Ohio State remains at No. 4 in latest College Football Playoff rankings

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

Coming off its 52-12 rout of Michigan State last weekend, Ohio State stayed at No. 4 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night.

The Buckeyes, who have been ranked fourth since the initial rankings were unveiled two weeks ago, remained behind top-ranked Alabama, as well as second-ranked Notre Dame and third-ranked Clemson.

Unlike most of the top contenders for the four spots in the playoff, the Buckeyes have played in fewer games this fall, limited by the Big Ten’s delayed start to the season and a schedule that has been further reduced due to coronavirus outbreaks.

While the teams ranked ahead of them have appeared in either nine or 10 games, last Saturday’s win over the Spartans marked only their fifth contest.

But it was a convincing performance that cemented Ohio State’s position in the rankings ahead of Texas A&M, which trailed at No. 5 one week after pushing for the fourth spot.

Gary Barta, the athletic director at Iowa who serves as the chairman of the playoff’s selection committee, did not say if the Buckeyes significantly strengthened their grip on the No. 4 ranking or widened the gap with the Aggies, but they appeared to be at no risk of falling outside the top-four.

“We don’t have a degree of variance between one, two, three, four, five, six and beyond,” Barta said. “For this week, the committee felt confident in putting Ohio State at four.”

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Barta said the 13 members of the selection committee took into account that the Buckeyes’ triumph in East Lansing came while dealing with a shorthanded roster.

After an outbreak of coronavirus cases led to the cancellation of their Thanksgiving weekend game at Illinois, they had a total of 23 players, including 17 on scholarship, unavailable against the Spartans.

Ryan Day was also unable to coach while remaining in isolation after testing positive for the virus, and three assistants did not travel with the team.

“That certainly got our attention," Barta said.

The committee viewed it as an impressive victory, he added, as Ohio State’s explosive offense, led by star quarterback Justin Fields, kept humming amid the absences, including three starters from the offensive line. The Buckeyes equaled their season-high for points.

“It was important for the committee to see Ohio State play again,” Barta said, “and the more we can see Ohio State play, the better.”

It’s unclear when the Buckeyes might be able to next step onto the field and add to their body of work.

Their previously scheduled game against archrival Michigan on Saturday was called off due to rising COVID-19 cases in the Wolverines’ program.

The cancellation creates a possibility that Ohio State plays as few as six games before the final playoff rankings are released on Dec. 20 that set the four-team postseason crowning a national championship.

Barta declined to forecast whether that might be a significant roadblock.

“We really resist looking ahead,” he said. “We’ve seen Ohio State play five games. Based on that performance, we put them in the fourth spot. We’ll just wait and see. Next week is another ranking opportunity. Then we’ll have the final ranking opportunity.”

It is possible that the Buckeyes could face another Big Ten team this weekend if there are additional cancellations that prompt the league to reconfigure Saturday’s slate of games.

The cancellation of the Michigan game was the third impacting the Buckeyes this fall.

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Texas A&M, which has remained the biggest threat to Ohio State for the No. 4 ranking, will be unable to make a case to the committee this week after its game against Mississippi was canceled.

At 7-1 overall, it has one more game scheduled for the weekend of Dec. 19 against Tennessee.

While the selection committee has been impressed with the Buckeyes’ explosiveness on offense, it has also noted the performance by the Aggies’ defense. They lead the Southeastern Conference in total defense this season, allowing 329.5 yards per game.

One spot further down is Florida at No. 6. The Gators have not been as close to Ohio State as Texas A&M, but will face Alabama in the SEC conference title on Dec. 19 that could provide a springboard into the top-four.  

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman