Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The normally resolute Urban Meyer paused, carefully considering the ramifications of the next few words to come out of his mouth.
His Buckeyes had just dispatched their most hated rival, Michigan, 26-21 in Meyer’s first taste of The Game to complete an undefeated season. No ties, no losses, the Buckeyes record stood at 12-0, but now the coach, staff and players were forced to face what they had been putting off all year.
Due to NCAA sanctions dating back to infractions committed under former coach Jim Tressel’s tenure, there would be no postseason for Meyer’s Buckeyes.
No conference championship game – the Big Ten Leaders Division would send a 7-5 Wisconsin team in OSU’s place – no BCS bowl bid and certainly no national championship game.
The question that had been asked all year could no longer be sidestepped with “We’re just focusing on the next game,” or “We’ll worry about that at the end of the year.”
No, the time had finally come for an answer, and even then Meyer didn’t seem completely sure how to phrase his response.
If OSU is the last unbeaten team at the end of this season, should Ohio State be No. 1 in the Associated Press Poll?
“Just trying to picture the headline here,” Meyer said after his long pause. “You know, I don’t know enough to – I think we’re at this point – like I said, the quote I’d like out there is I think this team could play and compete with any team in the United States of America as of now. I didn’t say that several weeks ago because we couldn’t. I understand, but I’m not going to get into the what if’s and can’t control what you can’t control.”
What Meyer can’t control is the perception of his team and the conference it plays in, and right now that perception is that the Buckeyes had a relatively easy road to an unblemished record – especially with no bowl game to use as a final measuring stick.
The Buckeyes are ranked No. 4 in the latest edition of the AP poll, which is a collection of 60 sportswriters from across the country that rate what they believe are the best 25 teams in America.
Ranked ahead of the Buckeyes are, in order, Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia. Out of that group, only Notre Dame is undefeated and Alabama and Georgia each have one loss.
Seventeen voters ranked OSU as the No. 2 team in the country, and 24 voters ranked the Buckeyes fifth or worst, with the lowest ranking being No. 12.
Pete DiPrimio, an AP voter who covers college football for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind., ranked the Buckeyes No. 11 in his poll, the second lowest of any voter.
“They had a fairly weak non-conference schedule and the Big Ten this season is, maybe, historically weak,” DiPrimio told The Lantern. “Now, if there is a playoff, life is different, but there’s not … Through no fault of their own they haven’t beaten any top-10 caliber team, not even close.”
OSU’s players, who were muzzled from talking about the issue throughout the season, weren’t as hesitant as their coach to express where they think the team fits into the national picture.
“Yeah I think we should be No. 1,” said junior running back Carlos Hyde. “I feel like we’re the best team in the nation, so yeah, I feel like we should be No. 1 at the end of the season.”
Hyde wasn’t alone in his opinion. Redshirt senior receiver Jake Stoneburner, redshirt senior linebacker Etienne Sabino and junior receiver Corey Brown also said they believed OSU should be at least considered for the No. 1 ranking if they are the only undefeated team at the end of the season. More players probably share that opinion as only about a dozen players were made available to speak to the media after the game.
But no matter how the rest of the season pans out, the Buckeyes’ chances at being crowned national champions are slim, maybe impossible.
“I just don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Joe Walljasper, the sports editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, Mo., who ranked OSU No. 6 in his rankings. “I think there’s too many teams between them and not enough of the right teams could possibly lose.”
Clearly, the players on OSU’s team believe their resume is better than the AP voters think it is.
The Buckeyes beat two teams currently ranked in the top 25 this season in No. 14 Nebraska and No. 21 Michigan compared to Georgia, which has beaten one (No. 4 Florida), and Alabama, who’s beaten two (No. 6 LSU and No. 21 Michigan). Notre Dame has beaten three (No. 8 Stanford, No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 21 Michigan).
Not playing a team ranked in the top-10 in or out of conference is something holding some voters back.
“It’s not like (OSU is) playing in the WAC or something,” Walljasper said. “Normally between Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska you’d have a top-10 team in there and you just don’t this year.”
OSU beat seven bowl-eligible teams (including 8-win Penn State) compared to Notre Dame’s nine, Alabama’s five and Georgia’s four.
Georgia and Alabama play next Saturday in the SEC Championship with the winner presumably going to play Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game.
Many fans have taken issue with Georgia being ranked ahead of the Buckeyes because the Bulldogs suffered a 28-point loss to South Carolina.
“They played an SEC schedule,” DiPrimio said of his reasoning. “An average SEC team this year is stronger than most of the Big Ten. I think Georgia gets credit for its SEC schedule.”
Walljasper said OSU would probably lose “two or three games” in the SEC.
Though the players believe otherwise, they’re satisfied with their accomplishments.
“Hey, we’re 12-0. That’s all I can say,” Sabino said. “People can talk what they want. (There are) a whole bunch of what-if’s now. I know we took care of what we had to do. We set out to win every single game this year and that’s what we did. It wasn’t pretty but it happened. We’re happy.”