UCF entered Week 12 ranked 11th by the College Football Playoff selection committee. Ohio State entered ranked 10th. Then:
- Ohio State needed overtime to beat Maryland, 52-51. More than that, Ohio State needed Maryland’s QB to miss a wide-open receiver in the end zone on the decisive final play, and even that lucky moment didn’t tell the full story of how fortunate Ohio State was.
- UCF beat up on No. 24 Cincinnati, 38-13.
The committee doesn’t have to do anything. It’s already clear it doesn’t think mid-majors should be eligible for the Playoff without a marquee Power 5 win or two. It’s not even clear if that would do it, because the only team in that boat, Houston in 2016, lost before the committee rankings started coming out. But not sticking the Knights above the Buckeyes this week would be proof of the committee stacking the deck against Group of 5 teams.
If UCF doesn’t jump Ohio State, then the committee is sending a message that how good you look while you win doesn’t matter.
The Buckeyes gave up two TD runs of 75-plus yards in the first six minutes of clock time, on Maryland’s first three offensive snaps. Things got better for that defense, but only to a point, as Maryland finished averaging 8.6 yards per play and racked up 339 on the ground alone.
OK, so that’s just one iffy performance. But Ohio State’s been doing this all year. The Buckeyes have only played in the S&P+ 80th percentile or better – my arbitrary cutoff for defining a really good showing — in four of their 10 wins. (UCF’s also reached that cutoff four times and probably did against Cincy, though numbers aren’t back yet.)
Just as commonly, OSU’s won while looking mediocre and beatable. It did that against TCU, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan State, and now Maryland. UCF hasn’t had any games as bad as Ohio State’s 15th-percentile debacle at Purdue.
A reasonable person could counter that UCF’s had two pretty ugly showings, per those same computers: 37th-to-41st-percentile games against ECU and Navy, which UCF only won easily because both those teams are bad. That’s fair.
But another reasonable person could counter back that the Knights have only let one team seriously challenge them (Memphis, in a 31-30 win), while Ohio State’s now won three different games (vs. Penn State, Nebraska, and Maryland) by a combined seven points.
To use simpler math the committee is more likely to care about, UCF’s beaten four teams currently .500 or better, and Ohio State’s beaten two. OSU’s non-conference schedule was horrible, and its conference schedule included it getting blown out by a sub-.500 Purdue.
Of course, the committee could decide how you look doesn’t matter as long as you don’t lose. There are no rules. But that’d be awkward for two reasons.
- Ohio State made the 2014 Playoff by leapfrogging a team ahead of it that didn’t lose. Well, that’s not the reason specifically, but it represents the reason. The Buckeyes themselves have been a great example of the rankings not being static, even when teams don’t lose. The committee’s made plenty of these adjustments each year.
- More obviously, UCF still hasn’t lost any games. Did you know UCF’s 10-0? Find literally any UCF fan, and they’ll tell you all about it.
In addition to UCF looking more impressive on the field, no one should pretend Ohio State’s current resume is anything special.
Ohio State entered the weekend No. 10 in Resume S&P+, a measure of what an average top-five team’s standard margin would be against its own schedule. UCF was just a touch behind at No. 12. In strength of schedule, UCF was 104th, but Ohio State was just 75th.
These are opponent-adjusted numbers, and they reflect what anyone with eyeballs would notice: that Ohio State hasn’t done much yet.
The Buckeyes have one win against the S&P+ top 30, over Penn State, and that one’s been depreciating since right after OSU got it.
UCF doesn’t have any such wins, though the Knights now have a win over a Power 5 division champion, such as it is.
If Ohio State beats Michigan, of course it should re-pass UCF. Then it should make the Playoff by beating Northwestern.
But none of those things has happened yet. And if the committee wants to be serious about ranking teams on their current merits, the Knights should jump the Buckeyes and find themselves sitting in the top 10 come Tuesday night.