COLUMBUS — Ohio State is in a familiar spot: fighting for its place in the College Football Playoff.
After that opportunity was stripped from the Buckeyes by the Big Ten in mid-August, the league is back from the dead, opting to reinstate the college football season this fall with enough time to send a team to compete for a national title.
No one in the conference is equipped to do that like Ohio State is.
Now that the season is back on and slated to start on Oct. 24, Ohio State will have at least eight — and potentially nine — games to play its way into the College Football Playoff. The dream of a title is still alive.
“They never lost faith,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said of his team. “They never lost trust, and their behavior through this thing has been excellent and they never stopped fighting. It was during a time that was very, very uncertain. It’s not easy for 18, 19, 20 year olds to go through this, and they did. The culture was never more evident. I couldn’t be more prouder.
“Now, they get the opportunity that they asked for, which was to safely compete for a championship and get back into the CFP picture, which so many of them, after they left the field last year against Clemson, really, really, wanted.”
A little more than a month ago, Ohio State president Kristina M. Johnson was one of three presidents in the league to approve of a fall football season. But Wednesday, the presidents from across the conference came together for a unanimous vote to reinstate the season and revive College Football Playoff dreams that were mere dreams last month.
Now, they can still be a reality for the best team in the Big Ten — as long as the protocols set in place by the conference are followed and outbreaks don’t derail the season once it starts.
The eight game model, along with a conference title game at the end of the year, provides Ohio State a chance to prove it’s one of the four best teams in the country, a point that was presumed by voters across the country in the preseason. It’ll be up to the Buckeyes to show they belong there. And it’ll be up to the College Football Playoff committee to take factors unique to this season into consideration when selecting those four teams.
“I feel confident that if every school embraces the protocols and every school does what our student athletes have done and our football team has done, we should get get to a point where we have a chance to have a clean, competitive field each Saturday,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. “I think it’s assumed by the [CFP] committee, as others, we may not have consistency in the number of games a particular league will play. We might have some that have eight, we might have some that have nine. We might have some that have seven. Who knows?
“I think they understand that and they’ll develop criteria that will pay attention to championships and then overall win/loss record. And I think this year maybe a little more of trying to identify which team, frankly, has the best look about it. I hate to say that but I think that’s going to be something that has to enter into it.”
Whether the Buckeyes pass the eye test is yet to be seen. That will start on Oct. 24, when Ohio State begins its chase for a national title after coming up short a year ago. It’s reasonable to think that one of the most talented teams in program history will pass that test and run through its schedule with few — if any — hiccups.
That’s what Day and the Buckeyes have been asking for since Aug. 11 when the league canceled the season: a chance. And now they get one.
Ohio State’s CFP hunt is back on.