There is a squabble currently raging within the Buckeye Nation, one that has been going on in one form or another for quite some time.
The debate involves the performance of the offensive line and battle lines seem to have been drawn between two distinct camps. One party believes the Buckeyes are the third-highest scoring attack in the nation because of the offensive line; the other thinks the team has achieved that lofty ranking despite some line play that can best be described as average.
I received more than my usual share of poison pen letters following last week’s blog in which I offered grades for each of the individual positions through the first quarter of the season. Most of the more pungent feedback I received took special exception to the C+ grade I gave the offensive line.
How could I downgrade the unit when the Buckeyes were purring along with three-game averages of 41.3 points and 460.7 yards? My reasoning for the middling grade was because I was expecting a little more out of a unit regarded by many as one of the finest offensive lines at Ohio State in several years.
I was looking for dominance, especially in games against such outmanned opposition as Marshall and Ohio. Perhaps I’m a little guilty of advancing age but I not only expect Ohio State to control the line of scrimmage against weaker opponents, I expect the Buckeyes to thoroughly dominate teams like the Thundering Herd and Bobcats.
As it turned out, I wasn’t alone in that evaluation. Former OSU All-American and three-time NFL All-Pro offensive lineman Jim Lachey agreed. So did College Football Hall of Fame linebacker Chris Spielman, who went so far as to continue his assessment following a 73-20 blowout of Eastern Michigan that included 645 yards of total offense for the Buckeyes.
Lachey, Spielman and I all agree that grading line play is a totally inexact exercise. Four members of the unit could execute textbook blocks on every play, but if the fifth man makes a mistake, the entire line looks bad.
Still, even those who cringe every time a criticism is leveled at the line play would have to acknowledge some breakdowns this year. No lineman can ever grade at 100-percent efficiency and there have been several times this season when running plays have gone nowhere.
Is that a product of running backs missing holes or no holes being created for them? Are the OSU ball carriers too tentative or are opposing linebackers and safeties taking advantage of a lack of backside protection to bring a running back down from behind?
Even against Eastern Michigan when the Buckeyes piled up a Jim Tressel era-high 342 yards and averaged 8.3 yards on 41 carries, the running game still seemed to sputter at times. Ten of those 41 carries – nearly 25 percent – netted 2 yards or less against a team that averaged 6-2 and 261.3 pounds along its defensive front four. Ohio State’s starting offensive line averages 6-5½ and 304.6 pounds per man.
Dominance very well could be in the eye of the beholder.
Yet even as I made my case and listened to others like Lachey and Spielman make theirs, I began to wonder if perhaps we’re looking approaching this argument from the wrong direction. We’re comparing the 2010 offensive line to road-grading units from the past that produced 1,000-yard rushers with regularity – and maybe that’s an unfair apples-to-oranges comparison.
Maybe Tressel has finally listened to those who have been screaming for him to open his offensive playbook and take full advantage of the weaponry at his disposal. Maybe, just maybe, Ohio State is no longer a tailback-oriented offense.
Looking at Terrelle Pryor’s output over the past couple of weeks is the main evidence in that argument. Tresselball is about the last way anyone would describe an offense that has gotten 598 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns from its quarterback over a two-game stretch – and that doesn’t even take into account a 20-yard touchdown reception.
Furthermore, take a look at Pryor’s passing performance in weeks three and four. They feature 42 completions in 55 attempts (that’s a gaudy 76.4-percent completion rate) for 459 yards and six touchdowns. The OSU attack has been precisely the kind usually employed by NFL teams to move the ball down the field. Don’t believe me? Watch Peyton Manning operate some Sunday afternoon and see if you don’t notice some similarities in his team’s offensive game plan to what the Buckeyes showed against Ohio and Eastern Michigan.
Add to that kind of lethal passing attack Pryor’s intrinsic ability to alter games with his mobility and suddenly the offensive line doesn’t have to blow opponents off the line of scrimmage.
No one should be confused that Pryor is the best running back on the team. He clearly isn’t and shows that every time Tressel calls for a quarterback draw. But there is no doubt Pryor is the best broken-field runner the Buckeyes have had in many, many years. Yes, he is going to take some sacks – sorry, offensive line – because he will always try to make something out of nothing. More often than not, however, he can make something out of nothing and it is usually something special.
