With sincere apologies to Santa for its lateness, here is my Christmas list this year and it’s a fairly lengthy one.
For Jim Tressel: A bowl victory. That would stop a lot of the petty criticism for a guy who restored elite status to the Ohio State football program.
For Terrelle Pryor: The allowance to do what he was recruited to do. Watching a replay of Texas beating USC in the Rose Bowl, I saw Mack Brown saying that Vince Young’s career really took off “when we decided to leave him alone.” Sounds like pretty good advice where Pryor is concerned.
For Beanie Wells: One entire injury-free season. And as long as I’m wishing, here’s hoping that occurs in 2009 at Ohio State.
For Todd Boeckman: A shot at an NFL job. I’m still not sure what this poor guy did to deserve so much vitriol from fans, but it would be nice if he was a late-round draft selection next April. Certainly if there is room in the NFL for Ken Dorsey, there is a spot somewhere for Todd Boeckman.
For Archie Griffin: A statue outside Ohio Stadium. When is the university going to get off its duff and commemorate the world’s only two-time Heisman Trophy with a likeness outside the Horseshoe? While they’re at it, statues of Woody Hayes, Chic Harley and Bill Willis are long overdue as well. Are you telling me we can have 100 different sculptures of Brutus but nothing to signify the most important figures in Ohio State football history?
For university presidents: A set of better priorities. If you’re not going to give fans a Division I-A playoff, at least get a handle on the bowl season. Games strung out over a three-week period simply waters down the product.
For Troy Smith: A ticket out of Baltimore. I thought Troy proved at the end of last season he could play in the NFL. But it’s obviously not going to happen with the Ravens. Cleveland, perhaps?
For Jim Lachey: A bust in Canton. It seems ridiculous to me that Lachey keeps getting passed over for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He started 129 of 131 NFL games during a 10-year career, was named to three Pro Bowls, was a three-time All-Pro, and as a member of the Hogs helped Washington win Super Bowl XXVI.
For Thad Matta: Another trip to the Final Four. I don’t know why, but I have this feeling that a Matta team is going to make a Cinderella trip to the Final Four – and soon.
For Michael Jenkins: A Super Bowl ring. The Atlanta Falcons are one of the best turnaround stories of the year thanks to rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. One of Ryan’s favorite receivers is Jenkins, who has established a new career-high in yardage. A Falcons run to the Super Bowl would also mean a ring for tight end Ben Hartsock, truly one of the good guys, as well as former Buckeyes Simon Fraser and Alex Stepanovich.
For Donnie Nickey: A Super Bowl ring. In case you forgot, Nickey is in his sixth season as a backup safety and special teams player for Tennessee. If the Falcons can’t win, I’ll take the Titans.
For B.J. Mullens: The good sense to stay in college for at least one more year.
For Ray Small: A really loud alarm clock.
For Nathan Williams: A different set of friends.
For Jake Ballard: John Frank’s playbook, deposited on Jim Tressel’s desk.
For Boom Herron: A growth spurt. Two inches in height, 10 pounds in weight.
For Brandon Saine: Patience.
For any Ohio State fullback: An average of one carry per game.
For Jim Bollman: A healthy 2009 starting line of Mike Adams, Jim Cordle, Michael Brewster, Justin Boren and J.B. Shugarts.
For Bob Todd: A trip to Omaha. Probably a huge wish.
For Tom Ryan: A national championship. Probably not as big a wish as you might think.
For Joe Daniels, Lawrence Wilson, Andre Amos, Dan Potokar and David Lighty: Renewed health.
For Tyson Gentry: A miracle.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman is one of three finalists for the sixth annual Bobby Bowden Award, given by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for the top Division I-A player who conducts himself as a faith model in the community, in the classroom and on the field. The other finalists are Illinois center Ryan McDonald and Texas A&M running back Stephen McGee. The winner will be announced Jan. 6.
** Success is a relative thing. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe went just 4-8 in his first season with the Blue Devils. But because that was such an improvement over what the team had done in recent years – just four victories in the previous four seasons combined – Cutcliffe got a two-year contract extension to coach at Duke through 2015.
