October 20, 2007

Incidentally No.1

When you're ranked 13th early, but the 12 teams ahead of you all lose a game and you win all of yours, you're No.1. The Buckeyes are probably not the best team in the country, and Boston College isn't the second best either. Get over it.

The New York Times was the first national publication to send a reporter to Columbus to report on the accidentally top-ranked Buckeyes. Here's a bit from Pete Thamel's article

If Notre Dame, Texas or Southern California had won 26 times in 27 games, talk of dynasty and history would be dominating college football.

Instead, as Ohio State has become the latest top-ranked team in this most fickle of college football seasons, it is being greeted with skepticism. That is because the Buckeyes’ loss in the past 27 games, a 41-14 mauling by Florida in the Bowl Championship Series title game last season, hovers over the program and the Big Ten Conference.

It is not apparent yet whether "The Debacle in the Desert" will prove to have had a net positive or negative effect on the 2007 Buckeyes as a team, (my observation is that they appear focused and very hungry) but we know what it has done to the national perception of the Big Ten overall, and of the OSU program specifically.

The skepticism was fed of course by Michigan's loss to Appalachian State in the first of many bizarre upsets in the Top Ten this year. And the Big Ten is down a little this year, at least at the top, where Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan have proven quite beatable. Ohio State may well still prove to be beatable too, but if they are not deserving of the top ranking in the polls, the problem the skeptics have is answering the question of who is.

It was a given that the offense might struggle in 2007, because it's tough to replace the Heisman Trophy winning quarteback, two NFL first round choices at receiver, and a two-time 1000 yard running all back at the same time. The question was whether the young , green defense would be good enough to keep the team in games when the offense struggled. So far, that defense leads the nation in scoring defense...with one senior starting.

The real bad rap is criticism of the Buckeyes' for their scheduling. People forget that Jim Tressel has made a point to schedule powerful opponents in the non-conference slate. 2007 just happens to be a season that falls between OSU's two-game series with Texas (2005-06) and their two-game series with USC (2008-09), followed by two-game series with Miami (FL) and Virginia Tech scheduled for the four years after that. Other elite programs are invited to compare their toughest non-conference games any time.

But 2007 is what is at hand, and the highest ranked team Ohio State has played is 23rd ranked Purdue. The Boilermakers high-powered offense scored their only points against OSU second-teamers with 10 seconds to go, in a game completely dominated by the Buckeye defense. Most program observers hoped to be 8-0 going into Happy Valley to play a nationally-televised night game against Penn State, and if they get by Michigan State tomorrow, that will become a reality.

All of the Buckeyes remaining opponents with the possible exception of PSU have excellent running backs, and Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan have very good offenses overall. In fact, I'd venture to say that very few teams nationally have a tougher road in their last four games than do the Bucks (at Penn St, Wisconsin, Illinois and at Michigan) based on how those teams are playing now.

But the Times writer is right. Even if they win out, Ohio State will have to get on the field with a highly-ranked SEC or Pac-10 team in a BCS Bowl Game and win before the taint of 1/8/07 is washed away. Most of us felt that probably wouldn't happen until 2008, if then.

No.1 has been a dangerous place to be this year, but a lot of these Buckeyes spent four months there last season, so they know what to expect. I expected one or two losses for these 2007 Bucks, and I might yet be right. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the ride.

Posted by dan at October 20, 2007 1:08 AM