First Quarter Grades For Buckeyes

As we ponder how playing a bottom-feeder like Eastern Michigan could possibly benefit the second-ranked team in the nation, here are some random thoughts as well as first quarter grades following Ohio State’s first three games of the 2010 season.

** Ohio State’s defense has played extremely well with much of the credit going to ends Cameron Heyward and Nathan Williams as well as safety Tyler Moeller, who has returned after a year away from the game.

Heyward has filled the stat sheet already with an 80-yard interception return, a fumble recovery and a safety while Williams also has an interception and a fumble recovery despite missing the opener against Marshall with a knee injury. Then there’s Moeller, back from a life-threatening head injury to lead the Buckeyes in tackles for loss (3½) and forced fumbles (two) while adding an interception, a sack and 16 total tackles.

But the guy who continues to impress me most on the defense is Ross Homan. I know it’s easy to heap praise on the unit’s leading tackler (he has 21), but the way he plays from snap to whistle is truly awe-inspiring.

Against Ohio, Homan greeted opposing quarterback Phil Bates early in the game with a hit that knocked the helmet off Bates’ head. Later, he introduced himself to Bates again, this violent encounter resulting in a fumble that was recovered by Williams.

Finally, Homan stepped in front of a Bates pass in the third quarter for his first interception of the season and sixth of his career. Think Bates saw Homan in his sleep later that night?

OSU has several stars on the defensive side of the ball but none is shining brighter so far than Homan.

** I continue to think Terrelle Pryor is legitimate Heisman material. I realize there are those who do not agree with that assessment although some of his detractors are slowly beginning to come around.

Pryor’s performance against Ohio was nearly flawless until he had a couple of brain cramps. His critics will point to his two interceptions as reasons why the junior QB remains a work in progress. Meanwhile, I’ll concede the mistakes he made and ask for examples of any quarterback who plays either on Saturday or Sunday that doesn’t commit at least one or two miscues a game.

The fact remains that Pryor can beat opposing teams in such a variety of ways that he is making it difficult to game-plan against him. Commit to making him throw the ball, as Miami (Fla.) tried to do, and he will beat you with his running ability. Try to take away his mobility, as Ohio attempted to do, and he will beat you through the air.

And he continues to get better. Even the non-believers agree with that.

** Perhaps it’s time to give Jaamal Berry a little more of a chance at the tailback position.

Yes, I know Brandon Saine is a team captain and Dan “Boom” Herron is a veteran running back. Yes, I know Berry may still be raw when it comes to blitz pickups, downfield blocking and many other things that need to be considered when playing time is discussed.

But the guy appears to know what to do when there’s a hole in the opposing defensive line. For whatever reason, Saine looked tentative against Miami and again vs. Ohio. He did have a run for 21 yards, but his other 11 attempts netted only 27 yards. That’s an average of 2.5 yards per carry.

It’s much the same thing with Herron, who seemingly has trouble creating his own lane whenever holes close quickly at the line of scrimmage. He had a 9-yard run against the Bobcats while his other eight carries were worth 18 yards, an average of 2.3 yards per attempt.

Meanwhile, Berry appears adept at changing direction and finding the smallest of seams. He probably has the best hip action of all the OSU running backs, allowing him to cut quickly and explode through holes whenever and wherever they appear. And the proof is in the statistics. For the season, the redshirt freshman is averaging a team-best 9.4 yards per carry.

I realize Saine and Herron are the veterans but haven’t the bit performances flashed by Berry so far earned him a little more than garbage playing time?

** Three games into the season and I still can’t make up my mind whether or not the offensive line is playing up to its capability. My first inclination is to say it isn’t – at least not all the time.

Before the season began, I went on the record as saying I thought this year’s unit would be the best offensive line in several years. Four returning starters, including left guard Justin Boren, who could be the best player at his position in college football, makes for a pretty good foundation.

Added to the mix was left tackle Mike Adams, the former five-star high school star who has finally learned to bend his knees and use his hands enough to nail down the starting position.

But there have been several breakdowns – too many, really, for such a talented group.

The Buckeyes have watched their running attack dwindle each week from 280 in the opener against Marshall to 181 against a pretty good Miami defensive front to only 158 against an Ohio defense that surrendered 220 on the ground in its opener against Division I-AA Wofford.

Three games into this season and the O-line appears to continue to struggle with blitz recognition and sealing off its back side. The latter problem has led to numerous tackles by hard-charging linebackers who have brought down Buckeye ball-carriers from behind. (Maybe that is part of the problem for Saine and Herron.)

One good thing, though, is the lack of penalties called on the offensive line. Through three games, the unit has been flagged just once for holding and only twice for false starts – both of which were called against the backups late in the season opener against Marshall.

** What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the lousy play of the special teams units?

I never thought I would see a Jim Tressel-coached team that was so poor at covering kickoffs, but since last year’s Iowa game the Buckeyes have allowed kickoff returns of 99, 30, 36, 39, 36, 42, 63 and 88 yards, and that doesn’t even include the 99-yard return by Ohio that was wiped out by an illegal block penalty.

Heck, there was even a 30-yard kickoff return by the Scarlet team in the spring game.

Add to that the blocked field-goal attempt returned for a touchdown by Marshall, the 79-yard punt return for a touchdown by Miami and the blocked punt by Ohio, and you clearly have potential game-altering breakdowns in nearly every facet of special teams.

How does Tressel address the myriad problems? I hate to say it but I suppose the trouble on kickoffs could be remedied by the pooch kick. That strategy certainly negated the Hurricanes’ return game, and when you have the kind of defense Ohio State boasts, maybe you can afford to give the opposing team the ball at the 30-yard line every time you kick off.

Of course, that doesn’t address what to do with protection issues.

The simple truth is that whatever the Buckeyes have been doing these past few games hasn’t worked. And you know the old saying about continuing to do something the same way hoping for a different result.

** Here are my first quarter grades:

Quarterback: A- (Maximum effort and production with minimal mistakes.)

Tailbacks: C+ (Fairly average performance so far.)

Fullbacks: A- (Excellent blockers; would be nice to get a carry once in a while.)

Offensive line: C+ (See tailbacks.)

Tight ends: B (Upgrade for receiving, downgrade for blitz pickups.)

Wide receivers: B (Nothing spectacular but good, solid play.)

Defensive line: B+ (Lack of sacks prevents this grade from being higher.)

Linebackers: A (Best overall unit on the field.)

Secondary: B (Very few coverage breakdowns; earning reputation for hard hits.)

Special Teams: D (The less said here, the better.)

Overall I would give the Buckeyes a solid B as their first-quarter grade.

OSU-EASTERN MICHIGAN TIDBITS

** Although Ohio State and Eastern Michigan will play one another for the first time in history, the schools met in 1931 when the Buckeyes sent what was called their “B” squad to Ypsilanti. The Eagles took a 27-0 victory in that contest and the school counts that win toward their all-time total.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel has a record of 33-4 with the Buckeyes against regular-season nonconference opponents. His record at OSU is 60-8 against unranked competition and he is now 35-4 in September.

** Eastern Michigan head coach Ron English is his second season with the Eagles. His overall career record is 0-15. EMU has not tasted victory since a 56-52 win over Central Michigan in the 2008 season finale. That was the final game under head coach Jeff Jenyk, who was fired after five seasons with a 16-42 record.

** English was on Lloyd Carr’s staff at Michigan from 2003-07. He was the Wolverines’ defensive backs coach for the first three seasons of that stint and served as Carr’s defensive coordinator in ’06 and ’07. Michigan had a 1-4 record against Ohio State during English’s tenure in Ann Arbor.

** Eastern Michigan has enjoyed just one winning season since 1990. Over the past two decades, the program has produced a record of 62-167-1, a winning percentage of .272. The Eagles have lost 15 in a row, 20 of their last 21, and 30 of their last 35.

** The fact that the Eagles are continuing to struggle this season is no surprise. Members of the media picked them to finish a distant sixth in the six-team Mid-American Conference West Division. Northern Illinois was selected first in the division with 115 points followed by Central Michigan (83), Western Michigan (77) and Toledo (75). Ball State was fifth with 50 points while Eastern brought up the rear with only 20 points.

** Despite their struggles, the Eagles are one of the few teams against which Tressel has a sub-.500 career record. He is 1-4 lifetime against Eastern Michigan with all of those games coming when he was head coach at Youngstown State. The Eagles beat the Tressel-led Penguins four straight seasons from 1986-89 before the coach finally got a victory, a 24-14 win in 1990.

** Against teams currently in the MAC, Tressel is 32-14-1 lifetime. In addition to his record against Eastern Michigan, he is 9-2-1 vs. Akron, 6-3 vs. Kent State, 4-0 against Ohio, 4-2 vs. Buffalo, 3-1 against Bowling Green, 1-0 vs. Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois and Toledo, and 1-1 against Central Michigan and Western Michigan.

** English is 0-2 lifetime against Big Ten teams. Last season, his team absorbed a 27-24 loss at Northwestern and a 45-17 pounding at Michigan.

** After last week’s victory over Ohio, the Buckeyes are now 27-1 against current members of the Mid-American Conference. The only blemish on that record against the MAC remains a 12-6 loss to Akron in a game played Sept. 15, 1894, at the Ohio State Fair.

** The Eagles are winless in 17 previous games against Big Ten schools and none of those games were close. They have been outscored 714-162 in those contests, making the average margin of victory a whopping 32.5 points for the Big Ten schools.

** Eastern Michigan is 0-5 all-time against ranked teams. That includes losses to Ball State (2008), Florida (2004), Michigan (2005), Wisconsin (1994) and Penn State (1992) by a combined score of 250-33. That computes to an average score of 50-7.

** A crowd in excess of 105,000 is expected tomorrow at Ohio Stadium. Eastern Michigan has played its first three games of 2010 – home games with Army and Central Michigan and a road contest at Miami (Ohio) – in front of 44,523 fans combined.

** After surrendering 111 points in the first three games this season, English’s defense continues to be a work in progress. Only five defensive players have started each of the first three games for the Eagles, who rank 108th of 120 Division I-A teams nationally in scoring defense.

** The Buckeyes continue to struggle on special teams. They rank 102nd of 120 Division I-A teams in kickoff yardage defense, 113th in punt return yardage defense and 117th in net punting.

** With 12 takeaways and only two turnovers of their own so far this season, the Buckeyes are far and away the No. 1 team in the nation at plus-10 in turnover margin. Florida is a distant second at plus-7.

** Ohio State is on pace to create 52 turnovers this season. The single-season record of 48 was set in 1986 followed by 44 in 1950 and 42 in 1969 and 1980. The highest number of turnovers created by the Buckeyes during the Tressel era was established last season with 35.

** A strange statistical comparison: Ohio State ranks 10th in the Big Ten in third-down conversion percentage at a lowly 34.1. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are a perfect 3 for 3 on fourth down, which ties them for No. 1 in the nation in that category.

** Eastern Michigan will see a familiar face in the Ohio State press box. OSU athletic director Gene Smith was part of the EMU athletics administration staff from 1983-93, serving the last eight years of that stint as AD.

** The most famous Eastern Michigan football product is quarterback Charlie Batch, who played for the Eagles from 1994-97. Batch, currently in his eighth NFL season and sixth with Pittsburgh, still holds the EMU career record for touchdown passes with 53.

** OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s streak of 16 straight completions broke the single-game school record of 12 held since 1985 by Jim Karsatos. Four other Ohio State quarterbacks completed 12 consecutive passes over the course of two games – Bill Mrukowski (1961), Mike Tomczak (1983), Craig Krenzel (2002) and Todd Boeckman (2007).

** Pryor fell six short of the Big Ten record for most consecutive completions. That mark is 22 in a row and has been held by former Iowa quarterback Chuck Long since 1984. Long is currently offensive coordinator at Kansas.

** With 270 yards of total offense last week against Ohio, Pryor increased his career total to 5,695 and moved past Archie Griffin (5,589, 1972-75) for eighth on the school’s career list in that category. Next up is Tomczak (6,015, 1981-84).

** Pryor has become the 10th quarterback in school history to amass 4,000 or more career passing yards. His current total stands at 4,120 and he needs 374 to pass Krenzel (4,493, 2000-03) and move into ninth place.

** DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher have each moved into OSU’s all-time top 25 in receiving yardage. Posey (1,182) passed Mike Lanese (1,175, 1982-85), Dimitrious Stanley (1,136, 1993-96) and Chris Sanders (1,120, 1992-94) last week to vault to No. 23 on the career list. Sanzenbacher (1,139) went past Stanley and Sanders and currently sits at No. 25.

** Jake Stoneburner logged his first career touchdown reception last Saturday against Ohio. Stoneburner also grabbed a career-high five catches in the game, the most receptions of any OSU tight end since Rory Nichol had six during a 37-17 win at Penn State in 2007.

** Ohio State was flagged for no penalties in the Ohio game, the first time that has happened since Tressel has been head coach. The last time the Buckeyes had zero penalties in a game was the 1988 season opener against Syracuse. OSU beat the Orangemen, 26-9, in John Cooper’s first game as head coach.

** Junior walk-on linebacker Tony Jackson is rapidly earning the reputation as a solid tackler on special teams and with the backup defense. Jackson has six tackles in Ohio State’s first three games and that puts him ninth on the team in total stops. That is more than defensive starters Cameron Heyward, Orhian Johnson, Storm Klein and Nathan Williams.

** OSU currently enjoys the second-longest streak of appearances in the Associated Press rankings. The Buckeyes have been in the writers’ top 25 for 87 consecutive weeks, second only to Texas. The Longhorns have been AP ranked for 161 straight weeks. Florida is currently third with 84 while Alabama and Penn State are a distant fourth at 36.

** This week’s game will be telecast by ABC using the reverse mirror effect. That means the game should be carried by either your local ABC affiliate station or ESPN. (The usual rule of thumb is ABC for everyone in Big Ten country, ESPN for everyone else.) The announce team is Carter Blackburn with the play by play, former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti with color commentary and former Washington quarterback Brock Huard providing reports from the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channel 127 and XM channel 102.

** Tressel and English will be wearing patches on their shirt sleeves to show their support for the Coach to Cure MD project. College football fans around the nation tomorrow will be asked to donate to research projects supported by Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, the largest nonprofit organization in the U.S. focused entirely on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

** Next week, Ohio State opens Big Ten play on the road at Illinois. Kickoff is set for 12 noon Eastern and the game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Twenty-seven years ago today, a battle of top-10 teams from the Big Ten went to Iowa. On Sept. 24, 1983, the seventh-ranked Hawkeyes smothered No. 3 Ohio State during a 20-14 triumph in Iowa City. OSU quarterback Mike Tomczak entered the game as the nation’s leader in passing efficiency, but completed only 13 of 34 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. The victory snapped a 16-game losing streak for Iowa in the series. The Hawkeyes hadn’t beaten the Buckeyes since 1962.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history:

** On Sept. 21, 1996, linebacker Pat Tillman led the Arizona State defense to a 19-0 victory over top-ranked Nebraska, the first shutout of a No. 1 team since 1978.

** On Sept. 22, 1956, Notre Dame lost for the first time ever in September when unranked SMU scored a 19-13 upset in Dallas over the third-ranked Fighting Irish.

** On Sept. 23, 1972, Purdue quarterback Gary Danielson ran for a career-high 213 yards but it wasn’t enough as 15th-ranked Washington erased a 21-0 halftime deficit and beat the Boilermakers, 22-21, in West Lafayette.

** On Sept. 24, 2000, Penn State defensive back Adam Taliaferro was seriously injured near the end of his team’s 45-6 loss at Ohio State. Taliaferro was paralyzed from the neck down but thanks to quick action by doctors and trainers at Ohio Stadium, as well as the staff at the Ohio State Medical Center and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Taliaferro – after about eight months of intense rehabilitation – was able to regain full function of his arms and legs. He later graduated from Penn State before earned a law degree from Rutgers, and he is currently a practicing attorney in New Jersey specializing in corporate litigation.

** On Sept. 25, 1948, Michigan took a 13-7 win over Michigan State in East Lansing, giving U-M head coach Bennie Oosterbaan his first victory in his first game as head coach. Michigan went on to finish the 1948 season with a perfect 9-0 record, marking the first time in college football history a head coach had achieved an undefeated season in his first year on the job. The feat has since been duplicated four times, most recently by Larry Coker of Miami (Fla.) in 2001.

** On Sept. 25, 1959, Georgia Tech linebacker Gerald Burch intercepted SMU quarterback Don Meredith with 1:32 remaining in the game to clinch a 16-12 victory for the Yellow Jackets over the No. 6 Mustangs.

** On Sept. 26, 1953, a pair of legendary coaches – Frank Leahy of Notre Dame and Bud Wilkinson of Oklahoma – patrolled the sidelines as the top-ranked Fighting Irish went to Norman and scored a 28-21 victory over the No. 6 Sooners. The loss was Oklahoma’s first in 15 home games and would the Sooners’ last defeat until 1957 when they would achieve an NCAA-record 47 consecutive victories.

** On Sept. 26, 1992, Hawaii kicker Jason Elam hit three field goals, including a 56-yarder, to help the Warriors to a 36-32 win in Honolulu over BYU.

** And on Sept. 27, 1986, second-ranked Miami (Fla.) rolled to a 28-16 win over defending national champion and top-ranked Oklahoma. Three future College Hall of Famers were on the Orange Bowl sidelines that day – Miami safety Bennie Blades, Oklahoma tight end Keith Jackson and Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer – but the afternoon belonged to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde. The Miami QB threw for 261 yards and four touchdowns against the Sooners.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The Big Ten enjoys six teams in this week’s top 25 rankings, a feat the conference has not accomplished since 2004. The Big Ten is also one of only three Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) conferences with six or more undefeated teams. Thirty-four I-A teams remain undefeated and the Big 12 and SEC have seven each.

** Six more Big Ten players rushed for 100 or more yards last weekend, giving the conference 23 individual 100-yard efforts so far this season. In stark contrast, league quarterbacks have turned in only two 300-yards performances and both came last week. Ben Chappell of Indiana threw for a career-high 366 in his team’s 38-21 win over Western Kentucky, and Dan Persa of Northwestern had 307 as the Wildcats rolled to a 30-13 victory at Rice.

** The Big Ten isn’t exactly establishing itself by playing high-level competition this week. One week before conference play begins, the slate of opponents features eight Mid-American Conference teams – Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, Temple and Toledo – and a pair of Division I-AA teams in Austin Peay and Northern Colorado. Those 10 teams are a combined 14-16 so far this season.

** Penn State head coach Joe Paterno is nearing another career milestone. A victory tomorrow over Temple would give JoePa his 150th victory as a Big Ten coach and make him only the fifth conference coach ever to reach that plateau. The others 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).

** Speaking of Temple, the Owls are enjoying their first 3-0 start to a season since 1979. Temple finished that season with a school-record 10 wins including a 28-17 win over California in the Garden State Bowl. The Owls finished 10-2 that year with one of the losses a 22-7 defeat at Penn State. The Nittany Lions lead the all-time series with Temple by a 35-3-1 margin.

** In your discussion about which BCS conference is the worst, throw in the nugget that the Atlantic Coast Conference is currently 0-9 against ranked teams this season.

** Congratulations to UAB for its come-from-behind 34-33 victory over Troy last weekend. The Blazers fell into a 23-0 hole early and then climbed all the way back on a 99-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 44-yard touchdown pass on the game’s final play. Oh, yeah – and UAB backup quarterback Bryan Ellis engineered that drive in the final 1:09 with no timeouts remaining.

** A dozen members of the College Football Hall of Fame are on the 2010 ballot for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They are Alabama linebacker Cornelius Bennett, Notre Dame receiver Tim Brown, Texas A&M defensive tackle Ray Childress, head coach Don Coryell of Whittier (Calif.) and San Diego State, offensive tackle Jimbo Covert of Pittsburgh, safety Kenny Easley of UCLA, Southern Mississippi punter Ray Guy, linebacker Sam Mills of Montclair State (N.J.), Stanford quarterback Jim Plunkett, safety Donnie Shell of South Carolina State, running back Herschel Walker of Georgia and Grambling quarterback Doug Williams.

** The Fighting Irish have scheduled a future game to be played in front of the real Irish. Notre Dame announced its Sept. 1, 2012, contest with Navy will be played in Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. The 51,700-seat venue is home to the Irish rugby union team and the Republic of Ireland national football team.

** ESPN’s College Gameday makes its first-ever trip to Boise tomorrow in preparation for third-ranked Boise State’s game against Oregon State on the Bronco Stadium blue turf.

** Speaking of gimmicky turf colors, Division I-AA Eastern Washington won the inaugural game on its new red turf last Saturday with a 36-27 victory over Montana. The game featured a wild finish as Mike Jarrett’s 31-yard field with 0:04 left gave the Eagles a 30-27 lead. Montana took the ensuing kickoff and attempted several laterals as time expired and Eastern Washington fans began rushing the field. It resulted in EWU being flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving the Grizzlies one last chance with the ball at their own 40. But quarterback Justin Roper fumbled as he was sacked, and Eastern Washington’s Renard Williams returned the loose ball 34 yards for a touchdown as fans stormed the field a second time.

** Welcome back, Maurice Clarett. The former Ohio State running back makes his UFL debut tonight when his Omaha Nighthawks host the Hartford Colonials. The Nighthawks are coached by former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski and quarterbacked by four-time NFL Pro Bowler Jeff Garcia.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It’s been a long, long time since the Forecast has enjoyed such a hot start. Last week, we flew in the face of some other so-called experts and finished with a 10-1 record straight up. That pushes the SU picks to sterling 28-3 for the young season.

Against the spread, we’re playing with house money already. Our 9-1-1 week was the best in memory and puts us at a lofty 20-8-3 ATS in the early going. (Too bad it’s not real money.)

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 4 TCU at SMU: The Horned Frogs have already crashed the BCS party. This year, they would like to play for the national championship. Lots and lots of things would have to happen for that to occur, of course, like Alabama, Ohio State and Boise State all losing. But TCU can’t worry about things out of its control. The Frogs simply have to keep winning and they should have no trouble during tonight’s game against old rival SMU. Quarterback Andrew Dalton (a combined 737 yards and seven TDs rushing and passing) leads the Frogs’ offensive attack, and his 74.6 completion percentage should be more than enough to retain the Iron Skillet trophy. The Mustangs rank 100th nationally in pass defense … TCU 38, SMU 14. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Ball State at No. 18 Iowa: Name something can go wrong in a football game and it happened to the Hawkeyes last week in their 34-27 loss at Arizona. Iowa gave up touchdowns on an 85-yard interception return, a 100-yard kickoff return and a short pass following a blocked punt deep in its own territory. Not only that, veteran tailback Jewel Hampton – who missed all of last season with an ACL tear – suffered another season-ending knee injury. How do the Hawkeyes regroup? Well, limping home to Iowa City to play the Cardinals seems like as good a start as any. David Letterman U. hasn’t had much success against Big Ten teams. They lost 24-13 at Purdue last week and 56-0 the last time they visited Kinnick Stadium in 2005 … Iowa 38, Ball State 7. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Bowling Green at No. 21 Michigan: Lost amid the early season accolades being bestowed upon quarterback Denard Robinson is the cold, hard truth that the Wolverines remain pretty weak on defense. I-AA Massachusetts rolled up 37 points and 439 yards just a week after Notre Dame gashed U-M for 24 points and 535 yards. The team that ranks No. 10 in the nation in total offense is 100th or lower in total defense, pass defense, tackles for loss, sacks, net punting and punt returns. Luckily for the Wolverines, they keep playing teams that struggle just as much defensively. The Falcons are 111th in total defense and 98th against the run, so watch Robinson pad his stats a little more before the Big Ten season begins next week at offensive-minded Indiana … Michigan 44, Bowling Green 28. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

