OSU Observing Myriad Of Major Milestones

Since Ohio State is a 44-point favorite to beat New Mexico State, and the howling wolves figure to stay away from Terrelle Pryor’s doorstep for at least another week, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the many milestone anniversaries the OSU football program is celebrating this year.

There is no doubt the Buckeyes have a long and storied history and nearly every year marks a significant historical milestone. However, seasons ending in “4” and “9” seem particularly special.

Here are 10 landmark moments for this season.

First Undefeated Team – This year marks the 110th anniversary of the first undefeated team in Ohio State history. John Eckstorm took over as head coach in 1899 and guided the Buckeyes to a 9-0-1 season. All nine victories were shutouts, and the only blemish was a 5-5 tie at Case. Ohio State outscored its 10 opponents by a 184-5 margin.

First Win Over Michigan Ninety years ago this year, the Buckeyes finally broke through against “That School Up North.” OSU scored a touchdown on a blocked punt and the legendary Chic Harley added a 42-yard touchdown run for a 13-3 victory in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes entered the game with a 0-13-2 record in the series, having been outscored 369-21 by the Wolverines.

Gold Pants Club – When he was hired prior to the 1934 season, one of new head coach Francis A. Schmidt’s task was to figure out a way to beat archrival Michigan. The Wolverines had won three of the four previous meetings, but when Schmidt was asked about the rivalry, he replied, “They put their pants on one leg at a time – same as us.” The following November, the Buckeyes rolled to a 34-0 win over Michigan and at the awards banquet, Schmidt gave each team member a gold pants charm symbolic of the victory. It was the beginning of a tradition that celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

First Heisman – Sixty-five years ago, Les Horvath was actually an ex-Buckeye when he was coaxed away from dental school into returning to football. He gave the team a dose of much-needed leadership and helped OSU to a 9-0 season and the 1944 national civilian championship. The Buckeyes finished second nationally to Army in the AP voting. Horvath rushed for 905 yards (ranking second in the nation in rushing) and threw for 345 more, bringing home Ohio State’s first Heisman Trophy.

First Rose Bowl Victory – Ohio State celebrates the 60th anniversary of its 1949 season which ended in the school’s first-ever Rose Bowl win. On Jan. 1, 1950, the Buckeyes erased a 7-0 halftime deficit and took a 17-14 win over third-ranked California. Jimmy Hague kicked a 27-year field goal with less than two minutes remaining for the game-winning points.

Woody’s First Title – This marks the 55th anniversary of the 1954 national championship team, the first of three (some say five) under legendary head coach Woody Hayes. The Buckeyes rolled to 10 straight victories topped off with a 20-7 win over USC in the Rose Bowl, and featured a star-studded roster that included such all-time greats as Jim Parker and Howard “Hopalong” Cassady.

Archie’s First Heisman – It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it has been 35 years since Archie Griffin took the college football world by storm. He broke his own OSU single-season rushing record with 1,695 yards and won the first of his two Heismans in a landslide over Southern Cal running back Anthony Davis. The Buckeyes had a powerful team in 1974, outscoring opponents by a 437-129 margin and finishing 10-2, the only losses a 16-13 final at Michigan State and an 18-17 heartbreaker to USC in the Rose Bowl.

Earle’s First Team – This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Rose Bowl team, a squad that came within an eyelash of winning the national championship. Earle Bruce took over for Hayes as head coach and the Buckeyes rolled to 11 straight regular-season victories. They ascended to the No. 1 position in the national polls before dropping a 17-16 decision to USC in the Rose Bowl.

Talent-Laden Buckeyes – It is the 25th anniversary of the 1984 Rose Bowl team featuring one of Bruce’s most talented rosters. A host of future NFL stars wore scarlet and gray that season including tailback Keith Byars, who smashed Griffin’s single-season rushing record and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Pepper Johnson led the team in tackles and freshmen Chris Spielman and Cris Carter made immediate impacts. Although the team finished with a 9-3 record, the three losses were by a combined total of only 10 points. That included a tough 20-17 loss to USC in the Rose Bowl, a game in which the Buckeyes outgained the Trojans, 403-261. Despite the loss, Carter set new Rose Bowl records with nine receptions for 172 yards.

First Tunnel Of Pride – Fifteen years ago, hundreds of former Buckeyes lined up on a cold November afternoon to form a tunnel through which the 1994 team passed before its rivalry game against Michigan. That first Tunnel of Pride helped Ohio State end its six-year winless streak in the series and the 22-6 final score gave head coach John Cooper his first victory over the Wolverines.

OSU-NEW MEXICO STATE TIDBITS

** This marks the first-ever meeting between Ohio State and Western Athletic Conference member New Mexico State.

** The Buckeyes have previously played two WAC opponents – Fresno State (twice) and San Jose State. Against Fresno State, OSU took a 34-10 victory in the 1994 season opener at the Disneyland Pigskin Classic and a 43-10 win at Ohio Stadium in the first game of the 2000 season. The Buckeyes scored a 50-7 win over San Jose State in 2002.

** New Mexico State has previous played two Big Ten opponents and didn’t have much success either time. The Aggies dropped a 69-13 decision at Wisconsin in 1962 and a 59-21 contest at Iowa in 1995.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 24-2 at Ohio Stadium against nonconference teams. The two losses have come by a combined six points – 25-22 to second-ranked Texas in 2005 and 18-15 to third-rated USC earlier this season.

** New Mexico State head coach DeWayne Walker is in his first season with the Aggies. The 49-year-old is getting his first chance to run a program after 20 years as a college and NFL assistant. Although his team hasn’t played a team from the Big Ten in more than a decade, Walker knows a little bit about the conference. He was a two-year starting cornerback at Minnesota in 1981-82.

** During his tenure at Ohio State, Tressel is 13-1 against first-year opposing coaches. The lone blemish on that record came just two weeks ago with a 26-18 loss to Purdue under first-year head coach Danny Hope.

** The Buckeyes are 359-126-28 all-time in October including 246-63-20 at home. OSU is 27-9 during October under Tressel.

** It might interest you to know that Ohio State is averaging 30.0 points per game in its five Big Ten contests this season. That ranks No. 1 in the conference in scoring offense.

** The Buckeyes are a perfect 52-0 when scoring 30 points or more since Tressel took over in 2001.

** CBSSports.com ranks all 120 Division I-A teams and New Mexico State comes in at No. 109 this week. The Aggies are the lowest-ranked team with at least three wins mostly because of a weak schedule, which ranks 119th in the nation. NMSU’s victories this season have come against No. 104 Utah State, No. 116 New Mexico and Division I-AA Prairie View A&M.

** After rushing for 104 yards against Minnesota last week, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor logged his third career 100-yard rushing game. That is one off the school record for quarterbacks. Only Cornelius Greene (1972-75), Rex Kern (1968-70) and John Mummey (1960-62) had four career 100-yard games for the Buckeyes.

** Pryor ranks No. 4 this week in the Big Ten in total offense and has moved up to No. 5 in pass efficiency. (Psssst: That’s five spots higher than Michigan QB Tate Forcier.) Pryor is also the conference’s fifth-leading rusher with 471 yards.

** Ohio State has allowed only seven opposing players to rush for 100 or more yards in a game since 2005. That is the lowest total in Division I-A over that span. Kansas, Boston College and Alabama have each allowed eight opponents to crack the century mark since 2005.

** The 1974 Big Ten champion Buckeyes are holding their 35th anniversary reunion this weekend. That team finished with a 10-2 record and boasted seven first-team All-Americans including Archie Griffin, who won his first Heisman Trophy that year.

** Scheduled to be honored during pregame festivities tomorrow are veteran equipment truck driver Ken Blair and longtime Ohio Stadium clock operator Fred Beekman. Blair began providing a commercial vehicle and driving OSU football equipment to away games in 1982. Beekman retired last year after 60 years as a member of the stadium clock crew. He served 47 years as director of recreational sports at Ohio State, and if his name sounds familiar it is probably because you have driven past Fred Beekman Park on your way to Ohio Stadium. It is the 43-acre park at the corner of Kenny Road and Lane Avenue.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 12 noon Eastern as the Buckeyes make their final appearance of the year on the Big Ten Network. Matt Rosen will handle play-by-play duties with former Minnesota head coach (and former OSU assistant) Glen Mason providing color analysis. Former Iowa defensive lineman Anthony Herron will file reports from the sidelines.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channel 122.

** Next week’s game at Penn State will kick off at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The game will be televised using the reverse mirror effect meaning some will get it on their local ABC station while others will be able to view it on ESPN2.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Ten years ago today, Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo was a one-man wrecking crew against Stanford. On Oct. 30, 1999, Tuiasosopo became the first player in NCAA history to throw for at least 300 yards and rush for 200 or more in the same game. He threw for 302 yards and added 207 on the ground in a 35-30 victory over the Cardinal.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 26, 1985, unranked UTEP used an unusual 2-9 defensive alignment for a 23-16 upset of seventh-ranked BYU, ending the Cougars’ 25-game WAC winning streak; on Oct. 27, 1979, Pitt freshman quarterback Dan Marino came off the bench to throw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, leading the No. 12 Panthers to a 24-7 victory over No. 17 Navy; on Oct. 28, 1950, Nevada’s Pat Brady booted an NCAA-record 99-yard punt during a 34-7 loss to Loyola Marymount; on Oct. 29, 1988, Washington State scored 28 second-half points during a 34-30 upset win over top-ranked UCLA and its All-America quarterback Troy Aikman; and on Nov. 1, 1986, Long Beach State’s Mark Templeton set an NCAA single-game record for receptions by a running back with 18 catches for 173 yards during his team’s 14-3 win over Utah State.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level remained at seven this week. Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Texas and TCU continue with unblemished records as the 2009 season hits the three-quarter pole.

** Here are the toughest remaining regular-season tests for the aforementioned seven teams:

** Alabama at home Nov. 7 with No. 9 LSU (6-1).

** Boise State at home Nov. 14 with Idaho (6-2).

** Cincinnati at home Nov. 13 with No. 21 West Virginia (6-1); at No. 15 Pittsburgh (7-1) on Dec. 5.

** Florida at No. No. 22 South Carolina (6-2) on Nov. 14.

** Iowa at No. 17 Ohio State (6-2) on Nov. 14.

** Texas at No. 14 Oklahoma State (6-1) on Oct. 31.

** TCU at home Nov. 14 with No. 16 Utah (6-1).

** On the other end of the spectrum, there are five remaining winless teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. In reverse alphabetical order, they are Western Kentucky, Rice, New Mexico, Miami (Ohio) and Eastern Michigan. That fantastic fivesome is a combined 0-30 this season and has been outscored by a 1,429-539 margin. That’s an average losing margin of about 30 points per game. Since Miami and EMU are Mid-American Conference rivals, one of these teams can avoid a winless season, right? Wrong. The RedHawks and Eagles are in different divisions in the MAC and don’t play one another this season.

** With all due respect to our friends at Iowa and Cincinnati, you can forget the national championship game if Florida, Alabama and Texas continue to win. Yes, I know the Gators and Crimson Tide would face one another in the SEC championship game, but I believe the powers-that-be would rig the system in order to send a one-loss SEC champion or a one-loss USC to face an undefeated Texas in the title game long before they would send an unbeaten team from either the Big Ten or Big East.

** Iowa established a new school record with its 15-13 victory over Michigan State. The Hawkeyes are now 8-0 to start a season for the first time in program history. Their No. 4 ranking in the BCS standings also represent a new program high. Iowa had been ranked as high as fifth in the final three BCS standings of the 2002 season.

** Starting the season with an 8-0 mark may be unusual in Iowa City, but it isn’t that rare in the Big Ten. This marks the fourth straight season, and fifth in the last six, that a conference team has posted at least an 8-0 start. Wisconsin started the 2004 season with a 9-0 record while Ohio State and Michigan were 11-0 heading into their traditional regular-season finale in 2006. The Buckeyes started with 10 straight victories in 2007 and Penn State was 9-0 last season.

** With its victory last weekend at Michigan State, Iowa became the first Big Ten team in 12 years to notch victories at Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State in the same season. The 1997 Michigan national championship team was the last to pull off that trifecta. If the Hawkeyes can complete the superfecta with a win at Ohio State on Nov. 14, they would become the first opposing team in history to achieve victories at Happy Valley, Madison, East Lansing and Columbus in the same season.

** Northwestern is one victory away from achieving bowl eligibility. After last year’s trip to the Insight Bowl, the Wildcats are seeking back-to-back postseason trips for only the second time in program history.

** Last weekend’s 35-10 win over Michigan gave Penn State head coach Joe Paterno his 143rd victory as a member of the Big Ten. That ties him with former Iowa head coach Hayden Fry for fifth place on the conference’s all-time wins list. The top four winningest coaches in Big Ten history are Woody Hayes of Ohio State (205, 1951-78), Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago (199, 1896-1932), Bo Schembechler of Michigan (194, 1969-89) and Fielding Yost of Michigan (165, 1901-23, ’25-26).

** It hasn’t been the best week to be an ESPN analyst. First, the Steve Phillips sex scandal and then Bob Griese’s idiotic utterance during Saturday’s Ohio State-Minnesota telecast. In case you have been on safari and missed it, ESPN was cross-promoting its NASCAR coverage during the football game and showed a graphic of the top five drivers in the points standings. Analyst Chris Spielman noted that Colombian-born driver Juan Pablo Montoya was not on the list and wondered aloud, “Where is Montoya?” Griese replied, “Out having a taco.” Griese later apologized twice on air but has been suspended for a week. Montoya had the perfect response to the brouhaha. When asked about Griese’s comments, the driver replied, “I don’t even know who he is … And I don’t really care.”

** Here is my weekly top five for the Heisman Trophy: 1. Texas QB Colt McCoy; 2. Boise State QB Kellen Moore; 3. Alabama RB Mark Ingram; 4. Florida QB Tim Tebow; 5. Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen. Dark horse: TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes.

** Congratulations to Temple. The Owls have come out of nowhere to lead the MAC East standings thanks to a five-game win streak, their longest in 30 years. Temple is now 5-2 and looking for its first winning season since 1990 when it went 7-4. Between that season and the beginning of their current winning streak, the Owls were 40-165, a .195 winning percentage.

** The streak is finally over in Terre Haute. Thanks to 160 yards on the ground and two touchdowns from quarterback Ryan Roberts, Division I-AA Indiana State snapped the nation’s longest losing streak at 33 with a 17-14 win last Saturday over Western Illinois. Only Prairie View A&M (80 games), Columbia (44) and Northwestern (34) have ever lost more games in a row than the Sycamores, who hadn’t won since a 28-22 win over Missouri State on Oct. 21, 2006.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The crystal ball was nearly crystal clear last week. Beginning with picking a 10-point win for Purdue over Illinois (the final score was 24-14 in favor of the Boilermakers), the straight-up picks finished at 8-2. The only misses were the Upset Specials, and both Michigan State and Mississippi State hung tough before finally succumbing to Iowa and Florida. The yearly total straight up is now 56-17.

