OSU Risking A Lot By Having Miller Run So Much

Two games into the 2012 season and a fine line seems to have emerged between what could be a dream season for the Ohio State football team and a nightmare.

After only 120 minutes of football, we have discovered pretty much what we already knew – that Braxton Miller is a tremendously gifted athlete asked to play quarterback for the Buckeyes. His transformation into a quarterback who is asked to make athletic plays remains a work in progress, but no one could argue with the results so far.

Miller has accounted for roughly 70 percent of his team’s total offense by running for 302 yards and throwing for 362 more. That puts him No. 14 nationally in total offense, and No. 4 in the nation in rushing. At his present pace, Miller would finish the season with 1,812 yards on the ground. To put that into perspective, Eddie George set the school’s single-season record of 1,927 yards in 1995.

Add to Miller’s rushing pace another 2,172 yards through the air, and he would have numbers that don’t just whisper Heisman Trophy, they would scream it.

Before we make our reservations for New York City, however, understand how ridiculously difficult it will be for Miller to maintain his current pace.

Two years ago, Denard Robinson got off to a spectacular start during his sophomore season at Michigan. After only two games, the Wolverines were 2-0 and Robinson was the nation’s leading rusher, averaging an eye-popping 227.5 yards per game.

By week nine of the season, U-M was in the middle of a three-game losing streak, Robinson’s rushing average had plummeted by more than 60 yards per game, and the vultures were hovering over Rich Rodriguez.

When that 2010 season came to a close, Robinson still managed to finish fourth in the nation with an average of 130.9 yards rushing per game, but 245 regular-season carries rendered him a shadow of his former self down the stretch. During his team’s 52-14 loss to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl – the program’s worst bowl loss ever – Robinson threw for 254 yards but ran for a season-low 59 on only 11 carries.

Despite piling up 1,702 yards and scoring 14 TDs on the ground, and adding 2,570 yards and 18 scores through the air, Robinson finished a distant sixth in the 2010 Heisman Trophy voting. Worse yet, his team wound up with a 7-6 record and his head coach got fired.

During the first two games of his sophomore season, Robinson carried the ball 57 times and threw it 62. Through the first two games of this season, Miller has carried a team-high 44 times and has attempted 49 passes. But comparing the two quarterbacks is almost a study in contrasts because their running styles are polar opposites.

Defenders rarely get clean shots on the 6-0, 197-pound Robinson, who darts and dances his way through traffic, often bouncing off defenders like a pinball. Meanwhile, Miller showcases more of a classic, upright running style, a style that is often more prone to punishment.

Robinson has proved remarkably durable since taking over the full-time starting duties at Michigan. Through Sept. 8, he had 576 career rushes with 631 pass attempts in 40 games with the Wolverines. That’s a lot of punishment over the past three-plus seasons, but Robinson appears no worse for the wear. He ran for 218 yards and two TDs and threw for 208 yards and two other scores during Michigan’s 31-25 win over Air Force in Ann Arbor on Sept. 8.

But Miller does not have Robinson’s track record for durability. The OSU sophomore missed several games during his high school career, and he was knocked out of last year’s game at Nebraska with a sprained ankle. As if any Buckeye fan has to be reminded, Ohio State held a 27-6 advantage early in the third quarter of that game, Miller went out a short time later and the Buckeyes wound up on the losing end of a 34-27 decision.

Miller returned the following week against Illinois but was severely limited. The Buckeyes somehow won that game by a 17-7 final, but Miller rushed for 34 yards, completed just 1 of 4 pass attempts for 17 yards and was sacked four times. Had the defense not forced three Fighting Illini turnovers, that game would likely have turned out differently.

The 6-2 Miller has bulked up this season to 220 pounds after being generously listed at 210 last year, but every time he runs the ball invites one more possibility that some defender will deliver a shot from which he will not instantly recover. Remember all of the various bumps and bruises that Terrelle Pryor sustained during the course of a season, and he was 6-6 and 233 pounds.

The point is this: Virtually every football team is only as good as its starting quarterback, and you only have to look at Miller’s performance during the first two games of this season to know that statement is true.

To be quite frank, with the exception of its quarterback, Ohio State cannot claim it is a very good football team right now. It has not played up to the level of nearly anyone’s expectations on the offensive or defensive lines, at linebacker or in the secondary. Miller is head and shoulders the most efficient playmaker on the team, and that is why the ball has been in his hands so often these first two games.

But the kid needs some help, and if he doesn’t start getting it and quickly, this season could devolve into what happened last year – a promising start followed by a dishearteningly dismal finish.

OSU-CALIFORNIA TIDBITS

** Ohio State and California have met six times previously but not since a 35-18 victory by the Buckeyes in Berkeley in 1972. OSU holds a 5-1 advantage in the series with the Golden Bears’ lone victory coming in the 1921 Rose Bowl. That marked the Buckeyes’ first-ever trip to Pasadena, and they came home 28-0 losers.

** Following last week’s 31-16 win over Central Florida, Ohio State looks to go 3-0 for only the second time since 2007. The only time during the past four seasons when the Buckeyes started a season with three straight victories was 2010. They won their first six in a row that year before a 31-18 loss at Wisconsin in week seven.

** Twenty-two of the 24 head coaches in Ohio State football history have won their debut game with the Buckeyes, and Urban Meyer last week joined 13 others who have won their first two games. The number of coaches who have won their first three games at OSU dwindles, however, to only five – Perry Hale (1902), E.R. Sweetland (1904), Howard Jones (1910), Carroll Widdoes (1944) and Earle Bruce (1979).

** Cal is led by head coach Jeff Tedford, now in his 11th season in Berkeley. Tedford is the most successful coach in program history with an 80-49 record, including a conference co-championship in 2006. The Bears have gone to eight bowl games during Tedford’s tenure.

** Meyer is 1-0 lifetime against Cal and 3-0 for his career against current members of the Pac-12. His Utah team defeated Tedford’s Bears by a 31-24 final in the third game of the 2003 season. Meyer claimed his other two wins over Pac-12 schools during his tenure with the Utes – a 17-13 decision over Oregon in 2003 and a 23-6 victory at Arizona in 2004.

** Tedford is a perfect 6-0 lifetime against current members of the Big Ten. That unblemished record includes two victories each over Michigan State (2002 and 2008), Illinois (2003 and 2005) and Minnesota (2006 and 2009).

** The Buckeyes are 56-26-2 all-time against current members of the Pac-12. In addition to being 5-1 against the Bears, Ohio State is 9-13-1 vs. USC; 8-0 against Oregon and Washington State; 8-3 vs. Washington; 4-1 against Colorado; 4-4-1 against UCLA; 3-1 against Arizona; 2-0 vs. Arizona State and Oregon State; 1-0 against Utah; and 2-3 vs. Stanford.

** Ohio State has won seven of its last 10 games against Pac-12 competition. That includes a 26-17 win over Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl.

** Cal is 22-34 all-time against current members of the Big Ten. In addition to their 1-5 mark against OSU, the Bears are 5-1 against Wisconsin; 4-2 vs. Minnesota; 3-7 vs. Illinois; 2-0 against Indiana; 2-2 vs. Michigan State; 2-6 against Michigan; 1-1 vs. Purdue; 1-3 against Iowa and Penn State; 0-1 vs. Northwestern; and 0-3 against Nebraska.

** Ohio State is currently ranked 12th in the Associated Press writers’ poll. The Buckeyes have been ranked by the AP more times – 791 weeks now – than any other team in the nation. OSU has also appeared in the AP poll for 45 consecutive seasons, tying Alabama for the longest active streak.

** The Buckeyes currently have a 63-game home winning streak against unranked nonconference opponents. You have to go all the way back to a 34-17 loss to Florida State in 1982 to find the last unranked nonconference team to beat the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe.

** Cal is 13-20 against ranked opponents during the Tedford era, but that record includes six straight losses. The team’s most recent victory over a ranked team was a 34-28 decision over No. 14 Stanford in November 2009. The Bears haven’t beaten a ranked nonconference opponent since a 45-31 win over No. 15 Tennessee in the 2007 season opener.

** OSU quarterback Braxton Miller’s 141 rushing yards against Central Florida gave him five career 100-yard games. That broke a tie with Cornelius Greene (1973-76) for the most recognized 100-yard games by an Ohio State quarterback. Terrelle Pryor (2008-10) had seven 100-yard rushing games during his career, but the four he had during the vacated 2010 season have been dropped from the school’s official record book.

** Miller’s rushing total also pushed his career total to 1,017, making him the 54th player in Ohio State history to crack the 1,000-yard mark.

** In addition to his career marks, Miller became only the third Ohio State quarterback ever to register back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts. John Mummey totaled 100 yards against Indiana and 116 vs. Oregon in successive weeks in 1961, a feat equaled in 2010 by Pryor who had identical 104-yard games against Eastern Michigan and Illinois.

** Miller’s career-high 27 carries vs. UCF is also believed to have established a new single-game mark for most carries by an Ohio State quarterback. According to a university spokesman, the old record was 25 set by Greene during a 49-7 win over Illinois in 1974.

** Keeping with the Miller theme we have going, the QB’s three rushing touchdowns were the most by any Buckeye since Chris “Beanie’ Wells had three in a 38-17 win over Wisconsin in 2007. The three TDs on the ground also represented the first time an Ohio State quarterback had carried the pigskin into the end zone three times in a single game since Art Schlichter did it as a freshman during a 45-7 win over Illinois in 1978.

** OSU senior cornerback Travis Howard has three interceptions in the first two games this season, putting him on pace to break the school’s longstanding record for most picks in one year. Mike Sensibaugh set the record with nine in 1969, a mark equaled in 1974 by Craig Cassady.

** Ohio State punter Ben Buchanan has been called upon nine times so far this season, and only one of his kicks has been returned. That went for 7 yards. This week, Cal features junior speedster Keenan Allen, who currently ranks fourth in the nation in punt return average at 22.2 yards on six attempts. Allen ran a punt back 69 yards for a touchdown last week in the Bears’ 50-31 win over Southern Utah.

** Allen’s punt return wasn’t the only long scoring play for the Bears last week. Senior cornerback Marc Anthony returned an interception 61 yards for a score, and redshirt freshman running back Daniel Lasco had a 77-yard touchdown run. That was the longest run by a Cal player since Jahvid Best broke off a 93-yarder at UCLA in 2009.

** With the 12 noon Eastern kickoff, the Bears will be playing at 9 a.m. Pacific time. During Tedford’s tenure, Cal has played six road games in other time zones that have started before noon PT and has a 5-1 record in those contests. The Bears won four straight early-morning starts under Tedford with victories at Michigan State (2002), Illinois (2003), Air Force (2004) and Colorado State (2007) before losing at Maryland in 2008. The most recent early-morning game was in 2009 when Cal claimed a 35-21 win at Minnesota.

** The Golden Bears have no native-born Ohioans on their roster, but do have a couple of connections to Cleveland professional teams. Freshman QB Joey Mahalic spent five seasons as a pitcher in the Cleveland Indians organization before returning to football, and wide receivers coach Wes Chandler as an assistant on Romeo Crennel’s Cleveland Browns staff in 2007 and ’08.

** Further proof there is a new sheriff in town: The Buckeyes have averaged 80.5 offensive plays during their first two games this season. Over the previous five seasons, OSU averaged 65.1 plays per game.

** Ohio State will recognize the 70th anniversary of the school’s first-ever national championship season during tomorrow’s game. Four members of the 1942 Buckeyes are scheduled to be in attendance – ends Don Steinberg and Paul Matus, guard Carmen Naples and QB Paul “Robin” Priday.

** The 12 newest members of the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame will also be recognized at the game. Members of the class, due to be enshrined tonight at the Ohio Union, are football players Pete Cusick, Joe Gailus, Ray Griffin, Dick Schafrath and Mike Vrabel, women’s basketball player Jessica Davenport, wrestlers Rex Holman and George Downes, track star Keturah Lofton, fencer Louise Bond-Williams and women’s volleyball coach Jim Stone. Former OSU basketball player and ex-Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight will also receive a lifetime achievement award.

** ABC will telecast the game to a nationwide audience with Sean McDonough handling the play-by-play, former Ohio State All-America linebacker Chris Spielman providing color analysis and Quint Kessenich reporting from the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** The game will also be telecast on Sirius and XM channels 91.

** Next week, Ohio State stays home to host Conference USA rival UAB, which will be making its first-ever trip to the Horseshoe. The game will be telecast on the Big Ten Network with a kickoff time of 12 noon Eastern.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Sept. 14, 1991, San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk set an NCAA single-game record for freshmen by rushing for seven touchdowns during his team’s 55-34 win over Pacific.

** Also on Sept. 14, 1991, Texas A&M freshman tailback Greg Hill ran for 212 yards and two touchdowns as the Aggies rolled to a 45-7 victory over LSU in College Station. Hill’s yardage total marked the best debut performance by a freshman in college football history.

** Also on Sept. 14, 1991, Central Michigan pulled off a 20-3 upset of 19th-ranked Michigan State in the first-ever meeting between the intrastate rivals. Tailback Billy Smith rushed 40 times for 162 yards for the Chippewas while quarterback Jeff Bender put the game away with a 57-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ken Ealy in the third quarter.

** On Sept. 15, 1973, Ohio State tailback Archie Griffin began his NCAA record streak of 31 consecutive games of rushing for 100 yards or more. Griffin had 129 yards as the Buckeyes rolled to a 56-7 victory over Minnesota in Ohio Stadium.

** Also on Sept. 15, 1973, Oklahoma gave head coach Barry Switzer a win in his first game with the Sooners, a 42-14 victory over Baylor in Waco. Switzer would go to post a 157-29-4 record with three national championships and 12 Big Eight titles in 16 seasons with OU.

** On Sept. 16, 1989, top-ranked Notre Dame squeezed out a 24-19 win over No. 2 Michigan in Ann Arbor. Fighting Irish speedster Rocket Ismail returned kickoffs 88 and 92 yards for touchdowns to lead his team to victory. Ismail remains the only player in college football history to twice in his career return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game.

