Déjà Vu? Season Has Distinctive ’08 Feel So Far

See if any of this sounds familiar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-MIAMI TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tressel Had It Right (Again) At Illinois

When Jim Tressel retreated into his ultraconservative shell in the second half of last weekend’s 24-13 victory at Illinois, old complaints that always seem just on the fringes of the Buckeye Nation began anew.

It’s pretty much a given that fans always want more offense. (In the spirit of full disclosure, most sportswriters do, too.) But exactly what did you expect from Tressel when his franchise quarterback went down in a heap early in the third quarter?

The gripe always seems to be that Tressel is way too conservative on offense, and compared to the go-for-the-jugular mentalities of most college coaches today, the OSU boss is too nice for his own good. It wasn’t very surprising, then, that the old grumblings about Tressel surfaced when Terrelle Pryor suffered what initially appeared to be a serious leg injury against Illinois.

Most critics figured it was the same old, close-to-the-sweater-vest Tressel using Pryor’s injury as an excuse to button up his offense in a tight game. Even when Pryor returned after only a handful of plays, the quarterback seemed to be OK despite a visible heavy wrap on his left thigh. Still, the coach wouldn’t let him do much of anything other than hand the ball to tailback Boom Herron.

My rebuttal? Tressel did exactly what he should have done in that situation. In fact, he turned in one of his better coaching jobs.

Anyone can look like a genius when his team is scoring 73 points and throttling weaker opponents without working up a sweat. Coaches earn their salaries – and I mean really earn them – by figuring ways to get their teams across the finish line in the toughest of situations.

Ohio State was on the road in its Big Ten opener playing against an Illinois team that had two weeks to prepare what looked like a pretty innovative game plan. Pryor, who had set up both of the Buckeyes’ first-half touchdowns with long runs and had already accounted for 150 of his team’s 167 yards of total offense, lay grimacing on the Memorial Stadium turf.

That’s when you expected Tressel to get fancy?

The OSU head coach did exactly what he should have done in that situation. He quickly scrapped the prepared game strategy for one that provided maximum protection for his team’s slight scoreboard advantage. Losing your Heisman Trophy candidate was like a bolt of lightning, so Tressel simply reverted to his worst-case-scenario philosophy – play ball-control on offense and rely on your defense to stop the opposition.

The bottom line for any head coach is winning, and any head coach will tell you they couldn’t care less how that winning is achieved as long as it is achieved. The Buckeyes were in a battle away from home, already without their starting tight end and now without their star player.

In that situation, you win the surest way by reducing your potential for making mistakes. You stay out of the air as much as you can – especially when the wind was howling like it always seems to do in Champaign – and you certainly don’t rely on untested players to handle the football.

You also err on the side of caution with your franchise quarterback no matter how close to 100 percent he tells you he feels.

Over the years, I have been as critical as anyone when it comes to Tressel and his conservative nature. All things being equal, I have often wondered why he sometimes likes to keep his fireworks wrapped in a plain brown wrapper.

But all things were not equal at Illinois. Not even close. In that situation, any coach worth his salt would do exactly what Tressel did – milk the clock as long as possible and then go play defense.

Throwing the football all over the lot and racking up style points certainly have their place, but winning trumps both every time. And no matter how they are achieved, no matter what else happens around the country, a win every Saturday remains the goal for every college football team.

Reach that goal at Ohio State and it doesn’t matter what happens with Boise State, Oregon, TCU, Oklahoma or Nebraska. You’re playing for the national championship.

OSU-INDIANA TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Indiana will be meeting for the 84th time on Saturday with the Buckeyes holding a lopsided 66-12-5 advantage in the series. That includes a 42-10-4 record in Ohio Stadium, including wins in each of the last eight games played in Columbus.

** The Buckeyes are currently enjoying a 15-game winning streak in the overall series. You have to go back to a 27-27 tie in 1990 to find the last time Ohio State failed to come away with a victory over Indiana. The Hoosiers’ most recent win in the series was a 41-7 decision in Bloomington in 1988.

** Since the Hoosiers took a 32-10 victory at Ohio Stadium in 1951, they have a 1-29-1 record in the Horseshoe. The lone victory was a 31-10 decision in 1987 and the tie was a 0-0 deadlock in 1959.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 6-0 against the Hoosiers. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes in those games has been 28.5 points.

** Indiana head coach Bill Lynch is in his fourth season with the Hoosiers and is playing the Buckeyes for the second time. He will be attempting to become only the second IU coach in the past 58 years to claim a victory over Ohio State. Bill Mallory, who coached the Hoosiers from 1984-96, claimed back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes in 1987 and ’88.

** Tressel has an 8-1 record in Big Ten home openers, including wins in each of the past five seasons. The only blemish on that mark is a 24-13 loss to Wisconsin in 2004.

** All-time, Ohio State is 68-23-4 in conference home openers. That includes a 14-1-1 mark against the Hoosiers.

** Tressel will be seeking his 100th career victory tomorrow at Ohio State. If he reaches that milestone, he do so in his 121st game with the Buckeyes. Only Michigan head coaches Fielding Yost and Bo Schembechler have reached 100 career wins quicker at a Big Ten school. Yost and Schembechler accomplished 100 wins in 119 games with the Wolverines.

** Tressel is making a rapid rise up the ladder in terms of all-time Big Ten victories. Last week’s win over Illinois was the coach’s 60th conference victory, making him only the 13th man in history with 60 or more Big Ten wins. Seven more league victories would move Tressel into the all-time top 10 and past George Perles of Michigan State (66, 1983-94), Murray Warmath of Minnesota (66, 1954-71) and Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin (65, 1990-2005). Legendary Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes (1951-78) is the career leader in conference victories with 152.

** Lynch is in his fourth season with the Hoosiers and his 18th year as a head coach. He has a 98-91-3 career record with stops at Butler (his alma mater), Ball State and DePauw as well as Indiana.

