Buckeyes Back In Title Hunt, But They Need Help

Since Ohio State’s season-saving victory two weeks ago at Illinois, there has been a lot of talk about how the Buckeyes’ destiny is back in their own hands.

That’s not exactly true. OSU could win out and still not make it to the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes are going to need some help from Illinois, Nebraska or Wisconsin – at least one of those teams will have to beat Penn State.

Here’s what we mean.

Ohio State goes into the Oct. 29 weekend 2½ games behind Big Ten Leaders Division pace-setter Penn State. The Nittany Lions have a perfect conference record of 4-0 with Wisconsin and Purdue a game and half behind at 2-1. Two full games back is Illinois at 2-2 while the Buckeyes are 1-2. Indiana is the division cellar-dweller at 0-4.

Remembering that interdivisional records don’t matter – the title game participants are decided by best overall conference record – the Buckeyes need to win their final five games for a best possible 6-2 finish. Obviously, winning out begins with knocking off Wisconsin tomorrow night, a tall order considering the Badgers are 7½-point favorites.

If OSU can register the upset, that would even the Buckeyes’ conference record at 2-2 while dropping the Badgers to an identical mark.

Before Ohio State and Wisconsin get together tomorrow night, Penn State will host Illinois while Purdue is at Michigan. Since it appears the Fighting Illini are on the verge of collapse after their early season run, we’ll give that victory to the Nittany Lions. Likewise, the Wolverines should rebound in their game against the Boilermakers.

If those games hold true to form, the division standings heading into November should have Penn State at 5-0 with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Purdue tied for second place at 2-2. Illinois would have fallen back to 2-3.

Not much would be decided during the first weekend of November. OSU and Wisconsin have fairly easy games – the Buckeyes host Indiana while Purdue travels to Madison – while both Penn State and Illinois have the week off. Still, victories by the Buckeyes and Badgers would inch them a half-game closer to the Nittany Lions.

Things begin to get interesting on Nov. 12.

Wisconsin has an easy contest that week, traveling to Minnesota, while Ohio State has a little tougher date at Purdue. Penn State, however, entertains Nebraska, which could be on a roll depending upon how the Cornhuskers do tomorrow against Michigan State. Should NU be able to go into Happy Valley and score the victory – and both Wisconsin and OSU take care of business – the Leaders Division would tighten considerably heading into the final two weeks of the regular season. Penn State would be 5-1 and its lead would be cut to a single game with the Buckeyes and Badgers are 4-2.

As far as Ohio State is concerned, that would set up a Nov. 19 showdown in the Horseshoe against Penn State. A victory would be extremely important since it would give the Buckeyes a 5-0 sweep of their division competition with head-to-head results still the No. 1 tiebreaker to determine championship game participants.

If all of the what we envision comes to pass, by the end of play on Nov. 19, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin will emerge with identical 5-2 conference records, but the Buckeyes would have the title game tiebreaker with wins in hand over the Nittany Lions and Badgers.

And still it would come down to the Ohio State-Michigan game Nov. 26. Since the league championship game is determined by which division leaders have the best conference records, the Buckeyes would still need to defeat their archrivals to get to the title contest because Penn State and Wisconsin will wage their own elimination game in Madison that same day.

Are there a lot of variables in what we have just set forth? Absolutely. An upset here or there could wreck the entire scenario. Likewise, Penn State has to lose at least two of their remaining four games – hence the Buckeyes’ reliance on Illinois, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Obviously none of the aforementioned is possible if Ohio State doesn’t run the table beginning with tomorrow night’s must-win against Wisconsin since a loss to the Badgers would severely diminish any hope at the league title game.

But if what we have laid out does come to pass, and the Buckeyes qualify for the Big Ten Championship Game with what would be six consecutive victories to end the regular season, would the university still seek a change in head coaches?

BRUTUS-BUCKY TIDBITS

** This marks the 77th meeting of Ohio State and Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes hold a decidedly lopsided 53-18-5 record in the overall series, including 28-7-3 in Columbus. The Buckeyes have beaten the Badgers each of the last two times UW has visited Ohio Stadium (2007 and 2009), but Wisconsin won each of its previous three trips before that (1999, 2001, 2004). Since 1999, the overall series is tied at 5-5.

** Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell is making his first appearance as a head coach against the Badgers, but he is 7-3-1 in the series as an OSU player and assistant. Fickell was 3-0-1 against Wisconsin as a player from 1993-96 and 4-3 during his nine years on Jim Tressel’s staff from 2002-10.

** Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is in his sixth season with the Badgers. He has a 55-17 overall record, including 2-3 against Ohio State. He is 47-5 against unranked teams including 5-0 this year. The Buckeyes are unranked for the sixth straight week, the longest streak out of the national polls for the program since a seven-week stretch in 1989.

** This marks only the fifth time in the series when Wisconsin is ranked and Ohio State is not. The Buckeyes are a perfect 4-0 in the previous games. That includes a 23-14 upset of the top-ranked Badgers in 1952 and a 14-7 win over a No. 5 UW team in 1962. Both of those games were played in Columbus. The last time Wisconsin entered the game as the only ranked team was in 1963. The second-ranked Badgers lost that one in Madison by a 13-10 score.

** The game will serve as the 90th homecoming contest in Ohio State history. The Buckeyes sport an all-time homecoming record of 65-19-5.

** The Badgers will be trying to get an early upper hand in the game. They are 42-6 under Bielema when they score first.

** As it has been so many times in this series, the game will feature a classic matchup between the irresistible force and the immovable object. Wisconsin ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing with an average of 252.1 yards per game while Ohio State ranks fourth in the conference against the run, surrendering an average of only 116.6 yards per contest.

** Wisconsin ranks among the top 10 nationally in 16 different statistical categories – fewest fumbles lost (tied for first), third-down conversions (second), punt returns (second), passing efficiency (second), fewest turnovers lost (tied for second), pass defense (fourth), fewest tackles for loss allowed (fourth), scoring offense (fifth), scoring defense (sixth), red zone offense (sixth), fourth-down conversions (tied for seventh), rush offense (eighth), total offense (eighth), total defense (ninth), red zone defense (tied for ninth) and fewest first downs allowed (10th).

** You should not expect a shutout in tomorrow night’s game. Wisconsin hasn’t been shut out since a 34-0 loss to Syracuse in the 1997 season opener and the Buckeyes haven’t been blanked since a 28-0 loss at Michigan in the 1993 regular-season finale.

** Ohio State will undoubtedly try to score as much as possible, but cracking the 20-point mark is imperative against Wisconsin. The Badgers are 37-2 under Bielema – including 14 wins in a row – when holding their opponent under 20 points.

** The Badgers have been remarkably balanced on offense during their first seven games. They have 1,817 passing yards and have rushed for 1,765. That computes to per-game averages of 259.6 through the air and 252.1 on the ground.

** Wisconsin has 15 Ohio natives on its roster. Ohio State has no Wisconsin-born players.

** OSU senior tailback Boom Herron has rushed for at least one touchdown in 13 consecutive games. That is the longest streak by a Buckeye since Keith Byars had a scoring streak of 21 in a row in 1983-84.

** Herron made his 2011 debut two weeks ago with a 114-yard performance against Illinois, upping his career rushing total to 2,308 yards. That ranks him second among active Big Ten players, trailing only Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who has 2,769.

** Herron is also second among active Big Ten players in rushing touchdowns with 30. Wisconsin junior tailback Montee Ball is first with 39.

** Ball leads the nation with 19 TDs, at least eight more than any other player in the Big Ten. Ball is closing in on the Wisconsin single-season touchdown mark of 24 set in 2005 by Brian Calhoun.

** Ball also has a streak of seven consecutive conference games in which he has rushed for at least 100 yards. He is averaging 150.4 yards per game during the streak. Ohio State has allowed only nine opposing rushers to crack the century mark since 2007, but three of those performances have come this season.

** Wisconsin has made a bowl game and an NCAA men’s basketball tournament appearance every season since the 2002-03 academic year. UW is the only Division I school that can make that claim.

** OSU junior defensive lineman John Simon is coming off a superlative performance against Illinois. Simon recorded eight tackles, including four for loss. That tied him with several other players for the fourth highest single-game total in school history. Judah Herman set the record with five TFL against Iowa in 1991, a mark that was matched by Jayson Gwinn vs. Indiana in 1993 and by Andy Katzenmoyer vs. Arizona State in the 1997 Rose Bowl.

** Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 31 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the nation. The NCAA record is 36 by Graham Harrell of Texas Tech (2005-08).

** Wilson has 16 touchdown passes through seven games and needs only six more to break the Wisconsin single-season mark of 21 set in 2005 by John Stocco.

** Wilson also possesses the NCAA record for most consecutive passes without an interception. From the end of his freshman season at North Carolina State through the middle of his sophomore campaign, Wilson threw 369 straight passes without a pick.

** OSU junior kicker Drew Basil is working on a streak of eight consecutive field goals. He needs only two more to become only the fourth kicker in program history with at least 10 straight three-pointers. Mike Nugent (2001-04) holds the school record with 24 in a row while Vlade Janakievski (1977-80) had streaks of 15 and 10 straight. Dan Stultz (1996-2000) also made 10 in a row.

** Ohio State will recognize 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George at halftime, honoring him for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. George rushed for a school-record 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior in ’95, and finished his OSU career with 3,768 yards, second only to two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin. George’s No. 27 jersey was retired by the school in 2001 and he was inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006.

** The Buckeyes will also recognize Saturday night the 50th anniversary of the 1961 FWAA national championship team. Several members of that squad will be in attendance, and the Buckeyes will wear special Nike Pro Combat uniforms that were designed as a throwback of sorts to the ones worn by the ’61 team.

** This week’s game will be telecast by ESPN with the announce crew of Brad Nessler (play-by-play), former Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge (color analysis) and Holly Rowe (sideline reports). Kickoff is set for shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 91 and 92 as well as XM channel 91. Westwood One will also broadcast the game with Brian Davis and George on the call.

** Next week, Ohio State entertains Indiana at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 12 noon Eastern and the game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The list of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level was pared to eight last weekend when Oklahoma and Wisconsin went down. That leaves Alabama, Boise State, Clemson, Houston, Kansas State, LSU, Oklahoma State and Stanford as this year’s Elite Eight.

** Stanford extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 16 games with a 65-21 romp over Washington on Saturday night. The Cardinal has also won 10 straight games by 26 points or more, the longest such streak since 1936. During that 10-game stretch, Stanford has outscored its opponents, 466-114, an average margin of victory of 35.2 points per game.

** Meanwhile, the nation’s longest losing streak was extended to 10 games when New Mexico fell victim Saturday by a 69-0 score to TCU. The Lobos and Florida Atlantic – 38-14 losers to Middle Tennessee State – remain the only winless teams this season at the I-A level.

** Congratulations to Penn State head coach Joe Paterno for reaching another career milestone. When the Nittany Lions took a 34-24 win over Northwestern last weekend, it marked the 408th career victory for Paterno, tying him with Eddie Robinson on the all-time Division I coaching list. Robinson was 408-165-15 while coaching for 57 seasons at Grambling from 1941-97. Paterno is currently in his 46th season as head coach at Penn State and currently sports a 408-136-3 career mark.

** By the way, Paterno is now 12-3 in his career against Northwestern. In addition to his latest milestone, JoePa also got career win No. 400 against the Wildcats as well as victory No. 323, the one that allowed him to catch Bear Bryant as the winningest coach at the Division I-A level.

** You could argue from now until Christmas about the best big-game coach in college football and chances are the discussion would never get around to Tommy Tuberville. Nevertheless, a Tuberville-coached team pulled off another huge upset Saturday when Texas Tech scored a 41-38 shocker over Oklahoma. Tuberville, who is now 123-67 overall, has made a career out of engineering big upsets. He was 4-2 against top-five teams during his 10-year tenure at Auburn from 1999-2008.

** The victory over Oklahoma was especially sweet for Tuberville. His undefeated 2004 Auburn team was passed over for the BCS National Championship Game in favor of the Sooners, who got rolled to tune of 55-19 by USC in that contest. After his Tech team’s upset win, Tuberville said, “Payback sometimes works in mysterious ways. I don’t think anything will ever bring back that (missed) opportunity, but things have a way of usually evening out in sports.”

** Oklahoma State is 7-0 for the second time in four seasons, but the Cowboys are looking to win their first eight games since the 1945 team (then known as Oklahoma A&M) finished with a perfect 9-0 mark.

** On the other side of that spectrum is Ole Miss, which has lost 10 straight SEC games for the first time since the school joined the conference in 1933.

** Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck didn’t exactly put up Heisman-worthy numbers in his team’s 65-21 win over Washington – 16 for 21, 169 yards, two touchdowns – but he didn’t have to with the Cardinal piling up a school-record 446 yards on the ground. Stanford nearly had three running backs crack the century mark. Junior Stepfan Taylor led the way with 138 yards, junior Taylor Gaffney added 117 and sophomore Anthony Wilkerson had 93. Each also rushed for at least one touchdown.

** You might also be hard-pressed to name the first running back to 1,000 yards this season. It is David Wilson of Virginia Tech, who has 1,037 yards in eight games. The junior running back has been remarkably consistent all season with game totals of 162, 137, 85, 132, 123, 128, 136 and 134 yards.

** Next up in the 1,000-yard parade: Trent Richardson of Alabama (989), Robbie Rouse of Fresno State (979), Bernard Pierce of Temple (951), Ray Graham of Pitt (939) and Bobby Rainey of Western Kentucky (910).

** Meanwhile, there are 15 quarterbacks already over the 2,000-yard mark led by Case Keenum of Houston with 2,685. Keenum is also the new NCAA career record-holder in total offense (17,173 yards) and touchdown passes (150) following last Saturday’s 392-yard, six-touchdown performance against Marshall.

** Speaking of quarterbacks, Dominique Davis of East Carolina was a perfect 26 for 26 for 251 yards in the first half of his team’s 38-35 win over Navy. After completing his final 10 passes the week before against Memphis, Davis established a new NCAA record with 36 consecutive completions. That shattered the old mark of 26, set in 2004 by Cal QB Aaron Rodgers, now tearing things up in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers. Davis, whose 26 completions in a row also represented a new single-game NCAA record, finished the game 40 of 45 for 372 yards and two TDs.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Oct. 26, 1907, one of the all-time greats made his college football debut. The legendary Jim Thorpe took the field for the first time with the Carlisle (Pa.) Indian Industrial School, and led the Indians to a 26-6 upset of fourth-ranked Penn. The game was held before a crowd of 22,800 at Philadelphia’s historic Franklin Field.

** On Oct. 26, 1968, All-American defensive back Jake Scott returned two interceptions for touchdowns and led eighth-ranked Georgia to a 35-14 win over Kentucky in Lexington, Ky. Scott, who went on to become MVP of Super Bowl VII with the Miami Dolphins, set a UGA record with 10 interceptions that season and he still holds the school career mark with 16 picks.

** On Oct. 26, 1985, seventh-ranked BYU saw its 25-game conference winning streak end when UTEP handed the Cougars a 23-16 loss in El Paso. Miners DB Danny Taylor returned a Robbie Bosco interception 100 yards for a touchdown to provide for the winning points.

** On Oct. 27, 1923, the first night game in Big Ten history was held as part of a day-night doubleheader in Chicago. During the afternoon, Chicago took a 20-6 win over Purdue at Stagg Field, and then portable lights were installed at Soldier Field as Illinois shut out Northwestern, 29-0.

** On Oct. 27, 1979, Pittsburgh freshman quarterback Dan Marino came off the bench to throw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, leading the No. 12 Panthers to a 24-7 victory over No. 17 Navy.

** On Oct. 28, 1950, Nevada’s Pat Brady booted an NCAA-record 99-yard punt during a 34-7 loss to Loyola Marymount.

** On Oct. 28, 1967, UTEP quarterback Brooks Dawson set an NCAA record for most consecutive passes completed for a touchdown when he threw six in a row during a 75-12 victory over New Mexico. Making the feat even more remarkable was the fact that the six touchdowns came on Dawson’s first six attempts of the game.

** On Oct. 28, 2000, Louisiana Tech quarterback Luke McCown set an NCAA freshman record with 72 passing attempts during the Bulldogs’ 42-31 loss at No. 2 Miami (Fla.). McCown completed 42 of 72 passes for 418 yards and three touchdowns in the game. His 72 attempts remain a single-season school record.

** On Oct. 29, 1960, future College Football Hall of Fame performer Pervis Atkins sparked New Mexico State to a 27-24 victory over Arizona State. Atkins returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and raced 70 yards to set up the game-winning score. Atkins went on to break the NCAA single-season record for most yards per play, averaging an amazing 14.7 yards on 110 combined runs, receptions and kick returns. The previous record was held by Army’s Glenn Davis, the 1946 Heisman Trophy winner.

** On Oct. 29, 1988, Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders rushed for 320 yards to lead his No. 12 Cowboys to a 45-27 win over Kansas State. The performance began a five-game stretch during which Sanders rushed for 1,472 yards, the most rushing yards accumulated over a five-game span in NCAA history. He also became only the second player in college football history to gain more than 200 rushing yards in five consecutive games, and the streak propelled Sanders to an NCAA single-season record 2,628 rushing yards and the 1988 Heisman Trophy.

** Also on Oct. 29, 1988, Washington State scored 28 second-half points during a 34-30 upset win over top-ranked UCLA and its All-America quarterback Troy Aikman.

** On Oct. 30, 1971, future College Football Hall of Fame tailback Ed Marinaro of Cornell became the first running back in college football history to break the 4,000-yard barrier, doing so during his team’s 24-21 win over Columbia, Marinaro ran for 1,881 yards that season for the Big Red – still a single-season Ivy League record – and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Auburn QB Pat Sullivan. Marinaro went on to play six seasons in the NFL after which he became a successful actor, best known for his portrayal of Officer Joe Coffey on “Hill Street Blues.”

** On Oct. 30, 1982, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie threw for a school-record 520 yards, but it wasn’t nearly enough as Penn State scored a 52-17 blowout over the Eagles in Chestnut Hill. The Nittany Lions were led by quarterback Todd Blackledge, who threw for 243 yards and three TDs, and running back Curt Warner, who rushed for 183 yards and two scores.

** On Oct. 30, 1999, Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo was a one-man wrecking crew against Stanford. Tuiasosopo became the first player in NCAA history to throw for at least 300 yards and rush for 200 or more in the same game. He threw for 302 yards and added 207 on the ground in a 35-30 victory over the Cardinal.

** On Nov. 1, 1880, legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice was born in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Considered one of the greatest American writers of the first half of the 20th century, Rice penned arguably the most famous line in college football history when he wrote, “Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again,” dubbing the famed Four Horsemen of Notre Dame in 1924. Rice later joined with U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Army head coach Earl “Red” Blaik to create the National Football Foundation in 1947.

** On Nov. 1, 1986, Long Beach State’s Mark Templeton set an NCAA single-game record for receptions by a running back with 18 catches for 173 yards during his team’s 14-3 win over Utah State.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – the planets simply align properly and everything goes right. That is the kind of year we’ve been having with the picks so far.

Last week featured another perfect 10-0 straight up that included the Upset Special of Michigan State over Wisconsin. Against the spread, we weren’t real confident going into Saturday and picked a bunch of underdogs. That strategy resulted in an 8-2 week, making us an almost unbelievable 25-5 ATS over the past three weeks.

For the year, we’re 75-7 SU and 54-25-1 ATS and tempted to quit while we’re ahead. But as we’ve said in the past, the only thing better than playing with house money and getting more house money. So, here are the games we like this week.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Baylor at No. 3 Oklahoma State: This one should provide a nice showcase for quarterbacks OSU’s Brandon Weeden (2,436, 19 TDs) and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III (1,950 yards, 22 TDs). Griffin is the nation’s No. 1 signal-caller in terms of pass efficiency, but he doesn’t have the supporting cast Weeden enjoys. The Cowboys not only have the country’s No. 2 scoring offense, they are 20th nationally in pass efficiency defense. The Bears? They’re 97th in pass efficiency defense and 101st in scoring defense. Baylor and RG3 will score some points, but not nearly enough of them … Oklahoma State 45, Baylor 28. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

No. 6 Stanford at USC: The unranked Trojans have quietly put together a nice 6-1 season so far, most recently notching back-to-back road victories at Cal and Notre Dame. USC returns to the Coliseum this week, but it won’t be any party with the Cardinal there waiting for them. A primetime game with Brent Musberger on the play-by-play has cemented more than one Heisman candidacy, and that is undoubtedly what Stanford QB Andrew Luck (1,888 yards, 20 TDs) will be looking for tomorrow night. Not that Luck needs the help. The Cardinal also boast the second-best rushing offense in the Pac-12 and the No. 1 defense in the conference. And they’ve beaten SC three of the last four times they have played, including last year’s 37-35 squeaker that started Stanford’s nation-best win streak … Stanford 37, USC 23. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Washington State at No. 7 Oregon: The Ducks have recovered nicely from their season-opening loss to LSU, outscoring the opposition by a 310-102 margin during a six-game win streak. Making that even more impressive is that Oregon played last week without starting QB Darron Thomas while Heisman hopeful RB LaMichael James has missed the last two games with a dislocated elbow. Both players could return this week, which would not exactly be the best news for the Cougars. They surrendered 551 yards during a 44-21 loss to Oregon State last week, and the Beavers rank ninth in the Pac-12 in total offense and in scoring. If Wazzu couldn’t stop them, one wonders how they’ll slow down the Quack Attack, which is first in the conference in yardage and second only to Stanford in scoring … Oregon 47, Washington State 14. (3 p.m. ET, FSN Regional)

No. 9 Oklahoma at No. 8 Kansas State: This boils down to a Big 12 elimination game with two surprising teams – each for different reasons – facing a must-win situation. The Sooners stubbed their collective toe last week with a loss to Texas Tech that most likely knocked them out of the national championship race. Meanwhile, the Wildcats kept purring with a win over instate rival Kansas and preserving their best start to a season since winning their first nine games in 1999. K-State knows what it takes to beat Oklahoma although Bill Snyder’s team hasn’t accomplished that feat since its huge upset victory in the 2003 conference title game. Closer scrutiny of the Wildcats would seem to indicate they cannot throw the ball and their pass defense is surprisingly weak. That is combination that would seem to indicate an OU win … Oklahoma 52, Kansas State 35. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 12 Virginia Tech at Duke: Although the Hokies average 31.0 points per game offensively, their calling card has been a defense that ranks 10th nationally in scoring and No. 7 against the run. Attrition is beginning to wear on that defense, however, as Tech lost a third starter – LB Bruce Taylor, the team’s leading tackler this year and last – to a season-ending injury during last week’s otherwise unremarkable 34-10 win over Boston College. Those injuries will eventually catch up with the Hokies, but probably not this week. The Blue Devils feature a lowly concoction of ranking dead last in the ACC in rushing as well as pass defense, and they have lost 10 straight in the series to Tech by an average of more than 23 points … Virginia Tech 35, Duke 10. (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Purdue at No. 18 Michigan: If the Wolverines are truly on their back to prominence, this would be as good as game as any to prove it. The Boilermakers aren’t exactly a juggernaut, but they can do some things on offense that could make things difficult for what remains a spotty U-M defense. Meanwhile, Michigan is at the same crossroads it has faced the past two seasons – undefeated records spoiled by instate rival Michigan State. In both 2009 and 2010, the loss to Sparty began a downward spiral – so much so that the Wolverines are a combined 3-11 the past two seasons after playing MSU. The Boilers haven’t had much success in the Big House over the years, but they did snap a long losing streak there in ’09 with a 38-36 victory. We can’t quite pull the trigger on an Upset Special here, but U-M definitely needs to be on the alert … Michigan 38, Purdue 31. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

Iowa State at No. 20 Texas Tech: Double-T is feeling its oats for one of the first times in the post-Mike Leach era following last week’s huge upset at Oklahoma. Now, the Red Raiders have to guard against a letdown against what should be a rollover opponent. If the Raiders do have a letdown, it will be their own fault. Last year, the Cyclones raced out to a 24-0 lead and wound up with a 52-38 victory in Ames. It seems doubtful ISU could repeat that outcome this time around. The Cyclones are on a four-game losing streak, they have been outscored by a 171-74 margin in conference play, and they are winless on their five previous trips to Lubbock. They also have one of the worst defenses in college football while Double-T has one of the top offenses … Texas Tech 48, Iowa State 17. (7 p.m. ET, FSN Regional)

Kansas at No. 24 Texas: Does anyone in Lawrence miss Mark Mangino? The former Kansas head coach was forced out following the 2009 season amid somewhat fuzzy allegations of verbal and physical player abuse and the Jayhawks haven’t been the same since. They were 25-13 during the final three seasons of Mangino’s eight-year tenure and are just 5-14 since. That includes 11 losses in their last 12 conference games. Of course, the Longhorns aren’t any great shakes, either, coming off back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, games in which they were outscored by a 93-43 margin. Mack Brown has had an extra week to prepare, however, and Kansas is certainly not on par with either Oklahoma team … Texas 44, Kansas 20. (7 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network)

Iowa at Minnesota: Don’t look now, but Kirk Ferentz is having another one of those seasons when his team piles up a bunch of under-the-radar victories. The Hawkeyes are 5-2 overall and only a game off the Legends Division lead despite ranking in the middle of the pack (or lower) in most of the Big Ten’s statistical categories. Meanwhile, Goldy is just trying to get to the barn in one piece. The Gophers don’t really do anything well as evidenced by the fact their offense has scored the least amount of points of any conference team and their defense has given up the most. Not much entertainment value in this one, we’re afraid … Iowa 35, Minnesota 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 15 Wisconsin at Ohio State: This is about as simple as simple can be. If the Buckeyes harbor even the slightest notion of a trip to the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, they must beat the Badgers. And that task is not as difficult as some might think. The one chink in Bucky’s armor is rush defense. Coincidentally, that is Ohio State’s major offensive strength. If the Buckeyes can control tempo through their running game, they can win. In fact, that is probably their only chance. Yes, they are going to have to throw the ball at least a little to keep the Badgers honest, but I see a game plan much like the one OSU utilized at Nebraska until QB Braxton Miller went down. If that plan is executed similarly, it is the Buckeyes’ game to win. And banking on the hard lessons learned in Lincoln, this is your Upset Special … Ohio State 30, Wisconsin 28. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Baylor at Oklahoma State (-14); Stanford (-7½) at USC; Washington State at Oregon (-32½); Oklahoma (-13½) at Kansas State; Virginia Tech (-14) at Duke; Purdue (+15) at Michigan; Iowa State at Texas Tech (-14½); Kansas (+28½) at Texas; Iowa (-15½) at Minnesota; Wisconsin at Ohio State (+7½).

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

Things Suddenly Interesting Again For Buckeyes

While all of the Chicken Littles out there were cowering under their beds and waiting for Urban Meyer to ride in on a white horse, Ohio State saved its potentially lost season Oct. 15 with a good, old-fashioned, smash-mouth victory at Illinois.

The win produced a number of affirmatives for a team desperately in need of positive reinforcement. It mended a collective psyche quite possibly fractured by the second-half collapse at Nebraska. It proved the Buckeyes are still pretty good at basic Big Ten football – running the ball down an opponent’s throat and stonewalling said opponent on defense.

Perhaps best of all, however – and no one even dared think this after that dark night in Lincoln – the Buckeyes are back in the hunt for a berth in the first-ever Big Ten championship game.

Most of their hope hinges on a game the team can watch from the comfort of their own living rooms. While Ohio State takes the Oct. 22 weekend off, Wisconsin and Michigan State will get together in East Lansing for an ultra-important game that will go a long way toward determining who plays in spacious Lucas Oil Stadium in December with the Big Ten’s automatic BCS berth on the line.

After three weeks of conference play, the smart money has already been placed on Wisconsin representing the Leaders Division in the conference title game. After all, the No. 4 Badgers are undefeated and have largely been unchallenged in their first six games. Coming off a 59-7 pounding of Indiana, Wisconsin has outscored its opposition by a tidy 301-58 margin. Their closest game so far was a 31-point blowout of Nebraska.

The knock, of course, is that the Badgers haven’t played anyone yet. That changes in a big, fat hurry when the Spartans roll out the welcome mat anchored by a defense ranked among the nation’s top four in all five major statistical categories.

It might also interest you to know that Michigan State has beaten Wisconsin each of the last three times Bucky has visited East Lansing, including last year’s 34-24 triumph and a 49-14 trip to the woodshed in 2004 when the unranked Spartans upset the fourth-ranked Badgers.

Every member of Buckeye Nation should root for a Michigan State victory because that would pretty much put Ohio State’s destiny back into its own hands.

While it is true the Buckeyes came out of Champaign with a 1-2 conference record which was only good enough for fifth place in the six-team Leaders Division, three of the four teams ahead of them in the standings remain to be played – Wisconsin on Oct. 29, at Purdue on Nov. 12 and back home with Penn State on Nov. 19. OSU already has vanquished Illinois, the fourth team ahead of the Buckeyes in the Leaders standings.

A victory over Wisconsin won’t be easy, of course, since the Badgers have added quarterback Russell Wilson to their offensive arsenal. Wilson only leads the nation in pass efficiency and complements an offense that averages a nation’s-best 50.2 points per game.

How can Ohio State and its anemic offense possibly match that kind of firepower? Hopefully it won’t have to. If the Badgers have an Achilles’ heel, it would be their run defense. It ranks a middling fifth in the Big Ten, surrendering an average of 123.2 yards per game. Running the ball is an obvious strength for the Buckeyes, and it only stands to reason that strength is enhanced with the return of Boom Herron to the lineup.

Against Illinois, which entered the game against Ohio State featuring the nation’s ninth-best defense against the run, Herron chewed up 114 yards on 23 carries. Best of all, he picked up a lot of those yards after contact with a variety of spin moves and cutbacks.

Remember also that it was Herron who keyed last year’s comeback against Wisconsin. His third-quarter touchdown run out of the Wildcat formation and a fourth-quarter scoring plunge from the 1 allowed the Buckeyes to climb within 21-18 before the Badgers shifted gears and cruised to a 31-18 win.

Wisconsin will undoubtedly be a double-digit favorite when it comes to Columbus, and quite frankly no one will give Ohio State much of a chance to win. But even if the Badgers get past Michigan State, the Spartans are so physical this year that playing them on the road right before a game against an opponent bent on revenge – well, anything can happen.

Should the Buckeyes somehow pull off the shocker, they would have victories in hand over Illinois and Wisconsin with only divisional rivals Indiana, Purdue and Penn State left on the schedule.

Objectively speaking, the Boilermakers would represent the toughest test of that trio. The Hoosiers are a mess while the Nittany Lions are every bit as offensively challenged as Ohio State – perhaps even more so. An extremely weak schedule has led to a 6-1 record, but Penn State qualifies as one of the worst 6-1 teams in college football.

Meanwhile, Purdue would seem to be a pushover – especially in light of a 3-3 record with wins over Middle Tennessee, Southeast Missouri State and Minnesota, teams that have a combined record of 3-14 so far this season. But the Boilers historically play Ohio State tough, especially in West Lafayette, so anything is possible.

The point is that the Buckeyes have new life in a season that was supposedly circling the drain. And outside of the team that plays in Ann Arbor, whose dreams of glory would you rather crush more than Wisconsin?

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The list of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level continues to shrink. Heading into this weekend’s game, there are 10 unbeatens remaining – Alabama, Boise State, Clemson, Houston, Kansas State, LSU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Wisconsin.

** Stanford has another easy time of it last Saturday night, rolling to a 44-14 win at Washington State. That extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 15 games, also a school-record streak for the Cardinal.

** At the other end of the spectrum is New Mexico, which extended the nation’s longest losing streak to nine games with a 49-7 loss at Nevada. The Lobos are one of only two remaining winless teams at the I-AA level. Florida Atlantic is the other. UAB notched its first win of the season last night, a 26-24 win over Central Florida.

** Stanford gets most of its publicity from Heisman Trophy candidate Andrew Luck – and rightfully so – but the Cardinal defense is extremely underrated. They have a streak going during which they have allowed 20 points or fewer to 12 straight opponents. That is the longest streak of its kind at the school since 1941.

** Wisconsin doesn’t only beat its opponents, it bludgeons them into submission. The Badgers have won all six of their games by 31 points or more, becoming the first Division I-A team since 1950 to begin a season with six winning margins of 30 points or more.

** Sometimes the Big Ten gets wrongly accused for being old-fashioned because many of its upper-echelon teams win by running the football and playing stellar defense. That is a winning combination elsewhere, too, as evidenced by LSU’s 16-play, 99-yard touchdown drive during its 38-7 win at Tennessee. Every play during the march was a rush. Of course, LSU head coach Les Miles does have a Big Ten pedigree – born in Ohio, played and coached at Michigan under Bo Schembechler – so the way the Tigers go about their business shouldn’t be that much of a shock.

** Top to bottom, the Big Ten can still hold its own with any other conference. That was evidenced in the first BCS standings of the season. The Big Ten boasted six of its teams among the BCS top 25, more than any other conference.

** Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles totaled 13 receptions for 217 yards during his team’s 47-17 win at Kansas, and established a new NCAA career reception record in the process. Broyles now has 326 receptions, one more than previous record-holder Taylor Stubblefield of Purdue (2001-05).

** Boise State’s first game as a member of the Mountain West Conference resulted in a 63-13 smackdown of Colorado State. The Broncos piled up 742 total yards behind senior QB Kellen Moore, who completed 26 of 30 attempts for 338 yards and four TDs.

** Baylor QB Robert Griffin III threw for a school-record 430 yards during his team’s 55-28 loss to Texas A&M. Griffin became the third quarterback this year to break his team’s single-game yardage record against the Aggies, who are 4-2 despite ranking dead last in the nation in pass defense.

** Congratulations to Louisiana (which used to be known as Louisiana-Lafayette). The perennial Sun Belt doormats are 6-1 and off to their best start since winning their first eight in 1976. The Ragin’ Cajuns are also the only team in the nation with five interception returns for touchdowns.

** I guess it’s about time to roll out my Heisman Trophy favorites for the first time this year. Until something cataclysmic happens, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will occupy first place on my ballot. After that, I will like choose between RB Trent Richardson of Alabama, Boise State QB Kellen Moore and Oklahoma QB Landry Jones. I am also intrigued by what Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson is doing, and I’ll be watching him more closely Saturday night when the Badgers travel to Michigan State.

** It is a pretty good time in college football to be a kick returner. Eleven kickoffs were taken back for touchdowns last Saturday including back-to-back returns in the Texas-Oklahoma State game. Then there was the Idaho-New Mexico State game, a 31-24 win by the Lobos during which the teams combined for three kick returns for touchdowns. The Lobos returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score and the Vandals took a 95-yard kickoff to the house as well as a 64-yard punt return.

** Another one bites the dust. Bob Toledo resigned Tuesday as head coach at Tulane, and offensive line coach Mark Hutson has been named interim coach. The 65-year-old Toledo was 15-40 in four-plus seasons with the Green Wave, and 93-108 for his 18-year college coaching career at UC-Riverside, Pacific, UCLA and Tulane. Toledo’s best years were back-to-back 10-2 seasons at UCLA in 1997 and ’98.

** The high school in Chapman, Kan., was destroyed by a tornado in June 2008 and a new facility opened in January. The school celebrated by featuring the new school on its website complete with its Fighting Irish logo. Trouble is, the school “borrowed” the logo from the University of Notre Dame, which evidently was not flattered. Chapman can keep the Fighting Irish nickname – wasn’t that extremely benevolent of the Domers? – but it must change the fighting leprechaun logo.

** Former Ohio State defensive back Kurt Coleman intercepted Washington quarterback Rex Grossman last Sunday during the Eagles’ 20-13 win over the Redskins and earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in the process. Coleman became the first Philadelphia player to grab three interceptions in a game since Joe Scarpati did it in 1966 during a 31-3 win over the Giants. Not bad for a seventh-round pick making only his sixth NFL start.

** Ohio State is off this week. The Buckeyes returned to action Oct. 29 with a home game against Wisconsin. That game is set to kick off at 8 p.m. Eastern and will be telecast by ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 using the reverse mirror.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Oct. 19, 2002, Oklahoma State scored a 24-21 victory over Nebraska, marking the Cowboys’ first win over the Cornhuskers in 41 years. QB Josh Fields fueled the victory by throwing for 192 yards, most of it going to receiver Rashaun Woods, who finished with 11 catches for 134 yards. Later that season, Oklahoma State upset No. 4 Oklahoma, marking the first time in school history the Cowboys had beaten both NU and OU in the same season.

** On Oct. 20, 1917, Washington beat Whitman College by a 14-6 score, extending its unbeaten streak to 63 games, an NCAA record that still stands.

** On Oct. 20, 1944, Maryland and Michigan State combined for the fewest pass attempts in the modern era of college football during an 8-0 win by the Spartans. The Terrapins threw only one pass during the game while Michigan State attempted none.

** On Oct. 20, 1956, Texas A&M scored a 7-6 upset over No. 4 TCU is what has been called “The Hurricane Game.” Played in 90-mph wins, the Horned Frogs got inside the A&M 5-yard-line three times in the first half but failed to score.

** On Oct. 20, 1990, No. 6 Notre Dame scored a 29-20 upset of second-ranked Miami (Fla.) thanks to 268 all-purpose yards from wideout Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. Trailing 22-20 in the fourth quarter, the Hurricanes lost a chance to take the lead when tailback Leonard Conley fumbled at the 2-yard line. Miami defensive tackle Russell Maryland shook off a sprained foot to register 20 tackles, including three for loss, but Ismail rushed for 100 yards and returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown to lead the Fighting Irish.

** On Oct. 21, 1950, Tom Powers of Duke set an ACC single-game scoring record when he accounted for 36 points in a 41-0 win over Richmond. Powers ran for three touchdowns and also caught three TD passes against the Spiders.

** On Oct. 21, 1989, Alabama QB Gary Hollingsworth set a school record for completions, going 32 for 46 for 379 yards and three touchdowns as the Tide rolled to a 47-30 win over Tennessee.

** On Oct. 21, 2000, Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El had a history-making performance during his team’s 51-43 win over Minnesota. Randle El threw for 263 yards and ran for 210 to become the first player in Big Ten history to crack the 200-yard mark in both passing and rushing in the same game.

** On Oct. 21, 2006, Michigan State engineered the biggest comeback in NCAA history, erasing a 38-3 deficit on the way to a 41-38 victory over Northwestern in Evanston.

** On Oct. 22, 1904, Minnesota’s Bobby Marshall set an NCAA record by scoring 72 points during the Golden Gophers’ 146-0 victory over Grinnell (Iowa).

** On Oct. 22, 1966, UTEP rolled to a 35-0 win over San Jose State in a game where the Spartans accounted for minus-102 rushing yards. UTEP wasn’t much better, totaling only 78 yards on the ground. The team’s combined total of negative 24 rushing yards set an NCAA single-game record for futility.

** On Oct. 22, 1983, Nebraska scored 41 points in less than three minutes of possession time on its way to a 69-19 rout of Colorado.

** On Oct. 23, 1965, Virginia Tech was riding high with a new facility and a victory over its instate rivals. The Hokies, known then as the Gobblers, opened their new Lane Stadium with a 22-14 win over Virginia. Tech rushed for 323 yards in the contest, but the decisive touchdown came on a 71-yard pass from quarterback Bobby Owens to receiver Tommy Groom late in the fourth quarter.

** On Oct. 23, 1976, Pittsburgh running back Tony Dorsett pushed his season rushing total past the 1,000-yard mark during a 45-0 victory over Navy. Dorsett became the first running back in NCAA history to post four 1,000-yard seasons, and he also broke the NCAA career rushing record previously held by two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin.

** On Oct. 24, 1981, Stanford became the first team in college football history to have two players throw for 250 yards or more in the same game. Steve Cottrell threw for 311 yards while John Elway added 270, but it didn’t do the Cardinal much good. They lost a 62-36 decision to Arizona State.

** On Oct. 25, 1947, Columbia scored a 21-20 upset over Army, ending the Black Knights’ unbeaten streak at 32 games.

** On Oct. 25, 1980, SMU freshman quarterback Lance McIlhenny celebrated his first start by engineering a 20-6 upset of No. 2 Texas in Austin. Halfback Craig James, now a college football analyst for ESPN, ran 53 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put the Mustangs ahead for good.

** On Oct. 25, 1980, Purdue quarterback Mark Herrmann threw for 340 yards during his team’s 36-25 victory over Michigan State. Herrmann finished the game with 8,076 career passing yards which broke the NCAA all-time record. By the time he graduated, Hermann has totaled 9,188 passing yards and 707 career completions, both of which were NCAA career records.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Things keep humming along here at Forecast World Headquarters with another stellar week. We correctly picked a couple of undefeated teams to go down – Michigan State over Michigan (although that is becoming a regular annual occurrence) as well as Ohio State’s Upset Special win at Illinois.

All in all, it was a tidy 8-2 week straight up and a 7-3 mark against the spread. That means we’re still over 90 percent SU at 65-7 and an unbelievably robust 46-23-1 ATS.

Here are the games we’re going to enjoy watching from home this week.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Tennessee at No. 2 Alabama: The SEC schedule-makers did the Volunteers no favors. After last week’s 38-7 loss to top-ranked LSU, Tennessee travels to Tuscaloosa to take on the No. 2 Crimson Tide this weekend. It marks the first time in school history the Vols have played the nation’s top two teams back-to-back and that doesn’t bode well for a team that has lost eight straight and 14 of its last 15 to ranked teams. Job No. 1 for Tennessee will be trying to stop Alabama RB Trent Richardson, who needs only 88 more yards to crack 1,000 for the season. Richardson had 119 including a 65-yard touchdown run against the Vols last season during a 41-10 romp by the Tide and you have to wonder how things will be any better for UT this time around … Alabama 42, Tennessee 7. (7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Air Force at No. 5 Boise State: The Broncos hope to keep their national championship game aspirations alive this week along with a home winning streak that is at 34 games and counting. Boise is coming off a 63-13 win over Colorado State last week that included a school-record 742 total yards, but the Falcons present a different kind of challenge with their quirky triple-option attack. Unfortunately, Air Force is 0-2 to start conference play for the first time since 1994 because it doesn’t have much of a defense. And when you don’t have much of a defense, the last team you want to play is Boise … Boise State 45, Air Force 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 6 Wisconsin at No. 16 Michigan State: The general criticism that the Badgers have yet to be tested is valid. After all, UW’s six victims – each dispatched by 31 points or more – have a combined record of only 16-23. The soft part of the schedule is over, however, and Bucky sails into East Lansing to play a Spartans team which not only beat Michigan last week, they beat up their so-called Big Brothers. For MSU to engineer the upset, it will have to figure out a way to neutralize Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson, tops in the nation in pass efficiency, and exploit what seems to be the Badgers’ lone weakness – rush defense. That was the blueprint Mark Dantonio used last year when his team took a 10-point win and we expect that will be the blueprint again this year. Here is your Upset Special … Michigan State 26, Wisconsin 22. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 25 Washington at No. 8 Stanford: This should be an entertaining matchup featuring the Pac-12’s most established quarterback against one of the conference’s up-and-comers. Heisman favorite Andrew Luck (1,719 yards, 18 TDs) leads the Cardinal and ranks No. 3 nationally in pass efficiency while the Huskies have sophomore Keith Price (1,466 yards, 21 TDs), who ranks fifth. Any team with a quarterback like Price has a puncher’s chance for the upset, but before you crawl out on that limb and saw it off behind you, it’s worth knowing that Luck is a career 15-1 at home, where Stanford has won 10 straight. And if that’s not enough, Washington has dropped 14 of its last 15 road games against ranked opponents … Stanford 34, Washington 20. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 10 Oregon at Colorado: The Ducks are a little beat up right now, especially on offense. QB Darron Thomas (knee) will probably play this week while Heisman candidate LaMichael James is likely to miss a second straight game with a dislocated elbow. Oregon really shouldn’t need either player as they travel to Boulder. The Buffaloes are in the middle of a four-game losing streak during which they have been outscored by a 168-75 margin. Against a defense like that, even if Thomas and James can’t go, the Quack Attack should have more than enough in reserve … Oregon 42, Colorado 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, FSN Regional)

No. 11 Kansas State at Kansas: The Wildcats and 72-year-old head coach Bill Snyder keep doing it with mirrors. They stayed undefeated last week with a 41-34 shootout at Texas Tech that included a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown, a 100-yard kickoff return for another score and two blocked field-goal attempts by DL Raphael Guidry. Things shouldn’t be quite so difficult for K-State this week in the Sunflower Shootout, especially since the Jayhawks rank dead last in Division I-A in total and scoring defense … Kansas State 42, Kansas 20. (12 noon ET, FSN Regional)

Boston College at No. 12 Virginia Tech: The Hokies feature a pretty good defense, but one wonders how long that will last as the team begins to pile up injuries at an alarming rate. Tech had already lost a starting tackle and linebacker for the season with a defensive end shelved indefinitely when CB Jayron Horsley went down last week with a hamstring injury. Fortunately for the Fighting Beamers, the offense has been carrying its share of the load, especially first-year starting QB Logan Thomas (60.8 percent, 1,476 yards, 9 TDs). That should be more than enough against the struggling Eagles, who rank 96th nationally in total defense and 101st against the pass … Virginia Tech 34, Boston College 17. (3 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 13 Nebraska at Minnesota: If you look at the history of this series, you might be surprised to learn that the Golden Gophers hold a 29-20-2 advantage over the Cornhuskers. That is even more impressive when you discover NU has won each of the last 14 times these teams have met although they haven’t met since 1990. More than two decades later, you can pretty much look for that streak to continue even though Nebraska has lost defensive tackle Jared Crick for the rest of the season to a torn pectoral muscle. Minnesota is about as disjointed as any team could be at the midway point of the season with problems on offense, defense and special teams … Nebraska 42, Minnesota 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Marshall at No. 19 Houston: In the spirit of full disclosure, we stick a Houston game into the forecast at least once a year and that is usually the one where the Cougars suffer an inexplicable upset loss. We feel fairly certain that won’t happen this time although the Herd has a defensive star in Vinny Curry. The senior defensive end is second in the nation with 9½ sacks through seven games, and he could provide some problems for the Cougars. Still, if Houston QB Case Keenum truly is a Heisman candidate – and his numbers (70.9 percent, 2,309 yards and 17 TDs vs. 2 INTs) would seem to indicate that he is – the Cougars should take care of business … Houston 37, Marshall 27. (4:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Indiana at Iowa: On the surface, this looks like a mismatch. The NCAA keeps track of 17 major statistical categories and the Hoosiers have a conference rank of ninth or lower in 15 of them. Not that the Hawkeyes are any great shakes despite a 4-2 record. Iowa uncharacteristically ranks dead last in the Big Ten in rushing and only ninth in total defense. The Hawkeyes own a 41-27-4 edge in the overall series, including six of the last eight overall and three of the last four in Iowa City. Just don’t expect a scintillating game … Iowa 20, Indiana 13. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Tennessee at Alabama (-29½); Air Force (+30) at Boise State; Wisconsin at Michigan State (+7½); Washington (+21) at Stanford; Oregon (-30½) at Colorado; Kansas State (-11) at Kansas; Boston College (+21) at Virginia Tech; Nebraska (-24½) at Minnesota; Marshall (+23) at Houston; Iowa at Indiana (+23½).

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

Buckeyes Could Go Either Way Following Nebraska Collapse

It will be interesting to see where the Ohio State football team goes after its epic collapse at Nebraska because a game like the one the Buckeyes let slip away in Lincoln can put a team on one of two paths. It can become a rallying point or it can crush the very life out of you.

The 2002 national championship team used a 31-28 loss in the Outback Bowl at the end of the previous season as a rallying point. Same with the 1994 team that got taken to the woodshed at Penn State to the tune of a 63-14 shellacking. John Cooper’s team that year responded with three straight victories to finish the regular season, including Coop’s first win over Michigan as OSU head coach.

You can go as far back as the 1957 season when Woody Hayes’ team was shocked by TCU in the season opener and used that loss as a pivot point to win its next nine games, including a Rose Bowl victory over Oregon, and capture the national championship.

No one believes the 2011 Buckeyes can rally to win the national championship, of course. Three losses pretty much puts an end to that discussion before it begins. But the fact remains Ohio State can not only be competitive, it can win more than its share of games during the back half of the season.

The promise of what kind of team the Buckeyes can be was on full display for 2½ quarters at Nebraska as OSU rolled out to a 27-6 lead. Not only were the Buckeyes winning the game, they were physically dominating the Cornhuskers as several NU players had to be helped off the field during the first half.

Despite some serious holes on both sides of the football, Ohio State has a lot of talent in a lot of places, and when things are clicking, the Buckeyes can be an exciting and efficient team.

Obviously, a lot of that excitement and efficiency centers around freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, for whom the light seemed to burn brightly against the Cornhuskers. The offensive coaching staff finally figured out a game plan tailored to Miller’s strengths, and the result was a three-touchdown lead over Nebraska that looked ridiculously easy.

Unfortunately, when Miller went out with an ankle injury late in the third quarter, the Buckeyes had no backup plan when fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman struggled. Sophomore third-stringer Kenny Guiton was available and presumably ready to play – he donned a headset and relayed offensive signals from the bench to the OSU huddle all night – but head coach Luke Fickell indicated there was no thought of ever putting him in the game.

From a fan standpoint, that seems ludicrous. If Guiton or redshirt freshman Taylor Graham cannot get playing time, especially with the way Bauserman has performed his last couple of times out, one has to wonder why they were recruited in the first place.

If Miller ever goes out again, and goes out for any length of time, the Buckeyes are going to have to formulate a Plan B and C and perhaps even a D. Maybe direct snaps to tailback Jordan Hall, who does have a touchdown pass on his college résumé.

Miller under center gives the team its best chance to win, of course, but even with the talented freshman doing his thing, the Buckeyes will have to play better on defense.

Yes, they were gassed in the fourth quarter against Nebraska, and a tired defense is at the mercy of a spread team such as the Cornhuskers. But even the week before, when it held Michigan State to only 10 points, the defense made some glaring errors that wound up being amplified by the fact the offense couldn’t muster any kind of punch at all.

The Ohio State defense is a unit populated by youngsters and first-time starters, but that excuse begins to ring hollow six games into the season. The message for those players – indeed any starter on a 3-3 team – is to grow up quickly or get out of the way for someone else.

With the 2011 season now at the midway point, all anyone can say with any certainty is that the Buckeyes remain a work in progress. That is a bitter pill for fans who have experienced almost nothing but success since 2002, but reality is reality.

Following the debacle in Lincoln, Ohio State travels to Illinois, a team that has started 6-0 for the first time since 1951. Even during the recent past when the Fighting Illini were struggling, they always seemed to play the Buckeyes tough. That includes a 28-21 shocker in 2007 when OSU was ranked No. 1.

Two weeks from now, after an open week, the Buckeyes host fourth-ranked Wisconsin, a team playing as well as any in the nation right now.

November opens with a home game vs. Indiana, a team that has lost 16 in a row to Ohio State, but the following week the Buckeyes must travel to Purdue, another team that gives OSU fits for no particular reason. The Boilermakers have won two of the previous five games in the series, including a 26-18 upset in West Lafayette two years ago.

Finally there is the final home game of the season against Penn State and the regular-season finale at Michigan.

The Nittany Lions are quite possibly the worst 5-1 team in the nation, but they will be exposed during a late-season schedule that features Illinois, Nebraska and Wisconsin as well as the Buckeyes.

Meanwhile, U-M is a team feeling extremely rejuvenated under first-year head coach Brady Hoke. Yes, the Buckeyes have beaten the Wolverines nine of the last 10 years, and the Michigan defense still isn’t where it needs to be. But does anyone seriously believe OSU can outscore a Denard Robinson-led attack especially if Miller’s ankle injury lingers for the remainder of the season?

And yet with all of that uncertainty there is hope – hope because of the way Ohio State toyed with overmatched Akron, hope because of the way the Buckeyes responded to late adversity vs. Toledo and hope because of the way the team clicked on all cylinders for the first 2½ quarters at Nebraska.

Make no mistake, though. During put-up-or-shut-up time, hope won’t get it done. The Buckeyes are going to have to figure out a way to put four quarters together or that hope won’t be worth a warm bucket of spit.

OSU-ILLINOIS TIDBITS

** OSU and Illinois will meet for the 98th time since the series was inaugurated in 1902. The Buckeyes hold a 63-30-4 advantage in the overall series, including a 34-12 edge in Champaign.

** Ohio State and Illinois have met only five times over the years when the Fighting Illini were ranked and the Buckeyes were not. Illinois holds a 3-1-1 edge in those games, including a 34-14 win at Memorial Stadium in 1989.

** Between 1988 and 1992, the teams met five times and Illinois won them all. In the 16 games since, the Buckeyes are 12-4 with a perfect 8-0 record in Champaign. The Illini’s last home win over Ohio State was a 10-7 decision in 1991.

** Ohio State’s Luke Fickell will be facing the Fighting Illini for the first time as a head coach although he was 3-1 against Illinois as an OSU player and 6-1 as an assistant on Jim Tressel’s staff.

** Illinois head coach Ron Zook is 1-5 vs. the Buckeyes. He was 0-3 against the Illini when he was an OSU assistant on John Cooper’s staff from 1988-90.

** The Buckeyes have won 21 of their last 24 Big Ten road games but have lost two of their last four. OSU has not had a streak during which it has lost as many as three of five road conference games since losing five of six between 2003-05.

** Illinois is 6-0 for the first time since 1951, a season during which the Illini started 7-0 and finished 9-0-1. UI is one of only 13 remaining unbeaten teams in the nation and one of only seven that are already bowl-eligible.

** Ohio State is 3-3 for the first time since 2004. The Buckeyes have not started a season 3-4 since 1988. That team finished 4-6-1 and marks the last losing season at Ohio State.

** Including last year’s 38-14 victory over Baylor in the Texas Bowl, Illinois has won seven games in a row. That is the third longest current streak in the nation and school-best streak since the 2001 team also won seven straight. No Illinois team has won more than seven in a row since 1983, a team that captured 10 consecutive victories.

** Zook’s career mark as a head coach is only 57-59, including 34-45 at Illinois. But he can boast one accomplishment most of his Big Ten counterparts cannot. Zook has coached his team to victories at Ohio Stadium and Michigan Stadium, and Joe Paterno of Penn State is the only other Big Ten head coach who can claim that feat.

** The Illinois defense has forced at least one turnover in 21 consecutive games, the longest current streak of its kind in the nation.

** Illinois has held Ohio State to less than 100 yards passing in each of the last three games in the series, and it should be noted that the Buckeyes enter this year’s matchup ranked dead last in the Big Ten in pass offense.

** After missing the first four attempts of his career, OSU sophomore kicker Drew Basil is now working on a streak of seven consecutive field goals. That ties him with several players for the 10th best streak in school history, but Basil has a way to go to catch the all-time leader in the category. Mike Nugent (2001-04) connected on 24 straight field-goal attempts between 2001 and ’02.

** Illinois senior kicker Derek Dimke has made 10 straight field goals and that ties him for the third longest streak in school history. Mike Bass (1980-82) holds the UI record with 13 field goals in a row.

** Dimke also has a streak going of 78 consecutive PATs and that is tied for the ninth longest in Big Ten history. J.D. Carlson of Michigan (1989-92) holds the conference record with 126 straight PATs.

** Dimke is currently tied for ninth on the all-time Illinois scoring list with 186 points. You might have heard the guy with whom he’s tied – the legendary Red Grange, who scored 31 touchdowns to account for his 186 points during back-to-back-to-back All-America seasons from 1923-25.

** Illinois sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase needs only 92 more to crack the Illinois career top 10 in passing yardage. Currently occupying the No. 10 spot is Dave Wilson (1980), whom Ohio State fans remember as the guy who put up 621 passing yards against the Buckeyes during a wild 49-42 Illinois loss in 1980. Wilson’s total remains the Big Ten record for most passing yards in a single game.

** OSU sophomore tailback Carlos Hyde notched the first 100-yard game of his career last week, totaling 104 yards against Nebraska. It was the first time an Ohio State player had cracked the century mark since Terrelle Pryor had 115 in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas. The last OSU running back with a 100-yard game was Boom Herron, who had a career-best 175 yards last season in the 37-7 win over Michigan.

** Illinois has held four of its first six opponents to less than 100 rushing yards. The Fighting Illini haven’t allowed an opposing player to gain 100 yards since Mike Trumpy of Northwestern ran for 129 during UI’s 48-27 win over the Wildcats at Wrigley Field last year.

** Herron is scheduled to return to action this week after missing the first six games of the season due to NCAA suspensions. The Buckeyes are 18-1 during Herron’s career when he rushes for at least 55 yards.

** Coming into the 2011 season, Herron led all active Big Ten players with 2,104 yards. That distinction now belongs to Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who has upped his career rushing total to 2,773 going into this week’s game at Michigan State.

** Illinois senior wide receiver A.J. Jenkins ranks fifth nationally with an average of 135.8 yards per game. Jenkins had a school-record 268 yards Oct. 1 during his team’s 38-35 win over Northwestern, a yardage figure that was the fourth best single-game total in Big Ten history. The conference record-holder in that category is Chris Daniels of Purdue, who had 301 receiving yards during his team’s 52-28 win over Michigan State in 1999.

** OSU junior tight end Jake Stoneburner’s touchdown reception vs. Nebraska was the seventh of his career, moving him into seventh place all-time among Ohio State tight ends. John Lumpkin (10, 1996-98) is the career leader among OSU tight ends with 10 touchdown catches while Darnell Sanders (1999-2001), Rickey Dudley (1994-95) and Chuck Bryant (1959-61) are tied for second with nine. Jan White (1968-70) and Bob Grimes (1950-52) each had eight.

** When Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and I-back Rex Burkhead each eclipsed the 100-yard mark last Saturday, it marked the first time in 23 years the Buckeyes had allowed two opponents to crack the century mark in the same game. The last duo to accomplish the feat against OSU was Leroy Hoard (158) and Tony Boles (103) during Michigan’s 34-31 win over the Buckeyes in November 1988.

** The Buckeyes and Illini square off for one of the most uncommon trophies in college football. Illibuck is a wooden turtle that goes to the winner of the game each year. The tradition began in 1925 with a live turtle being exchanged between the two schools. The turtle was selected because of its supposed long life expectancy, but the original Illibuck died only two years after the trophy game was inaugurated. Since 1927, nine wooden replica Illibucks have been carved, each with the scores from games on its back. The Illibuck is the second oldest trophy game in the Big Ten, surpassed only by the Little Brown Jug that Minnesota and Michigan have been playing for since 1903.

** This week’s game will be televised by ABC/ESPN using the reverse mirror. (That means if the game is not on your local ABC-affiliated station, it should be available on ESPN and vice versa.) On the call will be Bob Wischusen (play-by-play), former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie (color analysis) and Heather Cox (sideline reports). Kickoff is set for shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. (That is 2:30 p.m. local time if you’re traveling to Champaign.)

** The game will also be streamed live online at ESPN3.com.

** The game is available to SiriusXM satellite radio subscribers on channel 85.

** Ohio State is off next week. The Buckeyes resume their 2011 season Oct. 29 with a home game against Wisconsin. That game is set to kick off at 8 p.m. Eastern and will be telecast by ABC/ESPN using the reverse mirror.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Oct. 12, 1929, the University of Georgia dedicated Sanford Stadium with a 15-0 win over heavily favored Yale. College Football Hall of Famer Vernon “Catfish” Smith was the star of the game for the Bulldogs, falling on a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown, hauling in a TD pass and tackling a Yale runner in the end zone for a safety. Sanford Stadium, which originally housed 30,000 spectators and cost $360,000 to build, has grown to a capacity of 92,746, the sixth largest on-campus stadium in the nation.

** On Oct. 12, 2002, Northern Illinois trailed Miami (Ohio) by a 27-14 score entering the fourth quarter. The Huskies proceeded to score a MAC-record 34 points in the final period to rally for a 48-41 victory. It was also the second-most fourth quarter points in a comeback win in NCAA history.

** On Oct. 13, 1979, unranked Stanford erased a 21-point deficit in the second half and achieved a 21-21 tie with defending national champion and No. 1-rated USC in the L.S. Coliseum. After falling behind by three touchdowns at halftime, the Cardinal rallied behind quarterback Turk Schonert, who threw for a pair of touchdowns and ran for another in the second half. The Trojans had a chance to pull out the victory in the final seconds, but botched the snap from center on a field-goal try.

** On Oct. 13, 2007, Houston became the only team in NCAA history to have a 300-yard receiver and a 200-yard rusher in the same game as the Cougars scored a wild 56-48 victory over Rice. Houston wide receiver Donnie Avery caught 13 passes for 346 yards – a school and Conference USA record – while tailback Anthony Aldridge added 205 yards rushing.

** On Oct. 14, 1950, Penn halfback Francis “Reds” Bagnell accounted for 490 yards of total offense to lead the Quakers in a 42-26 win over Dartmouth. Bagnell threw for 276 yards and rushed for 214, making him the first player in college football history to crack the 200-yard mark in passing and rushing in the same game. The feat wasn’t matched again for another 36 years and has been equaled fewer than a dozen times since.

** On Oct. 14, 1978, Cornell running back Joe Holland rushed for 244 yards on an Ivy League-record with 55 carries and led the Big Red to a 25-20 victory at Harvard.

** On Oct. 15, 1910, officials at the University of Illinois decided it would be a good idea to invite alumni back to the campus for a football game. More than 1,500 returned to Champaign and watched as the Fighting Illini beat Chicago, 3-0, in what is recognized as the first official homecoming game in college football history.

** On Oct. 15, 1977, Iowa State went to Lincoln and scored a 24-21 upset of No. 9 Nebraska, giving the Cyclones back-to-back victories over the Cornhuskers for the first time in 27 years. The final score wiped out a superlative performance by NU running back I.M. Hipp, who rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns.

