Sprinkling A Little Spice On Tressel’s Vanilla

Vanilla is a perfectly good flavor for ice cream. For a major college football offense, however, vanilla is not a popular flavor. Vanilla is a sports metaphor for conservative, bland and predictable, and when some teams are averaging 30, 40, even 50 points per game, vanilla seems a pretty fair assessment for a team that has failed to tally a single offensive touchdown in three entire games.

As Ohio State moves through the open week in its 2008 schedule, fans want to know how Jim Tressel is going to turn his vanilla team into something a little tastier. The coach could start with the way he conducts his meetings with the press corps. It might be a refreshing change if Tressel took his questioners head-on rather than trying to parse his words.

For example, here is the transcript from Tressel’s postgame press conference after the Penn State game.

OPENING COMMENTS: That was a hard-fought football game. Awful proud of the way our kids played. They played as hard as they could and screamed and yelled on the sidelines as hard as they could and our crowd was doing all they could.

Q: Jim, it seemed like you had a difficult time establishing any kind of a rhythm with your running game.

TRESSEL: I think there’s no question. Penn State did a nice job of moving and attacking the line of scrimmage and we did not run the ball nearly as well as we needed to, to score a lot more points than we did.

Q: Coach, could you assess Terrelle’s play tonight, just overall?

TRESSEL: I thought Terrelle did some good things. He was under a little bit of duress. They did a good job with their upfield pass pressure. I thought he hung in there and stood in there and did some good things. I’m sure as he watches the film, he’ll look at some things that he wishes he could have over as will every position that was out there playing, but I think he competed and he wants to do anything he can do for this football team and I thought he worked at it hard.

Q: After you guys take the 6-3 lead, do you sort of have the feeling the way the game is going, if you can grind out the clock a little bit, hold on to the ball, do you like your chances with the way your defense had played to that point?

TRESSEL: When you’re playing in a battle like this and your defense is playing the way it was, field position is huge. … When we were ahead 6-3, we were moving down trying to get a touchdown, we weren’t just moving down trying to change the field. You can’t score enough points, but with the way our defense was playing, we could have kept them on the long field. I had a lot of confidence in the D.

Q: Coach, you said there are games left. Is this a chance maybe when you do look at the big picture and say a 10-2 Ohio State team is still an attractive commodity out there at the end of the year?

TRESSEL: We have to become an 8-2 Ohio State team first, so we’re going to work to do that and keep working to get better and as I always say, you get what you deserve.

Now, here is what the press conference might have sounded like had Tressel channeled his inner Bob Knight.

OPENING COMMENTS: Can you believe we lost that game? We outplay the No. 3 team in the nation for most of the game and we lose on a freak play because we can’t run the ball. Ohio State can’t run the ball. Woody must be spinning in his grave.

Q: Jim, it seemed like you had a difficult time establishing any kind of a rhythm with your running game.

TRESSEL: Seemed like? Nice observation, Einstein.

Q: Coach, could you assess Terrelle’s play tonight, just overall?

TRESSEL: How many times since I’ve been here have I preached about how our quarterback must play mistake-free in order for us to be successful? How many? A hundred? A thousand? A million? Look, the kid has tremendous talent but he made a mistake. Hopefully, he learns from it.

Q: After you guys take the 6-3 lead, do you sort of have the feeling the way the game is going, if you can grind out the clock a little bit, hold on to the ball, do you like your chances with the way your defense had played to that point?

TRESSEL: Did you just ask me if I was happy about leading a game 6-3? That’s a baseball score. We held one of the most explosive offenses in college football to a field goal and we were ahead by only three points. I can think of a lot of feelings I had at that point, but satisfied wasn’t one of them.

Q: Coach, you said there are games left. Is this a chance maybe when you do look at the big picture and say a 10-2 Ohio State team is still an attractive commodity out there at the end of the year?

TRESSEL: Attractive commodity? I have no idea what that means. We started this season with 20 returning starters off a team that went to the national championship game, and you put “10-2” in the same sentence with the word “attractive”? (Shakes head in disgust.) Does anyone here have an intelligent question?

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former Ohio State running back Dick Flanagan, who played his only season of college football for the undefeated 1944 team. Born Oct. 31, 1927, in Sidney, Ohio, Richard Eugene Flanagan was a standout for Sidney High School and once scored 45 points (seven TDs and three PATs) in a single game vs. Miamisburg in 1943. He is the only player ever to have his jersey number retired at Sidney.

Flanagan joined the Buckeyes in the fall of 1944 as a freshman and wound up playing in the same backfield alongside Heisman Trophy winner Les Horvath. He also played defense and helped preserve the 18-14 win over Michigan in ’44 by intercepting a pass to end the Wolverines’ final scoring threat. After the 1944 season, Flanagan did what most other young men did and enlisted in the military to fight in World War II. He returned to Ohio State to complete his undergraduate degree, and did not resume his football career until 1948. Flanagan was the 83rd overall selection in the ’48 NFL draft by Chicago, and he wound up playing eight seasons in the NFL with the Bears, Lions and Steelers. Although he was a running back with the Buckeyes, Flanagan played offensive line and linebacker in the pros and wound up his career with eight interceptions and eight fumble recoveries.

Among others celebrating birthdays this 31st day of October: Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins is 78; TV journalist Dan Rather is 77; actor David Ogden Stiers is 66 (he played Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III on “M*A*S*H”); comedian/actor Brian Doyle-Murray is 63 (in addition to being Bill Murray’s older brother he was caddie chief Lou Loomis in “Caddyshack” and helped co-write the movie); Olympic gold medal-winning marathoner Frank Shorter is 61; former MLB outfielder Mickey Rivers is 60; former “Today” co-anchor Jane Pauley is 58; Alabama head football coach Nick Saban is 57; former NBA head coach John Lucas is 55; Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson is 47 (he directed “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy); U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. is 47; former MLB slugger Fred McGriff is 45; actor and former Saturday Night Live cast member Rob Schneider is 45; country singer Darryl Worley is 44; Beastie Boys member Adam Horowitz is 42; rapper Robert Van Winkle is 41 (known better as Vanilla Ice); former Cincinnati Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee is 40; Anaheim Angels catcher Mike Napoli is 27; and actress Willow Smith is 8.

Also, today would have been Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo’s 65th birthday. Piccolo, subject of the 1971 tear-jerker “Brian’s Song,” died of cancer in 1970 at the age of 26.

AND FINALLY

** Funny how perception changes reality. When the 2008 season began, the prevailing thought was that any undefeated Big Ten team would be passed over for a berth in the BCS National Championship Game in favor of a one-loss team from the SEC or Big 12. Now that Joe Paterno is gunning for what may be a valedictory to his long career, the storylines have suddenly changed with the Nittany Lions now becoming a sentimental favorite to make the title game. And should JoePa’s team get to the title game and somehow win it, how in the world does Penn State get away with not giving a new contract?

** Just in case you think Paterno will ride off into the sunset even if his team wins the national championship, listen to what he had to say earlier this week about his ailing hip. “I want to find out from (doctors) what needs to be done and get it done as soon as I can after the season is over so I can get on the road to recruit.” Coaches are never eager to get on the road to recruit players for their successors. Write this down: JoePa will stop coaching: (a) when Penn State no longer renews his contract, or (b) the day he stops breathing.

** With Penn State and Ohio State still in the running for BCS bowls, and usual powers like Wisconsin and Michigan struggling, it leaves open the possibility of New Year’s Day games for the likes of Michigan State and Minnesota. The Spartans haven’t played on Jan. 1 since a 2000 Citrus Bowl win over Florida. Meanwhile, the Gophers haven’t played on New Year’s Day since the 1962 Rose Bowl, a 21-3 win over UCLA.

** When TCF Bank Stadium opens on the Minnesota campus next fall, it will be the first new on-campus Big Ten stadium to open in 49 years. Indiana’s Memorial Stadium was the last stadium built on a Big Ten campus, breaking ground in August 1958 and hosting its first game in October 1960. The oldest conference venue is Camp Randall Stadium, which opened in 1917. It was followed by Ohio Stadium (1922), Spartan Stadium and Illinois’ Memorial Stadium (1923), Ross-Ade Stadium (1924), Ryan Field (1926), Michigan Stadium (1927) and Kinnick Stadium (1929).

** Notice the above list doesn’t include Beaver Stadium at Penn State. That’s because there is some discrepancy about the year the facility was constructed. Official records show the stadium opened on its present site in 1960. However, some purists insist the facility actually had its birth in 1909 when New Beaver Field opened. It served as the school’s football stadium until 1960, when the entire 30,000-seat venue was dismantled and moved to the east end of campus, reassembled, expanded to 46,284 seats and renamed Beaver Stadium.

** When you refer to Ohio State having the weekend off, impress your friends and insist on calling it an “off week.” The Buckeyes are not playing in a tournament; therefore they cannot have a “bye week.” Yes, I know that the NFL calls it a bye. I also realize that many people now refer to Ohio Stadium as “The Shoe.” Doesn’t make either one of them right.

Five Candidates To Get Ohio State’s Offense Going

It really doesn’t matter whether Jim Tressel, Jim Bollman or Granny Nevada is calling the plays. When push comes to shove in the red zone, it’s the offensive scheme and not so much individual play calls that mean the difference between touchdowns and field goals.

Whether or not you believe the intimation that Tressel may tweak his offensive coaching staff during the offseason, it seems altogether logical that a guy who has 215 career victories knows a thing or two about what does and what doesn’t work. If you and I can figure out that a team with Terrelle Pryor at quarterback and Beanie Wells at running back is underachieving, chances are real good that Tressel has figured it out as well.

The nagging question is what the OSU coach does about it. How does he tweak the offense?

It’s an old sports adage that you can’t fire the players, so the coach is the one with his head on the chopping block. It seems difficult for me to believe that Tressel will dismiss his old friend Bollman. However, with quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels perhaps ready to retire, Tressel could retain Bollman as offensive line coach and hire a new quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

Whether you like Bollman as a line coach or whether you don’t, it’s important to keep him on staff for continuity’s sake. Since Daniels and Bollman were vital parts of the recruiting process where Pryor was concerned, it probably wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest to completely revamp the offensive staff.