** On Sept. 17, 1966, Joe Paterno made his debut as head coach at Penn State and led the Nittany Lions to a 15-7 victory over Maryland in Happy Valley. The Terrapins, coached by Lou Saban, made a last-ditch effort to ruin Paterno’s debut but backup quarterback Phil Petry threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter. That victory was the first of Paterno’s Football Bowl Subdivision record 409 (111 of which were vacated by NCAA sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal).

** On Sept. 17, 1988, No. 10 Florida State got a pair of outstanding special teams plays to score a 24-21 upset at third-ranked Clemson. FSU’s Deion Sanders returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and then cornerback LeRoy Butler took a fake punt 76 yards to set up Richie Andrews’ game-winning 19-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining.

** On Sept. 18, 1965, UTEP quarterback Billy Stevens established a new NCAA record for most total yards gained in a debut game with 483 yards in a 61-15 rout of North Texas. In that game, Chuck Hughes of UTEP also set an NCAA record when he caught 10 passes for 349 yards. His 34.9 yards-per-catch average is the best single-game average in NCAA history for players with at least 10 catches.

** On Sept. 19, 1952, Duke took a 20-7 win over South Carolina in the inaugural game of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

** On Sept. 20, 1986, unranked Miami (Ohio) stunned eighth-ranked LSU, 21-12, in Baton Rouge. The Tigers committed seven turnovers in the game and had a punt blocked as Miami pushed its all-time record against SEC teams to an impressive 8-0-1.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** It’s never too early to begin charting the remaining unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. There are only 46 of them left after just two weeks. The alphabetical list: Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, BYU, Cincinnati, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa State, Kansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech, Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Oregon, Oregon State, Rutgers, South Carolina, South Florida, Stanford, TCU, Tennessee, Texas, Texas Tech, UCLA, USC, Utah State, UTSA, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and West Virginia.

** TCU kicked off its 2012 season with a 56-0 victory over GramblingState and pushed the nation’s longest winning streak to nine games. On the flip side of the coin, Tulane extended the nation’s longest losing streak to 12 games with a 45-10 loss to Tulsa.

** It was a rough week for longtime denizens of the Associated Press writers’ poll. No. 8 Arkansas, No. 13 Wisconsin, No. 16 Nebraska and No. 18 Oklahoma State each plummeted out of the top 25 following losses. Nebraska had a streak of 37 straight appearances in the AP rankings, Wisconsin had been ranked for 36 consecutive weeks and Arkansas had been on a 34-poll streak. Oklahoma State had been in the rankings for 29 straight weeks.

** Congratulations to Jim Mora Jr. for breathing a healthy dose of new life into the UCLA program. After racking up 645 total yards during a season-opening 49-24 win over Rice, the Bruins piled up 653 against Nebraska and knocked off the 16th-ranked Cornhuskers, 36-30. Those 653 yards were the most allowed by Nebraska to a single opponent since 1956.

** When Louisiana-Monroe overcame a 28-7 third-quarter deficit to score a 34-31 upset of No. 8 Arkansas, it broke the Warhawks’ lifetime oh-fer against ranked teams. Since moving up to Division I-A in 1994, Louisiana-Monroe had lost every one of its previous 25 games against ranked competition before going to Little Rock and knocking off the Razorbacks. Leading the upset: QB Kolton Browning, who completed 42 of 67 passes for 412 yards and three TDs.

** Talk about living a nightmare. Penn State kicker Sam Ficken had a PAT blocked and missed four field goals – included the potential game-winner as time expired – during a 17-16 loss at Virginia. The Nittany Lions are now 0-2 to start a season for the first time since 2001 and only the fifth time in the last 45 years.

** Two steps forward and a giant step back. Indiana moved to 2-0 for the season with a 45-6 rout of Massachusetts, but the win was a costly one. Starting QB Tre Roberson, who scored on first-quarter runs of 50 and 39 yards during the game, was lost for the season with a broken leg.

** Purdue quarterback Robert Marve tore the ACL in his left knee during the Boilermakers’ 20-17 loss to Notre Dame last weekend. Marve, who is playing a sixth year of college football this season because of an NCAA injury waiver, has now torn the same ACL three times. Marve’s career is likely over, but Purdue head coach Danny Hope said the quarterback intends to rest for a couple of weeks and then test the knee to see if he can play later this season.

** Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema might think about installing a revolving door at the Badgers’ practice facility. After a half-dozen assistants left the program during the offseason, Bielema dismissed new offensive line coach Mike Markuson on Monday. Markuson was the fall guy for the Badgers’ sluggish start, which has produced only two rushing touchdowns in the team’s first two games. Markuson’s replacement will be Bart Miller, a graduate assistant in his second year with the Badgers.

** When SMU senior defensive end Margus Hunt blocked a field goal in his team’s 52-0 win Saturday over Stephen F. Austin, it marked the ninth time in Hunt’s career that he had blocked a field goal. That is a new Division I-A record. The 6-8, 280-pound Hunt has also batted away six PATs during his career.

** How far Miami (Fla.) fallen? Last weekend’s 52-13 loss at Kansas State marked only the fifth time in the program’s 87-year history that the Hurricanes had allowed 50 points or more. It was also Miami’s worst loss since a 48-0 loss to Virginia in 2007. Since the beginning of the 2006 season, the once-mighty Hurricanes are a decidedly average 41-39.

** Remember the old coaching adage that says, “Offense gets the headlines but defense wins championships.” Houston proved that to be true last Saturday. The Cougars racked up 40 first downs and amassed 693 total yards – 580 of it through the air from quarterback David Piland – but still managed to lose a 56-49 decision to Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs had 38 first downs and 598 total yards of their own. Piland and his Tech counterpart Colby Cameron combined to throw 129 passes in the game.

** The Houston-Louisiana Tech game set new Division I-A records for most plays from scrimmage (209), most passes thrown with an interception (129), completions (87) and first downs (78).

** Officials at the Saturday evening mismatch between Florida State and Division I-AA Savannah State had the good sense to invoke a mercy rule of sorts. The carnage was limited to 55-0 after the Seminoles pulled their starters in the first half, and officials employed a running clock after halftime. The game was called after two weather delays with 8:59 remaining in the third quarter.

** My way-too-early-in-the-season Heisman Trophy ballot features West Virginia QB Geno Smith, USC quarterback Matt Barkley and UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin. Buzzing around the top three: Louisiana Monroe QB Kolton Browning, Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas and Ohio State QB Braxton Miller.

** It’s not only Division I-A teams that beat up on lower-division opponents. I-AA Wofford swamped Division II Lincoln (Pa.) last weekend by an 82-0 final although the Terriers did about all they could do to hold down the score. Wofford emptied its bench to the point where 17 different players carried the football.

FEARLESS FORECAST

After a fairly stellar opening week, the forecast suffered a choppy second week of the 2012 season. An inexplicable loss by former No. 8 Arkansas to unranked Louisiana-Monroe, and a mini-upset engineered by Arizona over No. 18 Oklahoma State gave us the first two straight-up losses of the season. But we’re still 18-2 in that category.

Against the spread, we slipped to 5-5 and the season record ATS is only barely above water at 11-9. We’ll try to do better this week.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 13 Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh: What looks like a game that should be a walkover for the Hokies could be a trap game. Tech rolled over I-AA Austin Peay last week, but struggled with an average Georgia Tech team in the season opener before taking a 20-17 win in overtime. Not that the Panthers are any great shakes. First-year head coach Paul Chryst’s tenure began with a home loss to I-AA Youngstown State and didn’t get any better with last week’s 34-10 loss at Cincinnati. These teams have some history when both played in the Big East, and Pitt usually had the upper hand. That included a 31-28 upset of the fifth-ranked Hokies in 2003, the last time these teams met. That should at least provide some incentive for Tech, which has won a nation-best 13 straight road games … Virginia Tech 28, Pittsburgh 10. (12 noon ET, ESPNU, DirectTV 208)

No. 16 TCU at Kansas: The nomadic Horned Frogs take to the road for their first conference game as Big 12 members and find a Kansas team that has struggled in recent years to beat ranked opposition. TCU is on its fourth conference affiliation since 2000 – five if you count their brief courtship with the Big East – and have an impressive 77-13 record over the past seven seasons. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks are coming off a 25-24 home loss to Rice, a game in which they blew an eight-point lead with less than five minutes remaining. Charlie Weis has resurfaced as head coach at Kansas, which means the Jayhawks will have a potent passing attack sometime in the future. It’s just that the future isn’t going to help against the Frogs tomorrow. The Jayhawks have lost six in a row to ranked foes, getting outscored by an average of 31.5 points in those games … TCU 42, Kansas 14. (12 noon ET, FX, DirectTV 248)

Tennessee Tech at No. 4 Oregon: The Ducks have already scored 99 points in two games, so what can we expect from the Quack Attack against the I-AA Golden Eagles? Well, we could mention that the Ducks have a streak of 15 consecutive games in which they have scored at least 30 points. We could check the history books to see that the last time Tennessee Tech played a I-A opponent it resulted in a 62-7 loss to TCU. And we could mention that the Eagles are a lifetime 0-27 against Division I-A opponents. Suffice to say that lots of points will be scored. It just depends upon how many … Oregon 56, Tennessee Tech 14. (3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)

No. 1 Alabama at Arkansas: This was supposed to be an early-season marquee matchup of possible national championship contenders. That was until last week when the Razorbacks blew a 21-point lead to Louisiana-Monroe in an eventual 34-31 overtime loss. The defeat was even more costly for the Hogs, who lost senior QB Tyler Wilson to a head injury. Wilson, who was still suffering from concussion-like symptoms early this week, will be a game-time decision. But if he can’t go, the Razorbacks will try to get by with either freshman Brandon Allen or junior Brandon Mitchell, who also plays wide receiver. Arkansas will also be without starting cornerback Tevin Mitchel while fellow corner Kaelon Kelleybrew is less than 100 percent with an arm injury. You simply can’t play against a team the caliber of the Crimson Tide with that many injuries and expect a positive outcome … Alabama 42, Arkansas 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Massachusetts at No. 17 Michigan: After getting their ears boxed by Alabama in the season opener, and barely surviving last week’s game against Air Force, the Wolverines should get a bit of a breather against the Minutemen. UMass has jumped to the I-A level this season and has an 0-2 record to show for it. But it’s actually worst than that. The Minutemen can’t score. They were shut out 37-0 in their opener by Connecticut and then got run over last week by Indiana, 41-6. The Michigan defense will give up some yardage – 431 to Bama’s power offense and 417 last week to Air Force’s triple option. But if you can’t score, you can’t beat U-M and Denard Robinson … Michigan 42, Massachusetts 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN, DirectTV 610)

UAB at No. 8 South Carolina: The storyline here is not whether the Blazers can beat the Gamecocks. (They can, but they won’t.) Steve Spurrier needs one more victory for 200 in his college career, making him only the fourth current coach in Division I-A to reach that milestone. UAB has had an extra week of preparation for this game, but the Blazers probably ought to know that not only is Spurrier going for win No. 200, he is a perfect 45-0 against non-BCS conference foes during his career. The Blazers haven’t had a winning season since 2004 and they are a lowly 21-52 since the beginning of the ’06 season … South Carolina 37, UAB 10. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan/Fox Sports South, DirectTV 790)

No. 2 USC vs. No. 21 Stanford: These two played one of the most entertaining games in 2011, with Andrew Luck getting the better of Matt Barkley in a three-overtime affair that wound up a 56-48 win for the Cardinal in the LA Coliseum. Unfortunately for football fans – and Stanford – a repeat is highly unlikely since Luck has taken his high-level game to the NFL. Barkley is back for the Trojans, but he has never beaten Stanford in three previous tries. But the USC quarterback has perhaps the most potent receiving corps of his career, and the Cardinal ranks a lowly 99th nationally in pass defense. Plus, history is on the side of Barkley and the Trojans. Stanford has never won four in a row in the 107-year series. … USC 38, Stanford 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

Idaho at No. 3 LSU: Sooner or later, attrition is going to catch up with the Tigers. Before the season, they lost DB/KR Tyrann Mathieu and now starting left tackle Chris Faulk (knee) and star linebacker Tahj Boyd (academics) are out for the year. Fortunately for the Tigers, they likely could lose a half-dozen more players and still beat Idaho. The winless Vandals lost their opener to I-AA Eastern Washington before last week’s 21-13 loss at Bowling Green. About the only suspense will be whether the Tigers can cover the 42-point spread. We believe they can and they will … LSU 49, Idaho 0. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan, DirectTV 788)

No. 20 Notre Dame at No. 10 Michigan State: This should be an entertaining game although you shouldn’t expect a whole lot of points. The Spartans have yet to allow an offensive touchdown this season while the Fighting Irish put up pretty good defensive numbers against Navy’s triple option and Purdue’s pass-happy attack. Notre Dame features an above-average offense that is getting better with each passing week. Former starting QB Tommy Rees backs up sophomore Everett Golson and top running back Cierre Wood returns this week from suspension. MSU, of course, has running back Le’Veon Bell, who was a one-man army against Boise State in the opener and who scored two more touchdowns last week in a 41-7 rout of Central Michigan. But Sparty is going to need new starting QB Andrew Maxwell to play more like he did last week against CMU than he did during a three-interception performance vs. Boise. Notre Dame leads the overall series by a 46-28-1 margin, but the Spartans have won 10 of the last 15 including the last two in East Lansing … Michigan State 23, Notre Dame 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

California at No. 12 Ohio State: The Golden Bears would never be confused for one of the best teams in the Pac-12, but they are probably on par with UCF, a team the Buckeyes beat by 15 points last week despite making a ton of mistakes. Cal will enter the Horseshoe for the first time since 1971 to find an ever-evolving offense from the Buckeyes. Senior running back Jordan Hall makes his season debut while receiver Philly Brown is rumored to become more involved in the run game, trying to take some pressure off QB Braxton Miller. But let’s face facts: Miller is still going to be the focal point of the Buckeyes’ attack, and if that means running the ball 27 times and winning vs. running the ball five times and losing, look for the OSU staff to let their sophomore quarterback run. Defensively, the Buckeyes have to crank things up a notch, and the return of Nathan Williams will likely allow that to happen … Ohio State 38, Cal 13. (12 noon ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Virginia Tech (-9) at Pittsburgh; TCU (-20) at Kansas; Tennessee Tech at Oregon (NL); Alabama (-20½) at Arkansas; UMass (+46½) at Michigan; UAB (+33½) at South Carolina; USC (-8) at Stanford; Idaho at LSU(-42); Notre Dame at Michigan State (-6); Cal at Ohio State (-16).

Enjoy the games and we hope to see you again next week.

Back To The Graveyard, With A Twist

Most of you know about my ritual the week before the Ohio State-Michigan game.

I always swear this will be the year I don’t do it and somehow my car always seems to wind up driving past that simple two-story white house on Cardiff Road anyway. Then since it’s only a mile or so farther north, I head up Olentangy River Road to Union Cemetery.

Most years it’s cold and windy or spitting snow but this year was a little different. The ground was wet from intermittent rain all day, and there was a cool breeze blowing from the north, but all in all not bad for a mid-November evening in Columbus. So, I made my annual pilgrimage to Section 12, Lot 37, Space 4 and parked the car near one of the pine trees that shade a simple black granite marker.

I stood there, hands in my coat pockets, staring at the monument and listening to the wind as it rustled through what leaves remained on the nearby maple trees. I looked around at the darkening sky and waited … and waited … and waited.

I’d been there almost a half-hour and nothing. Maybe who or what I had seen before – or what I thought I had seen before – was a figment of my imagination. I looked around again and found no one in that cemetery but me. I shook my head, smiled and shrugged my shoulders.

Then as I was walking back to my car, I saw a figure walking along the roadway. But this wasn’t who I expected. It certainly wasn’t who I had come to see. This was an older gentleman, dressed in a full-length gray overcoat with the collar turned up. I could make out an old-style, pinstripe suit under the overcoat as he shuffled along with his head down. He looked small and frail but still walked at a brisk pace.

Despite the fact he wore a brown fedora, I could make out hollow cheeks, thin lips and horn-rimmed glasses perched upon a thin nose. He was older, probably in his mid- to late 70s, I guessed, and was probably taking an evening stroll perhaps to visit a loved one who had passed on.

“Good evening,” I said as we passed.

He stopped abruptly, straightened up and looked at me with squinted eyes. Then he looked past me at the gravesite I had been visiting.

“Great man,” he offered in a rather high-pitched, scratchy voice. “Never met him but I would have liked to. Are you a relative?”

I shook my head. “No, just a fan. I come here every year about this time.”

The old man’s eyes narrowed. “About this time? What’s so special about this time of year?”

“Oh, you know. It’s Ohio State-Michigan week.”

“Oh, yes,” the man replied. “I always seem to forget they moved the game to late November.”

I laughed. “Forgot they moved it to late November? They only did that in 1935.”

“Yes, well, we used to play them in late October. Of course, that was a long, long time ago.”

I’m a sucker for Ohio State football history, so by now I was getting more and more intrigued by the little old man. “Sounds like you know your Buckeyes,” I said.

“A little,” he said with a chuckle. “Not so much the past few years but I know a little bit about the early days. Ohio Field. Coach Wilce. Mr. St. John. Those were the days. I’d give anything just to be able to … If I could have just one more … Well, we played because we loved it.”

I did some quick addition in my head. Ohio Field was demolished 87 years ago. John W. Wilce resigned as head coach of the Buckeyes following the 1928 season. And Lynn St. John served as AD longer than any other man – but he has been dead since 1950. The little man in the overcoat I had originally pegged to be about 75 years old had to have been much older.

“How long has it been now?” he continued. “Ninety years? Yes, the year was 19-and-19. Ninety years ago this very year when we first beat Michigan. And, oh, let me tell you that was quite a game. Took the train up there to Ferry Field and thought we were ready and ol’ Pete fumbled the opening kickoff.”

“Ol’ Pete?” I asked.

“Pete Stinchcomb,” he said as his eyes began to twinkle. “Gaylord Roscoe Stinchcomb. Greatest guy you’d ever want to meet and a better teammate you could never hope to have.”

I leaned in closer toward the old man with a puzzled look on my face. Stinchcomb played for the Buckeyes in the early 1920s and died in 1974 at the age of 78. I started to ask how in the world he could have possibly known so much about Stinchcomb when he cleared his throat and said, “That’s what the old-timers always said about him anyway.”

“OK,” I said, that look of puzzlement still on my face. “You were talking about ol’ Pete fumbling the opening kickoff.”

“Oh, yeah. Well, we dodged that bullet and then blocked a punt at the end of the first quarter for a touchdown. Then I ran for … I mean we got another touchdown in the second half and I had … we had four interceptions and we wound up beating those guys 13-3. What a great feeling that was. Beating Michigan for the first time? Nothing quite like it. Well, I guess that kind of broke the spell so to speak. They weren’t so invincible after that. We beat ’em again the next couple of years and the rivalry has been pretty close ever since.”

“You sure know a lot about the early days,” I said. “What do you think about the rivalry today?”

“Anyone who has ever played in that game loves it. I know I still do. I don’t much care for the people who try to say that it doesn’t mean as much because Michigan hasn’t played very well the last couple of years. So what? You have to respect this rivalry because it’s the greatest one in all of sports. And just because we won last year doesn’t mean we’ll win this year. Every game is different, and winning this game means everything. Ask the senior players if you don’t believe me. They know it. The last thing you ever want to do is lose that game, especially if it’s the last one of your career. It’ll haunt you forever if you do. I can attest to that. Never, ever, take this game for granted.”

The wind began to pick up and he said slowly, “Well, I’d better be getting on my way. It’s been a nice little visit with you.”

He offered a cold, bony hand and I shook it.

“My name is Mark,” I said, “and it was a pleasure, Sir.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” he replied.

He started to walk away and I called out, “I’m sorry. I didn’t get your name.”

He turned and smiled. “It’s Charles,” he said, “but all my friends just call me Chic.”

OSU-MICHIGAN TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Michigan will buckle it up tomorrow for the 106th renewal of what is known simply as The Game. The teams first met in 1897 and have played every season since 1918. The Wolverines lead the overall series by a 57-42-6 margin, including a 30-19-4 advantage in Ann Arbor.

** The Buckeyes have won three of their last four trips to Michigan Stadium. They haven’t enjoyed that kind of streak in Ann Arbor since winning four of five between 1973 and ’81.

** Ohio State has won seven of the last eight games in the series for the first time ever. The Buckeyes are also gunning for an unprecedented sixth straight victory over Michigan.

** Since 1925, the overall series is dead even at 41-41-3.

** OSU head coach Jim Tressel is currently 7-1 against Michigan, and he is one of only four Ohio State head coaches in history with a winning record against the Wolverines. The others: Woody Hayes (1951-78) at 16-11-1, Earle Bruce (1979-87) at 5-4 and Francis A. Schmidt (1934-40) at 4-3. Hayes, Bruce and Schmidt are all members of the College Football Hall of Fame.

** Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez is experiencing his second game in the rivalry. Last year, Rodriguez became the first U-M head coach to lose his first game against Ohio State since Harry Kipke’s team dropped a 7-0 decision to the Buckeyes in 1929. No Michigan head coach has ever lost his first two games in the series against Ohio State.

** Tressel is 35-13 in his OSU career against ranked opponents. Rodriguez is 13-18 lifetime against top-25 competition, including 2-5 with the Wolverines.

** Tressel is 25-4 with the Buckeyes in November. Rodriguez is 1-5 with the Wolverines in November.

** With a victory over the Wolverines, Ohio State would win the outright Big Ten championship for the third time in the last four seasons. It would give the Buckeyes their 18th outright title, more than any other team in conference history. Michigan has 16 outright championships and Illinois is third with eight.

** If Ohio State captures its third outright title in four years, it would be the best streak of undisputed Big Ten championships since Michigan won four in the five-year span between 1988 and 1992.

** The Buckeyes have already clinched a share of their fifth consecutive Big Ten title, marking the eighth straight season in which either OSU or Michigan has won or shared the conference crown. The last time neither team had at least a share of the trophy was in 2001 when Illinois took home the outright championship.

** Tressel has locked up his sixth Big Ten championship, placing him eighth on the conference all-time coaching list. Woody Hayes of Ohio State (1951-78) and Bo Schembechler of Michigan (1969-89) share the career record with 13 championships each. Fielding Yost of Michigan (1901-23, ’25-26) had 10, Henry Williams of Minnesota (1900-21) had eight, and Amos Alonzo Stagg (1896-1932) of Chicago, Robert Zuppke of Illinois (1913-41) and Bernie Biermann of Minnesota (1932-41, ’45-50) each had seven.

** With a victory, Ohio State would become only the second team in Big Ten history to record five consecutive years with 10 or more wins and the first in more than a century. Michigan had five seasons with 10-plus victories from 1901-05.

** If the Michigan team is searching for something on which to hang its winged helmets, how about this: The Buckeyes have lost to the Wolverines each of the last three times they have gone into The Game having already clinched the Big Ten championship. That occurred in 1986, 1993 and 1996.

** That 1993 game was the last time a ranked OSU team lost to an unranked Michigan squad. The Wolverines rolled to a 28-0 victory in Ann Arbor, and that game marks the most recent shutout in the overall series. The Buckeyes haven’t recorded a shutout over U-M since a 28-0 win in Ann Arbor in 1962.

** During a 13-year span from 1979 to 1992, the record for the team entering this game with the higher ranking was 9-3-1. In the 16 years since, the higher-ranked team has managed only an 8-8 mark.

** Since the two teams met in 1923 for the Ohio Stadium dedication game, a total of 7,527,129 fans have attended The Game. That’s more than any other college football game in America. Fifty-eight of those 86 games have been sold out, including the last 41 in a row.

** Michigan has an overall record of 298-121-20 in November. That’s a .702 winning percentage. Meanwhile, Ohio State in 286-132-19 during the month of November, good for a winning percentage of .676.

** This season will mark the third time in the past five years that a Michigan team will not be ranked in the final Associated Press poll of the season. Before 2005, the Wolverines had appeared in 35 of 36 final AP polls.

** Michigan has lost six straight conference games for the first time since losing six in a row between 1958 and ’59. The Wolverines have not lost seven consecutive Big Ten games since a 10-game league losing streak between 1935 and ’37.

** Here is how the teams stack up against one another in a variety of the national statistical categories:
Rushing offense – Michigan 21st (195.8); Ohio State 22nd (194.2)
Passing offense – Michigan 90th (195.6); Ohio State 102nd (174.9)
Total offense – Michigan 56th (391.4); Ohio State 65th (369.1)
Scoring offense – Michigan 27th (31.3); Ohio State 38th (30.0)
Rushing defense – Ohio State 4th (83.7); Michigan 84th (164.7)
Pass defense – Ohio State 16th (174.6); Michigan 82nd (235.5)
Total defense – Ohio State 5th (258.3); Michigan 89th (400.2)
Scoring defense – Ohio State 6th (12.4); Michigan 84th (28.1)
Net punting – Michigan 2nd (41.3); Ohio State 42nd (36.8)
Turnover margin – Ohio State 7th (plus-12); Michigan 102nd (minus-8)
Punt returns – Michigan 50th (9.9); Ohio State 65th (8.6)
Kickoff returns – Michigan 28th (24.0); Ohio State 35th (23.5)

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 12 noon Eastern. The game will be televised nationally by ABC with a broadcast crew that is rapidly becoming familiar to Ohio State fans. For the third week in a row, Sean McDonough will have the play-by-play, Matt Millen will provide color analysis and Holly Rowe will file reports from the sidelines.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 122 (Ohio State) and 155 (Michigan).

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Twenty-seven years ago, the Pony Express made one of its final rides in Texas. On Nov. 20, 1982, SMU quarterback Lance McIlhenny drove his team 80 yards for a touchdown in the late going to forge a 17-17 tie with ninth-ranked Arkansas. SMU running back Eric Dickerson – who teamed with fellow running back Craig James to form the “Pony Express” aka “The Best Backfield Money Could Buy” – rushed for 81 yards in the contest to break the all-time Southwest Conference career record held by Earl Campbell of Texas. The tie denied SMU a perfect season and the national championship, but the Mustangs still finished the season ranked No. 2 with an 11-0-1 record.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 16, 1872, Yale played its first-ever football game, beating Columbia by a 3-0 score; on Nov. 17, 1906, Kansas took an 8-6 victory over Nebraska, beginning the longest continuous Division I-A series; on Nov. 19, 1983, Oregon and Oregon State battled to a 0-0 tie in Eugene, the last scoreless tie in NCAA history due to the institution of overtime beginning in 1994; on Nov. 21, 1981, BYU tight end Gordon Hudson set an NCAA record for tight ends with 259 receiving yards during a 56-28 win over Utah; and on Nov. 22, 1969, Michigan defensive back Barry Pierson returned a punt for a touchdown and intercepted three passes as the No. 12 Wolverines shocked defending national champion Ohio State with a 24-12 upset in Ann Arbor. It was the opening game in what became known as the legendary “Ten-Year War” between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of Division I-A undefeated teams remains at six: Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Texas and TCU.

** Here is this week’s fun fact: TCU has 3,700 male students, meaning roughly 3.2 percent are on the football team. If Ohio State had that same percentage, the Buckeyes would have a football roster exceeding 1,000 players.

** If you think Boise State and its BCS argument are going away after this season, think again. There are only three seniors listed among the 44 players on the Broncos’ depth chart. Among those underclassmen is sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore, who has thrown for 2,558 yards and 32 TDs against only three interceptions.

** Iowa and Minnesota square off tomorrow for one of the most unusual trophies in college football – Floyd of Rosedale. After the Hawkeyes lost the 1935 game, Iowa Gov. Clyde Herring presented Minnesota Gov. Floyd B. Olson with Floyd of Rosedale, a full-blooded champion pig, as the result of a bet made prior to the contest. Olson commissioned a statue to capture Floyd’s image, which resulted in a bronze pig that measures 21 inches long and 15 inches high. The two teams have played for the statue ever since.

