Dawn Of New Season Remains Saving Grace

Richard III had his winter of discontent and Ohio State certainly had a similar summer. Who knew the business of building a perennial college football powerhouse would devolve into defending yourself about the way you built it?

Thankfully, most of that is behind us now. And as we wait for some sort of closure regarding the NCAA mess – something that could take up to another month or so – Ohio Stadium stands in readiness for another football season.

A noontime kickoff under a bright September sky by the banks of the Olentangy River means the beginning of a new season made far sweeter by the bitterness of the past eight months. But no matter how much the NCAA, the media and some of its own coaches and players try to ruin it, college football will always remain one of the preeminent fall activities throughout the country.

Of course, we’re a little prejudiced in Columbus because nothing could be better than the first glimpse of TBDBITL coming down the ramp, the smell of hamburgers and hotdogs being grilled at tailgate parties, the roar that goes up when the team bolts from the tunnel and the first strains of “Hang On Sloopy.”

I won’t lie to you. Last May, when Jim Tressel was forced to resign, I felt like I had been kicked the gut to the point where I seriously questioned whether I wanted to cover Ohio State football any more. I wasn’t particular close to Tressel – no one in the media was – and there were times when the guy seemed moody or prickly just because he could get away with it. Still, I kind of liked the way he went about his business, micromanaging everything from offensive play-calling to which players graced the front of the gameday program.

Tressel had his share of detractors, though. Every public figure does. But no matter if you loved the guy or hated him, you had to respect the bottom line. During his decade-long tenure with the Buckeyes, he accomplished things no Ohio State head coach ever has. At the top of that list was nine victories over Michigan in 10 tries.

For about a six-week period, I was in an angry funk. Yes, Tressel lied to his superiors and that sets the absolute wrong tone for someone who is supposed to be above that sort of thing. But I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that his punishment did not fit his crime. Slowly but surely, however, I cooled off and so did the weather. The closer we got to actually playing football again, the better I seemed to feel. I imagine it’s like that for a lot of you.

The Ohio State football program has weathered many storms and it will weather many more. I’m sure there were those in 1928 who believed the Buckeyes would never be the same after the resignation of longtime coach John W. Wilce. The sentiment was likely the same in 1944 when Paul Brown went off to World War II. And I know how people felt following Woody Hayes’ all-too-public meltdown on national television in 1978.

I don’t have the slightest idea what kind of a head coach Luke Fickell will make. I have known Luke for a long time – since he was a high school wrestler at Columbus DeSales – but he’s never been the lead dog. He wasn’t as a four-year starter on the Ohio State defensive line and he never has been during a coaching career that began as a grad assistant on John Cooper’s OSU staff in 1999.

It is doubtful Luke knows the avalanche headed his way. He can prepare all he wants, but until you are in the meat grinder that is being the head football coach at Ohio State, you have no idea how white-hot that spotlight is going to be. Some thrive on it, some despise it and some get devoured by it. I don’t need to name names. You all know who I’m talking about in each instance.

Regardless of how Fickell handles the intrinsic pressure that comes with the unreasonable expectation of winning every game by at least 40 points, though, his bottom line will remain constant. For every head coach at Ohio State, the success formula is really quite simple: Win and you can stay. Lose and you can pack your bags.

Fortunately for Fickell, the cupboard left to him by Tressel is far from bare. There are a lot of new faces in the starting lineup – even more after the announcement of yesterday’s suspensions – but the Buckeyes have recruited so well over the past several years and talent always has a way of rising to the top. Additionally, the Buckeyes can take advantage of a fairly soft schedule that features no more than three or four bona fide landmines.

How will the team do under its new head coach? I think the answer is similar to how the program will survive in the wake of a particularly mean-spirited NCAA investigation that sullied its reputation. Very well, thank you.

OSU-AKRON TIDBITS

** Ohio State kicks off its 122nd season of intercollegiate football tomorrow against Akron. The Buckeyes have won 32 consecutive home openers, not tasting defeat since a 19-0 loss to Penn State in the 1978 season opener.

** OSU head coach Luke Fickell makes his debut this weekend. The last time the Buckeyes went into a season with a man who had no previous head coaching experience was 1946. Assistant coach Paul Bixler was elevated to the head coaching position and his first game resulted in a 13-13 tie with Missouri. That also marked the last time a first-year Ohio State head coach failed to win his opening game with the Buckeyes.

** The Zips are led by second-year coach Rob Ianello, whose team struggled to a 1-11 record last season. Ianello is not unfamiliar with playing against Ohio State, however. He was on staff at Wisconsin from 1990-93 and again in 2003 and ’04 during which time the Badgers posted a 3-2-1 record against the Buckeyes. Ianello was also on Charlie Weis’ staff at Notre Dame in 2005 when Ohio State rolled to a 34-20 victory in the Fiesta Bowl.

** Fickell may be in his first season as a head coach, but his staff has a combined 184 years of experience as college assistants or staff members.

** Fickell also knows a little bit about Akron. He got his first full-time coaching job there, serving as defensive line coach on Lee Owens’ staff in 2000 and 2001. OSU recruiting coordinator John Peterson also spent time in Akron. He coached the Zips’ offensive line for Owens from 1995-98.

** Former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel also began his coaching career at Akron. Tressel was a graduate assistant on Jim Dennison’s staff in 1975 and was a full-time assistant for Dennison from 1976-78.

** Akron is embarking upon its 111th season of intercollegiate football. The Zips haven’t had a winning season since going 7-5 in 2005, and they haven’t won a season opener since 2007 when they took a 22-14 victory over Army at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

** All-time, the Buckeyes are 105-12-4 in season openers. The team’s last opening-game loss came in the 1999 Kickoff Classic, a 23-12 loss to Miami (Fla.) in East Rutherford, N.J.

** In season home openers, OSU is 109-8-4 all-time.

** Ohio State is working on a streak of 56 consecutive regular-season victories over unranked nonconference opposition. The last time the Buckeyes lost in the regular season to an unranked foe was a 42-10 loss at Pittsburgh in 1988.

** OSU also has a 57-game home winning streak against unranked nonconference opponents. You have to go all the way back to a 34-17 loss to Florida State in 1982 to find the last unranked nonconference team to beat the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe.

** The Buckeyes are 28-1 all-time against current members of the Mid-American Conference. The only blemish on that record against the MAC remains a 12-6 loss to Akron in a game played Sept. 15, 1894, at the Ohio State Fair.

** The Zips are 1-6 lifetime against Ohio State with the only victory coming with that win in 1894. The Buckeyes won the last meeting between the two schools, a 20-2 snoozefest in 2007.

** Akron is 1-22 all-time against current members of the Big Ten. In addition to their 1-6 mark against OSU, the Zips are 0-4 vs. Penn State, 0-3 against Indiana, 0-2 vs. Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin, and 0-1 against Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. Akron has never played Michigan, Minnesota or Northwestern.

** Akron is facing a ranked team for the first time since 2009 when it opened the season with a 31-7 loss at Penn State. The Zips are 1-21 all-time vs. ranked opponents with the lone win a 34-20 defeat of No. 25 Marshall in November 2002.

** Since 2005, Ohio State has allowed only 10 opponents to rush for 100 yards or more. That is the third-best figure in Division I-AA, trailing only Boston College (eight) and Alabama (nine).

** Ohio State is 399-107-20 in Ohio Stadium since the facility opened in 1922. That is a .778 winning percentage. All-time in Columbus, the team is 542-154-35, good for a winning percentage of .765.

** Over the past nine seasons, the Buckeyes have enjoyed a 60-5 record at home, good for a .923 winning percentage. Since 2002, that is tied with Oklahoma for the third-best home mark in Division I-A. Only Boise State (56-0, 1.000) and TCU (49-4, .925) have done better over that time frame.

** Although last season was technically vacated, OSU recorded 10 wins or more for a Big Ten-record sixth consecutive season.

** The Buckeyes are the only Division I-A team to have finished in the top 10 of the final Associated Press writers’ poll in each of the last six years.

** ESPN will have the telecast of the season opener with Syracuse alum Dave Pasch on the play-by-play, former Florida head coach Urban Meyer and former Ohio State All-America linebacker Chris Spielman handling color analysis and former Johns Hopkins All-America lacrosse player Quint Kessenich providing sideline reports. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** Next week, Ohio State stays home to host another MAC team in Toledo with former OSU defensive coordinator Tim Beckman in his third season as head coach. The game will be telecast by the Big Ten Network and will kickoff at 12 noon Eastern.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Aug. 31, 1996, No. 18 Kansas State took a 21-14 victory over Texas Tech in the inaugural Big 12 conference game. The Red Raiders nearly rallied from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, but K-State safety Mario Smith broke up a fourth-down pass deep in his own territory with 44 seconds remaining to secure the win.

** On Sept. 1, 2007, Appalachian State engineered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, going into Ann Arbor and pulling off a 34-32 shocker over No. 5 Michigan. The Wolverines trailed much of the game but managed to take a 32-31 lead with 4:36 to play before QB Armanti Edwards led the Mountaineers on a 69-yard drive for a 24-yard field goal with 26 seconds left. U-M responded and got all the way to Appalachian State’s 20-yard line, but the Wolverines’ field-goal attempt was blocked with six seconds remaining the Mountaineers secured Division I-AA’s first-ever victory over a top-five Division I-A opponent.

** On Sept. 1, 1984, BYU began its march to the national championship with a 20-14 upset at No. 3 Pittsburgh. Cougars QB Robbie Bosco threw for 325 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown to Adam Haysbert with 1:37 remaining in the game. The victory vaulted BYU from unranked to No. 13 in the national polls. The contest was also the first regular-season college football game ever televised live by ESPN.

** On Sept. 2, 1989, Southern Mississippi quarterback Brett Favre threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns, including a 2-yard score with 23 seconds remaining, to lead the Golden Eagles to a 30-26 win over No. 6 Florida State.

** On Sept. 3, 1983, seventh-ranked Florida State barely escaped a season-opening loss, scoring a late touchdown to squeeze past unranked East Carolina, 47-46, in Tallahassee.

** On Sept. 4, 1993, Penn State scored its first Big Ten victory with a 38-20 win over Minnesota.

** On Sept. 5, 1981, Lamar University engineered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, beating defending Southwest Conference champion Baylor, 18-17, in Waco. Lamar kicker Mike Marlow booted a 42-yard field goal with three seconds left to account for the winning points. It was the first time in history that a Division I-AA school had beaten a I-A school.

** On Sept. 6, 1986, third-ranked Miami (Fla.) overcame a 15-9 second-half deficit for a 23-15 over Florida, ending the Gators’ 21-game home winning streak.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Congratulations to our old pals up north who are out to prove they are unafraid of lightning striking them twice. Michigan has scheduled a rematch with Appalachian State in 2014.

** Proving that a decent idea can be ground into the dust, Nike will provide its so-called Pro Combat uniforms to selected schools again this year. Boise State, Georgia and Oregon will unveil theirs tomorrow while other teams will wear them throughout the season. Ohio State is scheduled to suit up in its Pro Combats when the Buckeyes host Wisconsin on Oct. 29.

** On the off chance that you give a rip, ESPN released this week preseason predictions by its cadre of college football analysts. Eighteen analysts picked conference champions as well as national title participants. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin was selected by nine of the analysts while Ohio State got five votes and Nebraska garnered four. Those voting for the Badgers were Ed Cunningham, Rod Gilmore, Brian Griese, Desmond Howard, Brock Huard, Danny Kanell, Matt Millen, David Pollock and Chris Spielman. OSU received the nod from Mike Bellotti, Todd Blackledge, Bob Davie, Kirk Herbstreit and Urban Meyer, while Nebraska got votes from Lee Corso, Dan Hawkins, Craig James and Jesse Palmer.

** Eleven of the analysts picked Alabama to make the BCS National Championship Game while Oklahoma also received 11 votes to make the title game. However, only five analysts – Bellotti, James, Meyer, Miller and Pollock – picked the Crimson Tide to play the Sooners for the championship. To see all of the picks, click here.

** How about a little Heisman Trophy trivia? Name the Division I-A school with the most all-time wins that has never had a Heisman winner. The answer comes later.

** Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson enters the 2011 season with 2,053 career rushing yards, seventh on the all-time Big Ten list among quarterbacks. He needs only 98 more to move into the top five, but Robinson has a ways to go to catch Antwaan Randle El, who rushed for 3,895 yards while quarterbacking Indiana from 1998 to 2001.

** Minnesota return man Troy Stoudermire needs only 97 yards in kickoff returns to become the all-time Big Ten leader in that department. Stoudermire enters 2011 with 2,929 kickoff return yards, second only to David Gilreath of Wisconsin, who became the conference leader just last season. Gilreath finished his career with 3,025 yards on kickoff returns.

** Penn State kicker Collin Wagner takes a streak of 85 consecutive PATs into this season. That ranks as the sixth longest streak in Big Ten history behind J.D. Carlson of Michigan (128, 1989-91), Brett Conway of Penn State (119, 1994-96), Chris Summers of Purdue (111, 2006-08), Pete Stoyanovich of Indiana (107, 1986-88) and Tim Williams of Ohio State (86, 1991-93).

** Four Big Ten kickers were named to the preseason watch list for the Groza Award, given annually to the top placekicker in college football. Wagner wasn’t one of the four. They were Derek Dimke of Illinois, Mitch Ewald of Indiana, Dan Conroy of Michigan State and Philip Welch of Wisconsin. Dimke led the Big Ten in field goals last season with 24 and Wagner tied for second with 20.

** According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Oklahoma’s unemployment rate of 5.5 ranked as the fifth-lowest in the country for July. Perhaps that is one reason why Oklahoma State has surpassed 34,000 season tickets sold this year, breaking the school record set in 2009.

** The Fiesta Bowl has been moved from Jan. 5 (a Thursday) to Jan. 2 (a Monday). No, I don’t know why.

** In other bowl news, the Humanitarian Bowl – the one played outside in Boise, Idaho, in mid-December – has changed its name. Henceforth, the game will now be known as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

** Talk about planning ahead: Notre Dame and Navy recently announced they have agreed to continue playing one another in football through at least the 2026 season.

** Pity the poor punters in last Saturday’s Division III game between Saint Augustine’s College (Va.) and Virginia Union. The game was played the same afternoon Hurricane Irene rolled into the area and four punts during the contest traveled less than 10 yards. That included one that went for minus-9 and another than went for minus-1. There was also a fifth punt that blew out of the punter’s grasp before he could get the kick away. Saint Augustine also fumbled six times during the 12-0 loss.

** Here is the answer to our Heisman trivia. Going into the 2011 season, the top five winningest programs that have never produced a Heisman Trophy winner are Tennessee (789), West Virginia (691), Georgia Tech (679), Virginia Tech (678) and Arkansas (669).

FEARLESS FORECAST

Last season is going to be a pretty tough act to follow here at Forecast World Headquarters. The straight-up picks finished with a 118-24 record (that’s a .831 winning percentage) while we had a solid 81-55-6 mark against the spread.

In case you’re keeping score at home, that makes the career numbers 1,521-450 straight up (77.2 percent) and still fairly well above water against the spread at 765-685-25 (good enough for 52.7 percent).

Yeah, we’re pretty solid in the black with these picks but remember it’s all in fun and there are many more picks based on gut feelings than any inside information. Nevertheless, we enjoy making the picks, so off we go for another year.

