Hayes: Alabama or Ohio State? We're 1 key loss from an epic debate for No. 4 in the Playoff
We get it, you’ve got Alabama PTSD. Hang tight, it’s almost over.
The window is closing quickly on Alabama’s chances to earn a spot in the Playoff. The program that has dominated college football like no other for 15 years, is staring at watching the Playoff from home.
So is Ohio State.
The thought of both happening is utterly delicious (even if no one in the current top 4 wants anything to do with Alabama in a Playoff game).
Only the unthinkable — on the field and off the field — will get Alabama into the Playoff. Ohio State’s road — despite a 22-point home loss last weekend to Michigan — isn’t nearly as difficult.
Both will benefit from what they’ve done in the past as much as what they’ve done this season. Because if both are judged on what they’ve done in 2022, neither should be in the Playoff.
The current top 6 of the Playoff poll: Georgia, Michigan, TCU, USC, Ohio State, Alabama.
The key to the ranking: Selection committee chairman and NC State athletic director Boo Corrigan said, “It was a tough decision” to put Ohio State ahead of Alabama.
In other words, there’s wiggle room depending on what happens this weekend.
“That’s something that’s out of our control,” Alabama quarterback Bryce Young said after last weekend’s Iron Bowl. “That’s up to the people who decide.”
While we don’t know what the College Football Playoff selection committee is thinking, we can use previous comments (and previous seasons) as a road map.
First, history: No one has made more Playoff appearances (or won more championships) than Alabama. If this were any other 2-loss team that hadn’t won their own division, much less conference, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
But because Alabama has been the standard for nearly 2 decades, the Tide get the benefit of the doubt. It’s hard to argue with this:
- 2017: national champion.
- 2018: national runner-up.
- 2019: missed Playoff.
- 2020: national champion.
- 2021: national runner-up.
Meanwhile, there’s Ohio State, which hasn’t exactly been the darling of the Playoff since winning it all in 2014. But it’s that season — when Ohio State was given the final 4th spot over TCU and Baylor in the inaugural season of the Playoff and won it all — that changed the narrative about the Buckeyes and the postseason.
Ohio State lost to Penn State in the 2016 regular season, and didn’t win the Big Ten East Division. Penn State, meanwhile, won the Big Ten — but 1-loss Ohio State was selected over 2-loss Penn State (remember that for next week’s final committee ranking).
In 2020, the Big Ten changed its return to play rules midstream to get the Buckeyes in the conference championship game and forge a way to get Ohio State in the Playoff — where it was crushed by Alabama in the national title game.
Now we fast forward to this season, and the chaos scenarios that get Alabama and Ohio State closer to a Playoff neither deserves.
Neither are division winners. Alabama (10-2) has 2 last-play losses (at No. 7 Tennessee, at No. 14 LSU) and 1 Top 25 win (No. 24 Mississippi State), while Ohio State (11-1) was pummeled at home by No. 2 Michigan, and has Top 25 wins against Penn State (No.8) and Notre Dame (No. 21).
How does each team get in? This is where it gets dicey.
Ohio State’s Playoff battle:
— If TCU wins the Big 12 and USC loses to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the odds of the Buckeyes advancing to the Playoff increase significantly.
In this scenario, the Buckeyes’ competition is 2-loss Alabama and 2-loss USC, with the strength of schedules being relatively similar and no conference championships among the 3.
Projected field: Georgia, Michigan, TCU, Ohio State.
— If TCU loses and USC wins, Ohio State’s competition is then 1-loss TCU. Ohio State would have 2 wins over Top 25 teams, and TCU would have 2 (Texas, Big 12 champion Kansas State).
This scenario likely leans TCU, which should be given credit for a 12-0 regular season, and playing an extra game Ohio State did not have to play. But the pull of Ohio State will be hard to ignore.
Projected field: Georgia, Michigan, USC, TCU.
Alabama’s Playoff battle:
— TCU and USC both lose in championship games, and LSU beats Georgia. That scenario gives more weight to Alabama’s losses: the Tide will have lost to No. 7 Tennessee and SEC champion LSU (likely as high as No. 8). USC will have lost to likely top-10 Utah twice.
Projected field: Michigan, Georgia, TCU, Alabama.
And the most chaotic scenario …
Welcome, everyone, to the nuclear option. Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC lose on Championship Weekend. This is the worst possible scenario for TCU, which should be chosen over Ohio State in the previous head-to-head.
This time won’t be as easy. If Purdue and LSU win conference championship games, that leaves a foundation that both the SEC and Big Ten are far and away the best conferences in the game.
And that — here’s the key — produces a narrative that those 4 teams went through more difficult roads to get to the final week.
Projected field: Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, Ohio State.
“Strength of schedule is based on the entire season, over the body of work,” Corrigan said. “We’ll go back and evaluate (every schedule) on a case-by-case basis. Make sure we have everything that goes into it.”
Of course, chalk can hold this weekend — all favorites win — and nothing changes for the final ranking. In that scenario, Georgia plays TCU in the Peach Bowl Playoff semifinal, and Michigan plays USC in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal.
But where’s the fun in that?