If Bollman was left to concentrate solely on the offensive line, it would leave the QB/coordinator to help devise new and innovative ways to get the Ohio State offense in gear. Let’s face it: There is no reason why a team with the number of four- and five-star prospects it has should struggle so mightily. It should be near the top of the nation’s offensive statistics, not near the bottom.

There are plenty of members in the coaching fraternity who would jump at the chance to coach the Buckeyes. But if we’re going to dream, let’s dream big. (And, no, that doesn’t include Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach or firing up the Wayback Machine to bring Walt Harris out of mothballs.)

Not that he needs my help, but when/if Tressel goes on the hunt for a new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, here are five names with outstanding résumés.

1. Dave Christensen, Missouri – One of the main architects of Mizzou’s potent offense, Christensen has the Tigers purring along with the nation’s No. 4 passing offense and No. 5 total offense. Despite the fact he has been in Columbia for eight seasons, Christensen still knows Ohio well from spending nine seasons at Toledo. His final season with the Rockets was 2000 when they went 10-1 and finished 13th in the country in scoring. Best of all, Christensen employs a wide-open offense that includes lots and lots of throws to the tight end in the middle of opposing zone defenses.

2. Chip Kelly, Oregon – Kelly is one of those excellent young coaches who has a vast playbook and isn’t afraid to use every page. He spent eight seasons at I-AA New Hampshire, and the team averaged better than 400 yards per game in seven of those seasons. At New Hampshire, Kelly tutored QB Ricky Santos, who earned the Walter Payton Award, symbolic of Division I-AA’s best offensive player. When he got to Eugene, Kelly immediately installed an offense that highlighted the talents of quarterback Dennis Dixon (remind you of anyone, Buckeye fans?) and the Ducks shot to the top of nearly every major offensive category.

3. Gus Malzahn, Tulsa – In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Golden Hurricane is scoring points in bunches and Malzahn has them atop the national stats in total offense as well as scoring. They are also No. 5 passing thanks to Malzahn’s tutelage of senior QB David Johnson, who has thrown for 3,133 yards and 34 TDs so far in just eight games. And just so you know those numbers are not a one-year fluke, Tulsa had the nation’s No. 1 offense last year, too, when it averaged 543.9 yards per game.

4. Stan Parrish, Ball State – If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Parrish spent six years on Lloyd Carr’s staff at Michigan, including the Wolverines’ half-national championship season in 1997. Parrish also served two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including the year the Bucs won the Super Bowl, and he is now offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ball State. Before you laugh, understand that the Cardinals have one of the most potent offenses in the county, currently ranking 17th in scoring and 14th overall thanks mostly to the performance of quarterback Nate Davis. Parrish, who is an Ohio native, obviously knows a thing or two about coaching mobile quarterbacks.

5. Chuck Long, San Diego State – Maybe a long shot but my personal favorite, Long is about to wash out as head coach of the Aztecs. Just because he failed his first test as a head coach, however, doesn’t mean he’s forgotten about running an offense. Before going to San Diego, Long was a miracle worker as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. If you don’t believe it, how other than a miracle do you explain Josh Heupel finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 2000 and Jason White winning it three years later? Long also has knowledge of the Big Ten as a record-setting quarterback at Iowa in the mid-1980s. You know how some guys are just meant to be coordinators instead of head coaches? I think Long is one of those guys and would look pretty good in scarlet and gray.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** All hail Goldy! After improving to 7-1 with last week’s win over Purdue, Minnesota is gunning for the biggest one-year turnaround in NCAA history. The record currently belongs to Hawaii, which finished 0-12 in 1998 before improving to 9-4 in 1999, an 8½-game turnaround. The Gophers, who finished 1-11 last season, have home games against Northwestern and Michigan the next two weeks followed by a road trip to Wisconsin, Minnesota finishes the regular season Nov. 22 by hosting Iowa, the team’s final game in the Metrodome before moving to the on-campus TCF Bank Stadium in 2009.

** No. 12 TCU is having another excellent season, and at 8-1 retains an outside shot at one of the at-large bids in the Bowl Championship Series. How have the Horned Frogs managed to do so well? Averaging 35.8 points per game offensively doesn’t hurt. But TCU is also pretty strong on defense, ranking No. 2 nationally in scoring defense at 10.4 points per game. The Frogs are especially tough in the latter stages of a game. In nine games so far, they have not allowed a single fourth-quarter point, outscoring their opponents 78-0 in the final period.

** In last week’s 34-7 victory over SMU, Navy ran 77 offensive plays and not a single one of them was a pass. It marked the first time in 11 years that a major college team played an entire game without attempting a single pass. On the final stat sheet, the rushing totals showed 404 for the Middies, minus-13 for the Mustangs.

** During his team’s 58-0 blowout over Colorado last weekend, Missouri tight end Chase Coffman had seven receptions for 50 yards and broke the Division I-A record for career catches by a tight end. Coffman now has 220 receptions for his career, good for 2,416 yards and 25 touchdowns. The previous record-holder for I-A tight ends was Ibn Green of Louisville, who had 217 catches for the Cardinals from 1996-99.

** That shutout was Colorado’s first since a 7-0 loss to Nebraska in November 1988. It ended a streak of 243 games without being blanked, the third-longest in the nation. The Buffaloes drove to the 9-yard line late in the game, but Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel put his starters back in the contest to preserve the shutout. It was Mizzou’s first shutout of a Big 12 opponent since a 48-0 win over Kansas in November 1986.

** Scholarships may suddenly become scarce for kicking specialists. Texas Tech walk-on Matt Williams was 9 for 9 on PATs last week during his team’s 63-21 win over Kansas. Believe it or not, Williams won a halftime kicking contest last month and one of his prizes was a tryout for the team.

** Our weekly update of the undefeated teams at Division I-A finds the number dwindling to just eight: Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, Penn State, Texas, Texas Tech, Tulsa and Utah. That number has to be pared by at least one on Saturday night when Texas Tech hosts Texas.

** I guess I put the kiss of death last week on another undefeated team. Just two days after mentioning that San Diego was the last remaining unbeaten at the Division I-AA level, the Toreros went out and got beat 30-29 by Jacksonville, a team that was just 4-3 heading into the game.

** If Texas, Alabama and Penn State all keep winning, the Nittany Lions will likely be the odd man out of the BCS National Championship Game. Of course, Joe Paterno is used to that kind of scenario. He has guided his team to perfect seasons four times – 1968, 1969, 1973 and 1994 – and never got a sniff of the national championship. The Nits finished second to Ohio State in ’68, second to Texas in ’69, fifth behind Notre Dame, OSU, Oklahoma and Alabama in ’73 and second to Nebraska in ’94.

** Alabama has played eight games so far this season. That computes to 480 minutes of football and the Crimson Tide have trailed their opponents for exactly 75 seconds.

** After losing an early-season contest on an extremely questionable celebration penalty, losing the services of all-purpose quarterback Jake Locker and getting head coach Tyrone Willingham fired, you would think things couldn’t get much worse for Washington. Think again. Freshman defensive tackle Senio Kelemete injured his left knee during warmups before last week’s game against Notre Dame.

** The University of Tulsa recently announced it will retire the jersey number of former All-America receiver Steve Largent. Because he was from a small school and only 5-11 and 187 pounds, Largent was a fourth-round draft choice in 1976 by Houston, who then shipped him to Seattle before he had ever played a game for the Oilers. Largent, of course, went on to become one of the productive receivers in NFL history, tallying 819 receptions for 13,089 yards and 101 touchdowns. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995, and the Seahawks retired Largent’s No. 80 in 1992.

** Thirty-seven years ago today, Michigan State halfback Eric “The Flea” Allen established a new NCAA single-game rushing record. During his team’s 43-10 victory at Purdue on Oct. 30, 1971, Allen exploded for 350 yards. That broke the old mark held by Ron Johnson of Michigan, who rushed for 347 yards during a 34-9 win over Wisconsin in 1968. Allen’s record has been eclipsed several times since, but still ranks second in the Big Ten. Indiana tailback Anthony Thompson ran 52 times for 377 yards in a 45-17 win at Wisconsin in 1989.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 28, 1939, Nebraska spoiled Kansas State’s homecoming with a 25-9 triumph in the second college football game ever televised; on Oct. 29, 1955, future Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung led Notre Dame to a 21-7 upset of No. 4 Navy before a record South Bend crowd on Knute Rockne Memorial Day; and on Nov. 1, 1926, the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach was born. John Gagliardi, currently in his 59th season of coaching, has 458 career victories, most of them with the Division III St. John’s (Minn.) Johnnies.

** This week in college football history also has special significance for Ohio State fans. On Nov. 2, 1974, legendary head coach Woody Hayes marked his 200th career victory when the Buckeyes beat Illinois by a 49-7 score. In that game, tailback Archie Griffin rushed for 144 yards and set a new NCAA record with 18 consecutive games of 100 yards or more. Hayes would go on to win 238 games in his career while Griffin would stretch his consecutive streak of 100 yards or more to 31 straight games, a college football record that still stands.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Ohio State may be taking the week off but the college football season marches on as does the forecast. Last week, we posted a decent 7-3 record but all three losses came inside the conference we’re supposed to know the most about. While we were mildly surprised at Penn State’s win over Ohio State, there was no way we saw Wisconsin knocking off Illinois or Indiana rising up to beat Northwestern. We are now 58-19 for the season straight up.

Against the spread, we have hit a midseason slump. After going 4-6 two weeks ago, we were just breakeven at 5-5 last week. That makes the season ATS ledger at 43-33 but we’re clearly looking for a new strategy to get us out of the doldrums.

Here is what’s on this week’s menu.

TONIGHT’S GAMES

No. 24 South Florida at Cincinnati: If you think the Big Ten gets its share of heat from the national media, what about the Big East. Of course, I guess any BCS conference with just one ranked team – and barely ranked at that – deserves what it gets. Each team heads into this short-week game off a loss and neither team performed very well on offense last Saturday. The talent slightly favors the Bulls but the Bearcats are awfully hard to beat at Nippert Stadium. I’ll flip a coin … South Florida 23, Cincinnati 20. (7:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Northwestern at No. 20 Minnesota: After last week, we’ll dip our toe lightly in the Big Ten. The Wildcats are going to have to make due without tailback Tyrell Sutton, who is out for the rest of the season with a wrist injury. QB C.J. Bachér was bothered by a gimpy hamstring last week, and his backup Mike Kafka didn’t exactly distinguish himself in relief. Put that against the Gophers, who are gaining more and more confidence with each passing week as well as looking to go 8-1 for the first time since 1960 … Minnesota 27, Northwestern 20. (12 noon EDT, ESPN2)

Michigan at Purdue: To say the 2008 season has not gone the way either Rich Rodriguez or Joe Tiller envisioned would be the understatement of the year. The Wolverines are simply devoid of playmakers on offense while the Boilermakers have apparently thrown in the towel on Uncle Joe’s final season, losing five in a row and averaging a scant 12.4 points per game during that span. I am tempted to pick Purdue here mostly because it’s difficult to go winless in the Big Ten (no matter how poorly you perform) and the Boilermakers have done it only once since 1946. But I’ve seen both of these teams play and it seems as bad as they are, U-M is still trying … Michigan 17, Purdue 16. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)

Pittsburgh at Notre Dame: I look at the five wins by the Irish so far and I see victories of teams that are a combined 9-30. I look at five wins by the Panthers so far and I see victories over teams that are a combined 22-18. Notre Dame is undefeated at home so far but Pitt has yet to lose in three road games, including a big 26-21 triumph at South Florida. I’m not sure either of these teams is ready to contend for a national championship, but it sure looks to me like the Panthers are a little more battle-tested at this point … Pittsburgh 27, Notre Dame 23. (2:30 p.m. EDT, NBC)

Arkansas State at No. 2 Alabama: Before you laugh this one off in the Tide’s favor, understand that the Red Wolves are one of those teams that backs down from no one. Last year, they pretty much outplayed Texas before finally bowing in a 21-13 decision. Also, Bama has suffered November swoons the past couple of seasons and it has a huge game coming next week when Nick Saban returns to LSU for the first time since his abrupt resignation four years ago. Think about those things when you place your bets … Alabama 27, Arkansas State 14. (3 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 8 Georgia vs. No. 5 Florida: The winner of the World’s Largest Cocktail Party stays in the mix for a possible national title game berth while the loser will be lucky to remain in the running for a BCS at-large berth. These two teams really don’t like one another, especially after the Bulldogs’ wild end zone celebration early in last year’s 42-30 win. The Gators have circled this game in red ever since, and seem to be on the rise after scoring 114 points in their last two games. Oh, yeah … they’ve also won 15 of the last 18 meetings in the series … Florida 27, Georgia 17. (3:30 p.m. EDT, CBS)

North Texas at Western Kentucky: What if they held a college football game and no one cared? About the only news being generated from this stinker is that North Texas had 15 players fail a recent test for illegal drugs. Obviously they weren’t performance-enhancers since the Mean Green ranks dead last in the country in point differential, getting outscored by an average of 33.1 points per game. The Hilltoppers aren’t much better but at least they have a couple of victories and are playing at home … Western Kentucky 29, North Texas 12. (4:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)

Washington at No. 7 USC: Fact: The Trojans are 23-0 under Pete Carroll in November. Fact: Since losing to Oregon State, USC has outscored four conference opponents by a 158-20 margin. Fact: The Huskies are 0-7 for the first time since 1969. Fact: U-Dub ranks 115th nationally in scoring defense and 117th in scoring offense. Fact: The Trojans rank No. 14 nationally in scoring offense and No. 1 in scoring defense. Fact: This is going to end badly for anyone wearing purple … USC 52, Washington 7. (6:30 p.m., FSN Regional)

Nebraska at No. 4 Oklahoma: Not only will you get to see how far the Cornhuskers have come under first-year head coach Bo Pelini, you will also get to see how much farther they need to go in order to compete with the likes of Oklahoma. The Sooners are one of the most potent offensive teams in college football, and it will be difficult for Nebraska to outscore them. Still, NU has made steady improvement this season and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them hang in and make the game a lot closer than most people think … Oklahoma 37, Nebraska 28. (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

No. 1 Texas at No. 6 Texas Tech: It is amusing to see all of the national media types crying about having to go to Lubbock for this week’s marquee game. As anyone who has lived in Texas can tell you, there is no good way to get to Buddy Holly’s hometown unless you get in the car and drive. That said, the Red Raiders will host what could be described as one of their biggest games ever. They can throw the ball like almost no other team in college football can, but when push comes to shove, I just don’t think they’ll have enough to outscore the Longhorns … Texas 45, Texas Tech 35. (8 p.m. EDT, ABC)

No. 10 Utah at New Mexico: What do I know about the Lobos? Other than having a losing record and being 2½ games behind the Utes in the Mountain West standings, I know that they have been a thorn in Utah’s side from time to time. The fact of the matter is that New Mexico has won five of the last eight games in this series, and for the Utes to continue to harbor hopes of a BCS-busting berth, they cannot afford to look ahead to next Thursday’s showdown with TCU. If they do, the Lobos may be able to stick around for a while … Utah 28, New Mexico 17. (9:30 p.m. EDT, The Mtn.)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: South Florida (-2½) at Cincinnati; Northwestern at Minnesota (-5½); Michigan (+3) at Purdue; Pittsburgh (+5½) at Notre Dame; Arkansas State (+24½) at Alabama; Georgia vs. Florida (-5½); North Texas at Western Kentucky (-16½); Washington at USC (-39); Nebraska (+21½) at Oklahoma; Texas (-5) and Texas Tech; Utah (-7½) at New Mexico.

Enjoy the games and we’ll see you again next week.

Other Teams Besides Ohio State Relying On Freshmen

While Ohio State fans continue to debate the merits of keeping freshman Terrelle Pryor as the one and only playing quarterback on the team, there are other coaches throughout the nation who have decided to make dazzling freshmen the focal parts of their teams.

That includes Boise State, the only other ranked team with a freshman at quarterback. Kellen Moore threw for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week as the Broncos went on the road for a 33-16 victory at San Jose State. Through seven games, Moore has completed 149 of 210 passes (71.0 percent) for 1,835 yards and 15 touchdowns against only four picks.

Additionally, his pass efficiency rating of 164.1 puts Moore seventh in the country in that category. He trails only David Johnson of Tulsa, Colt McCoy of Texas, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Zac Robinson of Oklahoma State, Chase Daniel of Missouri and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech.

Drawing comparisons between Moore’s production to that of Pryor is a bit unfair. After all, Moore operates a wide-open style of offense under Boise State head coach Chris Peterson while the suspicion remains that OSU’s Jim Tressel has been reluctant to open his playbook for Pryor. Nevertheless, if you would like to compare stats, Pryor has completed 75 of his 115 attempts (65.2 percent) for 879 yards and six touchdowns vs. three interceptions.

Pryor has a big edge over Moore in the rushing department. The Ohio State freshman has carried 97 times for 417 yards and scored five times. Moore has 28 carries for a net of minus-12 yards and no touchdowns.

Another outstanding first-year player is Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who had a breakout game against USC. Rodgers rushed for a season-high 186 yards during his team’s 27-21 stunner over the Trojans back on Sept. 25. Rodgers hasn’t been just a one-trick pony, though. He has rushed for 812 yards and nine TDs so far and is also a pass-catching threat with 19 catches for 176 yards.

Perhaps the most unheralded freshman in Georgia receiver A.J. Green. He has already had a couple of 100-yard games for the Bulldogs, and has totals of 39 catches for 662 yards and five touchdowns. His average of 17.0 yards per catch is pretty nice, too.

There are also a couple of standout freshmen on defense. Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis had 15 tackles and two interceptions last week in the Sooners’ 58-35 win over Kansas State, and he now leads his team with 84 tackles through eight games. Meanwhile, defensive back Sean Baker is starring for unbeaten Ball State. He leads the 8-0 Cardinals in both tackles (64) and interceptions (4).

Slightly off the radar is Louisville running back Vic Anderson. Although the Cardinals are much better known for their passing game, Anderson has jumped into the starting lineup as a freshman and responded by averaging 103.9 yards in his first seven games. He has also scored six touchdowns.

As for a freshman who is not currently a starter but will be soon: Alabama running back Mark Ingram. He was part of Nick Saban’s killer recruiting class earlier this year and has rushed for 420 yards and six TDs so far as backup to Tide starter Glen Coffee. Best of all, Ingram is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

And then there is perhaps the best freshman you’ve never heard of. That would be receiver/kick returner T.Y. Hilton of Florida International, and he is, in a word, explosive. He is averaging 28.4 yards on 17 receptions, 17.8 yards on 11 punt returns and 24.7 yards on 22 kickoff returns. Hilton has also scored one touchdown for every 10 times he has touched the ball so far this season.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to All-American offensive tackle Dave Foley. Born Oct. 28, 1947, in Cincinnati, David Edward Foley was a three-year starter at Ohio State between 1966-68. He played right tackle in 1966 and ’67, then moved to left tackle in ’68 and earned All-America honors. Foley was also team co-captain that year as the Buckeyes captured the national championship. He finished his college career as a three-time Academic All-American – the only player in OSU history to achieve that feat – and then became a first-round selection in the 1969 NFL draft by New York Jets. After two seasons with the Jets, Foley was traded to Buffalo where he played until 1977. In 1973, Foley was part of the Bills’ offensive line that helped O.J. Simpson become the first NFL rusher to gain 2,000 yards in a single season. Foley earned his only All-Pro selection that season. After 110 games, including 68 starts, Foley retired from pro football after the 1977 season. He returned to Ohio and settled in Springfield, where he is currently owner of the Foley Benefits Group LLC. Earlier this season, Foley returned to Columbus and was honorary captain for the Buckeyes when they played Ohio.

Also celebrating birthdays this 28th day of October: Southern rock and country music legend Charlie Daniels is 72; all-time winningest NBA coach Lenny Wilkens is 71; TV actor Dennis Franz is 64 (he was Andy Sipowicz on “NYPD Blue”); Olympic decathlon gold medalist turned reality TV star Bruce Jenner is 59; Microsoft founder and gazillionaire Bill Gates is 53; Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is 52; professional poker player Scotty Nguyen is 46; comic actor Andy Richter is 42; Oscar-winning actress Julia Roberts is 41; former NFL running back Terrell Davis is 36; country singer Brad Paisley is 36; actor Joaquin Phoenix is 34; St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Braden Looper is 34; and American Idol season one runner-up Justin Guarini is 30.

AND FINALLY

** Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said a replay official mistakenly awarded Michigan a touchdown during its game against Michigan State on Saturday. “The people in the replay booth made a mistake,” Delany said at the conference’s basketball media day Sunday. “It wasn’t a mistake of judgment, it was a mistake of an application of the rule. They applied the wrong rule and they applied it improperly.” Delany said the decision was “not acceptable” and added discipline could follow. Could follow? How about will follow. How many more blown calls are going to cost teams before the Big Ten does something about its shoddy officiating? It is long past time the conference replaced officials who can’t seem to get calls correct even with the benefit of replay.

** Tyrone Willingham is out as head coach at Washington. There seems to be some question, however, as to whether he resigned or was fired. Seeing that U-Dub will give Willingham a $1 million buyout on contract, I don’t see how that can be classified as a resignation.

** One of the names that quickly popped up on Washington’s wish list was Mike Leach of Texas Tech. The rumor is that Leach would be interested. I doubt that Leach’s personality would be a good fit in laid-back Seattle but you never know. Leach’s sometimes nuclear disposition certainly would be a 180-degree turn from Willingham’s cool demeanor.

** The so-called Pickens Plan to wean the United States off its dependency on foreign oil seems to be working – at least for its creator. Longtime oil man T. Boone Pickens recently announced he will give $63 million to his alma mater Oklahoma State. Pickens previously gave the university $165 million in January 2006. However, it may be awhile before the Cowboys get any more donations from their No. 1 benefactor. The current economic downturn as cost Pickens’ energy hedge fund an estimated $282 million since July.

** In honor of the World Series, did you know that 24 members of the Hall of Fame who played at least five years after 1902 never appeared in the Fall Classic? That list includes such immortals as George Sisler, Nap Lajoie and Willie Keeler as well as more contemporary stars as Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Jim Bunning, Ferguson Jenkins and Phil Niekro.

** One more World Series tidbit: Yogi Berra still owns series records for games played (75), at bats (259), hits (71), singles (49) and doubles (10). Berra appeared in 14 Series with New York between 1947 and 1963 and owns an astounding 10 championship rings.

** In honor of Yogi, remember one of his famous sayings: “You can observe a lot by watching.”

A Buckeye Nation Divided

If you think the country is divided less than a week before the presidential election, you haven’t taken the pulse of the Buckeye Nation lately.

After Ohio State fell 13-6 at home to third-ranked Penn State, battle lines that had been forming since the team’s mid-September loss at USC are now fully defined. It seems that the Scarlet and Gray fan base is evenly divided – either you’re with Jim Tressel or you’re against him.

Those with Scarlet Fever point to Tressel’s many accomplishments including four Big Ten championships or co-championships in the past seven seasons to go along with the 2002 national title. Additional talking points include more first-round NFL draft picks in the last couple of years than any other program, victories in 42 of the team’s last 49 games and trips to three of the last six national championship games.

Then there are the Gray Grumblers, who admit that while Tressel’s team have achieved quite a bit over the past several seasons, there is this nagging feeling they could have accomplished so much more. They grouse about unimaginative play calling, vanilla defensive schemes and a perceived staleness quality on the coaching staff, favoring a platform that includes an infusion of fresh ideas from innovative young up-and-comers.

Once upon a time, you were hard-pressed to find anyone willing to admit they held membership on the Gray side. Tressel banked a tremendous cache of goodwill during the 2002 season, allowing all hungry Ohio State football fans to dine from a tasty buffet that was 34 years in the making.

Since that time, however, small chinks have begun to pierce what once was believed to be the coach’s impenetrable armor. It began with the Maurice Clarett debacle in 2003 and continued with a litany of off-the-field problems, most of which have disappeared in recent years.

But while the problems away from the gridiron have all but gone away, the Buckeyes have experienced trouble between the lines. There were three straight losses to begin the 2004 Big Ten season, a prime-time loss to Texas in 2005, the home loss to Illinois last year and the back-to-back beatdowns absorbed at the hands of SEC powers Florida and LSU in the most recent national championship games.

Then there was another trip to the woodshed, this time courtesy of USC on Sept. 13, and finally the most recent loss, a 13-6 defeat at the hands of Penn State.

As a result, the Grays have increasingly grown in number and have become emboldened to speak out more and more. They remain vastly outnumbered by those in the Scarlet camp, but the Grays seem to have a counter for every point on the Scarlet side.

Their rebuttal to the high number of NFL draft choices centers on selections along the offensive line that seem to have underachieved the past few seasons at Ohio State. They take the argument about Tressel’s excellence in recruiting and pose the question about diminishing returns despite so many four- and five-star prospects on the roster.

And quite naturally, the pluses about getting to national championship games are quickly erased by the minuses of losing badly in those contests.

There is absolutely no arguing Tressel’s overall success since he arrived in Columbus. His run of four conference titles in seven years in the best for the program since it won or shared six Big Ten championships in a row from 1972 to ’77. He reached 80 victories faster than any other Ohio State head coach. And he did coach the program’s first national title team since 1968.

Yet in a what-have-you-done-lately society, each of Tressel’s accomplishments seem to get muddled when the argument is made that his program may have plateaued. If you at least allow the notion that the Gray movement has even a shred of validity, the questions they ask begin to seem less belligerent and more of a cogent variety.

For example, how can a team with so many returning starters seem so out of sync at times? How much longer can a play-calling philosophy be defended when it has produced three games so far this season with no offensive touchdowns? Those are but two of the itchy scabs that continue to nag at Tressel and his 2008 team.

To which party do you belong? Scarlet or Gray? Do you believe the Buckeyes played well against the No. 3 team in the nation and only one mistake meant the difference between winning and losing? Or are you of the mind that if the team wasn’t so conservative and didn’t play things so close to the sweater vest, one mistake wouldn’t mean the difference between victory and defeat?

The Buckeye Nation is rapidly becoming divided along deep-rooted lines and it doesn’t look to me like that division is going to repair itself anytime soon.

A HEISMAN IS BORN?

If you’d like to take something positive away from the loss to Penn State, try this: The last time the Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes, they did so by causing a game-altering fumble by Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith.

You remember the play. Early October 2005, Happy Valley, time running out, Nittany Lions ahead by seven. Smith had driven the Buckeyes out from the shadow of their own goal post and into Penn State territory. He rolled out of the pocket on a second-and-7 play only to be steamrolled from behind by defensive end Tamba Hali. The force of the hit caused Smith to fumble, and the ball rolled around for several agonizing seconds before being recovered by Lions defensive tackle Scott Paxson. Game, set, match.

In the locker room after the game, a disconsolate Smith put the blame for the loss squarely on his own shoulders. Sound familiar?

After that loss to Penn State, Smith went on to lead the Buckeyes to 19 consecutive victories, winning the 2006 Heisman Trophy in the process.

Is that what lies in store for Terrelle Pryor? You may want to blame him for the latest loss to Penn State, and there is no denying his fourth-quarter fumble set up the Nittany Lions for the game-changing touchdown.

Still, there was an awful lot to like about Pryor’s performance in the contest. He proved – not that he really needed to – that he possesses an accurate arm, dropping several of his pass attempts right on the money. At this point in his development, the freshman has already shown he can throw deep, he can throw short, he can wind up and throw a seed, and he can get just the right amount air under a touch pass.

He is also a competitor. Like Smith before him, Pryor commands respect from his teammates just because of his raw ability. Once he gets more game experience and learns that he can be more vocal, his obviously leadership qualities will be readily seen even more.

After the game, Pryor was nearly inconsolable. It was, after all, the first time he had tasted defeat as a starting quarterback since the final game of his junior year in high school. After a week off to reflect, I would expect him to return with a renewed vigor by the time he faces Northwestern.

And if someday he is standing in New York City, smiling and holding a rather large bronze trophy, will Pryor think back to a chilly October night against Penn State when he fumbled away his team’s chances for victory? Maybe. It’s happened before.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former Ohio State defensive tackle Pete Cusick. Born Oct. 27, 1952, in San Bernadino, Calif., Peter Martin Cusick moved with his family to northern Ohio and was a high school star at Lakewood. He signed with the Buckeyes in 1971 and became a three-year starter at defensive tackle from 1972-74. Cusick was a third-round draft choice by New England in the 1975 NFL draft and played 13 games for the Patriots in ’75. That was his only pro season, and he later returned to his native California to enter the business world. Cusick is currently group vice president of the Southern California division of Maritz Inc., a sales and marketing service company.

Among the others celebrating birthdays this 27th day of October: TV actress Nanette Fabray is 88; Baseball Hall of Fame outfielder Ralph Kiner is 86; film actress Ruby Dee is 84; former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher is 83; actor, writer and Monty Python founding member John Cleese is 69; country singer Lee Greenwood is 66 (“God Bless The U.S.A.”); film producer and director Ivan Reitman is 62 (“Stripes,” “Ghostbusters,” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend”); E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent is 59; author Fran Lebowitz is 58; guitarist and Judas Priest founding member K.K. Downing is 57; Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni is 56 (“Life Is Beautiful”); TV actor Robert Picardo is 55 (he portrays Richard Woolsey on “Stargate SG-1” and “Stargate Atlantis”); Duran Duran lead singer Simon Le Bon is 50; conservative blogger Matt Drudge is 42; TV personality Kelly Osbourne is 24; and Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn is also 24.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

** You can debate Pryor’s decision to break his quarterback sneak to the outside, but I liked the go-for-it mentality of the play. If he makes just one more guy miss, chances are he’s headed to the end zone with a game-breaking touchdown. As it was, credit is due Penn State safety Mark Rubin for causing the momentum-changing fumble. But if Pryor has that chance again, I hope he takes it.

** OSU receiver Brian Robiskie hasn’t had the kind of season he probably hoped for, but the senior co-captain came up big for his team against Penn State. He made a leaping stab of a jump ball late in the first half for a 33-yard reception that set the Buckeyes up for their first field goal. And in the third quarter, he kept his toes inbounds while corralling an important 17-yard catch that eventually led to the team’s second field goal and a temporary 6-3 lead.

** For the most part, the OSU-Penn State game was a pretty clean one with only four penalties (all on the home team) accepted. It didn’t start out that way, though. Ohio State senior Curtis Terry and Penn State senior Cedric Jeffries tangled with one another on the opening kickoff, eventually wrestling one another to the ground before officials finally separated them. For the record, in their last three games against the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions have had only five penalties marked off against them for just 29 yards.

** You practically need a Ph.D. to figure out the BCS, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. Even though the Buckeyes now have two losses, they cannot be counted out of the mix for a BCS bowl berth. Obviously, they have to win their final three regular-season games. After that, the prevailing notion is that the Big 12 and SEC will each land two teams in the BCS. Since no conference can send more than two teams to BCS games, and the Pac-10 and ACC seem unlikely to get anything more than their automatic berths, that would leave Ohio State competing for the final at-large spots with the likes of Utah, Boise State or maybe TCU. You have to believe any bowl committee with those kinds of choices would opt for the Buckeyes and the amount of cash generated by their fan base.

History On Ohio State’s Side Vs. Penn State

“I know no way of judging the future but by the past.”

– Edward Gibbon (1737-1794)

It is more than slightly amusing to watch and listen to the nattering nabobs prattle on about how Ohio State has almost no chance to slow down the juggernaut that has become Penn State.

My rebuttal to them is simple: Scoreboard.

Since Joe Paterno and his Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten for the 1993 season, they have a big, fat oh-fer when playing at Ohio Stadium. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. Winless.

Not only that, the games haven’t even been close. There was one six-point game that came during Ohio State’s national championship run in 2002 – wasn’t every game close that season? – while every other one of the other six games has been an OSU victory by double digits. The average margin of victory in the seven games: 20.9.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

1993 – On a cold, snowy late October afternoon, the Buckeyes welcomed JoePa to the Big Ten by rolling to a 24-6 win. OSU piled up 380 yards of total offense, led by running back Raymont Harris, who exploded for 151 yards. It was a virtuoso performance by Ohio State on defense as well. The Buckeyes snagged four interceptions and held the Lions without a touchdown for the first time that season.

1996 – Penn State came to Columbus with a perfect 5-0 record and the No. 4 ranking in the country and limped home on the business end of a 38-7 verdict. QBs Stan Jackson and Joe Germaine each threw for two touchdowns as the Buckeyes had 565 yards of total offense. Tailback Pepe Pearson ran for 141 yards on 28 carries while backups Joe Montgomery and Jermon Jackson combined for 138 more. The Nits, who managed only 68 yards rushing as a team, scored on their final possession to avoid their first shutout in nine years.

1998 – The seventh-ranked Lions brought cold and rainy weather with them to the Horseshoe and actually had a 3-0 lead before the Buckeyes stormed away with a 28-9 win. OSU scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the first half – the first when linebacker Jerry Rudzinski recovered a fumble in the end zone and the second when Germaine connected with tailback Michael Wiley for a 20-yard tally. Again, the Ohio State defense was able to hold Penn State in check. The Lions had only nine first downs and 181 yards of total offense, and were held to no gain or thrown for a loss on 34 of their 59 plays.

2000 – Thunder and lightning delayed kickoff for about 20 minutes and Penn State would probably have been better off had official postponed the game indefinitely. Ohio State rolled to a 45-6 blowout, the largest defeat for the Lions since Paterno had been head coach. The Buckeyes had 397 yards of total offense, led by quarterback Steve Bellisari, who completed 10 of 17 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown. Penn State committed three turnovers, including a fourth-quarter fumble that OSU defensive end Mike Collins scooped up and returned 11 yards for a touchdown.

2002 – As most games were during the title run, this was a nail-biter as Penn State held a 7-3 halftime lead. OSU’s fortunes turned on a third-quarter interception by Chris Gamble that he returned 40 yards for a touchdown. Mike Nugent later added a 37-yard field goal to account for the final 13-7 score. The Ohio State defense clamped down on the Lions once again, holding them to just 179 total yards. Tailback Larry Johnson, who was coming off a 257-yard performance the week before against Northwestern, was held to a season-low 66 yards against the Buckeyes.

2004 – First-quarter touchdowns on special teams and defense staked Ohio State to an early lead in what would eventually become a 21-10 win. Ted Ginn Jr. brought back a punt 67 yards to get things started and Tyler Everett returned an interception 24 yards to give the Buckeyes a quick 14-0 lead. OSU head coach Jim Tressel kept things pretty simple for his relatively new starting quarterback Troy Smith (sound familiar?) while the defense forced three Penn State fumbles and grabbed two interceptions.

2006 – The Nittany Lions held a 3-0 lead at halftime before the Buckeyes got things in gear in the second half for a 28-6 victory. Antonio Pittman’s 12-yard touchdown run finally got OSU on the board in the third quarter before a trio of fourth-quarter TDs – including interception returns by Malcolm Jenkins and Antonio Smith – turned a close game into a rout.

Not only has the Horseshoe has been Penn State’s personal House of Horrors, it was also where defensive back Adam Taliaferro was injured in 2000 (not permanently, thank goodness) and JoePa had his infamous potty break in ’06.

Why all the history? Because it’s worth noting that Penn State has come to Ohio Stadium seven times since joining the Big Ten – many of those trips armed with an undefeated record, lofty national ranking or both – and gone home a loser every time. For whatever reason, the Nits play tight in the Horseshoe, allowing the OSU defense to create turnovers and providing plenty of scoring opportunities for the Buckeyes.

I see a similar scenario playing out on Saturday night. After all, a very good way to forecast the future is by examining the past.

HISTORY LESSION – PART DEUX

The year after he and his brother George led Brown to an 8-1 season, Joe Paterno followed his old coach Rip Engle to Penn State. The year was 1950.

What else was happening the year Paterno got to Happy Valley?

Harry Truman was President of the United States. He escaped an assassination attempt in Washington, D.C., in November and concentrated most of the rest of the year on unrest in Asia. On June 25, major hostilities broke out between North and South Korea, beginning the Korean War which would last until July 1953.

South Africa passed the Group Areas Act, segregating races and sewing the roots of apartheid. Author L. Ron Hubbard published “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health,” a book on the philosophy of Scientology. A nun known as Sister Mary Teresa began her charity work in Calcutta, India. She would later become Mother Teresa.

Darlington Raceway was the site of the Southern 500, the first 500-mile race in NASCAR history. The “Beetle Bailey” and “Peanuts” comic strips were introduced, the game show “Truth or Consequences” debuted on television, and actress Shirley Temple announced her retirement from show business at the age of 22.

Born that year were actors William H. Macy, William Hurt, Bill Murray, Randy Quaid, Ed Harris and Don Johnson; actresses Morgan Fairchild and Julie Kavner (the voice of Marge on “The Simpsons”); singer/musicians Billy Ocean, Natalie Cole, Peter Gabriel. Karen Carpenter, Peter Frampton, Stevie Wonder, Huey Lewis, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and Tom Petty; comedians Martin Short, Jay Leno and John Candy; sports figures Mark Spitz, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Ken Griffey Sr. and North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams; newsmakers such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, “Meet The Press” moderator Tim Russert, political activist Alan Keyes and Princess Anne of Great Britain; and such other notables as television psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw, romance novelist Nora Roberts and American film critic Leonard Maltin.

Among those passing away in 1950 were such notable authors as George Orwell and Edgar Rice Burroughs as well as playwright George Bernard Shaw.

Also in 1950, the United Nations building was finished in New York City; the first portable pager and TV remote control were introduced; and President Truman sent the first U.S. military advisers to Vietnam.

The total world population was just over 2.5 billion. Today, it is estimated to be about 6.7 billion.

OHIO STATE-PENN STATE MINUTIAE

** This will be the 24th meeting between Ohio State and Penn State. The Buckeyes hold a 12-11 advantage in the overall series including five wins in the last six meetings. OSU is also 8-5 at home against the Nittany Lions, including a perfect 7-0 in Ohio Stadium since Penn State joined the Big Ten. The Lions haven’t beaten the Buckeyes in Columbus since a 19-0 victory in 1978.

** Since Penn State joined the Big Ten for the 1993 season, the home team has won 12 of the 15 games in the OSU-PSU series.

** In the 19 meetings since 1975, at least one of the teams has been ranked 17 times. The higher ranked team has posted a 16-1 record in those games. Penn State enters the contest ranked No. 3 in both major polls while Ohio State is No. 10.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 5-2 against the Nittany Lions, including last year’s 37-17 victory in Happy Valley. The Buckeyes have enjoyed an average margin of victory of 12.0 points in those five wins.

** Penn State head coach Joe Paterno is the winningest major-college coach in NCAA history with a 380 career victories but his record is only 7-12 all-time against the Buckeyes. That includes losses in eight of nine games his teams have played at Ohio Stadium.

** Under Tressel, the Buckeyes are 32-10 against ranked opponents, including 21-5 at home. Against top 10 competition, Tressel is 8-5 overall.

** If Ohio State beats Penn State, it will mark a pair of milestones for Tressel. It would be his 81st victory with the Buckeyes, tying him with Earle Bruce for third place on the school’s all-time wins list. It would also be Tressel’s 50th conference win, a total only 19 men before him have accomplished.

** Last week, Tressel ran his overall record at OSU to 80-17 and became only the fourth coach in Big Ten history to reach 80 victories in less than 100 games. Fielding Yost of Michigan hit the 80-win plateau in 91 games while Bo Schembechler of Michigan needed 94 games and Henry Williams of Minnesota needed 96.

** The Buckeyes are 6-1 in home night games since 1959, including 2-1 under Tressel. All-time, OSU is 32-13 under the lights. Meanwhile, Penn State is 34-20 in night games, including 16-7 on the road during the regular season.

** It will be the 87th annual homecoming game for Ohio State, and the Buckeyes are 63-18-5 in previous homecoming affairs.

** Penn State is the midst of a stretch during which they play four out of five games on the road. The Lions began the stretch with wins at Purdue and Wisconsin, giving them their first back-to-back Big Ten road victories since winning three in a row in 1999.

** With the exception of Ohio State, Penn State has had its way with Ohio teams over the years. The Nittany Lions are 17-2 against other Ohio schools with the lone blemishes a 14-3 loss to Cincinnati in 1983 and a 24-6 loss to Toledo in 2000.

** Be alert during all punts. The game features two of the Big Ten’s top five punt returners in Ray Small of Ohio State and Derrick Williams of Penn State. Small leads the conference with a 14.0 return average while Williams is fifth at 10.3. Both have taken punts back for touchdowns this season.

** Williams also excels at returning kickoffs. He leads the Big Ten and is No. 5 nationally in that department, having returned two for touchdowns this season while averaging 32.2 yards per runback.

** Penn State senior kicker Kevin Kelly kicked three field goals and five PATs last week during his team’s 46-17 win over Michigan and became the all-time kick scorer in Big Ten history. Kelly, who now has 376 career points, passed Dan Nystrom of Minnesota (1999-2002) and Nate Kaeding of Iowa (2000-03), each of whom scored 367 points.

** Kelly now has 384 total points – he ran for a touchdown against Michigan State last season and scored a two-point conversion against Michigan in 2005 – and now sits third all-time in Big Ten scoring. He trails only Ron Dayne of Wisconsin (426, 1996-99) and Anthony Thompson of Indiana (412, 1986-89).

** Ohio State senior linebacker James Laurinaitis has been selected one of 12 finalists for the Lombardi Award. The others are linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga of USC, defensive end Auston English of Oklahoma, offensive lineman Alex Mack of California, offensive tackle Michael Oher of Mississippi, defensive end Brian Orakpo of Texas, offensive lineman Duke Robinson of Oklahoma, defensive end George Selvie of South Florida, offensive lineman Andre Smith of Alabama, linebacker Brandon Spikes of Florida and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon of Missouri.

** In his long career, Paterno has squared off against five other schools at least 25 times, and in those contests against Maryland, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Temple and West Virginia, JoePa has padded his victory total. He is a combined 118-13-2 against those schools.

** Tressel and Paterno will each wear special green and white armbands during the game, symbolizing the American Football Coaches Association’s newest charitable project. The armbands are in support of “Coach to Cure MD,” the effort to fight muscular diseases. In particular, the coaches are fighting against Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the most common fatal genetic disorder diagnosed during childhood.

** Official festivities for the game get under way Friday evening when the Big Ten Network’s Friday Night Tailgate show originates from the OSU campus. Early Saturday morning, ESPN will broadcast its popular College GameDay show from outside St. John Arena beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern. Also, former Ohio State quarterbacks Craig Krenzel and Bobby Hoying will be signing autographs at the FanFest location near St. John beginning at 2:30 p.m.

** The Ohio State men’s basketball team will hold an open scrimmage at Value City Arena from 4 to 5 p.m. The event is free and doors will open at 3:30 p.m. And the Ohio State Marching Band will hold its traditional Skull Session inside St. John Arena beginning at 6 p.m.

** Those attending the game are encouraged to wear something red for a “Scarlet Fever” theme, and the first 80,000 fans entering the stadium will receive free scarlet rally towels.

** Kickoff for Saturday’s game will be shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern. ABC will broadcast the game on a national basis with our ol’ buddy Brent Musberger handling the play-by-play, Ohio State alum Kirk Herbstreit with the color analysis and Penn State grad Lisa Salters patrolling the sidelines.

** Ohio State will take its 2008 schedule breather next week and return to action Nov. 8 at Northwestern.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Here is a list of some of the luminaries celebrating birthdays this 24th day of October: NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle is 82; former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman is 72; Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham is 69 (he portrayed Salieri in “Amadeus”); Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Kline is 61; former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume (born Frizzell Gerald Gray) is 60; former Cincinnati Reds relieve Rawly Eastwick is 58; Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is 51; television golf analyst and 1991 British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch is 48; former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jay Novacek is 46; convicted murderer Scott Peterson is 36; former NFL running back Corey Dillon is 34; famous-for-being-famous raunch queen Tila Tequila is 27; and NASCAR driver Brian Vickers is 25.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** It will be a busy weekend for former Ohio State head coach John Cooper. He will be honored at halftime of Saturday night’s OSU-Penn State game for his election to the College Football Hall of Fame. Then on Sunday, Coop will get the featured treatment from Tulsa during at halftime of the Golden Hurricane’s contest against Central Florida. During his career, Cooper won 111 games at Ohio State, 57 at Tulsa and 25 at Arizona State, which already honored the coach earlier this season.

** Speaking of Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane is 6-0 for the first time since 1942. The team won all 10 of its regular-season games that season and rose to No. 4 in the Associated Press poll before losing a 14-7 decision to Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. Tulsa hasn’t posted an undefeated season since going 9-0 in 1922.

** Our weekly update of the undefeated teams at Division I-A finds the number dwindling to just nine: Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Texas, Texas Tech, Tulsa and Utah. That number has to be pared by at least one on Saturday when Oklahoma State visits Texas.

** Nine undefeated teams marked the largest number ever in the initial week of the BCS standings. The previous high was eight in 2002. This time last year, there were only six undefeated teams remaining at the I-A level.

** My frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy right now is Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. His numbers are simply stunning – 160 completions in 197 attempts (81.2 percent) for 1,894 yards and 19 touchdowns against only three interceptions. All that, plus he leads the nation’s No. 1 team. Even last year’s winner, Tim Tebow of Florida, said that he is thinking about casting his Heisman vote for McCoy.

** Thanks to McCoy and several of his cohorts, the Big 12 has gotten a lot of ink this season for its pass-happy offenses. Meanwhile, the Big Ten continues to be home to some of the top running backs in the country. The conference features five of the nation’s top 30 rated rushers, including two of the top three in Javon Ringer of Michigan State and Shonn Greene of Iowa. Ringer is second nationally with an average of 147.4 yards per game while Greene is third at 144.3. The Big Ten would have another back in the top 10 since Chris “Beanie” Wells of Ohio State averages 123.8 yards per game, but he hasn’t played at least 75 percent of his team’s games and does not qualify for the national stats.

** The loss at Oregon State seemed to get the attention of USC. Since that defeat, the Trojans have outscored three opponents 141-10 and pitched back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1971.

** After absorbing a 69-0 loss to USC that could have been worse, Washington State has now allowed 63 or more points in four of eight games this season. And still, somehow, the Cougars are not the worst team in Division I-A in terms of scoring defense. That dubious distinction belongs to North Texas, which has allowed a staggering 50.7 points per game this season. Combined with an offense that averages just 16.9 points, you can perhaps see how the Mean Green are a lean 0-7.

** Incidentally, that shutout loss suffered by Washington State marked the first time the Cougars had been held scoreless in 280 games. That was the second-longest active streak behind Michigan, which hasn’t been shut out in 295 straight games.

** There is something about that Smurf Turf at Boise State. Since joining the Western Athletic Conference in 2001, the Broncos are a perfect 30-0 in conference games at home.

** Colgate freshman Nate Eachus had a game last weekend he can tell his grandchildren about someday. After beginning the contest at linebacker (and recording three tackles, including a sack), Eachus was pressed into service at running back when starter Jordan Scott went down with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Eachus responded by rushing for 241 yards and leading the Raiders to a 38-22 win over Cornell.

** Running back Bernard Scott of Division II Abilene (Texas) Christian also put in a pretty good afternoon last Saturday. Scott rushed for 259 yards and caught passes worth 141 yards – that’s 400 total, folks – as the No. 3 Wildcats took a 52-34 win over fourth-ranked West Texas A&M.

** Tom II, the tiger who served as the live mascot for the University of Memphis, died last week. Tom (which stands for Tigers Of Memphis) had served the university since 1992.

** While there are nine remaining undefeated Division I-A teams, there is only one left at the I-AA level. That would be San Diego, which travels to 4-3 Jacksonville this weekend. Chances are pretty good the Toreros will stay unbeaten – they have won the last three games in the series with Jacksonville by a 144-64 margin.

** Thirty-two years ago today, Pittsburgh running back Tony Dorsett pushed his season rushing total past the 1,000-yard mark during a 45-0 victory over Navy. Dorsett became the first running back in NCAA history to post four 1,000-yard seasons, and he also broke the NCAA career rushing record previously held by two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 21, 1989, Alabama QB Gary Hollingsworth set a school record for completions, going 32 for 46 for 379 yards and three touchdowns as the Tide rolled to a 47-30 win over Tennessee; on Oct. 22, 1904, Minnesota’s Bobby Marshall set an NCAA record by scoring 72 points during the Golden Gophers’ 146-0 victory over Grinnell (Iowa); and on Oct. 25, 1980, SMU freshman quarterback Lance McIlhenny celebrated his first start by engineering a 20-6 upset of No. 2 Texas in Austin. Halfback Craig James, now a college football analyst for ABC, ran 53 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put the Mustangs ahead for good.

** This week in college football history has also seen a couple of other big-time upsets. On Oct. 20, 1956, Texas A&M scored a 7-6 upset over No. 4 TCU is what has been called “The Hurricane Game.” Played in 90-mph wins, the Horned Frogs got inside the A&M 5-yard-line three times in the first half but failed to score. On Oct. 26, 1985, seventh-ranked BYU saw its 25-game conference winning streak end when UTEP handed the Cougars a 23-16 loss in El Paso. Miners DB Danny Taylor returned a Robbie Bosco interception 100 yards for a touchdown to provide for the winning points.


Woody Had It Right … Again

Woody Hayes once said the most popular person in Columbus was Ohio State’s backup quarterback. That was just one more thing the old man was right about.

Just since Jim Tressel has been head coach, the Buckeye Nation has clamored for Craig Krenzel during the Steve Bellisari era, Scott McMullen during the Krenzel era, Troy Smith during the Justin Zwick era and then Tyrelle Pryor during the Todd Boeckman era.

Now, believe it or not, there are those who actually believe it might be better for Boeckman to take some snaps for the Buckeyes in relief of Pryor. I don’t include tight end Jake Ballard since his widely publicized comments were taken completely out of context. I do, however, include the people who criticized Boeckman last year when the team was headed to the national championship game, the same ones who couldn’t wait for Tressel to supplant him with the much-heralded coming of Pryor, and even the loutish few who booed Boeckman when he skipped a pass during the Troy game.

I like Boeckman. Much like Zwick, he has been a good soldier through this entire ordeal while you know it’s tearing him up inside. And despite the cacophony of his naysayers, Boeckman is still a pretty good quarterback. Even this year, he has managed to complete 64.5 percent of his pass attempts and has a quarterback efficiency rating of 121.53. That ranks ahead of such Big Ten passers as C.J. Bachér of Northwestern and Curtis Painter of Purdue.

But Boeckman clearly represents the past in terms of the Ohio State program. Pryor is the present and the future, and replacing him at this point – even for only a few plays per game – would send a terrible message, not only to the youngster but to the team as well. Tressel would be showing that he does not have 100 percent confidence in the freshman QB and that split personality was something the Buckeyes of the mid-1990s could never overcome with Stan Jackson and Joe Germaine splitting time under center.

Tressel has made his choice and fans would do well to content themselves with the fact that the page has turned on the Boeckman era.

Now, as for Tressel’s reluctance so far to utilize all of Pryor’s talents – including stretching the field vertically in the passing game … well, that’s another discussion for another column.

SI COVER JINX

When Sports Illustrated went to regional covers for its annual College Football Preview issue, it simply increased the level of probability that some of its subjects were going to fall victim to the dreaded cover jinx.

Of the off chance you don’t know what I’m talking about, many readers and athletes themselves are superstitious about appearing on the cover of SI. That’s probably because the magazine has featured such subjects as college football players Todd Marinovich and Tony Mandarich, NFL draft busts such as Ryan Leaf and defending U.S. Open champion Lee Trevino the week before the 1969 Open. Trevino then missed the cut.

The College Football Preview in 1993 also took its toll when it featured Florida State kicker Scott Bentley. He proceeded to miss seven PATs in the Seminoles’ first five games that season.

This year’s college preview featured five regional covers with players from Ohio State, Georgia, USC, Missouri and Florida. Each of those teams suffered a loss before reaching the midway point of their respective seasons, and some of the players suffered even more.

The jinx didn’t take long to take effect. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez sustained a dislocated kneecap in preseason camp. Chris “Beanie” Wells of Ohio State suffered a toe injury in the Buckeyes’ first game of the season, and Missouri all-purpose star Jeremy Maclin was forced out of his team’s first game with a sprained ankle. OSU quarterback Todd Boeckman lost his starting job after week three.

Additionally, USC linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, who appeared with Sanchez, have been injured as has Florida receiver Percy Harvin, who underwent heel surgery last April.

Even since the College Football Preview issue, dated Aug. 11, the jinx has been alive and well. Just within the past month, the cover has featured the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Ole Miss football team and the Chicago Cubs with the accompanying headline: “Welcome To The Party.”

CONGRATS TO TRESS

With last week’s victory over Purdue, OSU head coach Jim Tressel moved his record to 79-17 with the Buckeyes. His victory total is now one more than the legendary John W. Wilce, who posted a 78-33-9 mark at Ohio State between 1913 and 1928. Under Wilce, the Buckeyes won their first Big Ten championship and beat Michigan for the first time.

Tressel is now fourth on the school’s all-time wins list and needs only three more victories to move into third place. He trails only Woody Hayes (205), John Cooper (111) and Earle Bruce (81).

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Those celebrating birthdays this 17th day of October include: Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and former sportswriter Jimmy Breslin is 78; country singer Earl Thomas Conley is 67; Sixties band Union Gap frontman Gary Puckett is 66; former world-class pole vaulter Bob Seagren is 62; actor Michael McKean is 61 (he portrayed Lenny of Lenny and Squiggy fame on “Laverne and Shirley” as well as lead singer David St. Hubbins in “This Is Spinal Tap”); actress Margot Kidder is 60 (she was Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies); actor George Wendt is 60 (Norm on “Cheers”); former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Steve McMichael is 51; country singer Alan Jackson is 50; film critic Richard Roeper is 49; theater and film director Rob Marshall is 48; “Beavis and Butt-head” and “King of the Hill” creator Mike Judge is 46; former Cincinnati Reds slugger Glenn Braggs is 46; former Saturday Night Live cast member Norm MacDonald is 45; Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry is 42; musician Ziggy Marley is 40; two-time U.S. Open champion golfer Ernie Els is 39; Grammy-winner rapper Eminem (born Marshall Bruce Mathers III) is 36; and musician/actor Wyclef Jean is 36;

OHIO STATE-MICHIGAN STATE MINUTIAE

** This will be the 39th meeting between Ohio State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes hold a 26-12 advantage in the overall series including six wins in a row and 11 in the last 13 meetings. OSU is 12-5 record in East Lansing, and the Spartans haven’t beaten the Buckeyes at home since a 23-7 victory in 1999.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 5-0 against the Spartans, including last year’s 24-17 victory in Columbus. The Buckeyes have enjoyed an average margin of victory of 14.4 points in those five games.

** Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is 0-3 against the Buckeyes – losses in 2004 and 2006 while at Cincinnati in addition to last year’s defeat. Dantonio, of course, was defensive coordinator on Tressel’s staff from 2001-03 and won the Frank Broyles Award in 2002 as college football’s top assistant coach.

** During Dantonio’s 20-game tenure at Michigan State, his teams are a sparkling 12-3 when they score first and 11-1 when leading at halftime. They are also a perfect 12-0 when leading after three quarters.

** This marks only the third game this season that Ohio State has faced a ranked opponent. The Buckeyes lost a 35-3 decision to then-No. 1 USC in mid-September and then took a 17-10 win over then-No. 18 Wisconsin two weeks ago. All-time, OSU is 125-101-2 when playing ranked opponents. That includes a 37-40-7 mark on the road.

** Under Tressel, the Buckeyes are 31-10 against ranked opponents, including 10-5 on the road.

** In its last 42 games against teams ranked in the Associated Press media poll, Michigan State is 18-24, but that includes eight straight losses. The Spartans’ last win over an AP ranked team was a 44-41 overtime upset of No. 10 Notre Dame in 2005.

** The Spartans are 6-1 for the first time since 2003 and for only the third time since 1967.

** Michigan State tailback Javon Ringer currently leads Division I-A in rushing touchdowns (14) and ranks second in rushing (158.9 yards per game) and all-purpose yards (201.7). He is also tied for third in the nation in scoring, averaging 12.0 points per game. Ringer leads the Big Ten in all four of those categories.

** Ringer, who is a product of Dayton (Ohio) Chaminade-Julienne, is one of 24 Ohio players on the Michigan State roster. Ohio State has exactly one player from Michigan – safety Aaron Gant from St. Mary’s Prep in Orchard Park.

** Senior quarterback Brian Hoyer is another native Ohioan, a product of Cleveland St. Ignatius. Hoyer threw for 169 yards last week in the Spartans’ 37-20 win over Northwestern, and that pushed him over 5,000 passing yards for his career. Only six other Michigan State quarterbacks before him have achieved that milestone. Jeff Smoker (2000-03) is the school’s all-time leading passer with 8,932 yards.

** The game features one of the best red-zone teams in the nation against one that excels in keeping its opponents off the scoreboard when they get close to the goal line. MSU opponents are scoring at only a 60.9-percent clip (14 for 23) in the red zone, the best mark in the Big Ten and sixth best in the nation. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are second in the conference and tied for 16th in the country at 90.0-percent efficiency in the red zone, converting18 for 20 trips. However, on 10 of those 18 conversions, OSU has been forced to settle for a field goal.

** The Ohio State defense would do well to keep Michigan State under 24 points in the game. Since 1990, the Spartans are 95-27-1 when scoring 24 or more. When they are held to fewer than 24 points, their record is 17-78-1.

** Michigan State junior kicker Brett Swensen has become money in the bank. After missing his first field-goal attempt of the season in the opener against Cal, the 5-8, 169-pounder has connected on 15 consecutive three-pointers. That is a new school record, beating the old mark of 13 in a row set by Paul Edinger in 1998.

** Spartan Stadium opened for business in 1923 as College Field. It was later known as Macklin Field and Macklin Stadium before getting its current name in 1956. The stadium is one of only four Big Ten venues that features a natural grass playing surface. The others: Kinnick Stadium at Iowa, Ryan Field at Northwestern and Beaver Stadium at Penn State.