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAMES

Youngstown State at No. 17 Michigan State: With Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State taking up most of the summertime oxygen in the Big Ten, Sparty has been a tad overlooked. MSU returns a boatload of talent on offense, including veteran QB Kirk Cousins (2,825 yards, 20 TDs a year ago) and ultra-productive tailback Edwin Baker (1,201 yards, 13 TDs) … Michigan State 42, Youngstown State 7. (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 14 TCU at Baylor: The Horned Frogs have several new starters, including sophomore Casey Pachall taking over at quarterback for the graduated Andy Dalton, as they begin their final season in the Mighty Mountain West. Their goal remains the same, however – upset the college football apple cart by crashing the BCS party. Before they can think about that, they need to contend with the Bears and their quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is a preseason Heisman candidate after throwing for a school-record 3,501 yards last year. Unfortunately, Baylor isn’t quite as strong on defense and that will make the difference … TCU 31, Baylor 21. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Utah State at No. 23 Auburn: Hopefully, the Tigers squeezed every ounce of enjoyment they could out of last year’s national championship run. This year, it’s back to reality without Heisman winner Cam Newton and the specter of an NCAA investigation looming over the program. Not that those problems should have much of an impact this week with the Aggies coming to town. Utah State is one of the weakest programs in I-A with 13 consecutive losing seasons and a 1-54 all-time record against ranked opponents … Auburn 38, Utah State 6. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

Chattanooga at No. 10 Nebraska: The Cornhuskers begin life as Big Ten members by hosting the Mocs, who are coming off their second consecutive 6-5 season. Chattanooga typically schedules a big-name Division I-A school each year and those games turn out about the way you would expect. Since 2008, the Mocs have played Oklahoma, Alabama and Auburn have lost all three by a combined score of 164-26. Don’t expect anything different this time around … Nebraska 42, Chattanooga 0. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

Minnesota at No. 25 USC: Since new Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill says he likes challenges, he should be very happy. Not only is he charged with a huge rebuilding project, he gets to start it at a venue that has been very unkind to Big Ten teams. Since 1960, the conference is a dismal 2-17-1 when traveling to the Coliseum to play the Trojans. The last time the Golden Gophers were there was 1979 and they came home with a 48-14 loss. Quite frankly, that final score seems about right … USC 48, Minnesota 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Western Michigan at Michigan: The Brady Hoke Era gets under way in Ann Arbor and if it is to go any better than the Rich Rodriguez Era, the Wolverines will have to figure out a way to play some defense. Last year, U-M ranked dead last in the Big Ten in scoring and total defense – meaning they gave up more points and more yardage than any other team in the conference. This should be a pretty good barometer on what Hoke has done during the offseason to shore up the stop troops since the Broncos throw the ball around pretty well with returning QB Alex Carder (3,334 yards, 30 TDs). This one might be closer than a lot of people think it will be … Michigan 37, Western Michigan 31. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Tulsa at No. 1 Oklahoma: Every year it seems the Sooners are early favorites to make a run at the national championship, and every year it seems they fall just short of that goal. This time, OU may be for real. QB Landry Jones (4,718 yards, 38 TDs) leads a potent offense and the Sooners are also pretty good on defense despite the absence of linebackers Travis Lewis (broken foot) and Austin Box, who tragically died over the summer due to an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers. The Golden Hurricane enters the game on a seven-game winning streak, and they have posted three 10-win seasons in the past four years. Still, it’s difficult to see how they can break through, especially with Oklahoma protecting its No. 1 status as well as a 36-game home win streak … Oklahoma 45, Tulsa 10. (8 p.m. ET, FX)

No. 5 Boise State vs. No. 19 Georgia: Mark Richt is on the hot seat in Athens, and that chair is about to get even hotter. The Bulldogs are coming off a 6-7 campaign, their first losing season since 1996, and their opening-night assignment in the Georgia Dome is figuring out how to slow down the ultra-talented Broncos. Leading the Boise attack is Heisman-worthy QB Kellen Moore (3,845 yards, 35 TDs), who has a gaudy 38-2 record as a starter. As good as the Broncos are on offense, they are extremely underrated on defense and that is where they will win this game … Boise State 20, Georgia 17. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU: This is easily the most-hyped game of the first weekend since it is basically a national championship elimination bout. The winner solidifies his résumé while the loser can begin making plans for next year. The Ducks obviously have great team speed, led by Heisman candidate LaMichael James, who needs only 20 yards to become his school’s all-time leading rusher. Then, there are the Tigers with their messy quarterback situation that resulted in starter Jordan Jefferson being suspended. There are folks in the bayou, however, who believe their team will be better off with Jarrett Lee under center anyway. Add that to the fact LSU has the better defense and, after all, they are from the SEC, and you smell what we’re cooking here … LSU 26, Oregon 22. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Akron at No. 18 Ohio State: There is little use in rehashing the Buckeyes’ summer of discontent. Ohio State has played intercollegiate football for the past 121 years and there is every indication the program will continue for at least another 121, so who occupies the head coach’s office and who takes the snaps as quarterback is largely irrelevant in the overall scheme of things. When the pigskins begin to fly, OSU fans regain their singular focus. They simply want their team to win and look good doing so. That shouldn’t be much of a problem in the opener against the Zips, who were one of the worst teams in all of Division I-A last year. However, with the Buckeyes having so many new faces in so many new positions – not the least of which is Luke Fickell – we don’t foresee things getting too much out of hand … Ohio State 31, Akron 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

SUNDAY’S GAMES

Marshall at No. 24 West Virginia: If not for ESPN’s summertime obsession with Ohio State, the all-sports network might have been focusing on these two programs. The Mountaineers had a messy coaching change and were placed on a two-year probation by the NCAA while one of the Herd’s top receivers was recently charged in connection with a string of armed robberies. No wonder both of the programs are ready to get back to some football … West Virginia 41, Marshall 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SMU at No. 8 Texas A&M: These former Southwest Conference foes get together for what could be the final time in the foreseeable future as the Aggies prepare to bolt for the SEC. While A&M has gotten most of the preseason hype, the Mustangs feature one of the best quarterbacks you’ve probably never heard of. Kyle Padron (3,828 yards, 31 TDs) flourished in head coach June Jones’ system – what quarterback doesn’t flourish with Jones? – and that always gives SMU a puncher’s chance. What Jones’ teams typically lack is a creditable defense and that will make the difference here … Texas A&M 37, SMU 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, FSN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Youngstown State at Michigan State (-34); TCU (-3½) at Baylor; Utah State at Auburn (-22); Chattanooga at Nebraska (-34½); Minnesota at USC (-23); Western Michigan (+14½) at Michigan; Tulsa at Oklahoma (-24½); Boise State (-2½) vs. Georgia in Atlanta; Oregon vs. LSU (-3½) in Dallas; Marshall at West Virginia (-23); SMU at Texas A&M (-14); and Akron (+34) at Ohio State.

Enjoy opening weekend, have a safe Labor Day holiday and we’ll see you next week.

You’re Entitled To Your Own Opinion, Not Your Own Facts

It is always a source of amusement and bemusement to visit college football message boards and watch while fans rationalize their favorite team’s shortcomings.

Case in point: Penn State fans took particular exception to longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston’s piece on Wednesday that compared the independent Penn State teams of the 1970s and ’80s to Boise States and TCUs of today. You can read the column for yourself here but the gist of what Livingston wrote was that the pre-Big Ten Nittany Lions feasted on lesser opponents and padded their yearly records on soft schedules – the same knock Boise State and TCU face these days when trying to elbow their way into the national championship picture.

To say Nittany Lions fans disagreed with Livingston would be a gross understatement, which is fine in the overall scheme of things. After all, doesn’t almost everyone come to the defense of their favorite team? Where the Blue and White faithful lost me, though, was when they insisted their team would have competed for plenty of Big Ten championships throughout the 1970s and 1980s when Ohio State and Michigan won or shared 17 of the 20 league titles.

As the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once stated, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

First of all, if Penn State would have contended for all of those championships before joining the conference, why don’t the Nittany Lions have more Big Ten titles than the one outright championship they won in 1994 and the two crowns they shared in 2005 and 2008? Why have they had at least three league losses in 10 of their 17 previous seasons as a conference member?

Much of the argument about how the Nittany Lions would have fared in the Big Ten during the ’70s and ’80s came as a result of Penn State’s record against Ohio State before the Nittany Lions became a conference member. It was 6-2 although four of those victories came before 1966 when Joe Paterno took over as head coach.

The cold, hard truth for Nittany Lions fans is that Paterno has never had much success against Ohio State (he is 8-13 vs. the Buckeyes all-time) and that is especially true when he brings his team to Ohio Stadium. JoePa has rolled into Columbus on 10 previous occasions – often times with one of the nation’s top-ranked teams – and rolled back out again eight times a loser. That includes a 1-7 record as a member of the Big Ten, eight games during which his team has been outscored by 139 points.

Can’t believe things have been that lopsided in Columbus for Paterno? Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

1993 – On a cold, snowy late October afternoon, the Buckeyes welcomed JoePa to the Big Ten by rolling to a 24-6 win. OSU piled up 380 yards of total offense, led by running back Raymont Harris, who exploded for 151 yards. It was a virtuoso performance by Ohio State on defense as well. The Buckeyes snagged four interceptions and held the Lions without a touchdown for the first time that season.

1996 – Penn State came to Columbus with a perfect 5-0 record and the No. 4 ranking in the country and limped home on the business end of a 38-7 verdict. QBs Stan Jackson and Joe Germaine each threw for two touchdowns as the Buckeyes had 565 yards of total offense. Tailback Pepe Pearson ran for 141 yards on 28 carries while backups Joe Montgomery and Jermon Jackson combined for 138 more. The Nits, who managed only 68 yards rushing as a team, scored on their final possession to avoid their first shutout in nine years.

1998 – The seventh-ranked Lions brought cold and rainy weather with them to the Horseshoe and actually had a 3-0 lead before the Buckeyes stormed away with a 28-9 win. OSU scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the first half – the first when linebacker Jerry Rudzinski recovered a fumble in the end zone and the second when Germaine connected with tailback Michael Wiley for a 20-yard tally. Again, the Ohio State defense was able to hold Penn State in check. The Lions had only nine first downs and 181 yards of total offense, and 34 of their 59 offensive plays either went for a loss or no gain.

2000 – Thunder and lightning delayed kickoff for about 20 minutes and Penn State would probably have been better off had officials postponed the game indefinitely. Ohio State rolled to a 45-6 blowout, the largest defeat for the Lions since Paterno had been head coach. The Buckeyes had 397 yards of total offense, led by quarterback Steve Bellisari, who completed 10 of 17 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown. Penn State committed three turnovers, including a fourth-quarter fumble that OSU defensive end Mike Collins scooped up and returned 11 yards for a touchdown.

2002 – As most games were during the national championship run, this was a nail-biter as Penn State held a 7-3 halftime lead. OSU’s fortunes turned on a third-quarter interception by Chris Gamble that he returned 40 yards for a touchdown. Mike Nugent later added a 37-yard field goal to account for the final 13-7 score. The Ohio State defense clamped down on the Lions once again, holding them to only 179 total yards. Tailback Larry Johnson, who was coming off a 257-yard performance the week before against Northwestern, was held to a season-low 66 yards against the Buckeyes.

2004 – First-quarter touchdowns on special teams and defense staked Ohio State to an early lead in what would eventually become a 21-10 win. Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt 67 yards to get things started and Tyler Everett returned an interception 24 yards to give the Buckeyes a quick 14-0 lead. OSU head coach Jim Tressel kept things pretty simple for his relatively new starting quarterback Troy Smith while the defense forced three Penn State fumbles and grabbed two interceptions.

2006 – The Nittany Lions held a 3-0 lead at halftime before the Buckeyes got things in gear in the second half for a 28-6 victory. Antonio Pittman’s 12-yard touchdown run finally got OSU on the board in the third quarter before a trio of fourth-quarter TDs – including interception returns by Malcolm Jenkins and Antonio Smith – turned a close game into a rout.

2008 – Penn State finally broke through with a 13-6 victory in a game that featured very little offensive firepower. The teams traded second-quarter field goals for a 3-3 halftime score, and then Ohio State forged ahead 6-3 on a 36-yard field goal by Aaron Pettrey with 3:19 remaining in the third quarter. The game hinged on a fumble by Terrelle Pryor midway through the fourth quarter that set up the winning touchdown for Penn State. Ironically, Pryor had only one man to beat for what would have been an OSU touchdown but that man managed to punch the ball out of the freshman quarterback’s grasp.

In addition to so many losses, the Horseshoe has been Penn State’s personal House of Horrors on several other levels. It was where defensive back Adam Taliaferro was injured in 2000 (not permanently, thank goodness) and where JoePa had his infamous potty break in ’06.

For whatever reason, the Nits typically play tight in Ohio Stadium, allowing the OSU defense to create turnovers and providing plenty of scoring opportunities for the Buckeyes. With a former walk-on as the starting quarterback, that would appear to be a plausible scenario for what will transpire tomorrow afternoon.

Then again, maybe the Nittany Lions broke the Horseshoe’s spell with last year’s win – at least that’s what Penn State fans think.

OSU-PENN STATE TIDBITS

** This marks the 26th overall meeting between Ohio State and Penn State, and the Buckeyes enjoy a slight 13-12 advantage. OSU has an 8-6 overall edge in games played at Ohio Stadium, but a lopsided 7-1 advantage in games played at the Horseshoe since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 6-3 against Penn State. That includes a 3-1 record in Columbus.

** Penn State head coach Joe Paterno is 8-13 all-time against Ohio State. That includes a 2-8 record against the Buckeyes in Columbus.

** Both coaches are noted for getting their teams to peak at the right times. Tressel is 26-4 in November games at Ohio State (a .867 winning percentage) while Paterno is 115-34-2 (.768) during the month.

** Paterno has a 32-16 record following an open date. That includes a 14-5 mark since 1994.

** Tressel is not as successful coming off an open week. The Buckeyes are only 2-4 during the Tressel era following off weeks. Only one of those six games was played at Ohio Stadium, however, and OSU won that one in 2002 by a 51-7 score over Kent State.

** Five of the last nine games in this series have been determined by seven points or less. However, there have been some notable blowouts over the years. Penn State rolled to a 63-14 win at Beaver Stadium in 1994, and Ohio State returned the favor six years later in Ohio Stadium with a 45-6 wipeout. Throughout the overall series, the average margin of victory for OSU is 15.4 points. When the Nittany Lions win, their average margin is 15.1 points.

** Several series trends would seem to favor Ohio State. The higher ranked team has won 17 of the last 19 meetings and the home team has won 12 of the 17 games played since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten. The Buckeyes enter tomorrow’s game ranked No. 7 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, No. 8 in the Associated Press writers’ poll and No. 9 in the BCS rankings. Penn State is unranked.

** The game will be only the second-ever regular-season matchup between coaches who have combined for 600-plus career wins. Paterno (400) and Tressel (237) currently total 637 career victories. That breaks the record set last year when the two coaches squared off with 616 career wins.

** An interesting fact: Paterno has 400 career victories at Penn State while the other 10 Big Ten head coaches have 367 combined at their schools.

** Last Saturday’s victory over Northwestern not only marked win No. 400 in Paterno’s long career, it was also his 89th Big Ten victory. He needs one more to become only the fifth conference coach with 90 or more league wins. The others are Woody Hayes of Ohio State (152, 1951-78), Bo Schembechler of Michigan (143, 1969-89), Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago (116, 1896-1932) and Hayden Fry of Iowa (98, 1979-98).

