Buckeyes Should Be Rewarded For Perfect Season

Ohio State put the finishing touches on a perfect season with a 26-21 victory over archrival Michigan, and Ohio Stadium hadn’t even emptied before the nattering nabobs of negativity began their dismissive chorus to belittle the Buckeyes’ accomplishment.

It seems that many pundits around the country don’t believe Ohio State “deserves” to be in this year’s national championship conversation. Unfortunately, the sorriest part of their argument has nothing to do with NCAA sanctions or postseason bans.

In their warped sense of sensibility, the Buckeyes have not performed to the level of a championship contender. Therefore, OSU and its perfect record are a sort of anomaly born of a weak conference affiliation and an even weaker schedule.

After all, didn’t the team struggle against the likes of California, Indiana and Purdue? Ohio State should probably thank the NCAA for issuing a postseason ban that prevents its team from being embarrassed by the unrelenting might of Notre Dame or Alabama in a national championship game.

Of course, that’s what those same so-called experts were saying a decade ago when the Buckeyes were on their way to play the supposedly invincible defending national champion Miami Hurricanes.

Those of us rooted in reality realized long ago that Ohio State was going to be the longest of long shots to win this year’s Associated Press version of the national title. Then when Notre Dame completed its perfect regular season a few hours after OSU completed its own, the Buckeyes’ tiny window of opportunity closed completely.

Still, the fact of the matter is that Ohio State completed a perfect season against all odds, and it should be rewarded regardless of how or against whom it was achieved.

The time-honored tradition among most human pollsters is that undefeated teams are ranked ahead of those which have been beaten. That’s why OSU should be no lower than No. 2 in the AP poll – and 17 of the 60 persons participating in the rankings released Nov. 25 agreed.

Likewise, it’s not too difficult to understand how 19 other voters placed the Buckeyes third or fourth on their AP ballots. On paper, Ohio State would likely struggle with either No. 2 Alabama or No. 3 Georgia, the teams that have qualified for the SEC elimination game that will determine Notre Dame’s opponent in the national championship contest.

And then there are those eight voters who placed Ohio State eighth or lower on their ballots. That included two – Pete DiPrimio of the Fort Wayne (Ind.) News-Sentinel and Josh Kendall of The State in Columbia, S.C. – who didn’t even have the Buckeyes among their top 10.

DiPrimio had OSU at No. 11, behind a foursome of two-loss teams, while Kendall had the Buckeyes at No. 12, behind five teams with two losses. Of course, Kendall likely let his dog perform his balloting. He voted two-loss Texas A&M second overall behind Notre Dame despite the fact the Aggies tied only for the fourth-best record in the SEC.

Of course, it really doesn’t matter who finishes anywhere but first in these beauty contests. For example, can you name the team that finished No. 3 last year behind national championship combatants Alabama and LSU? (It was Oklahoma State.)

Whether Ohio State finished second this year, or third, or even 10th or 11th really doesn’t mean anything because I’ve got news for the Pete DiPrimios and Josh Kendalls of the world: The Buckeyes are going to be good again next year – very good – and it’s going to take much more than a computer keystroke to keep the team from contending for the national championship.

With the exception of most of its starting defensive line, Ohio State loses very little talent heading into 2013. And if you look at the way the Buckeyes recruited last year, the defensive line will be far from a liability.

Furthermore, the schedule sets up much the way the one this past season did. Nonconference opponents are Buffalo, San Diego State, California and FCS member Florida A&M, teams that combined for a 20-27 record this past season, and the Buckeyes’ only real Big Ten threats should be early in the season with back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Northwestern and the regular-season finale at Michigan.

Then there is the head coach. For all of the miracles Urban Meyer has performed during his 11-year career, he has been his most miraculous during the second season at each of his previous three stops.

At Bowling Green in 2002, the Falcons won nine games for the first time in eight seasons. Two years later at Utah, the Utes set a school record by going 12-0 and became the first-ever BCS buster, finishing off that season with a 35-7 mauling of Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.

Then in 2006 at Florida, Meyer’s team went 13-1 and pummeled Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game.

Add to those nuggets the fact that there is very little evidence that anyone in the Big Ten is rising to meet Meyer’s challenge. In the final two games this season, neither opposing head coach seemed very eager to engage Meyer or his team.

Bret Bielema, whose Wisconsin team had nothing to lose in a Senior Day battle with the Buckeyes, elected to punt three times inside OSU territory, including once at the Ohio State 30-yard line in the first quarter of a still scoreless game. A week later, Michigan’s Brady Hoke went away from the stretch plays that were working for his team in the early going and repeatedly tested the middle of the line of scrimmage with his running attack long after the Buckeyes had claimed the interior for their own.

Sports Illustrated writer Pete Thamel perhaps put it best when he wrote in his magazine’s Nov. 19 issue, “For a league in transition, Meyer is driving the pace car.”

That’s not exactly music to the ears of Big Ten opponents – or apparently sportswriters around the country. Then again, the truth always seems to hurt a little.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Nov. 30, 1935, No. 2 SMU scored a come-from-behind 20-14 win over No. 1 TCU, giving the Ponies an undefeated regular season, the Southwest Conference title and a Rose Bowl berth. It would be another 71 years until a major conference had two unbeaten teams with records of at least 10-0 playing one another. That came in 2006 when Ohio State pulled out a 42-39 victory over Big Ten foe Michigan.

** On Nov. 30, 1946, the annual Army-Navy game produced a classic in Philadelphia. The Cadets, led by future College Football Hall of Famers and Heisman Trophy winners Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, raced out to a 21-6 halftime lead. But the Midshipmen stormed back in the second half with a pair of touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Middies, they missed all three of their extra-point attempts and lost the game by a 21-18 final when Army stopped them at the 4-yard line as time expired.

** On Nov. 30, 1968, second-ranked USC and No. 9 Notre Dame played to a 21-21 tie in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Fighting Irish took a 21-7 halftime lead behind quarterback Joe Theismann, who was making his first collegiate start. But the Trojans came back in the second half, thanks to a touchdown from senior tailback O.J. Simpson and a 40-yard scoring pass from QB Steve Sogge to Sam Dickerson. Notre Dame kicker Scott Hempel missed a 33-yard field goal attempt with 33 seconds to go to preserve the tie.

** On Dec. 1, 1951, sixth-ranked Georgia Tech forced an NCAA-record 13 turnovers (five fumbles and eight interceptions) during a 48-6 victory over instate rival Georgia.

** On Dec. 1, 2001, top-ranked Miami (Fla.) held off No. 13 Virginia Tech, 26-24, in Blacksburg to clinch at spot in the Rose Bowl. The Hokies roared back from a 26-10 deficit starting the fourth quarter, but the Hurricanes preserved the win when safety Ed Reed picked off passes on Tech’s final two drives.

** On Dec. 1, 2007, the Bowl Championship Series turned upside-down in the matter of a few hours. Missouri and West Virginia entered the day atop the BCS standings, but the top-ranked Tigers lost a 38-17 decision to No. 8 Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game while the second-ranked Mountaineers fell 13-9 to unranked Pittsburgh. Those two upsets elevated LSU and Ohio State into the BCS National Championship Game.

** On Dec. 2, 1978, No. 2 Alabama clinched the SEC title with a 34-16 victory over Auburn. Crimson Tide QB Jeff Rutledge threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns, and the win propelled Alabama into a 1 vs. 2 showdown with Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.

** On Dec. 2, 1990, No. 11 Houston won a 62-45 shootout over Arizona State in a contest played in Tokyo, Japan. Houston QB David Klingler threw for an NCAA single-game record 716 yards and seven touchdowns, and the Cougars finished off a 10-1 season and wound up No. 10 in the final national rankings.

** On Dec. 3, 1885, in Downs, Kansas, one of the most colorful coaches in college football was born. Francis Albert Schmidt played his college ball at Nebraska, where he earned a law degree, and he later rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Army during World War I. Schmidt began his head coaching career in 1919 and served stints at Tulsa, Arkansas, TCU, Ohio State and Idaho. While with the Buckeyes, he became the first (and still only) head coach to beat Michigan in each of his first four tries and Schmidt also instituted the Gold Pants Club to mark each victory over the Wolverines. Schmidt retired from coaching following the 1942 season and died two years later of a heart attack at the age of 58. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

** On Dec. 3, 1994, at the first-ever SEC Championship game, Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel threw a 2-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left, and the No. 6 Gators squeezed out a 24-23 victory over previously undefeated and third-ranked Alabama.

** On Dec. 3, 1999, ninth-ranked Marshall scored a wild 34-30 win over Western Michigan to claim a 12-0 regular season and the Mid-American Conference championship. The Broncos built a 23-0 third-quarter lead, but MU quarterback Chad Pennington rallied the Thundering Herd with three touchdown passes, the last one with four seconds to play.

** On Dec. 4, 1971, San Diego State and North Texas combined set a college football record for total plays in a regulation game during a 44-28 win for the Aztecs. San Diego State ran 99 plays while North Texas countered with 97 for a grand total of 196, a record that stood until 2003 when Arkansas and Kentucky combined to run 202 plays in a game that lasted seven overtimes.

** On Dec. 5, 1988, Miami (Fla.) ruined the national championship hopes of third-ranked UCLA with a 49-45 upset win in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes, led by 299 yards and three touchdowns from tailback Edgerrin James, rallied from a 38-21 deficit late in the third quarter. The Bruins fumbled twice and Miami QB Scott Covington threw for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to aid the comeback.

** On Dec. 5, 1993, Wisconsin went all the way to Tokyo to score a 41-20 win over Michigan State, clinching the Badgers’ first Rose Bowl trip in 31 years.

** On Dec. 6, 1873, Yale defeated Eton Players of England by a 2-1 final. It was the first college football game in the U.S. played with 11 men on each side.

** On Dec. 6, 1975, No. 18 Arkansas put an end to Texas A&M’s hopes of a national championship with a 31-6 upset win. The Razrobacks forced six turnovers and held the Aggies to only 149 total yards, securing their first trip to the Cotton Bowl in nine years.

** On Dec. 7, 1966, Army and Navy entered their traditional season finale with winning records for the first time in 33 years. With U.S. President Bill Clinton in attendance to personally award the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to the winner, the Black Knights erased an early 21-3 deficit for a 28-24 victory. It was the largest comeback in the 96-game history of the series and the win gave Army its first-ever 10-victory season.

** On Dec. 7, 2002, Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich threw for 402 yards and four touchdowns as the Thundering Herd claimed the Mid-American Conference championship with a 49-45 win over Toledo. The Rockets had a 45-42 advantage late in the game, but Leftwich connected on a 40-yard touchdown pass with wide receiver Darius Watts with only 49 seconds left to give Marshall the victory and the MAC title.

** On Dec. 8, 2001, eighth-ranked BYU’s perfect season went down in flames as Hawaii scored a 72-45 victory over the Cougars in Honolulu. Rainbows QB Nick Rolovich threw for single-game school records of 543 yards and eight touchdowns while teammate Chad Owens returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score and a punt 74 yards for another touchdown. The teams combined for 1,258 yards of offense and 69 first downs.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Notre Dame and Ohio State were the only Football Bowl Subdivision teams to make it through the 2012 regular season without a defeat. Neither team will play in a conference championship game – the Fighting Irish because they remain independent while the Buckeyes are serving a one-year postseason ban.

** The Fighting Irish and the Buckeyes each extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 12 games. While Ohio State will take its streak into 2013, Notre Dame will put its streak on the line in the BCS National Championship Game against the winner of the SEC title game.

** The nation’s longest losing streak will also move into 2013 as Southern Miss finished its first winless season since 1925 with a 42-24 loss at Memphis last weekend. The Golden Eagles, who were 12-2 just a year ago, finished 0-12 this season under first-year head coach Ellis Johnson. Southern Miss was outscored by a 450-236 margin, and Johnson became a one-and-done coach.

** If you take a look back at the Associated Press preseason poll, you would see rankings in which voters really didn’t know up from down. USC was the preseason No. 1, Oklahoma was No. 4, Michigan was No. 8, Arkansas was No. 10, West Virginia was No. 11, Wisconsin was No. 12, Michigan State was No. 13 and Virginia Tech was No. 16. With the exception of Oklahoma (12th) and Michigan (21st), none of those teams was ranked headed into the final weekend of the regular season. On the flip side, top-ranked Notre Dame was listed among “others receiving votes” in the AP’s preseason poll while No. 4 Ohio State was a lowly 18th.

** Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is trying to win a national championship in his third season in South Bend. If you’re into history, you might want to scrape up a few dollars and bet on the Irish to win the title. Frank Leahy (1943), Ara Parseghian (1966), Dan Devine (1977) and Lou Holtz (1988) each won national championships with the Fighting Irish in their third seasons.

** What team is the only one to defeat four opponents currently ranked among the top 15 of the BCS standings? We’ll save you the trouble of looking it up. It’s Florida, which defeated No. 7 LSU, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 10 South Carolina and No. 13 Florida State. And yet by virtue of their only loss, a 17-9 decision Oct. 27 to No. 3 Georgia, the 11-1 Gators will get neither a smell of the SEC Championship Game nor the national title contest.

** There are a lot of worthy candidate for National Coach of the Year, but how about the job turned in by second-year head coach David Shaw at Stanford. Shaw lost overall No. 1 NFL pick Andrew Luck along with several other starters and still managed to guide the Cardinal to a 10-2 regular season and a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game against UCLA. A victory over the Bruins would send Stanford to the Rose Bowl for the first time since a 17-9 loss to Wisconsin on New Year’s Day 2000. The Cardinal hasn’t won a Rose Bowl since beating Michigan, 13-12, in the 1972 game.

** Remember that old saying about the grass being greener on the other side? Running back Silas Redd, who rushed for 1,241 yards last year, was one of several Penn State players who elected to transfer in the wake of the NCAA punishment doled out following the Jerry Sandusky affair. Redd transferred to USC, where he ran for 817 yards and nine TDs for the Trojans, who finished the regular season with a 7-5 record. Penn State finished one game better at 8-4.

** Congratulations to longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer sportswriter Bill Livingston. His alma mater Vanderbilt finished the season with six consecutive victories – the program’s longest win streak since 1955 – to finish 8-4, their best record since 1982. The Commodores scored 40 or more points in five games this season, the first time they have done that since 1915.

** Congratulations are also in order for Northwestern, which stomped its way to a 50-14 win over Illinois last week to complete a 9-3 season. The Wildcats will likely play in a New Year’s Day Bowl for the first time since the 2009 Outback Bowl. NU will also be looking to end a nine-game postseason losing streak. The Wildcats have a 1-9 lifetime bowl record with the only victory a 20-14 win over California in the 1948 Rose Bowl.

** This was unthinkable just a couple of years ago, but the hot seat under Texas head coach Mack Brown is beginning to smolder. Since going 13-1 in 2009 and losing to Alabama in the national championship game, the Longhorns are a decidedly average 21-15. Worse still, the Mack Attack has lost three straight to archrival Oklahoma by a combined margin of 146-58 and Brown’s once iron grip on recruiting in his home state is beginning to wane. In recent years, the Longhorns have missed out on such homegrown quarterback talent as Andrew Luck (Houston Stratford), Robert Griffin III (Copperas Cove) and Johnny Manziel (Kerrville Tivy).

** Tennessee got its head coach Derek Dooley fired and then finished the season with a 31-17 win over Kentucky to avoid its first-ever winless SEC season. The Volunteers still finished 5-7 overall, their third straight losing season. Tennessee hasn’t been below .500 for three consecutive years since 1909-11.

** Michigan State crashed and burned this year, going from preseason Rose Bowl favorite to a 6-6 overall mark that included a 2-5 record at home. The Spartans haven’t lost as many as five games at Spartan Stadium in a single season since 2006, the final year of the John L. Smith Experience.

** Virginia Tech got a 29-yard field goal from Cody Journell as time expired last week to squeeze out a 17-14 win over Virginia and make themselves eligible to go to a bowl for the 20th consecutive season.

** With its 45-9 rout of Idaho last Saturday, Utah State put the finishing touches on a 10-2 overall record. It marked the program’s first season with double-digit victories in its 114-year history. The win over Idaho also completed a 6-0 Western Athletic Conference record for the Aggies, who won a conference championship for the first time in 76 years. How close was Utah State to a perfect record? Their only losses came on the road – 16-14 to Wisconsin and 6-3 to BYU.

** Conference realignment being what it is these days, Utah State will be unable to defend its WAC title in 2013. That’s because the Aggies move to the Mountain West Conference next season. Also leaving the WAC next year – Louisiana Tech and UTSA join Conference USA, Texas-Arlington and Texas State move to the Sun Belt, San Jose State goes with Utah State to the MWC, and Denver joins the Summit League. Joining the WAC in 2013 will be Cal State-Bakersfield, Utah Valley and Grand Canyon University.

** Who says nothing can happen in the so-called victory formation? Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning was trying to take a knee with his team leading Florida International by a 17-10 score with 28 seconds remaining. However, Browning somehow fumbled the snap, FIU recovered and Golden Panthers freshman QB E.J. Hillard threw a 58-yard touchdown pass with 0:14 showing on the clock to send the game into overtime. Fortunately for Browning, he threw a 15-yard touchdown pass in OT and the Warhawks scored a 23-17 victory.

** Remember Cal running back Brendan Bigelow, who ran for 160 yards and two touchdowns on only four carries against Ohio State? Bigelow had only 271 yards and one TD the rest of the year on 36 carries. Still, he averaged a pretty cool 9.8 yards per carry for the season. Makes you wonder why the Bears didn’t use him more.

