If not for the game that determined the 2002 national championship, tomorrow’s game between Ohio State and Miami (Fla.) wouldn’t generate nearly as much hype.
Yes, it’s an early nonconference battle between two ranked teams. Yes, it features a pair of junior quarterbacks who have been mentioned in the early Heisman Trophy chatter. And, yes, it features two programs who annually square off against one another in the recruiting wars.
But the cold, hard truth is that much of the hype surrounding the game is manufactured not to mention undeserved since only one of tomorrow’s combatants is a bona fide national championship contender. The other is something of a paper tiger, a once-proud program trying to scratch its way back to elite status.
This is not your father’s Miami team, the one that captured four national titles in nine seasons from 1983-91. It isn’t even your older brother’s Hurricanes that rattled off 34 straight victories and won the 2001 national championship.
These ’Canes are about as relevant in the 2010 national championship discussion as Vanilla Ice is on the current Billboard charts. Anyone with the exception of blubbering buffoons and diehards in the Hurricane Nation (population: approx. 500) knows this Miami program is the same program with a 30-25 record over its last 55 games. That’s a .545 winning percentage. Over the same amount of games, Ohio State is 47-8, good for a winning percentage of .855. Which sounds more like contender and which sounds more like pretender?
What happened to the once-proud U, the program with enough strut and swagger for all of college football? Well, the genesis of its downfall can be traced back to that fateful January 2003 night in the Arizona desert when they were supposed to beat the Buckeyes by at least three touchdowns. Like Buster Douglas exposing Mike Tyson, Ohio State landed a haymaker that night and Miami’s glass jaw was on full display for all the world to see.
It didn’t happen overnight, though. The Hurricanes began the 2003 season ranked No. 3 and reeled off seven wins in a row to begin that campaign. That made Larry Coker an almost unbelievable 31-1 to begin his head coaching career, and there was talk of his team making an unprecedented run at a third straight BCS title game.
Then came back-to-back losses in early November at Virginia Tech and at home to Tennessee. The ’Canes still finished with a more-than-respectable 11-2 record and topped things off with a 16-14 win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
In 2004, cracks in the Miami armor began to appear. The team got as high as No. 4 in the national rankings but lost three of its last five regular-season games and finished 9-3. Another 9-3 record following in 2005, but the Hurricanes got blown out by LSU to the tune of 40-3 in the Peach Bowl.
Things became fully unraveled in 2006. Miami lost to Florida State in the opener and absorbed a 31-7 loss to Louisville two weeks later to start the season 1-2 for the first time in a decade. The ship was righted temporarily with four straight wins, but that streak was marred by an ugly brawl with Florida International that led to the suspensions of 31 players, including 13 Hurricanes.
Then came a four-game losing streak and the tragic death of senior defensive lineman Bryan Pata, who was shot and killed outside his apartment complex in early November. That came on the heels of several other off-the-field incidents that year involving Miami players – a couple of them involving firearms – and Coker was fired shortly after finishing a 6-6 regular season.
Rather than starting over from scratch, the Hurricanes decided to elevate Coker’s defensive coordinator Randy Shannon to head coach and the move appeared to pay dividends when Miami began the 2007 season with wins in four of its first five games, including a 34-17 upset of No. 16 Texas A&M.
But just as pundits were ready to proclaim the program back among the elite – something that has happened several times over of the past couple of years – the Hurricanes lost six of their last seven and finished 5-7, their first losing record since 1997. (Actually, you could make the care that the 2007 season was worse. That 1997 team was hamstrung by the effects of probation and the loss of 31 scholarships.)
Since then, Miami has been a hot-and-cold team. In 2008, the ’Canes started with a 2-3 mark that began rumblings about whether Shannon was the right man for the job. Those whispers hushed when the team turned things around and won five straight but started again when the team lost its last three, including a 24-17 loss to California in the Emerald Bowl, to finish 7-6.
