Rollercoaster Ride Likely To Continue For Buckeyes

Braxton Miller is the starting quarterback, the team is back on track and all is right again in Buckeye Nation.

Or is it?

It has been my experience that Ohio State diehards are no more or less fickle than any other fans around the country, but after only four games of the 2011 season, you might be forgiven for experiencing weekly bouts of whiplash as emotions surrounding the Buckeyes swing wildly from one extreme to the other.

They’re underrated. No, wait, they’re overrated.

They’re great. No, wait, they’re terrible.

No, they’re worse than that. They’re god-awful.

No, wait, they’re going to be OK.

Who can possibly keep up?

Unfortunately, no one really knows if the Buckeyes are great, god-awful or somewhere in between because they pretty much squandered the first three weeks of the season trying to pound square pegs into round holes. That was never more evident than at the quarterback position since everyone knew Joe Bauserman was no long-term solution. No first-time starter who is also a fifth-year senior ever could be.

Unfortunately, Luke Fickell had to play the hand he was dealt.

Practically no one wants to admit this, but the Buckeyes have missed Terrelle Pryor more so far this season than they have missed Jim Tressel.

The OSU coaching staff has more than 180 years’ worth of experience, meaning they can do things by committee and get by fairly well during Fickell’s first year as Tressel’s successor. That is certainly not the case at quarterback, especially in the experience department.

I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence by trying to defend Pryor and the dimwitted actions off the field that led to his suspension and departure from Ohio State. Just don’t insult mine by insinuating Pryor was anything but a terrifically gifted athlete who could make up for whatever shortcomings he had throwing the ball with an elusiveness only a handful of players have ever possessed.

As badly as Ohio State played at Miami (Fla.), I believe the Buckeyes could have and would have won that game had Pryor been the quarterback. There is no way the Hurricanes could have loaded the box as they did in the second half with the threat of Pryor in the backfield. That, in turn, would have required Miami to play a more straight-up defense, opening things for OSU in the passing game.

With Pryor gone, the Buckeyes are obviously much less experienced on offense but they are also less multifaceted. That is even more so when you take Boom Herron out of the backfield, subtract DeVier Posey from the receiving corps and erase Mike Adams from the left tackle spot.

In a perfect world, Pryor would have completed his senior season under center and given Miller an entire year as his understudy. As with most things, though, this is far from a perfect world. As talented as Miller is, as tremendous as his upside is, he simply wasn’t ready to take the reins of the offense when the regular season began.

That’s no one’s fault, really. Most people have to learn at their own pace, and credit is due to Miller for coming so far as quickly as he has. The freshman has been on an accelerated learning curve ever since he set foot on the OSU campus last winter – he’s just not quite there yet and might not be for a while.

It doesn’t take Vince Lombardi to look at Ohio State’s offensive chart and understand that the playbook has been stripped down to accommodate the freshman quarterback. The last series of the Miami game and most of the first half against Colorado looked similar to the kind of plays Miller ran in high school. Again, that’s no knock against Miller or the Ohio State staff. Coaching commandment No. 1 is and has always been to win the surest way, and simplifying things for your young quarterback not only aids in the elimination of potential disasters, it helps pave the way to victory.

As a result of the heavy vanilla coating on the Buckeyes’ play-calling, Miller has the most modest of numbers after three games. He has thrown the ball only 29 times, completing 15 of those attempts (51.7 percent) for 234 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He has also run the ball 30 times for 145 yards.

Those numbers will undoubtedly begin to improve as the season wears on and Miller continues to grow into the starting role, but they are worth comparing to the only other two men who have been freshman starting quarterbacks at Ohio State.

After his first three games (all starts) in 1978, Art Schlichter was 18 for 42 (42.9 percent) for 336 yards, one touchdown and eight interceptions while he had run 31 times for 133 yards and three TDs. Pryor, who was Todd Boeckman’s backup through the first three games of the 2008 season, was 11 for 17 (64.7 percent) for 87 yards and no touchdowns while he had run 25 times for 129 yards and one TD.

Numbers aside, Miller’s situation more closely parallels that of Schlichter than Pryor. In ’08, Pryor was put in charge of a veteran team that had just come off a trip to the national championship game. Schlichter had a much rougher go of it in 1978, taking over a team that was largely in transition during what would be Woody Hayes’ final season as head coach. By the end of his second year, though, Schlichter had his team playing for the national championship.

Miller’s team is also evolving as he takes the reins, and it will evolve even more when Herron, Posey and Adams return in week six for the Buckeyes’ prime-time trip to Nebraska. In other words, the team we saw against Miami, which bore little resemblance to the one we saw against Colorado, might be completely different from the one we see against Michigan State. And that one is likely to be vastly dissimilar from the one that goes to Lincoln.

The point of the story is this: If you think you haven’t been able to get a handle on what kind of team the Buckeyes have so far, buckle your seat belts and have the antacids ready. You probably haven’t seen anything yet.

BRUTUS-SPARTY TIDBITS

** This will be the 40th meeting between Ohio State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes hold a 27-12 advantage in the overall series including seven wins in a row and 12 in the last 14 meetings. OSU is 13-7 in Columbus against MSU, and the Spartans haven’t beaten the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium since the infamous 28-24 upset in 1998 that cost then No. 1-ranked Ohio State a shot at the national championship.

** Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell gets his first shot at the Spartans after predecessor Jim Tressel was a perfect 6-0. Tressel enjoyed an average margin of victory of 18.3 points in those six games.

** Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is 0-4 lifetime against the Buckeyes – losses in 2004 and 2006 while at Cincinnati in addition to defeats as head Spartan in 2007 and 2008. Dantonio, of course, was defensive coordinator on Tressel’s OSU staff from 2001-03 and won the Frank Broyles Award in 2002 as college football’s top assistant coach.

** Dantonio is 36-20 in his four-plus seasons with the Spartans, but only 11-14 away from Spartan Stadium. Michigan State is 14-3 overall since the beginning of last season but only 3-3 away from home.

** Ohio State is entering its 99th season as a Big Ten member and the Buckeyes sport a 71-23-4 record in conference openers.

** Michigan State is entering its 59th season of Big Ten competition with a 31-23-4 record in league openers.

** Fickell will be the first Ohio State head coach ever to face a defending Big Ten champion in his conference opener since the Buckeyes joined the league in 1913.

** Since 1913, OSU coaches are 6-4-1 in their Big Ten debuts. The last one to lose his conference debut was John Cooper, whose team dropped a 31-12 decision to Illinois in 1988. Tressel won his Big Ten debut at Indiana, a 27-14 victory in 2001.

** The Buckeyes are unranked for the second week in a row, the longest streak out of the polls since five straight weeks at the end of the 2004 regular season.

** This week marks the first time this season that Ohio State has faced a ranked opponent – Michigan State is No. 25 in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll. The last time the Buckeyes went this deep into a season before playing a top-25 team was 2007 when they faced No. 23 Purdue in week six.

** When Ohio State is the higher ranked team, it has a 22-5 record against Michigan State. When the Spartans enter the game as the higher ranked team, they are 5-0. When neither team is ranked, OSU had a 5-2 edge.

** Michigan ranks first nationally in pass defense, giving up an average of only 101.0 yards per game. The Spartans are also No. 1 in total defense, surrendering only 172.2 yards per game on average. That isn’t exactly music to Ohio State’s ears. The Buckeyes are 11th in the Big Ten in passing and dead last in the conference in total offense.

** The Ohio State defense would do well to keep Michigan State under 24 points in the game. Since 1990, the Spartans are 117-32-1 when scoring 24 or more. When they are held to fewer than 24 points, their record is 18-86-1.

** The Spartans have 24 Ohio players on their roster while Ohio State has only three players from Michigan – defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins, tight end Reid Fragel and defensive back Dionte Allen.

** There aren’t too many degrees of separation for the respective coaching staffs. In addition to Dantonio’s relationship with Tressel which began at Youngstown State, Michigan State quarterbacks coach Dave Warner had Tressel as his position coach at Syracuse in 1981. MSU offensive line coach Mark Staten was a graduate assistant on Tressel’s staff at Ohio State in 2002 and ’03, and running backs coach Brad Salem’s older brother, Tim, was Cooper’s quarterbacks coach at OSU from 1997-2000. Finally, Spartans linebackers and special teams coach Mike Tressel is the son of OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel, which obviously makes him Jim Tressel’s nephew.

** But wait … there’s more. Michigan State strength coach Ken Mannie was a graduate assistant on Earle Bruce’s OSU staff in 1984, MSU director of personnal/player development and relations Dino Folino began his coaching career as a GA for Woody Hayes in 1974 and ’75, and the Spartans’ head trainer Jeff Monroe spent four years as a student trainer for the Buckeyes from 1969-72.

** The synergy isn’t limited to Michigan State coaches. OSU offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Bollman spent three seasons in East Lansing from 1995-97 coaching the line for Nick Saban. And Ohio State safeties coach Paul Haynes spent the 2003 and ’04 seasons coaching MSU cornerbacks.

** Michigan State receiver B.J. Cunningham has a streak of 38 consecutive games during which he has logged at least one reception. That is tied for the fourth longest active streak in Division I-A, trailing only Tyron Carrier of Houston (43), Ryan Broyles of Oklahoma (42) and Kendall Wright of Baylor (40).

** Cunningham is one of those 24 Ohioans on the Michigan State roster. He prepped in suburban Columbus at Westerville South.

** MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins ranks second in his school’s history for most passing yardage at 6,762, He is far behind the all-time leader, however. Jeff Smoker (2000-03) threw for 8,932 yards during his career.

** With his next touchdown pass, Cousins will move into second place by himself on MSU’s all-time list. He is currently tied with Bill Burke (1996-99) with 46 scoring tosses. Smoker is the career leader with 61.

** Ohio State punter Ben Buchanan ranks only seventh in the Big Ten in average, but the junior has dropped 11 of his 19 kicks inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. That is nearly twice as many as any other Big Ten punter. Even more impressively, seven of Buchanan’s punts inside the 20 have actually landed inside the opponents’ 10.

** Michigan State hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher against Ohio State since 1988 – and that year the Spartans had two. Hyland Hickson (179) and Blake Ezor (135) each cracked the century mark as MSU piled 372 yards on the ground during a 20-10 victory over the Buckeyes in Spartan Stadium. No Michigan State running back has run for 100 yards against OSU in Columbus since 1983 when Keith Gates went for 101 during a 21-11 loss to the Buckeyes.

** OSU senior center Mike Brewster will make his 41st consecutive start this week for the Buckeyes. He needs to stay healthy and his team to play in the inaugural Big Ten championship game as well as a bowl contest to have a shot at tying the all-time school record of 50 straight starts – a record held since 1996 by Fickell.

** Longtime NFL kicker Morten Andersen was one of the five former MSU athletes inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame last week. In addition to kicking for five different teams over an amazing 25-year pro career, Andersen booted a 63-yard field goal for the Spartans during their 27-13 loss at Ohio State in 1981. It is the longest field goal by any OSU opponent – by seven yards – and still stands as the longest three-pointer in Big Ten history.

** This week marks the final game in the five-game suspensions of OSU tailback Boom Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas.

** The OSU-Michigan State game will be televised by ABC/ESPN using the reverse mirror. (The game should be televised by your local ABC affiliate and if the game is not on that channel, look for it on ESPN.) Veteran play-by-play man Sean McDonough will have the call with former Penn State All-America linebacker and four-time Super Bowl champion Matt Millen providing color analysis. Former University of Pacific volleyball star Heather Cox will report from the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

** The game is also available on satellite radio station channel 91 for both Sirius and XM subscribers.

** Next week, Ohio State travels to Nebraska for the first time ever. The teams have only met twice previously – in 1955 and ’56 – and both games were OSU victories in Columbus. The game from historic Memorial Stadium, set for a kickoff shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern, will be telecast nationally by ABC featuring the broadcast crew of Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit and Erin Andrews.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Sept. 28, 1968, Oregon State running back Bill Enyart established school records by rushing 50 times for 299 yards during his team’s 24-21 win over Utah in Salt Lake City.

** On Sept. 29, 2001, No. 18 Northwestern took a wild 27-26 victory over No. 24 Michigan State in Evanston. MSU wide receiver Charles Rogers gave his team a 20-17 lead on a 64-yard punt return with 4:42 to play before Northwestern QB Zac Kustok rallied the Wildcats with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kunle Patrick to make it 24-20 with 29 seconds remaining. However, Herb Haygood returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown to retake the lead for the Spartans at 26-24. NU blocked the extra point and then with 18 seconds left, Kustok completed a 54-yard pass to get his team within field-goal range and kicker David Wasielewski did the rest. His 47-yarder as time expired gave the Wildcats the victory.

** Also on Sept. 29, 2001, New Mexico State posted a rare shutout, going on the road to tally a 31-0 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. How rare was the shutout? It was the first for the Aggies in 27 seasons, a span of 283 games which established an NCAA record for most consecutive games without a shutout.

** On Sept. 30, 1939, Fordham and Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania played in the first televised college football game, a contest seen by an estimated 500 viewers in the New York City area. Bill Stern called the play-by-play for W2XBS (now WNBC-TV) while a young Mel Allen did pregame interviews. Few television sets could receive the signal, so many of the viewers saw the telecast at the nearby New York World’s Fair.

** On Sept. 30, 1944, North Carolina State set an NCAA record for the fewest yards ever gained by a winning team. During their 13-0 win over Virginia, the Wolfpack totaled only 10 yards of offense and had no first downs.

