Alabama (10-0) is the best team in college football. That is the one thing that seemingly everyone agrees on this college football season.
But the second-best team in college football? Well, that’s up for debate – unless you’re the College Football Playoff committee, which put Ohio State (9-1) at No. 2 in this week’s rankings.
Why did the Buckeyes beat out Michigan, Clemson, Louisville and others for the No. 2 slot?
“Well, it’s because of strength of schedule,” CBSSports.com college football writer Jerry Palm said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “When you look at the one-loss teams – and there’s a handful of them – Ohio State is pretty clearly the most accomplished. They’ve played the strongest schedule. They have the best win. It’s actually kind of a no-brainer to have Ohio State at No. 2 right now. But when you look sort of long-term – and that’s sort of the deception these weekly rankings give you – just because Ohio State is No. 2 right now doesn’t mean they can still win out and make the playoffs. Michigan losing was also a loss for Ohio State because now if Ohio State wins out and Penn State wins their last two games, Penn State wins the division because of the tiebreaker with Ohio State. Ohio State’s season is over at 11-1. They won’t win the Big Ten championship – won’t even play for it – and as a result, may not make the playoff depending on what else happens.”
A conference championship, however, is not the end-all, be-all for the committee.
“Well, it’s a factor, but it’s not meant to be a playoff of the top four conference champions,” Palm said. “Even though it has worked out that way the first two years, it’s supposed to be the four best teams, and 11-1 Ohio State is going to be a very strong candidate for a playoff spot. But it’s really going to depend on who else is out there. If Wisconsin ends up winning the Big Ten and they’re 11-2 and Ohio State is 11-1, they’ll have a better record, a slightly better schedule and they will have beaten Wisconsin in the regular season. There’s a pretty good argument for Ohio State to still be ahead of Wisconsin despite the fact that Wisconsin is the conference champion. The committee has said in the past they view conference championships as kind of like a tiebreaker between relatively even teams. That might be a case where they’re not really even in the eyes of the committee, but it might be different if Penn State wins the Big Ten. They’ve played a pretty decent schedule – maybe not as good as Ohio State’s – but they have the head-to-head victory over Ohio State, and the committee has shown that they value that. It’s also possible that two Big Ten teams could get into the playoff: 11-1 Ohio State and whichever one wins the championship.”
In the Big 12, meanwhile, Oklahoma (8-2) jumped from No. 11 to No. 9 this week. The Sooners have won seven straight games since starting the year 1-2 with losses to Houston to Ohio State, but Palm doesn’t see a realistic playoff path for Oklahoma.
“They need armageddon,” he said. “Realistically, the teams that have a chance to make the playoff without a lot of crazy stuff happening ends at No. 8 with Penn State. Once you get to Oklahoma, you need major upsets to occur ahead of you to even give you a glimmer of hope. Part of the reason for that is Oklahoma is not playing anybody who can help them. There really isn’t a clear scenario that’s realistic that gives Oklahoma a chance to get all the way up to 4.”