** With the exception of Ohio State, Penn State has had its way with Ohio teams over the years. The Nittany Lions are 20-2-1 against other Ohio schools with the lone blemishes a 24-6 loss to Toledo in 2000, a 14-3 loss to Cincinnati in 1983 and an 8-8 tie at Western Reserve in 1895.

** Penn State is traditionally one of the least penalized teams in the nation and that is true again in 2010. The Nittany Lions are No. 2 nationally this week with only 27.8 penalty yards per game. In its last four games played against the Buckeyes, Penn State has incurred only nine penalties for 60 yards. During the same four games, Ohio State has been flagged 23 times for 221 yards.

** Some of the numbers associated with Paterno’s longevity at Penn State are astounding. Since he became head coach in 1966, there have been 864 head coaching changes in Division I-A football. Counting his time as an assistant, Paterno has been on the sidelines for 688 games in Happy Valley. He is the all-time leader in bowl game appearances (36) and bowl victories (24), and there have been 1,050 players earn varsity letters during JoePa’s tenure as head coach.

** By taking on the Rose Bowl champion Buckeyes, Penn State becomes the first team ever to play road contests against three winners of BCS bowls from the previous season. The Nittany Lions have already played at Alabama, which defeated Texas by a 37-21 score in the national title game, and at Iowa, which took a 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Penn State lost to both the Crimson Tide and Hawkeyes earlier this season by identical 24-3 scores.

** To say the Ohio State and Penn State programs are traditional powers would be a bit of an understatement. Going back six decades to 1950, OSU is the winningest program in college football with a 505-155-15 record, good for a .759 winning percentage. Oklahoma is second at 526-164-17 (.755) and Penn State is third at 504-180-7 (.733).

** Something has to give tomorrow. Ohio State has won eight of its last 10 conference home games while Penn State has won eight of its last 10 conference road games.

** The game pits two of the nation’s best defenses in getting the opponent off the field. Ohio State ranks No. 4 nationally in third-down efficiency defense while Penn State is No. 7. OSU opponents have converted only 33 of 113 third downs (29.2 percent) while the Nittany Lions have allowed only 34 of 113 (30.1).

** As so often happens in rivalry games, the outcome could hinge on turnovers and Ohio State would appear to have the edge in that department. The Buckeyes lead the country in turnover margin with an average of plus-1.44 per game. The Nittany Lions are way down in a tie for 67th with their average of minus-0.22 per contest. Overall, OSU is plus-13 for the season in turnovers while PSU is minus-2.

** Penn State senior tailback Evan Royster is his school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,652 yards. Earlier this season, he motored past Curt Warner (1979-82), who had 3,398 yards during his career with the Nittany Lions. Royster still has some work to do in terms of rushing touchdowns, however. He has 27, which ranks seventh all-time on the Penn State record books. Lydell Mitchell (1969-71) is the school’s career leader in that category with 38.

** After allowing only one opposing player to crack the 100-yard mark in a span of 22 games, the Nittany Lions have surrendered 100-yard efforts in each of their last four contests. Ironically, three of the four games have resulted in Penn State victories. Illinois tailback Mikel Leshoure totaled 119 yards during his team’s 33-13 win over PSU on Oct. 9, and then Minnesota tailback DeLeon Eskridge had 111 yards against the Nittany Lions on Oct. 24 but his Golden Gophers lost a 33-21 decision. A week later, Michigan QB Denard Robinson rushed for 191 yards and three TDs during his team’s 41-31 loss, and last week it was Northwestern QB Dan Persa, who scrambled for 109 yards and two touchdowns during Penn State’s 35-21 come-from-behind win.

** OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor continues his assault on the school record books. He has moved into second place in career total offense with 7,275 yards, behind only Art Schlichter (8,850, 1981), and has tied Schlichter for fourth place all-time with 50 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 5,402 yards and needs 168 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.

** Additionally, Pryor needs only three more passing yards to reach 2,000 for the second straight season. Only five Ohio State QBs have had back-to-back seasons throwing for 2,000 yards or more – Jim Karsatos (1985-86), Greg Frey (1988-90), Hoying (1994-95), Craig Krenzel (2002-03) and Smith (2005-06).

** Counting conference games only, Ohio State junior tailback Dan “Boom” Herron ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing at 88.4 yards per game. Only Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (132.2) and Iowa tailback Adam Robinson (105.2) have better league averages.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The game will be televised using the ABC/ESPN reverse mirror meaning viewers will be able to watch the game either on their local ABC station or on ESPN. Here is your coverage map. Disney will employ its primetime announce crew for the contest – veteran play-by-play man Brent Musberger, color analyst Kirk Herbstreit and sideline spokesmodel Erin Andrews.

** ESPN College Gameday with Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard, Herbstreit and Andrews will return to Columbus tomorrow, marking its 13th visit to the OSU campus. The show kicks off at 9 a.m. Eastern on ESPNU before switching to ESPN at 10. The Buckeyes are 9-3 following the pregame show’s previous trips to Columbus.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 91 and 125 as well as XM radio channels 102 and 196.

** Next week’s game at Iowa will kick off from Kinnick Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. That game will be televised by ABC on a regional basis.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Nov. 10, 1984, backup quarterback Frank Reich of unranked Maryland engineered the biggest comeback in NCAA history at the time, leading the Terrapins from a 31-0 halftime deficit to a 42-40 victory over Miami (Fla.) in the Orange Bowl.

** On Nov. 19, 2007, Navy and North Texas combined to score the most points in a regulation college football game when the Midshipmen outlasted the Mean Green, 74-62, in Denton, Texas. North Texas QB Giovanni Vizza threw for 478 yards and eight touchdowns while Navy rushed for 572 yards and scored eight TDs on the ground.

** On Nov. 11, 1939, Texas Tech and Centenary combined for an NCAA-record 77 punts in a rain-soaked, 0-0 tie in Shreveport, La.

** On Nov. 11, 1955, at a campus pep rally, Texas cheerleader Harley Clark became the first to raise his forefinger and pinky pointed upward and his middle two fingers curled under this thumb – the “Hook ‘Em Horns” sign.

** On Nov. 11, 1989, Duke scored a 35-26 upset of North Carolina State despite Wolfpack QB Shane Montgomery throwing an NCAA-record 73 passes for a school-record 535 yards.

** On Nov. 12, 1966, quarterback Bob Griese led Purdue to a 16-0 victory at Minnesota and secured the Boilermakers’ first-ever berth in the Rose Bowl.

** On Nov. 12, 1983, UCLA needed only a tie against Arizona to secure a Rose Bowl bid, but kicker John Lee’s field-goal attempt sailed wide as time expired and the Bruins dropped a 27-24 decision.

** On Nov. 13, 1982, Southern Mississippi engineered a 38-29 upset of Alabama, ending the Crimson Tide’s 57-game home win streak. The Golden Eagles were led by quarterback Reggie Collins, who rushed for 88 yards and three touchdowns, while tailback Sam Dejarnette added 153 yards and two scores. Before the loss to Southern Miss, Alabama hadn’t tasted defeat in Tuscaloosa since 1963.

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

** On Nov. 14, 1959, No. 12 Georgia came from behind for a 14-13 victory over eighth-ranked Auburn and the Bulldogs clinched their first SEC championship in a decade. College and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton led the Bulldogs to the win, connecting with split end Bill Herron for a touchdown pass in the final 30 seconds of the contest.

** On Nov. 14, 1970, a charter jet carrying Marshall University’s football team crashed near Huntington, W.Va., on a return trip from a game with East Carolina. Everyone on board, including head coach Rick Tolley, team members, coaching staff and several Thundering Herd boosters, died in the single worst air tragedy in college sports history.

** On Nov. 14, 1992, Iowa State stunned seventh-ranked Nebraska with a 19-10 upset in Ames. Third-string quarterback Marv Seiler, starting only because it was Senior Day, bolted 78 yards to set up the game-clinching touchdown for the Cyclones.

** On Nov. 14, 1998, second-ranked Kansas State took a 40-30 win over No. 11 Nebraska to clinch the Big 12 North title, the first football championship of any kind for the Wildcats since 1934.

** On Nov. 15, 1890, Minnesota and Wisconsin squared off for the first time in what has become the most-played series in college football history. The Gophers took a 63-0 victory in Minneapolis that day, and the two teams have played one another every year since.

** On Nov. 15, 1879, Princeton unveiled the novel approach of using blockers to help the ball-carrier advance the ball down the field. The new angle evidently was successful as the Tigers scored a 1-0 victory over Harvard. (In those days, you had to score four touchdowns to tally a single point.)

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level has shrunk to only four: Auburn, Boise State, Oregon and TCU.

** Wouldn’t a national championship game between Oregon and TCU be the best matchup? After all, the Ducks own the nation’s No. 1 offense while the Horned Frogs boast the nation’s No. 1 defense. And before you begin denigrating TCU’s schedule, understand that the teams it has beaten have a combined record of 44-50 this year. Meanwhile, the Ducks have beaten teams with a combined record of 32-50. (Of course, if you want to play that kind of game, Auburn blows both Oregon and TCU out of the water. The Tigers have beaten teams with a combined mark of 55-36.)

** When TCU thumped Utah last weekend to the tune of a 47-7 beatdown, it represented the Utes’ worst home loss since a 50-10 loss to Colorado State in 1989. Utah went 4-8 that season under head coach Jim Fassel. The team hasn’t lost at home by more than 40 points since a 56-6 loss to BYU in 1980.

** What do each of these schools have in common: Oregon, Auburn, Oklahoma State, Nevada, Arkansas State, Duke, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Tulsa, BYU, Navy, Tennessee and Kansas. Each one of them – all 15 – topped the 50-point mark last week. Auburn, Nevada, Michigan, Illinois and Tulsa all topped 60 and Navy went over the 70-point mark, rolling to a 76-35 win over East Carolina. That set a modern single-game record for scoring by the Midshipmen, and was their biggest output since a 121-0 win over Colby College (Maine) in 1919.

** Michigan’s 67-65 triple overtime game against Illinois set a Big Ten record for most points scored in a single game. The previous high-scoring conference game was in 1902 and featured 119 points – all by Michigan in a 119-0 victory over instate rival Michigan State (then known as Michigan Agricultural College). The last Division I-A game to produce more points than the Wolverines and Fighting Illini was on Nov. 10, 2007, when Navy outlasted North Texas by a 74-62 final in regulation.

** The previous Big Ten record for points scored in a single game was 115 set Oct. 9, 1995, when Minnesota outlasted Purdue by a 59-56 score.

** Last year, Michigan and Illinois met once on the basketball court. The final score: Illinois 51, Michigan 44.

** Kansas came back from a 45-17 deficit with less than 12 minutes to play and somehow pulled off a 52-45 win over Colorado. The Jayhawks scored on a 13-yard run with 11:05 remaining and followed by recovering the onside kick, throwing a 38-yard touchdown pass, returning a fumble 28 yards for a TD, intercepting a pass, running 6 yards for a score, forcing a punt and then running 28 yards for the winning touchdown with 52 seconds remaining. Freshman running back James Sims scored all three rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter for Kansas, finishing the game with 123 yards and four scores.

** One man’s pleasure is another man’s pain. While first-year Kansas head coach Turner Gill was celebrating that big comeback victory, it was the proverbial straw that broke Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins’ back. After his team blew that 28-point lead – the largest collapse in the 121-year history of the CU football program – Hawkins was fired Tuesday. He posted a 19-39 record with the Buffaloes after being lured from Boise State in 2006.

** During last week’s 35-21 win over Northwestern, Penn State got 134 yards on the ground from senior tailback Evan Royster and another 131 from freshman Silas Redd. It marked the first time the Nittany Lions had a pair of running back rush for 130 yards or more in the same game since Lydell Mitchell (221) and Franco Harris (145) accomplished the feat during a 44-14 win at Iowa in 1971.

** Congratulations to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who chalked up career victory No. 100 last weekend when his Hawkeyes came from behind for an 18-13 win over Indiana. Ferentz has 88 wins at Iowa to go along with the 12 he recorded during a three-year stint at Division I-AA Maine from 1990-92.

** Congratulations also to New Mexico, which snapped its nine-game losing streak last weekend with a 34-31 victory over Wyoming. The Lobos overcame a 24-17 deficit early in the fourth quarter and got a 38-yard winning field goal from junior kicker James Aho as time expired. That leaves Akron with the nation’s longest current losing streak. The Zips ran their drought to 10 consecutive games last Saturday, dropping a 37-30 decision in double overtime to Ball State.

** Conference realignments and schools jumping leagues means the end of some traditional rivalries. Tomorrow, Kansas and Nebraska will meet for the 105th consecutive season, the nation’s longest uninterrupted streak of meetings in college football. That streak ends next year when the Cornhuskers move to the Big Ten. The Jayhawks and Huskers have met 116 times overall, and that is third only to Minnesota-Wisconsin (119) and Kansas-Missouri (118).

** Another bowl game has changed its name, this time before its inaugural game has even been played. The Dallas Football Classic is now to be known as the TicketCity Bowl, and it will be played Jan. 1 at the Cotton Bowl. (As you may or may not know, the Cotton Bowl is no longer played at the Cotton Bowl. It’s now played at Cowboys Stadium.) Teams from the Big Ten and Big 12 are scheduled to participate in the first-year TicketCity Bowl.

** If you are keeping score at home, the Big Ten has eight bowl affiliations – Rose, Capital One (ex-Citrus, ex-Tangerine), Outback (ex-Hall of Fame), Gator, Insight (ex-Copper), Texas (ex-Houston), TicketCity (ex-Dallas Football Classic) and Little Caesar’s (ex-Motor City).

FEARLESS FORECAST

The Fearless Forecast enjoyed another prosperous week, missing only the Texas A&M upset of Oklahoma and the pinball wizardry between Michigan and Illinois. Another 8-2 finish pushed the yearly record to 89-16 in straight up picks.

It was also another winning week against the spread. We went a sparkling 7-3 to push the ATS record to 65-36-4 for the season. If things keep going this way, we’ll be moving Forecast World Headquarters to Las Vegas.

Before we get too full of ourselves, though, here are the games we’ll check in on this week.

