BCS = Blundering Crass Stupidity

Congratulations to Ball State, which dispatched Western Michigan on Tuesday night and completed its first undefeated regular-season finish since 1949.

What wonderful prize does the NCAA have for the overachieving Cardinals contingent on their victory over Buffalo in the MAC championship game? How about a lovely trip to the Motor City Bowl to play the seventh-place finisher in the Big Ten?

Boise State runs one of the most innovative and entertaining offensive attacks in college football, playing the kind of game fans love to watch. The Broncos have already sewed up their sixth Western Athletic Conference title in the last seven years, and proved their worth on the national stage in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl by stunning Oklahoma. What will their reward be this year if the Broncos’ can knock off Fresno State and complete an undefeated regular season record? Would you believe staying home to play in the Humanitarian Bowl against the ACC’s eighth-place finisher?

Texas is ranked No. 2 in the current Bowl Championship Series rankings and needs only a win Thankgsiving night over a 4-7 Texas A&M team to clinch an 11-1 regular-season finish. Yet the Longhorns could get passed over for the national title game by Oklahoma, a team they beat by 10 points in October on a neutral field. Meanwhile, the Sooners somehow get rewarded for running up the score – a practice almost universally recognized as unsportsmanlike.

The perfect storm has finally hit college football. There are four remaining undefeated teams at the Division I-A level, but only one of them is going to get a shot at playing for the national championship. That would be SEC leader Alabama, the lone team from a so-called BCS conference. The other three – Utah of the Mountain West, Ball State of the MAC and Boise State of the WAC – are from non-BCS conferences, meaning only one can qualify to play in the BCS. That would be Utah, which has already completed a 12-0 season and has a three-spot lead on Boise State in the later BCS rankings.

Meanwhile, there are five one-loss teams – Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State – who have legitimate claims to the national championship. However, because of something called “style points,” at least three of those teams have no shot at playing for the title.

I have complained for years about how the BCS should remove the “C” from its name, but this year has truly become BS.

If you put a blanket over the top of Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State, you wouldn’t find much difference in any of those teams. Yes, their styles are as divergent as night and day, but no one ever questions how you get your victories. They only care how many victories you get.

The 2008 college football season literally screams for a Division I-A playoff and it screams for a 16-team format that includes the top teams from the top conferences as well as any team – yes, I said any team from any I-A conference – that manages to go through its entire season undefeated.

That is the only way to give teams such as Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State a shot at the title alongside teams like Utah, Ball State and Boise State.

First of all, you get a ranking system that works – and that eliminates human polls. No more posturing by the talking heads at ESPN to get the matchups they believe deserve to play for the national championship. To hell with what they think. Give us a bunch of computerized rankings, average them together and make the top 10 teams immediately eligible for the playoff.

Then you take all of the remaining undefeated teams and then fill out the bracket starting with the team ranked No. 11 in the BCS poll. Seed the teams where No. 1 plays No. 16, No. 2 plays No. 15 and so on, and give the higher-seeded team home field advantage through the semifinals. You play for four weeks leading up to a Super Bowl-esque national championship game, played at a neutral site on a Monday night and put it one of the major networks.

Fans get a true champion decided on the field while college football (and television) reaps financial benefits beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. First, there is ESPN’s new contract to televise the BCS games through 2013. Secondly, it makes way too much sense – therefore the same university presidents who allow their schools to prostitute themselves by playing every night of the school week continue to criticize a playoff because of the time it would take student-athletes away from their studies.

It’s a shame that college football will crown a national champion Jan. 8 knowing full well there are a handful of other teams out there who could have and should have had the right to play for that crystal football.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** CBSSportsline.com projects a national championship game between Oklahoma and Florida. Other BCS game predictions: Texas vs. USC in the Fiesta, Alabama vs. Utah in the Sugar, Boston College vs. Cincinnati in the Orange and Oregon State vs. Penn State in the Rose. The website has Ohio State and Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.

** My Heisman Trophy ballot really got jumbled last week after Oklahoma throttled Texas Tech. Here is my new working top three: 1. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma; 2. Colt McCoy, Texas; 3. Chris “Beanie” Wells, Ohio State. Yeah, the third-place vote is kind of a homer pick but imagine where the Buckeyes would have been this year without Wells. Now do you see where I’m coming from?

** Maybe my Heisman ballot ought to make room for Florida State safety Myron Rolle. All he did last week was participate in a successful interview to win a Rhodes scholarship, and then hop a plane, suit up at halftime and help his Seminoles beat Maryland. With all the negative news we have to report in college sports, Rolle is a nice respite of fresh air. Rolle, who aspires to be a neurosurgeon and build clinics in his parents’ native Bahamas, is also a potential first-round NFL draft pick.

** How about this for a stat: Penn State’s 49-18 win over Michigan State last weekend was the 800th victory in program history. As a head coach or assistant, Joe Paterno has been associated with 487 of those wins. That is 60.9 percent.

** Paterno is now home after undergoing hip replacement surgery the day after his Nittany Lions beat Sparty and sewed up the Rose Bowl bid. He was released after only two days and expects to resume his coaching duties on Monday. Say and think what you will of JoePa, but never question the 81-year-old guy’s toughness.

** Wisconsin is going to get a bowl invitation thanks to Cal Poly’s inability to kick extra points. The I-AA Mustangs missed three PATs last week, including one in overtime, to allow the Badgers to escape with a 36-35 victory at Camp Randall Stadium.

** Minnesota played its final game in the Metrodome last weekend after 27 seasons in the facility. The Golden Gophers will meet Air Force to dedicate TCF Stadium on Sept. 12, 2009, for the first on-campus game since 1981.

** In case you thought it was bad enough for Notre Dame to lose to Syracuse, a closer look inside the numbers make you scratch your head why the Orange had to make a comeback to win. For instance, the Irish had four possessions inside the Syracuse 24 and came away with six points. In addition, they were held to 41 yards rushing. The previous season low recorded up by the Syracuse defense was 90 yards rushing allowed to Division I-AA Northeastern, which finished 2-10.

** Talk about playing to the level of your competition: Maryland is 7-4 this season – 4-0 against ranked teams and 3-4 against unranked competition. The Terrapins are also afraid of the dark. They were 0-4 at night this season. They finish their regular season with a daytime affair Saturday at Boston College – 20th-ranked Boston College, that is.

** Did you lose track of Appalachian State this year? The Mountaineers couldn’t match last year’s upset of Michigan this season with a 41-13 loss to LSU back in August. But they did come back to win 10 of their next 11 games and the three-time defending Division I-A national champions are the No. 2 seed in the so-called Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. James Madison (10-1), the 2004 champs, is the top seed. The 16-team playoff – there’s a novel idea – begins Saturday.

** Scoring points in bunches isn’t limited to the Texas teams in Division I-A. Last week, Abilene Christian outlasted West Texas A&M by a 93-68 score in a Division II playoff game. ACU piled up 810 total yards and the Wildcats scored touchdowns on 13 of 15 possessions. Meanwhile, West Texas A&M quarterback Keith Null set new NCAA single-game playoff records by throwing for 595 yards and seven touchdowns. The 161 combined points is a new NCAA all-division record. The old mark of 149 points was set in last year’s playoffs when Abilene Christian lost a 76-73 decision in four overtimes to Chadron (Neb.) State.

** No one in the NAIA wants to face Sioux Falls (S.D.) this season. The Cougars have recorded seven shutouts this season with the latest coming last week in a 28-0 win over St. Ambrose (Iowa) in the first round of the NAIA playoffs. The NAIA season record for shutouts is eight. Sioux Falls has made the NAIA semifinals eight of the last 12 years, including national championships in 1996 and 2006.

** Occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 24, 1956, College Football Hall of Fame coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf made his final game a memorable one when his California team scored a 20-18 upset win over Stanford; on Nov. 28, 1975, Texas A&M protected its No. 2 national rating with a 20-10 win over fifth-ranked Texas, the Aggies’ first win at home over the Longhorns in eight years; on Nov. 29, 1958, Auburn protected its No. 2 ranking and extended its winning streak to 24 consecutive games with a heart-pounding 14-8 win over Alabama. The Tigers needed a defensive stop with 1:26 remaining in the game to preserve the victory.

** This week also featured a battle of unbeatens in a longstanding series. On Nov. 26, 1988, for the first time in series history, Notre Dame and USC squared off undefeated and occupying the top two spots in the national polls. Irish quarterback Tony Rice rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown while cornerback Stan Smagala intercepted USC quarterback Rodney Peete and returned the pick for a score as No. 1 Notre Dame took a 27-10 victory.

FEARLESS FORECAST

What were we thinking when we picked Texas Tech to beat Oklahoma in Norman? Not sure but the Red Raiders did pick a terrible time to play their worst game of the season. As things turned out for the forecast, we were only 3-3 straight up last week and 3-3 against the spread. That means for the year we are 87-33 with the SU picks and 63-53-1 ATS.

As Ohio State takes a rest from competition, it means we can take a look at some other games this weekend, including a pretty big one Saturday in the Pacific Northwest that not only has Rose Bowl implications but likely impacts the Buckeyes’ BCS possibilities as well.

TONIGHT’S GAME

Texas A&M at No. 4 Texas: The Longhorns are concentrating on trying to keep their national championship hopes alive but they had better not overlook their instate rivals. The Aggies have upset UT-Austin two years running and nothing would look better on first-year head coach Mike Sherman’s résumé that to knock the Orangebloods out of the title picture. It will be a tough order, though, since Texas QB Colt McCoy has played about as well as he can play this season, throwing for 3,134 yards and 30 TDs. Those numbers aren’t exactly music to the ears of an A&M team that ranks 100th in the country in pass efficiency defense … Texas 42, Texas A&M 7. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

TONIGHT’S GAME

Fresno State at No. 9 Boise State: To say the Broncos are on a bit of a roll would be a bit of an understatement. They have scored 40 points in four straight games, clinched a sixth WAC title in seven years and have won 48 consecutive regular-season games in Bronco Stadium. In this particular series, BSU has taken six of seven from the Bulldogs since joining the WAC in 2001, including all three meetings in Boise by an average of 29.0 points. Fresno always puts up a fight wherever it goes, but the Broncos with QB Kellen Moore (3,051 yards, 23 TDs) and RB Ian Johnson (610 yards, 10 TDs) are just too tough … Boise State 37, Fresno State 14. (6 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Auburn at No. 1 Alabama: It’s the annual renewal of the Iron Bowl and would you believe the Crimson Tide has a six-game losing streak against their instate rivals? If Bama wants to keep the faith, as well as preserve a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup against Florida in the SEC championship game, it can steel itself with the knowledge that every one of its six straight losses to Auburn have been by 10 points or less. The Tide can also figure they’re home free if they can score 20 points – the Tigers rank a dismal 108th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging only 18.9 points per game. Bama averages almost double that at 31.7. That should put the final score at right around … Alabama 31, Auburn 17. (3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

No. 2 Florida at No. 23 Florida State: Who knew the Seminoles were 8-3? Florida State, once one of the pre-eminent powers in college football, hasn’t had a nine-win season since 2004 and hasn’t finished in the top 10 since 2000. This weekend, Grandpa Bobby’s Bunch has a chance to ruin the Urban Legends’ run toward a possible second national title game appearance in three years. Unfortunately, that chance is not a great one. The Gators are running the highest-scoring offense east of Oklahoma, averaging 55.2 points over their six games. FSU just doesn’t have enough firepower to keep up with that kind of attack … Florida 42, Florida State 23. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional)

