There is just over 24 hours of football left to play before the College Football Playoff Committee announces this year’s four-team field.
This is one of the more wide-open seasons in recent memory, with all five Power Five conference title games featuring at least one potential playoff team.
The Buckeyes could plausibly face any of six different teams in the Playoff semifinals: LSU, Clemson, Georgia, Utah, Oklahoma, and Baylor.
It all depends on who wins, and possibly the margin by which they do it, this weekend.
But there are unquestionably matchups which would make Ohio State’s road to the national championship easier than others.
There aren’t any cupcakes still in the Playoff race, of course, but there are definitely teams that would present less of a challenge for the Buckeyes than other contenders.
Here’s a look at the teams the Buckeyes would love to see themselves paired up with on Selection Sunday, in order from the best matchup to the worst.
Why Is This A Good Matchup? The Bears are, to be frank, the worst of the potential Playoff teams by a pretty wide margin.
Drawing Baylor wouldn’t quite be a bye, but the Buckeyes would likely be favored by a margin similar to this weekend’s Big Ten Championship Game.
The Bears are 11-1, but have piled it up against a pretty weak schedule. Their only win over a top-25 team in the Playoff rankings was 45-27 at No. 25 Oklahoma State.
They had narrow escapes against Iowa State (23-21), Texas Tech (33-30 in double-OT), West Virginia (17-14), and TCU (29-23 in triple-OT). Three of those teams aren’t even bowl-eligible.
The Bears are ranked 19th in the current edition of SP+. This would be the equivalent of playing Iowa in the Playoff.
How Could They Face Ohio State? Appropriately for a team that probably doesn’t belong in the Playoff, it would take a lot to get the Bears there.
First of all, the Buckeyes have to win impressively to stay at No. 1. LSU has to beat Georgia. Oregon almost certainly has to beat Utah in the Pac-12 title game. And then the Bears have to beat Oklahoma.
It’s not impossible, but it would take a couple upsets to make it happen.
Why Is This A Good Matchup? Utah and Oklahoma are two very different teams who present similar levels of challenge for the Buckeyes. You could easily flip-flop the Utes and Sooners and wouldn’t get much argument from me.
Utah is just not that talented a team across the deck. They check in at 47th in the 247 Team Talent Composite, which measures the recruiting rankings for the entire roster.
Most of the teams in the Playoff chase are right near the top. Five are in the top-10. Baylor is a huge outlier at No. 35, and the Utes are 12 spots worse than that.
On a fast, indoor track with no concern about the elements, the Buckeyes would almost certainly be able to simply out-talent Utah over the span of a 60-minute game.
That said, Kyle Whittingham’s team is annually a huge pain in the butt for opposing teams.
They play great defense, and are a punishing running team.
Utah has won 14 of its last 16 bowl games. They’re not the most talented team around, but they can drag opponents down into relatively low-scoring games and make things interesting for the full 60 minutes.
How Could They Face Ohio State? OSU wins by a solid margin, and LSU beats Georgia. Utah has to beat Oregon, preferably by a big margin. Oklahoma may have to lose to Baylor, or at least win by a smaller margin than the Utes do.
Why Is This A Good Matchup? Oklahoma is one of the few teams in the nation that can match Ohio State’s explosiveness on offense.
Their defense, on the other hand, is the worst of any unit on any of any Playoff contender. They’re 41st in defensive SP+, a level which has typically meant doom for previous Playoff entrants.
The correlation between glowing reports on Alex Grinch’s defensive genius and his team’s actual on-field performance continues to hold steady at 0.
The Sooners are a rich man’s Michigan. Their offense should keep things interesting for a while, but as soon as the Buckeyes got a stop or two, Oklahoma is screwed.
That’s because it’s going to be a three-hour conga line of Buckeye touchdowns.
How Could They Face Ohio State? LSU has to beat Georgia. Oklahoma has to beat Baylor, likely by a bigger margin than Utah beats Oregon.
It’s definitely possible for the Sooners to jump Utah, even if both teams win by similar margins. The committee will just have to weigh the more complete team (Utah) against a team with a better resume (Oklahoma).
Why Is This A Good Matchup? The Bulldogs are basically the exact opposite of Oklahoma. Their defense is absolutely lights-out, but their offense is… uninspiring.
Georgia is No. 34 in offense in SP+, but No. 2 in defense.
Their roster is loaded with great players, ranked No. 3 in the team talent composite. But Kirby Smart is still stuck in the “run the ball and play defense” era that most of the rest of the nation’s top teams put behind them close to a decade ago.
If Ohio State could score 31 points on the Bulldogs, they’d be almost guaranteed to win. And Ohio State could definitely score 31 points on the Bulldogs.
How Could They Face Ohio State? This might be the least-likely opponent for the Buckeyes. Georgia obviously has to win to get in.
It might take Ohio State losing and falling to No. 3, while Clemson finished No. 1 and Georgia ended up No. 2 to set up a Buckeye/Bulldog matchup in the semifinals.
Otherwise, if OSU wins, the committee would have to put LSU at No. 3 and Georgia at No. 4.
It’s not likely that an SEC champion would rank behind a team they just beat who also doesn’t have a conference title.
If the Buckeyes somehow draw Georgia, feel free to get excited about it. But it’s not likely to happen.
Why Is This A Good Matchup? This is where you can draw something of a line between “teams Ohio State would very likely beat” and “teams that are a legitimate threat.”
If Baylor is a 90/10 matchup for OSU and Georgia is more of a 65/35, then LSU is probably a 60/40 or 55/45.
The Buckeyes should be able to beat Joe Burrow and company, and they would be favored to do so. But it won’t be a cakewalk.
The Tigers have been kind of lousy on defense all year, ranking No. 29 in SP+. But their offense is No. 2, and three spots ahead of the Buckeyes.
The best-case scenario for the Buckeyes is that LSU and Clemson meet in the semifinals and OSU only has to play one of them.
How Could They Face Ohio State? If the Buckeyes win and LSU loses, it seems very likely that the Bayou Bengals might slide to No. 4. That would set up a game against OSU in the semifinals.
If OSU could draw up its ideal scenario for Saturday, it would be a blowout win over Wisconsin and a close LSU win over Georgia. That would almost certainly keep the Buckeyes No. 1 and force LSU and Clemson to fight it out in the semifinals.
Why Is This A Good Matchup? It’s not. This might be the only team that is a legitimate coin-toss to beat the Buckeyes.
Thanks to an utterly garbage ACC schedule, Clemson’s resume is barely McDonald’s Assistant Night Manager-level, but the Tigers are still a force to be reckoned with.
Their defense and offense (No. 6 and 3 in SP+) make them the only team that could stand up to the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball.
If Virginia somehow pulled off a shocking upset in the ACC title game, it’s entirely possible that Clemson could fall out of the Playoff.
That would be the single best result the Buckeyes could get Saturday.
But the Hoos are a four-touchdown underdog, so don’t spend too much time hoping for that wish to come true.
How Could They Face Ohio State? If LSU blows out Georgia and the Buckeyes narrowly scrape by Wisconsin, it’s entirely possible that LSU could jump the Bucks to the No. 1 spot.
That would leave the Bayou Bengals with whichever of the Utah/Oklahoma/Baylor triumvirate earns the No. 4 seed. And it would send the Buckeyes to the Fiesta Bowl to face Clemson.
Outside of a somehow getting blown out by Wisconsin and missing the Playoff entirely, that’s probably the worst-case scenario for the Buckeyes this weekend.