- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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In a little more than a week, the BCS era of college football will come to an end. So let's take a moment to celebrate the team that enjoyed more BCS success than anyone else: Ohio State.
(We'll pause here to let SEC fans pick their jaws up from the floor and clean off the spittle.)
Note that opening paragraph didn't mention national titles, though Ohio State grabbed one crystal football (in the 2002 season). But when it came to making and winning the prestigious group of games, the B in BCS could well have stood for Buckeyes.
Friday's Discover Orange Bowl will mark Ohio State's 10th BCS appearance. No other program reached double digits in BCS bowl game appearances in the 16-year history of the system. The Buckeyes also have won six BCS bowl games, tied for the most with USC. Since the Trojans aren't in the BCS this year, Ohio State would finish alone atop the wins category by beating Clemson. (The Buckeyes' 2011 Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas was later vacated by the NCAA, but it actually happened, so we are counting it.)
"No system is perfect, and the BCS has had its challenges," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "But it's been good to us. We've won games. We've enjoyed it."
Ohio State beat Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl in the first year of the BCS system, and Urban Meyer is the third coach to lead the Buckeyes to a BCS game. With their first trip to the Orange Bowl on Friday, Ohio State will have played in every BCS landing spot during the era: the BCS title, Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange bowls.
Though the Buckeyes have been the Big Ten's pre-eminent program during the BCS era, they have played in the Rose Bowl only once in that time, beating Oregon on New Year's Day 2010.
"That was crazy," Smith said. "A lot of times we were the second team out of the Big Ten. That speaks to our brand and our fan base, and that's what it comes down to most of the time.
"We've had outstanding fan support, and the bowls know our fans come and have an economic impact in those communities. And so the system has benefited us because of our total package. But at the end of the day, we won games, and that's really what put us in that position to be considered."
Yet for all its success, Ohio State often receives more scorn than admiration from a national perspective. The Buckeyes sometimes get labeled as big-game chokers. That sentiment was evident late this season, when the team climbed the BCS standings and appeared on the verge of playing for a national title.
In many ways, the program is still paying a public-relations price for losing the 2007 and 2008 national title games to Florida and LSU, respectively, in lopsided fashion. Hardly anyone ever mentions that the Buckeyes were the last team to beat Oregon in a BCS game or that they took down an SEC team in their last BCS appearance or that they squeezed past a supremely talented Miami squad to win the BCS title in 2003.
That kind of selective memory is not just limited to Ohio State. The team with the second-most BCS appearances is Oklahoma with nine. The Sooners usually are more associated with their BCS losses than they are praised for their triumphs.
"That's understandable," Smith said. "That's our society.
"We've had great success against great opponents in the BCS system in some outstanding bowls. But everybody puts so much emphasis on the national championship game itself. That's just the way it is. It's that finality."
Smith said that at a program like Ohio State, the goal is always going to be winning a national championship. Falling short of that brings disappointment. But he said he also tries to remind his coaches and players to take pride in their accomplishments.
That applies to this year's Buckeyes, who lost a shot at playing for the final BCS championship when they were upset by Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. Players and coaches couldn't hide how crushing that defeat was in its aftermath, but they have tried to refocus.
"We're just as happy to be in a major game," linebacker Ryan Shazier told ESPN.com. "Not one team in the NCAA could be mad playing in this game, because it's a BCS bowl. I think it's really big just to finish the BCS era with the most wins."
Ohio State's final BCS bowl will be its first under Meyer, and it's a fitting marriage of achievement. Meyer is 4-0 in BCS games, including two national championships. That's the best record for any coach who has led a team to at least three BCS games.
"We have all the confidence in the world in Coach Meyer," Shazier said. "Everybody understands how much he has done to get teams in position to win these types of bowl games."
The Buckeyes have put themselves in position to win more BCS bowl games than any other school. Closing it out with one more victory would be their perfect end to an era.