Monday Morning Hangover: What Could Have Been
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s awfully easy to live in the world of what-ifs, could-haves and might-have-beens. Especially during a season like this.
As they do almost every year, the college football gods flirted around with complete BCS nuclear meltdown for most of the season, only to clear a spotless path for undefeated Notre Dame to face the winner of the SEC championship game for the crystal football.
Georgia gave it one hell of an effort on Saturday, but Alabama is going to line up and play for its third BCS national championship in four seasons, and there’s not a darn thing anyone can do about it.
Nor should they.
Like it or not, both of these teams deserve to play in this football game. It would have been exciting to see someone else in there against the Fighting Irish – a team like Georgia if Mark Richt’s boys could have held on down in Atlanta – but this is what we want.
The lone undefeated team in college football against the winner of the country’s most talented conference playing for it all, with everything on the line, in a winner-take-all championship game.
The BCS has been far from perfect. In many cases, it’s been downright laughable, but it’s hard to argue with this matchup. Maybe Nick Saban didn’t face the toughest SEC schedule in the world during his run for another championship, but the Crimson Tide did manhandle a top-10 ranked Michigan team (at the time) to open the season.
They also knocked off 13th-ranked Mississippi State, No. 5 LSU – in Death Valley, no less – and then squeaked one out against third-ranked Georgia in the SEC title game.
So now Saban will get his boys ready to play another title game, this time down in Sun Life Stadium in Miami on January 7, but in reality, it very well could be the Buckeyes playing in that game.
When all of the bowl matchups were announced on Sunday evening, it was strange not to see Ohio State on the board. Not because I was expecting them to suddenly gain some type of presidential pardon – nice try, Buckeye fans – but because it just seems like that’s where they belong.
Despite all their shortcomings, there’s no question in my mind this Ohio State team is among the best in the country this season. Maybe that says more about the overall quality of the other teams around college football, but I’m buying Urban Meyer’s notion that these Buckeyes could play with anyone out there.
Maybe I’m buying it because it’s Urban Meyer who is saying it. Obviously he has a vested interest in making his team as appealing as possible to AP voters – and who could blame him – just in case Alabama wins a lackluster title game and knocks off the only other undefeated team in America.
That would certainly put the pressure on AP voters to emphatically leave the Buckeyes out of the conversation for the best team in the country, and maybe that’s what they deserve. I certainly argued as much in our latest Around the Ozone Water Cooler piece.
Ohio State has played a weak schedule this season.
The Buckeyes needed a 72-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith in the final four minutes of the game to beat a Cal team that finished the year with five-straight losses and fired coach Jeff Tedford after a 3-9 season.
Meyer’s team wasn’t that much better against UAB, and let’s not forget how they struggled early on in their other two non-conference games against Miami University and UCF.
The team’s 17-16 win at Michigan State looked monumental at the time – they overcame the Big Ten’s best defense and most prolific running back to win a tough game on the road – but who didn’t win in East Lansing this season?
Heck, Iowa even beat Mark Dantonio’s club up there.
In reality, Ohio State’s best win of the season was probably a 63-38 drubbing of then No. 21-ranked Nebraska under the lights in Columbus. That would be the same Bo Pelini-coached team that lost by nearly 40 points in the Big Ten championship game.
The Buckeyes did beat Wisconsin, in overtime, up in Madison and got a key win on the road at Penn State against Big Ten “coach of the year” Bill O’Brien, but Ohio State didn’t beat a team that was ranked inside the top 15 all season.
Compare that to Alabama, a team that played FIVE teams that were ranked in the top 15 at the time, including three in the top 10. On second glance, Notre Dame’s schedule looks like a cakewalk compared to that.
The Irish beat 10th-ranked Michigan State in East Lansing, but like I said before, whoopee. Join the club. Their two best wins of the year, however, were both pretty impressive.
A 20-13 overtime win against Stanford, a team that will play in the Rose Bowl, turned out to be a pretty huge victory, but it was the 30-13 thrashing of Oklahoma in Norman that solidified Brian Kelly’s team as a legit national championship contender.
Unfortunately, the Buckeyes never had a game like that. It makes me wonder if Urban Meyer’s team would have been on the outside looking in at that game between Kelly and Urban’s old pal Saban.
That would have been perfectly fine with most of the country, which already decided Ohio State was lucky to have a postseason ban this season, but there is one other thing Meyer said that still sticks in my brain.
A team that refuses to be beat can’t be beat.
It seems like a silly phrase, and in many ways it defies logic. It’s also brilliant, and the perfect way to describe these 2012 Buckeyes. What would happen on the field if they faced Notre Dame or Alabama – or for that matter Stanford, Oregon, Kansas State, Georgia, Florida or any of the other “top teams?”
We don’t know.
It’s futile to project, and equally ignorant to assume one team is better simply because we decide they are. If that was the case, they should go back and crown the 2002 Miami Hurricanes.
I’m sure they still have some championship t-shirts floating around somewhere down there.
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