Buckeyes could get #039;Mickey Mouse#039; bowl

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 24, 2003

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The Ohio State Buckeyes had their hearts set on defending their national title in New Orleans.

In the wake of Saturday's 35-21 loss to Michigan, however, they could be headed to a Mickey Mouse bowl.

Then again, maybe not. The most likely destination for the No. 8 Buckeyes (10-2) is Orlando, Fla. - home of Walt Disney World - to play in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day against a Southeastern Conference opponent.

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Still, about all the Buckeyes learned Saturday is that they will not be going to the Bowl Championship Series title game at the Sugar Bowl.

''It'd be a shame if we are not a BCS team,'' offensive lineman Shane Olivea said in the stifling hot interview room after the loss to Michigan. ''We don't want to play in the Outback Bowl or down there in Orlando. We lost two close games in two years. We're a BCS team.''

Immediately after the game, that seemed improbable. Then Washington State was upset by Washington, thus knocking another top contender out of one of the precious spots in the BCS's major bowls.

The possibilities in the top bowls are almost endless, starting with the Sugar Bowl where No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Southern Cal and No. 3 LSU are vying for the spots.

After those three, the other teams to watch include Ohio State's fellow two-loss teams: Michigan (10-2), Georgia (9-2), Texas (9-2), Tennessee (9-2), Florida State (9-2) and Miami (9-2). Hanging around on the fringe are Florida (8-3) and Kansas State (10-3).

Depending on the wildly divergent possibilities still out there - thanks to the conference Big 12 and SEC championship games - the Buckeyes could drop as low as the Capital One Bowl (formerly the Florida Citrus Bowl), or rise as high as a return trip to the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 in Tempe, Ariz.

The potential opponents are just as varied. Take your pick and a scenario can be painted that would pit them against Ohio State in any of a number of bowls.

Had the Buckeyes beaten Michigan, they had the inside track to the Sugar Bowl.

''It's frustrating, to be that close to being back in the championship game again. And losing to Michigan does not make it any easier,'' said quarterback Scott McMullen, who came on when starter Craig Krenzel suffered a shoulder injury late in the third quarter.

McMullen led the Buckeyes to within 28-21 early in the final period only to have the Wolverines come right back with an 88-yard drive to clinch the game on Chris Perry's 15-yard touchdown run.

In the end, missed opportunities may have added up to another trip to Orlando. Ohio State has played there four times, beating Brigham Young in 1986 and losing under former coach John Cooper in 1993, 1995 and 1996.

Instead of a national championship, the Buckeyes would be playing for pride - and a $5.125-million payoff that they must share with the rest of the Big Ten.

The Big Ten has ties with the Rose, of course, followed by the Capital One, Outback, Alamo, Sun, Music City and Motor City bowls.

Wide receiver Michael Jenkins, who had nine catches for 132 yards against Michigan, was so disappointed he said he couldn't even think about the Buckeyes' bowl trip.

''I don't really care,'' he said carefully. ''Hopefully we'll end up in a BCS game, but we'll see.''

So while two other teams take the national stage in the premier game of college football, the Buckeyes will have to watch at home.

''We came so close,'' McMullen said. ''It's unfortunate. Now we can't go back to the national championship game this year. But hopefully we'll go to a great bowl and make the best of it.''