Wolverines Don’t Exactly Get Their Man

Brady Hoke? Really? You have to wonder if the University of Michigan is even trying.

Back in November after Ohio State had beaten the Wolverines for the ninth time in 10 years, I wrote the following:

“(When) each win over Michigan seemingly becomes a foregone conclusion, the greatness of the overall rivalry seems to erode bit by bit. … Any Ohio State victory over the Wolverines is a wonderful thing to be cherished, but how satisfying are countless victories if they come against a defenseless opponent? I contend a Michigan program that is merely a shadow of its former self is not good for the Big Ten and not good for the OSU-Michigan rivalry.

“For better or for worse, the reputation of the conference as a whole – and that of Ohio State to a great degree – is predicated on the Michigan football team being a national power. And if that is ever going to happen again in the near future, the decision in Ann Arbor seems clear. (Rich) Rodriguez has to go.”

Perhaps I wasn’t making myself clear enough. Yes, Rodriguez had to go but in his place Michigan was supposed to hire someone dynamic who would raise the level of the program back to where it had been for most of the 20th century. No offense to Hoke, but what U-M David Brandon got with his recent hire was a dime-a-dozen coach who just happened to have had “Michigan assistant, 1995-2002” on his résumé.

Like Rodriguez three years ago, Hoke is something of a hot commodity. Rodriguez resurrected a lifeless program at West Virginia while Hoke comes from San Diego State after leading the Aztecs to their first bowl appearance since 1998 and their first bowl victory since 1969. Granted, that win was against Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl, played at Qualcomm Stadium where SDSU plays its home games, but it was a big win in program history and that’s what Hoke was selling. Fortunately for him, Brandon was in a buying mood.

Of course, the Michigan AD would have us believe that Hoke is the second coming of Urban Meyer, who produced winners at formerly moribund Bowling Green and Utah before winning a pair of national championships at Florida. In this case, Brandon is peeing on our collective legs and telling us it’s raining.

I have no affinity for Meyer but when it comes to a comparison between him and Hoke, it really is no contest. Meyer spent two seasons each at Bowling Green (a MAC rival of Ball State) and Utah (a mid-major like San Diego State). In each of those four seasons, Meyer never failed to produce at least eight wins.

The Falcons were 2-9 in 2000 and immediately improved to 8-3 during Meyer’s first season. After he went 9-3 the following year, Meyer left for Utah where he was 10-2 with a Liberty Bowl win over Southern Miss in 2003 and 12-0 with a Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh the next season. Then he took his 39-8 career record and went to Florida.

Now, let’s take a look at Hoke. In 2003, he took over a Ball State program that hadn’t enjoyed a winning season in six seasons – and it would take another five years before he produced a winner in Muncie. Hoke’s first four teams won only 15 times in 46 games – that is a robust .326 winning percentage, folks – and when he did finally get a winner, it was a modest 7-6 in 2007 that included a 52-30 blowout loss to Rutgers in the International Bowl.

To be fair, since then, Hoke has gone 25-13 including a 12-1 season in ’08 at Ball State and this past season’s 9-4 record at San Diego State.

Still, the figures don’t lie. Hoke’s eight-year record as a college head coach is 47-50 (a .485 win percentage). When Rodriguez was hired by Michigan, his 15-year record was 105-62-2, a .620 win percentage. When Ohio State rolled the dice in 2001 on a Division I-AA coach named Jim Tressel, his 15-year record was 135-57-2 (.700) and he had four national championship rings.

Personally, I have no problem with Hoke although he may not be quite as genuine as Brandon and some others would have us believe. It stretches the imagination somewhat that his father played for Woody Hayes at Miami (Ohio) yet young Brady grew up rooting for Michigan. But that’s OK. Maybe Hoke’s dad didn’t like Woody. Not everyone did.

More disconcerting is the way Hoke bolted from San Diego State. During his introductory news conference at Michigan, he thanked Rodriguez (presumably for performing so abysmally to pave the way for Hoke to get his dream job) and made no acknowledgment of San Diego State or the players (most of which were recruited by predecessor Chuck Long) that allowed him to make the leap to U-M. Perhaps worst of all, Hoke indicated he had no plans for a return trip to San Diego to say goodbye to the Aztecs in person.

Whether you fall into the camp that believes Hoke is genuine, the camp that thinks he’s a phony, or somewhere in between, I just get this nagging feeling that Michigan settled for Hoke the same way they settled for Rodriguez three years ago. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that the school’s No. 1 choice was Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles was the fall-back candidate. If Hoke was the guy Brandon wanted all along, he didn’t have to wait until after bowl season had ended. He could have fired Rodriguez the morning after the Ohio State game in November and introduced Hoke that afternoon.

Michigan hopes it has found its way back to national prominence with Hoke. At the very least, it hopes it has found its way back to the Bo Schembechler era that continued with Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr – two U-M head coaches under which Hoke served in Ann Arbor.

The long and the short of it is, however, that after three frustrating years under Rodriguez, the Wolverines yearn for a bygone era that is not easily attainable. Yes, the program suffered miserably during the last three seasons but the downturn didn’t start when Rodriguez arrived. Since 2005, Michigan has a barely-average 24-22 Big Ten record. The Wolverines haven’t finished a season as a top-five team since 1999.

In other words, Hoke has an awful lot of work ahead of him. Whether or not he truly is the man for the job, only time will tell. And after the Rodriguez disaster, time may be a luxury Hoke does not have.

How Can Buckeyes Beat Texas?

Please don’t say the BCS got it right. It didn’t.

During a season in which there are only two undefeated teams remaining and neither get a chance to play for the national championship, it was impossible to “get it right.”

During a season in which there are a half-dozen one-loss teams, each of which is worthy of playing for the national championship, it was impossible to “get it right.”

What makes Oklahoma and Florida so special? Are they really the best teams in college football this year? Obviously, the pollsters think so – but the emphasis is on the “think so.” No one knows for sure.

What disqualifies Texas? The last-second loss to Texas Tech? Maybe you want to discount what the Red Raiders have accomplished this season, and maybe that is a salient argument in light of their 44-point loss to Oklahoma. I just have a tough time believing the Sooners belong in the national championship game just because they ran up the score on their last half-dozen opponents.

Didn’t Texas beat Oklahoma? By 10 points? On a neutral field? And because freshman safety Blake Gideon couldn’t hold onto a fourth-quarter interception and on the next play sophomore cornerback Curtis Brown was unable to prevent the best receiver in college football from catching the winning pass, the rest of the Longhorns’ marvelous season is relegated to every other also-ran team? Tell me how that’s fair and how the BCS got everything “right.”

Now that my mini-rant is over, I have to admit I wasn’t that thrilled when the bowl invitations were announced. Ohio State desperately needs a postseason victory this year – for a bit of national redemption as much as anything else – and going to play a team that could/should be considered one of this season’s best is a tough assignment. Likewise, there aren’t exactly sweet memories for the Buckeyes from the last trip to the Phoenix area.

I didn’t like the matchup any better when I started looking a little more in-depth at the Longhorns.

For starters, Texas is the No. 3 ranked team in the nation and Ohio State is 0-2 against top-five competition this season. The Longhorns also have the No. 2 defense in the country against the rush. The Buckeyes’ offensive strength is their running game but in their two losses this season, they averaged only 66.0 yards per game and 2.0 yards on 132 rushing plays. UT also has a balanced offense that averages 43.9 points per game. OSU got its offense in gear toward the end of the season but only twice scored more points in a single game than the Longhorns averaged all year.

At first blush, it seems to be the recipe for more postseason heartache in your particular persuasion happens to lean toward scarlet and gray.

If you dig a little deeper, however, there are some chinks in the Texas armor. Yes, the Longhorns held eight of their 12 opponents to less than 50 yards rushing. That included Oklahoma, which gained only 48 yards. Two teams, however, figured out a way to run the ball against UT. Baylor managed 201 yards in a 45-21 loss in early November, and Oklahoma State piled up 217 yards in a narrow 28-24 defeat.

In that game, Cowboys running back Kendall Hunter rolled for 161 yards, a season-high total for a Texas opponent. As a means of comparison, Hunter finished the 2008 regular season ranked sixth in the country with an average of 126.5 yards per game. Ohio State tailback Beanie Wells finished one tick behind Hunter in the No. 7 position thanks to his 121.2-yard average.

There is no question that Texas quarterback Colt McCoy had a tremendous season, one that I think was Heisman Trophy worthy. (We’ll get to that later.) In terms of raw numbers, McCoy completed a ridiculous 77.6 percent of his 375 pass attempts for 3,445 yards and 32 touchdowns.

One facet of McCoy’s game that does not get enough attention is his ability to run – he rushed for 576 yards and 10 TDs this season. But opposing defenses that played sound fundamental football had success keeping the Texas QB corralled. The Longhorns surrendered 22 sacks this season. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes tallied 13 of their 24 sacks in the final five games. Maybe it’s no coincidence that when the sack total started to increase, they began to pull away from their opponents. Point differential in the first seven games: plus-70 for Ohio State. Point differential in the final five: plus-111.

One more possible way for the Buckeyes to attack Texas would be through the air. For all of their obvious strengths, the Longhorns rank a dismal 109th of 119 Division I-A schools in pass defense. Unfortunately, OSU ranks 104th in pass offense.

Naturally, the Orangebloods will argue their numbers are skewed because of playing in the pass-happy Big 12. They did face four quarterbacks who rank among the country’s top nine in passing efficiency.

What is Ohio State’s excuse? Well, in reality, the Buckeyes have none. Head coach Jim Tressel has been reluctant to allow freshman QB Terrelle Pryor to use the pass as much of a weapon, fearing too many passes would lead to too many mistakes. Guess what? Playing the likes of Texas, Tressel now has little choice but to open the entire playbook to his gifted young quarterback.

I have heard the knocks against Pryor’s arm and they come from people who have not seen him play. He can make all the throws – short, long and in between. My guess is that he will have to throw more than 15 times – his average number of attempts as a starter – if the Buckeyes have any hopes of beating the Longhorns.

There is one other possible advantage for Ohio State but it is such an intangible facet, no one will know whether it came into play until the game is over. It is the mind-set with which Texas will approach the game. Will the Longhorns seek to prove something to the country at large for their national title game slight? Or will their minds be in Miami and on Oklahoma and Florida rather than in Phoenix and on the Buckeyes? I have covered countless teams that have said all the right things leading up to the game and then played as though their minds were clearly elsewhere. Will that happen to the Longhorns? We’ll find out in exactly 25 days.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** I waited until the last minute before electronically filing my Heisman Trophy ballot yesterday. I finally settled on McCoy at the top because he has achieved a truly remarkable season on a team that features no outstanding supporting cast. I put McCoy ahead of Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford for three reasons: I felt Bradford had the better supporting players, McCoy beat Bradford in the head-to-head matchup, and some of Bradford’s stats were inflated as the Sooners and head coach Bob Stoops went for the inane NCAA record of six straight 60-point games. I stayed with my conviction for third place, filling out the ballot with Wells. Where would the Buckeyes have been without him? Not 10-2 and going to the Fiesta Bowl, that’s for sure, and that’s what got my third-place vote.

** McCoy is the leader in a poll of Heisman voters taken by the Rocky Mountain News. McCoy edged Bradford by a single point with Florida quarterback Tim Tebow finishing eight points back in third. The newspaper has correctly predicted the winner 18 of the past 21 years.

** Over at StiffArmTrophy.com, which has accurately predicted every winner since 2002 by gleaning actual votes from actual Heisman voters, Bradford enjoys a fairly healthy lead with McCoy and Tebow neck and neck for second. StiffArmTrophy.com is so accurate because they count actual votes.

** Congratulations to Buffalo head coach Turner Gill. The guy turned around a moribund program, engineered an upset of previously undefeated Ball State and has his school going to the International Bowl. What makes the postseason invitation even sweeter is that the school’s only previous bowl chance was aborted 50 years ago when it turned down a Tangerine Bowl berth because its African-American players would not be allowed to participate.

** Did you see the end of the Buffalo-Ball State contest? In a me-first world, Gill taught us all a little lesson in how to win with humility. When asked he could take the Bills from perennial doormats to MAC champions, tears came to Gill’s eyes when he answered, “It wasn’t me. They did it. The players did it. They deserve the credit.”

** Next time you get all bent out of shape because your favorite team doesn’t make the preseason top 25, consider what came of these teams that were ranked before the year began. Auburn, Clemson and Tennessee each fired their head coaches; Michigan had the worst season in its history; LSU lost more regular-season games than any defending national champion in six decades; Arizona State and Illinois each finished with losing records.

** When Oklahoma finished at the top of the Bowl Championship Series standings, it extended the Sooners’ all-time lead in the rankings. OU has made 18 appearances atop the BCS rankings, three more than Ohio State and USC. Florida State and Miami (Fla.) round out the top five with seven No. 1 appearances each.

** Did you know that the Big Ten was the only major Division I-A conference this year with co-champions? It’s true. Ohio State and Penn State tied for the Big Ten crown while every other conference had a sole champion. Virginia Tech won the ACC, Cincinnati took the Big East, Oklahoma won the Big 12, East Carolina took home the Conference USA title, Buffalo won the MAC, Utah was the Mountain West winner, USC took the Pac-10, Florida won the SEC, Troy took home the Sun Belt trophy and Boise State won the WAC.

** Of course, many of the aforementioned conferences have championship games and that makes it impossible to have co-champions. Still, Big Ten is pretty good about determining its champion without benefit of a title game. Over the past 25 seasons, including 2008, the conference has produced 15 outright champions – Ohio State (1984), Iowa (1985), Michigan State (1987), Michigan (1988-89), Michigan (1991-92), Penn State (1994), Northwestern (1995), Michigan (1997), Wisconsin (1999), Illinois (2001), Michigan (2003) and Ohio State (2006-07).

** USC receiver Keyshawn Johnson, Michigan quarterback Chuck Ortmann and Rose Bowl game manager Virgil Lubberden are this year’s class of inductees into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. Fans of Ohio State football history may remember Ortmann as the quarterback on Michigan’s 1950 team that beat the Buckeyes, 9-3, in the famous Snow Bowl. In that game, Ortmann punted a Big Ten record 24 times, a single-game mark that still stands.

** While the Big 12 and SEC continue to get most of the love from the national media, how about a round of applause for the ACC? Ten of the conference’s 12 teams earned bowl invitations this season, including all six members of the Atlantic division.

** USC and Penn State will meet for the third time in the Rose Bowl. The first was in 1923 when the Trojans took a 14-3 victory. How long ago was that? So long that Joe Paterno wasn’t even born yet.

** Turnovers came in bunches last weekend. Undefeated Ball State committed five and lost to Buffalo in the MAC championship. High-scoring Tulsa grounded itself with seven turnovers in a C-USA title game loss to East Carolina. And three-time defending Division I-AA champion Appalachian State also committed seven turnovers and lost a 33-13 quarterfinal decision to Richmond.

** We’ve talked about turnovers. How about turnarounds? Southern Miss started this season 2-6, which included a five-game losing streak, the school’s longest in 32 years. The Golden Eagles closed with four straight wins and will play Troy in the New Orleans Bowl.

** Oregon State was 0-2 and giving up an average of 40.5 points per game. Then the Beavers upset USC and came within a whisker of making their first Rose Bowl in 44 years. They got a consolation prize of playing Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl.

** And then there was Rutgers, left for dead at 1-5 following a 13-10 loss Oct. 11 to Cincinnati. The Scarlet Knights rebounded with six straight victories and will face North Carolina State on Dec. 29 in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

** The Division II and III playoffs have familiar feels to them. Northwest Missouri State made the D-II championship game for the fourth straight season with last week’s 41-7 semifinal win over North Alabama. In D-III, defending champion Wisconsin-Whitewater is in the semifinals as is Mount Union, which reached the final four for the 14th consecutive season.

** Nothing has changed in the NAIA, either. Carroll College (Mont.) and the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.) will square off for the championship for the second year in a row. Last year, the Fighting Saints of Carroll knocked off the defending champion Cougars by a 17-9 score in the title game.

** Today marks the 37th anniversary of the first and only East-West Black All-Star Game. The contest, which was held Dec. 11, 1971, in Houston, featured all-star teams comprised of African-American players. The East took a 19-10 victory over the West before only 5,156 fans.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 8, 1914, representatives from Oklahoma and Rice attended a meeting in Houston and joined as charter members of what became the Southwest Athletic Conference; on Dec. 12, 1981, Eastern Michigan celebrated its first (and still only) postseason appearance with a 30-27 win over San Jose State in the California Bowl; and on Dec. 14, 1995, overtime was used for the first time ever in a Division I-A game. Toledo took a 40-37 win in OT over Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl.

** This week also featured the first awards ceremony to honor the outstanding individual player in college football. On Dec. 9, 1935, Jay Berwanger of Chicago was named the first recipient of the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy. The award would be renamed the following year in honor of legendary coach and innovator John Heisman. The Heisman Memorial Trophy was awarded to the top college player by the Downtown Athletic Club until 2001 when it declared bankruptcy. The trophy is now awarded annually by the Yale Club of New York City.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The forecast will take a couple of weeks off until bowl season heats up and it isn’t a minute too soon. Thanks to a boatload of turnovers by Ball State and Tulsa, the weekend started off poorly and didn’t get any better. Straight up, we were only 5-3 to move the season total to 98-37.

Against the spread, it was just one of those weeks with a season-worst 1-6 finish. Thanks to Oklahoma for running up the score and preventing a total wipeout. The ATS ledger for the season is now 70-60-1.

Remember: The bowl season officially begins in just nine days with four games on the docket.

Fiesta or Sugar? Pick Your Poison

I don’t want to look any gift horse in the mouth but if Ohio State is truly going to go to the Arizona desert for the fifth time in seven years, the Buckeyes had better do everything different this time.

No more staying at the palatial Scottsdale Princess hotel. No more practicing at Pinnacle High School in Scottsdale. No more white jerseys – wear the scarlet ones even if it means giving up one team timeout per half. And, please, please, please, no more midnight runs to In-N-Out Burger.

If we’re reading the tea leaves correctly, it appears the Buckeyes are going to make another trek to the Fiesta Bowl this season and will probably play Texas. (That, of course, means everything has to go according to plan this weekend. Should Missouri somehow find a way to upset Oklahoma, all BCS bets are off.)

Pitting Ohio State against Texas would seem to be a dream matchup for the Phoenix-area folks who stage the bowl – two of the winningest programs in college football history meeting for only the third time ever and the first time in a bowl.

If it turns out to be OSU vs. the Longhorns in the Fiesta Bowl, neither team will travel to Phoenix with pleasant memories of their last trip to the desert. UT-Austin has made only one previous appearance in the Fiesta Bowl and that was a 38-15 loss to Penn State in the 1997 game. Ohio State, of course, was skewered to the ugly tune of 41-14 decision by Florida in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.

There is another reason why the Longhorns may envision a Fiesta Bowl trip as something less than ideal. They probably should be playing the Big 12 championship game this Saturday with an eye toward the national title game, and anything less is likely to be a downer.

As for the Buckeyes, they should be elated about securing a sixth Bowl Championship Series berth in seven seasons. They also should send Oregon a Christmas card to thank the Ducks for knocking off Oregon State last weekend. That bumped the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl picture, supplanted USC in their place and paved the way for Ohio State to move into the big-money BCS mix.

Speaking only for myself, I would prefer a trip to the Orange Bowl. OSU has not played a postseason game in travel-friendly Florida since 2001 and it hasn’t appeared in the Orange Bowl since the 1977 game. (How long ago was that? It was the final bowl victory in Woody Hayes’ career.)

But the way the various BCS games pick their teams is about as convoluted as the way their standings are determined. The Orange seems destined to have Big East champion Cincinnati pitted against the ACC title game winner, leaving the Buckeyes available to be selected by either the Fiesta or Sugar bowl committees. To me, that’s a pick-your-poison scenario.

Not many OSU fans I talked with last year had a very good opinion of New Orleans. I have been to the Crescent City several times – both before Hurricane Katrina and after – and it is pretty much the same kind of touristy destination it has always been. Stay in the French Quarter and you’ll be OK. Venture elsewhere and take your chances.

Having acknowledged that, I would just as soon take a few more years off from going to the Fiesta Bowl. For one thing, it is a much different animal now that the game is played in suburban Glendale as opposed to quaint little Tempe. The game-day atmosphere around Sun Devil Stadium was lively and spirited with plenty of local establishments waiting with open arms to welcome fans of the participating teams. That was most likely because Tempe is a college town and Sun Devil Stadium is a college football venue – in other words, they know how to stage a college football game.

Glendale and its state-of-the-art University of Phoenix Stadium have all the charm of a school bus. Supposedly, there are more eateries and attractions that have been built in proximity to the stadium since last Ohio State and its fans visited for what is universally known as “The Debacle in the Desert.” That would be an improvement since amenities were nearly non-existent last time.

I also wonder just how many OSU fans will return to the desert after last time. There were reports of price-gouging – not only around town but at the sanctioned events and official tailgate parties for the Buckeyes themselves. I guess when you charge $10.50 for a single beer, you’re leaving yourself open for criticism. Of course, you have to pay for a $455 million retractable-roof stadium somehow.

While the amenities and attractions of the host city are important – especially to fans making the trip – the bottom line this year is simple. Pass-happy Texas, BCS buster Utah, defense-minded Alabama, high-scoring Florida and pesky Cincinnati each would bring something unique into a game against the Buckeyes.

But whoever the opponent, whatever the destination, after the last two years, there is only one option for Ohio State this time around. SEC redemption? A Big 12 beatdown? Defending the Big Ten’s honor? Who cares? Just win, baby.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Here are my BCS game predictions: Oklahoma vs. Florida in the championship game, Ohio State vs. Texas in the Fiesta, Alabama vs. Utah in the Sugar, Boston College vs. Cincinnati in the Orange and USC vs. Penn State in the Rose. That’s two spots each for the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten, one each for the ACC, Big East and Pac-10 and one for a so-called BCS buster.

** Did you know that USC and Penn State have not met in the postseason since the 1982 Fiesta Bowl? The then-independent Nittany Lions scored a 26-10 decision over the Trojans and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen.

** I’m flipping the top two on my Heisman Trophy ballot from last week. This week, I moved Texas QB Colt McCoy to the top, leapfrogging Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford? My reasoning is simple (and, no, it is not some sort of protest due to the BCS jumping OU over UT-Austin in its standings). I believe the Sooners would be a comparable team to what they are today without Bradford in the lineup while McCoy is far and away the most valuable player on the Longhorns. There really isn’t a whole lot of difference in the two but I have to break the tie somehow. My third pick will still probably be Ohio State running back Chris “Beanie” Wells although I could be persuaded to throw a bone to someone like Ball State QB Nate Davis or Boise State DB Kyle Wilson, who had eight interceptions to go along with three punt returns for touchdowns.

** Anyone who has read any of my stuff since 1990 knows how I feel about former Ohio State running back Robert Smith. However, with regard to Florida QB Tim Tebow and his Heisman candidacy this year, Smith and I agree. Yes, Tebow is the quarterback for a team likely headed to the BCS title game. Yes, he has picked things up down the stretch. But his overall numbers – 2,299 yards and 25 TDs through the air, 507 yards and 12 scores on the ground – are hardly Heisman-worthy.

** Saturday’s SEC championship game between Alabama and Florida will mark the 40th time that the top two teams in the Associated Press poll have met with the top-ranked team holding a 23-15-1 edge. This is, however, the first 1-vs.-2 matchup ever to be waged in a conference championship game.

** Oklahoma has put up some ridiculous offensive numbers this season. To wit: The Sooners have 47 touchdown passes this season; Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan combined for 45. The Sooners are averaging 53.3 points per game this season; Auburn, Tennessee and Mississippi State of the invincible SEC combined to average 49.9. And OU leads the nation with only nine turnovers; at the other end of the spectrum is Washington State, which committed 38.

** When Boston College takes on Virginia Tech this week in the ACC Championship Game, play attention to the Eagles and not just when they have the ball. BC is working on a streak of seven consecutive games in which it has scored a non-offensive touchdown. The streak continued last week in a 28-21 win over Maryland when the Eagles scored on a 9-yard touchdown pass off a fake field goal and a 36-yard interception return. The INT return made it four games in a row that BC has had a pick-six.

** USC will wear its home cardinal red jerseys Saturday in the Rose Bowl when it takes on UCLA. Because that violates an NCAA rule that requires visiting teams to wear white, the infraction will cost the Trojans one timeout per half.

** While offense continues to get the publicity (see above), playing able to play a modicum of defense still determines the difference between winning and losing. Houston quarterback Case Keenum threw for 494 yards and five touchdowns Saturday against crosstown rival Rice. Keenum also completed an NCAA-record 25 straight passes at one juncture. Final score: Rice 56, Houston 42. There were 57 first downs in the game not to mention 1,225 yards of total offense.

** By the way, Keenum is just one game shy of equaling another NCAA record. The 6-1, 210-pound sophomore’s performance against Rice pushed his streak of consecutive 300-yard passing games to 13. The NCAA record-holder with 14 is Tulsa QB Paul Smith, who finished his career last season with 312 yards in the Golden Hurricane’s 63-7 GMAC Bowl romp over Bowling Green. In case you wondered, Smith was signed as an undrafted free agent by Jacksonville is currently on the Jaguars’ practice squad.

** More individual passing records were set last weekend. Eastern Michigan quarterback Andy Schmitt was 58 for 80 for 516 yards and five touchdowns during a 55-52 upset of Central Michigan. The 58 completions were an all-division NCAA record for a single game.

** Texas teams have gotten a lot of ink this season for producing big offensive numbers. But you have to go one state north to find the best offenses in college football. Oklahoma and Tulsa finished one-two in scoring offense this season, combining for 190 touchdowns. The entire SEC West Division – which includes No. 1 Alabama and defending national champion LSU – combined to score only 221 TDs .

** While you ponder all of those dizzying passing stats, here is a stat for you to underline how important running the ball remains in the Big Ten. Of the top 100 quarterbacks in the country, four conference QBs are ranked in the bottom 15 in terms of pass efficiency. They are Brian Hoyer of Michigan State (85th), C.J. Bachér of Northwestern (86th), Kellen Lewis of Indiana (94th) and Steven Threet of Michigan (96th). The highest rated passer in the Big Ten: Daryll Clark of Penn State at No. 22.

** LSU’s fourth-quarter meltdown at seven-loss Arkansas last Saturday gave the Tigers a 7-5 record, the most regular-season defeats for a defending national champion in the AP poll since Ohio State went 3-6 in 1943. At least the Buckeyes had an excuse – their roster from ’42 was decimated by players enlisting in the military to fight in World War II. Les Miles’ excuse this season? Anyone? Anyone at all?

** Congratulations to kicking specialist Louie Sakoda of Utah, the only player in the nation who is a finalist for both the Lou Groza and Ray Guy awards. Sakoda, who has converted 21 of 23 field-goal tries this season while averaging 41.7 yards per punt, is only the second player in history to be named a finalist for both awards. Travis Dorsch of Purdue was the first – he won the 2001 Guy Award and finished behind Tulane’s Seth Marler for the ’01 Groza Award. Dorsch is currently punting for Winnipeg in the CFL while Marler is kicking for Tampa Bay in the arena league.

** Cal Poly will have a bad taste in its mouth for the entire offseason. The Mustangs missed three PATs in their regular-season finale, allowing Wisconsin to escape with a 36-35 overtime win in Madison. Then, Cal Poly bowed in the first round of the Division I-AA playoffs last weekend by committing five turnovers and losing a 49-35 decision to Weber State. The Mustangs entered the game with only six turnovers all season.

** Speaking of Division I-AA teams, evidently they can throw the ball, too. Appalachian State got a school-record 433 yards from QB Armanti Edwards as the Mountaineers cruised to a 37-21 victory last weekend over South Carolina State.

** Mount Union is on track for another Division III national championship and running back Nate Kmic is a major reason. In last week’s second-round win playoff win over Hobart (N.Y.), Kmic pushed his career rushing total to 7,449 yards and that is a new D-III record. Kmic needs 514 more yards to break the NCAA all-division record, established just last year at 7,962 by Danny Woodhead of Division II Chadron (Neb.) State.

** If the Purple Raiders keep winning, Kmic could have as many as three more games in which to break the record. Mount Union, the No. 1 seed in the D-III playoffs, is seeking its 10th national championship in the last 16 seasons.

** It wasn’t a good weekend to be a top seed in the Division II playoffs. All quarterfinal hosts lost, including top seed Grand Valley State (Mich.). The Lakers, who won the D-II national title four times during a five-year period between 2002 and 2006, lost a 19-13 decision in double overtime to unbeaten Minnesota-Duluth.

** Twenty years ago today, the Heisman Trophy winner was nowhere near New York when he learned he had won college football’s top individual award. On Dec. 4, 1988, Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders was preparing for a game to be played in Tokyo, Japan, when he received the news he had won the ’88 Heisman. Sanders celebrated by rushing 44 times for 332 yards and four TDs as the Cowboys took a 45-42 victory over Texas Tech. Sanders’ performance allowed him to establish a new NCAA single-season rushing record with 2,628 yards in 11 games.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 2, 1972, Army blocked a field goal and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown during a 23-15 win over Navy and won the first-ever Commander-In-Chief Trophy; on Dec. 3, 1999, Marshall QB Chad Pennington threw a touchdown pass on the final play of the game and the Thundering Herd came back to beat Western Michigan, 34-30, in the MAC Championship Game; and on Dec. 6, 1969, top-rated Texas overcame a 14-0 fourth-quarter deficit and rallied for a 15-14 win at No. 2 Arkansas.

** This week also featured one of the early landmark victories in Joe Paterno’s long career. On Dec. 7, 1968, Penn State took a 30-12 win over Syracuse, extending its regular-season winning streak to 18 straight games. The Nittany Lions were led by halfback Bobby Campbell, who rushed 24 times for 239 yards and set a school record with an 87-yard touchdown run. The win also secured Penn State’s first undefeated and untied season since 1947 and the first of five perfect seasons (so far) under Paterno.

** Today also marks a milestone birthday for my wife Lisa. She may be 50 but she looks 30 and makes me feel like I’m 20. Anyone who knows her knows what a lucky guy I am. A very, very happy birthday to my biggest fan.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It wasn’t that difficult to forecast last week’s games as the top teams jockeyed for those BCS style points. Straight up and against the spread, we finished with 6-1 records and that makes us 93-34 SU and 69-54-1 ATS.

With the final week of the college football regular season comes conference championship games and another Saturday filled with good entertainment. Here is what we’ll be watching this weekend:

FRIDAY’S GAME

MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 12 Ball State vs. Buffalo: These teams are enjoying their best seasons in many years. The Cardinals recorded their first perfect regular season since 1949 while the Bulls are bowl-eligible for the first time since moving up to Division I-A in 1999. Ball State QB Nate Davis (3,095 yards, 25 TDs) has been getting most of the publicity this year but Buffalo has a pretty good quarterback, too, in senior Drew Willy (2,885 yards, 22 TDs). The game will also feature two of the nation’s top running backs, both juniors – MiQuale Lewis, who ranks fourth in the nation for the Cardinals with an average of 130.8 yards per game, and James Starks of Buffalo, who ranks sixth at 122.6. The difference in the game will likely be on defense where Ball State is 10th in the country in scoring defense (16.7 points per game) while the Bulls are 77th (27.8). There is also the small fact that Buffalo is 0-8 against ranked teams since joining I-A … Ball State 31, Buffalo 17. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Army vs. Navy: To be able to call yourself a true fan of college football, you have to watch at least a little of the Army-Navy game each year. If the pageantry of the Cadets and Midshipmen entering the stadium doesn’t give you a chill, check your pulse. This year, the Middies would appear to have the upper hand, especially since they continue to run the same kind of triple-option offense they did under former head coach Paul Johnson. Navy is the No. 1 rushing team in the nation and had four different running backs who gained 480 or more yards this season. That quartet also combined for 24 rushing touchdowns. The Black Knights can run the ball, too, with senior Collin Mooney totaling 1,307 yards. Unfortunately for Army, most of its damage was done between the 20-yard lines – it ranks 114th out of 119 Division I-A teams in scoring … Navy 28, Army 14. (12 noon EST, CBS)

CONFERENCE USA CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

East Carolina at Tulsa: Be forewarned that we have yet to pick Tulsa correctly this season. Still, how can you go against a team that averaged nearly 50 points per game this year? You may not have heard of Golden Hurricane QB David Johnson, but he is one of the nation’s best pure passers. Johnson tops the nation in pass efficiency, and he has thrown for 3,671 yards and 42 TDs. Where things get dicey for Tulsa is on defense. The Hurricane simply try to outscore the opposition, and they’ve given up 30 or more points in half of their 12 games. It seems difficult to believe the Pirates can keep up, especially since they have scored 30 or more points only twice all season … Tulsa 45, East Carolina 31. (12 noon EST, ESPN2)

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 18 Boston College vs. Virginia Tech: In nearly every game, there are key matchups to consider. Not here. The winner of this game will be predicated on how many mistakes the other team makes. BC has depended on defensive and special teams touchdowns all season, including a 65-yard punt return for a score in its 28-23 win over the Hokies earlier this year. But the game shouldn’t have been that close – the Eagles committed five turnovers and Tech returned two interceptions for TDs. If its a mistake-free game, Boston College should win this one easily. Trouble is, no one expects a mistake-free game … Boston College 27, Virginia Tech 23. (1 p.m. EST, ABC)

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Florida: If both of these teams bring their “A” games, this contest should be very entertaining. The Tide have stayed undefeated by sticking to a philosophy of ball control and defense. Meanwhile, the Gators have bludgeoned their opponents, winning their last seven games by an average of 40.9 points. As good as it has been on defense, no one believes Alabama will be able to stop Florida’s attack even without receiver Percy Harvin, whose gimpy ankle leaves him questionable for Saturday. Even if the Tide finds a way to slow down the Gators, the UF defense should be able to force a couple of miscues out of Bama QB John Parker Wilson. Look for the Urban Legends to make a second trip in three years to the national championship game … Florida 23, Alabama 17. (4 p.m. EST, CBS)

No. 5 USC at UCLA: Could this be one of those games in which the Trojans completely lose focus? Not very likely. Those kinds of games typically occur in midseason, and Pistol Pete has done a pretty good job lately of keeping his team motivated because of its perceived BCS slight. The cold, hard truth of the matter is that the Bruins are probably no better matchup for USC than Notre Dame was last week. In fact, the Uclans are worse – they rank 107th in the country in scoring offense and 116th in rushing. The Trojans should roll while getting very comfortable with their Rose Bowl surroundings … USC 41, UCLA 3. (4:30 p.m. EST, ABC)

Big 12 CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 19 Missouri at No. 4 Oklahoma: If revenge is truly a dish served better cold, the Tigers had better hope for one of those Alberta clippers to hit Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night. Putting the Sooners in the deep freeze might be the only way Mizzou can get payback for getting knocked out of the national championship game by OU last year. There are tiny cracks in Oklahoma’s armor. QB Sam Bradford has torn ligaments in his non-throwing left hand and the injury led to a couple of bad snaps last week. Also, the Sooners aren’t exactly stellar on defense, ranking only 66th in the country in total defense and 98th in pass defense. Those rankings are better than Missouri, though, which is 91st in total defense and 116th against the pass. If you like your scores big and bad, this game is for you … Oklahoma 56, Missouri 35. (8 p.m. EST, ABC)

No. 13 Cincinnati at Hawaii: On the off-chance that Ohio State falls into the Orange Bowl, it’s worth scoping out the Bearcats as they take a victory lap to the land of balmy breezes and swaying palm trees. UC is led by junior quarterback Tony Pike, who despite playing with a painfully bruised sternum and a broken bone in his non-throwing hand, has managed to throw for 2,060 yards sand 17 TDs. Where Brian Kelly’s team has really distinguished itself, however, is defensively. The Bearcats give up an average of only 19.8 points per game, and that matches up well against a rebuilding Hawaii offense that has turned the ball over 33 times in 12 games … Cincinnati 27, Hawaii 17. (11:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Ball State (-13½) vs. Buffalo; Army vs. Navy (-10½); East Carolina at Tulsa (-11); Boston College (-1) vs. Virginia Tech; Alabama (+10) vs. Florida; USC (-27) at UCLA; Missouri at Oklahoma (-14½); Cincinnati (-6½) at Hawaii.

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

Five Candidates To Get Ohio State’s Offense Going

It really doesn’t matter whether Jim Tressel, Jim Bollman or Granny Nevada is calling the plays. When push comes to shove in the red zone, it’s the offensive scheme and not so much individual play calls that mean the difference between touchdowns and field goals.

Whether or not you believe the intimation that Tressel may tweak his offensive coaching staff during the offseason, it seems altogether logical that a guy who has 215 career victories knows a thing or two about what does and what doesn’t work. If you and I can figure out that a team with Terrelle Pryor at quarterback and Beanie Wells at running back is underachieving, chances are real good that Tressel has figured it out as well.

The nagging question is what the OSU coach does about it. How does he tweak the offense?

It’s an old sports adage that you can’t fire the players, so the coach is the one with his head on the chopping block. It seems difficult for me to believe that Tressel will dismiss his old friend Bollman. However, with quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels perhaps ready to retire, Tressel could retain Bollman as offensive line coach and hire a new quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

Whether you like Bollman as a line coach or whether you don’t, it’s important to keep him on staff for continuity’s sake. Since Daniels and Bollman were vital parts of the recruiting process where Pryor was concerned, it probably wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest to completely revamp the offensive staff.

