A Visit To The Graveyard

Woody2I originally wrote this column in 2008. A decade later, I decided to post it again.

I’ve never told anyone this before, but there is a little ritual I perform each year during the week before the Ohio State-Michigan game.

I get in my car and drive past a simple two-story, white house on Cardiff Road. It’s only a couple of miles west of Ohio Stadium, tucked onto a little side street off Lane Avenue. After going past the house, I drive another mile north on Olentangy River Road and head into Union Cemetery.

Chic Harley was laid to rest there. So was Lynn St. John, the athletic director at Ohio State when the Horseshoe was built and the guy for whom St. John Arena is named. I usually go at dusk, right before the cemetery is closing. You may think that’s a strange place to go, but amid all of the hype that goes with OSU-Michigan week, it’s a good spot to get some peace. After all, it is the quietest place in Columbus.

Yesterday, I nearly didn’t make the trip. It was unseasonably warm, there were lots of other things I needed to get done, and it seemed pointless to again drive past a house owned by someone I didn’t know and then walk past countless graves of people I never met. But I did it anyway, wondering how I would feel come Saturday night if the Buckeyes had lost and I hadn’t made my annual pilgrimage.

I drove past the Cardiff Road house before making my way to the cemetery and on to Section 12, Lot 37, Space 4. There are pine trees around a black granite marker, and as I stood beneath one of those tall trees to shield me from the drizzle, I was startled by a voice.

“Pretty big game this Saturday, huh?”

I whirled around to see a stocky man standing about 10 feet away. He wore a plain, red windbreaker – the kind men stopped wearing in the 1970s – and he had both hands shoved in the pockets. He had gray hair, wore silver, horn-rimmed glasses and scrunched his face into a grimace where his lips seemed to almost disappear.

“Uh, yeah,” I stammered. “I guess so.”

“You guess so?” he repeated as he stared at the gravestone. “We’re still playing for the conference championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl and you guess so?” He shook his head and grunted. “What are you doing here anyway?” he grumbled.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I come here every year about this time. I guess it’s just my way of getting ready for the game.”

“Getting ready for the game? Why do you need to get ready for the game? What do you do?”

“I’m a sportswriter.”

The old man rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Goddamned sportswriters,” he said. “I can’t get away from the sonsabitches.”

“What was that?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing. I suppose you’re one of those kind who wants to dig up the past. Wants to stir up a little controversy.”

“No, not really. If you really want to know the truth, I just wonder what the old man would think of all this. He helped make this thing the biggest rivalry in sports. I just sometimes wonder what he’d say.”

“Oh,” the man said with a sigh, “Sometimes, I just don’t know. It’s a newfangled game nowadays – lots of trick plays and coaches trying to outguess one another. Too much money, too. Money ruins people. I can remember when we played ’cause we loved it. Didn’t give a damn about the money. You can’t take it with you after all.”

“Yeah, but the game itself has changed,” I said. “The way they play it has changed. I just don’t think the way he did things would fly today.”

“Oh, you don’t think I … I mean, you don’t think he could adapt, huh? Well, let me tell you something. He could adapt. He was always adapting. Football is a game of adaptation. If you don’t adapt, you won’t stay around very long. He adapted. He adapted just fine. You betcha.

“He surrounded himself with some of the best assistant coaches in the game, and when one left, another would come along and he’d bring new wrinkles. You think he ran the same offense with Hop Cassady that he did with Bob Ferguson? Or that he did with Arch?

“All I ever hear is that three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust bull. I wish I’d … I wish he’d never said that. Sure, running the ball is the only tried and true method of controlling the tempo of the game, and it’s true that three things can happen when you throw the ball and two of them are bad. But he never gets credit for recruiting guys like Corny Greene or Art Schlichter. He never gets credit for recruiting guys like Billy Anders or Doug Donley.

“All I hear is how he did nothing but run the ball. It just so happened that most of the best athletes we had in those days were suited to be running backs. If he’d had the kind of talent that’s on this year’s team, well …”

“You think Woody would’ve liked this team?” I asked.

“Let me tell you something,” he said, his hollow eyes looking off into the mist. “This team is pretty good. Don’t let what happened last week fool you. They’re good and you can tell it. Know how I know? Because of the way they act on and off the field. There’s none of that dancing crap on the field, no drawing attention to yourself. That’s not football. That should be reserved for the circus. I’m telling you, some of these SOBs playing today should paint their faces, wear a big, red nose and come out of the locker room in a little goddamned car.

“But not this team. You can tell in the way they walk and the way they talk. But most of all, it’s in the way they carry out their business. And that’s what it is – a business. All these bleeding hearts who want to call it a game can go to hell. It’s all business out there, and if you don’t take care of your business, the other guy sure as hell will. This team has a lot of talent and a lot of guys that I would have loved to coach.”

“You?”

“I mean Coach Hayes, of course. Gholston, for instance. He’s a tough sonuvabitch that keeps coming and keeps coming. Reminds me a lot of Stillwagon. And that Laurinaitis kid. Wow, has he come a long way fast. I don’t want to compare him to Gradishar because Grad was the best I ever saw. But if he continues working hard, he can get close. Damned close.

“Then there’s Robiskie, Hartline and Small? Speed out of three receivers. What a luxury to have. And Todd Boeckman. He’s OK in my book because he’s my kind of quarterback. Does exactly what is asked of him – another coach on the field, really. And that Wells. It just puts a smile on my face every time he puts that stiff-arm out there. Hope he’s healthy and ready to go on Saturday.

“And then, of course, you have to have someone in charge and I admire Jimmy Tressel so much. He does things the right way. And he’s another guy who doesn’t draw much attention to himself. He seems to have his head on straight.”

“What about last week? Tough to try to turn it around in just one week.”

“Tough?” the man said. “Son, if you think it’s tough to get yourself ready to play in the greatest rivalry in the history of college football, you might as well go play tiddly-winks. This game is for men. It’s not a cocktail party. The faint of heart need not apply.”

I cocked my head to one side. “You know a lot about football,” I said. “How do you think the old man would game-plan for Saturday?”

“He’d stay with the basics,” the man immediately replied. “He’d study film until he knew the other team’s tendencies like he knew his own – things like how they like to use the tight end, which direction their running backs like to run and which arm they carry the ball in. He’d know where to bring the pressure because he’d know whether their quarterback likes to go to his left or right when he’s flushed out of the pocket. He’d know exactly which of their defensive linemen was the weakest link and that’s the gap where he’d send Wells.”

“Michigan has been getting better on defense these past couple of weeks,” I interrupted. “I think they’re still in the top 30 in the country in total defense.”

“Sportswriters,” he said disgustedly as he shook his head. “I’ll let you in on a little secret: You can get your yards against anyone. Anyone. You just have to know where to attack ’em. And once you find their soft spot, you exploit the hell out of it. And keep exploiting the hell out of it until you destroy the other team’s will to win. After that, it’s easy. I think that’s the way it will happen Saturday. We’ll start running the ball, then we’ll throw for a couple of touchdowns, and that other team will never know what hit ’em. ”

Far off in the distance, I heard a church bell chime the hour.

“Well,” the man sighed. “I suppose I should be getting back.”

As he turned to leave, I noticed for the first time that he was wearing a black baseball cap. As he walked away, I called out, “Hey, Mister. I didn’t catch your name.”

He stopped and turned. “Wayne,” he said. “My name is Wayne. But everyone around here just calls me Coach.”

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Barrett Has Been Remarkable, But Is He Heisman-Worthy?

Ohio State’s relatively easy romps over the likes of Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers, coupled with an almost alarming number of upsets among top-ranked teams, have allowed the Buckeyes to inch their way back toward the national championship discussion.

Additionally, the offensive explosion of the most recent four games – a dizzying average of 56 points and 614 total yards per contest – has spawned a smattering of Heisman Trophy support for redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett.

Does Barrett truly merit the consideration? Based upon the fact that he is one of feel-good stories of the first half of the 2014 college football season, perhaps the OSU quarterback at least deserves to be in the conversation. But does he have the requisite jump-off-the-page statistics sought by today’s Heisman voters?

With most viable candidates at the midway point of the regular season, Barrett ranks a lofty No. 3 in the nation in pass efficiency. That is behind Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, one of the preseason Heisman favorites, as well as true freshman signal-caller Deshaun Watson of Clemson, who will be sidelined a month after Oct. 13 surgery to repair a broken bone in his throwing hand.

Some of Barrett’s allure comes from the fact that each of the last two Heisman winners were redshirt freshmen QBs – Jameis Winston of Florida State last year and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M in 2012 – and that the Ohio State quarterback has similar numbers to both players at the same juncture of their award-winning seasons.

Two years ago, Manziel had thrown for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns against only three interceptions in six games. But what set him apart among Heisman voters was his swashbuckling style of running during those six games that produced 676 yards and 13 TDs on the ground.

Last year, while his scrambling was done mostly out of necessity (just 137 yards and three scores), it was Winston’s command of the pocket that allowed him to throw for 1,885 yards and 20 touchdowns during Florida State’s first six games.

Compare those stats with Barrett, who has thrown for 1,615 yards and 20 touchdowns with five interceptions while adding 383 yards and four TDs rushing for Ohio State so far this season.

With respect to quarterback ratings, Barrett also measures up well. At this point in their respective Heisman seasons, Manziel had a QBR of 162.8 while Winston carried a 210.4 rating. Barrett is currently at 182.1.

There is no question Barrett is on a roll since the Virginia Tech debacle. However, Heisman Trophies are not won during the first half of the season against weak opposition. Manziel and Winston won theirs on the strength of superlative second-half performances.

Manziel solidified his candidacy with 345 yards of total offense during an upset of defending national champion Alabama, while Winston used a 325-yard performance during an early November win over then-No. 7 Miami (Fla.) to springboard his candidacy while piloting the Seminoles to the national championship.

If Barrett can continue to put up the kind of numbers he has generated during the first six games, there is no doubt he will garner his fair share of Heisman support although whether or not he will be able to sustain his impressive production is up for debate.

Among Ohio State’s most recent four opponents, only Maryland ranks among the nation’s top 50 in pass efficiency defense, and the Terrapins rank 44th. Rutgers is No. 87, Kent State is No. 111 and Cincinnati ranks 121st out of 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Three of the Buckeyes’ next four opponents rank among the top 25 in pass efficiency defense – Penn State at No. 22, Michigan State at No. 21 and Minnesota at No. 19. Obviously, if Barrett can pick apart those defenses, his Heisman campaign will take care of itself.

However, as consistent as he has been over the course of the last month, the OSU quarterback is going to have to be even more so during the stretch run.

For example, during his team’s first three possessions against Rutgers, each of which resulted in touchdowns, Barrett connected on all eight of his attempts for 112 yards and two scores, giving him a stratospheric quarterback rating of 300.1.

Unfortunately, his performance took a nosedive from there as he appeared to struggle somewhat with his mechanics. Barrett connected on only 10 of his final 22 attempts for 144 yards and a touchdown, which computes to a QB rating of just 115.4. That won’t get it done against Penn State or Minnesota much less Michigan State.

Still, at this point of the season, Ohio State fans should be thanking their lucky stars that Barrett – someone who hadn’t played a down of college football before this season – has been able to play so well since the recent track record for first-year starting quarterbacks at OSU hasn’t always been such a good one.

Art Schlichter, Greg Frey, Kirk Herbstreit, Bobby Hoying, Austin Moherman, Steve Bellisari, Justin Zwick, Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller all struggled with varying kinds of growing pains during their initial season as the starter, so what Barrett has been able to do so far is nothing short of remarkable.

Miller Time In 2015?

In addition to the Heisman talk, Barrett’s production these past four games has touched off a controversy of sorts among Ohio State fans. There is a small-but-ever-growing faction that insists Barrett should be the starting quarterback even if Miller rejoins the team in 2015 after sitting out this season following shoulder surgery.