** If you can figure this one out, you’re doing better than me. Florida QB Tim Tebow got the most first-place votes in the Heisman Trophy balloting yet finished third behind Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Colt McCoy of Texas. The other day, the venerable Sporting News released its postseason awards and had a three-way tie for player of the year: Bradford, McCoy and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech. If you’re going to wimp out and have three players of the year, you may as well add Tebow and make it four.
** The deluge of college juniors declaring for the NFL draft has begun. Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis is among the first and the two-time All-Big Ten selection will likely be a rich man come April. The 6-0, 204-pounder led all conference cornerbacks with 78 tackles in 2008, and is projected to be taken in the first round of the draft.
** Ever hear that saying about how the rich only get richer? What about the poor? Coming off the worst season in its history, Michigan has already lost top running back Sam McDuffie, who is transferring to a school in his home state of Texas. Now comes word the Wolverines have lost verbally committed four-star quarterback Shavodrick Beaver of Wichita Falls, Texas. And to which college powerhouse has Michigan lost Beaver? Texas? Texas Tech? Oklahoma? Nope. Would you believe Tulsa? With all due respect to the Golden Hurricane, what does it say about your program when you are contending for players with – and losing them to – a school in Conference USA?
** Remember Trace Armstrong? He played his college ball at Arizona State and Florida before embarking upon a 15-year NFL career with Chicago, Miami and Oakland. After hanging up his cleats in 2003, Armstrong got into the agenting business. But he’s not a player rep although he served eight years as president of the NFL Players Association. Armstrong specializes in representing coaches and so far this season, he is doing pretty well for his clients. He placed Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley at New Mexico as the new head coach and successfully parlayed Brady Hoke’s big season at Ball State into a higher-paying gig as head coach at San Diego State. There will likely be plenty of presents under the tree tomorrow in the Armstrong house.
**Note to Browns fans: One of Armstrong’s other clients is Marty Schottenheimer, rumored as a possible successor to Romeo Crennel in Cleveland.
** Speaking of rumors, here’s one that is currently making the rounds from Miami to South Bend to Honolulu and back again. Should Notre Dame lose to Hawaii this evening in the Hawaii Bowl, the Irish will decide the Charlie Weis experiment is a failure and cut their losses. Who will they go after as a replacement? Urban Meyer, who told listeners to a South Florida radio show last week that Notre Dame is “still my dream job. That hasn’t changed.”
** Ron English was announced yesterday as the new head coach at Eastern Michigan. Yes, that’s the same Ron English who was defensive coordinator at Michigan, whose once-proud stop troops surrendered 32 or more points in six of their last 15 games under his tutelage. It is also the same Ron English who was defensive coordinator at Louisville this past season when the Cardinals allowed nearly 30 points a game, including 63 in their season finale against Rutgers. Now, English takes over a program at Eastern Michigan team that finished next-to-last in the MAC in total defense and 109th among 119 Division I-A schools in scoring defense in 2008. Hmmmmm.
** Have you ever heard of Doug Marrone? How about Reaves Baysinger? Maybe if you were an aficionado of Syracuse football, you’d know. Marrone just got hired as head coach of the Orange after spending the last three seasons as offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints. He is the first Syracuse alum to serve as head coach since Baysinger in 1948. For the Orange’s sake, let’s hope Marrone does better. Baysinger lasted only two seasons after posting a 4-14 record.
** Here’s another name to remember: Mark Hudspeth. He just left Division II North Alabama, where he had compiled a 66-21 record in seven seasons, to join Dan Mullen’s new staff at Mississippi State. Hudspeth will become passing game coordinator for Mullen, who was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Urban Meyer at Florida before replacing Sylvester Croom in Starkville. Anyone think the Bulldogs are fixin’ to throw the ball next year?
** So long to Sammy Baugh, who died Dec. 17 at the age of 94. Most people know that “Slingin’ Sammy” rewrote the NFL record books with the Washington Redskins, including becoming the first and only player ever to lead the league in passing, punting, and interceptions in the same season. But many don’t know that he was a star college player for TCU in the mid-1930s, leading the Horned Frogs to the 1935 national championship and finishing fourth in the 1936 Heisman Trophy balloting. TCU players wore a “45” sticker on their helmets during last night’s Poinsettia Bowl win over Boise State in memory of Baugh.
