History Favors Buckeyes For Stretch Run

Admit it. You were worried at halftime last Saturday when Ohio State trailed Penn State by 11 points. You were the one throwing up his hands in disgust, wondering how you could stomach the Buckeyes playing in the Outback Bowl when many preseason predictions had them competing for a national championship.

I’ll admit to more than a little apprehension myself, especially since I knew no Ohio State team in the Jim Tressel era had ever come back to win after falling into a deficit larger than 10 points.

Of course, history can be a double-edged sword. Had any of us bothered to remember Penn State’s penchant for second-half collapses against the Buckeyes, the Pepto-Bismol could have stayed on the shelf.

First of all, the Nittany Lions have never played well in Ohio Stadium since joining the Big Ten and their 38-14 loss this season was their eighth in nine trips to the Horseshoe since 1993. Moreover, they have been outscored by 163 points in those nine games.

But it isn’t just that Penn State loses in Columbus – it’s how the Nittany Lions lose. Usually after taking a halftime lead and then pitching interceptions that the Buckeyes turn into touchdowns.

It should have come as no surprise, then, when Devon Torrence and Travis Howard returned interceptions for touchdowns this year. In the nine games at the Horseshoe against Penn State since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten, the Buckeyes have tallied 16 interceptions and returned six of them for touchdowns.

In addition to the good feelings the Buckeyes have whenever Penn State comes to town, history also bodes well for Ohio State in terms of their final two games of the regular season. The Buckeyes are 14-2-1 in their last 17 trips to Kinnick Stadium, and the program is in the middle of a six-game winning streak against archrival Michigan while Tressel has beaten the Wolverines in eight of his previous nine tries.

What’s more, history sides with the Buckeyes in their quest for a second consecutive Rose Bowl appearance. Their chief competition in the Run for the Roses is Wisconsin, but the Badgers must first successfully navigate a Nov. 20 trip to Michigan.

Before you dismiss the Wolverines’ chances in that contest, you should know Wisconsin hasn’t won in Ann Arbor since 1994 and one of Rich Rodriguez’s six Big Ten victories came against the Badgers – a 27-25 win in 2008 when Michigan overcame a 19-0 halftime deficit.

Also tied with OSU and Wisconsin for first place in the Big Ten standings is Michigan State, which finishes its regular season Nov. 27 at Penn State. The Spartans have lost five of the last six in that series, including eight in a row at Beaver Stadium – six of those by margins of at least 19 points.

Should all of the aforementioned historical data hold true these next two weeks, Ohio State could be headed for a Rose Bowl date with someone other than a Pac-10 representative since Oregon remains undefeated and focused squarely on the BCS National Championship Game.

However, while history sides with Ohio State down the stretch, it does not favor the Ducks. They haven’t finished a regular season undefeated since going 7-0-1 in 1916, and the only unblemished record in program history was a 4-0 mark in 1895.

Naturally, those at Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Oregon will tell you where you can stick your history lessons. Penn State was likely whistling the same tune before playing Ohio State.

All I can say is that we would all do well to heed long-dead English historian Edward Gibbon who once wrote, “I know no way of judging the future but by the past.”

OSU-IOWA TIDBITS

** This will be the 63rd overall meeting between Ohio State and Iowa in a series that began in 1922. The Buckeyes enjoy a lopsided 45-14-3 advantage over the Hawkeyes, including a 17-6-2 record in Iowa City. OSU has won 11 of the last 12 in the series, and six of the last seven played at Kinnick Stadium.

** The game marks the 20th time in the series when both teams are ranked. The Buckeyes are 15-4 in those previous 19 games.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 4-1 against Iowa while Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is 1-6 all-time against the Buckeyes. 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.

** While at OSU, Tressel has a 38-14 overall record against ranked teams and a 13-7 mark on the road against the top 25. Ferentz is 19-25 overall against ranked teams and 10-5 at home against top-25 opposition. Ohio State enters the game ranked No. 7 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, No. 8 in the Associated Press writers’ poll and No. 9 in the BCS standings. Iowa is No. 20 in the coaches’ and BCS rankings and No. 21 according to the writers.

** Tressel is 27-4 in November games at Ohio State. Ferentz is 22-16 in November while at Iowa.

** 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 with the Black Bears.

** Tomorrow’s game is the final road game of the 2010 regular season for the Buckeyes. All-time, they are 67-47-6 in the final away game of the season and 7-2 under Tressel.

** Ohio State has won 20 of its last 22 Big Ten road contests. Iowa has won only 13 of its last 21 conference home games.

** Iowa junior safety Tyler Sash is one of the top defensive backs in Big Ten history in terms of interceptions. With two picks this season, Sash has 13 career interceptions and 392 return yards. He needs five more picks to break into the Big Ten all-time top 10 and only eight more return yards to become only the fourth player in league history with 400 or more. The longtime 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.

** When the Buckeyes scored their 38-14 victory over Penn State last week, it marked the 100th time in 125 games during the Tressel era that OSU had held an opponent under 24 points. The team’s record in those 100 games is 94-6.

** The Ohio State defense is tied for the national lead with 17 interceptions, two more than Iowa. Each team has returned three of those picks for touchdowns this season.

** OSU and Iowa rank first or second in the Big Ten in eight different statistical categories – scoring defense, rushing defense, total defense, turnover margin, pass efficiency defense, red zone defense, kickoff returns and pass efficiency.

** Iowa has 13 Ohio natives on its roster including three starters – quarterback Ricky Stanzi (Mentor Lake Catholic), receiver Darrell Johnson-Koulianos (Youngstown Cardinal Mooney) and defensive back Micah Hyde (Fostoria). Ohio has no native Iowans on its roster.

** Stanzi ranks No. 3 nationally in pass efficiency at 167.2 while Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor is No. 5 at 166.4. Each is within striking distance of one of the longest standing Big Ten single-season records, established in 1947 when Michigan quarterback Bob Chappuis had a passer rating of 175.3.

** Pryor has moved into second place in career total offense at Ohio State with 7,324 yards, behind only Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81), and has moved past Schlichter into fourth place all-time with 52 touchdown passes. Only Bobby Hoying (57, 1992-95), Joe Germaine (56, 1996-98) and Troy Smith (54, 2003-06) have more.

** Pryor is also nearing the top five in career passing yardage at OSU. He currently occupies eighth place with 5,541 yards and needs only 29 more to pass Mike Tomczak (5,569, 1981-84) for seventh place. Steve Bellisari (5,878, 1998-2001) is currently fifth while Smith (5,720) is sixth.

** Pryor has bumped his season passing total to 2,136 yards and become only the sixth Ohio State QB with back-to-back seasons of throwing for 2,000 yards or more. The others are Jim Karsatos (1985-86), Greg Frey (1988-90), Hoying (1994-95), Craig Krenzel (2002-03) and Smith (2005-06).

** OSU junior tailback Dan “Boom” Herron moved closer to the 1,000-yard mark with his career-high 190-yard effort last week against Penn State. The 5-10, 202-pound junior now has 824 yards for the season with two regular-season games and a bowl contest remaining. At his present pace, Herron would finish with 1,071 yards.

** OSU junior receiver DeVier Posey has caught at least one pass in 24 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the Big Ten. Posey, however, is only halfway to the school record of 48 consecutive games with at least one pass reception held by Gary Williams (1979-82).

** OSU senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher and Posey are steadily moving up the school list in career receiving yardage. Sanzenbacher (1,647) and Posey (1,609) currently rank 15th and 16th all-time, but could move into the top 10 by season’s end. Brian Robiskie (1,866, 2005-08) is in the No. 10 spot followed by Ken-Yon Rambo (1,849, 1997-2000), Jeff Graham (1,809, 1988-90), Cedric Anderson (1,707, 1980-83) and Terry Glenn (1,677, 1993-95).

** OSU senior kicker Devin Barclay converted on five more PATs last weekend, giving him 52 in a row this season and 64 without a miss during his career. Tim Williams holds the school record for consecutive PATs with 86 between 1991 and ’93.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern, and the game will be televised in HD by ABC on a national basis. Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Matt Millen (color analysis) and Quint Kessenich (sideline reports) make up the announce crew.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 122 and 125 as well as XM radio channels 102 and 143.

** Michigan comes to town next week for the traditional regular-season finale. Kickoff will be shortly after noon Eastern and that game will be televised by ABC/ESPN on a reverse mirror basis.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Nov. 15, 1941, College Football Hall of Fame head coach Eddie Robinson earned his first career victory as he led Grambling to a 37-6 win over Tillotson (Texas). Robinson eventually directed the Tigers to 408 victories in 55 years at Grambling.

** On Nov. 16, 1872, Yale played its first-ever football game, beating Columbia by a 3-0 score.

** On Nov. 16, 1957, Notre Dame stopped Oklahoma’s NCAA-record winning streak at 47 games with a 7-0 victory over the Sooners in Norman.

** On Nov. 16, 1991, BYU and San Diego State combined to score 104 points, but finished deadlocked at 52-52, the highest-scoring tie in NCAA history.

** On Nov. 16, 1996, Washington running back Corey Dillon set an NCAA record with 305 total yards in one quarter – 222 rushing and 83 receiving – during his team’s 53-10 win over San Jose State. Dillon’s 222 rushing yards also established a new NCAA record for rushing yards in one quarter.

** On Nov. 17, 1906, Kansas took an 8-6 victory over Nebraska, beginning the longest continuous Division I-A series, one that ends next season when the Cornhuskers join the Big Ten.

** On Nov. 17, 1923, Kansas City University lost a 131-0 decision to St. Mary’s (Kan.), capping a winless 0-6 season in which KCU was outscored, 623-0.

** On Nov. 17, 1956, Syracuse halfback Jim Brown set an NCAA record for single-game scoring, accounting for 43 points (rushing for six touchdowns and kicking seven PATs) during a 61-7 win over Colgate. Brown’s record stood until 1990 and still stands third all-time.

** On Nov. 18, 1961, College and Pro Football Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen led Utah State to a 17-6 win over intrastate rival Utah in Salt Lake City. The win moved Utah State to 9-0-1 for the season, the Aggies’ best record in program history and their only undefeated regular season since 1936.

** On Nov. 18, 1978, Oklahoma running back Billy Sims rushed for 209 yards in a 62-7 win over Oklahoma State and broke the Big Eight’s single-season rushing record in the process.

** On Nov. 19, 1966, top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State played to a 10-10 tie in East Lansing, a contest that has often been called “The Game of the Century.” Fighting Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty was knocked out of the game in the first quarter after getting sacked by Spartans defensive lineman Bubba Smith, and starting Notre Dame running back Nick Eddy missed the entire game after hurting his shoulder getting off the train in East Lansing. The Irish had the ball on their own 30-yard line with 1:10 to go in the game, but head coach Ara Parseghian chose to run out the clock, preserving the tie and his team’s No. 1 ranking. Notre Dame went on to win the 1966 national championship while Michigan State finished second.

** On Nov. 19, 1983, Oregon and Oregon State battled to a 0-0 tie in Eugene, the final scoreless tie in NCAA history due to the institution of overtime beginning in 1994.

** On Nov. 20, 1976, Kentucky took a 7-0 victory over Tennessee and marked its first victory in Knoxville in a dozen years. Running back Greg Woods raced 68 yards with a pass from QB Derrick Ramsey for the only score in the game, and clinched the Wildcats’ first bowl bid since 1952.

** 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” (a.k.a. “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 on Nov. 20, 1982, Stanford band members entered the field to celebrate what they believed was an upset victory over California. As time expired, however, the Golden Bears used five lateral passes while weaving through the Cardinal band to score a touchdown as Kevin Moen mowed down a Stanford trombone player in the end zone. After five minutes of deliberation, officials awarded Cal the 25-20 victory, resulting in one of the most unorthodox victories in college football history.

** On Nov. 20, 1999, TCU running back LaDanian Tomlinson set the NCAA single-game rushing record when he carried 43 times for 406 yards during a 52-24 win over UTEP in Fort Worth. Tomlinson’s 287 second-half yards also tied an NCAA record for rushing yards in one half.

** 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.

** On Nov. 21, 1992, Washington State QB Drew Bledsoe threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns during a snowstorm in Pullman, leading the Cougars to a 42-23 upset of fifth-ranked Washington.

** On Nov. 22, 1875, Harvard took a 4-0 victory over Yale in the first-ever meeting of the Ivy League schools. They will celebrate their 127th meeting tomorrow in a series led 65-53-8 by the Elis.

** 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

** A couple of them were a bit shaky last Saturday, but Auburn, Boise State, Oregon and TCU remain the only unbeaten teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (a.k.a. Division I-A) level this week.

** Auburn QB Cameron Newton’s father, Cecil, admitted last week that he tried to shop his son’s talent to the highest bidder but that Cam had no knowledge of the plan. Meanwhile, Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports tweeted last weekend, “Interesting note about Auburn, they have hired ex-NCAA (Committee on Infractions chairman) Gene Marsh to work on Cam Newton issue. They intend (to) fight it all the way.” Robinson, by the way, is the guy who broke the Reggie Bush story in 2006 and nailed ex-North Carolina assistant John Blake earlier this fall. In other words, he is an extremely credible source who knows a little something about NCAA investigations.

** For what it’s worth, SI.com football writer Stewart Mandel has both Wisconsin and Ohio State winning out, predicting the Badgers to the Rose Bowl against Boise State and the Buckeyes to the Sugar Bowl for a rematch of the 2007 national title game with LSU.

** Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema made no apologies for his team’s 83-20 victory last week against Indiana. Even though the Badgers scored on a 74-yard pass play in the fourth quarter while leading the Hoosiers by 56 points, Bielema said the long TD was a broken play made by a second-string quarterback who “needed the work.” People would probably accept that explanation/excuse had the Badgers not still been throwing the ball earlier this season while enjoying a 42-3 lead over Division I-AA Austin Peay. Bielema also instructed his team to attempt a two-point conversion Oct. 9 after taking a 41-16 lead over Minnesota with 6:39 remaining in the game.

** The 83 points scored by the Badgers was the most in a game since an 85-0 victory over Marquette in 1915.

** Thanks to starting quarterback Dan Persa rupturing his Achilles’ tendon, redshirt freshman Evan Watkins will make his first career start for Northwestern tomorrow when the Wildcats square off against Illinois at Wrigley Field. Making the start even sweeter for Watkins? He is a suburban Chicago native.

** That game at Wrigley Field will be the first college football game played in “The Friendly Confines” since 1938 when DePaul used to play its home games there. The last time Wrigley Field hosted a football game on any level was December 1970 when the Chicago Bears played their final home game there before relocating to Soldier Field.

** Another MLB venue will host a college football game this weekend when Army faces Notre Dame tomorrow at Yankee Stadium. It marks the first college game for the new facility which opened in 2009, but the Black Knights and Fighting Irish played nearly two dozen times at old Yankee Stadium between 1925 and 1969. Tomorrow’s game will be the first college football game at any venue called Yankee Stadium since 1987 when Central State (Ohio) took a 37-21 win over Grambling in front of a crowd of 29,411.

** While Northwestern and Illinois play at Wrigley Field tomorrow, Indiana and Penn State will square off at FedEx Field, the Landover, Md., home of the NFL’s Washington Redskins. The two league games will mark the first time Big Ten contests have been staged at neutral sites since 2000. Penn State took a 27-24 victory over Indiana that year at the old Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis.

** Congratulations to Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone. His team’s 13-10 win last Saturday over Rutgers came him 11 victories in his first two seasons with the Orange. Marrone’s predecessor Greg Robinson had only 10 wins in four years on the job.

** When Notre Dame toppled No. 14 Utah last week, it ended a particularly ugly 11-game losing streak against top-15 teams. The Fighting Irish hadn’t beaten a top-15 team since a 17-10 win over Michigan in September 2005.

** How bad have things gotten for Texas? After a 33-16 home loss to Oklahoma State last weekend, the Longhorns dropped to 4-6 and have to win their remaining games against Florida Atlantic and instate rival Texas A&M to avoid becoming the first team ever to fail to qualify for bowl eligibility the year after playing in the BCS championship game.

