Braxton Miller is the starting quarterback, the team is back on track and all is right again in Buckeye Nation.
Or is it?
It has been my experience that Ohio State diehards are no more or less fickle than any other fans around the country, but after only four games of the 2011 season, you might be forgiven for experiencing weekly bouts of whiplash as emotions surrounding the Buckeyes swing wildly from one extreme to the other.
They’re underrated. No, wait, they’re overrated.
They’re great. No, wait, they’re terrible.
No, they’re worse than that. They’re god-awful.
No, wait, they’re going to be OK.
Who can possibly keep up?
Unfortunately, no one really knows if the Buckeyes are great, god-awful or somewhere in between because they pretty much squandered the first three weeks of the season trying to pound square pegs into round holes. That was never more evident than at the quarterback position since everyone knew Joe Bauserman was no long-term solution. No first-time starter who is also a fifth-year senior ever could be.
Unfortunately, Luke Fickell had to play the hand he was dealt.
Practically no one wants to admit this, but the Buckeyes have missed Terrelle Pryor more so far this season than they have missed Jim Tressel.
The OSU coaching staff has more than 180 years’ worth of experience, meaning they can do things by committee and get by fairly well during Fickell’s first year as Tressel’s successor. That is certainly not the case at quarterback, especially in the experience department.
I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence by trying to defend Pryor and the dimwitted actions off the field that led to his suspension and departure from Ohio State. Just don’t insult mine by insinuating Pryor was anything but a terrifically gifted athlete who could make up for whatever shortcomings he had throwing the ball with an elusiveness only a handful of players have ever possessed.
As badly as Ohio State played at Miami (Fla.), I believe the Buckeyes could have and would have won that game had Pryor been the quarterback. There is no way the Hurricanes could have loaded the box as they did in the second half with the threat of Pryor in the backfield. That, in turn, would have required Miami to play a more straight-up defense, opening things for OSU in the passing game.
With Pryor gone, the Buckeyes are obviously much less experienced on offense but they are also less multifaceted. That is even more so when you take Boom Herron out of the backfield, subtract DeVier Posey from the receiving corps and erase Mike Adams from the left tackle spot.
In a perfect world, Pryor would have completed his senior season under center and given Miller an entire year as his understudy. As with most things, though, this is far from a perfect world. As talented as Miller is, as tremendous as his upside is, he simply wasn’t ready to take the reins of the offense when the regular season began.
That’s no one’s fault, really. Most people have to learn at their own pace, and credit is due to Miller for coming so far as quickly as he has. The freshman has been on an accelerated learning curve ever since he set foot on the OSU campus last winter – he’s just not quite there yet and might not be for a while.
It doesn’t take Vince Lombardi to look at Ohio State’s offensive chart and understand that the playbook has been stripped down to accommodate the freshman quarterback. The last series of the Miami game and most of the first half against Colorado looked similar to the kind of plays Miller ran in high school. Again, that’s no knock against Miller or the Ohio State staff. Coaching commandment No. 1 is and has always been to win the surest way, and simplifying things for your young quarterback not only aids in the elimination of potential disasters, it helps pave the way to victory.
As a result of the heavy vanilla coating on the Buckeyes’ play-calling, Miller has the most modest of numbers after three games. He has thrown the ball only 29 times, completing 15 of those attempts (51.7 percent) for 234 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He has also run the ball 30 times for 145 yards.
Those numbers will undoubtedly begin to improve as the season wears on and Miller continues to grow into the starting role, but they are worth comparing to the only other two men who have been freshman starting quarterbacks at Ohio State.
After his first three games (all starts) in 1978, Art Schlichter was 18 for 42 (42.9 percent) for 336 yards, one touchdown and eight interceptions while he had run 31 times for 133 yards and three TDs. Pryor, who was Todd Boeckman’s backup through the first three games of the 2008 season, was 11 for 17 (64.7 percent) for 87 yards and no touchdowns while he had run 25 times for 129 yards and one TD.
