The College Football Playoff Selection Committee released its penultimate rankings Tuesday night, and they looked like most expected them to: Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame held their spots in the top three, and Georgia slid into the fourth spot, replacing Michigan.
The biggest question was whether Oklahoma would remain ahead of Ohio State or if the Buckeyes’ blowout victory over Michigan would be enough to propel it past the Sooners. Well, it wasn’t. Oklahoma remained ahead of Ohio State, checking in at No. 5 with OSU right behind it at No. 6. That means that it’s going to be difficult for the Buckeyes to get past the Sooners for a playoff spot, no matter what they do against No. 21 Northwestern.
The reason is that the committee showed its cards when it comes to what they’re putting the most weight behind when it comes to evaluating these teams. If you were to compare the resumes of Ohio State and Oklahoma, the Buckeyes clearly have a stronger set of wins. They’ve beaten No. 7 Michigan by 23 points and picked up a close road win against No. 12 Penn State. At the moment, Oklahoma’s most impressive win is a narrow road victory over No. 16 West Virginia, and it’s next-best win is a 10-point road win over No. 23 Iowa State. So, using the committee’s own rankings, Ohio State has two wins better than any single win the Sooners have.
The difference is the quality of each team’s loss. Oklahoma lost to No. 14 Texas by three points on a neutral field. Ohio State lost to 6-6 Purdue by 29 points. Had Ohio State only lost to Purdue by a touchdown, it’s likely ranked ahead of the Sooners right now, but it’s difficult to look past the way the Buckeyes were embarrassed in that game.
You could also point to Ohio State’s close calls with 5-7 Maryland and 4-8 Nebraska. If Maryland converts on a two-point conversion, the Buckeyes aren’t even in the conversation right now. Of course, if you’re going to bring up the games in which Ohio State struggled, you also have to mention that Oklahoma has a few of its own. It was a rivalry game, sure, but if not for a failed two-point conversion the Sooners would have lost at home to a 6-6 Oklahoma State team. There was also the five-point win over a 5-7 Texas Tech and that overtime win over Army.
Clearly, both of these teams have flaws.
But while Oklahoma may have flaws, it doesn’t have an embarrassing loss. And that’s why the Sooners’ road to the College Football Playoff seems pretty clear. They need No. 1 Alabama to beat No. 4 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, and they need to beat the Longhorns. If Georgia beats Alabama, they’re likely out no matter what happens against Texas because it’s hard to imagine a one-loss Alabama falling out of the top four.
If you’re Ohio State, you need to do a lot. Not only do you need Georgia to lose, but you can’t just beat Northwestern, you have to dominate it like you did Michigan. You can’t even leave any semblance of a doubt because that 29-point loss is hanging around your neck and it’s heavy. You also need Oklahoma to lose to Texas, because if your two top 12 wins aren’t good enough to overcome Oklahoma now, it’s hard to imagine beating No. 21 Northwestern will be enough to outweigh Oklahoma adding a win over No. 14 Texas to its resume.