It offends every fiber of my heart that a team could completely skip their last game, sit on their butts on championship weekend, and be rewarded with a playoff berth.
— Dan Clouds (@DanClouds) December 3, 2022
Ohio State received a Christmas present early Friday night when the Utah Utes defeated USC in the Pac-12 Championship game by a 47-24 finish. The Lincoln Riley Trojans led 17-3 early in the second quarter and looked like they were on their way to a dominating victory that would easily secure them a spot in the college football playoffs. Instead, Caleb Williams got knocked out and Utah beat USC 44-7 the rest of the way. Now with two losses and no conference title to show for, the Trojans will almost certainly be ejected from the top four in favor of the Buckeyes in Sunday’s final standings.
Of course, the timeline was immediately flooded with Ohio State fans ecstatic that their team now had a chance at redemption. On the other hand, there were also more than a fair share of Grinches unhappy with the Buckeyes making their way into the CFP after appearing against Michigan in their last outing. While I understand the frustrations out there, I’m here to tell these people they’re mad at the wrong things.
The biggest complaint I’ve seen from annoying national media like Dan Wolken is that USC is being punished for playing an extra game against a top opponent when Ohio State had to take a week off. On paper, this may seem true, but in this specific case, there is more to it than meets the eye.
A quick glance at USC’s resume and you’ll find that the Trojans were lucky to even be here in the first place. Their regular-season schedule — one that has seen them avoid both Oregon and Washington in the conference — doesn’t have a single ranked win until the final two weeks of the regular season, where they picked up a three-point victory over UCLA (17th in the latest CFP rankings) and an 11-point win over Notre Dame (21st). They also had a previous loss to Utah (then 20th, now 11th) on the road, and several wins by a score against lesser opponents (Oregon State, Arizona and Cal) – although the Beavers have finished the season ranked as well (15th).
Compare that to the state of Ohio. The Buckeyes feature an identical 11-point win over Notre Dame as the Trojans, but add a 13-point win over a Penn State team that’s currently ranked No. 8 in the nation. While the rest of their schedule isn’t exactly a killer row, they took care of business by beating every team on their double-digit way to the Michigan game. Their only loss, albeit a bad one, was against the nation’s current No. 2 team in the final game of the regular season.
What about how these two teams actually stacked up on the field? Well, for all the hype surrounding Lincoln Riley’s top-flight offense led by Caleb Williams, USC is only one spot ahead of Ohio State nationally with the 5th-ranked total offense (499.8 YPG) against the Buckeyes’ 6th-ranked (492.7). OSU, in fact, is better on offense, ranking 2nd in the nation (44.5 PPG) ahead of USC two spots behind (41.1). Defensively, there is no competition. The Trojans were one of the worst defensive units in all of FBS, ranking 102nd overall, giving up 415.1 yards per game. Ohio State, on the other hand, ranks 12th, giving up 303.9 yards per game.
So, arguably Ohio State had the best resume heading into championship weekend. Had USC avenged its loss to Utah and won the Pac-12, it would be unequivocally ahead of the Buckeyes on Sunday. Instead, the Trojans failed to add that last point to outperform the OSU. They’re not the ones being punished for playing a tough extra game, and those who see it that way see it the wrong way. It was an opportunity for USC to prove that they belonged to the CFP and that they weren’t just luck dealers with a flashy QB. They didn’t do the job.
Now, is there a chance that Ohio State will be knocked out by Georgia in the first round if everything else goes to plan? Absolutely! I still have no faith in Ryan Day to properly prepare his team for a big game and not shit his pants off with horrible play calls when times get tough. That being said, you should be mad at the system, not the Buckeyes. There’s simply no other team that’s put themselves in a position to take that No. 4 spot, unless you want to reward a two-game losing Alabama team without a single impressive win over the year. If the tables were turned, I bet you wouldn’t see so many people pining against the tide to make the college football playoffs.
Ultimately, we won’t have to worry about any of that once the college football playoff field expands to 12 teams in the not-too-distant future, so there’s really no point in getting upset on this subject. Ohio State will either have a chance to eliminate the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs or a shot to avenge their loss to Michigan – or maybe both, if things go well! What they will do with that opportunity remains to be seen, but as things stand, the Buckeyes are the only team in the country with a real case for that final spot.
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