Ohio State's 35-21 loss at Michigan last week gave the Wolverines the outright Big Ten championship and at least a Rose Bowl berth.
Ohio State, which fell to 10-2 overall, was left to wonder whether it would still merit a Bowl Championship Series berth in either the Fiesta or Orange bowls or whether it would fall to the Big Ten's runner-up tie-in spot at Orlando's Capital One Bowl (formerly the Citrus).
"I think it's a wide open subject," OSU athletic director Andy Geiger said after the loss at Michigan. "We're not going to know for a while."
Geiger predicted that most of OSU's hopes of landing a BCS bid hinged on the Washington-Washington State game. A Washington upset, which did come to fruition hours later, dropped WSU to 9-3 and reduced the chance that the Rose Bowl would select the Cougars for one of the two BCS at-large positions.
"A Washington victory would help us in a lot of ways," Geiger said. "I think we can still be in the hunt for a BCS bowl."
That Washington victory helped OSU in two ways. First, because OSU defeated Washington earlier in the year, that win helped OSU's BCS computer and strength of schedule rankings. Plus, it dropped WSU out of the BCS top 12 – at least for the time being.
Ohio State dropped three spots from second to fifth in the BCS rankings released Monday. But the Buckeyes would not be assured an at-large bid unless they rose to at least fourth. With Michigan ranked fourth and its season complete, that might take upsets that derail No. 2 USC or No. 3 LSU to guarantee the Buckeyes an at-large berth. (No. 1 Oklahoma, the nation's only unbeaten, seems assured of a BCS bid – and possibly still the title game – even with a loss to Kansas State in next Saturday's Big 12 title game in Kansas City.)
But Ohio State, the defending national champion and a winner of 24 of its last 26 games, carries some cache with bowl organizers and BCS televising network ABC.
Aside from Oklahoma, the remaining games involving top-five BCS teams include USC hosting Oregon State next Saturday as well as LSU hosting Arkansas today. A win in that game would put LSU in next Saturday's SEC title game against Georgia, Florida or Tennessee.
If there are no upsets (i.e., Oklahoma beats K-State, USC beats Oregon State and LSU wins twice), it seems that Oklahoma and USC would maintain their spots in the title game at the Sugar Bowl.
As far as the other BCS games are concerned, the Orange Bowl would have the first decision to make. Miami (Fla.) plays Pittsburgh Saturday to decide the Big East's automatic berth to the BCS. The Orange Bowl must first decide if the winner of that game or ACC champion Florida State will serve as its host school. If Miami wins, all indications are that the Orange will take Miami.
Then from there, the Fiesta Bowl would have the first real choice in the rotation since it would be losing top-ranked Oklahoma. Discounting Florida State, which does not travel that well, the three key choices here would be Texas, LSU and Ohio State.
The Rose Bowl, which loses No. 2 USC, would then pick a school to face Michigan. Washington State has not be released from BCS consideration, which is a hedge in case Texas (which plays rival Texas A&M today) or LSU get upset this weekend.
Finally, the Orange Bowl and Fiesta Bowl will simultaneously select the last schools to fill out their respective bowls.
Much of the discussion this week has hinged on the possibility of an Ohio State-Miami Orange Bowl as a rematch of last year's title game. This would be a ready made sellout and grudge match for ABC to sell. Plus, it would rule out a Miami-Florida State rematch at the Orange from earlier this season.
Of course, one or more upsets this weekend and next could upset the applecart. If Miami loses, look for the Orange to select Florida State as its host team instead of Pittsburgh, an unknown when it comes to big bowl fan support. Likewise, if LSU or USC lose things could be jumbled even more. USC would still be assured of the Rose Bowl, however. And yes, losses by both LSU and USC might move Michigan to the title game and put OSU in the Rose in the Wolverines' place to face USC.
We had a chance recently to talk to representatives of the Fiesta and Orange bowls to see which way the wind is blowing.
Shawn Schoeffler of the Fiesta Bowl said his bowl would not mind having Ohio State back.
"I think at the beginning of the year, we would always like to have the Big 12 champion, which is our ‘soft' anchor," Schoeffler said. "But when we lose them, we have the option to replace them. At this point, it looks like Oklahoma will be going to the Sugar Bowl.
"We feel like we're in a great position. There are definitely some great teams out there with strong reputations."
Schoeffler said it is not out of the question for the Fiesta Bowl to invite a team back for a second year in a row.
"Actually, we had the first championship game of the BCS in 1999 when Tennessee beat Florida State," he said. "Strangely enough, we had them back the following year to play Nebraska."
Schoeffler said people in Arizona are still talking about the throng of Ohio State fans that descended on the Valley of the Sun last year.
"They brought a lot of fans," Schoeffler said. "Obviously, we know there would not be the same enthusiasm as there was for a championship game, but that was great. That was probably the best game ever, certainly in our history it was."
Meanwhile, Orange Bowl CEO Keith Tribble said his committee will take a number of factors into consideration when it makes its selections.
"We will be looking for the teams that will serve as the best match-up," Tribble said. "We look at the big picture."
Ohio State has not been to the Orange Bowl since the 1976 season, when the Buckeyes defeated Colorado in the Orange.
"They have not been here in a while and I think that is something we will look at," Tribble said. "We know their fans would be excited to come to South Florida and to see their team play another top caliber team."
Orange Bowl scouts attended most if not all of OSU's November games. OSU coach Jim Tressel spoke briefly with an Orange Bowl rep following the Michigan game.
"We are aware of Ohio State," Tribble said. "Obviously, we are very close to the Big Ten. They have a lot of alumni here in Florida. They have very strong fan support and a winning tradition. They bring a lot to the table. We know if we're able to have them in our game, they will bring a lot of people and they will spend a lot of money here."
Tribble confirmed the BCS pecking order: If things hold, the Orange will first pick between the Big East winner and Florida State. Then, the Fiesta would have first choice in the regular rotation and the Rose would then select a team to meet Michigan.
That would leave openings in the Orange and Fiesta bowls. According to Tribble, each bowl would submit a list of three schools. Obviously, all of the automatic BCS participants must be take care of before any at-large teams would be placed in this final piece of the puzzle.
It is possible the bowls could be in a tug of war, each possibly wanting Ohio State over Pittsburgh (if the Panthers beat Miami) in the final process. If that happens, the bowls must negotiate a settlement. This scenario works out much easier without any real upsets because Florida State would likely go to the Fiesta to preclude a rematch with Miami and OSU would go to the Orange.
"If we want the same team, there is a procedure in place to decide who gets the pick," Tribble said.
There has been some debate regarding the Rose Bowl selecting Ohio State to meet Michigan in a rematch. But a Rose Bowl rep told a Columbus television station last week that would be highly unlikely.
"We'd certainly entertain that, obviously," Geiger told reporters after the Michigan game. "We would not say no."