Things were just as rosy against the spread. After a couple of weeks of stomping the grapes, we were definitely sipping the wine with an 8-2 finish. Our heads are still below the water line at 28-33-1 for the season but at least the bleeding has stopped – for a week anyway.

Here are the games we like this week. (All rankings are now courtesy of the BCS standings.)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Indiana at No. 4 Iowa: The Hawkeyes have overcome adversity all season, playing through some key injuries and winning several games in come-from-behind fashion to remain unbeaten. Roster attrition continues to be Iowa’s worst enemy. During last week’s knock-down, drag-out affair with Michigan State, the Hawkeyes lost freshman tailback Adam Robinson and senior offensive lineman Dace Richardson for the rest of the regular season. Those losses may not affect the Hawkeyes this week as they host the Hoosiers, although they had better be careful. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is only 4-4 against Indiana, and that includes a 38-20 loss to the Hoosiers the last time they visited Kinnick Stadium … Iowa 24, Indiana 13. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Purdue at Wisconsin: The Boilermakers are still riding the crest of their upset of Ohio State two weeks ago while the Badgers have been on a different tack since their game against the Buckeyes. A 31-13 loss to OSU on Oct. 10 was followed by a 20-10 loss to Iowa, so Wisconsin went into last Saturday’s off week contemplating a two-game losing streak. The Badgers traditionally get well against Purdue, however. UW has won three in a row in the overall series and five of the last seven. If the Boilermakers continue to play well on defense, this game will be a lot closer than many believe. The key should be Wisconsin running back John Clay, the Big Ten’s leading rusher, because teams that have committed to running the ball against the Boilers have done well … Wisconsin 26, Purdue 23. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

No. 8 Cincinnati at Syracuse: The Bearcats continue to take advantage of a soft schedule as they await the return of quarterback Tony Pike. Against the Orange, backup Zach Collaros should be more than enough since Syracuse has lost 27 of its last 30 Big East games including a pair at home this season to South Florida and West Virginia. In each of those conference losses in the Carrier Dome, the Orange surrendered 34 points. How do you think that will square with the fact UC possesses the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense with an average of 40.7 points per game? Not well … Cincinnati 41, Syracuse 10. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)

Georgia vs. No. 1 Florida: The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party returns to Jacksonville where Tim Tebow believes he needs to make a statement. The Florida quarterback criticized his own offense this past week, knowing that it needs to raise its level of play if the Gators are going to be able to play for that third national title in the last four years. As for Tebow, he returns to his hometown needing one more rushing touchdown to break the all-time SEC record held by Bulldogs legend Herschel Walker. Georgia would love revenge for the Gators running up last year’s 49-10 score, but it’s doubtful the Bulldogs can pull off the upset. They rank 84th nationally in scoring defense and 90th in total offense, and have lost 16 of the last 19 in the series … Florida 30, Georgia 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Michigan at Illinois: I’m not sure whether Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther’s vote of confidence for Ron Zook was a good or bad thing. The Illini have been mailing it in for several weeks now and perhaps their only chance of showing some life was to play for their embattled head coach’s livelihood. Now that Zook is presumably safe, we assume the Illini players will continue to simply go through the motions. Meanwhile, the Wolverines remain in search of a defense. In conference games only, they are last in the Big Ten in scoring defense. Fortunately for Michigan, the Illini are ninth in that category. Neither team has beaten a I-A opponent since September, neither plays much defense, and it’s sort of mystifying why ABC chose this game for one of his regional broadcasts. Nevertheless, someone’s got win, so we’ll take the team currently playing better offense … Michigan 31, Illinois 26. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

UNLV at No. 6 TCU: If you like defense, the Horned Frogs are definitely for you. They rank in the top eight nationally in sacks as well as rushing, total and scoring defense, and they are No. 10 against the pass. Not that TCU is any slouch on the offensive side of the ball – 22nd in total offense and 14th in scoring. Contrast that to the Runnin’ Rebels, who are 94th in the country running the ball and 107th stopping the run. The Frogs have won all three games in this series played in Fort Worth by a combined score of 127-47. Enough said … TCU 42, UNLV 10. (4 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 12 Penn State at Northwestern: After their mistake-riddled loss to Iowa a month ago, the Nittany Lions were pretty much relegated to the scrap heap. They have rallied with four straight victories, outscoring their victims by a 142-30 margin in the process. Defense has gotten most of the attention in Happy Valley, but the resurgence of quarterback Daryll Clark has been a major reason why JoePa’s team hasn’t been challenged in a month. Clark is back atop the Big Ten in pass efficiency and he has thrown for a conference-leading 17 TDs. Meanwhile, Northwestern QB Mike Kafka leads the Big Ten with 2,067 passing yards, and he is the conference leader in total offense. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Kafka throws the ball to the other team too often – seven TDs vs. nine INTs – and that is a recipe for disaster against a Paterno defense … Penn State 31, Northwestern 17. (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Washington State at No. 23 Notre Dame: Despite the fact they have yet to beat a ranked team, the Fighting Irish continue their quest for a BCS berth by fattening up on another cupcake. Notre Dame has won five games against opponents with a combined record of 19-20, and with victories in their final five contests, the Irish would qualify for a BCS bid. First up are the 1-6 Cougars, who rank 116th nationally in rushing and have exactly 1 net yard on the ground in their last two games. Compounding Wazuu’s problems – the Irish are 14-0 all-time on Halloween. Look for Jimmy Clausen to pad his already impressive stats and the Irish to finally win one comfortably … Notre Dame 41, Washington State 10.(7:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

No. 5 USC at No. 10 Oregon: With all due respect to Arizona, this game is probably for the Pac-10 championship and the conference’s automatic berth in the Rose Bowl. Despite their loss at Washington, the Trojans remain media darlings and retain their outside shot at the BCS title game. But they have been spotty on defense lately, especially during last week’s 42-36 win over Oregon State. After displaying one of the nation’s stingiest defenses early in the season, USC has surrendered 62 points and 849 total yards in its last two games. That should be music to the Ducks’ ears. They welcome back starting QB Jeremiah Masoli, who brings another dimension to the offense when he is healthy. The team has averaged 45.7 points and 484.7 yards in the last three games Masoli has played. We missed with our Upset Specials last week but came close. We’ll try again here … Oregon 24, USC 20. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

New Mexico State at No. 17 Ohio State: Since there is a threat of rain in Columbus, look for the Ohio State offense to keep the ball on the ground – a lot – and let the defense dictate tempo. The Aztecs are dead last in Division I-A football in total offense and next-to-last in scoring, so it’s pretty much up to Jim Tressel to name his own score. Beware of that bloated point spread, however. In Tressel’s previous 110 games with the Buckeyes, his team has won by 40 or more points only eight times … Ohio State 48, New Mexico State 7. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Indiana (+18) at Iowa; Purdue (+7½) at Wisconsin; Cincinnati (-14½) at Syracuse; Georgia vs. Florida (-14½); Michigan at Illinois (+7½); UNLV (+35) at TCU; Penn State at Northwestern (+15½); Washington State at Notre Dame (-27); USC at Oregon (+3); New Mexico State (+44) at Ohio State.

You are going to want to know that Ohio State is 2-5 ATS in its past seven games at home as a double-digit favorite. Enjoy the games.

Where Do Buckeyes, Pryor Go From Here?

I try to avoid posting my columns from Buckeye Sports Bulletin on this blog, but I received a lot of positive feedback this week so I thought I would share it here. Like many others around the country, the column deals with Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and where the Buckeyes are headed following last week’s loss to Purdue.

There is nothing like a four-hour drive on a meandering black ribbon of interstate highway to clear the mind – that is, of course, unless you are making your way back home after witnessing something wholly unexpected.

I suppose there will be those who claim they expected Ohio State and its clogged artery of an offense to someday cause the team to stumble and fall. I doubt very seriously, however, if any of those self-proclaimed psychics foretold that occurring in the form of an eight-point loss at Purdue.

There were any number of finger-pointing moments during the 26-18 loss to the unranked Boilermakers, although there is no doubt the white-hot glare of the spotlight shone squarely on quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Many of us – me included – failed to recognize just how much Pryor remains a work in progress. Ardent critics of Jim Tressel and the way he goes about his business will likely dismiss that assessment as a convenient excuse to cover up something far more sinister. Perhaps Pryor is secretly hiding an injury. Maybe he’s angry at the way he’s being used. Maybe he’s really an alien from the planet Mxyzptlk and he’s been sent here to destroy Ohio State football.

Much to the dismay of the conspiracy theorists, however, the plain truth is that Pryor is a gifted athlete going through a stretch where he simply isn’t playing well.

Why is that? There are plenty of theories but they’re really only that – theories.

On that drive back from West Lafayette, my BSB colleagues and I bounced around our opinions about Pryor’s ongoing problems, and I’d be willing to bet our concerns mirror those of most of the Buckeye Nation.

We discussed poor mechanics and that Pryor’s performance continually suffers every time he allows his mechanics to stray. When he squares his shoulders to the target or plants his feet in the proper position, his throws are usually on the money. When he gets flushed from the pocket, or when he is scrambling laterally, he is much more erratic and prone to incompletions and interceptions.

We discussed the possibility that Pryor is perhaps struggling as he tries to digest an expanded playbook. There is little question Tressel kept things much simpler for his quarterback last season when Pryor was inserted into the starting lineup in week four. As a result, much of what the then-freshman did was on instinct and sheer athleticism. Now, as opposing defensive coordinators have caught on to Pryor’s strengths and weaknesses, they scheme against the former and seek to exploit the latter.

To explain it another way, Pryor is like the young slugger who knocks the cover off the baseball during a late September call-up to the major leagues. The following spring, when opposing pitchers learn his tendency to crush fastballs and wave at sliders in the dirt, his production plummets. The young players who can adapt their games and adjust to the adjustments made against them are the successful superstars of tomorrow.

So far, Pryor has not adapted, nor has he made the necessary adjustments.

We discussed Pryor’s state of mind with regard to the mental aspects of playing the quarterback position at one of the elite programs in college football. In its long and glorious history, Ohio State has had but one four-year starting quarterback. The reason? Because it’s damned hard for any young player to assume a leadership role on what very often is a veteran team gunning for a championship.

Sure, there are plenty of programs around the country who entrust their programs to freshman quarterbacks, but how many of them expect that first-year player to guide them into the national championship picture? The jump to major-college football from the high school level is a quantum leap. That is underscored even more when the player comes from a low-division high school program.

In a period of 24 short months, Pryor has ridden the roller coaster of fame. While still a high school student in tiny Jeannette, Pa., his name was on the lips of every college football recruiting nut in the country. When he signed with Ohio State, his constituency was pared to the Buckeye faithful. Now, many of those same fans who felt the program couldn’t go on without Pryor’s name on a national letter of intent scream for someone else – anyone else – to play in his place.

Criticism comes with the territory, of course. I’ve swallowed what I consider to be my fair share over the years and have gotten fairly used to it. But I’m 51 and there are times when criticism – warranted or not – still gets to me. With everything else on a 20-year-old’s plate – from schoolwork and social activities to just plain growing up and being away from home for the first time – the criticism leveled at Pryor must be quite a burden to bear.

Personally, I think Pryor is one of the most confused football players I have ever been around. He seems to be caught in a personal vortex between the quarterback he is and the quarterback he wants to be, and the more he tries to be one or the other, the more confused he seemingly becomes.

Since he first began playing the position full time as a high school sophomore four short years ago, Pryor has relied on his instincts first and everything else followed. More often than not, that meant he’d beat you with his legs long before he’d beat you with his arm. That approach was plenty good enough for a state championship at Jeannette and even good enough to make him one of the most talked-about freshmen in college football last year.

Suddenly, though, it’s not good enough. Not nearly.

What has changed? Pryor’s role in the offense for starters.

Last year, he was content in his role as just another guy in an attack led by Chris “Beanie” Wells. With Wells doing most of the heavy lifting throughout the season, pretty much all that was asked of Pryor was to be himself and protect the football.

When Wells decided to leave early for the NFL, both Tressel and Pryor lost their security blankets. Since Tressel no longer had the luxury of relying on a workhorse tailback to ease the pressure from his young quarterback, he likely reasoned that opposing defenses would try to negate Pryor’s mobility. So Tressel went about the task of trying to remake his budding star into a passing prodigy. So far, that strategy has had its ups and downs for one of two reasons: Either Pryor has yet to grasp the concept or he has yet to fully embrace it.

My guess is that he wants to embrace it but old habits die painfully hard. Case in point: The final play on Ohio State’s final drive against Purdue. Fourth-and-14 at the Purdue 38. Trailing by eight. Clock winding under three minutes. Do or die.

Pryor took the shotgun snap, waited a split-second for the Boilermakers to stage the same kind of furious pass rush they had shown the entire second half and then bolted toward the left side of the line. After a few steps toward the line of scrimmage, Pryor saw traffic in front of him and suddenly slowed.

On fourth-and-14, it is doubtful the play call was a quarterback draw. Then again, with the way the Purdue defensive ends were coming on almost every play, the strategy could have been for Pryor to try to create something with his legs. Earlier in the fourth quarter, he had broken off a 35-yard scramble against a similar rush.

But he had committed to that early run and had broken containment quickly. This time, as he tried to quickly process the moment, Pryor saw Ray Small crossing to his left about 20 yards downfield. You could almost see the conflict going on inside the quarterback’s helmet. Run it or throw it? Throw it or run it? In the end, he committed to neither. Rather than tucking the ball under his arm or taking the time to set his feet, Pryor shuffled and then heaved a pass in Small’s direction as a couple of Boilermaker defenders closed in.

The ball fluttered a bit – it had way too much air under it – and never came close to Small. Purdue cornerback David Pender crossed in front of the OSU receiver and easily swatted the ball to the ground to end the Buckeyes’ potential rally.

Would Pryor have picked up the necessary 14 yards for a first down had he committed to the run in that situation? Who can tell? I only know that he clearly was not in command of what he wanted to do. And if that was the case, how can he possibly be in command of what he needs to do?

Am I in favor of sitting him for a while in favor of backup Joe Bauserman? No. That would be the worst thing Tressel could do. About the only thing Pryor still has going for him is a kind of inner confidence that he’s going to work this out. You sit him down now and you send him the message that you don’t think he can work it out.

The best thing Tressel could do for his young quarterback is commit to making him either a runner or a passer – not both. Not now.

If part of the offensive game plan is going to be predicated on Pryor running the football, concentrate on that. Stop monkeying around with the option, put Pryor in a form of the wildcat formation and run the football from the different variations of that kind of attack.

If, instead, the game plan is to feature a pro-style passing attack, put on the red light and instruct Pryor that he can run only as a last resort. You must make him commit to stopping, setting and firing the football rather than stopping, starting, shuffling and trying to get something out of nothing. In that scenario, you not only get your quarterback to commit to the passing game, your offensive line becomes more comfortable in what it’s trying to accomplish.

There is no doubt in my mind that Pryor can become a more complete quarterback. But he is much more of a raw commodity than anyone envisioned, and his maturation process at the position is going to take some time.

In the interim, the question becomes which is more important to Tressel: Mold your quarterback into an NFL-ready player or take what you’ve got and try to go win yourself another Big Ten championship.

