Thursday, October 10, 2013
Playoff a year too late for Buckeyes?
By Brian Bennett
If only the College Football Playoff began this year, we could read a story like this on Dec. 8:
IRVING, Texas -- The first-ever College Football Playoff will feature Alabama, Oregon, Clemson and Ohio State.
Speaking on behalf of the playoff selection committee, Condoleezza Rice said that the Tide, Ducks and Tigers were easy choices since they won conference titles in the nation's top three ranked leagues. Despite a weaker strength of schedule than the other three, the Buckeyes got the final nod because of their undefeated record and Big Ten title, Rice said.
"Ohio State has won 25 games in a row," she said. "This team deserves a chance to play for the national title."
Urban Meyer has Ohio State in the national title discussion.
Alas, without a DeLorean or some other time shifter, we are stuck with the BCS for one more season. That's a shame for fans. But it might really wind up as a tough break for Ohio State.
There's a long way to go in the 2013 season, and the 6-0 Buckeyes are only halfway done with their regular season. Just about anything can happen, and worrying too much about the potential BCS title matchup now is counterproductive.
Still, it's beginning to look increasingly possible that Ohio State could finish the year undefeated for a second straight season and yet get shut out of the national championship tilt in Pasadena.
Urban Meyer's team is ranked No. 3 in the USA Today coaches' poll, which is great since that and the Harris Poll comprises two-thirds of the BCS formula. The first Harris Poll will coincide with the initial BCS standings on Oct. 20. But we can already tell that the Buckeyes are going to have trouble with the other third of the formula, which is a composite of six computer rankings. Five of them make their current rankings public, and here is where Ohio State stands in each:
A weak nonconference slate has hurt the Buckeyes' strength of schedule numbers; Massey, Billingsley and Andersen & Hester rank it between 58th and 62nd nationally, while Sagarin has it 84th and Colley Matrix 95th. Even beating consecutive ranked teams in Wisconsin and Northwestern hasn't given Ohio State much of a bump in the polls or the computers.
That schedule strength may continue to go down considering that the Buckeyes' next five opponents -- Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Indiana and Illinois -- are all unranked. Ohio State fans must swallow some bile and hope Michigan puts together a strong enough record that The Game becomes very important.
Meyer's team also has to worry about not only the SEC champ -- even if that team has one loss -- being ranked above it, but also the Florida State-Clemson winner and the Oregon-Stanford survivor taking the BCS title slots.
That's why it's really too bad that the playoff isn't ready for this year instead of 2014. If a four-team playoff awaited the end of the season, Ohio State wouldn't have much to sweat about right now instead of its own schedule.
Despite the poor national perception of the Big Ten and that soft nonconference schedule, the Buckeyes would virtually be assured of one of the four spots in the playoff by going 13-0. That would leave room for the SEC, Pac-12 and ACC champs to also get in. Ohio State might be compared with the Big 12 champion in such a scenario, but it is already ranked well above Oklahoma and would benefit from poll inertia. It's virtually impossible to imagine a 13-0 Big Ten champ ever being left out of the four-team field, especially one with the two-year résumé that Ohio State would have. Yes, only the current season is supposed to count, but the human beings on the selection committee couldn't ignore the winning streak, at least subconsciously.
Meyer would cringe at the very notion of this story, as his team has six and likely seven games left to play. And he has issues to iron out during this bye week, especially in what he called the "very alarming" problems on pass defense and in the offensive passing game. While the schedule looks soft going forward, remember that a mediocre Purdue team nearly won in the 'Shoe last year, and that Michigan has an 18-game home winning streak. The Big Ten title game -- whether it's a rematch with the Wolverines or Northwestern, or a faceoff with the defensive prowess of Michigan State or the offensive potential of Nebraska -- is no gimme by any stretch.
But these Buckeyes have proven they can navigate the difficult waters in the Big Ten. What they can't control is the perception of the league, their schedule strength numbers and what other contenders do. If this were 2014, they wouldn't have to worry much about any of those things. It would be a shame if the 2013 team ends up being a team ahead of its time.