When it comes to Ohio State's 2012 season, the possibility the Buckeyes finish undefeated and all the scenarios involving what might have been past the regular season, go ahead and take a moment to dream.
But dream realistically. To extend the "what-if" scenarios involving the undefeated but bowl-banned Buckeyes all the way to Jan. 7 and the BCS National Championship Game in Miami is largely an exercise in futility.
The NCAA's postseason ban on Ohio State isn't getting overturned, for one. And with three Div. I FBS teams still undefeated in mid-November and a potential one-loss SEC champion likely to score high in the final human and computer polls, even a 13-0 Buckeyes team would likely have trouble landing a spot in the BCS title game.
What a postseason ban on 10-0 Ohio State has cost Buckeyes players and fans alike is a lot of fun, a lot of number-crunching and a lot of spotlight over the next three weeks, plus a potential really big game on Jan. 1.
The chances this Ohio State team would have earned its way to the BCS title game this year aren't great. Not to break up a good argument before it starts, but it's possible the Buckeyes could have had things fall their way the rest of November and could have been chasing a 14th win in a memorable setting, just probably not in Miami.
It's not just members of Buckeye Nation but secondary-market ticket sellers who are sick at the thought of BCS-seeking Ohio State topping Wisconsin and Michigan the next two Saturdays, then winning the Big Ten Championship in front of a packed house in Indianapolis on Dec. 1, then advancing to the Rose Bowl. With the BCS standings currently reading Kansas State No. 1 and Oregon No. 2, also unbeaten No. 3 Notre Dame could end up with an at-large BCS spot.
Ohio State and admitted Notre Dame fan Urban Meyer vs. Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl, with a combined record of 25-0? A few people would watch that.
It could have happened.
The what-ifs start with the biggest one. What if Ohio State had just self-imposed a postseason ban last year? That's a valid question, and maybe a haunting one. But Meyer's answer to a question about allowing his mind to wander towards such scenarios from his weekly press conference indicates that he knows Ohio State would have been a long shot to play for the national title this year even if everything had fallen its way.
"I could lie to you and say that I don't (think about it)," he said. "Every once in a while, but not as much as I thought. I'll hear it and read it once in a while, and I have good friends in the profession that will make a comment, and I'll think for a second. But then I go back to knowing exactly who we were, and you go back to how we've won and who we are right now, and we're pretty fortunate where we are. Let's find a way to get (win) No. 11 (at Wisconsin this Saturday).
"I tried years ago not to control what we can't control. We've got to have a really good practices (this week). We can control that. We can't control anything else."
The scoreboard-watching and scenario games don't get really fun until later this month, anyway. Even if, say Kansas State drops a game, or USC beats Notre Dame on Nov. 24, the Buckeyes would not only have to win three more to get to 13-0 but might then have to point to two over Nebraska in a search for their best win. Strength of schedule matters in any BCS formula, and it's been less than a banner year for the Big Ten.
Can't you see SEC fans sending DVDs of Ohio State's overtime win over Purdue to the Supreme Court, demanding an injunction to put an SEC team in ahead of the Buckeyes?
It's hard to see an unbeaten Ohio State team passing an also unbeaten Kansas State, Oregon or Notre Dame in the polls that determine the BCS standings. If the Buckeyes were postseason-eligible, a non-conference schedule that included Miami (Ohio) University, Central Florida, Cal and UAB would be under the microscope. The combined record of those teams is 18-23, and eight of those wins are Central Florida's.
That doesn't even take into account the possibility of a one-loss SEC champion passing Ohio State in certain polls, or how voting might be affected by other potentially surprising results. Ohio State would have to be the lone unbeaten team to have a realistic shot of finishing No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, and pretty much the same goes for any scenario which would send the hypothetically-eligible Buckeyes to Miami for the BCS title game.
So, we're left to daydream about the other still-significant yet lesser prizes that would be at stake if these 2012 Buckeyes were postseason eligible, and just how much fun the rest of this year might be.
Though the Big Ten has an archaic rule against playing night games in November, imagine the buzz surrounding an undefeated Ohio State team playing a rivalry game in the stadium of the team that's played in the last two Rose Bowls this Saturday to keep its title-game games hope alive. Even moving that game back, say, 90 minutes from the crowded 3:30 ET spot it's in now would set it apart on the national stage it would have if Ohio State was playing for something besides a divisional-title banner to replace one the NCAA made it take down.
Imagine, then, the Nov. 24 Michigan game. Ohio State at 11-0 on its home turf, against its biggest rival and with members of the 2002 national championship in the stadium for a 10-year reunion. On the other side would be Ohio native Brady Hoke, 1-0 against the team he calls "Ohio," with a chance to spoil the Buckeyes' run at regular-season perfection and whatever might lay beyond that.
As for the Big Ten Championship Game, let's just say two-loss Nebraska in a rematch vs. an unranked and four-loss Wisconsin team lacks national sizzle. Along those same lines, Ohio State not falling in the Big Ten's bowl game pecking order at all moves every other team "up" a notch. Those New Year's Day, SEC vs. Big Ten bowl games in Florida could be rated NC-17.
Ohio State having a shot to finish 12-0 a year after going 6-7 is a little like a movie in its own right. This Buckeyes team can still make a little history. No Ohio State team has ever finished 12-0, and no Ohio State has ever won the Leaders Division of the Big Ten. Two years isn't a long time, no, but this Buckeyes team is light years better than the one that crashed under the weight of the off-field burdens and bad football 12 months ago.
Meyer knows that. Starting next year, he'll be going national championship or bust. This year, he has an improving team that's played a fun brand of football and has found a way to stay undefeated so far.
"Our goal was simply to win as many games as we could for our senior class," he said. "We never talked about an undefeated season."
After the Michigan game, maybe we can think about and discuss what an unbeaten Ohio State vs. Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Florida State, USC or Oregon in Pasadena might have looked like. It will all be hypothetical; discussion for discussion's sake. No postseason ban or even an actual result has ever stopped a good argument.
On the topic of where this Buckeyes team might deserve to be in the BCS standings, Meyer quickly and smartly points back to the task at hand this weekend -- and no further.
"At some point that might be worth discussion," he said. "Certainly not now."