Could Wisconsin Ever Replace Michigan As OSU’s Archrival?

News flash: Ohio State players don’t like Wisconsin, and the feeling is probably mutual.

Wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown would seem to have a political career in his future with this kind of quote: “I don’t want to go on record saying that I hate Wisconsin more than Michigan, but I hate Wisconsin just as much as Michigan.”

Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins was even more to the point: “I really don’t like them, to tell you the truth. I’m sure they probably hate us too, but I really don’t care what they think.”

When did relations between the Buckeyes and Badgers become so strained that officiating crews have often had to set up pregame DMZs at midfield? You can thank the personable Barry Alvarez for that.

I’ve told this story before but it bears repeating. My first visit to Camp Randall Stadium was in 1990, one of the early years during the John Cooper era. That was back when it always seemed Ohio State got within a whisker of going to the Rose Bowl only to lose to Michigan and wind up playing at 11 o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Day in some nondescript central Florida bowl game.

Anyway, I don’t remember too much about the trip other a 35-10 win by the Buckeyes and sitting beside a nice lady on the flight back from Madison. She was a relative of Wisconsin defensive tackle Don Davey, and I told her that Ohio State needed only to beat Michigan the following week to achieve its first Rose Bowl trip in six years. I remember her eyes widening as she said something like, “The Rose Bowl? Really? Heck, we’d settle for any bowl.”

The Buckeyes – as they often did in that era – went on to lose a particularly heart-wrenching 16-13 decision to Michigan, and then they lost to Air Force in the Liberty Bowl in one of the most heartless performances I have ever seen from a football team. But at least Ohio State made the postseason. In 1990, Davey was one of the very few stars Wisconsin had on its way to an 0-8 finish in the Big Ten and a 1-10 overall record.

That marked the sixth consecutive losing season for the Badgers and they eventually ran that string to eight in a row. Then they hired Alvarez and the rest is history.

Alvarez led Wisconsin to Rose Bowl trips after the 1993, ’97 and ’98 seasons and his team won all three games. Since the beginning of the 2004 season, the two winningest programs in the Big Ten are Ohio State (56-14) and Wisconsin (48-22).

And while the Buckeyes have evolved over the past couple of years because of coaching changes, the Badgers continue to plow their ground the old-fashioned way. Alvarez recruited huge road graders for his offensive line, found one dependable running back to carry the load and featured a straight-up defense that relied on playing mistake-free football. Fancy? Not so much. Successful? Absolutely.

Alvarez is but a sideline memory now, accepting a promotion to athletic director in 2006 and turning the program over to Bret Bielema, who had joined the Badgers in 2004 as defensive coordinator. But the beat goes on.

Alvarez was (and still is) a gruff sort who really didn’t give a rip about being liked. He always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder perhaps stemming from the fact that his program didn’t have much of a winning tradition before he got to Madison. Before winning the Big Ten championship in 1993, the Badgers hadn’t won one since 1962. And before winning three Rose Bowls in a row, the team had never won any of its previous three trips to Pasadena. No wonder Alvarez and his fans got so full of themselves.

Bielema seems like the perfect successor. Outwardly, his personality seems to fit a guy who spent his playing days as a defensive lineman, and he has adopted most of the tenets of his predecessor. This year’s starting offensive line averages 6-5½ and more than 325 pounds, making it one of the beefiest in the Big Ten. Their featured back is senior Monteé Ball, a 5-11, 215-pound wrecking ball with 813 career carries to his credit. And the Wisconsin defense, while nothing spectacular, is solid enough to give up only 17.2 points per game so far.

In the recent past, there have been numerous dust-ups between the teams. Wisconsin fans have been accused of hurled frozen marshmallows – loaded with all kinds of foreign substances – toward the field, both teams have been guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct by dancing on the opposing team’s midfield logo, and the Badgers upset top-ranked Ohio State in 2010, an otherwise perfect season that has since been vacated. Those memories are bad enough. Imagine what they would be had the Buckeyes gone on to win the national championship that year.

Then there was the welcome mat Bielema pulled out from under Urban Meyer last winter when the Wisconsin coach accused the new Ohio State boss of violating some unspoken gentlemen’s agreement regarding verbal commitments. Both men now downplay that kerfuffle, but you get the distinct impression the matter is far from forgotten. If tomorrow’s game somehow gets out of hand, don’t expect either coach to take his foot off the gas pedal.

Whether or not the animosity between the two programs is healthy, unhealthy or somewhere in between, you might as well get used to it. With conference realignment, the Buckeyes are likely going to have to beat the Badgers every year (and vice versa) to have a chance to play for the Big Ten championship.

With that in mind, a new generation of Ohio State football fans might grow up believing the rivalry with Wisconsin is more important than the one with Michigan. And although I can’t believe I’m thinking this much less putting it down in writing, that new generation could very well be right.

OSU-WISCONSIN TIDBITS

** This marks the 78th meeting of Ohio State and Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes hold a decidedly lopsided 54-18-5 record in the overall series. That includes a 25-11-2 advantage in Madison. However, the teams have split 13 games at Camp Randall Stadium since 1981 – six victories for each and a 14-14 tie in 1993, the last season before the NCAA instituted overtime.

** Because of Ohio State’s postseason ban, tomorrow’s game features the unique aspect of an OSU win clinching the outright Leaders Division championship for the Buckeyes while the Badgers have already clinched the division’s spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.

** Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is making his first appearance as a head coach against the Badgers, but he was is 1-1 in the series as an OSU assistant coach in 1986 and ’87. The Buckeyes scored a 30-17 win in Madison in 1986 while the Badgers took a 26-24 victory in Ohio Stadium the following year.

** Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is in his seventh season with the Badgers. He has a 67-22 overall record, including 1-4 against Ohio State. Before becoming a head coach, Bielema faced the Buckeyes several times as a player and assistant coach without much success. He was 1-3 vs. OSU as a player at Iowa from 1989-92 and then 0-6 as an assistant coach with the Hawkeyes from 1994-2001. Bielema was also 0-1 against Ohio State as an assistant coach at Kansas State (2002-03) and 1-0 as a Wisconsin assistant under Barry Alvarez in 2004 and ’05.

** The game pits two of the top five current Football Bowl Subdivision coaches in terms of career winning percentage. Meyer’s mark of .832 ranks second while Bielema is fifth at .753. Chris Peterson of Boise State is first at .910, while Bob Stoops of Oklahoma (.802) is third and Gary Patterson of TCU (.772) is fourth.

** Both coaches have excellent records coming off regular-season open weeks. Meyer is a sparkling 14-1 during his career, including unblemished marks of 3-0 at Utah and 8-0 at Florida. Bielema is 5-1 after an off week, including last week’s 62-14 takedown of Indiana.

** Wisconsin will celebrate Senior Day tomorrow afternoon. Bielema is a spotless 6-0 in his previous Senior Day games.

** Bielema is 44-4 all-time at Camp Randall Stadium. However, the Badgers lost their last home game, 16-13 overtime decision to Michigan State on Oct. 27. That broke a 21-game home winning streak for Wisconsin.

** OSU has an all-time record of 12-4-1 playing on Nov. 17 while Wisconsin is 11-3-1 on that date. The two teams have squared off only once previously on Nov. 17 – a 35-10 win for the Buckeyes in Madison on Nov. 17, 1990.

** Ohio State’s current 10-game win streak is tied for the 12th longest in program history. Wisconsin has snapped a pair of lengthy OSU winning streaks in the past. The Badgers ended the Buckeyes’ 19-game streak with a 17-10 win in Madison in 2003, and a 7-7 tie at Camp Randall in 1958 snapped an Ohio State winning streak at 13 games.

** Meyer is enjoying the fourth single-season winning streak of his career that has reached double digits. Prior to this season, he had 12-game streaks at Utah (2004) and Florida (2009) and a 10-game streak at Florida in 2008.

** Counting Florida’s win over Penn State in the 2011 Outback Bowl, Meyer is currently riding a personal 11-game winning streak. That is tied for the third-longest in his career behind a 22-game streak at Florida in 2008-09 and a 20-game streak that stretched from Utah in 2003-04 through his first four games with the Gators in 2005.

** Ohio State has started the season with a 10-0 record for only the 10th time in program history. The Buckeyes also began the 1954, 1968, 1975, 1979, 1995, 1996, 2002, 2006 and 2007 seasons with 10 straight victories.

** 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. Only this year, the teams’ typical roles are reversed. Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten and eighth nationally in rushing with an average of 256.1 yards per game while Wisconsin ranks first in the conference and 13th in the nation against the run, surrendering an average of only 103.4 yards per contest.

** Ohio State is poised to rush for more touchdowns than it has in 30 years. The Buckeyes currently have 34 rushing TDs this season, the third highest total since 1983. OSU totaled 35 rushing touchdowns in both 1983 and ’84. The school record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season was set in 1974 when the Buckeyes had 48.

** You should not expect a shutout in tomorrow afternoon’s game. Wisconsin hasn’t been shut out since a 34-0 loss to Syracuse in the 1997 season opener and the Buckeyes haven’t been blanked since a 28-0 loss at Michigan in the 1993 regular-season finale.

** Penalties could play a major role in tomorrow’s game. Wisconsin is the least penalized team in the Big Ten, averaging only 3.8 infractions for 33.0 yards per game. Ohio State is the most penalized team in the Big Ten, averaging 7.3 flags per game for 67.5 yards.

** Ohio State will undoubtedly try to score as much as possible, but cracking the 20-point mark is imperative against Wisconsin. In 16 meetings since 1992, the Buckeyes have scored more than 20 points six times against the Badgers and are 6-0 in those games.

** On the flip side of that coin, Wisconsin has scored 20 or more points six times in the 16 meetings since 1992 and is 5-1 in those games. The outlier was last year’s 33-29 loss to the Buckeyes.

** Wisconsin has 13 Ohio natives on its roster, including three starters – linebacker Chris Borland (Kettering Alter), defensive end Pat Muldoon (Cincinnati St. Xavier) and tight end Brian Wozniak (Loveland). Ohio State has no Wisconsin-born players.

** Wisconsin has made a bowl game and an NCAA men’s basketball tournament appearance every season since the 2002-03 academic year. UW is the only Division I school that can make that claim.

** Wisconsin senior running back Monteé Ball needs to score only one more touchdown to match the NCAA career record of 78 set by Miami (Ohio) RB Travis Prentice (1996-99). Prentice also holds the NCAA record in rushing touchdowns with 73. Ricky Williams of Texas (1995-98) is second with 72 and Ball has 71.

** In addition to total touchdowns and rushing touchdowns, Ball is the NCAA active leader in scoring (464 points), rushing yards (4,536) and rushing yards per game (100.8).

** OSU sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller has 1,166 yards rushing this season, the fourth highest single-season rushing total for a quarterback in Big Ten history. Denard Robinson of Michigan set the conference record in 2010 with 1,702 yards, surpassing Antwaan Randle El of Indiana, who rushed for 1,270 yards in 2000. Robinson also has the third highest QB rushing total in league history with 1,176 yards last season.

** Miller currently occupies 27th place on Ohio State’s career rushing list with 1,881 yards. He needs only 33 more to pass Vince Workman (1,882, 1985-88) and Jimmy Gayle (1,914, 1979-82) and move into the program’s all-time top 25.

** Miller is also moving up Ohio State’s career passing and total offense lists. He currently sits 12th all-time with 2,912 passing yards, just behind Todd Boeckman (3,085, 2005-08). Miller’s 4,793 yards of total offense is also 12th all-time with Craig Krenzel (5,097, 2000-03) currently in 11th place.

** OSU junior tailback Carlos Hyde is rapidly ascending the school’s career rushing ladder. With 1,444 yards, Hyde is currently tied with George Cooper (1984-87) for 38th place.

** OSU junior receiver Corey “Philly” Brown needs seven more catches to crack the school’s all-time top 25 in career receptions. Brown currently has 70 catches for 836 yards and four touchdowns.

** OSU sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier leads the team with 98 tackles and is seeking to become the first Buckeye sophomore to crack the century mark in a single season since James Laurinaitis in 2006.

** OSU senior defensive lineman John Simon currently has 39 career tackles for loss and 16½ career sacks. Simon is tied with Eric Kumerow (1984-87) and Na’il Diggs (1997-99) for ninth place in school history in tackles for loss, and he is in 12th place in career sacks. Simon needs one more sack to tie Andy Katzenmoyer (1996-98) and Rodney Bailey (1997-2000) for 10th place all-time.

** Ohio State has been compiling stats on pass breakups only since 1983, but sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby is within one of the Buckeyes’ single-season mark in that category. Roby has 16 PBUs this year, trailing only Ahmed Plummer, who had 17 during the 1998 season.

** As a team, the Buckeyes are poised to establish a new season record for PBUs. They have 67 so far, just one behind the mark of 68 set during the 2002 national championship season.

** This week’s kickoff is set for shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. That is 2:30 p.m. Madison time if you’re traveling to the game. ABC will handle the telecast using the reverse mirror method with ESPN2. Joe Tessitore (play-by-play), Matt Millen (color analysis) and Quint Kessinich (sideline reports) make up the announce crew.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius and XM satellite radio channel 91.

** Next week, Ohio Stadium will host the 109th renewal of The Game. Ohio State will host Michigan beginning shortly after 12 noon Eastern, a contest to be televised nationally by ABC.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

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

** On Nov. 16, 1940, No. 2 Cornell scored on a last-second touchdown pass to score a 6-3 victory over Dartmouth and extend the Big Red’s winning streak to 19 games. However, after a review of the game tape, officials determined the game-winning score had come after a fourth-down incompletion by Cornell and that Dartmouth should have taken over on downs. Cornell president Edmund E. Day, athletics director Jim Lynah and future College Football Hall of Fame coach Carl Snavely offered to concede the game, an offer Dartmouth accepted, and the contest went into the record books as a 3-0 victory for the Big Green.

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

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

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

** On Nov. 17, 1906, Kansas took an 8-6 victory over Nebraska, beginning what was the longest continuous Division I-A series, one that unfortunately ended in 2010. The Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten the following season.

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

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

** On Nov. 17, 1990, Stanford erased a 25-18 deficit in the final 12 seconds to score a 27-25 victory over California in Berkeley. The Cardinal scored a touchdown with 0:12 showing on the clock to make it 25-24, but then missed a two-point conversion try. Cal fans couldn’t control themselves and stormed the field, resulting in a delay-of-game penalty. Stanford recovered the ensuing onside kick, a roughing-the-passer penalty on the next play moved the ball to the Cal 22, and Cardinal PK John Hopkins won the game on a 39-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.

** On Nov. 18, 1939, Iowa halfback Nile Kinnick sewed up the Heisman Trophy with a superlative performance during a 13-9 win over No. 20 Minnesota. With the 15th-ranked Hawkeyes trailing 9-0 in the fourth quarter, Kinnick threw touchdown passes of 45 and 28 yards and then sealed the win with an interception in the game’s final minute. Kinnick went on to win the 1939 Heisman, beating runner-up Tom Harmon of Michigan by 246 votes in the final balloting. Harmon would go on to win the 1940 Heisman.

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

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

** On Nov. 18, 1995, Wake Forest quarterback Rusty LaRue established an NCAA record for most pass completions during a three-game span when he connected 50 times for a school-record 545 yards during his team’s 52-23 loss to North Carolina State. Coupled with performances the previous two weeks vs. Duke and Georgia Tech, LaRue completed 146 of 210 attempts (69.5 percent) for 1,524 yards during the record-setting three-game stretch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** On Nov. 21, 1992, Washington State QB Drew Bledsoe threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns during a snowstorm in Pullman, leading the Cougars to a 42-23 upset of fifth-ranked Washington.
** On Nov. 22, 1875, Harvard took a 4-0 victory over Yale in the first-ever meeting of the Ivy League schools. They will celebrate their 128th meeting on Saturday.

** On Nov. 22, 1958, Pacific succeeded on an NCAA-record seven two-point conversions in nine attempts during a 68-17 victory over San Diego State.

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

** On Nov. 22, 2003, Utah scored a 3-0 victory over BYU, ending the Cougars’ NCAA record of 361 consecutive games without being shut out. Utes kicker Bryan Borreson kicked a 41-yard field goal to account for the only points in a game buffeted by blustery winds and frequent snow squalls.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Only four unbeaten teams remain at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. In alphabetical order, they are Kansas State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oregon.

** For what it’s worth, here are the combined records of the opponents already vanquished by the aforementioned undefeated teams: Kansas State (49-48), Notre Dame (54-45), Ohio State (47-54) and Oregon (48-54).

** When Alabama was toppled by Texas A&M, that ended the nation’s longest winning streak at 13 games. Oregon now owns the nation’s longest win streak. The Ducks have won 13 in a row.

** The nation’s longest losing streak is now 10 after Southern Miss went to SMU last weekend and came home with a 34-6 loss. The Golden Eagles, who came into this year with a streak of 18 consecutive winning seasons, have been outscored this season by a 378-179 margin. Southern Miss has not gone winless for an entire season since finishing 0-6 in 1925.

** Notre Dame is now 10-0 for the first time since 1993, and with a win tomorrow against 5-5 Wake Forest, the Fighting Irish can move to 11-0 for the first time since the 1989 national championship season. Notre Dame has better not get caught looking ahead to its season finale Nov. 24 at USC, however. The Irish squeezed out only a 24-17 decision at Wake last year, and five of their six home victories this season have come by seven points or fewer.

** Congratulations to Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, who notched his 146th career victory at OU with his team’s 42-34 win over Baylor last week. Stoops moved into second play on the school’s all-time victories list, passing legendary Bud Wilkinson, who was 145-29-4 with three national championships from 1947-63. Barry Switzer is Oklahoma’s all-time winningest coach with 157 victories from 1973-88.

** By the time you read this, Tennessee may have already fired head coach Derek Dooley. The Volunteers dropped to 0-6 in the SEC after last weekend’s 51-48 loss in four overtimes to Missouri, and need victories over Vanderbilt and Kentucky to avoid a third consecutive losing season. Tennessee hasn’t had three straight losing seasons since 1909-11.

** No one should have been surprised the Volunteers and Tigers played four overtimes last weekend. Tennessee and Missouri went into the game tied for the most all-time overtime victories with 10 each.

** Nebraska is quickly gaining attention as the Cardiac Cornhuskers. In the past seven weeks, NU has wiped out double-digit second-half deficits four times to stay in line for a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game. It all started Sept. 29 when the Huskers crawled out of a 27-10 hole with 10:29 to go in the third quarter to beat Wisconsin, 30-27. Three weeks later at Northwestern, NU pulled out a 29-28 win after trailing 28-16 with 8:31 left in the fourth quarter. Two weeks ago, Nebraska erased a 24-14 deficit with 14:20 remaining for a 28-24 win over Michigan State. And last week, the Huskers came back from a 20-6 halftime deficit to beat Penn State, 32-23.

** The ACC got in on the scoring show last Saturday when Georgia Tech scored a 68-50 victory over North Carolina. It was the highest scoring game in league history, surpassing the old mark set in 1968 when Virginia posted a 63-47 win over Tulane. The Yellow Jackets established a new single-game school record for most points scored in an ACC game, but the 68-point effort was a far cry from the all-time school mark. That was established in 1916 when Georgia Tech rolled to a 222-0 win over Cumberland.

** Before you anoint Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as the new Heisman Trophy frontrunner, you might want to know there is another redshirt freshman quarterback with better passing stats. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is currently the nation’s leader in pass efficiency, having completed 180 of 251 attempts (71.7 percent) for 2,164 yards, 28 TDs and five INTs. Manziel is 227 of 336 (67.6 percent) for 2,780 yards, 18 TDs and six INTs. Where Manziel has an edge over Mariota is the rushing department. A&M’s redshirt freshman QB has run for 1,014 yards and 15 TDs while Oregon’s has 516 yards and three touchdowns.

** Speaking of freshmen, Duke Johnson of Miami (Fla.) had a memorable game last weekend. The true freshman from Norland High School in Miami rushed for 150 yards, returned kicks for another 214 yards and threw an 8-yard touchdown pass for the Hurricanes. Unfortunately, Johnson’s big game was overshadowed by another defensive meltdown for Miami. The Hurricanes blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and eventually dropped a 41-40 decision at Virginia.

** Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey set a new single-game Pac-12 rushing record with 366 yards during the Wildcats’ 56-31 win over Colorado. The old conference mark of 357 yards had been held by Rueben Mayes of Washington State since 1984. Carey, who also tied a Pac-12 record with five rushing TDs in the game, shattered the old Arizona State single-game mark of 288 set by Trung Canidate against Arizona State in 1998.

** Massachusetts celebrated its first victory as FBS members last weekend with a 22-14 win over Akron. The Zips are experienced a rough ride in their first season under head coach Terry Bowden, who entered 2012 with a career mark of 140-62-2. With the loss to UMass, Akron dipped to 1-10 this season and is a lowly 3-32 since the beginning of the 2010 season.

** The first two official bowl invitations have been extended and accepted. Navy will play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, set to be played Dec. 29 in San Francisco. The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl is in its 11th year of existence and fourth incarnation. It began in 2002 as the San Francisco Bowl and has also been known as the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl (2002-03) and the Emerald Bowl (2004-09). Meanwhile, BYU will play in the eighth annual San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, scheduled for Dec. 20 in San Diego.

** If you have been reading this blog in recent weeks, you know that we have talked about Louisiana Tech QB Colby Cameron. Now, it seems Cameron is getting the tiniest bit of Heisman hype. It’s about time. Cameron has thrown 419 consecutive passes without an interception and has thrown for 3,283 yards and 27 TDs in leading the Bulldogs to a 9-1 record so far.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Everyone had last week off at Forecast Headquarters, resting on the laurels of a 10-0 week in the straight-up picks to kick off November. Against the spread wasn’t quite as good at 5-5, but we return from the layoff tanned, rested and ready to build on season totals of 80-20 straight up and 50-48-2 ATS.

