Buckeyes Cannot Afford To Take Anything For Granted

“We’ve just got to stop taking stuff for granted.” – Terrelle Pryor following Ohio State’s 31-18 loss to Wisconsin.

Remember last week’s blog with the cautionary wine-drinking vs. grape-stomping tale? Evidently someone over at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center wasn’t listening.

Instead of taking care of business at Camp Randall Stadium, Ohio State wound up on the business end of a 31-18 decision Oct. 16 that was a borderline blowout by Wisconsin.

Forget the national championship. Bye-bye Heisman Trophy. The greatest dreams of the Buckeye Nation went up in smoke as its favorite football team fell victim once again to a lesser opponent who simply wanted it more.

It must be extremely difficult to always be the hunted because every time – and I mean each and every time – the Buckeyes play with a target on their backs, they seem to trip themselves.

The only consensus national championships the team has won in the past half-century came in 1968 and 2002, teams that no one really expected to be title contenders at the beginning of the season.

Forty-two years ago, the Buckeyes were coming off a 1967 campaign that saw them post a 6-3 overall record and finish in fourth place in the Big Ten standings. Sure, Woody Hayes had a star-studded class of super sophomores coming in, but no one expected a national championship right out of the box. OSU played its first game that 1968 season ranked No. 11.

Back in 2002, Ohio State was supposed to be positioning itself for a title run the following year. They played Texas Tech in that season’s opener as the nation’s No. 13 ranked team.

If you would like to go back even further, the 1954 and 1957 national champions each began their respective seasons unranked.

A sharp contrast are the seasons during which the Buckeyes have begun the year ranked among the nation’s top five teams. Over the past half-century, that includes 1962, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1987, 1998, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

That is 17 (and counting) seasons when OSU has started a campaign at No. 5 or higher in the national polls and come home an also-ran in the national championship race.

The glass-half-full crowd will say that you have to at least be in the race to win it, and there is some veracity to that. Ohio State has been one of college football’s elite programs for much of the last six decades and is one of only a handful of schools that can boast such a winning résumé over such a protracted period of time.

On the other hand, all of the aforementioned seasons – and several others when the Buckeyes reached the top five in midyear – represent an awful lot of crushed hopes and dreams.

Things were supposed to be different in 2010, however. The Buckeyes had learned their lesson from losses last year to USC and Purdue, teams they should have beaten. After a mistake-filled trip to West Lafayette, the team circled its wagons and won six games in a row, finishing things off with a masterful Rose Bowl victory over five-point favorite Oregon.

Everything set up perfectly this year for Ohio State including a favorable schedule. The toughest games on the slate appeared to be a home game in week two with an improving Miami (Fla.) and road tests at Wisconsin and Iowa.

When the Buckeyes demolished the Hurricanes in a game that was not nearly as close as the final score of 36-24 indicated, OSU seemingly had everything going its way. Sure, Wisconsin always played them tough, but the Buckeyes had won four of their last five trips to Madison. They have had similar recent success in Iowa City, winning 14 of their 17 visits there.

Ohio State was going to storm through the last six games of its regular season the same way it stormed through the first six and once again head to the Arizona desert to play for the national championship – with a brief stop in New York City long enough for Pryor to pick up the Heisman Trophy.

At least that was the way it was supposed to be. Now, the Buckeyes and their fans are left not to ponder what might have been but what is. Purdue comes to town tomorrow for homecoming, and while the Boilermakers do not seem to be on par with Wisconsin, they have made a habit of making things interesting against Ohio State teams in the recent past.

The Buckeyes have won four of the last six meetings, but OSU has scored 16 points or fewer in three of those four victories. Last year, the Buckeyes scored 18 and it wasn’t enough against the upset-minded Boilermakers.

But, of course, everything was supposed to change after that game. Everything is always supposed to change after a loss. Too many times this season, I have heard one Buckeye or another say, “We made a lot of mistakes out there but we’ll get those things fixed.”

Yep. Every year, every new team says the same thing – this time things will be different.

And somehow, to nearly everyone’s amazement, it usually turns out the same.

OSU-PURDUE TIDBITS

** This marks the 53rd meeting between Ohio State and Purdue with the Buckeyes holding a 37-13-2 record in the overall series. That includes a 25-5-2 mark in Columbus, including 14 of the last 15. Since 1968, the Boilermakers’ lone victory in Ohio Stadium was a 31-26 decision in the 1988 homecoming game.

** The series began in 1919 but the Buckeyes and Boilermakers have played only sporadically over the years. As a result, Purdue has never beaten Ohio State in back-to-back seasons.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 5-2 against the Boilermakers, including a 16-3 victory in 2008 on Purdue’s most recent visit to Columbus. That 13-point win was par for the course. Tressel’s five victories in the series have come by an average margin of 12.4 points.

** Purdue head coach Danny Hope is in his second year with the Boilermakers. He is 1-0 vs. the Buckeyes, making him one of only two Purdue head coaches in history to enjoy a winning record against Ohio State. The other is Cecil Isbell, who coached the Boilermakers from 1944-46. His team took a 35-13 win over the Buckeyes in 1945 and played to a 14-14 tie the following season. Both games were played in Columbus.

** In games following the 21 previous losses during the Tressel era, Ohio State has a 19-2 record. Thirteen of those games were at Ohio Stadium where the Buckeyes are 12-1 following a loss. OSU has dropped back-to-back games only once under Tressel – the team lost three straight in 2004 to Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa.

** Ohio State returns to the Horseshoe this week for the annual homecoming game. The Buckeyes are 64-19-5 all-time on homecoming, including 7-2 under Tressel. The lone blemishes are a 20-17 loss to Wisconsin in 2001 and a 13-6 defeat to Penn State in 2008. Last year on homecoming, the Buckeyes posted a 38-7 victory over Minnesota.

** Dating back to last season, Purdue is riding a three-game Big Ten winning streak. The Boilermakers haven’t won four conference games in a row since winning the final three of the 2006 season and their league opener in 2007.

** The Boilermakers are also seeking their first 3-0 start in Big Ten play since 2003. They finished 9-4 overall and 6-2 in the conference that season under head coach Joe Tiller. Purdue hasn’t won that many Big Ten games in a single season since.

** Purdue quarterback Rob Henry is coming off a performance against Minnesota that earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. During his team’s 28-17 win over the Golden Gophers, Henry accounted for all four Boilermaker touchdowns. He completed 13 of 20 passes for 183 yards and a score, and added 57 yards and three TDs on the ground.

** Purdue features one of the top pass-rushing defenses in college football. The Boilermakers lead the Big Ten with 18 sacks and 45 tackles for loss, and respectively rank 11th and 12th nationally in sacks and TFL.

** Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is tied for his school’s career record with 12 forced fumbles, a figure that is also No. 2 all-time in the Big Ten. The conference mark of 13 is shared by Illinois linebacker Simeon Rice (1992-95) and Iowa safety Bob Sanders (2000-03).

** Purdue has many distinguished alumni including astronauts Neil Armstrong (the first man to set foot on the moon) and Eugene Cernan (the last man to set to set foot on the moon).

** It’s no understatement that Ohio State needs quarterback Terrelle Pryor to perform well if the Buckeyes expect to win. OSU is 14-1 overall when Pryor rushes for at least one touchdown and 22-1 when he has at least one touchdown pass. Last week in the loss to Wisconsin, Pryor had no rushing touchdowns and no touchdown passes.

** Pryor needs 90 more passing yards to reach 5,000 for his career, and that would make him only the seventh active QB in Division I-A with at least 5,000 yards through the air and 1,000 on the ground. The others are Colin Kaepernick of Nevada, Andy Dalton of TCU, Jake Locker of Washington, Austen Arnaud of Iowa State, Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech and Diondre Borel of Utah State.

