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.

Heisman Trophy 2009: How I Voted And Why

For the past several years, I have had the honor of being on the panel of voters for the Heisman Memorial Trophy. It is an honor that I do not take lightly, but it is a task that is usually not very difficult.

Most years, the choice is pretty much cut and dried. Three years ago, the clear favorite was Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith. The only thing left to decide was placing Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn in second- and third-place order.

My vote has always been a personal thing. It has never been about trying to project the winner although I have cast my ballot for the Heisman winner most often than not. The last time I missed picking the winner was in 2005 when I went with Texas quarterback Vince Young. He finished second to USC running back Reggie Bush.

My reasoning for that pick was pretty simple. When I tried to project how each team would have performed without their star player, I thought USC would probably have done very well even without Bush. I doubt the Longhorns could have done as well without Young in their lineup, so his value to his team led me to place Young in the No. 1 spot on my ballot. Bush was No. 2.

Obviously, not many of my fellow voters agreed. Bush won the 2005 award in a landslide, garnering 784 first-place votes and 2,541 overall points. Young finished second with 1,608 votes but was named on only 79 first-place ballots.

This year presented the most unique Heisman race since I have been a voter. The season began with three clear favorites – Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford (last year’s winner), Florida QB Tim Tebow (the 2007 winner) and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.

Bradford quickly dropped off the radar with a season-ending shoulder injury and that left Tebow and McCoy to duke it out for frontrunner status. Along the way, other players began to make headlines as the college football season played itself out with five undefeated teams and a handful of bona fide Heisman Trophy candidates.

Unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame balloting where you can vote for as many players as you like, Heisman voters have to narrow their voting to three players. Five players were invited to New York this week as finalists for the award and I can think of at least three more that were more than deserving of being invited to the Big Apple ceremony.

My final pool of candidates came down to quarterbacks McCoy, Tebow and Kellen Moore of Boise State, running backs Mark Ingram of Alabama, Tony Gerhart of Stanford and C.J. Spiller of Clemson, defensive lineman Ndamukong  Suh of Nebraska and receiver/kick returner Mardy Gilyard of Cincinnati.

With eight names and only three ballot spots, I had to begin the process of elimination and began comparing the bodies of work from each of the candidates.

At quarterback, there was no doubt that Moore had the best season. He led the nation in pass efficiency, threw for 3,325 yards, had 39 touchdowns to only three interceptions, and quarterbacked his team to an undefeated season. In any other year, Moore would be a slam-dunk to be on my ballot, but the fact that he is a sophomore and plays for a non-BCS conference team, I reluctantly crossed his name off my list.

McCoy and Tebow were left in a virtual dead heat. Tebow was better in pass efficiency; McCoy had the numbers in passing yards and touchdowns. In the end, I truly did not feel Tebow’s overall body of work this season rose to the level of being a Heisman Trophy award winner. I passed on him and left McCoy on my list.

I had always considered Suh and Gilyard as my wild card picks. Unlike some who only noticed Suh during his dominating performance against Texas, I knew the Nebraska defensive star was a candidate for nearly every major award – except the Heisman. I had already pretty much made up my mind before last Saturday that if he had a standout game in the Big 12 title matchup, I would put Suh on my ballot. He had that standout game – and then some.

Gilyard, too, had an outstanding game for Cincinnati against Pittsburgh. While head coach Brian Kelly and the quarterback tandem of Tony Pike and Zach Collaros got most of the attention in the Queen City this season, Gilyard was establishing himself as the best player on that team. He is an excellent receiver, a lethal kick returner and his life story is a truly compelling story.

Unfortunately, there were receivers with better seasons and kick returners with more touchdowns and more yardage, so Gilyard’s name was dropped from my list.

That left me with a conundrum at running back that was more easily solved than you might think.

Like Gilyard, Spiller is a double threat. He ran for 1,145 yards and 11 TDs and tallied five more scores on kick returns – four kickoffs and one punt. There were, however, holes in his résumé. He disappeared in too many games, and failed to top 80 yards in six of his 13 games.

That left me to decide between Gerhart and Ingram. I know the Alabama running back is probably the frontrunner for the trophy, and he did have an excellent outing in the SEC championship game against Florida. Despite his 1,542 yards, though, Ingram had three games during which he failed to crack 60 yards.

Meanwhile, Gerhart was the nation’s top rusher with 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns. He rushed for 100 yards or more in 10 of his 12 games – topping the 200 mark three times – and never ran for less than 82 yards in a game all season.

Critics of Gerhart will argue that he played against competition inferior to that of Ingram. That is simply incorrect. In games against opponents who finished the season with winning records, Gerhart averaged 156.4 yards per game. What’s more, those opponents averaged a national ranking of 43 against the rush. Using the same criteria, Ingram averaged 127.1 yards against teams that averaged a national ranking of 57 in rushing defense.

That left me with McCoy, Suh and Gerhart as the three names on my ballot. Three great players any one of which would be deserving of this year’s Heisman.

But I had to rank them some way. I placed Gerhart third because his team finished out of the running for the Pac-10 championship.

Then I used the same criteria to break the tie between McCoy and Suh that I did four years ago with Bush and Young. Would Nebraska have been 9-4 and headed to the Holiday Bowl without Suh? Maybe. Would Texas be undefeated and playing for the national championship without McCoy. Probably not.

Yes, McCoy nearly had an epic blunder at the end of the Big 12 title game. But he didn’t have that blunder. What many tend to forget is that he moved his team into position to win that game and have a chance to play for the national championship. That is what great players are supposed to do. That is what Heisman Trophy winners are supposed to do.

Therefore, my final ballot read: 1. Colt McCoy; 2. Ndamukong Suh; 3. Toby Gerhart.

Ohio State Fans: Know Your Rose Bowl Enemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy tonight’s game.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

FRIDAY’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

History Sides With Buckeyes Vs. Iowa

To say Iowa has struggled over the years against Ohio State would be akin to pointing out that they speak mostly French in Paris. No kidding, Sherlock.

The cold, hard truth for the Hawkeyes is that they are on the business end of one of the most lopsided series in Big Ten history. They have only 14 wins and three ties to show for 61 previous games against the Buckeyes, a shockingly bad winning percentage of .254 – or perhaps more aptly put, a 746 losing percentage.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that Herky has had his problems over the years with Brutus. Ohio State’s all-time Big Ten record is 455-190-28, a .696 winning percentage that leads the conference. Iowa has a lifetime record of 284-344-25 in league games, a .454 winning percentage.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is regarded as one of the top coaches in his profession and he has that new seven-year, $21 million contract to back that claim. And yet he has only a pair of Big Ten co-championships during his previous 10 seasons in Iowa City and he is a rather pedestrian 48-38 in conference play. Meanwhile, OSU head coach Jim Tressel has won one national championship, five league titles – including the last four in a row – and has a 57-13 Big Ten record.

Head-to-head matchups between Ferentz and Tressel are about as close as the overall Iowa-Ohio State series. Tressel holds a 4-1 advantage – including a 1990 contest when his Division I-AA Youngstown State team beat Ferentz-coached Maine – and the average margin of victory for Tressel victories has been 19.0 points. To be fair, Ferentz’s lone win against Tressel was a 33-7 trip to the Iowa City woodshed in 2004.

Tomorrow, the two teams and their head coaches square off again with the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth on the line. Since Ohio State and Iowa hold all the tiebreakers over any other team that could tie for the conference title, tomorrow’s outcome will determine which team goes to Pasadena and which heads for Orlando and the Capital One Bowl.

Despite the loss of starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi, the Hawkeyes remain confident they will emerge victorious. After all, they are only one week removed from being the No. 4 team in the country and still boast a defense ranked among the top 15 in the country.

And yet, Iowa just seems to have a bugaboo about playing Ohio State when the stakes are high. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

1954 – The fourth-ranked Buckeyes led 20-14 late in the fourth quarter when the No. 13 Hawkeyes drove inside the OSU 5-yard line. With the clock ticking under two minutes, Iowa couldn’t get into the end zone as the Buckeyes’ goal-line stand preserved the victory. The six-point win would be the smallest margin of victory for Ohio State as it captured its first national championship under head coach Woody Hayes.

1957 – After losing star halfback Don Clark to a leg injury, sixth-ranked Ohio State was installed a touchdown underdog to No. 5 Iowa. The Ohio Stadium record crowd of 82,935, which included U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon, was treated to a seesaw match that saw four lead changes. The Hawkeyes held a 13-10 advantage heading into the final period when OSU fullback Bob White took over, accounting for most of the yardage on a 68-yard touchdown march that set the final score at 17-13. “We knew what was happening,” Iowa head coach Forest Evashevski said, “but we were just powerless to stop it.”

1958 – The Hawkeyes were ready for revenge in ’58. They were the nation’s No. 2 team and 14-point favorites over the 16th-ranked Buckeyes. A record crowd of 58,463 jammed into Kinnick Stadium and the teams traded touchdowns back and forth until the score was tied 28-28 after three periods. But OSU established itself in the fourth quarter, getting a 1-yard touchdown run from White and a 19-yard field goal from Dave Kilgore with only 12 seconds remaining to register the 38-28 upset win.

1961 – Ninth-ranked Iowa had beaten Ohio State in back-to-back seasons and was trying to become the first team to beat Hayes three times in a row. But the Hawkeyes ran into a defensive buzz saw as the fifth-rated Buckeyes forged a 12-0 halftime lead before cruising to a 29-13 victory. Defensive end Tom Perdue returned an interception 55 yards for OSU’s first touchdown, and a fourth-quarter touchdown run by fullback Bob Ferguson was set up by a 53-yard interception return by defensive lineman Gary Moeller.

1984 – The 14th-ranked Hawkeyes came to Columbus boasting the Big Ten’s top defense, but four costly turnovers put them behind the 8-ball and the No. 5 Buckeyes rolled to a 45-26 win. Iowa had more first downs (23-17) and outgained Ohio State by a 458-335 margin, but the turnovers were too much to overcome. Iowa QB Chuck Long threw for 275 yards and two TDs, but he also pitched two interceptions and fumbled once as Ohio State scored in every quarter. Keith Byars was the offensive star for OSU. He rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns, and caught five passes for 55 yards and another score.

1985 – Iowa was positive it was going to win in 1985. Long was a Heisman Trophy candidate, the defense was the best it had been in years and the Hawkeyes were the No. 1-ranked team in the country. But OSU had other plans. Protecting a 19-game home winning streak, the eighth-ranked Buckeyes dominated Iowa during a 22-13 victory. The defense, which had been ninth in the Big Ten against the pass, intercepted Long four times and held the QB to only 169 yards through the air, more than 150 below his average. Pepper Johnson and Chris Spielman led the Ohio State defense with 19 tackles each, and Spielman snagged two of the four INTs.

1986 – The Hawkeyes were once again the higher ranked team in ’86 and boasted the conference’s best offensive attack. But the No. 17 Buckeyes exploded for 21 points during a six-minute span in the second quarter and ran away with a 31-10 triumph over No. 11 Iowa. It was another defensive gem for OSU, which held the Hawkeyes’ powerful attack to 192 yards of total offense, including only 79 on the ground. Spielman was once again the spearhead for the Buckeyes, recording 18 tackles.

1990 – OSU head coach John Cooper was in third season and still looking for a signature win when his unranked Buckeyes scored a 27-26 stunner over the sixth-ranked Hawkeyes in Iowa City. Ohio State erased a 26-14 deficit in the final 11 minutes as Greg Frey threw a pair of touchdown passes to Bobby Olive, the second a 3-yard toss with 0:01 showing on the clock. The victory was career No. 100 for Cooper.

1997 – Defense ruled the day again when the seventh-ranked Buckeyes took a 23-7 win over the No. 11 Hawkeyes. Iowa running back Tavian Banks entered the game as the nation’s leading rusher, averaging a whopping 209 yards per game, but he was held to only 82 yards on 22 attempts as Ohio State built a 16-0 halftime advantage. Pepe Pearson had a game-high 109 yards while Michael Wiley added 85 yards and two touchdowns.

2003 – The two teams were as evenly matched as possible but the No. 8 Buckeyes squeezed out a 19-10 decision over the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes. Neither team managed an offensive touchdown as defenses carried the day. Iowa scored on a 36-yard field goal and 5-yard run off a fake field goal while Ohio State tallied a 53-yard field goal by Mike Nugent, a 54-yard punt return by Michael Jenkins, a blocked punt recovered in the end zone by Donte Whitner and a team safety.

2006 – Once again, Iowa was convinced of victory. The Hawkeyes were undefeated and ranked 13th in the country, and they laid in wait for the No. 1 Buckeyes with a rare night game at sold-out Kinnick Stadium. But Ohio State scored in the first four minutes with a touchdown pass from Troy Smith to Anthony Gonzalez and it was all Buckeyes from there in a 38-17 romp. Smith threw for four scores while the OSU defense created four turnovers. That included three interceptions of Iowa QB Drew Tate, who completed only 19 of 41 attempts for 249 yards.

In addition to the aforementioned games, there was the 83-21 shellacking of Iowa administered by the Buckeyes back in 1950. That was the game in which future Heisman Trophy winner Vic Janowicz went absolutely wild. He threw for four touchdowns, rushed for one, returned a punt for another, kicked 10 PATs, recovered two fumbles on defense and averaged 42.0 yards punting in one of the most electrifying one-man shows ever seen in Ohio Stadium.

Why the history lesson? Because it’s worth noting that when Iowa has faced Ohio State – many times armed with a lofty national ranking – the Hawkeyes have usually come out on the wrong end of the final score. For whatever reason, the team plays extremely tight against the Buckeyes, allowing the OSU defense to create turnovers and providing plenty of scoring opportunities for the offense.

The combination of a quarterback making his first career start in the Horseshoe against one of the top defensive units in college football would seem to indicate a similar scenario playing out tomorrow afternoon. As we have noted in this space countless times, a very good way to forecast the future is by examining the past.

OSU-IOWA TIDBITS

** This will be the 62nd overall meeting between Ohio State and Iowa in a series that began in 1922. The Buckeyes enjoy a lopsided 44-14-3 advantage over the Hawkeyes, including a 27-8-1 record in Columbus. OSU has 10 of the last 11 in the series, including the last five played at Ohio Stadium. Iowa has not tasted victory in Columbus since a 16-9 win in 1991.

** The game marks the 19th time in the series when both teams are ranked. The Buckeyes are 14-4 in those games.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 3-1 against Iowa. That includes a 2-0 record in Columbus, including a 31-6 victory in 2005.

** Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is 1-5 all-time against Ohio State. That includes an 0-3 record against the Buckeyes in Columbus. Ferentz got his only victory over OSU in 2004 when the Hawkeyes knocked starting quarterback Justin Zwick out of the game and rolled to a 33-7 win in Iowa City.

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

** Last week’s victory over Penn State was the 57th Big Ten win for Tressel. That puts him in a five-way tie for 13th on the all-time conference list. The other coaches with 57 conference victories – Bennie Bierman of Minnesota (1932-41, ’45-50), Fritz Crisler of Michigan (1938-47), Jack Mollenkopf of Purdue (1956-69) and Earle Bruce of Ohio State (1979-87).

** A victory over Iowa would sew up at least a share of the Big Ten championship for Ohio State and give Tressel his sixth title. Only seven other coaches have won as many as six conference championships, including Woody Hayes of Ohio State and Bo Schembechler of Michigan, who share the Big Ten record with 13 titles each.

** Iowa will be wearing “EVY” stickers on their helmets in honor of former head coach and athletic director Forest Evashevski, who died Oct. 31 at the age of 91. Evashevski coached the Hawkeyes from 1952-60 and won three Big Ten championships and two Rose Bowl titles. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

** The Hawkeyes saw their 13-game winning streak snapped with last week’s 17-10 loss to Northwestern. It was the second-longest active win streak in the nation and the longest winning streak for Iowa since the team won 20 games in a row between 1920 and 1923.

** Iowa still has one streak intact. The Hawkeyes come to Columbus having won their last six games away from Kinnick Stadium.

** How stifling is the OSU defense? It had eight three-and-outs last week against Penn State and currently leads the nation in forcing three-and-outs. Opponents have gone three-and-out an amazing 60 times in 10 games against the Buckeyes. No other defense in the nation has more than 49.

** Ohio State is one of only six Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) teams that has not allowed an opposing rusher to crack the 100-yard mark. The others are Alabama, Arkansas State, Nevada, Penn State and Texas. The Buckeyes have allowed only seven 100-yard rushers since 2005, the lowest number among all I-A schools during that stretch.

** Don’t expect Tressel to try any special teams trickery against the Hawkeyes. Opponents have attempted four onside kicks, one fake punt and one fake field goal and every one of those tries has failed. Additionally, Iowa has blocked three kicks and one punt this season. The blocked punt came in the 20-10 win over Penn State and was returned 53 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

** Iowa sophomore safety Tyler Sash leads the Big Ten in interceptions with six and he has returned those picks for 203 yards. In only his second season, Sash already has 11 career interceptions with 350 return yards. He needs seven more picks to break into the Big Ten all-time top 10 and only seven more return yards to break into the top five. The conference career leader in interceptions is Al Brosky of Illinois (1950-52) with 30, while the all-time interception return yardage leader is Jamar Fletcher of Wisconsin (1998-2000) with 459.

** The game will be the final home contest of the season for the Buckeyes. They are 72-44-3 all-time in home finales.

** It will also be Senior Day in the Horseshoe with 19 senior players scheduled to get their traditional hug from Tressel and high-five from Brutus. This year’s list of seniors: Andre Amos, Jake Ballard, Kurt Coleman, Jim Cordle, Todd Denlinger, Joe Gantz, Tom Ingham, Andrew Moses, Aaron Pettrey, Dan Potokar, Rob Rose, Anderson Russell, Ryan Schuck, Ray Small, Austin Spitler, Jon Thoma, Marcus Williams, Lawrence Wilson and Doug Worthington.

** If the Buckeyes beat Iowa and Michigan, and are also victorious in their bowl game, the senior class would finish its career with 44 wins. That would break the school record of 43 currently held by the classes of 1995-98, 2002-05 and 2005-08.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The game will be televised using the reverse mirror meaning viewers will be able to watch the game either on their local ABC station or ESPN. And for the second week in a row, the broadcast crew will be Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Matt Millen (color analysis) and Holly Rowe (sideline reports).

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 122 and 123 as well as XM radio channel 144.

** Next week’s game against Michigan will kick off shortly after 12 noon Eastern. It will be televised nationally by ABC.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 10, 1984, backup quarterback Frank Reich of unranked Maryland engineered the biggest comeback in NCAA history at the time, leading the Terrapins from a 31-0 halftime deficit to a 42-40 victory over Miami (Fla.) in the Orange Bowl; on Nov. 12, 1983, UCLA needed only a tie against Arizona to secure a Rose Bowl bid, but kicker John Lee’s field-goal attempt sailed wide as time expired and the Bruins dropped a 27-24 decision; on Nov. 14, 1998, second-ranked Kansas State took a 40-30 win over No. 11 Nebraska to clinch the Big 12 North title, the first football championship of any kind for the Wildcats since 1934; and on Nov. 15, 1890, Minnesota and Wisconsin squared off for the first time in what has become the most-played series in college football history. The Gophers took a 63-0 victory in Minneapolis that day, and the two teams have played one another every year since.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Iowa’s loss to Northwestern dropped the number of Division I-A undefeated teams to six. They are Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Texas and TCU.

** We know at least one of the aforementioned undefeated teams is going to lose in the SEC championship game, but there could be five teams that go through the entire regular season with unbeaten records. That would be the first time that has happened since 1979. Ohio State, Alabama, Florida State and BYU each finished 11-0 while USC was 10-0-1. Only Alabama and USC won their bowl games and the Crimson Tide were named national champions.

** Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly has a full-fledged quarterback controversy on his hands. Regular starter Tony Pike is ready to play again but backup Zach Collaros has been lights-out since Pike has been sidelined. Is Kelly really going to send Collaros back to the bench after he has completed 80 percent of his passes and thrown for 998 yards, eight TDs and no interceptions in three starts? Apparently not yet. Collaros is scheduled to be the starter this evening against West Virginia.

** When Purdue came from behind for a 38-36 victory at Michigan, it marked the Boilermakers’ first win in Ann Arbor since 1966. The Wolverines are now 1-5 in Big Ten play, meaning they have lost 13 of their last 16 conference games. (That’s not all Rich Rodriguez’s fault; Lloyd Carr lost his final two Big Ten games to Wisconsin and Ohio State in 2007). Even so, Michigan is in the throes of its worst conference slide in nearly 75 years. The Wolverines lost 16 of 18 Big Ten games between the start of the 1934 season and the middle of the 1937 campaign.

** Despite the fact it gets maligned more than any other major conference, the Big Ten heads into the final stretch of the season with each of its 11 teams remaining in the hunt to become bowl-eligible. Not 11 teams will make it to the postseason, of course. Illinois must win its remaining three games against Northwestern, Cincinnati and Fresno State, teams with a combined record of 21-7. Meanwhile, Indiana and Purdue must also win both the remaining games on their respective schedules – and they square off against one another Nov. 21 in Bloomington.

