If Not Fickell Or Meyer, Then Who?

For nearly six decades between 1951 and 2011, only four men occupied the head football coach’s office at Ohio State.

During those 60 years, Earle Bruce had the shortest tenure – nine years – and he won more than 75 percent of his games. Woody Hayes set the standard with a school-record 28 seasons, three consensus national championships and 13 Big Ten titles as well as a winning percentage of .761.

John Cooper was the head man for 13 seasons beginning in 1988 and despite all the criticism he endured, Coop still won at a 71.5-percent clip. His successor was Jim Tressel, who won seven Big Ten championships in 10 seasons, the 2002 national title and an .828 winning percentage.

What else do Bruce, Hayes, Coop and Tress all have in common? None of them left Ohio State on his own terms.

Once upon a time, before university officials decided continuity was a good thing, Ohio State was known as “The Graveyard of Coaches,” a particularly derisive nickname among the college football hierarchy. But it was a moniker well-deserved. During the 23-year period between 1929 and 1951 when Hayes was hired, the university had burned through six coaches including a future College Football Hall of Famer (Francis A. Schmidt), a future Pro Football Hall of Famer (Paul Brown) and a former local hero (three-time OSU All-American Wes Fesler).

Of the six coaches during that period, only Brown and his successor Carroll Widdoes left Ohio State of their own accord – Brown to join the U.S. Navy and serve in World War II, Widdoes because he didn’t like the pressure that came with being a head coach. Evidently that sentiment extended only to Ohio State since Widdoes later went to Ohio University and spent nine seasons as head coach there.

To be perfectly honest, Ohio State was a graveyard for coaches long before 1929. The Buckeyes had 12 different head coaches – including one that served two separate stints – between 1895 and 1913. Five of those coaches were with the team only one season, and the team had a different coach every season from 1909 to 1913.

After last weekend’s showing at Miami (Fla.), those in the Buckeye Nation convinced Luke Fickell is not yet ready for any head coaching assignment – let alone piloting one of college football’s elite programs – are more than ready to resurrect “The Graveyard of Coaches.”

The ready-made successor, of course, is Urban Meyer, the owner of an impressive résumé that includes being a native Ohioan, serving two seasons on Bruce’s coaching staff at OSU, earning a master’s degree in sports administration from Ohio State, sporting an .819 career winning percentage and winning two national championships in a three-year span at Florida.

There is something of a monkey wrench in Meyer suddenly appearing on the OSU sideline in 2012, however. The timing might not be right for him to take the job.

Meyer retired (his word, not mine) from Florida after last season, citing health problems and a desire to spend more time with his family. We all know that spending more time with one’s family is often a hollow reason cited for walking away. Anyone remember Michael Jordan saying he wanted to spend more time with his family and then spending the following summer riding a bus through the Deep South while attempting to play minor-league baseball?

In Meyer’s case, though, spending more time with his family is a plausible reason for walking away from football. He has three children, including daughters who play volleyball at Georgia Tech and Florida Gulf Coast, respectively. Yes, Meyer has taken an analyst’s job at ESPN this year, but he can easily jet to wherever the Worldwide Leader assigns him and be back home in plenty of time to watch his daughters play volleyball.

Even if Meyer reneged on the spending-more-time-with-family thing, his health is apparently no joke. He is still only 47, but has experienced several health problems all related to stress.

Meyer stepped away from his duties at Florida for a couple of months following the 2009 season after which his health seemed to improve. But when he quickly returned to the sideline for last season, the stress returned and his health rapidly deteriorated again. Frequent chest pains, severe headaches brought on by a brain cyst – each malady diagnosed as stress-related – conspired to send Meyer into a forced retirement.

The question now is if Meyer will ever return to coaching, and if he does, will he or can he return to being the relentless recruiter and tireless offensive brainiac that placed him at the top of his profession? If the answer is yes, then any team out there will consider itself lucky to get him. If the answer is no, however, what then?

What white knight would Ohio State fans have come charging to the rescue should Fickell not be renewed for 2012 and Meyer not make himself available? (And please don’t say Bob Stoops or Jon Gruden. Stoops is not leaving Oklahoma and Gruden will coach again in the NFL or not at all.)

Nick Saban of Alabama? He has 4 million reasons every year not to leave Tuscaloosa.

Gary Pinkel of Missouri? He’ll be 60 next April and his career win percentage in 20-plus seasons at Toledo and Mizzou is a hardly eye-popping .634.

Mark Dantonio of Michigan State? Past heart problems, a career .589 winning percentage and close ties to Tressel. That’s three strikes and you’re out.

Les Miles of LSU? The Board of Trustees is not going there. Besides, the last time Ohio State hired an alum from That School Up North to be its head football coach was 1906.

Mike Stoops of Arizona? Just because he is Bob’s little brother doesn’t mean he is Bob’s clone. Mike’s 1-2 start with the Wildcats this season puts his career record at 41-47.

Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator at Florida State? See above. Plus he’s never been a head coach.

Bo Pelini of Nebraska? Temperament seems to be an issue as do his interviewing skills. You have to at least wonder why he has made nine different stops in a 20-year coaching career.

My point is be careful what you wish for. Secretly hoping Fickell will fail just to pave the way for Meyer could be an exercise in futility because if he’s not ready to come back or simply doesn’t want the job, the other options just don’t seem all that inviting.

OSU-COLORADO TIDBITS

** Ohio State is 3-1 all-time against Colorado. The teams last met in 1986 when the Buckeyes took a 13-10 victory at Ohio Stadium. OSU’s other victories in the series came in 1985, a 36-13 verdict in Boulder, and a 27-10 triumph at the 1977 Orange Bowl. That marked the final bowl victory of Woody Hayes’ coaching career. Colorado scored its only win of the series with a 20-14 decision in Columbus in 1971.

** The game came about as the result of Colorado opening the season at Hawaii. Schools that travel to Hawaii are permitted a 13th regular-season game to help offset the expense of such a trip. Ohio State was looking for a home game to fill out its schedule, so the game came into being late last fall when the schedule-makers at ESPN noticed the open Sept. 24 weekend for both teams and suggested they play one another. CU agreed on the contingent that the game would be televised nationally.

** The game pits a couple of first-year head coaches who are alums and longtime assistant coaches at their respective schools. Luke Fickell was a four-year starter at Ohio State from 1993-96 who spent nine years on Jim Tressel’s staff from 2002-10. Joe Embree was an All-Big Eight tight end and served for 10 seasons under three different Colorado head coaches – Bill McCartney (1993-94), Rick Neuheisel (1995-98) and Gary Barnett (1999-2002).

** The Buckeyes are 55-26-2 all-time against current members of the Pac-12. In addition their record against the Buffaloes, they are 9-13-1 vs. USC, 8-0 vs. Oregon and Washington State, 8-3 vs. Washington, 5-1 vs. California, 4-4-1 vs. UCLA, 3-1 vs. Arizona, 2-0 vs. Arizona State and Oregon State, 1-0 vs. Utah and 2-3 vs. Stanford.

** The Buffaloes are 35-63-3 all-time against current members of the Big Ten. In addition to its record against Ohio State, CU is 18-49-2 vs. Nebraska, 4-1-1 vs. Wisconsin, 3-1 vs. Indiana, 3-0 vs. Minnesota, 2-0 vs. Iowa, 1-1 vs. Illinois, Northwestern and Penn State, 1-3 vs. Michigan and 0-3 vs. Michigan State. Colorado and Purdue have never played one another in football.

** OSU fell out of the Associated Press’ top 25 this week for the first time since Nov. 20, 2004. It ended the nation’s longest active streak in the AP rankings at 103 straight weeks.

** The Buffaloes have not enjoyed a winning season since going 7-6 in 2005. Since then, they are a combined 22-42

** Colorado is working on a school-record streak of 18 consecutive road losses (not counting neutral sites). The Buffaloes haven’t won a true road contest since a 31-26 triumph at Texas Tech in October 2007.

** OSU and Colorado enter the game on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of penalties. The Buckeyes have been flagged only nine times for 67 yards in three games while the Buffaloes have been whistled 29 times for 270 yards.

** Ohio State’s last two opponents have each topped 300 yards of total offense marking the first time in seven years that has occurred against the Buckeyes. Toledo totaled 338 yards while Miami (Fla.) went for 363, marking the first back-to-back 300-yard games the OSU defense has allowed since a three-game streak in 2004 against Michigan State (407), Purdue (384) and Michigan (399).

** Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen will be seeking to end a streak of futility his predecessors have had against Ohio State. In their four previous meetings with the Buckeyes, CU quarterbacks have combined to throw for only 239 yards on 18-for-50 passing with two touchdowns against eight interceptions.

** Colorado is one of only nine Division I-A team with just one turnover so far in 2011, and the Buffaloes have gone back-to-back games without turning the ball over for only the sixth time in their history. No CU team has ever gone three straight games without a turnover.

** Colorado hosted Cal for its Sept. 10 home opener, but the game did not count in the Pac-12 standings. The game completed a previous home-and-home series between the two schools that was agreed upon before the Buffaloes joined the conference this year. As strange as that might sound, it isn’t the first time CU has played an opponent from its own league when it didn’t count in the conference standings. The Buffaloes played Northern Colorado in 1923 when both teams were members of the Rocky Mountain Faculty Athletic Conference, but it didn’t count as a league game because Northern Colorado designated only two games on its schedule that season as conference encounters.

** Ohio State president Dr. E. Gordon Gee was president of the University of Colorado from 1985 to 1990. Gee left Boulder to become OSU president in 1990 and stayed through 1997 when he moved on to Brown (1998-2000) and later Vanderbilt (2001-07). Gee returned to Columbus in October 2007.

** The game will be televised by ABC/ESPN2 using the reverse mirror. (In case you have forgotten how the reverse mirror works, the game should be televised by your local ABC affiliate. If the game is not on that channel, look for it on ESPN2.) Veteran play-by-play man Mike Patrick will have the call along with former SMU running back Craig James providing color analysis. Kickoff is set for shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

** Next week, Ohio State kicks off the Big Ten season by hosting Michigan State. It will be an interdivisional contest since the Buckeyes are in the new Leaders Division while the Spartans are in the Legends. The game is set for a kickoff shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern and will be telecast again by ABC using ESPN on the reverse mirror.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Sept. 21, 1996, fourth-ranked Florida outgunned No. 2 Tennessee by a 35-29 final in Knoxville. The Gators raced out to a 35-6 halftime lead behind four TD passes by Danny Weurffel, but the Volunteers came back to make it close on three second-half scoring throws by Peyton Manning, who set a school record with 492 passing yards. The game was played in front of 107,608 fans at Neyland Stadium, then the largest on-campus crowd in college football history.

** Also on Sept. 21, 1996, linebacker Pat Tillman led the Arizona State defense to a 19-0 victory over top-ranked Nebraska, the first shutout of a No. 1 team since 1978.

** On Sept. 22, 1956, Notre Dame lost for the first time ever in September when unranked SMU scored a 19-13 upset in Dallas over the third-ranked Fighting Irish.

** On Sept. 22, 1990, Illinois tailback Howard Griffith set an NCAA record when he rushed for eight touchdowns during his team’s 56-21 romp over Southern Illinois in Champaign. Griffith tallied three of his TDs on consecutive carries and tied an NCAA record with four touchdowns in the third quarter. It was the most points ever scored in a college football game by a non-kicker.

** On Sept. 23, 1961, Rice stunned No. 5 LSU by a 16-3 score in front of a record home crowd of 73,000 in Houston. The Owls got a pair of touchdowns from quarterback Billy Cox and held the vaunted LSU offense, which featured future College Football Hall of Fame running back Jerry Stovall, to only a field goal.

** On Sept. 23, 1972, Purdue quarterback Gary Danielson ran for a career-high 213 yards but it wasn’t enough as 15th-ranked Washington erased a 21-0 halftime deficit and beat the Boilermakers, 22-21, in West Lafayette.

** On Sept. 24, 1983, seventh-ranked Iowa smothered No. 3 Ohio State during a 20-14 triumph in Iowa City. OSU quarterback Mike Tomczak entered the game as the nation’s leader in passing efficiency, but completed only 13 of 34 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. The victory snapped a 16-game losing streak for Iowa in the series. The Hawkeyes hadn’t beaten the Buckeyes since 1962.

** On Sept. 24, 1988, Wyoming engineered erased a seven-point deficit in the final 90 seconds to score a 48-45 victory over Air Force. The Cowboys trailed by a 45-38 score when fullback Steve Bena scored on a 9-yard run with 1:30 showing on the clock. Wyoming kicked the PAT to tie the score, and then with just 45 seconds left, Air Force QB Dee Dowis lost a fumble at his own 42-yard line. That set the stage for freshman kicker Sean Fleming’s 27-yard field goal as time expired to give Wyoming the win.

