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ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

They're alive! They're alive!

Ohio State, humbled in the last two BCS title games and by USC this season, remains in the picture.

October 23, 2008|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Dufresne is a Times staff writer

"The Blob" is a 1958 horror film about a giant amoeba-like alien that terrorizes a small community in Pennsylvania.

"The Ohio State University" has a football team that slimed its way into the last two national title games in Arizona and Louisiana and now threatens to terrorize a college football community at this year's title game in Florida.

Trailer caption: "Run for your lives!"

Hold it, didn't a village mob with torches run Ohio State out of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 13?

Didn't Tommy Trojan slay this dragon?

Wasn't the score 35-3?

Don't look now but . . . here come the Ohio State Zombies.

We've said it and said it and said it again: You can't get rid of these guys.

True story: After the USC-Ohio State game, I stood near midfield with two respected colleagues, Stewart Mandel of SI.com and Dan Wetzel of Yahoo, who officially and categorically dismissed the Buckeyes from national-title contention.

I almost spit out my gum.

Are you kidding?

Not this time, the scribes said.

"Really?" I responded.

Last year, Ohio State lost at home to Illinois on Nov. 10, fell from No. 1 to No. 7, was written off by everyone in the media, including me, only to rise in a few weeks back to No. 1.

And you knew what that meant: another defeat date against the Southeastern Conference champion.

There is a persistent and perceptible enmity toward Ohio State.

Some would rather see Warren Buffett win the lottery than the Buckeyes getting the third "ol' college try" against a team such as Florida or Louisiana State.

Call it Ohio State fatigue, Buckeye backlash -- but it hasn't stopped the Buckeyes from playing games and winning most of them.

They have already rallied back from that USC loss in September that did not, remember, involve injured tailback Chris Wells.

After USC, Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel made his most important decision since choosing red as the color for his sweater vest.

Tressel benched senior quarterback Todd Boeckman, who led Ohio State to the national-title game last year, and replaced him with freshman Terrelle Pryor, a rare, transformational -- but untested -- talent.

The move threatened to divide the locker room. How do you hand over your Mercedes keys to a teenager?

The Pryor upside, though, was too irresistible -- and the time to hesitate was through.

After some glitch-and-sputter moments, including a 16-3 win over Purdue that did not include a touchdown by the Ohio State offense, the spread-option potential of Pryor and Wells kicked it up a notch with an emphatic 45-7 win last week at Michigan State.

And, almost just like that, Ohio State is No. 9 in the first Bowl Championship Series standings and one home win against No. 3 Penn State on Saturday from possibly breaking into the BCS top five.

And it would be so perfect, as Pryor was snatched by Ohio State out of Pennsylvania, a cookie swiped from right under Joe Paterno's notable nose.

Ohio (Oh-No!) State is one "W" from getting back in the conversation and it's not even November yet.

Mandel, where art thou? What about that proclamation on the deck of the Coliseum?

"I do remember that conversation," Mandel, an Associated Press poll voter who had Ohio State at No. 10 this week, responded in an e-mail query. "And my opinion hasn't changed. No, Ohio State is not back in the national title picture."

We'll try back next week.

Pollsters may not want to elevate Ohio State, some may even be contemplating a suppression plan, but the BCS computers are in puppy love. The Buckeyes are No. 5 in the computer index, five spots ahead of USC, the team that won the helmet-to-helmet by 32 points.

No repellent may be able to stop this resilient BCS bug.

"We've never discussed the BCS standings . . . it's way premature," Tressel said this week. "Whatever it is we earn is what we'll get and so far we've earned seven wins and a chance to play in a big game on Saturday night and see what we can do there."

If Ohio State beats Penn State, the steely Buckeye beast becomes real. Some pollsters are reluctantly coming to grips.

"Unfortunately for those forced to sit through the last two title game debacles, Ohio State has to be considered with a clean slate," said Blair Kerkhoff, a Harris poll voter who writes for the Kansas City Star. "If it beats Penn State, it moves up in the polls. If Texas, Alabama, and the rest lose, the Buckeyes ascend."

There's a chance, with a win this weekend, Ohio State could ascend past USC -- even if the Trojans ascend past Arizona.

Tom Luicci, a Harris poll voter who writes for the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger, typed back to me this week: "I'm tired of seeing Big Ten teams curl into the fetal position every time they're on a big stage." But, he added, "but I don't think you can hold that against either Ohio State or Penn State."

Ohio State is battling back against a very cynical electorate.

Luicci said one-loss Texas Christian may be a more worthy title-game participant. Luicci said he'd rather stomach a rematch between Texas and Oklahoma.

Piling on Ohio State is so easy.

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