On the day before each Ohio State football game, Buckeye Sports Bulletin staffers offer their predictions on the upcoming contest in our electronic newsletter. Before the Oct. 30 matchup with Minnesota, this is what I wrote:
“In a season that has already featured plenty of Jekyll-and-Hyde moments, which costumes will the Buckeyes don Saturday night when the Golden Gophers throw their Halloween party at two-year-old TCF Bank Stadium?
“Will OSU come dressed as an efficient passing team as it did against Indiana and in the second quarter last week against Purdue? Or will the Buckeyes resemble Swiss cheese as they have so often this season on special teams?
“Will the team show up as a locomotive, grinding out the tough yardage on the ground as it did late in the game at Illinois? Or perhaps the Buckeyes will feel unmotivated and just throw something together at the last minute as they appeared to do early against Wisconsin.
“The scariest thing about this Ohio State team? It is nearing the three-quarter pole of the 2010 season still in the middle of an identity crisis. The Buckeyes don’t yet know what kind of team they want to be and decision time is rapidly running out.
“Not that it will matter much against the Gophers, who occupy last place in the Big Ten standings and deservedly so. OSU should go to Minnesota and win by 50 points because that’s what championship teams do. But are the Buckeyes a championship team or simply masquerading as one?
Hindsight being 20/20, we now know Ohio State didn’t quite win by 50 points, but it did play like a championship team while rather easily dispatching the Golden Gophers. Like most title contenders, the Buckeyes manufactured their own points and then made Minnesota pay dearly whenever it made a mistake.
OSU piled up 507 yards on offense and tacked on another 184 in hidden yardage – 154 on kickoff and punt returns and 30 more on John Simon’s fumble return for a touchdown. The Buckeyes scored nearly every way a football team can score – running, passing, kicking a field goal, blocked punt, fumble return. About the only thing missing was a kick return for a touchdown, and junior Jordan Hall nearly provided that by taking a back punt 70 yards to the Minnesota 2.
Yet, there were flaws. Early pass-coverage breakdowns the Gophers exploited for a quick first-quarter touchdown. Terrelle Pryor’s brain cramp of an interception in the second quarter near the goal line after Hall’s long return. Devin Barclay’s missed 21-yard field goal. Still too much yardage surrendered on kickoff returns.
You may argue that criticizing a handful of mistakes during a 52-10 blowout victory is nitpicking of the highest degree. I would argue that any number of those mistakes can cost the Buckeyes and cost them dearly during the final three games of the regular season.
Despite what happened to previously undefeated Michigan State at Iowa, the cold, hard truth of the matter is that Ohio State must play flawless football against Penn State, Iowa and Michigan to close the season. It goes without saying that the Buckeyes must win all of those games, but they also have to play well while accomplishing those victories.
After the BCS standings were revealed Oct. 31 and Ohio State didn’t budge out of the No. 11 spot – while an idle Wisconsin moved up from 10th to ninth – it now appears the Buckeyes have very little wiggle room if they want a sixth straight bid to a big-money Bowl Championship Series game.
Several years ago, the BCS took style points and/or margin of victory out of the equation to determine its participants, but I maintain those facets of competition continue to play a vital role in the human polls which still make up two-thirds of the BCS standings. Therefore, Ohio State not only has to win out, it has to win out convincingly.
Perhaps it is unfair to ask that of any team. But whoever said life was fair? Right or wrong, the team’s losses in back-to-back national championship games still hang around the program’s neck, and nearly everyone outside the Big Ten looks for the smallest of excuses to downgrade anything OSU does.
The only way for the Buckeyes to combat that is to play like the championship team they are supposed to be.
YOU MAY THINK YOU KNOW …
The Big Ten championship race heads into its final month with four teams remaining in the title hunt. Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa are in a virtual tie – each has only one conference loss – but if you think you can look at the remaining schedules of those four teams and figure out what’s going to happen, you might have another thing coming.
