One of the most topsy-turvy college football seasons ever concludes tonight when Ohio State faces LSU in the BCS Championship Game. Ohio State (11-1) is ranked number one, while LSU (11-2), the only team with two losses to play in a BCS title game, is ranked number two. Of course, it is only natural in this bizarre season that LSU has been installed as a four point favorite despite being lower ranked and having a worse record. Granted, a betting line is not actually a prediction but merely the way that bookmakers make sure that too much action does not go to one team or the other--and the public's perception of this game is heavily shaped by Ohio State's 41-14 loss to another SEC team, Florida, in last year's BCS Championship Game. Ohio State's 0-8 record in bowl games against SEC teams also does not inspire confidence but that statistic really has no relevance for tonight's game; the first time Ohio State faced an SEC team in a bowl game, Woody Hayes and Bear Bryant patrolled the sidelines.
While the first seven Ohio State losses to SEC teams in bowl games are easy to dismiss, Florida's blowout victory is hard to forget, particularly for the many Ohio State players who look at this game as a chance for redemption. Far from being a portent of doom, the sting of humiliation from that defeat has been a major motivating factor for the Buckeyes throughout this season. There is so much time between the end of the season and the championship game that the underdog team gets tired of hearing about how it has no chance to win; that is why six of the first nine BCS champions were underdogs going into the title game. The Buckeyes not only have that "standard" motivation working in their favor but they also have a core group of players who have vowed to not let their careers be defined by the Florida loss. That mindset is a major reason why I believe that Ohio State will beat LSU in a close game, 24-20. Here are five more reasons that Ohio State will win:
*** Defense wins championships and Ohio State ranked first in the nation in total defense (225.3 ypg), scoring defense (10.7 ppg) and passing defense (148.2 ypg). The Buckeyes finished third in rushing defense (77.1 ypg). LSU has a good defense, ranking between third and twentieth in those categories, but Ohio State has a great defense.
*** The coaching matchup of Jim Tressel versus Les Miles favors Ohio State. Even LSU's staunchest supporters will admit that Miles makes some curious decisions at times. That is not to say that he is a bad coach but Tressel has already assembled an incredible coaching resume, including five Division 1-AA national titles, a perfect 2002 season capped off by a BCS title, a 73-15 record at Ohio State and a 3-1 mark in BCS bowl games.
*** Ohio State has the best winning percentage in major college football since 2005 (33-4, .892) and the Buckeyes have won 30 of their past 32 games.
*** LSU not only lost two games to teams that are not championship contenders but the Tigers won three other games by a touchdown or less. Yes, Ohio State has that one Illinois blemish on its report card but no Division I team has a spotless record this season and the closest Buckeyes' win was a seven point decision over Michigan State, with the rest of their victories being by at least 11 points. People can say that the SEC is stronger that the Big Ten but try telling that to anyone who watched Michigan beat Florida on New Year's Day.
When Jim Tressel's coaching career is over I expect that he will have won multiple BCS championships and that he will have a winning record in BCS title games. His mark in such contests is 1-1 right now but a win against LSU will be the first step toward making both of the preceding predictions come true.