Commentary

OSU needs help on BCS election trail

Originally Published: November 5, 2013
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Yes, it's true. I'm the official supplier of Famous Jameis' headbands.

PREGAME SPEECH

There's an 800-pound elephant in the BCS National Championship room, and it isn't Alabama's Big Al.

It's the undefeated, have-won-21-in-a-row, have-never-lost-under-you-know-who … Ohio State Buckeyes.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer and the Buckeyes are looking for a little BCS help.

Ohio State is 9-0 and it's going to finish the regular season 12-0 and then win the Big Ten Championship Game. The only way that doesn't happen is if the entire Buckeyes roster joins the Peace Corps between now and the Nov. 16 game against a dreadful Illinois team.

So barring the unthinkable, Ohio State is going to crush the Illini like a pepper grinder, overwhelm an Indiana team that ranks 116th in points allowed, beat That Team Up North, and then win the Dec. 7 Big Ten prom in Indianapolis.

And when that happens, when the Buckeyes go unbeaten for a second consecutive season, you're going to hear more than a few BCS campaign speeches from Columbus. Candidate Urban Meyer will ask voters in the USA Today coaches poll and the Harris poll to remember Ohio State on election day.

If Alabama, Florida State and Oregon all finish without a loss -- no leap of faith required there -- Meyer's team is a Thanksgiving turkey in the oven. In other words, cooked.

And Baylor, if it runs the table, could also pole vault over the Buckeyes in the BCS standings.

That's the BCS view from 30,000 feet in early November. But a month from now …

Things happen. Right now, Ohio State has its facemask pressed against the window, looking jealously at the Crimson Tide, the Seminoles and the Ducks. But let's toss a few what-ifs into the equation.

What if Oregon struggles on the road against Stanford this Thursday, or at Arizona on Nov. 23? What if the Ducks look like mere mortals at home against Utah on Nov. 16 and against Oregon State on Nov. 29? What if they don't leave webbed feet marks on the chest of whatever team they play in the Pac-12 Championship Game?

What if Florida State suffers a letdown Saturday at Wake Forest? Or Syracuse makes the Seminoles work at home on Nov. 16? Or rival Florida somehow puts together its best game against FSU on Nov. 30 at The Swamp? (I won't insult your intelligence by creating a scenario where Idaho challenges the Noles on Nov. 23.)

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesOhio State will keep an eye on LSU Saturday.

What if LSU, which is built to give Bama trouble, does exactly that Saturday in the land of Houndstooth? What if Mississippi State gives the Tide more cowbell in Starkville on Nov. 16? Or a much-improved Auburn summons the spirit of Cam Newton in the Iron Bowl showdown on Nov. 30? (Again, no mention of the Nov. 23 game against FCS foe Chattanooga.) What if a dangerous Georgia team, a revitalized South Carolina squad, or a motivated Missouri team squeezes into the SEC Championship Game to face Bama?

I'm not saying Bama, FSU or Oregon will lose any of these games. I'm just saying what if they don't look like the Bama, FSU and Oregon were used to seeing? What if the perception of invincibility changes?

Meyer has been known to campaign in the past. That's what coaches do -- they stick up for their program. They have agendas. They concede nothing.

The Buckeyes have channeled their inner Baylor the last few weeks. They dropped 63 on Penn State (the worst PSU loss in 114 years) and 56 on Purdue (the margin of defeat tied for the worst in Boilermakers history). They're averaging 48.2 points and giving up just 17.

Ohio State wasn't eligible for the postseason last year because of NCAA sanctions. So the fans in Columbus have some pent-up bowl frustrations.

At the very least, the Buckeyes have earned the right to be included in the BCS National Championship discussion. That's not the same thing as being considered equals with the likes of Bama, Oregon and FSU, though.

There's no denying that Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten. And there's no denying that the Big Ten has some vitamin deficiencies when compared with the SEC, Pac-12 and some parts of the ACC.

The Big Ten is basically a 2-3 team league this year. You've got the Buckeyes, Wisconsin (which the Buckeyes beat by seven at the Horseshoe) and Michigan State (Ohio State's likely opponent in the conference championship game). On the next tier: Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan and Penn State.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCarlos Hyde & Co. need to keep the Buckeyes' offense rolling in the right direction.

