Monday, January 07, 2008

Hang On, Sloopy

There is but one reason for optimism about the Buckeye's chances in tonight's BCS title game against LSU: The fact that they have no business winning it.

First, let's establish that last statement. This was supposed to be the year that the Buckeyes settled for a second-tier bowl and were happy about it. College football teams don't have "rebuilding years" per se like the pros do, but certainly there are expected down years when the core of a great team heads off campus to play Sunday football. Such was supposed to be the case this year after losing Smith, Gonzalez, Pittman and Ginn, Jr. OSU contending for, not to mention winning, the Big 10 championship was in itself far better than rational observers expected.

Second, they got into the title game by winning in arguably the weakest BCS conference. Certainly the conference bowl records have borne out that season-long impression. Meanwhile, both the SEC and Big 12 were so talent-soaked that no one team could emerge from their fratricidal conference schedules with fewer than two losses. .

Add to that the special circumstances. LSU is playing at home. Having been to New Orleans the last time LSU played in the Sugar Bowl I can tell you, it's as crazy as you would expect. Moreover, OSU had their customary epic, spirit-killing break while LSU played more recently by two weeks.

As a result of all of the above, an overwhelming majority of non-Ohioans have declared LSU the clear, if not prohibitive, favorite.

All of which may be just what Jim Tressel needs. When OSU swapped out the John Cooper for Tressel, they traded the consummate big game underperformer for the consummate big game coach. Time and again Tressel has pulled out improbable wins in pressure situations. The last time OSU was declared an underdog this definitively was 2002 when they were supposedly overmatched by Miami. We all have happy memories of how that turned out.

If Tressel has one Achilles heel, it may be letting up when the odds are in his favor. The last game Ohio State lost was to an inconsistent Illinois team that clearly caught them looking ahead to Michigan. Last year's BCS embarrassment was to an equally talented team, but the magnitude of the ass-whoopin' suggested a team that read too many of its press clippings.

Which is why the odds against OSU improve the odds for OSU. Tressel seems to work best when the hour is darkest. He has the talent to beat LSU which is a better team, but not overwhelmingly so. If the big game, backs-against-the-wall, the-tough-get-going version of Jim Tressel shows up, we have a real chance.

So everyone in the blogosphere has been saying versions of "Go Bucs!" I say "There is no chance! All hope is lost!" It seems to work better.