Big Ten Zebras Simply Need To Do A Better Job

Consider this my semi-regular screed on Big Ten officiating on the day before Illinois running back Daniel Dufrene makes his return to Ohio Stadium.

You remember Dufrene, don’t you? He’s the guy who took a simple draw play and ran 80 yards against Ohio State on the Fighting Illini’s second offensive play in 2007. On the next play, Illinois scored a touchdown and went on to upset the top-ranked Buckeyes, 28-21.

Of course, Dufrene clearly lost control of the football when OSU cornerback Donald Washington pushed him from behind, but the officiating crew headed by referee Stephen Pamon made no fumble call. Members of the Ohio State defense protested to no avail and the play was never reviewed.

Pamon and his crew made other questionable calls in 2007 and were even suspended for the final week of that season. Additionally, the Big Ten came under scrutiny for even allowing Pamon to don the zebra stripes … but I digress.

I was under the impression that every play in a Big Ten game was under review and the game was stopped while any questionable call was scrutinized by replay officials. Evidently, I was under a false impression. If an important play such as that one is not subject to review, then I’m not sure why you have replay at all.

In the aftermath of the loss, some fans blamed Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel for not calling timeout at that point and asking for a review but that was ludicrous. Not only did the play occur on the far sideline, college assistants do not have access to television monitors in the press box – and even if they did, by the time ABC replayed the fumble, it would have been too late to ask for a review.

I am not suggesting for one second that the no-call on that play cost Ohio State the victory. My argument is that the replay system was initially installed so that officials could get calls right. In this case, they got it wrong and that was and still is unforgivable.

We always hear about how the officials are only human and mistakes are sometimes made. It just seems that mistakes are made at an alarmingly high rate in the Big Ten. The latest cases in point have come during the early part of this season.

Last week, Purdue offensive guard Zach Reckman was caught by television cameras putting a late hit on an opponent. Northern Illinois defender Sean Progar recovered a Purdue fumble at the end of last week’s game and slid along the turf to preserve his team’s 28-21 upset of the Boilermakers. Reckman dropped a forearm on Progar as he lay prone on the ground, after which Progar’s teammate Alex Kube pushed Rechman off.

Cooler heads prevailed and the situation did not escalate. I know it was the end of the game, but why were there no penalty flags thrown? The Big Ten office obviously thought something should have been done since it suspended Reckman for this Saturday’s game against Notre Dame.

That’s not the first time the conference office has doled out a suspension despite no infraction being called on the field. The Big Ten suspended Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton for one game after he punched a Notre Dame player during the Sept. 12 contest between the Wolverines and Fighting Irish.

Television replays show, midway through the second quarter of that game, that Mouton took a swing at Notre Dame offensive lineman Eric Olsen as they got up from a pile. Later, when the conference announced the suspension, Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez said he never saw the punch and figured that an official would have called any infraction. That is probably the first time I have agreed with Rodriguez.

I realize that officials are not going to see every minute detail that happens on the field of play although that is supposed to be their job. But missing obvious fumbles and failing to see opposing players punch one another? That is simply unforgivable.


Dufrene’s long run against Ohio State in 2007 allowed him to join some elite company. He finished that game with 106 yards rushing, making him one of only 16 opponents to crack the century mark against the Buckeyes during the Tressel era.

The Buckeyes are 8-8 under Tressel when an opposing player rushes for 100 or more yards.

Anthony Davis of Wisconsin is the only player on the list to accomplish the feat more than once and he did it three times, rushing for 103 in 2001, 144 in 2002 and 168 in 2004. The Badgers beat Ohio State in ’01 and ’04, and lost a narrow 19-14 decision in ’02. (Davis was injured and did not play against the Buckeyes in 2003. His replacement, Booker Stanley, ran for 125 that year in a 17-10 win for Wisconsin.)

Garrett Wolfe on Northern Illinois holds the mark for most rushing yards by an OSU opponent in the Tressel era. Wolfe rolled up 171 yards in 2006, but his Huskies fell to the Buckeyes by a 35-12 score.

