At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in the sport.
THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Can you see Ohio State and USC meeting again this season in the national title game?
Absolutely. I have said repeatedly over the years, including in my article on Aug. 12 "Spread the News," that when it comes to the question of who will play in the national championship game, it almost always comes down to one thing – talent. Coaching, scheme and strength of schedule are important variables, but no combination of those will be enough to get into the championship game unless you also are a talented team. And two of the most talented teams in the country (along with Georgia, Oklahoma, LSU and Florida) are USC and Ohio State. That they will play a close and exciting game this weekend and that Ohio State will win should keep them both in a position to meet again in the national championship game after each runs the table the rest of the way.
That would depend on who wins and by how much. If Ohio State defeats the Trojans, it could happen. Should USC rebound from a close loss (three points or less) to the Buckeyes and finish 11-1, it would have a good chance to reach the BCS Championship Game. Fair or not, Ohio State might not have the same chance. The Buckeyes already have the stigma of losing two consecutive championship games, and there could be voters out there who want to give someone else a chance. Particularly after last week's showing against Ohio U., a loss could be devastating for the Buckeyes' national championship hopes. A close loss (three points or less) might keep the Buckeyes in contention, but that cannot be assumed. After the past two years, a one-loss Ohio State team doesn't figure to get into the championship game ahead of many other one-loss teams from major conferences.
Without a doubt, yes. The loser will have ample time to rebound from the loss and enhance its résumé. Thanks to the lofty ranking each team will bring into the game, the loser won't be punished by pollsters with a precipitous drop in the rankings unless a blowout occurs. Another thing: I believe the loser will have a terrific chance to go unbeaten the rest of the way. Are there other teams in the nation capable of going unbeaten or having just one loss? Maybe in the Big 12 and SEC. Still, the résumés of both USC and Ohio State could be better than the champions from either of those leagues. What's it mean? There is a tremendous chance we'll see USC and Ohio State play in the title game in Miami. And, frankly, I'd love to see it happen.
Last season, we saw our first two-loss national champion since 1960. I'm not going to doubt any one-loss team from a power conference (there are only four such leagues this season, apparently) in the national championship race. For the loser of this game to reach the title game, you have to assume the loss in Los Angeles will be that team's only loss of the season and that the winner stays in the top five. I once thought this would be a national championship elimination game, but after watching USC's and Ohio State's future opponents, I'm not so sure. The loser of this game will have plenty of opportunities to rise in the BCS standings. For USC, it means games against California, Oregon and Arizona State. The Buckeyes face Penn State, Wisconsin and Illinois. The conference schedule alone could put the loser of this game into the national title game, especially if the SEC and Big 12 champions emerge beat-up from league play.
If Ohio State loses, I don't think it's possible unless this season is like last season. If the Buckeyes lose, I think it will be almost impossible for them to get to No. 2 during the regular season unless there are a whole lot of elite teams with two losses. I think this is a case where the "perception is reality" idea carries the day. And the perception if Ohio State loses to USC will be that the Buckeyes again have showed they can't hang with the true big boys. On the other hand, I think USC could get to the title game if it loses – assuming it wins out and that other league champs lose late in the regular season.
Is a USC-Ohio State rematch possible? Sure. Is it probable? No. USC probably could afford to lose this game more than Ohio State. The Trojans would remain overwhelming favorites to win the Pac-10, but the fast starts by California and Oregon could give the Trojans enough chances to earn quality wins that would put them back into the national championship mix. Ohio State's national reputation has taken a beating – deservedly or not – after back-to-back losses in the BCS Championship Game. Ohio State still might have a shot at reaching the championship game with an 11-1 record, but the Buckeyes probably would fall behind any one-loss teams from the SEC, Big 12 or Pac-10 in the BCS pecking order.