** This season produced an all-time record 42 overtime games. Louisiana-Monroe was in four of them and won three times. Wisconsin was in three and lost all three.

** Illinois finished the season 0-8 in the Big Ten, extending its conference losing streak to 14 consecutive games. That is the longest losing streak of league games since the Fighting Illini lost 14 in a row between 2003 and ’04. No Big Ten team has lost more than 14 consecutive conference contests since Illinois lost 15 in a row from 1996-98.

** Houston QB David Piland completed 53 passes during a 56-49 loss to Louisiana Tech in early September. Meanwhile, 2-9 Army heads into its traditional season finale against Navy next weekend having completed 47 passes as a team all year.

** The old saying that “you can throw the records out when rivals play” has been debunked in recent years. Not only has Ohio State beaten Michigan 10 of the last 12 times in their series, Georgia has won 11 of its last 12 against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech has won nine in a row against Virginia, Oregon has beaten Oregon State five times in a row and South Carolina has won four in a row over Clemson.

** It’s crunch time for those of us with Heisman Trophy ballots. Johnny Manziel? Manti Te’o? Marqise Lee? Collin Klein? Braxton Miller? Ballots have to be turned in by early next week and I might have to put those five names in a hat and pull out three.

FEARLESS FORECAST

We enjoyed another winning week here at Forecast World Headquarters, going 8-2 straight up and a 5-4-1 against the spread. That pushed the season totals are 97-23 with the SU picks and 62-55-3 ATS.

Here are the games we’ll be watching (from home) this week.

TODAY’S GAMES

No. 19 Northern Illinois vs. No. 18 KentState: The MAC title game will feature two of the most prolific offensive players in college football – also two guys most of the nation has never heard of. NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch should probably be getting more Heisman love, especially since he ranks third in the country in total offense (2,750 yards passing, 1,611 yards rushing). Meanwhile, Kent features running back Dri Archer, who is fifth in the nation among all-purpose runners (1,337 yards rushing, 458 yards receiving, 573 yards on kickoff returns). So, which team has the better defense and which team makes fewer mistakes? The teams are fairly even in terms of defense while both are among the nation’s top 20 in turnover margin. All things considered, this ought to be a pretty entertaining game … Northern Illinois 34, Kent State 28. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)

No. 17 UCLA at No. 8 Stanford: Anyone who had these two teams playing in the Pac-12 title game should play Powerball. While preseason favorites USC and Oregon stay home and watch on TV, the Bruins and Cardinal will stage a rematch of last Saturday’s game that wound up in a 35-17 Stanford win. The Cardinal pretty well controlled last week’s game by shutting down the UCLA running attack. Of course, Stanford boasts the nation’s No. 1 run defense, so that wasn’t much of a surprise. It is extremely difficult to beat a team twice in one season, much less twice in six days. But Stanford would seem to have just too much going for it to lose at home, where it has won 19 of its last 20 games … Stanford 31, UCLA 21. (8 p.m. ET, Fox)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 24 Oklahoma State at Baylor: If you like offense, you ought to like this one. The Cowboys and Bears have combined to score 990 points this season – that’s an even 45.0 points per game, boys and girls – while the defenses have surrendered 736, an average of about 33.5 per contest. That just means you’d better have plenty of popcorn and cold beverages handy. Baylor QB Nick Florence leads the nation in total offense and engineers an attack that has topped the 50-point mark five times this season. For OSU, junior RB Joseph Randle averages 110.2 yards rushing while sophomore WR Josh Stewart has 84 catches for 1,007 yards and six TDs. The Bears play much better at home – they are 5-1 in Waco, including that stunning 52-24 upset of Kansas State – while the Pokes have lost three of four away this year away from Stillwater. However, Oklahoma State has always had Baylor’s number, including last year when the Cowboys shut down eventual Heisman winner Robert Griffin III during a 59-24 romp. That’s why we’re going the way we’re going … Oklahoma State 51, Baylor 45. (12 noon ET, FX)

No. 12 Oklahoma at TCU: The Sooners are in the unenviable position of having to take care of business against the Horned Frogs and then root for archrival Texas to knock off Kansas State so they can claim the Big 12 championship and the big-money BCS berth that goes with it. TCU has a chance to finish its first season in the conference with back-to-back wins over Texas and Oklahoma, and the Frogs have never beaten both teams in the same season. TCU still has a pretty good defense, which it will need against OU quarterback Landry Jones (3,745 yards, 27 TDs). But the Frogs have taken a step backward offensively ever since starting QB Casey Pachall was suspended and then left the team after four games. Look for Jones to motor past the 4,000-yard mark for the third straight season and lead the Sooners to a 10th victory, giving OU double-digit wins for the 11th time in Bob Stoops’ 14-year tenure … Oklahoma 37, TCU 28. (12 noon ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

Nicholls State at No. 16 Oregon State: After absorbing a 48-24 beating administered by in-state rival Oregon last weekend, we’re sure the last thing the Beavers want to do is take on the Colonels, an FCS opponent with a 1-9 record. This is a game that was supposed to have been played in early September, but Hurricane Isaac swept in and closed the Nicholls State campus, preventing the team from getting to Corvallis. The Colonels have lost seven in a row, surrendering an average of 36.7 points per contest, and the last time they took on an FBS opponent, it would up in a 66-16 loss at Tulsa in mid-September … Oregon State 49, Nicholls State 7. (2:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)

No. 20 Boise State at Nevada: The Broncos have ridden under the radar this season after a season-opening loss to Michigan State, but they head into this week with plenty at stake. Boise is attempting to win a share of its first Mountain West Conference championship and post a seventh consecutive season with at least 10 victories. Standing in its way is Nevada, which took a 34-31 overtime win over the Broncos the last time Boise visited Reno, a loss that knocked the Broncos out of the BCS that year. The game will likely come down to the Boise defense, ranked No. 8 in the country, trying to stop Wolfpack RB Stefphon Jefferson (1,564 yards, 20 TDs) … Boise State 31, Nevada 26. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia: The SEC Championship Game should be a good old-fashioned slugfest with the Crimson Tide pitting its No. 1-ranked defense against the Bulldogs and their multifaceted offense that features QB Aaron Murray, ranked No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency. Of course, Alabama is no slouch on offense (it leads the nation in scoring) while UGA is pretty good on defense (No. 2 nationally in pass efficiency defense, No. 22 overall). The winner gets to play Notre Dame for the national championship with the Tide hopeful of capturing a third title in four years. Because of the way the SEC schedules its conference games, Mark Richt and Nick Saban have only met twice before and split those two games – Georgia took a 26-23 overtime win in Tuscaloosa in 2007 and Alabama returned the favor the following year with a 41-30 win in Athens. The teams have split the last five meetings overall and the Tide holds a slight 17-16-4 edge when the two play one another at neutral sites. Look for another rock-’em-sock-’em SEC final … Alabama 19, Georgia 17. (4 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 23 Texas at No. 7 Kansas State: The Wildcats are playing for a spot in the BCS while the Longhorns are playing for pride. Texas has lost six of its last eight meetings with K-State, including the last four in a row. To end that slide, the Longhorns are going to have to play better defense. Against the top three offensive attacks in the Big Ten, Texas has allowed 36 points to Oklahoma State, 50 to Baylor and 63 to Oklahoma. In two of those games, the Longhorns somehow managed enough offense to win – 41-36 over Oklahoma State and 56-50 against Baylor. But the Wildcats feature one of the best defenses in the Big 12, including the stingiest unit where scoring is concerned. Couple that with the fact Kansas State averages 40.6 points per game on offense and it seems difficult to believe the Longhorns can break through … Kansas State 41, Texas 24. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 14 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin: Bo Pelini has his Cornhuskers team in a conference championship game for the third time in the past four years while the Badgers are two-time defending Big Ten champions angling for a third straight trip to the Rose Bowl. The game features the rematch of a 30-27 Nebraska win from Sept. 29, a contest in which the Badgers blew a 17-point, third-quarter lead. Wisconsin has been a star-crossed team all season, losing five games – including three in overtime – by a total of just 19 points. That means the Badgers are better than their 7-5 record indicates or they are simply underachievers. Look for both teams to try to pound the ball with their running attacks while NU makes just enough plays on defense to punch their first ticket to Pasadena since 2002 … Nebraska 27, Wisconsin 24. (8:17 p.m. ET, Fox)

No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech: Much like the Big Ten, where Wisconsin advanced to the title game ahead of NCAA-sanctioned Ohio State and Penn State, Georgia Tech took advantage of a self-imposed postseason ban by Miami (Fla.) to get to the ACC championship contest. That’s the good news for the Yellow Jackets. The bad news is they have to contend with the Seminoles, who are still smarting after last week’s mistake-prone 37-26 loss to Florida. FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel threw a season-high three picks against the Gators, and the Seminoles also lost star defensive end Tank Carradine to a season-ending ACL injury. Meanwhile, Tech has been inconsistent defensively all season while Florida State has the No. 8 scoring offense in the nation … Florida State 37, Georgia Tech 24. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Northern Illinois vs. Kent State (+7); UCLA at Stanford (-8); Oklahoma State (-4) at Baylor; Oklahoma (-6½) at TCU; Nicholls State at Oregon State (NL); Boise State at Nevada (+9½); Alabama vs. Georgia (+7½); Texas at Kansas State (-10½); Nebraska (-2½) vs. Wisconsin; Florida State vs. Georgia Tech (+14).

Despite Blowout Win, Buckeyes Have Plenty Of Room For Improvement

Ohio State fans in attendance at Ohio Stadium as well as those tuned in around the world on the Big Ten Network hoped they would be among the first to witness Urban Meyer’s sleek new Ferrari-type offense in the 2012 season opener against Miami (Ohio).

What they saw instead was the same kind of steamroller the Buckeyes have been accustomed to using against lesser opponents for the better part of the last century.

Despite anticipation to the contrary, Meyer has never intimated that his version of the spread offense resembles a pass-happy, basketball-on-grass type of attack. In fact, the head coach blanches at such comparisons. Therefore, the approach that piled up 56 points and 538 total yards – most of that coming in the final three quarters – was about what Meyer wants it to be. In other words, a game plan that features running the ball about 60 percent of the time.

In addition to resembling many OSU teams of the past, the Buckeyes really didn’t put on the kind of show one typically associates with a 56-10 win. To be brutally honest, I wouldn’t give Ohio State a much better overall grade than B-minus for its performance against the RedHawks.

The first quarter was especially troubling, so much so that Meyer called it embarrassing. After the opening period, Miami enjoyed a lopsided 172-48 advantage in total yardage, and had his receivers been able to help in even the slightest way, QB Zac Dysert would likely have staked his team to a 14-0 lead.

The Buckeyes might well have shifted gears from that point as they did from a much-smaller 3-0 deficit. But being down by two touchdowns at home to a 24-point underdog – especially for a team coming off a 6-7 season – would have at the very least caused some dry throats on the west sideline.

For all of the offseason pronouncements that he is improving as a passer, there were times when Braxton Miller didn’t show it. You could argue that as overly harsh in light of a 14-for-24 performance that was worth 207 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. But there were times when the QB flat out missed open receivers and other times when his targets bailed him out with circus catches.

I can couch my criticism of Miller with the fact he remains only a sophomore still with fewer than a dozen college starts under his belt. But his athleticism is so off-the-charts that he is expected to throw the ball better than he does at times. Unfortunately, he remains very much a work in progress in that area.

Miller needs no such improvement with his running game, however, and the effortless move he made on Miami cornerback D.J. Jones was a gear-shift torn from the Walter Payton playbook. I seriously doubt Meyer wants his quarterback to run the ball 17 times every game, however, and the coach said as much after the game.

The play of the offensive line was steady but uninspiring. Again, with the promise that Meyer brought to the program, the thought was that the OL would be a streamlined, attacking type of unit. What the line showed against a smaller Miami defense was a mixed bag that included some good, some bad and some downright ugly.

Defensively, the Buckeyes seemed to play well up front despite getting to Dysert only twice. There was the fact that OSU held Miami to minus-1 yards in the rushing game, but the RedHawks can’t run the ball on anyone. They were dead last in the nation in that department last year for a reason.

Play from the Ohio State linebackers appeared to be a little uneven, and the Miami receivers created much more separation than should ever happen to a Big Ten secondary against MAC players. Had several catchable balls not been dropped, Dysert would have far exceeded an afternoon that still managed to produce 303 yards through the air.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if I was watching the same game as you. After all, Ohio State did score eight touchdowns and beat its opponent into submission by 46 points.

All true, of course. But the blowout was accomplished against a team from a mid-major conference, a team coming off a 4-8 season that is picked to finish no higher than third in its division this year. It was accomplished against a one-dimensional team that is not nearly the competitive equal of Ohio State.

Yet for all of my criticism, there was plenty to praise. Miller is only going to get better at throwing the ball. The offensive line will likely begin to become a more cohesive unit. The offense should become more diverse when Jordan Hall returns. The defensive line is already among the best in the nation, and the linebackers are improving. So, too, is a veteran secondary that is intent on creating more turnovers this year. Travis Howard’s two picks of Dysert is proof of that.

And perhaps best of all, solid play on special teams seems to have returned after a long hiatus. Bradley Roby recovered a mishandled punt snap to score a touchdown, Drew Basil was perfect on eight PATs, Ben Buchanan handled his new directional punting chores and still averaged 42.1 yards on seven attempts, and the Buckeyes held Miami to an average of only 18.5 yards on four kickoff returns.

All in all, it was a decent start – the kind of game a new coaching staff can use as a motivational teaching aid for any team beginning to believe the hard work is over when it has only just begun.

OSU-CENTRAL FLORIDA TIDBITS

** This marks the first-ever meeting between Ohio State and Central Florida. The Buckeyes began playing intercollegiate football in 1890 while the Knights first fielded a varsity team in 1979 as a Division III program. They advanced to Division II in 1982, moved up to the Football Championship Division (Division I-AA) in 1990 and have been playing at the Football Bowl Division (Division I-A) level since 1996.

** The game pits schools which boast among the largest student body populations in the country. According to 2011 attendance figures, UCF had 58,698 students while OSU had 56,867.

** Following last week’s 56-10 win over Miami (Ohio), Ohio State looks to go 2-0 for the seventh consecutive season. The last time the Buckeyes failed to open the season with two victories was 2005 when they lost a 25-22 decision at home in week two to eventual national champion Texas.

** Ohio State hasn’t started a season by scoring 50 points or more in back-to-back games since 1996. That year, the Buckeyes opened with a 70-7 win over Rice and before administering a 72-0 pasting of Pittsburgh.

** With last week’s win over Miami, Urban Meyer joined 21 other men who enjoyed a victory in their first game as head coach of the Buckeyes. OSU has had only 24 head coaches in program history and Meyer’s win over the RedHawks ran to 22-1-1 the opening-game record for first-year coaches. The only two coaches who failed to win their Ohio State debuts were Jack Ryder (a 40-0 loss at Oberlin in 1892) and Paul Bixler (a 13-13 tie with Missouri in 1946).

** While 22 OSU head coaches have won their inaugural game, only 13 have gone on to win their second game as well. The school record is held by Carroll Widdoes, who won his first 12 games as head coach of the Buckeyes in 1944-45.

** The 56 points scored by the Buckeyes was the second-most in an OSU head coach’s debut game. The school record has been held since 1913 when the Buckeyes set sail under John W. Wilce with a 58-0 whitewash of Ohio Wesleyan.

** The Knights are led by head coach George O’Leary, now in his ninth season in Orlando. O’Leary has a career record of 103-85, including an even 51-51 with UCF.

** Meyer is 1-0 lifetime against UCF and 3-1 for his career against current members of Conference USA. His 2006 national championship team at Florida defeated the Knights by a 42-0 final in the second game of that season. His only loss to C-USA came during his first season at Bowling Green when Marshall dealt the Falcons a 37-31 defeat. Marshall was a member of the MAC that season, but the Thundering Herd joined Conference USA in 2010. Meyer’s other two victories against current C-USA teams came at the expense of Southern Miss – a 17-0 victory in the 2003 Liberty Bowl while at Utah and a 34-7 decision in the 2006 season opener at Florida.

** Meyer and O’Leary have been on opposite sidelines twice before. In addition to the 2006 game between Florida and UCF, the 1999 Gator Bowl featured O’Leary’s Georgia Tech team vs. Notre Dame. Meyer was an assistant coach on Bob Davie’s Fighting Irish staff that season. Tech won the game, 35-28.

** O’Leary is 0-2 lifetime against current members of the Big Ten. Both losses came in 2004, his first season with UCF when the Knights finished 0-11. The team lost a 34-7 decision to Wisconsin that year as well as a 37-13 verdict to Penn State.

** Due to NCAA sanctions, neither team is eligible for postseason play in 2012 although UCF is currently appealing its bowl ban. The Knights were sanctioned because of recruiting violations in both football and basketball under previous athletic director Keith Tribble.

** Ohio State currently has a 62-game home winning streak against unranked nonconference opponents. You have to go all the way back to a 34-17 loss to Florida State in 1982 to find the last unranked nonconference team to beat the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe.

** The Buckeyes are 12-1-1 all-time against current members of Conference USA. OSU is 2-0 vs. Marshall and Rice, 1-0 against Houston and 7-1-1 vs. SMU. The only blemishes on that record are a 35-35 tie with SMU in 1978 and a 32-27 loss to the Mustangs in 1950. A 45-7 win over Marshall during the vacated 2010 season represents the Buckeyes’ most recent game against a C-USA opponent.

