THE Ohio State Problem

Boy oh boy, did the Ohio State discourse take a turn for the worse today. We’ve (I’m guilty too, by virtue of this post alone) taken a minor health crisis in Ann Arbor and centered the conversation, as often happens, around a non-problem: whether their rivals on the football field deserve to play in other football games of varying import. It’s all ridiculous, and a perfectly honest accounting of where societal priorities lie. So naturally, I’m here to defend MY favorite football team against the losers and haters.

Let’s assume (for the sake of argument only, of course) that Notre Dame loses a back-and-forth ACC title game against Dabo and his swampy boys. While it’s better for the Buckeyes that the Irish take care of business and eliminate Clemson from playoff contention entirely, conventional wisdom of sorts says that a Tiger victory opens a door for OSU to jump ND. In a regular college football season, maybe, who knows, although in a regular college football season Notre Dame would obviously not be playing for a conference title. But barring a sudden Clark Lea departure and Tommy Rees arrest and an all-time Brian Kelly Purple Meltdown in the midst of a historically embarrassing loss, objective-as-possible-Notre-Dame-alum-and-blogger (me) reeeeally, really thinks the Irish would deserve that spot.

Ohio State has participated in five regular season contests to date — Notre Dame has that number doubled. Advanced metrics love OSU, their top-level talent is clear as day, yada yada, I know. That stuff matters, and Notre Dame doesn’t get a gift-wrapped top-four spot on quantitative metrics like number of games played, sure. But the Buckeyes’ resume would surely have to stand head and shoulders above others competing for one of those spots, given that small sample size (please do not gaslight me, college football playoff committee, I’m right). The Big Ten title doesn’t matter in itself — it matters because the Buckeyes (should, in my opinion, I guess) desperately need another quality win.

College Football Twitter enjoys clowning on the Irish for late-season losses that throw a wrench in their lofty ambitions — fair game, we should’ve showed up to play at Miami and Michigan if we wanted to remain contenders in past years. You know who else, though, has pulled off that ignominious feat with some regularity? Ohio State, babyyyyy. But this is dated, anecdotal evidence, irrelevant to this year’s conversation except to point out that sample size matters and winning 10 games is considerably harder than winning 5. We can move on to an exceedingly simple resume analysis.

Ohio State’s opponents’ aggregate winning percentage is 42%. Remove the best team on their schedule, a delightfully solid and entertaining Indiana squad whom the Bucks beat by a touchdown, and it falls to 31%. Public perception is that OSU consistently dominates lesser squads — true! Their average win is by 23 points. Good stuff against inferior competition to be sure.

Notre Dame’s opponents’ aggregate winning percentage is 40% — a statistically insignificant variance. Remove the best team on their schedule, who I might remind you was number 1 in the nation until they were defeated by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and it falls to 34% (this ACC-dominant schedule kinda stinks, huh) — another statistically insignificant variance. Public perception is that Notre Dame is not as reliably dominant as Ohio State, consistently playing down to their opponents and squeaking out lucky wins. But oops, would you look at that, Notre Dame’s average margin of victory is a three touchdown spread (stop me if you’ve heard this one before — statistically insignificant!). There’s also that relatively commanding win at North Carolina, a team that was supposed to knock the Irish off, if we were to listen to those in the know.

Turns out that their resumes, when we look to opponent strength in particular, are more or less equal, except that Notre Dame beat Clemson by a touchdown and won nine other games, and Ohio State beat Indiana by a touchdown and won four other games. Why a hypothetical loss to a genuinely superb team that the Irish have already vanquished would be disqualifying is beyond me. Put the Irish in, you cowards.

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