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Published: Saturday, 12/1/2007

Ohio State back in the title hunt

STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

Ohio State fans, your bowl game has changed. It's not in Southern California.

Pack for New Orleans!

In what has been perhaps the wildest college football season of all time, Ohio State will play for the national championship.

The Buckeyes, led by coach Jim Tressel, will go to the Bowl Championship Series title game based on losses on Saturday by No. 1-ranked Missouri, which was defeated 38-17 by Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game, and No. 2 West Virginia, which was stunned 13-9 by Pittsburgh.

The Buckeyes, No. 3 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings going into Saturday's final regular-season and conference title games, will make a return trip to the national championship game to meet a yet-to-be determined opponent on Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. in the Sugar Bowl. Their opponent won t be determined until the BCS standings are released at 8 p.m. Sunday.

"After a college football season filled with intriguing results, we are extremely proud to be the outright champions of the Big Ten," coach Jim Tressel said in a statement late on Saturday night. "We would be honored to represent Ohio State and the Big Ten in the national championship game. We know we will be up against a tremendous challenge whomever the final standings present as our opponent."

Having waited two weeks since beating Michigan in their last game, the Buckeyes will have to wait a little longer to find out who they'll play. The possibilities include Georgia, Kansas, Virginia Tech, LSU and USC the teams ranked Nos. 4 through 8 in the most recent rankings.

Georgia is next in line but did not win its division of the Southeastern Conference and did not play this weekend in the SEC title game. Is it possible to allow Georgia to play in the national championship game and exclude LSU, the team which won the SEC title game, when both have two losses on the season?

"I'm sure we'll be the underdog against whoever we play," center Jim Cordle said earlier this week. "Hopefully that can help us out. That plus, we've got to defend ourselves from last year, rebound from that and show the nation how good this team is. That's going to drive us this bowl practice season."

Ohio State appears to be a lock for the game. A combination of human and computer polls will decide the final rankings on Sunday afternoon, making the 1-2 matchup official.

West Virginia, No. 2 in the BCS rankings, played at home against Pittsburgh in its regular season finale on Saturday night. Quarterback Pat White was hurt, crippling the Mountaineers' hopes, as they fell 13-9 in a colossal upset.

That was enough to punch the Buckeyes' ticket for the BCS title game.

Missouri, No. 1 in the latest BCS rankings, played Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game in San Antonio later on Saturday night. The Sooners pounded the top-ranked Tigers 38-17, but Ohio State was already all but assured of being in the top two even as that game was being played out.

The Buckeyes (11-1) had resumed workouts this week, waiting to find out who they would draw. As it has worked out almost every week this season, at least one of the teams ahead of them lost to open the gate wide for Ohio State to make it into the title game.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.



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