** Division III Williams (Mass.) finished off a magical season last Saturday with a 31-16 victory over instate rival Amherst. The Ephs completed a perfect 8-0 victory and normally would be headed to the NCAA playoffs. However, they are part of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, which for some reason bars its members from postseason play.

** It could be the same old, same old for the Division III playoffs this season. Mount Union (Ohio) and Whitewater (Wis.) finished the regular season undefeated again and were placed on opposite sides of the 32-team bracket. The Purple Raiders and the Warhawks have met in the D-III championship game each of the past five seasons. Mount Union won the title in 2005, ’06 and ’08 while Whitewater took home the trophy in 2007 and ’09.

** On the flip side of the Division III coin, Maranatha Baptist Bible College (Wis.) had the NCAA’s longest losing streak at 33 games until a 14-6 win last Saturday afternoon Rockford College (Ill.). The Crusaders intercepted four passes in the victory, and ran one back 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The Forecast is stuck in a rut – albeit a pretty good one. We were 8-2 again with last week’s straight-up picks, missing only the Upset Special that had Georgia beating Auburn and the inexplicable Notre Dame win over Utah. The yearly record is now 97-18 in straight up picks.

Against the spread, the bubble finally burst. It was a losing week although not too bad at 4-6. We’re still well above the money line at 69-42-4 ATS for the season, but looking to end the losing streak at one.

Here are the games we’re watching this week.

TONIGHT’S GAME

Fresno State at No. 4 Boise State: The question no longer seems a matter of whether the Broncos will get a BCS invitation – it’s which one they will receive. It could be the Rose Bowl should Oregon win out and play for the national championship. Or it could be the title game should the Ducks and/or Auburn slip up sometime in the next couple of weeks. Either way, if the Broncos keep winning, they should be in line for a big-money BCS game for the second year in a row and third time in the last five seasons. First things first, though, and the Bulldogs are no slouch at 6-3. They have a pretty good offense and can score some points, plus they know how to win on the Smurf Turf. Fresno beat Georgia Tech on the headache-inducing blue carpet in the 2007 Humanitarian Bowl. The Bulldogs are less effective when playing the Broncos in Bronco Stadium, though, losing their last four visits there by an average of 34.5 points … Boise State 41, Fresno State 17. (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 7 Wisconsin at Michigan: Do you think it’s possible Bret Bielema has been running up scores all season in preparation for an anticipated track meet with the Wolverines? Bielema’s team has topped the 30-point mark seven times this season and comes off an 83-20 win last week over Indiana, the highest point total for the winning team in a Big Ten contest since 1950. The Badgers may need all the points they can score against the Wolverines, who average 37.7 points and 521.8 yards per game. U-M also runs the kind of finesse offense that can negate some of Wisconsin’s power. Can Michigan score enough points to win, though? That’s the big question as a leaky defense that has given up 30 or more points six times this season goes against a team that seemingly has no problem keeping its foot on the accelerator for 60 minutes. Ann Arbor hasn’t exactly been friendly to the Badgers over the years, and their 6-21-1 record there is proof of that. There is an indication that Michigan QB Denard Robinson has finally hit the proverbial wall, but maybe he has one more superlative performance in him. Here is your Upset Special … Michigan 49, Wisconsin 45. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

No. 10 Oklahoma State at Kansas: There has been a changing of the guard at the top of the Big 12 South this season and the Cowboys are leading the way. With Texas and Texas Tech at the bottom of the standings, and Oklahoma visiting Stillwater on Nov. 27, Okie State needs victories in its final two games to have what it hopes will be a rematch against Nebraska in the conference title game. Before any of that can happen, though, the Cowboys have to take care of business this week in Lawrence. The Pokes have who could be considered the best college quarterback nobody knows in Brandon Weeden (3,391 yards, 27 TDs), and a receiver everyone knows in Justin Blackmon, who leads the nation with 1,430 yards and 16 touchdowns. Those numbers don’t bode well for the Jayhawks, who rank 104th nationally in pass defense … Oklahoma State 38, Kansas 10. (12 noon ET, FSN)

Purdue at No. 11 Michigan State: If the Spartans win their final two games, the worst they can do is a share of the Big Ten championship which would be their first title since 1990. For that to happen, QB Kirk Cousins is going to have to get things back in gear. Three weeks ago, the junior QB threw three interceptions in the team’s 37-6 loss to Iowa, and he followed that with a season-low 131 yards plus another pick during a 31-8 win over Minnesota. Now, after an open week last Saturday, Cousins will try to conjure up good thoughts against the Boilermakers. He threw for 208 yards and three TDs last season when Michigan State pulled out a wild 40-37 decision over Purdue in West Lafayette, a game the Boilermakers led 34-23 early in the fourth quarter. Inconsistency on both sides of the ball cost Purdue dearly in that game, and the Boilers are having the same kind of problems against this year. They are in the middle of a four-game slide that has seen them outscored by a 154-39 margin … Michigan State 34, Purdue 10. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Troy at No. 23 South Carolina: While Auburn, LSU and Alabama have gotten most of the headlines this season, perhaps the most intriguing story in the SEC comes out of the East as the Ol’ Ball Coach and his Gamecocks have clinched a spot in the conference championship game. Now the assignment is to avoid a letdown since the team finishes its regular-season schedule with a pair of nonconference games. South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore has slowly made a name for himself this season, and the freshman workhorse (202 carries so far) needs only 36 more yards to crack the 1,000 mark. That would make him only the sixth player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season and the first since Derek Watson had 1,066 in 2000. Lattimore shouldn’t have any problem getting his yards against the Trojans, who allowed 448 yards on the ground last week in a 52-35 home loss to Florida International … South Carolina 34, Troy 20. (12:21 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Appalachian State at No. 22 Florida: The giant killers from Division I-AA get another shot at Goliath this week when the Mountaineers invade the Swamp and try to take down the Gators. By now, every college football fan knows Appalachian State went into Ann Arbor in 2007 and knocked off Michigan. Since then, however, the Mountaineers have struggled against I-A competition, losing a 41-13 decision to LSU in 2008 and a 29-24 verdict to East Carolina last year. Year in and year out, however, Appalachian State is a I-AA national title contender and 2010 is no different. The Mountaineers are 9-1 and rank fourth nationally in scoring offense. That should be a source of concern – at least a little bit – to Florida head coach Urban Meyer, whose team has underachieved in its first year after Tim Tebow ascended to the NFL. Still, despite being only 6-4, the Gators are still pretty good on defense and special teams and that will more than make the difference in this game … Florida 31, Appalachian State 14. (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Mississippi at No. 5 LSU: The Tigers have gotten mighty full of themselves since their 24-21 win over Alabama two weeks ago. Head coach Les Miles says his team should have the chance to play for the national championship – big talk for a team that isn’t even going to play for its own conference title. LSU would probably do well to keep its mouth shut and simply tend to its own business, which includes trying to solve the Rebels who have beaten the Tigers two years running. This year’s Ole Miss team bears little resemblance to the ones of 2008 and ’09, however, as Houston Nutt’s team is smack dab in the middle of a 4-6 rebuilding season. The Rebs have had trouble scoring points all season and that won’t get any easier against an LSU unit that ranks sixth in the nation in scoring defense … LSU 34, Mississippi 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 20 Virginia Tech at Miami (Fla.): After season-opening losses to Boise State and I-AA James Madison, the Hokies have slowly climbed back up the polls with a workmanlike eight-game win streak. They can clinch another berth in the ACC title game with a win over the Hurricanes, who have overcome some adversity of their own this year. Miami, which got punked early in the season by Ohio State and then destroyed Oct. 9 by Florida State, lost quarterback Jacory Harris three weeks ago in an upset loss to Virginia. Harris remains out with a concussion but the Hurricanes have won two in a row behind freshman QB Stephen Morris. Of course, those two victories came against Maryland and Georgia Tech, teams with defenses that rank seventh and ninth respectively in the ACC. The Hokies are No. 7 nationally in pass efficiency defense and have the services of CB Jaron Hosley, who leads the nation with seven interceptions … Virginia Tech 21, Miami 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

New Mexico State at No. 21 Nevada: The Wolf Pack need to avoid any slipups this week if next Friday night’s encounter with Boise State is to mean anything. That shouldn’t be a problem since the Aggies’ defensive weaknesses fit snugly into Nevada’s wheelhouse. Behind QB Colin Kaepernick (3,017 total yards, 32 TDs), the Pack ranks third in the nation in total offense and fourth in scoring while New Mexico State is 101st in total defense and 110th in scoring defense. Making matters worse for the Aggies is the fact starting quarterback Matt Christian will miss his second game in a row with an undisclosed injury. If you’re thinking Nevada could get caught looking ahead, you could hang your hat on the fact New Mexico State went into Mackay Stadium in 2008 and came out with a 48-45 victory. But the Aggies have lost 10 straight WAC road games since then, so don’t get your hopes up too high … Nevada 52, New Mexico State 20. (4:05 p.m. ET, No TV)

No. 9 Ohio State at No. 13 Iowa: To be brutally honest, there is no way the Hawkeyes should have three losses this season. You can explain away one flat performance per year, and the Buckeyes certainly had theirs at Wisconsin. But Iowa has had at least four so-so outings this season and it has lost three of those four. (The fourth was an 18-13 win over Indiana, a game the Hawkeyes really should have lost.) The cold, hard truth is that Iowa hasn’t played especially well since its 37-6 drubbing of Michigan State three weeks ago. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the team has been away from home since then, and perhaps it’s not. After all, the Hawkeyes have never played particularly well at home against Ohio State with only two victories over the Buckeyes in Kinnick Stadium in 17 tries since 1964. Those facts, along with Jim Tressel’s halftime speech from last week still ringing in his team’s ears, all spell only one thing – another win for Brutus and more heartache for Herky … Ohio State 31, Iowa 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Fresno State (+30½) at Boise State; Wisconsin at Michigan (+4½); Oklahoma State (-24) at Kansas; Purdue at Michigan State (-20); Troy (+22) at South Carolina; Appalachian State at Florida (N/L); Mississippi at LSU (-16); Virginia Tech (-2) at Miami-FL; New Mexico State (+38) at Nevada; Ohio State (-3) at Iowa.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday. Save a drumstick and some pumpkin pie for me and we’ll talk again next week.

Some Big Ten Team Is Liable To Get Screwed

You know the old saying about not needing to be a rocket scientist to figure something out? In the case of trying to determine Ohio State’s postseason destination, even a rocket scientist might have some trouble.

There is one rock-solid certainty: In the wake of the Oct. 16 loss at Wisconsin, the Buckeyes are no longer in charge of their own destiny. That now rests squarely in the hands of Michigan State and the Bowl Championship Series. OSU still has several hurdles it must clear if it wants to get to the best bowl game possible, of course, but many things are simply out of the Buckeyes’ control – at least right now.

Michigan State is the last undefeated team left standing in the Big Ten, leaving the Spartans four victories away from their first conference championship since 1990 and their first outright crown since 1987.

Winning out would mean the worst Mark Dantonio’s squad could do is a berth in the Rose Bowl, and the way the college football landscape has seemingly changed each week, an undefeated season could very well land Michigan State in the national championship game.

That’s what happens if the Spartans continue to win. If they trip up somewhere – say at Iowa on Oct. 30 – get out your slide rules and calculators. The possibilities are endless.

For argument’s sake, let’s say Iowa engineers that upset and then Michigan State goes on to beat Minnesota, Purdue and Penn State in its final three games. That is a plausible scenario that would leave Sparty with a 7-1 conference record and 11-1 overall.

Wisconsin, which takes a well-deserved week off Oct. 30, finishes its regular season against good (but certainly not great) opposition. The Badgers are at Purdue, home with Indiana, at Michigan and home with Northwestern, and it wouldn’t be much a stretch to believe Bucky could win each of those games and finish 7-1 in the conference and 11-1 overall.

And then there are the Buckeyes.

Ohio State would obviously need to win the rest of its games to match a 7-1 league record and 11-1 overall mark. That means road victories at Minnesota on Oct. 30 and at Iowa on Nov. 20, and home wins against old rival Penn State on Nov. 13 and archrival Michigan on Nov. 27.

Should the Buckeyes win those games, and all of the other aforementioned scenarios come to pass, there would be a three-way tie for the Big Ten championship between Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State, and which teams receive which bowl bids would be determined by a series of prearranged conference tiebreakers.

The No. 1 tiebreaker is national championship game participation, but since no one can envision a one-loss Big Ten team finishing No. 1 or No. 2 in the final BCS standings, we’ll move quickly to the second tiebreaker.

That one eliminates any ineligible teams. Since the Spartans, Badgers or Buckeyes are under no NCAA sanctions, we can easily dismiss this tiebreaker as well.

And now things begin to get more complicated.

If three teams are tied, and if one team has defeated both of the other teams, that team shall be designated as the Big Ten’s representative to the Rose Bowl. However, since Michigan State and Ohio State will not face one another this season, this tiebreaker is rendered moot.

If three teams are still tied, and if two of the three teams defeated the third team, the third team is eliminated, and the remaining two teams shall revert to the two-team tie procedure.

This tiebreaker is also inoperative because none of the three teams would have beaten the other two. Michigan State beat Wisconsin but not Ohio State, Wisconsin beat Ohio State but not Michigan State, and Ohio State would have beaten neither Michigan State nor Wisconsin.

The next tiebreaker states that if the three teams are still tied, and there is a tie game between two of the three teams, or if two or all three of the teams did not play each other, the representative shall be determined on a percentage basis of all games played.

With overtime implemented in college football since 1996, you wonder why verbiage regarding tie games remains in any tiebreaking criteria. Even so, the percentage basis for all three co-champions would be the same based upon identical overall records.

The tiebreaker formula goes on to state that if three teams are still tied, and one of the three teams is eliminated through the percentage basis of all games played, the remaining two teams shall revert to the two-team tie procedure. But they don’t, so we won’t.

Finally, if the three teams are still tied, and all three teams have the same winning percentage of all games played, the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings shall be the representative.

Now things really begin to get interesting.

The BCS standings released Oct. 24 had Michigan State at No. 5, Wisconsin at No. 10 and Ohio State at No. 11.

Should the Spartans lose to Iowa, they would likely be shuffled back behind Wisconsin and Ohio State in the standings. Meanwhile, a victory at Iowa City would likely benefit the Buckeyes, and Wisconsin will probably not be able to make up much ground since it finishes the season against four unranked teams.

Follow that logic – if you can – and a three-way tie between Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin could put the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl for the season year in a row and leave either the Spartans or the Badgers getting an at-large berth for one of the other BCS bowls.

The worst thing about the entire scenario? Rules state a single conference can send no more than two teams to the BCS in one year, meaning one of those three Big Ten teams is likely to wind up playing in the Capital One Bowl. With all due respect to our friends in Orlando, that would be a pitiful consolation prize for a Big Ten championship team sporting an 11-1 record.

OSU-MINNESOTA TIDBITS

** This marks the 50th meeting between Ohio State and Minnesota with the Buckeyes holding a decisive 42-7 record in the overall series. OSU is 20-4 against the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis, including victories in each of their last 11 trips there. Minnesota hasn’t beaten Ohio State in Minneapolis since 1981, a 35-31 decision in old Memorial Stadium.

** This will mark OSU’s first visit to Minnesota’s two-year-old TCF Bank Stadium. The Buckeyes were a perfect 11-0 against the Gophers in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

** Minnesota hasn’t exactly distinguished itself at its new home. The Gophers are 0-5 at TCF Bank Stadium this season and only 4-8 since the facility opened last year.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 7-0 against the Gophers, including last year’s 38-7 victory in Columbus. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes in those six games has been 22.7 points.

** The Buckeyes have won seven in a row against the Gophers and 23 of the last 24 meetings. The only Minnesota victory during that stretch was a 29-17 decision in Columbus that ruined OSU’s homecoming in 2000.

** Minnesota interim head coach Jeff Horton will be piloting his second game after Tim Brewster was fired Oct. 16. Horton has a 20-49 record in six previous seasons as a head coach at Nevada (1993) and UNLV (1994-98). He was also quarterbacks coach at Wisconsin from 1999-2005 during which the Badgers enjoyed a 4-2 record against Ohio State.

