For about six days, Ohio State’s odds to win the College Football Playoff National Championship were as long as they had been all season. A 45-23 home loss to No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 26 kick-started a week of devastation as coach Ryan Day and the Buckeyes saw themselves, once again, missing out on a shot at the Big Ten championship following a defeat to their most-hated rival. It seemed, at the time, that Ohio State would miss for the second straight year an opportunity to play for a national championship.
But then the college football gods answered, as they so often have for the Buckeyes. The Utah team that Ohio State had faced in a modern New Year’s Six epic the year before went and beat USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday, Dec. 2. That opened a spot for Ohio State, then No. 5 in the CFP rankings, to move into the top four. From anticipation to devastation, and now back with a renewed passion for the pursuit of a title, Ohio State experienced it all in about a week.
The Buckeyes were among the preseason favorites to win the national title thanks to the return of quarterback C.J. Stroud and an offense that put up video game numbers in the Rose Bowl with underclassmen leading the way. And while Ohio State is not the favorite to win the national championship, or even the favorite in its semifinal matchup against No. 1 Georgia, there are plenty of reasons to believe in this team’s chances to win it all.
1. It has the offense to beat anyone
Let’s start with Ohio State’s best weapon: It’s offense. If it can score on Georgia, it can score on anyone. Other than Tennessee, there is not another team on Georgia’s schedule that posed the kind of threat Ohio State will on Saturday night.
The Buckeyes have an arguably better passing attack than the Vols — or, at least, a deeper and more impressive wide receiver room for Georgia’s secondary to try to defend. Georgia faced one 1,000-yard receiver all year (Hyatt); Ohio State has a pair of 1,000-yard wideouts in Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. This is a passing attack that did not even have Jaxon Smith-Njigba for nearly the entire season, and yet it remained one of the premier units in all of college football.
Of course, Georgia was impressive when Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman and the rest oft he Tennessee offense came to town on Nov. 5. The Bulldogs did a tremendous job pressuring Hooker, limiting the ability for the deep routes to even develop and thus not allowing a single pass play of more than 30 yards. Hooker, who had played like Heisman Trophy contender to that point, had fewer than 200 yards passing (5.9 yards per attempt), zero touchdowns and was picked off by Kelee Ringo on a pass into the end zone late in the first half.
For the last two years, however, Stroud has been one of college football’s elite passers, and he has the potential to become a legendary Buckeye in this postseason. Stroud has already accomplished so much in his short time as an Ohio State starter: He’s a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, and he led the nation in passing efficiency and touchdown passes in 2022 after ranking in the top three nationally in both categories in 2021. He’s 21-3 as a starter and now has the chance to flip all of the frustrations of a second-straight loss to Michigan into a career-defining moment in the College Football Playoff.
While Georgia’s defense dominated against Hendon Hooker, and swallowed up Oregon quarterback Bo Nix, there is another level of quarterbacking at the college level, and the Bulldogs will see it on Saturday night.
2. Get the toughest foe out of the way
Ohio State’s title chances have a second life, but they can come crashing down thanks to its semifinal opponent: A Georgia team looking to cement its dynasty status with a second straight national championship. Luckily for Ohio State, the talent margins against the ultra-talented Bulldogs are thin, and the Buckeyes can increase their chances of winning a national championship by winning this game.
Georgia and Ohio State are the No. 2 and No. 3 most-talented teams, respectively, according to the 247Sports Team Talent Composite. Georgia has 15 five-star prospects and 53 four-star prospects, while Ohio State has 14 five-star prospects and 52 four-star prospects. And while Georgia has an edge in total team talent, the average rating per player is 93.37 for Georgia and 92.82 for Ohio State.
If Ohio State beats Georgia, it becomes the new betting favorite to win the national championship. There is, of course, the potential of a rematch against the Michigan team that has had the Buckeyes number for the last two seasons. Still, the power ratings would point to Day’s squad having the upper hand in the title game.
Big or small, Georgia has a talent advantage over every other opponent in the field. When considering Ohio State’s chances to win it all, the conversation must start with beating the Bulldogs. On that note …
3. A rare underdog position
While Day and Stroud may be feeling some big-picture pressure in the wake of a second-straight loss to Michigan, the Buckeyes as a whole should be loose. This is the first time all season that Ohio State is an underdog heading into a game. A loss would be disappointing, but it would not come with the extra sting of an unexpected defeat.
There’s also some history at play here. Ohio State jumped into the College Football Playoff at the last minute in 2014, taking the No. 4 seed in a showdown with an SEC Champion in Alabama. Though the Crimson Tide were favored, the Buckeyes played spoiler behind an offensive onslaught that continued on into the College Football Playoff National Championship against Oregon. Those title-winning Buckeyes had a handful of future pros, just like the 2022 squad, and got to play with a chip on their shoulder despite being one of the most talented teams in the country.
The environment in Atlanta will only add to the experience of playing spoiler. That could allow an Ohio State team that’s played all year with the pressure of title contention to finally be able to be the freer, looser team in crucial moments of this New Year’s Eve showdown.