Winston Churchill famously once described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
The legendary British statesman might just as well have been talking about the 2012 Ohio State football team.
What are we to make of this enigmatic team after three games?
On one hand, it features one of the most electrifying players in college football. On the other, its defense displays an almost maddening penchant for giving up big plays. Offensively, the team has strung together three consecutive games in which it has gained 400 total yards or more for the first time since 2010. But defensively, the Buckeyes gave up more yards to California than the unit had surrendered to any single opponent since October 2005.
Is Ohio State a good team, a bad team or somewhere in between?
For the answer, let’s examine what we’ve learned these first three weeks.
No one needs to be reminded that Braxton Miller provides the fuel that makes the offense go. The talented sophomore showcased his running ability during the team’s first two victories, and then when it was deemed he was running too much, he beat the Golden Bears with his arm.
Unfortunately, Miller remains inconsistent with his throwing, an inconsistency that has nothing whatsoever to do with the young man’s talent. Name virtually any throw that defines a great quarterback and Miller can make them. On back-to-back plays vs. Cal, he hit a well-covered Jake Stoneburner in stride with a perfectly executed rainbow for 40 yards and then zipped a 25-yard laser to Devin Smith for a touchdown.
Too often, however, Miller gets sloppy with his technique. He throws some balls flatfooted, which causes the pass to sail high, and he sometimes throws off his front foot, which usually causes the football to nosedive. There are other times when Miller simply puts too much or too little on his throws as was the case against the Bears when he tried to get a deep ball to a wide-open Corey “Philly” Brown but blew an easy touchdown because the ball was severely underthrown.
There is little doubt Miller needs to become more consistent with his throwing. Likewise, there is little doubt he wasn’t getting much coaching in that area until this year. But now he is, which means he’s going to get better – something that should scare the living daylights out of opposing defensive coordinators.
Another facet of the Ohio State offensive attack that should keep opponents up at night is the emerging receiving corps. Like Miller, they remain an inconsistent bunch but they exude off-the-charts talent.
Smith is rapidly becoming a human highlight reel although he has to realize he must concentrate on every play. He has made the impossible catch look routine but has also made some routine catches look impossible.
Meanwhile, Brown is a vastly underrated receiver who is just now getting the number of touches a player of his talent should receive. And Stoneburner gives Miller a huge target who is adept at stretching the middle of the field as well as slipping away from the line of scrimmage in short-yardage situations.
As the receiving corps continues to build upon its burgeoning reputation, future opponents will likely not be so generous with its coverage, however. That means the receivers cannot afford to become complacent. They’re good, but they’re not that good. Not yet.
While the OSU passing game continues to improve, the team’s rushing attack is sometimes confounding.
Against Miami (Ohio), Central Florida and Cal – teams not generally known as run-stuffers – the Buckeyes have gained 713 yards on the ground. That computes to an average of 237.7 yards per game, and just about any head coach in the nation would gladly take that.
A little closer scrutiny of the rushing attack, however, reveals that Miller has been responsible for more than half of that average. Ohio State tailbacks, once the toast of college football, have combined for 282 yards through three games. What’s worse is that OSU tailbacks are working on a streak of six consecutive games without cracking the 100-yard barrier.
Many fans believe Jordan Hall’s return will signal a quick end to that streak. Hall made his season debut with 87 yards on 17 carries against the Golden Bears, but the senior tailback still appeared a little tentative after missing all of fall camp and the first two games following foot surgery. Hall averaged 5.1 yards per carry in the game, but his longest gain was a modest 15 yards. He ran several times between the tackles, and there didn’t seem to be many large openings for Hall to navigate through. Seven of his carries went for 3 yards or less.
Add in the fact that many of Miller’s runs during the first three games have been the quarterback either escaping a collapsing pocket or simply running for his life, and you wonder about the offensive line. Jim Bollman is long gone to Boston College, and this year’s unit still doesn’t seem to have control of the line of scrimmage.
Perhaps the untrained eye is unable to properly gauge the offensive line’s performance. After all, the O-line allowed no sacks against Cal, and that’s the first time that has happened since Miller became a starter early last season. And the team leads the Big Ten with a gaudy 40.7-point scoring average.
Still, you get the feeling the offensive line really hasn’t been tested yet and wonder how it will respond when that happens.
The Ohio State defense isn’t playing very well right now, and that is putting it generously. When is the last time the Buckeyes ranked as low as ninth in the Big Ten in total defense?
Yes, the team totaled six sacks against Cal, the highest total since 2009. But half of those sacks came on blitzes, and most of them were recorded when Bears QB Zach Maynard dropped straight back. Whenever Cal provided a floating pocket for its quarterback, or whenever Maynard rolled out, the pressure simply wasn’t there.
In three games, Ohio State opponents have now attempted 132 passes, completing 83 of them (that’s 62.9 percent) for 842 yards and four touchdowns. As a result, the Buckeyes rank 11th in the conference and 101st nationally in pass defense.
As bad as that sounds, it pales in comparison to the fact that the defense is getting gashed repeatedly by big plays. That was never more evident than against the Golden Bears, who ripped off six plays that gained 25 yards or more. Chief among those were touchdown runs of 81 and 59 yards by backup tailback Brendan Bigelow. Ohio State had a three-year run between 2008 and 2010 when its defense didn’t allow a run longer than 42 yards.
Playing fundamental defense isn’t exactly rocket science. It doesn’t take a genius to realize taking bad angles to the ball carrier and poor technique once you do get there are often the conspirators that result in huge gains for the opponent.
Injuries have forced Ohio State to play a lot of young players on defense, and young players often forget technique in the heat of battle. But that is not a reason the Buckeyes have given up so many big plays. It is an excuse. The team simply has too much talent on the defensive side of the ball to put up the kind of performances we have seen so far.
Some may deem criticism of the Buckeyes a bit harsh especially in light of the fact they are one of only 31 remaining undefeated Football Bowl Subdivision teams after three weeks. A hypercritical view of where the team is and where most fans thought it would be is likely because Urban Meyer was supposed to walk into Columbus and instantly turn what was a 6-7 team last year into a national championship-caliber squad.
No one wants to hear that it takes a little time to decipher riddles, solve mysteries and explain enigmas. The cold, hard truth is that this is a team still struggling to determine its identity under the tutelage of a new coach not completely familiar or comfortable with his personnel.
Until that identity is determined and a certain comfort zone is reached, fasten your seat belts. The ride’s going to be a little bumpy.
** Ohio State and the University of Alabama at Birmingham will be meeting for the first time ever on the football field. The UAB program is currently in its 22nd season of intercollegiate football. The Blazers began as a Division III independent in 1991 before moving up to Division I-AA in 1993. Three years later, they moved to Division I-A as an independent, and then joined Conference USA in 1999.
** UAB is led by first-year head coach Garrick McGee, a veteran coach who is familiar with the Buckeyes. McGee spent four seasons as an assistant coach at Northwestern from 2004-07, a period during which the Wildcats were 1-3 vs. Ohio State. He was also offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Arkansas in 2010 when the Razorbacks lost a 31-26 decision to the Buckeyes in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.
** The Blazers are the 22nd team in the past 25 seasons who are making their first-ever trip to Ohio Stadium. Ohio State has won 20 of its previous 21 games against first-time visitors with the only blemish a 25-22 loss in 2005 to eventual national champion Texas.
** Meyer is currently 4-1 for his career against current members of Conference USA. That includes two victories over Central Florida, including the Buckeyes’ 31-16 win two weeks ago. His 2006 national championship team at Florida also defeated the Knights by a 42-0 final in the second game of that season. Meyer’s only loss to a current C-USA school came during his first season at Bowling Green when Marshall dealt the Falcons a 37-31 defeat. Marshall was a member of the MAC that season, but the Thundering Herd joined Conference USA in 2010. Meyer’s other two victories against current C-USA teams came at the expense of Southern Miss – a 17-0 victory in the 2003 Liberty Bowl while at Utah and a 34-7 decision in the 2006 season opener at Florida.
** The Buckeyes are 13-1-1 all-time against current members of Conference USA. OSU is 2-0 vs. Marshall and Rice, 1-0 against Houston and 7-1-1 vs. SMU. The only blemishes on that record are a 35-35 tie with SMU in 1978 and a 32-27 loss to the Mustangs in 1950.
** UAB is 0-2 all-time against current members of the Big Ten. The Blazers lost a 55-18 decision at Michigan State in the 2007 season opener, and dropped a 38-7 final at Nebraska in the first game of the 1998 season. The Cornhuskers were members of the Big 12 at that time.
** The Buckeyes currently have a 64-game home winning streak against unranked nonconference opponents. You have to go all the way back to a 34-17 loss to Florida State in 1982 to find the last unranked nonconference team to beat the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe.
** UAB is 3-14 lifetime against ranked opponents, including a 49-6 loss at No. 8 South Carolina last week. The team’s only victories over ranked teams were a 34-31 win over No. 20 Southern Miss last season, a 35-23 win at No. 24 UTEP in November 2005, and a 36-17 decision over No. 17 East Carolina in October 1999.
** The Blazers have no native-born Ohioans on their roster, but they do have an Ohio State connection on their coaching staff. John Peterson, a four-year offensive lineman for the Buckeyes from 1987-90 who then spent eight seasons as an OSU assistant coach from 2004-11, is in his first season as offensive line coach at UAB.
** Ohio State has scored 30 or more points in each of its first three games for just the fifth time in the past 86 years and only the ninth time in program history. The Buckeyes also topped the 30-point mark in each of their first three games in 1904, 1917, 1919, 1926, 1969, 1980, 1998 and 2010. The 1969 team holds the school record by scoring 30 or more points in each of its first eight games that season.
** During last Saturday afternoon’s win over Cal, the Ohio State defense surrendered 512 total yards, the most by an OSU opponent since Minnesota had 578 during a 45-31 loss to the Buckeyes in Minneapolis in October 2005. It was the highest total for an opponent at Ohio Stadium since September 1999 when Cincinnati piled up 525 yards during a 34-20 loss to the Buckeyes.
** OSU quarterback Braxton Miller rushed for 75 yards against the Golden Bears last week, moving his career total to 1,092. That allowed him to crack the top 50 on Ohio State’s all-time rushing list. He needs 77 more to move past Troy Smith (1,168, 2003-06) and into 49th place.
** Miller also threw four touchdown passes vs. Cal. That represented a career high and were just one shy of the OSU single-game record of five. John Borton established that mark during a 35-7 win over Washington State in 1952, and Bobby Hoying equaled it twice. Hoying tossed five TD passes during a 48-14 victory over Purdue in 1994 and matched that total at Pittsburgh in 1995 during the Buckeyes’ 54-14 win.
** OSU wide receiver Devin Smith totaled a career-best 145 receiving yards against Cal, the first 100-yard game for a Buckeye receiver since Dane Sanzenbacher had 104 during the team’s 72-30 blowout of Eastern Michigan in 2010. Smith’s yardage total was good only for 37th on the school’s all-time single-game list. The OSU mark for most receiving yardage in a single game was set in 1995 by Terry Glenn, when he had nine catches for 253 yards during a 54-14 win at Pittsburgh.
** Cal tailback Brendan Bigelow’s 81-yard touchdown wiped out the record for longest run by an OSU opponent in Ohio Stadium. That was an 80-yard TD run by Daniel Dufrene of Illinois during the Fighting Illini’s 28-21 upset win over the Buckeyes in 2007. OSU has given up only two runs longer than Bigelow’s during program history. Larry Ferguson of Iowa ran 91 yards during a 35-12 win by the Hawkeyes in Iowa City in 1960, and Levi Jackson of Michigan State broke off an 88-yarder during a 16-13 Spartans win in East Lansing in 1974.
** UAB junior wideout Jackie Williams is currently working on a streak of 25 games in which he has caught at least one pass. That is tied for the 10th best current streak of its kind in Division I-A football. Conner Vernon of Duke has the longest current streak with at least one reception in 38 consecutive games. Williams needs one more catch to reach 100 for his career.
** For the fourth consecutive week, kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern. The Big Ten Network will handle the telecast featuring the announcing crew of Eric Collins (play by play), Derek Rackley (color analysis) and Lisa Byington (sideline reports).
** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius channel 113 and XM channel 197.
** Next week, Ohio State kicks off the Big Ten season at Michigan State, a game that will serve as the Buckeyes’ first road game of the season. ABC will handle the telecast with a 3:30 p.m. Eastern kickoff.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL
** On Sept. 21, 1946, Texas A&M set an NCAA single-game record for punt return yardage during its 47-0 win over North Texas State. The Aggies returned 10 punts in the game for 319 yards.
** On Sept. 21, 1996, fourth-ranked Florida outgunned No. 2 Tennessee by a 35-29 final in Knoxville. The Gators raced out to a 35-6 halftime lead behind four TD passes by Danny Weurffel, but the Volunteers came back to make it close on three second-half scoring throws by Peyton Manning, who set a school record with 492 passing yards. The game was played in front of 107,608 fans at Neyland Stadium, then the largest on-campus crowd in college football history.
** Also on Sept. 21, 1996, linebacker Pat Tillman led the Arizona State defense to a 19-0 victory over top-ranked Nebraska, the first shutout of a No. 1 team since 1978.
** On Sept. 22, 1956, Notre Dame lost for the first time ever in September when unranked SMU scored a 19-13 upset in Dallas over the third-ranked Fighting Irish.
** On Sept. 22, 1962, Oregon State QB Terry Baker threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns, rallying his team to a come-from-behind 39-35 victory over Iowa State. The Cyclones had taken a 35-33 lead with 1:07 remaining when Baker drove the Beavers 64 yards in only 38 seconds, capped by a 43-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Neil with 0:29 remaining. Baker used the performance as a springboard to win the Heisman Trophy that season.
** On Sept. 22, 1990, Illinois tailback Howard Griffith set an NCAA record when he rushed for eight touchdowns during his team’s 56-21 romp over Southern Illinois in Champaign. Griffith tallied three of his TDs on consecutive carries and tied an NCAA record with four touchdowns in the third quarter. It was the most points ever scored in a college football game by a non-kicker.
** On Sept. 23, 1961, Rice stunned No. 5 LSU by a 16-3 score in front of a record home crowd of 73,000 in Houston. The Owls got a pair of touchdowns from quarterback Billy Cox and held the vaunted LSU offense, which featured future College Football Hall of Fame running back Jerry Stovall, to only a field goal.
** On Sept. 23, 1972, Purdue quarterback Gary Danielson ran for a career-high 213 yards but it wasn’t enough as 15th-ranked Washington erased a 21-0 halftime deficit and beat the Boilermakers, 22-21, in West Lafayette.
** Also on Sept. 23, 1972, Tulane pulled off a 24-13 upset of No. 16 Georgia and jumped into the Associated Press regular-season rankings for the first time since 1956. Green Wave safety George Ewing returned a punt 57 yards for a touchdown and the Tulane defense grabbed three interceptions during the victory.
** On Sept. 24, 1983, seventh-ranked Iowa smothered No. 3 Ohio State during a 20-14 triumph in Iowa City. OSU quarterback Mike Tomczak entered the game as the nation’s leader in passing efficiency, but completed only 13 of 34 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. The victory snapped a 16-game losing streak for Iowa in the series. The Hawkeyes hadn’t beaten the Buckeyes since 1962.
** On Sept. 24, 1988, Wyoming erased a seven-point deficit in the final 90 seconds to score a 48-45 victory over Air Force. The Cowboys trailed by a 45-38 score when fullback Steve Bena scored on a 9-yard run with 1:30 showing on the clock. Wyoming kicked the PAT to tie the score, and then with just 45 seconds left, Air Force QB Dee Dowis lost a fumble at his own 42-yard line. That set the stage for freshman kicker Sean Fleming’s 27-yard field goal as time expired to give Wyoming the win.