** Pryor also needs 154 yards of total offense to take over third place on the Ohio State all-time list. He currently sits fourth with 6,730 while Troy Smith (2003-06) is third with 6,888. The school’s top two in total offense are Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81) and Bobby Hoying (7,151, 1992-95).

** OSU senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher needs 46 more yards to crack the school’s all-time top 15. He currently has 1,436 yards while John Frank (1980-83) is 15th with 1,481.

** This week’s game will be telecast once again by the Big Ten Network with an announce crew that should be familiar to Ohio State fans. Eric Collins (play-by-play), Chris Martin (color analysis) and Charissa Thompson (sideline reports) are working their fourth OSU game of the season. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 113 and 125 as well as XM channels 102 and 197.

** Next week, Ohio State will get its first look at Minnesota’s two-year-old TCF Bank Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Eastern and the game will be televised by ESPN.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Oct. 20, 1917, Washington beat Whitman College by a 14-6 score, extending its unbeaten streak to 63 games, an NCAA record that still stands.

** On Oct. 20, 1944, Maryland and Michigan State combined for the fewest pass attempts in the modern era of college football during an 8-0 win by the Spartans. The Terrapins threw only one pass during the game while Michigan State attempted none.

** On Oct. 20, 1956, Texas A&M scored a 7-6 upset over No. 4 TCU is what has been called “The Hurricane Game.” Played in 90-mph wins, the Horned Frogs got inside the A&M 5-yard-line three times in the first half but failed to score.

** On Oct. 21, 1989, Alabama QB Gary Hollingsworth set a school record for completions, going 32 for 46 for 379 yards and three touchdowns as the Tide rolled to a 47-30 win over Tennessee.

** On Oct. 21, 2000, Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El had a history-making performance during his team’s 51-43 win over Minnesota. Randle El threw for 263 yards and ran for 210 to become the first player in Big Ten history to crack the 200-yard mark in both passing and rushing in the same game.

** On Oct. 21, 2006, Michigan State engineered the biggest comeback in NCAA history, erasing a 38-3 deficit on the way to a 41-38 victory over Northwestern in Evanston.

** On Oct. 22, 1904, Minnesota’s Bobby Marshall set an NCAA record by scoring 72 points during the Golden Gophers’ 146-0 victory over Grinnell (Iowa).

** On Oct. 22, 1983, Nebraska scored 41 points in less than three minutes of possession time on its way to a 69-19 rout of Colorado.

** On Oct. 23, 1965, Virginia Tech was riding high with a new facility and a victory over its instate rivals. The Hokies, known then as the Gobblers, opened their new Lane Stadium with a 22-14 win over Virginia. Tech rushed for 323 yards in the contest, but the decisive touchdown came on a 71-yard pass from quarterback Bobby Owens to receiver Tommy Groom late in the fourth quarter.

** On Oct. 23, 1976, Pittsburgh running back Tony Dorsett pushed his season rushing total past the 1,000-yard mark during a 45-0 victory over Navy. Dorsett became the first running back in NCAA history to post four 1,000-yard seasons, and he also broke the NCAA career rushing record previously held by two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin.

** On Oct. 24, 1981, Stanford became the first team in college football history to have two players throw for 250 yards or more in the same game. Steve Cottrell threw for 311 yards while John Elway added 270, but it didn’t do the Cardinal much good. They lost a 62-36 decision to Arizona State.

** On Oct. 25, 1947, Columbia scored a 21-20 upset over Army, ending the Black Knights’ unbeaten streak at 32 games.

** On Oct. 25, 1980, SMU freshman quarterback Lance McIlhenny celebrated his first start by engineering a 20-6 upset of No. 2 Texas in Austin. Halfback Craig James, now a college football analyst for ESPN, ran 53 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put the Mustangs ahead for good.

