As the College Football Playoff selection committee convened over the weekend at a hotel in Grapevine, Texas, setting the field for the four-team postseason, it had the potential to pave the way for the first-ever in-season rematch of one of the most storied rivalries in the sport.
Such a scenario hinged on a debate between two one-loss teams.
Had the 13 members of the committee ranked Ohio State at No. 3 ahead of Texas Christian, the decision would have triggered a semifinal matchup pitting the Buckeyes against their archrival with Michigan landing at No. 2.
The possibility for a second edition of The Game, coming only a month after the longtime foes met in Columbus, resulted in intense speculation Sunday morning, but it never came to fruition. The Horned Frogs edged Ohio State in the rankings, sending the Buckeyes to Atlanta to face top-ranked Georgia in another semifinal on Dec. 31.
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Boo Corrigan, the athletic director at North Carolina State who chairs the committee, said members saw little reason to ding TCU for a narrow overtime defeat in the Big 12 championship game a day earlier, keeping it ahead of the Buckeyes.
“There was nothing that occurred during that game against Kansas State that we believe moved them out of the No. 3 spot,” Corrigan said.
TCU's hard-fought loss to Kansas State appreciated by CFP committee
The Horned Frogs, who had been ranked third in the penultimate rankings last week, stumbled against the Wildcats after they were stopped on a fourth-down attempt on their first possession of overtime and surrendered the winning field goal to Kansas State on its ensuing drive.
TCU forced overtime after coming back to tie the game with less than two minutes left, a rally led by quarterback Max Duggan that Corrigan described as a “heroic effort.”
While TCU’s hard-fought performance held some appreciation by the committee, the lasting image of Ohio State had been a crushing loss to Michigan on Nov. 26 that left the Buckeyes idle Saturday.
The résumés for both teams were similar, each holding a 2-1 record against fellow ranked teams. But Corrigan also noted the Horned Frogs’ six wins over teams with winning records. By a comparison, the Buckeyes had five, and TCU was the only one to have beaten a team that finished in the top 10.
That was Kansas State, which ended up at No. 9, after it prevailed over them back in October. The Buckeyes defeated Penn State later that month, but the Nittany Lions landed on the outside of the top 10 at No. 11.
Strength of schedule in TCU's favor in CFP rankings
Most metrics have TCU’s strength of schedule as the strongest of all four playoff teams.
Corrigan said no effort was made to avoid a rematch between Ohio State and Michigan.
“It was not talked about in the room,” Corrigan said. “We were looking at getting the right four teams, and as we went piece by piece by piece, we ended up in the order we did with TCU at No. 3 based on the body of work at the course of a season.”
The committee was in a similar situation last season, facing the potential for a rematch of conference teams in the semifinal round. It supplanted Georgia at the top of the rankings with Alabama after the Crimson Tide beat the Bulldogs in the SEC championship game.
But rather than drop Georgia three spots down to No. 4, setting up a second meeting with the Tide to open the playoff, it put them at No. 3 ahead of unbeaten Cincinnati. Only after semifinal wins did the SEC foes meet for the national championship.
When asked how he might have felt about facing Michigan off the bat in a semifinal, adding the pressure of the rivalry on top of the stakes of winning a national title, Ohio State coach Ryan Day said it was out of the Buckeyes' hands.
“Wherever they put us, they put us,” Day sad. “We were ready to play. We've got to win them both anyway.”
The Buckeyes once before came close to a postseason rematch with Michigan. After a win over Michigan in 2006, they sat at the top of the Bowl Championship Series standings, but Florida overtook the Wolverines for the No. 2 rankings, resulting in a title game matchup that instead featured the Buckeyes and Gators.
A rematch in the rivalry will hinge on how the teams fare on Dec. 31.
“You don’t want to get ahead of yourself,” Day said, “but that would be unbelievable, right? It would be historic to have that opportunity. To say we haven’t thought about that, of course we have. Everybody’s thought about that.”
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Why Ohio State football behind TCU in final CFP rankings