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 4 Boise State at Idaho: As instate rivalries go, this one doesn’t exactly measure up to the Civil War or the Iron Bowl. That’s probably because the Broncos have won 11 straight in the series and routinely blow out the Vandals. It is likely to be that way again this year since Boise State is coming off a 42-7 victory over Hawaii, a game during which it racked up a school-record 732 total yards. Two weeks ago, Idaho gave up 494 yards during a 45-10 loss to Hawaii. After being passed by TCU in the BCS standings, Boise State probably knows by now it is the longest of shots to play for the national championship. But that probably won’t prevent the Broncos from trying to impress any remaining undecided voters … Boise State 52, Idaho 7. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Indiana at No. 7 Wisconsin: The Hoosiers nearly caught Iowa napping last week with the Hawkeyes coming off an emotional win over Michigan State. This week, IU tries its luck against Bucky, who may be guilty of looking ahead to a game at Michigan that could have a Rose Bowl bid hanging in the balance. The Hoosiers have lost 19 of their last 21 Big Ten games, including the last 10 in a row, but they seem to be getting close to ending that drought. They lost a 20-17 decision to Northwestern two weeks ago and that 18-13 game to Iowa last week when receiver Damarlo Belcher failed to hang onto a touchdown pass with 28 seconds remaining. Wisconsin will likely be without leading rusher John Clay (knee), but the Badgers have plenty in reserve with Montee Ball and freshman James White operating against an IU defense that ranks ninth in the conference … Wisconsin 31, Indiana 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

No. 14 Utah at Notre Dame: Both of these teams are coming off agonizing losses and are no doubt looking in the mirror wondering what happened. The Utes were poised to make a national championship statement last week before getting demolishing by TCU in a 47-7 loss that was the team’s worst home defeat in 21 years. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish have had two weeks to come to grips with a 28-27 loss to Tulsa and the very real possibility of missing out on bowl season for the third time in the last four years. Notre Dame will start freshman Tommy Rees at quarterback after Dayne Crist suffered a season-ending knee injury during the loss to Tulsa, but what Brian Kelly’s team could really use is a running game. The Irish average a measly 113.4 yards per game on the ground and that ranks 100th nationally. A new quarterback and no running game against the Utes, who despite last week still average 41.0 points per game? Sounds like trouble – again – for the Domers … Utah 31, Notre Dame 13. (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Georgia at No. 2 Auburn: When does Cam Newton cease to become an asset and start becoming a distraction for the Tigers? In case you have been off on safari or hiking the Appalachian Trail lately, you know the Heisman hopeful is being surrounded by allegations he was shopped around by an agent before signing with Auburn. There doesn’t seem to be any solid proof, although the FBI is now investigating and where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. No one with the Tigers is ready to say the Newton story is becoming a distraction, but how could it not be? On the opposing sideline this week is a hungry bunch of Bulldogs. They know no one gives them much of a chance for the upset this week, but they are also content in the knowledge they are playing their best football of the season. After a dismal 1-4 start, UGA has won four of its last five. Better still, the Dawgs have no trouble firing themselves up to play Auburn. They have beaten the Tigers four times in a row to take a 53-52-8 lead in the overall series. We haven’t picked too many Upset Specials this season, but we’ve got a hunch about this one … Georgia 27, Auburn 23. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

San Diego State at No. 4 TCU: After watching the Horned Frogs take apart Utah last week, we are totally convinced TCU is the best team in college football this season. If the Frogs get the chance, they will win the national championship with a combination of the nation’s best defense and an offense engineered by crafty QB Andy Dalton (2,242 yards, 19 TDs). This week, Dalton and his classmates will participate in Senior Day festivities at Aron Carter Stadium, where the Frogs have won 19 straight games. The Aztecs are having their best season in more than decade, riding an impressive season so far from freshman running back Ronnie Hillman (1,044 yards, 12 TDs). But while SDSU has been more productive this season, it’s doubtful the Aztecs can do much against TCU. The Frogs have won all five previous meetings in the series by an average of 28.8 points … TCU 45, San Diego State 10. (4 p.m. ET, Versus)

Louisiana-Monroe at No. 5 LSU: Now that Alabama has lost for the second time, SEC apologists have anointed the Tigers as the one-loss team with the best chance of jumping Boise State and/or TCU to play for the national championship. That seems a foolhardy assertion, especially in light of the fact LSU has won at least three of its games with smoke, mirrors, magic and out-and-out luck. The Bengals from the Bayou likely won’t need any of that good future this week against the Warhawks. They have played two SEC teams already this season and lost both by large margins – 31-7 vs. Arkansas in early September and 52-3 at Auburn less than a month later. ULM struggles to score points (19.9 per game) and gives up too many (30.9) to entertain any notion of an upset … LSU 41, Louisiana-Monroe 7. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Kansas at No. 8 Nebraska: It has been a whirlwind week for Jayhawks head coach Turner Gill. Last week, his team erased a 28-point deficit in the fourth quarter and roared from behind for a 52-45 win over Colorado. This week, Gill returns to Lincoln where he was a star quarterback in the early 1980s and assistant coach from 1992-2004. It will probably be a difficult homecoming for Gill, however, as the Cornhuskers get QB Taylor Martinez back this week after missing one game with an ankle sprain. Martinez is a dual threat, having thrown for 1,161 yards and nine TDs while adding 886 yards and 12 more scores rushing. That kind of two-pronged attack doesn’t exactly play to the Jayhawks’ strength. Their defense ranks 108th nationally against the run and 109th in pass efficiency … Nebraska 45, Kansas 17. (7 p.m. ET, FSN Regional)

No. 1 Oregon at California: Who is going to step up and try the same power scheme that Ohio State used to beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl? Anyone? Anyone at all? So far, no one has been able to challenge the Ducks because no one has tried to negate their speed with power. As a result, the Quack Attack keeps putting up arena league numbers such as 54.7 points and 567.2 yards per game. This week could be a little different since the Bears arguably have the best defense the Ducks have seen thus far. Cal tops the Pac-10 in total defense and Jeff Tedford’s team likes playing at home. They are 4-0 in Memorial Stadium this season and have outscored the opposition by a 189-34 margin in those four contests. Unfortunately for the Bears, they are hit-and-miss on offense and that just won’t do against the Ducks … Oregon 41, California 17. (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 6 Stanford at Arizona State: The Cardinal are on their way to one of their best seasons in a long time, but they will need to be on upset alert this week in Tempe. Stanford has lost on four consecutive trips to Sun Devil Stadium, failing to experience victory since a 50-30 blowout in 1999. It seems the team would be poised to break that losing streak, especially since ASU has forgotten how to win a game against highly-ranked opposition. Just this season, the Devils have lost by one point to Wisconsin and they probably gave Oregon as much as any opponent has this season during an eventual 42-31 win for the Ducks. Just last week, Arizona State took a 33-29 lead with 6:59 to go against USC only to see a PAT kick returned for two points and a late field goal give the Trojans a 34-33 victory. Those kinds of games begin to wear on teams near the end of the season, especially teams that have to play against someone like Cardinal QB Andrew Luck, who has thrown for 2,219 yards and 21 TDs this season. Look for the Devils to stay in it most of the way but find somehow to blow the upset … Stanford 30, Arizona State 23. (7:30 p.m. ET, FSN Regional)

Penn State at No. 9 Ohio State: In the wake of a three-game winning streak and Joe Paterno’s milestone victory No. 400, the Nittany Lions are getting a lot of love lately. The question is: Do they deserve it? QB Matt McGloin has thrown for 475 yards and five TDs the past two weeks, but he only got the job when starter Rob Bolden was sidelined with a concussion. And McGloin has feasted on the likes of Michigan and Northwestern, the two worst pass defenses in the Big Ten. Defense has also been problematic. The Nits are only a middle-of-the-pack unit that often gives up a lot of yardage. Despite being 6-3 on the season, they have surrendered at least 349 total yards in six games this season including each of their last five. Add in the fact that Penn State has seldom played well at Ohio Stadium since joining the Big Ten, and this one really shouldn’t be that close … Ohio State 37, Penn State 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-34½) at Idaho; Indiana (+22) at Wisconsin; Utah (-5½) at Notre Dame; Georgia (+8½) at Auburn; San Diego State at TCU (-26); Louisiana-Monroe at LSU (-31); Kansas (+35) at Nebraska; Oregon (-19) at California; Stanford (-5) at Arizona State; Penn State at Ohio State (-17½).

Enjoy the games and we’ll see you 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

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.

OSU Observing Myriad Of Major Milestones

Since Ohio State is a 44-point favorite to beat New Mexico State, and the howling wolves figure to stay away from Terrelle Pryor’s doorstep for at least another week, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the many milestone anniversaries the OSU football program is celebrating this year.

There is no doubt the Buckeyes have a long and storied history and nearly every year marks a significant historical milestone. However, seasons ending in “4” and “9” seem particularly special.

Here are 10 landmark moments for this season.

First Undefeated Team – This year marks the 110th anniversary of the first undefeated team in Ohio State history. John Eckstorm took over as head coach in 1899 and guided the Buckeyes to a 9-0-1 season. All nine victories were shutouts, and the only blemish was a 5-5 tie at Case. Ohio State outscored its 10 opponents by a 184-5 margin.

First Win Over Michigan Ninety years ago this year, the Buckeyes finally broke through against “That School Up North.” OSU scored a touchdown on a blocked punt and the legendary Chic Harley added a 42-yard touchdown run for a 13-3 victory in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes entered the game with a 0-13-2 record in the series, having been outscored 369-21 by the Wolverines.

Gold Pants Club – When he was hired prior to the 1934 season, one of new head coach Francis A. Schmidt’s task was to figure out a way to beat archrival Michigan. The Wolverines had won three of the four previous meetings, but when Schmidt was asked about the rivalry, he replied, “They put their pants on one leg at a time – same as us.” The following November, the Buckeyes rolled to a 34-0 win over Michigan and at the awards banquet, Schmidt gave each team member a gold pants charm symbolic of the victory. It was the beginning of a tradition that celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

First Heisman – Sixty-five years ago, Les Horvath was actually an ex-Buckeye when he was coaxed away from dental school into returning to football. He gave the team a dose of much-needed leadership and helped OSU to a 9-0 season and the 1944 national civilian championship. The Buckeyes finished second nationally to Army in the AP voting. Horvath rushed for 905 yards (ranking second in the nation in rushing) and threw for 345 more, bringing home Ohio State’s first Heisman Trophy.

First Rose Bowl Victory – Ohio State celebrates the 60th anniversary of its 1949 season which ended in the school’s first-ever Rose Bowl win. On Jan. 1, 1950, the Buckeyes erased a 7-0 halftime deficit and took a 17-14 win over third-ranked California. Jimmy Hague kicked a 27-year field goal with less than two minutes remaining for the game-winning points.

Woody’s First Title – This marks the 55th anniversary of the 1954 national championship team, the first of three (some say five) under legendary head coach Woody Hayes. The Buckeyes rolled to 10 straight victories topped off with a 20-7 win over USC in the Rose Bowl, and featured a star-studded roster that included such all-time greats as Jim Parker and Howard “Hopalong” Cassady.

Archie’s First Heisman – It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it has been 35 years since Archie Griffin took the college football world by storm. He broke his own OSU single-season rushing record with 1,695 yards and won the first of his two Heismans in a landslide over Southern Cal running back Anthony Davis. The Buckeyes had a powerful team in 1974, outscoring opponents by a 437-129 margin and finishing 10-2, the only losses a 16-13 final at Michigan State and an 18-17 heartbreaker to USC in the Rose Bowl.

Earle’s First Team – This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Rose Bowl team, a squad that came within an eyelash of winning the national championship. Earle Bruce took over for Hayes as head coach and the Buckeyes rolled to 11 straight regular-season victories. They ascended to the No. 1 position in the national polls before dropping a 17-16 decision to USC in the Rose Bowl.

Talent-Laden Buckeyes – It is the 25th anniversary of the 1984 Rose Bowl team featuring one of Bruce’s most talented rosters. A host of future NFL stars wore scarlet and gray that season including tailback Keith Byars, who smashed Griffin’s single-season rushing record and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Pepper Johnson led the team in tackles and freshmen Chris Spielman and Cris Carter made immediate impacts. Although the team finished with a 9-3 record, the three losses were by a combined total of only 10 points. That included a tough 20-17 loss to USC in the Rose Bowl, a game in which the Buckeyes outgained the Trojans, 403-261. Despite the loss, Carter set new Rose Bowl records with nine receptions for 172 yards.

First Tunnel Of Pride – Fifteen years ago, hundreds of former Buckeyes lined up on a cold November afternoon to form a tunnel through which the 1994 team passed before its rivalry game against Michigan. That first Tunnel of Pride helped Ohio State end its six-year winless streak in the series and the 22-6 final score gave head coach John Cooper his first victory over the Wolverines.

OSU-NEW MEXICO STATE TIDBITS

** This marks the first-ever meeting between Ohio State and Western Athletic Conference member New Mexico State.

** The Buckeyes have previously played two WAC opponents – Fresno State (twice) and San Jose State. Against Fresno State, OSU took a 34-10 victory in the 1994 season opener at the Disneyland Pigskin Classic and a 43-10 win at Ohio Stadium in the first game of the 2000 season. The Buckeyes scored a 50-7 win over San Jose State in 2002.

** New Mexico State has previous played two Big Ten opponents and didn’t have much success either time. The Aggies dropped a 69-13 decision at Wisconsin in 1962 and a 59-21 contest at Iowa in 1995.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 24-2 at Ohio Stadium against nonconference teams. The two losses have come by a combined six points – 25-22 to second-ranked Texas in 2005 and 18-15 to third-rated USC earlier this season.

** New Mexico State head coach DeWayne Walker is in his first season with the Aggies. The 49-year-old is getting his first chance to run a program after 20 years as a college and NFL assistant. Although his team hasn’t played a team from the Big Ten in more than a decade, Walker knows a little bit about the conference. He was a two-year starting cornerback at Minnesota in 1981-82.

** During his tenure at Ohio State, Tressel is 13-1 against first-year opposing coaches. The lone blemish on that record came just two weeks ago with a 26-18 loss to Purdue under first-year head coach Danny Hope.

** The Buckeyes are 359-126-28 all-time in October including 246-63-20 at home. OSU is 27-9 during October under Tressel.

** It might interest you to know that Ohio State is averaging 30.0 points per game in its five Big Ten contests this season. That ranks No. 1 in the conference in scoring offense.

** The Buckeyes are a perfect 52-0 when scoring 30 points or more since Tressel took over in 2001.

** CBSSports.com ranks all 120 Division I-A teams and New Mexico State comes in at No. 109 this week. The Aggies are the lowest-ranked team with at least three wins mostly because of a weak schedule, which ranks 119th in the nation. NMSU’s victories this season have come against No. 104 Utah State, No. 116 New Mexico and Division I-AA Prairie View A&M.

** After rushing for 104 yards against Minnesota last week, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor logged his third career 100-yard rushing game. That is one off the school record for quarterbacks. Only Cornelius Greene (1972-75), Rex Kern (1968-70) and John Mummey (1960-62) had four career 100-yard games for the Buckeyes.

** Pryor ranks No. 4 this week in the Big Ten in total offense and has moved up to No. 5 in pass efficiency. (Psssst: That’s five spots higher than Michigan QB Tate Forcier.) Pryor is also the conference’s fifth-leading rusher with 471 yards.

** Ohio State has allowed only seven opposing players to rush for 100 or more yards in a game since 2005. That is the lowest total in Division I-A over that span. Kansas, Boston College and Alabama have each allowed eight opponents to crack the century mark since 2005.

** The 1974 Big Ten champion Buckeyes are holding their 35th anniversary reunion this weekend. That team finished with a 10-2 record and boasted seven first-team All-Americans including Archie Griffin, who won his first Heisman Trophy that year.

** Scheduled to be honored during pregame festivities tomorrow are veteran equipment truck driver Ken Blair and longtime Ohio Stadium clock operator Fred Beekman. Blair began providing a commercial vehicle and driving OSU football equipment to away games in 1982. Beekman retired last year after 60 years as a member of the stadium clock crew. He served 47 years as director of recreational sports at Ohio State, and if his name sounds familiar it is probably because you have driven past Fred Beekman Park on your way to Ohio Stadium. It is the 43-acre park at the corner of Kenny Road and Lane Avenue.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 12 noon Eastern as the Buckeyes make their final appearance of the year on the Big Ten Network. Matt Rosen will handle play-by-play duties with former Minnesota head coach (and former OSU assistant) Glen Mason providing color analysis. Former Iowa defensive lineman Anthony Herron will file reports from the sidelines.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channel 122.

