For the second week in a row, the Ohio State Buckeyes have landed the top spot in the College Football Playoff committee’s rankings.
Last week, with both LSU and Ohio State having three wins over ranked opponents, the Buckeyes were given the edge because of their defense.
This week, that defensive edge remained — even with LSU holding Texas A&M to seven points last week, but a new edge emerged as well.
With Ohio State’s win over Michigan — and with Cincinnati holding on at No. 20 for another week before facing No. 17 Memphis on the road for the second week in a row — the Buckeyes now have more wins over ranked opponents (4) than LSU (3).
And Tuesday night, it was pretty straightforward how important those four wins were.
“The difference between 1, 2, and 3 is just the wins against ranked opponents, and Ohio State with their fourth win against a ranked opponent this weekend, LSU with their impressive resume, those are the separators from 1, 2, and 3,” said committee chair Rob Mullens when asked about Clemson’s place among the top three by ESPN’s Rece Davis.
As with many of Mullens’ answers over the last month, his answers can leave some question. For instance, is he simply speaking about Clemson’s distance from the other two, or the distance each of them has from the other. Last week, Mullens told me that Ohio State’s defense was a factor in the Buckeyes being No. 1.
“That’s a key piece,” he said. “I mean, they’re a balanced team, strong on offense and defense. Obviously LSU has a very strong offense. But to date their defense isn’t quite as strong as Ohio State’s.”
LSU’s defense was quite a bit stronger this past weekend, allowing just seven points and 169 yards of total offense to Texas A&M.
And even though the gap between LSU’s defense and Ohio State’s defense is still canyon-like in reality, the perception might not be so chasmic.
“Two really, really good teams, first of all,” Mullens said Tuesday night when asked about the difference between the two teams.
“That’s what the committee sees. Ohio State now with their impressive win over Michigan on the road has four wins over top-25 teams. LSU has three very impressive wins over top-25 teams. As we’ve talked in past weeks, both really have dynamic offenses, both have good defenses. Ohio State’s is just a little ahead at this point.”
Yeah, both have good defenses.
LSU’s defense has been playing better after giving up 402 yards rushing to Ole Miss. They’ve given up 304 total yards to Arkansas and 169 yards to Texas A&M the last two weeks. They have needed to turn it on, and they have.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has beaten the No. 10 team and No. 14 team in that same time.
At this point, I don’t truly believe the committee sees the Ohio State and LSU defenses as equal, there’s just no reason to get too far into the weeds when they already have a clear and concise reason for having OSU ahead of the Tigers.
And don’t worry, if Ohio State does beat Wisconsin on Saturday, both wins over the Badgers will be taken into account.
“Wisconsin is a very good, highly ranked team. When you play them twice, it counts as two games,” Mullens said.
“It’s two different locations. We’re aware of where the games are played. We watch the games. We’re aware of what was happening around the time they play. We take all those factors into consideration.”
But if you do want something to worry about, keep an eye on Cincinnati. The Bearcats fell only one spot following a loss at Memphis last week. This week they go right back to Memphis to play for the AAC Championship Game. Should they win — and the Buckeyes too — it would give Ohio State five wins over ranked opponents, which is something that LSU won’t be able to say, even with a win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
Memphis is favored by nine. If the Tigers do win, it will be interesting to see if the Bearcats can stay in the rankings.
Assuming an Ohio State win on Saturday, if ESPN reveals the rankings from No. 25 on down and you see Cincinnati listed, then that’s going to be very, very good news for the Buckeyes.
The committee likes the fact that UC has only lost to ranked teams, and that wouldn’t change with a loss on Saturday.
But three losses might be the tipping point.
Should Cincinnati drop out — and provided the Buckeyes and Tigers win on Saturday — a long conversation is going to take place between Ohio State and LSU.
Alabama dropping all the way to No. 12 helps the Buckeyes because it puts them behind Penn State and lumps them in with Wisconsin and Michigan.
I had begun to wonder if maybe LSU’s wins over Georgia and Alabama would count for more than just two normal wins, but given how far the Tide dropped Tuesday night, it doesn’t look like that win means as much as SEC Nation thought it did, would, or should.
Which is really too bad…