The satellite on Bus No. 1 did not work properly for much of the trip, so the Ohio State Buckeyes followed the Iron Bowl’s progress on their iPads and smart phones. But as they neared the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio, the TVs suddenly kicked in — just in time to see Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon step out of bounds. To see 1 second placed back on the clock. A long field-goal try. A longer return.
The bus rocked.
“It was absolutely nuts for 15 minutes,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Sunday. “Nuts.”.
In other words, it was kind of like everywhere. All of college football was rocked when Auburn upset Alabama. The reverberations won’t stop anytime soon. And it’s probably fitting that the final week of the BCS era will be consumed by fierce debate and controversy.
Florida State moved up to No. 1 in the next-to-last BCS standings unveiled Sunday evening. Ohio State is No. 2, followed by Auburn. But how they end up is anyone’s guess. Everyone has an opinion. The argument has only just begun, but is already very intense. It figures to rage for a full week, until the final standings are released. Or longer, probably.
And as the last act of a famously flawed system — this time next year, we’ll all be debating which four teams get into the College Football Playoff — it’s a sort of perverse perfection.
“Fans,” said BCS executive director Bill Hancock, “are better off with tension.” And he added: “People are gonna be talking about college football all week, and of course it creates a little interest in the games this week.”.
You cannot fathom how unbeaten Ohio State, with a victory against Michigan State (ranked No. 10 in the BCS), should land anywhere but in the BCS national championship game? Others believe there’s no way one-loss Auburn, with a victory over No. 5 Missouri, should get left out. Or switch it, inserting one-loss Mizzou for Auburn, same thing: the SEC champion, goes the argument, should have the shot to win its eighth consecutive national title.
Just after the Iron Bowl’s fantastic finish, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs told USA TODAY Sports it “would be a disservice to the nation” if one-loss Auburn was left out. He upped the ante in a subsequent interview with ESPN Radio, saying “it would be, quite frankly, un-American for us not to get a chance to go to Pasadena if we’re able to beat Missouri, and I believe the same about Missouri.”.
The debate overshadowed Florida State’s return to the top spot in the BCS standings for the first time since 1999. Never mind that the Seminoles’ strength of schedule ranks No. 66 in the Sagarin Ratings (Ohio State’s is No. 61, Auburn’s is No. 26, Alabama’s is No. 48, Missouri’s is No. 41), their dominance this season has them firmly at No. 1. But if not many are talking about their ascent, that also means no one’s questioning whether they should be there.
Also somehow overlooked: If the SEC’s streak is in jeopardy, Alabama’s reign atop college football is all but dead. The Crimson Tide had won two consecutive BCS titles and three of the last four. Even though Alabama fell to only No. 4 in the BCS standings, it would need losses by both Florida State and Ohio State to have a chance to climb back to No. 2 (and play the Auburn-Missouri winner in an all-SEC title game).
In other words, Nick Saban’s bunch must hope for utter and complete chaos — which would, of course, be even more fitting.
It seems impossible. A Michigan State victory against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship wouldn’t be all that surprising, but Florida State has been established at least a four-touchdown favorite over Duke in the ACC championship. But if nothing else, the events of the weekend (along with the Iron Bowl, Ohio State had to squelch Michigan’s two-point try in the final seconds to avoid an upset) should reinforce that assuming anything in college football is an iffy proposition.
“We’ll see what happens,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “The bottom line” — and this goes for all of the contenders — “is we’re playing a great football team, and we’ll see where it goes.”.
But while we await the actual games, Ohio State and Auburn are locked into a battle to shape public opinion, with the goal of grabbing the No. 2 spot if they both win Saturday. It seems unlikely the Tigers would overtake the Buckeyes. Whether it happens appears to depend largely on the voters in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches and the Harris Interactive polls, which together account for two-thirds of the BCS formula. While various projections had Auburn with a slight lead in the computer rankings which form the other third of the formula, those mimicked the overall standings: Florida State No. 1, Ohio State No. 2 and Auburn No. 3.
It was that way in both polls, too. But the Buckeyes’ lead was slim. In the coaches poll, for example, Ohio State had a 25-point lead, which would be erased if 13 voters dropped Ohio State one spot while moving Auburn up one.
Thus, we should probably expect to hear more comments like those by Jacobs, which were made in the moments after the Tigers’ victory, while fans were still celebrating on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and then accelerated the morning after, when he’d had plenty of time to consider everything.
Give Auburn a break, maybe — and just a little one — because the Tigers know about being left out. See 2004. But this time Auburn is not unbeaten. Florida State and Ohio State are. In the previous 15 years of the BCS, No undefeated team from a major conference has ever finished behind a one-loss team in the final standings, but then, the SEC has that seven-year streak of hoisting the crystal football.
Jacobs’ comments were red meat for the true believers, but hyperbole probably doesn’t help sway any undecideds or soft leans. By contrast, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was measured.
“I’m focused on the SEC championship game and Missouri,” he said, but then added: “Our league is the top league in college football. That’s really how I feel about it.”.
Meyer wouldn’t address the issue, either, insisting Michigan State was the Buckeyes’ sole focus.
“The bottom line,” he said, “is Ohio State is not even in any conversation unless we can figure out how to move the ball against the No. 1 defense in America.”.
Either way, the campaign is in full swing. If history is an indication, we’re in for a lot of very loud politicking this week, from fans and TV’s talking heads, athletic directors — and maybe even, if it gets really intense, from the coaches. And it may not end well. Which, considering everything, would be dead, solid perfect.
“Everybody is talking college football,” Hancock said. “That’s perfection for me.”.
George Schroeder, a national college football reporter at USA TODAY Sports, is on Twitter @GeorgeSchroeder.
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