Buckeyes Should Be Proud Of What They Are

Someone once coined the phrase, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

That old axiom fits any number of everyday life situations, but it is especially true for Ohio State football fans. They look at Oregon and its pinball-style offense, and they get all misty-eyed. They wonder why their favorite team can’t score points in bunches. They wonder why the Buckeyes can’t be that fun to watch.

Now with the Ducks on the horizon, fans wonder if maybe – finally – Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel will unleash his arsenal of weapons and allow his thoroughbreds to run free.

Many theorize Tressel has to open the playbook tomorrow afternoon. Oregon won 10 of its last 11 games, and scored 40 points or more in seven of its final nine contests. The only blemish down the stretch for the Ducks was a loss at Stanford, and the Cardinal had to score 51 points to pull that off.

There is another way, of course. Rather than trying to beat Oregon at its own game, Ohio State should not try to be anything but its normal self. Solid, straight-up defense coupled with a power running game and mistake-free special teams. No tricks, nothing fancy, just good old-fashioned fundamental football.

In other words, Tresselball.

All anyone every wants to talk about is the boring nature of that style of offense, yet no one seems to dispute the success rate of the basic philosophy. When the Buckeyes had their backs against the wall following the 26-18 loss at Purdue in mid-October, the team returned to basics and Tresselball carried OSU all the way to Pasadena.

After returning home from West Lafayette, the defense turned things up a couple of notches, the running game kicked into high gear and Ohio State closed out the regular season with five straight victories – including wins over Penn State and Iowa, both of which had 10-win seasons.

In vanquishing those final five foes, the Buckeyes outscored their opponents by a 155-48 margin. Moreover, OSU improved its running attack to the tune of an average of 257.8 yards per game down the stretch. Meanwhile, the defense allowed no team in those last five games to rush for more than 123 yards, and none of Ohio State’s final four opponents – including Penn State and Iowa – cracked the 100-yard mark.

I’ve heard so many times over the past month how difficult it will be for the Buckeyes to beat Oregon if they don’t pump up the offense. I really don’t think that is necessary. One reason why the Ducks score so many points is because they have to. Their defense surrendered 283 points this season and gave up 33 or more points four times.

Ohio State really doesn’t have to do anything differently on offense to beat Oregon. The one thing Terrelle Pryor and Co. cannot do, however, is turn the ball over. Give the Ducks’ offense gift possessions and they will win the game. Short of that, the Buckeyes simply need to be themselves.

And when it comes right down to the nitty and the gritty, that’s the way it should be. Since when should you apologize for doing what you do best?

OHIO STATE-OREGON TIDBITS

** Ohio State holds a 7-0 advantage in the all-time series, including a 10-7 victory in the 1958 Rose Bowl. The teams haven’t met since 1987 when the Buckeyes took a 24-14 win over the Ducks in Ohio Stadium.

** This will be the first meeting between OSU head coach Jim Tressel and Oregon boss Chip Kelly, who is in his first season as head coach of the Ducks. Tressel is 14-1 during his Ohio State tenure against first-year head coaches. The lone blemish on that slate came earlier this season against Purdue’s Danny Hope.

** Tressel has a lifetime 27-10 record in the postseason, including 4-4 in bowl games while at Ohio State. He was 23-6 in Division I-AA playoff games while at Youngstown State, including national championships in 1991, ’93 and ’94.

** In overall meetings, the Buckeyes are 50-25-2 against teams currently in the Pac-10. In addition to being a perfect 7-0 against Oregon, OSU is 3-1 vs. Arizona, 2-0 vs. Arizona State, 5-1 vs. California, 2-0 vs. Oregon State, 2-3 vs. Stanford, 4-4-1 vs. UCLA, 9-13-1 vs. USC, 8-3 vs. Washington and 8-0 vs. Washington State.

** Oregon is 15-26 all-time against the Big Ten. In addition to an 0-7 slate against Ohio State, the Ducks are 2-1 vs. Illinois, 2-1 vs. Indiana, 2-1 vs. Iowa, 2-3 vs. Michigan, 1-3 vs. Minnesota, 2-2 vs. Michigan State, 0-1 vs. Northwestern, 1-3 vs. Penn State, 2-1 vs. Purdue and 1-3 vs. Wisconsin.

** Tressel is 3-3 all-time against Pac-10 schools. He is 2-0 vs. Washington, 1-0 vs. Washington State, 0-1 vs. UCLA and 0-2 vs. USC.

** Kelly is 1-0 all-time against Big Ten schools. His team won a 38-36 victory over Purdue at Autzen Stadium in Eugene on Sept. 12.

** The Buckeyes have lost three consecutive bowl games and are 18-22 overall in the postseason. The team’s most recent bowl victory was a 34-20 win over Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. Since then, OSU lost back-to-back national championship games (to Florida in 2007 and LSU in 2008) and dropped a 24-21 decision to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl last January.

** Oregon is working on a two-game bowl winning streak and is 9-13 overall in the postseason. The Ducks took a 42-31 win over Oklahoma State in last year’s Holiday Bowl and were 56-21 winners over South Florida in the 2007 Sun Bowl. Oregon hasn’t lost a postseason game since a 38-8 loss to BYU in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.

** The Buckeyes are making their fifth consecutive BCS game appearance and seventh overall. Oregon is making its second BCS appearance. The Ducks tallied a 38-16 win over Colorado in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl.

** Ohio State will be seeking to even its lifetime Rose Bowl record. The Buckeyes are 6-7 in previous trips to Pasadena, including a win during their most recent visit. OSU knocked off second-ranked Arizona State with a thrilling 20-17 victory in the 1997 Rose Bowl.

** Oregon is making its fifth Rose Bowl appearance and first since 1995. The Ducks are 1-3 in their previous trips to Pasadena, including losses to two Big Ten teams. In addition to the 10-7 loss to Ohio State in 1958, they lost by a 38-20 score to Penn State in 1995. The team’s lone Rose Bowl victory came in 1917 with a 14-0 win over the University of Pennsylvania.

** The Ducks boast of a pair of Rose Bowl game records. Quarterback Danny O’Neil threw for 456 yards against Penn State in 1995, establishing the single-game record for passing yardage. And defensive halfback Shy Harrington grabbed three interceptions in the 1917 game against Penn to establish a single-game that has been equaled but never surpassed.

** Despite winning their respective Big Ten and Pac-10 championships outright, neither team seemed to garner much in the way of all-league recognition from their own conference coaches. Ohio State and Oregon had just one player each earn first-team honors on the all-conference teams voted on by coaches. For the Buckeyes, it was defensive back Kurt Coleman while Oregon’s lone representative was tight end Ed Dickson.

** Kelly was named Pac-10 coach of the year in his first season heading the Ducks. Tressel has never been voted Big Ten coach of the year despite six league championships and one national title in nine seasons.

** Tressel is 35-13 against ranked opposition during his tenure at Ohio State. Kelly is 4-1 this season with the Ducks against top-25 teams.

** Kickoff for the 96th Rose Bowl Game is scheduled for 5:10 p.m. Eastern. That is 2:10 p.m. local time. The game will be telecast to a nationwide audience by ABC with the venerable Brent Musberger handling play-by-play duties with color analysis from former OSU quarterback Kirk Herbstreit. Lisa Salters will report from both sidelines.

** The game will also be broadcast by ESPN Radio on Sirius/XM satellite radio channels 120 and 140. The broadcast crew will consist of Mike Tirico (play-by-play), Jon Gruden (color analysis) and Shelley Smith (sideline reports).

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** When Florida lost in the SEC championship game, it ended the Gators’ winning streak at 22 games. Texas’ win streak of 17 straight games is now the longest in the so-called Football Bowl Subdivision (aka Division I-A).

** Following the regular season, Texas rewarded head coach Mack Brown by making him the highest paid coach in college football. Brown became the first $5 million coach after having made approximately $3 million this past season. The university also included a clause that pays the coach an additional $450,000 if the Longhorns beat Alabama on Jan. 7 in the national championship game. According to reports, the bonus is more than 27 Division I-A head coaches made this entire season.

** Utah’s win over California in the Poinsettia Bowl extended the nation’s longest bowl winning streak to nine. You may remember the Utes scored a 31-17 upset win over Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl.

** Utah’s nine-game bowl winning streak is tied for the second-longest ever. Florida State won 11 in a row between 1985 and 1996 while USC won nine straight from 1923-45.

** With that Poinsettia Bowl victory, the Utes improved to 12-3 all-time in bowl games and their .800 winning percentage is the best in the nation of the 74 schools with at least 10 bowl appearances.

** When Mike London left Richmond to become head coach at Virginia, he became the seventh man to win a Division I-AA national championship and then move on to become a head coach at the I-A level. Only one of the previous six has gone on to win a Division I-A national title. That would be Jim Tressel, who won four I-AA rings at Youngstown State before guiding Ohio State to the 2002 national championship.

** The other coaches with I-AA championships to make the jump to I-A: Joe Glenn (Montana to Wyoming); Paul Johnson (Georgia Southern to Navy and then Georgia Tech); Jim Donnan (Marshall to Georgia); Jim Criner (Boise State to Iowa State); and Dave Kragthorpe (Idaho State to Oregon State).

** You could make the case that the jump from I-AA to I-A is a tough one. Tressel and Johnson have excelled, but the tenures of Glenn, Donnan, Criner and Kragthorpe each ended in termination.

** Finally, a word about Urban Meyer. I can only surmise that his reasons are legitimate for taking a leave of absence at Florida. My question is the timing of his announcement. If Meyer already knew he would be leaving the team after the Sugar Bowl, why didn’t he wait until then to make his announcement? Or better still, why didn’t he wait until after the national championship game? I understand there is stress in the fish-bowl world of college football. Universities do not hand out $5 million contracts with no strings attached. The pressure to win isn’t an everyday kind of thing – it’s an every second of every minute of every day kind of thing. Still, I can’t help thinking some of the stress felt by such ego-driven coaches as Meyer is self-inflicted.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The old crystal ball got a little cloudy down the stretch, finishing 121-37 for the year with the straight-up picks and a lamer than lame 64-79-2 mark against the spread.

We decided to skip most of the bowl season because, well, most of it has been rendered irrelevant by the BCS. Secondly, bowl games are the last place you want to try and pad your stats because you never know how the teams (or individual players for that matter) are going to react after a protracted layoff.

Nevertheless, we’ll take on the games that begin tomorrow and move on through the national title game.

OUTBACK BOWL, JAN. 1

Northwestern vs. Auburn: If history is any indicator, Auburn would seem to have the edge. The Tigers are looking for their sixth victory in their last eight bowl games while the Wildcats haven’t won a New Year’s Day bowl since 1949. NU has the momentum, however, with three straight wins to close out the regular season, including victories over Iowa and Wisconsin … Northwestern 31, Auburn 23. (11 a.m. ET, ESPN)

GATOR BOWL, JAN. 1

No. 16 West Virginia vs. Florida State: Everything points to a win by the Mountaineers, but the Seminoles can’t let Bobby Bowden ride off into the sunset on a losing note, can they? … Florida State 34, West Virginia 31. (1 p.m. ET, CBS)

CAPITAL ONE BOWL, JAN. 1

No. 13 Penn State vs. No. 12 LSU: As long as the Nittany Lions can hold onto the football, they can beat an offensively-challenged LSU team … Penn State 24, LSU 14. (1 p.m. ET, ABC)

ROSE BOWL, JAN. 1

No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Oregon: I am reminded once again of the old coaching adage that offense gets the headlines, but defense wins championships. The postseason losing streak ends … Ohio State 35, Oregon 28.  (4:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

SUGAR BOWL, JAN. 1

No. 3 Cincinnati vs. No. 5 Florida: We were pretty sure the Bearcats would have kept things close until the Urban Meyer situation was disclosed. Now, with Meyer and Tim Tebow both exiting the stage, we think the Gators will want to make a statement … Florida 41, Cincinnati 21. (8:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

INTERNATIONAL BOWL, JAN. 2

South Florida vs. Northern Illinois: Look for the Bulls to rally around embattled head coach Jim Leavitt – unless, of course, the report of Leavitt hitting a player in the face is true. Even so, USF ought to have enough to beat the Huskies … South Florida 27, Northern Illinois 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

PAPAJOHN’S.COM BOWL, JAN. 2

South Carolina vs. Connecticut: Two teams that couldn’t even finish .500 in their respective conferences and we can’t have a playoff because of the sanctity of the bowl structure. Whatever … Connecticut 34, South Carolina 31. (2 p.m. ET, ESPN)

COTTON BOWL, JAN. 2

No. 19 Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi: Remember when the Rebels were supposed to be national title contenders? They’ll show why in the first Cotton Bowl to be played in the new Dallas Cowboys palace … Ole Miss 37, Oklahoma State 30. (2 p.m. ET, Fox)

LIBERTY BOWL, JAN. 2

Arkansas vs. East Carolina: We’re not sure we buy the whole concept of the SEC being the head-and-shoulders best conference in college football, but we do buy the concept that it is better than Conference USA … Arkansas 27, East Carolina 17. (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

ALAMO BOWL, JAN. 2

Michigan State vs. Texas Tech: The Spartans are 96th nationally in pass efficiency defense and 103rd in pass yardage defense. Pass-happy Double-T was the No. 2 team in the country in pass offense. Anything else you need to know? … Texas Tech 41, Michigan State 37.  (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

FIESTA BOWL, JAN. 4

No. 6 Boise State vs. No. 4 TCU: If you have any doubt about these teams’ legitimacy regarding the national championship picture, you owe it yourself to check out this game. It ought to be a pretty entertaining affair featuring two of the country’s best … TCU 23, Boise State 21. (8 p.m. ET, Fox)

ORANGE BOWL, JAN. 5

No. 10 Iowa vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech: Many teams around the country tend of have problems defending the Yellow Jackets and their triple-option attack. The Big Ten doesn’t seem to have those same problems … Iowa 28, Georgia Tech 20. (8 p.m. ET, Fox)

GMAC BOWL, JAN. 6

Central Michigan vs. Troy: Between CMU quarterback Den LeFevour (3,043 yards, 27 TDs) and Troy signal-caller Irv Brown (3,868 yards, 22 TDs), the scoreboard at Land Peebles Stadium may resemble a Las Vegas slot machine … Central Michigan 47, Troy 45. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, JAN. 7

No. 2 Texas vs. No. 1 Alabama: No one give the Longhorns much of a chance against the Crimson Tide, looking for their first national title since 1992. We just have this feeling, though, that Texas is going to pull off the shocker. The Longhorns are 7-0-1 all-time against the Tide and returning to Pasadena, site of their thrilling victory over USC four years ago. We think they can do it again … Texas 24, Alabama 21. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads: Northwestern (+8) vs. Auburn; West Virginia vs. Florida State (+3); Penn State (-2½) vs. LSU; Ohio State (+5) vs. Oregon; Cincinnati vs. Florida (-13); South Florida (-6½) vs. Northern Illinois; South Carolina vs. Connecticut (+5); Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi (-3); Arkansas (-8) vs. East Carolina; Michigan State (+8) vs. Texas Tech; Boise State (+8) vs. TCU; Iowa (+5) vs. Georgia Tech; Central Michigan vs. Troy (+4); Texas (+4½) vs. Alabama.

Enjoy the games and here’s wishing you and yours a safe and prosperous new year.

Heisman Trophy 2009: How I Voted And Why

For the past several years, I have had the honor of being on the panel of voters for the Heisman Memorial Trophy. It is an honor that I do not take lightly, but it is a task that is usually not very difficult.

Most years, the choice is pretty much cut and dried. Three years ago, the clear favorite was Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith. The only thing left to decide was placing Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn in second- and third-place order.

My vote has always been a personal thing. It has never been about trying to project the winner although I have cast my ballot for the Heisman winner most often than not. The last time I missed picking the winner was in 2005 when I went with Texas quarterback Vince Young. He finished second to USC running back Reggie Bush.

My reasoning for that pick was pretty simple. When I tried to project how each team would have performed without their star player, I thought USC would probably have done very well even without Bush. I doubt the Longhorns could have done as well without Young in their lineup, so his value to his team led me to place Young in the No. 1 spot on my ballot. Bush was No. 2.

Obviously, not many of my fellow voters agreed. Bush won the 2005 award in a landslide, garnering 784 first-place votes and 2,541 overall points. Young finished second with 1,608 votes but was named on only 79 first-place ballots.

This year presented the most unique Heisman race since I have been a voter. The season began with three clear favorites – Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford (last year’s winner), Florida QB Tim Tebow (the 2007 winner) and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.

Bradford quickly dropped off the radar with a season-ending shoulder injury and that left Tebow and McCoy to duke it out for frontrunner status. Along the way, other players began to make headlines as the college football season played itself out with five undefeated teams and a handful of bona fide Heisman Trophy candidates.

Unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame balloting where you can vote for as many players as you like, Heisman voters have to narrow their voting to three players. Five players were invited to New York this week as finalists for the award and I can think of at least three more that were more than deserving of being invited to the Big Apple ceremony.

My final pool of candidates came down to quarterbacks McCoy, Tebow and Kellen Moore of Boise State, running backs Mark Ingram of Alabama, Tony Gerhart of Stanford and C.J. Spiller of Clemson, defensive lineman Ndamukong  Suh of Nebraska and receiver/kick returner Mardy Gilyard of Cincinnati.

With eight names and only three ballot spots, I had to begin the process of elimination and began comparing the bodies of work from each of the candidates.

At quarterback, there was no doubt that Moore had the best season. He led the nation in pass efficiency, threw for 3,325 yards, had 39 touchdowns to only three interceptions, and quarterbacked his team to an undefeated season. In any other year, Moore would be a slam-dunk to be on my ballot, but the fact that he is a sophomore and plays for a non-BCS conference team, I reluctantly crossed his name off my list.

McCoy and Tebow were left in a virtual dead heat. Tebow was better in pass efficiency; McCoy had the numbers in passing yards and touchdowns. In the end, I truly did not feel Tebow’s overall body of work this season rose to the level of being a Heisman Trophy award winner. I passed on him and left McCoy on my list.

I had always considered Suh and Gilyard as my wild card picks. Unlike some who only noticed Suh during his dominating performance against Texas, I knew the Nebraska defensive star was a candidate for nearly every major award – except the Heisman. I had already pretty much made up my mind before last Saturday that if he had a standout game in the Big 12 title matchup, I would put Suh on my ballot. He had that standout game – and then some.

Gilyard, too, had an outstanding game for Cincinnati against Pittsburgh. While head coach Brian Kelly and the quarterback tandem of Tony Pike and Zach Collaros got most of the attention in the Queen City this season, Gilyard was establishing himself as the best player on that team. He is an excellent receiver, a lethal kick returner and his life story is a truly compelling story.

Unfortunately, there were receivers with better seasons and kick returners with more touchdowns and more yardage, so Gilyard’s name was dropped from my list.

That left me with a conundrum at running back that was more easily solved than you might think.

Like Gilyard, Spiller is a double threat. He ran for 1,145 yards and 11 TDs and tallied five more scores on kick returns – four kickoffs and one punt. There were, however, holes in his résumé. He disappeared in too many games, and failed to top 80 yards in six of his 13 games.

That left me to decide between Gerhart and Ingram. I know the Alabama running back is probably the frontrunner for the trophy, and he did have an excellent outing in the SEC championship game against Florida. Despite his 1,542 yards, though, Ingram had three games during which he failed to crack 60 yards.

Meanwhile, Gerhart was the nation’s top rusher with 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns. He rushed for 100 yards or more in 10 of his 12 games – topping the 200 mark three times – and never ran for less than 82 yards in a game all season.

Critics of Gerhart will argue that he played against competition inferior to that of Ingram. That is simply incorrect. In games against opponents who finished the season with winning records, Gerhart averaged 156.4 yards per game. What’s more, those opponents averaged a national ranking of 43 against the rush. Using the same criteria, Ingram averaged 127.1 yards against teams that averaged a national ranking of 57 in rushing defense.

That left me with McCoy, Suh and Gerhart as the three names on my ballot. Three great players any one of which would be deserving of this year’s Heisman.

But I had to rank them some way. I placed Gerhart third because his team finished out of the running for the Pac-10 championship.

Then I used the same criteria to break the tie between McCoy and Suh that I did four years ago with Bush and Young. Would Nebraska have been 9-4 and headed to the Holiday Bowl without Suh? Maybe. Would Texas be undefeated and playing for the national championship without McCoy. Probably not.

Yes, McCoy nearly had an epic blunder at the end of the Big 12 title game. But he didn’t have that blunder. What many tend to forget is that he moved his team into position to win that game and have a chance to play for the national championship. That is what great players are supposed to do. That is what Heisman Trophy winners are supposed to do.

Therefore, my final ballot read: 1. Colt McCoy; 2. Ndamukong Suh; 3. Toby Gerhart.

Couch Potato Observations From A Full Saturday

Some observations from a marathon afternoon/evening watching college football:

** Couldn’t help but think of Jim Tressel’s mantra about solid special teams play while watching the Pitt-Cincinnati game. Had the Panthers been able to cover a kickoff after going ahead 31-10 in the first half, they might have gone on to the victory. Letting Mardy Gilyard return that kick 99 yards for a touchdown kept the Bearcats in the game and also kept them thinking they could come back. Later, it was a missed PAT that cost Dave Wannstedt’s team a chance to at least go to overtime. Think about those things the next time you ridicule Tressel’s emphasis on solid special teams play.

