The BCS is everyone’s least favorite acronym. Each year of its existence it has seemed to raise a new controversy, and the 2002 version is carrying on that infamous legacy. The team at the top of the Bowl Championship Series rankings last week – the Big Ten’s own Ohio State Buckeyes – now sits at No. 2, and many believe that even if Ohio State emerges victorious in its rivalry game this Saturday against Michigan, it will not be the rightful opponent for No. 1 Miami (Fla.) in the Fiesta Bowl.
So just how did the Buckeyes end up in this enviable position?
The first thing that separates Ohio State from the rest of the national pack is the digit in its losses column: Zero. In mid-October, as the undefeated teams dwindled from 11 to eight to four to two, Ohio State maintained its unblemished record with wins against San Jose State, Wisconsin and Penn State.
But those wins, and many of those that followed, were far from convincing. Ohio State has done nothing this season if not win close games. Five of its 11, including four of its last five wins have been by less than a touchdown. But coach Jim Tressel points to the fact that all but one of those games has been on the road, and relies on the old Big Ten axiom that any road win is a good win.
“I know our guys have been playing hard and we have had a lot of battles,” Tressel said. “We have gone on the road and come out on top. I am proud of how our guys have been playing.”
The coach’s pride, however, is not factored into the BCS. Nor is it likely factored by the critics, who question a No. 2 team that has struggled offensively against vastly inferior Big Ten opponents.
What is factored in is a team’s “quality wins,” of which the Buckeyes have one: Washington State. Ohio State is so close to Miami right now (the two teams are separated by .01 points) because of its 25-7 trouncing of the Cougars during the nonconference schedule. Washington State is currently ranked third in the BCS, which earns Ohio State a deduction of .8 from its total score (the lower the score, the better). Miami does not have any quality wins, although its BCS score was helped this past week, despite remaining idle, when several of its opponents won tough games. That has a direct effect on the Hurricanes’ strength of schedule ranking, which has a direct effect on their BCS positioning. Indeed, The New York Times poll, which saw Ohio State and Miami swap positions this week, features strength of schedule prominently. That swap resulted in Miami having a higher computer average than Ohio State, and was the primary cause of its ascendance to the top of the BCS.
If Ohio State defeats Michigan, it will still have to answer a criticism that has existed now for months: The Buckeyes did not have to play Iowa, so their Big Ten supremacy is suspect. Iowa has been not just the Cinderella team of this year’s national title race, but the Big Ten juggernaut that Ohio State isn’t. Where the Buckeyes have been keeping their heads above water down the stretch, the Hawkeyes have been, in keeping with the metaphor, a predatory shark that has swallowed everything in its path. They have won their last four games by an average of 30 points, and boast the most explosive offense in the country.
Should Ohio State end its season in the Fiesta Bowl, the BCS will have once again failed in the eyes of many. The difficulty that the Buckeyes have had lately against lesser teams, and their avoidance of Iowa in the Big Ten season, are enough to question their legitimacy. That being said, the numbers don’t lie: 12-0 is 12-0, and much of the BCS (primarily The Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls) is based on reputation and perception. Thus, the BCS will suffer yet another year of second-guessing, unless Ohio State loses on Saturday and Miami is the only undefeated team left standing.
But that, of course, raises a whole new set of questions.