Still, the debate over the pros and cons of Ohio State’s offensive line play will likely go on for quite some time – perhaps all the way to Jan. 10 when the argument can continue in the Arizona desert.
** Ohio State begins its 98th season of Big Ten play tomorrow. The Buckeyes are 457-190-24 (a .699 winning percentage) in conference play and their 34 Big Ten championships are second all-time only to Michigan, which has 42.
** Illinois embarks upon its 115th season as a Big Ten member. The Fighting Illini have an all-time conference record of 327-374-32 (.468), and they have won 15 league titles in their history.
** The Buckeyes have won at least of the Big Ten championship in each of the last five seasons. That is tied with Michigan (1988-92) for the second-longest run of league titles. Ohio State is chasing its own conference record of six championships in a row set from 1972-77.
** Ohio State has won three outright Big Ten championships in the last four years, the first time that has been accomplished since the Buckeyes did it between 1954 and 1957. Should OSU win another title by itself in 2010, it would become the first team to win four outright championships in a five-year span since Minnesota did it between 1937 and 1941.
** OSU and Illinois will meet for the 97th time since the series was inaugurated in 1902. The hold a 62-30-4 advantage in the overall series, including a 33-12 edge in Champaign.
** The series has been much closer in recent years. Since 1988, the Buckeyes are only 11-9 against the Illini.
** Between 1988 and 1992, the teams met five times and Illinois won them all. In the 16 games since, the Buckeyes are 13-3 with a perfect 7-0 record in Champaign. The Illini’s last win over Ohio State in Champaign was a 10-7 decision in 1991.
** The game will mark the Big Ten opener for both teams. Ohio State has a 70-23-4 record all-time in conference openers. Illinois is 46-61-7 all-time in league openers and has lost 15 of its last 16.
** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 5-2 in his career against Illinois while Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook is 1-4 vs. the Buckeyes.
** OSU begins its conference season on the road for the first time since 2004. The Buckeyes are 61-32-5 all-time in Big Ten road openers, including 6-3 under Tressel.
** Tressel is 8-1 overall in Big Ten openers with the only blemish a 33-27 overtime defeat at Northwestern in 2004. The Buckeyes’ average margin of victory in the other eight games has been 25.3 points.
** Zook is 1-4 in his previous conference openers. The lone victory came in 2007 when the Illini took a 27-14 win at Indiana.
** Tressel is 63-7 at Ohio State vs. unranked teams. Zook is 3-15 at Illinois against ranked teams but two of his victories have come against top-10 competition – a 31-26 win over No. 5 Wisconsin in 2007 and a 28-21 victory at top-ranked Ohio State in 2008.
** The Buckeyes have won 18 of their last 19 Big Ten road games with the only blemish a 26-18 loss at Purdue last season.
** Illinois is coming off an open week but a week off hasn’t ever been that much of an advantage for the Illini. They are 11-14 all-time after off weeks including a 4-3 record against Ohio State.
** Zook was defensive backs coach on John Cooper’s staff at Ohio State from 1988-90. The Buckeyes were 0-3 against the Illini during that stretch.
** Zook’s career mark as a head coach is only 46-54, including 25-41 at Illinois. 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.
** Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure has rushed for 100 yards or more in four straight games dating back to last season, and he runs into an Ohio State defense that hasn’t allowed an opposing running back to top the 100-yard mark since USC tailback rushed for 105 during his team’s 35-3 win in 2008. No Big Ten running back has cracked the century mark against the Buckeyes since Daniel Dufrene of Illinois had 106 during the Illini’s 28-21 upset win in 2007. Since 2005, the Ohio State defense has allowed only seven 100-yard rushers and that is the best mark in Division I-A over that span.
** Another interesting matchup will take place if Ohio State decides to go for it on fourth down against Illinois. So far this season, the Buckeyes are a perfect 4 for 4 in fourth-down conversions while opponents are 0 for 2 in fourth-down tries against the Fighting Illini defense.
** On the flip side, it will be interesting to see what happens if Illinois reaches the red zone against the Buckeyes. The Illini are 9 for 9 inside the red zone so far this season (six TDs and three field goals) while OSU opponents have scored only four times (all TDs) in seven trips to the red zone.
