Ohio State Football: What Happens If Buckeyes Are Nation's Only Unbeaten Team?
Over at the secret underground NCAA military compound in Indianapolis, a room of low-level employees sits in a basement facility, peering at radar screens, looking for unity, order and everything in its right place.
On the postseason radar, however, one blip is out of place. It's doing things the NCAA doesn't want it to do. It's bleeping when it should bloop.
"Sir," calls out the radar watcher to his supervisor, "we may have a situation."
That situation is Ohio State, currently unbeaten and running roughshod through a lackluster-at-best Big Ten. Oh sure, the Buckeyes have been unbeaten all year (obviously), but they've also looked rather mediocre themselves for the duration of the season...until a 63-38 win over Nebraska happened.
And now the NCAA has a situation.
Ohio State, as most are well aware, is ineligible for the postseason. We still firmly believe that the Big Ten should just send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl anyway and let the NCAA invalidate it afterward, but that's probably not how things actually work, and Jim Delany's not that confrontational anyway. So Ohio State's year is ending with its regular-season finale against Michigan, no matter what.
But look at the schedule awaiting the Buckeyes from now until then. Three road games, yes, but going to Wisconsin doesn't seem like nearly as much of a task as it did six months ago. The trip to Penn State will be a challenge, but Ohio State's going to push that PSU offense around. The road game against Indiana might as well be a home game for how many Buckeye fans will show up.
Among the home games, only Michigan looks like it has a prayer of coming out of Columbus with a win. And based on the state of the Michigan line on both sides of the ball, it's not a great prayer.
Of course, this is college football; it's ever so wildly unpredictable, and illogical upsets happen all the time. Heck, if they made sense, they wouldn't be upsets to begin with. So while it's absolutely plausible that Ohio State runs the table, if this run ends with Indiana dancing on the 50-yard line in front of 15,000 delighted Hoosier fans and 35,000 stunned Buckeye fans, well, you can only be so surprised.
How many teams (including Ohio State) will finish the 2012 regular season unbeaten?
That caveat aside, Ohio State is primed for a huge run here, and now that the season's this far along, anything short of 12-0 is going to be a disappointment. And while college football is filled with other strong teams that are also still unbeaten (Alabama, Oregon, West Virginia and Notre Dame can all concurrently run the table), we figured Florida State was in that mix until an upset loss out of nowhere to North Carolina State last week too. Unbeaten records have quite the precarious shelf life.
So what if Ohio State is the only team to finish the season undefeated? Will this rogue, sanctioned program defy the odds and steal the thunder of the bowl-eligible by going 12-0 and earning a national championship from the media? Will Mark Emmert's head summarily explode?
The answer will probably disappoint Buckeye fans, but here's the deal: An AP National Championship isn't happening. Not unless every team in the nation gets two losses or a massive point-fixing scheme takes out everyone in the Top Five sometime between now and January.
The reason is simple: It's impossible for Ohio State to put together a championship-worthy resume.
This is the penance for a ludicrous non-conference schedule, one where the biggest challenge came from California or Central Florida. If your non-con slate doesn't pit you against a high-level opponent and the rest of your conference can't offer up a single opponent ranked higher than No. 20 (maybe Michigan gets up there by the end of the season, but that would make a grand total of one), voters aren't going to be more impressed by that than any other resume in the nation.
And yes, Ohio State fans, you can only play the teams in front of you. Yes, yes, yes. However, it takes quite a bit of naivété to look at the four teams on that 2012 non-conference schedule—not only right now in the middle of the season, but in recent history—and think it's anything but Cupcake City, USA.
We will also grant that Ohio State couldn't plan for the fact that it would be ineligible for the postseason when making that schedule. But it's still a postseason-ineligible team with that non-conference schedule. Whether Ohio State can or could do anything about that beforehand is of little concern to voters picking the best team.
And let's be clear: There are no—and will be no—high-level wins for the Buckeyes all year long. Sure, going to Michigan State and coming away with a 17-16 victory is nice. It would also be nice for Ohio State to pick up a win at slumping Wisconsin and to exact revenge against a borderline Top 25 team like Michigan.
That's three "nice" wins. You know who else puts together three "nice" wins in a season and tries to call it a championship resume? Boise State for the last five years. Hawaii in 2007. BYU in 1984.
And then there's 1993.
That year, just like Ohio State this year, Auburn was ineligible for the postseason and breaking in a first-year head coach—Terry Bowden, in Auburn's case. The Tigers shocked the nation and ran the table...and finished fourth in the process. Why? Check the schedule. Auburn had two good wins, but only two.
Moreover, what 1993 Auburn didn't have—and what 2012 Ohio State won't have—was a conference championship victory or a bowl victory against a top opponent to its name. So yes, 12-0 for Ohio State would be an undefeated season...just a fatally incomplete one at that.
So while (nearly) everyone else vying for a title down the stretch will be participating in conference championships against high-level opponents and then BCS bowl games against more high-level opponents—including the BCS National Championship—Ohio State will be playing nobody, adding no big-time wins to a schedule already dreadfully short on them.
It's too bad, because it would have been nice to see Ohio State be on the same playing field (both figuratively and literally) as the other championship contenders this year. Alas.
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