Path To The College Football Playoff: Ohio State Buckeyes
What does Ohio State have to do to get to the College Football Playoff?
What’s Ohio State’s path to get to the College Football Playoff?
Yeah, Ohio State’s terrific 2016 season ended with a resounding 31-0 thud, but the norm of the College Football Playoff world is that sometimes, things just don’t quite work.
To put that all-timer of a Fiesta Bowl clunker loss to Clemson nicely.
But at least Ohio State was there. At least it made it two CFP runs in three years, and as good as last season’s team was, those other three teams in the tournament are going to be pretty good, too, and the Buckeyes ran into the best of the bunch.
Fortunately for OSU, the pieces are still in place to get back into the mix again, and maybe this time, this will have the hot team at the hot time.
Once again, there’s another high-end talent turnover. Once again, Ohio State is going to get everyone’s best shot. Once again, the expectations are going to be there to get into the CFP, or the season is going to be a relative bust.
Once again, there’s a real shot at winning the national title, and coming into the season with the hopes that just a few other programs can realistically have.
To get back for a third time in four seasons, what’s Ohio State’s path to the College Football Playoff?
Step One: Quickly Adjust The Offense
Even with new players in key spots, the next-level talent and athleticism will be there at the skill positions around J.T. Barrett, and the linemen will be as good as always. Now the job is to become more dynamic under new offensive coordinator and former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson, with better pacing, more downfield passing, and more consistency.
It’s not like last year’s O was bad – finishing averaging 459 yards and 39 points per game with a good balance – but it stumbled late in a tight win over Michigan State, for about three quarters against Michigan, and then got skunked by Clemson. Granted, those were three excellent defenses, but Ohio State’s attack is supposed to roll no matter what. To get back to the College Football Playoff – and to win it – the offense needs to be even better.
How good was the offense when the Buckeyes won the whole ball of wax at the end of the 2014 season? It averaged 512 yards and 45 points per game – over 50 yards and six points per game more than last year. And, remember, the real key was the timing – it got better as the year went on, scoring 42 points or more in each of the last five games and in seven of the last eight. Being great late matters, but this year it has to …
Step Two: Get Hot Early
The season opener at Indiana is more dangerous than it might appear. It’s on the road on a Thursday night against what should be among the best Hoosier defenses in years. Throw in the Kevin Wilson factor for even more motivation – and the always-concerning first game factor – and it’ll be interesting.
And then comes the showdown against Oklahoma. The Sooner offense will be devastating again, while the defense will be even better than last year’s. Get out of the first two games 2-0, and that’s fine. Get out 2-0 with two dominant performances, and look out.
Step Three: After Indiana & Oklahoma, Win The Next Four Ugly
Remember, Ohio State didn’t get to the College Football Playoff last season because it won anything – it didn’t win the Big Ten title or take the East outright. It got in because it won big games over Oklahoma, Michigan and Wisconsin, and it applied an atomic wedgie to just about everyone else.
Looks matter. The 2015 team struggled against the mediocre, and it didn’t get the benefit of the CFP doubt. Last year, the Buckeyes rolled Rutgers 58-0, destroyed Maryland 62-3, and ripped through Tulsa and Bowling Green by a combined score of 125 to 13. This year, OSU needs to rip apart Army, UNLV, Rutgers and Maryland with ease.
Ohio State – look the part.
Step Four: Flex Muscle On The Road
Ohio State is always going to be everyone’s circle-on-calendar game, and there doesn’t need to be any more motivation at home for Nebraska and Iowa. Assuming everything else goes right early and the Buckeyes are 6-0, blowout the Huskers in Lincoln, and get past the Hawkeyes in Iowa City, and the resume will be built up again like last year in case there’s a wrong loss along the way. Those road dates at Nebraska and Iowa are sandwiched around …
Step Five: Penn State
The nice part about the schedule is the run of three home games in four weeks, starting with the date against the Nittany Lions in Columbus. The revenge factor will be played up, but more importantly, Ohio State can’t lose to Penn State for a second year in a row and reasonably hope to get back to the College Football Playoff.
The date at Iowa comes next, and then home games against Michigan State and Illinois. The Spartans will almost certainly be far, far better, and the showdown that was so huge in 2014 and 2015 could turn into yet another tight battle, but the Penn State game will get the most attention.
Step Six: Beat Michigan … Again
Michigan isn’t going to be as good as it was last season, and its schedule isn’t as favorable. Assuming Ohio State is unbeaten in Big Ten play going into the regular season finale in Ann Arbor, there’s a chance this game doesn’t matter if the Wolverines lose two conference games – it’s possible with road games at Wisconsin and Penn State and the always-tough date vs. Michigan State. However, win it, and the Buckeyes are almost certainly going to be in the Big Ten Championship.
Step Seven: Win The Big Ten Title
There’s a shot Ohio State would still get in if it’s 12-1 without a Big Ten title, but that’s playing with fire. On the flip side, the Buckeyes would absolutely get into the College Football Playoff if they’re 12-1 with a Big Ten Championship. They might have caught a break by getting a CFP nod without even taking the Big Ten East, but those were special circumstances.
So … What Are The Chances Ohio State Gets Into The 2017-2018 College Football Playoff?
Terrific. There’s a basic assumption now that the Buckeyes simply reload under Urban Meyer and everything keeps on rolling.
This year, OSU should be the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten title, but that doesn’t mean that Penn State, Michigan, Iowa and Michigan State aren’t going to be dangerous. Throw in the Oklahoma game, and a possible Big Ten Championship to deal with, and it’s not an automatic to get to 12-1.
But it’s Ohio State. If it’s not at least 12-1 with a trip to Pasadena for the CFP – and not the Rose Bowl – it’ll be a lost year.