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.

My Christmas Wish List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Ray Small: A really loud alarm clock.

For Nathan Williams: A different set of friends.

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

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

For Brandon Saine: Patience.

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

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

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

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

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

For Tyson Gentry: A miracle.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

DEC. 24 GAMES

Hawaii Bowl

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

DEC. 26 GAMES

Motor City Bowl

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

DEC. 27 GAMES

Meineke Car Care Bowl

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

Champs Sports Bowl

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

Emerald Bowl

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

DEC. 28 GAMES

Independence Bowl

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

DEC. 29 GAMES

PapaJohns.com Bowl

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

Alamo Bowl

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

DEC. 30 GAMES

Humanitarian Bowl

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

Holiday Bowl

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

Texas Bowl

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

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

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

Top 10 College Football Coaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY! HAPPY!

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

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

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

AND FINALLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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