The Buckeyes won’t be getting any benefit of the doubt. Not after playing much of the nation for fools.
No. 1 teams control their own destiny. They’re supposed to drive through their opponents and off into the sunset.
This won’t be a repeat of 2007, when a flood of upsets catapulted Ohio State into the BCS Championship game.
In the event that the BCS uses a similar process-of-elimination method to determine its title game participants this year, expect OSU to sit at the bottom of the totem pole.
The Buckeyes lost the same way Alabama did a week earlier – to a worthy conference foe on the road.
But the defending champion Crimson Tide held the No. 1 ranking long enough to garner the public’s respect.
OSU fell flat after six days atop the polls. It’s pretty difficult to rekindle that reverence after taking it for granted the first time around.
Senior captain Cameron Heyward preached all week how he preferred holding the No. 2 rank, not the top position. That approach speaks volumes about OSU’s mindset entering its first test as No. 1.
The Buckeyes didn’t embrace the target on their back, they ignored it. Wisconsin had little trouble striking a bulls-eye.
No. 1 teams play with confidence, welcoming the challenge of a hostile crowd and eager opponent. The Buckeyes played timid, hoping their talent would outweigh the Badgers’ grit and muscle.
Top-ranked teams smell an opponent’s blood, not vice versa. The Buckeyes needed a transfusion after a quarter-and-a-half.
There’s plenty of football remaining.
Last season, OSU arrived at rock bottom with a thud following a 26-17 loss at Purdue. After that defeat, the Buckeyes breezed through the rest of their Big Ten schedule, capturing the conference crown and winning the Rose Bowl.
Despite a two-loss record, many considered OSU’s season a success, with an eye toward a more promising future.
But another non-championship bowl win isn’t going to satisfy the expectations of a Buckeye Nation growing impatient with OSU’s incessant big-game struggles.
The college football gods have their work cut out for them if OSU is going to sneak back into the title game picture a la 2007.
That year, No. 1 Missouri lost to Oklahoma by three touchdowns in the Big 12 Championship Game and unranked Pittsburgh shocked No. 2 West Virginia.
Those final-weekend upsets propelled No. 3 OSU to the top rank and LSU to No. 2 from No. 7.
That kind of chaotic reshuffling probably won’t occur this year. If it does, OSU won’t be included.
Oregon and Oklahoma are in the driver’s seat. The Sooners control their own destiny, holding the top spot in the BCS standings. They’ll likely blow through the rest of their regular season schedule, with only a possible conference-championship meeting with Nebraska standing in their way of a ticket to Glendale, Ariz.
The undefeated Ducks have a schedule daunting enough to impress voters should they run the table.
Boise State appears primed to complete its fourth undefeated regular season in five years.
To jump back into the picture, the Buckeyes would need at least one of those teams to falter, in addition to a slew of schools – including TCU and Utah – fading down the stretch.
A trio of SEC teams stands ahead of OSU as well, though it’s possible that Auburn, LSU and Alabama could knock each other out of contention by December.
Even Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa could earn consideration before the Buckeyes.
There are too many hurdles for the Buckeyes to clear, with the most obtrusive being their own inconsistent play.
OSU was handed keys to the car and couldn’t make it out of the driveway before crashing.