The College Football Playoff committee had no choice, but made the correct decision in the end by selecting Ohio State as the fourth representative. Heading into conference championship weekend, the consensus across the country was Ohio State would be in the playoff with a USC loss. A defeated fan base came back from the dead, and the football program has a new lease on life.
Friday night, USC loss emphatically to Utah in Las Vegas 47-24. This was the decisive moment the Buckeyes needed for an opportunity to right their wrong, and reach their ultimate goal of winning a national title. Ohio State’s resume was poked and prodded for the 36 hours to follow, but this was not the first time. Many people spent time pandering for Alabama, using Vegas odds as evidence, but there was one data point the committee has never overlooked — the fact they have never let in a team with two losses.
At the end of the day, the arguments about the Buckeyes losing 45-23 to their rival were trumped by a 2-1 record against top-25 teams, their 11 wins being by double digits, and once again, only having one loss. Ohio State is now in their fifth College Football Playoff meaning they have now participated in more than half of the playoffs since its inception in 2014.
With a lot of recent history, this Buckeyes team will have its own story to tell, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something we can learn from the past trips and exclusions. The Buckeyes have been here before, but they still have a lot to fix if they’re going to replicate their past successes.
Ohio State has a rich history as the No. 4 seed, once being sacred to modern Buckeye lore and the other being a repressed piece of the modern era. Ohio state is once again playing a Southern power with few backers in their corner. Some people have said this is exactly where Ohio State wants to be. Their other appearances have brought mixed results, but four of the five have resulted in a season-ending loss.
Starting in 2014, the Buckeyes had an early loss to Virginia Tech, but then rode an 11-game win streak into selection day. The final data point was a dismantling of Wisconsin, 59-0, winning the Big Ten Championship. Behind the consistent play of J.T. Barrett throughout the season, the emergence of Ezekiel Elliott, and one of the most talented Ohio State defenses in school history, they were able to jump over TCU and Baylor on the final Saturday.
The difference here is the Buckeyes were peaking at the right time. They showed improvement on a week-to-week basis on both sides of the ball. When the moment came to put it all together, the rest of the team was so locked in that the transition to a third-string quarterback was seamless. The rest is history. Strong defensive performances and an all-time run from the star running back in Elliott running for 696 yards and 8 touchdowns led to a national title.
Ohio State does not have Ezekiel Elliott, but the talented backs they do have will have time to rest up and hopefully be at full strength. The Buckeyes are at their best when they are balanced, and 2014 was an example of how dangerous a balanced offense can be. They dismantled Alabama, going 85 yards through the Heart of the South, and the defense was too much for Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
If the Buckeyes commit to a balanced attack and the running backs are up to the task, their can be some noise made in Atlanta. They have shown they have the ability to get hot and go on a run.
Ohio State no-showed this time around, and the one man show on offense that was Curtis Samuel was not enough when the facing the Clemson Tigers. Clemson came into the matchup with one of the best quarterbacks in college football history in Deshaun Watson, a loaded group of receivers, and a defensive front with multiple NFL defenders.
Ohio State was overmatched immediately on both fronts, and that Clemson team was built similarly to the current Georgia team the Buckeyes will be facing. Compared to 2016, Ohio State has quite a few more weapons versus the team that lost 31-0, and that should keep this game from ending up with a scoreline like that.
That game set the course for the Buckeyes to find a new identity. Head coach Urban Meyer hired Ryan Day to be his offensive coordinator and committed to modernizing his offense. If a similar 31-0 result happens, Day might not have a job when he gets back to Columbus. But if this game shows any more weaknesses, he might finally make the necessary changes to keep his program in the conversation at the top of the sport.
The playoff rivalry against Clemson got another chapter, this time with the Buckeyes having one of the most productive offenses in the country. Led by Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins on offense, the team was the most balanced in the Ryan Day era. On defense, Ohio State had Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, Jordan Fuller, and more among the loaded cast of defenders.
The season began with the transfer of Fields. The Buckeyes started off dominant and maintained their dominant stature. On both sides of the ball they had game changing stars who could make a play at any time. Young was a Heisman contender on defense, and led the resurgence for the Buckeyes having one of the top units in the country.
Come playoff time, Ohio State had the 31-0 game heavy on their mind, but the Buckeyes came out firing. Unfortunately, an incompletion to J.K. Dobbins set the course of the misfortune Ohio State would have that day. An overturned fumble took a defensive touchdown off the board, and a targeting call on Shaun Wade had a decisive impact on the outcome.
The Buckeyes would have still needed to beat an LSU team that fielded arguably the greatest offense of all-time, but they did not even get that chance.
The most recent success for the Buckeyes was their revenge game against Clemson. For a third act, the Buckeyes finally got it right for four quarters. This game was the reason so many Ohio State fans were confident the Buckeyes would bounce back this year against Michigan. That was unfortunately not the case for Ohio State, but the difference this year is they have a chance to avenge that defeat similarly to how they avenged the loss to Clemson.
In that Covid-shortened season, Ohio State was only able to play six games and was a controversial pick for inclusion for that reason. The committee overlooked that fact and put in the four best teams. The Justin Fields led Buckeyes brought in a chip on their shoulder, multiple NFL receivers, and a defense that had showed flashes of excellence. When this Ohio State team was on, they were hard to beat.
This is what Clemson found out when Fields threw for six touchdowns, Trey Sermon added 193 yards in the ground, and the defense shoved Trevor Lawrence into a locker.
That Ohio State team did not play consistent football throughout the year and left a lot to be desired in their six wins. The defense let multiple teams back into games, but the ceiling was obvious when the Buckeyes put it all together. Once they found Trey Sermon, there was no looking back offensively and they got a hug performance from the defense.
In the national title game against Bama, we all remember the clip of Tuf Borland chasing DeVonta Smith. Need I say more?
The next opportunity
This Ohio State team has lived in its own universe, with a very different identity than the previous teams to get here. They have a top-10 defense and a top-3 offense in the country, but throughout the year this team has had long stretches of average football. The stagnation on offense and the missed assignments defensively have caused problems in the biggest games of Ohio State’s season.
But when comparing this team to past Ohio State playoff teams, there weren’t any teams with this consistent level of dominance throughout the season. Every Buckeye win was by double digits, and there were stretches where opponents saw games slip out of control in a snap. Gus Johnson has called Ohio State an avalanche with the way they just explode on teams.
The lasting impression of Ohio State was Donovan Edwards ripping off two long runs to put a nail in the coffin of Ohio State’s season. The Buckeyes now have a new lease on life and a history to add to, as Ryan Day said this team has a new energy. A possible return of Jaxon Smith-Njigba is looming, and Ohio State has a chance to be healthy. If they can reach the ceiling that many believe they came into the year with, this Ohio State team can recreate some past magic.
Having to beat Georgia and redeem a second loss to their rival is not a path any Ohio State team has taken before, but the final comparison will be drawn when we see the game on the New Year’s Eve. Then we’ll find out which category this Ohio State team will fall into. But for now, the Buckeyes have an opportunity to make history once again. The country expects a Georgia win, so Ohio State gets the rare opportunity to play the underdog.