Fickell’s Job Interview Begins In Earnest This Week

Despite the fact no one gives Indiana a chance to stay within three or four touchdowns of Ohio State tomorrow afternoon, the game will serve a valuable purpose other than just another victory for the Buckeyes. It will provide some insight into just what kind of head coach Luke Fickell has become.

It will also likely determine how much longer Fickell will be head coach of the Buckeyes.

The outcome of the game is a foregone conclusion for many, but with more difficult opponents on the horizon – and his team back in the thick of the Big Ten title game chase – Fickell is charged this week with keeping his team’s focus on the Hoosiers. That might not be the easiest of tasks since the Buckeyes are coming off such an emotional high following last week’s last-second victory over Wisconsin.

A natural byproduct of the win over the Badgers would be a letdown this weekend, and that would be especially unsurprising with the opponent ranked near or at the bottom of the Big Ten in most offensive and defensive statistical categories.

However, the argument can and should be made that Ohio State is a team unable to afford the luxury of letting down against any opponent. The Buckeyes are just now beginning to show some life offensively and that uptick needs to continue. Likewise, it would be nice to see the defense – still the team’s strength – put together a complete four-quarter game even if it is against a lesser opponent.

That is Fickell’s main assignment this week. After eight games that have already featured a season’s worth of ups and downs, it will be interesting to see how focused on thumping an inferior opponent the Buckeyes will be.

Extrapolating that theory even further, let’s say the team is focused and takes care of business to the point that the game is out of hand by halftime. How much of a statement does Fickell want to make? Is he predisposed to taking his foot off the gas like his predecessor did so many times or does he more favor the more merciless style of Bret Bielema, who seems to delight in running up the score on lesser opponents.

One other thing to look for if the game gets out of hand early: Will Fickell rest his starters in favor of getting some meaningful playing time for his youngsters, i.e. new backup quarterback Kenny Guiton? One of the criticisms of Jim Tressel was that he sometimes stayed with his starters too long in games that were well in hand, sacrificing a chance to get some much-needed experience for part-timers.

Taking stock of the way the Buckeyes perform against Indiana will provide a window into Fickell’s coaching acumen as well as his philosophy, something we haven’t always been able to gauge because of the mostly frenetic nature of the past five months. It will be beneficial, of course, to dig a little deeper into the way Fickell goes about his business especially since every week from now through the end of the 2011 season will be a series of de facto job interviews for the coach.

Rumors persist that Urban Meyer will be head coach at Ohio State in 2012 regardless of how the Buckeyes finish this season. Yet, how could the university make a change if Fickell’s team wins its final six regular-season games and earns a berth in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game? Then, let’s say OSU wins that game and goes to the Rose Bowl. That would mean a season with 10 victories and a record seventh straight conference title with Fickell the odds-on favorite to win Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. How does Ohio State proceed with a coaching change then?

Someone told me the other day that you make the change based solely on the fact that anytime you can get a coach with Meyer’s impressive body of work, the number of victories, titles and awards don’t matter. If you can get Meyer, you get him. End of story. Furthermore, you can head off any criticism of that decision by offering somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million annually to Fickell to stay on as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

The more I thought about that scenario – and the more I hear from people who should be in the know about these matters – the more I am inclined to think this is the path on which Ohio State is headed. Perhaps it will all work out for the best. Meyer can be the great savior everyone believes him to be and allow Fickell to remain in his hometown and work at his alma mater with the opportunity to continue to pad his résumé and perhaps become head coach again someday.

In the end, everyone wins.

If it’s such a great plan, though, why do I have such a sour taste about it?

OSU-INDIANA TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Indiana will be meeting for the 85th time on Saturday with the Buckeyes holding a lopsided 67-12-5 advantage in the series. That includes a 43-10-4 record in Ohio Stadium, including wins in each of the last nine games played in Columbus.

** The Buckeyes are currently enjoying a 16-game winning streak in the overall series. You have to go back to a 27-27 tie in 1990 to find the last time Ohio State failed to come away with a victory over Indiana. The Hoosiers’ most recent win in the series was a 41-7 decision in Bloomington in 1988.

** Since the Hoosiers took a 32-10 victory at Ohio Stadium in 1951, they have a 1-30-1 record in the Horseshoe. The lone victory was a 31-10 decision in 1987 and the tie was a 0-0 deadlock in 1959.

** Ohio State in its history has more victories over Indiana than any other team. The Buckeyes have 67 wins vs. the Hoosiers, 64 over Illinois, 59 over Northwestern, 54 over Wisconsin and 45 over Iowa.

** Since 2005, the Buckeyes are 17-1 during the month of November. During the same time frame, Indiana is 3-17 during November.

** Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell will be going against Indiana for the first time as a head coach but he is a perfect 11-0 lifetime vs. the Hoosiers as a player and assistant coach. Fickell was 4-0 as a player from 1993-96 and 7-0 during his nine seasons as an assistant on Jim Tressel’s staff.

** Despite its recent problems in the series, Indiana has historically made life difficult for Ohio State head coaches in their first season. Dating back to 1913, first-year OSU head coaches are only 4-4-1 against the Hoosiers. That includes losses by John W. Wilce (7-6 in 1913), Wes Fesler (7-0 in 1947), Woody Hayes (32-10 in 1951) and John Cooper (41-7 in 1988). Ohio State head coaches who beat Indiana in their inaugural seasons were Francis Schmidt (33-0 in 1934), Carroll Widdoes (21-7 in 1944), Earle Bruce (47-6 in 1979) and Jim Tressel (27-14 in 2001). Sam Willaman’s first team in 1929 played the Hoosiers to 0-0 tie, and in case you’re wondering about Paul Brown in 1941 and Paul Bixler in 1946, the Buckeyes and IU did not play in those seasons.

** Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson is in his first season with the Hoosiers and will be attempting to become only the second IU coach in the past 60 years to claim a victory over Ohio State. Bill Mallory, who coached the Hoosiers from 1984-96, claimed back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes in 1987 and ’88. Before that, you have to go back to Clyde Smith, whose Indiana team took a 32-10 win over Ohio State in 1951.

** Wilson was offensive coordinator on the late Randy Walker’s staff at Northwestern from 1999-2001 and was 0-1 vs. Ohio State during that time. The Buckeyes took a 38-20 win over the Wildcats in 2001.

** Indiana has 16 native Ohioans on its roster – 11 of which are on the Hoosiers’ two-deep (including special teams) – while Ohio State has only two players from Indiana. They are redshirt freshman tailback/linebacker Rod Smith of Fort Wayne and freshman defensive lineman Joel Hale of Greenwood.

** Wilson also has three native Ohioans on his coaching staff. Co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Kevin Johns is from Piqua, running backs coach Deland McCullough is from Youngstown, and assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Doug Mallory hails from Bowling Green. Mallory is the son of former Indiana head coach Bill Mallory, who was a member of Woody Hayes’ coaching staff at Ohio State from 1966-68.

** Two more familiar names are serving on Wilson’s staff as graduate assistants. Chris Shula, whose grandfather is Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, is the GA in charge of defense while former Northwestern running back Noah Herron has the offense. Ohio State fans most likely remember Herron for his performance against the Buckeyes in 2004. He rushed for 113 yards and scored three times – including the game-winning touchdown in overtime – as the Wildcats scored a stunning 33-27 win in Evanston. That remains Northwestern’s only victory in its last 29 games against OSU.

** While an Indiana upset of Ohio State would be stunning enough, the odds of the Hoosiers shutting out the Buckeyes would be astronomical. Indiana hasn’t pitched a shutout against any opponent since a 10-0 win over Michigan State in October 1993 and hasn’t blanked Ohio State since that 0-0 tie in 1959. IU hasn’t won a game in which it shut out the Buckeyes since a 10-0 decision in 1937.

** OSU senior tailback Boom Herron’s 160-yard rushing effort last weekend pushed his career total to 2,468, good for 13th on the school’s all-time rushing list. Herron needs 182 more yards to pass Jim Otis (2,542, 1967-69), Calvin Murray (2,576, 1977-80) and Raymont Harris (2,649, 1990-93) and break into the all-time top 10.

** Herron failed to record a rushing touchdown last week for the first time in 13 games, so he remained 20th on the OSU career scoring list with 186 points. Immediately ahead of him on the list are Ryan Pretorius (190, 2005-08), Michael Wiley (200, 1996-99) and Chic Harley (201, 1916-17, ’19).

** Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson is only the second true freshman in program history to start at QB. The other was Tim Clifford in 1977, who started only one game for the Hoosiers that season.

** Roberson threw for 169 yards and rushed for 121 during last Saturday’s 59-38 loss to Northwestern. That marked the first time an Indiana quarterback had cracked the century mark through the air and on the ground since Kellen Lewis threw for 159 and ran for 148 during his team’s 42-20 win over Ball State in 2008.

** Roberson and sophomore running back Stephen Houston (151) both topped 100 yards on the ground against Northwestern, and that was the first time two Hoosiers had cracked the century mark in the same game since BenJarvus Green-Ellis (136) and Brian Lewis (128) turned the trick during a 37-31 overtime loss to Northwestern in 2003.

** Houston, a JUCO transfer from Independence (Kan.) Community College, has strung together five straight games with 60 or more yards rushing. That is the longest streak of its kind by an Indiana running back since Levron Williams did it during the final eight games of the 2001 season.