** Same thing happened to Nebraska after it took a 12-10 lead on Texas in the final minutes. A kickoff out of bounds gave the Longhorns the ball at the 40-yard line, setting up a short field and allowing Colt McCoy to move his team into position for the winning field goal.

** McCoy nearly lost the game by taking too much time to throw an incompletion at the end of the Big 12 title game. That indiscretion and a so-so performance against a superlative Nebraska defense will undoubtedly cost him some Heisman votes. I have to admit that it gave me pause – pause enough to consider giving my vote to Mark Ingram of Alabama.

** I was torn between a bunch of players for third place on my Heisman ballot before watching the performance of Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh against Texas, he can have that third-place vote.

** How much of a kick in the gut was the last-second loss Illinois suffered against Fresno State? An offensive lineman catches a deflected pass and scores the winning two-point conversion for the Bulldogs? Ron Zook’s look of incredulity said it all as the Fighting Illini finished a 3-9 season.

** After watching Ohio State play for 12 straight weeks, it was a strange sight to watch Pitt and Cincinnati combine for 89 points while Illinois and Fresno State rolled up 105. The last time the Buckeyes participated in a game during which that many points were scored was 1995 when OSU and Iowa combined for 91 in a 56-35 win by the Buckeyes.

** Strange but true: During the entire 3½-hour broadcast of the SEC championship game, Earle Bruce’s name was never mentioned once. Strange because both Urban Meyer and Nick Saban cut their coaching teeth as assistants for Bruce at Ohio State in the 1980s. Saban coached defensive backs for Bruce in 1980 and ’81, while Meyer helped with tight ends in 1986 and wide receivers in 1987.

** Strange but true, part II: If the SEC is truly the best conference in college football, wouldn’t you think it would also have the best technology available for replay officials? On one of the Alabama running back Mark Ingram’s touchdown runs, replay was inconclusive because there was no camera stationed on the goal line. I thought a goal-line camera was standard operating procedure these days in every conference. Apparently not.

** Speaking of coaches with Ohio State ties, how about the job Bo Pelini has done at Nebraska? Two short years ago, the Nebraska defense ranked 114th nationally in scoring defense. It entered the Big 12 championship game against Texas as the No. 3 defense in the land.

** I guess I’ll apologize to Big Ten officials for the criticism I have leveled at them all season. After watching Big East, SEC and Big 12 games, their officials seem to miss just as many calls.

** Yes, that was a left-handed compliment toward Big Ten officials. Besides, it looked like they may have gotten another one wrong at the end of the Illinois-Fresno State game. That conversion pass appeared to bounce off a Fresno receiver first, which would have meant his teammate could not have legally caught the deflection. The play was reviewed and the call on the field stood.

** It really was kind of nice to see Urban Meyer have that deer-in-the-headlights look during the second half against Alabama. The Crimson Tide rolled up almost 500 total yards, the most against a Meyer-coached Florida defense.

** You know that old saying “He doesn’t know how good he is?” The opposite is true for a USC team that tried to rub rival UCLA’s nose in a loss last week only to lose Saturday at home to Arizona. The Trojans don’t realize just how bad they are. Too bad Ohio State doesn’t have another shot at them.

** Once again, offense gets headlines and defense wins championships. Don’t believe me? Ask Pitt, Clemson, Illinois and Houston. They combined for 162 points – an average of 40.5 per team – and each one of them lost.

** I believe we can now cross Jeff Tedford’s name off any list of hot coaching commodities. Each year, California is supposed to contend for a Pac-10 championship, and each year the Bears finish in the middle of the conference standings. Saturday’s 42-10 blowout loss at Washington left this year’s Bears with a 5-4 conference record and only 14-13 in league play over the past three seasons.

** How can Wisconsin afford to send its football team to Hawaii every couple of years and Ohio State never goes?

** Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick showed his naïveté by rejecting any bowl bids for the Fighting Irish in the wake of the firing of head coach Charlie Weis. Not only was that a slap in the fact to this year’s seniors, next year’s team could benefit greatly from the extra practice sessions afford to bowl teams. Plus, I don’t care how much money is in the Notre Dame coffers. Any team that just paid a coach $18 million to go away should be able to find some use for the money that comes with a bowl berth.

Ohio State Fans: Know Your Rose Bowl Enemy

Think Oregon has the upper hand tonight over instate rival Oregon State because of a high-powered offense? Think again. The Beavers have an attack that is almost as potent and they have a much better defense. Will that translate into a victory and send OSU to the Rose Bowl for the first time in more than 40 years? Or will the Ducks get the win and go to Pasadena in search of their first Rose Bowl win since 1917?

One of these teams from the Pacific Wonderland is going to provide the opposition to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and we may as well begin familiarizing ourselves with the enemy right now.

You probably already know about most of Oregon’s weapons because of the media attention it has received since the season opener against Boise State. Of course, most of the spotlight from that game was unwanted after running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player in the wake of the Ducks’ 19-8 loss to the Broncos.

Since then, however, Oregon has won nine of 10 including a 47-20 prime-time pounding of USC in late October. The Ducks possess the No. 7 scoring offense in the country, averaging 37.7 points per game overall. They’ve been even better than that recently. Over their last five contests, the Quack Attack is averaging a cool 44.0 points per game.

