Depending on what happens in the BCS National Championship Game, Ohio State could still be voted the Associated Press National Champion after a 12-0 season, despite being banned from the postseason.
That's very unlikely, but technically possible. Whether Ohio State could have beaten either team playing for the BCS championship tonight will remain a mystery.
Sanctions stemming from the Jim Tressel era kept the Buckeyes from playing in the Big Ten Championship Game this year or participating in the postseason at all. Despite the limitations, the first season under head coach Urban Meyer was an undoubted success.
The 10th undefeated season in program history included beating three top 25 teams, all in the conference, and left the Buckeyes feeling that they could have been contenders for the national championship.
For a man with the coaching pedigree of Meyer, who has two national championships on his resume, taking over a program in disarray and hit by sanctions was admittedly the biggest challenge of his coaching career.
“I went into it believing that it would be the biggest challenge because it is a challenge I’ve never experienced. I’ve been very fortunate every year since I’ve been a head coach that our goal is to compete for championships come November,” Meyer told Yahoo! Sports and the Dr. Saturday blog in an interview.
“Once I figured out that I had a great group of guys to work with that were highly motivated and great leaders then it wasn’t the most difficult job I’ve ever had because of the leadership of my older guys.”
Though sanctions permitted Ohio State from playing in the conference championship game or going to a bowl, the voters in the AP poll kept moving the Buckeyes up the rankings. The Buckeyes started the year ranked No. 18 but by the end of the regular season rose to No. 4. Had they played in and won the conference championship, there would have been a legitimate argument that undefeated Ohio State and not Alabama should be headed to southern Florida to take on Notre Dame for the national championship.
When asked, Meyer artfully dodged the question about if his team could win a game against the Fighting Irish or the Crimson Tide, saying that he hasn’t seen enough of either team but that both programs are deserving of the game. But next year, the bowl ban is lifted and Ohio State won’t have to endure another year of “what ifs.”
This year the challenge was to motivate a group of young men, about three-quarters of whom Meyer did not recruit into the program, and get them to buy into an undefeated season. College football is played to win championships and go to bowl games and with neither on the line Meyer had to turn to his senior players to set the example.
“At no point did I feel that myself or my staff had to do a secret handshake or a t-shirt to motivate these guys to play well. They wanted to play well because they’re competitors,” Meyer said. “But as the season progressed, some really magical things happened like a chance at an undefeated season. At no time did I feel like we had to come up with creative motivation.”
Though Ohio State didn’t head to a bowl game this year, Meyer is still enjoying the flavor of the postseason. He joined with Tostitos to honor the troops in time for the Fiesta Bowl, helped with a charity flag football game in Los Angeles beforehand that raised money for the Got Your 6 charity and the Pat Tillman Foundation. Highlights were seen during the broadcast of the Fiesta Bowl. He was also at the BCS Championship Game, and will appear on ESPN's "College Gameday" with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin according to a tweet by the Orange Bowl.
Moments like that one with the service members are part of the “family atmosphere” Meyer preaches at Ohio State. It is an attitude that could have the Buckeyes playing for a national championship sooner rather than later, especially based off how his undefeated team from 2012 responded to adversity.
Meyer said early in the season the Buckeyes were “just a team trying to find our way, we had a lot of holes.” Now he believes he had a team that could have gone very far – maybe even all the way.
“But the way we finished and the way we started playing defense and being a really good team there’s no doubt by the way we finished we would have been a contender,” Meyer said.
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Follow Yahoo! Sports’ Kristian R. Dyer via Twitter @KristianRDyer.
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