First and 20: Buckeyes belong in playoff

Anthony Gimino

November 27, 2016 at 10:25 am.

Nov 26, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Curtis Samuel (4) scores the winning touchdown in the second overtime under pursuit from Michigan Wolverines cornerback Jourdan Lewis (26) at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won the game 30-27 in double overtime. Photo Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 26, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Curtis Samuel (4) scores the winning touchdown in the second overtime under pursuit from Michigan Wolverines cornerback Jourdan Lewis (26) at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won the game 30-27 in double overtime. Photo Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Put Ohio State in.

This is the College Football Playoff selection committee’s dilemma. It hasn’t had to strongly consider a nonconference champion in the first two years of this system. We get it. Conference champions get favored treatment. The tiebreaker, as it were.

The Buckeyes, thanks to one untimely loss, won’t be playing in the Big Ten title game for the second consecutive year. They were shut out of the playoff last season because the team that beat them — Michigan State — was playoff-worthy and Ohio State had merely one quality victory (Michigan).

This year, Ohio State — with the same 11-1 record — has wins at Oklahoma and Wisconsin, plus Saturday’s 30-27 overtime thriller over Michigan. That’s three victories over teams that were in the CFP Top 10 last week and figure to be again this week.

That’s quality.

So, put Ohio State in.

Alabama is in, even if it loses the SEC title game to Florida. Clemson is in if it beats Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game. Oklahoma plays Oklahoma State, trying to run the table in the Big 12, but so what? Ohio State beat the Sooners.

Washington — which really needed to face USC in the Pac-12 title game to have a chance to avenge its only loss — instead will get upstart Colorado. The committee has punished teams with poor nonconference records; the Huskies played Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State. Ohio State has a better resume than a potential 12-1 Husky championship team.

To recap: Ohio State trumps whoever wins the Pac-12 and Big 12. It boxes out potential Big Ten champ Wisconsin, given the head-to-head win. If Penn State wins the conference, that’s a bit more problematic, but you could still make the case that the Buckeyes’ body of work is superior, even with a three-point loss in Happy Valley.

The committee’s job isn’t to rubber-stamp four conference champions. It has to dig deeper to identify the four best teams. If Ohio State isn’t one of them, the committee isn’t doing it right.

5 things we learned in Week 13

1. Preseason predictions are hard. Penn State was consensus fourth-best team in the Big Ten East behind three ranked teams. Colorado was the nearly unanimous as the pick for the worst team in the Pac-12 South. Wyoming was widely considered the basement dwellers of the Mountain Division of the Mountain West. They all won their respective divisions. Predictions are hard; college football is awesome.

2. Foes are serious about Arizona State stealing signs. Utah first accused ASU of stealing offensive signals last year, when Oregon went to such lengths that it held up curtains to block the Sun Devils’ view. Earlier this season, Washington State coach Mike Leach was fined $10,000 by the league for publicly accusing ASU of stealing signs. And last Friday, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez — who popularized the all-the-time, no-huddle offense in the early 1990s — actually huddled so he could send in the call with a substitute player. Said Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins: “ASU be cheatin’.”

3. The Tide’s defense is even better than we thought. Alabama played LSU, Mississippi State, Chattanooga and Auburn in November and had to defend 49 possessions. It gave up no touchdowns. None. Zero. The Tide allowed six field goals, 18 points. That’s 0.37 points allowed per possession.

4. The loneliest job in the college football is being Navy’s punter. The Midshipmen beat Notre Dame, Tulsa, East Carolina and SMU in November, scoring 141 points — yes, 141 — just in the past two weeks. Alex Barta was called off the sideline to punt just twice in the entire month.

5. The Pac-12 South is the wackiest division. The past five seasons have produced five different champions: UCLA, ASU, Arizona, USC and now Colorado. Sorry, Utah.

5 top Heisman candidates

1. QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville. He struck a Heisman pose but committed four turnovers in a loss to Kentucky and has used up all his margin of error in the Heisman race. Can’t ignore his 51 total touchdowns and 4,928 yards as a dual-threat quarterback, but those who stick Jackson atop their ballot will do so with much less enthusiasm after back-to-back stinkers in consecutive losses.

2. HB Curtis Samuel, Ohio State. The speedy and shifty all-purpose threat has rushed for 704 yards, caught 65 passes for 822 yards, scored 15 touchdowns … and he totally saved Ohio State’s bacon against Michigan.

3. DL Jonathan Allen, Alabama. Sorry, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers. If we’re picking a defensive player, the Tide has to be recognized. Allen is the hub of the nation’s most dominant defensive front, with 52 tackles, including 11 for loss and 7.5 sacks, to go with 13 quarterback hurries.

4. QB Baker Mayfield/WR DeDe Westbrook, Oklahoma. Mayfield’s arm, legs and moxie have led the Sooners to the top of the Big 12 and on the playoff fringe after two early losses. But he couldn’t have done it without Westbrook, who has 15 touchdown receptions in the past eight games.

5. QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson. He’s a known commodity, has one more game left, has 34 touchdown passes, and he carved up South Carolina last week to gather momentum. But, oh, those 14 interceptions.

5 coaching realities

1. Texas got its man. Charlie Strong, even if he’s a good guy who needed more time, had to go after three losing seasons. Tom Herman played this just right, jumping to the Longhorns after two years at Houston.

2. Oregon is on the clock. Mark Helfrich looked to be back in the “safe” column after winning at Utah two weeks ago, but a loss to Oregon State in the Civil War brought back the call for change. In fact, by the time you read this, Helfrich might be the Ducks’ ex-coach.

3. LSU settled, but in a good way. Jimbo Fisher wasn’t going to Baton Rouge, and Tom Herman stayed in the state of Texas, so the Tigers simply removed the “interim” from Ed Orgeron’s title. Does it make sense to fire Les Miles and hire his defensive line coach? Not really, but Coach O can motivate, recruit and possibly put together a killer staff. We’ll see.

4. Baylor is a long-term project. The Bears reportedly are targeting SMU coach Chad Morris, who stylistically fits with Baylor’s offense. Whoever gets the job will need time. Baylor will be down to about 50 scholarship players after the season and enters this week with only one committed player in its 2017 class.

5. Let the bidding for P.J. Fleck begin. Unbeaten Western Michigan is in the driver’s seat for the Group of Five’s spot in the Cotton Bowl, and Fleck — who turns 36 on Tuesday — can spend that currency on landing a bigger job. Purdue? Oregon?

5 games to watch in Week 14

1. Wisconsin vs. Penn State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET) — The Badgers opened as slight favorite in what should be a defensive battle in the title game with the most playoff implications.

2. Washington vs. Colorado (Friday, 9 p.m. ET) — Don’t sleep on the Buffs just because you didn’t see them coming. Colorado is solid in every area. Great receiver-defensive back matchups in this one.

3. Clemson vs. Virginia Tech (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET) — It looked like Tech’s hiring of Justin Fuente was one of the best coaching moves of the offseason, and it has been. He jazzed up Frank Beamer’s offense while still producing a Top 20 defense.

4. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET) — Bedlam is the de-facto Big 12 championship game, with points on parade.

5. Alabama vs. Florida (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET) — Can the Gators score a touchdown? Can they get past midfield?