The argument can be made that Barrett has a more accurate arm, but going so far as to proclaiming him the better overall player is absurd.

Miller is a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, a trophy the conference doesn’t award by picking names out of a hat. He is a transformational player who brings athleticism to the quarterback position that has seldom been seen – not only at Ohio State but in college football history.

With no disrespect meant toward Barrett, it isn’t much of a leap to believe Miller’s elusiveness could have changed the outcome of the Virginia Tech game, meaning the Buckeyes would still be undefeated and on track toward a berth in the College Football Playoff.

So, to claim the Buckeyes aren’t missing a beat with Miller out of the lineup is ridiculous. The simple fact is the team is missing a huge beat without its senior quarterback.

Despite his obvious talents and the fact he is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in Big Ten history, Miller has been unjustifiably criticized since taking over for Joe Bauserman early in the 2011 season. You remember that season, don’t you? Miller, who was basically thrown to the wolves by a disorganized and distracted coaching staff, didn’t immediately live up to the lofty expectations of some fans, and they have never forgiven him.

It is borderline amazing how quickly fans are ready to kick to the curb a player who has been an exemplary example of how to conduct oneself away from the field, one who has always been in good academic standing, one who is on track to graduate in December, and a gutsy player who exacerbated a shoulder injury while trying to help his team win the Orange Bowl. Contrast that to the weekly sideshow surrounding the quarterback at Florida State and tell me which you prefer.

Should Barrett continue to prosper, and should the Buckeyes win out and get to the national championship playoff, then Urban Meyer will have a decision to make if and when Miller decides to return next season.

But if anything happens short of Ohio State running the table and Barrett appearing in New York City in December as a Heisman finalist, Miller should be the starting quarterback in 2015. For what he has done on the field, and the way he has comported himself away from it, he has earned that right.

Requiem For A Buckeye Fan

I have met more than my fair share of Ohio State fans over the years, but none quite like Ira Kaufman, a guy for whom the phrase “one of a kind” was coined.

Ira spent much of his life in New Jersey and seemed pretty much the stereotypical Garden State resident complete with the sardonic Jersey Shore accent and matching attitude. Years ago, he would regularly call the BSB office to pump anyone who answered the phone for football recruiting information. His phone calls gradually became long, drawn-out conversations about nearly every topic imaginable.

Over time, we found we shared a lot in common, especially for two men who came from totally divergent upbringings. The thing that brought us together was Ohio State football.

To understand the relationship Ohio State football fans have with their team and each other is to understand the very basic tenets of a family. Entire generations have been weaned on scarlet and gray, and when it is their turn, they pass the folklore and traditions on to the next. There is no such thing as a casual follower of the Buckeyes. Each Saturday in the fall, millions celebrate when the team wins and die hard when they lose.

It was pretty much the same way in my house while I was growing up. My love for all things scarlet and gray came from my father, a proud 1940 graduate of The Ohio State University. It’s not difficult to conjure up memories of Dad tinkering in the back yard on a football Saturday with the radio tuned to the game and the warm, syrupy voices of Bert Charles and Marv Homan filling the crisp October air.

The first season I truly remember came in 1968 – a pretty good year to cut your teeth on the Buckeyes – and following the exploits of Jack Tatum, Jim Stillwagon, Jim Otis, Ted Provost and Rex Kern became a week-to-week obsession. My mind’s eye still has a vivid picture of that Rose Bowl game against USC and the rising jubilation of a second-half Ohio State comeback after O.J. Simpson had staked the Trojans to an early 10-0 lead.

My favorite team won every game that season and was crowned national champions. Of course, I thought undefeated seasons and Rose Bowl victories were a birthright, especially when the Buckeyes won every game in 1969 before suffering a crushing upset in the season finale at Michigan. Four decades later, that one still stings.

Ohio State football has been equated to a religion and it’s hard to argue that point. Ohio Stadium is the cathedral, “Across the Field” and “Carmen Ohio” are the hymns and the national championship continues to be the holy grail. The exploits of long-gone players such as Chic Harley and Wes Fesler have been reduced to ancient texts in musty corners, but their stories continue to be re-told again and again through the years.

Brutus and Sloopy, the Horseshoe and TBDBITL, Gold Pants and Senior Tackle and a thousand more traditions – they are what makes Ohio State football what it is.

Most of all, however, it’s the fans. The tall ones and the small ones. The young and the old. Those who can buy anything they want and those who struggle from paycheck to paycheck. There are those who have season tickets and there are the ones who have never laid their eyes on Ohio Stadium. The ones who were rocked to sleep in a scarlet and gray cradle and want to be laid to rest in a scarlet and gray casket.

The ones who go to the most far-flung corner of the globe and yell “O-H!” just because they know someone will answer back with a hearty “I-O!”

Big-Hearted Family Man

I first came to know Ira Kaufman as a cantankerous and somewhat bothersome BSB subscriber, but a first-rate, gold-plated, diehard Buckeye fan.

As many of you reading this know, getting issues to out-of-state subscribers in a timely manner has always been one of the major problems confronting BSB during our existence. As a result, many of you who live outside Ohio choose to receive your print issues via first-class mail – and still it seems that isn’t quick enough for some.

Being a former postal worker, Ira could never quite get his head around the fact he would have to wait a few days for his BSB to arrive. If the issue did not get to his New Jersey home by the time he thought it should have, he was on the phone to Columbus, wondering if we had mailed it on time. By the time the conversation had ended, Ira didn’t need to read the paper – he had already gleaned all of its news.

Over the years, and after many phone conversations, I found that Ira was much more than just a typical fan. Underneath that gruff exterior purred the personality of pussy cat, a big-hearted family man who became an Ohio State football fan even though he had never set foot in Columbus.

“It was a long time ago, and I was a long way from home, feeling very sorry for myself,” he once told me. “I was inside this little club and the Ohio State-Michigan game was playing on the radio. I remember Michigan was leading and most of the place was cheering for them, so I decided I’d cheer for Ohio State. Well, Ohio State came back to win that game and I’ve been scarlet and gray ever since.”

Six or seven years ago, when Ira retired, he finally decided to cross item No. 1 off his personal bucket list – you know, the list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket. He hopped a plane to Columbus and began an annual pilgrimage that typically began on the Thursday before the game and included a night on the town with a small gathering of friends, mostly BSB staffers.

On the occasion of his first visit, he and I were the last ones standing – so to speak – after a full evening of fine food and more frosty, cold beverages than either of us could remember. We sat in the lobby the old Holiday Inn on Lane Avenue until 4 a.m. as Ira peppered me with questions about recruiting while testing my memory regarding Ohio State football trivia.

I had the time of my life and I’m pretty sure he did, too.

Each time Ira returned to Columbus, we seemed to have more fun than his previous visit. He toured the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and the Jack Nicklaus Museum, walked around Ohio Stadium and wove his way through the Buckeye Grove. He never seemed prepared for the weather, but he didn’t mind shelling out for rain gear, a fleece-lined jacket or an authentic jersey as long as it featured the official Ohio State logo.

In the beginning, his yearly visits were known simply as “Irafest.” Later, it became “Ira-palooza” when our once-intimate gatherings grew to a full-blown legion of friends due solely to Ira’s generosity and the fact that he was just so damned fun to be around.

Each of Ira’s visits was eagerly anticipated because we knew something unusual was bound to happen and usually did. Most of them should not be shared in a family newspaper, but there was one particular late-night visit to a Columbus establishment when a more-than-slightly inebriated young woman suddenly snuggled into the booth beside Ira.

She looked at me, then looked at him and said, “I don’t know whether to slap your face or ask you to dance.”

Without missing a beat, Ira chuckled and replied, “Any chance you’re from Jersey?”

Generous, Loyal, Genuine

A couple of years ago, Ira called with bad news. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but his prognosis was good. He was facing some tough days and months ahead, and I did my best to cheer him up. My dad had the same thing several years ago, I told him, and he could beat it just like my dad did.

And beat it, Ira did. He underwent a variety of procedures, including some he admitted made him sicker than he had ever been in his life. But late that September, he was back in Columbus, presiding over the largest “Ira-palooza” crowd yet.

Last year before his trip, Ira called and asked if we could somehow return to the more intimate gatherings we’d had when he first started coming to Columbus. “Not that I don’t enjoy the larger group,” he said. “But I just can’t get around to everybody and spend the kind of time with them that I want to. I don’t want anyone to think they’re getting shortchanged.”

Trust me when I say no one was ever shortchanged in Ira’s presence. Nevertheless, I agreed to downsize the party to just four – BSB editor Jeff Svoboda, longtime subscriber Susan Zeier, Ira and me. Ira was as animated as always and we all agreed it was one of his best visits ever.

None of us knew it would be his last.

In late May, Susan called to say that she had just talked to Ira. The cancer had returned – just as it had with my dad. This time, it had been detected in Ira’s lungs and the prognosis wasn’t very good.

When I called Ira to get the news straight from the source, I wasn’t prepared for what I heard. His normally robust voice was shaky, and he said, “I don’t mind telling you, Mark, I’m scared. I want to see my grandchildren grow up.”

I tried to change the subject, even attempting to steer the conversation to Ohio State and the perceived trouble Urban Meyer was having trying to put together his 2015 recruiting class. But Ira didn’t seem interested.

That’s when I knew it was serious.

Knowing he was tired, I wished him well and told him I would call him the following week. “Thanks, Mark,” he said. “Please tell everybody back there that I said hello and I’m thinking of them.”

Those were the final words we ever exchanged. On June 14, my phone rang and it was Susan. I knew what she was going to say before I answered.

“I just wanted to make sure you knew,” she said. “Ira passed away yesterday.”

Once every so often, you get to meet someone who is not only generous, loyal, opinionated and fun-loving, but also the genuine article. Ira Kaufman was all of those things and more, and I wish you all could have had the pleasure of knowing him.

He truly was one of a kind.

Miller Deserved A Heisman Invitation

Drivers who back into parking spaces. Double-stuffed Oreos. The fiscal cliff. Coaches in the Big Ten who didn’t think enough of Braxton Miller to make him their first-team all-conference selection.

There are so many things in this world that I just don’t get, and Miller finishing second to Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez on the coaches’ All-Big Ten was one more of them. Of course, the coaches look even more foolish now that Miller has won the Silver Football award, symbolic of the Big Ten’s most valuable player.

But there are some Ohio State fans that persist in the notion that Miller remains an average (at best) quarterback. Part of the downside of playing quarterback, of course, is that the hometown fans are never going to be satisfied. But I still cannot fathom how so many Buckeye Nation denizens believe Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is much more deserving of the Heisman Trophy than Miller.

First of all, Klein is not going to win the trophy. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be announced as the winner tomorrow night with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o a fairly distant second. Still, Klein earned an invitation to New York City and the official presentation ceremonies over Miller and USC receiver Marqise Lee.

Lee was no doubt eliminated for two reasons: He played for an underachieving team that lost five times this season, and he is only a sophomore. That means he can take his nation-best 112 receptions for 1,680 yards and 14 TDs and get ready to pad those stats against Georgia Tech (No. 82 nationally in pass efficiency defense) in the Sun Bowl.

There were likely two reasons why Miller was eliminated as well. The first is that he is a sophomore, and the second was that he played for a team ineligible for postseason play. As a result, Miller got only cursory recognition during the season, and as the race for the national championship heated up, he was hardly mentioned at all.

It didn’t help Miller’s candidacy that his stats fell off during the final two games of the season. During the 21-14 overtime victory at Wisconsin, Miller was clearly frustrated as the Badgers keyed on him to the point that 23 carries netted only 48 rushing yards. His 10-for-18 performance for 97 yards and no touchdowns in the passing department was hardly Heisman-worthy, either.

The following week against Michigan, Miller was much better in the passing game, completing 14 of 18 attempts for 189 yards and a touchdown. But he struggled again on the ground, picking up only 57 yards on 20 carries.

