Reality Intruding Upon Buckeye Nation’s Perception

To say the honeymoon between Urban Meyer and Ohio State fans is over would not be totally accurate. But the newlyweds are slowly coming to the realization that life isn’t one big party.

If you listened closely enough to the 105,019 packed into Ohio Stadium last Saturday afternoon for the final game of a rather nondescript nonconference schedule, you could make a smattering of boos from the scarlet and gray faithful. And the patrons who weren’t voicing their displeasure mostly just shuffled in their seats, uneasy at the disjointed product the Buckeyes have displayed so far this season.

Fans began eagerly looking forward to the 2012 season late last November when Meyer was announced as head coach of the Buckeyes. They looked at a guy who produced winners at Bowling Green and Utah as well as a couple of national titles at Florida, added the tradition of Ohio State, and somewhat naturally extrapolated copious amounts of easy victories and a multitude of scarlet and gray championships.

Of course, fans are a fickle lot. Yesterday’s hero is today’s scapegoat, and if you listen to what passes for sports talk radio in Columbus, you will hear enough headache-inducing comments to make you want to crash your car into the nearest telephone pole.

One caller wanted to know what happened to the wide-open spread offense he had been promised. Another said the duties of being defensive coordinator were far beyond Luke Fickell’s capabilities. One misguided soul even offered the opinion that the team would be better served with Kenny Guiton as the starting quarterback.

Perhaps it would be worth noting (again) that Meyer inherited a team that went 6-7 last season, is fighting through a spate of injuries and is counting on regular contributions from more than a dozen first- and second-year players.

Perhaps it would also be worth noting that while Meyer is viewed as somewhat of a miracle worker, his super powers are not limitless. Only once before in his previous 10 seasons as a head coach has he produced an undefeated team. (That was Utah in 2004.) Moreover, while his first seasons at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida represented improvements over the previous year, the bar for excellence wasn’t set very high.

The year before Meyer’s arrival, BG was 2-9, Utah was 5-6 and Florida was 7-5. The coach obviously turned each of those programs around, but he lost at least two games during his first season at all three schools.

Still, after you get used to winning – and winning a lot – you have a tendency to take all of that winning for granted. It happened to Ohio State fans toward the end of the Jim Tressel era and perhaps it happened to Meyer as he assumed his self-described dream job.

Tradition, national championship banners, Big Ten trophies and a stadium listed on the National Register of Historic Places – those are effective recruiting tools for both prospective players and coaches. When you come to Ohio State, you are expected to continue that tradition and win football games. Unfortunately, that expectation sometimes morphs into victory as a foregone conclusion. And if last year’s 6-7 finish wasn’t enough of a shock to the system, perhaps the string of mediocre performances to start this season is serve as a needed dose of stark reality.

No one except for the most myopic of Buckeye fans is thrilled about this team’s 4-0 start. Yes, Ohio State is one of only 26 remaining undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, but that record has been achieved against nonconference opponents now showing a combined record of 5-9.

Meyer’s power spread offense has been a work in progress from day one with certain pieces of the attack functioning well at times and not so well at others. Ohio State has rushed for 917 yards in four games and thrown for 791, but much of that production has been generated by just one player – Braxton Miller, who has run for 441 yards and thrown for 754. You need only look at what has happened to a certain team up north to realize what happens when you rest your entire team’s fortunes on the shoulders of just one player.

And then there is the defense. What was supposed to be a team strength is quickly becoming a liability. There are no records kept for missed tackles, but Ohio State would probably be near the top of the nation in that category. In the first quarter against UAB, I counted at least six missed tackles by the Buckeyes that accounted for an extra 29 yards worth of gain for the Blazers. I counted four more early in the second quarter for 30 yards before giving up.

Through four games, the Ohio State defense is giving up an average of 394.8 yards per game. That number hasn’t been that bad since week five of the 1988 season when after Indiana finished administering a 41-7 spanking of the Buckeyes, the defense was giving up an average of 396.6 yards per game. By the time that season had ended, the average had dipped slightly to 300.0, but John Cooper’s first team still wound up with a 4-6-1 record.

