Buckeyes Should Be Proud Of What They Are

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, Tresselball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

OHIO STATE-OREGON TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

OUTBACK BOWL, JAN. 1

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

GATOR BOWL, JAN. 1

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

CAPITAL ONE BOWL, JAN. 1

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

ROSE BOWL, JAN. 1

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

SUGAR BOWL, JAN. 1

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

INTERNATIONAL BOWL, JAN. 2

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

PAPAJOHN’S.COM BOWL, JAN. 2

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

COTTON BOWL, JAN. 2

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

LIBERTY BOWL, JAN. 2

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

ALAMO BOWL, JAN. 2

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

FIESTA BOWL, JAN. 4

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

ORANGE BOWL, JAN. 5

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

GMAC BOWL, JAN. 6

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

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, JAN. 7

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

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

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

Ohio State Wins Over Michigan Never Get Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEATH IN THE FAMILY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

TODAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History Sides With Buckeyes Vs. Iowa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-IOWA TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Down The Stretch They Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-PENN STATE TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Five Ohio State Football Stories Of 2008

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

1. BUCKEYES LOSE TITLE GAME … AGAIN

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

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

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

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

2. PRYOR FINALLY SIGNS

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

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

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

3. LOSS TO USC TRIGGERS QB SWITCH

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

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

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

4. MOST SENIORS DECIDE TO RETURN

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

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

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

5. WELLS GETS HURT IN 2008 OPENER

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

DEC. 31 GAMES

Armed Forces Bowl

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

Sun Bowl

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

Music City Bowl

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

Insight Bowl

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

Chick-fil-A Bowl

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

NEW YEAR’S DAY GAMES

Outback Bowl

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

Capital One Bowl

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

Gator Bowl

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

Rose Bowl

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

Orange Bowl

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

JAN. 2 GAMES

Cotton Bowl

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

Liberty Bowl

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

Sugar Bowl

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

JAN. 3 GAME

International Bowl

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

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

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

Woody Had It Right … Again

Woody Hayes once said the most popular person in Columbus was Ohio State’s backup quarterback. That was just one more thing the old man was right about.

Just since Jim Tressel has been head coach, the Buckeye Nation has clamored for Craig Krenzel during the Steve Bellisari era, Scott McMullen during the Krenzel era, Troy Smith during the Justin Zwick era and then Tyrelle Pryor during the Todd Boeckman era.

Now, believe it or not, there are those who actually believe it might be better for Boeckman to take some snaps for the Buckeyes in relief of Pryor. I don’t include tight end Jake Ballard since his widely publicized comments were taken completely out of context. I do, however, include the people who criticized Boeckman last year when the team was headed to the national championship game, the same ones who couldn’t wait for Tressel to supplant him with the much-heralded coming of Pryor, and even the loutish few who booed Boeckman when he skipped a pass during the Troy game.

I like Boeckman. Much like Zwick, he has been a good soldier through this entire ordeal while you know it’s tearing him up inside. And despite the cacophony of his naysayers, Boeckman is still a pretty good quarterback. Even this year, he has managed to complete 64.5 percent of his pass attempts and has a quarterback efficiency rating of 121.53. That ranks ahead of such Big Ten passers as C.J. Bachér of Northwestern and Curtis Painter of Purdue.

But Boeckman clearly represents the past in terms of the Ohio State program. Pryor is the present and the future, and replacing him at this point – even for only a few plays per game – would send a terrible message, not only to the youngster but to the team as well. Tressel would be showing that he does not have 100 percent confidence in the freshman QB and that split personality was something the Buckeyes of the mid-1990s could never overcome with Stan Jackson and Joe Germaine splitting time under center.

Tressel has made his choice and fans would do well to content themselves with the fact that the page has turned on the Boeckman era.

Now, as for Tressel’s reluctance so far to utilize all of Pryor’s talents – including stretching the field vertically in the passing game … well, that’s another discussion for another column.

SI COVER JINX

When Sports Illustrated went to regional covers for its annual College Football Preview issue, it simply increased the level of probability that some of its subjects were going to fall victim to the dreaded cover jinx.

Of the off chance you don’t know what I’m talking about, many readers and athletes themselves are superstitious about appearing on the cover of SI. That’s probably because the magazine has featured such subjects as college football players Todd Marinovich and Tony Mandarich, NFL draft busts such as Ryan Leaf and defending U.S. Open champion Lee Trevino the week before the 1969 Open. Trevino then missed the cut.

The College Football Preview in 1993 also took its toll when it featured Florida State kicker Scott Bentley. He proceeded to miss seven PATs in the Seminoles’ first five games that season.

