It very nearly didn’t happen this year.
With a new Urban Meyer rumor to chase down virtually every day, family Thanksgiving obligations outside the city and tomorrow’s Ann Arbor travel plans to finalize, I very nearly skipped my annual Michigan Week ritual.
Then I thought about how I would feel if I didn’t go on my annual pilgrimage, so while everyone else in my family settled in to watch another football game on Thursday evening, I sneaked away to drive past the little white house on Cardiff Road. Then it was on to Ohio Stadium for some reflection before traveling a well-worn path north on Olentangy River Road to Union Cemetery.
I arrived just as darkness was beginning to fall and I knew the cemetery would be closing soon. The freshening breeze caused a swirl of falling yellow and brown leaves as I made my way through the main entrance and down an ever-narrowing blacktopped road to Section 12.
It was a milder-than-usual Thanksgiving Day in central Ohio this year, so I left my coat in the car as I made my way to a familiar place – Lot 37, Space 4 – beneath the large pine trees off to the side of a black granite marker. I soon wished I had taken that coat as a cold wind began to blow, gently at first but growing into a chilly bluster.
I started back to the car when I heard a familiar sound.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Half-startled, I turned around and squinted against the dying daylight. It was the silhouette of a man that has become familiar to me over the years. He was stockily built and slightly hunched over, and as my eyes slowly adjusted to the increasing darkness, I could make out the red windbreaker, the gray trousers, the silver-rimmed glasses and the black baseball cap jammed low over his gray hair. I could also make out an angry scowl, lips tightly pressed together, and a jaw locked firmly into position.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he repeated. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Waiting for me?” I replied. “I’m sorry. I’ve always got the impression that you thought I was kind of a pest, showing up every year about this time and bending your ear like I do. I just kind of thought …”
“The only thing that bothers me,” the man interrupted, “is that you talk when you should be listening. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised given your profession. My experience always was that people in your line of work thought they knew more than they really did.”
With a sheepish grin, I nodded. But before I could say anything else, the old man began again.
“I’ve had a lot on my mind these past several months and I’m not very happy about what I’ve seen. Not very goddamned happy at all. Just what in the hell is going on over there? Has everyone lost their minds?”
“Well,” I said, “it is kind of mind-boggling to think all of this started when a couple of guys wanted some free tattoos.”
“Free tattoos?” he thundered. “Do you think that’s what this is all about? A couple of kids wanted free tattoos?”
He began to clench and unclench his fists as he inched toward me. His mouth drew even tighter, and his hollow eyes seemed to pierce right through me.
“It has nothing to do with any goddamned tattoos. I’m talking about doing the right thing. I’m talking about honor. I’m talking about leadership. I’ve seen none of that during this whole thing – at least none of it from the people who should have been showing it. Of course, I really shouldn’t be surprised. When the going gets tough, the cover-your-ass, ivory-tower crowd gets hard to find. Let me tell you something: I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for any of them.”
“Well,” I interjected, “the university hasn’t exactly distinguished itself in terms of damage control.”
“Damage control?” he said with a laugh. “Their idea of damage control is fighting a forest fire with a goddamned squirt gun.”
He shook his head and looked at the ground. After a few moments, he looked at me again and I thought I could detect a glistening moistness in his eyes.
“A goddamned shame,” he said softly. “It’s just a goddamned shame what this great and wonderful institution has been through. I feel sorry for those players who had nothing to do with this mess. They are the ones who are suffering. Those players and that fine coach are the ones I think have lost the most.”
“That fine coach?” I said.
“Yes. Jim Tressel,” he said. “A fine, fine man. He didn’t deserve what happened.”
“Well,” I offered. “There are those who believe Tressel got what was coming to him.”
“Those people are goddamned fools and you can tell them I said so,” he said sternly.
I tried again. “He did knowingly use players that would have been ineligible and lied to the NCAA when … ”
I was quickly cut off.
“He didn’t lie to anyone. He did what he had to do.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “What do you mean he did what he had to do?”
“He did what he had to do,” the man repeated. “If you knew what I know, you’d say the same thing. He did what he had to do, what we all would do given the same set of circumstances – if we had the guts.”
