There is a lot of talk going around about Ohio State and their current third place standing in the BCS. On one hand, you can make the argument that if they win out, they'll have a 25 game winning streak, a win against a very good Michigan State team in the Big Ten Championship game, and one of the most potent offenses in college football.
But OSU's detractors dismiss OSU, almost out of hand. The streak is dismissed as almost a joke (and I'm sorry, but it's not a joke. It's damn impressive). The non-conference schedule is lampooned, and the conference as a whole is bad mouthed as inferior, terrible, and insert your adjective for crappy here.
Unless Alabama or Florida State loses, Ohio State has virtually no chance of getting in to the BCS National Championship. If one of those two teams lose and Ohio State wins out, there will be A LOT of talk about Baylor or one of several one loss teams being more deserving of a spot in the championship game than Ohio State. Personally, I think Ohio State would roll Baylor, and a one loss team isn't getting in ahead of an undefeated team from a BCS conference, but the faux outrage if OSU somehow makes it into the championship game will reach an all time high.
Ohio State has no one to blame but themselves for this situation, and it's not because of the inconsistent play of the defense, and it's not because of the conference they play in. Well, at least for the most part. Let me explain.
On November 18, 2006, the Big Ten was the colossus of the college football world. We were considered the best conference in America, and the most recent Game Of The Century pitted #1 Ohio State against #2 Michigan. Both teams were undefeated, and the winner was going to be the undisputed Big Ten Champion and would be going on to play for the BCS National Championship. In the pre-game buildup, the consensus was that there should only be one team from a conference in the BCS title game, but as the game unfolded, it turned into a classic. Somehwere during the game and in the immediate aftermath, the movement started for The Rematch. It slowly built in the days that followed, but after the SEC Championship, it died down, and Florida edged ahead of Michigan for the #2 spot in the BCS. Michigan would go to the Rose Bowl to face the #5 ranked USC Trojans.
Prior to those games, many people still felt that Ohio State and Michigan were the two best teams in the country. The BCS title game was nothing but a mere coronation for Ohio State, and Michigan was a slight favorite against USC. With two expected BCS wins from the two flagship programs, it seemed that the Big Ten was poised to cement her status as the pre-eminent conference in college football.
Yeah, not so much. Both Michigan and Ohio State were thrashed, and the backlash was immediate. The Big Ten is slow. The Big Ten doesn't have the athletes the SEC or USC has. Terms like 'paper tigers' and 'frauds' were thrown around with abandon, and soon, The Narrative was born. But 2007 was coming, and a strong showing would help erase what 2006 had started.
2007, however, would cement The Narrative. It started on opening day, when #5 Michigan was upset by 1-AA Appalachian State in a game many people label the Greatest Upset Of All Time. Michigan dropped out of the top 25 and wouldn't climb back in until October, and that loss set in motion a chain of events that would see Rich Rodriguez become the Michigan coach the following year.
For Ohio State, 2007 was considered a rebuilding year. Gone were Heisman trophy winner Troy Smith, Antonio Pittman, and Ted Ginn, Jr., so the expectations weren't as high as they had been in recent years. They were ranked #10 in the pre-season, yet slowly moved up to #1 by mid-October. A November loss at home to Illinois seemed to doom OSU's return trip to the BCS Championship game, but chaos ensued that year, as every #1 ranked team seemed to lose from the time OSU did until the end of the season. When the smoke cleared, OSU was back in the #1 spot, and made it to their second consecutive BCS title game. Illinois was selected to go to the Rose Bowl.
Although the second result wasn't the thrashing the first one was, OSU still got thumped, (as did Illinois in Pasadena) and The Narrative was set in concrete. The Big Ten is slow. The Big Ten can't compete against the SEC. If the top two teams in the conference are this bad, the rest of the conference must stink.
In 2008, Ohio State became the highest ranked national joke in college football history. Still stinging from the back to back championship game losses and the narrative that they were slow and unathletic, the Buckeyes went out to USC and were embarrassed in the worst way possible. Every narrative was reinforced on a national stage. The offense was lethargic, the defense was nowhere near USC's speedy playmakers, and The Narrative become The Football Facts Of Life. The Buckeyes limped back to Columbus, humiliated and dismissed as a major player for the 2008 season. They dropped from #3 to the teens, and stayed there. They managed to re-group and tie Penn State for the Big Ten title, but because they lost to PSU during the season, the Nittany Lions went to the Rose Bowl and OSU went to the Fiesta Bowl. Penn State got thrashed by USC, Ohio State lost a close game to Texas.
Now, there was no going back from The Narrative, but the conference as a whole has done little to help reverse it.
Starting with the Glendale Comeuppance in January of 2007, the Big Ten is a combined 4-9 in BCS games, with the only wins coming in the 2010 Orange Bowl (Iowa), 2010 Rose Bowl (Ohio State), 2011 Sugar Bowl (Ohio State), and 2012 Sugar Bowl (Michigan). OSU repaired some of the damage with the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl wins, but any momentum OSU built with the win over Arkansas was shattered by the ensuing Tattoo scandal that brought sanctions from the NCAA and saw Jim Tressel lose his job.
The losses by the conference as a whole have been constant (Wisconsin losing three straight Rose Bowls) and/or brutal (Illinois, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan), For bowl games in general, the Big Ten has done little to change the narrative, either. In 2002, when OSU won the national championship (the only B1G team to do so in the BCS era), the conference was 5-2 in bowl games. Since then, the conference has been above .500 one time, and that was in 2009. By my count, the B1G is 28-47 in bowl games from 2003 on, and that hasn't helped matters, either. Neither did the infamous New Year's Day Massacre of 2011.
But make no mistake: today Ohio State is still paying for the sins of their father. The Narrative was formed, largely, by three games over five years ago: The back to back national title game losses and the humiliation at the hands of USC. Michigan helped contribute with their Rose Bowl loss to the Trojans and their opening day loss in 2007 to App State, and the Rose Bowl losses of Illinois and Penn State might have helped the cement dry, but it was Ohio State that got themselves into the spot they find themselves today.
And until Ohio State beats the SEC in a BCS game or a College Football Playoff Game--soundly, The Narrative isn't going to change anytime soon.