The “H word,” as in Heisman, had a brief run for the Ohio State Buckeyes earlier this season. Then the Iowa game happened, and J.T. Barrett dropped out of contention for the trophy.
The “P word,” as in playoffs, is even more of a taboo subject this week at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center as the Buckeyes prepare for the Big Ten Championship.
While Alabama coach Nick Saban lobbied for Alabama to make the College Football Playoff after losing Saturday to Auburn, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has yet to make that pitch.
“The laser focus is on Wisconsin and nothing else,” Meyer said Sunday. “I’ll visit with our players before they visit with the media. I don’t want to hear about it on social media. Focus on your responsibility. When they do, we’re a heck of a team. When they don’t, we’re like anybody.”
The Buckeyes might have a better chance of making the playoffs than even many of their fans think. They moved from No. 9 to No. 8 in the penultimate rankings released Tuesday.
If the current ranking doesn’t change next week, No. 1 Clemson would play No. 4 Wisconsin in one semifinal, and No. 2 Auburn would play No. 3 Oklahoma in the other.
Ohio State is on the outside looking in right now, along with No. 5 Alabama, No. 6 Georgia and No. 7 Miami. However, Alabama doesn’t play this week, and it’s possible Georgia could lose to Auburn in the SEC Championship and Miami could fall to Clemson in the ACC title game.
Even with a 55-24 loss to Iowa, Ohio State’s resume looks similar to the three teams above it, according to Kirby Hocutt, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee chair.
“Those teams are close,” Hocutt said. “Very little separation in the committee’s eyes between teams five through eight.”
Hocutt said one more thing that should raise eyebrows in Columbus. While a two-loss Penn State team won the Big Ten championship last season and saw one-loss Ohio State go to the playoffs instead, it could be a different story this season if Ohio State (10-2) beats Wisconsin (12-0) in the Big Ten title game Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
“Well, obviously it would be an impressive win that Ohio State would add to their body of work,” Hocutt said. “It would also be an important designation to have on their resume when comparing them to any comparable team. That being said, that’s probably as far as I would feel comfortable going in just trying to speculate what may or may not happen this coming weekend. But obviously a conference championship being added to the resume is important when being compared to comparable teams.”
There is a possibility the final playoff spot could come down to a choice between Alabama (11-1) and Ohio State (10-2). No two-loss team made the playoffs in the first three years of the playoff era, but the committee also has yet to choose two teams from the same conference, and Alabama would likely only get in along with the SEC champion, Auburn or Georgia.
If Ohio State beats Wisconsin, it would have three better victories than Alabama’s best win. Ohio State would have wins over No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 9 Penn State and No. 16 Michigan State. Alabama’s best victories are against No. 17 LSU, No. 23 Mississippi State and No. 25 Fresno State. Obviously, the rankings of those teams could change on Sunday when the final ranking is released.
On the other hand, no team in playoff contention has a worse loss than the Buckeyes. That Iowa loss sticks out like a sore thumb and would be the biggest reason Ohio State doesn’t make the field if it beats Wisconsin.
“It’s a factor,” Hocutt said. “You know, two decisive losses sit on their resume: the Iowa loss and also the loss to No. 3 Oklahoma. That’s obviously something that’s on their resume and the committee references when we talk about Ohio State.”