The selection committee made clear at least one point Tuesday: Winning a game isn’t always enough.
How a team wins or — in the words committee chair Jeff Long — how a team controls the game is just as important.
However the committee wants to explain its weekly rankings, Ohio State should be concerned with one word: Doubt.
Ohio State defeated Indiana 42-27 and led by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but the game wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the final score indicates.
Only a week after a 31-24 win over Minnesota, Ohio State spent three quarters tussling with a team that hadn’t won a Big Ten game. Perhaps the best news of the day for Ohio State occurred in Lincoln as Minnesota remaind in the Big Ten title hunt with a win over Nebraska. A road victory over Minnesota remains the second-best win of the season for Ohio State.
Back in Columbus, though, Indiana had scored 20 consecutive points for a six-point lead before freshman Jalin Marshall returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
Ohio State regrouped to overwhelm Indiana in the fourth quarter, but not until after giving the selection committee reason to second guess the Buckeyes. And even though Ohio State moved up to No. 6 last week, the Buckeyes surely don’t want to make the selection committee think too much.
In some ways, perhaps these two weeks should be a zero sum game. Ohio State did the same thing TCU did a week ago when the Horned Frogs let Kansas lead before claiming a 34-30 win. Ohio State’s sputtering performance against Indiana, a team that defeated a ranked Missouri team on the road this season, ended in a more lopsided victory.
But TCU, Baylor and any other one-loss team doesn’t have the albatross of a home loss to 5-6 Virginia Tech. The Hokies, by the way, lost 6-3 in double overtime to Wake Forest, a team that started Saturday ranked 149th in the Sagarin ratings.
While Ohio State has won five Big Ten games by at least 12 points, the Buckeyes aren’t making things easy. If the selection committee starts to see Ohio State’s first three quarters against Indiana as part of a trend, the Buckeyes may be in trouble.
And for that, there’s a fair amount of data: Ohio State has been on the negative side of the turnover margin in three consecutive games thanks to three giveaways against Indiana.
The run defense that gave up 178 yards to Michigan State and 218 to Minnesota gave up 281 to the Hoosiers.
Ohio State couldn’t control Tevin Coleman. The Buckeyes didn’t control the game. And, now, they may lose control of their momentum toward the playoff.