** OSU sophomore kicker Drew Basil’s field goals of 39 and 22 yards against Wisconsin gave him a streak of 10 consecutive field goals, making him only the fourth kicker in program history with at least 10 straight three-pointers. Mike Nugent (2001-04) holds the school record with 24 in a row while Vlade Janakievski (1977-80) had streaks of 15 and 10 straight. Dan Stultz (1996-2000) also made 10 in a row.

** Indiana sophomore kicker Mitch Ewald is a perfect 59 for 59 in career PATs. The IU school record of 107 extra points in a row is held by Pete Stoyanovich (1986-88), who never missed a PAT during his college career.

** This week’s game will be telecast on a regional basis by the Big Ten Network with the announce crew of Tom Hart (play-by-play), former Minnesota tight end/long snapper Derek Rackley (color analysis) and Lisa Byington (sideline reports). Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 128 as well as XM channel 196.

** Next week, Ohio State travels to Purdue with kickoff time and broadcast affiliates still TBA. The Big Ten will not make an announcement regarding any its Nov. 12 games until after this weekend’s contests have been played.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** And then there were six. Only a half-dozen teams remain undefeated at the Division I-A level as we head into November. They are Alabama, Boise State, Houston, LSU, Oklahoma State and Stanford.

** Stanford had to go to three overtimes against USC before extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 17 games. The Cardinal’s 56-48 win over the Trojans also snapped a streak of 10 straight games Stanford had won by 26 points or more, the longest streak of its kind since 1936.

** New Mexico extended the nation’s longest losing streak to 11 games when the Lobos dropped a 42-0 decision at home to Air Force. How bad has it gotten in Albuquerque? New Mexico has been outscored by a 160-7 margin the last three weeks. Meanwhile, Florida Atlantic didn’t lose Oct. 29 because the Owls didn’t play. The Lobos and FAU remain the only winless teams this season at the I-A level.

** Another losing streak of note: Duke’s 14-10 loss to Virginia Tech marked the Blue Devils’ 44th consecutive loss to ranked teams. Duke hasn’t beaten a top-25 team since a 21-20 win over No. 22 North Carolina State in November 1993 and hasn’t claimed a victory over a top-10 team since 1989 when Steve Spurrier was head coach. That was a 21-17 home win over No. 7 Clemson on Sept. 30, 1989.

** Top-rated LSU and second-ranked Alabama marks the 46th time in history No. 1 has taken on No. 2 and the top-ranked team has a 26-17-2 record in the previous meetings. Most recently, top-ranked Auburn took a 22-19 win over second-ranked Oregon in January in the BCS National Championship Game. The last time a 1 vs. 2 matchup was staged in the regular season (not counting conference title games): No. 1 Ohio State scored a 42-39 triumph over No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 18, 2006, in Ohio Stadium.

** How close are No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama? How about this: The Crimson Tide has scored 315 points and 40 touchdowns while the Tigers have 314 points and 41 touchdowns.

** You can argue all day and night about the level of competition against which he plays, but you cannot take the NCAA record for most career touchdown passes away from Houston QB Case Keenum. He shattered the mark last week by throwing for nine scores during his team’s 73-34 win over Rice, and Keenum now has 139 career touchdown passes. This year alone, he has completed 218 of 303 attempts (72.0 percent) for 3,219 yards, 32 TDs and three INTs. Those numbers, plus the fact he is No. 2 in the country in pass efficiency and his Cougars remain undefeated are enough to make me seriously consider putting Keenum on my Heisman Trophy ballot.

** Of course, topping my Heisman ballot is still Stanford QB Andrew Luck, who rallied the Cardinal last weekend to a three-overtime win over USC. Luck has completed 174 of 242 attempts (71.9 percent) for 2,218 yards, 23 TDs and four interceptions, and has added 113 yards and a couple of touchdowns rushing. But perhaps the best measuring stick of Luck’s leadership is how Stanford has performed this year in the red zone. The Cardinal are 45 for 46 in red-zone scoring chances, 36 for touchdowns.

** For everyone salivating over the prospect of Urban Meyer becoming the next head coach at Ohio State, we offer this nugget: Florida is in the throes of its first four-game losing streak since 1988 and the once-feared Gators offense scored a grand total of three touchdowns in four October games. That includes last week’s 24-20 loss to Georgia during which Florida totaled minus-19 yards rushing. Yes, Meyer is gone, but he recruited most of the underachieving players on this year’s UF roster.

** One of former Ohio State head coach John Cooper’s favorite sayings was “One week you’re sipping the wine, the next week you’re stomping the grapes.” Players and coaches from Michigan State, Miami (Fla.), Purdue, Syracuse and Texas Tech know what Coop was talking about. Each of those teams upset ranked opponents on Oct. 22 and then each of those teams lost last Saturday by a combined score of 156-55.

** In its 41-7 loss to Iowa State, Texas Tech failed to record a touchdown pass for the first time in 70 games. The last time the Red Raiders hadn’t scored a touchdown through the air was a 12-3 loss to TCU in 2006.

** By the way, that win over Texas Tech was the largest margin of victory over a ranked team for Iowa State in school history. The Cyclones’ previous best was a 36-14 win over No. 20 Nebraska in 2002. The win over Texas Tech was also monumental in another way since Iowa State went into that game unranked. In their history as an unranked team playing a ranked opponent, the Cyclones are now 13-135.

** Congratulations to Missouri for its 38-31 overtime win over Texas A&M. It was an NCAA record 14th overtime game for the Tigers and they are 10-4 when working OT.

** Would you believe lowly Minnesota has a 2-3 record over its last five Big Ten games? Not only is that factoid true, both victories have come at the expense of Iowa. The Golden Gophers’ latest success in the Floyd of Rosedale series, a 22-21 upset of the Hawkeyes last Saturday, gave Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz (he of the $3.7 million annual salary) a career Big Ten record of an extremely pedestrian 55-45.

** Congratulations to Ferentz anyway for coaching in his 100th career conference game, a milestone only 13 men before him have achieved – Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago (201, 1896-1932); Woody Hayes of Ohio State (196, 1951-78); Bo Schembechler (170, 1969-89); Hayden Fry of Iowa (164, 1979-98); Robert Zuppke of Illinois (150, 1913-41); Joe Paterno of Penn State (149, 1993-present); Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin (128, 1990-2005); Murray Warmath of Minnesota (126, 1954-71); Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State (125, 1954-72); Ray Eliot of Illinois (116, 1942-59); Bill Mallory of Indiana (105, 1984-96); Lloyd Carr of Michigan (104, 1995-2007); and John Cooper of Ohio State (104, 1988-2000).

** How bad has it gotten for Kansas? The Jayhawks totaled only 46 yards of total offense last weekend while the defense surrendered 590 during a 43-0 loss at Texas. Among the 120 schools playing Division I-A football, Kansas ranks 118th in pass defense, 119th in rush defense and 120th in both total and scoring defense.

** Finally, a shout-out to senior receiver Michael Zweifel of Division III Dubuque (Iowa), who has established a new NCAA all-division record with 440 career receptions. The old mark of 436 was held by Scott Pingel (1996-99) of D-III Westminster (Mo.). Zweifel has 117 receptions for 1,665 yards and 22 TDs for the Spartans, who were 8-1 through Oct. 29. Zweifel also carries a 3.90 GPA while majoring in health, wellness and recreation, and has been named a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete and finalist for the 2011 William V. Campbell Trophy, which recognizes the top scholar-athlete in the nation.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Nov. 2, 1985, eighth-ranked Ohio State toppled No. 1 Iowa by a 22-13 score in Ohio Stadium. Future College Hall of Fame linebacker Chris Spielman totaled 19 tackles, capped by a late fourth-down stop of Hawkeyes tailback Ronnie Johnson inside the OSU 10-yard line. Spielman also had two interceptions as the Buckeyes pressured Iowa QB Chuck Long into throwing four picks.

** On Nov. 3, 1962, third-ranked USC Trojans handed No. 9 Washington its first loss of the season with a 14-0 shutout in Los Angeles. Quarterback Pete Beathard threw and ran for a score to carry the Trojans to victory. The win helped propel USC to the first of four national titles won under College Football Hall of Fame coach John McKay.

** On Nov. 3, 1984, Ohio State rolled to a 50-7 victory over Indiana, giving future College Football Hall of Fame coach Earle Bruce his 100th career win.

** On Nov. 4, 1967, Miami (Fla.) ended Virginia Tech’s regular-season winning streak at 14 with a 14-7 upset in Blacksburg.

** On Nov. 4, 2000, No. 23 Northwestern upset No. 12 Michigan in a 54-51 shootout in Evanston. Northwestern tailback Damien Anderson, who carried for 268 yards and two scores, dropped a fourth down pass in the end zone late in the game that seemingly sealed the Wildcats’ fate. But on the ensuing Michigan possession, cornerback Sean Wieber forced Wolverines tailback Anthony Thomas to fumble, which was recovered by cornerback Raheem Covington. The turnover set up an 11-yard touchdown pass from NU quarterback Zak Kustok to wide receiver Sam Simmons with 20 seconds to play to clinch the victory.

** Also on Nov. 4, 2000, Utah State running back Emmett White established a new NCAA single-game record with 578 all-purpose yards as the Aggies took a 44-37 win over New Mexico State. White rushed for 322 yards, totaled 134 receiving and added another 122 on kickoff and punt returns.

** On Nov. 5, 1938, sixth-ranked Tennessee began a streak of 17 consecutive regular-season shutouts with a 45-0 win over Chattanooga. During the streak, the Volunteers won three SEC championships and two national titles while outscoring their opposition, 479-0.