The marquee game remaining on the conference schedule would appear to be Nov. 20 when Ohio State visits Iowa with the loser facing almost certain elimination from the championship race. There are several other intriguing matchups, however, involving each of the front-runners. Those games include Iowa traveling to Northwestern on Nov. 13, Wisconsin playing at Michigan on Nov. 20 and Michigan State visiting Penn State in the Nov. 27 regular-season finale for both teams.
History runs deeply through each of those games.
Ohio State has had its way with Iowa over the years. The Buckeyes are 44-14-3 all-time against the Hawkeyes and haven’t lost a game in the series since 2004. In addition, playing at Kinnick Stadium has never been much of a problem for OSU. The team is 14-2-1 on its last 17 trips there.
Iowa fares much better all-time against Northwestern, boasting a 46-20-3 advantage over Northwestern in a series that began in 1897. But current Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz has struggled against the Wildcats. He is only 4-5 during his career against NU, and that includes losses in four of the last five meetings.
Meanwhile, Michigan has had its troubles in the Big Ten since Rich Rodriguez took over as head coach in 2008. But the Wolverines still enjoy a lopsided 49-13-1 advantage over Wisconsin in their all-time series, and the Big House has been a House of Horrors for the Badgers. They haven’t won there since 1994, and their most recent trip was in 2008 when Michigan overcame a 19-0 halftime deficit for a 27-25 victory.
Likewise, visiting Happy Valley has seldom been a happy experience for Michigan State. The Spartans have lost five of the last six in the series, including eight in a row at Beaver Stadium – six of those by 19 points or more.
Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY
** On Nov. 1, 1880, legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice was born in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Considered one of the greatest American writers of the first half of the 20th century, Rice penned arguably the most famous line in college football history when he wrote, “Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again,” dubbing the famed Four Horsemen of Notre Dame in 1924. Rice later joined with U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Army head coach Earl “Red” Blaik to create the National Football Foundation in 1947.
** On Nov. 3, 1962, third-ranked USC Trojans handed No. 9 Washington its first loss of the season with a 14-0 shutout in Los Angeles. Quarterback Pete Beathard threw and ran for a score to carry the Trojans to victory. The win helped propel USC to the first of four national titles won under College Football Hall of Fame coach John McKay.
** On Nov. 3, 1984, Ohio State rolled to a 50-7 victory over Indiana, giving future College Football Hall of Fame coach Earle Bruce his 100th career win.
** On Nov. 4, 1967, Miami (Fla.) ended Virginia Tech’s regular-season winning streak at 14 with a 14-7 upset in Blacksburg.
** On Nov. 4, 2000, No. 23 Northwestern upset No. 12 Michigan in a 54-51 shootout in Evanston. Northwestern tailback Damien Anderson, who carried for 268 yards and two scores, dropped a fourth down pass in the end zone late in the game that seemingly sealed the Wildcats’ fate. But on the ensuing Michigan possession, cornerback Sean Wieber forced Wolverines tailback Anthony Thomas to fumble, which was recovered by cornerback Raheem Covington. The turnover set up an 11-yard touchdown pass from NU quarterback Zak Kustok to wide receiver Sam Simmons with 20 seconds to play to clinch the victory.
** Also on Nov. 4, 2000, Utah State running back Emmett White established a new NCAA single-game record with 578 all-purpose yards as the Aggies took a 44-37 win over New Mexico State.
** On Nov. 5, 1955, three future College Hall of Famers – coaches Bowden Wyatt of Tennessee and Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech as well as UT tailback Johnny Majors – were all at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville as the Volunteers and Yellow Jackets played to a 7-7 tie.
** On Nov. 5, 1960, third-ranked Minnesota forced three turnovers and scored a 27-10 upset of top-ranked Iowa.
** On Nov. 6, 1869, Rutgers and Princeton squared off in Brunswick, N.J., for what has often been described as the first-ever game of American football. The 1869 game – won 6 “runs” to 4 by Rutgers – bore little resemblance to what football is known as today. For example, each side used 25 men on a 120-yard field and the rules were said to be a mixture of rugby and soccer. Players attempted to score by kicking the ball into the opposing team’s goal, and throwing or carrying the ball was not allowed.
