There’s a common trope among Ohio State fans and media that I think needs to be questioned a bit. The trope is that Ohio State’s 29-point loss to Purdue was the result of “one bad night”, and not reflective of the “true” or “real” Ohio State. I’ve seen it at least a hundred times in the last week in response to any indication that Oklahoma, or even Georgia “deserves” the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff more than Ohio State.
It’s probably true! Ohio State had a bad game against Purdue, and got blown out because of it. The defense, the game plan, and the rushing attack were worse in that game than in any other, and they got burnt for it. However, can’t the exact opposite be said about Ohio State’s dominant win over Michigan, where everything seemed to go right?
Who’s to say that the only time Ohio State looked like a national title contender all year wasn’t also a fluke, just in the other direction? Ohio State being ultra-prepared, and playing a complete game against Michigan wasn’t a return to the norms of this season, it was a departure for a team that spent the year toying with lousy opponents before pulling away late. Ohio State wasn’t at its true form against Purdue, but the exact same can be said for the win over Michigan.
So what is Ohio State in 2018? Well, if you’re taking out the two extremes, Ohio State is a team that struggled greatly with several below average teams, before ultimately winning with talent and excellent quarterback play. Ohio State is a team that needed three turnovers from a 6-6 TCU team to pull away in the third quarter after trailing 21-13 early in the second half.
Ohio State is a team that had to revert to the all screens offense against Penn State, a team that held on thanks to a baffling fourth down call by James Franklin. Ohio State is a team that went into the fourth quarter up by nine against 5-7 Indiana, six against 6-6 Minnesota, nine against 4-8 Nebraska, three against 7-5 Michigan State, and trailed 5-7 Maryland by seven. That’s five games against average to below average teams that Ohio State needed all four quarters to put away. Add in a 5-point lead over the aforementioned 6-6 TCU, and you’ve got a whopping six games decided in the final quarter against decent to bad football teams.
Is that what a national championship caliber football team does? That isn’t what Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame or Oklahoma did. They had their struggles, as every team does, but none of them had anywhere near the number of scares against average competition that Ohio State did.
That brings us to this idea of teams “deserving” to be in the College Football Playoff, and the debate that we’ve been subjected to all week of “most deserving” against “best”. Does Ohio State have a higher ceiling than Notre Dame and Oklahoma? Yeah, probably, they showed that against Michigan. However, the playoff isn’t based around highest ceiling. The playoff is based around the games played, and the four power teams that deserve to be in the playoff got in. Ohio State isn’t one of them. Just like last year, when Ohio State spent the year fluctuating between flashes of sky-high potential and rock-bottom reality.
That’s what matters in a four team playoff. It isn’t about who the “best” team is, because if it was, there’d be no point in playing the games. We’d just go off of recruiting rankings, and put Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia in. It’s based off of what you do all year, and the four teams that got in were the ones that played an elite level more consistently than any other teams. Ohio State knew that coming into the season, and once again, found itself sleep-walking through games it couldn’t afford to sleep-walk through.
Right or not, the playoff is about style points. It’s about not just beating the teams in front of you, but destroying them, leaving no doubt about who the superior team is. Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma did that, and Ohio State didn’t. That’s why those teams “deserve” to be in, and Ohio State doesn’t.
So what does Ohio State deserve? Exactly what they got. The Buckeyes are a very good team, probably the fifth or sixth best in the country, and they’re headed to the Rose Bowl. They aren’t going to compete for a title, and that’s fine, because they don’t deserve to compete for a title.
They deserve to play a very good team, which Washington is, in a very pretty and historic stadium. They deserve to represent the Big Ten in Pasadena, to experience the festivities, to enjoy the entire package that the Rose Bowl offers. It isn’t a playoff berth, but it’s a damn good consolation prize, and a fitting one, because Ohio State isn’t a playoff team. They’re a very good team, and they’re going to play in a very good bowl, against another very good team.