** Congratulations to Richmond, which cashed in on its first-ever appearance in the Division I-AA championship game. The Spiders rolled to a 24-7 victory over Montana last Friday night. Montana won the I-AA title in 2001 and was runner-up in 2004.
** Mount Union won its 10th national championship at the Division III level in the past 16 seasons, knocking off defending champ Wisconsin-Whitewater last Saturday by a 31-26 score. The two teams have met in the D-III title game for the fourth consecutive years with the Purple Raiders taking the 2005, ’06 and ’08 crowns.
** Mount Union running back Nate Kmic capped a record-breaking career with 88 yards and a touchdown, and became the first running back in NCAA history to crack the 8,000-yard mark. Kmic finished his career with 8,074 yards and also broke Division III postseason records for rushing yards, touchdowns and points scored.
** Despite Kmic’s heroics, it was Mount Union QB Greg Micheli who was named the Gagliardi Trophy winner as the outstanding NCAA Division III player of the year. Micheli was 12 for 19 for 262 yards and two touchdowns in the championship game against Montana, and finished the season with 3,749 yards and 36 touchdowns. His career totals: 568 completions in 780 attempts (72.8 percent), 8,479 yards, 81 TDs and only nine interceptions.
** Incidentally, the D-III player of the year award is named for longtime head coach John Gagliardi of St. John’s University in Minnesota. Gagliardi is college football’s all-time winningest coach with 453 victories in 60 (and counting) seasons. Gagliardi is also the only active coach who can call Joe Paterno “Sonny.” Gagliardi turned 82 on Nov. 1 while Paterno celebrated his 82nd birthday last Sunday.
** The University of Sioux Falls captured its third NAIA title last weekend with a 23-7 victory over defending champion Carroll (Mont.) College. Carroll, which defeated Sioux Falls by a 17-9 score in last year’s final, saw a 28-game winning streak end.
** Twenty years ago today marked a record bowl performance for an Alabama linebacker. On Dec. 24, 1988, the Crimson Tide wiped out a 28-20 fourth-quarter deficit and came back to beat Army 29-28 in the Sun Bowl. In that contest, Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas blocked two field goals to set an NCAA bowl record. Thomas, of course, went on to make the Pro Bowl nine times with the Kansas City Chiefs in a career that was tragically cut short by a fatal auto accident in 2000.
** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 22, 2003, North Carolina State quarterback Phillip Rivers set an NCAA record with his 54th collegiate start and celebrated by throwing for 475 yards and five TDs to lead the Wolfpack to a 56-26 win over Kansas in the Tangerine Bowl; on Dec. 25, 1899, Carlisle upset undefeated California, 2-0, in the East-West Championship game played in front of more than 15,000 fans in San Francisco; and on Dec. 27, 1971, Arizona State took a 45-38 victory over Florida State in the first-ever Fiesta Bowl. With the game tied 38-38, Sun Devils QB Danny White drove his team 57 yards, setting up a 2-yard touchdown run by halfback Woody Green with just 34 seconds remaining.
** This week also marks the birthday of one of this country’s most unsung college football and military heroes. Thomas Hamilton was born Dec. 26, 1905, in Hoopeston, Ill., (the same hometown as Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta), and grew up to become an All-America halfback at Navy. Hamilton helped lead the Midshipmen to a 9-0-1 record in 1926 while leading the country in drop-kicked field goals. Several years later, he ascended to the rank of admiral and founded the Navy V-5 preflight training program that was used in World War II. Hamilton later served two different stints as Navy’s football coach, was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1965 and served as commissioner of the Pacific 8 conference from 1959-71. Hamilton died in California in 1994 at the age of 88.
As we noted last week, we tend to stay away from bowl game for no other reason than what transpired over the weekend. Navy blew a 13-0 lead and lost by 10 to Wake Forest, Fresno State blew a 28-20 lead after three quarters and lost by five to Colorado State, and Troy enjoyed a 27-17 advantage heading into the third quarter and lost in overtime to Southern Miss. Naturally, we picked Navy, Fresno and Troy to win.
The first week of the bowl season was an excruciating one, but maybe things are looking up. We nailed last night’s TCU win over Boise State and that brought us to 2-4 both straight up and against the spread. Not great certainly, but at least somewhere to begin.