The Buckeyes can only do so much. They play in a conference that, for the moment, lacks national football respect. And their nonconference schedule (Buffalo, San Diego State, Cal and FCS-member Florida A&M) didn't do them any favors.

So they need to keep winning games by cartoon-funny numbers. They need to remind everyone that they're in the top 10 nationally in scoring and scoring defense, eighth in rushing yards. They need to mention that few backfields are better than the one that features Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. They can point to Meyer's 21-0 record at Ohio State.

In the end, the Buckeyes need help. They need a combo platter of upsets involving Bama, Oregon, FSU and maybe even Baylor. They need the poll voters and BCS computers to fall in love with all things scarlet and gray.

Will it happen? We have another month to find out.

FIRST QUARTER

[+] EnlargeJordan Westerkamp
AP Photo/Nati HarnikJordan Westerkamp's catch against Northwestern will be talked about in Lincoln for a long time.

In: USC interim coach Ed Orgeron (this one courtesy of ESPN's Chris Fallica: Orgeron was 3-21 against SEC opponents when he coached at Ole Miss, and is now 3-0 against Pac-12 competition) … deflected Hail Mary passes (Nebraska's game-winning desperation fling against Northwestern had a 2.8 percent chance of success) … Georgia's Todd Gurley … Miami running back Dallas Crawford … Florida State streak of eight consecutive games scoring 41 points or more, a school record (has outscored ranked opponents, 155-28) … Ohio State's Braxton Miller (as many touchdown passes as incompletions in the first half against Purdue -- 4) … Clemson's Tajh Boyd to Sammy Watkins (a 96-yard TD pass) … Triple M: Missouri's Maty Mauk … Fresno State's Derek Carr (became the school's all-time passing leader in win against Nevada) … Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch -- the Jordan Football of the Midwest (according to ESPN Stats, Lynch trails only Johnny Manziel in TDs Responsible For during the last two seasons, 81-75, and in the last three weeks, Lynch's 14 TDs Responsible For is more than 104 other FBS teams) … Michigan State's defense (held Michigan to minus-48 rushing yards; third consecutive game where it held an opponent to 6 points or less) … Goal-line stand (Rice had first-and-goal at the North Texas 1-yard line, but was then stopped eight times inside the 6-yard line, seven of them inside the 3-yard line) … Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp (he's the guy who caught the Hail Mary pass and, according to the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein, turned down a scholarship offer from Northwestern when he came out of high school in the Chicago area … Penn State's Bill Belton (201 rushing yards in OT win against Illinois) … Navy (thanks to Air Force's win against Army, the Midshipmen will retain the the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy) … raking leaves (with the exception of the FSU-Miami game, not much compelling action in the top 25) … Grambling State (won its first game of the season, beating Mississippi Valley State, 47-40).

Out: Northwestern defensive manual on how to stop late-game scoring plays … Miami running back Duke Johnson (out for the season) … "Karma" quotes from Arkansas tweeter (The Hogs are 0-6 since "Karma" tweet about Wisconsin in mid-September) … Carl Pelini … Logan Thomas confidence (the Virginia Tech quarterback had four turnovers in loss against Boston College and has 33 turnovers in the last two seasons) … Michigan pass protection (Devin Gardner was sacked seven times by Michigan State) … Florida, Texas, Michigan, Boise State, TCU, Northwestern, USC and Oregon State were preseason AP top 25 teams. Not anymore … Florida State's chances of being pushed in its last four regular season games? The combined record of the upcoming opposition: 13-21. Not one of the four teams it faces have a record above .500 right now.

SECOND QUARTER

Can we take a moment and bow our heads in reverence to arguably the greatest season ever produced by a major college player?

I'm talking about Barry Sanders and his 1988 season at Oklahoma State.

This is the 25-year anniversary of Sanders winning the Heisman Trophy, so it's only right that BMOC offers a reminder of his greatness. And, yes, Sam Bradford, you should definitely get Sanders a cold drink after he steals your spot on the Heisman House couch.

[+] EnlargeBarry Sanders
Malcolm Emmons/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma State's Barry Sanders rewrote the record book while delivering a season for the ages in 1988.