** Ohio State ranks first or second in the Big Ten in scoring offense, total offense, fourth-down conversions, total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, pass defense, turnover margin, PAT kicking and time of possession. Meanwhile, Indiana ranks first or second in the league in pass offense, kickoff returns, third-down conversions and PAT kicking.

** The Buckeyes have been remarkably consistent on offense this season regardless of the down. They are averaging 6.l yards on first down, 6.9 on second down and 6.8 on third down. OSU is averaging only 2.8 yards on fourth down, but the Buckeyes are a perfect 5 for 5 in fourth-down conversions.

** Indiana has 17 native Ohioans on its roster – three of which are projected to start against the Buckeyes – while Ohio State has only two players from Indiana. They are senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore, who hails from Merrillville, and freshman tailback Rod Smith of Fort Wayne.

** IU quarterback Ben Chappell set single-game school records last week for completions (45), attempts (65) and yardage (480). Chappell is among the top six at Indiana all-time in completions, passing yardage, attempts, touchdown passes and total offense as well as being the most accurate passer in program history with a career completion percentage of 62.4. That is far ahead of second place occupied by Babe Laufenberg (1981-82) at 58.6.

** One Indiana passing record Chappell did not eclipse last week was the school’s longstanding mark for touchdown passes in a single game. Freshman quarterback Bob Hoernschemeyer threw six TDs during a 54-13 victory over Nebraska in 1943.

** While an Indiana upset of Ohio State would be surprising enough, the odds of the Hoosiers shutting out the Buckeyes would be astronomical. Indiana hasn’t pitched a shutout since a 10-0 win over Michigan State in October 1993 while Ohio State hasn’t been shut out since a 28-0 loss at Michigan in November 1993. The Buckeyes haven’t experienced a shutout loss at home since a 6-0 defeat to Wisconsin in October 1982.

** With 180 yards of total offense last week against Illinois, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor increased his career total to 6,203 and moved up two more notches into fifth place on the school’s career list in that category. He passed Greg Frey (6,098, 1987-90) and Joe Germaine (6,094, 1996-98). Next up is Steve Bellisari (6,496, 1998-2001).

** Pryor also now has 4,420 career passing yards and needs only 74 more to move past Craig Krenzel (4,493, 2000-03) into ninth place on the school’s all-time list.

** This week’s game will be telecast by ESPN with Dave Pasch handling the play by play, Bob Griese and Chris Spielman providing color analysis, and Quint Kessenich reporting from the sidelines. The game will also be telecast by ESPN3-D with Dave Lamont, Tim Brown and Ray Bentley on the call. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 90 and 127 as well as XM channels 102 and 197.

** Next week, Ohio State visits Camp Randall Stadium to play Wisconsin. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Eastern and the game will be televised by either ESPN or ESPN2.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Oct. 5, 1940, Michigan star Tom Harmon led his team to a 21-14 victory over Michigan State in Ann Arbor. The win was the Wolverines’ third in a row over the Spartans and was part of a streak that stretched to 10 games before the Spartans won in 1950.

** On Oct. 5, 1991, Fresno State kicker Derek Mahoney tied the NCAA record for most PATs in a game when he went 13 for 13 as the Bulldogs rolled to a 94-17 win over New Mexico.

** On Oct. 6, 1956, Penn snapped a 19-game home losing streak with a 14-7 win over Dartmouth. It was the Quakers’ first official Ivy League game, while Dartmouth’s lone touchdown came from quarterback Mike Brown, the same Mike Brown who is now owner of the Cincinnati Bengals.

** On Oct. 7, 1995, Texas Tech scored a 14-7 upset over eighth-ranked Texas A&M in Lubbock. The Aggies entered the contest with a 29-game Southwest Conference unbeaten streak, but Tech linebacker Zach Thomas returned an interception 23 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

** On Oct. 7, 1996, College Football Hall of Fame coach Wallace Wade died in Durham, N.C., at the age of 94. Wade was head coach at Alabama in 1925 when the Crimson Tide became the first Southern school invited to the Rose Bowl. A guard for Brown during his playing days, Wade became the first man ever to play and coach in a Rose Bowl. His Brown team lost to Washington State, 14-0, in the 1916 game, but his Alabama squad took a 20-19 thriller over Washington a decade later. Wade later coached at Duke – the football stadium there bears his name – and led the Blue Devils to their only Rose Bowl appearance, a 20-16 loss to Oregon State in the 1942 game.

** On Oct. 7, 2000, No. 7 Miami (Fla.) upset top-ranked Florida State, 27-24, when Seminoles kicker Matt Munyon’s last-second field goal attempt from 49 yards sailed wide right.

** On Oct. 8, 1966, Wyoming kicker Jerry DePoyster made NCAA history during his team’s 40-7 victory over Utah. DePoyster connected on field goals of 54, 54 and 52 yards and became the first kicker in NCAA history with three field goal of 50 yards or more in a single game. The Cowboys went on to a 10-1 season in ’66 that included a WAC championship and Sun Bowl victory over Florida State.

** On Oct. 8, 1977, seventh-ranked Alabama squeezed out a 21-20 victory over No. 1 USC when the Trojans scored a touchdown with 38 seconds remaining but their subsequent two-point conversion try failed.

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

** On Oct. 9, 1999, Michigan and Michigan State entered their instate rivalry with undefeated records for the first time in nearly 20 years and those in attendance at East Lansing got their money’s worth. The Spartans stormed out to an early lead before U-M head coach Lloyd Carr replaced starting quarterback Drew Henson with backup Tom Brady. Brady went on to complete 30 of 41 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, but his rally fell just short as the Spartans held on for a 34-31 victory.

