Why Is Something So Easy So Hard For So Many?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAIR OR UNFAIR – YOU DECIDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair or unfair? You decide.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

Rushing yards – LaMichael James, Oregon, 1,682

Rushing TDs – LaMichael James, Oregon, 21

Passing yards – Bryant Moniz, Hawaii, 4,629

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

Total offense – Bryant Moniz, Hawaii, 4,705

Receptions – Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma, 118

Receiving yards – Greg Salas, Hawaii, 1,675

TD receptions – Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State, 18

Punting – Chas Henry, Florida, 46.41

Punt returns – Shaky Smithson, Utah, 19.7

Punt return TDs – Cliff Harris, Oregon, 4

Kickoff returns – William Powell, Kansas State, 34.6

Kickoff return TDs – Eric Page, Toledo, 3

Scoring – Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State, 137

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

Total tackles – Luke Kuechly, Boston College, 171

Sacks – Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson, 15½

Tackles for loss – Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue, 26

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

Buckeyes Cannot Afford To Take Anything For Granted

“We’ve just got to stop taking stuff for granted.” – Terrelle Pryor following Ohio State’s 31-18 loss to Wisconsin.

Remember last week’s blog with the cautionary wine-drinking vs. grape-stomping tale? Evidently someone over at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center wasn’t listening.

Instead of taking care of business at Camp Randall Stadium, Ohio State wound up on the business end of a 31-18 decision Oct. 16 that was a borderline blowout by Wisconsin.

Forget the national championship. Bye-bye Heisman Trophy. The greatest dreams of the Buckeye Nation went up in smoke as its favorite football team fell victim once again to a lesser opponent who simply wanted it more.

It must be extremely difficult to always be the hunted because every time – and I mean each and every time – the Buckeyes play with a target on their backs, they seem to trip themselves.

The only consensus national championships the team has won in the past half-century came in 1968 and 2002, teams that no one really expected to be title contenders at the beginning of the season.

Forty-two years ago, the Buckeyes were coming off a 1967 campaign that saw them post a 6-3 overall record and finish in fourth place in the Big Ten standings. Sure, Woody Hayes had a star-studded class of super sophomores coming in, but no one expected a national championship right out of the box. OSU played its first game that 1968 season ranked No. 11.

Back in 2002, Ohio State was supposed to be positioning itself for a title run the following year. They played Texas Tech in that season’s opener as the nation’s No. 13 ranked team.

If you would like to go back even further, the 1954 and 1957 national champions each began their respective seasons unranked.

A sharp contrast are the seasons during which the Buckeyes have begun the year ranked among the nation’s top five teams. Over the past half-century, that includes 1962, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1987, 1998, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

That is 17 (and counting) seasons when OSU has started a campaign at No. 5 or higher in the national polls and come home an also-ran in the national championship race.

The glass-half-full crowd will say that you have to at least be in the race to win it, and there is some veracity to that. Ohio State has been one of college football’s elite programs for much of the last six decades and is one of only a handful of schools that can boast such a winning résumé over such a protracted period of time.

On the other hand, all of the aforementioned seasons – and several others when the Buckeyes reached the top five in midyear – represent an awful lot of crushed hopes and dreams.

Things were supposed to be different in 2010, however. The Buckeyes had learned their lesson from losses last year to USC and Purdue, teams they should have beaten. After a mistake-filled trip to West Lafayette, the team circled its wagons and won six games in a row, finishing things off with a masterful Rose Bowl victory over five-point favorite Oregon.

Everything set up perfectly this year for Ohio State including a favorable schedule. The toughest games on the slate appeared to be a home game in week two with an improving Miami (Fla.) and road tests at Wisconsin and Iowa.

When the Buckeyes demolished the Hurricanes in a game that was not nearly as close as the final score of 36-24 indicated, OSU seemingly had everything going its way. Sure, Wisconsin always played them tough, but the Buckeyes had won four of their last five trips to Madison. They have had similar recent success in Iowa City, winning 14 of their 17 visits there.

Ohio State was going to storm through the last six games of its regular season the same way it stormed through the first six and once again head to the Arizona desert to play for the national championship – with a brief stop in New York City long enough for Pryor to pick up the Heisman Trophy.

At least that was the way it was supposed to be. Now, the Buckeyes and their fans are left not to ponder what might have been but what is. Purdue comes to town tomorrow for homecoming, and while the Boilermakers do not seem to be on par with Wisconsin, they have made a habit of making things interesting against Ohio State teams in the recent past.

The Buckeyes have won four of the last six meetings, but OSU has scored 16 points or fewer in three of those four victories. Last year, the Buckeyes scored 18 and it wasn’t enough against the upset-minded Boilermakers.

But, of course, everything was supposed to change after that game. Everything is always supposed to change after a loss. Too many times this season, I have heard one Buckeye or another say, “We made a lot of mistakes out there but we’ll get those things fixed.”

Yep. Every year, every new team says the same thing – this time things will be different.

And somehow, to nearly everyone’s amazement, it usually turns out the same.

OSU-PURDUE TIDBITS

** This marks the 53rd meeting between Ohio State and Purdue with the Buckeyes holding a 37-13-2 record in the overall series. That includes a 25-5-2 mark in Columbus, including 14 of the last 15. Since 1968, the Boilermakers’ lone victory in Ohio Stadium was a 31-26 decision in the 1988 homecoming game.

** The series began in 1919 but the Buckeyes and Boilermakers have played only sporadically over the years. As a result, Purdue has never beaten Ohio State in back-to-back seasons.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 5-2 against the Boilermakers, including a 16-3 victory in 2008 on Purdue’s most recent visit to Columbus. That 13-point win was par for the course. Tressel’s five victories in the series have come by an average margin of 12.4 points.

** Purdue head coach Danny Hope is in his second year with the Boilermakers. He is 1-0 vs. the Buckeyes, making him one of only two Purdue head coaches in history to enjoy a winning record against Ohio State. The other is Cecil Isbell, who coached the Boilermakers from 1944-46. His team took a 35-13 win over the Buckeyes in 1945 and played to a 14-14 tie the following season. Both games were played in Columbus.

** In games following the 21 previous losses during the Tressel era, Ohio State has a 19-2 record. Thirteen of those games were at Ohio Stadium where the Buckeyes are 12-1 following a loss. OSU has dropped back-to-back games only once under Tressel – the team lost three straight in 2004 to Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa.

** Ohio State returns to the Horseshoe this week for the annual homecoming game. The Buckeyes are 64-19-5 all-time on homecoming, including 7-2 under Tressel. The lone blemishes are a 20-17 loss to Wisconsin in 2001 and a 13-6 defeat to Penn State in 2008. Last year on homecoming, the Buckeyes posted a 38-7 victory over Minnesota.