At this point, it seems the Ohio State head coach can have one or the other but not both.

OSU-MINNESOTA TIDBITS

** This marks the 49th meeting between Ohio State and Minnesota with the Buckeyes holding a decisive 41-7 record in the overall series. OSU is 21-3 against the Golden Gophers in Columbus, including victories in 18 of the last 19 games played at Ohio Stadium. The lone blemish during that stretch was a 29-17 loss to Minnesota in 2000.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 6-0 against the Gophers, including last year’s 34-21 victory in Columbus. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes in those six games has been 21.3 points.

** Tressel is now 88-21 in his eight-plus seasons with OSU. In the games immediately following the coach’s 20 previous losses, the Buckeyes are 18-2. Only once in the Tressel era have the Buckeyes ever lost back-to-back games. That was in 2004 when Ohio State dropped three straight Big Ten contests – at Northwestern, at home against Wisconsin and at Iowa.

** Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster is 0-2 against the Buckeyes and 1-6 against ranked teams in his two-plus seasons with the Gophers. The lone victory was a 17-6 win at Purdue last season when the Boilermakers were ranked 25th.

** Don’t go to sleep on Goldy. Minnesota has come from behind in all four of its victories this season, including three when the Gophers were trailing at the end of three quarters.

** The game will serve as Ohio State’s annual homecoming contest. The Buckeyes are 63-19-5 all-time on homecoming, including 6-2 under Tressel. Last year’s homecoming game resulted in a 13-6 loss to Penn State.

** In addition to homecoming, the annual Captains’ Breakfast will be held with former OSU flanker Mike Lanese giving the address. Additionally, several teams will hold reunions, including the surviving members of the 1942 national championship squad. Also, members of the 1954 team will celebrate the 55th anniversary of their national championship and will be honored during Saturday’s game.

** Pryor needs two more yards to become only the fifth OSU quarterback to rush for 1,000 or more yards in his career. The other four: Cornelius Greene (2,066, 1972-75), Rex Kern (1,714, 1968-70), Art Schlichter (1,303, 1978-81) and Troy Smith (1,168, 2003-06).

** Last week’s loss at Purdue snapped Ohio State’s conference road win streak at 16. That was one shy of the all-time Big Ten record set by Michigan between 1988 and 1992. The Buckeyes also have the conference’s third-longest road winning streak in terms of league games. OSU won 11 in a row between 1974 and 1977.

** Think turnovers make a difference? In the Buckeyes’ last 20 road games against Big Ten competition, they are 16-4. In those 16 victories, the team has committed 20 turnovers, an average of 1.25 per game. In the four defeats, OSU has turned the ball over 14 times, an average of 3.5 per game.

** Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker is moving up several all-time Big Ten statistical lists. He has 224 career receptions and needs 29 more to move into the top five in league history. Decker also needs only 376 more receiving yards to crack the Big Ten’s career top five in that category, and six more touchdown catches to become only the 10th player in conference history with at least 30 TD grabs.

** Minnesota sophomore Troy Stoudermire boasts a career kickoff return average of 25.7 yards, and that is good enough for sixth all-time in the Big Ten. The longstanding conference leader in career kickoff returns is Stan Brown of Purdue, who averaged 28.8 yards per return from 1968-70.

** The Gophers have a lethal punt return game and lead the Big Ten with a lofty average of 19.0 yards per return. That figure ranks sixth nationally. But it is a bit of a misnomer since Minnesota has returned only three of its opponents’ 30 punts all season. That could make for a bit of a boring afternoon tomorrow. Ohio State opponents have returned only three of 30 punts this season.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 12 noon Eastern. ESPN will have the telecast with Dave Pasch doing the play-by-play while former Ohio State All-America linebacker Chris Spielman will share color analysis duties with former Purdue All-America quarterback Bob Griese.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 122 and 129 as well as XM channel 196.

** The Buckeyes complete the two-week home stand next Saturday when they host New Mexico State. Kickoff set for 12 noon Eastern and the game will televised by the Big Ten Network.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Forty-four years ago today, Virginia Tech was riding high with a new facility and a victory over its instate rival. The Hokies, known then as the Gobblers, dedicated their new Lane Stadium on Oct. 23, 1965, and celebrated with a 22-14 win over Virginia. Tech rushed for 323 yards in the contest, but the decisive touchdown came on a 71-yard pass from quarterback Bobby Owens to receiver Tommy Groom late in the fourth quarter.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 20, 1917, Washington beat Whitman College by a 14-6 score, extending its unbeaten streak to 63 games, an NCAA record that still stands; on Oct. 21, 2006, Michigan State engineered the biggest comeback in NCAA history, erasing a 38-3 deficit on the way to a 41-38 victory over Northwestern in Evanston; on Oct. 22, 1983, Nebraska scored 41 points in less than three minutes of possession time on its way to a 69-19 rout of Colorado; and on Oct. 25, 1947, Columbia scored a 21-20 upset over Army, ending the Black Knights’ unbeaten streak at 32 games.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The weekly count of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level is down to seven: Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Texas and TCU. Of those seven, it’s anyone’s guess who makes it to the national championship game. Last Saturday, Florida and Texas survived by a field goal, Boise State held on by a touchdown and Alabama couldn’t put away South Carolina until the fourth quarter. Anyone want to forecast a Cincinnati-Iowa championship game?

** Iowa looks to improve to 8-0 this week with a road contest at Michigan State. The last time the Hawkeyes started a season with eight straight victories? Never.

** To say Oklahoma is having a strange season would be putting it mildly. The Sooners have outscored their opposition by a 188-58 margin, yet sport a 3-3 record. Their three losses are each to ranked teams by a combined total of five points.

** With Sam Bradford done for the season, and Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow not exactly lighting things up, we Heisman Trophy voters have gone searching for new blood. The popular candidate of the moment is Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram, who had 246 yards last Saturday against South Carolina. Ingram, the son of former NFL receiver Mark Ingram, has rushed for 905 yards and eight TDs for the Crimson Tide, who moved past Florida into the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press writers’ poll.

** The triple option is alive and well and Georgia Tech used it to perfection to hand Virginia Tech a 28-23 upset loss last Saturday. The Yellow Jackets completed exactly one pass in the game for 51 yards – they also ran 63 times for 309 yards against the Hokies’ supposedly impenetrable defense.

** Georgia Tech’s victory over the fourth-ranked Hokies was the first at home for the Yellow Jackets over a top-five team since 1962. That season, Georgia Tech scored a 7-6 victory over top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama, ending the Crimson Tide’s 26-game unbeaten streak. The two head coaches patrolling the sidelines that day were legends – Bobby Dodd for Georgia Tech and Bear Bryant for Alabama.

** In case you wondered, his team’s loss to USC last weekend sent Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis’ record to 4-11 against ranked teams.

** Not that much of anyone is going to notice, but Illinois and Purdue square off this week in an unusual trophy game. The teams play for the Purdue Cannon. Not a trophy. A real cannon. In 1905, a group of Purdue students somehow thought it was a good idea to take the cannon to Champaign in anticipation of firing it after a victory. Although the Boilermakers won the game, Illinois officials confiscated the cannon and kept it. It was later moved to a farmhouse in Milford, Ill., before the universities agreed in 1943 to play for possession of the cannon. Purdue holds a narrow 29-26-2 advantage in previous cannon games.

** Illinois went to the Rose Bowl following the 2001 and 2007 seasons, going 13-3 in the conference those two years. Heading into tomorrow’s game, the team’s combined league record for the remainder of the decade is 11-49.

** You probably haven’t noticed it, but the best turnaround story in college football this season is happening at Idaho. After going a combined 3-21 the past two seasons, the Vandals are already bowl-eligible with six victories in seven games. Three of their victories have been by four points or less as the team averages 29.6 points per game on offense and gives up 25.1 on defense.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It seems whenever Ohio State loses, the old forecast suffers. After a great start on Friday night, picking the Pittsburgh-Rutgers final score on the nose, things went south in a big-time hurry.

Straight up, we were 6-3 while we suffered for the second straight week against the spread, finishing at 2-7. That puts the yearly ledgers at 48-15 SU and 20-31-1 ATS. All we can say is that we’ll try to do better this week.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Illinois at Purdue: The Fighting Illini are no doubt eager to get out of Champaign for an afternoon so they don’t have to answer any more questions about how much longer Ron Zook will be their head coach. Not that those questions are going to go away anytime soon, especially if Illinois can’t stop its slide. Perhaps they can catch the Boilermakers still feeling good after last week’s upset of Ohio State, but it’s doubtful … Purdue 27, Illinois 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

Louisville at No. 5 Cincinnati: The Bearcats are riding high with the best poll ranking in program history, and have some believing they have a real good shot at making the national championship game. We like Brian Kelly and what he’s doing at UC, but the Bearcats still have a lot of ground to cover before they can think about the title game. First and foremost is the health of quarterback Tony Pike, who had surgery this week to repair a dislodged metal plate in his non-throwing arm. With or without Pike, the Bearcats ought to be able to handle the Cardinals, who have lost nine of 11 dating back to last season … Cincinnati 31, Louisville 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Tennessee at No. 1 Alabama: The Crimson Tide celebrate their ascendancy to the top of the AP poll by hosting the Volunteers, a team that more than held its own in last year’s 29-9 loss at Knoxville. Alabama running back Mark Ingram has a little something to prove, especially if he is going to be a bona fide Heisman contender. He rushed for a career-low 1 yard on four carries last year against Tennessee. Of course, this is a different Vols team under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin, a team that seems more preoccupied with offense. UT has had an extra week to prepare after its 45-19 pasting of Georgia, and the fact the Tide has several ailing defensive players may make this game a lot closer than some think … Alabama 26, Tennessee 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 13 Penn State at Michigan: If there is one Big Ten team Joe Paterno doesn’t like to play, it’s the Wolverines. He is 4-10 lifetime against them, including 2-5 in Ann Arbor. Even last year’s 46-17 win that snapped a nine-game skid in the series wasn’t as easy as the final score may have indicated. Michigan led 17-14 at halftime before fading. All of that should give the Wolverines some comfort as they seek to snap their two-game conference losing streak. Unfortunately, all of the offensive fireworks they enjoyed last week during a glorified scrimmage against I-AA Delaware State (63 points and a team-record 727 total yards) won’t do them much good against JoePa’s defense, which has given up only three points in its last eight quarters … Penn State 31, Michigan 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

No. 7 Iowa at Michigan State: Lost amid the euphoria of the Fighting Ferentzes’ undefeated start is just how close they have been skating to the edge. Six of their seven victories have been by 11 points or less, and they have had to come from behind in five of their games. The high-wire act could begin to stumble this week. The Spartans seem to have ironed out the problems that caused them to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in September, and the Green and White are now on a three-game winning streak. Add that to the fact the Hawkeyes have lost four in a row in Spartan Stadium and you get this week’s Upset Special … Michigan State 17, Iowa 16. (7 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 10 TCU at No. 16 BYU: Rather than simply talking about how it should be in the BCS mix, the Horned Frogs actually try to do something about it. TCU takes on the ranked Cougars, who are trying to protect a Mountain West Conference-record 13-game home winning streak. That includes a 27-22 win over the Frogs in 2007. This should be an interesting matchup featuring the nation’s No. 4 team in total defense (TCU) against the No. 6 team in the country in scoring offense (BYU). The Cougars would seem to have the cards stacked in their favor, and they hold a 5-3 edge in the all-time series. Still, we like the overall strength of the Frogs … TCU 26, BYU 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, The Mtn)

No. 2 Florida at Mississippi State: The Gators remain undefeated but you get the distinct impression they may be living on borrowed time. They are not the offensive or defensive powerhouse from a year ago, and quarterback Tim Tebow (their spiritual leader on and off the field) is playing hurt. Will this be the week the defending national champs crumble under the strain? First-year Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen knows Florida almost well as he knows his own team – he was Urban Meyer’s longtime offensive coordinator at Florida, Utah and Bowling Green. It reminds me a lot of the Washington-USC game earlier this season when first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian exploited all the weaknesses of the offense he used to run for Pete Carroll. You may also be interested in the fact Florida is winless in its last four trips to Davis Wade Stadium. Get ready for a shocker in Starkville. Here’s Upset Special No. 2 … Mississippi State 26, Florida 23. (7:30 p.m., ESPN)

Oregon State at No. 4 USC: The Beavers had their way with the Trojans last season, costing USC a shot at playing for the national championship with a 33-31 upset win in Corvallis. Oregon State usually plays the Trojans tough at their place. In the L.A. Coliseum? Not so much. USC will be looking for its 22nd consecutive home win in the series. It knows it will have to do a much better job containing OSU running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s meeting. Rodgers is coming off a career-high 189 yards and four TDs two weeks ago against Stanford, and stopping him will be the Trojans’ top priority. Boasting the nation’s No. 4 rush defense should help get that done … USC 27, Oregon State 23. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

No. 6 Boise State at Hawaii: The Broncos don’t get much respect in their quest for BCS recognition, but one thing you can’t take away from them – they’re willing to get on a plane and play anywhere in the nation. The team that has already made road trips this year to Fresno State, Bowling Green and Tulsa heads for Honolulu this week to take on Hawaii. Unfortunately, a game against the 2-4 Rainbows isn’t going to count for many style points. It could, however, push the Heisman candidacy of Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, who currently leads the country in pass efficiency. Moore has completed 69.5 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,404 yards and 16 TDs against only two interceptions this season, and if he can solve the swirling winds of Aloha Stadium, those numbers should go up. The Rainbows rank 101st nationally in total defense … Boise State 38, Hawaii 17. (11 p.m. ET, ESPN 360)

Minnesota at No. 18 Ohio State: A week of overcritical analysis of Terrelle Pryor and the struggling OSU offense has overshadowed a few small facts: The Buckeyes still average 28.0 points per game on offense and surrender only 14.0 on defense. The last thing Ohio State needs to do with its young quarterback and offensive attack is panic. Simplify the playbook a little, return to establishing the run and continue to rely on defense. All ingredients for making things a little sunnier next week in the Buckeye Nation … Ohio State 34, Minnesota 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Illinois at Purdue (-9½); Louisville (+18) at Cincinnati; Tennessee (+14½) at Alabama; Penn State (-4½) at Michigan; Iowa at Michigan State (+1); TCU (-2½) at BYU; Florida at Mississippi State (+23½); Oregon State (+21) at USC; Boise State at Hawaii (+24½); Minnesota at Ohio State (-16).

In case you care, Minnesota is 3-8 ATS in its last 11 games against Ohio State while the Buckeyes are 4-2 ATS at home in their last six vs. Goldy. Enjoy the games.

First-Half Awards For Ohio State Football

We have reached the midway point in Ohio State’s 2009 season, a campaign already filled with highs and lows.

There has been plenty of angst throughout the Buckeye Nation this fall even though OSU is in its customary spot atop the Big Ten standings and inside the top 10 in all the major polls. The team is working on a fifth consecutive conference championship, has won 33 of its last 36 league games overall and eyes its 18th straight conference road victory at Purdue tomorrow night.