** Next week’s game at Penn State will kick off at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The game will be televised using the reverse mirror effect meaning some will get it on their local ABC station while others will be able to view it on ESPN2.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Ten years ago today, Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo was a one-man wrecking crew against Stanford. On Oct. 30, 1999, 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.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: 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, 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. 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; and 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 Division I-A level remained at seven this week. Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Texas and TCU continue with unblemished records as the 2009 season hits the three-quarter pole.

** Here are the toughest remaining regular-season tests for the aforementioned seven teams:

** Alabama at home Nov. 7 with No. 9 LSU (6-1).

** Boise State at home Nov. 14 with Idaho (6-2).

** Cincinnati at home Nov. 13 with No. 21 West Virginia (6-1); at No. 15 Pittsburgh (7-1) on Dec. 5.

** Florida at No. No. 22 South Carolina (6-2) on Nov. 14.

** Iowa at No. 17 Ohio State (6-2) on Nov. 14.

** Texas at No. 14 Oklahoma State (6-1) on Oct. 31.

** TCU at home Nov. 14 with No. 16 Utah (6-1).

** On the other end of the spectrum, there are five remaining winless teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. In reverse alphabetical order, they are Western Kentucky, Rice, New Mexico, Miami (Ohio) and Eastern Michigan. That fantastic fivesome is a combined 0-30 this season and has been outscored by a 1,429-539 margin. That’s an average losing margin of about 30 points per game. Since Miami and EMU are Mid-American Conference rivals, one of these teams can avoid a winless season, right? Wrong. The RedHawks and Eagles are in different divisions in the MAC and don’t play one another this season.

** With all due respect to our friends at Iowa and Cincinnati, you can forget the national championship game if Florida, Alabama and Texas continue to win. Yes, I know the Gators and Crimson Tide would face one another in the SEC championship game, but I believe the powers-that-be would rig the system in order to send a one-loss SEC champion or a one-loss USC to face an undefeated Texas in the title game long before they would send an unbeaten team from either the Big Ten or Big East.

** Iowa established a new school record with its 15-13 victory over Michigan State. The Hawkeyes are now 8-0 to start a season for the first time in program history. Their No. 4 ranking in the BCS standings also represent a new program high. Iowa had been ranked as high as fifth in the final three BCS standings of the 2002 season.

** Starting the season with an 8-0 mark may be unusual in Iowa City, but it isn’t that rare in the Big Ten. This marks the fourth straight season, and fifth in the last six, 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 and Penn State was 9-0 last season.

** With its victory last weekend at Michigan State, Iowa became the first Big Ten team in 12 years to notch victories at Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State in the same season. The 1997 Michigan national championship team was the last to pull off that trifecta. If the Hawkeyes can complete the superfecta with a win at Ohio State on Nov. 14, they would become the first opposing team in history to achieve victories at Happy Valley, Madison, East Lansing and Columbus in the same season.

** Northwestern is one victory away from achieving bowl eligibility. After last year’s trip to the Insight Bowl, the Wildcats are seeking back-to-back postseason trips for only the second time in program history.

** Last weekend’s 35-10 win over Michigan gave Penn State head coach Joe Paterno his 143rd victory as a member of the Big Ten. That ties him with former Iowa head coach Hayden Fry for fifth place on the conference’s all-time wins list. The top four winningest coaches in Big Ten history are Woody Hayes of Ohio State (205, 1951-78), Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago (199, 1896-1932), Bo Schembechler of Michigan (194, 1969-89) and Fielding Yost of Michigan (165, 1901-23, ’25-26).

** It hasn’t been the best week to be an ESPN analyst. First, the Steve Phillips sex scandal and then Bob Griese’s idiotic utterance during Saturday’s Ohio State-Minnesota telecast. In case you have been on safari and missed it, ESPN was cross-promoting its NASCAR coverage during the football game and showed a graphic of the top five drivers in the points standings. Analyst Chris Spielman noted that Colombian-born driver Juan Pablo Montoya was not on the list and wondered aloud, “Where is Montoya?” Griese replied, “Out having a taco.” Griese later apologized twice on air but has been suspended for a week. Montoya had the perfect response to the brouhaha. When asked about Griese’s comments, the driver replied, “I don’t even know who he is … And I don’t really care.”

** Here is my weekly top five for the Heisman Trophy: 1. Texas QB Colt McCoy; 2. Boise State QB Kellen Moore; 3. Alabama RB Mark Ingram; 4. Florida QB Tim Tebow; 5. Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen. Dark horse: TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes.

** Congratulations to Temple. The Owls have come out of nowhere to lead the MAC East standings thanks to a five-game win streak, their longest in 30 years. Temple is now 5-2 and looking for its first winning season since 1990 when it went 7-4. Between that season and the beginning of their current winning streak, the Owls were 40-165, a .195 winning percentage.

** The streak is finally over in Terre Haute. Thanks to 160 yards on the ground and two touchdowns from quarterback Ryan Roberts, Division I-AA Indiana State snapped the nation’s longest losing streak at 33 with a 17-14 win last Saturday over Western Illinois. Only Prairie View A&M (80 games), Columbia (44) and Northwestern (34) have ever lost more games in a row than the Sycamores, who hadn’t won since a 28-22 win over Missouri State on Oct. 21, 2006.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The crystal ball was nearly crystal clear last week. Beginning with picking a 10-point win for Purdue over Illinois (the final score was 24-14 in favor of the Boilermakers), the straight-up picks finished at 8-2. The only misses were the Upset Specials, and both Michigan State and Mississippi State hung tough before finally succumbing to Iowa and Florida. The yearly total straight up is now 56-17.

Things were just as rosy against the spread. After a couple of weeks of stomping the grapes, we were definitely sipping the wine with an 8-2 finish. Our heads are still below the water line at 28-33-1 for the season but at least the bleeding has stopped – for a week anyway.

Here are the games we like this week. (All rankings are now courtesy of the BCS standings.)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Indiana at No. 4 Iowa: The Hawkeyes have overcome adversity all season, playing through some key injuries and winning several games in come-from-behind fashion to remain unbeaten. Roster attrition continues to be Iowa’s worst enemy. During last week’s knock-down, drag-out affair with Michigan State, the Hawkeyes lost freshman tailback Adam Robinson and senior offensive lineman Dace Richardson for the rest of the regular season. Those losses may not affect the Hawkeyes this week as they host the Hoosiers, although they had better be careful. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is only 4-4 against Indiana, and that includes a 38-20 loss to the Hoosiers the last time they visited Kinnick Stadium … Iowa 24, Indiana 13. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Purdue at Wisconsin: The Boilermakers are still riding the crest of their upset of Ohio State two weeks ago while the Badgers have been on a different tack since their game against the Buckeyes. A 31-13 loss to OSU on Oct. 10 was followed by a 20-10 loss to Iowa, so Wisconsin went into last Saturday’s off week contemplating a two-game losing streak. The Badgers traditionally get well against Purdue, however. UW has won three in a row in the overall series and five of the last seven. If the Boilermakers continue to play well on defense, this game will be a lot closer than many believe. The key should be Wisconsin running back John Clay, the Big Ten’s leading rusher, because teams that have committed to running the ball against the Boilers have done well … Wisconsin 26, Purdue 23. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

No. 8 Cincinnati at Syracuse: The Bearcats continue to take advantage of a soft schedule as they await the return of quarterback Tony Pike. Against the Orange, backup Zach Collaros should be more than enough since Syracuse has lost 27 of its last 30 Big East games including a pair at home this season to South Florida and West Virginia. In each of those conference losses in the Carrier Dome, the Orange surrendered 34 points. How do you think that will square with the fact UC possesses the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense with an average of 40.7 points per game? Not well … Cincinnati 41, Syracuse 10. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)

Georgia vs. No. 1 Florida: The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party returns to Jacksonville where Tim Tebow believes he needs to make a statement. The Florida quarterback criticized his own offense this past week, knowing that it needs to raise its level of play if the Gators are going to be able to play for that third national title in the last four years. As for Tebow, he returns to his hometown needing one more rushing touchdown to break the all-time SEC record held by Bulldogs legend Herschel Walker. Georgia would love revenge for the Gators running up last year’s 49-10 score, but it’s doubtful the Bulldogs can pull off the upset. They rank 84th nationally in scoring defense and 90th in total offense, and have lost 16 of the last 19 in the series … Florida 30, Georgia 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Michigan at Illinois: I’m not sure whether Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther’s vote of confidence for Ron Zook was a good or bad thing. The Illini have been mailing it in for several weeks now and perhaps their only chance of showing some life was to play for their embattled head coach’s livelihood. Now that Zook is presumably safe, we assume the Illini players will continue to simply go through the motions. Meanwhile, the Wolverines remain in search of a defense. In conference games only, they are last in the Big Ten in scoring defense. Fortunately for Michigan, the Illini are ninth in that category. Neither team has beaten a I-A opponent since September, neither plays much defense, and it’s sort of mystifying why ABC chose this game for one of his regional broadcasts. Nevertheless, someone’s got win, so we’ll take the team currently playing better offense … Michigan 31, Illinois 26. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

UNLV at No. 6 TCU: If you like defense, the Horned Frogs are definitely for you. They rank in the top eight nationally in sacks as well as rushing, total and scoring defense, and they are No. 10 against the pass. Not that TCU is any slouch on the offensive side of the ball – 22nd in total offense and 14th in scoring. Contrast that to the Runnin’ Rebels, who are 94th in the country running the ball and 107th stopping the run. The Frogs have won all three games in this series played in Fort Worth by a combined score of 127-47. Enough said … TCU 42, UNLV 10. (4 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 12 Penn State at Northwestern: After their mistake-riddled loss to Iowa a month ago, the Nittany Lions were pretty much relegated to the scrap heap. They have rallied with four straight victories, outscoring their victims by a 142-30 margin in the process. Defense has gotten most of the attention in Happy Valley, but the resurgence of quarterback Daryll Clark has been a major reason why JoePa’s team hasn’t been challenged in a month. Clark is back atop the Big Ten in pass efficiency and he has thrown for a conference-leading 17 TDs. Meanwhile, Northwestern QB Mike Kafka leads the Big Ten with 2,067 passing yards, and he is the conference leader in total offense. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Kafka throws the ball to the other team too often – seven TDs vs. nine INTs – and that is a recipe for disaster against a Paterno defense … Penn State 31, Northwestern 17. (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Washington State at No. 23 Notre Dame: Despite the fact they have yet to beat a ranked team, the Fighting Irish continue their quest for a BCS berth by fattening up on another cupcake. Notre Dame has won five games against opponents with a combined record of 19-20, and with victories in their final five contests, the Irish would qualify for a BCS bid. First up are the 1-6 Cougars, who rank 116th nationally in rushing and have exactly 1 net yard on the ground in their last two games. Compounding Wazuu’s problems – the Irish are 14-0 all-time on Halloween. Look for Jimmy Clausen to pad his already impressive stats and the Irish to finally win one comfortably … Notre Dame 41, Washington State 10.(7:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

No. 5 USC at No. 10 Oregon: With all due respect to Arizona, this game is probably for the Pac-10 championship and the conference’s automatic berth in the Rose Bowl. Despite their loss at Washington, the Trojans remain media darlings and retain their outside shot at the BCS title game. But they have been spotty on defense lately, especially during last week’s 42-36 win over Oregon State. After displaying one of the nation’s stingiest defenses early in the season, USC has surrendered 62 points and 849 total yards in its last two games. That should be music to the Ducks’ ears. They welcome back starting QB Jeremiah Masoli, who brings another dimension to the offense when he is healthy. The team has averaged 45.7 points and 484.7 yards in the last three games Masoli has played. We missed with our Upset Specials last week but came close. We’ll try again here … Oregon 24, USC 20. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

New Mexico State at No. 17 Ohio State: Since there is a threat of rain in Columbus, look for the Ohio State offense to keep the ball on the ground – a lot – and let the defense dictate tempo. The Aztecs are dead last in Division I-A football in total offense and next-to-last in scoring, so it’s pretty much up to Jim Tressel to name his own score. Beware of that bloated point spread, however. In Tressel’s previous 110 games with the Buckeyes, his team has won by 40 or more points only eight times … Ohio State 48, New Mexico State 7. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Indiana (+18) at Iowa; Purdue (+7½) at Wisconsin; Cincinnati (-14½) at Syracuse; Georgia vs. Florida (-14½); Michigan at Illinois (+7½); UNLV (+35) at TCU; Penn State at Northwestern (+15½); Washington State at Notre Dame (-27); USC at Oregon (+3); New Mexico State (+44) at Ohio State.

You are going to want to know that Ohio State is 2-5 ATS in its past seven games at home as a double-digit favorite. Enjoy the games.

To Redshirt Or Not To Redshirt

There was a spirited debate this week among Ohio State football fans regarding whether or not to take the redshirt off freshman tailback Jaamal Berry in week six of the regular season.

In case you have forgotten, Berry is a 5-11, 195-pound slasher/dasher out of Palmetto High School in Miami who has heretofore been unable to showcase his skills as a Buckeye because of a nagging hamstring injury. The injury had subsided, Berry had reportedly been lighting things up in practice, and head coach Jim Tressel indicated on Tuesday he would be inclined to use the freshman running back tomorrow against Wisconsin.

That was until yesterday when reports that Berry’s hamstring problem had flared up again. He likely will not be ready for action against the Badgers and his status moving forward remains firmly up in the air.

Nevertheless, the argument for and against taking the redshirt off Berry at the midway point of the regular season was one worth having. Before the hamstring injury recurred, opinions were running about 9-to-1 in favor of letting the freshman play. Among the many arguments for getting Berry on the field was the perhaps most salient one – if the young tailback is another piece in a championship puzzle, he needs to play. No one knows what the future may hold, so you win as many games every season as you possibly can. If playing Berry is a means to that end, play him. “Fire all of the bullets in your arsenal” was the way one poster put it.

Originally, I was in the minority. I have always felt that if a freshman didn’t play by week three of the regular season, he probably should be redshirted. In other words, if he wasn’t good enough to crack the rotation by the time one-quarter of the season was in the books, he probably wasn’t going to be able to contribute enough down the stretch to warrant the cost of a full season of his eligibility.

Berry is a unique case, of course. First and foremost, the hamstring injury is evidently the sole reason why he hasn’t been playing. From all indications, he would have been in the lineup long ago had he been at or near 100 percent. Secondly, if Berry is as good as his advance billing, saving an additional year of his eligibility could be moot. Whether he plays this season or not, NCAA rules would permit him to leave school early for the NFL following the 2011 season. If he does turn out to be as good as advertised, he may want to explore that option and the Buckeyes would do well to maximize his college playing time as much as possible.

Then, of course, there is the position Berry plays. Ohio State has gotten a mixed bag from its tailback spot this season. Dan “Boom” Herron started the first four games of the season and leads the team in touchdowns scored. But he sustained a sprained ankle against Illinois and didn’t play at all last week. The injury only underscores the whispers about Herron that perhaps his 5-10, 193-pound frame is not big enough to withstand an entire Big Ten season as the leading ball-carrier.

Brandon Saine had what could be described as a breakout game last Saturday night, powering his way to a career-high 113 yards against Indiana. The 6-1, 217-pound junior features a nice blend of power and speed – not to mention pass-catching abilities – and most people don’t realize he currently ranks second in the Big Ten only to Wisconsin’s John Clay in rushing average per conference game. The knock against the junior running back, of course, is an injury-checkered past, and the unfortunate truth is that no one knows if a healthy Saine can make it through an entire season.

