All it took was one potentially season-defining win for Ohio State. Because of it, the 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee will finally have a debate — and it should be a good one.
Oklahoma or Ohio State? It’s a choice between two teams that have been defined as much by their flaws as their biggest wins.
For three straight weeks, we have stared at the same top four: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 4 Michigan. That will likely change Tuesday in the committee’s fifth of six rankings, as Ohio State’s 62-39 home win over rival Michigan on Saturday should knock the Wolverines out of the fourth spot, opening the door for No. 5 Georgia to move up. In the bigger picture, though, the No. 10 Buckeyes thoroughly embarrassed Michigan, setting the stage for the fourth spot to boil down to a difficult decision on Selection Day if both Ohio State and Oklahoma win their conference titles. Or maybe both will be left out.
Should Alabama lose a close game to Georgia in the SEC championship game, the Bulldogs likely would finish in the top four as SEC champs, but the committee also would consider one-loss runner-up Alabama for a semifinal spot at the expense of both the Big 12 and Big Ten champions.
Where the Buckeyes and Sooners are ranked on Tuesday could foreshadow the fourth spot on Selection Day. It won’t be a definitive answer, but it certainly would shed some insight into which way the committee might lean on Dec. 2. The Big 12 championship game will be an opportunity for Oklahoma to show the committee it can beat Texas and avenge its only loss of the season — a 48-45 setback in Dallas on Oct. 6. Should Texas win again, the Big 12 likely would be eliminated from consideration because the Longhorns have three losses.
Ohio State’s last chance to impress the selection committee will be against a ranked Northwestern team in the Big Ten championship, and how both OU and Ohio State look on Saturday — dominant or fortunate — could matter.
Ohio State has spent all season trailing Oklahoma in the CFP rankings and was also jumped by undefeated UCF, which moved up to No. 9 last week, but the Buckeyes just manhandled the committee’s No. 4 team, outplaying the Wolverines in what was easily their most impressive performance of the season and on the biggest stage. Dwayne Haskins became the first player to throw for five touchdowns against Michigan. Ever!
Haskins said the Buckeyes showed “we some bad boys.”
“We’re explosive, we’re gonna make some plays and, honestly, we’re blessed, man,” Haskins said after the game. “We have a lot of ball to play left, and we can get so much better. That’s the scary thing about it, and once we get it all figured out, we’ll be pretty dangerous.”
It was arguably the first time this season that Ohio State even remotely resembled a top-four team. The Buckeyes have been heavily criticized for their 49-20 loss at unranked Purdue, a team that finished 6-6. They also were fortunate to beat eight-loss Nebraska, they won ugly at Michigan State, and the defense was like a sieve in a 52-51 overtime win at Maryland last week. All of that will surely be part of the conversation in the committee meeting room on Sunday.
Until Saturday, there wasn’t much if any comparison between Ohio State and Oklahoma.
Ohio State has the better win — but the worse loss.
Oklahoma has the better offense — but a worse defense.
Both teams have three wins against Power 5 opponents with winning records, including two CFP Top 25 teams. They are extremely close in ESPN’s strength-of-record metric, as the average Top 25 team would have just an 8 percent chance of going 11-1 or better against Ohio State’s opponents and a 10.8 percent chance to do the same with the Sooners’ schedule.
Both have electric quarterbacks who have shouldered their teams to this point. They also have a common opponent in TCU, a factor the committee considers, and even that was somewhat similar, as Ohio State’s defense allowed the Horned Frogs 28 points and the Sooners allowed 27.
The Sooners’ 59-56 win on Friday night over West Virginia was their best of the season … but Ohio State’s win on Saturday was better.
Last week, selection committee chair Rob Mullens was asked specifically about the separation between Ohio State and Oklahoma, and he said, “We don’t put measurements of separation.”
“When we look at their full body of résumés, with Oklahoma we see one of the top offenses in the country with a dynamic quarterback, understanding that their defense struggles and their only loss is to a ranked Texas team on a neutral site,” Mullens said. “We understand Ohio State has a quality road win over Penn State. They keep finding a way to win, a close overtime win at Maryland, again, with their offense carrying the weight.”
Oklahoma has surrendered at least 40 points in four straight games — and still won all of them. No other team in the AP poll era had even won three straight when allowing 40 points. Ohio State is slightly above the FBS average in defensive efficiency (48th at 61.2 entering Saturday), while Oklahoma is 90th at 42.1.
On the flip side, no offense has been more productive than the Sooners’. Oklahoma’s 97.1 offensive efficiency would be the highest in the 14-year history of the metric (edging last year’s Sooners).
Mullens said the committee recognizes OU’s defensive struggles, but “that’s balanced by the dynamic offense that they have and their ability to find a way to win riding that offense.”
The question is whether the Sooners can ride it into the top four.