** In Pete Carroll’s first 110 games at USC, he had a 94-16 record and those 16 losses were by a combined 68 points, or an average of 4.3 points per game. His team’s recent blowout losses to Oregon and Stanford have come by a combined 61 points, an average of 30.5 per game. The Trojans allowed 93 points all of last season – the Ducks and Cardinal combined for 102.

** Jim Harbaugh obviously hasn’t changed. When he was quarterback at Michigan, Harbaugh got the well-earned reputation for being outspoken and often playing with a chip on his shoulder. Last week, he caused some controversy during his Stanford team’s win over USC by going for a two-point conversion with a 48-21 lead and 6:47 remaining. Harbaugh and Carroll reportedly got into a heated discussion during the postgame handshake, but Harbaugh brushed off the tiff in typical fashion. “I felt like it was the right thing to do, knowing SC would have at least two more possession opportunities, not including onside kicks,” he said. “We wanted to be full throttle all game.”

** Harbaugh is pulling out all the stops for tomorrow’s game against Cal. He has named Tiger Woods as the team’s honorary captain, and Woods will be honored on the field at halftime at which time he will be presented with a plaque signifying his induction into the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame.

** My weekly top five for the Heisman Trophy changed only at the bottom where Pittsburgh QB Bill Stull took over the No. 5 spot for Houston QB Case Keenum. My top five looks like this: 1. Texas QB Colt McCoy; 2. Alabama RB Mark Ingram; 3. Boise State QB Kellen Moore; 4. Florida QB Tim Tebow; 5. Stull. This week’s dark horse: Stanford RB Toby Gerhart.

** Congratulations to Rice, which got its first victory of the season last weekend with a 28-20 win over Tulane. That leaves only Eastern Michigan, Western Kentucky and New Mexico on the Division I-A winless list for 2009. Of those teams, Eastern perhaps has the best shot of winning one of its final two games. The Eagles travel tonight to Toledo (4-6 and losers of four of their last five) and wind up the season Nov. 27 at Akron (2-8 and losers of seven of their last eight).

** If New Mexico wants to get off the schnied, it had better do so this week against a 3-7 Colorado State team that has lost seven in a row following a 3-0 start. The 0-9 Lobos finish their season Nov. 28 at TCU against a team that will be trying to make one final statement for the BCS.

** Tarleton State (Texas) led a charmed existence last week in its Division II playoff game against Texas A&M-Kingsville. Tarleton won a 57-56 decision in double overtime after gambling successfully on a two-point conversion. The game went into overtime when Tarleton kicker Garrett Lindholm kicked a 64-yard field goal as time expired. Lindholm’s three-pointer was the second-longest in Division II history. Tom Odle of Fort Hays State (Kan.) holds the record. He booted a 67-yarder in 1988 during his team’s 22-14 win over instate rival Washburn.

** First-round Division III playoff games begin tomorrow, and not surprisingly defending champion Mount Union (Ohio) is the No. 1 seed. The Purple Raiders have won a record 10 national championships under head coach Larry Kehres, who has a career mark of 285-21-3 (a winning percentage of .925). Since 1993 when Mount Union won its first national title, Kehres’ record is an almost unbelievable 215-8. That computes to a .964 winning percentage.

** Hanover College (Ind.) didn’t make the Division III playoffs with a 3-7 record, but the Panthers still made news last week during their 42-28 loss to instate rival Franklin. Hanover sophomore receiver Daniel Passafiume set a new NCAA single-game record with 25 receptions in the game. That broke the old mark of 24 established in 1983 by NFL Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice when he was at Mississippi Valley State, and equaled in 2002 by Chas Gessner of Brown.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It’s been a pretty good last couple of weeks with the straight-up picks. We missed last week’s Upset Special (thanks, Arizona) but that was one of only two misses on a 10-2 slate. The yearly SU total is now 85-22.

Another 5-7 week against the spread makes us 42-52-2 for the season and the prospects of breaking even this year more and more unlikely. Nevertheless, we’ll hang with it and try to get back to respectability with an expanded slate of games this week. Be forewarned, though – there really is only one meaningful game in college football and it will occur in Ann Arbor. That’s why we’ll keep our comments on the rest of the games short and sweet.

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 6 Boise State at Utah State: The Broncos have beaten the Aggies eight times in a row. Look for Boise QB Kellen Moore to pad his already Heisman-worthy stats … Boise State 48, Utah State 10. (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Minnesota at No. 13 Iowa: If several teams ahead of them lose, the Hawkeyes could still get into a BCS bowl. Incentive enough for Senior Day at Kinnick … Iowa 24, Minnesota 13. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

No. 20 Miami (Fla.) at Duke: The Hurricanes are up and down this season, but they should have enough to take a fifth straight victory in this series … Miami 37, Duke 23. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)

Chattanooga at No. 2 Alabama: These two schools have met 10 times over the years with the Crimson Tide winning all 10 by a combined score of 369-88. It’s Senior Day in Tuscaloosa and statement time for Bama … Alabama 47, Chattanooga 3. (12:20 p.m. ET, SEC GamePlan)

Florida International at No. 1 Florida: The Gators haven’t had the spectacular run everyone envisioned, but they remain undefeated. Meanwhile, FIU has never finished with a winning record since starting the program in 2002 … Florida 49, Florida International 10. (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Memphis at No. 24 Houston: The Cougars spit the bit last week against Central Florida. Look for them to get back on track this week against the Tigers, who have already fired head coach Tommy West … Houston 48, Memphis 34. (1 p.m. ET, CSS)

No. 4 TCU at Wyoming: The Horned Frogs, arguably the best team in the nation, will likely not get a chance to play for the national championship. Look for them to keep making a statement on why they should get that chance … TCU 51, Wyoming 10. (2 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)

No. 14 Penn State at Michigan State: The Nittany Lions, who have not been playing well lately, have lost four of their last six trips to Spartan Stadium. I hate to pick Sparty because he has been so uneven this season. But I need an Upset Special, so here it is … Michigan State 34, Penn State 31. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 16 Wisconsin at Northwestern: Can the Wildcats slow down the Badgers’ two-pronged attack of QB Scott Tolzien and RB John Clay? Maybe the better question is whether UW can slow down the multifaceted attack led Northwestern QB Mike Kakfa. Upset Special No. 2 … Northwestern 31, Wisconsin 28. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 8 LSU at Mississippi: The Rebels pulled off a huge 31-13 upset in Baton Rouge last year, but they haven’t beaten the Tigers in Oxford since 1998. Ole Miss struggles against good defenses and LSU has a good defense … LSU 20, Mississippi 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Virginia at No. 23 Clemson: Behind Heisman hopeful running back C.J. Spiller, the Tigers have averaged 42.0 points over their last five games. You wonder how the Cavaliers (106th nationally in scoring and 118th in total offense) can keep up. Answer: They can’t … Clemson 37, Virginia 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

Air Force at No. 22 BYU: Max Hall is one of the best quarterbacks you’ve probably never heard of. The BYU senior has thrown for 2,857 yards and 23 TDs, and he has never lost in his career to the run-oriented Cadets … BYU 35, Air Force 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

North Carolina State at No. 15 Virginia Tech: Good Hokies offense + porous Wolfpack defense = Tech victory … Virginia Tech 38, N.C. State 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

San Diego State at No. 21 Utah: The Utes were manhandled last week by TCU, but they get to try and rebound against the Aztecs who rank 94th nationally in scoring defense. Utah also returns home to play at Rice Eccles Stadium where they have won their last 16 in a row … Utah 41, San Diego State 17. (4 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 19 Oregon State at Washington State: The Beavers still have a shot at the Rose Bowl and it’s doubtful the punchless Cougars can do anything about that this week … Oregon State 48, Washington State 14. (5 p.m. ET, No TV)

No. 25 California at No. 17 Stanford: The Bears scored a total of six points against Oregon and USC while the Cardinal rolled up 106 points against the Ducks and Trojans. What more do you need to know? … Stanford 44, Cal 27. (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

Kansas at No. 3 Texas: The Longhorns are zeroing in on the national championship game while Jayhawks head coach Mark Mangino is suddenly under fire in Lawrence. Colt McCoy becomes the all-time winningest quarterback in NCAA history with a win … Texas 35, Kansas 7. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 11 Oregon at Arizona: The Wildcats couldn’t get it done last week against a Jahvid Best-less Cal, so what makes anyone believe Mike Stoops’ troops can beat the Ducks? … Oregon 48, Arizona 35. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 10 Ohio State at Michigan: Anyone connected with OSU who chalks up this game as an automatic victory should remember what the Wolverines have on the line. They need this win to avoid a second straight losing season. They need this win to avoid staying home during bowl season when they had made 33 straight bowl appearances prior to 2008. They need this win to prevent their head coach from becoming the first Michigan coach in history ever to lose his first two games in this series. I’m also sure that Rich Rodriguez has told his team that this game begins the program’s resurgence. A victory over the Buckeyes would not only send the Wolverines to a bowl but also give them a foundation on which to build. Nothing to play for in Ann Arbor? I think not. It’s still the greatest rivalry game in American sports and if you have a chance to step on the throat of your rival, you do it. Assuming that is the mind-set of the Ohio State players, you get this prediction … Ohio State 45, Michigan 14. (12 noon ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-22) at Utah State; Minnesota at Iowa (-9½ ; Miami-FL at Duke (+20); Florida International (+45) at Florida; Memphis (+24) at Houston; TCU (-28) at Wyoming; Penn State at Michigan State (+3); Wisconsin at Northwestern (+7); LSU (+4½) at Mississippi; Virginia at Clemson (-20½); Air Force at BYU (-9½); N.C. State at Virginia Tech (-21); San Diego State at Utah (-20); Oregon State (-29) at Washington State; Cal at Stanford (-7); Kansas at Texas (-27½); Oregon (-4½) at Arizona; Ohio State (-11½) at Michigan.

History Sides With Buckeyes Vs. Iowa

To say Iowa has struggled over the years against Ohio State would be akin to pointing out that they speak mostly French in Paris. No kidding, Sherlock.

The cold, hard truth for the Hawkeyes is that they are on the business end of one of the most lopsided series in Big Ten history. They have only 14 wins and three ties to show for 61 previous games against the Buckeyes, a shockingly bad winning percentage of .254 – or perhaps more aptly put, a 746 losing percentage.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that Herky has had his problems over the years with Brutus. Ohio State’s all-time Big Ten record is 455-190-28, a .696 winning percentage that leads the conference. Iowa has a lifetime record of 284-344-25 in league games, a .454 winning percentage.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is regarded as one of the top coaches in his profession and he has that new seven-year, $21 million contract to back that claim. And yet he has only a pair of Big Ten co-championships during his previous 10 seasons in Iowa City and he is a rather pedestrian 48-38 in conference play. Meanwhile, OSU head coach Jim Tressel has won one national championship, five league titles – including the last four in a row – and has a 57-13 Big Ten record.

Head-to-head matchups between Ferentz and Tressel are about as close as the overall Iowa-Ohio State series. Tressel holds a 4-1 advantage – including a 1990 contest when his Division I-AA Youngstown State team beat Ferentz-coached Maine – and the average margin of victory for Tressel victories has been 19.0 points. To be fair, Ferentz’s lone win against Tressel was a 33-7 trip to the Iowa City woodshed in 2004.

Tomorrow, the two teams and their head coaches square off again with the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth on the line. Since Ohio State and Iowa hold all the tiebreakers over any other team that could tie for the conference title, tomorrow’s outcome will determine which team goes to Pasadena and which heads for Orlando and the Capital One Bowl.

Despite the loss of starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi, the Hawkeyes remain confident they will emerge victorious. After all, they are only one week removed from being the No. 4 team in the country and still boast a defense ranked among the top 15 in the country.

And yet, Iowa just seems to have a bugaboo about playing Ohio State when the stakes are high. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

1954 – The fourth-ranked Buckeyes led 20-14 late in the fourth quarter when the No. 13 Hawkeyes drove inside the OSU 5-yard line. With the clock ticking under two minutes, Iowa couldn’t get into the end zone as the Buckeyes’ goal-line stand preserved the victory. The six-point win would be the smallest margin of victory for Ohio State as it captured its first national championship under head coach Woody Hayes.

1957 – After losing star halfback Don Clark to a leg injury, sixth-ranked Ohio State was installed a touchdown underdog to No. 5 Iowa. The Ohio Stadium record crowd of 82,935, which included U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon, was treated to a seesaw match that saw four lead changes. The Hawkeyes held a 13-10 advantage heading into the final period when OSU fullback Bob White took over, accounting for most of the yardage on a 68-yard touchdown march that set the final score at 17-13. “We knew what was happening,” Iowa head coach Forest Evashevski said, “but we were just powerless to stop it.”

1958 – The Hawkeyes were ready for revenge in ’58. They were the nation’s No. 2 team and 14-point favorites over the 16th-ranked Buckeyes. A record crowd of 58,463 jammed into Kinnick Stadium and the teams traded touchdowns back and forth until the score was tied 28-28 after three periods. But OSU established itself in the fourth quarter, getting a 1-yard touchdown run from White and a 19-yard field goal from Dave Kilgore with only 12 seconds remaining to register the 38-28 upset win.

1961 – Ninth-ranked Iowa had beaten Ohio State in back-to-back seasons and was trying to become the first team to beat Hayes three times in a row. But the Hawkeyes ran into a defensive buzz saw as the fifth-rated Buckeyes forged a 12-0 halftime lead before cruising to a 29-13 victory. Defensive end Tom Perdue returned an interception 55 yards for OSU’s first touchdown, and a fourth-quarter touchdown run by fullback Bob Ferguson was set up by a 53-yard interception return by defensive lineman Gary Moeller.

1984 – The 14th-ranked Hawkeyes came to Columbus boasting the Big Ten’s top defense, but four costly turnovers put them behind the 8-ball and the No. 5 Buckeyes rolled to a 45-26 win. Iowa had more first downs (23-17) and outgained Ohio State by a 458-335 margin, but the turnovers were too much to overcome. Iowa QB Chuck Long threw for 275 yards and two TDs, but he also pitched two interceptions and fumbled once as Ohio State scored in every quarter. Keith Byars was the offensive star for OSU. He rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns, and caught five passes for 55 yards and another score.

1985 – Iowa was positive it was going to win in 1985. Long was a Heisman Trophy candidate, the defense was the best it had been in years and the Hawkeyes were the No. 1-ranked team in the country. But OSU had other plans. Protecting a 19-game home winning streak, the eighth-ranked Buckeyes dominated Iowa during a 22-13 victory. The defense, which had been ninth in the Big Ten against the pass, intercepted Long four times and held the QB to only 169 yards through the air, more than 150 below his average. Pepper Johnson and Chris Spielman led the Ohio State defense with 19 tackles each, and Spielman snagged two of the four INTs.

1986 – The Hawkeyes were once again the higher ranked team in ’86 and boasted the conference’s best offensive attack. But the No. 17 Buckeyes exploded for 21 points during a six-minute span in the second quarter and ran away with a 31-10 triumph over No. 11 Iowa. It was another defensive gem for OSU, which held the Hawkeyes’ powerful attack to 192 yards of total offense, including only 79 on the ground. Spielman was once again the spearhead for the Buckeyes, recording 18 tackles.

1990 – OSU head coach John Cooper was in third season and still looking for a signature win when his unranked Buckeyes scored a 27-26 stunner over the sixth-ranked Hawkeyes in Iowa City. Ohio State erased a 26-14 deficit in the final 11 minutes as Greg Frey threw a pair of touchdown passes to Bobby Olive, the second a 3-yard toss with 0:01 showing on the clock. The victory was career No. 100 for Cooper.

1997 – Defense ruled the day again when the seventh-ranked Buckeyes took a 23-7 win over the No. 11 Hawkeyes. Iowa running back Tavian Banks entered the game as the nation’s leading rusher, averaging a whopping 209 yards per game, but he was held to only 82 yards on 22 attempts as Ohio State built a 16-0 halftime advantage. Pepe Pearson had a game-high 109 yards while Michael Wiley added 85 yards and two touchdowns.

2003 – The two teams were as evenly matched as possible but the No. 8 Buckeyes squeezed out a 19-10 decision over the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes. Neither team managed an offensive touchdown as defenses carried the day. Iowa scored on a 36-yard field goal and 5-yard run off a fake field goal while Ohio State tallied a 53-yard field goal by Mike Nugent, a 54-yard punt return by Michael Jenkins, a blocked punt recovered in the end zone by Donte Whitner and a team safety.

2006 – Once again, Iowa was convinced of victory. The Hawkeyes were undefeated and ranked 13th in the country, and they laid in wait for the No. 1 Buckeyes with a rare night game at sold-out Kinnick Stadium. But Ohio State scored in the first four minutes with a touchdown pass from Troy Smith to Anthony Gonzalez and it was all Buckeyes from there in a 38-17 romp. Smith threw for four scores while the OSU defense created four turnovers. That included three interceptions of Iowa QB Drew Tate, who completed only 19 of 41 attempts for 249 yards.

In addition to the aforementioned games, there was the 83-21 shellacking of Iowa administered by the Buckeyes back in 1950. That was the game in which future Heisman Trophy winner Vic Janowicz went absolutely wild. He threw for four touchdowns, rushed for one, returned a punt for another, kicked 10 PATs, recovered two fumbles on defense and averaged 42.0 yards punting in one of the most electrifying one-man shows ever seen in Ohio Stadium.

Why the history lesson? Because it’s worth noting that when Iowa has faced Ohio State – many times armed with a lofty national ranking – the Hawkeyes have usually come out on the wrong end of the final score. For whatever reason, the team plays extremely tight against the Buckeyes, allowing the OSU defense to create turnovers and providing plenty of scoring opportunities for the offense.

The combination of a quarterback making his first career start in the Horseshoe against one of the top defensive units in college football would seem to indicate a similar scenario playing out tomorrow afternoon. As we have noted in this space countless times, a very good way to forecast the future is by examining the past.

OSU-IOWA TIDBITS

** This will be the 62nd overall meeting between Ohio State and Iowa in a series that began in 1922. The Buckeyes enjoy a lopsided 44-14-3 advantage over the Hawkeyes, including a 27-8-1 record in Columbus. OSU has 10 of the last 11 in the series, including the last five played at Ohio Stadium. Iowa has not tasted victory in Columbus since a 16-9 win in 1991.

** The game marks the 19th time in the series when both teams are ranked. The Buckeyes are 14-4 in those games.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 3-1 against Iowa. That includes a 2-0 record in Columbus, including a 31-6 victory in 2005.

** Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is 1-5 all-time against Ohio State. That includes an 0-3 record against the Buckeyes in Columbus. Ferentz got his only victory over OSU in 2004 when the Hawkeyes knocked starting quarterback Justin Zwick out of the game and rolled to a 33-7 win in Iowa City.

** Tressel and Ferentz are old adversaries from their Division I-AA coaching days. Tressel led Youngstown State to a 38-17 victory in the 1990 regular-season finale over Maine and Ferentz, who was in his first season in Orono.

** Last week’s victory over Penn State was the 57th Big Ten win for Tressel. That puts him in a five-way tie for 13th on the all-time conference list. The other coaches with 57 conference victories – Bennie Bierman of Minnesota (1932-41, ’45-50), Fritz Crisler of Michigan (1938-47), Jack Mollenkopf of Purdue (1956-69) and Earle Bruce of Ohio State (1979-87).

** A victory over Iowa would sew up at least a share of the Big Ten championship for Ohio State and give Tressel his sixth title. Only seven other coaches have won as many as six conference championships, including Woody Hayes of Ohio State and Bo Schembechler of Michigan, who share the Big Ten record with 13 titles each.

** Iowa will be wearing “EVY” stickers on their helmets in honor of former head coach and athletic director Forest Evashevski, who died Oct. 31 at the age of 91. Evashevski coached the Hawkeyes from 1952-60 and won three Big Ten championships and two Rose Bowl titles. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

** The Hawkeyes saw their 13-game winning streak snapped with last week’s 17-10 loss to Northwestern. It was the second-longest active win streak in the nation and the longest winning streak for Iowa since the team won 20 games in a row between 1920 and 1923.

** Iowa still has one streak intact. The Hawkeyes come to Columbus having won their last six games away from Kinnick Stadium.

** How stifling is the OSU defense? It had eight three-and-outs last week against Penn State and currently leads the nation in forcing three-and-outs. Opponents have gone three-and-out an amazing 60 times in 10 games against the Buckeyes. No other defense in the nation has more than 49.

** Ohio State is one of only six Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) teams that has not allowed an opposing rusher to crack the 100-yard mark. The others are Alabama, Arkansas State, Nevada, Penn State and Texas. The Buckeyes have allowed only seven 100-yard rushers since 2005, the lowest number among all I-A schools during that stretch.

** Don’t expect Tressel to try any special teams trickery against the Hawkeyes. Opponents have attempted four onside kicks, one fake punt and one fake field goal and every one of those tries has failed. Additionally, Iowa has blocked three kicks and one punt this season. The blocked punt came in the 20-10 win over Penn State and was returned 53 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

** Iowa sophomore safety Tyler Sash leads the Big Ten in interceptions with six and he has returned those picks for 203 yards. In only his second season, Sash already has 11 career interceptions with 350 return yards. He needs seven more picks to break into the Big Ten all-time top 10 and only seven more return yards to break into the top five. The conference career leader in interceptions is Al Brosky of Illinois (1950-52) with 30, while the all-time interception return yardage leader is Jamar Fletcher of Wisconsin (1998-2000) with 459.

** The game will be the final home contest of the season for the Buckeyes. They are 72-44-3 all-time in home finales.

** It will also be Senior Day in the Horseshoe with 19 senior players scheduled to get their traditional hug from Tressel and high-five from Brutus. This year’s list of seniors: Andre Amos, Jake Ballard, Kurt Coleman, Jim Cordle, Todd Denlinger, Joe Gantz, Tom Ingham, Andrew Moses, Aaron Pettrey, Dan Potokar, Rob Rose, Anderson Russell, Ryan Schuck, Ray Small, Austin Spitler, Jon Thoma, Marcus Williams, Lawrence Wilson and Doug Worthington.

** If the Buckeyes beat Iowa and Michigan, and are also victorious in their bowl game, the senior class would finish its career with 44 wins. That would break the school record of 43 currently held by the classes of 1995-98, 2002-05 and 2005-08.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The game will be televised using the reverse mirror meaning viewers will be able to watch the game either on their local ABC station or ESPN. And for the second week in a row, the broadcast crew will be Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Matt Millen (color analysis) and Holly Rowe (sideline reports).

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 122 and 123 as well as XM radio channel 144.

** Next week’s game against Michigan will kick off shortly after 12 noon Eastern. It will be televised nationally by ABC.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Sixteen years ago today, ESPN College Gameday made its first-ever on-campus broadcast. The popular college football pregame show debuted in 1987, but it wasn’t until Nov. 13, 1993, that GameDay got out of the studio and hit the road. The first telecast was from South Bend, Ind., to cover the 1-vs-2 matchup between Florida State and Notre Dame, and featured host Chris Fowler and analysts Lee Corso and Craig James. The result was an upset victory by the second-ranked Irish, who took a 31-24 win over the No. 1 Seminoles. (Corso picked Florida State to win, by the way.) The Seminoles managed to rebound from the loss, going on to beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and capture the national championship.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 10, 1984, backup quarterback Frank Reich of unranked Maryland engineered the biggest comeback in NCAA history at the time, leading the Terrapins from a 31-0 halftime deficit to a 42-40 victory over Miami (Fla.) in the Orange Bowl; on Nov. 12, 1983, UCLA needed only a tie against Arizona to secure a Rose Bowl bid, but kicker John Lee’s field-goal attempt sailed wide as time expired and the Bruins dropped a 27-24 decision; on Nov. 14, 1998, second-ranked Kansas State took a 40-30 win over No. 11 Nebraska to clinch the Big 12 North title, the first football championship of any kind for the Wildcats since 1934; and on Nov. 15, 1890, Minnesota and Wisconsin squared off for the first time in what has become the most-played series in college football history. The Gophers took a 63-0 victory in Minneapolis that day, and the two teams have played one another every year since.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Iowa’s loss to Northwestern dropped the number of Division I-A undefeated teams to six. They are Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Texas and TCU.

** We know at least one of the aforementioned undefeated teams is going to lose in the SEC championship game, but there could be five teams that go through the entire regular season with unbeaten records. That would be the first time that has happened since 1979. Ohio State, Alabama, Florida State and BYU each finished 11-0 while USC was 10-0-1. Only Alabama and USC won their bowl games and the Crimson Tide were named national champions.

** Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly has a full-fledged quarterback controversy on his hands. Regular starter Tony Pike is ready to play again but backup Zach Collaros has been lights-out since Pike has been sidelined. Is Kelly really going to send Collaros back to the bench after he has completed 80 percent of his passes and thrown for 998 yards, eight TDs and no interceptions in three starts? Apparently not yet. Collaros is scheduled to be the starter this evening against West Virginia.

** When Purdue came from behind for a 38-36 victory at Michigan, it marked the Boilermakers’ first win in Ann Arbor since 1966. The Wolverines are now 1-5 in Big Ten play, meaning they have lost 13 of their last 16 conference games. (That’s not all Rich Rodriguez’s fault; Lloyd Carr lost his final two Big Ten games to Wisconsin and Ohio State in 2007). Even so, Michigan is in the throes of its worst conference slide in nearly 75 years. The Wolverines lost 16 of 18 Big Ten games between the start of the 1934 season and the middle of the 1937 campaign.

** Despite the fact it gets maligned more than any other major conference, the Big Ten heads into the final stretch of the season with each of its 11 teams remaining in the hunt to become bowl-eligible. Not 11 teams will make it to the postseason, of course. Illinois must win its remaining three games against Northwestern, Cincinnati and Fresno State, teams with a combined record of 21-7. Meanwhile, Indiana and Purdue must also win both the remaining games on their respective schedules – and they square off against one another Nov. 21 in Bloomington.

** Here is a fun stat: After last weekend’s 17-10 victory in Manhattan, Kansas State is now 14-4 against instate rival Kansas with Bill Snyder as head coach. Without him, the Wildcats are 23-61-5 against the Jayhawks.

** Do you enjoy thrill rides? Then you’d love being a Houston fan. Despite giving up 88 points in their last two games, the Cougars have posted back-to-back victories in the final seconds. They took a 50-43 win over Southern Miss on Oct. 31, getting a 46-yard touchdown pass with 21 seconds left, and then beat Tulsa last week by a 46-45 score when kicker Matt Hogan nailed a 51-yard field goal as time expired. Hogan’s career longest three-pointer to that point had been 34 yards.

** Of the five top passing yardage games in Division I-A this season, Houston QB Case Keenum has two of them. He threw for 559 yards in that win over Southern Miss and also had 536 earlier this season during a 58-41 loss to UTEP. Rounding out the top five: Tyler Sheehan of Bowling Green (505 vs. Kent State), Steven Sheffield of Texas Tech (490 vs. Kansas State) and Greg Alexander of Hawaii (477 vs. UNLV). Keenum leads the nation in passing through Nov. 7 with 3,815 yards and 28 TDs.

** My weekly top five for the Heisman Trophy got a little jumbled last week, but the name at the top of my ballot didn’t change. Texas QB Colt McCoy is still my favorite followed by Alabama RB Mark Ingram and Boise State QB Kellen Moore, who flip-flopped spots. Rounding out the top five are Florida QB Tim Tebow and Houston QB Case Keenum. This week’s dark horse: Pittsburgh QB Bill Stull.

** Ever wonder what happened to Terry Bowden? He resurfaced this season at Division II North Alabama, which finished 10-1 and earned one of eight first-round byes in the 24-team division playoffs. Bowden’s team narrowly missed a perfect regular season, losing a 31-28 decision in four overtimes last weekend to rival West Alabama.

