College

And Then There Was 1: Michigan

By RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer
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Michigan is the only team standing in the way of a perfect first season for Urban Meyer in Columbus / (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Michigan is the only team standing in the way of a perfect first season for Urban Meyer in Columbus / (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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COLUMBUS (AP) — No wonder they call it “The Game” — it’s the only one left for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) can post just the sixth perfect record — no losses, no ties — in the program’s 123 years of intercollegiate football when it hosts Michigan (8-3, 6-1) at noon next Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

The Buckeyes captured the outright Leaders Division title on Saturday with a dramatic 21-14 overtime victory at Wisconsin, which scored in the final seconds to force the extra session. Carlos Hyde’s burst up the middle supplied a lead on the first possession with the defense stifling the Badgers to clinch the win.

Jump around, indeed.

“This was a great game against a very good team that’s been to the Rose Bowl a bunch,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after the tense victory. “(But) this is not our rival. The next one is. So when you use that R-word, we’re talking about this week. We’re going to dive into it as soon as we get back.”

Michigan still has a chance of playing in the Big Ten title game. Tied for the Leaders Division lead with Nebraska, the Wolverines would need to win at Ohio State, of course, with the Cornhuskers losing at Iowa.

Also, it goes without saying, the Wolverines would like nothing better than to ruin Ohio State’s perfect record.

POLL DANCING: Ohio State moved up two more spots to No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday.

Here’s how the top five stand: Notre Dame (a unanimous No. 1), followed by Alabama, Georgia, the Buckeyes and Oregon.

Of course, the rankings are completely different from a week ago, thanks to two earth-shaking upsets — or were they? — on Saturday night. Baylor drilled top dog Kansas State 52-24 in as lopsided an “upset” as you will ever see. No. 2 Oregon was beaten at home by No. 14 Stanford, 17-14 in overtime. So much for the Quack Attack offense that was averaging almost 50 points a game.

Three Big Ten teams are ranked; in addition to Ohio State, Nebraska is No. 17 and Michigan is No. 20.

Oh, and Kent State won at Bowling Green 31-24 and moved up to No. 23.

SYMMETRY: Ohio State is now ranked No. 4 in the land in both football and men’s basketball.

THEY SAID IT: Michigan WR Roy Roundtree on his advice to younger teammates about the Ohio State game: “Finish. It’s the last game of the year, playing Ohio. Ever since those (younger) guys got here, we bring it up and say ‘Beat Ohio.’ I’m pretty sure they know this week is totally focused. It’s Thanksgiving break, so there’s more time for film.”

WHAT THE UPSETS MEAN: The losses by Kansas State and Oregon opened the door for a Southeastern Conference team to play in the Bowl Championship Series national championship game. An SEC team has won the last six national titles.

Notre Dame, which does not have to play in a conference championship game, can assure itself of a berth in the BCS finale with a win on Saturday night at faltering Southern California. In case you missed it, the Fighting Irish walloped Wake Forest 38-0, while USC, picked by some in the preseason to win it all, fell to 7-4 overall and just 5-4 in the Pac-12 by falling behind 24-0 on the way to a 38-28 loss to rival UCLA.

Keep in mind, however, that the Irish have won just one of the last 10 meetings with USC. Also keep in mind that Trojans QB Matt Barkley was injured in the loss to the Bruins.

If Alabama beats Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Saturday, and Georgia holds off Georgia Tech, the winner of their matchup in the SEC championship game will most likely grab the spot opposite the Irish.

Ohio State is not eligible to play in a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions stemming from infractions during the regime of the deposed Jim Tressel.

AN AP TITLE? Yes, Ohio State still could win the media voting, even though it’s never been done by a team on NCAA probation. (Teams being sanctioned are not eligible for the BCS standings.) But it would take a dramatic turn of events.

Almost all the other top contenders would probably have to lose again, or at least play very, very poorly or win on a fluky, controversial play.

That’s possible. One need look no further than 2007 when the Buckeyes were eighth in the BCS rankings after losing to Illinois in their next-to-last game of the season, but then climbed the ladder by beating Michigan while every single team ahead of them lost at least once. Ohio State ended up No. 1 going into the BCS title game (where they were manhandled by No. 2 LSU).

Working against the Buckeyes are several factors. First, despite a perfect record that can only be matched by Notre Dame, they’ve struggled in almost every game this season except for two or three. Second, almost every national expert considers this an awful year for the Big Ten. Being the best team in a bad league isn’t as good as being a very good team in a superior conference, the thinking goes. Third, Ohio State’s opponents are just 57-65 this season, with most evaluators of strength of schedule putting the Buckeyes somewhere in the middle of the pack in FBS.

After Saturday’s victory at Wisconsin, Meyer said that his team has shown a lot of backbone by winning in three difficult environments. He’s referring to road games at Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin. The Buckeyes won those three games by one, 12 and seven points (in overtime) against teams with a combined 14 losses.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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