Breaking down Ohio State's possible BCS opponents

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Mike Shula [1] asbestos undershorts sold separately):

Five Uneasy Pieces

Ohio State is in the national title game. The question is who joins the Buckeyes. As Dashette Tasha Tilberg (2) was saying at last week's tailgate, trying to decide the best of a slew of one-loss teams is a hairsplitting exercise much better suited to, ahem, A PLAYOFF. Nevertheless, The Dash will do its solemn duty and try to tell them apart:

USC (3) -- If the Trojans complete the season 11-1 they'll get the spot and deserve it. The one aspect of a schedule schools can control is nonconference games, and USC's lineup of Arkansas (10-1), Nebraska (8-3) and Notre Dame (10-1) is easily the toughest of the five contenders. (Michigan, by contrast, played Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and two Mid-American Conference teams.) Ten of USC's 12 opponents are bowl eligible. Argument against: The Trojans are the only one of the five to suffer a loss against an unranked team (Oregon State).

Michigan (4) -- Nobody among the five has a better "quality loss" than the Wolverines' 42-39 defeat at Ohio Stadium Saturday. Michigan has played three teams currently in the Top 25 and their combined records are 32-2. Argument against: The Wolverines didn't win their conference and haven't shown any ability to beat Ohio State and Troy Smith in three meetings. Why subject the Buckeyes to double jeopardy, having to beat a team they already handled once?

Arkansas (5) -- Nobody else in the discussion is unbeaten in conference play -- and most people would argue that the SEC is tougher this year than either the Big Ten or the Pac-10. And if the Razorbacks, already riding a 10-game winning streak, finish the season by beating LSU (No. 10 BCS) and Florida (No. 4 BCS) to go 12-1, nobody will be on a more powerful roll. Argument against: Can you lose by 36 points at home and play for a national title? Certainly not ahead of USC, the team that administered the thrashing in Fayetteville.

Florida (6) -- During one stretch the Gators played six straight teams now bowl eligible and lost only at Auburn, in a crazed environment, in a game clouded by a questionable call (and review) that tilted the game in the Tigers' favor. By season's end Florida will have played 10 bowl-eligible teams. Argument against: The Gators haven't dominated a single SEC opponent on the scoreboard and haven't played a single nonconference opponent currently ranked higher than 50th in the Sagarin ratings.

Notre Dame (7) -- If the Fighting Irish do what nobody has done in years now -- beat USC in L.A. Memorial Coliseum -- they'll have that going for them. It wouldn't be enough -- but what about a blowout of the Trojans? What if they turn around one of those 31-point losses to USC that got Ty Willingham fired? That would be the biggest victory by anyone on this list. The argument against: Same thing that's hindering Arkansas. No way you can rank the Irish ahead of a Michigan team that smoked them by 26 points in South Bend.

Conference Awards

Time for The Dash to dish out some league-by-league awards. Feel free to disagree (The Dash will clear out room in the inbox for dissenting views):

Atlantic Coast Conference
• Offensive Player of the Year
Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech (7)
He's 18th nationally in receiving yards per game and has 13 touchdowns, despite being the focus of every coverage scheme and catching balls from a quarterback not exactly being compared to Troy Smith and Brad Quinn. Johnson ranks fourth among the top 100 receivers nationally in touchdowns per catch, scoring once every 4.4 receptions. Runner-up: Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College. He ranks 14th nationally in total offense at 250.7 yards per game.

• Defensive Player of the Year
Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson (8)
He's been borderline unblockable: 13½ tackles for loss, 10½ sacks, four passes batted down, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries -- including a 66-yard fumble return that turned the tide of what looked like a certain loss to Wake Forest.

• Coach of the Year
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest (9)
Last time the Demon Deacons won nine games? How does never sound? Not only are they 9-2, but they've endured some critical injuries along the way. When the returning stars at quarterback and running back combine for just 361 yards of offense before being lost for the season and you still have a historical year, the coaches have done great work.

• Development the commissioner won't be bragging about at next year's media day
Collapse of the Sunshine State titans, especially Miami's love-in with Florida International and the forced resignation of Bobby Bowden's son, Jeff, as offensive coordinator at Florida State. Lacking any oomph from its southern power base, the ACC's top team in the BCS standings is Georgia Tech at 16th.

Big 12 Conference

• Offensive Player of the Year
Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (10)
He was never going to step in and make anyone forget about Vince Young, but McCoy was as good a redshirt freshman replacement as anyone could have imagined. He ranks fourth nationally in passing efficiency (172.7) and matured dramatically between the Ohio State loss in early September and his injury against Kansas State on Nov. 11. Runner-up: Oklahoma QB Paul Thompson, who saved the Sooners' season when he moved from wide receiver back to quarterback and played the position above all expectations.

• Defensive Player of the Year
Aaron Ross, CB, Texas (11)
Mr. Big Play has five interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries (one returned for a touchdown) and 15 passes broken up. Throw in 39 solo tackles and you have a complete player.

• Coach of the Year
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma (12)
Got no season at all from his starting quarterback. Got half a season from his Heisman Trophy-candidate running back. Yet his team is still tied for first in the Big 12 South and in the mix for a conference title and BCS bowl. That's great work.

• Development the commissioner won't be bragging about at next year's media day
The David Boren letter-writing campaign to expunge Oklahoma's loss to Oregon from the official record. Yes, the officiating of the game stunk, and will continue to stink until the last videotape of the game has decomposed. Boren's reaction will continue to stink that long as well.

Big East Conference

• Offensive Player of the Year
Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (13)
Should probably share it with fellow speed freak Pat White, but The Dash isn't here to split the baby. Slaton leads the nation in all-purpose running (187.3) and is the No. 1 home run threat in the country. His 7.74 yards per carry is easily the best average in the nation for running backs with more than 100 rushing attempts.

• Defensive Player of the Year
Eric Foster, DT, Rutgers (14)
Undersized (260 pounds) overachiever is the soul of a Scarlet Knights defense that ranks fourth nationally. Louisville QB Brian Brohm still sees No. 56 in his sleep.

• Coach of the Year
Greg Schiano, Rutgers (15)
Who wins 9 games at Rutgers? Runner-up: Bobby Petrino, Louisville. Michael Bush played two quarters all season and Brian Brohm missed 2½ games, yet the Cardinals are still a top-10 team. If it didn't happen to coincide with the miracle in Piscataway -- and if Schiano didn't outcoach him head-to-head -- he'd win this award.

• Development the commissioner won't be bragging about at next year's media day
There isn't much to apologize for in the Big East this year, but Syracuse's seven consecutive plays from inside the 2-yard line against Iowa without a touchdown would qualify. The Orange lost a prime upset bid 20-13 in double overtime because they couldn't gain a yard to save their peels.

Big Ten Conference

• Offensive Player of the Year
Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (16)
Any questions?

• Defensive Player of the Year
LaMarr Woodley, DE, Michigan (17)
Relentless senior is eighth nationally in sacks (11) and might be first in motor. He never dropped Smith when he had the ball in his hands Saturday, but knocked him down several times. Guaranteed, Smith knew where Woodley was lining up on every play.

• Coach of the Year
Lloyd Carr, Michigan (18)
His program was overripe for change after a 7-5 disappointment in 2005, and Carr made it. With new coordinators and a greater offseason emphasis on conditioning, the Wolverines rocketed from underachievers to pleasant surprises in a single season. Honorable mention: Jim Tressel, Ohio State, who merely replaced nine defensive starters and went 12-0; and Terry Hoeppner, Indiana, who merely endured two brain surgeries to take the Hoosiers within a game of their first bowl since 1993.

• Development the commissioner won't be bragging about at next year's media day
Big Two, Little Nine has rarely, if ever, been more accurate. Outside of Michigan and Ohio State, the rest of the league did virtually nothing against outside competition. The Little Nine combined for 25 nonconference wins that broke down thusly: six against I-AA competition; 15 against I-A competition with losing records; three against Mid-American Conference opponents with winning records; and exactly one win over a Big Six conference opponent with a winning record. (That was Michigan State over Pittsburgh, one week before the Spartans unraveled against Notre Dame and then tanked the rest of the season.)

Conference USA

• Offensive Player of the Year
Kevin Kolb, QB, Houston (19)
America's active career leader in completions (919) and passing yards (12,320) has been at his best his senior year. Kolb is eighth nationally in passing efficiency (162.8), has thrown only three interceptions in 362 attempts (lowest percentage in the country) and has led the Cougars to a 9-3 record (with all three losses by a total of eight points).

• Defensive Player of the Year
Albert McClellan, DL, Marshall (20)
The sophomore is fourth in the nation in both sacks (11½) and tackles for loss (20) and has forced four fumbles. He's had six solo sacks in the last two games for the Thundering Herd, which will be seeking bowl eligibility Saturday at Southern Mississippi.

• Coach of the Year
The Dash is willing to wait on this one until Saturday after the Rice-SMU game.