No. 1 Alabama at No. 10 Arkansas: The Crimson Tide gets its first real challenge this week in defense of their national championship when they travel to Fayetteville. There will plenty of star power with quarterback Ryan Mallett (1,081 yards, nine TDs) leading the Razorbacks against reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, who rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns last week in his first game back from knee surgery. The all-time series is tight with ’Bama holding a slight 10-8 edge, but the Tide has won three straight and four of the last five. That includes last year’s 35-7 rout when they thoroughly frustrated Mallett into a 12-for-35, 160-yard performance. The Arkansas QB should have a little more success this season in his home stadium, but not even to get the victory … Alabama 31, Arkansas 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 16 Stanford at Notre Dame: In case you haven’t noticed, Stanford has been kicking the snot out of its opponents so far this season. The Cardinal has outscored three opponents by a 155-41 margin so far, topped off by last week’s 68-24 over Wake Forest. That doesn’t make the odds of Brian Kelly’s leaky defense keeping his team in the ballgame seem very good. The Irish rank 102nd nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 443.7 yards per game. Meanwhile, QB Andrew Luck (674 yards, 10 TDs, 0 INTs) leads an offense that is humming along with averages of 51.7 points and 475.3 yards per game. If you’re thinking about an upset, you could hang your hat on the fact that Notre Dame has won seven of the last eight in the series as well as seven in a row at home against the Cardinal. But we think Jim Harbaugh’s team just has too many weapons for the Irish … Stanford 45, Notre Dame 31. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

No. 8 Oklahoma at Cincinnati: Does it seem like the Sooners have been whistling past the graveyard so far? They were picked by more than a few preseason pollsters to make a run at the national championship game but have looked very pedestrian in two of their three victories. The exception was a 47-17 beatdown Sept. 11 of Florida State, but they followed last week with a 27-24 squeaker against Air Force during which they surrendered 351 yards rushing to the triple-option Falcons. Oklahoma won’t have to worry about that kind of offense this week from the Bearcats, who are struggling after losing QB Tony Pike and WR Mardy Gilyard to the NFL as well as WR Vidal Hazelton to season-ending knee surgery. That is a lot of firepower to lose and UC has gone from one of the top offenses in the country to one that ranks 80th in scoring and 84th in total offense. That’s not going to get it done against the Sooners … Oklahoma 38, Cincinnati 17. (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Akron at Indiana: The Hoosiers seem every bit as good as advertised on offense so far. Behind QB Ben Chappell (548 yards, five TDs), IU has averaged 44.5 points in its two victories. An added bonus has been the play of the defense and special teams. While the offense has scored 89 points, the D has allowed only 38 while the Hoosiers are No. 13 nationally in turnover margin. They’re also leading the nation in kickoff return average. It all seems to spell out another win since Indiana is hosting a Zips team that is scuffling. They are 0-3, including a double overtime loss to I-AA Gardner Webb. To be honest, Akron isn’t very good in any facet of the game. The NCAA keeps weekly statistics in 17 major categories and the Zips’ national rank is 95th or lower in 12 of those categories … Indiana 45, Akron 14. (7 p.m. ET, BTN)

South Dakota State at No. 6 Nebraska: There was never any question Bo Pelini would have a strong defense at Nebraska. Now it seems he’s gotten himself an offense, too, and that makes the Cornhuskers a dangerous team for anyone to play. Behind dual threat quarterback Taylor Martinez, the offense ranks in the top 10 nationally in rushing, scoring and total yardage. Meanwhile, the defense is still pretty good even without last year’s star Ndomukong Suh. The Black Shirts had their way with Heisman candidate Jake Locker last week during a 56-21 blowout at Washington, limiting the Huskies QB to an awful 4-for-20, 71-yard passing day. If they could do that to Locker, what do you suppose they will do to the I-AA Jackrabbits who have averaged only 8.5 points in their two losses this season? Sounds like it might be Wabbit Season in Lincoln … Nebraska 63, South Dakota State 0. (7 p.m. ET, FSN)

No. 24 Oregon State at No. 3 Boise State: It seems no one wants to help the Broncos in their quest to play for the national championship. Virginia Tech was supposed to represent a signature win and then the Hokies promptly fell to Division I-AA James Madison. This week’s opponent from the Pac-10 was supposed to be the other marquee team on Boise’s schedule and the Beavers are 1-1 after losing a 30-21 opener to TCU and taking a lackluster 35-28 victory over a very average Louisville team last weekend. To prefer for the Smurf Turf in Bronco Stadium, Oregon State painted one of its practice field blue. Anything goes when you’re trying to beat a team that has a regular-season home winning streak of 56 games. Blue turf or no, the Beavers simply don’t have enough defense to stop Boise. OSU ranks 105th nationally in total defense while the Broncos are seventh in total offense (515.5 yards per game) and 15th in scoring (42.0 points). And just in case you think Jacquizz Rodgers can make the different for the Beavers, you should know the Broncos can play some defense, too. They’re No. 2 in the nation against the run … Boise State 42, Oregon State 21. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Oregon at Arizona State: Do you know which team ranks No. 1 in the nation in both offense and defense? It’s the Ducks, who not only top the charts in total offense and defense, they’re also No. 1 in scoring offense and defense. Of course, playing the likes of New Mexico, Tennessee and I-AA Portland State would allow for a certain amount of stat-padding, but still Oregon has outscored its opposition by a 189-13 margin. The Sun Devils should give the Quack Attack a little more of a game this week. They, too, pulverized Portland State and Northern Arizona before absorbing a heartbreaking 20-19 loss at Wisconsin last weekend that turned on a blocked PAT. Arizona State leads the all-time series by a 16-14 margin, but the Ducks have won five in a row and the last three played in Tempe … Oregon 48, Arizona State 14. (10 p.m. ET, FSN)

Eastern Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State: We’re not really sure what the second-ranked team in the nation gains by playing a team like the Eagles. Even more mystifying is the fact that game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. It should start at 8 a.m. and use a running clock – and even then it would be a blowout. If you liked the Marshall and Ohio games, then you’re going to love this one. With all due respect to EMU, the numbers don’t lie. While the Eagles rank a lowly 87th nationally in total offense and 91st in scoring, they’re even worse on defense – 94th in yardage allowed (which includes 117th against the run) and 108th in points surrendered. Eastern has lost 15 in a row overall and has never beaten a Big Ten team in 17 previous tries. How bad could this get? As bad as Jim Tressel wants it to be … Ohio State 63, Eastern Michigan 0. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Here are the spreads for the above games: TCU (-16) at SMU; Ball State at Iowa (-28); Bowling Green (+26) at Michigan; Alabama (-7) at Arkansas; Stanford (-4) at Notre Dame; Oklahoma (-13½) at Cincinnati; Akron at Indiana (-21½); South Dakota State at Nebraska (N/L); Oregon State at Boise State (-17); Oregon (-10½) at Arizona State; Eastern Michigan at Ohio State (-42).

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

Imperfect Game May Turn Out Perfectly

In what had been overly hyped as a return match of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State pretty much had its way Sept. 11 with Miami (Fla.), rolling up more than 400 yards of total offense, creating four turnovers and cruising to a 36-24 victory.

Trouble was that the victory could have/should have been by a much, much wider margin.

The OSU offense that was so effective in piling up yardage in the middle of the field against a supposedly tenacious Hurricanes defense bogged down several times in the red zone and had to settle for a school record-tying five field goals in six tries from senior kicker Devin Barclay.

Worse yet, the Buckeyes’ special teams – often the strength of any Jim Tressel team – has proved to be the team’s weakest link. And that’s being generous. To put it bluntly, after only two games of the 2010 season Ohio State’s kick coverage stinks. Miami returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the contest, accounting for more than half of its points and keeping the Hurricanes in the game.

Take away the special-teams breakdowns and turn half of the field-goal attempts into touchdowns and you get Ohio State stomping a 51-10 hole into their talkative rivals from South Beach.

Yet for all of the scarlet and gray warts that were exposed, the game may have been the perfect contest in the eyes of Tressel. It was a good, sound victory over the 12th-ranked team in the nation, a win that kept Ohio State solidly in the No. 2 spot in the polls and hopefully silenced a few more of the team’s critics. It was also a mistake-riddled performance filled with enough glaring errors to keep the team fully attentive as it enters the soft part of the 2010 schedule.

There should be no more lingering doubt – at least not within the Buckeye Nation – that this team is a legitimate national championship contender. You could make the argument that Miami was overrated, but even if that turns out to be the case, one thing not up for conjecture is the way Ohio State took care of business.

That is what seems to set this team apart from those of the past couple of seasons. Last year, for example, the Buckeyes had a talent-laden roster and still lost games they should have won to USC and Purdue, teams that combined to go a pedestrian 14-11 in 2009. Physical mistakes and the inability to stay mentally focused after those mistakes hurt the team as much as anything the Trojans or Boilermakers did in those games.

Then came an epiphany of sorts in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, another big game most national pundits wrongly figured the Buckeyes would lose.

The explosive Ducks took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched for a touchdown that gave them a 17-16 lead. In the past, that was about the point in a meaningful game when the throats of the Ohio State players would have started to tighten. Instead, the Buckeyes responded with a workmanlike drive that netted a 38-yard Barclay field goal and a 19-17 advantage.

The OSU defense followed by creating a turnover on the next series and held the vaunted Oregon offense to just one first down to show for its last four possessions.

Fast-forward nine months and the Buckeyes found themselves behind Miami by a 10-3 margin early in the second quarter. No panic, no second-guessing, no scratchy throats. Just an emphatic two-play, 80-yard touchdown response that began to suck the life out of the Hurricanes.

You can go back to last November and find that the Buckeyes have now vanquished four top-15 opponents – No. 10 Penn State, No. 13 Iowa, No. 7 Oregon and No. 12 Miami – over their last six games.

It is often said that one of the hardest things in sports is learning how to win. After enduring some tough, tough lessons, it appears the Buckeyes have learned well.

OSU-OHIO TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Ohio University are squaring off for only the seventh time in history. Four of the previous six meetings occurred between 1899 and 1902 while the series resumed in 1999 with a 40-16 win by the Buckeyes. The most recent meeting was in 2008 and resulted in a 25-14 win for OSU.

** That 2008 game marked the 800th victory in Ohio State program history. Should Ohio be able to upset the Buckeyes tomorrow, it would mark the 500th victory in Bobcats football history.

** The game could set another new record for the Bobcats. When last they visited Ohio Stadium in 2008, the crowd of 105,002 was the largest road crowd in Ohio program history.

** After last week’s victory over Miami (Fla.), Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is now 32-4 with the Buckeyes against regular-season nonconference opponents. His record with the Buckeyes is 59-8 against unranked competition and he is now 34-4 in September.

** Ohio head coach Frank Solich is his sixth season with the Bobcats after spending six at his alma mater Nebraska from 1998-2003. His overall career record is 91-51 that includes a 33-32 mark in Athens.

** Tressel is 3-0 lifetime against Ohio. That includes victories in 1990 and 1992 when he was head coach at Youngstown State. Against teams currently in the Mid-American Conference, Tressel is 31-14-1 for his career. In addition to the perfect record against the Bobcats, he is 9-2-1 vs. Akron, 6-3 vs. Kent State, 4-2 vs. Buffalo, 3-1 against Bowling Green, 1-0 vs. Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois and Toledo, 1-1 against Central Michigan and Western Michigan, and 1-4 vs. Eastern Michigan.

** Solich is 0-1 lifetime against Ohio State and 5-4 overall against Big Ten teams. In addition to his record against the Buckeyes, Solich is 2-0 vs. Iowa, 1-0 against Illinois, 1-1 vs. Penn State and 1-2 against Northwestern.

** The Buckeyes own a 177-48-5 all-time record against Ohio schools and are 26-1 against current members of the Mid-American Conference. The only blemish on that record against the MAC is a 12-6 loss to Akron in a game played Sept. 15, 1894, and the Ohio State Fair.

** OSU hasn’t lost to an Ohio school since a 7-6 defeat to Oberlin in 1921. The closest any instate rival has come since was a 7-7 tie achieved by Wooster in 1924.

** The Bobcats are 6-32-1 all-time against Big Ten schools and that includes losses in 15 of their last 16 tries. Since 1974, the only time Ohio has tasted victory against a Big Ten opponent was a 23-17 win at Minnesota in 2000.

** Over the past two decades, Ohio hasn’t fared very well against ranked teams. In fact, the Bobcats are 0-14 since 1990 against ranked teams.

** How bad has kick coverage gotten for Ohio State. The Buckeyes rank 113th of 120 Division I-A teams in kickoff yardage defense, 109th in punt return yardage defense and 110th in net punting.

** Unfortunately, Ohio has proven quite proficient with kick returns in the recent past. They returned three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns last season and also blocked a punt that was smothered in the end zone for another score. All three punt returns were handled by senior receiver LaVon Brazill, who set a school record by taking one back 91 yards against Northern Illinois. Brazill has returned four punts for touchdowns during his career.

** Look for Ohio State to try and smother the Ohio running attack. The Bobcats are 5-21 under Solich when they are held under 100 yards on the ground.

** Since the beginning of the 2009 season, the Bobcats have scored 10 touchdowns on either defense or special teams. That includes a 38-yard return on a fumble recovery by senior cornerback Julian Posey in the season opener against Wofford. Posey is the older brother of Ohio State receiver DeVier Posey.

** Solich’s 33 victories with Ohio tie him with Jim Grobe (1995-2000) for the fourth highest total in program history. Don Peden (1924-46) tops the list with 121 victories followed by Bill Hess (108, 1958-77) and Carroll Widdoes (42, 1949-57). Widdoes, of course, succeeded the legendary Paul Brown as head coach at Ohio State and he fashioned a 16-2 mark with the Buckeyes in 1944 and ’45.

** With seven takeaways and no turnovers of their own so far this season, the Buckeyes are the No. 1 team in the nation at plus-7 in turnover margin.

** On the flip side of that coin is kick coverage, Going back to last year’s overtime victory over Iowa, the Buckeyes have allowed 801 kick return yards in their last five games. That includes surrendering an average of 16.4 yards on seven punt returns and 29.8 yards on 23 kickoff returns. To coin a phrase, that just ain’t getting it done.

** Cameron Heyward’s 80-yard interception return established a new family record. The longest play ever turned in by his father, the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, was a 75-yard pass reception in 1986 while he was a college star at Pittsburgh. The longest run of Ironhead’s NFL career was 73-yard touchdown romp as a New Orleans Saints rookie in 1988.

** OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor is nearing some pretty elite company. With 5,425 yards of total offense, he needs only 165 more to pass Archie Griffin (5,589, 1972-75) for eighth on the school’s career list in that category. Art Schlichter (1978-81) is the all-time leader in OSU history with 8,850.

** Pryor needs to throw for only 115 yards tomorrow to become the 10th quarterback in school history to amass 4,000 career passing yards. Schlichter also owns that record with 7,547.

** Pryor also ranks third among Ohio State quarterbacks in career rushing yardage with 1,540. He trails only Cornelius Greene (2,066, 1972-75) and Rex Kern (1,714, 1968-70).

** Ohio quarterback Boo Jackson is also scaling several career lists at his school. His 60.3 percent completion rate is currently the best in program history while his 21 touchdown passes are tied for fourth all-time. Jackson is also tied for eighth in completions with 226 and he ranks ninth in passing yards with 2,803.

** DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher are close to denting OSU’s all-time top 25 in receiving yardage. Chris Sanders (1992-94) currently occupies the No. 25 spot with 1,120 yards with Posey (1,091) and Sanzenbacher (1,081) nipping at his heels.

** Posey (79) and Sanzenbacher (75) are also closing in on 100 receptions for their careers. Only 13 players in program history have ever hit the century mark in career catches, led by David Boston (1996-98) with 191.

** By rushing for only 181 yards against Miami last week, the Buckeyes ended a streak of six consecutive regular-season games in which they had rushed for 200 or more yards.

** Ohio State will make its second Big Ten Network appearance of the young season when it takes on Ohio. Eric Collins will provide play-by-play, Chris Martin will have the color commentary and Charrisa Thompson will report from the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after noon Eastern.

** If you are not near a TV set, the game will be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channel 113 and XM channel 104.

** Next week, Ohio State will host another MAC team when Eastern Michigan makes its first-ever trip to the Horseshoe. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET and the game will be televised by ABC and ESPN using the reverse mirror effect.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Forty-four years ago today, Joe Paterno made his debut as head coach at Penn State. On Sept. 17, 1966, Paterno led the Nittany Lions to a 15-7 victory over Maryland in Happy Valley. The Terrapins, coached by Lou Saban, made a last-ditch effort to ruin Paterno’s debut but backup quarterback Phil Petry threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter. That victory was JoePa’s first of a Division I-A record 395 and counting.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Sept. 13, 1980, Louisiana-Lafayette managed to overcome an NCAA record-tying five lost fumbles in a single quarter to beat East Carolina, 27-21; on Sept. 14, 1991, San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk set an NCAA single-game record for freshmen by rushing for seven touchdowns during his team’s 55-34 win over Pacific; on Sept. 18, 1965, UTEP quarterback Billy Stevens established a new NCAA record for most total yards gained in a debut game with 483 yards in a 61-15 rout of North Texas; on Sept. 19, 1952, Duke took a 20-7 win over South Carolina in the inaugural game of the Atlantic Coast Conference; and Sept. 20, 1986, unranked Miami (Ohio) stunned eighth-ranked LSU, 21-12, in Baton Rouge. The Tigers committed seven turnovers in the game and had a punt blocked as Miami pushed its all-time record against SEC teams to an impressive 8-0-1.

** One other milestone moment occurring this week in college football history: On Sept. 15, 1973, Ohio State tailback Archie Griffin began his NCAA record streak of 31 consecutive games of rushing for 100 yards or more. Griffin had 129 yards as the Buckeyes rolled to a 56-7 victory over Minnesota in Ohio Stadium.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson ran for 258 yards and added 244 passing yards in his team’s 28-24 win over Notre Dame to become only the ninth quarterback in NCAA history to run and throw for 200 or more yards in the same game. The only other Big Ten quarterback to accomplish the feat was Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El, who ran for 210 yards and threw for 263 in his team’s 51-43 win over Minnesota in 2000.

** After two games, Robinson is the nation’s leading rusher with 455 yards, good for an average of 227.5 yards per game. The Michigan sophomore QB also leads the nation with 57 carries.

** The Big Ten also has the nation’s top quarterback in terms of pass efficiency. Northwestern junior QB Dan Persa ranks No. 1 with a lofty 212.1 rating.

** The nation’s top field goal kicker also resides in the Big Ten. Ohio State senior Devin Barclay has six three-pointers and ties him with Michael Taylor of Troy and Brandon McManus of Temple for most field goals so far this season.

** Last season, I got some hate mail from Alabama fans when I dared suggest Trent Richardson was a better running back than Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. I wonder what the ’Bama fans think now after Richardson has been in the cover of Sports Illustrated and ran for 144 yards in last week’s 24-3 win over Penn State.

** Richardson’s output marked the first time an opposing running back had cracked the century mark against the Nittany Lions in 17 games.

** Congratulations to Stanford. Its 35-0 win over UCLA marked the program’s first win at the Rose Bowl since 1996, its first road shutout since 1974 and its first shutout of the Bruins since 1941.

** How meaningless is time of possession? Judge for yourself. Minnesota leads the nation with an average of nearly 38½ minutes of possession in its two games. That is the same Minnesota team that dropped a 41-38 decision last week at home to Division I-AA South Dakota.

** Is the Pac-10 suddenly falling in love with defense? The usually offensive-minded conference currently boasts four teams among the nation’s top 11 in total defense. California is No. 1 followed by Arizona at No. 3, Stanford at No. 7 and Oregon at No. 11.

** The Labor Day evening game between Boise State and Virginia Tech on ESPN drew 9.89 million viewers, making it the second most-viewed college football game in network history. The most-viewed ESPN college football telecast was the USC-Ohio State game in 2009.

** Speaking of ESPN, the self-proclaimed worldwide leader recently announced it would not allow college football sideline reporter Jenn Brown to appear in an advertising campaign for Icehouse beer. According to an ESPN spokesman, the reason Brown can’t sell beer and nearly every other talking head on the network can hawk a variety of products is because Brown is a reporter who reports on college football and basketball and not a “personality.” Really? Someone should tell ESPN that its new “reporter” is a former model and host of such hard-hitting TV news shows as “The Wild Side” and “Bikini Destinations” not to mention the CMT reality show “I Want To Look Like a High School Cheerleader Again.” C’mon, ESPN. Who’s kidding who?

FEARLESS FORECAST

Things are getting monotonous here at the ol’ Forecast. For the second week in a row, we were 9-1 straight up which pushed the SU picks to 18-2 for the young season. It’s doubtful we can stay at 90 percent for the entire year, so we’ll crow while we can.

Against the spread, we got off to a rocky start when West Virginia needed a furious comeback to nip instate little brother Marshall in overtime. But we rebounded nicely on Saturday and finished with a very nice 7-3 week. That puts us at 11-7-2 ATS in the early going.

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Massachusetts at No. 20 Michigan: Michigan QB Denard Robinson is the talk of college football and rightfully so. The sophomore who doesn’t like to tie his shoelaces set a new school for total yardage in the season opener against Connecticut and then shattered that mark last Saturday with 502 in the Wolverines’ 27-24 win at Notre Dame. Can Robinson keep up his frenetic pace? He may have the biggest test to date this week. Although the Minutemen are in Division I-AA, they are 2-0 and are No. 16 in this week’s Football Championship Subdivision rankings. Still, UMass is 0-4 all-time against ranked I-A teams and Michigan certainly is on alert after what happened against Appalachian State three years ago … Michigan 37, Massachusetts 31. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Kent State at No. 22 Penn State: After getting their tails kicked last week by top-ranked Alabama, the Nittany Lions limp home for a get-well game. They haven’t lost a nonconference game at home since 2003 while the Golden Flashes have lost four straight to ranked Big Ten teams by an average of 36.5 points. This would be a good game for tailback Evan Royster to get untracked. JoePa’s bunch is going to need big things from Royster if they’re going to make any noise in the Big Ten this year, and so far the running back has only 72 yards and no touchdowns to show for his first two games. Things won’t get any easier for Royster this week. The Flashes boast the nation’s No. 1 rush defense. Unfortunately for the Flashes, they also rank 112th in rush offense … Penn State 28, Kent State 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

No. 1 Alabama at Duke: Nick Saban has a problem most coaches would like. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram makes his 2010 debut this week after knee surgery sidelined him for the Tide’s first two games. Saban’s problem? Dividing the carries between Ingram and Trent Richardson, who has led the Alabama offense with 210 yards and three touchdowns these past two weeks. In addition to Ingram, Saban also gets defensive star Marcell Dareus back from suspension this week. That’s bad news for Duke, whose porous defense puts pressure on the offense to outscore the opponent. If that approach didn’t work last week when the Blue Devils lost a 54-48 shootout with Wake Forest, it’s unlikely to work this week for the Dookies who are 0-10 all-time when playing No. 1 teams … Alabama 41, Duke 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Arizona State at No. 11 Wisconsin: If you wondered whatever happened to former Michigan quarterback Steven Threet, wonder no more. Threet transferred to Arizona State and leads the Sun Devils into Camp Randall Stadium this weekend. U-M was only 2-8 when Threet was the starter in 2008, but one of those wins was a 29-27 shocker over the then-No. 9 Badgers. He remains the dual-threat quarterback he was with the Wolverines with a much better supporting cast now. He is also throwing the ball with more authority, racking up 630 yards and five touchdowns during his team’s 2-0 start. Before you start thinking upset, though, be advised that ASU’s two victories to begin the season were against I-AA opponents and the Badgers are working on a 25-game winning streak over unranked opposition in Camp Randall … Wisconsin 31, Arizona State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

No. 18 USC at Minnesota: If someone says they have either of these teams figured out, they’re lying. USC has run hot and cold on both offense and defense so far this season, and the Golden Gophers allowed I-AA South Dakota to outscore them – at home – last week in a 41-38 loss. The Trojans are about as undisciplined as any team could be (24 penalties for 240 yards) and still be undefeated, but they still have plenty of star power. Sophomore QB Matt Barkley has completed 65.5 percent of his attempts so far for 459 yards, seven TDs and no picks, and he should be the difference-maker. Goldy can’t stop anyone through the air as evidenced last week when South Dakota piled up 352 passing yards … USC 38, Minnesota 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 8 Nebraska at Washington: Huskies quarterback Jake Locker can take a huge step toward legitimizing his Heisman Trophy candidacy this week. Trouble is Locker is facing one of the toughest defenses college football has to offer. The Cornhuskers have made things particularly difficult for opposing quarterbacks recently, including last year’s Big 12 championship game when they intercepted Heisman runner-up Colt McCoy three times and sacked the Texas QB nine times. And just in case you thought Nebraska’s defense would drop a few notches without star Ndamukong Suh, think again. The Black Shirts grabbed five interceptions last week during a 38-17 win over Idaho. Locker looks he’s in for a long day … Nebraska 31, Washington 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Baylor at No. 4 TCU: With all of the talk about Boise State and the nation championship race, it seems that everyone has forgotten about TCU. The Horned Frogs are still the No. 4 team in the country, have outscored their first two opponents by an 82-28 margin, and own a victory over Pac-10 member Oregon State. This week, they take on Baylor from the Big 12 in search of another win over a BCS conference member. These two Texas rivals have plenty of history, playing one another 105 times over the years. The series is deadlocked at 49-49-7 even though the Frogs have gotten the better of things in recent years. The Bears haven’t had a winning season since 1995 and they haven’t beaten a top-five team since 1985 … TCU 42, Baylor 17. (4:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 3 Boise State at Wyoming: Who was the biggest loser last week in college football? Boise State and the Broncos didn’t even play. Boise is trying to hang onto its lofty No. 3 ranking in the polls and thought a signature win over then-No. 10 Virginia Tech would do the trick. Then the Hokies lost to I-AA James Madison and the Broncos’ baby-soft schedule somehow got softer. This week, the cupcakes keep coming although the Cowboys seem to always give Boise fits. Back in 2006, the last time the Broncos visited Laramie, they barely escaped with a 17-10 win and that was followed by a 24-14 victory in Boise a year later. The thin air in Laramie (elevation: 7,165 feet) tends to give opponents trouble but the Broncos are just too good to allow that to become a factor … Boise State 38, Wyoming 7. (8 p.m. ET, CBSC)

No. 6 Texas at Texas Tech: Mack Brown has been ultra-successful as head coach of the Longhorns but he is a pedestrian 3-3 in Lubbock and all three losses have derailed potential Big 12 and/or national championship celebrations in Austin. The rosters of these teams have changed quite a bit from 2008 when Michael Crabtree made a highlight-reel touchdown reception to grab a 39-33 win for Double-T. One thing you can be reasonably sure of, however: plenty of points. The last eight meetings have produced 602 total points with the winner scoring 40 or more five times. A new quarterback for the Longhorns (Garrett Gilbert) and a new head coach at Tech (Tommy Tuberville) may keep score down – a little – but you can still expect an entertaining ballgame … Texas 37, Texas Tech 31. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN2)

No. 9 Iowa at No. 24 Arizona: The Hawkeyes have been percolating on both offense and defense so far this season, averaging 36 points and 457 yards on offense while allowing opponents only seven points and 216 yards. But would you believe the Wildcats are even better? Mike Stoops’ team averages 46.5 points and 503.5 yards on offense and gives its opponents only four points and 177 yards per game. This may come down to a battle of quarterbacks – Ricky Stanzi for Iowa (433 yards, 3 TDs) and Nick Foles for Arizona (574 yards, 3 TDs). The one who makes the fewest mistakes will likely emerge the winner … Iowa 23, Arizona 17. (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Ohio at No. 2 Ohio State: Some call this a Hangover Game. We prefer to think of it as a Statement Game. The Buckeyes can either come out and go through the motions or they can do what national championship caliber teams do – take control early, build a multi-touchdown lead by midway through the third quarter and cruise to victory with their second- and third-teamers carrying the fourth-quarter load. Two years ago, OSU played around with the Bobcats and trailed 14-12 heading into the final period before finally seizing a 26-14 win. One week later, the team got torched at USC and any title hopes went up in smoke. To be honest, Ohio has very little chance of winning the game. The Bobcats have never beaten Ohio State in six tries and they are 0-14 since 1990 against all ranked teams. Therefore, there is little doubt as to the outcome. The final score, however, is a different matter. Hangover from last week’s big win over Miami or statement going forward? Stay tuned … Ohio State 45, Ohio 7. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Massachusetts at Michigan (NL); Kent State at Penn State (-20½); Duke at Alabama (-23); Arizona State (+15½) at Wisconsin; USC (-11) at Minnesota; Nebraska (-3) at Washington; Baylor at TCU (-17); Boise State (-21) at Wyoming; Texas (-3) at Texas Tech; Iowa (-1½) at Arizona; Ohio at Ohio State (-30).

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

Only One Team In OSU-Miami Matchup Deserving Of Hype

If not for the game that determined the 2002 national championship, tomorrow’s game between Ohio State and Miami (Fla.) wouldn’t generate nearly as much hype.

Yes, it’s an early nonconference battle between two ranked teams. Yes, it features a pair of junior quarterbacks who have been mentioned in the early Heisman Trophy chatter. And, yes, it features two programs who annually square off against one another in the recruiting wars.

But the cold, hard truth is that much of the hype surrounding the game is manufactured not to mention undeserved since only one of tomorrow’s combatants is a bona fide national championship contender. The other is something of a paper tiger, a once-proud program trying to scratch its way back to elite status.

This is not your father’s Miami team, the one that captured four national titles in nine seasons from 1983-91. It isn’t even your older brother’s Hurricanes that rattled off 34 straight victories and won the 2001 national championship.

These ’Canes are about as relevant in the 2010 national championship discussion as Vanilla Ice is on the current Billboard charts. Anyone with the exception of blubbering buffoons and diehards in the Hurricane Nation (population: approx. 500) knows this Miami program is the same program with a 30-25 record over its last 55 games. That’s a .545 winning percentage. Over the same amount of games, Ohio State is 47-8, good for a winning percentage of .855. Which sounds more like contender and which sounds more like pretender?

What happened to the once-proud U, the program with enough strut and swagger for all of college football? Well, the genesis of its downfall can be traced back to that fateful January 2003 night in the Arizona desert when they were supposed to beat the Buckeyes by at least three touchdowns. Like Buster Douglas exposing Mike Tyson, Ohio State landed a haymaker that night and Miami’s glass jaw was on full display for all the world to see.

It didn’t happen overnight, though. The Hurricanes began the 2003 season ranked No. 3 and reeled off seven wins in a row to begin that campaign. That made Larry Coker an almost unbelievable 31-1 to begin his head coaching career, and there was talk of his team making an unprecedented run at a third straight BCS title game.

Then came back-to-back losses in early November at Virginia Tech and at home to Tennessee. The ’Canes still finished with a more-than-respectable 11-2 record and topped things off with a 16-14 win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

In 2004, cracks in the Miami armor began to appear. The team got as high as No. 4 in the national rankings but lost three of its last five regular-season games and finished 9-3. Another 9-3 record following in 2005, but the Hurricanes got blown out by LSU to the tune of 40-3 in the Peach Bowl.

Things became fully unraveled in 2006. Miami lost to Florida State in the opener and absorbed a 31-7 loss to Louisville two weeks later to start the season 1-2 for the first time in a decade. The ship was righted temporarily with four straight wins, but that streak was marred by an ugly brawl with Florida International that led to the suspensions of 31 players, including 13 Hurricanes.

Then came a four-game losing streak and the tragic death of senior defensive lineman Bryan Pata, who was shot and killed outside his apartment complex in early November. That came on the heels of several other off-the-field incidents that year involving Miami players – a couple of them involving firearms – and Coker was fired shortly after finishing a 6-6 regular season.

Rather than starting over from scratch, the Hurricanes decided to elevate Coker’s defensive coordinator Randy Shannon to head coach and the move appeared to pay dividends when Miami began the 2007 season with wins in four of its first five games, including a 34-17 upset of No. 16 Texas A&M.

But just as pundits were ready to proclaim the program back among the elite – something that has happened several times over of the past couple of years – the Hurricanes lost six of their last seven and finished 5-7, their first losing record since 1997. (Actually, you could make the care that the 2007 season was worse. That 1997 team was hamstrung by the effects of probation and the loss of 31 scholarships.)

Since then, Miami has been a hot-and-cold team. In 2008, the ’Canes started with a 2-3 mark that began rumblings about whether Shannon was the right man for the job. Those whispers hushed when the team turned things around and won five straight but started again when the team lost its last three, including a 24-17 loss to California in the Emerald Bowl, to finish 7-6.

Last year was the best season since the glory years when the Hurricanes posted a 9-3 mark that included wins over three ranked teams, but the performance was still uneven. Miami climbed to No. 9 in the polls in late September only to drop a 31-7 decision to Virginia Tech. Then the Hurricanes clawed their way back up the rankings and reached No. 8 in late October before proving they were again not ready for prime time by losing a 40-37 shootout in overtime to unranked Clemson.

The campaign ended with a 20-14 loss to Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl, a game not nearly as close as the final score would indicate. The Badgers dominated the Hurricanes, holding a 430-249 edge in total yardage and a lopsided 39:15-20:45 advantage in time of possession.

That left Miami with a 9-4 record, its best since 2003. The Hurricanes also finished No. 19 in the final writers’ and coaches’ polls, the first time the program had been ranked at the end of a season since 2005.

The U was back, right? That depends upon your definition of “back.” The simple truth is that Miami has not been a top-five team – a legitimate top-five team – since the end of the 2003 season. That’s not hype. That’s not homerism. That’s a fact.

If ESPN, Miami fans and current Hurricane players want to pretend this is a grudge match for revenge about what happened in the national championship game eight years ago – when the majority of players on both rosters were still in elementary school – so be it.

Real college football fans know the real story line – a game between one of the elite program against one that used to be.

OSU-MIAMI TIDBITS

** This will mark the fourth meeting all-time between Ohio State and Miami. The Buckeyes enjoy a 2-1 edge in the previous three games, including a 10-0 win in Ohio Stadium in 1977 and a 31-24 double overtime time in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl that served as the BCS National Championship Game. The Hurricanes’ lone win in the series was a 23-12 decision in the 1999 Kickoff Classic played at old Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is in his 10th season in Columbus and has a 95-21 record with the Buckeyes. That includes a 57-7 record in Ohio Stadium and a 36-13 mark against top 25 teams.

** Miami head coach Randy Shannon is in his fourth season in Coral Gables and owns a 22-17 record with the Hurricanes. That includes an 8-9 record on the road, a 4-6 mark against top 25 teams and a 1-3 record vs. top 10 teams.

** The Buckeyes head into the contest as the No. 2 ranked team in the nation. Miami has not beaten a top-five team since a 27-7 victory over third-ranked Virginia Tech in 2005. The game was played in Blacksburg.

** The above nugget is a bit misleading since the Hurricanes have played only one top five team since that win over Virginia Tech in ’05. They lost to No. 5 Florida in 2008 but that was only the second loss to a high-ranking opponent since 2000. Over the past decade, Miami boasts a 6-2 record against top five teams. The only other loss during that time period came to OSU in the ’03 Fiesta Bowl.

** The Buckeyes are 14-7 all-time against teams that are current members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. In addition to being 2-1 against the Hurricanes, OSU is 3-0 vs. Boston College, 2-0 vs. North Carolina State, 1-0 vs. Virginia, 3-1 against Duke and North Carolina, 0-1 vs. Clemson and 0-3 against Florida State. OSU has never played Georgia Tech, Maryland, Wake Forest or Virginia Tech.

** The Hurricanes are 26-16 all-time against teams currently in the Big Ten. In addition to being 1-2 against Ohio State, Miami is 4-0 vs. Iowa and Michigan State, 5-1 against Purdue, 2-2 against Northwestern and Wisconsin, 1-1 vs. Indiana and Michigan, and 6-7 against Penn State. The Hurricanes have never played Illinois or Minnesota. (They are also 5-5 vs. Nebraska, which joins the Big Ten next season.)

** With last week’s victory over Marshall, the Buckeyes are now 31-4 in regular-season nonconference games under Tressel.

** Last week’s win over Florida A&M gave the Hurricanes an 11-2 record in regular-season nonconference games under Shannon. Both losses came on the road against top-10 competition – a 51-13 defeat at No. 6 Oklahoma in 2007 and that 26-3 loss at No. 5 Florida in 2008.