This year’s college preview featured five regional covers with players from Ohio State, Georgia, USC, Missouri and Florida. Each of those teams suffered a loss before reaching the midway point of their respective seasons, and some of the players suffered even more.

The jinx didn’t take long to take effect. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez sustained a dislocated kneecap in preseason camp. Chris “Beanie” Wells of Ohio State suffered a toe injury in the Buckeyes’ first game of the season, and Missouri all-purpose star Jeremy Maclin was forced out of his team’s first game with a sprained ankle. OSU quarterback Todd Boeckman lost his starting job after week three.

Additionally, USC linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, who appeared with Sanchez, have been injured as has Florida receiver Percy Harvin, who underwent heel surgery last April.

Even since the College Football Preview issue, dated Aug. 11, the jinx has been alive and well. Just within the past month, the cover has featured the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Ole Miss football team and the Chicago Cubs with the accompanying headline: “Welcome To The Party.”

CONGRATS TO TRESS

With last week’s victory over Purdue, OSU head coach Jim Tressel moved his record to 79-17 with the Buckeyes. His victory total is now one more than the legendary John W. Wilce, who posted a 78-33-9 mark at Ohio State between 1913 and 1928. Under Wilce, the Buckeyes won their first Big Ten championship and beat Michigan for the first time.

Tressel is now fourth on the school’s all-time wins list and needs only three more victories to move into third place. He trails only Woody Hayes (205), John Cooper (111) and Earle Bruce (81).

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Those celebrating birthdays this 17th day of October include: Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and former sportswriter Jimmy Breslin is 78; country singer Earl Thomas Conley is 67; Sixties band Union Gap frontman Gary Puckett is 66; former world-class pole vaulter Bob Seagren is 62; actor Michael McKean is 61 (he portrayed Lenny of Lenny and Squiggy fame on “Laverne and Shirley” as well as lead singer David St. Hubbins in “This Is Spinal Tap”); actress Margot Kidder is 60 (she was Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies); actor George Wendt is 60 (Norm on “Cheers”); former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Steve McMichael is 51; country singer Alan Jackson is 50; film critic Richard Roeper is 49; theater and film director Rob Marshall is 48; “Beavis and Butt-head” and “King of the Hill” creator Mike Judge is 46; former Cincinnati Reds slugger Glenn Braggs is 46; former Saturday Night Live cast member Norm MacDonald is 45; Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry is 42; musician Ziggy Marley is 40; two-time U.S. Open champion golfer Ernie Els is 39; Grammy-winner rapper Eminem (born Marshall Bruce Mathers III) is 36; and musician/actor Wyclef Jean is 36;

OHIO STATE-MICHIGAN STATE MINUTIAE

** This will be the 39th meeting between Ohio State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes hold a 26-12 advantage in the overall series including six wins in a row and 11 in the last 13 meetings. OSU is 12-5 record in East Lansing, and the Spartans haven’t beaten the Buckeyes at home since a 23-7 victory in 1999.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 5-0 against the Spartans, including last year’s 24-17 victory in Columbus. The Buckeyes have enjoyed an average margin of victory of 14.4 points in those five games.

** Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is 0-3 against the Buckeyes – losses in 2004 and 2006 while at Cincinnati in addition to last year’s defeat. Dantonio, of course, was defensive coordinator on Tressel’s staff from 2001-03 and won the Frank Broyles Award in 2002 as college football’s top assistant coach.

** During Dantonio’s 20-game tenure at Michigan State, his teams are a sparkling 12-3 when they score first and 11-1 when leading at halftime. They are also a perfect 12-0 when leading after three quarters.

** This marks only the third game this season that Ohio State has faced a ranked opponent. The Buckeyes lost a 35-3 decision to then-No. 1 USC in mid-September and then took a 17-10 win over then-No. 18 Wisconsin two weeks ago. All-time, OSU is 125-101-2 when playing ranked opponents. That includes a 37-40-7 mark on the road.

** Under Tressel, the Buckeyes are 31-10 against ranked opponents, including 10-5 on the road.

** In its last 42 games against teams ranked in the Associated Press media poll, Michigan State is 18-24, but that includes eight straight losses. The Spartans’ last win over an AP ranked team was a 44-41 overtime upset of No. 10 Notre Dame in 2005.

** The Spartans are 6-1 for the first time since 2003 and for only the third time since 1967.

** Michigan State tailback Javon Ringer currently leads Division I-A in rushing touchdowns (14) and ranks second in rushing (158.9 yards per game) and all-purpose yards (201.7). He is also tied for third in the nation in scoring, averaging 12.0 points per game. Ringer leads the Big Ten in all four of those categories.

