Let me start by saying this: As most readers know, I am a loyal Buckeye who revels in Ohio State’s football tradition and history.
As an eight-year-old dork, I once had my picture taken with All-American nose guard Jim Stillwagon outside the Biggs Facility after the spring game in 1968. My first game in Ohio Stadium was Archie Griffin’s 239-yard explosion onto the scene as a freshman against North Carolina in 1972. John Hicks once handed me his filthy, sweaty chin strap after a game the following year and I cherished it, despite the foul smell.
I cried myself to sleep after the Rose Bowl loss to UCLA on Jan. 1, 1976, knowing a national championship just went poof. I never liked Bruins Coach Dick Vermeil from that moment on.
There was no decision where I would attend college. Looking back, I am not even sure I applied to another school. As a student, I loved walking across the Oval (even in the snow) and sitting by Mirror Lake staring at that majestic fountain, thinking about what was ahead in my life.
I graduated from the university 10 years after attending Archie’s first game.
No matter how the rest of the country thinks of him, I still regard Woody Hayes as one of the greatest Americans who ever lived.
And now, at the age of 58, I only want to live long enough to see my kids get married, to maybe see a man walk on Mars, to see the national debt erased — and to see the Buckeyes gain an advantage over Michigan in the all-time series. (Ohio State currently trails 57-50-6 only because the Wolverines rolled up a 12-0-2 head-to-head record from 1897-1912 and a guy named John Cooper treated the rivalry like an intramural softball game).
Then I can die happy.
I also want to die in a year after the Buckeyes win The Game, knowing the fans Up North are miserable for another long year. If that’s the case, I will have gone to my grave having a better year.
All that sentimental stuff being said, I believe the College Football Playoff committee got things right Sunday.
No, they got it exactly right, placing Alabama (11-1) ahead of the Big Ten champion Buckeyes (11-2) at No. 4.
As a former college football writer for a newspaper, I voted on the AP’s top-25 for several years. I voted on the Heisman Trophy and various All-American teams for more than 20 years. I tried to be objective then.
So I tried to shed my scarlet-and-gray affiliation over the weekend, and wondered what I would do if I were in the shoes of the committee members.
And I would have done the same thing.
I just wouldn’t have felt right about putting a team with two losses, especially one loss by 31 points to an unranked team, into the playoff with the chance to win a national championship.
That loss was unbearable and un-defendable. No team with that much of a talent advantage should lose to another team by more than four touchdowns, even on the road (but that is what can happen when one coaching staff gets out-prepared and out-thought by another).
Let’s face it, I am not sure the Buckeyes would fare much better facing No. 1 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl in 28 days as they did a year ago in that humiliating 31-0 loss in the Fiesta Bowl. They surely would have been almost a double-digit underdog to the Tigers this time around.
If you didn’t see Clemson crush Miami 38-3 because the Ohio State-Wisconsin game was on TV at the same time, know this: This Tigers team may be better than they were a year ago. Their defense certainly is better than the one that held Ohio State to that giant goose egg.
I am not saying they couldn’t beat Clemson in a rematch. It’s just that they would have to have played a near-perfect game to do it. And I am not sure I trust Urban Meyer and Kevin Wilson to come up with a game plan to move the ball consistently on Clemson.
And Ohio State was anything but perfect Saturday night in Indianapolis.
By the time it ended, I am not sure Wisconsin is one of the 10-best teams in the country. Its defense is great, but the Badgers’ quarterback isn’t elite. He’s serviceable at best.
To illustrate how only four or five plays can skew the final score of any football game, if J.T. Barrett had been sharp Saturday, the Buckeyes would have beaten the undefeated Badgers by about 42-6.
Now I love J.T. What’s not to love? His leadership and toughness are unquestioned. He will go down as not only one of the greatest players in Ohio State’s history – but in the Big Ten’s history.
He played six days after having knee surgery, but he had five of the worst throws/decisions of his career on Saturday.
The first was an interception that handed Wisconsin its first touchdown on a silver platter. The second and third were missed throws to wide-open receivers in the second quarter that would have stretched Ohio State’s lead to 28-10 at the half. The fourth was that ill-advised short toss toward tight end Marcus Baugh that was intercepted late in the third quarter, giving the Badgers another short field to cut the lead to 24-21. And the fifth was the final third-down play in which he pulled the string on a relatively easy throw to a wide-open J.K. Dobbins. It was a perfectly-designed play in which Dobbins may have scored, if only Barrett had hit him in the chest with the pass. That would have put the game away and given the Buckeyes a two-score lead with less than three minutes remaining.
Now, if he makes those throws, or any of those throws, and doesn’t have the two interceptions, the Buckeyes would have put the Badgers away early and run up a lopsided victory.
And with that, would they have received the benefit of the doubt as a better selection than Alabama? Only the committee knows the answer, and I am sure they will never reveal it.
I also took issue with Meyer’s decision on fourth and a long yard at the Wisconsin 3-yard line late in the game to kick the field goal to make it 27-21. I know what he was thinking: The Badgers can’t drive the field on my defense to score a winning touchdown. He turned out to be right.
But right then, he should have been thinking bigger picture. He should have delivered the knockout blow and given the committee something more to consider. I know he wasn’t thinking about the playoff at that moment – he was thinking how to win the game. But then again, I like Ohio State’s chances on fourth-and-one to put the game out of reach, given their offensive weapons – with the right play call. Even if the play failed, they would have left the Badgers on their own 2 or 3-yard line. And with the Badgers’ offense, and their inconsistent quarterback Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin Coach Paul Chryst likely would have played it close to the vest. I am sure he did not want Hornibrook, who doesn’t handle pressure well, dropping into his own end zone with the game on the line.
But that’s all hypothetical conjecture.
Now, the Buckeyes have no choice but to head to the Cotton Bowl, and they have a much better chance to win to end the season, facing Pac-12 champ USC (11-2). They will be favored and should win — if they do not play a sloppy game. Barrett should be fully healthy by Dec. 29.
Think of this, too: What would be the aftermath nationally if Ohio State had gained a controversial playoff berth – again – and been walloped by Clemson – again?
The fallout would have been embarrassing and brutal and it would have had lasting effects. It may have prevented the Buckeyes from ever getting into the playoff again — if the decision was close.
That 2014 title in the first-ever playoff, in which they received the benefit of the doubt to slip in as the No. 4 seed, would have been long forgotten.
No, the committee did the right thing.
As much as it pains me to say it.
Jeff Snook, a 1982 Ohio State graduate, has written 12 books about college football.