Last year was the best season since the glory years when the Hurricanes posted a 9-3 mark that included wins over three ranked teams, but the performance was still uneven. Miami climbed to No. 9 in the polls in late September only to drop a 31-7 decision to Virginia Tech. Then the Hurricanes clawed their way back up the rankings and reached No. 8 in late October before proving they were again not ready for prime time by losing a 40-37 shootout in overtime to unranked Clemson.
The campaign ended with a 20-14 loss to Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl, a game not nearly as close as the final score would indicate. The Badgers dominated the Hurricanes, holding a 430-249 edge in total yardage and a lopsided 39:15-20:45 advantage in time of possession.
That left Miami with a 9-4 record, its best since 2003. The Hurricanes also finished No. 19 in the final writers’ and coaches’ polls, the first time the program had been ranked at the end of a season since 2005.
The U was back, right? That depends upon your definition of “back.” The simple truth is that Miami has not been a top-five team – a legitimate top-five team – since the end of the 2003 season. That’s not hype. That’s not homerism. That’s a fact.
If ESPN, Miami fans and current Hurricane players want to pretend this is a grudge match for revenge about what happened in the national championship game eight years ago – when the majority of players on both rosters were still in elementary school – so be it.
Real college football fans know the real story line – a game between one of the elite program against one that used to be.
** This will mark the fourth meeting all-time between Ohio State and Miami. The Buckeyes enjoy a 2-1 edge in the previous three games, including a 10-0 win in Ohio Stadium in 1977 and a 31-24 double overtime time in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl that served as the BCS National Championship Game. The Hurricanes’ lone win in the series was a 23-12 decision in the 1999 Kickoff Classic played at old Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands.
** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is in his 10th season in Columbus and has a 95-21 record with the Buckeyes. That includes a 57-7 record in Ohio Stadium and a 36-13 mark against top 25 teams.
** Miami head coach Randy Shannon is in his fourth season in Coral Gables and owns a 22-17 record with the Hurricanes. That includes an 8-9 record on the road, a 4-6 mark against top 25 teams and a 1-3 record vs. top 10 teams.
** The Buckeyes head into the contest as the No. 2 ranked team in the nation. Miami has not beaten a top-five team since a 27-7 victory over third-ranked Virginia Tech in 2005. The game was played in Blacksburg.
** The above nugget is a bit misleading since the Hurricanes have played only one top five team since that win over Virginia Tech in ’05. They lost to No. 5 Florida in 2008 but that was only the second loss to a high-ranking opponent since 2000. Over the past decade, Miami boasts a 6-2 record against top five teams. The only other loss during that time period came to OSU in the ’03 Fiesta Bowl.
** The Buckeyes are 14-7 all-time against teams that are current members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. In addition to being 2-1 against the Hurricanes, OSU is 3-0 vs. Boston College, 2-0 vs. North Carolina State, 1-0 vs. Virginia, 3-1 against Duke and North Carolina, 0-1 vs. Clemson and 0-3 against Florida State. OSU has never played Georgia Tech, Maryland, Wake Forest or Virginia Tech.
** The Hurricanes are 26-16 all-time against teams currently in the Big Ten. In addition to being 1-2 against Ohio State, Miami is 4-0 vs. Iowa and Michigan State, 5-1 against Purdue, 2-2 against Northwestern and Wisconsin, 1-1 vs. Indiana and Michigan, and 6-7 against Penn State. The Hurricanes have never played Illinois or Minnesota. (They are also 5-5 vs. Nebraska, which joins the Big Ten next season.)
** With last week’s victory over Marshall, the Buckeyes are now 31-4 in regular-season nonconference games under Tressel.
** Last week’s win over Florida A&M gave the Hurricanes an 11-2 record in regular-season nonconference games under Shannon. Both losses came on the road against top-10 competition – a 51-13 defeat at No. 6 Oklahoma in 2007 and that 26-3 loss at No. 5 Florida in 2008.
