Title path still murky for OSU

Buckeyes have to hope recent history repeats

Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde leaps over Purdue defensive back Frankie Williams, left, and safety Taylor Richards during the first half Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind.
Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde leaps over Purdue defensive back Frankie Williams, left, and safety Taylor Richards during the first half Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind.

COLUMBUS — The release of the third BCS standings Sunday night again drove home the frigid truth for Ohio State.

Even as the Buckeyes thump their way through the Big Ten at a historic pace, their drive for a national championship remains stuck in a rush-hour bottleneck.

A lightly regarded schedule and the lack of early season style points — the kind it has raked in the past two weeks — has OSU fourth behind top-ranked Alabama, Florida State, and Oregon. The Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) will need to remain perfect and hope two of the three unbeaten teams above them are not to play for a national title on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.

Yet if the Bowl Championship Series has taught us anything in its scorned 16-year run, help is on the way. More than two power-conference teams have finished the regular season unbeaten only twice — USC, Oklahoma, and Auburn in 2004 and Alabama, Texas, and Cincinnati in 2009 — while only six times in the BCS era has the title game paired perfect teams.

Not to mention this year’s gridlock is old hat. Like this fall, five bowl-eligible BCS teams began last November unstained: Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State, Notre Dame, and Louisville. All except Notre Dame would be upset, clearing room for one-loss Alabama to mince the Fighting Irish for the crystal ball.

BCS analyst Jerry Palm of CBS Sports told The Blade there is no realistic scenario in which a one-loss team would pass the unbeaten Buckeyes while OSU "probably doesn’t have to worry" about Baylor — the fifth unbeaten team from a major conference. The Bears are sixth in the latest standings, though Thursday’s visit from No. 12 Oklahoma sets off a November stretch that includes three ranked opponents.

For the purposes of this story, assume the Buckeyes keep winning. They have a bye week before a closing stretch that includes a visit from Indiana (3-5, 1-3), trips to Illinois (3-5, 0-4) and Michigan (6-2, 2-2), and the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.

Beyond that, two things are clear: This is the season college football needs a four-team playoff — a year before it arrives. And it is not a question of where a perfect OSU team will go bowling but when.

Will it be The Granddaddy of Them All on New Year’s Day? Or the bigger daddy at the Rose Bowl five days later?

Here’s a look at the teams in Ohio State’s way to a BCS title shot, ranked in order of most to least likely to stumble.

Oregon (8-0): If the Buckeyes’ schedule is rightly a point of contention, the Ducks don’t have room to quack.

They have one win over a currently ranked team, while their schedule strength ranks 62nd nationally, according to the Sagarin ratings (OSU is 81st). Yet their exams are coming, beginning with Thursday night’s trip to fifth-ranked Stanford (7-1). The Cardinal ruined Oregon’s perfect season with a stunning overtime win in Eugene last November and would enjoy nothing more than doubling up the Ducks’ pain.

Oregon does not face another team with a losing record, and if it gets past Stanford, would be on course to meet No. 23 Arizona State (6-2) in the Pac-12 title game. According to statistician Paul Bessire of predictionmachine.com, which simulates every remaining game 50,000 times, the Ducks have a 39.9 percent chance of finishing the regular season unbeaten.

Alabama (8-0): The two-time defending champions have looked invulnerable lately, outscoring its last six opponents 246-26. But the teeth of Alabama’s schedule awaits.

As it stands today, the Tide will have to navigate three top-10 opponents. They host No. 10 LSU on Saturday, travel to No. 7 Auburn for the Nov. 30 Iron Bowl, and would play No. 9 Missouri in the SEC championship game.

Remember: Alabama has lost in each of its past two title seasons.

Florida State (8-0): Don’t expect the Seminoles to extend OSU a hand.

Their highway to Pasadena is paved with cake. FSU’s four scheduled remaining opponents (Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho, Florida) are a combined 13-21, while Miami would be in line for another beating in the ACC title game. The Seminoles routed the previously unbeaten Hurricanes 41-14 Saturday.

Yet stranger things have happened, and in the end, madness will likely reign. According to Bessire’s simulator, there is an 0.83 percent chance the five unbeaten BCS teams finish undefeated.

It is never a question of if teams will lose but — like Ohio State’s bowl fate — when.

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.