Buckeyes Look Ahead To BCS Title Game

Ohio State's win over Michigan on Saturday put the Buckeyes into the BCS national championship game in Glendale, Ariz. Now, the Buckeyes must wait until the final BCS standings are announced Dec. 3 to learn their opponent. We share their comments on that situation and handicap the four likely opponents. Click here for more.

It was just seconds after top-ranked Ohio State had turned back No. 2 Michigan 42-39 in the historic 103rd rendition of The Game when ABC's Bonnie Bernstein asked OSU coach Jim Tressel the question.

Bernstein wanted to know what Tressel thought of having a possible rematch with the Wolverines in the BCS national championship game, set for Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.

The coach, showing the weariness of a 12-game season, said he would worry about his team's next opponent later. He and the Buckeyes were going to take a moment and revel in their perfect regular season and first outright Big Ten championship in 22 years.

A while later, Tressel was asked by reporters in his postgame press conference about the prospect of playing Michigan, which ended up 11-1, again.

"I was asked that right when the final tick went off the clock, so you're late," the coach said. "But right now, quite honestly, the only thing on my mind is the joy of winning the Ohio State-Michigan game and the joy of being the Big Ten champions and the joy of having the chance to go back out to Phoenix and be with the wonderful people from the Fiesta Bowl.

"There's a lot of football to be played and we don't usually worry about things until all the football is being played. I think Michigan is a very deserving football team. There can't be many teams in the nation better than Michigan, but I'm not going to get into it."

On Sunday, Michigan remained in the No. 2 spot in the latest BCS rankings. It is possible that the Wolverines could still be there on Dec. 3, when the BCS bowl pairings are announced.

However, most analysts agree that USC will supplant Michigan in the No. 2 spot if it can negotiate wins over fellow once-beaten Notre Dame and UCLA. Failing that, it could come down to a popularity contest between Michigan and Florida, which still plays Florida State and likely Arkansas in the SEC title game.

"I'm not really thinking about that right now," said OSU quarterback Troy Smith, who threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Michigan. "We just got done winning the Big Ten championship against the University of Michigan. I don't really care to think about that right now. I just want to rejoice and celebrate with my teammates."

OSU safety Brandon Mitchell said it is a relief to know the Buckeyes are headed back to the Phoenix area for the fourth time in five years for their bowl destination.

"We'll watch all the games and look at the possible opponents," Mitchell said. "But it's great to have our season over and be able to watch the other teams."

Mitchell could understand why pollsters might decide to stick with Michigan, which did drop to third in the coaches poll behind USC, in the No. 2 spot.

"They are a great team," he said. "It would be tough to play them again. They are a very formidable opponent. I think if we do play them again, I could see why."

Saturday's win allowed the Buckeyes to earn a second consecutive Big Ten title for the first time since OSU won six straight between 1972-77.

"The thrill of winning the Big Ten championship, we've had that before," Mitchell said. "It's the thrill of winning an outright Big Ten championship. The last time it happened was 1984. It's nice to know we'll go down in history like that.

"We are the only ones who believed we could do these things. There were a lot of naysayers and we kind of embraced that. We had a chip on our shoulder coming into the season. Even today, everybody was talking about Michigan's defense and how great they were. Nobody was talking about us."

Mitchell and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins had played extensively last year, but neither were considered as returning starters. OSU only had two starters back on defense, a fact that many held against the Buckeyes – at least until they put the clamps on defending national champion Texas in a 24-7 win at Austin on Sept. 9.

"It's great, especially coming from the preseason with a lot of people doubting us and saying we shouldn't be the national champions," Jenkins said. "I think we proved everybody wrong."

Linebacker James Laurinaitis, up for a number of postseason awards, reacted to OSU reaching the national championship game.

"That's just crazy," Laurinaitis said. "It's exciting. It's very emotional right now. It's a dream come true right now."

If it turns out to be Michigan, Laurinaitis said, "I don't really have an opinion on that. Whoever we end up playing, that's fine. If it's Michigan again, then so be it. If it's not them, then we just have to get ready no matter what."

Defensive end Jay Richardson was asked if going and winning the national title game would eclipse the euphoria of this landmark win over Michigan.

