The NFL and Major League Baseball playoffs have their wild cards. The College Football Playoff does, too. If not in name, Ohio State is the wild card in practice.
The Buckeyes were the last team in the four-team field, and the most controversial. Ohio State’s 59-0 win over Wisconsin the Big Ten Championship put the Buckeyes over the top ahead of TCU and Baylor. Personnel-wise, Ohio State is also a wild card. The Buckeyes have played only one game with the quarterback who will start the Sugar Bowl.
Intentionally or not, the selection committee provided plenty of fodder for pre-game storylines in pairing Ohio State with Alabama. The Buckeyes will face a representative from the conference that denied the Buckeyes the 2006 and 2007 BCS championship. Meanwhile, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will face his biggest on-field nemesis from his days at Florida (Nick Saban) and his biggest off-field pest (Lane Kiffin).
Now that the bracket is set and the storylines are established, it’s time to wonder if Ohio State can win this thing. Here are five reasons why they might.
5 Reasons Why Ohio State Will Win the CFB Playoff
1. Cardale Jones
This is counterintuitive but perhaps crazy enough to work against Alabama. If Cardale Jones really is as good as his performance against Wisconsin indicates, Ohio State will be in good shape at the quarterback position despite all the odds. Jones completed 12-of-17 passes for 257 yards with three touchdowns against a top-five defense in Wisconsin. And that’s essentially all the game film Nick Saban and his staff will have to dissect. We know Jones has a big arm (15.1 yards per attempt against the Badgers) and one of the best deep threats in the field in Devin Smith (26.6 yards per reception). A dropback passer also is a different look for Meyer against Saban, who faced Tim Tebow in their two SEC championship matchups.
2. Joey Bosa
Perhaps one statistical surprise among the four teams in the field: Only one of them ranked in the top 20 in sacks this season. Led by Joey Bosa, Ohio State is that team at more than three sacks per game. Bosa may be the most disruptive defensive player on any of the four playoff teams with 13.5 sacks (fourth nationally) and 20 tackles for a loss (tied for fifth).
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3. Ezekiel Elliott
Meyer went his entire career without a 1,000-yard running back before Carlos Hyde did it last season. Now, Meyer has had two in two seasons. Elliott will make Jones’ job much easier if he can continue his hot streak into the playoff. Elliott rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against Wisconsin, nearly tripling Melvin Gordon’s output in that game. Elliott is averaging nearly nine yards per carry in his last three games.
4. A ball-hawking defense
Every offense in the playoff can throw the ball, so making defensive plays in the passing game is going to be a major factor. In that case, Ohio State has a nice track record. Ohio State finished the season ranked fourth nationally with 21 interceptions, including seven in the last four games. Only three teams didn’t throw a pick against Ohio State. Then again, that might be a concern. The top quarterback Ohio State faced all season was Michigan State’s Connor Cook, who completed 25-of-45 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns and no picks.
5. Urban Meyer
Facing Saban in the semifinal evens the odds a bit, but few coaches have as good a track record as Meyer in championship or elimination-type games (Saban is one of them). Meyer is 5-2 in BCS championship games or conference title games in which a trip to the title game, or in the case, the playoff, are on the line. Again, Saban’s record is pretty unimpeachable itself, but Meyer’s is close. The matchup includes a 1-1 record in SEC championship games between Florida and Alabama, games that were in effect national semifinals.