** UCF is 0-6 all-time against current members of the Big Ten. The Knights are 0-2 vs. Penn State and Purdue as well as 0-1 against Nebraska and Wisconsin.

**Central Florida is 13-14 all-time against Ohio schools. That includes a 3-5 record against Akron, 2-1 marks vs. Bowling Green, Toledo and Youngstown State, a 2-2 record against Kent and 1-2 ledgers vs. Miami (Ohio) and Ohio.

** The Knights have bounced around conferences during the last several years. They were members of the Mid-American Conference from 2002-04 before joining Conference USA, and they will join the Big East beginning next year.

** Ohio State is currently ranked 14th in the Associated Press writers’ poll. The Buckeyes have been ranked by the AP more times – 790 weeks to be exact – than any other team in the nation. OSU has now in appeared in the AP in 45 consecutive seasons, tying Alabama for the longest active streak.

** The Knights have never beaten a nonconference top 25 opponent and have lost five of their last six games against ranked opponents, including a 30-29 loss at No. 22 Southern Miss last November. The team’s most recent victory over a ranked team was a 37-32 decision over No. 15 Houston in November 2009.

** UCF opened its season last Friday night with a 56-14 win at Akron. It represented the most points scored by the Knights against a nonconference foe on the road since a 64-30 win at Louisiana Tech in the 1998 season opener.

** This week’s game will like mark the largest crowd ever to watch the Knights play. The previous mark was set in 2002 when a crowd of 103,029 filled Beaver Stadium at Penn State to watch the Nittany Lions nip UCF by a 27-24 final.

** Braxton Miller rushed for 161 yards last Saturday, setting a new single-game rushing record for OSU quarterbacks. He broke the record of 146 set by Cornelius Greene during a 52-7 win over Wisconsin in 1974. Miller added another 207 yards through the air, giving him 368 total yards for the game. That marked the sixth-highest single-game total in program history. Art Schlichter holds the OSU mark in that category with 412 during a 36-27 loss to Florida State in 1981.

** In addition to his record rushing day, Miller tied Greene for the most recognized career 100-yard games by an Ohio State quarterback with four. Terrelle Pryor had seven 100-yard rushing games during his career, but the four he totaled during the 2010 season have been expunged from the school’s official record book.

** Miller pushed his career rushing total to 876 yards, leaving him 124 shy of becoming the 54th player in Ohio State history to crack the 1,000-yard mark.

** When senior co-captain Zach Boren scored his first career rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter against Miami, it broke an unusual scoring drought for Ohio State fullbacks. The last time an OSU fullback ran for a touchdown was Brandon Schnittker, who scored on a 1-yard run during the 2005 season opener, a 34-14 win over the RedHawks. But even that TD is disputed by some who believe Schnittker was technically running out of the tailback spot when he scored. If that is true, you have to go back one more year to 2004 when Branden Joe scored on a 4-yard run during a 21-10 win over Penn State.

** Miami finished last Saturday’s game with minus-1 yard in the rushing department. That marked the first time in four years the Buckeyes had held an opponent to negative yards rushing. Youngstown State had minus-11 yards on the ground during a 43-0 loss in the 2008 opener.

** Ohio State piled up 538 total yards against the RedHawks, the highest total yardage since Ohio State had 645 in a 73-20 win over Eastern Michigan during the vacated season of 2010. Considering only non-vacated seasons, it was the largest yardage total since the Buckeyes had 559 vs. New Mexico State in 2009. OSU won that game by a 45-0 final. The point total was the team’s best in a non-vacated season since a 58-7 victory over Northwestern in 2007. Meanwhile, the 56 points was the most any Miami team had surrendered since a 58-7 loss to Dartmouth on Oct. 3, 1942.

** Lost amid the hubbub of the first victory of the Meyer era was the fact the Buckeyes snapped their four-game losing streak. That meant the program avoided their first five-game skid since the final five games of the 1897 season. Ohio State, currently playing its 123rd season of intercollegiate football, has never lost six games in a row.

** ESPN2 will have the telecast of the season opener with Beth Mowins handling the play-by-play and former Ohio State and NFL receiver Joey Galloway providing color analysis. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** The game will also be telecast on Sirius satellite radio channel 113 and XM channel 196.

** Next week, Ohio State stays home to host Pac-12 rival California, which makes its first trip to the Horseshoe since 1971. The game will be telecast by ABC and will kickoff at 12 noon Eastern.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Sept. 8, 1984, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie kicked off his Heisman Trophy-winning season by throwing three touchdowns passes and rallying the Golden Eagles from a 31-14 deficit to a 38-31 upset over ninth-ranked Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham.

** Also on Sept. 8, 1984, George Dwarn and Otis Cheathem became the first opponents ever to crack the 200-yard mark in rushing in the same game. Swarn totaled 239 for Miami (Ohio) while Cheathem ran for 219 as his Western Michigan team scored a 17-13 win over the RedHawks (who were the Redskins at that time).

** On Sept. 8, 1990, No. 16 BYU engineered a 28-21 upset victory over top-ranked and defending national champion Miami (Fla.). BYU quarterback Ty Detmer completed 38 of 54 passes for 406 yards and three TDs to kick off his Heisman Trophy campaign. The Cougars withstood a late comeback by the Hurricanes when DB Ervin Lee broke up a fourth-down pass at the goal line with 1:49 to play.

** On Sept. 9, 1972, UCLA quarterback Mark Harmon led the Bruins – who had won only two games the previous season – to a 20-17 upset win over preseason No. 1 Nebraska. Yes, that’s the same Mark Harmon who stars as Special Agent L.J. Gibbs on the CBS drama “NCIS,” not to mention the same Mark Harmon who is the son of 1940 Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon of Michigan.

** On Sept. 9, 1978, unranked Missouri gave new head coach Warren Powers a 3-0 upset victory over defending national champion Notre Dame in South Bend. The Tigers forced Fighting Irish QB Joe Montana into committing three turnovers, and Notre Dame failed three times on fourth-and-1 situations. The outcome marked the first time the Irish had been shut out since 1965.

** On Sept. 9, 2006, it was Overtime Saturday all across college football. A record seven games went into overtime, including a double-OT thriller when Boston College blocked an extra point to upset No. 18 Clemson, 34-33.

** On Sept. 10, 1966,Baylor shocked No. 7 Syracuse, taking a 35-12 victory in Waco in the season opener. Bears QB Terry Southall threw for four touchdowns in the game while tailback Floyd Little rushed for 102 yards and a score for the Orange. But a fumbled pitch to Little early in the game set the tone as Baylor scored to take a lead it would never relinquish.

** On Sept. 11, 1993, a then-NCAA regular-season record 106,851 fans were on hand as No. 10 Notre Dame scored a 27-23 upset over second-ranked Michigan. The Fighting Irish took a 24-10 lead at halftime and coasted the rest of the way, finishing the season with an 11-1 record and a No. 2 ranking in the season’s final poll.

** On Sept. 11, 1982, Michigan State kicker Ralf Moisiejenko cranked a 61-yard field goal on his first career three-point attempt, but it wasn’t enough as Illinois dealt the Spartans a 23-16 loss in Champaign.

** On Sept. 12, 1987, Michigan committed seven turnovers in a 26-7 loss to Notre Dame, the first season-opening home loss ever for head coach Bo Schembechler.

** On Sept. 13, 1986, Hayden Fry became the winningest coach in Iowa history when the Hawkeyes took a 43-7 win over Iowa State. The victory was No. 53 for Fry, who passed Forest Evashevski for most wins in school history. Fry was to coach 20 seasons in Iowa City and retired with 143 victories with the Hawkeyes.

**On Sept. 13, 1980, Louisiana-Lafayette managed to overcome an NCAA record-tying five lost fumbles in a single quarter to beat East Carolina, 27-21.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** It didn’t take long for the nation’s longest winning streak to go down. Northern Illinois entered the 2012 season with the longest win streak in FBS at nine, and the Huskies promptly dropped an 18-17 squeaker vs. Iowa at Soldier Field in Chicago. The nation’s longest win streak now belongs to TCU, which kicks off its 2012 season this weekend at home vs. Grambling State. The Horned Frogs have won their last eight in a row.

** Kansas and Tulane entered the season with the nation’s longest losing streaks at 10. The Jayhawks snapped their streak with a 31-17 win over South Dakota State last weekend, but the Green Wave pushed their slide to 11 straight games with a 24-12 loss to Rutgers.

** With its loss to Ohio last Saturday, PennState dropped a season opener for the first time since a 33-7 loss to Miami (Fla.) in 2001. The Nittany Lions hadn’t lost a season opener to a non-BCS conference team since 1967. That was a 23-22 loss at Navy.

** How bad was Michigan’s 41-14 season-opening loss to Alabama? How about the most lopsided season-opening loss for the Wolverines in their 133-year existence? And you thought all that worst-ever stuff left Ann Arbor when Rich Rodriguez did.

** Speaking of Rodriguez, his debut at Arizona was a successful one. The Wildcats piled up 624 total yards on their way to a 24-17 overtime win over Toledo.

** If you want proof that the Big Ten has evolved from a running conference to one that throws the ball with much more frequency, look no further than the opening week stats. Only four Big Ten players cracked the 100-yard mark in rushing – and one of those was OhioState quarterback Braxton Miller – while nine players threw for 200 yards or more. Among the QBs topping the 200-yard mark was Tyler Martinez of Nebraska, who threw for a career-best 354 yards and five TDs during his team’s 49-20 win over Southern Miss.

** MichiganState has enjoyed back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time in school history and that success is paying off – literally. The Spartans have sold 68,831 season tickets this year, a new school record.

** As long as we’re talking about Sparty, here is a nice little stat: Since 2010, MSU is a sparkling 9-1 in games decided by 10 points or fewer.

** File this name away for future Heisman reference: USC sophomore receiver Marqise Lee. He scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage last week in the Trojans’ convincing 49-10 win over Hawaii, and later added a 100-yard kickoff return. For the game, Lee had 10 receptions for 197 yards.

** Kudos to Eric Wolford, third-year head coach at DivisionI-AA YoungstownState. Wolford guided the Penguins to a 31-17 upset at Pittsburgh last weekend, spoiling the debut game for Panthers head coach Paul Chryst. YoungstownState typically schedules a I-A school every year, but that was its first victory over an upper-division opponent since a 26-20 win over KentState in 2000. Jim Tressel was the Penguins’ head coach in that one.

** Kudos also to veteran coach Dennis Franchione, who resurfaced at Texas State last year. Franchione’s Bobcats moved up to Division I-A status this year and celebrated Saturday with a 30-13 stunner at Houston. How stunning was that victory? Houston offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt resigned on Monday.

** California welcomed a sellout crowd to renovated Memorial Stadium on Saturday, and then promptly dropped a 31-24 decision to Nevada. It was the Bears’ first on-campus game in 21 months, and their first home loss to the Wolf Pack since 1903.

** Notre Dame radio analyst Allen Pinkett, who was sent home from Ireland for saying the Fighting Irish needed more “criminals” on the roster, will be suspended for two more games. In case you missed what Pinkett told a Chicago radio station last week:I’ve always felt like to have a successful team you’ve got to have a few bad citizens on the team. That’s how Ohio State used to win all the time. They would have two or three guys that were criminals and that just adds to the chemistry of the team. I think Notre Dame is growing because maybe they have some guys that are doing something worthy of a suspension which creates edge on the football team.” Sanctimonious outrage ensued, and Pinkett later apologized, saying he chose his “words poorly and that an apology is in order for these inappropriate comments.” The trouble is that Pinkett is being penalized for offering his opinion – something the Fighting Irish ostensibly pays him to do.

** It’s fairly safe to say that Western Kentucky is the worst field-goal kicking team in college football. The Hilltoppers, who made only 5 of 20 field-goal attempts last year, were 0 for 3 in their 2012 season opener Saturday. It didn’t seem to matter, though. WKU swamped I-AA opponent Austin Peay by a 49-10 final at beautiful Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Ky.

** Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain snapped one of the longest streaks in college football last week. McElwain, the former offensive coordinator at Alabama, became the first Rams head coach in 42 years to win his debut with a 22-17 victory over instate rival Colorado. The last CSU head coach to win his first game with the team was Jerry Wampfler, whose Rams took a 28-9 win at New Mexico State in the 1970 season opener.

** Perhaps you heard about Kent State linebacker Andre Parker running 58 yards the wrong way with a muffed punt last Thursday night. The strangest thing about the play wasn’t that Parker got mixed up and started running toward his own goal line. It was the fact that Parker’s teammates were blocking for him and Towson players were chasing him, finally forcing him out of bounds before he reached the end zone. Not that it mattered much. The Golden Flashes rolled to a 41-21 victory.

** FCS member Savannah State, which finished 1-10 last season, pocketed about $385,000 for its athletic department budget by playing its 2012 season opener at Oklahoma State. That came out to about $4,600 per point since the Cowboys put an 84-0 spanking on the Tigers. Savannah State gets a little more this week (475K), but is likely in for a similar beatdown when it travels to Florida State. The Seminoles rolled to a 69-3 win over I-AA Murray State in their opener.

** Congratulations to quarterback Sam Durley of Division III Eureka (Ill.) College, who set an NCAA single-game record by throwing for 736 yards during his team’s 62-55 win last Saturday over Knox. Durley completed 34 of 52 attempts with five touchdowns. The previous NCAA mark was 731 yards, set by Zamir Amin of Division III Menlo College (Calif.) in 2000. David Klinger of Houston holds the Football Bowl Subdivision single-game mark with 716 yards against Arizona State in 1990.

** Durley’s record-breaking game also allowed Eureka to amass 821 total yards, breaking the previous school record of 744. If you think Eureka College sounds familiar, it is probably because it is the alma mater of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It was a pretty good kickoff to the 2012 season here at World Forecast Headquarters with a perfect 10-0 start straight up and a 6-4 record against the spread. We’ll try to keep it going with these games:

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Western Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama: For any other team, this could be a trap game. After gearing up to begin the season against Michigan, and opening the SEC schedule next week at No. 8 Arkansas, one might forgive the Crimson Tide if they overlook the Hilltoppers. That probably won’t happen, though, since Alabama has its sights set on becoming the first team to win back-to-back national championships since Nebraska in 1994 and ’95. WKU won its season opener for the first time since 2005, piling up 596 total yards on its way to a 49-10 win over I-AA Austin Peay. Last time we checked, though, Austin Peay represents slightly lesser competition than the Tide … Alabama 45, Western Kentucky 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network, ESPN GamePlan, DirectTV 788)

No. 2 USC vs. Syracuse: The Trojans are headed cross-country to throw a 22nd birthday party for quarterback Matt Barkley in MetLife Stadium, home of the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets. Hopeful of spoiling the proceedings is Syracuse, although no one gives the Orange much of a chance. Senior QB Ryan Nassib completed 44 of 65 pass attempts last week for 470 yards and five TDs, but it wasn’t enough as the Orange dropped a wild 42-41 decision to Northwestern. Syracuse surrendered a six-point lead with 2:40 left in the game when backup QB Trevor Siemian marched the Wildcats 75 yards for the winning score. If a sophomore backup can do that to the Orange defense, imagine what Barkley will do on his birthday … USC 49, Syracuse 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

No. 11 Michigan State at Central Michigan: After playing the first eight games of this series at home, Sparty is making his first-ever trip to cozy Kelly/Shorts Stadium with its modest capacity of 30,255. The Chippewas have never been a particularly easy out for Michigan State – CMU has won three of the previous eight meetings including a 29-27 victory in 2009. But the Spartans exacted their revenge last year with a 45-7 pounding of the Chips, a beating that included three rushing touchdowns from Le’Veon Bell. Considering the fact that Bell is now the focal point of Sparty’s offense, this year’s game should yield a similar outcome … Michigan State 38, Central Michigan 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU, DirectTV 208)

Air Force at No. 19 Michigan: After getting squashed by Alabama last Saturday night, the Wolverines will try to regroup against a Falcons team that rolled to a 49-21 victory over I-AA Idaho State in its opener. The U-M defense got run over by the Crimson Tide, while the Flyboys employ a triple-option attack that has led the nation in rushing since the beginning of the 2010 season with an average of 317.1 yards per game. Defensively, the Falcons are no great shakes, though, and Michigan welcomes back RB Fitzgerald Toussaint from a one-game suspension. These two teams haven’t met since 1964, and Air Force has lost 19 in a row to ranked opponents. But you just get a feeling this might be a little closer than some people think … Michigan 38, Air Force 29. (3:30 p.m. ABC/ESPN2, DirectTV 209)

Purdue at No. 22 Notre Dame: Not sure what we learned about either of these teams last week. The Boilermakers routed I-AA Eastern Kentucky by a 48-6 final while the Fighting Irish went all the way to Ireland to sink Navy, 50-10. Purdue gets starting QB Caleb TerBush back from a one-game suspension, and it will be interesting to see how the Boilers operate with TerBush and backup Robert Marve, who threw for 295 yards and three scores last week. Meanwhile, the Irish showed some defensive pluck against the Middies while the running attack led by Theo Riddick (107 yards, two TDs) and George Atkinson III (99 yards, two TDs) ground Navy into dust. Notre Dame sports a 55-26-2 advantage in the overall series, including wins in the last four meetings and six of the last seven … Notre Dame 38, Purdue 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Washington at No. 3 LSU: The Huskies will try their luck at Tiger Stadium, where LSU has won 18 in a row, and they’ll try to engineer the upset without running back Jesse Callier (torn ACL) and starting right tackle Ben Riva (broken forearm). The Tigers allowed only 219 yards in last week’s 41-14 home victory over North Texas, and that total would have been much, much lower had LSU not surrendered pass plays that covered 50 and 80 yards. Obviously, U-Dub will try to test LSU’s secondary with QB Keith Price, who threw for 222 yards and a score in the Huskies’ season-opening win over San Diego State, a 21-12 decision over the Aztecs. Just don’t expect Price to have much success … LSU 41, Washington 7. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

