Opinion: Ohio State, not Alabama, is the team with the best chance of knocking off Georgia

·5 min read

For the last several weeks, college football has been bracing for the SEC championship on Dec. 4 as the definitive matchup of the season and the game that will determine whether No. 1 Georgia is on an inevitable march to the national title.

But it would be a mistake to assume that Alabama is the team most likely to knock off Georgia. If anyone is going to stop the Bulldogs this year in the College Football Playoff, it will be Ohio State.

Though the Buckeyes have been stuck at No. 4 in the CFP’s weekly rankings, their 56-7 win over Michigan State on Saturday was a statement that it’s time for the committee to shake up the order.

Not only has a lot changed since Ohio State’s Sept. 11 loss to Oregon — the result that has kept the Ducks ahead of the Buckeyes up to this point — but the progression of the season has revealed that only Ohio State has the necessary gear to go toe-to-toe with a Georgia team that has been untouchable this season.

We haven’t seen that gear every week from Ohio State, and there’s no guarantee it’ll be there in a playoff game. It’s possible Georgia’s defense is so dominant that nobody will be able to stop it from ending an inexplicable national championship drought that stretches to 1980.

But when the best version of Ohio State does show up, it’s absolutely devastating. And the manner in which it laid waste to a good but overachieving Michigan State defense should give Kirby Smart far more heartburn than an Alabama team that has not been as good as the sum of its parts.

Buckeyes wide receiver Garrett Wilson runs for a touchdown ahead of Spartans cornerback Chester Kimbrough (12) and safety Angelo Grose (15) in the first half  at Ohio Stadium.
Buckeyes wide receiver Garrett Wilson runs for a touchdown ahead of Spartans cornerback Chester Kimbrough (12) and safety Angelo Grose (15) in the first half at Ohio Stadium.

What’s to like about Ohio State right now? Receivers running wide open all over the field and two elite guys in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave who seem to catch everything. A quarterback in C.J. Stroud whose feel and accuracy has improved by several orders of magnitude from earlier in the season when the game seemed to be moving just a tad too fast for him. A multi-dimensional running game that usually keeps the Buckeyes out of third-and-long situations. And while nobody will confuse Ohio State’s defense for the 1985 Chicago Bears, it has been significantly more functional and organized since head coach Ryan Day decided after the Oregon loss to give playcalling duties to secondary coach Matt Barnes rather than coordinator Kerry Coombs.

From the very first series against the Spartans that marched 86 yards in 12 plays without facing a third down, the Buckeyes showed what they’re capable of and had nearly 600 yards of offense before shutting things down in the third quarter.

Though naysayers will call Michigan State overrated or point to recent nine-point wins against Penn State and Nebraska that were closer than they should’ve been, Ohio State’s trajectory is pointing toward playing its best football in December and erasing memories of a shaky September when things just weren’t working on either side of the ball as well as we expected from its star-studded roster.

Part of the problem with the current construction of the Playoff is that the weekly rankings are always a blend between a qualitative evaluation of teams and the objective results of games, and there’s never really a great explanation for how much of each goes into the formula.

For the last couple weeks, the committee has been lampooned nationally for having Michigan at No. 6 and Michigan State at No. 7 despite both having one loss and the Spartans winning 37-33 in a head-to-head matchup.

But given the committee’s primary job, they weren’t necessarily wrong. What committee chairman Gary Barty sort of hinted at, but never quite said directly, was that it’s possible to watch a game and all the circumstances around it and still believe the losing team is better.

The committee has not yet applied that same logic to Oregon’s 35-28 win in Columbus, but if those two teams were to play again today on a neutral field, which one would you pick?

Right now, it would be hard to pick anyone this side of Georgia against the Buckeyes in a CFP semifinal. And yes, that applies to Alabama, too.

The Crimson Tide has unsurprisingly been ranked No. 2 each week by the committee, but how many times this season have we seen Alabama’s peak performance? When Alabama destroyed Ole Miss 42-21 (it was 42-7 before garbage time in the fourth quarter) on Oct. 2, the Crimson Tide looked like a national championship contender.

Other than that? It’s been a struggle, at least relative to Alabama’s standards, to play with the kind of force and consistency it’ll take to beat Georgia. Though the 52-24 final score was impressive against Tennessee, Alabama only led that game 24-17 deep into the third quarter. It struggled to the very end with some pretty mediocre teams in Florida and LSU. And though Alabama gets more of a pass than anyone else for losing games, let’s be real about what happened on Oct. 9 in College Station. There is no way to spin giving up 41 points to Texas A&M as anything but a red flag.

With shaky offensive line play, a relatively pedestrian running game and a young quarterback in Bryce Young who is brilliant but still struggling at times to make quick decisions, it’s hard to see how Alabama is going to either block Georgia’s defensive front or be able to challenge the Bulldogs’ one weak spot in the secondary.

It’s seems a bit crazy to say given Alabama’s record-setting offense of the last couple years, but Ohio State just has more weaponry this season and more ways to hurt Georgia.

We’ll find out Jan. 10 in Indianapolis whether this entire discussion is moot. Odds are, the Bulldogs are going to roll to the title. But if anyone has a chance to beat them, it’s probably going to be the Buckeyes.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football: Ohio State has best shot at knocking off Georgia