** On Nov. 5, 1955, three future College Hall of Famers – coaches Bowden Wyatt of Tennessee and Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech as well as UT tailback Johnny Majors – were all at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville as the Volunteers and Yellow Jackets played to a 7-7 tie.

** On Nov. 5, 1960, third-ranked Minnesota forced three turnovers and scored a 27-10 upset of top-ranked Iowa.

** On Nov. 6, 1869, Rutgers and Princeton squared off in Brunswick, N.J., for what has often been described as the first-ever game of American football. The 1869 game – won 6 “runs” to 4 by Rutgers – bore little resemblance to what football is known as today. For example, each side used 25 men on a 120-yard field and the rules were said to be a mixture of rugby and soccer. Players attempted to score by kicking the ball into the opposing team’s goal, and throwing or carrying the ball was not allowed.

** On Nov. 6, 1971, Colgate and Bucknell combined to run the ball 141 times, setting an NCAA record for the most single-game rushes in college football history. The Raiders rushed 82 times while Bucknell racked up 59 carries, and the teams combined for 440 total rushing yards. Colgate won the game by a 47-24 score.

** On Nov. 6, 1976, Houston highlighted its first season as a member of the Southwest Conference with a stunning 30-0 victory over Texas. The Cougars were led by defensive tackle Wilson Whitley as the Longhorns were limited to only eight first downs in their worst conference loss ever under legendary head coach Darrell Royal.

** On Nov. 7, 1925, Andy “Swede” Oberlander threw a then-NCAA-record six touchdown passes as Dartmouth rolled to a 62-13 win over Cornell. One week later, the Big Green took a 33-7 victory over Chicago to finish the season with a perfect 8-0 record and the national championship.

** On Nov. 7, 1959, unranked Tennessee stopped Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon on a fourth-quarter two-point conversion run and preserved a 14-13 upset over No. 1 LSU, ending the Tigers’ 19-game unbeaten streak.

** On Nov. 7, 1970, Northwestern fullback Mike Adamle set a new Big Ten record for carries by rushing 48 times for 192 yards and four touchdowns as his Wildcats took a 28-14 win over Minnesota.

** On Nov. 8, 1947, Wisconsin and Iowa became the first teams to combine for three punt returns for touchdowns in a single game during a 46-14 win by the Badgers in Madison.

** On Nov. 8, 1975, unranked Kansas ended No. 2 Oklahoma’s 28-game winning streak by going into Norman and carving out a 23-3 upset victory. The defending national champion Sooners committed seven second-half turnovers and were held to their lowest scoring output in nine seasons. They rebounded, however, and went on to defeat Penn State in the Orange Bowl for a second consecutive national title.

** Also on Nov. 8, 1975, freshman cornerback Savann Thompson’s interception with 59 seconds left set up the game-winning field goal as Stanford shocked No. 9 USC, 13-10, in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It had to happen sometime. The highly-flying Forecast was grounded last weekend thanks to some unbelievable upsets – Iowa lost (again) to Minnesota and Texas Tech celebrated its win over Oklahoma a little too much and forgot to show up against four-loss Iowa State, dropping a 41-7 decision in the process.

Straight up, those were the only losses in an 8-2 week that puts us at 83-9 SU for the year. Unfortunately, we finally stumbled against the spread after three glorious weeks. Even with Ohio State’s Upset Special win over Wisconsin, we were 4-6 ATS, leaving us still way ahead at 58-31-1 for the season but determined not to let one bad week turn into two.

Here are the games we like this week.

TONIGHT’S GAMES

USC at Colorado: Time of give the devil his due. Lane Kiffin has taken a USC program reeling from NCAA sanctions and turned it into a pretty decent team. The Trojans came within an eyelash of knocking off national title contender Stanford last week, and get to use any leftover pent-up frustration tonight on the lowly Buffaloes. Colorado ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense, something that ought to play into the Trojans’ strength, especially since QB Matt Barkley has thrown for 12 TDs in his last four games … USC 41, Colorado 14. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama: You can still argue about the overall depth of the SEC, but the discussion about the nation’s two best teams begins and ends with the Tigers and the Crimson Tide. The game should be a black-and-blue defensive struggle. Bama boasts the nation’s No. 1 defense in all four major categories – rush, pass efficiency, total yards and scoring – while LSU is among the top five in the same four categories. Scoring will be at a premium, meaning turnovers may play the huge role in determining the outcome. Neither team played last week, so they should both be more than ready to provide quite a show … Alabama 23, LSU 17. (8 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 14 Kansas State at No. 3 Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have won their first four home games by a combined score of 227-100, so you have to wonder how the Wildcats are going to slow them down especially after last week’s 58-17 loss to Oklahoma. The simple truth is that K-State will not be able to slow the Pokes down, but the Wildcats should be able to put a few more points on the board this week. While Okie State has one of the nation’s top offenses, its defense ranks 111th nationally in yards allowed. Even so, this one should be another clinic by Cowboys QB Brandon Weeden (2,710 yards, 22 TDs) and top WR Justin Blackmon (74 catches, 834 yards, 10 TDs) … Oklahoma State 56, Kansas State 27. (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

No. 4 Stanford at Oregon State: After last week’s triple-overtime scare at USC, you might tend to think the Cardinal will want to coast this week against the 2-6 Beavers. That shouldn’t be the case, especially since one of the few things Stanford QB Andrew Luck has never accomplished in his career is a victory in the state of Oregon. The Cardinal’s only blemish on last year’s record was a 52-31 loss to the Ducks in Eugene, and two years ago Luck was on the losing end of a 38-28 decision to Oregon State. He returns to Corvallis trying to further cement his front-runner status in the Heisman race and hoping to keep his team tuned up for next week’s home date against Oregon which will likely determine the champion of the Pac-12 North. It’s tough to envision any scenario in which the offensively-challenged Beavers could engineer the upset … Stanford 41, Oregon State 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

No. 5 Boise State at UNLV: The Broncos will be busy in Sin City, but you can bet they will have at least one eye on the Alabama-LSU scoreboard. The loser of that game will likely slip in next week’s BCS standings, meaning Boise can inch closer to crashing the national championship part by taking care of business against the Rebels. That shouldn’t be too difficult a task since UNLV doesn’t do anything particularly well – the team ranks 116th nationally in total offense, 118th in scoring defense. Also, a win by the Broncos would push QB Kellen Moore’s record as a starter to 46-2 and make him the winningest quarterback in NCAA history … Boise State 45, UNLV 13. (10:30 p.m. ET. CBS Sports Network)

Northwestern at No. 10 Nebraska: One thing we have learned about the Cornhuskers in their first season as Big Ten members – they are tough to beat at home. Ohio State had them by three touchdowns late in the third quarter and NU escaped with a 34-27 win. Then last week, Michigan State sailed into Lincoln as one of the hottest teams in the nation and sailed back out again on the wrong end of a 24-3 beatdown. Next up for Nebraska is Northwestern and its high-octane offense behind QB Dan Persa, who now seems fully healed from his Achilles heel injury. Persa leads a proficient offense; trouble is, the Wildcats can’t seem to stop anyone on defense. They average 31.6 points per game offensively and give up an average of 31.5 defensively. That kind of ratio isn’t going to get it done in Lincoln … Nebraska 37, Northwestern 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 13 Houston at UAB: Cougars QB Case Keenum already has the NCAA record for most touchdown passes in a career and he needs only 267 more passing yards to become college football’s all-time leader in that department. Keenum might get that in the first half against the Blazers, who rank an abysmal 116th nationally in pass efficiency defense. As if Keenum wasn’t enough, Houston also has KR Tyron Carrier, who has an NCAA-record tying seven career kickoff returns for a touchdown. This one should get ugly in a real big hurry … Houston 77, UAB 7. (7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

Minnesota at No. 17 Michigan State: The Gophers are feeling pretty good about themselves for a change after last week’s 22-21 upset of Iowa. Contrast that with how Sparty feels after being run over by Nebraska. Actually, we should have foreseen both outcomes. Goldy beat Iowa for the second year in a row while the Huskers beat the Spartans for the sixth time in as many meetings. Last week was last week, however, and the smart money says look for an MSU bounce-back at home … Michigan State 35, Minnesota 13. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Purdue at No. 20 Wisconsin: College football is a game of emotion, but how difficult is it going to be for the Badgers to pick up the pieces after having their hearts cut out two weeks in a row? Well, playing the Boilermakers in Camp Randall should be just the tonic they need. The Badgers have won the last five meetings in the series by an average of nearly three touchdowns, and Purdue has dropped 13 straight road games to ranked opposition. Expect to be close very early and then watch Wisconsin keep its foot firmly planted on the accelerator … Wisconsin 52, Purdue 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Indiana at Ohio State: After last week’s emotion-filled victory over Wisconsin, the Buckeyes might be forgiven a little if they have trouble focusing this week. After all, the Hoosiers are likely the worst team in the Big Ten with a defense that would challenged to stop most high school teams. IU does have some offensive talent, most notably freshman QB Tre Roberson and JUCO transfer Stephen Houston at running back. Still, it’s difficult to imagine how IU could pull off the unimaginable, especially considering OSU’s current 16-0 run in the series … Ohio State 48, Indiana 14. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: USC (-21) at Colorado; LSU at Alabama (-4½); Kansas State at Oklahoma State (-21); Stanford (-20½) at Oregon State; Boise State at UNLV (+42); Northwestern (+18) at Nebraska; Houston (-27) at UAB; Minnesota (+28) at Michigan State; Purdue at Wisconsin (-25½); Indiana at Ohio State (-27).

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

Déjà Vu? Season Has Distinctive ’08 Feel So Far

See if any of this sounds familiar.

Ohio State whips up on an undermanned foe in the season opener, yielding less than 100 total yards on defense and rolling to a shutout victory by more than 40 points. The following week, the Buckeyes inexplicably fall behind an instate opponent from the Mid-American Conference before making a comeback – which includes getting a touchdown on a 69-yard punt return.

Now, in the week three, OSU gets ready for a primetime road game in a place that hasn’t been very friendly to them in the past. The Buckeyes enter the game with their No. 1 tailback unavailable, causing some consternation in the offensive game-planning. And there is a fifth-year senior at quarterback with an ultra-talented freshman behind him, biding his time before he gets his chance at glory.

The aforementioned isn’t a rehash of what has happened so far this season for the Ohio State football team. It is an instant replay of the start of the 2008 season, featuring so many similarities it is quite simply mind-boggling.

In 2008, the Buckeyes began the season against Division I-AA Youngstown State and ground the Penguins into dust, allowing a mere 64 yards en route to a 43-0 victory.

Two weeks ago, Ohio State put on an uncannily similar performance against Akron, holding the Zips to only 90 total yards during a 42-0 win.

In 2008, the Buckeyes followed their powerful season-opening win with a lackluster victory over instate MAC rival Ohio. The Bobcats held a 14-6 lead in the second half before Ohio State came back to secure a 26-14 triumph helped in part by Ray Small’s 69-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Last week, OSU fell behind instate MAC rival Toledo before a comeback – fueled in part by a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown by Chris Fields – allowed the Buckeyes to pull out a 27-22 decision.

That brings us to week three of the season. In 2008, Ohio State traveled to USC for a nationally televised night game in the L.A. Coliseum, a place where the Buckeyes hadn’t done very well over the years. The team had won only two of seven games it had played there, and had lost their last three in a row by a combined score of 91-6.

OSU went to the West Coast without one of their top offensive weapons – No. 1 tailback Beanie Wells was sidelined with a foot injury. That put the pressure on the coaching staff to devise a game plan spotlighting fifth-year senior quarterback Todd Boeckman, who was beginning to hear footsteps from his backup, talented freshman Terrelle Pryor.

This year, Ohio State travels to Miami, Fla., and plays in a state where the team has played nine times before but won only twice. The Buckeyes head to the Sunshine State with No. 1 tailback Boom Herron sidelined for the third game of his five-game suspension, and the team will be led into battle by fifth-year senior quarterback Joe Bauserman. Behind Bauserman on the depth chart is talented freshman Braxton Miller.

We know what happened in 2008. Ohio State took an early 3-0 lead and then got crushed, 35-3, by a USC team that featured such future NFL stars as quarterback Mark Sanchez and linebackers Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing. Boeckman had a particularly ugly performance, throwing for only 84 yards and pitching two interceptions. One of those was a 48-yard pick six by USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, who unceremoniously steamrolled Boeckman on his way to the end zone.

By the time the team played Sun Belt weakling Troy the following week, Boeckman had been benched and Pryor was the new starting quarterback for a season that wound up with a 10-3 record and 24-21 loss to a Colt McCoy-led Texas team in the Fiesta Bowl.

The point of this walk back through time? Only because it appears history has already repeated itself this year and if Ohio State wants to avoid another nationally-televised failure, perhaps the coaching staff will look at the playbook utilized at USC three years ago and do the direct opposite.

Not that the 2011 Miami team is the equivalent of the 2008 USC squad. Far from it. The Hurricanes have had more than their share of problems this year including a particularly nasty episode with the NCAA that is only now in the early stages of investigation. Additionally, they are a mistake-prone team seemingly more interested in playing off their bygone national championship era than rising to the level of their own talent.

Be that as it may, Miami is playing at home and playing for pride. Because of the offseason problems that cost the Buckeyes their head coach and starting quarterback not to mention most of their national prestige, the Hurricanes believe they have a wounded opponent coming to town and Ohio State’s performance last week against Toledo did nothing to dispel that notion.

To help with their self-confidence, the Buckeyes can point to last year’s 36-24 victory in Columbus – a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate – but many of those who came up with big plays last year against the Hurricanes are gone. Pryor threw for 233 yards and ran for 113 more while kicker Devin Barclay tied a school record with five field goals. Also, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa had two interceptions and defensive end Cameron Heyward took a pick back 80 yards to set up one of the team’s touchdowns.

Yet as well as the Buckeyes played last year, they could have played much better. The offense got inside the Miami 25-yard line on 10 occasions and came away with only three touchdowns, while special teams allowed the Hurricanes to return a kickoff and a punt for scores – the only time that has happened to Ohio State in its history. Both return men – Lamar Smith and Travis Benjamin – will be on the field for Miami tomorrow night.

To be brutally honest, Ohio State cannot afford the mistakes it made last year against the Hurricanes if it expects to come home with a victory. Last week’s performance made that abundantly clear.

This is a team that is desperately trying to keep its head above water until Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and offensive tackle Mike Adams return in week six. This is a team that remains undecided at the quarterback position. This is a team that is shaky – at best – in the kicking game. And this is a team that continues to search for its own identity.

Most of all, this is a team at a crossroads with tomorrow night’s game serving as a signpost to indicate if the Buckeyes truly are ready for primetime.

OSU-MIAMI TIDBITS

** Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell is only the 12th Ohio State head coach in history to win his first two games. A victory over Miami tomorrow night would make him only the ninth OSU head coach to win his first three. The most recent to accomplish that feat was Earle Bruce, who won his first 11 in 1979.

** Bruce was also the most recent OSU head coach to win his first road game with the Buckeyes. That was a 21-17 victory at Minnesota in ’79. Since then, John Cooper lost his road debut, a 42-10 blowout loss at Pittsburgh, and Jim Tressel dropped a 13-6 decision at UCLA in 2001, a game postponed one week after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

** Counting Fickell’s victory over Akron in this year’s season opener, Ohio State head coaches are 21-1-1 in their debut games with the Buckeyes. The record is not nearly as good in their first road test – only 7-13-2.

** Ohio State enjoys a 3-1 edge in the all-time series with Miami. The Buckeyes took a 10-0 win in Ohio Stadium in 1977, a 31-24 double overtime victory in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl that served as the BCS National Championship Game, and a 36-24 win in the Horseshoe last season. The Hurricanes’ lone win in the series was a 23-12 decision in the 1999 Kickoff Classic played at old Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands.

** The Buckeyes are 15-7 all-time against teams that are current members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. In addition to being 3-1 against the Hurricanes, OSU is 3-0 vs. Boston College, 2-0 vs. North Carolina State, 1-0 vs. Virginia, 3-1 against Duke and North Carolina, 0-1 vs. Clemson and 0-3 against Florida State. OSU has never played Georgia Tech, Maryland, Wake Forest or Virginia Tech.

** The Hurricanes have a 31-22 record against teams currently in the Big Ten. In addition to being 1-3 against Ohio State, Miami is 4-0 vs. Iowa and Michigan State, 5-1 against Purdue, 5-5 vs. Nebraska, 2-2 against Northwestern and Wisconsin, 1-1 vs. Indiana and Michigan, and 6-7 against Penn State. The Hurricanes have never played Illinois or Minnesota.

** This game marks the first regular-season game Ohio State has played in the state of Florida. The Buckeyes have played nine previous times in the Sunshine State – all bowl games – and have posted a 2-7 record. All nine of those games have been bowl contests with the only wins a 27-10 victory over Colorado in the 1977 Orange Bowl and a 10-7 decision against BYU in the 1985 Citrus Bowl.

** When Miami return man Lamar Miller scored on an 88-yard kickoff return last year against the Buckeyes, he became the first Hurricane to return a kickoff for a touchdown since Devin Hester ran one back 100 yards at North Carolina State in 2004.

** When Miami junior Travis Benjamin took a punt back 79 yards late in the second quarter against Ohio State last year, it marked the first time the Buckeyes had surrendered a touchdown on a punt return since Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson ran one back 87 yards in 1997. Michigan won that game by a 20-14 final.

** It might surprise you to know the Ohio State offensive line has not surrendered a sack in three straight games and 90 consecutive pass attempts. That is the third longest such streak in Division I-A behind UAB (119) and Oklahoma (112).

** The Hurricanes will honor former All-America defensive tackle Russell Maryland (1986-90) at halftime during tomorrow night’s game. Maryland is being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this year following a career that included national championships in 1987 and ’89 and an Outland Trophy win in 1990.

** Sun Life Stadium is the seventh different name under which the 75,540-seat facility that is home to the Hurricanes has been known. The facility opened in 1987 as Joe Robbie Stadium and bore that name for the first decade of its existence. Since then, the stadium has also been known as Pro Player Park (1996), Pro Player Stadium (1996-2005), Dolphins Stadium (2005-06), Dolphin Stadium (2006-09) and Land Shark Stadium (2009-10).

** The game will be televised by ESPN with veteran play-by-play man Brad Nessler joined by former Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge with color analysis. Holly Rowe will file sideline reports. Kickoff is set for shortly after 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

** Next week, Ohio State returns home to take on Colorado. The game is set for a kickoff shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern and will be telecast by ABC/ESPN2 using the reverse mirror. (In case you have forgotten how the reverse mirror works, the game should be televised by your local ABC affiliate. If the game is not on that channel, look for it on ESPN2.)

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

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

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

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

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

** On Sept. 17, 1966, Joe Paterno made his debut as head coach at Penn State and led the Nittany Lions to a 15-7 victory over Maryland in Happy Valley. The Terrapins, coached by Lou Saban, made a last-ditch effort to ruin Paterno’s debut but backup quarterback Phil Petry threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter. That victory was JoePa’s first of a Division I-A record 402 and counting.

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** With the obvious exception of its fan base, there were likely very few tears shed when Notre Dame lost a last-second decision to Michigan on Saturday night. Fighting Irish fans continue to combine a unique blend of arrogance and suspended reality, believing their favorite team remains relevant in the national championship picture. (The Irish haven’t finished a season as a consensus top-10 team since 1993.) Still, you might have felt just a sliver of sympathy for UND after its latest collapse against Michigan. The Wolverines have beaten Notre Dame the last three years, scoring the winning points with 0:11, 0:27 and 0:02 showing on the clock.

** A crowd of 114,804 jammed into the Big House to watch Michigan’s come-from-behind (twice) victory over the Irish. That broke the Michigan Stadium record of 113,090, set during the 2010 season opener against Connecticut, and marked the largest crowd ever to watch a football game – college or pro.

** Four Big Ten quarterbacks passed the 100-yard mark passing and rushing last weekend. They were led by Denard Robinson of Michigan, who threw for 338 and added 108 more on the ground to account for 446 of the Wolverines’ 452 yards against Notre Dame. Also breaking the century mark through the air and on the ground were Taylor Martinez of Nebraska (219 passing, 166 rushing), MarQueis Gray of Minnesota (211-110) and Kain Colter of Northwestern (109-104).

** With his performance against the Irish, Robinson jumped from sixth to third on the Big Ten list for career rushing yards by a quarterback. Robinson now has 2,207 yards and leapfrogged over Rick Leach of Michigan (2,176, 1975-78), Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State (2,164, 2008-10) and Rickey Foggie of Minnesota (2,150, 1984-87). Robinson now trails only Antwaan Randle El of Indiana (3,895, 1998-2001) and Juice Williams of Illinois (2,557, 2006-09).

** Indiana has certainly had its problems in recent years with three straight losing seasons. But the Hoosiers, who are currently 0-2, haven’t lost two games to open a season since 2003 when they finished 2-10 under head coach Gerry DiNardo.

** Minnesota is also 0-2 to start the season for the first time since the 1992 team lost its first three under first-year head coach Jim Wacker.

** Illinois is 2-0 for the first time since 2005 – Ron Zook’s first season – a mini-winning streak that was followed by nine consecutive losses. Things might be different this time around, though. During last weekend’s 56-3 romp over South Dakota State, the Fighting Illini gave up only 96 yards of total offense. That marked the first time since 1998 that Illinois had held an opponent under 100 total yards.

** After his first six seasons at Virginia Tech, head coach Frank Beamer had a record of 24-40-2. Since then, Beamer is 176-55 (a .762 winning percentage) and secured his 200th victory with the Hokies on Saturday when his team rolled to a 66-13 rout of Division I-AA Appalachian State.

** Welcome back, Tennessee. The Volunteers were 18-20 over the past three seasons, but they are currently 2-0 following last weekend’s 45-23 romp over Cincinnati. Head coach Derek Dooley’s team is led by a bunch of talented sophomores, including quarterback Tyler Bray, who completed 34 of 41 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns against the Bearcats. UT gets a better gauge on its rebuilding project this week when the Vols travel to Gainesville to take on Florida, a team they haven’t beaten since 2004. In the six games since, Tennessee has been outscored by a 180-83 margin.

** Remember Eastern Michigan, the team Ohio State hung 73 on last season? Well, the Eagles are back in the air with a 2-0 start for the first time in 22 years. Of course, the two victories have come against a pair of Division I-AA opponents, but third-year head coach Ron English will take any win he can get. EMU, which plays at Michigan this week, hasn’t had a winning season since going 6-5 in 1995, and the Eagles haven’t been to a bowl game since the 1987 California Bowl where they took a 30-27 win over San Jose State.

** Any football aficionado can tell you it’s a pretty sure bet that any team losing the turnover battle by a 5-0 margin will likely lose. Of course, gamblers can tell you there’s no such thing as a sure bet. North Carolina turned the ball over five times Saturday to none for Rutgers, but the Tar Heels still managed a 24-22 win.

** Oberlin remains the last Ohio school to beat Ohio State, a 7-6 victory over the Buckeyes in 1921 – the year before Ohio Stadium was completed. The Yeomen don’t play Ohio State any more, but they still have an intercollegiate football program and celebrated a 42-0 victory last weekend over Kenyon. It marked the first shutout victory for Oberlin in 29 years.

** Congratulations to Alan Moore, who kicked an extra point Saturday for NAIA Faulkner (Ala.) during the Eagles’ 41-19 win over Ave Maria (Fla.). What makes Moore’s PAT so noteworthy? He is a 61-year-old Vietnam War veteran and grandfather of five who is now the oldest person ever to play in a college football game.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Last week, we were 8-2 straight up to move to 19-3 on the young season. We were almost as good picking against the spread, going 7-2-1 to get above the breakeven mark at 11-8-1 for the season. Now all we have to do is keep our heads above water.

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 4 Boise State at Toledo: Based upon the Rockets’ performance last week at Ohio State, you might be tempted to take them in an upset. You might but we’re not. The Broncos invade the Glass Bowl after a 35-21 season-opening win over Georgia and a week off. No offense to Joe Bauserman, but Toledo is going to face a much more polished quarterback this week in Kellen Moore, who would probably be the odds-on Heisman Trophy favorite if not for a guy named Andrew Luck. Look for Moore and his teammates to take care of business … Boise State 45, Toledo 14. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 5 Florida State: The Sooners rolled – and we mean rolled in every sense of the word – to a 47-17 win over the Seminoles in Norman last year and most observers think it will be pretty much the same tomorrow night in Tallahassee. Much has been made of the rebuilt FSU defense, which ranks third in the nation in total defense and fourth in scoring. But those stats have been accumulated against the likes of Louisiana-Monroe and Division I-AA Charleston Southern. There is no doubt Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles pointed in the right direction. Unfortunately, they are still a ways away from elite status and this game represents just a little bit more than Fisher’s team can chew right now … Oklahoma 31, Florida State 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

North Texas at No. 2 Alabama: For all of those opponents who thought the Crimson Tide offense would sputter this year after the departure of graduated QB Greg McElroy, here’s some bad news – they still have Trent Richardson at tailback. Richardson and new running mate Eddie Lacy have pummeled opponents so far this year, combining for nearly 300 yards in only two games. Next up is the Mean Green, who enter Bryant-Denny Stadium with a defense that has given up an average of 545.5 yards in two games so far this year. We smell a rout … Alabama 49, North Texas 7. (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 6 Stanford at Arizona: The Wildcats escape the frying pan only to jump into the fire. They took their lumps during a 37-14 loss at Oklahoma State last weekend and now draw the high-flying Cardinal in their Pac-12 opener. QB Andrew Luck gets all the pub, but Stanford has a pretty good running game, too. Evidence is last week’s 44-14 rout of Duke when the Cardinal piled up 205 yards on the ground to only 30 for the Blue Devils. When you realize Zona had only 41 yards last week against Okie State, you get a feel for where this one’s headed … Stanford 34, Arizona 10. (10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 7 Wisconsin vs. Northern Illinois: Things might be a little tighter for Bucky this week than you might imagine. First, they are on the road for the first time (the game is at Soldier Field in Chicago) and the Badgers aren’t exactly road warriors – seven of their last eight losses have come away from Camp Randall. Secondly, the Huskies are coached by former UW defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, who might know a thing or two about stopping the Wisconsin ground game. Unfortunately, Doeren will also have to stop QB Russell Wilson, who has been superlative in his first two games, completing nearly 80 percent of his passes for 444 yards and five TDs … Wisconsin 37, Northern Illinois 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

Idaho at No. 9 Texas A&M: It seems rather amusing to hear the pundits opine that A&M wanting to bolt the Big 12 for the SEC serves as a distraction for this game. Maybe if the Aggies were playing someone a little stronger than the Vandals, who gave up 478 yards in their season-opening loss to Bowling Green. They are liable to give up even more this week since A&M trots out an offensive attack led by efficient QB Ryan Tannehill and RB Cyrus Gray, who has run for 100 yards or more in eight straight games … Texas A&M 47, Idaho 10. (7 p.m. ET, FSN)

Missouri State at No. 12 Oregon: We pretty much know the Ducks’ routine by now – run up the score on lesser opponents and then struggle with the big boys. No one would confuse the Bears with the big boys, especially after being preseason favorites to finish last in the Missouri Valley Conference. They are basically going to Eugene to pick up their checks and try to keep Oregon from scoring in triple figures … Oregon 62, Missouri State 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, CSN)

No. 15 Michigan State at Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are beginning to get a complex about playing teams from Michigan. The Wolverines have literally cut out their hearts on last-second plays the last three years, and Sparty has beat UND four of the last six times they have met. Last year featured another fantastic finish with Michigan State scoring a touchdown off a fake field goal for a 34-31 overtime victory. This year, it could be just as close provided the fact Notre Dame’s offense doesn’t keep shooting itself in the foot with turnover after turnover. The Irish rank No. 13 nationally in total offense but dead last among 120 Division I-A teams in turnover margin. That stat alone tilts the pick … Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 27. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

No. 8 Oklahoma State at Tulsa: If they entertain the slightest notion of an upset, the Golden Hurricane will have to figure out a way to slow down Okie State WR Justin Blackmon. The junior already has 20 catches for 272 yards and two TDs this year and is working on an NCAA record streak of 14 straight games with at least 100 yards receiving. Blackmon caught three TDs last year against Tulsa during a 62-38 romp in Stillwater, and if you think the Hurricane have gotten any better at pass defense, know this: they gave up 417 to Oklahoma in their season opener … Oklahoma State 48, Tulsa 21.  (10 p.m. ET, FSN)

No. 17 Ohio State at Miami (Fla.): To say we’re conflicted about this game would be an understatement. Does Ohio State have the ability to win this game? Absolutely. Will the Buckeyes win? In light of what happened last week against Toledo, that’s a good question. We keep going back to last year’s game and all of the production OSU has lost since then. We’re also bothered by a lack of execution on special teams this year, something that kept the Hurricanes in last year’s game. It all makes for a most uneasy feeling … Miami 26, Ohio State 21. (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-20) at Toledo; Oklahoma (-3) at Florida State; North Texas (+46) at Alabama; Stanford (-9½) at Arizona; Wisconsin (-16½) at Northern Illinois; Idaho at Texas A&M (-35½); Missouri State at Oregon (-47½); Michigan State (+5½) at Notre Dame; Oklahoma State (-13) at Tulsa; Ohio State at Miami-FL (-3).