** Here is a fun stat: After last weekend’s 17-10 victory in Manhattan, Kansas State is now 14-4 against instate rival Kansas with Bill Snyder as head coach. Without him, the Wildcats are 23-61-5 against the Jayhawks.

** Do you enjoy thrill rides? Then you’d love being a Houston fan. Despite giving up 88 points in their last two games, the Cougars have posted back-to-back victories in the final seconds. They took a 50-43 win over Southern Miss on Oct. 31, getting a 46-yard touchdown pass with 21 seconds left, and then beat Tulsa last week by a 46-45 score when kicker Matt Hogan nailed a 51-yard field goal as time expired. Hogan’s career longest three-pointer to that point had been 34 yards.

** Of the five top passing yardage games in Division I-A this season, Houston QB Case Keenum has two of them. He threw for 559 yards in that win over Southern Miss and also had 536 earlier this season during a 58-41 loss to UTEP. Rounding out the top five: Tyler Sheehan of Bowling Green (505 vs. Kent State), Steven Sheffield of Texas Tech (490 vs. Kansas State) and Greg Alexander of Hawaii (477 vs. UNLV). Keenum leads the nation in passing through Nov. 7 with 3,815 yards and 28 TDs.

** My weekly top five for the Heisman Trophy got a little jumbled last week, but the name at the top of my ballot didn’t change. Texas QB Colt McCoy is still my favorite followed by Alabama RB Mark Ingram and Boise State QB Kellen Moore, who flip-flopped spots. Rounding out the top five are Florida QB Tim Tebow and Houston QB Case Keenum. This week’s dark horse: Pittsburgh QB Bill Stull.

** Ever wonder what happened to Terry Bowden? He resurfaced this season at Division II North Alabama, which finished 10-1 and earned one of eight first-round byes in the 24-team division playoffs. Bowden’s team narrowly missed a perfect regular season, losing a 31-28 decision in four overtimes last weekend to rival West Alabama.

** Iowa was not the only team to lose a lengthy winning streak last week. Defending Division I-AA national champion Richmond dropped a 21-20 decision to fourth-ranked Villanova, ending the Spiders’ winning streak at 17 games.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Straight-up picks were solid again, including another Upset Special with Ohio State beating Penn State. We also mentioned possible trap games for Iowa at Northwestern and Oregon at Stanford but didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger on either one. Nevertheless, those were the only two misses in a 10-2 week that pushed the yearly total to 75-20, a winning percentage of .789. It’s been a while since we finished a season at .800 or better, so that’s certainly something to shoot for.

As far as the spread picks, we’re still trying to stay within shouting distance of breakeven. Not enough hits and too many misses gave us a 5-7 ledger for the week, dropping the season line to 37-45-2 with not a whole lot of time to make up the difference.

But we’re not quitters here at the forecast, so here are the games we like this week. (All rankings are BCS standings.)

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 25 West Virginia at No. 5 Cincinnati: The Bearcats finally roll into the meat of their schedule with as much confidence as anyone in the nation. They have stumbled upon a backup quarterback who may be even better than their starter, they are third in the nation in total offense (482.6 yards per game) and fifth in scoring (40.0), and need only one more victory to set a new school record for best start ever. Standing in the way of that 10th straight win are the Mountaineers, who are facing a must-win situation in terms of the Big East championship. WVU has the horses to keep up with Cincinnati’s offense, but 1,000-yard runner Noel Devine sprained an ankle during last week’s 17-9 win over Louisville and is questionable for tonight’s game. The Mountaineers are the last visiting team to beat UC at Nippert, and they have a defense that is at least capable of slowing down the Bearcats. With Devine less than 100 percent, however, they probably won’t have enough offense to keep up … Cincinnati 31, West Virginia 20. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Temple at Akron: Here’s your chance to see the Owls, one of the surprise teams in all of college football. They are on track for their first bowl appearance since 1979, are currently on a seven-game winning streak that is their longest since 1973 and seek their first undefeated conference regular season since 1967 during their first go-round as MAC members. Meanwhile, the Zips are on the other end of the spectrum. They are 2-7 this season although both of their victories have come at their new home at InfoCision Stadium. But even when the Owls were struggling, Akron had its troubles in the series. Temple leads the overall series by an 11-7 margin, and that includes a 5-3 record in Akron. Look for one of the nation’s top freshmen in Temple running back Bernard Pierce, who has already set school records for a freshman with 1,211 yards and 14 TDs. Since the Zips have had trouble putting points on the board all season, Pierce should be enough for the Owls … Temple 27, Akron 10. (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 3 Texas at Baylor: It’s stat-padding time for Texas QB Colt McCoy, and there is no team he’d rather play than the Bears. In three previous contests against Baylor, McCoy has thrown for 844 yards and 12 TDs while the Longhorns have posted victories by a combined score of 139-62. While the focus in Waco will be on McCoy, the Texas defense has quietly become one of the toughest units in the country. The Longhorns are No. 1 in total defense and No. 8 in scoring, and that’s not a good combination for Baylor. Because of injuries, the Bears are down to their third-string quarterback and two weeks ago Nick Florence was sacked seven times in a 20-10 loss to Nebraska. The Longhorns are working on an 11-game win streak in the series, and have beaten the Bears by an average of more than 37 points in those contests. Sounds like the spread as been set … Texas 44, Baylor 7. (12 noon ET, FSN)

No. 13 Houston at Central Florida: UH head coach Kevin Sumlin must believe defense is something you put around de-backyard. The Cougars give up an average of 30.1 points per game (that ranks 96th nationally) and allow 469.8 yards each week (that’s a lowly 116th among 120 Division I-A teams). How in the world could they be 8-1 and ranked 13th in the latest BCS standings? Thank QB Case Keenum and his high-powered offense that leads the nation with averages of more than 42 points and 575 yards per contest. Over the last two weeks alone, Keenum has completed 84 of 114 passes for 1,081 yards and eight TDs. Central Florida would appear to be Houston’s toughest opponent left on the regular-season schedule, but the Knights have their problems defending the pass. During last week’s 35-3 loss to Texas, they allowed Colt McCoy to throw for 470 yards. UCF is also hurting on offense – starting quarterback Brett Hodges and running back Brynn Harvey missed last week’s game against the Longhorns and are questionable for this week … Houston 45, Central Florida 28. (12 noon ET, CBS College Sports)

Michigan at No. 20 Wisconsin: The Wolverines passed Last Ditch Gulch last week and Rich Rodriguez may be headed for Death Valley. Last Saturday’s home game against Purdue represented Michigan’s last best chance to get bowl-eligible. Now the Wolverines are faced with finishing at Camp Randall and at home against Ohio State, needing to win one of those games to finish with the bowl-eligible required six victories. Unfortunately for Rodriguez and his team, the buzzards are circling. U-M hasn’t beaten a I-A opponent since a late September win over Indiana, and losses in the final two games would give the Wolverines their first last-place finish in the conference standings since 1962. In addition to all that, the Badgers still remember last year’s game when they blew a 19-point second-half advantage and wound up with a 27-25 loss in Ann Arbor … Wisconsin 34, Michigan 31. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 1 Florida at South Carolina: The Gators are getting a lot of criticism lately because their victories haven’t been very pretty. The bottom line, however, is that they remain undefeated and haven’t lost since Tim Tebow’s famous speech last September following a loss to Ole Miss. You would think the Ol’ Ball Coach would have something up his sleeve is terms of an upset this week, but the Gamecocks are in the middle of a late swoon for the third season in a row. Unfortunately, Florida usually contributes to that slide. Steve Spurrier hasn’t beaten his old team since 2005, losing the last three games in the series by a combined score of 124-53. South Carolina’s offense has fizzled for much of the last month, and that doesn’t bode well going against the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense … Florida 31, South Carolina 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Idaho at No. 6 Boise State: Someone opined that this game is the biggest thing to hit Idaho since French fries. The undefeated Broncos are trying their best to secure a BCS bid while the surprising Vandals stand in their way. Idaho is 7-3 this season after losing 26 of its previous 29 games. But the Vandals are beginning to crack a little bit, losing two of their last three and giving up an average of 45.0 points the past three weeks. It’s not going to help that they may also be without starting quarterback Nate Ederle, who is nursing a rotator cuff injury. Meanwhile, Boise still has QB Kellen Moore (2,259 yards, 27 TDs), a stingy defense that allows only 14.0 points per game, and a 53-game regular-season winning streak on the Smurf Turf … Boise State 47, Idaho 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 17 Arizona at California: The Wildcats continue the quest for their first-ever Rose Bowl appearance, but they may have to carry on without top running back Nic Grigsby, who has a sprained right shoulder. Meanwhile, Cal will also be without their best running back as Jahvid Best recovers from a concussion after a nasty head-first fall last weekend. Best’s loss will be difficult for the Bears to overcome especially since Arizona boasts the No. 11 rush defense in the country. The Wildcats could use any help they can get. They have lost their last three trips to Berkeley by a 114-41 margin. In terms of the Rose Bowl bid, this game really doesn’t have any bearing since Zona still needs to beat Oregon and USC to earn its trip to Pasadena. Still, you have to believe Mike Stoops’ team would like a little momentum heading into those final two contests. Here is your Upset Special … Arizona 26, Cal 17. (7 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 16 Utah at No. 4 TCU: The Horned Frogs may have altered their postseason goal. A BCS berth isn’t going to be good enough – they want the whole enchilada. The obstacles remain huge for them to get to the national title game, though, since they will probably need all three teams ahead of them in the rankings to lose while remaining unbeaten. They must also not lose sight of the task at hand, which features the 8-1 Utes. Last year, Utah scored a late touchdown and took a 13-10 victory in Salt Lake City, and it is the last team to beat TCU in Fort Worth. The Utes switched last week to freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn, and he responded with 297 yards and two TDs in a 45-14 win over winless New Mexico. We suspect Wynn will have a little more trouble making his first road start against a ferocious Frog defense … TCU 23, Utah 10. (7:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

