COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s rebuilding year was more like a reloading year. After losing 16 starters from last season’s 12-1 team, the Buckeyes are headed to the College Football Playoff.
The College Football Playoff announced Sunday that No. 3 Ohio State will play No. 2 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. It marks the second CFP appearance for the Buckeyes in the last three years. They won the 2014 edition by beating Alabama and Oregon.
Ohio State became the first team to be selected without winning its conference championship game. The Buckeyes built a compelling case for themselves by beating three teams ranked in the Top 10 of the AP Top 25 released on Sunday. Two of those wins — against No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 8 Wisconsin — came on the road. The third came at home against No. 6 Michigan.
Despite the Buckeyes’ loss to Penn State, the selection committee remained enamored with them throughout the season. The early wins at Oklahoma and Wisconsin played a big role in keeping Ohio State’s ranking high. Those two teams stayed in the top 15 throughout the season and eventually elevated themselves into the top 10. Given that the Buckeyes beat both on the road, it gave them a high floor in the rankings.
Ohio State put itself in this position by executing when it mattered more often than not. The Buckeyes stormed back from a 10-point deficit to beat Wisconsin in overtime. They suffered a setback at Penn State on a blocked field goal that the Nittany Lions returned for the winning touchdown. However, they responded by holding off Northwestern and then whooping Nebraska and Maryland by identical 62-3 margins.
The last two tests proved difficult. Ohio State stopped a Michigan State two-point conversion with five minutes left and held on, 17-16. Against Michigan, the Buckeyes overcame a 10-point deficit once again. Behind quarterback J.T. Barrett and H-back Curtis Samuel, they rallied to win 30-27 in double overtime.
That body of work over the entire season showed that the Buckeyes were not only one of the best teams but also among the most deserving. Because of those accomplishments, Ohio State will have a chance to play for the biggest one of all: a national championship.