Plenty to Play for
The Ohio State University Buckeyes are in the running for a national championship. No, they are not allowed to play in the Big Ten Title game. No, they are not allowed to appear in any bowl game, BCS or otherwise. But these Buckeyes can still win a division, get a t-shirt, and potentially add another entry in the national title column. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.
Shockingly, Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten. This was supposed to be an adjustment year for a young team. Urban Meyer was supposed to be getting used to the conference, quarterback Braxton Miller was supposed to struggle under the microscope, and an unproven defense was supposed to give up huge tracts of land. Instead Meyer is thriving in Columbus, undaunted by tough road matchups and primetime night games. Miller has entered himself into the Heisman conversation a year earlier than anyone anticipated. The defense…well the defense has struggled making tackles and is becoming known for giving up huge yardage in a single play. Still, the Buckeyes have already equaled their win total from last year – an abysmal 6-7 – in the first half of the year. Plus the road ahead is littered with few landmines.
Barring some huge runs from other parts of the Midwest, Ohio State’s only remaining ranked opponent could be in their season finale against That School Up North. The next four matchups feature a road game against perennial afterthought Indiana, a home matchup with Purdue that just screams “revenge,” a visit to Not-So-Happy Valley versus the resilient Nittany Lions, and a home contest featuring underachieving Illinois. Of those four, only the Penn State game inspires any dread, since that game will be the Nittanies’ defacto bowl game of the year. A bye week allows the team to breathe before a brutal back-to-back at Wisconsin and vs. the Wolverines. Wisconsin has not impressed this year: redshirt freshman Joel Stave has been on and off the bench all season and senior running back Montee Ball has not been able to match his prolific numbers from last year. However, the Badgers upset #1 ranked OSU two years ago and would love to rain on Ohio State’s parade once again. That School Up North is always a threat, every year regardless of who is under center, what they are ranked, and where The Game is played. It would be unwise to take them lightly.
These games count; that is important to keep in mind. Every yard, throw, catch, and score are part of the team’s permanent record. Earlier this year the Big Ten ruled that Ohio State and Penn State, while forbidden to play in Indy, are still eligible to win the Leaders Division. Therefore, if Ohio State has the best record in division at season’s end they will receive a trophy and likely a t-shirt/hat combo to celebrate the achievement. It would perhaps be a hollow victory, knowing that an objectively inferior team would represent their division in the conference title game, but I would certainly be happy to receive a trophy. Considering how the team has performed and gazing ahead, this is entirely possible.
The national media is starting to take these Buckeyes seriously. The team is ranked eighth in the AP poll (it is ineligible to appear in either the Coaches’ or BCS poll) and is the highest ranked Big Ten team. The AP’s top ten is exclusively undefeated teams at this point and we have a good idea which teams are good (South Carolina) and which are not as good (Wisconsin). Now, here is where you might need a few extra doses of faith, so bear with me. Suppose that over the next six to seven games, every team ranked above Ohio State loses a game. While the idea of Alabama or Oregon slipping up is implausible it is still possible. Also for this scenario to work, the Buckeyes would have to run the table, finishing a perfect 12-0. If Ohio State finishes the season as the only undefeated team (or at least the only undefeated team from an AQ conference) then they could reasonably finish the year #1. Then, through a complex series of upsets, if every high ranked team loses its conference title or BCS game giving it a second loss then when the final AP Poll of the season is released on January 8 Ohio State could theoretically stand at number one.
“So what? We still wouldn’t have the BCS Championship.” Wow, tone down the negativity, generic hater reading this article. While it’s true that the Buckeyes could not win this year’s BCS National Title they could still win the AP National Championship and create a split title situation. The BCS has only been playing king-maker since 1998; the AP has been the primary decider of the country’s best team for most of the 20th century. So an AP National Title would absolutely count and would be reflected in ten foot tall numbers on the Shoe’s north end.
This is a long shot at best, but college football loves proving every week that it is an unpredictable ride that rarely makes the same turn twice. So even if the Buckeyes cannot dream of BCS glory, there is still a title to be had and plenty to play for.