At the controls of that offense is dual-threat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who has nearly 5,000 yards in total offense for his career. This season, he has thrown for 1,865 yards and 14 TDs and run for 619 yards and 12 scores. If Masoli has a weakness, it would be his pass efficiency. He ranks only sixth in the Pac-10 in that category, completing 58.3 percent of his 264 attempts so far and averaging a middling 7.1 yards per attempt.

But he rarely makes mistakes – Masoli has pitched only four interceptions all season, meaning he throws a pick only once every 66 attempts.

The junior QB has completed passes to a number of receivers this season but he has two favorite targets. Senior tight end Ed Dickson leads Oregon with 551 yards and six TDs on 42 receptions while junior wideout Jeff Maehl has 46 catches for 548 yards and five scores.

For all of the publicity Masoli and the passing game generate, you need to keep your eye on the Oregon running game because that is what truly makes the Ducks go. They rank eighth in the country in rushing, thanks mostly to freshman tailback LaMichael James. He entered the breach left by Blount, who was suspended after the Boise State game incident, and James has proceeded to roll up 1,310 yards and 11 TDs.

Add Masoli’s slithery mobility to James’ raw talent, mix in three other running backs with at least 130 yards and two TDs each, and the Ducks make it difficult for any opposing defense to stop their running game.

Then again, they have yet to face a defense that is as good against the run as Oregon State. The Beavers rank 13th in the country in rushing defense and allow an average of only 98.5 yards per game. OSU has surrendered 149 yards or less on the ground in 10 of its 11 games this season; Oregon has rushed for at least 175 yards in 10 of its 11 games. In other words, something’s got to give tonight.

Oregon State has an attacking defense featuring 11 players with at least two tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Keaton Kristick is the unit’s leader with 80 tackles, including seven for loss. He also has two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Up front, junior tackle Stephen Paea is the guy the Ducks will have to negate. Paea has 36 tackles, including 5½ for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles.

Want to know just how good Oregon State can be on defense? The Beavers held Cincinnati to 5 of 14 on third-down conversions back in mid-September during a 28-18 loss to the Bearcats. In addition to everything else UC does well on offense, it is near the top of the national stats in third-down efficiency.

Oregon State also held Stanford running back Toby Gerhart to 96 yards in early October during a 38-28 win over the Cardinal. Gerhart is the nation’s No. 2 rusher and the Beavers held him to nearly 50 yards below his average.

Offensively, Oregon State can pretty much match Oregon in star power with sophomore running back Jacquizz Rodgers and senior quarterback Sean Canfield.

Rodgers ranks ninth in the nation with an average of 119.4 yards per game, and he has totaled 1,313 yards and 19 TDs this season. Meanwhile, Canfield is the Pac-10 leader in pass efficiency. He has completed 70.3 percent of his 370 attempts so far for 2,797 yards and 19 touchdowns against only six interceptions.

The Ducks will try to rattle Canfield – they rank second in their conference in pass defense, third in sacks and third in interceptions. But Oregon has had difficulty stopping the run this season, ranking 40th nationally and fifth in the Pac-10 in rushing defense, and Rodgers could be a difference-maker for the Beavers. He missed last year’s Civil War, and not coincidentally the Ducks ran off with a 65-38 victory. Masoli threw for 274 yards and three TDs in that game as Oregon piled up 694 yards of total offense.

Oregon is 9-2 with losses to Boise State and Stanford, teams with a combined 20-4 record and .833 winning percentage. Oregon State is 8-3 with losses to Cincinnati, Arizona and USC, teams with a combined record of 26-7 (.788).

The Ducks last appeared in the Rose Bowl in 1995, losing a 38-20 decision to Penn State. They haven’t won a Rose Bowl game since a 14-0 win over Penn in 1917.

The Beavers haven’t been to Pasadena since 1965, losing a 34-7 decision to Michigan. Oregon State won its only Rose Bowl in 1942 with a 20-16 victory over Duke. However, that game was moved to Wade Wallace Stadium on the Duke campus in Durham, N.C., following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the spirit of full disclosure, both Oregon teams know how it feels to win in the Rose Bowl, beating UCLA there in recent years. The Beavers rolled to a 34-6 win over the Bruins in Pasadena last season while the Ducks scored a 24-10 victory over UCLA on Oct. 10.

But neither team knows how it feels to beat Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 9-0 all-time against Oregon and Oregon State, including a 10-7 win over the Ducks in the 1958 Rose Bowl.

Enjoy tonight’s game.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Fifteen years ago, a pair of familiar combatants squared off as the Southeastern Conference staged its first-ever championship game. On Dec. 3, 1994, Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel threw a 2-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left, and the No. 6 Gators squeezed out a 24-23 victory over undefeated and third-ranked Alabama.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 1, 1951, sixth-ranked Georgia Tech forced an NCAA-record 13 turnovers (five fumbles and eight interceptions) during a 48-6 victory over instate rival Georgia; on Dec. 2, 1990, Houston quarterback David Klinger set a new Division I-A single-game record by throwing for 716 yards in a 62-45 victory over Arizona State; on Dec. 5, 1993, Wisconsin went all the way to Tokyo to score a 41-20 win over Michigan State, clinching the Badgers’ first Rose Bowl trip in 31 years; and on Dec. 6, 1873, Yale defeated Eton Players of England by a 2-1 final. It was the first college football game in the U.S. played with 11 men on each side.