** Ringer, who is a product of Dayton (Ohio) Chaminade-Julienne, is one of 24 Ohio players on the Michigan State roster. Ohio State has exactly one player from Michigan – safety Aaron Gant from St. Mary’s Prep in Orchard Park.

** Senior quarterback Brian Hoyer is another native Ohioan, a product of Cleveland St. Ignatius. Hoyer threw for 169 yards last week in the Spartans’ 37-20 win over Northwestern, and that pushed him over 5,000 passing yards for his career. Only six other Michigan State quarterbacks before him have achieved that milestone. Jeff Smoker (2000-03) is the school’s all-time leading passer with 8,932 yards.

** The game features one of the best red-zone teams in the nation against one that excels in keeping its opponents off the scoreboard when they get close to the goal line. MSU opponents are scoring at only a 60.9-percent clip (14 for 23) in the red zone, the best mark in the Big Ten and sixth best in the nation. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are second in the conference and tied for 16th in the country at 90.0-percent efficiency in the red zone, converting18 for 20 trips. However, on 10 of those 18 conversions, OSU has been forced to settle for a field goal.

** The Ohio State defense would do well to keep Michigan State under 24 points in the game. Since 1990, the Spartans are 95-27-1 when scoring 24 or more. When they are held to fewer than 24 points, their record is 17-78-1.

** Michigan State junior kicker Brett Swensen has become money in the bank. After missing his first field-goal attempt of the season in the opener against Cal, the 5-8, 169-pounder has connected on 15 consecutive three-pointers. That is a new school record, beating the old mark of 13 in a row set by Paul Edinger in 1998.

** Spartan Stadium opened for business in 1923 as College Field. It was later known as Macklin Field and Macklin Stadium before getting its current name in 1956. The stadium is one of only four Big Ten venues that features a natural grass playing surface. The others: Kinnick Stadium at Iowa, Ryan Field at Northwestern and Beaver Stadium at Penn State.

** A couple of traditions to watch for if you’re headed to East Lansing on Saturday. The Spartans enter the stadium to the strains of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” which is followed by clips from the movie “300” played on the large monitor screen. Another clip from “300,” the one with Leonidas shouting, “Spartans! What is your profession?” is played whenever the opponent is facing a third-down situation. The crowd then responds with “Haroo! Haroo! Haroo!” while thrusting their fists in the air.

** 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, Tressel served as Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell’s position coach at Miami (Ohio) in 1979-80. Treadwell was later part of Tressel’s staff at YSU from 1986-91, and served as the Penguins’ offensive coordinator in ’91 when the team won the Division I-AA national championship.

** Michigan State quarterbacks coach Dave Warner also had Tressel as his position coach at Syracuse in 1981. MSU tight ends and tackles coach Mark Staten was a graduate assistant on Tressel’s staff at Ohio State in 2002 and ’03. And 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.

** 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.

** Want even more? Michigan State strength and conditioning coach Ken Mannie earned his master’s degree from Ohio State in 1985 and served as a graduate assistant for the Buckeyes in ’84. MSU director of player development Dino Folino began his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Buckeyes in 1974-75, working under legendary head coach Woody Hayes. And Michigan State assistant athletic director and head athletic trainer Jeff Monroe graduated from OSU in 1972 with a degree in physical education. Monroe spent four years as a student trainer for the Buckeyes from 1969-72.

** Kickoff for Saturday’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. ABC will once again broadcast the game on a regional basis with the announce crew of Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Bob Griese and Paul Maguire (color analysis) and Stacey Dales (sideline reports).

** ABC will employ – or at least will try to employ – its reverse mirror effect for the game. That means if the game is not on the ABC station in your area, it will be shown on ESPN2 – and vice versa.

** The game can also be heard on XM satellite radio channel 199.

** Next week’s game is back home at Penn State and will be ABC’s national telecast. ESPN’s College GameDay crew will be at the game for its 10 a.m. ET broadcast and the game itself will kick off shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** How did Texas sneak up on everyone to become the No. 1 team in the nation? For starters, the Longhorns are probably the best mix of offense and defense in college football this season. They are 32 for 33 in the red zone (27 of those scores are touchdowns) and quarterback Colt McCoy has completed nearly 80 percent of his passes. Defensively, UT hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season. And just so you don’t think Mack Brown has forgotten about special teams, Texas is fifth in the nation in kickoff returns, ninth in net punting and 7 for 7 in field goals.

** The college football season has barely reached its midway point and only 10 teams remain undefeated at Division I-A. Those schools are Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, BYU, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Texas, Texas Tech, Tulsa and Utah.

** After his infamous “I’m 40, I’m a man” meltdown last season, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has proved he can channel some of that intensity into his locker room. The Cowboys are 6-0 this season for only the second time since 1945.