** The ’Canes’ victory over Florida A&M produced 35 first-half points, their best first-half showing since scoring 35 in a 56-45 shootout win over Virginia Tech in 2002. Irony of ironies? Miami’s next opponent after that 35-point first half was Ohio State in the national title game.

** The Hurricanes have not allowed a punt return for a touchdown since Ricky Hall of Virginia Tech returned one 64 yards during a 43-10 Hokies win in 1999.

** Miami has not been shut out on the road since a 47-0 loss at Florida State on Oct. 4, 1997.

** Ohio State has not been shut out at home since a 6-0 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 9, 1982. The Buckeyes haven’t been shut out at home against a nonconference opponent since a 19-0 loss to Penn State on Sept. 16, 1978.

** Miami enjoys touting its propensity for producing NFL talent and that is evidenced by the fact that 11 former Hurricanes were selected for the 2010 Pro Bowl. The Buckeyes had just one alum – New York Jets center Nick Mangold – in the game. However, when it comes to producing All-Americans since 1985, Ohio State has a 52-47 edge over Miami.

** Congratulations to Tyler Moeller who earned Big Ten defensive player of the week honors following his performance against Marshall. He had a team-high seven tackles, including two for loss and the Buckeyes’ only sack. Moeller also forced a fumble and had the Jack Tatum Big Hit of the Week. Not bad for a guy’s first game back after suffering a life-threatening head injury last summer.

** Look for the Buckeyes to try and get Brandon Saine into the end zone against the Hurricanes. Whenever Saine has scored a touchdown during his career, OSU is a perfect 10-0.

** OSU is also 10-0 during Saine’s career when the senior co-captain rushes for at least 50 yards.

** Ohio State junior receiver DeVier Posey has a nice little streak going of 15 consecutive games in which he has caught at least one pass. He has a way to go, however, to get the school record. That has been held since 1982 by our old friend Gary Williams, who finished his career with at least one catch in 48 straight games.

** Thanks to Virginia Tech’s loss Monday night to Boise State, Tressel has now nosed in front of Hokies head coach Frank Beamer to become the second winningest active head coach with at least five years at the Division I-A level. Tressel has 230 career victories to 229 for Beamer. Topping the list, of course, is Penn State legend Joe Paterno, who inched closer to a career milestone last week against Youngstown State with win No. 395.

** The OSU-Miami game will be televised by ESPN with Brad Nessler providing play-by-play, Todd Blackledge doing color commentary and Holly Rowe on the sidelines. Kickoff is set for 3:40 p.m. Eastern.

** ESPN will also telecast the game in 3D. Joe Tessitore (play-by-play), 1987 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown (analysis) and Ray Bentley (sidelines) will have the call.

** If you are not near a TV set, the game will be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channel 122 and XM channel 143. The contest will also be webcast on ESPN3.com.

** Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast (CSS) will also show the game on a tape delay basis on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. ET and again Sept. 16 at noon ET.

** Next week, Ohio State will host instate rival Ohio University. The game will kickoff at noon ET and will mark the second appearance by the Buckeyes this season on the Big Ten Network.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Forty-four years ago today, Baylor shocked No. 7 Syracuse, taking a 35-12 victory in Waco in the 1966 season opener. Bears QB Terry Southall threw for four touchdowns in the game while tailback Floyd Little rushed for 102 yards and a score for the Orange. But a fumbled pitch to Little early in the game set the tone as Baylor scored to take a lead it would never relinquish.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Sept. 6, 1986, third-ranked Miami (Fla.) overcame a 15-9 second-half deficit for a 23-15 over Florida, ending the Gators’ 21-game home winning streak; on Sept. 8, 1984, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie kicked off his Heisman Trophy-winning season by throwing three touchdowns passes and rallying the Golden Eagles from a 31-14 deficit to a 38-31 upset over ninth-ranked Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham; on Sept. 9, 1972, UCLA quarterback Mark Harmon led the Bruins – who had won only two games the previous season – to a 20-17 upset win over preseason No. 1 Nebraska; on Sept. 11, 1982, Michigan State kicker Ralf Moisiejenko cranked a 61-yard field goal on his first career three-point attempt, but it wasn’t enough as Illinois dealt the Spartans a 23-16 loss in Champaign; on Sept. 12, 1987, Michigan committed seven turnovers in a 26-7 loss to Notre Dame, the first season-opening home loss ever for head coach Bo Schembechler; and on Sept. 13, 1986, Hayden Fry became the winningest coach in Iowa history when the Hawkeyes took a 43-7 win over Iowa State. The victory was No. 53 for Fry, who passed Forest Evashevski for most wins in school history. Fry was to coach 20 seasons in Iowa City and retired with 143 victories with the Hawkeyes.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Perhaps the Big Ten is returning to its roots. During the first week of the 2010 season, nine conference players rushed for 100 yards or more while no quarterbacks topped the 250-yard mark. The highest total for any Big Ten QB was Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State, who threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns during his team’s 45-7 beatdown of Marshall.

** Michigan sophomore Denard Robinson established a new school record for rushing yards by a quarterback when he weaved his way for 197 yards during a 30-10 win over Connecticut. Robinson added 186 yards through the air to become only the second Big Ten player ever to surpass 180 yards in both rushing and passing in the same game. The first was Indiana QB Antwaan Randle El, who rushed for 210 yards and threw for 263 in a 51-43 win over Minnesota in October 2000.

** The crowd of 113,090 at Michigan Stadium last weekend not only set new school and NCAA attendance records. It was the largest crowd to attend any football game ever played in the United States.

** Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan forced a fumble in his team’s 23-12 loss to Notre Dame. That gave Kerrigan 10 forced fumbles for his career and put him only three behind Simeon Rice of Illinois (1992-95) and Bob Sanders of Iowa (2000-03) for the all-time conference career record.

** Do you think Notre Dame fans were eager to witness the beginning of the Brian Kelly era? NBC’s rating for the Fighting Irish opener against Purdue was up 77 percent compared to last season’s opener under Charlie Weis.

** The next time – the very next time – some SEC buddy of yours starts yapping about how great his conference is from top to bottom, mention the fact that Division I-AA Jacksonville State erased a 31-10 halftime deficit last Saturday to beat Ole Miss, 49-48, in double overtime. Yes, that Ole Miss with former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli running the controls.

** And then there’s the Big East, which earned its “Big Least” nickname during the first weekend. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Connecticut were picked to finish 1-2-3 in the conference and each of them lost to unranked opponents by a combined 37 points.

** A couple of freshman quarterbacks had nice debuts last Saturday. Taylor Martinez of Nebraska scrambled 46 yards for a touchdown on his first career rush and led the Cornhuskers to a 49-10 win over Western Kentucky. And Penn State’s Robert Bolden completed 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns as the Nittany Lions rolled to a 44-14 win over Youngstown State.

** Incidentally, Bolden became the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener at Penn State since 1910.

** Can you guess the nation’s No. 1 team against the run? After one week of the 2010 regular season, it is Kent State. The Golden Flashes manhandled Division I-AA Murray State, 41-10, in their opener and threw the Racers for losses totaling 65 yards on 23 carries.

** Our condolences (again) to New Mexico. The Lobos lost their season opener by a 72-0 score to Oregon, marking a fifth year in a row that New Mexico has dropped its season opener. Even worse is the fact the Lobos have failed to score a touchdown in their season opener five years in a row. In those five games, UNM has been outscored 166-21.

** Hawaii will be racking up the frequent flyer miles this season. The Rainbows will visit Army, Colorado, Fresno State, Utah State, Boise State and New Mexico State this year, accounting for about 35,000 air miles. About one-third of that comes during the next two weeks. The team will fly to West Point, N.Y., for tomorrow’s game with Army, and then head to Las Vegas where they will stay most of next week. Then it’s on to Colorado for a game next week before flying home to complete a 12-day round trip of more than 11,000 miles.

** Did you know copies of my book, “The Die-Hard Fan’s Guide to Buckeye Football,” are still available. It is a guide that covers the OSU football program from its roots in the late 1800s and contains lots of historical data, stories, great photos (a lot of them never seen before), player rankings by decade and even a quiz to test your Buckeye football knowledge. If you would like an autographed copy, send me an e-mail at mrea@buckeyesports.com.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The Fearless Forecast got off to an excellent start this season, finishing 9-1 for the first official week. It would have been a perfect week had Connecticut not inexplicably run east and west rather than north and south and attacking Michigan’s pursuit defense. But we digress.

In terms of against the spread, Boise State came through against Virginia Tech on Monday night to get us even at 4-4-2. Not terrible but there is certainly room for improvement. Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 23 West Virginia at Marshall: Did Doc Holliday check the early part of the schedule when he agreed to become Marshall’s head coach? After traveling to Columbus to get a spanking from second-ranked Ohio State, his Thundering Herd limp home for a date with instate rival West Virginia. The Mountaineers have won the last four games in this series by an average of about 24 points and this one seems headed for the same outcome. WVA not only has a top-notch running back in Noel Devine, the Mountain Men seem to have found themselves a new quarterback in sophomore Geno Smith … West Virginia 31, Marshall 7. (7 p.m., ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Florida Atlantic vs. Michigan State: The Owls somehow escaped last week with a 32-31 win over UAB despite giving up 345 yards on the ground. It’s difficult to imagine how a repeat performance could be successful against the Spartans, who rushed for 297 yards in their 38-14 opening win over Western Michigan. MSU was sparked by 141 yards and two touchdowns from tailback Le’Veon Bell, who became the first freshman in school history to crack the century mark in his debut game. The old Owl, Howard Schnellenberger, could have a trick or two up his sleeve, and this is precisely the kind of opponent with which Michigan State has struggled in the past. But there really is no reason why Sparty shouldn’t win, especially within the friendly confines of Detroit’s Ford Field … Michigan State 31, Florida Atlantic 20. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)

San Jose State at No. 11 Wisconsin: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how the Badgers are going to try to win their 15th straight home opener. Run, run, run and then run some more. That formula worked pretty well in their 41-21 win last week at UNLV when John Clay and backups Montee Bell and James White combined for 261 yards and four scores. Meanwhile, SJSU surrendered 257 yards on the ground in their opener, a 48-3 wipeout courtesy of Alabama. If you think that was a one-game aberration, think again. Last year, the Spartans ranked 119th of 120 Division I-A teams in rush defense … Wisconsin 41, San Jose State 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Iowa State at No. 9 Iowa: The Cyclones have had trouble scoring points in recent years, ranking 103rd in the nation in scoring offense last season, 82nd the year before and 111th the year before that. That doesn’t bode well for a team going against the Hawkeyes, who sport one of the best defensive units in college football. The fact of the matter is that ISU hasn’t scored a touchdown in this series since 2006, and the offense committed three turnovers last week in a 27-10 win over Northern Illinois. That simply won’t get it done this week, especially for the Cyclones who have lost 36 consecutive road games to ranked opponents … Iowa 30, Iowa State 9. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Michigan at Notre Dame: Amid the bluff and bluster surrounding U-M’s win last week over Connecticut, let’s have a little history lesson. In last year’s opener, Michigan rolled to a 31-7 victory over Western Michigan during which quarterback Tate Forcier threw for 179 yards and three touchdowns in his debut as a starter. Sound familiar? One week later, Forcier led the Wolverines to a wild 38-34 win over Notre Dame that keyed a 4-0 start for Michigan. Then came losses in seven of the last eight games, and Forcier is now third on the QB depth chart and contemplating his future. There is no doubt the Wolverines featured a potent attack last week with Denard Robinson at the controls, but I would have liked to have seen how things turned out had UConn utilized the proper scheme against Rich Rodriguez’s new 3-3-5 defense. We should get a better handle on the direction of both teams after this one … Notre Dame 29, Michigan 27. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Wyoming at No. 5 Texas: The Cowboys travel to Austin with heavy hearts following a one-car accident Monday in Colorado that killed freshman linebacker Ruben Narcisse and injured three teammates. Even before the tragedy, it was difficult to see how Wyoming pulled the upset. In last Saturday’s season opener against Division I-AA Southern Utah, the Cowboys scored a 28-20 victory but rushed for only 36 yards on 25 attempts. Texas may still be a work in progress on offense with new quarterback Garrett Gilbert taking over for Colt McCoy, but the Longhorns’ defense should be able to alleviate most of Gilbert’s early growing pains … Texas 37, Wyoming 6. (7 p.m. ET, FSN)

