INDIANAPOLIS — The reactions of Ohio State fans on Saturday ran the gamut from hope to resignation to relief to dispassion to disgust to California dreaming. That’s what the College Football Playoff format gets you. At the beginning, middle and end of the day you never know how you’re supposed to feel.
Because the playoff never knows what it is supposed to be.
Reward the four best teams? The four most-deserving teams? Should good wins count more than bad losses? Eyeball test or analytics? If Georgia loses, does that mean the Buckeyes win?
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My biggest problem with the playoff selection process is the ambiguity created by wishy-washy subjectivity, mixed with a lack of transparency. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln …
That’s not to say I think No. 6 Ohio State should make the playoff. I don’t. Did you watch Saturday’s Big Ten championship game? A microcosm of the Buckeyes’ season if ever there was. They defeated No. 21 Northwestern 45-24, but it was like so many other wins — Maryland, Nebraska, Minnesota — in that the offense and defense teeter-tottered into making it a closer game for longer than it should have been.
When Ohio State’s offense rolls, can even Alabama contain it? And when the OSU defense digs in, it can be … average. Is this one of the four best teams? The best anyone can claim is “maybe,” but maybe is not definitely, and the selection process is a game not of inches but itches — decisions made by hunch and feel. The committee has hinted — always hints, seldom hard-and-fast statements; always keep your options open — that No. 5 Oklahoma played a more solid, steady season. And so the Sooners are expected to secure the fourth spot.
“I think we deserve a shot,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "I know (the committee) have got a tough decision to make, because we're a heck of a football team."
Let’s be generous and say Ohio State, when playing well, might be one of the best four teams. Fine, but any debate about being the “most deserving” diminishes quickly when the 49-20 loss to unranked Purdue enters the conversation. Simply put, a playoff team should not lose by 29 points and expect its body of work to hold up against other playoff challengers. Too many of the Buckeyes’ wins were nothing special, either.
The majority of Ohio State fans realize this, thus resignation set in when Oklahoma defeated No. 9 Texas on Saturday to avenge its only loss. The Buckeyes almost surely are headed to the Rose Bowl.
The Rose Bowl. Remember it?
For Ohio State traditionalists, a trip to Pasadena brings a mostly satisfying conclusion to a season that felt anything but traditional. A year that began with Meyer’s three-game suspension will end with Meyer coaching at America’s most beautiful bowl setting for the first time. It’s not getting a shot at No. 1 Alabama, but as a consolation prize it beats getting a Florida bowl.
If Meyer is thinking of hanging it up, what better way — besides a national championship — than 63-39 against Michigan (to go 7-0 against the Wolverines) and a Rose Bowl win against Pac-12 Washington? Meyer grew up watching Woody, Archie and Cousineau setting up camp Jan. 1 on the California coast. Deep down, he has to be happily expectant of coming full circle.
Many younger members of Buckeye Nation, however, are not as nostalgic as their elders.
“This ain’t your father’s college football,” tweeted @chrisrex OSU, wondering why anyone still cares about the Rose Bowl.
For these fans, it is playoff or bust. Unfortunately for them, the Buckeyes busted in West Lafayette, Indiana. Point to Nov. 24 — the Michigan Massacre — all you want, but it turns out that embarrassing the Wolverines was the aberration. Because of that, I would be shocked if Ohio State leapfrogged Oklahoma for the final playoff spot.
But that’s OK. Given the bizarre nature of the past five months, there is something comforting in finishing the season in the fading light that falls on the San Gabriel Mountains.