** On Oct. 26, 1985, seventh-ranked BYU saw its 25-game conference winning streak end when UTEP handed the Cougars a 23-16 loss in El Paso. Miners DB Danny Taylor returned a Robbie Bosco interception 100 yards for a touchdown to provide for the winning points.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level is down to 10. The alphabetical list includes Auburn, Boise State, LSU, Michigan State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, TCU and Utah.

** Boise State pushed the nation’s longest current winning streak at 20 with last weekend’s 48-0 stampede over San Jose State. Meanwhile, Western Kentucky remains on the other side of the spectrum. The Hilltoppers squandered a 24-7 lead after three quarters and wound up with a 35-30 loss to Louisiana-Monroe, extending the nation’s longest losing streak to 26 games.

** When it ascended to the No. 1 spot in this week’s Associated Press poll, Oregon became the 43rd team to hold the top spot in the media poll which began ranking college football teams in 1936. The last time a team was No. 1 for the first time was Virginia, which rose to the top spot on Oct. 14, 1990.

** The Ducks’ 60-13 win over UCLA last night avoided something that hasn’t happened in 50 years. Oregon protected its top ranking in the Associated Press writers’ poll after former No. 1s Alabama and Ohio State had gone down in successive weeks. The last time the AP No. 1 team lost in three consecutive weeks was November 1960 when Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri fell in succession.

** Michigan State has won its first seven games for the first time since opening the 1966 season with nine victories in a row. The Spartans are also off to 7-0 start for only the sixth time in school history. Four of the five previous times Michigan State began a season with seven wins, the team brought home a national championship.

** Last week’s 10-7 loss to Mississippi State marked the third defeat in a row for Florida, something that hasn’t happened in Gainesville since 1988 when the Gators lost four in a row under then head coach Galen Hall. (That’s the same Hall who has been Joe Paterno’s offensive coordinator at Penn State since 2004.) Florida head coach Urban Meyer is also navigating uncharted waters. Meyer has never before experienced a three-game losing streak in his head coaching career that began at Bowling Green in 2001.

** Boise State continues to lose even when it wins. Despite a 48-0 pounding of San Jose State, the Broncos’ strength of schedule took another hit Saturday night when No. 19 Nevada dropped a 27-21 decision at unranked Hawaii. It was the Wolf Pack’s first loss this season but their sixth straight to the Rainbow Warriors in Honolulu since joining the WAC in 2000.

** Since Rich Rodriguez became head coach at Michigan, the Wolverines have lost 15 of their 19 conference games. Michigan hasn’t suffered through that kind of futility in Big Ten play for more than 70 years. U-M dropped 16 of 18 league contests during a stretch between 1934 and 1937.

** Indiana head coach Bill Lynch will be gunning for career victory No. 100 tomorrow when his Hoosiers travel to Illinois. Lynch’s 17-year coaching résumé contains 36 wins at Butler, 37 at Ball State, eight at DePauw and 18 at Indiana.

** The supposed top three in this week’s Heisman Trophy race: Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton, Oregon running back LaMichael James and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict none of those three will win the award. Who would top my ballot if I had to turn it in today? I honestly have no idea.

** Probably the best player in America you’ve never heard of plays for Troy. He is receiver Jerrel Jernigan, who returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown and caught the game-winning TD in the Trojans’ 31-24 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Jernigan leads the Sun Belt and ranks fifth nationally with 178.3 all-purpose yards per game.

** Miami (Ohio) will unveil its first three “Cradle of Coaches” statues tomorrow before the game against Ohio University, honoring outstanding former players who went on to distinguished coaching careers. Carmen Cozza, Paul Dietzel and the late Weeb Eubank will be the first three former Miami players honored. Next season, the RedHawks will unveil statues of the late Earl “Red” Blaik, Ara Parseghian and the late Bo Schembechler.

