For the first time in the six years of the College Football Playoff, Ohio State is ranked No. 1 in the official rankings.
The Buckeyes (8-0) are ranked No. 3 in the major polls, but the selection committee that will determine the four playoff semifinalists had a higher opinion of them in the first rankings of the season.
Ohio State’s highest previous ranking in the playoff was No. 2 for three weeks late in 2016 before it finished third and lost 31-0 to Clemson in a semifinal.
"When you watch Ohio State, they have performed at a very consistent level,” said playoff committee chairman Rob Mullens, the athletic director at Oregon. “Really good on both sides of the ball, explosive offensive playmakers, and Chase Young is probably as disruptive a defensive player as there is in the country. And when you look at their resume, they perform at a consistently high level every week.”
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In 2014, when the Buckeyes won the inaugural College Football Playoff, they were ranked 16th in the first poll.
After the Buckeyes in the rankings are LSU at No. 2, Alabama at No. 3 and Penn State at No. 4. LSU and Alabama will meet on Saturday. Ohio State plays host to Penn State on Nov. 23.
On slotting Ohio State over LSU, Mullens said, "Two great teams, and when you've got two strong teams with quality schedules, both undefeated, two outstanding offenses, great quarterback play, so there's a lengthy discussion, and at the end of the day, the committee felt that Ohio State was 1 and LSU was 2."
Defending playoff champion Clemson is No. 5.
Earlier in the day, Ohio State coach Ryan Day and quarterback Justin Fields professed not to care or even pay attention to the playoff rankings.
“I think it's for the fans,” Day said. “It doesn't mean anything to us because if we lose this weekend, we're not going to be in the top four, that's for sure.”
Ohio State (8-0) plays visiting Maryland on Saturday. The Buckeyes are 43-point favorites.
Day said he wasn’t even curious about where the Buckeyes might be ranked.
“Not really, no,” he said. “Because again, it doesn't matter if we don't continue to win. What matters is the record at the end of the season, where you're ranked at the end.”
That’s not to say Day has completely stayed silent to his team about how its success has put them in a good position.
“In the team meeting I said, ‘Congrats, you're relevant in November,’” Day said. “There's something to be said for that, absolutely. That's where you want to be right now in November — be relevant. We are. That's good. But the rankings and all that stuff really shouldn't be any of our focus.”
Fields was even more dismissive of the rankings.
“I have zero interest because it doesn’t matter until we’re done,” the sophomore said. “Hopefully, we make it to the Big Ten championship. After that game, that’s what matters. We’re just trying to (go) week by week because we know no matter where they rank us today, that won’t affect us. I don’t care if they put us 25, to be honest.”
The Buckeyes’ best wins have been against Wisconsin, Cincinnati and probably Indiana.
Maryland looked like it might rank as a quality opponent when it outscored Howard and Syracuse 142-20 to start the season. But injuries that exposed a lack of depth have ravaged the Terrapins, who’ve beaten only Rutgers since then.
Maryland took Ohio State to the limit last year in a 52-51 loss. Anthony McFarland ran for 298 yards and the Terps gained 535 yards in all. They failed to pull the upset only because of an errant pass on a two-point conversion in overtime.
“That was a wild game,” Day said.
That memory provides a bit of a cautionary tale this week when all the talk is about CFP rankings. Day said he has reminded his team repeatedly not to overlook anybody.
“You're dealing with 18-, 19-, 20-year old young men,” Day said. “You have to make sure you're on top of them."