Ready or not, the 12-team Playoff is here.

The start of the 12-team Playoff era means that the entire conversation about being in contention will shift. A more inclusive field doesn’t necessarily guarantee that we’re about to see more variety with national champs. For this discussion, we’re not focused on who’ll win a national championship; we’re just focused on who’ll play for one.

The goal for this series is to predict the first 12-team Playoff with 100% accuracy. It’s never been done before. I’d like to think I can become the first person in human history to do that.

Every day of this series, I have unveiled 1 of my 12-team Playoff picks, starting with the No. 12 seed and working all the way down to the No. 1 seed. Remember these parameters with the seeding of the 12-team Playoff:

  • ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC champs get an automatic bid
  • The top-ranked Group of 5 conference champ also gets an automatic bid
  • The 7 remaining teams are selected and receive at-large bids
  • The 4 highest-ranked conference champs are seeded 1-4 with a first-round bye

Need any other clarifications? I think we’re good.

So far, here are the teams I have in the field:

Today, I conclude the series with the No. 1 seed … Ohio State.

Why the Playoff path exists

Think what you will about Ryan Day. If you think he’s Michigan’s little brother, fine. If you think he’s not the right person to maximize the potential of a juggernaut program like Ohio State, fine. If you think he’s not even a top-10 coach in the sport, fine.

This isn’t the forum to talk you out of that. This is, however, the forum to remind you that he would’ve made the 12-team Playoff every year that he’s been a head coach. Let’s take it a step further. The last time an Ohio State team would’ve missed the 12-team Playoff would’ve been in 2011. That was the post-Jim Tressel 2011 Buckeyes, who had a slightly different roster than the one Day has in 2024.

Consider that the biggest understatement you’ll read this week.

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That’s my way of saying even if Day still can’t quite get over the Michigan hump, he’s nearly a lock to get to the Playoff with a chance to win it all. In this new world of college football, that’s all you can ask for.

Well, check that. All you can ask for is an NIL budget like Ohio State’s, which did a tremendous job of keeping NFL Draft-eligible talent in Columbus like Emeka Egbuka and JT Tuimoloau while also bringing in high-profile transfers like Quinshon Judkins and Caleb Downs. That’s what every coach dreams of. It’s why Day has such a pressure-packed year ahead. Anything short of a national championship will feel like a letdown for a team that DraftKings Sportsbook set the over/under win total at 10.5.

But the path to the 12-team Playoff? It’s as clear as the day is long.

The potential roadblock

No, I don’t believe Ohio State’s roster can go 9-3 and miss the Playoff. Even if the offensive line doesn’t turn into a world-beater, the Buckeyes have a 2-headed rushing attack that can work through contact and a defense that should be one of the nation’s best units, albeit with some questions in the secondary.

Having said that, if that unthinkable scenario does play out with the Buckeyes missing the Playoff — Day is gone if that happens — the potential roadblock is quarterback indecision.

If Day drags the Will Howard-Devin Brown quarterback decision into the regular season, that’s not a good sign. Ohio State needs to find that answer before the season and not still be debating that decision on the long plane ride home from Eugene. The problem is that there’s a bye week after that game.

Related: Who will win it all in 2024? SDS has the latest betting odds for who’ll win the next national championship!

If a 6-1 Ohio State looks like a team with a bit too much 2023 offense heading into November, the conversation will center on Day and his handling of the quarterback room. Does that create panic? Is there a locker room divide? Is there uncertainty? That wouldn’t be ideal knowing that Ohio State would still have a trip to Penn State, a home game against Michigan and then a potential Big Ten Championship.

I include the Big Ten Championship there because while I don’t think a 10-2 team will make it to Indianapolis, we don’t know how the selection committee will treat a 3-loss team in the 12-team era. An unsettled quarterback situation heading into November could be the only thing standing in the way of Ohio State making the field.

Odds that they win a Playoff game

Ohio State fans might think that 74% is low, but here’s what we need to keep in mind.

My projection has Ohio State going 13-0 with a regular-season win at Oregon and a Big Ten Championship win against Oregon en route to the No. 1 seed. I’m a Jim Knowles believer, which is why I think that defensive front and the pressure it’ll create without needing extra blitzers should make life easier on the secondary in question. I also believe that Chip Kelly’s arrival will allow Day to have a better big-picture feel for how to evaluate his offense. That means the aforementioned quarterback indecision scenario shouldn’t play out.

So if that’s the expectation, remember that winning a Playoff game means a neutral-site win against 1 of the 8 best teams in the country. The Buckeyes would get the winner of the 8 vs. 9 matchup, which I predict will be No. 8 Alabama and No. 9 Ole Miss. As strange as it is to say, Alabama would actually be a better draw for Ohio State. Don’t believe that? Go look at Ole Miss’ defensive line talent. It’s stacked. Also look at that receiver room. It’s also stacked, along with one of the top returning QBs in Jaxson Dart and one of the top offensive minds in Lane Kiffin.

Having said that, I’m still giving the Buckeyes a favorable shot to advance. Why? That team is stockpiled with talent. Even if the Big Ten schedule is tough to navigate, the Buckeyes with a little extra rest is dangerous. Shoot, we saw that 2022 squad that was left for dead after the Michigan loss take that extra rest and nearly knock off eventual-national champ Georgia.

In a matter of weeks, we went from debating the direction of Ohio State’s future after the Mizzou loss to deciding that the returning roster has Day in the most “title or bust” situation we’ve seen for a head coach in recent memory. As crazy as it sounds, going 13-0 and winning a quarterfinal game wouldn’t necessarily quiet some of that lingering doubt.

But it would sure be quite the start.

That concludes “Predicting the Playoff.” Here is my final set of first-round matchups:

  • Byes: No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Georgia, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Oklahoma State
  • No. 12 Memphis at No. 5 Texas (Oklahoma State faces winner)
  • No. 11 Utah at No. 6 Oregon (Florida State faces winner)
  • No. 10 Iowa at No. 7 Notre Dame (Georgia faces winner)
  • No. 9 Ole Miss at No. 8 Alabama (Ohio State faces winner)