COLUMBUS — The Ohio State football playoff publicity machine is spinning into motion.
A team spokesman emailed reporters to reframe the Buckeyes’ candidacy as a lifetime achievement award — they are not merely 1-1 against ranked teams this season, but 6-1 since last year — while campaign season is in full swing inside the Ohio State locker room.
“At the end of the day, it’s supposed to be the four best teams in the country competing for the championship,” left tackle Taylor Decker said Wednesday after the Buckeyes returned to practice for the first time since their 42-13 win at Michigan. “I really do believe with every ounce that we are.”
Like his teammates, Decker plans to spend Saturday plopped in his living room watching football, hoping anarchy elsewhere helps shepherd the idle Buckeyes (11-1) back into the playoffs.
He has three new favorite teams: No. 10 North Carolina, No. 18 Florida, and No. 20 Southern California. Sixth-ranked Ohio State needs at least one — and likely two — of them to pull off upsets in their conference title games to be back in the playoff debate.
Senior linebacker Joshua Perry said his bedroom will double as playoff mission control Saturday.
“I’ll be watching the games, I’ll have my laptop, my cell phone, and my iPad going, I’ll have Twitter up, I’ll be checking Google alerts, Facebook, everything,” he said. “I like looking at the commentary, seeing what people have to say.”
Of course, players are also realistic, knowing they will have only themselves to blame if the Buckeyes miss the playoffs. Their 17-14 loss to No. 5 Michigan State two weeks earlier promises to linger for months, if not longer.
If the Buckeyes sneaked into the final four last year on the strength of their 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, perhaps it only fair that they are punished for their lack of a conference title this season.
“It kind of sucks, to put it plainly,” Decker said of Ohio State’s uncertain fate. “I hate that we don’t control our own destiny right now.”
Added running back Ezekiel Elliott: “I think we’re one of the top four teams in the nation. But I don’t think that it’s right for them to just put us in there because of the loss that we had. We just lost and, to be in there, you’ve got to win all your games.
“Honestly, [our case] is just that we had one hiccup, a loss that we had was to a great opponent. I think that we learned a lot from the loss and are kind of a different team since then.”
In any case, the Buckeyes will be watching closely Saturday, hoping their playoff lottery ticket cashes in.
If it does not, Ohio State is assured a berth in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games, likely the Rose Bowl if it remains ranked above the loser of the Big Ten title game between No. 4 Iowa and No. 5 MSU in the final playoff standings. The Fiesta Bowl is another possibility. The playoff field and bowl pairings will be announced Sunday.
“What we showed the country last weekend is what people have been waiting to see all year, and that was one of the best teams in the country,” defensive end Joey Bosa said. “We’re going to get to play in a great bowl. If we get lucky enough to play in the playoff — which I do think we deserve to be in — I’m going to be really happy. But we’ll see what happens.”
WHAT IF?: With Ohio State and North Carolina hoping to sneak into the playoffs, their entwined fates have evoked a fascinating alternative history.
The two schools in the playoff mix with the most maligned schedules just might have solved that problem had they met as planned this season.
The Buckeyes were supposed to host the Tar Heels on Sept. 5 in the first game of a home-and-home series. The game was pushed back to 2018 at North Carolina’s request before Ohio State shelved the series altogether.
UNC, which has yet to play a currently ranked team heading into its ACC championship showdown against top-ranked Clemson, instead announced last year it had filled out its 2015 schedule with Delaware and North Carolina A&T of the second-tier FCS.
And what happened Sept. 5? The Heels lost to three-win South Carolina — the millstone on their resume.
That’s why, if North Carolina wins Saturday, it might be the Buckeyes and not the Heels playing for a national title. Despite the schools’ matching 11-1 records, playoff committee chairman Jeff Long said there is little comparison.
“They’re not close,” he said. “It’s clearly in Ohio State’s favor on strength of schedule.”
STILL FRIENDS: Bosa said he hasn’t heard the end of it since his bone-rattling sack of Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock knocked his buddy and former high school teammate out of Saturday’s game.
“I texted him after the game to make sure he was OK,” said Bosa, who played with Rudock at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “We messed around with each other afterward talking about rivalry and all the great comments I got [online] about how classless and how much of a dirtbag I am for messing with one of my friends from high school. We both had a laugh, and he’s doing fine.”
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.