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Sports are beloved for drama. By its very nature, the College Football Playoff rankings are built to draw out that tension.
For five weeks, there’s an hour-long television show on Tuesdays dedicated to the destined-to-change. For five weeks, we react to that much anticipated Top 25 and look ahead to the inevitable excitement. For five weeks, you’re invested in what number is next to which team.
In eight past editions of the CFP, however, the final ranking—the order revealed on Selection Day—has been predictable as soon as conference championships ended.
And we’re exceptionally close to 2022 being more of the same.
As in 2021, top-ranked Georgia might already be a lock. There’s a pretty convincing argument for No. 2 Michigan, too. If both TCU and USC win their respective conference title, that’s No. 3 and No. 3 4. Every other program has at least two losses except for 11-1 Ohio State, which isn’t considered a superior team by the committee today and can’t possibly land that designation if TCU and USC have a league championship.
Will it really be that simple?
Ohio State is desperate for “nope!” to emerge as the answer. Incidentally, the Buckeyes have been on the right side of this Selection Day conversation a couple of times.
Sure, recent years have included shadows of debate. Back in 2014, Big Ten winner Ohio State vaulted one-loss Big 12 co-champs TCU and Baylor in the final rankings. There was disagreement, but Ohio State—the eventual champion—had a higher schedule strength, one more victory, and an outright title. The true level of controversy was minimal.
Ohio State fell to Penn State in 2016 but boasted three Top 10 victories to atone for the loss, while Big Ten champion PSU dropped two games. Frustrating for Penn State, absolutely, yet entirely logical.
From there, any disagreement focused on Group of Five programs—2017 UCF, 2018 UCF and 2020 Cincinnati—not getting much respect. I, among many, despised that reality, but I begrudgingly understood it. Both 2019 and 2021 were straightforward years, too.
And so, we return to the 2022 stage.
AP Photo/Nick Wass
More than anything, the question is about Ohio State’s perception within the committee compared to TCU and USC. Georgia is likely safe ahead of OSU, and Michigan’s head-to-head victory is a decisive edge.
The same cannot be said for the other two.
Let’s say TCU falls to Kansas State. TCU would have eight victories over bowl-bound teams and two Top 25 wins compared to Ohio State’s six and two, respectively.
Selection committee chair Boo Corrigan had mentioned OSU’s lack of a need for TCU-like comebacks as reason for a higher ranking in previous weeks. If neither Ohio State nor TCU has a conference title, it wouldn’t be stunning for Ohio State to regain a spot over TCU if K-State wins handily. And, hey, remember Kansas State roared out to a 28-10 lead in the earlier matchup. That’s not impossible.
As for USC, let’s hypothesize that Utah topples the Trojans for a second time. A two-loss, non-champion not making it over a one-loss, non-champion would not be shocking, either.
You can disagree with the outcome, but as far as controversies go, that would be a mild one at most.
Barring an absurd final ranking—like Ohio State and Alabama making the field because both TCU and USC lose Saturday—the lone legitimate potential controversy involves a close TCU loss to K-State.
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The simple version is Michigan smoked Ohio State in the second half of their matchup. This scenario is akin to 2018 Ohio State. Although the Buckeyes won the Big Ten, they lost by 29 points at a Purdue squad that lost six regular-season games. Oklahoma, the Big 12 champion and eventual fourth seed, only lost to Texas, a Top 10 team, on a last-second field goal.
For the sake of argument, say TCU falls on a late kick. Kansas State’s three losses are all to Top 25 opponents, and the Wildcats have a top-15 scoring defense. That’s hardly a damning result.
TCU boasts the nation’s best strength of record, will hold a higher strength of schedule after Saturday, owns more quality wins and—as goofy as it may sound—would have a more competitive loss.
That’s a very strong, compelling case for TCU.
Merely the “game control” factor, in which Ohio State currently ranks fourth to TCU’s 13th, would be in the Buckeyes’ favor. It’s really hard to justify game control as an overwhelming argument in 2022’s context.
Besides, if you do that, consider Alabama has trailed for exactly zero seconds this season, losing only on last-play scores to Tennessee and LSU. And you’re not about to see good-faith arguments for 10-2 Bama.
At this point, your imagination may be spinning. This is admittedly a deep dive into hypotheticals.
But if Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC each win a conference title, imagination won’t matter. If USC falls to Utah, there’s precedent for an idle Ohio State to slide back into the Top Four. Comparing the ugliness level of a loss has decided CFP bids before this season, too.
Ohio State is hoping. TCU, though, has a prime opportunity to eliminate any potential arguments and ensure the Top Four, once again, has no controversy on Selection Day.