** The Golden Gophers enter tomorrow night’s game on a seven-game losing streak, their longest since losing 10 in a row to finish out the 2007 season. That 10-game losing streak equaled a school record set in 1957-58 and equaled in 1983.

** This will be the third and final night game of the 2010 regular season for the Buckeyes. They are 1-1 this year and 16-11 overall in primetime under Tressel. OSU is also 0-1 this season and 8-4 overall in Big Ten night games away from home during the Tressel era.

** The Ohio State kickoff return coverage unit will get another test this week with Minnesota junior Troy Stoudermire. He boasts a career kickoff return average of 24.8 yards, and that is good enough for an eighth-place tie all-time in the Big Ten. The longstanding conference leader in career kickoff returns is Stan Brown of Purdue, who averaged 28.8 yards per return from 1968-70.

** The Buckeyes rank among the top 10 schools nationally in nine different statistical categories. They are second in turnover margin (plus-11), third in total defense (234.5 yards per game), pass efficiency defense (94.2) and turnover margin average (plus-1.38), fifth in rushing defense (85.8) and pass defense (148.8), sixth in scoring offense (40.8), and ninth in scoring defense (14.0 points per game) and kickoff return average (26.2).

** Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber is his school’s all-time leader in several offensive categories and among the Big Ten career leaders in several more. That includes fifth in career passing yardage with 10,199. The top four are Drew Brees of Purdue (11,792, 1997-2000), Curtis Painter of Purdue (11,163, 2005-08), Brett Basanez of Northwestern (10,580, 2002-05) and Chuck Long of Iowa (10,461, 1981-85).

** Weber is serving as a Minnesota co-captain for a third season, and according to research by the school’s sports information department, he is one of only 11 players in Division I-A history who have served at least three years as a team captain.

** Minnesota sophomore linebacker Ryan Grant has excellent bloodlines – he is the grandson of former Minnesota Vikings head coach Bud Grant. Before his NFL coaching career, Grant was a three-sport letterman for the Gophers who went on to playing careers in the NBA, NFL and Canadian Football League. Before taking over as head coach of the Vikings in 1967 and leading them to four Super Bowl appearances, Grant won four Grey Cups as head coach of the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1983, and into the Pro Football Hall of Fame one year later.

** The game will feature a pair of accurate placekickers. Minnesota senior Eric Ellestad made 48 consecutive PATs to begin his career before missing one earlier this season against Wisconsin. Meanwhile, OSU senior Drew Barclay has never missed in 52 career PAT attempts.

** Barclay is a perfect 40 for 40 this season in conversion kicks. That ties him with Tim Williams (1990) among Ohio State kickers for the second-most PATs without a miss in a single season. Vlade Janakievski connected on all 44 of his attempts during the 1977 season.

** With 270 yards against Purdue, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor moved past the 5,000-yard mark in passing for his career and that makes him only the ninth Ohio State quarterback to pass that milestone. He now has 5,180 for his career, and has moved past Jim Karsatos (5,089, 1984-86) into eighth place on the school’s all-time passing list. Mike Tomczak (5,569, 1981-84) is currently seventh.

** Pryor also became only the seventh active QB in Division I-A with at least 5,000 yards through the air and 1,000 on the ground. The others are Colin Kaepernick of Nevada, Andy Dalton of TCU, Jake Locker of Washington, Austen Arnaud of Iowa State, Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech and Diondre Borel of Utah State.

** Additionally, Pryor overtook Troy Smith (6,888, 2003-06) for third place among the school’s career total offense leaders. Pryor now has 6,998 and needs only 154 more to pass Bobby Hoying (7,151, 1992-95) and move into second place all-time. Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81) is the OSU career leader.

** Pryor also needs only two more touchdown passes to become only the fifth OSU quarterback ever to toss for 50 or more TDs in his career. The others are Hoying (57), Joe Germaine (56, 1996-98), Smith (54) and Schlichter (50).

** OSU wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher had 86 yards against Purdue and moved into OSU’s all-time top 15 in receiving yardage. With 1,522 career yards, Sanzenbacher moved past John Frank (1,481, 1980-83) into 15th place. Next up is Terry Glenn (1,677, 1993-95).

** This week’s game will be telecast by ABC on a regional basis. Mike Patrick will have the play by play with Craig James providing color analysis and Ray Bentley reporting for the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern. (That’s 7 p.m. local time if you’re going to be in Minneapolis.)

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 90 and 121 as well as XM channels 141 and 196.

** If you listen to the games on the Ohio State Radio Network, you can welcome back play-by-play man Paul Keels tomorrow. Keels returns to the broadcast booth after a two-week absence following abdominal surgery.

** Ohio State will take next week off. The Buckeyes’ next game will be at home Nov. 13 against Penn State. Kickoff time and telecast information have yet to be determined.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Oct. 25, 1980, Purdue quarterback Mark Herrmann threw for 340 yards during his team’s 36-25 victory over Michigan State. Herrmann finished the game with 8,076 career passing yards which broke the NCAA all-time record. By the time he graduated, Hermann has totaled 9,188 passing yards and 707 career completions, both of which were NCAA career records.

** On Oct. 26, 1907, one of the all-time greats made his college football debut. The legendary Jim Thorpe took the field for the first time with the Carlisle (Pa.) Indian Industrial School, and led the Indians to a 26-6 upset of fourth-ranked Penn. The game was held before a crowd of 22,800 at Philadelphia’s historic Franklin Field.

** On Oct. 26, 1985, unranked UTEP used an unusual 2-9 defensive alignment for a 23-16 upset of seventh-ranked BYU, ending the Cougars’ 25-game WAC winning streak.

** On Oct. 27, 1923, the first night game in Big Ten history was held as part of a day-night doubleheader in Chicago. During the afternoon, Chicago took a 20-6 win over Purdue at Stagg Field, and then portable lights were installed at Soldier Field as Illinois shut out Northwestern, 29-0.

** On Oct. 27, 1979, Pitt freshman quarterback Dan Marino came off the bench to throw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, leading the No. 12 Panthers to a 24-7 victory over No. 17 Navy.

** On Oct. 28, 1950, Nevada’s Pat Brady booted an NCAA-record 99-yard punt during a 34-7 loss to Loyola Marymount.

** On Oct. 28, 1967, UTEP quarterback Brooks Dawson set an NCAA record for most consecutive passes completed for a touchdown when he threw six in a row during a 75-12 victory over New Mexico. Making the feat even more remarkable was the fact that the six touchdowns came on Dawson’s first six attempts of the game.

** On Oct. 29, 1988, Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders rushed for 320 yards to lead his No. 12 Cowboys to a 45-27 win over Kansas State. The performance began a five-game stretch during which Sanders rushed for 1,472 yards, the most rushing yards accumulated over a five-game span in NCAA history. He also became only the second player in college football history to gain more than 200 rushing yards in five consecutive games, and the streak propelled Sanders to an NCAA single-season record 2,628 rushing yards and the 1988 Heisman Trophy.

** Also on Oct. 29, 1988, Washington State scored 28 second-half points during a 34-30 upset win over top-ranked UCLA and its All-America quarterback Troy Aikman.

** On Oct. 30, 1982, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie threw for a school-record 520 yards, but it wasn’t nearly enough as Penn State scored a 52-17 blowout over the Eagles in Chestnut Hill. The Nittany Lions were led by quarterback Todd Blackledge, who threw for 243 yards and three TDs, and running back Curt Warner, who rushed for 183 yards and two scores.

** On Oct. 30, 1999, Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo was a one-man wrecking crew against Stanford. Tuiasosopo became the first player in NCAA history to throw for at least 300 yards and rush for 200 or more in the same game. He threw for 302 yards and added 207 on the ground in a 35-30 victory over the Cardinal.

** On Nov. 1, 1986, Long Beach State’s Mark Templeton set an NCAA single-game record for receptions by a running back with 18 catches for 173 yards during his team’s 14-3 win over Utah State.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level has been reduced to seven. The alphabetical list has dwindled to Auburn, Boise State, Michigan State, Missouri, Oregon, TCU and Utah. (This time last year, there were also seven undefeated teams remaining. They were Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Texas and TCU.)

** Boise State extended the nation’s longest current winning streak to 21 with its 49-20 victory Tuesday night over Louisiana Tech. Meanwhile, Western Kentucky rolled to a 54-21 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday, and the Hilltoppers ended the nation’s longest losing streak at 26 games. Akron and New Mexico now share the longest losing streak with eight straight defeats.

** Michigan State has started its season with eight straight wins for the first time since 1966, but while an 8-0 mark may be unusual in East Lansing, it isn’t that rare in the Big Ten. This marks the fifth straight season, and sixth in the last seven, that a conference team has posted at least an 8-0 start. Wisconsin started the 2004 season with a 9-0 record while Ohio State and Michigan were 11-0 heading into their traditional regular-season finale in 2006. The Buckeyes started with 10 straight victories in 2007, Penn State was 9-0 in 2008, and Iowa was 9-0 last season.

** Some other schools around the country are celebrating excellent starts as well. Oregon is 7-0 for the first time since 1933. Missouri is 7-0 for the first time since 1960. And Stanford has started a season 6-1 for the first time since 1970.

** Congratulations also to Baylor, who entered the Associated Press rankings this week for the first time since 1993. The Bears moved up to No. 25 after taking a 47-42 win over Kansas State. It was Baylor’s sixth victory of the season, making them eligible to end a 16-year bowl drought.

** On the flip side is Notre Dame, which lost a 35-17 decision to Navy last weekend. It was the worst loss for the Fighting Irish in the series since a 35-14 loss to the Midshipmen in 1963. Of course, the Mids were ranked No. 4 at that time and led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Roger Staubach. The last time before last Saturday that Notre Dame had lost by double digits to an unranked Navy team? That was a 33-7 decision in 1956.

** When Florida and Georgia meet tomorrow, the beverages made taste a little watered-down at “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party.” That’s because the Gators and Bulldogs will square off as unranked foes for the first time since 1979.

** Remember when a strong defense always trumped a good offense? It doesn’t seem that way so much anymore. Last week, for example, LSU entered its game against Auburn allowing only 83.6 rushing yards per game, and Auburn finished with 440 yards on the ground. That sent the LSU rush defense from No. 6 in the country to No. 38.

** Three Big Ten quarterbacks are poised to break the conference record for best single-season completion percentage. Dan Persa of Northwestern (75.7), Scott Tolzien of Wisconsin (71.8) and Ricky Stanzi of Iowa (68.1) are all tracking above the single-season mark of 67.8 held since 1993 by Darrell Bevell of Wisconsin.

** Stanzi is also close to the longstanding Big Ten record for best pass efficiency rating in a single season. The Iowa QB heads into play this weekend at 174.9, just shy of the 175.3 established by Michigan’s Bob Chappuis way back in 1947.

** As the leaves begin to fall and October turns to November, I am reminded that I need to come down off the fence and begin formulating an opinion on this year’s Heisman Trophy race. It seems obvious now that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is the frontrunner. My top three this week would be Newton followed by Boise State QB Kellen Moore and Oregon RB LaMichael James. Also in the running: Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor and Michigan QB Denard Robinson.

** Shortly before noon on Monday morning, Yankee Stadium grounds crews began removing the grass around the skin of the field in preparation for the Notre Dame-Army football game to be played Nov. 20. It will be the first college game ever played at the new Yankee Stadium, and the first played at any facility called Yankee Stadium since 1987.

** There are models of consistency and then there is Division III Linfield College (Ore.). The Wildcats scored a 35-20 victory last weekend over Pacific Lutheran (Wash.) and clinched their 55th consecutive winning season. Linfield is coached by Joseph Smith, currently in his fifth season as head coach. Smith was a four-year starting cornerback for the Wildcats in the early 1990s and was an assistant at Linfield for 13 seasons before taking over the program in 2006.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It was another good week at Forecast Headquarters with only one miss in the straight up picks – and that was Iowa’s one-point loss to Wisconsin. That meant an 8-1 week to push the SU ledger to 73-12 for the season.

Against the spread, we had another winning week at 6-3 which made us 52-30-3 ATS for the season.

We’ll try to keep it going with these games this week.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Northwestern at Indiana: The Wildcats don’t have an all-time winning record against many conference opponents but they do against the Hoosiers. Northwestern enjoys a 43-34-1 advantage in the series, and perhaps none was more exciting than last year’s 29-28 verdict in Evanston when the Wildcats overcame a 28-3 second-quarter deficit. That meltdown wrecked what had been a promising season at IU as the Hoosiers went on to finish 2009 with five consecutive losses. In fact, they are currently working on an eight-game conference losing streak that figures to get extended if Bill Lynch doesn’t get some of his team’s defensive problems fixed … Northwestern 36, Indiana 30. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 22 Miami (Fla.) at Virginia: The Hurricanes are like most middle-of-the-road college football teams – they beat the teams they’re supposed to while struggling against stronger competition. This was supposed to be the year Miami returned to greatness, and while a 5-2 record is pretty good, the Hurricanes have feasted on the likes of Florida A&M and Duke while getting outscored 81-41 in their two losses to Ohio State and Florida State. This week, it should be feasting time again since the Cavaliers have lost three of their last four games, and been outscored by a whopping 111-45 in three conference games so far … Miami 38, Virginia 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Akron at Temple: Since going to Motor City Bowl after the 2005 season, the Zips have lost their zip. Actually, that would be something of an understatement. Since losing that Motor City Bowl game to Memphis, the Zips haven’t enjoyed a winning season and have a 17-39 record over that span. That includes an 0-8 record so far this season, and that dismal record only tells part of the story. There are 120 schools that play Division I-A football and Akron ranks 115th in scoring offense and 118th in scoring defense. That makes it difficult to see how the Zips avoid their first winless season since the 1942 team went 0-7-2 … Temple 41, Akron 10. (1 p.m. ET, No TV)

No. 5 Michigan State at No. 18 Iowa: While the Spartans have found exciting ways to keep their undefeated season going, the Hawkeyes have seemingly invented new ways to self-destruct. Last week’s 31-30 heartbreaker against Wisconsin was a prime example with special teams gaffes, a missed PAT and absolutely atrocious clock management at the end of the game. The pressure to win is equally divided tomorrow. The Spartans now have an outside shot at playing for the national championship while the Hawkeyes have a whole bunch of Ohio State and Wisconsin fans in their corner hoping Iowa can somehow play a mistake-free game. A lot of people are playing the upset card here, especially since MSU hasn’t won in Iowa City since 1989. But the Hawkeyes have yet to convince us they can rise to the occasion … Michigan State 23, Iowa 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

No. 1 Auburn at Mississippi: After rising to the top of the BCS standings, the Tigers had better be on upset alert tomorrow in Oxford. That’s not because former No. 1s Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma have gone down in successive weeks. It’s because Auburn has been anything but invincible in its two previous road games, squeezing out narrow three-point victories at Mississippi State in early September and at Kentucky three weeks ago. It’s because Ole Miss has a pretty good passing game with QB Jeremiah Masoli and the Tigers rank dead last in the SEC in pass defense. And it’s because the Rebels seem to have no fear going against highly-ranked teams – they are 3-3 in their six games against top-10 opponents. All of that isn’t quite enough to pull the trigger on an Upset Special, but don’t be surprised if Ole Miss gives the Tigers all they can handle … Auburn 27, Mississippi 17. (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 2 Oregon at USC: While Auburn is on upset alert, the Ducks should be, too, when they visit the Coliseum to face the Trojans who have had two weeks to prepare for this game. Last year, the Quack Attack buried USC under an avalanche of 613 total yards during a 47-20 blowout. But the Trojans have a different defensive scheme this season under new head coach Lane Kiffin, and quarterback Matt Barkley is much more comfortable under center in his second season as the starter. Will that make the difference? Unlikely. With Barkley winging the ball all over the lot, USC can probably stay in the game a little longer this year but the Trojans just don’t have the kind of defensive personnel that can hold off the Ducks for a full 60 minutes … Oregon 52, USC 27. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Colorado at No. 9 Oklahoma: Are the Sooners overrated or simply underachievers? A team that was supposed to contend for a national championship has instead struggled at times, especially in crunch time. In its seven games this season, OU has been outscored by a 67-30 margin in the fourth quarter and you sometimes get the feeling that Bob Stoops’ team loses its focus at odds times during a game. That is always a recipe for disaster although it might not make much difference against the hapless Buffaloes. Colorado lost two key players during last week’s 27-24 loss to Texas Tech. Sophomore LB Jon Major, the team’s leading tackler, is gone for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, and starting quarterback Tyler Hansen is sidelined with a ruptured spleen. If the Sooners can’t take care of business this week, when will they ever? … Oklahoma 37, Colorado 10. (9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Utah State at No. 24 Nevada: The Wolf Pack are not on par with Boise State, TCU or Utah, but they are extremely entertaining and probably deserving of a much higher national ranking. They have an excellent quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, who should be getting at least a little bit of Heisman Trophy love since he is seventh in the nation in total offense. Kaepernick leads an offensive attack that averages 39.9 points and 509.3 yards per game, and that should be more than enough tomorrow night. The Aggies have lost four of their five games, including the last two by a combined 56 points … Nevada 41, Utah State 7. (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 4 TCU at UNLV: The task is a relatively simple one for the Horned Frogs. They must stay undefeated to have a chance at playing for the national championship. That shouldn’t be much of a problem this week since TCU rarely gets caught up in the glitz and glitter of Sin City. They have won three of their four trips to Las Vegas, and seven of eight in the series overall. That includes a 41-0 stampede a year ago in Fort Worth, a result that could be repeated tomorrow night. The Frogs are No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 9.0 points per game, while the Rebels are 106th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 18.4 points per game. You know the old saying: You can’t win if you can’t score … TCU 45, UNLV 7. (11 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

No. 10 Ohio State at Minnesota: In a season that has already featured plenty of Jekyll-and-Hyde moments, which costumes will the Buckeyes don tomorrow night when the Golden Gophers throw their Halloween party at TCF Bank Stadium? Will OSU come dressed as an efficient passing team as it did against Indiana and in the second quarter last week against Purdue? Or will the Buckeyes show up as the ground-it-out rushing team they appeared to be early in the second half at Wisconsin? Perhaps they will feel unmotivated and just throw something together at the last minute as they appeared to do early against Wisconsin. The scariest thing about this Ohio State team is that it is nearing the three-quarter pole of the 2010 season and the Buckeyes are still searching for their own identity. Not that it will matter much against the Gophers, who occupy last place in the Big Ten standings and deservedly so. OSU should go to Minnesota and win by 50 points because that’s what championship teams do. But are the Buckeyes a championship team or simply masquerading as one? Stay tuned … Ohio State 45, Minnesota 10. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Northwestern (-3) at Indiana; Miami-FL (-14½) at Virginia; Akron at Temple (-28½); Michigan State (+7) at Iowa; Auburn (-6½) at Mississippi; Oregon (-6½) at USC; Colorado at Oklahoma (-23½); Utah State at Nevada (-25½); TCU (-34½) at UNLV; Ohio State (-25) at Minnesota.

Enjoy the games

Buckeyes Cannot Afford To Take Anything For Granted

“We’ve just got to stop taking stuff for granted.” – Terrelle Pryor following Ohio State’s 31-18 loss to Wisconsin.

Remember last week’s blog with the cautionary wine-drinking vs. grape-stomping tale? Evidently someone over at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center wasn’t listening.

Instead of taking care of business at Camp Randall Stadium, Ohio State wound up on the business end of a 31-18 decision Oct. 16 that was a borderline blowout by Wisconsin.

Forget the national championship. Bye-bye Heisman Trophy. The greatest dreams of the Buckeye Nation went up in smoke as its favorite football team fell victim once again to a lesser opponent who simply wanted it more.

It must be extremely difficult to always be the hunted because every time – and I mean each and every time – the Buckeyes play with a target on their backs, they seem to trip themselves.

The only consensus national championships the team has won in the past half-century came in 1968 and 2002, teams that no one really expected to be title contenders at the beginning of the season.

Forty-two years ago, the Buckeyes were coming off a 1967 campaign that saw them post a 6-3 overall record and finish in fourth place in the Big Ten standings. Sure, Woody Hayes had a star-studded class of super sophomores coming in, but no one expected a national championship right out of the box. OSU played its first game that 1968 season ranked No. 11.

Back in 2002, Ohio State was supposed to be positioning itself for a title run the following year. They played Texas Tech in that season’s opener as the nation’s No. 13 ranked team.

If you would like to go back even further, the 1954 and 1957 national champions each began their respective seasons unranked.

A sharp contrast are the seasons during which the Buckeyes have begun the year ranked among the nation’s top five teams. Over the past half-century, that includes 1962, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1987, 1998, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

That is 17 (and counting) seasons when OSU has started a campaign at No. 5 or higher in the national polls and come home an also-ran in the national championship race.

The glass-half-full crowd will say that you have to at least be in the race to win it, and there is some veracity to that. Ohio State has been one of college football’s elite programs for much of the last six decades and is one of only a handful of schools that can boast such a winning résumé over such a protracted period of time.

On the other hand, all of the aforementioned seasons – and several others when the Buckeyes reached the top five in midyear – represent an awful lot of crushed hopes and dreams.

Things were supposed to be different in 2010, however. The Buckeyes had learned their lesson from losses last year to USC and Purdue, teams they should have beaten. After a mistake-filled trip to West Lafayette, the team circled its wagons and won six games in a row, finishing things off with a masterful Rose Bowl victory over five-point favorite Oregon.

Everything set up perfectly this year for Ohio State including a favorable schedule. The toughest games on the slate appeared to be a home game in week two with an improving Miami (Fla.) and road tests at Wisconsin and Iowa.

When the Buckeyes demolished the Hurricanes in a game that was not nearly as close as the final score of 36-24 indicated, OSU seemingly had everything going its way. Sure, Wisconsin always played them tough, but the Buckeyes had won four of their last five trips to Madison. They have had similar recent success in Iowa City, winning 14 of their 17 visits there.

Ohio State was going to storm through the last six games of its regular season the same way it stormed through the first six and once again head to the Arizona desert to play for the national championship – with a brief stop in New York City long enough for Pryor to pick up the Heisman Trophy.

At least that was the way it was supposed to be. Now, the Buckeyes and their fans are left not to ponder what might have been but what is. Purdue comes to town tomorrow for homecoming, and while the Boilermakers do not seem to be on par with Wisconsin, they have made a habit of making things interesting against Ohio State teams in the recent past.

The Buckeyes have won four of the last six meetings, but OSU has scored 16 points or fewer in three of those four victories. Last year, the Buckeyes scored 18 and it wasn’t enough against the upset-minded Boilermakers.

But, of course, everything was supposed to change after that game. Everything is always supposed to change after a loss. Too many times this season, I have heard one Buckeye or another say, “We made a lot of mistakes out there but we’ll get those things fixed.”

Yep. Every year, every new team says the same thing – this time things will be different.

And somehow, to nearly everyone’s amazement, it usually turns out the same.

OSU-PURDUE TIDBITS

** This marks the 53rd meeting between Ohio State and Purdue with the Buckeyes holding a 37-13-2 record in the overall series. That includes a 25-5-2 mark in Columbus, including 14 of the last 15. Since 1968, the Boilermakers’ lone victory in Ohio Stadium was a 31-26 decision in the 1988 homecoming game.

** The series began in 1919 but the Buckeyes and Boilermakers have played only sporadically over the years. As a result, Purdue has never beaten Ohio State in back-to-back seasons.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 5-2 against the Boilermakers, including a 16-3 victory in 2008 on Purdue’s most recent visit to Columbus. That 13-point win was par for the course. Tressel’s five victories in the series have come by an average margin of 12.4 points.

** Purdue head coach Danny Hope is in his second year with the Boilermakers. He is 1-0 vs. the Buckeyes, making him one of only two Purdue head coaches in history to enjoy a winning record against Ohio State. The other is Cecil Isbell, who coached the Boilermakers from 1944-46. His team took a 35-13 win over the Buckeyes in 1945 and played to a 14-14 tie the following season. Both games were played in Columbus.

** In games following the 21 previous losses during the Tressel era, Ohio State has a 19-2 record. Thirteen of those games were at Ohio Stadium where the Buckeyes are 12-1 following a loss. OSU has dropped back-to-back games only once under Tressel – the team lost three straight in 2004 to Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa.

** Ohio State returns to the Horseshoe this week for the annual homecoming game. The Buckeyes are 64-19-5 all-time on homecoming, including 7-2 under Tressel. The lone blemishes are a 20-17 loss to Wisconsin in 2001 and a 13-6 defeat to Penn State in 2008. Last year on homecoming, the Buckeyes posted a 38-7 victory over Minnesota.

** Dating back to last season, Purdue is riding a three-game Big Ten winning streak. The Boilermakers haven’t won four conference games in a row since winning the final three of the 2006 season and their league opener in 2007.

** The Boilermakers are also seeking their first 3-0 start in Big Ten play since 2003. They finished 9-4 overall and 6-2 in the conference that season under head coach Joe Tiller. Purdue hasn’t won that many Big Ten games in a single season since.

** Purdue quarterback Rob Henry is coming off a performance against Minnesota that earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. During his team’s 28-17 win over the Golden Gophers, Henry accounted for all four Boilermaker touchdowns. He completed 13 of 20 passes for 183 yards and a score, and added 57 yards and three TDs on the ground.

** Purdue features one of the top pass-rushing defenses in college football. The Boilermakers lead the Big Ten with 18 sacks and 45 tackles for loss, and respectively rank 11th and 12th nationally in sacks and TFL.

** Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is tied for his school’s career record with 12 forced fumbles, a figure that is also No. 2 all-time in the Big Ten. The conference mark of 13 is shared by Illinois linebacker Simeon Rice (1992-95) and Iowa safety Bob Sanders (2000-03).

** Purdue has many distinguished alumni including astronauts Neil Armstrong (the first man to set foot on the moon) and Eugene Cernan (the last man to set to set foot on the moon).

** It’s no understatement that Ohio State needs quarterback Terrelle Pryor to perform well if the Buckeyes expect to win. OSU is 14-1 overall when Pryor rushes for at least one touchdown and 22-1 when he has at least one touchdown pass. Last week in the loss to Wisconsin, Pryor had no rushing touchdowns and no touchdown passes.

** Pryor needs 90 more passing yards to reach 5,000 for his career, and that would make him only the seventh active QB in Division I-A with at least 5,000 yards through the air and 1,000 on the ground. The others are Colin Kaepernick of Nevada, Andy Dalton of TCU, Jake Locker of Washington, Austen Arnaud of Iowa State, Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech and Diondre Borel of Utah State.

** Pryor also needs 154 yards of total offense to take over third place on the Ohio State all-time list. He currently sits fourth with 6,730 while Troy Smith (2003-06) is third with 6,888. The school’s top two in total offense are Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81) and Bobby Hoying (7,151, 1992-95).

** OSU senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher needs 46 more yards to crack the school’s all-time top 15. He currently has 1,436 yards while John Frank (1980-83) is 15th with 1,481.

** This week’s game will be telecast once again by the Big Ten Network with an announce crew that should be familiar to Ohio State fans. Eric Collins (play-by-play), Chris Martin (color analysis) and Charissa Thompson (sideline reports) are working their fourth OSU game of the season. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 113 and 125 as well as XM channels 102 and 197.

** Next week, Ohio State will get its first look at Minnesota’s two-year-old TCF Bank Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Eastern and the game will be televised by ESPN.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Oct. 20, 1917, Washington beat Whitman College by a 14-6 score, extending its unbeaten streak to 63 games, an NCAA record that still stands.

** On Oct. 20, 1944, Maryland and Michigan State combined for the fewest pass attempts in the modern era of college football during an 8-0 win by the Spartans. The Terrapins threw only one pass during the game while Michigan State attempted none.

** On Oct. 20, 1956, Texas A&M scored a 7-6 upset over No. 4 TCU is what has been called “The Hurricane Game.” Played in 90-mph wins, the Horned Frogs got inside the A&M 5-yard-line three times in the first half but failed to score.

** On Oct. 21, 1989, Alabama QB Gary Hollingsworth set a school record for completions, going 32 for 46 for 379 yards and three touchdowns as the Tide rolled to a 47-30 win over Tennessee.

** On Oct. 21, 2000, Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El had a history-making performance during his team’s 51-43 win over Minnesota. Randle El threw for 263 yards and ran for 210 to become the first player in Big Ten history to crack the 200-yard mark in both passing and rushing in the same game.

** On Oct. 21, 2006, Michigan State engineered the biggest comeback in NCAA history, erasing a 38-3 deficit on the way to a 41-38 victory over Northwestern in Evanston.

** On Oct. 22, 1904, Minnesota’s Bobby Marshall set an NCAA record by scoring 72 points during the Golden Gophers’ 146-0 victory over Grinnell (Iowa).

** On Oct. 22, 1983, Nebraska scored 41 points in less than three minutes of possession time on its way to a 69-19 rout of Colorado.

** On Oct. 23, 1965, Virginia Tech was riding high with a new facility and a victory over its instate rivals. The Hokies, known then as the Gobblers, opened their new Lane Stadium with a 22-14 win over Virginia. Tech rushed for 323 yards in the contest, but the decisive touchdown came on a 71-yard pass from quarterback Bobby Owens to receiver Tommy Groom late in the fourth quarter.

** On Oct. 23, 1976, Pittsburgh running back Tony Dorsett pushed his season rushing total past the 1,000-yard mark during a 45-0 victory over Navy. Dorsett became the first running back in NCAA history to post four 1,000-yard seasons, and he also broke the NCAA career rushing record previously held by two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin.

** On Oct. 24, 1981, Stanford became the first team in college football history to have two players throw for 250 yards or more in the same game. Steve Cottrell threw for 311 yards while John Elway added 270, but it didn’t do the Cardinal much good. They lost a 62-36 decision to Arizona State.

** On Oct. 25, 1947, Columbia scored a 21-20 upset over Army, ending the Black Knights’ unbeaten streak at 32 games.

** On Oct. 25, 1980, SMU freshman quarterback Lance McIlhenny celebrated his first start by engineering a 20-6 upset of No. 2 Texas in Austin. Halfback Craig James, now a college football analyst for ESPN, ran 53 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put the Mustangs ahead for good.

** On Oct. 26, 1985, seventh-ranked BYU saw its 25-game conference winning streak end when UTEP handed the Cougars a 23-16 loss in El Paso. Miners DB Danny Taylor returned a Robbie Bosco interception 100 yards for a touchdown to provide for the winning points.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level is down to 10. The alphabetical list includes Auburn, Boise State, LSU, Michigan State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, TCU and Utah.

** Boise State pushed the nation’s longest current winning streak at 20 with last weekend’s 48-0 stampede over San Jose State. Meanwhile, Western Kentucky remains on the other side of the spectrum. The Hilltoppers squandered a 24-7 lead after three quarters and wound up with a 35-30 loss to Louisiana-Monroe, extending the nation’s longest losing streak to 26 games.

** When it ascended to the No. 1 spot in this week’s Associated Press poll, Oregon became the 43rd team to hold the top spot in the media poll which began ranking college football teams in 1936. The last time a team was No. 1 for the first time was Virginia, which rose to the top spot on Oct. 14, 1990.

** The Ducks’ 60-13 win over UCLA last night avoided something that hasn’t happened in 50 years. Oregon protected its top ranking in the Associated Press writers’ poll after former No. 1s Alabama and Ohio State had gone down in successive weeks. The last time the AP No. 1 team lost in three consecutive weeks was November 1960 when Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri fell in succession.

** Michigan State has won its first seven games for the first time since opening the 1966 season with nine victories in a row. The Spartans are also off to 7-0 start for only the sixth time in school history. Four of the five previous times Michigan State began a season with seven wins, the team brought home a national championship.

** Last week’s 10-7 loss to Mississippi State marked the third defeat in a row for Florida, something that hasn’t happened in Gainesville since 1988 when the Gators lost four in a row under then head coach Galen Hall. (That’s the same Hall who has been Joe Paterno’s offensive coordinator at Penn State since 2004.) Florida head coach Urban Meyer is also navigating uncharted waters. Meyer has never before experienced a three-game losing streak in his head coaching career that began at Bowling Green in 2001.

** Boise State continues to lose even when it wins. Despite a 48-0 pounding of San Jose State, the Broncos’ strength of schedule took another hit Saturday night when No. 19 Nevada dropped a 27-21 decision at unranked Hawaii. It was the Wolf Pack’s first loss this season but their sixth straight to the Rainbow Warriors in Honolulu since joining the WAC in 2000.

** Since Rich Rodriguez became head coach at Michigan, the Wolverines have lost 15 of their 19 conference games. Michigan hasn’t suffered through that kind of futility in Big Ten play for more than 70 years. U-M dropped 16 of 18 league contests during a stretch between 1934 and 1937.

** Indiana head coach Bill Lynch will be gunning for career victory No. 100 tomorrow when his Hoosiers travel to Illinois. Lynch’s 17-year coaching résumé contains 36 wins at Butler, 37 at Ball State, eight at DePauw and 18 at Indiana.

** The supposed top three in this week’s Heisman Trophy race: Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton, Oregon running back LaMichael James and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict none of those three will win the award. Who would top my ballot if I had to turn it in today? I honestly have no idea.

** Probably the best player in America you’ve never heard of plays for Troy. He is receiver Jerrel Jernigan, who returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown and caught the game-winning TD in the Trojans’ 31-24 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Jernigan leads the Sun Belt and ranks fifth nationally with 178.3 all-purpose yards per game.

** Miami (Ohio) will unveil its first three “Cradle of Coaches” statues tomorrow before the game against Ohio University, honoring outstanding former players who went on to distinguished coaching careers. Carmen Cozza, Paul Dietzel and the late Weeb Eubank will be the first three former Miami players honored. Next season, the RedHawks will unveil statues of the late Earl “Red” Blaik, Ara Parseghian and the late Bo Schembechler.

** Speaking of Parseghian, he also coached at Northwestern before becoming an icon at Notre Dame and he has been invited by current head coach Pat Fitzgerald to give a pregame talk to the Wildcats before tomorrow afternoon’s game against Michigan State.

** Another bowl game has changed sponsors. The GMAC Bowl, scheduled for Jan. 6 and featuring Mid-American Conference and Sun Belt teams, will henceforth be known as the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Obviously, that means there will be copious amounts of commercials featuring racecar driver Danica Patrick during the telecast. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Missing only the two big upsets of the week – Texas over No. 4 Nebraska and Wisconsin over top-ranked Ohio State – the straight-up picks posted an 8-2 record that puts the yearly mark at 65-11. Against the spread, we kept rolling right along with an identical 8-2 mark and that pushes us to a lofty 46-27-3 ATS for the season.

Here are the games we like this week. (Rankings are now BCS standings.)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 7 Michigan State at Northwestern: Are the Spartans for real? We may get a little better handle on that question this week when they play outside their home state for the first time all season. MSU has a nice blend of offense and defense, including two of the best players in the Big Ten. Quarterback Kirk Cousins (1,617 yards, 11 TDs) has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 14 straight games while linebacker Greg Jones was named national defensive player of the week for his performance during Sparty’s 26-6 win over Illinois. Michigan State beat Northwestern last season, 24-14 in East Lansing, but the Spartans would do well not to overlook the Wildcats. Dual-threat quarterback Dan Persa (1,663 yards, 10 TDs) leads the country with his 78.0 percent completion rate, and NU took last week off to prepare. Still, Northwestern remains suspect at times on defense and that should make the difference … Michigan State 31, Northwestern 23. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Duke at No. 25 Virginia Tech: Since being left for dead following season-opening losses to Boise State and I-AA James Madison, the Hokies have become a pretty good football team. They have won five in a row by an average of about three touchdowns per game and have averaged 41.2 points every time out. That kind of performance should probably continue this week against the Blue Devils, who have quarterback problems. Sophomore Sean Renfree (1,621 yards, 10 TDs) is the starter, but he has thrown 14 interceptions in the past five games. Not coincidentally, Duke has lost all five. The Hokies lead the all-time series by a 10-7 margin but that’s a little deceiving since they’ve won the last nine in a row … Virginia Tech 31, Duke 10. (12 noon ET, ACC Network)

No. 6 LSU at No. 4 Auburn: The number of undefeated teams will be reduced by one in this matchup of SEC rivals who have reached 7-0 in much different ways. The Bayou Bengals have had several cardiac finishes while the War Eagles have tried to bludgeon opponents with Heisman Trophy candidate Cam Newton at quarterback. While Newton has passed and rushed for a combined 2,138 yards and 25 TDs, LSU head coach Les Miles has employed a two-quarterback system with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. Maybe it doesn’t matter since both QBs have beaten Auburn during their careers – Lee two years ago and Jefferson last year. The onus will be on the LSU defense to try and stop Newton, who hasn’t lost a game as a starting QB since leading Blinn College (Texas) to last year’s JUCO national championship … Auburn 23, LSU 18. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 13 Wisconsin at No. 15 Iowa: Now that the Badgers have had their way with the Ohio State defense, they must travel to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes, who rank sixth nationally in scoring defense (13.2 points per game) and seventh against the run (83.3 yards). Wisconsin should roll into Kinnick Stadium with plenty of confidence but the Badgers never seem to be at their best there. Iowa has won three of the last four in the series at Kinnick and held UW’s potent offense to an average of only 12.5 points in those games. It may come down to the quarterback play between Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien and Ricky Stanzi of Iowa. Both complete around 70 percent of their passes and have combined to throw only five interceptions in 293 attempts this season. Buckle your chinstraps because this ought to be a good one … Iowa 20, Wisconsin 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

Washington State at No. 12 Stanford: This has all the makings of a blowout if the Cardinal can simply retain their focus. They had last week off to savor a 37-35 victory over USC, a win during which sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck went 20 of 24 passing for 285 yards and three touchdowns. Luck directs an offense that averages 43.3 points and 471.0 yards per game, figures that respectively rank fifth and 12th nationally. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Cougars surrender 40.1 points and 493.9 yards per contest. Those figures respectively rank 118th and 120th out of 120 schools playing Division I-A football. The final score in this one all depends upon Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh and how big a statement he wants to make … Stanford 45, Washington State 13. (5 p.m. ET, FCS)

Eastern Michigan at Virginia: Just in case you missed it, the Eagles and head coach Ron English celebrated their first victory together last week with a 41-38 overtime win over Ball State. QB Alex Gillett, who turned in an admirable performance earlier this season against Ohio State, exploded for 414 yards of total offense and five touchdowns as EMU snapped an 18-game losing streak. Now, it’s back to reality and a trip to Charlottesville to face the struggling Cavaliers in their first year under head coach Mike London. Since beating up on VMI at the end of September, Virginia has lost three in a row by an average of 22.0 points per game. The Cavs’ offense has been sputtering, but you would have to believe a mid-level ACC team can still put some points on the board against the worst defense in the MAC … Virginia 34, Eastern Michigan 21. (6 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Colorado State at No. 9 Utah: The Utes would like to elbow their way alongside Boise State and TCU into the national title conversation, but they’re going to have to do a better job than they did last week. During a rather lackluster 30-6 win over Wyoming, Utah turned the ball over three more times to give the team 12 for the season. Coupled with only six takeaways by their defense, the Utes are a lowly 108th nationally in turnover margin. They are certainly going to have to shore up that part of their game before welcoming TCU to Salt Lake City in two weeks, especially since the Horned Frogs rank No. 16 in turnover margin. This week, however, Utah shouldn’t have to worry much. The Rams have turned the ball over 13 times themselves while their pass efficiency defense ranks dead last in the nation … Utah 45, Colorado State 13. (6 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)

No. 8 Alabama at Tennessee: Even though the Volunteers are 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the SEC, expect them to get Alabama’s full attention. Last year, the Crimson Tide barely escaped with a 12-10 victory that was secured only after DT Terrence Cody blocked a 44-yard field goal attempt at the end of the game. Most observers believe ’Bama will cruise this time around but the defending national champions have had their problems the last couple of weeks. Their vaunted ground game is stuck in second gear and their pressure defense has produced only eight sacks in seven games. Still, Tennessee is struggling so mightily on both offense and defense that it shouldn’t make any difference … Alabama 31, Tennessee 7. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Purdue at No. 10 Ohio State: As the Buckeyes try to pick up the pieces from last week’s loss at Wisconsin, they have an opponent coming to Columbus for homecoming they had better not overlook. Obviously, the Boilermakers scored a huge 26-18 upset over Ohio State last season but there is every reason to believe Purdue is better now than it was then. The Boilermakers try to spread the field on offense much more than they have in the past – sort of a Michigan Lite if you will – and try to let redshirt freshman QB Rob Henry make a play. So far, so good, since Henry has 399 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in his team’s Big Ten victories over Northwestern and Minnesota. Meanwhile, OSU defenders are dropping like flies as top tackler Ross Homan is sidelined with a foot injury and nickel back Christian Bryant is out with a foot infection that required surgery. A much better performance than last week is paramount for both the Ohio State defensive line and quarterback Terrelle Pryor, or the Buckeyes had better be on upset alert again … Ohio State 34, Purdue 20. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Michigan State (-5) at Northwestern; Duke (+27) at Virginia Tech; LSU (+6) at Auburn; Wisconsin (+6) at Iowa; Washington State (+35) at Stanford; Eastern Michigan (+24½) at Virginia; Colorado State at Utah (-30); Alabama (-16) at Tennessee; Purdue (+24) at Ohio State.

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

Buckeyes Should Be Proud Of What They Are

Someone once coined the phrase, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

That old axiom fits any number of everyday life situations, but it is especially true for Ohio State football fans. They look at Oregon and its pinball-style offense, and they get all misty-eyed. They wonder why their favorite team can’t score points in bunches. They wonder why the Buckeyes can’t be that fun to watch.

Now with the Ducks on the horizon, fans wonder if maybe – finally – Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel will unleash his arsenal of weapons and allow his thoroughbreds to run free.

Many theorize Tressel has to open the playbook tomorrow afternoon. Oregon won 10 of its last 11 games, and scored 40 points or more in seven of its final nine contests. The only blemish down the stretch for the Ducks was a loss at Stanford, and the Cardinal had to score 51 points to pull that off.

There is another way, of course. Rather than trying to beat Oregon at its own game, Ohio State should not try to be anything but its normal self. Solid, straight-up defense coupled with a power running game and mistake-free special teams. No tricks, nothing fancy, just good old-fashioned fundamental football.

In other words, Tresselball.

All anyone every wants to talk about is the boring nature of that style of offense, yet no one seems to dispute the success rate of the basic philosophy. When the Buckeyes had their backs against the wall following the 26-18 loss at Purdue in mid-October, the team returned to basics and Tresselball carried OSU all the way to Pasadena.

After returning home from West Lafayette, the defense turned things up a couple of notches, the running game kicked into high gear and Ohio State closed out the regular season with five straight victories – including wins over Penn State and Iowa, both of which had 10-win seasons.

In vanquishing those final five foes, the Buckeyes outscored their opponents by a 155-48 margin. Moreover, OSU improved its running attack to the tune of an average of 257.8 yards per game down the stretch. Meanwhile, the defense allowed no team in those last five games to rush for more than 123 yards, and none of Ohio State’s final four opponents – including Penn State and Iowa – cracked the 100-yard mark.

I’ve heard so many times over the past month how difficult it will be for the Buckeyes to beat Oregon if they don’t pump up the offense. I really don’t think that is necessary. One reason why the Ducks score so many points is because they have to. Their defense surrendered 283 points this season and gave up 33 or more points four times.

Ohio State really doesn’t have to do anything differently on offense to beat Oregon. The one thing Terrelle Pryor and Co. cannot do, however, is turn the ball over. Give the Ducks’ offense gift possessions and they will win the game. Short of that, the Buckeyes simply need to be themselves.

And when it comes right down to the nitty and the gritty, that’s the way it should be. Since when should you apologize for doing what you do best?

OHIO STATE-OREGON TIDBITS

** Ohio State holds a 7-0 advantage in the all-time series, including a 10-7 victory in the 1958 Rose Bowl. The teams haven’t met since 1987 when the Buckeyes took a 24-14 win over the Ducks in Ohio Stadium.

** This will be the first meeting between OSU head coach Jim Tressel and Oregon boss Chip Kelly, who is in his first season as head coach of the Ducks. Tressel is 14-1 during his Ohio State tenure against first-year head coaches. The lone blemish on that slate came earlier this season against Purdue’s Danny Hope.

** Tressel has a lifetime 27-10 record in the postseason, including 4-4 in bowl games while at Ohio State. He was 23-6 in Division I-AA playoff games while at Youngstown State, including national championships in 1991, ’93 and ’94.

** In overall meetings, the Buckeyes are 50-25-2 against teams currently in the Pac-10. In addition to being a perfect 7-0 against Oregon, OSU is 3-1 vs. Arizona, 2-0 vs. Arizona State, 5-1 vs. California, 2-0 vs. Oregon State, 2-3 vs. Stanford, 4-4-1 vs. UCLA, 9-13-1 vs. USC, 8-3 vs. Washington and 8-0 vs. Washington State.

** Oregon is 15-26 all-time against the Big Ten. In addition to an 0-7 slate against Ohio State, the Ducks are 2-1 vs. Illinois, 2-1 vs. Indiana, 2-1 vs. Iowa, 2-3 vs. Michigan, 1-3 vs. Minnesota, 2-2 vs. Michigan State, 0-1 vs. Northwestern, 1-3 vs. Penn State, 2-1 vs. Purdue and 1-3 vs. Wisconsin.

** Tressel is 3-3 all-time against Pac-10 schools. He is 2-0 vs. Washington, 1-0 vs. Washington State, 0-1 vs. UCLA and 0-2 vs. USC.

** Kelly is 1-0 all-time against Big Ten schools. His team won a 38-36 victory over Purdue at Autzen Stadium in Eugene on Sept. 12.

** The Buckeyes have lost three consecutive bowl games and are 18-22 overall in the postseason. The team’s most recent bowl victory was a 34-20 win over Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. Since then, OSU lost back-to-back national championship games (to Florida in 2007 and LSU in 2008) and dropped a 24-21 decision to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl last January.

** Oregon is working on a two-game bowl winning streak and is 9-13 overall in the postseason. The Ducks took a 42-31 win over Oklahoma State in last year’s Holiday Bowl and were 56-21 winners over South Florida in the 2007 Sun Bowl. Oregon hasn’t lost a postseason game since a 38-8 loss to BYU in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.

** The Buckeyes are making their fifth consecutive BCS game appearance and seventh overall. Oregon is making its second BCS appearance. The Ducks tallied a 38-16 win over Colorado in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl.

** Ohio State will be seeking to even its lifetime Rose Bowl record. The Buckeyes are 6-7 in previous trips to Pasadena, including a win during their most recent visit. OSU knocked off second-ranked Arizona State with a thrilling 20-17 victory in the 1997 Rose Bowl.

** Oregon is making its fifth Rose Bowl appearance and first since 1995. The Ducks are 1-3 in their previous trips to Pasadena, including losses to two Big Ten teams. In addition to the 10-7 loss to Ohio State in 1958, they lost by a 38-20 score to Penn State in 1995. The team’s lone Rose Bowl victory came in 1917 with a 14-0 win over the University of Pennsylvania.

** The Ducks boast of a pair of Rose Bowl game records. Quarterback Danny O’Neil threw for 456 yards against Penn State in 1995, establishing the single-game record for passing yardage. And defensive halfback Shy Harrington grabbed three interceptions in the 1917 game against Penn to establish a single-game that has been equaled but never surpassed.

** Despite winning their respective Big Ten and Pac-10 championships outright, neither team seemed to garner much in the way of all-league recognition from their own conference coaches. Ohio State and Oregon had just one player each earn first-team honors on the all-conference teams voted on by coaches. For the Buckeyes, it was defensive back Kurt Coleman while Oregon’s lone representative was tight end Ed Dickson.

