Toss out logic

OTHER VOICES

Buckeyes have proved their worth

The Kickoff

January 08, 2007|By KEVIN SHERRINGTON

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- One of the hazards of college athletics is the temptation to connect dots across a pretty big country, meaning we usually just end up stretching the point.

Maybe you remember Ohio State beating Michigan at home, 42-39. The outcome was so close that many, yours truly included, thought the Wolverines deserved a rematch.

But they didn't get it. Instead, the Wolverines ended up in the Rose Bowl, where they had the misfortune to encounter a Southern California team still ticked off that UCLA knocked it out of the Bowl Championship Series title game.

Result: The media out here are connecting dots, and the logic doesn't always follow.

They're asking Ohio State defensive players if they don't have something to prove, given what happened in the Michigan game.

Before they can answer, the Buckeyes' defensive coordinator, Jim Heacock, interrupts.

"We won that game, right?"

No doubt about it, Coach. But some are having doubts. And it's not just about what happened in the Michigan game.

You can almost hear the implications in questions last week.

If Ohio State only beat Michigan by three at home, and Michigan lost by 14 to USC, doesn't that mean USC's passing game could beat Ohio State?

And isn't Florida a poor man's USC?

First, a confession: Early this season, when the Buckeyes beat Texas in Austin, I asked if Ohio State was a worthy No. 1. They didn't do much of a job stopping the run. Not much of a rushing game then, either. And beating Texas didn't seem much to brag about.

The Buckeyes proved me wrong, at least on everything except beating Texas.

Ohio State has a great defense. Until the Michigan game, it had given up 86 points in 11 games. Quinn Pitcock, who has eight sacks, a huge number for a defensive tackle, and linebacker James Laurinaitis headline an impressive group.

Troy Smith? The Heisman winner showed he could do more than just run, and he scored well in the area all quarterbacks are judged. He won.

Ohio State proved it was the best team in the country. No reason to doubt the Buckeyes now, right? Especially against a Florida team that seemed inconsistent for a national title contender.

The Gators lost by 10 at Auburn. Beat South Carolina by one at home. And who knows if Florida would even be here if an Arkansas punt returner hadn't tried to make like Willie Mays and field a punt over his shoulder inside his own 5 in the Southeastern Conference championship game?

The Gators aren't any better now than they were then. The Buckeyes aren't any worse.

Here's what changed: USC manhandled Michigan, and it's giving people second thoughts.

Ohio State never played anyone this season that could throw the ball like USC. Michigan couldn't. Michigan State averaged more yards passing per game than any of the Buckeyes' opponents, and it ranked 34th in the nation.

Next-highest ranked Ohio State opponent? Texas, and offensive coordinator Greg Davis wasn't letting quarterback Colt McCoy throw downfield in September.

Florida can throw the ball if Chris Leak gets enough time. And if the Buckeyes can't put pressure on Leak, the Gators have a legitimate shot at an upset.

Question: But does Michigan's loss to USC mean anything hopeful for Florida?

Answer: No, and these comparisons almost never do.

This is the problem when you don't have a playoff system. Media and fans are always trying to compare.

But college football is still a game of emotion. You don't know how much the Rose Bowl really meant to Michigan. You don't know how much the loss to UCLA stoked USC.

For that matter, look what happened to UCLA in the Emerald Bowl after its upset.

Rivalries change the dynamics of college games. For fans and media, that's a good thing, perhaps the best thing about college football.

But it doesn't always mean you end up with the best teams in a title game.

A playoff system doesn't necessarily guarantee that, either. Maybe all you get are the hottest teams.

Still, it's a more honest and logical system than the current one. Jim Tressel made it simple for the media. Asked Friday if he thought the Buckeyes were better than their BCS partners, he said, "We haven't played the Gators."

And until they do tonight, nothing that happened in the Rose Bowl counts for much, either.

Kevin Sherrington writes for The Dallas Morning News.

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