Ohio State won a football game on Saturday, scoring 60 points and winning by 25. It featured an absolutely dominating performance from the rushing attack, racking up 441 yards, behind 246 and 4 touchdowns from Carlos Hyde, one of the best individual performances in Ohio State history. The Buckeyes averaged over 10 yards a carry, jumped to a 28-0 lead, and if they hadn't thrown a single pass the entire game, could have probably still comfortably beaten Illinois.
It was not a flawless performance by any means. Braxton Miller wasn't his usual, poised, efficient self, perhaps because of the wind. Illinois, who came into the game with a top 25 passing offense, had some success against the Buckeye secondary when Nathan Scheelhaase was able to stay upright, and a few miscues and mental lapses let Illinois get within 12 points with 8 minutes left in the game. It would be difficult to find an honest spectator who saw the whole game and once thought Ohio State was in *serious* danger of losing. To some, going on the road and beating a team by 25 points when you clearly don't have your best stuff would be the sign of a good football team.
In fact, almost virtually every other fanbase would LOVE to have that problem. But judging from the feedback from twitter and national commentators, Ohio State does not have that luxury. It is insufficient for the Buckeyes to dispatch foes by more than three scores, employing a fully-weaponized offense that is more potent than almost any Buckeye fan has seen in a decade. The Buckeyes must accrue STYLE POINTS. I think this is all a waste of time.
The popular thinking, as I'm sure you're aware, goes something like this. Ohio State plays in the WEAK BIG TEN, and if they're going to be an ELITE football team, they need to not just beat their competition, but vaporize them. With the Buckeyes unable to notch a proverbial "quality win", their only hope is that their victories pass some sort of football beauty pageant test against other unbeaten squads like Florida State, Alabama and Baylor.
Many Buckeye fans are especially upset about this arrangement because 1) OSU has won 22 games in a row and hasn't earned any benefit of the doubt, 2) it's not their fault that Cal blows this year and Vandy bailed at the last second and 3) many Buckeye fans believe there is a massive anti-Buckeye conspiracy, propagated by major media outlets, especially ESPN, because if there is one thing a massive broadcasting company hates, it's a program with a gigantic fanbase and historic relevancy.
This is all missing the point. Here is what we all need to remember.
Style Points are 100% moot unless Florida State or Alabama lose
It doesn't matter if Ohio State beats Indiana and Michigan by a combined 200-0 score, there is no way they'll be able to make up the ground on Alabama or Florida State to get into the national title game, if all three teams win out. That ship has sailed.
Part of that is poor scheduling luck, a dead horse that has already been beaten into submission. Per Sagarin's most recent strength of schedule rankings, Florida State played the 58th toughest schedule, Alabama the 41st, and Ohio State the 72nd. If you prefer TeamRakings.com, Florida State is at 29, Alabama at 32, and Ohio State at 62. SoS is something that can actually be quantified, and by just about every measure, OSU is a step below the others.
Part of it is the fact that both Alabama and FSU have looked more consistently great over the course of the year than Ohio State. Maybe there is some poll inertia there too. Regardless, only the most diehard of Buckeye homers would try to argue with a straight face that Ohio State's on the field performance this year is greater than what Florida State or Bama have accomplished so far.
Florida State plays Idaho next week, and then a terrible Florida team with roughly 500 players in the injured reserve. They will then play in the ACC championship game, probably against..(furiously googles standings and ACC tiebreakers)...Duke? None of those teams are likely to give the Seminoles a serious threat, although anything can happen in football.
Alabama will play Chattanooga, and then a 10-1 Auburn team that after last weekend, has a bit of a "team of destiny" feel to it. Still, Alabama should probably be at least a double digit favorite in that game. Should they win both, they''ll face either South Carolina or Missouri in the SEC championship game. Both good teams, but both more than a shade below the Tide's level.
ANYTHING can happen in College Football, but I'd say the odds of either team losing down the stretch, while the Buckeyes win out, are under 50%, maybe less. Unless that happens, any arguments about style are moot. Ohio State goes to the Rose Bowl, whether they are ranked #3 or #6.
Worrying about style points also assumes that Baylor will also be undefeated
Baylor also has three games left, and it's at least conceivable that they could lose one. The high flyin' Bears have road games against Oklahoma State and TCU, and then finish their season at home against Texas. Baylor will be a strong favorite in each of those games, but with a program unfamiliar with the level of pressure that being undefeated so late in the season brings, and with at least two half decent teams on the schedule, finished undefeated is hardly a given.
So now, in order to worry about style points, we need either Bama or FSU to lose, OSU to win out AND Baylor to win out. This collection of events is not the most probable scenario.
Ohio State has a chance to make a closing statement.
It's true that wins over Indiana and at Michigan are not likely to change the minds of Buckeye skeptics, given the relative struggles of both programs this season. But one huge advantage that Ohio State has over Baylor is an extra game. Assuming OSU beats Indiana (and if we aren't making that assumption, what the hell is the point of all of this?), the Bucks will face Michigan State after the completion of the regular season.
Michigan State isn't sexy, but behind a statistically dominating defense, they don't have to be. Sparty is currently 9-1, and if they can beat Northwestern on the road and Minnesota at home, they'll finish at 11-1, and probably in at least the neighborhood of a #12 overall ranking, which would constitute a nice quality win opportunity for the Buckeyes to end the season. Ohio State has also beaten Wisconsin, which sits at #19, and has winnable games at Minnesota and against Penn State. It's quite possible that at the end of the season, Ohio State will be able to claim victories over two top 16ish, 10-win squads.
Texas plays Texas Tech before Baylor, and Oklahoma State faces Oklahoma. If the Sooners beat the Cowboys, the Bears might be without a win over a single top 25 team at the end of the year (or perhaps Oklahoma or Oklahoma State will be in around ~23). Despite all the hand-wringing over Ohio State's schedule, it is mathematically better than Baylor's, and should give them a computer point edge at the end of the day. If Ohio State isn't getting completely outclassed on the field and winning by sheer luck, I'm confident that the final polls will give the Buckeyes an advantage too.
Worrying about style points also kinda sucks as a fan
Maybe I'm particularly sensitive to this since I don't live in Columbus anymore. I'm surrounded by Northwestern, Illinois and BYU fans, all of which are completely mystified/revolted when I complain about this scenario. I don't blame them really, complaining that a three score plus margin of victory wasn't sexy enough does have a bit of a Rich Kids of Instagram feel to it.
This is not a football team that is winning with PuntGasms. It's led by an exciting offense that is one of the most explosive in recent Ohio State history. It is full of highly likable players, both young and old, and is by just about every metric, fun to watch. Why ruin that by fretting over whether every possession was ELITE? Given the unlikelihood of STYLE POINTS actually mattering, there is no point in blowing steam at ESPN, or Baylor, or point spreads, or whatever. Ohio State hasn't lost a game since before this website existed. Let's enjoy those wins for what they are, and let everything else handle itself.
And if the chips don't fall our way, and the Buckeyes end up in the Rose Bowl against Oregon or Stanford, we'll get a hell of a football game anyway. Just think. You could be a Northwestern fan.