** On Sept. 24, 2000, Penn State defensive back Adam Taliaferro was seriously injured near the end of his team’s 45-6 loss at Ohio State. Taliaferro was paralyzed from the neck down but thanks to quick action by doctors and trainers at Ohio Stadium, as well as the staff at the Ohio State Medical Center and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Taliaferro – after about eight months of intense rehabilitation – was able to regain full function of his arms and legs. He later graduated from Penn State before earned a law degree from Rutgers, and he is currently a practicing attorney in New Jersey specializing in corporate litigation.

** On Sept. 25, 1948, Michigan took a 13-7 win over Michigan State in East Lansing, giving U-M head coach Bennie Oosterbaan his first victory in his first game as head coach. Michigan went on to finish the 1948 season with a perfect 9-0 record, marking the first time in college football history a head coach had achieved an undefeated season in his first year on the job. The feat has since been duplicated four times, most recently by Larry Coker of Miami (Fla.) in 2001.

** On Sept. 25, 1959, Georgia Tech linebacker Gerald Burch intercepted SMU quarterback Don Meredith with 1:32 remaining in the game to clinch a 16-12 victory for the Yellow Jackets over the No. 6 Mustangs.

** On Sept. 25, 1971, Michigan State head coach Duffy Daugherty notched career win No. 100 when the Spartans took a 31-14 victory over Oregon State in East Lansing. Future College Football Hall of Fame safety Brad Van Pelt returned two interceptions for touchdowns to fuel MSU’s win.

** On Sept. 26, 1953, a pair of legendary coaches – Frank Leahy of Notre Dame and Bud Wilkinson of Oklahoma – patrolled the sidelines as the top-ranked Fighting Irish went to Norman and scored a 28-21 victory over the No. 6 Sooners. The loss was Oklahoma’s first in 15 home games and would the Sooners’ last defeat until 1957 when they would achieve an NCAA-record 47 consecutive victories.

** On Sept. 26, 1992, Hawaii kicker Jason Elam hit three field goals, including a 56-yarder, to help the Warriors to a 36-32 win in Honolulu over BYU.

** On Sept. 27, 1986, second-ranked Miami (Fla.) rolled to a 28-16 win over defending national champion and top-ranked Oklahoma. Three future College Hall of Famers were on the Orange Bowl sidelines that day – Miami safety Bennie Blades, Oklahoma tight end Keith Jackson and Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer – but the afternoon belonged to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde. The Miami QB threw for 261 yards and four touchdowns against the Sooners.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** When Auburn lost a 34-28 decision at Clemson on Saturday, it snapped the nation’s longest winning streak at 17 games. Stanford now has the longest Division I-A win streak at 11.

** On the flip side of that coin, San Jose State has the longest current I-A losing streak at 13. There is a silver lining for the Spartans, however. They are double-digit favorites at home tomorrow against New Mexico State, which has lost 19 of its last 22 overall.

** Former Minnesota halfback Bruce Smith was honored by his old school Saturday prior to the Golden Gophers’ win over Miami (Ohio). Smith, who died of cancer in 1967, was honored as the school marked the 70th anniversary of his 1941 Heisman Trophy season. Smith is Minnesota’s only Heisman winner, and he received the stiff-arm trophy two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Smith, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1972, served as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot in World War II.

** Even with crazy old Mike Leach long gone, Texas Tech is still throwing the ball all over the field. QB Seth Doege completed 40 of 44 passes for 401 yards and five TDs last weekend during a 59-13 romp over New Mexico. Doege’s completion percentage of 90.9 percent established a new single-game Division I-A record for anyone with at least 40 completions.

** Tech piled up 624 total yards in that game, but even that paled in comparison to what Missouri did against Western Illinois on Saturday. The Tigers went for 744 yards during their 69-0 wipeout of the I-AA Leathernecks – 428 on the ground, 316 through the air. The yardage total set a single-game school record, breaking the previous mark of 665 yards set against Kansas in 1949.

** Georgia Tech did even better than Missouri, piling up a school-record 768 yards during a 66-24 win over Kansas. That broke the old mark of 706 set in 1948 against The Citadel. Most of the Yellow Jackets’ yardage came on the ground – 604 of it to be exact. That also broke the school’s single-game mark of 558 set against VMI in 1975.

** Speaking of the Yellow Jackets, they have been almost unbelievably efficient so far, scoring a touchdown on their first play from scrimmage in each of their first three games. Against Kansas, they bettered even themselves – they scored on their first play from scrimmage in each half.

** Baylor has a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Robert Griffin III. He completed 20 of 22 passes for 265 yards and three TDs during the Bears’ 48-0 shutout of I-AA Stephen F. Austin. In two games, Griffin is 41 of 49 (83.7 percent) for 624 yards, eight TDs and no interceptions. Yes, you read that correctly – he has the same number of touchdown passes as incompletions.

** Did you catch Oklahoma State’s entertaining 59-33 win over Tulsa? Me either. Because of lightning and storms in the Tulsa area at kickoff time, the game did not begin until after midnight Sunday and finished at 3:35 a.m. Afterward, Okie State head coach Mike Gundy offered this salient observation: “I’m not sure why we had TV timeouts at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

** Congratulations are in order for several teams off to hot starts. San Diego State is 3-0 for the first time since 1981, Ohio University is 3-0 for the first time since 1976 and Florida International is 3-0 for the first time in program history.

** Here is the earliest bowl invitation on record: Navy has agreed to play in the 2016 Armed Forces Bowl. The invitation is predicated, of course, on the Midshipmen being bowl-eligible that year. Any Navy freshmen eligible to participate in that bowl are currently playing for their eighth-grade middle school team.

FEARLESS FORECAST

While commiserating over picking Ohio State to lose last week, we lost sight of the fact that we had another excellent week. We were 9-1 straight up, which pushes the season total to a stellar 28-4 so far. Better still, we’re way above the money line against the spread after last week’s 8-2 finish. That makes us 15-5 over the past two weeks and 19-10-1 ATS for the young season. It also means we’re playing with house money now.

Here are the games we like this week:

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Missouri at No. 1 Oklahoma: The Sooners enter this game looking for redemption since the Tigers handed them a 36-27 upset loss last season. For all intents and purposes, that loss knocked OU out of the national title picture, so the team has a little something extra to play for this week. None more than QB Landry Jones, who failed to complete a fourth-quarter pass against Mizzou last year. Of course, Oklahoma will have to try to slow down the Tigers who piled up more than 700 yards of offense last week during a 69-0 win over I-AA Western Illinois. Of course, the Sooners represent just a tad of an upgrade in competition from the Leathernecks … Oklahoma 28, Missouri 14. (8 p.m. ET, FX)

No. 2 LSU at No. 16 West Virginia: The Bayou Bengals invade Morgantown trying to keep their national title aspirations alive, but it won’t be as easy as some might think. The Mountaineers have a potent offense while LSU is still trying to find its offensive identity. Defensively, the Tigers should have the edge. After all, they faced a Mississippi State team last week that had averaged 46.5 points and 588.0 yards in its first two games and held the Bulldogs to 193 total yards in a 19-6 win. Something obviously has to give – West Virginia has won 16 of its last 17 at home while LSU has a regular-season winning streak of 35 in a row against nonconference opponents … LSU 27, West Virginia 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 14 Arkansas at No. 3 Alabama: Despite the loss of quarterback Ryan Mallett to the NFL, the Razorbacks are 3-0 with their potent offense pretty much intact as they invade Bryant-Denny Stadium this weekend. Unfortunately, the problem with most Bobby Petrino teams, the defense is not quite up the level of the offense. Last week during a 38-28 victory over Troy, the Hogs surrendered 457 total yards. That simply will not get it done against the Tide … Alabama 32, Arkansas 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Tulsa at No. 4 Boise State: We’ll make this one short and sweet. Broncos QB Kellen Moore is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate as his 40-2 record as a starter attests. So far this year, he has completed 60 of 76 attempts (78.9 percent) for 716 yards and eight touchdowns, and Moore gets to pad those stats against a Golden Hurricane defense that ranks among the worst in the country against the pass. Add that to the fact Boise has won 60 straight at home against unranked opponents and you get this … Boise State 45, Tulsa 14. (8 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

South Dakota at No. 6 Wisconsin: It’s not completely clear how good the Badgers really are after three victories over lesser opponents, and the jury is likely to remain sequestered as they take on the Division I-AA Coyotes this week. South Dakota already has a victory over a I-A opponent this year, but that was against Minnesota and the Golden Gophers are no Wisconsin. Look for the Badgers to roll again this week and then gauge how really good they are next week when Nebraska invades Camp Randall … Wisconsin 38, South Dakota 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 9 Nebraska at Wyoming: Speaking of Nebraska, the Cornhuskers are already champing at the bit to get their inaugural Big Ten season started. First of all, though, they have to travel to play in the rarefied air of Laramie. NU head coach Bo Pelini has made his reputation on being a defensive guru, but his Black Shirts remain a work in progress. They have given up more than 400 yards of offense in each of the past two games, something that definitely needs fixed before traveling to Wisconsin next week. It might need fixing before going to Wyoming since the Cowboys rank No. 16 in the nation in total offense, averaging 492.3 yards of total offense per game. This might be an entertaining game to watch … Nebraska 38, Wyoming 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

Vanderbilt at No. 12 South Carolina: Surprise, surprise. Steve Spurrier has a Heisman Trophy candidate and he’s not a quarterback. Sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore burst on the scene last year and seems to have a limitless upside. Last week, Lattimore ran for 246 yards and three touchdowns as the Gamecocks squeezed out a 24-21 victory over Navy. Expect more of the same against the Commodores, who are a surprising 3-0 because of an opportunistic defense that has already snagged 10 interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns … South Carolina 24, Vanderbilt 17. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Rice at No. 17 Baylor: This intrastate battle will feature a pair of pretty good quarterbacks – one you probably know and one you probably don’t. Baylor is led by Robert Griffin III, who is steadily rising up everyone’s Heisman charts after having completely 41 of his first 49 pass attempts this season for eight TDs and no interceptions. Meanwhile, the Owls will counter with Taylor McHargue, who threw for a career-high 230 yards against Purdue two weeks ago in a 24-22 win over the Boilermakers. Unfortunately for McHargue, his team’s defense gives up yardage by the bunches and that will make the difference … Baylor 45, Rice 20. (7 p.m. ET, FSN)

San Diego State at No. 22 Michigan: The Wolverines could have a short stay back in the top 25 if the Aztecs have anything to say about it. SDSU rolls into Ann Arbor with a bunch of players still angry about the way former head coach Brady Hoke bolted after last season to take the Michigan job. And it’s not as if the Aztecs aren’t any good. Hoke built a pretty good program that is 3-0 and coming off a 42-24 pounding of Washington State last week. A couple of things are conspiring against the upset, though. First, the Aztecs have to fly three time zones east and play at what would normally be 9 a.m. for them. And they have seen nothing like Wolverines QB Denard Robinson, whom Hoke has finally allowed to have free reign over the U-M offense … Michigan 35, San Diego State 28. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Colorado at Ohio State: Perhaps last week’s 24-6 loss to Miami (Fla.) served its purpose by radically exposing the Buckeyes’ weaknesses and giving the coaching staff a close-up look at where the various leaks are located. Ready or not, freshman Braxton Miller will get the start at quarterback and his athleticism will help. But the Buckeyes will have to throw the ball – at least a little – to be successful, and that makes picking this game a little more of a crapshoot … Ohio State 20, Colorado 16. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Missouri (+21½) at Oklahoma; LSU (-5½) at West Virginia; Arkansas at Alabama (-11); Tulsa at Boise State (-28); South Dakota at Wisconsin (NL); Nebraska at Wyoming (+23½); Vanderbilt (+16) at South Carolina; Rice at Baylor (-20); San Diego State (+10½) at Michigan; Colorado (+16½) at Ohio State.

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

Top Five Ohio State Football Stories Of 2008

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

1. BUCKEYES LOSE TITLE GAME … AGAIN

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

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

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

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

2. PRYOR FINALLY SIGNS

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

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

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

3. LOSS TO USC TRIGGERS QB SWITCH

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

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

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

4. MOST SENIORS DECIDE TO RETURN

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

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

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

5. WELLS GETS HURT IN 2008 OPENER

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

DEC. 31 GAMES

Armed Forces Bowl

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

Sun Bowl

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

Music City Bowl

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

Insight Bowl

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

Chick-fil-A Bowl

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

NEW YEAR’S DAY GAMES

Outback Bowl

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

Capital One Bowl

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

Gator Bowl

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

Rose Bowl

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

Orange Bowl

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

JAN. 2 GAMES

Cotton Bowl

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

Liberty Bowl

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

Sugar Bowl

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

JAN. 3 GAME

International Bowl

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

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

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

BCS = Blundering Crass Stupidity

Congratulations to Ball State, which dispatched Western Michigan on Tuesday night and completed its first undefeated regular-season finish since 1949.

