Playing the ‘What If …?’ Game

Some food for thought today …

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if Ohio State had beaten Michigan State in 1998?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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