The offense remains a work in progress but the defense is quickly becoming one of the country’s best units. The “No Name No Blame” defense ranks seventh nationally in scoring (12.0 points per game), 11th in total defense (271.8 yards), 12th in rushing (89.2) and is tied for fifth in total sacks (18.0) and tied for 12th in sacks per game (3.0).

Once the conference season began, the Buckeyes got even better. Against its three league opponents so far, OSU’s averages have shrunk to 9.0 points, 72.7 yards rushing and 255.3 total yards per game. The defensive unit ranks first in the Big Ten in all of those categories as well as total sacks, sacks per game and lowest opponent third-down conversion rate.

Given how the defense has played, the aforementioned figures are not that much of surprise. But want a kick in the head? In league games, Ohio State currently ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring offense as well as second in pass efficiency offense. Not bad for a unit whose quarterback some believe is better suited to play receiver.

Rather than concentrate on the criticisms, however, we thought we would look back at the best of the first half of the season. See how our picks compare to yours.

Best Drive – Strangely enough, Ohio State’s best drive of the season’s first half came during the poorest offensive showing so far. It came last week at the end of the second quarter after Wisconsin had scored to take a 10-7 lead. To that point in the game, the offense had 31 total yards to show for its five possessions and nearly everyone in the stadium expected the Buckeyes to sit on the ball for the final 1:52 of the half.

Suddenly, Pryor began the possession with a 27-yard slash and dash on a first-down quarterback draw, a run that featured two separate cutbacks that caught most Wisconsin defenders going the wrong way. After his initial run, Pryor tacked on a 6-yard scramble and then flipped a 6-yard pass to tight end Jake Ballard before connecting for 22 yards with receiver DeVier Posey.

Two plays later (plus a 5-yard illegal shift penalty against the Buckeyes), Pryor threw his best pass of the game, finding a well-guarded Posey in the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown. Six plays, 88 yards (93 if you count the penalty) and a touchdown in 72 seconds. The only question: Why can’t the offense play with that sense of purpose more often?

Best Offensive Play – The Buckeyes have sometimes struggled with their rushing attack during the first half of the season, but there was a running play in the USC game that was executed just like it is on a meeting room blackboard.

With USC leading 7-0 in the first quarter, the Buckeyes put together a drive that had them knocking on the door of the end zone with second-and-goal at the 2. Usually, that kind of play is cause for concern since OSU has a recent history of short-yardage failures. This play was different.

Pryor handed off to Boom Herron, who took a half-step toward the line of scrimmage. That was enough to get linebacker Luthur Brown to commit to the inside, and by the time he recognized the play was going outside, it was too late. Freshman Zach Boren sealed off any strong-side pursuit from linebacker Jarvis Jones while right guard Bryant Browning pulled the other way to team up with Ballard.

Herron disappeared in behind the 6-4, 312-pound Browning and the 6-6, 256-pound Ballard, kept his legs churning and pushed his way into the end zone. There aren’t many picturesque 2-yard touchdown runs but that was one of them.

Best Defensive Stop – The Buckeyes were leading Toledo by a 31-0 score early in the fourth quarter when the Rockets were driving. Ahead by such a comfortable margin, most defenses would ease up in that situation. OSU did not.

Toledo put together its best drive of the game with quarterback Aaron Opelt completing short passes in the middle of a soft zone. From the Ohio State 27-yard line, Opelt connected on another short flip that was grabbed over the middle by receiver Eric Page.

As Page split the zone and headed for the end zone, safety Kurt Coleman closed in and met the Toledo receiver near the goal line. Coleman wrapped Page, spun him around and with the same motion ripped the football from the receiver’s grasp. Linebacker Ross Homan was there to pounce on the fumble in the end zone, ending the scoring threat and preserving the team’s first shutout of a Division I-A opponent since 2006.

Best Defensive Play – There are lots of candidates from which to choose, but I like this one in particular. With Wisconsin trailing 14-10 at halftime, the Badgers took the second-half kickoff and seemed intent on taking the momentum back from the Buckeyes. Jermale Hines had other plans.

Hines and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa had bracketed UW receiver Isaac Anderson along the sideline, and when quarterback Scott Tolzien tried to force the ball into that double coverage, Hines made him pay. The OSU junior leaped in the air, stuck out his hand – the one attached to the same arm with a painfully hyperextended elbow – and managed to tip the ball straight up into the air.

Hines then snagged the ball for an interception and headed back the other way on a 32-yard touchdown return. Along the way, he got help from Coleman, who obliterated Anderson along the sideline, and linebacker Brian Rolle, who blocked off a pair of would-be tacklers. Hines finished the play by knifing his way into the end zone between two more Badgers.

Not only was it a play showcasing several players’ athleticism, it was also a backbreaker for Wisconsin. After Hines’ return, the Badgers were never again seriously in the game.

Best Special Teams Play – Once again, we revisit the Wisconsin game because it would be hard to beat Ray Small’s 97-yard kickoff return.

Small often moves laterally on returns, and anyone will tell you the return man that goes east and west usually goes nowhere. Every once in a while, though, the 5-11, 180-pound speedster decides to head straight up the middle of the field and the results are spectacular. That’s exactly what happened against the Badgers.

The return call was so good that Wisconsin barely laid a hand on Small as he turned on the afterburners. The best OSU block came early from freshman Storm Klein, and Small had only defensive back Devin Smith and kicker Philip Welch to beat. Smith made a diving attempt just before midfield and got nothing but air while Welch pretty much just got out of Small’s way.

A great call, excellent blocking and a speedy return man. One plus one plus one equals six points.

Best Offensive Lineman – Bryant Browning. It’s amazing how much better Browning is performing this season over last. Well, maybe not so amazing. He is much better suited to playing a guard position rather than having to worry about protecting the entire edge. He is the team’s best pulling guard and has consistently graded the highest of the offensive linemen. But you don’t have to believe me. Ask the coaching staff. They have given out offensive lineman of the week only four times so far and Browning has won it twice.

Best Receiver – Dane Sanzenbacher. Not the fastest, not the most athletic, not the most physical. The kid is simply money in the bank when the football’s in the air. It was a close call with Posey, who is really coming on. But Sanzenbacher is the one who finished the first half of the season as the team leader in receiving yards, yards per catch, yards per game and TDs. I’d gladly go to war with 11 Dane Sanzenbachers on my team.

Best Running Back – Brandon Saine. Remember the speedster who scored a lightning-quick 37-yard touchdown two years ago at Washington? It’s been a long, hard fight against injuries but it appears that Saine is finally back and ready to become the Buckeyes’ No. 1 tailback. He doesn’t have the résumé yet, and he still has to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season, but Saine’s combination of hard running and pass-catching skills is beginning to remind some people of Keith Byars. Can Saine approach that kind of production? Stay tuned for the second half of his junior season.

Best Offensive Player – Terrelle Pryor. As with most quarterbacks, Pryor gets more credit than he deserves when the team is winning and more criticism than he deserves when things aren’t going so well. The fact of the matter is the sophomore is so physically gifted that 80 percent efficiency from him is better than 100 percent from a lot of players. Yes, he’s still a work in progress but I shudder to imagine where the Buckeyes would be without him.

Best Defensive Lineman – Thaddeus Gibson. On a line full of guys who have stepped up their games, I will take Gibson just because his presence disrupts what the opposing offensive coordinator wants to do. The 6-2, 240-pound junior was credited with only 16 tackles in the first half, but he made them count. Despite ranking 12th on the unit in total stops, Gibson had a team-high 6½ tackles for loss – many on backside pursuit because teams were usually running in the opposite direction.

Best Linebacker – Ross Homan. The quiet leader of the defense is a tackling machine who simply knows where the football is going at all times. That Homan tends to save his biggest games for the toughest opponents – nine stops vs. USC and a career-best 15 plus two sacks against Wisconsin – is no coincidence.

Best Defensive Back – Kurt Coleman. He is probably the Buckeyes’ best cover man, he is easily one of the team’s biggest hitters and he is a vocal leader as one of three team co-captains. Coleman has played well in the past but he has amped things up a notch or two this season with 43 tackles, two interceptions (including an 89-yard return for a touchdown against Wisconsin) and three forced fumbles.

Best Defensive Player – Brian Rolle. Admit it. You were skeptical of a 5-11, 221-pound guy trying to play middle linebacker at Ohio State. But all it takes is one look at what Rolle brings to the party and his approach to the game, and you quickly realize he is a leader on a defense that has plenty of them. He has a team-best 51 tackles, and everyone remembers his game-saving play in the opener against Navy. Rolle is an example of a hard-working player who maximizes every ounce of his talent.

Best Special Teams Player – Ray Small. You get the feeling that Small may have squandered a lot of his Ohio State career, but when he turns on the jets like he did on that 97-yard kickoff return against the Badgers, all is forgiven. Every team would like to have a home run hitter like Small. Just the threat of a lightning bolt like him makes the Buckeyes better.

Best Freshman – John Simon. Ten true freshmen got varying degrees of playing time during the first half of the season, including Zach Boren and Adam Homan who shared starting fullback duties. I happen to like Simon, though, for seamlessly fitting into a veteran defensive line rotation. The 6-3, 265-pounder is as strong as the proverbial ox and his value will only increase the longer Dexter Larimore has to be sidelined.

Best Scout Teamer(s) – Walk-ons Spencer Smith and James Georgiades. In six weeks, each has won scout team of the week honors three times. They must be doing something right.

Team MVP – Kurt Coleman. Yes, he cost himself – and his team – with his helmet-to-helmet hit late in the Illinois game against quarterback Eddie McGee. But Coleman took his one-game suspension like a man and swore to learn from his mistake. He returned against Wisconsin and played what could have been the best game of his life. There have been plenty of stars for the Buckeyes so far this season, but for sheer value to his team and his teammates, I’d pick Coleman as my first-half MVP.

OSU-PURDUE TIDBITS

** This marks the 52nd meeting between Ohio State and Purdue with the Buckeyes holding a 37-12-2 record in the overall series. That includes a 12-6 mark in West Lafayette although the teams have split the last four games played in Ross-Ade Stadium.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 5-1 against the Boilermakers, including last year’s 16-3 victory in Columbus. That 13-point win was par for the course. Tressel’s five victories in the series have come by an average margin of 12.4 points.

** Purdue head coach Danny Hope is in his first year with the Boilermakers. At Ohio State, Tressel is a perfect 13-0 against opposing first-year head coaches. That includes a 38-0 win over Toledo and first-year head coach Tim Beckman earlier this season.

** With a victory at Purdue, the Buckeyes would tie the all-time Big Ten record with a 17th consecutive conference road victory. Michigan established the mark with 17 straight road wins from 1988 to 1992.

** Ohio State has an all-time record of 196-77-10 in conference road games. Under Tressel, the Buckeyes are 26-7 on the road in Big Ten.

** Purdue is looking to snap a 19-game winless streak against ranked teams. The Boilermakers last defeated a top-25 team in 2003 when it scored a 27-14 victory in West Lafayette over No. 10 Iowa.

** Ohio State is ranked No. 7 in most of this week’s major polls. The last time Purdue defeated a ranked OSU team was in 2000. That year, the 16th-ranked Boilermakers took a 31-27 decision at home over the No. 12 Buckeyes.

** The game will feature a pair of divergent passing attacks. Purdue ranks second in the Big Ten and No. 22 nationally in pass offense, averaging 265.0 yards per game. Ohio State ranks dead last in the conference and 108th in the country in pass offense with its average of 166.2 yards per game.

** Purdue’s current five-game losing streak matches a similar slide from last season. The Boilermakers haven’t lost six games in a row since 2005 when they won their opening two games, lost their next six and then finished with three consecutive victories. Purdue hasn’t had a losing streak of more than six games since 1993 when they lost their last nine in a row en route to a 1-10 finish. The head coach that year was former Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Colletto, now the offensive line coach and assistant head coach at UCLA.

** Most of the Boilermakers’ problems this season have been self-inflicted. They have committed 20 turnovers, often deep in their own territory, and opponents have converted 13 of those miscues into points (eight touchdowns and five field goals). As a result, Purdue is minus-9 in turnover margin. The Buckeyes are currently plus-5.

** Despite its losing streak, Purdue has several players among the Big Ten leaders in individual statistical categories. Senior quarterback Joey Elliott leads the conference in passing yardage and total offense and is tied for the lead in touchdown passes while senior receiver Aaron Valentin is the league leader in all-purpose yardage as well as punt return average. Junior tailback Ralph Bolden is second in the Big Ten in rushing, junior receiver Keith Smith is second in receptions per game, junior defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is tied for second in sacks and senior linebacker Jason Werner is third in tackles for loss.

**The Buckeyes are working on a span of 16 consecutive games without allowing an opposing running back to crack the century mark. That is the second-longest such streak in the nation, second only to Alabama. The Crimson Tide have gone 26 straight games without allowing an opponent to rush for 100 or more yards.

** The game will showcase a pair of kickers with big-time legs. Senior Aaron Pettrey of Ohio State has six career field goals of 50 yards or longer while sophomore Carson Wiggs of Purdue has two, including a 59-yarder this year against Toledo. That is tied for the seventh-longest field goal ever by a Big Ten kicker. The longest field goal by a conference kicker came in 1981 when Morten Anderson of Michigan State drilled a 63-yarder at Ohio Stadium during a 27-13 loss to the Buckeyes.

** Purdue has many distinguished alumni including astronauts Neil Armstrong (the first man to set foot on the moon) and Eugene Cernan (the last man to set to set foot on the moon).

** Kickoff for Saturday’s game will be shortly after 12 noon Eastern. The Big Ten Network will handle the telecast with Wayne Larrivee doing the play-by-play, Chris Martin providing color analysis and Rebecca Haarlow reporting from the sidelines.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 127 and 153 as well as XM channel 196.

** The Buckeyes return home next week to host Minnesota. It is the annual homecoming game with kickoff set for 12 noon Eastern. The game will televised by ESPN.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Thirty-three years ago today, Texas A&M kicker Tony Franklin showcased his strong right leg and set an NCAA record in the process. On Oct. 16, 1976, Franklin became the first kicker in college football history to boot a pair of field goals from 60 yards or longer in the same game. He had three-pointers of 64 and 65 yards during a 24-0 victory over Baylor in College Station. Franklin’s 65-yarder established a new NCAA record for the longest field goal in college football history, but the mark didn’t last long. Later that same day, Abilene Christian kicker Ove Johansson booted a 69-yarder against East Texas State. Johansson’s record still stands.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 14, 1978, Cornell running back Joe Holland rushed for 244 yards on an Ivy League-record with 55 carries and led the Big Red to a 25-20 victory at Harvard; on Oct. 15, 2005, USC quarterback Matt Leinart was pushed across the goal line in the final seconds by teammate Reggie Bush and the top-ranked Trojans escaped South Bend with a 34-31 win over No. 9 Notre Dame; on Oct. 17, 1970, Southern Miss went into Oxford and engineered a 30-14 upset over fourth-ranked Mississippi and Heisman Trophy candidate Archie Manning; and on Oct. 18, 1958, No. 2 Auburn’s 17-game winning streak came to an end with a 7-7 tie against unranked Georgia Tech. The Tigers went on to close the 1958 season with six straight victories, but the tie with the Yellow Jackets cost them a second consecutive national championship.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The weekly count of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level was pared by another four teams last weekend and by one more last night. Only eight remain: Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Texas and TCU.

** Because of open weeks and other scheduling anomalies, Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati and Iowa are the only four of the aforementioned undefeated teams with 6-0 records, and therefore the first officially bowl-eligible teams of 2009.

** Dating back to last season, Iowa has now won 10 games in a row for the first time in more than 85 years. The last time the team had a double-digit winning streak was between 1920 and 1923 when the Hawkeyes posted 20 consecutive victories.

** Iowa will try to extend its winning streak this week against Wisconsin in what is the closest series in Big Ten history. The teams have met 84 times previously with the all-time record dead even at 41-41-2. The Hawkeyes and Badgers will also by vying for the Heartland Trophy, the conference’s newest rivalry trophy. It was instituted for the 2004 season. Iowa broke a 2-2 tie in Heartland Trophy games with last year’s 38-16 win over Wisconsin in Iowa City.

** Congratulations to Bowling Green quarterback Tyler Sheehan and receiver Freddie Barnes, both of whom had school-record performances last weekend during the Falcons’ 36-35 win over Kent State. Sheehan set new single-season records for completions, attempts and yardage by connecting on 44 of 63 passes for 505 yards and four touchdowns. Barnes had 22 receptions for 278 yards (both new school records) and scored three times.

** The vaunted rushing attack at the U.S. Naval Academy is in full gear again. During last weekend’s 63-14 win over Rice, the Midshipmen rolled up 537 yards of total offense – 80 rushes for 471 yards and two pass completions for 66. Navy had 14 different players log at least one carry against the Owls, and seven of them totaled at least 25 yards.

** Was it worth it? The New Mexico football team needed two snowplows and a state highway patrol escort just to get to Laramie to play Wyoming last weekend. Then the Lobos proceeded to squander an early lead in a 37-13 loss that dropped them to 0-6. That record doesn’t figure to get any better in the second half of the season since New Mexico currently ranks 117th in the nation in scoring defense and 118th in scoring offense. There are only 120 teams playing at the Division I-A level.

** The loss continued what has been a rocky first season in Albuquerque for New Mexico head coach Mike Locksley. He has been suspended by the university for his role in a Sept. 20 staff meeting during which Locksley allegedly punched receivers coach J.B. Gerald. On Tuesday, Locksley received a 10-day suspension and the coach will not be allowed to have any contact with his team until Oct. 25, one day after UNLV visits New Mexico. The Lobos are off this week.

** Division II powerhouse Grand Valley State (Mich.) saw its conference winning streak snapped at 45 games last Saturday. The Lakers lost a 27-24 decision to Hillsdale (Mich.) in a contest that saw a thrilling finish. Hillsdale running back Billy Kanitz scored on a 1-yard run with 36 seconds left, and then Grand Valley State managed to get into field goal range but kicker Justin Trumble’s 49-yard attempt was wide to the right. The loss was the Lakers’ first in Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play since 2004.

** The first official Bowl Championship Series rankings of the year are scheduled to be announced Sunday.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It was the old “best of times/worst of times” scenario with the picks last week. Straight up, it doesn’t get much better than 10-1. (Of course, 11-0 would have been nicer. Thanks to Mark Richt and his formerly relevant Georgia program.)

We were even pretty close on several of our scores including getting the Oregon-UCLA final right on the nose. The straight-up picks are now purring along at 42-12 for the season.

Against the spread … well, let’s just say it’s easier picking straight winners than it is picking spreads. They don’t build billion-dollar casinos because people are taking their winnings home. The awful truth is that we had one of the worst weeks in recent memory with a 2-8 finish. That makes us 18-24-1 ATS for the season with a lot of catching up to do.

Here are the games we like this week.

TONIGHT’S GAME

Pittsburgh at Rutgers: If the Panthers are truly going to take on Cincinnati for the Big East championship, they’re going to have to figure out a way to beat Rutgers. Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt is winless in four tries against the Scarlet Knights, and that includes a 37-29 loss in Rutgers Stadium in 2005 that was played on a Friday night. The Panthers are solid if unspectacular in several facets of the game, including an offense that averages nearly 35 points a game. But Rutgers knows how to throw a prime-time party in Piscataway, and after getting rolled by UC in the season opener, the Knights are on a five-game win streak. They are still suspect, however, especially on pass defense. The difference will likely be Pitt quarterback Bill Stull, who has thrown for 1,256 yards and 13 TDs against only three interceptions … Pittsburgh 24, Rutgers 17. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 20 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Texas: First of all, this game is, has been and always will be the Red River Shootout. No self-respecting Sooner or Longhorn would ever call it the Red River Rivalry. Now that that’s off my chest, you have to remember this is no ordinary game on the schedule for these two teams. It’s played at the Cotton Bowl on the Texas State Fairgrounds with one side of the old stadium bathed in red and the other in burnt orange. The Sooners know they can salvage their season by ruining the Longhorns’ path to the national title game, but it won’t be easy. Texas QB Colt McCoy leads the nation with a 73.4 completion percentage, and his team is the No. 1 scoring offense in the country. Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford is back and presumably healthy, but this game could come down to defense. That’s where the Longhorns have a slight edge, especially if the Sooners try to run the ball. To go along with its potent offense, UT also boasts the country’s best run defense. That makes the difference … Texas 27, Oklahoma 24. (12 noon ET, ABC)

No. 6 USC at No. 25 Notre Dame: If we asked you the national leader in pass efficiency, would you have guessed Jimmy Clausen? The Fighting Irish are 4-1 mostly because Clausen has thrown for 1,544 yards and 12 TDs against only two picks. Those numbers may be a bit skewed, though, since four of the five defenses Clausen has faced are ranked 75th or lower in the nation. The Irish won’t be so fortunate Saturday – the Trojans are sixth in the country in total defense and fourth in scoring, allowing only 8.6 points per game. If they struggle to score, the Domers will be in trouble. Their defense remains very much a work in progress, ranked 100th nationally in total defense and 110th against the pass. That is something the Trojans should be able to exploit with the dink-and-dunk attack they have employed with freshman QB Matt Barkley … USC 27, Notre Dame 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Marshall at West Virginia: The Thundering Herd are off to a 4-2 start this season and they would like nothing more than to knock off their big brothers from Morgantown. History in not on their side, however. Marshall has lost all eight meetings in the all-time series, including a 27-3 decision last season. Something else not on the side of our old friend Mark Snyder’s team is a struggling defense that ranks 91st nationally against the run. That should be music to the ears of the Mountaineers. They rank first in the Big East in rushing behind tailback Noel Devine, the nation’s No. 3 rusher with an average of 126.2 yards per game … West Virginia 30, Marshall 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 18 BYU at San Diego State: The Cougars are tracking a milestone this weekend, looking for the 500th victory in program history. Their rivalry with the Aztecs dates back to 1922, and the Cougars are 25-7-1 in the series with seven wins in the last eight meetings. That includes last year’s 42-12 victory in Provo. BYU has one of the most potent one-two punches in college football this year with quarterback Max Hall (1,723 yards, 10 TDs) and running back Harvey Unga, who averages 6.5 yards per carry and a touchdown every 9.5 carries. If the Cougars have a weakness, it is a propensity to turn the ball over – minus-3 in turnover margin with 15 giveaways in six games. Even so, the Aztecs may struggle to keep up in this game. They are 114th in the country in rushing and 101st in total offense … BYU 37, San Diego State 17. (6 p.m. ET, The Mtn)

No. 4 Virginia Tech at No. 19 Georgia Tech: These two boast the best offensive attacks in the ACC – the Hokies are scoring a conference-best 34.2 points per game while the Yellow Jackets are averaging a league-high 426.7 yards per contest. What separates the two Techsters is defense. Virginia Tech has allowed 15 points or less in four of its six games this season while Georgia Tech has surrendered 27 or more to four of its six opponents. That includes 44 last week to Florida State even through the Jackets outlasted the Bowden Bunch with a 49-44 win. Don’t expect the Ramblin’ Wreck to come close to that total this week as the Hokies seek to eliminate another ACC title contender … Virginia Tech 31, Georgia Tech 17. (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

UAB at Mississippi: The Blazers have never been scared to play topflight competition, but perhaps they would do better to steer away from the Southeastern Conference. In 14 previous contests against SEC teams, they are 2-12. They have never faced Ole Miss, but it’s homecoming in Oxford and the Rebels have won 11 of their last 12 homecoming contests. QB Jevan Snead and his offense got most of the preseason publicity, but the Mississippi defense has outplayed the offense so far. That may change this week since UAB’s leaky defense ranks dead last in Division I-A against the pass. Look for Snead to finally get comfortable and begin padding his stats … Mississippi 35, UAB 17. (7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports South/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 17 Kansas at Colorado: The Jayhawks must be the most under-the-radar undefeated team in the nation. Of course, you don’t get (or deserve) a whole lot of respect when your five victories have come against teams with a combined record of 12-18 so far. Kansas finally gets to the meat of its schedule next week against Oklahoma, but the team had better avoid looking ahead. The Buffaloes may be 1-4 this season, but they showed signs of coming around last week against Texas, leading the Longhorns at halftime before a second-half collapse. Colorado has won five of its last six home games against the Jayhawks, but the Buffs have been so spotty on both offense and defense this year that it just doesn’t feel right to pull the trigger on an upset … Kansas 34, Colorado 21. (7 p.m. ET, FSN)

No. 7 Ohio State at Purdue: The OSU defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns last week, and now faces the Boilermakers who have committed a conference-high 20 turnovers. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to believe the Buckeyes could score another couple of defensive touchdowns this week, and if the offense ever gets itself untracked, things could get ugly in West Lafayette … Ohio State 41, Purdue 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Pittsburgh (-3½) at Rutgers; Oklahoma vs. Texas (-2½); UAB (+22½) at Mississippi; USC (-9½) at Notre Dame; Marshall at West Virginia (-20½); BYU (-17) at San Diego State; Virginia Tech (-3) at Georgia Tech; Kansas (-9) at Colorado; Ohio State (-13) at Purdue.

You might want to know that we’re flying in the face of the fact that Purdue is 4-1 ATS in its last five games against Ohio State. Enjoy the games.

To Redshirt Or Not To Redshirt

There was a spirited debate this week among Ohio State football fans regarding whether or not to take the redshirt off freshman tailback Jaamal Berry in week six of the regular season.

In case you have forgotten, Berry is a 5-11, 195-pound slasher/dasher out of Palmetto High School in Miami who has heretofore been unable to showcase his skills as a Buckeye because of a nagging hamstring injury. The injury had subsided, Berry had reportedly been lighting things up in practice, and head coach Jim Tressel indicated on Tuesday he would be inclined to use the freshman running back tomorrow against Wisconsin.

That was until yesterday when reports that Berry’s hamstring problem had flared up again. He likely will not be ready for action against the Badgers and his status moving forward remains firmly up in the air.

Nevertheless, the argument for and against taking the redshirt off Berry at the midway point of the regular season was one worth having. Before the hamstring injury recurred, opinions were running about 9-to-1 in favor of letting the freshman play. Among the many arguments for getting Berry on the field was the perhaps most salient one – if the young tailback is another piece in a championship puzzle, he needs to play. No one knows what the future may hold, so you win as many games every season as you possibly can. If playing Berry is a means to that end, play him. “Fire all of the bullets in your arsenal” was the way one poster put it.

Originally, I was in the minority. I have always felt that if a freshman didn’t play by week three of the regular season, he probably should be redshirted. In other words, if he wasn’t good enough to crack the rotation by the time one-quarter of the season was in the books, he probably wasn’t going to be able to contribute enough down the stretch to warrant the cost of a full season of his eligibility.

Berry is a unique case, of course. First and foremost, the hamstring injury is evidently the sole reason why he hasn’t been playing. From all indications, he would have been in the lineup long ago had he been at or near 100 percent. Secondly, if Berry is as good as his advance billing, saving an additional year of his eligibility could be moot. Whether he plays this season or not, NCAA rules would permit him to leave school early for the NFL following the 2011 season. If he does turn out to be as good as advertised, he may want to explore that option and the Buckeyes would do well to maximize his college playing time as much as possible.

Then, of course, there is the position Berry plays. Ohio State has gotten a mixed bag from its tailback spot this season. Dan “Boom” Herron started the first four games of the season and leads the team in touchdowns scored. But he sustained a sprained ankle against Illinois and didn’t play at all last week. The injury only underscores the whispers about Herron that perhaps his 5-10, 193-pound frame is not big enough to withstand an entire Big Ten season as the leading ball-carrier.

Brandon Saine had what could be described as a breakout game last Saturday night, powering his way to a career-high 113 yards against Indiana. The 6-1, 217-pound junior features a nice blend of power and speed – not to mention pass-catching abilities – and most people don’t realize he currently ranks second in the Big Ten only to Wisconsin’s John Clay in rushing average per conference game. The knock against the junior running back, of course, is an injury-checkered past, and the unfortunate truth is that no one knows if a healthy Saine can make it through an entire season.

The third man in the tailback mix has been freshman Jordan Hall, who didn’t see action until week three against Toledo. Since then, he has shown some flashes that he can be a very good complimentary back although at 5-10 and 190 pounds, he faces some of the same durability questions as Herron. It probably isn’t a coincidence that Herron and Hall have combined for an average of 3.8 yards per carry.

Herron, Saine and Hall have done well as a trio this season. Together, they average 126.0 yards per game – and when you throw Terrelle Pryor’s yardage into the mix, the Buckeyes are purring along at 187.2 yards rushing per game. Last season, with Beanie Wells as the primary back, the team was only slightly better at 192.5 yards on the ground per game.

So why do so many people believe Berry is needed? Maybe it’s because they know tailback depth in the Big Ten is a fleeting thing. Wells, Mike Hart of Michigan and P.J. Hill of Wisconsin were all tremendous running backs, but they each missed their share of playing time with injuries. When those big guns were on the sidelines, their respective teams suffered. That was partly due to a lack of depth but more so because the running backs behind them on the depth chart suffered from inexperience.

This season is looking more and more like the first since 2004 that Ohio State will have no 1,000-yard rusher. The problem five years ago was lack of depth at the position and subsequently the Buckeyes scuffled their way to an 8-4 finish.

This year, especially if/when Berry joins the backfield, depth at the running back depth could be one of the team’s strengths. Every team seeks that one dependable every-down running back, but who’s to say that approach trumps one where five or even six players on your roster have somewhere between 300 and 600 yards apiece?

That’s never happened in the Tressel era. (See stats below.) But as the offensive game plan continues to evolve this year, the head coach must believe it’s a path worth exploring.

LEADING RUSHERS BY SEASON

Here is a list of Ohio State’s leading rushers, by season, through the Tressel era so far. Listed are carries and net yards.

2008 – Chris Wells 207-1,197; Terrelle Pryor 139-631; Dan Herron 89-439; Maurice Wells 39-129; Brandon Saine 26-65.

2007 – Chris Wells 274-1,609; Maurice Wells 103-367; Brandon Saine 60-267; Todd Boeckman 56-63; Ray Small 4-49.

2006 – Antonio Pittman 242-1,233; Chris Wells 104-576; Troy Smith 72-128; Maurice Wells 46-171; Anthony Gonzalez 2-28.

2005 – Antonio Pittman 243-1,331; Troy Smith 136-611; Maurice Wells 61-199; Ted Ginn Jr. 12-83; Erik Haw 14-61.

2004 – Lydell Ross 117-475; Antonio Pittman 72-381; Troy Smith 82-339; Maurice Hall 52-216; Branden Joe 50-162.

2003 – Lydell Ross 193-826; Maurice Hall 97-316; Craig Krenzel 109-255; Branden Joe 27-99; Ira Guilford 28-64.

2002 – Maurice Clarett 222-1,237; Lydell Ross 166-619; Maurice Hall 78-370; Craig Krenzel 125-368; Chris Gamble 3-49.

2001 – Jonathan Wells 251-1,294; Lydell Ross 120-419; Sammy Maldonado 39-168; Steve Bellisari 83-107; Jamar Martin 22-86.

OSU-WISCONSIN TIDBITS

** This marks the 75th meeting of Ohio State and Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes hold a decidedly lopsided 52-17-5 record in the overall series, including 27-7-3 in Columbus. However, the Badgers have won three of their last four trips to Ohio Stadium and that has allowed them to close the overall gap in recent years. Since 1981, OSU has only a 13-10-1 advantage and the team have split their last eight games.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is in his ninth season with the Buckeyes. He has an 87-20 overall record, including 3-3 against Wisconsin. He is 54-12 in the Big Ten and 32-13 against ranked teams. The Badgers are ranked No. 25 in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll.

** Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is in his fourth season with the Badgers. He has a 33-11 overall record, including 0-2 against Ohio State. He is 17-9 in the Big Ten and 4-7 against ranked teams. That includes an 0-3 mark against teams ranked in the top 10. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 8 in this week’s coaches’ poll and No. 9 in the Associated Press writers’ poll.

** As it has been so many times in this series, the game will feature a classic matchup between the irresistible force and the immovable object. Wisconsin ranks first or second in the Big Ten in rushing, pass efficiency and scoring offense while Ohio State ranks first or second in each of those defensive categories.

** The Badgers have been able to achieve an almost unbelievable offensive balance over their first five games. They have 1,086 yards rushing and 1,080 yards through the air.

** In Tressel’s 107 games with the Buckeyes, opposing teams have totaled 175 or more yards on the ground only 11 times. Wisconsin has three of those 11 performances, including 179 last year. However, the Badgers weren’t so successful on the ground the last time they were in Columbus. Wisconsin netted only 12 yards rushing during a 38-17 loss in 2007, the team’s lowest total in the Bielema era.

** Wisconsin tailback John Clay, who leads the Big Ten and is fifth nationally with an average of 116.4 yards per game, will be trying to join an elite group on Saturday. Only 16 running backs have gained 100 or more yards in a game against the Buckeyes during the Tressel era – none so far this season and only three over Ohio State’s last 32 games. USC tailback Joe McKnight, who rushed for 105 yards in his team’s 35-3 win in 2008, was the last opponent to crack the century mark against the Buckeyes.

** Clay has a conference-leading 112 carries this season. Only five have gone for negative yardage.

** UW quarterback Scott Tolzien leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency and is completing 65.6 percent of his attempts so far this season. Tolzien has been especially lethal on third downs – he is 29 for 41 for 340 yards and three touchdowns on third down this year. On third and less than 10 yards to go, Tolzien has completed 23 of 29 pass attempts, and 21 of those 23 completions have gone for either a first down or touchdown.

** Ohio State has two shutouts this season, the most of any single season in the Tressel era so far. If the Buckeyes entertain any notions of getting a third whitewash of the year against the Badgers, they should know Wisconsin hasn’t been shut out since a 34-0 loss to Syracuse in the 1997 season opener. No Big Ten opponent has blanked the Badgers since Iowa posted a 31-0 win on Nov. 16, 1996.

** The Buckeyes haven’t been shut out since a 28-0 loss at Michigan in the 1993 regular-season finale. That represents a span of 195 games.

** Ohio State and Wisconsin are the most successful teams in the Big Ten since the beginning of the 2004 season. The Buckeyes are 55-13 (.809 winning percentage) during that span while the Badgers are 52-17 (.754). Wisconsin has also made seven straight bowl trips, and that is second in the conference only to OSU, which has gone bowling nine years in a row.

** Wisconsin has nine Ohio natives on its roster. Ohio State has no Wisconsin-born players.

** Last week’s win over Indiana was the 54th Big Ten win for Tressel and he moved into a tie for 17th place on the league’s all-time conference victories list with Ray Eliot of Illinois (1942-59). Tressel needs three more league wins to join a four-way tie at 57 wins with Bennie Bierman of Minnesota (1932-41, ’45-50), Fritz Crisler of Michigan (1938-47), Jack Mollenkopf of Purdue (1956-69) and Earle Bruce of Ohio State (1979-87).

** When freshman Zach Boren scored on an 8-yard touchdown pass last week against Indiana, he became only the third full-time fullback to cross the goal line in the Tressel era. In the 2007 season opener against Youngstown State, Trever Robinson scored on a 1-yard pass reception, and before that you have to all the way back to Tressel’s first game with the Buckeyes. Jamar Martin scored on a 10-yard pass from QB Steve Bellisari in the first quarter of a 28-14 win over Akron in the 2001 season opener.

** OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor had 222 yards of total offense against the Hoosiers and moved past the 3,000-yard mark for his young career, becoming the 21st player in school history to break the 3,000-yard barrier. Now with 3,094 yards, Pryor needs 49 more to move into 20th place all-time, currently occupied by Pepe Pearson (3,142, 1994-97). The OSU career leader in total offense is Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81).

** Kickoff for Saturday’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. ABC will broadcast the game on a regional basis with Sean McDonough handling play-by-play duties, Matt Millen providing color analysis and Holly Rowe reporting from the sidelines. The game will employ the reverse mirror, so if you don’t get the contest on your local ABC-affiliated station, it will be available on ESPN.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channel 127.

** The Buckeyes are back on the road next week to visit Purdue. Kickoff from West Lafayette is set for 12 noon Eastern, and the game will televised by the Big Ten Network.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Sixty-six years ago today, an Indiana freshman quarterback celebrated a record-setting day. On Oct. 9, 1943, IU quarterback Bob Hoernschemeyer set an NCAA record for touchdown passes in a game by a freshman when he threw six as the Hoosiers took a 54-13 win over Nebraska in Bloomington.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 5, 1991, Fresno State kicker Derek Mahoney tied the NCAA record for most PATs in a game when he went 13 for 13 as the Bulldogs rolled to a 94-17 win over New Mexico; on Oct. 7, 2000, No. 7 Miami (Fla.) upset top-ranked Florida State, 27-24, when Seminoles kicker Matt Munyon’s last-second field goal attempt from 49 yards sailed wide right; on Oct. 8, 1977, seventh-ranked Alabama squeezed out a 21-20 victory over No. 1 USC when the Trojans scored a touchdown with 38 seconds remaining but their subsequent two-point conversion try failed; and on Oct. 10, 1936, trumpet player John Brungart became the first member of the Ohio State Marching Band to dot the “i” in Script Ohio.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** You probably know that Florida currently has the nation’s longest winning streak at the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Gators have won 14 in a row. Did you know which team currently owns the second-longest streak? That would be Iowa, which has won nine consecutive games.

** The weekly count of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level was whittled last week to 13. The list in alphabetical order: Alabama, Auburn, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, LSU, Missouri, South Florida, Texas, TCU and Wisconsin.

** Auburn head coach Gene Chizik has the Tigers off to a 5-0 start in his first season after posting only five victories total in two years at Iowa State. What’s the difference? Perhaps that Chizik hired Gus Malzahn away from Tulsa to be his offensive coordinator at Auburn. In five games this season, the Tigers have scored 207 points. They scored 208 all of last season.

** In addition to being undefeated, Wisconsin and Iowa are among the eight teams that are currently 5-0. This is old hat for the Badgers, who are 5-0 for the fifth time in the last eight seasons. On the flip side, the Hawkeyes are enjoying their first 5-0 start since 1995. The last time Iowa began a season with more than five victories was 1985 when the team started 7-0 on the way to the school’s last outright Big Ten championship.

**When Michigan State defeated Michigan last weekend, it gave Sparty his first back-to-back victories over the Wolverines since winning three in a row from 1965-67.

** I guess it’s never too early to make projections about bowl season. This week’s forecast, courtesy of CBSSports.com, has Florida and Texas on a collision course for the BCS National Championship Game, set for Jan. 8 in Pasadena. The other four BCS matchups – Oregon and Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, USC and Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, Alabama and Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl and Virginia Tech and Iowa in the Orange Bowl.

** With his team’s victory last weekend over Illinois, Penn State head coach Joe Paterno moved into a fifth-place tie on the all-time Big Ten conference win list. JoePa now has 81 league victories and that ties him with Lloyd Carr of Michigan (1995-2007). The top four coaches in terms of Big Ten victories are Woody Hayes of Ohio State (152, 1951-78), Bo Schembechler of Michigan (143, 1969-89), Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago (116, 1896-1932) and Hayden Fry of Iowa (98, 1979-98).

** A week ago today, Notre Dame unveiled a bronze sculpture of legendary Knute Rockne outside its stadium. The statue of Rockne, who was 105-12-5 with the Fighting Irish for an NCAA-record .881 winning percentage, shows the coach in his sweatshirt and baseball pants with his hands on his hips. Rockne is the fourth sculpture to be unveiled outside Notre Dame Stadium after Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz. Yes, you read that correctly. Notre Dame actually put up a statue of Lou Holtz before getting around to putting up one of Knute Rockne.

** ESPN.com has something it calls “The Heisman Predictor,” updated each week with standings based upon a formula that takes into account 11 different variables and awards points in a variety of ways. That may sound scientific until you realize you automatically get extra credit for playing quarterback at a BCS conference school. Anyway, this week’s standings have preseason favorites Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy in the top two spots followed Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike, Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen, running back Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech and Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier.

** If your cable or dish provider carries CBS College Sports Network, and you like service academy football, Saturday is your day. The network will televise a service academy tripleheader tomorrow beginning with Vanderbilt at Army at 12 noon Eastern. That will be followed by Navy at Rice at 3:30 p.m., and wind up with TCU at Air Force at 7:30 p.m.

** Former Nebraska offensive lineman Aaron Taylor has revealed that he is bankrupt and will be auctioning off assets which include his 1994, 1995 and 1997 national championship rings as well as his 1997 Outland Trophy. The Oct. 31 auction was forced by the failure of the Husker-themed Scarlet and Cream Letter Club restaurant Taylor started in Omaha with other former players. Proceeds from the auction will help pay some of Taylor’s debts, estimated at more than $100,000, including $69,000 in federal and state taxes owed to the IRS.

** In case you missed it, former Muskingum College head coach and athletic director Ed Sherman died Sept. 29 at the age of 97. Sherman spent 22 years as head coach of the Muskies, capturing six Ohio Conference championships and compiling a 141-43-7 record from 1945 to 1966. When he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996, Sherman became the first Division III coach to be so honored.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Don’t know what it is about Houston. Last year, when we finally gave the Cougars some love, they lost. This year, same thing. We picked them to blow out a weak UTEP team and the Miners hung 58 on UH one week after it failed gain 58 total yards against Texas. Thankfully, that miss was not the norm and we finished with a 5-2 record. That moved us to 32-11 straight up for the season.

Against the spread, we didn’t do so well. After briefly popping our heads above water, we went 3-4 last week and are now a flat 16-16-1 ATS for the year.

Here are the games we like this week.

Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan: It’s homecoming for the Chippewas, who are seeking to go 5-1 for the first time since 1988. Although they are at the top of the MAC West standings and EMU is tied with Ball State at the bottom, these two teams usually wear out the scoreboard when they meet. In fact, Eastern has won the last two meetings – 48-45 in 2007 and 56-52 last season. I’m not sure those kinds of fireworks can be repeated, especially since the Eagles are struggling on offense. They rank 114th out of 120 Division I-A schools in total offense. On the other side, CMU still has quarterback Dan LeFevour, who is now the MAC’s all-time leader in total offense. He should be more than enough to keep the Chippewas rolling … Central Michigan 41, Eastern Michigan 24. (12 noon ET, ESPN 360)

Miami (Ohio) at Northwestern: There is a lot of synergy between these two schools not the least of which is the fact Ara Parseghian was head coach of both programs. Before gaining fame at Notre Dame, Parseghian followed Woody Hayes at Miami and compiled a 39-6-1 record from 1951-55. Then came eight seasons in Evanston from 1956-64 where he went 36-35-1 with the Wildcats. That may seem like a fairly pedestrian record, but Parseghian is the last Northwestern head coach to compile a winning record … at least until Pat Fitzgerald came along. Fitz is currently 22-20 with the Wildcats and he figures to better that mark this week against the winless RedHawks, who are 119th nationally in scoring defense and a dead-last 120th in scoring offense … Northwestern 34, Miami 10. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Eastern Illinois at No. 14 Penn State: What does it say about the Nittany Lions’ nonconference schedule that the I-AA Panthers are the best team on it? EIU is 4-1 this season, thanks in part to a pretty good offensive attack led by quarterback Jake Christensen (1,090 yards, 11 TDs). If that name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same Jake Christensen who was the starting QB at Iowa in 2007 before losing his job last year to Ricky Stanzi. It did seem that Penn State got itself untracked last week against Illinois, but we’re not sure how much of an indicator that is since the Fighting Illini seem to already be circling the drain. JoePa’s team still has some injury issues on defense, most notably linebacker Sean Lee’s continued knee problems, but the Lions – if they stay engaged – should have no problem with the Panthers … Penn State 31, Eastern Illinois 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN Classic)

Georgia at Tennessee: This game marks the first time since 1937 that these SEC rivals square off while neither is ranked by the AP or the coaches. Not that either of them seem to care. Fresh from a game against LSU that was all but taken from them by the officials for a ludicrous celebration penalty, the Bulldogs head to Rocky Top in a sour mood. That doesn’t exactly bode well for the Volunteers, who are 2-3 and trying to avoid their first back-to-back losing seasons in nearly a century. First-year Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin is getting his initial taste of the rivalry while UGA head coach Mark Richt is 5-3 against the Volunteers, and the Dawgs have won three of their last four overall at Neyland Stadium. Georgia has had a difficult time scoring points this season and that won’t change this week since UT has a pretty good defense. The home team is a slight favorite, but I have a feeling the Bulldogs get it done. Here is a mini-Upset Special … Georgia 17, Tennessee 14. (12 noon ET, SEC Network)

No. 3 Alabama at No. 20 Mississippi: There are a lot of college football observers who believe the Crimson Tide is the best team in the nation right now. They will get to prove it Saturday when they travel to Oxford. Bama appears to be the total package with a potent offense (40.0 points per game on average) and a punishing defense (14.4 points) that has smothered most of its opponents so far this season. That isn’t exactly music to the Rebels’ ears since one-time Heisman hopeful QB Jevan Snead has struggled lately. He has completed only 51.4 percent of his passes this season and pitched three interceptions last weekend in a 23-7 win at Vanderbilt. Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt usually has something up his sleeve – i.e. last year’s 31-30 upset of Florida in Gainesville – and that should at least keep things closer than some are forecasting. We don’t see an upset, though … Alabama 23, Mississippi 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 13 Oregon at UCLA: The Ducks are suddenly the sexy pick in the Pac-10, but if Oregon is to avoid its annual swoon it will have to keep starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli healthy. Masoli banged up a knee during last week’s over Washington State and he is questionable for this week’s game. He ran for a career-high 170 yards in last year’s win over the Bruins, and it would be a decidedly different kind of Quack Attack if Masoli can’t go on Saturday. Even so, Oregon might be able to get by on defense. The Ducks completely shut down Cal and Heisman hopeful Jahvid Best two weeks ago, while UCLA has been struggling on offense. That is especially true when it comes to throwing the ball. The Bruins are last in the Pac-10 in passing … Oregon 24, UCLA 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

Colorado at No. 2 Texas: The Longhorns haven’t been tested all season, outscoring their four opponents by an average of 34.3 points. Coincidentally, the last four games in this series have each resulted in Texas wins by an average margin of 35.0 points. That is somewhat skewed by a 70-3 blowout of the Buffaloes in the 2005 Big 12 championship game. On the other hand, a similar stomp job is not totally out of the question this year. The Longhorns are the No. 1 team in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 49.5 points per game, while the Colorado defense has surrendered 28.0 points on average. That ranks 86th in the nation. Then when you consider the CU defense ranks 102nd or lower in every other major defensive category, you begin a smell a big-time rout … Texas 52, Colorado 7. (7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 10 TCU at Air Force: The Horned Frogs are eager to prove their top-10 ranking is deserved and they face a major hurdle Saturday night in Colorado Springs. Not only will TCU will taking on a pretty good Air Force team, it will also have to battle the elements. The weatherman is calling for game-time temperatures in the low-20s, gusty winds and a rainy-icy mix of precipitation. That sounds like weather that favors the defense, and that’s where both teams excel. TCU is the nation’s No. 1 defense in terms of stopping the run which should make for some interesting moments since the Cadets feature the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense. But Air Force is also adept at stopping other teams – it is ninth nationally in scoring defense and No. 1 in turnover margin. The thing that sets the teams apart is the passing game. TCU has a big advantage there although it might be negated by the weather … TCU 24, Air Force 14. (7:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

No. 1 Florida at No. 4 LSU: With Tim Tebow’s status still uncertain until game time, it’s really anyone’s guess how this game will turn out. The Tigers have struggled mightily on offense all season, yet remain undefeated on the strength of a defense that allows only 14.8 points per game. There is also this little nugget – LSU has won 32 consecutive Saturday night games at Tiger Stadium. To win, however, you have to score and that has been difficult for any Florida opponent so far this year. The Gators are the nation’s No. 1 team in total defense and they’re No. 2 in scoring defense. Even so, their heart and soul plays on offense and they are a completely different team without Tebow. That nasty concussion he suffered was two weeks ago, and since the quarterback began practicing again on Tuesday, we expect Tebow to play. That makes the difference in what should be an entertaining battle of two heavyweights … Florida 16, LSU 7. (8 p.m. ET, CBS)

Michigan at No. 12 Iowa: As well as the Hawkeyes played while upsetting Penn State, they have been maddeningly inconsistent. That includes last week’s uninspired 24-21 win over Arkansas State in which the team nearly blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter. Most of the inconsistency has come on the offensive side of the ball, however, as the defense ranks 10th nationally, surrendering only 13.4 points per game. Meanwhile, Michigan is coming off its first loss of the season, a 26-20 overtime defeat at the hands of instate rival Michigan State. Freshman QB Tate Forcier, who had engineered last-minute wins over Notre Dame and Indiana, rallied his team again last week with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to get the game to OT. However, it was Forcier’s interception in overtime that cost the Wolverines the game. Was that a product of growing pains from a first-year starter playing his first road game or something more troublesome? We’ll see soon enough … Iowa 23, Michigan 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Wisconsin at No. 9 Ohio State: The game plan for the Buckeyes is pretty simple. Stop Wisconsin from running the ball and win the game. That’s easier said than done, of course, since the Badgers possess the Big Ten’s best rushing attack behind bruising tailback John Clay. Unfortunately for UW, their power pretty much begins and ends with Clay. Although he has some excellent numbers, quarterback Scott Tolzien is only slightly above average while the Badgers rank no higher than sixth in the conference in any of the major defensive categories. Look for the Buckeyes to hold Clay to about half his league average (163.0 yards per game) and keep their defensive roll going … Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Eastern Michigan (+23) at Central Michigan; Miami (Ohio) at Northwestern (-19½); Georgia (+1½) at Tennessee; Alabama at Mississippi (+7); Oregon (-5) at UCLA; Colorado at Texas (-32); TCU (-9) at Air Force; Florida (-6) at LSU; Michigan at Iowa (-7½); Wisconsin (+16) at Ohio State.

You would probably like to know that the Buckeyes are 1-4 ATS in their last five home games against Wisconsin. Enjoy the games.

What One Week Of Big Ten Play Has Taught Us

Only one week into the Big Ten season and several conference teams have already distinguished themselves – both good and bad.

Penn State, which tied Ohio State for the league championship last season, is starting out behind the 8-ball after losing its conference opener at home to Iowa. Likewise for Michigan State, last year’s third-place team, who lost at Wisconsin and is 1-3 to start the season for the first time since 1998.

Michigan and Minnesota could be considered overachievers at this point, Illinois and Northwestern could be considered underachievers, and the remainder of the teams fit somewhere in between.

Here is a quick look at the Big Ten schools, in early conference standings order, and how they rank compared to preseason forecasts.

Iowa (1-0, 4-0) – The Hawkeyes weren’t exactly considered championship contenders since they lost running back Shonn Greene, last year’s Big Ten MVP, as well as defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. So far, however, Kirk Ferentz’s team has found a way to win each week even though three of its four victories have come by 11 points or less.

Last week’s win over Penn State was an attention-getter, but considering the fact the Hawkeyes have owned the Nittany Lions in recent years makes one wonder if Iowa can truly build on that big upset. Going 5-0 shouldn’t be difficult with this week’s game against Arkansas State, but the Hawkeyes return to conference play Oct. 10 to begin a three-week stretch at home with Michigan and on the road at Wisconsin and Michigan State.

You would have to believe a team that ranks only eighth in the Big Ten in scoring offense and ninth in total offense will have to figure out a way to get more points on the board if it truly intends to make a serious play for the championship.

Michigan (1-0, 4-0) – Everyone figured the Wolverines would be better than last season. I’m not sure anyone outside Ann Arbor thought they would be undefeated at this point. Give props to Rich Rodriguez. He perfected a philosophy at West Virginia and has recruited players to Michigan who buy into that philosophy. The question remains how well that philosophy will work when the weather turns cold and bigger, stronger teams begin to pound on U-M’s undersized offensive line.

So far so good for freshman quarterback Tate Forcier, who has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 671 yards and seven TDs against only two interceptions. He has also rushed for 127 yards, and that is second only to Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State among conference quarterbacks. The fact remains, however, that Forcier is still a freshman and has yet to play a road game. That ends beginning this week when the Wolverines head to East Lansing. Next week, they travel to Iowa City.

Additionally, if Michigan is going to continue to rack up wins, the defense must play better. The unit is ninth in the Big Ten in total defense and has surrendered yardage in chunks. Rodriguez has a pretty good thing going on offense, but how the Wolverines play on defense is what will ultimately separate them as contender or pretender.

Wisconsin (1-0, 4-0) – Not unpredictably, the Badgers have gotten things done so far with their running game. The team is second in the conference in rushing offense, averaging 197.8 yards per game. But Bret Bielema’s team has found that it can throw the football a little bit, too. First-year starter Scott Tolzien has thrown for 884 yards and eight touchdowns, and has led his team to an average of 428.0 yards and 36.0 points per game.

Defense? Well, that’s another story in Madison. For a team that excels so well running the ball, it’s perhaps a little bit of a mystery why the Badgers can’t seem to stop the run. They have allowed 145.8 yards per game to four opponents so far, a number that ranks next-to-last in the Big Ten and 73rd nationally in rushing defense. Those numbers are even more leaky when considering the fact UW’s first four opponents have combined for a 5-11 record.

The fun part of the season would appear to be over for Wisconsin, however. Over the next three weeks, the Badgers travel to Minnesota and Ohio State before hosting Iowa.

Minnesota (1-0, 3-1) – Are the Gophers truly overachievers or are they about where they should be? They scored a seven-point victory over Air Force – the only loss the Falcons have so far this season – and they played right with Cal when the Bears were a top-10 team. Last week, though, could have been a signal. After losing two straight games to Northwestern in the waning moments, Goldy finally got over the hump with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to overturn a 24-21 deficit.

Minnesota entered the 2009 season trying to retool its offense and breathe new life into a running game that finished dead last in the conference last year. So far, whatever Tim Brewster has tried hasn’t work. The Gophers remain last in the Big Ten in rushing and it’s really not even close. You have to wonder what happens when/if an opponent puts the clamps on senior wideout Eric Decker, who leads the league and is sixth nationally with 124.8 receiving yards per game.

Figure out a way to take Decker out of the equation and watch Minnesota struggle. Take his yardage away and the Gophers would be averaging just over 200 yards a game. Decker’s teammates are going to have pick things up, especially when back-to-back games at Penn State and Ohio State come around in mid-October.

Ohio State (1-0, 3-1) – Same old Buckeyes. A mini-scare against an early nonconference opponent, a loss to a top-five team and then some muscle flexing as the Big Ten season gets under way. Perhaps the only difference this season is the way the defense is playing. Ohio State has ridden the wave of an attacking defensive front to pitch consecutive shutouts against Toledo and Illinois – teams that have shown themselves to be pretty good offensively.

Not that the Buckeyes are not without question marks. The running game remains in flux as neither Boom Herron nor Brandon Saine have exactly distinguished themselves What does it say about them that Pryor is the leading rusher on the team? Still, the Herron-Saine combo has averaged 103.4 yards per game.

Likewise, Ohio State’s passing game seems a bit sparse. Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey have combined for 27 receptions – exactly one-half of the team’s total. No other wideout has more than five catches so far. Add in Pryor’s sometimes-maddening penchant for continued mental and physical mistakes and Buckeye fans may need to keep the Pepto-Bismol close at hand.

Purdue (0-0, 1-3) – The Boilermakers are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. Are they the team that gave Oregon all it wanted in Eugene before falling by only two points, or are they the team that lost to Northern Illinois, a MAC team that had a previous 1-32-1 record against the Big Ten? The Boilers are as hard to figure as head coach Danny Hope’s decision to call a defensive timeout right before Notre Dame scored the winning touchdown last week.

One thing you can figure on is Purdue to try and run up the score on every opponent. Sophomore tailback Ralph Bolden has been the league’s leading rusher all season, and his average of 122.0 yards per game is more than 20 better than anyone else. Meanwhile, first-year starting QB Joey Elliott has thrown for 963 yards and seven TDs this season.

What has kept the Boilermakers from achieving more this season is a porous defense that has allowed 421.5 yards and 30.2 points per game. Both figures are dead last in the Big Ten. Add in 11 giveaways (the most in the conference) and you have a recipe for disaster if those numbers don’t get better.

Indiana (0-1, 3-1) – Since the Hoosiers have had exactly one winning season since 1994, and haven’t won or shared a Big Ten title since 1967, it has been easy to dismiss the team’s good start. Another play or two going their way – not to mention that questionable simultaneous reception call – and IU could have claimed victory at Michigan and been undefeated.

The Hoosiers are a much-improved team, both on offense and on defense. Settling on Ben Chappell at quarterback has solidified what IU wants to do with its offensive attack, and a defense led by hard-charging defensive ends Jammie Kerlew and Greg Middleton have surprised some early opponents.

For all of their improvements, however, Bill Lynch’s team remains an unknown entity. With the exception of kickoff returns (first in the Big Ten) and rush defense (second), the Hoosiers are a middle-of-the-pack team in most categories. Given the lack of success in recent years for the program, however, Lynch would likely welcome a middle-of-the-pack finish in the standings.

Penn State (0-1, 3-1) – Sometimes we tend to dismiss Joe Paterno when he poor-mouths his team. In reality, when JoePa says he really doesn’t know how good his team is, he means it. No one knows how good – or how bad – the Nittany Lions are. When you put three creampuffs on your nonconference schedule, that’s how it’s likely to be.

Last week’s loss to Iowa exposed some possible problems moving forward. For example, the worst two games in quarterback Darryl Clark’s career have now come against Iowa. However, Clark has already pitched six interceptions this season after throwing only six all of last year. Meanwhile, running back Evan Royster’s production is down – way down – from a season ago when he averaged 95.1 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry. This year, his averages are 76.2 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry.

The Nittany Lions are probably good enough defensively to make up for a lot of offensive problems. They are No. 1 in the Big Ten in every defensive category so far. Still, with an offense that features Clark and Royster, you would assume the production gets better. Penn State will likely right the ship and get back on course to its Nov. 7 showdown with Ohio State in Happy Valley.

Northwestern (0-1, 2-2) – Time for a mea culpa. In the season preview issue of Buckeye Sports Bulletin, I picked the Wildcats as a dark horse title contender and actually had them playing in a BCS bowl. Then reality hit, the defense forgot to tackle and Northwestern is just trying to keep its hopes alive for any bowl game.

What happened? For starters, the defense has not played up to snuff and a rebuilt offense simply can’t be required to outscore the opposing team every week. The Wildcats are third in the conference in passing offense and second in scoring, but they’re also fifth in total defense and ninth in scoring defense. Turnovers have also been a problem – Northwestern already has 10 giveaways in four games.

On the bright side, dual-threat quarterback Mike Kafka is leading the Big Ten in passing and total offense. Conversely, teams are beginning to load up against Kafka as the Wildcats scramble to find offensive players who can take the burden off their quarterback. The upcoming schedule could help. Northwestern’s next three opponents are a combined 2-10 so far this season.

Illinois (0-1, 1-2) – Ron Zook may want to circle the wagons in Champaign. His team couldn’t have looked any more disjointed last week at Ohio State if it had been the first day of camp. His team’s Rose Bowl appearance in 2007 is beginning to look more and more like an aberration, and this year’s 1-2 start certainly isn’t helping.

Zook has long had the reputation of being an excellent recruiter who has difficulties coaching up the talent once it gets on campus. His record in three years at Florida was a pedestrian 23-14, but only two years after he left Gainesville, Urban Meyer guided a roster primarily made up of Zook recruits to the national championship. Now in his fifth season with the Illini, Zook has produced a record of 19-32. Throw out the Rose Bowl year and that mark plummets to 10-28, or a ghastly .263 winning percentage.

