COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State has a real chance to enter January with a 25-0 record in the past two seasons and no shot at a national championship.
The absence of a title appearance last season was self-explanatory. The Buckeyes were banned from the postseason, paying the price for NCAA woes under previous coach Jim Tressel.
This time, it could be because OSU doesn’t pass the eye test and plays in a league that has sunk to the bottom of the power-conference rankings with its lackluster showings.
It seems ordained that in this final season of the Bowl Championship Series something controversial will happen — like three or more teams finishing undefeated, setting up a winter’s worth of angry words.
Better to be in that potential mix, Buckeyes, than not.
But you got the sense after Saturday’s 34-24 comeback victory against Iowa that No. 4 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) senses this BCS standings business may not go well.
The topic gets waved off almost before the question is finished.
“I wish I had our guys living on a desert island,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said, “because I don’t want to hear anything else except to go for win No. 8.”
By Week 8, many pundits figured Ohio State to be far more than undefeated. With a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback in Braxton Miller, better playmaking talent on defense and more experience in Meyer’s system, blowout victories and dazzling statistics were expected.
Miller has been injured (sprained knee), the young defense has been alarmingly pushed around at times, and simply escaping with victories has been the necessary focus, not manufacturing blowouts.
Two weeks ago, Ohio State trailed Northwestern at halftime and entering the fourth quarter before pulling out a 40-30 win. (A recovered fumble for a touchdown on the final play padded the margin.) Since then, Northwestern has lost two straight.
On Saturday, the Buckeyes trailed Iowa at halftime at home and were tied entering the fourth quarter before pulling out another 10-point win. The Hawkeyes, while improving, haven’t reminded anyone of the Green Bay Packers lately.
So even when Ohio State wins, it loses a little. The national noise is simply that OSU is the best team in a marginal league with a mediocre schedule.
Oddsmaker Danny Sheridan recently said he would make Ohio State a 10-point underdog to No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon. I’ve seen that projected number as high as 14.
Florida State leapfrogged the Buckeyes to No. 3 by pounding Clemson 51-14 Saturday night. Even if only two undefeated teams remain at the end, Ohio State might have to worry about being displaced by a one-loss Pac-12 team.
If needed, Meyer knows how to play BCS politics.
In 2006 while at Florida, he lobbied hard after No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 2 Michigan in late November. He said his one-loss Gators deserved a national title shot, and that the country didn’t want to see an Ohio State-Michigan rematch for the championship.
Florida, which played the nation’s toughest schedule that season, slipped past Michigan in the final BCS standings, then hammered Ohio State 41-14 in the national title game.
This year, Meyer so far has smartly limited his public comments to three words: “Just win, baby.” Unfortunately for OSU, that may not be enough.