Of course, those are the raw numbers. Dig a little deeper and you will find that Miller’s most effective month of the season was November when he failed to throw a single interception and rallied his team to a pair of overtime victories. Miller was also money with the game on the line. During the fourth quarter, he averaged 11.7 yards per attempt, threw for five touchdowns against only one interception, and had a passer rating above 205.

Then there is the totality of Miller’s body of work for 2012. Does anyone truly believe Ohio State would have completed a perfect 12-0 season without Miller at the controls? Even if all you look at are raw numbers, he should not be penalized because opposing defenses began to sell out just to stop him. The simple fact is that others on the team – i.e. Carlos Hyde, Philly Brown – began to step up their games because of him.

Does Miller remain largely an unfinished product as a college quarterback? There is virtually no disputing that. But 2012 marked the first season he has received any kind of high-level coaching. If he can make the same kind of progress over the next 12 months that he made over the past 12, there will be no way to prevent him from being a Heisman favorite in 2013.

That said, Miller’s 2012 numbers could be difficult to replicate. He broke Ohio State’s 17-year-old single-season record for total offense with 3,310 yards. He became the first OSU quarterback in program history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, finishing with 1,271. Along the way, he totaled six games of 100 yards or more to give him a school-record-for-quarterbacks nine in his career. For some perspective on that last stat, All-American Bob Ferguson and Heisman Trophy winner Howard “Hopalong” Cassady had only nine 100-yard games during their Ohio State careers.

Miller also threw for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns, completing 148 of 254 attempts (58.3 percent). Those are solid-if-unspectacular numbers – although very similar to those put up by Klein. The K-State senior completed 180 of 272 attempts (66.2) percent for 2,490 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also pitched seven interceptions to six for Miller. That computes to one pick for every 38.9 attempts for Klein, and one every 42.3 attempts for Miller.

Add in the fact that Klein (3,380) and Miller (3,310) were virtually tied in total offense, and their teams combined for a 23-1 record, and I fail to see how Klein was so much better that he deserved an invitation to New York while Miller did not.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Dec. 8, 1914, representatives from Oklahoma and Rice attended a meeting in Houston and joined as charter members of what became the Southwest Athletic Conference.

** 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. 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, College Football Hall of Fame icon Glenn “Pop” Warner coached his final game at Carlisle (Pa.) Indian School. The Indians traveled to Birmingham and came home with a 20-3 victory over Alabama. Warner, who also coached at Georgia, Cornell, Pittsburgh, Stanford and Temple, 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 W. 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. 9, 1961, Baylor scored a 24-9 upset victory over No. 10 Utah State in the long-forgotten Gotham Bowl. The game was played in New York City at the old Polo Grounds during a driving snowstorm and featured eight turnovers by the Aggies. Baylor was led by halfback Ronnie Bull, who rushed for 61 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Don Trull, who threw for one score and ran for another. Utah State was led by future College and Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman Merlin Olsen. The Gotham Bowl was only played twice. Following the 1962 game in Yankee Stadium, a 36-34 win by Nebraska over Miami (Fla.) played in 14-degree weather, the contest faded into the history books.

** On Dec. 11, 1971, first and only East-West Black All-Star Game was held in Houston. The contest, which featured all-star teams comprised only of African-American players, featured a 19-10 victory for the East over the West before only 5,156 fans.

** 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.

** On Dec. 12, 1981, Eastern Michigan celebrated its first (and still only) postseason appearance with a 30-27 win over San Jose State in the California Bowl.

** On Dec. 14, 1995, overtime was used for the first time ever in a Division I-A game. Toledo took a 40-37 win in OT over Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Wisconsin is only the second unranked team to make a BCS bowl (Connecticut was the first in 2010) and the Badgers are the first five-loss team to enter a BCS game. It would seem prudent for the Bowl Championship Series to have some sort of mechanism in place to prevent teams with more than two losses from playing in the marquee bowls, but since the BCS is going away after next season anyway …

** And then there is the curious case of Louisiana Tech, a 9-3 team featuring the nation’s No. 1 ranked scoring offense. The Bulldogs aren’t going to any bowl because athletic director Bruce Van De Velde turned down an invitation from the Independence Bowl for a better offer that never came. Tech long snapper Josh Cuthbert promptly qualified himself for Tweet of the year with this gem: “Way to go athletic director #yousuck.”

** It’s a whirlwind kind of season for Rod Carey. The former offensive lineman at Indiana began the year as a junior member of Dave Doeren’s coaching staff at Northern Illinois. After the Huskies’ season-opening loss to Iowa, Carey was promoted to offensive coordinator when predecessor Mike Dunbar was diagnosed with cancer. Then the day after NIU defeated Kent State in the MAC Championship Game, Carey was promoted to head coach after Doeren left to take the job at North Carolina State. That means Carey’s first assignment as head coach will be in the Orange Bowl against Florida State.

** Baylor finished the regular season with six consecutive victories to finish at 7-5 and grab a spot in the Holiday Bowl against UCLA. The Bears have now strung together three straight seasons of seven wins or more, and that’s the first time that has happened in Waco since 1949-51.

** USA Today college football writer Paul Myerberg had an interesting piece in the Dec. 4 issue regarding success tied to pass efficiency. The top 10 college teams in pass efficiency combined for a 91-31 record this season while the bottom 10 were 29-91. Of course, as with any statistical comparison, there are outliers. For example, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin finished atop the Big Ten in pass efficiency but ranked only a respective 44th, 52nd and 56th nationally. In terms of pass efficiency rating, the highest ranked team with a losing record was Marshall (5-7) at No. 27. The lowest ranked team with a winning record was Bowling Green (8-4) at No. 101.

** Pittsburgh began its season with a 31-17 loss to FCS member Youngstown State and sat at 2-4 in mid-October. But first-year head coach Paul Chryst righted the ship, the Panthers won four of their last six games, and got themselves bowl-eligible. That’s the good news. The bad news? Pitt will be playing in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., for the third year in a row. The Panthers took a 27-10 win over Kentucky two years ago and dropped a 28-6 decision to SMU last year.

** Speaking of the Panthers, they will be making their third straight visit to Birmingham under a third different head coach. Two years ago, head coach Dave Wannstedt was forced out and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett coached the team to its win over Kentucky. Last year, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson was interim head coach during the bowl game after Todd Graham left to take over at Arizona State.

** Ten schools have filled coaching vacancies so far with 11 more still searching. The newly hired nine are Gus Malzahn at Auburn, Bret Bielema at Arkansas, Steve Addazio at Boston College, Sonny Dykes at Cal, Paul Petrino at Idaho, Mark Stoops at Kentucky, Doeren at N.C. State, Carey at Northern Illinois, Darrell Hazell at Purdue and Butch Jones at Tennessee. Still in the market for new head coaches: Arkansas State, Cincinnati, Colorado, Florida International, Kent State, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Temple, UTEP, South Florida, Wisconsin and Western Michigan.

** Thoughts on the Bielema-to-Arkansas story have run the gamut from shock to derision. But for all of those who believe the SEC has stolen one of the Big Ten’s best coaches, chew on these numbers. Bielema leaves Wisconsin with a 39-19 record in the conference, a .672 winning percentage. Take a little closer scrutiny of that record and you will find a 25-2 mark vs. Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana and Northwestern, and a 14-17 ledger vs. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Iowa and Nebraska. Bielema was 2-0 in conference title games, but only 2-4 in bowl games, including 0-2 in two Rose Bowl appearances.

** One final thought on the Wisconsin coaching situation. No one should have been surprised when athletic director Barry Alvarez decided to coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl. Likewise, no one should be surprised if Alvarez decides after the Rose Bowl that he himself is the best candidate to be Bielema’s successor.

FEARLESS FORECAST

We finished the regular season in a blaze of glory, going 8-2 straight up and 6-3-1 against the spread. That pushed the season totals to 105-25 SU picks and 68-58-4 ATS.

There is only one game tomorrow and it’s an annual classic.

SATURDAY’S GAME

Army vs. Navy: The pomp and circumstance of the Cadets and Midshipmen marching into the stadium far exceeds the entertainment value of the game itself. Nevertheless, it is a national showcase for a pretty good Navy team and a fairly awful Army squad. Both teams run the ball almost exclusively – Army has completed only 47 passes all season – which leads to the fact that the Cadets are the No. 1 running team in the nation and the Middies are No. 6. Unfortunately for Army, it also ranks 118th of 120 FBS teams in rush defense. That means RBs Gee Gee Greene and Noah Copeland as well as freshman QB Keenan Reynolds will get plenty of carries for Navy, and probably plenty of touchdowns … Navy 31, Army 24. (3 p.m. ET, CBS)

That will do it for the 2012 season. Here’s wishing everyone a Merry Christmas as well as a safe and prosperous new year.

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).

Back To The Graveyard … For The Last Time

Some years, I tell myself that I don’t need to go. Driving past a house where strangers live and then chasing ghosts in a graveyard … Well, that doesn’t seem to be the best use of one’s time. Yet I always seem to find myself performing the same ritual each year about this time.

This year, I looked forward to it more than any other. I didn’t know why until later, after I had driven past the small little white house on Cardiff Road and large concrete expanse of Ohio Stadium. It was uncharacteristically warm for late November in Columbus, and I rolled my car window down as I made my way up Olentangy River Road and turned left into Union Cemetery.

Dusk had fallen and a cool breeze had coupled with the warmth of the day to create a thin layer of fog near the ground. I slowed down just as I passed the entrance of the cemetery as a caretaker waved at me. “Don’t be too long,” he shouted. “We’re closing soon.”

I nodded and waved, then made my way up the small hill and turned left toward Section 12. And there, tucked into a corner between several others beneath a rustling pine tree was the familiar black granite marker at Lot 37, Space 4.

I got out of my car and approached the headstone, always decorated this time of year with mementoes that passersby have left. This time, there were buckeyes and small figurine of Brutus as well as a book of the collected works of Emerson. The pages fluttered in the breeze as I heard a voice behind me.

“You again?”

I wasn’t startled because it was a familiar voice. And I didn’t even have to turn around as an older man stepped forward on my left, a gray-haired man wearing a black baseball cap, red windbreaker and gray trousers.

“Yes, it’s me,” I replied. “I just thought I’d come over and see what you … I mean, I thought I would come over and see if I could figure out what he would think about this year’s game.”

“And what did you come up with?”

“Well, I think he would probably be a little fired up because of what happened last year. I think he would probably be a little fired up because a perfect season’s on the line this year.”

The old man scowled and shook his head.

“You sportswriters are a stubborn bunch of SOBs, you know that?” he said. “You haven’t seemed to learn much from our little visits over the years. With this game, it doesn’t matter what happened last year. It doesn’t matter what your record is. The only thing that matters is the game you’re going to play. That game, that opponent, that moment. Nothing else means a damn.”

He paused for a few seconds and then continued.

“No one ever went into this great game thinking about anything other than the game itself. What are the tendencies, where are the weaknesses? Who can you depend on when things get rough and who shies away from the spotlight? Xs and Os and game-planning, you can do those things until you’re blue in the face. And don’t get me wrong: They have their place. You’d had damned well better be prepared. But you have to know your team. You have to know who you can count on and who you can’t. To my good fortune, I had some outstanding young men who more often than not rose to the occasion in this great game. A coach is only as good as his players and I was blessed with some great ones.”

I nodded and then said, “What do you think of Ohio State’s new coach?”

“My kind of man,” he replied. “Tough, hard-working, not afraid to speak his mind.”

“Sounds like someone else I know,” I said.

The old man squinted through his silver-rimmed glasses. “Don’t patronize me, Son. I never did suffer fools well and I don’t aim to start now.”

I looked down and shuffled my feet sheepishly as he continued.

“The simple fact of the matter is that things are good hands – very good hands as far as I can tell. This great university and these great fans should be proud to have such an outstanding young man as their head coach. They should be proud of such an outstanding group of young men who have turned this thing around. To go from where they were last year to where they are now? That’s quite an accomplishment. You betcha it is. And no one gave them anything. They earned every damned thing they’ve gotten, including respect. And let me tell you something: When you earn respect, that’s everything. That’s something they can never take away. No sir. They can never take that away.

