Fickell’s Job Interview Begins In Earnest This Week

Despite the fact no one gives Indiana a chance to stay within three or four touchdowns of Ohio State tomorrow afternoon, the game will serve a valuable purpose other than just another victory for the Buckeyes. It will provide some insight into just what kind of head coach Luke Fickell has become.

It will also likely determine how much longer Fickell will be head coach of the Buckeyes.

The outcome of the game is a foregone conclusion for many, but with more difficult opponents on the horizon – and his team back in the thick of the Big Ten title game chase – Fickell is charged this week with keeping his team’s focus on the Hoosiers. That might not be the easiest of tasks since the Buckeyes are coming off such an emotional high following last week’s last-second victory over Wisconsin.

A natural byproduct of the win over the Badgers would be a letdown this weekend, and that would be especially unsurprising with the opponent ranked near or at the bottom of the Big Ten in most offensive and defensive statistical categories.

However, the argument can and should be made that Ohio State is a team unable to afford the luxury of letting down against any opponent. The Buckeyes are just now beginning to show some life offensively and that uptick needs to continue. Likewise, it would be nice to see the defense – still the team’s strength – put together a complete four-quarter game even if it is against a lesser opponent.

That is Fickell’s main assignment this week. After eight games that have already featured a season’s worth of ups and downs, it will be interesting to see how focused on thumping an inferior opponent the Buckeyes will be.

Extrapolating that theory even further, let’s say the team is focused and takes care of business to the point that the game is out of hand by halftime. How much of a statement does Fickell want to make? Is he predisposed to taking his foot off the gas like his predecessor did so many times or does he more favor the more merciless style of Bret Bielema, who seems to delight in running up the score on lesser opponents.

One other thing to look for if the game gets out of hand early: Will Fickell rest his starters in favor of getting some meaningful playing time for his youngsters, i.e. new backup quarterback Kenny Guiton? One of the criticisms of Jim Tressel was that he sometimes stayed with his starters too long in games that were well in hand, sacrificing a chance to get some much-needed experience for part-timers.

Taking stock of the way the Buckeyes perform against Indiana will provide a window into Fickell’s coaching acumen as well as his philosophy, something we haven’t always been able to gauge because of the mostly frenetic nature of the past five months. It will be beneficial, of course, to dig a little deeper into the way Fickell goes about his business especially since every week from now through the end of the 2011 season will be a series of de facto job interviews for the coach.

Rumors persist that Urban Meyer will be head coach at Ohio State in 2012 regardless of how the Buckeyes finish this season. Yet, how could the university make a change if Fickell’s team wins its final six regular-season games and earns a berth in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game? Then, let’s say OSU wins that game and goes to the Rose Bowl. That would mean a season with 10 victories and a record seventh straight conference title with Fickell the odds-on favorite to win Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. How does Ohio State proceed with a coaching change then?

Someone told me the other day that you make the change based solely on the fact that anytime you can get a coach with Meyer’s impressive body of work, the number of victories, titles and awards don’t matter. If you can get Meyer, you get him. End of story. Furthermore, you can head off any criticism of that decision by offering somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million annually to Fickell to stay on as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

The more I thought about that scenario – and the more I hear from people who should be in the know about these matters – the more I am inclined to think this is the path on which Ohio State is headed. Perhaps it will all work out for the best. Meyer can be the great savior everyone believes him to be and allow Fickell to remain in his hometown and work at his alma mater with the opportunity to continue to pad his résumé and perhaps become head coach again someday.

In the end, everyone wins.

If it’s such a great plan, though, why do I have such a sour taste about it?

OSU-INDIANA TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Indiana will be meeting for the 85th time on Saturday with the Buckeyes holding a lopsided 67-12-5 advantage in the series. That includes a 43-10-4 record in Ohio Stadium, including wins in each of the last nine games played in Columbus.

** The Buckeyes are currently enjoying a 16-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 1-30-1 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 in its history has more victories over Indiana than any other team. The Buckeyes have 67 wins vs. the Hoosiers, 64 over Illinois, 59 over Northwestern, 54 over Wisconsin and 45 over Iowa.

** Since 2005, the Buckeyes are 17-1 during the month of November. During the same time frame, Indiana is 3-17 during November.

** Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell will be going against Indiana for the first time as a head coach but he is a perfect 11-0 lifetime vs. the Hoosiers as a player and assistant coach. Fickell was 4-0 as a player from 1993-96 and 7-0 during his nine seasons as an assistant on Jim Tressel’s staff.

** Despite its recent problems in the series, Indiana has historically made life difficult for Ohio State head coaches in their first season. Dating back to 1913, first-year OSU head coaches are only 4-4-1 against the Hoosiers. That includes losses by John W. Wilce (7-6 in 1913), Wes Fesler (7-0 in 1947), Woody Hayes (32-10 in 1951) and John Cooper (41-7 in 1988). Ohio State head coaches who beat Indiana in their inaugural seasons were Francis Schmidt (33-0 in 1934), Carroll Widdoes (21-7 in 1944), Earle Bruce (47-6 in 1979) and Jim Tressel (27-14 in 2001). Sam Willaman’s first team in 1929 played the Hoosiers to 0-0 tie, and in case you’re wondering about Paul Brown in 1941 and Paul Bixler in 1946, the Buckeyes and IU did not play in those seasons.

** Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson is in his first season with the Hoosiers and will be attempting to become only the second IU coach in the past 60 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. Before that, you have to go back to Clyde Smith, whose Indiana team took a 32-10 win over Ohio State in 1951.

** Wilson was offensive coordinator on the late Randy Walker’s staff at Northwestern from 1999-2001 and was 0-1 vs. Ohio State during that time. The Buckeyes took a 38-20 win over the Wildcats in 2001.

** Indiana has 16 native Ohioans on its roster – 11 of which are on the Hoosiers’ two-deep (including special teams) – while Ohio State has only two players from Indiana. They are redshirt freshman tailback/linebacker Rod Smith of Fort Wayne and freshman defensive lineman Joel Hale of Greenwood.

** Wilson also has three native Ohioans on his coaching staff. Co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Kevin Johns is from Piqua, running backs coach Deland McCullough is from Youngstown, and assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Doug Mallory hails from Bowling Green. Mallory is the son of former Indiana head coach Bill Mallory, who was a member of Woody Hayes’ coaching staff at Ohio State from 1966-68.

** Two more familiar names are serving on Wilson’s staff as graduate assistants. Chris Shula, whose grandfather is Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, is the GA in charge of defense while former Northwestern running back Noah Herron has the offense. Ohio State fans most likely remember Herron for his performance against the Buckeyes in 2004. He rushed for 113 yards and scored three times – including the game-winning touchdown in overtime – as the Wildcats scored a stunning 33-27 win in Evanston. That remains Northwestern’s only victory in its last 29 games against OSU.

** While an Indiana upset of Ohio State would be stunning enough, the odds of the Hoosiers shutting out the Buckeyes would be astronomical. Indiana hasn’t pitched a shutout against any opponent since a 10-0 win over Michigan State in October 1993 and hasn’t blanked Ohio State since that 0-0 tie in 1959. IU hasn’t won a game in which it shut out the Buckeyes since a 10-0 decision in 1937.

** OSU senior tailback Boom Herron’s 160-yard rushing effort last weekend pushed his career total to 2,468, good for 13th on the school’s all-time rushing list. Herron needs 182 more yards to pass Jim Otis (2,542, 1967-69), Calvin Murray (2,576, 1977-80) and Raymont Harris (2,649, 1990-93) and break into the all-time top 10.

** Herron failed to record a rushing touchdown last week for the first time in 13 games, so he remained 20th on the OSU career scoring list with 186 points. Immediately ahead of him on the list are Ryan Pretorius (190, 2005-08), Michael Wiley (200, 1996-99) and Chic Harley (201, 1916-17, ’19).

** Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson is only the second true freshman in program history to start at QB. The other was Tim Clifford in 1977, who started only one game for the Hoosiers that season.

** Roberson threw for 169 yards and rushed for 121 during last Saturday’s 59-38 loss to Northwestern. That marked the first time an Indiana quarterback had cracked the century mark through the air and on the ground since Kellen Lewis threw for 159 and ran for 148 during his team’s 42-20 win over Ball State in 2008.

** Roberson and sophomore running back Stephen Houston (151) both topped 100 yards on the ground against Northwestern, and that was the first time two Hoosiers had cracked the century mark in the same game since BenJarvus Green-Ellis (136) and Brian Lewis (128) turned the trick during a 37-31 overtime loss to Northwestern in 2003.

** Houston, a JUCO transfer from Independence (Kan.) Community College, has strung together five straight games with 60 or more yards rushing. That is the longest streak of its kind by an Indiana running back since Levron Williams did it during the final eight games of the 2001 season.

** OSU sophomore kicker Drew Basil’s field goals of 39 and 22 yards against Wisconsin gave him a streak of 10 consecutive field goals, making him only the fourth kicker in program history with at least 10 straight three-pointers. Mike Nugent (2001-04) holds the school record with 24 in a row while Vlade Janakievski (1977-80) had streaks of 15 and 10 straight. Dan Stultz (1996-2000) also made 10 in a row.

** Indiana sophomore kicker Mitch Ewald is a perfect 59 for 59 in career PATs. The IU school record of 107 extra points in a row is held by Pete Stoyanovich (1986-88), who never missed a PAT during his college career.

** This week’s game will be telecast on a regional basis by the Big Ten Network with the announce crew of Tom Hart (play-by-play), former Minnesota tight end/long snapper Derek Rackley (color analysis) and Lisa Byington (sideline reports). Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 128 as well as XM channel 196.

** Next week, Ohio State travels to Purdue with kickoff time and broadcast affiliates still TBA. The Big Ten will not make an announcement regarding any its Nov. 12 games until after this weekend’s contests have been played.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** And then there were six. Only a half-dozen teams remain undefeated at the Division I-A level as we head into November. They are Alabama, Boise State, Houston, LSU, Oklahoma State and Stanford.

** Stanford had to go to three overtimes against USC before extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 17 games. The Cardinal’s 56-48 win over the Trojans also snapped a streak of 10 straight games Stanford had won by 26 points or more, the longest streak of its kind since 1936.

** New Mexico extended the nation’s longest losing streak to 11 games when the Lobos dropped a 42-0 decision at home to Air Force. How bad has it gotten in Albuquerque? New Mexico has been outscored by a 160-7 margin the last three weeks. Meanwhile, Florida Atlantic didn’t lose Oct. 29 because the Owls didn’t play. The Lobos and FAU remain the only winless teams this season at the I-A level.

** Another losing streak of note: Duke’s 14-10 loss to Virginia Tech marked the Blue Devils’ 44th consecutive loss to ranked teams. Duke hasn’t beaten a top-25 team since a 21-20 win over No. 22 North Carolina State in November 1993 and hasn’t claimed a victory over a top-10 team since 1989 when Steve Spurrier was head coach. That was a 21-17 home win over No. 7 Clemson on Sept. 30, 1989.

** Top-rated LSU and second-ranked Alabama marks the 46th time in history No. 1 has taken on No. 2 and the top-ranked team has a 26-17-2 record in the previous meetings. Most recently, top-ranked Auburn took a 22-19 win over second-ranked Oregon in January in the BCS National Championship Game. The last time a 1 vs. 2 matchup was staged in the regular season (not counting conference title games): No. 1 Ohio State scored a 42-39 triumph over No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 18, 2006, in Ohio Stadium.

** How close are No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama? How about this: The Crimson Tide has scored 315 points and 40 touchdowns while the Tigers have 314 points and 41 touchdowns.

** You can argue all day and night about the level of competition against which he plays, but you cannot take the NCAA record for most career touchdown passes away from Houston QB Case Keenum. He shattered the mark last week by throwing for nine scores during his team’s 73-34 win over Rice, and Keenum now has 139 career touchdown passes. This year alone, he has completed 218 of 303 attempts (72.0 percent) for 3,219 yards, 32 TDs and three INTs. Those numbers, plus the fact he is No. 2 in the country in pass efficiency and his Cougars remain undefeated are enough to make me seriously consider putting Keenum on my Heisman Trophy ballot.

** Of course, topping my Heisman ballot is still Stanford QB Andrew Luck, who rallied the Cardinal last weekend to a three-overtime win over USC. Luck has completed 174 of 242 attempts (71.9 percent) for 2,218 yards, 23 TDs and four interceptions, and has added 113 yards and a couple of touchdowns rushing. But perhaps the best measuring stick of Luck’s leadership is how Stanford has performed this year in the red zone. The Cardinal are 45 for 46 in red-zone scoring chances, 36 for touchdowns.

** For everyone salivating over the prospect of Urban Meyer becoming the next head coach at Ohio State, we offer this nugget: Florida is in the throes of its first four-game losing streak since 1988 and the once-feared Gators offense scored a grand total of three touchdowns in four October games. That includes last week’s 24-20 loss to Georgia during which Florida totaled minus-19 yards rushing. Yes, Meyer is gone, but he recruited most of the underachieving players on this year’s UF roster.

** One of former Ohio State head coach John Cooper’s favorite sayings was “One week you’re sipping the wine, the next week you’re stomping the grapes.” Players and coaches from Michigan State, Miami (Fla.), Purdue, Syracuse and Texas Tech know what Coop was talking about. Each of those teams upset ranked opponents on Oct. 22 and then each of those teams lost last Saturday by a combined score of 156-55.

** In its 41-7 loss to Iowa State, Texas Tech failed to record a touchdown pass for the first time in 70 games. The last time the Red Raiders hadn’t scored a touchdown through the air was a 12-3 loss to TCU in 2006.

** By the way, that win over Texas Tech was the largest margin of victory over a ranked team for Iowa State in school history. The Cyclones’ previous best was a 36-14 win over No. 20 Nebraska in 2002. The win over Texas Tech was also monumental in another way since Iowa State went into that game unranked. In their history as an unranked team playing a ranked opponent, the Cyclones are now 13-135.

** Congratulations to Missouri for its 38-31 overtime win over Texas A&M. It was an NCAA record 14th overtime game for the Tigers and they are 10-4 when working OT.

** Would you believe lowly Minnesota has a 2-3 record over its last five Big Ten games? Not only is that factoid true, both victories have come at the expense of Iowa. The Golden Gophers’ latest success in the Floyd of Rosedale series, a 22-21 upset of the Hawkeyes last Saturday, gave Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz (he of the $3.7 million annual salary) a career Big Ten record of an extremely pedestrian 55-45.

** Congratulations to Ferentz anyway for coaching in his 100th career conference game, a milestone only 13 men before him have achieved – Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago (201, 1896-1932); Woody Hayes of Ohio State (196, 1951-78); Bo Schembechler (170, 1969-89); Hayden Fry of Iowa (164, 1979-98); Robert Zuppke of Illinois (150, 1913-41); Joe Paterno of Penn State (149, 1993-present); Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin (128, 1990-2005); Murray Warmath of Minnesota (126, 1954-71); Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State (125, 1954-72); Ray Eliot of Illinois (116, 1942-59); Bill Mallory of Indiana (105, 1984-96); Lloyd Carr of Michigan (104, 1995-2007); and John Cooper of Ohio State (104, 1988-2000).

** How bad has it gotten for Kansas? The Jayhawks totaled only 46 yards of total offense last weekend while the defense surrendered 590 during a 43-0 loss at Texas. Among the 120 schools playing Division I-A football, Kansas ranks 118th in pass defense, 119th in rush defense and 120th in both total and scoring defense.

** Finally, a shout-out to senior receiver Michael Zweifel of Division III Dubuque (Iowa), who has established a new NCAA all-division record with 440 career receptions. The old mark of 436 was held by Scott Pingel (1996-99) of D-III Westminster (Mo.). Zweifel has 117 receptions for 1,665 yards and 22 TDs for the Spartans, who were 8-1 through Oct. 29. Zweifel also carries a 3.90 GPA while majoring in health, wellness and recreation, and has been named a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete and finalist for the 2011 William V. Campbell Trophy, which recognizes the top scholar-athlete in the nation.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Nov. 2, 1985, eighth-ranked Ohio State toppled No. 1 Iowa by a 22-13 score in Ohio Stadium. Future College Hall of Fame linebacker Chris Spielman totaled 19 tackles, capped by a late fourth-down stop of Hawkeyes tailback Ronnie Johnson inside the OSU 10-yard line. Spielman also had two interceptions as the Buckeyes pressured Iowa QB Chuck Long into throwing four picks.

** On Nov. 3, 1962, third-ranked USC Trojans handed No. 9 Washington its first loss of the season with a 14-0 shutout in Los Angeles. Quarterback Pete Beathard threw and ran for a score to carry the Trojans to victory. The win helped propel USC to the first of four national titles won under College Football Hall of Fame coach John McKay.

** On Nov. 3, 1984, Ohio State rolled to a 50-7 victory over Indiana, giving future College Football Hall of Fame coach Earle Bruce his 100th career win.

** On Nov. 4, 1967, Miami (Fla.) ended Virginia Tech’s regular-season winning streak at 14 with a 14-7 upset in Blacksburg.

** On Nov. 4, 2000, No. 23 Northwestern upset No. 12 Michigan in a 54-51 shootout in Evanston. Northwestern tailback Damien Anderson, who carried for 268 yards and two scores, dropped a fourth down pass in the end zone late in the game that seemingly sealed the Wildcats’ fate. But on the ensuing Michigan possession, cornerback Sean Wieber forced Wolverines tailback Anthony Thomas to fumble, which was recovered by cornerback Raheem Covington. The turnover set up an 11-yard touchdown pass from NU quarterback Zak Kustok to wide receiver Sam Simmons with 20 seconds to play to clinch the victory.

** Also on Nov. 4, 2000, Utah State running back Emmett White established a new NCAA single-game record with 578 all-purpose yards as the Aggies took a 44-37 win over New Mexico State. White rushed for 322 yards, totaled 134 receiving and added another 122 on kickoff and punt returns.

** On Nov. 5, 1938, sixth-ranked Tennessee began a streak of 17 consecutive regular-season shutouts with a 45-0 win over Chattanooga. During the streak, the Volunteers won three SEC championships and two national titles while outscoring their opposition, 479-0.

** On Nov. 5, 1955, three future College Hall of Famers – coaches Bowden Wyatt of Tennessee and Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech as well as UT tailback Johnny Majors – were all at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville as the Volunteers and Yellow Jackets played to a 7-7 tie.

** On Nov. 5, 1960, third-ranked Minnesota forced three turnovers and scored a 27-10 upset of top-ranked Iowa.

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

** On Nov. 6, 1971, Colgate and Bucknell combined to run the ball 141 times, setting an NCAA record for the most single-game rushes in college football history. The Raiders rushed 82 times while Bucknell racked up 59 carries, and the teams combined for 440 total rushing yards. Colgate won the game by a 47-24 score.

** On Nov. 6, 1976, Houston highlighted its first season as a member of the Southwest Conference with a stunning 30-0 victory over Texas. The Cougars were led by defensive tackle Wilson Whitley as the Longhorns were limited to only eight first downs in their worst conference loss ever under legendary head coach Darrell Royal.

** On Nov. 7, 1925, Andy “Swede” Oberlander threw a then-NCAA-record six touchdown passes as Dartmouth rolled to a 62-13 win over Cornell. One week later, the Big Green took a 33-7 victory over Chicago to finish the season with a perfect 8-0 record and the national championship.

** On Nov. 7, 1959, unranked Tennessee stopped Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon on a fourth-quarter two-point conversion run and preserved a 14-13 upset over No. 1 LSU, ending the Tigers’ 19-game unbeaten streak.

** On Nov. 7, 1970, Northwestern fullback Mike Adamle set a new Big Ten record for carries by rushing 48 times for 192 yards and four touchdowns as his Wildcats took a 28-14 win over Minnesota.

** On Nov. 8, 1947, Wisconsin and Iowa became the first teams to combine for three punt returns for touchdowns in a single game during a 46-14 win by the Badgers in Madison.

** On Nov. 8, 1975, unranked Kansas ended No. 2 Oklahoma’s 28-game winning streak by going into Norman and carving out a 23-3 upset victory. The defending national champion Sooners committed seven second-half turnovers and were held to their lowest scoring output in nine seasons. They rebounded, however, and went on to defeat Penn State in the Orange Bowl for a second consecutive national title.

** Also on Nov. 8, 1975, freshman cornerback Savann Thompson’s interception with 59 seconds left set up the game-winning field goal as Stanford shocked No. 9 USC, 13-10, in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It had to happen sometime. The highly-flying Forecast was grounded last weekend thanks to some unbelievable upsets – Iowa lost (again) to Minnesota and Texas Tech celebrated its win over Oklahoma a little too much and forgot to show up against four-loss Iowa State, dropping a 41-7 decision in the process.

Straight up, those were the only losses in an 8-2 week that puts us at 83-9 SU for the year. Unfortunately, we finally stumbled against the spread after three glorious weeks. Even with Ohio State’s Upset Special win over Wisconsin, we were 4-6 ATS, leaving us still way ahead at 58-31-1 for the season but determined not to let one bad week turn into two.

Here are the games we like this week.

TONIGHT’S GAMES

USC at Colorado: Time of give the devil his due. Lane Kiffin has taken a USC program reeling from NCAA sanctions and turned it into a pretty decent team. The Trojans came within an eyelash of knocking off national title contender Stanford last week, and get to use any leftover pent-up frustration tonight on the lowly Buffaloes. Colorado ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense, something that ought to play into the Trojans’ strength, especially since QB Matt Barkley has thrown for 12 TDs in his last four games … USC 41, Colorado 14. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama: You can still argue about the overall depth of the SEC, but the discussion about the nation’s two best teams begins and ends with the Tigers and the Crimson Tide. The game should be a black-and-blue defensive struggle. Bama boasts the nation’s No. 1 defense in all four major categories – rush, pass efficiency, total yards and scoring – while LSU is among the top five in the same four categories. Scoring will be at a premium, meaning turnovers may play the huge role in determining the outcome. Neither team played last week, so they should both be more than ready to provide quite a show … Alabama 23, LSU 17. (8 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 14 Kansas State at No. 3 Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have won their first four home games by a combined score of 227-100, so you have to wonder how the Wildcats are going to slow them down especially after last week’s 58-17 loss to Oklahoma. The simple truth is that K-State will not be able to slow the Pokes down, but the Wildcats should be able to put a few more points on the board this week. While Okie State has one of the nation’s top offenses, its defense ranks 111th nationally in yards allowed. Even so, this one should be another clinic by Cowboys QB Brandon Weeden (2,710 yards, 22 TDs) and top WR Justin Blackmon (74 catches, 834 yards, 10 TDs) … Oklahoma State 56, Kansas State 27. (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

No. 4 Stanford at Oregon State: After last week’s triple-overtime scare at USC, you might tend to think the Cardinal will want to coast this week against the 2-6 Beavers. That shouldn’t be the case, especially since one of the few things Stanford QB Andrew Luck has never accomplished in his career is a victory in the state of Oregon. The Cardinal’s only blemish on last year’s record was a 52-31 loss to the Ducks in Eugene, and two years ago Luck was on the losing end of a 38-28 decision to Oregon State. He returns to Corvallis trying to further cement his front-runner status in the Heisman race and hoping to keep his team tuned up for next week’s home date against Oregon which will likely determine the champion of the Pac-12 North. It’s tough to envision any scenario in which the offensively-challenged Beavers could engineer the upset … Stanford 41, Oregon State 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

No. 5 Boise State at UNLV: The Broncos will be busy in Sin City, but you can bet they will have at least one eye on the Alabama-LSU scoreboard. The loser of that game will likely slip in next week’s BCS standings, meaning Boise can inch closer to crashing the national championship part by taking care of business against the Rebels. That shouldn’t be too difficult a task since UNLV doesn’t do anything particularly well – the team ranks 116th nationally in total offense, 118th in scoring defense. Also, a win by the Broncos would push QB Kellen Moore’s record as a starter to 46-2 and make him the winningest quarterback in NCAA history … Boise State 45, UNLV 13. (10:30 p.m. ET. CBS Sports Network)

Northwestern at No. 10 Nebraska: One thing we have learned about the Cornhuskers in their first season as Big Ten members – they are tough to beat at home. Ohio State had them by three touchdowns late in the third quarter and NU escaped with a 34-27 win. Then last week, Michigan State sailed into Lincoln as one of the hottest teams in the nation and sailed back out again on the wrong end of a 24-3 beatdown. Next up for Nebraska is Northwestern and its high-octane offense behind QB Dan Persa, who now seems fully healed from his Achilles heel injury. Persa leads a proficient offense; trouble is, the Wildcats can’t seem to stop anyone on defense. They average 31.6 points per game offensively and give up an average of 31.5 defensively. That kind of ratio isn’t going to get it done in Lincoln … Nebraska 37, Northwestern 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 13 Houston at UAB: Cougars QB Case Keenum already has the NCAA record for most touchdown passes in a career and he needs only 267 more passing yards to become college football’s all-time leader in that department. Keenum might get that in the first half against the Blazers, who rank an abysmal 116th nationally in pass efficiency defense. As if Keenum wasn’t enough, Houston also has KR Tyron Carrier, who has an NCAA-record tying seven career kickoff returns for a touchdown. This one should get ugly in a real big hurry … Houston 77, UAB 7. (7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

Minnesota at No. 17 Michigan State: The Gophers are feeling pretty good about themselves for a change after last week’s 22-21 upset of Iowa. Contrast that with how Sparty feels after being run over by Nebraska. Actually, we should have foreseen both outcomes. Goldy beat Iowa for the second year in a row while the Huskers beat the Spartans for the sixth time in as many meetings. Last week was last week, however, and the smart money says look for an MSU bounce-back at home … Michigan State 35, Minnesota 13. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Purdue at No. 20 Wisconsin: College football is a game of emotion, but how difficult is it going to be for the Badgers to pick up the pieces after having their hearts cut out two weeks in a row? Well, playing the Boilermakers in Camp Randall should be just the tonic they need. The Badgers have won the last five meetings in the series by an average of nearly three touchdowns, and Purdue has dropped 13 straight road games to ranked opposition. Expect to be close very early and then watch Wisconsin keep its foot firmly planted on the accelerator … Wisconsin 52, Purdue 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Indiana at Ohio State: After last week’s emotion-filled victory over Wisconsin, the Buckeyes might be forgiven a little if they have trouble focusing this week. After all, the Hoosiers are likely the worst team in the Big Ten with a defense that would challenged to stop most high school teams. IU does have some offensive talent, most notably freshman QB Tre Roberson and JUCO transfer Stephen Houston at running back. Still, it’s difficult to imagine how IU could pull off the unimaginable, especially considering OSU’s current 16-0 run in the series … Ohio State 48, Indiana 14. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: USC (-21) at Colorado; LSU at Alabama (-4½); Kansas State at Oklahoma State (-21); Stanford (-20½) at Oregon State; Boise State at UNLV (+42); Northwestern (+18) at Nebraska; Houston (-27) at UAB; Minnesota (+28) at Michigan State; Purdue at Wisconsin (-25½); Indiana at Ohio State (-27).

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

Déjà Vu? Season Has Distinctive ’08 Feel So Far

See if any of this sounds familiar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-MIAMI TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dawn Of New Season Remains Saving Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-AKRON TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAMES

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

Some Big Ten Team Is Liable To Get Screwed

You know the old saying about not needing to be a rocket scientist to figure something out? In the case of trying to determine Ohio State’s postseason destination, even a rocket scientist might have some trouble.

There is one rock-solid certainty: In the wake of the Oct. 16 loss at Wisconsin, the Buckeyes are no longer in charge of their own destiny. That now rests squarely in the hands of Michigan State and the Bowl Championship Series. OSU still has several hurdles it must clear if it wants to get to the best bowl game possible, of course, but many things are simply out of the Buckeyes’ control – at least right now.

Michigan State is the last undefeated team left standing in the Big Ten, leaving the Spartans four victories away from their first conference championship since 1990 and their first outright crown since 1987.

Winning out would mean the worst Mark Dantonio’s squad could do is a berth in the Rose Bowl, and the way the college football landscape has seemingly changed each week, an undefeated season could very well land Michigan State in the national championship game.

That’s what happens if the Spartans continue to win. If they trip up somewhere – say at Iowa on Oct. 30 – get out your slide rules and calculators. The possibilities are endless.

For argument’s sake, let’s say Iowa engineers that upset and then Michigan State goes on to beat Minnesota, Purdue and Penn State in its final three games. That is a plausible scenario that would leave Sparty with a 7-1 conference record and 11-1 overall.

Wisconsin, which takes a well-deserved week off Oct. 30, finishes its regular season against good (but certainly not great) opposition. The Badgers are at Purdue, home with Indiana, at Michigan and home with Northwestern, and it wouldn’t be much a stretch to believe Bucky could win each of those games and finish 7-1 in the conference and 11-1 overall.

And then there are the Buckeyes.

Ohio State would obviously need to win the rest of its games to match a 7-1 league record and 11-1 overall mark. That means road victories at Minnesota on Oct. 30 and at Iowa on Nov. 20, and home wins against old rival Penn State on Nov. 13 and archrival Michigan on Nov. 27.

Should the Buckeyes win those games, and all of the other aforementioned scenarios come to pass, there would be a three-way tie for the Big Ten championship between Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State, and which teams receive which bowl bids would be determined by a series of prearranged conference tiebreakers.

The No. 1 tiebreaker is national championship game participation, but since no one can envision a one-loss Big Ten team finishing No. 1 or No. 2 in the final BCS standings, we’ll move quickly to the second tiebreaker.

That one eliminates any ineligible teams. Since the Spartans, Badgers or Buckeyes are under no NCAA sanctions, we can easily dismiss this tiebreaker as well.

And now things begin to get more complicated.

If three teams are tied, and if one team has defeated both of the other teams, that team shall be designated as the Big Ten’s representative to the Rose Bowl. However, since Michigan State and Ohio State will not face one another this season, this tiebreaker is rendered moot.

If three teams are still tied, and if two of the three teams defeated the third team, the third team is eliminated, and the remaining two teams shall revert to the two-team tie procedure.

This tiebreaker is also inoperative because none of the three teams would have beaten the other two. Michigan State beat Wisconsin but not Ohio State, Wisconsin beat Ohio State but not Michigan State, and Ohio State would have beaten neither Michigan State nor Wisconsin.

The next tiebreaker states that if the three teams are still tied, and there is a tie game between two of the three teams, or if two or all three of the teams did not play each other, the representative shall be determined on a percentage basis of all games played.

With overtime implemented in college football since 1996, you wonder why verbiage regarding tie games remains in any tiebreaking criteria. Even so, the percentage basis for all three co-champions would be the same based upon identical overall records.

The tiebreaker formula goes on to state that if three teams are still tied, and one of the three teams is eliminated through the percentage basis of all games played, the remaining two teams shall revert to the two-team tie procedure. But they don’t, so we won’t.

Finally, if the three teams are still tied, and all three teams have the same winning percentage of all games played, the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings shall be the representative.

Now things really begin to get interesting.

The BCS standings released Oct. 24 had Michigan State at No. 5, Wisconsin at No. 10 and Ohio State at No. 11.

Should the Spartans lose to Iowa, they would likely be shuffled back behind Wisconsin and Ohio State in the standings. Meanwhile, a victory at Iowa City would likely benefit the Buckeyes, and Wisconsin will probably not be able to make up much ground since it finishes the season against four unranked teams.

Follow that logic – if you can – and a three-way tie between Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin could put the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl for the season year in a row and leave either the Spartans or the Badgers getting an at-large berth for one of the other BCS bowls.

The worst thing about the entire scenario? Rules state a single conference can send no more than two teams to the BCS in one year, meaning one of those three Big Ten teams is likely to wind up playing in the Capital One Bowl. With all due respect to our friends in Orlando, that would be a pitiful consolation prize for a Big Ten championship team sporting an 11-1 record.

OSU-MINNESOTA TIDBITS

** This marks the 50th meeting between Ohio State and Minnesota with the Buckeyes holding a decisive 42-7 record in the overall series. OSU is 20-4 against the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis, including victories in each of their last 11 trips there. Minnesota hasn’t beaten Ohio State in Minneapolis since 1981, a 35-31 decision in old Memorial Stadium.

** This will mark OSU’s first visit to Minnesota’s two-year-old TCF Bank Stadium. The Buckeyes were a perfect 11-0 against the Gophers in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

** Minnesota hasn’t exactly distinguished itself at its new home. The Gophers are 0-5 at TCF Bank Stadium this season and only 4-8 since the facility opened last year.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 7-0 against the Gophers, including last year’s 38-7 victory in Columbus. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes in those six games has been 22.7 points.

** The Buckeyes have won seven in a row against the Gophers and 23 of the last 24 meetings. The only Minnesota victory during that stretch was a 29-17 decision in Columbus that ruined OSU’s homecoming in 2000.

** Minnesota interim head coach Jeff Horton will be piloting his second game after Tim Brewster was fired Oct. 16. Horton has a 20-49 record in six previous seasons as a head coach at Nevada (1993) and UNLV (1994-98). He was also quarterbacks coach at Wisconsin from 1999-2005 during which the Badgers enjoyed a 4-2 record against Ohio State.

** The Golden Gophers enter tomorrow night’s game on a seven-game losing streak, their longest since losing 10 in a row to finish out the 2007 season. That 10-game losing streak equaled a school record set in 1957-58 and equaled in 1983.

** This will be the third and final night game of the 2010 regular season for the Buckeyes. They are 1-1 this year and 16-11 overall in primetime under Tressel. OSU is also 0-1 this season and 8-4 overall in Big Ten night games away from home during the Tressel era.

** The Ohio State kickoff return coverage unit will get another test this week with Minnesota junior Troy Stoudermire. He boasts a career kickoff return average of 24.8 yards, and that is good enough for an eighth-place tie all-time in the Big Ten. The longstanding conference leader in career kickoff returns is Stan Brown of Purdue, who averaged 28.8 yards per return from 1968-70.

** The Buckeyes rank among the top 10 schools nationally in nine different statistical categories. They are second in turnover margin (plus-11), third in total defense (234.5 yards per game), pass efficiency defense (94.2) and turnover margin average (plus-1.38), fifth in rushing defense (85.8) and pass defense (148.8), sixth in scoring offense (40.8), and ninth in scoring defense (14.0 points per game) and kickoff return average (26.2).

** Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber is his school’s all-time leader in several offensive categories and among the Big Ten career leaders in several more. That includes fifth in career passing yardage with 10,199. The top four are Drew Brees of Purdue (11,792, 1997-2000), Curtis Painter of Purdue (11,163, 2005-08), Brett Basanez of Northwestern (10,580, 2002-05) and Chuck Long of Iowa (10,461, 1981-85).

** Weber is serving as a Minnesota co-captain for a third season, and according to research by the school’s sports information department, he is one of only 11 players in Division I-A history who have served at least three years as a team captain.

** Minnesota sophomore linebacker Ryan Grant has excellent bloodlines – he is the grandson of former Minnesota Vikings head coach Bud Grant. Before his NFL coaching career, Grant was a three-sport letterman for the Gophers who went on to playing careers in the NBA, NFL and Canadian Football League. Before taking over as head coach of the Vikings in 1967 and leading them to four Super Bowl appearances, Grant won four Grey Cups as head coach of the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1983, and into the Pro Football Hall of Fame one year later.

** The game will feature a pair of accurate placekickers. Minnesota senior Eric Ellestad made 48 consecutive PATs to begin his career before missing one earlier this season against Wisconsin. Meanwhile, OSU senior Drew Barclay has never missed in 52 career PAT attempts.

** Barclay is a perfect 40 for 40 this season in conversion kicks. That ties him with Tim Williams (1990) among Ohio State kickers for the second-most PATs without a miss in a single season. Vlade Janakievski connected on all 44 of his attempts during the 1977 season.

** With 270 yards against Purdue, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor moved past the 5,000-yard mark in passing for his career and that makes him only the ninth Ohio State quarterback to pass that milestone. He now has 5,180 for his career, and has moved past Jim Karsatos (5,089, 1984-86) into eighth place on the school’s all-time passing list. Mike Tomczak (5,569, 1981-84) is currently seventh.

** Pryor also became only the seventh active QB in Division I-A with at least 5,000 yards through the air and 1,000 on the ground. The others are Colin Kaepernick of Nevada, Andy Dalton of TCU, Jake Locker of Washington, Austen Arnaud of Iowa State, Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech and Diondre Borel of Utah State.

** Additionally, Pryor overtook Troy Smith (6,888, 2003-06) for third place among the school’s career total offense leaders. Pryor now has 6,998 and needs only 154 more to pass Bobby Hoying (7,151, 1992-95) and move into second place all-time. Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81) is the OSU career leader.

** Pryor also needs only two more touchdown passes to become only the fifth OSU quarterback ever to toss for 50 or more TDs in his career. The others are Hoying (57), Joe Germaine (56, 1996-98), Smith (54) and Schlichter (50).

** OSU wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher had 86 yards against Purdue and moved into OSU’s all-time top 15 in receiving yardage. With 1,522 career yards, Sanzenbacher moved past John Frank (1,481, 1980-83) into 15th place. Next up is Terry Glenn (1,677, 1993-95).

** This week’s game will be telecast by ABC on a regional basis. Mike Patrick will have the play by play with Craig James providing color analysis and Ray Bentley reporting for the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern. (That’s 7 p.m. local time if you’re going to be in Minneapolis.)

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 90 and 121 as well as XM channels 141 and 196.

** If you listen to the games on the Ohio State Radio Network, you can welcome back play-by-play man Paul Keels tomorrow. Keels returns to the broadcast booth after a two-week absence following abdominal surgery.

** Ohio State will take next week off. The Buckeyes’ next game will be at home Nov. 13 against Penn State. Kickoff time and telecast information have yet to be determined.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Oct. 25, 1980, Purdue quarterback Mark Herrmann threw for 340 yards during his team’s 36-25 victory over Michigan State. Herrmann finished the game with 8,076 career passing yards which broke the NCAA all-time record. By the time he graduated, Hermann has totaled 9,188 passing yards and 707 career completions, both of which were NCAA career records.

** On Oct. 26, 1907, one of the all-time greats made his college football debut. The legendary Jim Thorpe took the field for the first time with the Carlisle (Pa.) Indian Industrial School, and led the Indians to a 26-6 upset of fourth-ranked Penn. The game was held before a crowd of 22,800 at Philadelphia’s historic Franklin Field.

** On Oct. 26, 1985, unranked UTEP used an unusual 2-9 defensive alignment for a 23-16 upset of seventh-ranked BYU, ending the Cougars’ 25-game WAC winning streak.

** On Oct. 27, 1923, the first night game in Big Ten history was held as part of a day-night doubleheader in Chicago. During the afternoon, Chicago took a 20-6 win over Purdue at Stagg Field, and then portable lights were installed at Soldier Field as Illinois shut out Northwestern, 29-0.

** On Oct. 27, 1979, Pitt freshman quarterback Dan Marino came off the bench to throw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, leading the No. 12 Panthers to a 24-7 victory over No. 17 Navy.

** On Oct. 28, 1950, Nevada’s Pat Brady booted an NCAA-record 99-yard punt during a 34-7 loss to Loyola Marymount.

** On Oct. 28, 1967, UTEP quarterback Brooks Dawson set an NCAA record for most consecutive passes completed for a touchdown when he threw six in a row during a 75-12 victory over New Mexico. Making the feat even more remarkable was the fact that the six touchdowns came on Dawson’s first six attempts of the game.

** On Oct. 29, 1988, Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders rushed for 320 yards to lead his No. 12 Cowboys to a 45-27 win over Kansas State. The performance began a five-game stretch during which Sanders rushed for 1,472 yards, the most rushing yards accumulated over a five-game span in NCAA history. He also became only the second player in college football history to gain more than 200 rushing yards in five consecutive games, and the streak propelled Sanders to an NCAA single-season record 2,628 rushing yards and the 1988 Heisman Trophy.

** Also on Oct. 29, 1988, Washington State scored 28 second-half points during a 34-30 upset win over top-ranked UCLA and its All-America quarterback Troy Aikman.

** On Oct. 30, 1982, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie threw for a school-record 520 yards, but it wasn’t nearly enough as Penn State scored a 52-17 blowout over the Eagles in Chestnut Hill. The Nittany Lions were led by quarterback Todd Blackledge, who threw for 243 yards and three TDs, and running back Curt Warner, who rushed for 183 yards and two scores.

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

** On Nov. 1, 1986, Long Beach State’s Mark Templeton set an NCAA single-game record for receptions by a running back with 18 catches for 173 yards during his team’s 14-3 win over Utah State.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level has been reduced to seven. The alphabetical list has dwindled to Auburn, Boise State, Michigan State, Missouri, Oregon, TCU and Utah. (This time last year, there were also seven undefeated teams remaining. They were Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Texas and TCU.)

** Boise State extended the nation’s longest current winning streak to 21 with its 49-20 victory Tuesday night over Louisiana Tech. Meanwhile, Western Kentucky rolled to a 54-21 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday, and the Hilltoppers ended the nation’s longest losing streak at 26 games. Akron and New Mexico now share the longest losing streak with eight straight defeats.

** Michigan State has started its season with eight straight wins for the first time since 1966, but while an 8-0 mark may be unusual in East Lansing, it isn’t that rare in the Big Ten. This marks the fifth straight season, and sixth in the last seven, that a conference team has posted at least an 8-0 start. Wisconsin started the 2004 season with a 9-0 record while Ohio State and Michigan were 11-0 heading into their traditional regular-season finale in 2006. The Buckeyes started with 10 straight victories in 2007, Penn State was 9-0 in 2008, and Iowa was 9-0 last season.

** Some other schools around the country are celebrating excellent starts as well. Oregon is 7-0 for the first time since 1933. Missouri is 7-0 for the first time since 1960. And Stanford has started a season 6-1 for the first time since 1970.

** Congratulations also to Baylor, who entered the Associated Press rankings this week for the first time since 1993. The Bears moved up to No. 25 after taking a 47-42 win over Kansas State. It was Baylor’s sixth victory of the season, making them eligible to end a 16-year bowl drought.

** On the flip side is Notre Dame, which lost a 35-17 decision to Navy last weekend. It was the worst loss for the Fighting Irish in the series since a 35-14 loss to the Midshipmen in 1963. Of course, the Mids were ranked No. 4 at that time and led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Roger Staubach. The last time before last Saturday that Notre Dame had lost by double digits to an unranked Navy team? That was a 33-7 decision in 1956.

** When Florida and Georgia meet tomorrow, the beverages made taste a little watered-down at “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party.” That’s because the Gators and Bulldogs will square off as unranked foes for the first time since 1979.

** Remember when a strong defense always trumped a good offense? It doesn’t seem that way so much anymore. Last week, for example, LSU entered its game against Auburn allowing only 83.6 rushing yards per game, and Auburn finished with 440 yards on the ground. That sent the LSU rush defense from No. 6 in the country to No. 38.

** Three Big Ten quarterbacks are poised to break the conference record for best single-season completion percentage. Dan Persa of Northwestern (75.7), Scott Tolzien of Wisconsin (71.8) and Ricky Stanzi of Iowa (68.1) are all tracking above the single-season mark of 67.8 held since 1993 by Darrell Bevell of Wisconsin.

** Stanzi is also close to the longstanding Big Ten record for best pass efficiency rating in a single season. The Iowa QB heads into play this weekend at 174.9, just shy of the 175.3 established by Michigan’s Bob Chappuis way back in 1947.

** As the leaves begin to fall and October turns to November, I am reminded that I need to come down off the fence and begin formulating an opinion on this year’s Heisman Trophy race. It seems obvious now that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is the frontrunner. My top three this week would be Newton followed by Boise State QB Kellen Moore and Oregon RB LaMichael James. Also in the running: Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor and Michigan QB Denard Robinson.

** Shortly before noon on Monday morning, Yankee Stadium grounds crews began removing the grass around the skin of the field in preparation for the Notre Dame-Army football game to be played Nov. 20. It will be the first college game ever played at the new Yankee Stadium, and the first played at any facility called Yankee Stadium since 1987.

** There are models of consistency and then there is Division III Linfield College (Ore.). The Wildcats scored a 35-20 victory last weekend over Pacific Lutheran (Wash.) and clinched their 55th consecutive winning season. Linfield is coached by Joseph Smith, currently in his fifth season as head coach. Smith was a four-year starting cornerback for the Wildcats in the early 1990s and was an assistant at Linfield for 13 seasons before taking over the program in 2006.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It was another good week at Forecast Headquarters with only one miss in the straight up picks – and that was Iowa’s one-point loss to Wisconsin. That meant an 8-1 week to push the SU ledger to 73-12 for the season.

Against the spread, we had another winning week at 6-3 which made us 52-30-3 ATS for the season.

We’ll try to keep it going with these games this week.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Northwestern at Indiana: The Wildcats don’t have an all-time winning record against many conference opponents but they do against the Hoosiers. Northwestern enjoys a 43-34-1 advantage in the series, and perhaps none was more exciting than last year’s 29-28 verdict in Evanston when the Wildcats overcame a 28-3 second-quarter deficit. That meltdown wrecked what had been a promising season at IU as the Hoosiers went on to finish 2009 with five consecutive losses. In fact, they are currently working on an eight-game conference losing streak that figures to get extended if Bill Lynch doesn’t get some of his team’s defensive problems fixed … Northwestern 36, Indiana 30. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 22 Miami (Fla.) at Virginia: The Hurricanes are like most middle-of-the-road college football teams – they beat the teams they’re supposed to while struggling against stronger competition. This was supposed to be the year Miami returned to greatness, and while a 5-2 record is pretty good, the Hurricanes have feasted on the likes of Florida A&M and Duke while getting outscored 81-41 in their two losses to Ohio State and Florida State. This week, it should be feasting time again since the Cavaliers have lost three of their last four games, and been outscored by a whopping 111-45 in three conference games so far … Miami 38, Virginia 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Akron at Temple: Since going to Motor City Bowl after the 2005 season, the Zips have lost their zip. Actually, that would be something of an understatement. Since losing that Motor City Bowl game to Memphis, the Zips haven’t enjoyed a winning season and have a 17-39 record over that span. That includes an 0-8 record so far this season, and that dismal record only tells part of the story. There are 120 schools that play Division I-A football and Akron ranks 115th in scoring offense and 118th in scoring defense. That makes it difficult to see how the Zips avoid their first winless season since the 1942 team went 0-7-2 … Temple 41, Akron 10. (1 p.m. ET, No TV)

No. 5 Michigan State at No. 18 Iowa: While the Spartans have found exciting ways to keep their undefeated season going, the Hawkeyes have seemingly invented new ways to self-destruct. Last week’s 31-30 heartbreaker against Wisconsin was a prime example with special teams gaffes, a missed PAT and absolutely atrocious clock management at the end of the game. The pressure to win is equally divided tomorrow. The Spartans now have an outside shot at playing for the national championship while the Hawkeyes have a whole bunch of Ohio State and Wisconsin fans in their corner hoping Iowa can somehow play a mistake-free game. A lot of people are playing the upset card here, especially since MSU hasn’t won in Iowa City since 1989. But the Hawkeyes have yet to convince us they can rise to the occasion … Michigan State 23, Iowa 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

No. 1 Auburn at Mississippi: After rising to the top of the BCS standings, the Tigers had better be on upset alert tomorrow in Oxford. That’s not because former No. 1s Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma have gone down in successive weeks. It’s because Auburn has been anything but invincible in its two previous road games, squeezing out narrow three-point victories at Mississippi State in early September and at Kentucky three weeks ago. It’s because Ole Miss has a pretty good passing game with QB Jeremiah Masoli and the Tigers rank dead last in the SEC in pass defense. And it’s because the Rebels seem to have no fear going against highly-ranked teams – they are 3-3 in their six games against top-10 opponents. All of that isn’t quite enough to pull the trigger on an Upset Special, but don’t be surprised if Ole Miss gives the Tigers all they can handle … Auburn 27, Mississippi 17. (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 2 Oregon at USC: While Auburn is on upset alert, the Ducks should be, too, when they visit the Coliseum to face the Trojans who have had two weeks to prepare for this game. Last year, the Quack Attack buried USC under an avalanche of 613 total yards during a 47-20 blowout. But the Trojans have a different defensive scheme this season under new head coach Lane Kiffin, and quarterback Matt Barkley is much more comfortable under center in his second season as the starter. Will that make the difference? Unlikely. With Barkley winging the ball all over the lot, USC can probably stay in the game a little longer this year but the Trojans just don’t have the kind of defensive personnel that can hold off the Ducks for a full 60 minutes … Oregon 52, USC 27. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Colorado at No. 9 Oklahoma: Are the Sooners overrated or simply underachievers? A team that was supposed to contend for a national championship has instead struggled at times, especially in crunch time. In its seven games this season, OU has been outscored by a 67-30 margin in the fourth quarter and you sometimes get the feeling that Bob Stoops’ team loses its focus at odds times during a game. That is always a recipe for disaster although it might not make much difference against the hapless Buffaloes. Colorado lost two key players during last week’s 27-24 loss to Texas Tech. Sophomore LB Jon Major, the team’s leading tackler, is gone for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, and starting quarterback Tyler Hansen is sidelined with a ruptured spleen. If the Sooners can’t take care of business this week, when will they ever? … Oklahoma 37, Colorado 10. (9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Utah State at No. 24 Nevada: The Wolf Pack are not on par with Boise State, TCU or Utah, but they are extremely entertaining and probably deserving of a much higher national ranking. They have an excellent quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, who should be getting at least a little bit of Heisman Trophy love since he is seventh in the nation in total offense. Kaepernick leads an offensive attack that averages 39.9 points and 509.3 yards per game, and that should be more than enough tomorrow night. The Aggies have lost four of their five games, including the last two by a combined 56 points … Nevada 41, Utah State 7. (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 4 TCU at UNLV: The task is a relatively simple one for the Horned Frogs. They must stay undefeated to have a chance at playing for the national championship. That shouldn’t be much of a problem this week since TCU rarely gets caught up in the glitz and glitter of Sin City. They have won three of their four trips to Las Vegas, and seven of eight in the series overall. That includes a 41-0 stampede a year ago in Fort Worth, a result that could be repeated tomorrow night. The Frogs are No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 9.0 points per game, while the Rebels are 106th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 18.4 points per game. You know the old saying: You can’t win if you can’t score … TCU 45, UNLV 7. (11 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

No. 10 Ohio State at Minnesota: In a season that has already featured plenty of Jekyll-and-Hyde moments, which costumes will the Buckeyes don tomorrow night when the Golden Gophers throw their Halloween party at TCF Bank Stadium? Will OSU come dressed as an efficient passing team as it did against Indiana and in the second quarter last week against Purdue? Or will the Buckeyes show up as the ground-it-out rushing team they appeared to be early in the second half at Wisconsin? Perhaps they will feel unmotivated and just throw something together at the last minute as they appeared to do early against Wisconsin. The scariest thing about this Ohio State team is that it is nearing the three-quarter pole of the 2010 season and the Buckeyes are still searching for their own identity. Not that it will matter much against the Gophers, who occupy last place in the Big Ten standings and deservedly so. OSU should go to Minnesota and win by 50 points because that’s what championship teams do. But are the Buckeyes a championship team or simply masquerading as one? Stay tuned … Ohio State 45, Minnesota 10. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Northwestern (-3) at Indiana; Miami-FL (-14½) at Virginia; Akron at Temple (-28½); Michigan State (+7) at Iowa; Auburn (-6½) at Mississippi; Oregon (-6½) at USC; Colorado at Oklahoma (-23½); Utah State at Nevada (-25½); TCU (-34½) at UNLV; Ohio State (-25) at Minnesota.

Enjoy the games

Ohio State Wins Over Michigan Never Get Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEATH IN THE FAMILY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

TODAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back To The Graveyard, With A Twist

Most of you know about my ritual the week before the Ohio State-Michigan game.

I always swear this will be the year I don’t do it and somehow my car always seems to wind up driving past that simple two-story white house on Cardiff Road anyway. Then since it’s only a mile or so farther north, I head up Olentangy River Road to Union Cemetery.

Most years it’s cold and windy or spitting snow but this year was a little different. The ground was wet from intermittent rain all day, and there was a cool breeze blowing from the north, but all in all not bad for a mid-November evening in Columbus. So, I made my annual pilgrimage to Section 12, Lot 37, Space 4 and parked the car near one of the pine trees that shade a simple black granite marker.

I stood there, hands in my coat pockets, staring at the monument and listening to the wind as it rustled through what leaves remained on the nearby maple trees. I looked around at the darkening sky and waited … and waited … and waited.

I’d been there almost a half-hour and nothing. Maybe who or what I had seen before – or what I thought I had seen before – was a figment of my imagination. I looked around again and found no one in that cemetery but me. I shook my head, smiled and shrugged my shoulders.

Then as I was walking back to my car, I saw a figure walking along the roadway. But this wasn’t who I expected. It certainly wasn’t who I had come to see. This was an older gentleman, dressed in a full-length gray overcoat with the collar turned up. I could make out an old-style, pinstripe suit under the overcoat as he shuffled along with his head down. He looked small and frail but still walked at a brisk pace.

Despite the fact he wore a brown fedora, I could make out hollow cheeks, thin lips and horn-rimmed glasses perched upon a thin nose. He was older, probably in his mid- to late 70s, I guessed, and was probably taking an evening stroll perhaps to visit a loved one who had passed on.

“Good evening,” I said as we passed.

He stopped abruptly, straightened up and looked at me with squinted eyes. Then he looked past me at the gravesite I had been visiting.

“Great man,” he offered in a rather high-pitched, scratchy voice. “Never met him but I would have liked to. Are you a relative?”

I shook my head. “No, just a fan. I come here every year about this time.”

The old man’s eyes narrowed. “About this time? What’s so special about this time of year?”

“Oh, you know. It’s Ohio State-Michigan week.”

“Oh, yes,” the man replied. “I always seem to forget they moved the game to late November.”

I laughed. “Forgot they moved it to late November? They only did that in 1935.”

“Yes, well, we used to play them in late October. Of course, that was a long, long time ago.”

I’m a sucker for Ohio State football history, so by now I was getting more and more intrigued by the little old man. “Sounds like you know your Buckeyes,” I said.

“A little,” he said with a chuckle. “Not so much the past few years but I know a little bit about the early days. Ohio Field. Coach Wilce. Mr. St. John. Those were the days. I’d give anything just to be able to … If I could have just one more … Well, we played because we loved it.”

I did some quick addition in my head. Ohio Field was demolished 87 years ago. John W. Wilce resigned as head coach of the Buckeyes following the 1928 season. And Lynn St. John served as AD longer than any other man – but he has been dead since 1950. The little man in the overcoat I had originally pegged to be about 75 years old had to have been much older.

“How long has it been now?” he continued. “Ninety years? Yes, the year was 19-and-19. Ninety years ago this very year when we first beat Michigan. And, oh, let me tell you that was quite a game. Took the train up there to Ferry Field and thought we were ready and ol’ Pete fumbled the opening kickoff.”

“Ol’ Pete?” I asked.

“Pete Stinchcomb,” he said as his eyes began to twinkle. “Gaylord Roscoe Stinchcomb. Greatest guy you’d ever want to meet and a better teammate you could never hope to have.”

I leaned in closer toward the old man with a puzzled look on my face. Stinchcomb played for the Buckeyes in the early 1920s and died in 1974 at the age of 78. I started to ask how in the world he could have possibly known so much about Stinchcomb when he cleared his throat and said, “That’s what the old-timers always said about him anyway.”

“OK,” I said, that look of puzzlement still on my face. “You were talking about ol’ Pete fumbling the opening kickoff.”