** On Oct. 1, 1955, the sideline star power was plentiful as sixth-ranked Army rolled to a 35-6 win over No. 18 Penn State at West Point. The Black Knights were coached by Earl “Red” Blaik while the Nittany Lions were led by head coach Charles “Rip” Engle and assistant Joe Paterno. All three are in the College Football Hall of Fame, as is Army quarterback Don Holleder who led his team to the victory. Nearly 12 years to the day later, Holleder was an infantry major in the Army serving in Vietnam when he attempted to rescue a group of his fellow soldiers who had been ambushed. Holleder battled sniper fire to land his helicopter in a clearing, and while he was leading the evacuation he was struck by enemy fire and killed. He received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge posthumously and was later laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

** On Oct. 2, 1943, Purdue committed 11 turnovers in a game – and still won. Somehow, the Boilermakers lost nine fumbles and pitched two interceptions and still managed a 40-21 victory over Illinois. The performance set an NCAA record for most turnovers by a winning team.

** On Oct 2, 1993, Alabama matched its own school and Southeastern Conference records for consecutive victories when the Crimson Tide scored a 17-6 victory at South Carolina to mark their 28th win in a row. The mark tied the previous school and conference marks set between 1978 and 1980 when the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant was patrolling the ’Bama sideline.

** On Oct. 3, 1992, third-ranked Florida State lost a 19-16 decision to No. 2 Miami (Fla.) when a last-minute field goal drifted wide right. Hurricanes QB Gino Torretta hit receiver Lamar Thomas to put Miami ahead, 17-16, with 6:50 to play. After a safety on special teams pushed it to a three-point game, the Seminoles drove deep into Miami territory before FSU kicker Dan Mowery pushed his 39-yard field goal attempt wide of the right upright on the final play.

** On Oct. 3, 1936, John Heisman, the legendary college coach and namesake of the Heisman Trophy, died at the age of 66. Born Oct. 23, 1869, in Cleveland, John William Heisman is credited with several innovations including invention of the center snap, dividing the game into quarters rather than halves, and leading the movement to legalize the forward pass. Heisman played at Brown (1887-89) and Penn (1890-91), and began his coaching career at Oberlin in 1892. He also coached at Akron, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Penn, Washington & Jefferson and Rice, and compiled a career record of 185-70-17. Heisman was preparing to write a history of college football when he died in New York City. Three days later he was taken by train to his wife’s hometown of Rhinelander, Wis., where he was buried at the city-owned Forest Home Cemetery. Two months later, the Downtown Athletic Club in New York renamed its college football best player trophy in Heisman’s honor.

** On Oct. 4, 1969, Boston University scored a 13-10 upset at Harvard, ending the Crimson’s 10-game win streak and marking BU’s first-ever victory over Harvard since the matchup began in 1921.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Twenty-two unbeaten teams remain at the Division I-A level (Football Bowl Subdivision, if you prefer). The alphabetical list is Alabama, Baylor, Boise State, Clemson, Florida, Georgia Tech, Houston, Illinois, Iowa State, Kansas State, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, South Florida, Stanford, Texas, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin.

** Stanford enjoys the nation’s longest winning streak at 12. Meanwhile, San Jose State snapped its losing streak at 13 last week with a 34-24 win over New Mexico State. That means New Mexico now has the longest losing streak in the nation at seven.

** The Lobos are one of only seven winless I-A teams so far. The other six: Florida Atlantic, Miami (Ohio), Middle Tennessee, Oregon State, UAB and Western Kentucky.

** The aforementioned futility by New Mexico has claimed the first coaching casualty of the 2011 season. Lobos head coach Mike Locksley was dismissed following last week’s 48-45 overtime loss to I-AA Sam Houston State. Locksley, who compiled a 2-26 record in his two-plus seasons in Albuquerque, was replaced by defensive coordinator George Barlow.

** There is little doubt LSU is a legitimate national championship contender. The Tigers are 4-0 with a record that includes double-digit road victories against Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia – three ranked teams at the time from three different conferences.

** If you like offense, you might want to skip the SEC matchup between Alabama and Florida tomorrow night. The Crimson Tide rank No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense giving up an average of 8.0 points in their four games. Meanwhile, the Gators surrender only 9.0 and are tied for No. 4 in the nation.

** If it’s offense you seek, check out Hawaii tomorrow night when the Rainbows travel to Louisiana Tech. Last week during a 56-14 win over UC-Davis, Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz threw for seven touchdowns in the first half. The total tied an NCAA record for most TD passes in a half. Moniz, who sat out the entire second half, completed 30 of 40 passes for 424 yards and the seven scores and added five carries for 50 yards. There might be a similar show this week. La Tech currently ranks 107th nationally in pass defense.

** The nation’s leader in pass efficiency continues to be Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, who three games into his junior season has 13 touchdowns against only 12 incompletions. Griffin is 70 for 82 (85.4 percent) for 962 yards, 13 TDs and no INTs, good for a passer rating of 236.23. Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson is the only other I-A quarterback with a rating north of 200. Wilson is 69 of 91 (75.8 percent) for 1,136 yards, 11 TDs and one pick for a rating of 218.38.

** Think the Boise State football program just got good in the past couple of years? Think again. The Broncos were a powerhouse in the 1970s as well under head coach Tony Knap, who died Sept. 24 at the age of 96. Knap guided what was then known as Boise College to a 71-19-8 record during eight seasons between 1968-75, a tenure that included three consecutive Big Sky conference championships from 1973-75. Knap left Boise after the ’75 season to take over the program at UNLV and spent six seasons with the Runnin’ Rebels. He was inducted into the UNLV athletics hall of fame in 1989.

FEARLESS FORECAST

When you roll the dice, sometimes everything comes up 7 or 11. That’s what happened last week with a perfect 10-0 week in the straight-up picks. That makes us an almost unbelievably prescient 38-4 on the season so far.

Before you think the heads are swelling out of control here at Forecast World Headquarters, understand that the money picks were a less-than spectacular 5-5. That makes us 24-15-1 against the spread for the year – still pretty good but we’re determined to do better this week.

Here are the games we’ll be watching:

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Kentucky at No. 1 LSU: Would you believe LSU ranks only three spots ahead of Ohio State in the national rankings for total offense? It’s true. The Tigers are 88th in the nation while the Buckeye are 91st. What the Bayou Boys have over just about everyone else in college football, though, is a growling defense that’s No. 4 against the run and No. 14 in scoring defense. And that’s after playing three of their four games away from home against ranked opponents … LSU 31, Kentucky 0. (12:20 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 3 Alabama at No. 12 Florida: These teams are near mirror images of one another. Both teams like to run the ball and both teams are pretty good at stopping the run. Gators head coach Will Muschamp was one of Nick Saban’s top assistants at LSU and with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. And the starting quarterbacks feature almost identical numbers through four games. So who wins this battle? Alabama has a slight edge in special teams and has won five of the last seven in the series. Whoever wins, this should be a good one … Alabama 20, Florida 17. (8 p.m. ET, CBS)

Nevada at No. 4 Boise State: The Wolf Pack knocked Boise out of the national championship picture last season and there are a lot of folks around college football who wouldn’t mind seeing a repeat this year. This isn’t the same Nevada team, however. QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Vai Taua are both in the NFL now, and the Pack has lost two of its first three games. Compounding their problems is the fact they cannot stop opposing teams from running the ball – Nevada ranks 108th nationally in run defense, allowing nearly 210 yards per game on the ground. All of that is music to the ears of the Broncos, who in addition to having beaten the Pack six straight times at home, have revenge on their minds … Boise State 42, Nevada 14. (2:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

UCLA at No. 6 Stanford: Here are a pair of programs headed in opposite directions. Despite losing head coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL, the Cardinal seemingly hasn’t missed a beat under new boss David Shaw. They still have QB Andrew Luck, the odds-on Heisman Trophy favorite who directs an offense that averages 46.0 points and 481.3 yards per game. And Stanford also has the No. 1 run defense in the country. Meanwhile, UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel is on the hot seat because his team always seems to take one step forward and two steps back. He is 2-2 this season and 17-24 in three-plus years with the Bruins, and fans still remember last year’s 35-0 home loss to the Cardinal. There is very little to believe things will change much this year … Stanford 34, UCLA 7. (10:30 p.m. ET, FSN)

No. 8 Nebraska at No. 7 Wisconsin: The Badgers have the welcome mat out for the Cornhuskers, who begin life in the Big Ten after 83 years as members of what finally become known as the Big 12. NU has no doubt played in some hostile environments, but here is a lead-pipe guarantee – they ain’t seen nothing like the Camp Randall crazies after dark. This game seems strangely similar to last year’s OSU-Wisconsin game when the top-ranked Buckeyes went to Madison for a night game and mugged almost from the time they stepped off the bus. The Badgers don’t have the same kind of defense they boasted last year, and the Huskers might give them some problems with their spread option attack. But look for Bucky to be more physical and wind up with a hard-fought win … Wisconsin 23, Nebraska 17. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Minnesota at No. 19 Michigan: One of the great mysteries in all of college football is why opposing defenses continue to try to play it straight against the Wolverines. QB Denard Robinson is one of the most electrifying players in the game, and still opponents act like he’s a pocket passer who runs only on occasion. As a result of that wrongheaded strategy, Robinson torched Notre Dame for 108 yards, Eastern Michigan for 198 and San Diego State for 200. That might change this week since defending the run is about the only thing the Golden Gophers do well at this point. Keeping Robinson in the pocket, however, would be a double-edged sword for Minnesota since it ranks dead last in the Big Ten in pass defense … Michigan 35, Minnesota 14. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 21 Georgia Tech at North Carolina State: You probably wouldn’t guess that the Wreck ranks No. 1 in the country in total offense and scoring as well as No. 2 in rushing. Not that Tech has been playing the greatest of competition, but it has still bludgeoned opponents to the tune of 630.5 yards per game and an average winning margin of 27.3 points. As scary as that might sound, those numbers could actually improve this week. The Wolfpack is scuffling on offense and has been downright awful at times on defense. Last week during a 44-14 loss to Cincinnati, they gave up 503 yards to the Bearcats. We smell a rout … Georgia Tech 52, N.C. State 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

Penn State at Indiana: The Nittany Lions are likely one of the weakest 3-1 teams in college football, and they have lost arguably the best player on their team – linebacker Michael Mauti – to a season-ending knee injury. Nevertheless, this time next week, the Lions will be one of the weakest 4-1 teams in college football because they are playing IU. Under first-year head coach Kevin Wilson, the Hoosiers could be described somewhere between a hot mess and a dumpster fire. Their only win so far this season is over a Division I-AA team, and they lost last week to a North Texas team that had won only eight of its previous 53 games. Add that to the fact the Hoosiers are 0-14 lifetime against the Lions and you see where we’re headed … Penn State 32, Indiana 7. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)

Notre Dame at Purdue: These two teams have played one another every season for the past nine years with the Fighting Irish going 6-3 during the stretch including three wins in a row. The Boilermakers have a pretty good offense – at least as far as anyone can tell after playing the likes of Middle Tennessee, Rice and Southeast Missouri State. They have had a week off to prepare for the Irish, who seem to play well one series and awful the next. Notre Dame really has put together only one complete performance this year and that resulted in a solid 31-13 win over Michigan State two weeks ago. If the Irish ever shore up their secondary and hold onto the football, they can be a decent football team. Until then, however, every game they play will be closer than it needs to be … Notre Dame 26, Purdue 23. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Michigan State at Ohio State: These two have charted extremely similar paths so far this season. Each has beaten up on lesser competition, each has stubbed its toe against the best team it has played so far. OSU has the edge in rushing, MSU has the better passing game. Defensively, the Spartans have the edge in most categories; on special teams, the Buckeyes have performed better. So who do you pick when the teams appear so evenly matched? Go to the history books where you’ll find Ohio State with a 27-12 advantage in the overall series, including seven victories in a row – four of those in Columbus. Of course, there’s this little historical nugget, too – when Michigan State is the higher ranked team, it is 5-0 in the series. Coin flip time … Ohio State 23, Michigan State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Kentucky at LSU (-27½); Alabama (-3½) at Florida; Nevada at Boise State (-26½); UCLA at Stanford (-20½); Nebraska (+10) at Wisconsin; Minnesota at Michigan (-19½); Georgia Tech (-9½) at N.C. State; Penn State (-14½) at Indiana; Notre Dame at Purdue (+12½); Michigan State (+3½) at Ohio State.

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

If Not Fickell Or Meyer, Then Who?

For nearly six decades between 1951 and 2011, only four men occupied the head football coach’s office at Ohio State.

During those 60 years, Earle Bruce had the shortest tenure – nine years – and he won more than 75 percent of his games. Woody Hayes set the standard with a school-record 28 seasons, three consensus national championships and 13 Big Ten titles as well as a winning percentage of .761.

John Cooper was the head man for 13 seasons beginning in 1988 and despite all the criticism he endured, Coop still won at a 71.5-percent clip. His successor was Jim Tressel, who won seven Big Ten championships in 10 seasons, the 2002 national title and an .828 winning percentage.

What else do Bruce, Hayes, Coop and Tress all have in common? None of them left Ohio State on his own terms.

Once upon a time, before university officials decided continuity was a good thing, Ohio State was known as “The Graveyard of Coaches,” a particularly derisive nickname among the college football hierarchy. But it was a moniker well-deserved. During the 23-year period between 1929 and 1951 when Hayes was hired, the university had burned through six coaches including a future College Football Hall of Famer (Francis A. Schmidt), a future Pro Football Hall of Famer (Paul Brown) and a former local hero (three-time OSU All-American Wes Fesler).

Of the six coaches during that period, only Brown and his successor Carroll Widdoes left Ohio State of their own accord – Brown to join the U.S. Navy and serve in World War II, Widdoes because he didn’t like the pressure that came with being a head coach. Evidently that sentiment extended only to Ohio State since Widdoes later went to Ohio University and spent nine seasons as head coach there.

To be perfectly honest, Ohio State was a graveyard for coaches long before 1929. The Buckeyes had 12 different head coaches – including one that served two separate stints – between 1895 and 1913. Five of those coaches were with the team only one season, and the team had a different coach every season from 1909 to 1913.

After last weekend’s showing at Miami (Fla.), those in the Buckeye Nation convinced Luke Fickell is not yet ready for any head coaching assignment – let alone piloting one of college football’s elite programs – are more than ready to resurrect “The Graveyard of Coaches.”

The ready-made successor, of course, is Urban Meyer, the owner of an impressive résumé that includes being a native Ohioan, serving two seasons on Bruce’s coaching staff at OSU, earning a master’s degree in sports administration from Ohio State, sporting an .819 career winning percentage and winning two national championships in a three-year span at Florida.

There is something of a monkey wrench in Meyer suddenly appearing on the OSU sideline in 2012, however. The timing might not be right for him to take the job.

Meyer retired (his word, not mine) from Florida after last season, citing health problems and a desire to spend more time with his family. We all know that spending more time with one’s family is often a hollow reason cited for walking away. Anyone remember Michael Jordan saying he wanted to spend more time with his family and then spending the following summer riding a bus through the Deep South while attempting to play minor-league baseball?

In Meyer’s case, though, spending more time with his family is a plausible reason for walking away from football. He has three children, including daughters who play volleyball at Georgia Tech and Florida Gulf Coast, respectively. Yes, Meyer has taken an analyst’s job at ESPN this year, but he can easily jet to wherever the Worldwide Leader assigns him and be back home in plenty of time to watch his daughters play volleyball.

Even if Meyer reneged on the spending-more-time-with-family thing, his health is apparently no joke. He is still only 47, but has experienced several health problems all related to stress.

Meyer stepped away from his duties at Florida for a couple of months following the 2009 season after which his health seemed to improve. But when he quickly returned to the sideline for last season, the stress returned and his health rapidly deteriorated again. Frequent chest pains, severe headaches brought on by a brain cyst – each malady diagnosed as stress-related – conspired to send Meyer into a forced retirement.

The question now is if Meyer will ever return to coaching, and if he does, will he or can he return to being the relentless recruiter and tireless offensive brainiac that placed him at the top of his profession? If the answer is yes, then any team out there will consider itself lucky to get him. If the answer is no, however, what then?

What white knight would Ohio State fans have come charging to the rescue should Fickell not be renewed for 2012 and Meyer not make himself available? (And please don’t say Bob Stoops or Jon Gruden. Stoops is not leaving Oklahoma and Gruden will coach again in the NFL or not at all.)

Nick Saban of Alabama? He has 4 million reasons every year not to leave Tuscaloosa.

Gary Pinkel of Missouri? He’ll be 60 next April and his career win percentage in 20-plus seasons at Toledo and Mizzou is a hardly eye-popping .634.

Mark Dantonio of Michigan State? Past heart problems, a career .589 winning percentage and close ties to Tressel. That’s three strikes and you’re out.

Les Miles of LSU? The Board of Trustees is not going there. Besides, the last time Ohio State hired an alum from That School Up North to be its head football coach was 1906.

Mike Stoops of Arizona? Just because he is Bob’s little brother doesn’t mean he is Bob’s clone. Mike’s 1-2 start with the Wildcats this season puts his career record at 41-47.

Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator at Florida State? See above. Plus he’s never been a head coach.

Bo Pelini of Nebraska? Temperament seems to be an issue as do his interviewing skills. You have to at least wonder why he has made nine different stops in a 20-year coaching career.

My point is be careful what you wish for. Secretly hoping Fickell will fail just to pave the way for Meyer could be an exercise in futility because if he’s not ready to come back or simply doesn’t want the job, the other options just don’t seem all that inviting.

OSU-COLORADO TIDBITS

** Ohio State is 3-1 all-time against Colorado. The teams last met in 1986 when the Buckeyes took a 13-10 victory at Ohio Stadium. OSU’s other victories in the series came in 1985, a 36-13 verdict in Boulder, and a 27-10 triumph at the 1977 Orange Bowl. That marked the final bowl victory of Woody Hayes’ coaching career. Colorado scored its only win of the series with a 20-14 decision in Columbus in 1971.

** The game came about as the result of Colorado opening the season at Hawaii. Schools that travel to Hawaii are permitted a 13th regular-season game to help offset the expense of such a trip. Ohio State was looking for a home game to fill out its schedule, so the game came into being late last fall when the schedule-makers at ESPN noticed the open Sept. 24 weekend for both teams and suggested they play one another. CU agreed on the contingent that the game would be televised nationally.

** The game pits a couple of first-year head coaches who are alums and longtime assistant coaches at their respective schools. Luke Fickell was a four-year starter at Ohio State from 1993-96 who spent nine years on Jim Tressel’s staff from 2002-10. Joe Embree was an All-Big Eight tight end and served for 10 seasons under three different Colorado head coaches – Bill McCartney (1993-94), Rick Neuheisel (1995-98) and Gary Barnett (1999-2002).

** The Buckeyes are 55-26-2 all-time against current members of the Pac-12. In addition their record against the Buffaloes, they are 9-13-1 vs. USC, 8-0 vs. Oregon and Washington State, 8-3 vs. Washington, 5-1 vs. California, 4-4-1 vs. UCLA, 3-1 vs. Arizona, 2-0 vs. Arizona State and Oregon State, 1-0 vs. Utah and 2-3 vs. Stanford.

** The Buffaloes are 35-63-3 all-time against current members of the Big Ten. In addition to its record against Ohio State, CU is 18-49-2 vs. Nebraska, 4-1-1 vs. Wisconsin, 3-1 vs. Indiana, 3-0 vs. Minnesota, 2-0 vs. Iowa, 1-1 vs. Illinois, Northwestern and Penn State, 1-3 vs. Michigan and 0-3 vs. Michigan State. Colorado and Purdue have never played one another in football.

** OSU fell out of the Associated Press’ top 25 this week for the first time since Nov. 20, 2004. It ended the nation’s longest active streak in the AP rankings at 103 straight weeks.

** The Buffaloes have not enjoyed a winning season since going 7-6 in 2005. Since then, they are a combined 22-42

** Colorado is working on a school-record streak of 18 consecutive road losses (not counting neutral sites). The Buffaloes haven’t won a true road contest since a 31-26 triumph at Texas Tech in October 2007.

** OSU and Colorado enter the game on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of penalties. The Buckeyes have been flagged only nine times for 67 yards in three games while the Buffaloes have been whistled 29 times for 270 yards.

** Ohio State’s last two opponents have each topped 300 yards of total offense marking the first time in seven years that has occurred against the Buckeyes. Toledo totaled 338 yards while Miami (Fla.) went for 363, marking the first back-to-back 300-yard games the OSU defense has allowed since a three-game streak in 2004 against Michigan State (407), Purdue (384) and Michigan (399).

** Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen will be seeking to end a streak of futility his predecessors have had against Ohio State. In their four previous meetings with the Buckeyes, CU quarterbacks have combined to throw for only 239 yards on 18-for-50 passing with two touchdowns against eight interceptions.

** Colorado is one of only nine Division I-A team with just one turnover so far in 2011, and the Buffaloes have gone back-to-back games without turning the ball over for only the sixth time in their history. No CU team has ever gone three straight games without a turnover.

** Colorado hosted Cal for its Sept. 10 home opener, but the game did not count in the Pac-12 standings. The game completed a previous home-and-home series between the two schools that was agreed upon before the Buffaloes joined the conference this year. As strange as that might sound, it isn’t the first time CU has played an opponent from its own league when it didn’t count in the conference standings. The Buffaloes played Northern Colorado in 1923 when both teams were members of the Rocky Mountain Faculty Athletic Conference, but it didn’t count as a league game because Northern Colorado designated only two games on its schedule that season as conference encounters.

** Ohio State president Dr. E. Gordon Gee was president of the University of Colorado from 1985 to 1990. Gee left Boulder to become OSU president in 1990 and stayed through 1997 when he moved on to Brown (1998-2000) and later Vanderbilt (2001-07). Gee returned to Columbus in October 2007.

** The game will be televised by ABC/ESPN2 using the reverse mirror. (In case you have forgotten how the reverse mirror works, the game should be televised by your local ABC affiliate. If the game is not on that channel, look for it on ESPN2.) Veteran play-by-play man Mike Patrick will have the call along with former SMU running back Craig James providing color analysis. Kickoff is set for shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

** Next week, Ohio State kicks off the Big Ten season by hosting Michigan State. It will be an interdivisional contest since the Buckeyes are in the new Leaders Division while the Spartans are in the Legends. The game is set for a kickoff shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern and will be telecast again by ABC using ESPN on the reverse mirror.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Sept. 21, 1996, fourth-ranked Florida outgunned No. 2 Tennessee by a 35-29 final in Knoxville. The Gators raced out to a 35-6 halftime lead behind four TD passes by Danny Weurffel, but the Volunteers came back to make it close on three second-half scoring throws by Peyton Manning, who set a school record with 492 passing yards. The game was played in front of 107,608 fans at Neyland Stadium, then the largest on-campus crowd in college football history.

** Also 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. 22, 1990, Illinois tailback Howard Griffith set an NCAA record when he rushed for eight touchdowns during his team’s 56-21 romp over Southern Illinois in Champaign. Griffith tallied three of his TDs on consecutive carries and tied an NCAA record with four touchdowns in the third quarter. It was the most points ever scored in a college football game by a non-kicker.

** On Sept. 23, 1961, Rice stunned No. 5 LSU by a 16-3 score in front of a record home crowd of 73,000 in Houston. The Owls got a pair of touchdowns from quarterback Billy Cox and held the vaunted LSU offense, which featured future College Football Hall of Fame running back Jerry Stovall, to only a field goal.

** 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, 1983, seventh-ranked Iowa 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.

** On Sept. 24, 1988, Wyoming engineered erased a seven-point deficit in the final 90 seconds to score a 48-45 victory over Air Force. The Cowboys trailed by a 45-38 score when fullback Steve Bena scored on a 9-yard run with 1:30 showing on the clock. Wyoming kicked the PAT to tie the score, and then with just 45 seconds left, Air Force QB Dee Dowis lost a fumble at his own 42-yard line. That set the stage for freshman kicker Sean Fleming’s 27-yard field goal as time expired to give Wyoming the win.

** 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. 25, 1971, Michigan State head coach Duffy Daugherty notched career win No. 100 when the Spartans took a 31-14 victory over Oregon State in East Lansing. Future College Football Hall of Fame safety Brad Van Pelt returned two interceptions for touchdowns to fuel MSU’s win.

** 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.

** 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

** When Auburn lost a 34-28 decision at Clemson on Saturday, it snapped the nation’s longest winning streak at 17 games. Stanford now has the longest Division I-A win streak at 11.

** On the flip side of that coin, San Jose State has the longest current I-A losing streak at 13. There is a silver lining for the Spartans, however. They are double-digit favorites at home tomorrow against New Mexico State, which has lost 19 of its last 22 overall.

** Former Minnesota halfback Bruce Smith was honored by his old school Saturday prior to the Golden Gophers’ win over Miami (Ohio). Smith, who died of cancer in 1967, was honored as the school marked the 70th anniversary of his 1941 Heisman Trophy season. Smith is Minnesota’s only Heisman winner, and he received the stiff-arm trophy two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Smith, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1972, served as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot in World War II.

** Even with crazy old Mike Leach long gone, Texas Tech is still throwing the ball all over the field. QB Seth Doege completed 40 of 44 passes for 401 yards and five TDs last weekend during a 59-13 romp over New Mexico. Doege’s completion percentage of 90.9 percent established a new single-game Division I-A record for anyone with at least 40 completions.

** Tech piled up 624 total yards in that game, but even that paled in comparison to what Missouri did against Western Illinois on Saturday. The Tigers went for 744 yards during their 69-0 wipeout of the I-AA Leathernecks – 428 on the ground, 316 through the air. The yardage total set a single-game school record, breaking the previous mark of 665 yards set against Kansas in 1949.

** Georgia Tech did even better than Missouri, piling up a school-record 768 yards during a 66-24 win over Kansas. That broke the old mark of 706 set in 1948 against The Citadel. Most of the Yellow Jackets’ yardage came on the ground – 604 of it to be exact. That also broke the school’s single-game mark of 558 set against VMI in 1975.

** Speaking of the Yellow Jackets, they have been almost unbelievably efficient so far, scoring a touchdown on their first play from scrimmage in each of their first three games. Against Kansas, they bettered even themselves – they scored on their first play from scrimmage in each half.

** Baylor has a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Robert Griffin III. He completed 20 of 22 passes for 265 yards and three TDs during the Bears’ 48-0 shutout of I-AA Stephen F. Austin. In two games, Griffin is 41 of 49 (83.7 percent) for 624 yards, eight TDs and no interceptions. Yes, you read that correctly – he has the same number of touchdown passes as incompletions.

** Did you catch Oklahoma State’s entertaining 59-33 win over Tulsa? Me either. Because of lightning and storms in the Tulsa area at kickoff time, the game did not begin until after midnight Sunday and finished at 3:35 a.m. Afterward, Okie State head coach Mike Gundy offered this salient observation: “I’m not sure why we had TV timeouts at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

** Congratulations are in order for several teams off to hot starts. San Diego State is 3-0 for the first time since 1981, Ohio University is 3-0 for the first time since 1976 and Florida International is 3-0 for the first time in program history.