** On Nov. 6, 1971, Colgate and Bucknell combined to run the ball 141 times, setting an NCAA record for the most rushes in a college football game. The Raiders rushed 82 times while Bucknell racked up 59 carries, and the teams combined for 440 total rushing yards. Colgate won the game by a 47-24 score.
** On Nov. 6, 1976, Houston highlighted its first season as a member of the Southwest Conference with a stunning 30-0 victory over Texas. The Cougars were led by defensive tackle Wilson Whitley as the Longhorns were limited to only eight first downs in their worst conference loss ever under legendary head coach Darrell Royal.
** On Nov. 7, 1925, Andy “Swede” Oberlander threw a then-NCAA-record six touchdown passes as Dartmouth rolled to a 62-13 win over Cornell. One week later, the Big Green took a 33-7 victory over Chicago to finish the season with a perfect 8-0 record and the national championship.
** On Nov. 7, 1959, unranked Tennessee stopped Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon on a fourth-quarter two-point conversion run and preserved a 14-13 upset over No. 1 LSU, ending the Tigers’ 19-game unbeaten streak.
** On Nov. 7, 1970, Northwestern fullback Mike Adamle set a new Big Ten record for carries by rushing 48 times for 192 yards and four touchdowns as his Wildcats took a 28-14 win over Minnesota.
** On Nov. 8, 1975, unranked Kansas ended No. 2 Oklahoma’s 28-game winning streak by going into Norman and carving out a 23-3 upset victory. The defending national champion Sooners committed seven second-half turnovers and were held to their lowest scoring output in nine seasons. They rebounded, however, and went on to defeat Penn State in the Orange Bowl for a second consecutive national title.
** Also on Nov. 8, 1975, freshman cornerback Savann Thompson’s interception with 59 seconds left set up the game-winning field goal as Stanford shocked No. 9 USC, 13-10, in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
** On Nov. 9, 1912, Carlisle (Ind.) used the double wing formation for the first time and rolled past a confused Army team, 27-6. Leading the Indians was legendary fullback Jim Thorpe while the Cadets featured a team that included nine future generals, including five-star general and future U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** Our weekly count of the undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level is getting easier. Only five remain: Auburn, Boise State, Oregon, TCU and Utah.
** When the NCAA said Thursday that Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez did not fail to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program, Rodriguez breathed a huge sigh of relief. Not so for U-M officials and alumni who may have entertained notions of firing the coach after this season. Had the NCAA ruled against Rodriguez, Michigan could possibly have fired him with cause and voided the remainder of his contract. As it stands now, if the university wants to off Rodriguez after this season, it would owe him the approximately $7.5 million remaining on his original six-year, $15 million deal.
** Legendary head coach Joe Paterno goes for career victory No. 400 tomorrow when his Penn State team takes on Northwestern. When he reaches the milestone, Paterno will become only the third coach in NCAA history with 400 or more career wins – John Gagliardi of St. John’s (Minn.) has 476 and counting while the late Eddie Robinson won 408 at Grambling. Paterno is currently in his 45th season as head coach of the Nittany Lions, and tomorrow’s game will mark his 535th as head coach at Penn State. That is exceeded in college football history only by Amos Alonzo Stagg, who coached 578 games at the University of Chicago.
** Congratulations to Illinois head coach Ron Zook. All but relegated to the coaching trash pile, Zook has resuscitated his program this season and the Fighting Illini are 5-3. That marks only the third time in the past 20 seasons the team has won at least five of its first eight games. Additionally, the blowout wins over Indiana and Purdue the past two weeks represented the first back-to-back victories by 30 points or more by the Illini since 1944.
** According to a story in the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi’s top three candidates to replace Tim Brewster are Chris Peterson of Boise State, Jim Harbaugh of Stanford and Gary Patterson of TCU. If that is truly his wish list, Maturi had better find an old lamp and start rubbing it really, really hard. The Minnesota AD should be a bit more realistic and interview former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski (now in the UFL) or Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman (a former Minnesota QB from 1974-75). Then, of course, there is South Florida head coach Skip Holtz, son of Lou Holtz who was head coach of the Golden Gophers in 1984 and ’85.