No. 19 Oregon at No. 17 Oregon State: The so-called Civil War heads to Corvallis where the Beavers are trying to win one more game and get to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 43 years. They certainly seem like a team of destiny, overcoming injuries last week to their starting quarterback and star running back as well as a botched fourth-quarter PAT to score a thrilling 19-17 win at Arizona. It is certainly the popular pick to take the Ducks in an upset, but the Beavers have been resilient since knocking off USC and they have won each of their last five home games in this series … Oregon State 26, Oregon 23. (7 p.m. EST, Versus)

No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 11 Oklahoma State: This one is called the Bedlam Series although that seems a bit of a misnomer since the Sooners lead the all-time series by a lopsided 78-17-7 margin. It would be difficult to envision how OU could play much better than it has since that 45-35 loss to Texas on Oct. 11. In the five games since, the Sooners have outscored their opposition by an average of 31 points per contest. And they haven’t been held under 60 in three games this month. We just don’t see how the Cowboys can slow them down, especially when Okie State bowed to Texas Tech by 36 points and then the Sooners turned around and beat the Red Raiders by 44 … Oklahoma 56, Oklahoma State 28. (8 p.m. EST, ABC)

Notre Dame at No. 5 USC: You want a blowout, you’ve got one. USC head coach Pete Carroll knows there are only two ways his team can reach the national title game – the Trojans need teams in front of them to lose and they need “style points” in their final two games of the season. Pity the poor Irish, who head to the Coliseum free off that excruciating loss to Syracuse. Embattled ND head coach Charlie Weis probably put it best last year after his team lost a 38-0 decision to USC: “You see where they are; you see where we are. We’re at different ends of the spectrum at this point.” That is not where you want to be when you get the full attention of Carroll and his Trojans … USC 49, Notre Dame 7. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Texas A&M at Texas (-36½); Fresno State at Boise State (-21½); Auburn (+14½) at Alabama; Florida (-14) at Florida State; Oregon (+3½) at Oregon State; Oklahoma (-7) at Oklahoma State; Notre Dame at USC (-29).

Enjoy the games everyone and have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Top Individual Performers In The Game

There have been some huge individual performances in the Ohio State-Michigan game, beginning with Tim Biakabutuka’s 313 rushing yards during the Wolverines’ 31-23 win in Ann Arbor in 1995.

Biakabutuka is the only rusher on either side to crack the 300-yard mark in The Game, and his effort against the Buckeyes in ’95 was a career-high. It was not, however, a single-game record for Michigan. That still belongs to Ron Johnson, who rushed for 347 yards against Wisconsin in 1968.

Chris “Beanie” Wells established a new single-game record for OSU in the Michigan game last year when he pounded his way for 222 yards. That eclipsed a longstanding mark for Ohio State rushers vs. the Wolverines. Senior fullback Dave Francis rushed for a career-high 186 yards and led the Buckeyes to a 28-0 victory in 1962.

The only other running back besides Biakabutuka and Wells to eclipse the 200-yard mark in The Game was Michigan tailback Jamie Morris. He had 210 yards in his team’s 26-24 win in Columbus.

Rounding out the top five behind Biakabutuka, Wells, Morris and Francis is Ohio State tailback Carlos Snow, who rushed for 170 yards during a roller-coaster 34-31 loss to the Wolverines in 1988.

As far as quarterbacks go, there have been six 300-yard games in the long rivalry – and two of them belong to one guy. Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith threw for 316 yards during his team’s wild 42-39 victory in 2006 and also passed for 300 yards when the Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines by a 25-21 score in 2005.

Holding the single-game passing record in the series is Michigan QB Tom Brady, who piled up 375 yards despite a 31-16 loss to the Buckeyes in 1998. That performance represented Brady’s career-best game at U-M, but it ranks only second in school history. John Navarre threw for 389 yards against Iowa in 2003.

OSU’s top passing performance came that same year as Joe Germaine threw for 330 yards against the Wolverines in ’98. That ranks as only the fifth-highest single-game total in Germaine’s career and only 10th best on the school’s all-time list. Art Schlichter has held the single-game mark since 1981 when he threw for 458 yards against Florida State.

Ranking third behind Brady and Germaine is Michigan’s Chad Henne, who threw for 328 yards in a 37-21 losing effort in 2004. Smith’s 316-yard performance is fourth and Drew Henson of Michigan rounds out the top five. He threw for 303 yards in the 2000 game, helping the Wolverines to a 38-26 win in Columbus.

Germaine’s big game in 1998 led the way for the largest single-game for a receiver in the series. David Boston rolled up 217 yards for the Buckeyes that season, becoming the first and only receiver to break the 200-yard mark in the OSU-Michigan game.

U-M receiver Braylon Edwards occupies two spots in the top five. He had 172 yards against the Buckeyes in that 2004 loss and also had 130 yards in 2003, the Wolverines’ 35-21 win in 2003, their lone win so far in the Jim Tressel era.

Ranking third on the single-game list is Marquise Walker of Michigan, who had 160 yards in his team’s 28-20 loss to Ohio State in 2001. Walker also set a single-game series record in that contest with 15 receptions, a record that is also the Michigan single-game mark.

Fourth is OSU receiver Michael Jenkins, who gathered in passes worth 132 yards in the 2003 game.

Defensively, tackle statistics are sketchy before the 1970s but since that time, there have been eight instances when a defender recorded 20 or more tackles in The Game. Not coincidentally, they were all linebackers.

Chris Spielman has the single-game series record with 29 stops in the Buckeyes’ 28-24 loss in 1986. That effort also represents the all-time single-game record in Ohio State history. Second on the list is OSU’s Arnie Jones, who recorded a career-high 24 tackles against Michigan during a 14-11 win in 1972.

The top effort for U-M came in 1968 when Tom Stincic had 23 tackles for the Wolverines during the Buckeyes’ 50-14 romp.

Tom Cousineau of Ohio State had a pair of 20-tackle performances against Michigan. He had 22 stops in 22-0 loss in 1976 and 21 tackles two years later when the Buckeyes lost a 14-3 decision in Columbus.

The other 20-tackle performances in the OSU-Michigan series: Marcus Marek of the Buckeyes had 21 tackles in a 24-14 win in 1982; Ohio State’s Ed Thompson recorded 21 stops in the same ’76 game when Cousineau had 22; and U-M’s Ron Simpkins had 20 tackles in 1977 when the Wolverines took a 14-6 decision in Ann Arbor.

THE BEST OHIO STATE-MICHIGAN JOKE

I’ve heard plenty of OSU-Michigan jokes in my time but this is my all-time favorite:

One day in an elementary school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a teacher asks her class if the Michigan Wolverines are their favorite football team. The whole class says yes except for Little Jimmy.

The teacher asks, “What’s your favorite football team Jimmy?”

Little Jimmy says, “The Ohio State Buckeyes.”

The teacher asks, “Well, why is that?”

Little Jimmy says, “Well, my dad is a Buckeye fan, my mom is a Buckeye fan, I guess that makes me a Buckeye fan.”

The teacher angered by his reply says, “If your dad was a moron and your mom was an idiot what would that make you?”

Little Jimmy says, “Well, I guess that would make me a Michigan fan.”

Going Back To The Graveyard

I wasn’t going to go this year.

After all, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Ohio State is going to beat Michigan. The Wolverines have lost eight games and the Buckeyes can pretty much name any final score they want to.

Then I thought of last year’s Stanford-USC game. And that got me to thinking about the 1969 version of The Game when Ohio State was unbeaten in 22 games and got upset by a first-year Michigan head coach.

So I got in my car like I always do during the week before the Ohio State-Michigan game and again drove past the simple two-story, white house on Cardiff Road. It’s only a couple of miles west of Ohio Stadium, tucked onto a little side street off Lane Avenue. After going past the house, I drove another mile north on Olentangy River Road and headed into Union Cemetery.

It was cold and windy and I very nearly didn’t get out of the car. But I figured as long as I was there, I might as well make my annual pilgrimage to Section 12, Lot 37, Space 4. There are pine trees around a black granite marker, and I stood beneath one of those tall trees to shield me from the wind.

I stood there, gloved hands jammed in my coat pockets, and stared at the monument. The only sound was the wind whistling through what leaves remained on the nearby maple trees. Suddenly, I was startled by a familiar voice.

“You again?”

I whirled around to see the same stocky man I had seen a couple of years ago, standing in the same spot about 10 feet away. He wore a plain, red windbreaker – the kind men stopped wearing in the 1970s – and he had both hands shoved in the pockets. He had gray hair, wore silver, horn-rimmed glasses and scrunched his face into the kind of grimace where the lips seemed to almost disappear.

“Uh, yeah,” I stammered.

“You’re that sportswriter that was hanging around here a couple of years ago, aren’t you?”

I nodded my head, and then eager to change the subject, I offered, “How’re you doing?”

“How am I doing?” he said as he stared at the gravestone. “I’m not doing so well. I don’t like the tone of things around here. We’re playing the greatest rivalry game in all of sports this week and people in this town think it’s going to be a cakewalk. Trust me. There’s no such thing in this game.”

“Well,” I said. “Michigan … um, the other team is certainly having their problems, especially on offense. They’ve lost more games this season than they ever have.”

“That’s about what I’d expect from a sportswriter. Listen, son, I don’t give a damn how many games they’ve lost. Let me tell you something: This is a game where records don’t mean a damn thing.”

“I think they do this year. Have you seen them play? They’re really not very good.”

The old man rolled his eyes and shook his head. “I’m glad you’re not playing on Saturday. That kind of attitude will get you beat.”

“Do you honestly think Michigan has a chance?” I asked. “After all, it seems like Jim Tressel has their number. He’s won four in a row and six of seven against them.”

“You’re giving me a history lesson? I know a thing or two about history and I can tell you that we have never beaten them six times in a row. Never. And do you know why we have never beaten them six times in a row?”

“No, why?”

“Because it’s goddamned hard, that’s why. I had some great teams in the late Fifties and early Sixties and couldn’t do it.”

You had some great teams?”

“We had some great teams. I meant we had some great teams. Look, you can never go into any football game against any opponent and expect to win. You always have to expect the unexpected. That way you can adapt. You always have to adapt in this game. You start taking things for granted and pretty soon you’re through.

“There were some times earlier this season when I didn’t like what I was seeing. I didn’t see the kind of effort game in and game out that it takes to be a champion. But they got things straightened out and now we’re playing for another championship and maybe a Rose Bowl. That’s what it’s all about.

“But they have to take this thing seriously. They have to understand that this game is the greatest game they will ever play in. Everyone in that locker room, especially those seniors, will remember this game for the rest of their lives. I don’t care where they go later in life or how much money they make – this game and how they perform will be a defining moment in their lives. If you can’t understand that, you ought to get out of the way and make room for someone who does.”

I just shook my head. “I don’t know,” I said. “I think it’ll be tough to get up for a game when you so hopelessly outclass your opponent.”

“Tough?” the man said. “Son, if you think it’s tough to get yourself ready to play in the greatest rivalry in the history of college football, you might as well go put a skirt on. This game is for men. It’s not a tea party.”

