Woody Hayes once said the most popular person in Columbus was Ohio State’s backup quarterback. That was just one more thing the old man was right about.
Just since Jim Tressel has been head coach, the Buckeye Nation has clamored for Craig Krenzel during the Steve Bellisari era, Scott McMullen during the Krenzel era, Troy Smith during the Justin Zwick era and then Tyrelle Pryor during the Todd Boeckman era.
Now, believe it or not, there are those who actually believe it might be better for Boeckman to take some snaps for the Buckeyes in relief of Pryor. I don’t include tight end Jake Ballard since his widely publicized comments were taken completely out of context. I do, however, include the people who criticized Boeckman last year when the team was headed to the national championship game, the same ones who couldn’t wait for Tressel to supplant him with the much-heralded coming of Pryor, and even the loutish few who booed Boeckman when he skipped a pass during the Troy game.
I like Boeckman. Much like Zwick, he has been a good soldier through this entire ordeal while you know it’s tearing him up inside. And despite the cacophony of his naysayers, Boeckman is still a pretty good quarterback. Even this year, he has managed to complete 64.5 percent of his pass attempts and has a quarterback efficiency rating of 121.53. That ranks ahead of such Big Ten passers as C.J. Bachér of Northwestern and Curtis Painter of Purdue.
But Boeckman clearly represents the past in terms of the Ohio State program. Pryor is the present and the future, and replacing him at this point – even for only a few plays per game – would send a terrible message, not only to the youngster but to the team as well. Tressel would be showing that he does not have 100 percent confidence in the freshman QB and that split personality was something the Buckeyes of the mid-1990s could never overcome with Stan Jackson and Joe Germaine splitting time under center.
Tressel has made his choice and fans would do well to content themselves with the fact that the page has turned on the Boeckman era.
Now, as for Tressel’s reluctance so far to utilize all of Pryor’s talents – including stretching the field vertically in the passing game … well, that’s another discussion for another column.
SI COVER JINX
When Sports Illustrated went to regional covers for its annual College Football Preview issue, it simply increased the level of probability that some of its subjects were going to fall victim to the dreaded cover jinx.
Of the off chance you don’t know what I’m talking about, many readers and athletes themselves are superstitious about appearing on the cover of SI. That’s probably because the magazine has featured such subjects as college football players Todd Marinovich and Tony Mandarich, NFL draft busts such as Ryan Leaf and defending U.S. Open champion Lee Trevino the week before the 1969 Open. Trevino then missed the cut.
The College Football Preview in 1993 also took its toll when it featured Florida State kicker Scott Bentley. He proceeded to miss seven PATs in the Seminoles’ first five games that season.
This year’s college preview featured five regional covers with players from Ohio State, Georgia, USC, Missouri and Florida. Each of those teams suffered a loss before reaching the midway point of their respective seasons, and some of the players suffered even more.
The jinx didn’t take long to take effect. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez sustained a dislocated kneecap in preseason camp. Chris “Beanie” Wells of Ohio State suffered a toe injury in the Buckeyes’ first game of the season, and Missouri all-purpose star Jeremy Maclin was forced out of his team’s first game with a sprained ankle. OSU quarterback Todd Boeckman lost his starting job after week three.
Additionally, USC linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, who appeared with Sanchez, have been injured as has Florida receiver Percy Harvin, who underwent heel surgery last April.
Even since the College Football Preview issue, dated Aug. 11, the jinx has been alive and well. Just within the past month, the cover has featured the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Ole Miss football team and the Chicago Cubs with the accompanying headline: “Welcome To The Party.”
CONGRATS TO TRESS
With last week’s victory over Purdue, OSU head coach Jim Tressel moved his record to 79-17 with the Buckeyes. His victory total is now one more than the legendary John W. Wilce, who posted a 78-33-9 mark at Ohio State between 1913 and 1928. Under Wilce, the Buckeyes won their first Big Ten championship and beat Michigan for the first time.
Tressel is now fourth on the school’s all-time wins list and needs only three more victories to move into third place. He trails only Woody Hayes (205), John Cooper (111) and Earle Bruce (81).
