Three minutes into the first half, Matt Flynn fell on his own fumble at the LSU 6 yard line. Twelve minutes later, LSU’s Harry Coleman fell on a fumbled punt at the LSU 16. In a game in which LSU was outgained, 2 turnovers were the deciding factors, but Ohio State lost the ball to LSU, not LSU to Ohio State. If those fumbled balls had proven too slippery for Coleman and Flynn, we would have a different national champion for the 2007 college football season.
Now, generally intelligent and well-informed, but myopic, college football commentators are making broad generalizations that Ohio State shouldn’t be allowed to compete for the national championship in 2008 because their schedule is soft and they don’t have the talent and speed to compete with the SEC. Garbage.
Here are some things to remember before we make that same mistake. First, the Ohio State team of 2007 was supposed to be a rebuilding project. Ohio State went to the Sugar Bowl because the rest of the contenders across the country missed the bus. Let’s review.
Georgia couldn’t even win their own division because they got blasted by a quality, though not title contending, Tennessee team. It is prerequisite that any team interested in playing for the title of best team in the country should first establish themselves as the best in their six team division. The same goes for Kansas.
West Virginia had a golden ticket, but they and Missouri got locked in a fierce game of hot potato and threw it away. I would agree that the Big East was probably stronger than the Big 10 last year, but WVU lost twice (which is more than once) in one of the weaker BCS conferences.
Virginia Tech was on a roll at the end of the season and suffered only two losses to two good teams, but the Hokies were already handed a 41 point loss by LSU. You don’t get a rematch when you call on the mercy rule in your first meeting.
Oklahoma could have made a strong argument, having lost twice in a much tougher Big 12. But after watching their bowl game performance, and considering their own record in bowl games recently, I don’t think we would have been any better off. And Missouri has no claim, suffering the same number of losses as OU with a softer schedule and, coincidentally, having lost twice to Oklahoma.
Here is a list of USC’s second order losses (teams that beat teams that beat USC): Notre Dame (3-9), Washington (4-9), Washington State, Oregon (9-4), Oregon State (2x), California (7-6), UCLA (2x) (6-7), Arizona (5-7), Arizona State (10-3), and TCU (8-5). It is somewhat remarkable that USC won the conference championship despite marking first or second order losses to every team in the conference. The Pac 10 may have been tougher than the Big 10, but USC’s work in the Pac 10 did not warrant a shot at the title.
(On a side note, speaking of second order losses, 4 teams accomplished the rare feat of earning a spot on their own second order loss list: BYU, UCLA, Virginia Tech, and Boston College. Oklahoma, Missouri, UCF and Tulsa could have joined this list if their conference championship games had turned out differently.)
USC and Georgia may have been better teams in January, but the beautiful thing about college football is that you have to perform from September through November, too. Ohio State, two seasons in a row, has punched their card to the title game by playing good, consistent ball throughout the regular season. If Ohio State is one of the best two teams from September to November in 2008, they should again be packing their bags for another trip to the BCS title game.
But we hear that Ohio State plays in a weak Big Ten and doesn’t actually have the talent to compete against the best teams in the country. Again, garbage. Any recruiting service worth its salt will tell you that Ohio State has had top 5 recruiting classes 2 of the last 3 years. The OSU not only has grabbed the best talent from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois (good high school football states), but they have also nicked five star athletes from the South. Their 2008 signees included 2 kids from Florida, 1 from Texas, and 1 from Maryland in the top 100 nationally, including ATH Lamaar Thomas who has the speed to make Trindon Holiday nervous in a foot race.
Florida only signed 5 kids from the South in the top 100 nationally.
Ohio State is too slow though, right? Sure the SEC is faster than the Big 10 and produces more pro talent at the speed positions, but the Big 10 doesn’t play for national championships—Ohio State does. Here’s a comparison of the average 40 time by unit for Ohio State and LSU in 2007:
Offensive Line and Tight End (starting 6):
OSU – 5.06 LSU – 5.05
Runnning Back (3 deep):
SU – 4.45 LSU – 4.45
OSU – 4.50 LSU – 4.60
Receiver (4 deep):
OSU – 4.55 LSU – 4.44
Defensive Line (starting 4, 1 reserve):
OSU – 4.80 LSU – 4.80
Linebackers (3 starters):
OSU – 4.65 LSU – 4.57
Secondary (4 starters):
OSU – 4.48 LSU – 4.53
I don’t know, but LSU has the advantage here.
Conclusion—LSU was faster but not “me vs. Usain Bolt” faster. The difference between the two teams was small.
LSU looked so much faster in the Sugar Bowl, despite not actually being that much faster, because 1) LSU’s defense was coached by Bo Pelini. Players both play faster and look faster because of good coaching and scheming under Pelini. 2) LSU was accustomed to a faster pace from playing in the SEC. Ohio State had the capacity to play and that speed, but up to that point, their competition had not inspired them to. 3) LSU has more speed on the practice squad. If Tressel had allowed his first teams to go at it more in December practices, I have a feeling we wouldn’t have been able to notice a speed difference between the two teams.
OSU's Coach Tressel is a smart guy—you can tell because he wears a sweater vest and only smart guys wear sweater vests. I’m disappointed he didn’t make the necessary adjustments from 2006 to prepare for LSU, but we need to remember that a healthy LSU was really that much better than everyone else. In 2008, Tressel will have his team ready (and they won’t have to play anyone as stacked on defense as LSU was in ’07).
All this is important because Ohio State has another team that is ready to make a run for a national championship. The team will be loaded with about 47 returning starters and a Heisman-caliber running back in Beanie Wells (who has demonstrated in both national championship games that he is not too slow to compete against SEC defenses). According to Athlon Sports, Ohio State ranks in the top 10 in the country at every unit but defensive line.
More importantly, Ohio State has a schedule that could earn them some legitimacy. They play at USC, Wisconsin and Illinois (all potential top 15 teams) and also have Penn State and Michigan (who wasn’t too slow to compete against Florida last year) on the schedule. Assuming we grant one spot in the national championship game to the SEC champ, Ohio State would have just as much claim as any remaining contender based on strength of schedule.
It would be a real shame if we kept a team out of a national championship game just because they had proven to be second best the two years before.