FORT WORTH, Texas – TCU has been in this position before, third in the College Football Playoff rankings going into its last game before the final four teams are set.
And just like in 2014, there sits Ohio State in fifth, hoping for a chance to move up.
Those rankings are the same, but the scenarios are quite different for this first Saturday of December. Undefeated TCU has a Big 12 championship game to play, and the best the Buckeyes can do is try to tout what they had already done before last week's 45-23 home loss to Michigan that kept them from reaching the Big Ten title game.
“When you look at the body of work that Ohio State has put forward, they have been a top-ranked team the entire season,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren told the AP on Friday. “If they’ve played 48 quarters of football, they have 46 1/2 excellent quarters of football. They really didn’t play up to their standard for a quarter and half for the entire season.”
TCU fans certainly haven't forgotten what happened eight years ago, when the Frogs got left out of the inaugural four-team playoff right after a seven-touchdown win in their regular-season finale against Iowa State. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten championship 59-0 against Wisconsin later that day, and went on to win the first championship of the CFP era — in a title game played about 20 miles from the TCU campus.
The Frogs (12-0) play No. 13 Kansas State (9-3, No. 10 CFP) for the Big 12 title Saturday. Win and they make the playoff. Lose and they still could get in, but it's no slam dunk. TCU is the conference’s first team since Texas in 2009 to finish the regular season without a loss.
Ohio State (11-1) will be at home, with no opportunity before Sunday's final rankings to make another playoff case on the field.
Soon after losing to “The Game” for the second year in a row, Buckeyes coach Ryan Day was already talking about his team's overall body of work. He didn't believe they were overmatched in terms of overall play by second-ranked Michigan.
“We’ve got a lot of good pieces on this team,” Day said. "I think if we were able to get a shot in the top four, we’d be a dangerous team.”
That lopsided shutout over Wisconsin in 2014 improved the Buckeyes to 12-1, and the Big Ten champions moved up one spot in the final CFP rankings the next day. They beat Alabama in a national semifinal game at the Sugar Bowl, and then Oregon for the national title.
One-loss TCU had beaten Iowa State 55-3 at home, but that 11th victory came against a two-win Cyclones team when the Big 12 was in a six-year hiatus without a championship game.
TCU was dropped to sixth in the final CFP rankings, a spot behind Big 12 co-champion Baylor, which won a midseason 61-58 thriller in Waco that was the Frogs' only loss. They had to settle for a New Year's Six bowl, and beat Mississippi 42-3 in the Peach Bowl.
Sitting behind TCU in fourth in CRP rankings is Southern California (11-1), which lost 47-24 in the Pac-12 championship game against Utah on Friday night. A loss by the Trojans could bolster the Frogs’ chances of staying in the top four even if they lose.
TCU is coming off another regular season-ending rout of Iowa State. First-year TCU coach Sonny Dykes told his players after the 62-14 win at home just how hard it is to get through a season 12-0.
“Sometimes dealing with all the buildup and all this stuff can be a little exhausting, and even overwhelming,” Dykes said. "And that’s what’s so impressive for these guys, is they’ve never batted an eye, never felt like they got overwhelmed. I never felt like the stage was too big for them.”
The last time Kansas State made the Big 12 title game in 2003, the Wildcats beat undefeated, top-ranked Oklahoma 35-7. At TCU six weeks ago, K-State built an early 28-10 lead before losing 38-28.
Warren reiterated that he believes Ohio State is one of the best four teams in college football based on their entire season.
“Now it looks like they’ll need some help this weekend, which we totally understand,” he said. "But I'm hopeful, and will remain hopeful, that they have the opportunity to be able to compete in the College Football Playoff this year. I think they have clearly shown what they can do.”
AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.
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