If Bollman was left to concentrate solely on the offensive line, it would leave the QB/coordinator to help devise new and innovative ways to get the Ohio State offense in gear. Let’s face it: There is no reason why a team with the number of four- and five-star prospects it has should struggle so mightily. It should be near the top of the nation’s offensive statistics, not near the bottom.

There are plenty of members in the coaching fraternity who would jump at the chance to coach the Buckeyes. But if we’re going to dream, let’s dream big. (And, no, that doesn’t include Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach or firing up the Wayback Machine to bring Walt Harris out of mothballs.)

Not that he needs my help, but when/if Tressel goes on the hunt for a new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, here are five names with outstanding résumés.

1. Dave Christensen, Missouri – One of the main architects of Mizzou’s potent offense, Christensen has the Tigers purring along with the nation’s No. 4 passing offense and No. 5 total offense. Despite the fact he has been in Columbia for eight seasons, Christensen still knows Ohio well from spending nine seasons at Toledo. His final season with the Rockets was 2000 when they went 10-1 and finished 13th in the country in scoring. Best of all, Christensen employs a wide-open offense that includes lots and lots of throws to the tight end in the middle of opposing zone defenses.

2. Chip Kelly, Oregon – Kelly is one of those excellent young coaches who has a vast playbook and isn’t afraid to use every page. He spent eight seasons at I-AA New Hampshire, and the team averaged better than 400 yards per game in seven of those seasons. At New Hampshire, Kelly tutored QB Ricky Santos, who earned the Walter Payton Award, symbolic of Division I-AA’s best offensive player. When he got to Eugene, Kelly immediately installed an offense that highlighted the talents of quarterback Dennis Dixon (remind you of anyone, Buckeye fans?) and the Ducks shot to the top of nearly every major offensive category.

3. Gus Malzahn, Tulsa – In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Golden Hurricane is scoring points in bunches and Malzahn has them atop the national stats in total offense as well as scoring. They are also No. 5 passing thanks to Malzahn’s tutelage of senior QB David Johnson, who has thrown for 3,133 yards and 34 TDs so far in just eight games. And just so you know those numbers are not a one-year fluke, Tulsa had the nation’s No. 1 offense last year, too, when it averaged 543.9 yards per game.

4. Stan Parrish, Ball State – If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Parrish spent six years on Lloyd Carr’s staff at Michigan, including the Wolverines’ half-national championship season in 1997. Parrish also served two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including the year the Bucs won the Super Bowl, and he is now offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ball State. Before you laugh, understand that the Cardinals have one of the most potent offenses in the county, currently ranking 17th in scoring and 14th overall thanks mostly to the performance of quarterback Nate Davis. Parrish, who is an Ohio native, obviously knows a thing or two about coaching mobile quarterbacks.

5. Chuck Long, San Diego State – Maybe a long shot but my personal favorite, Long is about to wash out as head coach of the Aztecs. Just because he failed his first test as a head coach, however, doesn’t mean he’s forgotten about running an offense. Before going to San Diego, Long was a miracle worker as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. If you don’t believe it, how other than a miracle do you explain Josh Heupel finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 2000 and Jason White winning it three years later? Long also has knowledge of the Big Ten as a record-setting quarterback at Iowa in the mid-1980s. You know how some guys are just meant to be coordinators instead of head coaches? I think Long is one of those guys and would look pretty good in scarlet and gray.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** All hail Goldy! After improving to 7-1 with last week’s win over Purdue, Minnesota is gunning for the biggest one-year turnaround in NCAA history. The record currently belongs to Hawaii, which finished 0-12 in 1998 before improving to 9-4 in 1999, an 8½-game turnaround. The Gophers, who finished 1-11 last season, have home games against Northwestern and Michigan the next two weeks followed by a road trip to Wisconsin, Minnesota finishes the regular season Nov. 22 by hosting Iowa, the team’s final game in the Metrodome before moving to the on-campus TCF Bank Stadium in 2009.

** No. 12 TCU is having another excellent season, and at 8-1 retains an outside shot at one of the at-large bids in the Bowl Championship Series. How have the Horned Frogs managed to do so well? Averaging 35.8 points per game offensively doesn’t hurt. But TCU is also pretty strong on defense, ranking No. 2 nationally in scoring defense at 10.4 points per game. The Frogs are especially tough in the latter stages of a game. In nine games so far, they have not allowed a single fourth-quarter point, outscoring their opponents 78-0 in the final period.

** In last week’s 34-7 victory over SMU, Navy ran 77 offensive plays and not a single one of them was a pass. It marked the first time in 11 years that a major college team played an entire game without attempting a single pass. On the final stat sheet, the rushing totals showed 404 for the Middies, minus-13 for the Mustangs.

** During his team’s 58-0 blowout over Colorado last weekend, Missouri tight end Chase Coffman had seven receptions for 50 yards and broke the Division I-A record for career catches by a tight end. Coffman now has 220 receptions for his career, good for 2,416 yards and 25 touchdowns. The previous record-holder for I-A tight ends was Ibn Green of Louisville, who had 217 catches for the Cardinals from 1996-99.

** That shutout was Colorado’s first since a 7-0 loss to Nebraska in November 1988. It ended a streak of 243 games without being blanked, the third-longest in the nation. The Buffaloes drove to the 9-yard line late in the game, but Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel put his starters back in the contest to preserve the shutout. It was Mizzou’s first shutout of a Big 12 opponent since a 48-0 win over Kansas in November 1986.

** Scholarships may suddenly become scarce for kicking specialists. Texas Tech walk-on Matt Williams was 9 for 9 on PATs last week during his team’s 63-21 win over Kansas. Believe it or not, Williams won a halftime kicking contest last month and one of his prizes was a tryout for the team.

** Our weekly update of the undefeated teams at Division I-A finds the number dwindling to just eight: Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, Penn State, Texas, Texas Tech, Tulsa and Utah. That number has to be pared by at least one on Saturday night when Texas Tech hosts Texas.

** I guess I put the kiss of death last week on another undefeated team. Just two days after mentioning that San Diego was the last remaining unbeaten at the Division I-AA level, the Toreros went out and got beat 30-29 by Jacksonville, a team that was just 4-3 heading into the game.

** If Texas, Alabama and Penn State all keep winning, the Nittany Lions will likely be the odd man out of the BCS National Championship Game. Of course, Joe Paterno is used to that kind of scenario. He has guided his team to perfect seasons four times – 1968, 1969, 1973 and 1994 – and never got a sniff of the national championship. The Nits finished second to Ohio State in ’68, second to Texas in ’69, fifth behind Notre Dame, OSU, Oklahoma and Alabama in ’73 and second to Nebraska in ’94.

** Alabama has played eight games so far this season. That computes to 480 minutes of football and the Crimson Tide have trailed their opponents for exactly 75 seconds.

** After losing an early-season contest on an extremely questionable celebration penalty, losing the services of all-purpose quarterback Jake Locker and getting head coach Tyrone Willingham fired, you would think things couldn’t get much worse for Washington. Think again. Freshman defensive tackle Senio Kelemete injured his left knee during warmups before last week’s game against Notre Dame.

** The University of Tulsa recently announced it will retire the jersey number of former All-America receiver Steve Largent. Because he was from a small school and only 5-11 and 187 pounds, Largent was a fourth-round draft choice in 1976 by Houston, who then shipped him to Seattle before he had ever played a game for the Oilers. Largent, of course, went on to become one of the productive receivers in NFL history, tallying 819 receptions for 13,089 yards and 101 touchdowns. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995, and the Seahawks retired Largent’s No. 80 in 1992.

