The old saying, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" is not necessarily applicable to the Ohio State Buckeyes. As a result of Utah's dominating 47-24 win over the then-No. 4-ranked USC Trojans on Friday night, Ohio State was the other beneficiary as the Buckeyes replaced the Trojans as the last team in the College Football Playoff.
While this manner and method of getting into the playoff will no doubt be scrutinized and debated, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day wasted little time in letting the college football world know what to expect from his team. Reflecting on the painful home loss to Michigan in the regular-season finale, Day said, "There are no excuses for it. But I know moving forward, we're going to play loose, and we're going to be aggressive, and we're gonna go at people."
The Buckeyes may be the last team in but here are five reasons why they could be the last team standing when all is said and done.
5 Reasons Why Ohio State Will Win The College Football Playoff
1. C.J. Stroud
Stroud orchestrates the Ohio State offense and very likely will be a Heisman Trophy finalist for the second straight season. The recipient of both the Big Ten's offensive player and quarterback of the year awards, the playoff also could be Stroud's last time playing in a Buckeyes uniform, as he's projected to be one of the top picks in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft.
Stroud took the home loss to Michigan very personally and would like nothing more than to rewrite the narrative that he was not able to guide the Buckeyes to a championship. The playoff is an opportunity for Stroud to do just that and he also may finally have his full complement of weapons around him.
2. Improved health of the running backs
Comparable to the Smith-Njigba situation, Ohio State's running game suffered down the stretch, as both Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson battled nagging injuries. Henderson missed the Michigan game, while Williams tried to play, but was noticeably limited.
The time off until the Dec. 31 semifinal should help both recover and be back, if not close, to 100 percent. Both ball carriers have shown they can be difference-makers, and their presence would add yet another element to this already potent offense.
3. Special teams
An often overlooked area of any team, but the Buckeyes have two very capable specialists in kicker Noah Ruggles and punter Jesse Mirco. Ruggles has connected on 15 of 17 field goal attempts, with a long of 47 yards, as well as 69 of 70 extra point tries. Micro has averaged nearly 45 yards per punt on 44 total, with a long of 77.
While not as flashy and noteworthy as their teammates, both Ruggles and Mirco are well-respected by their teammates for their dependability. During a playoff game, when field position can be extremely crucial and moments are tense, Day knows that he has two players who will rise to the occasion if called upon during crunch time.
4. Run defense
While fairly maligned for the final 10 minutes of their performance against Michigan, the Buckeyes are stout against the run. Even after giving up a season-high 252 rushing yards and three touchdowns to the Wolverines, Ohio State boasts a top-25 run defense that's giving up 120 yards per game and has surrendered a total of 10 rushing touchdowns in 12 games. The Buckeyes are giving up just 3.4 yards per carry and are doing this despite dealing with some personnel issues. Linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, for example, has continued to get the job done (team-leading 112 tackles), even though he currently has two broken hands. Similar to the running backs, the time off until the semifinal should give the defense time to heal as well as iron out any kinks when it comes to assignments or communication.
No team in the playoff is lacking motivation, but it is doubtful that the other teams are under as much criticism and ridicule as the Buckeyes as being unworthy of the invitation. Day knows that he is being mocked for his offensive game plan against Michigan, so he'll look to regain his credibility for aggressive play-calling. Likewise, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles also is under scrutiny and has another opportunity to show that his unit is more than just capable. The players will feed off all of the disrespect from the naysayers, and also use the underdog label as motivation to show that Ohio State was indeed worthy of being a part of this season's playoff.