“Are you saying we don’t know the whole story? I asked.
Just then, I heard another sound. A lone car had appeared and a man rolled down the window.
“The cemetery’s closed,” he said. “You’ll have to leave.”
I nodded my head in his direction and then turned back to the man in the black ball cap. But he was gone.
“Hey!” I shouted. “Wait a minute. There’s so much more I wanted to ask you. So much more I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Who are you talking to?” the man in the car asked.
I turned around again as the wind began to rustle the trees.
“No one, I guess,” I said softly as I began to shuffle slowly toward my car.
The man drove off, and as I opened my car door, I looked back one last time, trying to make out the black gravestone in the darkness. Out of the shadows and gathering ground fog, the old man walked toward me.
“I have so many questions,” I said. “What did you mean about Tressel doing what he had to do? What do you think about the job Luke Fickell has done? What do you think about Urban Meyer?”
“I know you have a lot of questions,” he said softly. “I’ve been getting a lot of visitors these past few months and they all have the same questions. The best advice I can give them is among the words that are written right over there.”
He pointed back at the granite marker on which these words are inscribed: “And in the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love hears the rustle of a wing.”
I heard a familiar church bell chime in the distance and I knew what that meant.
“Well, I have to getting back,” he said. He turned and began walking toward the shadow of the trees before turning around to face me one last time.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” he said. “There is one thing you could do for me. You tell those boys who are going to put on those scarlet and gray uniforms tomorrow that I’ll be watching. You tell ’em if there’s something they’d like to do to warm the soul of an old coach, they can go up there and knock the living daylights out of those sons-a-bitches.”
“I’ll tell them, Coach,” I said. “I’ll tell them.”
With that, he nodded and walked off into the mist, faintly talking to himself – words that sounded an awful lot like “Fight that team across the field, show them Ohio’s here.”
** Ohio State and Michigan will buckle it up tomorrow for the 108th renewal of what is known simply as The Game. The teams first met in 1897 and have played every season since 1918. The Wolverines lead the overall series by a 57-44-6 margin, including a 30-20-4 advantage in Ann Arbor – 4-0-1 at Regents Field, 5-2-0 at Ferry Field and 21-18-3 at Michigan Stadium.
** In the last 60 meetings overall, Ohio State holds a 32-26-2 advantage.
** Since 1919, when Ohio State scored its first-ever victory over Michigan, the overall series is dead even at 44-44-3.
** The Buckeyes have won each of the last three games in the series played at Michigan Stadium. They haven’t enjoyed that kind of streak in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines since winning four in a row between 1961 and 1967.
** Ohio State has won nine of the last 10 games in the series for the first time ever. The Buckeyes are also gunning for an unprecedented eighth straight victory over Michigan.
** OSU head coach Luke Fickell is making his first appearance vs. Michigan as a head coach, but he is 9-4 lifetime against the Wolverines. Fickell was 1-3 against U-M as an Ohio State player from 1993-96 and 8-1 as an assistant coach on Jim Tressel’s staff from 2002-10.
** Only four Ohio State head coaches enjoyed winning records against Michigan – Woody Hayes (1951-78) at 16-11-1, Jim Tressel (2001-10) at 9-1, Earle Bruce (1979-87) at 5-4 and Francis A. Schmidt (1934-40) at 4-3. Hayes, Bruce and Schmidt are all members of the College Football Hall of Fame.
** Michigan head coach Brady Hoke is making his first appearance vs. Ohio State as a head coach, but he is 5-3 lifetime against the Buckeyes. Hoke spent eight seasons from 1995-2002 on Lloyd Carr’s coaching staff at U-M.
** Six Michigan head coaches had winning records against Ohio State – Fielding Yost (1901-23, ’25-26) at 16-3-1, Bo Schembechler (1969-89) at 11-9-1, Herbert “Fritz” Crisler (1938-47) at 7-2-1, Gary Moeller (1990-94) at 3-1-1 and Gustave Ferbert (1897-99) and George Little (1924) at 1-0 each.
** The game will feature two of the winningest college football teams in history. Michigan ranks first all-time with 893 wins while Ohio State is fifth with 836. Texas is second with 856, Notre Dame is third with 851 and Nebraska is fourth with 845.
** This marks the 18th time in series history that Ohio State and Michigan have played after Thanksgiving. The series is deadlocked at 8-8-1 when the game has been played after Turkey Day, but the Buckeyes have prevailed the last two times the two teams have met post-Thanksgiving. That included last year’s 37-7 win in Ohio Stadium as well as a 26-20 victory in Ann Arbor in 2001, 310 days after Jim Tressel made his now-famous speech shortly after being hired as OSU head coach.
** Both the Buckeyes and Wolverines have been eliminated from the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, ending a decade-long streak during which either OSU or Michigan won or shared the conference crown. The last time neither team had at least a share of the Big Ten trophy was in 2001 when Illinois took home the outright championship.
** In addition to having its record-tying streak of six consecutive Big Ten championships snapped, Ohio State will fall short of at least 10 victories for the first time since an 8-4 season in 2004. The Buckeyes’ streak of six straight seasons with 10 or more wins is a conference record.
** The last time a ranked Michigan team lost to an unranked Ohio State squad was in 2004 when the Buckeyes erased an early 14-7 deficit for a 37-21 victory over the seventh-ranked Wolverines.
** Michigan is trying to win its eighth home game in a single season for the first time since 1917 when the Wolverines were playing at old Ferry Field.
** You probably should not expect a shutout tomorrow. The Wolverines haven’t blanked the Buckeyes since a 28-0 victory in Ann Arbor in 1993. OSU hasn’t recorded a shutout over U-M since a 28-0 win in Ann Arbor in 1962.
** During an 18-year span from 1975 to 1992, the record for the team entering The Game with the higher ranking was 12-4-1. (Neither team was ranked in 1987.) In the 18 games since, the higher-ranked team has managed only an 11-7 mark.
** Michigan is vastly improved on defense from a year ago. After allowing 35.2 points per game in 2010, the Wolverines give up an average of only 15.6 points this season and that ranks second in the Big Ten and sixth nationally. They have also gone from 108th in total defense (447.9 yards per game) a year ago to 14th this season (312.6).
** The game will feature a pair of slow-starting teams. Only 44 of Ohio State’s 267 total points (16.5 percent) have come in the first q quarter. Only 72 of Michigan’s total of 370 points scored (19.5 percent) have come in the opening period.
** That said, both teams will be looking to score first. Ohio State is 4-1 this season when it scores first; Michigan is 5-1 when it puts up the first score of the game.
** The Wolverines have outscored their opposition by a 190-77 margin in the second half. The Buckeyes have outscored their opposition by a 139-100 margin in the second half.
** Since the two teams met in 1923 for the Ohio Stadium dedication game, a total of 7,743,542 fans have attended The Game. That’s more than any other college football game in America. Sixty-one of those 89 games have been sold out, including the last 42 in a row.
** Michigan Stadium is the site for the largest crowd ever to watch a college football game. A crowd of 114,804 jammed into the Big House on Sept. 10 to watch the Wolverines take a 35-31 win from Notre Dame.
** The Wolverines have 21 native Ohioans on their roster including six starters – tight end Kevin Koger (Toledo Whitmer), strong safety Jordan Kovacs (Oregon Clay), offensive guard Patrick Omameh (Columbus DeSales), receiver Roy Roundtree (Trotwood-Madison), linebacker Jake Ryan (Cleveland St. Ignatius) and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (Youngstown Liberty).
** The Buckeyes have three players from Michigan – defensive back Dionte Allen (Orchard Park St. Mary’s), tight end Reid Fragel (Grosse Pointe South) and defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins (Detroit Southeastern).
** Don’t expect a close game. In the previous 107 contests between OSU and Michigan, only 17 have been decided by three points or less. The Buckeyes hold a 6-5-6 edge in those games.
** Michigan junior quarterback Denard Robinson has 3,046 career rushing yards. That is second all-time among quarterbacks in the Big Ten to Antwaan Randle El, who totaled 3,895 yards for Indiana from 1998-2001. Robinson is currently ninth on U-M’s career rushing list.
** Robinson gets more recognition for his running ability, but he has moved into the top 10 in many of his school’s passing categories. That includes a tie for seventh with Tom Brady (1996-99) with 35 career touchdown passes.
** In terms of career total offense, Robinson is third all-time at Michigan with 7,693 yards. Occupying the top two spots are Chad Henne (9,300, 2004-07) and John Navarre (8,995, 2000-03).
** OSU senior wideout DeVier Posey had four catches last week to move him into eighth place on the Ohio State all-time receptions list with 128. He broke a ninth-place tie with Dane Sanzenbacher (124, 2007-10) and also motored past Brian Robiskie (127, 2005-08). Posey needs 13 more catches to leapfrog Dee Miller (132, 1995-98), Ted Ginn Jr. (135, 2004-06) and Santonio Holmes (140, 2003-05) and into OSU’s career top five.
** Posey also made a leap in career reception yardage. His 66 yards against the Nittany Lions gave him 1,859 and pushed him ahead of Cedric Anderson (1,807, 1980-83), Jeff Graham (1,809, 1988-90) and Ken-Yon Rambo (1,849, 1997-2000) and into 12th place all-time. Posey needs only 21 more yards to move past Robiskie (1,866) and Sanzenbacher (1,879) and into the top 10.
** OSU junior tight end Jake Stoneburner notched his seventh TD reception of the season last week and the ninth of his career. That ties him with Chuck Bryant (1959-61), John Frank (1980-83), Rickey Dudley (1994-95) and Darnell Sanders (1999-2001) for second all-time in career touchdown catches among Ohio State tight ends. John Lumpkin (1996-98) is the career leader with 10.
** The Game will be televised for the 45th consecutive year and 56th time overall. The first OSU-Michigan game ever televised was a 21-0 win by the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in 1947.
** This week’s game will be telecast by ABC with the broadcast crew of Dave Pasch (play-by-play) former Ohio State All-America linebacker Chris Spielman (color analysis) and Quint Kessenich (sideline reports). Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.
** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channel 138 and XM channel 91.
** Westwood One will also have the radio broadcast with Brian Davis on play-by-play and former Ohio State running back and 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George handling color analysis.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** And then there were two. Oklahoma State went by the wayside last Friday night with its double overtime loss to Iowa State, leaving only LSU and Houston as the remaining undefeated teams at the Division I-A level. Both teams are 11-0 – the Tigers for the first time since their 1958 national championship team finished 11-0, and the Cougars for the first time in program history.
** LSU’s 52-3 romp over Ole Miss last Saturday pushed the Tigers’ winning streak to 12 games. That is the longest streak in the nation.
** Meanwhile, time is running out for Florida Atlantic to avoid a winless season. The Owls lost a 34-7 decision to Troy last weekend, dropping them to 0-10 this season and extending the nation’s longest losing streak to 13 games. FAU, which has been outscored by a 355-117 margin this season, finishes its season with home games against a couple of 3-8 teams – UAB (3-8) tomorrow and Louisiana-Monroe on Dec. 3.
** This year’s Heisman Trophy race went from a foregone conclusion to up in the air back to a three-horse race in the space of just two weeks. I have whittled my choices down to Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Alabama RB Trent Richardson, Houston QB Case Keenum, Baylor QB Robert Griffin III and Boise State QB Kellen Moore.
** Griffin likely worked his way up plenty of Heisman ballots with his performance last week in Baylor’s 45-38 upset win over Oklahoma. RG3 completed 21 of 34 passes for 479 yards and four touchdowns, the final one coming on a pinpoint 34-yard strike with eight seconds left in the game. Griffin’s stat line for the season: 245 for 346 (72.9 percent) for 3,572 yards, 33 TDs and only five INTs. He’s also rushed for 550 yards and five touchdowns.
** A couple more things about that Baylor win: The Bears entered the game 0-20 all-time against Oklahoma and hadn’t beaten a top-five team since a 20-13 win at third-ranked USC in 1985.
