The lesson moving forward for Ohio State is that when the unfortunate outcome becomes inevitable, switch to prevent defense to keep the margin of defeat to a minimum.
Just kidding. Sort of.
After listening to what passed for logic, but sounded a lot like political mumbo jumbo, the College Football Playoff selection committee unofficially confirmed on Sunday that teams cannot lay an egg against an unranked team and expect to be hatched into the playoff.
Purdue 49, Ohio State 20. All things being equal — and selection committee chairman Rob Mullens revealed that things mostly were equal among Ohio State, which ended up sixth, Georgia, which finished fifth, and Oklahoma, which made the playoff at No. 4 — a bad loss not only is more influential than a good win, but it seals your doom.
No matter what positives occur before or after an embarrassing loss, they become negligible when viewed in the harsh light of having lost to an unranked opponent. Ohio State won at Penn State and drubbed Michigan 62-39, which at the time held the fourth playoff spot, but in the committee’s eyes the damage already was done. When Ohio State lost by 29 points at unranked Purdue on Oct. 20, there was nothing Urban Meyer’s men could do to change the minds of committee members who compared the loss to a wormy apple; cut the bad from the good, but the entire fruit is still condemned to the core.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, the one bad apple analogy is not new. Last season, the Buckeyes lost to unranked Iowa 55-24, which ended their playoff hopes. A 31-0 loss to Clemson in a 2016 playoff semifinal did not cost the Buckeyes a 2017 playoff spot, but it did not put them in good standing going forward. Before that, an unranked Virginia Tech bullied the Buckeyes 35-21 two games into the 2014 season. Ohio State survived that whoops moment, not only because it ran the table but also because it was the first year of the playoff and the committee was still operating in wet cement.
Four seasons later, the committee has solidified its guidelines. Losing once is not an automatic playoff disqualifier. You can even lose big and be considered; two-loss Georgia lost 36-16 to No. 13 LSU this season. Just don’t lose big to unranked teams.
“That definitely was the deciding factor,” defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones said of the Purdue loss.
On the flip side, victory margin appears to be mostly meaningless. Ohio State struggled in wins against unranked Maryland (52-51 in overtime) and Nebraska (36-31), but Oklahoma only defeated then-unranked Army 38-31, unranked Texas Tech 51-46 and unranked Oklahoma State 48-47. The signal from the committee is that winning by one point is enough.
After that, who knows? Mullens sent mixed messages, especially when explaining how Ohio State, Oklahoma and Georgia all measured up equally.
“No one was unequivocally better than the other, then we leaned on protocol,” he said.
Meyer was careful not to criticize the committee’s decision, but wondered how protocol was applied.
“Sometimes you see (their) criteria, and the criteria is not fitting what is happening,” he said.
I agree with Meyer. I take no issue with Ohio State being left out of the playoff, but setting a low bar (bad loss to unranked team) without setting a specific high bar is bad policy.
Meyer took the high road.
“My father taught me never put your family, your career, your life in the hands of other people,” he said. “And when you lose a game it’s in the hands of other people. It’s very simple: don’t lose.”
At least not by a landslide.