** Kelly was named Pac-10 coach of the year in his first season heading the Ducks. Tressel has never been voted Big Ten coach of the year despite six league championships and one national title in nine seasons.

** Tressel is 35-13 against ranked opposition during his tenure at Ohio State. Kelly is 4-1 this season with the Ducks against top-25 teams.

** Kickoff for the 96th Rose Bowl Game is scheduled for 5:10 p.m. Eastern. That is 2:10 p.m. local time. The game will be telecast to a nationwide audience by ABC with the venerable Brent Musberger handling play-by-play duties with color analysis from former OSU quarterback Kirk Herbstreit. Lisa Salters will report from both sidelines.

** The game will also be broadcast by ESPN Radio on Sirius/XM satellite radio channels 120 and 140. The broadcast crew will consist of Mike Tirico (play-by-play), Jon Gruden (color analysis) and Shelley Smith (sideline reports).

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** When Florida lost in the SEC championship game, it ended the Gators’ winning streak at 22 games. Texas’ win streak of 17 straight games is now the longest in the so-called Football Bowl Subdivision (aka Division I-A).

** Following the regular season, Texas rewarded head coach Mack Brown by making him the highest paid coach in college football. Brown became the first $5 million coach after having made approximately $3 million this past season. The university also included a clause that pays the coach an additional $450,000 if the Longhorns beat Alabama on Jan. 7 in the national championship game. According to reports, the bonus is more than 27 Division I-A head coaches made this entire season.

** Utah’s win over California in the Poinsettia Bowl extended the nation’s longest bowl winning streak to nine. You may remember the Utes scored a 31-17 upset win over Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl.

** Utah’s nine-game bowl winning streak is tied for the second-longest ever. Florida State won 11 in a row between 1985 and 1996 while USC won nine straight from 1923-45.

** With that Poinsettia Bowl victory, the Utes improved to 12-3 all-time in bowl games and their .800 winning percentage is the best in the nation of the 74 schools with at least 10 bowl appearances.

** When Mike London left Richmond to become head coach at Virginia, he became the seventh man to win a Division I-AA national championship and then move on to become a head coach at the I-A level. Only one of the previous six has gone on to win a Division I-A national title. That would be Jim Tressel, who won four I-AA rings at Youngstown State before guiding Ohio State to the 2002 national championship.

** The other coaches with I-AA championships to make the jump to I-A: Joe Glenn (Montana to Wyoming); Paul Johnson (Georgia Southern to Navy and then Georgia Tech); Jim Donnan (Marshall to Georgia); Jim Criner (Boise State to Iowa State); and Dave Kragthorpe (Idaho State to Oregon State).

** You could make the case that the jump from I-AA to I-A is a tough one. Tressel and Johnson have excelled, but the tenures of Glenn, Donnan, Criner and Kragthorpe each ended in termination.

** Finally, a word about Urban Meyer. I can only surmise that his reasons are legitimate for taking a leave of absence at Florida. My question is the timing of his announcement. If Meyer already knew he would be leaving the team after the Sugar Bowl, why didn’t he wait until then to make his announcement? Or better still, why didn’t he wait until after the national championship game? I understand there is stress in the fish-bowl world of college football. Universities do not hand out $5 million contracts with no strings attached. The pressure to win isn’t an everyday kind of thing – it’s an every second of every minute of every day kind of thing. Still, I can’t help thinking some of the stress felt by such ego-driven coaches as Meyer is self-inflicted.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The old crystal ball got a little cloudy down the stretch, finishing 121-37 for the year with the straight-up picks and a lamer than lame 64-79-2 mark against the spread.

We decided to skip most of the bowl season because, well, most of it has been rendered irrelevant by the BCS. Secondly, bowl games are the last place you want to try and pad your stats because you never know how the teams (or individual players for that matter) are going to react after a protracted layoff.

Nevertheless, we’ll take on the games that begin tomorrow and move on through the national title game.

OUTBACK BOWL, JAN. 1

Northwestern vs. Auburn: If history is any indicator, Auburn would seem to have the edge. The Tigers are looking for their sixth victory in their last eight bowl games while the Wildcats haven’t won a New Year’s Day bowl since 1949. NU has the momentum, however, with three straight wins to close out the regular season, including victories over Iowa and Wisconsin … Northwestern 31, Auburn 23. (11 a.m. ET, ESPN)

GATOR BOWL, JAN. 1

No. 16 West Virginia vs. Florida State: Everything points to a win by the Mountaineers, but the Seminoles can’t let Bobby Bowden ride off into the sunset on a losing note, can they? … Florida State 34, West Virginia 31. (1 p.m. ET, CBS)

CAPITAL ONE BOWL, JAN. 1

No. 13 Penn State vs. No. 12 LSU: As long as the Nittany Lions can hold onto the football, they can beat an offensively-challenged LSU team … Penn State 24, LSU 14. (1 p.m. ET, ABC)

ROSE BOWL, JAN. 1

No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Oregon: I am reminded once again of the old coaching adage that offense gets the headlines, but defense wins championships. The postseason losing streak ends … Ohio State 35, Oregon 28.  (4:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

SUGAR BOWL, JAN. 1

No. 3 Cincinnati vs. No. 5 Florida: We were pretty sure the Bearcats would have kept things close until the Urban Meyer situation was disclosed. Now, with Meyer and Tim Tebow both exiting the stage, we think the Gators will want to make a statement … Florida 41, Cincinnati 21. (8:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

INTERNATIONAL BOWL, JAN. 2

South Florida vs. Northern Illinois: Look for the Bulls to rally around embattled head coach Jim Leavitt – unless, of course, the report of Leavitt hitting a player in the face is true. Even so, USF ought to have enough to beat the Huskies … South Florida 27, Northern Illinois 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

PAPAJOHN’S.COM BOWL, JAN. 2

South Carolina vs. Connecticut: Two teams that couldn’t even finish .500 in their respective conferences and we can’t have a playoff because of the sanctity of the bowl structure. Whatever … Connecticut 34, South Carolina 31. (2 p.m. ET, ESPN)

COTTON BOWL, JAN. 2

No. 19 Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi: Remember when the Rebels were supposed to be national title contenders? They’ll show why in the first Cotton Bowl to be played in the new Dallas Cowboys palace … Ole Miss 37, Oklahoma State 30. (2 p.m. ET, Fox)

LIBERTY BOWL, JAN. 2

Arkansas vs. East Carolina: We’re not sure we buy the whole concept of the SEC being the head-and-shoulders best conference in college football, but we do buy the concept that it is better than Conference USA … Arkansas 27, East Carolina 17. (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

ALAMO BOWL, JAN. 2

Michigan State vs. Texas Tech: The Spartans are 96th nationally in pass efficiency defense and 103rd in pass yardage defense. Pass-happy Double-T was the No. 2 team in the country in pass offense. Anything else you need to know? … Texas Tech 41, Michigan State 37.  (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

FIESTA BOWL, JAN. 4

No. 6 Boise State vs. No. 4 TCU: If you have any doubt about these teams’ legitimacy regarding the national championship picture, you owe it yourself to check out this game. It ought to be a pretty entertaining affair featuring two of the country’s best … TCU 23, Boise State 21. (8 p.m. ET, Fox)

ORANGE BOWL, JAN. 5

No. 10 Iowa vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech: Many teams around the country tend of have problems defending the Yellow Jackets and their triple-option attack. The Big Ten doesn’t seem to have those same problems … Iowa 28, Georgia Tech 20. (8 p.m. ET, Fox)

GMAC BOWL, JAN. 6

Central Michigan vs. Troy: Between CMU quarterback Den LeFevour (3,043 yards, 27 TDs) and Troy signal-caller Irv Brown (3,868 yards, 22 TDs), the scoreboard at Land Peebles Stadium may resemble a Las Vegas slot machine … Central Michigan 47, Troy 45. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, JAN. 7

No. 2 Texas vs. No. 1 Alabama: No one give the Longhorns much of a chance against the Crimson Tide, looking for their first national title since 1992. We just have this feeling, though, that Texas is going to pull off the shocker. The Longhorns are 7-0-1 all-time against the Tide and returning to Pasadena, site of their thrilling victory over USC four years ago. We think they can do it again … Texas 24, Alabama 21. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads: Northwestern (+8) vs. Auburn; West Virginia vs. Florida State (+3); Penn State (-2½) vs. LSU; Ohio State (+5) vs. Oregon; Cincinnati vs. Florida (-13); South Florida (-6½) vs. Northern Illinois; South Carolina vs. Connecticut (+5); Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi (-3); Arkansas (-8) vs. East Carolina; Michigan State (+8) vs. Texas Tech; Boise State (+8) vs. TCU; Iowa (+5) vs. Georgia Tech; Central Michigan vs. Troy (+4); Texas (+4½) vs. Alabama.

Enjoy the games and here’s wishing you and yours a safe and prosperous new year.

Heisman Trophy 2009: How I Voted And Why

For the past several years, I have had the honor of being on the panel of voters for the Heisman Memorial Trophy. It is an honor that I do not take lightly, but it is a task that is usually not very difficult.

Most years, the choice is pretty much cut and dried. Three years ago, the clear favorite was Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith. The only thing left to decide was placing Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn in second- and third-place order.

My vote has always been a personal thing. It has never been about trying to project the winner although I have cast my ballot for the Heisman winner most often than not. The last time I missed picking the winner was in 2005 when I went with Texas quarterback Vince Young. He finished second to USC running back Reggie Bush.

My reasoning for that pick was pretty simple. When I tried to project how each team would have performed without their star player, I thought USC would probably have done very well even without Bush. I doubt the Longhorns could have done as well without Young in their lineup, so his value to his team led me to place Young in the No. 1 spot on my ballot. Bush was No. 2.

Obviously, not many of my fellow voters agreed. Bush won the 2005 award in a landslide, garnering 784 first-place votes and 2,541 overall points. Young finished second with 1,608 votes but was named on only 79 first-place ballots.

This year presented the most unique Heisman race since I have been a voter. The season began with three clear favorites – Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford (last year’s winner), Florida QB Tim Tebow (the 2007 winner) and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.

Bradford quickly dropped off the radar with a season-ending shoulder injury and that left Tebow and McCoy to duke it out for frontrunner status. Along the way, other players began to make headlines as the college football season played itself out with five undefeated teams and a handful of bona fide Heisman Trophy candidates.

Unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame balloting where you can vote for as many players as you like, Heisman voters have to narrow their voting to three players. Five players were invited to New York this week as finalists for the award and I can think of at least three more that were more than deserving of being invited to the Big Apple ceremony.

My final pool of candidates came down to quarterbacks McCoy, Tebow and Kellen Moore of Boise State, running backs Mark Ingram of Alabama, Tony Gerhart of Stanford and C.J. Spiller of Clemson, defensive lineman Ndamukong  Suh of Nebraska and receiver/kick returner Mardy Gilyard of Cincinnati.

With eight names and only three ballot spots, I had to begin the process of elimination and began comparing the bodies of work from each of the candidates.

At quarterback, there was no doubt that Moore had the best season. He led the nation in pass efficiency, threw for 3,325 yards, had 39 touchdowns to only three interceptions, and quarterbacked his team to an undefeated season. In any other year, Moore would be a slam-dunk to be on my ballot, but the fact that he is a sophomore and plays for a non-BCS conference team, I reluctantly crossed his name off my list.

McCoy and Tebow were left in a virtual dead heat. Tebow was better in pass efficiency; McCoy had the numbers in passing yards and touchdowns. In the end, I truly did not feel Tebow’s overall body of work this season rose to the level of being a Heisman Trophy award winner. I passed on him and left McCoy on my list.

I had always considered Suh and Gilyard as my wild card picks. Unlike some who only noticed Suh during his dominating performance against Texas, I knew the Nebraska defensive star was a candidate for nearly every major award – except the Heisman. I had already pretty much made up my mind before last Saturday that if he had a standout game in the Big 12 title matchup, I would put Suh on my ballot. He had that standout game – and then some.

Gilyard, too, had an outstanding game for Cincinnati against Pittsburgh. While head coach Brian Kelly and the quarterback tandem of Tony Pike and Zach Collaros got most of the attention in the Queen City this season, Gilyard was establishing himself as the best player on that team. He is an excellent receiver, a lethal kick returner and his life story is a truly compelling story.

Unfortunately, there were receivers with better seasons and kick returners with more touchdowns and more yardage, so Gilyard’s name was dropped from my list.

That left me with a conundrum at running back that was more easily solved than you might think.

Like Gilyard, Spiller is a double threat. He ran for 1,145 yards and 11 TDs and tallied five more scores on kick returns – four kickoffs and one punt. There were, however, holes in his résumé. He disappeared in too many games, and failed to top 80 yards in six of his 13 games.

That left me to decide between Gerhart and Ingram. I know the Alabama running back is probably the frontrunner for the trophy, and he did have an excellent outing in the SEC championship game against Florida. Despite his 1,542 yards, though, Ingram had three games during which he failed to crack 60 yards.

Meanwhile, Gerhart was the nation’s top rusher with 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns. He rushed for 100 yards or more in 10 of his 12 games – topping the 200 mark three times – and never ran for less than 82 yards in a game all season.

Critics of Gerhart will argue that he played against competition inferior to that of Ingram. That is simply incorrect. In games against opponents who finished the season with winning records, Gerhart averaged 156.4 yards per game. What’s more, those opponents averaged a national ranking of 43 against the rush. Using the same criteria, Ingram averaged 127.1 yards against teams that averaged a national ranking of 57 in rushing defense.

That left me with McCoy, Suh and Gerhart as the three names on my ballot. Three great players any one of which would be deserving of this year’s Heisman.

But I had to rank them some way. I placed Gerhart third because his team finished out of the running for the Pac-10 championship.

Then I used the same criteria to break the tie between McCoy and Suh that I did four years ago with Bush and Young. Would Nebraska have been 9-4 and headed to the Holiday Bowl without Suh? Maybe. Would Texas be undefeated and playing for the national championship without McCoy. Probably not.

Yes, McCoy nearly had an epic blunder at the end of the Big 12 title game. But he didn’t have that blunder. What many tend to forget is that he moved his team into position to win that game and have a chance to play for the national championship. That is what great players are supposed to do. That is what Heisman Trophy winners are supposed to do.

Therefore, my final ballot read: 1. Colt McCoy; 2. Ndamukong Suh; 3. Toby Gerhart.

Ohio State Fans: Know Your Rose Bowl Enemy

Think Oregon has the upper hand tonight over instate rival Oregon State because of a high-powered offense? Think again. The Beavers have an attack that is almost as potent and they have a much better defense. Will that translate into a victory and send OSU to the Rose Bowl for the first time in more than 40 years? Or will the Ducks get the win and go to Pasadena in search of their first Rose Bowl win since 1917?

One of these teams from the Pacific Wonderland is going to provide the opposition to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and we may as well begin familiarizing ourselves with the enemy right now.

You probably already know about most of Oregon’s weapons because of the media attention it has received since the season opener against Boise State. Of course, most of the spotlight from that game was unwanted after running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player in the wake of the Ducks’ 19-8 loss to the Broncos.

Since then, however, Oregon has won nine of 10 including a 47-20 prime-time pounding of USC in late October. The Ducks possess the No. 7 scoring offense in the country, averaging 37.7 points per game overall. They’ve been even better than that recently. Over their last five contests, the Quack Attack is averaging a cool 44.0 points per game.

At the controls of that offense is dual-threat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who has nearly 5,000 yards in total offense for his career. This season, he has thrown for 1,865 yards and 14 TDs and run for 619 yards and 12 scores. If Masoli has a weakness, it would be his pass efficiency. He ranks only sixth in the Pac-10 in that category, completing 58.3 percent of his 264 attempts so far and averaging a middling 7.1 yards per attempt.

But he rarely makes mistakes – Masoli has pitched only four interceptions all season, meaning he throws a pick only once every 66 attempts.

The junior QB has completed passes to a number of receivers this season but he has two favorite targets. Senior tight end Ed Dickson leads Oregon with 551 yards and six TDs on 42 receptions while junior wideout Jeff Maehl has 46 catches for 548 yards and five scores.