** One guy who probably should be getting more Heisman love is Wisconsin junior running back Montee Ball. He is the nation’s No. 3 rusher with an average of 133.3 yards per game and he is the top scorer in the country with 30 touchdowns. That is a new Big Ten record and only nine behind the NCAA record set in 1988 by Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State.
** The nation’s leading rusher is someone you’ve probably never heard of. Bobby Rainey of Western Kentucky has 1,468 yards this season, almost singlehandedly getting the Hilltoppers bowl-eligible for the first time. Rainey is also on the verge of a pretty significant milestone. He needs 32 more yards to become only the eighth player since 2000 to post back-to-back seasons of at least 1,500 rushing yards. The others: LaDainian Tomlinson of TCU, Steven Jackson of Oregon State, Ray Rice of Rutgers, DeAngelo Williams of Memphis, Garrett Wolfe of Northern Illinois, Darren McFadden of Arkansas and LaMichael James of Oregon.
** Two reasons why conference championship games are not such a great idea. Alabama, ranked No. 2 in the current BCS standings, likely needs only to beat Auburn tomorrow to virtually clinch a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Meanwhile, top-ranked LSU – which beat the Tide three weeks ago – finishes its regular season today against No. 3 Arkansas and then has to play No. 13 Georgia in the SEC title game. If the Tigers lose either one of those games, they’re out of the national championship picture. There is a similar scenario in the Big Ten. If Michigan beats Ohio State and Michigan State loses in the league championship game, the Wolverines will be in line for an at-large BCS bid while the Spartans – who beat U-M by two touchdowns in mid-October – will not.
** Virginia had to beat Florida State three times last Saturday to finally chalk up a 14-13 victory. The Cavaliers appeared to have stopped the Seminoles’ last-minute drive, but a facemask penalty gave FSU one more play. On that one, a call was overturned by replay to give Florida State a 42-yard field goal try to win it. The three-point attempt missed, and the Cavaliers finally moved to 8-3 with a shot at the ACC title game if they can upset Virginia Tech tomorrow.
** ’Tis the season. The first bowl invitations of the year have already gone out, including one to BYU, which has agreed to play in the Armed Forces Bowl, set for a noon kickoff on Dec. 30. The game will be played at 32,000-set Gerald J. Ford Stadium on the SMU campus in suburban Dallas. (That’s Gerald J. Ford, by the way, not U.S. President Gerald R. Ford. The guy with the J for his middle initial is a Texas billionaire banker who put up most of the money for the stadium’s construction in 1999-2000.)
** Louisiana (which used to be known as Louisiana-Lafayette) has accepted an invitation to play in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 17 and Arkansas State will be one of the participants in the GoDaddy.com Bowl set for Jan. 8.
** Congratulations to College Football Hall of Fame coach John Gagilardi. The 85-year-old Gagilardi has announced he will return next season for his 60th year at Division III Saint John’s (Minn.). He is college football’s winningest coach with a current career record of 484-133-11. Gagilardi began his coaching career in 1949 at Carroll College in Montana.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL
** On Nov 23, 1957, Princeton knocked off unbeaten Dartmouth, taking a 34-14 victory and claimed the Ivy League title in the process. Princeton star Danny Sachs threw a touchdown pass, returned an interception 40 yards to set up another score and returned a punt 60 yards for fourth-quarter TD to lead the Tigers.
** On Nov. 23, 1984, Boston College quarterback hurled a 48-yard “Hail Mary” TD pass to wide receiver Gerard Phelan on the game’s final play, giving the Eagles a 47-45 win over Miami (Fla.) and sewing up the ’84 Heisman Trophy for Flutie.
** On Nov. 23, 1985, Iowa quarterback Chuck Long became the first player in Big Ten history to throw for more than 10,000 career yards when he led the Hawkeyes to a 31-9 victory over Minnesota.
** On Nov. 24, 1938, Texas scored a 7-6 upset win over Texas A&M, allowing the Longhorns to avoid a rare winless season.
** On Nov. 24, 1956, College Football Hall of Fame coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf made his final game a memorable one when his California team scored a 20-18 upset win over Stanford.
** On Nov. 24, 1973, No. 20 Kansas took a 14-13 win over No. 19 Missouri in the Border War. The Tigers held a 13-0 lead entering the fourth quarter, but Jayhawks QB David Jaynes threw a pair of late touchdown passes to secure the win. The one-point victory allowed Kansas to set an NCAA record by playing their sixth game of the season decided by two points or less. The Jayhawks beat Colorado and Iowa State by two points, beat Missouri by one, lost to Nebraska and Tennessee by one and tied Oklahoma State.
** On Nov. 24, 1979, third-ranked Nebraska and No. 8 Oklahoma squared off for the Big Eight championship in a battle of the unbeatens. The Sooners, led by tailback Billy Sims and his 247 rushing yards, eventually prevailed with a 17-14 win for their fourth outright conference title in seven years.
** On Nov. 25, 1916, Ohio State took a 23-3 victory over Northwestern to cap a 7-0 season and earn the school’s first Big Ten championship. It was the first of a league-record 18 outright championships and 34 overall conference titles for the Buckeyes.
** On Nov. 25, 1920, Texas defeated instate rival Texas A&M by a 7-3 score in the first college football game ever broadcast live on radio.
** On Nov. 25, 1950, Michigan and Ohio State combined for a Big Ten-record 45 punts during a game played in a driving snowstorm. The Wolverines won the game 9-3 in what has become known as the “Snow Bowl.”
** On Nov. 25, 1961, Rutgers completed its first undefeated season since 1876 with a 32-19 win over Columbia. The Scarlet Knights overcame a 19-7 deficit after three quarters, roaring to the victory by scoring four times in the fourth quarter.
** On Nov. 26, 1955, Tennessee halfback Johnny Majors and backup halfback Al Carter each threw fourth-quarter touchdown passes to rally the Volunteers to a 20-14 victory over No. 19 Vanderbilt. The outcome prevented the Commodores from winning the SEC championship and securing a berth in the Sugar Bowl.
** On Nov. 25, 1989, Bo Schembechler coached his final game in Ann Arbor, guiding his third-ranked Michigan team to a 28-18 win over Ohio State. The victory gave Schembechler’s Wolverines their second consecutive outright Big Ten championship, becoming the first team to win back-to-back undisputed league titles since Michigan State in 1955 and ’56.
** On Nov. 26, 1938, Georgia Tech became the first team in college football history to play back-to-back scoreless ties when the Yellow Jackets battled instate rival Georgia to a 0-0 draw in Athens. The previous week, Tech and Florida had played to a scoreless tie in Atlanta.
** On Nov. 26, 1988, for the first time in series history, Notre Dame and USC squared off undefeated and occupying the top two spots in the national polls. Irish quarterback Tony Rice rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown while cornerback Stan Smagala intercepted USC quarterback Rodney Peete and returned the pick for a score as No. 1 Notre Dame took a 27-10 victory.
** On Nov. 27, 1982, Auburn running back Bo Jackson rushed for 114 yards and led the Tigers to a 23-22 victory over Alabama. It was the final regular-season game for Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who finished a 38-year career with 323 victories. The game also marked a milestone for Auburn head coach Pat Dye. He became the first of 30 former Bryant assistants who had tried to beat the legendary coach since 1970.
** On Nov. 27, 1998, Texas tailback Ricky Williams sewed up the Heisman Trophy with a 259-yard performance during a 26-24 upset of sixth-ranked Texas A&M. Williams broke off a 60-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to break Tony Dorsett’s NCAA career rushing record.
** On Nov. 28, 1942, unranked Holy Cross scored a 55-12 rout of No. 1 Boston College, the most lopsided loss ever for a top-ranked team.
** On Nov. 28, 1975, Texas A&M protected its No. 2 national rating with a 20-10 win over fifth-ranked Texas, the Aggies’ first win at home over the Longhorns in eight years.
** On Nov. 28, 1981, No. 11 Penn State trounced No. 1 Pittsburgh by a 48-14 score, the largest winning margin in NCAA history for a ranked team over a No. 1 team.
** On Nov. 28, 2008, Eastern Michigan quarterback Andy Schmitt connected on an NCAA single-game record 58 of 80 pass attempts during a 56-52 victory over Central Michigan. The performance came six days after Schmitt went 50 for 76 in a 55-52 loss to Temple, and his 108 completions over a two-game span is also a college football record.
** On Nov. 29, 1935, Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger was named the winner of the inaugural Downtown Athletic Club Trophy as the outstanding college football player of the year. The following year, the award would be renamed the Heisman Trophy.
** On Nov. 29, 1958, Auburn protected its No. 2 ranking and extended its winning streak to 24 consecutive games with a heart-pounding 14-8 win over Alabama. The Tigers needed a defensive stop with 1:26 remaining in the game to preserve the victory.
The dominoes are starting to fall at the top of the college football polls and that is having an adverse effect on the straight-up picks. We went 6-4 for the second week in a row and are now 103-19 SU for the season. That’s still a pretty good win percentage at 84.4, but not so great when you realize we were above 90 percent for a good chunk of the season.
Still, we can live with that ledger considering the way we’ve picked against the spread. We had another winning week at 7-3 and are now 76-42-2 ATS for the year.
Let’s see what we have on tap this week.
No. 3 Arkansas at No. 1 LSU: Leftover turkey sandwiches, a frosty cold beverage and this game should make for a dandy little post-Thanksgiving treat. The Razorbacks take the SEC’s top-ranked offense into Death Valley to see what they can do with the nation’s No. 2 defense. The Hogs have pretty had their way in this series the past few years, taking three of the last four meetings including last year’s 31-23 victory. But Arkansas had veteran Ryan Mallett at quarterback last season and LSU was offensively-challenged and fumbled the ball away three times. This year, the Tigers are much more accomplished on offense – eight of their 11 victories this year are by 26 points or more – and with a defense like theirs, it means this game may very well turn out like LSU’s season-opener against Oregon … LSU 38, Arkansas 20. (2:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 8 Houston at Tulsa: Perhaps you are one of those snobs who turns up their nose at the Cougars because they play in Conference USA. Granted, UH doesn’t play a schedule worthy of being in the national championship equation. But the Coogs are pretty darned entertaining if you like offense. QB Case Keenum is the NCAA’s all-time leader in just about every passing category there is, and he leads an offense that is No. 1 in the nation in yardage (618.3 per game) and scoring (53.1 points). Houston is no slouch on defense, either, and it will be in for a serious challenge from the Golden Hurricane, who are on a seven-game winning streak during which they have outscored the opposition by an average of 23.0 points per game. Tulsa beat the Cougars last year, 28-25 in Houston, but Keenum was sidelined with a knee injury. His presence this year makes the difference … Houston 41, Tulsa 31. (12 noon ET, FSN)
No. 2 Alabama at No. 24 Auburn: It’s pretty straightforward for the Tide. Win the Iron Bowl and you’re playing for the national championship. As if that wasn’t enough incentive, ’Bama has been waiting a year for redemption after blowing a 24-0 lead during a 28-27 loss to the Tigers last season. Auburn doesn’t have Heisman winner Cam Newton at the controls this year, but the Tigers have still managed to win seven games thanks mostly to a potent running attack led by sophomore Michael Dyer (1,194 yards, 10 TDs). But Dyer and his offensive line will have their hands more than full with Alabama’s nasty defense, a unit that is the nation’s best in virtually every category … Alabama 34, Auburn 12. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
No. 5 Virginia Tech at Virginia: The Hokies have things right where they want them. A couple of major upsets and they could squeeze their way into the national championship picture. First things first, though, as they travel to Scott Stadium to take on the surging Cavaliers. UVA has won four straight and are just a win away from getting a berth in the ACC title game. Tech stands in the way, however, and the Cavaliers haven’t exactly distinguished themselves in the rivalry. They have lost seven straight in the series and 11 of the last 12. Those numbers don’t bode well, especially with the Hokies riding a six-game win streak and rested after being off last weekend … Virginia Tech 27, Virginia 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)
No. 22 Notre Dame at No. 6 Stanford: The Cardinal still believe they have a shot at the national championship game although a lot of dominoes would have to fall exactly right for Stanford to get to New Orleans. More realistic goals would be to sew up a BCS at-large berth as well as the Heisman Trophy for QB Andrew Luck. The stiffarm trophy’s odds-on favorite didn’t have the best of performances the last time his team was on national television, committing three costly turnovers during a 53-30 loss to Oregon two weeks ago. Luck can, however, redeem himself against the Fighting Irish, who have won eight of their last nine. Notre Dame has not played particularly well on the road this year although they are 3-1 away from South Bend. This should be a pretty evenly-matched contest … Stanford 34, Notre Dame 30. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
Wyoming at No. 7 Boise State: The Broncos realize they’re not going to get to play for the national championship, so the next best thing is to win out and secure an at-large BCS bid. It certainly could happen if the recent spate of late-season upsets continues. This week, Boise welcomes a surprisingly good Cowboys team to the Smurf Turf. Wyoming has won of its last five, losing only a 31-20 decision to TCU during that stretch. That’s the same TCU team that went to Boise and knocked off the Broncos two weeks ago. But the Cowboys are 0-5 lifetime against Boise State and probably still have bruises from last year’s 51-6 mugging in Laramie … Boise State 42, Wyoming 17. (2 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)
Oregon State at No. 10 Oregon: It seems odd that the Beavers and not the Ducks would enter this year’s edition of the Civil War with the momentum. Oregon State is coming off a 38-21 win over Washington last week while the Quack Attack suffered a 38-35 home loss to USC. Of course, those outcomes will likely have very little bearing on what transpires tomorrow. The OSU defense is really no match for the Ducks, who still have the third-best scoring offense in the country. Oregon has won the last three in the series, but the games have been relatively tight – as any good rivalry game should be … Oregon 41, Oregon State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)
No. 14 Michigan State at Northwestern: Good defense coupled with eliminating mistakes is usually a pretty good recipe for championship football. The Spartans have used that combination – the nation’s No. 3 defense and plus-9 in turnover margin – to punch their ticket to the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are feeling pretty good about themselves with a four-game win streak although the four victims have a combined record of 15-29. Sparty has won four of the last five in the series, including three straight in Evanston … Michigan State 31, Northwestern 23. (12 noon ET, BTN)
No. 19 Penn State at No. 16 Wisconsin: Despite the ongoing turmoil in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions can still get to the Big Ten title game with a win in Madison. They will have to try to get that done by pitting one of the conference’s best defenses against the Badgers, who own the Big Ten’s best offense. Bucky, whose only two losses this season were last-second defeats on the road, is practically unbeatable at Camp Randall. Wisconsin is a perfect 6-0 at home this season and has outscored the competition by a 314-68 margin. That’s no misprint. That is an average winning margin of 41 points a game. It’s doubtful things could get that far out of hand tomorrow. Then again, the Badgers absorbed a 48-7 loss in 2008 the last time Penn State was in Madison and UW head coach Bret Bielema has a long memory … Wisconsin 49, Penn State 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Ohio State at No. 15 Michigan: As much pain as it brings us to admit it, there just doesn’t seem to be much of a path to victory for the Buckeyes. Since expending a tremendous amount of energy getting an upset win over Wisconsin four weeks ago, the team has played as if its emotional tank is on empty. That really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given all of the peripheral minefields through which the players have had to navigate. You would like to believe the Buckeyes can rally one last time around head coach Luke Fickell and keep the streak going against Michigan. But it just doesn’t seem likely, especially going against an opponent that appears to be more dialed in … Michigan 31, Ohio State 17. (12 noon ET, ABC)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Arkansas at LSU (-12); Houston (-3) at Tulsa; Alabama (-20½) at Auburn; Virginia Tech (-4½) at Virginia; Notre Dame (+7½) at Stanford; Wyoming (+33½) at Boise State; Oregon State (+28) at Oregon; Michigan State (-6½) at Northwestern; Penn State at Wisconsin (-14½); Ohio State at Michigan (-7).
Enjoy the games and have a safe holiday weekend.