What wonderful prize does the NCAA have for the overachieving Cardinals contingent on their victory over Buffalo in the MAC championship game? How about a lovely trip to the Motor City Bowl to play the seventh-place finisher in the Big Ten?

Boise State runs one of the most innovative and entertaining offensive attacks in college football, playing the kind of game fans love to watch. The Broncos have already sewed up their sixth Western Athletic Conference title in the last seven years, and proved their worth on the national stage in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl by stunning Oklahoma. What will their reward be this year if the Broncos’ can knock off Fresno State and complete an undefeated regular season record? Would you believe staying home to play in the Humanitarian Bowl against the ACC’s eighth-place finisher?

Texas is ranked No. 2 in the current Bowl Championship Series rankings and needs only a win Thankgsiving night over a 4-7 Texas A&M team to clinch an 11-1 regular-season finish. Yet the Longhorns could get passed over for the national title game by Oklahoma, a team they beat by 10 points in October on a neutral field. Meanwhile, the Sooners somehow get rewarded for running up the score – a practice almost universally recognized as unsportsmanlike.

The perfect storm has finally hit college football. There are four remaining undefeated teams at the Division I-A level, but only one of them is going to get a shot at playing for the national championship. That would be SEC leader Alabama, the lone team from a so-called BCS conference. The other three – Utah of the Mountain West, Ball State of the MAC and Boise State of the WAC – are from non-BCS conferences, meaning only one can qualify to play in the BCS. That would be Utah, which has already completed a 12-0 season and has a three-spot lead on Boise State in the later BCS rankings.

Meanwhile, there are five one-loss teams – Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State – who have legitimate claims to the national championship. However, because of something called “style points,” at least three of those teams have no shot at playing for the title.

I have complained for years about how the BCS should remove the “C” from its name, but this year has truly become BS.

If you put a blanket over the top of Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State, you wouldn’t find much difference in any of those teams. Yes, their styles are as divergent as night and day, but no one ever questions how you get your victories. They only care how many victories you get.

The 2008 college football season literally screams for a Division I-A playoff and it screams for a 16-team format that includes the top teams from the top conferences as well as any team – yes, I said any team from any I-A conference – that manages to go through its entire season undefeated.

That is the only way to give teams such as Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State a shot at the title alongside teams like Utah, Ball State and Boise State.

First of all, you get a ranking system that works – and that eliminates human polls. No more posturing by the talking heads at ESPN to get the matchups they believe deserve to play for the national championship. To hell with what they think. Give us a bunch of computerized rankings, average them together and make the top 10 teams immediately eligible for the playoff.

Then you take all of the remaining undefeated teams and then fill out the bracket starting with the team ranked No. 11 in the BCS poll. Seed the teams where No. 1 plays No. 16, No. 2 plays No. 15 and so on, and give the higher-seeded team home field advantage through the semifinals. You play for four weeks leading up to a Super Bowl-esque national championship game, played at a neutral site on a Monday night and put it one of the major networks.

Fans get a true champion decided on the field while college football (and television) reaps financial benefits beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. First, there is ESPN’s new contract to televise the BCS games through 2013. Secondly, it makes way too much sense – therefore the same university presidents who allow their schools to prostitute themselves by playing every night of the school week continue to criticize a playoff because of the time it would take student-athletes away from their studies.

It’s a shame that college football will crown a national champion Jan. 8 knowing full well there are a handful of other teams out there who could have and should have had the right to play for that crystal football.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** CBSSportsline.com projects a national championship game between Oklahoma and Florida. Other BCS game predictions: Texas vs. USC in the Fiesta, Alabama vs. Utah in the Sugar, Boston College vs. Cincinnati in the Orange and Oregon State vs. Penn State in the Rose. The website has Ohio State and Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.

** My Heisman Trophy ballot really got jumbled last week after Oklahoma throttled Texas Tech. Here is my new working top three: 1. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma; 2. Colt McCoy, Texas; 3. Chris “Beanie” Wells, Ohio State. Yeah, the third-place vote is kind of a homer pick but imagine where the Buckeyes would have been this year without Wells. Now do you see where I’m coming from?

** Maybe my Heisman ballot ought to make room for Florida State safety Myron Rolle. All he did last week was participate in a successful interview to win a Rhodes scholarship, and then hop a plane, suit up at halftime and help his Seminoles beat Maryland. With all the negative news we have to report in college sports, Rolle is a nice respite of fresh air. Rolle, who aspires to be a neurosurgeon and build clinics in his parents’ native Bahamas, is also a potential first-round NFL draft pick.

** How about this for a stat: Penn State’s 49-18 win over Michigan State last weekend was the 800th victory in program history. As a head coach or assistant, Joe Paterno has been associated with 487 of those wins. That is 60.9 percent.

** Paterno is now home after undergoing hip replacement surgery the day after his Nittany Lions beat Sparty and sewed up the Rose Bowl bid. He was released after only two days and expects to resume his coaching duties on Monday. Say and think what you will of JoePa, but never question the 81-year-old guy’s toughness.

** Wisconsin is going to get a bowl invitation thanks to Cal Poly’s inability to kick extra points. The I-AA Mustangs missed three PATs last week, including one in overtime, to allow the Badgers to escape with a 36-35 victory at Camp Randall Stadium.

** Minnesota played its final game in the Metrodome last weekend after 27 seasons in the facility. The Golden Gophers will meet Air Force to dedicate TCF Stadium on Sept. 12, 2009, for the first on-campus game since 1981.

** In case you thought it was bad enough for Notre Dame to lose to Syracuse, a closer look inside the numbers make you scratch your head why the Orange had to make a comeback to win. For instance, the Irish had four possessions inside the Syracuse 24 and came away with six points. In addition, they were held to 41 yards rushing. The previous season low recorded up by the Syracuse defense was 90 yards rushing allowed to Division I-AA Northeastern, which finished 2-10.

** Talk about playing to the level of your competition: Maryland is 7-4 this season – 4-0 against ranked teams and 3-4 against unranked competition. The Terrapins are also afraid of the dark. They were 0-4 at night this season. They finish their regular season with a daytime affair Saturday at Boston College – 20th-ranked Boston College, that is.

** Did you lose track of Appalachian State this year? The Mountaineers couldn’t match last year’s upset of Michigan this season with a 41-13 loss to LSU back in August. But they did come back to win 10 of their next 11 games and the three-time defending Division I-A national champions are the No. 2 seed in the so-called Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. James Madison (10-1), the 2004 champs, is the top seed. The 16-team playoff – there’s a novel idea – begins Saturday.

** Scoring points in bunches isn’t limited to the Texas teams in Division I-A. Last week, Abilene Christian outlasted West Texas A&M by a 93-68 score in a Division II playoff game. ACU piled up 810 total yards and the Wildcats scored touchdowns on 13 of 15 possessions. Meanwhile, West Texas A&M quarterback Keith Null set new NCAA single-game playoff records by throwing for 595 yards and seven touchdowns. The 161 combined points is a new NCAA all-division record. The old mark of 149 points was set in last year’s playoffs when Abilene Christian lost a 76-73 decision in four overtimes to Chadron (Neb.) State.

** No one in the NAIA wants to face Sioux Falls (S.D.) this season. The Cougars have recorded seven shutouts this season with the latest coming last week in a 28-0 win over St. Ambrose (Iowa) in the first round of the NAIA playoffs. The NAIA season record for shutouts is eight. Sioux Falls has made the NAIA semifinals eight of the last 12 years, including national championships in 1996 and 2006.

** Occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 24, 1956, College Football Hall of Fame coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf made his final game a memorable one when his California team scored a 20-18 upset win over Stanford; on Nov. 28, 1975, Texas A&M protected its No. 2 national rating with a 20-10 win over fifth-ranked Texas, the Aggies’ first win at home over the Longhorns in eight years; on Nov. 29, 1958, Auburn protected its No. 2 ranking and extended its winning streak to 24 consecutive games with a heart-pounding 14-8 win over Alabama. The Tigers needed a defensive stop with 1:26 remaining in the game to preserve the victory.

** This week also featured a battle of unbeatens in a longstanding series. On Nov. 26, 1988, for the first time in series history, Notre Dame and USC squared off undefeated and occupying the top two spots in the national polls. Irish quarterback Tony Rice rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown while cornerback Stan Smagala intercepted USC quarterback Rodney Peete and returned the pick for a score as No. 1 Notre Dame took a 27-10 victory.

FEARLESS FORECAST

What were we thinking when we picked Texas Tech to beat Oklahoma in Norman? Not sure but the Red Raiders did pick a terrible time to play their worst game of the season. As things turned out for the forecast, we were only 3-3 straight up last week and 3-3 against the spread. That means for the year we are 87-33 with the SU picks and 63-53-1 ATS.

As Ohio State takes a rest from competition, it means we can take a look at some other games this weekend, including a pretty big one Saturday in the Pacific Northwest that not only has Rose Bowl implications but likely impacts the Buckeyes’ BCS possibilities as well.

TONIGHT’S GAME

Texas A&M at No. 4 Texas: The Longhorns are concentrating on trying to keep their national championship hopes alive but they had better not overlook their instate rivals. The Aggies have upset UT-Austin two years running and nothing would look better on first-year head coach Mike Sherman’s résumé that to knock the Orangebloods out of the title picture. It will be a tough order, though, since Texas QB Colt McCoy has played about as well as he can play this season, throwing for 3,134 yards and 30 TDs. Those numbers aren’t exactly music to the ears of an A&M team that ranks 100th in the country in pass efficiency defense … Texas 42, Texas A&M 7. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

TONIGHT’S GAME

Fresno State at No. 9 Boise State: To say the Broncos are on a bit of a roll would be a bit of an understatement. They have scored 40 points in four straight games, clinched a sixth WAC title in seven years and have won 48 consecutive regular-season games in Bronco Stadium. In this particular series, BSU has taken six of seven from the Bulldogs since joining the WAC in 2001, including all three meetings in Boise by an average of 29.0 points. Fresno always puts up a fight wherever it goes, but the Broncos with QB Kellen Moore (3,051 yards, 23 TDs) and RB Ian Johnson (610 yards, 10 TDs) are just too tough … Boise State 37, Fresno State 14. (6 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Auburn at No. 1 Alabama: It’s the annual renewal of the Iron Bowl and would you believe the Crimson Tide has a six-game losing streak against their instate rivals? If Bama wants to keep the faith, as well as preserve a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup against Florida in the SEC championship game, it can steel itself with the knowledge that every one of its six straight losses to Auburn have been by 10 points or less. The Tide can also figure they’re home free if they can score 20 points – the Tigers rank a dismal 108th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging only 18.9 points per game. Bama averages almost double that at 31.7. That should put the final score at right around … Alabama 31, Auburn 17. (3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

No. 2 Florida at No. 23 Florida State: Who knew the Seminoles were 8-3? Florida State, once one of the pre-eminent powers in college football, hasn’t had a nine-win season since 2004 and hasn’t finished in the top 10 since 2000. This weekend, Grandpa Bobby’s Bunch has a chance to ruin the Urban Legends’ run toward a possible second national title game appearance in three years. Unfortunately, that chance is not a great one. The Gators are running the highest-scoring offense east of Oklahoma, averaging 55.2 points over their six games. FSU just doesn’t have enough firepower to keep up with that kind of attack … Florida 42, Florida State 23. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional)

No. 19 Oregon at No. 17 Oregon State: The so-called Civil War heads to Corvallis where the Beavers are trying to win one more game and get to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 43 years. They certainly seem like a team of destiny, overcoming injuries last week to their starting quarterback and star running back as well as a botched fourth-quarter PAT to score a thrilling 19-17 win at Arizona. It is certainly the popular pick to take the Ducks in an upset, but the Beavers have been resilient since knocking off USC and they have won each of their last five home games in this series … Oregon State 26, Oregon 23. (7 p.m. EST, Versus)

No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 11 Oklahoma State: This one is called the Bedlam Series although that seems a bit of a misnomer since the Sooners lead the all-time series by a lopsided 78-17-7 margin. It would be difficult to envision how OU could play much better than it has since that 45-35 loss to Texas on Oct. 11. In the five games since, the Sooners have outscored their opposition by an average of 31 points per contest. And they haven’t been held under 60 in three games this month. We just don’t see how the Cowboys can slow them down, especially when Okie State bowed to Texas Tech by 36 points and then the Sooners turned around and beat the Red Raiders by 44 … Oklahoma 56, Oklahoma State 28. (8 p.m. EST, ABC)

Notre Dame at No. 5 USC: You want a blowout, you’ve got one. USC head coach Pete Carroll knows there are only two ways his team can reach the national title game – the Trojans need teams in front of them to lose and they need “style points” in their final two games of the season. Pity the poor Irish, who head to the Coliseum free off that excruciating loss to Syracuse. Embattled ND head coach Charlie Weis probably put it best last year after his team lost a 38-0 decision to USC: “You see where they are; you see where we are. We’re at different ends of the spectrum at this point.” That is not where you want to be when you get the full attention of Carroll and his Trojans … USC 49, Notre Dame 7. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Texas A&M at Texas (-36½); Fresno State at Boise State (-21½); Auburn (+14½) at Alabama; Florida (-14) at Florida State; Oregon (+3½) at Oregon State; Oklahoma (-7) at Oklahoma State; Notre Dame at USC (-29).

