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Are Buckeyes Stopped Here? Don’t Bet on It

The Ohio State Buckeyes have been written off more often than property taxes despite winning the national championship last season and 10 of 11 games this season.

They have been called must-miss television, the Pluck-eyes, and their anemic offense checks in at No. 98 among 117 teams.

On three Saturdays this year the Ohio State offense failed to score a touchdown.

When it came to the goal line in those games, well, the Bucks stopped there.

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“I don’t know that we’ve been nearly as efficient as we’d like to be,” Coach Jim Tressel says.

No kidding.

USC fans and half the free world expect Ohio State to lose Saturday to a more balanced Michigan team.

The 100th game of maybe college football’s most storied rivalry will be played in Ann Arbor, and the Wolverines are primed to avenge last year’s 14-9 loss in Columbus.

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Maybe, though, it’s time to call the Buckeyes what they are: good.

You can trash the Buckeyes and criticize the system that allowed them to leapfrog USC in the bowl championship series standings.

The one thing you can’t do to the Buckeyes is make them go away.

They are boring beyond belief but relentless as a Dennis Miller rant.

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Ohio State is going to lose to Michigan. Everyone knows that. It’s so obvious.

It’s the same thing experts said when Ohio State played Miami in last year’s Fiesta Bowl. Except Ohio State found a way to hang around, took advantage of five Miami turnovers and one officious official’s call in overtime and won in double overtime.

After two years of watching the Buckeyes sidestep pitfalls, we’re convinced you root against Ohio State at your own peril. We’re sure the Buckeye lounge band is named “Harry and the Houdinis.”

In a tight spot?

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“We know how to react,” senior quarterback Craig Krenzel says. “We know how the emotions feel.”

In two years, the Buckeyes are 12-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Last year, they needed to convert on fourth down to stay alive against Purdue and scored the winning touchdown. They staved off Cincinnati by four points, held off Wisconsin, squeezed by Penn State, needed overtime to beat Illinois, an interception near the goal line to hold that line versus Michigan and three or four miracles against Miami.

This year, it has been more of the same:

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* A 16-13 home victory over San Diego State in which the Aztecs out-gained the Buckeyes, 216 yards to 196.

* A 44-38, triple-overtime victory over North Carolina State after blowing a 24-7 lead.

* A 24-17 victory over Bowling Green that was only secured in the last minute on Will Allen’s interception.

* A 21-20 victory over Penn State in which Michael Jenkins caught the winning touchdown pass with 1:35 left.

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* Last week’s 16-13 overtime victory over Purdue that was only clinched after Ben Jones’ 36-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.

“We never felt like we were going to lose that game,” defensive end Will Smith said.

With a possible Sugar Bowl berth at stake, USC never needed an Ohio State loss more than this weekend.

Problem is, we’ve seen too much of the Buckeyes to count on it.

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Hurry-Up Offense

Often forgotten in the convoluted world of the BCS is that USC could still win at least a share of the national championship even if it doesn’t make the Sugar Bowl.

How’s that? While the BCS deems the Sugar Bowl the national-title game, it does not control the Associated Press poll. While the ESPN/USA Today coaches are bound by contract to crown the BCS title-game winner their champion, the AP is not.

Let’s say Oklahoma ends up playing Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl and USC ends up playing, say, two-loss Texas in the Rose Bowl.

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If USC is No. 2 in the AP poll and wins the Rose Bowl, the Trojans could win the AP share if Ohio State upsets Oklahoma. You might argue that no way Ohio State beats Oklahoma, but that’s what we all said when Ohio State played Miami in last season’s Fiesta Bowl.

In that scenario, AP voters also could jump Ohio State over USC to No. 1, but they would have some explaining to do.

This split-title possibility already has happened twice in BCS history. In 2000, Miami was No. 2 in the AP entering the bowls and probably would have won a share had Florida State upset Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

A year later, No. 2 Oregon defeated Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl and then rooted for Nebraska to upset No. 1 Miami in the Rose Bowl. In both years, though, the No. 1 team won the BCS title game and ended hopes of a split championship.

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Oregon Athletic Director Bill Moos once proposed the most sensible plan to settle the BCS problem short of a full-blown playoff. Moos’ idea was to go back to the old bowl system and then have a one-game title-game afterward based on final BCS rankings.

Let’s say Michigan defeats Ohio State. Under Moos’ plan, the bowl lineup might look like this: Rose Bowl, USC-Michigan; Fiesta Bowl, Oklahoma-Florida State; Sugar Bowl, Louisiana State-Texas; and Orange Bowl, Miami-Ohio State.

Not bad, huh, and the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls always get to keep their “anchor” teams.

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Texas Christian is 10-0 for the first time since 1938 and plays at Southern Mississippi tonight in an effort to keep its BCS bowl hopes alive. TCU is No. 8 in this week’s BCS standings but, as a non-BCS school, must finish No. 6 or better to earn an automatic bid. The Horned Frogs could be considered for a BCS bowl with a top-12 finish.

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BCS and non-BCS presidents met last weekend in New Orleans and basically agreed to keep meeting. “I would call it a meeting of theory testing,” Oregon’s David Frohnmayer, representing the BCS, said. Tulane President Scott Cowen, representing the non-BCS side, thinks the issues of inclusion can be reconciled without legal action. “We think we’re on a path to success,” Cowen said. The presidents have asked the six major conference and five non-BCS commissioners to work with consultants to come up with possible plans to alter the BCS system.

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Numbers watch: Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons needs two total yards this weekend against Oklahoma to break the NCAA single-season record of 5,221, set by Houston’s David Klingler in 1990. Symons needs 83 yards to break the single-season passing yards record of 5,188, set in 1990 by Brigham Young’s Ty Detmer.

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Ohio State and Michigan, meeting for the 100th time this weekend, have combined for 69 conference titles since 1896. The breakdown is 40 for Michigan and 29 for Ohio State.


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