**Today also marks the 124th anniversary of the birth of former Ohio State football coach Francis A. Schmidt. Born Dec. 3, 1885, in Downs, Kansas, Schmidt was one of the most accomplished and colorful coaches in college football history. He played at Nebraska, where he earned a law degree, and later rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Army during World War II. Schmidt began his head coaching career in 1919 and served stints at Tulsa, Arkansas, TCU, Ohio State and Idaho. While with the Buckeyes, he became the first (and still only) head coach to beat Michigan in each of his first four tries and Schmidt also instituted the Gold Pants Club to mark each victory over the Wolverines. Schmidt retired from coaching following the 1942 season and died two years later of a heart attack at the age of 58. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Heading down to the wire and there are still six undefeated teams remaining in Division I-A. Congratulations to TCU, which completed its regular season with perfect a 12-0 record, the school’s first unbeaten regular season since 1938. Meanwhile, Boise State, Cincinnati, Texas, Alabama and Florida still have one more contest to play.

** There were pros and cons to firing Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis. One of the arguments for keeping Weis was that all his team was competitive in every game this season. All six of the Fighting Irish’s losses this season were by seven points or less. One of the main arguments for letting him go: Notre Dame has lost at least six games in each of the last three years, the longest such streak in school history.

** Lost amid the hubbub surrounding the Weis firing and the forced retirement of Bobby Bowden was the news that our old friend Mark Snyder resigned Nov. 29 as head coach at Marshall. Snyder, the former defensive coordinator at Ohio State, posted a 21-37 record in five seasons at his alma mater. The Thundering Herd were 6-6 this year.

** Coaching for the old alma mater isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Virginia fired Al Groh after nine seasons with the Cavaliers. Groh’s dismissal came the day after his team finished 3-9, the program’s worst record since a 2-9 mark in 1982.

** Bobby Bowden’s departure from Florida State means that Joe Paterno will likely have the all-time Division I victories record forever. JoePa has 393 wins and counting (Bowden had 388) and next on the active list are Jim Tressel of Ohio State and Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech with 228 each. (Tressel will be 57 on Saturday and Beamer is 63.) With the proliferation of big-money contracts and high-profile stress, it seems illogical to believe anyone will ever approach Paterno’s win total.

** Of course, JoePa still ranks third in all-time coaching victories at the college level. He trails the late Eddie Robinson of Grambling (408) and Division III Saint John’s (Minn.) head coach John Gagliardi, still going strong with 471 career wins. Gagliardi guided the Johnnies to a 10-0 record this season, but they were upset 34-27 by Coe College (Iowa) in the first round of the D-III playoffs.

** By the way, in case you entertain the notion that Tressel or Beamer could reach Paterno’s win total, realize that both men would have to win 10 games every season for the next 17 years just to get close to 400. That would put both men well past retirement age – Tressel will be 57 on Saturday and Beamer is 63 – and neither has expressed any desire to stay in the profession that long.

** I won’t cast my vote until early next week, but after watching his performance on Thanksgiving night against Texas A&M, I am 99.9 percent sure I will vote for Texas QB Colt McCoy. Who gets my second- and third-place votes are still to be determined this weekend from a group that includes Florida QB Tim Tebow, Alabama RB Mark Ingram, Boise State QB Kellen Moore and Stanford RB Toby Gerhart.

** The talking heads at ESPN are probably the only people in America (outside of Florida, of course) who believe Tim Tebow still has a chance to win the Heisman. According to ESPN, Tebow is the greatest player in college football history. While I have absolutely nothing against Tebow, and will admit he has been an outstanding player, he is not the greatest player in history. In fact, he is not even the greatest player of his era when you crunch hard numbers. For his four-year career, Tebow has rushed and passed for a combined 11,389 yards and 140 TDs. Compare those stats to Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour, who has accounted for 15,140 yards and 145 TDs in his career.

** This week’s fun stat (unless you are a fan of the following teams): Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida State, Georgia and USC combined for a 39-32 record this season. Go back just three short years ago to the 2006 season and you find a 59-20 combined record for those six schools.

** For the record, I didn’t like the Nike Pro Combat uniforms worn by Ohio State during the Michigan game. And after watching Florida wear their version last Saturday, I’m convinced Nike is letting some third-grader design some of these unis with a bunch of Crayolas. For the record, Clemson, Florida State, LSU and Missouri joined the Gators in wearing Pro Combat uniforms last weekend and the record was 3-2 for the duds (pun intended).

** Congratulations to SMU for earning its first bowl bid since earning the NCAA death penalty back in 1987. The Mustangs got a pretty nice invitation, too. They will spend the Christmas holiday at the Hawaii Bowl, set for Dec. 24 in Honolulu. Of course, a trip to the islands is old hat for SMU head coach June Jones, who spent nine seasons as head coach at Hawaii from 1999-2007.

** For sheer excitement, it would have been hard to beat the Division I-AA playoff game last weekend between top seed Montana and South Dakota State. The undefeated Grizzlies fell behind SDSU by a 48-21 score with 5:40 remaining in the third quarter before storming back for 40 unanswered points and a 61-48 victory.

** There were other fantastic finishes in the Football Championship Division (aka I-AA) playoffs. Elon missed a pair of field goal attempts in the final 90 seconds, allowing defending national champion Richmond to squeak by with a 16-13 victory. And Appalachian State took a 20-13 win over South Carolina State when the Bulldogs botched a snap on a field goal attempt and Appy State’s Dominique McDuffie ran 50 yards with the loose ball for the game-winning touchdown.