Louisiana-Monroe vs. No. 8 Arkansas: The Razorbacks started slowly last week before rolling to a 49-24 win over I-AA Jacksonville State as John L. Smith’s first game as a head coach since 2004 was a successful one. This week, the Hogs travel down the road from Fayetteville to Little Rock to welcome the Warhawks, who are making their 2012 debut. Louisiana-Monroe returns 15 starters, including eight on offense, and enters this season with a load of optimism. But the program has not finished above .500 since returning to Division I-A in 1994, and the team is 0-25 lifetime against ranked opponents. Add in an 0-for-9 career performance against the Razorbacks, and it is liable to be a long evening for Todd Berry’s team … Arkansas 41, Louisiana-Monroe 13. (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU, DirectTV 208)

New Mexico at No. 17 Texas: We haven’t heard much from the Longhorns the last couple of years, but the Mack Attack believes it is ready to make another title run this year. Of course, that belief gets tested beginning in late September when UT runs a three-week gantlet that includes No. 18 Oklahoma State, No. 9 West Virginia and No. 5 Oklahoma, but first things first. The Lobos are next on the docket, and first-year head coach Bob Davie (yep, that Bob Davie) has his players believing in his triple-option attack after last week’s 66-21 rout of I-AA Southern University. History doesn’t exactly favor Davie’s team, however. The Lobos have lost their last 12 in a row to ranked opponents, and they have lost 21 straight road contests … Texas 37, New Mexico 17. (8 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network)

No. 18 Oklahoma State at Arizona: The Rich Rodriguez era in Tucson got started on the right foot last week with a 24-17 overtime win over Toledo. The final shouldn’t have been that close since the Wildcats piled up 624 yards of offense. But some of the things that plagued RichRod during his tumultuous stay at Michigan – turnovers, defensive lapses, a poor kicking game – raised their head in the opener. This week, the margin of error is much less against the Cowboys, who took no prisoners during last week’s 84-0 blowout of I-AA Savannah State. If you like offense, you’ll probably enjoy this one … Oklahoma State 56, Arizona 35. (10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)

UCF at No. 14 Ohio State: If you think the Knights are just another pushover on a soft nonconference schedule, think again. UCF, which welcomed Terry Bowden back to Division I-A coaching with a 56-14 smackdown at Akron, features some pretty nice weapons. QB Blake Bortles was extremely efficient while throwing for 168 yards and three TDs, RB Latavius Murray ran for 108 yards and a score, and the UCF defense created four turnovers. Of course, Zippy is not to be confused with Brutus. Ohio State’s offense, with QB Braxton Miller at the controls, represents a much more formidable opponent for UCF, who gave up 325 yards and 19 first downs last week. Plus, a bad shoulder is likely to keep Murray on the sideline. But the Knights are approaching this game as they would a bowl (they’re ineligible for the postseason, too), so that could provide some added incentive. Just not enough … Ohio State 38, Central Florida 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Western Kentucky (+40) at Alabama; USC (-26) vs. Syracuse; Michigan State (-20) at Central Michigan; Air Force (+22) at Michigan; Purdue at Notre Dame (-13½); Washington at LSU (-23½); LA-Monroe (+30½) at Arkansas; New Mexico (+38½) at Texas; Oklahoma State (-10) at Arizona; UCF at Ohio State (-18).

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

Meyer: Right Man, Right Job, Right Time

To paraphrase the old saying, Ohio State fell into a sewer and came out with a pocketful of fish.

How else would you describe the unthinkable fall from grace by Jim Tressel and subsequent smoldering fallout followed six months later by the hiring of a younger, potentially more successful version of the sweater-vested one himself?

No wonder why everyone else hates the Ohio State football program.

Urban Frank Meyer III has amassed a 10-year résumé that is the envy of his profession – two national championships, five conference titles, the second-best winning percentage among active coaches and a 7-1 bowl record.

And now he has his dream job. How fortunate can one guy and one fan base get?

After several weeks of being the subject of the worst-kept secret in Columbus, Meyer was officially introduced Monday as the 24th head coach of the Buckeyes. He succeeds Luke Fickell, who will thankfully remain on Meyer’s staff with a to-be-determined title of prestige.

Does it really get any better for Buckeye Nation, which has had to choke down every snide and spiteful epithet imaginable since Tressel was forced into early retirement due to the memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal?

Not only is Meyer the absolute level-best coaching option available, his career as a head coach has been nothing short of remarkable. He engineered a remarkably quick turnaround of a previously moribund Bowling Green program in the early 2000s before moving on to Utah and transforming the Utes from just another mid-major team to a national power.

Then he took over a flagging Florida program that had posted three consecutive five-loss seasons and produced two national championships in his first four seasons in Gainesville.

Championship rings and winning percentages are but the tip of the iceberg for Meyer. He has exhibited a passion for winning, a penchant for hiring the best assistant coaches on the planet, utilizing an attack-style on offense, defense and special teams, and is an absolute beast on the recruiting trail.

He swears the health problems that dogged him during his last couple of years at Florida are behind him because he has learned to delegate responsibility among his assistants – something he said he did better during the early portion of his coaching career.

The cherry on the top of this sundae for fans is that Meyer – like Tressel before him – fully understands and embraces what it means to be head football coach at Ohio State. He is a born-and-bred Buckeye who heaped equal parts boyhood hero worship upon Archie Griffin and Woody Hayes before embarking upon his college coaching career with two seasons on Earle Bruce’s staff at Ohio State.

That career has taken him to such far-flung places as Normal, Ill., Fort Collins, Colo., and South Bend, Ind., as well as Bowling Green, Ohio, Salt Lake City and Gainesville, Fla., but his admitted dream was always to sit the same chair once occupied by his idol Hayes and his mentor Bruce.

“Everybody says, ‘Is Ohio State your dream job?’ That’s a term that’s thrown around really loosely,” Meyer said during his introductory news conference. “To say I was this big and wanted to coach at Florida, (the answer is) no. I’m not from Florida. …

“(But) I wanted to coach there, I will always be a Gator, will always be a part of that situation. … However, this is my home state. And it’s great to be back home.”

And if that doesn’t convince you of Meyer’s affinity for Ohio State, remember back to his team’s 41-14 win over the Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship Game following the 2006 season.

The Gators had a 34-14 halftime lead in that game and Meyer had a first national title ring in his sights. Had he chosen to do so, he could have made a major-league statement by stomping the Buckeyes into submission. Instead, he chose to take his foot completely off the gas in the second half and coast home with the victory.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t want to like the guy.

Meyer has the reputation (some say well-deserved) for being media unfriendly, several times taking public umbrage with reporters who wrote something he did not particularly like. In this day and age, that might be a badge of honor for the average Ohio State fan still smarting from how ESPN, Sports Illustrated and other media outlets seemingly went out of their way to trash the Buckeyes over the past year. But that kind of behavior can also come off as thin-skinned and petty.

Then there was the litany of off-the-field problems Meyer experienced with his players while at Florida, something the coach tried to downplay during his Monday news conference. Nevertheless, if there is anything Ohio State does not need in its immediate future, it is players being arrested on a regular basis no matter how trivial the violation.

Of course, there are plausible explanations for both problems.

First, Gainesville is a small, close-knit community smack dab in the middle of the pressure-packed SEC where fans and their head football coaches have always had a love-hate relationship. If you don’t believe me, check out what Gator Nation has to say about Meyer taking the Ohio State job. Most cannot be repeated in a family newspaper, but the comments are peppered with such words as “quitter” and “traitor.”

Secondly, Meyer was forced to recruit the best athletes in the Sunshine State, and despite his protestations to the contrary, sometimes the best athletes are not the best character guys. One needs only to think of a certain former Ohio State quarterback’s off-the-field indiscretions and the firestorm it created.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, of course, we need to be reminded that Meyer is not Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh or the second coming of Hayes. His tenure will undoubtedly feature its share of bumps along the road. That is the nature of the beast that is college football today. Meyer isn’t going to win every game and fans are going to question his every move – win or lose.

But I simply can’t escape the notion that the Ohio State football program is emerging from one of the darkest chapters in its long history having hit the coaching lottery, and a year for now, two at the most, the events of 2011 will be nothing more than an unpleasant memory.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** LSU and Houston successfully negotiated the 2011 regular season as the only undefeated teams in Division I-A (aka the Football Bowl Subdivision). Both teams are 12-0 and play for their respective conference championships tomorrow.

** When LSU stampeded its way to a 41-17 win over Arkansas last Friday, it pushed the nation’s longest winning streak to 13 games. Houston is next, of course, with its 12-game win streak while Georgia – which faces the Bayou Bengals in the SEC title game – has won 10 in a row.

** Meanwhile, congratulations are in order for Florida Atlantic, which escaped a winless season thanks to last week’s 38-35 win over UAB. The longest losing streak in I-A football now belongs to Kansas and Tulane, each of which has dropped 10 in a row. Indiana is next with nine while Maryland and Akron will each head into 2012 with eight-game losing streaks.

** The Terrapins extended their losing streak last week with an epic collapse, blowing a 41-14 third-quarter lead as North Carolina State scored 42 unanswered points for a 56-41 win.

** I’m going to wait until after this weekend’s games to cast my Heisman Trophy ballot. I have eliminated a couple of players and have whittled my choices to Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, Alabama RB Trent Richardson and USC QB Matt Barkley. Yes, I know that RG-3 is the only one of that trio who is in action this weekend. His performance against Texas will help determine the 1-2-3 ranking on my ballot.

** Proof that no one plays defense in what is left of the Big 12: last Saturday’s game between Texas Tech and Baylor. The Bears took a 66-42 victory in Waco despite the fact Griffin spent the second half sidelined with a head injury. (He is scheduled to play this week.) The team combined for 1,061 yards of total offense

** Illinois is believed to be the first team in history to begin the season 6-0 and then finish 0-6. The collapse cost Ron Zook his job, a termination that might end the Zookster’s career as a head coach. He is 57-64 in three seasons at Florida and seven seasons with the Illini. On the bright side, someone in the NFL will likely hire Zook as an assistant. He spent 1996-2001 in the league at Pittsburgh, Kansas City and New Orleans.

** Look for Illinois to take a run at Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin, who has plenty of Big Ten experience. Sumlin was a linebacker at Purdue from 1983-86 and later spent time as an assistant coach at Minnesota (1993-97) and his alma mater, coaching receivers on Joe Tiller’s staff in West Lafayette from 1998-2000.

** Speaking of the league, congratulations to former Ohio State assistant coach Mel Tucker, who was elevated to head coach at Jacksonville when the Jaguars fired Jack Del Rio on Tuesday. Tucker was on Jim Tressel’s staff at OSU from 2001-04 and spent four seasons in Cleveland before joining Del Rio in Jacksonville in 2009.

** Michigan’s 40-34 victory over Ohio State was the first win for the Wolverines since 2003 and featured their first 40-point effort against the Buckeyes since a 58-6 win in 1946. It also featured the first time the Buckeyes had lost a game in the series when they had scored at least 34 points. They had topped that mark eight previous times against U-M, all victories.

** Now is a great time to be a quarterback in the state of Wisconsin. The Badgers’ Russell Wilson has a 28-to-3 touchdown-interception ratio, and his efficiency rating of 192.90 is on course to break Colt Brennan’s record of 186.0 in 2006. Just up the road, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has an identical 28-to-3 ratio, and his rating of 130.7 is on course to break Peyton Manning’s NFL record of 121.1 in 2004. (Thanks to USA Today’s Mike Lopresti for that nugget.)

** Junior cornerback Jemarlous Moten of Louisiana-Lafayette returned an interception 41 yards for a touchdown during his team’s 45-37 loss to Arizona last weekend and tied a 40-year-old record in the process. The Ragin’ Cajuns returned seven interceptions for touchdowns this season, tying the mark established in 1971 by Tennessee.

** If you think time of possession is overrated, you’re right – especially if you have a quick-strike offense. Oregon ranks dead last among 120 Division I-A schools in time of possession at 24:46 a game. However, the Ducks are third in the nation in scoring at 45.9 points per outing.

** Kentucky hadn’t beaten SEC rival Tennessee in football since 1985 – until last week. Using converted receiver Matt Roark to quarterback and giving him a limited number of plays, the Wildcats somehow pulled off a 10-7 victory to end a 26-game losing streak in the series. Roark, pressed into service when UK’s top two quarterbacks were sidelined with injuries, went 4 for 6 for 15 yards passing but rushed 24 times for 124 yards.

** The loss to Kentucky dropped Tennessee to 6-7 and gave the Volunteers back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1910 and ’11. The longest streak since consecutive losing seasons now belongs to Ohio State. The Buckeyes haven’t had sub-.500 seasons back to back since 1923 and ’24.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Nov. 30, 1935, No. 2 SMU scored a come-from-behind 20-14 win over No. 1 TCU, giving the Ponies an undefeated regular season, the Southwest Conference title and a Rose Bowl berth. It would be another 71 years until a major conference had two unbeaten teams with records of at least 10-0 playing one another. That came in 2006 when Ohio State pulled out a 42-39 victory over Big Ten foe Michigan.

** On Nov. 30, 1968, second-ranked USC and No. 9 Notre Dame played to a 21-21 tie in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Fighting Irish took a 21-7 halftime lead behind quarterback Joe Theismann, who was making his first collegiate start. But the Trojans came back in the second half, thanks to a touchdown from senior tailback O.J. Simpson and a 40-yard scoring pass from QB Steve Sogge to Sam Dickerson. Notre Dame kicker Scott Hempel missed a 33-yard field goal attempt with 33 seconds to go to preserve the tie.

** On Dec. 1, 2001, top-ranked Miami (Fla.) held off No. 13 Virginia Tech, 26-24, in Blacksburg to clinch at spot in the Rose Bowl. The Hokies roared back from a 26-10 deficit starting the fourth quarter, but the Hurricanes preserved the win when safety Ed Reed picked off passes on Tech’s final two drives.

** On Dec. 2, 1978, No. 2 Alabama clinched the SEC title with a 34-16 victory over Auburn. Crimson Tide QB Jeff Rutledge threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns, and the win propelled Alabama into a 1 vs. 2 showdown with Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.

** On Dec. 3, 1999, ninth-ranked Marshall scored a wild 34-30 win over Western Michigan to claim a 12-0 regular season and the Mid-American Conference championship. The Broncos built a 23-0 third-quarter lead, but MU quarterback Chad Pennington rallied the Thundering Herd with three touchdown passes, the last one with four seconds to play.

** On Dec. 4, 1971, San Diego State and North Texas combined set a college football record for total plays in a regulation game during a 44-28 win for the Aztecs. San Diego State ran 99 plays while North Texas countered with 97 for a grand total of 196, a record that stood until 2003 when Arkansas and Kentucky combined to run 202 plays in a game that lasted seven overtimes.

FEARLESS FORECAST

We’re enjoying a season for the ages here at Forecast World Headquarters. Last week, for the third time this year, we had a perfect 10-0 record in the straight-up picks to go to 113-19 SU and moved back above 90 percent for the season.

Against the spread, it was another winner at 7-2-1 with the only losses coming when Notre Dame and Michigan failed to cover. Notre Dame and Michigan, huh? Figures, doesn’t it? Oh, well, we’re a solid 65 percent ATS this year with an 83-44-3 record.

Before taking a couple of weeks off in preparation for the bowl season, let’s see what’s on tap for this week.

TODAY’S GAME

UCLA at No. 9 Oregon: Conference commissioners should be careful what they wish for. The Pac-12’s inaugural championship game in football features a 6-6 team coming off a 50-0 blowout loss that just fired its coach. If you think the Quack Attack will have any sympathy for the Bruins, think again. Oregon has won 22 of its last 23 games in Autzen Stadium and will probably treat the Uclans as just another speed bump on the way to a second Rose Bowl in three years … Oregon 65, UCLA 10. (8 p.m. ET, Fox)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 14 Georgia vs. No. 1 LSU: We like to give credit where credit is due, and congratulations are in order for Mark Richt and his Bulldogs who have rallied from an 0-2 start to win 10 straight games. Unfortunately for them, their reward is a ticket to the Georgia Dome to play the powerhouse Tigers. UGA quarterback Aaron Murray (2,698 yards, 30 TDs) has had a superlative season, and he leads an offense that averages 34.0 points per game. But Murray hasn’t seen any defense the likes of what LSU is going to throw at him. The Boys from the Bayou rank no lower than sixth nationally in any major defensive stat, including No. 2 in scoring (10.6 points per game). We look for the Tigers to stomp their way through Georgia, setting up a rematch with Alabama for the national title … LSU 34, Georgia 7. (4 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 3 Oklahoma State: If you like offense, this is the game for you. They call this instate rivalry the Bedlam Game, but not matter what they call it, it’s going to be a good, old-fashioned shootout. Two of college football’s best quarterbacks will fill the air with footballs as OU’s Landry Jones and OSU’s Brandon Weeden have combined to throw for 8,163 yards and 62 TDs this season. The only separation might be at receiver – Jones lost his No. 1 target Ryan Broyles a couple of weeks ago while the Sooners have Justin Blackmon, who ranks among the nation’s best with 103 catches for 1,241 yards and 15 TDs. Oklahoma has won eight straight in the series, including its last four trips to Stillwater. The Cowboys always play OU close at home and can score with anyone, but we just don’t think they have quite enough defense … Oklahoma 47, Oklahoma State 42. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 5 Virginia Tech vs. No. 20 Clemson: The landscape surrounding these two teams has changed quite a bit since the Tigers’ 23-3 win on Oct. 1. The Hokies have won seven in a row while Clemson has dropped three of its last four, including a particularly ugly 34-13 loss to South Carolina last week. Despite the slide, the Tigers can salvage things with a victory and the automatic BCS berth that goes with winning the ACC title game. Unfortunately, they’re bucking history. The Hokies have twice before had a rematch with a team that beat them during the regular season and won both times. Look for them to run that streak to three … Virginia Tech 27, Clemson 17. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Southern Miss at No. 6 Houston: No, Conference USA football is not the same as SEC football, but the league’s championship game should be entertaining just the same. The Cougars, of course, feature a high-flying offense with QB Case Keenum (4,726, 43 TDs) leading the way. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles have their own excellent quarterback in Austin Davis (3,052 yards, 24 TDs), and the No. 12 pass efficiency defense in the country. Yet somehow, two weeks ago, Southern Miss lost a 34-31 decision at 3-9 UAB. Keenum and his Cougars should be able to get it done, but not only won’t it be easy, they’d better be on upset watch all afternoon … Houston 35, Southern Miss 27. (12 noon ET, ABC)

New Mexico at No. 7 Boise State: This one isn’t too hard to figure. The Broncos own the top offense and defense in the Mountain West while the Lobos have arguably the worst offense and defense in the entire nation. They have been outscored by a lopsided 455-144 margin, so the Boise offense and QB Kellen Moore (3,194 yards, 38 TDs) might be interested in making a statement while celebrating Senior Night on the Smurf Turf. Also, Broncos head coach Chris Peterson can tie the school record for career victories, and it might be his final night in Boise as well since Peterson’s name has been linked to opening at UCLA … Boise State 49, New Mexico 0. (6 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)

Iowa State at No. 11 Kansas State: Despite an offense that ranks ninth in Big 12 and a defense that ranks only fifth, the Wildcats find themselves gunning for their first 10-win season since 2003. They can also clinch a share of their first conference title in eight years in they can get past the pesky Cyclones, who have upsets of then-No. 19 Texas Tech and then-No. 2 Oklahoma State on their 2011 résumé. Iowa State is a scrappy team that has flourished since freshman QB Jared Barnett took over the starting job, but like all young teams the Cyclones are prone to making mistakes. That and the fact they have lost three of their five road contests this season leads to this pick … Kansas State 27, Iowa State 20. (12:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

No. 15 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Michigan State: Six weeks ago, the Badgers were the No. 6 team in the nation and on their way – at least so they thought – to playing for the national championship. Then Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins threw a 44-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game, and Wisconsin trudged their home following a 37-31 loss. Both teams lost the following week – UW to Ohio State and MSU to Nebraska – and then finished the season with four straight victories. Still, it seems Bucky is on the better roll, especially with the way RB Montee Ball has been punishing opposing defenses. Since being held to 85 yards vs. Ohio State, Ball has averaged 192.3 yards and nearly three touchdowns per game. Sparty has the Big Ten’s top rush defense, and they have Cousins (2,735, 21 TDs), who has by far had his finest season. But Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson (2,692 yards, 28 TDs) is the difference-maker. Russell has pitched only three interceptions all season, and two of them came in the loss to MSU. Don’t expect him to make the same mistakes again … Wisconsin 27, Michigan State 23. (8:17 p.m. ET, Fox)

No. 22 Texas at No. 17 Baylor: To say the Bears have struggled in their century-long series with the Longhorns would be an understatement. They are 23-73-4 against their neighbors to the south, and last year’s win in Austin snapped a 12-game losing streak in the series. Worse yet, Baylor hasn’t enjoyed back-to-back wins over Texas since 1991-92. That drought could be over this year, especially if QB Robert Griffin III (3,678 yards, 34 TDs) is ready to go after bumping his head last week and being held out of the second half of a 66-42 win over Texas Tech. While the Bears have a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate in Griffin, the Longhorns have struggled to find their own offensive identity. Defense isn’t a problem, though. Texas has the best defense in the Big 12 and ranks eighth nationally in pass efficiency defense. It’s a pretty simple scenario – if Griffin does what he’s capable of doing, his team wins and he garners a bunch of Heisman support in the process … Baylor 38, Texas 31. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

UNLV at No. 18 TCU: Before they leave for the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have some unfinished business in the mighty Mountain West – namely a 23-game conference win streak. That shouldn’t be too difficult since the Runnin’ Rebels have been run over by most of their opponents this season. Vegas has lost 15 straight road games and is 0-4 lifetime in Fort Worth, getting outscored by a 168-47 margin. If that’s not bad enough, the Rebels rank 117th nationally in scoring defense while the Frogs own the country’s 10th-best scoring offense. We started this week’s forecast with a blowout and we’ll finish with another … TCU 49, UNLV 7. (2:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

Here are the spreads for the above games: UCLA at Oregon (-31½); Georgia vs. LSU (-10); Oklahoma (+3½) at Oklahoma State; Virginia Tech (-4½) vs. Clemson; Southern Miss (+17) at Houston; New Mexico (+52) at Boise State; Iowa State (+12) at Kansas State; Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (+9½); Texas at Baylor (-2½); UNLV at TCU (-38).

Enjoy the games and we’ll visit again in a couple of weeks.

Fickell’s Job Interview Begins In Earnest This Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the end, everyone wins.

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

OSU-INDIANA TIDBITS

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

** The Buckeyes are currently enjoying a 16-game winning streak in the overall series. You have to go back to a 27-27 tie in 1990 to find the last time Ohio State failed to come away with a victory over Indiana. The Hoosiers’ most recent win in the series was a 41-7 decision in Bloomington in 1988.

** Since the Hoosiers took a 32-10 victory at Ohio Stadium in 1951, they have a 1-30-1 record in the Horseshoe. The lone victory was a 31-10 decision in 1987 and the tie was a 0-0 deadlock in 1959.

** Ohio State in its history has more victories over Indiana than any other team. The Buckeyes have 67 wins vs. the Hoosiers, 64 over Illinois, 59 over Northwestern, 54 over Wisconsin and 45 over Iowa.

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

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

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

** Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson is in his first season with the Hoosiers and will be attempting to become only the second IU coach in the past 60 years to claim a victory over Ohio State. Bill Mallory, who coached the Hoosiers from 1984-96, claimed back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes in 1987 and ’88. Before that, you have to go back to Clyde Smith, whose Indiana team took a 32-10 win over Ohio State in 1951.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

Here are the games we like this week.

TONIGHT’S GAMES

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fickell Getting More And More Comfortable … And It Shows

One game against a decidedly weaker opponent does not a coaching legend make, but more and more Luke Fickell seems to be easing into the job that was thrust upon him.

Undoubtedly one of the most intense individuals I have ever met, Fickell seemed perfect as an assistant coach but I wondered if his head might not explode (literally not figuratively) if he was ever assigned the top job. I was afraid the meltdown had already begun during Fickell’s earliest appearances after being named the 23rd head coach in Ohio State football history.

At his introductory news conference June 13, Fickell seemed uncharacteristically nervous. You could forgive a case of the jitters giving the circumstances, but the new coach seemed overly uneasy especially for someone who had been fairly used to the white, hot television lights during nine seasons on Jim Tressel’s coaching staff, the last six as co-defensive coordinator.

But even if you could chalk that first news conference up to a case of the nerves, there was the grimace-inducing appearance six weeks later at the annual Big Ten Media Days when Fickell admitted confusion about the format and exactly what was expected of him in Chicago. He seemed more than a little ill at ease while reporters fired question after question after question – often times repeating the same question someone had asked only a few minutes earlier – and developed what someone described as “a thousand-yard stare,” a piercing, far-off glare that seemed to indicate the new coach was thinking of about a million other places he would rather be.

Since then, however, Fickell has slowly but surely become more comfortable as he faces the daily grind of his new position, especially the constant demands of dealing with the media. His firmly locked jaw has given way to a smile or two, and he has even started to crack a few jokes. During his weekly Tuesday news conference with reporters on Sept. 6, for example, the mood was lighter than it ever was under his predecessor. Fickell even tossed a few gentle jibes at some reporters, including longtime beat writer Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch.

Following his opening remarks, Fickell looked over the assembled media and said with a faint trace of a grin, “I’ll open it up now (for questions) and we’ll just start with Tim because he’s usually the first question anyway, right?”

While May smiled and nodded his head in agreement, laughter permeated the room – again, something that was seldom (if ever) heard when Tressel was running the show.

While Fickell continues to hone his public persona, he appeared to have retained a close relationship with the players on his team. While many head coaches are looked upon as authoritarian father figures, Fickell plays a role more akin to an older brother. Not that he is any less of a disciplinarian than Tressel, but there is a major difference between angering your father and disappointing your older brother. You can make your dad angry and he’ll quickly get over it. Disappointment lingers much longer, so you want to try and avoid that at all costs.

As a first-team head coach, Fickell relates surprisingly well to his team and he relates on several levels. As a former Ohio State player, he knows what it is like to be a Buckeye. He knows the perks that come with that as well as the pressures. At only 38 years old, he remains young enough to remain in tune to the ever-changing culture of his players. Additionally, he had a personal hand in recruiting many of them, so he knows their backgrounds, their family situations, what makes them tick. And he has that intrinsic inner fire that makes his players want to play for him, want to excel for him, want to make him proud of them.

The metaphor here is that Ohio State has fallen into a sewer and come out with a pocketful of fish. After pretty much botching the entire situation surrounding Tressel, the university has stumbled upon what looks so far like a perfect successor.

I have no idea how many victories Fickell has to total this season to merit a second season as Ohio State head coach. I have heard disturbing rumblings around Columbus that it doesn’t matter how well the team does this season. University power brokers have already decided that Fickell, his staff and any other remnant of the Tressel era will be swept away in 2012 in favor of Urban Meyer or some other “name” coach.

If that is truly in the minds of those who could make it happen, they should take a step back and understand – truly understand – exactly what would mean. You have handed the keys to your besieged football program to a loyal alumnus, a guy who is not only a former player and four-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, but a Columbus native who is Buckeye through and through. You have told him that the house is on fire and literally begged him to put it out, all the while tying one hand behind his back by giving him a one-year contract opposing schools are already using against him on the recruiting trail.

What happens if he puts out the fire and saves the program? Will his reward be a contract extension or a hollow thank you note accompanied with a request to step aside in favor of Meyer?

That seems unimaginable at Ohio State, especially if Fickell’s team achieves nine or more victories this year. Of course, when you remember the way the university has handled its most recent problems, you cringe and realize anything is possible.

OSU-TOLEDO TIDBITS

** Following last week’s 42-0 shutout win over Akron, Ohio State looks to go 2-0 for the sixth consecutive season. The last time the Buckeyes failed to open the season with two victories was 2005 when they lost a 25-22 decision at home in week two to eventual national champion Texas.

** Ohio State hasn’t started a season with back-to-back shutouts since 1963. That season, the Buckeyes took a 17-0 win in the opener against Texas A&M and followed with a 21-0 victory at Indiana.

** The Buckeyes are 2-0 all-time against Toledo and both games have been shutouts. OSU took a 49-0 victory at Ohio Stadium in 1998 and won by a 38-0 score in 2009 in a game played at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

** Something will have to give Saturday. Toledo has never scored in two previous games against Ohio State, but the Rockets are on a current streak of eight straight games in which they have scored at least 30 points.

** With last week’s win over Akron, Fickell joined 20 other men who enjoyed a victory in their first game as head coach of the Buckeyes. OSU has had only 23 head coaches in program history and Fickell’s win over the Zips ran to 21-1-1 the opening-game record for first-year coaches. The only two coaches who failed to win their Ohio State debuts were Jack Ryder (a 40-0 loss at Oberlin in 1892) and Paul Bixler (a 13-13 tie with Missouri in 1946).

** While 20 OSU head coaches have won their inaugural game, only 12 have gone on to win their second game as well. The school record is held by Carroll Widdoes, who won his first 12 games as head coach of the Buckeyes in 1944-45.

** The Rockets are led by third-year head coach Tim Beckman, who has a record of 14-12 at Toledo. Beckman served two seasons as cornerbacks coach on Jim Tressel’s staff at Ohio State in 2005 and ’06.

** Ohio State is working on a streak of 57 consecutive regular-season victories over unranked nonconference opposition. The last time the Buckeyes lost in the regular season to an unranked foe was a 42-10 loss at Pittsburgh in 1988.

** OSU has won 58 straight games at home against unranked nonconference opponents. The Buckeyes haven’t lost to an unranked nonconference team since a 34-17 loss to Florida State in 1982.

** The Buckeyes are looking for their 30th victory in 31 all-time games against current members of the Mid-American Conference. The only loss was a 12-6 defeat to Akron in a game played Sept. 15, 1894, at the Ohio State Fair.

** The last time Ohio State lost to an instate opponent was a 7-6 decision against Oberlin in 1921. Since then, the Buckeyes are 42-0-1 against other schools from Ohio. The only blemish on that mark is a 7-7 tie with Wooster in 1924.

** The Rockets are 6-14 all-time vs. teams currently in the Big Ten, but Toledo has had more success in recent seasons. They are 2-2 since 2008 and that includes last year’s 31-20 win over Purdue in West Lafayette.

** Toledo is also a respectable 6-8 all-time against top 25 teams. Unfortunately for the Rockets, most of the success in that record has come at home. Toledo is only 1-7 when playing ranked teams on the road.

** Toledo has undertaken an ambitious nonconference schedule. After taking on the Buckeyes, the Rockets host Boise State on Sept. 16 and then travel to a much-improved Syracuse the following week.

** The Rockets entered 2011 with a streak of five straight seasons during which they have enjoyed at least one victory over a BCS conference school. Only TCU (nine) and Navy (eight) entered this season as non-qualifying BCS schools with longer such streaks

** OSU tight end Jake Stoneburner more than doubled his previous career touchdown total when he caught three scoring passes against Akron. Stoneburner now has five TD catches for his career, halfway to the school record for touchdowns by a tight end. If you know who holds that record, consider yourself a true Buckeye fan. The answer comes a bit later.

** This could be the week when we discover how well Ohio State has shored up his kick coverage units. Toledo return man Eric Page is his team’s career leader in kickoff return average at 28.9 yards. He is also the only player in school history to return two kickoffs of touchdowns in the same game, chalking up returns of 99 and 95 yards during last year’s 42-31 win over Central Michigan.

** Page is also one of the best receivers Toledo has ever had. He enters the game fourth all-time in reception yardage (2,324), fifth in total catches (186) and eighth in touchdowns (16). Page has caught at least one ball in 26 consecutive games and that is tied for the fifth-longest streak in UT history.

** Toledo created five turnovers during its season-opening win over New Hampshire and that was no fluke. The Rockets led the MAC in turnover margin last season and finished 15th in the nation. They were plus-9 in the turnover department last year with 14 fumble recoveries and 20 interceptions. Against New Hampshire, Toledo recovered three fumbles and picked off two passes during a 58-22 win.

** Those 58 points were the most by a Toledo team since a 70-21 win over Northern Illinois in October 2007.

** The victory over New Hampshire was Toledo’s first season-opening win since a 62-14 triumph against Western Illinois to kick off the 2005 season.

** The all-time leader for more touchdown catches by an Ohio State tight end is John Lumpkin, who had 10 for his career from 1996 to ’98. For those of you who guessed John Frank (1980-83), he finished his OSU career with nine touchdown receptions.

** The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network with Tom Hart handling play-by-play duties. Former Minnesota tight end Derek Rackley will offer color analysis and former Northwestern women’s soccer and basketball player Lisa Byington will report from the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** Next week, Ohio State takes to the road for the first time this season and travels to Miami (Fla.) to take on the Hurricanes. The game will be telecast by ESPN and is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Sept. 8, 1984, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie kicked off his Heisman Trophy-winning season by throwing three touchdowns passes and rallying the Golden Eagles from a 31-14 deficit to a 38-31 upset over ninth-ranked Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham.

** Also on Sept. 8, 1984, George Dwarn and Otis Cheathem became the first opponents ever to crack the 200-yard mark in rushing in the same game. Swarn totaled 239 for Miami (Ohio) while Cheathem ran for 219 as his Western Michigan team scored a 17-13 win over the RedHawks (who were the Redskins at that time).

** On Sept. 9, 1972, UCLA quarterback Mark Harmon led the Bruins – who had won only two games the previous season – to a 20-17 upset win over preseason No. 1 Nebraska. Yes, that’s the same Mark Harmon who stars as Special Agent Gibbs on the CBS drama “NCIS,” not to mention the same Mark Harmon who is the son of 1940 Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon of Michigan.

** On Sept. 9, 2006, it was Overtime Saturday all across college football. A record seven games went into overtime, including a double-OT thriller when Boston College blocked an extra point to upset No. 18 Clemson, 34-33.

** On Sept. 10, 1966, Baylor shocked No. 7 Syracuse, taking a 35-12 victory in Waco in the season opener. Bears QB Terry Southall threw for four touchdowns in the game while tailback Floyd Little rushed for 102 yards and a score for the Orange. But a fumbled pitch to Little early in the game set the tone as Baylor scored to take a lead it would never relinquish.

