(AP) – After flopping as the favorite last season, the Buckeyes plan to enjoy life as the slighted in this season’s BCS championship game.
A date with LSU at the Superdome awaits the Buckeyes, who are hoping to find redemption in New Orleans on Jan. 7 after struggling in last season’s national title game against Florida.
“In all likelihood we will be the underdog because pretty much everyone on earth hates us,” offensive tackle Kirk Barton said Sunday night.
It can’t get any worse than last season’s championship game, when Florida blitzed Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and the Buckeyes 41-14 in Glendale, Ariz.
It’s been quite a ride for No. 1 Ohio State (11-1), LSU and all of college football in this crazy, unpredictable season.
A month ago, the Buckeyes and Tigers appeared to be headed toward a showdown in the Big Easy. Then, both lost as No. 1 and it seemed their national title hopes were gone.
By the time the rest of the contenders fell by the wayside (Missouri and West Virginia were the final two to fall on Saturday), Ohio State and LSU were back on top of the BCS standings again.
The Tigers (11-2), ranked second in the latest Associated Press poll, will be the first team to play in the BCS title game with two losses.
“It is something a lot of guys never thought we would have the opportunity to have after we lost to Arkansas, but the guys just kept on fighting and controlled the things they could control and now we are going on to play in the Championship,” LSU safety Craig Steltz said.
November began with the Buckeyes ranked first, but they surrendered that with a 28-21 loss to Illinois that only added fuel to those who said they weren’t deserving. But the Big Ten champions backed into the BCS title game without even playing after beating Michigan on Nov. 17.
LSU seemed to be on the verge of losing its coach Saturday.
Just a few hours before the Tigers played Tennessee for the SEC championship, head coach Les Miles held an angry news conference and said reports he would be leaving the Bayou for Michigan were false. In fact, he said, he had agreed to a new contract to stay in Baton Rouge.
Then, the Tigers went out and won. Later, they sat calmly and watched chaos reign for the rest of the day. On Sunday, they learned they were in the championship game for the second time in five years.
Why did LSU, which was seventh in the BCS standings heading into the final weekend, make the jump to No. 2, while Oklahoma, Southern California, Georgia and Virginia Tech were left behind?
Among the best reasons is that LSU was rewarded for winning the Southeastern Conference, which is traditionally viewed as one of the toughest leagues in the nation.
There’s also the argument coach Miles and athletic director Skip Bertman offered up Saturday night: the Tigers went undefeated in regulation – their two losses both coming in triple overtime.
Paper-thin as that line of reasoning may sound, it’s as good as any in this topsy-turvy season during which the top-ranked team lost four times, the second-ranked team lost seven times and Nos. 1 and 2 lost on the same week three times in the last two months.