BCS Rout has Lasting Affect on B1G Reputation
By Rob Ogden
Part I: The Celebration
It's the late hours of Nov. 18, 2006. No. 1 Ohio State has just beaten No. 2 Michigan and has claimed its spot in the BCS title game.
Junior offensive lineman Kirk Barton chews on a $125 Cuban cigar while he speaks to the media following the Buckeyes' win — their second against a No. 2-ranked team that season.
Kirk Barton following No. 1 OSU's win over No. 2 Michigan
Photo by Jim Davidson
Back in the euphoric locker room, Dom Pérignon champagne flows like the Olentangy River.
Ohio State is on top of the world, and everyone knows it.
"It was an exciting time because we clinched a spot in the championship, but the biggest thing was that we beat Michigan in the biggest Ohio State vs. Michigan game of all time," Barton said, reflecting on the celebration.
The unbeaten Buckeyes were bound for the BCS National Championship game, the only question that remained was who would be their unlucky opponent.
Some joked in the days following the Michigan game that there was no team in the country worthy of facing Ohio State in the BCS title game.
Ohio State fans wondered why a title game should even be played when the title had just been decided on the field in front of them.
The Michigan game was Ohio State's super bowl, and the BCS title game would be its victory parade.
Buckeyes fans take the field to celebrate No. 1 OSU's victory over No. 2 Michigan in 2006
Photo by Jim Davidson
After winning the SEC Championship game two weeks later, 12-1 Florida narrowly edged out Michigan for the spot in the BCS championship game as voters gave Urban Meyer's team the nod.
But the Buckeyes' opponent was almost irrelevant. They were doomed to become Ohio State's next victim, and soon to be remembered only by the history books.
One of three Big Ten teams ranked in the top 7 in the BCS, the Buckeyes were the best team in the best conference, and everyone knew it.
"The Big Ten had a prestige and for many decades was as good as any other conference, so Ohio State and Michigan were 1 and 2 and it was pretty universally accepted," said Stewart Mandel, a senior writer for SI.com who has covered college football for the site since 1999.
"If there was opposition in the South, they weren't as loud about it as they are now."
Part II: The Turning Point
When Ohio State and Florida finally met in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 8, 2007, 50 days had passed since the Buckeyes' triumphant win over their arch-rival.
"That was the night that it all started to go down hill," Mandel said.
Ted Ginn Jr.
races down the sideline past the Florida bench to score with the opening kickoff.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ted Ginn Jr. took the opening kickoff back 93 yards for a touchdown to give the Buckeyes an early 7-0 lead, but it wouldn't last.
In the end, Ohio State, not Florida, proved to be the team unworthy of the big stage, as Meyer's Gators routed the Buckeyes 41-14.
As quickly as Ohio State's title hopes disappeared, so too did the Buckeyes' - and the Big Ten's - stellar reputation.
"It left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. We got out-everythinged," Barton said about the loss. "People always remember really big moments, and when we didn't perform at all in that game on the big stage, that stuck in a lot of people's memories."
Days earlier, Michigan had been beaten handily by USC in the Rose Bowl, 32-18. The Buckeyes' loss only furthered the idea that the Big Ten was a fraud.
"It's crazy that one game could have that big of an affect," Mandel said. "I think there was a lot of resentment that the media had built up these teams all season and then they got exposed."
The two teams once considered the best in college football had fallen, and fallen hard.
The Buckeyes were out gained 370 yards to 82 and were immediately looked at differently. No longer were they the powerful monster of the Midwest, but instead the meager minions of the SEC.
"Honestly, we've played a lot better teams than them," then-Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss said after the game. "I could name four or five teams in the SEC that could probably compete with them and play the same type of game we did against them."
It was that night that the SEC era was ushered in.
Florida's championship run, precipitated by Meyer, was the first of seven straight for the SEC, the league since considered by most far superior to any other.