** The Buckeyes and Illini square off for one of the most 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, but 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 that Minnesota and Michigan have been playing for since 1903.
** With 328 yards of total offense in last week’s game, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor increased his career total to 6,023 and moved up another notch on the school’s career list in that category. He passed Mike Tomczak (6,015, 1981-84) to move into seventh place and needs only 76 more to vault into the top five. Greg Frey (6,098, 1987-90) currently ranks fifth and Joe Germaine (6,094, 1996-98) is sixth.
** Pryor now has 4,344 career passing yards and needs only 150 more to move past Craig Krenzel (4,493, 2000-03) into ninth place on the school’s all-time list.
** With four touchdown passes against the Eagles, Pryor increased his career total to 40. He is one of only five OSU quarterbacks with that many touchdown passes. The others are Bobby Hoying (57, 1992-95), Germaine (56), Troy Smith (54, 2003-06) and Art Schlichter (50, 1978-81).
** Pryor needs 321 yards to become only the sixth Big Ten quarterback with 2,000 or more career rushing yards. Antwaan Randle El of Indiana (3,895, 1998-2001) is the all-time leader followed by Juice Williams of Illinois (2,557, 2006-09), Rick Leach of Michigan (2,176, 1975-78), Rickey Foggie of Minnesota (2,150, 1984-87) and Cornelius Greene of Ohio State (2,080, 1972-75).
** Ohio State receivers Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey currently sit at Nos. 22 and 23 in career receiving yardage with 1,247 and 1,187, respectively. Both are poised to leap past several former Buckeyes soon – No. 18 Brian Stablein (1,289, 1989-92), No. 19 Anthony Gonzalez (1,286, 2004-06), No. 20 Buster Tillman (1,277, 1993-96) and No. 21 Reggie Germany (1,268, 1997-2000).
** OSU kicker Devin Barclay was a perfect 10 for 10 on PATs against Eastern Michigan, equaling the record for most conversion kicks in a single game set by Vic Janowicz during an 83-20 win over Iowa in 1950. Barclay has made all 24 of his PATs this season, which puts him more than halfway to the school’s single-season record of 44 in a row set by Vlade Janakievski in 1977.
** Barclay is currently a perfect 36 for 36 in PATs in his career. Tim Williams (1990-93) holds the OSU career mark for most consecutive PATs with 86.
** Last week’s 73-point outburst represented the most points scored by the Buckeyes since that 83-20 win over Iowa in 1950 and eclipsed the highest total for any Tressel-coached team. The high in Tressel’s previous 312 games as a head coach came during a 63-20 win over Alcorn State during Youngstown State’s march to the 1994 Division I-AA national championship.
** The 645 total yards against Eastern Michigan was also a new high for the Buckeyes in the Tressel era, eclipsing the 617 gained during the 2006 Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame.
** This week’s game will be telecast (again) by the Big Ten network with the announce team (again) of Eric Collins with the play by play, Chris Martin with color commentary and Charissa Thompson providing reports from the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern. (That’s 11 a.m. local time in Champaign-Urbana.)
** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channel 127 and XM channel 102. It will also be on the Westwood One radio network with Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George as part of the broadcast.
** Next week, Ohio State returns home to play Indiana. Kickoff is set for 12 noon Eastern and the game will be televised by either ESPN or ESPN2.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY
** On Sept. 29, 2001, New Mexico State posted a rare shutout, going on the road to tally a 31-0 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. How rare was the shutout? It was the first for the Aggies in 27 seasons, a span of 283 games which established an NCAA record for most consecutive games without a shutout.
** On Sept. 30, 1939, Fordham and Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania played in the first televised college football game, a contest seen by an estimated 500 viewers in the New York City area. Bill Stern called the play-by-play for W2XBS (now WNBC-TV) while a young Mel Allen did pregame interviews. Few television sets could receive the signal, so many of the viewers saw the telecast at the nearby New York World’s Fair.
