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It’s simple: Ohio State missed the Playoff because it lost one too many games

Because of a second loss, Ohio State plays USC in the Cotton Bowl instead of Clemson in the Playoff.

Ohio State v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

In the final College Football Playoff ranking of 2017, Alabama was No. 4 and Ohio State was No. 5, meaning the Tide are in the Sugar Bowl Playoff semifinal against Clemson on New Year’s Day and the Buckeyes are in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29 against USC.

The Playoff debate can go down a very deep rabbit hole including advanced metrics and enough slicing and dicing of resumes to last a lifetime, and it could incorporate conspiracy theories about ESPN not wanting Ohio State’s massive brand in the Playoff. To the committee, the decision came down to one crucial difference between the teams:

  • Ohio State: two losses
  • Alabama: one loss

The committee doesn’t see the Ohio State-Alabama debate like much of the viewing public did.

Most of us regarded the battle for No. 4 as a contentious debate that hairs had to be split over. That is not the way the committee saw things, based on what chairman Kirby Hocutt said to ESPN’s Rece Davis when the field was announced on Dec. 3.

Bama was “unequivocally better” in the eyes of the committee, according to Hocutt: “Alabama was clearly the No. 4 team in the country as a non-champion.”

These are the committee’s guidelines (emphasis ours):

The committee will select the teams using a process that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams by considering:

* Conference championships won

* Strength of schedule

* Head-to-head competition

* Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory), and ...

* Other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.

The phrase “otherwise comparable teams” looms large. While we all compared Ohio State and Alabama as relative equals, the committee didn't feel it needed to go that far.

And the most glaring difference between the two teams was in the loss column.

Ohio State lost two games by a total of 46 points, one to Oklahoma and one to a 7-5 Iowa. Alabama lost one by 12, to Auburn.

“It was impressive,” Hocutt said of Ohio State’s resume. “But it wasn’t enough for the selection committee to place them over Alabama. The selection committee has continued to be impressed with Alabama’s performance on the field.”

No matter what you think about Ohio State, the Buckeyes were basically in the same predicament as Penn State last year.

Last season, Washington, Ohio State, and Penn State were vying for two Playoff spots. One-loss Ohio State got in at No. 3, and one-loss Washington got in at No. 4, while a Penn State team that had beaten Ohio State in the regular season and won the Big Ten sat at No. 5.

Why? Penn State had two losses.

Similar to the year prior, Hocutt called Ohio State’s second loss “damaging,” and despite a conference title, two bad losses were again too much for a solid resume and conference title to overcome.

Ohio State had made the Playoff twice before as a special case, but not this time.

In 2014, the Playoff’s first year, the Buckeyes were No. 5 heading into conference championship weekend. They jumped over TCU after thrashing Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. Why?

  1. That Wisconsin win was such a blowout, at 59-0, that the committee had to take extra notice. The Buckeyes rammed the gates open.
  2. The Big 12 didn’t have a championship game at that point, so one-loss teams TCU and Baylor didn’t have a 13th chance to prove their cases. In theory, one of those teams would’ve had to win such a game, and with TCU entering at No. 3, the winner could’ve stayed ahead of Ohio State.

In 2016, one-loss Ohio State became the first non-conference champion to make the field. (Alabama this year became the second.) Why?

  1. The other team in the debate, Penn State, had two losses.

Had the 2017 debate been more complicated than OSU’s number of losses, it would’ve been really close.

How the two teams ranked nationally in various advanced stats:

Advanced metric tale of the tape

Advanced stat category Alabama Ohio State
Advanced stat category Alabama Ohio State
Overall S&P+ 2 1
Offensive S&P+ 19 6
Defensive S&P+ 3 11
Resume S&P+ 1 3
Massey Computer Composite 5 3
Sagarin 1 4
ESPN Team Efficiencies 1 5
Strength of Schedule 34 13
Competitive Power Index 4 7
Football Power Index 1 2
Strength of Record 4 7
Adjusted Win-Loss 5 8
Game Control 5 8
Average Win Probability 2 11
Projected Win-Loss 6 7
ESPN, SB Nation rankings collection and

Ohio State’s stronger strength of schedule ranking (that one’s per Bill Connelly’s numbers, though there are endless SOS rankings out there) jumps out, but notice SB Nation’s Resume S&P+ and ESPN’s Strength of Record as well. Those both say Alabama did a better job against its schedule than Ohio State did against its own schedule.

Ohio State was 3-1 against teams ranked in the committee’s final top 25, had marquee wins against Penn State and Wisconsin, and had a good one against Michigan State. Alabama was 2-1 against ranked teams and didn’t have any wins better than No. 17 LSU. That’s a Playoff criterion that could’ve helped OSU, though not enough.

Bama was 7-1 against .500-plus FBS opponents, while Ohio State was 5-2.

There was one other case for OSU, made by the Big Ten’s commissioner.

The Big Ten plays a nine-game conference schedule, while the SEC plays eight. So Ohio State had a more difficult road than Alabama did, made harder by scheduling Oklahoma as one of those non-league games. Jim Delany elaborates:

“You could look at it as Ohio State’s [10th] (conference) game,” Delany said of the conference title game, via the Chicago Tribune. “They could have played an FCS opponent, just like Penn State could have played an FCS opponent instead of Pitt last season. Whenever you go challenge yourself, over time, you won’t win as many as when you don’t challenge yourselves.”

He added that conference championships, and strength of schedule, both things that the committee looks at when evaluating teams, should work in the Big Ten’s favor.

“We had the most FBS wins; we had the fewest FCS games,” Delany added via the newspaper. “We challenged ourselves in every way. I think our efforts to play more conference games, to schedule up to a reasonable degree, to reduce the number of mismatches should serve us well.”

A fair point. But, again ...

All of these points were just window dressing.

The problem was that Ohio State lost too many football games.

We still end up with some great games, though.

Ohio State vs. USC is an old Rose Bowl rivalry that features a ton of talent, while Alabama vs. Clemson Round III is a great matchup, this time with a whole new Tigers QB.