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

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.

History Favors Buckeyes For Stretch Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-IOWA TIDBITS

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

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

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 4-1 against Iowa while Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is 1-6 all-time against the Buckeyes. Ferentz got his only victory over OSU in 2004 when the Hawkeyes knocked starting quarterback Justin Zwick out of the game and rolled to a 33-7 win in Iowa City.

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

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

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

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

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

** Iowa junior safety Tyler Sash is one of the top defensive backs in Big Ten history in terms of interceptions. With two picks this season, Sash has 13 career interceptions and 392 return yards. He needs five more picks to break into the Big Ten all-time top 10 and only eight more return yards to become only the fourth player in league history with 400 or more. The longtime conference career leader in interceptions is Al Brosky of Illinois (1950-52) with 30, while the all-time interception return yardage leader is Jamar Fletcher of Wisconsin (1998-2000) with 459.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** On Nov. 21, 1981, BYU tight end Gordon Hudson set an NCAA record for tight ends with 259 receiving yards during a 56-28 win over Utah.

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

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

** On Nov. 22, 1969, Michigan defensive back Barry Pierson returned a punt for a touchdown and intercepted three passes as the No. 12 Wolverines shocked defending national champion Ohio State with a 24-12 upset in Ann Arbor. It was the opening game in what became known as the legendary “Ten-Year War” between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

Here are the games we’re watching this week.

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tressel Had It Right (Again) At Illinois

When Jim Tressel retreated into his ultraconservative shell in the second half of last weekend’s 24-13 victory at Illinois, old complaints that always seem just on the fringes of the Buckeye Nation began anew.

It’s pretty much a given that fans always want more offense. (In the spirit of full disclosure, most sportswriters do, too.) But exactly what did you expect from Tressel when his franchise quarterback went down in a heap early in the third quarter?

The gripe always seems to be that Tressel is way too conservative on offense, and compared to the go-for-the-jugular mentalities of most college coaches today, the OSU boss is too nice for his own good. It wasn’t very surprising, then, that the old grumblings about Tressel surfaced when Terrelle Pryor suffered what initially appeared to be a serious leg injury against Illinois.

Most critics figured it was the same old, close-to-the-sweater-vest Tressel using Pryor’s injury as an excuse to button up his offense in a tight game. Even when Pryor returned after only a handful of plays, the quarterback seemed to be OK despite a visible heavy wrap on his left thigh. Still, the coach wouldn’t let him do much of anything other than hand the ball to tailback Boom Herron.

My rebuttal? Tressel did exactly what he should have done in that situation. In fact, he turned in one of his better coaching jobs.

Anyone can look like a genius when his team is scoring 73 points and throttling weaker opponents without working up a sweat. Coaches earn their salaries – and I mean really earn them – by figuring ways to get their teams across the finish line in the toughest of situations.

Ohio State was on the road in its Big Ten opener playing against an Illinois team that had two weeks to prepare what looked like a pretty innovative game plan. Pryor, who had set up both of the Buckeyes’ first-half touchdowns with long runs and had already accounted for 150 of his team’s 167 yards of total offense, lay grimacing on the Memorial Stadium turf.

That’s when you expected Tressel to get fancy?

The OSU head coach did exactly what he should have done in that situation. He quickly scrapped the prepared game strategy for one that provided maximum protection for his team’s slight scoreboard advantage. Losing your Heisman Trophy candidate was like a bolt of lightning, so Tressel simply reverted to his worst-case-scenario philosophy – play ball-control on offense and rely on your defense to stop the opposition.

The bottom line for any head coach is winning, and any head coach will tell you they couldn’t care less how that winning is achieved as long as it is achieved. The Buckeyes were in a battle away from home, already without their starting tight end and now without their star player.

In that situation, you win the surest way by reducing your potential for making mistakes. You stay out of the air as much as you can – especially when the wind was howling like it always seems to do in Champaign – and you certainly don’t rely on untested players to handle the football.

You also err on the side of caution with your franchise quarterback no matter how close to 100 percent he tells you he feels.

Over the years, I have been as critical as anyone when it comes to Tressel and his conservative nature. All things being equal, I have often wondered why he sometimes likes to keep his fireworks wrapped in a plain brown wrapper.

But all things were not equal at Illinois. Not even close. In that situation, any coach worth his salt would do exactly what Tressel did – milk the clock as long as possible and then go play defense.

Throwing the football all over the lot and racking up style points certainly have their place, but winning trumps both every time. And no matter how they are achieved, no matter what else happens around the country, a win every Saturday remains the goal for every college football team.

Reach that goal at Ohio State and it doesn’t matter what happens with Boise State, Oregon, TCU, Oklahoma or Nebraska. You’re playing for the national championship.

OSU-INDIANA TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Indiana will be meeting for the 84th time on Saturday with the Buckeyes holding a lopsided 66-12-5 advantage in the series. That includes a 42-10-4 record in Ohio Stadium, including wins in each of the last eight games played in Columbus.

** The Buckeyes are currently enjoying a 15-game winning streak in the overall series. You have to go back to a 27-27 tie in 1990 to find the last time Ohio State failed to come away with a victory over Indiana. The Hoosiers’ most recent win in the series was a 41-7 decision in Bloomington in 1988.

** Since the Hoosiers took a 32-10 victory at Ohio Stadium in 1951, they have a 1-29-1 record in the Horseshoe. The lone victory was a 31-10 decision in 1987 and the tie was a 0-0 deadlock in 1959.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 6-0 against the Hoosiers. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes in those games has been 28.5 points.

** Indiana head coach Bill Lynch is in his fourth season with the Hoosiers and is playing the Buckeyes for the second time. He will be attempting to become only the second IU coach in the past 58 years to claim a victory over Ohio State. Bill Mallory, who coached the Hoosiers from 1984-96, claimed back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes in 1987 and ’88.

** Tressel has an 8-1 record in Big Ten home openers, including wins in each of the past five seasons. The only blemish on that mark is a 24-13 loss to Wisconsin in 2004.

** All-time, Ohio State is 68-23-4 in conference home openers. That includes a 14-1-1 mark against the Hoosiers.

** Tressel will be seeking his 100th career victory tomorrow at Ohio State. If he reaches that milestone, he do so in his 121st game with the Buckeyes. Only Michigan head coaches Fielding Yost and Bo Schembechler have reached 100 career wins quicker at a Big Ten school. Yost and Schembechler accomplished 100 wins in 119 games with the Wolverines.

** Tressel is making a rapid rise up the ladder in terms of all-time Big Ten victories. Last week’s win over Illinois was the coach’s 60th conference victory, making him only the 13th man in history with 60 or more Big Ten wins. Seven more league victories would move Tressel into the all-time top 10 and past George Perles of Michigan State (66, 1983-94), Murray Warmath of Minnesota (66, 1954-71) and Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin (65, 1990-2005). Legendary Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes (1951-78) is the career leader in conference victories with 152.

** Lynch is in his fourth season with the Hoosiers and his 18th year as a head coach. He has a 98-91-3 career record with stops at Butler (his alma mater), Ball State and DePauw as well as Indiana.

** Ohio State ranks first or second in the Big Ten in scoring offense, total offense, fourth-down conversions, total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, pass defense, turnover margin, PAT kicking and time of possession. Meanwhile, Indiana ranks first or second in the league in pass offense, kickoff returns, third-down conversions and PAT kicking.

** The Buckeyes have been remarkably consistent on offense this season regardless of the down. They are averaging 6.l yards on first down, 6.9 on second down and 6.8 on third down. OSU is averaging only 2.8 yards on fourth down, but the Buckeyes are a perfect 5 for 5 in fourth-down conversions.

** Indiana has 17 native Ohioans on its roster – three of which are projected to start against the Buckeyes – while Ohio State has only two players from Indiana. They are senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore, who hails from Merrillville, and freshman tailback Rod Smith of Fort Wayne.

** IU quarterback Ben Chappell set single-game school records last week for completions (45), attempts (65) and yardage (480). Chappell is among the top six at Indiana all-time in completions, passing yardage, attempts, touchdown passes and total offense as well as being the most accurate passer in program history with a career completion percentage of 62.4. That is far ahead of second place occupied by Babe Laufenberg (1981-82) at 58.6.

