Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Buckeyes are not done - yet

Showdown looms with No.9 Iowa

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - In college football, the landscape changes quickly with a loss. It seemingly has cast Ohio State from a 19-game winning streak right to the brink.

The Buckeyes now must beat No. 9 Iowa this Saturday or bid goodbye to hopes of a repeat national championship - and probably even a Big Ten title. It's no time for a crisis of confidence.

Ohio State must pass at least six of the seven teams ranked above it to reach the Sugar Bowl. The teams it is chasing:
Oklahoma (6-0): Won't face a team currently in the top 20 before the Big 12 championship.
Miami (6-0): Has road games at Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh and home game with Tennessee.
Virginia Tech (6-0): Besides Miami, road games at West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Virginia.
Georgia (5-1): Has Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech, then SEC title game.
USC (5-1): Visits Notre Dame and Washington and plays hosts to Washington State.
Washington State (5-1): It or USC will knock the other out.
Florida State (5-1): Rough trips to Virginia, Notre Dame and Florida.
"We lost the game, so what else are you going to do now?" defensive end Will Smith said after the loss to Wisconsin. "Are you going to go into a shell and cry, and be like, 'We're done'? Or are you going to step up and say ... 'We've still got six more games to make this into a great season?' "

The season still could have a sweet ending. As in Sugar.

There are just three unbeaten teams from Bowl Championship Series conferences: Oklahoma, Miami and Virginia Tech. If two of them lose - and the Hurricanes must play the Hokies - then a one-loss team will be invited to the Sugar Bowl.

This is the lowest number of schools from BCS leagues still unbeaten after seven full weekends in the six years of the current setup.

OSU coach Jim Tressel said his players wouldn't be distracted by talk of the title chase.

"I thought our guys did a nice job a year ago of not succumbing to that question," he said. "We've got to go out and practice every practice and play every play and win every game, and then worry about where we are."

The Buckeyes (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) rank eighth in both major polls. The first of the weekly BCS rankings will be announced Monday. In its projections of what the rankings would be if released this week, listed OSU as No. 7.

"There are land mines out there for everybody, particularly for the schools that have to play conference championship games - that's one more opportunity to lose," OSU play-by-play man Paul Keels said.

If picking among one-loss teams for the BCS title game, much depends when and to whom the loss is suffered.

In 1998, OSU's lone loss was an upset at home by Michigan State on Nov. 7, and the Buckeyes were bypassed in favor of Florida State - which lost to North Carolina State two months earlier - for the right to meet unbeaten Tennessee for the title.

The game Saturday between the Big Ten's two top-10 teams will pit the schools that went unbeaten in league play last year and shared the title.

The Buckeyes might need the kind of game receiver Drew Carter had Saturday - three catches for 90 yards, including two diving grabs - to spark their offense.

OSU ranks 109th of the 117 Division I-A teams in total offense, averaging 293.8 yards a game.

Though OSU ranks 87th in rushing offense (117.5 avg.) and 95th in passing (176.3), it showed more signs of life Saturday throwing than rushing.

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