Enjoy the games everyone and have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Playing the ‘What If …?’ Game

Some food for thought today …

What if Terrelle Pryor had signed with Penn State instead of Ohio State?

Would Pryor be leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency as he is this week for the Buckeyes? Would Daryll Clark be riding the bench for the Nittany Lions? Would Todd Boeckman have the Buckeyes on the inside track to a third straight outright Big Ten championship after leading OSU to a late-October win over Penn State?

What if Terrelle Pryor had signed with Michigan instead of Ohio State?

Would Pryor still be leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency? Would the Wolverines be headed for their first losing season since 1967? Would they be head for the postseason for a record 35th consecutive time? Would there be a little more buzz about the upcoming 105th renewal of The Game?

What if Ryan Hamby had caught that touchdown pass in the 2005 Texas game?

Would the Buckeyes have gone on to beat the Longhorns rather than lost a 25-22 decision? Would Justin Zwick, who was on the throwing end of Hamby’s drop, have retained the starting quarterback position? Would Ohio State, and not Texas, have gone to the Rose Bowl to play USC for the national championship that year?

What if Ohio State had beaten Michigan State in 1998?

Would the Buckeyes have gone on to win the national championship that season? Would John Cooper have used that championship to reap highly rated recruiting classes? Would Cooper still be head coach at Ohio State? Would Jim Tressel still be coaching at Youngstown State?

What if Keith Byars hadn’t broken his foot prior to the 1985 season?

Would the Buckeyes have won the national championship, their first in 17 years? You can certainly make the case that a healthy Byars could have made the difference in OSU’s three losses that season – 31-28 at Illinois, 12-7 vs. Wisconsin and 27-17 at Michigan. The year before, Byars had rushed for 274 yards against the Illini, 142 against the Badgers and 101 against the Wolverines.

While we’re on the subject, what if the Buckeyes had won the title in ’85? Would Earle Bruce have weathered the storm that came two years later? How long would he have remained head coach? Another five years? 10? Some people forget that Bruce had a 57-17 conference record at OSU, good for a .770 winning percentage.

What if Ohio State hadn’t hired Hayes in 1951?

If the legendary coach hadn’t become a Buckeye and still wanted to coach in the Big Ten, he would have had several schools from which to choose. Minnesota could have been a likely destination since the Gophers also made a change at the head coaching position following the 1950 season. Out was Bernie Bierman after six seasons, and Minnesota hired Wes Fesler, who had resigned under pressure from Ohio State.

Perhaps Hayes would have waited another couple of years and taken a look at Wisconsin. UW head coach Ivy Williamson resigned after the 1955 season, and enjoyed six winning seasons during his seven-year tenure in Madison. Could Hayes have kept that going and turned Wisconsin into the Big Ten powerhouse that Ohio State became?

Or maybe Hayes would have waited until after the 1958 season to make a move. He would have been at Miami (Ohio) for a decade and probably have won several Mid-American Conference titles. Would he have been a candidate for the opening at the University of Michigan? And had Hayes remained at Miami through the 1950s, where would College Football Hall of Famers Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler have started their head coaching careers?

What if Paul Brown had returned to Ohio State after World War II?

Would the Buckeyes have contended and possibly won the national championship in 1948, ’49 or ’50? Would Vic Janowicz have still won the 1950 Heisman Trophy? Would the Snow Bowl game have been played? Where would Woody Hayes have carved his coaching legend?

Finally, what if there had never been a Chic Harley?

How long would Ohio State have had to wait for a victory over Michigan? Before Harley led the Buckeyes to a 13-3 win in 1919, the Wolverines held a 13-0-2 advantage in the series. Would OSU officials have finally thrown up their hands in surrender and refused to play Michigan?

More importantly, would Ohio State have ever had the impetus to build a huge, U-shaped stadium on the banks of the Olentangy River? Because of Harley’s popularity, overflow crowds at old Ohio Field convinced university officials they needed a new facility and plans for Ohio Stadium were born.

Without Harley, who knows where the Buckeyes would be playing today … or if anyone would care as much?

OHIO STATE-ILLINOIS MINUTIAE

** Ohio State and Illinois will meet Saturday for the 95th time and the Buckeyes hold a 60-30-4 advantage in the series. OSU has a 32-12 edge in Champaign, including victories in each of its last six trips to Memorial Stadium. The Illini haven’t beaten the Buckeyes at home since a 10-7 decision in 1991.

** Four of Ohio State’s victories during their six-game win streak in Champaign have been by eight points or less – 20-12 in 1993, 24-21 in 2000, 23-16 in overtime in 2002 and 17-10 in 2006. The other two were blowouts – 48-0 in 1996 and 41-0 in 1998.

** OSU head coach Jim Tressel is 3-2 against Illinois while Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook is 1-2 vs. the Buckeyes. With Ohio State, Tressel is 20-4 during the month of November, good for a .833 winning percentage. Under Zook, Illinois is 4-7 in November.

** Zook was defensive backs coach on John Cooper’s staff at Ohio State from 1988-90. Although those weren’t exactly the glory years, the Buckeyes were 3-0 against the Illini during that stretch.

** When his team defeated Michigan earlier this season in Ann Arbor, Zook became only the second active Big Ten coach with victories at Ohio Stadium and Michigan Stadium. Joe Paterno of Penn State is the other.

** The Illini have faced a ranked OSU team on 35 previous occasions since 1942, and the Buckeyes have won 24 of those contests. In the Zook era, Illinois has a 3-10 record against ranked teams including 0-2 this season.

** Ohio State’s is currently working on a streak of 14 consecutive victories in Big Ten road games, the longest such streak in school history. That is three short of the league record, set at 17 by Michigan between 1988 and ’92. The Buckeyes last lost a conference road contest Oct. 8, 2005, when they dropped a 17-10 decision at Penn State.

** This is the final road game of the 2008 season for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has an all-time record of 67-47-6 in the final road game of the regular season, including 5-2 under Tressel.

** Last week’s loss to Western Michigan continued a trend for Illinois. Since beating East Illinois and Louisiana-Lafayette on back-to-back weekends in early September, the Illini have followed every victory with a loss and every loss with a victory.

** The Buckeyes and Illini vie for one of the more uncommon trophies in college football. Illibuck is a wooden turtle that goes to the winner of the game each year. The tradition began in 1925 with a live turtle being exchanged between the two schools. Why a turtle, you ask? Because of its long live expectancy. Unfortunately, the original Illibuck died only two years after the trophy game was inaugurated. Since 1927, nine wooden replica Illibucks have been carved, each with the scores from games on its back. The Illibuck is the second oldest trophy game in the Big Ten, surpassed only by the Little Brown Jug. Minnesota and Michigan have been vying for the Jug since 1903.

** Three more turnovers last week against Northwestern pushed Ohio State’s turnover margin to plus-13. That is the second-best turnover margin in the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally. Minnesota leads the conference and is No. 2 in the country with a plus-15 turnover margin. Oklahoma is the nation leader at plus-16. Meanwhile, Illinois is minus-4 in turnover margin, which ranks eighth in the Big Ten.

** Illinois’ five victories this season have come against teams with a combined record of 21-28. The Illini’s five losses have come against teams that are a combined 37-13.

** With 11 tackles against Northwestern, OSU middle linebacker James Laurinaitis upped his career total to 346 and leaped all the way into seventh place on the Ohio State all-time list. Laurinaitis passed Glen Cobb (336, 1979-82), Ed Thompson (338, 1974-76) and Al Washington (345, 1977-80), and now has his sights set on Thomas “Pepper” Johnson (379, 1982-85).

** OSU running back Chris “Beanie” Wells had 140 yards against Northwestern and increased his career rushing total to 2,999 yards. That jumped him up to sixth place on the school’s all-time list and past Antonio Pittman (2,945, 2004-06), Michael Wiley (2,951, 1996-99) and Carlos Snow (2,974, 1987-89, ’91). Next up for Wells is Pepe Pearson, currently in fifth place with 3,121 yards from 1994 to ’97.

** Last week’s win over Northwestern was the 81st for Tressel at Ohio State, tying him for third place on the school’s all-time list with Earle Bruce (1979-87). Only Woody Hayes (205, 1951-78) and John Cooper (111, 1988-2001) have more victories as head coach of the Buckeyes.

** It was also victory No. 50 in Big Ten games for Tressel, making him only the 20th head coach in conference history to achieve that feat. Hayes is the all-time leader in that category with 152 league wins during his career.

** Illinois quarterback Juice Williams needs 326 more yards of total offense to break his school’s single-season record in that category. Former Illini QB “Champagne” Tony Eason set the mark in 1982 at 3,671. So far this season, Williams has amassed 3,346 yards of total offense – 2,769 through the air and 577 rushing.

** Williams has had two games this season in which he threw for 450 or more yards. Unfortunately, both were in losing efforts. Williams totaled 451 yards in a 52-42 loss to Missouri and established a career-high with 462 yards in a 27-20 loss to Minnesota. Those are the third and fourth-highest single-game passing totals in Illinois history. Dave Wilson holds the record with 621 yards against Ohio State in 1980. That, too, came in an Illini as the Buckeyes took a 49-42 win.

** Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn has 60 receptions worth 947 yards this season and needs 53 more to become the first Illini player since Brandon Lloyd in 2002 to top 1,000 yards receiving. David Williams set his school’s single-season record in 1984 with 1,278 receiving yards.

** Illinois has scored 42 or more points in four games so far this season. The last time the Illini achieved that feat was 1982.

** It wouldn’t do the Buckeyes much good to try and outguess Illinois senior center Ryan McDonald. That’s because McDonald is a rocket scientist. No, really. McDonald completed his undergraduate work in aeronautical engineering with a 3.84 grade-point average and has begun pursuit of a master’s degree in the same field.

** Kickoff for this week’s game is 12 noon EST, or 11 a.m. local time if you’re making the trek to Champaign. ESPN will have the telecast with the announce crew of Dave Pasch (play-by-play) and former Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware (color analysis) handling the call for the second week in a row.

** Next week’s game in the traditional season-ending showdown against Michigan. Kickoff will be at 12 noon Eastern and the game will be televised on ABC.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** In case you have lost count, there are 34 postseason bowls including the BCS National Championship Game. That means there are postseason spots available for 68 teams, and after last week’s action, 52 schools already have the requisite six victories to become bowl-eligible. There are another 12 teams that could qualify this week with a win, and 13 more that need two more victories to quality for the postseason. Among the current four-win teams in danger of missing a bowl: Texas A&M, Rutgers, Arkansas and Clemson. Perennial powers such as Tennessee and Michigan are already out of the bowl mix with seven losses apiece.

** Minnesota and Wisconsin resume this weekend the longest rivalry in major college football. The Gophers and Badgers first met in 1890 and have played one another every year since 1907. The two schools battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe, a trophy that was inaugurated in 1948. Before that, Minnesota and Wisconsin squared off for the Slab of Bacon Trophy. However, the trophy disappeared in the 1940s and was eventually replaced by the Bunyan axe.

** When Penn State bit the dust last week, it dropped the number of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level to five: Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, Texas Tech and Utah.

** Michigan State running back Javon Ringer currently has 4,310 yards for his career and needs only 84 more to move into the Big Ten’s top 10 career rushers. Currently in 10th place is Jamie Morris of Michigan (1984-87) with 4,393 yards. Ron Dayne of Wisconsin (1996-99) is far and away the conference’s career rushing leader with 7,125 yards. Archie Griffin of Ohio State (1972-75) is a distant second with 5,589.

** Texas Tech is 10-0 for the first time since the 1938 season. That year, the Red Raiders rolled to 10 regular-season wins and then suffered a 20-13 upset loss to tiny St. Mary’s (Calif.) in the Cotton Bowl.

** You no longer have to wonder about which teams will meet in the SEC championship game. Alabama and Florida wrapped up their respective division titles last week and will square off Dec. 6 in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Here’s a pretty good bet: The winner will get to play for the BCS national title.

** Boise State head coach Chris Petersen continues to come with innovative ways to keep his offense as entertaining as possible. During last weekend’s 49-14 win over Utah State, the Broncos had four different players throw touchdown passes – and only two of them were quarterbacks. Starting QB Kellen Moore threw for 362 yards and two TDs while backup Mike Coughlin pitched a touchdown on his only attempt of the game. The other scoring passes came on option throws by receivers Tanyon Bissell (57 yards) and Vinny Perretta (17 yards).

** If you like scoring by the bunches, you ought to love Conference USA. Tulsa, Rice and Houston rank among the top 14 scoring offenses in the nation. Tulsa is No. 1 with an average of 52.0 points per game, Rice is No. 8 at 40.8 and Houston is No. 14 at 37.8. During a four-game stretch earlier this season, Tulsa topped 60 points twice and hung a season-high 77 on conference rival UTEP.

** Houston quarterback Case Keenum is a major reason why the Cougars have such a potent offense. He threw for 384 yards and four TDs last week during his team’s 42-14 win over Tulane. It was Keenum’s 10th straight game of at least 300 passing yards.

** Missouri’s 2008 football senior class has set a school record with 35 career wins. That tops the 1963 team’s seniors, who finished their careers with 33 victories.

** Wake Forest’s seniors also established a school mark. They have 30 victories over the last four seasons, and the Demon Deacons have now tallied six games or more wins in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1946-48.

** Kentucky has also ended a drought with its third straight season of six or more victories. That is first time the Wildcats have enjoyed such a stretch since 1954-56.

** Washington State has already allowed 502 points this season, setting a new Pac-10 record for defensive futility. The old mark was 469 set by Oregon State in 1981. And the Cougars, who have given up 66, 69, 58 and 59 points over their last four games, still have three games left to play.

** Texas Tech owns Division I-A’s current longest win streak at 12 games. That pales in comparison to Tuskegee (Ala.) of Division II, which has won 26 consecutive games. That streak ties a school record established from 1925 to ’27.

** My Heisman Trophy ballot this week: 1. QB Graham Harrell of Texas Tech; 2. QB Sam Bradford of Oklahoma; 3. RB Javon Ringer of Michigan State. By sheer coincidence, all three players have this week off.

** Running back Nate Kmic of Division III power Mount Union scored three touchdowns last week during a 49-20 win over Otterbein and became the all-time NCAA scoring king. Kmic, who played his high school football at Delta (Ohio) High School, now has an amazing 111 touchdowns in his career, good for 666 points and the NCAA all-division record. Of course, Kmic is no stranger to the end zone. He crossed the goal line 89 times during his high school career, giving him an even 200 over the past eight seasons.

** Another new record-holder also plays his college football in Ohio. Cris Reisert, quarterback at Ohio Dominican, now owns the NAIA career marks for passing yards (13,174) and TD passes (117). Reisert, a Cincinnati Moeller product, pushed into the lead for the NAIA career marks with last week’s performance of 381 yards and four touchdowns during a 56-0 rout of Urbana.

** Twenty-two years ago today, one of the longest home winning streaks in college football history came to an end. On Nov. 13, 1982, Southern Mississippi engineered a 38-29 upset of Alabama, ending the Crimson Tide’s 57-game home win streak. The Golden Eagles were led by quarterback Reggie Collins, who rushed for 88 yards and three touchdowns, while tailback Sam Dejarnette added 153 yards and two scores. Before the loss to Southern Miss, Alabama hadn’t tasted defeat in Tuscaloosa since 1963.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 11, 1989, Duke scored a 35-26 upset of North Carolina State despite Wolfpack QB Shane Montgomery throwing an NCAA-record 73 passes for a school-record 535 yards; on Nov. 12, 1966, quarterback Bob Griese led Purdue to a 16-0 victory at Minnesota and secured the Boilermakers’ first-ever berth in the Rose Bowl; and on Nov. 14, 1992, Iowa State stunned seventh-ranked Nebraska with a 19-10 upset in Ames. Third-string quarterback Marv Seiler, starting only because it was Senior Day, bolted 78 yards to set up the game-clinching touchdown for the Cyclones.

** This week also marks a milestone in the way football is played today. On Nov. 15, 1879, Princeton unveiled the novel approach of using blockers to help the ball-carrier advance the ball down the field. The new angle evidently was successful as the Tigers scored a 1-0 victory over Harvard. (In those days, you had to score four touchdowns to score a single point.)

FEARLESS FORECAST

Just like the Buckeyes’ offense, it was get well week for the forecast. Despite missing on both Upset Specials – thanks LSU for spitting the bit against Alabama – we still managed a pretty good 10-4 finish straight up, and that pushes the SU season total to 74-28.

Against the spread, we finally stopped the bleeding with a nice 8-4 finish. After running out to a big advantage, the ATS picks were getting pretty close to breakeven but we’ve built up a decent cushion again at 54-45 for the season.

Here are the games we’re featuring this week (and remember that we’re using AP rankings).

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Indiana at No. 7 Penn State: Were the Nittany Lions exposed last week by Iowa or did they just have a bad day? Maybe a little of both although JoePa has never had much success against the Hawkeyes. Last week’s loss was his third in a row at Kinnick Stadium and fifth straight in the overall series. History has been much kinder against Indiana. The two teams have played 11 times and Penn State has won all 11. That includes five games in Happy Valley where the average margin of victory is 22.2 points. Perhaps the only thing that could keep this close is if the Lions are looking ahead to next week’s showdown with Michigan State … Penn State 34, Indiana 7. (12 noon EST, Big Ten Network)

No. 13 Georgia at Auburn: Everyone who talks about how great the SEC is should be forced to watch this game. These two teams were supposed to contend for the national championship, yet they have combined for a mediocre 13-7 record. You could give the Bulldogs a bit of a pass because they have had so many major injuries to frontline players. But what is Auburn’s excuse? The Tigers lost four of five games during one stretch, including a home game to a 4-6 Arkansas team, mostly because they are one of the most inept offenses in college football. One of the simple rules of football: If you can’t score, you can’t win … Georgia 30, Auburn 13. (12:30 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 4 Texas at Kansas: The Longhorns may have had their national championship plans derailed a couple of weeks ago at Texas Tech, but they still have a lot to play for. Not only is a BCS bowl berth still a possibility, but quarterback Colt McCoy remains in the running for a free trip to New York and the Heisman Trophy festivities. This week, they travel to Lawrence to take on Kansas for the first time since 2005, a game they won 66-14 during their national title run. The Jayhawks are a much better program now than they were then although they seem to have leveled off a little bit this season … Texas 42, Kansas 24. (12:30 p.m. EST, FSN Regional)

Toledo at Western Michigan: After WMU defeated Illinois last week, I wanted to know more about the Broncos. They have won seven of their last eight games and feature one of the best college quarterback you’ve never heard of. While Ball State’s Nate Davis has gotten most of the attention coming out of the MAC, Western Michigan junior Tim Hiller is a native of Orrville, Ohio – same place that produced Bob Knight and Smucker’s jams and jellies – and has thrown for 3,157 yards and 30 TDs this season. Hiller ought to pad those numbers this week against the Rockets, who rank 109th nationally in pass efficiency defense … Western Michigan 31, Toledo 10. (2 p.m. EST, No TV)

No. 17 North Carolina at Maryland: Ohio State fans might want to start paying attention to the ACC, especially if the Buckeyes run the table and play in the Orange Bowl. It would be an interesting matchup between the Buckeyes and UNC, piloted by former Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis. First things first for the Tar Heels, though, who will have their hands full at College Park this Saturday. The Terrapins have beaten North Carolina three times in a row at Byrd Stadium and five of the last six times in the overall series. But the Heels may benefit from tomorrow’s weather forecast – thunderstorms, overcast and cool. That should help UNC run the ball while helping to negate their sometimes-shaky pass defense … North Carolina 26, Maryland 23. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 24 South Carolina at No. 3 Florida: Think the Ol’ Ball Coach wishes he had never left the Swamp? The Gamecocks have won six of their last seven games to sneak back into the national rankings, but to be brutally honest, they don’t have nearly enough firepower to hang with the Gators. Since the upset loss to Ole Miss in late September, Florida has punished its opponents, winning each of the last five games by no fewer than 28 points. Also, since South Carolina joined the SEC, they are 1-15 against the Gators including 0-11 in Gainesville … Florida 41, South Carolina 10. (3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

No. 9 Boise State at Idaho: Did you know the Broncos began their recent run of success back in 2005 against their instate rivals? It’s true. When BSU torched the Vandals to the tune of a 70-35 win three years ago, it started a streak that has seen the Broncos beat 22 of their last 23 Western Athletic Conference opponents. This year, it could be 2005 revisited. Boise State has rolled over all five WAC opponents this season, winning those games by an average of 26.0 points. Probably all you need to know about this one is that the Broncos rank No. 2 nationally in scoring defense and the Vandals rank 92nd in scoring offense … Boise State 45, Idaho 10. (5 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 6 USC at Stanford: There is a slight possibility the Trojans may use revenge as a motivating factor this week against the Cardinal. They remember, as does nearly everyone else in the country, last year’s meltdown when Stanford rolled into the L.A. Coliseum as 42-point underdogs and rolled out with a colossal 24-23 upset. The Cardinal is a much better team this year than last year, but it’s doubtful that’s going to help. USC has been invincible lately, outscoring the last six opponents by a 231-23 margin and protecting a perfect November record (25-0) since Pete Carroll became head coach in 2001. And while the Trojans get most of their ink for offense, their defense is No. 1 nationally in total and scoring defense. No way the Cardinal pulls off the shocker this time … USC 45, Stanford 7. (7 p.m. EST, Versus)

Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama: The only thing that could derail the Crimson Tide before their SEC title showdown with Florida is the Crimson Tide themselves. Bama finishes the regular season against teams with a combined record of 8-11, starting this week with the 3-6 Bulldogs. You might think the Tide would put it on cruise control, but I doubt Nick Saban lets that happen. Mississippi State has been a recent thorn in Alabama’s side – the Tide haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in the last three games in the series and they lost a 24-16 decision when the Bulldogs last visited Tuscaloosa in 2006. Those history lessons should be more than enough incentive to stay focused … Alabama 27, Mississippi State 14. (7:45 p.m. EST, ESPN)

No. 25 Tulsa at Houston: Some of the shine is off the Golden Hurricane after absorbing a 30-23 loss to Arkansas two weeks ago. Maybe it was the best thing for them, though. Before that contest, Tulsa seemed like a team more interested in playing not to lose. This week, they travel to Houston for what should be a good, old-fashioned shootout. These are two of most prolific scoring offenses in the country, and neither team bothers much with defense. The difference-maker should be Tulsa’s running game, which compliments QB David Johnson very nicely … Tulsa 49, Houston 28. (8 p.m. EST)

No. 8 Utah at San Diego State: While the Utes are looking to stay undefeated and on track for a BCS bowl berth, the Aztecs are simply trying to get to the barn. They are 1-9 and have surrendered 35 or more points in each of their last six games. And in case you think Chuck Long’s team is simply deficient defensively, know that SDSU ranks 100th or worse nationally in the following categories: rushing, total and scoring offense, rushing, scoring and total defense, turnover margin and punt returns. At least they play their home games in nice weather … Utah 48, San Diego State 7. (8 p.m. EST, The Mtn.)

No. 10 Ohio State at Illinois: Is this redemption game for the Buckeyes? You bet it is. There are very few times during a football season when a team goes into a game thinking about little else than playing for its own self-worth, and that should be the mind-set for members of the Ohio State defense as they head to Champaign-Urbana this weekend. Last year, the defense simply could not get the Illini and QB Juice Williams off the field in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. While the Buckeyes have been on a roller-coaster ride with their offense the last couple of weeks, the defense has remained steady, and it’s hard to believe that guys like James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins will let what happened last year happen again this year … Ohio State 24, Illinois 17. (12 noon EST, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Indiana (+36) at Penn State; Georgia (-8) at Auburn; Texas (-13) at Kansas; Toledo at Western Michigan (-14); North Carolina (-2½) at Maryland; South Carolina at Florida (-21); Boise State (-34) at Idaho; USC (-20½) at Stanford; Mississippi State (+22) at Alabama; Tulsa (-4) at Houston; Utah (-28) at San Diego State; Ohio State at Illinois (+10).

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

Small Is Microcosm Of What Ails Buckeyes

Like so many athletes before him, Ray Small was blessed with an abundance of talent but cursed with way too little in the area of common sense. He has a lot in common with this year’s Ohio State team as a whole.

Forget for a moment that Small has game-breaking speed and as of this very moment leads the Big Ten in punt return average. To thrive as a student-athlete at the major-college level, you must at least pretend to pay attention to the student part of the equation. By all indications, Small cut classes in favor of sleeping in and even dozed off a time or two during football meetings.

Cutting class and sleeping in certainly aren’t major cases, and as some have already indicated, they are not offenses that rise to assault charges or drunk driving arrests. Still, there are team rules and when you do not abide by them – repeatedly – you begin to forfeit your playing status.

Small is been a problem child ever since he got to Ohio State. He wasn’t supposed to be academically eligible to join the Buckeyes as a freshman in 2006 but barely squeezed through at the last minute. Since then, he has been in and out of Jim Tressel’s doghouse as the coach devised new ways to try and get Small’s attention. He lost his starting job, lost his jersey number and even lost a spot in the team’s official media/recruiting guide this fall.

Through it all, Small never really seemed to get the message. Now he is suspended again and his father has indicated his son may take his obvious skills – as well as a burgeoning persecution complex – elsewhere.

Small’s situation is the latest in what is becoming an Ohio State team rapidly showing cracks around the edges. In case you hadn’t heard, the rumors now making the rounds at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center whisper of a disgruntled team divided. Several of the upperclassmen, so-called insiders say, were on the verge of all-out mutiny a couple of weeks back when Tressel dumped senior quarterback Todd Boeckman in favor of multitalented freshman Terrelle Pryor.

I’m not especially into conspiracy theories, and it makes no particular sense for any senior player to go into the tank with every NFL scout in the country poring over every frame of game film. Likewise, Ohio State didn’t exactly play lights out against Ohio the week before the USC beatdown.

Perhaps there is dissension on this team. It wouldn’t be the first time it happened in college football and lord knows it won’t be the last. Tressel has faced it a couple of times before, including his inaugural season when most of his roster was used to John Cooper’s hands-off approach to coaching. The fact that Tressel has been able to keep the attitude level high and off-the-field problems to a minimum the last couple of years is testament to his powers of persuasion. He prefers to present young men with options, clearly underlining which he believes are the best. But he’s never been a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy. The Maurice Clarett episode should be evidence enough of that.

Still, Tressel has to work with upwards of 100 young men on a daily basis, and like any other entity of that size with that number of individual personalities, not everyone is going to see eye to eye.

To be honest, I’m still left wondering why the trigger was pulled so quickly on Boeckman. I will stipulate that he is not the greatest quarterback ever to walk onto a football field, but he did have a lot of things going for him. He did lead the team to the national championship game last year, he was elected a team co-captain and he did (and likely still does) enjoy a huge amount of popularity among his teammates.

I never thought Tressel would supplant a senior, especially one at quarterback, with a freshman no matter how talented that freshman was. Again, conspiracy theorists surmise that after taking stock of his team following the USC game, the head coach was merely trying to get a jump on the 2009 season. Anyone that has even a passing knowledge of the way Tressel operates understands there is no way that could be true.

For all of their warts, this year’s Ohio State team remains in the running for a BCS bowl berth. If the Buckeyes win their final three games – and they should be favored in each – they will receive their fourth straight trip to the BCS and sixth in the last seven years.

Unfortunately, a BCS bowl berth notwithstanding, the legacy of the 2008 Ohio State football team will not be accentuated by what it achieved. Rather, it will be what the Buckeyes did not achieve. A team that was predicted – and quite frankly expected – to march to a third straight national championship game has been left in must-win mode with three games remaining in the regular season.

In that vein, Ray Small and his current situation is a microcosm of the entire team. It’s either a case of being totally overrated or never being quite able to play up to one’s vast potential.

The bottom line is that the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

OHIO STATE-NORTHWESTERN MINUTIAE

** Ohio State and Northwestern will meet Saturday for the 74th time and the Buckeyes hold a lopsided 56-14-1 advantage in the series. OSU has a 25-6-1 edge in Evanston, including victories in 15 of the last 16 at Ryan Field/Dyche Stadium. The Wildcats took a 33-27 overtime win over the Buckeyes in 2004, but before that you would have to go all the way back to 1958 to find a home win for Northwestern over Ohio State.

** That overtime loss to the Wildcats in ’04 evidently made the Buckeyes angry. In the three games since, they have outscored Northwestern by a 160-24 margin. That is probably a good thing for OSU because the Wildcats are 17-4 in their last 21 overall games determined by seven points or less.

** OSU head coach Jim Tressel is 6-1 against Northwestern while Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald is 0-2 vs. the Buckeyes. With Ohio State, Tressel is 19-4 during the month of November, good for a .826 winning percentage. All-time, the Buckeyes are 281-132-19 (.672) overall during the month as well as 178-78-11 (.687) on the road in November.

** The last time these two teams got together, Ohio State took Northwestern to the woodshed. Last year’s 58-7 pounding represented the most points scored by the Buckeyes since Tressel got to Columbus. In fact, it was the most points scored by any Tressel-coached team since Youngstown State rolled to a 63-20 win over Alcorn State in the first round of the 1994 Division I-A playoffs.

** Something has to give Saturday. During the Tressel era, Ohio State is only 1-4 in the game following a regular-season open week. However, the Buckeyes are 15-2 under Tressel following a loss. That includes a 5-1 mark on the road.

** Ohio State is currently working on a streak of 13 consecutive victories in Big Ten road games. The Buckeyes last lost a conference road contest Oct. 8, 2005, when they dropped a 17-10 decision at Penn State.

** Since 1995, only four Big Ten programs have winning records against Northwestern. OSU leads the parade with an 8-1 record while Michigan is 8-3, Purdue is 8-5 and Penn State is 7-3. The Wildcats are .500 or better against the other six conference schools over the past 13-plus seasons.

** Northwestern junior quarterback Mike Kafka had a career day last weekend during his team’s 24-17 win over Minnesota. Kafka completed 12 of 16 pass attempts for 143 yards and two touchdowns, and added an amazing 217 yards rushing. That broke the old Big Ten record for most rushing yards in a single game by a quarterback, held since 1972 by Purdue’s Gary Danielson, who had 213 during a 22-21 loss to Washington.

** Kafka won Big Ten offensive player of the week honors for his performance, and teammate Brendan Smith captured the conference’s top defensive award after he returned an interception 48 yards for the game-winning touchdown against the Gophers. It was Smith’s second pick six of the season. He returned one 28 yards for a score in the Wildcats’ season-opening 30-10 win over Syracuse.

** It is unknown whether or not Kafka will keep his starting job this week against Ohio State. Regular starter C.J. Bachér sat out last week with a hamstring injury and is scheduled to be re-evaluated today. A barking hamstring will likely prevent Bachér from equaling Kakfa’s running exploits from a week ago, but the senior QB is the better of the two when it comes to throwing the football. Bachér owns two of the top three passing games in Northwestern history – 520 yards against Michigan State and 470 against Minnesota. Both performances came last season. His high game so far this season was 284 in a 22-17 win at Iowa.

** The Buckeyes may want to think about what they’re doing at halftime – and change it. They are outscoring their opponents by an average of more than 11 points per game, but have been outpointed 34-26 in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Northwestern has outscored its opponents by a 60-35 margin this season in the third quarter.

** With 12 tackles against Penn State, OSU senior linebacker James Laurinaitis upped his career total to 335 and passed Mike Doss (331, 1999-2002) for 10th place on the Ohio State all-time list. Laurinaitis needs only 11 more stops to jump into seventh place past Glen Cobb (336, 1979-82), Ed Thompson (338, 1974-76) and Al Washington (345, 1977-80).

** OSU junior tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells currently has 2,859 yards for his career, good enough for ninth on the school’s career rushing list. He needs 115 more yards to jump into sixth place past Antonio Pittman (2,945, 2004-06), Michael Wiley (2,951, 1996-99) and Carlos Snow (2,974, 1987-89, ’91).

** Kickoff for this week’s game is 12 noon Eastern Standard Time. That is 11 a.m. local time if you’re going to Evanston. The telecast will be handled by ESPN2 with the announce team of Dave Pasch (play-by-play) and 1989 Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware (color).

** Next week’s game at Illinois is also scheduled to begin at 12 noon EST, 11 a.m. local time. It will be televised on either ESPN or ESPN2.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Texas Tech enjoyed one of the most successful weeks in its football existence with the upset of instate rival Texas. The victory came in the program’s 500th game and marked the first time Tech had ever beaten the nation’s No. 1-ranked team. Add those milestones to the Raiders’ lofty No. 2 perch in the BCS standings – their highest ever – and the fact that they own Division I-A’s longest current win streak at 11 games, and you can see why everything is coming up Double-T right now.

** One more thing about Texas Tech: The last time the school’s football team started 9-0 was 1938. The only remaining living member of that team, Lonnie “Primo” McCurry, served with the U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima in World War II. McCurry was on hand in Lubbock last Saturday night when the Raiders toppled Texas.

** Maybe the Big Ten doesn’t rack up big offensive numbers, but you would have been hard-pressed to find any conference with more thrilling finishes last weekend. All four of the Big Ten games were decided in the final 30 seconds – an interception return for a touchdown with 12 seconds left, the always-entertaining hook-and-ladder play with 26 seconds to go and a pair of last-second field goals, one with 0:24 showing on the clock and the other with just 0:07 remaining.

** Apparently the nation at large still likes Big Ten football even if the media does not. The Ohio State-Penn State game on Oct. 25 drew the seventh-largest audience ever for an ABC primetime regular-season contest. According to data from ESPN, the game was watched in 7.35 million households, which translates to a 6.4 rating share. The game was also the second-highest rated game of the 2008 season, surpassed only by the Sept. 13 clash between Ohio State and USC. That game was watched by an estimated 7.95 million households, good for a 7.0 rating.

** Last week’s 48-42 loss to Purdue eliminated Michigan from postseason eligibility, ending the nation’s longest postseason streak at 34 consecutive years. The Wolverines are now 2-7 in Rich Rodriguez’s first season and are assured of their first losing record since going 4-6 in 1967. In all of its long and storied history dating back to 1879, Michigan has never lost more than seven times in a single season.

** Head-scratching stat of the week: Wisconsin outrushed Michigan State by a 281-25 margin and somehow came up with a 25-24 loss. The Badgers, who started the season 3-0 and rose as high as No. 8 in the country, have lost five of their last six games.

** Our weekly update of the undefeated teams at Division I-A finds the number has dwindled to six: Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, Penn State, Texas Tech and Utah.

** Alabama has now played nine games so far this season which computes to 540 minutes of football. The Crimson Tide have trailed their opponents for exactly 75 seconds.

** Votes in this week’s Associated Press media poll show some indecision in terms of the best team in college football. Alabama received 46 first-place votes while Texas Tech’s thrilling upset of previous No. 1 Texas garnered the Red Raiders a dozen first-place votes. Penn State also got some love by getting named on six first-place ballots. My problem was the one voter who gave Florida a first-place vote. How can you possibly vote the Gators ahead of three undefeated teams, especially with a loss to 5-4 Ole Miss on their résumé?

** Of the teams in the AP’s preseason top 10, two – Clemson and Auburn – aren’t even ranked this week while a third, West Virginia, is barely in the poll at No. 25. Meanwhile, this week’s No. 1 team Alabama was down at No. 24 in the preseason rankings.

** Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford established a new school record last Saturday night against Nebraska. Bradford now has 31 pass completions of 40 or more yards in his career. That is two more than the previous best of 29 by Heisman Trophy winner Jason White. Best of all – for the Sooners at least – is that Bradford is still only a sophomore.

** Speaking of Oklahoma, it is second in the nation in scoring at 49.8 points per game. The Sooners are averaging 35.2 of those points in the first half alone, and that would rank No. 23 nationally all by itself. Three times this season, OU has scored 28 or more points in the first quarter and twice it has scored 50 or more in the first half.

** In their 62-28 rout of Nebraska last week, it was business as usual for Oklahoma as it tallied 35 points in the first quarter. It definitely was no business as usual for the Cornhuskers, however. They had never given up that many points in a single quarter in program history.

** Congratulations to Navy, which has become the first team in the nation to formally accept a bowl bid. The Middies, now 6-3 after last week’s overtime win over Temple, will play in the inaugural EagleBank Bowl, set for Dec. 20 in RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

** To say that it is a forgettable season in the state of Washington would be an understatement. Last week, Washington and Washington State were outscored by a combined 114-0, marking the first time in 33 years both teams were shut out on the same weekend. The Huskies are now 1-8 while the Cougars are 0-9.

** I don’t care what Duke head coach David Cutcliffe says. Which would you choose – staying at a school where football is an afterthought or going to one where the facilities and fan base are among the best in the nation? That’s why I think when the money starts talking, Cutcliffe starts walking – straight to Tennessee.