And what makes anyone believe things will get better this year? The Buckeyes’ next four opponents – Michigan State, Nebraska, Indiana and Purdue – each average better than 400 yards of total offense per game. The Cornhuskers and Hoosiers are currently averaging north of 500.

Then, of course, there are the special teams. Ohio State got a punt blocked against UAB that the Blazers returned for a touchdown. To put that into some kind of context, UAB had not returned a blocked punt for a touchdown since 2003. And then to pour salt into the wound, the Blazers caught the Buckeyes napping and recovered an onside kick to start the second half.

After the UAB game, when Meyer was asked which areas of his team concerned him the most, the coach indicated an all-of-the-above answer.

“Defense, offense and kicking game,” he replied. “We have to be better in all three phases. … This is not a finely-tuned machine. It hasn’t been for awhile, especially on both sides of the ball.”

Exceedingly more candid than his predecessor, Meyer admitted, “It’s not as easy as …” before thinking better of finishing his thought aloud. Woody Hayes is the one who said, “Nothing worth a damn is easy,” and Meyer obviously realizes the old coach knew what he was talking about.

But when a coach deems his offense’s explosiveness as “obviously nonexistent for much of the game,” his defense as “painful to watch,” special teams breakdowns as “nonsense,” and his overall team mentality as “passive,” you know the kettle is about to boil.

OSU-MICHIGAN STATE TIDBITS

** This will be the 41st meeting between Ohio State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes hold a 27-13 advantage in the overall series. The Spartans broke a seven-game losing streak in the series with last year’s 10-7 win in Ohio Stadium, but the Buckeyes have still won 12 of the last 15 meetings. OSU is 15-5 against MSU in East Lansing, including a 45-7 romp the last time the Buckeyes visited Spartan Stadium. Ohio State hasn’t lost in East Lansing since a 23-7 decision in 1999.

** Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer gets his first shot at the Spartans. The last five OSU head coaches have experienced mixed results in their first game against Michigan State. Earle Bruce and Jim Tressel each beat the Spartans in their initial meeting, while Woody Hayes, John Cooper and Luke Fickell all lost.

** Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is 1-4 lifetime against the Buckeyes. Last year’s victory broke a streak that included losses in 2004 and 2006 while at Cincinnati in addition to defeats as in 2007 and 2008 with the Spartans. Dantonio, of course, was defensive coordinator on Tressel’s OSU staff from 2001-03 and won the Frank Broyles Award in 2002 as college football’s top assistant coach.

** Dantonio is 47-23 in his five-plus seasons with the Spartans, including a 31-7 mark at home. Michigan State’s 20-3 loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 15 snapped a 15-game home winning streak, the fifth-longest in school history.

** Meyer has his team off to a 4-0 start for the eighth time in 11 seasons as a head coach. Four of his teams – Bowling Green (2002), Utah (2004) and Florida (2006 and ’09) – started with five straight wins.

** With his 4-0 start, Meyer is tied for the third-best start to a career by an Ohio State head coach. Carroll Widdoes won his first 12 games in 1944 and ’45, while Earle Bruce won his first 11 in a row in 1979. Others to start 4-0 were Perry Hale (1902), E.R. Sweetland (1904) and Howard Jones (1910).

** Ohio State is entering its 100th season as a Big Ten member and the Buckeyes sport a 71-24-4 record in conference openers. OSU has won 10 of its last 12 league openers.

** Michigan State is entering its 60th season of Big Ten competition with a 32-23-4 record in league openers. The Spartans are 7-3 in conference openers since 2002.

** The Buckeyes are 4-1 in Big Ten openers vs. Michigan State, including 1-0 at Spartan Stadium. That victory was a 21-0 decision in 1975. Tailback Archie Griffin rushed for 108 yards in that game, fullback Pete Johnson scored two touchdowns and defensive halfback Craig Cassady tied the school’s single-game record by nabbing three interceptions.

** Over the last four seasons, Ohio State and Michigan State have each won 24 conference games, more than any other team.