Here are the games we’ll be watching this weekend.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 25 Kent State at Bowling Green: Our old pal Darrell Hazell is having a special season in Kent. The Golden Flashes have secured their first winning season since 2001, are ranked for the first time since 1973, and are working on a school-record eight-game winning streak. This week, they put all of that on the line – not to mention a potential MAC East title – against the Falcons, who are on a six-game winning streak of their own. The game should be a good one with Kent featuring the nation’s No. 15 rushing offense against BG’s run defense that ranks first in the MAC and 14th nationally. We would love to pick the Flashes, but close games usually go to the defense – especially if its the home team with the better D. Also, Kent is going for a third straight win over the Falcons, something it has never accomplished in series history that dates back to 1920 … Bowling Green 23, Kent State 20. (12 noon ET, ESPN3)

Iowa at No. 23 Michigan: QB Devin Gardner is getting more and more comfortable as Denard Robinson’s replacement, and that is good news for the Wolverines since Robinson has a nerve problem in his throwing elbow and could be sidelined for the rest of the season. Not that it should matter much this week against the underachieving Hawkeyes. The Fighting Ferentzes have shown little fight during a four-game losing streak that included their first losses to Indiana and Purdue since 2007. Iowa hasn’t experienced a five-game losing streak since 2000, but there is no indication from the way the Hawkeyes have played over the last month that they can put an end to their losing. Besides, Iowa ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten in most offensive categories, while the Wolverines are second in the conference in total defense and third in fewest points allowed. The Hawkeyes typically play U-M tough, but it just doesn’t seem like an upset is in the cards  … Michigan 31, Iowa 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

Western Carolina at No. 4 Alabama: Traveling to Tuscaloosa wasn’t going to be any picnic for the Catamounts under normal circumstances. Now, they have to face a bunch of angry Alabama players still stinging from last week’s upset loss to Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide still has a path to the national championship game – albeit much more difficult than this time last week – and Football Championship Subdivision member Western Carolina shouldn’t be much more than a speed bump. The Catamounts rank 120th out of 122 FCS schools in total defense and are on a nine-game losing streak during which they have surrendered an average of 42.9 points per game. In other words, it is a classic get-well game for the Tide … Alabama 56, Western Carolina 7. (12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network, DirectTV 788)

Jacksonville State at No. 7 Florida: The bad news for the Gators is that they will be without starting QB Jeff Driskel, who turned an ankle during last week’s too-close-for-comfort 27-20 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. The good news is that Florida’s opponent this week ranks 108th in total defense among FCS schools, so it might not matter who is under center for the Gators. The Gamecocks have a pretty good offensive attack with QB Marques Ivory (1,908 yards, 16 TDs) and RBs DaMarcus James and Washaun Ealey (1,555 yards, 16 TDs). But the Gators are working on a streak of 50 consecutive wins against non-BCS opponents, and they have never lost to an FCS school. Don’t expect either of those streaks to end this week … Florida 38, Jacksonville State 14. (1 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan, DirectTV 790)

Georgia Southern at No. 5 Georgia: The Bulldogs can afford to do a little celebrating this week, stepping out of conference play to host the FCS Eagles. Georgia clinched its spot in the SEC title game with last week’s 38-0 shutout of Auburn, and could sneak its way into the national championship picture with a little help. Still, UGA would do well to keep its focus on Southern, a team that sits at No. 6 in the country in the old Division I-AA rankings. The Eagles feature a triple-option attack that averages better than 400 yards per game on the ground, a spot where the Bulldogs have been susceptible at times this year. No one believes Southern can engineer the upset, but the home team had better not get caught napping, either … Georgia 41, Georgia Southern 24. (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan, DirectTV 792)

Wake Forest at No. 3 Notre Dame: It seems likely the Demon Deacons can go into South Bend – on Senior Day, no less – and ruin the hopes of the Fighting Irish for an undefeated season. At 5-5, Wake needs a win this week and/or next against Vanderbilt to get to a bowl and end a string of three straight losing seasons. Notre Dame, of course, has bigger fish to fry and could be looking ahead to next week’s regular-season finale at USC. Still, it’s difficult to imagine the offensively-challenged Deacons pulling off the upset. Wake ranks 106th in the country in scoring offense while the Irish have the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense. Look for the Domers to make a statement … Notre Dame 38, Wake Forest 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Sam Houston State at No. 9 Texas A&M: So much for flying under the radar. The Aggies and redshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel stepped firmly into the spotlight last week, going into Tuscaloosa and coming home with a 29-24 upset over defending national champion Alabama. A&M bolstered its chances for a BCS at-large berth, Manziel is suddenly everyone’s darling for the Heisman Trophy, and first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin jumped to the top of the list for national coach of the year. This week, the Aggies return home to face the FCS Bearkats, who are no slouch. They have already clinched a share of a second straight conference title and have won seven games in a row, outscoring their opponents by a 264-34 margin during that stretch. Of course, they haven’t seen anything like Manziel … Texas A&M 45, Sam Houston State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan, DirectTV 789)

Minnesota at No. 16 Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have turned late comebacks into an air form lately, erasing double-digit deficits four times over the past seven weeks to stay on track for a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game opposite Wisconsin. This week, NU doesn’t figure to need a comeback against a team its has beaten 15 straight times. The Golden Gophers are experiencing a bit of a renaissance under second-year head coach Jerry Kill. They are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2009, and have won two of their last three. Minnesota still isn’t quite on par offensively with the Cornhuskers, however, and Goldy really has no answer for Nebraska’s one-two punch of QB Taylor Martinez and RB Ameer Abdullah. A couple of other things that tilt this one NU’s way – the Gophers have lost 23 of their last 24 against ranked opponents and haven’t beaten one on the road since 2005 … Nebraska 38, Minnesota 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN, DirectTV 610)

No. 2 Kansas State at Baylor: The Wildcats would do well not to look past this game to the Dec. 1 season finale against Texas. The Bears are laying in wait to do to K-State exactly what Texas A&M did to Alabama last week. Baylor might not have RG-3 at the controls any more, but the Bears still boast the nation’s No. 2 passing attack behind QB Nick Florence (3,191 yards, 25 TDs) and WR Terrance Williams (77 catches, 1,431 yards, 10 TDs). Additionally, Waco has not been very friendly to the Wildcats in recent years. They have lost on their last two trips to the Floyd, and even last year’s home win over the Bears was a 36-35 accomplished only with a fourth-quarter rally. We haven’t been too good with the Upset Specials this season, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop picking them … Baylor 34, Kansas State 31. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

No. 6 Ohio State at Wisconsin: There are compelling reasons why oddsmakers favor the Badgers. Wisconsin has won 44 of 48 home games under head coach Bret Bielema, OSU has come home losers on three of its last four trips to Madison, and its Senior Day at Camp Randall with running back Monteé Ball poised to become college football’s all-time leader in touchdowns. Additionally, the Buckeyes are trying to close out an unblemished season, an accomplishment so difficult it has been done only five times in program history. Yet, we can’t get last year’s game out of our minds. Most people only remember Braxton Miller’s game-winning 40-yard heave to Devin Smith in the final minute, but the Buckeyes outplayed the Badgers in nearly every phase of the game. Most fans forget Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson threw for a pair of touchdowns to erase what had been a 26-14 OSU lead with 4:39 remaining and give the Badgers a 28-26 lead with 1:18 to play. Russell’s absence coupled with the Buckeyes’ ability to stop the run makes the difference … Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 27. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Kent State at Bowling Green (-2½); Iowa (+20) at Michigan; Western Carolina at Alabama (NL); Jacksonville State at Florida (NL); Georgia Southern at Georgia (NL); Wake Forest at Notre Dame (-22); Sam Houston State at Texas A&M (NL); Minnesota (+20) at Nebraska; Kansas State at Baylor (+13); Ohio State (+2½) at Wisconsin.

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

Reality Intruding Upon Buckeye Nation’s Perception

To say the honeymoon between Urban Meyer and Ohio State fans is over would not be totally accurate. But the newlyweds are slowly coming to the realization that life isn’t one big party.

If you listened closely enough to the 105,019 packed into Ohio Stadium last Saturday afternoon for the final game of a rather nondescript nonconference schedule, you could make a smattering of boos from the scarlet and gray faithful. And the patrons who weren’t voicing their displeasure mostly just shuffled in their seats, uneasy at the disjointed product the Buckeyes have displayed so far this season.

Fans began eagerly looking forward to the 2012 season late last November when Meyer was announced as head coach of the Buckeyes. They looked at a guy who produced winners at Bowling Green and Utah as well as a couple of national titles at Florida, added the tradition of Ohio State, and somewhat naturally extrapolated copious amounts of easy victories and a multitude of scarlet and gray championships.

Of course, fans are a fickle lot. Yesterday’s hero is today’s scapegoat, and if you listen to what passes for sports talk radio in Columbus, you will hear enough headache-inducing comments to make you want to crash your car into the nearest telephone pole.

One caller wanted to know what happened to the wide-open spread offense he had been promised. Another said the duties of being defensive coordinator were far beyond Luke Fickell’s capabilities. One misguided soul even offered the opinion that the team would be better served with Kenny Guiton as the starting quarterback.

Perhaps it would be worth noting (again) that Meyer inherited a team that went 6-7 last season, is fighting through a spate of injuries and is counting on regular contributions from more than a dozen first- and second-year players.

Perhaps it would also be worth noting that while Meyer is viewed as somewhat of a miracle worker, his super powers are not limitless. Only once before in his previous 10 seasons as a head coach has he produced an undefeated team. (That was Utah in 2004.) Moreover, while his first seasons at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida represented improvements over the previous year, the bar for excellence wasn’t set very high.

The year before Meyer’s arrival, BG was 2-9, Utah was 5-6 and Florida was 7-5. The coach obviously turned each of those programs around, but he lost at least two games during his first season at all three schools.

Still, after you get used to winning – and winning a lot – you have a tendency to take all of that winning for granted. It happened to Ohio State fans toward the end of the Jim Tressel era and perhaps it happened to Meyer as he assumed his self-described dream job.

Tradition, national championship banners, Big Ten trophies and a stadium listed on the National Register of Historic Places – those are effective recruiting tools for both prospective players and coaches. When you come to Ohio State, you are expected to continue that tradition and win football games. Unfortunately, that expectation sometimes morphs into victory as a foregone conclusion. And if last year’s 6-7 finish wasn’t enough of a shock to the system, perhaps the string of mediocre performances to start this season is serve as a needed dose of stark reality.

No one except for the most myopic of Buckeye fans is thrilled about this team’s 4-0 start. Yes, Ohio State is one of only 26 remaining undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, but that record has been achieved against nonconference opponents now showing a combined record of 5-9.

Meyer’s power spread offense has been a work in progress from day one with certain pieces of the attack functioning well at times and not so well at others. Ohio State has rushed for 917 yards in four games and thrown for 791, but much of that production has been generated by just one player – Braxton Miller, who has run for 441 yards and thrown for 754. You need only look at what has happened to a certain team up north to realize what happens when you rest your entire team’s fortunes on the shoulders of just one player.

And then there is the defense. What was supposed to be a team strength is quickly becoming a liability. There are no records kept for missed tackles, but Ohio State would probably be near the top of the nation in that category. In the first quarter against UAB, I counted at least six missed tackles by the Buckeyes that accounted for an extra 29 yards worth of gain for the Blazers. I counted four more early in the second quarter for 30 yards before giving up.

Through four games, the Ohio State defense is giving up an average of 394.8 yards per game. That number hasn’t been that bad since week five of the 1988 season when after Indiana finished administering a 41-7 spanking of the Buckeyes, the defense was giving up an average of 396.6 yards per game. By the time that season had ended, the average had dipped slightly to 300.0, but John Cooper’s first team still wound up with a 4-6-1 record.

And what makes anyone believe things will get better this year? The Buckeyes’ next four opponents – Michigan State, Nebraska, Indiana and Purdue – each average better than 400 yards of total offense per game. The Cornhuskers and Hoosiers are currently averaging north of 500.

Then, of course, there are the special teams. Ohio State got a punt blocked against UAB that the Blazers returned for a touchdown. To put that into some kind of context, UAB had not returned a blocked punt for a touchdown since 2003. And then to pour salt into the wound, the Blazers caught the Buckeyes napping and recovered an onside kick to start the second half.

After the UAB game, when Meyer was asked which areas of his team concerned him the most, the coach indicated an all-of-the-above answer.

“Defense, offense and kicking game,” he replied. “We have to be better in all three phases. … This is not a finely-tuned machine. It hasn’t been for awhile, especially on both sides of the ball.”

Exceedingly more candid than his predecessor, Meyer admitted, “It’s not as easy as …” before thinking better of finishing his thought aloud. Woody Hayes is the one who said, “Nothing worth a damn is easy,” and Meyer obviously realizes the old coach knew what he was talking about.

But when a coach deems his offense’s explosiveness as “obviously nonexistent for much of the game,” his defense as “painful to watch,” special teams breakdowns as “nonsense,” and his overall team mentality as “passive,” you know the kettle is about to boil.

OSU-MICHIGAN STATE TIDBITS

** This will be the 41st meeting between Ohio State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes hold a 27-13 advantage in the overall series. The Spartans broke a seven-game losing streak in the series with last year’s 10-7 win in Ohio Stadium, but the Buckeyes have still won 12 of the last 15 meetings. OSU is 15-5 against MSU in East Lansing, including a 45-7 romp the last time the Buckeyes visited Spartan Stadium. Ohio State hasn’t lost in East Lansing since a 23-7 decision in 1999.

** Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer gets his first shot at the Spartans. The last five OSU head coaches have experienced mixed results in their first game against Michigan State. Earle Bruce and Jim Tressel each beat the Spartans in their initial meeting, while Woody Hayes, John Cooper and Luke Fickell all lost.

** Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is 1-4 lifetime against the Buckeyes. Last year’s victory broke a streak that included losses in 2004 and 2006 while at Cincinnati in addition to defeats as in 2007 and 2008 with the Spartans. Dantonio, of course, was defensive coordinator on Tressel’s OSU staff from 2001-03 and won the Frank Broyles Award in 2002 as college football’s top assistant coach.

** Dantonio is 47-23 in his five-plus seasons with the Spartans, including a 31-7 mark at home. Michigan State’s 20-3 loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 15 snapped a 15-game home winning streak, the fifth-longest in school history.

** Meyer has his team off to a 4-0 start for the eighth time in 11 seasons as a head coach. Four of his teams – Bowling Green (2002), Utah (2004) and Florida (2006 and ’09) – started with five straight wins.

** With his 4-0 start, Meyer is tied for the third-best start to a career by an Ohio State head coach. Carroll Widdoes won his first 12 games in 1944 and ’45, while Earle Bruce won his first 11 in a row in 1979. Others to start 4-0 were Perry Hale (1902), E.R. Sweetland (1904) and Howard Jones (1910).

** Ohio State is entering its 100th season as a Big Ten member and the Buckeyes sport a 71-24-4 record in conference openers. OSU has won 10 of its last 12 league openers.

** Michigan State is entering its 60th season of Big Ten competition with a 32-23-4 record in league openers. The Spartans are 7-3 in conference openers since 2002.

** The Buckeyes are 4-1 in Big Ten openers vs. Michigan State, including 1-0 at Spartan Stadium. That victory was a 21-0 decision in 1975. Tailback Archie Griffin rushed for 108 yards in that game, fullback Pete Johnson scored two touchdowns and defensive halfback Craig Cassady tied the school’s single-game record by nabbing three interceptions.

** Over the last four seasons, Ohio State and Michigan State have each won 24 conference games, more than any other team.

** Since 1913, OSU head coaches are 6-5-1 in their Big Ten debuts, including 2-2-1 on the road. John W. Wilce’s team lost a 7-6 decision to Indiana in 1913, the Buckeyes’ inaugural season as Western Conference members. Sam Willaman won his conference debut with a 7-6 win over Iowa in 1929, and Francis Schmidt’s team gave him a 33-0 victory over Indiana in the 1934 season opener. Paul Brown took over in 1941 and his team eked out a 16-14 win over Purdue in the league opener, and three years later, the 1944 team gave Carroll Widdoes a 34-0 win over Iowa in his Big Ten debut. Three straight coaches then failed to win their first conference game – Paul Bixler, 20-7 at Wisconsin in 1946; Wes Fesler, 24-20 at Purdue in 1947; and Woody Hayes, whose team fought Wisconsin to a 6-6 tie in Madison in 1951. Earle Bruce broke that string with a 21-17 win at Minnesota in 1979 before John Cooper lost his conference debut in 1988, a 31-12 defeat to Illinois. Jim Tressel won his Big Ten debut at Indiana, a 27-14 victory in 2001, and Fickell lost last season to Michigan State.

** This week marks the first time this season that Ohio State has faced a ranked opponent. Michigan is No. 18 in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll and No. 20 in the Associated Press writers’ poll.

** When Ohio State is the higher ranked team, it has a 22-6 record against Michigan State. When the Spartans enter the game as the higher ranked team, they are 5-0. When neither team is ranked, OSU had a 5-2 edge.

** The Buckeyes are currently on a red-zone roll, having scored on each of their last 12 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. That includes 12 touchdowns and only one field goal. Michigan State’s four opponents have combined for only one touchdown and three field goals in just six trips to the red zone against the Spartans.

** Michigan ranks sixth nationally in total  defense, giving up an average of only 233.5 yards per game, and the Spartans are also No. 11 in scoring defense, surrendering only 11.8 yards per game on average. MSU, however, is a lowly 102nd in scoring offense, averaging only 21.0 points per game. That is 11th in the Big Ten, better only than Iowa (20.5 points per game).

** Ohio State will be playing its first game this season on natural grass. The Buckeyes were 0-3 on grass fields last season – at Miami (Fla.), Purdue and the Gator Bowl – and they haven’t won on a natural surface since a 26-17 win over Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl.

** The Ohio State defense would do well to keep Michigan State under 24 points in the game. Since 1990, the Spartans are 125-33-1 when scoring 24 or more. When they are held to fewer than 24 points, their record is 21-89-1.

** When the Buckeyes failed to break the 30-point barrier last week against UAB, they fell short of becoming only the eighth team in program history to score 30 or more points in each of their first four games. The Buckeyes topped the 30-point mark in each of their first four games in 1904, 1917, 1919, 1926, 1969, 1998 and 2010. The 1969 team holds the school record by scoring 30 or more points in each of its first eight games that season.

** OSU senior tailback Jordan Hall enjoyed the first-ever 100-yard game of his career last weekend, rushing for 105 yards on 17 carries vs. UAB. It marked the first time an Ohio State tailback had cracked the century mark since Dan “Boom” Herron rushed for 141 yards during a 34-20 win over Indiana in week nine of last season.

** The Spartans have 28 Ohio players on their roster while Ohio State has only two players from Michigan – defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins and offensive tackle Reid Fragel.

** Dantonio’s coaching staff features plenty of assistants who have ties to Ohio State. Running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Brad Salem’s older brother, Tim, was quarterbacks coach at OSU from 1997-2000. Linebackers and special teams coach Mike Tressel is the son of former Ohio State running backs coach Dick Tressel and nephew of former head coach Jim Tressel. Offensive line coach Mark Staten was a graduate assistant at OSU in 2002 and ’03. Michigan State strength coach Ken Mannie was a graduate assistant on Earle Bruce’s OSU staff in 1984, MSU director of personnel/player development and relations Dino Folino began his coaching career as a GA for Woody Hayes in 1974 and ’75, and the Spartans’ head trainer Jeff Monroe spent four years as a student trainer for the Buckeyes from 1969-72.

** Michigan State tailback Le’Veon Bell is currently the nation’s third-leading rusher, and he enters the game averaging 152.5 yards per outing. He will be trying to become the first MSU player to crack the century mark against Ohio State since 1988. That year, Hyland Hickson rushed for 187 yards and Blake Ezor added 147 as Michigan State piled 372 yards on the ground during a 20-10 victory over the Buckeyes in Spartan Stadium. Bell ran for 50 yards on 14 carries during last year’s 10-7 victory for the Spartans in Columbus.

** Bell currently occupies 15th place on Michigan State’s all-time rushing list with 2,163 yards. He needs 233 more to pass Jahuu Caulcrick (2,395, 2004-07) and break into the school’s top 10. Lorenzo White (1984-87) is the Spartans’ all-time leading rusher with 4,887 yards.

** Bell is already in the MSU career top 10 in rushing touchdowns, tied with Tico Duckett (1989-92) with 26. White holds the school record with 43.

** Kickoff this week is set for approximately 3:36 p.m. Eastern. ABC will telecast the game to a nationwide audience featuring our old friend Brent Musberger with the play-by-play, former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit with color analysis and Heather Cox filing sideline reports.

** ESPN College Gameday will also be at the game, marking the 30th time the Buckeyes have been one of the featured teams at a Gameday site. OSU in 19-10 when the Gameday crew is in attendance – 10-3 at home, 6-5 on the road and 3-2 at neutral sites – but only 9-9 in its last 18 appearances. Michigan State is 2-3 when Gameday visits East Lansing.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channel 137 and XM channel 85. Dial Global Sports (formerly Westwood One) will also broadcast the game.

** Next week, Ohio State returns home to host Nebraska in the annual homecoming game. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Eastern with ABC handling the telecast via its reverse mirror effect. That means if the game is not on your local ABC station, it will be on ESPN2 and vice versa.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Sept. 28, 1968, Oregon State running back Bill “Earthquake” Enyart established school records by rushing 50 times for 299 yards during his team’s 24-21 win over Utah in Salt Lake City.

** On Sept. 28, 2002, No. 19 Iowa State rolled to a 36-14 win over No. 20 Nebraska in Ames. It marked the largest victory for the Cyclones over the Cornhuskers since 1899. ISU quarterback Seneca Wallace threw for 220 yards and a touchdown and added 50 yards and two more scores rushing. The loss knocked Nebraska out of the Association Press top 25 for the first time in 21 years, ending a streak of 348 consecutive weeks in the rankings.

** On Sept. 29, 1984, Western Michigan kicker Mike Prindle was a busy man during his team’s 42-7 win over Marshall. Prindle became the first player in NCAA history to attempt nine field goals in a single game, and he connected for a record seven of those three-pointers. He added three PATs to give him 24 points, another NCAA single-game record for a kicker.