** One Indiana passing record Chappell did not eclipse last week was the school’s longstanding mark for touchdown passes in a single game. Freshman quarterback Bob Hoernschemeyer threw six TDs during a 54-13 victory over Nebraska in 1943.

** While an Indiana upset of Ohio State would be surprising enough, the odds of the Hoosiers shutting out the Buckeyes would be astronomical. Indiana hasn’t pitched a shutout since a 10-0 win over Michigan State in October 1993 while Ohio State hasn’t been shut out since a 28-0 loss at Michigan in November 1993. The Buckeyes haven’t experienced a shutout loss at home since a 6-0 defeat to Wisconsin in October 1982.

** With 180 yards of total offense last week against Illinois, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor increased his career total to 6,203 and moved up two more notches into fifth place on the school’s career list in that category. He passed Greg Frey (6,098, 1987-90) and Joe Germaine (6,094, 1996-98). Next up is Steve Bellisari (6,496, 1998-2001).

** Pryor also now has 4,420 career passing yards and needs only 74 more to move past Craig Krenzel (4,493, 2000-03) into ninth place on the school’s all-time list.

** This week’s game will be telecast by ESPN with Dave Pasch handling the play by play, Bob Griese and Chris Spielman providing color analysis, and Quint Kessenich reporting from the sidelines. The game will also be telecast by ESPN3-D with Dave Lamont, Tim Brown and Ray Bentley on the call. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 90 and 127 as well as XM channels 102 and 197.

** Next week, Ohio State visits Camp Randall Stadium to play Wisconsin. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Eastern and the game will be televised by either ESPN or ESPN2.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Oct. 5, 1940, Michigan star Tom Harmon led his team to a 21-14 victory over Michigan State in Ann Arbor. The win was the Wolverines’ third in a row over the Spartans and was part of a streak that stretched to 10 games before the Spartans won in 1950.

** 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. 6, 1956, Penn snapped a 19-game home losing streak with a 14-7 win over Dartmouth. It was the Quakers’ first official Ivy League game, while Dartmouth’s lone touchdown came from quarterback Mike Brown, the same Mike Brown who is now owner of the Cincinnati Bengals.

** On Oct. 7, 1995, Texas Tech scored a 14-7 upset over eighth-ranked Texas A&M in Lubbock. The Aggies entered the contest with a 29-game Southwest Conference unbeaten streak, but Tech linebacker Zach Thomas returned an interception 23 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

** On Oct. 7, 1996, College Football Hall of Fame coach Wallace Wade died in Durham, N.C., at the age of 94. Wade was head coach at Alabama in 1925 when the Crimson Tide became the first Southern school invited to the Rose Bowl. A guard for Brown during his playing days, Wade became the first man ever to play and coach in a Rose Bowl. His Brown team lost to Washington State, 14-0, in the 1916 game, but his Alabama squad took a 20-19 thriller over Washington a decade later. Wade later coached at Duke – the football stadium there bears his name – and led the Blue Devils to their only Rose Bowl appearance, a 20-16 loss to Oregon State in the 1942 game.

** 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, 1966, Wyoming kicker Jerry DePoyster made NCAA history during his team’s 40-7 victory over Utah. DePoyster connected on field goals of 54, 54 and 52 yards and became the first kicker in NCAA history with three field goal of 50 yards or more in a single game. The Cowboys went on to a 10-1 season in ’66 that included a WAC championship and Sun Bowl victory over Florida State.

** 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.

** On Oct. 9, 1943, Indiana 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.

** On Oct. 9, 1999, Michigan and Michigan State entered their instate rivalry with undefeated records for the first time in nearly 20 years and those in attendance at East Lansing got their money’s worth. The Spartans stormed out to an early lead before U-M head coach Lloyd Carr replaced starting quarterback Drew Henson with backup Tom Brady. Brady went on to complete 30 of 41 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, but his rally fell just short as the Spartans held on for a 34-31 victory.

** On Oct. 9, 2004, California QB Aaron Rodgers established a new NCAA record for consecutive completions. Rodgers completed his first three attempts against USC to run his streak to a record 26 completions in a row. Unfortunately, that was all Cal had to celebrate that day. The seventh-ranked Bears dropped a 23-17 decision to the No. 1 Trojans.

** 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.

** On Oct. 10, 1987, Oklahoma State took a 42-17 victory over Colorado to open its season with five straight wins for the first time since 1945. Leading the way for the Cowboys was a pair of fairly decent running backs – Thurman Thomas rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown while Barry Sanders added a score on a 73-yard punt return.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Seven more unbeaten teams have fallen by the wayside since last week’s blog, leaving 17 with perfect records at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level. Alphabetically, they are Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Boise State, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Northwestern, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, TCU and Utah.

** If you’re keeping score by conference as far as the undefeated teams are concerned, the Big 12 and Big Ten lead the way with four each. The SEC has three and the Pac-10, WAC and Mountain West each have two undefeated teams remaining.

** On the other side of the ledger, six Division I-A teams remain winless: Akron, Eastern Michigan, Florida International, New Mexico, New Mexico State and Western Kentucky. That list will be pared by at least two tomorrow when New Mexico and New Mexico State square off in Las Cruces while Western Kentucky travels to Florida International for a Sun Belt conference battle. Akron and Eastern Michigan are Mid-American Conference rivals but they do not meet this season.

** Alabama owns the longest current winning streak in I-A with 19 wins in a row. Western Kentucky has the longest current losing streak at 24.

** Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has run (and thrown) himself into the Heisman Trophy race. When he ran for 217 yards and threw for a career-best 277 last Saturday against Indiana, Robinson became the first player in I-A history to pass and rush for 200 yards in a game twice during the regular season. Robinson leads the nation in rushing (905 yards, eight TDs), is fourth in pass efficiency (1,008 yards, seven TDs, one INT) and ranks No. 2 nationally in total offense with an average of 382.6 yards per game.

** Robinson’s 905 rushing yards is already the third-highest single-season total for a Big Ten quarterback. Antwaan Randle El of Indiana holds down both of the top spots with 1,270 yards in 2000 and 964 in 2001.

** Texas has the week off after last week’s 28-20 loss to Oklahoma. The Longhorns will head to seventh-ranked Nebraska on Oct. 16 trying to avoid their first three-game regular-season losing streak in the Mack Brown era. No Texas team has lost three games in a row during the regular season since 1997 when the Longhorns dropped four in a row under head coach John Mackovic and finished 4-7. Mackovic was let go after that season and Brown was hired away from North Carolina.

** Here’s a totally off-the-wall stat: Oklahoma and Alabama have each played two ranked opponents and have won both games. The 17 other schools that have played two ranked opponents so far this season are a combined 0-39.

** ESPN may be second-guessing its exclusive contract to telecast BYU games when the Cougars leave the Mountain West and go independent next season. The Cougars are now 1-4, their worst start to a season since 1973, and defensive coordinator Jaime Hill got pink-slipped after last Saturday’s 31-16 loss to Utah State. The Aggies had lost 10 in a row in the series with BYU, and beat the Cougars for the first time since a 58-56 thriller in 1993.

** Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray is chasing a pair of longstanding school records. Murray has 55 career touchdowns and needs three more to pass the career mark held for more than 40 years by Steve Owens (1967-69). Murray is also bearing down on the school mark for all-purpose yards currently owned by Joe Washington (1972-75). Murray heads into this weekend with 5,478 all-purpose yards; Washington holds the OU career mark with 5,881.

** Congratulations to William & Mary, who ended defending Football Championship Subdivision national champion Villanova’s 12-game win streak against I-AA opponents last weekend. W&M scored a 31-24 victory that was especially sweet since the Tribe lost a 14-13 decision to Villanova in last year’s national semifinals.

** By the way, there are only four unbeaten teams left at the I-AA level. They are Appalachian State, Bethune-Cookman, Delaware and Jacksonville State, and one of the those teams already owns a victory over a Division I-A team this year. Jacksonville State defeated Mississippi, 49-48 in double overtime, earlier this season and Appalachian State gets its crack at the big boys Nov. 20 when the Mountaineers travel to No. 12 Florida.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The picks slipped ever so slightly last week, misfiring on Wisconsin-Michigan State as well as the Upset Special when Stanford couldn’t hold an early 21-3 lead over Oregon before getting blown out by a 52-31 score. Still, we were 9-2 straight up for the week and that makes us 48-5 for the season.

Against the spread, we suffered the first real hiccup of the season as a 4-7 week dropped the ATS mark to 30-20-3 for the season. We’re still well above water but need to do much better this week to stay that way.

Here are the lucky 13 games we’ll be watching this week.