** On Oct. 1, 1955, the sideline star power was plentiful as sixth-ranked Army rolled to a 35-6 win over No. 18 Penn State at West Point. The Black Knights were coached by Earl “Red” Blaik while the Nittany Lions were led by head coach Charles “Rip” Engle and assistant Joe Paterno. All three are in the College Football Hall of Fame, as is Army quarterback Don Holleder who led his team to the victory. Nearly 12 years to the day later, Holleder was an infantry major in the Army serving in Vietnam when he attempted to rescue a group of his fellow soldiers who had been ambushed. Holleder battled sniper fire to land his helicopter in a clearing, and while he was leading the evacuation he was struck by enemy fire and killed. He received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge posthumously and was later laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
** On Oct. 2, 1943, Purdue committed 11 turnovers in a game – and still won. Somehow, the Boilermakers lost nine fumbles and pitched two interception and still managed a 40-21 victory over Illinois. The performance set an NCAA record for most turnovers by a winning team.
** On Oct 2, 1993, Alabama matched its own school and Southeastern Conference records for consecutive victories when the Crimson Tide scored a 17-6 victory at South Carolina to mark their 28th win in a row. The mark tied the previous school and conference marks set between 1978 and 1980 when the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant was patrolling the ’Bama sideline.
** On Oct. 3, 1992, third-ranked Florida State lost a 19-16 decision to No. 2 Miami (Fla.) when a last-minute field goal drifted wide right. Hurricanes QB Gino Torretta hit receiver Lamar Thomas to put Miami ahead, 17-16, with 6:50 to play. After a safety on special teams pushed it to a three-point game, the Seminoles drove deep into Miami territory before FSU kicker Dan Mowery pushed his 39-yard field goal attempt wide of the right upright on the final play.
** On Oct. 3, 1936, John Heisman, the legendary college coach and namesake of the Heisman Trophy, died at the age of 66. Born Oct. 23, 1869, in Cleveland, John William Heisman is credited with several innovations including invention of the center snap, dividing the game into quarters rather than halves, and leading the movement to legalize the forward pass. Heisman played at Brown (1887-89) and Penn (1890-91), and began his coaching career at Oberlin in 1892. He also coached at Akron, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Penn, Washington & Jefferson and Rice, and compiled a career record of 185-70-17. Heisman was preparing to write a history of college football when he died in New York City. Three days later he was taken by train to his wife’s hometown of Rhinelander, Wis., where he was buried at the city-owned Forest Home Cemetery. Two months later, the Downtown Athletic Club in New York renamed its college football best player trophy in Heisman’s honor.
** On Oct. 4, 1969, Boston University scored a 13-10 upset at Harvard, ending the Crimson’s 10-game win streak and marking BU’s first-ever victory over Harvard since the matchup began in 1921.
** On Oct. 5, 1968, Arkansas running back Bill Burnett scored a touchdown to help the Razorbacks to a 17-7 win over TCU. It was the first of 23 consecutive games in which Burnett scored, an NCAA record that stood for 32 years.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** After the first month of the 2010 season, only 24 unbeaten teams remain at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level. Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Florida, Kansas, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina State, Nevada, Northwestern, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford, TCU, USC, Utah and Wisconsin are all 4-0 while Boise State and Indiana are 3-0.
** When Ohio State and Wisconsin each eclipsed the 70-point mark last weekend, they became the first Big Ten teams to score that many points 11 years. Penn State was the last conference team to top 70 when the Nittany Lions rolled to a 70-24 victory over Akron in 1999.
** Wisconsin set a new program record with its 70-3 win over Division I-AA Austin Peay. The Badgers’ previous high point total came in 1962 during a 69-13 win over New Mexico State.
** Speaking of offensive explosions, the Big Ten features four teams ranked among the nation’s top 15 in scoring offense and that is more than any other conference. Ohio State is No. 3, Indiana is No. 10, Michigan is No. 11 and Wisconsin is tied at No. 15.
** Ten teams remain perfect in red-zone offense this season but none have been as proficient as Stanford. The Cardinal are 26 for 26 inside the red zone, including 18 touchdowns and eight field goals. Next best is Nevada at 19 for 19 (14 TDs, five goals).
** It’s hard to believe anyone has had a better 13-second span on the football field than Stanford’s Owen Marecic did last week during his team’s 37-14 win over Notre Dame. Marecic ran for a 1-yard touchdown against the Fighting Irish with 7:58 remaining in the game, and then 13 seconds later returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown. Marecic plays fullback and linebacker for the Cardinal and is the only Division I-A player starting on both offense and defense this season.