The most recent opponent to crack the century mark against the Buckeyes was USC tailback Joe McKnight, who had 105 yards in last year’s 35-3 win by the Trojans.


** Ohio State and Illinois will meet Saturday for the 96th time and the Buckeyes hold a 61-30-4 advantage in the series. OSU holds a 26-18-4 edge in Columbus although the Illini have won three of the four times they have been to Ohio Stadium, including a 28-21 upset of the top-ranked Buckeyes in 2007.

** Between 1988 and 1992, the teams met five times and Illinois won them all. In the 15 games since, the Buckeyes are 12-3 with all three losses coming in Columbus.

** The game will mark the Big Ten opener for both teams. Ohio State has a 69-23-4 record all-time in conference openers. Illinois is 46-60-7 all-time in league openers and has lost 12 of its last 13.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel will mark his 300th game as a college head coach on Saturday. His career record is 220-77-2, good for a .739 winning percentage. Tressel was 135-57-2 (.701) in 15 seasons at Youngstown State and is currently 85-20 (.810) in eight-plus seasons with the Buckeyes

** Tressel is 4-2 against Illinois while Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook is 1-3 vs. the Buckeyes.

** Tressel is 7-1 in Big Ten openers, with the only a 33-27 overtime defeat at Northwestern in 2004. The Buckeyes’ average margin of victory in the other seven games has been 24.6 points. Zook is 1-3 in his previous conference openers. The lone victory came in 2007 when the Illini took a 27-14 win at Indiana.

** 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.

** Zook’s career mark as a head coach is only 42-45 but he can boast one accomplishment most of his Big Ten counterparts cannot. Zook has coached his team to victories at Ohio Stadium and Michigan Stadium, and Joe Paterno of Penn State is the only other Big Ten head coach who can claim that feat.

** The Illini have faced a ranked OSU team on 36 occasions since 1942, and the Buckeyes have won 25 of those contests. In the Zook era, Illinois has a 3-12 record against ranked teams. Ohio State is 32-13 against ranked competition under Tressel.

** 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. The turtle was selected because of its supposed long life 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.

** Since 2006, Ohio State has held 42 opponents under 21 points. That is the best mark in Division I-A over that span, one better than Virginia Tech and three better than TCU. The Buckeyes are 39-3 in those games.

** The Illini offense enters the game ranked second in the Big Ten and 13th in the nation in rushing, averaging 247.0 per game. Ohio State enters the game having allowed only an average of 105.7 yards per contest to Navy, USC and Toledo.

** Sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor has played in only 15 games so far as a Buckeye, but he already has six with 200 or more total yards. Last week’s total of 372 against Toledo was the fifth highest single-game total in school history. Art Schlichter has held that record since 1981 when he totaled 412 during a 36-27 loss to Florida State. The OSU career mark for most games with 200 or more total yards is 19, held by Troy Smith (2003-06).

** Illinois senior quarterback Juice Williams needs only 171 yards of total offense against the Buckeyes to become his school’s all-time leader in that category. He needs 1,290 more to become only the sixth player in Big Ten history to amass 10,000 or more total yards in a career. The other conference players with that many total yards: Drew Brees of Purdue (12,692, 1997-2000), Brett Basanez of Northwestern (11,576, 2002-05), Curtis Painter of Purdue (11,511, 2005-08), Antwaan Randle El of Indiana (11,364, 1998-2001) and Chuck Long of Iowa (10,254, 1981-85).

** ABC and ESPN will telecast the OSU-Illinois using the reverse mirror method. ABC will show the game on a regional basis through most of Big Ten country, and the game will be available elsewhere on ESPN. Veteran play-by-play Ron Franklin and color analyst Ed Cunningham will have the call.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channel 123.

