Commentary

Buckeyes or Tigers need to play like a national champion

Updated: January 6, 2008, 5:19 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- Near midnight on Bourbon Street, I saw a drunk LSU fan reach into a clump of horse poop and pull out a handful of purple- and gold-beaded strands. Geaux, Tigers!

Other than that, not much to report from the French Quarter, or from the Allstate BCS National Championship Game site, really. It's been dull. Duller than a serving of the Bon Ton's famous bread pudding without that lethal whiskey sauce.

Both LSU and Ohio State are treating this game like -- all together now -- "a business trip," especially the Buckeyes players, who are under strict orders not to enter the downtown casino a few blocks from their hotel. They apparently have taken some sort of team-wide oath to pretend they are in New Hampshire, not New Orleans.

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireJim Tressel can smile knowing the Buckeyes or Tigers will take home the crystal trophy.

"We're enjoying our time down here," said Ohio State strong safety Kurt Coleman.

Remind me never to hang out with Coleman. He hasn't been to The Quarter, hasn't been anywhere.

"I've lived in the hotel room and film room," he said.

But this is your big bowl trip, Kurt. What about fun?

"Staying in the film room for me is fun," he said.

OK, I get it. Ohio State wants to avenge its humilating BCS Championship Game loss of a year ago. Some of the Buckeyes played too tight against Florida (Coleman hyperventilated during warm-ups). Some of them played too loose (they bought into the OSU-is-invincible hype). And all of them shared the blame for the 41-14 blowout.

"We sucked," Buckeyes offensive tackle Alex Boone said in his eloquent, succinct way.

I hate to break this to the Buckeyes, and the Tigers, and that drunk dude with horse dung on his hands, but I'm not sure Monday night's matchup is really THE national title game. Just because it says so on the TV promos and the BCS crystal trophy doesn't necessarily make it true.

To begin with, are Ohio State and LSU even the two best teams in the country? I'm just asking.

"I know we're playing for that silver crystal, which signifies the national championship," said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. "I think there's only two teams that have a chance at that. Now … there's other championships and polls and that type of thing. But for the one that really counts -- LSU and Ohio State."

Sorry, but there's a reason this year's BCS championship doesn't feel like a true national title game. And that's because there are too many questions about the two finalists, and too many other qualified candidates for the game.

LSU is the first two-loss team to play in a BCS title game. That's not a good thing. The Tigers are here because they hit the BCS lotto: They squeezed past Tennessee in the SEC championship, Oklahoma beat then-No. 1 Missouri in the Big 12 championship and Pittsburgh upset then-No. 2 West Virginia in Morgantown.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesLes Miles can smile about LSU being the first two-loss team in the BCS title game.

Tigers officials have tried to justify the jump from No. 7 to No. 2 by saying, among other things, that they didn't lose a game in regulation. Big whoop. They also didn't lose a game during a lunar eclipse, on Fidel Castro's birthday or on an even-numbered day. But the thing is, they lost, giving up 47 points in a triple-overtime defeat at Kentucky and 50 points in a triple-OT loss to Arkansas in Baton Rouge.

And it isn't just me who wonders if they truly belong here. Of the 60 ballots cast in the final USA Today coaches poll, a third of the coaches didn't vote the Tigers No. 1 or No. 2. Those 20 ballots had LSU anywhere from third to sixth.

LSU didn't play particularly well down the stretch, losing two of its last seven games (the most recent in late November). Admittedly, the Tigers had some compelling issues, beginning with injuries, the Les Miles/Michigan intrigue and playing in the country's toughest conference.

But be honest -- which two-loss team was playing better at the end of the season: USC, Georgia or LSU? Survey says … Georgia, then USC, then LSU.

Earlier in the week, Georgia turned formerly undefeated Hawaii into pineapple pulp during a 41-10 Allstate Sugar Bowl victory. And USC and Traveler just finished leaving hoof marks on Illinois during their 49-17 Rose Bowl win. That was the same Illinois team that beat Ohio State in Columbus.

Meanwhile, two-loss West Virginia put a 20-point win on No. 4 Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and two-loss Mizzou crushed Arkansas -- the same team that beat LSU on the road -- by 31 in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. It's also worth mentioning that that the only other one-loss team in the country, Kansas, beat No. 3 Virginia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

"Their seasons are over, and there's nothing else to talk about right now," Tressel said. "But those are great teams, now … Georgia was outstanding. Southern Cal was outstanding … You know, Missouri was outstanding. There were some fabulous football games. And they should feel extraordinary about their seasons."

But not too extraordinary, eh, Jim?

You can't blame Tressel for insisting Monday evening's game is the one that matters. Just like you can't blame nine of those 60 coaches for voting the Buckeyes anywhere from third to sixth on their ballots. That's what happens when you have the kind of top-ranked turnover we've had this season (a total of eight No. 1-2s have lost since the first BCS standings were released Oct. 14).

"They all have a legit argument," said Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman. "You could argue that any of five teams should be in national title contention. We know at the end of the day it's going to be us versus LSU for the BCS title. That's all that really matters."

He's right, sort of. Ohio State or LSU is going to be the national champion late Monday night. But what we need is for one of them to play like it. Otherwise, this week was for nothing.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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