It offends every fiber of my core that a team could completely no-show in its final game, sit on its ass during championship weekend and be rewarded with a playoff spot.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) December 3, 2022
Ohio State was given an early Christmas present on Friday night when the Utah Utes trounced USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game by a final of 47-24. Lincoln Riley’s Trojans led 17-3 early in the second quarter and looked to be en route to a dominant victory that would easily lock up their spot in the College Football Playoff. Instead, Caleb Williams got banged up, and Utah would go on to outscore USC 44-7 the rest of the way. Now with two losses and no conference title to show for it, the Trojans will almost certainly be booted from the top four in favor of the Buckeyes in Sunday’s final rankings.
Of course, the timeline was immediately flooded with Ohio State fans thrilled that their team would now get a chance for redemption. On the flip side, there were also more than a fair share of Grinches upset that the Buckeyes will backdoor their way into the CFP after their showing against Michigan their last time out. While I understand the frustrations there, I am here to tell those people that they are mad at the wrong things.
The biggest complaint I've seen by annoying national media folk like Dan Wolken is that USC is being punished for playing an addition game against a highly-ranked opponent while Ohio State got to take the week off. On paper, this may seem true, but in this specific case there is more than meets the eye.
A quick look at USC’s resume and you will find that the Trojans were lucky to even be here in the first place. Their regular season schedule — one which saw them avoid both Oregon and Washington in-conference — doesn’t have a single ranked win until the last two weeks of the regular season, where they scored a three-point victory over UCLA (17th in the latest CFP rankings) and an 11-point win over Notre Dame (21st). They also had a previous loss to Utah (at the time 20th, now 11th) on the road, and several wins by one score to lesser opponents (Oregon State, Arizona and Cal) — although the Beavers went on to finish the season ranked as well (15th).
Let’s compare that to Ohio State. The Buckeyes feature an identical 11-point win over Notre Dame as the Trojans do, but add a 13-point victory over a Penn State team that is currently ranked No. 8 in the country. While the rest of their schedule isn’t exactly a murderers row, they took care of business in beating every team in their path by double-digits leading into the Michigan game. Their only loss, albeit a bad one, was to the current No. 2 team in the nation in the final contest of the regular season.
What about how these two teams actually stacked up on the field? Well, for all the hype about Lincoln Riley’s high-flying offense led by Caleb Williams, USC sits just one spot ahead of Ohio State nationally with the 5th-ranked total offense (499.8 YPG) to the Buckeyes’ 6th (492.7). OSU, in fact, is better in scoring offense, ranking 2nd in the country (44.5 PPG) ahead of USC two spots behind (41.1). Defensively, there is no competition. The Trojans were one of the worst defensive units in all of FBS, ranking 102nd overall allowing 415.1 yards per game. Ohio State, conversely, ranks 12th, allowing 303.9 yards per game.
So, it was arguably Ohio State who had the better resume heading into championship weekend. If USC had avenged their loss over Utah and won the Pac-12, they would be unequivocally ahead of the Buckeyes on Sunday. Instead, the Trojans failed to add that final bullet point to surpass OSU. This is not them being punished for playing an additional tough game, and those that are looking at it that way are seeing it from the wrong angle. This was USC’s chance to prove that they belonged in the CFP and that they weren’t just turnover luck merchants with a flashy QB. They didn’t get the job done.
Now, is there a chance that Ohio State gets blown out by Georgia in the first round if everything else goes according to plan? Absolutely! I still have zero faith in Ryan Day to adequately prepare his team for a big game and not shit his pants with awful play calls when times get tough. That being said, you should be mad at the system, not at the Buckeyes. There is simply no other team that has put itself in position to take that No. 4 spot, unless you want to reward a two-loss Alabama team without a single impressive win on the year. If roles were reversed, I bet you wouldn’t see as many people pining against the Tide to make the College Football Playoff.
At the end of the day, we won’t have to worry about any of this stuff once the College Football Playoff field expands to 12 teams in the not-so-distant future, so there’s really no use in getting worked up about it. Ohio State will either get a chance to knock off the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs or a shot to avenge its loss against Michigan — or perhaps both, if things break the right way! What they do with this opportunity remains to be seen, but as things stand the Buckeyes are the only team in the country with a real argument for that final spot.