Based just on our Twitter mentions, I know that this is a question that folks have very differing opinions on, and honestly, I think that there are all wholly valid. Even though the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes came into their regular season finale undefeated, the road getting there was still incredibly fraught, and the fraughtness only escalated to 11 after getting beat by Michigan for the second year in a row.
However, despite a maddening loss to their rivals, the Buckeyes are still very much alive for a berth into the College Football Playoff. Their easiest path would be for the Utah Utes to beat the USC Trojans in the Pac-12 Championship Game tonight on FOX at 8 p.m. ET. If the Men of Troy do win, the Buckeyes will still have a chance if the Kansas State Wildcats can beat the TCU Horned Frogs in Saturday’s Big 12 title game at 12 noon ET.
But the question for many Buckeye fans is, do you want to see Ohio State make the playoff after obviously being a less-than-complete team with glaring issues that we have covered ad nauseam over the course of the past week?
Thinking about this reminds me of a somewhat similar situation four years ago. In 2018, the final season under former head coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes were a pretty poor defensive team that lost to an unranked Purdue squad 49-20 and needed to avoid a two-point conversion in overtime to survive at Maryland 52-51.
Following OSU’s 45-24 win over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game, I wrote — much to the consternation of many OSU fans — about the fact that I would prefer not to see the Buckeyes make the CFP because I thought that the Buckeyes were significantly behind the top teams in the country — Alabama and Clemson — and I was worried that having a repeat of OSU’s 2016 semifinal, Fiesta Bowl beatdown to Clemson could have a significantly negative impact on the program.
Now, I believe wholeheartedly in not trying to tell other people how to be a fan, but for me, I am in a completely different mindset heading into Championship Weekend. With all of my heart (and maybe 50% of my brain), I want Ryan Day and his team to have a go at the title this season.
There are some cynical arguments that I imagine some folks could have about another loss — especially to Jim Harbaugh — could hasten a move to replace the OSU head coach, but that is absolutely no part of my rationale here. Instead, I look at the landscape in college football and I do not believe that there is a dominant team in the bunch, and every team capable of making the CFP is substantially flawed. The Buckeyes might be amongst the most flawed, but there is no team that I am terrified for them to play, especially if you remove the names from the jerseys.
Obviously, there are emotional reasons to be worried about a rematch with the Wolverines, but I did not come out of that game thinking that they were an unbeatable team. It was essentially neck-and-neck through three quarters and in the final frame, the home team lost the plot and the coaches essentially forgot what their team was actually good at.
Do I feel confident that the coaches could turn around a better performance in the playoffs against Michigan, Georgia, USC, or TCU? Absolutely not, but I think it is certainly possible.
I still believe that the Buckeyes are the most talented team in contention for a CFP berth, and most of their issues this season, in my opinion, have been due to injuries and borderline coaching malfeasance. Of course, the players aren’t without blame, as they are the ones on the field, but you expect college players to make mistakes — sometimes major ones — that’s part of the sport. But, in my humble blogger-brain opinion, it has been the coaching staff, especially Day, who has been the biggest disappointment of the season.
I have written extensively about my belief that the head coach is long overdue to give up playcalling, but I also think that his insistence on proving the 2021 postgame comments from Harbaugh and former Michigan offensive coordinator wrong was just as damaging.
Day wanted to make his team into a “tough” power-running team, despite the fact that he had constructed it so it shared more DNA with an air-raid unit than a traditional Woody Hayes three-yards-in-a-cloud-of-dust attack. I think that also trickled over to the defensive side of the ball by giving overmatched cornerbacks a chance to “man up” and play one-on-one on the outside, often to disastrous results.
However, maybe this is just wishful thinking or outright fandom foolishness, but after what we saw last weekend, given the opportunity to fix those mistakes, they have to have seen the light, right? There’s no way that Day will continue to avoid targeting the best wide receiver in the country in the second half of a game, right? There’s no way that he will favor a running back who was a linebacker at the start of November over a guy who was coming off of an impressive 100-yard performance the previous week, right? There’s no way that defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will continue to put his CBs on an island for average opposing quarterbacks to pick apart like they were high schoolers, right?
Who knows? Maybe I am giving them far too much credit, but I have to believe that given a chance at immediate redemption, this staff — especially with time to hopefully get a lineup as close to 100% healthy as possible — will do something different to put the team in a better chance to win the game, and a title.
Even if the coaches put together a perfect game plan and the injured players are all back healthy, that obviously doesn’t guarantee that the Buckeyes will win one game, let alone two. But, given the fact that the road through the playoffs is as open as it has been in recent memory, that is a risk that I, as a humble fan with literally zero impact on the on-field result, am willing to take.
I know that Twitter will be even more of the absolute hellscape that it already is should Ohio State lose to Michigan for the second time in the span of two or three games, but given what I think we know about this team and this season, I believe it is worth the risk. So, I am going all in on rooting for the Utes and Wildcats this weekend! Join me if you want, but I will completely understand if you’d prefer the Buckeyes on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday.