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.

Ohio State Fans: Know Your Rose Bowl Enemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy tonight’s game.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

FRIDAY’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back To The Graveyard, With A Twist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good evening,” I said as we passed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ol’ Pete?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The pleasure was all mine,” he replied.

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

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

OSU-MICHIGAN TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Do Buckeyes, Pryor Go From Here?

I try to avoid posting my columns from Buckeye Sports Bulletin on this blog, but I received a lot of positive feedback this week so I thought I would share it here. Like many others around the country, the column deals with Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and where the Buckeyes are headed following last week’s loss to Purdue.

There is nothing like a four-hour drive on a meandering black ribbon of interstate highway to clear the mind – that is, of course, unless you are making your way back home after witnessing something wholly unexpected.

I suppose there will be those who claim they expected Ohio State and its clogged artery of an offense to someday cause the team to stumble and fall. I doubt very seriously, however, if any of those self-proclaimed psychics foretold that occurring in the form of an eight-point loss at Purdue.

There were any number of finger-pointing moments during the 26-18 loss to the unranked Boilermakers, although there is no doubt the white-hot glare of the spotlight shone squarely on quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Many of us – me included – failed to recognize just how much Pryor remains a work in progress. Ardent critics of Jim Tressel and the way he goes about his business will likely dismiss that assessment as a convenient excuse to cover up something far more sinister. Perhaps Pryor is secretly hiding an injury. Maybe he’s angry at the way he’s being used. Maybe he’s really an alien from the planet Mxyzptlk and he’s been sent here to destroy Ohio State football.

Much to the dismay of the conspiracy theorists, however, the plain truth is that Pryor is a gifted athlete going through a stretch where he simply isn’t playing well.

Why is that? There are plenty of theories but they’re really only that – theories.

On that drive back from West Lafayette, my BSB colleagues and I bounced around our opinions about Pryor’s ongoing problems, and I’d be willing to bet our concerns mirror those of most of the Buckeye Nation.

We discussed poor mechanics and that Pryor’s performance continually suffers every time he allows his mechanics to stray. When he squares his shoulders to the target or plants his feet in the proper position, his throws are usually on the money. When he gets flushed from the pocket, or when he is scrambling laterally, he is much more erratic and prone to incompletions and interceptions.

We discussed the possibility that Pryor is perhaps struggling as he tries to digest an expanded playbook. There is little question Tressel kept things much simpler for his quarterback last season when Pryor was inserted into the starting lineup in week four. As a result, much of what the then-freshman did was on instinct and sheer athleticism. Now, as opposing defensive coordinators have caught on to Pryor’s strengths and weaknesses, they scheme against the former and seek to exploit the latter.

To explain it another way, Pryor is like the young slugger who knocks the cover off the baseball during a late September call-up to the major leagues. The following spring, when opposing pitchers learn his tendency to crush fastballs and wave at sliders in the dirt, his production plummets. The young players who can adapt their games and adjust to the adjustments made against them are the successful superstars of tomorrow.

So far, Pryor has not adapted, nor has he made the necessary adjustments.

We discussed Pryor’s state of mind with regard to the mental aspects of playing the quarterback position at one of the elite programs in college football. In its long and glorious history, Ohio State has had but one four-year starting quarterback. The reason? Because it’s damned hard for any young player to assume a leadership role on what very often is a veteran team gunning for a championship.

Sure, there are plenty of programs around the country who entrust their programs to freshman quarterbacks, but how many of them expect that first-year player to guide them into the national championship picture? The jump to major-college football from the high school level is a quantum leap. That is underscored even more when the player comes from a low-division high school program.

In a period of 24 short months, Pryor has ridden the roller coaster of fame. While still a high school student in tiny Jeannette, Pa., his name was on the lips of every college football recruiting nut in the country. When he signed with Ohio State, his constituency was pared to the Buckeye faithful. Now, many of those same fans who felt the program couldn’t go on without Pryor’s name on a national letter of intent scream for someone else – anyone else – to play in his place.

Criticism comes with the territory, of course. I’ve swallowed what I consider to be my fair share over the years and have gotten fairly used to it. But I’m 51 and there are times when criticism – warranted or not – still gets to me. With everything else on a 20-year-old’s plate – from schoolwork and social activities to just plain growing up and being away from home for the first time – the criticism leveled at Pryor must be quite a burden to bear.

Personally, I think Pryor is one of the most confused football players I have ever been around. He seems to be caught in a personal vortex between the quarterback he is and the quarterback he wants to be, and the more he tries to be one or the other, the more confused he seemingly becomes.

Since he first began playing the position full time as a high school sophomore four short years ago, Pryor has relied on his instincts first and everything else followed. More often than not, that meant he’d beat you with his legs long before he’d beat you with his arm. That approach was plenty good enough for a state championship at Jeannette and even good enough to make him one of the most talked-about freshmen in college football last year.

Suddenly, though, it’s not good enough. Not nearly.

What has changed? Pryor’s role in the offense for starters.

Last year, he was content in his role as just another guy in an attack led by Chris “Beanie” Wells. With Wells doing most of the heavy lifting throughout the season, pretty much all that was asked of Pryor was to be himself and protect the football.

When Wells decided to leave early for the NFL, both Tressel and Pryor lost their security blankets. Since Tressel no longer had the luxury of relying on a workhorse tailback to ease the pressure from his young quarterback, he likely reasoned that opposing defenses would try to negate Pryor’s mobility. So Tressel went about the task of trying to remake his budding star into a passing prodigy. So far, that strategy has had its ups and downs for one of two reasons: Either Pryor has yet to grasp the concept or he has yet to fully embrace it.

My guess is that he wants to embrace it but old habits die painfully hard. Case in point: The final play on Ohio State’s final drive against Purdue. Fourth-and-14 at the Purdue 38. Trailing by eight. Clock winding under three minutes. Do or die.

Pryor took the shotgun snap, waited a split-second for the Boilermakers to stage the same kind of furious pass rush they had shown the entire second half and then bolted toward the left side of the line. After a few steps toward the line of scrimmage, Pryor saw traffic in front of him and suddenly slowed.

On fourth-and-14, it is doubtful the play call was a quarterback draw. Then again, with the way the Purdue defensive ends were coming on almost every play, the strategy could have been for Pryor to try to create something with his legs. Earlier in the fourth quarter, he had broken off a 35-yard scramble against a similar rush.

But he had committed to that early run and had broken containment quickly. This time, as he tried to quickly process the moment, Pryor saw Ray Small crossing to his left about 20 yards downfield. You could almost see the conflict going on inside the quarterback’s helmet. Run it or throw it? Throw it or run it? In the end, he committed to neither. Rather than tucking the ball under his arm or taking the time to set his feet, Pryor shuffled and then heaved a pass in Small’s direction as a couple of Boilermaker defenders closed in.

The ball fluttered a bit – it had way too much air under it – and never came close to Small. Purdue cornerback David Pender crossed in front of the OSU receiver and easily swatted the ball to the ground to end the Buckeyes’ potential rally.

Would Pryor have picked up the necessary 14 yards for a first down had he committed to the run in that situation? Who can tell? I only know that he clearly was not in command of what he wanted to do. And if that was the case, how can he possibly be in command of what he needs to do?

Am I in favor of sitting him for a while in favor of backup Joe Bauserman? No. That would be the worst thing Tressel could do. About the only thing Pryor still has going for him is a kind of inner confidence that he’s going to work this out. You sit him down now and you send him the message that you don’t think he can work it out.

The best thing Tressel could do for his young quarterback is commit to making him either a runner or a passer – not both. Not now.

If part of the offensive game plan is going to be predicated on Pryor running the football, concentrate on that. Stop monkeying around with the option, put Pryor in a form of the wildcat formation and run the football from the different variations of that kind of attack.

If, instead, the game plan is to feature a pro-style passing attack, put on the red light and instruct Pryor that he can run only as a last resort. You must make him commit to stopping, setting and firing the football rather than stopping, starting, shuffling and trying to get something out of nothing. In that scenario, you not only get your quarterback to commit to the passing game, your offensive line becomes more comfortable in what it’s trying to accomplish.

