On Monday, the Columbus Dispatch’s Bob Hunter posted that playing Texas was the best thing for Ohio State. His logic is simple and obvious, yet flawed.
He treats the gradual downturn in the Buckeyes’ program as if it were a middle school bully. If OSU could just stand up (and beat) one of these bigger, badder teams one time, they would never be bothered again. The only problem is, it doesn’t work like that in the BCS age.
Just ask Oklahoma, which has struggled mightily in BCS games since beating Florida State for the title.
In fact, there is virtually no evidence to support Hunter’s conclusion. If you look at the BCS champions since 2000, including potential winners Oklahoma and Florida this season, only one team defeated a Top-10 opponent in a marquee bowl game to close out the prior year—USC beat No. 4 Michigan in 2003.
The overall bowl record of those 10 teams is 5-5, and only half of them even played in a BCS game. BCS champions actually averaged three losses the year prior to winning—and four of them lost four or more games.
If you are searching for a connection between BCS champions and their prior bowl experiences, look no further than the Maize and Blue. Of the 10 teams referenced, three have played Michigan in a bowl game in the year prior to their title run (USC in '03, Texas in '04, Florida in '07). I have no idea what that means for next season.
In support of his argument, Hunter states:
The feeling [that beating a lesser team is better] is understandable, although it seems to me that they're missing an important point: Beating 9-4 Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl might have felt good, but it wouldn't have restored the Buckeyes' reputation. There would have been no big prestige boost if they had topped 9-3 Georgia in the Capital One, and a loss would have dropped them even deeper in the can't-beat-the-SEC swamp where they've been living.
Really? I guess Florida did not benefit from beating a 7-5 Iowa team in the Outback Bowl in 2005.
The implicit upshot of Hunter’s thoughts is that a win could catapult the Buckeyes to greatness in 2009. But where was that “big prestige boost” for Georgia, Kansas, West Virginia, and Southern Cal this season?
The truth is, no bowl victory is going to move Ohio State’s season from the disappointing to fulfilling bucket. At best, a victory over Texas will make fans wonder why they were so mediocre all season.
At worst, a loss will only reinforce their displeasure. If you are thinking to yourself, “That is true for any bowl game the Buckeyes would play,” then you understand the reality of the situation.
With the exception of the BCS Championship Game, bowl games are discounted more severely than anything else in college football because of myriad factors—long layoffs, lack of motivation, injuries, coaching and player defections, award circuit fattening—and that means any potential positive, or negative, effect can easily be rationalized away.
Let’s just hope the Longhorns are the team doing the rationalizing this offseason.