** Since 1913, OSU head coaches are 6-5-1 in their Big Ten debuts, including 2-2-1 on the road. John W. Wilce’s team lost a 7-6 decision to Indiana in 1913, the Buckeyes’ inaugural season as Western Conference members. Sam Willaman won his conference debut with a 7-6 win over Iowa in 1929, and Francis Schmidt’s team gave him a 33-0 victory over Indiana in the 1934 season opener. Paul Brown took over in 1941 and his team eked out a 16-14 win over Purdue in the league opener, and three years later, the 1944 team gave Carroll Widdoes a 34-0 win over Iowa in his Big Ten debut. Three straight coaches then failed to win their first conference game – Paul Bixler, 20-7 at Wisconsin in 1946; Wes Fesler, 24-20 at Purdue in 1947; and Woody Hayes, whose team fought Wisconsin to a 6-6 tie in Madison in 1951. Earle Bruce broke that string with a 21-17 win at Minnesota in 1979 before John Cooper lost his conference debut in 1988, a 31-12 defeat to Illinois. Jim Tressel won his Big Ten debut at Indiana, a 27-14 victory in 2001, and Fickell lost last season to Michigan State.

** This week marks the first time this season that Ohio State has faced a ranked opponent. Michigan is No. 18 in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll and No. 20 in the Associated Press writers’ poll.

** When Ohio State is the higher ranked team, it has a 22-6 record against Michigan State. When the Spartans enter the game as the higher ranked team, they are 5-0. When neither team is ranked, OSU had a 5-2 edge.

** The Buckeyes are currently on a red-zone roll, having scored on each of their last 12 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. That includes 12 touchdowns and only one field goal. Michigan State’s four opponents have combined for only one touchdown and three field goals in just six trips to the red zone against the Spartans.

** Michigan ranks sixth nationally in total  defense, giving up an average of only 233.5 yards per game, and the Spartans are also No. 11 in scoring defense, surrendering only 11.8 yards per game on average. MSU, however, is a lowly 102nd in scoring offense, averaging only 21.0 points per game. That is 11th in the Big Ten, better only than Iowa (20.5 points per game).

** Ohio State will be playing its first game this season on natural grass. The Buckeyes were 0-3 on grass fields last season – at Miami (Fla.), Purdue and the Gator Bowl – and they haven’t won on a natural surface since a 26-17 win over Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl.

** The Ohio State defense would do well to keep Michigan State under 24 points in the game. Since 1990, the Spartans are 125-33-1 when scoring 24 or more. When they are held to fewer than 24 points, their record is 21-89-1.

** When the Buckeyes failed to break the 30-point barrier last week against UAB, they fell short of becoming only the eighth team in program history to score 30 or more points in each of their first four games. The Buckeyes topped the 30-point mark in each of their first four games in 1904, 1917, 1919, 1926, 1969, 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.

** OSU senior tailback Jordan Hall enjoyed the first-ever 100-yard game of his career last weekend, rushing for 105 yards on 17 carries vs. UAB. It marked the first time an Ohio State tailback had cracked the century mark since Dan “Boom” Herron rushed for 141 yards during a 34-20 win over Indiana in week nine of last season.

** The Spartans have 28 Ohio players on their roster while Ohio State has only two players from Michigan – defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins and offensive tackle Reid Fragel.

** Dantonio’s coaching staff features plenty of assistants who have ties to Ohio State. Running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Brad Salem’s older brother, Tim, was quarterbacks coach at OSU from 1997-2000. Linebackers and special teams coach Mike Tressel is the son of former Ohio State running backs coach Dick Tressel and nephew of former head coach Jim Tressel. Offensive line coach Mark Staten was a graduate assistant at OSU in 2002 and ’03. Michigan State strength coach Ken Mannie was a graduate assistant on Earle Bruce’s OSU staff in 1984, MSU director of personnel/player development and relations Dino Folino began his coaching career as a GA for Woody Hayes in 1974 and ’75, and the Spartans’ head trainer Jeff Monroe spent four years as a student trainer for the Buckeyes from 1969-72.

** Michigan State tailback Le’Veon Bell is currently the nation’s third-leading rusher, and he enters the game averaging 152.5 yards per outing. He will be trying to become the first MSU player to crack the century mark against Ohio State since 1988. That year, Hyland Hickson rushed for 187 yards and Blake Ezor added 147 as Michigan State piled 372 yards on the ground during a 20-10 victory over the Buckeyes in Spartan Stadium. Bell ran for 50 yards on 14 carries during last year’s 10-7 victory for the Spartans in Columbus.

** Bell currently occupies 15th place on Michigan State’s all-time rushing list with 2,163 yards. He needs 233 more to pass Jahuu Caulcrick (2,395, 2004-07) and break into the school’s top 10. Lorenzo White (1984-87) is the Spartans’ all-time leading rusher with 4,887 yards.

** Bell is already in the MSU career top 10 in rushing touchdowns, tied with Tico Duckett (1989-92) with 26. White holds the school record with 43.

** Kickoff this week is set for approximately 3:36 p.m. Eastern. ABC will telecast the game to a nationwide audience featuring our old friend Brent Musberger with the play-by-play, former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit with color analysis and Heather Cox filing sideline reports.

** ESPN College Gameday will also be at the game, marking the 30th time the Buckeyes have been one of the featured teams at a Gameday site. OSU in 19-10 when the Gameday crew is in attendance – 10-3 at home, 6-5 on the road and 3-2 at neutral sites – but only 9-9 in its last 18 appearances. Michigan State is 2-3 when Gameday visits East Lansing.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channel 137 and XM channel 85. Dial Global Sports (formerly Westwood One) will also broadcast the game.

** Next week, Ohio State returns home to host Nebraska in the annual homecoming game. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Eastern with ABC handling the telecast via its reverse mirror effect. That means if the game is not on your local ABC station, it will be on ESPN2 and vice versa.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

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

** On Sept. 28, 2002, No. 19 Iowa State rolled to a 36-14 win over No. 20 Nebraska in Ames. It marked the largest victory for the Cyclones over the Cornhuskers since 1899. ISU quarterback Seneca Wallace threw for 220 yards and a touchdown and added 50 yards and two more scores rushing. The loss knocked Nebraska out of the Association Press top 25 for the first time in 21 years, ending a streak of 348 consecutive weeks in the rankings.

** On Sept. 29, 1984, Western Michigan kicker Mike Prindle was a busy man during his team’s 42-7 win over Marshall. Prindle became the first player in NCAA history to attempt nine field goals in a single game, and he connected for a record seven of those three-pointers. He added three PATs to give him 24 points, another NCAA single-game record for a kicker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Four more undefeated teams bit the dust last week, and Stanford went down to Washington last night, leaving only 26 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with unblemished records: Alabama, Baylor, Cincinnati, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Iowa State, Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, Louisville, LSU, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio, Ohio State, Oregon, Oregon State, Rutgers, South Carolina, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, UTSA and West Virginia.

** TCU pushed the nation’s longest winning streak to 11 games with last week’s 27-7 victory against Virginia. Meanwhile, Tulane dropped a 39-0 decision to Ole Miss last Saturday, increasing the nation’s longest losing streak to 13. The Green Wave is 0-3 so far this season and has already been outscored by a 108-22 margin.

** Congratulations to Frank Solich and his Ohio Bobcats. They feasted upon Norfolk State from the Football Championship Subdivision last week, beating the Spartans by a 44-10 final, and pushed their record for the season to 4-0. The Bobcats haven’t started a season with four consecutive wins since 1976. Ohio hasn’t won its first five games in a season since the 1968 team won all 10 of its regular-season contests before losing a 49-42 heartbreaker to Richmond in the Tangerine Bowl.

** Congratulations to Bill Snyder and his Kansas State Wildcats. K-State went to Oklahoma last Saturday night and dashed the Sooners’ hopes for a national championship run by forcing three turnovers during a 24-19 win. Sixth-ranked Oklahoma was the highest-ranking opponent the Wildcats have ever beaten on the road, and the victory propelled Kansas State into the top 10 in the polls for the first time since 2003.

** Congratulations to Jon Embee and his Colorado Buffaloes. The Buffs, 3-10 last year and 0-3 to start this season, suddenly find themselves tied atop the Pac-12 South following last weekend’s 35-34 stunner at Washington State. One week after absorbing a 69-14 pummeling from Fresno State, Colorado erased a 31-14 deficit with 14:47 remaining for the one-point victory. Junior QB Jordan Webb, who threw for 345 yards and two TDs, ran 4 yards for a touchdown with nine seconds left after which sophomore PK Will Oliver delivered the game-winning PAT.

