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No. 5 Ohio State misses out on Final Four, will take on No. 8 USC in Cotton Bowl

When the Ohio State Buckeyes beat the Wisconsin Badgers to win their second Big Ten championship in four years, plenty of questions loomed. If Wisconsin would have won, the College Football Playoff committee’s job would have been easy. The Final Four would have consisted of Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Wisconsin. But there was nothing easy about the decision considering the Buckeyes beat the Badgers.

Now the committee would have to choose between two-loss and conference champion Ohio State or one-loss Alabama, who did not even win the SEC West. Last Tuesday, committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said that there was very little difference between the Buckeyes and the Crimson Tide, which made it seem like Ohio State could sneak into the Playoff with a win over Wisconsin. That wasn’t the case. It seems as though the committee was too hung up on the Buckeyes’ 31-point loss at Iowa.

“The selection committee looked at a one-loss Alabama team, that final loss coming against the No. 7 team Auburn and a very competitive game,” Hocutt said after Sunday’s announcement on ESPN. “We compared that to a two-loss Ohio State team, obviously the one loss at home to No. 2-ranked Oklahoma, but more damaging was the 31-point loss to unranked Iowa.”

“And it was consistent over the course of the year,” Hocutt said of Alabama’s body of work. “As we saw Alabama play week in and week out, our rankings show, when we start with a clean sheet of paper each and every week, that the selection committee believed that Alabama was the better football team.

“When you looked at (Ohio State’s) resume, the wins that they have over CFP top-25 team, it was impressive, but it wasn’t enough for the selection committee to place them over Alabama,” Hocutt stated.

Ohio State’s body of work was absolutely better than Bama’s, but their loss at Iowa was one that the committee just couldn’t fully white out, and one that stood out no matter what the two teams’ resumes were the entire season. After the scarlet and gray missed out on the Final Four, the committee has yet to choose a two-loss team to make the Final Four in the Playoff’s first four years of existence.

As you can remember, the Buckeyes made the Playoff in 2016 over Penn State, even though the Nittany Lions not only beat Ohio State during the regular season, but also won the Big Ten. Then again, the scarlet and gray had just one loss compared to Penn State’s two, so it’s hard to compare the 2016 situation to the one that the committee had this season. But don’t tell anyone else that.

In 2017, Ohio State had wins over No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 9 Penn State, and No. 16 Michigan State, there wins that were better than Alabama’s best win. The Crimson Tide’s two best wins came against No. 17 LSU and No. 23 Mississippi State. The biggest difference was that while one of Ohio State’s two losses came at the expense of No. 2 Oklahoma, their other loss was a 31-point debacle at Iowa, a loss that many believed would be hard to recover from when it happened; Bama’s lone loss was to No. 7 Auburn.

With all that said, Ohio State finished the regular season with plenty of impressive wins and beat previously undefeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game while Alabama got to stay at home and watch Conference Championship Saturday on their couches.

The committee uses four criteria when the teams are comparable, like Ohio State and Alabama: Championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head, and comparative outcomes of common opponents. The Buckeyes have the advantage in two of the four while the Crimson Tide have an advantage in none of them.

For the first three years of the Playoff, the committee made it known that a team’s resume is important. By picking Alabama as the fourth and final team in it over Ohio State this year, they seemed to choose the eye test over a team’s resume. While their human, the committee’s decisions continue to be flawed.

It’s disappointing to not make the Playoff, but a matchup with No. 8 USC in the Cotton Bowl is definitely a good consolation prize for the Buckeyes nonetheless.

Although it’s unfortunately not at the Rose Bowl like in previous much of the previous matchups due to the Rose Bowl being part of the Final Four this year, it makes for an intriguing game between two teams that thought they should be in the Playoff. While Ohio State’s argument has already been made, USC finished the season 11-2 as well and won the Big 12 Championship.

The Buckeyes and Trojans have met 23 times, with USC leading the all-time series, 13-9-1.

The Cotton Bowl will be the first of two times that Ohio State will play at Jerry World in the next 10 months.