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Who's No. 1?: The Case Against Ohio State

We here at Dawg Sports firmly believe that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. When a guy is a jerk and he continues to be a jerk despite my best efforts to teach him some manners, he gets banned. If, on the other hand, an opposing fan behaves a bit boorishly in these parts, the best response to a smart-aleck retort from me is for a fellow fan to show a sense of humor on behalf of the other school. (Kansas fans, take note.)

This brings us to an earlier reply to these recent observations of mine:

[S]upposedly foregone conclusions have proven to be anything but in the Bowl Championship Series era, which has seen championship games in which everyone knew Florida State would beat Oklahoma in 2000, everyone knew Miami (Florida) would beat Ohio State in 2002, everyone knew Southern California would beat Texas in 2005, and everyone knew Ohio State would beat Florida in 2006. Those, though, were situations in which the underdogs all at least had a credible claim to a spot in the game, even if other candidates had equally good arguments. When one team rather obviously has had no business being in contention---say, Nebraska in 2001 or Oklahoma in 2003---the results have been precisely what everyone predicted, without much in the way of drama. (Yes, I know the final margin of the 2004 Sugar Bowl was only a touchdown. No one who watched that game, no matter how rabid a Sooner partisan, ever entertained any illusions about the outcome.) Since I believe the Buckeyes have no serious claim to a spot in the title game, I'm not expecting much of a contest.

Frequent commenter SkiDawg1985 took issue with this perspective, noting that Ohio State plays in a major conference and finished the regular season with only one loss. SkiDawg1985 had the courage of his convictions, going on record with his belief that the Buckeyes will win.

As I indicated when criticizing Kansas, I respect the perspective SkiDawg1985 has offered. When the Jayhawks were the only unbeaten B.C.S. conference team, I acknowledged that a reasonable fan could claim that this characteristic qualified K.U. for the No. 1 ranking.

Likewise, now that Ohio State is the lone once-beaten conference champion among the B.C.S. leagues, there is a credible case to be made for the proposition that the Buckeyes are the top team in the land. I respect that perspective while respectfully disagreeing with it.

As a proponent of resume ranking, I believe records alone are not enough to tell us how good a team is or how much it has achieved. Here is how the respective resumes of the Buckeyes, the Bayou Bengals, and the Sooners break down:

