Ohio State flopped as the favorite last season, so the Buckeyes plan to enjoy life as the slighted in this season's BCS championship game.
A date with LSU at the Superdome awaits the Buckeyes, who are hoping to find redemption in New Orleans on Jan. 7 after struggling in last season's national title game against Florida.
"In all likelihood we will be the underdog because pretty much everyone on earth hates us," offensive tackle Kirk Barton said Sunday night. "That's cool. We're going to be playing in Louisiana against LSU and SEC Nation. So, it's just one of those things we'll probably end up being the underdog, but that's fine with us. It'll be a lot of fun."
It can't get any worse than last season's championship game, when Florida blitzed Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and the Buckeyes 41-14 in Glendale, Ariz.
It's been quite a ride for No. 1 Ohio State (11-1), LSU and all of college football in this crazy, unpredictable season.
A month ago, the Buckeyes and Tigers appeared to be headed toward a showdown in the Big Easy. Then both lost as No. 1 and it seemed their national title hopes were gone.
"We always talk to our guys about the fact you better win all your games," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "We didn't do that but we still have an opportunity in a crazy football season."
By the time the rest of the contenders fell by the wayside, Missouri and West Virginia were the final two to fall on Saturday, Ohio State and LSU were back on top of the BCS standings again. Plenty of other teams could also make a case to play in the biggest BCS game, but the Tigers and Buckeyes got the nod.
The Tigers (11-2), ranked second in the latest Associated Press poll, will be the first team to play in the BCS title game with two losses.
"It is something a lot of guys never thought we would have the opportunity to have after we lost to Arkansas, but the guys just kept on fighting and controlled the things they could control and now we are going on to play in the championship," LSU safety Craig Steltz said.
November began with the Buckeyes ranked first, but they surrendered that with a 28-21 loss to Illinois that only added fuel to those who said they weren't deserving. But the Big Ten champions backed into the BCS title game without even playing after beating Michigan on Nov. 17.
LSU seemed to be on the verge of losing its coach Saturday.
Just a few hours before the Tigers played Tennessee for the SEC championship, Miles held an angry news conference and said reports he would be leaving the Bayou for Michigan were false. In fact, he said, he had agreed to a new contract to stay in Baton Rouge.
Then, the Tigers went out and won. Later, they sat calmly and watched chaos reign for the rest of the day. On Sunday, they learned they were in the championship game for the second time in five years.
Why did LSU, which was seventh in the BCS standings heading into the final weekend, make the jump to No. 2, while Oklahoma, Southern California, Georgia and Virginia Tech were left behind?
The 174 poll voters and handful of computer nerds whose calculations make up the BCS rankings probably all have their own reasons. Among the best is LSU was rewarded for winning the Southeastern Conference, which is traditionally viewed as one of the toughest leagues in the nation.
There's also the argument coach Les Miles and athletic director Skip Bertman offered up Saturday night: The Tigers went undefeated in regulation -- their two losses both coming in triple overtime.
Paper-thin as that line of reasoning may sound, it's as good as any in this topsy-turvy season during which the top-ranked team lost four times, the second-ranked team lost seven times and Nos. 1 and 2 lost on the same week three times in the last two months.
"The brass ring was there for a lot of different teams to grab it," SEC commissioner and BCS coordinator Mike Slive said during a conference call Sunday night. "Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't, and when they didn't it allowed two teams that were seen as two of the better teams in the country early in the year to find their way back."
The rest of the BCS games are filled with teams that had every bit as good an argument as LSU for a spot in the title game.
In the Sugar Bowl, Georgia will play Hawaii. The Bulldogs (10-2) were fourth and idle coming into the final weekend but didn't automatically rise two spots the way coach Mark Richt thought they should.
Hawaii (12-0) is the nation's only undefeated team, but is penalized for playing a weak schedule in the Western Athletic Conference. The Warriors won't complain. They just wanted a chance to prove themselves against top competition.
"It doesn't feel real right now," Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan said. "It's been a great ride ..."
The Fiesta Bowl will pit West Virginia (10-2) against Oklahoma (11-2).
The Rose Bowl stuck with its traditional Big Ten-vs.-Pac-10 matchup, going with Southern California (10-2) against Illinois (9-3).
Virginia Tech (11-2) landed in the Orange Bowl and will play Kansas (11-1), which leapfrogged Missouri for a BCS spot even though the Jayhawks lost to Mizzou 36-28 only a week ago.
Need it be said this would have been a perfect year for a playoff? Or at least the plus-one format, which would look something like a four-team mini-playoff and set the championship game after the four major bowls are played?
"I really feel like it's heading in that direction," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "How quickly? We'll see. ... it all makes sense."
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