Buckeyes Should Be Proud Of What They Are

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, Tresselball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

OHIO STATE-OREGON TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

OUTBACK BOWL, JAN. 1

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

GATOR BOWL, JAN. 1

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

CAPITAL ONE BOWL, JAN. 1

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

ROSE BOWL, JAN. 1

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

SUGAR BOWL, JAN. 1

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

INTERNATIONAL BOWL, JAN. 2

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

PAPAJOHN’S.COM BOWL, JAN. 2

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

COTTON BOWL, JAN. 2

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

LIBERTY BOWL, JAN. 2

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

ALAMO BOWL, JAN. 2

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

FIESTA BOWL, JAN. 4

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

ORANGE BOWL, JAN. 5

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

GMAC BOWL, JAN. 6

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

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, JAN. 7

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

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

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

Ohio State Wins Over Michigan Never Get Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEATH IN THE FAMILY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

TODAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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