“The greatest thing in the world is Ohio State football. And the second greatest thing in the world is Ohio State beating That School Up North. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. Sixteen times we beat those bastards and there wasn’t anything that compared with the feeling. But when you lose that game, it’s the lowest low you can ever experience. Happened 11 times and it just makes you sick to your stomach. That’s why you work so damned hard throughout the year to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“And then, when all your hard work and all your sweat and all your preparation and all your game-planning come together, when all of that comes together and you beat those sons-a-bitches … well, I don’t care whatever you go on to accomplish. There’s no greater feeling you get than beating That School Up North. None.”

The old man clenched his jaw and looked skyward.

“When I first came here, I just wanted to make sure everyone still understood the importance of this game. With all of the tradition that are being trampled on for the sake of a goddamned dollar, I wanted to stress the importance of just how much The Game has meant to generations of fans – how much it still means. How much it will always mean. There are a bunch of us here, you know, and there isn’t anything any of us wouldn’t do to be able to experience it just one more time …”

A church bell chimed in the distance and we both knew what that meant.

“Well, I have to be getting back,” the man said.

I nodded and said, “I always look forward to our visit. See you next year?”

“I don’t think so,” he replied.

Stunned, I stammered, “Wh-what? What do you mean?

“Well,” he said with a sigh, “it gets a little harder every year. And there are rules.”

“Rules?” I asked.

“What? You think I don’t have to go by the rules?” he said as he leaned toward me.

Then I saw the faint flicker of a smile as the old man reflected on the joke he had just told on himself.

“But there was so much more I wanted to ask and our time always seems so short,” I said.

“Oh, I’ll be around,” the man said. “Like whenever the team runs out of the tunnel at the old Horseshoe, I’ll be there. Whenever that sousaphone player dots the ‘i,’ I’ll be there. Whenever that victory bell rings loud and clear, I’ll be there. Whenever someone in some far-flung corner of the globe yells “O-H!” and someone yells back, “I-O!,” you’d better believe I’ll be there.

“And whenever we beat that goddamned school up north, you betcha I’ll be there.”

With that, he turned and began to walk off into the foggy evening.

And then I did something I had never done before. I ran after him.

“I just wanted to thank you,” I said. “Not just for these visits these past few years, but for what you’ve done for all of us who consider ourselves Ohio State football fans.”

The man stood up straight, clenched his jaw and stuck out his hand.

“The pleasure was mine,” he said. “Always was and always will be.”

OSU-MICHIGAN TIDBITS

** Tomorrow will mark the 109th renewal of what is known simply as The Game. The teams first met in 1897 and have played one another every season since 1918. The Wolverines lead the overall series by a 58-44-6 margin, including a 27-24-2 advantage in Columbus.

** Ohio State actually has a home advantage in the series in games played at Ohio Stadium where the Buckeyes are 23-21-1 against Michigan. OSU was 1-6-1 vs. the Wolverines at old Ohio Field.

** In the last 50 meetings overall, Ohio State holds a 25-23-2 advantage.

** The Buckeyes have won each of the last five games in the series played at Ohio Stadium, their longest home winning streak ever against the Wolverines.

** Ohio State has beaten Michigan in eight of the last 10 meetings for the second time in the series. The Buckeyes also had an 8-2 record against the Wolverines between 1955 and 1963.

** OSU head coach Urban Meyer is in his first season with the Buckeyes. He has a career record of 115-23 in 11 seasons as a head coach, including 0-1 against Michigan. His Florida team was on the losing end of a 41-35 decision to the Wolverines in the 2008 Capital One Bowl. Meyer also faced Michigan six times as an assistant coach, posting a 2-4 record against the Wolverines. He was 1-1 against U-M as an Ohio State assistant coach from 1986-87, posted a 0-1 record at Colorado State from 1990-95, and was 1-2 at Notre Dame from 1996-2000.

** Only four Ohio State head coaches have enjoyed winning records against Michigan – Woody Hayes (1951-78) at 16-11-1, Jim Tressel (2001-10) at 9-1, 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 Brady Hoke is in his second season with the Wolverines. He has a career record of 66-55 in 10 seasons as a head coach, including 19-5 at Michigan. Hoke is 1-0 against Ohio State as a head coach, and 6-3 lifetime against the Buckeyes. He spent eight seasons from 1995-2002 on Lloyd Carr’s coaching staff at U-M.

** Seven Michigan head coaches have winning records against Ohio State. They are Fielding Yost (1901-23, ’25-26) at 16-3-1, Bo Schembechler (1969-89) at 11-9-1, Herbert “Fritz” Crisler (1938-47) at 7-2-1, Gary Moeller (1990-94) at 3-1-1, and Gustave Ferbert (1897-99), George Little (1924) and Hoke at 1-0 each.

** Last week, Michigan completed a perfect 6-0 home record with a 42-17 rout of Iowa. That made Hoke the first U-M head coach to go undefeated at home in his first two seasons since Yost in 1901-02.

** Ohio State is currently No. 4 in the Associated Press writers’ poll while Michigan is 19th in the BCS standings and 20th in the AP and USA Today coaches’ polls.

** Meyer enters tomorrow’s contest with a 23-10 career record against ranked teams, including 2-0 at Ohio State. Hoke has a 4-9 career mark against ranked opponents, including a 3-3 mark at Michigan. He is also 0-2 record vs. teams ranked in the top five, including 0-1 with the Wolverines. U-M lost a 41-14 decision in this year’s season opener to then-No. 2 Alabama.

** Ohio State has already clinched an outright Leaders Division championship. Michigan needs a victory and a Nebraska loss at Iowa today to claim the Legends Division title and advance to the Big Ten Championship Game.

** Should Michigan not advance to the conference title game, it would mark the second year in a row neither the Wolverines nor the Buckeyes had won or shared the Big Ten championship. The last two-year stretch when neither team was involved in the league title was in 1994-95.

** Ohio State is trying to complete only the sixth perfect record in program history. The only unbeaten and untied seasons in OSU history came in 1916, 1944, 1954, 1968 and 2002.

** The Buckeyes could conceivably have had four more perfect seasons, but Michigan ruined undefeated OSU campaigns in 1969, 1993, 1995 and 1996.

** The game will feature two of the winningest college football teams in history. Michigan ranks first all-time with 903 wins while Ohio State is fifth with 848. Texas is second with 866, Notre Dame is third with 864 and Nebraska is fourth with 855.

** This marks the 19th time in series history that Ohio State and Michigan have played after Thanksgiving. The Wolverines hold a slight 9-8-1 advantage when the game has been played after Turkey Day, including last year’s 40-34 decision in Ann Arbor.

** Ohio State enters tomorrow’s contest ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press writers’ poll while Michigan is unranked. The last time a ranked OSU team lost to an unranked U-M squad was 1993 when the fifth-ranked Buckeyes suffered a 28-0 loss to the unranked Wolverines at Michigan Stadium.

** The higher ranked team has won each of the last six meetings in the series. The last time the higher ranked team lost was in 2004 when unranked Ohio State toppled the seventh-ranked Wolverines by a 37-21 final.

** You probably should not expect a shutout tomorrow. The Wolverines haven’t blanked the Buckeyes since that 28-0 victory in Ann Arbor in 1993. OSU hasn’t recorded a shutout over U-M since a 28-0 win in Ann Arbor in 1962.

** Ohio State will pit its prolific scoring offense against Michigan’s stingy defense. The Buckeyes rank 18th nationally in scoring offense with an average of 38.2 points per game, while the Wolverines are 17th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 18.1 points per contest.

** The game will feature a pair of slow-starting teams. Only 65 of Ohio State’s 420 total points (15.5 percent) have come in the first quarter. Only 52 of Michigan’s total of 339 points scored (15.3 percent) have come in the opening period.

** That said, both teams will be looking to score first. They are each 6-0 this season when putting the first points on the board.

** The second quarter is when things begin to liven up for both teams. The Wolverines have outscored their opposition by a 124-74 margin in the second period while the Buckeyes have outscored their opposition by a 139-44 margin in the second quarter.

** Since the two teams met in 1922 for the Ohio Stadium dedication game, a total of 7,857,674 fans have attended The Game. That’s more than any other college football game in America. Sixty-two of those 90 games have been sold out, including the last 43 in a row.

** The Wolverines have 24 native Ohioans on their roster including six starters – defensive end Frank Clark (Cleveland Glenville), center Elliott Mealer (Wauseon), strong safety Jordan Kovacs (Oregon Clay), offensive guard Patrick Omameh (Columbus DeSales), receiver Roy Roundtree (Trotwood-Madison) and linebacker Jake Ryan (Cleveland St. Ignatius). That number would be seven had running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (Youngstown Liberty) not suffered a season-ending leg injury last week.

** The Buckeyes have two players from Michigan – senior tight end Reid Fragel (Grosse Pointe South) and junior defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins (Detroit Southeastern).

** In the previous 108 contests between OSU and Michigan, only 40 have been decided by seven points or fewer. In those 40 games, each team has 17 wins and there have been six ties.

** The Game will be televised for the 46th consecutive year and 57th time overall. The first OSU-Michigan game ever televised was a 21-0 win by the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in 1947.

** Ohio State will wear specially-designed Nike uniforms for the game. The uniforms feature enlarged jersey numbers and stripes as well as more utilization of the color black. Jerseys will also feature seven Buckeye leaves along the back collar and a Block “O” on the front collar. The Buckeyes will also wear special gloves, the same sort of which got the team repeated unsportsmanlike conduct penalties following touchdowns during Ohio State’s 37-7 victory over Michigan in 2010.

** Twenty-one Ohio State seniors will make their final appearance on Senior Day. Due to get their traditional hug from the head coach and high-five from Brutus are Zach Boren, Dalton Britt, Ben Buchanan, Zach Domicone, Reid Fragel, Garrett Goebel, Adam Homan, Travis Howard, Orhian Johnson, Storm Klein, William McCary, Ross Oltorik, Vincent Petrella, Taylor Rice, Etienne Sabino, Justin Siems, John Simon, Stewart Smith, Kharim Stephens, Jake Stoneburner and Nathan Williams.

** The university will also honor members of the 2002 national championship team between the first and second quarters. Head coach Jim Tressel is expected to be among the former players and coaches in attendance.

** Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern. ABC will televise the game to most of the nation with the announce crew of Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Chris Spielman (color analysis) and Quint Kessinich (sideline reports).

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius and XM satellite radio channels 86 and 91.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Nov. 23, 1918, one of the great World War I-era games was played when the Great Lakes Naval Training Station team traveled to Annapolis to take on the U.S. Naval Academy in a battle of undefeated teams. Following a scoreless first half, Navy All-America end Wolcott Roberts caught a touchdown pass from Bill Ingram for a 6-0 lead. The Midshipmen missed the ensuing extra point, but it didn’t seem important as they moved to the Great Lakes 1-yard line on their next possession. But Ingram fumbled into the end zone and the loose ball was scooped up by Bluejackets defender Harry Eileson, who head the other way along the Navy sideline. Suddenly, Middies reserve William Saunders jumped off the bench and tackled Eileson before trying to sneak back to the sideline. Officials ruled that Eileson would have scored on the play, and awarded Great Lakes a touchdown. The Bluejackets then added the extra point and claimed a 7-6 victory.

** On Nov 23, 1957, Princeton knocked off unbeaten Dartmouth, taking a 34-14 victory and claimed the Ivy League title in the process. Princeton star Danny Sachs threw a touchdown pass, returned an interception 40 yards to set up another score and returned a punt 60 yards for fourth-quarter TD to lead the Tigers.