Here is the next week’s worth of bowl games and how we see them.
DEC. 24 GAMES
Hawaii vs. Notre Dame: Most people believe the Irish’s nine-game losing streak in bowl games – the longest in NCAA history – will finally come to an end. That’s probably because while Charlie Weis and his team stumbled down the stretch of the 2008 season, the Rainbows quietly won four of their last six, and one of the losses during that stretch was a 29-24 defeat to Orange Bowl-bound Cincinnati. Notre Dame lost four of its last five games, but to give the Irish their due, the defeats came against teams that combined to go 32-17 this year. Still, it’s difficult to see how such a shaky offense can navigate the sometimes-tricky Aloha Stadium winds. Plus, there is the small fact that the Rainbows are extremely tough at home – 45 wins in 55 games dating back to 2002 … Hawaii 27, Notre Dame 23. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)
DEC. 26 GAMES
Motor City Bowl
Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan: If you like offense, this game is for you. FAU averaged 47.7 points in its final three victories while the Chippewas scored 30 or more points in six games this season. Couple that with a couple of teams who believe defense is something that goes between de-house and de-sidewalk, and you have the potential for a big-time fireworks display. The game will likely come down to which quarterback makes the fewer mistakes – Dan LeFevour of Central (2,531 yards, 21 TDs) or Rusty Smith of the Owls (2,918 yards, 22 TDs). If that’s the measuring stick, give me the Chippewas – LeFevour averaged one interception for every 67.2 attempts while Smith pitched picks at twice at that pace, one every 28.6 throws. Sit back and prepare to be entertained … Central Michigan 49, Florida Atlantic 42. (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)
DEC. 27 GAMES
Meineke Car Care Bowl
West Virginia vs. North Carolina: At one time, these two teams were on track to meet one another in the Orange Bowl. Neither had any consistency during the season, however, and now they’re headed to a game in Charlotte that is ostensibly a home game for the Tar Heels. But as someone once said, “Not so fast.” North Carolina may have the better defense, but the Mountaineers still have quarterback Pat White, who is about as healthy as he has been in two years. White, who ran for 919 yards and eight TDs this season, is the NCAA’s all-time leader in career rushing among quarterbacks with 4,425 yards, including four 200-yard games. When you put him together with tailback Noel Devine, who had 1,228 yards this season for WVU, and then consider the fact that Carolina is only average against the run, you get the picture … West Virginia 30, North Carolina 23. (1 p.m. EST, ESPN)
Champs Sports Bowl
Wisconsin vs. Florida State: Talk about limping to the finish line. The Badgers struggled to beat Division I-AA Cal Poly by a single point in their season finale while the Seminoles lost two of their last three, including a 45-15 rout to Florida. These schools are meeting for the first time in history and – at least on paper – the game should be close. Both teams like to run the ball and both are pretty adept at shutting down the opposition’s passing attack. Like a lot of these bowl games, it could come down to turnovers and neither team has distinguished itself in that category – FSU is minus-3 for the season and U-Dub is minus-5. Flip a coin … Florida State 28, Wisconsin 24. (4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)
Miami (Fla.) vs. California: The key matchup here pits Bears sophomore tailback Jahvid Best against the Hurricane’s young defense. Best ran for 1,394 yards and 13 touchdowns while Miami collapsed down the stretch, surrendering a combined 691 rushing yards in losses at Georgia Tech and North Carolina State to finish the season. Football can get complicated at times, but when you have one team that likes to run the ball playing against a team that has trouble stopping the run, things get a whole lot simpler … Cal 27, Miami 23. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)
DEC. 28 GAMES
Northern Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech: The Huskies finished 6-6 this season under fist-year head coach Jerry Kill – nothing to write home about until you learn that they were 2-10 a year ago. Then when you find out NIU lost four of its six games by four points or less, and Kill’s team suddenly gets a little more respect. Meanwhile, Louisiana Tech is playing in its first bowl game since 2001 and should feel pretty much at home playing in Shreveport, just about an hour west of campus on I-20. Still, you have to watch those overachieving teams in bowl games who play like they have everything to gain and nothing to lose. That would seem to describe the Huskies to a T … Northern Illinois 31, Louisiana Tech 26. (8:15 p.m. EST, ESPN)
