Ohio State’s embarrassing home loss to Michigan last week laid heavy damage to its hopes of returning to the College Football Playoff (CFP) for the fifth time, but Tuesday’s penultimate rankings showed the door isn’t yet shut entirely.
Now ranked fifth, Ohio State appears to be in a relatively good position to still compete for a national championship should it receive some help during conference championship weekend. While the two undefeated teams at the top of the rankings, Georgia and Michigan, are likely safe regardless of the outcome of their respective games on Saturday, the same cannot be said for TCU and USC.
Undefeated TCU will take on No. 10 Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday, looking to complete its first undefeated season since 1938 and secure the first CFP appearance in program history. Should the Horned Frogs stumble, however, the stage would be set for a fascinating debate leading up to Sunday’s final rankings regarding resume comparisons with Ohio State.
Ohio State’s case for a CFP spot would be buoyed by a top-10 win at Penn State and a top-25 win over Notre Dame, while TCU’s resume would still stack up well in its own right with an October win over Kansas State and a top-20 win at Texas. As two one-loss teams in that scenario, the conversation would likely boil down to whether or not the CFP committee would be willing to perceptually penalize TCU for playing an additional game by way of qualifying for its conference championship.
The result of the TCU game could be rendered largely irrelevant before the sun comes up on Saturday as Ohio State’s most direct path to the CFP rests with USC, which will play in the Pac-12 Championship Game against No. 11 Utah tonight. Having already lost to Utah earlier this season, USC hopes to avenge its lone blemish en route to securing the program’s first playoff appearance.
Utah won the Oct. 15 regular season matchup at home, 43-42, on a two-point conversion with less than a minute to play in one of the most thrilling games of the college football season. If the Utes prevail once again tonight, USC and its two losses would be eliminated from the CFP conversation, paving the way for Ohio State to move into the final spot of the top four.
As for the likelihood of either result going in Ohio State’s favor, sportsbooks across the country have listed both USC and TCU as less than three-point favorites in their respective matchups.
Of course, the possibility still remains that, even with a loss ahead of it, Ohio State could fall victim to the team sitting behind it. Alabama, with all its CFP success, currently sits behind Ohio State in the sixth spot. But while some pundits have speculated the possibility of Alabama jumping Ohio State for a vacated playoff spot, such a scenario remains highly unlikely given Alabama’s two losses and lack of a superior resume.
For his money, head coach Ryan Day doesn’t believe Ohio State’s loss to Michigan — or the blowout manner in which it happened — should prevent his team from being in the playoff should a spot become available. Following the loss on Saturday, when asked whether or not he still believed his team is worthy of a playoff spot, Day pointed to Ohio State still being within striking distance midway through the fourth quarter.
“I thought we were in it, and we were fighting there at the end,” Day said. “It obviously got out of control down the stretch, but it wasn’t like we were outmatched in terms of overall play, I don’t think.”
Day added, “As we get to those (playoff) decisions, I think you gotta look at the body of work and what we’ve done. We’ve got a lot of good pieces on this team. We came up short today, but I think if we were able to get a shot in the top four, we’d be a dangerous team.”
The final CFP rankings and bowl matchups will be revealed on ESPN on Sunday beginning at noon.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.