Ohio State Punches Ticket for Championship Game

Ohio State has clinched a spot in the national championship game by beating Michigan on Saturday. It will be two weeks before the Buckeyes' opponent is set.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In case you missed it, top ranked Ohio State hung on Saturday to beat second ranked Michigan. The final score was 42-39. The Buckeyes clinched a spot in January's national championship game. It'll be a couple of weeks before we learn who the Buckeyes will play. Commentator John Feinstein joins us now. John, good morning.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Pretty amazing.

FEINSTEIN: Wow. It was like a great heavyweight fight. You know, go back to Ali/Frazier in the Thriller in Manila where Ohio State would knock Michigan down and Michigan got up. They'd knock them down again and Michigan got up until finally 15 rounds were over and there wasn't a chance for Michigan to get up again. It reminded a lot of people of the great Nebraska-Oklahoma game of Thanksgiving Day in 1971 when Nebraska won in a one versus two match 35-31.

It was a spectacular day of football, and Ohio State was clearly the better team. But Michigan's pretty darn good.

INSKEEP: Well, let me just insert one note of skepticism, if I might, because people are saying these are obviously the best two teams in the country. Can I just ask: If defense is the mark of a great football team, what does it mean that these two teams combined for 81 points?

FEINSTEIN: That they had great offenses. Because you're right, Michigan statistically was the best team defensively in the country going into the game. They were giving up 12 points a game. And Troy Smith - who will win the Heisman trophy, the Ohio State quarterback, no ifs ands or buts - was just brilliant against them. You know, in three games he passed for almost 900 yards against Michigan. That's a pretty good career against your archrival.

And I just think it was a matter of there was so much offensive talent on the field. And the game got rolling downhill, which can happen in football games. And that was it more than it was poor defense.

INSKEEP: Was Michigan affected at all by the death of the long-time former coach of Michigan, Bo Schembechler?

FEINSTEIN: You know, it's hard to say. You don't know how something like that affects kids emotionally. Some people were joking that Bo Schembechler was hiding out during the weekend by faking his death to inspire Michigan because he's such a huge Michigan fan and such a big Michigan man.

But all kidding aside, I think it was hard on everybody to have Bo Schembechler die on Friday afternoon. He was 77; he was so much a part of the Michigan/Ohio State rivalry, those great games when he coached against Woody Hayes in the '60s and '70s. And it had to have an emotional effect on everybody in the stadium, Steve, not just the Michigan players.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Our correspondent Tom Goldman told us over the weekend that people in Ohio actually had to done down their Hate Michigan rhetoric. They didn't want to seem too disrespectful.

FEINSTEIN: Yeah. And I think that was appropriate. And you go out and play the game because nobody would have wanted that game played the way it was played more than Bo Schembechler.

INSKEEP: Okay. So we know Ohio State is one of the two top teams that's likely to be in this championship game. Who's the other?

FEINSTEIN: Good question. Michigan is still ranked number two in the fabulous BCS poll as of today. But if Southern California beats Notre Dame and UCLA in its last two games - Michigan's done playing - it will go past Michigan. It will play in a national championship game again. That's a tall order to win those two games.

Florida, if Southern Cal stumbles, would be the next in line. Notre Dame should not play in the national championship game, Steve. Because even if they beat Southern Cal, their one loss was to Michigan on Notre Dame's home field and it should be Michigan that goes if both Southern Cal and Florida lose. I know that's complicated. But in order: Southern Cal, Florida, Michigan.

INSKEEP: Does Boise State have a case to make for itself being undefeated?

FEINSTEIN: I say yes they do, but I'm very much in the minority. My belief is in sports if you don't lose, you should be allowed to play for a championship. But this incredibly flawed system doesn't give Boise State a chance because none of these big-time teams will play Boise State. When they add 12th games, they add 12th games like we saw on Saturday when Florida beat Western Carolina 62 to nothing. None of the power teams want to play them.

INSKEEP: All right. The comments of John Feinstein, author of Vanishing Act.

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