** On Sept. 29, 2001, No. 18 Northwestern took a wild 27-26 victory over No. 24 Michigan State in Evanston. MSU wide receiver Charles Rogers gave his team a 20-17 lead on a 64-yard punt return with 4:42 to play before Northwestern QB Zac Kustok rallied the Wildcats with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kunle Patrick to make it 24-20 with 29 seconds remaining. However, Herb Haygood returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown to retake the lead for the Spartans at 26-24. NU blocked the extra point and then with 18 seconds left, Kustok completed a 54-yard pass to get his team within field-goal range and kicker David Wasielewski did the rest. His 47-yarder as time expired gave the Wildcats the victory.

** Also on Sept. 29, 2001, New Mexico State posted a rare shutout, going on the road to tally a 31-0 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. How rare was the shutout? It was the first for the Aggies in 27 seasons, a span of 283 games which established an NCAA record for most consecutive games without a shutout.

** On Sept. 30, 1939, Fordham and Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania played in the first televised college football game, a contest seen by an estimated 500 viewers in the New York City area. Bill Stern called the play-by-play for W2XBS (now WNBC-TV) while a young Mel Allen did pregame interviews. Few television sets could receive the signal, so many of the viewers saw the telecast at the nearby New York World’s Fair.

** On Sept. 30, 1944, North Carolina State set an NCAA record for the fewest yards ever gained by a winning team. During their 13-0 win over Virginia, the Wolfpack totaled only 10 yards of offense and had no first downs.

** On Oct. 1, 1955, the sideline star power was plentiful as sixth-ranked Army rolled to a 35-6 win over No. 18 Penn State at West Point. The Black Knights were coached by Earl “Red” Blaik while the Nittany Lions were led by head coach Charles “Rip” Engle and assistant Joe Paterno. All three are in the College Football Hall of Fame, as is Army quarterback Don Holleder who led his team to the victory. Nearly 12 years to the day later, Holleder was an infantry major in the Army serving in Vietnam when he attempted to rescue a group of his fellow soldiers who had been ambushed. Holleder battled sniper fire to land his helicopter in a clearing, and while he was leading the evacuation he was struck by enemy fire and killed. He received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge posthumously and was later laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

** On Oct. 2, 1943, Purdue committed 11 turnovers in a game – and still won. Somehow, the Boilermakers lost nine fumbles and pitched two interceptions and still managed a 40-21 victory over Illinois. The performance set an NCAA record for most turnovers by a winning team.

** On Oct 2, 1993, Alabama matched its own school and Southeastern Conference records for consecutive victories when the Crimson Tide scored a 17-6 victory at South Carolina to mark their 28th win in a row. The mark tied the previous school and conference marks set between 1978 and 1980 when the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant was patrolling the ’Bama sideline.

** On Oct. 3, 1992, third-ranked Florida State lost a 19-16 decision to No. 2 Miami (Fla.) when a last-minute field goal drifted wide right. Hurricanes QB Gino Torretta hit receiver Lamar Thomas to put Miami ahead, 17-16, with 6:50 to play. After a safety on special teams pushed it to a three-point game, the Seminoles drove deep into Miami territory before FSU kicker Dan Mowery pushed his 39-yard field goal attempt wide of the right upright on the final play.

** On Oct. 3, 1936, John Heisman, the legendary college coach and namesake of the Heisman Trophy, died at the age of 66. Born Oct. 23, 1869, in Cleveland, John William Heisman is credited with several innovations including invention of the center snap, dividing the game into quarters rather than halves, and leading the movement to legalize the forward pass. Heisman played at Brown (1887-89) and Penn (1890-91), and began his coaching career at Oberlin in 1892. He also coached at Akron, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Penn, Washington & Jefferson and Rice, and compiled a career record of 185-70-17. Heisman was preparing to write a history of college football when he died in New York City. Three days later he was taken by train to his wife’s hometown of Rhinelander, Wis., where he was buried at the city-owned Forest Home Cemetery. Two months later, the Downtown Athletic Club in New York renamed its college football best player trophy in Heisman’s honor.

** On Oct. 4, 1969, Boston University scored a 13-10 upset at Harvard, ending the Crimson’s 10-game win streak and marking BU’s first-ever victory over Harvard since the matchup began in 1921.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Four more undefeated teams bit the dust last week, and Stanford went down to Washington last night, leaving only 26 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with unblemished records: Alabama, Baylor, Cincinnati, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Iowa State, Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, Louisville, LSU, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio, Ohio State, Oregon, Oregon State, Rutgers, South Carolina, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, UTSA and West Virginia.

** TCU pushed the nation’s longest winning streak to 11 games with last week’s 27-7 victory against Virginia. Meanwhile, Tulane dropped a 39-0 decision to Ole Miss last Saturday, increasing the nation’s longest losing streak to 13. The Green Wave is 0-3 so far this season and has already been outscored by a 108-22 margin.

** Congratulations to Frank Solich and his Ohio Bobcats. They feasted upon Norfolk State from the Football Championship Subdivision last week, beating the Spartans by a 44-10 final, and pushed their record for the season to 4-0. The Bobcats haven’t started a season with four consecutive wins since 1976. Ohio hasn’t won its first five games in a season since the 1968 team won all 10 of its regular-season contests before losing a 49-42 heartbreaker to Richmond in the Tangerine Bowl.

** Congratulations to Bill Snyder and his Kansas State Wildcats. K-State went to Oklahoma last Saturday night and dashed the Sooners’ hopes for a national championship run by forcing three turnovers during a 24-19 win. Sixth-ranked Oklahoma was the highest-ranking opponent the Wildcats have ever beaten on the road, and the victory propelled Kansas State into the top 10 in the polls for the first time since 2003.

** Congratulations to Jon Embee and his Colorado Buffaloes. The Buffs, 3-10 last year and 0-3 to start this season, suddenly find themselves tied atop the Pac-12 South following last weekend’s 35-34 stunner at Washington State. One week after absorbing a 69-14 pummeling from Fresno State, Colorado erased a 31-14 deficit with 14:47 remaining for the one-point victory. Junior QB Jordan Webb, who threw for 345 yards and two TDs, ran 4 yards for a touchdown with nine seconds left after which sophomore PK Will Oliver delivered the game-winning PAT.

** Finally, congratulations to Brian Kelly and his Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Irish are a top-10 team for the first time since 2006, they’re 4-0 for the first time since 2002, they have given up the fewest amount of points in their first four games since 1975, and they held consecutive ranked opponents (Michigan State and Michigan) to six points or fewer for the first time since 1943. Also, when Notre Dame held both the Spartans and Wolverines without a touchdown, it marked the first time the Irish had done that to their Michigan foes in the same season since 1909.

** Notre Dame’s new agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference has already claimed its first victim. The Fighting Irish has exercised the opt-out clause in its scheduling contract with Michigan, meaning the last scheduled game between college football winningest programs will take place in 2014. The Irish and Wolverines, who have played every season since 2002, were contracted to continue their series at least through 2017. The series dates back to an 8-0 Michigan victory in 1887, and the Wolverines have a 23-16-1 advantage all-time.

** Stanford failed to score an offensive touchdown last night in its 17-13 loss to Washington. The last time the Cardinal offense failed to cross the goal line was during a 23-6 loss at Oregon State on Oct. 27, 2007. How big was the Huskies’ upset? It was their first win over a top-10 team since 2009 and avenged last year’s 65-21 drubbing in Palo Alto.

** For the second week in a row, the Big Ten has no teams among the top 15 of the USA Today coaches’ poll. Last week marked the first time since September 2001 the conference had no team in the top 15 of the coaches’ poll. (Ohio State is 14th in the writers’ poll, but ineligible for the coaches poll because of NCAA sanctions.)

** How bad is the Big Ten? Nine of the 12 teams are ranked 52nd or lower in total offense while eight are 50th or lower in scoring offense.

** Arkansas got a 419-yard passing performance from QB Tyler Wilson and a record-setting receiving day from WR Cobi Hamilton, but the Razorbacks still lost at home, 35-26 to Rutgers. Hamilton had 10 catches in the game for an SEC-record 303 yards and three touchdowns. The Razorbacks are working on their first three-game losing streak since 2008, and they haven’t been 1-3 to start a season since 2005. Arkansas hasn’t lost four of its first five since 1992, its first year in the SEC.

** South Carolina QB Connor Shaw misfired on his first pass attempt last week against Missouri and then completed his last 20 in a row. Shaw finished the game 20 of 21 for 249 yards and two TDs in the Gamecocks’ 31-10 victory. The 20 consecutive completions tied for the second-longest streak in SEC history. Tennessee QB Tee Martin completed 23 in a row – ironically against South Carolina – during the Volunteers’ 1998 national championship season.

** If West Virginia continues to win, it will be difficult to take the Heisman Trophy away from quarterback Geno Smith. The senior is ranked No. 2 in the nation in pass efficiency with 96 completions in 118 attempts (81.4 percent), good for 1,072 yards, 12 TDs and no picks. Of course, the Mountaineers are about to find out how good they really are. After kicking off its inaugural Big 12 season this week at home with Baylor, West Virginia plays Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in succession.

** The Mid-American Conference accomplished something last week it hadn’t done since 2003 – beat opponents from three BCS conferences on the same day. Northern Illinois took out Big 12 member Kansas, 30-20, while Central Michigan scored nine points in the final 45 seconds to beat Big Ten member Iowa, 32-31. The MAC also went 2 for 2 against the Big East – Western Michigan scored a 30-24 win over Connecticut, Ball State rallied from a late four-quarter deficit to hand South Florida a 31-27 defeat.

** Old Dominion is leading all FCS teams in scoring with a ridiculous average of 59.0 points per game after four weeks. During last week’s wild 64-61 win over New Hampshire, sophomore QB Taylor Heinicke established a new Division I single-game record when he threw for 730 yards. That performance came one week after he had thrown for seven touchdowns during a 70-14 win over Campbell. In 13 career games for the Monarchs, Heinicke has already thrown for 4,306 yards and 44 TDs.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Something has definitely gone haywire here at World Forecast Headquarters. After riding high for a couple of years, the crystal ball has suddenly formed a couple of cracks. Last week, the straight-up picks were an acceptable 8-2, but we whiffed on our Upset Special thanks to a boatload of Michigan turnovers, and we didn’t foresee Oklahoma’s home loss to Kansas State.

Against the spread, we were just breakeven with five games up and five games down.

That means while we’re at 33-7 SU, we’re still under water ATS at 19-21.

Undaunted, we offer another slate of picks with the hope of turning this thing around.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 25 Baylor at No. 9 West Virginia: The Mountaineers make their Big 12 debut against a team they have never played. Baylor is without Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, of course, but the Bears still have some offensive firepower with senior QB Nick Florence, who has thrown for more than 300 yards and at least three touchdowns in every game so far this season. Baylor is currently on a nine-game winning streak – one more would equal the school record set in 1936-37 – but the Bears are extremely iffy on defense. And with early Heisman frontrunner Geno Smith (1,072 yards, 12 TDs) at the controls of a high-powered West Virginia attack, Baylor’s streak is in serious jeopardy … West Virginia 34, Baylor 24. (12 noon ET, FX, DirectTV 248)

No. 4 Florida State at South Florida: The Seminoles are rolling along thanks to a potent offense that is averaging 56.3 points per game. But the FSU defense is no slouch despite giving up a lot of points in last Saturday night’s 49-37 shootout win over Clemson. Even with that performance, the Seminoles still rank No. 2 nationally in total defense (184.0 yards per game) and No. 6 in scoring (10.0 points). The Bulls don’t appear to match up very to that kind of production on either side of the ball, and it doesn’t seem possible for a team that lost last week at Ball State could hang with Florida State … Florida State 41, South Florida 17. (6 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

No. 6 South Carolina at Kentucky: Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw completed his final 20 pass attempts last week against Missouri, and this week he faces a team against which he threw for a career-best 311 yards and four TDs last year during a 54-3 rout. Shaw isn’t South Carolina’s only offensive threat, of course, as RB Marcus Lattimore (320 yards, six TDs) continues to rebound from last year’s knee injury. USC’s defense isn’t bad, either – giving up a scant 9.8 points per game ranks No. 5 in the nation in scoring defense. To cut to the chase, the Gamecocks simply have too much firepower for the Wildcats, who average 23.0 points per game on offense but give up 29.0 points and 400.3 yards on defense … South Carolina 34, Kentucky 10. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)

No. 15 TCU at SMU: You might forgive the Horned Frogs for looking past their Dallas neighbors to next week’s Big 12 game against currently unbeaten Iowa State. Then again, TCU probably believes it has something to prove to the Mustangs. SMU bused over to Fort Worth last year and stunned the Frogs, 40-33 in overtime to end TCU’s 22-game home winning streak. If that doesn’t get the attention of the Frogs, nothing will. SMU currently ranks dead last in the nation in both pass defense and total defense, something TCU plans to exploit with QB Casey Pachall (841 yards, eight TDs). Pachall leads the nation in pass efficiency … TCU 37, SMU 6. (7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Houston)

No. 12 Texas at OklahomaState: After a couple of lean years, the Longhorns believe they are ready to contend for another Big 12 title this season. Whether they are or not will begin to be determined in Stillwater as they take on the defending conference champion, who have won eight in a row at Boone Pickens Stadium. The truth is we just don’t know about either of these two teams. UT is averaging 49.3 points per game, but has beat up on the likes of Wyoming, New Mexico and Ole Miss. Meanwhile, the Cowboys started the season with an 84-0 punishing of Savannah State, but then ran into a buzz saw at Arizona while being handed a 59-38 trouncing. Yes, that is the same Arizona team that got crushed 49-0 at Oregon last week. You would have to believe the Pokes will play better at home, but do they have enough defense to keep Texas QB David Ash, who is third in the nation in pass efficiency, and his talented stable of running backs in check? Conversely, can the Longhorns rope an Oklahoma State offense that leads the county with a 62.3-point scoring offense? At the very least, this ought to be fairly entertaining and we’ll go with Upset Special No. 1 … Oklahoma State 42, Texas 38 (7:50 p.m. ET, FOX)

No. 19 Louisville at Southern Miss: This should be a no-brainer. The undefeated Cardinals are off to their best start since 2006 while the winless Golden Eagles are experienced their worst start since 1976 when they lost their first nine. The defending Conference USA champions have crated this year, ranking 113th nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Meanwhile, UL has exciting sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has already thrown for 1,049 yards and seven TDs. The Cardinals have won five straight in the series, and they should make it six relatively easily … Louisville 35, Southern Miss 17. (8 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network, DirectTV 613)

Wisconsin at No. 22 Nebraska: When the season began, this showdown had a little more buzz. But since the Badgers have struggled mightily on offense and the Cornhuskers were exposed three weeks ago in a 36-30 upset at UCLA. Wisconsin ranks a totally uncharacteristic 10th in the Big Ten in scoring offense and 12th in offensive yardage. The Badgers have offensive line problems and star tailback Monteé Ball has been a shadow of his normal self. Ball fumbled for the first time in his career and missed all of the second half in last week’s sloppy 37-26 win over UTEP. The senior tailback has been cleared for this week’s game, but you have to wonder how effective Ball will be after a second concussion in the last couple of months. If he’s not 100 percent, that means the Badgers will be even more offensively challenged against a team that is bent on revenge for last year’s 48-17 rout in Madison … Nebraska 34, Wisconsin 20 (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama: The Crimson Tide have barely broken a sweat in four games so far, and they don’t figure to get much of a challenge from the Rebels. Ole Miss has put some points on the board this year, but against the likes of Central Arkansas, UTEP and Tulane. The Rebs also tallied 31 against Texas, but gave up 66 in the process. Alabama simply doesn’t let opponents breathe. The Tide has outscored its four opponents by a 168-21 margin, including 127-7 over the past three weeks. They rank in the top 10 in every defensive category as well as No. 2 in both pass defense and pass efficiency and No. 3 in turnover margin. At this point, the only team that seems capable of beating Alabama would be Alabama itself … Alabama 49, Ole Miss 10. (9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

No. 2 Oregon vs. Washington State: You would normally expect a lot of fireworks when a couple of offensive gurus – Chip Kelly of Oregon and Mike Leach of Washington State – faced off for the first time ever. Unfortunately for Leach, he doesn’t have the kind of defense that can match up against the Ducks. The Quack Attack is coming off a game in which they were facing another supposed high-octane offense, but they flattened Arizona and pitched a 49-0 shutout – their first whitewash of a Pac-12 opponent since 2003. What home-field advantage the Cougars might have enjoyed gets negated by the fact this game will be played at CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and site of the Monday Night Football debacle that hastened the return of the league’s regular officials. Leach might eventually turn Wazuu into the offensive juggernaut he had at Texas Tech, but he’s not there yet … Oregon 49, Washington State 14. (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)

No. 14 Ohio State at No. 20 Michigan State: The Buckeyes get their sternest test – by far – this season against the No. 1 defense in the Big Ten. Sparty has yet to surrender more than 20 points in a game this season, and averages allowing only 233.5 yards per contest. Conversely, MSU has a fairly anemic offense outside of RB Le’Veon Bell. The junior tailback is the third-leading rusher in the country with an average of 152.5 yards per game, but that is more than one-third of the Michigan State offense. In simple terms, shut down Bell – as Notre Dame did for the most part during its 20-3 win over the Spartans – and you can beat Michigan State. The Buckeyes’ defensive shortcomings have been well-documented, but if there is one thing OSU can still do and do well, it is defend a no-frills, straight-ahead offensive attack. For that reason, and Braxton Miller’s playmaking ability, you get this week’s Upset Special No. 2 … Ohio State 24, Michigan State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Baylor (+12) at West Virginia; Florida State (-14) at South Florida; South Carolina (-20½) at Kentucky; TCU (-16) at SMU; Texas at Oklahoma State (+2½); Louisville (-9½) at Southern Miss; Wisconsin at Nebraska (-11½); Ole Miss at Alabama (-29); Oregon (-28) vs. Washington State; Ohio State (+2½) at Michigan State.

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

 

Rollercoaster Ride Likely To Continue For Buckeyes

Braxton Miller is the starting quarterback, the team is back on track and all is right again in Buckeye Nation.

Or is it?

It has been my experience that Ohio State diehards are no more or less fickle than any other fans around the country, but after only four games of the 2011 season, you might be forgiven for experiencing weekly bouts of whiplash as emotions surrounding the Buckeyes swing wildly from one extreme to the other.

They’re underrated. No, wait, they’re overrated.

They’re great. No, wait, they’re terrible.

No, they’re worse than that. They’re god-awful.

No, wait, they’re going to be OK.

Who can possibly keep up?

Unfortunately, no one really knows if the Buckeyes are great, god-awful or somewhere in between because they pretty much squandered the first three weeks of the season trying to pound square pegs into round holes. That was never more evident than at the quarterback position since everyone knew Joe Bauserman was no long-term solution. No first-time starter who is also a fifth-year senior ever could be.

Unfortunately, Luke Fickell had to play the hand he was dealt.

Practically no one wants to admit this, but the Buckeyes have missed Terrelle Pryor more so far this season than they have missed Jim Tressel.

The OSU coaching staff has more than 180 years’ worth of experience, meaning they can do things by committee and get by fairly well during Fickell’s first year as Tressel’s successor. That is certainly not the case at quarterback, especially in the experience department.

I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence by trying to defend Pryor and the dimwitted actions off the field that led to his suspension and departure from Ohio State. Just don’t insult mine by insinuating Pryor was anything but a terrifically gifted athlete who could make up for whatever shortcomings he had throwing the ball with an elusiveness only a handful of players have ever possessed.

As badly as Ohio State played at Miami (Fla.), I believe the Buckeyes could have and would have won that game had Pryor been the quarterback. There is no way the Hurricanes could have loaded the box as they did in the second half with the threat of Pryor in the backfield. That, in turn, would have required Miami to play a more straight-up defense, opening things for OSU in the passing game.

With Pryor gone, the Buckeyes are obviously much less experienced on offense but they are also less multifaceted. That is even more so when you take Boom Herron out of the backfield, subtract DeVier Posey from the receiving corps and erase Mike Adams from the left tackle spot.

In a perfect world, Pryor would have completed his senior season under center and given Miller an entire year as his understudy. As with most things, though, this is far from a perfect world. As talented as Miller is, as tremendous as his upside is, he simply wasn’t ready to take the reins of the offense when the regular season began.

That’s no one’s fault, really. Most people have to learn at their own pace, and credit is due to Miller for coming so far as quickly as he has. The freshman has been on an accelerated learning curve ever since he set foot on the OSU campus last winter – he’s just not quite there yet and might not be for a while.

It doesn’t take Vince Lombardi to look at Ohio State’s offensive chart and understand that the playbook has been stripped down to accommodate the freshman quarterback. The last series of the Miami game and most of the first half against Colorado looked similar to the kind of plays Miller ran in high school. Again, that’s no knock against Miller or the Ohio State staff. Coaching commandment No. 1 is and has always been to win the surest way, and simplifying things for your young quarterback not only aids in the elimination of potential disasters, it helps pave the way to victory.

As a result of the heavy vanilla coating on the Buckeyes’ play-calling, Miller has the most modest of numbers after three games. He has thrown the ball only 29 times, completing 15 of those attempts (51.7 percent) for 234 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He has also run the ball 30 times for 145 yards.

Those numbers will undoubtedly begin to improve as the season wears on and Miller continues to grow into the starting role, but they are worth comparing to the only other two men who have been freshman starting quarterbacks at Ohio State.

After his first three games (all starts) in 1978, Art Schlichter was 18 for 42 (42.9 percent) for 336 yards, one touchdown and eight interceptions while he had run 31 times for 133 yards and three TDs. Pryor, who was Todd Boeckman’s backup through the first three games of the 2008 season, was 11 for 17 (64.7 percent) for 87 yards and no touchdowns while he had run 25 times for 129 yards and one TD.

