Still, one bright spot remains amid the unmet expectations and unrealized dreams of crystal footballs. Provided a few highly likely scenarios play out, the Buckeyes still have a shot- a great shot- at landing an at-large BCS berth.
In formulating these scenarios, I'm relying on a few assumptions:
The SEC and Big 12 will get two teams into the BCS: Stamp it, print it; carve it in stone. It's going to be two of Texas, Texas Tech, the Oklahoma schools or Missouri out of the Big 12, and most likely Florida and Alabama out of the SEC, since LSU and Georgia have exposed themselves as pretenders. The SEC has been touted as the deepest conference in college football for a long time, but that designation doesn't apply this year, because the league falls off a cliff after Florida and Alabama. There won't even be enough bowl-eligible teams out of the SEC to fill that conference's allocations.
The ACC and Big East will be one-bid leagues: West Virginia is the only Big East team that could sniff an at-large bid based on talent, if not ranking, and there are no ACC teams that even come close to meriting such consideration. Again, I wonder what either of these conferences has done to earn automatic BCS status. Hell, I remember a time when the ACC champion usually didn't even get a New Year's Day bowl invite. Florida State single-handedly lifted that conference to football respectability, and with the Seminoles not the power they once were, the ACC is back to what it traditionally has been- a second-tier football league.
Only one non-BCS team will make it into the BCS: It doesn't matter if both Utah and Boise State finish undefeated and in the Top 12 of the BCS standings. If that happens, the Utes will get the invite, and Boise will have to swallow a Humanitarian Bowl bid. TCU also has a shot, but whatever happens, only one of these teams will get in. The BCS does not exist to do "solids" for mid-major programs.
So if we're cleared to make the above assumptions, that means there will be one at-large bid remaining after the auto-bids and at-large bids are parceled out. That bid will by default go to a second Big Ten team, with Ohio State as the leading candidate and Michigan State the dark horse. Who else is going to get it- Notre Dame?
On to the scenarios that will dictate Ohio State's postseason fate:
If Ohio State wins out, USC wins out, and Oregon State loses... Ohio State will go to a BCS bowl- but not the Rose. I had the Buckeyes slotted in the Rose Bowl against USC in my bowl projections, but Pete Fiutak has stated flatly that the Rose won't take a re-match, so in deference to the smartest college football writer out there, I'm going to pick up the assumption that if USC gets to Pasadena, the Trojans will face the at-large from either the SEC or the Big 12, and not Ohio State. Look for the Buckeyes go to either the Orange or Sugar Bowl under this scenario (the Fiesta will likely take the non-BCS at-large.)
If Ohio State wins out and USC wins out and finishes in the top two... Ohio State will go to the Rose Bowl. It's a long shot, but there's still a chance for the Trojans to sneak back into title consideration. If Texas Tech loses, Missouri/Kansas beats Texas/Oklahoma/Oklahoma State in the Big 12 title game, Alabama loses twice, Florida loses again, and Penn State loses- or any four of these five scenarios- Petey's boys will play for the crystal football in Miami two months hence. With USC accounted for, the Rose Bowl will hitch a sigh of relief and pluck the Bucks to play either a Big 12 or SEC opponent.
Either way, it seems doubtful that Ohio State will end up as one-half of a classic Big Ten-Pac-10 Rose Bowl. Kind of a shame.
The most important team to watch in terms of Ohio State's BCS chances is... OSU- Oregon State, that is. The Buckeyes can afford to lose again, at Northwestern or at Illinois (I refuse to even entertain the notion that they could lose to Michigan) and still qualify for the BCS; the fans travel like crazy, the program has national interest, they won't be bypassed for a second mid-major, there's no place else to go with the at-large but the Big Ten, and there's no place to go within the Big Ten other than Ohio State. There is margin for error here- good thing, because this Buckeye team likes to test those margins from time to time.
The fly in the ointment is Oregon State, the only team in the Pac-10 completely in control of its own destiny. The Beavers, ably led by the highly underrated Mike Riley, are within four winnable games of going to the Rose Bowl and turning USC into an at-large team by virtue of their September win over the Trojans, and if they win them all, Buckeye fans can set the TIVO or set reservations for the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day afternoon in Orlando. If the Beavers lose a game- and none of the four are cakewalks; after all, they've run out of Washington schools to play - Ohio State is in the BCS, even if the Buckeyes don't survive the Land-of-Lincoln trip unscathed.
It's sort of on Ohio State. But it's all on Oregon State. So feel free to do some Beaver-Shooting this November. And know that, while the grand prize is out of reach, a nice parting gift remains at the end of the line.