Zook’s contract calls for an annual salary of approximately $1.5 million and it runs through 2014, but he’s going to be awfully tough for university officials to defend if he doesn’t get his program turned around and turned around quickly.

Michigan State (0-1, 1-3) – They haven’t celebrated a Big Ten championship in East Lansing since 1990, but this was supposed to be Sparty’s year. Then came a fourth-quarter collapse in week two against Central Michigan and things have gone steadily downhill. Perhaps the most difficult part of the three consecutive losses is the fact the Spartans know they could have (and probably should have) won all three.

Head coach Mark Dantonio’s mission now is to get a win anyway he can and avoid the program’s first four-game skid since losing eight of the last nine in 2006. That got John L. Smith fired and Dantonio hired.

It’s not that Michigan State is devoid of talent. Kirk Cousins has done a creditable job in his first year as the starting quarterback, senior wideout Blair White is one of the most underrated receivers in the Big Ten, and linebacker Greg Jones is arguably the best defensive player in the conference. So, why aren’t they winning? Good question.

OSU-INDIANA TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Indiana will be meeting for the 83rd time on Saturday with the Buckeyes holding a lopsided 62-12-5 advantage in the series. That includes a 23-2-1 record in Bloomington, and OSU has won on each of its last seven trips to Memorial Stadium. Indiana defeated the Buckeyes by an 8-0 score in 1904 and then didn’t beat Ohio State in Bloomington again until a 41-7 pounding in 1988 … and the Hoosiers haven’t experienced a home win over OSU since.

** The Buckeyes are currently enjoying a 14-game winning streak in the overall series. You have to go back to a 27-27 tie in 1990 to find the last time Ohio State failed to come away with a victory over Indiana. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes during their current win streak over the Hoosiers has been 22.7 points.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 5-0 against the Hoosiers. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes in those games has been 30.4 points.

** Indiana head coach Bill Lynch is in his third season with the Hoosiers and is playing the Buckeyes for the first time. He will be attempting to become only the second IU coach in the past 50 years to claim a victory over Ohio State. Bill Mallory, who coached the Hoosiers from 1984-96, claimed back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes in 1987 and ’88.

** Tressel has a 5-3 record in Big Ten road openers, including wins in each of the past three seasons. The Buckeyes haven’t lost a conference road opener since a 17-10 defeat at Penn State in 2005. All-time, Ohio State is 60-32-5 in conference road openers.

** The two teams haven’t met since the Buckeyes scored a 44-3 victory over the Hoosiers in 2006. OSU totaled 540 yards of offense – 270 rushing and 270 passing – as Heisman Trophy quarterback Troy Smith completed 15 of 21 passes for 220 yards and four touchdowns. Ted Ginn Jr. caught five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown for the Buckeyes, and he also threw for a 38-yard TD pass to tight end Rory Nicol.

** Indiana has 16 native Ohioans on its roster – six of which are projected to start against the Buckeyes – while Ohio State has only one player from Indiana. That is defensive tackle Dexter Larimore, who hails from Merrillville.

** Ohio State has won at least three of its first four games for the 19th consecutive season.

** IU redshirt freshman kicker Nick Freeland leads the Big Ten in scoring so far this season with 39 points. Last week, he matched a school single-game record with four field goals against Michigan. Freeland has become such an important  part of the offense this season that the Hoosiers have been able to convert 16 of their 18 trips into the red zone. Last year, when Indiana went 3-9, they finished dead last in the conference (and 117th of 119 Division I-A) teams in red-zone offense.

** OSU sophomore tailback Dan “Boom” Herron is currently first in the Big Ten in rushing touchdowns with five and tied for fourth in overall scoring with 30 points. A Buckeye hasn’t led the conference in either of those categories since 1995 when Eddie George rushed for 25 TDs and scored 152 points on his way to the Heisman Trophy.

** Another reason why Indiana has started 3-1 is improved play along the offensive line. The Hoosiers have given up only two sacks so far this season, and that not only ties them for the Big Ten lead with Wisconsin, it’s good enough for a tie for the national lead along with 11 other teams including Boise State, Auburn and Oklahoma.

** One problem the Hoosiers have had this season is with penalties. Through four games, they have been flagged more times (31) than any other team in the Big Ten. Conversely, Ohio State has been penalized only 21 times, and that’s tied for the third-lowest total among conference teams.

** Tressel is making a rapid rise up the ladder in terms of all-time Big Ten victories. Last week’s win over Illinois was the coach’s 53rd conference victory, tying him for 18th place with Joe Tiller of Purdue. Next up is Ray Eliot of Illinois (1942-59), who won 54 Big Ten games during his tenure. The legendary Woody Hayes is the career leader in conference victories with 152.

** Lynch is relatively new to the Big Ten, but he is currently in his 17th year as a head coach. He has a 94-83-3 career record with stops at Butler (his alma mater), Ball State and DePauw as well as Indiana.

** Memorial Stadium has been enclosed since the last time the Buckeyes played in Bloomington. The 138,000-square-foot Student-Athlete Development Center is situated in what used to be a vacant space past the north end zone. The two-year project was completed in July and features bowl seating with an outdoor club seating area that encloses the north end of the stadium.

** The Big Ten Network will televise the game with kickoff scheduled shortly after 7 p.m. Eastern. Craig Coshun will handle the play-by-play duties while former Minnesota head coach (and former OSU assistant and player) Glen Mason will provide color commentary. Rebecca Haarlow will report from the sidelines.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channel 126.

** The Buckeyes return to Ohio Stadium next to host Wisconsin. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Eastern, and the game will televised by ABC and ESPN using the reverse mirror. That means most viewers will get the game on ABC while those outside what Disney determines to be the Big Ten viewing market will see the game on ESPN.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The 2009 Heisman Trophy would seem to be Colt McCoy’s to lose. With last year’s winner Sam Bradford still on the shelf with a shoulder injury, and the status of 2007 winner Tim Tebow up in the air after he suffered a nasty-looking concussion last weekend, McCoy is the only one of the preseason favorites left standing. The candidacies of three other contenders – Cal running back Jahvid Best, Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead and Miami (Fla.) quarterback Jacory Harris – took major hits last week.

** The 2009 season has reached the one-third mark and only 17 undefeated teams remain at the Football Bowl Subdivision (aka Division I-A) level. The alphabetical list of the unblemished: Alabama, Auburn, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Houston, Iowa, Kansas, LSU, Michigan, Missouri, South Florida, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, UCLA and Wisconsin.

** The much-maligned Big Ten is one of only three conferences to feature three or more 4-0 teams. The SEC and Big 12 each have four teams with 4-0 records.

** Congratulations to Cincinnati, which has reached its highest-ever ranking in the Associated Press poll. The Bearcats are No. 10 this week.

** Speaking of polls, the media-darling SEC holds down the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 spots in this week’s AP poll with Florida (first), Alabama (third) and LSU (fourth). That marks the first time any conference has held three of the top four spots since 1971 when Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado of the Big Eight were first, second and third.

** Nebraska reached a milestone last weekend with its 300th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium. The Cornhuskers have sold out every game in Lincoln since 1962, and their record during the streak is 261-39.

** With last week’s upset win at Penn State, Iowa is 4-0 for only the third time in head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 11 seasons. If the Hawkeyes can get past Sun Belt Conference member Arkansas State this week, they will have their first 5-0 start since 1995.

** It’s Paul Bunyan Week in the Big Ten. Michigan and Michigan State square off for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, a four-foot wooden statue of the mythical giant woodsman that has gone to the annual winner in the series since 1953. Meanwhile, Minnesota and Wisconsin will resume the longest rivalry in I-A history with Paul Bunyan’s Axe going to the victor. The Gophers and Badgers, who will mark the 119th renewal of their rivalry, first played one another in 1890 and have squared off every season since 1907. The two schools originally vied for the Slab of Bacon Trophy, which mysteriously disappeared in the 1940s. They started playing for the Bunyan Axe in 1948.

** While we’re on the subject of long rivalries, Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio) will meet this Saturday for the 114th time. The first meeting in the series was Dec. 8, 1888, and the first collegiate football game played in Ohio.

** Wisconsin kick returner David Gilreath needs only five more yards to become the sixth Big Ten player ever to record 2,000 or more career kickoff return yards. The all-time conference leader is Derrick Mason of Michigan State (1993-96), who returned kickoffs for 2,575 yards during his career.

** Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin is making the most of his first shot of directing a program after 20 years as an assistant. Sumlin, one of only a handful of African-American head coaches at Division I-A, posted an 8-5 record last year in his rookie season and has the Cougars off to a 3-0 record this year. If Sumlin’s name sounds familiar to longtime Big Ten fans, it’s because he was a three-year starter at inside linebacker for Purdue from 1984-86. His head coach with the Boilermakers was Leon Burtnett, who is now in charge of linebackers on Sumlin’s staff at Houston.

** Former Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is finding life as the lead dog comes with its own kind of pressure. Locksley was hired as head coach at New Mexico in the offseason and the Lobos are off to a 0-4 start. Things have gotten so bad that Locksley recently grabbed receivers coach J.B. Gerald by the collar and then punched him, giving the assistant a bloody lip. Gerald told police he didn’t want to file charges, but Locksley was officially reprimanded by New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs. (Krebs served several years as an assistant athletic director at Ohio State.) Locksley has been in hot water almost from the time he arrived in Albuquerque. He was accused of sexual harassment, age discrimination and retaliation in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed last spring by a former football administrative assistant. That case is still pending.

** A couple of streaks in the lower divisions of NCAA football are worth mentioning. NAIA member Saint Francis (Ind.) extended its home winning streak to 54 games with last week’s 28-7 victory over Marian (Ind.). At the other end of the spectrum, Division I-AA Indiana State dropped a 28-0 decision at home to Youngstown State last week. That extended the Sycamores’ losing streak to 31 in a row.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Last week was one to savor. The Upset Special was good as gold as Iowa knocked off Penn State, and the Hawkeyes finished off a perfect 7-0 week in the straight-up picks. We also finished a season-best 5-2 against the spread, moving the yearly totals to 19-7 SU and 13-12-1 ATS.

Let’s see if we can keep the hot streak going.

No. 22 Michigan at Michigan State: In rivalry games such as these, we are always taught that records should be thrown out the window. I think that is never more true with this year and these teams. As far as I’m concerned, the Wolverines have been doing it with mirrors. Four straight home games have helped, not to mention fortuitous bounces against Notre Dame and Indiana. We are going to get to see how good freshman quarterback Tate Forcier really is as he makes the first road start of his career. On the other sideline is a team much too talented to be 1-3. However, we have seen this act in prior coaching regimes in East Lansing. Unless Mark Dantonio wants to go the way of Bobby Williams and John L. Smith, he’d better get his team untracked sooner as opposed to later. A victory this week would heal a lot of wounds … Michigan State 34, Michigan 31. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 3 Alabama at Kentucky: With all of the love the SEC gets for its high-octane offenses, it’s nice to know someone in that conference still stresses defense. Nick Saban’s Tide ranks second nationally in total defense and allows an average of only 47.3 yards per game on the ground. The unit took a hit last week with a season-ending knee injury to linebacker Dont’a Hightower, but even with their leading pass rusher Bama should have enough to stop the Wildcats. Led by quarterback Mike Hartline (former OSU receiver Brian Hartline’s younger brother), Kentucky ranks next-to-last in the SEC in total offense and is coming off a 41-7 home loss to Florida during which it generated only 179 yards. The Wildcats usually keep things close against the Crimson Tide, but close generally isn’t good enough. Bama holds a 34-2-1 edge in the overall series … Alabama 34, Kentucky 7. (12:20 p.m. ET, ESPN 360)

No. 10 Cincinnati at Miami (Ohio): The Bearcats are getting a lot of ink this season and deservedly so. Quarterback Tony Pike is currently third in the nation in passing yardage and tied for second with 11 touchdown passes. He will likely pad his stats this week against the winless RedHawks, who rank 119th out of 120 Division I-A schools in scoring defense. Even if Pike should somehow struggle, however, UC should still be OK. Miami ranks dead last at No. 120 in scoring offense. Bearcats head coach Brian Kelly can pretty much name his own score. Here’s mine … Cincinnati 48, Miami 0. (1 p.m. ET, ESPN 360)

No. 15 Penn State at Illinois: The Fighting Illini are in desperate need of a victory and they draw the unfortunate task of trying to get one against a Nittany Lion team scratched raw from last week’s loss to Iowa. We still don’t really know how good Penn State is this season, and this is the team’s first road test of the season. There have been a couple of notable injuries on the defensive side of the ball for the Lions, but they doesn’t explain the inconsistent play of veteran quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster. If they don’t get untracked, Penn State is going to continue to struggle. Still, the Illinois team that played Ohio State last week looked like a listless bunch that had little interest in playing a football game. At least the Nittany Lions still appear to be hungry … Penn State 31, Illinois 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 4 LSU at No. 18 Georgia: While I was looking up stats for some of the other teams in the SEC, I discovered that LSU is dead last in the conference in total offense. Of course, the Tigers could get well this week since the Bulldogs are next-to-last in total defense. Helping make up for their relative lack of defense has been the play of quarterback Joe Cox and sophomore receiver A.J. Green, who leads the SEC with 25 catches for 428 yards and four TDs. You might be tempted to take the Tigers, who have the better defense. But UGA has practically owned SEC West opponents since Mark Richt arrived in Athens. Therefore … Georgia 24, LSU 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 12 Houston at UTEP: The Cougars are quickly grabbing a lot of attention this season. Think of how much more they could grab if their games were televised, especially this one which figures to be a shootout. These two teams have combined for 144 points in their last two meetings, both Houston victories that have been decided by less than a touchdown. The Miners have the home edge in this series, and the Cougars should be on upset alert if they don’t have their heads in the game. But you would think QB Case Keenum (1,160 yards and eight TD passes already) and the nation’s No. 2 offensive team would be enough against a UTEP defense that ranks 109th nationally … Houston 41, UTEP 17. (9:05 p.m. ET, No TV)

No. 9 Ohio State at Indiana: Almost no one is giving the Hoosiers any chance in this game, and that seems reasonable since OSU is working on a 14-game winning streak in the series. But those of you who have been paying attention know this is no ordinary Indiana team. The defense is playing better and the offense can put some points on the board. That said, the Buckeyes are clearly the more talented team. If they can continue the momentum on defense that has carried them the last couple of weeks, the final score should be comfortable enough. Can they record a third straight shutout? Possible but unlikely … Ohio State 34, Indiana 10. (7 p.m. ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Michigan (+3½) at Michigan State; Alabama (-15) at Kentucky; Cincinnati (-28½) at Miami (Ohio); Penn State (-6½) at Illinois; LSU at Georgia (-2½); Houston (-14½) at UTEP; Ohio State (-17½) at Indiana.

I guess you would want to know that the Buckeyes are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games against the Hoosiers while Indiana is 1-4 ATS in its last five home games against Ohio State. Enjoy the games.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.