** Dating back to last season, Purdue is riding a three-game Big Ten winning streak. The Boilermakers haven’t won four conference games in a row since winning the final three of the 2006 season and their league opener in 2007.

** The Boilermakers are also seeking their first 3-0 start in Big Ten play since 2003. They finished 9-4 overall and 6-2 in the conference that season under head coach Joe Tiller. Purdue hasn’t won that many Big Ten games in a single season since.

** Purdue quarterback Rob Henry is coming off a performance against Minnesota that earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. During his team’s 28-17 win over the Golden Gophers, Henry accounted for all four Boilermaker touchdowns. He completed 13 of 20 passes for 183 yards and a score, and added 57 yards and three TDs on the ground.

** Purdue features one of the top pass-rushing defenses in college football. The Boilermakers lead the Big Ten with 18 sacks and 45 tackles for loss, and respectively rank 11th and 12th nationally in sacks and TFL.

** Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is tied for his school’s career record with 12 forced fumbles, a figure that is also No. 2 all-time in the Big Ten. The conference mark of 13 is shared by Illinois linebacker Simeon Rice (1992-95) and Iowa safety Bob Sanders (2000-03).

** Purdue has many distinguished alumni including astronauts Neil Armstrong (the first man to set foot on the moon) and Eugene Cernan (the last man to set to set foot on the moon).

** It’s no understatement that Ohio State needs quarterback Terrelle Pryor to perform well if the Buckeyes expect to win. OSU is 14-1 overall when Pryor rushes for at least one touchdown and 22-1 when he has at least one touchdown pass. Last week in the loss to Wisconsin, Pryor had no rushing touchdowns and no touchdown passes.

** Pryor needs 90 more passing yards to reach 5,000 for his career, and that would make him 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.

** Pryor also needs 154 yards of total offense to take over third place on the Ohio State all-time list. He currently sits fourth with 6,730 while Troy Smith (2003-06) is third with 6,888. The school’s top two in total offense are Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81) and Bobby Hoying (7,151, 1992-95).

** OSU senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher needs 46 more yards to crack the school’s all-time top 15. He currently has 1,436 yards while John Frank (1980-83) is 15th with 1,481.

** This week’s game will be telecast once again by the Big Ten Network with an announce crew that should be familiar to Ohio State fans. Eric Collins (play-by-play), Chris Martin (color analysis) and Charissa Thompson (sideline reports) are working their fourth OSU game of the season. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 113 and 125 as well as XM channels 102 and 197.

** Next week, Ohio State will get its first look at Minnesota’s two-year-old TCF Bank Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Eastern and the game will be televised by ESPN.

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. 20, 1944, Maryland and Michigan State combined for the fewest pass attempts in the modern era of college football during an 8-0 win by the Spartans. The Terrapins threw only one pass during the game while Michigan State attempted none.

** On Oct. 20, 1956, Texas A&M scored a 7-6 upset over No. 4 TCU is what has been called “The Hurricane Game.” Played in 90-mph wins, the Horned Frogs got inside the A&M 5-yard-line three times in the first half but failed to score.

** On Oct. 21, 1989, Alabama QB Gary Hollingsworth set a school record for completions, going 32 for 46 for 379 yards and three touchdowns as the Tide rolled to a 47-30 win over Tennessee.

** On Oct. 21, 2000, Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El had a history-making performance during his team’s 51-43 win over Minnesota. Randle El threw for 263 yards and ran for 210 to become the first player in Big Ten history to crack the 200-yard mark in both passing and rushing in the same game.

** 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, 1904, Minnesota’s Bobby Marshall set an NCAA record by scoring 72 points during the Golden Gophers’ 146-0 victory over Grinnell (Iowa).

** 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.

** On Oct. 23, 1965, Virginia Tech was riding high with a new facility and a victory over its instate rivals. The Hokies, known then as the Gobblers, opened their new Lane Stadium 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.

** On Oct. 23, 1976, Pittsburgh running back Tony Dorsett pushed his season rushing total past the 1,000-yard mark during a 45-0 victory over Navy. Dorsett became the first running back in NCAA history to post four 1,000-yard seasons, and he also broke the NCAA career rushing record previously held by two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin.

** On Oct. 24, 1981, Stanford became the first team in college football history to have two players throw for 250 yards or more in the same game. Steve Cottrell threw for 311 yards while John Elway added 270, but it didn’t do the Cardinal much good. They lost a 62-36 decision to Arizona State.

** On Oct. 25, 1947, Columbia scored a 21-20 upset over Army, ending the Black Knights’ unbeaten streak at 32 games.

** On Oct. 25, 1980, SMU freshman quarterback Lance McIlhenny celebrated his first start by engineering a 20-6 upset of No. 2 Texas in Austin. Halfback Craig James, now a college football analyst for ESPN, ran 53 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put the Mustangs ahead for good.

** On Oct. 26, 1985, seventh-ranked BYU saw its 25-game conference winning streak end when UTEP handed the Cougars a 23-16 loss in El Paso. Miners DB Danny Taylor returned a Robbie Bosco interception 100 yards for a touchdown to provide for the winning points.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level is down to 10. The alphabetical list includes Auburn, Boise State, LSU, Michigan State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, TCU and Utah.

** Boise State pushed the nation’s longest current winning streak at 20 with last weekend’s 48-0 stampede over San Jose State. Meanwhile, Western Kentucky remains on the other side of the spectrum. The Hilltoppers squandered a 24-7 lead after three quarters and wound up with a 35-30 loss to Louisiana-Monroe, extending the nation’s longest losing streak to 26 games.

** When it ascended to the No. 1 spot in this week’s Associated Press poll, Oregon became the 43rd team to hold the top spot in the media poll which began ranking college football teams in 1936. The last time a team was No. 1 for the first time was Virginia, which rose to the top spot on Oct. 14, 1990.

** The Ducks’ 60-13 win over UCLA last night avoided something that hasn’t happened in 50 years. Oregon protected its top ranking in the Associated Press writers’ poll after former No. 1s Alabama and Ohio State had gone down in successive weeks. The last time the AP No. 1 team lost in three consecutive weeks was November 1960 when Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri fell in succession.

** Michigan State has won its first seven games for the first time since opening the 1966 season with nine victories in a row. The Spartans are also off to 7-0 start for only the sixth time in school history. Four of the five previous times Michigan State began a season with seven wins, the team brought home a national championship.

