You may think Jim Tressel apologized yesterday for comments he made Tuesday about Ohio State fans.
In case you need to be reminded, during his weekly press luncheon, Tressel mentioned some of the nasty comments and e-mails he had fielded in the wake of last Saturday night’s loss to USC. Of his poison pen pals, the coach said, “They’ve got to be some of the most unhappy people in the world, and I feel bad because we just made them less happy. I hate to be a part of making someone less happy. I mean, they’re already miserable.”
I don’t believe for a second the coach was talking about all Ohio State fans. Just the dim bulbs who think it’s OK to challenge Tressel’s coaching acumen, his approach to his chosen profession and probably even his manhood behind the anonymity of electronic mail.
Yesterday, the coach was asked about his Tuesday comments, and his reply was, “My dad taught me a long time ago, you’ll have a thousand chances to keep your mouth shut. Use every one of them.”
Later he added, “No one could have better fans than we do, and if anyone was half as miserable as we were on Sunday (and) Monday, I could understand them being miserable.”
A tinge of regret for what he said on Tuesday? Perhaps. An apology? I hope not because Tressel has nothing for which to apologize.
The truth is that a slice – thankfully a very small one – of the Ohio State fan base is radically fanatical, but that didn’t begin with Tressel.
Wes Fesler was a three-time All-American with the Buckeyes in the late 1920s and early 1930s, a conquering hero on the football field who was eventually enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. But when he returned as head coach of the team in 1947, the pressure from fans and alumni to win became so great that Fesler quit after only four seasons.
There were several times during Woody Hayes’ tenure when the seat under him got especially warm. That was never more true than the spring and summer months between the 1953 and ’54 seasons. In his first three years with the Buckeyes, Hayes compiled a 16-9-2 record and his team hadn’t finished higher than third in the Big Ten. A serious movement was afoot to get rid of Hayes before the 1954 season, a movement abated only by Ohio State athletic director Richard Larkins pledging to give the coach one more season to prove himself. The Buckeyes went on to win the national championship in 1954 and Hayes became a coaching legend. Imagine, however, what the Ohio State football program might look like today had the impatient critics gotten their way.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The whispering campaign questioning Tressel and his program that began following the BCS title game loss to Florida has been ratcheted up a few decibels. And things are getting nasty. Tressel would never share what is contained in the e-mails he receivers, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to figure it out. I get e-mails, too, and I can guarantee you that there is a definite slice of the Buckeye Nation who could only be described as miserable. Their vitriol is exceeded only by the lack of civility with which they spew it.
We shouldn’t be surprised, I guess. After watching the likes of Serena Williams, Joe Wilson and Kanye West fill our television screens for more than a week, we can surmise that if civility isn’t dead it must certainly be on life support.
Personally, I have any number of beefs with the way Tressel game-planned against USC. The fact of the matter is I wonder if he had much of a game plan at all. The offensive attack seemed to have no flow, and there were long periods of time when it seemed the coach was simply trying different things just to see if they would work.
The decision to punt rather than attempt a long field goal in the fourth quarter, the reluctance to put the ball in Terrelle Pryor’s hands – either on a sneak or on the edge – at the goal line in the third quarter, and the sequence of plays at the end of the first half that left USC enough time to drive for a tying field – I take exception to all of those things from Saturday night.
Those are kinds of things we should be discussing – civilly – rather than engaging in a debate only a fringe handful think we ought to have.
As I wrote in this week’s BSB, it is simply the ramblings of a handful of dull-witted know-nothings who suggest that Tressel is nothing more than a I-AA coach, that he won his national championship with players recruited by another coach, and that the time has come for Ohio State to begin looking in another direction.
Get a clue, folks. Tressel isn’t going anywhere nor should he. These big-stage losses notwithstanding, he has accomplished every goal he was hired to do.
Don’t believe me? How would you like to go back to the days of players assaulting one another in practice? How about the days of players registering 0.00 grade-point averages? Maybe you prefer four Big Ten championships spread out over a 15-year period rather than four in a row? How about a win over Michigan just every so often rather than one year after year after year?
