Most years, the majority of the College Football Playoff field crystalizes by the night before the selection committee actually announces who’s in.
But through five years, when there’s been a question about a spot or two, one team’s always been at the heart of it. Ohio State has become the Playoff’s most reliable source of controversy, both in years the Buckeyes have made the final four and years they haven’t.
2014: Jumping two teams at the buzzer
Ohio State made the field as the #4 seed. But entering Championship Saturday, the 11-1 Buckeyes were #5.
They were two spots behind TCU, which was 10-1 and about to play a bad Iowa State. OSU had a Big Ten Championship date with No. 13 Wisconsin.
Ohio State had lost by 14 at home to a mediocre Virginia Tech back in Week 2, while TCU’s loss was a Week 6 barnburner to an elite Baylor, 61-58.
Both OSU and TCU destroyed teams on Champs Weekend. But Ohio State’s 59-0 romp over an actual good team was enough for the Buckeyes to leapfrog the Frogs, who fell all the way to #6. (Baylor moved up from sixth to fifth after matching TCU’s strength of schedule.) Baylor and TCU settled as co-Big 12 champions, and though OSU had the schedule strength advantage over both, many speculated the Buckeyes only made it because of their large brand.
The Big 12, of course, was incensed and installed a conference championship game in the hopes of avoiding that scenario again. Years later, the 2014 national champs remain the only team to leapfrog a Championship Weekend winner to make the Playoff at the buzzer.
2015: Fairly out in a year without controversy ... but still the closest thing to a regrettable omission
Ohio State was clearly out this year, by virtue of losing on the second-to-last weekend of the regular season to Michigan State. The Spartans won the Big Ten and made the field, which had to happen, even though they’d predictably get destroyed by Bama in a Cotton Bowl semifinal.
Since there wasn’t any debate about any of the four spots this year, we could count the fact that the Buckeyes were probably the Big Ten’s best team, which bowl season would help emphasize.
2016: The first-ever non-champ to make it
Ohio State became the first team to make the field despite not winning its conference, even grabbing the #3 seed. Until this moment, it was assumed by many that a conference title was essentially a requirement.
The 11-1 Buckeyes had lost dramatically at Penn State, which went on to win the conference title game. But the Nittany Lions had two losses, and the committee — which had kept OSU above PSU in the weeks leading up to Selection Sunday — maintained the Buckeyes deserved a spot. The Nittany Lions slotted fifth, two spots behind the team they beat.
The Buckeyes would get shut out by Clemson in the semifinal.
2017: The reverse of 2016
Ohio State finished #5, one spot out of the field. The Buckeyes were the only non-Playoff team to have a serious case, but they missed out under the exact precedent they’d helped set the year before.
OSU won the Big Ten, but it had two losses: one at home to Oklahoma, and one that involved giving up 55 points to Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa Hawkeyes.
The committee decided to take Alabama instead at #4. The Tide didn’t win the SEC West, but they only had one loss, to a highly ranked Auburn.
Bama had the less-bad case, given recent context and the tight tale of the tape between the two teams. That did not stop some Buckeyes fans from alleging an ESPN conspiracy against arguably the sport’s biggest brand, thus sounding even more deranged than 2014 Baylor/TCU fans.
Elsewhere, UCF was undefeated, but the committee never indicated it cared.
2018: The first one-loss Power 5 champ to miss since the 2014 Big 12
In previous years, getting out of a power league as a solo champ with one loss was a guaranteed ticket to the Playoff. But Ohio State finished #6.
What’s different this year, for starters, is that Notre Dame took up one spot by being undefeated. Ohio State also missed out in favor of one-loss Big 12 champion Oklahoma, whose only loss was by a field goal to Texas, a team it then beat in the conference title game. Ohio State’s loss was a blowout at the hands of Purdue, and that probably made the difference. Still, Ohio State (and Georgia) had cases.
2019: A real dustup over the #1 seed
There was no controversy about who’d make the Playoff this year, but there was a bunch over whether Ohio State or LSU would get the top seed and thus get to avoid Clemson (an unusually dominant-looking #3 seed) in the semifinals.
Ohio State had four really nice wins (Wisconsin twice, Penn State, and Michigan), and all three of its non-conference opponents made championship games themselves. (FAU and Miami (Ohio) won theirs, and Cincinnati fell just short in the AAC).
Alternatively, LSU appeared close to Ohio State even before blowing out Georgia, and the Tigers had wins over Alabama (before Tua Tagovailoa was knocked out for the year), Florida, and Auburn.
Different reputable metrics sided with each team. It was extremely tight, and on Selection Sunday, the choice for the #1 seed was the only Playoff-related drama.
The committee dropped Ohio State to #2 and gave LSU the top spot. Ohio State fans were mad. (I published this post before I checked to see if they were mad, but trust me: they were mad.)