** Last week’s 10-7 loss to Mississippi State marked the third defeat in a row for Florida, something that hasn’t happened in Gainesville since 1988 when the Gators lost four in a row under then head coach Galen Hall. (That’s the same Hall who has been Joe Paterno’s offensive coordinator at Penn State since 2004.) Florida head coach Urban Meyer is also navigating uncharted waters. Meyer has never before experienced a three-game losing streak in his head coaching career that began at Bowling Green in 2001.

** Boise State continues to lose even when it wins. Despite a 48-0 pounding of San Jose State, the Broncos’ strength of schedule took another hit Saturday night when No. 19 Nevada dropped a 27-21 decision at unranked Hawaii. It was the Wolf Pack’s first loss this season but their sixth straight to the Rainbow Warriors in Honolulu since joining the WAC in 2000.

** Since Rich Rodriguez became head coach at Michigan, the Wolverines have lost 15 of their 19 conference games. Michigan hasn’t suffered through that kind of futility in Big Ten play for more than 70 years. U-M dropped 16 of 18 league contests during a stretch between 1934 and 1937.

** Indiana head coach Bill Lynch will be gunning for career victory No. 100 tomorrow when his Hoosiers travel to Illinois. Lynch’s 17-year coaching résumé contains 36 wins at Butler, 37 at Ball State, eight at DePauw and 18 at Indiana.

** The supposed top three in this week’s Heisman Trophy race: Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton, Oregon running back LaMichael James and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict none of those three will win the award. Who would top my ballot if I had to turn it in today? I honestly have no idea.

** Probably the best player in America you’ve never heard of plays for Troy. He is receiver Jerrel Jernigan, who returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown and caught the game-winning TD in the Trojans’ 31-24 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Jernigan leads the Sun Belt and ranks fifth nationally with 178.3 all-purpose yards per game.

** Miami (Ohio) will unveil its first three “Cradle of Coaches” statues tomorrow before the game against Ohio University, honoring outstanding former players who went on to distinguished coaching careers. Carmen Cozza, Paul Dietzel and the late Weeb Eubank will be the first three former Miami players honored. Next season, the RedHawks will unveil statues of the late Earl “Red” Blaik, Ara Parseghian and the late Bo Schembechler.

** Speaking of Parseghian, he also coached at Northwestern before becoming an icon at Notre Dame and he has been invited by current head coach Pat Fitzgerald to give a pregame talk to the Wildcats before tomorrow afternoon’s game against Michigan State.

** Another bowl game has changed sponsors. The GMAC Bowl, scheduled for Jan. 6 and featuring Mid-American Conference and Sun Belt teams, will henceforth be known as the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Obviously, that means there will be copious amounts of commercials featuring racecar driver Danica Patrick during the telecast. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Missing only the two big upsets of the week – Texas over No. 4 Nebraska and Wisconsin over top-ranked Ohio State – the straight-up picks posted an 8-2 record that puts the yearly mark at 65-11. Against the spread, we kept rolling right along with an identical 8-2 mark and that pushes us to a lofty 46-27-3 ATS for the season.

Here are the games we like this week. (Rankings are now BCS standings.)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 7 Michigan State at Northwestern: Are the Spartans for real? We may get a little better handle on that question this week when they play outside their home state for the first time all season. MSU has a nice blend of offense and defense, including two of the best players in the Big Ten. Quarterback Kirk Cousins (1,617 yards, 11 TDs) has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 14 straight games while linebacker Greg Jones was named national defensive player of the week for his performance during Sparty’s 26-6 win over Illinois. Michigan State beat Northwestern last season, 24-14 in East Lansing, but the Spartans would do well not to overlook the Wildcats. Dual-threat quarterback Dan Persa (1,663 yards, 10 TDs) leads the country with his 78.0 percent completion rate, and NU took last week off to prepare. Still, Northwestern remains suspect at times on defense and that should make the difference … Michigan State 31, Northwestern 23. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Duke at No. 25 Virginia Tech: Since being left for dead following season-opening losses to Boise State and I-AA James Madison, the Hokies have become a pretty good football team. They have won five in a row by an average of about three touchdowns per game and have averaged 41.2 points every time out. That kind of performance should probably continue this week against the Blue Devils, who have quarterback problems. Sophomore Sean Renfree (1,621 yards, 10 TDs) is the starter, but he has thrown 14 interceptions in the past five games. Not coincidentally, Duke has lost all five. The Hokies lead the all-time series by a 10-7 margin but that’s a little deceiving since they’ve won the last nine in a row … Virginia Tech 31, Duke 10. (12 noon ET, ACC Network)

No. 6 LSU at No. 4 Auburn: The number of undefeated teams will be reduced by one in this matchup of SEC rivals who have reached 7-0 in much different ways. The Bayou Bengals have had several cardiac finishes while the War Eagles have tried to bludgeon opponents with Heisman Trophy candidate Cam Newton at quarterback. While Newton has passed and rushed for a combined 2,138 yards and 25 TDs, LSU head coach Les Miles has employed a two-quarterback system with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. Maybe it doesn’t matter since both QBs have beaten Auburn during their careers – Lee two years ago and Jefferson last year. The onus will be on the LSU defense to try and stop Newton, who hasn’t lost a game as a starting QB since leading Blinn College (Texas) to last year’s JUCO national championship … Auburn 23, LSU 18. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 13 Wisconsin at No. 15 Iowa: Now that the Badgers have had their way with the Ohio State defense, they must travel to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes, who rank sixth nationally in scoring defense (13.2 points per game) and seventh against the run (83.3 yards). Wisconsin should roll into Kinnick Stadium with plenty of confidence but the Badgers never seem to be at their best there. Iowa has won three of the last four in the series at Kinnick and held UW’s potent offense to an average of only 12.5 points in those games. It may come down to the quarterback play between Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien and Ricky Stanzi of Iowa. Both complete around 70 percent of their passes and have combined to throw only five interceptions in 293 attempts this season. Buckle your chinstraps because this ought to be a good one … Iowa 20, Wisconsin 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

Washington State at No. 12 Stanford: This has all the makings of a blowout if the Cardinal can simply retain their focus. They had last week off to savor a 37-35 victory over USC, a win during which sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck went 20 of 24 passing for 285 yards and three touchdowns. Luck directs an offense that averages 43.3 points and 471.0 yards per game, figures that respectively rank fifth and 12th nationally. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Cougars surrender 40.1 points and 493.9 yards per contest. Those figures respectively rank 118th and 120th out of 120 schools playing Division I-A football. The final score in this one all depends upon Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh and how big a statement he wants to make … Stanford 45, Washington State 13. (5 p.m. ET, FCS)

