COLUMBUS, Ohio — No. 6 Florida was upset by LSU on Saturday night, which helped No. 4 Ohio State’s College Football Playoff cause by eliminating the one real scenario that could have rationally kept out the Buckeyes, if they are undefeated Big Ten champs. That scenario was Clemson, Notre Dame, Alabama and Florida all finishing 10-1 with the Buckeyes at 6-0.
Now that can’t happen, as the Gators absorbed their second loss. That should clear the deck for the Buckeyes if they beat Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship on Saturday.
Yet the SEC spin machine was cycling after the Gators’ loss. In the last week, I’ve verged towards sounding like an Ohio State homer in my attempts to defend the Big Ten adjusting its own rule to allow the Buckeyes to play in the Big Ten Championship, and in stating the case for not penalizing Ohio State’s playoff bid because of missed COVID games it couldn’t control. But I’m just fighting for logic, common sense and flexibility in strange pandemic times. So here’s my list of talking points that would support Ohio State as a playoff team — not over undefeated Alabama, undefeated Notre Dame or one-loss Clemson — but over any other contender out there.
1. It’s a pandemic. You can’t get hung up on a specific number of games when teams are at the mercy of a virus that has upended the entire world. Flexibility allowed this season to happen. If you’re stuck on a set number of games a team needs to play, you’re allowing the virus to beat a team that did its best and took care of business on the field. If you’re truly saying, yep, sorry, but the virus did that, ask yourself if you’re being that inflexible with virus issues in other parts of your life. Sure, if Ohio State was finishing the season 3-0, that wouldn’t be enough. But the Buckeyes aren’t 3-0. So let’s focus on what they are, which is 5-0 with another game ahead.
2. If you agree to some flexibility, and you don’t have a set number of games, then you’re going by feel. Would you have required Ohio State to play every game on its Big Ten schedule to get to 9-0? If not, would 8-0 have done it? Were you open to 7-0? Because now you’re not keeping Ohio State out because it missed three games, since you were OK with them missing one or two. Now you might be keeping them out only because Michigan, a 30-point underdog to the Buckeyes, got COVID late in the season. That’s it. And that’s not enough.
3. Eye test matters. When I voted in the AP poll, I went by resume more than any voter in the country. But in a pandemic, with fewer games to go by, you have to change your thinking. It can’t be just resume.
4. There were three clear top teams before the season, based on talent and recent past performance: Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. Past seasons shouldn’t normally affect current voting, but those three teams weren’t looking to prove something this season; they were looking to confirm something. It is different to evaluate 6-0 Ohio State as opposed to if Indiana was 6-0. Everyone knows that Ohio State isn’t a flash in the pan. That might be a fear with a surprise team. It’s not like you don’t know what Ohio State is about. That factors in at least a bit in a pandemic season.
If Florida, now 8-2, is still on your radar and you think losses are part of the deal when you play a lot of games, let’s remember that Ohio State over the last three regular seasons is 28-1. Just for context.
5. That’s why undefeated Ohio State is in a different place than USC, which is also 5-0. The Trojans have won three of their games by scoring the winning touchdown in the final 80 seconds. USC was also 8-5 last year. Normally, that wouldn’t matter. But the Trojans had to prove something much more than Ohio State did, and while that doesn’t mean the Trojans don’t have a playoff case, they’re behind Ohio State in the pecking order.
6. Some SEC people are now preparing a case for 7-1 Texas A&M to make it over Ohio State, while the No. 5 Aggies’ only top-25 win is over Florida, which was No. 6 but will fall after losing. Ohio State’s only top-25 win is over No. 12 Indiana. Losing to Alabama by 28 is not a plus for the Aggies. If you don’t want to penalize them too much, fine, but they don’t get bonus points for a loss.
Texas A&M, which won’t play again, beat seven teams whose combined record is 25-42.
Ohio State has beaten five teams with a combined record of 16-21, and if the Buckeyes beat Northwestern to move to 6-0, they will have beaten teams with a combined record of 22-23. And Ohio State will have a conference championship and Texas A&M won’t. And I can’t believe I’m even arguing this, but this SEC studio host made me do it.
7. If Florida somehow beats Alabama in the SEC Championship, Alabama, currently the dominant No. 1 team, would still make the playoff. So what about a two-loss conference champ? It’s been left out before. In 2016, Penn State was the two-loss Big Ten champ, and one-loss non-champ Ohio State made the playoff instead. That would be the case here with Alabama in and Florida out — not both in.
8. The SEC can’t make an equal playoff case both when a team wins or when it loses. Every SEC win is proof another SEC team belongs … but so is every SEC loss?
Again, it’s this SEC Network studio host. Maybe it’s a shtick. Because it doesn’t feel real.
It’s like a teenager arguing that making curfew is proof they don’t need a curfew, and missing curfew is proof they shouldn’t have a curfew. I’m not buying that act. Go to your room.
9. I don’t think the committee will want to pair Clemson and Notre Dame for a third time in a semifinal, so here’s what I expect for the final rankings after next weekend.
If Alabama and Ohio State win, and Notre Dame beats Clemson, giving the Tigers their second loss:
1. Alabama 2. Notre Dame 3. Ohio State 4. Clemson/USC (With Cincinnati or Texas A&M making long shot arguments)
If Alabama and Ohio State win, and Clemson beats Notre Dame:
1. Alabama 2. Clemson 3. Ohio State 4. Notre Dame
Either way, the Buckeyes wouldn’t get Bama in a semi.
10. Don’t worry about coaches like Florida’s Dan Mullen and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney talking down the Buckeyes for not playing enough games. They’re just publicly politicking while hoping to sway a single playoff committee member even a bit. Ohio State’s Ryan Day would do, and will do, the same thing. It’s just that Mullen and Swinney are more straight forward about it. But remember, Mullen was Urban Meyer’s right-hand man as an offensive coordinator before Day was. So Mullen was willing to talk down his old friend’s favorite team.
11. Ohio State, currently No. 4 with the latest playoff rankings coming out Tuesday night, will make the playoff with a win. No. 5 Texas A&M didn’t play this week, No. 6 Florida lost, No. 8 Cincinnati didn’t play, Nos. 7, 9, 10 and 11 have two losses, and USC is No. 15.
So there really isn’t a debate. Just SEC spin.
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