After Ohio State lost to Michigan State in devastating fashion, it seemed like all hope was lost. Then came the realization that they could still make the Big Ten Championship game with a Penn State upset over the Spartans during rivalry week. When those hopes were dashed, the Buckeyes' repeat playoff dreams became even more remote.
But don't count the Buckeyes out yet.
If this week's championship games break just right, Ohio State might back their way in to the playoff conversation for the playoff committee: a North Carolina and/or Florida upset, combined with a USC win over Stanford, might be enough for the Buckeyes to get in. But unless there are some 59-0 beatdowns this week, there's an argument for including Ohio State in the playoff discussion unless Alabama and Clemson both win this week.
The chances of the upsets are remote and there are good reasons to keep Ohio State out of the discussion, but what evidence supports another Buckeye-filled (with, in all likelihood, two Big Ten teams) playoff?
Here's one perspective
Turned in my playoff top 4 to @FOXSports. 1.Clemson 2. Oklahoma 3. Michigan St 4. Ohio State. SEC is an overrated mess. Sorry Bama.— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) November 30, 2015
My reasons for including Ohio State have nothing to do with the SEC or Alabama.
The Playoff Selection Committee values conference championships, quality wins (which, along with margin of victory over >.500 teams, theoretically comprises their often-cited "body of work" analysis), and to a lesser extent, quality losses. The Buckeyes won't have a conference championship, have few quality wins, and their body of work looks a little lacking at first glance.
But breaking down the advanced stats paints a different picture.
What the advanced stats say about Ohio State
Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman debated Ohio State's playoff chances on a recent episode of The Audible, the Fox Sports college football podcast. Bruce argued that one quality win over Michigan wouldn't be enough in the eyes of the committee and including the Buckeyes (barring total chaos this weekend) would be totally based on last year's championship. Mandel said that it would have to be based on what Dave Wannestedt calls the Parking Lot metric -- just that Ohio State's players look better (but their on-field play hasn't matched their looks). I don't think that's all the way true.
Looking at all of the advanced statisticaly rankings out there, Ohio State is either ranked fourth, fifth, or higher in six different opponent-adjusted measures of how good a team is. Despite the Buckeyes not having very many "quality wins" or high margins of victory, they nonetheless consistently rank among the top four teams in the country. Take a look:
Even the completely opaque ESPN Football Power Index has the Buckeyes at third in the country.
What all of the metrics indicate is that the numbers -- empirical, unbiased data points -- think that the Buckeyes are among the top four teams in the country. It's certainly not because of their strength of schedule, where Ohio State has faced the 81st-most difficult schedule according to FEI. They are 1-1 versus top-30 Sagarin teams. Despite failing to cover most spreads this year, Power Rank has them with the second-highest predicted margin of victory versus average teams (by 20 points). Looking at the S&P+ numbers, Ohio State is in the top 15 on both sides of the ball -- something Michigan State, Stanford, and North Carolina can't say.
Numbers, even advanced stats, shouldn't be the entire conversation. Wins and losses matter. But you don't need an eye test or to just look at last year's championship to make an argument for the Buckeyes in the playoff.
Of course, the advanced stats rankings fluctuate week-to-week. Ohio State isn't playing this week, and so the teams ranked behind them in most polls -- and I'm specifically talking about Michigan State, Stanford, and North Carolina -- have an opportunity to rise in the polls where Ohio State does not.
Regardless, it's not far fetched to have the Buckeyes in the playoff discussion, Big Ten Champions or not.