Ohio State enters college football’s championship weekend in what it hopes will not become familiar territory: Home.
The fifth-ranked Buckeyes missed the Big Ten Championship Game for the second consecutive season after winning four in a row, but their College Football Playoff hopes remain alive.
Coach Ryan Day’s team needs at least one upset in order to find itself in the top four when the final rankings are released Sunday.
The first game to watch is Friday night as No. 4 USC takes on No. 11 Utah in the Pac 12 Championship Game at 8 p.m. on Fox.
The Trojans’ losing for a second time this season to the Utes could create an opening for Ohio State, though the committee could reward USC for having three wins over ranked teams compared to Ohio State’s two rather than focus on the ‘L’ column.
Utah beat visiting USC 43-42 with a touchdown and two-point conversion Oct. 15.
The Trojans have won their last five and feature sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams, the Heisman Trophy front-runner.
USC is fifth in the country in scoring but 91st in points allowed, and the Trojans have played the weakest schedule of anyone in the top six according to NCAA calculations.
Utah is more balanced, ranking 10th in the nation in scoring and 19th in points allowed
The Utes won’t have leading rusher Tavion Thomas. The Dayton native suffered a season-ending toe injury and has announced he will enter the NFL Draft, but quarterback Cam Rising is in the national top 30 in passing efficiency, passing touchdowns and completion percentage while tight end Dalton Kincaid leads the Pac 12 with eight touchdown receptions.
At least one advanced metric actually prefers the Utes, who rank 10th in SP+ while USC is No. 11. SP+ ranks teams by a combination of several factors, including play-by-play success and explosiveness as well as recruiting rankings and past performance.
USC is certainly in with a win, but that would not end Ohio State’s hopes.
To hold onto the No. 3 spot, TCU likely has to finish out an unbeaten season with a win over No. 10 Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game. That is the first one Saturday, starting at noon on ABC.
The Horned Frogs already beat the Wildcats 38-28 at home Oct. 22. TCU is fourth in the country in scoring but 53rd in points allowed, and the difference in yardage is larger as the Horned Frogs are 16th in total offense and 74th in total defense.
Max Duggan is the Big 12′s top quarterback, leading the league in nearly every major passing quarterback.
Kansas State is led by the nation’s No. 14 scoring defense but still ranks 34th in points scored per game (33.4). The Wildcats have a star running back in Deuce Vaughn but are on No. 2 quarterback Will Howard after Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez was injured in early November.
TCU is sixth in SP+ while KSU is ninth.
What it favors over the years has seemed to evolve as membership has changed.
Early on, resume and strength of schedule seemed to be emphasized, but later versions of the committee have trended toward purely picking the teams it views to be the best on the field with less regard for record or accomplishments.
That would seem to favor Ohio State this year, but the 2022 committee has four new members so its preferences could be different from even last year.
The final rankings are set to be unveiled on ESPN at noon Sunday.
Sweating out making the final four will only be something Ohio State fans have to worry about one more year.
The CFP announced Thursday it will expand to 12 teams in 2024 with the top four teams getting byes into the quarterfinal round.
Ohio State has not finished lower than sixth in the final CFP rankings since they began in 2014.