** Speaking of Parseghian, he also coached at Northwestern before becoming an icon at Notre Dame and he has been invited by current head coach Pat Fitzgerald to give a pregame talk to the Wildcats before tomorrow afternoon’s game against Michigan State.

** Another bowl game has changed sponsors. The GMAC Bowl, scheduled for Jan. 6 and featuring Mid-American Conference and Sun Belt teams, will henceforth be known as the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Obviously, that means there will be copious amounts of commercials featuring racecar driver Danica Patrick during the telecast. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Missing only the two big upsets of the week – Texas over No. 4 Nebraska and Wisconsin over top-ranked Ohio State – the straight-up picks posted an 8-2 record that puts the yearly mark at 65-11. Against the spread, we kept rolling right along with an identical 8-2 mark and that pushes us to a lofty 46-27-3 ATS for the season.

Here are the games we like this week. (Rankings are now BCS standings.)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 7 Michigan State at Northwestern: Are the Spartans for real? We may get a little better handle on that question this week when they play outside their home state for the first time all season. MSU has a nice blend of offense and defense, including two of the best players in the Big Ten. Quarterback Kirk Cousins (1,617 yards, 11 TDs) has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 14 straight games while linebacker Greg Jones was named national defensive player of the week for his performance during Sparty’s 26-6 win over Illinois. Michigan State beat Northwestern last season, 24-14 in East Lansing, but the Spartans would do well not to overlook the Wildcats. Dual-threat quarterback Dan Persa (1,663 yards, 10 TDs) leads the country with his 78.0 percent completion rate, and NU took last week off to prepare. Still, Northwestern remains suspect at times on defense and that should make the difference … Michigan State 31, Northwestern 23. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Duke at No. 25 Virginia Tech: Since being left for dead following season-opening losses to Boise State and I-AA James Madison, the Hokies have become a pretty good football team. They have won five in a row by an average of about three touchdowns per game and have averaged 41.2 points every time out. That kind of performance should probably continue this week against the Blue Devils, who have quarterback problems. Sophomore Sean Renfree (1,621 yards, 10 TDs) is the starter, but he has thrown 14 interceptions in the past five games. Not coincidentally, Duke has lost all five. The Hokies lead the all-time series by a 10-7 margin but that’s a little deceiving since they’ve won the last nine in a row … Virginia Tech 31, Duke 10. (12 noon ET, ACC Network)

No. 6 LSU at No. 4 Auburn: The number of undefeated teams will be reduced by one in this matchup of SEC rivals who have reached 7-0 in much different ways. The Bayou Bengals have had several cardiac finishes while the War Eagles have tried to bludgeon opponents with Heisman Trophy candidate Cam Newton at quarterback. While Newton has passed and rushed for a combined 2,138 yards and 25 TDs, LSU head coach Les Miles has employed a two-quarterback system with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. Maybe it doesn’t matter since both QBs have beaten Auburn during their careers – Lee two years ago and Jefferson last year. The onus will be on the LSU defense to try and stop Newton, who hasn’t lost a game as a starting QB since leading Blinn College (Texas) to last year’s JUCO national championship … Auburn 23, LSU 18. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 13 Wisconsin at No. 15 Iowa: Now that the Badgers have had their way with the Ohio State defense, they must travel to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes, who rank sixth nationally in scoring defense (13.2 points per game) and seventh against the run (83.3 yards). Wisconsin should roll into Kinnick Stadium with plenty of confidence but the Badgers never seem to be at their best there. Iowa has won three of the last four in the series at Kinnick and held UW’s potent offense to an average of only 12.5 points in those games. It may come down to the quarterback play between Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien and Ricky Stanzi of Iowa. Both complete around 70 percent of their passes and have combined to throw only five interceptions in 293 attempts this season. Buckle your chinstraps because this ought to be a good one … Iowa 20, Wisconsin 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

