Ohio State has left nothing to chance in its quest for a return to the College Football Playoff, winning every game this season by 11 or more points entering a noon Saturday kick at No. 13 Michigan.
The Buckeyes have been so dominant they reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the Playoff rankings this week, despite former No. 1 LSU and defending national champion Clemson also being undefeated.
That's led to speculation OSU could afford a loss to the Wolverines, then win the Big Ten title game against either Wisconsin or Minnesota on Dec. 7 and still receive a Playoff berth.
Or, a similar line of thinking, has Ohio State clinching a berth with a win at Michigan, regardless of whether it wins in Indianapolis.
OSU athletic director Gene Smith is leaving nothing to chance in advance of those possible scenarios, sending a loud and clear message to the 13-member Playoff Committee that -- short of two losses -- the Buckeyes better not get shut out again this season.
That's the obvious takeaway from Smith coming out Wednesday in an exclusive interview with the Ohio State student newspaper, The Lantern, and explaining his decision to leave the Playoff Committee after last season because he didn't agree with the final rating of OSU sixth behind No. 5 Georgia.
"I stepped down to be here for more of Ryan Day, to support him, but I was also concerned about how the committee was applying the criteria,” Smith told the Lantern. “And so I felt uncomfortable when I came back into the room after I had been recused, and Georgia was ranked ahead of us. They were a two-loss team, not a champion.”
Georgia's two losses were to No. 13 LSU (36-16) in the seventh game of the season and to No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship game, 35-28, after leading most of the game.
OSU had one loss and won the Big Ten title over No. 21 Northwestern, 45-24, pulling away after the Wildcats closed to 24-20 in the second half..
The fourth and final Playoff berth in 2018 went to Oklahoma, which finished 12-1, avenging a loss to Texas in the regular season with a win in the Big 12 championship.
“We could debate whether we should have been four, five, relative to Oklahoma, but I just felt that the application of the criteria relative to Georgia and us last year was troublesome for me," Smith told the Lantern.
All Playoff Committee members with ties to a school being discussed -- athletic directors, former coaches, relatives of coaches at schools in contention for a Playoff spot -- are recused from debate and voting on those schools.
That doesn't mean Smith, as a Committee member, was barred from weighing in on other teams. He was fully within the rules to make cases against Georgia, Oklahoma and other schools in contention with Ohio State for the final Playoff berth during the Committee's general discussion.
But he made the decision to walk away and forgo that chance to impact the discussion from inside, choosing now to exert his influence from afar by applying not-so-subtle pressure through well-timed public comments.
Not every athletic director has Smith's muscle, but he has not only the power of the Ohio State brand behind him, but an extensive career on every NCAA Committee of impact.
Besides the Playoff Committee, he's been the chair of the NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee and has served on the Basketball Oversight Committee, Committee on Infractions, Executive Committee and Football Rules Committee.
That's why the second sentence of Smith's official Ohio State biography reads: "He is widely recognized among the leaders of his profession and has been named 'one of the most powerful people in collegiate sport.' "
It is highly unusual for an athletic director at a school in contention for a Playoff berth to speak candidly about the Committee's deliberations relative to the entire field.
Smith, though, told The Lantern:
.“I think they’ve done a better job with it. The No. 1 criteria is season success — overall season success — so that’s wins and losses. The No. 2 criteria is championships, and so that will come into play next week. But the way it’s aligned right now, the way they’re applying — in my view — the criteria, seems to be right.”
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