Numbers aside, Miller’s situation more closely parallels that of Schlichter than Pryor. In ’08, Pryor was put in charge of a veteran team that had just come off a trip to the national championship game. Schlichter had a much rougher go of it in 1978, taking over a team that was largely in transition during what would be Woody Hayes’ final season as head coach. By the end of his second year, though, Schlichter had his team playing for the national championship.

Miller’s team is also evolving as he takes the reins, and it will evolve even more when Herron, Posey and Adams return in week six for the Buckeyes’ prime-time trip to Nebraska. In other words, the team we saw against Miami, which bore little resemblance to the one we saw against Colorado, might be completely different from the one we see against Michigan State. And that one is likely to be vastly dissimilar from the one that goes to Lincoln.

The point of the story is this: If you think you haven’t been able to get a handle on what kind of team the Buckeyes have so far, buckle your seat belts and have the antacids ready. You probably haven’t seen anything yet.

BRUTUS-SPARTY TIDBITS

** This will be the 40th meeting between Ohio State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes hold a 27-12 advantage in the overall series including seven wins in a row and 12 in the last 14 meetings. OSU is 13-7 in Columbus against MSU, and the Spartans haven’t beaten the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium since the infamous 28-24 upset in 1998 that cost then No. 1-ranked Ohio State a shot at the national championship.

** Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell gets his first shot at the Spartans after predecessor Jim Tressel was a perfect 6-0. Tressel enjoyed an average margin of victory of 18.3 points in those six games.

** Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is 0-4 lifetime against the Buckeyes – losses in 2004 and 2006 while at Cincinnati in addition to defeats as head Spartan in 2007 and 2008. Dantonio, of course, was defensive coordinator on Tressel’s OSU staff from 2001-03 and won the Frank Broyles Award in 2002 as college football’s top assistant coach.

** Dantonio is 36-20 in his four-plus seasons with the Spartans, but only 11-14 away from Spartan Stadium. Michigan State is 14-3 overall since the beginning of last season but only 3-3 away from home.

** Ohio State is entering its 99th season as a Big Ten member and the Buckeyes sport a 71-23-4 record in conference openers.

** Michigan State is entering its 59th season of Big Ten competition with a 31-23-4 record in league openers.

** Fickell will be the first Ohio State head coach ever to face a defending Big Ten champion in his conference opener since the Buckeyes joined the league in 1913.

** Since 1913, OSU coaches are 6-4-1 in their Big Ten debuts. The last one to lose his conference debut was John Cooper, whose team dropped a 31-12 decision to Illinois in 1988. Tressel won his Big Ten debut at Indiana, a 27-14 victory in 2001.

** The Buckeyes are unranked for the second week in a row, the longest streak out of the polls since five straight weeks at the end of the 2004 regular season.

** This week marks the first time this season that Ohio State has faced a ranked opponent – Michigan State is No. 25 in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll. The last time the Buckeyes went this deep into a season before playing a top-25 team was 2007 when they faced No. 23 Purdue in week six.

** When Ohio State is the higher ranked team, it has a 22-5 record against Michigan State. When the Spartans enter the game as the higher ranked team, they are 5-0. When neither team is ranked, OSU had a 5-2 edge.

** Michigan ranks first nationally in pass defense, giving up an average of only 101.0 yards per game. The Spartans are also No. 1 in total defense, surrendering only 172.2 yards per game on average. That isn’t exactly music to Ohio State’s ears. The Buckeyes are 11th in the Big Ten in passing and dead last in the conference in total offense.

** The Ohio State defense would do well to keep Michigan State under 24 points in the game. Since 1990, the Spartans are 117-32-1 when scoring 24 or more. When they are held to fewer than 24 points, their record is 18-86-1.

** The Spartans have 24 Ohio players on their roster while Ohio State has only three players from Michigan – defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins, tight end Reid Fragel and defensive back Dionte Allen.

** There aren’t too many degrees of separation for the respective coaching staffs. In addition to Dantonio’s relationship with Tressel which began at Youngstown State, Michigan State quarterbacks coach Dave Warner had Tressel as his position coach at Syracuse in 1981. MSU offensive line coach Mark Staten was a graduate assistant on Tressel’s staff at Ohio State in 2002 and ’03, and running backs coach Brad Salem’s older brother, Tim, was Cooper’s quarterbacks coach at OSU from 1997-2000. Finally, Spartans linebackers and special teams coach Mike Tressel is the son of OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel, which obviously makes him Jim Tressel’s nephew.

** But wait … there’s more. Michigan State strength coach Ken Mannie was a graduate assistant on Earle Bruce’s OSU staff in 1984, MSU director of personnal/player development and relations Dino Folino began his coaching career as a GA for Woody Hayes in 1974 and ’75, and the Spartans’ head trainer Jeff Monroe spent four years as a student trainer for the Buckeyes from 1969-72.

** The synergy isn’t limited to Michigan State coaches. OSU offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Bollman spent three seasons in East Lansing from 1995-97 coaching the line for Nick Saban. And Ohio State safeties coach Paul Haynes spent the 2003 and ’04 seasons coaching MSU cornerbacks.

** Michigan State receiver B.J. Cunningham has a streak of 38 consecutive games during which he has logged at least one reception. That is tied for the fourth longest active streak in Division I-A, trailing only Tyron Carrier of Houston (43), Ryan Broyles of Oklahoma (42) and Kendall Wright of Baylor (40).

** Cunningham is one of those 24 Ohioans on the Michigan State roster. He prepped in suburban Columbus at Westerville South.

** MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins ranks second in his school’s history for most passing yardage at 6,762, He is far behind the all-time leader, however. Jeff Smoker (2000-03) threw for 8,932 yards during his career.

** With his next touchdown pass, Cousins will move into second place by himself on MSU’s all-time list. He is currently tied with Bill Burke (1996-99) with 46 scoring tosses. Smoker is the career leader with 61.

** Ohio State punter Ben Buchanan ranks only seventh in the Big Ten in average, but the junior has dropped 11 of his 19 kicks inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. That is nearly twice as many as any other Big Ten punter. Even more impressively, seven of Buchanan’s punts inside the 20 have actually landed inside the opponents’ 10.

** Michigan State hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher against Ohio State since 1988 – and that year the Spartans had two. Hyland Hickson (179) and Blake Ezor (135) each cracked the century mark as MSU piled 372 yards on the ground during a 20-10 victory over the Buckeyes in Spartan Stadium. No Michigan State running back has run for 100 yards against OSU in Columbus since 1983 when Keith Gates went for 101 during a 21-11 loss to the Buckeyes.

** OSU senior center Mike Brewster will make his 41st consecutive start this week for the Buckeyes. He needs to stay healthy and his team to play in the inaugural Big Ten championship game as well as a bowl contest to have a shot at tying the all-time school record of 50 straight starts – a record held since 1996 by Fickell.

** Longtime NFL kicker Morten Andersen was one of the five former MSU athletes inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame last week. In addition to kicking for five different teams over an amazing 25-year pro career, Andersen booted a 63-yard field goal for the Spartans during their 27-13 loss at Ohio State in 1981. It is the longest field goal by any OSU opponent – by seven yards – and still stands as the longest three-pointer in Big Ten history.

** This week marks the final game in the five-game suspensions of OSU tailback Boom Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas.

** The OSU-Michigan State game will be televised by ABC/ESPN using the reverse mirror. (The game should be televised by your local ABC affiliate and if the game is not on that channel, look for it on ESPN.) Veteran play-by-play man Sean McDonough will have the call with former Penn State All-America linebacker and four-time Super Bowl champion Matt Millen providing color analysis. Former University of Pacific volleyball star Heather Cox will report from the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

** The game is also available on satellite radio station channel 91 for both Sirius and XM subscribers.

** Next week, Ohio State travels to Nebraska for the first time ever. The teams have only met twice previously – in 1955 and ’56 – and both games were OSU victories in Columbus. The game from historic Memorial Stadium, set for a kickoff shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern, will be telecast nationally by ABC featuring the broadcast crew of Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit and Erin Andrews.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Sept. 28, 1968, Oregon State running back Bill Enyart established school records by rushing 50 times for 299 yards during his team’s 24-21 win over Utah in Salt Lake City.

** On Sept. 29, 2001, No. 18 Northwestern took a wild 27-26 victory over No. 24 Michigan State in Evanston. MSU wide receiver Charles Rogers gave his team a 20-17 lead on a 64-yard punt return with 4:42 to play before Northwestern QB Zac Kustok rallied the Wildcats with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kunle Patrick to make it 24-20 with 29 seconds remaining. However, Herb Haygood returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown to retake the lead for the Spartans at 26-24. NU blocked the extra point and then with 18 seconds left, Kustok completed a 54-yard pass to get his team within field-goal range and kicker David Wasielewski did the rest. His 47-yarder as time expired gave the Wildcats the victory.

** Also on Sept. 29, 2001, New Mexico State posted a rare shutout, going on the road to tally a 31-0 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. How rare was the shutout? It was the first for the Aggies in 27 seasons, a span of 283 games which established an NCAA record for most consecutive games without a shutout.

** On Sept. 30, 1939, Fordham and Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania played in the first televised college football game, a contest seen by an estimated 500 viewers in the New York City area. Bill Stern called the play-by-play for W2XBS (now WNBC-TV) while a young Mel Allen did pregame interviews. Few television sets could receive the signal, so many of the viewers saw the telecast at the nearby New York World’s Fair.

** On Sept. 30, 1944, North Carolina State set an NCAA record for the fewest yards ever gained by a winning team. During their 13-0 win over Virginia, the Wolfpack totaled only 10 yards of offense and had no first downs.

** On Oct. 1, 1955, the sideline star power was plentiful as sixth-ranked Army rolled to a 35-6 win over No. 18 Penn State at West Point. The Black Knights were coached by Earl “Red” Blaik while the Nittany Lions were led by head coach Charles “Rip” Engle and assistant Joe Paterno. All three are in the College Football Hall of Fame, as is Army quarterback Don Holleder who led his team to the victory. Nearly 12 years to the day later, Holleder was an infantry major in the Army serving in Vietnam when he attempted to rescue a group of his fellow soldiers who had been ambushed. Holleder battled sniper fire to land his helicopter in a clearing, and while he was leading the evacuation he was struck by enemy fire and killed. He received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge posthumously and was later laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

** On Oct. 2, 1943, Purdue committed 11 turnovers in a game – and still won. Somehow, the Boilermakers lost nine fumbles and pitched two interceptions and still managed a 40-21 victory over Illinois. The performance set an NCAA record for most turnovers by a winning team.

** On Oct 2, 1993, Alabama matched its own school and Southeastern Conference records for consecutive victories when the Crimson Tide scored a 17-6 victory at South Carolina to mark their 28th win in a row. The mark tied the previous school and conference marks set between 1978 and 1980 when the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant was patrolling the ’Bama sideline.

** On Oct. 3, 1992, third-ranked Florida State lost a 19-16 decision to No. 2 Miami (Fla.) when a last-minute field goal drifted wide right. Hurricanes QB Gino Torretta hit receiver Lamar Thomas to put Miami ahead, 17-16, with 6:50 to play. After a safety on special teams pushed it to a three-point game, the Seminoles drove deep into Miami territory before FSU kicker Dan Mowery pushed his 39-yard field goal attempt wide of the right upright on the final play.

** On Oct. 3, 1936, John Heisman, the legendary college coach and namesake of the Heisman Trophy, died at the age of 66. Born Oct. 23, 1869, in Cleveland, John William Heisman is credited with several innovations including invention of the center snap, dividing the game into quarters rather than halves, and leading the movement to legalize the forward pass. Heisman played at Brown (1887-89) and Penn (1890-91), and began his coaching career at Oberlin in 1892. He also coached at Akron, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Penn, Washington & Jefferson and Rice, and compiled a career record of 185-70-17. Heisman was preparing to write a history of college football when he died in New York City. Three days later he was taken by train to his wife’s hometown of Rhinelander, Wis., where he was buried at the city-owned Forest Home Cemetery. Two months later, the Downtown Athletic Club in New York renamed its college football best player trophy in Heisman’s honor.

** On Oct. 4, 1969, Boston University scored a 13-10 upset at Harvard, ending the Crimson’s 10-game win streak and marking BU’s first-ever victory over Harvard since the matchup began in 1921.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Twenty-two unbeaten teams remain at the Division I-A level (Football Bowl Subdivision, if you prefer). The alphabetical list is Alabama, Baylor, Boise State, Clemson, Florida, Georgia Tech, Houston, Illinois, Iowa State, Kansas State, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, South Florida, Stanford, Texas, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin.

** Stanford enjoys the nation’s longest winning streak at 12. Meanwhile, San Jose State snapped its losing streak at 13 last week with a 34-24 win over New Mexico State. That means New Mexico now has the longest losing streak in the nation at seven.

** The Lobos are one of only seven winless I-A teams so far. The other six: Florida Atlantic, Miami (Ohio), Middle Tennessee, Oregon State, UAB and Western Kentucky.

** The aforementioned futility by New Mexico has claimed the first coaching casualty of the 2011 season. Lobos head coach Mike Locksley was dismissed following last week’s 48-45 overtime loss to I-AA Sam Houston State. Locksley, who compiled a 2-26 record in his two-plus seasons in Albuquerque, was replaced by defensive coordinator George Barlow.

** There is little doubt LSU is a legitimate national championship contender. The Tigers are 4-0 with a record that includes double-digit road victories against Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia – three ranked teams at the time from three different conferences.

** If you like offense, you might want to skip the SEC matchup between Alabama and Florida tomorrow night. The Crimson Tide rank No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense giving up an average of 8.0 points in their four games. Meanwhile, the Gators surrender only 9.0 and are tied for No. 4 in the nation.

** If it’s offense you seek, check out Hawaii tomorrow night when the Rainbows travel to Louisiana Tech. Last week during a 56-14 win over UC-Davis, Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz threw for seven touchdowns in the first half. The total tied an NCAA record for most TD passes in a half. Moniz, who sat out the entire second half, completed 30 of 40 passes for 424 yards and the seven scores and added five carries for 50 yards. There might be a similar show this week. La Tech currently ranks 107th nationally in pass defense.

** The nation’s leader in pass efficiency continues to be Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, who three games into his junior season has 13 touchdowns against only 12 incompletions. Griffin is 70 for 82 (85.4 percent) for 962 yards, 13 TDs and no INTs, good for a passer rating of 236.23. Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson is the only other I-A quarterback with a rating north of 200. Wilson is 69 of 91 (75.8 percent) for 1,136 yards, 11 TDs and one pick for a rating of 218.38.

** Think the Boise State football program just got good in the past couple of years? Think again. The Broncos were a powerhouse in the 1970s as well under head coach Tony Knap, who died Sept. 24 at the age of 96. Knap guided what was then known as Boise College to a 71-19-8 record during eight seasons between 1968-75, a tenure that included three consecutive Big Sky conference championships from 1973-75. Knap left Boise after the ’75 season to take over the program at UNLV and spent six seasons with the Runnin’ Rebels. He was inducted into the UNLV athletics hall of fame in 1989.

FEARLESS FORECAST

When you roll the dice, sometimes everything comes up 7 or 11. That’s what happened last week with a perfect 10-0 week in the straight-up picks. That makes us an almost unbelievably prescient 38-4 on the season so far.

Before you think the heads are swelling out of control here at Forecast World Headquarters, understand that the money picks were a less-than spectacular 5-5. That makes us 24-15-1 against the spread for the year – still pretty good but we’re determined to do better this week.

Here are the games we’ll be watching:

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Kentucky at No. 1 LSU: Would you believe LSU ranks only three spots ahead of Ohio State in the national rankings for total offense? It’s true. The Tigers are 88th in the nation while the Buckeye are 91st. What the Bayou Boys have over just about everyone else in college football, though, is a growling defense that’s No. 4 against the run and No. 14 in scoring defense. And that’s after playing three of their four games away from home against ranked opponents … LSU 31, Kentucky 0. (12:20 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 3 Alabama at No. 12 Florida: These teams are near mirror images of one another. Both teams like to run the ball and both teams are pretty good at stopping the run. Gators head coach Will Muschamp was one of Nick Saban’s top assistants at LSU and with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. And the starting quarterbacks feature almost identical numbers through four games. So who wins this battle? Alabama has a slight edge in special teams and has won five of the last seven in the series. Whoever wins, this should be a good one … Alabama 20, Florida 17. (8 p.m. ET, CBS)

Nevada at No. 4 Boise State: The Wolf Pack knocked Boise out of the national championship picture last season and there are a lot of folks around college football who wouldn’t mind seeing a repeat this year. This isn’t the same Nevada team, however. QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Vai Taua are both in the NFL now, and the Pack has lost two of its first three games. Compounding their problems is the fact they cannot stop opposing teams from running the ball – Nevada ranks 108th nationally in run defense, allowing nearly 210 yards per game on the ground. All of that is music to the ears of the Broncos, who in addition to having beaten the Pack six straight times at home, have revenge on their minds … Boise State 42, Nevada 14. (2:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

UCLA at No. 6 Stanford: Here are a pair of programs headed in opposite directions. Despite losing head coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL, the Cardinal seemingly hasn’t missed a beat under new boss David Shaw. They still have QB Andrew Luck, the odds-on Heisman Trophy favorite who directs an offense that averages 46.0 points and 481.3 yards per game. And Stanford also has the No. 1 run defense in the country. Meanwhile, UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel is on the hot seat because his team always seems to take one step forward and two steps back. He is 2-2 this season and 17-24 in three-plus years with the Bruins, and fans still remember last year’s 35-0 home loss to the Cardinal. There is very little to believe things will change much this year … Stanford 34, UCLA 7. (10:30 p.m. ET, FSN)

No. 8 Nebraska at No. 7 Wisconsin: The Badgers have the welcome mat out for the Cornhuskers, who begin life in the Big Ten after 83 years as members of what finally become known as the Big 12. NU has no doubt played in some hostile environments, but here is a lead-pipe guarantee – they ain’t seen nothing like the Camp Randall crazies after dark. This game seems strangely similar to last year’s OSU-Wisconsin game when the top-ranked Buckeyes went to Madison for a night game and mugged almost from the time they stepped off the bus. The Badgers don’t have the same kind of defense they boasted last year, and the Huskers might give them some problems with their spread option attack. But look for Bucky to be more physical and wind up with a hard-fought win … Wisconsin 23, Nebraska 17. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Minnesota at No. 19 Michigan: One of the great mysteries in all of college football is why opposing defenses continue to try to play it straight against the Wolverines. QB Denard Robinson is one of the most electrifying players in the game, and still opponents act like he’s a pocket passer who runs only on occasion. As a result of that wrongheaded strategy, Robinson torched Notre Dame for 108 yards, Eastern Michigan for 198 and San Diego State for 200. That might change this week since defending the run is about the only thing the Golden Gophers do well at this point. Keeping Robinson in the pocket, however, would be a double-edged sword for Minnesota since it ranks dead last in the Big Ten in pass defense … Michigan 35, Minnesota 14. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 21 Georgia Tech at North Carolina State: You probably wouldn’t guess that the Wreck ranks No. 1 in the country in total offense and scoring as well as No. 2 in rushing. Not that Tech has been playing the greatest of competition, but it has still bludgeoned opponents to the tune of 630.5 yards per game and an average winning margin of 27.3 points. As scary as that might sound, those numbers could actually improve this week. The Wolfpack is scuffling on offense and has been downright awful at times on defense. Last week during a 44-14 loss to Cincinnati, they gave up 503 yards to the Bearcats. We smell a rout … Georgia Tech 52, N.C. State 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

Penn State at Indiana: The Nittany Lions are likely one of the weakest 3-1 teams in college football, and they have lost arguably the best player on their team – linebacker Michael Mauti – to a season-ending knee injury. Nevertheless, this time next week, the Lions will be one of the weakest 4-1 teams in college football because they are playing IU. Under first-year head coach Kevin Wilson, the Hoosiers could be described somewhere between a hot mess and a dumpster fire. Their only win so far this season is over a Division I-AA team, and they lost last week to a North Texas team that had won only eight of its previous 53 games. Add that to the fact the Hoosiers are 0-14 lifetime against the Lions and you see where we’re headed … Penn State 32, Indiana 7. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)

Notre Dame at Purdue: These two teams have played one another every season for the past nine years with the Fighting Irish going 6-3 during the stretch including three wins in a row. The Boilermakers have a pretty good offense – at least as far as anyone can tell after playing the likes of Middle Tennessee, Rice and Southeast Missouri State. They have had a week off to prepare for the Irish, who seem to play well one series and awful the next. Notre Dame really has put together only one complete performance this year and that resulted in a solid 31-13 win over Michigan State two weeks ago. If the Irish ever shore up their secondary and hold onto the football, they can be a decent football team. Until then, however, every game they play will be closer than it needs to be … Notre Dame 26, Purdue 23. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Michigan State at Ohio State: These two have charted extremely similar paths so far this season. Each has beaten up on lesser competition, each has stubbed its toe against the best team it has played so far. OSU has the edge in rushing, MSU has the better passing game. Defensively, the Spartans have the edge in most categories; on special teams, the Buckeyes have performed better. So who do you pick when the teams appear so evenly matched? Go to the history books where you’ll find Ohio State with a 27-12 advantage in the overall series, including seven victories in a row – four of those in Columbus. Of course, there’s this little historical nugget, too – when Michigan State is the higher ranked team, it is 5-0 in the series. Coin flip time … Ohio State 23, Michigan State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Kentucky at LSU (-27½); Alabama (-3½) at Florida; Nevada at Boise State (-26½); UCLA at Stanford (-20½); Nebraska (+10) at Wisconsin; Minnesota at Michigan (-19½); Georgia Tech (-9½) at N.C. State; Penn State (-14½) at Indiana; Notre Dame at Purdue (+12½); Michigan State (+3½) at Ohio State.

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

Déjà Vu? Season Has Distinctive ’08 Feel So Far

See if any of this sounds familiar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-MIAMI TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dawn Of New Season Remains Saving Grace

Richard III had his winter of discontent and Ohio State certainly had a similar summer. Who knew the business of building a perennial college football powerhouse would devolve into defending yourself about the way you built it?