** On Oct. 15, 2005, USC quarterback Matt Leinart was pushed across the goal line in the final seconds by teammate Reggie Bush and the top-ranked Trojans escaped South Bend with a 34-31 win over No. 9 Notre Dame. The play has come to be known as the “Bush Push.”

** On Oct. 16, 1937, two of the most famous teams in college football history collided as Fordham’s “Seven Blocks of Granite” took on Pittsburgh’s “Dream Backfield” in a game that ended in a 0-0 tie. Future College Football Hall of Famers were all over the field that day including Fordham offensive line coach Frank Leahy and Pitt head coach Jock Sutherland, while Fordham lineman Vince Lombardi went on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame coaching career with the Green Bay Packers. The scoreless tie was the only blemish on either team’s 1937 records. Pitt finished 9-0-1 and won the national championship while Fordham was 7-0-1 and was voted third in the polls.

** On Oct. 16, 1976, Texas A&M kicker Tony Franklin showcased his strong right leg and set an NCAA record in the process. Franklin became the first kicker in college football history to boot a pair of field goals from 60 yards or longer in the same game. He had three-pointers of 64 and 65 yards during a 24-0 victory over Baylor in College Station. Franklin’s 65-yarder established a new NCAA record for the longest field goal in college football history, but the mark didn’t last long. Later that same day, Abilene Christian kicker Ove Johansson booted a 69-yarder against East Texas State. Johansson’s record still stands.

** On Oct. 17, 1970, Southern Miss went into Oxford and engineered a 30-14 upset over fourth-ranked Mississippi and Heisman Trophy candidate Archie Manning.

** On Oct. 18, 1958, No. 2 Auburn’s 17-game winning streak came to an end with a 7-7 tie against unranked Georgia Tech. The Tigers went on to close the 1958 season with six straight victories, but the tie with the Yellow Jackets cost them a second consecutive national championship.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Two more teams dropped off the list of Division I-A unbeatens, leaving the remaining number at 13 – Alabama, Boise State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Houston, Illinois, Kansas State, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Wisconsin.

** Stanford’s 48-7 stampede over Colorado on Saturday night pushed the nation’s longest winning streak to 14. That is a school record, eclipsing 13-game win streaks in 1904-05 and 1939-41. Meanwhile, New Mexico had an off week, so the nation’s longest losing streak remained at eight games.

** Congratulations to Miami (Ohio), Oregon State and Western Kentucky, each of which notched their first victories of 2011 last week. WKU got things started Thursday with a 36-33 win in double overtime over Middle Tennessee State. Then on Saturday, the RedHawks scored a 35-28 win over Army while the Beavers took a 37-27 win over Arizona, hastening the firing of Wildcats head coach Mike Stoops. That leaves only three winless teams at the I-A level – Florida Atlantic, New Mexico and UAB.

** After a rocky start, Notre Dame has now won four straight games. The latest win for the Fighting Irish was a 59-33 rout of Air Force on Saturday, the most points Notre Dame has scored in a game since a 60-6 romp over Pittsburgh in 1996. The Cadets hadn’t surrendered that many points since losing a 63-33 shootout to BYU in 2001.

** Utah should serve as a cautionary reminder to all the schools out there hot to realign themselves for a shot at college football glory. In their first season after leaving the Mountain West to join the Pac-12, the Utes are off to a 2-3 start, the school’s worst since 2007. Worse yet, after last week’s 35-14 home loss to Arizona State, Utah is 0-3 in the conference. The Utes haven’t begun a season with three straight league losses since 2002 – coincidentally the program’s only losing season since 2000.

** How the mighty have fallen. Florida State has started a season 2-3 for the second time in three seasons. Before 2009, the year they ran Bobby Bowden out of Tallahassee after 34 seasons as head coach, the Seminoles hadn’t started 2-3 since 1983.

** Last Saturday saw Texas faced with a fourth-and-49 situation against Oklahoma. That was longest fourth down we’ve seen in quite a while … at least until Georgia had a fourth-and-58 during its 20-12 win over Tennessee. How do you get fourth-and-58? Pretty easy evidently with three straight holding calls and a facemask penalty.

** Throwing the ball all over the field continues to get the most headlines while defense still wins championships. LSU and Kansas State remain undefeated despite national pass offense rankings of 100th and 115th respectively. On the other side of the ball, the Tigers are in the top 10 of most defensive categories while the Wildcats rank in the top 20.

** Speaking of throwing the ball, Houston QB Case Keenum is closing in on Division I-A career records with 15,895 passing yards and 124 TD passes. Timmy Chang of Hawaii (2001-04) holds the yardage record at 17,072 while Graham Harrell of Texas Tech (2005-08) has the TD mark with 134.

** We should probably start paying attention to Rutgers again. Following their 11-2 season in 2006, the Scarlet Knights fell off the college football radar. But they’re back this season at 4-1 following a good, old-fashioned 31-10 butt-whipping of Big East rival Pittsburgh last week. Rutgers is 2-0 in the Big East for only the second time since it joined the conference in 1991.

** When longtime Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis died Oct. 8 at the age of 82, most obituaries commented only on his professional football career. Davis also had a legacy at the college level beginning as a member of the junior varsity team at Syracuse. He also spent time as an assistant coach at Adelphia College and The Citadel as well as three seasons at USC from 1957-59 before beginning his pro career as offensive ends coach for the AFL’s Los Angeles Chargers.

FEARLESS FORECAST

There was nothing but sunshine and high-fives last weekend here at Forecast World Headquarters and we’re feeling a little guilty about it since there is so much gloom and doom in Buckeye Nation. We’ll get over our guilt, though, as we bask in the first totally perfect week in memory.

We were 10-0 in the straight-up picks and (more importantly) 10-0 against the spread, and that runs the yearly totals to 57-5 SU and 39-20-1 ATS. There is nothing better than playing with house money – unless, of course, you get more of it.

Here are the games we like this week.

TONIGHT’S GAMES

Hawaii at San Jose State: Although it goes against the purists in us all, we don’t mind admitting we kind of like to watch teams that put 100 percent of their emphasis on offense. The Rainbows are just such an example with senior QB Bryant Moniz averaging better than 315 yards per game this year. Moniz also averages nearly 42 attempts per game, meaning Hawaii isn’t exactly a juggernaut in the running game. Fact is, the Rainbows rank 110th nationally in rushing. Not that it should matter much tonight since the Spartans rank in the 90s in nearly every national defensive category … Hawaii 34, San Jose State 14. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 1 LSU at Tennessee: Volunteers head coach Derek Dooley has reached into his bag of tricks this week and decided to start senior backup Matt Simms at quarterback against the top-ranked Tigers. Simms was the guy who nearly engineered an epic upset last year before LSU squeezed out a 16-14 win. But Simms was also the guy who was replaced as the starter last year after eight starts, and he will be in charge of an offense that simply cannot run the football. Tennessee ranks No. 114 nationally in rushing after finishing with minus-20 yards on 23 attempts is last week’s 20-12 loss to Georgia, and you have to wonder how the Vols can do any better this week … LSU 34, Tennessee 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 2 Alabama at Mississippi: The Crimson Tide should stomp their merry way along to any victory this week mostly because the Rebels are helpless against running teams. Ole Miss ranks 10th in the SEC and 95th nationally against the run while Alabama has the services of junior tailback Trent Richardson, a Heisman Trophy candidate who already has 729 yards and 11 TDs in six games this season. Richardson has his sights set on a school-record tying sixth consecutive 100-yard game and he should probably achieve that goal in the first half … Alabama 38, Mississippi 0. (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 3 Oklahoma at Kansas: If you think the Sooners were merciless last weekend against Texas, how do think they will treat the punchless Jayhawks? Last week, Oklahoma State put up 56 in the first half en route to a 70-28 win over Kansas. No way will Bob Stoops not want to better that … Oklahoma 77, Kansas 7.

Indiana at No. 4 Wisconsin: How ugly could this one get? As ugly as Bret Bielema wants it to be. If you recall, the Badgers stomped their way to 83-20 win over the Hoosiers in mid-November last season on their way to a Rose Bowl berth. Now, U-Dub is coming off an open week and eager to prove to the nation it belongs with LSU, Alabama and Oklahoma in the national championship discussion. Indiana has lost 14 of its last 15 conference games, 13 in a row to ranked opponents and each of its last six to Wisconsin by an average of 30.5 points. Bielema very rarely takes his foot off the gas and no one should expect him to this week … Wisconsin 70, Indiana 6. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

No. 6 Oklahoma State at No. 22 Texas: The Longhorns jump this week from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. After being manhandled by Oklahoma last Saturday, the Mack Pack limps home to host the pass-happy Cowboys who have a high-wire act that will test anyone’s secondary. Texas does have history on its side – it lost a 33-16 decision to Okie State last year and has never dropped back-to-back games to the Cowboys. Still, it’s tough to envision any scenario in which the Longhorns can slow down OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden (1,880 yards, 15 TDs) and his talented receiving corps led by All-American Justin Blackmon (46 catches, 534 yards, 6 TDs) … Oklahoma State 45, Texas 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

No. 7 Stanford at Washington State: The Cougars feature the No. 3 defense in the Pac-12, but that’s a bit misleading in a conference where defense is an afterthought. Wazzu gives up an average of 363.6 yards per game and that isn’t exactly where you want to be when Heisman favorite Andrew Luck and the Cardinal come to town. Many opposing players seem to struggle playing in Pullman (affectionately known as “The Palouse”), but Luck isn’t one of them. He made his collegiate debut there in 2009 and led the Cardinal to a 39-13 win. It’s doubtful the outcome will be much different this time … Stanford 38, Washington State 14. (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 11 Michigan at No. 23 Michigan State: The Wolverines have their swagger back with a first 6-0 start since 2006, but U-M takes on its toughest customer of the season in the Spartans. MSU is coming off an open week and angling for its fourth straight win in the series, something that hasn’t happened since 1959-62. Sparty has the nation’s top-ranked defense while Michigan has quarterback Denard Robinson, one of college football’s most electrifying players. The difference in this game will be how much improved the Wolverines are on defense. Last year, the Spartans pounded the ball on the ground and intercepted Robinson three times during a 34-17 win. If they follow the same blueprint, and QB Kirk Cousins keeps his mental mistakes to minimum, the Spartans should come out on top again … Michigan State 28, Michigan 24. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

No. 12 Georgia Tech at Virginia: The Yellow Jackets have a reputation of being a one-dimensional team but that isn’t exactly accurate. Yes, Tech ranks fourth in the nation in total offense thanks to a running game that averages 360.5 yards per game. But the Wreck can throw the ball, too, with junior QB Tevin Washington throwing for 1,052 yards and 10 TDs so far this season. Some observers believe Tech should be on upset watch this week, but although the Cavaliers are 3-2 and playing at home, they have yet to play anyone ever near the caliber of the Yellow Jackets … Georgia Tech 42, Virginia 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Ohio State at No. 16 Illinois: Like most young, relatively inexperienced teams, Ohio State has enough talent to win – it simply hasn’t yet learned how to win. That was never more obvious than last weekend in Lincoln when the Buckeyes rolled out to a 27-6 lead over Nebraska, and then watched the roof cave in over their heads after quarterback Braxton Miller went down with an ankle injury. Of course, nothing is so wrong with the Buckeyes that a victory wouldn’t help and they have a lot of things going for them this week. They have won eight straight in Champaign, Miller appears to be ready to go and senior tailback Boom Herron is finally back to give the offense some spark. In a season that has already featured more than its share of wild momentum shifts, we look for the pendulum to swing back the Buckeyes’ way this week with an Upset Special … Ohio State 27, Illinois 23. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Hawaii (-6) at San Jose State; LSU (-15½) at Tennessee; Alabama (-25) at Ole Miss; Oklahoma (-35½) at Kansas; Indiana at Wisconsin (-39); Oklahoma State (-7) at Texas; Stanford (-21) at Washington State; Michigan at Michigan State (-2); Georgia Tech (-7) at Virginia; Ohio State (+4) at Illinois.

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

Seriously Now; What Is It Going To Take?

I have been covering Ohio State football for longer than I care to remember. There have been times when the Buckeyes have had off-the-field problems and times when they have struggled with their product on the field, but I cannot remember a time when they have had both.

Since December when it came to light five players had traded memorabilia for tattoos and/or cash, the OSU football program and its fans have been sitting under the sword of Damocles. In case you have forgotten your Greek mythology, a sword hangs precariously above a king’s throne, held in place by a single hair from a horse’s tail. It is meant to convey how precarious fame and fortune can be.

In the myth, just the threat of the sword hanging overhead was enough of a deterrent. Where Buckeye Nation is concerned, however, the sword has fallen repeatedly. It seems that every three weeks or so, another log gets thrown onto a smoldering fire that has already claimed several victims including Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor with Gene Smith, Luke Fickell and the program itself apparently in the line of the fire.

My first reaction when the latest revelations came to light regarding Boom Herron, DeVier Posey and Marcus Hall and questionable summer employment? Stand back and let the fire burn.

What is it going to take to get it through some thick skulls that the immediate future of Ohio State football is in the NCAA crosshairs? One would think the players know better, especially after Tattoogate and all that entailed. One would think the OSU compliance office would know better, taking whatever steps necessary to repeatedly drum into these guys’ heads that taking money under any circumstances is the wrong thing to do. And one would think Smith would know better than to publicly state, “We do not have a systemic problem.”

Really? Exactly what would you call it? It’s certainly not gangland 1930s Chicago, the foolish and mean-spirited comparison offered by CBSSports.com writer Dennis Dodd on Tuesday. But it certainly smacks of a problem systemic enough that athletic department officials come off looking reactive rather than proactive. Turning a deaf ear is one thing; incompetence is quite another.

As much as it pains me to write this, perhaps only something cataclysmic will get the attention of the players, the compliance department and the athletic department hierarchy. Perhaps the NCAA will discover it has no choice but to level a charge of lack of institutional control against Ohio State, and if that is the case, the Buckeyes as we have come to know them over the past decade will cease to exist.

For starters, Smith will be history as will compliance director Doug Archie. (That might happen anyway.) Fickell will almost certainly be gone (again, something that could already have been decided), but you can kiss Urban Meyer goodbye along with any other so-called big-name coach. None of those guys is coming to a wrecked program where collateral damage includes deep scholarship reductions and multiyear bowl bans.

Moreover, you can pretty much write off recruiting for the next couple of years. As with the big-name coaches, very few big-name prospects would to come to a school that has no chance to play in a bowl game. And before you believe a big-name program chock full of rich tradition can weather that kind of storm, I invite you to check out the recent history of Indiana basketball and tell me what you find.

Maybe I paint a picture much bleaker than reality will eventually show. I would like to think so. After all, I’m the same guy who has opined for much of the last 10 months that severe penalties from the NCAA would not fit Ohio State’s crimes. But when you continue to discover leaks after spending much of the last year patching other holes, pretty soon you come to realization that your boat is sinking.

I wrote several columns during the summer criticizing Ohio State for failing to get out in front of this situation and I cannot shake the feeling the university is still playing catch-up. According to reports, OSU has paid more than $1 million on public relations since the scandal broke last year. If that is the case, please release the name of the person who signed off on that expenditure. He or she needs to be summarily fired because the university PR on this matter has not amounted to 2 cents much less $1 million.

Making matters worse, the Buckeyes’ on-the-field problems have a direct correlation to what has transpired on the field. The Tressel situation was bungled so poorly that his sudden May 30 departure left the program scrambling for a replacement. It left the team with a head coach that had no previous head coaching experience and a bunch of longtime assistants tasked with much more responsibility that any of them had under Tressel.

Likewise, members of the team have been adversely affected by the tortuous ordeal that seemingly is without end. Pryor will be back after five games; no, he won’t be back at all. Herron and Posey will return after five games; no, they have to sit at least one more game, maybe more. Joe Bauserman is the starting quarterback; no, it’s Braxton Miller until he falters against Michigan State, in which case Bauserman returns.

Of course, nothing is so bad with the on-field product right now that a big win at Nebraska wouldn’t help come tomorrow night. But based upon what we have seen for the past couple of weeks, you wonder how that can possibly come to pass. Then you look at the remaining schedule and wonder how the Buckeyes can total enough victories to even get bowl-eligible.

The old proverb states, “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” and perhaps that is true. Unfortunately, as dark as the storm clouds have been over the Ohio State football program, they appear to be growing ever darker.

BRUTUS-HERBIE TIDBITS

** This marks only the third ever meeting between Ohio State and Nebraska. The Buckeyes won both of the previous game – 28-20 in the 1955 season opener and 34-7 a year later in that season’s opener. Both games were played at Ohio Stadium.

** The contest will be played in historic Memorial Stadium where the Cornhuskers are working on a prodigious streak of sellouts. The game against Ohio State will mark the 315th consecutive sellout, a streak that goes back to November 1962.

** The game pits two Ohio State alums against one another. OSU head coach Luke Fickell was a four-year defensive starter for the Buckeyes from 1993-96, while Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini started at safety for Ohio State in 1989 and ’90. Pelini was also a team co-captain during the 1990 season.

** Pelini has coached twice before against his alma mater and he is 2-0. In 1991, while Pelini was a graduate assistant on Hayden Fry’s staff at Iowa, the Hawkeyes took a 16-9 victory over Ohio State in Columbus. Then, in January 2008 just before taking over at Nebraska, Pelini was defensive coordinator at LSU when the Tigers scored a 38-24 win over the Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship Game.

** Since Pelini took over in Lincoln prior to the 2008 season, his team is 29-5 against unranked teams. However, the Cornhuskers are only 7-6 in October with Pelini as head coach.

** The Cornhuskers are 34-5 at home under the lights since the first night game at Memorial Stadium in 1986. That record includes wins in each of the last eight night games in Lincoln, a streak extended with a 42-29 victory over Fresno State earlier this year.

** Ohio State is 32-17 all-time in night games, including a 26-14 mark away from home. That includes the 24-6 loss at Miami (Fla.) earlier this season.

** The game will serve as homecoming for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska is 3-3 in its last six homecoming games after winning 35 in a row.

** Ohio State and Nebraska are two of the winningest teams in college football history. The Cornhuskers are fourth all-time with 841 victories while the Buckeyes are right behind with 834. Michigan (889), Texas (854) and Notre Dame (848) are the top three winningest programs in NCAA history.

** The Cornhuskers and Buckeyes are the top two winningest teams in college football since 1970. NU has 407 victories and OSU has 382 since then. Oklahoma is third (380) followed by Michigan (372) and Penn State (370).

** Since joining the Big Ten in 1913, Ohio State is 61-32-5 in conference road openers. The Buckeyes haven’t lost a league road opener since a 17-10 loss at Penn State in 2005.

** Nebraska has lost its last three conference home openers. As a member of the Big 12, the Huskers lost to Missouri in 2008, Texas Tech in 2009 and Texas last season. Before that, NU had won 30 straight league home openers. All-time, Nebraska is 84-13-4 in the first conference home game of the season, an .851 winning percentage.

** The Cornhuskers are 16-1 at home since 1962 vs. current Big Ten members. The only blemish on that record is a 30-24 loss to Penn State in 1981 before the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten.

** Nebraska’s 48-17 drubbing at Wisconsin continued an alarming trend for the Cornhuskers. Since 1997, NU is 0-8 on the road against top-10 opponents and the defense has allowed an average of 44 points in those games.

** OSU is in the middle of a four-week stretch when it will play ranked teams. The Buckeyes have not played four ranked teams in a row since 2003.

** Ohio State has featured a top-20 scoring defense in each of the last nine seasons, including top six every year since 2005. Heading to Lincoln, the Buckeyes rank No. 11 nationally in scoring defense.

** OSU has been installed by oddsmakers as an 11½-point underdog to the Cornhuskers. It marks only the third time in the past decade that the Buckeyes have been double-digit underdogs. They were 10½-point dogs in 2008 against top-ranked USC and wound up with a 35-3 loss, and they were 13½-point underdogs in the 2002 BCS National Championship Game to No. 1 Miami (Fla.) before taking a 31-24 double overtime win over the defending national champion Hurricanes.

** Nebraska sophomore QB Taylor Martinez needs only 99 more total yards to reach 4,000 for his career. He also needs to rush for 87 more to move past Scott Frost (1,533, 1996-97) into fifth place on the school’s all-time list for career rushing yards by a quarterback. First place belongs to 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, who rushed for 3,434 yards during his career from 1998-2001.

** Junior I-back Rex Burkhead needs 187 more yards to become the 26th player in NU history with at least 2,000 career rushing yards. Mike Rozier, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1983, is Nebraska’s all-time leading rusher with 4,780 yards.

** Nebraska senior defensive tackle Jared Crick enters the game with 20 career sacks, good enough for eighth on the school’s all-time list. NU’s all-time leader in sacks is Trev Alberts (29½, 1990-93).

** Nebraska is one of a handful of college teams with two different mascots – Herbie Husker and Lil’ Red. Herbie is the older of the two, making his first appearance in 1974. Following a 2003 makeover, Herbie wears a perpetual smile as well as a red cowboy hat adorned with a white “N,” red workshirt, blue jeans and workboots. Lil’ Red appeared on the scene in 1993 and can be best described as a smaller, ground-based version of the balloons featured in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

** The OSU-Nebraska game will be televised nationally by ABC. For the second week in a row, the announce crew will feature Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Matt Miller (color analysis) and Heather Cox (sideline reports). Kickoff is set for shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern. (That is 7 p.m. local time if you’re traveling to Lincoln.)

** The game is also available on satellite radio station channel 91 for both Sirius and XM subscribers as well as Sirius channel 92. Nationally syndicated Westwood One will also broadcast the game featuring Brian Davis with the play-by-play and 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George providing color analysis.

** Next week, Ohio State is on the road again, traveling to Illinois for the second year in a row. The game is set for 3:30 p.m. Eastern and will be telecast by ABC/ESPN using the reverse mirror.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Oct. 5, 1940, Michigan star Tom Harmon led his team to a 21-14 victory over Michigan State in Ann Arbor. The win was the Wolverines’ third in a row over the Spartans and was part of a streak that stretched to 10 games before the Spartans won in 1950.

** On Oct. 5, 1968, Arkansas running back Bill Burnett scored a touchdown to help the Razorbacks to a 17-7 win over TCU. It was the first of 23 consecutive games in which Burnett scored, an NCAA record that stood for 32 years.

** On Oct. 5, 1991, Fresno State kicker Derek Mahoney tied the NCAA record for most PATs in a game when he went 13 for 13 as the Bulldogs rolled to a 94-17 win over New Mexico.

** On Oct. 6, 1956, Penn snapped a 19-game home losing streak with a 14-7 win over Dartmouth. It was the Quakers’ first official Ivy League game, while Dartmouth’s lone touchdown came from quarterback Mike Brown, the same Mike Brown who is now owner of the Cincinnati Bengals.

** On Oct. 6, 1980, Northern Illinois tailback Stacey Robinson rushed for a school-record 308 yards during his team’s 73-18 romp over No. 24 Fresno State. Including in Robinson’s performance was an NCAA-record 287 yards in the first half – 114 in the first quarter and 173 more in the second period.

** On Oct. 7, 1995, Texas Tech scored a 14-7 upset over eighth-ranked Texas A&M in Lubbock. The Aggies entered the contest with a 29-game Southwest Conference unbeaten streak, but Tech linebacker Zach Thomas returned an interception 23 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

** Also on Oct. 7, 1995, fifth-ranked Ohio State squeezed out a 28-25 decision over No. 12 Penn State in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions grabbed an early 10-0 lead behind the first of three touchdown runs by fullback Jon Witman, but OSU rallied behind quarterback Bobby Hoying, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns, and Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George, who scored the winning touchdown with 1:42 to play. Hoying’s performance represented the fourth highest single-game passing total in Ohio State history.

** On Oct. 7, 1996, College Football Hall of Fame coach Wallace Wade died in Durham, N.C., at the age of 94. Wade was head coach at Alabama in 1925 when the Crimson Tide became the first Southern school invited to the Rose Bowl. A guard for Brown during his playing days, Wade became the first man ever to play and coach in a Rose Bowl. His Brown team lost to Washington State, 14-0, in the 1916 game, but his Alabama squad took a 20-19 thriller over Washington a decade later. Wade later coached at Duke – the football stadium there bears his name – and led the Blue Devils to their only Rose Bowl appearance, a 20-16 loss to Oregon State in the 1942 game.

** On Oct. 7, 2000, No. 7 Miami (Fla.) upset top-ranked Florida State, 27-24, when Seminoles kicker Matt Munyon’s last-second field goal attempt from 49 yards sailed wide right.

** On Oct. 8, 1949, Brown set a college football record with 11 interceptions during a 46-0 win over Rhode Island. Bears defensive back Walt Pastuszak grabbed five of the picks, another NCAA single-game record.

** On Oct. 8, 1966, Wyoming kicker Jerry DePoyster made NCAA history during his team’s 40-7 victory over Utah. DePoyster connected on field goals of 54, 54 and 52 yards and became the first kicker in NCAA history with three field goal of 50 yards or more in a single game. The Cowboys went to a 10-1 season in ’66 that included a WAC championship and Sun Bowl victory over Florida State.