** 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, 1973, undefeated and top-ranked Ohio State played unbeaten and fourth-ranked Michigan to a 10-10 tie, touching off a controversial vote among Big Ten athletic directors over which team should represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes won a 6-4 vote with many believing OSU got the nod because Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin had broken his collarbone late in the game against the Buckeyes and would not have been able to play on New Year’s Day. Ohio State went on to roll to a 42-21 win over USC in the Rose Bowl, but the tie against Michigan cost the Buckeyes the 1973 national championship. They finished second in the AP poll behind Notre Dame and third in the UPI rankings, trailing Alabama and Oklahoma. Michigan finished sixth in both polls.

** Also on Nov. 24, 1973, No. 20 Kansas took a 14-13 win over No. 19 Missouri in the Border War. The Tigers held a 13-0 lead entering the fourth quarter, but Jayhawks QB David Jaynes threw a pair of late touchdown passes to secure the win. The one-point victory allowed Kansas to set an NCAA record by playing their sixth game of the season decided by two points or less. The Jayhawks beat Colorado and Iowa State by two points, beat Missouri by one, lost to Nebraska and Tennessee by one and tied Oklahoma State.

** 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. 25, 1971, top-ranked Nebraska and No. 2 Oklahoma waged an epic back-and-forth battle on Thanksgiving Day that resulted in a 35-31 victory for the Cornhuskers. NU took an early 14-3 lead, thanks in part to a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown by Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers, but the Sooners stormed back to take a 31-28 lead in the fourth quarter. Nebraska responded with a late touchdown lead to take the victory and eventually went on to capture the 1971 national championship under College Football Hall of Fame head coach Bob Devaney.

** 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. 25, 1989, Bo Schembechler coached his final game in Ann Arbor, guiding his third-ranked Michigan team to a 28-18 win over Ohio State. The victory gave Schembechler’s Wolverines their second consecutive outright Big Ten championship, becoming the first team to win back-to-back undisputed league titles since Michigan State in 1955 and ’56.

** On Nov. 26, 1938, Georgia Tech became the first team in college football history to play back-to-back scoreless ties when the Yellow Jackets battled instate rival Georgia to a 0-0 draw in Athens. The previous week, Tech and Florida had played to a scoreless tie in Atlanta.

** 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. 27, 1998, Texas tailback Ricky Williams sewed up the Heisman Trophy with a 259-yard performance during a 26-24 upset of sixth-ranked Texas A&M. Williams broke off a 60-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to break Tony Dorsett’s NCAA career rushing record.

** 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.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** And there were two. Heading into the next-to-last weekend of the regular season, only Notre Dame and Ohio State remain undefeated at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

** For the second week in a row, the nation’s longest winning streak ended at 13 games. Two weeks ago, Texas A&M snapped Alabama’s streak and Stanford topped Oregon last Saturday night. That means Notre Dame and Ohio State are not only the only undefeated teams in the nation, they share the longest winning streak at 11.

** The nation’s longest losing streak moved to 11 games when Southern Miss head coach Ellis Johnson rolled the dice and came up craps against UTEP. The Golden Eagles marched 86 yards for a touchdown to pull within one point of the Miners at 34-33 with 2:48 remaining. But rather than tie the game, Johnson elected to go for the win and QB Arsenio Favor’s two-point conversion pass was intercepted. The Golden Eagles never got the ball back and UTEP closed out the 34-33 victory. Southern Miss has one more opportunity to avoid its first winless season since 1925. The Eagles travel to Memphis tomorrow to take on the 3-8 Tigers.

** Notre Dame is 11-0 for the first time since 1989 and seeks to finish with a perfect regular season for the first time since its 1988 national championship season. The Fighting Irish have had 12 previous unbeaten and untied seasons – 1889, 1912, 1913, 1919, 1920, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1947, 1949, 1973 and 1988.

** To finish off their perfect regular season, the Fighting Irish must get past USC, which is hurting in more ways than one. The Trojans are coming off a 38-28 loss to crosstown rival UCLA – only their second loss to the Bruins in the past 14 meetings – and quarterback Matt Barkley will miss Senior Day at the Coliseum with a shoulder injury. USC holds a 43-35-5 all-time advantage over Notre Dame, including nine wins in the last 10 meetings.

** West Virginia running back Tavon Austin registered 576 all-purpose yards, including a school-record 344 rushing on 21 carries, last week against Oklahoma. But it wasn’t enough as Sooners QB Landry Jones launched his sixth touchdown pass of the game with 24 seconds left to give Oklahoma a 50-49 win. Jones finished with 554 yards through the air, a new school record for a single game. The two teams combined for 1,440 total yards, including 778 for the Mountaineers, the most ever surrendered by an Oklahoma defense.

** Austin broke a bunch of longstanding records with his performance. His rushing total bested the old mark of 337 yards set by Kay-Jay Harris during a 56-23 win against East Carolina in 2004. He also shattered both the school record of 356 all-purpose yards in a game set by Garrett Ford during a 63-48 win over Pittsburgh in 1965.

** Syracuse senior Ryan Nassib is one of the best college quarterbacks you’ve never heard of. During last week’s 31-27 win by the Orange at Missouri, Nassib raised his career passing total to 8,845 yards and became his school’s all-time leader in that category. Nassib has led Syracuse to a 6-5 record, making the Orange bowl-eligible for the second time in three years.

** Missouri’s loss to Syracuse snapped an 18-game winning streak for the Tigers against nonconference opponents. Mizzou is 5-6 overall and 2-5 in its first season in the SEC. It needs a victory at No. 9 Texas A&M tomorrow night to avoid a first losing season since 2004.

** Another quarterback having a spectacular under-the-radar season is Tajh Boyd of Clemson. Not only as the junior QB directed the Tigers to a 10-1 record, Boyd has thrown for 3,367 yards and 33 TDs and added another 466 yards and eight scores rushing. Makes you kind of wonder why a guy who is No. 2 in the nation in pass efficiency and No. 7 in total offense doesn’t get more Heisman mention.

** Boyd was a one-man wrecking ball last Saturday during his team’s 62-48 win over North Carolina State. The junior quarterback threw for five touchdowns and ran for three more, setting school and ACC single-game records by accounting for eight TDs. Boyd also directed an offense that ran a school-record 102 plays for 754 yards, only two shy of another school mark. The Tigers have now won 10 regular-season games for the first time since 1981.

** Speaking of guys who get no Heisman love, how about Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch. During his team’s 31-24 win over Toledo last week, Lynch became the first player in NCAA history to rush for more than 150 yards and throw for more than 400 in the same game. For good measure, Lynch also added a 62-yard punt. The fourth-year junior is currently third in the nation in rushing, third in total offense and 10th in pass efficiency. Lynch has accounted for 4,086 yards and 38 TDs for the Huskies, who have won 10 games in a row since a season-opening 18-17 loss to Iowa. NIU last had a double-digit winning streak in 1964-65 when it strung 11 victories in a row over two seasons.

** Finally, a tip of the cap to John Gagliardi, the legendary head coach at Division III St. John’s (Minn.), who Monday announced his retirement after 64 years as a coach, the last 60 with the Johnnies. The 86-year-old Gagliardi finished his career as the all-time winningest coach in college football history, amassing a 489-138-11 record. Among his many accomplishments: NAIA national championships in 1963 and ’65 and NCAA Division III national titles in 1976 and 2003. His teams also won 30 conference championships, including 27 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles. Gagliardi was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Like a championship contender, we are peaking at the right time here at Forecast World Headquarters. On the heels of a 10-0 week, we were nearly perfect at 9-1 in the straight-up picks. Better still, we picked Baylor to upset Kansas State and that helped toward a 7-3 record against the spread.

The season totals are 89-21 straight up and 57-51-2 ATS and we’ll look to keep our late-season winning streaks going with these games.

TODAY’S GAMES

No. 17 Nebraska at Iowa: The Cornhuskers, who have been Big Ten members for two seasons, need one more victory to advance to their first conference championship game. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes – who have been in the league since 1900 – contemplate a multimillion-dollar buyout of longtime head coach Kirk Ferentz. Iowa has fallen and fallen hard this season, losing five in a row for the first time since 1999 when it dropped its last eight that season. Nothing the Hawkeyes have done for the past month indicated they can even slow down the Huskers much less beat them … Nebraska 38, Iowa 14. (12 noon ET, ABC)

No. 8 LSU at Arkansas: Remember when the Razorbacks were ranked No. 10 in the preseason polls? That was long before the season spiraled into a 4-7 record so far, a campaign that with a loss this week would mean the first eight-loss season in Fayetteville since 1990. It seems difficult to see how the Hogs will avoid that, especially with LSU still hoping out a sliver of hope of playing the SEC title game. The sad truth for Arkansas was that deposed head coach Bobby Petrino took his offense with him when he was fired. The Razorbacks are 88th in the country in scoring, a statistic made even more glaring when you consider the Tigers have the 12th best scoring defense … LSU 37, Arkansas 10. (2:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Illinois at Northwestern: While Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is currently enthralling moviegoers, these two teams will battle for The Land of Lincoln Trophy tomorrow. We mention the Oscar-worthy movie only because it features infinitely more interesting subject matter than this football game. The Wildcats are headed for a second nine-win regular season win in five years while the Fighting Illini are experiencing another losing campaign, their eighth in the past 11 seasons. Illinois leads the overall series by a 54-46-5 margin, and that includes a 38-35 win last season. But if the Wildcats play the way they have been playing the last month or so, there isn’t much hope the Illini has of avoiding their first winless Big Ten season since 2005 … Northwestern 34, Illinois 27. (12 noon ET, BTN, DirectTV 610)

Georgia Tech at No. 3 Georgia: Talk about flying under the radar. No one is giving a second thought to the Bulldogs, who will play for the national championship if they can pick off the Yellow Jackets and then beat Alabama in the SEC title game. Of course, UGA can thank a baby-soft schedule for its lofty ranking. The Dawgs didn’t have to play the Crimson Tide and their only cross-divisional SEC games were against a struggling Ole Miss and an even-more-struggling Auburn. Meanwhile, Tech is 6-5 and always represents a tough out with its triple-option attack. The Wreck, which has already qualified for the ACC championship game, averages 38.6 points per game, good for 16th-best in the nation. But the Bulldogs have won 10 of 11 in the series, mostly by simply outscoring the Yellow Jackets. Look for that to happen again … Georgia 38, Georgia Tech 24. (12 noon ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

Auburn at No. 2 Alabama: About the only thing riding on this year’s version of the Iron Bowl is Auburn head coach Gene Chizik’s job. Just two years removed from a national championship season, the Tigers have cratered to a 3-8 record overall and 0-7 mark in the SEC. To avoid a first winless conference record since 1980 and save their head coach’s job, all the Tigers have to do is knock off the Crimson Tide, which appears headed for its third national championship game in four years. Despite its misstep two weeks ago in the loss to Texas A&M, Alabama still boasts the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, a pretty handy weapon against an Auburn team that ranks 107th in scoring offense … Alabama 45, Auburn 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 6 Florida at No. 10 Florida State: After beating the likes of Texas A&M, LSU and South Carolina during the first two months of the season, the Gators haven’t been the same team since a 17-9 loss to Georgia on Oct. 27. They have strung together three lackluster wins since then to move to 10-1, but lackluster won’t get it done against the Seminoles. FSU’s defense is as stingy as they come, and the Seminoles rank among the nation’s top five units in every major statistic. That includes No. 1 in total defense, something that should get the attention of Florida and its 104th ranked offense. The Gators still hold an edge in the overall series, but the Seminoles have won the last two meetings and expect to make it three in a row … Florida State 30, Florida 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Wisconsin at Penn State: Congratulations are in order for the Nittany Lions putting together a winning season against a stacked deck of player defections and NCAA sanctions. Unfortunately, most of the team’s success has come against lesser opponents. Only two of Penn State’s seven victories have come against teams with winning records. Wisconsin is on its way to the Big Ten Championship Game, and still has some unfinished regular-season business including getting running back Monteé Ball another touchdown to set the NCAA career record. The Badgers didn’t exactly play lights-out last week against Ohio State, but their power game should be enough to take care of the Lions … Wisconsin 31, Penn State 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)

