Thursday, November 1, 2007

Easy Does It

With five weeks still left in this amazingly combustible 2007 season, the gnashing of the teeth has already started. In three weeks, one of the two BCS championship spots may be claimed and there's not a damn thing anybody can do anything about it.

If you're unhappy with Boston College possibly playing for the national title, then you should be mad as hell that Ohio State appears to be a mortal lock for a return visit to the BCS championship game.

Yep, with only three games remaining on their schedule, the Buckeyes just need to stay unbeaten and then wait out 50 days to redeem themselves for the title game flop a year ago against Florida.

The question is: Do they deserve to be in New Orleans?

Ohio State is 9-0, having won every game by at least a touchdown. The Buckeyes' stout defense has surrendered more than 10 points just once in nine games. They trailed at the half only once and were never behind in the fourth quarter in any of their games.

So they should be No. 1, right?

Nope. Not if you looked at whom they have beaten. Right now, the reason that they're atop the BCS standings has more to do with the gray helmets, scarlet uniforms and the ghost of Woody Hayes than anything else.

Ohio State has run roughshod through unarguably the weakest of the Big Six BCS conferences. According to the rankings of the six BCS computers, this is the mean score for each conference:

1. SEC -- 1.17
2. Pac-10 -- 2.83
3. ACC -- 3.83
4. Big XII -- 3.83
5. Big East -- 4.17
6. Big Ten -- 5.00

While it should surprise no one that the SEC and the Pac-10 are by far the toughest conferences, what's even more revealing is by how much the Big Ten trails the other conferences. Four of the six computers rank the Big Ten dead last among the BCS conferences.

Besides playing in a weak conference, Ohio State's non-conference schedule is also a farce. The Buckeyes beat two MAC teams -- Akron (3-5) and Kent State (3-6), the Pac-10's last-place team Washington (2-6) and I-AA Youngstown State (5-4). Ohio State's strength of schedule rating ranges from a best of 43 to a worst of 103 among 119 Division I-A teams.

Of the four unbeaten BCS conference teams, only Kansas's schedule is as forgiving as Ohio State's. Boston College and Arizona State have played -- and defeated -- far better competition. Among one-loss teams, LSU and Oregon have traveled a much more difficult road than Ohio State did.

The computers seem to get that, as Ohio State is far from a consensus No. 1. But the human voters have proved to be suckers for the sweater vest mystique. The Buckeyes received all but four of the 60 first-place votes in the coaches poll and were the unanimous No. 1 in the latest Harris poll.

At this point of the season, the human voters are unlikely to bump down the Buckeyes without them losing a game. And since they account for two-thirds of the BCS total, you can write them into the title game barring a little Lloyd Carr magic on Nov. 17 at the Big House.

But don't hold your breath.

This Week's BCS Buster Games:

5-Star: Arizona State at Oregon -- It would be chic to say that this is for the Pac-10 championship. And it would be wrong -- though the winner of this game will have the inside track to no worse than a Rose Bowl berth. UCLA, which will host both teams later, has a chance to play the spoiler's role.

4-Star: LSU at Alabama -- This game will be even better next year when it comes to Baton Rouge. For now, Les Miles will have an opportunity to emerge from Nick Saban's considerable shadow. A loss not only knocks the Bayou Bengals out of national championship contention, it might even deny them a place in the SEC title game.

3-Star: Florida State at Boston College -- The Eagles have a pretty difficult finishing stretch, but this game shouldn't give them too much trouble. The Seminoles are a program at a crossroads, with a legendary coach refusing to step aside as everything crumbles around him. Matt Ryan will use this to polish his Heisman resume.

2-Star: Wisconsin at Ohio State -- If Ohio State is a paper tiger, then Wisconsin is a paper Siamese. The Badgers are just another one of the Big Ten pretenders, having feasted on feeble competition to get their 7-2 record. The Buckeyes seem set to win their 20th straight conference game, which would set a Big Ten record.

1-Star: Texas A&M at Oklahoma -- The Sooners' slim hopes of reaching the title game rest with winning their remaining games, as well as a strong record for Kansas or Missouri, whichever makes it to the Big XII title game -- and lots of other teams losing. If this sounds like too much needs to happen for OU, it is.

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