The third man in the tailback mix has been freshman Jordan Hall, who didn’t see action until week three against Toledo. Since then, he has shown some flashes that he can be a very good complimentary back although at 5-10 and 190 pounds, he faces some of the same durability questions as Herron. It probably isn’t a coincidence that Herron and Hall have combined for an average of 3.8 yards per carry.

Herron, Saine and Hall have done well as a trio this season. Together, they average 126.0 yards per game – and when you throw Terrelle Pryor’s yardage into the mix, the Buckeyes are purring along at 187.2 yards rushing per game. Last season, with Beanie Wells as the primary back, the team was only slightly better at 192.5 yards on the ground per game.

So why do so many people believe Berry is needed? Maybe it’s because they know tailback depth in the Big Ten is a fleeting thing. Wells, Mike Hart of Michigan and P.J. Hill of Wisconsin were all tremendous running backs, but they each missed their share of playing time with injuries. When those big guns were on the sidelines, their respective teams suffered. That was partly due to a lack of depth but more so because the running backs behind them on the depth chart suffered from inexperience.

This season is looking more and more like the first since 2004 that Ohio State will have no 1,000-yard rusher. The problem five years ago was lack of depth at the position and subsequently the Buckeyes scuffled their way to an 8-4 finish.

This year, especially if/when Berry joins the backfield, depth at the running back depth could be one of the team’s strengths. Every team seeks that one dependable every-down running back, but who’s to say that approach trumps one where five or even six players on your roster have somewhere between 300 and 600 yards apiece?

That’s never happened in the Tressel era. (See stats below.) But as the offensive game plan continues to evolve this year, the head coach must believe it’s a path worth exploring.

LEADING RUSHERS BY SEASON

Here is a list of Ohio State’s leading rushers, by season, through the Tressel era so far. Listed are carries and net yards.

2008 – Chris Wells 207-1,197; Terrelle Pryor 139-631; Dan Herron 89-439; Maurice Wells 39-129; Brandon Saine 26-65.

2007 – Chris Wells 274-1,609; Maurice Wells 103-367; Brandon Saine 60-267; Todd Boeckman 56-63; Ray Small 4-49.

2006 – Antonio Pittman 242-1,233; Chris Wells 104-576; Troy Smith 72-128; Maurice Wells 46-171; Anthony Gonzalez 2-28.

2005 – Antonio Pittman 243-1,331; Troy Smith 136-611; Maurice Wells 61-199; Ted Ginn Jr. 12-83; Erik Haw 14-61.

2004 – Lydell Ross 117-475; Antonio Pittman 72-381; Troy Smith 82-339; Maurice Hall 52-216; Branden Joe 50-162.

2003 – Lydell Ross 193-826; Maurice Hall 97-316; Craig Krenzel 109-255; Branden Joe 27-99; Ira Guilford 28-64.

2002 – Maurice Clarett 222-1,237; Lydell Ross 166-619; Maurice Hall 78-370; Craig Krenzel 125-368; Chris Gamble 3-49.

2001 – Jonathan Wells 251-1,294; Lydell Ross 120-419; Sammy Maldonado 39-168; Steve Bellisari 83-107; Jamar Martin 22-86.

OSU-WISCONSIN TIDBITS

** This marks the 75th meeting of Ohio State and Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes hold a decidedly lopsided 52-17-5 record in the overall series, including 27-7-3 in Columbus. However, the Badgers have won three of their last four trips to Ohio Stadium and that has allowed them to close the overall gap in recent years. Since 1981, OSU has only a 13-10-1 advantage and the team have split their last eight games.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is in his ninth season with the Buckeyes. He has an 87-20 overall record, including 3-3 against Wisconsin. He is 54-12 in the Big Ten and 32-13 against ranked teams. The Badgers are ranked No. 25 in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll.

** Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is in his fourth season with the Badgers. He has a 33-11 overall record, including 0-2 against Ohio State. He is 17-9 in the Big Ten and 4-7 against ranked teams. That includes an 0-3 mark against teams ranked in the top 10. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 8 in this week’s coaches’ poll and No. 9 in the Associated Press writers’ poll.

** As it has been so many times in this series, the game will feature a classic matchup between the irresistible force and the immovable object. Wisconsin ranks first or second in the Big Ten in rushing, pass efficiency and scoring offense while Ohio State ranks first or second in each of those defensive categories.

** The Badgers have been able to achieve an almost unbelievable offensive balance over their first five games. They have 1,086 yards rushing and 1,080 yards through the air.

** In Tressel’s 107 games with the Buckeyes, opposing teams have totaled 175 or more yards on the ground only 11 times. Wisconsin has three of those 11 performances, including 179 last year. However, the Badgers weren’t so successful on the ground the last time they were in Columbus. Wisconsin netted only 12 yards rushing during a 38-17 loss in 2007, the team’s lowest total in the Bielema era.

** Wisconsin tailback John Clay, who leads the Big Ten and is fifth nationally with an average of 116.4 yards per game, will be trying to join an elite group on Saturday. Only 16 running backs have gained 100 or more yards in a game against the Buckeyes during the Tressel era – none so far this season and only three over Ohio State’s last 32 games. USC tailback Joe McKnight, who rushed for 105 yards in his team’s 35-3 win in 2008, was the last opponent to crack the century mark against the Buckeyes.

** Clay has a conference-leading 112 carries this season. Only five have gone for negative yardage.

** UW quarterback Scott Tolzien leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency and is completing 65.6 percent of his attempts so far this season. Tolzien has been especially lethal on third downs – he is 29 for 41 for 340 yards and three touchdowns on third down this year. On third and less than 10 yards to go, Tolzien has completed 23 of 29 pass attempts, and 21 of those 23 completions have gone for either a first down or touchdown.

** Ohio State has two shutouts this season, the most of any single season in the Tressel era so far. If the Buckeyes entertain any notions of getting a third whitewash of the year against the Badgers, they should know Wisconsin hasn’t been shut out since a 34-0 loss to Syracuse in the 1997 season opener. No Big Ten opponent has blanked the Badgers since Iowa posted a 31-0 win on Nov. 16, 1996.

** The Buckeyes haven’t been shut out since a 28-0 loss at Michigan in the 1993 regular-season finale. That represents a span of 195 games.

** Ohio State and Wisconsin are the most successful teams in the Big Ten since the beginning of the 2004 season. The Buckeyes are 55-13 (.809 winning percentage) during that span while the Badgers are 52-17 (.754). Wisconsin has also made seven straight bowl trips, and that is second in the conference only to OSU, which has gone bowling nine years in a row.

** Wisconsin has nine Ohio natives on its roster. Ohio State has no Wisconsin-born players.

** Last week’s win over Indiana was the 54th Big Ten win for Tressel and he moved into a tie for 17th place on the league’s all-time conference victories list with Ray Eliot of Illinois (1942-59). Tressel needs three more league wins to join a four-way tie at 57 wins with Bennie Bierman of Minnesota (1932-41, ’45-50), Fritz Crisler of Michigan (1938-47), Jack Mollenkopf of Purdue (1956-69) and Earle Bruce of Ohio State (1979-87).

** When freshman Zach Boren scored on an 8-yard touchdown pass last week against Indiana, he became only the third full-time fullback to cross the goal line in the Tressel era. In the 2007 season opener against Youngstown State, Trever Robinson scored on a 1-yard pass reception, and before that you have to all the way back to Tressel’s first game with the Buckeyes. Jamar Martin scored on a 10-yard pass from QB Steve Bellisari in the first quarter of a 28-14 win over Akron in the 2001 season opener.

** OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor had 222 yards of total offense against the Hoosiers and moved past the 3,000-yard mark for his young career, becoming the 21st player in school history to break the 3,000-yard barrier. Now with 3,094 yards, Pryor needs 49 more to move into 20th place all-time, currently occupied by Pepe Pearson (3,142, 1994-97). The OSU career leader in total offense is Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81).

** Kickoff for Saturday’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. ABC will broadcast the game on a regional basis with Sean McDonough handling play-by-play duties, Matt Millen providing color analysis and Holly Rowe reporting from the sidelines. The game will employ the reverse mirror, so if you don’t get the contest on your local ABC-affiliated station, it will be available on ESPN.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channel 127.

** The Buckeyes are back on the road next week to visit Purdue. Kickoff from West Lafayette is set for 12 noon Eastern, and the game will televised by the Big Ten Network.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Sixty-six years ago today, an Indiana freshman quarterback celebrated a record-setting day. On Oct. 9, 1943, IU quarterback Bob Hoernschemeyer set an NCAA record for touchdown passes in a game by a freshman when he threw six as the Hoosiers took a 54-13 win over Nebraska in Bloomington.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 5, 1991, Fresno State kicker Derek Mahoney tied the NCAA record for most PATs in a game when he went 13 for 13 as the Bulldogs rolled to a 94-17 win over New Mexico; on Oct. 7, 2000, No. 7 Miami (Fla.) upset top-ranked Florida State, 27-24, when Seminoles kicker Matt Munyon’s last-second field goal attempt from 49 yards sailed wide right; on Oct. 8, 1977, seventh-ranked Alabama squeezed out a 21-20 victory over No. 1 USC when the Trojans scored a touchdown with 38 seconds remaining but their subsequent two-point conversion try failed; and on Oct. 10, 1936, trumpet player John Brungart became the first member of the Ohio State Marching Band to dot the “i” in Script Ohio.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** You probably know that Florida currently has the nation’s longest winning streak at the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Gators have won 14 in a row. Did you know which team currently owns the second-longest streak? That would be Iowa, which has won nine consecutive games.

** The weekly count of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level was whittled last week to 13. The list in alphabetical order: Alabama, Auburn, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, LSU, Missouri, South Florida, Texas, TCU and Wisconsin.

** Auburn head coach Gene Chizik has the Tigers off to a 5-0 start in his first season after posting only five victories total in two years at Iowa State. What’s the difference? Perhaps that Chizik hired Gus Malzahn away from Tulsa to be his offensive coordinator at Auburn. In five games this season, the Tigers have scored 207 points. They scored 208 all of last season.

** In addition to being undefeated, Wisconsin and Iowa are among the eight teams that are currently 5-0. This is old hat for the Badgers, who are 5-0 for the fifth time in the last eight seasons. On the flip side, the Hawkeyes are enjoying their first 5-0 start since 1995. The last time Iowa began a season with more than five victories was 1985 when the team started 7-0 on the way to the school’s last outright Big Ten championship.

**When Michigan State defeated Michigan last weekend, it gave Sparty his first back-to-back victories over the Wolverines since winning three in a row from 1965-67.

** I guess it’s never too early to make projections about bowl season. This week’s forecast, courtesy of CBSSports.com, has Florida and Texas on a collision course for the BCS National Championship Game, set for Jan. 8 in Pasadena. The other four BCS matchups – Oregon and Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, USC and Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, Alabama and Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl and Virginia Tech and Iowa in the Orange Bowl.

** With his team’s victory last weekend over Illinois, Penn State head coach Joe Paterno moved into a fifth-place tie on the all-time Big Ten conference win list. JoePa now has 81 league victories and that ties him with Lloyd Carr of Michigan (1995-2007). The top four coaches in terms of Big Ten victories are Woody Hayes of Ohio State (152, 1951-78), Bo Schembechler of Michigan (143, 1969-89), Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago (116, 1896-1932) and Hayden Fry of Iowa (98, 1979-98).

** A week ago today, Notre Dame unveiled a bronze sculpture of legendary Knute Rockne outside its stadium. The statue of Rockne, who was 105-12-5 with the Fighting Irish for an NCAA-record .881 winning percentage, shows the coach in his sweatshirt and baseball pants with his hands on his hips. Rockne is the fourth sculpture to be unveiled outside Notre Dame Stadium after Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz. Yes, you read that correctly. Notre Dame actually put up a statue of Lou Holtz before getting around to putting up one of Knute Rockne.

** ESPN.com has something it calls “The Heisman Predictor,” updated each week with standings based upon a formula that takes into account 11 different variables and awards points in a variety of ways. That may sound scientific until you realize you automatically get extra credit for playing quarterback at a BCS conference school. Anyway, this week’s standings have preseason favorites Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy in the top two spots followed Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike, Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen, running back Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech and Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier.

** If your cable or dish provider carries CBS College Sports Network, and you like service academy football, Saturday is your day. The network will televise a service academy tripleheader tomorrow beginning with Vanderbilt at Army at 12 noon Eastern. That will be followed by Navy at Rice at 3:30 p.m., and wind up with TCU at Air Force at 7:30 p.m.

** Former Nebraska offensive lineman Aaron Taylor has revealed that he is bankrupt and will be auctioning off assets which include his 1994, 1995 and 1997 national championship rings as well as his 1997 Outland Trophy. The Oct. 31 auction was forced by the failure of the Husker-themed Scarlet and Cream Letter Club restaurant Taylor started in Omaha with other former players. Proceeds from the auction will help pay some of Taylor’s debts, estimated at more than $100,000, including $69,000 in federal and state taxes owed to the IRS.

** In case you missed it, former Muskingum College head coach and athletic director Ed Sherman died Sept. 29 at the age of 97. Sherman spent 22 years as head coach of the Muskies, capturing six Ohio Conference championships and compiling a 141-43-7 record from 1945 to 1966. When he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996, Sherman became the first Division III coach to be so honored.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Don’t know what it is about Houston. Last year, when we finally gave the Cougars some love, they lost. This year, same thing. We picked them to blow out a weak UTEP team and the Miners hung 58 on UH one week after it failed gain 58 total yards against Texas. Thankfully, that miss was not the norm and we finished with a 5-2 record. That moved us to 32-11 straight up for the season.

Against the spread, we didn’t do so well. After briefly popping our heads above water, we went 3-4 last week and are now a flat 16-16-1 ATS for the year.

Here are the games we like this week.

Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan: It’s homecoming for the Chippewas, who are seeking to go 5-1 for the first time since 1988. Although they are at the top of the MAC West standings and EMU is tied with Ball State at the bottom, these two teams usually wear out the scoreboard when they meet. In fact, Eastern has won the last two meetings – 48-45 in 2007 and 56-52 last season. I’m not sure those kinds of fireworks can be repeated, especially since the Eagles are struggling on offense. They rank 114th out of 120 Division I-A schools in total offense. On the other side, CMU still has quarterback Dan LeFevour, who is now the MAC’s all-time leader in total offense. He should be more than enough to keep the Chippewas rolling … Central Michigan 41, Eastern Michigan 24. (12 noon ET, ESPN 360)

Miami (Ohio) at Northwestern: There is a lot of synergy between these two schools not the least of which is the fact Ara Parseghian was head coach of both programs. Before gaining fame at Notre Dame, Parseghian followed Woody Hayes at Miami and compiled a 39-6-1 record from 1951-55. Then came eight seasons in Evanston from 1956-64 where he went 36-35-1 with the Wildcats. That may seem like a fairly pedestrian record, but Parseghian is the last Northwestern head coach to compile a winning record … at least until Pat Fitzgerald came along. Fitz is currently 22-20 with the Wildcats and he figures to better that mark this week against the winless RedHawks, who are 119th nationally in scoring defense and a dead-last 120th in scoring offense … Northwestern 34, Miami 10. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Eastern Illinois at No. 14 Penn State: What does it say about the Nittany Lions’ nonconference schedule that the I-AA Panthers are the best team on it? EIU is 4-1 this season, thanks in part to a pretty good offensive attack led by quarterback Jake Christensen (1,090 yards, 11 TDs). If that name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same Jake Christensen who was the starting QB at Iowa in 2007 before losing his job last year to Ricky Stanzi. It did seem that Penn State got itself untracked last week against Illinois, but we’re not sure how much of an indicator that is since the Fighting Illini seem to already be circling the drain. JoePa’s team still has some injury issues on defense, most notably linebacker Sean Lee’s continued knee problems, but the Lions – if they stay engaged – should have no problem with the Panthers … Penn State 31, Eastern Illinois 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN Classic)

Georgia at Tennessee: This game marks the first time since 1937 that these SEC rivals square off while neither is ranked by the AP or the coaches. Not that either of them seem to care. Fresh from a game against LSU that was all but taken from them by the officials for a ludicrous celebration penalty, the Bulldogs head to Rocky Top in a sour mood. That doesn’t exactly bode well for the Volunteers, who are 2-3 and trying to avoid their first back-to-back losing seasons in nearly a century. First-year Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin is getting his initial taste of the rivalry while UGA head coach Mark Richt is 5-3 against the Volunteers, and the Dawgs have won three of their last four overall at Neyland Stadium. Georgia has had a difficult time scoring points this season and that won’t change this week since UT has a pretty good defense. The home team is a slight favorite, but I have a feeling the Bulldogs get it done. Here is a mini-Upset Special … Georgia 17, Tennessee 14. (12 noon ET, SEC Network)

No. 3 Alabama at No. 20 Mississippi: There are a lot of college football observers who believe the Crimson Tide is the best team in the nation right now. They will get to prove it Saturday when they travel to Oxford. Bama appears to be the total package with a potent offense (40.0 points per game on average) and a punishing defense (14.4 points) that has smothered most of its opponents so far this season. That isn’t exactly music to the Rebels’ ears since one-time Heisman hopeful QB Jevan Snead has struggled lately. He has completed only 51.4 percent of his passes this season and pitched three interceptions last weekend in a 23-7 win at Vanderbilt. Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt usually has something up his sleeve – i.e. last year’s 31-30 upset of Florida in Gainesville – and that should at least keep things closer than some are forecasting. We don’t see an upset, though … Alabama 23, Mississippi 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 13 Oregon at UCLA: The Ducks are suddenly the sexy pick in the Pac-10, but if Oregon is to avoid its annual swoon it will have to keep starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli healthy. Masoli banged up a knee during last week’s over Washington State and he is questionable for this week’s game. He ran for a career-high 170 yards in last year’s win over the Bruins, and it would be a decidedly different kind of Quack Attack if Masoli can’t go on Saturday. Even so, Oregon might be able to get by on defense. The Ducks completely shut down Cal and Heisman hopeful Jahvid Best two weeks ago, while UCLA has been struggling on offense. That is especially true when it comes to throwing the ball. The Bruins are last in the Pac-10 in passing … Oregon 24, UCLA 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

Colorado at No. 2 Texas: The Longhorns haven’t been tested all season, outscoring their four opponents by an average of 34.3 points. Coincidentally, the last four games in this series have each resulted in Texas wins by an average margin of 35.0 points. That is somewhat skewed by a 70-3 blowout of the Buffaloes in the 2005 Big 12 championship game. On the other hand, a similar stomp job is not totally out of the question this year. The Longhorns are the No. 1 team in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 49.5 points per game, while the Colorado defense has surrendered 28.0 points on average. That ranks 86th in the nation. Then when you consider the CU defense ranks 102nd or lower in every other major defensive category, you begin a smell a big-time rout … Texas 52, Colorado 7. (7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 10 TCU at Air Force: The Horned Frogs are eager to prove their top-10 ranking is deserved and they face a major hurdle Saturday night in Colorado Springs. Not only will TCU will taking on a pretty good Air Force team, it will also have to battle the elements. The weatherman is calling for game-time temperatures in the low-20s, gusty winds and a rainy-icy mix of precipitation. That sounds like weather that favors the defense, and that’s where both teams excel. TCU is the nation’s No. 1 defense in terms of stopping the run which should make for some interesting moments since the Cadets feature the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense. But Air Force is also adept at stopping other teams – it is ninth nationally in scoring defense and No. 1 in turnover margin. The thing that sets the teams apart is the passing game. TCU has a big advantage there although it might be negated by the weather … TCU 24, Air Force 14. (7:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

No. 1 Florida at No. 4 LSU: With Tim Tebow’s status still uncertain until game time, it’s really anyone’s guess how this game will turn out. The Tigers have struggled mightily on offense all season, yet remain undefeated on the strength of a defense that allows only 14.8 points per game. There is also this little nugget – LSU has won 32 consecutive Saturday night games at Tiger Stadium. To win, however, you have to score and that has been difficult for any Florida opponent so far this year. The Gators are the nation’s No. 1 team in total defense and they’re No. 2 in scoring defense. Even so, their heart and soul plays on offense and they are a completely different team without Tebow. That nasty concussion he suffered was two weeks ago, and since the quarterback began practicing again on Tuesday, we expect Tebow to play. That makes the difference in what should be an entertaining battle of two heavyweights … Florida 16, LSU 7. (8 p.m. ET, CBS)

Michigan at No. 12 Iowa: As well as the Hawkeyes played while upsetting Penn State, they have been maddeningly inconsistent. That includes last week’s uninspired 24-21 win over Arkansas State in which the team nearly blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter. Most of the inconsistency has come on the offensive side of the ball, however, as the defense ranks 10th nationally, surrendering only 13.4 points per game. Meanwhile, Michigan is coming off its first loss of the season, a 26-20 overtime defeat at the hands of instate rival Michigan State. Freshman QB Tate Forcier, who had engineered last-minute wins over Notre Dame and Indiana, rallied his team again last week with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to get the game to OT. However, it was Forcier’s interception in overtime that cost the Wolverines the game. Was that a product of growing pains from a first-year starter playing his first road game or something more troublesome? We’ll see soon enough … Iowa 23, Michigan 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Wisconsin at No. 9 Ohio State: The game plan for the Buckeyes is pretty simple. Stop Wisconsin from running the ball and win the game. That’s easier said than done, of course, since the Badgers possess the Big Ten’s best rushing attack behind bruising tailback John Clay. Unfortunately for UW, their power pretty much begins and ends with Clay. Although he has some excellent numbers, quarterback Scott Tolzien is only slightly above average while the Badgers rank no higher than sixth in the conference in any of the major defensive categories. Look for the Buckeyes to hold Clay to about half his league average (163.0 yards per game) and keep their defensive roll going … Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Eastern Michigan (+23) at Central Michigan; Miami (Ohio) at Northwestern (-19½); Georgia (+1½) at Tennessee; Alabama at Mississippi (+7); Oregon (-5) at UCLA; Colorado at Texas (-32); TCU (-9) at Air Force; Florida (-6) at LSU; Michigan at Iowa (-7½); Wisconsin (+16) at Ohio State.

You would probably like to know that the Buckeyes are 1-4 ATS in their last five home games against Wisconsin. Enjoy the games.

Top Five Ohio State Football Stories Of 2008

Everyone has their year-end lists and I’m no different. Here are my top five stories in Ohio State football over the 2008 calendar year, offered in order of importance (at least IMHO).

1. BUCKEYES LOSE TITLE GAME … AGAIN

It was not the blowout that most of the national media continues to portray it as, but a host of mental and physical mistakes added up to a 38-24 loss for Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game.

OSU held an early 10-0 lead on LSU and looked to be the aggressor. But a blocked field goal in the second quarter caused the dam to burst as the Tigers reeled off 31 straight points. Along the way, the Buckeyes committed seven costly penalties for 83 yards – including a back-breaking, roughing-the-punter call early in the third quarter – and turned the ball over three times.

Worse yet, the outcome came just one year after Florida had pounded Ohio State in the national title game, and the loss to LSU perpetuated the notion that the Buckeyes were powerless against teams from the big, bad SEC.

The tarnished national reputation and rap that it has lost its edge in the so-called “big games” – deserved or not – continued to dog OSU throughout the 2008 season and follows the Buckeyes back to Arizona for the 2009 Fiesta Bowl.

2. PRYOR FINALLY SIGNS

Members of the Buckeye Nation held their collective breaths on Feb. 6 as Pennsylvania schoolboy phenom Terrelle Pryor got set to announce his college choice. But as National Signing Day came and went, the only decision Pryor announced was that he was going to postpone his decision.

Pryor waited another six weeks while he finished his basketball season at Jeannette, Pa., and then announced that he would attend Ohio State. The 6-6, 225-pounder, whose frame and playing style immediately evoked memories of former Texas QB Vince Young, chose the Buckeyes over Michigan.

Pryor’s decision had an almost immediate impact on the quarterback position at OSU. Backup quarterback Robby Schoenhoft had already transferred to Delaware in January, and in June, backup Antonio Henton announced he would transfer to Georgia Southern. With Schoenhoft and Henton on the roster, Pryor may have faced a little more competition for playing time. Or maybe not.

3. LOSS TO USC TRIGGERS QB SWITCH

Never in his previous 89 games as head coach of the Buckeyes had Jim Tressel ever done anything so drastic as to bench a senior starter in favor of a freshman. Nevertheless, that is what happened in the wake of Ohio State’s 35-3 loss at Southern California.

Todd Boeckman, one of four team co-captains and the reigning first-team All-Big Ten quarterback, had turned in a couple of lackluster performances in the team’s first two games against Youngstown State and Ohio. But when he threw two interceptions against USC – one of which was returned for a touchdown right before the first half ended, Tressel seemed to lose faith in Boeckman.

The following week against Troy, Pryor started under center for the Buckeyes and became the first freshman since Art Schlichter in 1978 to start at quarterback for Ohio State. Pryor helped lead the team to a fourth straight Big Ten championship and another BCS game berth. Meanwhile, Boeckman languished on the bench, throwing only 15 more passes in the team’s final nine games.

4. MOST SENIORS DECIDE TO RETURN

In this day and age, it is not only common for underclassmen to declare early for the NFL draft, it has become almost expected. That is why Buckeye fans rejoiced last January when most of Ohio State’s talented junior class opted to forgo financial gain and remain in scarlet and gray for their senior season.

James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins returned to anchor the OSU defense, and they played well enough to take home two of the top individual trophies in college football – Laurinaitis won the Lott Trophy and Jenkins captured the Thorpe Award. Meanwhile, the presence of such other seniors as Marcus Freeman, Alex Boone and Brian Robiskie helped the Buckeyes achieve another 10-win season.

Defensive end Vernon Gholston was the lone contrarian, and he cashed in on a five-year, $32.5 million deal after being selected with the sixth overall pick by the New York Jets. And while he has 32½ million arguments why he made the right decision, Gholston didn’t exactly have an easy go of it in his rookie season. Projected to make an immediate impact on the Jets defense, Gholston was relegated to mostly special teams play and made only 13 tackles in 15 games.

5. WELLS GETS HURT IN 2008 OPENER

The end of an old year is usually a time when we look back wistfully and wonder what might have been. OSU fans need go back only to Aug. 30 and the season opener against Youngstown State.

Midway through the third quarter, with the Buckeyes well in control over the Penguins, tailback Beanie Wells took a handoff and then fell to the ground as if he had been shot. The diagnosis was a torn toe ligament, an injury that sidelined the Heisman Trophy hopeful for the next three games.

That included the loss at USC, during which Ohio State totaled only 71 rushing yards. Based upon the final score, it is difficult to imagine that the presence of a healthy Wells would have made much of an impact in that game. Still, in his absence, the Buckeyes did several things early in that contest that were very much out of character. Most people forget that OSU held a 3-0 lead throughout most of the first quarter in that game, and trailed only 14-3 late in the first half. Maybe Wells wouldn’t have made a difference – but in the spirit of New Year’s Eve, maybe he would have.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Did you know that the Sugar, Orange and Sun bowls each celebrate their 75th anniversaries this week? Congratulations to them but they are mere pups in the overall bowl picture. When USC and Penn State square off on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, it will be the 95th Rose Bowl game. No wonder they call it “The Granddaddy of Them All.”

** The Fiesta Bowl, as part of its pregame festivities, will honor the most recent inductees to the College Football Hall of Fame. Representing Ohio State will be former head coach John Cooper, who was a member of the 2008 class of inductees. Meanwhile, Texas – which did not have a member of the ’08 class – will be represented by former linebacker Tommy Nobis, who was inducted in 1981. Nobis, who won the Outland and Maxwell trophies in 1965 for the Longhorns, went on to an all-pro career in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons.

** It’s a safe bet that Charlie Weis will be glad to say goodbye to 2008. After another tough season at the helm of the Notre Dame football program, Weis underwent surgery Monday to have his right knee replaced. That was not the knee Weis injured in mid-September when he was run over on the sideline during the Michigan game. The coach had planned to undergo surgery Feb. 24 on the left knee, which has tears in all four major ligaments – anterior cruciate, medial collateral, posterior cruciate and lateral meniscus.

** Someone recently starting beating the drum for Cal running back Jahvid Best to be the frontrunner for the 2009 Heisman Trophy. That, of course, was based upon Best’s 186-yard performance in the Emerald Bowl against Miami (Fla.). While I have no doubt that Best is a great back – he played against the Hurricanes with a dislocated left elbow and sprained right wrist – we would all do well to remember that the Miami defense struggled all season against the rush, finishing No. 76 nationally in that category. If Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy all return next year, Best will have to run for at least 2,000 yards just to get an invitation to New York.

** Where are they now? Pat Sullivan, who won the 1971 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at Auburn, just signed a five-year contract extension as head coach at Division I-AA Samford. The Bulldogs are 10-12 in two seasons under Sullivan, including a 6-5 record this year. That represents the best record since 2003 for Samford and a pretty nice personal comeback for Sullivan. In September 2003, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He underwent a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments and has now been cancer-free for 4½ years.

** There’s something to be said for old dogs. For example, Florida International head coach Howard Schnellenberger is now 6-0 lifetime in the college postseason after his team’s 24-21 win over Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl. The 74-year-old Schnellenberger, who played for the legendary Bear Bryant at Kentucky in the 1950s, came out of retirement in 2001 to build the FAU program from scratch and has a 41-42 record in eight seasons with the Owls.

** Speaking of old dogs, don’t be quick to count out Penn State against USC in the Rose Bowl. The Nittany Lions may be double-digit underdogs to the Trojans, but Joe Paterno has made a pretty nice living winning bowl games. His 23 postseason victories are an all-time NCAA record.

** As you ponder how many more victories Paterno can amass, here is a stat that can only be described as amazing. Since 1966, when JoePa was named head coach at Penn State, the rest of major college football has made 837 (and counting) coaching moves.

** One more Paterno-ism: The first All-American Joe Pa coached at Penn State was tight end Ted Kwalick, who later played nine years in the NFL with San Francisco and Oakland. Kwalick is now 61 years old.

** It seems like someone should have accomplished the feat before now, but when West Virginia beat North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, it made Pat White the first player in Division I-A history to lead his team to four consecutive bowl victories as a starting quarterback.

