Nick Saban's been lobbing tacet Molotov cocktails all offseason during his press conferences and yesterday, his latest one was aimed across the bow of Urban Meyer. When asked about the strength of the SEC's schedule and the difficulty in beating the SEC's top six teams, Saban asked: "How many would Ohio State have beaten? Would they have won 3? I don't know."
To begin, Alabama did not defeat three of the SEC's top six teams last year on their way to a national championship – they downed two. As the coach of a team with three national titles in four years, Nick Saban has earned the right to speak from a bully pulpit and toss verbal grenades at other teams until someone beats his squad, or indeed an SEC team, in the national championship game. However, his statement here is easily dismissed by a quick peek at the schedules of any top SEC team.
In the interest of fairness, we're going to pre-emptively deliver arguments against a national championship appearance for an undefeated Buckeye squad and try to pick them apart.
"The Buckeyes would go 3-5, maybe 4-4 in SEC play. Certainly not appear in the SEC Championship Game let alone the BCS one."
One-word critique: Farfetched.
This is an oft-used fallacy by lowest common denominator fan site and message board commenters to debunk the idea that any team other than an SEC team could play for a national title in any year. Unfortunately it does not hold water in that Ohio State will never play an SEC schedule and could not possibly play an SEC schedule, so it's effectively a false dichotomy. As Sherlock Holmes said, "It is a cardinal error to theorize without data." In this case, collecting apropos data is not possible. Ohio State has some of the best recruiting outside of the south and has the players (certainly this season especially) to match up with any SEC squad. Any prognostication in this case is simply throwing punches underwater.
"The Buckeyes didn't play anyone.The Big Ten is terrible and their non-conference schedule is full of cupcakes."
One-word critique: Legitimate.
The weakness of the Buckeyes last year (and then especially this year) is the schedule. No one makes any pretentions to hide that the Big Ten isn't "down". At the end of the year, Iowa and Illinois will not have records, simply a sad face. An argument can be made that Northwestern is the second or third best team in the league (after all, they are last B1G team that defeated an SEC team in a bowl game, amirite?). The non-conference schedule is another point of order. With Vanderbilt ditching this year's season opener against the Buckeyes in a letter, the best team on Ohio State's non-conference schedule is rebuilding Cal.. Another year, that would have been a tough matchup, but Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch and DeSean Jackson are long gone and so is Jeff Tedford for that matter. This is the best argument against Ohio State's participation in the NCG if it remains undefeated – the strength of schedule numbers may simply be too low, particularly if there are multiple other power conference unbeatens.
"The Big Ten can't keep up with the SEC. It doesn't have good enough players."
One-word critique: Unfitting (at least for the Buckeyes).
Certain schools don't have access to the same caliber of athletes. That is true in any league in the country. Alabama will simply bring in better players than Vanderbilt year after year, the same way Ohio State brings in better players than Indiana. Though there was a brief post Tressel dip, Ohio State's recruiting is routinely amongst the nation's best. Getting players from recruiting hotbeds is extremely vital to a team's continued success at a high level. Ohio State and Michigan are the two programs that have accomplished this consistently in the Big Ten. Michigan got stomped in its trial by fire against Nick Saban in a neutral site one off affair, but comparing an 8-5 Michigan team (though one that fought tooth-and-nail with a South Carolina side ranked in the Top 3 by The Sporting News for next season just now) with a year better, year two Ohio State one probably isn't apples-to-appls. Ohio State has the talent to compete plus is already recruiting at a level normally seen by the top programs in the SEC, and there is no reason to think that won't continue into the future.
Personally, I do not believe Ohio State would be undefeated in the SEC. The conference is a murderer's row and routinely their best sides fail to do so. This is where the best support for Saban's underlying thesis lies. However, to insinuate Ohio State could not compete in terms of actual on-field performance with Alabama, LSU, Florida and the rest is disingenuous and a narrative better reserved for the lowest common denominator than a head coach playing politics in the preseason. And Nick Saban's comments seem to indicate that he views the Buckeyes as a threat, otherwise he wouldn't single them out.
Ohio State may not win the final BCS Championship Game this year, but if it does get there and faces an SEC side, there's little hard evidence this current side isn't optimized to be competitive. The Buckeyes, as it stands right now, might just have the best shot east of Oregon to knock the mighty SEC off its pedestal of crystal football hoarding.