** Thirty-seven years ago today, Michigan State halfback Eric “The Flea” Allen established a new NCAA single-game rushing record. During his team’s 43-10 victory at Purdue on Oct. 30, 1971, Allen exploded for 350 yards. That broke the old mark held by Ron Johnson of Michigan, who rushed for 347 yards during a 34-9 win over Wisconsin in 1968. Allen’s record has been eclipsed several times since, but still ranks second in the Big Ten. Indiana tailback Anthony Thompson ran 52 times for 377 yards in a 45-17 win at Wisconsin in 1989.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 28, 1939, Nebraska spoiled Kansas State’s homecoming with a 25-9 triumph in the second college football game ever televised; on Oct. 29, 1955, future Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung led Notre Dame to a 21-7 upset of No. 4 Navy before a record South Bend crowd on Knute Rockne Memorial Day; and on Nov. 1, 1926, the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach was born. John Gagliardi, currently in his 59th season of coaching, has 458 career victories, most of them with the Division III St. John’s (Minn.) Johnnies.

** This week in college football history also has special significance for Ohio State fans. On Nov. 2, 1974, legendary head coach Woody Hayes marked his 200th career victory when the Buckeyes beat Illinois by a 49-7 score. In that game, tailback Archie Griffin rushed for 144 yards and set a new NCAA record with 18 consecutive games of 100 yards or more. Hayes would go on to win 238 games in his career while Griffin would stretch his consecutive streak of 100 yards or more to 31 straight games, a college football record that still stands.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Ohio State may be taking the week off but the college football season marches on as does the forecast. Last week, we posted a decent 7-3 record but all three losses came inside the conference we’re supposed to know the most about. While we were mildly surprised at Penn State’s win over Ohio State, there was no way we saw Wisconsin knocking off Illinois or Indiana rising up to beat Northwestern. We are now 58-19 for the season straight up.

Against the spread, we have hit a midseason slump. After going 4-6 two weeks ago, we were just breakeven at 5-5 last week. That makes the season ATS ledger at 43-33 but we’re clearly looking for a new strategy to get us out of the doldrums.

Here is what’s on this week’s menu.

TONIGHT’S GAMES

No. 24 South Florida at Cincinnati: If you think the Big Ten gets its share of heat from the national media, what about the Big East. Of course, I guess any BCS conference with just one ranked team – and barely ranked at that – deserves what it gets. Each team heads into this short-week game off a loss and neither team performed very well on offense last Saturday. The talent slightly favors the Bulls but the Bearcats are awfully hard to beat at Nippert Stadium. I’ll flip a coin … South Florida 23, Cincinnati 20. (7:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Northwestern at No. 20 Minnesota: After last week, we’ll dip our toe lightly in the Big Ten. The Wildcats are going to have to make due without tailback Tyrell Sutton, who is out for the rest of the season with a wrist injury. QB C.J. Bachér was bothered by a gimpy hamstring last week, and his backup Mike Kafka didn’t exactly distinguish himself in relief. Put that against the Gophers, who are gaining more and more confidence with each passing week as well as looking to go 8-1 for the first time since 1960 … Minnesota 27, Northwestern 20. (12 noon EDT, ESPN2)

Michigan at Purdue: To say the 2008 season has not gone the way either Rich Rodriguez or Joe Tiller envisioned would be the understatement of the year. The Wolverines are simply devoid of playmakers on offense while the Boilermakers have apparently thrown in the towel on Uncle Joe’s final season, losing five in a row and averaging a scant 12.4 points per game during that span. I am tempted to pick Purdue here mostly because it’s difficult to go winless in the Big Ten (no matter how poorly you perform) and the Boilermakers have done it only once since 1946. But I’ve seen both of these teams play and it seems as bad as they are, U-M is still trying … Michigan 17, Purdue 16. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)

Pittsburgh at Notre Dame: I look at the five wins by the Irish so far and I see victories of teams that are a combined 9-30. I look at five wins by the Panthers so far and I see victories over teams that are a combined 22-18. Notre Dame is undefeated at home so far but Pitt has yet to lose in three road games, including a big 26-21 triumph at South Florida. I’m not sure either of these teams is ready to contend for a national championship, but it sure looks to me like the Panthers are a little more battle-tested at this point … Pittsburgh 27, Notre Dame 23. (2:30 p.m. EDT, NBC)

Arkansas State at No. 2 Alabama: Before you laugh this one off in the Tide’s favor, understand that the Red Wolves are one of those teams that backs down from no one. Last year, they pretty much outplayed Texas before finally bowing in a 21-13 decision. Also, Bama has suffered November swoons the past couple of seasons and it has a huge game coming next week when Nick Saban returns to LSU for the first time since his abrupt resignation four years ago. Think about those things when you place your bets … Alabama 27, Arkansas State 14. (3 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 8 Georgia vs. No. 5 Florida: The winner of the World’s Largest Cocktail Party stays in the mix for a possible national title game berth while the loser will be lucky to remain in the running for a BCS at-large berth. These two teams really don’t like one another, especially after the Bulldogs’ wild end zone celebration early in last year’s 42-30 win. The Gators have circled this game in red ever since, and seem to be on the rise after scoring 114 points in their last two games. Oh, yeah … they’ve also won 15 of the last 18 meetings in the series … Florida 27, Georgia 17. (3:30 p.m. EDT, CBS)

North Texas at Western Kentucky: What if they held a college football game and no one cared? About the only news being generated from this stinker is that North Texas had 15 players fail a recent test for illegal drugs. Obviously they weren’t performance-enhancers since the Mean Green ranks dead last in the country in point differential, getting outscored by an average of 33.1 points per game. The Hilltoppers aren’t much better but at least they have a couple of victories and are playing at home … Western Kentucky 29, North Texas 12. (4:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)

Washington at No. 7 USC: Fact: The Trojans are 23-0 under Pete Carroll in November. Fact: Since losing to Oregon State, USC has outscored four conference opponents by a 158-20 margin. Fact: The Huskies are 0-7 for the first time since 1969. Fact: U-Dub ranks 115th nationally in scoring defense and 117th in scoring offense. Fact: The Trojans rank No. 14 nationally in scoring offense and No. 1 in scoring defense. Fact: This is going to end badly for anyone wearing purple … USC 52, Washington 7. (6:30 p.m., FSN Regional)

Nebraska at No. 4 Oklahoma: Not only will you get to see how far the Cornhuskers have come under first-year head coach Bo Pelini, you will also get to see how much farther they need to go in order to compete with the likes of Oklahoma. The Sooners are one of the most potent offensive teams in college football, and it will be difficult for Nebraska to outscore them. Still, NU has made steady improvement this season and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them hang in and make the game a lot closer than most people think … Oklahoma 37, Nebraska 28. (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

No. 1 Texas at No. 6 Texas Tech: It is amusing to see all of the national media types crying about having to go to Lubbock for this week’s marquee game. As anyone who has lived in Texas can tell you, there is no good way to get to Buddy Holly’s hometown unless you get in the car and drive. That said, the Red Raiders will host what could be described as one of their biggest games ever. They can throw the ball like almost no other team in college football can, but when push comes to shove, I just don’t think they’ll have enough to outscore the Longhorns … Texas 45, Texas Tech 35. (8 p.m. EDT, ABC)

No. 10 Utah at New Mexico: What do I know about the Lobos? Other than having a losing record and being 2½ games behind the Utes in the Mountain West standings, I know that they have been a thorn in Utah’s side from time to time. The fact of the matter is that New Mexico has won five of the last eight games in this series, and for the Utes to continue to harbor hopes of a BCS-busting berth, they cannot afford to look ahead to next Thursday’s showdown with TCU. If they do, the Lobos may be able to stick around for a while … Utah 28, New Mexico 17. (9:30 p.m. EDT, The Mtn.)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: South Florida (-2½) at Cincinnati; Northwestern at Minnesota (-5½); Michigan (+3) at Purdue; Pittsburgh (+5½) at Notre Dame; Arkansas State (+24½) at Alabama; Georgia vs. Florida (-5½); North Texas at Western Kentucky (-16½); Washington at USC (-39); Nebraska (+21½) at Oklahoma; Texas (-5) and Texas Tech; Utah (-7½) at New Mexico.