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 22 Oklahoma State at Louisiana-Lafayette: Among the four undefeated teams in the Big 12, no one seems to be talking about Oklahoma State. The Cowboys overcame a 21-7 halftime deficit last week to take a 38-35 thriller over Texas A&M, and now they hit the road for some primetime nonconference action. OSU features a potent passing attack with quarterback Brandon Weeden (1,259 yards, 13 TDs) and receiver Justin Blackmon (34 receptions, 558 yards, nine TDs) although the Cowboys are prone to mistakes. That shouldn’t really matter tonight although the Ragin’ Cajuns have won their last two against Big 12 opponents … Oklahoma State 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 14. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Minnesota at No. 20 Wisconsin: How to beat the Badgers isn’t any big secret. Hold down their running game and they struggle. That’s exactly what happened last week when Michigan State held Wisconsin running back John Clay under 100 yards and out of the end zone during a 34-24 win for the Spartans. It’s difficult to see how the Gophers can duplicate that game plan, though. They enter tomorrow’s contest ranked 10th in the Big Ten and 96th nationally against the run. Look for Clay and the Badgers to bounce back and make Tim Brewster’s seat that much hotter in Minneapolis … Wisconsin 37, Minnesota 21. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Wyoming at No. 5 TCU: Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman did no favors for his football team when making out the 2010 schedule. The Cowboys have already absorbed a 51-6 whipping courtesy of Boise State and now they embark upon a two-week stretch that includes TCU and Utah. The Horned Frogs haven’t had any trouble racing out to a 5-0 start, outscoring their opposition by a 205-62 margin, and it could be more of the same against Wyoming. The Cowboys rank 119th out of 120 Division I-A schools in total offense and they’re 110th in total defense. Add to those ugly numbers the fact that Wyoming has lost 12 in a row to ranked teams and you get the recipe for a blowout … TCU 55, Wyoming 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

No. 11 Arkansas vs. Texas A&M: The Razorbacks and Aggies renewed their rivalry last year when Arkansas rolled to a 47-19 victory in then-new Cowboys Stadium. That probably warmed the heart of former Razorbacks player Jerry Jones, and the Dallas Cowboys owner will be on hand again tomorrow afternoon when the teams return to his $1 billion playhouse. Not much has changed from last year other than the fact the Razorbacks are actually a little better than they were in ’09. They couldn’t quite hang on against Alabama a couple of weeks ago, partly because star quarterback Ryan Mallett pitched three interceptions. But since then Mallett has been on the money and he threw for 271 yards and four TDs last year against A&M. The Aggies can chuck the ball around pretty well, too, but not well enough … Arkansas 31, Texas A&M 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 South Carolina: Can anyone derail the Tide’s march to another national championship game? The Gamecocks are next in line to try, coming off an open week following their 35-27 loss to Auburn on Sept. 25. You have to know that Steve Spurrier will have a few tricks up his sleeve and he’d better, especially on defense. SC gave up 334 yards to Auburn and that’s a big sign heading into a game that will feature Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson on the other side. The duo has already combined for 774 yards and 10 touchdowns not to mention a collective average of 7.6 yards per carry. That is potentially lethal against the Gamecocks, who make too many mistakes to entertain any thought of an upset … Alabama 34, South Carolina 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 17 Michigan State at No. 18 Michigan: The Spartans and Wolverines enter their rivalry match undefeated for the first time since 1999. MSU is also trying to extend its win streak in the series to three in a row, something that hasn’t happened since 1965-67. If Sparty wants that victory, he’s going to have to figure out some way to stop Michigan QB Denard Robinson. No one else has as the sophomore has dazzled his way into the Heisman race. Load up to stop Robinson from running like Indiana did last week and he’ll beat you through the air. Hang back and he’ll carve up your defense like a Thanksgiving turkey. Robinson’s critics claim he hasn’t faced a defense as strong as the one he’ll see tomorrow but from what little I’ve seen from the Spartans’ D, it’s a read-and-react unit and that plays right into Robinson’s strengths … Michigan 35, Michigan State 31. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

No. 3 Oregon at Washington State: Fireworks from the Quack Attack ought to continue this week with the high-flying Ducks visiting the Palouse. Oregon features the No. 1 offense in the nation (56.6 points, 569.2 yards per game) while the Cougars have one of the worst defensive units in college football. Among the 120 teams at the I-A level, Wazzu ranks 101st in pass defense, 109th in pass efficiency defense, 116th in scoring defense, 117th in rushing defense and 118th in total defense. As bad as defensive those numbers are, the Cougars aren’t very good on offense, either – they’re 109th in rushing and 92nd in scoring. It all adds up to a beatdown that will likely leave some nasty bruises … Oregon 63, Washington State 0. (5 p.m. ET, CSN)

Oregon State at No. 9 Arizona: Oregon is getting all the hype in the Pac-10 but the Wildcats are quietly putting together something special. While the Ducks dazzle with their offense, Arizona does it the old-fashioned way with defense and solid special teams. Mike Stoops’ team ranks second in the nation in total defense and third in scoring defense, and it’s ranked No. 1 in kickoff returns. The Wildcats come off an open week to entertain the Beavers, who cranked up some offense last week during a 31-28 win over Arizona State. But Oregon State still ranks 10th in the Pac-10 in total offense, and when you combine that with an eighth-place standing in total defense, you can see why Arizona is favored to break the Beavers’ current four-game win streak in Tucson … Arizona 20, Oregon State 10. (6 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 10 Utah at Iowa State: Here are a few pertinent numbers. The Utes are coming off an open week and they are 5-0 coming off open weeks under head coach Kyle Whittingham. Utah has an 11-game win streak going against unranked opponents. Iowa State is 3-0 at home this season and 4-0 all-time against Utah. Of course, the Cyclones’ victories in the series came in 1970s when the Utes bore no resemblance to the team that has been one of the top offensive units for the better part of the last decade. This year, Utah not only scores points (44.3 per game), it also has a smothering defense that allows only 12.8 points per game. For an Iowa State team that has struggled at times on both sides of the ball, that is a scary proposition … Utah 43, Iowa State 14. (7 p.m. ET, Fox College)

Purdue at Northwestern: How much harder could the injury bug bite the Boilermakers? All-Big Ten receiver Keith Smith, running back Ralph Bolden and quarterback Robert Marve are all out with season-ending knee injuries leaving Purdue scrambling. Marve’s backup, Rob Henry, is raw – he just started playing the quarterback position four years ago. Meanwhile, the Wildcats will likely be without star tight end Drake Dunsmore but that shouldn’t make for much of a slowdown in the NU offense. QB Dan Persa has already accounted for more than 1,600 yards of total offense and ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 3 nationally in pass efficiency. The Wildcats needed a late field goal to beat Minnesota last week but shouldn’t need any comeback magic this week … Northwestern 27, Purdue 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 8 Auburn at Kentucky: If you haven’t been paying attention to the Tigers, perhaps it’s time you did. They have their own version of Denard Robinson in quarterback Cam Newton, a JUCO transfer who is second nationally in pass efficiency while averaging 94.8 yards rushing per game. As a result of Newton’s play, Auburn is looking to start 6-0 for the first time in six years. Standing in the way – as they usually do – are the Wildcats, who scored a 21-14 upset win at Auburn last year. Kentucky has a couple of electrifying players in its own right in running back Derrick Locke and receiver Randall Cobb, but the Wildcats are 11th in the SEC both in rushing defense and total defense. Watch them struggle trying to corral Newton … Auburn 31, Kentucky 17. (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Toledo at No. 4 Boise State: By now you know the story. Despite a 59-0 win over New Mexico State, the Broncos got jumped in the polls by Oregon, a penalty Boise paid for its weak schedule. Things don’t figure to get much tougher this week when the Rockets invade the Smurf Turf, where the Broncos enjoy a 57-game winning streak. Boise State QB Kellen Moore is a legitimate Heisman candidate (1,069 yards, 11 TDs) and he ought to be able to pad those numbers and Toledo which ranks 11th in the 13-team MAC in pass defense. Even more to the point is the fact the Rockets are coming off a 20-15 loss to Wyoming, the same Wyoming team that two weeks earlier absorbed a 51-6 beating administered by the Broncos … Boise State 52, Toledo 3. (8 p.m. ET, WAC Network/Sports Time Ohio)

Indiana at No. 2 Ohio State: Brandon Saine, Boom Herron, Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde should be licking their chops this week as the Buckeyes take on an Indiana defense that ranks dead last in the Big Ten defending the run. To be blunt, if you can’t run on the Hoosiers you need to take a serious look at how your running game does business. That said, Indiana comes to Columbus loaded for bear on offense. IU quarterback Ben Chappell ranks fifth nationally in total offense and 12th in pass efficiency, and he has some big, physical receivers who could give fits to some of the smaller OSU defenders. Still, if the Buckeyes can control the tempo of the game by running the ball, and if Terrelle Pryor is anything close to 100 percent, Ohio State should be able to continue its mastery in this series. The Buckeyes are looking for their 16th consecutive win over the Hoosiers and their 42nd victory in the past 43 home games against unranked opponents … Ohio State 41, Indiana 24. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Oklahoma State (-21) at Louisiana-Lafayette; Minnesota (+22) at Wisconsin; Wyoming at TCU (-34); Arkansas (-5) vs. Texas A&M; Alabama (-6½) at South Carolina; Michigan State (+4½) at Michigan; Oregon (-35½) at Washington State; Oregon State at Arizona (-7½); Utah (-6½) at Iowa State; Purdue (+9½) at Northwestern; Auburn (-6) at Kentucky; Toledo at Boise State (-38½); Indiana (+22½) at Ohio State.

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

Buckeyes Should Be Proud Of What They Are

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, Tresselball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

OHIO STATE-OREGON TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

OUTBACK BOWL, JAN. 1

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

GATOR BOWL, JAN. 1

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

CAPITAL ONE BOWL, JAN. 1

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

ROSE BOWL, JAN. 1

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

SUGAR BOWL, JAN. 1

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

INTERNATIONAL BOWL, JAN. 2

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

PAPAJOHN’S.COM BOWL, JAN. 2

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

COTTON BOWL, JAN. 2

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

LIBERTY BOWL, JAN. 2

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

ALAMO BOWL, JAN. 2

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

FIESTA BOWL, JAN. 4

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

ORANGE BOWL, JAN. 5

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

GMAC BOWL, JAN. 6

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

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, JAN. 7

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

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

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

Ohio State Wins Over Michigan Never Get Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEATH IN THE FAMILY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

TODAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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