There is little doubt that Ohio State is currently playing like one of the best teams in the country. The way the Buckeyes thrashed a top-10 team on its own field despite a bevy of first-quarter mistakes and a negative turnover differential hinted at a ceiling that would make all but a couple teams jealous.
And when asked about whether or not the Buckeyes belong in the playoff, players and coaches have no problems responding in the affirmative.
“I do know a championship level team,” Meyer said in his Monday press conference. “A team continues to grow like they are, like this, there's no question this is one of them.”
“We’re moving in the right direction, absolutely,” fifth-year senior right tackle Darryl Baldwin said. “To go to Michigan State and play one of the top teams in the nation and beat them the way we did, I definitely feel like we deserve a chance.”
The irony of the situation is this: without the loss to Virginia Tech, an albatross that is the reason Ohio State won’t be in the selection committee’s top four tonight, OSU may not be as good as it is today.
Weeks before the close call at Penn State prepared the Buckeyes for the challenges of a more important road game at night, the defeat at the hands of the Hokies served as a wake-up call to everyone in the program. Redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett questioned his preparation. Now, he’s described as the hardest worker on the team. The “Bear” front caused problems that have since been corrected. The deep ball helped beat Michigan State.
“They exposed us,” Baldwin said. “They exposed us to what we weren’t ready for. We knew we had to get better if we wanted to get our goals accomplished. Now, we feel like we’re on the right track. We still have to get better, obviously, but we definitely took it to another level after that.”
Nobody in that locker room wishes the loss to Virginia Tech occurred, and if the Buckeyes win out and don’t make the playoff they’ll be even sicker over a defeat that would almost certainly be a three-touchdown victory if the teams played again this season. With that being said, they have the Hokies to thank for nudging them on the path to improvement.
“We’re a very different team than we were in early September,” Baldwin said. “Our goals are always to play for championships in November, and we’re playing at a very high level right now. I understand all the other teams also are getting better every week, but I think they should definitely consider how we’ve been playing – we haven’t lost since September – and just what we’ve been doing.”
What Ohio State will soon find out as other teams continue to lose is just how much the committee will factor in a loss that looks worse with each passing week but also drifts further in the rearview mirror with each passing week.
The punitive nature of the loss remains, and rightfully so – why play the games if the results are marginalized? The 2008 USC team entered with national championship hopes, and the team with arguably the nation’s most talent finished the season with one loss (as did BCS title game participants Florida and Oklahoma). Alas, that defeat was at the hands of lowly Oregon State, and the Trojans lost their shot at the title game.
Many felt a 2007 Georgia team was playing the best football in the country by December, but the Bulldogs’ two losses (same as eventual national champion LSU) kept them out of the SEC championship game. The team that finished its season with seven straight wins – four against ranked opponents – never got to find out how it would do against the nation’s best.
There’s a chance 2014 Ohio State joins those ranks, and we’ll know more about the hill they face when the committee releases their judgment tonight. Because of what came from that loss, no team will want to face the Buckeyes in the playoff. Because of that loss, they might not have to.