Thankfully, most of that is behind us now. And as we wait for some sort of closure regarding the NCAA mess – something that could take up to another month or so – Ohio Stadium stands in readiness for another football season.

A noontime kickoff under a bright September sky by the banks of the Olentangy River means the beginning of a new season made far sweeter by the bitterness of the past eight months. But no matter how much the NCAA, the media and some of its own coaches and players try to ruin it, college football will always remain one of the preeminent fall activities throughout the country.

Of course, we’re a little prejudiced in Columbus because nothing could be better than the first glimpse of TBDBITL coming down the ramp, the smell of hamburgers and hotdogs being grilled at tailgate parties, the roar that goes up when the team bolts from the tunnel and the first strains of “Hang On Sloopy.”

I won’t lie to you. Last May, when Jim Tressel was forced to resign, I felt like I had been kicked the gut to the point where I seriously questioned whether I wanted to cover Ohio State football any more. I wasn’t particular close to Tressel – no one in the media was – and there were times when the guy seemed moody or prickly just because he could get away with it. Still, I kind of liked the way he went about his business, micromanaging everything from offensive play-calling to which players graced the front of the gameday program.

Tressel had his share of detractors, though. Every public figure does. But no matter if you loved the guy or hated him, you had to respect the bottom line. During his decade-long tenure with the Buckeyes, he accomplished things no Ohio State head coach ever has. At the top of that list was nine victories over Michigan in 10 tries.

For about a six-week period, I was in an angry funk. Yes, Tressel lied to his superiors and that sets the absolute wrong tone for someone who is supposed to be above that sort of thing. But I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that his punishment did not fit his crime. Slowly but surely, however, I cooled off and so did the weather. The closer we got to actually playing football again, the better I seemed to feel. I imagine it’s like that for a lot of you.

The Ohio State football program has weathered many storms and it will weather many more. I’m sure there were those in 1928 who believed the Buckeyes would never be the same after the resignation of longtime coach John W. Wilce. The sentiment was likely the same in 1944 when Paul Brown went off to World War II. And I know how people felt following Woody Hayes’ all-too-public meltdown on national television in 1978.

I don’t have the slightest idea what kind of a head coach Luke Fickell will make. I have known Luke for a long time – since he was a high school wrestler at Columbus DeSales – but he’s never been the lead dog. He wasn’t as a four-year starter on the Ohio State defensive line and he never has been during a coaching career that began as a grad assistant on John Cooper’s OSU staff in 1999.

It is doubtful Luke knows the avalanche headed his way. He can prepare all he wants, but until you are in the meat grinder that is being the head football coach at Ohio State, you have no idea how white-hot that spotlight is going to be. Some thrive on it, some despise it and some get devoured by it. I don’t need to name names. You all know who I’m talking about in each instance.

Regardless of how Fickell handles the intrinsic pressure that comes with the unreasonable expectation of winning every game by at least 40 points, though, his bottom line will remain constant. For every head coach at Ohio State, the success formula is really quite simple: Win and you can stay. Lose and you can pack your bags.

Fortunately for Fickell, the cupboard left to him by Tressel is far from bare. There are a lot of new faces in the starting lineup – even more after the announcement of yesterday’s suspensions – but the Buckeyes have recruited so well over the past several years and talent always has a way of rising to the top. Additionally, the Buckeyes can take advantage of a fairly soft schedule that features no more than three or four bona fide landmines.

How will the team do under its new head coach? I think the answer is similar to how the program will survive in the wake of a particularly mean-spirited NCAA investigation that sullied its reputation. Very well, thank you.

OSU-AKRON TIDBITS

** Ohio State kicks off its 122nd season of intercollegiate football tomorrow against Akron. The Buckeyes have won 32 consecutive home openers, not tasting defeat since a 19-0 loss to Penn State in the 1978 season opener.

** OSU head coach Luke Fickell makes his debut this weekend. The last time the Buckeyes went into a season with a man who had no previous head coaching experience was 1946. Assistant coach Paul Bixler was elevated to the head coaching position and his first game resulted in a 13-13 tie with Missouri. That also marked the last time a first-year Ohio State head coach failed to win his opening game with the Buckeyes.

** The Zips are led by second-year coach Rob Ianello, whose team struggled to a 1-11 record last season. Ianello is not unfamiliar with playing against Ohio State, however. He was on staff at Wisconsin from 1990-93 and again in 2003 and ’04 during which time the Badgers posted a 3-2-1 record against the Buckeyes. Ianello was also on Charlie Weis’ staff at Notre Dame in 2005 when Ohio State rolled to a 34-20 victory in the Fiesta Bowl.

** Fickell may be in his first season as a head coach, but his staff has a combined 184 years of experience as college assistants or staff members.

** Fickell also knows a little bit about Akron. He got his first full-time coaching job there, serving as defensive line coach on Lee Owens’ staff in 2000 and 2001. OSU recruiting coordinator John Peterson also spent time in Akron. He coached the Zips’ offensive line for Owens from 1995-98.

** Former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel also began his coaching career at Akron. Tressel was a graduate assistant on Jim Dennison’s staff in 1975 and was a full-time assistant for Dennison from 1976-78.

** Akron is embarking upon its 111th season of intercollegiate football. The Zips haven’t had a winning season since going 7-5 in 2005, and they haven’t won a season opener since 2007 when they took a 22-14 victory over Army at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

** All-time, the Buckeyes are 105-12-4 in season openers. The team’s last opening-game loss came in the 1999 Kickoff Classic, a 23-12 loss to Miami (Fla.) in East Rutherford, N.J.

** In season home openers, OSU is 109-8-4 all-time.

** Ohio State is working on a streak of 56 consecutive regular-season victories over unranked nonconference opposition. The last time the Buckeyes lost in the regular season to an unranked foe was a 42-10 loss at Pittsburgh in 1988.

** OSU also has a 57-game home winning streak against unranked nonconference opponents. You have to go all the way back to a 34-17 loss to Florida State in 1982 to find the last unranked nonconference team to beat the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe.

** The Buckeyes are 28-1 all-time against current members of the Mid-American Conference. The only blemish on that record against the MAC remains a 12-6 loss to Akron in a game played Sept. 15, 1894, at the Ohio State Fair.

** The Zips are 1-6 lifetime against Ohio State with the only victory coming with that win in 1894. The Buckeyes won the last meeting between the two schools, a 20-2 snoozefest in 2007.

** Akron is 1-22 all-time against current members of the Big Ten. In addition to their 1-6 mark against OSU, the Zips are 0-4 vs. Penn State, 0-3 against Indiana, 0-2 vs. Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin, and 0-1 against Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. Akron has never played Michigan, Minnesota or Northwestern.

** Akron is facing a ranked team for the first time since 2009 when it opened the season with a 31-7 loss at Penn State. The Zips are 1-21 all-time vs. ranked opponents with the lone win a 34-20 defeat of No. 25 Marshall in November 2002.

** Since 2005, Ohio State has allowed only 10 opponents to rush for 100 yards or more. That is the third-best figure in Division I-AA, trailing only Boston College (eight) and Alabama (nine).

** Ohio State is 399-107-20 in Ohio Stadium since the facility opened in 1922. That is a .778 winning percentage. All-time in Columbus, the team is 542-154-35, good for a winning percentage of .765.

** Over the past nine seasons, the Buckeyes have enjoyed a 60-5 record at home, good for a .923 winning percentage. Since 2002, that is tied with Oklahoma for the third-best home mark in Division I-A. Only Boise State (56-0, 1.000) and TCU (49-4, .925) have done better over that time frame.

** Although last season was technically vacated, OSU recorded 10 wins or more for a Big Ten-record sixth consecutive season.

** The Buckeyes are the only Division I-A team to have finished in the top 10 of the final Associated Press writers’ poll in each of the last six years.

** ESPN will have the telecast of the season opener with Syracuse alum Dave Pasch on the play-by-play, former Florida head coach Urban Meyer and former Ohio State All-America linebacker Chris Spielman handling color analysis and former Johns Hopkins All-America lacrosse player Quint Kessenich providing sideline reports. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** Next week, Ohio State stays home to host another MAC team in Toledo with former OSU defensive coordinator Tim Beckman in his third season as head coach. The game will be telecast by the Big Ten Network and will kickoff at 12 noon Eastern.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Aug. 31, 1996, No. 18 Kansas State took a 21-14 victory over Texas Tech in the inaugural Big 12 conference game. The Red Raiders nearly rallied from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, but K-State safety Mario Smith broke up a fourth-down pass deep in his own territory with 44 seconds remaining to secure the win.

** On Sept. 1, 2007, Appalachian State engineered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, going into Ann Arbor and pulling off a 34-32 shocker over No. 5 Michigan. The Wolverines trailed much of the game but managed to take a 32-31 lead with 4:36 to play before QB Armanti Edwards led the Mountaineers on a 69-yard drive for a 24-yard field goal with 26 seconds left. U-M responded and got all the way to Appalachian State’s 20-yard line, but the Wolverines’ field-goal attempt was blocked with six seconds remaining the Mountaineers secured Division I-AA’s first-ever victory over a top-five Division I-A opponent.

** On Sept. 1, 1984, BYU began its march to the national championship with a 20-14 upset at No. 3 Pittsburgh. Cougars QB Robbie Bosco threw for 325 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown to Adam Haysbert with 1:37 remaining in the game. The victory vaulted BYU from unranked to No. 13 in the national polls. The contest was also the first regular-season college football game ever televised live by ESPN.

** On Sept. 2, 1989, Southern Mississippi quarterback Brett Favre threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns, including a 2-yard score with 23 seconds remaining, to lead the Golden Eagles to a 30-26 win over No. 6 Florida State.

** On Sept. 3, 1983, seventh-ranked Florida State barely escaped a season-opening loss, scoring a late touchdown to squeeze past unranked East Carolina, 47-46, in Tallahassee.

** On Sept. 4, 1993, Penn State scored its first Big Ten victory with a 38-20 win over Minnesota.

** On Sept. 5, 1981, Lamar University engineered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, beating defending Southwest Conference champion Baylor, 18-17, in Waco. Lamar kicker Mike Marlow booted a 42-yard field goal with three seconds left to account for the winning points. It was the first time in history that a Division I-AA school had beaten a I-A school.

** On Sept. 6, 1986, third-ranked Miami (Fla.) overcame a 15-9 second-half deficit for a 23-15 over Florida, ending the Gators’ 21-game home winning streak.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Congratulations to our old pals up north who are out to prove they are unafraid of lightning striking them twice. Michigan has scheduled a rematch with Appalachian State in 2014.

** Proving that a decent idea can be ground into the dust, Nike will provide its so-called Pro Combat uniforms to selected schools again this year. Boise State, Georgia and Oregon will unveil theirs tomorrow while other teams will wear them throughout the season. Ohio State is scheduled to suit up in its Pro Combats when the Buckeyes host Wisconsin on Oct. 29.

** On the off chance that you give a rip, ESPN released this week preseason predictions by its cadre of college football analysts. Eighteen analysts picked conference champions as well as national title participants. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin was selected by nine of the analysts while Ohio State got five votes and Nebraska garnered four. Those voting for the Badgers were Ed Cunningham, Rod Gilmore, Brian Griese, Desmond Howard, Brock Huard, Danny Kanell, Matt Millen, David Pollock and Chris Spielman. OSU received the nod from Mike Bellotti, Todd Blackledge, Bob Davie, Kirk Herbstreit and Urban Meyer, while Nebraska got votes from Lee Corso, Dan Hawkins, Craig James and Jesse Palmer.

** Eleven of the analysts picked Alabama to make the BCS National Championship Game while Oklahoma also received 11 votes to make the title game. However, only five analysts – Bellotti, James, Meyer, Miller and Pollock – picked the Crimson Tide to play the Sooners for the championship. To see all of the picks, click here.

** How about a little Heisman Trophy trivia? Name the Division I-A school with the most all-time wins that has never had a Heisman winner. The answer comes later.

** Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson enters the 2011 season with 2,053 career rushing yards, seventh on the all-time Big Ten list among quarterbacks. He needs only 98 more to move into the top five, but Robinson has a ways to go to catch Antwaan Randle El, who rushed for 3,895 yards while quarterbacking Indiana from 1998 to 2001.

** Minnesota return man Troy Stoudermire needs only 97 yards in kickoff returns to become the all-time Big Ten leader in that department. Stoudermire enters 2011 with 2,929 kickoff return yards, second only to David Gilreath of Wisconsin, who became the conference leader just last season. Gilreath finished his career with 3,025 yards on kickoff returns.

** Penn State kicker Collin Wagner takes a streak of 85 consecutive PATs into this season. That ranks as the sixth longest streak in Big Ten history behind J.D. Carlson of Michigan (128, 1989-91), Brett Conway of Penn State (119, 1994-96), Chris Summers of Purdue (111, 2006-08), Pete Stoyanovich of Indiana (107, 1986-88) and Tim Williams of Ohio State (86, 1991-93).

** Four Big Ten kickers were named to the preseason watch list for the Groza Award, given annually to the top placekicker in college football. Wagner wasn’t one of the four. They were Derek Dimke of Illinois, Mitch Ewald of Indiana, Dan Conroy of Michigan State and Philip Welch of Wisconsin. Dimke led the Big Ten in field goals last season with 24 and Wagner tied for second with 20.

** According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Oklahoma’s unemployment rate of 5.5 ranked as the fifth-lowest in the country for July. Perhaps that is one reason why Oklahoma State has surpassed 34,000 season tickets sold this year, breaking the school record set in 2009.

** The Fiesta Bowl has been moved from Jan. 5 (a Thursday) to Jan. 2 (a Monday). No, I don’t know why.

** In other bowl news, the Humanitarian Bowl – the one played outside in Boise, Idaho, in mid-December – has changed its name. Henceforth, the game will now be known as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

** Talk about planning ahead: Notre Dame and Navy recently announced they have agreed to continue playing one another in football through at least the 2026 season.

** Pity the poor punters in last Saturday’s Division III game between Saint Augustine’s College (Va.) and Virginia Union. The game was played the same afternoon Hurricane Irene rolled into the area and four punts during the contest traveled less than 10 yards. That included one that went for minus-9 and another than went for minus-1. There was also a fifth punt that blew out of the punter’s grasp before he could get the kick away. Saint Augustine also fumbled six times during the 12-0 loss.

** Here is the answer to our Heisman trivia. Going into the 2011 season, the top five winningest programs that have never produced a Heisman Trophy winner are Tennessee (789), West Virginia (691), Georgia Tech (679), Virginia Tech (678) and Arkansas (669).

FEARLESS FORECAST

Last season is going to be a pretty tough act to follow here at Forecast World Headquarters. The straight-up picks finished with a 118-24 record (that’s a .831 winning percentage) while we had a solid 81-55-6 mark against the spread.

In case you’re keeping score at home, that makes the career numbers 1,521-450 straight up (77.2 percent) and still fairly well above water against the spread at 765-685-25 (good enough for 52.7 percent).

Yeah, we’re pretty solid in the black with these picks but remember it’s all in fun and there are many more picks based on gut feelings than any inside information. Nevertheless, we enjoy making the picks, so off we go for another year.

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAMES

Youngstown State at No. 17 Michigan State: With Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State taking up most of the summertime oxygen in the Big Ten, Sparty has been a tad overlooked. MSU returns a boatload of talent on offense, including veteran QB Kirk Cousins (2,825 yards, 20 TDs a year ago) and ultra-productive tailback Edwin Baker (1,201 yards, 13 TDs) … Michigan State 42, Youngstown State 7. (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 14 TCU at Baylor: The Horned Frogs have several new starters, including sophomore Casey Pachall taking over at quarterback for the graduated Andy Dalton, as they begin their final season in the Mighty Mountain West. Their goal remains the same, however – upset the college football apple cart by crashing the BCS party. Before they can think about that, they need to contend with the Bears and their quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is a preseason Heisman candidate after throwing for a school-record 3,501 yards last year. Unfortunately, Baylor isn’t quite as strong on defense and that will make the difference … TCU 31, Baylor 21. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Utah State at No. 23 Auburn: Hopefully, the Tigers squeezed every ounce of enjoyment they could out of last year’s national championship run. This year, it’s back to reality without Heisman winner Cam Newton and the specter of an NCAA investigation looming over the program. Not that those problems should have much of an impact this week with the Aggies coming to town. Utah State is one of the weakest programs in I-A with 13 consecutive losing seasons and a 1-54 all-time record against ranked opponents … Auburn 38, Utah State 6. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

Chattanooga at No. 10 Nebraska: The Cornhuskers begin life as Big Ten members by hosting the Mocs, who are coming off their second consecutive 6-5 season. Chattanooga typically schedules a big-name Division I-A school each year and those games turn out about the way you would expect. Since 2008, the Mocs have played Oklahoma, Alabama and Auburn have lost all three by a combined score of 164-26. Don’t expect anything different this time around … Nebraska 42, Chattanooga 0. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

Minnesota at No. 25 USC: Since new Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill says he likes challenges, he should be very happy. Not only is he charged with a huge rebuilding project, he gets to start it at a venue that has been very unkind to Big Ten teams. Since 1960, the conference is a dismal 2-17-1 when traveling to the Coliseum to play the Trojans. The last time the Golden Gophers were there was 1979 and they came home with a 48-14 loss. Quite frankly, that final score seems about right … USC 48, Minnesota 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Western Michigan at Michigan: The Brady Hoke Era gets under way in Ann Arbor and if it is to go any better than the Rich Rodriguez Era, the Wolverines will have to figure out a way to play some defense. Last year, U-M ranked dead last in the Big Ten in scoring and total defense – meaning they gave up more points and more yardage than any other team in the conference. This should be a pretty good barometer on what Hoke has done during the offseason to shore up the stop troops since the Broncos throw the ball around pretty well with returning QB Alex Carder (3,334 yards, 30 TDs). This one might be closer than a lot of people think it will be … Michigan 37, Western Michigan 31. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Tulsa at No. 1 Oklahoma: Every year it seems the Sooners are early favorites to make a run at the national championship, and every year it seems they fall just short of that goal. This time, OU may be for real. QB Landry Jones (4,718 yards, 38 TDs) leads a potent offense and the Sooners are also pretty good on defense despite the absence of linebackers Travis Lewis (broken foot) and Austin Box, who tragically died over the summer due to an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers. The Golden Hurricane enters the game on a seven-game winning streak, and they have posted three 10-win seasons in the past four years. Still, it’s difficult to see how they can break through, especially with Oklahoma protecting its No. 1 status as well as a 36-game home win streak … Oklahoma 45, Tulsa 10. (8 p.m. ET, FX)

No. 5 Boise State vs. No. 19 Georgia: Mark Richt is on the hot seat in Athens, and that chair is about to get even hotter. The Bulldogs are coming off a 6-7 campaign, their first losing season since 1996, and their opening-night assignment in the Georgia Dome is figuring out how to slow down the ultra-talented Broncos. Leading the Boise attack is Heisman-worthy QB Kellen Moore (3,845 yards, 35 TDs), who has a gaudy 38-2 record as a starter. As good as the Broncos are on offense, they are extremely underrated on defense and that is where they will win this game … Boise State 20, Georgia 17. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU: This is easily the most-hyped game of the first weekend since it is basically a national championship elimination bout. The winner solidifies his résumé while the loser can begin making plans for next year. The Ducks obviously have great team speed, led by Heisman candidate LaMichael James, who needs only 20 yards to become his school’s all-time leading rusher. Then, there are the Tigers with their messy quarterback situation that resulted in starter Jordan Jefferson being suspended. There are folks in the bayou, however, who believe their team will be better off with Jarrett Lee under center anyway. Add that to the fact LSU has the better defense and, after all, they are from the SEC, and you smell what we’re cooking here … LSU 26, Oregon 22. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Akron at No. 18 Ohio State: There is little use in rehashing the Buckeyes’ summer of discontent. Ohio State has played intercollegiate football for the past 121 years and there is every indication the program will continue for at least another 121, so who occupies the head coach’s office and who takes the snaps as quarterback is largely irrelevant in the overall scheme of things. When the pigskins begin to fly, OSU fans regain their singular focus. They simply want their team to win and look good doing so. That shouldn’t be much of a problem in the opener against the Zips, who were one of the worst teams in all of Division I-A last year. However, with the Buckeyes having so many new faces in so many new positions – not the least of which is Luke Fickell – we don’t foresee things getting too much out of hand … Ohio State 31, Akron 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

SUNDAY’S GAMES

Marshall at No. 24 West Virginia: If not for ESPN’s summertime obsession with Ohio State, the all-sports network might have been focusing on these two programs. The Mountaineers had a messy coaching change and were placed on a two-year probation by the NCAA while one of the Herd’s top receivers was recently charged in connection with a string of armed robberies. No wonder both of the programs are ready to get back to some football … West Virginia 41, Marshall 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SMU at No. 8 Texas A&M: These former Southwest Conference foes get together for what could be the final time in the foreseeable future as the Aggies prepare to bolt for the SEC. While A&M has gotten most of the preseason hype, the Mustangs feature one of the best quarterbacks you’ve probably never heard of. Kyle Padron (3,828 yards, 31 TDs) flourished in head coach June Jones’ system – what quarterback doesn’t flourish with Jones? – and that always gives SMU a puncher’s chance. What Jones’ teams typically lack is a creditable defense and that will make the difference here … Texas A&M 37, SMU 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, FSN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Youngstown State at Michigan State (-34); TCU (-3½) at Baylor; Utah State at Auburn (-22); Chattanooga at Nebraska (-34½); Minnesota at USC (-23); Western Michigan (+14½) at Michigan; Tulsa at Oklahoma (-24½); Boise State (-2½) vs. Georgia in Atlanta; Oregon vs. LSU (-3½) in Dallas; Marshall at West Virginia (-23); SMU at Texas A&M (-14); and Akron (+34) at Ohio State.

Enjoy opening weekend, have a safe Labor Day holiday and we’ll see you next week.

Wolverines Don’t Exactly Get Their Man

Brady Hoke? Really? You have to wonder if the University of Michigan is even trying.