Notre Dame at No. 12 Pittsburgh: Somewhere, sometime, Charlie Weis is going to have to secure a signature victory in order to maintain his job in South Bend. In his first season with the Fighting Irish, Weis was victorious in his first three games against ranked teams. Since then, his record against ranked competition is 1-11. The Panthers have one of the best one-two offensive punches in college football this season. QB Bill Stull has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 1,879 yards and 17 TDs against only four INTs, while sophomore RB Dion Lewis has 1,139 yards and 12 TDs. If Notre Dame entertains any thought of an upset, it will have to play its best defensive game of the season. The Irish rank a lowly 79th nationally in total defense and an even-worse 88th against the pass. Notre Dame has beaten Pitt in both of its previous visits to Heinz Field, including Weis’ debut with the Irish, but a lot has happened since then … Pittsburgh 34, Notre Dame 30. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Arizona State at No. 13 Oregon: The Ducks have been on an emotional roller-coaster ride for much of the season. They lost their opener to Boise State after which top running back LeGarrette Blount was suspended for punching a BSU player. Then Chip Kelly’s team ripped off seven straight victories, including a 47-20 statement over USC, before last week’s 51-42 loss at Stanford. This week, Blount returns from suspension as the Ducks return home and try to get back on track for a Rose Bowl bid. On the other sideline, the Sun Devils are playing well on defense despite a 4-5 record. They lead the Pac-10 and are sixth nationally against the run, giving them at least a chance against Oregon’s wide-open run attack. Unfortunately, ASU has trouble manufacturing points. They have lost three straight, rank near the bottom of the conference in total offense and scoring, and head coach Dennis Erickson has changed starting quarterbacks from struggling veteran Danny Sullivan to freshman Brock Osweiler. Adding to the Sun Devils’ misery is the fact they are 3-28 against ranked teams since 2000 and winless in their last four in this series … Oregon 41, Arizona State 17. (10:20 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 10 Iowa at No. 11 Ohio State: As we mentioned above, the Hawkeyes rarely have much success against the Buckeyes and the loss of quarterback Ricky Stanzi makes their task in Columbus that much more difficult. One would have to assume Kirk Ferentz will have something figured out for new QB James Vandenberg, and the Hawkeyes remain one of the most solid defensive units in the Big Ten. Still, it’s extremely difficult to win when you can’t put points on the scoreboard and it is difficult to image how Iowa can score unless the Buckeyes turn the ball over like they did at Purdue. Short of that kind of performance, things should be coming up roses for OSU … Ohio State 28, Iowa 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Cincinnati (-8½) at West Virginia; Temple (-4) at Akron; Texas (-23) at Baylor; Houston (-4½) at Central Florida; Michigan (+9) at Wisconsin; Florida (-15½)  at South Carolina; Idaho (+32) at Boise State; Arizona at Cal (+2½); Utah (+20) at TCU; Notre Dame (+7) at Pittsburgh; Arizona State at Oregon (-17½); Iowa at Ohio State (-16½).

You will probably want to know that Iowa is 1-7 ATS in its past eight games against OSU while the Buckeyes are 5-0 ATS in their last five home contests with the Hawkeyes. Enjoy the games.

And Down The Stretch They Come

The old coach once said, “September is for pretenders; November is for contenders,” and he was never more right than this season.

Let a couple of the Big Ten teams go through the motions and extend their seasons into December. Iowa, Penn State and Ohio State know the real season ends Nov. 21, and each school enters the three-game November stretch drive with a chance at the Big Ten championship.

The Hawkeyes have the inside track, of course, courtesy of their 9-0 start, the best in program history. They may also be one of the most entertaining teams to watch – at least from afar. I’m not sure how much more the Iowa fans can take since four of their team’s victories have come after the Hawkeyes were trailing after three quarters.

Nevertheless, every coach’s preseason objective is to win all of his games, and Kirk Ferentz is three-quarters of the way to accomplishing that goal. His team finishes the season at home with Northwestern tomorrow, at Ohio State next week and back home against Minnesota on Nov. 21, and that would seem to be a manageable schedule. There are hurdles, however.

Before you dismiss the game against the Wildcats, a look at recent history would seem to indicate a potential land mine for Iowa.

Although the Hawkeyes hold a decisive 46-21-3 advantage in the overall series, Northwestern has won three of the last four meetings including two in a row at Kinnick Stadium. Additionally, head coach Pat Fitzgerald sports a 2-1 record head-to-head against Ferentz.

Should the Hawkeyes get past Northwestern, they would enter Ohio Stadium unbeaten and with their highest national ranking in many years. OSU fans can quote chapter and verse on their favorite team’s recent struggles against top-five competition, but the shoe may be on the other foot this time around. Iowa has often been a highflier before facing the Buckeyes only to fall to pieces in spectacular fashion.

The most memorable of those crash-and-burns came in 2006 when the Hawkeyes were undefeated and ranked No. 13 in the country. They hosted OSU in a nationally televised night game but were unceremoniously dumped in a 38-17 trip to the woodshed. That lashing sent Iowa spiraling into a tailspin from which they never recovered. The team lost seven of its last nine games that season.

Of course, the Hawkeyes have never had much success against the Buckeyes. They have only 14 wins and three ties against 44 losses since the teams began playing one another in 1922. Ohio State has padded its advantage by winning 10 of the last 11 games in the series and five out of six against Ferentz. What’s more, Iowa is winless in its last five trips to Columbus and hasn’t beaten the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium since a 16-9 squeaker in 1991.

If Iowa can somehow figure out a way to get over its Ohio State bugaboo, it could be in for smooth sailing to an undefeated regular season. Although the Hawkeyes have a losing record in their all-time series with Minnesota, they have beaten the Gophers seven of the last eight times overall and eight of the last nine times Goldy has visited Iowa City.

Meanwhile, Penn State and Ohio State will decide tomorrow afternoon who stays in the race and who drops out when they face one another in Happy Valley. After that, the Nittany Lions are home against Indiana next Saturday and they finish the season Nov. 21 at Michigan State.

Penn State and Ohio State have split 24 previous games right down the middle, but the Buckeyes have a slight edge in recent contests. Jim Tressel has beaten Joe Paterno in five of their eight meetings, and OSU has won two of its last three trips to Beaver Stadium.

You can probable count on the game being a close one. The winning margin has been seven points or less five times in the last eight games between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.

Should Penn State get past Ohio State, it will likely cruise to an 11-1 finish. The Nittany Lions have never lost to Indiana in 12 previous meetings, and they have taken four of their last five from Michigan State.

On paper, it is the Buckeyes and their backloaded schedule who have the toughest November road to navigate. Ohio State must play two of its final three games on the road, and it will face opponents over the final stretch that have a combined record of 22-5, good for an .815 winning percentage. Iowa’s final three opponents are a combined 17-10 (.660) while Penn State squares off against opposition that is 15-12 (.556).

We’ve already touched on the challenges OSU will face at Penn State and at home against Iowa. If the Buckeyes can run that gantlet, they would head for Ann Arbor with a lot on their minds.

They would be playing for an unprecedented sixth straight victory over the Wolverines and a fifth consecutive Big Ten championship, not to mention the team’s first trip to the Rose Bowl in 13 seasons and a probable date with Pac-10 front-runner Oregon.

Anyone who watched the Ducks systematically dismantle USC on Halloween night needs to be careful of wishing for a bowl matchup with Chip Kelly’s team. But I’m sure Tressel will worry about that when and if the time comes. The challenge now is to gear up for what should be an entertaining trifecta of games with championship implications.

After all, most coaches know September and October games merely position your team for a late-season run. And you should know Tressel has a lifetime 81-22 record in November and December – 57-18 at Youngstown State and 24-4 at Ohio State.

OSU-PENN STATE TIDBITS

** This marks the 24th overall meeting between Ohio State and Penn State. The series is split evenly with each team claiming 12 victories. The Nittany Lions have a 5-4 advantage in games played at Happy Valley, while the Buckeyes enjoy a 10-6 edge in games played since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 5-3 against Penn State. That includes a 2-2 record at State College, including a 37-17 victory in 2007.

** Penn State head coach Joe Paterno is 8-12 all-time against Ohio State. That includes a 5-4 record against the Buckeyes at State College.

** Both coaches are noted for getting their teams to peak at the right times. Tressel is 24-4 in November games at Ohio State (a .857 winning percentage) while Paterno is 112-33-2 (.768) during the month.

** Five of the last eight games in the series have been determined by seven points or less. However, there have been some notable blowouts over the years. Penn State rolled to a 63-14 win at Beaver Stadium in 1994, and Ohio State returned the favor six years later in Ohio Stadium with a 45-6 wipeout. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes in their 12 wins is 15.3 points. When the Nittany Lions win, the average margin is 15.1.

** Several series trends would seem to favor Penn State. The higher ranked team has won 17 of the last 18 meetings and the home team has won 12 of the 16 games played since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten.

** The game pits two of the nine winningest programs in college football since 2005. Ohio State ranks fifth with a 50-10 record over that span while Penn State is ninth at 48-12. Texas is the winningest program since ’05 with a 52-7 record.

** The game will be the first-ever regular season matchup between coaches who have combined for 600-plus career wins. Paterno (391) and Tressel (225) currently total 616 career victories. That breaks the previous record of 591 set last season when Florida State’s Bobby Bowden squared off against Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech. At that time, Bowden had 377 career victories and Beamer had 214.

** The Nittany Lions are ranked first or second in 20 of the 30 statistical categories the Big Ten compiles. They are first in 13 of those categories – pass efficiency and total offense; rushing, pass, total and scoring defense; total sacks and fewest sacks allowed; third-down conversions and third-down defense; fourth-down defense; red-zone defense; and PAT kicking efficiency.

** This week’s game will mark the 300th game in Beaver Stadium’s 50-year history, and the Nittany Lions usually do well in milestone home contests. They won their first game at the facility, a 20-0 victory over Boston University on Sept. 20, 1960, and have followed with wins in the stadium’s 100th, 150th, 200th and 250th games. The only blemish on that slate came in game No. 50 – a 24-7 loss to Syracuse in 1970.

** Speaking of milestone victories, last weekend’s 34-13 win over Northwestern gave Paterno his 144th victory as a member of the Big Ten. That pushed him past former Iowa head coach Hayden Fry and into fourth place on the conference’s all-time wins list. The four winningest coaches in Big Ten history are Woody Hayes of Ohio State (205, 1951-78), Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago (199, 1896-1932), Bo Schembechler of Michigan (194, 1969-89) and Fielding Yost of Michigan (165, 1901-23, ’25-26).

** Penn State is traditionally one of the least penalized teams in the nation and that is true again in 2009. The Nittany Lions are No. 4 nationally this week with only 36.7 penalty yards per game. In its last three games played against the Buckeyes, Penn State has incurred only five penalties for 29 yards. During the same three games, Ohio State was flagged 14 times for 135 yards. During last season’s 13-6 victory in Columbus, the Nittany Lions had no penalties.

** OSU is 128-104-12 all-time against ranked teams, including 39-41-7 on the road. Under Tressel, the Buckeyes are 34-13 overall and 12-6 on the road against ranked competition.

** Midway through his sophomore season, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor is on pace to shatter the school’s all-time record for total offense. Pryor has already eclipsed the 4,000-yard mark and needs only 383 more to pass Rex Kern (4,158, 1968-70) and Cornelius Greene (4,414, 1972-75) and into 11th place on the career list. Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81) is the longtime school record-holder for career total offense.

