Saturday marks what may turn out to be the championship game of the Big 10 this season. Looking at the upcoming schedule in the Big 10, this game may be even more important for people that do not want to see another Big 10 team in the national title game, namely SEC fans and USC fans. Look at this game from their perspectives.
For the SEC fan, they face the very real possibility that the national title game could feature an undefeated Penn State and the champion of the Big 12, thus leaving an undefeated or one-loss team from the SEC out of the title picture. It would very simple to make an argument that a one loss Florida, Georgia, or Alabama (should they lose) should go over a one loss team from any other conference. This argument can't be made though when there are undefeated teams out there. SEC fans know that if Ohio State wins Saturday, they are in a safer position of having a team in the BCS title game.
USC fans should follow this game for a couple of reasons. First, and most obvious, is USC's 35-3 defeat of Ohio State on September 3. Should it come down to a one-loss team being chosen for the BCS title game, the fact USC convincingly handled OSU will eliminate OSU from title contention. (Of course there will be the argument about teams from other conferences but that is for a later story.) The other factor involved is Oregon State. Oregon State lost at Penn St. 45-14, but then later defeated USC in Corvallis. USC fans (of which I am one) can argue all they want about the Penn State playing a weak schedule (both in and out of conference) but no argument will get a one-loss USC in ahead of an undefeated Penn State. The cheer of every 'SC fan this weekend should be "Go Buckeye's." (The Trojans better take care of business in Tucson though or its Holiday or Sun Bowl time.)
Now that USC and the SEC are united for once in hoping for an Ohio State victory, let me tell you why I see the Buckeyes losing to the Nittany Lions. It goes back to the USC-Ohio State game. Jim Tressel knows the only argument he can make for his one-loss team to go to the national title game is to show that his team is drastically different than the one that lost in the Coliseum. How is it different? Terrelle Pryor plays every snap at quarterback and Chris Wells is back at tailback. This is similar to what Arkansas tried a couple years back with starting Mitch Mustain after their opening blowout loss to USC and went 8-0 after that loss. The rationale being that the team that lost was significantly different than the team that is now winning.
So what does that have to do with this weekend's game against Penn State? It means the quarterback with the best chance of beating Penn State, Todd Boeckman will be on the bench. Boeckman has taken OSU to a title game and has the experience and poise to win big games. Instead it will be the youthful and emotional Pryor leading the team. Many OSU fans point to Boeckman's poor showing in the USC game as the reason to play Pryor. In reality all Tressel is doing is throwing Boeckman under the bus for that game. Boeckman never got into a rhythm because Pryor got all the short throws in the USC game while Boeckman was only making mid to long throws against what is arguably the nation's best defense. Its unfair for Buckeye fans to pin that loss on Boeckman's shoulders. Its also unfair for Tressel to take his senior quarterback and bench him so he can make a case for another national title appearance. This time though I'm afraid it will hurt his team against Penn State.
So how long will this USC-SEC unity last? Not long. Both will be back at each other's throats the next week to be sure, but how is this for an interesting thought? Penn State and Texas win out and play for the national title. Oregon State wins out and represents the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl. USC gets a BCS at large and goes to the Sugar Bowl and faces who? The SEC champion, whoever that may be.
USC fans and SEC fans would rather be in the BCS title game though. Go Buckeyes.