** Iowa was not the only team to lose a lengthy winning streak last week. Defending Division I-AA national champion Richmond dropped a 21-20 decision to fourth-ranked Villanova, ending the Spiders’ winning streak at 17 games.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Straight-up picks were solid again, including another Upset Special with Ohio State beating Penn State. We also mentioned possible trap games for Iowa at Northwestern and Oregon at Stanford but didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger on either one. Nevertheless, those were the only two misses in a 10-2 week that pushed the yearly total to 75-20, a winning percentage of .789. It’s been a while since we finished a season at .800 or better, so that’s certainly something to shoot for.

As far as the spread picks, we’re still trying to stay within shouting distance of breakeven. Not enough hits and too many misses gave us a 5-7 ledger for the week, dropping the season line to 37-45-2 with not a whole lot of time to make up the difference.

But we’re not quitters here at the forecast, so here are the games we like this week. (All rankings are BCS standings.)

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 25 West Virginia at No. 5 Cincinnati: The Bearcats finally roll into the meat of their schedule with as much confidence as anyone in the nation. They have stumbled upon a backup quarterback who may be even better than their starter, they are third in the nation in total offense (482.6 yards per game) and fifth in scoring (40.0), and need only one more victory to set a new school record for best start ever. Standing in the way of that 10th straight win are the Mountaineers, who are facing a must-win situation in terms of the Big East championship. WVU has the horses to keep up with Cincinnati’s offense, but 1,000-yard runner Noel Devine sprained an ankle during last week’s 17-9 win over Louisville and is questionable for tonight’s game. The Mountaineers are the last visiting team to beat UC at Nippert, and they have a defense that is at least capable of slowing down the Bearcats. With Devine less than 100 percent, however, they probably won’t have enough offense to keep up … Cincinnati 31, West Virginia 20. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Temple at Akron: Here’s your chance to see the Owls, one of the surprise teams in all of college football. They are on track for their first bowl appearance since 1979, are currently on a seven-game winning streak that is their longest since 1973 and seek their first undefeated conference regular season since 1967 during their first go-round as MAC members. Meanwhile, the Zips are on the other end of the spectrum. They are 2-7 this season although both of their victories have come at their new home at InfoCision Stadium. But even when the Owls were struggling, Akron had its troubles in the series. Temple leads the overall series by an 11-7 margin, and that includes a 5-3 record in Akron. Look for one of the nation’s top freshmen in Temple running back Bernard Pierce, who has already set school records for a freshman with 1,211 yards and 14 TDs. Since the Zips have had trouble putting points on the board all season, Pierce should be enough for the Owls … Temple 27, Akron 10. (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 3 Texas at Baylor: It’s stat-padding time for Texas QB Colt McCoy, and there is no team he’d rather play than the Bears. In three previous contests against Baylor, McCoy has thrown for 844 yards and 12 TDs while the Longhorns have posted victories by a combined score of 139-62. While the focus in Waco will be on McCoy, the Texas defense has quietly become one of the toughest units in the country. The Longhorns are No. 1 in total defense and No. 8 in scoring, and that’s not a good combination for Baylor. Because of injuries, the Bears are down to their third-string quarterback and two weeks ago Nick Florence was sacked seven times in a 20-10 loss to Nebraska. The Longhorns are working on an 11-game win streak in the series, and have beaten the Bears by an average of more than 37 points in those contests. Sounds like the spread as been set … Texas 44, Baylor 7. (12 noon ET, FSN)

No. 13 Houston at Central Florida: UH head coach Kevin Sumlin must believe defense is something you put around de-backyard. The Cougars give up an average of 30.1 points per game (that ranks 96th nationally) and allow 469.8 yards each week (that’s a lowly 116th among 120 Division I-A teams). How in the world could they be 8-1 and ranked 13th in the latest BCS standings? Thank QB Case Keenum and his high-powered offense that leads the nation with averages of more than 42 points and 575 yards per contest. Over the last two weeks alone, Keenum has completed 84 of 114 passes for 1,081 yards and eight TDs. Central Florida would appear to be Houston’s toughest opponent left on the regular-season schedule, but the Knights have their problems defending the pass. During last week’s 35-3 loss to Texas, they allowed Colt McCoy to throw for 470 yards. UCF is also hurting on offense – starting quarterback Brett Hodges and running back Brynn Harvey missed last week’s game against the Longhorns and are questionable for this week … Houston 45, Central Florida 28. (12 noon ET, CBS College Sports)

Michigan at No. 20 Wisconsin: The Wolverines passed Last Ditch Gulch last week and Rich Rodriguez may be headed for Death Valley. Last Saturday’s home game against Purdue represented Michigan’s last best chance to get bowl-eligible. Now the Wolverines are faced with finishing at Camp Randall and at home against Ohio State, needing to win one of those games to finish with the bowl-eligible required six victories. Unfortunately for Rodriguez and his team, the buzzards are circling. U-M hasn’t beaten a I-A opponent since a late September win over Indiana, and losses in the final two games would give the Wolverines their first last-place finish in the conference standings since 1962. In addition to all that, the Badgers still remember last year’s game when they blew a 19-point second-half advantage and wound up with a 27-25 loss in Ann Arbor … Wisconsin 34, Michigan 31. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 1 Florida at South Carolina: The Gators are getting a lot of criticism lately because their victories haven’t been very pretty. The bottom line, however, is that they remain undefeated and haven’t lost since Tim Tebow’s famous speech last September following a loss to Ole Miss. You would think the Ol’ Ball Coach would have something up his sleeve is terms of an upset this week, but the Gamecocks are in the middle of a late swoon for the third season in a row. Unfortunately, Florida usually contributes to that slide. Steve Spurrier hasn’t beaten his old team since 2005, losing the last three games in the series by a combined score of 124-53. South Carolina’s offense has fizzled for much of the last month, and that doesn’t bode well going against the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense … Florida 31, South Carolina 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Idaho at No. 6 Boise State: Someone opined that this game is the biggest thing to hit Idaho since French fries. The undefeated Broncos are trying their best to secure a BCS bid while the surprising Vandals stand in their way. Idaho is 7-3 this season after losing 26 of its previous 29 games. But the Vandals are beginning to crack a little bit, losing two of their last three and giving up an average of 45.0 points the past three weeks. It’s not going to help that they may also be without starting quarterback Nate Ederle, who is nursing a rotator cuff injury. Meanwhile, Boise still has QB Kellen Moore (2,259 yards, 27 TDs), a stingy defense that allows only 14.0 points per game, and a 53-game regular-season winning streak on the Smurf Turf … Boise State 47, Idaho 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 17 Arizona at California: The Wildcats continue the quest for their first-ever Rose Bowl appearance, but they may have to carry on without top running back Nic Grigsby, who has a sprained right shoulder. Meanwhile, Cal will also be without their best running back as Jahvid Best recovers from a concussion after a nasty head-first fall last weekend. Best’s loss will be difficult for the Bears to overcome especially since Arizona boasts the No. 11 rush defense in the country. The Wildcats could use any help they can get. They have lost their last three trips to Berkeley by a 114-41 margin. In terms of the Rose Bowl bid, this game really doesn’t have any bearing since Zona still needs to beat Oregon and USC to earn its trip to Pasadena. Still, you have to believe Mike Stoops’ team would like a little momentum heading into those final two contests. Here is your Upset Special … Arizona 26, Cal 17. (7 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 16 Utah at No. 4 TCU: The Horned Frogs may have altered their postseason goal. A BCS berth isn’t going to be good enough – they want the whole enchilada. The obstacles remain huge for them to get to the national title game, though, since they will probably need all three teams ahead of them in the rankings to lose while remaining unbeaten. They must also not lose sight of the task at hand, which features the 8-1 Utes. Last year, Utah scored a late touchdown and took a 13-10 victory in Salt Lake City, and it is the last team to beat TCU in Fort Worth. The Utes switched last week to freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn, and he responded with 297 yards and two TDs in a 45-14 win over winless New Mexico. We suspect Wynn will have a little more trouble making his first road start against a ferocious Frog defense … TCU 23, Utah 10. (7:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

Notre Dame at No. 12 Pittsburgh: Somewhere, sometime, Charlie Weis is going to have to secure a signature victory in order to maintain his job in South Bend. In his first season with the Fighting Irish, Weis was victorious in his first three games against ranked teams. Since then, his record against ranked competition is 1-11. The Panthers have one of the best one-two offensive punches in college football this season. QB Bill Stull has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 1,879 yards and 17 TDs against only four INTs, while sophomore RB Dion Lewis has 1,139 yards and 12 TDs. If Notre Dame entertains any thought of an upset, it will have to play its best defensive game of the season. The Irish rank a lowly 79th nationally in total defense and an even-worse 88th against the pass. Notre Dame has beaten Pitt in both of its previous visits to Heinz Field, including Weis’ debut with the Irish, but a lot has happened since then … Pittsburgh 34, Notre Dame 30. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Arizona State at No. 13 Oregon: The Ducks have been on an emotional roller-coaster ride for much of the season. They lost their opener to Boise State after which top running back LeGarrette Blount was suspended for punching a BSU player. Then Chip Kelly’s team ripped off seven straight victories, including a 47-20 statement over USC, before last week’s 51-42 loss at Stanford. This week, Blount returns from suspension as the Ducks return home and try to get back on track for a Rose Bowl bid. On the other sideline, the Sun Devils are playing well on defense despite a 4-5 record. They lead the Pac-10 and are sixth nationally against the run, giving them at least a chance against Oregon’s wide-open run attack. Unfortunately, ASU has trouble manufacturing points. They have lost three straight, rank near the bottom of the conference in total offense and scoring, and head coach Dennis Erickson has changed starting quarterbacks from struggling veteran Danny Sullivan to freshman Brock Osweiler. Adding to the Sun Devils’ misery is the fact they are 3-28 against ranked teams since 2000 and winless in their last four in this series … Oregon 41, Arizona State 17. (10:20 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 10 Iowa at No. 11 Ohio State: As we mentioned above, the Hawkeyes rarely have much success against the Buckeyes and the loss of quarterback Ricky Stanzi makes their task in Columbus that much more difficult. One would have to assume Kirk Ferentz will have something figured out for new QB James Vandenberg, and the Hawkeyes remain one of the most solid defensive units in the Big Ten. Still, it’s extremely difficult to win when you can’t put points on the scoreboard and it is difficult to image how Iowa can score unless the Buckeyes turn the ball over like they did at Purdue. Short of that kind of performance, things should be coming up roses for OSU … Ohio State 28, Iowa 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Cincinnati (-8½) at West Virginia; Temple (-4) at Akron; Texas (-23) at Baylor; Houston (-4½) at Central Florida; Michigan (+9) at Wisconsin; Florida (-15½)  at South Carolina; Idaho (+32) at Boise State; Arizona at Cal (+2½); Utah (+20) at TCU; Notre Dame (+7) at Pittsburgh; Arizona State at Oregon (-17½); Iowa at Ohio State (-16½).

You will probably want to know that Iowa is 1-7 ATS in its past eight games against OSU while the Buckeyes are 5-0 ATS in their last five home contests with the Hawkeyes. Enjoy the games.

My Christmas Wish List

With sincere apologies to Santa for its lateness, here is my Christmas list this year and it’s a fairly lengthy one.

For Jim Tressel: A bowl victory. That would stop a lot of the petty criticism for a guy who restored elite status to the Ohio State football program.

For Terrelle Pryor: The allowance to do what he was recruited to do. Watching a replay of Texas beating USC in the Rose Bowl, I saw Mack Brown saying that Vince Young’s career really took off “when we decided to leave him alone.” Sounds like pretty good advice where Pryor is concerned.

For Beanie Wells: One entire injury-free season. And as long as I’m wishing, here’s hoping that occurs in 2009 at Ohio State.

For Todd Boeckman: A shot at an NFL job. I’m still not sure what this poor guy did to deserve so much vitriol from fans, but it would be nice if he was a late-round draft selection next April. Certainly if there is room in the NFL for Ken Dorsey, there is a spot somewhere for Todd Boeckman.

For Archie Griffin: A statue outside Ohio Stadium. When is the university going to get off its duff and commemorate the world’s only two-time Heisman Trophy with a likeness outside the Horseshoe? While they’re at it, statues of Woody Hayes, Chic Harley and Bill Willis are long overdue as well. Are you telling me we can have 100 different sculptures of Brutus but nothing to signify the most important figures in Ohio State football history?

For university presidents: A set of better priorities. If you’re not going to give fans a Division I-A playoff, at least get a handle on the bowl season. Games strung out over a three-week period simply waters down the product.

For Troy Smith: A ticket out of Baltimore. I thought Troy proved at the end of last season he could play in the NFL. But it’s obviously not going to happen with the Ravens. Cleveland, perhaps?

For Jim Lachey: A bust in Canton. It seems ridiculous to me that Lachey keeps getting passed over for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He started 129 of 131 NFL games during a 10-year career, was named to three Pro Bowls, was a three-time All-Pro, and as a member of the Hogs helped Washington win Super Bowl XXVI.

For Thad Matta: Another trip to the Final Four. I don’t know why, but I have this feeling that a Matta team is going to make a Cinderella trip to the Final Four – and soon.

For Michael Jenkins: A Super Bowl ring. The Atlanta Falcons are one of the best turnaround stories of the year thanks to rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. One of Ryan’s favorite receivers is Jenkins, who has established a new career-high in yardage. A Falcons run to the Super Bowl would also mean a ring for tight end Ben Hartsock, truly one of the good guys, as well as former Buckeyes Simon Fraser and Alex Stepanovich.

For Donnie Nickey: A Super Bowl ring. In case you forgot, Nickey is in his sixth season as a backup safety and special teams player for Tennessee. If the Falcons can’t win, I’ll take the Titans.

For B.J. Mullens: The good sense to stay in college for at least one more year.

For Ray Small: A really loud alarm clock.

For Nathan Williams: A different set of friends.

For Jake Ballard: John Frank’s playbook, deposited on Jim Tressel’s desk.