There is no doubt in my mind that Pryor can become a more complete quarterback. But he is much more of a raw commodity than anyone envisioned, and his maturation process at the position is going to take some time.

In the interim, the question becomes which is more important to Tressel: Mold your quarterback into an NFL-ready player or take what you’ve got and try to go win yourself another Big Ten championship.

At this point, it seems the Ohio State head coach can have one or the other but not both.

OSU-MINNESOTA TIDBITS

** This marks the 49th meeting between Ohio State and Minnesota with the Buckeyes holding a decisive 41-7 record in the overall series. OSU is 21-3 against the Golden Gophers in Columbus, including victories in 18 of the last 19 games played at Ohio Stadium. The lone blemish during that stretch was a 29-17 loss to Minnesota in 2000.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 6-0 against the Gophers, including last year’s 34-21 victory in Columbus. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes in those six games has been 21.3 points.

** Tressel is now 88-21 in his eight-plus seasons with OSU. In the games immediately following the coach’s 20 previous losses, the Buckeyes are 18-2. Only once in the Tressel era have the Buckeyes ever lost back-to-back games. That was in 2004 when Ohio State dropped three straight Big Ten contests – at Northwestern, at home against Wisconsin and at Iowa.

** Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster is 0-2 against the Buckeyes and 1-6 against ranked teams in his two-plus seasons with the Gophers. The lone victory was a 17-6 win at Purdue last season when the Boilermakers were ranked 25th.

** Don’t go to sleep on Goldy. Minnesota has come from behind in all four of its victories this season, including three when the Gophers were trailing at the end of three quarters.

** The game will serve as Ohio State’s annual homecoming contest. The Buckeyes are 63-19-5 all-time on homecoming, including 6-2 under Tressel. Last year’s homecoming game resulted in a 13-6 loss to Penn State.

** In addition to homecoming, the annual Captains’ Breakfast will be held with former OSU flanker Mike Lanese giving the address. Additionally, several teams will hold reunions, including the surviving members of the 1942 national championship squad. Also, members of the 1954 team will celebrate the 55th anniversary of their national championship and will be honored during Saturday’s game.

** Pryor needs two more yards to become only the fifth OSU quarterback to rush for 1,000 or more yards in his career. The other four: Cornelius Greene (2,066, 1972-75), Rex Kern (1,714, 1968-70), Art Schlichter (1,303, 1978-81) and Troy Smith (1,168, 2003-06).

** Last week’s loss at Purdue snapped Ohio State’s conference road win streak at 16. That was one shy of the all-time Big Ten record set by Michigan between 1988 and 1992. The Buckeyes also have the conference’s third-longest road winning streak in terms of league games. OSU won 11 in a row between 1974 and 1977.

** Think turnovers make a difference? In the Buckeyes’ last 20 road games against Big Ten competition, they are 16-4. In those 16 victories, the team has committed 20 turnovers, an average of 1.25 per game. In the four defeats, OSU has turned the ball over 14 times, an average of 3.5 per game.

** Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker is moving up several all-time Big Ten statistical lists. He has 224 career receptions and needs 29 more to move into the top five in league history. Decker also needs only 376 more receiving yards to crack the Big Ten’s career top five in that category, and six more touchdown catches to become only the 10th player in conference history with at least 30 TD grabs.

** Minnesota sophomore Troy Stoudermire boasts a career kickoff return average of 25.7 yards, and that is good enough for sixth all-time in the Big Ten. The longstanding conference leader in career kickoff returns is Stan Brown of Purdue, who averaged 28.8 yards per return from 1968-70.

** The Gophers have a lethal punt return game and lead the Big Ten with a lofty average of 19.0 yards per return. That figure ranks sixth nationally. But it is a bit of a misnomer since Minnesota has returned only three of its opponents’ 30 punts all season. That could make for a bit of a boring afternoon tomorrow. Ohio State opponents have returned only three of 30 punts this season.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 12 noon Eastern. ESPN will have the telecast with Dave Pasch doing the play-by-play while former Ohio State All-America linebacker Chris Spielman will share color analysis duties with former Purdue All-America quarterback Bob Griese.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 122 and 129 as well as XM channel 196.

** The Buckeyes complete the two-week home stand next Saturday when they host New Mexico State. Kickoff set for 12 noon Eastern and the game will televised by the Big Ten Network.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 20, 1917, Washington beat Whitman College by a 14-6 score, extending its unbeaten streak to 63 games, an NCAA record that still stands; on Oct. 21, 2006, Michigan State engineered the biggest comeback in NCAA history, erasing a 38-3 deficit on the way to a 41-38 victory over Northwestern in Evanston; on Oct. 22, 1983, Nebraska scored 41 points in less than three minutes of possession time on its way to a 69-19 rout of Colorado; and on Oct. 25, 1947, Columbia scored a 21-20 upset over Army, ending the Black Knights’ unbeaten streak at 32 games.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The weekly count of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level is down to seven: Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Texas and TCU. Of those seven, it’s anyone’s guess who makes it to the national championship game. Last Saturday, Florida and Texas survived by a field goal, Boise State held on by a touchdown and Alabama couldn’t put away South Carolina until the fourth quarter. Anyone want to forecast a Cincinnati-Iowa championship game?

** Iowa looks to improve to 8-0 this week with a road contest at Michigan State. The last time the Hawkeyes started a season with eight straight victories? Never.

** To say Oklahoma is having a strange season would be putting it mildly. The Sooners have outscored their opposition by a 188-58 margin, yet sport a 3-3 record. Their three losses are each to ranked teams by a combined total of five points.

** With Sam Bradford done for the season, and Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow not exactly lighting things up, we Heisman Trophy voters have gone searching for new blood. The popular candidate of the moment is Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram, who had 246 yards last Saturday against South Carolina. Ingram, the son of former NFL receiver Mark Ingram, has rushed for 905 yards and eight TDs for the Crimson Tide, who moved past Florida into the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press writers’ poll.

** The triple option is alive and well and Georgia Tech used it to perfection to hand Virginia Tech a 28-23 upset loss last Saturday. The Yellow Jackets completed exactly one pass in the game for 51 yards – they also ran 63 times for 309 yards against the Hokies’ supposedly impenetrable defense.

** Georgia Tech’s victory over the fourth-ranked Hokies was the first at home for the Yellow Jackets over a top-five team since 1962. That season, Georgia Tech scored a 7-6 victory over top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama, ending the Crimson Tide’s 26-game unbeaten streak. The two head coaches patrolling the sidelines that day were legends – Bobby Dodd for Georgia Tech and Bear Bryant for Alabama.

** In case you wondered, his team’s loss to USC last weekend sent Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis’ record to 4-11 against ranked teams.

** Not that much of anyone is going to notice, but Illinois and Purdue square off this week in an unusual trophy game. The teams play for the Purdue Cannon. Not a trophy. A real cannon. In 1905, a group of Purdue students somehow thought it was a good idea to take the cannon to Champaign in anticipation of firing it after a victory. Although the Boilermakers won the game, Illinois officials confiscated the cannon and kept it. It was later moved to a farmhouse in Milford, Ill., before the universities agreed in 1943 to play for possession of the cannon. Purdue holds a narrow 29-26-2 advantage in previous cannon games.

** Illinois went to the Rose Bowl following the 2001 and 2007 seasons, going 13-3 in the conference those two years. Heading into tomorrow’s game, the team’s combined league record for the remainder of the decade is 11-49.

** You probably haven’t noticed it, but the best turnaround story in college football this season is happening at Idaho. After going a combined 3-21 the past two seasons, the Vandals are already bowl-eligible with six victories in seven games. Three of their victories have been by four points or less as the team averages 29.6 points per game on offense and gives up 25.1 on defense.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It seems whenever Ohio State loses, the old forecast suffers. After a great start on Friday night, picking the Pittsburgh-Rutgers final score on the nose, things went south in a big-time hurry.

Straight up, we were 6-3 while we suffered for the second straight week against the spread, finishing at 2-7. That puts the yearly ledgers at 48-15 SU and 20-31-1 ATS. All we can say is that we’ll try to do better this week.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Illinois at Purdue: The Fighting Illini are no doubt eager to get out of Champaign for an afternoon so they don’t have to answer any more questions about how much longer Ron Zook will be their head coach. Not that those questions are going to go away anytime soon, especially if Illinois can’t stop its slide. Perhaps they can catch the Boilermakers still feeling good after last week’s upset of Ohio State, but it’s doubtful … Purdue 27, Illinois 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

Louisville at No. 5 Cincinnati: The Bearcats are riding high with the best poll ranking in program history, and have some believing they have a real good shot at making the national championship game. We like Brian Kelly and what he’s doing at UC, but the Bearcats still have a lot of ground to cover before they can think about the title game. First and foremost is the health of quarterback Tony Pike, who had surgery this week to repair a dislodged metal plate in his non-throwing arm. With or without Pike, the Bearcats ought to be able to handle the Cardinals, who have lost nine of 11 dating back to last season … Cincinnati 31, Louisville 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Tennessee at No. 1 Alabama: The Crimson Tide celebrate their ascendancy to the top of the AP poll by hosting the Volunteers, a team that more than held its own in last year’s 29-9 loss at Knoxville. Alabama running back Mark Ingram has a little something to prove, especially if he is going to be a bona fide Heisman contender. He rushed for a career-low 1 yard on four carries last year against Tennessee. Of course, this is a different Vols team under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin, a team that seems more preoccupied with offense. UT has had an extra week to prepare after its 45-19 pasting of Georgia, and the fact the Tide has several ailing defensive players may make this game a lot closer than some think … Alabama 26, Tennessee 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 13 Penn State at Michigan: If there is one Big Ten team Joe Paterno doesn’t like to play, it’s the Wolverines. He is 4-10 lifetime against them, including 2-5 in Ann Arbor. Even last year’s 46-17 win that snapped a nine-game skid in the series wasn’t as easy as the final score may have indicated. Michigan led 17-14 at halftime before fading. All of that should give the Wolverines some comfort as they seek to snap their two-game conference losing streak. Unfortunately, all of the offensive fireworks they enjoyed last week during a glorified scrimmage against I-AA Delaware State (63 points and a team-record 727 total yards) won’t do them much good against JoePa’s defense, which has given up only three points in its last eight quarters … Penn State 31, Michigan 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

No. 7 Iowa at Michigan State: Lost amid the euphoria of the Fighting Ferentzes’ undefeated start is just how close they have been skating to the edge. Six of their seven victories have been by 11 points or less, and they have had to come from behind in five of their games. The high-wire act could begin to stumble this week. The Spartans seem to have ironed out the problems that caused them to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in September, and the Green and White are now on a three-game winning streak. Add that to the fact the Hawkeyes have lost four in a row in Spartan Stadium and you get this week’s Upset Special … Michigan State 17, Iowa 16. (7 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 10 TCU at No. 16 BYU: Rather than simply talking about how it should be in the BCS mix, the Horned Frogs actually try to do something about it. TCU takes on the ranked Cougars, who are trying to protect a Mountain West Conference-record 13-game home winning streak. That includes a 27-22 win over the Frogs in 2007. This should be an interesting matchup featuring the nation’s No. 4 team in total defense (TCU) against the No. 6 team in the country in scoring offense (BYU). The Cougars would seem to have the cards stacked in their favor, and they hold a 5-3 edge in the all-time series. Still, we like the overall strength of the Frogs … TCU 26, BYU 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, The Mtn)

