Here is the predicament facing Ohio State from now until Nov. 21: The Buckeyes will win and win and win, but they can't win.
Not in the court of public opinion. Not when the rest of America – especially the Southeastern precinct – is loudly playing compare/contrast between Ohio State's schedule and those of other College Football Playoff contenders.
Starting with Hawaii on Saturday, the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes basically have nine weeks of backrubs, manicures and pedicures before playing Michigan State, the only currently ranked opponent on their schedule. On the other end of the spectrum – and just one spot down in the polls – is Alabama, which has eight more games against currently ranked opponents.
That's right. Every single Crimson Tide SEC game is against a ranked team. At least as of now.
It's a bit ridiculous to rank 10 SEC teams at this juncture, but the 14-member league currently inhabits 40 percent of the AP Top 25. That's attributable somewhat to earned reputation, somewhat to hollow hype and somewhat to the fact that the league took care of business in Week 1.
The SEC went 12-1, with old reliable Vanderbilt supplying the loss and LSU's game against McNeese State canceled because of weather. That included victories over 2014 bowl teams Arizona State, Wisconsin, Louisville, North Carolina, Louisiana-Lafayette, Bowling Green and UTEP. And that was enough to swell the SEC's top 25 membership from eight in the preseason to 10 today.
And that got a few SEC coaches talking on the league teleconference this week. Not just about the strength of their league, but about the relative weakness of Ohio State's league.
"Ohio State has one game remaining with a ranked opponent," said Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who used to coach in the Big Ten at Wisconsin. "We have eight remaining against teams that are ranked."
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen referenced a game probability index that he said had Ohio State at 99 percent likelihood of winning its next nine games.
"What would be interesting is how that would rank for each team in the SEC West off of that schedule, and how many of those teams would almost be looking at locks into the playoff just in the West if that was the schedule that our teams had to play," Mullen said. "What would their percentage be if they were playing one of our schedules?"
So here we are, just a week into the season, and they're lining up to take shots at the king. Expect that to only intensify as the absurdly talented Buckeyes steamroll Hawaii, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois in the coming weeks. Ohio State almost certainly will be favored by double digits in all those games, and probably by 20 or more in most of them.
Then we will wait to see how the College Football Playoff selection committee weighs "eye test" against strength of schedule.
If the defending champions remain undefeated and look great while doing so, it will be difficult for the committee to demote them during their (largely counterproductive) weekly rankings that begin Nov. 3. At least, it would be difficult given the general rigidity that accompanies poll voting. But think of the potential counterargument from Alabama or any other SEC West team that is undefeated when the rankings begin.
If Ohio State's signature victory prior to late November is over an unranked Virginia Tech team, and the Crimson Tide has beaten eight ranked opponents, how could Alabama be denied the No. 1 ranking?
The Ohio State argument would basically be: Watch us and trust us. You know we're good – after all, we're almost the identical team that beat Alabama last season in the playoff semifinals. The Alabama (or any other SEC leader) argument would be: Quality opponents trump the eye test; we've played the best and beaten the best.
Ultimately, seeding will not matter nearly as much as just getting into the playoff. Ohio State was the fourth and lowest seed last season and won it all. So these arguments will mostly just be about jockeying for position.
But there are a couple of tangible concerns that come with Ohio State's schedule: First, can the Buckeyes afford a loss to Michigan State and still be a contender, with what could well be zero signature victories? Second, will Ohio State be ready for a probable alley fight against the Spartans (or conceivably beyond, in the playoff) when it has grown accustomed to pillow fights?
Keep that in mind, Buckeyes backers. Winning easy isn't going to stop the critics wondering where the quality wins are. It's likely going to be a season-long topic, so prepare accordingly.
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