Missouri at No. 9 Texas A&M: The Tigers are trying to avoid their first losing season since 2004 and draw the explosive Aggies in College Station. Redshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel has become a Heisman candidate by accounting for 3,047 yards of total offense and 38 TDs. To be brutally honest, Mizzou has nothing that can counterbalance that. The Tigers have scored 20 points or fewer in five games this season, and all of those have been losses. Meanwhile, the Aggies have topped 50 points four times already and rank sixth nationally in scoring. Watch Johnny Football punch his ticket to New York City at the Tigers’ expense … Texas A&M 42, Missouri 24. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)

No. 1 Notre Dame at USC: We were ready to pull the trigger on another Upset Special when we learned USC quarterback Matt Barkley would miss the game with a shoulder injury. That, of course, changes everything. The Trojans will now trot out backup Max Wittek, a talented freshman who is no doubt the future of the USC franchise. But asking a freshman to make his first start against the nation’s top-ranked team – a team that features the nation’s top scoring defense – is asking a little much. Look for the Fighting Irish to finish off its perfect regular season and then sit back to find out which SEC team it will face for the BCS championship in January … Notre Dame 24, USC 17. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 20 Michigan at No. 4 Ohio State: You can analyze this game a thousand different ways from matchups to Denard Robinson’s throwing elbow to how well the OSU defense can stand up to the U-M spread. None of it really means much as the Buckeyes seek to close out a perfect season. Simply put, the one thing we keep coming back to is that it is Urban Meyer’s first shot at the Wolverines as Ohio State head coach and we just don’t see how he lets victory escape his grasp … Ohio State 34, Michigan 30. (12 noon ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Nebraska (-14½) at Iowa; LSU (-11½) at Arkansas; Illinois (+19½) at Northwestern; Georgia Tech at Georgia (-13½); Auburn at Alabama (-32½); Florida at Florida State (-7); Wisconsin (+3) at Penn State; Missouri at Texas A&M (-16½); Notre Dame (-5½) at USC; Michigan at Ohio State (-3½).

Could Wisconsin Ever Replace Michigan As OSU’s Archrival?

News flash: Ohio State players don’t like Wisconsin, and the feeling is probably mutual.

Wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown would seem to have a political career in his future with this kind of quote: “I don’t want to go on record saying that I hate Wisconsin more than Michigan, but I hate Wisconsin just as much as Michigan.”

Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins was even more to the point: “I really don’t like them, to tell you the truth. I’m sure they probably hate us too, but I really don’t care what they think.”

When did relations between the Buckeyes and Badgers become so strained that officiating crews have often had to set up pregame DMZs at midfield? You can thank the personable Barry Alvarez for that.

I’ve told this story before but it bears repeating. My first visit to Camp Randall Stadium was in 1990, one of the early years during the John Cooper era. That was back when it always seemed Ohio State got within a whisker of going to the Rose Bowl only to lose to Michigan and wind up playing at 11 o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Day in some nondescript central Florida bowl game.

Anyway, I don’t remember too much about the trip other a 35-10 win by the Buckeyes and sitting beside a nice lady on the flight back from Madison. She was a relative of Wisconsin defensive tackle Don Davey, and I told her that Ohio State needed only to beat Michigan the following week to achieve its first Rose Bowl trip in six years. I remember her eyes widening as she said something like, “The Rose Bowl? Really? Heck, we’d settle for any bowl.”

The Buckeyes – as they often did in that era – went on to lose a particularly heart-wrenching 16-13 decision to Michigan, and then they lost to Air Force in the Liberty Bowl in one of the most heartless performances I have ever seen from a football team. But at least Ohio State made the postseason. In 1990, Davey was one of the very few stars Wisconsin had on its way to an 0-8 finish in the Big Ten and a 1-10 overall record.

That marked the sixth consecutive losing season for the Badgers and they eventually ran that string to eight in a row. Then they hired Alvarez and the rest is history.

Alvarez led Wisconsin to Rose Bowl trips after the 1993, ’97 and ’98 seasons and his team won all three games. Since the beginning of the 2004 season, the two winningest programs in the Big Ten are Ohio State (56-14) and Wisconsin (48-22).

And while the Buckeyes have evolved over the past couple of years because of coaching changes, the Badgers continue to plow their ground the old-fashioned way. Alvarez recruited huge road graders for his offensive line, found one dependable running back to carry the load and featured a straight-up defense that relied on playing mistake-free football. Fancy? Not so much. Successful? Absolutely.

Alvarez is but a sideline memory now, accepting a promotion to athletic director in 2006 and turning the program over to Bret Bielema, who had joined the Badgers in 2004 as defensive coordinator. But the beat goes on.

Alvarez was (and still is) a gruff sort who really didn’t give a rip about being liked. He always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder perhaps stemming from the fact that his program didn’t have much of a winning tradition before he got to Madison. Before winning the Big Ten championship in 1993, the Badgers hadn’t won one since 1962. And before winning three Rose Bowls in a row, the team had never won any of its previous three trips to Pasadena. No wonder Alvarez and his fans got so full of themselves.

Bielema seems like the perfect successor. Outwardly, his personality seems to fit a guy who spent his playing days as a defensive lineman, and he has adopted most of the tenets of his predecessor. This year’s starting offensive line averages 6-5½ and more than 325 pounds, making it one of the beefiest in the Big Ten. Their featured back is senior Monteé Ball, a 5-11, 215-pound wrecking ball with 813 career carries to his credit. And the Wisconsin defense, while nothing spectacular, is solid enough to give up only 17.2 points per game so far.

In the recent past, there have been numerous dust-ups between the teams. Wisconsin fans have been accused of hurled frozen marshmallows – loaded with all kinds of foreign substances – toward the field, both teams have been guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct by dancing on the opposing team’s midfield logo, and the Badgers upset top-ranked Ohio State in 2010, an otherwise perfect season that has since been vacated. Those memories are bad enough. Imagine what they would be had the Buckeyes gone on to win the national championship that year.

Then there was the welcome mat Bielema pulled out from under Urban Meyer last winter when the Wisconsin coach accused the new Ohio State boss of violating some unspoken gentlemen’s agreement regarding verbal commitments. Both men now downplay that kerfuffle, but you get the distinct impression the matter is far from forgotten. If tomorrow’s game somehow gets out of hand, don’t expect either coach to take his foot off the gas pedal.

Whether or not the animosity between the two programs is healthy, unhealthy or somewhere in between, you might as well get used to it. With conference realignment, the Buckeyes are likely going to have to beat the Badgers every year (and vice versa) to have a chance to play for the Big Ten championship.

With that in mind, a new generation of Ohio State football fans might grow up believing the rivalry with Wisconsin is more important than the one with Michigan. And although I can’t believe I’m thinking this much less putting it down in writing, that new generation could very well be right.

OSU-WISCONSIN TIDBITS

** This marks the 78th meeting of Ohio State and Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes hold a decidedly lopsided 54-18-5 record in the overall series. That includes a 25-11-2 advantage in Madison. However, the teams have split 13 games at Camp Randall Stadium since 1981 – six victories for each and a 14-14 tie in 1993, the last season before the NCAA instituted overtime.

** Because of Ohio State’s postseason ban, tomorrow’s game features the unique aspect of an OSU win clinching the outright Leaders Division championship for the Buckeyes while the Badgers have already clinched the division’s spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.

** Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is making his first appearance as a head coach against the Badgers, but he was is 1-1 in the series as an OSU assistant coach in 1986 and ’87. The Buckeyes scored a 30-17 win in Madison in 1986 while the Badgers took a 26-24 victory in Ohio Stadium the following year.

** Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is in his seventh season with the Badgers. He has a 67-22 overall record, including 1-4 against Ohio State. Before becoming a head coach, Bielema faced the Buckeyes several times as a player and assistant coach without much success. He was 1-3 vs. OSU as a player at Iowa from 1989-92 and then 0-6 as an assistant coach with the Hawkeyes from 1994-2001. Bielema was also 0-1 against Ohio State as an assistant coach at Kansas State (2002-03) and 1-0 as a Wisconsin assistant under Barry Alvarez in 2004 and ’05.

** The game pits two of the top five current Football Bowl Subdivision coaches in terms of career winning percentage. Meyer’s mark of .832 ranks second while Bielema is fifth at .753. Chris Peterson of Boise State is first at .910, while Bob Stoops of Oklahoma (.802) is third and Gary Patterson of TCU (.772) is fourth.

** Both coaches have excellent records coming off regular-season open weeks. Meyer is a sparkling 14-1 during his career, including unblemished marks of 3-0 at Utah and 8-0 at Florida. Bielema is 5-1 after an off week, including last week’s 62-14 takedown of Indiana.

** Wisconsin will celebrate Senior Day tomorrow afternoon. Bielema is a spotless 6-0 in his previous Senior Day games.

** Bielema is 44-4 all-time at Camp Randall Stadium. However, the Badgers lost their last home game, 16-13 overtime decision to Michigan State on Oct. 27. That broke a 21-game home winning streak for Wisconsin.

** OSU has an all-time record of 12-4-1 playing on Nov. 17 while Wisconsin is 11-3-1 on that date. The two teams have squared off only once previously on Nov. 17 – a 35-10 win for the Buckeyes in Madison on Nov. 17, 1990.

** Ohio State’s current 10-game win streak is tied for the 12th longest in program history. Wisconsin has snapped a pair of lengthy OSU winning streaks in the past. The Badgers ended the Buckeyes’ 19-game streak with a 17-10 win in Madison in 2003, and a 7-7 tie at Camp Randall in 1958 snapped an Ohio State winning streak at 13 games.

** Meyer is enjoying the fourth single-season winning streak of his career that has reached double digits. Prior to this season, he had 12-game streaks at Utah (2004) and Florida (2009) and a 10-game streak at Florida in 2008.

** Counting Florida’s win over Penn State in the 2011 Outback Bowl, Meyer is currently riding a personal 11-game winning streak. That is tied for the third-longest in his career behind a 22-game streak at Florida in 2008-09 and a 20-game streak that stretched from Utah in 2003-04 through his first four games with the Gators in 2005.

** Ohio State has started the season with a 10-0 record for only the 10th time in program history. The Buckeyes also began the 1954, 1968, 1975, 1979, 1995, 1996, 2002, 2006 and 2007 seasons with 10 straight victories.

** As it has been so many times in this series, the game will feature a classic matchup between the irresistible force and the immovable object. Only this year, the teams’ typical roles are reversed. Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten and eighth nationally in rushing with an average of 256.1 yards per game while Wisconsin ranks first in the conference and 13th in the nation against the run, surrendering an average of only 103.4 yards per contest.

** Ohio State is poised to rush for more touchdowns than it has in 30 years. The Buckeyes currently have 34 rushing TDs this season, the third highest total since 1983. OSU totaled 35 rushing touchdowns in both 1983 and ’84. The school record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season was set in 1974 when the Buckeyes had 48.

** You should not expect a shutout in tomorrow afternoon’s game. Wisconsin hasn’t been shut out since a 34-0 loss to Syracuse in the 1997 season opener and the Buckeyes haven’t been blanked since a 28-0 loss at Michigan in the 1993 regular-season finale.

** Penalties could play a major role in tomorrow’s game. Wisconsin is the least penalized team in the Big Ten, averaging only 3.8 infractions for 33.0 yards per game. Ohio State is the most penalized team in the Big Ten, averaging 7.3 flags per game for 67.5 yards.

** Ohio State will undoubtedly try to score as much as possible, but cracking the 20-point mark is imperative against Wisconsin. In 16 meetings since 1992, the Buckeyes have scored more than 20 points six times against the Badgers and are 6-0 in those games.

** On the flip side of that coin, Wisconsin has scored 20 or more points six times in the 16 meetings since 1992 and is 5-1 in those games. The outlier was last year’s 33-29 loss to the Buckeyes.