For all of the publicity Masoli and the passing game generate, you need to keep your eye on the Oregon running game because that is what truly makes the Ducks go. They rank eighth in the country in rushing, thanks mostly to freshman tailback LaMichael James. He entered the breach left by Blount, who was suspended after the Boise State game incident, and James has proceeded to roll up 1,310 yards and 11 TDs.

Add Masoli’s slithery mobility to James’ raw talent, mix in three other running backs with at least 130 yards and two TDs each, and the Ducks make it difficult for any opposing defense to stop their running game.

Then again, they have yet to face a defense that is as good against the run as Oregon State. The Beavers rank 13th in the country in rushing defense and allow an average of only 98.5 yards per game. OSU has surrendered 149 yards or less on the ground in 10 of its 11 games this season; Oregon has rushed for at least 175 yards in 10 of its 11 games. In other words, something’s got to give tonight.

Oregon State has an attacking defense featuring 11 players with at least two tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Keaton Kristick is the unit’s leader with 80 tackles, including seven for loss. He also has two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Up front, junior tackle Stephen Paea is the guy the Ducks will have to negate. Paea has 36 tackles, including 5½ for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles.

Want to know just how good Oregon State can be on defense? The Beavers held Cincinnati to 5 of 14 on third-down conversions back in mid-September during a 28-18 loss to the Bearcats. In addition to everything else UC does well on offense, it is near the top of the national stats in third-down efficiency.

Oregon State also held Stanford running back Toby Gerhart to 96 yards in early October during a 38-28 win over the Cardinal. Gerhart is the nation’s No. 2 rusher and the Beavers held him to nearly 50 yards below his average.

Offensively, Oregon State can pretty much match Oregon in star power with sophomore running back Jacquizz Rodgers and senior quarterback Sean Canfield.

Rodgers ranks ninth in the nation with an average of 119.4 yards per game, and he has totaled 1,313 yards and 19 TDs this season. Meanwhile, Canfield is the Pac-10 leader in pass efficiency. He has completed 70.3 percent of his 370 attempts so far for 2,797 yards and 19 touchdowns against only six interceptions.

The Ducks will try to rattle Canfield – they rank second in their conference in pass defense, third in sacks and third in interceptions. But Oregon has had difficulty stopping the run this season, ranking 40th nationally and fifth in the Pac-10 in rushing defense, and Rodgers could be a difference-maker for the Beavers. He missed last year’s Civil War, and not coincidentally the Ducks ran off with a 65-38 victory. Masoli threw for 274 yards and three TDs in that game as Oregon piled up 694 yards of total offense.

Oregon is 9-2 with losses to Boise State and Stanford, teams with a combined 20-4 record and .833 winning percentage. Oregon State is 8-3 with losses to Cincinnati, Arizona and USC, teams with a combined record of 26-7 (.788).

The Ducks last appeared in the Rose Bowl in 1995, losing a 38-20 decision to Penn State. They haven’t won a Rose Bowl game since a 14-0 win over Penn in 1917.

The Beavers haven’t been to Pasadena since 1965, losing a 34-7 decision to Michigan. Oregon State won its only Rose Bowl in 1942 with a 20-16 victory over Duke. However, that game was moved to Wade Wallace Stadium on the Duke campus in Durham, N.C., following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the spirit of full disclosure, both Oregon teams know how it feels to win in the Rose Bowl, beating UCLA there in recent years. The Beavers rolled to a 34-6 win over the Bruins in Pasadena last season while the Ducks scored a 24-10 victory over UCLA on Oct. 10.

But neither team knows how it feels to beat Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 9-0 all-time against Oregon and Oregon State, including a 10-7 win over the Ducks in the 1958 Rose Bowl.

Enjoy tonight’s game.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Fifteen years ago, a pair of familiar combatants squared off as the Southeastern Conference staged its first-ever championship game. On Dec. 3, 1994, Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel threw a 2-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left, and the No. 6 Gators squeezed out a 24-23 victory over undefeated and third-ranked Alabama.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 1, 1951, sixth-ranked Georgia Tech forced an NCAA-record 13 turnovers (five fumbles and eight interceptions) during a 48-6 victory over instate rival Georgia; on Dec. 2, 1990, Houston quarterback David Klinger set a new Division I-A single-game record by throwing for 716 yards in a 62-45 victory over Arizona State; on Dec. 5, 1993, Wisconsin went all the way to Tokyo to score a 41-20 win over Michigan State, clinching the Badgers’ first Rose Bowl trip in 31 years; and on Dec. 6, 1873, Yale defeated Eton Players of England by a 2-1 final. It was the first college football game in the U.S. played with 11 men on each side.

**Today also marks the 124th anniversary of the birth of former Ohio State football coach Francis A. Schmidt. Born Dec. 3, 1885, in Downs, Kansas, Schmidt was one of the most accomplished and colorful coaches in college football history. He played at Nebraska, where he earned a law degree, and later rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Army during World War II. Schmidt began his head coaching career in 1919 and served stints at Tulsa, Arkansas, TCU, Ohio State and Idaho. While with the Buckeyes, he became the first (and still only) head coach to beat Michigan in each of his first four tries and Schmidt also instituted the Gold Pants Club to mark each victory over the Wolverines. Schmidt retired from coaching following the 1942 season and died two years later of a heart attack at the age of 58. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Heading down to the wire and there are still six undefeated teams remaining in Division I-A. Congratulations to TCU, which completed its regular season with perfect a 12-0 record, the school’s first unbeaten regular season since 1938. Meanwhile, Boise State, Cincinnati, Texas, Alabama and Florida still have one more contest to play.

** There were pros and cons to firing Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis. One of the arguments for keeping Weis was that all his team was competitive in every game this season. All six of the Fighting Irish’s losses this season were by seven points or less. One of the main arguments for letting him go: Notre Dame has lost at least six games in each of the last three years, the longest such streak in school history.

** Lost amid the hubbub surrounding the Weis firing and the forced retirement of Bobby Bowden was the news that our old friend Mark Snyder resigned Nov. 29 as head coach at Marshall. Snyder, the former defensive coordinator at Ohio State, posted a 21-37 record in five seasons at his alma mater. The Thundering Herd were 6-6 this year.

** Coaching for the old alma mater isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Virginia fired Al Groh after nine seasons with the Cavaliers. Groh’s dismissal came the day after his team finished 3-9, the program’s worst record since a 2-9 mark in 1982.

** Bobby Bowden’s departure from Florida State means that Joe Paterno will likely have the all-time Division I victories record forever. JoePa has 393 wins and counting (Bowden had 388) and next on the active list are Jim Tressel of Ohio State and Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech with 228 each. (Tressel will be 57 on Saturday and Beamer is 63.) With the proliferation of big-money contracts and high-profile stress, it seems illogical to believe anyone will ever approach Paterno’s win total.

** Of course, JoePa still ranks third in all-time coaching victories at the college level. He trails the late Eddie Robinson of Grambling (408) and Division III Saint John’s (Minn.) head coach John Gagliardi, still going strong with 471 career wins. Gagliardi guided the Johnnies to a 10-0 record this season, but they were upset 34-27 by Coe College (Iowa) in the first round of the D-III playoffs.

** By the way, in case you entertain the notion that Tressel or Beamer could reach Paterno’s win total, realize that both men would have to win 10 games every season for the next 17 years just to get close to 400. That would put both men well past retirement age – Tressel will be 57 on Saturday and Beamer is 63 – and neither has expressed any desire to stay in the profession that long.

** I won’t cast my vote until early next week, but after watching his performance on Thanksgiving night against Texas A&M, I am 99.9 percent sure I will vote for Texas QB Colt McCoy. Who gets my second- and third-place votes are still to be determined this weekend from a group that includes Florida QB Tim Tebow, Alabama RB Mark Ingram, Boise State QB Kellen Moore and Stanford RB Toby Gerhart.

** The talking heads at ESPN are probably the only people in America (outside of Florida, of course) who believe Tim Tebow still has a chance to win the Heisman. According to ESPN, Tebow is the greatest player in college football history. While I have absolutely nothing against Tebow, and will admit he has been an outstanding player, he is not the greatest player in history. In fact, he is not even the greatest player of his era when you crunch hard numbers. For his four-year career, Tebow has rushed and passed for a combined 11,389 yards and 140 TDs. Compare those stats to Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour, who has accounted for 15,140 yards and 145 TDs in his career.

** This week’s fun stat (unless you are a fan of the following teams): Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida State, Georgia and USC combined for a 39-32 record this season. Go back just three short years ago to the 2006 season and you find a 59-20 combined record for those six schools.

** For the record, I didn’t like the Nike Pro Combat uniforms worn by Ohio State during the Michigan game. And after watching Florida wear their version last Saturday, I’m convinced Nike is letting some third-grader design some of these unis with a bunch of Crayolas. For the record, Clemson, Florida State, LSU and Missouri joined the Gators in wearing Pro Combat uniforms last weekend and the record was 3-2 for the duds (pun intended).

** Congratulations to SMU for earning its first bowl bid since earning the NCAA death penalty back in 1987. The Mustangs got a pretty nice invitation, too. They will spend the Christmas holiday at the Hawaii Bowl, set for Dec. 24 in Honolulu. Of course, a trip to the islands is old hat for SMU head coach June Jones, who spent nine seasons as head coach at Hawaii from 1999-2007.

** For sheer excitement, it would have been hard to beat the Division I-AA playoff game last weekend between top seed Montana and South Dakota State. The undefeated Grizzlies fell behind SDSU by a 48-21 score with 5:40 remaining in the third quarter before storming back for 40 unanswered points and a 61-48 victory.

** There were other fantastic finishes in the Football Championship Division (aka I-AA) playoffs. Elon missed a pair of field goal attempts in the final 90 seconds, allowing defending national champion Richmond to squeak by with a 16-13 victory. And Appalachian State took a 20-13 win over South Carolina State when the Bulldogs botched a snap on a field goal attempt and Appy State’s Dominique McDuffie ran 50 yards with the loose ball for the game-winning touchdown.

** In Division III, powerhouse Mount Union remains the team to beat. The Purple Raiders, seeking their fourth championship in the past five seasons and 11th title since 1993, rolled into the quarterfinals with a 62-14 win over Montclair State.

** Mount Union head coach Larry Kehres has been named one of five regional winners of the 2009 Division III AFCA Coach of the Year award. It is the 14th time Kehres has been so honored.

FEARLESS FORECAST

We must have forgotten about that old saying that says you can throw out the records when forecasting rivalry games. We were a middling 11-7 straight up to drop the yearly total below 80 percent to 112-32.

Against the spread? No other way to describe it other than we got crushed. We zigged while nearly everyone else zagged and had a 4-14 week ATS that sent the yearly total spiraling to 57-73-2. Well, at least the turkey, mashed potatoes and noodles were good.

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 16 Oregon State at No. 7 Oregon: The Beavers have a slightly better defense while the Ducks have a slightly better offense. Autzen Stadium is usually money in the bank for Oregon, but Oregon State went home a winner on its last trip. So, we looked at common opponents – all eight of them – and came up with this final score … Oregon 43, Oregon State 38. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

FRIDAY’S GAME

Ohio vs. Central Michigan: Temple’s turnaround season got most of the MAC publicity this season, but it will be the Bobcats and the Chippewas squaring off at Ford Field to decide the conference championship. CMU has dominated the all-time series with a lopsided 20-4-2 edge, and with an offense led by senior QB Dan LeFevour, the Chips should pad that advantage by one more victory … Central Michigan 28, Ohio 21. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 5 Cincinnati at No. 15 Pittsburgh: Will Heinz Field turn out to be the Bearcats’ Waterloo? After playing footloose and fancy free for most of the season, suddenly there is a lot on UC’s plate. A win preserves a perfect season and the remote possibility of playing for the national championship. If that’s not enough pressure, how about the distraction of head coach Brian Kelly rumored to be headed to Notre Dame? We smell an Upset Special … Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 26. (12 noon ET, ABC)

No. 21 Houston at East Carolina: The Pirates are the defending Conference USA champions, but it’s difficult to see how they can repeat against the Cougars and quarterback Case Keenum. He needs only 78 more yards to reach 5,000 for the second year in a row … Houston 45, East Carolina 28. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

No. 23 West Virginia at Rutgers: The Mountaineers have won 14 straight in this series, winning those games by an average of 26.6 points. The Scarlet Knights have won eight of their last 10, but one of those losses was to Syracuse. If the Knights can’t beat the Orange, how can they be expected to beat WVU? … West Virginia 31, Rutgers 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Fresno State at Illinois: Extending the season past Thanksgiving was supposed to keep the Illini fresh for their bowl game. Instead, it has simply prolonged the agony of a dismal season. Perhaps the Fighting Zooksters could rise up for Senior Day, but don’t count on it … Fresno State 34, Illinois 31. (12:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

New Mexico State at No. 6 Boise State: If Ohio State can hang 45 on the Aggies, how many points do you think the Broncos can score? Probably as many as they want … Boise State 56, New Mexico State 0. (3 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Arizona at No. 18 USC: As tough as things have been in Trojanland this season, USC can still win 10 games with wins this week and in its bowl game. The first hurdle toward that goal should be made easier since the Wildcats will be without injured TB Nic Grigsby … USC 34, Arizona 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s chances hinge on the health of Heisman hopeful tailback Mark Ingram, who missed most of last week’s win over Auburn with a hip pointer. Those kinds of injuries are tough to overcome, especially for running backs, and how Ingram performs could make the difference … Florida 27, Alabama 21. (4 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 19 California at Washington: The Bears are still without star running back Jahvid Best, but sophomore Shane Vereen has been a more than capable fill-in. Vereen runs mostly out of the wildcat formation, and he will likely do a lot of damage against the Huskies, who rank 76th nationally and ninth in the Pac-10 against the run … Cal 35, Washington 24. (6:30 p.m. ET, FSN)

No. 3 Texas vs. No. 22 Nebraska: One final chance for Colt McCoy to prove why he deserves this year’s Heisman Trophy. If McCoy simply has his normal game against the Cornhuskers, who have the Big 12’s stingiest scoring defense, it should be a coronation for him and a momentum-builder for the Longhorns as they head to the national title game … Texas 34, Nebraska 20. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. Clemson: If South Carolina can gash the Tigers for 223 yards on the ground, doesn’t it make sense that the Yellow Jackets and their running game (No. 2 in the nation) can do as well or better? … Georgia Tech 34, Clemson 27. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Wisconsin at Hawaii: Some teams have trouble adjusting to the swirling winds at Aloha Stadium. Not the Badgers. They have won three in a row in Honolulu by an average margin of 27.3 points and will probably just run Big Ten offensive player of the year John Clay about 40 times … Wisconsin 38, Hawaii 24. (11:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Oregon State (+10) at Oregon; Ohio (+13) vs. Central Michigan; Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (+2); Houston (-2½) at East Carolina; West Virginia (+2) at Rutgers; Fresno State (+3) at Illinois; New Mexico State at Boise State (-44); Arizona at USC (-7); Florida (-5½) vs. Alabama; Cal (-7) at Washington; Texas (-13) vs. Nebraska; Georgia Tech (-1) vs. Clemson; Wisconsin (-11) at Hawaii.

Ohio State Wins Over Michigan Never Get Old

Sometimes I wonder if Ohio State football fans haven’t been brainwashed by the very propaganda they so often criticize.

The Buckeyes were in the process Nov. 21 of putting the finishing touches on a 21-10 victory at Michigan, another 10-win season and their third outright Big Ten championship in the last four years and you might have thought it was the Wolverines who were winning for the eighth time in the last nine years.

All I heard was how boring it had become to watch the Buckeyes grind out another victory in the series, how dull it was to watch the latest chapter of Tresselball wring any modicum of excitement from another OSU game.

There was actually a post on our own BuckeyeSports.com message board during the second half that read, “This is why I hate Jim Tressel. Run, run, run, run, run. This game is so boring. (Michigan) is terrible. We should be ahead by at least 35 points right now.”

Hate Jim Tressel? Really? If that is really the opinion of some Ohio State fans, then I have heard enough to know that I have heard too much.

