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COLUMBUS — It was unclear what shook more Saturday night: the foundation of Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium or Ohio State’s team buses.
When Auburn stunned top-ranked Alabama with a last-second plot twist for the ages, the occupants of both exploded with awe and joy.
"It was absolutely nuts for 15 minutes," said OSU coach Urban Meyer, who watched the game with his players on the ride home from Michigan.
The implication for the Buckeyes was clear: Win and they’re in.
If second-ranked Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) beats Michigan State (11-1, 8-0) in Saturday night’s Big Ten championship game, history suggests it will play for a national title. Alabama’s 34-28 loss leaves new No. 1 Florida State and OSU as the only two unbeaten major programs, and in the 15-year history of the Bowl Championship Series, a perfect team from one of the six power conferences has never finished behind a team with one loss in the final standings.
Yet, fittingly, the BCS could go out with controversy. The Buckeyes are hearing the footsteps of third-ranked Auburn (11-1), which is shouting that the one-loss winner of its Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 5 Missouri deserves a chance to win the league’s eighth straight national title.
In the latest BCS standings released Sunday night, Ohio State has .9503 points — .0445 points behind FSU and .0270 points in front of Auburn.
Both man and machine are currently smiling on the Buckeyes, with OSU ahead in the two human polls that make up two-thirds of the BCS formula and in five of the six computers that determine the remaining third.
The Buckeyes received four first-place votes in the coaches poll and five in the 105-voter Harris poll, while Auburn got none in either. They also have a points advantage in the coaches vote (1,462-1,437) and Harris poll (2,488-2,422) that would not figure to change much if OSU withstands a top-10 Spartans team Saturday.
OSU, meanwhile, is No. 2 in four computer rankings and first and third in two others.
The Buckeyes have far more breathing room than most BCS analysts predicted earlier in the day, though with a week before the final standings are unveiled, campaign season has arrived.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs lobbed the first shot, telling USA Today it would be a "disservice to our country if [Auburn] is left out."
"An SEC team can't get left out of the [championship game] with one loss," Jacobs said. "We just beat the No. 1 team in the nation, and a team ahead of us struggled, I understand. A one-loss SEC team that wins in Atlanta — if it's us or Missouri — you can't get left out of the BCS after you beat the No. 1 team. We have a better argument."
Meyer, for his part, would not be pulled into the fray. Though he lobbied for Florida to make the title game in 2006, he declined to say whether he thought a one-loss team could ever have a case to jump an unbeaten power.
"I really have not seen enough of the teams," Meyer said. "I feel really strongly about my team, and I would take this team anywhere with me. It's a team that knows how to win. A team that refuses to lose is a special team, and this is a special team."
In that sense, for all the talk of Auburn enjoying a season of destiny, it also has what Ohio State does not — a loss.
The Tigers have more quality wins, with cornerback Chris Davis’ 109-yard touchdown return of a missed field goal Saturday clinching their fourth top-25 win since a 35-21 loss at LSU in Week 4 (OSU has two). Yet the voters have decided there is something to be said for winning them all, and on Saturday night in Indianapolis, the Buckeyes have the chance to win their biggest one yet.
"Our focus is on Michigan State, and that’s it," Meyer said.
HALL APOLOGIZES: Meyer confirmed he will not suspend starting offensive lineman Marcus Hall and receiver Dontre Wilson for their role in Saturday’s melee, though the Big Ten could still mete out further punishment.
Hall and Wilson, along with Michigan backup linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone, were ejected for throwing punches.
"I've dealt internally with the players, obviously Marcus Hall, Dontre Wilson, and also there was another person who came off the bench that we had a discipline conversation with already," Meyer said Sunday.
Hall, a senior guard, issued an apology on Twitter, including for the one-fingered salutes to Michigan fans.
"I would like to apologize to The Ohio State University, The University of Michigan, my teammates, my family, the fans, and the TV viewing audience for my behavior during the game," Hall said. "Wearing the scarlet and gray uniform is a privilege and an honor. I let my emotions get the best of me and didn't conduct myself properly in the heat of the moment."