Back in November after Ohio State had beaten the Wolverines for the ninth time in 10 years, I wrote the following:

“(When) each win over Michigan seemingly becomes a foregone conclusion, the greatness of the overall rivalry seems to erode bit by bit. … Any Ohio State victory over the Wolverines is a wonderful thing to be cherished, but how satisfying are countless victories if they come against a defenseless opponent? I contend a Michigan program that is merely a shadow of its former self is not good for the Big Ten and not good for the OSU-Michigan rivalry.

“For better or for worse, the reputation of the conference as a whole – and that of Ohio State to a great degree – is predicated on the Michigan football team being a national power. And if that is ever going to happen again in the near future, the decision in Ann Arbor seems clear. (Rich) Rodriguez has to go.”

Perhaps I wasn’t making myself clear enough. Yes, Rodriguez had to go but in his place Michigan was supposed to hire someone dynamic who would raise the level of the program back to where it had been for most of the 20th century. No offense to Hoke, but what U-M David Brandon got with his recent hire was a dime-a-dozen coach who just happened to have had “Michigan assistant, 1995-2002” on his résumé.

Like Rodriguez three years ago, Hoke is something of a hot commodity. Rodriguez resurrected a lifeless program at West Virginia while Hoke comes from San Diego State after leading the Aztecs to their first bowl appearance since 1998 and their first bowl victory since 1969. Granted, that win was against Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl, played at Qualcomm Stadium where SDSU plays its home games, but it was a big win in program history and that’s what Hoke was selling. Fortunately for him, Brandon was in a buying mood.

Of course, the Michigan AD would have us believe that Hoke is the second coming of Urban Meyer, who produced winners at formerly moribund Bowling Green and Utah before winning a pair of national championships at Florida. In this case, Brandon is peeing on our collective legs and telling us it’s raining.

I have no affinity for Meyer but when it comes to a comparison between him and Hoke, it really is no contest. Meyer spent two seasons each at Bowling Green (a MAC rival of Ball State) and Utah (a mid-major like San Diego State). In each of those four seasons, Meyer never failed to produce at least eight wins.

The Falcons were 2-9 in 2000 and immediately improved to 8-3 during Meyer’s first season. After he went 9-3 the following year, Meyer left for Utah where he was 10-2 with a Liberty Bowl win over Southern Miss in 2003 and 12-0 with a Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh the next season. Then he took his 39-8 career record and went to Florida.

Now, let’s take a look at Hoke. In 2003, he took over a Ball State program that hadn’t enjoyed a winning season in six seasons – and it would take another five years before he produced a winner in Muncie. Hoke’s first four teams won only 15 times in 46 games – that is a robust .326 winning percentage, folks – and when he did finally get a winner, it was a modest 7-6 in 2007 that included a 52-30 blowout loss to Rutgers in the International Bowl.

To be fair, since then, Hoke has gone 25-13 including a 12-1 season in ’08 at Ball State and this past season’s 9-4 record at San Diego State.

Still, the figures don’t lie. Hoke’s eight-year record as a college head coach is 47-50 (a .485 win percentage). When Rodriguez was hired by Michigan, his 15-year record was 105-62-2, a .620 win percentage. When Ohio State rolled the dice in 2001 on a Division I-AA coach named Jim Tressel, his 15-year record was 135-57-2 (.700) and he had four national championship rings.

Personally, I have no problem with Hoke although he may not be quite as genuine as Brandon and some others would have us believe. It stretches the imagination somewhat that his father played for Woody Hayes at Miami (Ohio) yet young Brady grew up rooting for Michigan. But that’s OK. Maybe Hoke’s dad didn’t like Woody. Not everyone did.

More disconcerting is the way Hoke bolted from San Diego State. During his introductory news conference at Michigan, he thanked Rodriguez (presumably for performing so abysmally to pave the way for Hoke to get his dream job) and made no acknowledgment of San Diego State or the players (most of which were recruited by predecessor Chuck Long) that allowed him to make the leap to U-M. Perhaps worst of all, Hoke indicated he had no plans for a return trip to San Diego to say goodbye to the Aztecs in person.

Whether you fall into the camp that believes Hoke is genuine, the camp that thinks he’s a phony, or somewhere in between, I just get this nagging feeling that Michigan settled for Hoke the same way they settled for Rodriguez three years ago. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that the school’s No. 1 choice was Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles was the fall-back candidate. If Hoke was the guy Brandon wanted all along, he didn’t have to wait until after bowl season had ended. He could have fired Rodriguez the morning after the Ohio State game in November and introduced Hoke that afternoon.

Michigan hopes it has found its way back to national prominence with Hoke. At the very least, it hopes it has found its way back to the Bo Schembechler era that continued with Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr – two U-M head coaches under which Hoke served in Ann Arbor.

The long and the short of it is, however, that after three frustrating years under Rodriguez, the Wolverines yearn for a bygone era that is not easily attainable. Yes, the program suffered miserably during the last three seasons but the downturn didn’t start when Rodriguez arrived. Since 2005, Michigan has a barely-average 24-22 Big Ten record. The Wolverines haven’t finished a season as a top-five team since 1999.

In other words, Hoke has an awful lot of work ahead of him. Whether or not he truly is the man for the job, only time will tell. And after the Rodriguez disaster, time may be a luxury Hoke does not have.

Why Is Something So Easy So Hard For So Many?

It is always more than a little amusing when national college football pundits gather after each regular season to breathlessly pronounce that “This year the BCS got it right.”

Oh, really? Just because two undefeated teams from major conferences finished one-two in the final Bowl Championship Series standings doesn’t necessarily mean the BCS “got it right.” It simply means the two teams everyone wanted to see play one another in the national championship game will play one another in the national championship game.

In my humble opinion, this year more than any other in recent memory screams for a playoff at the Division I-A level. And I’m not talking about a Cinderella team like TCU – undefeated for the second season in a row – getting the shaft and not playing for the title. I’m talking about major conference teams such as Ohio State and Michigan State not even being in the national championship conversation.

The Buckeyes were once the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, yet after losing a game in mid-October they were literally never heard from again. Meanwhile, the Spartans were one of the feel-good stories of the entire college football season, overcoming their head coach’s heart attack to play an inspired brand of football and earn a share of their first Big Ten championship in 20 years.

Both Brutus and Sparty finished the season with 11-1 records, and at least Ohio State drew a big-money BCS bowl assignment. Michigan State gets the Capital One Bowl for its trouble and a date with defending national champion Alabama. The message to the Spartans and virtually every other Big Ten school not named Ohio State or Michigan? Win your conference’s automatic BCS bid because you literally have no chance at a BCS at-large berth.

Then there is Stanford. The Cardinal also finished 11-1 with their lone loss a 52-31 decision Oct. 2 at Oregon. Stanford won its last seven games in a row by an average margin of 22.0 points and rose all the way to No. 4 in the final BCS standings. But because of a new BCS rule, the Cardinal is not able to play in the Rose Bowl for what would likely be an entertaining matchup with Wisconsin. Stanford must truck itself across the country to face Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

TCU and Boise State have been behind the proverbial 8-ball all season, each of them knowing the tiniest of slip-ups would be costly. Boise owned the nation’s longest win streak before a 34-31 overtime loss Nov. 26 to Nevada, and the Broncos will face No. 19 Utah in the totally meaningless Las Vegas Bowl three days before Christmas.

Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs have won 26 of their last 27 games and will be able to match their tenacious defense against Wisconsin’s offensive juggernaut in Pasadena. Of course, no one gives TCU much of a chance – except the oddsmakers, who have installed the Frogs as early 2½-point favorites.

So while Oregon and Auburn get this year’s BCS goldmine, nearly everyone else gets the shaft. And the sad truth of the matter is that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can easily make a case for a month-long, 12-team playoff by simply seeding the teams according to the final BCS standings and giving the top four teams a first-round bye.

This year for example, the aforementioned format would give byes to Auburn, Oregon, TCU and Stanford with first-round matchups pitting No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Missouri, No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 LSU, No. 7 Oklahoma vs. No. 10 Boise State, and No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Michigan State. In that first round alone, you have three superlative games including OSU and LSU playing a rematch of the 2007 national title game, Oklahoma looking to avenge its Fiesta Bowl loss four years ago to Boise State, and a classic SEC-Big Ten battle between Arkansas and Michigan State.

For the second-round games, the lowest ranked winners would play the highest ranked of the top four teams. For argument’s sake, let’s say each of the higher ranked teams won their first-round games. That means you would have the following second-round matchups: No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 8 Arkansas and No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 5 Wisconsin in one bracket, and No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 3 TCU vs. No. 6 Ohio State in the other.

The winners of those games go to the BCS Final Four, which could be made up of the current BCS bowl games. Then the two winners play for the national championship – again in one of the current four BCS venues to be played on a rotating basis. Television cleans up with advertising revenue, colleges put a billion extra dollars into their coffers, and fans get a month filled with March Madness excitement culminating with one true champion decided on the field of play.

It is so stunningly simple to implement with the result being a win-win situation for all parties involved. Makes you wonder why something so easy seems so difficult to so many.

FAIR OR UNFAIR – YOU DECIDE

North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin accepted an agent-sponsored trip to Miami of which he posted photos on his Twitter account. Austin’s penalty: Suspended for the entire 2010 season.

Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was reportedly at the same Miami party as Austin. Dareus’ penalty: Suspended for the first two games of the 2010 season.

Georgia receiver A.J. Green sold a game-worn jersey for $1,000 to a man with agent ties whom Green had met through Facebook. Green’s penalty: Suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season.

Tennessee men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl made telephone calls to prospective recruits during the NCAA’s non-contact period. Pearl’s penalty: Suspended for the first eight SEC games of the 2010-11 season.

USC freshman running back Dillon Baxter accepted a cross-campus golf cart ride from a fellow student who works part-time for a sports agency. Baxter’s penalty: Suspended for one game.

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton’s father admitted to shopping his son’s services to the highest bidder with some reports claiming as much as $180,000 was the asking price. NCAA rules clearly stipulate that no player or his representative can ask for or accept money during the recruiting process. Yet because Newton’s father claims his son had no knowledge of his actions, the NCAA has declared Newton eligible to play this season.

There is no doubt that Newton will be named the winner of the Heisman Trophy tomorrow although I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that some voters left him off their ballots.

Was it fair for those voters to anoint themselves judge and jury against Newton when the NCAA has ruled him eligible? Likewise, is it fair for Newton to continue to play under the cloud of an NCAA investigation that appears to be disingenuous at best?

Fair or unfair? You decide.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Dec. 4, 1976, Texas handed Arkansas a 29-12 loss in Austin in the final game for both coaching legends Darrell K. Royal of the Longhorns and Frank Broyles of the Razorbacks.

** On Dec. 6, 1987, American college football ventured to Australia for the first time. Wyoming scored a 24-21 victory over Texas-El Paso in a Western Athletic Conference contest staged in Melbourne. The game drew 22,000 fans to the 100,000-seat capacity Victoria Football League Park and Cricket Grounds.

** On Dec. 6, 2003, Kansas State captured its first Big 12 championship with a 35-7 upset of top-ranked Oklahoma in the conference title game. The previously undefeated Sooners looked to be in control early when tailback Kejuan Jones opened the scoring with a 42-yard touchdown run, but the No. 13 Wildcats shut down OU from there and let an explosive offense take over. Tailback Darren Sproles rolled up 323 yards of total offense, quarterback Ell Roberson threw for four touchdowns, and the KSU defense limited Oklahoma to its lowest scoring output since 1998.

** On Dec. 7, 1996, Army erased an 18-point deficit and tallied a 28-24 victory over Navy. At the time, it was the largest comeback in the 96-year history of the series.

** On Dec. 7, 2002, Marshall claimed the Mid-American Conference championship with a thrilling 49-45 win over Toledo. The Thundering Herd took the early lead and enjoyed a 28-17 halftime lead before the Rockets roared back on a pair of third-quarter touchdowns from tailback Trinity Dawson. The teams traded early fourth-quarter scores, and then Marshall QB Byron Leftwich hit wide receiver Darius Watts with a game-winning 40-yard touchdown with only 49 seconds remaining. Leftwich finished the game with 402 yards passing and four touchdowns.

** On Dec. 8, 1959, the first NAIA championship contest was staged between St. Joseph (Ind.) and Montana State. The game ended in a 0-0 tie, and both schools were awarded NAIA championship trophies.

** On Dec. 8, 2001, Hawaii quarterback Nick Rolovich threw for 543 yards and eight touchdowns as the Warriors hung a 72-45 upset on previously unbeaten BYU.

** On Dec. 9, 1876, Yale finished an undefeated season with a 2-0 victory over Columbia in a game held in Hoboken, N.J. The Bulldogs finished their season with a perfect 3-0 record, their third undefeated season in the first five years of football at the university.

** On Dec. 9, 1914, Carlisle (Pa.) scored a 20-3 victory over Alabama in Birmingham. It marked the final game coached at Carlisle by the legendary Glenn “Pop” Warner, who also coached at Georgia, Cornell, Pitt, Stanford and Temple and compiled a record of 312-104-32 during a 44-year coaching career.

** On Dec. 9, 1935, University of Chicago halfback John Jacob “Jay” Berwanger won the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy awarded to the outstanding player east of the Mississippi River. Berwanger was a runaway winner over Army halfback Charles “Monk” Meyer, Notre Dame halfback William Shakespeare and Princeton halfback Pepper Constable. One year after Berwanger won the award, it was renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy in honor of legendary college coach John Heisman, who died in October 1936.

** On Dec. 11, 1977, College Football Hall of Fame coach Eddie Robinson led his Grambling State team to a 35-32 victory over Temple in the Tokyo Bowl. The Tigers’ victory marked one of the first wins by a historically black college over a Division I-A opponent.

** On Dec. 12, 1925, Hawaii topped Colorado State, 41-0, in Manoa, Hawaii, to push the Warriors’ winning streak to 18 games. It also snapped a 10-game winning streak for the Rams. Hawaii was coached at the time by Otto “Proc” Klum, the winningest coach in school history, who earned a reputation for running up the score on opponents. Twice during the 1926 season, the Warriors scored 101-0 victories.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** When Auburn and Oregon meet in the national championship game, the Tigers will be trying to protect the SEC’s streak of four consecutive titles. The streak began in 2006 when Florida rolled to a 41-14 victory over Ohio State. LSU defeated Ohio State for 2007 title, Florida won again in ’08 with a victory over Oklahoma, and Alabama dumped Texas, 37-21, in last year’s game.

** Auburn will be seeking its first national championship since 1957 while Oregon is looking for its first-ever title.

** Here are the regular-season individual statistical champions for 2010:

Rushing yards – LaMichael James, Oregon, 1,682

Rushing TDs – LaMichael James, Oregon, 21

Passing yards – Bryant Moniz, Hawaii, 4,629

Passing TDs – (tie) Bryant Moniz, Hawaii, and Dominique Davis, East Carolina, 36

Total offense – Bryant Moniz, Hawaii, 4,705

Receptions – Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma, 118

Receiving yards – Greg Salas, Hawaii, 1,675

TD receptions – Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State, 18

Punting – Chas Henry, Florida, 46.41

Punt returns – Shaky Smithson, Utah, 19.7

Punt return TDs – Cliff Harris, Oregon, 4

Kickoff returns – William Powell, Kansas State, 34.6

Kickoff return TDs – Eric Page, Toledo, 3

Scoring – Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State, 137

Field goals – (tie) Danny Hrapmann, Southern Mississippi, and Josh Jasper, LSU, 26

Total tackles – Luke Kuechly, Boston College, 171

Sacks – Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson, 15½

Tackles for loss – Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue, 26

Interceptions – (tie) Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech, and Mana Silva, Hawaii, 8

** In case you missed it, former Illinois defensive star Al Brosky died Nov. 28 at the age of 82. Brosky played with the Fighting Illini from 1950-52 and was a member of the school’s 1951 Big Ten and Rose Bowl championship teams. He finished his career with 29 interceptions, a Division I-A record that still stands. Brosky was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

** Once again, here is the schedule for the BCS games: Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, Calif.; Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.; Orange Bowl, Jan. 3, Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.; Sugar Bowl, Jan. 4, Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, La.; BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 10, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Despite picking both Auburn and Oregon to get upset, it wasn’t a bad final week of the regular season for the Forecast. Those were the only two misses in a 5-2 week to leave the straight-up season record at 118-24.

Against the spread, we were oh-so-close to a perfect week. In seven games, we had a push and three losses – Boise State was giving 37½ and beat Utah State by 36; Oregon State was getting 17½ at home against Oregon and lost by 17; and Oklahoma was giving 3½ to Nebraska and won by 3. As the saying goes, however, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and drive-in movies. The 3-3-1 week made us 81-55-6 ATS for the season.

The Fearless Forecast will take the next couple of weeks off and we’ll check back in when the real bowl season (a.k.a. the BCS) gets under way. Until then, have a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous holiday season.

My Take On RichRod And The OSU-Michigan Rivalry

In the days leading up to the 107th renewal of what we refer to around here simply as The Game, I spent a lot of time with friends and family – not to mention appearances on several sports talk shows – defending the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.

Because I grew up during “The Ten-Year War” between Woody and Bo, I have the utmost respect for what truly has been the greatest rivalry in American sports over the years.

With that respect comes a tremendous amount of reverence for bygone days when both teams were national powers, when a Big Ten championship trophy was more important than the national title, and when the Rose Bowl was truly The Granddaddy of Them All.

Of course, it’s simply not that way anymore and to pretend it is would be foolish. As it says in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Perhaps clinging to what was once the mystique of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is a childish thing. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

Mirroring the ups and downs of everyday life itself, the rivalry is cyclical and always has been. With the exception of the first dozen or so games in the series when OSU was nothing more than a glorified club team, the rivalry is nearly a draw. Since Chic Harley finally led the Buckeyes to their first victory over Michigan in 1919, the series shows 44 victories for Ohio State, 45 for the Wolverines and four ties.

Things have tightened considerably over the past decade because Jim Tressel has won nine times in 10 tries against Michigan including the last seven in a row. Anyone with even a passing interest in Ohio State football knows that is an unprecedented run of success, and every Buckeye fan savors each and every one of those victories.

Yet as each year passes, and each win over Michigan seemingly becomes a foregone conclusion, the greatness of the overall rivalry seems to erode bit by bit.

There is a new generation of young Ohio State fans who have never known their favorite team to lose to Michigan. As the OSU winning streak gets longer and longer, who could blame them for never fully understanding why a game against Michigan holds any more weight than a game against Wisconsin? After all, there always seems to be the danger of losing to the Badgers. Not so against the Wolverines.

Likewise, there is an entire generation of Michigan fans being weaned on a legacy of losing to Ohio State. Not that I really care about that because along with a respect for the rivalry that was ingrained into me at an early age, so, too, was a hatred for anything maize and blue.

But that hatred was healthy and it was born from respect for a feared enemy. After all, no team in college football has more all-time wins than Michigan. It has a record 42 Big Ten championships. It counts 11 national titles. It is the home of Fielding Yost and Tom Harmon and Gerald Ford. Beating Michigan always meant you were beating the best. It always meant something special. Now? Houseflies generate more buzz than a victory over the Wolverines.

I realize every college program experiences its ups and downs. For example, this season Texas became the first team in the BCS era to miss out on bowl eligibility just one year after playing for the national championship. Notre Dame counts only one 10-win season since 2002 and hasn’t seriously contended for a national title in nearly 20 years. No matter how good you are for how long, the pendulum eventually swings the other way.

How long it swings against Michigan seems totally up to current university officials. Far be it from me to give any advice to them, but their course seems clear. If what has occurred over the past decade has been enjoyable – especially these past three seasons when your team has been completely outclassed by Ohio State and outscored by a 100-24 margin – then by all means keep your status quo and we can have this same conversation throughout the next decade.

Then again, if you are interested in making this great rivalry competitive again, look yourselves in the mirror and admit the obvious. Rich Rodriguez was the wrong hire at the wrong time for the wrong program, and it is time to make a change.

The argument against Michigan making a coaching change – and I’ve heard it from both Ohio State and Michigan fans – is that Rodriguez is John Cooper incarnate and OSU kept Cooper around for 13 seasons. While that is true, the comparison of the two coaches is a weak one.

There is no getting around the fact that Coop was 2-10-1 against the Wolverines, and many of those 10 losses were epic failures. But where the debate loses credibility is when you match the relative talent of the teams Cooper fielded vs. those so far in the Rodriguez era at Michigan.

Despite losing the rivalry game so many times during Cooper’s tenure from 1988 to 2000, the Buckeyes still managed to finish nine of those 13 seasons in the national rankings including five times as a top-10 team. Three times – in 1993, ’95 and ’96 – the Buckeyes entered The Game with an undefeated record. Eight times during the Cooper era, the OSU-Michigan contest had a direct bearing on how the Big Ten championship was decided.

How many times have the Wolverines finished among the top 25 during Rodriguez’s tenure? How many times have they entered the Ohio State game with an undefeated record? How many times have they played the Buckeyes with the Big Ten title on the line?

Lumping Cooper and Rodriguez together is an unfair apples-to-oranges comparison. Despite his shortcomings in the season’s final two games, I have always and will always maintain Coop did a creditable job at Ohio State. Likewise, there was no doubting his prowess as a recruiter who populated his teams with a host of future NFL stars – a couple of who are still active contributors in the league. How many players on the current Michigan roster do you believe will one day play in the NFL? For that matter, how many of them do you think could even start for Ohio State right now?

Perhaps you believe if Rodriguez is given the same kind of time that Cooper was afforded, he will bring Michigan back to prominence. After all, he turned West Virginia into a national power, didn’t he? The answer to that question would depend upon your definition of a national power.

