It’s been an odd and uncomfortable year in Columbus. The Urban Meyer situation. A 29-point loss to Purdue. A team that seems incapable of looking like vintage scarlet and gray varieties. The Buckeyes rarely fly under the radar, yet here we are in early November and OSU’s national title chances are alive but barely mentioned.
As a practical matter, Ohio State faces a big gulf between where it is — No. 10 — and where it wants to be: in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings. But it can be overcome with some marquee wins and some help from others. Michigan State, Saturday’s opponent, earning a surprising No. 18 ranking from the committee is good news. Barring something unforeseen, Michigan will be in the top four entering the season finale. A trip to Maryland will also provide a .500 opponent.
The Buckeyes need to leapfrog six teams. It’s a tall order. Beating Michigan takes it to five. Let’s consider a scenario where Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame win out. That gives a second loss to Georgia, reducing the number to four. Oklahoma and West Virginia will likely play twice and OSU needs those two to split.
That leaves Washington State and LSU. The Cougars may very well win the Pac-12. They may also be sitting without a Top 25 win comes season’s end. LSU, at best, will be a two-loss non-conference champion. I feel very confident Ohio State will leapfrog these two on merit.
So there’s a path. There may even be a path should Oklahoma or West Virginia win out, though the committee is going to have a hard time ignoring the Purdue abomination.
This is all moot, of course, if the Buckeyes continue to play defense like they have of late. Opponents are averaging 40 points/game in the last two games and 23.8 overall. The recipe for success has been to simply outscore on the strength of Dwayne Haskins. That may not work against the Spartans and Wolverines — two of the stingiest units out there. MSU is the top rushing defense in the nation and Michigan is an all-around nightmare thanks to Don Brown.
Ohio State is a small favorite in East Lansing and will likely be a small home dog against Jim Harbaugh’s crew. Strange times.
It’s odd that Urban Meyer’s club is being pushed into the background. It’s weird that they are the hunter and not the hunted. But this strange trip could end as so many have in recent years: with a win in Indianapolis and entry into college football’s playoff.