“Oh, yeah. Well, we dodged that bullet and then blocked a punt at the end of the first quarter for a touchdown. Then I ran for … I mean we got another touchdown in the second half and I had … we had four interceptions and we wound up beating those guys 13-3. What a great feeling that was. Beating Michigan for the first time? Nothing quite like it. Well, I guess that kind of broke the spell so to speak. They weren’t so invincible after that. We beat ’em again the next couple of years and the rivalry has been pretty close ever since.”

“You sure know a lot about the early days,” I said. “What do you think about the rivalry today?”

“Anyone who has ever played in that game loves it. I know I still do. I don’t much care for the people who try to say that it doesn’t mean as much because Michigan hasn’t played very well the last couple of years. So what? You have to respect this rivalry because it’s the greatest one in all of sports. And just because we won last year doesn’t mean we’ll win this year. Every game is different, and winning this game means everything. Ask the senior players if you don’t believe me. They know it. The last thing you ever want to do is lose that game, especially if it’s the last one of your career. It’ll haunt you forever if you do. I can attest to that. Never, ever, take this game for granted.”

The wind began to pick up and he said slowly, “Well, I’d better be getting on my way. It’s been a nice little visit with you.”

He offered a cold, bony hand and I shook it.

“My name is Mark,” I said, “and it was a pleasure, Sir.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” he replied.

He started to walk away and I called out, “I’m sorry. I didn’t get your name.”

He turned and smiled. “It’s Charles,” he said, “but all my friends just call me Chic.”

OSU-MICHIGAN TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Michigan will buckle it up tomorrow for the 106th renewal of what is known simply as The Game. The teams first met in 1897 and have played every season since 1918. The Wolverines lead the overall series by a 57-42-6 margin, including a 30-19-4 advantage in Ann Arbor.

** The Buckeyes have won three of their last four trips to Michigan Stadium. They haven’t enjoyed that kind of streak in Ann Arbor since winning four of five between 1973 and ’81.

** Ohio State has won seven of the last eight games in the series for the first time ever. The Buckeyes are also gunning for an unprecedented sixth straight victory over Michigan.

** Since 1925, the overall series is dead even at 41-41-3.

** OSU head coach Jim Tressel is currently 7-1 against Michigan, and he is one of only four Ohio State head coaches in history with a winning record against the Wolverines. The others: Woody Hayes (1951-78) at 16-11-1, Earle Bruce (1979-87) at 5-4 and Francis A. Schmidt (1934-40) at 4-3. Hayes, Bruce and Schmidt are all members of the College Football Hall of Fame.

** Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez is experiencing his second game in the rivalry. Last year, Rodriguez became the first U-M head coach to lose his first game against Ohio State since Harry Kipke’s team dropped a 7-0 decision to the Buckeyes in 1929. No Michigan head coach has ever lost his first two games in the series against Ohio State.

** Tressel is 35-13 in his OSU career against ranked opponents. Rodriguez is 13-18 lifetime against top-25 competition, including 2-5 with the Wolverines.

** Tressel is 25-4 with the Buckeyes in November. Rodriguez is 1-5 with the Wolverines in November.

** With a victory over the Wolverines, Ohio State would win the outright Big Ten championship for the third time in the last four seasons. It would give the Buckeyes their 18th outright title, more than any other team in conference history. Michigan has 16 outright championships and Illinois is third with eight.

** If Ohio State captures its third outright title in four years, it would be the best streak of undisputed Big Ten championships since Michigan won four in the five-year span between 1988 and 1992.

** The Buckeyes have already clinched a share of their fifth consecutive Big Ten title, marking the eighth straight season in which either OSU or Michigan has won or shared the conference crown. The last time neither team had at least a share of the trophy was in 2001 when Illinois took home the outright championship.

** Tressel has locked up his sixth Big Ten championship, placing him eighth on the conference all-time coaching list. Woody Hayes of Ohio State (1951-78) and Bo Schembechler of Michigan (1969-89) share the career record with 13 championships each. Fielding Yost of Michigan (1901-23, ’25-26) had 10, Henry Williams of Minnesota (1900-21) had eight, and Amos Alonzo Stagg (1896-1932) of Chicago, Robert Zuppke of Illinois (1913-41) and Bernie Biermann of Minnesota (1932-41, ’45-50) each had seven.

** With a victory, Ohio State would become only the second team in Big Ten history to record five consecutive years with 10 or more wins and the first in more than a century. Michigan had five seasons with 10-plus victories from 1901-05.

** If the Michigan team is searching for something on which to hang its winged helmets, how about this: The Buckeyes have lost to the Wolverines each of the last three times they have gone into The Game having already clinched the Big Ten championship. That occurred in 1986, 1993 and 1996.

** That 1993 game was the last time a ranked OSU team lost to an unranked Michigan squad. The Wolverines rolled to a 28-0 victory in Ann Arbor, and that game marks the most recent shutout in the overall series. The Buckeyes haven’t recorded a shutout over U-M since a 28-0 win in Ann Arbor in 1962.

** During a 13-year span from 1979 to 1992, the record for the team entering this game with the higher ranking was 9-3-1. In the 16 years since, the higher-ranked team has managed only an 8-8 mark.

** Since the two teams met in 1923 for the Ohio Stadium dedication game, a total of 7,527,129 fans have attended The Game. That’s more than any other college football game in America. Fifty-eight of those 86 games have been sold out, including the last 41 in a row.

** Michigan has an overall record of 298-121-20 in November. That’s a .702 winning percentage. Meanwhile, Ohio State in 286-132-19 during the month of November, good for a winning percentage of .676.

** This season will mark the third time in the past five years that a Michigan team will not be ranked in the final Associated Press poll of the season. Before 2005, the Wolverines had appeared in 35 of 36 final AP polls.

** Michigan has lost six straight conference games for the first time since losing six in a row between 1958 and ’59. The Wolverines have not lost seven consecutive Big Ten games since a 10-game league losing streak between 1935 and ’37.

** Here is how the teams stack up against one another in a variety of the national statistical categories:
Rushing offense – Michigan 21st (195.8); Ohio State 22nd (194.2)
Passing offense – Michigan 90th (195.6); Ohio State 102nd (174.9)
Total offense – Michigan 56th (391.4); Ohio State 65th (369.1)
Scoring offense – Michigan 27th (31.3); Ohio State 38th (30.0)
Rushing defense – Ohio State 4th (83.7); Michigan 84th (164.7)
Pass defense – Ohio State 16th (174.6); Michigan 82nd (235.5)
Total defense – Ohio State 5th (258.3); Michigan 89th (400.2)
Scoring defense – Ohio State 6th (12.4); Michigan 84th (28.1)
Net punting – Michigan 2nd (41.3); Ohio State 42nd (36.8)
Turnover margin – Ohio State 7th (plus-12); Michigan 102nd (minus-8)
Punt returns – Michigan 50th (9.9); Ohio State 65th (8.6)
Kickoff returns – Michigan 28th (24.0); Ohio State 35th (23.5)

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 12 noon Eastern. The game will be televised nationally by ABC with a broadcast crew that is rapidly becoming familiar to Ohio State fans. For the third week in a row, Sean McDonough will have the play-by-play, Matt Millen will provide color analysis and Holly Rowe will file reports from the sidelines.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 122 (Ohio State) and 155 (Michigan).

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 16, 1872, Yale played its first-ever football game, beating Columbia by a 3-0 score; on Nov. 17, 1906, Kansas took an 8-6 victory over Nebraska, beginning the longest continuous Division I-A series; on Nov. 19, 1983, Oregon and Oregon State battled to a 0-0 tie in Eugene, the last scoreless tie in NCAA history due to the institution of overtime beginning in 1994; on Nov. 21, 1981, BYU tight end Gordon Hudson set an NCAA record for tight ends with 259 receiving yards during a 56-28 win over Utah; and on Nov. 22, 1969, Michigan defensive back Barry Pierson returned a punt for a touchdown and intercepted three passes as the No. 12 Wolverines shocked defending national champion Ohio State with a 24-12 upset in Ann Arbor. It was the opening game in what became known as the legendary “Ten-Year War” between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of Division I-A undefeated teams remains at six: Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Texas and TCU.

** Here is this week’s fun fact: TCU has 3,700 male students, meaning roughly 3.2 percent are on the football team. If Ohio State had that same percentage, the Buckeyes would have a football roster exceeding 1,000 players.

** If you think Boise State and its BCS argument are going away after this season, think again. There are only three seniors listed among the 44 players on the Broncos’ depth chart. Among those underclassmen is sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore, who has thrown for 2,558 yards and 32 TDs against only three interceptions.

** Iowa and Minnesota square off tomorrow for one of the most unusual trophies in college football – Floyd of Rosedale. After the Hawkeyes lost the 1935 game, Iowa Gov. Clyde Herring presented Minnesota Gov. Floyd B. Olson with Floyd of Rosedale, a full-blooded champion pig, as the result of a bet made prior to the contest. Olson commissioned a statue to capture Floyd’s image, which resulted in a bronze pig that measures 21 inches long and 15 inches high. The two teams have played for the statue ever since.

** In Pete Carroll’s first 110 games at USC, he had a 94-16 record and those 16 losses were by a combined 68 points, or an average of 4.3 points per game. His team’s recent blowout losses to Oregon and Stanford have come by a combined 61 points, an average of 30.5 per game. The Trojans allowed 93 points all of last season – the Ducks and Cardinal combined for 102.