** On Sept. 11, 1993, a then-NCAA regular-season record 106,851 fans were on hand as No. 10 Notre Dame scored a 27-23 upset over second-ranked Michigan. The Fighting Irish took a 24-10 lead at halftime and coasted the rest of the way, finishing the season with an 11-1 record and a No. 2 ranking in the season’s final poll.

** On Sept. 11, 1982, Michigan State kicker Ralf Moisiejenko cranked a 61-yard field goal on his first career three-point attempt, but it wasn’t enough as Illinois dealt the Spartans a 23-16 loss in Champaign.

** On Sept. 12, 1987, Michigan committed seven turnovers in a 26-7 loss to Notre Dame, the first season-opening home loss ever for head coach Bo Schembechler.

** On Sept. 13, 1986, Hayden Fry became the winningest coach in Iowa history when the Hawkeyes took a 43-7 win over Iowa State. The victory was No. 53 for Fry, who passed Forest Evashevski for most wins in school history. Fry was to coach 20 seasons in Iowa City and retired with 143 victories with the Hawkeyes.

** On Sept. 13, 1980, Louisiana-Lafayette managed to overcome an NCAA record-tying five lost fumbles in a single quarter to beat East Carolina, 27-21.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** CBSSports.com analyst Jerry Palm, who basically devised RPI for college basketball teams, is taking a stab at predicting which teams will play in which bowls. Palm has Oklahoma and Alabama squaring off in the BCS National Championship Game (a lot of people do), but he has Ohio State playing in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston on Dec. 31 against Baylor. That game features the sixth Big Ten qualifier against the sixth Big 12 qualifier. Discuss.

** While you are discussing that one, here’s another: Palm has Texas A&M playing Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl, calling the Wolverines “the second-best team in the Big Ten.” Discuss further.

** Congratulations to Penn State return man Chaz Powell, who ran back the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown during the Nittany Lions’ 41-7 win over Indiana State. It marked the second year in a row Powell had returned a kickoff for a touchdown in Penn State’s season opener.

** Congratulations also to Michigan linebacker Brandon Herron. He returned an interception 94 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and then took a recovered fumbled 29 yards for a second in the third period of the Wolverines’ weather-shortened, 34-10 win over Western Michigan. Herron became the first U-M player in the modern era to score two defensive touchdowns in the same game.

** Wisconsin got things started for the Big Ten this season with a Thursday night victory over UNLV in Camp Randall Stadium. The 51-17 blowout marked career win No. 50 for UW head coach Bret Bielema, and also ran his record to 21-0 vs. regular-season nonconference opponents. That is the third-best start to a coaching career in Big Ten history, trailing only Fielding Yost of Michigan (41-0) and Joe Paterno of Penn State (23-0).

** The Big Ten has a reputation for being a run-oriented conference, yet the first week of play this season found five players with 100 yards or more receiving and only three players who cracked the century mark on the ground. Moreover, only two of those players – Ralph Bolden of Purdue (120 yards on 17 carries) and Silas Redd of Penn State (12 carries, 104 yards, two TDs) – are running backs. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez was the other with 135 yards and three touchdowns during his team’s 40-7 win over Division I-AA Chattanooga.

** Evidence that Oregon is little more than the product of overblown hype: Since 2009, the Ducks sport a 22-5 record. In their 22 wins, they have averaged 47.5 points per game. In their five losses – to Boise State, Stanford, Ohio State, Auburn and LSU – they have averaged 22.6 and that includes a 51-42 shootout loss to Stanford in ’09. Oregon has averaged an anemic 17.8 against the Broncos, Buckeyes, Tigers and Bayou Bengals.

** North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner had a pretty nice first start last week against James Madison. Renner completed 22 of 23 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns as the Tar Heels rolled to a 42-10 win. Technically, Renner completed all 23 of his attempts – he also had one interception.

** In case you’re wondering, no, Renner does not lead the nation in pass efficiency after that performance. Robert Griffin III of Baylor, who was 21 of 27 for 359 yards with five TDs and no INTs tops that list. Chandler Harnish of Northern Illinois (12-19-195-5-1) is second, Joe Bauserman of Ohio State (12-16-163-3-0) is third and Renner is fourth.

** Griffin’s performance came during a 50-48 victory over TCU, a decidedly unusual offensive explosion against the Horned Frogs. TCU finished last season as the nation’s No. 1 team in scoring defense, allowing an average of only 12.0 points to 13 opponents. The Frogs hadn’t surrendered 50 points in a game since a 51-50 overtime win over BYU in September 2005.

** The University of Texas at San Antonio set a modern-era NCAA attendance record by a first-year Division I program last Saturday, drawing 56,743 fans to the Alamodome for its inaugural game against Northeastern State (Okla.) of Division II. The Division I-AA Roadrunners, coached by former OSU assistant and Miami (Fla.) head coach Larry Coker, scored a 31-3 victory in their first game.

** Kudos to our old friends at Wittenberg. With last weekend’s 45-28 win over Capital University, the Tigers became the first Division III team to reach 700 victories all-time. The program, which began in 1892, boasts a record of 700-347-32, a tidy .664 winning percentage. Three of those victories came against Ohio State when the two schools used to play one another in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wittenberg was 3-12 against the Buckeyes between 1893 and 1929.

FEARLESS FORECAST

To say the weather was wacky during the first weekend of the 2011 college football season was an understatement. While sun beat down on a broiling hot Ohio Stadium, monsoons and lightning storms ravished such venues as Ann Arbor, South Bend and Morgantown.

As a result, some games were called because of weather problems, sending Vegas into a tizzy because they won’t pay off (or collect) on a game that doesn’t reach its conclusion. That wiped out a couple of games we picked against the spread, so the opening-week ledger was 4-6. Straight-up, we went a near-perfect 11-1 with the only miss coming with TCU’s 50-48 loss at Baylor. At least the game was entertaining as hell.

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Oregon State at No. 8 Wisconsin: The Badgers couldn’t have looked much better during their 51-17 squashing of UNLV while the Beavers couldn’t have looked much worse in a 29-28 overtime loss to I-AA Sacramento State. Oregon State does have the services of freshman tailback Marcus Agnew, who ran for 223 yards and three TDs last week, and rushing defense was probably the only weakness Bucky showed last week. That should make the final score close(r) … Wisconsin 45, Oregon State 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Florida Atlantic at No. 17 Michigan State: The Owls are in the middle of a grueling early-season stretch that has them in East Lansing one week after playing at Florida and one week before traveling to Auburn. It is part of a five-week road trip to start the season, which will be the final one as head coach for the legendary Howard Schnellenberger. FAU may be just what a somewhat shaky Spartans defense needs right now. The Owls managed only 30 yards on 30 carries during last week’s 41-7 loss to the Gators … Michigan State 30, Florida Atlantic 13. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 3 Alabama at No. 23 Penn State: Since the Crimson Tide is still breaking in a new starting quarterback, a lot of observers think the Nittany Lions are keep this one close. We don’t happen to be in that camp. Despite pronouncements to the otherwise, Penn State is about the same defensively as it was a year ago when it ranked seventh in the Big Ten against the run. No matter who the Tide trots out there under center, they still have Trent Richardson at tailback and that will be more than enough … Alabama 31, Penn State 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

No. 6 Stanford at Duke: The so-called SAT Bowl is likely to be a huge mismatch. Preseason Heisman favorite Andrew Luck engineers the potent Cardinal offense, and last week he barely broke a sweat while throwing for 171 yards and two TDs while his team rolled to a 57-3 win over San Jose State. Those numbers will likely increase this weekend against the Blue Devils, who surrendered 193 yards through the air during their 23-21 season-opening loss at home to I-AA Richmond. This is one of those games that will be as lopsided as the visiting team wants it to be … Stanford 45, Duke 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Nevada at No. 13 Oregon: For every fan who laments their favorite team’s soft nonconference schedule, we give you the Oregon Ducks. One of last year’s national championship game participants has very little chance to make a repeat appearance after being exposed during last week’s 40-27 loss to LSU in the season opener. Returning home to face a rebuilding Wolf Pack might help the team’s psyche a little bit. Nevada went 13-1 last year, but lost both of their 1,000-yard rushers to graduation including veteran QB Kolin Kaepernick. Also, playing at Autzen Stadium is never any bargain for the visitor … Oregon 51, Nevada 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, FX)

New Mexico State at Minnesota: How about some love for Goldy? Minnesota went the L.A. Coliseum last week – a recent Little Shop of Horrors for Big Ten teams – and nearly came back with a huge upset of USC. The Gophers eventually dropped a 19-17 decision, but it was still a moral victory for a rebuilding program eager to build some kind of foundation. Better still, that kind of performance should help from a confidence factor. Sure, the Aggies have lost 12 straight road contests and 11 of their last 13 overall, but Goldy wasn’t exactly stellar at home last year, losing six of seven in TCF Bank Stadium. Something tells us that turns around this year under new head coach Jerry Kill … Minnesota 35, New Mexico State 23. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 12 South Carolina at Georgia: How hot is the seat under UGA head coach Mark Richt right now? Hot enough to fry eggs, bacon and whatever else you’d like for breakfast. Making matters worse for the Bulldogs is that they lost inside linebacker Alec Ogletree to a foot injury during last week’s 35-21 loss to Boise State. The Gamecocks will try to exploit that loss with sophomore tailback Marcus Lattimore, who had 182 yards and two TDs during last year’s 17-6 win over Georgia. Even with that loss, the Bulldogs have won seven of the last nine in the series and hold a lopsided 46-15-2 edge overall. Still, the Roosters seem clearly the better team, so … South Carolina 22, Georgia 17. (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Fresno State at No. 10 Nebraska: Here is probably all you need to know about this game. Last week, with an almost completely-rebuilt offensive line, the Bulldogs managed only 68 yards on the ground during a 36-21 loss to Cal. Meanwhile, the Black Shirts limited Chattanooga to just 60 yards rushing during a 40-7 victory. There are several well-worn adages in football and one of them says, “You can’t win if you can’t run the ball.” Therefore … Nebraska 41, Fresno State 10. (7 p.m. ET, BTN)

Notre Dame at Michigan: The first-ever night game at the Big House will serve as a huge measuring stick for these two teams. This was supposed to be a resurgent season for both the Irish and the Wolverines, but only U-M was victorious in week one. Notre Dame turned the ball over five times in a 23-20 home loss to South Florida while Michigan was dodged heavy rain and lightning before its 34-10 win over Western Michigan was called in the third quarter. One would have to assume the Irish will play better against a U-M defense that remains highly suspect. A win by either team would not be surprising, but we have to pick someone … Notre Dame 28, Michigan 27. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Toledo at No. 15 Ohio State: We’re not exactly sure why, but there is an underlying tone of gloom this week in Columbus. Perhaps it’s just a component of the rainy weather and gray skies, but there are a lot of people who believe the Rockets have a legitimate chance at scoring the upset. There is no doubt that Toledo possesses a potent offense – scoring 30 points or more in eight straight games in testimony to that. But as defense-minded as head coach Tim Beckman is, the Rockets are not the strongest defensive team in the world. They surrendered 332 yards and 22 points to Division I-AA New Hampshire last week, and are coming off a 2010 season when they ranked seventh in the MAC in total defense and ninth in scoring. Toledo will likely get on the scoreboard for the first time ever against the Buckeyes, but the defense will not be able to hold up its end of the bargain … Ohio State 34, Toledo 14. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Oregon State at Wisconsin (-20½); Florida Atlantic at Michigan State; Alabama (-10) at Penn State; Stanford (-21) at Duke; Nevada at Oregon (-26½); New Mexico State (+21) at Minnesota; South Carolina (-3) at Georgia; Fresno State at Nebraska (-27½); Notre Dame at Michigan (+3½); Toledo at Ohio State (-17½).

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

Tressel, Woody Now Have Something Else In Common

Jim Tressel certainly isn’t the first football coach in NCAA history to feel the wrath of sanctions.

He’s not even the first one at Ohio State.

It would probably surprise many in the Buckeye Nation to know that Woody Hayes and his program were hit with a one-year probation by the Big Ten back in 1956. The reason? Several members of the football team were being paid for jobs despite the fact they were not showing up to work while others were receiving money directly from the coach himself.

That’s right. Woody Hayes was paying his own players.

Of course, things were a little different 55 years ago. The NCAA had been around in one form or another since 1906, but the governing body for collegiate athletics hadn’t moved into its so-called modern era until 1952. Even then, the NCAA was not the myopic behemoth it is today as individual conferences held much more sway over their member institutions. In fact, until July 1952 when the NCAA moved its headquarters to Kansas City, it shared office space in a Chicago hotel with the Big Ten.

In April 1956, Big Ten commissioner Kenneth L. “Tug” Wilson announced Ohio State and Hayes would be placed on probation for one year and made the Buckeyes ineligible to represent the conference in the 1957 Rose Bowl.

Wilson’s ruling came as a result of special investigator Jack Ryan’s 10-week probe into Hayes’ program that found “a serious irregularity in the off-campus work program for certain football players (who were) being advanced monthly wages for either two or three months with no enforceable liability to repay in kind or in services.”

Ryan further uncovered the fact that Hayes had provided “assistance to unnamed members of the Ohio State football squads from his personal funds in amounts which are said to total approximately $400 annually over a period of five years.”

OSU director of athletics Richard Larkins said there would be no appeal, and university president Dr. Howard L. Bevis added, “Any violation of the rules of which we have been guilty will be stopped. We mean to live within the rules.”

A one-year probation with disqualification for the Rose Bowl was a fairly stiff penalty in 1956. Even so, the Big Ten did not come down as hard on Hayes and his program as it could have – and certainly not as hard as the NCAA probably would have had the infractions occurred today. Not only would Hayes and his program have likely faced more severe penalties, the players involved would have probably been suspended as well.

But the Big Ten confined its ruling strictly to the football program. In 1956, that was key for Ohio State since football players had not yet become one-sport specialists. They participated in several other sports, including baseball where such football players as Howard “Hopalong” Cassady and Galen Cisco were also stars.

The conference declined to suspend or sanction any of the football players involved and OK’d them to fully participate in spring practice sessions including the annual spring game set for May 5 of that year. Even better for the squad, the Big Ten decided to take no action with regard to the Buckeyes’ eligibility to contend for a third straight conference title in the fall.

In other words, the probation had little teeth with the exception of the Rose Bowl ban.

As Tressel has done in 2011, Hayes took his medicine in 1956.

“All my life,” the coach said, “I have been taught respect for properly delegated authority, and for this reason I do not believe we should appeal the decision.”

But Hayes couldn’t help himself and quickly added, “This, however, does not infer that I agree with the severity of the penalty nor the matter in which the investigation was made.”

The coach made it clear he believed the situation was a witch hunt initiated by the national media, and in reality Hayes was at least partially right.

The investigation was triggered by a lengthy story in the Oct. 24, 1955, issue of Sports Illustrated on the coach and his program titled “The Ohio State Story: Win or Else.” About three-quarters of the way through the piece, reporter Robert Shaplen wrote, “A recruit (for Ohio State football) can count on some financial help from Hayes if he is ‘in need.’ Woody insists he never forks up for a luxury … but it’s certainly also true that he makes sure he won’t lose any valuable men by financial default.”

During the 10-week investigation by the Big Ten – the NCAA never got involved – Hayes admitted he gave players money from his personal funds, but the coach steadfastly refused to name any player to whom he gave the money. He insisted his reasoning was not because he feared any penalty or sanction, saying he would not name names because he feared the players involved would suffer public embarrassment.

A coach doing something he knew was wrong to protect his players. Why does that sound familiar?

(A final note: Contained in that same SI article from October 1955 was this interesting quip from Bevis to prove that things haven’t changed much over the years at Ohio State: “We should have a university of which the football team can be proud.” You can read the entire article here.)


No One To Defend Tressel? I Will

I have a question for all you holier-than-thou types, you ax-grinders. All of you claiming to have a corner on the integrity market. What exactly would you have done had you been in Jim Tressel’s shoes last April? What would your course of action have been when e-mails began crossing your desk regarding your players and a federal drug trafficking investigation?

Would you choose to try and protect your players – as well as yourself and your program – or would you immediately inform your athletic director and compliance office knowing full well that by doing so you expose those players and that federal investigation to unwanted (and perhaps illegal) publicity?

I know the easy (and somewhat lazy) answer. In a nuanced world filled with shades of gray, maybe you would have informed Gene Smith and the compliance office and maybe you wouldn’t have. Maybe, just maybe, you would have met with the players in question and held an investigation of your own. Maybe the answers you received were satisfactory and maybe they weren’t. Maybe you would have meted out some form of punishment of your own at that time. Maybe you wouldn’t have.

We now know Tressel’s decision on how he thought best to handle the situation. We also know that decision will forever provide a blemish on his impressive coaching résumé. But did it really have to turn out this way?

Some things in this whole sordid mess simply don’t add up.

At first blush, the Yahoo! Sports report seemed flimsy at best. Knowing his players were selling memorabilia in defiance of NCAA regulations and then purposely covering up that knowledge was completely out of character for the Jim Tressel I have come to know over the past decade. Now, after listening to the university’s explanation of how things transpired between the e-mails Tressel received in April and the NCAA investigation in December, I’m not convinced I was wrong in my judgment of Tressel’s character.

Could it be that Tressel is falling on his own sword? There was an instance during last night’s news conference when a reporter asked the coach if he forwarded the e-mails to anyone. Tressel began to nod his head before Smith quickly interrupted to say the coach couldn’t answer the question due to the ongoing NCAA investigation.

Tressel could have simply been acknowledging the question or he could have been nodding in affirmation as prelude to an answer. That is total conjecture on my part but it seems at least plausible that the coach took the initial e-mail he received in April and forwarded it to the university compliance office. If that was indeed the case, and the compliance office failed to act on the e-mails, Ohio State would have been looking at “lack of institutional control” – the dreaded four words no NCAA member institution wants to hear.

Lack of institutional control to the NCAA is like running away from a cop. No matter what else you may have done, they really don’t like that. Whenever a school is penalized for lack of institutional control, it is looking at loss of scholarships, vacated seasons, postseason bans and jobs lost.

If your coach simply takes the fall, he gets the sanctions, the scrutiny and the criticism – but your program moves on.

A wacko conspiracy theory? Maybe, but I would contend it’s no more wacko than the overheated cacophony coming from the sanctimonious ESPN crowd today that believes Tressel should be fired and the entire 2010 season vacated. That’s ridiculous. Why do you think Smith – who knows the NCAA Committee on Infractions inside and out – immediately contacted the NCAA for consultation on the matter?

Look, defending the indefensible is pointless. Even before yesterday, we all knew Jim Tressel wasn’t perfect. There was the Troy Smith suspension, the Maurice Clarett fiasco, the NCAA violations the coach purportedly committed when he was at Youngstown State, and now this. There is no use trying to defend those incidents although they do seem rather minor – even in their totality – to any number of others committed elsewhere by other programs and other coaches who did not receive similar penalties.

Nevertheless, whether Tressel withheld information, failed to tell the whole truth or out-and-out lied – and for whatever reason, noble or otherwise – he is the one who will have to live the consequences.

He is the one whose legacy with be forever changed, and knowing him just a little bit, I’m guessing that will be the toughest sanction of all for him to bear.

End Of Tressel Era? I’m Not Buying

I have no idea when Jim Tressel first discovered six of his players had sold game-used memorabilia in violation of NCAA rules.

I also don’t care.

Most of today has been spent hand-wringing over last night’s revelation from Yahoo! Sports that “a concerned party” told Tressel last April that several players including quarterback Terrelle Pryor had sold such items as jerseys, Gold Pants charms and MVP trophies. That was eight months before Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith claimed the university first learned of the incident.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the allegation against Tressel is true. Who is this so-called “concerned party”? That matters because if the coach was made fully aware of what was going on and purposely covered it up, he’s in trouble.

If, however, the “concerned party” is one of the hundreds of e-mails, snail mail letters and phone calls the Ohio State head coach receives on a daily basis, well, then, there seems to be plenty of plausible deniability on Tressel’s side.

Plausible deniability is a phrase used in the recent NCAA investigation into recruiting violations committed by the University of Connecticut men’s basketball program. At the crux of that investigation was more than $6,000 in improper recruiting inducements by a former team manager as well as 150 impermissible phone calls and 190 impermissible text messages from coaches to recruits between April 2007 and February 2009.

For all of that, UConn head coach Jim Calhoun will have to sit out the first three Big East games of the Huskies’ 2011-12 season. In other words, the tiniest of wrist slaps even though money changed hands and recruiting violations occurred.

And you’re telling me that Tressel is going to face some sort of stiff penalty like termination?

I have heard the argument that Smith will have little choice but to fire his head coach because Tressel lied to him. That is such a leap of logic you would need a rocket ship to cover the distance.

In my little picayune job, I get a ton of e-mails and phone calls from folks claiming to have inside knowledge about this player or that coach. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to chase down everyone’s story. After having been in this business for awhile, you get a certain feel for what is plausible and what is not. Obviously, this story has legs or there would be no need for tonight’s news conference with Smith and university president Dr. E. Gordon Gee.

But let me let you – and them – in on a little secret. In the big picture, what Tressel knew and when he knew it doesn’t amount to a tick on the rear end of a dog. If the coach knew in April and deliberately covered it up, it would be so out of character for the Jim Tressel that I know I couldn’t even begin to describe it.

That means that someone – that “concerned party” – sent Tressel a message in April and whether or not he received it and whether or not he acted upon it remains up for conjecture.

As I wrote in the opening, I really don’t care. Knowing the way college athletics operates these days, knowing that nearly every program bends/breaks the rules – either knowingly or not – I have a hard time getting myself lathered up over this.

Worst case scenario: If Tressel knew in April and purposely withheld the information, he should be fined and/or suspended by the university. And that’s it.

If Tressel somehow loses his job over this, it’s a slippery slope to a college football world I’m not too sure I want to be part of anymore.

Why Is Something So Easy So Hard For So Many?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAIR OR UNFAIR – YOU DECIDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair or unfair? You decide.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

Rushing yards – LaMichael James, Oregon, 1,682

Rushing TDs – LaMichael James, Oregon, 21

Passing yards – Bryant Moniz, Hawaii, 4,629

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

Total offense – Bryant Moniz, Hawaii, 4,705

Receptions – Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma, 118

Receiving yards – Greg Salas, Hawaii, 1,675

TD receptions – Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State, 18

Punting – Chas Henry, Florida, 46.41

Punt returns – Shaky Smithson, Utah, 19.7

Punt return TDs – Cliff Harris, Oregon, 4

Kickoff returns – William Powell, Kansas State, 34.6

Kickoff return TDs – Eric Page, Toledo, 3

Scoring – Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State, 137

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

Total tackles – Luke Kuechly, Boston College, 171

Sacks – Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson, 15½

Tackles for loss – Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue, 26

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

Returning To The Graveyard

Every year I tell myself I’m not going to go. After Ohio State has strung so many victories together over Michigan, I tell myself I don’t need to go.

And then, somehow without even thinking, I find myself doing the same things I’ve done for the past several years during the week before the OSU-Michigan game. My car almost drives itself past the unassuming white house on Cardiff Road. Then it’s on to Ohio Stadium and just a few miles north on Olentangy River Road to Union Cemetery. I always seem to arrive around dusk and the expanse of trees usually makes it seem darker than normal. But I’ve made this trip so many times, I could make it blindfolded.

It was a raw evening – cold, windy and wet with rain alternating between a fine mist and those huge pellets that splash on the pavement when they hit. But there are tall inviting trees in proximity to the black granite marker at Section 12, Lot 37, Space 4, and I take my place beneath the rustling pines.

I stood there, transfixed on the monument and began to read aloud the words etched on the stone.

“And in the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love hears the rustle of a wing.”

As I pondered those words, and the wind continued to whistle through the trees, I was startled by what has become a familiar voice.

“Do you know who wrote those words?”

I whirled around to see the same stocky man I had seen a couple of years ago, standing just behind me. He always looked the same, wearing a red windbreaker, gray trousers and a stern look. A black baseball cap was jammed low over his gray hair, and he squinted at me through silver, horn-rimmed glasses.

“Well?” he said. “Do you?”

“Do I what?” I stammered.

“Do you know who wrote those words?”

I turned around to ponder the question, but before I could offer any reply the man already had the answer.

“Robert Green Ingersoll,” he said. “Great man, great orator. Great thinker. He was often very misunderstood but very principled. Knew what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to work hard to get it.”

“That sounds like someone else I can think of,” I said.

The man just stared back at me.

“Are you trying to patronize me, Son? Because if you think I don’t remember that you’re the sportswriter that comes around here every so often …”

“No, no, no. I meant it as a compliment,” I said.

He continued his glare before shaking his head and muttering something under his breath about my profession. Then he started to speak again.

“As a matter of fact, I’m glad for the company,” he said. “I’ve got a couple of things on my mind.”

“Such as?”

“Let’s start with the game being played this week. I feel no sense of urgency around here. I’ve even heard people saying the rivalry isn’t what it used to be anymore.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that, too,” I said. “I guess it’s because Ohio State has won so many games in a row.”

“Is it?” he shot back. “Well, let me tell you something. People who say that are goddamned fools, and if you believe it then you’re a goddamned fool, too. This is the greatest rivalry in sports. Not just football, mind you. All of sports. Always has been, always will be. When you begin to lose respect for the greatest rivalry in sports, then I don’t know what to say other than you’re a goddamned fool.”

“Well,” I said. “Michigan … um, I mean that other team is certainly having its problems again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse defense. They’ve already given up more yardage and more points than in any season during their history.”

“And you think that means anything in this game?” he said. “That’s about what I’d expect from a sportswriter. I don’t know why I waste my time. Listen, Son. I don’t care how many points they’ve given up. This is a game where that kind of stuff doesn’t mean a damn thing.”

“I think it might this year,” I said. “Have you seen them play? They’re really not very good at all on defense.”

The old man rolled his eyes and shook his head again.

“That is just the kind of attitude I’m talking about,” he said. “Thinking you have the game won before it’s even played is the attitude of a loser.”

“I know they have a good offense and their quarterback is as exciting a player as I’ve ever seen play the quarterback position,” I said. “But do you honestly think Michigan has a chance? After all, it seems like Jim Tressel has won six in a row and eight of nine against them. That’s never been done before by any Ohio State coach in the history of the rivalry.”

“You’re talking to me about history? I know a thing or two about history.”

I could tell the man was getting a little agitated with me. His lips were stretched tight along his face and jaw seemed as if it was set in stone.

“Any Ohio schoolboy knows we have never beaten them this many times in a row. But do you know why?”

“No,” I answered. “Why?”

“Because it’s hard, that’s why. Goddamned hard if you ask me. I had some great teams over the years and couldn’t do it.”

You had some great teams?”

We had some great teams. I meant we had some great teams. Look, you can never go into any football game against any opponent and expect to win. You always have to expect the unexpected. That way you can adapt. You always have to adapt in this game. You start taking things for granted and pretty soon you’re through.

“You have to give the same kind of effort week in and week out if you’re going to be successful. Your opponent may be better than you sometimes. That’s just life. But hard work can make up for any lack of talent. There are going to be times when the guy across from you is just better, but if you work as hard as you can – really give it everything you have – then you have what it takes to be a champion. You might beat me but you’re not going to outwork me, and when I hear it said that this game is over before it is played … well, that just makes me sick to my stomach.

“Those seniors are going to be playing their last game in our great stadium. This game will be something they will tell their children and their grandchildren, and God willing, their great-grandchildren. You think they want that story to be about the time they lost to that school up north? And you’re playing for another championship. That’s what it’s all about. Every team wants to win a championship, but damn few have what it takes to actually win one.

“But you have to take this thing seriously. You have to understand that this game is the greatest game you will ever play in. Hell, it might be the greatest moment of your entire life. How you perform in this game will be a defining moment – now and forever. If you can’t understand that, you ought to get the hell out of the way and make room for someone who does.”

Off in the distance, I heard a familiar church bell chime the hour.

“Well,” the man sighed, “that’s what I think anyway. What I wouldn’t give for just one more time – one more time to be in that locker room, run out onto that field, smell that air, hear that band. Just look up and drink it all in. Experience all of that just one time in your life and then tell me how much this game doesn’t matter.”

He turned to leave, but as he walked away I called out, “Nice seeing you again.”

He waved but quickly stopped and turned to glare at me one last time.

“You tell ’em,” he said as he pointed a finger in my direction. “You tell ’em exactly what I said.”

I nodded.

“I always do, Coach,” I said. “I always do.”

Then, and only then, did I detect the faintest of smiles.

OSU-MICHIGAN TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Michigan will buckle it up tomorrow for the 107th renewal of what is known simply as The Game. The teams first met in 1897 and have played every season since 1918. The Wolverines lead the overall series by a 57-43-6 margin, including a 27-23-2 advantage in Columbus. However, the Buckeyes are 22-21-1 against their archrivals at Ohio Stadium.

** In the last 50 meetings overall, Ohio State holds a 26-22-2 advantage.

** The Buckeyes have won each of the last four games in the series played at Ohio Stadium. They haven’t enjoyed that kind of streak at home against the Wolverines since winning four in a row between 1968 and 1974. OSU has never won five straight home games in the series.

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

** Since 1926, the overall series is dead even at 40-40-3.

** OSU head coach Jim Tressel is currently 8-1 against Michigan, and he is one of only four Ohio State head coaches in history with a winning record against the Wolverines. The others are Woody Hayes (1951-78) at 16-11-1, Earle Bruce (1979-87) at 5-4 and Francis A. Schmidt (1934-40) at 4-3. Hayes, Bruce and Schmidt are all members of the College Football Hall of Fame.

** Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez is 0-2 against the Buckeyes. He is the first head coach in school history ever to lose his first two games in the series against Ohio State.

** Tressel is 28-4 with the Buckeyes in November. Rodriguez has a November record of 3-7 with the Wolverines.

** This marks the 17th time in series history that Ohio State and Michigan have played after Thanksgiving. The Wolverines hold an 8-7-1 advantage after Turkey Day, but the Buckeyes prevailed the last time the two teams met post-Thanksgiving. That was a 26-20 victory in Ann Arbor in 2001, 310 days after Tressel made his now-famous speech shortly after being hired as OSU head coach.

** With a victory over the Wolverines, Ohio State would clinch at least a share of the Big Ten championship. That would be the program’s sixth title in a row, matching the conference record set by the Buckeyes from 1972 to ’77.

** Should the Buckeyes win their sixth consecutive Big Ten title, it will mark the ninth straight season in which either OSU or Michigan has won or shared the conference crown. The last time neither team had at least a share of the trophy was in 2001 when Illinois took home the outright championship.

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

** Should his team earn at least a share of the championship, Tressel would join elite company. Only two other coaches have won at least seven Big Ten championships in their first decade in the league. Schembechler won eight titles in his first 10 seasons at Michigan and Bierman won seven during his first decade at Minnesota.

** With its victory last week at Iowa, Ohio State has become the first team in Big Ten history to record six consecutive years with 10 or more wins.

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

** Since Rodriguez took over in 2008, Michigan has produced a 6-17 record in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have not experienced a stretch of futility like that since the 1930s when they lost 18 of 24 games between 1934 and ’38.

** During a 13-year span from 1979 to 1992, the record for the team entering The Game with the higher ranking was 9-3-1. In the 17 games since, the higher-ranked team has managed only a 9-8 mark.

** Since the two teams met in 1923 for the Ohio Stadium dedication game, a total of 7,638,051 fans have attended The Game. That’s more than any other college football game in America. Fifty-nine of those 87 games have been sold out, including the last 42 in a row.

** The Wolverines have 19 native Ohioans on their roster while the Buckeyes have five players from Michigan.

** Here is how the teams stack up against one another in a variety of the national statistical categories:
Rushing offense – Michigan 10th (257.4); Ohio State 17th (216.2)
Passing offense – Michigan 30th (257.2); Ohio State 55th (230.0)

Pass efficiency – Ohio State 10th (158.4); Michigan 16th (154.6)
Total offense – Michigan fifth (514.6); Ohio State 18th (446.2)
Scoring offense – Ohio State ninth (39.6); Michigan 15th (36.8)
Rushing defense – Ohio State third (86.4); Michigan 92nd (181.3)
Pass defense – Ohio State fifth (155.1); Michigan 111th (263.9)
Total defense – Ohio State third (241.5); Michigan 112th (445.2)
Scoring defense – Ohio State fifth (13.9); Michigan 99th (33.6)
Net punting – Michigan 53rd (36.9); Ohio State 96th (34.0)
Turnover margin – Ohio State seventh (plus-12); Michigan 101st (minus-7)
Punt returns – Ohio State 39th (10.1); Michigan 94th (6.0)
Kickoff returns – Ohio State 12th (25.2); Michigan 67th (21.5)

** Ohio State is remarkably consistent on offense regardless of the down. This season, the Buckeyes have averaged 6.5 yards on first down, 6.7 on second down and 6.6 on third down. OSU has averaged only 5.3 yards when going for it on fourth down, but the Buckeyes have converted eight of their nine fourth-down tries.

** The Wolverines will be trying to score quickly and score a lot. They are 5-0 this season when leading at halftime and 7-3 when scoring 20 points or more.

** Don’t expect a close game. In the previous 106 contests between OSU and Michigan, only 17 have been decided by three points or less. The Buckeyes hold a 6-5-6 edge in those games.

** Ohio State had a decided advantage this year in the kicking game. Senior kicker Devin Barclay has made 16 of 19 field goals and all 54 of his PAT attempts this season. Michigan redshirt freshman kickers Seth Broekhuizen and Brendan Gibbons have combined to make only 4 of 13 field-goal attempts and 52 of 54 PATs.

** Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson ran for 121 yards during last week’s 48-28 loss to Wisconsin and established a new single-season record for Division I-A quarterbacks. Robinson pushed his season rushing total to 1,538 yards, breaking the old mark of 1,494 set in 1996 by Beau Morgan of Air Force.

** With his 2,229 yards passing this season, Robinson has also become the first quarterback in NCAA history to top 1,500 yards both rushing and passing in a single season.

** Robinson has 3,767 yards of total offense this season and needs 233 more to become only the fourth played in Big Ten history to top 4,000 in a single season. Purdue quarterback Drew Brees did it three times from 1998-2000, setting the league record with 4,189 yards as a senior. Also eclipsing the 4,000-yard mark were Purdue QB Curtis Painter (4,092 in 2006) and Northwestern QB Brett Basanez (4,045 in 2005).

** With 78 yards last week against Iowa, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor became only the 22nd player in school history to reach the 2,000-yard mark for his career. Pryor has exactly 2,000 yards on the ground and needs 67 more to move into the all-time top 20 past Jeff Logan (2,026, 1974-77) and Cornelius Greene (2,066, 1972-75).