Washington State at No. 12 Stanford: This has all the makings of a blowout if the Cardinal can simply retain their focus. They had last week off to savor a 37-35 victory over USC, a win during which sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck went 20 of 24 passing for 285 yards and three touchdowns. Luck directs an offense that averages 43.3 points and 471.0 yards per game, figures that respectively rank fifth and 12th nationally. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Cougars surrender 40.1 points and 493.9 yards per contest. Those figures respectively rank 118th and 120th out of 120 schools playing Division I-A football. The final score in this one all depends upon Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh and how big a statement he wants to make … Stanford 45, Washington State 13. (5 p.m. ET, FCS)

Eastern Michigan at Virginia: Just in case you missed it, the Eagles and head coach Ron English celebrated their first victory together last week with a 41-38 overtime win over Ball State. QB Alex Gillett, who turned in an admirable performance earlier this season against Ohio State, exploded for 414 yards of total offense and five touchdowns as EMU snapped an 18-game losing streak. Now, it’s back to reality and a trip to Charlottesville to face the struggling Cavaliers in their first year under head coach Mike London. Since beating up on VMI at the end of September, Virginia has lost three in a row by an average of 22.0 points per game. The Cavs’ offense has been sputtering, but you would have to believe a mid-level ACC team can still put some points on the board against the worst defense in the MAC … Virginia 34, Eastern Michigan 21. (6 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Colorado State at No. 9 Utah: The Utes would like to elbow their way alongside Boise State and TCU into the national title conversation, but they’re going to have to do a better job than they did last week. During a rather lackluster 30-6 win over Wyoming, Utah turned the ball over three more times to give the team 12 for the season. Coupled with only six takeaways by their defense, the Utes are a lowly 108th nationally in turnover margin. They are certainly going to have to shore up that part of their game before welcoming TCU to Salt Lake City in two weeks, especially since the Horned Frogs rank No. 16 in turnover margin. This week, however, Utah shouldn’t have to worry much. The Rams have turned the ball over 13 times themselves while their pass efficiency defense ranks dead last in the nation … Utah 45, Colorado State 13. (6 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)

No. 8 Alabama at Tennessee: Even though the Volunteers are 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the SEC, expect them to get Alabama’s full attention. Last year, the Crimson Tide barely escaped with a 12-10 victory that was secured only after DT Terrence Cody blocked a 44-yard field goal attempt at the end of the game. Most observers believe ’Bama will cruise this time around but the defending national champions have had their problems the last couple of weeks. Their vaunted ground game is stuck in second gear and their pressure defense has produced only eight sacks in seven games. Still, Tennessee is struggling so mightily on both offense and defense that it shouldn’t make any difference … Alabama 31, Tennessee 7. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Purdue at No. 10 Ohio State: As the Buckeyes try to pick up the pieces from last week’s loss at Wisconsin, they have an opponent coming to Columbus for homecoming they had better not overlook. Obviously, the Boilermakers scored a huge 26-18 upset over Ohio State last season but there is every reason to believe Purdue is better now than it was then. The Boilermakers try to spread the field on offense much more than they have in the past – sort of a Michigan Lite if you will – and try to let redshirt freshman QB Rob Henry make a play. So far, so good, since Henry has 399 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in his team’s Big Ten victories over Northwestern and Minnesota. Meanwhile, OSU defenders are dropping like flies as top tackler Ross Homan is sidelined with a foot injury and nickel back Christian Bryant is out with a foot infection that required surgery. A much better performance than last week is paramount for both the Ohio State defensive line and quarterback Terrelle Pryor, or the Buckeyes had better be on upset alert again … Ohio State 34, Purdue 20. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Michigan State (-5) at Northwestern; Duke (+27) at Virginia Tech; LSU (+6) at Auburn; Wisconsin (+6) at Iowa; Washington State (+35) at Stanford; Eastern Michigan (+24½) at Virginia; Colorado State at Utah (-30); Alabama (-16) at Tennessee; Purdue (+24) at Ohio State.

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

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