** When Oregon scored the game’s final 24 points in its 53-32 victory over USC last weekend, it was simply the continuation of a season-long trend for the Ducks. They have now outscored their opponents by an overwhelming 170-38 margin in the second half.
** Two guys who should at least be mentioned in the Heisman Trophy conversation are both sophomores. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin, who suffered an ACL tear last year, has almost singlehandedly gotten the Bears bowl-eligible for the first time in 16 years by throwing for 2,592 yards and 20 TDs against only five interceptions. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon has 62 receptions for 1,112 yards and 14 TDs. His touchdown receptions lead the nation as does his 17.9-yard average per catch.
** Before last season, there had been only seven times in Division I-A history when a player had rushed for at least 1,000 yards and thrown for at least 2,000 in the same season. Last year, three players did it, and three more are on pace to accomplish the feat this year. In 2009, Joe Webb of UAB, Dwight Dasher of Middle Tennessee and Colin Kaepernick of Nevada joined the 1,000-2,000 club, while Denard Robinson of Michigan (1,287 rushing, 1,509 passing), Cam Newton of Auburn (1,122-1,573) and Kaepernick (771-1,670) are nearing those milestones this season.
** Robinson is nearing a Division I-A single-season record for most rushing yardage by a quarterback. After racking up 191 last week against Penn State, Robinson has 1,287 for the season and that is a new Big Ten record. He needs only 208 more to break the I-A record of 1,494 set in 1996 by Air Force QB Beau Morgan.
** Talk about planning ahead. When Michigan State and Boise State announced last week they would play one another next season, the schools also revealed they had signed a contract to play a home-and-home series in 2022 and 2023.
** Some eyebrows were raised when Brady Hoke left a pretty sweet deal at Ball State two years ago to take over a San Diego State program that hadn’t had a winning season in a decade. Now the Aztecs are 6-2 – making them bowl-eligible for the first time in 12 years – and both of their defeats have been by a field goal.
** Oklahoma junior receiver Ryan Broyles has had a good last couple of weeks, establishing new school records in back-to-back home games. On Oct. 16, he broke his own single-game mark with 15 receptions during a 52-0 win over Iowa State. Then last week, Broyles set a new OU record with 208 receiving yards as the Sooners rolled to a 43-10 win over Colorado. Broyles ranks No. 1 nationally with 9.75 receptions per game and No. 3 in yardage per game at 127.3.
** Another week, another bowl game name change. Henceforth, the EagleBank Bowl will be known as the Military Bowl. The game, played at antiquated RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., is set for Dec. 29. UCLA took a 31-20 victory over Temple in last year’s EagleBank Bowl.
** Hawaii has the distinction of becoming the first school to accept a bowl invitation in 2010. The Rainbows will make their sixth appearance since 2002 in their hometown Hawaii Bowl, set for Dec. 24 in Honolulu. (It probably should be noted that the Hawaii Bowl’s agreement with the WAC stipulates that Hawaii gets an automatic bid if it is bowl-eligible and not headed to a BCS game.)
** In case you missed it, Ohio State’s game next Saturday with Penn State will kick off at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The game will be televised by ABC using the ESPN reverse mirror.
** Game times have also been set for the Buckeyes’ final two regular-season games. They will play Nov. 20 at Iowa at 3:30 p.m. ET and host Michigan on Nov. 27 at noon Eastern.
The Fearless Forecast is having a season to remember as we move into November. Last week was another winner, missing two blowouts because Miami (Fla.) and Michigan State failed to show up in their respective games. We were 8-2 for the week which puts us at 81-14 straight up for the season.
Against the spread, it was another winning week at 6-3-1 and that runs the ATS record to a mighty fine 58-33-4 for the year.
Since there is no Ohio State game, we’ll focus on some of the other matchups occurring this week.