LSU Head Coach Les Miles hoists the trophy after his team defeated OSU.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Buckeyes would get back to the title game a year later, losing to another SEC foe, LSU. Meyer's once-beaten Gators claimed the prize once again in 2009. Three of the the next four years belonged to Alabama, with Auburn being the one exception in 2011.
"I think that game really propelled the SEC to what it is now," Barton said. "Coach Meyer had to politic to get Florida in the game in '06, but they don't have to do that in the SEC anymore."
Whether right or wrong, the Big Ten — and the SEC — haven't been looked at the same since that night, Mandel said.
"That created the narrative of SEC speed, the Big Ten is slow," he said. "I don't think that was fair at the time but the perception kind of became viewed as reality pretty quickly, especially since Ohio State lost to an SEC team the next year in the title game, as well."
Part III: The Ironic Hope
Nearly seven years later, the SEC's reign of power is still ongoing. No team has been more dominant than Alabama, which sits perched atop the BCS standings yet again.
In an ironic twist, the man that crushed the Buckeyes that January night is now their greatest hope to end the streak of SEC dominance that he began.
Meyer's Buckeyes are undefeated once again, 9-0. They're in the midst of a 21-game winning streak.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"Urban Meyer is viewed as the great hope around the rest of the country," Mandel said. "People in other parts of the country are really tired of the SEC dominance. They feel like they're overhyped and they want somebody to knock them off in the national title game and I think, because of Urban Meyer, Ohio State was viewed as the best possibility to do that."
Yet, because of the perceived weakness of the Big Ten that began with his team's 41-14 win, Meyer and the Buckeyes might never get that chance.
No. 3 Ohio State is currently on the outside of the BCS picture looking in, and Meyer is now trying so desperately to remove that black eye that his Florida team gave the Buckeyes and the Big Ten nearly seven years ago.
If the Buckeyes are left out of the title game, it will be because of the poor reputation of the Big Ten.
"His team's rout that night in Arizona started this perception," Mandel said. "He's definitely the best chance that conference has to erase that perception."
The problem for the Buckeyes — and the Big Ten — lies in the fact that they haven't had the chance to redeem themselves in a title game since those two Ohio State losses, said Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com BCS expert.
Ohio State's reputation is fine, Palm said, it's the Big Ten's that brings them down.
"If Ohio State's reputation was really that bad, Baylor would've jumped them last week," he said. "Ohio State's reputation is not their problem. They suffer because of who they hang with."
No team hangs closer with the Buckeyes than Michigan. For years, the Buckeyes and Wolverines embodied the dominance of the Big Ten — or the Big Two, Little Eight as it was often known.
A once-proud Michigan football program has been knocked on its back.
Photo by Dan Harker
Now it's the Big One, Little Eleven, Barton said.
"We need Michigan to be a top five team. They've got to be a torch-bearer for the Big Ten," he said. "I always tell people to root for Michigan because if they're 3-8, we get nothing out of that game. We need them to be undefeated and dominant like they were in '06, and then that helps us."
It's no secret to Meyer how the Big Ten can return to its position of power.
"There's one way to eliminate all that talk: go win a bunch of bowl games and keep improving," Meyer said. "There's a lot of really good teams in our conference."
Even one win might be enough to turn the tide, said Mandel.
"If Ohio State beat Alabama it would automatically legitimize them," he said. "They would not have to worry anymore about being penalized for a poorly regarded conference."
In order to even get a shot at Alabama, the Buckeyes will need unbeaten Florida State to trip up sometime between now and Jan. 6. It's not out of the realm of possibility.
Twice has Meyer sent a one-loss team to the title game. If the Buckeyes are 13-0 and held out this year, it will be second consecutive year Meyer has an unbeaten team that will watch from home.
"Whatever team finally ends the SEC streak is going to be universally respected," Mandel said, "especially if you beat Alabama.
"If Ohio State were the ones that ended the SEC streak, they would automatically get the kind of respect that Alabama gets now."
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