With Ohio State leading Wisconsin by a field goal in the final minutes of Saturday’s Big Ten championship game, the Buckeyes had the chance to make a door-slamming statement.
Fourth-and-1. Ball on the 3-yard line. May the better man win.
A national championship contender goes for it there, but don’t take it from me.
Center Billy Price and Ohio State made a strong case for the playoffs, but really have no room to complain after not making it in.
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“My athletic director at Florida [Jeremy Foley] used to always tell me, ‘If you can’t get [one yard], you’re not a championship team,’” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said after the Michigan game last year. “We used to talk about that all the time, and I agree with him. If you can’t get that, we’re not a championship team anyway.”
This time, Ohio State settled for the field goal, and the playoff selection committee agreed.
The Buckeyes are not a championship team.
That was the verdict of the 13-man panel charged with choosing between the Apple and IBM of college football — Ohio State (11-2) and Alabama (11-1) — for the fourth and final playoff spot.
No argument here.
I thought the committee would roll with the Big Ten champion Buckeyes, on the premise the best team in what it judged the best league deserved favor over a second team from the Southeastern Conference.
The case was sound. Ohio State won its conference; Alabama did not win its division. Ohio State had two top-10 wins; Alabama had none. Ohio State played 13 FBS teams; Alabama played 11. Ohio State beat the nation’s lone unbeaten Power Five on championship weekend; Alabama watched.
The inclusion of a team without a single big or medium large win — a home victory against three-loss LSU was Alabama’s best chip — no doubt sets an uneasy precedent.
Yet in this best-vs-most-deserving debate between two flawed teams, there was no right answer.
Ohio State has nothing to apologize for — a Big Ten title is a great achievement — but also no grounds to complain. The Buckeyes could have survived a blowout home loss to Oklahoma. They even could have lived through a 31-point flailing at 7-5 Iowa. They could not withstand both, the latter of which proved a scarlet letter tattooed on their forehead, unexplainable and, for the committee, unforgivable. (As for the suggestion Ohio State’s snub sends the message not to play anyone out of conference, it works both ways. Last year, the Buckeyes made the playoffs as a non-division champion because of their win at Oklahoma.)
One man’s opinion: Alabama — which oddsmakers confirm would be favored against every team in the country — is better than Ohio State. More deserving? Not sure. Better? Yes. I had Alabama fourth and the Buckeyes fifth on my AP Top 25 ballot, submitted early Sunday.
Now this is not to applaud the committee, which did its part in propagating the charade that are the weekly made-for-TV selection shows. (How much time did ESPN need to “build its graphics” as the network kept delaying the release of the final rankings? Don’t treat us like morons.)
As if manufacturing the suspense last week, chairman Kirby “No New Taxes” Hocutt said there was “very little separation in the committee’s eyes” between Ohio State and Alabama.
So on Tuesday, Alabama and Ohio State were “very close.” On Saturday, Ohio State beat the fourth-ranked team in the country on a neutral field. On Sunday, Alabama was “unequivocally better.” Life comes at you fast.
I still suspect Ohio State would be playoff-bound with a better championship game win, if such things exist. The kind of performance a Buckeyes team on a different planet from Wisconsin athletically looked on the brink of delivering.
It is hard not to wonder if the Buckeyes should have played backup quarterback Dwayne Haskins, the hero understudy against Michigan.
Senior star J.T. Barrett deserved the chance to start, but six days after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, the tough Texan looked like he was dragging a refrigerator. Barrett was the most important player for both teams, his two interceptions and airmailed heaves keeping the Badgers in the game.
To the end, with Meyer uncharacteristically sidestepping a fourth-and-1 test of wills, the Buckeyes were a good team spotted just short of a championship one.
■ For what it’s worth, my full AP ballot: 1. Clemson, 2. Oklahoma, 3. Georgia, 4. Alabama, 5. Ohio State, 6. USC, 7. Wisconsin, 8. Auburn, 9. Penn State, 10. Central Florida, 11. Miami, 12. TCU, 13. Stanford, 14. Washington, 15. Notre Dame, 16. Memphis, 17. Oklahoma State, 18. Michigan State, 19. LSU, 20. Northwestern, 21. Washington State, 22. Virginia Tech, 23. Toledo, 24. Boise State, 25. South Florida.
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