There is no way to soft-sell the fact that Tressel has lost each of his last six games against top-5 opponents and that the offensive output in those games has been woefully inadequate. There is no getting around that and I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending there is.
Likewise, don’t insult mine by suggesting the university fire a guy who does everything he’s been asked to do and has done it with class.
** Ohio State and Toledo are squaring off for only the second time in history. The Buckeyes rolled to a 49-0 win over the Rockets in Columbus in 1998. The teams are scheduled to play again in Columbus in 2011.
** Ohio State is making its first-ever appearance at Cleveland Browns Stadium and playing its 16th game in Cleveland all-time. The Buckeyes have an 8-6-1 record in C-town. Their most recent appearance was in 1991 when they took a 34-3 victory over Northwestern at old Municipal Stadium. OSU hasn’t lost in Cleveland since a 30-7 defeat to fifth-ranked Purdue in 1943.
** Following last week’s loss to USC, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is now 28-4 against regular-season nonleague opponents. His record with the Buckeyes is 52-7 against nonranked competition.
** Toledo head coach Tim Beckman is his first season with the Rockets and his first as a head coach. His team has split its first two games – a 52-31 loss at Purdue and a 54-38 victory over Colorado.
** Tressel and Beckman are both products of Berea (Ohio) High School and that isn’t the only synergy between the two. Beckman served as cornerbacks coach on Tressel’s staff at Ohio State in 2004 and ’05 before leaving to become defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State for two years. Beckman’s father, Dave, was also an assistant coach at Baldwin-Wallace when Tressel’s father, Lee, was head coach there.
** The Buckeyes own a 176-48-5 all-time record against Ohio schools and are 25-1 against members of the Mid-American Conference. The only blemish on that record against the MAC is a 12-6 loss to Akron in a game played Sept. 15, 1894, and the Ohio State Fair.
** OSU hasn’t lost to an Ohio school since a 7-6 defeat to Oberlin in 1921. The closest any instate rival has come since was a 7-7 tie achieved by Wooster in 1924.
** Toledo is only 5-13 all-time against Big Ten schools, but all five of those victories have come since 1992. The Rockets have defeated Purdue twice (1992 and ’97) as well as Penn State (2000), Minnesota (2001) and Michigan (2008).
** Ohio State last played a nonconference opponent in an NFL stadium in 2002 when the Buckeyes escaped with a 23-19 win over Cincinnati in Paul Brown Stadium. Toledo’s most recent appearance at an NFL venue came in 2006 when the Rockets dropped a 45-3 decision to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.
** OSU sophomore tailback Dan “Boom” Herron has a nice little streak going. His 2-yard scoring run against USC last weekend marked the sixth straight game in which Herron has rushed for a touchdown.
** The game will be televised by ESPN-Plus and will be available throughout on Ohio on various local stations. For those of you who live outside Ohio, ESPN GamePlan may be your only option. Michael Reghi will have the play by play and Doug Chapman will provide color commentary. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.
** Seventeen outlets sprinkled throughout the country are listed as outlets for the ESPN-Plus telecast. Those include six in Ohio – WEWS (Channel 5) in Cleveland, WSYX (Channel 6) in Columbus, WKRC (Channel 12) in Cincinnati, WRGT (Channel 45) in Dayton, WTVG (Channel 13) in Toledo and WYTV (Channel 33) in Youngstown.
** Ohio State returns home next week to kick off the Big Ten schedule against Illinois. Game time is 3:30 p.m. in the Horseshoe and the telecast will be handled by the ABC/ESPN reverse mirror. That means the game will be shown on a regional basis by ABC throughout Big Ten country while the rest of the country will see the game on ESPN or ESPN2. As they say in the TV biz, check your local listings.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY
** Forty-three years ago today, Joe Paterno made his debut as head coach at Penn State. On Sept. 17, 1966, Paterno led the Nittany Lions to a 15-7 victory over Maryland in Happy Valley. The Terrapins, coached by Lou Saban, made a last-ditch effort to ruin Paterno’s debut but backup quarterback Phil Petry threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter. That victory was JoePa’s first of a Division I-A record 385 and counting.