  • Ohio State has one loss. Louisiana State and Oklahoma each have two losses. Advantage: Buckeyes.
  • Each of the three teams under consideration won eleven games. L.S.U.'s and O.U.'s victories all came against Division I-A competition. O.S.U. won ten games over Division I-A opponents and won one game against Division I-AA Youngstown State. Advantage: Sooners and Tigers.
  • Louisiana State's non-conference slate consisted of Louisiana Tech (5-7), Middle Tennessee State (5-7), Tulane (4-8), and Orange Bowl-bound A.C.C. champion Virginia Tech (11-2). Oklahoma's non-conference slate consisted of Miami (5-7), North Texas (2-10), GMAC Bowl-bound Tulsa (9-4), and Utah State (2-10). Ohio State's non-conference slate consisted of Akron (4-8), Kent State (3-9), Washington (4-9), and the aforementioned Division I-AA squad, Youngstown State. Advantage: Tigers, with the Sooners in second place and the Buckeyes rather clearly bringing up the rear.
  • In Southeastern Conference play, L.S.U. beat Independence Bowl-bound Alabama (6-6), Chick-fil-A Bowl-bound Auburn (8-4), Capital One Bowl-bound Florida (9-3), Mississippi (3-9), Liberty Bowl-bound Mississippi State (7-5), South Carolina (6-6), and Outback Bowl-bound Tennessee (9-4).
  • In Big 12 play, Oklahoma beat Baylor (3-9), Iowa State (3-9), Cotton Bowl-bound Missouri (11-2) twice, Insight Bowl-bound Oklahoma State (6-6), Holiday Bowl-bound Texas (9-3), and Alamo Bowl-bound Texas A&M (7-5).
  • In Big Ten play, Ohio State beat Capital One Bowl-bound Michigan (8-4), Champs Sports Bowl-bound Michigan State (7-5), Minnesota (1-11), Northwestern (6-6), Alamo Bowl-bound Penn State (8-4), Motor City Bowl-bound Purdue (7-5), and Outback Bowl-bound Wisconsin (9-3).
  • L.S.U. beat one S.E.C. team with a losing record. That team won three games. Oklahoma beat two Big 12 teams with losing records. Those teams won three games apiece. Ohio State beat one Big Ten team with a losing record. That team won one game. Advantage: Tigers.
  • L.S.U. beat five S.E.C. bowl teams, three of which will be playing on New Year's Eve or later . . . and that's not even counting the Hokies, who will be taking the field on January 3. Oklahoma won five games over Big 12 bowl teams, three of which were against opponents who will be playing on New Year's Eve or later. (No, I'm not giving the Sooners extra credit for beating a Golden Hurricane squad that will be taking the field on January 6. It's the GMAC Bowl, for crying out loud!) Ohio State beat five Big Ten bowl teams, two of whom will be playing on New Year's Eve or later. Advantage: Sooners and Tigers, with Louisiana State taking the clear lead when the non-conference wins over bowl-bound opponents are taken into consideration.
  • L.S.U.'s four best wins were over Virginia Tech, Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn, in that order. Oklahoma's four best wins were over Missouri twice, Texas, and Tulsa, in that order. Ohio State's four best wins were over Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, and Purdue, in that order. The Buckeyes clearly have the weakest best win and they arguably have the weakest fourth-best win. Reasonable fans may differ over whether beating Missouri twice is marginally better or marginally worse than beating Virginia Tech and Florida, but Ohio State undeniably is at a disadvantage here in comparison to the other two contenders.
  • These three teams' five losses all were by margins of a touchdown or less. Louisiana State lost on the road at Music City Bowl-bound Kentucky (7-5) and at home to Cotton Bowl-bound Arkansas (8-4). Oklahoma lost road games at Independence Bowl-bound Colorado (6-6) and Gator Bowl-bound Texas Tech (8-4). Ohio State lost at home to Rose Bowl-bound Illinois (9-3). Advantage: Buckeyes, because they only lost once.
It seems to me that the argument for Ohio State is summed up in the final five words of the preceding paragraph. The Buckeyes had the fewest losses, but they also had the fewest Division I-A wins, by far the weakest non-conference slate, and fairly clearly the least impressive collection of conference victories. What, then, does the Buckeyes' record really mean? Would either Louisiana State or Oklahoma have a worse record than 11-1 against Ohio State's schedule? Would the Buckeyes have posted better than an 11-2 ledger against the opposition faced either by the Sooners or by the Tigers?

We are, of course, working from incomplete information, and, when it comes to gauging the Bayou Bengals, the Buckeyes, and the Sooners, it will be interesting to see how these five bowls play out:

  • Alamo Bowl: Ohio State victim Penn State v. Oklahoma victim Texas A&M
  • Capital One Bowl: L.S.U. victim Florida v. Ohio State victim Michigan
  • Cotton Bowl: Arkansas, which beat L.S.U., v. two-time Oklahoma victim Missouri
  • Independence Bowl: L.S.U. victim Alabama v. Colorado, which beat Oklahoma
  • Outback Bowl: L.S.U. victim Tennessee v. Ohio State victim Wisconsin
At the end of the day, reasonable college football fans can and do disagree about such matters. I do not take lightly the argument that the Buckeyes lost only once, as that is more than any other B.C.S. conference champion can claim. However, when we delve inside the details of the respective contenders' schedules, I believe we find that Ohio State's eleven wins against the twelve teams the Buckeyes faced represent less of an achievement than Louisiana State's and Oklahoma's eleven wins against the thirteen teams each of them faced.

I thank SkiDawg1985 for his cogent and reasonable observation and I welcome further discussion of this subject in the comments below and in the diaries to the right.

Go 'Dawgs!