** Here is the earliest bowl invitation on record: Navy has agreed to play in the 2016 Armed Forces Bowl. The invitation is predicated, of course, on the Midshipmen being bowl-eligible that year. Any Navy freshmen eligible to participate in that bowl are currently playing for their eighth-grade middle school team.

FEARLESS FORECAST

While commiserating over picking Ohio State to lose last week, we lost sight of the fact that we had another excellent week. We were 9-1 straight up, which pushes the season total to a stellar 28-4 so far. Better still, we’re way above the money line against the spread after last week’s 8-2 finish. That makes us 15-5 over the past two weeks and 19-10-1 ATS for the young season. It also means we’re playing with house money now.

Here are the games we like this week:

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Missouri at No. 1 Oklahoma: The Sooners enter this game looking for redemption since the Tigers handed them a 36-27 upset loss last season. For all intents and purposes, that loss knocked OU out of the national title picture, so the team has a little something extra to play for this week. None more than QB Landry Jones, who failed to complete a fourth-quarter pass against Mizzou last year. Of course, Oklahoma will have to try to slow down the Tigers who piled up more than 700 yards of offense last week during a 69-0 win over I-AA Western Illinois. Of course, the Sooners represent just a tad of an upgrade in competition from the Leathernecks … Oklahoma 28, Missouri 14. (8 p.m. ET, FX)

No. 2 LSU at No. 16 West Virginia: The Bayou Bengals invade Morgantown trying to keep their national title aspirations alive, but it won’t be as easy as some might think. The Mountaineers have a potent offense while LSU is still trying to find its offensive identity. Defensively, the Tigers should have the edge. After all, they faced a Mississippi State team last week that had averaged 46.5 points and 588.0 yards in its first two games and held the Bulldogs to 193 total yards in a 19-6 win. Something obviously has to give – West Virginia has won 16 of its last 17 at home while LSU has a regular-season winning streak of 35 in a row against nonconference opponents … LSU 27, West Virginia 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 14 Arkansas at No. 3 Alabama: Despite the loss of quarterback Ryan Mallett to the NFL, the Razorbacks are 3-0 with their potent offense pretty much intact as they invade Bryant-Denny Stadium this weekend. Unfortunately, the problem with most Bobby Petrino teams, the defense is not quite up the level of the offense. Last week during a 38-28 victory over Troy, the Hogs surrendered 457 total yards. That simply will not get it done against the Tide … Alabama 32, Arkansas 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Tulsa at No. 4 Boise State: We’ll make this one short and sweet. Broncos QB Kellen Moore is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate as his 40-2 record as a starter attests. So far this year, he has completed 60 of 76 attempts (78.9 percent) for 716 yards and eight touchdowns, and Moore gets to pad those stats against a Golden Hurricane defense that ranks among the worst in the country against the pass. Add that to the fact Boise has won 60 straight at home against unranked opponents and you get this … Boise State 45, Tulsa 14. (8 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

South Dakota at No. 6 Wisconsin: It’s not completely clear how good the Badgers really are after three victories over lesser opponents, and the jury is likely to remain sequestered as they take on the Division I-AA Coyotes this week. South Dakota already has a victory over a I-A opponent this year, but that was against Minnesota and the Golden Gophers are no Wisconsin. Look for the Badgers to roll again this week and then gauge how really good they are next week when Nebraska invades Camp Randall … Wisconsin 38, South Dakota 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 9 Nebraska at Wyoming: Speaking of Nebraska, the Cornhuskers are already champing at the bit to get their inaugural Big Ten season started. First of all, though, they have to travel to play in the rarefied air of Laramie. NU head coach Bo Pelini has made his reputation on being a defensive guru, but his Black Shirts remain a work in progress. They have given up more than 400 yards of offense in each of the past two games, something that definitely needs fixed before traveling to Wisconsin next week. It might need fixing before going to Wyoming since the Cowboys rank No. 16 in the nation in total offense, averaging 492.3 yards of total offense per game. This might be an entertaining game to watch … Nebraska 38, Wyoming 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

Vanderbilt at No. 12 South Carolina: Surprise, surprise. Steve Spurrier has a Heisman Trophy candidate and he’s not a quarterback. Sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore burst on the scene last year and seems to have a limitless upside. Last week, Lattimore ran for 246 yards and three touchdowns as the Gamecocks squeezed out a 24-21 victory over Navy. Expect more of the same against the Commodores, who are a surprising 3-0 because of an opportunistic defense that has already snagged 10 interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns … South Carolina 24, Vanderbilt 17. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Rice at No. 17 Baylor: This intrastate battle will feature a pair of pretty good quarterbacks – one you probably know and one you probably don’t. Baylor is led by Robert Griffin III, who is steadily rising up everyone’s Heisman charts after having completely 41 of his first 49 pass attempts this season for eight TDs and no interceptions. Meanwhile, the Owls will counter with Taylor McHargue, who threw for a career-high 230 yards against Purdue two weeks ago in a 24-22 win over the Boilermakers. Unfortunately for McHargue, his team’s defense gives up yardage by the bunches and that will make the difference … Baylor 45, Rice 20. (7 p.m. ET, FSN)

San Diego State at No. 22 Michigan: The Wolverines could have a short stay back in the top 25 if the Aztecs have anything to say about it. SDSU rolls into Ann Arbor with a bunch of players still angry about the way former head coach Brady Hoke bolted after last season to take the Michigan job. And it’s not as if the Aztecs aren’t any good. Hoke built a pretty good program that is 3-0 and coming off a 42-24 pounding of Washington State last week. A couple of things are conspiring against the upset, though. First, the Aztecs have to fly three time zones east and play at what would normally be 9 a.m. for them. And they have seen nothing like Wolverines QB Denard Robinson, whom Hoke has finally allowed to have free reign over the U-M offense … Michigan 35, San Diego State 28. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Colorado at Ohio State: Perhaps last week’s 24-6 loss to Miami (Fla.) served its purpose by radically exposing the Buckeyes’ weaknesses and giving the coaching staff a close-up look at where the various leaks are located. Ready or not, freshman Braxton Miller will get the start at quarterback and his athleticism will help. But the Buckeyes will have to throw the ball – at least a little – to be successful, and that makes picking this game a little more of a crapshoot … Ohio State 20, Colorado 16. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Missouri (+21½) at Oklahoma; LSU (-5½) at West Virginia; Arkansas at Alabama (-11); Tulsa at Boise State (-28); South Dakota at Wisconsin (NL); Nebraska at Wyoming (+23½); Vanderbilt (+16) at South Carolina; Rice at Baylor (-20); San Diego State (+10½) at Michigan; Colorado (+16½) at Ohio State.

Enjoy the games and we’ll see you next week.

Déjà Vu? Season Has Distinctive ’08 Feel So Far

See if any of this sounds familiar.

Ohio State whips up on an undermanned foe in the season opener, yielding less than 100 total yards on defense and rolling to a shutout victory by more than 40 points. The following week, the Buckeyes inexplicably fall behind an instate opponent from the Mid-American Conference before making a comeback – which includes getting a touchdown on a 69-yard punt return.

Now, in the week three, OSU gets ready for a primetime road game in a place that hasn’t been very friendly to them in the past. The Buckeyes enter the game with their No. 1 tailback unavailable, causing some consternation in the offensive game-planning. And there is a fifth-year senior at quarterback with an ultra-talented freshman behind him, biding his time before he gets his chance at glory.

The aforementioned isn’t a rehash of what has happened so far this season for the Ohio State football team. It is an instant replay of the start of the 2008 season, featuring so many similarities it is quite simply mind-boggling.

In 2008, the Buckeyes began the season against Division I-AA Youngstown State and ground the Penguins into dust, allowing a mere 64 yards en route to a 43-0 victory.

Two weeks ago, Ohio State put on an uncannily similar performance against Akron, holding the Zips to only 90 total yards during a 42-0 win.

In 2008, the Buckeyes followed their powerful season-opening win with a lackluster victory over instate MAC rival Ohio. The Bobcats held a 14-6 lead in the second half before Ohio State came back to secure a 26-14 triumph helped in part by Ray Small’s 69-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Last week, OSU fell behind instate MAC rival Toledo before a comeback – fueled in part by a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown by Chris Fields – allowed the Buckeyes to pull out a 27-22 decision.

That brings us to week three of the season. In 2008, Ohio State traveled to USC for a nationally televised night game in the L.A. Coliseum, a place where the Buckeyes hadn’t done very well over the years. The team had won only two of seven games it had played there, and had lost their last three in a row by a combined score of 91-6.

OSU went to the West Coast without one of their top offensive weapons – No. 1 tailback Beanie Wells was sidelined with a foot injury. That put the pressure on the coaching staff to devise a game plan spotlighting fifth-year senior quarterback Todd Boeckman, who was beginning to hear footsteps from his backup, talented freshman Terrelle Pryor.

This year, Ohio State travels to Miami, Fla., and plays in a state where the team has played nine times before but won only twice. The Buckeyes head to the Sunshine State with No. 1 tailback Boom Herron sidelined for the third game of his five-game suspension, and the team will be led into battle by fifth-year senior quarterback Joe Bauserman. Behind Bauserman on the depth chart is talented freshman Braxton Miller.

We know what happened in 2008. Ohio State took an early 3-0 lead and then got crushed, 35-3, by a USC team that featured such future NFL stars as quarterback Mark Sanchez and linebackers Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing. Boeckman had a particularly ugly performance, throwing for only 84 yards and pitching two interceptions. One of those was a 48-yard pick six by USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, who unceremoniously steamrolled Boeckman on his way to the end zone.

By the time the team played Sun Belt weakling Troy the following week, Boeckman had been benched and Pryor was the new starting quarterback for a season that wound up with a 10-3 record and 24-21 loss to a Colt McCoy-led Texas team in the Fiesta Bowl.

The point of this walk back through time? Only because it appears history has already repeated itself this year and if Ohio State wants to avoid another nationally-televised failure, perhaps the coaching staff will look at the playbook utilized at USC three years ago and do the direct opposite.

Not that the 2011 Miami team is the equivalent of the 2008 USC squad. Far from it. The Hurricanes have had more than their share of problems this year including a particularly nasty episode with the NCAA that is only now in the early stages of investigation. Additionally, they are a mistake-prone team seemingly more interested in playing off their bygone national championship era than rising to the level of their own talent.

Be that as it may, Miami is playing at home and playing for pride. Because of the offseason problems that cost the Buckeyes their head coach and starting quarterback not to mention most of their national prestige, the Hurricanes believe they have a wounded opponent coming to town and Ohio State’s performance last week against Toledo did nothing to dispel that notion.

To help with their self-confidence, the Buckeyes can point to last year’s 36-24 victory in Columbus – a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate – but many of those who came up with big plays last year against the Hurricanes are gone. Pryor threw for 233 yards and ran for 113 more while kicker Devin Barclay tied a school record with five field goals. Also, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa had two interceptions and defensive end Cameron Heyward took a pick back 80 yards to set up one of the team’s touchdowns.

Yet as well as the Buckeyes played last year, they could have played much better. The offense got inside the Miami 25-yard line on 10 occasions and came away with only three touchdowns, while special teams allowed the Hurricanes to return a kickoff and a punt for scores – the only time that has happened to Ohio State in its history. Both return men – Lamar Smith and Travis Benjamin – will be on the field for Miami tomorrow night.

To be brutally honest, Ohio State cannot afford the mistakes it made last year against the Hurricanes if it expects to come home with a victory. Last week’s performance made that abundantly clear.

This is a team that is desperately trying to keep its head above water until Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and offensive tackle Mike Adams return in week six. This is a team that remains undecided at the quarterback position. This is a team that is shaky – at best – in the kicking game. And this is a team that continues to search for its own identity.

Most of all, this is a team at a crossroads with tomorrow night’s game serving as a signpost to indicate if the Buckeyes truly are ready for primetime.

OSU-MIAMI TIDBITS

** Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell is only the 12th Ohio State head coach in history to win his first two games. A victory over Miami tomorrow night would make him only the ninth OSU head coach to win his first three. The most recent to accomplish that feat was Earle Bruce, who won his first 11 in 1979.

** Bruce was also the most recent OSU head coach to win his first road game with the Buckeyes. That was a 21-17 victory at Minnesota in ’79. Since then, John Cooper lost his road debut, a 42-10 blowout loss at Pittsburgh, and Jim Tressel dropped a 13-6 decision at UCLA in 2001, a game postponed one week after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

** Counting Fickell’s victory over Akron in this year’s season opener, Ohio State head coaches are 21-1-1 in their debut games with the Buckeyes. The record is not nearly as good in their first road test – only 7-13-2.

** Ohio State enjoys a 3-1 edge in the all-time series with Miami. The Buckeyes took a 10-0 win in Ohio Stadium in 1977, a 31-24 double overtime victory in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl that served as the BCS National Championship Game, and a 36-24 win in the Horseshoe last season. 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.

** The Buckeyes are 15-7 all-time against teams that are current members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. In addition to being 3-1 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 have a 31-22 record against teams currently in the Big Ten. In addition to being 1-3 against Ohio State, Miami is 4-0 vs. Iowa and Michigan State, 5-1 against Purdue, 5-5 vs. Nebraska, 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.

** This game marks the first regular-season game Ohio State has played in the state of Florida. The Buckeyes have played nine previous times in the Sunshine State – all bowl games – and have posted a 2-7 record. All nine of those games have been bowl contests with the only wins a 27-10 victory over Colorado in the 1977 Orange Bowl and a 10-7 decision against BYU in the 1985 Citrus Bowl.

** When Miami return man Lamar Miller scored on an 88-yard kickoff return last year against the Buckeyes, he became the first Hurricane to return a kickoff for a touchdown since Devin Hester ran one back 100 yards at North Carolina State in 2004.

** When Miami junior Travis Benjamin took a punt back 79 yards late in the second quarter against Ohio State last year, it marked the first time the Buckeyes had surrendered a touchdown on a punt return since Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson ran one back 87 yards in 1997. Michigan won that game by a 20-14 final.

** It might surprise you to know the Ohio State offensive line has not surrendered a sack in three straight games and 90 consecutive pass attempts. That is the third longest such streak in Division I-A behind UAB (119) and Oklahoma (112).

** The Hurricanes will honor former All-America defensive tackle Russell Maryland (1986-90) at halftime during tomorrow night’s game. Maryland is being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this year following a career that included national championships in 1987 and ’89 and an Outland Trophy win in 1990.

** Sun Life Stadium is the seventh different name under which the 75,540-seat facility that is home to the Hurricanes has been known. The facility opened in 1987 as Joe Robbie Stadium and bore that name for the first decade of its existence. Since then, the stadium has also been known as Pro Player Park (1996), Pro Player Stadium (1996-2005), Dolphins Stadium (2005-06), Dolphin Stadium (2006-09) and Land Shark Stadium (2009-10).

** The game will be televised by ESPN with veteran play-by-play man Brad Nessler joined by former Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge with color analysis. Holly Rowe will file sideline reports. Kickoff is set for shortly after 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

** Next week, Ohio State returns home to take on Colorado. The game is set for a kickoff shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern and will be telecast by ABC/ESPN2 using the reverse mirror. (In case you have forgotten how the reverse mirror works, the game should be televised by your local ABC affiliate. If the game is not on that channel, look for it on ESPN2.)

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** 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.

** Also on Sept. 14, 1991, Texas A&M freshman tailback Greg Hill ran for 212 yards and two touchdowns as the Aggies rolled to a 45-7 victory over LSU in College Station. Hill’s yardage total marked the best debut performance by a freshman 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.

** Also on Sept. 15, 1973, Oklahoma gave head coach Barry Switzer a win in his first game with the Sooners, a 42-14 victory over Baylor in Waco. Switzer would go to post a 157-29-4 record with three national championships and 12 Big Eight titles in 16 seasons with OU.

** On Sept. 17, 1966, Joe Paterno made his debut as head coach at Penn State and 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 402 and counting.

** On Sept. 17, 1988, No. 10 Florida State got a pair of outstanding special teams plays to score a 24-21 upset at third-ranked Clemson. FSU’s Deion Sanders returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and then cornerback LeRoy Butler took a fake punt 76 yards to set up Richie Andrews’ game-winning 19-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining.

** 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. In that game, Chuck Hughes of UTEP also set an NCAA record when he caught 10 passes for 349 yards. His 34.9 yards-per-catch average is the best single-game average in NCAA history for players with at least 10 catches.

** On Sept. 19, 1952, Duke took a 20-7 win over South Carolina in the inaugural game of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

** On 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.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** With the obvious exception of its fan base, there were likely very few tears shed when Notre Dame lost a last-second decision to Michigan on Saturday night. Fighting Irish fans continue to combine a unique blend of arrogance and suspended reality, believing their favorite team remains relevant in the national championship picture. (The Irish haven’t finished a season as a consensus top-10 team since 1993.) Still, you might have felt just a sliver of sympathy for UND after its latest collapse against Michigan. The Wolverines have beaten Notre Dame the last three years, scoring the winning points with 0:11, 0:27 and 0:02 showing on the clock.

** A crowd of 114,804 jammed into the Big House to watch Michigan’s come-from-behind (twice) victory over the Irish. That broke the Michigan Stadium record of 113,090, set during the 2010 season opener against Connecticut, and marked the largest crowd ever to watch a football game – college or pro.

** Four Big Ten quarterbacks passed the 100-yard mark passing and rushing last weekend. They were led by Denard Robinson of Michigan, who threw for 338 and added 108 more on the ground to account for 446 of the Wolverines’ 452 yards against Notre Dame. Also breaking the century mark through the air and on the ground were Taylor Martinez of Nebraska (219 passing, 166 rushing), MarQueis Gray of Minnesota (211-110) and Kain Colter of Northwestern (109-104).

** With his performance against the Irish, Robinson jumped from sixth to third on the Big Ten list for career rushing yards by a quarterback. Robinson now has 2,207 yards and leapfrogged over Rick Leach of Michigan (2,176, 1975-78), Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State (2,164, 2008-10) and Rickey Foggie of Minnesota (2,150, 1984-87). Robinson now trails only Antwaan Randle El of Indiana (3,895, 1998-2001) and Juice Williams of Illinois (2,557, 2006-09).

** Indiana has certainly had its problems in recent years with three straight losing seasons. But the Hoosiers, who are currently 0-2, haven’t lost two games to open a season since 2003 when they finished 2-10 under head coach Gerry DiNardo.

** Minnesota is also 0-2 to start the season for the first time since the 1992 team lost its first three under first-year head coach Jim Wacker.

** Illinois is 2-0 for the first time since 2005 – Ron Zook’s first season – a mini-winning streak that was followed by nine consecutive losses. Things might be different this time around, though. During last weekend’s 56-3 romp over South Dakota State, the Fighting Illini gave up only 96 yards of total offense. That marked the first time since 1998 that Illinois had held an opponent under 100 total yards.

** After his first six seasons at Virginia Tech, head coach Frank Beamer had a record of 24-40-2. Since then, Beamer is 176-55 (a .762 winning percentage) and secured his 200th victory with the Hokies on Saturday when his team rolled to a 66-13 rout of Division I-AA Appalachian State.

** Welcome back, Tennessee. The Volunteers were 18-20 over the past three seasons, but they are currently 2-0 following last weekend’s 45-23 romp over Cincinnati. Head coach Derek Dooley’s team is led by a bunch of talented sophomores, including quarterback Tyler Bray, who completed 34 of 41 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns against the Bearcats. UT gets a better gauge on its rebuilding project this week when the Vols travel to Gainesville to take on Florida, a team they haven’t beaten since 2004. In the six games since, Tennessee has been outscored by a 180-83 margin.

** Remember Eastern Michigan, the team Ohio State hung 73 on last season? Well, the Eagles are back in the air with a 2-0 start for the first time in 22 years. Of course, the two victories have come against a pair of Division I-AA opponents, but third-year head coach Ron English will take any win he can get. EMU, which plays at Michigan this week, hasn’t had a winning season since going 6-5 in 1995, and the Eagles haven’t been to a bowl game since the 1987 California Bowl where they took a 30-27 win over San Jose State.

** Any football aficionado can tell you it’s a pretty sure bet that any team losing the turnover battle by a 5-0 margin will likely lose. Of course, gamblers can tell you there’s no such thing as a sure bet. North Carolina turned the ball over five times Saturday to none for Rutgers, but the Tar Heels still managed a 24-22 win.

** Oberlin remains the last Ohio school to beat Ohio State, a 7-6 victory over the Buckeyes in 1921 – the year before Ohio Stadium was completed. The Yeomen don’t play Ohio State any more, but they still have an intercollegiate football program and celebrated a 42-0 victory last weekend over Kenyon. It marked the first shutout victory for Oberlin in 29 years.

** Congratulations to Alan Moore, who kicked an extra point Saturday for NAIA Faulkner (Ala.) during the Eagles’ 41-19 win over Ave Maria (Fla.). What makes Moore’s PAT so noteworthy? He is a 61-year-old Vietnam War veteran and grandfather of five who is now the oldest person ever to play in a college football game.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Last week, we were 8-2 straight up to move to 19-3 on the young season. We were almost as good picking against the spread, going 7-2-1 to get above the breakeven mark at 11-8-1 for the season. Now all we have to do is keep our heads above water.

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 4 Boise State at Toledo: Based upon the Rockets’ performance last week at Ohio State, you might be tempted to take them in an upset. You might but we’re not. The Broncos invade the Glass Bowl after a 35-21 season-opening win over Georgia and a week off. No offense to Joe Bauserman, but Toledo is going to face a much more polished quarterback this week in Kellen Moore, who would probably be the odds-on Heisman Trophy favorite if not for a guy named Andrew Luck. Look for Moore and his teammates to take care of business … Boise State 45, Toledo 14. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 5 Florida State: The Sooners rolled – and we mean rolled in every sense of the word – to a 47-17 win over the Seminoles in Norman last year and most observers think it will be pretty much the same tomorrow night in Tallahassee. Much has been made of the rebuilt FSU defense, which ranks third in the nation in total defense and fourth in scoring. But those stats have been accumulated against the likes of Louisiana-Monroe and Division I-AA Charleston Southern. There is no doubt Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles pointed in the right direction. Unfortunately, they are still a ways away from elite status and this game represents just a little bit more than Fisher’s team can chew right now … Oklahoma 31, Florida State 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

North Texas at No. 2 Alabama: For all of those opponents who thought the Crimson Tide offense would sputter this year after the departure of graduated QB Greg McElroy, here’s some bad news – they still have Trent Richardson at tailback. Richardson and new running mate Eddie Lacy have pummeled opponents so far this year, combining for nearly 300 yards in only two games. Next up is the Mean Green, who enter Bryant-Denny Stadium with a defense that has given up an average of 545.5 yards in two games so far this year. We smell a rout … Alabama 49, North Texas 7. (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 6 Stanford at Arizona: The Wildcats escape the frying pan only to jump into the fire. They took their lumps during a 37-14 loss at Oklahoma State last weekend and now draw the high-flying Cardinal in their Pac-12 opener. QB Andrew Luck gets all the pub, but Stanford has a pretty good running game, too. Evidence is last week’s 44-14 rout of Duke when the Cardinal piled up 205 yards on the ground to only 30 for the Blue Devils. When you realize Zona had only 41 yards last week against Okie State, you get a feel for where this one’s headed … Stanford 34, Arizona 10. (10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 7 Wisconsin vs. Northern Illinois: Things might be a little tighter for Bucky this week than you might imagine. First, they are on the road for the first time (the game is at Soldier Field in Chicago) and the Badgers aren’t exactly road warriors – seven of their last eight losses have come away from Camp Randall. Secondly, the Huskies are coached by former UW defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, who might know a thing or two about stopping the Wisconsin ground game. Unfortunately, Doeren will also have to stop QB Russell Wilson, who has been superlative in his first two games, completing nearly 80 percent of his passes for 444 yards and five TDs … Wisconsin 37, Northern Illinois 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

Idaho at No. 9 Texas A&M: It seems rather amusing to hear the pundits opine that A&M wanting to bolt the Big 12 for the SEC serves as a distraction for this game. Maybe if the Aggies were playing someone a little stronger than the Vandals, who gave up 478 yards in their season-opening loss to Bowling Green. They are liable to give up even more this week since A&M trots out an offensive attack led by efficient QB Ryan Tannehill and RB Cyrus Gray, who has run for 100 yards or more in eight straight games … Texas A&M 47, Idaho 10. (7 p.m. ET, FSN)

Missouri State at No. 12 Oregon: We pretty much know the Ducks’ routine by now – run up the score on lesser opponents and then struggle with the big boys. No one would confuse the Bears with the big boys, especially after being preseason favorites to finish last in the Missouri Valley Conference. They are basically going to Eugene to pick up their checks and try to keep Oregon from scoring in triple figures … Oregon 62, Missouri State 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, CSN)

No. 15 Michigan State at Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are beginning to get a complex about playing teams from Michigan. The Wolverines have literally cut out their hearts on last-second plays the last three years, and Sparty has beat UND four of the last six times they have met. Last year featured another fantastic finish with Michigan State scoring a touchdown off a fake field goal for a 34-31 overtime victory. This year, it could be just as close provided the fact Notre Dame’s offense doesn’t keep shooting itself in the foot with turnover after turnover. The Irish rank No. 13 nationally in total offense but dead last among 120 Division I-A teams in turnover margin. That stat alone tilts the pick … Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 27. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

No. 8 Oklahoma State at Tulsa: If they entertain the slightest notion of an upset, the Golden Hurricane will have to figure out a way to slow down Okie State WR Justin Blackmon. The junior already has 20 catches for 272 yards and two TDs this year and is working on an NCAA record streak of 14 straight games with at least 100 yards receiving. Blackmon caught three TDs last year against Tulsa during a 62-38 romp in Stillwater, and if you think the Hurricane have gotten any better at pass defense, know this: they gave up 417 to Oklahoma in their season opener … Oklahoma State 48, Tulsa 21.  (10 p.m. ET, FSN)

No. 17 Ohio State at Miami (Fla.): To say we’re conflicted about this game would be an understatement. Does Ohio State have the ability to win this game? Absolutely. Will the Buckeyes win? In light of what happened last week against Toledo, that’s a good question. We keep going back to last year’s game and all of the production OSU has lost since then. We’re also bothered by a lack of execution on special teams this year, something that kept the Hurricanes in last year’s game. It all makes for a most uneasy feeling … Miami 26, Ohio State 21. (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-20) at Toledo; Oklahoma (-3) at Florida State; North Texas (+46) at Alabama; Stanford (-9½) at Arizona; Wisconsin (-16½) at Northern Illinois; Idaho at Texas A&M (-35½); Missouri State at Oregon (-47½); Michigan State (+5½) at Notre Dame; Oklahoma State (-13) at Tulsa; Ohio State at Miami-FL (-3).

Enjoy the games and we’ll see you next week.

Fickell Getting More And More Comfortable … And It Shows

One game against a decidedly weaker opponent does not a coaching legend make, but more and more Luke Fickell seems to be easing into the job that was thrust upon him.

Undoubtedly one of the most intense individuals I have ever met, Fickell seemed perfect as an assistant coach but I wondered if his head might not explode (literally not figuratively) if he was ever assigned the top job. I was afraid the meltdown had already begun during Fickell’s earliest appearances after being named the 23rd head coach in Ohio State football history.

At his introductory news conference June 13, Fickell seemed uncharacteristically nervous. You could forgive a case of the jitters giving the circumstances, but the new coach seemed overly uneasy especially for someone who had been fairly used to the white, hot television lights during nine seasons on Jim Tressel’s coaching staff, the last six as co-defensive coordinator.

But even if you could chalk that first news conference up to a case of the nerves, there was the grimace-inducing appearance six weeks later at the annual Big Ten Media Days when Fickell admitted confusion about the format and exactly what was expected of him in Chicago. He seemed more than a little ill at ease while reporters fired question after question after question – often times repeating the same question someone had asked only a few minutes earlier – and developed what someone described as “a thousand-yard stare,” a piercing, far-off glare that seemed to indicate the new coach was thinking of about a million other places he would rather be.

Since then, however, Fickell has slowly but surely become more comfortable as he faces the daily grind of his new position, especially the constant demands of dealing with the media. His firmly locked jaw has given way to a smile or two, and he has even started to crack a few jokes. During his weekly Tuesday news conference with reporters on Sept. 6, for example, the mood was lighter than it ever was under his predecessor. Fickell even tossed a few gentle jibes at some reporters, including longtime beat writer Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch.

Following his opening remarks, Fickell looked over the assembled media and said with a faint trace of a grin, “I’ll open it up now (for questions) and we’ll just start with Tim because he’s usually the first question anyway, right?”

While May smiled and nodded his head in agreement, laughter permeated the room – again, something that was seldom (if ever) heard when Tressel was running the show.

While Fickell continues to hone his public persona, he appeared to have retained a close relationship with the players on his team. While many head coaches are looked upon as authoritarian father figures, Fickell plays a role more akin to an older brother. Not that he is any less of a disciplinarian than Tressel, but there is a major difference between angering your father and disappointing your older brother. You can make your dad angry and he’ll quickly get over it. Disappointment lingers much longer, so you want to try and avoid that at all costs.

As a first-team head coach, Fickell relates surprisingly well to his team and he relates on several levels. As a former Ohio State player, he knows what it is like to be a Buckeye. He knows the perks that come with that as well as the pressures. At only 38 years old, he remains young enough to remain in tune to the ever-changing culture of his players. Additionally, he had a personal hand in recruiting many of them, so he knows their backgrounds, their family situations, what makes them tick. And he has that intrinsic inner fire that makes his players want to play for him, want to excel for him, want to make him proud of them.

The metaphor here is that Ohio State has fallen into a sewer and come out with a pocketful of fish. After pretty much botching the entire situation surrounding Tressel, the university has stumbled upon what looks so far like a perfect successor.

I have no idea how many victories Fickell has to total this season to merit a second season as Ohio State head coach. I have heard disturbing rumblings around Columbus that it doesn’t matter how well the team does this season. University power brokers have already decided that Fickell, his staff and any other remnant of the Tressel era will be swept away in 2012 in favor of Urban Meyer or some other “name” coach.

If that is truly in the minds of those who could make it happen, they should take a step back and understand – truly understand – exactly what would mean. You have handed the keys to your besieged football program to a loyal alumnus, a guy who is not only a former player and four-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, but a Columbus native who is Buckeye through and through. You have told him that the house is on fire and literally begged him to put it out, all the while tying one hand behind his back by giving him a one-year contract opposing schools are already using against him on the recruiting trail.

What happens if he puts out the fire and saves the program? Will his reward be a contract extension or a hollow thank you note accompanied with a request to step aside in favor of Meyer?

That seems unimaginable at Ohio State, especially if Fickell’s team achieves nine or more victories this year. Of course, when you remember the way the university has handled its most recent problems, you cringe and realize anything is possible.

OSU-TOLEDO TIDBITS

** Following last week’s 42-0 shutout win over Akron, Ohio State looks to go 2-0 for the sixth consecutive season. The last time the Buckeyes failed to open the season with two victories was 2005 when they lost a 25-22 decision at home in week two to eventual national champion Texas.

** Ohio State hasn’t started a season with back-to-back shutouts since 1963. That season, the Buckeyes took a 17-0 win in the opener against Texas A&M and followed with a 21-0 victory at Indiana.

** The Buckeyes are 2-0 all-time against Toledo and both games have been shutouts. OSU took a 49-0 victory at Ohio Stadium in 1998 and won by a 38-0 score in 2009 in a game played at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

** Something will have to give Saturday. Toledo has never scored in two previous games against Ohio State, but the Rockets are on a current streak of eight straight games in which they have scored at least 30 points.

** With last week’s win over Akron, Fickell joined 20 other men who enjoyed a victory in their first game as head coach of the Buckeyes. OSU has had only 23 head coaches in program history and Fickell’s win over the Zips ran to 21-1-1 the opening-game record for first-year coaches. The only two coaches who failed to win their Ohio State debuts were Jack Ryder (a 40-0 loss at Oberlin in 1892) and Paul Bixler (a 13-13 tie with Missouri in 1946).

** While 20 OSU head coaches have won their inaugural game, only 12 have gone on to win their second game as well. The school record is held by Carroll Widdoes, who won his first 12 games as head coach of the Buckeyes in 1944-45.

** The Rockets are led by third-year head coach Tim Beckman, who has a record of 14-12 at Toledo. Beckman served two seasons as cornerbacks coach on Jim Tressel’s staff at Ohio State in 2005 and ’06.

** Ohio State is working on a streak of 57 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 has won 58 straight games at home against unranked nonconference opponents. The Buckeyes haven’t lost to an unranked nonconference team since a 34-17 loss to Florida State in 1982.

** The Buckeyes are looking for their 30th victory in 31 all-time games against current members of the Mid-American Conference. The only loss was a 12-6 defeat to Akron in a game played Sept. 15, 1894, at the Ohio State Fair.

** The last time Ohio State lost to an instate opponent was a 7-6 decision against Oberlin in 1921. Since then, the Buckeyes are 42-0-1 against other schools from Ohio. The only blemish on that mark is a 7-7 tie with Wooster in 1924.

** The Rockets are 6-14 all-time vs. teams currently in the Big Ten, but Toledo has had more success in recent seasons. They are 2-2 since 2008 and that includes last year’s 31-20 win over Purdue in West Lafayette.

** Toledo is also a respectable 6-8 all-time against top 25 teams. Unfortunately for the Rockets, most of the success in that record has come at home. Toledo is only 1-7 when playing ranked teams on the road.

** Toledo has undertaken an ambitious nonconference schedule. After taking on the Buckeyes, the Rockets host Boise State on Sept. 16 and then travel to a much-improved Syracuse the following week.

** The Rockets entered 2011 with a streak of five straight seasons during which they have enjoyed at least one victory over a BCS conference school. Only TCU (nine) and Navy (eight) entered this season as non-qualifying BCS schools with longer such streaks

** OSU tight end Jake Stoneburner more than doubled his previous career touchdown total when he caught three scoring passes against Akron. Stoneburner now has five TD catches for his career, halfway to the school record for touchdowns by a tight end. If you know who holds that record, consider yourself a true Buckeye fan. The answer comes a bit later.

** This could be the week when we discover how well Ohio State has shored up his kick coverage units. Toledo return man Eric Page is his team’s career leader in kickoff return average at 28.9 yards. He is also the only player in school history to return two kickoffs of touchdowns in the same game, chalking up returns of 99 and 95 yards during last year’s 42-31 win over Central Michigan.

** Page is also one of the best receivers Toledo has ever had. He enters the game fourth all-time in reception yardage (2,324), fifth in total catches (186) and eighth in touchdowns (16). Page has caught at least one ball in 26 consecutive games and that is tied for the fifth-longest streak in UT history.

** Toledo created five turnovers during its season-opening win over New Hampshire and that was no fluke. The Rockets led the MAC in turnover margin last season and finished 15th in the nation. They were plus-9 in the turnover department last year with 14 fumble recoveries and 20 interceptions. Against New Hampshire, Toledo recovered three fumbles and picked off two passes during a 58-22 win.

** Those 58 points were the most by a Toledo team since a 70-21 win over Northern Illinois in October 2007.

** The victory over New Hampshire was Toledo’s first season-opening win since a 62-14 triumph against Western Illinois to kick off the 2005 season.

** The all-time leader for more touchdown catches by an Ohio State tight end is John Lumpkin, who had 10 for his career from 1996 to ’98. For those of you who guessed John Frank (1980-83), he finished his OSU career with nine touchdown receptions.

** The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network with Tom Hart handling play-by-play duties. Former Minnesota tight end Derek Rackley will offer color analysis and former Northwestern women’s soccer and basketball player Lisa Byington will report from the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** Next week, Ohio State takes to the road for the first time this season and travels to Miami (Fla.) to take on the Hurricanes. The game will be telecast by ESPN and is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** 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.

** Also on Sept. 8, 1984, George Dwarn and Otis Cheathem became the first opponents ever to crack the 200-yard mark in rushing in the same game. Swarn totaled 239 for Miami (Ohio) while Cheathem ran for 219 as his Western Michigan team scored a 17-13 win over the RedHawks (who were the Redskins at that time).

** 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. Yes, that’s the same Mark Harmon who stars as Special Agent Gibbs on the CBS drama “NCIS,” not to mention the same Mark Harmon who is the son of 1940 Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon of Michigan.

** On Sept. 9, 2006, it was Overtime Saturday all across college football. A record seven games went into overtime, including a double-OT thriller when Boston College blocked an extra point to upset No. 18 Clemson, 34-33.

** On Sept. 10, 1966, Baylor shocked No. 7 Syracuse, taking a 35-12 victory in Waco in the 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.

** On Sept. 11, 1993, a then-NCAA regular-season record 106,851 fans were on hand as No. 10 Notre Dame scored a 27-23 upset over second-ranked Michigan. The Fighting Irish took a 24-10 lead at halftime and coasted the rest of the way, finishing the season with an 11-1 record and a No. 2 ranking in the season’s final poll.

** 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.

** 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.

** 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.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** CBSSports.com analyst Jerry Palm, who basically devised RPI for college basketball teams, is taking a stab at predicting which teams will play in which bowls. Palm has Oklahoma and Alabama squaring off in the BCS National Championship Game (a lot of people do), but he has Ohio State playing in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston on Dec. 31 against Baylor. That game features the sixth Big Ten qualifier against the sixth Big 12 qualifier. Discuss.

** While you are discussing that one, here’s another: Palm has Texas A&M playing Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl, calling the Wolverines “the second-best team in the Big Ten.” Discuss further.

** Congratulations to Penn State return man Chaz Powell, who ran back the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown during the Nittany Lions’ 41-7 win over Indiana State. It marked the second year in a row Powell had returned a kickoff for a touchdown in Penn State’s season opener.

** Congratulations also to Michigan linebacker Brandon Herron. He returned an interception 94 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and then took a recovered fumbled 29 yards for a second in the third period of the Wolverines’ weather-shortened, 34-10 win over Western Michigan. Herron became the first U-M player in the modern era to score two defensive touchdowns in the same game.

** Wisconsin got things started for the Big Ten this season with a Thursday night victory over UNLV in Camp Randall Stadium. The 51-17 blowout marked career win No. 50 for UW head coach Bret Bielema, and also ran his record to 21-0 vs. regular-season nonconference opponents. That is the third-best start to a coaching career in Big Ten history, trailing only Fielding Yost of Michigan (41-0) and Joe Paterno of Penn State (23-0).

** The Big Ten has a reputation for being a run-oriented conference, yet the first week of play this season found five players with 100 yards or more receiving and only three players who cracked the century mark on the ground. Moreover, only two of those players – Ralph Bolden of Purdue (120 yards on 17 carries) and Silas Redd of Penn State (12 carries, 104 yards, two TDs) – are running backs. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez was the other with 135 yards and three touchdowns during his team’s 40-7 win over Division I-AA Chattanooga.

** Evidence that Oregon is little more than the product of overblown hype: Since 2009, the Ducks sport a 22-5 record. In their 22 wins, they have averaged 47.5 points per game. In their five losses – to Boise State, Stanford, Ohio State, Auburn and LSU – they have averaged 22.6 and that includes a 51-42 shootout loss to Stanford in ’09. Oregon has averaged an anemic 17.8 against the Broncos, Buckeyes, Tigers and Bayou Bengals.

** North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner had a pretty nice first start last week against James Madison. Renner completed 22 of 23 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns as the Tar Heels rolled to a 42-10 win. Technically, Renner completed all 23 of his attempts – he also had one interception.

** In case you’re wondering, no, Renner does not lead the nation in pass efficiency after that performance. Robert Griffin III of Baylor, who was 21 of 27 for 359 yards with five TDs and no INTs tops that list. Chandler Harnish of Northern Illinois (12-19-195-5-1) is second, Joe Bauserman of Ohio State (12-16-163-3-0) is third and Renner is fourth.

** Griffin’s performance came during a 50-48 victory over TCU, a decidedly unusual offensive explosion against the Horned Frogs. TCU finished last season as the nation’s No. 1 team in scoring defense, allowing an average of only 12.0 points to 13 opponents. The Frogs hadn’t surrendered 50 points in a game since a 51-50 overtime win over BYU in September 2005.

** The University of Texas at San Antonio set a modern-era NCAA attendance record by a first-year Division I program last Saturday, drawing 56,743 fans to the Alamodome for its inaugural game against Northeastern State (Okla.) of Division II. The Division I-AA Roadrunners, coached by former OSU assistant and Miami (Fla.) head coach Larry Coker, scored a 31-3 victory in their first game.

** Kudos to our old friends at Wittenberg. With last weekend’s 45-28 win over Capital University, the Tigers became the first Division III team to reach 700 victories all-time. The program, which began in 1892, boasts a record of 700-347-32, a tidy .664 winning percentage. Three of those victories came against Ohio State when the two schools used to play one another in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wittenberg was 3-12 against the Buckeyes between 1893 and 1929.

FEARLESS FORECAST

To say the weather was wacky during the first weekend of the 2011 college football season was an understatement. While sun beat down on a broiling hot Ohio Stadium, monsoons and lightning storms ravished such venues as Ann Arbor, South Bend and Morgantown.

As a result, some games were called because of weather problems, sending Vegas into a tizzy because they won’t pay off (or collect) on a game that doesn’t reach its conclusion. That wiped out a couple of games we picked against the spread, so the opening-week ledger was 4-6. Straight-up, we went a near-perfect 11-1 with the only miss coming with TCU’s 50-48 loss at Baylor. At least the game was entertaining as hell.

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Oregon State at No. 8 Wisconsin: The Badgers couldn’t have looked much better during their 51-17 squashing of UNLV while the Beavers couldn’t have looked much worse in a 29-28 overtime loss to I-AA Sacramento State. Oregon State does have the services of freshman tailback Marcus Agnew, who ran for 223 yards and three TDs last week, and rushing defense was probably the only weakness Bucky showed last week. That should make the final score close(r) … Wisconsin 45, Oregon State 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Florida Atlantic at No. 17 Michigan State: The Owls are in the middle of a grueling early-season stretch that has them in East Lansing one week after playing at Florida and one week before traveling to Auburn. It is part of a five-week road trip to start the season, which will be the final one as head coach for the legendary Howard Schnellenberger. FAU may be just what a somewhat shaky Spartans defense needs right now. The Owls managed only 30 yards on 30 carries during last week’s 41-7 loss to the Gators … Michigan State 30, Florida Atlantic 13. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 3 Alabama at No. 23 Penn State: Since the Crimson Tide is still breaking in a new starting quarterback, a lot of observers think the Nittany Lions are keep this one close. We don’t happen to be in that camp. Despite pronouncements to the otherwise, Penn State is about the same defensively as it was a year ago when it ranked seventh in the Big Ten against the run. No matter who the Tide trots out there under center, they still have Trent Richardson at tailback and that will be more than enough … Alabama 31, Penn State 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

No. 6 Stanford at Duke: The so-called SAT Bowl is likely to be a huge mismatch. Preseason Heisman favorite Andrew Luck engineers the potent Cardinal offense, and last week he barely broke a sweat while throwing for 171 yards and two TDs while his team rolled to a 57-3 win over San Jose State. Those numbers will likely increase this weekend against the Blue Devils, who surrendered 193 yards through the air during their 23-21 season-opening loss at home to I-AA Richmond. This is one of those games that will be as lopsided as the visiting team wants it to be … Stanford 45, Duke 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Nevada at No. 13 Oregon: For every fan who laments their favorite team’s soft nonconference schedule, we give you the Oregon Ducks. One of last year’s national championship game participants has very little chance to make a repeat appearance after being exposed during last week’s 40-27 loss to LSU in the season opener. Returning home to face a rebuilding Wolf Pack might help the team’s psyche a little bit. Nevada went 13-1 last year, but lost both of their 1,000-yard rushers to graduation including veteran QB Kolin Kaepernick. Also, playing at Autzen Stadium is never any bargain for the visitor … Oregon 51, Nevada 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, FX)

New Mexico State at Minnesota: How about some love for Goldy? Minnesota went the L.A. Coliseum last week – a recent Little Shop of Horrors for Big Ten teams – and nearly came back with a huge upset of USC. The Gophers eventually dropped a 19-17 decision, but it was still a moral victory for a rebuilding program eager to build some kind of foundation. Better still, that kind of performance should help from a confidence factor. Sure, the Aggies have lost 12 straight road contests and 11 of their last 13 overall, but Goldy wasn’t exactly stellar at home last year, losing six of seven in TCF Bank Stadium. Something tells us that turns around this year under new head coach Jerry Kill … Minnesota 35, New Mexico State 23. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 12 South Carolina at Georgia: How hot is the seat under UGA head coach Mark Richt right now? Hot enough to fry eggs, bacon and whatever else you’d like for breakfast. Making matters worse for the Bulldogs is that they lost inside linebacker Alec Ogletree to a foot injury during last week’s 35-21 loss to Boise State. The Gamecocks will try to exploit that loss with sophomore tailback Marcus Lattimore, who had 182 yards and two TDs during last year’s 17-6 win over Georgia. Even with that loss, the Bulldogs have won seven of the last nine in the series and hold a lopsided 46-15-2 edge overall. Still, the Roosters seem clearly the better team, so … South Carolina 22, Georgia 17. (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Fresno State at No. 10 Nebraska: Here is probably all you need to know about this game. Last week, with an almost completely-rebuilt offensive line, the Bulldogs managed only 68 yards on the ground during a 36-21 loss to Cal. Meanwhile, the Black Shirts limited Chattanooga to just 60 yards rushing during a 40-7 victory. There are several well-worn adages in football and one of them says, “You can’t win if you can’t run the ball.” Therefore … Nebraska 41, Fresno State 10. (7 p.m. ET, BTN)

Notre Dame at Michigan: The first-ever night game at the Big House will serve as a huge measuring stick for these two teams. This was supposed to be a resurgent season for both the Irish and the Wolverines, but only U-M was victorious in week one. Notre Dame turned the ball over five times in a 23-20 home loss to South Florida while Michigan was dodged heavy rain and lightning before its 34-10 win over Western Michigan was called in the third quarter. One would have to assume the Irish will play better against a U-M defense that remains highly suspect. A win by either team would not be surprising, but we have to pick someone … Notre Dame 28, Michigan 27. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Toledo at No. 15 Ohio State: We’re not exactly sure why, but there is an underlying tone of gloom this week in Columbus. Perhaps it’s just a component of the rainy weather and gray skies, but there are a lot of people who believe the Rockets have a legitimate chance at scoring the upset. There is no doubt that Toledo possesses a potent offense – scoring 30 points or more in eight straight games in testimony to that. But as defense-minded as head coach Tim Beckman is, the Rockets are not the strongest defensive team in the world. They surrendered 332 yards and 22 points to Division I-AA New Hampshire last week, and are coming off a 2010 season when they ranked seventh in the MAC in total defense and ninth in scoring. Toledo will likely get on the scoreboard for the first time ever against the Buckeyes, but the defense will not be able to hold up its end of the bargain … Ohio State 34, Toledo 14. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Oregon State at Wisconsin (-20½); Florida Atlantic at Michigan State; Alabama (-10) at Penn State; Stanford (-21) at Duke; Nevada at Oregon (-26½); New Mexico State (+21) at Minnesota; South Carolina (-3) at Georgia; Fresno State at Nebraska (-27½); Notre Dame at Michigan (+3½); Toledo at Ohio State (-17½).

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

Dawn Of New Season Remains Saving Grace

Richard III had his winter of discontent and Ohio State certainly had a similar summer. Who knew the business of building a perennial college football powerhouse would devolve into defending yourself about the way you built it?

Thankfully, most of that is behind us now. And as we wait for some sort of closure regarding the NCAA mess – something that could take up to another month or so – Ohio Stadium stands in readiness for another football season.

A noontime kickoff under a bright September sky by the banks of the Olentangy River means the beginning of a new season made far sweeter by the bitterness of the past eight months. But no matter how much the NCAA, the media and some of its own coaches and players try to ruin it, college football will always remain one of the preeminent fall activities throughout the country.

Of course, we’re a little prejudiced in Columbus because nothing could be better than the first glimpse of TBDBITL coming down the ramp, the smell of hamburgers and hotdogs being grilled at tailgate parties, the roar that goes up when the team bolts from the tunnel and the first strains of “Hang On Sloopy.”

I won’t lie to you. Last May, when Jim Tressel was forced to resign, I felt like I had been kicked the gut to the point where I seriously questioned whether I wanted to cover Ohio State football any more. I wasn’t particular close to Tressel – no one in the media was – and there were times when the guy seemed moody or prickly just because he could get away with it. Still, I kind of liked the way he went about his business, micromanaging everything from offensive play-calling to which players graced the front of the gameday program.

Tressel had his share of detractors, though. Every public figure does. But no matter if you loved the guy or hated him, you had to respect the bottom line. During his decade-long tenure with the Buckeyes, he accomplished things no Ohio State head coach ever has. At the top of that list was nine victories over Michigan in 10 tries.

For about a six-week period, I was in an angry funk. Yes, Tressel lied to his superiors and that sets the absolute wrong tone for someone who is supposed to be above that sort of thing. But I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that his punishment did not fit his crime. Slowly but surely, however, I cooled off and so did the weather. The closer we got to actually playing football again, the better I seemed to feel. I imagine it’s like that for a lot of you.

The Ohio State football program has weathered many storms and it will weather many more. I’m sure there were those in 1928 who believed the Buckeyes would never be the same after the resignation of longtime coach John W. Wilce. The sentiment was likely the same in 1944 when Paul Brown went off to World War II. And I know how people felt following Woody Hayes’ all-too-public meltdown on national television in 1978.

I don’t have the slightest idea what kind of a head coach Luke Fickell will make. I have known Luke for a long time – since he was a high school wrestler at Columbus DeSales – but he’s never been the lead dog. He wasn’t as a four-year starter on the Ohio State defensive line and he never has been during a coaching career that began as a grad assistant on John Cooper’s OSU staff in 1999.

It is doubtful Luke knows the avalanche headed his way. He can prepare all he wants, but until you are in the meat grinder that is being the head football coach at Ohio State, you have no idea how white-hot that spotlight is going to be. Some thrive on it, some despise it and some get devoured by it. I don’t need to name names. You all know who I’m talking about in each instance.

Regardless of how Fickell handles the intrinsic pressure that comes with the unreasonable expectation of winning every game by at least 40 points, though, his bottom line will remain constant. For every head coach at Ohio State, the success formula is really quite simple: Win and you can stay. Lose and you can pack your bags.

Fortunately for Fickell, the cupboard left to him by Tressel is far from bare. There are a lot of new faces in the starting lineup – even more after the announcement of yesterday’s suspensions – but the Buckeyes have recruited so well over the past several years and talent always has a way of rising to the top. Additionally, the Buckeyes can take advantage of a fairly soft schedule that features no more than three or four bona fide landmines.

How will the team do under its new head coach? I think the answer is similar to how the program will survive in the wake of a particularly mean-spirited NCAA investigation that sullied its reputation. Very well, thank you.

OSU-AKRON TIDBITS

** Ohio State kicks off its 122nd season of intercollegiate football tomorrow against Akron. The Buckeyes have won 32 consecutive home openers, not tasting defeat since a 19-0 loss to Penn State in the 1978 season opener.

** OSU head coach Luke Fickell makes his debut this weekend. The last time the Buckeyes went into a season with a man who had no previous head coaching experience was 1946. Assistant coach Paul Bixler was elevated to the head coaching position and his first game resulted in a 13-13 tie with Missouri. That also marked the last time a first-year Ohio State head coach failed to win his opening game with the Buckeyes.

** The Zips are led by second-year coach Rob Ianello, whose team struggled to a 1-11 record last season. Ianello is not unfamiliar with playing against Ohio State, however. He was on staff at Wisconsin from 1990-93 and again in 2003 and ’04 during which time the Badgers posted a 3-2-1 record against the Buckeyes. Ianello was also on Charlie Weis’ staff at Notre Dame in 2005 when Ohio State rolled to a 34-20 victory in the Fiesta Bowl.

** Fickell may be in his first season as a head coach, but his staff has a combined 184 years of experience as college assistants or staff members.

** Fickell also knows a little bit about Akron. He got his first full-time coaching job there, serving as defensive line coach on Lee Owens’ staff in 2000 and 2001. OSU recruiting coordinator John Peterson also spent time in Akron. He coached the Zips’ offensive line for Owens from 1995-98.

** Former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel also began his coaching career at Akron. Tressel was a graduate assistant on Jim Dennison’s staff in 1975 and was a full-time assistant for Dennison from 1976-78.

** Akron is embarking upon its 111th season of intercollegiate football. The Zips haven’t had a winning season since going 7-5 in 2005, and they haven’t won a season opener since 2007 when they took a 22-14 victory over Army at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

** All-time, the Buckeyes are 105-12-4 in season openers. The team’s last opening-game loss came in the 1999 Kickoff Classic, a 23-12 loss to Miami (Fla.) in East Rutherford, N.J.

** In season home openers, OSU is 109-8-4 all-time.

** Ohio State is working on a streak of 56 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 57-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.

** The Buckeyes are 28-1 all-time 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 Zips are 1-6 lifetime against Ohio State with the only victory coming with that win in 1894. The Buckeyes won the last meeting between the two schools, a 20-2 snoozefest in 2007.

** Akron is 1-22 all-time against current members of the Big Ten. In addition to their 1-6 mark against OSU, the Zips are 0-4 vs. Penn State, 0-3 against Indiana, 0-2 vs. Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin, and 0-1 against Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. Akron has never played Michigan, Minnesota or Northwestern.

** Akron is facing a ranked team for the first time since 2009 when it opened the season with a 31-7 loss at Penn State. The Zips are 1-21 all-time vs. ranked opponents with the lone win a 34-20 defeat of No. 25 Marshall in November 2002.

** Since 2005, Ohio State has allowed only 10 opponents to rush for 100 yards or more. That is the third-best figure in Division I-AA, trailing only Boston College (eight) and Alabama (nine).

** Ohio State is 399-107-20 in Ohio Stadium since the facility opened in 1922. That is a .778 winning percentage. All-time in Columbus, the team is 542-154-35, good for a winning percentage of .765.

** Over the past nine seasons, the Buckeyes have enjoyed a 60-5 record at home, good for a .923 winning percentage. Since 2002, that is tied with Oklahoma for the third-best home mark in Division I-A. Only Boise State (56-0, 1.000) and TCU (49-4, .925) have done better over that time frame.

** Although last season was technically vacated, OSU recorded 10 wins or more for a Big Ten-record sixth consecutive season.

** The Buckeyes are the only Division I-A team to have finished in the top 10 of the final Associated Press writers’ poll in each of the last six years.

** ESPN will have the telecast of the season opener with Syracuse alum Dave Pasch on the play-by-play, former Florida head coach Urban Meyer and former Ohio State All-America linebacker Chris Spielman handling color analysis and former Johns Hopkins All-America lacrosse player Quint Kessenich providing sideline reports. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** Next week, Ohio State stays home to host another MAC team in Toledo with former OSU defensive coordinator Tim Beckman in his third season as head coach. The game will be telecast by the Big Ten Network and will kickoff at 12 noon Eastern.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Aug. 31, 1996, No. 18 Kansas State took a 21-14 victory over Texas Tech in the inaugural Big 12 conference game. The Red Raiders nearly rallied from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, but K-State safety Mario Smith broke up a fourth-down pass deep in his own territory with 44 seconds remaining to secure the win.

** On Sept. 1, 2007, Appalachian State engineered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, going into Ann Arbor and pulling off a 34-32 shocker over No. 5 Michigan. The Wolverines trailed much of the game but managed to take a 32-31 lead with 4:36 to play before QB Armanti Edwards led the Mountaineers on a 69-yard drive for a 24-yard field goal with 26 seconds left. U-M responded and got all the way to Appalachian State’s 20-yard line, but the Wolverines’ field-goal attempt was blocked with six seconds remaining the Mountaineers secured Division I-AA’s first-ever victory over a top-five Division I-A opponent.

** 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.

** 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.

** 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.

** 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.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Congratulations to our old pals up north who are out to prove they are unafraid of lightning striking them twice. Michigan has scheduled a rematch with Appalachian State in 2014.

** Proving that a decent idea can be ground into the dust, Nike will provide its so-called Pro Combat uniforms to selected schools again this year. Boise State, Georgia and Oregon will unveil theirs tomorrow while other teams will wear them throughout the season. Ohio State is scheduled to suit up in its Pro Combats when the Buckeyes host Wisconsin on Oct. 29.

** On the off chance that you give a rip, ESPN released this week preseason predictions by its cadre of college football analysts. Eighteen analysts picked conference champions as well as national title participants. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin was selected by nine of the analysts while Ohio State got five votes and Nebraska garnered four. Those voting for the Badgers were Ed Cunningham, Rod Gilmore, Brian Griese, Desmond Howard, Brock Huard, Danny Kanell, Matt Millen, David Pollock and Chris Spielman. OSU received the nod from Mike Bellotti, Todd Blackledge, Bob Davie, Kirk Herbstreit and Urban Meyer, while Nebraska got votes from Lee Corso, Dan Hawkins, Craig James and Jesse Palmer.

** Eleven of the analysts picked Alabama to make the BCS National Championship Game while Oklahoma also received 11 votes to make the title game. However, only five analysts – Bellotti, James, Meyer, Miller and Pollock – picked the Crimson Tide to play the Sooners for the championship. To see all of the picks, click here.

** How about a little Heisman Trophy trivia? Name the Division I-A school with the most all-time wins that has never had a Heisman winner. The answer comes later.

** Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson enters the 2011 season with 2,053 career rushing yards, seventh on the all-time Big Ten list among quarterbacks. He needs only 98 more to move into the top five, but Robinson has a ways to go to catch Antwaan Randle El, who rushed for 3,895 yards while quarterbacking Indiana from 1998 to 2001.

** Minnesota return man Troy Stoudermire needs only 97 yards in kickoff returns to become the all-time Big Ten leader in that department. Stoudermire enters 2011 with 2,929 kickoff return yards, second only to David Gilreath of Wisconsin, who became the conference leader just last season. Gilreath finished his career with 3,025 yards on kickoff returns.

** Penn State kicker Collin Wagner takes a streak of 85 consecutive PATs into this season. That ranks as the sixth longest streak in Big Ten history behind J.D. Carlson of Michigan (128, 1989-91), Brett Conway of Penn State (119, 1994-96), Chris Summers of Purdue (111, 2006-08), Pete Stoyanovich of Indiana (107, 1986-88) and Tim Williams of Ohio State (86, 1991-93).

** Four Big Ten kickers were named to the preseason watch list for the Groza Award, given annually to the top placekicker in college football. Wagner wasn’t one of the four. They were Derek Dimke of Illinois, Mitch Ewald of Indiana, Dan Conroy of Michigan State and Philip Welch of Wisconsin. Dimke led the Big Ten in field goals last season with 24 and Wagner tied for second with 20.

** According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Oklahoma’s unemployment rate of 5.5 ranked as the fifth-lowest in the country for July. Perhaps that is one reason why Oklahoma State has surpassed 34,000 season tickets sold this year, breaking the school record set in 2009.

** The Fiesta Bowl has been moved from Jan. 5 (a Thursday) to Jan. 2 (a Monday). No, I don’t know why.

** In other bowl news, the Humanitarian Bowl – the one played outside in Boise, Idaho, in mid-December – has changed its name. Henceforth, the game will now be known as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

** Talk about planning ahead: Notre Dame and Navy recently announced they have agreed to continue playing one another in football through at least the 2026 season.

** Pity the poor punters in last Saturday’s Division III game between Saint Augustine’s College (Va.) and Virginia Union. The game was played the same afternoon Hurricane Irene rolled into the area and four punts during the contest traveled less than 10 yards. That included one that went for minus-9 and another than went for minus-1. There was also a fifth punt that blew out of the punter’s grasp before he could get the kick away. Saint Augustine also fumbled six times during the 12-0 loss.

** Here is the answer to our Heisman trivia. Going into the 2011 season, the top five winningest programs that have never produced a Heisman Trophy winner are Tennessee (789), West Virginia (691), Georgia Tech (679), Virginia Tech (678) and Arkansas (669).

FEARLESS FORECAST

Last season is going to be a pretty tough act to follow here at Forecast World Headquarters. The straight-up picks finished with a 118-24 record (that’s a .831 winning percentage) while we had a solid 81-55-6 mark against the spread.

In case you’re keeping score at home, that makes the career numbers 1,521-450 straight up (77.2 percent) and still fairly well above water against the spread at 765-685-25 (good enough for 52.7 percent).

Yeah, we’re pretty solid in the black with these picks but remember it’s all in fun and there are many more picks based on gut feelings than any inside information. Nevertheless, we enjoy making the picks, so off we go for another year.

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAMES

Youngstown State at No. 17 Michigan State: With Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State taking up most of the summertime oxygen in the Big Ten, Sparty has been a tad overlooked. MSU returns a boatload of talent on offense, including veteran QB Kirk Cousins (2,825 yards, 20 TDs a year ago) and ultra-productive tailback Edwin Baker (1,201 yards, 13 TDs) … Michigan State 42, Youngstown State 7. (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 14 TCU at Baylor: The Horned Frogs have several new starters, including sophomore Casey Pachall taking over at quarterback for the graduated Andy Dalton, as they begin their final season in the Mighty Mountain West. Their goal remains the same, however – upset the college football apple cart by crashing the BCS party. Before they can think about that, they need to contend with the Bears and their quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is a preseason Heisman candidate after throwing for a school-record 3,501 yards last year. Unfortunately, Baylor isn’t quite as strong on defense and that will make the difference … TCU 31, Baylor 21. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Utah State at No. 23 Auburn: Hopefully, the Tigers squeezed every ounce of enjoyment they could out of last year’s national championship run. This year, it’s back to reality without Heisman winner Cam Newton and the specter of an NCAA investigation looming over the program. Not that those problems should have much of an impact this week with the Aggies coming to town. Utah State is one of the weakest programs in I-A with 13 consecutive losing seasons and a 1-54 all-time record against ranked opponents … Auburn 38, Utah State 6. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

Chattanooga at No. 10 Nebraska: The Cornhuskers begin life as Big Ten members by hosting the Mocs, who are coming off their second consecutive 6-5 season. Chattanooga typically schedules a big-name Division I-A school each year and those games turn out about the way you would expect. Since 2008, the Mocs have played Oklahoma, Alabama and Auburn have lost all three by a combined score of 164-26. Don’t expect anything different this time around … Nebraska 42, Chattanooga 0. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

Minnesota at No. 25 USC: Since new Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill says he likes challenges, he should be very happy. Not only is he charged with a huge rebuilding project, he gets to start it at a venue that has been very unkind to Big Ten teams. Since 1960, the conference is a dismal 2-17-1 when traveling to the Coliseum to play the Trojans. The last time the Golden Gophers were there was 1979 and they came home with a 48-14 loss. Quite frankly, that final score seems about right … USC 48, Minnesota 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Western Michigan at Michigan: The Brady Hoke Era gets under way in Ann Arbor and if it is to go any better than the Rich Rodriguez Era, the Wolverines will have to figure out a way to play some defense. Last year, U-M ranked dead last in the Big Ten in scoring and total defense – meaning they gave up more points and more yardage than any other team in the conference. This should be a pretty good barometer on what Hoke has done during the offseason to shore up the stop troops since the Broncos throw the ball around pretty well with returning QB Alex Carder (3,334 yards, 30 TDs). This one might be closer than a lot of people think it will be … Michigan 37, Western Michigan 31. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Tulsa at No. 1 Oklahoma: Every year it seems the Sooners are early favorites to make a run at the national championship, and every year it seems they fall just short of that goal. This time, OU may be for real. QB Landry Jones (4,718 yards, 38 TDs) leads a potent offense and the Sooners are also pretty good on defense despite the absence of linebackers Travis Lewis (broken foot) and Austin Box, who tragically died over the summer due to an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers. The Golden Hurricane enters the game on a seven-game winning streak, and they have posted three 10-win seasons in the past four years. Still, it’s difficult to see how they can break through, especially with Oklahoma protecting its No. 1 status as well as a 36-game home win streak … Oklahoma 45, Tulsa 10. (8 p.m. ET, FX)

No. 5 Boise State vs. No. 19 Georgia: Mark Richt is on the hot seat in Athens, and that chair is about to get even hotter. The Bulldogs are coming off a 6-7 campaign, their first losing season since 1996, and their opening-night assignment in the Georgia Dome is figuring out how to slow down the ultra-talented Broncos. Leading the Boise attack is Heisman-worthy QB Kellen Moore (3,845 yards, 35 TDs), who has a gaudy 38-2 record as a starter. As good as the Broncos are on offense, they are extremely underrated on defense and that is where they will win this game … Boise State 20, Georgia 17. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU: This is easily the most-hyped game of the first weekend since it is basically a national championship elimination bout. The winner solidifies his résumé while the loser can begin making plans for next year. The Ducks obviously have great team speed, led by Heisman candidate LaMichael James, who needs only 20 yards to become his school’s all-time leading rusher. Then, there are the Tigers with their messy quarterback situation that resulted in starter Jordan Jefferson being suspended. There are folks in the bayou, however, who believe their team will be better off with Jarrett Lee under center anyway. Add that to the fact LSU has the better defense and, after all, they are from the SEC, and you smell what we’re cooking here … LSU 26, Oregon 22. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Akron at No. 18 Ohio State: There is little use in rehashing the Buckeyes’ summer of discontent. Ohio State has played intercollegiate football for the past 121 years and there is every indication the program will continue for at least another 121, so who occupies the head coach’s office and who takes the snaps as quarterback is largely irrelevant in the overall scheme of things. When the pigskins begin to fly, OSU fans regain their singular focus. They simply want their team to win and look good doing so. That shouldn’t be much of a problem in the opener against the Zips, who were one of the worst teams in all of Division I-A last year. However, with the Buckeyes having so many new faces in so many new positions – not the least of which is Luke Fickell – we don’t foresee things getting too much out of hand … Ohio State 31, Akron 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

SUNDAY’S GAMES

Marshall at No. 24 West Virginia: If not for ESPN’s summertime obsession with Ohio State, the all-sports network might have been focusing on these two programs. The Mountaineers had a messy coaching change and were placed on a two-year probation by the NCAA while one of the Herd’s top receivers was recently charged in connection with a string of armed robberies. No wonder both of the programs are ready to get back to some football … West Virginia 41, Marshall 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SMU at No. 8 Texas A&M: These former Southwest Conference foes get together for what could be the final time in the foreseeable future as the Aggies prepare to bolt for the SEC. While A&M has gotten most of the preseason hype, the Mustangs feature one of the best quarterbacks you’ve probably never heard of. Kyle Padron (3,828 yards, 31 TDs) flourished in head coach June Jones’ system – what quarterback doesn’t flourish with Jones? – and that always gives SMU a puncher’s chance. What Jones’ teams typically lack is a creditable defense and that will make the difference here … Texas A&M 37, SMU 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, FSN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Youngstown State at Michigan State (-34); TCU (-3½) at Baylor; Utah State at Auburn (-22); Chattanooga at Nebraska (-34½); Minnesota at USC (-23); Western Michigan (+14½) at Michigan; Tulsa at Oklahoma (-24½); Boise State (-2½) vs. Georgia in Atlanta; Oregon vs. LSU (-3½) in Dallas; Marshall at West Virginia (-23); SMU at Texas A&M (-14); and Akron (+34) at Ohio State.

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

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