** The ’Canes’ victory over Florida A&M produced 35 first-half points, their best first-half showing since scoring 35 in a 56-45 shootout win over Virginia Tech in 2002. Irony of ironies? Miami’s next opponent after that 35-point first half was Ohio State in the national title game.
** The Hurricanes have not allowed a punt return for a touchdown since Ricky Hall of Virginia Tech returned one 64 yards during a 43-10 Hokies win in 1999.
** Miami has not been shut out on the road since a 47-0 loss at Florida State on Oct. 4, 1997.
** Ohio State has not been shut out at home since a 6-0 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 9, 1982. The Buckeyes haven’t been shut out at home against a nonconference opponent since a 19-0 loss to Penn State on Sept. 16, 1978.
** Miami enjoys touting its propensity for producing NFL talent and that is evidenced by the fact that 11 former Hurricanes were selected for the 2010 Pro Bowl. The Buckeyes had just one alum – New York Jets center Nick Mangold – in the game. However, when it comes to producing All-Americans since 1985, Ohio State has a 52-47 edge over Miami.
** Congratulations to Tyler Moeller who earned Big Ten defensive player of the week honors following his performance against Marshall. He had a team-high seven tackles, including two for loss and the Buckeyes’ only sack. Moeller also forced a fumble and had the Jack Tatum Big Hit of the Week. Not bad for a guy’s first game back after suffering a life-threatening head injury last summer.
** Look for the Buckeyes to try and get Brandon Saine into the end zone against the Hurricanes. Whenever Saine has scored a touchdown during his career, OSU is a perfect 10-0.
** OSU is also 10-0 during Saine’s career when the senior co-captain rushes for at least 50 yards.
** Ohio State junior receiver DeVier Posey has a nice little streak going of 15 consecutive games in which he has caught at least one pass. He has a way to go, however, to get the school record. That has been held since 1982 by our old friend Gary Williams, who finished his career with at least one catch in 48 straight games.
** Thanks to Virginia Tech’s loss Monday night to Boise State, Tressel has now nosed in front of Hokies head coach Frank Beamer to become the second winningest active head coach with at least five years at the Division I-A level. Tressel has 230 career victories to 229 for Beamer. Topping the list, of course, is Penn State legend Joe Paterno, who inched closer to a career milestone last week against Youngstown State with win No. 395.
** The OSU-Miami game will be televised by ESPN with Brad Nessler providing play-by-play, Todd Blackledge doing color commentary and Holly Rowe on the sidelines. Kickoff is set for 3:40 p.m. Eastern.
** ESPN will also telecast the game in 3D. Joe Tessitore (play-by-play), 1987 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown (analysis) and Ray Bentley (sidelines) will have the call.
** If you are not near a TV set, the game will be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channel 122 and XM channel 143. The contest will also be webcast on ESPN3.com.
** Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast (CSS) will also show the game on a tape delay basis on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. ET and again Sept. 16 at noon ET.
** Next week, Ohio State will host instate rival Ohio University. The game will kickoff at noon ET and will mark the second appearance by the Buckeyes this season on the Big Ten Network.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY
** Forty-four years ago today, Baylor shocked No. 7 Syracuse, taking a 35-12 victory in Waco in the 1966 season opener. Bears QB Terry Southall threw for four touchdowns in the game while tailback Floyd Little rushed for 102 yards and a score for the Orange. But a fumbled pitch to Little early in the game set the tone as Baylor scored to take a lead it would never relinquish.
** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Sept. 6, 1986, third-ranked Miami (Fla.) overcame a 15-9 second-half deficit for a 23-15 over Florida, ending the Gators’ 21-game home winning streak; on Sept. 8, 1984, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie kicked off his Heisman Trophy-winning season by throwing three touchdowns passes and rallying the Golden Eagles from a 31-14 deficit to a 38-31 upset over ninth-ranked Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham; on Sept. 9, 1972, UCLA quarterback Mark Harmon led the Bruins – who had won only two games the previous season – to a 20-17 upset win over preseason No. 1 Nebraska; on Sept. 11, 1982, Michigan State kicker Ralf Moisiejenko cranked a 61-yard field goal on his first career three-point attempt, but it wasn’t enough as Illinois dealt the Spartans a 23-16 loss in Champaign; on Sept. 12, 1987, Michigan committed seven turnovers in a 26-7 loss to Notre Dame, the first season-opening home loss ever for head coach Bo Schembechler; and on Sept. 13, 1986, Hayden Fry became the winningest coach in Iowa history when the Hawkeyes took a 43-7 win over Iowa State. The victory was No. 53 for Fry, who passed Forest Evashevski for most wins in school history. Fry was to coach 20 seasons in Iowa City and retired with 143 victories with the Hawkeyes.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** Perhaps the Big Ten is returning to its roots. During the first week of the 2010 season, nine conference players rushed for 100 yards or more while no quarterbacks topped the 250-yard mark. The highest total for any Big Ten QB was Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State, who threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns during his team’s 45-7 beatdown of Marshall.
** Michigan sophomore Denard Robinson established a new school record for rushing yards by a quarterback when he weaved his way for 197 yards during a 30-10 win over Connecticut. Robinson added 186 yards through the air to become only the second Big Ten player ever to surpass 180 yards in both rushing and passing in the same game. The first was Indiana QB Antwaan Randle El, who rushed for 210 yards and threw for 263 in a 51-43 win over Minnesota in October 2000.
** The crowd of 113,090 at Michigan Stadium last weekend not only set new school and NCAA attendance records. It was the largest crowd to attend any football game ever played in the United States.
** Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan forced a fumble in his team’s 23-12 loss to Notre Dame. That gave Kerrigan 10 forced fumbles for his career and put him only three behind Simeon Rice of Illinois (1992-95) and Bob Sanders of Iowa (2000-03) for the all-time conference career record.
** Do you think Notre Dame fans were eager to witness the beginning of the Brian Kelly era? NBC’s rating for the Fighting Irish opener against Purdue was up 77 percent compared to last season’s opener under Charlie Weis.
** The next time – the very next time – some SEC buddy of yours starts yapping about how great his conference is from top to bottom, mention the fact that Division I-AA Jacksonville State erased a 31-10 halftime deficit last Saturday to beat Ole Miss, 49-48, in double overtime. Yes, that Ole Miss with former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli running the controls.
** And then there’s the Big East, which earned its “Big Least” nickname during the first weekend. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Connecticut were picked to finish 1-2-3 in the conference and each of them lost to unranked opponents by a combined 37 points.
** A couple of freshman quarterbacks had nice debuts last Saturday. Taylor Martinez of Nebraska scrambled 46 yards for a touchdown on his first career rush and led the Cornhuskers to a 49-10 win over Western Kentucky. And Penn State’s Robert Bolden completed 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns as the Nittany Lions rolled to a 44-14 win over Youngstown State.
** Incidentally, Bolden became the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener at Penn State since 1910.
** Can you guess the nation’s No. 1 team against the run? After one week of the 2010 regular season, it is Kent State. The Golden Flashes manhandled Division I-AA Murray State, 41-10, in their opener and threw the Racers for losses totaling 65 yards on 23 carries.
** Our condolences (again) to New Mexico. The Lobos lost their season opener by a 72-0 score to Oregon, marking a fifth year in a row that New Mexico has dropped its season opener. Even worse is the fact the Lobos have failed to score a touchdown in their season opener five years in a row. In those five games, UNM has been outscored 166-21.
** Hawaii will be racking up the frequent flyer miles this season. The Rainbows will visit Army, Colorado, Fresno State, Utah State, Boise State and New Mexico State this year, accounting for about 35,000 air miles. About one-third of that comes during the next two weeks. The team will fly to West Point, N.Y., for tomorrow’s game with Army, and then head to Las Vegas where they will stay most of next week. Then it’s on to Colorado for a game next week before flying home to complete a 12-day round trip of more than 11,000 miles.