"Winning the championship would top anything," Richardson said with a laugh. "That's all it's about. We're not by any means satisfied. We will not be complacent being 12-0. Our goal is to be 13-0. We haven't gotten to where we want to be, but this was the biggest step for us to be where we want to be."

Richardson admitted it might be hard to prepare for another game against Michigan.

"My first thought about that is this was one of the greatest games in college football history and if we were to play them again, it might be the greatest game ever," he said. "I don't know if I am particularly excited about going back out there with these guys because it was a rough one. But whoever we play, we're going to give them our best shot."

Wide receiver Roy Hall, who caught a touchdown pass in the win Saturday, said the Buckeyes will be back together soon enough to begin bowl practice.

"It's going to be a lot of preparation," he said. "We will have to re-focus immediately. We have Thanksgiving weekend and we'll be off a little bit. With bowl practice, a lot of guys will be missing with awards appearances here and there.

"But overall, I'm excited. If you can come in with a national championship and leave with a national championship, what better way to have a career at Ohio State? I was glad I was able to experience that as a freshman in 2002. Now, we, as fifth-year seniors, know what it takes."

For younger players like sophomore guard Steve Rehring, this will be their first trip to a national title bowl game.

"It is unbelievable," Rehring said. "It's been a lifelong dream to go out there and play. It all started back last year after the Fiesta Bowl. We said, ‘We've got to come back out to Arizona.' There are no words to describe how I feel. First, we beat Michigan for the third straight year. There are no words to describe the feeling."

Smith may have put this whole scenario in the proper perspective. He was asked about making a fourth trip to Arizona in five years.

"Any time you get a chance to get a vacation … but the key thing is coming back to Ohio," he said. "I think Ohio is the cream of the crop in everything."

OSU's Possible Opponents

Here is a look at OSU's possible opponents in the BCS national championship game, set for Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.

Michigan

* Record -- 11-1, 7-1 Big Ten.

* Remaining Games -- None.

* The Skinny -- UM remained No. 2 in the BCS standings, despite falling to No. 3 in the Harris Poll and the coaches poll. Michigan maintained its edge in the computer rankings, holding off USC by the slightest of margins. That could change if USC beats Notre Dame … It would be unprecedented – but certainly legal – for two teams from the same conference to play for the title, even if one of them did not win the conference crown (see Nebraska in 2001 and Oklahoma in 2003) … Many believe UM is truly the No. 2 team as it has the "best" loss (No. 1 OSU) and wins over two other one-loss teams (Notre Dame and Wisconsin).

USC

* Record -- 9-1, 7-1 Pac-10.

* Remaining Games -- Notre Dame, Saturday; at UCLA, Dec. 2.

* The Skinny -- The Trojans can probably reach their third straight national title game by winning out. The win over ND, alone, should help USC's computer rankings and move the Trojans – already No. 2 in both human polls – over Michigan for the final No. 2 spot … On the down side, USC has the worst loss (unranked Oregon State) of any of the top one-loss teams. But they also boast wins over the likes of Arkansas, Nebraska, Oregon and Cal. A win over ND would be a fifth win over a ranked foe … USC shrugged off a rough first half to defeat Cal 23-9 last Saturday.

Florida

* Record -- 10-1, 7-1 SEC.

* Remaining Games -- at Florida State, Saturday; vs. Arkansas (SEC title game), Dec. 2.

* The Skinny -- Urban Meyer already sees the writing on the wall and has begun complaining loud and long about the selection process. Florida needs USC to lose and needs to dust FSU and Arkansas in impressive fashion to outpoint Michigan in the final standings … Florida's loss was at Auburn, a former No. 2 team … Beating Arkansas, ranked sixth in the BCS standings, would certainly help the cause. But it may be too little too late.

Notre Dame

* Record -- 10-1.

* Remaining Games -- at USC, Saturday.

* The Skinny -- Notre Dame has virtually no chance here, despite the chance it could finish 11-1 with a win at favored USC on Saturday. ND's lone loss, a 47-21 shiner at home to Michigan, is the sticking point. Human pollsters will not put ND ahead of Michigan in their polls because of that. A win would help their computer rankings, certainly. But ND probably needs a huge win over USC, a Florida loss and prayers that the computers come down in its favor … ND has won eight straight games, although all were against unranked teams.


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