Defending Champions Shouldn’t Receive Special Treatment in Rankings

Ohio State isn’t one of the two or three best college football teams in the country. At least, they haven’t actually played like it for the majority of the season.

Putting all my Buckeye Bias aside – and it certainly isn’t the fault of the team – but Ohio State has benefited through its ninth game in 2015 from its accomplishments in the 2014 season and preseason expectations. They haven’t really done much to earn a top-3 ranking. Similar to the advantage that Florida State was able to enjoy throughout the entire 2014 regular season, a defending champion with a lot of returning talent is given the benefit of the doubt regarding their schedule and outcomes of games. Fans and analysts, alike, are quick to say, “Until they lose, they’re No. 1.”

I know Ohio State is annually berated and ridiculed for its weak schedule – especially this year – by media talking heads and fans of other schools around the country, but the argument is legitimate. Based on the competition that Ohio State has faced thus far in 2015, and the way they’ve seemingly struggled to pull out their wins, OSU hasn’t been the best team in the country. They’ve just been blessed with a fortunate situation where everyone knows how talented their roster is and entered the season unanimously ranked No.1, so people feel obliged to prevent them from dropping that far in the polls.

But is that fair? Why were we held to a higher standard than Michigan State for the first nine weeks of the season (before MSU blew a 12-point lead in the final two minutes against Nebraska)? Up until this past weekend, it seemed as if OSU and MSU were experiencing vastly similar seasons – winning all their games, despite looking sloppy while doing it. Heck, the Spartans had a big home win over then-awesome Oregon – which looked much better than our best win of the season (Virginia Tech). But, despite doing nothing but winning, MSU saw themselves regularly drop in the rankings from No. 2 to No. 7. But Ohio State held strong in the No. 1 spot despite looking just as unimpressive. Why?

At the end of the day, the bottom line in football is winning. I recognize that. But college football has proven to be different than the NFL over the years. Style points matter and “statements” need to be made. I’m no expert, but I’m confident that the Buckeyes would not have made the 2014 playoffs if they had beaten Wisconsin 21-14 in the Big Ten championship game instead of the 59-0 drubbing that took place. Ohio State earned its way in, while Florida State sleepwalked through an undefeated yet uninspiring regular season. Hindsight is always 20/20, but following the 59-20 beat-down at the hands of Oregon in last year’s semifinal round, the argument that TCU should’ve qualified for the playoffs was much stronger – albeit they should’ve been included over Florida State, not Ohio State. That was never a possibility, however, because the defending champion Seminoles with returning talent were held to the same unfair higher standard.

Look, Ohio State is capable of beating any team in the country – Clemson, Alabama, Michigan, whomever. But this year’s team shouldn’t be heralded for closer-than-it-should-have-been wins and receive special treatment because of last year’s national title. Because of the precedent that has existed in college football where wins aren’t the same as impressive wins, that evaluation should hold firm across the board – without playing favorites to defending champions.



  1. Good article. I’m writing a counterpoint article that’ll be up here tomorrow morning at 8AM for some good debate.

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