** Wisconsin has 13 Ohio natives on its roster, including three starters – linebacker Chris Borland (Kettering Alter), defensive end Pat Muldoon (Cincinnati St. Xavier) and tight end Brian Wozniak (Loveland). Ohio State has no Wisconsin-born players.

** Wisconsin has made a bowl game and an NCAA men’s basketball tournament appearance every season since the 2002-03 academic year. UW is the only Division I school that can make that claim.

** Wisconsin senior running back Monteé Ball needs to score only one more touchdown to match the NCAA career record of 78 set by Miami (Ohio) RB Travis Prentice (1996-99). Prentice also holds the NCAA record in rushing touchdowns with 73. Ricky Williams of Texas (1995-98) is second with 72 and Ball has 71.

** In addition to total touchdowns and rushing touchdowns, Ball is the NCAA active leader in scoring (464 points), rushing yards (4,536) and rushing yards per game (100.8).

** OSU sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller has 1,166 yards rushing this season, the fourth highest single-season rushing total for a quarterback in Big Ten history. Denard Robinson of Michigan set the conference record in 2010 with 1,702 yards, surpassing Antwaan Randle El of Indiana, who rushed for 1,270 yards in 2000. Robinson also has the third highest QB rushing total in league history with 1,176 yards last season.

** Miller currently occupies 27th place on Ohio State’s career rushing list with 1,881 yards. He needs only 33 more to pass Vince Workman (1,882, 1985-88) and Jimmy Gayle (1,914, 1979-82) and move into the program’s all-time top 25.

** Miller is also moving up Ohio State’s career passing and total offense lists. He currently sits 12th all-time with 2,912 passing yards, just behind Todd Boeckman (3,085, 2005-08). Miller’s 4,793 yards of total offense is also 12th all-time with Craig Krenzel (5,097, 2000-03) currently in 11th place.

** OSU junior tailback Carlos Hyde is rapidly ascending the school’s career rushing ladder. With 1,444 yards, Hyde is currently tied with George Cooper (1984-87) for 38th place.

** OSU junior receiver Corey “Philly” Brown needs seven more catches to crack the school’s all-time top 25 in career receptions. Brown currently has 70 catches for 836 yards and four touchdowns.

** OSU sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier leads the team with 98 tackles and is seeking to become the first Buckeye sophomore to crack the century mark in a single season since James Laurinaitis in 2006.

** OSU senior defensive lineman John Simon currently has 39 career tackles for loss and 16½ career sacks. Simon is tied with Eric Kumerow (1984-87) and Na’il Diggs (1997-99) for ninth place in school history in tackles for loss, and he is in 12th place in career sacks. Simon needs one more sack to tie Andy Katzenmoyer (1996-98) and Rodney Bailey (1997-2000) for 10th place all-time.

** Ohio State has been compiling stats on pass breakups only since 1983, but sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby is within one of the Buckeyes’ single-season mark in that category. Roby has 16 PBUs this year, trailing only Ahmed Plummer, who had 17 during the 1998 season.

** As a team, the Buckeyes are poised to establish a new season record for PBUs. They have 67 so far, just one behind the mark of 68 set during the 2002 national championship season.

** This week’s kickoff is set for shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. That is 2:30 p.m. Madison time if you’re traveling to the game. ABC will handle the telecast using the reverse mirror method with ESPN2. Joe Tessitore (play-by-play), Matt Millen (color analysis) and Quint Kessinich (sideline reports) make up the announce crew.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius and XM satellite radio channel 91.

** Next week, Ohio Stadium will host the 109th renewal of The Game. Ohio State will host Michigan beginning shortly after 12 noon Eastern, a contest to be televised nationally by ABC.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Nov. 16, 1872, Yale played its first-ever football game, beating Columbia by a 3-0 score.

** On Nov. 16, 1940, No. 2 Cornell scored on a last-second touchdown pass to score a 6-3 victory over Dartmouth and extend the Big Red’s winning streak to 19 games. However, after a review of the game tape, officials determined the game-winning score had come after a fourth-down incompletion by Cornell and that Dartmouth should have taken over on downs. Cornell president Edmund E. Day, athletics director Jim Lynah and future College Football Hall of Fame coach Carl Snavely offered to concede the game, an offer Dartmouth accepted, and the contest went into the record books as a 3-0 victory for the Big Green.

** On Nov. 16, 1957, Notre Dame stopped Oklahoma’s NCAA-record winning streak at 47 games with a 7-0 victory over the Sooners in Norman.

** On Nov. 16, 1991, BYU and San Diego State combined to score 104 points, but finished deadlocked at 52-52, the highest-scoring tie in NCAA history.

** On Nov. 16, 1996, Washington running back Corey Dillon set an NCAA record with 305 total yards in one quarter – 222 rushing and 83 receiving – during his team’s 53-10 win over San Jose State. Dillon’s 222 rushing yards also established a new NCAA record for rushing yards in one quarter.

** On Nov. 17, 1906, Kansas took an 8-6 victory over Nebraska, beginning what was the longest continuous Division I-A series, one that unfortunately ended in 2010. The Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten the following season.

** On Nov. 17, 1923, Kansas City University lost a 131-0 decision to St. Mary’s (Kan.), capping a winless 0-6 season during which KCU was outscored by a 623-0 margin.

** On Nov. 17, 1956, Syracuse halfback Jim Brown set an NCAA record for single-game scoring, accounting for 43 points (rushing for six touchdowns and kicking seven PATs) during a 61-7 win over Colgate. Brown’s record stood until 1990 and still stands third all-time.

** On Nov. 17, 1990, Stanford erased a 25-18 deficit in the final 12 seconds to score a 27-25 victory over California in Berkeley. The Cardinal scored a touchdown with 0:12 showing on the clock to make it 25-24, but then missed a two-point conversion try. Cal fans couldn’t control themselves and stormed the field, resulting in a delay-of-game penalty. Stanford recovered the ensuing onside kick, a roughing-the-passer penalty on the next play moved the ball to the Cal 22, and Cardinal PK John Hopkins won the game on a 39-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.

** On Nov. 18, 1939, Iowa halfback Nile Kinnick sewed up the Heisman Trophy with a superlative performance during a 13-9 win over No. 20 Minnesota. With the 15th-ranked Hawkeyes trailing 9-0 in the fourth quarter, Kinnick threw touchdown passes of 45 and 28 yards and then sealed the win with an interception in the game’s final minute. Kinnick went on to win the 1939 Heisman, beating runner-up Tom Harmon of Michigan by 246 votes in the final balloting. Harmon would go on to win the 1940 Heisman.

** On Nov. 18, 1961, College and Pro Football Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen led Utah State to a 17-6 win over intrastate rival Utah in Salt Lake City. The win moved Utah State to 9-0-1 for the season, the Aggies’ best record in program history and their only undefeated regular season since 1936.

** On Nov. 18, 1978, Oklahoma running back Billy Sims rushed for 209 yards during a 62-7 win over Oklahoma State and broke the Big Eight’s single-season rushing record in the process.

** On Nov. 18, 1995, Wake Forest quarterback Rusty LaRue established an NCAA record for most pass completions during a three-game span when he connected 50 times for a school-record 545 yards during his team’s 52-23 loss to North Carolina State. Coupled with performances the previous two weeks vs. Duke and Georgia Tech, LaRue completed 146 of 210 attempts (69.5 percent) for 1,524 yards during the record-setting three-game stretch.

** On Nov. 19, 1966, top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State played to a 10-10 tie in East Lansing, a contest that has often been called “The Game of the Century.” Fighting Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty was knocked out of the game in the first quarter after getting sacked by Spartans defensive lineman Bubba Smith, and starting Notre Dame running back Nick Eddy missed the entire game after hurting his shoulder getting off the train in East Lansing. The Irish had the ball on their own 30-yard line with 1:10 to go in the game, but head coach Ara Parseghian chose to run out the clock, preserving the tie and his team’s No. 1 ranking. Notre Dame went on to win the 1966 national championship while Michigan State finished second.

** On Nov. 19, 1983, Oregon and Oregon State battled to a 0-0 tie in Eugene, the last scoreless tie in NCAA history due to the institution of overtime beginning in 1994.

** On Nov. 20, 1976, Kentucky took a 7-0 victory over Tennessee and marked its first victory in Knoxville in a dozen years. Running back Greg Woods raced 68 yards with a pass from QB Derrick Ramsey for the only score in the game, and clinched the Wildcats’ first bowl bid since 1952.

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

** Also on Nov. 20, 1982, Stanford band members spilled onto the field to celebrate what they believed was an upset victory over California. As time expired, however, the Golden Bears used five lateral passes while weaving through the Cardinal band to score a touchdown as Kevin Moen mowed down a Stanford trombone player in the end zone. After five minutes of deliberation, officials awarded Cal the 25-20 victory, resulting in one of the most unorthodox victories in college football history.

** On Nov. 20, 1999, TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson set the NCAA single-game rushing record when he carried 43 times for 406 yards during a 52-24 win over UTEP in Fort Worth. Tomlinson’s 287 second-half yards also tied an NCAA record for rushing yards in one half.

** On Nov. 21, 1981, BYU tight end Gordon Hudson set an NCAA record for tight ends with 259 receiving yards during a 56-28 win over Utah.

** On Nov. 21, 1992, Washington State QB Drew Bledsoe threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns during a snowstorm in Pullman, leading the Cougars to a 42-23 upset of fifth-ranked Washington.
** On Nov. 22, 1875, Harvard took a 4-0 victory over Yale in the first-ever meeting of the Ivy League schools. They will celebrate their 128th meeting on Saturday.

** On Nov. 22, 1958, Pacific succeeded on an NCAA-record seven two-point conversions in nine attempts during a 68-17 victory over San Diego State.

** On Nov. 22, 1969, Michigan defensive back Barry Pierson returned a punt for a touchdown and intercepted three passes as the No. 12 Wolverines shocked defending national champion Ohio State with a 24-12 upset in Ann Arbor. It was the opening game in what became known as the legendary “Ten-Year War” between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

** On Nov. 22, 2003, Utah scored a 3-0 victory over BYU, ending the Cougars’ NCAA record of 361 consecutive games without being shut out. Utes kicker Bryan Borreson kicked a 41-yard field goal to account for the only points in a game buffeted by blustery winds and frequent snow squalls.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Only four unbeaten teams remain at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. In alphabetical order, they are Kansas State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oregon.

** For what it’s worth, here are the combined records of the opponents already vanquished by the aforementioned undefeated teams: Kansas State (49-48), Notre Dame (54-45), Ohio State (47-54) and Oregon (48-54).

** When Alabama was toppled by Texas A&M, that ended the nation’s longest winning streak at 13 games. Oregon now owns the nation’s longest win streak. The Ducks have won 13 in a row.

** The nation’s longest losing streak is now 10 after Southern Miss went to SMU last weekend and came home with a 34-6 loss. The Golden Eagles, who came into this year with a streak of 18 consecutive winning seasons, have been outscored this season by a 378-179 margin. Southern Miss has not gone winless for an entire season since finishing 0-6 in 1925.

** Notre Dame is now 10-0 for the first time since 1993, and with a win tomorrow against 5-5 Wake Forest, the Fighting Irish can move to 11-0 for the first time since the 1989 national championship season. Notre Dame has better not get caught looking ahead to its season finale Nov. 24 at USC, however. The Irish squeezed out only a 24-17 decision at Wake last year, and five of their six home victories this season have come by seven points or fewer.

** Congratulations to Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, who notched his 146th career victory at OU with his team’s 42-34 win over Baylor last week. Stoops moved into second play on the school’s all-time victories list, passing legendary Bud Wilkinson, who was 145-29-4 with three national championships from 1947-63. Barry Switzer is Oklahoma’s all-time winningest coach with 157 victories from 1973-88.