** If you are the Western Kentucky defensive coordinator, how do you explain losing a 51-40 decision at home to previously winless North Texas? That is 51 points to a team that had been averaging 16.9 points in its previous eight games. Of course, Hilltoppers head coach David Elson won’t have to go far to find his defensive coordinator. He just needs to look in the mirror.

** Stephen F. Austin quarterback Jeremy Moses is probably somewhere icing his elbow right now. Last weekend during his team’s game against Sam Houston State, Moses set new NCAA single-game records for pass completions and attempts when he connected 57 times in 85 tries for 501 yards and four touchdowns. Alas, it all went for naught as the Division I-AA Lumberjacks lost 34-31 in double overtime to the Bearkats.

** HBO is nearing completion of its documentary “Breaking the Huddle: The Integration of College Football,” which chronicles the experiences of the first black players in the South during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It is scheduled to debut Dec. 16.

** The Rev. James Riehle, longtime chaplain for the Notre Dame football team, died last week at the age of 83. His first game as team chaplain was the famous 10-10 tie with Michigan State in 1966, and Rev. Riehle played himself in the 1993 film “Rudy.”

** Thirty-two years ago today – much as it is this week – Texas was licking its wounds after an upset loss to a conference rival. On Nov. 6, 1976, Houston highlighted its first season as a member of the Southwest Conference with a stunning 30-0 victory over the Longhorns. The Cougars were led by defensive tackle Wilson Whitley as Texas was limited to just eight first downs in its worst conference loss ever under legendary head coach Darrell Royal.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 4, 1967, Miami (Fla.) ended Virginia Tech’s regular-season winning streak at 14 with a 14-7 upset in Blacksburg; on Nov. 5, 1955, three future College Hall of Famers – coaches Bowden Wyatt of Tennessee and Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech as well as UT tailback Johnny Majors – were all at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville as the Volunteers and Yellow Jackets played to a 7-7 tie; on Nov. 7, 1970, Northwestern fullback Mike Adamle set a new Big Ten record for carries by rushing 48 times for 192 yards and four touchdowns as his Wildcats took a 28-14 win over Minnesota; and on Nov. 8, 1975, freshman cornerback Savann Thompson’s interception with 59 seconds left set up the game-winning field goal as Stanford shocked No. 9 USC, 13-10, in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

** This week in college football history also saw the unveiling of a new offensive alignment. On Nov. 9, 1912, Carlisle used the double wing formation for the first time and rolled past a confused Army team, 27-6. Leading the Indians was legendary fullback Jim Thorpe while the Cadets featured a team that included nine future generals, including five-star general and future U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

FEARLESS FORECAST

We’re pretty sure we know how the Georgia Bulldogs feel. We had some early-season success, got to feeling pretty good about ourselves and then – BOOM! – it’s all over in a flash when you’re on the business end of a rout. Probably the less said about last week’s picks the better, so we’ll simply note that the straight-up picks were 6-5 while we were a miserable 3-8 week against the spread.

For the season, the numbers are now 64-24 straight up and 46-41 ATS. As we’re sure they are doing in Athens and Lincoln and Seattle and several other places all over the map, we’re going to try and forget last week as quickly as possible.

Here are the games we like this week (and remember that we’re using AP rankings).

TONIGHT’S GAMES

No. 11 TCU at No. 10 Utah: We haven’t done very well this year with Thursday night affairs, but how could we resist this one from the Mighty Mountain West, especially when it has BCS implications. Each of these teams is in the running for an at-large berth in one of those big-money bowls and this game is the last real obstacle on either schedule. There is an awful lot to like about the Horned Frogs, including a defense that ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, second in total defense and first against the run. The Utes are extremely tough at home, winning nine straight at Rice-Eccels Stadium, and their offense is usually pretty good at putting points on the board. Also, Utah has beaten TCU in four of their last five meetings, including last year’s 27-20 win in Fort Worth … Utah 23, TCU 17. (8 p.m. EST, CSTV)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Wisconsin at Indiana: Would you believe me if I told you the Hoosiers were in front of the Badgers in the Big Tens standings? It’s true. Wisconsin at 1-5 is a half-game behind IU, which is tied with Purdue and Michigan (!) at 1-4. Still, Bucky has a lot to play for. If he can win out against the Hoosiers, Minnesota and Division I-AA Cal-Poly, he can avoid missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2001. Over on the other sideline, Indiana has lost six of its last seven this season and nine of its last 11 against the Badgers. Something tells me Bucky is about to explode … Wisconsin 38, Indiana 20. (12 noon EST, Big Ten Network)

Michigan at Minnesota: Despite last week’s stumble against Northwestern, the Gophers are still poised to play in their first New Year’s Day game since the 1962 Rose Bowl. To accomplish that feat, they will probably have to win out and the first step is Saturday against the Wolverines. Everyone in Ann Arbor knew this was going to be a difficult season but it’s doubtful anyone knew just how difficult. U-M has lost five games in a row for the first time in 41 years, but can buoy itself with the knowledge that it has won 19 of the last 20 meetings with Minnesota. Of course, the Maize and Blue faithful also know this has been a season already tough on streaks … Minnesota 31, Michigan 28. (12 noon EST, ESPN)

Purdue at No. 18 Michigan State: The Boilermakers mined the depths of their bench last week, turning to a third-string quarterback to lead them to a 48-42 victory over Michigan. This week, Purdue tries to pull off the Michigan two-fer against a much tougher opponent. Sparty somehow got past Wisconsin last week which may have been a turning point for the program. In recent years, MSU has typically had a November swoon. Now with an 8-2 record, the Spartans are gunning for their best season since finishing 10-2 in 1999. It is difficult to see how the Boilers’ defense can do much to derail that push … Michigan State 34, Purdue 17. (12 noon EST, Big Ten Network)

Utah State at No. 9 Boise State: If you’re thinking this is a mismatch, you’re thinking what we’re thinking. The Broncos are trying to crash the BCS party for the second time in the past three years and have plenty of history on their side. They haven’t lost a regular-season game on the Smurf Turf since 2001, they are a perfect 30-0 against WAC rivals over that span, and they have outscored the Aggies by a 338-150 margin over the last seven games in the series, including last year’s 52-0 romp. Want more? Utah State is 1-47 all-time against ranked teams, and that includes 0-37 on the road … Boise State 42, Utah State 7. (2 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 1 Alabama at No. 15 LSU: There is not much to say about this one other than I feel an upset brewing. Tide QB John Parker Wilson has played extremely well this season, especially in big games against the likes of Clemson and Georgia. But Wilson is still susceptible to making mistakes and he likely has at least one bad game coming. This could be that game, especially since the Tigers are playing at home with pretty much nothing but pride on the line – that and the desire to prove Nick Saban made a mistake when he left Baton Rouge. Here is Upset Special No. 1 … LSU 34, Alabama 30. (3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

No. 3 Penn State at Iowa: No, this will not be Upset Special No. 2. While the Hawkeyes have had some success this year, they should be no match for the Nittany Lions, well-rested after their win over Ohio State two weeks ago. Iowa has five victories so far this season, but their five victims have a combined 18-26 record this season. Take the win over Division I-AA Maine and the Hawkeyes don’t have a single victory over a team with a winning record. That doesn’t exactly bode well when you’re playing the No. 3 team in the nation and one that ranks tops in the Big Ten in both scoring offense and scoring defense … Penn State 26, Iowa 13. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 8 Oklahoma State at No. 2 Texas Tech: If you weren’t dazzled last week by Texas Tech’s passing game, your dazzler must be broken. QB Graham Harrell is a cool customer with a live arm, but standing behind that massive line with a guy like Michael Crabtree to throw to would make you cool, too. So what it the world would make us think Okie State can go into Lubbock and do what Texas could not? Just a hunch. It would be difficult to imagine the Red Raiders and their crowd having much left in the emotional tank after last week. Add in the fact that the Cowboys also know a thing or two about moving the football (512.0 yards per game) and scoring points (45.3 per game) and the stage is set for Upset Special No. 2 … Oklahoma State 38, Texas Tech 34. (8 p.m. EST, ABC Regional)

No. 4 Florida at Vanderbilt: Don’t look now but the Gators are making a strong push for their second BCS title game appearance in three years. They have become a pretty nifty blend of offense and defense, averaging 42.8 points on their side of the scoreboard while allowing opponents only 11.6. Meanwhile, Vandy’s storybook start to the season has faded with three straight losses, and it is doubtful the Commodores have enough firepower to stay with the Urban Legends. Look for Florida to make it 18 in a row in the series and continue on its path to an SEC championship showdown, most likely with Alabama … Florida 38, Vanderbilt 14. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

OHIO STATE NONLEAGUE OPPONENTS

Indiana State at Youngstown State: We thought we’d have a little fun and try to pick off some easy wins by taking a look at Ohio State’s nonconference opposition and how they’re doing this year. To be kind, both of the teams in this contest are struggling. The Penguins are shadows of their former Division I-AA powerhouse selves, listing along with a 2-8 record. But that’s better than the Sycamores, who are winless in nine games while getting outscored by an almost unbelievable 418-56 margin … Youngstown State 35, Indiana State 6. (1 p.m. EST, No TV)

Bowling Green at Ohio: Another couple of underachievers square off in Athens. Despite owning a losing record, the Falcons still entertain hopes of winning the weak MAC East since they play conference leader Buffalo next week and hold the tiebreaker over Akron. Meanwhile, the Bobcats haven’t been too successful in the recent past against BG. Ohio won last year’s contest, but that came after five straight losses in the series. Since 1982, OU has won only five times in 25 tries … Bowling Green 33, Ohio 19. (2 p.m. EST, No TV)

Western Kentucky at Troy: We’ve already talked about WKU’s problems on defense. That should bode well for the Trojans, who hung around with the likes of Ohio State and Oklahoma State earlier this season. Probably all you need to know about this one is that Troy dumped North Texas by four touchdowns a couple of weeks ago while the Mean Green dropped 51 on the Hilltoppers last week … Troy 43, Western Kentucky 13. (3:30 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 21 California at No. 7 USC: Poor Pete Carroll is upset about the BCS standings that dropped his team from fifth to seventh this week despite a 56-0 win over Washington. Naturally, Carroll wouldn’t be making too much of the BCS had his team taken care of business earlier this season at Oregon State. As it is, USC needs to win out and hope the teams ahead of them in the standings knock one another off. Of course, if the Trojans are too focused on what they cannot control, the Bears are capable of the upset. Not saying they’ll get it – just that they are capable … USC 37, Cal 14. (8 p.m. EST, ABC Regional)

No. 12 Ohio State at Northwestern: I don’t know what was said or done to the Buckeyes after losing in Evanston in 2004, but I do know that OSU has uncharacteristically run up the score on the Wildcats ever since. The two teams would seem to be evenly matched this season, and normally that would bode well for the home team. Additionally, Ohio State has lost four of five games in the Tressel era following open weeks. It all points to an upset, doesn’t it? It might except that it is going to be difficult for Northwestern to mount any kind of rushing attack and that’s what leads to final scores getting out of hand … Ohio State 37, Northwestern 14. (12 noon EST, ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: TCU at Utah (+2½); Wisconsin (-9) at Indiana; Michigan (+7½) at Minnesota; Purdue at Michigan State (-9); Utah State at Boise State (-31); Alabama at LSU (-3); Penn State (-7) at Iowa; Oklahoma State (+5) at Texas Tech; Florida (-20) at Vanderbilt; Bowling Green (-3) at Ohio; Western Kentucky at Troy (-17); Cal at USC (-17); and Ohio State (-10½) at Northwestern.

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

Happy Birthday, Archie!

In honor of Archie Griffin, who celebrates his 54th birthday today, here is another excerpt of my book, “When Legends Were Made: Ohio State Buckeyes.”

The book, which should be in bookstores next month, contains 20 chapters each devoted a player or coach and the one game that transformed him into a Buckeye legend. Archie’s chapter deals with his breakout performance as a freshman in 1972 against North Carolina.

That Archie Griffin became a star in only his second game at Ohio State may not be all that surprising to fans who have come to believe the two-time Heisman Trophy winner is the greatest player ever to wear the Scarlet and Gray.

It’s a minor miracle that Griffin was playing at all against North Carolina much less gaining a then single-game record 239 yards.

Griffin was one of the most highly-sought-after high school running backs in the nation after finishing a superlative prep career at Columbus Eastmoor. He gained 1,737 yards and scored 170 points during his senior year alone. The 5-10, 184-pound speedster quickly narrowed his choices from an estimated 150 scholarship offers to just three – the U.S. Naval Academy, Northwestern and Ohio State.