** OSU tailback Dan “Boom” Herron can also join the 2,000-yard club soon. He needs only 68 more.

** Pryor’s 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Reid Fragel last week gave him 53 for his career, and he needs only five more to become the all-time leader at Ohio State in that category. Bobby Hoying (1992-95) is the career leader with 57 followed by Joe Germaine (56, 1996-98) and Troy Smith (54, 2003-06).

** Additionally, Pryor needs 264 more yards of total offense to become only the second player in school history to reach the 8,000-yard mark in that category. Pryor’s total of 7,736 ranks behind only Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81).

** Annual Senior Day festivities will be held prior to kickoff with 24 seniors suiting up in Ohio Stadium for the final time. They are Devin Barclay, Justin Boren, Bryant Browning, Chimdi Chekwa, Ricky Crawford, Aaron Gant, Cameron Heyward, Jermale Hines, Ross Homan, Garrett Hummel, Josh Kerr, Dexter Larimore, Chris Malone, Don Matheney, Jake McQuaide, Andrew Miller, Brian Rolle, Brandon Saine, Dane Sanzenbacher, Grant Schwartz, Scott Sika, Connor Smith, Devon Torrence and Taurian Washington.

** The Game will be televised for the 44th consecutive year and 55th overall time. The first OSU-Michigan game ever televised was a 21-0 win by the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in 1947.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after noon Eastern. The game will be televised nationally by ABC/ESPN using the reverse mirror. (Most fans will be able to see the game on their local ABC affiliate. Those who don’t can catch it on ESPN.) For the second week in a row, Sean McDonough will have the play-by-play, Matt Millen will provide color analysis and Quint Kessenich will file reports from the sidelines.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 125 (Ohio State) and 122 (Michigan) and XM satellite channels 102 (OSU) and 143 (U-M).

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Nov. 23, 1984, Boston College quarterback hurled a 48-yard “Hail Mary” TD pass to wide receiver Gerard Phelan on the game’s final play, giving the Eagles a 47-45 win over Miami (Fla.) and sewing up the ’84 Heisman Trophy for Flutie.

** On Nov. 23, 1985, Iowa quarterback Chuck Long became the first player in Big Ten history to throw for more than 10,000 career yards when he led the Hawkeyes to a 31-9 victory over Minnesota.

** On Nov. 24, 1938, Texas scored a 7-6 upset win over Texas A&M, allowing the Longhorns to avoid a rare winless season.

** 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. 24, 1979, third-ranked Nebraska and No. 8 Oklahoma squared off for the Big Eight championship in a battle of the unbeatens. The Sooners, led by tailback Billy Sims and his 247 rushing yards, eventually prevailed with a 17-14 win for their fourth outright conference title in seven years.

** On Nov. 25, 1916, Ohio State took a 23-3 victory over Northwestern to cap a 7-0 season and earn the school’s first Big Ten championship. It was the first of a league-record 18 outright championships and 34 overall conference titles for the Buckeyes.

** On Nov. 25, 1920, Texas defeated instate rival Texas A&M by a 7-3 score in the first college football game ever broadcast live on radio.

** On Nov. 25, 1950, Michigan and Ohio State combined for a Big Ten-record 45 punts during a game played in a driving snowstorm. The Wolverines won the game 9-3 in what has become known as the “Snow Bowl.”

** On Nov. 25, 1961, Rutgers completed its first undefeated season since 1876 with a 32-19 win over Columbia. The Scarlet Knights overcame a 19-7 deficit after three quarters, roaring to the victory by scoring four times in the fourth quarter.

** On Nov. 26, 1955, Tennessee halfback Johnny Majors and backup halfback Al Carter each threw fourth-quarter touchdown passes to rally the Volunteers to a 20-14 victory over No. 19 Vanderbilt. The outcome prevented the Commodores from winning the SEC championship and securing a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

** 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.

** On Nov. 27, 1982, Auburn running back Bo Jackson rushed for 114 yards and led the Tigers to a 23-22 victory over Alabama. It was the final regular-season game for Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who finished a 38-year career with 323 victories. The game also marked a milestone for Auburn head coach Pat Dye. He became the first of 30 former Bryant assistants who had tried to beat the legendary coach since 1970.

** On Nov. 28, 1942, unranked Holy Cross scored a 55-12 rout of No. 1 Boston College, the most lopsided loss ever for a top-ranked team.

** On Nov. 28, 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. 28, 1981, No. 11 Penn State trounced No. 1 Pittsburgh by a 48-14 score, the largest winning margin in NCAA history for a ranked team over a No. 1 team.

** On Nov. 28, 2008, Eastern Michigan quarterback Andy Schmitt connected on an NCAA single-game record 58 of 80 pass attempts during a 56-52 victory over Central Michigan. The performance came six days after Schmitt went 50 for 76 in a 55-52 loss to Temple, and his 108 completions over a two-game span is also a college football record.

** On Nov. 29, 1935, Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger was named the winner of the inaugural Downtown Athletic Club Trophy as the outstanding college football player of the year. The following year, the award would be renamed the Heisman Trophy.

** 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.

** On Nov. 30, 1935, No. 2 SMU scored a come-from-behind 20-14 win over No. 1 TCU, giving the Ponies an undefeated regular season, the Southwest Conference title and a Rose Bowl berth. It would be another 71 years until a major conference had two unbeaten teams with records of at least 10-0 playing one another. That came in 2006 when Ohio State pulled out a 42-39 victory over Big Ten foe Michigan.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Auburn, Boise State, Oregon and TCU remain the only unbeaten teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (a.k.a. Division I-A) level this week. How many will there be next week?

** Should Auburn QB Cam Newton win this year’s Heisman Trophy, today’s game between Newton’s Tigers and Mark Ingram’s Alabama team would feature the fifth matchup of Heisman winners in a rivalry game. The others: Gino Torretta of Miami (1992) and Charlie Ward of Florida State (1993); Earl Campbell of Texas (1977) and Billy Sims of Oklahoma (1978); Gary Beban of UCLA (1967) and O.J. Simpson of USC (1968); and John Huarte of Notre Dame (1964) and Mike Garrett of USC (1965).

** Iowa is 7-4 and all four of its defeats have come on late fourth-quarter touchdowns – at the 3:57 mark to Arizona, 1:06 to Wisconsin, 1:22 to Northwestern and 1:47 to Ohio State. In case you have forgotten, the Hawkeyes were ranked ninth in the Associated Press writers’ preseason poll.

** When Penn State took a 41-24 victory over Indiana last weekend at FedEx Field, it marked the 66th different venue in which Joe Paterno had coached the Nittany Lions.

** Evidently Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure enjoys running in one direction for the entire game. During his team’s 49-27 win over Northwestern last Saturday at Wrigley Field, Leshoure set a new single-game school record by rushing for 330 yards. As you probably know by now, both teams were forced to play offense in the same direction after Big Ten officials decided a padded brick wall in the Friendly Confines was too close to the end zone. Leshoure eclipsed the single-game of 315 yards set in 1996 by Robert Holcombe during a 23-21 loss at Minnesota.

** Bad economy? What bad economy? Fox, which lost the BCS to ESPN and then fell short to ESPN again in an effort to telecast ACC games, made a preemptive bid for the new Big Ten championship football game. Fox will pony up at least $120 million over the next six years to broadcast the game, pumping an additional $20 million into conference coffers each year for just one game.

** With victories tomorrow, Michigan State and Wisconsin would clinch shares of the Big Ten championship. The Spartans haven’t taken home a conference title since 1990 while the Badgers haven’t won one since 1999.

** Notre Dame killed two birds with one stone last Saturday. The Fighting Irish became bowl-eligible in their first season under Brian Kelly with a 27-3 victory over Army at the new Yankee Stadium. And the Irish helped the two-year-old facility set an attendance record. With extra bleachers installed in the left and right field areas, the attendance of 54,521 established a new record for a sporting event held the facility which opened in 2009.

** The Irish are now 18-5-3 against Army in New York City ballparks that have hosted the World Series. That list includes old and new Yankee Stadium as well as three other venues that have fallen victim to the wrecking ball – the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium and Ebbets Field.

** Count Ole Miss as one team that’s not afraid to play Boise State. The Rebels have contacted to play the Broncos in the 2014 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game to be played in the Georgia Dome.

** In case you missed it, former Michigan All-American running back Rob Lytle died last Saturday of a heart attack only eight days after his 56th birthday. A native of Fremont, Ohio, Lytle was a consensus All-American in 1976 and finished third behind Pittsburgh RB Tony Dorsett and USC running back Ricky Bell in that year’s Heisman Trophy balloting. He went on to a seven-year NFL career with the Denver Broncos, and holds the distinction of being the first player ever to score a touchdown in the Rose Bowl and a Super Bowl.

** On HBO’s “Real Sports” program this week, Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma was asked to outline his goal in life. The response: “My goal in life is to find some little scar on you, a little something, and I just want to pour some salt in there, rub some vinegar in it, then have some fun.” Look up the word “ass” in the dictionary and you will likely find a picture of Auriemma.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It was another spectacular week for the straight-up picks. We were 9-1, missing only the Upset Special when Michigan failed miserably – again – on Senior Day against Wisconsin. That is two Upset Special misses in a row, and either we’ll fall into one soon or we’ll stop picking upsets. The season record SU is now 106-19.

Against the spread, we have avoiding a losing streak all season – until now. Last week’s season-low mark of 3-6-1 was the second losing week in a row, and although we are still 72-48-5 for the year, we need to stop the bleeding.

Here are the games we’re watching this week.

TODAY’S GAMES

Ohio at Kent State: Back in September when the Bobcats were getting rolled by Ohio State, no one expected them to be where they are today. After starting the season 1-3, Frank Solich’s team has rattled off seven victories in a row and needs only to beat the Golden Flashes today to sew up its second straight MAC East title. Ohio has been able to right the ship because of an offense that relies heavily on a multi-pronged rush offense that averages 180.0 yards per game. That, however, plays into Kent’s strength. It leads the MAC and ranks No. 8 nationally against the run, allowing only 101.5 yards per game. Trouble is, the Golden Flashes sometimes have trouble putting points on the scoreboard. They have been held to 14 points or less in four games this season – all losses – and it’s difficult to see how they can score many more than that against the Bobcats … Ohio 21, Kent State 13. (11 a.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 2 Auburn at No. 11 Alabama: Talk about no respect. The Tigers have cruised to 11 straight victories and the SEC West title, they have the Heisman Trophy frontrunner in quarterback Cam Newton, and virtually no one gives them any chance to beat the Crimson Tide in the 75th Iron Bowl this afternoon. Part of that, of course, is the continuing investigation swirling around Newton. But part of it is because despite its two losses Alabama remains the defending national champion and to be the man you’ve got to beat the man. And to beat the man, the Tigers have to fly in the face of the fact that the Crimson Tide has won 20 straight home games and features a young, attacking defense that leads the nation with 21 interceptions. The last time Auburn visited Tuscaloosa, it got taken to the woodshed during a 36-0 Tide romp. Still, somehow, we’re not feeling the upset. This has been a magical season so far for the Tigers and we think it continues … Auburn 27, Alabama 24. (2:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Colorado at No. 15 Nebraska: While Auburn has been dealing with the Newton mess for some time, the Cornhuskers have had a week of controversy after head coach Bo Pelini blew his top last week during a 9-6 loss to Texas A&M. Pelini developed a bad case of the you-know-what because he thought the Big 12 officials had it out for his team, and that boiled over to an unfortunate public chewing-out of quarterback Taylor Martinez, who was hurt and could not play. On the other sideline, the Buffaloes have already dealt with their off-the-field problems and have won two in a row since head coach Dan Hawkins was fired. A lot of people are picking the upset here, but Pelini should get his team back on the same page this week despite the short turnaround … Nebraska 27, Colorado 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 21 Arizona at No. 1 Oregon: Although nearly everyone is passing the Ducks straight through to the national championship game, they seem to be taking nothing for granted. This week, they entertain the upset-minded Wildcats, who may have the best defense the Quack Attack has faced to this point. Cal served up the blueprint on how to slow down Oregon’s offense two weeks ago by playing man coverage in the secondary and putting a safety to spy on QB Darron Thomas. Look for Arizona to do the same thing, but for that scheme to be successful the Wildcats are going to have to shore up their run defense. They gave up 422 yards rushing in losses to USC and Stanford, and Oregon features tailback LaMichael James, who leads the nation with an average of 158.0 yards. An upset of Auburn and big game from James in this one could throw a monkey wrench into the Heisman Trophy race, and these two teams have played some wild games the last couple of years. Fasten your seatbelts … Oregon 45, Arizona 38. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 4 Boise State at No. 19 Nevada: Speaking of thrill rides, this game should provide plenty of entertainment. The Broncos know they have to keep winning to keep their national championship aspirations alive, and the Wolf Pack would like nothing more than to stomp on that dream. And don’t be fooled into thinking a Nevada win would be a major upset. The Pack certainly has the talent to pull off the upset with dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick (3,396 yards of total offense), running back Vai Taua (1,241 yards, 16 TDs), who just happens to be the NCAA career leader with 24 games of 100 or more rushing yards, and DE Dontay Moch, who is the active NCAA leader with 60½ tackles for loss. And yet, with all of that individual talent, the Pack falls short of the overall depth of Boise and that will make the difference … Boise State 35, Nevada 14. (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Virginia at No. 16 Virginia Tech: The Hokies are shooting for their first 10-game winning streak since 1999, and that’s not too bad for a team left for dead after season-opening losses to Boise State and I-AA James Madison. Tech has already clinched a spot in the ACC championship game, and the Cavaliers will likely be just a speed bump on the way. They come into the game with a 4-7 record and losers of three straight. UVA also has a losing streak going in this series – six in a row by a combined score of 185-72. It’s difficult to see how that trend changes much tomorrow, especially with the Cavs ranking 107th nationally against the run and the Hokies featuring the 19th best rushing offense in the country … Virginia Tech 34, Virginia 10. (12 noon ET)

Northwestern at No. 7 Wisconsin: With quarterback Dan Persa controlling the offense, the Wildcats would have at least had a puncher’s chance at taking out the Badgers. But since Persa ruptured his Achilles tendon two weeks ago, NU is a completely different team. More succinctly put, their chances for the upset are slim and none – and Slim isn’t on the travel squad to Madison. The only question is how much of a score does Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema want to run up on the Wildcats. The Badgers will probably get leading rusher John Clay back this week after he missed two games with a sprained knee. Not that his team has missed him much. UW rushed for 357 yards last week during a 48-28 win over Michigan and rolled up 338 two weeks ago when the Badgers bullied Indiana, 83-20. Look for more of the same against the Wildcats, who rank a lowly eighth in the Big Ten against the run. Without Persa to at least give them a fighting chance, NU can do virtually nothing to prevent Wisconsin from punching its ticket to Pasadena … Wisconsin 55, Northwestern 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

No. 24 Iowa at Minnesota: Things set up pretty well for a Golden Gophers victory here. The Hawkeyes really have nothing left to play for. After all, when you started your season with national title hopes, does it really matter if you wind up in the Gator Bowl or the Insight Bowl? The point is you may have a bunch of Iowa players simply going through the motions. For Minnesota, there is a lot more going on. It will be Senior Day at TCF Bank Stadium, and interim head coach Jeff Horton will try to make a case for getting the fulltime job. To be brutally honest, though, this game is a mismatch of talent. Despite their well-chronicled fourth-quarter collapses, the Hawkeyes still rank sixth in the nation in scoring defense. That is a category in which the Gophers rank 101st. What more do you need to know? … Iowa 35, Minnesota 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 3 TCU at New Mexico: Pity the lowly Lobos who go into tomorrow’s game knowing the Horned Frogs need style points to keep alive their hopes of playing for the national championship. TCU ranks among the nation’s top 10 in nearly every major statistical category, including No. 1 in total and scoring defense. Conversely, New Mexico ranks 100th or lower in nearly every category, including 118th in total offense, 119th in scoring defense and 120th in rushing defense. Considering the fact there are only 120 schools playing football on the Division I-A level, you begin to see how this could get out of hand very early … TCU 54, New Mexico State 7. (4 p.m. ET, Versus)

Michigan at No. 8 Ohio State: If you had no affinity whatsoever for the rivalry, it would be easy to dismiss this year’s version of The Game as an overhyped mismatch. What else could it be since the Buckeyes possess the No. 9 scoring offense in the country and Michigan possesses the worst defense in … well … the worst defense in Michigan football history. How bad are the Wolverines on defense? Three weeks ago, they actually celebrated after giving up 65 points against Illinois. Granted, it was after a three-overtime win, but celebrating after you had given up 65 points? Bo Schembechler’s 1972 team surrendered only 57 total points in 11 games. How bad can this one get? It all depends upon how bad Jim Tressel wants it to be, and the OSU coach simply has too much respect for the rivalry to let things escalate too much. Still, you can’t exactly tell your team to stop playing when those ugly winged hats are on the other side of the line of scrimmage … Ohio State 41, Michigan 14. (12 noon ET, ABC/ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Ohio (-3½) at Kent State; Auburn (+5) at Alabama; Colorado (+17½) at Nebraska; Arizona (+20½) at Oregon; Boise State (-13½) at Nevada; Virginia at Virginia Tech (-21½); Northwestern at Wisconsin (-23); Iowa (-14) at Minnesota; TCU (-43) at New Mexico; Michigan at Ohio State (-17).

Enjoy the games.

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