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

Other Teams Besides Ohio State Relying On Freshmen

While Ohio State fans continue to debate the merits of keeping freshman Terrelle Pryor as the one and only playing quarterback on the team, there are other coaches throughout the nation who have decided to make dazzling freshmen the focal parts of their teams.

That includes Boise State, the only other ranked team with a freshman at quarterback. Kellen Moore threw for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week as the Broncos went on the road for a 33-16 victory at San Jose State. Through seven games, Moore has completed 149 of 210 passes (71.0 percent) for 1,835 yards and 15 touchdowns against only four picks.

Additionally, his pass efficiency rating of 164.1 puts Moore seventh in the country in that category. He trails only David Johnson of Tulsa, Colt McCoy of Texas, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Zac Robinson of Oklahoma State, Chase Daniel of Missouri and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech.

Drawing comparisons between Moore’s production to that of Pryor is a bit unfair. After all, Moore operates a wide-open style of offense under Boise State head coach Chris Peterson while the suspicion remains that OSU’s Jim Tressel has been reluctant to open his playbook for Pryor. Nevertheless, if you would like to compare stats, Pryor has completed 75 of his 115 attempts (65.2 percent) for 879 yards and six touchdowns vs. three interceptions.

Pryor has a big edge over Moore in the rushing department. The Ohio State freshman has carried 97 times for 417 yards and scored five times. Moore has 28 carries for a net of minus-12 yards and no touchdowns.

Another outstanding first-year player is Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who had a breakout game against USC. Rodgers rushed for a season-high 186 yards during his team’s 27-21 stunner over the Trojans back on Sept. 25. Rodgers hasn’t been just a one-trick pony, though. He has rushed for 812 yards and nine TDs so far and is also a pass-catching threat with 19 catches for 176 yards.

Perhaps the most unheralded freshman in Georgia receiver A.J. Green. He has already had a couple of 100-yard games for the Bulldogs, and has totals of 39 catches for 662 yards and five touchdowns. His average of 17.0 yards per catch is pretty nice, too.

There are also a couple of standout freshmen on defense. Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis had 15 tackles and two interceptions last week in the Sooners’ 58-35 win over Kansas State, and he now leads his team with 84 tackles through eight games. Meanwhile, defensive back Sean Baker is starring for unbeaten Ball State. He leads the 8-0 Cardinals in both tackles (64) and interceptions (4).

Slightly off the radar is Louisville running back Vic Anderson. Although the Cardinals are much better known for their passing game, Anderson has jumped into the starting lineup as a freshman and responded by averaging 103.9 yards in his first seven games. He has also scored six touchdowns.

As for a freshman who is not currently a starter but will be soon: Alabama running back Mark Ingram. He was part of Nick Saban’s killer recruiting class earlier this year and has rushed for 420 yards and six TDs so far as backup to Tide starter Glen Coffee. Best of all, Ingram is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

And then there is perhaps the best freshman you’ve never heard of. That would be receiver/kick returner T.Y. Hilton of Florida International, and he is, in a word, explosive. He is averaging 28.4 yards on 17 receptions, 17.8 yards on 11 punt returns and 24.7 yards on 22 kickoff returns. Hilton has also scored one touchdown for every 10 times he has touched the ball so far this season.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to All-American offensive tackle Dave Foley. Born Oct. 28, 1947, in Cincinnati, David Edward Foley was a three-year starter at Ohio State between 1966-68. He played right tackle in 1966 and ’67, then moved to left tackle in ’68 and earned All-America honors. Foley was also team co-captain that year as the Buckeyes captured the national championship. He finished his college career as a three-time Academic All-American – the only player in OSU history to achieve that feat – and then became a first-round selection in the 1969 NFL draft by New York Jets. After two seasons with the Jets, Foley was traded to Buffalo where he played until 1977. In 1973, Foley was part of the Bills’ offensive line that helped O.J. Simpson become the first NFL rusher to gain 2,000 yards in a single season. Foley earned his only All-Pro selection that season. After 110 games, including 68 starts, Foley retired from pro football after the 1977 season. He returned to Ohio and settled in Springfield, where he is currently owner of the Foley Benefits Group LLC. Earlier this season, Foley returned to Columbus and was honorary captain for the Buckeyes when they played Ohio.

Also celebrating birthdays this 28th day of October: Southern rock and country music legend Charlie Daniels is 72; all-time winningest NBA coach Lenny Wilkens is 71; TV actor Dennis Franz is 64 (he was Andy Sipowicz on “NYPD Blue”); Olympic decathlon gold medalist turned reality TV star Bruce Jenner is 59; Microsoft founder and gazillionaire Bill Gates is 53; Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is 52; professional poker player Scotty Nguyen is 46; comic actor Andy Richter is 42; Oscar-winning actress Julia Roberts is 41; former NFL running back Terrell Davis is 36; country singer Brad Paisley is 36; actor Joaquin Phoenix is 34; St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Braden Looper is 34; and American Idol season one runner-up Justin Guarini is 30.

AND FINALLY

** Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said a replay official mistakenly awarded Michigan a touchdown during its game against Michigan State on Saturday. “The people in the replay booth made a mistake,” Delany said at the conference’s basketball media day Sunday. “It wasn’t a mistake of judgment, it was a mistake of an application of the rule. They applied the wrong rule and they applied it improperly.” Delany said the decision was “not acceptable” and added discipline could follow. Could follow? How about will follow. How many more blown calls are going to cost teams before the Big Ten does something about its shoddy officiating? It is long past time the conference replaced officials who can’t seem to get calls correct even with the benefit of replay.

** Tyrone Willingham is out as head coach at Washington. There seems to be some question, however, as to whether he resigned or was fired. Seeing that U-Dub will give Willingham a $1 million buyout on contract, I don’t see how that can be classified as a resignation.

** One of the names that quickly popped up on Washington’s wish list was Mike Leach of Texas Tech. The rumor is that Leach would be interested. I doubt that Leach’s personality would be a good fit in laid-back Seattle but you never know. Leach’s sometimes nuclear disposition certainly would be a 180-degree turn from Willingham’s cool demeanor.

** The so-called Pickens Plan to wean the United States off its dependency on foreign oil seems to be working – at least for its creator. Longtime oil man T. Boone Pickens recently announced he will give $63 million to his alma mater Oklahoma State. Pickens previously gave the university $165 million in January 2006. However, it may be awhile before the Cowboys get any more donations from their No. 1 benefactor. The current economic downturn as cost Pickens’ energy hedge fund an estimated $282 million since July.

** In honor of the World Series, did you know that 24 members of the Hall of Fame who played at least five years after 1902 never appeared in the Fall Classic? That list includes such immortals as George Sisler, Nap Lajoie and Willie Keeler as well as more contemporary stars as Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Jim Bunning, Ferguson Jenkins and Phil Niekro.

** One more World Series tidbit: Yogi Berra still owns series records for games played (75), at bats (259), hits (71), singles (49) and doubles (10). Berra appeared in 14 Series with New York between 1947 and 1963 and owns an astounding 10 championship rings.

** In honor of Yogi, remember one of his famous sayings: “You can observe a lot by watching.”

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