Let me get right to the point. There is very little chance that Ohio State can finish the season on top of the AP poll. There is, at best, about a 10% chance of this happening.
However, those odds were less than 1% at 8pm Saturday, before the top two teams in the poll (Oregon and Kansas State) were knocked off.
The new poll released on Sunday shows undefeated Notre Dame on top, followed by Alabama and Georgia, with the Buckeyes in fourth.
With the season ending this week, following the game against Michigan, it’s hard to not let the mind wander and think if an AP Poll title is even possible.
The answer is technically, yes, but a lot has to happen. Let me lay it out for you.
There’s a lot going against Ohio State’s favor, including a weak strength of schedule, and the weakest Big Ten conference in a long, long time. While being on probation and banned for the post-season doesn’t help, what’s far more harmful is the fact that after Saturday, the Buckeyes are out of sight, out of mind. Everyone else will still have games (in some cases, two) left to leave impressions.
OSU’s case will rest on November 24th, with no more evidence to introduce.
So let’s start with what absolutely has to happen:
1. Ohio State MUST beat Michigan-Yes, this is obvious, but it’s not as simple as just winning the game. The Buckeyes must be impressive on offense and defense. Again, remember, this is the last chance for OSU to make an impression. It has to be a good one. Braxton Miller needs to look like the Heisman Trophy candidate we saw earlier in the year. The offense needs to score points, while the defense needs to play its best game. Ohio State needs to win by at least 2-3 touchdowns. Chance of it actually happening: 25% (The Buckeyes haven’t really overwhelmed any decent teams. Would need to be more impressive than they were vs. Nebraska)
2. Notre Dame MUST lose to USC-The Fighting Irish are the only other undefeated team in FBS, other than Ohio State. The Buckeyes must be the only undefeated team in the country to have any chance of finishing number one. It’s also critical to go into the bowl games ranked number two (one is still possible, but extremely unlikely…more later). The Irish could lose in their bowl game, but that would be too late for OSU’s purposes. Notre Dame does have to play at USC this week, which has lost three of its past four after being ranked number one earlier in the year. The Trojans offense will be a test for the Irish defense, while Notre Dame’s offense could have success against a lack-luster USC D. Chance of it actually happening: 60% (No easy task playing a desperate USC team)
3. Either Alabama or Georgia (or both) MUST lose a rivalry game this weekend- Alabama (ranked second) and Georgia (third) already have reservations for Atlanta on December 1st. The winner of this game is virtually guaranteed a spot in the BCS title game, as both the Tide and Bulldogs have just one loss…unless one or both are upset this weekend. Alabama has the Iron Bowl with Auburn at home, while Georgia gets Georgia Tech at home in Athens. You’ll want to root for both of them to lose. If somehow, Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia all lost this Saturday, Ohio State could be ranked number one as soon as next Sunday. Chance of it actually happening: 15% (Auburn is horrible, so Alabama isn’t losing. Georgia Tech will be tough, but Georgia has big edge between the hedges).
4. The SEC Champion MUST win in less than impressive fashion-In the above scenario, you would want the team that lost the week before (say Georgia, falling to Georgia Tech) to beat the one-loss team, leaving both with at least two losses. Due the reputation and assumed superiority of the SEC, if everyone had two losses (see later), and Ohio State had none, that would be huge. Regardless, you don’t want an impressive performance in the SEC title game. Remember, unless both have two losses, the winner of this game will go to the BCS Championship game. If this winner is impressive in the SEC title game, and then wins the BCS title game, it would be hard not to get voted number one in the AP. Chance of it actually happening: 20% (The SEC champion will carry significant weight no matter the score or performance. No matter what happens that school will have won the championship of the toughest league in the country. About the only way this happens is a 10-7 game with plenty of turnovers by both teams)
5. Whoever wins the BCS Championship game MUST do so in less than impressive fashion-Same principles apply as above. You want plenty of doubt to be in the voters’ minds. You don’t want a clear-cut, top-team at the end of the year. You want voters to assess the situation and think, “well, Ohio State was the only team to go undefeated”. At this point, Notre Dame and the SEC Champion are the front-runners to play in the championship. Should Notre Dame lose, Oregon is poised to get back in, especially without a PAC-12 Championship game to worry about, although the Ducks still have to beat rival Oregon State. If Oregon beats the Beavers, and Stanford loses to UCLA, the Ducks will be in the conference title game. Chance of it actually happening: 10%
While all of those scenarios are in front of the Buckeyes, you also have check the rear-view mirror:
1. Oregon is just behind OSU, and ranked fifth. The Ducks, despite losing Saturday, are not dead in the water. Potential wins over Oregon State and UCLA (PAC-12 Championship Game) would be over ranked teams. We’re all aware of the firepower Oregon possess on offense, and how impressive that can be (actual or perception). If Oregon ends up in the BCS Championship game, and wins it, a 13-1 Ducks squad would almost certainly be voted number one in the AP. Even if the above scenarios ALL play out, there’s no guarantee that wouldn’t simply open the door for Oregon.
2. Florida (ranked sixth) is the school no one is talking about, although the Gators are a long-shot still to get into the national title picture because they will not play in the SEC Championship game. The final game is at Florida State this Saturday, another one-loss team (just like Florida) still on the periphery.
3. Kansas State only has one loss, but is ranked seventh in the AP. The Wildcats have another tough test in two weeks at Texas.
4. Florida State is ranked 10th, in spite of only having one loss, but that’s a lot of ground to make up in a short time. Even with wins over Florida and in the ACC Championship game (against either Georgia Tech or Miami), it’s doubtful that the Seminoles would catch up to Ohio State.
So here is a dream scenario for Ohio State fans:
· Ohio State dominates Michigan, something like 38-10
· Notre Dame loses to USC
· Georgia Tech upsets Georgia
· Georgia knocks off Alabama in the SEC Championship game
· Oregon loses to either Oregon State or in the PAC-12 Title game (if it reaches it)
· Florida State beats Florida, then loses in the ACC Championship Game
· Texas beats Kansas State
If—oh boy, is that a huge if—all that happens, then you could easily see Ohio State end up number one in the AP Poll. Chance of it actually happening: 2% (please note…all percentages are highly unscientific)
Then again, remember how unlikely it was back in 2007 that Ohio State would get to the BCS Championship game after the upset loss to Illinois. The Buckeyes dropped to seventh in the BCS, then sat back and watched LSU, Oregon, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and West Virginia all lose in the following three weeks. The Buckeyes even celebrated the win over Michigan with roses in hand, not realizing those would be traded in for Mardi Gras beads.