** On Sept. 24, 2000, Penn State defensive back Adam Taliaferro was seriously injured near the end of his team’s 45-6 loss at Ohio State. Taliaferro was paralyzed from the neck down but thanks to quick action by doctors and trainers at Ohio Stadium, as well as the staff at the Ohio State Medical Center and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Taliaferro – after about eight months of intense rehabilitation – was able to regain full function of his arms and legs. He later graduated from Penn State before earning a law degree from Rutgers, and he is currently a practicing attorney in New Jersey specializing in corporate litigation.
** On Sept. 25, 1948, Michigan took a 13-7 win over Michigan State in East Lansing, giving U-M head coach Bennie Oosterbaan his first victory in his first game as head coach. Michigan went on to finish the 1948 season with a perfect 9-0 record, marking the first time in college football history a head coach had achieved an undefeated season in his first year on the job. The feat has since been duplicated four times, most recently by Larry Coker of Miami (Fla.) in 2001.
** On Sept. 25, 1959, Georgia Tech linebacker Gerald Burch intercepted SMU quarterback Don Meredith with 1:32 remaining in the game to clinch a 16-12 victory for the Yellow Jackets over the No. 6 Mustangs.
** On Sept. 25, 1971, Michigan State head coach Duffy Daugherty notched career win No. 100 when the Spartans took a 31-14 victory over Oregon State in East Lansing. Future College Football Hall of Fame safety Brad Van Pelt returned two interceptions for touchdowns to fuel MSU’s win.
** On Sept. 26, 1953, a pair of legendary coaches – Frank Leahy of Notre Dame and Bud Wilkinson of Oklahoma – patrolled the sidelines as the top-ranked Fighting Irish went to Norman and scored a 28-21 victory over the No. 6 Sooners. The loss was Oklahoma’s first in 15 home games and would represent the Sooners’ last defeat until 1957. In between, they would achieve an NCAA-record 47 consecutive victories.
** On Sept. 26, 1992, Hawaii kicker Jason Elam hit three field goals, including a 56-yarder, to help the Warriors to a 36-32 win in Honolulu over BYU.
** Also on Sept. 26, 1992, Ken Irvin of Memphis became the first player in college football history to block four punts in one game as the Tigers took a 22-6 victory over Arkansas.
** On Sept. 27, 1969, Davidson and Furman combined to score 49 points in the second quarter. Davidson accounted for most of those tallies, going on to post a 77-14 victory.
** On Sept. 27, 1986, second-ranked Miami (Fla.) rolled to a 28-16 win over defending national champion and top-ranked Oklahoma. Three future College Hall of Famers were on the Orange Bowl sidelines that day – Miami safety Bennie Blades, Oklahoma tight end Keith Jackson and Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer – but the afternoon belonged to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde. The Miami QB threw for 261 yards and four touchdowns against the Sooners.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** Last week, there were 46 undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Now, there are only 31. The list includes Alabama, Arizona, Baylor, Cincinnati, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Iowa State, Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, Louisville, LSU, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Oregon State, Rutgers, South Carolina, Stanford, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, UCLA, UTSA and West Virginia.
** TCU celebrated its first game as a member of the Big 12 by going to Kansas and knocking off the Jayhawks, 20-6. That moved the Horned Frogs’ nation-best winning streak to 10 games. Counting their last three years in the Mountain West, the Frogs also have a streak of 25 consecutive conference wins.
** Meanwhile, Tulane took the week off, so the nation’s longest losing streak remains at 12. The Green Wave are one of only 13 FBS teams that remain winless this season.
** Stanford not only ruined USC’s hopes for a national championship and doused Matt Barkley’s Heisman Trophy chances, the Cardinal accomplished something they had never done with their 21-14 win over the Trojans last Saturday night. The victory marked Stanford’s fourth in a row in the series, something it had never before accomplished since the teams began playing one another in 1905.
** Congratulations to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish scored a convincing 20-3 victory at No. 10 Michigan State last Saturday night, marking their first win over a top-10 team in seven years. The last time UND celebrated a victory over a top-10 team was a 17-10 win at then-No. 3 Michigan in September 2005.
** The loss to the Irish represented the first time Michigan State had failed to score a touchdown in a home game since 1991. That was a 20-3 loss to Central Michigan in the season opener that year, a campaign that saw Sparty post a 3-8 record.
** Care to guess the only team in the country with three victories over BCS-conference opponents? The answer is Northwestern, which has vanquished Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College. With the next four opponents featuring the likes of I-AA South Dakota, Indiana, Penn State and Minnesota, the Wildcats are looking for their first 7-0 start since 1936.
** You think you have problems? Try being Arkansas. After the university was forced to fire philandering head coach Bobby Petrino in April, the Razorbacks dropped a 34-31 overtime decision to Louisiana-Monroe in week two and made an historic descent in the Associated Press poll – from No. 8 to unranked. Last week, the Hogs cratered after being taken to the woodshed by Alabama, 52-0. It was Arkansas’s worst defeat since a 70-17 loss to USC in 2005, and the first time the team had been shut out in Razorback Stadium since a 7-0 loss to Baylor in 1966.
** Speaking of Alabama, the Crimson Tide has now posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1980.
** As bad as things are in Arkansas, they pale in comparison to what’s going on at Colorado. The Buffaloes were stampeded by Fresno State last Saturday to the tune of a 69-14 rout. How bad was that thrashing. Fresno already had 55 points and 513 total yards by halftime. Colorado ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in just about every statistical category, and is equally abysmal on both sides of the ball. The Buffs are 105th nationally in scoring offense and 112th in scoring defense.
** This business of playing cupcakes is getting out of hand. During its 56-20 win over Florida Atlantic last weekend, Georgia averaged 11.3 yards on 63 offensive plays. The Bulldogs established a new single-game yardage record for themselves by piling up 713 against the Owls.
** After its 41-39 win over Indiana last weekend, Ball State is now 3-49 all-time against BCS conference opponents. All three victories have come against instate rival IU since 2008.
** Note to any team playing Western Kentucky: Don’t let the Hilltoppers take you to overtime. Last weekend, WKU used a throwback pass to QB Kawaun Jakes for a two-point conversion to beat Kentucky, 32-31, in overtime. It not only gave the Hilltoppers their first-ever victory over the Wildcats, it pushed Western’s record in OT to 9-1 since 1996.
** You don’t get many finishes more wild than what happened during the “Holy War” in Salt Lake City last Saturday. Utah DT Star Lotulelei blocked a 51-yard field goal attempt by BYU’s Justin Sorensen with 0:01 remaining to give the Utes a 24-21 victory over the 25th-ranked Cougars. Officials, however, deemed that the Utah crowd prematurely rushed the field, assessing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and giving BYU another shot at tying the game. Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall switched kickers but the result was essentially the same. Riley Stephenson’s try from 36 yards clanged off the left upright, preserving the Utes’ three-point win. “We should be 4-1,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said afterward, “because we won this game three times.”
** Three-time defending Division III national champion Wisconsin-Whitewater lost a 7-6 decision to Buffalo State on Saturday, and that snapped the Warhawks’ 46-game winning streak. It was the fourth longest win streak in NCAA history. Division III Mount Union posted streaks of 55 (2000-03) and 54 wins (1996-99) while Division I-A Oklahoma won 47 consecutive games between 1953-57.
** A shout-out to Wayland Baptist (Texas), which won its first intercollegiate football game in 72 years last Saturday. After dropping football in 1940, the school revived the program this season and the NAIA Pioneers celebrated with a 27-23 win over Howard Payne (Texas).
** Thomas Tyner, a running back for Aloha (Ore.) High School, set a new state record last Friday night when he rushed for 644 yards during his team’s 84-63 victory over Lakeridge. Tyner, a verbal commitment to Oregon, carried 38 times and scored 10 touchdowns – doing it all on his 18th birthday. The yardage total is the third-highest single-game rushing total, according to the National High School Sports Record Book. The national record was set in 1950 when John Giannantonio of Netcong, N.J., ran for 754 yards in a single game. Second is Paul McCoy of Matewan, W.Va., who piled up 661 yards in 2006.
It hasn’t taken long to figure out this is going to be a topsy-turvy college football season. With the possible exception of defending national champion Alabama, no team appears invincible, and the Crimson Tide are bucking history. No team has won back-to-back consensus national titles since Nebraska in 1993 and ’94.
As a result, the Forecast suffered one of its toughest weeks in recent memory. We were 7-3 with the straight-up picks, but crashed and burned with a 3-7 record against the spread. We checked and that was the worst week since October 2009.
For the young season, we are still 25-5 straight up but now under water at 14-16. Here’s to better days, beginning this week.
Maryland at No. 8 West Virginia: If you haven’t been paying attention, the Mountaineers have a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate in QB Geno Smith. In fact, Smith just might be the frontrunner at this point in the season with stats that include 66 completions in 75 attempts (88.0 percent) for 734 yards, nine TDs and no INTs. Smith pilots a high-octane offense that averages 612.0 yards per contest, but the Mountaineers haven’t been tested in their first two games. This week could be a different story since the Terrapins feature the nation’s No. 6 pass defense and No. 8 defense overall. However, Maryland has had trouble offensively – dead last in the ACC in yardage – and is being forced to use true freshman Perry Hills at quarterback. The Mountaineers have won six straight in the series … West Virginia 37, Maryland 14. (12 noon ET, FX, DirectTV 248)
Virginia at No. 17 TCU: Speaking of accurate quarterbacks, the Horned Frogs have one of their own in junior Casey Pachall, who has completed 33 of 39 passes (84.2 percent) for 536 yards, five TDs and no picks. Pachall leads the nation in pass efficiency, and that isn’t exactly music to Virginia’s ears. The Cavaliers are ninth in the ACC in both total and scoring defense, and last week’s 56-20 loss to Georgia Tech represented the most points allowed in a game by a UVA defense since 1999. A couple of other things going against the Cavs – they have lost 17 of their last 20 road games against ranked opponents, and the Frogs have won 27 of their last 28 at home … TCU 38, Virginia 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)
UTEP at Wisconsin: The Badgers were supposed to be among the elite teams in the Big Ten if not the nation this season, but they sure haven’t shown it so far. Bucky has 10-7 loss at Oregon State sandwiched around a couple of uninspiring home wins over Northern Iowa (26-21) and Utah State (16-14). Offense has never been much of a problem during the Bret Bielema era, but it definitely has become a sore spot this year. Wisconsin ranks at the bottom of the Big Ten in total and scoring offense, and eventually its usually feared running game in next-to-last in the conference and 94th nationally. Thankfully for Bielema, his defense is pretty stout and that should be enough against the Miners, whose offense has been even more anemic than Bucky. This has all the makings of a yawner … Wisconsin 28, UTEP 6. (12 noon ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)
South Dakota State at Northwestern: The Wildcats seek to go 4-0 for the third time in the past four seasons with a visit from the I-AA Coyotes, a team that isn’t afraid to play upper-division opponents. South Dakota got splattered to the tune of a 59-10 loss at Wisconsin last season, but the team scored a 41-38 win at Minnesota two years ago. Northwestern would probably like a little less drama than it has experienced in its first three weeks, but three victories against BCS-conference foes speaks for itself. Pass defense is becoming bothersome, however. The Wildcats are giving up an average of 330.0 yards per game through the air, and that has to get better if NU is to continue its winning streak … Northwestern 34, South Dakota State 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN, DirectTV 612)
No. 2 LSU at Auburn: Remember just two short years ago when Auburn rode on Cam Newton’s shoulders to the national championship? Well, the Tigers’ bank account must have been drained by Newton since they are just 9-7 since then. In fact, they would be 0-3 this year if not for last week’s overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe. Auburn simply isn’t a very good football team right now, and that is underscored by their national ranking in several statistical categories – 104th in scoring offense, 107th in rushing defense and 117th in turnover margin. Meanwhile, LSU continues to hum along despite losing several starters to injuries, suspensions and academics. Auburn has beaten LSU five of the last six times the teams have met in Jordan-Hare Stadium, but the Tigers have lost five straight to ranked opponents, including last year’s 45-10 loss to the Bayou Boys … LSU 37, Auburn 10. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)
No. 18 Michigan at No. 11 Notre Dame: If last year’s barnburner was any indication, this one ought to be entertaining. The Fighting Irish are seeking their first 4-0 start since 2002, and they have won their first three games with a surprisingly good defense that ranked eighth in the country in scoring. That unit will be tested by the Wolverines and QB Denard Robinson, who is averaging 350.0 yards of total offense so far this season. There is no doubt Notre Dame remembers Robinson from last year – he threw a touchdown pass with 0:02 remaining to cap a 28-point fourth quarter and give Michigan a 35-31 victory. Most pundits are picking the Irish to win this game, but Notre Dame will be without safety Jamoris Slaughter, who tore his Achilles tendon during last week’s win over Michigan State. Add that key injury to the fact that U-M has won three in a row and five of the last six in this series, and you get an Upset Special … Michigan 31, Notre Dame 27. (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Vanderbilt at No. 5 Georgia: When the conversation turns to high-scoring offenses, chances are that the Bulldogs are not going the first team that comes to mind. But UGA has scored points in bunches so far this season, topping the 40-point mark in all three games culminating in last week’s 56-20 blowout of Florida Atlantic. This week, the Dawgs begin SEC play – albeit against the Commodores, who haven’t beaten a ranked SEC opponent since 2008 and have lost to the Bulldogs 16 of the last 17 years. Georgia would do well not to sleep on Vandy, however, since the Commodores took South Carolina to the mat Aug. 30 before allowing the Gamecocks to escape with a 17-13 win … Georgia 30, Vanderbilt 17. (7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)
No. 15 Kansas State at No. 6 Oklahoma: The Sooners begin the meat of their schedule with the overachieving Wildcats. K-State still has some of the scars from last year’s 58-17 thumping, a game during which OU quarterback Landry Jones threw for five touchdowns and a school-record 505 yards. Jones obviously likes playing the Wildcats – he threw for 294 yards and four TDs during a 42-30 win in 2009 – and he is going against a K-State team that ranks only 80th nationally in pass defense. However, before you start thinking another blowout is brewing, understand that Oklahoma has had some offensive line issues in its first two games, and the Wildcats can move the ball on the ground. We’ll still take the home team, but it should be closer than some people think … Oklahoma 27, Kansas State 23. (7:50 p.m. ET, FOX)
No. 22 Arizona at No. 3 Oregon: Offense should rule the night in Eugene with two of college football most prolific scoring machines on full display in Autzen Stadium. The Wildcats are the No. 4 team in the nation in total offense (604.7 yards per game) and No. 12 in scoring (46.3 points) while the Ducks are only seventh in yardage (596.3) but fifth in scoring (54.0). Under first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez, the Wildcats have already scored a major upset this year, taking down Oklahoma State in week two by a 59-38 final. But that game was in Tucson. Going into Eugene, where the Quack Attack has won 26 of its last 27 games, is another matter. Look for shootout, but also look for an Oregon win … Oregon 52, Arizona 38. (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)
UAB at No. 16 Ohio State: The Buckeyes are a pretty good team that has looked pretty average at times. OSU has enjoyed three straight games in which it has scored 30 or more points, but it features one of college football’s rising stars in sophomore QB Braxton Miller. But the defense is simply not playing Ohio State defense. Yes, it has nine sacks and six interceptions so far, but the unit has also been gashed for several huge plays and ranks ninth in the Big Ten in total defense, surrendering an average of 392.0 yards per game. No one expects UAB to pull off the unthinkable tomorrow, but with Michigan State and the start of Big Ten play just one week away, the Buckeyes would do well to use this game as an actual tune-up rather than simply going through the motions. Playing a full four quarters would be a nice start … Ohio State 41, UAB 14. (12 noon ET, BTN, DirectTV 610)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Maryland (+27) at West Virginia; Virginia at TCU (-18); UTEP at Wisconsin (-17½); South Dakota at Northwestern (N/L); LSU (-18½) at Auburn; Michigan (+6) at Notre Dame; Vanderbilt (+16) at Georgia; Kansas State (+14) at Oklahoma; Arizona (+22½) at Oregon; UAB (+37½) at Ohio State.
Enjoy the games and we’ll talk again next week.