Let's start this article with two pieces of seemingly unrelated information.
The Alabama Crimson Tide claim a billion national titles, which is fodder for easy jokes (most of which I've made myself), but the truth is that the majority of them are legitimate. The Crimson Tide are one of, if not the, most dominant football programs in the history of college football. That is a fact which makes it even more baffling that they claim two titles in which they lost their last game of the season, and another in which they finished third in their own conference.
That last one is from 1941, and is only really given the time of day because one guy a few years later decided to apply a mathematical formula, possibly pulled out of his butt, to college football rankings and decided that Alabama was in fact the best team that season.
Deke Houlgate, therefore, basically just spoke a natty into existence based on next to nothing. And Alabama just kind of went along with it.
And what, I ask you, is actually wrong with that?
Part of the reason that Alabama can almost semi-plausibly claim three national championships that they absolutely don't deserve is because the entire exercise of naming a college football national champion has been inherently wonky for the majority of the existence of the sport. In a time without uniform schedules or a centralized polling system or even a basic agreement on what constitutes a "major" opponent, pretty much any halfway decent team has just a legitimate-sounding a claim on glory.
So in that chaos, teams would be stupid not to jump on the smallest morsel of recognized success. If Bill from Dairy Queen wants to give my favorite team a national championship and people are willing to listen to him, who am I to argue? Just tell me when and where to be for the parade.
Does the College Football Playoff simplify things? Maybe, but with only four teams involved there's always going to be an argument for a squad unfairly left out. The inclusion of a team in the playoff isn't an argument for the system, it's an argument for that singular team and that team only.
So now that we've established that national championships are in the eye of the beholder, let's take a look at our second, suspiciously current, piece of information.
Namely, that Ohio State football is ranked No. 2 in the initial AP Top 25 Poll. A closer examination of the poll indicates that the Buckeyes aren't just a solid second place in the eyes of the pollsters, they're a potential No. 1. A mere 16 points behind first place Clemson, the Buckeyes still got 21 1st place votes to go along with their 1,504 total points.
Maybe you see where this is going.
This supports my idea: If you play at all this fall, claim a national championship. Why not? https://t.co/NGHXQtA0Rf— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) August 25, 2020
Who says that you need to play at all, Nicole?
Think about this possible scenario: the college football season proceeds along the same track that it appears to be on as of today. The Big 12, ACC, and SEC all decide to play sports in the fall, albeit with truncated schedules and very few out of conference foes, but a wobbly season is competed and completed.
Whatever a potential following college football playoff would look like after this, I posit that unless Clemson runs the table with a perfect record (and even if they do anyway), the Ohio State Buckeyes have just as solid a claim on a national championship as any other team.
Right now, the AP Top 25 Poll barely values Clemson more than Ohio State. Would it really make sense for an undefeated Buckeye squad to drop below the likes of No. 3 Alabama or No. 4 Georgia? Even if those teams go undefeated, they'll have exactly as many losses as an obviously superior Buckeye team, so it'd be silly to jump one of them ahead of Ohio State. By that same token, if Clemson loses (or, frankly, has a close win against an inferior opponent), it's also ludicrous for Ohio State to not then jump the Tigers and go to No. 1 in the poll.
The short version of this logic is that after an initial national poll, undefeated Team A can only drop in rankings with a loss or a close win over a poor opponent; should this happen, adjacent Team B must rise and take their spot.
And that's it, really. All that stands between Ohio State and glory, using a method I'm now calling the Ginter Guarantee System, is a Clemson loss or Trevor Lawrence throwing a couple of 4th quarter interceptions against Pitt and winning by eight instead of 15. Ohio State gets bumped up to No. 1, never to relinquish its spot by virtue of it being impossible for them to lose a game, because they aren't playing any.
The Ohio State Buckeyes, instant 2020 national champions.
Now, there are all kinds of things that could change in the next few weeks. The ACC is already rescheduling games because of COVID, for example. LSU has only four offensive lineman available right now because of infections within the team. It's still possible that no one plays any football this year, and the Buckeyes lose their chance to move up in the polls.
That'd be unfortunate for many reasons, the least of which that Ohio State would lose a claim on a crystal football. But if football is played, and if the Buckeyes are still left out, it is my contention that there is still plenty to root for: namely, a Clemson loss so that we as a fanbase can carry on the fine college football tradition of claiming a dubious triumph in uncertain times.
A stretch? Well, that all depends on how much you personally might need collegiate sports glory in your life. For me, it turns out I might just need to it quite a bit.