** In Division III, powerhouse Mount Union remains the team to beat. The Purple Raiders, seeking their fourth championship in the past five seasons and 11th title since 1993, rolled into the quarterfinals with a 62-14 win over Montclair State.

** Mount Union head coach Larry Kehres has been named one of five regional winners of the 2009 Division III AFCA Coach of the Year award. It is the 14th time Kehres has been so honored.

FEARLESS FORECAST

We must have forgotten about that old saying that says you can throw out the records when forecasting rivalry games. We were a middling 11-7 straight up to drop the yearly total below 80 percent to 112-32.

Against the spread? No other way to describe it other than we got crushed. We zigged while nearly everyone else zagged and had a 4-14 week ATS that sent the yearly total spiraling to 57-73-2. Well, at least the turkey, mashed potatoes and noodles were good.

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 16 Oregon State at No. 7 Oregon: The Beavers have a slightly better defense while the Ducks have a slightly better offense. Autzen Stadium is usually money in the bank for Oregon, but Oregon State went home a winner on its last trip. So, we looked at common opponents – all eight of them – and came up with this final score … Oregon 43, Oregon State 38. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

FRIDAY’S GAME

Ohio vs. Central Michigan: Temple’s turnaround season got most of the MAC publicity this season, but it will be the Bobcats and the Chippewas squaring off at Ford Field to decide the conference championship. CMU has dominated the all-time series with a lopsided 20-4-2 edge, and with an offense led by senior QB Dan LeFevour, the Chips should pad that advantage by one more victory … Central Michigan 28, Ohio 21. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 5 Cincinnati at No. 15 Pittsburgh: Will Heinz Field turn out to be the Bearcats’ Waterloo? After playing footloose and fancy free for most of the season, suddenly there is a lot on UC’s plate. A win preserves a perfect season and the remote possibility of playing for the national championship. If that’s not enough pressure, how about the distraction of head coach Brian Kelly rumored to be headed to Notre Dame? We smell an Upset Special … Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 26. (12 noon ET, ABC)

No. 21 Houston at East Carolina: The Pirates are the defending Conference USA champions, but it’s difficult to see how they can repeat against the Cougars and quarterback Case Keenum. He needs only 78 more yards to reach 5,000 for the second year in a row … Houston 45, East Carolina 28. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

No. 23 West Virginia at Rutgers: The Mountaineers have won 14 straight in this series, winning those games by an average of 26.6 points. The Scarlet Knights have won eight of their last 10, but one of those losses was to Syracuse. If the Knights can’t beat the Orange, how can they be expected to beat WVU? … West Virginia 31, Rutgers 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Fresno State at Illinois: Extending the season past Thanksgiving was supposed to keep the Illini fresh for their bowl game. Instead, it has simply prolonged the agony of a dismal season. Perhaps the Fighting Zooksters could rise up for Senior Day, but don’t count on it … Fresno State 34, Illinois 31. (12:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

New Mexico State at No. 6 Boise State: If Ohio State can hang 45 on the Aggies, how many points do you think the Broncos can score? Probably as many as they want … Boise State 56, New Mexico State 0. (3 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Arizona at No. 18 USC: As tough as things have been in Trojanland this season, USC can still win 10 games with wins this week and in its bowl game. The first hurdle toward that goal should be made easier since the Wildcats will be without injured TB Nic Grigsby … USC 34, Arizona 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s chances hinge on the health of Heisman hopeful tailback Mark Ingram, who missed most of last week’s win over Auburn with a hip pointer. Those kinds of injuries are tough to overcome, especially for running backs, and how Ingram performs could make the difference … Florida 27, Alabama 21. (4 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 19 California at Washington: The Bears are still without star running back Jahvid Best, but sophomore Shane Vereen has been a more than capable fill-in. Vereen runs mostly out of the wildcat formation, and he will likely do a lot of damage against the Huskies, who rank 76th nationally and ninth in the Pac-10 against the run … Cal 35, Washington 24. (6:30 p.m. ET, FSN)

No. 3 Texas vs. No. 22 Nebraska: One final chance for Colt McCoy to prove why he deserves this year’s Heisman Trophy. If McCoy simply has his normal game against the Cornhuskers, who have the Big 12’s stingiest scoring defense, it should be a coronation for him and a momentum-builder for the Longhorns as they head to the national title game … Texas 34, Nebraska 20. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. Clemson: If South Carolina can gash the Tigers for 223 yards on the ground, doesn’t it make sense that the Yellow Jackets and their running game (No. 2 in the nation) can do as well or better? … Georgia Tech 34, Clemson 27. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Wisconsin at Hawaii: Some teams have trouble adjusting to the swirling winds at Aloha Stadium. Not the Badgers. They have won three in a row in Honolulu by an average margin of 27.3 points and will probably just run Big Ten offensive player of the year John Clay about 40 times … Wisconsin 38, Hawaii 24. (11:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Oregon State (+10) at Oregon; Ohio (+13) vs. Central Michigan; Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (+2); Houston (-2½) at East Carolina; West Virginia (+2) at Rutgers; Fresno State (+3) at Illinois; New Mexico State at Boise State (-44); Arizona at USC (-7); Florida (-5½) vs. Alabama; Cal (-7) at Washington; Texas (-13) vs. Nebraska; Georgia Tech (-1) vs. Clemson; Wisconsin (-11) at Hawaii.

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