For Boom Herron: A growth spurt. Two inches in height, 10 pounds in weight.

For Brandon Saine: Patience.

For any Ohio State fullback: An average of one carry per game.

For Jim Bollman: A healthy 2009 starting line of Mike Adams, Jim Cordle, Michael Brewster, Justin Boren and J.B. Shugarts.

For Bob Todd: A trip to Omaha. Probably a huge wish.

For Tom Ryan: A national championship. Probably not as big a wish as you might think.

For Joe Daniels, Lawrence Wilson, Andre Amos, Dan Potokar and David Lighty: Renewed health.

For Tyson Gentry: A miracle.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman is one of three finalists for the sixth annual Bobby Bowden Award, given by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for the top Division I-A player who conducts himself as a faith model in the community, in the classroom and on the field. The other finalists are Illinois center Ryan McDonald and Texas A&M running back Stephen McGee. The winner will be announced Jan. 6.

** Success is a relative thing. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe went just 4-8 in his first season with the Blue Devils. But because that was such an improvement over what the team had done in recent years – just four victories in the previous four seasons combined – Cutcliffe got a two-year contract extension to coach at Duke through 2015.

** If you can figure this one out, you’re doing better than me. Florida QB Tim Tebow got the most first-place votes in the Heisman Trophy balloting yet finished third behind Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Colt McCoy of Texas. The other day, the venerable Sporting News released its postseason awards and had a three-way tie for player of the year: Bradford, McCoy and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech. If you’re going to wimp out and have three players of the year, you may as well add Tebow and make it four.

** The deluge of college juniors declaring for the NFL draft has begun. Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis is among the first and the two-time All-Big Ten selection will likely be a rich man come April. The 6-0, 204-pounder led all conference cornerbacks with 78 tackles in 2008, and is projected to be taken in the first round of the draft.

** Ever hear that saying about how the rich only get richer? What about the poor? Coming off the worst season in its history, Michigan has already lost top running back Sam McDuffie, who is transferring to a school in his home state of Texas. Now comes word the Wolverines have lost verbally committed four-star quarterback Shavodrick Beaver of Wichita Falls, Texas. And to which college powerhouse has Michigan lost Beaver? Texas? Texas Tech? Oklahoma? Nope. Would you believe Tulsa? With all due respect to the Golden Hurricane, what does it say about your program when you are contending for players with – and losing them to – a school in Conference USA?

** Remember Trace Armstrong? He played his college ball at Arizona State and Florida before embarking upon a 15-year NFL career with Chicago, Miami and Oakland. After hanging up his cleats in 2003, Armstrong got into the agenting business. But he’s not a player rep although he served eight years as president of the NFL Players Association. Armstrong specializes in representing coaches and so far this season, he is doing pretty well for his clients. He placed Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley at New Mexico as the new head coach and successfully parlayed Brady Hoke’s big season at Ball State into a higher-paying gig as head coach at San Diego State. There will likely be plenty of presents under the tree tomorrow in the Armstrong house.

**Note to Browns fans: One of Armstrong’s other clients is Marty Schottenheimer, rumored as a possible successor to Romeo Crennel in Cleveland.

** Speaking of rumors, here’s one that is currently making the rounds from Miami to South Bend to Honolulu and back again. Should Notre Dame lose to Hawaii this evening in the Hawaii Bowl, the Irish will decide the Charlie Weis experiment is a failure and cut their losses. Who will they go after as a replacement? Urban Meyer, who told listeners to a South Florida radio show last week that Notre Dame is “still my dream job. That hasn’t changed.”

** Ron English was announced yesterday as the new head coach at Eastern Michigan. Yes, that’s the same Ron English who was defensive coordinator at Michigan, whose once-proud stop troops surrendered 32 or more points in six of their last 15 games under his tutelage. It is also the same Ron English who was defensive coordinator at Louisville this past season when the Cardinals allowed nearly 30 points a game, including 63 in their season finale against Rutgers. Now, English takes over a program at Eastern Michigan team that finished next-to-last in the MAC in total defense and 109th among 119 Division I-A schools in scoring defense in 2008. Hmmmmm.

** Have you ever heard of Doug Marrone? How about Reaves Baysinger? Maybe if you were an aficionado of Syracuse football, you’d know. Marrone just got hired as head coach of the Orange after spending the last three seasons as offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints. He is the first Syracuse alum to serve as head coach since Baysinger in 1948. For the Orange’s sake, let’s hope Marrone does better. Baysinger lasted only two seasons after posting a 4-14 record.

** Here’s another name to remember: Mark Hudspeth. He just left Division II North Alabama, where he had compiled a 66-21 record in seven seasons, to join Dan Mullen’s new staff at Mississippi State. Hudspeth will become passing game coordinator for Mullen, who was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Urban Meyer at Florida before replacing Sylvester Croom in Starkville. Anyone think the Bulldogs are fixin’ to throw the ball next year?

** So long to Sammy Baugh, who died Dec. 17 at the age of 94. Most people know that “Slingin’ Sammy” rewrote the NFL record books with the Washington Redskins, including becoming the first and only player ever to lead the league in passing, punting, and interceptions in the same season. But many don’t know that he was a star college player for TCU in the mid-1930s, leading the Horned Frogs to the 1935 national championship and finishing fourth in the 1936 Heisman Trophy balloting. TCU players wore a “45” sticker on their helmets during last night’s Poinsettia Bowl win over Boise State in memory of Baugh.

** Congratulations to Richmond, which cashed in on its first-ever appearance in the Division I-AA championship game. The Spiders rolled to a 24-7 victory over Montana last Friday night. Montana won the I-AA title in 2001 and was runner-up in 2004.

** Mount Union won its 10th national championship at the Division III level in the past 16 seasons, knocking off defending champ Wisconsin-Whitewater last Saturday by a 31-26 score. The two teams have met in the D-III title game for the fourth consecutive years with the Purple Raiders taking the 2005, ’06 and ’08 crowns.

** Mount Union running back Nate Kmic capped a record-breaking career with 88 yards and a touchdown, and became the first running back in NCAA history to crack the 8,000-yard mark. Kmic finished his career with 8,074 yards and also broke Division III postseason records for rushing yards, touchdowns and points scored.

** Despite Kmic’s heroics, it was Mount Union QB Greg Micheli who was named the Gagliardi Trophy winner as the outstanding NCAA Division III player of the year. Micheli was 12 for 19 for 262 yards and two touchdowns in the championship game against Montana, and finished the season with 3,749 yards and 36 touchdowns. His career totals: 568 completions in 780 attempts (72.8 percent), 8,479 yards, 81 TDs and only nine interceptions.

** Incidentally, the D-III player of the year award is named for longtime head coach John Gagliardi of St. John’s University in Minnesota. Gagliardi is college football’s all-time winningest coach with 453 victories in 60 (and counting) seasons. Gagliardi is also the only active coach who can call Joe Paterno “Sonny.” Gagliardi turned 82 on Nov. 1 while Paterno celebrated his 82nd birthday last Sunday.

** The University of Sioux Falls captured its third NAIA title last weekend with a 23-7 victory over defending champion Carroll (Mont.) College. Carroll, which defeated Sioux Falls by a 17-9 score in last year’s final, saw a 28-game winning streak end.

** Twenty years ago today marked a record bowl performance for an Alabama linebacker. On Dec. 24, 1988, the Crimson Tide wiped out a 28-20 fourth-quarter deficit and came back to beat Army 29-28 in the Sun Bowl. In that contest, Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas blocked two field goals to set an NCAA bowl record. Thomas, of course, went on to make the Pro Bowl nine times with the Kansas City Chiefs in a career that was tragically cut short by a fatal auto accident in 2000.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 22, 2003, North Carolina State quarterback Phillip Rivers set an NCAA record with his 54th collegiate start and celebrated by throwing for 475 yards and five TDs to lead the Wolfpack to a 56-26 win over Kansas in the Tangerine Bowl; on Dec. 25, 1899, Carlisle upset undefeated California, 2-0, in the East-West Championship game played in front of more than 15,000 fans in San Francisco; and on Dec. 27, 1971, Arizona State took a 45-38 victory over Florida State in the first-ever Fiesta Bowl. With the game tied 38-38, Sun Devils QB Danny White drove his team 57 yards, setting up a 2-yard touchdown run by halfback Woody Green with just 34 seconds remaining.

** This week also marks the birthday of one of this country’s most unsung college football and military heroes. Thomas Hamilton was born Dec. 26, 1905, in Hoopeston, Ill., (the same hometown as Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta), and grew up to become an All-America halfback at Navy. Hamilton helped lead the Midshipmen to a 9-0-1 record in 1926 while leading the country in drop-kicked field goals. Several years later, he ascended to the rank of admiral and founded the Navy V-5 preflight training program that was used in World War II. Hamilton later served two different stints as Navy’s football coach, was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1965 and served as commissioner of the Pacific 8 conference from 1959-71. Hamilton died in California in 1994 at the age of 88.

FEARLESS FORECAST

As we noted last week, we tend to stay away from bowl game for no other reason than what transpired over the weekend. Navy blew a 13-0 lead and lost by 10 to Wake Forest, Fresno State blew a 28-20 lead after three quarters and lost by five to Colorado State, and Troy enjoyed a 27-17 advantage heading into the third quarter and lost in overtime to Southern Miss. Naturally, we picked Navy, Fresno and Troy to win.

The first week of the bowl season was an excruciating one, but maybe things are looking up. We nailed last night’s TCU win over Boise State and that brought us to 2-4 both straight up and against the spread. Not great certainly, but at least somewhere to begin.

Here is the next week’s worth of bowl games and how we see them.

DEC. 24 GAMES

Hawaii Bowl

Hawaii vs. Notre Dame: Most people believe the Irish’s nine-game losing streak in bowl games – the longest in NCAA history – will finally come to an end. That’s probably because while Charlie Weis and his team stumbled down the stretch of the 2008 season, the Rainbows quietly won four of their last six, and one of the losses during that stretch was a 29-24 defeat to Orange Bowl-bound Cincinnati. Notre Dame lost four of its last five games, but to give the Irish their due, the defeats came against teams that combined to go 32-17 this year. Still, it’s difficult to see how such a shaky offense can navigate the sometimes-tricky Aloha Stadium winds. Plus, there is the small fact that the Rainbows are extremely tough at home – 45 wins in 55 games dating back to 2002 … Hawaii 27, Notre Dame 23. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

DEC. 26 GAMES

Motor City Bowl

Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan: If you like offense, this game is for you. FAU averaged 47.7 points in its final three victories while the Chippewas scored 30 or more points in six games this season. Couple that with a couple of teams who believe defense is something that goes between de-house and de-sidewalk, and you have the potential for a big-time fireworks display. The game will likely come down to which quarterback makes the fewer mistakes – Dan LeFevour of Central (2,531 yards, 21 TDs) or Rusty Smith of the Owls (2,918 yards, 22 TDs). If that’s the measuring stick, give me the Chippewas – LeFevour averaged one interception for every 67.2 attempts while Smith pitched picks at twice at that pace, one every 28.6 throws. Sit back and prepare to be entertained … Central Michigan 49, Florida Atlantic 42. (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

DEC. 27 GAMES

Meineke Car Care Bowl

West Virginia vs. North Carolina: At one time, these two teams were on track to meet one another in the Orange Bowl. Neither had any consistency during the season, however, and now they’re headed to a game in Charlotte that is ostensibly a home game for the Tar Heels. But as someone once said, “Not so fast.” North Carolina may have the better defense, but the Mountaineers still have quarterback Pat White, who is about as healthy as he has been in two years. White, who ran for 919 yards and eight TDs this season, is the NCAA’s all-time leader in career rushing among quarterbacks with 4,425 yards, including four 200-yard games. When you put him together with tailback Noel Devine, who had 1,228 yards this season for WVU, and then consider the fact that Carolina is only average against the run, you get the picture … West Virginia 30, North Carolina 23. (1 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Champs Sports Bowl

Wisconsin vs. Florida State: Talk about limping to the finish line. The Badgers struggled to beat Division I-AA Cal Poly by a single point in their season finale while the Seminoles lost two of their last three, including a 45-15 rout to Florida. These schools are meeting for the first time in history and – at least on paper – the game should be close. Both teams like to run the ball and both are pretty adept at shutting down the opposition’s passing attack. Like a lot of these bowl games, it could come down to turnovers and neither team has distinguished itself in that category – FSU is minus-3 for the season and U-Dub is minus-5. Flip a coin … Florida State 28, Wisconsin 24. (4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Emerald Bowl

Miami (Fla.) vs. California: The key matchup here pits Bears sophomore tailback Jahvid Best against the Hurricane’s young defense. Best ran for 1,394 yards and 13 touchdowns while Miami collapsed down the stretch, surrendering a combined 691 rushing yards in losses at Georgia Tech and North Carolina State to finish the season. Football can get complicated at times, but when you have one team that likes to run the ball playing against a team that has trouble stopping the run, things get a whole lot simpler … Cal 27, Miami 23. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

DEC. 28 GAMES

Independence Bowl

Northern Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech: The Huskies finished 6-6 this season under fist-year head coach Jerry Kill – nothing to write home about until you learn that they were 2-10 a year ago. Then when you find out NIU lost four of its six games by four points or less, and Kill’s team suddenly gets a little more respect. Meanwhile, Louisiana Tech is playing in its first bowl game since 2001 and should feel pretty much at home playing in Shreveport, just about an hour west of campus on I-20. Still, you have to watch those overachieving teams in bowl games who play like they have everything to gain and nothing to lose. That would seem to describe the Huskies to a T … Northern Illinois 31, Louisiana Tech 26. (8:15 p.m. EST, ESPN)

