COLUMBUS — Like most coaches, Urban Meyer does not spend showdown weeks engaging in friendly games of “what if?”
As in: What if Ohio State finishes the season as the only undefeated team in the country? Should the bowl-banned Buckeyes be considered for the Associated Press national championship?
“At some point that might be worth a discussion,” Meyer said Tuesday. “Certainly not now.”
Others are not so willing to wait.
In gathering places where debate flows as freely as suds and coffee, the fall of two more unbeatens last weekend — including a top-ranked Alabama team thought so invincible before a 29-24 loss to Texas A&M that South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier earnestly suggested the Crimson Tide could beat an NFL team — has given the question new life in these parts.
So The Blade went to the source, polling more than a dozen of the 65 writers and broadcasters who vote in the AP Top 25 poll — and hold the key to the most significant prize Ohio State can earn this season.
The responses were mixed but helped clarify the bottom line.
Could Ohio State win the AP national title over a one-loss winner of the BCS championship game? No. Could it capture a share of the vote for the national champion? Probably.
The sixth-ranked Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) enter Saturday’s game at Wisconsin as one of four perfect teams nationally, along with No. 1 Oregon, No. 2 Kansas State, and No. 3 Notre Dame.
They’re also looking up at one-loss Alabama and Georgia in the latest poll, weighed down by a weak nonconference schedule and few opportunities for resume-enhancing victories in the Big Ten. (The Buckeyes’ only currently ranked pelt is No. 16 Nebraska.) Forty-one voters ranked Ohio State behind at least one team with a loss, anywhere from fifth (14 votes) to 11th (three votes) — a sign they would not be open to declaring OSU poll champion under any reasonable scenario.
The other 24 voters put the Buckeyes fourth or higher. (Mitch Vingle, sports editor of the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, voted them third above Notre Dame.) The Blade asked 13 of these writers if they could envision voting OSU champion if it was the only unbeaten team after the bowls are played.
One said he would, six said they would consider it, and six effectively said not a chance.
Ira Schoffel, sports editor of the Tallahassee Democrat, summed up the dilemma.
“While I don't think they'd beat some of the teams directly behind them, I also believe that wins matter,” he said in an email message. “And they just keep winning. For that reason, I'd say I can envision a scenario where I’d put them No. 1. Their schedule isn't so weak that it would be out of the question. But I wouldn't feel good about it, simply because they don't pass the eye test as an overall team.”
Of course, it all remains one big hypothetical quandary. The scenario requires OSU to navigate Saturday’s trip to Wisconsin and a Nov. 24 visit from Michigan, and the other three unblemished teams to lose, which is unlikely but not out of the question.
Oregon must play No. 13 Stanford, No. 16 Oregon State, and, potentially, the Pac-12 championship game. Notre Dame closes the season with a jaunt to 18th-ranked Southern California. And Kansas State still has games at Baylor and home against No. 15 Texas.
All then would then play top teams in bowl games — perhaps the strongest argument against an unbeaten Buckeyes team being crowned AP national champions.
John Silver, assistant sports editor at the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn., said he counts the bowl ban as a loss and views Ohio State’s ceiling in the polls at No. 4.
“Practically speaking, someone is going to win the BCS bowls, someone is going to win the championship game, and those teams will have a better claim on the final ballot than someone who didn't participate,” Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune said in an email. “… Probation shouldn't be a strategic advantage.”
Others say just win, baby, and Ohio State has done nothing but.
“It's not my job to punish them further than what the NCAA already has done,” said Kyle Ringo of the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo. “The strength of schedule issue along with no bowl game might prevent them from getting enough votes to actually win the title. I can't imagine an undefeated Ohio State team finishing lower than second or third on my ballot at this point, and I might vote them No. 1 if they remain the only undefeated."
In other words, if all the stars align ...
“I've maintained all along that if Ohio State is the only undefeated team, I will give it strong consideration for No. 1,” said Bob Asmussen of the News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. “The Buckeyes will have won every game put in front of them. And I think the Big Ten is a bit better than most think.”
Contact David Briggs at:
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