Posted: Wednesday October 10, 2012 11:58AM ; Updated: Wednesday October 10, 2012 2:24PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Unbeaten Ohio State could create rankings controversy; more mail

Story Highlights

If Ohio State can stay unbeaten, the Buckeyes could charge toward top of AP Poll

Florida deserves top-10 ranking, but it hasn't proven it can compete for BCS title

Plus: Nick Saban's comments, non-AQ contenders, Charlie Weis' problems, more

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Ohio State's Braxton Miller
Braxton Miller has passed for 1,060 yards, rushed for 763 yards and scored 17 total touchdowns in leading Ohio State to a 6-0 record.
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The Mandel Initiative Podcast
Stewart and Mallory break down an upset-heavy Week 6. Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes joins the show to discuss the Air Raid revolution, his team's offensive success and the keys to Saturday's game against Texas A&M.


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In writing College Football Overtime each Sunday, I do my best to touch on every notable game of the weekend somewhere in the column. Last week's Ohio State-Nebraska game somehow slipped through the cracks, save for a somewhat dismissive note about Braxton Miller's Heisman chances. As you can imagine, Buckeyes fans were none too pleased with that presentment.

In hindsight, I may be subconsciously downplaying Ohio State to some degree because, to me, it feels like its games don't really count due to its postseason ineligibility. But apparently America does not agree. Saturday night's game drew more TV viewers (5.1 million) than the seemingly more important West Virginia-Texas (4.6) and Georgia-South Carolina (4.0) games played at the same time. So I shall ignore no more.

Stewart: What are the Buckeyes? Are they an over-ranked, above-average team that beats up on a more heralded version of the MAC, or are they a good team stuck in a bad conference?
-- Eric, Columbus, Ohio

What are the chances of a split national title this year? How appropriate, in the last years of the BCS, that Ohio State could go undefeated and everyone else could end up with a loss.
-- Kent Preston, Kelso, Wash.

What are the Buckeyes? Even Urban Meyer would admit they're still a work in progress -- and that's scary. If Ohio State is, as it appears, the best team in the Big Ten this season, what's going to happen next year and the year after when Braxton Miller is an upperclassman and Meyer starts playing with his own recruits?

You do have to take into consideration the quality of competition. There isn't a single other top-20 team in the Buckeyes' conference. Nebraska's defense, which got torched by UCLA and allowed Wisconsin its first decent offensive output of the season, is clearly terrible. Still, 63 points is a big number (even if Meyer did tack on one last unnecessary touchdown at the end) given Ohio State's injury-laden backfield and inconsistent, somewhat butter-handed receiving corps. But Meyer has always been adept at playing to his quarterback's strengths (save for that one dreadful year with John Brantley at Florida), and in Miller's case, that means running him over and over until a defense proves it can stop him.

The Buckeyes faced one of the two best defenses they'll see all season a couple of weeks ago at Michigan State, and they gutted out a 17-16 victory. Miller's toughest test will likely come Oct. 27 at Penn State (which says everything you need to know about the Big Ten this season), as the Nittany Lions completely shut down Northwestern's dynamic Kain Colter last weekend, and unlike the Spartans, have a quarterback of their own (Matt McGloin) who can cause problems for an opposing defense. Win that one, and Ohio State will likely get to at least 10-0.

And if that happens, things could get interesting in the AP Poll. If the teams above them lose, there's no reason to think the Buckeyes can't rise to No. 1, at which point the split national title possibility becomes a legitimate conversation. However, the Buckeyes' season will end Nov. 24 after only 12 games. Other contenders will go on to play a 13th (in a conference championship) and a 14th (in the BCS Championship Game) game, both against the type of high-caliber opponents Ohio State will not see in this year's Big Ten. Therefore, even if the BCS title game winner has a loss, it would almost certainly be more deserving of the No. 1 ranking Jan. 8 than an undefeated but insufficiently challenged Buckeyes squad.

So in the preseason you could not figure out why Florida was even ranked in the Top 25, and now you consider their No. 4 ranking "laughable" after a game in which they physically beat LSU at their own game? How many other teams could have done that to LSU? Sounds like someone is not paying attention.
-- L.G., Falls Church, Va.

Just as Andy Staples apologized this week to NC State fans for an unflattering comment in a previous column, I'd like to tell the many, many Florida fans who e-mailed me: You're right. "Laughable" was a bit harsh. It was not my intent to lambast the Gators, which have more quality wins than most other teams in the country, have a star running back on their hands in Mike Gillislee and have yet to allow a point in the fourth quarter, a stat that's simply unbelievable. While Florida is deserving of its top-10 ranking, my point is its newfound status as a national championship contender is largely a byproduct of the SEC echo chamber.

You know how it works. LSU started the season ranked No. 1 or 2 (I myself had them winning the national championship), and despite numerous warning signs since the preseason that things are awry in Baton Rouge, the Tigers remained a national championship contender in the media's eyes. In reality, LSU is a deeply flawed offensive team that may well wind up with three or four losses. As you may have noticed, Auburn, now 1-4, is awful. LSU beat the Tigers 12-10. Clearly, LSU is not what we thought it was. Yet we're to believe Florida ground out a victory in a Gladiator-style SEC bloodbath.

Contrast that to the game I attended last Saturday, where South Carolina nearly shut out a highly explosive Georgia offense. Now that's a legit top-four team. If the Gators beat the Gamecocks Oct. 20, then I'll shut up for good.

Stewart, you have always hated on Florida State. Did you go to Florida? FSU will beat Florida, which is ranked high and you never know.
-- Morgan, Jupiter, Fla.

Jeez, I can't win either side of this rivalry.

Stewart, what do you make of Nick Saban's concerns for the safety of players trying to defend no-huddle offenses? Whining? Legitimate gripe? Strategic genius? My take: Other schools had to adapt to the dominance of SEC defenses by moving to the no-huddle spread offense. If that now gives them any type of advantage then the SEC needs to coach up a defensive scheme to stop it.
-- M. Kurtz, Winston, Ore.

I'm in the minority that thinks he had a perfectly sensible point -- but unfortunately that doesn't fit our preferred narrative of Saban. Certain coaches are so painted into a box (Lane Kiffin is a jerk and/or unqualified for his job, Urban Meyer's a hypocrite for going back to work, Les Miles is crazy) that virtually anything they say or do, the public will find a way to view it through that particular lens. Saban is widely perceived as a grumpy curmudgeon, so when he made those comments about the no-huddle, people tripped all over themselves to portray him as the old-school Saban telling all these new-fangled offenses to "get off my lawn."

Let's think about this for a second. Do you really think a smart coach like Saban -- who is constantly looking for even the slightest competitive edge -- would summarily dismiss a potentially advantageous wrinkle? If he thought it might help Alabama, don't you think he'd install the no-huddle tomorrow? His own mentor, Bill Belichick, has done just that. I love watching fast-paced offenses as much as the next guy, but he's absolutely right about the injury factor. My only gripe is that he overcomplicated the issue by talking about substitution patterns. All he had to say was, the more plays teams run, the more opportunities for injury. And if every team in the country starts running 90 plays a game instead of 60, that's a lot more injuries across the board. That doesn't necessarily mean we should outlaw the no-huddle. But then, he didn't say that, either.

 
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