** Upset alert: USC goes to Washington State on Saturday as a 43-point favorite. Remember what happened to the Trojans last year when they were 41-point favorites at home against Stanford? Note: A win against the Cougars would be USC’s 400th all-time conference victory.

** We’ve gotten to the midway point in the season and I’m going to have to start paring down my list of Heisman hopefuls. My frontrunners right now are McCoy.

** From the suddenly pass-happy Big 12 comes this amazing stat: Last week alone, the 12 starting quarterbacks in that conference completed 71.4 percent of their passes for nearly 3,400 yards and 22 TDs against only 11 interceptions.

** Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald will be honored this weekend in Evanston for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Fitzgerald, the only two-time winner of both the Bednarik and Nagurski awards, will be honored as his Wildcats take on Purdue.

** Penn State’s 48-7 pounding of Wisconsin last week improved the Nittany Lions to 7-0, their best start since winning their first nine games in 1999. What happens to Joe Paterno’s critics if his team continues winning? Just asking because you know JoePa has no desire to ride off into the sunset.

** Sports Illustrated recently compiled lists of the greatest coaches and players for its new publication, “The College Football Book.” One of the criteria for selection was that only one player could be chosen from each school. Offensive tackle Orlando Pace of Ohio State was named to the team along with five other Big Ten alumni: running back Red Grange, defensive end Bubba Smith of Michigan State, defensive tackle Bronko Nagurski of Minnesota, linebacker Jack Ham of Penn State and defensive back Charles Woodson of Michigan. The book became available in bookstores and online yesterday, and the entire team roster will be contained in the Nov. 11 issue of SI.

** Those of you waiting for the first Bowl Championship Series rankings of the year have to wait only a few more days. They will be released for the first time this season on Sunday.

** This marks the 11th season for BCS rankings, and the school with the most all-time appearances in the standings since the 1998 season is Texas with 69. The rest of the top 10 features Florida (68), Michigan (62), Oklahoma (60), Virginia Tech (60), Ohio State (52), Tennessee (52), Florida State (50), Miami (Fla.) (50) and Southern California (49).

** Schools with double-digit weeks in the BCS rankings’ No. 1 position from 1998-2007 are Oklahoma (18), USC (15) and Ohio State (14). Florida State and Miami (Fla.) are next with seven each.

** Toledo became the first Mid-American Conference team in history to beat Michigan when the Rockets took a 13-10 win in Ann Arbor last weekend. Before that game, the Wolverines had won all 24 of its previous games against MAC competition.

In case you had forgotten, Michigan currently has a streak of 33 consecutive seasons in which it has gone to a bowl game. After the loss to Toledo, the Wolverines must win four of their last six games just to qualify. Three of those games are against No. 3 Penn State, No. 11 Ohio State and No. 17 Michigan State.

** Did you ever wonder what happened to “Dandy” Don Meredith? The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and Monday Night Football analyst has been keeping a low profile lately, but he will be back in Dallas on Saturday when SMU honors him by formally retiring his jersey number. Meredith was an All-America quarterback for the Mustangs in 1958 and ’59, and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982.

** Twenty-six years ago today, one of the best college running backs money could buy ran wild. On Oct. 16, 1982, Eric Dickerson rushed for 206 of his 241 yards in the second half as fifth-ranked SMU stayed unbeaten with a 20-14 win over Houston. Dickerson, who would finish third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in ’82, teamed with current ABC analyst Craig James to give the Mustangs their vaunted “Pony Express” offense and the team finished No. 2 in the national rankings that season. Five years later, SMU would become the first and so far only school to receive the NCAA’s so-called “death penalty” for recruiting violations, several of which were traced back to the Dickerson-James years.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 15, 1988, fourth-ranked Notre Dame pulled off a 31-30 victory over No. 1 Miami (Fla.), ended the Hurricanes’ 36-game regular-season win streak; and on Oct. 18, 1997, Florida receiver Jacquez Green became the first player in college football history to throw, run and catch a pass for a touchdown in the same game as the seventh-ranked Gators took a 24-10 win at No. 6 Auburn.

** In addition to those upsets, this week in college football history has seen a couple of monumental shockers. On Oct. 14, 1939, unranked Duquesne went into Pitt Stadium and scored a 21-13 victory over No. 1 Pittsburgh. Duquesne used the win as a springboard that season, finishing with an 8-0-1 record and a ranking of 10th in the final Associated Poll of the season. Meanwhile, on Oct. 19, 1957, unranked Purdue – winless in three previous Big Ten games – entered East Lansing and shocked No. 1 Michigan State by a 20-13 score. The Spartans helped the Boilermakers’ cause by losing five fumbles in that game.

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