As the self-appointed psychologist for Buckeye Nation, I could counsel you not to worry about polls and computer ratings and whether Ohio State will close ground on Florida State or get jumped by Baylor.
I could assure you with pleasing promises and tell you to relax and be patient, that these things have a way of working themselves out.
I could. I would. But I can’t, because a) these things don’t always end favorably for the Buckeyes; and b) to fret and fuss and scoreboard watch is the best thing you can be doing at the moment. It is excellent emotional medicine.
Think about it. Nothing makes a person feel more alive than the possibility of ending up dead. That’s where Ohio State could finish the year, flat on its back, a victim of having to play in the Rose Bowl a week before it wants to. Such has become our obsession with playing for all the marbles that anything less is labeled failure.
But for the Buckeyes, there also is the exhilaration of maybe cheating postseason death, of living to see another day, specifically Jan. 6, when the Bowl Championship Series national title game will be played in Pasadena, Calif. — almost a week after the Rose Bowl.
It is the thrill-seeker’s high — to walk the fine line between energized delight and disaster. Ohio State only lands safely, parachute deployed, if it wins its next four games and either No. 1 Alabama or No. 2 Florida State loses. Even then, No. 4 Stanford has to stay where it is and the Buckeyes have to hold No. 5 Baylor at bay …
It is all so deliciously dangerous. The alternative is the lesser sense of jeopardy that arrives next season with the four-team playoff.
I mostly am a playoff guy, but let’s not kid ourselves. Trying to squeak into the BCS top two generates more season-long dread than does the committee method that will select four playoff teams. It is basic emotional math. Two fewer teams equals twice as much anxiety.
And high anxiety is what college football should welcome come mid-November. Last Thursday provided such angst when Baylor played Oklahoma and Stanford played Oregon. As if that doubleheader wasn’t enough to make Ohio State fans lose sleep — Columbus ranked third in TV ratings for the later Cardinal-Ducks game, behind Birmingham, Ala. and Portland, Ore. — Saturday night provided another chance to chew fingernails to their cuticles, when Alabama played LSU.
The results were mixed for the Buckeyes. Oregon, then ranked No. 2, once again lost to a power team, more proof the Ducks are Boise State with better talent. Even Nike founder Phil Knight seemed to disown his beloved Oregon, showing up on the Alabama sideline on Saturday wearing crimson and white. (Can hounds tooth helmets be far behind?)
Ohio State, which had the weekend off, moved up to No. 3 in the BCS rankings when Oregon lost to Stanford, but OSU still needs Alabama or FSU to lose to gain entry into their third national title game in eight seasons.
Or do they? Florida State seems firmly entrenched at No. 2, but what if the Seminoles end up playing an unranked Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game — don’t laugh, it could happen — and Ohio State plays a ranked and one-loss Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game? Might voters bump the Buckeyes, who would be 25-0 over the past two seasons — ahead of Florida State?
On the flip side, Ohio State still must look over its shoulder at Stanford and Baylor, which now is 25 points behind the Buckeyes in the USA Today coaches poll, which helps determine the BCS rankings. All the nervy drama and I failed to mention that Alabama still must play Auburn.
So much fun to follow. And follow it you should. As counselor, I urge you not to ignore the playoff scenarios until December. The Buckeyes might not make it all the way, but the wild ride will be worth it.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.