If the Owls win to go 7-5 and possibly advance to their first bowl in 45 years (not a misprint), give it to rookie head coach Todd Graham. If the Mustangs win to go 7-5 and advance to their first bowl in 22 years and first bowl since the death penalty, give it to Phil Bennett. They're both wildly deserving.

• Development the commissioner won't be bragging about at next year's media day
Two of C-USA's top success stories of the recent past, UTEP and Central Florida, backslid this year. The Miners and Golden Knights are a combined 8-14, 5-9 in conference, dealing setbacks to the comeback careers of Mike Price and George O'Leary, respectively. Of course, in the zero-sum game of conference play, their struggles have helped make room for 2006 feel-good stories like Rice and SMU.

Mid-American Conference

• Offensive Player of the Year
Garrett Wolfe, RB, Northern Illinois (21)
By far the active career leader in rushing yards (4,972) and rushing touchdowns (51). Also the clear leader among backs with more than 500 career carries in yards per game (160.4) and yards per carry (6.5). Needs 264 yards in the finale against Eastern Michigan to hit 2,000 on the ground for the season.

• Defensive Player of the Year
Ameer Ismail, LB, Western Michigan (22)
Leads the nation in sacks (15) and is second in tackles for loss (23½), keying a Broncos defense that is eighth nationally against the run, 16th in total defense and single-handedly terminated Wolfe's Heisman Trophy campaign.

• Coach of the Year
Brian Kelly, Central Michigan (23)
You can probably wait to decide this until Nov. 30, when Central Michigan plays Ohio U. in the league championship game, but for now The Dash gives the edge to Kelly over Frank Solich. Both entered the year with teams expected to rank in the triple digits of Division I-A, yet both presently lead their divisions of the MAC. Kelly gets the nod at present because he had to break in a new quarterback, and still stands 7-4.

• Development the commissioner won't be bragging about at next year's media day
Eight of the league's 12 teams ranked 100th or lower in average home attendance.

Mountain West Conference

• Offensive Player of the Year
John Beck, QB, Brigham Young (24)
This one isn't even close. Beck is second nationally in passing efficiency (173.8) and completion percentage (71.04) and has thrown for escalating yardage each of his last five games. BYU has won eight straight by an average margin of 30 points, largely because of Beck.

• Defensive Player of the Year
Eric Weddle, DB, Utah (25)
Allow The Dash some latitude with this pick to show appreciation for one of the better athletes in college football. It's nice that Weddle ranks eighth nationally in interceptions with six in 11 games. But it's even more impressive that Weddle is playing both ways this year, running for 123 yards and four touchdowns on the season -- including 73 rushing yards, two touchdowns and eight solo tackles last Saturday against Air Force. Strong.

• Coach of the Year
Bronco Mendenhall, BYU (26)
He's reviving the success of the LaVell Edwards Era, but doing it a different way: with defense. The Cougars haven't allowed more than 17 points in an MWC game this year and haven't allowed more than 24 in regulation in any game. Mendenhall is now 12-3 in league games at BYU, with two of the losses coming in overtime.

• Development the commissioner won't be bragging about at next year's media day
The state of Colorado is sagging. Air Force and Colorado State, rock-solid programs for years under Fisher DeBerry and Sonny Lubick, continue to show signs of decay. The 4-6 Falcons are working toward their third straight losing record -- a first under DeBerry -- and the 4-6 Rams haven't had a winning record since 2003.

Pacific-10 Conference

• Offensive Player of the Year
John David Booty, QB, USC (27)
Booty hasn't made anyone forget about Matt Leinart, but he's played consistently well all season and has shown some fourth-quarter moxie in tight games. He leads the league in pass efficiency rating (143.71), and he gets the nod over Cal RB Marshawn Lynch based on head-to-head comparison. Booty completed 18 of 31 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns against Cal, while Lynch recorded his third straight sub-100-yard rushing game against the Trojans.

• Defensive Player of the Year
Daymeion Hughes, CB, California (28)
There are too many solid USC defenders to choose from, and Hughes has been All-America good for the Golden Bears at corner. He has eight interceptions on the season, two returned for touchdowns, and has broken up another 11 passes.

• Coach of the Year
Pete Carroll, USC (29)
He's the first coach to win at least a share of five straight Pac-10 titles, and he's done it while replacing the last two Heisman Trophy winners and plenty of other NFL-caliber talent. Every other coach nationally is just trying to keep Carroll within shouting distance, he's so far ahead. (It would be a Pitinoesque error if Carroll ever left his true calling for a return engagement in the pros.)

• Development the commissioner won't be bragging about at next year's media day -- How's your replay system been working, Tom Hansen?

