Settle down, Buckeye Nation. It's going to be all right. Even better than all right. Dropping to No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings gets you dangerous Clemson instead of D'ohklahoma. And that's not all bad for Ohio State.
No, I haven't been smoking something, although the rental car from Columbus to Indianapolis for Saturday's Big Ten championship game had a somewhat pungent aroma (it was the previous driver. Honest). I am being totally lucid in labeling the playoff seminal matchup with Clemson a potential positive turn of events for the Buckeyes.
Hear me out. But first, please stop with the “everyone disrespects Ohio State” malarkey. It's hogwash. Ryan Day gets paid to motivate his players, so of course he is putting a chip on their shoulders, telling them they were overlooked when the playoff selection committee moved Louisiana State ahead of OSU in the final rankings, which were released on Sunday.
But anyone outside the program who plays the disrespect card comes off whiny, because with the exception of ESPN goofball Paul Finebaum, who disrespects any team outside the Southeastern Conference, no one is saying the Buckeyes are overrated. If anything, there is some sympathy for them after they entered Saturday No. 1 but fell to No. 2 behind LSU, even after outscoring Wisconsin 27-0 in the second half to erase a 14-point deficit and defeat the Badgers 34-21.
There's not even a legitimate conspiracy theory to explain why OSU dropped. And trust me, I went looking for one. Initially, I through the committee might elevate LSU to No. 1 based on travel considerations — i.e. not wanting fans from No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Clemson to travel nearly 1,500 miles to the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, which is not exactly a winter playground for those already living in the south. LSU and Clemson don't have a built-in fan base in the desert. Ohio State does, so it would have been easy for the committee to flip-flop LSU and OSU to make sure at least one southern team played in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
Regardless, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told me on Sunday that travel considerations never enter the discussion when ranking teams. Smith, a former committee member, concluded that the vote must have been “tight.”
“Looking at metrics, you could put us at No. 1,” Smith said. “We had five wins against top-25 teams. They had four. You look at offensive and defensive efficiency, it's close. It came down to the eye test.”
And those eyes watched LSU manhandle Georgia, which entered Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game at No. 4. That outcome was the most compelling reason the committee made LSU No. 1.
“It was more about LSU's strong dominant performance against a strong No. 4 team that elevated them to No. 1,” committee chair Rob Mullens said. It also helped that the Tigers defense has improved and that they continue to get strong play from quarterback Joe Burrow.
The 13-0 Bayou Bengals appear to have the easier opponent in Oklahoma (12-1), while the Buckeyes get stuck with defending national champion Clemson, which opened as a two-point favorite for the Dec. 28 game. But what bodes well for the Buckeyes is the reason Clemson (13-0) is ranked third.
For the majority of the season, many wondered how Ohio State would respond when faced with what Day calls “talent equality.” But back-to-back-to-back wins over Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin prove the Buckeyes can handle adversity.
Can Clemson? Given the Tigers' soft schedule — only six of their 13 opponents own winning records, compared to eight for OSU — are they prepared for the talent equality they'll see in the Fiesta Bowl? Or are the Buckeyes a “shock to the system” opponent? The Tigers have barely been tested. They're about to be. At least on that score, advantage Ohio State.