INDIANAPOLIS — A BCS debate agitated for weeks by chaos and controversy has suddenly settled for Ohio State.
What’s the worst-case scenario for the No. 2 Buckeyes if they beat 10th-ranked Michigan State in Saturday night’s Big Ten championship game?
"They play for the national title," CBS Sports’ BCS guru Jerry Palm said.
There you have it: No more teeth-gnashing over style points, resumes, or Dixie scoreboards.
BCS analysts say the debate is over: Win Saturday, and unbeaten OSU is most likely Pasadena-bound for the Jan. 6 championship game.
Even as the politicking continues — with Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs telling ESPN it would be "un-American" if the one-loss SEC champion doesn’t get into the title game — the numbers game overwhelmingly favors the Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten).
The edge the Buckeyes (.9503 points) have over No. 3 Auburn (.9233) in the latest BCS standings is not so narrow upon further inspection. ESPN BCS analyst Brad Edwards said more than 50 percent of the voters in the coaches and Harris polls would have to change their mind for the Buckeyes to be passed in the final rankings released Sunday. Currently, less than 25 percent of the pollsters have Auburn ahead of OSU.
"If you do the math," Edwards said, "Auburn is going to need approximately 75 percent of voters to have them ahead of Ohio State on their final ballots for them to finish ahead of them in the BCS."
Don’t expect the computers to budge much, either. The Buckeyes are ahead of Auburn in five of the six computers that make up the remaining third of the BCS formula, and both programs have top-10 showdowns Saturday that figure to cancel the other out. Auburn (11-1) plays No. 5 Missouri (11-1) in the SEC championship game.
"From everything I've learned from watching these computers operate over the last several years, I don't think that Auburn is going to gain much more, if any, ground on Ohio State there," Edwards said. "That means there's just a ton of ground they would have to make up in the polls to finish ahead of them."
Palm said in a phone interview that Auburn’s hopes of leaping an unbeaten OSU likely sailed last week. If the Tigers’ stunning win over then-No. 1 Alabama did not give them a major lift in the polls, there is little reason to believe a victory over Mizzou would suddenly sway voters.
"I just don't see a realistic chance for Auburn or Missouri to jump [OSU]," Palm said.
For the Buckeyes, their perch means added pressure and heightened stakes but perhaps fewer distractions. While coach Urban Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith have stayed clear of the fray, a sense of impending injustice hovered over the team when Alabama and new No. 1 Florida State appeared safe bets to play for the crystal ball. You don’t get the berserk scene on Ohio State’s bus after Auburn opened the door by beating the Crimson Tide without players knowing exactly where they stood.
"It gives you a little added life," Buckeyes receiver Devin Smith.
Said offensive lineman Corey Linsley: "We're not paying any attention to that other stuff right now. That's the beauty about the position we're in right now. We really do control our destiny."
Outside the walls of the Buckeyes’ fortress, meanwhile, the debate only intensifies. Two schools of thought are making their final cases on which two schools most deserve to play for the title. Unbeaten OSU or the best of the SEC?
While Florida State — a four-touchdown favorite to top Duke in the ACC title game — has played a softer schedule (66th nationally) than the Buckeyes (61st), the Seminoles’ staggering margins of victory have made them a clear No. 1 to voters. Pollsters must decide then between OSU and Auburn, which has three wins over currently ranked teams to the Buckeyes’ one — including its trump card against Alabama — but also a 35-21 loss to LSU.
At this point, if OSU and Florida State (12-0) win Saturday, Edwards suggested the SEC’s only prayer of capturing an eighth straight national title would be an eleventh-hour case of voting "mischief." Many of the 105 media members, former coaches, administrators, and players comprising the Harris poll, for instance, have distinct biases.
"The reality is that poll was created by the BCS for the BCS, and it will no longer exist after next week [with the four-team playoff next year]," Edwards said. "If you're a Harris poll voter, and you wanted to cause trouble ... "
Just don’t count on it. Short of an unprecedented uprising, weeks of madness have yielded a simple equation for the Buckeyes.
Win, and the party in Columbus can begin.
"We just have to win this game," Linsley said, "and it's all set for us."