After demolishing Illinois in rather impressive fashion over the weekend, the Buckeyes finally get a week off to rest, get healthy, and get ready for the final two games of the 2012 season, at Wisconsin and at home vs Michigan. These two games will give the Buckeyes the chance to do something they have only done once in ten years - complete a regular season without a loss. Considering how at times dreadful, at times competent and at times /facepalm the 2011 Buckeyes were, this is a very amazing feat, with loads of credit due to the players and the coaching staff.
Normally, in college football, an undefeated regular seasons means a conference championship and a BCS bowl. For a team with Ohio State's clout, that BCS bowl could have been the national championship game. But that isn't happening this year, and we all know why. Instead, Ohio State will have to hope for upsets and a slight chance at a split national championship in the AP Poll alone. Rest assured, the likelihood of that happening is tiny, and if you think otherwise, I want a double of whatever you're drinking.
With Ohio State banned from postseason play this year, many a writer, most recently from another Ohio State blog, have pondered the "what if" question, asking what would be the case had Gene Smith and Ohio State taken the bowl ban last year. Would they have had the chance to compete in a bowl this year? Maybe. The NCAA doesn't do hypotheticals and will never say one way or another if they would have been allowed to compete this year. My guess is they probably would have had the chance, but we'll never know.
Here is one thing we do know, however: had Ohio State taken the bowl ban last year, and had they been allowed to compete this year, the most likely destination for the Buckeyes would have been Pasadena, not Miami, undefeated or otherwise. There's just too much talent ahead of them, in the eyes and minds of the people who decide these things, to even merit consideration for the national championship game.
On the surface, it's fairly easy to see why things would be rather difficult for Ohio State to get to a title game this year. For starters, its almost a guarantee that any team in contention is playing for one spot only, not two. No matter what happens, the winner of the SEC Championship is punching their ticket to Miami. So instead of seven teams trying for two spots, it's really six teams trying for one. The odds game isn't in Ohio State's (or Notre Dame's, or Oregon's, or Kansas State's) favor.
Let's take the six or so teams that are in the mix for the championship game this year: Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Georgia and Florida. We'll throw Ohio State in there with them, just for kicks. What you get are five undefeated teams (the top-four, with Ohio State presumably at #5) and two one-loss SEC teams right behind them. None of the SEC teams listed will play one another again until the SEC Championship game, which will likely be Alabama vs Georgia (if Georgia wins out) or Florida (if Georgia doesn't). If Alabama wins, they're in, no questions. If Florida/Georgia win, it might open up a spot for someone else, but, though it pains me to agree with Uncle Gary, Alabama still probably has the pedigree and support to still make it to the title game.
The other undefeated squads would pose similar threats to Ohio State playing in a championship game. Kansas State has one of the easiest roads to undefeated, with games at TCU and Baylor before closing at home with Texas. In 2006-2010, I'd say KSU would go 1-2 with that schedule. But in 2012, they should handle that run of games, behind Heisman candidate Collin Klein, who is having a monster season in his own right. He may sit against TCU, but if he plays, it's tough to doubt the Wildcats.
Oregon, currently #2 in the AP poll and #3 in the BCS, has run roughshod through every opponent*, scoring at will and outpacing anyone that lines up across from them. They just outraced USC in Los Angeles, and have tough games against Stanford and at Oregon State, before a likely re-match with USC in the Pac-12 Championship. Chip Kelly's team hasn't given many reasons to think they won't survive that gauntlet.
Finally, there's Notre Dame, whom I still think has an historical inside track to the BCSNCG, which concludes the season with Boston College and Wake Forrest, before heading out to USC in their finale. It isn't easy sledding, but based on what we saw in South Bend on Saturday, this might just be the year where the football Gods take a second to smile on Notre Dame for the first time since the 1980's.
These are the teams ahead of (and slightly behind) Ohio State in the rankings, and because of their positioning, their schedules, and their abilities, they would likely be teams ranked ahead of Ohio State and would, thus, get slotted into the BCSNCG ahead of the Buckeyes. Even given an Ohio State Big Ten Championship Game win over whichever also-ran gets into the game opposite an undefeated Buckeye team.
Now, these scenarios are all rooted in the same "what if" fashion that many in Columbus are using to ask about Gene Smith's decision not to take a bowl ban last year. Could Kansas State drop a squeaker to Baylor? Could Oregon lose the Civil War? Could Jim Bollman run Dave all over Notre Dame? Sure. And in that same sense, could
Monty Montay Montee Wisconsin's running back wear down the Silver Bullets and Wisconsin do just enough to beat the Buckeyes in two weeks in Madison? You bet that could happen (and it would kill me if it did because a happy Bielema is a sad Columbus).
So here's a new "what if" to consider. What if Gene Smith actually made the right decision? He's said that he didn't think the NCAA would come down as hard on Ohio State, and he wasn't expecting a bowl ban in the first place. Whether that thinking was naive or stupid is up for debate. But there's no way Smith could have seen the season unfolding in a way that would make it very difficult for Ohio State to get to a championship game.
I don't condone the decision necessarily, and given how last year ended, it might have been for the best to offer a 2011 bowl ban from the get-go. But this is the NCAA we're talking about, and for all we know, they would have banned the Buckeyes in 2012 anyway. In a season that's unfolded the way it has, in a season that, bowl ban or not, will leave the Buckeyes on the outside looking in, maybe that decision was for the best.
I'd rather stick to a much more important question: what if the Buckeyes win the national championship next year?