Is it fair that Buckeyes are in?

Scooter Hobbs

These people, mostly the media, just need to get off Dabo Swinney’s back.

The sporting world’s Fourth Estate complains often and correctly about so-called coach-speak — i.e., using lots of words to say nothing — which is the quickest way to send our eyes rolling to the back of our heads.

But when the Clemson coach speaks his mind honestly, which he’s prone to do, he gets dragged over the coals.

And sometimes actions speak louder than words.

Dabo’s latest crime?

In his vote in the coaches’ poll, he put Ohio State, his undefeated opponent in the Sugar Bowl College Playoff semifinal, right smack there at No. 11.

That’s two 1’s, double figures, not the old We’re No. 1.

How dare he?

But give him credit.

He’s sticking by it, even though it will surely show up on Ohio State bulletin boards (and be forgotten precisely one second after kickoff).

The Clemson coach said in a radio interview that his problem wasn’t the Buckeyes’ talent. It wasn’t even their strength of schedule, but its’ length of schedule.

The Buckeyes played only six games, which includes a gerrymandered Big 10 championship game that changed the rules to let the Buckeyes in with only five regular season games.

“It’s not that they’re not good enough,” Dabo explained. “They could beat us by two touchdowns.”

He was right in what he did — and right in what he said.

Ohio State most assuredly can beat Clemson. The Buckeyes are probably that good.

Key word: Probably.

But they don’t belong in the College Football Playoffs.

Dabo ­— he has a last name but any time you can refer to somebody as Dabo you have to go for it; I never got a grown-up name either — had a problem with three teams in the CFP playing 11 games and the Buckeyes playing six.

You can argue if Notre Dame belongs in the No. 4 hole in this thing instead of, say, maybe Texas A&M. That’s the spot that always gets the internet’s dander up (and, yet — pet peeve alert — when there doesn’t really seem to be a viable No. 4, this is somehow seen as proof that the playoff needs to expand?)

Still, the Irish played a representative schedule, went 10-1, losing only to Clemson (which it also beat).

No problem with Notre Dame.

The Aggies problem ought to be with Ohio State.

Back when a season of any sort seemed dicey, I made up my mind that, whatever happens, whatever adjustments had to be made, there would be no asterisks.

But Ohio State is in the gray area.

Six games was enough to know the Buckeyes are talented.

But deserving?

Talk to a very good Florida team about the perils of playing out a full schedule. It can come down to the whims of a stray shoe, begging to be thrown, in an LSU game that could just as easily have been conveniently canceled.

Ohio State has some similar history. Take 2017. The Buckeyes were ransacking the Big 10 when, in their ninth game of the season they showed up at Iowa and got hammered 55-24.

Same thing the next year when OSU was cruising along until Purdue pole-axed the Buckeyes 49-20 in the eighth game of the year.

It’s a long season. Stuff happens.

Might have happened this year.

We’ll never know.

But the fewer games you play, the fewer chances to find Murphy’s Law lurking on the schedule.

True, it’s not all Ohio State’s fault. The Buckeyes happened to play in the Big 10, which overestimated its influence on the game when it took the high road and announced early that it would not play in the fall due to the pandemic.

The Buckeyes were a dissenting voice in that decision, but you are the company you keep.

Among the Power Five, only the Pac 10 tagged along like loyal puppies and the Big 10 started backtracking, eventually reconsidering enough to hammer out a makeshift schedule.

Never mind that, as Dabo suspects, we don’t have sufficient body of work to put Ohio State in.

Here’s the real question: Is it fair to the others for the Buckeyes to be in?

It would surprise nobody — except maybe Alabama — if Ohio State won it all.

The Buckeyes should certainly be the freshest team in the affair.

Not much tread on those tires, certainly not the wear and tear of the other three.

And this is 2020, where teams don’t have the usual three or four weeks of R&R between the regular season and postseason.

There’s a thing in golf called “protecting the field,” which is to say that, for the benefit of your fellow players, you keep an eagle eye on that guy that keeps getting miraculous lies and openings whenever he wanders into the trees.

It doesn’t seem right for Bama, Clemson and Notre Dame. Yes, this disjointed season presented obstacles. But it could still do better in keeping a level playing field.

It’s almost like lining up for the final running portion of the triathlon and finding out that one of your fellow competitors got there late and was allowed to skip the swimming.

l

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU

athletics. Email him at

shobbs@americanpress.comScooter Hobbs (American Press)

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