It is always a source of amusement and bemusement to visit college football message boards and watch while fans rationalize their favorite team’s shortcomings.
Case in point: Penn State fans took particular exception to longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston’s piece on Wednesday that compared the independent Penn State teams of the 1970s and ’80s to Boise States and TCUs of today. You can read the column for yourself here but the gist of what Livingston wrote was that the pre-Big Ten Nittany Lions feasted on lesser opponents and padded their yearly records on soft schedules – the same knock Boise State and TCU face these days when trying to elbow their way into the national championship picture.
To say Nittany Lions fans disagreed with Livingston would be a gross understatement, which is fine in the overall scheme of things. After all, doesn’t almost everyone come to the defense of their favorite team? Where the Blue and White faithful lost me, though, was when they insisted their team would have competed for plenty of Big Ten championships throughout the 1970s and 1980s when Ohio State and Michigan won or shared 17 of the 20 league titles.
As the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once stated, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
First of all, if Penn State would have contended for all of those championships before joining the conference, why don’t the Nittany Lions have more Big Ten titles than the one outright championship they won in 1994 and the two crowns they shared in 2005 and 2008? Why have they had at least three league losses in 10 of their 17 previous seasons as a conference member?
Much of the argument about how the Nittany Lions would have fared in the Big Ten during the ’70s and ’80s came as a result of Penn State’s record against Ohio State before the Nittany Lions became a conference member. It was 6-2 although four of those victories came before 1966 when Joe Paterno took over as head coach.
The cold, hard truth for Nittany Lions fans is that Paterno has never had much success against Ohio State (he is 8-13 vs. the Buckeyes all-time) and that is especially true when he brings his team to Ohio Stadium. JoePa has rolled into Columbus on 10 previous occasions – often times with one of the nation’s top-ranked teams – and rolled back out again eight times a loser. That includes a 1-7 record as a member of the Big Ten, eight games during which his team has been outscored by 139 points.
Can’t believe things have been that lopsided in Columbus for Paterno? Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.
1993 – On a cold, snowy late October afternoon, the Buckeyes welcomed JoePa to the Big Ten by rolling to a 24-6 win. OSU piled up 380 yards of total offense, led by running back Raymont Harris, who exploded for 151 yards. It was a virtuoso performance by Ohio State on defense as well. The Buckeyes snagged four interceptions and held the Lions without a touchdown for the first time that season.
1996 – Penn State came to Columbus with a perfect 5-0 record and the No. 4 ranking in the country and limped home on the business end of a 38-7 verdict. QBs Stan Jackson and Joe Germaine each threw for two touchdowns as the Buckeyes had 565 yards of total offense. Tailback Pepe Pearson ran for 141 yards on 28 carries while backups Joe Montgomery and Jermon Jackson combined for 138 more. The Nits, who managed only 68 yards rushing as a team, scored on their final possession to avoid their first shutout in nine years.
1998 – The seventh-ranked Lions brought cold and rainy weather with them to the Horseshoe and actually had a 3-0 lead before the Buckeyes stormed away with a 28-9 win. OSU scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the first half – the first when linebacker Jerry Rudzinski recovered a fumble in the end zone and the second when Germaine connected with tailback Michael Wiley for a 20-yard tally. Again, the Ohio State defense was able to hold Penn State in check. The Lions had only nine first downs and 181 yards of total offense, and 34 of their 59 offensive plays either went for a loss or no gain.
2000 – Thunder and lightning delayed kickoff for about 20 minutes and Penn State would probably have been better off had officials postponed the game indefinitely. Ohio State rolled to a 45-6 blowout, the largest defeat for the Lions since Paterno had been head coach. The Buckeyes had 397 yards of total offense, led by quarterback Steve Bellisari, who completed 10 of 17 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown. Penn State committed three turnovers, including a fourth-quarter fumble that OSU defensive end Mike Collins scooped up and returned 11 yards for a touchdown.
2002 – As most games were during the national championship run, this was a nail-biter as Penn State held a 7-3 halftime lead. OSU’s fortunes turned on a third-quarter interception by Chris Gamble that he returned 40 yards for a touchdown. Mike Nugent later added a 37-yard field goal to account for the final 13-7 score. The Ohio State defense clamped down on the Lions once again, holding them to only 179 total yards. Tailback Larry Johnson, who was coming off a 257-yard performance the week before against Northwestern, was held to a season-low 66 yards against the Buckeyes.
2004 – First-quarter touchdowns on special teams and defense staked Ohio State to an early lead in what would eventually become a 21-10 win. Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt 67 yards to get things started and Tyler Everett returned an interception 24 yards to give the Buckeyes a quick 14-0 lead. OSU head coach Jim Tressel kept things pretty simple for his relatively new starting quarterback Troy Smith while the defense forced three Penn State fumbles and grabbed two interceptions.
2006 – The Nittany Lions held a 3-0 lead at halftime before the Buckeyes got things in gear in the second half for a 28-6 victory. Antonio Pittman’s 12-yard touchdown run finally got OSU on the board in the third quarter before a trio of fourth-quarter TDs – including interception returns by Malcolm Jenkins and Antonio Smith – turned a close game into a rout.
2008 – Penn State finally broke through with a 13-6 victory in a game that featured very little offensive firepower. The teams traded second-quarter field goals for a 3-3 halftime score, and then Ohio State forged ahead 6-3 on a 36-yard field goal by Aaron Pettrey with 3:19 remaining in the third quarter. The game hinged on a fumble by Terrelle Pryor midway through the fourth quarter that set up the winning touchdown for Penn State. Ironically, Pryor had only one man to beat for what would have been an OSU touchdown but that man managed to punch the ball out of the freshman quarterback’s grasp.
In addition to so many losses, the Horseshoe has been Penn State’s personal House of Horrors on several other levels. It was where defensive back Adam Taliaferro was injured in 2000 (not permanently, thank goodness) and where JoePa had his infamous potty break in ’06.
For whatever reason, the Nits typically play tight in Ohio Stadium, allowing the OSU defense to create turnovers and providing plenty of scoring opportunities for the Buckeyes. With a former walk-on as the starting quarterback, that would appear to be a plausible scenario for what will transpire tomorrow afternoon.
Then again, maybe the Nittany Lions broke the Horseshoe’s spell with last year’s win – at least that’s what Penn State fans think.
OSU-PENN STATE TIDBITS
** This marks the 26th overall meeting between Ohio State and Penn State, and the Buckeyes enjoy a slight 13-12 advantage. OSU has an 8-6 overall edge in games played at Ohio Stadium, but a lopsided 7-1 advantage in games played at the Horseshoe since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993.
** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 6-3 against Penn State. That includes a 3-1 record in Columbus.
** Penn State head coach Joe Paterno is 8-13 all-time against Ohio State. That includes a 2-8 record against the Buckeyes in Columbus.
** Both coaches are noted for getting their teams to peak at the right times. Tressel is 26-4 in November games at Ohio State (a .867 winning percentage) while Paterno is 115-34-2 (.768) during the month.
** Paterno has a 32-16 record following an open date. That includes a 14-5 mark since 1994.
** Tressel is not as successful coming off an open week. The Buckeyes are only 2-4 during the Tressel era following off weeks. Only one of those six games was played at Ohio Stadium, however, and OSU won that one in 2002 by a 51-7 score over Kent State.
** Five of the last nine games in this series have been determined by seven points or less. However, there have been some notable blowouts over the years. Penn State rolled to a 63-14 win at Beaver Stadium in 1994, and Ohio State returned the favor six years later in Ohio Stadium with a 45-6 wipeout. Throughout the overall series, the average margin of victory for OSU is 15.4 points. When the Nittany Lions win, their average margin is 15.1 points.
** Several series trends would seem to favor Ohio State. The higher ranked team has won 17 of the last 19 meetings and the home team has won 12 of the 17 games played since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten. The Buckeyes enter tomorrow’s game ranked No. 7 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, No. 8 in the Associated Press writers’ poll and No. 9 in the BCS rankings. Penn State is unranked.
** The game will be only the second-ever regular-season matchup between coaches who have combined for 600-plus career wins. Paterno (400) and Tressel (237) currently total 637 career victories. That breaks the record set last year when the two coaches squared off with 616 career wins.
** An interesting fact: Paterno has 400 career victories at Penn State while the other 10 Big Ten head coaches have 367 combined at their schools.
** Last Saturday’s victory over Northwestern not only marked win No. 400 in Paterno’s long career, it was also his 89th Big Ten victory. He needs one more to become only the fifth conference coach with 90 or more league wins. The others are Woody Hayes of Ohio State (152, 1951-78), Bo Schembechler of Michigan (143, 1969-89), Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago (116, 1896-1932) and Hayden Fry of Iowa (98, 1979-98).
** With the exception of Ohio State, Penn State has had its way with Ohio teams over the years. The Nittany Lions are 20-2-1 against other Ohio schools with the lone blemishes a 24-6 loss to Toledo in 2000, a 14-3 loss to Cincinnati in 1983 and an 8-8 tie at Western Reserve in 1895.
** Penn State is traditionally one of the least penalized teams in the nation and that is true again in 2010. The Nittany Lions are No. 2 nationally this week with only 27.8 penalty yards per game. In its last four games played against the Buckeyes, Penn State has incurred only nine penalties for 60 yards. During the same four games, Ohio State has been flagged 23 times for 221 yards.
** Some of the numbers associated with Paterno’s longevity at Penn State are astounding. Since he became head coach in 1966, there have been 864 head coaching changes in Division I-A football. Counting his time as an assistant, Paterno has been on the sidelines for 688 games in Happy Valley. He is the all-time leader in bowl game appearances (36) and bowl victories (24), and there have been 1,050 players earn varsity letters during JoePa’s tenure as head coach.
** By taking on the Rose Bowl champion Buckeyes, Penn State becomes the first team ever to play road contests against three winners of BCS bowls from the previous season. The Nittany Lions have already played at Alabama, which defeated Texas by a 37-21 score in the national title game, and at Iowa, which took a 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Penn State lost to both the Crimson Tide and Hawkeyes earlier this season by identical 24-3 scores.
** To say the Ohio State and Penn State programs are traditional powers would be a bit of an understatement. Going back six decades to 1950, OSU is the winningest program in college football with a 505-155-15 record, good for a .759 winning percentage. Oklahoma is second at 526-164-17 (.755) and Penn State is third at 504-180-7 (.733).
** Something has to give tomorrow. Ohio State has won eight of its last 10 conference home games while Penn State has won eight of its last 10 conference road games.
** The game pits two of the nation’s best defenses in getting the opponent off the field. Ohio State ranks No. 4 nationally in third-down efficiency defense while Penn State is No. 7. OSU opponents have converted only 33 of 113 third downs (29.2 percent) while the Nittany Lions have allowed only 34 of 113 (30.1).
** As so often happens in rivalry games, the outcome could hinge on turnovers and Ohio State would appear to have the edge in that department. The Buckeyes lead the country in turnover margin with an average of plus-1.44 per game. The Nittany Lions are way down in a tie for 67th with their average of minus-0.22 per contest. Overall, OSU is plus-13 for the season in turnovers while PSU is minus-2.
** Penn State senior tailback Evan Royster is his school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,652 yards. Earlier this season, he motored past Curt Warner (1979-82), who had 3,398 yards during his career with the Nittany Lions. Royster still has some work to do in terms of rushing touchdowns, however. He has 27, which ranks seventh all-time on the Penn State record books. Lydell Mitchell (1969-71) is the school’s career leader in that category with 38.
** After allowing only one opposing player to crack the 100-yard mark in a span of 22 games, the Nittany Lions have surrendered 100-yard efforts in each of their last four contests. Ironically, three of the four games have resulted in Penn State victories. Illinois tailback Mikel Leshoure totaled 119 yards during his team’s 33-13 win over PSU on Oct. 9, and then Minnesota tailback DeLeon Eskridge had 111 yards against the Nittany Lions on Oct. 24 but his Golden Gophers lost a 33-21 decision. A week later, Michigan QB Denard Robinson rushed for 191 yards and three TDs during his team’s 41-31 loss, and last week it was Northwestern QB Dan Persa, who scrambled for 109 yards and two touchdowns during Penn State’s 35-21 come-from-behind win.
** OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor continues his assault on the school record books. He has moved into second place in career total offense with 7,275 yards, behind only Art Schlichter (8,850, 1981), and has tied Schlichter for fourth place all-time with 50 touchdown passes. Only Bobby Hoying (57, 1992-95), Joe Germaine (56, 1996-98) and Troy Smith (54, 2003-06) have more.
** Pryor is also nearing the top five in career passing yardage at OSU. He currently occupies eighth place with 5,402 yards and needs 168 more to pass Mike Tomczak (5,569, 1981-84) for seventh place. Steve Bellisari (5,878, 1998-2001) is currently fifth while Smith (5,720) is sixth.
** Additionally, Pryor needs only three more passing yards to reach 2,000 for the second straight season. Only five Ohio State QBs have had back-to-back seasons throwing for 2,000 yards or more – Jim Karsatos (1985-86), Greg Frey (1988-90), Hoying (1994-95), Craig Krenzel (2002-03) and Smith (2005-06).
** Counting conference games only, Ohio State junior tailback Dan “Boom” Herron ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing at 88.4 yards per game. Only Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (132.2) and Iowa tailback Adam Robinson (105.2) have better league averages.
** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The game will be televised using the ABC/ESPN reverse mirror meaning viewers will be able to watch the game either on their local ABC station or on ESPN. Here is your coverage map. Disney will employ its primetime announce crew for the contest – veteran play-by-play man Brent Musberger, color analyst Kirk Herbstreit and sideline spokesmodel Erin Andrews.
** ESPN College Gameday with Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard, Herbstreit and Andrews will return to Columbus tomorrow, marking its 13th visit to the OSU campus. The show kicks off at 9 a.m. Eastern on ESPNU before switching to ESPN at 10. The Buckeyes are 9-3 following the pregame show’s previous trips to Columbus.
** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 91 and 125 as well as XM radio channels 102 and 196.
** Next week’s game at Iowa will kick off from Kinnick Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. That game will be televised by ABC on a regional basis.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY
** On Nov. 10, 1984, backup quarterback Frank Reich of unranked Maryland engineered the biggest comeback in NCAA history at the time, leading the Terrapins from a 31-0 halftime deficit to a 42-40 victory over Miami (Fla.) in the Orange Bowl.
** On Nov. 19, 2007, Navy and North Texas combined to score the most points in a regulation college football game when the Midshipmen outlasted the Mean Green, 74-62, in Denton, Texas. North Texas QB Giovanni Vizza threw for 478 yards and eight touchdowns while Navy rushed for 572 yards and scored eight TDs on the ground.
** On Nov. 11, 1939, Texas Tech and Centenary combined for an NCAA-record 77 punts in a rain-soaked, 0-0 tie in Shreveport, La.
** On Nov. 11, 1955, at a campus pep rally, Texas cheerleader Harley Clark became the first to raise his forefinger and pinky pointed upward and his middle two fingers curled under this thumb – the “Hook ‘Em Horns” sign.
** On Nov. 11, 1989, Duke scored a 35-26 upset of North Carolina State despite Wolfpack QB Shane Montgomery throwing an NCAA-record 73 passes for a school-record 535 yards.
** On Nov. 12, 1966, quarterback Bob Griese led Purdue to a 16-0 victory at Minnesota and secured the Boilermakers’ first-ever berth in the Rose Bowl.
** On Nov. 12, 1983, UCLA needed only a tie against Arizona to secure a Rose Bowl bid, but kicker John Lee’s field-goal attempt sailed wide as time expired and the Bruins dropped a 27-24 decision.
** On Nov. 13, 1982, Southern Mississippi engineered a 38-29 upset of Alabama, ending the Crimson Tide’s 57-game home win streak. The Golden Eagles were led by quarterback Reggie Collins, who rushed for 88 yards and three touchdowns, while tailback Sam Dejarnette added 153 yards and two scores. Before the loss to Southern Miss, Alabama hadn’t tasted defeat in Tuscaloosa since 1963.
** On Nov. 13, 1993, ESPN’s College Gameday made its first-ever on-campus broadcast. The popular college football pregame show debuted in 1987, but it wasn’t until six years later that GameDay got out of the studio and hit the road. The first telecast was from South Bend to cover the 1-vs-2 matchup between Florida State and Notre Dame, and featured host Chris Fowler and analysts Lee Corso and Craig James. The result was an upset victory by the second-ranked Irish, who took a 31-24 win over the No. 1 Seminoles. (Corso picked Florida State to win, by the way.) The Seminoles managed to rebound from the loss, going on to beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and capture the national championship.
** On Nov. 14, 1959, No. 12 Georgia came from behind for a 14-13 victory over eighth-ranked Auburn and the Bulldogs clinched their first SEC championship in a decade. College and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton led the Bulldogs to the win, connecting with split end Bill Herron for a touchdown pass in the final 30 seconds of the contest.
** On Nov. 14, 1970, a charter jet carrying Marshall University’s football team crashed near Huntington, W.Va., on a return trip from a game with East Carolina. Everyone on board, including head coach Rick Tolley, team members, coaching staff and several Thundering Herd boosters, died in the single worst air tragedy in college sports history.
** On Nov. 14, 1992, Iowa State stunned seventh-ranked Nebraska with a 19-10 upset in Ames. Third-string quarterback Marv Seiler, starting only because it was Senior Day, bolted 78 yards to set up the game-clinching touchdown for the Cyclones.
** On Nov. 14, 1998, second-ranked Kansas State took a 40-30 win over No. 11 Nebraska to clinch the Big 12 North title, the first football championship of any kind for the Wildcats since 1934.
** On Nov. 15, 1890, Minnesota and Wisconsin squared off for the first time in what has become the most-played series in college football history. The Gophers took a 63-0 victory in Minneapolis that day, and the two teams have played one another every year since.
** On Nov. 15, 1879, Princeton unveiled the novel approach of using blockers to help the ball-carrier advance the ball down the field. The new angle evidently was successful as the Tigers scored a 1-0 victory over Harvard. (In those days, you had to score four touchdowns to tally a single point.)
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** The number of undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level has shrunk to only four: Auburn, Boise State, Oregon and TCU.
** Wouldn’t a national championship game between Oregon and TCU be the best matchup? After all, the Ducks own the nation’s No. 1 offense while the Horned Frogs boast the nation’s No. 1 defense. And before you begin denigrating TCU’s schedule, understand that the teams it has beaten have a combined record of 44-50 this year. Meanwhile, the Ducks have beaten teams with a combined record of 32-50. (Of course, if you want to play that kind of game, Auburn blows both Oregon and TCU out of the water. The Tigers have beaten teams with a combined mark of 55-36.)
** When TCU thumped Utah last weekend to the tune of a 47-7 beatdown, it represented the Utes’ worst home loss since a 50-10 loss to Colorado State in 1989. Utah went 4-8 that season under head coach Jim Fassel. The team hasn’t lost at home by more than 40 points since a 56-6 loss to BYU in 1980.
** What do each of these schools have in common: Oregon, Auburn, Oklahoma State, Nevada, Arkansas State, Duke, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Tulsa, BYU, Navy, Tennessee and Kansas. Each one of them – all 15 – topped the 50-point mark last week. Auburn, Nevada, Michigan, Illinois and Tulsa all topped 60 and Navy went over the 70-point mark, rolling to a 76-35 win over East Carolina. That set a modern single-game record for scoring by the Midshipmen, and was their biggest output since a 121-0 win over Colby College (Maine) in 1919.
** Michigan’s 67-65 triple overtime game against Illinois set a Big Ten record for most points scored in a single game. The previous high-scoring conference game was in 1902 and featured 119 points – all by Michigan in a 119-0 victory over instate rival Michigan State (then known as Michigan Agricultural College). The last Division I-A game to produce more points than the Wolverines and Fighting Illini was on Nov. 10, 2007, when Navy outlasted North Texas by a 74-62 final in regulation.
** The previous Big Ten record for points scored in a single game was 115 set Oct. 9, 1995, when Minnesota outlasted Purdue by a 59-56 score.
** Last year, Michigan and Illinois met once on the basketball court. The final score: Illinois 51, Michigan 44.
** Kansas came back from a 45-17 deficit with less than 12 minutes to play and somehow pulled off a 52-45 win over Colorado. The Jayhawks scored on a 13-yard run with 11:05 remaining and followed by recovering the onside kick, throwing a 38-yard touchdown pass, returning a fumble 28 yards for a TD, intercepting a pass, running 6 yards for a score, forcing a punt and then running 28 yards for the winning touchdown with 52 seconds remaining. Freshman running back James Sims scored all three rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter for Kansas, finishing the game with 123 yards and four scores.
** One man’s pleasure is another man’s pain. While first-year Kansas head coach Turner Gill was celebrating that big comeback victory, it was the proverbial straw that broke Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins’ back. After his team blew that 28-point lead – the largest collapse in the 121-year history of the CU football program – Hawkins was fired Tuesday. He posted a 19-39 record with the Buffaloes after being lured from Boise State in 2006.
** During last week’s 35-21 win over Northwestern, Penn State got 134 yards on the ground from senior tailback Evan Royster and another 131 from freshman Silas Redd. It marked the first time the Nittany Lions had a pair of running back rush for 130 yards or more in the same game since Lydell Mitchell (221) and Franco Harris (145) accomplished the feat during a 44-14 win at Iowa in 1971.
** Congratulations to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who chalked up career victory No. 100 last weekend when his Hawkeyes came from behind for an 18-13 win over Indiana. Ferentz has 88 wins at Iowa to go along with the 12 he recorded during a three-year stint at Division I-AA Maine from 1990-92.
** Congratulations also to New Mexico, which snapped its nine-game losing streak last weekend with a 34-31 victory over Wyoming. The Lobos overcame a 24-17 deficit early in the fourth quarter and got a 38-yard winning field goal from junior kicker James Aho as time expired. That leaves Akron with the nation’s longest current losing streak. The Zips ran their drought to 10 consecutive games last Saturday, dropping a 37-30 decision in double overtime to Ball State.
** Conference realignments and schools jumping leagues means the end of some traditional rivalries. Tomorrow, Kansas and Nebraska will meet for the 105th consecutive season, the nation’s longest uninterrupted streak of meetings in college football. That streak ends next year when the Cornhuskers move to the Big Ten. The Jayhawks and Huskers have met 116 times overall, and that is third only to Minnesota-Wisconsin (119) and Kansas-Missouri (118).
** Another bowl game has changed its name, this time before its inaugural game has even been played. The Dallas Football Classic is now to be known as the TicketCity Bowl, and it will be played Jan. 1 at the Cotton Bowl. (As you may or may not know, the Cotton Bowl is no longer played at the Cotton Bowl. It’s now played at Cowboys Stadium.) Teams from the Big Ten and Big 12 are scheduled to participate in the first-year TicketCity Bowl.
** If you are keeping score at home, the Big Ten has eight bowl affiliations – Rose, Capital One (ex-Citrus, ex-Tangerine), Outback (ex-Hall of Fame), Gator, Insight (ex-Copper), Texas (ex-Houston), TicketCity (ex-Dallas Football Classic) and Little Caesar’s (ex-Motor City).
The Fearless Forecast enjoyed another prosperous week, missing only the Texas A&M upset of Oklahoma and the pinball wizardry between Michigan and Illinois. Another 8-2 finish pushed the yearly record to 89-16 in straight up picks.
It was also another winning week against the spread. We went a sparkling 7-3 to push the ATS record to 65-36-4 for the season. If things keep going this way, we’ll be moving Forecast World Headquarters to Las Vegas.
Before we get too full of ourselves, though, here are the games we’ll check in on this week.
No. 4 Boise State at Idaho: As instate rivalries go, this one doesn’t exactly measure up to the Civil War or the Iron Bowl. That’s probably because the Broncos have won 11 straight in the series and routinely blow out the Vandals. It is likely to be that way again this year since Boise State is coming off a 42-7 victory over Hawaii, a game during which it racked up a school-record 732 total yards. Two weeks ago, Idaho gave up 494 yards during a 45-10 loss to Hawaii. After being passed by TCU in the BCS standings, Boise State probably knows by now it is the longest of shots to play for the national championship. But that probably won’t prevent the Broncos from trying to impress any remaining undecided voters … Boise State 52, Idaho 7. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Indiana at No. 7 Wisconsin: The Hoosiers nearly caught Iowa napping last week with the Hawkeyes coming off an emotional win over Michigan State. This week, IU tries its luck against Bucky, who may be guilty of looking ahead to a game at Michigan that could have a Rose Bowl bid hanging in the balance. The Hoosiers have lost 19 of their last 21 Big Ten games, including the last 10 in a row, but they seem to be getting close to ending that drought. They lost a 20-17 decision to Northwestern two weeks ago and that 18-13 game to Iowa last week when receiver Damarlo Belcher failed to hang onto a touchdown pass with 28 seconds remaining. Wisconsin will likely be without leading rusher John Clay (knee), but the Badgers have plenty in reserve with Montee Ball and freshman James White operating against an IU defense that ranks ninth in the conference … Wisconsin 31, Indiana 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)
No. 14 Utah at Notre Dame: Both of these teams are coming off agonizing losses and are no doubt looking in the mirror wondering what happened. The Utes were poised to make a national championship statement last week before getting demolishing by TCU in a 47-7 loss that was the team’s worst home defeat in 21 years. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish have had two weeks to come to grips with a 28-27 loss to Tulsa and the very real possibility of missing out on bowl season for the third time in the last four years. Notre Dame will start freshman Tommy Rees at quarterback after Dayne Crist suffered a season-ending knee injury during the loss to Tulsa, but what Brian Kelly’s team could really use is a running game. The Irish average a measly 113.4 yards per game on the ground and that ranks 100th nationally. A new quarterback and no running game against the Utes, who despite last week still average 41.0 points per game? Sounds like trouble – again – for the Domers … Utah 31, Notre Dame 13. (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Georgia at No. 2 Auburn: When does Cam Newton cease to become an asset and start becoming a distraction for the Tigers? In case you have been off on safari or hiking the Appalachian Trail lately, you know the Heisman hopeful is being surrounded by allegations he was shopped around by an agent before signing with Auburn. There doesn’t seem to be any solid proof, although the FBI is now investigating and where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. No one with the Tigers is ready to say the Newton story is becoming a distraction, but how could it not be? On the opposing sideline this week is a hungry bunch of Bulldogs. They know no one gives them much of a chance for the upset this week, but they are also content in the knowledge they are playing their best football of the season. After a dismal 1-4 start, UGA has won four of its last five. Better still, the Dawgs have no trouble firing themselves up to play Auburn. They have beaten the Tigers four times in a row to take a 53-52-8 lead in the overall series. We haven’t picked too many Upset Specials this season, but we’ve got a hunch about this one … Georgia 27, Auburn 23. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
San Diego State at No. 4 TCU: After watching the Horned Frogs take apart Utah last week, we are totally convinced TCU is the best team in college football this season. If the Frogs get the chance, they will win the national championship with a combination of the nation’s best defense and an offense engineered by crafty QB Andy Dalton (2,242 yards, 19 TDs). This week, Dalton and his classmates will participate in Senior Day festivities at Aron Carter Stadium, where the Frogs have won 19 straight games. The Aztecs are having their best season in more than decade, riding an impressive season so far from freshman running back Ronnie Hillman (1,044 yards, 12 TDs). But while SDSU has been more productive this season, it’s doubtful the Aztecs can do much against TCU. The Frogs have won all five previous meetings in the series by an average of 28.8 points … TCU 45, San Diego State 10. (4 p.m. ET, Versus)
Louisiana-Monroe at No. 5 LSU: Now that Alabama has lost for the second time, SEC apologists have anointed the Tigers as the one-loss team with the best chance of jumping Boise State and/or TCU to play for the national championship. That seems a foolhardy assertion, especially in light of the fact LSU has won at least three of its games with smoke, mirrors, magic and out-and-out luck. The Bengals from the Bayou likely won’t need any of that good future this week against the Warhawks. They have played two SEC teams already this season and lost both by large margins – 31-7 vs. Arkansas in early September and 52-3 at Auburn less than a month later. ULM struggles to score points (19.9 per game) and gives up too many (30.9) to entertain any notion of an upset … LSU 41, Louisiana-Monroe 7. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)
Kansas at No. 8 Nebraska: It has been a whirlwind week for Jayhawks head coach Turner Gill. Last week, his team erased a 28-point deficit in the fourth quarter and roared from behind for a 52-45 win over Colorado. This week, Gill returns to Lincoln where he was a star quarterback in the early 1980s and assistant coach from 1992-2004. It will probably be a difficult homecoming for Gill, however, as the Cornhuskers get QB Taylor Martinez back this week after missing one game with an ankle sprain. Martinez is a dual threat, having thrown for 1,161 yards and nine TDs while adding 886 yards and 12 more scores rushing. That kind of two-pronged attack doesn’t exactly play to the Jayhawks’ strength. Their defense ranks 108th nationally against the run and 109th in pass efficiency … Nebraska 45, Kansas 17. (7 p.m. ET, FSN Regional)
No. 1 Oregon at California: Who is going to step up and try the same power scheme that Ohio State used to beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl? Anyone? Anyone at all? So far, no one has been able to challenge the Ducks because no one has tried to negate their speed with power. As a result, the Quack Attack keeps putting up arena league numbers such as 54.7 points and 567.2 yards per game. This week could be a little different since the Bears arguably have the best defense the Ducks have seen thus far. Cal tops the Pac-10 in total defense and Jeff Tedford’s team likes playing at home. They are 4-0 in Memorial Stadium this season and have outscored the opposition by a 189-34 margin in those four contests. Unfortunately for the Bears, they are hit-and-miss on offense and that just won’t do against the Ducks … Oregon 41, California 17. (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus)
No. 6 Stanford at Arizona State: The Cardinal are on their way to one of their best seasons in a long time, but they will need to be on upset alert this week in Tempe. Stanford has lost on four consecutive trips to Sun Devil Stadium, failing to experience victory since a 50-30 blowout in 1999. It seems the team would be poised to break that losing streak, especially since ASU has forgotten how to win a game against highly-ranked opposition. Just this season, the Devils have lost by one point to Wisconsin and they probably gave Oregon as much as any opponent has this season during an eventual 42-31 win for the Ducks. Just last week, Arizona State took a 33-29 lead with 6:59 to go against USC only to see a PAT kick returned for two points and a late field goal give the Trojans a 34-33 victory. Those kinds of games begin to wear on teams near the end of the season, especially teams that have to play against someone like Cardinal QB Andrew Luck, who has thrown for 2,219 yards and 21 TDs this season. Look for the Devils to stay in it most of the way but find somehow to blow the upset … Stanford 30, Arizona State 23. (7:30 p.m. ET, FSN Regional)
Penn State at No. 9 Ohio State: In the wake of a three-game winning streak and Joe Paterno’s milestone victory No. 400, the Nittany Lions are getting a lot of love lately. The question is: Do they deserve it? QB Matt McGloin has thrown for 475 yards and five TDs the past two weeks, but he only got the job when starter Rob Bolden was sidelined with a concussion. And McGloin has feasted on the likes of Michigan and Northwestern, the two worst pass defenses in the Big Ten. Defense has also been problematic. The Nits are only a middle-of-the-pack unit that often gives up a lot of yardage. Despite being 6-3 on the season, they have surrendered at least 349 total yards in six games this season including each of their last five. Add in the fact that Penn State has seldom played well at Ohio Stadium since joining the Big Ten, and this one really shouldn’t be that close … Ohio State 37, Penn State 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-34½) at Idaho; Indiana (+22) at Wisconsin; Utah (-5½) at Notre Dame; Georgia (+8½) at Auburn; San Diego State at TCU (-26); Louisiana-Monroe at LSU (-31); Kansas (+35) at Nebraska; Oregon (-19) at California; Stanford (-5) at Arizona State; Penn State at Ohio State (-17½).
Enjoy the games and we’ll see you next week.