** Also occurring during this week in college football history: on Sept. 14, 1991, San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk set an NCAA single-game record for freshmen by rushing for seven touchdowns during his team’s 55-34 win over Pacific; on Sept. 18, 1965, UTEP quarterback Billy Stevens established a new NCAA record for most total yards gained in a debut game with 483 yards in a 61-15 rout of North Texas; and Sept. 20, 1986, unranked Miami (Ohio) stunned eighth-ranked LSU, 21-12, in Baton Rouge. The Tigers committed seven turnovers in the game and had a punt blocked as Miami pushed its all-time record against SEC teams to an impressive 8-0-1.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** ESPN analysts may love to bash Ohio State but the Buckeyes continue to be moneymakers for the self-appointed Worldwide Leader. The OSU-USC telecast on Saturday netted a whopping 7.3 rating, making it the network’s most-viewed college football game in history. The game was also the highest-rated program of the night on any network. The 7.3 rating was the highest for a college game – regular season or bowl game – in 15 years.
** From the file titled “At Least They Knew They Were In A Fight” comes this report from USC. Freshman QB Matt Barkley (bruised shoulder) and All-America safety Taylor Mays (sprained knee) were on the limited-duty roster for at least three days. Barkley was injured when OSU defensive end Nathan Williams planted him while Mays was injured on a sideline play when he tried to deliver a big hit against OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Mays says he’s going to play this week at Washington, but look for the Trojans to rest Barkley and use backup Aaron Corp against the Huskies.
** One week after throwing the football all over the lot, the Big Ten reverted to tradition. Eight conference wideouts had 100 or more receiving yards during week one while only one running back cracked the century mark. Last year, the running backs wrestled the spotlight back with six performances of 100 yards or more. They were led by John Clay of Wisconsin with 143 yards in his team’s win over Fresno State. Purdue tailback Ralph Bolden ran for 123 yards against Oregon, and he leads the Big Ten and the nation with an average of 178.5 yards per game.
** Here’s a little trivia game you can play at your next tailgate. Name the four active coaches who are in the College Football Hall of Fame. The answer comes later.
** The Big Ten boasts several excellent kickers, including Philip Welch of Wisconsin, who booted a 57-yard field goal last week against Fresno State. As good as that kick was, it still is only the second-longest of the young season by a conference kicker. Purdue’s Carson Wiggs blasted a 59-yarder in the opener against Toledo.
** Welch’s field goal was the third-longest in Wisconsin program history. John Hall kicked a 60-yarder in 1995 while Pat O’Dea has held the school record for more than a century. O’Dea kicked a 62-yarder in 1899, and perhaps even more amazingly, it was a drop kick. O’Dea also drop-kicked a 60-yard field goal in 1899, giving two of the six longest field goals in Big Ten history.
** Speaking of kickers, Brett Swenson of Michigan State needs only four more field goals to become only the 10th player in Big Ten history with 60 or more career three-pointers. Swenson also needs only four more points to reach 300 points only nine conference kickers before him have reached that career plateau.
** Anniversary wishes to historic Franklin Field in Philadelphia. This weekend, the venerable old facility will kick off its 115th season of football when Penn hosts Villanova. Franklin Field is the NCAA’s oldest stadium still operating for football games.
** Longtime Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Rick Telander recently had an interesting take on major college programs feasting on soft nonconference schedules. He said the small schools serving as sacrificial lambs should extract the maximum amount from their hosts: “Delaware State, a cupcake with a home stadium with a capacity (7,000) that would fit into Michigan Stadium (106,000) 15 times, is playing the Wolverines next Saturday in Ann Arbor and is taking home, for the sad satisfaction of all those whooping, belly-dragging, I-love-to-tear-the-wings-off-flies Michigan fans, $550,000. Not bad, but come on, Hornets – where’s your negotiating skill set? Montana State got $650,000 for lying down in front of Michigan State and allowing itself to be eviscerated. And Western Kentucky (that’s the part near Missouri, I believe) got $700,000 to let Tennessee eat its liver.”
** Here is your trivia answer: The four active coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame are Joe Paterno of Penn State, Bobby Bowden of Florida State, Chris Ault of Nevada and John Gagliardi of Division III St. John’s. The quartet has combined to win a mind-boggling 1,412 games during their collective careers.
