It would be fitting for the denouement of the controversial Bowl Championship Series to come without a team from the Southeastern Conference in the title game.
It would be satisfying for Ohio State to play in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 6 and the league that has been its nemesis to be left out of the championship for the first time in eight years.
OSU could figuratively Marcus Hall the SEC after going 1-9 against that conference in bowl games, counting the Buckeyes’ since-vacated victory over Arkansas in the 2010 Sugar Bowl. Officially, OSU is 0-fer.
To secure the SEC shutout in the national championship game, No. 2 OSU (12-0) must defeat No. 10 Michigan State (11-1) Saturday for the Big Ten title and No. 1 Florida State (12-0) must get past No. 20 Duke (10-2) for the Atlantic Coast Conference crown.
But wary Buckeye fans, along with OSU’s coaches and hopefully its players, won’t jump the gun. They know nothing is certain when it comes to the pro-SEC bias in the human polls (Harris Interactive and coaches) used to determine the BCS standings.
Southern voters might get caught up in this year’s ultimate feel-good sports moment, when then-No. 4 Auburn defeated then-No. 1 Alabama 34-28 Saturday on Chris Davis’ 109-yard return of a field-goal attempt as time ran out. Former Browns quarterback Gary Danielson, the lead analyst for CBS Sports’ college football coverage since 2006, compared the Tigers stunning the two-time national champions to the U.S. hockey team’s upset of Russia in the 1980 Olympics.
“Alabama was the machine, they didn’t make the mistakes,” Danielson said on a conference call Tuesday. “Here was Auburn that had had their noses rubbed in it in back-to-back [Alabama] wins, they’d been outscored [91-14] … Being the worst team in Alabama, 365 days of that. The way that ended where the machine makes the mistake … it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Auburn (11-1), which takes on Missouri (11-1) in Saturday’s SEC championship, moved up to No. 3 in the BCS standings and now trails Ohio State by .027. Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs started making his case to the voters not long after the Crimson Tide had fallen, saying if his school won the SEC title “it would be, quite frankly, un-American for us not to get a chance to go to Pasadena.”
As ridiculous as it was for Jacobs to start waving the flag, some voters could be swayed, swept up by the Miracle on Ice moment. They could do the unprecedented — vault a one-loss team over an undefeated team from one of the BCS power conferences.
That would be a travesty, one Danielson doesn’t believe will happen.
“I believe the SEC has earned the reputation as being the best conference in college football. It’s not an opinion, they’ve earned it on the field, they’ve earned it in recruiting classes, they’ve earned it winning the [seven] championships in a row,” Danielson said. “However, I don’t think it’s a Grand Canyon distance between the SEC and everybody else.
“I believe they’re ahead and the SEC should get a tiebreaker if they were both with one loss. But I could not, with all due respect to the good play of the SEC, leapfrog a team over an undefeated Ohio State football team. I have a lot of respect for their program. I look at their top 22 players, they’ve got 19 fourth- and fifth-year players who went through Tattoogate, they didn’t do anything wrong. They’ve gone undefeated two times in a row. They’ll have to beat a good Michigan State team. We’re not talking about Boise State or Fresno State here. I believe that if Ohio State goes undefeated, they belong in the game.”
Danielson’s partner Verne Lundquist remembered the argument Danielson presented in 2006 for Florida over a potential Ohio State-Michigan BCS rematch even though Danielson played quarterback at Purdue. Florida (12-1) got the No. 2 spot by .011 over Michigan (11-1) after some Jacobs-like campaigning by then-Florida coach Urban Meyer, now at Ohio State. Meyer’s Gators thumped previously undefeated and No. 1 Ohio State 41-14.
“We’re going to tell a group of young men, who just went 12-1 in a most difficult schedule against six ranked opponents, that they don’t have a chance to play for a national championship?” Meyer said in 2006. “I’m going to need help with that one.”
On Monday, Meyer kept quiet about how deserving he feels Ohio State is this year.
OSU is being derided after giving up 603 yards to a Michigan offense that hadn’t managed more than 175 in three of its previous four games. But it would be unfair to penalize the Buckeyes for being stronger on one side of the ball. In their 2002 national championship run, the defense dominated.
The strength of schedule argument — with OSU beating only two teams ranked at the time and six with records below .500 — is not being brought up in regards to Florida State. FSU defeated three ranked teams and four teams under .500, with two others finishing 6-6.
If the Seminoles and Buckeyes win Saturday, the string of seven consecutive national championships won by the SEC should be over. It is not time for voters to succumb to sentimentality or regional bias.
A flawed system should end after 16 years with its gentlemen’s agreement — no matter how galling to some — still intact.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.