COLUMBUS: By halftime at the Horseshoe, football had become irrelevant to thousands of fans, leaving a mere 70,000 or so to watch the Buckeyes complete the dismantling of the Indiana Hoosiers 42-14 on Saturday.
When the third quarter began, the temperature had dropped to 28 degrees with a wind chill of 14 and blustery gusts pushing 36 miles per hour, forcing the college pennants attached to the rim of the stadium to hang on for dear life.
The cold and snow that made life miserable for fans and contestants was an apt metaphor for Ohio State’s dilemma.
Frozen Buckeye partisans who left at halftime presumably felt (if any of their body parts still had feeling) they had paid their dues and stuck it out until the game was well in hand, that is, the home team led 28-0 at the half.
Or maybe they wanted to hurry home in time to memorize the names and numbers of the players who would participate in the Baylor-Oklahoma State game, the featured contest of the week’s collegiate schedule.
Baylor has been creeping ever so close to the Buckeyes in the BCS poll. Most everyone with a voice on national radio and television sports shows confidently predicted that if the Bears beat the Cowboys on Saturday night, Baylor would leapfrog Ohio State into third place.
Such a scenario would just about guarantee that the Buckeyes could win out in the regular season, defeat Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and still be shut out of a chance to play for the national championship, despite winning 25 games in a row, that is, every game in 2012 and 2013.
Maybe that would be a just result. The top two teams in the BCS, Alabama and Florida State, are unlikely to lose, paving the way for a controversy-free national-title game.
On the other hand, even the best teams can lose. Who knows what will happen if the Crimson Tide play Missouri in the SEC championship game? And what if Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston is indicted on some variety of sexual imposition charge?
Obviously, if No. 1 or No. 2 should lose, the Buckeyes would want to be next in line.
The knock on Ohio State has been twofold: a weak schedule and its defense — particularly its pass defense — have not delivered the kind of results that befits a national-title contender.
Certainly, there is merit to both criticisms. The Buckeyes’ schedule before the season began was ranked 67th compared to 23rd for Baylor.
Going into Saturday’s slate of games, Ohio State’s schedule was rated the 72nd best, but Baylor’s was judged 85th (Keep in mind that several entities put forth power rankings, and subjectivity is inevitable).
Pass defense has not been OSU’s strength, but the Buckeyes are fifth in the nation in run defense. Offensively, Baylor has an edge over every team in the country, averaging 61 points a game to a puny 48.7 (among the top five nationally) for Ohio State.
Running up the score, which was discounted as a strategy until recent years, is now considered a necessity. That is how Baylor attained its lofty ranking. Scoring 73 points against Wofford, holding firm to 182nd place in the Sagarin ratings, might not be much of an accomplishment, but any team that scores that many points, is bound to get the attention of the pollsters.
Not to be outdone, the Buckeyes scored 76 against Florida A&M, rated 222 by Sagarin.
What does any of this prove? Not much, really. Playing “Name Your Score” against outmanned opponents is unlikely to reflect the true measure of a team’s strength.
But it was game on Saturday against Indiana, which did not score until six minutes were left in the game. The Buckeyes’ offense was somewhat limited by the weather conditions (Hoosiers, too), probably contributing to the game’s four fumbles and one interception.
As evidence that 42 points was insufficient to impress those who vote in the polls, I heard a radio host contend pregame that Ohio State needed to score at least 70.
My complaint is that Baylor’s weak schedule seldom is mentioned by the national media. Why? The Bears are a great story, having been doormats for dozens of years only to make an abrupt climb this season to the top rank of collegiate teams.
The Buckeyes are seen as the Yankees of college football, a team to be hated rather than admired, a powerhouse since the early 1950s, who unlike Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan, USC, Notre Dame and Texas have not suffered a slump that lasted more than a year or two.
Moreover, Ohio State and Texas lead the nation in athletic dollars produced. Does anyone root for a large revenue team that coaxes a legendary coach out of retirement? It’s almost anti-American.
With all of this in mind, the Baylor-Oklahoma State showdown — which did not begin until long after Ohio Stadium had emptied — was far more relevant to the Buckeyes’ hopes for a national championship than any game Ohio State has played.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Buckeyes blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/buckeye-blogging. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.