The team is in position to play in the BCS championship game but is drawing yawns and doubts from many in the college football community.
South Florida or Boston College, which both spent time at the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings this season? Yes, the national-title validity of those schools were questioned, but we are not talking about them.
We’re talking about a team that has been at the top spot in the standings. In fact, that team is there right now.
The Ohio State University.
It shows you what kind of season it has been when the Buckeyes — they of the storied tradition, 100,000-seat stadium, national titles, Heisman Trophy winners and best damn band in the land — is having its credentials strip-searched.
The BCS computer says that Ohio State is No. 1?
OK, if it says so.
“The reality of it is that we’re the No. 1 team in the BCS rankings,” tight end Rory Nicol said. “If we do our part, we control our own destiny. That is a beautiful thing. We’re right where we want to be.”
How the Buckeyes have gotten there, however, is what is being picked apart. They are one of only three undefeated teams remaining in the nation, leading to suggestions that they have risen by default, as better teams lose.
The Big Ten is considered to be down, and Ohio State’s nonleague schedule consists of Youngstown State, Akron, Washington and Kent State. And the specter of a 41-14 drubbing at the hands of Florida in last year’s BCS championship has been difficult to shake.
Still, in a season of upsets, the Buckeyes have managed to avoid being a victim. A victory today against Illinois likely clinches a BCS berth, with a return trip to the national title game on the line next week at Michigan.
“I said back in the spring that I thought we had capable talent, and we needed to grow, gain experience and find out about ourselves,” coach Jim Tressel said. “We’ve tried to do that, and we still need to grow and mature, but here we are (in November), with a chance to play for the title.”
Perhaps it should be no surprise that Tressel’s program is at the top of the rankings, given its proven ability to compete despite annually losing big talent to the NFL. Forty-seven former Ohio State players dot NFL rosters.
James Laurinaitis will likely add to that total, as the junior is the best linebacker in college football and the anchor of a defense that is first in the country in scoring (9.7 points per game) and total yards allowed (221 a game). The Buckeyes are second nationally in pass defense (156 yards a game) and third is rushing defense (65 yards a game).
On offense, Ohio State showed a lot of flash last season, as quarterback Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy. This year features a punch-you-in-the-mouth unit led by quarterback Todd Boeckman, a junior who makes few mistakes with a game plan in which he does not throw many low-percentage passes.
Boeckman has 1,958 yards passing with 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He is complemented by sophomore running back Chris Wells, who has run for 1,165 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“We changed (the offense) a bit,” Nicol said. “We got back to pounding the ball and throwing some intermediate stuff. …
“Troy was really good with his feet and his arm. We want Todd to sit back there and pick apart the defenses.”
In the last two weeks, the Buckeyes have appeared to hit a stride, with a three-touchdown win at Penn State and a pull-away victory against a Wisconsin team some tabbed for the BCS early in the season. Last week’s triumph extended Ohio State’s Big Ten winning streak to 20 games.
However, doubters remain.
“I don’t listen to (naysayers),” Tressel said. “I go on to the next task. I don’t care about it. It doesn’t bother me.”
Nor should it. After all, two more victories for the Buckeyes, and they will head into the BCS title game for a second straight year.
And it is possible that they will be the most uninspiring team to play for No. 1 since … an Ohio State squad that in 2002 parlayed a season of close calls into a Fiesta Bowl date with mighty Miami (Fla.).
And look what happened in that game.
Forget Michigan losing to Appalachian State, or Navy beating Notre Dame.
During the past half-century, college football fans never expected to read this sentence: Nebraska gave up 76 points … against Kansas.
Cornhuskers coach Bill Callahan is 26-21 with the Cornhuskers, the athletic director who hired him — and extended his contract — was fired, and legendary ex-Nebraska coach Tom Osborne has been tabbed as interim athletic director to restore order.
“The only thing I can tell you is that we’re disappointed,” Callahan said. “Last week’s game was heartbreaking in so many ways. We’re just trying to work our way out of it.”
It is clear that Callahan will not be working in Lincoln much longer. Some have pleaded with him to resign, but why should he? He will be due a big buyout thanks to a five-year, $11 million extension he signed in September.
Chad Hall (pictured) seems out of place in an Air Force uniform, and it has nothing to do with his modest 5-foot-8, 180-pound frame.
In fact, it has nothing to do with football, because the diminutive running back-receiver has plenty of talent. In fact, he is the only player in the nation to lead his team in rushing (1,122) and receiving (426) yardage.
“I always feel like I’ve had to prove myself,” said Hall, whose 1,961 all-purpose yards this season is a school record. “I’m glad that (Air Force) gave me an opportunity to prove myself in the backfield.”
So why is Hall out of place in a Falcons uniform? He has depth-perception problems, meaning that he will need a medical waiver to fly in the Air Force.
But on the football field, his vision is crystal clear.
• Dennis Dixon: At least Arizona State fans have the solace of knowing that it took the current best player in the country to help hand their team its first loss of the season. Yes, the Oregon quarterback is the new Heisman favorite.
• Matt Ryan: The three crucial interceptions that the Boston College QB had in last week’s prime-time, network-TV loss against Florida State damaged his hopes significantly. He will have to finish strong.
• Darren McFadden: The Arkansas running back tied an SEC record with 321 yards rushing — and threw a touchdown pass, again — against South Carolina last week, getting back in the Heisman hunt and reaffirming his status as the most talented player in the nation.
• Chase Daniel: The Missouri quarterback (421 yards, five touchdowns passing last week against Colorado) continues to hang around.
• Colt Brennan: The Hawaii quarterback, who threw for six touchdowns last week against New Mexico State, will not win the trophy but could be a finalist if the Warriors finish the regular season 12-0.
Three and out
• Farewell, Orange Bowl, which hosts its final Miami (Fla.) game today. No facility has staged more memorable football games, and it is not even close.
• In 2004, Auburn’s nonconference schedule in 2004 was deemed too soft to get the Tigers in the BCS championship game. As a result, it is hard to see how Kansas’ nonleague slate this year — Central Michigan. Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International — is good enough to merit consideration, even over a school with one loss.
• The way this wacky season has gone, Navy simply had to end an NCAA-record 43-game losing streak against Notre Dame. That was money in the bank.
The first of three rivalry weekends is highlighted by Ohio State at Michigan, with the Buckeyes likely going for a BCS title game berth.
This report includes information from other media sources.