On the eve of this season, it looked like Ohio State was going to face a pretty good schedule.
After two freebies against Oregon State and Rutgers to start, the Buckeyes had a de facto road game against preseason No. 16 TCU in North Texas. A few weeks after that, they had a visit to preseason No. 9 Penn State. Two of the last three games on the schedule are at preseason No. 12 Michigan State and at home against preseason No. 14 Michigan.
All told, S&P+ projected the Buckeyes would play the 37th-hardest schedule in the country. That was fine, but the Playoff selection committee cares more about your big wins than whether you also beat up on bad teams, and Ohio State had a lot of chances for big wins.
This felt potentially important. Ohio State was the first team out of the Playoff in 2017, when it lost two games and then lost out to one-loss Alabama for the No. 4 seed. The Buckeyes’ hard schedule that year didn’t save them, but maybe it’d be an asset this year.
It’s turned out that Ohio State’s schedule is actually not much at all.
- TCU is bad. The Horned Frogs are a non-factor in the postseason race, save for their own race to get to six wins. They butt-fumbled into a loss to Kansas.
- Penn State is good but doesn’t have a great record. The Nittany Lions have two losses (one of them at the Buckeyes’ hands) but could easily have four and will probably finish with at least three.
- Michigan State has fallen out of the top 25 for now.
- Michigan’s great but is now the only chance OSU has at a marquee win.
- If Ohio State makes the Big Ten title game, it’s likely not going to face a top-10 opponent there, due to Wisconsin falling off.
The Buckeyes are 64th in schedule strength, according to S&P+. They’re ninth in Resume S&P+, a metric that assesses how their performance (including scoring margin) compares to what an average top-five team would have done against their schedule. But even that stat has them behind Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Georgia, Oklahoma, and LSU.
There are a bunch of statistical attempts out there to stack up teams’ schedules. They generally tell a similar story: Ohio State’s overall schedule strength is poor, while it compares slightly unfavorably to other Playoff contenders. ESPN has OSU’s strength of schedule at No. 62 and its strength of record at No. 8, while it puts the Buckeyes No. 6 in the Football Power Index. Ohio State is 24th in the CPI ratings, similar to RPI.
There’s good news for Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ schedule being a lot worse than expected is likely to have zero impact on their Playoff chances.
They have one loss. If they don’t lose again, they’re going to make the field, because that’ll mean they beat Michigan and whichever Big Ten West team has agreed to be sacrificed at the conference championship game.
Every one-loss Power 5 champion in the Playoff era has earned a bid, and there likely won’t be an exception until all five leagues produce one in the same year.
If Ohio State loses again, like it did in 2017, it’s not impossible that schedule strength would matter. But it’s highly unlikely. No two-loss team has ever made the Playoff anyway, and while that’s going to happen sometime, it doesn’t look like 2018 is the year:
Basically, for 2018 to be a two-loss team’s year, a bunch of weird stuff has to happen. Like, a metric ton of chaos has to strike multiple conferences at once.
Notre Dame probably has to trip up at least once, maybe twice. The ACC and/or Big 12 need to descend into utter pandemonium, and even if all that happens and Iowa wins the Big Ten West and then beats Ohio State or Michigan, and Alabama doesn’t let some other SEC team earn a Playoff spot, there’s no promise a two-loss team makes it.
On the other hand, Virginia winning the ACC outright would leave all of us in uncharted waters. We really have no idea what the Playoff committee would do in such a case, and it probably doesn’t matter, because by that time, the sun will have melted the Earth.
In a world where mid-majors got respect from the Playoff committee, Ohio State’s strength of schedule as long as it has one loss would matter.
The Mountain West’s one-loss Fresno State is one spot ahead of the Buckeyes in Resume S&P+. But we do not live in a world where the committee cares about mid-major performance, especially if those teams aren’t unbeaten. So OSU’s fine as long as it wins out.