Rodriguez’s record for his first four years in Morgantown was a pedestrian 28-21 before he turned it on to post a 32-5 mark during his final three seasons. His best finish came in 2005 when the Mountaineers finished 11-1, won an outright Big East championship and took a 38-35 victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Even during that season, however, the sustainability of Rodriguez’s coaching philosophy was being challenged due to his lack of diversity on offense. Behind freshmen Steve Slaton at running back and the mobile Pat White at quarterback, the Mountaineers were the No. 4 rushing team in the nation but ranked a lowly 115th in passing. The following year, with Slaton and White as sophomores, West Virginia finished 11-2 and won the Gator Bowl over Georgia Tech, but the team was still one-dimensional with the nation’s No. 2 rushing attack and No. 100 pass offense.

It was the more of the same in 2007 when the Mountaineers needed only a season-ending victory over Pittsburgh to play for the national title and couldn’t get it done. Despite possessing the nation’s No. 3 running offense, West Virginia was dealt a 13-9 loss by the Panthers, who entered that game with a 4-7 overall record.

The simple truth of the matter is that the Big Ten is a northern conference built on power football.

In this day and age, obviously you need team speed and at least some kind of diversity in your offensive playbook to compete. But to be a year-in and year-out contender for this conference championship, you must be able to run the football and you must be able to play stone-cold defense. On wet, windy, gray November days in the Big Ten, either you run the football and play defense or you’re so much garbage by the side of the road.

The tradition of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is steeped in that smash-mouthed mentality, and you don’t need much football acumen to connect the dots between the Buckeyes’ six consecutive Big Ten championships and the fact they have ranked among the nation’s top 10 defensive units in each of those six seasons.

Where has Michigan’s defense been ranked during Rodriguez’s three-year tenure? The Wolverines were 67th in yardage allowed in 2008 and 82nd last year before bottoming out at 109th this season. In terms of points allowed, they were 84th nationally during his first season, 77th last year and 102nd this year.

In other words, Michigan isn’t getting better – at least on defense. The stark reality of the numbers indicates the Wolverines are getting worse. Much worse.

Rodriguez is fond of the saying “You’re either the hammer or the nail,” but with a one-dimensional offense, a horrible defense, a three-year overall record of 15-21 and a Big Ten mark of 6-18, his program sure as hell isn’t a hammer. It isn’t even a nail. It’s more like a toothpick.

As far as that is concerned, I admit I’m conflicted. Any Ohio State victory over the Wolverines is a wonderful thing to be cherished, but how satisfying are countless victories if they come against a defenseless opponent? I contend a Michigan program that is merely a shadow of its former self is not good for the Big Ten and not good for the OSU-Michigan rivalry.

For better or for worse, the reputation of the conference as a whole – and that of Ohio State to a great degree – is predicated on the Michigan football team being a national power. And if that is ever going to happen again in the near future, the decision in Ann Arbor seems clear. Rodriguez has to go.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Nov. 30, 1940, Washington’s Ernie Steele became the first player in college football history to return two kicks for a touchdown in a single game. Steele returned a kickoff 87 yards and took a punt back 83 yards as his 12th-ranked Huskies to a 33-9 victory over Washington State.

** 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. 3, 1885, former Ohio State football coach Francis A. Schmidt was born 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.

** On Dec. 3, 1994, the Southeastern Conference championship game was a thriller. 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.

** 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.

** 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.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** With one week to go in the regular season, Auburn, Oregon and TCU are the only unbeaten Division I-A teams left standing. Special congratulations to TCU, which completed its second straight regular season with perfect a 12-0 record, the first back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons in school history.

** Knowing what we know about conference tie-ins and which bowls pick first in the at-league selection process, it looks like Oregon and Auburn in the BCS National Championship game, Wisconsin and TCU in the Rose Bowl, the Big 12 champion vs. the Big East champion in the Fiesta Bowl, Arkansas vs. Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, and the ACC champion vs. Stanford in the Orange Bowl.

** What could throw a monkey wrench in the aforementioned bowl matchups is a South Carolina upset of Auburn in the SEC championship game. That would knock the Tigers out of the national championship game and likely move TCU into their place. Auburn would likely still be a BCS at-large team and would probably meet Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. It would also put South Carolina into the Sugar Bowl and probably knock a 10-2 Arkansas team out of the BCS and into the Capital One Bowl where the Razorbacks could commiserate with Michigan State, which finished 11-1.

** When Boise State went down last Friday night, it stopped the nation’s longest win streak at 24 games. Auburn now holds the longest winning streak at 13.

** The Tigers have been remarkably resilient this season. They are 12-0 but have trailed in eight of those games, four of them by 13 points or more. They trailed by 17-3 at the half before rallying for a 27-24 overtime win over Clemson; fell behind by 13 in the second quarter before taking a 35-27 win over South Carolina; fell into an early 21-7 hole during a 49-31 win over Georgia; and somehow made up a 24-0 deficit last Friday before storming back to take a 28-27 victory over Alabama.

** In addition to the longest winning streak being snapped, so, too, was the nation’s longest losing streak last week. Akron took a 22-14 victory over Buffalo last Friday night, ending the Zips’ 11-game skid. San Jose State and Memphis now share the nation’s longest losing streak. Each has lost nine in a row.

** With his team’s victory over Michigan, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel moved into the all-top 10 in Big Ten coaching wins. The Buckeyes’ 37-7 victory over the Wolverines gave Tressel his 66th conference win, tying him for 10th place on the all-time list with George Perles of Michigan State (1983-94) and Murray Warmath of Minnesota (1954-71). Tressel needs four more league wins next season to catch his predecessor at OSU, who currently holds down the No. 9 spot. John Cooper totaled 70 Big Ten wins with the Buckeyes from 1988-2000.

** When Michigan QB Denard Robinson totaled 105 yards rushing last week against Ohio State, he became the second opposing player to crack the century mark this season vs. the Buckeyes. The other was Wisconsin running back John Clay, who had 104 during his team’s 31-18 win over OSU in mid-October. In the 127 games during the Tressel era, the Ohio State defense has surrendered a 100-yard performance only 18 times and the Buckeyes are 9-9 in those games. Only three of those 100-yard games have been turned in by quarterbacks – Zack Mills of Penn State (138 in 2001), Jake Locker of Washington (102 in 2007) and Robinson.

** Congratulations to my father-in-law’s alma mater. Miami (Ohio) went from 1-11 last season to 8-4 and playing in the Mid-American Conference championship game this year.

** Congratulations are also in order for Stanford, which pitched three shutouts this year for the first time since 1969; South Florida, which had two overtime wins this season to run its all-time record to 9-0 in OT; and Ohio State, which lost only two fumbles all season. By way of comparison, Auburn lost eight fumbles this season and Oregon lost 13.

** The Sun Belt conference has imploded this season with nine teams having at least five losses. Florida International has already clinched at least a share of the league championship, but the Golden Panthers are barely bowl-eligible at 6-5.

** Wisconsin shattered the school record for scoring this season, piling up 520 points. That obliterated the old mark of 446 points set in 2005. The Badgers also scored 70 or more points in three games this season for the first time in their history.

** By all accounts, Randy Shannon cleaned up the mess that was the Miami (Fla.) football program when he took over in 2007. His reward? Shannon was fired one day after his Hurricanes lost to South Florida and finished 7-5. His four-year record at the school was 28-22. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland was named interim coach for the Hurricanes’ bowl preparation.

** The regular season isn’t over yet and already three I-A head coaches have been axed. In addition to Shannon, Bill Lynch is out at Indiana and Louisiana-Lafayette has dismissed Rickey Bustle. Lynch was 19-30 in four seasons with the Hoosiers but only 6-26 in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, Bustle had an eight-year record of 41-65 with the Ragin’ Cajuns, including a 28-31 mark in the Sun Belt conference.

** Washington is about to temporarily lose one of college football’s loudest home-field advantages. Renovation of Husky Stadium will begin in November 2011 and the Huskies will move their base of operations to Qwest Field – home of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks – until the project is completed in 2013.

** Here is the schedule for the BCS games: Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, Calif.; Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.; Orange Bowl, Jan. 3, Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.; Sugar Bowl, Jan. 4, Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, La.; BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 10, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

FEARLESS FORECAST

After playing lights-out for most of the season, the Forecast took a small step backward last week with misses in three upset games – Kent State over Ohio, Minnesota over Iowa and Nevada over Boise State. Nevertheless, it was still a 7-3 week straight up to move the season record to 113-22.

Against the spread, we broke a two-week losing streak with a 6-4 finish. That makes us a rock-solid 78-52-5 for the year.

Even though Ohio State’s regular season is over, there are a couple of tasty treats before the final BCS standings are announced Sunday. Here are the ones we like.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Rutgers at No. 24 West Virginia: The Mountaineers are looking to put an exclamation point on a pretty good season by securing a win here and at least a share of the Big Least championship. WVU head coach Bill Stewart really couldn’t have picked a better opponent since his team is 31-4-2 all-time against the Scarlet Knights, including wins in all 16 games that have been played in Morgantown. Tailback Noel Devine (855 yards, 6 TDs) gets most of the West Virginia publicity, but this game will likely be won by the Mountain Men’s defense. They are ranked among the top 10 nationally in sacks while Rutgers freshman QB Chas Dodd has been sacked 16 times in the last two games … West Virginia 27, Rutgers 14. (12 noon ET, ABC)

Utah State at No. 11 Boise State: Here as Forecast World Headquarters, we have beat the drum for the Broncos all season. That said, they knew their margin for error was razor-thin so we have no sympathy for last week’s overtime loss to a pretty good Nevada team. This week, Boise gets to try and start a new winning streak against the Aggies, a team that hasn’t played since a 28-6 loss to Idaho on Nov. 20. Yes, that’s the same Idaho team that got streamrolled by a 52-14 score on Nov. 12 by Boise State. You might also want to know Utah State is working on a 27-game losing streak against ranked opponents … Boise State 49, Utah State 7. (3 p.m. ET, WAC Sports Network)

No. 17 Nevada at Louisiana Tech: If you had doubts about the Wolf Pack, you need only look back at last week when they wiped out a 17-point halftime deficit against Boise State and racked up 528 yards on a defense that had been ranked No. 2 in the nation in total defense. The Pack has as potent an offense as you’ll find in college football with the one-two punch of RB Vai Taua (1,372, 17 TDs) and QB Colin Kaepernick (2,671 yards and 20 TDs passing, 1,029 yards and 17 TDs rushing). Not that La Tech is any slouch on offense. The Bulldogs feature RB Lennon Creer, who has totaled 1,132 and 10 TDs, second-best in the WAC behind Taua. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs are deficient on the other side of the ball, ranking 114th nationally in total defense. The Wolf Pack will likely suffer a little letdown following last week’s big win, but not enough for any upset … Nevada 34, Louisiana Tech 14. (3 p.m. ET, WAC Sports Network)

No. 2 Oregon at Oregon State: No rivalry game has more unpredictability than the Civil War. The Ducks are a prohibitive favorite this year because, well, because they have won 11 straight games by an average margin of 32.2 points while the Beavers have lost three of their last four. But Oregon State is playing at home and needs this victory to get bowl-eligible. Meanwhile, Oregon is already talking about the national championship game. Seems to us that the last time the Ducks flapped their bills unceasingly, Ohio State taught them a lesson in humility at the Rose Bowl. Two weeks ago, Cal reminded everyone how to defend against Oregon’s point-a-minute offense. Just a hunch – a big one – but we’re thinking an Upset Special that sends the final BCS standings into a tizzy … Oregon State 26, Oregon 23. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 19 South Carolina: We’re not going to lie. We have seldom rooted for Steve Spurrier because of his gigantic ego. In this one, however, we’ll give the Ol’ Ball Coach a pass since every signpost points to dirty dealings involving Auburn QB Cam Newton and the NCAA refuses to do anything about it. Most people have forgotten that these two teams played already this season, and the Gamecocks held a 20-7 lead in the first half and were still leading 27-21 after three quarters before Newton threw a pair of late TD passes for a 35-27 win. South Carolina has enough offense to match Auburn with QB Stephen Garcia (2,646 yards, 18 TDs) and RB Marcus Lattimore (1,114 yards, 17 TDs), and the Gamecocks also feature the No. 5 rushing defense in the country. So why not pick the upset? Why not indeed? … South Carolina 27, Auburn 24. (4 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 21 Florida State vs. No. 15 Virginia Tech: While the Hokies have pretty much run roughshod over the rest of the ACC in recent years, they have typically had nightmares about the Seminoles. FSU beat Tech to win the 2000 national championship, beat them in ’05 for the ACC title, and then beat the Hokies again two years ago, 30-20, when Tech was favored. That the Hokies have come off the mat for 10 straight wins after season-opening defeats to Boise State and I-AA James Madison is remarkable, but it is also remarkable the Seminoles have won nine games after the offseason turmoil that accompanied the ouster of longtime head coach Bobby Bowden. We are always reluctant to pick the Hokies in a nationally televised night game because they rarely perform well on the big stage. But since this seems to be the week for playing hunches. Therefore … Virginia Tech 27, Florida State 23. (7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 9 Oklahoma at No. 13 Nebraska: Billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium provides the setting for what will be the Cornhuskers’ swan song as Big 12 members. This time next year, Nebraska hopes it will be preparing for the first-ever Big Ten championship game while the title contest in the Big 12 disappears due to that conference’s shrinking membership. Since Nebraska isn’t exactly leaving on the best of terms, do you think it’s possible that at least some fans around the Dallas area will show up to root for archrival Oklahoma? It is a redemption game for the Sooners, who lost 10-3 to the Huskers last season, and especially for QB Landry Jones, who was intercepted five times in that game. How in the world could you go against someone named Landry playing in Cowboys Stadium? … Oklahoma 23, Nebraska 17. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Rutgers (+21) at West Virginia; Utah State at Boise State (-37½); Nevada (-9) at Louisiana Tech; Oregon at Oregon State (+16½); Auburn (+6) vs. South Carolina; Florida State vs. Virginia Tech (-3½); Oklahoma (-3½) vs. Nebraska

History Favors Buckeyes For Stretch Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-IOWA TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

Here are the games we’re watching this week.

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re Entitled To Your Own Opinion, Not Your Own Facts

It is always a source of amusement and bemusement to visit college football message boards and watch while fans rationalize their favorite team’s shortcomings.

Case in point: Penn State fans took particular exception to longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston’s piece on Wednesday that compared the independent Penn State teams of the 1970s and ’80s to Boise States and TCUs of today. You can read the column for yourself here but the gist of what Livingston wrote was that the pre-Big Ten Nittany Lions feasted on lesser opponents and padded their yearly records on soft schedules – the same knock Boise State and TCU face these days when trying to elbow their way into the national championship picture.

To say Nittany Lions fans disagreed with Livingston would be a gross understatement, which is fine in the overall scheme of things. After all, doesn’t almost everyone come to the defense of their favorite team? Where the Blue and White faithful lost me, though, was when they insisted their team would have competed for plenty of Big Ten championships throughout the 1970s and 1980s when Ohio State and Michigan won or shared 17 of the 20 league titles.

As the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once stated, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

First of all, if Penn State would have contended for all of those championships before joining the conference, why don’t the Nittany Lions have more Big Ten titles than the one outright championship they won in 1994 and the two crowns they shared in 2005 and 2008? Why have they had at least three league losses in 10 of their 17 previous seasons as a conference member?

Much of the argument about how the Nittany Lions would have fared in the Big Ten during the ’70s and ’80s came as a result of Penn State’s record against Ohio State before the Nittany Lions became a conference member. It was 6-2 although four of those victories came before 1966 when Joe Paterno took over as head coach.

The cold, hard truth for Nittany Lions fans is that Paterno has never had much success against Ohio State (he is 8-13 vs. the Buckeyes all-time) and that is especially true when he brings his team to Ohio Stadium. JoePa has rolled into Columbus on 10 previous occasions – often times with one of the nation’s top-ranked teams – and rolled back out again eight times a loser. That includes a 1-7 record as a member of the Big Ten, eight games during which his team has been outscored by 139 points.

Can’t believe things have been that lopsided in Columbus for Paterno? Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

1993 – On a cold, snowy late October afternoon, the Buckeyes welcomed JoePa to the Big Ten by rolling to a 24-6 win. OSU piled up 380 yards of total offense, led by running back Raymont Harris, who exploded for 151 yards. It was a virtuoso performance by Ohio State on defense as well. The Buckeyes snagged four interceptions and held the Lions without a touchdown for the first time that season.

1996 – Penn State came to Columbus with a perfect 5-0 record and the No. 4 ranking in the country and limped home on the business end of a 38-7 verdict. QBs Stan Jackson and Joe Germaine each threw for two touchdowns as the Buckeyes had 565 yards of total offense. Tailback Pepe Pearson ran for 141 yards on 28 carries while backups Joe Montgomery and Jermon Jackson combined for 138 more. The Nits, who managed only 68 yards rushing as a team, scored on their final possession to avoid their first shutout in nine years.

1998 – The seventh-ranked Lions brought cold and rainy weather with them to the Horseshoe and actually had a 3-0 lead before the Buckeyes stormed away with a 28-9 win. OSU scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the first half – the first when linebacker Jerry Rudzinski recovered a fumble in the end zone and the second when Germaine connected with tailback Michael Wiley for a 20-yard tally. Again, the Ohio State defense was able to hold Penn State in check. The Lions had only nine first downs and 181 yards of total offense, and 34 of their 59 offensive plays either went for a loss or no gain.

2000 – Thunder and lightning delayed kickoff for about 20 minutes and Penn State would probably have been better off had officials postponed the game indefinitely. Ohio State rolled to a 45-6 blowout, the largest defeat for the Lions since Paterno had been head coach. The Buckeyes had 397 yards of total offense, led by quarterback Steve Bellisari, who completed 10 of 17 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown. Penn State committed three turnovers, including a fourth-quarter fumble that OSU defensive end Mike Collins scooped up and returned 11 yards for a touchdown.

2002 – As most games were during the national championship run, this was a nail-biter as Penn State held a 7-3 halftime lead. OSU’s fortunes turned on a third-quarter interception by Chris Gamble that he returned 40 yards for a touchdown. Mike Nugent later added a 37-yard field goal to account for the final 13-7 score. The Ohio State defense clamped down on the Lions once again, holding them to only 179 total yards. Tailback Larry Johnson, who was coming off a 257-yard performance the week before against Northwestern, was held to a season-low 66 yards against the Buckeyes.

2004 – First-quarter touchdowns on special teams and defense staked Ohio State to an early lead in what would eventually become a 21-10 win. Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt 67 yards to get things started and Tyler Everett returned an interception 24 yards to give the Buckeyes a quick 14-0 lead. OSU head coach Jim Tressel kept things pretty simple for his relatively new starting quarterback Troy Smith while the defense forced three Penn State fumbles and grabbed two interceptions.

2006 – The Nittany Lions held a 3-0 lead at halftime before the Buckeyes got things in gear in the second half for a 28-6 victory. Antonio Pittman’s 12-yard touchdown run finally got OSU on the board in the third quarter before a trio of fourth-quarter TDs – including interception returns by Malcolm Jenkins and Antonio Smith – turned a close game into a rout.

2008 – Penn State finally broke through with a 13-6 victory in a game that featured very little offensive firepower. The teams traded second-quarter field goals for a 3-3 halftime score, and then Ohio State forged ahead 6-3 on a 36-yard field goal by Aaron Pettrey with 3:19 remaining in the third quarter. The game hinged on a fumble by Terrelle Pryor midway through the fourth quarter that set up the winning touchdown for Penn State. Ironically, Pryor had only one man to beat for what would have been an OSU touchdown but that man managed to punch the ball out of the freshman quarterback’s grasp.

In addition to so many losses, the Horseshoe has been Penn State’s personal House of Horrors on several other levels. It was where defensive back Adam Taliaferro was injured in 2000 (not permanently, thank goodness) and where JoePa had his infamous potty break in ’06.

For whatever reason, the Nits typically play tight in Ohio Stadium, allowing the OSU defense to create turnovers and providing plenty of scoring opportunities for the Buckeyes. With a former walk-on as the starting quarterback, that would appear to be a plausible scenario for what will transpire tomorrow afternoon.

Then again, maybe the Nittany Lions broke the Horseshoe’s spell with last year’s win – at least that’s what Penn State fans think.

OSU-PENN STATE TIDBITS

** This marks the 26th overall meeting between Ohio State and Penn State, and the Buckeyes enjoy a slight 13-12 advantage. OSU has an 8-6 overall edge in games played at Ohio Stadium, but a lopsided 7-1 advantage in games played at the Horseshoe since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 6-3 against Penn State. That includes a 3-1 record in Columbus.

** Penn State head coach Joe Paterno is 8-13 all-time against Ohio State. That includes a 2-8 record against the Buckeyes in Columbus.

** Both coaches are noted for getting their teams to peak at the right times. Tressel is 26-4 in November games at Ohio State (a .867 winning percentage) while Paterno is 115-34-2 (.768) during the month.

** Paterno has a 32-16 record following an open date. That includes a 14-5 mark since 1994.

** Tressel is not as successful coming off an open week. The Buckeyes are only 2-4 during the Tressel era following off weeks. Only one of those six games was played at Ohio Stadium, however, and OSU won that one in 2002 by a 51-7 score over Kent State.

** Five of the last nine games in this 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. Throughout the overall series, the average margin of victory for OSU is 15.4 points. When the Nittany Lions win, their average margin is 15.1 points.

** Several series trends would seem to favor Ohio State. The higher ranked team has won 17 of the last 19 meetings and the home team has won 12 of the 17 games played since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten. The Buckeyes enter tomorrow’s game ranked No. 7 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, No. 8 in the Associated Press writers’ poll and No. 9 in the BCS rankings. Penn State is unranked.

** The game will be only the second-ever regular-season matchup between coaches who have combined for 600-plus career wins. Paterno (400) and Tressel (237) currently total 637 career victories. That breaks the record set last year when the two coaches squared off with 616 career wins.

** An interesting fact: Paterno has 400 career victories at Penn State while the other 10 Big Ten head coaches have 367 combined at their schools.

** Last Saturday’s victory over Northwestern not only marked win No. 400 in Paterno’s long career, it was also his 89th Big Ten victory. He needs one more to become only the fifth conference coach with 90 or more league wins. The others 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).