Eastern Michigan at Virginia: Just in case you missed it, the Eagles and head coach Ron English celebrated their first victory together last week with a 41-38 overtime win over Ball State. QB Alex Gillett, who turned in an admirable performance earlier this season against Ohio State, exploded for 414 yards of total offense and five touchdowns as EMU snapped an 18-game losing streak. Now, it’s back to reality and a trip to Charlottesville to face the struggling Cavaliers in their first year under head coach Mike London. Since beating up on VMI at the end of September, Virginia has lost three in a row by an average of 22.0 points per game. The Cavs’ offense has been sputtering, but you would have to believe a mid-level ACC team can still put some points on the board against the worst defense in the MAC … Virginia 34, Eastern Michigan 21. (6 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Colorado State at No. 9 Utah: The Utes would like to elbow their way alongside Boise State and TCU into the national title conversation, but they’re going to have to do a better job than they did last week. During a rather lackluster 30-6 win over Wyoming, Utah turned the ball over three more times to give the team 12 for the season. Coupled with only six takeaways by their defense, the Utes are a lowly 108th nationally in turnover margin. They are certainly going to have to shore up that part of their game before welcoming TCU to Salt Lake City in two weeks, especially since the Horned Frogs rank No. 16 in turnover margin. This week, however, Utah shouldn’t have to worry much. The Rams have turned the ball over 13 times themselves while their pass efficiency defense ranks dead last in the nation … Utah 45, Colorado State 13. (6 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)

No. 8 Alabama at Tennessee: Even though the Volunteers are 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the SEC, expect them to get Alabama’s full attention. Last year, the Crimson Tide barely escaped with a 12-10 victory that was secured only after DT Terrence Cody blocked a 44-yard field goal attempt at the end of the game. Most observers believe ’Bama will cruise this time around but the defending national champions have had their problems the last couple of weeks. Their vaunted ground game is stuck in second gear and their pressure defense has produced only eight sacks in seven games. Still, Tennessee is struggling so mightily on both offense and defense that it shouldn’t make any difference … Alabama 31, Tennessee 7. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Purdue at No. 10 Ohio State: As the Buckeyes try to pick up the pieces from last week’s loss at Wisconsin, they have an opponent coming to Columbus for homecoming they had better not overlook. Obviously, the Boilermakers scored a huge 26-18 upset over Ohio State last season but there is every reason to believe Purdue is better now than it was then. The Boilermakers try to spread the field on offense much more than they have in the past – sort of a Michigan Lite if you will – and try to let redshirt freshman QB Rob Henry make a play. So far, so good, since Henry has 399 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in his team’s Big Ten victories over Northwestern and Minnesota. Meanwhile, OSU defenders are dropping like flies as top tackler Ross Homan is sidelined with a foot injury and nickel back Christian Bryant is out with a foot infection that required surgery. A much better performance than last week is paramount for both the Ohio State defensive line and quarterback Terrelle Pryor, or the Buckeyes had better be on upset alert again … Ohio State 34, Purdue 20. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Michigan State (-5) at Northwestern; Duke (+27) at Virginia Tech; LSU (+6) at Auburn; Wisconsin (+6) at Iowa; Washington State (+35) at Stanford; Eastern Michigan (+24½) at Virginia; Colorado State at Utah (-30); Alabama (-16) at Tennessee; Purdue (+24) at Ohio State.

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

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.

Fiesta or Sugar? Pick Your Poison

I don’t want to look any gift horse in the mouth but if Ohio State is truly going to go to the Arizona desert for the fifth time in seven years, the Buckeyes had better do everything different this time.

No more staying at the palatial Scottsdale Princess hotel. No more practicing at Pinnacle High School in Scottsdale. No more white jerseys – wear the scarlet ones even if it means giving up one team timeout per half. And, please, please, please, no more midnight runs to In-N-Out Burger.

If we’re reading the tea leaves correctly, it appears the Buckeyes are going to make another trek to the Fiesta Bowl this season and will probably play Texas. (That, of course, means everything has to go according to plan this weekend. Should Missouri somehow find a way to upset Oklahoma, all BCS bets are off.)

Pitting Ohio State against Texas would seem to be a dream matchup for the Phoenix-area folks who stage the bowl – two of the winningest programs in college football history meeting for only the third time ever and the first time in a bowl.

If it turns out to be OSU vs. the Longhorns in the Fiesta Bowl, neither team will travel to Phoenix with pleasant memories of their last trip to the desert. UT-Austin has made only one previous appearance in the Fiesta Bowl and that was a 38-15 loss to Penn State in the 1997 game. Ohio State, of course, was skewered to the ugly tune of 41-14 decision by Florida in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.

There is another reason why the Longhorns may envision a Fiesta Bowl trip as something less than ideal. They probably should be playing the Big 12 championship game this Saturday with an eye toward the national title game, and anything less is likely to be a downer.

As for the Buckeyes, they should be elated about securing a sixth Bowl Championship Series berth in seven seasons. They also should send Oregon a Christmas card to thank the Ducks for knocking off Oregon State last weekend. That bumped the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl picture, supplanted USC in their place and paved the way for Ohio State to move into the big-money BCS mix.

Speaking only for myself, I would prefer a trip to the Orange Bowl. OSU has not played a postseason game in travel-friendly Florida since 2001 and it hasn’t appeared in the Orange Bowl since the 1977 game. (How long ago was that? It was the final bowl victory in Woody Hayes’ career.)

But the way the various BCS games pick their teams is about as convoluted as the way their standings are determined. The Orange seems destined to have Big East champion Cincinnati pitted against the ACC title game winner, leaving the Buckeyes available to be selected by either the Fiesta or Sugar bowl committees. To me, that’s a pick-your-poison scenario.

Not many OSU fans I talked with last year had a very good opinion of New Orleans. I have been to the Crescent City several times – both before Hurricane Katrina and after – and it is pretty much the same kind of touristy destination it has always been. Stay in the French Quarter and you’ll be OK. Venture elsewhere and take your chances.

Having acknowledged that, I would just as soon take a few more years off from going to the Fiesta Bowl. For one thing, it is a much different animal now that the game is played in suburban Glendale as opposed to quaint little Tempe. The game-day atmosphere around Sun Devil Stadium was lively and spirited with plenty of local establishments waiting with open arms to welcome fans of the participating teams. That was most likely because Tempe is a college town and Sun Devil Stadium is a college football venue – in other words, they know how to stage a college football game.

Glendale and its state-of-the-art University of Phoenix Stadium have all the charm of a school bus. Supposedly, there are more eateries and attractions that have been built in proximity to the stadium since last Ohio State and its fans visited for what is universally known as “The Debacle in the Desert.” That would be an improvement since amenities were nearly non-existent last time.

I also wonder just how many OSU fans will return to the desert after last time. There were reports of price-gouging – not only around town but at the sanctioned events and official tailgate parties for the Buckeyes themselves. I guess when you charge $10.50 for a single beer, you’re leaving yourself open for criticism. Of course, you have to pay for a $455 million retractable-roof stadium somehow.

While the amenities and attractions of the host city are important – especially to fans making the trip – the bottom line this year is simple. Pass-happy Texas, BCS buster Utah, defense-minded Alabama, high-scoring Florida and pesky Cincinnati each would bring something unique into a game against the Buckeyes.

But whoever the opponent, whatever the destination, after the last two years, there is only one option for Ohio State this time around. SEC redemption? A Big 12 beatdown? Defending the Big Ten’s honor? Who cares? Just win, baby.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Here are my BCS game predictions: Oklahoma vs. Florida in the championship game, Ohio State vs. Texas in the Fiesta, Alabama vs. Utah in the Sugar, Boston College vs. Cincinnati in the Orange and USC vs. Penn State in the Rose. That’s two spots each for the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten, one each for the ACC, Big East and Pac-10 and one for a so-called BCS buster.

** Did you know that USC and Penn State have not met in the postseason since the 1982 Fiesta Bowl? The then-independent Nittany Lions scored a 26-10 decision over the Trojans and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen.

** I’m flipping the top two on my Heisman Trophy ballot from last week. This week, I moved Texas QB Colt McCoy to the top, leapfrogging Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford? My reasoning is simple (and, no, it is not some sort of protest due to the BCS jumping OU over UT-Austin in its standings). I believe the Sooners would be a comparable team to what they are today without Bradford in the lineup while McCoy is far and away the most valuable player on the Longhorns. There really isn’t a whole lot of difference in the two but I have to break the tie somehow. My third pick will still probably be Ohio State running back Chris “Beanie” Wells although I could be persuaded to throw a bone to someone like Ball State QB Nate Davis or Boise State DB Kyle Wilson, who had eight interceptions to go along with three punt returns for touchdowns.

** Anyone who has read any of my stuff since 1990 knows how I feel about former Ohio State running back Robert Smith. However, with regard to Florida QB Tim Tebow and his Heisman candidacy this year, Smith and I agree. Yes, Tebow is the quarterback for a team likely headed to the BCS title game. Yes, he has picked things up down the stretch. But his overall numbers – 2,299 yards and 25 TDs through the air, 507 yards and 12 scores on the ground – are hardly Heisman-worthy.

** Saturday’s SEC championship game between Alabama and Florida will mark the 40th time that the top two teams in the Associated Press poll have met with the top-ranked team holding a 23-15-1 edge. This is, however, the first 1-vs.-2 matchup ever to be waged in a conference championship game.

** Oklahoma has put up some ridiculous offensive numbers this season. To wit: The Sooners have 47 touchdown passes this season; Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan combined for 45. The Sooners are averaging 53.3 points per game this season; Auburn, Tennessee and Mississippi State of the invincible SEC combined to average 49.9. And OU leads the nation with only nine turnovers; at the other end of the spectrum is Washington State, which committed 38.

** When Boston College takes on Virginia Tech this week in the ACC Championship Game, play attention to the Eagles and not just when they have the ball. BC is working on a streak of seven consecutive games in which it has scored a non-offensive touchdown. The streak continued last week in a 28-21 win over Maryland when the Eagles scored on a 9-yard touchdown pass off a fake field goal and a 36-yard interception return. The INT return made it four games in a row that BC has had a pick-six.

** USC will wear its home cardinal red jerseys Saturday in the Rose Bowl when it takes on UCLA. Because that violates an NCAA rule that requires visiting teams to wear white, the infraction will cost the Trojans one timeout per half.

** While offense continues to get the publicity (see above), playing able to play a modicum of defense still determines the difference between winning and losing. Houston quarterback Case Keenum threw for 494 yards and five touchdowns Saturday against crosstown rival Rice. Keenum also completed an NCAA-record 25 straight passes at one juncture. Final score: Rice 56, Houston 42. There were 57 first downs in the game not to mention 1,225 yards of total offense.

** By the way, Keenum is just one game shy of equaling another NCAA record. The 6-1, 210-pound sophomore’s performance against Rice pushed his streak of consecutive 300-yard passing games to 13. The NCAA record-holder with 14 is Tulsa QB Paul Smith, who finished his career last season with 312 yards in the Golden Hurricane’s 63-7 GMAC Bowl romp over Bowling Green. In case you wondered, Smith was signed as an undrafted free agent by Jacksonville is currently on the Jaguars’ practice squad.

** More individual passing records were set last weekend. Eastern Michigan quarterback Andy Schmitt was 58 for 80 for 516 yards and five touchdowns during a 55-52 upset of Central Michigan. The 58 completions were an all-division NCAA record for a single game.

** Texas teams have gotten a lot of ink this season for producing big offensive numbers. But you have to go one state north to find the best offenses in college football. Oklahoma and Tulsa finished one-two in scoring offense this season, combining for 190 touchdowns. The entire SEC West Division – which includes No. 1 Alabama and defending national champion LSU – combined to score only 221 TDs .

** While you ponder all of those dizzying passing stats, here is a stat for you to underline how important running the ball remains in the Big Ten. Of the top 100 quarterbacks in the country, four conference QBs are ranked in the bottom 15 in terms of pass efficiency. They are Brian Hoyer of Michigan State (85th), C.J. Bachér of Northwestern (86th), Kellen Lewis of Indiana (94th) and Steven Threet of Michigan (96th). The highest rated passer in the Big Ten: Daryll Clark of Penn State at No. 22.

** LSU’s fourth-quarter meltdown at seven-loss Arkansas last Saturday gave the Tigers a 7-5 record, the most regular-season defeats for a defending national champion in the AP poll since Ohio State went 3-6 in 1943. At least the Buckeyes had an excuse – their roster from ’42 was decimated by players enlisting in the military to fight in World War II. Les Miles’ excuse this season? Anyone? Anyone at all?

** Congratulations to kicking specialist Louie Sakoda of Utah, the only player in the nation who is a finalist for both the Lou Groza and Ray Guy awards. Sakoda, who has converted 21 of 23 field-goal tries this season while averaging 41.7 yards per punt, is only the second player in history to be named a finalist for both awards. Travis Dorsch of Purdue was the first – he won the 2001 Guy Award and finished behind Tulane’s Seth Marler for the ’01 Groza Award. Dorsch is currently punting for Winnipeg in the CFL while Marler is kicking for Tampa Bay in the arena league.