** Tressel and Zook will each wear patches on the sidelines in connection with the Coach to Cure MD project. College football fans around the nation on Saturday will be asked to donate to research projects supported by Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, the largest nonprofit organization in the U.S. focused entirely on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

** Next week’s game against Indiana will be the second and final prime-time affair of the year for the Buckeyes. Kickoff is scheduled in Bloomington at shortly after 7 p.m. Eastern, and the game will be telecast on the Big Ten Network.


** Sixty-one years ago today, Michigan head coach Bennie Oosterbaan started his coaching career better than anyone before him. On Sept. 25, 1948, the Wolverines took a 13-7 win over Michigan State in East Lansing, giving Oosterbaan his first victory in his first game as head coach. Michigan went on to finish the 1948 season with a perfect 9-0 record, marking the first time in college football history a head coach had achieved an undefeated season in his first year on the job. The feat has since been duplicated four times, most recently by Larry Coker of Miami (Fla.) in 2001.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Sept. 22, 1956, Notre Dame lost for the first time ever in September when unranked SMU scored a 19-13 upset in Dallas over the third-ranked Fighting Irish; on Sept. 23, 1972, Purdue quarterback Gary Danielson ran for a career-high 213 yards but it wasn’t enough as 15th-ranked Washington erased a 21-0 halftime deficit and beat the Boilermakers, 22-21, in West Lafayette; on Sept. 26, 1992, Hawaii kicker Jason Elam hit three field goals, including a 56-yarder, to help the Warriors to a 36-32 win in Honolulu over BYU; and on Sept. 27, 1986, second-ranked Miami (Fla.) rolled to a 28-16 win over defending national champion and top-ranked Oklahoma. Three future College Hall of Famers were on the Orange Bowl sidelines that day – Miami safety Bennie Blades, Oklahoma tight end Keith Jackson and Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer – but the afternoon belonged to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde. The Miami QB threw for 261 yards and four touchdowns against the Sooners.


** The Big Ten kicks off its 114th season on Saturday with 10 of the 11 member teams opening conference play. (Purdue is odd man out; the Boilermakers host Notre Dame on Saturday night.) Parity has reigned over the Big Ten during the new millennium with seven teams winning or sharing the championship since 2000. See if you can guess the four teams that have not won or shared at least one Big Ten championship since 2000. The answer comes later.

** By going after his fifth consecutive Big Ten championship and sixth overall in nine seasons, Tressel is trying to join some elite company. The legendary Woody Hayes is the only head coach in league history to win at least five straight titles, and he holds the record with six in a row at Ohio State from 1972-77. Additionally, Tressel can join Bo Schembechler and Bernie Bierman as the only conference coaches ever to take home at least six league trophies in their first nine seasons on campus. Schembechler won seven in his first nine years at Michigan from 1969-77 and Bierman won six during his first nine seasons at Minnesota from 1932-40.

** Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka had himself quite a game last Saturday at Syracuse. Kafka opened the game by completing a school-record 16 consecutive pass attempts, and accounted for five touchdowns as the Wildcats lost a wild 37-34 decision to the Orange. In addition to throwing for a career-best 390 yards and three touchdowns, Kafka also ran for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass. He became the first Big Ten player to score passing, running and receiving in the same game since Penn State quarterback Zack Mills in 2004.

** Head-scratching stat of the week: His team’s loss to Washington last weekend gave USC head coach Pete Carroll a fifth defeat against unranked competition in his last 89 games. Carroll has lost only twice to ranked teams in 32 tries over that same span.

** Washington became the fourth team in the last half-century to break into the Associated Press national rankings the year after it experienced a winless season. The others: South Carolina in 2000, Florida in 1980 and Northwestern in 1958. Of those three, only South Carolina was ranked at the end of the season. The Gamecocks finished No. 19 in the final 2000 AP poll.

** Congratulations to North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson, who has established a new NCAA record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception. Wilson’s new record is 329 – and counting – and hasn’t thrown an interception since Sept. 13 of last season during a 27-9 loss to Clemson. That pick was the only interception so far for the Wolfpack junior in 355 career attempts.

