Ed. note -- Who is AJ King? AJ King is the author of the piece you're reading right now. He's also another 5-star commit in LGHL's top nationally 2013 recruiting class. You can follow AJ on Twitter @allday_ajking.
Many Buckeye fans across the country are wondering what Ohio State needs to do to get out of the unfortunate spot of being the third wheel amongst college football's unbeatens. Back-to-back weeks of hardcore drubbings against Big Ten foes Penn State (63-14), and Purdue (56-0) have not done much to impress pollsters, and certainly have had no effect on the computer rankings that are so highly influenced by high profile wins. The truth is, there is not much that the Buckeyes can do but handle their own business – as well as hope for a lot of chaos to unfold as well.
But why is that the case? Somewhat, the result of fundamental flaws in our current (and soon to be departed) system, and in part due to preconceived notions this current group of Buckeyes had nothing to do with.
1. Coaches Poll voters are inherently flawed
I've always argued that the USA Today Coaches' Poll has no business being in the BCS equation and with good reason. Many coaches (or more appropriately, the SID's filing their ballots) in this poll have no idea what is going on outside of the tightly run organization that is their own football program. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is on the record as saying he voted Alabama number one in the country even after FSU dominated the then number three ranked Clemson Tigers by a score of 51-14. Though I commend Fisher's ability to remove his obvious bias towards his own team, there is no way he could possibly know exactly how well other top teams in the country are looking on a week-to-week basis when he is so confined to making sure everything in his program is running smoothly.
How much of the Alabama-Tennessee game do you think Jimbo witnessed as his team was demolishing an awful NC State squad at the same time? Do you think Jimbo knows that Braxton Miller has continually progressed as a passer and an overall player since coming back from a pretty significant leg injury earlier this season? With Ohio State not on the schedule, how many Ohio State players do you think Jimbo can even name? He's way too busy to spend time scouting out squads across the country, and so is his SID.
Sportswriters are much more inclined to see more games and make better judgments on who actually is playing best at any given moment of the season. Oddsmakers? Even more.
2. Stigma that Ohio State plays a poor schedule
Do you ever get tired of hearing about how Ohio State hasn't played anyone? While strolling down a Columbus street on a regular Monday morning, I heard two Ohio State students arguing at length about the strength of the Big Ten.
One student made a case for Wisconsin being a very solid team and thus a rather formidable victory on OSU's schedule. The other one replied, "Yeah, they're good. But they're not Pac-12 good." This is exactly the sort of linear thinking potentially killing Ohio State's chances at reaching the national title game in Pasadena. After I cringed, I thought about how actual voters must be thinking.
All you hear from the national talking heads every day is that the Big Ten competition does not stack up to the (worthy of its praise) SEC and rising Pac-12. People love to ignore the fact that the Oregon Ducks and Alabama Crimson Tide have played the same amount of ranked opponents as the Buckeyes to date: One. If you want to talk Big Ten-Pac-12, you should realize that there are currently three teams in the top-25 of the BCS rankings from the Big Ten (Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin) against the Pac-12's four (Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona State). And certainly don't forget what happened when Wisconsin and Arizona State squared off earlier in non-conference play:
If Wisconsin makes that field goal, are we having a rather different conversation? Suddenly, Ohio State has a win over what would probably be a top 16 ranked Wisconsin squad. At the very least, their quality win would be comparable to say, a Baylor.
3. The Big Ten isn't doing itself any favors
Although much of what is said about the Big Ten is hyperbolic to a certain extent, the conference as a whole hasn't been at its best over the past couple of seasons. This season, outside of Michigan's win over Notre Dame, it's tough to point to a signature out of conference victory for a league squad, and many of the supposedly better teams in the conference laid eggs in highly viewed contests (see: Nebraska-UCLA, Penn State-UCF, NIU-Iowa, and Michigan State seemingly winning ugly week in-week out). While the "Big Ten sucks" line of thinking has been beaten like a dead horse, the only way to really change the story is to get big wins, and that hasn't happened. The Buckeyes missed that chance this year, but as we've covered multiple times already, that's not entirely their fault.
Quarterback play continues to be a big problem in the conference as well, as both Ohio State quarterbacks ended the weekend in the top three in the Big Ten, in terms of touchdown passes (Miller, 15; Guiton, 14). The only quarterback to top Miller and Guiton is Indiana's Nate Sudfeld, who has 16 TD passes on the season (and probably owes some of that to the system he plays in). Many other teams are breaking in fairly new QBs (Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Purdue), have suffered from injuries (Nebraska, Northwestern). Bad luck and inexperience can combine for some less than ideal results and a lower a Q Score.
Quite frankly, Big Ten football can be ugly at times, which doesn't give many voters a reason to watch with much interest or give the conference's best team any reason for the benefit of the doubt. A Michigan State-Iowa game will not be chock full of exciting plays or highlights, unless you get excited over punts (I see you, Senator Tressel). Ohio State's final three regular season opponents, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan are a combined 12-12 and likely will not give the Buckeyes much of a bump in the polls. Ohio State must hope Michigan State can win out so the Buckeyes can get a chance to prove themselves against a quality opponent in the Big Ten Championship Game.
It's been somewhat a perfect storm of factors that have placed Ohio State in a precarious position.
While the Big Ten is incapable of rebranding itself over night, here's hoping for a little more chaos that will level the playing field and open some doors the Buckeyes may be unable to on their own.
Matt Brown contributed to this report.