If you look at the BCS landscape really closely, you might be surprised at what you see. In Urban Meyer's first year as coach at Ohio State, he has the Buckeyes in position to sneak into the National Championship game.
Well, he would if the Buckeyes weren't rendered ineligible for any bowls or the Big Ten Championship by NCAA sanctions. The perfect storm is brewing for the Buckeyes, but unfortunately the NCAA won't let them out of the storm cellar this year.
The first aspect of this is that Ohio State has a clear path to an undefeated record. In a down year for the Big Ten, the Buckeyes would be wins over Purdue, Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan (in Columbus) and whichever team wins the Legends Division away from running the table.
That's not out of the question this year. While Ohio State has its flaws, they will be favored in all of those games unless they suddenly have a meltdown.
But they would obviously need some help. Let's take a look at the teams ranked ahead of them.
No. 1 Alabama probably isn't going to lose at all this year, but they do still have to play No. 15 Mississippi State, No. 6 LSU and No. 23 Texas A&M. Should they win the SEC West, there is still the task of beating a team like Florida, South Carolina or Georgia in the SEC Championship.
No. 2 Oregon still has to play No. 11 USC (a game I think could represent trouble for the Ducks), No. 22 Stanford and No. 8 Oregon State. No. 3 Florida still has No. 9 South Carolina, No. 13 Georgia, No. 12 Florida State and either Alabama or LSU in the SEC Championship should they advance that far.
No. 4 Kansas State has to deal with No. 17 West Virginia, No. 18 Texas Tech, TCU and Texas. No. 5 Notre Dame faces No. 10 Oklahoma and USC. LSU has Texas A&M, Alabama and Mississippi State to worry about, plus the possibility of the SEC Championship.
Given the extremely difficult schedules these schools face, it's not inconceivable that Ohio State could emerge as one of, or the only, undefeated teams atop the rankings. Weak as the Big Ten is this year, you can't tell me that an undefeated Ohio State would be kept out of the National Championship in favor of a one-loss team.
Imagine the uproar if that happened.
We know it's a moot point to a certain degree, since no matter how this shakes out Ohio State will be watching the BCS Championship from home. But imagine the heartbreak for the Buckeyes if a potential title was kept out of their reach by NCAA sanctions. What a blown opportunity that would be.
Without the NCAA sanctions, would Ohio State play for the National Championship this year?
Ultimately, do I think the Buckeyes would make the title game without the sanctions?
No, I don't. I think they'll either fall to Penn State in Happy Valley, Wisconsin in Madison or against Michigan. I think there is a very good chance that a team from the SEC (likely Alabama) and Oregon run the table. I even think there is the slim chance that an undefeated Ohio State team would still fall behind a one-loss team in the BCS rankings (controversial as that might be).
Were Ohio State eligible for bowl games this season, they would be sitting in the perfect position to play for all the marbles this year. We'll never know what might have been.
And that may just haunt this program for years to come.
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