As former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Mora infamously said, “Playoffs? Don’t talk about playoffs. You kidding me? Playoffs?”
Yes, we’ve reached December football and for the first time since 2018, Ohio State is on the outside looking into the top four of the College Football Playoff.
At least in that year, though, the Buckeyes had a shot at the Big Ten title game, something they can’t say this year after their loss to then-No. 5 Michigan Saturday, as they will be watching from their couches in Columbus and not from the sidelines of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Slotting in at No. 7 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings and no chance to extend its conference-record four consecutive Big Ten Championships, Ohio State is down and out, right?
Not exactly, because in this wild year of college football I don’t think anything is out of the realm of possibility.
“So, you’re saying there’s a chance?” Yes I am, Buckeye Nation, so here is everything that needs to happen on championship weekend for the Buckeyes to backdoor their way into their third straight College Football Playoff.
Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC Championship
The Bulldogs opened as 6.5-point favorites against their rivals from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and I expect them to cover en route to their first SEC Championship title since 2017.
No. 1 Georgia’s defense is the best in the nation and No. 3 Alabama in recent weeks has looked like it has two left feet on offense. The Crimson Tide have squeaked out wins against Arkansas and Auburn, respectively, winning by a combined nine points.
Arkansas ranks 25th and Auburn 36th — two slots ahead of Ohio State — in defensive expected points added per play. The lower the number is the better as that indicates you are taking away points from your opposition.
Where does Georgia rank on that list? First, allowing -0.315 points per play, which is over a point better than second-ranked Wisconsin.
With the game being in Atlanta, the Bulldogs should have a good home field advantage, coasting to victory.
That would make Alabama a two-loss, non-conference champion — in the same boat as the Buckeyes — but with the Crimson Tide’s loss to unranked Texas A&M Oct. 9, Ohio State should have the edge with two losses to teams playing in their conference championship.
Cincinnati loses to Houston at home in AAC title game
There’s no denying the committee hates Cincinnati. They have underranked the Bearcats in every single ranking to this point despite being one of two undefeateds this season.
No. 4 Cincinnati beat then-No. 9 Notre Dame in South Bend and throttled SMU, which currently has the 11th-best scoring offense in the country.
The American Athletic Conference does not have a neutral site championship game, so it is a true home game at Nippert Stadium for Cincinnati.
After a four-week stretch of unimpressive performances against Navy, Tulane, Tulsa and South Florida, the Bearcats have seemingly turned the corner in the past two weeks with wins over SMU and East Carolina by an average margin of 28 points.
It will be a matchup of Houston’s offense versus Cincinnati’s next-level defense. If the Cougars can prevail in a true road game to claim the conference title, I don’t see the committee — who has shown week in and week out that it doesn’t respect the Bearcats — keeping Cincinnati at No. 4.
Baylor tops Oklahoma State in rematch at “Jerry’s World”
No. 5 Oklahoma State has one of the most underrated defenses in the country. Perhaps, the stereotype that the Big 12 doesn’t play defense has plagued the Cowboys’ image, but it is up there as one of the best.
They are third in the country, trailing perennial powerhouses Georgia and Wisconsin in total defense, surrendering just 281.4 yards per game.
Oklahoma State gets after the quarterback, besting the nation with 48 sacks, aiding its fifth-best 16.4 points allowed per game.
The first time these two faced in Stillwater, Oklahoma, came under the lights at Boone Pickens Stadium, where the Cowboys prevailed 24-14.
No. 9 Baylor only managed 10 first downs that game and struggled, like many others, to move the ball against Oklahoma State.
In the rematch, the Bears will have to generate long sustaining drives to wear down the Cowboys’ defense and keep their offense off the field. Baylor junior quarterback Gerry Bohanon must improve from his 13-for-27, 173-yard performance.
The Bears can’t look too impressive, though, or else they could sneak into the fourth spot as a two-loss, Big 12 Champion.
Iowa throttles Michigan in Indianapolis
The Wolverines bullied Ohio State en route to a 42-27 victory in The Game Saturday, winning for the first time since 2011.
Ohio State’s defensive front seven got exposed in a similar way to the Oregon loss, getting manhandled at the point of attack to surrender almost 300 rushing yards.
The defensive end dominance from senior Aidan Hutchinson propelled him to the third-best Heisman Trophy odds, according to the DraftKings Sportsbook.
No. 2 Michigan’s football program, along with its fanbase, is riding the highest of highs in recent memory with its first Big Ten Championship game appearance against No. 13 Iowa Saturday.
This is a classic let-down spot.
The Wolverines are currently 11-point favorites ahead of their date with the Hawkeyes in Indianapolis, but I don’t think they’ll have the same rushing success as they did against the Buckeyes.
The victor will depend on who can control the line of scrimmage.
Iowa’s rush defense ranks better than Ohio State’s, allowing only 105 rush yards per game. Michigan, though, is not far behind, surrendering 123 yards to opposing running backs.
Hawkeyes junior running back Tyler Goodson has rushed for at least 132 yards in three of his last four games, so if he can keep up that pace, that will wear down the Wolverines’ defense and perhaps open up some play-action opportunities for junior quarterback Spencer Petras — whose -32.6 total expected points added, according to CFB Graphs, ranks 122nd in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Iowa will have to boat race Michigan to counteract all the momentum the Wolverines have gained in the past couple weeks, including a head-to-head victory over Ohio State.
If all the aforementioned scenarios happen, the College Football Playoff committee will have to allow a two-loss team into the final four. My projected top four after that would be Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and take your pick between Baylor, Iowa, the ACC champion, Alabama and Cincinnati.
With the craziness of this college football season, all I can leave you with is: buckle up and expect the unexpected.
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