There was a lot of hand-wringing and misplaced concern over Ohio State's narrow win over Wisconsin. Despite seeing their Buckeyes play impressively on national television and in front of a lot of important recruits, fans (and some pundits) looked at the scores of the Oregon, Clemson and even Alabama games and started wailing about Ohio State not being impressive enough. Let me help those among you with such worries with two helpful tips:
1. The Buckeyes played much better than you think, and
2. Even if the Buckeyes win every game the rest of the year by only one point, chances are they will still play for the national championship.
Everything according to plan
It was pretty clear going into the game that Ohio State's defensive strategy was to shut down Wisconsin's run game and make Stave beat us. A big part of that scheme was to use their pre-season All-American cornerback Bradley Roby to attempt to lock down Badger receiver Jared Abbrederis all over the field. Despite the record-setting day by Abbrederis, I'm here to tell you, the scheme worked as planned. The impressive variety of Wisconsin run plays were mostly stuffed, forcing the Badgers to figure out (a little late) that they needed to pass to win. Abbrederis was unusually brilliant, Stave was a little more accurate and poised than expected and the Buckeye pass rush was not quite as good as planned and despite all of that swinging to Bucky's favor they still lost the game convincingly 31-14 ... and that is exactly how close the game was.
"Tresselball" equals wins
When Philly Brown snagged a 1-yard flip from Braxton Miller with 2:18 left in the 3rd quarter, coaching minds immediately started calculating. In games that feature any kind of defense (hard to find these days), each team gets the ball for three drives per quarter, sometimes four. Up three three possessions with a couple minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the coaching staff understood the game was theirs to lose. Only some really lame-brain plays - turnovers, long pass plays - are going to throw a team off "schedule" at that point. Even better, the staff understands that they are about 3 or 4 first downs away from putting the game completely out of reach. With an excellent running game and offensive line, the smart play was to go low-risk and eat the clock. I'm sure the staff had high expectations they could get those first downs and possibly even a smash-mouth touchdown drive. Chris Borland and the Wisconsin defense had other ideas but, no matter what, it wasn't going to be enough. The defense also went into Tresselball-mode or, in this case, Heacock-ball mode. Rush three, give them the dink and dunks, keep everything in front of you and make the clock the enemy. Once again, the plan worked exactly as it almost always does. The game was never really in an imminent danger and was effectively over at 31-14. The final score only mattered to those that didn't understand how the end game played out.
Polls and style points don't matter (mostly)
Despite all the hand-wringing and self-flagellation over SOS and margin of victory and the impact on the polls, history says it's much worry about (almost) nothing. If an undefeated Buckeye team didn't play in the national championship game, it would be a snub that would rank somewhere between historical and unprecedented.
Since the BCS era started in 1998, there has only been ONE undefeated team from an AQ-conference that did not make it to the national championship game and that was Auburn in 2004 - and that was the only year in the 15 years of the BCS that there were more than two undefeated teams at the end of the regular season.
There have been more years where there were NO undefeated teams (3) than years where there were more than two (1). So the chances that an undefeated Ohio State team doesn't make it to a national championship game are extremely slim. Rest easy, if the Buckeyes merely take care of their own business and win every game, they are in.
Undefeated AQ-Conference Teams at the end of the regular season (incl. conference championship games)
2012: Notre Dame, Ohio State(i)
2010: Auburn, Oregon
2009: Alabama, Texas
2006: Ohio State
2005: USC, Texas
2004: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn
2002: Miami, Ohio State
1999: Florida State, Virginia Tech
In the end, as you can see, the polls don't even matter. The only time a concern that should ever arise is if a one-loss team jumps us in the polls. It has happened before but, even in those instances, it never mattered in the end.