COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State might not exactly sympathize, but it surely can relate to how Alabama might feel after all the college football games are finished this weekend.
A loaded roster stocked with NFL draft picks. A track record of success in the postseason. A recent national title. Decorated coaching staff. Relatively light strength of schedule. A blemish in the one game it couldn’t afford to lose. No division title.
And no spot in the playoff.
The Crimson Tide are surely going to point to the Buckeyes from a year ago as an example of a team not winning its conference title and still getting a shot at a national crown. That would be pointing at the right program, but it would be looking at the wrong season.
Alabama is a fantastic team, and based on the eye test alone it would be a legitimate threat to win another title if the selection committee reserved it a seat at the table. But if that group of voters couldn’t bring itself to evaluate talent over résumé in 2015 with the defending champions when Ohio State had a virtually identical 11-1 campaign to Alabama’s this season, the same benefit of the doubt shouldn’t be given now.
And it just so happens that the spot Alabama effectively coughed up last Saturday now looks like it should go to the Buckeyes if they win the Big Ten title in Indianapolis. Based on the new rankings, the No. 5 Crimson Tide could conceivably still feel good about their chances of getting back in the playoff, but they’re out of games and new No. 8 Ohio State has a massive opportunity to improve its body of work.
Nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen when the committee sits down on Sunday and nails down the official bracket. Obviously, there’s nothing I’d like more than to know exactly what’s going to happen this weekend, because I’d surely be a rich man. Simply predicting the results of the championship games around the country is going to be difficult enough, and that’s a key first part of the process before the real debate begins overnight Saturday and into Sunday, before the invitations are stamped at noon.
But if Ohio State knocks off Wisconsin, there’s really no valid case for ranking Alabama ahead of the Buckeyes in the final draft.
The Big Ten has consistently been evaluated as the strongest league in the nation, and the Buckeyes would have the conference crown — which is supposed to carry weight by itself. Ohio State would have just beaten an undefeated team the committee had slotted at No. 4, giving it a second victory over a top-10 opponent, along with the win over No. 9 Penn State. That, by the way, would be two more than Alabama. And if it comes down to a head-to-head eye test, Ohio State is one of only a few programs in the country that shouldn’t be intimidated by matching up top to bottom with the Crimson Tide.
The Buckeyes’ résumé has flaws, and there will be plenty of conversation about that 31-point loss to Iowa. Margin of victory (or defeat) isn’t supposed to really be factored into the equation, but if it is, then Ohio State throttling No. 16 Michigan State by 45 should be even more impressive, right?
And there is also the upset loss to Oklahoma in September to consider. But the committee should be careful about how it uses that if the debate winds up between the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide. If Ohio State had just scheduled, let’s say, Mercer instead of the Sooners, would there even be an argument? Is that the kind of message the committee wants to send?
It would be surprising at this point if it came to that, because there has already been a precedent established for a team such as the one Nick Saban has this season.
Ohio State found out the hard way how severe the penalty can be even for supremely talented teams based on which games they lose.
This time around, though, the Buckeyes would have a conference championship to bolster their case. And a win could leave Alabama locked out just like they were two years ago.
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