** On Oct. 9, 2004, California QB Aaron Rodgers established a new NCAA record for consecutive completions. Rodgers completed his first three attempts against USC to run his streak to a record 26 completions in a row. Unfortunately, that was all Cal had to celebrate that day. The seventh-ranked Bears dropped a 23-17 decision to the No. 1 Trojans.

** On Oct. 10, 1936, trumpet player John Brungart became the first member of the Ohio State Marching Band to dot the “i” in Script Ohio.

** On Oct. 10, 1987, Oklahoma State took a 42-17 victory over Colorado to open its season with five straight wins for the first time since 1945. Leading the way for the Cowboys was a pair of fairly decent running backs – Thurman Thomas rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown while Barry Sanders added a score on a 73-yard punt return.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Seven more unbeaten teams have fallen by the wayside since last week’s blog, leaving 17 with perfect records at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level. Alphabetically, they are Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Boise State, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Northwestern, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, TCU and Utah.

** If you’re keeping score by conference as far as the undefeated teams are concerned, the Big 12 and Big Ten lead the way with four each. The SEC has three and the Pac-10, WAC and Mountain West each have two undefeated teams remaining.

** On the other side of the ledger, six Division I-A teams remain winless: Akron, Eastern Michigan, Florida International, New Mexico, New Mexico State and Western Kentucky. That list will be pared by at least two tomorrow when New Mexico and New Mexico State square off in Las Cruces while Western Kentucky travels to Florida International for a Sun Belt conference battle. Akron and Eastern Michigan are Mid-American Conference rivals but they do not meet this season.

** Alabama owns the longest current winning streak in I-A with 19 wins in a row. Western Kentucky has the longest current losing streak at 24.

** Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has run (and thrown) himself into the Heisman Trophy race. When he ran for 217 yards and threw for a career-best 277 last Saturday against Indiana, Robinson became the first player in I-A history to pass and rush for 200 yards in a game twice during the regular season. Robinson leads the nation in rushing (905 yards, eight TDs), is fourth in pass efficiency (1,008 yards, seven TDs, one INT) and ranks No. 2 nationally in total offense with an average of 382.6 yards per game.

** Robinson’s 905 rushing yards is already the third-highest single-season total for a Big Ten quarterback. Antwaan Randle El of Indiana holds down both of the top spots with 1,270 yards in 2000 and 964 in 2001.

** Texas has the week off after last week’s 28-20 loss to Oklahoma. The Longhorns will head to seventh-ranked Nebraska on Oct. 16 trying to avoid their first three-game regular-season losing streak in the Mack Brown era. No Texas team has lost three games in a row during the regular season since 1997 when the Longhorns dropped four in a row under head coach John Mackovic and finished 4-7. Mackovic was let go after that season and Brown was hired away from North Carolina.

** Here’s a totally off-the-wall stat: Oklahoma and Alabama have each played two ranked opponents and have won both games. The 17 other schools that have played two ranked opponents so far this season are a combined 0-39.

** ESPN may be second-guessing its exclusive contract to telecast BYU games when the Cougars leave the Mountain West and go independent next season. The Cougars are now 1-4, their worst start to a season since 1973, and defensive coordinator Jaime Hill got pink-slipped after last Saturday’s 31-16 loss to Utah State. The Aggies had lost 10 in a row in the series with BYU, and beat the Cougars for the first time since a 58-56 thriller in 1993.

** Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray is chasing a pair of longstanding school records. Murray has 55 career touchdowns and needs three more to pass the career mark held for more than 40 years by Steve Owens (1967-69). Murray is also bearing down on the school mark for all-purpose yards currently owned by Joe Washington (1972-75). Murray heads into this weekend with 5,478 all-purpose yards; Washington holds the OU career mark with 5,881.

** Congratulations to William & Mary, who ended defending Football Championship Subdivision national champion Villanova’s 12-game win streak against I-AA opponents last weekend. W&M scored a 31-24 victory that was especially sweet since the Tribe lost a 14-13 decision to Villanova in last year’s national semifinals.

** By the way, there are only four unbeaten teams left at the I-AA level. They are Appalachian State, Bethune-Cookman, Delaware and Jacksonville State, and one of the those teams already owns a victory over a Division I-A team this year. Jacksonville State defeated Mississippi, 49-48 in double overtime, earlier this season and Appalachian State gets its crack at the big boys Nov. 20 when the Mountaineers travel to No. 12 Florida.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The picks slipped ever so slightly last week, misfiring on Wisconsin-Michigan State as well as the Upset Special when Stanford couldn’t hold an early 21-3 lead over Oregon before getting blown out by a 52-31 score. Still, we were 9-2 straight up for the week and that makes us 48-5 for the season.

Against the spread, we suffered the first real hiccup of the season as a 4-7 week dropped the ATS mark to 30-20-3 for the season. We’re still well above water but need to do much better this week to stay that way.

Here are the lucky 13 games we’ll be watching this week.

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 22 Oklahoma State at Louisiana-Lafayette: Among the four undefeated teams in the Big 12, no one seems to be talking about Oklahoma State. The Cowboys overcame a 21-7 halftime deficit last week to take a 38-35 thriller over Texas A&M, and now they hit the road for some primetime nonconference action. OSU features a potent passing attack with quarterback Brandon Weeden (1,259 yards, 13 TDs) and receiver Justin Blackmon (34 receptions, 558 yards, nine TDs) although the Cowboys are prone to mistakes. That shouldn’t really matter tonight although the Ragin’ Cajuns have won their last two against Big 12 opponents … Oklahoma State 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 14. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Minnesota at No. 20 Wisconsin: How to beat the Badgers isn’t any big secret. Hold down their running game and they struggle. That’s exactly what happened last week when Michigan State held Wisconsin running back John Clay under 100 yards and out of the end zone during a 34-24 win for the Spartans. It’s difficult to see how the Gophers can duplicate that game plan, though. They enter tomorrow’s contest ranked 10th in the Big Ten and 96th nationally against the run. Look for Clay and the Badgers to bounce back and make Tim Brewster’s seat that much hotter in Minneapolis … Wisconsin 37, Minnesota 21. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Wyoming at No. 5 TCU: Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman did no favors for his football team when making out the 2010 schedule. The Cowboys have already absorbed a 51-6 whipping courtesy of Boise State and now they embark upon a two-week stretch that includes TCU and Utah. The Horned Frogs haven’t had any trouble racing out to a 5-0 start, outscoring their opposition by a 205-62 margin, and it could be more of the same against Wyoming. The Cowboys rank 119th out of 120 Division I-A schools in total offense and they’re 110th in total defense. Add to those ugly numbers the fact that Wyoming has lost 12 in a row to ranked teams and you get the recipe for a blowout … TCU 55, Wyoming 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