** By the time you read this, Tennessee may have already fired head coach Derek Dooley. The Volunteers dropped to 0-6 in the SEC after last weekend’s 51-48 loss in four overtimes to Missouri, and need victories over Vanderbilt and Kentucky to avoid a third consecutive losing season. Tennessee hasn’t had three straight losing seasons since 1909-11.

** No one should have been surprised the Volunteers and Tigers played four overtimes last weekend. Tennessee and Missouri went into the game tied for the most all-time overtime victories with 10 each.

** Nebraska is quickly gaining attention as the Cardiac Cornhuskers. In the past seven weeks, NU has wiped out double-digit second-half deficits four times to stay in line for a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game. It all started Sept. 29 when the Huskers crawled out of a 27-10 hole with 10:29 to go in the third quarter to beat Wisconsin, 30-27. Three weeks later at Northwestern, NU pulled out a 29-28 win after trailing 28-16 with 8:31 left in the fourth quarter. Two weeks ago, Nebraska erased a 24-14 deficit with 14:20 remaining for a 28-24 win over Michigan State. And last week, the Huskers came back from a 20-6 halftime deficit to beat Penn State, 32-23.

** The ACC got in on the scoring show last Saturday when Georgia Tech scored a 68-50 victory over North Carolina. It was the highest scoring game in league history, surpassing the old mark set in 1968 when Virginia posted a 63-47 win over Tulane. The Yellow Jackets established a new single-game school record for most points scored in an ACC game, but the 68-point effort was a far cry from the all-time school mark. That was established in 1916 when Georgia Tech rolled to a 222-0 win over Cumberland.

** Before you anoint Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as the new Heisman Trophy frontrunner, you might want to know there is another redshirt freshman quarterback with better passing stats. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is currently the nation’s leader in pass efficiency, having completed 180 of 251 attempts (71.7 percent) for 2,164 yards, 28 TDs and five INTs. Manziel is 227 of 336 (67.6 percent) for 2,780 yards, 18 TDs and six INTs. Where Manziel has an edge over Mariota is the rushing department. A&M’s redshirt freshman QB has run for 1,014 yards and 15 TDs while Oregon’s has 516 yards and three touchdowns.

** Speaking of freshmen, Duke Johnson of Miami (Fla.) had a memorable game last weekend. The true freshman from Norland High School in Miami rushed for 150 yards, returned kicks for another 214 yards and threw an 8-yard touchdown pass for the Hurricanes. Unfortunately, Johnson’s big game was overshadowed by another defensive meltdown for Miami. The Hurricanes blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and eventually dropped a 41-40 decision at Virginia.

** Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey set a new single-game Pac-12 rushing record with 366 yards during the Wildcats’ 56-31 win over Colorado. The old conference mark of 357 yards had been held by Rueben Mayes of Washington State since 1984. Carey, who also tied a Pac-12 record with five rushing TDs in the game, shattered the old Arizona State single-game mark of 288 set by Trung Canidate against Arizona State in 1998.

** Massachusetts celebrated its first victory as FBS members last weekend with a 22-14 win over Akron. The Zips are experienced a rough ride in their first season under head coach Terry Bowden, who entered 2012 with a career mark of 140-62-2. With the loss to UMass, Akron dipped to 1-10 this season and is a lowly 3-32 since the beginning of the 2010 season.

** The first two official bowl invitations have been extended and accepted. Navy will play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, set to be played Dec. 29 in San Francisco. The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl is in its 11th year of existence and fourth incarnation. It began in 2002 as the San Francisco Bowl and has also been known as the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl (2002-03) and the Emerald Bowl (2004-09). Meanwhile, BYU will play in the eighth annual San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, scheduled for Dec. 20 in San Diego.

** If you have been reading this blog in recent weeks, you know that we have talked about Louisiana Tech QB Colby Cameron. Now, it seems Cameron is getting the tiniest bit of Heisman hype. It’s about time. Cameron has thrown 419 consecutive passes without an interception and has thrown for 3,283 yards and 27 TDs in leading the Bulldogs to a 9-1 record so far.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Everyone had last week off at Forecast Headquarters, resting on the laurels of a 10-0 week in the straight-up picks to kick off November. Against the spread wasn’t quite as good at 5-5, but we return from the layoff tanned, rested and ready to build on season totals of 80-20 straight up and 50-48-2 ATS.

Here are the games we’ll be watching this weekend.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 25 Kent State at Bowling Green: Our old pal Darrell Hazell is having a special season in Kent. The Golden Flashes have secured their first winning season since 2001, are ranked for the first time since 1973, and are working on a school-record eight-game winning streak. This week, they put all of that on the line – not to mention a potential MAC East title – against the Falcons, who are on a six-game winning streak of their own. The game should be a good one with Kent featuring the nation’s No. 15 rushing offense against BG’s run defense that ranks first in the MAC and 14th nationally. We would love to pick the Flashes, but close games usually go to the defense – especially if its the home team with the better D. Also, Kent is going for a third straight win over the Falcons, something it has never accomplished in series history that dates back to 1920 … Bowling Green 23, Kent State 20. (12 noon ET, ESPN3)

Iowa at No. 23 Michigan: QB Devin Gardner is getting more and more comfortable as Denard Robinson’s replacement, and that is good news for the Wolverines since Robinson has a nerve problem in his throwing elbow and could be sidelined for the rest of the season. Not that it should matter much this week against the underachieving Hawkeyes. The Fighting Ferentzes have shown little fight during a four-game losing streak that included their first losses to Indiana and Purdue since 2007. Iowa hasn’t experienced a five-game losing streak since 2000, but there is no indication from the way the Hawkeyes have played over the last month that they can put an end to their losing. Besides, Iowa ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten in most offensive categories, while the Wolverines are second in the conference in total defense and third in fewest points allowed. The Hawkeyes typically play U-M tough, but it just doesn’t seem like an upset is in the cards  … Michigan 31, Iowa 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

Western Carolina at No. 4 Alabama: Traveling to Tuscaloosa wasn’t going to be any picnic for the Catamounts under normal circumstances. Now, they have to face a bunch of angry Alabama players still stinging from last week’s upset loss to Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide still has a path to the national championship game – albeit much more difficult than this time last week – and Football Championship Subdivision member Western Carolina shouldn’t be much more than a speed bump. The Catamounts rank 120th out of 122 FCS schools in total defense and are on a nine-game losing streak during which they have surrendered an average of 42.9 points per game. In other words, it is a classic get-well game for the Tide … Alabama 56, Western Carolina 7. (12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network, DirectTV 788)

Jacksonville State at No. 7 Florida: The bad news for the Gators is that they will be without starting QB Jeff Driskel, who turned an ankle during last week’s too-close-for-comfort 27-20 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. The good news is that Florida’s opponent this week ranks 108th in total defense among FCS schools, so it might not matter who is under center for the Gators. The Gamecocks have a pretty good offensive attack with QB Marques Ivory (1,908 yards, 16 TDs) and RBs DaMarcus James and Washaun Ealey (1,555 yards, 16 TDs). But the Gators are working on a streak of 50 consecutive wins against non-BCS opponents, and they have never lost to an FCS school. Don’t expect either of those streaks to end this week … Florida 38, Jacksonville State 14. (1 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan, DirectTV 790)

Georgia Southern at No. 5 Georgia: The Bulldogs can afford to do a little celebrating this week, stepping out of conference play to host the FCS Eagles. Georgia clinched its spot in the SEC title game with last week’s 38-0 shutout of Auburn, and could sneak its way into the national championship picture with a little help. Still, UGA would do well to keep its focus on Southern, a team that sits at No. 6 in the country in the old Division I-AA rankings. The Eagles feature a triple-option attack that averages better than 400 yards per game on the ground, a spot where the Bulldogs have been susceptible at times this year. No one believes Southern can engineer the upset, but the home team had better not get caught napping, either … Georgia 41, Georgia Southern 24. (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan, DirectTV 792)

Wake Forest at No. 3 Notre Dame: It seems likely the Demon Deacons can go into South Bend – on Senior Day, no less – and ruin the hopes of the Fighting Irish for an undefeated season. At 5-5, Wake needs a win this week and/or next against Vanderbilt to get to a bowl and end a string of three straight losing seasons. Notre Dame, of course, has bigger fish to fry and could be looking ahead to next week’s regular-season finale at USC. Still, it’s difficult to imagine the offensively-challenged Deacons pulling off the upset. Wake ranks 106th in the country in scoring offense while the Irish have the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense. Look for the Domers to make a statement … Notre Dame 38, Wake Forest 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Sam Houston State at No. 9 Texas A&M: So much for flying under the radar. The Aggies and redshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel stepped firmly into the spotlight last week, going into Tuscaloosa and coming home with a 29-24 upset over defending national champion Alabama. A&M bolstered its chances for a BCS at-large berth, Manziel is suddenly everyone’s darling for the Heisman Trophy, and first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin jumped to the top of the list for national coach of the year. This week, the Aggies return home to face the FCS Bearkats, who are no slouch. They have already clinched a share of a second straight conference title and have won seven games in a row, outscoring their opponents by a 264-34 margin during that stretch. Of course, they haven’t seen anything like Manziel … Texas A&M 45, Sam Houston State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan, DirectTV 789)

Minnesota at No. 16 Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have turned late comebacks into an air form lately, erasing double-digit deficits four times over the past seven weeks to stay on track for a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game opposite Wisconsin. This week, NU doesn’t figure to need a comeback against a team its has beaten 15 straight times. The Golden Gophers are experiencing a bit of a renaissance under second-year head coach Jerry Kill. They are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2009, and have won two of their last three. Minnesota still isn’t quite on par offensively with the Cornhuskers, however, and Goldy really has no answer for Nebraska’s one-two punch of QB Taylor Martinez and RB Ameer Abdullah. A couple of other things that tilt this one NU’s way – the Gophers have lost 23 of their last 24 against ranked opponents and haven’t beaten one on the road since 2005 … Nebraska 38, Minnesota 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN, DirectTV 610)

No. 2 Kansas State at Baylor: The Wildcats would do well not to look past this game to the Dec. 1 season finale against Texas. The Bears are laying in wait to do to K-State exactly what Texas A&M did to Alabama last week. Baylor might not have RG-3 at the controls any more, but the Bears still boast the nation’s No. 2 passing attack behind QB Nick Florence (3,191 yards, 25 TDs) and WR Terrance Williams (77 catches, 1,431 yards, 10 TDs). Additionally, Waco has not been very friendly to the Wildcats in recent years. They have lost on their last two trips to the Floyd, and even last year’s home win over the Bears was a 36-35 accomplished only with a fourth-quarter rally. We haven’t been too good with the Upset Specials this season, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop picking them … Baylor 34, Kansas State 31. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

No. 6 Ohio State at Wisconsin: There are compelling reasons why oddsmakers favor the Badgers. Wisconsin has won 44 of 48 home games under head coach Bret Bielema, OSU has come home losers on three of its last four trips to Madison, and its Senior Day at Camp Randall with running back Monteé Ball poised to become college football’s all-time leader in touchdowns. Additionally, the Buckeyes are trying to close out an unblemished season, an accomplishment so difficult it has been done only five times in program history. Yet, we can’t get last year’s game out of our minds. Most people only remember Braxton Miller’s game-winning 40-yard heave to Devin Smith in the final minute, but the Buckeyes outplayed the Badgers in nearly every phase of the game. Most fans forget Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson threw for a pair of touchdowns to erase what had been a 26-14 OSU lead with 4:39 remaining and give the Badgers a 28-26 lead with 1:18 to play. Russell’s absence coupled with the Buckeyes’ ability to stop the run makes the difference … Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 27. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Kent State at Bowling Green (-2½); Iowa (+20) at Michigan; Western Carolina at Alabama (NL); Jacksonville State at Florida (NL); Georgia Southern at Georgia (NL); Wake Forest at Notre Dame (-22); Sam Houston State at Texas A&M (NL); Minnesota (+20) at Nebraska; Kansas State at Baylor (+13); Ohio State (+2½) at Wisconsin.

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