The 1988 numbers are almost obscene:

• He rushed for an NCAA all-time record 2,628 yards in 11 games.

• He averaged an NCAA-record (geez, just about everything he did that season remains an NCAA record) 238.9 rushing yards per game, 7.64 yards per carry.

• He had four games of 300 or more rushing yards and five games of 200 or more yards.

• He had 37 rushing touchdowns.

• He had 3,250 all-purpose yards.

• He scored at least two touchdowns in all 11 games and at least three TDs in nine games.

• Even his brother, Northwestern running back Byron Sanders, had a big year in 1988, gaining 1,062 yards (making them the NCAA's all-time leading brothers duo).

Sanders wasn't on anybody's Heisman radar at season's beginning. Then he returned the season-opening kickoff against Miami of Ohio for a touchdown and rushed for 178 yards and a pair of scores. As the year wore on, Sanders' weekly stat sheets got so big they needed lap band surgery.

According to a recent story by John Helsley in The Oklahoman, Oklahoma State was only on national television one time that season. So the Cowboys' sports information office began a Heisman campaign that cost about $50,000 and included weekly phone calls to select voters.

Even without the campaign, Sanders would have won. Voters aren't that dumb. Sanders was virtually unstoppable that season and the numbers couldn't be ignored. He easily outdistanced his personal choice for the Heisman (preseason favorite Rodney Peete of USC).

But here's what's cool about Sanders, one of 11 children of a Wichita, Kan., roofer: when he reluctantly appeared via satellite from Tokyo (the Cowboys were playing a game there against Texas Tech) for the presentation ceremony, Sanders made sure his offensive linemen were on hand.

"It still takes my breath away," former Oklahoma State coach Pat Jones told Helsley.

And fellow Heisman winner Marcus Allen of USC once said of Sanders: "He was one of the few that would make other athletes' jaws drop."

HALFTIME SPEECH

Here's guessing the folks in the SEC's Birmingham headquarters are a tiny bit anxious about the league's chances to win an eighth consecutive national title.

Right now, only one team in the SEC -- Bama -- has a legitimate chance to win the BCS National Championship. If the Tide loses, then the streak ends. And villagers in the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 and especially the ACC, will celebrate as if its Mardi Gras.

Which is why there's this video link.

THIRD QUARTER

There are only three spaces on the official Heisman ballot for names.

So if I had to fill it out right now, it would read:

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Mariota can plant a flag as the no-brainer frontrunner if he leads the Ducks to a road win at Stanford, and puts up some impressive numbers doing it.

The last time Mariota threw an interception was last Nov. 17, which is when Oregon lost at home to Stanford. The Cardinal defense will test the Ducks and test Mariota's patience.

But Mariota doesn't fluster easily. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen him lose his composure.

If you judge quarterbacks by their numbers and the importance of their wins, it's hard to ignore Mariota's performances this season against Washington on the road and at home against UCLA. But Stanford is better than both of those teams, which is why Thursday night's game could help secure Oregon a huge foothold in the BCS National Championship, and help separate Mariota from the other Heisman contenders.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel has thrown 26 TD passes so far this season.

2. A tie between Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Florida State's Jameis Winston.

I know, it's kind of a weenie thing to do. But Manziel did what was expected of him in the rout against UTEP and Winston did what was expected of him in the semi-rout of Miami.

Manziel's numbers were much more impressive (6 TDs), but they came against an outclassed opponent that has now lost six games in a row.

Meanwhile, Winston faced a Miami team hellbent on ruining the Seminoles' season. His numbers were good (21 of 29 for 325 yards and a TD), but he did throw two first-half interceptions and came close to throwing a third.

Still, he performed well against the blitz, converted lots of third downs, completed seven passes of 20 yards or longer, scrambled efficiently and won a game with huge national title implications.

4. Bryce Petty, Baylor. I had him fourth last week, so I'll keep him there. He could drop or rise, all depending on Thursday night's game against Oklahoma.

5. AJ McCarron, Alabama. As the games get more important -- and Saturday's game against LSU could help define Bama's season -- McCarron's value will become obvious. The most "conventional" QB of the top Heisman candidates, McCarron still has a lot of things going for him -- such as, playing for Bama.

