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.
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:
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)
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.