As a result of Utah's resounding 47-24 victory over the then-No. 4-ranked USC Trojans in the Pac-12 championship game, Ohio State took the fourth and final spot in the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes could win it all.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day wasted little time in letting the college football world know what to expect from his team. There are those that will scrutinize Day and the Buckeyes for backing into the playoff. Remember, the Buckeyes were demoralized by rival Michigan in the final regular-season game. Still, the Buckeyes can win it all. Here are five reasons why.
The Buckeyes quarterback was a Heisman Trophy finalist for the second consecutive season. He was the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year as well as the Quarterback of the Year. Stroud could declare for the NFL draft after the CFP, which would give him even more reason to lead one of the nation’s best offenses.
Ohio State totaled 492.7 yards of offense per game, which was eighth in the nation. The Buckeyes scored 44.5 points per game, which was good for second behind Tennessee. Stroud threw for 3,340 yards and 37 touchdowns. He took the Michigan loss personally and would love to make up for not getting his team a Big Ten championship.
Improved RB Health
Ohio State's running game suffered as a result of nagging injuries to both Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson. Henderson did not play in the Michigan game. Williams attempted to play but was clearly limited.
With the extended break leading up to the semifinal on December 31, both players will have had ample time to recover and be as close to 100% as possible. Their presence would add yet another element to this already effective offense because both ball carriers have demonstrated their ability to make a difference.
Forgotten Special Teams
The Buckeyes have two excellent specialists in kicker Noah Ruggles and punter Jesse Mirco, two positions that are frequently overlooked by teams. Ruggles has made 69-of-70 extra point attempts and 15-of-17 field goal attempts, with a long of 47 yards. Micro has made 44 punts in all, averaging nearly 45 yards each, with a long of 77 yards.
In a high-profile game where field position could be crucial, Day has two players who will perform admirably if needed in a playoff game.
Many might laugh after the Buckeyes got torched for 252 rushing yards by Michigan, but the Buckeyes are actually one of the better run defenses in the nation. Ohio State has a top-25 run defense that allows 120 yards per game and has allowed a total of 10 rushing touchdowns in 12 games.
In spite of having some personnel issues, the Buckeyes are only allowing 3.4 yards per carry. LB Tommy Eichenberg has persevered despite having two broken hands leading the team with 112 tackles. Similar to the running backs, the defense should have time to recover and work out any kinks in their assignments and communication during the break before the semifinal.
The Motivation Factor
No playoff team lacks motivation, but it's unlikely that the other teams are subject to the same level of scorn and mockery as the Buckeyes. They are viewed as being unworthy of the invitation to the CFP. Both Day and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles have something to prove.
Ohio State’s players will take advantage of the hostility being directed at them by the doubters. What’s interesting is the Buckeyes are a 7-point underdog in their semifinal against No. 1 seed Georgia. Ohio State is listed at +350 to win it all. TCU has the longest odds at +1600.