Off in the distance, I heard a church bell chime the hour.

“Well,” the man sighed. “I gotta be getting back.”

As he turned to leave, I noticed for the first time that he was wearing a black baseball cap with a Block “O.” As he walked away, I called out, “Nice seeing you again, Sir.”

He stopped, turned and just glared at me.

“Sorry,” I said. “Nice seeing you again, Coach.”

And for the first time, I thought I saw the faint crack of a smile.

OHIO STATE-MICHIGAN MINUTIAE

** Ohio State and Michigan will buckle it up Saturday for the 105th renewal of what is known around these parts simply as The Game. The teams first met in 1897 and have played every season since 1918. The Wolverines lead the overall series by a 57-41-6 margin, including a 27-22-2 advantage in Columbus.

** Michigan’s advantage in Columbus is a little misleading. Eight of those games were played at old Ohio Field. Since the Buckeyes moved into Ohio Stadium, the series is deadlocked at 21-21-1 The Buckeyes have won three in a row and four of the last five games played in the Horseshoe.

** Ohio State has won six of the last seven games in the series, the first time the Buckeyes have enjoyed such a streak since winning six of seven between 1957 and ’63. OSU has never beaten Michigan seven times over an eight-year span.

** Since 1928, the overall series is dead even at 38-38-4.

** OSU head coach Jim Tressel is currently 6-1 against Michigan, and he is one of only four Ohio State head coaches in history with a winning record against the Wolverines. The others: Woody Hayes (1951-78) at 16-11-1, Earle Bruce (1979-87) at 5-4 and Francis A. Schmidt (1934-40) at 4-3. Hayes, Bruce and Schmidt are all members of the College Football Hall of Fame.

** This year marks the 75th anniversary of Schmidt’s famous quote about Michigan: “They put their pants on one leg at a time, same as us.” Ever since, Ohio State players and coaches have been awarded gold pants charms for every victory over the Wolverines. The series record since Schmidt’s 1934 pronouncement is 35-35-4.

** Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez is experiencing his first game in the rivalry. No first-year U-M head coach has lost to Ohio State since Harry Kipke’s team dropped a 7-0 decision to the Buckeyes in 1929.

** Only four Michigan head coaches who faced Ohio State more than one time compiled winning records against the Buckeyes. They were Fielding Yost (1902-23, ’25-26) at 16-3-1, Herbert O. “Fritz” Crisler (1938-47) at 7-2-1, Glenn E. “Bo” Schembechler (1969-89) at 11-9-1 and Gary Moeller (1990-94) at 3-1-1.

** While Michigan coaches are typically successful in their first game against OSU, the same cannot be said in their final contest against the Buckeyes. Four of the last five – Bennie Oosterbaan in 1958, Chalmers W. “Bump” Elliott in 1968, Moeller in 1994 and Lloyd Carr in 2007 – have lost their finale to Ohio State. Only Schembechler bucked that trend, taking a 28-18 triumph in his final game at Michigan Stadium in 1989.

** Rodriguez has a career record of 12-14 against ranked teams. That includes a streak of four wins in his last five contests against top-25 teams, including a 27-25 win earlier this season over then ninth-ranked Wisconsin.

** Tressel is 50-7 against unranked teams during his tenure so far in Columbus.

** With a victory, Ohio State would clinch a share of the Big Ten championship. It would mark the fourth consecutive title or co-title for the Buckeyes and mark the seventh straight season in which either OSU or Michigan has won or shared the conference crown. The last time neither team had at least a share of the trophy was in 2001 when Illinois took home the outright championship.

** During a 13-year span from 1979 to 1992, the record for the team entering this game with the higher ranking was 9-3-1. In the 15 years since, the higher-ranked team has managed only a 7-8 mark.

** Since the two teams met in 1923 for the Ohio Stadium dedication game, a total of 7,421,565 fans have attended The Game. That’s more than any other college football game in America. Fifty-seven of those 85 games have been sold out, including the last 40 in a row.

** Michigan has an overall record of 298-118-20 in November. That’s a .706 winning percentage. Meanwhile, Ohio State in 283-132-19 during the month of November, good for a winning percentage of .674.

** Before this season, Michigan had never in program history lost more than seven games in a single season. The Wolverines posted 1-7 records in 1934 and ’36 and were 2-7 in 1962. Interestingly, in each of those seven-loss seasons, U-M experienced a shutout loss at Ohio State – 34-0 in ’34, 21-0 in ’36 and 28-0 in ’62.

** The Wolverines will not be making a trip to the postseason this season, marking the first time in 34 years they will not go to a bowl. The last time Michigan didn’t go bowling was after the 1974 season when Big Ten rules prohibited any team from going to any bowl other than the Rose Bowl. Ohio State and U-M tied for the conference title in ’74, but by virtue of their 12-10 victory over the Wolverines, the Buckeyes got the Rose Bowl invitation and Michigan stayed home. Beginning with the 1975 season, the Big Ten changed its stance toward other bowl games. Michigan accepted an invitation to play in the Orange Bowl and began a streak of playing in 33 consecutive bowls.

** This season will also mark the second time in the past four years when a Michigan team will not be ranked in the final Associated Press poll of the season. Before 2005, the Wolverines had appeared in 35 of 36 final AP polls.

** Terrelle Pryor will be trying to become the first freshman quarterback ever to lead Ohio State to victory over Michigan. The last OSU freshman to start under center against the Wolverines was Art Schlichter in 1978. U-M took a 14-3 victory in Columbus that year.

** Pryor has another something going for him as he makes his first start against the Wolverines. Over the past quarter-century, five Ohio State quarterbacks have beaten Michigan in their first season as a starter and three of the five had a first name that began with the letter T – Tom Tupa in 1987, Troy Smith in 2004 and Todd Boeckman in 2007. If you wanted to include last names, you could add a fourth – Mike Tomczak in 1982. The fifth QB on the list is Craig Krenzel in 2002.

** Here is how the teams stack up against one another in a variety of the national statistical categories:
Rushing offense – Ohio State 29th (187.9); Michigan 60th (150.9)
Passing offense – Michigan 106th (148.3); Ohio State 107th (144.8)
Total offense – Ohio State 84th (332.7); Michigan 105th (299.2)
Scoring offense – Ohio State T-53rd (26.9); Michigan T-87th (21.5)
Rushing defense – Ohio State 26th (115.3); Michigan 45th (128.3)
Pass defense – Ohio State 13th (171.4); Michigan 89th (234.2)
Total defense – Ohio State 13th (286.6); Michigan 66th (362.5)
Scoring defense – Ohio State 7th (13.6); Michigan 80th (27.7)
Net punting – Michigan 2nd (41.4); Ohio State 11th (38.5)
Turnover margin – Ohio State 7th (+14); Michigan 105th (-9)
Punt returns – Ohio State 30th (11.3); Michigan 64th (8.9)
Kickoff returns – Michigan 59th (21.6); Ohio State 104th (19.2)

** The current point spread favoring Ohio State by 20 to 21 points is the largest for either team in the rivalry game since they started keeping track of point spreads.

** ABC will telecast the game to a nationwide audience with its announce crew of Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Bob Griese and Paul Maguire (color analysis) and Stacey Dales (sideline reports). Game time is set for 12 noon Eastern, which means the kickoff will be around 12:07 p.m.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Disney-owned ESPN confirmed Tuesday that it has closed the agreement to carry the Bowl Championship Series games from 2011-14. The price tag was $125 million annually. That means college football’s national championship game as well as the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls will be broadcast on cable TV for the first time beginning in 2011. Disney already has a separate contract to televise the Rose Bowl on ABC but indicated that game could also move to ESPN in the future.

** Want one stat that underlines just how well Florida is playing right now? The Gators piled up 519 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per play last week in a 56-6 win over South Carolina. That is the same South Carolina team that entered the game ranked third in the country in total defense.

** Just wondering. If Urban Meyer happens to win his second national championship in three years, would he stay at Florida or accept untold millions of dollars to make the jump to the NFL? My guess is that Meyer, who is 44, might think it’s now or never if he wants to take a stab at the pro game. Besides, if he’s a wash-out there, he can always go back to the college ranks like Pete Carroll, Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier.

** Many observers believe Saturday’s contest against Michigan State will mark the final home game in the long career of head coach Joe Paterno. Of course, JoePa doesn’t sound like he’s going anywhere. During his weekly press conference, he told reporters, “Come to the game and enjoy it. It’s a big football game. If we win, a lot of good things can happen to us. But I don’t think (fans) should be coming because they think it’s my last game.”

** There is no doubt that Saturday marks the final game in Purdue head coach Joe Tiller’s long career. Tiller would have rather gone out on a better note, of course, as his Boilermakers host Indiana looking for only their fourth win of the season. Still, Tiller is going to ride off into the sunset as Purdue’s all-time winningest coach. Heading into his final game, he has a career record of 125-92-1 over 18 seasons at Wyoming and Purdue.

** Here are your Big Ten Rose Bowl scenarios: If Penn State beats Michigan State, the Nittany Lions go to Pasadena. If Michigan State beats Penn State, the Spartans would need a Michigan upset win over Ohio State to make their first Rose Bowl since 1988. However, if MSU defeats Penn State and OSU takes down Michigan, the Buckeyes would be headed to Pasadena for the first time in 12 years.

** Here are your Pac-10 Rose Bowl scenarios: If Oregon State wins out, the Beavers will go by virtue of their victory over Southern California. USC will go if the Trojans win out and Oregon State loses to either Arizona or Oregon. And, of course, there remains the outside chance that an 11-1 Trojans team could move up into the BCS National Championship Game, leaving the Rose Bowl to choose from several attractive at-large teams.

** Congratulations to Northwestern. The Wildcats defeated Michigan last week for the first time since the 2000 season and have now reached eight victories for the time since that same year. NU guns for victory No. 9 this week when it hosts Illinois, and the Wildcats haven’t won nine games in a season since 1996.

** Must be something in the water in Texas. Graham Harrell of Texas Tech, Case Keenum of Houston, Colt McCoy of Texas and Chase Clement of Rice rank first, second, ninth and 10th in the country in passing yards. Combined, the quintet has 1,147 completions in 1,625 attempts (70.6 percent) for 14,121 yards and 133 touchdowns. You could also throw in Chase Daniel of Missouri and Todd Reesing of Kansas, each of whom rank in the top 10. Daniels hails from Southlake, Texas, while Reesing grew up in Austin.

** Top-rated Alabama is trying to strike while its iron is hot. The Crimson Tide is experiencing its best season since winning the national championship in 1992, and university officials have proposed an expansion plan to increase the capacity of Bryant-Denny Stadium to 101,000. The stadium currently holds 92,138, while the entire population of Tuscaloosa is only 83,052.

** Gene Stallings, head coach of that ’92 title team at Alabama, has been named to guide the West squad in the 84th annual East-West Shrine Game, set for Jan. 17 in Houston. Stallings, who retired from coaching following the 1996 season, currently serves on the board of regents at his alma mater Texas A&M. Stallings’ opponent in the East-West Shrine Game will be Bobby Ross, who retired in 2007 after 27 seasons as a college and NFL head coach.

** My Heisman Trophy ballot is the same for the second week in a row because none of my top three played last week. I have QB Graham Harrell of Texas Tech on top of the ballot with Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford second and Michigan State tailback Javon Ringer third. All three have big games this weekend – Harrell and Bradford face one another – which should jumble things a bit.

** With so many bowl spots available these days, becoming bowl-eligible likely means you’re going to the postseason. Last week, six more teams notched that all-important sixth victory of the season, but with games dwindling down to a precious few, there are still only 60 bowl-eligible teams for 68 spots in the 34 bowl games. Never fear, though. There are 18 schools with five victories and at least one game remaining on their regular-season schedules.

** One of the schools that became bowl-eligible last week was Vanderbilt. The Commodores took a 31-24 victory over Kentucky and got that illusive sixth win after chasing it since early October. Vandy hasn’t been to a bowl game only three times in its history and not since the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl. That resulted in a 36-28 loss to Air Force. The Commodores last won a bowl game Dec. 31, 1955, when they took a 25-13 victory over Auburn in the Gator Bowl.

** One of football’s oldest sayings is that officials could call holding on every play if they chose to do so. Mull that over in your mind while contemplating the fact that the Texas Tech offensive line hasn’t been called for a holding penalty in its last 118 pass attempts.

** Thirty-two years ago today, the Kentucky football team had reason to celebrate. On Nov. 20, 1976, the Wildcats took a 7-0 victory over Tennessee and marked their first victory in Knoxville in a dozen years. Running back Greg Woods raced 68 yards with a pass from QB Derrick Ramsey for the only score in the game, and clinched Kentucky’s first bowl bid since 1952.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 17, 1956, Syracuse halfback Jim Brown set an NCAA record for single-game scoring, accounting for 43 points (rushing for six touchdowns and kicking seven PATs) during a 61-7 win over Colgate; on Nov. 18, 1978, Oklahoma running back Billy Sims rushed for 209 yards in a 62-7 win over Oklahoma State and broke the Big 8’s single-season rushing record in the process; on Nov. 21, 1992, Washington State QB Drew Bledsoe threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns during a snowstorm in Pullman, leading the Cougars to a 42-23 upset of fifth-ranked Washington; on Nov. 22, 1875, Harvard took a 4-0 victory over Yale in the first-ever meeting of the Ivy League schools; they will celebrate their 125th meeting on Saturday; and on Nov. 23, 1985, Iowa quarterback Chuck Long became the first player in Big Ten history to throw for more than 10,000 career yards when he led the Hawkeyes to a 31-9 victory over Minnesota.

** This week also featured the so-called “Game of the Century.” On Nov. 19, 1966, top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State played to a 10-10 tie in East Lansing. Fighting Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty was knocked out of the game in the first quarter after getting sacked by Spartans defensive lineman Bubba Smith, and starting Notre Dame running back Nick Eddy missed the entire game after hurting his shoulder getting off the train in East Lansing. The Irish had the ball on their own 30-yard line with 1:10 to go in the game, but head coach Ara Parseghian chose to run out the clock, preserving the tie and his team’s No. 1 ranking. Notre Dame went on to win the 1966 national championship while Michigan State finished second.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It was an on-target week for the forecast. In addition to finishing 10-2 in the straight-up picks, we hit the Penn State-Indiana and the Boise State-Idaho final scores right on the nose. That means the SU season total is now 84-30.

Against the spread, you would think we could do better if we can predict exact final scores. The best we could do, however, was 6-5 with a push in the Ohio State-Illinois game. Still, that’s a winning week – barely – and our ATS picks are now 60-50-1 for the season.

We’re going to try to finish the season with a flurry, so here are the games we like this week (and remember that we’re using AP rankings).

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Washington at Washington State: The Rotten Apple Cup is what they should call this one. The Huskies and Cougars have combined for just one win in 21 games this season, and that lone victory was Wazzoo’s mid-September win over I-AA Portland State. Since that game, the Cougars have given up an average of 53.4 points per game. That’s right – I said they have averaged giving up more than 50 points a game over the last month and a half. Meanwhile, U-Dub has lost starting quarterback Jake Locker for the year and head coach Tyrone Willingham is out at the end of the season. You would think maybe, just maybe, the Huskies can rise up and grab this one … Washington 38, Washington State 27. (3 p.m. EST, FSN)

No. 17 Michigan State at No. 7 Penn State: The second-most important Big Ten game – at least as far as Ohio State fans are concerned – occurs in a place where Sparty has had trouble. The fact of the matter is that Michigan State has never won in Happy Valley in seven tries since Penn State joined the Big Ten. Will that streak continue? We think it will. The Nittany Lions seemed to finally come out of their funk in the second half of last week’s 34-7 win over Indiana, and they remain a tough team to run the ball against. Besides, if there is any inkling that Saturday truly is Joe Paterno’s final home game, how could Penn State even think about losing? … Penn State 31, Michigan State 14. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional)

No. 21 Oregon State at Arizona: Will the Beavers succumb to the pressure of trying to get to their first Rose Bowl since 1965? If they do, you wouldn’t think it would happen this week. Oregon State currently enjoys a streak of eight wins in its last nine meetings with the Wildcats, including three in a row in Tucson by an average of two touchdowns apiece. An evening game will give fans a chance to see the Beavers’ brother combination of Jacquizz and James Rodgers, a pair of speedsters who combined for three touchdowns in last week’s 34-21 win over Cal. OSU had better be careful, though. The Wildcats have been scoring points in bunches lately, have won four of five home games this year and they’re favored. Here is Upset Special No. 1 … Oregon State 34, Arizona 31. (7 p.m. EST, Versus)

No. 20 Pittsburgh at No. 19 Cincinnati: There are going to be a lot of attractive job openings out there at the end of the season, and if Bearcats head coach Brian Kelly is the least bit interested in any of them, he might want to think about beating Pitt for a change. The Panthers have taken all seven games in the series. Each team is coming off victories over Louisville – 41-7 two weeks ago for Pitt and 28-20 last week for UC – and both teams are angling for the Big East’s automatic bid to the BCS. The Bearcats are tough to beat at home, but the Panthers have been playing well of late and running back LeSean McCoy should make the difference. Upset Special No. 2 … Pittsburgh 24, Cincinnati 20. (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

No. 2 Texas Tech at No. 5 Oklahoma: With all due respect to the SEC, the Big 12 is the best conference in college football this year and these two teams should provide another whale of a game in prime time. You just have to wonder how much is left in Tech’s emotional tank since this is the third straight game billed as the most important in program history. The Raiders passed the first two tests with flying colors, beating Texas 39-33 and then rolling to a 56-20 win over Oklahoma State. But those two games were in Lubbock, and now Double-T has to find a way to beat the Sooners, who are 60-2 at home under Bob Stoops. This should be another hugely entertaining game and we think Tech gets it done. Guns Up! for Upset Special No. 3 … Texas Tech 41, Oklahoma 38. (8 p.m. EST, ABC)

Michigan at No. 10 Ohio State: Just so you know, the upset specials stop right here. It would be ludicrous to say that Michigan has no chance in this game. You need only remember back one year when Stanford went to USC as 44-point underdogs and pulled off the shocker. Still, it’s difficult to believe the Buckeyes could lose this game unless they are so mentally unprepared that they repeatedly turn the ball over in their own territory and give the Wolverines several easy scoring opportunities. Against teams such as Ohio or Troy, mind-sets and the proper level of respect for the opponent was worrisome. It is difficult to see how that could ever be a problem in this game … Ohio State 35, Michigan 10. (12 noon EST, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Washington (-7) at Washington State; Michigan State at Penn State (-14); Oregon State (+3) at Arizona; Pittsburgh (+5½) at Cincinnati; Texas Tech (+7) at Oklahoma; Michigan at Ohio State (-20).

Playing the ‘What If …?’ Game

Some food for thought today …

What if Terrelle Pryor had signed with Penn State instead of Ohio State?

Would Pryor be leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency as he is this week for the Buckeyes? Would Daryll Clark be riding the bench for the Nittany Lions? Would Todd Boeckman have the Buckeyes on the inside track to a third straight outright Big Ten championship after leading OSU to a late-October win over Penn State?

What if Terrelle Pryor had signed with Michigan instead of Ohio State?

Would Pryor still be leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency? Would the Wolverines be headed for their first losing season since 1967? Would they be head for the postseason for a record 35th consecutive time? Would there be a little more buzz about the upcoming 105th renewal of The Game?

What if Ryan Hamby had caught that touchdown pass in the 2005 Texas game?

Would the Buckeyes have gone on to beat the Longhorns rather than lost a 25-22 decision? Would Justin Zwick, who was on the throwing end of Hamby’s drop, have retained the starting quarterback position? Would Ohio State, and not Texas, have gone to the Rose Bowl to play USC for the national championship that year?

What if Ohio State had beaten Michigan State in 1998?

Would the Buckeyes have gone on to win the national championship that season? Would John Cooper have used that championship to reap highly rated recruiting classes? Would Cooper still be head coach at Ohio State? Would Jim Tressel still be coaching at Youngstown State?

What if Keith Byars hadn’t broken his foot prior to the 1985 season?

Would the Buckeyes have won the national championship, their first in 17 years? You can certainly make the case that a healthy Byars could have made the difference in OSU’s three losses that season – 31-28 at Illinois, 12-7 vs. Wisconsin and 27-17 at Michigan. The year before, Byars had rushed for 274 yards against the Illini, 142 against the Badgers and 101 against the Wolverines.

While we’re on the subject, what if the Buckeyes had won the title in ’85? Would Earle Bruce have weathered the storm that came two years later? How long would he have remained head coach? Another five years? 10? Some people forget that Bruce had a 57-17 conference record at OSU, good for a .770 winning percentage.

What if Ohio State hadn’t hired Hayes in 1951?

If the legendary coach hadn’t become a Buckeye and still wanted to coach in the Big Ten, he would have had several schools from which to choose. Minnesota could have been a likely destination since the Gophers also made a change at the head coaching position following the 1950 season. Out was Bernie Bierman after six seasons, and Minnesota hired Wes Fesler, who had resigned under pressure from Ohio State.

Perhaps Hayes would have waited another couple of years and taken a look at Wisconsin. UW head coach Ivy Williamson resigned after the 1955 season, and enjoyed six winning seasons during his seven-year tenure in Madison. Could Hayes have kept that going and turned Wisconsin into the Big Ten powerhouse that Ohio State became?

Or maybe Hayes would have waited until after the 1958 season to make a move. He would have been at Miami (Ohio) for a decade and probably have won several Mid-American Conference titles. Would he have been a candidate for the opening at the University of Michigan? And had Hayes remained at Miami through the 1950s, where would College Football Hall of Famers Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler have started their head coaching careers?

What if Paul Brown had returned to Ohio State after World War II?

Would the Buckeyes have contended and possibly won the national championship in 1948, ’49 or ’50? Would Vic Janowicz have still won the 1950 Heisman Trophy? Would the Snow Bowl game have been played? Where would Woody Hayes have carved his coaching legend?

Finally, what if there had never been a Chic Harley?

How long would Ohio State have had to wait for a victory over Michigan? Before Harley led the Buckeyes to a 13-3 win in 1919, the Wolverines held a 13-0-2 advantage in the series. Would OSU officials have finally thrown up their hands in surrender and refused to play Michigan?

More importantly, would Ohio State have ever had the impetus to build a huge, U-shaped stadium on the banks of the Olentangy River? Because of Harley’s popularity, overflow crowds at old Ohio Field convinced university officials they needed a new facility and plans for Ohio Stadium were born.

Without Harley, who knows where the Buckeyes would be playing today … or if anyone would care as much?

OHIO STATE-ILLINOIS MINUTIAE

** Ohio State and Illinois will meet Saturday for the 95th time and the Buckeyes hold a 60-30-4 advantage in the series. OSU has a 32-12 edge in Champaign, including victories in each of its last six trips to Memorial Stadium. The Illini haven’t beaten the Buckeyes at home since a 10-7 decision in 1991.

** Four of Ohio State’s victories during their six-game win streak in Champaign have been by eight points or less – 20-12 in 1993, 24-21 in 2000, 23-16 in overtime in 2002 and 17-10 in 2006. The other two were blowouts – 48-0 in 1996 and 41-0 in 1998.

** OSU head coach Jim Tressel is 3-2 against Illinois while Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook is 1-2 vs. the Buckeyes. With Ohio State, Tressel is 20-4 during the month of November, good for a .833 winning percentage. Under Zook, Illinois is 4-7 in November.

** Zook was defensive backs coach on John Cooper’s staff at Ohio State from 1988-90. Although those weren’t exactly the glory years, the Buckeyes were 3-0 against the Illini during that stretch.

** When his team defeated Michigan earlier this season in Ann Arbor, Zook became only the second active Big Ten coach with victories at Ohio Stadium and Michigan Stadium. Joe Paterno of Penn State is the other.

** The Illini have faced a ranked OSU team on 35 previous occasions since 1942, and the Buckeyes have won 24 of those contests. In the Zook era, Illinois has a 3-10 record against ranked teams including 0-2 this season.

** Ohio State’s is currently working on a streak of 14 consecutive victories in Big Ten road games, the longest such streak in school history. That is three short of the league record, set at 17 by Michigan between 1988 and ’92. The Buckeyes last lost a conference road contest Oct. 8, 2005, when they dropped a 17-10 decision at Penn State.

** This is the final road game of the 2008 season for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has an all-time record of 67-47-6 in the final road game of the regular season, including 5-2 under Tressel.

** Last week’s loss to Western Michigan continued a trend for Illinois. Since beating East Illinois and Louisiana-Lafayette on back-to-back weekends in early September, the Illini have followed every victory with a loss and every loss with a victory.

** The Buckeyes and Illini vie for one of the more uncommon trophies in college football. Illibuck is a wooden turtle that goes to the winner of the game each year. The tradition began in 1925 with a live turtle being exchanged between the two schools. Why a turtle, you ask? Because of its long live expectancy. Unfortunately, the original Illibuck died only two years after the trophy game was inaugurated. Since 1927, nine wooden replica Illibucks have been carved, each with the scores from games on its back. The Illibuck is the second oldest trophy game in the Big Ten, surpassed only by the Little Brown Jug. Minnesota and Michigan have been vying for the Jug since 1903.

** Three more turnovers last week against Northwestern pushed Ohio State’s turnover margin to plus-13. That is the second-best turnover margin in the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally. Minnesota leads the conference and is No. 2 in the country with a plus-15 turnover margin. Oklahoma is the nation leader at plus-16. Meanwhile, Illinois is minus-4 in turnover margin, which ranks eighth in the Big Ten.

** Illinois’ five victories this season have come against teams with a combined record of 21-28. The Illini’s five losses have come against teams that are a combined 37-13.

** With 11 tackles against Northwestern, OSU middle linebacker James Laurinaitis upped his career total to 346 and leaped all the way into seventh place on the Ohio State all-time list. Laurinaitis passed Glen Cobb (336, 1979-82), Ed Thompson (338, 1974-76) and Al Washington (345, 1977-80), and now has his sights set on Thomas “Pepper” Johnson (379, 1982-85).

** OSU running back Chris “Beanie” Wells had 140 yards against Northwestern and increased his career rushing total to 2,999 yards. That jumped him up to sixth place on the school’s all-time list and past Antonio Pittman (2,945, 2004-06), Michael Wiley (2,951, 1996-99) and Carlos Snow (2,974, 1987-89, ’91). Next up for Wells is Pepe Pearson, currently in fifth place with 3,121 yards from 1994 to ’97.

** Last week’s win over Northwestern was the 81st for Tressel at Ohio State, tying him for third place on the school’s all-time list with Earle Bruce (1979-87). Only Woody Hayes (205, 1951-78) and John Cooper (111, 1988-2001) have more victories as head coach of the Buckeyes.

** It was also victory No. 50 in Big Ten games for Tressel, making him only the 20th head coach in conference history to achieve that feat. Hayes is the all-time leader in that category with 152 league wins during his career.

** Illinois quarterback Juice Williams needs 326 more yards of total offense to break his school’s single-season record in that category. Former Illini QB “Champagne” Tony Eason set the mark in 1982 at 3,671. So far this season, Williams has amassed 3,346 yards of total offense – 2,769 through the air and 577 rushing.

** Williams has had two games this season in which he threw for 450 or more yards. Unfortunately, both were in losing efforts. Williams totaled 451 yards in a 52-42 loss to Missouri and established a career-high with 462 yards in a 27-20 loss to Minnesota. Those are the third and fourth-highest single-game passing totals in Illinois history. Dave Wilson holds the record with 621 yards against Ohio State in 1980. That, too, came in an Illini as the Buckeyes took a 49-42 win.

** Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn has 60 receptions worth 947 yards this season and needs 53 more to become the first Illini player since Brandon Lloyd in 2002 to top 1,000 yards receiving. David Williams set his school’s single-season record in 1984 with 1,278 receiving yards.

** Illinois has scored 42 or more points in four games so far this season. The last time the Illini achieved that feat was 1982.

** It wouldn’t do the Buckeyes much good to try and outguess Illinois senior center Ryan McDonald. That’s because McDonald is a rocket scientist. No, really. McDonald completed his undergraduate work in aeronautical engineering with a 3.84 grade-point average and has begun pursuit of a master’s degree in the same field.

** Kickoff for this week’s game is 12 noon EST, or 11 a.m. local time if you’re making the trek to Champaign. ESPN will have the telecast with the announce crew of Dave Pasch (play-by-play) and former Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware (color analysis) handling the call for the second week in a row.

** Next week’s game in the traditional season-ending showdown against Michigan. Kickoff will be at 12 noon Eastern and the game will be televised on ABC.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** In case you have lost count, there are 34 postseason bowls including the BCS National Championship Game. That means there are postseason spots available for 68 teams, and after last week’s action, 52 schools already have the requisite six victories to become bowl-eligible. There are another 12 teams that could qualify this week with a win, and 13 more that need two more victories to quality for the postseason. Among the current four-win teams in danger of missing a bowl: Texas A&M, Rutgers, Arkansas and Clemson. Perennial powers such as Tennessee and Michigan are already out of the bowl mix with seven losses apiece.

** Minnesota and Wisconsin resume this weekend the longest rivalry in major college football. The Gophers and Badgers first met in 1890 and have played one another every year since 1907. The two schools battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe, a trophy that was inaugurated in 1948. Before that, Minnesota and Wisconsin squared off for the Slab of Bacon Trophy. However, the trophy disappeared in the 1940s and was eventually replaced by the Bunyan axe.

** When Penn State bit the dust last week, it dropped the number of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level to five: Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, Texas Tech and Utah.

** Michigan State running back Javon Ringer currently has 4,310 yards for his career and needs only 84 more to move into the Big Ten’s top 10 career rushers. Currently in 10th place is Jamie Morris of Michigan (1984-87) with 4,393 yards. Ron Dayne of Wisconsin (1996-99) is far and away the conference’s career rushing leader with 7,125 yards. Archie Griffin of Ohio State (1972-75) is a distant second with 5,589.

** Texas Tech is 10-0 for the first time since the 1938 season. That year, the Red Raiders rolled to 10 regular-season wins and then suffered a 20-13 upset loss to tiny St. Mary’s (Calif.) in the Cotton Bowl.

** You no longer have to wonder about which teams will meet in the SEC championship game. Alabama and Florida wrapped up their respective division titles last week and will square off Dec. 6 in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Here’s a pretty good bet: The winner will get to play for the BCS national title.

** Boise State head coach Chris Petersen continues to come with innovative ways to keep his offense as entertaining as possible. During last weekend’s 49-14 win over Utah State, the Broncos had four different players throw touchdown passes – and only two of them were quarterbacks. Starting QB Kellen Moore threw for 362 yards and two TDs while backup Mike Coughlin pitched a touchdown on his only attempt of the game. The other scoring passes came on option throws by receivers Tanyon Bissell (57 yards) and Vinny Perretta (17 yards).

** If you like scoring by the bunches, you ought to love Conference USA. Tulsa, Rice and Houston rank among the top 14 scoring offenses in the nation. Tulsa is No. 1 with an average of 52.0 points per game, Rice is No. 8 at 40.8 and Houston is No. 14 at 37.8. During a four-game stretch earlier this season, Tulsa topped 60 points twice and hung a season-high 77 on conference rival UTEP.

** Houston quarterback Case Keenum is a major reason why the Cougars have such a potent offense. He threw for 384 yards and four TDs last week during his team’s 42-14 win over Tulane. It was Keenum’s 10th straight game of at least 300 passing yards.

** Missouri’s 2008 football senior class has set a school record with 35 career wins. That tops the 1963 team’s seniors, who finished their careers with 33 victories.

** Wake Forest’s seniors also established a school mark. They have 30 victories over the last four seasons, and the Demon Deacons have now tallied six games or more wins in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1946-48.

** Kentucky has also ended a drought with its third straight season of six or more victories. That is first time the Wildcats have enjoyed such a stretch since 1954-56.

** Washington State has already allowed 502 points this season, setting a new Pac-10 record for defensive futility. The old mark was 469 set by Oregon State in 1981. And the Cougars, who have given up 66, 69, 58 and 59 points over their last four games, still have three games left to play.

** Texas Tech owns Division I-A’s current longest win streak at 12 games. That pales in comparison to Tuskegee (Ala.) of Division II, which has won 26 consecutive games. That streak ties a school record established from 1925 to ’27.

** My Heisman Trophy ballot this week: 1. QB Graham Harrell of Texas Tech; 2. QB Sam Bradford of Oklahoma; 3. RB Javon Ringer of Michigan State. By sheer coincidence, all three players have this week off.

** Running back Nate Kmic of Division III power Mount Union scored three touchdowns last week during a 49-20 win over Otterbein and became the all-time NCAA scoring king. Kmic, who played his high school football at Delta (Ohio) High School, now has an amazing 111 touchdowns in his career, good for 666 points and the NCAA all-division record. Of course, Kmic is no stranger to the end zone. He crossed the goal line 89 times during his high school career, giving him an even 200 over the past eight seasons.

** Another new record-holder also plays his college football in Ohio. Cris Reisert, quarterback at Ohio Dominican, now owns the NAIA career marks for passing yards (13,174) and TD passes (117). Reisert, a Cincinnati Moeller product, pushed into the lead for the NAIA career marks with last week’s performance of 381 yards and four touchdowns during a 56-0 rout of Urbana.

** Twenty-two years ago today, one of the longest home winning streaks in college football history came to an end. On Nov. 13, 1982, Southern Mississippi engineered a 38-29 upset of Alabama, ending the Crimson Tide’s 57-game home win streak. The Golden Eagles were led by quarterback Reggie Collins, who rushed for 88 yards and three touchdowns, while tailback Sam Dejarnette added 153 yards and two scores. Before the loss to Southern Miss, Alabama hadn’t tasted defeat in Tuscaloosa since 1963.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 11, 1989, Duke scored a 35-26 upset of North Carolina State despite Wolfpack QB Shane Montgomery throwing an NCAA-record 73 passes for a school-record 535 yards; on Nov. 12, 1966, quarterback Bob Griese led Purdue to a 16-0 victory at Minnesota and secured the Boilermakers’ first-ever berth in the Rose Bowl; and on Nov. 14, 1992, Iowa State stunned seventh-ranked Nebraska with a 19-10 upset in Ames. Third-string quarterback Marv Seiler, starting only because it was Senior Day, bolted 78 yards to set up the game-clinching touchdown for the Cyclones.

** This week also marks a milestone in the way football is played today. On Nov. 15, 1879, Princeton unveiled the novel approach of using blockers to help the ball-carrier advance the ball down the field. The new angle evidently was successful as the Tigers scored a 1-0 victory over Harvard. (In those days, you had to score four touchdowns to score a single point.)

FEARLESS FORECAST

Just like the Buckeyes’ offense, it was get well week for the forecast. Despite missing on both Upset Specials – thanks LSU for spitting the bit against Alabama – we still managed a pretty good 10-4 finish straight up, and that pushes the SU season total to 74-28.

Against the spread, we finally stopped the bleeding with a nice 8-4 finish. After running out to a big advantage, the ATS picks were getting pretty close to breakeven but we’ve built up a decent cushion again at 54-45 for the season.

Here are the games we’re featuring this week (and remember that we’re using AP rankings).

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Indiana at No. 7 Penn State: Were the Nittany Lions exposed last week by Iowa or did they just have a bad day? Maybe a little of both although JoePa has never had much success against the Hawkeyes. Last week’s loss was his third in a row at Kinnick Stadium and fifth straight in the overall series. History has been much kinder against Indiana. The two teams have played 11 times and Penn State has won all 11. That includes five games in Happy Valley where the average margin of victory is 22.2 points. Perhaps the only thing that could keep this close is if the Lions are looking ahead to next week’s showdown with Michigan State … Penn State 34, Indiana 7. (12 noon EST, Big Ten Network)

No. 13 Georgia at Auburn: Everyone who talks about how great the SEC is should be forced to watch this game. These two teams were supposed to contend for the national championship, yet they have combined for a mediocre 13-7 record. You could give the Bulldogs a bit of a pass because they have had so many major injuries to frontline players. But what is Auburn’s excuse? The Tigers lost four of five games during one stretch, including a home game to a 4-6 Arkansas team, mostly because they are one of the most inept offenses in college football. One of the simple rules of football: If you can’t score, you can’t win … Georgia 30, Auburn 13. (12:30 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 4 Texas at Kansas: The Longhorns may have had their national championship plans derailed a couple of weeks ago at Texas Tech, but they still have a lot to play for. Not only is a BCS bowl berth still a possibility, but quarterback Colt McCoy remains in the running for a free trip to New York and the Heisman Trophy festivities. This week, they travel to Lawrence to take on Kansas for the first time since 2005, a game they won 66-14 during their national title run. The Jayhawks are a much better program now than they were then although they seem to have leveled off a little bit this season … Texas 42, Kansas 24. (12:30 p.m. EST, FSN Regional)

Toledo at Western Michigan: After WMU defeated Illinois last week, I wanted to know more about the Broncos. They have won seven of their last eight games and feature one of the best college quarterback you’ve never heard of. While Ball State’s Nate Davis has gotten most of the attention coming out of the MAC, Western Michigan junior Tim Hiller is a native of Orrville, Ohio – same place that produced Bob Knight and Smucker’s jams and jellies – and has thrown for 3,157 yards and 30 TDs this season. Hiller ought to pad those numbers this week against the Rockets, who rank 109th nationally in pass efficiency defense … Western Michigan 31, Toledo 10. (2 p.m. EST, No TV)

No. 17 North Carolina at Maryland: Ohio State fans might want to start paying attention to the ACC, especially if the Buckeyes run the table and play in the Orange Bowl. It would be an interesting matchup between the Buckeyes and UNC, piloted by former Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis. First things first for the Tar Heels, though, who will have their hands full at College Park this Saturday. The Terrapins have beaten North Carolina three times in a row at Byrd Stadium and five of the last six times in the overall series. But the Heels may benefit from tomorrow’s weather forecast – thunderstorms, overcast and cool. That should help UNC run the ball while helping to negate their sometimes-shaky pass defense … North Carolina 26, Maryland 23. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 24 South Carolina at No. 3 Florida: Think the Ol’ Ball Coach wishes he had never left the Swamp? The Gamecocks have won six of their last seven games to sneak back into the national rankings, but to be brutally honest, they don’t have nearly enough firepower to hang with the Gators. Since the upset loss to Ole Miss in late September, Florida has punished its opponents, winning each of the last five games by no fewer than 28 points. Also, since South Carolina joined the SEC, they are 1-15 against the Gators including 0-11 in Gainesville … Florida 41, South Carolina 10. (3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

No. 9 Boise State at Idaho: Did you know the Broncos began their recent run of success back in 2005 against their instate rivals? It’s true. When BSU torched the Vandals to the tune of a 70-35 win three years ago, it started a streak that has seen the Broncos beat 22 of their last 23 Western Athletic Conference opponents. This year, it could be 2005 revisited. Boise State has rolled over all five WAC opponents this season, winning those games by an average of 26.0 points. Probably all you need to know about this one is that the Broncos rank No. 2 nationally in scoring defense and the Vandals rank 92nd in scoring offense … Boise State 45, Idaho 10. (5 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 6 USC at Stanford: There is a slight possibility the Trojans may use revenge as a motivating factor this week against the Cardinal. They remember, as does nearly everyone else in the country, last year’s meltdown when Stanford rolled into the L.A. Coliseum as 42-point underdogs and rolled out with a colossal 24-23 upset. The Cardinal is a much better team this year than last year, but it’s doubtful that’s going to help. USC has been invincible lately, outscoring the last six opponents by a 231-23 margin and protecting a perfect November record (25-0) since Pete Carroll became head coach in 2001. And while the Trojans get most of their ink for offense, their defense is No. 1 nationally in total and scoring defense. No way the Cardinal pulls off the shocker this time … USC 45, Stanford 7. (7 p.m. EST, Versus)

Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama: The only thing that could derail the Crimson Tide before their SEC title showdown with Florida is the Crimson Tide themselves. Bama finishes the regular season against teams with a combined record of 8-11, starting this week with the 3-6 Bulldogs. You might think the Tide would put it on cruise control, but I doubt Nick Saban lets that happen. Mississippi State has been a recent thorn in Alabama’s side – the Tide haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in the last three games in the series and they lost a 24-16 decision when the Bulldogs last visited Tuscaloosa in 2006. Those history lessons should be more than enough incentive to stay focused … Alabama 27, Mississippi State 14. (7:45 p.m. EST, ESPN)

No. 25 Tulsa at Houston: Some of the shine is off the Golden Hurricane after absorbing a 30-23 loss to Arkansas two weeks ago. Maybe it was the best thing for them, though. Before that contest, Tulsa seemed like a team more interested in playing not to lose. This week, they travel to Houston for what should be a good, old-fashioned shootout. These are two of most prolific scoring offenses in the country, and neither team bothers much with defense. The difference-maker should be Tulsa’s running game, which compliments QB David Johnson very nicely … Tulsa 49, Houston 28. (8 p.m. EST)

No. 8 Utah at San Diego State: While the Utes are looking to stay undefeated and on track for a BCS bowl berth, the Aztecs are simply trying to get to the barn. They are 1-9 and have surrendered 35 or more points in each of their last six games. And in case you think Chuck Long’s team is simply deficient defensively, know that SDSU ranks 100th or worse nationally in the following categories: rushing, total and scoring offense, rushing, scoring and total defense, turnover margin and punt returns. At least they play their home games in nice weather … Utah 48, San Diego State 7. (8 p.m. EST, The Mtn.)

No. 10 Ohio State at Illinois: Is this redemption game for the Buckeyes? You bet it is. There are very few times during a football season when a team goes into a game thinking about little else than playing for its own self-worth, and that should be the mind-set for members of the Ohio State defense as they head to Champaign-Urbana this weekend. Last year, the defense simply could not get the Illini and QB Juice Williams off the field in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. While the Buckeyes have been on a roller-coaster ride with their offense the last couple of weeks, the defense has remained steady, and it’s hard to believe that guys like James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins will let what happened last year happen again this year … Ohio State 24, Illinois 17. (12 noon EST, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Indiana (+36) at Penn State; Georgia (-8) at Auburn; Texas (-13) at Kansas; Toledo at Western Michigan (-14); North Carolina (-2½) at Maryland; South Carolina at Florida (-21); Boise State (-34) at Idaho; USC (-20½) at Stanford; Mississippi State (+22) at Alabama; Tulsa (-4) at Houston; Utah (-28) at San Diego State; Ohio State at Illinois (+10).

Enjoy the games and we’ll visit again next week.

Small Is Microcosm Of What Ails Buckeyes

Like so many athletes before him, Ray Small was blessed with an abundance of talent but cursed with way too little in the area of common sense. He has a lot in common with this year’s Ohio State team as a whole.

Forget for a moment that Small has game-breaking speed and as of this very moment leads the Big Ten in punt return average. To thrive as a student-athlete at the major-college level, you must at least pretend to pay attention to the student part of the equation. By all indications, Small cut classes in favor of sleeping in and even dozed off a time or two during football meetings.

Cutting class and sleeping in certainly aren’t major cases, and as some have already indicated, they are not offenses that rise to assault charges or drunk driving arrests. Still, there are team rules and when you do not abide by them – repeatedly – you begin to forfeit your playing status.

Small is been a problem child ever since he got to Ohio State. He wasn’t supposed to be academically eligible to join the Buckeyes as a freshman in 2006 but barely squeezed through at the last minute. Since then, he has been in and out of Jim Tressel’s doghouse as the coach devised new ways to try and get Small’s attention. He lost his starting job, lost his jersey number and even lost a spot in the team’s official media/recruiting guide this fall.

Through it all, Small never really seemed to get the message. Now he is suspended again and his father has indicated his son may take his obvious skills – as well as a burgeoning persecution complex – elsewhere.

Small’s situation is the latest in what is becoming an Ohio State team rapidly showing cracks around the edges. In case you hadn’t heard, the rumors now making the rounds at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center whisper of a disgruntled team divided. Several of the upperclassmen, so-called insiders say, were on the verge of all-out mutiny a couple of weeks back when Tressel dumped senior quarterback Todd Boeckman in favor of multitalented freshman Terrelle Pryor.

I’m not especially into conspiracy theories, and it makes no particular sense for any senior player to go into the tank with every NFL scout in the country poring over every frame of game film. Likewise, Ohio State didn’t exactly play lights out against Ohio the week before the USC beatdown.

Perhaps there is dissension on this team. It wouldn’t be the first time it happened in college football and lord knows it won’t be the last. Tressel has faced it a couple of times before, including his inaugural season when most of his roster was used to John Cooper’s hands-off approach to coaching. The fact that Tressel has been able to keep the attitude level high and off-the-field problems to a minimum the last couple of years is testament to his powers of persuasion. He prefers to present young men with options, clearly underlining which he believes are the best. But he’s never been a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy. The Maurice Clarett episode should be evidence enough of that.

Still, Tressel has to work with upwards of 100 young men on a daily basis, and like any other entity of that size with that number of individual personalities, not everyone is going to see eye to eye.

To be honest, I’m still left wondering why the trigger was pulled so quickly on Boeckman. I will stipulate that he is not the greatest quarterback ever to walk onto a football field, but he did have a lot of things going for him. He did lead the team to the national championship game last year, he was elected a team co-captain and he did (and likely still does) enjoy a huge amount of popularity among his teammates.

I never thought Tressel would supplant a senior, especially one at quarterback, with a freshman no matter how talented that freshman was. Again, conspiracy theorists surmise that after taking stock of his team following the USC game, the head coach was merely trying to get a jump on the 2009 season. Anyone that has even a passing knowledge of the way Tressel operates understands there is no way that could be true.

For all of their warts, this year’s Ohio State team remains in the running for a BCS bowl berth. If the Buckeyes win their final three games – and they should be favored in each – they will receive their fourth straight trip to the BCS and sixth in the last seven years.

Unfortunately, a BCS bowl berth notwithstanding, the legacy of the 2008 Ohio State football team will not be accentuated by what it achieved. Rather, it will be what the Buckeyes did not achieve. A team that was predicted – and quite frankly expected – to march to a third straight national championship game has been left in must-win mode with three games remaining in the regular season.

In that vein, Ray Small and his current situation is a microcosm of the entire team. It’s either a case of being totally overrated or never being quite able to play up to one’s vast potential.

The bottom line is that the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

OHIO STATE-NORTHWESTERN MINUTIAE

** Ohio State and Northwestern will meet Saturday for the 74th time and the Buckeyes hold a lopsided 56-14-1 advantage in the series. OSU has a 25-6-1 edge in Evanston, including victories in 15 of the last 16 at Ryan Field/Dyche Stadium. The Wildcats took a 33-27 overtime win over the Buckeyes in 2004, but before that you would have to go all the way back to 1958 to find a home win for Northwestern over Ohio State.

** That overtime loss to the Wildcats in ’04 evidently made the Buckeyes angry. In the three games since, they have outscored Northwestern by a 160-24 margin. That is probably a good thing for OSU because the Wildcats are 17-4 in their last 21 overall games determined by seven points or less.

** OSU head coach Jim Tressel is 6-1 against Northwestern while Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald is 0-2 vs. the Buckeyes. With Ohio State, Tressel is 19-4 during the month of November, good for a .826 winning percentage. All-time, the Buckeyes are 281-132-19 (.672) overall during the month as well as 178-78-11 (.687) on the road in November.

** The last time these two teams got together, Ohio State took Northwestern to the woodshed. Last year’s 58-7 pounding represented the most points scored by the Buckeyes since Tressel got to Columbus. In fact, it was the most points scored by any Tressel-coached team since Youngstown State rolled to a 63-20 win over Alcorn State in the first round of the 1994 Division I-A playoffs.

** Something has to give Saturday. During the Tressel era, Ohio State is only 1-4 in the game following a regular-season open week. However, the Buckeyes are 15-2 under Tressel following a loss. That includes a 5-1 mark on the road.

** Ohio State is currently working on a streak of 13 consecutive victories in Big Ten road games. The Buckeyes last lost a conference road contest Oct. 8, 2005, when they dropped a 17-10 decision at Penn State.

** Since 1995, only four Big Ten programs have winning records against Northwestern. OSU leads the parade with an 8-1 record while Michigan is 8-3, Purdue is 8-5 and Penn State is 7-3. The Wildcats are .500 or better against the other six conference schools over the past 13-plus seasons.

** Northwestern junior quarterback Mike Kafka had a career day last weekend during his team’s 24-17 win over Minnesota. Kafka completed 12 of 16 pass attempts for 143 yards and two touchdowns, and added an amazing 217 yards rushing. That broke the old Big Ten record for most rushing yards in a single game by a quarterback, held since 1972 by Purdue’s Gary Danielson, who had 213 during a 22-21 loss to Washington.

** Kafka won Big Ten offensive player of the week honors for his performance, and teammate Brendan Smith captured the conference’s top defensive award after he returned an interception 48 yards for the game-winning touchdown against the Gophers. It was Smith’s second pick six of the season. He returned one 28 yards for a score in the Wildcats’ season-opening 30-10 win over Syracuse.

** It is unknown whether or not Kafka will keep his starting job this week against Ohio State. Regular starter C.J. Bachér sat out last week with a hamstring injury and is scheduled to be re-evaluated today. A barking hamstring will likely prevent Bachér from equaling Kakfa’s running exploits from a week ago, but the senior QB is the better of the two when it comes to throwing the football. Bachér owns two of the top three passing games in Northwestern history – 520 yards against Michigan State and 470 against Minnesota. Both performances came last season. His high game so far this season was 284 in a 22-17 win at Iowa.

** The Buckeyes may want to think about what they’re doing at halftime – and change it. They are outscoring their opponents by an average of more than 11 points per game, but have been outpointed 34-26 in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Northwestern has outscored its opponents by a 60-35 margin this season in the third quarter.

** With 12 tackles against Penn State, OSU senior linebacker James Laurinaitis upped his career total to 335 and passed Mike Doss (331, 1999-2002) for 10th place on the Ohio State all-time list. Laurinaitis needs only 11 more stops to jump into seventh place past Glen Cobb (336, 1979-82), Ed Thompson (338, 1974-76) and Al Washington (345, 1977-80).

** OSU junior tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells currently has 2,859 yards for his career, good enough for ninth on the school’s career rushing list. He needs 115 more yards to jump into sixth place past Antonio Pittman (2,945, 2004-06), Michael Wiley (2,951, 1996-99) and Carlos Snow (2,974, 1987-89, ’91).

** Kickoff for this week’s game is 12 noon Eastern Standard Time. That is 11 a.m. local time if you’re going to Evanston. The telecast will be handled by ESPN2 with the announce team of Dave Pasch (play-by-play) and 1989 Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware (color).

** Next week’s game at Illinois is also scheduled to begin at 12 noon EST, 11 a.m. local time. It will be televised on either ESPN or ESPN2.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Texas Tech enjoyed one of the most successful weeks in its football existence with the upset of instate rival Texas. The victory came in the program’s 500th game and marked the first time Tech had ever beaten the nation’s No. 1-ranked team. Add those milestones to the Raiders’ lofty No. 2 perch in the BCS standings – their highest ever – and the fact that they own Division I-A’s longest current win streak at 11 games, and you can see why everything is coming up Double-T right now.

** One more thing about Texas Tech: The last time the school’s football team started 9-0 was 1938. The only remaining living member of that team, Lonnie “Primo” McCurry, served with the U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima in World War II. McCurry was on hand in Lubbock last Saturday night when the Raiders toppled Texas.

** Maybe the Big Ten doesn’t rack up big offensive numbers, but you would have been hard-pressed to find any conference with more thrilling finishes last weekend. All four of the Big Ten games were decided in the final 30 seconds – an interception return for a touchdown with 12 seconds left, the always-entertaining hook-and-ladder play with 26 seconds to go and a pair of last-second field goals, one with 0:24 showing on the clock and the other with just 0:07 remaining.

** Apparently the nation at large still likes Big Ten football even if the media does not. The Ohio State-Penn State game on Oct. 25 drew the seventh-largest audience ever for an ABC primetime regular-season contest. According to data from ESPN, the game was watched in 7.35 million households, which translates to a 6.4 rating share. The game was also the second-highest rated game of the 2008 season, surpassed only by the Sept. 13 clash between Ohio State and USC. That game was watched by an estimated 7.95 million households, good for a 7.0 rating.

** Last week’s 48-42 loss to Purdue eliminated Michigan from postseason eligibility, ending the nation’s longest postseason streak at 34 consecutive years. The Wolverines are now 2-7 in Rich Rodriguez’s first season and are assured of their first losing record since going 4-6 in 1967. In all of its long and storied history dating back to 1879, Michigan has never lost more than seven times in a single season.

** Head-scratching stat of the week: Wisconsin outrushed Michigan State by a 281-25 margin and somehow came up with a 25-24 loss. The Badgers, who started the season 3-0 and rose as high as No. 8 in the country, have lost five of their last six games.

** Our weekly update of the undefeated teams at Division I-A finds the number has dwindled to six: Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, Penn State, Texas Tech and Utah.

** Alabama has now played nine games so far this season which computes to 540 minutes of football. The Crimson Tide have trailed their opponents for exactly 75 seconds.

** Votes in this week’s Associated Press media poll show some indecision in terms of the best team in college football. Alabama received 46 first-place votes while Texas Tech’s thrilling upset of previous No. 1 Texas garnered the Red Raiders a dozen first-place votes. Penn State also got some love by getting named on six first-place ballots. My problem was the one voter who gave Florida a first-place vote. How can you possibly vote the Gators ahead of three undefeated teams, especially with a loss to 5-4 Ole Miss on their résumé?

** Of the teams in the AP’s preseason top 10, two – Clemson and Auburn – aren’t even ranked this week while a third, West Virginia, is barely in the poll at No. 25. Meanwhile, this week’s No. 1 team Alabama was down at No. 24 in the preseason rankings.

** Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford established a new school record last Saturday night against Nebraska. Bradford now has 31 pass completions of 40 or more yards in his career. That is two more than the previous best of 29 by Heisman Trophy winner Jason White. Best of all – for the Sooners at least – is that Bradford is still only a sophomore.

** Speaking of Oklahoma, it is second in the nation in scoring at 49.8 points per game. The Sooners are averaging 35.2 of those points in the first half alone, and that would rank No. 23 nationally all by itself. Three times this season, OU has scored 28 or more points in the first quarter and twice it has scored 50 or more in the first half.

** In their 62-28 rout of Nebraska last week, it was business as usual for Oklahoma as it tallied 35 points in the first quarter. It definitely was no business as usual for the Cornhuskers, however. They had never given up that many points in a single quarter in program history.

** Congratulations to Navy, which has become the first team in the nation to formally accept a bowl bid. The Middies, now 6-3 after last week’s overtime win over Temple, will play in the inaugural EagleBank Bowl, set for Dec. 20 in RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

** To say that it is a forgettable season in the state of Washington would be an understatement. Last week, Washington and Washington State were outscored by a combined 114-0, marking the first time in 33 years both teams were shut out on the same weekend. The Huskies are now 1-8 while the Cougars are 0-9.

** I don’t care what Duke head coach David Cutcliffe says. Which would you choose – staying at a school where football is an afterthought or going to one where the facilities and fan base are among the best in the nation? That’s why I think when the money starts talking, Cutcliffe starts walking – straight to Tennessee.

** If you are the Western Kentucky defensive coordinator, how do you explain losing a 51-40 decision at home to previously winless North Texas? That is 51 points to a team that had been averaging 16.9 points in its previous eight games. Of course, Hilltoppers head coach David Elson won’t have to go far to find his defensive coordinator. He just needs to look in the mirror.

** Stephen F. Austin quarterback Jeremy Moses is probably somewhere icing his elbow right now. Last weekend during his team’s game against Sam Houston State, Moses set new NCAA single-game records for pass completions and attempts when he connected 57 times in 85 tries for 501 yards and four touchdowns. Alas, it all went for naught as the Division I-AA Lumberjacks lost 34-31 in double overtime to the Bearkats.

** HBO is nearing completion of its documentary “Breaking the Huddle: The Integration of College Football,” which chronicles the experiences of the first black players in the South during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It is scheduled to debut Dec. 16.

** The Rev. James Riehle, longtime chaplain for the Notre Dame football team, died last week at the age of 83. His first game as team chaplain was the famous 10-10 tie with Michigan State in 1966, and Rev. Riehle played himself in the 1993 film “Rudy.”

** Thirty-two years ago today – much as it is this week – Texas was licking its wounds after an upset loss to a conference rival. On Nov. 6, 1976, Houston highlighted its first season as a member of the Southwest Conference with a stunning 30-0 victory over the Longhorns. The Cougars were led by defensive tackle Wilson Whitley as Texas was limited to just eight first downs in its worst conference loss ever under legendary head coach Darrell Royal.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 4, 1967, Miami (Fla.) ended Virginia Tech’s regular-season winning streak at 14 with a 14-7 upset in Blacksburg; on Nov. 5, 1955, three future College Hall of Famers – coaches Bowden Wyatt of Tennessee and Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech as well as UT tailback Johnny Majors – were all at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville as the Volunteers and Yellow Jackets played to a 7-7 tie; on Nov. 7, 1970, Northwestern fullback Mike Adamle set a new Big Ten record for carries by rushing 48 times for 192 yards and four touchdowns as his Wildcats took a 28-14 win over Minnesota; and on Nov. 8, 1975, freshman cornerback Savann Thompson’s interception with 59 seconds left set up the game-winning field goal as Stanford shocked No. 9 USC, 13-10, in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

** This week in college football history also saw the unveiling of a new offensive alignment. On Nov. 9, 1912, Carlisle used the double wing formation for the first time and rolled past a confused Army team, 27-6. Leading the Indians was legendary fullback Jim Thorpe while the Cadets featured a team that included nine future generals, including five-star general and future U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

FEARLESS FORECAST

We’re pretty sure we know how the Georgia Bulldogs feel. We had some early-season success, got to feeling pretty good about ourselves and then – BOOM! – it’s all over in a flash when you’re on the business end of a rout. Probably the less said about last week’s picks the better, so we’ll simply note that the straight-up picks were 6-5 while we were a miserable 3-8 week against the spread.

For the season, the numbers are now 64-24 straight up and 46-41 ATS. As we’re sure they are doing in Athens and Lincoln and Seattle and several other places all over the map, we’re going to try and forget last week as quickly as possible.

Here are the games we like this week (and remember that we’re using AP rankings).

TONIGHT’S GAMES

No. 11 TCU at No. 10 Utah: We haven’t done very well this year with Thursday night affairs, but how could we resist this one from the Mighty Mountain West, especially when it has BCS implications. Each of these teams is in the running for an at-large berth in one of those big-money bowls and this game is the last real obstacle on either schedule. There is an awful lot to like about the Horned Frogs, including a defense that ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, second in total defense and first against the run. The Utes are extremely tough at home, winning nine straight at Rice-Eccels Stadium, and their offense is usually pretty good at putting points on the board. Also, Utah has beaten TCU in four of their last five meetings, including last year’s 27-20 win in Fort Worth … Utah 23, TCU 17. (8 p.m. EST, CSTV)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Wisconsin at Indiana: Would you believe me if I told you the Hoosiers were in front of the Badgers in the Big Tens standings? It’s true. Wisconsin at 1-5 is a half-game behind IU, which is tied with Purdue and Michigan (!) at 1-4. Still, Bucky has a lot to play for. If he can win out against the Hoosiers, Minnesota and Division I-AA Cal-Poly, he can avoid missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2001. Over on the other sideline, Indiana has lost six of its last seven this season and nine of its last 11 against the Badgers. Something tells me Bucky is about to explode … Wisconsin 38, Indiana 20. (12 noon EST, Big Ten Network)

Michigan at Minnesota: Despite last week’s stumble against Northwestern, the Gophers are still poised to play in their first New Year’s Day game since the 1962 Rose Bowl. To accomplish that feat, they will probably have to win out and the first step is Saturday against the Wolverines. Everyone in Ann Arbor knew this was going to be a difficult season but it’s doubtful anyone knew just how difficult. U-M has lost five games in a row for the first time in 41 years, but can buoy itself with the knowledge that it has won 19 of the last 20 meetings with Minnesota. Of course, the Maize and Blue faithful also know this has been a season already tough on streaks … Minnesota 31, Michigan 28. (12 noon EST, ESPN)

Purdue at No. 18 Michigan State: The Boilermakers mined the depths of their bench last week, turning to a third-string quarterback to lead them to a 48-42 victory over Michigan. This week, Purdue tries to pull off the Michigan two-fer against a much tougher opponent. Sparty somehow got past Wisconsin last week which may have been a turning point for the program. In recent years, MSU has typically had a November swoon. Now with an 8-2 record, the Spartans are gunning for their best season since finishing 10-2 in 1999. It is difficult to see how the Boilers’ defense can do much to derail that push … Michigan State 34, Purdue 17. (12 noon EST, Big Ten Network)

Utah State at No. 9 Boise State: If you’re thinking this is a mismatch, you’re thinking what we’re thinking. The Broncos are trying to crash the BCS party for the second time in the past three years and have plenty of history on their side. They haven’t lost a regular-season game on the Smurf Turf since 2001, they are a perfect 30-0 against WAC rivals over that span, and they have outscored the Aggies by a 338-150 margin over the last seven games in the series, including last year’s 52-0 romp. Want more? Utah State is 1-47 all-time against ranked teams, and that includes 0-37 on the road … Boise State 42, Utah State 7. (2 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 1 Alabama at No. 15 LSU: There is not much to say about this one other than I feel an upset brewing. Tide QB John Parker Wilson has played extremely well this season, especially in big games against the likes of Clemson and Georgia. But Wilson is still susceptible to making mistakes and he likely has at least one bad game coming. This could be that game, especially since the Tigers are playing at home with pretty much nothing but pride on the line – that and the desire to prove Nick Saban made a mistake when he left Baton Rouge. Here is Upset Special No. 1 … LSU 34, Alabama 30. (3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

No. 3 Penn State at Iowa: No, this will not be Upset Special No. 2. While the Hawkeyes have had some success this year, they should be no match for the Nittany Lions, well-rested after their win over Ohio State two weeks ago. Iowa has five victories so far this season, but their five victims have a combined 18-26 record this season. Take the win over Division I-AA Maine and the Hawkeyes don’t have a single victory over a team with a winning record. That doesn’t exactly bode well when you’re playing the No. 3 team in the nation and one that ranks tops in the Big Ten in both scoring offense and scoring defense … Penn State 26, Iowa 13. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 8 Oklahoma State at No. 2 Texas Tech: If you weren’t dazzled last week by Texas Tech’s passing game, your dazzler must be broken. QB Graham Harrell is a cool customer with a live arm, but standing behind that massive line with a guy like Michael Crabtree to throw to would make you cool, too. So what it the world would make us think Okie State can go into Lubbock and do what Texas could not? Just a hunch. It would be difficult to imagine the Red Raiders and their crowd having much left in the emotional tank after last week. Add in the fact that the Cowboys also know a thing or two about moving the football (512.0 yards per game) and scoring points (45.3 per game) and the stage is set for Upset Special No. 2 … Oklahoma State 38, Texas Tech 34. (8 p.m. EST, ABC Regional)

No. 4 Florida at Vanderbilt: Don’t look now but the Gators are making a strong push for their second BCS title game appearance in three years. They have become a pretty nifty blend of offense and defense, averaging 42.8 points on their side of the scoreboard while allowing opponents only 11.6. Meanwhile, Vandy’s storybook start to the season has faded with three straight losses, and it is doubtful the Commodores have enough firepower to stay with the Urban Legends. Look for Florida to make it 18 in a row in the series and continue on its path to an SEC championship showdown, most likely with Alabama … Florida 38, Vanderbilt 14. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

OHIO STATE NONLEAGUE OPPONENTS

Indiana State at Youngstown State: We thought we’d have a little fun and try to pick off some easy wins by taking a look at Ohio State’s nonconference opposition and how they’re doing this year. To be kind, both of the teams in this contest are struggling. The Penguins are shadows of their former Division I-AA powerhouse selves, listing along with a 2-8 record. But that’s better than the Sycamores, who are winless in nine games while getting outscored by an almost unbelievable 418-56 margin … Youngstown State 35, Indiana State 6. (1 p.m. EST, No TV)

Bowling Green at Ohio: Another couple of underachievers square off in Athens. Despite owning a losing record, the Falcons still entertain hopes of winning the weak MAC East since they play conference leader Buffalo next week and hold the tiebreaker over Akron. Meanwhile, the Bobcats haven’t been too successful in the recent past against BG. Ohio won last year’s contest, but that came after five straight losses in the series. Since 1982, OU has won only five times in 25 tries … Bowling Green 33, Ohio 19. (2 p.m. EST, No TV)

Western Kentucky at Troy: We’ve already talked about WKU’s problems on defense. That should bode well for the Trojans, who hung around with the likes of Ohio State and Oklahoma State earlier this season. Probably all you need to know about this one is that Troy dumped North Texas by four touchdowns a couple of weeks ago while the Mean Green dropped 51 on the Hilltoppers last week … Troy 43, Western Kentucky 13. (3:30 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 21 California at No. 7 USC: Poor Pete Carroll is upset about the BCS standings that dropped his team from fifth to seventh this week despite a 56-0 win over Washington. Naturally, Carroll wouldn’t be making too much of the BCS had his team taken care of business earlier this season at Oregon State. As it is, USC needs to win out and hope the teams ahead of them in the standings knock one another off. Of course, if the Trojans are too focused on what they cannot control, the Bears are capable of the upset. Not saying they’ll get it – just that they are capable … USC 37, Cal 14. (8 p.m. EST, ABC Regional)

No. 12 Ohio State at Northwestern: I don’t know what was said or done to the Buckeyes after losing in Evanston in 2004, but I do know that OSU has uncharacteristically run up the score on the Wildcats ever since. The two teams would seem to be evenly matched this season, and normally that would bode well for the home team. Additionally, Ohio State has lost four of five games in the Tressel era following open weeks. It all points to an upset, doesn’t it? It might except that it is going to be difficult for Northwestern to mount any kind of rushing attack and that’s what leads to final scores getting out of hand … Ohio State 37, Northwestern 14. (12 noon EST, ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: TCU at Utah (+2½); Wisconsin (-9) at Indiana; Michigan (+7½) at Minnesota; Purdue at Michigan State (-9); Utah State at Boise State (-31); Alabama at LSU (-3); Penn State (-7) at Iowa; Oklahoma State (+5) at Texas Tech; Florida (-20) at Vanderbilt; Bowling Green (-3) at Ohio; Western Kentucky at Troy (-17); Cal at USC (-17); and Ohio State (-10½) at Northwestern.

Enjoy the games and we’ll visit again next week.

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