** With the exception of Ohio State, Penn State has had its way with Ohio teams over the years. The Nittany Lions are 20-2-1 against other Ohio schools with the lone blemishes a 24-6 loss to Toledo in 2000, a 14-3 loss to Cincinnati in 1983 and an 8-8 tie at Western Reserve in 1895.

** Penn State is traditionally one of the least penalized teams in the nation and that is true again in 2010. The Nittany Lions are No. 2 nationally this week with only 27.8 penalty yards per game. In its last four games played against the Buckeyes, Penn State has incurred only nine penalties for 60 yards. During the same four games, Ohio State has been flagged 23 times for 221 yards.

** Some of the numbers associated with Paterno’s longevity at Penn State are astounding. Since he became head coach in 1966, there have been 864 head coaching changes in Division I-A football. Counting his time as an assistant, Paterno has been on the sidelines for 688 games in Happy Valley. He is the all-time leader in bowl game appearances (36) and bowl victories (24), and there have been 1,050 players earn varsity letters during JoePa’s tenure as head coach.

** By taking on the Rose Bowl champion Buckeyes, Penn State becomes the first team ever to play road contests against three winners of BCS bowls from the previous season. The Nittany Lions have already played at Alabama, which defeated Texas by a 37-21 score in the national title game, and at Iowa, which took a 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Penn State lost to both the Crimson Tide and Hawkeyes earlier this season by identical 24-3 scores.

** To say the Ohio State and Penn State programs are traditional powers would be a bit of an understatement. Going back six decades to 1950, OSU is the winningest program in college football with a 505-155-15 record, good for a .759 winning percentage. Oklahoma is second at 526-164-17 (.755) and Penn State is third at 504-180-7 (.733).

** Something has to give tomorrow. Ohio State has won eight of its last 10 conference home games while Penn State has won eight of its last 10 conference road games.

** The game pits two of the nation’s best defenses in getting the opponent off the field. Ohio State ranks No. 4 nationally in third-down efficiency defense while Penn State is No. 7. OSU opponents have converted only 33 of 113 third downs (29.2 percent) while the Nittany Lions have allowed only 34 of 113 (30.1).

** As so often happens in rivalry games, the outcome could hinge on turnovers and Ohio State would appear to have the edge in that department. The Buckeyes lead the country in turnover margin with an average of plus-1.44 per game. The Nittany Lions are way down in a tie for 67th with their average of minus-0.22 per contest. Overall, OSU is plus-13 for the season in turnovers while PSU is minus-2.

** Penn State senior tailback Evan Royster is his school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,652 yards. Earlier this season, he motored past Curt Warner (1979-82), who had 3,398 yards during his career with the Nittany Lions. Royster still has some work to do in terms of rushing touchdowns, however. He has 27, which ranks seventh all-time on the Penn State record books. Lydell Mitchell (1969-71) is the school’s career leader in that category with 38.

** After allowing only one opposing player to crack the 100-yard mark in a span of 22 games, the Nittany Lions have surrendered 100-yard efforts in each of their last four contests. Ironically, three of the four games have resulted in Penn State victories. Illinois tailback Mikel Leshoure totaled 119 yards during his team’s 33-13 win over PSU on Oct. 9, and then Minnesota tailback DeLeon Eskridge had 111 yards against the Nittany Lions on Oct. 24 but his Golden Gophers lost a 33-21 decision. A week later, Michigan QB Denard Robinson rushed for 191 yards and three TDs during his team’s 41-31 loss, and last week it was Northwestern QB Dan Persa, who scrambled for 109 yards and two touchdowns during Penn State’s 35-21 come-from-behind win.

** OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor continues his assault on the school record books. He has moved into second place in career total offense with 7,275 yards, behind only Art Schlichter (8,850, 1981), and has tied Schlichter for fourth place all-time with 50 touchdown passes. Only Bobby Hoying (57, 1992-95), Joe Germaine (56, 1996-98) and Troy Smith (54, 2003-06) have more.

** Pryor is also nearing the top five in career passing yardage at OSU. He currently occupies eighth place with 5,402 yards and needs 168 more to pass Mike Tomczak (5,569, 1981-84) for seventh place. Steve Bellisari (5,878, 1998-2001) is currently fifth while Smith (5,720) is sixth.

** Additionally, Pryor needs only three more passing yards to reach 2,000 for the second straight season. Only five Ohio State QBs have had back-to-back seasons throwing for 2,000 yards or more – Jim Karsatos (1985-86), Greg Frey (1988-90), Hoying (1994-95), Craig Krenzel (2002-03) and Smith (2005-06).

** Counting conference games only, Ohio State junior tailback Dan “Boom” Herron ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing at 88.4 yards per game. Only Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (132.2) and Iowa tailback Adam Robinson (105.2) have better league averages.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The game will be televised using the ABC/ESPN reverse mirror meaning viewers will be able to watch the game either on their local ABC station or on ESPN. Here is your coverage map. Disney will employ its primetime announce crew for the contest – veteran play-by-play man Brent Musberger, color analyst Kirk Herbstreit and sideline spokesmodel Erin Andrews.

** ESPN College Gameday with Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard, Herbstreit and Andrews will return to Columbus tomorrow, marking its 13th visit to the OSU campus. The show kicks off at 9 a.m. Eastern on ESPNU before switching to ESPN at 10. The Buckeyes are 9-3 following the pregame show’s previous trips to Columbus.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 91 and 125 as well as XM radio channels 102 and 196.

** Next week’s game at Iowa will kick off from Kinnick Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. That game will be televised by ABC on a regional basis.

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. 19, 2007, Navy and North Texas combined to score the most points in a regulation college football game when the Midshipmen outlasted the Mean Green, 74-62, in Denton, Texas. North Texas QB Giovanni Vizza threw for 478 yards and eight touchdowns while Navy rushed for 572 yards and scored eight TDs on the ground.

** On Nov. 11, 1939, Texas Tech and Centenary combined for an NCAA-record 77 punts in a rain-soaked, 0-0 tie in Shreveport, La.

** On Nov. 11, 1955, at a campus pep rally, Texas cheerleader Harley Clark became the first to raise his forefinger and pinky pointed upward and his middle two fingers curled under this thumb – the “Hook ‘Em Horns” sign.

** On Nov. 11, 1989, Duke scored a 35-26 upset of North Carolina State despite Wolfpack QB Shane Montgomery throwing an NCAA-record 73 passes for a school-record 535 yards.

** On Nov. 12, 1966, quarterback Bob Griese led Purdue to a 16-0 victory at Minnesota and secured the Boilermakers’ first-ever berth in the Rose 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. 13, 1982, Southern Mississippi engineered a 38-29 upset of Alabama, ending the Crimson Tide’s 57-game home win streak. The Golden Eagles were led by quarterback Reggie Collins, who rushed for 88 yards and three touchdowns, while tailback Sam Dejarnette added 153 yards and two scores. Before the loss to Southern Miss, Alabama hadn’t tasted defeat in Tuscaloosa since 1963.

** On Nov. 13, 1993, ESPN’s College Gameday made its first-ever on-campus broadcast. The popular college football pregame show debuted in 1987, but it wasn’t until six years later that GameDay got out of the studio and hit the road. The first telecast was from South Bend 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.

** On Nov. 14, 1959, No. 12 Georgia came from behind for a 14-13 victory over eighth-ranked Auburn and the Bulldogs clinched their first SEC championship in a decade. College and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton led the Bulldogs to the win, connecting with split end Bill Herron for a touchdown pass in the final 30 seconds of the contest.

** On Nov. 14, 1970, a charter jet carrying Marshall University’s football team crashed near Huntington, W.Va., on a return trip from a game with East Carolina. Everyone on board, including head coach Rick Tolley, team members, coaching staff and several Thundering Herd boosters, died in the single worst air tragedy in college sports history.

** On Nov. 14, 1992, Iowa State stunned seventh-ranked Nebraska with a 19-10 upset in Ames. Third-string quarterback Marv Seiler, starting only because it was Senior Day, bolted 78 yards to set up the game-clinching touchdown for the Cyclones.

** 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.

** 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.

** On Nov. 15, 1879, Princeton unveiled the novel approach of using blockers to help the ball-carrier advance the ball down the field. The new angle evidently was successful as the Tigers scored a 1-0 victory over Harvard. (In those days, you had to score four touchdowns to tally a single point.)

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level has shrunk to only four: Auburn, Boise State, Oregon and TCU.

** Wouldn’t a national championship game between Oregon and TCU be the best matchup? After all, the Ducks own the nation’s No. 1 offense while the Horned Frogs boast the nation’s No. 1 defense. And before you begin denigrating TCU’s schedule, understand that the teams it has beaten have a combined record of 44-50 this year. Meanwhile, the Ducks have beaten teams with a combined record of 32-50. (Of course, if you want to play that kind of game, Auburn blows both Oregon and TCU out of the water. The Tigers have beaten teams with a combined mark of 55-36.)

** When TCU thumped Utah last weekend to the tune of a 47-7 beatdown, it represented the Utes’ worst home loss since a 50-10 loss to Colorado State in 1989. Utah went 4-8 that season under head coach Jim Fassel. The team hasn’t lost at home by more than 40 points since a 56-6 loss to BYU in 1980.

** What do each of these schools have in common: Oregon, Auburn, Oklahoma State, Nevada, Arkansas State, Duke, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Tulsa, BYU, Navy, Tennessee and Kansas. Each one of them – all 15 – topped the 50-point mark last week. Auburn, Nevada, Michigan, Illinois and Tulsa all topped 60 and Navy went over the 70-point mark, rolling to a 76-35 win over East Carolina. That set a modern single-game record for scoring by the Midshipmen, and was their biggest output since a 121-0 win over Colby College (Maine) in 1919.

** Michigan’s 67-65 triple overtime game against Illinois set a Big Ten record for most points scored in a single game. The previous high-scoring conference game was in 1902 and featured 119 points – all by Michigan in a 119-0 victory over instate rival Michigan State (then known as Michigan Agricultural College). The last Division I-A game to produce more points than the Wolverines and Fighting Illini was on Nov. 10, 2007, when Navy outlasted North Texas by a 74-62 final in regulation.

** The previous Big Ten record for points scored in a single game was 115 set Oct. 9, 1995, when Minnesota outlasted Purdue by a 59-56 score.

** Last year, Michigan and Illinois met once on the basketball court. The final score: Illinois 51, Michigan 44.

** Kansas came back from a 45-17 deficit with less than 12 minutes to play and somehow pulled off a 52-45 win over Colorado. The Jayhawks scored on a 13-yard run with 11:05 remaining and followed by recovering the onside kick, throwing a 38-yard touchdown pass, returning a fumble 28 yards for a TD, intercepting a pass, running 6 yards for a score, forcing a punt and then running 28 yards for the winning touchdown with 52 seconds remaining. Freshman running back James Sims scored all three rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter for Kansas, finishing the game with 123 yards and four scores.

** One man’s pleasure is another man’s pain. While first-year Kansas head coach Turner Gill was celebrating that big comeback victory, it was the proverbial straw that broke Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins’ back. After his team blew that 28-point lead – the largest collapse in the 121-year history of the CU football program – Hawkins was fired Tuesday. He posted a 19-39 record with the Buffaloes after being lured from Boise State in 2006.

** During last week’s 35-21 win over Northwestern, Penn State got 134 yards on the ground from senior tailback Evan Royster and another 131 from freshman Silas Redd. It marked the first time the Nittany Lions had a pair of running back rush for 130 yards or more in the same game since Lydell Mitchell (221) and Franco Harris (145) accomplished the feat during a 44-14 win at Iowa in 1971.

** Congratulations to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who chalked up career victory No. 100 last weekend when his Hawkeyes came from behind for an 18-13 win over Indiana. Ferentz has 88 wins at Iowa to go along with the 12 he recorded during a three-year stint at Division I-AA Maine from 1990-92.

** Congratulations also to New Mexico, which snapped its nine-game losing streak last weekend with a 34-31 victory over Wyoming. The Lobos overcame a 24-17 deficit early in the fourth quarter and got a 38-yard winning field goal from junior kicker James Aho as time expired. That leaves Akron with the nation’s longest current losing streak. The Zips ran their drought to 10 consecutive games last Saturday, dropping a 37-30 decision in double overtime to Ball State.

** Conference realignments and schools jumping leagues means the end of some traditional rivalries. Tomorrow, Kansas and Nebraska will meet for the 105th consecutive season, the nation’s longest uninterrupted streak of meetings in college football. That streak ends next year when the Cornhuskers move to the Big Ten. The Jayhawks and Huskers have met 116 times overall, and that is third only to Minnesota-Wisconsin (119) and Kansas-Missouri (118).

** Another bowl game has changed its name, this time before its inaugural game has even been played. The Dallas Football Classic is now to be known as the TicketCity Bowl, and it will be played Jan. 1 at the Cotton Bowl. (As you may or may not know, the Cotton Bowl is no longer played at the Cotton Bowl. It’s now played at Cowboys Stadium.) Teams from the Big Ten and Big 12 are scheduled to participate in the first-year TicketCity Bowl.

** If you are keeping score at home, the Big Ten has eight bowl affiliations – Rose, Capital One (ex-Citrus, ex-Tangerine), Outback (ex-Hall of Fame), Gator, Insight (ex-Copper), Texas (ex-Houston), TicketCity (ex-Dallas Football Classic) and Little Caesar’s (ex-Motor City).

FEARLESS FORECAST

The Fearless Forecast enjoyed another prosperous week, missing only the Texas A&M upset of Oklahoma and the pinball wizardry between Michigan and Illinois. Another 8-2 finish pushed the yearly record to 89-16 in straight up picks.

It was also another winning week against the spread. We went a sparkling 7-3 to push the ATS record to 65-36-4 for the season. If things keep going this way, we’ll be moving Forecast World Headquarters to Las Vegas.

Before we get too full of ourselves, though, here are the games we’ll check in on this week.

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 4 Boise State at Idaho: As instate rivalries go, this one doesn’t exactly measure up to the Civil War or the Iron Bowl. That’s probably because the Broncos have won 11 straight in the series and routinely blow out the Vandals. It is likely to be that way again this year since Boise State is coming off a 42-7 victory over Hawaii, a game during which it racked up a school-record 732 total yards. Two weeks ago, Idaho gave up 494 yards during a 45-10 loss to Hawaii. After being passed by TCU in the BCS standings, Boise State probably knows by now it is the longest of shots to play for the national championship. But that probably won’t prevent the Broncos from trying to impress any remaining undecided voters … Boise State 52, Idaho 7. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Indiana at No. 7 Wisconsin: The Hoosiers nearly caught Iowa napping last week with the Hawkeyes coming off an emotional win over Michigan State. This week, IU tries its luck against Bucky, who may be guilty of looking ahead to a game at Michigan that could have a Rose Bowl bid hanging in the balance. The Hoosiers have lost 19 of their last 21 Big Ten games, including the last 10 in a row, but they seem to be getting close to ending that drought. They lost a 20-17 decision to Northwestern two weeks ago and that 18-13 game to Iowa last week when receiver Damarlo Belcher failed to hang onto a touchdown pass with 28 seconds remaining. Wisconsin will likely be without leading rusher John Clay (knee), but the Badgers have plenty in reserve with Montee Ball and freshman James White operating against an IU defense that ranks ninth in the conference … Wisconsin 31, Indiana 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

No. 14 Utah at Notre Dame: Both of these teams are coming off agonizing losses and are no doubt looking in the mirror wondering what happened. The Utes were poised to make a national championship statement last week before getting demolishing by TCU in a 47-7 loss that was the team’s worst home defeat in 21 years. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish have had two weeks to come to grips with a 28-27 loss to Tulsa and the very real possibility of missing out on bowl season for the third time in the last four years. Notre Dame will start freshman Tommy Rees at quarterback after Dayne Crist suffered a season-ending knee injury during the loss to Tulsa, but what Brian Kelly’s team could really use is a running game. The Irish average a measly 113.4 yards per game on the ground and that ranks 100th nationally. A new quarterback and no running game against the Utes, who despite last week still average 41.0 points per game? Sounds like trouble – again – for the Domers … Utah 31, Notre Dame 13. (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Georgia at No. 2 Auburn: When does Cam Newton cease to become an asset and start becoming a distraction for the Tigers? In case you have been off on safari or hiking the Appalachian Trail lately, you know the Heisman hopeful is being surrounded by allegations he was shopped around by an agent before signing with Auburn. There doesn’t seem to be any solid proof, although the FBI is now investigating and where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. No one with the Tigers is ready to say the Newton story is becoming a distraction, but how could it not be? On the opposing sideline this week is a hungry bunch of Bulldogs. They know no one gives them much of a chance for the upset this week, but they are also content in the knowledge they are playing their best football of the season. After a dismal 1-4 start, UGA has won four of its last five. Better still, the Dawgs have no trouble firing themselves up to play Auburn. They have beaten the Tigers four times in a row to take a 53-52-8 lead in the overall series. We haven’t picked too many Upset Specials this season, but we’ve got a hunch about this one … Georgia 27, Auburn 23. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

San Diego State at No. 4 TCU: After watching the Horned Frogs take apart Utah last week, we are totally convinced TCU is the best team in college football this season. If the Frogs get the chance, they will win the national championship with a combination of the nation’s best defense and an offense engineered by crafty QB Andy Dalton (2,242 yards, 19 TDs). This week, Dalton and his classmates will participate in Senior Day festivities at Aron Carter Stadium, where the Frogs have won 19 straight games. The Aztecs are having their best season in more than decade, riding an impressive season so far from freshman running back Ronnie Hillman (1,044 yards, 12 TDs). But while SDSU has been more productive this season, it’s doubtful the Aztecs can do much against TCU. The Frogs have won all five previous meetings in the series by an average of 28.8 points … TCU 45, San Diego State 10. (4 p.m. ET, Versus)

Louisiana-Monroe at No. 5 LSU: Now that Alabama has lost for the second time, SEC apologists have anointed the Tigers as the one-loss team with the best chance of jumping Boise State and/or TCU to play for the national championship. That seems a foolhardy assertion, especially in light of the fact LSU has won at least three of its games with smoke, mirrors, magic and out-and-out luck. The Bengals from the Bayou likely won’t need any of that good future this week against the Warhawks. They have played two SEC teams already this season and lost both by large margins – 31-7 vs. Arkansas in early September and 52-3 at Auburn less than a month later. ULM struggles to score points (19.9 per game) and gives up too many (30.9) to entertain any notion of an upset … LSU 41, Louisiana-Monroe 7. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Kansas at No. 8 Nebraska: It has been a whirlwind week for Jayhawks head coach Turner Gill. Last week, his team erased a 28-point deficit in the fourth quarter and roared from behind for a 52-45 win over Colorado. This week, Gill returns to Lincoln where he was a star quarterback in the early 1980s and assistant coach from 1992-2004. It will probably be a difficult homecoming for Gill, however, as the Cornhuskers get QB Taylor Martinez back this week after missing one game with an ankle sprain. Martinez is a dual threat, having thrown for 1,161 yards and nine TDs while adding 886 yards and 12 more scores rushing. That kind of two-pronged attack doesn’t exactly play to the Jayhawks’ strength. Their defense ranks 108th nationally against the run and 109th in pass efficiency … Nebraska 45, Kansas 17. (7 p.m. ET, FSN Regional)

No. 1 Oregon at California: Who is going to step up and try the same power scheme that Ohio State used to beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl? Anyone? Anyone at all? So far, no one has been able to challenge the Ducks because no one has tried to negate their speed with power. As a result, the Quack Attack keeps putting up arena league numbers such as 54.7 points and 567.2 yards per game. This week could be a little different since the Bears arguably have the best defense the Ducks have seen thus far. Cal tops the Pac-10 in total defense and Jeff Tedford’s team likes playing at home. They are 4-0 in Memorial Stadium this season and have outscored the opposition by a 189-34 margin in those four contests. Unfortunately for the Bears, they are hit-and-miss on offense and that just won’t do against the Ducks … Oregon 41, California 17. (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 6 Stanford at Arizona State: The Cardinal are on their way to one of their best seasons in a long time, but they will need to be on upset alert this week in Tempe. Stanford has lost on four consecutive trips to Sun Devil Stadium, failing to experience victory since a 50-30 blowout in 1999. It seems the team would be poised to break that losing streak, especially since ASU has forgotten how to win a game against highly-ranked opposition. Just this season, the Devils have lost by one point to Wisconsin and they probably gave Oregon as much as any opponent has this season during an eventual 42-31 win for the Ducks. Just last week, Arizona State took a 33-29 lead with 6:59 to go against USC only to see a PAT kick returned for two points and a late field goal give the Trojans a 34-33 victory. Those kinds of games begin to wear on teams near the end of the season, especially teams that have to play against someone like Cardinal QB Andrew Luck, who has thrown for 2,219 yards and 21 TDs this season. Look for the Devils to stay in it most of the way but find somehow to blow the upset … Stanford 30, Arizona State 23. (7:30 p.m. ET, FSN Regional)

Penn State at No. 9 Ohio State: In the wake of a three-game winning streak and Joe Paterno’s milestone victory No. 400, the Nittany Lions are getting a lot of love lately. The question is: Do they deserve it? QB Matt McGloin has thrown for 475 yards and five TDs the past two weeks, but he only got the job when starter Rob Bolden was sidelined with a concussion. And McGloin has feasted on the likes of Michigan and Northwestern, the two worst pass defenses in the Big Ten. Defense has also been problematic. The Nits are only a middle-of-the-pack unit that often gives up a lot of yardage. Despite being 6-3 on the season, they have surrendered at least 349 total yards in six games this season including each of their last five. Add in the fact that Penn State has seldom played well at Ohio Stadium since joining the Big Ten, and this one really shouldn’t be that close … Ohio State 37, Penn State 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-34½) at Idaho; Indiana (+22) at Wisconsin; Utah (-5½) at Notre Dame; Georgia (+8½) at Auburn; San Diego State at TCU (-26); Louisiana-Monroe at LSU (-31); Kansas (+35) at Nebraska; Oregon (-19) at California; Stanford (-5) at Arizona State; Penn State at Ohio State (-17½).

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

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