No. 7 Oregon at Tennessee: The Ducks put on quite an offensive show last week with a school-record 720 yards during a 72-0 win over New Mexico. The Quack Attack draws a little tougher competition this week on Rocky Top, and the Volunteers are coming off their own coming-out party following a 50-0 victory over I-AA Tennessee-Martin. Unfortunately for first-year head coach Derek Dooley, the UT defense still has some holes and the Vols lost top receiver Gerald Jones last week with a broken hand. That, plus the fact Oregon gets LaMichael James back this week to its already high-flying offense, spells trouble for the hosts in renovated Neyland Stadium … Oregon 30, Tennessee 16. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 18 Penn State at No. 1 Alabama: Defending Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram (knee surgery) will be sidelined again but it’s doubtful the Tide will miss him much. Trent Richardson had 66 yards and two TDs last weekend against San Jose State before taking the entire second half off. And although ’Bama will be again without suspended star defensive end Marcell Dareus, it is difficult to imagine Penn State freshman QB Robert Bolden going into Tuscaloosa and having much success. One other thing: For all of his victories with the Nittany Lions, head coach Joe Paterno is 4-8 lifetime against No. 1-ranked teams and an identical 4-8 against Alabama … Alabama 38, Penn State 10. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Virginia at No. 16 USC: What kind of team does Lane Kiffin have? The jury is still out after last week’s win at Hawaii. On one hand, the offense scored 49 points; on the other, the defense gave up 36 points and 588 total yards. And there were 11 penalties called on USC for 100 yards. Perhaps getting home to the Coliseum will cure some of those defensive ailments since the Trojans have won 12 straight home openers. Virginia looks to be improved under first-year head coach Mike London, but it’s always tough to fly cross-country to play the Trojans … USC 41, Virginia 20. (10:30 p.m. ET, FSN)

No. 12 Miami (Fla.) at No. 2 Ohio State: The Buckeyes haven’t exactly distinguished themselves recently in marquee nonconference matchups. They split a two-game series with Texas and dropped two in a row to USC, including last year’s 18-15 decision in a contest Ohio State most definitely could have and should have won. This year, the Hurricanes come to Columbus with revenge on their minds for the game that determined the 2002 national championship, but I think it would take a perfect game from the Hurricanes to score the upset. If Terrelle Pryor throws accurately and sprinkles in a few runs, if the defensive line gets pressure against a suspect Miami offensive line, and if OSU keeps its special-teams mistakes to a minimum, I think the Buckeyes can win by a comfortable margin … Ohio State 34, Miami 17. (3:40 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: West Virginia (-12) at Marshall; Michigan State at Florida Atlantic (+28½); San Jose State (+38½) at Wisconsin; Iowa State at Iowa (-13); Michigan (+4) at Notre Dame; Wyoming at Texas (-28½); Oregon (-11½) at Tennessee; Penn State at Alabama (-11½); Virginia at USC (-18½); Miami-FL at Ohio State (-8½).

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

Tressel Hits OSU Milestone Tonight

When Jim Tressel leads his Ohio State team out of the tunnel for tonight’s opener against Marshall, he will embark upon what could be a record-setting season.

His Buckeyes are trying to equal the Big Ten record of six consecutive championships set by Ohio State teams from 1972 to 1977 while shooting for an unprecedented seventh straight victory over archrival Michigan. The proverbial icing on the cake would be playing for the national championship, making the program only the second in Bowl Championship Series history to play in four national title games.

The opening game also represents a personal milestone for Tressel as he becomes only the fourth man to begin a 10th season as head coach at Ohio State, joining John W. Wilce (1913-28), Woody Hayes (1951-78) and John Cooper (1988-2000).

Tressel seemed almost surprised when reminded he was approaching a decade as head coach of the Buckeyes.

“It’s gone pretty fast,” he said. “I guess that’s the way the world is today when we rush from one thing to another, but it doesn’t seem like 10 years. I will say this: It’s been a tremendous ride so far. We’ve had our ups and downs but we’ve also had a lot of fun.”

When Tressel was hired as Cooper’s successor in January 2001, he came to the Buckeyes after an ultra-successful 15-year stint as head coach at Youngstown State. He won 135 games and four Division I-AA national championships with the Penguins, and was named I-AA national coach of the year three times.

Before taking over the Youngstown State program, Tressel spent three seasons from 1983-85 as an assistant on Earle Bruce’s staff at Ohio State. That seemed the epitome of living a dream for an admitted lifelong Buckeye fan that grew up cheering for the team and listing national championship quarterback Rex Kern as a boyhood idol.

Still, Tressel admitted to some trepidation about taking over the OSU program and making it his own.

“I remember saying to my wife, ‘This is going to be a lot of work,’ ” he said. “Then I remember her saying to me, ‘Well, how long do you think it will last?’ and I said, ‘Wow, I don’t know. It would be a miracle if we could last 10 years.’ So, I guess it’s a miracle because here we are.”

In his previous nine seasons, Tressel has resurrected a program that had experienced a bit of a lull. Despite posting 43 victories and a pair of Big Ten co-championships between 1995 and 1998, the Buckeyes produced only a 14-10 record in Cooper’s final two seasons. Additionally, the team finished unranked in the national polls in both 1999 and 2000.

Coupled with the coach’s well-publicized 2-10-1 record against Michigan, a 3-8 bowl mark and rampant academic problems that threatened to strangle the program, university athletic director Andy Geiger fired Cooper following a 24-7 loss to South Carolina in the 2001 Outback Bowl.

The following days were ones of major transition as Tressel and his staff took over with only a few weeks remaining in recruiting season. Just a few days after his hiring, however, he forever endeared himself to OSU fans when he took the microphone during halftime of a men’s basketball game at Value City Arena and confidently stated, “I can assure you that you’ll be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community and especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor.”

The unranked Buckeyes made good on their new coach’s guarantee by handing No. 11 Michigan a 26-20 upset loss the following November, marking the first OSU victory in Ann Arbor since 1987.

Even with that win over the Wolverines, the 2001 season was not without its hardships. There was a lackluster 13-6 loss at UCLA, a game postponed one week due to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11. There were also late collapses against conference opponents Wisconsin and Penn State, and another Outback Bowl defeat at the hands of South Carolina.

But the trials and tribulations of that 2001 season seemed to serve as a springboard as the Buckeyes were a team of destiny the following year. They won all 14 games – including seven by a margin of seven points or less – and captured the program’s first consensus national championship in 34 years.

As Tressel begins his 10th season with the Buckeyes, how much longer does the man who will turn 58 in early December want to keep coaching?

No one seems to know.

“I don’t think he has a set time on how far he wants to go,” older brother and OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel said. “My opinion would be that when he feels all of the other outside things begin to weigh on him he might lose interest in coaching.

“But right now, I don’t see any indication of that. He is still just as involved as ever in what’s going on. He’s not standing in the back, watching his staff do the work. He’s still engaged, involved, out there going 100 mph like he always has.”

In agreement was OSU offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, who is beginning his 15th season as a member of  Tressel’s staff – five at Youngstown State and each of the previous nine with the Buckeyes.

“We’ve never had that kind of discussion,” Bollman said. “Never sat down and discussed how long it would last or how long any of us wants to go on. Go play. Those are the discussions we have. Just go play.”

One thing seems certain. Tressel has repeatedly said he has no desire to follow in the footsteps of Penn State’s Joe Paterno or former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden and coach into his 80s. Likewise, he seems to have no interest in approaching Hayes’ school record of 28 seasons as head coach.

When asked at Big Ten Media Days in early August when it was safe to begin comparing his record with the Buckeyes to the legendary Hayes, Tressel had a quick answer: “Never. First of all, I’m not going to be here for 28 years, so you can’t get to that level unless you’ve paid your dues that long.”

Perhaps 28 years is out of the question, but does the coach think he has another 10 seasons in him?

“Ten more? Maybe,” Tressel offered with a grin. “If it goes as quickly as the last 10.”

OSU-MARSHALL TIDBITS

** Ohio State kicks off its 121st season of intercollegiate football tonight against Marshall. The Buckeyes have won 31 consecutive home openers, not tasting defeat since a 19-0 loss to Penn State in the 1978 season opener.

** Tonight’s game marks the first weeknight home contest since the Buckeyes defeated Wyoming, 24-10, on Aug. 28, 1997. That game was also played on a Thursday.

** OSU head coach Jim Tressel has a career mark of 18-5-1 in season openers, including a perfect 9-0 with the Buckeyes. The last time he walked off the field with a loss in an opener was 1995 when Kent State handed Youngstown State a 17-14 defeat.

** The Thundering Herd are led by first-year coach John “Doc” Holliday. Holliday knows the feeling of victory over Ohio State. He was associate head coach as well as safeties coach on Urban Meyer’s staff when Florida rolled to a 42-14 victory over the Buckeyes in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.

** Under Tressel, the Buckeyes are 25-2 at Ohio Stadium vs. nonconference opponents. The only blemishes – three-point losses to No. 2 Texas in 2005 and No. 3 USC last season.

** Ohio State is working on a streak of 53 consecutive regular-season victories over unranked nonconference opposition. The last time the Buckeyes lost in the regular season to an unranked foe was a 42-10 loss at Pittsburgh in 1988.

** OSU also has a 54-game home winning streak against unranked nonconference opponents. You have to go all the way back to a 34-17 loss to Florida State in 1982 to find the last unranked nonconference team to beat the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe.

** Tressel has been extremely successful against first-year head coaches while at Ohio State. His record is 15-1 against rookies with the only loss coming last season in a 26-18 upset at Danny Hope-coached Purdue.

** Not only is Tressel successful against first-year head coaches, the games are usually not close. In those 15 wins, the Buckeyes’ average margin of victory is 25.3 points.

** Tressel is 3-3 lifetime against Marshall. He is 1-0 at Ohio State and posted a 2-3 mark against the Herd when he was at Youngstown State.

** Marshall has lost 10 consecutive road openers. The last time the team won a road opener was a 13-10 at Clemson in 1999. The Herd went on to record a perfect 13-0 record that year that included a Motor City Bowl victory over BYU.

** The Buckeyes are 11-1-1 all-time against teams currently in Conference USA. They are 7-1-1 against SMU (although the teams haven’t played since 1978), 2-0 vs. Rice and 1-0 against Houston and Marshall. The last time the Buckeyes and Herd got together wound up in a 24-21 victory for OSU in 2004. Mike Nugent kicked a 55-yard field goal on the final play of the game to account for the winning margin.

** Marshall is 0-5 all-time against teams from the Big Ten, including a 51-14 loss at Wisconsin in 2008. The Herd is 0-2 against Penn State and 0-1 vs. Michigan State and Ohio State.

** Second-ranked Ohio State is the second highest ranked team Marshall has ever played. The Thundering Herd faced top-ranked Florida to open the 2001 season and absorbed a 47-21 loss in Gainesville.

** The Herd is 3-13 all-time against ranked opponents and has lost eight in a row to ranked teams. Marshall last defeated a ranked opponent Nov. 20, 2003, when they went into Manhattan and upset No. 6 Kansas State, 27-20.

** The Buckeyes are 6-3 in home night games and 33-16 all-time in nighttime affairs. Under Tressel, OSU is 2-3 in Ohio Stadium at night and 15-10 overall.

** OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor is the first Big Ten player since 1999 to return the season after winning Rose Bowl MVP honors. Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne was the last and he went on to win the 1999 Heisman Trophy.

** Pryor is the first Big Ten quarterback since 1997 to return the season after being named Rose Bowl MVP. The last was Ohio State QB Joe Germaine.

** Ohio State is 391-107-20 in Ohio Stadium since the facility opened in 1922. That is a .774 winning percentage. All-time in Columbus, the team is 534-154-35, good for a winning percentage of .763.

** Over the past eight seasons, the Buckeyes have enjoyed a 52-5 record at home, good for a .912 winning percentage. Since 2002, that is the fifth best home mark in the Football Bowl Subdivision (better known as Division I-A). Only Boise State (50-0, 1.000), USC (45-3, .937), Oklahoma (54-5, .915) and TCU (43-4, .915) have done better over that time frame.

