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.

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