** The loss to Stanford was the 11th in a row by Notre Dame to teams ranked in the AP top 25. The Fighting Irish haven’t beaten a ranked opponent since a 41-17 win over No. 19 Penn State in 2006. Notre Dame’s last victory over a top-10 team? That would be a 17-10 win over third-ranked Michigan in 2005.
** How good has Florida freshman Trey Burton been so far in his rookie season? Burton has touched the ball only 20 times – 11 carries, eight receptions, one pass – and he’s tied for fifth in the nation in scoring with eight touchdowns.
** Better late than never. Minnesota will finally retire former All-America and College Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bobby Bell’s jersey No. 78 tomorrow during the Golden Gophers’ game against Northwestern. Bell, who was an all-state quarterback in high school, was a two-time All-American for the Gophers in 1961 and ’62 and won the 1962 Outland Trophy. He later enjoyed a 12-year NFL career with Kansas City Chiefs and earned induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983. Bell will become the fifth former Minnesota player to have his jersey retired, joining Bronko Nagurski (72), Bruce Smith (54), Paul Giel (10) and Sandy Stephens (15). For a complete list of the Big Ten football players who have had their jersey numbers retired, you can check out my past blog entries here and here.
** With Florida’s win over Kentucky last weekend, Urban Meyer became the second-fastest head coach in college football’s modern era to reach 100 wins. Meyer accomplished the feat in the 119th game of his career. Only the legendary Bud Wilkinson of Oklahoma got to the century mark quicker, winning his 100th in career game No. 111.
** Discounting the so-called modern era, five coaches made it to 100 career victories faster than Meyer. Gil Dobie (108), George Woodruff (109), Wilkinson (111), Fielding Yost of Michigan (114) and Knute Rockne of Notre Dame (117). Dobie coached at North Dakota State (1906-07), Washington (1908-16), Navy (1917-19), Cornell (1920-35) and Boston College (1936-38) while Woodruff was head man at Penn (1892-1901), Illinois (1903) and Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1905).
** As the buzzards begin to circle over Tim Brewster’s head at Minnesota, an intriguing name has services should university officials decide to fire Brewster. That would be former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, who played his college football for the Golden Gophers. Dungy artfully dodged reporters’ questions when asked if he would be interested in returning to his alma mater should Minnesota dismiss Brewster, who heads into this weekend with a 17-33 record that includes an 8-24 showing in the Big Ten.
** Something has to give when Alabama hosts Florida tomorrow. The Tide has won 28 consecutive regular-season games while the Gators have won 24 regular-season contests in a row.
** How hot is the seat under Georgia head coach Mark Richt? The Bulldogs are 0-3 in the SEC, their worst conference start since going 0-4 to begin the 1993 league season. Making matters worse was last weekend’s 24-12 loss to Mississippi State, the first defeat for UGA in the series since 1974.
** College football is New Mexico is reaching new depths. The state’s two Division I-A schools – New Mexico and New Mexico State – are a combined 0-7 this season and have been outscored by a combined margin of 370-88. Something’s got to give, though. The Lobos and Aggies play one another Oct. 9 in Las Cruces.
** When George Blanda died Monday at the age of 83, most of the quarterback/kicker’s obituaries centered on his lengthy pro career. But before joining the NFL’s Chicago Bears in 1949, Blanda was a two-year starting quarterback for Bear Bryant at Kentucky. He threw for 1,451 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Wildcats in 1947 and ’48 and went on to become a 12th-round draft choice of the Bears. Blanda played 26 seasons in the NFL and AFL and is the only former Kentucky player to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
There are hot streaks and then there is the scorcher the Forecast has been enjoying so far this season. Last week, we posted the first perfect record in memory with an 11-0 finish with the straight-up picks. We are now a ridiculous 39-3 SU for the season, meaning the only one hotter than the Forecast in September was Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
We weren’t nearly as prescient against the spread, but a 6-5 week is still a winner and puts us at 26-13-3 ATS for the season.
Here are the games we’ll be watching this week.