** A couple of traditions to watch for if you’re headed to East Lansing on Saturday. The Spartans enter the stadium to the strains of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” which is followed by clips from the movie “300” played on the large monitor screen. Another clip from “300,” the one with Leonidas shouting, “Spartans! What is your profession?” is played whenever the opponent is facing a third-down situation. The crowd then responds with “Haroo! Haroo! Haroo!” while thrusting their fists in the air.

** There aren’t too many degrees of separation for the respective coaching staffs. In addition to Dantonio’s relationship with Tressel which began at Youngstown State, Tressel served as Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell’s position coach at Miami (Ohio) in 1979-80. Treadwell was later part of Tressel’s staff at YSU from 1986-91, and served as the Penguins’ offensive coordinator in ’91 when the team won the Division I-AA national championship.

** Michigan State quarterbacks coach Dave Warner also had Tressel as his position coach at Syracuse in 1981. MSU tight ends and tackles coach Mark Staten was a graduate assistant on Tressel’s staff at Ohio State in 2002 and ’03. And Spartans linebackers and special teams coach Mike Tressel is the son of OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel, which obviously makes him Jim Tressel’s nephew.

** The synergy isn’t limited to Michigan State coaches. OSU offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Bollman spent three seasons in East Lansing from 1995-97 coaching the line for Nick Saban. And Ohio State safeties coach Paul Haynes spent the 2003 and ’04 seasons coaching MSU cornerbacks.

** Want even more? Michigan State strength and conditioning coach Ken Mannie earned his master’s degree from Ohio State in 1985 and served as a graduate assistant for the Buckeyes in ’84. MSU director of player development Dino Folino began his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Buckeyes in 1974-75, working under legendary head coach Woody Hayes. And Michigan State assistant athletic director and head athletic trainer Jeff Monroe graduated from OSU in 1972 with a degree in physical education. Monroe spent four years as a student trainer for the Buckeyes from 1969-72.

** Kickoff for Saturday’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. ABC will once again broadcast the game on a regional basis with the announce crew of Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Bob Griese and Paul Maguire (color analysis) and Stacey Dales (sideline reports).

** ABC will employ – or at least will try to employ – its reverse mirror effect for the game. That means if the game is not on the ABC station in your area, it will be shown on ESPN2 – and vice versa.

** The game can also be heard on XM satellite radio channel 199.

** Next week’s game is back home at Penn State and will be ABC’s national telecast. ESPN’s College GameDay crew will be at the game for its 10 a.m. ET broadcast and the game itself will kick off shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** How did Texas sneak up on everyone to become the No. 1 team in the nation? For starters, the Longhorns are probably the best mix of offense and defense in college football this season. They are 32 for 33 in the red zone (27 of those scores are touchdowns) and quarterback Colt McCoy has completed nearly 80 percent of his passes. Defensively, UT hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season. And just so you don’t think Mack Brown has forgotten about special teams, Texas is fifth in the nation in kickoff returns, ninth in net punting and 7 for 7 in field goals.

** The college football season has barely reached its midway point and only 10 teams remain undefeated at Division I-A. Those schools are Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, BYU, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Texas, Texas Tech, Tulsa and Utah.

** After his infamous “I’m 40, I’m a man” meltdown last season, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has proved he can channel some of that intensity into his locker room. The Cowboys are 6-0 this season for only the second time since 1945.

** Upset alert: USC goes to Washington State on Saturday as a 43-point favorite. Remember what happened to the Trojans last year when they were 41-point favorites at home against Stanford? Note: A win against the Cougars would be USC’s 400th all-time conference victory.

** We’ve gotten to the midway point in the season and I’m going to have to start paring down my list of Heisman hopefuls. My frontrunners right now are McCoy.

** From the suddenly pass-happy Big 12 comes this amazing stat: Last week alone, the 12 starting quarterbacks in that conference completed 71.4 percent of their passes for nearly 3,400 yards and 22 TDs against only 11 interceptions.

** Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald will be honored this weekend in Evanston for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Fitzgerald, the only two-time winner of both the Bednarik and Nagurski awards, will be honored as his Wildcats take on Purdue.

** Penn State’s 48-7 pounding of Wisconsin last week improved the Nittany Lions to 7-0, their best start since winning their first nine games in 1999. What happens to Joe Paterno’s critics if his team continues winning? Just asking because you know JoePa has no desire to ride off into the sunset.

** Sports Illustrated recently compiled lists of the greatest coaches and players for its new publication, “The College Football Book.” One of the criteria for selection was that only one player could be chosen from each school. Offensive tackle Orlando Pace of Ohio State was named to the team along with five other Big Ten alumni: running back Red Grange, defensive end Bubba Smith of Michigan State, defensive tackle Bronko Nagurski of Minnesota, linebacker Jack Ham of Penn State and defensive back Charles Woodson of Michigan. The book became available in bookstores and online yesterday, and the entire team roster will be contained in the Nov. 11 issue of SI.

** Those of you waiting for the first Bowl Championship Series rankings of the year have to wait only a few more days. They will be released for the first time this season on Sunday.

** This marks the 11th season for BCS rankings, and the school with the most all-time appearances in the standings since the 1998 season is Texas with 69. The rest of the top 10 features Florida (68), Michigan (62), Oklahoma (60), Virginia Tech (60), Ohio State (52), Tennessee (52), Florida State (50), Miami (Fla.) (50) and Southern California (49).

** Schools with double-digit weeks in the BCS rankings’ No. 1 position from 1998-2007 are Oklahoma (18), USC (15) and Ohio State (14). Florida State and Miami (Fla.) are next with seven each.

** Toledo became the first Mid-American Conference team in history to beat Michigan when the Rockets took a 13-10 win in Ann Arbor last weekend. Before that game, the Wolverines had won all 24 of its previous games against MAC competition.

In case you had forgotten, Michigan currently has a streak of 33 consecutive seasons in which it has gone to a bowl game. After the loss to Toledo, the Wolverines must win four of their last six games just to qualify. Three of those games are against No. 3 Penn State, No. 11 Ohio State and No. 17 Michigan State.

** Did you ever wonder what happened to “Dandy” Don Meredith? The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and Monday Night Football analyst has been keeping a low profile lately, but he will be back in Dallas on Saturday when SMU honors him by formally retiring his jersey number. Meredith was an All-America quarterback for the Mustangs in 1958 and ’59, and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982.

** Twenty-six years ago today, one of the best college running backs money could buy ran wild. On Oct. 16, 1982, Eric Dickerson rushed for 206 of his 241 yards in the second half as fifth-ranked SMU stayed unbeaten with a 20-14 win over Houston. Dickerson, who would finish third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in ’82, teamed with current ABC analyst Craig James to give the Mustangs their vaunted “Pony Express” offense and the team finished No. 2 in the national rankings that season. Five years later, SMU would become the first and so far only school to receive the NCAA’s so-called “death penalty” for recruiting violations, several of which were traced back to the Dickerson-James years.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 15, 1988, fourth-ranked Notre Dame pulled off a 31-30 victory over No. 1 Miami (Fla.), ended the Hurricanes’ 36-game regular-season win streak; and on Oct. 18, 1997, Florida receiver Jacquez Green became the first player in college football history to throw, run and catch a pass for a touchdown in the same game as the seventh-ranked Gators took a 24-10 win at No. 6 Auburn.

** In addition to those upsets, this week in college football history has seen a couple of monumental shockers. On Oct. 14, 1939, unranked Duquesne went into Pitt Stadium and scored a 21-13 victory over No. 1 Pittsburgh. Duquesne used the win as a springboard that season, finishing with an 8-0-1 record and a ranking of 10th in the final Associated Poll of the season. Meanwhile, on Oct. 19, 1957, unranked Purdue – winless in three previous Big Ten games – entered East Lansing and shocked No. 1 Michigan State by a 20-13 score. The Spartans helped the Boilermakers’ cause by losing five fumbles in that game.

Just Birthday Blogging Today

A couple of biggies celebrate birthdays today – All-America running back Keith Byars and All-America basketball player Jim Jackson.

Keith Alan Byars was born Oct. 14, 1963, in Dayton, Ohio, and became a multisport star at Roth High School. He signed with Buckeyes in 1982, and as a junior in 1984 had one of the most productive seasons in school history. That year, Byars rushed for 1,764 yards and 22 TDs, finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. He returned for his senior season in 1985, but sustained a foot injury before the year began and was sidelined for much of the season. Despite his injury-filled senior year, Philadelphia selected Byars with the 10th overall pick of the 1986 NFL draft. He played seven seasons with the Eagles, four with Miami, two with New England and one with the Jets, becoming one of the top running and receiving threats in the league. He finished his 14-year NFL career with 3,109 yards and 23 TDs rushing and another 5,661 yards and 31 TDs receiving.

James Arthur Jackson was born Oct. 14, 1970, in Toledo, Ohio. He was a prep All-America at Macomber High School before becoming one of the most highly rated prospects to sign with Ohio State. In three seasons with the Buckeyes from 1990-92, Jackson averaged 19.2 points and 5.9 rebounds and helped OSU win back-to-back Big Ten championships in 1991 and ’92. Dallas made him the fourth overall pick in the 1992 NBA draft, and Jackson spent 14 seasons in the pros with 12 different teams, finishing his career with 12,690 points, 4,152 rebounds and 2,851 assists. His career averages were 14.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Jackson retired following the 2006 season and is currently a color analyst for the Big Ten Network.

Also celebrating birthdays today: former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop is 92; former Bond actor Roger Moore is 81; former attorney and Watergate whistle-blower John Dean is 70; fashion designer Ralph Lauren is 69; The Moody Blues frontman Justin Hayward is 62; actor/comic/magician Harry Anderson is 60; musician Thomas Dolby is 50; New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi is 44; self-impressed sports talk show host Jim Rome is 44; equally self-impressed sportswriter Stephen A. Smith is 41; three-time Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover girl Daniela Peštová is 38; Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines is 34; disqualified 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis is 33; Grammy-winner singer Usher Raymond is 30; actress, model, pro wrestler and “Dancing With The Stars” favorite Stacy Keibler is 29; and Washington Redskins safety LaRon Landry is 24.

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