Those celebrating birthdays this 17th day of October include: Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and former sportswriter Jimmy Breslin is 78; country singer Earl Thomas Conley is 67; Sixties band Union Gap frontman Gary Puckett is 66; former world-class pole vaulter Bob Seagren is 62; actor Michael McKean is 61 (he portrayed Lenny of Lenny and Squiggy fame on “Laverne and Shirley” as well as lead singer David St. Hubbins in “This Is Spinal Tap”); actress Margot Kidder is 60 (she was Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies); actor George Wendt is 60 (Norm on “Cheers”); former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Steve McMichael is 51; country singer Alan Jackson is 50; film critic Richard Roeper is 49; theater and film director Rob Marshall is 48; “Beavis and Butt-head” and “King of the Hill” creator Mike Judge is 46; former Cincinnati Reds slugger Glenn Braggs is 46; former Saturday Night Live cast member Norm MacDonald is 45; Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry is 42; musician Ziggy Marley is 40; two-time U.S. Open champion golfer Ernie Els is 39; Grammy-winner rapper Eminem (born Marshall Bruce Mathers III) is 36; and musician/actor Wyclef Jean is 36;
OHIO STATE-MICHIGAN STATE MINUTIAE
** This will be the 39th meeting between Ohio State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes hold a 26-12 advantage in the overall series including six wins in a row and 11 in the last 13 meetings. OSU is 12-5 record in East Lansing, and the Spartans haven’t beaten the Buckeyes at home since a 23-7 victory in 1999.
** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 5-0 against the Spartans, including last year’s 24-17 victory in Columbus. The Buckeyes have enjoyed an average margin of victory of 14.4 points in those five games.
** Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is 0-3 against the Buckeyes – losses in 2004 and 2006 while at Cincinnati in addition to last year’s defeat. Dantonio, of course, was defensive coordinator on Tressel’s staff from 2001-03 and won the Frank Broyles Award in 2002 as college football’s top assistant coach.
** During Dantonio’s 20-game tenure at Michigan State, his teams are a sparkling 12-3 when they score first and 11-1 when leading at halftime. They are also a perfect 12-0 when leading after three quarters.
** This marks only the third game this season that Ohio State has faced a ranked opponent. The Buckeyes lost a 35-3 decision to then-No. 1 USC in mid-September and then took a 17-10 win over then-No. 18 Wisconsin two weeks ago. All-time, OSU is 125-101-2 when playing ranked opponents. That includes a 37-40-7 mark on the road.
** Under Tressel, the Buckeyes are 31-10 against ranked opponents, including 10-5 on the road.
** In its last 42 games against teams ranked in the Associated Press media poll, Michigan State is 18-24, but that includes eight straight losses. The Spartans’ last win over an AP ranked team was a 44-41 overtime upset of No. 10 Notre Dame in 2005.
** The Spartans are 6-1 for the first time since 2003 and for only the third time since 1967.
** Michigan State tailback Javon Ringer currently leads Division I-A in rushing touchdowns (14) and ranks second in rushing (158.9 yards per game) and all-purpose yards (201.7). He is also tied for third in the nation in scoring, averaging 12.0 points per game. Ringer leads the Big Ten in all four of those categories.
** Ringer, who is a product of Dayton (Ohio) Chaminade-Julienne, is one of 24 Ohio players on the Michigan State roster. Ohio State has exactly one player from Michigan – safety Aaron Gant from St. Mary’s Prep in Orchard Park.
** Senior quarterback Brian Hoyer is another native Ohioan, a product of Cleveland St. Ignatius. Hoyer threw for 169 yards last week in the Spartans’ 37-20 win over Northwestern, and that pushed him over 5,000 passing yards for his career. Only six other Michigan State quarterbacks before him have achieved that milestone. Jeff Smoker (2000-03) is the school’s all-time leading passer with 8,932 yards.
** The game features one of the best red-zone teams in the nation against one that excels in keeping its opponents off the scoreboard when they get close to the goal line. MSU opponents are scoring at only a 60.9-percent clip (14 for 23) in the red zone, the best mark in the Big Ten and sixth best in the nation. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are second in the conference and tied for 16th in the country at 90.0-percent efficiency in the red zone, converting18 for 20 trips. However, on 10 of those 18 conversions, OSU has been forced to settle for a field goal.
** The Ohio State defense would do well to keep Michigan State under 24 points in the game. Since 1990, the Spartans are 95-27-1 when scoring 24 or more. When they are held to fewer than 24 points, their record is 17-78-1.
** Michigan State junior kicker Brett Swensen has become money in the bank. After missing his first field-goal attempt of the season in the opener against Cal, the 5-8, 169-pounder has connected on 15 consecutive three-pointers. That is a new school record, beating the old mark of 13 in a row set by Paul Edinger in 1998.
** Spartan Stadium opened for business in 1923 as College Field. It was later known as Macklin Field and Macklin Stadium before getting its current name in 1956. The stadium is one of only four Big Ten venues that features a natural grass playing surface. The others: Kinnick Stadium at Iowa, Ryan Field at Northwestern and Beaver Stadium at Penn State.
** A couple of traditions to watch for if you’re headed to East Lansing on Saturday. The Spartans enter the stadium to the strains of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” which is followed by clips from the movie “300” played on the large monitor screen. Another clip from “300,” the one with Leonidas shouting, “Spartans! What is your profession?” is played whenever the opponent is facing a third-down situation. The crowd then responds with “Haroo! Haroo! Haroo!” while thrusting their fists in the air.
** There aren’t too many degrees of separation for the respective coaching staffs. In addition to Dantonio’s relationship with Tressel which began at Youngstown State, Tressel served as Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell’s position coach at Miami (Ohio) in 1979-80. Treadwell was later part of Tressel’s staff at YSU from 1986-91, and served as the Penguins’ offensive coordinator in ’91 when the team won the Division I-AA national championship.
** Michigan State quarterbacks coach Dave Warner also had Tressel as his position coach at Syracuse in 1981. MSU tight ends and tackles coach Mark Staten was a graduate assistant on Tressel’s staff at Ohio State in 2002 and ’03. And Spartans linebackers and special teams coach Mike Tressel is the son of OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel, which obviously makes him Jim Tressel’s nephew.
** The synergy isn’t limited to Michigan State coaches. OSU offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Bollman spent three seasons in East Lansing from 1995-97 coaching the line for Nick Saban. And Ohio State safeties coach Paul Haynes spent the 2003 and ’04 seasons coaching MSU cornerbacks.
** Want even more? Michigan State strength and conditioning coach Ken Mannie earned his master’s degree from Ohio State in 1985 and served as a graduate assistant for the Buckeyes in ’84. MSU director of player development Dino Folino began his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Buckeyes in 1974-75, working under legendary head coach Woody Hayes. And Michigan State assistant athletic director and head athletic trainer Jeff Monroe graduated from OSU in 1972 with a degree in physical education. Monroe spent four years as a student trainer for the Buckeyes from 1969-72.
** Kickoff for Saturday’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. ABC will once again broadcast the game on a regional basis with the announce crew of Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Bob Griese and Paul Maguire (color analysis) and Stacey Dales (sideline reports).
** ABC will employ – or at least will try to employ – its reverse mirror effect for the game. That means if the game is not on the ABC station in your area, it will be shown on ESPN2 – and vice versa.
** The game can also be heard on XM satellite radio channel 199.
** Next week’s game is back home at Penn State and will be ABC’s national telecast. ESPN’s College GameDay crew will be at the game for its 10 a.m. ET broadcast and the game itself will kick off shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** How did Texas sneak up on everyone to become the No. 1 team in the nation? For starters, the Longhorns are probably the best mix of offense and defense in college football this season. They are 32 for 33 in the red zone (27 of those scores are touchdowns) and quarterback Colt McCoy has completed nearly 80 percent of his passes. Defensively, UT hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season. And just so you don’t think Mack Brown has forgotten about special teams, Texas is fifth in the nation in kickoff returns, ninth in net punting and 7 for 7 in field goals.
** The college football season has barely reached its midway point and only 10 teams remain undefeated at Division I-A. Those schools are Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, BYU, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Texas, Texas Tech, Tulsa and Utah.
** After his infamous “I’m 40, I’m a man” meltdown last season, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has proved he can channel some of that intensity into his locker room. The Cowboys are 6-0 this season for only the second time since 1945.
** Upset alert: USC goes to Washington State on Saturday as a 43-point favorite. Remember what happened to the Trojans last year when they were 41-point favorites at home against Stanford? Note: A win against the Cougars would be USC’s 400th all-time conference victory.
** We’ve gotten to the midway point in the season and I’m going to have to start paring down my list of Heisman hopefuls. My frontrunners right now are McCoy.