No. 9 Wisconsin at Purdue: This one shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out. The Badgers will line up and try to blow the Boilermakers off the line of scrimmage, using the Big Ten’s second-ranked scoring offense against a defense that is eighth in the conference in scoring. Purdue has been decimated by injuries this season and Danny Hope’s squad may be down to its third-string quarterback against UW. Starter Robert Marve is already out with season-ending knee surgery while his backup Rob Henry is dealing with a painful laceration on the index finger of his throwing hand. Not that the Badgers need much help. They have won four in a row in the series, including the last two by a combined score of 61-3 … Wisconsin 35, Purdue 7. (12 noon ET, BTN)
Minnesota at No. 14 Michigan State: Entertaining notions of playing for the national championship just one week ago, Sparty had better regain his focus in a hurry if he wants to avoid spending New Year’s Day at the Capital One Bowl. The anticipated hangover after such a crushing defeat would be of concern to Mark Dantonio under normal circumstances but these aren’t normal circumstances. Somehow, someway, his Spartans have lost three in a row to the Golden Gophers, including last year’s 42-34 shocker. Of course, Minnesota has lost seven straight Big Ten contests since then and Tim Brewster – the mastermind of those wins over MSU – has been fired. Goldy showed very little emotion last week against Ohio State and we presume things will be about the same this week … Michigan State 38, Minnesota 17. (12 noon ET, BTN)
No. 16 Iowa at Indiana: Anyone who continues to scoff at the importance of special teams play should know that the Hawkeyes would be in the national title conversation had they not had special teams breakdowns that led directly to their two losses. Last week, Iowa showed exactly how strong it can be when it throttled Michigan State. Woe, then, to the Hoosiers if Herky plays that way again this week. A sidebar to this game is that each head coach – Kirk Ferentz of Iowa and Bill Lynch of Indiana – are going after career victory No. 100. It is Senior Day at Memorial Stadium, but IU is working on a nine-game conference losing streak and the Hoosiers don’t appear capable of doing much against Iowa’s staunch defense … Iowa 37, Indiana 13. (12 noon ET, BTN)
Illinois at Michigan: Before Rich Rodriguez got to Ann Arbor, the Wolverines had beaten the Fighting Illini nine out of the last 10 times the two teams had played. Since then, things have turned 180 degrees in the series. Two years ago during Rodriguez’s first season, the Illini rolled to a 45-20 victory and wound up with a 5-7 record. Last year, Ron Zook’s team finished a dismal 3-9, but one of its victories was a 38-13 romp over Michigan in Champaign. The point of all this? Zook has a 2-0 record against Rodriguez but is only 13-30 against the rest of the Big Ten. And the Zookster has beaten RichRod with some of his weaker teams. What do you think he can do this year with what is probably his best team since the Rose Bowl squad of 2007? Here is a mini-Upset Special … Illinois 37, Michigan 27. (12 noon ET, ESPN)
Chattanooga at No. 2 Auburn: Is it just me or are only Big Ten schools criticized for soft schedules? One of the nation’s top teams essentially takes this week off with a glorified scrimmage against the I-AA Mocs. Chattanooga has won five of its last six games and can put some points on the board behind QB B.J. Coleman, who at least knows a little bit about SEC football – he began his college career at Tennessee. Coleman’s favorite target is receiver Joel Bradford, who is the leading receiver at the I-AA level with 1,027 yards and seven TDs. That’s the good news for the Mocs. The bad news? Auburn is an unblemished 20-0 in the overall series that began in 1926, and that includes a 76-10 wipeout in 1995 the last time Chattanooga visited Jordan-Hare Stadium. It probably won’t be that bad this time but with a team vying for national title honors and a quarterback seemingly headed for the Heisman Trophy, it certainly could be … Auburn 52, Chattanooga 14. (1 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