No. 11 Arkansas vs. Texas A&M: The Razorbacks and Aggies renewed their rivalry last year when Arkansas rolled to a 47-19 victory in then-new Cowboys Stadium. That probably warmed the heart of former Razorbacks player Jerry Jones, and the Dallas Cowboys owner will be on hand again tomorrow afternoon when the teams return to his $1 billion playhouse. Not much has changed from last year other than the fact the Razorbacks are actually a little better than they were in ’09. They couldn’t quite hang on against Alabama a couple of weeks ago, partly because star quarterback Ryan Mallett pitched three interceptions. But since then Mallett has been on the money and he threw for 271 yards and four TDs last year against A&M. The Aggies can chuck the ball around pretty well, too, but not well enough … Arkansas 31, Texas A&M 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 South Carolina: Can anyone derail the Tide’s march to another national championship game? The Gamecocks are next in line to try, coming off an open week following their 35-27 loss to Auburn on Sept. 25. You have to know that Steve Spurrier will have a few tricks up his sleeve and he’d better, especially on defense. SC gave up 334 yards to Auburn and that’s a big sign heading into a game that will feature Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson on the other side. The duo has already combined for 774 yards and 10 touchdowns not to mention a collective average of 7.6 yards per carry. That is potentially lethal against the Gamecocks, who make too many mistakes to entertain any thought of an upset … Alabama 34, South Carolina 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 17 Michigan State at No. 18 Michigan: The Spartans and Wolverines enter their rivalry match undefeated for the first time since 1999. MSU is also trying to extend its win streak in the series to three in a row, something that hasn’t happened since 1965-67. If Sparty wants that victory, he’s going to have to figure out some way to stop Michigan QB Denard Robinson. No one else has as the sophomore has dazzled his way into the Heisman race. Load up to stop Robinson from running like Indiana did last week and he’ll beat you through the air. Hang back and he’ll carve up your defense like a Thanksgiving turkey. Robinson’s critics claim he hasn’t faced a defense as strong as the one he’ll see tomorrow but from what little I’ve seen from the Spartans’ D, it’s a read-and-react unit and that plays right into Robinson’s strengths … Michigan 35, Michigan State 31. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

No. 3 Oregon at Washington State: Fireworks from the Quack Attack ought to continue this week with the high-flying Ducks visiting the Palouse. Oregon features the No. 1 offense in the nation (56.6 points, 569.2 yards per game) while the Cougars have one of the worst defensive units in college football. Among the 120 teams at the I-A level, Wazzu ranks 101st in pass defense, 109th in pass efficiency defense, 116th in scoring defense, 117th in rushing defense and 118th in total defense. As bad as defensive those numbers are, the Cougars aren’t very good on offense, either – they’re 109th in rushing and 92nd in scoring. It all adds up to a beatdown that will likely leave some nasty bruises … Oregon 63, Washington State 0. (5 p.m. ET, CSN)

Oregon State at No. 9 Arizona: Oregon is getting all the hype in the Pac-10 but the Wildcats are quietly putting together something special. While the Ducks dazzle with their offense, Arizona does it the old-fashioned way with defense and solid special teams. Mike Stoops’ team ranks second in the nation in total defense and third in scoring defense, and it’s ranked No. 1 in kickoff returns. The Wildcats come off an open week to entertain the Beavers, who cranked up some offense last week during a 31-28 win over Arizona State. But Oregon State still ranks 10th in the Pac-10 in total offense, and when you combine that with an eighth-place standing in total defense, you can see why Arizona is favored to break the Beavers’ current four-game win streak in Tucson … Arizona 20, Oregon State 10. (6 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 10 Utah at Iowa State: Here are a few pertinent numbers. The Utes are coming off an open week and they are 5-0 coming off open weeks under head coach Kyle Whittingham. Utah has an 11-game win streak going against unranked opponents. Iowa State is 3-0 at home this season and 4-0 all-time against Utah. Of course, the Cyclones’ victories in the series came in 1970s when the Utes bore no resemblance to the team that has been one of the top offensive units for the better part of the last decade. This year, Utah not only scores points (44.3 per game), it also has a smothering defense that allows only 12.8 points per game. For an Iowa State team that has struggled at times on both sides of the ball, that is a scary proposition … Utah 43, Iowa State 14. (7 p.m. ET, Fox College)