** The Buckeyes have forced 24 turnovers this season, a total that ties them for second in the Big Ten. OSU forced 29 turnovers all of last year.

** Paterno has two coaches on his staff who have been with him more than 30 years. Offensive line coach Dick Anderson is in his 32nd year with Paterno while defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is in his 31st season with the Nittany Lions.

** One final note on last week’s game against New Mexico State. The Aggies were paid $850,000 to play the Buckeyes – about $13,710 for each of the 62 yards of total offense they gained.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The game will be televised using the reverse mirror meaning viewers will be able to watch the game either on their local ABC station or ESPN2. Veteran play-by-play man Sean McDonough will call the game, former Penn State All-America defensive tackle Matt Millen will provide color analysis and Holly Rowe will be the sideline reporter.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 123 and 127 as well as XM radio channel 144.

** Next week’s Senior Day game against Iowa will kick off from Ohio Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. That game will also be televised using the ABC/ESPN reverse mirror effect.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** The game of football traces its roots to an event held 140 years ago today. On Nov. 6, 1869, Rutgers and Princeton squared off in Brunswick, N.J., for what has often been described as the first-ever game of American football. The 1869 game – won 6 “runs” to 4 by Rutgers – bore little resemblance to what football is known as today. For example, each side used 25 men on a 120-yard field and the rules were said to be a mixture of rugby and soccer. Players attempted to score by kicking the ball into the opposing team’s goal, and throwing or carrying the ball was not allowed.

Purists believe the first real game of college football occurred in 1874 between Harvard and McGill University of Montreal. Others contend college football began in 1880 when Yale head coach Walter Camp devised a number of major changes in the game, including establishing rules for scrimmage as well as down and distance.

Nevertheless, it is the game that occurred 140 years ago today in New Jersey that has become accepted as the first step in the evolution of American college football.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 3, 1984, Ohio State rolled to a 50-7 victory over Indiana, giving future College Football Hall of Fame coach Earle Bruce his 100th career win; on Nov. 4, 2000, Utah State running back Emmett White established a new NCAA single-game record with 578 all-purpose yards as the Aggies took a 44-37 win over New Mexico State; on Nov. 5, 1960, third-ranked Minnesota forced three turnovers and scored a 27-10 upset of top-ranked Iowa; on Nov. 7, 1959, unranked Tennessee stopped Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon on a fourth-quarter two-point conversion run and preserved a 14-13 upset over No. 1 LSU, ending the Tigers’ 19-game unbeaten streak; and on Nov. 8, 1975, unranked Kansas ended No. 2 Oklahoma’s 28-game winning streak by going into Norman and carving out a 23-3 upset victory. The defending national champion Sooners committed seven second-half turnovers and were held to their lowest scoring output in nine seasons. They rebounded, however, and went on to defeat Penn State in the Orange Bowl for a second consecutive national title.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The seven undefeated teams at the Division I-A level are hanging in there. Congratulations so far to Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Texas and TCU. Perhaps if we finish the season with five or six undefeated teams, a playoff system will come that much faster.

** Maybe this is the decade I lived in Texas talking, but wouldn’t Texas vs. TCU be an intriguing matchup for the national championship? The Longhorns lead the country in scoring and are third in total defense; the Horned Frogs are 11th in scoring and first in total defense.

** Think Iowa is a second-half team? After being outscored by a combined 88-83 in the first half, the Hawkeyes have swamped opponents after intermission to the tune of 148-54. In the fourth quarter alone, Iowa has outscored the opposition by a 100-38 margin.

** If Iowa can win out, it will capture its first Big Ten championship since tying for the 2004 crown. It would also be the Hawkeyes’ first outright title since 1985.

** Just when things were turning around at Michigan, the Wolverines hit a brick wall. The defense surrendered 377 rushing yards to Illinois last weekend – the same Illinois team that hadn’t beaten a Division I-A team all season – during a 38-13 loss. Coupled with last year’s 45-20 loss in Ann Arbor, Michigan has now lost to Illinois in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1957 and ’58. This year’s defeat also means the Wolverines must win out to avoid the program’s first consecutive losing Big Ten seasons since 1962 and ’63.

** Congratulations to my father-in-law’s alma mater. After beginning the season with eight straight losses, Miami (Ohio) finally got into the victory column last week with a 31-24 win over Toledo at Yager Stadium. Quarterback Zac Dysert ran for two touchdowns and threw for another as the RedHawks snapped an overall 13-game losing streak and avoided their first winless season since 1988.

** The win by Miami left the Division I-A winless list at four: Rice, Eastern Michigan, Western Kentucky and New Mexico. Pity the Lobos. They still have to play Mountain West Conference rivals Utah, BYU and TCU.

** In case you haven’t noticed, there is a definite Yellow Jacket buzz in the ACC. Georgia Tech has quietly moved into the national rankings with an 8-1 record that includes last week’s 56-31 dismantling of SEC member Vanderbilt in Nashville. Tech rolled up 597 yards of offense on Vandy, including 404 on the ground, proving once again that head coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack can be successful at the BCS level.

** A tough season for Syracuse got tougher Monday when leading receiver Mike Williams decided to leave the team. Williams, who had 49 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns in seven games this season, was ranked sixth in the nation in receiving yards per game. Unfortunately, he has had myriad off-the-field problems. He didn’t play last season because of academic problems, and Williams was suspended for the Oct. 24 game against Akron for violating team policy. Williams finishes his career with 20 touchdown catches, tying him with Marvin Harrison (1992-95) for the second-most in Syracuse history. Rob Moore (1987-89) is the Orange career leader in touchdown receptions with 22.

** Speaking of Moore, he later became an NFL receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, and played a vital – if unaccredited – role in the 1996 film “Jerry Maguire” starting Tom Cruise. Cuba Gooding Jr. won a best supporting actor Academy Award for playing Arizona receiver Rod “Show Me The Money!” Tidwell in that movie. Both Moore and the fictional Tidwell wore No. 85 for the Cardinals, and it is actual game footage of Moore that you see in the film.

** My weekly top five for the Heisman Trophy didn’t change for the first time in a while. I still have Texas QB Colt McCoy in the top spot followed by Boise State QB Kellen Moore, Alabama RB Mark Ingram, Florida QB Tim Tebow and Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen. This week’s dark horse: Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli.

** What has happened to the mighty SEC? Only three teams remain in the national rankings – Florida at No. 1, Alabama at No. 3 and LSU at No. 9. There is no doubt that the SEC features a couple of the best teams in the country, but let’s dispense with the notion it is the best conference from top to bottom. Just like most every other league, the teams in the middle of the SEC standings are merely average and the bottom-feeders are bottom-feeders.

FEARLESS FORECAST

For the second week in a row, we were nearly perfect with the straight-up picks, including the Upset Special of Oregon over USC. We were 9-1 with last week’s picks, pushing the yearly total to 65-18.

Against the spread, we were not as fortunate. It was another losing week at 4-5-1, dropping the season line to 32-38-1.

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

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 7 Boise State at Louisiana Tech: Here’s a fun fact regarding the Broncos. In their last two games, they forced eight turnovers while helped them beat Hawaii and San Jose State by a combined score of 99-16. In their previous two games, Boise produced no turnovers and defeated UC-Davis and Tulsa by a combined score of 62-37. Obviously, creating turnovers makes a big difference for any team, and the Broncos may need a couple tonight. The Bulldogs are only 3-5 but they have a pretty good offense with QB Ross Jenkins (1,467 yards, 11 TDs) and RB Daniel Porter (640 yards, 7 TDs). Unfortunately, their defense is not quite up to the task of corralling the Broncos … Boise State 37, Louisiana Tech 24. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Northwestern at No. 4 Iowa: As mentioned above, the Hawkeyes have had their problems recently with the Wildcats. However, it may have been last year’s 22-17 home loss to Northwestern that served as a springboard for this year’s Iowa team. In that game, QB Ricky Stanzi drove his team to the NU 8-yard line for a potential go-ahead score but then threw four straight incompletions. Stanzi and the Hawkeyes obviously took away something valuable from that lesson because they’ve learned how to win those close games – Iowa has trailed in eight of its nine victories this season. Meanwhile, Northwestern is hoping QB Mike Kafka recovers quickly from the hamstring problem that forced him out of last week’s loss to Penn State. Kafka’s presence would help the Wildcats’ cause, but we’re not sure they have enough defense to keep Stanzi and the Hawkeyes in check … Iowa 26, Northwestern 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Western Michigan at Michigan State: The Spartans are the anti-Iowa this season. While the Hawkeyes find a way to win, Mark Dantonio’s team has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory countless times. Of course, Sparty apologists will point to the team’s five losses and say they are a mere 23 points from being undefeated. The bottom line? They have five losses and Dantonio needs to get his late-game management under control if he wants to avoid his first losing season in East Lansing. Job one is to take care of the Broncos and history is certainly on Michigan State’s side. The Spartans are 8-2 all-time against Western, and haven’t lost in the series to WMU since 1919 … Michigan State 26, Western Michigan 14. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 21 Wisconsin at Indiana: The Badgers dropped off everyone’s radar screen – and rightfully so – after back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Iowa, but they have a very good chance to win out and record a 10-win season. Their final four opponents are a combined 16-19, and they begin this week with the Hoosiers. IU is reeling with five losses in their last six games, and the Hoosiers surrendered second-half leads in three of those contests. Defensively, Indiana is giving up more than 400 yards per game and that won’t be helped any by the loss of senior cornerback Ray Fisher to a season-ending knee injury. The Badgers have won four straight and 10 of the last 12 in the series by simply pounding away with their running attack and we don’t see any reason why that formula shouldn’t work again this year … Wisconsin 34, Indiana 14. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Syracuse at No. 13 Pittsburgh: While everyone has conceded the Big East championship to Cincinnati, the Panthers are purring along with an offense featuring the nation’s third-rated passer and fourth-leading rusher. QB Bill Stull has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 1,654 yards and 16 TDs against only two picks, while RB Dion Lewis has quietly rushed for 1,029 yards and 11 TDs. But for once, Dave Wannstedt’s team isn’t all offense. Pitt also leads the nation in sacks and ranks among the nation’s top 25 in rushing, total and scoring defense. That is not exactly the recipe for a Syracuse upset, especially since the Orange rank 106th nationally in total offense. Making matters worse – leading receiver Mike Williams left the team and first-year head coach Doug Marrone suspended three other players this week … Pittsburgh 38, Syracuse 14. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)

