Autumn's big dance

Tomorrow's Michigan-Ohio State winner will play for the title, but against whom?

November 17, 2006|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN REPORTER

On the campuses of Ohio State and Michigan, tomorrow's matchup between the top-ranked Buckeyes and the No. 2 Wolverines is merely the latest installment of what both coaches called this week "the greatest rivalry in college football."

On several other campuses, tomorrow's game in Columbus between a pair of 11-0 teams might be viewed as a quasi-semifinal to this season's Bowl Championship Series national championship or, depending how tightly it's contested, a prelude to the biggest debate this perennially controversial process has seen.

If the game is one-sided, it would move several other schools back in the hunt to play the Ohio State-Michigan winner for the national championship Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz. If it goes to the final gun, or into overtime, it would raise questions about a possible rematch.

Neither of these scenarios seemed to be on Ohio State coach Jim Tressel's mind as he prepared his team for its second No. 1 versus No. 2 meeting of the season. The Buckeyes beat then-No. 2 Texas in Austin on Sept. 9.

"I think if it weren't the Ohio State-Michigan game, all those things would come into play more," Tressel said during a Big Ten conference call this week. "That's really larger than all those other things, but the fact that it's been going on for 88 years in a row or whatever, that's really the primary focus to our kids."

Do-over debated

Would Tressel want a rematch if the game lives up to its hype and the teams remain No. 1 and No. 2?

"There's nothing like playing in the Ohio State-Michigan game here at the end of the season with the conference championship on the line and to say how we feel at the end of that game, it's hard to say, because the game just means so much to both parties," Tressel said.

Asked about the prospect of a rematch to determine the national champion, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said: "The truth is, we have a system, the BCS, and I personally don't understand all of the things that go into the computer rankings. That system will take care of that question."

Jerry Palm, who runs several college ranking Web sites, including CollegeBCS.com, said yesterday that a rematch is possible. Not that he is in favor of one.

"They would have just played, there are no more games, we are not going to learn anything new, they're not going to get better, there's nothing else to do," Palm said. "Why make the winner have to beat them twice in a row?"

The jockeying for position won't go on only at Ohio Stadium tomorrow afternoon.

It also will take place in Los Angeles tomorrow night when 8-1 Southern California, third in the most recent BCS standings and fourth in the Associated Press poll, plays No. 17 California (8-2). It will take place in Tallahassee, Fla., next week, when Florida, No. 3 in the AP poll but No. 4 in the BCS rankings, visits archrival Florida State on Nov. 25. The Gators should be 10-1 after beating Western Carolina tomorrow.

Depending on what happens tomorrow, it also could take place at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Nov. 25, when the Trojans, should they beat the Bears, face another BCS championship contender, Notre Dame (No. 6 AP, No. 5 BCS). More positioning, and posturing, could take place Dec. 2 in the Southeastern Conference title game, possibly between Florida and Arkansas (No. 5 AP, No. 7 BCS), as well as the USC-UCLA game at the Rose Bowl.

And don't ignore this season's most improbable BCS contender, 9-0 Rutgers, which remains unbeaten and disrespected, but put itself into the conversation by beating then-No. 3 Louisville last week. The Scarlet Knights, now ranked sixth in the BCS and seventh in the AP poll, likely will face their biggest obstacle Dec. 2, when they play No. 8 West Virginia in Morgantown - where they have never won.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville saw his Tigers eliminated from any possible BCS championship consideration with last week's loss to Georgia, but he is painfully familiar with the process. Two years ago, Auburn quietly worked its way up the rankings before landing third behind USC and Oklahoma.

"It came down to our last couple of games, we knew we had to win and win decisively, which we did, and it still comes down to a popularity contest," Tuberville said. "That's what basically the BCS comes down to at the end. Our votes [by the coaches] were not public. I would love to have known how those votes went."

Tuberville can relate to what some of his brethren are going through, particularly Florida's Urban Meyer.

"When you're No. 3 and on the outside looking in, it's awfully frustrating," Tuberville said.

That same season Auburn went unbeaten and unrewarded, Meyer was even further outside the equation. Then coaching undefeated Utah, Meyer's team was never a contender for the BCS championship game. But the Utes did become the first school from one of the lesser conferences to make it to a BCS game, the Fiesta Bowl, where they crushed Pittsburgh.

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