Northwestern at Minnesota: It’s pretty much make-or-break time for the Golden Gophers. After struggling throughout the nonconference season, they get a shot at redemption with the dawn of the Big Ten season. It’s homecoming at TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota enters this game with a 50-30-5 advantage in the series and the team scored a 35-24 victory over the Wildcats in Evanston last season. But Goldy has serious problems on defense, including a national ranking of 113th in pass efficiency defense. Meanwhile, NU quarterback Dan Persa is No. 3 in the country in pass efficiency. The Wildcats are looking for their second 5-0 start in the past three seasons and there is nothing to believe they won’t get it … Northwestern 30, Minnesota 20. (12 noon ET, ESPN)
No. 21 Texas vs. No. 8 Oklahoma: Because these two teams have been playing uninspired football so far this season, excitement for the 105th renewal of the Red River Shootout seems a little muted. The Longhorns got punked last week in Austin by UCLA in a 34-12 loss that was the worst home defeat of the Mack Brown era. Meanwhile, the Sooners are 4-0 but their last two wins were mistake-ridden affairs over Air Force and Cincinnati. Both teams have glaring weaknesses – Texas on offense, Oklahoma on defense – which may mean this one comes down to special teams. The Longhorns have won four of the last five in the series but that won’t mean much this year. It’s pretty much of a coin flip … Oklahoma 23, Texas 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)
No. 20 Michigan at Indiana: The Wolverines have gotten most of the early season hype because of the performance of QB Denard Robinson but the Hoosiers shouldn’t be overlooked. Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell (890 yards, nine TDs) is sixth in the nation in pass efficiency and his team averages 41.33 points per game. That is just a whisker above the Wolverines, who average 41.25. If you like shootouts, this could be the game for you since U-M ranks 93rd nationally in total defense while IU is 92nd against the run – Robinson’s forte. The Michigan quarterback does have a banged-up knee, but you still shouldn’t overlook the fact that the Wolverines have won 31 of the last 32 in the series … Michigan 41, Indiana 38. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
No. 11 Wisconsin at No. 24 Michigan State: The last time these two met at Spartan Stadium, the Badgers took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter and wound up with a 25-24 loss. This time, they swear things will be different but you have to wonder. Wisconsin is considered to be a league championship contender every year but owns an extremely pedestrian 13-11 conference record over the past three years, a mark that includes a 4-8 road ledger. MSU head coach Mark Dantonio returns this week – albeit in the press box – after suffering a mild heart attack two weeks ago, and that should help to inspire his team. But the Spartans are trying to buck recent history. They haven’t started 5-0 since 1999 and have lost 14 of their last 15 against ranked opponents … Wisconsin 23, Michigan State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)
Tennessee at No. 12 LSU: The Tigers have a quarterback problem with starter Jordan Jefferson owning the worst efficiency rating in the SEC. Jefferson found himself on the bench briefly last week during his team’s 20-14 win over West Virginia, and Les Miles must certainly know no team is championship-caliber if it has a quarterback controversy. Still, LSU has been so good in the running game with Stevan Ridley (434 yards, three TDs) that the Tigers can get by with spotty play at the QB position. Ridley should add to his totals this week against the Volunteers, who can’t seem to stop much of anyone. Their defense ranks near the bottom of the conference in most categories. Add that to the fact Tennessee has lost nine of its last 10 to ranked opponents and you get the ingredients for a celebration on the bayou … LSU 34, Tennessee 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 22 Penn State at No. 17 Iowa: To be perfectly honest, Kirk Ferentz has Joe Paterno’s number. Ferentz has beaten the old master seven of the last eight times they have faced one another with the most recent two considered major upsets. There won’t be any upset this year since the Hawkeyes are favored – and they’re favored for good reason. They have a more veteran team, their QB Ricky Stanzi is savvier than Penn State freshman Robert Bolden, and Iowa’s defensive line will be able to take advantage of a hole created when the Nittany Lions lost right tackle Lou Eliades last week to a season-ending knee injury. Look for the Hawkeyes to pressure Bolden, which should lead to some turnovers that JoePa’s team cannot overcome … Iowa 27, Penn State 17. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 7 Florida at No. 1 Alabama: Fresh off their come-from-behind victory last week at Arkansas, the Crimson Tide jump from the fire into the frying pan. The Gators are coming to Tuscaloosa looking for revenge after last year’s SEC championship game loss kept them from playing for a third national championship in four years. Some observers believe Alabama is primed for a letdown this week but we’re not buying it. The Tide has been rock-solid this season while Florida has made a boatload of mistakes, especially on offense. Points may be hard to come by since both teams rank among the top 15 nationally in scoring defense. We just think they’ll be harder to come by for the Gators … Alabama 20, Florida 13. (8 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 3 Boise State at New Mexico State: Probably the less said about this one, the better. Let’s simply say the Broncos enter the soft part of their schedule with the winless Aggies. Boise State is working on a 17-game win streak while NMSU has lost 10 in a row. The Broncos average 40.3 points and 500 yards per game, and the Aggies give up an average of 41.7 and 520. And Boise is a perfect 10-0 in the series. About the only thing the Aggies have going for them is the fact that the game will be played in Las Cruces, so they can avoid a long trip home after getting their teeth kicked in … Boise State 52, New Mexico State 7. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
No. 9 Stanford at No. 4 Oregon: With its Rose Bowl victory in January, Ohio State gave Jim Harbaugh the blueprint for how to beat the Quack Attack. Get physical with the Ducks and they don’t like it very much. The trick is corralling Oregon’s speedsters long enough to get physical with them. Harbaugh’s team can muscle up – just ask UCLA, Wake Forest and Notre Dame, who got outscored by a 140-38 margin by the Cardinal over the past three weeks. But does Stanford have what it takes to go to Autzen Stadium and end a four-game losing streak there? Last year’s game featured a knock-down, drag-out, last-man-standing 51-42 affair won by the Cardinal and they haven’t won two in a row from the Ducks since the mid-’90s. Buckle your seat belts for the Upset Special … Stanford 45, Oregon 42. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
No. 25 Nevada at UNLV: The Wolf Pack are celebrating twice this week. They are 4-0 to start a season for the first time ever as a Division I-A school, and they’re in the national rankings for the first time in 60 years. Some are pooh-poohing the team’s ranking, suggesting the pollsters are perhaps trying to breathe a little life into Boise State’s otherwise weak strength of schedule. (The Wolf Pack host the Broncos on Nov. 26.) What those people don’t understand is that Nevada is a pretty good team. Don’t believe it? Just ask Cal or BYU, two teams that got streamrolled by the Pack the past two weeks. Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick (924 yards, seven TDs) is one of the best college quarterbacks you’ve never heard of, and he tends to go off when his team plays the Rebels. In two previous meetings, Kaepernick has a combined 797 yards and six touchdowns rushing and passing. Look for more of the same tomorrow night … Nevada 48, UNLV 13. (10 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)
No. 2 Ohio State at Illinois: There are some extremely intriguing matchups in this game. For example, OSU averages 49.3 points per game while the Illinois defense allows only 16.0. The Buckeyes are No. 5 nationally in run defense, allowing only 71.0 yards per game, and the Illini have the No. 18 rushing attack with a 229.0 average. Throw in the fact that Ohio State holds only a slight 11-9 advantage in the series since 1988 and you could come to the conclusion this game will be a tight affair. Look a little deeper, however, and you will find the Buckeyes have won 13 of the last 16 in the series including seven in a row in Champaign. Then there is the quarterback battle between Heisman Trophy candidate Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State and Illinois freshman Nathan Scheelhaase. Look for the OSU defense – embarrassed about last week’s performance against Eastern Michigan – to concentrate on stopping the Illinois run game and put a lot of pressure on a young QB who has already pitched three interceptions in only 57 attempts … Ohio State 44, Illinois 17. (12 noon ET, BTN)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Northwestern (-4) at Minnesota; Texas vs. Oklahoma (-3½); Michigan at Indiana (+10½); Wisconsin (-1½) at Michigan State; Tennessee at LSU (-16); Penn State at Iowa (-7); Florida (+8) at Alabama; Boise State (-41) at New Mexico State; Stanford (+7) at Oregon, Nevada (-20½) at UNLV; Ohio State (-17) at Illinois.
Enjoy the games and we’ll see you next week.