No. 2 Florida at Mississippi State: The Gators remain undefeated but you get the distinct impression they may be living on borrowed time. They are not the offensive or defensive powerhouse from a year ago, and quarterback Tim Tebow (their spiritual leader on and off the field) is playing hurt. Will this be the week the defending national champs crumble under the strain? First-year Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen knows Florida almost well as he knows his own team – he was Urban Meyer’s longtime offensive coordinator at Florida, Utah and Bowling Green. It reminds me a lot of the Washington-USC game earlier this season when first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian exploited all the weaknesses of the offense he used to run for Pete Carroll. You may also be interested in the fact Florida is winless in its last four trips to Davis Wade Stadium. Get ready for a shocker in Starkville. Here’s Upset Special No. 2 … Mississippi State 26, Florida 23. (7:30 p.m., ESPN)

Oregon State at No. 4 USC: The Beavers had their way with the Trojans last season, costing USC a shot at playing for the national championship with a 33-31 upset win in Corvallis. Oregon State usually plays the Trojans tough at their place. In the L.A. Coliseum? Not so much. USC will be looking for its 22nd consecutive home win in the series. It knows it will have to do a much better job containing OSU running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s meeting. Rodgers is coming off a career-high 189 yards and four TDs two weeks ago against Stanford, and stopping him will be the Trojans’ top priority. Boasting the nation’s No. 4 rush defense should help get that done … USC 27, Oregon State 23. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

No. 6 Boise State at Hawaii: The Broncos don’t get much respect in their quest for BCS recognition, but one thing you can’t take away from them – they’re willing to get on a plane and play anywhere in the nation. The team that has already made road trips this year to Fresno State, Bowling Green and Tulsa heads for Honolulu this week to take on Hawaii. Unfortunately, a game against the 2-4 Rainbows isn’t going to count for many style points. It could, however, push the Heisman candidacy of Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, who currently leads the country in pass efficiency. Moore has completed 69.5 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,404 yards and 16 TDs against only two interceptions this season, and if he can solve the swirling winds of Aloha Stadium, those numbers should go up. The Rainbows rank 101st nationally in total defense … Boise State 38, Hawaii 17. (11 p.m. ET, ESPN 360)

Minnesota at No. 18 Ohio State: A week of overcritical analysis of Terrelle Pryor and the struggling OSU offense has overshadowed a few small facts: The Buckeyes still average 28.0 points per game on offense and surrender only 14.0 on defense. The last thing Ohio State needs to do with its young quarterback and offensive attack is panic. Simplify the playbook a little, return to establishing the run and continue to rely on defense. All ingredients for making things a little sunnier next week in the Buckeye Nation … Ohio State 34, Minnesota 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Illinois at Purdue (-9½); Louisville (+18) at Cincinnati; Tennessee (+14½) at Alabama; Penn State (-4½) at Michigan; Iowa at Michigan State (+1); TCU (-2½) at BYU; Florida at Mississippi State (+23½); Oregon State (+21) at USC; Boise State at Hawaii (+24½); Minnesota at Ohio State (-16).

In case you care, Minnesota is 3-8 ATS in its last 11 games against Ohio State while the Buckeyes are 4-2 ATS at home in their last six vs. Goldy. Enjoy the games.

Top Five Ohio State Football Stories Of 2008

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

1. BUCKEYES LOSE TITLE GAME … AGAIN

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

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

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

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

2. PRYOR FINALLY SIGNS

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

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

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

3. LOSS TO USC TRIGGERS QB SWITCH

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

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

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

4. MOST SENIORS DECIDE TO RETURN

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

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

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

5. WELLS GETS HURT IN 2008 OPENER

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

DEC. 31 GAMES

Armed Forces Bowl

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

Sun Bowl

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

Music City Bowl

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

Insight Bowl

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

Chick-fil-A Bowl

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

NEW YEAR’S DAY GAMES

Outback Bowl

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

Capital One Bowl

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

Gator Bowl

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

Rose Bowl

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

Orange Bowl

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

JAN. 2 GAMES

Cotton Bowl

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

Liberty Bowl

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

Sugar Bowl

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

JAN. 3 GAME

International Bowl

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

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

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

Other Teams Besides Ohio State Relying On Freshmen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY! HAPPY!

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

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

AND FINALLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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