When November began, five teams from major conferences sat unbeaten, unleashing a torrent of hypothetical scenarios. What would happen if more than two finished undefeated?
Rather than worry, BCS experts shrugged their shoulders and urged patience. The BCS always had a way of working itself out, we were told.
We waited. We watched. First Oregon lost. Then Baylor lost. Then, the mountaintop came crashing down.
Two-time defending national champion Alabama lost.
So with the calendar set to flip to December, only two unbeaten power-conference teams remain: Florida State and Ohio State. Crisis averted. If both win next week, they should play each other for the national championship. Nice. Neat. Wrapped up in a big BCS bow.
With one week to go, the BCS has a chance to work itself out.
If only it were that simple.
If only public sentiment Saturday night pointed toward Florida State-Ohio State as a no-brainer matchup should both finish unbeaten. Instead, No. 4 Auburn believes it has made its case to play for a national championship after its jaw-dropping, championship-shattering 34-28 win over No. 1 Alabama.
Should Auburn win the SEC championship next Saturday against No. 5 Missouri, does it have a legitimate case to bump unbeaten Ohio State? Does Missouri deserve the No. 2 spot if it wins in Atlanta? SEC supporters say yes and point to strength of schedule first and foremost. What they should be focusing on are wins and losses. That is where Ohio State has the most important edge. Forget that this team has won 24 consecutive games. What happened last year should not matter.
Let's focus on 2013. Ohio State has beaten every single team on its schedule. The Buckeyes were lucky to survive rival Michigan on Saturday in the first heart-stopping game of the afternoon, winning 42-41 after intercepting a two-point conversion attempt with 32 seconds remaining. When that game ended, it seemed pretty clear the Buckeyes deserved their No. 3 ranking, behind Alabama and Florida State.
Then Auburn pulled the upset of the season on a play for the ages, forcing serious re-evaluation. It is absolutely true Ohio State does not have a win as good as Auburn taking down the No. 1 Tide. Nor does it have as strong a schedule. But Ohio State did not lose to a three-loss team from its league.
Seven years ago, the idea that a one-loss SEC team would finish ahead of an unbeaten from the Big Ten seemed laughable. That year, unbeaten Ohio State finished No. 1 in the final BCS standings. One-loss Florida finished No. 2, ahead of one-loss Michigan. Remember that argument?
But college football changed that season. Florida trounced the Buckeyes in the national title game, starting the SEC's string of seven straight championships. Today, every other conference is compared against the SEC and its superior strength of schedule. It is an unfair, impossible comparison, and it begets misperceptions that work their way into rankings and, in turn, the BCS standings.
Though the nation has suffered from SEC fatigue, seeing the conference dominate has changed the way many view college football. If the schedule strength is not there, then the default view is to automatically believe the non-SEC team is "weak." What is particularly amusing in this case? We are on the precipice of seeing the SEC championship streak end, yet some have begun arguing for a one-loss SEC team to make it in ahead of a deserving unbeaten team from a power conference. That has never happened.
The Big Ten may not be as strong today as it was in 2006, but it is not the MAC, either. Neither is the ACC, the weakest of the power five conferences. Florida State has not received as much scrutiny because it has been so completely dominant in every game this season. Nobody has tested Florida State the way Michigan tested Ohio State on Saturday.
The Noles are without question the No. 1 team in America.
The arguments about one-loss Auburn versus unbeaten Ohio State will rage this week, as both teams prepare for their respective conference championship games. Auburn supporters will no doubt point to the win over No. 1 Bama and its complete résumé, the way athletic director Jay Jacobs did after the game.
"You can't get left out of the BCS after you beat the No. 1 team," Jacobs told USA Today. "We have a better argument because we beat the No. 1 team. ... It would be a disservice to the nation if we got left out."
The real disservice is dismissing Ohio State based on league affiliation. Winning all your games in a power conference should be good enough for a shot at a national championship.