** The losses by Utah and BYU last Saturday temporarily derailed the Mountain West’s argument for being included in the BCS. Meanwhile, Utah’s loss to Oregon also ended the nation’s longest Division I-A winning streak at 16. Florida now owns the longest win streak at the I-A level. The Gators have won 13 games in a row.

** It has been a slow climb for Nebraska in its attempt to return to glory. Last week’s 16-15 loss at No. 14 Virginia Tech was the Cornhuskers’ 21st defeat in their last 22 games against teams ranked in the top 20.

** Here is the answer to our Big Ten championship trivia question: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota and Indiana have failed to win or share a league title since 2000. The Badgers won their most recent championship in 1999, their third over a seven-year span. The Spartans last won the crown in 1990 when they shared a four-way tie with Michigan, Iowa and Illinois. Meanwhile, the Gophers and Hoosiers haven’t won a Big Ten championship since 1967 when they shared the title with Purdue.

** The College Football Hall of Fame is on the move again. Situated in South Bend, Ind., since 1995, the Hall of Fame will move to Atlanta in 2012 in the hopes of drawing more visitors. The hall moved to South Bend from the Kings Island amusement park near Cincinnati primarily to take advantage of its proximity to Notre Dame. Supporters predicted it would attract more than 150,000 visitors a year, but it drew only about 115,000 people the first year and about 60,000 annually since. The National Football Foundation notified the city of South Bend in a letter Tuesday that it is terminating its agreement with the city when its current lease ends on Dec. 31, 2010. South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke indicated his city could close the facility before the end of 2010. He added that he was told the facility in Atlanta probably won’t be ready until 2012.

** The nominees list for the 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class includes 18 players already enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. They are Cornelius Bennett (Alabama); Tim Brown (Notre Dame); Jimbo Covert (Pittsburgh); Ray Guy (Southern Mississippi); Steve McMichael (Texas); Sam Mills (Montclair State, N.J.); Jim Plunkett (Stanford); John Randle (Texas A&M- Kingsville); Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State); George Rogers (South Carolina); Donnie Shell (South Carolina State); Emmitt Smith (Florida); Chris Spielman (Ohio State); Pat Swilling (Georgia Tech); Joe Theismann (Notre Dame); Herschel Walker (Georgia); Danny White (Arizona State) and Doug Williams (Grambling).


The forecast isn’t exactly purring along in midseason form. We would have had a better week had Michigan State been able to hold on in the Upset Special against Notre Dame, and if we’d had to courage to actually pick Washington over USC rather than just talking about it.

As it was, the picks were 8-4 straight up and only 5-6-1 against the spread. That gives us a yearly total of 12-7 SU for the year and 8-10-1 ATS. Once again, we’ll try to do better.

Fresno State at No. 14 Cincinnati: The Bearcats are gaining a lot of attention this year, especially for playing a tough nonconference schedule that has already netted victories at Rutgers and Oregon State. The young defense remains a bit of a question mark, however, but UC can answer that one this week as it goes against Fresno State and its powerful running attack. Tailback Ryan Mathews is the nation’s leading rusher, and he totaled 234 last week against Boise State. The question is whether or not the Bulldogs can slow down Cincinnati QB Tony Pike, who has already thrown for 923 yards and eight TDs, and favorite target Mardy Gilyard, who has 23 catches for 265 yards and four touchdowns … Cincinnati 34, Fresno State 24. (12 noon ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Indiana at No. 23 Michigan: Everyone who predicted these teams to be undefeated at this point, please raise your hands. Maybe Rich Rodriguez really does have the Wolverines back on track after last year’s woeful start. Freshman quarterback Tate Forcier has gotten his share of early ink, but it’s the rejuvenated running game that has fueled U-M so far. Tailback Carlos Brown had a breakout game last week with 187 yards and two touchdowns on only 13 carries against Eastern Michigan, and the Wolverines are averaging 270.7 yards per game on the ground. That should make for an interesting matchup since the Hoosiers are 15th nationally against the run, surrendering an average of only 76.0 yards per game. Many assume Michigan will win this game, mostly because it hasn’t lost to Indiana in Ann Arbor in 42 years. I favor the Wolverines, too, but don’t go to sleep on the Hoosiers. This could be a lot closer than most people think … Michigan 27, Indiana 24. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