Washington at No. 1 Oregon: Everyone passing the Ducks directly through to the national championship game has evidently failed to notice one tiny little fact: Oregon hasn’t played much of anyone yet. There is no doubt the team’s video game stats of 54.9 points and 572.9 yards per game are dazzlingly impressive. But they have been achieved against eight opponents that have combined for a 24-41 record, and that includes Stanford at 7-1. The beat goes on this week against the Huskies, who will be without star quarterback Jake Locker. Locker, who has a fractured rib, is the guy who makes U-Dub go and the Huskies are a completely different team without him. In other words, with Locker they might have had the slightest of chances to pull the upset. Without him, the Huskies have no chance … Oregon 52, Washington 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)
No. 3 TCU at No. 5 Utah: This will likely be one of the best college football games of the season and many will miss it because of their prejudice against non-BCS conference schools. Let me tell what you’ll be missing. First, the Horned Frogs have the No. 1 defense in the nation and probably would even if they played in the SEC. They have allowed a total of only 78 points in nine games all season. Secondly, you have the Utes, who have the nation’s sixth-toughest defense to score on. Something has to give, of course, because both teams have excellent offensive attacks as well. Utah averages 45.3 points per game while TCU is at 40.8. The Frogs ran away with last year’s contest, taking a 55-28 win in Fort Worth, but they have never won in three trips to Salt Lake City – at least until now … TCU 23, Utah 18. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)
Hawaii at No. 4 Boise State: There is little doubt the Broncos have been merely going through the motions for the past few weeks. Victories over the likes San Jose State and Louisiana Tech evidently don’t excite them any more than those around the nation who believe the Broncos should never have a chance to play for the national championship. This week, however, things should be a little bit different. Like any boxer with a knockout punch, the Rainbows have a chance for the upset if things go exactly their way. As with most years, Hawaii has the No. 1 passing offense in the country and QB Bryant Monitz has thrown for 3,247 yards and 25 TDs this season. Those numbers would strike fear into most defenses except that Boise ranks No. 8 nationally in pass defense. The Warriors are the last team to beat the Broncos in a regular-season game – 39-27 in Honolulu in 2007 – but they’ve come up empty on their four trips to Boise, losing by an average of 30.0 points per game … Boise State 42, Hawaii 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
No. 7 Nebraska at Iowa State: The Cornhuskers desperately wanted to beat Texas in their final season as Big 12 members, so they will now try to do the next best thing – knock off the Cyclones who knocked off the Longhorns. Iowa State also knocked off Nebraska last year when the Cornhuskers committed eight turnovers during a particularly ugly 9-7 affair. A couple of those turnovers were attributed to NU running back Roy Helu Jr., who ran for a school-record 307 yards last week when the Huskers won a 51-41 shootout with Oklahoma State. The one-two rushing attack of Helu (807 yards, 8 TDs) and QB Taylor Martinez (886 yards, 12 TDs) should be more than enough this year since the Cyclones rank 10th in the Big 12 and 99th nationally against the run … Nebraska 41, Iowa State 16. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)
No. 8 Oklahoma at Texas A&M: Are the Sooners for real? We’re about to find out as they embark upon a season-ending slate that includes three of their last four games on the road beginning this week in College Station. A&M is only 5-3 but has won back-to-back games over Kansas State and Texas Tech, finding a new quarterback in the process. Junior Ryan Tannehill threw for a school-record 449 yards last week in the Aggies’ 45-27 win over Tech and that helps make up for the loss of top running back Christine Michael, who is out with a broken leg. Since a 17-16 win at College Station in 2006, the Sooners have outscored A&M by a 173-52 margin, topping 60 points in each of the last two years. It seems doubtful that will happen again this time with these two teams much more evenly matched. But OU has won seven in a row in the series and should run that streak to eight … Oklahoma 26, Texas A&M 20. (7 p.m. ET, FSN)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Wisconsin (-19½) at Purdue; Minnesota (+24) at Michigan State; Iowa (-17) at Indiana; Illinois (+3½) at Michigan; Chattanooga at Auburn (N/L); Washington at Oregon (-35); TCU (-4) at Utah; Hawaii at Boise State (-20½); Nebraska (-18) at Iowa State; Oklahoma (-3) at Texas A&M.
Enjoy the games and we’ll talk again next week.