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Ohio State Football: Fear the Tigers

The top-two teams in the first BCS have only played for the National Championship once in 15 years. Buckeye fans shouldn't worry about the teams ahead of them - they should worry about the one behind them.

Could Missouri's Maty Mauk keep the Buckeyes from the BCS?
Could Missouri's Maty Mauk keep the Buckeyes from the BCS?
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A history lesson for everyone.

The Missouri Tigers, if we're being honest, have not been all together "relevant" since 2007. That year, Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin, both now kinda-sorta in the NFL, led the Tigers to a 12-2 record in the then-Big 12, losing to Oklahoma once in the regular season and then again in the Big 12 Championship game.

2007, as we all know, was the year of the biggest dumpster fire in the history of the BCS, where Kansas and Missouri met on a football field, both as top-5 teams. In college basketball, that's believable, but that is just how crazy things ended up that year in college football. Kansas jumped Missouri, gaining a BCS at-large berth after Missouri's loss in their championship game, but the Tigers would close their year beating Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Kansas went on to win their BCS game against Virginia Tech, and finish 12-1 on the year.

The Oklahoma Sooners, the only team to beat the Missouri Tigers all year--twice, no less--parlayed their automatic BCS berth into a Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia, who themselves were at one point in the year a team with a single loss, and a rivalry game win against a dreadful Pitt side away from going to their first BCS Championship game. But, like Kansas, like Oklahoma, like Missouri, the Mountaineers could not finish strong enough to make it to the top of the polls.

The top-two slots in the BCS, when all was said and done, belonged to Ohio State and Louisiana State. We all know what happened with that.

A great many people, pundits, fans and others normally point to the 2007 BCS Championship Game (NKA: The Darkest Timeline) as the turning point, from when the national perception of the college football stopped looking to the North for greatness, and started drifting down South, but I think the tipping point for that was actually when West Virginia lost to Pittsburgh, gifting a good-but-not-great Buckeyes team a second chance at a BCS Title they had no business playing for, and letting LSU, the first true survivor of the gauntlet that is the SEC regular season, capitalize and get the win and the trophy.

Consider what has happened since West Virginia lost to Pitt:

  • Rich Rodriguez leaves West Virginia to coach at Michigan, turning the once-proud Wolverines into a conference punching bag that requires Brady Hoke to be savior.
  • Ohio State reaches their then-record third BCS title game, but destroys their national perception by bowing down in blowouts in consecutive years.
  • Illinois goes to the Rose Bowl and is boat-raced by USC.
  • The Big Ten, ACC, and Big East, which were dominant football conferences up until then, take a backseat to the Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC.
  • The dominance of USC in the Pac-10, now a power conference in the national mindset, thrusts the likes of Oregon and Stanford into the national conversation.
  • No Big 10, ACC or Big East squad has come close to the national championship game since (six SEC teams, two Big-12 teams, one Pac-10 team, one independent).

Back to Missouri, which is 7-0 this year, leading the SEC-East with quite a bit of breathing room, coming off of a home win against the injury-plagued Florida Gators. In their second year in the SEC, the Tigers have made a pretty dramatic turnaround, from 5-7 (2-6) to their current undefeated and first place division standing. That start has turned Missouri into one of the more surprising stories of this young college football season, and sees the Tigers at #5 in the first BCS standings of the year. Missouri is ahead of other undefeated teams Miami (FL), Texas Tech and Baylor, and sit behind Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and Ohio State, all of which are also undefeated.

But Missouri's rise in the standings isn't really due to their play or their schedule, it is almost solely based on the reputation of the conference they call home, even if it is only for the second year. The Tigers have won games vs. Murray State, vs. Toledo, at Indiana, vs. Arkansas State, at Vanderbilt, at Georgia, and vs. Florida. They have won all their games; that can't be discounted. Their opponents, despite the name and conference recognition, have not done so at all: the combined record of their opposition is an iffy 27-22, slightly above .500. And this is with the loss of their star quarterback James Franklin, giving way to redshirt Freshman Maty Mauk, who looked just fine in his role as a starter.

Let's bring Ohio State into the picture. The Buckeyes are also 7-0, on top of their division. The opposition record is worse, but not horribly so, coming in at 24-24, a level .500 clip. And while the Buckeyes currently sit ahead of the Tigers in the BCS, the separation is razor thin, .0334. And that's a number that, if both teams keep winning, will likely continue to shrink.

Missouri still has tough dates left, but all of them are at home, against South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M, and a potential birth in the SEC Championship game. Could the Tigers slip up? Of course they could - despite the losses, South Carolina is still a dangerous opponent. And with the Aggies second loss of the year over the weekend, they are likely out of the national championship picture, but Texas A&M's Johnny Football is still in the Heisman conversation. And nothing would be more Johnny Football than his team going down the drain, and him still going to New York for the Heisman presentation.

Ohio State will be favored in the rest of their games, almost without a doubt. But it is clear that the Buckeyes will need plenty of help from the teams above them in order to move up into a potential BCS National Championship birth. Urban Meyer only has eyes for his schedule, and while he as politicked before, he probably won't start doing so until he sees the season come to a close.

A second straight undefeated season, and a Big Ten Championship Game victory might be all for naught

But there is little the Buckeyes can do about their schedule, or about their national perception at this point. And the fact of the matter is that even if two of the teams ahead of them lose, a second straight undefeated season, and a Big Ten Championship Game victory might be all for naught if the team behind them doesn't lose, too.

There is still plenty of football left to play, which is important. But it looks as though college football is headed for another weird, 2007-like year, where no one knows what to make of any team. In that year, the Missouri Tigers played a big role in adjusting the national mindset of what a power conference is. If they keep winning, they might do the same thing once again.

And that's bad news for the Buckeyes.