No. 8 Oregon at Stanford: The Ducks couldn’t have looked much better while skewering USC last Saturday night. This week, they need to avoid a letdown on their way to their first Rose Bowl since a 38-20 loss to Penn State in the 1995 game. The Cardinal is no pushover, especially in Palo Alto. Jim Harbaugh’s team is a perfect 4-0 at home this season and has won nine of its last 10 at Stanford Stadium. QB Andrew Luck is an underrated talent with 1,825 yards and nine TDs while Cardinal RB Toby Gerhart has 994 yards and 13 TDs. With Stanford trying to protect its home turf and playing to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2001, this has all the makings of a trap game for Oregon. After watching the Ducks last week, though, it would be difficult to pick against them … Oregon 34, Stanford 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, FSN)

Wake Forest at No. 10 Georgia Tech: Some fans are never satisfied. The Yellow Jackets are leading the ACC Coastal Division and angling for their first-ever BCS bowl and their fans are criticizing their defense. True, Paul Johnson’s team ranks no higher than seventh in the conference in any of the major defensive categories. But when you have a juggernaut of an offense, you can simply bludgeon most of your opponents into submission. Because of the nation’s No. 2 running attack, Tech is averaging more than 35 points and 440 yards per game. That should be more than enough to get past the Demon Deacons, who are ninth in the ACC against the run and 10th in total defense … Georgia Tech 41, Wake Forest 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

No. 9 LSU at No. 3 Alabama: Chicks may dig the long ball but football purists still embrace a good, old-fashioned defensive struggle and this game should be one of those kinds of brawls. The Crimson Tide have the No. 5 scoring defense in the nation while the Tigers are No. 7. You could make the case that the Bama offense hasn’t played well for a month, averaging a mere 18.0 points over its last three games. During that same stretch, however, the defense has given up an average of only 6.3. Meanwhile, LSU has scored 30 or more five times this season and has averaged 36.5 over its past two games. Still, the Tigers struggled mightily in their only loss, a 13-3 defeat against Florida. Coupled with the Tide playing at home and coming off an open week, the edge would seem to tilt slightly Bama’s way … Alabama 10, LSU 6. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 6 TCU at San Diego State: The Horned Frogs’ task is pretty simple: win all of your games and maybe you’ll get a BCS bid. Seemingly no one outside Fort Worth believes TCU belongs in the big-money bowls, but the Frogs are doing their part. They moved up to No. 6 in the AP poll this week, their highest ranking since 1956, but that No. 6 spot in the BCS standings is more important. This week, TCU travels to sunny San Diego where the Aztecs are experiencing something of a renaissance. Under first-year head coach Brady Hoke, they are 4-4 and hopeful of a first winning record since 1998. (To be fair, they did finish 6-6 in 2003.) Unfortunately for Hoke and the Aztecs, they are winless in four games against the Frogs since TCU joined the Mountain West. That streak likely goes to five … TCU 45, San Diego State 3. (4 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 12 USC at Arizona State: It’s not very often a Pete Carroll-coached team has to pick up the pieces after a devastating loss. Then again, no one has beaten a Carroll team like Oregon did last week. That 47-20 loss to the Ducks was the most lopsided loss for a USC team in 12 years, and the 613 yards allowed by the Trojans was the second-most in program history. It’s a good time to get out of town, and the perfect destination is Tempe. The Trojans haven’t lost back-to-back games since 2001 – Carroll’s first season in Tinseltown – and USC is working on an eight-game winning streak in its series with the Sun Devils. What’s more is the fact that Arizona State has lost its last 13 games at home against top-15 competition. Sounds a lot like a bounce-back opportunity for the Trojans, doesn’t it? … USC 34, Arizona State 21. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

Connecticut at No. 5 Cincinnati: While backup quarterback Zach Collaros has gotten most of the recent attention, the Bearcats’ defense has gone largely unnoticed. It shouldn’t because UC’s last two opponents have combined for only 17 points and neither Louisville nor Syracuse totaled 300 yards. Collaros will likely be under center again Saturday night as regular starter Tony Pike continues to struggle following forearm surgery a couple of weeks ago. The Huskies are still reeling from the Oct. 18 stabbing death of cornerback Jasper Howard, and last week lost starting quarterback Cody Endress with a season-ending shoulder injury. That doesn’t bode well for UConn, which has lost by double digits in all three of its previous visits to Nippert Stadium, where the Bearcats have won 10 in a row and 20 of their last 22 … Cincinnati 38, Connecticut 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 16 Ohio State at No. 11 Penn State: Many observers believe this game should look a lot like the one last year when one mistake – Terrelle Pryor’s fumble – meant the difference in the Nittany Lions’ 13-6 victory in Columbus. A couple of things to remember, though: Penn State’s defense is not quite as good as it was last year, and Ohio State’s defense is better than it was a year ago. Add that to the fact Pryor returns to his home state and wants to win this game more than any other on the schedule, and you get a victory for the Buckeyes that isn’t as close as some think it’s going to be. Here is your Upset Special … Ohio State 20, Penn State 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State at Louisiana Tech (+21½); Northwestern (+16½) at Iowa; Western Michigan (+20½) at Michigan State; Wisconsin (-10) at Indiana; Syracuse at Pittsburgh (-21); Oregon (-6) at Stanford; Wake Forest at Georgia Tech (-15); LSU (+8) at Alabama; TCU (-24) at San Diego State; USC (-10) at Arizona State; Connecticut at Cincinnati (-16); Ohio State (+4) at Penn State.

In the interest of full disclosure, we are flying in the face of recent history with the Upset Special. In its past five trips to Happy Valley, Ohio State is 1-4 ATS. Enjoy the games.

OSU Observing Myriad Of Major Milestones

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

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

Here are 10 landmark moments for this season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-NEW MEXICO STATE TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Ten years ago today, Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo was a one-man wrecking crew against Stanford. On Oct. 30, 1999, Tuiasosopo became the first player in NCAA history to throw for at least 300 yards and rush for 200 or more in the same game. He threw for 302 yards and added 207 on the ground in a 35-30 victory over the Cardinal.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 26, 1985, unranked UTEP used an unusual 2-9 defensive alignment for a 23-16 upset of seventh-ranked BYU, ending the Cougars’ 25-game WAC winning streak; on Oct. 27, 1979, Pitt freshman quarterback Dan Marino came off the bench to throw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, leading the No. 12 Panthers to a 24-7 victory over No. 17 Navy; on Oct. 28, 1950, Nevada’s Pat Brady booted an NCAA-record 99-yard punt during a 34-7 loss to Loyola Marymount; on Oct. 29, 1988, Washington State scored 28 second-half points during a 34-30 upset win over top-ranked UCLA and its All-America quarterback Troy Aikman; and on Nov. 1, 1986, Long Beach State’s Mark Templeton set an NCAA single-game record for receptions by a running back with 18 catches for 173 yards during his team’s 14-3 win over Utah State.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level remained at seven this week. Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Texas and TCU continue with unblemished records as the 2009 season hits the three-quarter pole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** Starting the season with an 8-0 mark may be unusual in Iowa City, but it isn’t that rare in the Big Ten. This marks the fourth straight season, and fifth in the last six, that a conference team has posted at least an 8-0 start. Wisconsin started the 2004 season with a 9-0 record while Ohio State and Michigan were 11-0 heading into their traditional regular-season finale in 2006. The Buckeyes started with 10 straight victories in 2007 and Penn State was 9-0 last season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Do Buckeyes, Pryor Go From Here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-MINNESOTA TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Redshirt Or Not To Redshirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEADING RUSHERS BY SEASON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-WISCONSIN TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

Here are the games we like this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What One Week Of Big Ten Play Has Taught Us

Only one week into the Big Ten season and several conference teams have already distinguished themselves – both good and bad.

Penn State, which tied Ohio State for the league championship last season, is starting out behind the 8-ball after losing its conference opener at home to Iowa. Likewise for Michigan State, last year’s third-place team, who lost at Wisconsin and is 1-3 to start the season for the first time since 1998.

Michigan and Minnesota could be considered overachievers at this point, Illinois and Northwestern could be considered underachievers, and the remainder of the teams fit somewhere in between.

Here is a quick look at the Big Ten schools, in early conference standings order, and how they rank compared to preseason forecasts.

Iowa (1-0, 4-0) – The Hawkeyes weren’t exactly considered championship contenders since they lost running back Shonn Greene, last year’s Big Ten MVP, as well as defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. So far, however, Kirk Ferentz’s team has found a way to win each week even though three of its four victories have come by 11 points or less.

Last week’s win over Penn State was an attention-getter, but considering the fact the Hawkeyes have owned the Nittany Lions in recent years makes one wonder if Iowa can truly build on that big upset. Going 5-0 shouldn’t be difficult with this week’s game against Arkansas State, but the Hawkeyes return to conference play Oct. 10 to begin a three-week stretch at home with Michigan and on the road at Wisconsin and Michigan State.

You would have to believe a team that ranks only eighth in the Big Ten in scoring offense and ninth in total offense will have to figure out a way to get more points on the board if it truly intends to make a serious play for the championship.

Michigan (1-0, 4-0) – Everyone figured the Wolverines would be better than last season. I’m not sure anyone outside Ann Arbor thought they would be undefeated at this point. Give props to Rich Rodriguez. He perfected a philosophy at West Virginia and has recruited players to Michigan who buy into that philosophy. The question remains how well that philosophy will work when the weather turns cold and bigger, stronger teams begin to pound on U-M’s undersized offensive line.

So far so good for freshman quarterback Tate Forcier, who has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 671 yards and seven TDs against only two interceptions. He has also rushed for 127 yards, and that is second only to Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State among conference quarterbacks. The fact remains, however, that Forcier is still a freshman and has yet to play a road game. That ends beginning this week when the Wolverines head to East Lansing. Next week, they travel to Iowa City.

Additionally, if Michigan is going to continue to rack up wins, the defense must play better. The unit is ninth in the Big Ten in total defense and has surrendered yardage in chunks. Rodriguez has a pretty good thing going on offense, but how the Wolverines play on defense is what will ultimately separate them as contender or pretender.

Wisconsin (1-0, 4-0) – Not unpredictably, the Badgers have gotten things done so far with their running game. The team is second in the conference in rushing offense, averaging 197.8 yards per game. But Bret Bielema’s team has found that it can throw the football a little bit, too. First-year starter Scott Tolzien has thrown for 884 yards and eight touchdowns, and has led his team to an average of 428.0 yards and 36.0 points per game.

Defense? Well, that’s another story in Madison. For a team that excels so well running the ball, it’s perhaps a little bit of a mystery why the Badgers can’t seem to stop the run. They have allowed 145.8 yards per game to four opponents so far, a number that ranks next-to-last in the Big Ten and 73rd nationally in rushing defense. Those numbers are even more leaky when considering the fact UW’s first four opponents have combined for a 5-11 record.

The fun part of the season would appear to be over for Wisconsin, however. Over the next three weeks, the Badgers travel to Minnesota and Ohio State before hosting Iowa.