Southeastern Conference
• Offensive Player of the Year
Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas (30)
He's been the centerpiece of the Razorback renaissance, even playing some shotgun quarterback the past couple of weeks (he's 3-of-3 throwing the ball this year with two touchdowns -- an off-the-charts quarterback rating). If McFadden keeps running like he's been running Friday against LSU and Dec. 2 against Florida, the Hogs can entertain dreams of playing in the BCS National Championship Game.

• Defensive Player of the Year
Patrick Willis, LB, Mississippi (31)
Buried on a losing team, but Willis might be the next Al Wilson: a classic tackling machine middle linebacker. He leads the league and ranks six nationally in total tackles (124). Had 12 total tackles and three solo stops for a loss last week in an overtime loss to LSU.

• Coach of the Year
Houston Nutt, Arkansas (32)
Every gamble has gone right for a coach who began the year with his job in serious jeopardy. He hired an offensive coordinator straight out of high school; benched his upperclassman quarterback in favor of a true freshman after the first game; then benched the freshman on a seven-game winning streak to go with a sophomore who was injured in August. So far, the proof of Nutt's sharp instincts is in Arkansas' 10-1 record.

• Development the commissioner won't be bragging about at next year's media day
SEC argument that it's the toughest conference in the country continues to yield little with the BCS. Unless Arkansas or Florida gets some help in the title chase, this will be three straight years and seven of the last eight without an SEC representative in the national title game.

Sun Belt Conference

• Offensive Player of the Year
Calvin Dawson, RB, Louisiana-Monroe (33)
Leads the league in rushing, and he has three 100-yard rushing games against SEC competition. That's good enough for The Dash in an offensively deficient league.

• Defensive Player of the Year
J.K. Sabb, LB, Middle Tennessee State (34)
Leads the team in total tackles and tackles for loss, and the team leads the Sun Belt in scoring defense under first-year coordinator Manny Diaz. Tough to overlook some of the standout defenders for Florida International -- but then again, the Golden Panthers are 0-10. Not that tough after all.

• Coach of the Year
Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee State (35)
The Blue Raiders are unbeaten in league play and have won their league games by an average margin of 18.8 points. They're one win or one Troy loss away from their first bowl as a I-A school. That's not bad work for a rookie head coach.

• Development the commissioner won't be bragging about at next year's media day
Florida International embraced its moment in the spotlight against Miami by starting the most infamous in-game brawl in at least two years. Nice job.

Western Athletic Conference

• Offensive Player of the Year
Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii (36)
Tough to turn down either member of Boise State's dynamic duo, running back Ian Johnson or quarterback Jared Zabransky, but Brennan's numbers are just sick: 4,155 passing yards, 48 touchdowns, nine straight games with at least four touchdown passes, a potential record pass efficiency rating and a 9-2 record. So what if it's a gimmick offense; few people can run the gimmick as well as Brennan.

• Defensive Player of the Year
Korey Hall, LB, Boise State (37)
He's third in the league in tackles (98) and has six interceptions to go along with all the hits. For his career he has 11 picks -- four of them in games against Oregon State.

• Coach of the Year
Chris Peterson, Boise State (38)
He's 11-0 lifetime as a college head coach. Has no idea what it feels like to lose. Might not know until after the Fiesta Bowl, which would be a Fantasy Island destination for a program like Boise.

• Development the commissioner won't be bragging about at next year's media day
In recent years WAC football has leaned on two pillars of consistency: Boise State and Fresno State. Boise is still in its accustomed spot, but Fresno has fallen and cannot get up. The Bulldogs are a shocking 3-7, with a pair of one-point losses. A program built on a willingness to play anyone, anywhere, anytime could not get past 1-10 Utah State.

Putting Out An APB For …
… This being USC-Notre Dame week, it's time to find the blonde-haired guy on the receiving end of some of Joe Montana's biggest passes at Notre Dame, Kris Haines (39). Anyone with information on Haines' whereabouts, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Ohio State stud linebacker Randy Gradishar, is alive and well and living in Denver, where he was a professional star for years with the Denver Broncos. Gradishar is now the director of corporate communications for Phil Long auto dealerships. He told the Denver Post last week that playing in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry trumps playing in the Super Bowl or seven Pro Bowls.

Point After
When partying in Columbus, The Dash recommends the spot where last week's Dashette, Tara Reid, was hanging out: the Sugar Bar (40). The Dash is also pleased to report that the infamous insanity that has made the area around Ohio Stadium borderline unsafe in years past was largely absent before and after the Michigan game. Only 40 arrests, according to Columbus police -- not a bad number in comparison to past anarchy.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.