Purdue at Northwestern: How much harder could the injury bug bite the Boilermakers? All-Big Ten receiver Keith Smith, running back Ralph Bolden and quarterback Robert Marve are all out with season-ending knee injuries leaving Purdue scrambling. Marve’s backup, Rob Henry, is raw – he just started playing the quarterback position four years ago. Meanwhile, the Wildcats will likely be without star tight end Drake Dunsmore but that shouldn’t make for much of a slowdown in the NU offense. QB Dan Persa has already accounted for more than 1,600 yards of total offense and ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 3 nationally in pass efficiency. The Wildcats needed a late field goal to beat Minnesota last week but shouldn’t need any comeback magic this week … Northwestern 27, Purdue 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 8 Auburn at Kentucky: If you haven’t been paying attention to the Tigers, perhaps it’s time you did. They have their own version of Denard Robinson in quarterback Cam Newton, a JUCO transfer who is second nationally in pass efficiency while averaging 94.8 yards rushing per game. As a result of Newton’s play, Auburn is looking to start 6-0 for the first time in six years. Standing in the way – as they usually do – are the Wildcats, who scored a 21-14 upset win at Auburn last year. Kentucky has a couple of electrifying players in its own right in running back Derrick Locke and receiver Randall Cobb, but the Wildcats are 11th in the SEC both in rushing defense and total defense. Watch them struggle trying to corral Newton … Auburn 31, Kentucky 17. (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Toledo at No. 4 Boise State: By now you know the story. Despite a 59-0 win over New Mexico State, the Broncos got jumped in the polls by Oregon, a penalty Boise paid for its weak schedule. Things don’t figure to get much tougher this week when the Rockets invade the Smurf Turf, where the Broncos enjoy a 57-game winning streak. Boise State QB Kellen Moore is a legitimate Heisman candidate (1,069 yards, 11 TDs) and he ought to be able to pad those numbers and Toledo which ranks 11th in the 13-team MAC in pass defense. Even more to the point is the fact the Rockets are coming off a 20-15 loss to Wyoming, the same Wyoming team that two weeks earlier absorbed a 51-6 beating administered by the Broncos … Boise State 52, Toledo 3. (8 p.m. ET, WAC Network/Sports Time Ohio)

Indiana at No. 2 Ohio State: Brandon Saine, Boom Herron, Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde should be licking their chops this week as the Buckeyes take on an Indiana defense that ranks dead last in the Big Ten defending the run. To be blunt, if you can’t run on the Hoosiers you need to take a serious look at how your running game does business. That said, Indiana comes to Columbus loaded for bear on offense. IU quarterback Ben Chappell ranks fifth nationally in total offense and 12th in pass efficiency, and he has some big, physical receivers who could give fits to some of the smaller OSU defenders. Still, if the Buckeyes can control the tempo of the game by running the ball, and if Terrelle Pryor is anything close to 100 percent, Ohio State should be able to continue its mastery in this series. The Buckeyes are looking for their 16th consecutive win over the Hoosiers and their 42nd victory in the past 43 home games against unranked opponents … Ohio State 41, Indiana 24. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Oklahoma State (-21) at Louisiana-Lafayette; Minnesota (+22) at Wisconsin; Wyoming at TCU (-34); Arkansas (-5) vs. Texas A&M; Alabama (-6½) at South Carolina; Michigan State (+4½) at Michigan; Oregon (-35½) at Washington State; Oregon State at Arizona (-7½); Utah (-6½) at Iowa State; Purdue (+9½) at Northwestern; Auburn (-6) at Kentucky; Toledo at Boise State (-38½); Indiana (+22½) at Ohio State.

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

Counting Down OSU’s Toughest ’09 Opponents

Exactly 13 weeks from tomorrow – 91 days to be even more exact – Ohio State will kick off the 2009 football season with a couple of goals in mind.

The Buckeyes will be shooting for their fifth consecutive Big Ten championship, only one off the conference record of six in a row set by OSU between 1972 and ’77. The team will also be shooting for an unprecedented sixth straight victory over archrival Michigan while attempting to extend their string of Bowl Championship Series berths to five in a row.

Those goals are certainly within the Buckeyes’ grasp. So, too, could be other loftier goals such as Terrelle Pryor becoming the third sophomore quarterback in a row to win the Heisman Trophy. There is also the ultimate goal of every team – earning a trip to the BCS National Championship Game. If Ohio State accomplishes that one, it becomes only the second team in BCS history to play in four title games. (Oklahoma is the other one.)

Before any of the aforementioned can occur, however, the Buckeyes have to navigate their way through a 2009 season that features a handful of tough games and more than a couple of gimmes. Here is a breakdown of that schedule in reverse order of difficulty.

12. NEW MEXICO STATE – OCT. 31

The Aggies will be breaking in a new offensive system as well as a new head coach this season. Gone is pass-happy Hal Mumme (Tim Couch’s mentor in the late 1990s at Kentucky) and his successor, DeWayne Walker, has decided to install a run-oriented offense.

That’s not exactly music to the ears of fans because New Mexico State finished 10th in Division I-A last year in passing yards. Even so, the Aggies won only three games last season and were 3-9 overall because of an abysmal running attack that averaged a measly 54.2 yards per game. The defense wasn’t much better – NMSU surrendered an average of 34.1 points per game and that ranked 105th out of 119 I-A schools.

Walker, who was a two-year letterman at Minnesota in 1981-82, will likely begin to get things turned around in Las Cruces but not quickly enough to pull an upset over Ohio State. It is likely to be a scary Halloween night in the Horseshoe for the Aggies.

11. AT INDIANA – OCT. 3

Terry Hoeppner’s death two years ago derailed the Indiana program which seemed to be enjoying a renaissance. Now the Hoosiers appear ready to extend a streak that has produced losing records in 12 of the past 13 seasons.

Head coach Bill Lynch enters the 2009 season with a depleted roster after kicking quarterback Kellen Lewis off the team for multiple team infractions. Lewis was easily the Hoosiers’ best player, but even with him the team was likely to struggle. The schedule-makers didn’t do IU any favors either with road games at Virginia, Iowa and Penn State.

One of the Hoosiers’ marquee games will be a prime-time contest when the Buckeyes travel to Bloomington for the first time since 2005. However, Ohio State is working on a 15-game winning streak in the series, including 6-0 under Jim Tressel. The average score in just those six games is 37-10.

10. NAVY – SEPT. 5

There could be more here than meets the eye, especially since Navy has had the No. 1 rushing offense in the country for two years running. It’s difficult for most teams to defend the triple option since they don’t see it much anymore and certainly don’t practice against it very often.

That will be a little different for the Buckeyes, who have all summer to gear up to stop such an attack. When the Midshipmen cannot run the ball, they simply do not win. In their eight victories last season, they averaged 331.9 yards rushing. In their five defeats, that average dropped to 229.2.

Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has more than his share of critics, and many of them point to last year’s ranking of 18th in the nation against the run. That was the Buckeyes’ worst showing in run defense since ranking 35th in 2004. Still, one would think OSU will be ready to go. After all, the team hasn’t lost a season opener at home since 1978, outscoring the opposition by about three touchdowns over that 26-game span.

9. TOLEDO AT CLEVELAND – SEPT. 19

Don’t be fooled by the fact the Rockets were 3-9 last year and finished tied for last place in the MAC West. Toledo has a returning starter at nearly every position, including quarterback Aaron Opelt and exciting tailback Morgan Williams. Opelt has thrown for 4,807 yards and 30 TDs during his career while Williams burst on the scene last year to rush for 1,010 yards while averaging 6.0 yards per carry.

Former OSU cornerbacks coach Tim Beckman takes over the head coaching position in Toledo this season, his first shot at running a program after serving as an assistant since 1988. If history proves anything, he’s not going to have an easy time of it in this contest. Former Tressel assistants such as Mark Snyder and Mark Dantonio are winless against their old boss since he got to Ohio State.

In addition to Beckman, there are a couple of other intriguing storylines that go along with this game. The Rockets, of course, beat Michigan in Ann Arbor last season, leading the players to believe they can pull a similar upset this year. And the game will be played in Cleveland Browns Stadium, and Toledo needs only to look back to 2002 when Cincinnati nearly upset the Buckeyes in Paul Brown Stadium. Will all of that be enough to become the first Ohio team to beat Ohio State since 1921? Probably not.

8. AT PURDUE (OCT. 17)

Purdue could be the poster child for why it is a bad idea to name a coach-in-waiting. During Joe Tiller’s final season in West Lafayette, the Boilermakers threw up all over themselves (polite way of saying they quit on ol’ Uncle Joe) and finished 4-8 overall. That was only the second losing season for Tiller in a dozen years at Purdue.

Now that bunch of underachievers is new head coach Danny Hope’s problem and he has to find a way to jump-start an offense that tanked in 2008. The bad news is that he has to begin by finding eight new starters on offense. The good news? The guys he had to replace were seemingly going through the motions at times last year, so a fresh start may be good for everyone.

Lost amid Purdue’s season of a year ago was the fact it played Ohio State about as tough as it played anyone in a 16-3 loss in Columbus. But the Boilermakers never seem to have the same fire at home – they have lost seven of their last nine to the Buckeyes in West Lafayette.

7. WISCONSIN – OCT. 10

The Badgers have taken a mighty tumble since Bret Bielema took over as head coach. After Bielema went 12-1 in 2006 as Barry Alvarez’s hand-picked successor, the Badgers slipped to 9-4 in ’07 and just 7-6 last season. That drop-off, along with a rumored penchant for the nightlife in Madison, may make the coach’s seat extremely hot this season if he doesn’t get the ship headed back in the right direction.

Unfortunately for Bielema, the Badgers are not much more than a question mark as they embark on the 2009 season. Job one will be to figure out who the starting quarterback is going to be – fifth-year senior Dustin Scherer or redshirt freshman Curt Phillips. Next, Bielema has to find replacements for five members of the defensive front seven.

Ohio State and Wisconsin have had a spirited rivalry for past decade or so with the teams splitting eight games since 1999. During that span, the Badgers have won three of four in Ohio Stadium, including two of three against Tressel.

6. AT MICHIGAN – NOV. 21

I flip-flopped back and forth with the rankings of the Michigan and Wisconsin games. While how good the Badgers are going to be remains anyone’s guess, it doesn’t seem likely the Wolverines will be much better in Rich Rodriguez’s second year than they were in his first.

There is, however, that little thing about a rivalry that goes back to 1897 – a series during which the perceived weaker team has won more than its fair share of games. Therefore, on sheer sentimentality alone, I put this game at No. 6 although even ranking it that low is testament to how much the Wolverines are expected to struggle again.

By the time the traditional season finale rolls around, the Buckeyes could have an awful lot to play for while their rivals may face the same problems they did last year – keeping enough healthy bodies in the lineup to put up a representative fight.

No one expects Ohio State’s winning streak against Michigan to last forever. There is a reason why the Buckeyes have never before won six straight in the series. That’s because it isn’t easy. Likewise, there is a reason why the Wolverines have a 30-19-4 record in Ann Arbor against OSU. An upset isn’t out of the question, of course. It just isn’t very likely.

5. MINNESOTA – OCT. 24

Call me crazy but I think Minnesota is one of the dark horse teams in the Big Ten this season. Many believe last year’s six-game improvement from 1-11 to 7-5 in the regular season was a fluke. But head coach Tim Brewster has his team believing in his rah-rah style, and the Gophers are about as talented as they have been in quite some time.

For starters, nearly everyone is back for Brewster, including quarterback Adam Weber, wide receiver Eric Decker and eight others on offense. The Gophers are so loaded that talented youngster MarQueis Gray may steal some snaps from Weber. The only problem is finding any kind of consistent running attack, and Brewster said he addressed that with the hiring of new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Not sure how Fisch helps the running game, though. He has spent most of his 11-year career as a receivers coach, including last year with the NFL’s Denver Broncos.

If Fisch can get any kind of running game started to take the heat off Weber and/or Gray, that will leave the defense as the only thing standing between the Gophers and championship contention. For all of its improvement in 2008, Minnesota still ranked only 10th in the conference in total defense. That must improve if the Gophers are to successfully navigate the two-week stretch that takes them to Happy Valley the Saturday before they come to Columbus for the Buckeyes’ homecoming.