** On Oct. 8, 1977, seventh-ranked Alabama squeezed out a 21-20 victory over No. 1 USC when the Trojans scored a touchdown with 38 seconds remaining but their subsequent two-point conversion try failed.

** On Oct. 9, 1943, Indiana quarterback Bob Hoernschemeyer set an NCAA record for touchdown passes in a game by a freshman when he threw six as the Hoosiers took a 54-13 win over Nebraska in Bloomington.

** On Oct. 9, 1976, USC tailback Ricky Bell set new Pac-8 single-game records by rushing 51 times for 346 yards as the Trojans took a 23-14 win over Washington State. It was the first college football game staged at Seattle’s then-new Kingdome.

** On Oct. 9, 1999, Michigan and Michigan State entered their instate rivalry with undefeated records for the first time in nearly 20 years and those in attendance at East Lansing got their money’s worth. The Spartans stormed out to an early lead before U-M head coach Lloyd Carr replaced starting quarterback Drew Henson with backup Tom Brady. Brady went on to complete 30 of 41 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, but his rally fell just short as the Spartans held on for a 34-31 victory.

** On Oct. 9, 2004, California QB Aaron Rodgers established a new NCAA record for consecutive completions. Rodgers completed his first three attempts against USC to run his streak to a record 26 completions in a row. Unfortunately, that was all Cal had to celebrate that day. The seventh-ranked Bears dropped a 23-17 decision to the No. 1 Trojans.

** On Oct. 10, 1936, trumpet player John Brungart became the first member of the Ohio State Marching Band to dot the “i” in Script Ohio.

** On Oct. 10, 1987, Oklahoma State took a 42-17 victory over Colorado to open its season with five straight wins for the first time since 1945. Leading the way for the Cowboys was a pair of fairly decent running backs – Thurman Thomas rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown while Barry Sanders added a score on a 73-yard punt return.

** On Oct. 11, 1975, Division II schools Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) and Davidson (N.C.) College combined to set an NCAA single-game rushing record as the Bears topped the Wildcats, 69-14. Lenoir-Rhyne rushed for an amazing 837 yards while Davidson added 202, establishing a new NCAA record with 1,039 combined rushing yards on 111 attempts.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The list of unbeaten teams at the Division I-A level shrunk from 22 last week to 15. Those remaining are Alabama, Boise State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Houston, Illinois, Kansas State, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Texas, Texas Tech and Wisconsin.

** Stanford’s 45-19 victory over UCLA on Saturday extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 13. Meanwhile, New Mexico dropped a 42-28 decision to rival New Mexico State to extend the nation’s longest losing streak to eight games.

** Congratulations to Middle Tennessee, which got its first win of the season last weekend with a 38-31 win over instate rival Memphis. Then the Blue Raiders returned the favor last night, dropping a 36-33 double overtime decision to Western Kentucky to give the Hilltoppers their first victory of 2011. That leaves only five winless I-A teams – Florida Atlantic, Miami (Ohio), New Mexico, Oregon State and UAB.

** Congratulations are also in order for Illinois and SMU. The Fighting Illini are 5-0 for the first time since starting the 1951 season with seven straight victories. And the Mustangs knocked off TCU on Saturday, ending the Horned Frogs’ streak of 22 straight victories at home. SMU is 4-1 for the first time since 1986 – pre-death penalty.

** Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins had a career day during his team’s 38-35 win over Northwestern. Jenkins had 12 receptions for a school-record 268 yards and three touchdowns. It was the most receiving yardage totaled by a Big Ten player since 2003 and ranked fourth all-time behind Chris Daniels of Purdue (301 in 1999), Thomas Lewis of Indiana (285 in 1993) and Charles Rogers of Michigan State (270 in 2001).

** How good is Alabama’s defense? Florida entered the game averaging 259 yards and managed only 15 against the Tide. The 38-10 defeat represented the worst home loss for the Gators since a 36-7 decision against LSU in 2002. That LSU team was coached by Nick Saban – same guy that’s currently Alabama’s head coach.

** Texas A&M has every intention of leaving what’s left of the Big 12 to join the SEC next year. The question is why? The Aggies blew a 35-17 halftime lead against Arkansas on Saturday, eventually losing by a 42-38 final. That marked A&M seventh straight loss to an SEC team since 1995.

** Oklahoma’s offense got most of the attention following a 62-6 blowout of Ball State, but Sooners safety Tony Jefferson had a monster game as well. Jefferson intercepted passes on three straight Ball State possessions in the second quarter.

** South Carolina had a bad day get worse Saturday with a 16-13 upset loss at home to Auburn. SEC officials working the game made the Gamecocks change out of their UnderArmour Wounded Warriors uniforms before kickoff because the numbers were too hard to read.

** There are nice debuts and then there is the performance turned in by West Virginia freshman tailback Dustin Garrison. After getting only 13 carries in the Mountaineers’ first four games, Garrison rushed for a school-record 291 yards and 32 totes as WVU rolled to a 55-10 win Oct. 1 over Bowling Green.

** Utah State has begun to slowly turn things around under third-year head coach Gary Andersen. The Aggies haven’t had a winning season since 1996 and are currently 1-3, but they have been competitive. They simply haven’t learned how to win yet. How close is USU to being 4-0 for the first time since 1978? The Aggies led BYU by 11 points in the fourth quarter, Auburn by 10 points with less than three minutes remaining and Colorado State by eight in the final minute and lost all three games. “We’re learning a lot of life lessons,” Andersen said.

** The Big Ten Network has resurrected its “Icons” series with profiles on legendary coaches from each of the conference schools. The list is a pretty impressive one that includes Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Joe Paterno, Bob Knight, Jud Heathcote, Herb Brooks, Dan Gable and Tom Osborne. The only member of the list worth questioning comes from Northwestern, which chose women’s lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte-Hiller over College Football Hall of Fame coach Ara Parseghian. But when you realize Parseghian had much greater success at Notre Dame, and Amonte-Hiller has led the Wildcats to six national championships in seven seasons, you understand the selection was a no-brainer for NU.

FEARLESS FORECAST

If only we had stayed with our head instead of our heart, we’d be crowing about a second perfect week in a row with the straight-up picks. As it was, we changed our Ohio State-Michigan State pick at the last minute and wound up with the Buckeyes causing the only blemish in a 9-1 week. We can’t cry too much, though. We’re 47-5 SU for the season so far and that’s better than 90 percent.

Against the spread, we’re stuck in a rut with another 5-5 week. We’re still well above breakeven at 29-20-1 for the season, but we’d like to do better.

Let’s see if that can happen with these games.

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 5 Boise State at Fresno State: The Bulldogs would seem to be a better team than their 2-3 record might indicate, but they won’t improve until they stop giving up big plays. Earlier this season, they had Nebraska on the ropes until giving up a 100-yard kickoff return and a 46-yard touchdown run. Last week against Ole Miss, Fresno surrendered a 69-yard TD run and gave up an average of 26.8 yards per completion. That simply will not get it done against the Broncos despite the fact QB Kellen Moore had an uncharacteristically poor performance last week … Boise State 41, Fresno State 20. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 17 Florida at No. 1 LSU: Both of these teams have quarterback quandaries although the Gators have the bigger problems. Starting QB John Brantley sustained a leg injury during last week’s 38-10 loss to Alabama, and Florida head coach Will Muschamp will start freshman Jeff Driskel in his place. On the other sideline, Les Miles is trying to figure out how he can get Jordan Jefferson involved in the LSU offense after the starting QB’s suspension was lifted last week. Jefferson will continue to back up Jarrett Lee, but it really doesn’t matter that much. The Tigers’ defense gives up next to nothing on the ground, putting the onus on Driskel to win the game for his team through the air. It is probably also worth noting that LSU ranks fourth nationally in turnover margin … LSU 23, Florida 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Vanderbilt at No. 2 Alabama: Pity the Commodores. They enter this game ranked 117th out of 120 Division I-A schools in total offense while the Crimson Tide are among the top five in every major defensive statistic. That includes No. 1 against the run and in scoring defense. Then, there is the small matter of Vandy’s recent struggles against ranked teams – 0 for its last 11. Add that to the fact the Commodores have lost 43 of the last 45 in the series and you get the impression the Tide can name whatever final score they want … Alabama 35, Vanderbilt 6. (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 Texas: The two archrivals descend upon the Cotton Bowl once again, this time with each team undefeated. If you put any stock in national rankings, you might be led to believe the Longhorns are the team to beat. They started the season unranked and have ascended all the way to No. 11. Meanwhile, the Sooners are down two notches from being preseason No. 1 despite winning four games by a combined score of 170-61. Up and down the rosters, though, it still looks like Oklahoma has the better team both offensively and defensively. No upset here – not even close … Oklahoma 34, Texas 14. (12 noon ET, ABC)

Kansas at No. 6 Oklahoma State: The Cowboys had a week off to enjoy their heart-pounding 30-29 win over Texas A&M, and now they rev up the motor on their high-powered offense against a team that has struggled mightily on the road. OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden engineers the nation’s No. 3 offense, which averages 571.8 yards per game, against the Jayhawks who surrender 545.0 yards per game. That ranks 119th nationally among 120 Division I-A schools. Making matters worse for Jayhawks, they have lost nine straight conference games on the road. We can’t think of a single reason to think this will be anything short of a blowout … Oklahoma State 45, Kansas 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, FSN)

Colorado at No. 7 Stanford: There’s not much to say about this one. The Cardinal are trying to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 13 while the Buffaloes seek to avoid losing their 19th consecutive road loss. Suffice it to say Stanford QB Andrew Luck (1,013 yards, 11 TDs) will continue to pad his Heisman résumé while Colorado continues its slide to a sixth straight losing season … Stanford 42, Colorado 10. (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

Boston College at No. 8 Clemson: The Tigers are one of the surprising teams of 2011 so far, starting the season 5-0 for the first time since winning their first eight games in 2000. That’s pretty good for a team that finished 6-7 last year. This week, Clemson should be able to keep things going against a BC squad that ranks 98th nationally in total offense and 99th in scoring. The Tigers might be induced to overlook the 1-4 Eagles, but they shouldn’t. Boston College has won three of the last five in the series and Clemson failed to score an offensive touchdown in either of the last two games. That should be incentive enough to take care of business … Clemson 28, Boston College 7. (3 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 12 Michigan at Northwestern: The Wolverines are starting to get their old swagger back, especially after last week’s 58-0 drubbing of lowly Minnesota. That marked U-M’s first shutout of a Big Ten opponent since 2001 and its first shutout against any opponent since 2007. Before they get too full of themselves in Ann Arbor, however, they should realize the Gophers are about as punchless as any team in the country. Michigan gets a much stiffer test this week under the lights in Evanston. Electrifying QB Dan Persa is back for the Wildcats, and he threw for four touchdowns last week against a decent Illinois defense. Unfortunately for Persa, his defense doesn’t help him much and the Achilles injury that ended his 2010 season prematurely still seems to bother him. That prevents this one from becoming as high-scoring as it could have …Michigan 45, Northwestern 35. (7 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 19 Illinois at Indiana: Did anyone see this coming? Did anyone look at the Fighting Illini before this season and say, ‘Yeah, there’s a team with a chance to make a BCS bowl’? Yet here we are, nearing the midway point of the regular season with Illinois one of a handful of undefeated teams left standing. Look at the Illini schedule after this week and you see winnable games all the way to a Nov. 19 matchup with Wisconsin. By that time, the Fighting Zooksters could be a top-10 team. On the flip side of that is IU, a team that is pretty much right where everyone thought it would be … Illinois 37, Indiana 13. (2:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

Ohio State at No. 14 Nebraska: Given the way the offense has performed lately, it is imperative the Buckeyes play lights-out on defense if they entertain the slightest notion of winning this game. That means playing assignment football against Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez and forcing him to throw the football. On the other side of the ball, Ohio State has to devise some way of keeping the Blackshirts off young quarterback Braxton Miller. If Miller can find some operating room and gain a little confidence, he can be dangerous. But if he is smothered this week like he was last week vs. Michigan State, the Buckeyes have no chance to win this game no matter how well their defense plays. Seeing is believing, but we remain unconvinced … Nebraska 16, Ohio State 9. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-20½) at Fresno State; Florida at LSU (-12); Vanderbilt at Alabama (-28½); Oklahoma (-9½) vs. Texas; Kansas at Oklahoma State (-29); Colorado at Stanford (-29); Boston College at Clemson (-20); Michigan (-7) at Northwestern; Illinois (-14) at Indiana; Ohio State (+11½) at Nebraska.

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

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