Minnesota (1-0, 3-1) – Are the Gophers truly overachievers or are they about where they should be? They scored a seven-point victory over Air Force – the only loss the Falcons have so far this season – and they played right with Cal when the Bears were a top-10 team. Last week, though, could have been a signal. After losing two straight games to Northwestern in the waning moments, Goldy finally got over the hump with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to overturn a 24-21 deficit.

Minnesota entered the 2009 season trying to retool its offense and breathe new life into a running game that finished dead last in the conference last year. So far, whatever Tim Brewster has tried hasn’t work. The Gophers remain last in the Big Ten in rushing and it’s really not even close. You have to wonder what happens when/if an opponent puts the clamps on senior wideout Eric Decker, who leads the league and is sixth nationally with 124.8 receiving yards per game.

Figure out a way to take Decker out of the equation and watch Minnesota struggle. Take his yardage away and the Gophers would be averaging just over 200 yards a game. Decker’s teammates are going to have pick things up, especially when back-to-back games at Penn State and Ohio State come around in mid-October.

Ohio State (1-0, 3-1) – Same old Buckeyes. A mini-scare against an early nonconference opponent, a loss to a top-five team and then some muscle flexing as the Big Ten season gets under way. Perhaps the only difference this season is the way the defense is playing. Ohio State has ridden the wave of an attacking defensive front to pitch consecutive shutouts against Toledo and Illinois – teams that have shown themselves to be pretty good offensively.

Not that the Buckeyes are not without question marks. The running game remains in flux as neither Boom Herron nor Brandon Saine have exactly distinguished themselves What does it say about them that Pryor is the leading rusher on the team? Still, the Herron-Saine combo has averaged 103.4 yards per game.

Likewise, Ohio State’s passing game seems a bit sparse. Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey have combined for 27 receptions – exactly one-half of the team’s total. No other wideout has more than five catches so far. Add in Pryor’s sometimes-maddening penchant for continued mental and physical mistakes and Buckeye fans may need to keep the Pepto-Bismol close at hand.

Purdue (0-0, 1-3) – The Boilermakers are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. Are they the team that gave Oregon all it wanted in Eugene before falling by only two points, or are they the team that lost to Northern Illinois, a MAC team that had a previous 1-32-1 record against the Big Ten? The Boilers are as hard to figure as head coach Danny Hope’s decision to call a defensive timeout right before Notre Dame scored the winning touchdown last week.

One thing you can figure on is Purdue to try and run up the score on every opponent. Sophomore tailback Ralph Bolden has been the league’s leading rusher all season, and his average of 122.0 yards per game is more than 20 better than anyone else. Meanwhile, first-year starting QB Joey Elliott has thrown for 963 yards and seven TDs this season.

What has kept the Boilermakers from achieving more this season is a porous defense that has allowed 421.5 yards and 30.2 points per game. Both figures are dead last in the Big Ten. Add in 11 giveaways (the most in the conference) and you have a recipe for disaster if those numbers don’t get better.

Indiana (0-1, 3-1) – Since the Hoosiers have had exactly one winning season since 1994, and haven’t won or shared a Big Ten title since 1967, it has been easy to dismiss the team’s good start. Another play or two going their way – not to mention that questionable simultaneous reception call – and IU could have claimed victory at Michigan and been undefeated.

The Hoosiers are a much-improved team, both on offense and on defense. Settling on Ben Chappell at quarterback has solidified what IU wants to do with its offensive attack, and a defense led by hard-charging defensive ends Jammie Kerlew and Greg Middleton have surprised some early opponents.

For all of their improvements, however, Bill Lynch’s team remains an unknown entity. With the exception of kickoff returns (first in the Big Ten) and rush defense (second), the Hoosiers are a middle-of-the-pack team in most categories. Given the lack of success in recent years for the program, however, Lynch would likely welcome a middle-of-the-pack finish in the standings.

Penn State (0-1, 3-1) – Sometimes we tend to dismiss Joe Paterno when he poor-mouths his team. In reality, when JoePa says he really doesn’t know how good his team is, he means it. No one knows how good – or how bad – the Nittany Lions are. When you put three creampuffs on your nonconference schedule, that’s how it’s likely to be.

Last week’s loss to Iowa exposed some possible problems moving forward. For example, the worst two games in quarterback Darryl Clark’s career have now come against Iowa. However, Clark has already pitched six interceptions this season after throwing only six all of last year. Meanwhile, running back Evan Royster’s production is down – way down – from a season ago when he averaged 95.1 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry. This year, his averages are 76.2 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry.

The Nittany Lions are probably good enough defensively to make up for a lot of offensive problems. They are No. 1 in the Big Ten in every defensive category so far. Still, with an offense that features Clark and Royster, you would assume the production gets better. Penn State will likely right the ship and get back on course to its Nov. 7 showdown with Ohio State in Happy Valley.

Northwestern (0-1, 2-2) – Time for a mea culpa. In the season preview issue of Buckeye Sports Bulletin, I picked the Wildcats as a dark horse title contender and actually had them playing in a BCS bowl. Then reality hit, the defense forgot to tackle and Northwestern is just trying to keep its hopes alive for any bowl game.

What happened? For starters, the defense has not played up to snuff and a rebuilt offense simply can’t be required to outscore the opposing team every week. The Wildcats are third in the conference in passing offense and second in scoring, but they’re also fifth in total defense and ninth in scoring defense. Turnovers have also been a problem – Northwestern already has 10 giveaways in four games.

On the bright side, dual-threat quarterback Mike Kafka is leading the Big Ten in passing and total offense. Conversely, teams are beginning to load up against Kafka as the Wildcats scramble to find offensive players who can take the burden off their quarterback. The upcoming schedule could help. Northwestern’s next three opponents are a combined 2-10 so far this season.

Illinois (0-1, 1-2) – Ron Zook may want to circle the wagons in Champaign. His team couldn’t have looked any more disjointed last week at Ohio State if it had been the first day of camp. His team’s Rose Bowl appearance in 2007 is beginning to look more and more like an aberration, and this year’s 1-2 start certainly isn’t helping.

Zook has long had the reputation of being an excellent recruiter who has difficulties coaching up the talent once it gets on campus. His record in three years at Florida was a pedestrian 23-14, but only two years after he left Gainesville, Urban Meyer guided a roster primarily made up of Zook recruits to the national championship. Now in his fifth season with the Illini, Zook has produced a record of 19-32. Throw out the Rose Bowl year and that mark plummets to 10-28, or a ghastly .263 winning percentage.

Zook’s contract calls for an annual salary of approximately $1.5 million and it runs through 2014, but he’s going to be awfully tough for university officials to defend if he doesn’t get his program turned around and turned around quickly.

Michigan State (0-1, 1-3) – They haven’t celebrated a Big Ten championship in East Lansing since 1990, but this was supposed to be Sparty’s year. Then came a fourth-quarter collapse in week two against Central Michigan and things have gone steadily downhill. Perhaps the most difficult part of the three consecutive losses is the fact the Spartans know they could have (and probably should have) won all three.

Head coach Mark Dantonio’s mission now is to get a win anyway he can and avoid the program’s first four-game skid since losing eight of the last nine in 2006. That got John L. Smith fired and Dantonio hired.

It’s not that Michigan State is devoid of talent. Kirk Cousins has done a creditable job in his first year as the starting quarterback, senior wideout Blair White is one of the most underrated receivers in the Big Ten, and linebacker Greg Jones is arguably the best defensive player in the conference. So, why aren’t they winning? Good question.

OSU-INDIANA TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Indiana will be meeting for the 83rd time on Saturday with the Buckeyes holding a lopsided 62-12-5 advantage in the series. That includes a 23-2-1 record in Bloomington, and OSU has won on each of its last seven trips to Memorial Stadium. Indiana defeated the Buckeyes by an 8-0 score in 1904 and then didn’t beat Ohio State in Bloomington again until a 41-7 pounding in 1988 … and the Hoosiers haven’t experienced a home win over OSU since.

** The Buckeyes are currently enjoying a 14-game winning streak in the overall series. You have to go back to a 27-27 tie in 1990 to find the last time Ohio State failed to come away with a victory over Indiana. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes during their current win streak over the Hoosiers has been 22.7 points.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 5-0 against the Hoosiers. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes in those games has been 30.4 points.

** Indiana head coach Bill Lynch is in his third season with the Hoosiers and is playing the Buckeyes for the first time. He will be attempting to become only the second IU coach in the past 50 years to claim a victory over Ohio State. Bill Mallory, who coached the Hoosiers from 1984-96, claimed back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes in 1987 and ’88.

** Tressel has a 5-3 record in Big Ten road openers, including wins in each of the past three seasons. The Buckeyes haven’t lost a conference road opener since a 17-10 defeat at Penn State in 2005. All-time, Ohio State is 60-32-5 in conference road openers.

** The two teams haven’t met since the Buckeyes scored a 44-3 victory over the Hoosiers in 2006. OSU totaled 540 yards of offense – 270 rushing and 270 passing – as Heisman Trophy quarterback Troy Smith completed 15 of 21 passes for 220 yards and four touchdowns. Ted Ginn Jr. caught five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown for the Buckeyes, and he also threw for a 38-yard TD pass to tight end Rory Nicol.

** Indiana has 16 native Ohioans on its roster – six of which are projected to start against the Buckeyes – while Ohio State has only one player from Indiana. That is defensive tackle Dexter Larimore, who hails from Merrillville.

** Ohio State has won at least three of its first four games for the 19th consecutive season.

** IU redshirt freshman kicker Nick Freeland leads the Big Ten in scoring so far this season with 39 points. Last week, he matched a school single-game record with four field goals against Michigan. Freeland has become such an important  part of the offense this season that the Hoosiers have been able to convert 16 of their 18 trips into the red zone. Last year, when Indiana went 3-9, they finished dead last in the conference (and 117th of 119 Division I-A) teams in red-zone offense.

** OSU sophomore tailback Dan “Boom” Herron is currently first in the Big Ten in rushing touchdowns with five and tied for fourth in overall scoring with 30 points. A Buckeye hasn’t led the conference in either of those categories since 1995 when Eddie George rushed for 25 TDs and scored 152 points on his way to the Heisman Trophy.

** Another reason why Indiana has started 3-1 is improved play along the offensive line. The Hoosiers have given up only two sacks so far this season, and that not only ties them for the Big Ten lead with Wisconsin, it’s good enough for a tie for the national lead along with 11 other teams including Boise State, Auburn and Oklahoma.

** One problem the Hoosiers have had this season is with penalties. Through four games, they have been flagged more times (31) than any other team in the Big Ten. Conversely, Ohio State has been penalized only 21 times, and that’s tied for the third-lowest total among conference teams.

