The Chase has been ongoing since early March. Seven weeks into the college football season, the Urban Meyer Express is hurtling down the tracks at full speed. Everything is going well for Ohio State. It sits inside the top 5 with an unblemished 6-0 record and the offense and special teams have been well above average. The defense is the only inconsistency.
A less than exemplary pass defense could be the Buckeyes’ downfall. But a more likely impediment is the Bowl Championship Series, multiple undefeated teams and a weak schedule. The first BCS standings won’t be released for another week. Already, though, Ohio State fans are bracing themselves for a horrid sight – the Buckeyes ranked fourth.
Ohio State has won back-to-back games over ranked opponents, but Michigan is the only remaining team that could be ranked when it plays the Buckeyes. Nebraska and Michigan State are the most likely Big Ten Championship Game opponents, though the possible matchups remain fluid.
Oct. 12 proved to be the most topsy-turvy Saturday in a 2013 season that’s been short on upsets. Three teams ranked in the top 10 of the Coaches Poll lost – No. 5 Stanford, No. 7 Georgia and No. 10 Oklahoma. The Coaches Poll, Harris Poll and computers comprise the BCS formula. Ohio State is only one spot behind second-ranked Oregon, so say the coaches. But it’s the computers – not humans – that find Brutus off-putting.
The Buckeyes are rated 14th in the Sagarin and Kenneth Massey computer ratings, eighth in the Andersen & Hester ratings and Colley Matrix, and fourth by Richard Billingsley.
A ghastly non-conference schedule has hurt the strength of schedule, and the Big Ten slate won’t provide much of a boost. Ohio State’s strength of schedule is ranked anywhere from 58th and 95th, depending on the service. Buffalo, San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M are a combined 10-14. Ironically, as all of Columbus was rooting against Michigan last night, Buckeye Nation would have been better served with a Wolverine victory.
A five-game stretch of Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Indiana and Illinois isn’t going to get much traction from pollsters. No marquee games while others occur on a weekly basis put the Buckeyes out of sight, out of mind. The perception of the Big Ten lies somewhere between the Soviet Union and the Taliban. A once-proud conference has hit rock bottom. The second highest ranked Big Ten teams entering yesterday’s games were Michigan and Northwestern – in the low teens – and both lost. Based on recent seasons, the skepticism aimed at the former Midwestern juggernaut is justified.
But, interestingly, it has never hampered Ohio State before. It has played in three national championship games in the BCS era and been selected as an at-large participant five times. An alumni base that numbers a half-million equals tickets sold and TVs flipped on. The Buckeyes’ nine BCS appearances are more than any other school.
However, this could be the year it catches up to them. Alabama, Oregon and the Clemson-Florida State winner could all finish in front of an undefeated Ohio State team. There’s an outside possibility a one-loss LSU team could also pass the Buckeyes if they won the SEC championship.
It’s the 2013 season, not the 2012-13 season. Still, it’s damning of the system when a team with a 25-game winning streak could be shut out from national championship consideration. It would be a cruel blow to Ohio State, which many believe would have won the title last season if they weren’t barred from the postseason. The Buckeyes could enter next season winners of 26 straight and not own a national championship.
In one year, none of that will matter as the four-game playoff makes a welcome debut.
Where Ohio State’s past can help is not only the win streak, but also its head coach. Urban Meyer’s reputation as one of the game’s best coaches, someone who has won multiple national titles, is something that can influence voters. Not to mention, his lobbying powers have worked in the past.
In the final weeks of the 2006 regular season, Meyer’s campaigning was akin to a presidential candidate during the stretch run. He appeared on TV and radio, selling everyone on his vision – of why Florida deserved to be in the title game over Michigan.
It worked, and the Gators won the national championship.
The bottom line is it’s still only mid-October. There were 16 undefeated teams Saturday morning. Now, there are only 13. That number will continue to decline each week. The tradition of panicking about the possibility of three, four and even five undefeated teams is nearly as rich as marching bands and rivalries.
Until November rolls around, the apprehension isn’t warranted.