** Cal Poly will have a bad taste in its mouth for the entire offseason. The Mustangs missed three PATs in their regular-season finale, allowing Wisconsin to escape with a 36-35 overtime win in Madison. Then, Cal Poly bowed in the first round of the Division I-AA playoffs last weekend by committing five turnovers and losing a 49-35 decision to Weber State. The Mustangs entered the game with only six turnovers all season.

** Speaking of Division I-AA teams, evidently they can throw the ball, too. Appalachian State got a school-record 433 yards from QB Armanti Edwards as the Mountaineers cruised to a 37-21 victory last weekend over South Carolina State.

** Mount Union is on track for another Division III national championship and running back Nate Kmic is a major reason. In last week’s second-round win playoff win over Hobart (N.Y.), Kmic pushed his career rushing total to 7,449 yards and that is a new D-III record. Kmic needs 514 more yards to break the NCAA all-division record, established just last year at 7,962 by Danny Woodhead of Division II Chadron (Neb.) State.

** If the Purple Raiders keep winning, Kmic could have as many as three more games in which to break the record. Mount Union, the No. 1 seed in the D-III playoffs, is seeking its 10th national championship in the last 16 seasons.

** It wasn’t a good weekend to be a top seed in the Division II playoffs. All quarterfinal hosts lost, including top seed Grand Valley State (Mich.). The Lakers, who won the D-II national title four times during a five-year period between 2002 and 2006, lost a 19-13 decision in double overtime to unbeaten Minnesota-Duluth.

** Twenty years ago today, the Heisman Trophy winner was nowhere near New York when he learned he had won college football’s top individual award. On Dec. 4, 1988, Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders was preparing for a game to be played in Tokyo, Japan, when he received the news he had won the ’88 Heisman. Sanders celebrated by rushing 44 times for 332 yards and four TDs as the Cowboys took a 45-42 victory over Texas Tech. Sanders’ performance allowed him to establish a new NCAA single-season rushing record with 2,628 yards in 11 games.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 2, 1972, Army blocked a field goal and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown during a 23-15 win over Navy and won the first-ever Commander-In-Chief Trophy; on Dec. 3, 1999, Marshall QB Chad Pennington threw a touchdown pass on the final play of the game and the Thundering Herd came back to beat Western Michigan, 34-30, in the MAC Championship Game; and on Dec. 6, 1969, top-rated Texas overcame a 14-0 fourth-quarter deficit and rallied for a 15-14 win at No. 2 Arkansas.

** This week also featured one of the early landmark victories in Joe Paterno’s long career. On Dec. 7, 1968, Penn State took a 30-12 win over Syracuse, extending its regular-season winning streak to 18 straight games. The Nittany Lions were led by halfback Bobby Campbell, who rushed 24 times for 239 yards and set a school record with an 87-yard touchdown run. The win also secured Penn State’s first undefeated and untied season since 1947 and the first of five perfect seasons (so far) under Paterno.

** Today also marks a milestone birthday for my wife Lisa. She may be 50 but she looks 30 and makes me feel like I’m 20. Anyone who knows her knows what a lucky guy I am. A very, very happy birthday to my biggest fan.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It wasn’t that difficult to forecast last week’s games as the top teams jockeyed for those BCS style points. Straight up and against the spread, we finished with 6-1 records and that makes us 93-34 SU and 69-54-1 ATS.

With the final week of the college football regular season comes conference championship games and another Saturday filled with good entertainment. Here is what we’ll be watching this weekend:

FRIDAY’S GAME

MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 12 Ball State vs. Buffalo: These teams are enjoying their best seasons in many years. The Cardinals recorded their first perfect regular season since 1949 while the Bulls are bowl-eligible for the first time since moving up to Division I-A in 1999. Ball State QB Nate Davis (3,095 yards, 25 TDs) has been getting most of the publicity this year but Buffalo has a pretty good quarterback, too, in senior Drew Willy (2,885 yards, 22 TDs). The game will also feature two of the nation’s top running backs, both juniors – MiQuale Lewis, who ranks fourth in the nation for the Cardinals with an average of 130.8 yards per game, and James Starks of Buffalo, who ranks sixth at 122.6. The difference in the game will likely be on defense where Ball State is 10th in the country in scoring defense (16.7 points per game) while the Bulls are 77th (27.8). There is also the small fact that Buffalo is 0-8 against ranked teams since joining I-A … Ball State 31, Buffalo 17. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Army vs. Navy: To be able to call yourself a true fan of college football, you have to watch at least a little of the Army-Navy game each year. If the pageantry of the Cadets and Midshipmen entering the stadium doesn’t give you a chill, check your pulse. This year, the Middies would appear to have the upper hand, especially since they continue to run the same kind of triple-option offense they did under former head coach Paul Johnson. Navy is the No. 1 rushing team in the nation and had four different running backs who gained 480 or more yards this season. That quartet also combined for 24 rushing touchdowns. The Black Knights can run the ball, too, with senior Collin Mooney totaling 1,307 yards. Unfortunately for Army, most of its damage was done between the 20-yard lines – it ranks 114th out of 119 Division I-A teams in scoring … Navy 28, Army 14. (12 noon EST, CBS)

CONFERENCE USA CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

East Carolina at Tulsa: Be forewarned that we have yet to pick Tulsa correctly this season. Still, how can you go against a team that averaged nearly 50 points per game this year? You may not have heard of Golden Hurricane QB David Johnson, but he is one of the nation’s best pure passers. Johnson tops the nation in pass efficiency, and he has thrown for 3,671 yards and 42 TDs. Where things get dicey for Tulsa is on defense. The Hurricane simply try to outscore the opposition, and they’ve given up 30 or more points in half of their 12 games. It seems difficult to believe the Pirates can keep up, especially since they have scored 30 or more points only twice all season … Tulsa 45, East Carolina 31. (12 noon EST, ESPN2)

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 18 Boston College vs. Virginia Tech: In nearly every game, there are key matchups to consider. Not here. The winner of this game will be predicated on how many mistakes the other team makes. BC has depended on defensive and special teams touchdowns all season, including a 65-yard punt return for a score in its 28-23 win over the Hokies earlier this year. But the game shouldn’t have been that close – the Eagles committed five turnovers and Tech returned two interceptions for TDs. If its a mistake-free game, Boston College should win this one easily. Trouble is, no one expects a mistake-free game … Boston College 27, Virginia Tech 23. (1 p.m. EST, ABC)

