Coming off an entertaining 30-27 double overtime victory over the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday afternoon, the Ohio State Buckeyes are now in wait-and-see mode as their fate lies in the hands of the College Football Playoff Committee. We all know one of the factors the committee uses is a conference championship. One. There are many other factors that are supposed to play a role in their decision. Here are the reasons why Ohio State is a sure thing to be in the committee’s final four:
Only One Loss
Win-loss record is one of the most basic factors that all polls take into account when determining a team’s worthiness of a given ranking. There are six teams with one loss or fewer: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Washington, Boise State, and Western Michigan. Sorry Broncos fans, you’re not going to make it. Alabama is in no matter what, so that’s not worth an argument here. That leaves three teams for three spots. Even among those three though, Ohio State has the “best” loss, coming against Penn State on the road in the rain by three points. Clemson lost to the 6-4 Pitt Panthers and Washington lost to the 7-3 USC Trojans. The Husky loss to USC isn’t terrible, but at home by 13 points isn’t great either. A loss is a loss, but Ohio State has the most acceptable loss of the one-loss teams.
Strong Non-Conference Showing
There’s been a big push the last few years to improve the caliber of non-conference opponents across the country. Ohio State went to Norman, Oklahoma to take on the Sooners in Week 3 in an impressive 45-24 victory. Oklahoma has gone on to win eight straight since then and is back in the top ten. Here’s how the rest of the contenders’ non-conference schedules match up:
- Alabama beat USC in Week 1, but again, they’re in so we won’t nitpick too much here. A good case can be made, however, that the Buckeye win at Oklahoma is more impressive than the Bama neutral-site victory over USC.
- Clemson’s marquee non-conference victory was against Auburn 19-13 the first week of the season. Solid victory, but Oklahoma was ranked higher then and now, so Ohio State wins that argument.
- Washington’s non-conference wins were Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State. No contest here, Ohio State wins again.
- Wisconsin has an outside shot at making the playoff. Their big non-conference victory was against LSU. Solid, but looked much better then than it does now. Ohio State wins that head-to-head non-conference-win showdown.
- Penn State might have a compelling argument to make the College Football Playoff. Their non-conference slate included victories over Kent State and Temple, and a loss to Pitt. No match for Ohio State’s non-con performance. #noncon
- Oklahoma had an impressive-looking non-conference schedule lined up with Houston, Louisiana-Monroe, and Ohio State. The Sooners handled the UL-Monroe Warhawks but lost to Houston and Ohio State. Again, edge goes to the Buckeyes.
Many contenders, but among these teams, Ohio State has the most impressive non-conference performance.
Strength of Schedule
Let’s take a look now at the overall strength of schedule for the contenders. Ohio State had four victories over top-25 opponents at the time over Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan. Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Michigan are now top-ten, and their lone loss was to a now-top-ten Penn State.
- Alabama had eight top-25 victories but only four of those teams are currently ranked. Still impressive so let’s go out on a limb and say they’re in.
- Clemson had two games against then-top-25 opponents and defeated both of them (Louisville and Florida State). Again, they beat Auburn who now is ranked as of the time of this article. Both Louisville and Auburn lost this week, however, so the Clemson strength of schedule may be trending the wrong direction. Also, their loss was to an unranked Pitt. Edge goes to Ohio State.
- Washington played four top-25 teams with one more still to come next week. The Huskies beat three of them (Stanford, Utah, and Washington State) and lost to the other (USC). Utah may drop out of the top-25 this weekend, so that victory doesn’t look as good as it did initially. Slight edge here again goes to Ohio State.
- Wisconsin has wins over LSU, Michigan State, and Nebraska, each of which were then-top-ten matchups that now hardly look impressive at all. To their credit, their two losses did come to Michigan and Ohio State, which could be considered “good” losses. They also have a chance to improve their resume against Penn State next week, but again, the advantage here goes to Ohio State. Did I mention Ohio State beat the Badgers?
- Penn State had two ranked teams on their schedule, Michigan and Ohio State. They lost big in Ann Arbor but beat the Buckeyes at home in College Park. They own the head-to-head tiebreaker against Ohio State, but the rest of their schedule is uninspiring. Ohio State wins this comparison with an asterisk.
- Oklahoma’s conference schedule included TCU (now unranked) and West Virginia. They have one more game against Oklahoma State, who is ranked #11 in this week’s AP Poll. The edge here goes to Ohio State, who again, owns the head-to-head tiebreaker between these two teams.
Ohio State’s strength of schedule is superior to most of the contenders above. ESPN’s strength of schedule rankings agree, with only Alabama and Oklahoma ahead of the Buckeyes.
Besides last week’s game against Michigan, all of Ohio State’s big games were on the road. They started in Week 3 at Oklahoma and won. A few weeks later they went on the road to Madison, Wisconsin to beat the Badgers. One week later they continued the road trip with a loss to Penn State.
- Clemson’s big road games were at Auburn and at Florida State. They won both.
- Washington played at Utah and at rival Washington State. They won both.
- Wisconsin’s big road game was at Michigan. They lost that one.
- Penn State’s toughest road games were also at Michigan and Pittsburgh. They lost both.
- Oklahoma had games at Houston (officially a neutral site, but it was in Houston, Texas) and at West Virginia. They split those two.
The Buckeyes were 2-1 in tough road tests and undefeated the rest of the way. Both Clemson and Washington were 2-0, but each also had home losses. Penn State was 0-2 in their most-difficult road tests and the Badgers were 0-1 in their big road game and also had an additional home loss (to the Buckeyes). Oklahoma went 1-1 on the road but also had a home loss (to Ohio State), so the Buckeyes have a good case against most of these teams in terms of being road tested.
Each of the four points above are in Ohio State’s favor to grab one of the four playoff spots. They hold the head-to-head advantage with both Oklahoma and Wisconsin, so if it comes down to it, Ohio State is in over both of those two-loss teams. Penn State is the only team that can claim the head-to-head against the Buckeyes, so that debate would be interesting, but likely ultimately point to the Nittany Lions being left out. Clemson and Washington have good arguments to be in the playoff, but compared to Ohio State their resume won’t stack up. With Alabama surely in, there is a six-team battle for three spots. Either Penn State or Wisconsin will be out by this time next week, so of the five remaining teams, Ohio State looks like a lock to make it to the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years.