For The Big Ten and Ohio State; What Might Have Been ...
Late in the 2013 season it appears that once again the Big Ten is being judged an inferior conference, a label that whether fair or unfair is hurting Ohio State's chances of playing for a national title.
But if not for a fateful decision, it could have been so different. One can only ask what might have been.
As a Big Ten fan I'm hopeful that the Buckeyes will win out, get some help and get a chance to earn a national championship for the Big Ten. It wasn't very long ago that national titles were not really a consideration for the conference. For many years the Rose Bowl was the end-all and be-all for Big Ten teams.
The bowl performances of Big Ten teams has left a lot to be desired; most years winning a lot less than they've won. To be fair, in the 11/12 team era a few teams have stood out most -- notably Penn State (with a 10-5 bowl record).
In 1993 Penn State joined the conference and starting talking about national championships. Penn State had won two the previous decade and that was the number one goal every season. In 1994 Penn State ran the table becoming the first Big Ten team ever to go 12-0, the first to score 31 or more points in every game and the first undefeated Big Ten team since Ohio State in 1968.
The bar was raised in the league and in 1997 Michigan got to share the national title with Nebraska. It was Michigan's first national title in fifty years. In 2002 Ohio State won it outright beating Miami in overtime. That was the last Big Ten National Championship. In that time the Big Twelve has won one, The Pac 10/12 has won one and shared one, and the SEC has shared one and won the last seven in a row.
Everyone else in the country gets tired of hearing about the SEC, but until someone knocks them from their perch they remain the conference to beat.
But a curious decision by Ohio State and the Big Ten in regard to NCAA sanctions may have altered the course of history. Facing a bowl ban of one year, Ohio State opted to take a bowl trip in 2011 and be banned from the postseason in 2012.
In 2011 Ohio State entered the year with an interim head coach. Conventional wisdom would dictate taking the bowl ban in 2011 and get started sooner on the next season by hiring a new coach.
In a cruel twist of fate, in 2012 Ohio State overcame sanctions to finish 12-0 only to stay home for the holidays. Had the Buckeyes taken the ban in 2011, in 2012 they would have been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 and taken on Notre Dame in the national championship game. Given the Fighting Irish performance in that game, there is little doubt that Ohio State would have won the national title.
But the game never happened so the Big Ten drought of National Titles remained.
But what if?
What if Ohio State had played in and won the game?
The defending National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes, with quarterback Braxton Miller back leading the team would have been preseason number one. There are very few times when a defending national championship team with a returning starting quarterback doesn't start the following year as the preseason No. 1.
If the Buckeyes were the preseason No. 1 they would likely still be in No. 1 in the human polls given their 21-game win streak. The human polls make up the dominant portion (two thirds) of the BCS standings. Despite the way the schedule has played out for Ohio State, they would still be in the top two positions in the BCS—right now at No. 2 with Alabama just ahead of them and Florida State right behind them.
The human polls would help Ohio State barely overcome the computer poll deficiency allowing the defending champions to control their own destiny to play for a second-straight national title.
But a fateful decision two years ago continues to hang over the Buckeyes -- not only last year but this year as well. Looking back, the trade was made -- one trip to the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl for one national title and a shot at another.
Perhaps one of the great ironies in all of this is that in 1968 undefeated Ohio State was voted the national champion over undefeated Penn State because the Big Ten was held in such high esteem as the nation's best conference. Now the Big Ten conference is seen as a national title resume liability.
A national title last year and a run at another one this year certainly could've helped reverse the narrative of a conference in decline ... but for one solitary decision. There is still a lot of football left to play and perhaps the chips will fall in place for Ohio State and the Big Ten, but maybe not.
If the Buckeyes are left out, they will look back at that fateful 2011 decision as one that hurt not only one school but the entire Big Ten.