(In consideration: Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch, Fresno State's Derek Carr, Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Ohio State's Braxton Miller.)

FOURTH QUARTER

Two-liners:

• No, Kevin Sumlin, your wide receiver Mike Evans shouldn't be on the short list of Heisman candidates. We love the guy, but you only get the one (Johnny Football) this season.

• Same goes for Baylor and Petty and Lache Seastrunk. Not that Baylor coach Art Briles was asking.

[+] EnlargeNavy
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNavy made an impression in their recent visit to South Bend.

• Navy, which rushed for 331 yards in the near-upset of Notre Dame, prompted this response from Irish linebacker Dan Fox (courtesy of the Chicago Tribune): "They're bad-ass players." That, my friends, is a football compliment.

• This is meant as a compliment of Jimbo Fisher's recruiting efforts, but no quarterback has more NFL-ready offensive tools around him than FSU's Winston. Then again, Winston looks increasingly NFL-ready to me, too.

• Wire reports from the Northern Illinois-UMass game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., had the crowd count at about 2,500 (the announced attendance was 10,061). Blame the Boston Red Sox and their parade.

• Can you name the four coaches with more consecutive wins to start their careers at a school than Urban Meyer? It's an impressive list: Miami's Larry Coker (24), Yale's Walter Camp (28), Michigan's Fielding Yost (29) and Pittsburgh's Pop Warner (30).

• This from TV cult figure Fallica, who crunched the numbers: Chances of teams being undefeated the morning of Dec. 7th's championship Saturday -- Alabama 64.0 percent, Oregon 51.1 percent, Florida State 75.3 percent, Ohio State 60.1 percent and Baylor 39.4 percent. But here are the Fallica numbers that could cause BCS chaos: he says there's 5.7 percent chance the top four teams in the BCS standings will be undefeated entering the bowls and a 14.9 percent that three of them will be unbeaten entering the bowls.

• Nebraska offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles somehow found himself at the bottom of the celebration pile after the Cornhuskers stunned Northwestern with the last-second Hail Mary pass. Said Sirles to the Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel: "I'm claustrophobic. I was having a panic attack. That was one of the worst experiences of my life. But it was worth it."

POSTGAME

From the home office in Wheaton, Ill., comes this week's version of a four-team BCS playoff format.

No. 1 seed Alabama vs. No. 4 seed Ohio State.

Who knows how these seedings will look a week from now, after LSU plays at Bama, Oregon plays at Stanford and OU plays at Baylor. As for Ohio State, I think the Buckeyes will do just fine at Illinois. I think they'd do just fine if Dick Butkus in his prime was playing for the Illini.

For now, Bama is No. 1. But LSU has to give the Tide the heebie jeebies. It's the team with comparable athletes, a comparable style and a comparable confidence level. You never quite know what you're going to get out of the Hatter's team, including an upset.

No. 2 seed Florida State vs. No. 3 seed Oregon.

I nudged the Seminoles ahead of the Ducks because of the quality win against Miami. Though, FSU was a 21-point-or-so favorite against the Hurricanes, so maybe I'm overstating the victory.

OK, so maybe FSU and Oregon are in a dead tie. Whatever. And if Oregon beats Stanford, the Ducks will move back to a solid No. 2 -- and to No. 1 if Bama loses to the Tigers.

On the bubble:

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesGus Malzahn has the Tigers turned around.

5. Stanford: It's simple --  Thursday night's game against the Ducks is the season for Stanford.

6. Baylor: In many ways, the same goes for Baylor when it faces OU on the same night.

7. Auburn: I guarantee you there some Arkansas alums and boosters wondering why they didn't hire Gus Malzanhn. Too late -- Auburn has him now.

8. Clemson: The Tigers are still lurking around. Too bad they're in the same ACC Atlantic Division as FSU. No rematch in conference championship game.

9. Missouri: Mizzou has forced a turnover in 39 consecutive games. Is that any good?

10. LSU:  Like Bama, will have had two weeks to prepare for Saturday's big game.

Close, but not quite there: Miami, UCF, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, South Carolina.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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