** Jim Harbaugh obviously hasn’t changed. When he was quarterback at Michigan, Harbaugh got the well-earned reputation for being outspoken and often playing with a chip on his shoulder. Last week, he caused some controversy during his Stanford team’s win over USC by going for a two-point conversion with a 48-21 lead and 6:47 remaining. Harbaugh and Carroll reportedly got into a heated discussion during the postgame handshake, but Harbaugh brushed off the tiff in typical fashion. “I felt like it was the right thing to do, knowing SC would have at least two more possession opportunities, not including onside kicks,” he said. “We wanted to be full throttle all game.”

** Harbaugh is pulling out all the stops for tomorrow’s game against Cal. He has named Tiger Woods as the team’s honorary captain, and Woods will be honored on the field at halftime at which time he will be presented with a plaque signifying his induction into the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame.

** My weekly top five for the Heisman Trophy changed only at the bottom where Pittsburgh QB Bill Stull took over the No. 5 spot for Houston QB Case Keenum. My top five looks like this: 1. Texas QB Colt McCoy; 2. Alabama RB Mark Ingram; 3. Boise State QB Kellen Moore; 4. Florida QB Tim Tebow; 5. Stull. This week’s dark horse: Stanford RB Toby Gerhart.

** Congratulations to Rice, which got its first victory of the season last weekend with a 28-20 win over Tulane. That leaves only Eastern Michigan, Western Kentucky and New Mexico on the Division I-A winless list for 2009. Of those teams, Eastern perhaps has the best shot of winning one of its final two games. The Eagles travel tonight to Toledo (4-6 and losers of four of their last five) and wind up the season Nov. 27 at Akron (2-8 and losers of seven of their last eight).

** If New Mexico wants to get off the schnied, it had better do so this week against a 3-7 Colorado State team that has lost seven in a row following a 3-0 start. The 0-9 Lobos finish their season Nov. 28 at TCU against a team that will be trying to make one final statement for the BCS.

** Tarleton State (Texas) led a charmed existence last week in its Division II playoff game against Texas A&M-Kingsville. Tarleton won a 57-56 decision in double overtime after gambling successfully on a two-point conversion. The game went into overtime when Tarleton kicker Garrett Lindholm kicked a 64-yard field goal as time expired. Lindholm’s three-pointer was the second-longest in Division II history. Tom Odle of Fort Hays State (Kan.) holds the record. He booted a 67-yarder in 1988 during his team’s 22-14 win over instate rival Washburn.

** First-round Division III playoff games begin tomorrow, and not surprisingly defending champion Mount Union (Ohio) is the No. 1 seed. The Purple Raiders have won a record 10 national championships under head coach Larry Kehres, who has a career mark of 285-21-3 (a winning percentage of .925). Since 1993 when Mount Union won its first national title, Kehres’ record is an almost unbelievable 215-8. That computes to a .964 winning percentage.

** Hanover College (Ind.) didn’t make the Division III playoffs with a 3-7 record, but the Panthers still made news last week during their 42-28 loss to instate rival Franklin. Hanover sophomore receiver Daniel Passafiume set a new NCAA single-game record with 25 receptions in the game. That broke the old mark of 24 established in 1983 by NFL Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice when he was at Mississippi Valley State, and equaled in 2002 by Chas Gessner of Brown.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It’s been a pretty good last couple of weeks with the straight-up picks. We missed last week’s Upset Special (thanks, Arizona) but that was one of only two misses on a 10-2 slate. The yearly SU total is now 85-22.

Another 5-7 week against the spread makes us 42-52-2 for the season and the prospects of breaking even this year more and more unlikely. Nevertheless, we’ll hang with it and try to get back to respectability with an expanded slate of games this week. Be forewarned, though – there really is only one meaningful game in college football and it will occur in Ann Arbor. That’s why we’ll keep our comments on the rest of the games short and sweet.

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 6 Boise State at Utah State: The Broncos have beaten the Aggies eight times in a row. Look for Boise QB Kellen Moore to pad his already Heisman-worthy stats … Boise State 48, Utah State 10. (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Minnesota at No. 13 Iowa: If several teams ahead of them lose, the Hawkeyes could still get into a BCS bowl. Incentive enough for Senior Day at Kinnick … Iowa 24, Minnesota 13. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

No. 20 Miami (Fla.) at Duke: The Hurricanes are up and down this season, but they should have enough to take a fifth straight victory in this series … Miami 37, Duke 23. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)

Chattanooga at No. 2 Alabama: These two schools have met 10 times over the years with the Crimson Tide winning all 10 by a combined score of 369-88. It’s Senior Day in Tuscaloosa and statement time for Bama … Alabama 47, Chattanooga 3. (12:20 p.m. ET, SEC GamePlan)

Florida International at No. 1 Florida: The Gators haven’t had the spectacular run everyone envisioned, but they remain undefeated. Meanwhile, FIU has never finished with a winning record since starting the program in 2002 … Florida 49, Florida International 10. (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Memphis at No. 24 Houston: The Cougars spit the bit last week against Central Florida. Look for them to get back on track this week against the Tigers, who have already fired head coach Tommy West … Houston 48, Memphis 34. (1 p.m. ET, CSS)

No. 4 TCU at Wyoming: The Horned Frogs, arguably the best team in the nation, will likely not get a chance to play for the national championship. Look for them to keep making a statement on why they should get that chance … TCU 51, Wyoming 10. (2 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)

No. 14 Penn State at Michigan State: The Nittany Lions, who have not been playing well lately, have lost four of their last six trips to Spartan Stadium. I hate to pick Sparty because he has been so uneven this season. But I need an Upset Special, so here it is … Michigan State 34, Penn State 31. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 16 Wisconsin at Northwestern: Can the Wildcats slow down the Badgers’ two-pronged attack of QB Scott Tolzien and RB John Clay? Maybe the better question is whether UW can slow down the multifaceted attack led Northwestern QB Mike Kakfa. Upset Special No. 2 … Northwestern 31, Wisconsin 28. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 8 LSU at Mississippi: The Rebels pulled off a huge 31-13 upset in Baton Rouge last year, but they haven’t beaten the Tigers in Oxford since 1998. Ole Miss struggles against good defenses and LSU has a good defense … LSU 20, Mississippi 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Virginia at No. 23 Clemson: Behind Heisman hopeful running back C.J. Spiller, the Tigers have averaged 42.0 points over their last five games. You wonder how the Cavaliers (106th nationally in scoring and 118th in total offense) can keep up. Answer: They can’t … Clemson 37, Virginia 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

Air Force at No. 22 BYU: Max Hall is one of the best quarterbacks you’ve probably never heard of. The BYU senior has thrown for 2,857 yards and 23 TDs, and he has never lost in his career to the run-oriented Cadets … BYU 35, Air Force 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

North Carolina State at No. 15 Virginia Tech: Good Hokies offense + porous Wolfpack defense = Tech victory … Virginia Tech 38, N.C. State 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

San Diego State at No. 21 Utah: The Utes were manhandled last week by TCU, but they get to try and rebound against the Aztecs who rank 94th nationally in scoring defense. Utah also returns home to play at Rice Eccles Stadium where they have won their last 16 in a row … Utah 41, San Diego State 17. (4 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 19 Oregon State at Washington State: The Beavers still have a shot at the Rose Bowl and it’s doubtful the punchless Cougars can do anything about that this week … Oregon State 48, Washington State 14. (5 p.m. ET, No TV)

No. 25 California at No. 17 Stanford: The Bears scored a total of six points against Oregon and USC while the Cardinal rolled up 106 points against the Ducks and Trojans. What more do you need to know? … Stanford 44, Cal 27. (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

Kansas at No. 3 Texas: The Longhorns are zeroing in on the national championship game while Jayhawks head coach Mark Mangino is suddenly under fire in Lawrence. Colt McCoy becomes the all-time winningest quarterback in NCAA history with a win … Texas 35, Kansas 7. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 11 Oregon at Arizona: The Wildcats couldn’t get it done last week against a Jahvid Best-less Cal, so what makes anyone believe Mike Stoops’ troops can beat the Ducks? … Oregon 48, Arizona 35. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 10 Ohio State at Michigan: Anyone connected with OSU who chalks up this game as an automatic victory should remember what the Wolverines have on the line. They need this win to avoid a second straight losing season. They need this win to avoid staying home during bowl season when they had made 33 straight bowl appearances prior to 2008. They need this win to prevent their head coach from becoming the first Michigan coach in history ever to lose his first two games in this series. I’m also sure that Rich Rodriguez has told his team that this game begins the program’s resurgence. A victory over the Buckeyes would not only send the Wolverines to a bowl but also give them a foundation on which to build. Nothing to play for in Ann Arbor? I think not. It’s still the greatest rivalry game in American sports and if you have a chance to step on the throat of your rival, you do it. Assuming that is the mind-set of the Ohio State players, you get this prediction … Ohio State 45, Michigan 14. (12 noon ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-22) at Utah State; Minnesota at Iowa (-9½ ; Miami-FL at Duke (+20); Florida International (+45) at Florida; Memphis (+24) at Houston; TCU (-28) at Wyoming; Penn State at Michigan State (+3); Wisconsin at Northwestern (+7); LSU (+4½) at Mississippi; Virginia at Clemson (-20½); Air Force at BYU (-9½); N.C. State at Virginia Tech (-21); San Diego State at Utah (-20); Oregon State (-29) at Washington State; Cal at Stanford (-7); Kansas at Texas (-27½); Oregon (-4½) at Arizona; Ohio State (-11½) at Michigan.

And Down The Stretch They Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-PENN STATE TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU Observing Myriad Of Major Milestones

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

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

Here are 10 landmark moments for this season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-NEW MEXICO STATE TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Do Buckeyes, Pryor Go From Here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-MINNESOTA TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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