I’ve read Matt Zemek’s story on the need for consistency in arguments for the College Football Playoff and the options that become available with each week’s results. However, while looking at Ohio State, I think that we have another option – how do you measure the team’s ability at the end of the season, rather than the entirety of its body of work.
Clearly the Buckeyes are a better team right now than they were at the beginning of the campaign when they struggled with Navy and lost to Virginia Tech. My initial thought was that Marshall (which has zero argument as far as the playoff is concerned) would be more likely to get in than a squad which fell to a team that will struggle to become bowl eligible in the next few weeks.
However, after some pondering and meditation following Saturday’s plethora of quality performances on the field, it made me think about whether right now Ohio State is one of the top four teams in the country. Though I doubt that the Buckeyes actually are or deserve to be, they bring something to the Big Ten that is lacking at times – speed. They have excellent speed all over the field and can certainly run with everyone in the country, which fits Urban Meyer like a glove.
In addition, Ohio State have a major quality win under its belt — at Michigan State on Saturday. The Buckeyes were dominant on both sides of the ball in East Lansing. The worst case scenario for Ohio State at this moment is if Nebraska falls at Wisconsin Saturday or to a much-underrated Minnesota squad the following week. If the Huskers are able to survive, they would become another potential quality win for Ohio State in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game. That would earn the Buckeyes as many quality wins as Baylor boasts, assuming that the Bears knock off Kansas State in the regular season finale. While the Big Ten lacks the overall depth of the Big 12, it isn’t that far off. Just watch the Kansas-Iowa State game from the past weekend if you need an example. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State haven’t been that great, either.
The main issue with the BCS system — leading to the call for a playoff and ultimately this year’s new system — was that the games on the field didn’t play as central a role in deciding the national champion, relative to the computers and their formulas. This playoff system represents an attempt (how good an attempt is another matter…) to make on-field results the primary shapers of the process, leaving computers behind. With this in mind, why would we not allow head-to-head games between teams on the field determine who plays for the title?
If this particular component of a team’s identity — improvement over the course of the season — could be allowed to play into the final playoff rankings, it would give a squad which plays its strongest competition at the beginning of the season a slight advantage. That would, in turn, provide an argument for scheduling tougher out of conference competition, which we all want to see as well. This would ultimately prepare a team for late-season conference competition. While Ohio State lost to a weak team out of conference, the improvement in the Buckeyes is still clear, and that is the best argument for OSU to be part of the final four.
We also know that, with the systems used by college football in the past, this truth remains in place: if you’re going to lose, it’s best to do so early. This allows the hit in the rankings to occur earlier than teams which lose in late-season conference games. As proof of this, one can cite any of the SEC West teams that have lost over the past two weeks — the drop in the rankings can be severe. On the other hand, Ohio State picking up a quality win in November at Michigan State is fresh in the committee’s mind. While this doesn’t automatically make these teams worse than the Buckeyes, the selection committee could make it a “what have you done for me lately” dynamic.
Though it is an act of comparing apples and oranges, the selection committee for the NCAA basketball tournament strongly considers higher seeds for teams who are playing their best basketball at the end of the season. This is not found in the “last 10 games” metric — no longer a part of the process, but it is definitely found in rewarding teams that win conference tournaments. I understand that the basketball season is more drawn out and football has a limited amount of contests, but the selection committee is looking to get the best teams with the best shot to win it all at this point in the season. Even now, with the call by some to extend the football playoff before the first one is ever played, committee members are looking to make it more like the basketball design.
While I do not feel that Ohio State is deserving of the nod for a playoff berth, the Buckeyes bring a fascinating argument to the table. J.T. Barrett has led the offense to at least 49 points in all but one game since the loss to Virginia Tech. The way he has been playing for the last month has caught the attention of many. Is it better to reward a team which may peak at Halloween, or a team which peaks at Thanksgiving? I know which way provides the best product on the field in the long run.
It’s something to consider as the first College Football Playoff debate moves forward.