** Did you know copies of my book, “The Die-Hard Fan’s Guide to Buckeye Football,” are still available. It is a guide that covers the OSU football program from its roots in the late 1800s and contains lots of historical data, stories, great photos (a lot of them never seen before), player rankings by decade and even a quiz to test your Buckeye football knowledge. If you would like an autographed copy, send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
The Fearless Forecast got off to an excellent start this season, finishing 9-1 for the first official week. It would have been a perfect week had Connecticut not inexplicably run east and west rather than north and south and attacking Michigan’s pursuit defense. But we digress.
In terms of against the spread, Boise State came through against Virginia Tech on Monday night to get us even at 4-4-2. Not terrible but there is certainly room for improvement. Here are the games we’re watching this week:
No. 23 West Virginia at Marshall: Did Doc Holliday check the early part of the schedule when he agreed to become Marshall’s head coach? After traveling to Columbus to get a spanking from second-ranked Ohio State, his Thundering Herd limp home for a date with instate rival West Virginia. The Mountaineers have won the last four games in this series by an average of about 24 points and this one seems headed for the same outcome. WVA not only has a top-notch running back in Noel Devine, the Mountain Men seem to have found themselves a new quarterback in sophomore Geno Smith … West Virginia 31, Marshall 7. (7 p.m., ESPN)
Florida Atlantic vs. Michigan State: The Owls somehow escaped last week with a 32-31 win over UAB despite giving up 345 yards on the ground. It’s difficult to imagine how a repeat performance could be successful against the Spartans, who rushed for 297 yards in their 38-14 opening win over Western Michigan. MSU was sparked by 141 yards and two touchdowns from tailback Le’Veon Bell, who became the first freshman in school history to crack the century mark in his debut game. The old Owl, Howard Schnellenberger, could have a trick or two up his sleeve, and this is precisely the kind of opponent with which Michigan State has struggled in the past. But there really is no reason why Sparty shouldn’t win, especially within the friendly confines of Detroit’s Ford Field … Michigan State 31, Florida Atlantic 20. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)
San Jose State at No. 11 Wisconsin: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how the Badgers are going to try to win their 15th straight home opener. Run, run, run and then run some more. That formula worked pretty well in their 41-21 win last week at UNLV when John Clay and backups Montee Bell and James White combined for 261 yards and four scores. Meanwhile, SJSU surrendered 257 yards on the ground in their opener, a 48-3 wipeout courtesy of Alabama. If you think that was a one-game aberration, think again. Last year, the Spartans ranked 119th of 120 Division I-A teams in rush defense … Wisconsin 41, San Jose State 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN)
Iowa State at No. 9 Iowa: The Cyclones have had trouble scoring points in recent years, ranking 103rd in the nation in scoring offense last season, 82nd the year before and 111th the year before that. That doesn’t bode well for a team going against the Hawkeyes, who sport one of the best defensive units in college football. The fact of the matter is that ISU hasn’t scored a touchdown in this series since 2006, and the offense committed three turnovers last week in a 27-10 win over Northern Illinois. That simply won’t get it done this week, especially for the Cyclones who have lost 36 consecutive road games to ranked opponents … Iowa 30, Iowa State 9. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)