An appointment to the Naval Academy and the prestigious it carried made the Midshipmen an early favorite, but Griffin’s desire to play Big Ten football eliminated Rick Forzano’s Middies.

Northwestern head coach Alex Agase felt he had an excellent chance to get the star running back, but when longtime head coach Woody Hayes visited the Griffin home and discussed nothing but academics with Griffin’s parents, James and Margaret, as well as what Ohio State could do for their son – not the other way around – the Buckeyes had themselves a new running back.

Things didn’t go quite according to plan, however. During OSU’s 21-0 victory over Iowa in the 1972 season opener, Griffin was reduced to mop-up duty behind veterans Morris Bradshaw, Elmer Lippert, Rick Gales and Joe DeFillipo, and didn’t get into the game until late in the fourth quarter.

When the play “18 Sweep” was called in the huddle, Griffin was raring to go. He knew that he would get the ball on a pitchout and his thoughts quickly turned to breaking a long run and perhaps even scoring a touchdown on his first college carry.

It didn’t quite turn out that way.

Griffin couldn’t handle a low pitch from backup quarterback Dave Purdy, a fumble that Purdy eventually had to smother himself for a 5-yard loss. Hayes, who hated putting any emphasis whatsoever on untested players, watched film of the play over and over later that night and decided Griffin should have made the play. On the official stat sheet of the game, the coach personally crossed out the fumble and lost yardage that were charged to Purdy and credited them to Griffin.

At the team’s next practice, the freshman was so far down the running back depth chart that he wasn’t even on the depth chart. Griffin was listed on the freshman roster only and he began to wonder if he would ever get in another varsity game over the next four years.

He needn’t have worried.

The Buckeyes took a week off after their opening victory over Iowa and prepared to take on nonconference foe North Carolina. Thanks to an early start to their season, the Tar Heels already had three victories under their belts, including an emotional 34-33 win over instate rival North Carolina State the previous week. North Carolina had a talent-laden-roster in 1972 that included a pair of All-America offensive linemen in guard Ron Rusnak and Jerry Sain as well as five defenders who were first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference performers.

UNC was coached that year by Bill Dooley, who was in the sixth season of an 11-year tenure in Chapel Hill. Dooley, the brother of legendary Georgia head coach Vince Dooley, went on to coach at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest before retiring after the 1992 season with a career record of 161-127-5.

It was an uncharacteristically raw late September day in the Horseshoe. The crowd of 86,180 squeezed into the stadium and huddled together as the thermometer struggled to get to the 50-degree mark. A stiff northwesterly breeze added to the chill in the air.

Things didn’t exactly warm up when Ohio State took the opening kickoff and did absolutely nothing with it. Bradshaw took a pitch around left end for 5 yards and got 3 more up the middle on second down. But the drive stalled when fullback Randy Keith was stopped after a 1-yard gain on third down and the Buckeyes were forced to punt.

North Carolina didn’t do any better on its first possession. In fact, the Tar Heels went in the wrong direction thanks to three illegal motion penalties before quickly punting the ball back to the Buckeyes.

But OSU was still stuck in first gear. A first-down run by Bradshaw netted only 1 yard, quarterback Greg Hare misfired on a long second-down pass and Bradshaw was stopped on third down after a short 3-yard gain.

The tempo of the game suddenly changed, however, on the next play. UNC’s Jimmy DeRatt broke through the Ohio State defense and blocked punter Gary Lago’s kick. The loose ball tumbled end over end back toward the OSU goal line where North Carolina co-captain Gene Brown was able to make a sliding recovery in the end zone. Ellis Alexander kicked the extra point and a suddenly silent Ohio Stadium crowd looked on as the Tar Heels had taken a 7-0 lead at the 9:37 mark of the first quarter.

To say Hayes was displeased would be akin to saying there’s a lot of water in the Pacific Ocean. It would have been a gross understatement. The coach stomped his way up and down the sideline, jaw set, eyes narrowing into tiny slits, fists clenched. Then to emphasize his displeasure with the way his first-teamers were performing, he decided to send them a message.

Jumping all the way down the depth chart to the fifth-string halfback, thanks to more than a little cajoling from running backs coach Rudy Hubbard, Hayes barked, “Griffin! Get in there!”

The freshman was stunned. He had no preconceived notions about playing against the Tar Heels so soon after his miscue against Iowa. He hadn’t even stayed at the team hotel the night before, a privilege reserved only for those who were certain to play the following day. But as the initial shock of hearing Hayes yell his name gradually wore off, Griffin began to sprint onto the field. Only when an assistant coach stopped him did the freshman realize he was headed into battle without his helmet. That was quickly retrieved, the chinstrap buckled, and Griffin took his place in the offensive huddle.

He was eager atone for his mistake of two weeks earlier and didn’t waste time doing so.

Griffin’s first carry was infinitely better than the fumbled pitch in the season opener and resulted in a 6-yard sweep around left end. His second was a 6-yard burst over left guard Jim Kregel, and his third was another sweep around left end for 6 more yards. In his first three carries, Griffin had surpassed the team’s yardage total for its first two possessions combined.

But on a fourth straight carry, North Carolina managed to finally corral Griffin for no gain. On third-and-4, Hayes decided to change things up and called for an option pitch to wingback Rick Galbos, but it fell a yard shy of the first down and the Buckeyes were forced to punt again.

Still, the legendary Ohio State coach had finally stumbled upon a strategy that was working. It just so happened that it was an attack that Hayes held dear: a good, old-fashioned, run-the-ball-down-their-throats attack designed to give the ball to Griffin and keep giving it to him. Once the Buckeyes got the ball back, Hayes did exactly that.

The freshman quickly repaid his coach’s faith in him by breaking off a 32-yard scamper on the first play of OSU’s next drive. After a couple of short bursts on his first few carries, Griffin showcased his explosiveness by gliding through a hole between Kregel and left tackle Doug France, picking up a block from Galbos and breaking into the North Carolina secondary. That pushed the Buckeyes into enemy territory for the first time in the game, and they pushed even further when Hare faked a handoff to Griffin and completed his first pass of the afternoon, a quick toss to Galbos that the OSU wingback turned into a 17-yard gain.

Back Ohio State came with Griffin, who carried on each of the next six plays. First it was over left tackle for 2, then a cutback inside right guard for 8 followed by a slash over left guard for 4. Like a heavyweight boxer with his opponent on the ropes, Griffin continued to hit the Tar Heels from all angles, going over right guard for 3 yards, back to the left for 4 and then around left tackle for 4 more.

By the time the freshman running back was through, North Carolina’s defense was reeling back at its own 7-yard line. Griffin finally came out of the game for a short rest and the Buckeyes immediately seemed to slow down again. After a short 2-yard gain by Randy Keith and a third-down incompletion by Hare who overshot intended receiver Mike Bartoszek, the Buckeyes had to settle for a 22-yard field goal from kicker Blair Conway. Still, the kick finally got OSU on the scoreboard at 7-3 with just six seconds left before the end of the first period.

The team’s second score came much quicker. North Carolina took the ensuing kickoff and had good starting position at its own 36 before quickly moving out to near midfield. But on the fifth play of the drive, Ohio State linebacker Randy Gradishar tracked UNC quarterback Nick Vidnovic as he rolled out of the pocket to his right. Vidnovic evidently did not see Gradishar, however, because when he tried to get a pass to favorite target Ken Taylor in the flat, the Buckeye linebacker stepped in front of the would-be receiver to make the interception. Better still for OSU, Gradishar returned the pick 10 yards back inside Tar Heel territory at the 47.

Hare’s first-down swing pass to Griffin was too wide, but the Buckeyes came right back with their freshman sensation on second down and he followed blocks from sophomore fullback Harold “Champ” Henson and right guard Chuck Bonica for a 22-yard bolt. Two plays later, Griffin took another pitch and swept around left end for 8 more yards, setting up a third-and-2 at the UNC 17-yard line.

On the next play, the Tar Heels sniffed out a counter play and stopped Griffin for no gain. But this time Hayes didn’t want to settle for another field goal. He called for Hare to run the option, but rather than going left as the Buckeyes had so often during the possession, this time the play was going to the right. The Buckeye QB strung out the North Carolina defense to perfection, then after a quick faked option pitch to Griffin, Hare turned upfield, dodged a couple of would-be tacklers and danced into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown.

Conway hooked his PAT attempt outside the left upright of the goal post, but Ohio State still enjoyed its first lead of the day with a 9-7 advantage at the 11:50 mark of the second quarter.

The Buckeyes had another scoring opportunity midway through the quarter and Griffin had a hand in it, gathering in a 17-yard pass reception on a third-and-9 play and adding a couple of carries for modest yardage. But on second-and-goal from the 5, Keith fumbled as he hit the line and the loose ball was recovered by North Carolina’s Ronnie Robinson to end the threat.

Meanwhile, the OSU defense had gotten itself untracked after some rough early going. The unit had limited the Tar Heels to just three first downs and only 81 total yards. Griffin had already surpassed those numbers all by himself by tallying six first downs and rushing for 111 yards on 16 first-half carries.

And he was just getting warmed up.

The hardcover book is scheduled to be released by the end of next month, but you can pre-order it right now (and for less money than you can buy it in bookstores). Amazon.com is also offering a special price when you buy it in tandem with Coach Tressel’s book, “The Winner’s Manual.

Click here for the details: When Legends Were Made: Ohio State Buckeyes.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Birthday shout-outs also go out today to actor Clarence Williams III (he’s played everything from Lincoln Hayes in the original “The Mod Squad” to Prince’s father in “Purple Rain”); TV producer and movie director Hugh Wilson (creator of “WKRP In Cincinnati” and director of the first film in the “Police Academy” series); would-be assassin Arthur Bremer; King Mohammed VI of Morocco; “The Early Show” co-anchor Harry Smith; former NFL quarterback Jim McMahon; Chicago Cubs righthander Jason Marquis; Tampa Bay Rays outfielder B.J. Upton; actress Kim Cattrall (man-hungry Samantha Jones in “Sex and the City”); actress Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity in “The “Matrix” movie trilogy); actress Hayden Panettiere (cheerleader Claire Bennet on “Heroes”); Google co-founder Sergey Brin; and country singer (and some would say Mark Rea lookalike) Kenny Rogers.

Several other luminaries who have passed into history also shared Aug. 21 birthdays. They include jazz pianist and bandleader William “Count” Basie; “Looney Toons” director Friz Freleng; sportscasters Jack Buck and Chris Schenkel; Princess Margaret of Great Britain; The Clash lead singer and guitarist Joe Strummer; and basketball great Wilt Chamberlain.

AND FINALLY

** Apparently Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema has picked the least of his three evils by naming senior transfer Allan Evridge as his starting quarterback over junior Dustin Sherer and sophomore Scott Tolzien. The lefty-throwing Evridge won the starting nod despite a shaky scrimmage performance last Saturday, and despite the fact that dating back to his days as a starter at Kansas State, he has completed only 12 of his last 49 pass attempts. That’s a less-than robust 24.5 percent.

** Texas Tech is getting a lot of love from the preseason forecasters, and the Red Raiders rooters are buying into the hype – literally. The school recently announced it has set a new season ticket record with sales already exceeding 41,100.

** I’ve gotten a surprising number of comments about putting LSU at No. 20 in my preseason top 25. Obviously, the commentary is that I have the Tigers way too low. Here’s my reasoning: The SEC is much too tough a conference to expect to win consistently with a first-year starting quarterback. I see at least three losses for LSU this year – maybe more.

** How popular is Alabama head coach Nick Saban? Popular enough that Forbes magazine has reprinted 10,000 copies of its issue featuring him on the cover as college football’s “most powerful coach.” Copies of the issue reportedly sold out in 10 minutes at Books-A-Million’s Alabama stores last Friday.

** In the wake of the sudden death of NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw, it will be interesting to see if the players association can get a successor who is as iron-willed. It will also be interesting to see if the association can resolve its contentious relationship with old-time players who have been seeking additional disability benefits, something Upshaw seemed consistently against doing.

** It could be the end of the line for Boston Red Sox righthander Curt Schilling. He wrote in his blog late last week that “the pendulum is swinging very heavily in the direction of it just being over.” Schilling underwent right shoulder surgery earlier this year and said while he is considering retirement, he could decide to rehab and make a comeback in 2009. If Schilling’s career is over, it will begin debate on whether or not he is a Hall of Famer. His career numbers: 20 seasons, a 216-146 record (.597 winning percentage), 3.46 ERA, 3,116 strikeouts in 3,261 innings, and a postseason record of 10-2 with a 2.23 ERA, including 3-1 and a 2.06 ERA in seven World Series starts. That postseason mark is really the only reason Schilling is the discussion for Cooperstown. IMHO, he had a fine career but not quite Hall-worthy.

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