Ohio State leads Auburn in BCS standings; doubt suddenly reasonable

Gregory Shamus

After Alabama's loss, as many expected, the Buckeyes have moved into the #2 ranking in the second to last ever BCS standings, but there's more (see: some) reason to have long term doubt that wasn't there a week ago.

Urban Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes needed roughly the equivalent of a minor miracle to get them back into BCS national title game conversation. Sure, Ohio State's admittedly suboptimal schedule strength, equal parts unpredictabl football landscape evolution a half decade plus after the games had been booked and their conference's lack of overwhelming success in the last five yearshurting its national perception, does them no favors, but the odds of Alabama or Florida State losing so much as one of their respective final two games between the two of them were slim to say the least.

Auburn took care of the latter, but even with the Buckeyes second in this week's BCS standings (Ohio State's edge over the Tigers is just .0270), they now face a full on PR war against the very same team, no less. Bizarrely, some of the loudest, most partisan Auburn carnival barkers seem to have little investment on the flip side should relative SEC newbies Mizzou (who opened as 2-point favorites but now find themselves 1.5 point underdogs) emerge victorious Saturday afternoon, nor do their willingness to overlook a loss have them the least bit interested in going to bat for the likely would win 7-or-8 out of 10 against Auburn Alabama.

Don't get us wrong; Auburn is a very good team and one that had one of the most special, improbable victories in college football history two weeks ago – and then promptly followed it up with an even more impossible, stunning upset win over two score favorite Alabama. But they're also a very good football team who list to a good-not-great LSU team by two touchdowns.

Where things begin to get concerning for Ohio State partisans, who have the benefit of a decade plus of BCS history on their side in that an undefeated from a power conference has never been left out of a BCS title game in a year in which there were only two unbeatens, is that a week ago when the hypotheticals were laid on the table related to an Alabama loss (and a presumptive Ohio State comfortable win over Michigan) the words "no chance" often factored in regarding a one-loss team passing the Buckeyes. Now, the very same experts are now saying it is possible, even with an Ohio State win over Michigan State.

Former longtime stalwart proprietor of premium site CollegeBCS.com turned CBSSports.com BCS analyst Jerry Palm had echoed the talking heads that said Ohio State being passed by a one-loss SEC team was impossible as recently as last weekend, but he's joined those admitting it's possible (ESPN's Brad Edwards said similar on SportsCenter last night). While the numbers suggest it's not out of the question, Palm (admittedly a Purdue partisan) think it's still rather unlikely:

The voters have a history of respecting undefeated teams. The coaches in particular understand how difficult it is to finish unbeaten. And the voters also have a history of not caring much about strength of schedule, at least when talking about major conference teams.

Another thing to consider is that while SEC country may consider it a birthright for its champion to play for the national title, the other 75% of the country would like to see someone else -- anyone else -- win it for a change.

The coaches' poll has Auburn within 25 points of Ohio State. That could be close enough to put the comptuers into play. The BCS computers can only impact the rankings if there isn't concensus among the voters. A 25 point margin isn't tiny, but it's also less than half the number of voters. Auburn is projected to have a slight lead in the computers over Ohio State. That could make the race this week close, but it also means that whatever it says this week, it might say something completely different next week, even without upsets.

The Harris poll gave the Buckeyes at 66 point lead over Auburn. With the current poll numbers, the Tigers would need at least a 1.25 lead over Ohio State in the computers to be ahead overall.

CBS Sports' outstanding Bruce Feldman shared a similar sentiment Sunday evening:

As colleague Jerry Palm notes, it's never happened where a major-college undefeated team has been jumped by another major-college team with one loss in the final BCS standings, and I don't think it should happen in 2013 either. I know some have brought up Auburn getting screwed nine years ago when the Tigers were one of three big conference unbeatens and got left out to watch USC throttle Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

O.K., this would not be like Auburn getting left out a decade ago because of USC and Oklahoma. A one-loss SEC champ wouldn't have the same record as an unbeaten FSU and Ohio State if the latter two win next Saturday. No doubt the SEC's been the best conference in college football the past decade, it's not THAT much better than the other power leagues.

Auburn has the biggest win of the season, knocking off two-time defending BCS champ Alabama. They alzso have a win over No. 7 (at the time) Texas A&M on the road and No. 24 Ole Miss, and if the Tigers would beat Mizzou Saturday that'd give them a third win over a Top 10 team and second over a Top 5 opponent. The bad news: they still have a two-TD loss to LSU. It wasn't very close. Auburn was down by three TDs in the fourth quarter.

People rip Ohio State's schedule, but it's not like OSU played a MAC or Sun Belt schedule. The Buckeyes have wins over No. 23 Wisconsin and No. 16 Northwestern, which of course promptly fell apart after that game and didn't even make a bowl much less stay in the top 25. OSU's toughest game will be Saturday against a 11-1 Michigan State team.

Those making the TCU in 2010 comparisons  are also relying on false equivalence. The Frogs' highest ranked victory came against final #7 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and their second best was over Utah, who finished unranked by the AP but 23rd in the Coaches Poll. Michigan State is pretty much guaranteed to finish the year ranked, and unless Wisconsin lays an egg in their bowl game, should have a pretty solid shot as well. Iowa has the 5th highest voting points total outside of teams currently in the Top 25 and a strong bowl game showing could also land them a spot. And besides, these are major conference teams with major conferences talents, even in a down league like the Big Ten, not the 2010 Mountain West.

None the less, expect a lot of idle chatter between now and next weekend. If Auburn does anything more than win by an undeniable margin, the talk may become little more than a vocal minority sooner rather than later. If they do (and particularly if Ohio State follows that up with a less than style point rich win over Michigan State), the Buckeyes will still have history on their side, but you'd certainly have every reason to not love the scenario of  having to leave it up to the collective Russian judge, as it were.

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