The Ohio State Buckeyes have been selected as one of the top four teams to play and compete in the College Football Playoff. Seeded third, Ohio State will have a rematch in the semifinals in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson, a team that has been matched against Ohio State in recent playoffs (2016, 2019).
The motivation to get back to the playoff was strong for Ohio State, after such a close loss to Clemson last year. When asked about the Buckeyes' inclusion in the playoff, head coach Ryan Day stated, "In the offseason before we went into quarantine that was a loss that was fresh on our minds... We wanted an opportunity to get back in this situation, to go win the whole thing."
Ohio State is an underdog heading into their New Year's Day's matchup in New Orleans against Clemson, but below are five reasons why the Buckeyes could emerge as the national champion at the playoff's conclusion.
5 Reasons Why Ohio State Will Win the College Football Playoff
1. Ohio State's running game
The emergence of Trey Sermon as a dependable runner was on full display in Ohio State's 22-10 win over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game. Sermon carried the ball 29 times for 331 yards with two touchdowns. A single-game school record and the most rushing yards ever in a conference championship game, Sermon was a force to be reckoned with, especially in the second half when he gained 271 yards on the ground. Behind a talented offensive line, and complemented by other backs such as Master Teague III (5.0 ypc), the Buckeyes appear to have the pieces that will allow them to control the clock and also can use the run to set up the play-action passing game.
2. Ohio State's receivers
Ohio State has been relying upon Garrett Wilson (38 rec., 621 yds., 5 TDs) and Chris Olave (36, 528, 5) all season. Olave was unavailable for the Big Ten Championship Game but may be able to return for the Sugar Bowl semifinal against Clemson. An underrated area of the Buckeyes' passing game is tight end Jeremy Ruckert, who has three touchdown catches among his nine total on the season. Ruckert is a mismatch for opposing defenses, and he could be a crucial factor in helping open up things in the passing game.
3. Justin Fields
The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and potential Heisman Trophy finalist struggled in the conference championship game against Northwestern. He completed just 12 of 27 passes for 114 yards and two interceptions and had to deal with a thumb injury (Fields thinks it may be a sprain) on his throwing hand for a good part of the game. Assuming the injury is not serious, Ohio State needs Fields to rebound and he's shown that he's capable of taking games over. Fields also gives defenses more to account t for in his mobility in the pocket and ability to pick up positive yards when he's forced to run.
4. Ohio State's interior defensive line
The Buckeyes do not have the dominant defensive ends that they have had in previous seasons when names such as Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, or Chase Young were on the roster. But while this defense may lack a premier edge rusher, the front is well-stocked with underrated interior defensive linemen such as Tommy Togiai and Haskell Garrett. Both can be disruptive to an opponent's running game, as evidenced by Northwestern only averaging 3.1 yards per carry in the Big Ten Championship Game, as well as effective in pressuring the quarterback.
5. Ohio State does not lack motivation
The sting of last season's playoff defeat to Clemson is still there and has motivated the Buckeyes all season, as head coach Ryan Day has already referenced. Throw in the continual negative commentary from the national media about how undeserving Ohio State is for being in the playoff because the team has played in just six games, and the Buckeyes will not lack for bulletin-board material. This team is ready to embrace the underdog mentality and prove to everyone that the Big Ten champs are indeed one of the four best teams in the country starting on Jan. 1 in New Orleans.
Podcast: CFB Playoff: Did the Committee Get it Right? And Early Playoff Breakdown and Picks
(Top photo courtesy of @OhioStateFB)