First of all, Tressel certainly doesn’t need me to defend his coaching expertise. The bottom line speaks for itself, and that bottom line now shows six Big Ten championships in nine years, five straight seasons of 10 wins or more and more BCS bowl appearances than any other coach you care to mention.

Secondly, if you watched the Buckeyes dispatch the Wolverines on Nov. 21 and believe what you were watching was old-fashioned Tresselball, I suggest either a trip to the optometrist or less attention paid to what the blabbering bobbleheads from Bristol have to say.

National talking heads will look at 67 yards for Ohio State through the air and immediately pronounce another lackluster game in the outdated, run-oriented Big Ten and start puffing their chests about how there is no way the Buckeyes can beat any of the pass-happy teams they are likely to meet in the Rose Bowl.

None of them will have actually watched the OSU-Michigan game, of course. (Same problem with those who continue to insist the national title game against LSU was a blowout. It was not, but I digress.) There were two plays in this year’s edition of The Game that could have bloated the Buckeyes’ passing stats and turned an 11-point win into something much more substantial.

The first came with 5:12 to go in the second quarter with Ohio State holding a 14-3 lead. Michigan had just turned the ball over on the first of quarterback Tate Forcier’s four interceptions, and Tressel went for Rich Rodriguez’s jugular. On first down, DeVier Posey easily beat his defender on a fly pattern but Terrelle Pryor overthrew his receiver.

The second occurred on a similar play early in the fourth quarter with the Buckeyes protecting a 21-10 lead. Once again Posey easily outdistanced his coverage, but once again Pryor’s pass was too far for his intended receiver.

Only two plays, both of which were misfires, but the fact remains they were called by Tressel and had they been successful, the Buckeyes would have had at least two more touchdowns and at least 125 more yards through the air.

I attached the words “at least” to the preceding sentence because converting those two plays – especially the first one – could have completely altered the remainder of the game.

Had Pryor been able to connect with Posey on that second-quarter bomb, it would have given Ohio State a 21-3 advantage and would likely have caused a cave-in on the Michigan sideline. Then, the final score would probably have been something in the four- or five-touchdown range.

The long pass attempts to Posey weren’t the only non-Tresselball calls in the game. What about the misdirection counter plays? The screen pass in the red zone? Both went for touchdowns, yet all anyone seemed to want to talk about was the fact the Buckeyes ran the ball 51 times for 251 yards. Funny – when they ran it 43 times for 242 yards in last year’s 42-7 blowout, I don’t remember anyone bringing up Tresselball.

There is little doubt Tressel took his foot off the accelerator in the fourth quarter this year, but give the guy a little credit. He knew Michigan would have to begin to take some chances late and that freshman Forcier would have to try to force the issue. Not coincidentally, the Buckeyes chalked up three of their four interceptions in the final period.

Every head coach’s first commandment is to win the surest way, and Tressel’s record in Big Ten games is now 59-13 because he knows the surest way to victory. There is no doubt there are other coaches who are much flashier, but are their teams built for year-in, year-out success?

For example, how did Bob Stoops do at Oklahoma this season? How about Mike Leach at Texas Tech? June Jones at SMU or Bobby Petrino at Arkansas? Each of those supposed offensive gurus had winning seasons – barely – and combined for exactly zero championships.

High-octane attacks and footballs flying through the air grab the headlines. Always have and always will. But they don’t always translate into trophies.

Winning is, has been and always will be the bottom line and that goes double for Ohio State against Michigan. Beating the Wolverines never becomes boring and it never gets old.

DEATH IN THE FAMILY

I met Stefanie Spielman only once and that was several years ago. She was in a northern Columbus supermarket, and her mind was occupied with something important – trying to keep one of her small children from knocking off a huge display of canned green beans.

She knew me as nothing more than another in the long line of fans of her husband, but she couldn’t have been more pleasant or down-to-earth – a typical suburban mom who looked like the biggest thing weighing on her mind was the price of eggs.

I had no idea then just how much grit and determination Stefanie had going for her. Not long after our brief encounter, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, a disease she fought as hard as she could for 12 long years until she had no fight left.

When she died Nov. 19 at the age of 42, I remembered her from that day we met in that supermarket. I also remembered when her husband announced he was giving up professional football for a year to stay home and help her fight the disease.

If you know anything about Chris Spielman, you know that he would sooner give up his right arm than voluntarily miss a football game. He was a three-time All-American at Ohio State and a four-time Pro Bowler with the Detroit Lions. He once made a tackle for the Buckeyes without a helmet, and often said that he would have played professional football for free.

As it turned out, as great as Spielman was as a football player, he is an even better man.

Last month, Spielman talked with Canton Repository writer Todd Porter, and while he wouldn’t discuss his wife’s prognosis, he offered a glimpse into how their lives had changed over the years.

“I’m so grateful for the 25 years we’ve known each other and the 20 years we’ve been married,” Spielman said. “I wouldn’t change a thing. The tough parts? That’s life. Life is going through good things and bad things.

“I think we’ve been given certain assignments in life. I like to think we’ve done the best we could for (cancer survivors) in service as opposed to shutting down. Hopefully, we’ve been able to make a difference with the monies raised and the people we met and talked to … This is an honorable and humbling journey we’ve been on. It’s something that is way bigger than being a football guy.”

Those outside the Buckeye Nation will likely continue to look at Spielman as just “a football guy.” Those of us in and around Columbus know better.

During this Thanksgiving holiday season, we give thanks for people like Chris and Stefanie Spielman, people who enrich our lives just by living their own.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Twenty-seven years ago today, the pupil finally beat the teacher and a legend coached his final regular-season game. On Nov. 27, 1982, Auburn running back Bo Jackson rushed for 114 yards and led the Tigers to a 23-22 victory over Alabama. It was the final regular-season game for Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who finished a 38-year career with 323 victories. The game also marked a milestone for Auburn head coach Pat Dye. He became the first former Bryant assistant to beat the legendary coach in 30 attempts since 1970.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 24, 1938, Texas scored a 7-6 upset win over Texas A&M, allowing the Longhorns to avoid a winless season; on Nov. 28, 1942, unranked Holy Cross scored a 55-12 rout of No. 1 Boston College, the most lopsided loss ever for a top-ranked team; on Nov. 28, 1981, No. 11 Penn State trounced No. 1 Pittsburgh by a 48-14 score, the largest winning margin in NCAA history for a ranked team over a No. 1 team; and on Nov. 29, 1935, Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger was named the winner of the inaugural Downtown Athletic Club Trophy as the outstanding college football player of the year. The following year, the award would be renamed the Heisman Trophy.

** The Ohio State football program also marks an anniversary this week. On Nov. 25, 1916, the Buckeyes took a 23-3 victory over Northwestern to cap a 7-0 season and earn the school’s first Big Ten championship. It was the first of a league-record 18 (and counting) outright championships and 34 overall conference titles for the Buckeyes.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** A nightmare scenario for the BCS is rapidly getting closer as six undefeated teams remain in Division I-A. Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Texas and TCU are hanging around with unblemished records, each retaining their own claim for the national title. If only there was a way of determining the champion on the field. A playoff perhaps?

** We know at least one of the aforementioned teams will have a defeat on its ledger since Florida and Alabama will face one another in the SEC championship game, but the loser is still virtually assured of a BCS at-large berth. With automatic conference tie-ins further limiting the field, there is probably no way Boise State and TCU both get BCS bids – and that would be a travesty.

** Nike’s so-called Pro Combat uniforms were 1-1 last weekend. Ohio State wore them in its 21-10 victory over Michigan while Oklahoma donned the new duds and received a 41-13 drubbing from Texas Tech.

** In his first two seasons at Michigan, Rich Rodriguez has lost 13 Big Ten games. It took Bo Schembechler 13 seasons to lost 13 league games.

** Indiana may not be going to a bowl game this season, but it doesn’t look like head coach Bill Lynch is going anywhere. The bottom line for any coach in trouble is wins and losses, but attendance is certainly 1A on that list and the Hoosiers averaged better than 40,000 fans in Memorial Stadium this season. That is the first time the team has done that well at the gate in 17 years.

** It should be a very merry Christmas this year in the household of Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney household. Because the Tigers have advanced to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, an incentive clause in Swinney’s contract kicks his salary from $800,000 to around $1.8 million next season.

** For those of you who believe Florida head coach Urban Meyer when he says he is not interested in the Notre Dame job should it become available, remember this: Once upon a time, Thad Matta said he was not interested in leaving Xavier for Ohio State.

** During last week’s 63-20 win over New Mexico State, Nevada running back Luke Lippincott ran for 162 yards and the Wolf Pack became the first team in NCAA history to have three 1,000-yard rushers in the same season. Lippincott (1,028 yards) joins Vai Taua (1,185) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (1,129) on the nation’s No. 1 rushing offense. Nevada has averaged 445.6 yards on the ground over its last eight games – topping 500 yards three times – and the Wolf Pack averages 373.2 for the season.

** I received my Heisman Trophy voting instructions last week. (We used to have the option of voting by paper ballot or online; now we can only vote online.) My top three has been pretty unwavering over the past several weeks: 1. Texas QB Colt McCoy; 2. Alabama RB Mark Ingram; 3. Boise State QB Kellen Moore. I know there is a lot of sentiment for Florida QB Tim Tebow, but I don’t think he has had a season that outshines my top three. I guarantee you I will not vote until after the conference championship games, giving me one last chance to watch McCoy, Ingram and Tebow.

** You probably know Florida still has the nation’s longest current win streak at 21 games. You may not know Western Kentucky has the longest losing streak at the I-A level. The Hilltoppers have lost 18 straight, and that has cost head coach David Elson his job. WKU has already hired Stanford assistant Willie Taggart as Elson’s replacement. Taggart is completing his third season on Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford, but he played and coached at Western Kentucky for more than a decade before that.

** Congratulations to Tom Thompson, the 61-year-old walk-on kicker at Division III Austin College in Texas. Thompson converted a PAT for the Kangaroos last weekend in a 41-10 loss to instate rival Trinity, and became the oldest person ever to play in a college football game.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Another great week, including one of two Upset Specials, led to a 16-3 record with the straight-up forecast. The yearly SU total is now 101-25, good enough for Jim Tressel-like winning percentage of .802.

Against the spread, we finally had a winning week at 11-7 but we’re still Rich Rodriguez-like for the season at 53-59-2. Here are the games we like this week.

TODAY’S GAMES

Illinois at No. 5 Cincinnati: Ron Zook scheduled two games for his Fighting Illini after Thanksgiving to make sure they wouldn’t go stale between the end of the regular season and the bowl game. Of course, for that strategy to mean anything you first have to get to a bowl game … Cincinnati 45, Illinois 24. (12 noon ET, ABC)

No. 2 Alabama at Auburn: The Tigers have six of the last seven Iron Bowls, and Auburn has unheralded RB Ben Tate (1,209 yards, 8 TDs). But the Tide counters with Heisman hopeful Mark Ingram (1,399 yards, 12 TDs) and a much better defense … Alabama 27, Auburn 10. (2:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 9 Pittsburgh at West Virginia: With the one-two punch of QB Bill Stull (2,115 yards, 18 TDs) and RB Dion Lewis (1,291 yards, 13 TDs), the Panthers just have too much offense for the Mountaineers … Pittsburgh 27, West Virginia 17. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Nevada at No. 6 Boise State: If anyone is going to derail the Broncos, it could be the Wolf Pack. They have won eight straight and averaged 55.6 points over their last five games, thanks mostly to the nation’s No. 1 running attack. Boise counters with a quick-strike attack that features the best scoring offense in the country. If you like offense, stay up late and enjoy the fireworks … Boise State 49, Nevada 45. (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 24 North Carolina at North Carolina State: The Wolfpack scored a 41-10 blowout win last season, but UNC has shored up its defense. Also, the Tar Heels are plus-5 in turnover margin while the Pack is minus-13 … North Carolina 28, N.C. State 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

No. 18 Clemson at South Carolina: The Tigers hold a 65-37-4 advantage in the all-time series, including victories in the last two games, six of the last seven and 10 of the last 12. Sounds like a trend … Clemson 31, South Carolina 17.  (12 noon ET, ESPN)

No. 25 Mississippi at Mississippi State: Why is this rivalry known as the Egg Bowl? Because the large object atop the trophy that goes to the winner more resembles a golden egg than a football. The Rebels will have the inside track on the SEC’s berth in the Capital One Bowl with a win … Mississippi 23, Mississippi State 14. (12:20 p.m. ET, SEC Network/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 12 Oklahoma State at Oklahoma: The Cowboys are hopeful of snapping a six-year losing streak to the injury-riddled Sooners. But OU won’t give up easily, especially protecting a 29-game home win streak on Senior Day. Regardless of what the oddsmakers say, this is an Upset Special … Oklahoma 27, Oklahoma State 23. (12:30 p.m. ET, FSN)

New Mexico at No. 4 TCU: Congratulations to the Lobos for avoiding a winless season with last week’s 29-27 win over Colorado State. Their reward? A trip to Fort Worth to play what many regard as the best team in the country this year … TCU 56, New Mexico 7. (1 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)

Florida State at No. 1 Florida: This could be the final regular-season game for the respective head coaches at these schools. Bobby Bowden may ride off into forced retirement while Notre Dame could make Urban Meyer an offer he can’t refuse … Florida 37, Florida State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 14 Virginia Tech at Virginia: One of the best freshmen in the country resides in the Hokies’ backfield, and Ryan Williams (1,355 yards, 15 TDs) should get plenty of chances to pad his numbers against a porous Cavaliers’ defense … Virginia Tech 31, Virginia 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 17 Miami (Fla.) at South Florida: You can check out two of the nation’s best young quarterbacks in Miami sophomore Jacory Harris (3,003 yards, 21 TDs) and USF freshman B.J. Daniels (2,200 all-purpose yards, 17 TDs). Mistakes will likely determine the winner, and the Bulls have a slight edge in defense. Upset Special No. 2 … South Florida 20, Miami 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 21 Utah at No. 19 BYU: Senior QB Max Hall has had a solid career for the Cougars, but he has never played well against the Utes. That includes a career-high five interceptions during last year’s 48-24 loss, and doesn’t bode well in a series that Utah has dominated of late. Upset Special No. 3 … Utah 37, BYU 24. (5 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)

Arkansas at No. 15 LSU: An interesting matchup between two former Michigan Men. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and LSU head coach Les Miles. Of course, Miles could be headed back to Ann Arbor whenever the Wolverines want to pull the plug on the Rich Rodriguez experiment, and right about now the Tigers would probably make that deal. But we digress … LSU 30, Arkansas 24. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Georgia at No. 7 Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets beat the Bulldogs last year for the first time since 2000 and now try for their first home win in the series since 1999. Since no one else has been able to shut down Tech’s triple-option attack, it’s doubtful UGA can, either … Georgia Tech 33, Georgia 24. (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Rice at No. 23 Houston: The over/under number for yardage by Cougars quarterback Case Keenum (4,599 yards, 36 TDs) ought to be around 500 since the Owls rank 107th nationally in pass defense … Houston 55, Rice 20. (8 p.m. ET, CSS)

Notre Dame at Stanford: Do you think Jim Harbaugh would like anything better than to beat Notre Dame and send Charlie Weis packing? … Stanford 45, Notre Dame 31. (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

UCLA at No. 20 USC: We’ll admit it. It’s been kind of fun to watch Pete Carroll have that deer-in-the-headlights look while his team was being eviscerated by Oregon and Stanford. Back to reality this week … USC 24, UCLA 17. (10 p.m. ET, FSN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Illinois at Cincinnati (-20½); Alabama (-10) at Auburn; Pitt (PK) at West Virginia (PK); Nevada (+14) at Boise State; North Carolina (-5½) at N.C. State; Clemson (-3) at South Carolina; Mississippi (-7½) at Mississippi State; Oklahoma State (+10) at Oklahoma; New Mexico at TCU (-44); Florida State (+24½) at Florida; Virginia Tech (-15) at Virginia; Miami-FL at South Florida (+5½); Utah (+8) at BYU; Arkansas at LSU (-3½); Georgia at Georgia Tech (-7½); Rice at Houston (-24); Notre Dame at Stanford (-10); UCLA (+13½)  at USC.

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