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Published: Monday, 11/19/2012

BCS title or not, Ohio State has lots to prove

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, center, scrambles between Wisconsin's Ethan Hemer, left, and Mike Taylor during the second half Saturday in Madison, Wis. The Buckeyes won 21-14 in overtime, and now they could complete a 12-0 regular season this week against Michigan. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, center, scrambles between Wisconsin's Ethan Hemer, left, and Mike Taylor during the second half Saturday in Madison, Wis. The Buckeyes won 21-14 in overtime, and now they could complete a 12-0 regular season this week against Michigan.
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After some Saturday night chaos, there are but two unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Notre Dame has ascended to No. 1 in the BCS standings. As Ohio State fans know only too well, the Buckeyes are unsighted.

The stakes, as usual, will be high when OSU and Michigan close the regular season on Saturday in Columbus.

But imagine what the Buckeyes (11-0) might be playing for under normal circumstances.

RELATED ARTICLE: Shot at perfection on line for OSU

I’m of the opinion Ohio State miscalculated the severity of its sins and the NCAA sanctions to follow a year ago, opting to take a 6-6 team to the Gator Bowl when a self-imposed postseason ban might have made a favorable statement and even averted the one leveled for this season.

Gene Smith, the OSU athletic director, has defended the decision by insisting the school acted on best-available information. He dismisses critics by saying we have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. Maybe so.

There’s also a lot of maybe involved when trying to determine how the Buckeyes might stack up in the national title picture were they eligible. Because they are not, they are not included in any of the polls or computer rankings that factor into the BCS standings.

Is OSU’s No. 4 slot in the AP poll a fair reflection of its position? Possibly. Alabama and Georgia, rated Nos. 2-3, respectively, in both that poll and the BCS rankings, would seem to have stronger resumes.

But consider this. An AP poll voter in California, who releases his weekly ballot on a blog, voted the Buckeyes 11th on Sunday. He had them behind five one-loss teams and four two-loss teams.

There would appear to be a bias there against a team on NCAA probation. Or, perhaps, it’s a bias against weak schedules and a mediocre Big Ten. Who knows?

But if it’s the former you have to wonder if — and how many — other AP voters have consciously or unconsciously penalized the Buckeyes.

Under normal circumstances would they be ranked higher? Would the coaches’ poll that does influence the BCS standings see them in a different light? What would the various computers say? If history has taught us anything it is that those computers, however they are programmed, most always recognize and respect that zero in the loss column, sometimes above everything else.

As the late Al Davis once said, “Just win, baby.”

It’s all conjecture, of course. As it stands the Buckeyes can likely do no more than run the 12-game table and claim outright regular-season Big Ten supremacy.

A shared national championship via winning the AP poll is possible if OSU winds up as the sole unbeaten, I guess, but even that’s unlikely with the Buckeyes already rated behind a couple teams with losses.

Notre Dame, of course, has the opportunity to do far more. Some still question the Irish — one coaches’ poll voter had them No. 4 — and they have a big challenge ahead with a trip to the left coast to play USC, an underachiever of late but still a dangerous offensive team.

I think the Irish merit the No. 1 slot as an unbeaten with several quality wins — Stanford, Oklahoma, and Michigan come to mind.

But there is always the opportunity for more chaos, ala Baylor’s pounding of Kansas State, which suddenly looked slow and in over its head, and Stanford’s overtime win at Oregon. It marked the first time since 2007 that Nos. 1 and 2 lost on the same day.

Benefiting the most, of course, was the SEC, which now has a couple teams, Alabama and Georgia, waiting in the wings. Whichever one wins out, including a victory against the other in the anticipated SEC title game matchup, would lock up a national championship berth.

Notre Dame, ranked No. 1 for the first time in 19 seasons, is in position to do the same.

Ohio State, of course, is not.

The OSU-Michigan game has lost a little glitter, at least nationally, the last five years or so. UM, currently 8-3, disappeared for a few seasons, and the Buckeyes struggled in 2011.

To the respective fan bases, though, it has always been for all the marbles.

This time, at least for the Buckeyes, it’s for all the available marbles.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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