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Florida: If both of these teams bring their “A” games, this contest should be very entertaining. The Tide have stayed undefeated by sticking to a philosophy of ball control and defense. Meanwhile, the Gators have bludgeoned their opponents, winning their last seven games by an average of 40.9 points. As good as it has been on defense, no one believes Alabama will be able to stop Florida’s attack even without receiver Percy Harvin, whose gimpy ankle leaves him questionable for Saturday. Even if the Tide finds a way to slow down the Gators, the UF defense should be able to force a couple of miscues out of Bama QB John Parker Wilson. Look for the Urban Legends to make a second trip in three years to the national championship game … Florida 23, Alabama 17. (4 p.m. EST, CBS)

No. 5 USC at UCLA: Could this be one of those games in which the Trojans completely lose focus? Not very likely. Those kinds of games typically occur in midseason, and Pistol Pete has done a pretty good job lately of keeping his team motivated because of its perceived BCS slight. The cold, hard truth of the matter is that the Bruins are probably no better matchup for USC than Notre Dame was last week. In fact, the Uclans are worse – they rank 107th in the country in scoring offense and 116th in rushing. The Trojans should roll while getting very comfortable with their Rose Bowl surroundings … USC 41, UCLA 3. (4:30 p.m. EST, ABC)

Big 12 CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 19 Missouri at No. 4 Oklahoma: If revenge is truly a dish served better cold, the Tigers had better hope for one of those Alberta clippers to hit Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night. Putting the Sooners in the deep freeze might be the only way Mizzou can get payback for getting knocked out of the national championship game by OU last year. There are tiny cracks in Oklahoma’s armor. QB Sam Bradford has torn ligaments in his non-throwing left hand and the injury led to a couple of bad snaps last week. Also, the Sooners aren’t exactly stellar on defense, ranking only 66th in the country in total defense and 98th in pass defense. Those rankings are better than Missouri, though, which is 91st in total defense and 116th against the pass. If you like your scores big and bad, this game is for you … Oklahoma 56, Missouri 35. (8 p.m. EST, ABC)

No. 13 Cincinnati at Hawaii: On the off-chance that Ohio State falls into the Orange Bowl, it’s worth scoping out the Bearcats as they take a victory lap to the land of balmy breezes and swaying palm trees. UC is led by junior quarterback Tony Pike, who despite playing with a painfully bruised sternum and a broken bone in his non-throwing hand, has managed to throw for 2,060 yards sand 17 TDs. Where Brian Kelly’s team has really distinguished itself, however, is defensively. The Bearcats give up an average of only 19.8 points per game, and that matches up well against a rebuilding Hawaii offense that has turned the ball over 33 times in 12 games … Cincinnati 27, Hawaii 17. (11:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Ball State (-13½) vs. Buffalo; Army vs. Navy (-10½); East Carolina at Tulsa (-11); Boston College (-1) vs. Virginia Tech; Alabama (+10) vs. Florida; USC (-27) at UCLA; Missouri at Oklahoma (-14½); Cincinnati (-6½) at Hawaii.

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

Top 10 College Football Coaches

While on vacation last week, I visited one of my favorite Southwest Florida establishments and overhead a discussion about college football coaches. Being in SEC country, most of the argument centered on coaches from the conference that has won the last two national championships.

One guy was absolutely convinced that Florida head coach Urban Meyer was the best in the entire country. His buddy argued that while Meyer was very good, he wasn’t even the best coach in his own conference. That distinction, he argued, was reserved for former Florida boss and current South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

Neither could agree on much with one notable exception – their mutual hatred for Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer despite 147 wins over the last 15 seasons including the 1998 national championship.

Naturally, the discussion got me to thinking about the best college coaches in the country. Here is my top 10. See how it compares with yours.

1. Pete Carroll, USC – Most people forget that Carroll was damaged goods when he surfaced in L.A. in 2001. He was basically run out of the NFL, fired by the New York Jets and the New England Patriots. But the Trojans couldn’t exactly afford to be choosy at the time they hired Carroll. They were coming off a five-year stretch during which they were 31-29, and Carroll’s first season in 2001 produced a 6-6 record and tie for sixth place in the Pac-10. Since then, the Men of Troy have had six straight seasons with 11 or more victories, have never finished lower than No. 4 in the final AP poll during that stretch and won back-to-back national titles in 2003 and ’04. All that plus the top winning percentage among all active I-A coaches at .844 – throw out that first season and it’s a stratospheric .897.

2. Jim Tressel, Ohio State – Let’s forget for a second that Tressel’s team has lost consecutive BCS title games. Let’s also forget that he doesn’t court media attention, making him less than desirable for the national outlets like ESPN and more susceptible to their potshots. Despite all of that, it is the black and white of Tressel’s résumé that sets him apart from most of his contemporaries. He is one of a handful of Division I-A coaches with 60 or more wins over the past six seasons. His team is shooting for a historic third straight outright Big Ten championship. And he has beaten his archrival six out of seven times, and that hadn’t happened in nearly 50 years. Then throw in the fact that his teams have played for the national championship nine times over the past 17 seasons – winning five titles – and you begin to see why Tressel belongs near the top of this list.

3. Urban Meyer, Florida You may not like his smug demeanor, and you may not like it that he always seems to looking for an opportunity to fatten his wallet. But make no mistake – Meyer is a bona fide winner. So far, he has turned around the fortunes at three different schools. He was 17-6 in two seasons at Bowling Green after the Falcons had gone 24-42 in the preceding six years. He was 22-2 at Utah after the Utes were 17-17 in their previous three seasons. And after the three-year Ron Zook experiment produced a mediocre 23-15 record at Florida, Meyer has won 31 of 39 games in three seasons while producing the 2006 national championship and 2007 Heisman Trophy quarterback Tim Tebow, the first sophomore ever to win the award.

4. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma You think Tressel and his team have had a rough go lately in the postseason? After winning his first three BCS bowl games, Stoops is now working on a four-game losing streak, the most recent a particularly ugly 48-28 loss to West Virginia in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. Nevertheless, Oklahoma annually seems to be a player in the national championship story. Maybe that’s because Stoops has led his team to 90 victories since the start of the 2000 season, the most at the Division I-A level during that span. Of course, his résumé also boasts the 2000 national title as well as a career winning percentage of .815 that is second among active coaches only to Carroll.

5. Mark Richt, Georgia Fourth among active I-A coaches with a .791 winning percentage, Richt is one of only six coaches to win a pair of SEC crowns in his first five seasons. His Georgia teams have won nine or more games in each of the past six years, won five of their last six bowl games and finished among the country’s top 10 teams five of the past six seasons. One other thing about Richt – he was the architect of Florida State’s potent offensive attacks throughout the 1990s. When he was QBs coach and offensive coordinator with the Seminoles, they went 120-15-1 (.886) with two national titles. Since he left, FSU has a combined record of 58-32 (.644) including 3-5 in bowl games.

6. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech – Has anyone done more with less over the past two decades than Beamer? Blacksburg is nice enough, but when you have to contend with the likes of conference foes such as Florida State, Clemson, Boston College and Miami (Fla.) – not mention all of the SEC rivals in the area – recruiting players to Virginia Tech isn’t exactly easy. Yet, Beamer has managed to post 164 victories at his alma mater, including 10 wins or more in seven of the past nine seasons. He is also acknowledged as one of the top special teams coaches in the game, and his 208 career wins rank him 12th all-time and third among active I-A coaches behind Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno.

7. Jim Leavitt, South Florida While offense usually gets the headlines, defense is typically what wins football games and Leavitt understands that concept perfectly. He was a successful defensive coordinator, most notably at Kansas State in the early 1990s, before taking over South Florida’s brand new football program in 1997. Playing four seasons as a I-AA independent before making the leap to I-A in 2001, Leavitt is the only coach the Bulls have ever known. The team took a major step last year, rising to No. 2 in the polls before losing three straight games. But Leavitt has said that was a learning experience and you get the feeling USF may come back even stronger in 2008.

8. Greg Schiano, Rutgers You to be doing something right to make Rutgers one of the must-see teams in the nation. Thanks to a couple of excellent recruiting classes – not to mention an agreement to play several games in front of a Thursday night national television audience – the Scarlet Knights have become one of the most entertaining acts in college football. After beginning his career in Piscataway with a dismal four-year record of 12-34, Schiano has turned things around these past three seasons. Since 2005, the Knights have gone 26-12, including a pair of impressive bowl wins the last two years. If Schiano continues to win at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey is going to find it difficult to keep him under contract.

9. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech – The proof is how good Johnson really is will become clearer starting this year when he takes over the Yellow Jackets, a team that has won more than seven games only once in the past seven seasons. But it’s not like Tech is going way out on a limb with Johnson, who turns 51 on Aug. 20. His throwback triple-option offense got Navy to five straight bowls and captured back-to-back Division I-AA national titles at Georgia Southern. The first of those championships came in 1999 against Youngstown State, then coached by Tressel.

10. Jeff Tedford, Cal Some of the shine may be off the 46-year-old Tedford after the Bears stumbled to a 7-6 season last year. But there is every indication that was a one-year aberration. Before Tedford got to Berkeley, the Bears hadn’t had a winning season in eight year. Since he arrived in 2002, Cal is 50-26 with four bowl victories and the program’s first Pac-10 championship in 31 years. Among the coach’s many attributes is churning out NFL quarterbacks. Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington, Billy Volek, A.J. Feeley, Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers are all Tedford protégés.

Honorable mention – Pat Hill, Fresno State; Gary Patterson, TCU; Brian Kelly, Cincinnati; Tom O’Brien, North Carolina State.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to one of the most underrated receivers in Ohio State history. Bruce Jankowski was born Aug. 12, 1949, in Patterson, N.J., and was a star running back at Fairview High School. He was converted to receiver when he got to Columbus and became a member of the Super Sophomores, who helped carry OSU to the 1968 national championship. That season, Jankowski led the Buckeyes with 31 catches for 328 yards and three TDs, and finished his three-year career with 66 receptions for 968 and nine touchdowns. After graduation, Jankowski played two seasons in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs before retiring in 1972. He currently lives in Kansas about a half-hour south of Kansas City.

Also celebrating birthdays today: two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All The President’s Men”); race car driver and owner Parnelli Jones; overly tanned actor George Hamilton; guitarist extraordinaire and Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler; self-proclaimed psychic Miss Cleo (born Youree Dell Harris); rapper Sir Mix A Lot (born Anthony Ray); comedian/actor/writer Michael Ian Black (born Michael Schwartz); actor Casey Affleck (Ben’s little brother); Wheel of Fortune announcer Charlie O’Donnell; Memphis Grizzlies forward Antoine Walker; New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress; San Diego Chargers receiver Chris Chambers; and 14-time Grand Slam tennis champion Pete Sampras.

Today would also have marked the 73rd birthday of character actor John Cazale. You may not recognize the name, but Cazale played supporting roles in several classic films of the 1970s. In addition to portraying, Stan in “The Conversation,” Stosh in “The Deer Hunter” and Al Pacino’s bank robber accomplice Sal in “Dog Day Afternoon,” Cazale was hang-dog older brother Fredo Corleone in “The Godfather” trilogy. Sadly, Cazale died of bone cancer in 1978 at the age of 42 just as his career was taking off. Each of the five films in which he appeared during his lifetime – as well as “The Godfather: Part III,” which used archival footage of Cazale’s performance as Fredo – were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

AND FINALLY

** If you see yesterday’s trade by Cincinnati of outfielder Adam Dunn to Arizona as anything more than a salary dump, better check your eyesight. I have been a Reds fan all my life, but the last few years of listening to fans and their constant whining about Dunn and future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. is about all I can stand. Maybe it’s simple karma that Cincinnati fans haven’t been able to cheer for a World Series champion since 1990. They don’t deserve it.

** When the 2008 baseball season comes to a close, and the last game has been played in historic Yankee Stadium, the team will put several items from the park up for public auction. As unbelievable as this sounds, one of the items slated to be sold is the iconic Babe Ruth Monument situated behind the centerfield fence. Noted sports memorabilia appraiser Leila Dunbar estimates the monument could bring somewhere between $250,000 and $2 million.

** Speaking of sports memorabilia, there is a “Favre Comeback Special” advertisement in the September issue of Sports Collectors Monthly. Signed items include a mini-helmet for $159.95, an authentic jersey for $389.95 and a ProLine authentic full-size helmet for $439.95. Yes, each of those items are from Green Bay.

** If this truly is Joe Paterno’s final season at Penn State, it would seem pretty much of a lock that his successor will be Greg Schiano of Rutgers. Schiano, a Bucknell grad who spent six seasons in the 1990s on Paterno’s staff in Happy Valley, won’t be that difficult to get. According to conflicting reports, Schiano either has a relatively small $500,000 buyout clause in his current contract with the Scarlet Knights or no buyout clause at all.

** ESPN recently announced that Chick-fil-A has signed on as a sponsor for the College GameDay show featuring Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit. I suppose there is some joke in there about the synergy between the eponymous show and chicken, but you can probably come up with your own.

** Jack Rockne died Sunday in South Bend, Ind., of throat cancer at the age of 82. He was the last surviving child of legendary Notre Dame head coach Knute Rockne, who died in a plane crash in 1931. Jack is survived by four children, including daughter Jeanne Anne, who lives in Columbus.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.