** Finally, congratulations to Brian Kelly and his Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Irish are a top-10 team for the first time since 2006, they’re 4-0 for the first time since 2002, they have given up the fewest amount of points in their first four games since 1975, and they held consecutive ranked opponents (Michigan State and Michigan) to six points or fewer for the first time since 1943. Also, when Notre Dame held both the Spartans and Wolverines without a touchdown, it marked the first time the Irish had done that to their Michigan foes in the same season since 1909.

** Notre Dame’s new agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference has already claimed its first victim. The Fighting Irish has exercised the opt-out clause in its scheduling contract with Michigan, meaning the last scheduled game between college football winningest programs will take place in 2014. The Irish and Wolverines, who have played every season since 2002, were contracted to continue their series at least through 2017. The series dates back to an 8-0 Michigan victory in 1887, and the Wolverines have a 23-16-1 advantage all-time.

** Stanford failed to score an offensive touchdown last night in its 17-13 loss to Washington. The last time the Cardinal offense failed to cross the goal line was during a 23-6 loss at Oregon State on Oct. 27, 2007. How big was the Huskies’ upset? It was their first win over a top-10 team since 2009 and avenged last year’s 65-21 drubbing in Palo Alto.

** For the second week in a row, the Big Ten has no teams among the top 15 of the USA Today coaches’ poll. Last week marked the first time since September 2001 the conference had no team in the top 15 of the coaches’ poll. (Ohio State is 14th in the writers’ poll, but ineligible for the coaches poll because of NCAA sanctions.)

** How bad is the Big Ten? Nine of the 12 teams are ranked 52nd or lower in total offense while eight are 50th or lower in scoring offense.

** Arkansas got a 419-yard passing performance from QB Tyler Wilson and a record-setting receiving day from WR Cobi Hamilton, but the Razorbacks still lost at home, 35-26 to Rutgers. Hamilton had 10 catches in the game for an SEC-record 303 yards and three touchdowns. The Razorbacks are working on their first three-game losing streak since 2008, and they haven’t been 1-3 to start a season since 2005. Arkansas hasn’t lost four of its first five since 1992, its first year in the SEC.

** South Carolina QB Connor Shaw misfired on his first pass attempt last week against Missouri and then completed his last 20 in a row. Shaw finished the game 20 of 21 for 249 yards and two TDs in the Gamecocks’ 31-10 victory. The 20 consecutive completions tied for the second-longest streak in SEC history. Tennessee QB Tee Martin completed 23 in a row – ironically against South Carolina – during the Volunteers’ 1998 national championship season.

** If West Virginia continues to win, it will be difficult to take the Heisman Trophy away from quarterback Geno Smith. The senior is ranked No. 2 in the nation in pass efficiency with 96 completions in 118 attempts (81.4 percent), good for 1,072 yards, 12 TDs and no picks. Of course, the Mountaineers are about to find out how good they really are. After kicking off its inaugural Big 12 season this week at home with Baylor, West Virginia plays Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in succession.

** The Mid-American Conference accomplished something last week it hadn’t done since 2003 – beat opponents from three BCS conferences on the same day. Northern Illinois took out Big 12 member Kansas, 30-20, while Central Michigan scored nine points in the final 45 seconds to beat Big Ten member Iowa, 32-31. The MAC also went 2 for 2 against the Big East – Western Michigan scored a 30-24 win over Connecticut, Ball State rallied from a late four-quarter deficit to hand South Florida a 31-27 defeat.

** Old Dominion is leading all FCS teams in scoring with a ridiculous average of 59.0 points per game after four weeks. During last week’s wild 64-61 win over New Hampshire, sophomore QB Taylor Heinicke established a new Division I single-game record when he threw for 730 yards. That performance came one week after he had thrown for seven touchdowns during a 70-14 win over Campbell. In 13 career games for the Monarchs, Heinicke has already thrown for 4,306 yards and 44 TDs.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Something has definitely gone haywire here at World Forecast Headquarters. After riding high for a couple of years, the crystal ball has suddenly formed a couple of cracks. Last week, the straight-up picks were an acceptable 8-2, but we whiffed on our Upset Special thanks to a boatload of Michigan turnovers, and we didn’t foresee Oklahoma’s home loss to Kansas State.

Against the spread, we were just breakeven with five games up and five games down.

That means while we’re at 33-7 SU, we’re still under water ATS at 19-21.

Undaunted, we offer another slate of picks with the hope of turning this thing around.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 25 Baylor at No. 9 West Virginia: The Mountaineers make their Big 12 debut against a team they have never played. Baylor is without Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, of course, but the Bears still have some offensive firepower with senior QB Nick Florence, who has thrown for more than 300 yards and at least three touchdowns in every game so far this season. Baylor is currently on a nine-game winning streak – one more would equal the school record set in 1936-37 – but the Bears are extremely iffy on defense. And with early Heisman frontrunner Geno Smith (1,072 yards, 12 TDs) at the controls of a high-powered West Virginia attack, Baylor’s streak is in serious jeopardy … West Virginia 34, Baylor 24. (12 noon ET, FX, DirectTV 248)

No. 4 Florida State at South Florida: The Seminoles are rolling along thanks to a potent offense that is averaging 56.3 points per game. But the FSU defense is no slouch despite giving up a lot of points in last Saturday night’s 49-37 shootout win over Clemson. Even with that performance, the Seminoles still rank No. 2 nationally in total defense (184.0 yards per game) and No. 6 in scoring (10.0 points). The Bulls don’t appear to match up very to that kind of production on either side of the ball, and it doesn’t seem possible for a team that lost last week at Ball State could hang with Florida State … Florida State 41, South Florida 17. (6 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

No. 6 South Carolina at Kentucky: Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw completed his final 20 pass attempts last week against Missouri, and this week he faces a team against which he threw for a career-best 311 yards and four TDs last year during a 54-3 rout. Shaw isn’t South Carolina’s only offensive threat, of course, as RB Marcus Lattimore (320 yards, six TDs) continues to rebound from last year’s knee injury. USC’s defense isn’t bad, either – giving up a scant 9.8 points per game ranks No. 5 in the nation in scoring defense. To cut to the chase, the Gamecocks simply have too much firepower for the Wildcats, who average 23.0 points per game on offense but give up 29.0 points and 400.3 yards on defense … South Carolina 34, Kentucky 10. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)

No. 15 TCU at SMU: You might forgive the Horned Frogs for looking past their Dallas neighbors to next week’s Big 12 game against currently unbeaten Iowa State. Then again, TCU probably believes it has something to prove to the Mustangs. SMU bused over to Fort Worth last year and stunned the Frogs, 40-33 in overtime to end TCU’s 22-game home winning streak. If that doesn’t get the attention of the Frogs, nothing will. SMU currently ranks dead last in the nation in both pass defense and total defense, something TCU plans to exploit with QB Casey Pachall (841 yards, eight TDs). Pachall leads the nation in pass efficiency … TCU 37, SMU 6. (7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Houston)

No. 12 Texas at OklahomaState: After a couple of lean years, the Longhorns believe they are ready to contend for another Big 12 title this season. Whether they are or not will begin to be determined in Stillwater as they take on the defending conference champion, who have won eight in a row at Boone Pickens Stadium. The truth is we just don’t know about either of these two teams. UT is averaging 49.3 points per game, but has beat up on the likes of Wyoming, New Mexico and Ole Miss. Meanwhile, the Cowboys started the season with an 84-0 punishing of Savannah State, but then ran into a buzz saw at Arizona while being handed a 59-38 trouncing. Yes, that is the same Arizona team that got crushed 49-0 at Oregon last week. You would have to believe the Pokes will play better at home, but do they have enough defense to keep Texas QB David Ash, who is third in the nation in pass efficiency, and his talented stable of running backs in check? Conversely, can the Longhorns rope an Oklahoma State offense that leads the county with a 62.3-point scoring offense? At the very least, this ought to be fairly entertaining and we’ll go with Upset Special No. 1 … Oklahoma State 42, Texas 38 (7:50 p.m. ET, FOX)

No. 19 Louisville at Southern Miss: This should be a no-brainer. The undefeated Cardinals are off to their best start since 2006 while the winless Golden Eagles are experienced their worst start since 1976 when they lost their first nine. The defending Conference USA champions have crated this year, ranking 113th nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Meanwhile, UL has exciting sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has already thrown for 1,049 yards and seven TDs. The Cardinals have won five straight in the series, and they should make it six relatively easily … Louisville 35, Southern Miss 17. (8 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network, DirectTV 613)

Wisconsin at No. 22 Nebraska: When the season began, this showdown had a little more buzz. But since the Badgers have struggled mightily on offense and the Cornhuskers were exposed three weeks ago in a 36-30 upset at UCLA. Wisconsin ranks a totally uncharacteristic 10th in the Big Ten in scoring offense and 12th in offensive yardage. The Badgers have offensive line problems and star tailback Monteé Ball has been a shadow of his normal self. Ball fumbled for the first time in his career and missed all of the second half in last week’s sloppy 37-26 win over UTEP. The senior tailback has been cleared for this week’s game, but you have to wonder how effective Ball will be after a second concussion in the last couple of months. If he’s not 100 percent, that means the Badgers will be even more offensively challenged against a team that is bent on revenge for last year’s 48-17 rout in Madison … Nebraska 34, Wisconsin 20 (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama: The Crimson Tide have barely broken a sweat in four games so far, and they don’t figure to get much of a challenge from the Rebels. Ole Miss has put some points on the board this year, but against the likes of Central Arkansas, UTEP and Tulane. The Rebs also tallied 31 against Texas, but gave up 66 in the process. Alabama simply doesn’t let opponents breathe. The Tide has outscored its four opponents by a 168-21 margin, including 127-7 over the past three weeks. They rank in the top 10 in every defensive category as well as No. 2 in both pass defense and pass efficiency and No. 3 in turnover margin. At this point, the only team that seems capable of beating Alabama would be Alabama itself … Alabama 49, Ole Miss 10. (9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

No. 2 Oregon vs. Washington State: You would normally expect a lot of fireworks when a couple of offensive gurus – Chip Kelly of Oregon and Mike Leach of Washington State – faced off for the first time ever. Unfortunately for Leach, he doesn’t have the kind of defense that can match up against the Ducks. The Quack Attack is coming off a game in which they were facing another supposed high-octane offense, but they flattened Arizona and pitched a 49-0 shutout – their first whitewash of a Pac-12 opponent since 2003. What home-field advantage the Cougars might have enjoyed gets negated by the fact this game will be played at CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and site of the Monday Night Football debacle that hastened the return of the league’s regular officials. Leach might eventually turn Wazuu into the offensive juggernaut he had at Texas Tech, but he’s not there yet … Oregon 49, Washington State 14. (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)

No. 14 Ohio State at No. 20 Michigan State: The Buckeyes get their sternest test – by far – this season against the No. 1 defense in the Big Ten. Sparty has yet to surrender more than 20 points in a game this season, and averages allowing only 233.5 yards per contest. Conversely, MSU has a fairly anemic offense outside of RB Le’Veon Bell. The junior tailback is the third-leading rusher in the country with an average of 152.5 yards per game, but that is more than one-third of the Michigan State offense. In simple terms, shut down Bell – as Notre Dame did for the most part during its 20-3 win over the Spartans – and you can beat Michigan State. The Buckeyes’ defensive shortcomings have been well-documented, but if there is one thing OSU can still do and do well, it is defend a no-frills, straight-ahead offensive attack. For that reason, and Braxton Miller’s playmaking ability, you get this week’s Upset Special No. 2 … Ohio State 24, Michigan State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Baylor (+12) at West Virginia; Florida State (-14) at South Florida; South Carolina (-20½) at Kentucky; TCU (-16) at SMU; Texas at Oklahoma State (+2½); Louisville (-9½) at Southern Miss; Wisconsin at Nebraska (-11½); Ole Miss at Alabama (-29); Oregon (-28) vs. Washington State; Ohio State (+2½) at Michigan State.

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

 

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2 Comments

  1. Mark…Another excellent article. You have come a long way since your days in WCH covering high school sports in the late Seventies. Tell Lisa and Fred, hello.

    Gary Larimer

    • Thanks for the kind words, Gary.


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