The college football season doesn’t really start until either Alabama or Ohio State loses for the first time. Interest in the sport immediately spikes and remains at a higher level for the next few weeks, as everyone realizes once again that just about anyone can lose on just about any Saturday.
“Zombie Alabama” is one way to describe it — the phenomenon first became a thing when Bama lost to LSU in 2011, then won a BCS rematch. In 2012, they lost to Johnny Manziel’s Texas A&M, but were back at BCS No. 2 within 14 days.
With the Buckeyes rising to a new level over the last five years or so, they’ve become part of this as well. And in the Playoff era, it’s only gotten even harder to put away these two teams, since now, they don’t even have to win their divisions in order to make it.
In 2013, Alabama was the monster BCS favorite, and Ohio State was 60 minutes away from a title shot of its own, but shocking upsets late in the season cost them both.
In 2013, Bama was coming off a national championship and close to going wire-to-wire as No. 1. Meanwhile, Ohio State had finished 2012 undefeated, but a bowl ban had prevented the Buckeyes from playing in the postseason. It appeared nearly certain that one of these two teams would face Florida State in the last BCS Championship.
The Buckeyes remained undefeated until the Big Ten Championship, when they lost an upset to then-No. 10 Michigan State.
That meant Auburn wrecked Alabama’s BCS title shot and then stole Ohio State’s, with Michigan State’s help.
In 2014, both teams lost early, and everyone was ready to immediately count at least one of them out.
When Ohio State lost to a mediocre Virginia Tech in Week 2, no one really knew how the Playoff worked yet, but a whole lot of people assumed the Big Ten was essentially eliminated. This was especially true when the first-ever Playoff rankings came out, putting OSU at No. 16.
(Meanwhile, Alabama lost on Oct. 4 to Ole Miss — but checked in at No. 6 in the initial Playoff rankings.)
But as the season went on, more undefeated teams lost, and Ohio State kept creeping up the rankings. In Week 8, SB Nation declared the Buckeyes underrated.
Heading into Championship Saturday, only one undefeated team remained: a smoke-and-mirrors Florida State. Bama had long since not just overcome its loss, but jumped all the way back to No. 1. Ohio State was ranked fifth and starting third-string QB Cardale Jones.
The Bucks absolutely dismantled Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, one of a few reasons the committee found them more worthy of winning the Playoff’s first-ever controversy and entering at No. 4.
Zombie Ohio State then beat Bama in the Sugar Bowl, with the Buckeyes overcoming early dismissal and staggering injuries to win the first Playoff.
2015 was a rerun: Bama again rebounded from a repeat of 2014’s loss, while Sparty ruined the Buckeyes yet again.
Defending champion Ohio State was undefeated until Michigan State shocked the Buckeyes and took that Playoff spot.
Alabama lost again to Ole Miss, and some decided Bama’s dynasty was dying. But the Tide won out, defeating Sparty in the semifinal and Clemson in the national title game.
If Ohio State had listened to offensive coordinator Ezekiel Elliott against Michigan State, maybe Bama and Ohio State would’ve met again.
In 2016, Alabama’s first loss defined the season, while Ohio State’s first loss changed the Playoff forever.
The Bucks remained unbeaten until losing to Penn State Week 8. As a result, OSU was left out of the Big Ten title game, but finished the regular season with just one loss.
The committee decided to give OSU a bid, given the Big Ten champ Nittany Lions’ two losses and Ohio State’s impressive resume — it had wins over three top-10 teams in the final Playoff rankings. The first non-champ to make the Playoff then lost to Clemson in the semifinal.
Meanwhile, the Tide had gone undefeated and were inches from officially becoming one of the greatest teams in college football history. But Clemson knocked off Bama in the national championship, completing one of the sport’s most memorable games ever.
In 2017, these two flawed teams fought each other for the No. 4 spot.
The Buckeyes lost to Oklahoma and 55-24 to Iowa. Although OSU won the Big Ten Championship, having two ugly losses was enough to keep Ohio State out of the Playoff.
Alabama, which had just lost to Auburn and was seemingly eliminated from the Playoff for the first time ever, made it in yet again, all thanks to Ohio State’s more flawed resume. The Tide became the second team after 2016 Ohio State to not win a division and yet make the Playoff.
Wow— Peter Burns (@PeterBurnsESPN) November 29, 2017
Biggest regular season loss by a team that made the @CFBPlayoff was 14 points.
This year, Ohio State has a 15 point loss and a 31 point blowout loss to a 7-5 team.
In the end, Alabama won the title, so the committee was pretty justified, just as it’d been in picking the Buckeyes in 2014.
It could definitely happen again in 2018!
Ohio State’s loss at Purdue looked like a program crossroads. But the table’s still set for the Buckeyes to win out through Michigan, win the Big Ten, and make the Playoff yet again.
Meanwhile, the next team to give 2018 Bama an actual game will be the first. The whole country’s waiting for that one to happen.