COLUMBUS, Ohio — There is no truly appealing rooting interest for Ohio State.
On one sideline is the team that took the spot in the College Football Playoff that the Buckeyes felt belonged to them. On the other is the team that just embarrassed them last year in the semifinal.
So, Alabama or Clemson?
The politically correct responses basically across the board were just in favor of a competitive game. Deep down, the actual rooting interest was a bit easier: Neither, with Oklahoma beating whoever emerges from the Sugar Bowl.
“In that particular one? No [preference],” Ohio State center Billy Price said. “I mean, I’m going to watch it because it’s college football. College football is the best form of sports out there, in my opinion. But to have a particular interest? No, not necessarily. I’m not going to be like, ‘I want Clemson to win just because Alabama got in and we didn’t.’ I think it’s a good matchup.
“Go root for a good game. Root for a good game and pray Oklahoma wins the whole thing.”
Even pulling for the Sooners might take a little bit of prodding after Baker Mayfield’s infamous flag-planting celebration at the Horseshoe this season, leaving only Georgia with no real history with the Buckeyes.
But Oklahoma comes with the cache of potentially making Ohio State’s upset loss in September look a little better in hindsight if it came at the hands of the national champions. And that was likely enough to tip the scales in favor of the Heisman Trophy winner and the Sooners, particularly since there’s not much chance the Buckeyes could swallow supporting the Tigers or the Crimson Tide.
The pain of the playoff snub has subsided somewhat thanks in part to the Cotton Bowl victory over USC, which offered a bit more evidence that Ohio State belonged in the four-team field after dominating another Power 5 conference champion. It’s now added some extra credit to a body of work that was already more impressive than Alabama’s. That doesn’t change anything, of course. And that disappointment over not getting a shot at a national title might never truly go away, even if the resentment should probably be targeted more at the playoff selection committee than the Crimson Tide.
Missing out also robbed the veterans of a shot at redemption against Clemson after the 31-0 Desert Debacle last year in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal. So, it surely wouldn’t be the same to watch Clemson lose without Ohio State getting the chance to beat them.
Either way, the Buckeyes will be watching. And at least one of them was willing to publicly pick a side in the buildup to New Year’s Day.
“Oh, I’m going for Clemson,” tailback J.K. Dobbins said. “I just don’t think Bama deserves to be there. Fresh off the press, I’m going for Clemson because I don’t think Alabama should be there. I think we should have been there.
“I mean, we shot ourselves in the foot [against Iowa]. But the committee is all about who is the best team. I think the last few games of the season, we proved that we were one of the best teams. I’m upset about it, but I’m going to watch it. I’ll watch it.”
The Buckeyes are football fans, obviously, so there might not have ever been much doubt that they would be tuning into the most important matchups of the season.
But at least until the title game, for the most part the rooting interests are going to have to wait.
“You see the national championship from last year [with Alabama and Clemson], where that game went, and then to come back and play in the semifinal, I think that’s awesome,” Price said. “I think Georgia and Oklahoma is going to be a lot better than people think. Really, really do.
“And [the Sooners] beat us, so you better go win it all. That’s how I see it. If you beat us, win the whole thing.”
First things first, Oklahoma has to beat Georgia.
After that, there will be no debate about which corner the Buckeyes will be in for the title game.