4. ILLINOIS – SEPT. 26

The Illini are about as close to Jekyll and Hyde as you’re going to get in the Big Ten. Are they the team that shocked everyone and went to the Rose Bowl in 2007? Or are they the team that stumbled its way to a losing season last year?

Critics are going to say the latter, of course, and use as ammunition the fact that Illinois has posted losing records in six of the last seven seasons. Still, head coach Ron Zook has amassed a lot of talent in Champaign and his team has as many good players at key positions as any other in the conference. That is especially true on offense where Juice Williams returns at quarterback and receiver Rejus Benn is one of the top young playmakers in college football. Williams has to cut down on his mistakes, though. During his career, he has thrown 44 TDs but pitched 37 interceptions.

Defensively, the Illini are a bit of a mystery. With studs like Martez Wilson, who moves to middle linebacker in 2009, the team ought to be one of the Big Ten’s best. Yet last year, it ranked only in the middle of the pack.

There is no doubt Zook – an Ohio native who spent three seasons on John Cooper’s OSU staff from 1988-90 – wants this game desperately. But although his team knocked off the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes in Columbus two years ago, history is not on his side. Tressel is 4-2 against the Illini, and the Buckeyes have won nine of the last 12 in the series. This game is the Big Ten opener for both teams, and Illinois will be coming off an open week.

3. IOWA – NOV. 14

In my humble opinion, the Hawkeyes are going to have a boatload of trouble finding a suitable replacement for tailback Shonn Greene. Not only that, the offensive line that blew open so many holes for Greene last season loses both guard Seth Olsen and center Rob Bruggeman.

Secondly, when was the last time a Kirk Ferentz team threw an actual scare into the Buckeyes? Since 2003, the Hawkeyes have been ranked three times entering their game against Ohio State and lost all three times. Not only that, the games were never really close, including 2006 when No. 13 Iowa was gunning for an upset in Iowa City and took a 38-17 trip to the woodshed.

Since sharing the 2004 Big Ten championship with Michigan, the Hawkeyes have perhaps been as disappointing as any other team in the conference. The past four seasons have produced a middling 28-22 record along with a litany of off-the-field problems for Ferentz and his program.

Having noted all of that, the Hawkeyes couldn’t be in a better spot schedule-wise despite not having tasted victory at Ohio Stadium since 1991. They come to Columbus after a two-week home stand with Indiana and Northwestern while the Buckeyes will be coming off a trip to Penn State.

2. AT PENN STATE – NOV. 7

In each of the past two years, Ohio State has lost a Big Ten home game it should have won. Two years ago, Williams led Illinois to a 28-21 victory. Last year, it was Darryl Clark, who came through for Penn State while leading his team to a 13-6 win. Williams couldn’t capture lightning in a bottle two years in a row, and now Clark gets to try. It won’t be easy since the Nittany Lions lost several offensive linemen and receivers to graduation and the NFL.

But the old master still has a thing or two up his sleeve. Joe Paterno would rather play defense anyway, and with a linebacking crew that features Josh Hull, Navarro Bowman and Sean Lee, the Lions should be nasty on D. Also, Clark has enough holdovers from last year – including 1,000-yard rusher Evan Royster and steady backup Stephfon Green – that Penn State should score enough.

A trip to Happy Valley is never a picnic although Tressel’s record is 2-2 there. A couple of other factors may tilt in Ohio State’s favor. First, the game will not be a nighttime affair, making the Beaver Stadium crazies just a little less so. Secondly, if Terrelle Pryor has any game circled on his calendar, it’s this one. His late fumble did the Buckeyes in last year and he knows it. I would guess the OSU quarterback has a little payback in mind.

1. USC – SEPT. 12

No surprise here. The Traveling Trojan Show starring Pistol Pete Carroll rolls into town in week two for another prime-time game that nearly no one gives Ohio State a chance to win. That stands to reason since every remaining member of the Buckeyes still has 35-3 tread marks on their backsides.

This will be a different USC team, of course. Gone are quarterback Mark Sanchez as well as linebacker Rey Maualuga and seven other defensive starters. But if the old saying “We’re don’t rebuild; we reload” is true of any college team, it is true of the Trojans. Carroll signs more five-star prospects than almost anyone and has plenty of them left over for 2009.

For the Buckeyes to entertain any thought of winning this game, they will have to figure out a way to move the ball consistently against USC. Last year, in case you have forgotten, Ohio State totaled 207 yards of offense against the Trojans – 69 of it on a 17-play drive early in the first quarter. In the second half, the Buckeyes were absolutely pathetic – 21 plays from scrimmage, 25 total yards.

Pryor could make the difference, of course. He played in last year’s game, rushing for 40 yards and throwing for 52 on 7-for-9 passing. But he can’t be the only Buckeye who’s on his game Sept. 12. It doesn’t matter who USC has on defense – if the offensive line can’t at least neutralize the line of scrimmage, Ohio State will be in for another long night.

DID YOU KNOW?

Did you know that NCAA Bylaw 13.10.5 prevents universities from “publicizing an athlete’s visit or allowing the visitor to “participate in team activities that would make the public or media aware of the prospective student-athlete’s visit to the institution (e.g., running out of the tunnel with team, celebratory walks to or around the stadium/arena, on-field pregame celebrations).”

Did you know that Auburn had its “Big Cat Weekend” last week during which the Tigers hosted a bunch of blue-chip prospects on unofficial visits, and that the event was advertised on all three major websites that cover Auburn with push-pinned message board posts urging fans to attend? (The posts did not attribute the information to coaches or other Auburn staff members, but many fans showed up for what was clearly a planned event with Auburn police providing crowd and traffic control and school mascot Aubie helping lead cheers.

