The 2002 national championship game is controversial because Ohio State won by a referee’s bad call. Not a missed call, a bad call.
It came four seconds after the game ended, while the Hurricanes were celebrating victory. If it were a blatant penalty in a big game, a flag would have been thrown immediately.
Miami fans agree it was a bad call. Ohio State fans rationalize that the referees missed a call earlier in the game when a Miami player stepped out of bounds.
Nobody is going to sort it out now. The tainted game is history.
The important question now is this: Will the Buckeyes steal another national championship with its 2010 schedule, which is loaded with cupcake teams to advance Ohio State into the title game?
The schedule is ideal for that to happen. Five out of their first six games are nothing more than scrimmages. They play Marshall, Ohio, Eastern Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana-- hardly murders row.
They have a September 11 test with Miami, who was a third place team in the ACC conference last year. The Buckeyes don’t face their next real test until October 16 at Wisconsin.
While other teams are facing stiff competition before mid-October, Tressel has time to mold his team into a well-organized unit while not being challenged on the field.
He can develop Pryor from being a broken-play quarterback into solid decision-maker.
The lightweight schedule will help Ohio State avoid injuries, spend more time preparing for Wisconsin, and increase playing time for back-up players.
This amounts to an unfair advantage of extended practice time to prepare for the remainder of the season.
The inordinate amount of Buckeye preparation time is not limited to the Wisconsin game. Ohio State has Big Ten bottom-feeders Purdue and Minnesota, with a bye before the Penn State and Iowa games.
This gives the Buckeyes a huge advantage of three more weeks without serious opposition to prepare for the last two credible Big Ten opponents.
The absence of quality opposition, with lengthy periods between meaningful games, is a luxury top teams from the SEC and Big Twelve don’t enjoy.
Take preseason favorite Alabama. They play top-ten ranked Florida and middleweights Penn State, Arkansas, South Carolina and Ole Miss by mid-October.
Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and others also have strong challengers before mid-October.
These national championship contenders have greater tests earlier where they can sustain injuries and heartbreaking losses.
They have to expose their strategies against better competition, while Ohio State reveals little in its tune-up games.
The question remains: Is there sufficient competition on Ohio State’s schedule to warrant playing for the national championship? The answer becomes clearer with a team-by-team analysis of the Buckeye schedule.
Each opposing team will receive a grade of A to F, designating the level of opposition for the Buckeyes.
Marshall ( 7-6) Marshall is from Conference USA with an unimpressive record. This Thursday night game is on ESPN and the Buckeyes will get great reviews as they manhandle the Thundering Herd. Grade D
Miami (9-4) If Miami’s January bowl appearance is any indicator, it won’t be much of a match-up. Miami has some pronounced weaknesses that have to be corrected before this game, such as poor tackling, no running game, and an indecisive quarterback. Grade B-
Ohio (9-5) Ohio State hasn’t lost to a Mid-American team in over 100 years. Grade D
Eastern Michigan (0-12) Can you imagine paying $70 to see this game? It’s easy to feel sorry for the scalpers. Grade F
Illinois (3-9) After this season, Illinois will be looking for a new coach. Grade D
Indiana (4-8) Indiana hasn’t beaten Ohio State since 1985. Grade D
Wisconsin (10-3) Wisconsin is ranked 85th out of 120 teams in terms of strength of schedule. It will be hard to tell how good they are before they play Ohio State. They have lost three in a row to the Buckeyes and haven’t been able to stop an inexperienced Pryor. What will they do against an experienced Pryor? Grade B-
Purdue (4-7) Purdue is in for a beating by Ohio State this year. Enough said. Grade D
Minnesota (6-7) Minnesota has only beaten Ohio State seven times in its history. Grade D
Penn State (11-2) Penn State will start out as a middleweight and take a pounding at Alabama and a couple of other games. They will be reduced to a lightweight by the time they meet the Buckeyes. They just don’t have the talent, especially at quarterback. Grade C
Iowa (11-2) Iowa was fortunate to win four games by 3 points or fewer last year. They haven’t won an outright Big Ten championship since 1985 and it’s doubtful that they can match last year’s eleven-win record. Grade B-
Michigan (4-7) Michigan could be looking for a new coach and the team could be in chaos by the time this game comes around. This grade may be a little high. Grade C-
A closer look at the schedule shows half the teams Ohio State faces had losing records in 2009. Two of the teams with winning records came from Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference.
Despite a winning record, Miami finished third in the ACC Coastal division. Even the best Big Ten teams had inflated winning records, feasting off uncompetitive non-league teams and marginal conference lightweights.
Phil Steele ranks the strength of the Buckeye 2010 schedule at 61 out of 120 division-one teams. That means over half the teams in the country have tougher schedules this year.
How could this happen to a team that prides itself as a national juggernaut?
It’s safe to say that there are probably six to eight highly ranked teams that would go undefeated if they had Ohio State’s schedule.
The Buckeyes also don’t play a conference championship game, which further weakens their case for strength of schedule.
While the NCAA prohibits conferences with fewer than 12 teams to play championship games, the Buckeyes have failed to beef-up their regular season schedule by adding more out-of-conference heavyweights to replace the current embarrassing level of cupcakes.
After breezing through this “padded” schedule, the Buckeyes sit home while other teams risk their standing by participating in conference championship games.
If you don’t think these games mean much, ask Tennessee and Texas, who both lost and were excluded from playing for the national title.
Championship games are played at a “fever pitch,” which can result in any team suffering national title elimination and devastating injuries. Ohio State has no such worries.
The ease of the regular season games all but guarantees that Ohio State will be playing for the national championship. While other contenders face legitimate competition, the Buckeyes will thrive on a soft schedule.
The Buckeyes’ only real competition will be at the BCS Championship finale, which in essence amounts to a one-game Ohio State season.
The Buckeyes may win a national championship in 2010. The bigger question will be-- do they deserve to play for it?