The forecast got off to a shaky start, thanks mostly to late fourth-quarter leads neither Notre Dame nor Ohio State could hold. As a result, we were only 4-3 straight up and 3-4 against the spread.
We hope to do better this week, and we’ve got a full slate of games beginning with tonight’s West Coast battle.
No. 10 Boise State at Fresno State: The Broncos have been pretty much unbeatable in the WAC since 2002, winning 54 of their 56 conference games over the past seven seasons. One of their losses was in Fresno back in 2005 when the Bulldogs were ranked in the top 25. A lot has transpired since then – Boise has gotten better while Fresno has perhaps taken a step back. That was never more evident than in last year’s 61-10 blowout on the Smurf Turf. And the Broncos may be even better this season … Boise State 49, Fresno State 10. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Tennessee at No. 1 Florida: Consider this week one in Lane Kiffin’s ongoing education. You may remember back in March when Kiffin, shortly after being hired at Rocky Top, said Florida head coach Urban Meyer was a cheater when it came to recruiting. Kiffin later apologized and received a reprimand from the SEC, but if you think Meyer and his team have forgotten, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I’ll sell you real cheap. Expect the Gators to take Kiffin to school before taking his team out back to the woodshed for a different kind of lesson. I look for Meyer to put his foot on the gas coming out of the locker room and never let up … Florida 64, Tennessee 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Texas Tech at No. 2 Texas: This going to be short and sweet. No Lubbock, no Michael Crabtree, no chance … Texas 45, Texas Tech 24. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
No. 3 USC at Washington: Several teams need to be on upset alert this week and the Trojans are one of them. First-year Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian was formerly offensive coordinator in Hollywood for Pete Carroll, and if there’s anyone who should know USC and how they go about things, it would be Sarkisian. The question is whether he has enough talent to do anything about it. U-Dub quarterback Jake Locker is still one of the best-kept secrets in college football and he could do some damage with his arm and his legs. The Trojans went to Oregon State last year after their win over Ohio State and we all remember how that turned out. Something tells me Carroll will not let that happen again although this is going to be closer than a lot of people think … USC 34, Washington 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)
North Texas at No. 4 Alabama: The Crimson Tide haven’t exactly looked like the No. 4 team in the nation so far, and that probably continues this week. Their season-opening win over Virginia Tech was tidy enough but last week’s 40-10 victory over Florida International was not representative of the final score. This weekend, Bama gets another team from the Sun Belt Conference, and while there should be no upset alert, how interested Nick Saban gets his team will dictate the final margin of victory. North Texas is 0-13 against ranked teams since 1996, and the Mean Green has been outscored by a whopping 297-23 margin in its last five games against top-10 competition … Alabama 41, North Texas 7. (12:20 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)
Temple at No. 5 Penn State: There really isn’t much to say about this one. You have to go back to 1941 to find a Penn State loss in this series. (Contrary to popular belief, Joe Paterno was not yet patrolling the sidelines in Happy Valley.) Since that loss 68 years ago, the Nittany Lions are 33-0-1 in the series and have outscored the Owls by a 122-3 margin in their last three meetings. Temple has had a week off to prepare, but the team might have been working on fundamentals after blowing a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead and losing to Sept. 3 to Villanova. This gets as ugly as JoePa wants it to get … Penn State 41, Temple 3. (12 noon ET, BTN)
Florida State at No. 7 BYU: The Cougars are riding the crest of two huge road victories to get their 2009 season started. Now, they return to Provo to see if they can protect their lofty ranking and an 18-game winning streak at LaVell Edwards Stadium. It shouldn’t be difficult. The Seminoles are but shadows of their former elite selves, losing in week one to Miami (Fla.) and then needing a pair of late scores last week to avoid a monumental upset loss at home to Division I-AA opponent Jacksonville State. BYU doesn’t get enough credit for its defense, which is giving up an average of only 77.5 yards on the ground this season. That doesn’t exactly bode well for FSU, which has a running game that is ranked 99th in the nation. Old Man Bowden will have to rely on quarterback Christian Ponder to get it done, and you remember what the Cougars did to Heisman winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma in week one … BYU 28, Florida State 7. (7 p.m. ET, BTN)