** OSU has recorded 10 wins or more in each of its last five seasons. No team in Big Ten history has ever had six straight seasons of at least 10 victories.

** The Buckeyes are the only FBS team to have finished in the top 10 of the final Associated Press writers’ poll in each of the last five years.

** Ohio State completed the 2000-09 decade as the winningest team in the Big Ten – by far. The Buckeyes were 102-25 during the decade; Wisconsin was a distant second at 86-43.

** Congratulations to Ohio State’s newly minted captains – offensive lineman Bryant Browning, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, linebacker Ross Homan, linebacker Brian Rolle, running back Brandon Saine and wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. The last time the Buckeyes had six captains was in 1982 when linebacker Glen Cobb, defensive lineman Jerome Foster, offensive lineman Joe Lukens, linebacker Marcus Marek, running back Tim Spencer and wide receiver Gary Williams helped lead the team to a 9-3 record that included a 24-14 win over Michigan and a 47-17 pounding of BYU in the Holiday Bowl.

** This season marks the 40th anniversary of the tragic airplane crash that decimated the Marshall football program. Seventy-five people, including head coach Rick Tolley, most of his staff and nearly all of the Thundering Herd roster, were killed Nov. 14, 1970, when the plane carrying them back to Huntington followed a 17-14 loss to East Carolina crashed into a hillside just short of the airport runway. Each year, Marshall conducts a Nov. 14 memorial service on campus and the Memorial Fountain’s water is shut off for the winter.

** The Big Ten Network will have the telecast of the tonight’s game. The announce team will feature Eric Collins with the play-by-play, Chris Martin with color analysis and Charissa Thompson with sideline reports. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

** Next week, Ohio State stays home to host Miami (Fla.) in one of the most eagerly anticipated matchups of the young season. The game will be telecast by ESPN with the unusual kickoff time of 3:40 p.m. Eastern.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** Thirty-two years today, preseason No. 1-ranked Alabama opened the 1978 season with a 20-3 win in Tuscaloosa over No. 10 Nebraska. The Crimson Tide would go on to win the first of back-to-back national championships, the final two in the legendary coaching career of Paul “Bear” Bryant.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Sept. 1, 1984, BYU began its march to the national championship with a 20-14 upset at No. 3 Pittsburgh. Cougars QB Robbie Bosco threw for 325 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown to Adam Haysbert with 1:37 remaining in the game. The victory vaulted BYU from unranked to No. 13 in the national polls. The contest was also the first regular-season college football game ever televised live by ESPN.

** Other noted games that happened during this week in history: On Sept. 2, 1989, Southern Mississippi quarterback Brett Favre threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns, including a 2-yard score with 23 seconds remaining, to lead the Golden Eagles to a 30-26 win over No. 6 Florida State; on Sept. 3, 1983, seventh-ranked Florida State barely escaped a season-opening loss, scoring a late touchdown to squeeze past unranked East Carolina, 47-46, in Tallahassee; on Sept. 4, 1993, Penn State scored its first Big Ten victory with a 38-20 win over Minnesota; and on Sept. 5, 1981, Lamar University engineered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, beating defending Southwest Conference champion Baylor, 18-17, in Waco. Lamar kicker Mike Marlow booted a 42-yard field goal with three seconds left to account for the winning points. It was the first time in history that a Division I-AA school had beaten a I-A school.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Congratulations to Georgia State, which plays its inaugural football game tonight against Shorter (Ga.) in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. The Panthers will be led by former Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky head coach Bill Curry. Four other schools also kick off their inaugural seasons in 2010 – Notre Dame (Ohio) College and Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) College of the NAIA, Lamar University in Texas (resurrecting its program after a 21-year lull) and Division III Pacific University (Ore.).

** Congratulations are also in order for Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, who recently signed a contract extension through 2016. Beamer enters the 2010 season with 229 career victories, tying him with Tressel for second-most among active Division I-A coaches. Joe Paterno of Penn State is atop that list, of course, with 394.

** Penn State running back Evan Royster heads into the 2010 season needing 481 yards to break Curt Warner’s school career rushing mark of 3,398 yards.

** If Texas Tech fans are lamenting the dismissal of former head coach Mike Leach, it hasn’t showed up at the box office. The Red Raiders established a new school record by selling 46,546 season tickets for new head coach Tommy Tuberville’s inaugural season.

** TCU also set a new school record for season ticket sales but the Horned Frogs have sold just north of 17,000. That is for a team that is 53-11 since 2005 and ranked No. 6 in this year’s preseason AP poll. (By the way, capacity for Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth is 44,008, and TCU recently announced a $105 million renovation project “to better enhance the football fan experience.”)

** Here is a little college football trivia to share with your friends. Name the only nine states without at least one Division I-A football team. The answer comes later.

** The late Merlin Olsen will be honored Oct. 23 during Utah State homecoming festivities when a larger-than-life-size bronze statue of the former two-time All-American tackle is unveiled. Additionally, the playing field inside Romney Stadium will be renamed Merlin Olsen Field. Olsen, who went on to a successful action career after a Hall of Fame career with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, died March 11 after a bout with cancer. He was 69.

** Among Olsen’s many life accomplishments was the fact he was the first NFF National Scholar-Athlete in history to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Olsen was inducted in 1980, two years before receiving his bronze bust in Canton.

** In case you wanted to know, the first BCS standings of the 2010 season will be announced Oct. 17.

** The nine states without at least one Football Bowl Subdivision school are Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Since it’s a new season, and a new decade for that matter, we thought we would retire the old crystal ball and get a new one. Part of the reasoning is because the old developed some cracks last year on the way to a 121-37 finish with the straight-up picks and a terrible 64-79-2 showing against the spread.

In case you’re keeping score at home, that makes the career numbers 1,403-426 straight up (76.7 percent) and still fairly well above water against the spread at 684-630-19 (good enough for 52.0 percent).

As I say every year, this is just for fun. I make more picks based on how I feel that what I actually know. Nevertheless, off we go for what we hope will be an outstanding season that has us all basking in the Arizona sun come January.

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAMES

No. 15 Pittsburgh at Utah: Lots of story lines here. The Panthers are coming off their best season under Dave Wannstadt and their first 10-win since 1981. They open 2010 on the road at Utah, looking to kick off its final season in the Mighty Mountain West before joining the Pac-10. This game will likely hinge on how well Pitt’s first-year starting QB Tino Sunseri adjusts to a hostile crowd. After all, the Utes have an 18-game win streak going in Rice-Eccles Stadium … Utah 27, Pittsburgh 17. (8:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 14 USC at Hawaii: Lost amid a scandal-filled summer is the fact that the Trojans still have a pretty good team. Matt Barkley returns for his sophomore season at quarterback, the running back corps remains loaded and the team should have a decent enough defense since the head coach’s father, Monte Kiffin, is the coordinator. The Rainbows have never fared well in this series, going 0-6 lifetime and surrendering 61 or more in each of the last three meetings. Hawaii will put some points on the board but there will also be some turnovers as the Trojans eagerly made an opening-night statement … USC 38, Hawaii 14. (11 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Marshall at No. 2 Ohio State: We have been talking about the next national championship since 2002 and the Buckeyes believe they have what it takes to make a run at the crystal football this season. There was no questioning the talent of last year’s team, but it had a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. How else could you explain the same team stumbling and bubbling its way against Purdue and then thoroughly throttling an excellent Oregon team in the Rose Bowl? Consistency is what usually wins national championships – that and nearly every break that goes your way – and we’ll see beginning tonight what we have in the 2010 Buckeyes. If they simply appear to go through the motions, the jury will still be out. If, on the other hand, they manhandle the Herd like they should, well then we may be on to something … Ohio State 41, Marshall 10. (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Miami (Ohio) at No. 4 Florida: Tim Tebow is gone, the offensive line is banged up and Urban Meyer is singing the blues. Not that anyone is paying much attention. John Brantley takes over at quarterback and speedster Jeff Demps returns at tailback boasting a school-record average of 7.6 yards per carry for his career. Meanwhile, the RedHawks have eight starters returning on offense, including QB Zac Dysert, but they were borderline inept on that side of the ball last season during a 1-11 campaign. The Gators have won 20 straight season-openers and their last 13 at Florida Field. Tough to see how Miami ends either of those streaks … Florida 45, Miami 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Connecticut at Michigan: The big question in Ann Arbor is whether Year Three of the Rich Rodriguez Era will be the final one. Rodriguez’s team still has question marks all over the field from starting quarterback to the installation of a 3-3-5 alignment on defense. The Wolverines used to make up for any deficiencies by intimidating opponents in the Big House. Well, the Big House is even bigger this year thanks to an extensive renovation program but Appalachian State broke the home-field mystique three years ago, so don’t expect the Huskies to play scared. In fact, with 16 starters returning from last year’s 8-5 team – and all five losses came by margins of four points or less – look for UConn to register the first Upset Special of the season … Connecticut 20, Michigan 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Purdue at Notre Dame: It’s a changing of the guard in South Bend as Brian Kelly takes over for underachieving Charlie Weis. There is no doubt Kelly will breathe new life into the Irish offense but what can he do about a defensive unit that surrendered points by the boatloads last year? Well, for starters Kelly brought defensive coordinator Bob Diaco with him from Cincinnati and the Bearcats were 10th in the nation last year in sacks. There will be growing pains, of course, but there will be with the Boilermakers, too. They break in new quarterback Robert Marve, the Miami (Fla.) transfer who missed all of last season following knee surgery, and need to find a replacement for star tailback Ralph Bolden, who tore his ACL in spring ball … Notre Dame 31, Purdue 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

San Jose State at No. 1 Alabama: The good news for the Spartans is that the Crimson Tide begin defense of their national championship without Heisman Trophy running back Mark Ingram, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday. The bad news? ’Bama still has Trent Richardson at tailback and some believe he’s even better than Ingram. Add that to the fact San Jose State finished 119th out of 120 Division I-A schools in rush defense last season – not to mention 118th in scoring offense – and you have the ingredients for a blowout … Alabama 38, San Jose State 0. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 24 Oregon State vs. No. 6 TCU: There aren’t too many teams coming off a 12-1 season that are looking for redemption. The Horned Frogs are one of those teams. Their 17-10 loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl left a sour taste in their mouths and the only way to get it out is to go undefeated again, earn another BCS bowl bid and win the game this time. The first hurdle to that goal will be getting past the Beavers in this game scheduled to be played in Cowboys Stadium. Oregon State boasts a high-flying offense led by brothers James and Jacquizz Rodgers, but TCU welcomes back 24 defensive lettermen from a year ago when the Frogs were the No. 1 team in the nation in total defense … TCU 34, Oregon State 20. (7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 12 Wisconsin at UNLV: The Badgers have had problems from time to time in this series, but it’s doubtful they will work up much of a sweat this time. With a potent offense led by QB Scott Tolzien and RB John Clay, Wisconsin should be able to play ball-control against a team that ranked 112th nationally against the run last year. The Badgers are also working on a streak of 24 straight wins over nonconference opponents in the regular season … Wisconsin 38, UNLV 20. (11 p.m. ET, Versus)

MONDAY’S GAME

No. 3 Boise State vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech: The marquee game of the opening weekend takes place at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., and features the season’s first matchup of top-10 teams. The Broncos are eager to prove that last year’s 13-0 season was no fluke. They have their sights set firmly on the national championship this year. Meanwhile, the Hokies are just trying to break from the gate cleanly. They have lost their last two openers, including last year’s 34-24 loss to Alabama. Virginia Tech would seem to have an advantage in the trenches, and playing at the home of the Washington Redskins is more of a home advantage for the Hokies. But Boise always seems to find a way to win games like these. Therefore … Boise State 24, Virginia Tech 21. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Pittsburgh at Utah (-3); USC (-22) at Hawaii; Marshall at Ohio State (-29); Miami-OH at Florida (-35); Connecticut (+3) at Michigan; Purdue at Notre Dame (-11); San Jose State at Alabama (-37½); Oregon State at TCU (-13); Wisconsin at UNLV (+21); Boise State (-2) vs. Virginia Tech.

Enjoy opening weekend, have a safe Labor Day holiday and we’ll see you next week.

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