** From the suddenly pass-happy Big 12 comes this amazing stat: Last week alone, the 12 starting quarterbacks in that conference completed 71.4 percent of their passes for nearly 3,400 yards and 22 TDs against only 11 interceptions.
** Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald will be honored this weekend in Evanston for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Fitzgerald, the only two-time winner of both the Bednarik and Nagurski awards, will be honored as his Wildcats take on Purdue.
** Penn State’s 48-7 pounding of Wisconsin last week improved the Nittany Lions to 7-0, their best start since winning their first nine games in 1999. What happens to Joe Paterno’s critics if his team continues winning? Just asking because you know JoePa has no desire to ride off into the sunset.
** Sports Illustrated recently compiled lists of the greatest coaches and players for its new publication, “The College Football Book.” One of the criteria for selection was that only one player could be chosen from each school. Offensive tackle Orlando Pace of Ohio State was named to the team along with five other Big Ten alumni: running back Red Grange, defensive end Bubba Smith of Michigan State, defensive tackle Bronko Nagurski of Minnesota, linebacker Jack Ham of Penn State and defensive back Charles Woodson of Michigan. The book became available in bookstores and online yesterday, and the entire team roster will be contained in the Nov. 11 issue of SI.
** Those of you waiting for the first Bowl Championship Series rankings of the year have to wait only a few more days. They will be released for the first time this season on Sunday.
** This marks the 11th season for BCS rankings, and the school with the most all-time appearances in the standings since the 1998 season is Texas with 69. The rest of the top 10 features Florida (68), Michigan (62), Oklahoma (60), Virginia Tech (60), Ohio State (52), Tennessee (52), Florida State (50), Miami (Fla.) (50) and Southern California (49).
** Schools with double-digit weeks in the BCS rankings’ No. 1 position from 1998-2007 are Oklahoma (18), USC (15) and Ohio State (14). Florida State and Miami (Fla.) are next with seven each.
** Toledo became the first Mid-American Conference team in history to beat Michigan when the Rockets took a 13-10 win in Ann Arbor last weekend. Before that game, the Wolverines had won all 24 of its previous games against MAC competition.
In case you had forgotten, Michigan currently has a streak of 33 consecutive seasons in which it has gone to a bowl game. After the loss to Toledo, the Wolverines must win four of their last six games just to qualify. Three of those games are against No. 3 Penn State, No. 11 Ohio State and No. 17 Michigan State.
** Did you ever wonder what happened to “Dandy” Don Meredith? The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and Monday Night Football analyst has been keeping a low profile lately, but he will be back in Dallas on Saturday when SMU honors him by formally retiring his jersey number. Meredith was an All-America quarterback for the Mustangs in 1958 and ’59, and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982.
** Twenty-six years ago today, one of the best college running backs money could buy ran wild. On Oct. 16, 1982, Eric Dickerson rushed for 206 of his 241 yards in the second half as fifth-ranked SMU stayed unbeaten with a 20-14 win over Houston. Dickerson, who would finish third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in ’82, teamed with current ABC analyst Craig James to give the Mustangs their vaunted “Pony Express” offense and the team finished No. 2 in the national rankings that season. Five years later, SMU would become the first and so far only school to receive the NCAA’s so-called “death penalty” for recruiting violations, several of which were traced back to the Dickerson-James years.
** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 15, 1988, fourth-ranked Notre Dame pulled off a 31-30 victory over No. 1 Miami (Fla.), ended the Hurricanes’ 36-game regular-season win streak; and on Oct. 18, 1997, Florida receiver Jacquez Green became the first player in college football history to throw, run and catch a pass for a touchdown in the same game as the seventh-ranked Gators took a 24-10 win at No. 6 Auburn.
** In addition to those upsets, this week in college football history has seen a couple of monumental shockers. On Oct. 14, 1939, unranked Duquesne went into Pitt Stadium and scored a 21-13 victory over No. 1 Pittsburgh. Duquesne used the win as a springboard that season, finishing with an 8-0-1 record and a ranking of 10th in the final Associated Poll of the season. Meanwhile, on Oct. 19, 1957, unranked Purdue – winless in three previous Big Ten games – entered East Lansing and shocked No. 1 Michigan State by a 20-13 score. The Spartans helped the Boilermakers’ cause by losing five fumbles in that game.
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