At this very moment, the College Football Playoff selection committee is feverishly pouring over data and dogma to determine which team — Ohio State or Oklahoma — might fill the fourth and final spot inside the greenback whale that has swallowed other bowl games whole.
My advice to those tired and not-so-poor committee members? After releasing the penultimate rankings Tuesday evening, kick back and relax. I figured it out for you.
It goes like this: Show up or shut up. The team that looks better on Saturday in its conference championship game — and final score is only one metric used to evaluate overall performance — deserves a spot in the playoff.
One caveat: I’m basing my blueprint on a few assumptions, namely, that Alabama defeats Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game, Ohio State defeats Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game and Oklahoma defeats Texas in the Big 12 championship game.
I have Notre Dame already making the playoff and Clemson in after defeating Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.
If things go according to Hoyle, Alabama gets the first playoff spot, followed by Clemson, Notre Dame and either Ohio State or Oklahoma.
(If Georgia upsets Bama, you can write off the Buckeyes and Sooners. The Bulldogs are in. And so is Alabama; the Crimson Tide wins even if it loses, likely falling to fourth.)
For sake of this discussion, the committee must decide between Ohio State and Oklahoma. The Buckeyes were 10th in the CFP rankings last week before upsetting No. 4 Michigan 62-39 to qualify for the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. Expect the committee to move OSU to sixth, based on the Michigan win and No. 7 LSU and No. 8 Washington State having lost over the weekend.
As for No. 9 Central Florida, the Knights remain undefeated but were a long shot to make the playoff even before quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a season-ending leg injury Friday. The committee’s selection criteria specifies key injuries as a considering factor. Sorry, UCF, not this year (unless one-loss Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma all lose again, which is an Armageddon topic for another day).
Oklahoma currently sits sixth and should move up. I don’t see Ohio State jumping the Sooners, but it doesn’t matter. In a pick ’em situation like this, Saturday’s on-field performance should decide. Which team plays better under pressure?
Ohio State has more wins (five) against ranked teams than Oklahoma (two), including against playoff contender Michigan. The Sooners’ best win was at No. 13 West Virginia. But OU’s only loss was by three points to its rival, No. 19 Texas, and they will have avenged that loss this week. Ohio State lost to unranked Purdue by 29 points. The Boilermakers needed to defeat Indiana on Saturday just to become bowl eligible.
Statistically, the teams are even enough offensively (OU first, OSU second) and defensively (OU 111th, OSU 67th) to be a wash.
Call it a dead heat overall. The committee’s biggest issue with Oklahoma is a porous defense that might get further exposed in the playoff. Ohio State’s weak point has been inconsistency. Which team would show up in the playoff? The one that embarrassed Michigan or embarrassed itself against Purdue and struggled against Nebraska and Maryland?
Ohio State needs to show it flipped the switch against Michigan, like what happened late in the 2014 season. Oklahoma needs to perform well on both sides of the ball.
It comes down to two games against ranked opponents to decide one winner. How does Oklahoma look against Texas? How do the Buckeyes perform against Northwestern? And if it’s still too close to call after Saturday, break out the analytics so the committee can earn its keep.