COLUMBUS, Ohio — And now the Buckeyes wait.
Their résumé is complete after a 30-27 double-overtime win against Michigan — Penn State is headed to the Big Ten title game as the East representative — and they will hope that they’ve done enough as a non-conference champion to impress the College Football Playoff committee.
On paper, their three-top 10 wins (against Michigan, Wisconsin and Oklahoma) look great. The one loss (also to a top-10 team, Penn State) is not a deal-breaker. But in order to get into the four-team CFP field, Ohio State must be viewed as “unequivocally better” than conference champions — perhaps even including its own league’s.
The Buckeyes’ biggest strength is, without a doubt, their defense. That’s what kept them in Saturday’s game against Michigan. The Ohio State defense almost literally accounted for the first 14 points the team scored; Malik Hooker got into the end zone on a pick-six, and another interception by Jerome Baker followed by two Michigan penalties led to the Buckeyes’ second touchdown of the game.
Somehow, despite being outplayed by the Wolverines for much of the game and missing two field goals, the Buckeyes clawed back for a thrilling victory over their hated rivals on Saturday afternoon.
And that’s what matters — although the CFP committee will not love what it’s seeing out of the Buckeyes offense, particularly a very shaky passing game. (And the eye test does matter some.)
Still, it’d be hard to imagine that anyone who watched Saturday’s game doesn’t think they watched one of the nation’s four best teams. And if the committee was enamored with the Buckeyes last week — committee chair Kirby Hocutt said Ohio State was “not close” to two-loss teams below it like Wisconsin or Penn State — tiebreakers like conference championships and head-to-head results may not come into play.
This means if the committee thinks one-loss Ohio State is unequivocally better than two-loss Penn State (whose best wins, if it wins out, would be Ohio State and Wisconsin) or a two-loss Wisconsin (who, even if it wins out, still lost to the Buckeyes — and Wolverines, whom Ohio State beat), the Buckeyes will make the Playoff. Regardless of the championship game’s results.
This also means the CFP picture remains muddied. There’s still the philosophically difficult question of a non-champion usurping a conference champion. There’s still the possibility of the Big Ten getting two teams into the four-team field and upsetting multiple Power Five conferences while doing so. And there’s still potential chaos that could unfold in the Pac-12, ACC, SEC and perhaps even Bedlam that could create even more confusion.
Either way, the Buckeyes will rest. And hope that they’ve done enough.