No. 8 Cal at Minnesota: The Bears are one of the sexy picks as a dark horse for the national championship. Before that happens, of course, they’re not only going to have to get past USC, they’re going to have to learn how to win on the road. Jeff Tedford’s team has lost four in a row on the road and eight of its last nine. This week, they travel cross-country to take on the Gophers, who haven’t exactly set the world on fire. Nevertheless, Goldy has found a way to win its two season-opening contests. Syracuse and Air Force aren’t exactly in Cal’s league, though. The Bears, led by running back and Heisman hopeful Jahvid Best, are averaging 293.0 yards rushing so far this season. The Gophers are dead last in the Big Ten against the run, surrendering an average of 175.5 yards per game … Cal 31, Minnesota 21. (12 noon ET, ESPN)
Eastern Michigan at No. 25 Michigan: Are the Wolverines really back? My jury is still out because I don’t think a come-from-behind victory at home against Notre Dame is all that impressive. Still, to give Michigan its due, it didn’t fold against the Domers and any victory at this point in the Rich Rodriguez era is a good victory. The Wolverines had better guard against feeling too good about themselves, though. The Eagles gave Northwestern all it could handle in Evanston last week before losing on a late field goal, and Eastern head coach Ron English – Lloyd Carr’s defensive coordinator from 2003-07 – would like nothing more than to prove Michigan made a mistake when it passed him over to hire Rodriguez. This smells like a possible upset but U-M is 8-0 all-time against Eastern and it’s tough to go against that much history … Michigan 27, Eastern Michigan 24. (12 noon ET, BTN)
Michigan State at Notre Dame: Neither of these teams are where they thought they’d be heading into their annual showdown. Both suffered late hiccups last week at home and are looking for redemption. Sparty’s loss to Western Michigan exposed the relative youth and inexperience of Mark Dantonio’s team while the Irish defense collapsed late against Michigan and remains a work in progress. That doesn’t exactly bode well for the home team since MSU boasts quarterback Kirk Cousins. He leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency and is sixth nationally. The visitor has gotten the best of this series of late, winning seven of the last eight, and Michigan State is currently working on a six-game winning streak in South Bend, the longest of any opponent in the 78-year history of Notre Dame Stadium. Quite honestly, I don’t know what the oddsmakers are thinking about as they install the Irish as prohibitive favorites. I guess it just means this is your Upset Special … Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Northern Illinois at Purdue: I wonder if anyone else out there is wondering if the Boilermakers are truly for real. In their first two games under new head coach Danny Hope, the team skewered Toledo and then gave Oregon all it wanted last week before dropping a 38-36 decision. If you know anything about the Ducks, it is that there are nearly unbeatable in Eugene, so a two-point loss is nothing for Purdue to hang its head about. This week, Hope’s Eternals return to West Lafayette to host the Huskies, who have only one win and one tie to show for 34 previous games against Big Ten competition including a 28-20 loss to Wisconsin in the season opener. The Boilers are trying to start 3-0 for only the fourth time in the past 10 seasons … Purdue 31, Northern Illinois 20. (12 noon ET, BTN)
No. 11 Ohio State at Toledo: After last week’s loss and the ensuing wave of criticism enveloping their head coach, I believe the Buckeyes will do something they haven’t done in quite some time. I think they will avoid looking past a perceived lesser opponent and get the job done in Cleveland. If you’re looking for something else to hang your hat on, understand that the last four times a former Jim Tressel assistant has gone up against his old boss, Tressel has won every time and by an average margin of 24.0 points … Ohio State 38, Toledo 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN GamePlan)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-7) at Fresno State; Tennessee at Florida (-29); Texas Tech at Texas (-17½); USC (-18) at Washington; North Texas at Alabama (-32); Temple at Penn State (-28); Florida State at BYU (-6½); Cal at Minnesota (+14); Eastern Michigan (+25) at Michigan; Michigan State (+10½) at Notre Dame; Northern Illinois (+13) at Purdue; and Ohio State (-20½) at Toledo.
Just so you know, the Buckeyes are 5-0 ATS in their last five road games. Enjoy the games.