Michigan at Notre Dame: Amid the bluff and bluster surrounding U-M’s win last week over Connecticut, let’s have a little history lesson. In last year’s opener, Michigan rolled to a 31-7 victory over Western Michigan during which quarterback Tate Forcier threw for 179 yards and three touchdowns in his debut as a starter. Sound familiar? One week later, Forcier led the Wolverines to a wild 38-34 win over Notre Dame that keyed a 4-0 start for Michigan. Then came losses in seven of the last eight games, and Forcier is now third on the QB depth chart and contemplating his future. There is no doubt the Wolverines featured a potent attack last week with Denard Robinson at the controls, but I would have liked to have seen how things turned out had UConn utilized the proper scheme against Rich Rodriguez’s new 3-3-5 defense. We should get a better handle on the direction of both teams after this one … Notre Dame 29, Michigan 27. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Wyoming at No. 5 Texas: The Cowboys travel to Austin with heavy hearts following a one-car accident Monday in Colorado that killed freshman linebacker Ruben Narcisse and injured three teammates. Even before the tragedy, it was difficult to see how Wyoming pulled the upset. In last Saturday’s season opener against Division I-AA Southern Utah, the Cowboys scored a 28-20 victory but rushed for only 36 yards on 25 attempts. Texas may still be a work in progress on offense with new quarterback Garrett Gilbert taking over for Colt McCoy, but the Longhorns’ defense should be able to alleviate most of Gilbert’s early growing pains … Texas 37, Wyoming 6. (7 p.m. ET, FSN)
No. 7 Oregon at Tennessee: The Ducks put on quite an offensive show last week with a school-record 720 yards during a 72-0 win over New Mexico. The Quack Attack draws a little tougher competition this week on Rocky Top, and the Volunteers are coming off their own coming-out party following a 50-0 victory over I-AA Tennessee-Martin. Unfortunately for first-year head coach Derek Dooley, the UT defense still has some holes and the Vols lost top receiver Gerald Jones last week with a broken hand. That, plus the fact Oregon gets LaMichael James back this week to its already high-flying offense, spells trouble for the hosts in renovated Neyland Stadium … Oregon 30, Tennessee 16. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
No. 18 Penn State at No. 1 Alabama: Defending Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram (knee surgery) will be sidelined again but it’s doubtful the Tide will miss him much. Trent Richardson had 66 yards and two TDs last weekend against San Jose State before taking the entire second half off. And although ’Bama will be again without suspended star defensive end Marcell Dareus, it is difficult to imagine Penn State freshman QB Robert Bolden going into Tuscaloosa and having much success. One other thing: For all of his victories with the Nittany Lions, head coach Joe Paterno is 4-8 lifetime against No. 1-ranked teams and an identical 4-8 against Alabama … Alabama 38, Penn State 10. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Virginia at No. 16 USC: What kind of team does Lane Kiffin have? The jury is still out after last week’s win at Hawaii. On one hand, the offense scored 49 points; on the other, the defense gave up 36 points and 588 total yards. And there were 11 penalties called on USC for 100 yards. Perhaps getting home to the Coliseum will cure some of those defensive ailments since the Trojans have won 12 straight home openers. Virginia looks to be improved under first-year head coach Mike London, but it’s always tough to fly cross-country to play the Trojans … USC 41, Virginia 20. (10:30 p.m. ET, FSN)
No. 12 Miami (Fla.) at No. 2 Ohio State: The Buckeyes haven’t exactly distinguished themselves recently in marquee nonconference matchups. They split a two-game series with Texas and dropped two in a row to USC, including last year’s 18-15 decision in a contest Ohio State most definitely could have and should have won. This year, the Hurricanes come to Columbus with revenge on their minds for the game that determined the 2002 national championship, but I think it would take a perfect game from the Hurricanes to score the upset. If Terrelle Pryor throws accurately and sprinkles in a few runs, if the defensive line gets pressure against a suspect Miami offensive line, and if OSU keeps its special-teams mistakes to a minimum, I think the Buckeyes can win by a comfortable margin … Ohio State 34, Miami 17. (3:40 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Here are the spreads for the above games: West Virginia (-12) at Marshall; Michigan State at Florida Atlantic (+28½); San Jose State (+38½) at Wisconsin; Iowa State at Iowa (-13); Michigan (+4) at Notre Dame; Wyoming at Texas (-28½); Oregon (-11½) at Tennessee; Penn State at Alabama (-11½); Virginia at USC (-18½); Miami-FL at Ohio State (-8½).
Enjoy the games and we’ll chat again next week.