And did you know that when ESPN college football writer Bruce Feldman contacted a college administrator about the incident, he got a strange reaction?

“That is one of the biggest problems I have with the NCAA,” the administrator told Feldman. “All of the prospects enjoyed it, and they leave the campus having a great time. Auburn will report a secondary violation, which is nothing. In the end they will probably get some of those players.”

And then he added, “(The NCAA) should put in a rule that if you have multiple reported violations with a prospect you are not allowed to recruit him.”

The NCAA rule book is 412 pages thick and that’s not in there?

HAPPY! HAPPY!

On that happy note, we mark today’s Buckeye birthday which belongs to former OSU defensive end Vernon Gholston. He turns 23 today.

Gholston was born June 5, 1986, in Detroit, and was recruited as a linebacker out of Cass Technical. It didn’t take long for Ohio State to move the chiseled 6-4, 260-pounder to a defensive end spot and Gholston flourished there, setting a single-season school record with 14 sacks and earning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year honors. He opted to skip his final year of college eligibility and the New York Jets took him with the sixth overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. Gholston experienced a tough rookie season with the Jets, playing mostly on special teams and registering only nine tackles in 15 games (eight of them assists). Gholston is expecting bigger and better things in 2009 under the schemes of new head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Also, Gholston has been working during the offseason with Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Evidently, so far so good.

Other luminaries celebrating birthdays this 5th day of June: Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Art Donovan is 84; journalist Bill Moyers is 75; Sixties television actress Connie Hines (Wilbur Post’s wife, Carol, on “Mister Ed”) is 73; New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is 68; novelist Ken Follett is 60; financial advisor Suze Orman is 58; Grammy winning musician Kenneth Gorelick (better known as Kenny G) is 53; singer/songwriter Brian McKnight is 40; actor/singer Mark Wahlberg is 38; Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Torry Holt is 33; Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz is 30; Ottawa Senators center Mike Fisher is 29; Cincinnati Reds lefthander Bill Bray is 26; and New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston is 26.

Also sharing birthdays today are Olympic gold medal sprinter Tommie Smith, who is 65, and bronze medalist John Carlos, who is 64. Smith and Carlos created a stir during the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City after placing first and third in the 200-meter finals. On the medal stand, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists during the playing of the national anthem. The “Power to the People” salute created a great deal of controversy in 1968 and led to the sprinters being suspended by the International Olympic Committee and ostracized for several years by the U.S. sports establishment.

The runners landed on their feet, however. Smith played three years in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals and later became track coach at Oberlin. More recently, he has been a faculty member at Santa Monica College, a two-year community college in Santa Monica, Calif. Carlos also played pro football – one year in the NFL and two in the Canadian league – and is currently a high school track coach in Palm Springs, Calif. Ironically, Carlos worked for a time for the U.S. Olympic Committee and was a member of the organizing committee for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

AND FINALLY

** Here’s an interesting little nugget that could conspire to keep Ohio State and any other deserving Big Ten school out of the Rose Bowl for the foreseeable future. There is reportedly a clause in the new BCS contract with ESPN – which will begin after the 2010 regular season – that says if the Rose Bowl loses one of its champions to the BCS National Championship Game that opening will be automatically filled by a “coalition” (non-BCS conference) team if one has qualified. For example, let’s say some year that an 11-1 Ohio State team ties for the Big Ten championship but doesn’t get the conference’s automatic berth in the Rose Bowl. Let’s say that same year that a team like Boise State or Hawaii goes undefeated. If that team doesn’t get into the national title game (and what are the chances of that?) it would automatically go to the Rose. The new clause is the Bowl Championship Series’ sneaky little way of increasing access of the five coalition conferences to its games. That way, should the BCS get sued and hauled back before Congress, it is another way it can counter the claim that the coalition schools don’t have enough access.

** Minnesota plans to dedicate its new TCF Stadium in style by honoring some of its greats from the past during the Sept. 12 opener against Air Force. The Gophers will honor former head coach Murray Warmath as well as former players Bobby Bell, Billy Bye, Bob McNamara, Sandy Stephens and Bud Grant (yes, that Bud Grant). Warmath, who is 96 and directed the school’s national championship team in 1960, will be the honorary coach for the game. The five ex-players have been named honorary captains.

** It seems that everyone’s favorite sideline reporter, sugary-sweet Erin Andrews, has a burning desire to compete on “Dancing With The Stars.” That revelation came during a recent Q&A with Washington Post writer Dan Steinberg.

** One of the other nuggets in the story reveals that Andrews’ stylists is Paige Geran, who has also dressed Britney Spears, Wayne Brady, the Spice Girls and American Idols on-tour among many others. Andrews said her work clothes arrive at the hotels where she’s staying and that she trusts they’ll be appropriate to the sporting event she’s covering. She’s wrong. They’re not. A short skirt during a windy Home Run Derby? Skin-tight pants and knee-high boots at the Big Ten basketball tournament? I like a pretty girl as much as the next red-blooded American guy, and there is no questioning Andrews’ attractiveness. But I’ve seen her at some venues where she looks like she’s dressed to go clubbing. That may be easy on the eyes of the spectators and players, but trust me when I tell you it is not appropriate work attire. Erin is fairly good at what she does, but she’s never going to be taken seriously if she continues to show up for work looking like she’s on her way to a night on the town.

** The Washington Nationals on Tuesday fired pitching coach Randy St. Claire. Not that St. Claire was the sole problem, but he was a convenient scapegoat. At the time of his firing, the Natties had an MLB-worst 13-36 record with a bloated 5.69 team ERA. They had also allowed the most runs (308) and recorded the fewest saves (eight) of any team in baseball. Washington’s 12 blown saves were also a league high.

** Also, Nationals outfielder Adam Dunn had 16 home runs through Wednesday while the Nationals had only 14 victories. In case you’re wondering, no player has ever finished the season with more home runs than his team had victories.

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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