Sunday, November 19, 2006

Anyone But Michigan | by Dylan

Let's do a little thought experiment. Imagine you, Sherman, and Mr. Peabody could hop into the way-back machine and journey back in time, all the way to last Friday night. Imagine observing Ohio State coach Jim Tressel being proposed the following scenario by a sportswriter, fellow coach, or BCS bigwig: Ohio State will play their next two games against Michigan. If they win both, they're the national champion. If they win one and lose one, Michigan is the national champion. What would you say if you were Tressel? What would any neutral party make of the mental capacity of the poser of the question?

Michigan is an outstanding team, but they do not deserve another shot at the national title. They had that shot and they lost, and it's really that simple. Head-to-head extrapolations and hypothetical "this one would beat that one" exercises don't stand up in the face of the fact that the Ohio State-Michigan game has been played and the result is not disputed. Ohio State beat Michigan. There is no reason to think the outcome of a second OSU-UM game will be any different.

Although the final margin on Saturday was just three points, the outcome was never in doubt, at least not after OSU scored three straight touchdowns answering UM's opening touchdown drive. From the six minute mark of the second quarter when OSU went up 21-7 until the final 2:16 of the game, UM managed to reclaim only three points of their fourteen point disadvantage, despite three Ohio State turnovers. With 2:30 left to play in the fourth quarter, the margin was 11 points and OSU had gone, essentially, into a prevent defense. Yet only as a result of an astonishing phantom pass interference call was UM able to move the ball quickly enough to cut it to three. If the game were five minutes longer, UM would not have completed the comeback. They likely would have done what they had done all game long; let OSU walk down the field and score, and lose by ten.

Michigan should still have a shot at a National Championship, just not the BCS Championship. They lost a one-game playoff for their conference title and the right to play in the national title game, and should be content to go to the Rose Bowl. Once there, they can make their case that they truly are the second-best team in the country by beating Pac-10 champ USC. If they do that, and Ohio State somehow loses in the BCS Championship game, then Michigan will surely win the MNC in the eyes of the Associated Press. It was good enough for them once (I've not heard any UM fans disavow the 1997 split title), so they should have no problem with a second 1/2 title.

Who should play against Ohio State in the BCS Championship game? Basically, anyone but Michigan, barring a complete meltdown by all the current one-loss teams. In the order of today's latest inexplicable coaches' poll, here's how the contenders would need to disqualify themselves from consideration over Michigan:

  • USC - By losing to either Notre Dame or UCLA.
  • Florida - By losing to either FSU or Arkansas.
  • Arkansas - By losing to either LSU or Florida.
  • Notre Dame - By losing to USC
If all of these things happen and the current top 6 of the BCS gets shot to hell, then UM should get a "do over" against a team that put up over 500 yards and 42 points against them in their last game. "But Dylan," you say, "didn't Michigan beat the hell out of Notre Dame back in September?" Yes, they did. But it really doesn't matter in this context. If the situation involved a one-loss Notre Dame team and a one-loss Michigan team vying for a chance to play an undefeated opponent to whom Michigan had not already lost, then the answer would be clear and the vote would be unanimous. Michigan would go.

If there is any justice, the coaches and Harris voters will come to this realization as the post-game afterglow fades and will vote to send a different opponent for the Buckeyes to face in Glendale. If they insist on a UM-OSU rematch, they will provoke two possible outcomes: one in which Michigan wins and nullifies OSU's victory, making the Big Ten season a meaningless exhibition; or one in which OSU comes out, does not turn the ball over three times, and beats Michigan by three touchdowns. Both outcomes damage the spirit of the competition for the title of "National Champion" by forcing us to watch a replay of the championship game of a conference in a down year. Both outcomes provide a less satisfying result than the old bowl system would have, a system that the BCS, ostensibly, improved.

For those who would think this is just an anti-Michigan crusade, I'll remind you of two things. First, Notre Dame fans have no love of Ohio State. Second, Notre Dame was in this situation (for one short week) in 1993, and the sentiment was the same. You get one chance at the title. If you lose, you lose, and that's it. There are no mulligans.