Goodbye Columbus, To Be Continued?

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Ohio State showed why they have spent the season ranked number one yesterday. In the first half they totally dominated the Michigan defense by spreading out several receivers. At half time Ohio State led 28-14 and it appeared that Michigan’s national title hopes were over.

Michigan made corrections and came back to dominate the second half but fell short by three points. They likely would have won if not for, after stopping Ohio State on what became their final scoring drive, a late hit penalty gave Ohio State a first down deep in Michigan territory. Ultimately both teams scored the same number of times, but the difference was that Michigan had to settle for a field goal one time (and later got a two point conversion to narrow the deficit to three points).

Ohio State and Michigan went into the game as the number one and two teams in the country. Many feel they came out the same way, with Michigan deserving the second spot in the BCS Championship game. While the BCS was devised to settle the national championship on the field, once again one of the teams involved comes down to a choice of the pollsters and computers.

There are several one-loss teams which deserve to be considered. Michigan has the strongest case as their sole loss was a three point loss, on the road, to the number one team in a game in which they showed a tremendous second-half comeback. Michigan has also beaten two other one-loss teams ranked in the top ten. What will likely hurt them the most is that their loss came so late in the season. If they had such a loss earlier, the other one-loss teams would have subsequently fallen behind Michigan.

Some question whether anyone can beat Ohio State this year, but in their second-half come back Michigan showed they have the best shot. Picking up this contest in the national championship game would allow them to play on a neutral field, and after Michigan has had time to recover from the shock of Bo Schembechler’s death the day before.

The BCS standings are not out yet, but at the moment Michigan remains number two in the AP poll which often mirrors the Harris poll which determines a large share of the standings. Going into the game, Michigan was ranked even ahead of Ohio State in the computer ranking portion of the BCS standings and hopefully will only fall to number two there. USC has edged Michigan in the USA Today poll, while ESPN ranks Michigan number two.

It appears that it will come down to Michigan or USC to face Ohio State for the national championship, with Florida and Arkansas having an outside chance. While Michigan’s sole loss is to the number one team, USC lost to unranked Oregeon State. USC’s game with Notre Dame might be the deciding factor. If Notre Dame (or UCLA) beats USC, obviously USC is out of the title picture. Even if USC wins, the game will hopefully remind voters of how decisively Michigan beat Notre Dame at South Bend. As long as Notre Dame can keep it close, it is would be hard to justify voting for USC over Michigan. Fortunately, either Michigan or USC will at least wind up in the Rose Bowl if they don’t make it into the national championship game.

Update: Thanks to beating USC in five out of six computer rankings, Michigan remains number two in the BCS standings, setting them up for a rematch against Ohio State. This is not final as a victory over Notre Dame might improve USC’s computer ranking and push them ahead of Michigan. I also suspect that many voters in the polls voted for USC over Michigan purely due to preferring to see USC in the championship game as opposed to having a rematch, but as they become accustomed to the idea some might reconsider their vote. Rather than being decided on the field as the BCS claims, one team in the national chamionship game might be chosen by a very narrow lead over the other in votes and computer rankings.

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