As I watch my alma mater, Ohio University, try to break into the college football rankings week after week this year, I feel that aggrieved pull of fandom for wanting them there. After every win my Facebook and Twitter timelines blow up with, “where’s O.U.?” because the Bobcats have been curiously absent despite its 6-0 record heading into this week’s homecoming match-up with Akron.
On one level I sympathize. On another I pull on my reality cap and posit, “there’s no f*cking way Ohio should be ranked this week.” There will be lots of legitimate griping from my fellow alumni, but let’s face it, guys: Ohio is not yet of the caliber to warrant Top-25 consideration. In a season where the only mid-major that should get love, Louisiana Tech, is receiving it, Ohio’s not there. There are three main reasons why, and Ohio fans, alumni and college football fans can agree or throw dookie piles my way after considering them.
1. Defense? Bueller?
After opening the season with wins over Penn State, New Mexico State, Marshall and Norfolk State (real world-beaters), Ohio has gifted Mid-American Conference bottom-feeders Massachusetts and Buffalo 34 and 31 points, respectively. The combined record of both teams: 1-11. Sure, wins are wins, but Ohio can’t hemorrhage 511 and 501* yards to teams in the bottom-half of FBS offensive levels. Ohio doesn’t belong to the offense-happy Big 12 where every team consistently turns a football game into a low-scoring basketball contest. The team–if the offense isn’t clicking–is dangerously close to dropping extremely winnable games against the far inferior MAC East (they don’t even play many of the demonstrably better MAC West teams this season). Ohio has to remain absolutely sublime to become ranked, which brings us to…
2. The MAC Perception Problem
Despite being one of the worst conferences in the FBS, the MAC has had its fair share of great teams. Consider for a moment the Miami (Ohio) Redhawk teams of Ben Roethlisberger and the Marshall squads of Randy Moss, Byron Leftwich and Chad Pennington. These teams were special–with the players and wins to match–and received the polling love because of it. That’s the only way MAC teams break into the Top 25: by being far superior to everyone else in the conference. The same goes for any mid-major school. As indicated above, Ohio’s been good (if not lucky) but not superb enough to warrant any sort of special recognition based on its resume (outside of that Penn State victory). If Ohio goes undefeated, the BCS talk will be deafening but unnecessary because they haven’t shown the gusto that those legendary MAC squads of yesteryear exemplified.
3. F*ck the Comparisons, Make Your Brand Known
College football in the state of Ohio has been defined by one team for years: Ohio State. Ohio–for good or bad–has been compared to that school just to the northwest forever. The correlation’s inevitable, and not just because Michigan coach Brady Hoke makes an ass of himself every time he incorrectly refers to Ohio State as “Ohio.” Ohio Football must develop a recognizable face for pollsters to conclude, “this is Ohio, this is why they should be ranked.” Cincinnati–since joining the Big East–has done just that, reaping the rewards of almost-annual rankings and infrequent BCS appearances. It’s an arbitrary metric, sure, but Ohio’s still an unknown entity that many insiders still feel queasy about including with college football’s elite.
Of course, if Ohio continues winning, they should be ranked. Why not? An unblemished record in any conference is quite the feat, and they have the offensive firepower in quarterback Tyler Tettleton and leadership in head coach Frank Solich to do it. But, Christ, let’s stew over what we have here. There are six more games left to play, and Ohio could still piss down its leg against Kent State as the team is wont to do. As ESPN’s Mark Schlabach said a few weeks ago, “it would be a surprise — and disappointment — if Ohio isn’t 12-0 going into the MAC championship game.” It’s almost a requisite at this point for any sort of national love.
Photos: Ryan M.L. Young
* – However, Buffalo’s run game ranks 22nd nationally.