebraska and a now unranked Michigan State team, and the Buckeyes still find themselves ranked at number 10 overall in the rankings. With Maryland this week and a showdown with Michigan the next, is there really a clear path for the Buckeyes to get in if they win out? Let’s take a look conference by conference to see.
We will start off with the Buckeyes own conference. As stated before, the Buckeyes are number ten overall, and they are joined by Michigan coming in at fourth, and Northwestern slotted at 22 at 6-4. For as much talking as fans do about over-ranking the SEC, the Wildcats are one of only two four-loss teams in the rankings at this time.
For Ohio State, what they want is pretty straight forward. First they need a dominating win over a Maryland team that will be without their starting quarterback. The committee did not see to think the win over Michigan State was a quality one, so the Buckeyes are going to have to come up big here. Next, they are going to have to win the big one against Michigan next week obviously. A win over at least a top four Michigan team on a roll right now would give the Buckeyes their biggest win on the season and send them to the conference championship game.
The last piece that is important here is that the Buckeyes need Northwestern to win their last two remaining games. They have Minnesota and and Illinois, so two games they should definitely be favored in. By winning those two games, it will give the Buckeyes another ranked team to play against to boost their resume for the college football playoffs. Beat Northwestern, and the Buckeyes have made a serious case for themselves in the playoffs.
As usual, the SEC has a ton of teams in the top 25, and some of the teams being that highly ranked make absolutely no sense. Yes, we are looking at you #7 LSU, #13 Florida, and #17 Kentucky. However, looking past that, what the Buckeyes want from this conference is once again very straight forward, and is a lot like last year. With Alabama an extremely solid number one, Buckeyes fans will want them to win out and defeat Georgia in the conference championship game. Alabama beating Georgia should remove the Bulldogs from playoff contention and then LSU already having two losses at a minimum should remove them from contention as well. But it is the mighty mighty SEC, so who knows how the committee would actually rank them.
With Washington, Stanford, and USC not looking great early in the season, it seemed like the PAC 12 would have no business even being talked about for the playoffs. However, Mike Leach and graduate transfer Gardiner Minshew have had something to say about that as the #8 Washington State Cougars are right in the middle of the playoff talk. With home games against Arizona and rival Washington up next, the Cougars should be favored in both. Right now, it looks like the Cougars would play Arizona State in the championship game, so to keep it simple, the Buckeyes just need Washington State to lose any one of these remaining games. A two loss Washington State team should take the PAC 12 out of contention.
Right now, it is Clemson or nobody for the ACC. Sitting at number two overall, the Tigers are in no danger of losing their bid for the top four right now. Clemson finishes with games against Duke and South Carolina, and will be big favorites in both. As of right now, Clemson will either be playing Pittsburgh or Virginia in the conference championship game. I know a lot of Buckeye fans do not like Clemson, but they should cheer for them. Yes, if Clemson were to lose a game, they probably do still get in. But that is just another factor for the Buckeyes to compete against. An undefeated Clemson team removes them from a potential four spot with a loss that the Buckeyes could be gunning for.
Now this is where it gets interesting. Earlier in the year, it seemed to be a battle of either Oklahoma or Texas as the representative for the conference. Texas beat Oklahoma in a battle of the two, but has since fizzed out and found themselves out of contention. However, West Virginia has been on a roll and finds themselves slotted one spot ahead of the Buckeyes at number nine overall. Oklahoma and West Virginia play each other the final week of the season, meaning that one of these teams will suffer their second loss of the season, and will seemingly be out of playoff contention. The winner of this game will be one of the representatives in the title game, assuming they win their game this week as well. For the other representative, it gets extremely confusing, as it then goes into head to head tiebreakers. If you want to read about all the tie breakers, check it out here.
So basically, one of these two teams of Oklahoma and West Virginia seems like they will be eliminated after they play head to head. However, for the Buckeyes sake, a loss for the Sooners or Mountaineers this week would be huge for their playoff chances. It seems like Oklahoma probably has a better chance for the playoffs, so Buckeye should root for West Virginia to win this head to head game. From there, ideally Buckeye fans would then want West Virginia to lose the championship game against one of Oklahoma, Texas, or Iowa State.
Over the past few seasons, Notre Dame has found themselves deep in playoff contention, but a late season loss has ended those odds. This year, an undefeated Notre Dame team find themselves at number three in the rankings, with a showdown against number 12 Syracuse and rival USC left on the schedule. Due to not being in a conference, these are the last two games for the Irish before the unveiling of the four playoff teams. For Buckeye fans, it is simple. Just root for Notre Dame to lose here. At least one loss would be big for the Buckeyes chances, but two losses would take the Irish out of contention. A one loss non-champion Notre Dame team against a one loss champion team has been a component college football fans have been waiting for since the start of the four team playoff. How does the committee view a team that does not play in a conference versus a conference champion? An undefeated Irish team obviously gets in, but a one loss Notre Dame team could very well be what the Buckeyes are competing against.
For the second year in a row, UCF is currently undefeated and not getting any respect from the committee. They sit behind the Buckeyes at number 11 right now, and it seems like absolute chaos would be needed for them to even have a shot to get in. A terribly weak schedule is the back breaker for the Knights, and I do not see them as a threat to the Buckeyes.
It still seems like the Buckeyes have a path to the playoffs, but they are going to have to take care of their own business to start. The easiest path for the Buckeyes is to win out, Northwestern win their final two games, have Alabama and Clemson win out, Notre Dame loses, Washington State loses, and chaos in the Big 12. Yes, that is a lot of things right now, but some of the teams ahead of the Buckeyes right now play each other and will drop in the rankings after losses.
When it comes down to it, the Buckeyes could be competing against at least one other team for the final spot. The potential win against Michigan will probably be the best win out of the teams in the hunt, although the winner of Oklahoma versus West Virginia could say the same, given they win out as well.
It also comes down to this, does the committee view a win in frigid conditions against an at the time ranked Michigan State team a quality win? What about a win against an at the time highly ranked TCU team in a “neutral” sight game in Texas early in the season? Thrown in there as well is the away victory in a hostile environment against a likely top 15 Penn State team. These are all things the committee will have to consider given the Buckeyes win out.
(Image via Sporting News)