Rob Oller: Can Ohio State rebound like it did in 2014 and run the table? Not likely

Rob Oller
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud walks off the field after throwing for 484 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-28 to Oregon Ducks.

The odd, but proper, place to begin when writing about Ohio State’s chances of making the playoff is not with football but with a Buckeyes basketball legend.

Jerry Lucas, knowing that the secret to rebounding was anticipating where the missed shots would deflect, intentionally bounced balls off the backboard during practice to determine how they caromed. It worked. Lucas still holds the Big Ten career rebounding record at 1,411.

In following Lucas’ lead, to determine how the Buckeyes will rebound from Saturday’s 35-28 home loss to Oregon is to anticipate where their miss will bounce. Unlike Lucas’s learning method, OSU’s miss was unintentional, but that doesn’t mean we can’t predict the outcome.

Schedule won't provide Ohio State with quality win opportunities until Penn State

First, it is essential to determine Ohio State’s own playoff shot arc before analyzing what needs to happen — and not happen — across the rest of college football.

The Buckeyes entered the Horseshoe Saturday ranked No. 3; Oregon was No. 12, which means losing to the Ducks is not equal to losing to unranked Iowa in 2017 or unranked Purdue in 2018. That will factor into the thinking of the College Football Playoff selection committee when the first rankings appear Nov. 2.

Ohio State plays six games before then, beginning the next two weeks with Tulsa and Akron at home. Both should be easy wins, by three touchdowns or more, despite Tulsa having just put a scare into Oklahoma State; the Golden Hurricane also lost to FCS school UC-Davis in its opener.    

Up next are Rutgers on the road and Maryland at home. Normally, the Buckeyes would get no bounce from defeating the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins, but what is normal anymore when college players are posing with free trucks on social media? Rutgers should be 3-1 when it hosts Ohio State on Oct. 2, and maybe 4-0 if it can shock Michigan in Ann Arbor on Sept. 25. Maryland should be 4-1, and possibly 5-0 if it can upset Iowa before playing Oct. 9 in Columbus.

Rutgers and Maryland are not exactly Alabama and Clemson, but for a change, they are not a strength-of-schedule ball and chain.

Indiana hosts Ohio State Oct. 23, when the Hoosiers likely will be a disappointing 2-4. No rankings help there. Penn State visits Ohio Stadium on Oct. 30, and if the Nittany Lions are 7-0, with wins over three ranked teams, the playoff committee will be impressed if the Buckeyes win that potential night game three days before the first rankings drop.

Looking like at least a two-loss season for the Buckeyes

Of course, given the sad state of Ohio State’s defense through two games, being 7-1 at Halloween seems like a trick.

Analysis: Buckeyes can rebound, but only if they fix their defense

My gut initially told me OSU would complete the regular season with two losses, but my muscle memory — the Buckeyes have lost two regular-season games only once since 2011 — would not allow me to pull the trigger on that prediction. Now my eyes say, “two losses at minimum.”    

The 35-28 loss to Oregon was Ryan Day's first loss in a regular season game as head coach of the Buckeyes.

How will Ohio State ricochet off the Oregon backboard? We’re about to find out if Ryan Day is as masterful as Urban Meyer was at rallying his team after a loss. Meyer was 8-1 the next game after eating cold pizza, the most famous rebound being in 2014 when OSU won 13 straight and the national championship after falling to Virginia Tech in Week 2.

(Meyer also factors into a quirky statistic that could indicate how little of a home-field advantage Ohio Stadium actually affords: since 2005 the Buckeyes are 1-5 at the Shoe in Week 2 against non-conference Power 5 opponents Oregon, Oklahoma (’17, L), Virginia Tech (’14, L), Miami (’10, W), Southern California (’09, L) and Texas (’05, L).

After Penn State, the Buckeyes must navigate a road trip to Nebraska (W) and home games against Purdue (W) and Michigan State (tricky) before heading to Michigan, where an overconfident Jim Harbaugh has been spotted wearing a sandwich board inked with “The End is Near.” Not sure if that means the losing streak or his job.

But Ohio State still has a chance to make the CFP

If OSU manages to safely navigate that minefield, the Big Ten Championship looms, probably against Iowa or Wisconsin. 

Just for kicks, let’s say the Buckeyes go 12-1. Does that get them into the playoff? Depends how the ball bounces elsewhere. Oregon would need to lose at least once, and probably in the Pac-12 championship game to a one-loss opponent. 

If not, the Ducks are in. The Southeastern Conference gets at least one team in, as does the Big 12, as a bone for the Texas-Oklahoma jailbreak to the SEC. Notre Dame looks too shaky to run the table, so the Fighting Irish are out. That leaves one spot to be fought over between the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten champions. I don't see Cincinnati making it through unscathed. Clemson’s lone loss likely already occurred (10-3 to Georgia at a neutral site), but the Tigers’ remaining schedule is weak, probably too weak to impress the committee.

That leaves the Big Ten for the fourth spot. The way Ohio State has looked I’d put its chances of being the conference representative at maybe 1 in 10.

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”

Always, but don’t hold your breath. Turning blue is not a good color on Buckeye Nation.


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