Last month, I warned you, in the aftermath that Iowa debacle, that the path for Ohio State was still wide open, even though it shouldn’t be. Jason McIntyre has presented his statistical case for Ohio State over Alabama, and also pointed out that the selection criteria doesn’t include blowout losses.
We often disagree — Sports! — here, so allow this as my rebuttal, for why Ohio State should not be in, and depending on how the title games break, Alabama could be the choice. (I think if Wisconsin wins the Big Ten, and Oklahoma wins the Big 12, then they join the ACC winner and SEC winner in the playoffs and it’s fairly clean cut).
First of all, you know why blowout losses aren’t explicitly listed as a criteria? Because they shouldn’t need to be. This would be like saying that having a head coach is a criteria for selection. You know who doesn’t lose in blowout fashion? Title contenders.
Ohio State has lost two games this year by a combined 45 points: by 31 at Iowa and by 14 at home to Oklahoma. In contrast, the last ten national champs have lost eight games, by a combined 38 points. Ohio State, in 2014 in their only loss, is the only one to lose a game by 14 or more points (exactly 14). Ohio State has lost two by 14 or more this year.
Ohio State in 2014 is also the only playoff participant, since the committee started selecting them, that lost a game by 14 points. You know why we don’t typically talk about blowouts? Playoff teams don’t get blown out. They certainly don’t give up 55 points to teams that finish 7-5. And they certainly don’t do that in one of their only two games on the road against a bowl-caliber opponent.
Which brings me to the next thing with Ohio State–their supposed superior resumé (assuming of course a win over Wisconsin). I went back through the top 10 teams of the last decade to come up with a win expectation for a top team against various schedules. Home games versus road games matter. Quality of opponents matter. Over half of all losses for contenders came against other top contenders, most on the road. Contenders don’t lose at home to teams that aren’t elite. And they do lose on the road to quality bowl type teams, on occasion (you know, but not in blowouts). So the number of pitfall road games matters.
Ohio State played all their toughest games at home (which should have set them up) and played only Iowa and Michigan on the road in games that should even be in doubt for a contender.
So when I plug in the numbers, I get this:
A typical top 10 team would have 10.2 wins playing Ohio State’s schedule. A typical top 10 team would have 10.8 wins against Alabama’s.
So yes, Ohio State’s schedule was tougher, though the margin was reduced by where games against top opponents were played. But they underperformed (10 wins versus 11 for Alabama). If we add in the expected half win (neutral site against another top 10 team in Wisconsin) in the title game, then they are at 10.7 wins versus 10.8 wins and in a virtual tie.
I think there’s a pretty good case that Ohio State might be 11-1 instead, if they played Alabama’s schedule, though there are multiple road games as tough as at Iowa that Alabama faced. Conversely, though, I can’t envision Alabama going 10-2, and certainly not losing two games by 45 points, against Ohio State’s.
Of course, that assessment of average wins also includes treating the Florida State game as the win over the current 5-6 version. Alabama beat a Florida State team that had Deondre Francois, and he was injured for the rest of the year in that game. I am not one to normally go by “ranked at the time” statements because a lot of times, well, we were just wrong about how good a team was. But I think it’s intellectually dishonest to say that Alabama didn’t play a quality opponent in that season opener. They are getting penalized because they beat up an injured a Heisman candidate on a team that would have been in the Top 25 with him.
When we also consider how these teams played, well, I don’t see it for Ohio State, though I am likely to be outvoted because Conference Championships will suddenly become important now if Ohio State actually wins one. I think the interesting scenario will be if Oklahoma loses to TCU and splits with them.
TCU’s resumé isn’t on par with the other 3. But Oklahoma’s is better, because of the Ohio State game. That will be the scenario where Alabama should go over TCU and Oklahoma, where TCU’s only case over Oklahoma is that they selected the correct order to win and lose the games against OU, and where Oklahoma would have a slam dunk case over Ohio State. Well, unless Oklahoma goes out and loses by 31 and gives up 55. That’s not something a national contender should ever do.