DEC. 29 GAMES

PapaJohns.com Bowl

North Carolina State vs. Rutgers: In early October, these two teams had combined for a 3-11 record. Then the Scarlet Knights won six in a row to finish 7-5 while the Wolfpack strung together four straight victories for a 6-6 record. Rutgers has relied on the experience of its senior quarterback Mike Teel, who is his school’s all-time leading passer. Meanwhile, N.C. State has ridden on the back of redshirt freshman QB Russell Wilson, who threw for 1,769 yards and 16 TDs and added 342 yards and four more scores on the ground. Normally, you would take experience over youth. But in the upside-down world of bowl games, nothing is normal. Also, there is the small matter of the Wolfpack working on a five-game postseason win streak … North Carolina State 29, Rutgers 23. (3 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Alamo Bowl

No. 21 Missouri vs. No. 23 Northwestern: If you can’t move the ball through the air in this game, you’re not trying. Mizzou QB Chase Daniel and Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bachér combined this season to throw for 6,263 yards and 51 TDs. Conversely, the Wildcats are 74th nationally in pass defense while the Tigers are 117th. Northwestern can play some ball control if senior tailback Tyrell Sutton can return from wrist surgery, and the Wildcats also possess a pretty good pass rush led by All-Big Ten defensive end Corey Wootten (9.0 sacks). One thing working against NU, however, is the fact that the school is working on a five-game losing streak in the postseason. The Wildcats haven’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl, a 20-14 win over Cal. Look for a few more points in this one … Missouri 47, Northwestern 41. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

DEC. 30 GAMES

Humanitarian Bowl

Maryland vs. Nevada: I still can’t get my head around a bowl game played outside in Boise, Idaho, in late December. But I guess a bowl game is a bowl game, and you certainly don’t hear any complaining from the Terrapins or Wolf Pack. This game shapes up to be a struggle between Nevada’s high-powered offense and Maryland’s stingy defense. The Terps may have their hands full against Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a two-way threat who accounted for 3,594 multipurpose yards this year, and bruising runner Vai Taua, a 225-pound bruiser who rushed for 1,420 yards and 14 TDs. There is little doubt that the ACC is a tougher conference than the WAC, but I just wonder how the Terps can manufacture enough offense to stay with the Wolf Pack … Nevada 27, Maryland 24. (4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Holiday Bowl

No. 13 Oklahoma State vs. No. 17 Oregon: You want another shootout, you’ve got another shootout. These teams each rank in the top eight nationally in scoring offense, combining to put up more than 83 points and 950 total yards per game. The Cowboys topped the 50-point mark five times this season while Ducks equaled that and even did a little better – they scored 60 or more on three different opponents. If you’re worried about defense spoiling this show, don’t bother. The teams allowed an average of 387.5 yards and 27.5 points per game. My advice if you’re going to watch this one: Hide the remote. If you start flipping, chances are you’ll miss a score or two … Oklahoma State 56, Oregon 52. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Texas Bowl

Western Michigan vs. Rice: Of course, if you do want to channel-surf – and you get the NFL Network on your big screen – you’ll probably want to take a look at this game featuring two of the unsung quarterbacks in college football. Chase Clement of Rice and Tim Hiller of Western Michigan combined this past season to complete 66.5 percent of their 926 attempts for 7,339 yards and 75 TDs against only 15 interceptions. As you might expect, though, neither team seems very interested in defense. Western finished the regular season ranked 83rd nationally in total defense while the Owls were 114th. It seems hard to believe a team could suddenly get that much better on defense during bowl practice, so barring turnovers, we’ll take the MAC over the WAC in another wild one … Western Michigan 48, Rice 45. (8 p.m. EST, NFL Network)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Hawaii (+2½) vs. Notre Dame; Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan (-6½); West Virginia (-1) vs. North Carolina; Wisconsin (+6) vs. Florida State; Miami-FL (+8½) vs. California; Northern Illinois (+1) vs. Louisiana Tech; North Carolina State (+7½) vs. Rutgers; Missouri vs. Northwestern (+13); Maryland vs. Nevada (-2); Oklahoma State (-3) vs. Oregon; Western Michigan (+3) vs. Rice.

Enjoy the games and have a safe and very Merry Christmas.

Top 10 College Football Coaches

While on vacation last week, I visited one of my favorite Southwest Florida establishments and overhead a discussion about college football coaches. Being in SEC country, most of the argument centered on coaches from the conference that has won the last two national championships.

One guy was absolutely convinced that Florida head coach Urban Meyer was the best in the entire country. His buddy argued that while Meyer was very good, he wasn’t even the best coach in his own conference. That distinction, he argued, was reserved for former Florida boss and current South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

Neither could agree on much with one notable exception – their mutual hatred for Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer despite 147 wins over the last 15 seasons including the 1998 national championship.

Naturally, the discussion got me to thinking about the best college coaches in the country. Here is my top 10. See how it compares with yours.

1. Pete Carroll, USC – Most people forget that Carroll was damaged goods when he surfaced in L.A. in 2001. He was basically run out of the NFL, fired by the New York Jets and the New England Patriots. But the Trojans couldn’t exactly afford to be choosy at the time they hired Carroll. They were coming off a five-year stretch during which they were 31-29, and Carroll’s first season in 2001 produced a 6-6 record and tie for sixth place in the Pac-10. Since then, the Men of Troy have had six straight seasons with 11 or more victories, have never finished lower than No. 4 in the final AP poll during that stretch and won back-to-back national titles in 2003 and ’04. All that plus the top winning percentage among all active I-A coaches at .844 – throw out that first season and it’s a stratospheric .897.

2. Jim Tressel, Ohio State – Let’s forget for a second that Tressel’s team has lost consecutive BCS title games. Let’s also forget that he doesn’t court media attention, making him less than desirable for the national outlets like ESPN and more susceptible to their potshots. Despite all of that, it is the black and white of Tressel’s résumé that sets him apart from most of his contemporaries. He is one of a handful of Division I-A coaches with 60 or more wins over the past six seasons. His team is shooting for a historic third straight outright Big Ten championship. And he has beaten his archrival six out of seven times, and that hadn’t happened in nearly 50 years. Then throw in the fact that his teams have played for the national championship nine times over the past 17 seasons – winning five titles – and you begin to see why Tressel belongs near the top of this list.

3. Urban Meyer, Florida You may not like his smug demeanor, and you may not like it that he always seems to looking for an opportunity to fatten his wallet. But make no mistake – Meyer is a bona fide winner. So far, he has turned around the fortunes at three different schools. He was 17-6 in two seasons at Bowling Green after the Falcons had gone 24-42 in the preceding six years. He was 22-2 at Utah after the Utes were 17-17 in their previous three seasons. And after the three-year Ron Zook experiment produced a mediocre 23-15 record at Florida, Meyer has won 31 of 39 games in three seasons while producing the 2006 national championship and 2007 Heisman Trophy quarterback Tim Tebow, the first sophomore ever to win the award.

4. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma You think Tressel and his team have had a rough go lately in the postseason? After winning his first three BCS bowl games, Stoops is now working on a four-game losing streak, the most recent a particularly ugly 48-28 loss to West Virginia in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. Nevertheless, Oklahoma annually seems to be a player in the national championship story. Maybe that’s because Stoops has led his team to 90 victories since the start of the 2000 season, the most at the Division I-A level during that span. Of course, his résumé also boasts the 2000 national title as well as a career winning percentage of .815 that is second among active coaches only to Carroll.

5. Mark Richt, Georgia Fourth among active I-A coaches with a .791 winning percentage, Richt is one of only six coaches to win a pair of SEC crowns in his first five seasons. His Georgia teams have won nine or more games in each of the past six years, won five of their last six bowl games and finished among the country’s top 10 teams five of the past six seasons. One other thing about Richt – he was the architect of Florida State’s potent offensive attacks throughout the 1990s. When he was QBs coach and offensive coordinator with the Seminoles, they went 120-15-1 (.886) with two national titles. Since he left, FSU has a combined record of 58-32 (.644) including 3-5 in bowl games.

6. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech – Has anyone done more with less over the past two decades than Beamer? Blacksburg is nice enough, but when you have to contend with the likes of conference foes such as Florida State, Clemson, Boston College and Miami (Fla.) – not mention all of the SEC rivals in the area – recruiting players to Virginia Tech isn’t exactly easy. Yet, Beamer has managed to post 164 victories at his alma mater, including 10 wins or more in seven of the past nine seasons. He is also acknowledged as one of the top special teams coaches in the game, and his 208 career wins rank him 12th all-time and third among active I-A coaches behind Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno.

7. Jim Leavitt, South Florida While offense usually gets the headlines, defense is typically what wins football games and Leavitt understands that concept perfectly. He was a successful defensive coordinator, most notably at Kansas State in the early 1990s, before taking over South Florida’s brand new football program in 1997. Playing four seasons as a I-AA independent before making the leap to I-A in 2001, Leavitt is the only coach the Bulls have ever known. The team took a major step last year, rising to No. 2 in the polls before losing three straight games. But Leavitt has said that was a learning experience and you get the feeling USF may come back even stronger in 2008.

8. Greg Schiano, Rutgers You to be doing something right to make Rutgers one of the must-see teams in the nation. Thanks to a couple of excellent recruiting classes – not to mention an agreement to play several games in front of a Thursday night national television audience – the Scarlet Knights have become one of the most entertaining acts in college football. After beginning his career in Piscataway with a dismal four-year record of 12-34, Schiano has turned things around these past three seasons. Since 2005, the Knights have gone 26-12, including a pair of impressive bowl wins the last two years. If Schiano continues to win at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey is going to find it difficult to keep him under contract.

9. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech – The proof is how good Johnson really is will become clearer starting this year when he takes over the Yellow Jackets, a team that has won more than seven games only once in the past seven seasons. But it’s not like Tech is going way out on a limb with Johnson, who turns 51 on Aug. 20. His throwback triple-option offense got Navy to five straight bowls and captured back-to-back Division I-AA national titles at Georgia Southern. The first of those championships came in 1999 against Youngstown State, then coached by Tressel.

10. Jeff Tedford, Cal Some of the shine may be off the 46-year-old Tedford after the Bears stumbled to a 7-6 season last year. But there is every indication that was a one-year aberration. Before Tedford got to Berkeley, the Bears hadn’t had a winning season in eight year. Since he arrived in 2002, Cal is 50-26 with four bowl victories and the program’s first Pac-10 championship in 31 years. Among the coach’s many attributes is churning out NFL quarterbacks. Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington, Billy Volek, A.J. Feeley, Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers are all Tedford protégés.

Honorable mention – Pat Hill, Fresno State; Gary Patterson, TCU; Brian Kelly, Cincinnati; Tom O’Brien, North Carolina State.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to one of the most underrated receivers in Ohio State history. Bruce Jankowski was born Aug. 12, 1949, in Patterson, N.J., and was a star running back at Fairview High School. He was converted to receiver when he got to Columbus and became a member of the Super Sophomores, who helped carry OSU to the 1968 national championship. That season, Jankowski led the Buckeyes with 31 catches for 328 yards and three TDs, and finished his three-year career with 66 receptions for 968 and nine touchdowns. After graduation, Jankowski played two seasons in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs before retiring in 1972. He currently lives in Kansas about a half-hour south of Kansas City.

Also celebrating birthdays today: two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All The President’s Men”); race car driver and owner Parnelli Jones; overly tanned actor George Hamilton; guitarist extraordinaire and Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler; self-proclaimed psychic Miss Cleo (born Youree Dell Harris); rapper Sir Mix A Lot (born Anthony Ray); comedian/actor/writer Michael Ian Black (born Michael Schwartz); actor Casey Affleck (Ben’s little brother); Wheel of Fortune announcer Charlie O’Donnell; Memphis Grizzlies forward Antoine Walker; New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress; San Diego Chargers receiver Chris Chambers; and 14-time Grand Slam tennis champion Pete Sampras.

Today would also have marked the 73rd birthday of character actor John Cazale. You may not recognize the name, but Cazale played supporting roles in several classic films of the 1970s. In addition to portraying, Stan in “The Conversation,” Stosh in “The Deer Hunter” and Al Pacino’s bank robber accomplice Sal in “Dog Day Afternoon,” Cazale was hang-dog older brother Fredo Corleone in “The Godfather” trilogy. Sadly, Cazale died of bone cancer in 1978 at the age of 42 just as his career was taking off. Each of the five films in which he appeared during his lifetime – as well as “The Godfather: Part III,” which used archival footage of Cazale’s performance as Fredo – were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

AND FINALLY

** If you see yesterday’s trade by Cincinnati of outfielder Adam Dunn to Arizona as anything more than a salary dump, better check your eyesight. I have been a Reds fan all my life, but the last few years of listening to fans and their constant whining about Dunn and future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. is about all I can stand. Maybe it’s simple karma that Cincinnati fans haven’t been able to cheer for a World Series champion since 1990. They don’t deserve it.

** When the 2008 baseball season comes to a close, and the last game has been played in historic Yankee Stadium, the team will put several items from the park up for public auction. As unbelievable as this sounds, one of the items slated to be sold is the iconic Babe Ruth Monument situated behind the centerfield fence. Noted sports memorabilia appraiser Leila Dunbar estimates the monument could bring somewhere between $250,000 and $2 million.

** Speaking of sports memorabilia, there is a “Favre Comeback Special” advertisement in the September issue of Sports Collectors Monthly. Signed items include a mini-helmet for $159.95, an authentic jersey for $389.95 and a ProLine authentic full-size helmet for $439.95. Yes, each of those items are from Green Bay.

** If this truly is Joe Paterno’s final season at Penn State, it would seem pretty much of a lock that his successor will be Greg Schiano of Rutgers. Schiano, a Bucknell grad who spent six seasons in the 1990s on Paterno’s staff in Happy Valley, won’t be that difficult to get. According to conflicting reports, Schiano either has a relatively small $500,000 buyout clause in his current contract with the Scarlet Knights or no buyout clause at all.

** ESPN recently announced that Chick-fil-A has signed on as a sponsor for the College GameDay show featuring Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit. I suppose there is some joke in there about the synergy between the eponymous show and chicken, but you can probably come up with your own.

** Jack Rockne died Sunday in South Bend, Ind., of throat cancer at the age of 82. He was the last surviving child of legendary Notre Dame head coach Knute Rockne, who died in a plane crash in 1931. Jack is survived by four children, including daughter Jeanne Anne, who lives in Columbus.

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