With Oregon's 26-20 loss at Stanford, the Ohio State Buckeyes were suddenly vaulted back into the national conscience despite showcasing an elite level of football for several weeks now.
Urban Meyer's team sits at No. 3 in the most recent edition of the BCS standings, meaning a loss by either Alabama or Florida State will have the athletic department scheduling ticket and travel packages to Pasadena for the national title.
You can argue all day long about whether or not the Buckeyes are more deserving than either team ahead of them, but the debate is a futile one in the current college football environment. All the team can continue to do is take care of business each week and let the chips fall where they may.
But with the minor chaos of Thursday night, it seems prudent to begin taking a look at potential matchups for Ohio State should it reach the championship game.
As it stands, the three most likely opponents are Alabama, Florida State and Baylor. Wide receiver Evan Spencer seems to think his Buckeyes would "wipe the floor" with either the Tide or the Seminoles, but we're going to conservatively say that might not be the case.
So, how do quarterback Braxton Miller and company really stack up against the trio of contenders?
The Alabama Crimson Tide are the top-ranked team in the country for a reason, and they solidified their place with a dominant 38-17 victory over LSU on Saturday. The Tide feature multiple running backs that have every tool in the shed and a receiving corps that stacks up well against any other in the nation.
One thing that has been lacking recently is the offense's big-play ability, as Nick Saban seems comfortable taking what the opponent gives his team, which often means long drives filled with punishing runs by T.J. Yeldon and smart throws by AJ McCarron that net first-down yardage.
The Buckeyes D is tough, allowing only 17 points per game. It seems to have hit its stride in recent weeks, too, giving up 14 points total to Penn State and Purdue after allowing a combined 54 points to Northwestern and Iowa. The only major question in this area of the hypothetical contest is: how prepared is this defense to take on the physical, bruising attack of the Tide?
Part of what makes a good defense great is how it rounds into shape throughout the season, but there aren't very many offenses in the Big Ten that pose a serious threat to the scoreboard. One game we can use for comparison, however, is Ohio State's matchup with Wisconsin, where the Buckeyes held the Badgers to just 107 yards on the ground, which is more than 170 below their average.
However, Wisconsin doesn't pose the same threat through the air as Alabama. Melvin Gordon and James White are great, but T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake are even better. As tough as Ohio State can be, the Tide would likely settle into a rhythm in the second half, as they did against LSU.
Moving to the other side of the ball, you'd have quarterback Braxton Miller leading the charge against another dominant Kirby Smart-defense led by linebacker C.J. Mosley. What makes Ohio State so unique is that its offense can fit a variety of molds, from a pro-style ground-and-pound led by running back Carlos Hyde to the up-tempo, spread-em-out attack that utilizes Miller's legs.
The issue here is that the only weakness of Alabama's defense, if you can call it that, is the secondary, and the Buckeyes offense is averaging just 230 yards through the air. We know Miller can make all the throws, but he would need to showcase that ability early on to keep the Tide on their heels.
Overall, Ohio State is one of the few teams that has the kind of athletes to keep up with Alabama. If the Buckeyes brought their a-game, we're looking at a virtual toss-up. But given the type of dominance Alabama has shown throughout the entire season, you'd probably take the Tide by 10 points or so from where we sit today.
With what quarterback Jameis Winston has been able to do in Florida State's offense, it seems as though the Seminoles may be the only team that can adequately take on Alabama. Whether that's true or not, we may never know, because a loss by the Tide means Jimbo Fisher's team could be playing Ohio State instead.
The Buckeyes actually matchup relatively well with the 'Noles for several reasons. First, the physical running of Carlos Hyde would have a great chance to open up the defense. Against Miami, Florida State allowed running back Duke Johnson to gash it up the middle on multiple occasions in the first half, and he finished with almost 100 yards. It looks more impressive when you take into account Miami having to throw to try to get back into the game in the second half.
While Johnson is more well-known than Hyde, the latter may be the most underrated back in the country because of his home in the shadow of Miller at quarterback. You could easily see a scenario in which the running game gets going early and the 'Noles suddenly find themselves on their heels, which hasn't happened very often this season.
But this game plan is of the sink-or-swim variety, because the secondary can and probably would find a way to own the passing attack of Ohio State. Lamarcus Joyner is as good as they come at defensive back, and unless Hyde and Hall in the backfield can force him to be mindful of the run, there probably wouldn't be a lot of holes for Miller to throw in to.
That said, a strong running attack would shift the narrative completely, and the ultimate ace in Meyer's back pocket is the dual-threat nature of Miller, which Florida State hasn't really seen in 2013.
On defense, it's tough to say anybody has an advantage over Florida State's offense at the moment. Winston can make the occasional overthrow, but his poise and accuracy from both inside and outside the pocket is unmatched. It would behoove the Buckeyes to shut down the run, because whenever a team can dominate on the ground, the whole playbook becomes a sea of delightful entrees almost guaranteed to be successful.
There is talent at every level of the defense, and if step one of stopping the run can be completed, step two of forcing Winston to play a perfect game becomes that much easier. Without the escape route of handing the ball off, Winston suddenly has more pressure on him and smaller windows to throw into.
With a month to prepare, this game could go either way. If it were played next week, you'd probably be forced to ride with the hot hand of Winston and take the 'Noles in a tight one. Either way, this is a game that would more than satisfy a college football world hungry for title-game drama following last year's blowout between Alabama and Notre Dame.
Ah, yes, the Baylor Bears. No one quite knew what to make of this team until it hosted Oklahoma and left the Sooners dizzy and wondering what happened. The 41-12 victory didn't convince everybody, but it did let the nation know the Bears are indeed for real in 2013.
The key to beating a team like Baylor (or Oregon, as we saw Stanford do) is to not let it control the narrative of the game. In the first quarter, Oklahoma hung tough on defense but was unable to capitalize when it had the ball. In Stanford's game against Oregon, the Cardinal also hung tough but subsequently put touchdowns on the board, forcing the Ducks' hand while also being able to continue to run the ball.
The Sooners, after allowing a couple scores to Baylor and falling behind by two scores, were dead in the water. But looking at Oklahoma and Ohio State, the Buckeyes are better at nearly every position, especially on offense.
To be clear, a few miscommunications by a defense in the first quarter, and Art Briles' team has the ability to lay the wood on anybody. But Urban Meyer is too good as a head coach to let that scenario occur.
It's easy to play the "Baylor has no D" card, but the only problem is all they've done so far is play great defense. There's nothing to support that claim, other than using past seasons as a reference (bogus argument) or trying to point out that the Bears haven't really played anybody.
Still, Ohio State has a multidimensional offense that you have to believe would have success in this one. As for the defense, well, it's anyone's guess as to whether it can slow down Baylor.
This particular matchup would likely be won or lost in the first quarter. If Ohio State could control the line of scrimmage and build an early lead, the Buckeyes might be able to coast to a comfortable victory. But if Baylor were able to come out and smack 'ol Brutus in the mouth, you're looking at a potential upset.
Ohio State-Baylor probably isn't the game people want at this point, but we're a couple upsets away from it, and when you really start to look at both teams, we'd probably be in for a heck of a game.
All stats via ESPN
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