DEC. 29 GAMES
North Carolina State vs. Rutgers: In early October, these two teams had combined for a 3-11 record. Then the Scarlet Knights won six in a row to finish 7-5 while the Wolfpack strung together four straight victories for a 6-6 record. Rutgers has relied on the experience of its senior quarterback Mike Teel, who is his school’s all-time leading passer. Meanwhile, N.C. State has ridden on the back of redshirt freshman QB Russell Wilson, who threw for 1,769 yards and 16 TDs and added 342 yards and four more scores on the ground. Normally, you would take experience over youth. But in the upside-down world of bowl games, nothing is normal. Also, there is the small matter of the Wolfpack working on a five-game postseason win streak … North Carolina State 29, Rutgers 23. (3 p.m. EST, ESPN)
No. 21 Missouri vs. No. 23 Northwestern: If you can’t move the ball through the air in this game, you’re not trying. Mizzou QB Chase Daniel and Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bachér combined this season to throw for 6,263 yards and 51 TDs. Conversely, the Wildcats are 74th nationally in pass defense while the Tigers are 117th. Northwestern can play some ball control if senior tailback Tyrell Sutton can return from wrist surgery, and the Wildcats also possess a pretty good pass rush led by All-Big Ten defensive end Corey Wootten (9.0 sacks). One thing working against NU, however, is the fact that the school is working on a five-game losing streak in the postseason. The Wildcats haven’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl, a 20-14 win over Cal. Look for a few more points in this one … Missouri 47, Northwestern 41. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)
DEC. 30 GAMES
Maryland vs. Nevada: I still can’t get my head around a bowl game played outside in Boise, Idaho, in late December. But I guess a bowl game is a bowl game, and you certainly don’t hear any complaining from the Terrapins or Wolf Pack. This game shapes up to be a struggle between Nevada’s high-powered offense and Maryland’s stingy defense. The Terps may have their hands full against Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a two-way threat who accounted for 3,594 multipurpose yards this year, and bruising runner Vai Taua, a 225-pound bruiser who rushed for 1,420 yards and 14 TDs. There is little doubt that the ACC is a tougher conference than the WAC, but I just wonder how the Terps can manufacture enough offense to stay with the Wolf Pack … Nevada 27, Maryland 24. (4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)
No. 13 Oklahoma State vs. No. 17 Oregon: You want another shootout, you’ve got another shootout. These teams each rank in the top eight nationally in scoring offense, combining to put up more than 83 points and 950 total yards per game. The Cowboys topped the 50-point mark five times this season while Ducks equaled that and even did a little better – they scored 60 or more on three different opponents. If you’re worried about defense spoiling this show, don’t bother. The teams allowed an average of 387.5 yards and 27.5 points per game. My advice if you’re going to watch this one: Hide the remote. If you start flipping, chances are you’ll miss a score or two … Oklahoma State 56, Oregon 52. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)
Western Michigan vs. Rice: Of course, if you do want to channel-surf – and you get the NFL Network on your big screen – you’ll probably want to take a look at this game featuring two of the unsung quarterbacks in college football. Chase Clement of Rice and Tim Hiller of Western Michigan combined this past season to complete 66.5 percent of their 926 attempts for 7,339 yards and 75 TDs against only 15 interceptions. As you might expect, though, neither team seems very interested in defense. Western finished the regular season ranked 83rd nationally in total defense while the Owls were 114th. It seems hard to believe a team could suddenly get that much better on defense during bowl practice, so barring turnovers, we’ll take the MAC over the WAC in another wild one … Western Michigan 48, Rice 45. (8 p.m. EST, NFL Network)
Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Hawaii (+2½) vs. Notre Dame; Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan (-6½); West Virginia (-1) vs. North Carolina; Wisconsin (+6) vs. Florida State; Miami-FL (+8½) vs. California; Northern Illinois (+1) vs. Louisiana Tech; North Carolina State (+7½) vs. Rutgers; Missouri vs. Northwestern (+13); Maryland vs. Nevada (-2); Oklahoma State (-3) vs. Oregon; Western Michigan (+3) vs. Rice.
Enjoy the games and have a safe and very Merry Christmas.