COLUMBUS, Ohio - Here’s a suggestion for the voters that help determine the BCS standings: Ignore everything you see the next couple of weeks. Don’t let the conference championship games sway you.
Remember, instead, the spectacular drama that unfolded on a crisp autumn day in Columbus.
Remember how two great football teams played a great football game.
Think of the score — Ohio State 42, Michigan 39 — and then to think yourselves: Why not do it again?
Why not indeed.
The general feeling before the Buckeyes and Wolverines met Saturday was that an encore performance in the national championship game Jan. 8 in Glendale would be a disaster for college football.
Anybody still feel that way?
This was as good as college football gets, one of those rare games that lived up to the hype.
“This game is a classic,” Ohio State tackle Kirk Barton said. “It had everything, two great teams with a shot at a conference and national championship. I don’t know how it could get any better.”
We know the Buckeyes are coming to the Valley, although they won’t receive an official invitation until Dec. 3, the day after the conference championship games.
Ohio State began the season No. 1 and it will end the season atop the BCS rankings. This will be the Buckeyes’ fourth trip in five years to Arizona — they played in the 2006, 2004 and 2003 Fiesta Bowls — but there wasn’t a single player Saturday who wanted to change his travel itinerary.
“Hey, I’m happy,” center Doug Datish said. “I love the city. I know what’s out there. It’s the Buckeyes’ second home now.”
The question is, who will play Ohio State?
Check that. There’s a more appropriate question: Who should play Ohio State?
Here’s a vote for Michigan. Of all the contenders with one loss — USC, Florida, Notre Dame and Arkansas — no one can be prouder of a defeat than the Wolverines.
Against the best team in the country, in front of a stadium-record crowd of 105,708 — 104,000 of which seemed to be wearing scarlet and gray — the Wolverines never wilted.
Ohio State delivered haymaker after haymaker — touchdown runs of 52 and 56 yards, four touchdown passes and 316 yards from quarterback and soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith — but Michigan kept coming back, again and again and again, until the only thing that beat it was the clock.
“There can’t be many football teams in the nation better than Michigan,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said.
He’s right about that, so why not a rematch? Why should the Wolverines have to take a back seat to Florida, Arkansas or USC, which lost at Oregon State? Why should Notre Dame be in the debate, considering the Wolverines thumped the Fighting Irish, 47-21, back in September?
Even Fiesta Bowl president John Junker, who wouldn’t take sides at gunpoint, acknowledged Michigan has a strong case.
“You can understand why there might be some sentiment in that regard,” Junker said.
Tressel and Michigan coach Lloyd Carr danced around the subject, but Michigan running back Mike Hart didn’t equivocate a bit.
“Do I think there should be a rematch? Probably,” he said. “I think we’re both the top teams in the country, regardless of what anybody says.”
I don’t know how the voters and computers will sort this out. I’m not that smart. But two things were pretty apparent Saturday.
First, Michigan is really good.
Second, Ohio State is really, really good.
The Wolverines had the third-ranked defense in the country heading into the game. They were allowing just 231.4 total yards per game and 29.9 rushing yards.
All Ohio State did was rack up 503 total yards and run for 217 yards. It was scary how easily the Buckeyes dismantled a supposedly dominant defense.
“I never expected that to happen,” defensive end LaMarr Woodley said.
No one did, LaMarr. No one did.
Maybe it won’t matter who the Buckeyes face in the national championship game. Maybe they’re just too talented and too well-coached.
“I guarantee if we play them again it would be a whole different game,” Hart said.
Easy there, Mike. But if you can’t buy the bravado, at least give Michigan this: It deserves a Jan. 8 date with Ohio State as much as any team in the country.
On that point, there should be no argument.