Ohio State stumbled into the top ranking in the final BCS poll. Thanks to a soft schedule and a battered Big 10, the Buckeyes managed to go 11-1. Buckeye fans don’t like hearing it but the fact that the Buckeyes are in the BCS Championship makes a mockery of the term National Champion. Not the LSU is exactly worthy of the hype. The Tigers lost twice. Granted both losses came in overtime but that says a lot more about LSU’s coaching staff than it does about the Tigers’ opposition. The SEC is a strong conference but it’s not that much better than the Big 10 or the Pac 10. About the only thing that sets the SEC apart is its championship game which forces two very good teams to beat on each other at the end of the season. The SEC title game is why Florida was able to exploit a lethargic Ohio State team last year.
Don’t count on Ohio State to make the same mistakes. Even though the Buckeyes lost to the only formidable opponent on their schedule (at home against Illinois), Ohio State isn’t short on talent. They never are. There are a number of players on the Buckeye roster who are more than capable of playing on Sundays next year. Ohio State’s schedule might have been soft but they did win their games in convincing fashion. These guys can play.
And the Big 10 needs them to. In spite of proving itself as a conference in head to head competition against the SEC in bowl games last year, fans and commentators ignored the success of Wisconsin and Penn State and cast doubt on the Big 10 in light of Ohio State’s sleepwalk in the so-called championship game. It’s not fair but Ohio State and the Big 10 have become a punch line. If Ohio State loses another bowl game to an SEC school the Buckeyes and the rest of the Big 10 will be punished in future polls.
Make no mistake, perception is reality. If public opinion of the Big 10 is low that will be reflected in the preseason rankings. Even if Big 10 schools perform well during the course of the season, voters won’t be as willing to reward those teams with lofty poll position. That means the Big 10 could find itself on the outside looking in. Over the past few years the Big 10 had enough clout to break a tie in favor of its teams. A 10-2 Wisconsin team used to have enough clout to get ranked ahead of an 11-1 Big East program. If Ohio State loses they will confirm suspicions that the Big 10 is fat, slow and noncompetitive thus guaranteeing a long hard road to those at large BCS bids.
Can I get that in writing?
Speaking of guarantees, was that angle played a little too aggressively by the media in the prelude to the Steelers/Patriots game? It’s not like anybody went out of their way to disrespect the Patriots. If you ask any player in any sport if they think they can win their next game they are probably going to say yes. That’s why we play the games.
It’s unlikely anything any Steeler said had any impact on the Patriots performance. The Patriots were coming off two sketchy performances and had a point to prove. The message was delivered. The Steelers were supposed to be a contender. Losing by 20 points this late in the season doesn’t bode well for Mike Tomlin and the boys.
On the heels of spanking the Steelers New England looks primed to complete a perfect season. A win next week over the lowly Jets matches Miami’s miraculous 14-0 performance and then the only question is whether the Pats will play to win against the Giants. Thanks to Don Shula’s recent tantrum over “Spy-gate” B-squared will probably lay the wood to New York just to spite everybody. Then the only issue is capping the perfect season off with a perfect post season. Somehow going 16-0 doesn’t seem special if it’s followed by a 1-1 playoff performance.
For the record, Don Shula should just shut up. First of all, he knows damned well that every coach in the league cheats. His Dolphins, like so many of the great teams of the 1970’s were the product of steroids. Shula probably stole signals from opposing teams as well. Everybody knows that the only difference between Belichick and every other coach in the league is that he got caught. Get over it.
Frankly, Don Shula is the most overrated coach in NFL history. He gets too much credit for that 17-0 team but his biggest mark on NFL history came a few years earlier when his Baltimore Colts failed to beat Joe Namath and the upstart Jets. Combine that with squandering Dan Marino and you have a guy who was lucky rather than good. As much as I dislike Belichick, I hope that Don Shula lives to see the only feather in his cap get blown into the gutter. Go Pats!