** Tressel is making a rapid rise up the ladder in terms of all-time Big Ten victories. Last week’s win over Illinois was the coach’s 53rd conference victory, tying him for 18th place with Joe Tiller of Purdue. Next up is Ray Eliot of Illinois (1942-59), who won 54 Big Ten games during his tenure. The legendary Woody Hayes is the career leader in conference victories with 152.

** Lynch is relatively new to the Big Ten, but he is currently in his 17th year as a head coach. He has a 94-83-3 career record with stops at Butler (his alma mater), Ball State and DePauw as well as Indiana.

** Memorial Stadium has been enclosed since the last time the Buckeyes played in Bloomington. The 138,000-square-foot Student-Athlete Development Center is situated in what used to be a vacant space past the north end zone. The two-year project was completed in July and features bowl seating with an outdoor club seating area that encloses the north end of the stadium.

** The Big Ten Network will televise the game with kickoff scheduled shortly after 7 p.m. Eastern. Craig Coshun will handle the play-by-play duties while former Minnesota head coach (and former OSU assistant and player) Glen Mason will provide color commentary. Rebecca Haarlow will report from the sidelines.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channel 126.

** The Buckeyes return to Ohio Stadium next to host Wisconsin. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Eastern, and the game will televised by ABC and ESPN using the reverse mirror. That means most viewers will get the game on ABC while those outside what Disney determines to be the Big Ten viewing market will see the game on ESPN.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The 2009 Heisman Trophy would seem to be Colt McCoy’s to lose. With last year’s winner Sam Bradford still on the shelf with a shoulder injury, and the status of 2007 winner Tim Tebow up in the air after he suffered a nasty-looking concussion last weekend, McCoy is the only one of the preseason favorites left standing. The candidacies of three other contenders – Cal running back Jahvid Best, Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead and Miami (Fla.) quarterback Jacory Harris – took major hits last week.

** The 2009 season has reached the one-third mark and only 17 undefeated teams remain at the Football Bowl Subdivision (aka Division I-A) level. The alphabetical list of the unblemished: Alabama, Auburn, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Houston, Iowa, Kansas, LSU, Michigan, Missouri, South Florida, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, UCLA and Wisconsin.

** The much-maligned Big Ten is one of only three conferences to feature three or more 4-0 teams. The SEC and Big 12 each have four teams with 4-0 records.

** Congratulations to Cincinnati, which has reached its highest-ever ranking in the Associated Press poll. The Bearcats are No. 10 this week.

** Speaking of polls, the media-darling SEC holds down the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 spots in this week’s AP poll with Florida (first), Alabama (third) and LSU (fourth). That marks the first time any conference has held three of the top four spots since 1971 when Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado of the Big Eight were first, second and third.

** Nebraska reached a milestone last weekend with its 300th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium. The Cornhuskers have sold out every game in Lincoln since 1962, and their record during the streak is 261-39.

** With last week’s upset win at Penn State, Iowa is 4-0 for only the third time in head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 11 seasons. If the Hawkeyes can get past Sun Belt Conference member Arkansas State this week, they will have their first 5-0 start since 1995.

** It’s Paul Bunyan Week in the Big Ten. Michigan and Michigan State square off for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, a four-foot wooden statue of the mythical giant woodsman that has gone to the annual winner in the series since 1953. Meanwhile, Minnesota and Wisconsin will resume the longest rivalry in I-A history with Paul Bunyan’s Axe going to the victor. The Gophers and Badgers, who will mark the 119th renewal of their rivalry, first played one another in 1890 and have squared off every season since 1907. The two schools originally vied for the Slab of Bacon Trophy, which mysteriously disappeared in the 1940s. They started playing for the Bunyan Axe in 1948.

** While we’re on the subject of long rivalries, Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio) will meet this Saturday for the 114th time. The first meeting in the series was Dec. 8, 1888, and the first collegiate football game played in Ohio.

** Wisconsin kick returner David Gilreath needs only five more yards to become the sixth Big Ten player ever to record 2,000 or more career kickoff return yards. The all-time conference leader is Derrick Mason of Michigan State (1993-96), who returned kickoffs for 2,575 yards during his career.

** Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin is making the most of his first shot of directing a program after 20 years as an assistant. Sumlin, one of only a handful of African-American head coaches at Division I-A, posted an 8-5 record last year in his rookie season and has the Cougars off to a 3-0 record this year. If Sumlin’s name sounds familiar to longtime Big Ten fans, it’s because he was a three-year starter at inside linebacker for Purdue from 1984-86. His head coach with the Boilermakers was Leon Burtnett, who is now in charge of linebackers on Sumlin’s staff at Houston.

** Former Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is finding life as the lead dog comes with its own kind of pressure. Locksley was hired as head coach at New Mexico in the offseason and the Lobos are off to a 0-4 start. Things have gotten so bad that Locksley recently grabbed receivers coach J.B. Gerald by the collar and then punched him, giving the assistant a bloody lip. Gerald told police he didn’t want to file charges, but Locksley was officially reprimanded by New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs. (Krebs served several years as an assistant athletic director at Ohio State.) Locksley has been in hot water almost from the time he arrived in Albuquerque. He was accused of sexual harassment, age discrimination and retaliation in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed last spring by a former football administrative assistant. That case is still pending.

** A couple of streaks in the lower divisions of NCAA football are worth mentioning. NAIA member Saint Francis (Ind.) extended its home winning streak to 54 games with last week’s 28-7 victory over Marian (Ind.). At the other end of the spectrum, Division I-AA Indiana State dropped a 28-0 decision at home to Youngstown State last week. That extended the Sycamores’ losing streak to 31 in a row.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Last week was one to savor. The Upset Special was good as gold as Iowa knocked off Penn State, and the Hawkeyes finished off a perfect 7-0 week in the straight-up picks. We also finished a season-best 5-2 against the spread, moving the yearly totals to 19-7 SU and 13-12-1 ATS.

Let’s see if we can keep the hot streak going.

No. 22 Michigan at Michigan State: In rivalry games such as these, we are always taught that records should be thrown out the window. I think that is never more true with this year and these teams. As far as I’m concerned, the Wolverines have been doing it with mirrors. Four straight home games have helped, not to mention fortuitous bounces against Notre Dame and Indiana. We are going to get to see how good freshman quarterback Tate Forcier really is as he makes the first road start of his career. On the other sideline is a team much too talented to be 1-3. However, we have seen this act in prior coaching regimes in East Lansing. Unless Mark Dantonio wants to go the way of Bobby Williams and John L. Smith, he’d better get his team untracked sooner as opposed to later. A victory this week would heal a lot of wounds … Michigan State 34, Michigan 31. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 3 Alabama at Kentucky: With all of the love the SEC gets for its high-octane offenses, it’s nice to know someone in that conference still stresses defense. Nick Saban’s Tide ranks second nationally in total defense and allows an average of only 47.3 yards per game on the ground. The unit took a hit last week with a season-ending knee injury to linebacker Dont’a Hightower, but even with their leading pass rusher Bama should have enough to stop the Wildcats. Led by quarterback Mike Hartline (former OSU receiver Brian Hartline’s younger brother), Kentucky ranks next-to-last in the SEC in total offense and is coming off a 41-7 home loss to Florida during which it generated only 179 yards. The Wildcats usually keep things close against the Crimson Tide, but close generally isn’t good enough. Bama holds a 34-2-1 edge in the overall series … Alabama 34, Kentucky 7. (12:20 p.m. ET, ESPN 360)

No. 10 Cincinnati at Miami (Ohio): The Bearcats are getting a lot of ink this season and deservedly so. Quarterback Tony Pike is currently third in the nation in passing yardage and tied for second with 11 touchdown passes. He will likely pad his stats this week against the winless RedHawks, who rank 119th out of 120 Division I-A schools in scoring defense. Even if Pike should somehow struggle, however, UC should still be OK. Miami ranks dead last at No. 120 in scoring offense. Bearcats head coach Brian Kelly can pretty much name his own score. Here’s mine … Cincinnati 48, Miami 0. (1 p.m. ET, ESPN 360)

No. 15 Penn State at Illinois: The Fighting Illini are in desperate need of a victory and they draw the unfortunate task of trying to get one against a Nittany Lion team scratched raw from last week’s loss to Iowa. We still don’t really know how good Penn State is this season, and this is the team’s first road test of the season. There have been a couple of notable injuries on the defensive side of the ball for the Lions, but they doesn’t explain the inconsistent play of veteran quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster. If they don’t get untracked, Penn State is going to continue to struggle. Still, the Illinois team that played Ohio State last week looked like a listless bunch that had little interest in playing a football game. At least the Nittany Lions still appear to be hungry … Penn State 31, Illinois 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 4 LSU at No. 18 Georgia: While I was looking up stats for some of the other teams in the SEC, I discovered that LSU is dead last in the conference in total offense. Of course, the Tigers could get well this week since the Bulldogs are next-to-last in total defense. Helping make up for their relative lack of defense has been the play of quarterback Joe Cox and sophomore receiver A.J. Green, who leads the SEC with 25 catches for 428 yards and four TDs. You might be tempted to take the Tigers, who have the better defense. But UGA has practically owned SEC West opponents since Mark Richt arrived in Athens. Therefore … Georgia 24, LSU 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 12 Houston at UTEP: The Cougars are quickly grabbing a lot of attention this season. Think of how much more they could grab if their games were televised, especially this one which figures to be a shootout. These two teams have combined for 144 points in their last two meetings, both Houston victories that have been decided by less than a touchdown. The Miners have the home edge in this series, and the Cougars should be on upset alert if they don’t have their heads in the game. But you would think QB Case Keenum (1,160 yards and eight TD passes already) and the nation’s No. 2 offensive team would be enough against a UTEP defense that ranks 109th nationally … Houston 41, UTEP 17. (9:05 p.m. ET, No TV)

No. 9 Ohio State at Indiana: Almost no one is giving the Hoosiers any chance in this game, and that seems reasonable since OSU is working on a 14-game winning streak in the series. But those of you who have been paying attention know this is no ordinary Indiana team. The defense is playing better and the offense can put some points on the board. That said, the Buckeyes are clearly the more talented team. If they can continue the momentum on defense that has carried them the last couple of weeks, the final score should be comfortable enough. Can they record a third straight shutout? Possible but unlikely … Ohio State 34, Indiana 10. (7 p.m. ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Michigan (+3½) at Michigan State; Alabama (-15) at Kentucky; Cincinnati (-28½) at Miami (Ohio); Penn State (-6½) at Illinois; LSU at Georgia (-2½); Houston (-14½) at UTEP; Ohio State (-17½) at Indiana.

I guess you would want to know that the Buckeyes are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games against the Hoosiers while Indiana is 1-4 ATS in its last five home games against Ohio State. Enjoy the games.

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