No. 8 Boise State at Bowling Green: With Utah and BYU going down last week, it’s up to Boise State to continue to carry the BCS-busting flag. And with all due respect to our BG friends, the Broncos shouldn’t have any trouble this week. Yes, it’s a road game far from home for Boise, yes, the Falcons would seem to be better than their 1-2 record might indicate, and yes, BG gave the Broncos all they could handle last year on the Smurf Turf before falling by a 20-7 score. Boise State should be able to stuff Bowling Green’s run game – like everyone else so far this year – and create some turnovers in the passing game … Boise State 37, Bowling Green 13  (7 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Ball State at Auburn: If you wonder what happened to the Cardinals – last year’s MAC runners-up – the cold, hard truth is there wasn’t much left over after head coach Brady Hoke and quarterback Nate Davis left. It doesn’t help that Stan Parrish was named Hoke’s successor. Parrish’s first stint as a head coach came in the early 1980s at Kansas State where he posted an 0-26-1 record with the Wildcats before being replaced by Bill Snyder. With four more losses in as many games with the Cardinals – he took over for the team’s 45-13 GMAC Bowl loss to Tulsa – a Parrish-coached team is now winless in its last 31 games. And now it gets to face an undefeated SEC team on the road … Auburn 38, Ball State 10. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Notre Dame at Purdue: I’m going to confess that I’ve given up trying to figure out the Irish. They should have won at Michigan and lost, and they should have lost last week against Michigan State and somehow found a way to win. Of course, it’s not that easy to pin down the Boilermakers, either. They pounded on Toledo in the opener and played right with Oregon on the road before an inexplicable home loss to Northern Illinois. Notre Dame is banged up on offense – QB Jimmy Claussen has turf toe and top WR Michael Floyd is gone for the year with a broken collarbone – but Purdue has been struggling on defense. The Boilers are dead last in the Big Ten in scoring and total defense, meaning that if Claussen can walk at all, he’ll probably enough for the Irish … Notre Dame 35, Purdue 27. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Iowa at No. 5 Penn State: Anyone other than me underwhelmed by the Nittany Lions so far? Although it has three victories by an average margin of 23.3 points, Penn State has looked almost disinterested against opponents that are a combined 2-6 so far this season. JoePa’s team says that’s going to change starting this week, but it’s often difficult to try and simply throw the switch on emotion. While the Lions have been underachieving, the Hawkeyes seem a little more battle-tested. The last two weeks have produced a big win over instate rival Iowa State and a 10-point decision last week over Arizona. Add that to the fact that Kirk Ferentz evidently has Paterno’s number – Iowa has won six of the last seven in the series – and you have the recipe for an Upset Special … Iowa 23, Penn State 20. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Illinois at No. 13 Ohio State: Look for the Fighting Illini to get their share of yards on the ground. But I just think Williams remains too mistake-prone, especially for a senior, and the Illinois defense is still suspect. Pryor ran for 110 yards in last year’s game in Champaign and I look for more of the same this year in Columbus … Ohio State 27, Illinois 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-16½) at Bowling Green; Fresno State (+16) at Cincinnati; Indiana (+20½) at Michigan; Ball State (+33) at Auburn; Notre Dame (-7) at Purdue; Iowa (+10) at Penn State; Illinois (+14) at Ohio State.

You might like to know OSU is only 1-4 ATS in its past five home games against Illinois and that the Illini are 6-2 ATS in their last eight overall against the Buckeyes.



  1. I remember that missed fumble call two years ago. That was really bad that they completely missed that and no one reviewed it or took the timeout to ask for a review.

  2. I didn’t see your answer about which teams did not win or share the BT championship in the last 7 years.
    I guessed Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota and MSU.

    Please let us know.

    • You only had to read a couple more paragraphs to find the answer.

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