My observation of looming anti-Buckeye bias in March met with some minor resistance (minor in the quantitative sense, not qualitative) on grounds of defensive regionalism, since, in fact, OSU weariness is not confined to the South. Alas, the meme marches on, appearing this week in not just one but two editions of that vaunted offseason timekiller, the "mailbag."
First it's Pete Fiutak, progenitor of the original argument, who dealt with an incredulous reader last week:
Prove to me that Jim Tressel deserves to be called an elite CFB coach without providing stats of how OSU has dominated an average Big Ten conference. The past two years have shown me a side of Tressel as either a poor clutch-decision maker or a terrible motivator.
It is evident that when Tressel is forced to provide decisions outside the basic game plan (aka when trailing late in a game), he lays an egg. The other game that completely shocked me was the Illinois game. A team competing to play for a national championship can't beat a team AT HOME that won two games the year before? Ron Zook outcoached Jim Tressel. That should be all I have to say.
I like that: "without using stats," code for, "without using evidence that might contradict my ill-informed, gut-level instinct." Fiutak dispatches this quickly and effectively in Tressel's favor (using stats).
Stewart Mandel's Q-and-A is more telling of my ill-informed, gut-level impression of the national mood toward Ohio State. Mandel's inbox is deeper than SMQ's, certainly, and he obviously knows from hate:
Stewart: I'm of the belief that college football benefits from the presence of a perennial powerhouse to root for/against. This role has been filled recently by USC and, to some degree, Oklahoma and LSU. Do you see any team asserting itself in the next few years and filling the role?
-- Marc P., Somerville, Mass.
I'm pretty sure that team already exists -- and it's The Ohio State University.
In nearly a decade covering this sport, I've never seen such universal animosity toward a program (Notre Dame notwithstanding) than what currently surrounds the Buckeyes. Based on some of the e-mails I receive, you would think Jim Tressel has been caravanning around the country egging houses.
It's pretty interesting when you think about it. Normally, people root against the teams that win a lot; in this case, the ill will has been generated entirely by the Buckeyes having lost in consecutive national championship games.
For an example, Stew moves on to his next question:
Ohio State should now be permanently banned from the top five. If not that, at least keep them out of the top two. They DO NOT belong there.
-- Kevin Flagg, Alpharetta, Ga.
See what I mean?
I think the argument can be revised from disdain among voters – who, despite Mandel's promise that OSU will "will quietly disappear into the night" with an early loss to USC, seem to like the Buckeyes just fine – to a general disdain among some sizable segment of the masses. I think this will be irrelevant to voters if OSU wins in the Coliseum, but I don't think it will go away among the viewing/commenting/letter-writing rabble, which seems to demand mythical championship blood in atonement for the sins of the last two alleged title games. This won't matter at all if Ohio State runs the table.
What is this, Photoshop?
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But where I think "public sentiment" might have some vague residual effect is in the case Ohio State beats SC but loses somewhere in the Big Ten, especially to Michigan at the end of a (probably) rough year for the Wolverines, and the vote comes down to the Buckeyes and another one-loss team from the Big 12 or SEC, or – this would be interesting – against one-loss USC itself. Dozens of plausible scenarios are debatable, but that's the one I like best: if Ohio State beats Southern Cal early on, loses once in the Big Ten while the Trojans "play as well as anyone in the country" out West and faces SC for the second spot in the BCS, will pollsters have an incentive (including financial, if they think people might tune out) to vote against OSU based on the losses to Florida and LSU? If Ohio State loses to USC and has to make its case against another one-loss team on the merits of winning the Big Ten?
If the choice is obvious, which it has been the last two years, there won't be problem. But the choices are frequently not obvious; five times in eight years (2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007), there's been some level of dispute about Choice B over Choice C. The same way voters bumped Florida in part to avoid an Ohio State-Michigan rematch two years ago (a decision I agreed with by any reasoning) and bumped LSU over Georgia and Virginia Tech on the final vote last year (when again, I completely agreed), it's easy to envision pollsters sitting down after whatever quaking goes on in the Big 12 and SEC and (what the hell) ACC championships with headlines and radio hosts and ESPN talking heads lamenting a prospective championship that included one-loss Ohio State as "the matchup no one wants to see." That's just my read on popular opinion, possibly distorted, but as long as OSU is in the discussion, it's going to be a storyline: does college football want the Buckeyes back on its biggest stage? I think the answer is 'yes' only under the most ideal circumstances.