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Crunch time in Columbus

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

For the national champion, the team that has dodged so many last-second bullets and produced on so many fourth-quarter drives to win 23 of its last 24, this would be perhaps its greatest comeback of all.

Two weeks, two games, two top-caliber opponents await Ohio State. Two final chances for the Buckeyes to make a come-from-behind Bowl Championship Series move and get the opportunity to defend their title in the Sugar Bowl, most likely against top-ranked, top gun Oklahoma.

Isn't this perfect? Isn't this the only way? Ohio State (9-1) looking for one more miracle.

OSU hosts No. 11 Purdue on Saturday. A week later it travels to fifth-ranked Michigan. Win those two – and we are not underestimating how considerable that achievement would be – and the Buckeyes still might be able to punch a ticket to New Orleans.

By the skin of their teeth, naturally.

The obstacle is Southern California, which is 8-1. In the BCS standings, USC has the all-important No. 2 slot that brings a date with (most likely) OU for all the marbles. OSU is No. 3, tied with the rest of the country for out of the running.

Who deserves it more? That's where everything gets dicey so long as college football clings to this ridiculous method of crowning a champion. The battle lines are drawn along polls, strength of schedule and computer rankings.

"I can't worry about what the nation's voters are worried about," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel says. "I'm worrying about becoming the best we can be. You can't spend your life worried about what others are saying or thinking or doing."

Both major national polls put USC at No. 2 and Ohio State at No. 4, behind 8-1 LSU. That is enough to put the Trojans in the money, even though six of seven BCS computers have the Bucks ranked ahead of SC.

Who is better? It depends on your point of view. USC has been impressive, bludgeoning opponents with a high-powered offense and a stingy defense. For style points, it isn't even close. The Trojans' average margin of victory is 23.7 points.

Ohio State's is just 11.5.

But margin of victory no longer enters the BCS computers' calculations. Last year, en route to its first national title since 1968, Ohio State won seven games by a touchdown or less, including in double overtime against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. This year Ohio State has done it four times.

It's a wonder the spring game didn't come down to a last-second field goal.

Quality wins is a different case. USC has defeated just one team currently ranked in the BCS top 25, Washington State. None of its three remaining opponents (Arizona, UCLA or Oregon State) is ranked.

Ohio State already is 3-0 against the BCS top 25 and, if it can win out, would move to an impressive 5-0.

If that happens, is it really possible that the defending national champion could be denied a spot in the title game? By a team whose best win came over a team that actually lost to Notre Dame?

"[I don't] crunch the numbers," an unsure Tressel says.

The guys who do believe the Bucks need help. Barring a SC loss, LSU must falter in one of potentially four tough remaining games (at Alabama, at Mississippi, home against Arkansas and the SEC title game). That would move Ohio State up in the polls. Also, Ohio State's strength of schedule is surging while USC's inevitably will tail off.

But then again, it might not.

"Well, my take is this," Tressel says. "There's no way we can go up if we don't win."

So there you go, Purdue in Columbus, Michigan in Ann Arbor. Crunch time. Two more shots for this last-chance team to get to the Sugar Bowl, to get at Oklahoma. If the Buckeyes wind up leapfrogging USC, it will be because of an improbable final surge that produced the thinnest margin of victory possible.

For this team, that would only be fitting.

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