Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 11:58 AM
Ohio State is priced at 5-2 odds to win college football’s national championship, the second-lowest price in the country after 5-8 favorite Alabama. It’s a reflection of the regard the market has for the Buckeyes’ body of work this season, the quality of their personnel and the certainty that they will be included in the College Football Playoff when the final pairings are announced on Sunday morning.
But is that confidence misguided?
There’s considerable evidence to suggest that it is. Let’s begin with Ohio State’s body of work. The Buckeyes’ early-season credibility was built on their decisive 45-24 win in Oklahoma. As the Sooner s have gained steam and gotten to the edge of Playoff consideration themselves, that win looks even better. But should it? Oklahoma’s success has come entirely at the expense of the Big 12, a conference which—to put it nicely—stunk in non-league play. Ohio State’s win in Norman was a good one to be sure, but not necessarily the mark of a national title favorite.
Then there are the warts which appear on the Big Ten resume. Set aside the head-to-head loss at Penn State for the moment. Every team not named Alabama has had a hiccup somewhere and losing in State College on a blocked field goal return is hardly an embarrassment. Even allowing that, there are still concerns.
Ohio State’s 38-17 win over Indiana on October 8 was closer than the score makes it appear. A week later they needed overtime to survive Wisconsin, an overtime made possible only because of a poorly timed holding penalty from the Badgers on a potentially decisive drive. The Buckeyes barely escaped Northwestern in Columbus with a 24-20 win. Ohio State needed to stop a late two-point play to hold off an upset bid from lowly Michigan State just two weeks ago.
As to the Buckeyes’ thrilling 30-27 double-overtime win on Saturday...well, you don’t need to subscribe to the post-game complaints of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to be skeptical. Even allowing for OSU’s missing of two short field goals, this was still a game the Wolverines gave away with three foolish turnovers.
None of this makes Ohio State’s resume inherently worse than any other non-Alabama contender. The difference is that the Buckeyes are the only ones being priced close to the Crimson Tide. Are you really that confident that OSU could, let’s say, make quick work of Clemson and then beat Alabama head-to-head? They have the talent to make it possible. They have enough flaws, which have been made manifest through the season, to not necessarily wager it at a short price.
Furthermore, Ohio State is by no means a guarantee to even make the Playoff. Now is the time of year when fans can have their fun and debate whether a non-conference champ like the Buckeyes should go in at the expense of the winner of the Big Ten Championship Game. As a college football bettor, I’m concerned solely with what recent history teaches us about how the Playoff Committee will react.
And those answers aren’t comforting if you’re a Buckeye backer. Two years ago, TCU fell from #3 to #6 in the final week simply because Baylor had the title of “conference champion” put on its resume. Will Ohio State watch the Penn State-Wisconsin winner enjoy a similar leap?
We can debate it all day and sports talk shows are doing just that. What should be focused on is that this is a team far from assured of being in the Playoff and plenty of reasons to doubt their ability to win two straight if they get there. At 7-1 or 8-1, I’d love Ohio State right now. Not at 5-2.