Buckeyes and BCS title game: Third time's a harm
NEW ORLEANS -- With the 2007 football season complete, here's the game plan for 2008:
We need border patrols along Interstate 10, from Jacksonville to Pensacola. A Coast Guard blockade at Biscayne Bay. And the FAA should redirect all inbound flights to South Florida from Ohio.
If you see a silver helmet and a sweater vest coming, contact authorities.
Because next year's BCS National Championship Game will be played in Miami, and the Ohio State Buckeyes aren't invited. Especially if the Southeastern Conference champion is invited.
If you've ever seen lions maul a water buffalo, you've seen the last two title games. You've seen a fierce pair of SEC teams -- Florida last year, LSU this year -- blow the vulnerable Buckeyes back to the Bratwurst Belt by a combined 41 points. You've seen the best of one league flex, and the best of an inferior league collapse.
Nobody wants to see it a third time. Give Ohio State credit for consistently being very good -- but until Jim Tressel's team proves it can step up to the highest level of competition and actually stay on the field with an SEC opponent, stay away.
When the program's bowl record is 0-9 against the SEC, the evidence is overwhelming.
Buckeyes fans are fond of breaking into impromptu group spelling bees, shouting out "O-H-I-O." When an SEC team shows up on the other sideline it should be "O-H-N-O."
They're also fond of calling their school The Ohio State University. It might also now be called The Overmatched State University of the BCS.
This time the final score was healthy-and-loaded LSU 38, in-over-its-head Ohio State 24. And it wasn't that close. Once again, the Bucks got their fans excited by scoring early -- ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown last season, jumped out 10-0 this time.
Then, once again, it was time for southern-fried dominance.
Last year the Gators ran off 21 unanswered points to take control. This year the Tigers peeled off 31 straight, scoring five times in six possessions over a 30-minute span, ripping what was statistically the nation's No. 1 defense.
The Buckeyes aided in their own demise by committing a spate of personal-foul penalties. By blowing coverages. By getting a key field goal blocked. By showing neither the composure nor the competitiveness of a champion.
"They didn't fight back like an SEC team would do," said LSU safety Harry Coleman, who filled in superbly for injured All-American Craig Steltz.
The Tigers had no problem fighting back. Down 10-0, they shrugged.
Been there, overcome that -- three times, in fact. They were down 10 against Florida and Auburn and Alabama. All SEC opponents, not coincidentally.
"There's no panic in this team," said coach Les Miles said. "Are you kidding me? We've been down 10 before. We know how to play."
The SEC is not a humble place by any measure. But it ain't braggin' if you can back it up -- and especially if you can back-to-back it up, as Florida and LSU have done.
"They're used to playing in tough games week-in and week-out," said SEC commissioner Mike Slive, between sideline fist pumps after LSU's final touchdown of the night. "They're used to playing in what I call the crucible."
The Big Ten, by contrast, has been the baby's crib. Ohio State has coasted through that league 15-1 the past two seasons, only to collapse in the face of an SEC champ with a lower BCS standing and a worse record.
"I don't think it was easy," said LSU offensive tackle Carnell Stewart. "But they let momentum get to them, and their heads were gone."
How much negative momentum had the Buckeyes encountered in strolling to their 11-1 record? How much adversity had they overcome? Almost none.
They were tied with Wisconsin heading into the fourth quarter before pulling away. (The Badgers, by the way, lost to SEC opponent Tennessee in the Outback Bowl.) In their only other serious second-half fight, they seized up and lost at home to Illinois. (The Illini, by the way, were nudged by 32 in the Rose Bowl.)
So, no, the Buckeyes weren't ready for what LSU threw at them. Not ready to win the battle in the trenches, not ready to match speed on the perimeter, not ready to calmly and smartly execute under a mountain of pressure. LSU figured to be better at a majority of positions but wound up better at virtually every position but running back.
Combine that lack of toughening with vivid memories of the destruction in the desert against Florida and you know why so many of us were concerned about Ohio State's fitness for this battle. Especially if you saw a fully loaded LSU from earlier in the season, before the SEC wars began wearing it down.
"We played the best ball in the country," said defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, physically capable of playing a full game for the first time in months. "We have big games week after week."
That was more or less what Miles said back in July, popping off about the strength of the SEC in comparison to other leagues. On the season's final night, his players backed up the talk.
"In this conference, week after week, you're going to play quality-coached, very talented teams and you're going to have to play your best," Miles said. "And so I think it puts the champion of this conference in position to compete in a very competitive game like this with an advantage."
Ohio State, meanwhile, now symbolizes the pigskin Peter Principle. The Buckeyes have achieved just enough the past two seasons to rise to a level where they're incompetent.
It's a tough thing, putting together an overachieving season and seeing it end in embarrassing fashion. Especially since the Buckeyes know what this means -- another year of "S-E-C" chants and barbs about flopping on the big stage.
"I worry about disappointment because I know how hard these kids work," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "I don't worry too much about criticism, because if you're not tough enough to handle criticism, then you better get out of this game. There's a whole lot of people that don't really have much understanding of what it takes to be good at this game but yet love to have opinions.
"If you struggle to take criticism, then you need not be at Ohio State or not be playing the game of football."
Well, good. At least Tressel knows what he's in for.
And he should know not to bring that weak Big Ten stuff back to the BCS National Championship Game again next year.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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