Oklahoma Sneaks In, and Ohio State Costs Itself No. 1 on Championship Saturday

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2019

Oklahoma running back Rhamondre Stevenson (29) crosses the goal line for a touchdown run in front of Baylor linebacker Terrel Bernard (26) and cornerback Grayland Arnold (1) during overtime in an NCAA college football game for the Big 12 Conference championship, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Arlington, Texas. Oklahoma won 30-23. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS Despite a flash of Wisconsin-sparked chaos, championship weekend ended up providing the simplest College Football Playoff scenario.

Utah's loss eliminated the Pac-12. Oklahoma, the Big 12 champion, all but officially joined the Top Four after Georgia fell to LSU. Massive favorites Clemson and Ohio State dispatched their respective opponents to lock in the four CFP qualifiers with no drama.

Well, not a whole lot, at least.

The selection committee often shows a recency bias, and Ohio State did itself no favors Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Put simply, the 13-point winning margin isn't a perfect reflection of the game. The top-ranked Buckeyes fell behind Wisconsin 14-0, sending the college football world spinning into discussions of whether the Badgers could leap Oklahoma in the poll.

Ohio State eventually recovered to earn a 34-21 victory, but Ryan Day's club is likely to tumble from its perch atop the rankings. The Buckeyes' final bullet on their resume was far less emphatic than LSU's dominant 37-10 triumph over No. 4 Georgia.

Instead of taking on an Oklahoma team that slithered into the Top Four, the Buckeyes should expect a date with Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

Let's just say those memories aren't so great.

Make no mistake: Ohio State is a fantastic team. A few weeks of rest for Justin Fields may prove invaluable too.

After dealing with knee injuries in back-to-back games, Fields struggled mightily in the first half and battled inaccuracy Saturday. Without question, it's a good problem to have when a shaky performance includes 300 total yards and three touchdowns. Still, the quarterback's health is a reasonable concern for the Buckeyes.

Plus, their defense surrendered a season-worst 432 yards. Noted dual-threat quarterback Jack Coandetect heavy sarcasmpicked up 18 yards on two scrambles alone and scored twice on designed runs. That's not an encouraging sign before taking on Trevor Lawrence, who quietly has 407 rushing yards this year.

Oh, and he's merely a Heisman Trophy-caliber passer.

Coan threw for 232 yards with a 17-of-33 mark through the air, and Wisconsin has nowhere near the skill-position talent Clemson has. Lawrence, meanwhile, enters the College Football Playoff with eight straight games of three-plus passing touchdowns and six consecutive without an interception.

Ross Taylor @ClemsonFBRoss

With his evening potentially done, Trevor Lawrence has tied his own single-season school record of 169 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, set last season. Tajh Boyd holds Clemson's multi-season record of 187 across 2012-13.

That's not as ideal as playing Oklahoma, which has 12 turnovers in its last six outings andnot coincidentallyfive one-score margins during the same stretch.

Yes, Oklahoma, here is your disrespect card.

We can start with pleasantries. Jalen Hurts' path is remarkablefour straight CFP appearances, all with dramatically varying narratives. He was an emergent freshman and then a benched sophomore. He responded as the heroic backup last season and is now the dynamic senior transfer.

No story arc is anywhere near as compelling. However, his history isn't especially relevant to the conversation.

The Sooners' offensive efficiency has steadily dipped in the second half of the season. Doing enough to win is all that mattered through the Big 12 Championship Game, but that bar is about to rise significantly as the competition level does.

Look, Oklahoma barely escaped third-string quarterback Jacob Zeno in overtime despite holding Baylor's offense to 265 yards. Calling that an unsettling result is not being irrationally critical.

Lincoln Riley and Jalen Hurts
Lincoln Riley and Jalen HurtsJeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

Perhaps anything can happen in a one-game sample. And you can't demand the spotlight unless you're on the stage, right? Oklahoma has completed that half of the battle.

Nevertheless, while the Sooners deserve their spot, there's a clear drop from LSU, Ohio State and Clemson to the Big 12 champs.

Even as no coach or player will (or should) acknowledge the differencebeyond Day's campaigning for the No. 1 spot in his celebratory on-field commentsOhio State's perceived loss is LSU's gain. Preparing for Clemson is a more daunting task.

Now, it's up to Hurts, head coach Lincoln Riley and the Sooners to change that perception. Yet thanks to Saturday's winno matter how close, no matter the aestheticsthey have the chance.

Recruiting rankings via 247Sports' composite.

Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.