** Twenty-four years ago today, Virginia celebrated its first-ever postseason appearance with a come-from-behind victory in the Peach Bowl. On Dec. 31, 1984, the Cavaliers stormed back from a 24-14 halftime deficit and scored a 27-24 victory over Purdue. Virginia was led by quarterback Don “Magic Man” Majkowski and cornerback Ray Daly, who intercepted Purdue QB Jim Everett late in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 29, 1997, Cincinnati tallied its first postseason victory in 46 years, taking a 35-19 win over Utah State in the inaugural Humanitarian Bowl in Boise Idaho; on Jan. 1, 1925, Notre Dame scored a 27-10 win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl, capping a 10-0 season and giving head coach Knute Rockne his a fourth national championship; on Jan. 3, 2002, Miami (Fla.) claimed the national championship with a 37-14 win over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl, making Larry Coker the first coach since 1948 to win the national title in his first season as head coach; and on Jan. 4, 2005, USC put a 55-19 spanking on Oklahoma behind quarterback Matt Leinart’s Orange Bowl-record five touchdown passes. That game was the first ever to pit two Heisman Trophy winners against one another. Leinart was the 2004 winner while Oklahoma quarterback Jason White was the ’03 winner.

** This week also marks the 53rd anniversary of one of the wackiest finishes ever to a Rose Bowl. With Michigan State and UCLA tied 14-14 with time running out, legendary Spartans head coach Duffy Daugherty decided to pass up regular kicker Gerry Planutis and decided to let end Dick Kaiser attempt a 41-yard field goal. As Kaiser lined up for a practice kick, the ball was accidentally snapped. With the clock showing 0:07, Kaiser calmly split the uprights with his first career field goal and Michigan State walked off with a 17-14 victory.

** Ohio State fans will also be celebrating the sixth anniversary of their favorite team’s double-overtime upset victory over defending national champion Miami (Fla.). The Hurricanes had a 34-game winning streak and were installed as two-touchdown favorites, but they had no answer for a swarming OSU defense. Freshman tailback Maurice Clarett scored a 5-yard touchdown in the second overtime, and Miami could not answer as quarterback Ken Dorsey’s fourth-down pass attempt was batted down. The Buckeyes celebrated a 31-24 win, and the school’s first national championship since 1968.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Here is some advice for the new year: Do not – repeat do not – follow our bowl forecasts. It has gotten so bad this year that my wife, who doesn’t know diddly about college football and cares even less, is dogging me about my picks. As I turned the television off the other night on another meaningless bowl game, she asked, “Who won?” When I told her, she asked, “Did you pick them?” When I said no, she never looked up from her book as she replied, “Of course you didn’t.”

Had bad it is? Real bad. The bowl picks are a dismal 6-11 both straight-up and against the spread. Things have to get better … don’t they?

DEC. 31 GAMES

Armed Forces Bowl

Houston vs. Air Force: You couldn’t find two more divergent offensive attacks if you tried. The Cougars like to air things out while the Falcons use the triple option and stay primarily on the ground. These two faced one another earlier this season with Air Force hanging on for a 31-28 win after building a 31-7 lead late in the third quarter. In that game, the Falcons totaled every one of their 380 yards of offense on the ground while Houston QB Case Keenum threw for 326 yards and ran for 75 more. The old saying is that it’s tough to beat a good team twice in the same season, and Wake Forest already proved that this bowl season with a win over Navy in the EagleBank Bowl. Pass-happy teams are more prone to turnovers, and the Cougars are working on an eight-game postseason losing streak. Still, there’s an awful lot to like about them … Houston 34, Air Force 30. (12 noon EST, ESPN)

Sun Bowl

Oregon State vs. No. 18 Pittsburgh: With quarterbacks getting most of the attention this season, it will be a welcome respite to watch two of the nation’s top running backs square off against one another. Pitt has sophomore LeSean McCoy (1,403 yards, 21 TDs) while the Beavers have freshman Jacquizz Rodgers (1,253 yards, 11 TDs). Of course, Rodgers may not be 100 percent with an injury that has been described by some as a broken bone in his shoulder. If he can’t go, or is available for only a handful of snaps, it changes the complexion of the game. Oregon State will be without Rodgers’ main backup – his older brother James – as well as third-stringer Jeremy Francis, who will not make the bowl trip to tend to his ailing mother. The lack of a strong running attack cost the Beavers dearly in their season finale. With Jacquizz Rodgers sidelines and James knocked out early with a broken collarbone, OSU got outrushed 385-89 by instate rival Oregon, lost a 65-38 decision and missed out on its first Rose Bowl trip in 44 years. The injury situation and the mind-set of the Beavers would seem to tilt this contest in the Panthers’ favor … Pittsburgh 37, Oregon State 31. (2 p.m. EST, CBS)

Music City Bowl

Boston College vs. Vanderbilt: The Eagles specialize in close games – six of their 13 games were decided by seven points or less. Trouble is, they’re streaky. They had two separate four-game win streaks this season and still managed to lose four conference games, including a 30-12 decision to Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. Then there are the Commodores, who are simply happy to be away from home for the holidays. Not that it’s very far from home – it’s a simple bus ride across town to LP Field in Vandy’s hometown of Nashville. Still, it’s the team’s first bowl game in 26 years and virtual home contest. Unfortunately, the Commodores have had quarterback injury problems all season and that translated into scoring difficulties. Vanderbilt scored more than 14 points only once in its last eight games and ranked 113th nationally in pass offense. That doesn’t bode well against BC, which was sixth in the nation in total defense and seventh in pass efficiency defense … Boston College 21, Vanderbilt 10. (3:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Insight Bowl

Kansas vs. Minnesota: Neither of these teams sprinted to the finish this year. The Jayhawks dropped four of their final six games, surrendering 35 or more points in five of those contests. Meanwhile, the Gophers ended their regular season on a four-game losing streak punctuated by a 55-0 woodshed trip courtesy of Iowa in the finale. Aside from their late-season woes, these teams would appear to be evenly matched. They each have play-making quarterbacks, middle-of-the-road running games and average defenses. To be honest, this is a coin flip. The deciding factor may come down to the quarterbacks – senior Todd Reesing for Kansas (3,575 yards, 28 TDs) and sophomore Adam Weber for Minnesota (2,585 yards, 14 TDs) – and if that’s the case, always take experience over youth … Kansas 28, Minnesota 26. (6 p.m. EST, NFL Network)

Chick-fil-A Bowl

LSU vs. No. 14 Georgia Tech: The old Peach Bowl has a pretty good matchup of a team on the rise against one on the wane. The defending national champion Tigers were mere shadows of their former selves, losing five of their last eight games while allowing 38.4 points in those five losses. They will need to rectify their defensive problems in this one, especially since the Yellow Jackets are coming off a 45-42 win over archrival Georgia. That’s the same Georgia team that wore out the Tigers to the tune of a 52-38 decision in late October. Tech has dazzled its opponents with the triple option, and many of them have had no clue as to how to stop it. The Jackets were the No. 3 rushing team in the nation this season with an average of 282.3 yards per game. For all of their problems, the Tigers were stout against the run this season and that gives LSU fans hope for this game. Still, the Tigers’ weakness is at the quarterback position and Tech has nabbed 18 interception this year. Go for the upset … Georgia Tech 28, LSU 27. (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

NEW YEAR’S DAY GAMES

Outback Bowl

South Carolina vs. Iowa: About all you need to know about this game can be summed up thusly: Shonn Greene and the Iowa defense. Once Greene got untracked, the Hawkeyes suddenly got to the level of a pretty good football team. He probably should have gotten a whole lot more Heisman love than he did – which was nearly none – based upon a school-record 1,729 yards and the fact he was the only Division I-A back to rush for 100 or more yards in every game he played. Over on the other side of the ball, Iowa ranked among the top 12 teams in the nation in both total and scoring defense. The Hawkeyes’ four losses were by a total of 12 points and they are the only team to have knocked off Penn State this year. For the Gamecocks, it was an up-and-down season that included two straight November losses by a combined score of 87-20. Add to that the fact that the Old Ball Coach is changing quarterbacks again and I smell a rout … Iowa 38, South Carolina 13. (11 a.m. EST, ESPN)

Capital One Bowl

No. 16 Georgia vs. No. 19 Michigan State: The classic underachiever meets the classic overachiever. The Bulldogs were a consensus preseason No. 1, but then succumbed to several serious injuries and a brutal schedule to fall to 9-3. Up in East Lansing, no one gave the Spartans much of a chance to contend for a Big Ten championship, but they managed to finish only one game out of first place and earned their first New Year’s Day bowl berth in nine years. The contest features two excellent running backs – UGA’s Knowshon Moreno (1,338 yards, 16 TDs) and Javon Ringer (1,590 yards, 21 TDs). But Ringer is pretty much the entire Sparty offense. Shut him down and you shut down Michigan State. Georgia still has quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw for an SEC-leading 3,209 yards and 22 TDs, and receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Massaquoi, who combined for 112 receptions for 1,861 yards and 16 TDs. Still, the difference in this one could be how each defense plays against the run. The Bulldogs have surrendered an average of 129.2 yards rushing per game to 147.6 for the Spartans. A slim margin but one that could decide the outcome … Georgia 23, Michigan State 20. (1 p.m. EST, ABC)

Gator Bowl

Nebraska vs. Clemson: Perhaps no other team in college football had a more tumultuous season than Clemson. The Tigers were picked to win the ACC, and after two straight conference losses to Maryland and Wake Forest, longtime head coach Tommy Bowden was out. But new coach Dabo Swinnney righted the ship and Clemson won four of its last five games, including three wins over bowl-bound teams. Over in Lincoln, the Cornhuskers had a pretty good season under first-year head coach Bo Pelini. They won five of their last six, stumbling only against national title hopeful Oklahoma. Along the way, Pelini developed a pretty good offensive attack behind senior QB Joe Ganz (3,332 yards, 23 TDs). But the NU coach still has some work to do on his Blackshirts defense. It ranked only 84th nationally in scoring defense, but that might have been skewed a little because of playing in the Big 12. Clemson fared much better, ranking ninth in scoring defense. But the Tigers sometimes had trouble putting points on the board all year, making this another toss-up … Nebraska 24, Clemson 21. (1 p.m. EST, CBS)

Rose Bowl

No. 6 Penn State vs. No. 5 USC: No one gives the Nittany Lions much of a chance, and that’s probably because of Ohio State. While Penn State needed to convert a crucial turnover into a 13-6 win over the Buckeyes, the Trojans pummeled OSU by a 35-3 score in mid-September. I still think this is going to be closer than some people think. USC comes into the game riding a nine-game winning streak, but Pete Carroll’s team seemed to become a bit disinterested down the stretch. They can’t afford that kind of attitude against a Penn State team that topped the 40-point mark seven times this season while displaying the nation’s No. 3 scoring defense. Joe Paterno doesn’t get much attention these days as a big-game coach, but an NCAA-record 23 bowl wins speaks for itself. This is strictly a hunch, and the Nits will have to play a spotless game, but I’m going with the upset of upsets … Penn State 24, USC 23. (4:30 p.m. EST, ABC)

Orange Bowl

No. 12 Cincinnati vs. No. 21 Virginia Tech: These two teams have met once before in a bowl – the Bearcats took an 18-6 win over the Hokies in the 1947 Sun Bowl. Since then, Tech has enjoyed much more success on the football field. But that won’t mean much in Miami because Brian Kelly is turning UC into a formidable program. He is 20-5 in two seasons with the Bearcats, and he has done it by playing a stingy defense that covers up his team’s offensive deficiencies. Kelly and his team will be taking a step up in competition, however, when they take on Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech. Beamer delights in these kinds of matchups and has probably been spending most of the holiday season devising several different trick plays – most likely to be used on special teams. For some reason, though, Beamer’s teams have trouble playing in the national spotlight. The Hokies have suffered a host of upsets in recent years during prime-time games, and have lost eight of their last 12 bowls … Cincinnati 24, Virginia Tech 21. (8:30 p.m. EST, FOX)

JAN. 2 GAMES

Cotton Bowl

No. 20 Mississippi vs. No. 8 Texas Tech: They should rename this game the Rodney Dangerfield Bowl because neither team gets any respect at all. The Rebels won nine games – including a victory over Florida – after winning only 13 games in the previous four seasons combined. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders rode to a school-record-tying 11 victories on the arm of quarterback Graham Harrell (4,747 yards, 41 TDs) and a defense that held up well until giving up 65 to Oklahoma in the penultimate game of the regular season. This game will lend itself to the current argument among football fans as to which conference – the Big 12 or SEC – was better this year. Where you come down on that particular debate more than likely depends upon whether you like offense or defense. Tech wore out the scoreboard this season, averaging 44.6 points per game, while Ole Miss gave up an average of only 17.8. Normally, I’d pick the Raiders but I just have a feeling this is the kind of game in which Tech tends to struggle. Therefore … Ole Miss 31, Texas Tech 28. (2 p.m. EST, FOX)

Liberty Bowl

Kentucky vs. East Carolina: To say it has been an uneven season for the Pirates would be stating the obvious. ECU began the year with wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia, then lost three in a row and finally rebounded with victories in six of its last seven games. The Wildcats were a little more consistent albeit in a losing sort of way. They lost four of their last five games and are extremely lucky to have been invited to the postseason much less a January bowl. On paper, this would appear to be a mismatch. East Carolina gives up only 20.8 points per game and Kentucky ranks 87th nationally in scoring offense and 105th in total yardage. How’s that old saying go? You can’t win if you can’t score … East Carolina 23, Kentucky 17. (5 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Sugar Bowl

No. 7 Utah vs. No. 4 Alabama: Sugar Bowl officials swear this is not going to be another blowout akin to last year’s 41-10 win by Georgia over Hawaii. Maybe it won’t be that bad, but it is difficult to envision a Utah victory. I know it was way back in late August, but the Utes struggled in their season opener against Michigan. Of course all was forgotten when Utah finished the regular season undefeated. Still, it is difficult to see just how they can solve an Alabama team that spent several weeks at No. 1 and came within 15 minutes of playing for the national championship. The Tide is a blend of offensive and defensive power, scoring an average of 31.2 points per game while allowing only 13.0. Utah also that equation figured out – the Utes scored at a 37.4-point clip and surrendered only 17.3. But let’s be honest here. Can a Mountain West Conference schedule measure up to that of a team that plays in the SEC? The simple answer is no. The Utes would have to catch lightning in a bottle to beat the Tide, and lightning strikes are extremely rare inside the Superdome … Alabama 37, Utah 17. (8 p.m. EST, FOX)

JAN. 3 GAME

International Bowl

Buffalo vs. Connecticut: Buffalo has already proved it can bottle up one of the nation’s top passing threats; now it gets to test its mettle against the top running back. The Bulls got to their first-ever bowl by taking down Ball State in the MAC title game, forcing quarterback Nate Davis to commit a game-changing five turnovers. Now Buffalo has drawn the Huskies, who boast tailback Donald Brown and his nation-leading 1,822 yards, and the Bulls may need to create five more turnovers to stay in the game. While UConn averages 204.6 yards per game on the ground, Buffalo allows an average of 158.8. Also, when you consider that the Bulls’ eight wins came against teams that combined to go 42-54 this past season – and that counts 12-1 Ball State – you begin to wonder if Turner Gill did it with mirrors … Connecticut 27, Buffalo 21.(12 noon EST, ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Houston (-3½) vs. Air Force; Oregon State vs. Pittsburgh (+3); Boston College (-3½) vs. Vanderbilt; Kansas vs. Minnesota (+10); LSU (+4½) vs. Georgia Tech; South Carolina vs. Iowa (-3½); Georgia vs. Michigan State (+8½); Nebraska (+3) vs. Clemson; Penn State (+10) vs. USC; Cincinnati (-2) vs. Virginia Tech; Mississippi (+5) vs. Texas Tech; Kentucky vs. East Carolina (-3); Utah vs. Alabama (-9); Buffalo vs. Connecticut (-3).

Enjoy the games, stay safe tonight if you’re partying and have very Happy New Year.

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