When the College Football Playoff rankings came out last week, many were surprised to find Ohio State leap-frogged LSU to take the number-one ranking. While in the grand scheme of things the order doesn't matter all that much - they're both assured of top four spots assuming they don't lose, and you gotta win two games to win the CFP no matter your ranking - being number one in the nation still means the presumed easier game and cache.
Given that both teams won by large margins this week, as did No. 3 Clemson, the debate will most likely continue all the way to Tuesday, when the next set of Playoff rankings are released.
But Ohio State's 56-27 victory over Michigan was the perfect validation for the Playoff committee's decision to move Ohio State up to number-one - and it should be good enough to keep it there, too.
In terms of margin of victory, it may not have been as impressive at first glance as, say, LSU's 50-7 thrashing of Texas A&M or Clemson's 38-3 win over South Carolina, but neither of those games were expected to be all that close anyway. After all, Texas A&M is not nearly on the same level as LSU, nor is South Carolina on the same level as Clemson.
Michigan was supposed to at least compete with Ohio State. After all, it had a chip on its shoulder from seven straight losses in the big game, it had the home-field advantage, and it was riding a four-game winning streak. Surely the Wolverines would at least put up a fight? But they didn't. The Buckeyes rolled from start to finish.
I won't deny that LSU has both the flash and the credentials. The Tigers have Heisman front-runner Joe Burrow (or...Burreaux?) at quarterback, and an offense putting up video-game numbers. In November, they claimed the ultimate scalp - Alabama.
But Ohio State's own quarterback, Justin Fields, shouldn't be too far behind Burrow in the Heisman hunt, and his gritty Willis-esque performance against Michigan - in which he battled back from what looked like a game-ending knee injury to throw a game-sealing touchdown - proved why. Furthermore, his scrambling and running ability add another dimension to Ohio State's offense which, coupled with the rushing of J.K. Dobbins, make for a frightening package. Overall, the Buckeyes have the fourth-best rushing attack in the nation, trailing only the three service academies.
If we're comparing LSU and Ohio State, we should also compare defenses, and Ohio State's is clearly the superior of the two. The Buckeyes have allowed an average of 9.67 points per game, by far the lowest in the Big Ten, and have held opponents in the single digits in five of their twelve games. This is due mainly to the efforts of defensive end Chase Young, another Heisman contender, who has already set the team single-season sack record despite missing two games due to NCAA sanctions.
That leaves one more factor - strength of schedule, the deciding factor in determining who goes to the Playoff and who goes to the Polyester Bowl. In that case, Ohio State has the edge - in fact, according to TeamRankings.com, it has the highest strength of schedule factor of any team in the nation, and it's made the most of it. In October, in what might have been an even more impressive win than their victory over Michigan, the Buckeyes took No. 13 Wisconsin behind the woodshed in a 38-7 crushing, which they will hope to repeat in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Of course, we don't have the final say. That's up to the 13 members of the Playoff Committee, who will determine whether Ohio State stays at number one or not.