"We don’t think in terms of most deserving on the resume. We’re focused on the best four teams and the best ranking in the [playoff] top 25. Again, our focus is the best, not deserving." — College Football Playoff chair Jeff Long, April 30, 2014.
Ohio State is about to see whether those comments will prove to be true.
If nothing else, Long's comment in April has been a stark contrast to the overall theme of the playoff's first go-around, which has been about a team's body of work. Case in point: One-loss Oregon jumped an undefeated Florida State in Week 12.
Granted, there's an argument to be made that the Seminoles, who have five come-from-behind victories, aren't one of the two best teams in college football, but Long's explanation for the Ducks indicates another line of reasoning.
"Based on the committee's view about the strength of Florida State's schedule and their body of work compared to Oregon's strength of schedule and body of work, the committee voted that Oregon was No. 2," Long said, via Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports. "It was a very close call, but the committee placed significant value on Oregon's quality of wins against three top‑25 teams, two of which were on the road."
Ohio State's body of work has some prominent highs and lows. Beating Michigan State on the road 49-37 was one of the better conference wins by any team this season. However, the anchor that continues to hold the Buckeyes back is the Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech. It hasn't helped that the Hokies are 5-5 and fighting for bowl eligibility.
Ohio State, should it win the Big Ten East, could have one more opportunity to beat a quality opponent in its conference championship game. Would that be enough by itself, or would the Buckeyes need some help from elsewhere?
The growing feeling about the Buckeyes is that, if the committee were to pick the four teams playing the best football right now, Ohio State would be included.
The question is how does the committee measure that beyond the obvious winning streak? Efficiency metrics from FootballOutsiders.com have Ohio State as the No. 3 team in the country as of Nov. 8.
Yes, most of Ohio State's wins came against soft opponents, but basing strength of schedule solely on top-25 wins is a hit-or-miss measuring stick, too; take Baylor, for example, which has one win against a Top 25 team (TCU). However, the Bears basically beat Oklahoma out of the Top 25 in Week 11. And that's somehow going to be held against Baylor?
Similarly, Minnesota may not be ranked No. 25 this week after Ohio State beat the Gophers 31-24. Should that now hurt Ohio State's strength of schedule when compared side-by-side to another team?
These are the types of questions the committee is going to have to ask and ultimately answer. There's a reason the committee members signed up for this task, and it's an unenviable one.
Perhaps the picture gets clearer in a few weeks, and Ohio State is in a better position based on the landscape around it. For now, Ohio State's angle is that it's the team nobody wants to play. You'd be hard-pressed to find a group—specifically, an offense—that has improved as much as Ohio State has over the past two months.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett is making his case for a Heisman finalist spot even though he started the year as a replacement for injured starter Braxton Miller. The offensive line is paving the way for running back Ezekiel Elliott to pick up 5.7 yards every time he touches the ball.
Playing your best football at season's end should count for something, right? Just how much is what remains to be seen, but Long has set a tone for the committee's evaluation process; now, it's a matter of whether Ohio State fits that tone.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.