When three of the four five teams that entered the season ranked ahead of Ohio State won Saturday what the Buckeyes most feared became a foregone conclusion. The defending national champions would be left out of the four-team playoff.
While Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma battle for the national championship, Ohio State will be playing in a New Year’s Six Bowl Game without a chance to become the first repeat national champions since Alabama won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.
The Buckeyes were left out thanks to their 17-14 loss to Michigan State on Nov. 21, but left tackle Taylor Decker said Wednesday that he felt his team should still be in contention for a title.
“I do think when it comes down to it we are one of the four best teams in the country and that’s what’s supposed to get in the playoff, but we don’t control our own destiny right now,” Decker said. “At the end of the day it’s supposed to be the four best teams in the country competing for a championship, and I really do believe in every ounce of me that’s us.”
Each of the teams who were selected for the final four won a conference championship and with the loss to the Spartans, the Buckeyes were not able to compete for the Big Ten title.
The CFP selection committee, made up of 12 experienced members of the college football world including sitting athletic directors, college administrators and those with experience as athletes and coaches, is not obligated to select only conference champions for the final four. Though this is the second consecutive year that all four participants each won their conference championship and that is a point of emphasis in selection, the criteria are vague.
According to the CFP website, “The selection committee ranks the teams based on conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents and other factors.”
According to Jeff Sagarin’s strength of schedule rankings, Ohio State’s 12-game slate checks in 61st in the country. Clemson (42nd), Alabama (fourth), Oklahoma (19th) and Michigan State (44th) all have higher-ranked schedules.
With a mediocre schedule and no conference championship the Buckeyes were hoping that the “other factors” would take into account the eye test and how good Ohio State looked in dominating Michigan 42-13 in its final game of the season.
“The way we played Saturday (against Michigan), finally our offense came out of its shell and our defense has played well all year,” guard Pat Elflein said. “I think we can come out and do that again. We are the defending champs. I think people forget about that. I feel we have the most talented team, but it is the best team in that field that day.”
The Buckeyes might be one of the best four teams in the country. They might be the best team. But they won’t get a chance to prove it and running back Ezekiel Elliott knows that the Buckeyes have no one to blame but themselves.
“Honestly, that we had just one hiccup,” Elliott said. “The loss that we had wasn’t to a bad opponent. I think that we have learned a lot from that loss. We are kind of a different team.
“I do think we are one of the top four teams, but I don’t think that it is right for them to just put us in there because of the loss we have. To be in there, you’ve got to win out your games.”