Numbers aside, Miller’s situation more closely parallels that of Schlichter than Pryor. In ’08, Pryor was put in charge of a veteran team that had just come off a trip to the national championship game. Schlichter had a much rougher go of it in 1978, taking over a team that was largely in transition during what would be Woody Hayes’ final season as head coach. By the end of his second year, though, Schlichter had his team playing for the national championship.
Miller’s team is also evolving as he takes the reins, and it will evolve even more when Herron, Posey and Adams return in week six for the Buckeyes’ prime-time trip to Nebraska. In other words, the team we saw against Miami, which bore little resemblance to the one we saw against Colorado, might be completely different from the one we see against Michigan State. And that one is likely to be vastly dissimilar from the one that goes to Lincoln.
The point of the story is this: If you think you haven’t been able to get a handle on what kind of team the Buckeyes have so far, buckle your seat belts and have the antacids ready. You probably haven’t seen anything yet.
** This will be the 40th meeting between Ohio State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes hold a 27-12 advantage in the overall series including seven wins in a row and 12 in the last 14 meetings. OSU is 13-7 in Columbus against MSU, and the Spartans haven’t beaten the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium since the infamous 28-24 upset in 1998 that cost then No. 1-ranked Ohio State a shot at the national championship.
** Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell gets his first shot at the Spartans after predecessor Jim Tressel was a perfect 6-0. Tressel enjoyed an average margin of victory of 18.3 points in those six games.
** Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is 0-4 lifetime against the Buckeyes – losses in 2004 and 2006 while at Cincinnati in addition to defeats as head Spartan in 2007 and 2008. Dantonio, of course, was defensive coordinator on Tressel’s OSU staff from 2001-03 and won the Frank Broyles Award in 2002 as college football’s top assistant coach.
** Dantonio is 36-20 in his four-plus seasons with the Spartans, but only 11-14 away from Spartan Stadium. Michigan State is 14-3 overall since the beginning of last season but only 3-3 away from home.
** Ohio State is entering its 99th season as a Big Ten member and the Buckeyes sport a 71-23-4 record in conference openers.
** Michigan State is entering its 59th season of Big Ten competition with a 31-23-4 record in league openers.
** Fickell will be the first Ohio State head coach ever to face a defending Big Ten champion in his conference opener since the Buckeyes joined the league in 1913.
** Since 1913, OSU coaches are 6-4-1 in their Big Ten debuts. The last one to lose his conference debut was John Cooper, whose team dropped a 31-12 decision to Illinois in 1988. Tressel won his Big Ten debut at Indiana, a 27-14 victory in 2001.
** The Buckeyes are unranked for the second week in a row, the longest streak out of the polls since five straight weeks at the end of the 2004 regular season.
** This week marks the first time this season that Ohio State has faced a ranked opponent – Michigan State is No. 25 in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll. The last time the Buckeyes went this deep into a season before playing a top-25 team was 2007 when they faced No. 23 Purdue in week six.
** When Ohio State is the higher ranked team, it has a 22-5 record against Michigan State. When the Spartans enter the game as the higher ranked team, they are 5-0. When neither team is ranked, OSU had a 5-2 edge.
** Michigan ranks first nationally in pass defense, giving up an average of only 101.0 yards per game. The Spartans are also No. 1 in total defense, surrendering only 172.2 yards per game on average. That isn’t exactly music to Ohio State’s ears. The Buckeyes are 11th in the Big Ten in passing and dead last in the conference in total offense.
** The Ohio State defense would do well to keep Michigan State under 24 points in the game. Since 1990, the Spartans are 117-32-1 when scoring 24 or more. When they are held to fewer than 24 points, their record is 18-86-1.
** The Spartans have 24 Ohio players on their roster while Ohio State has only three players from Michigan – defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins, tight end Reid Fragel and defensive back Dionte Allen.
** There aren’t too many degrees of separation for the respective coaching staffs. In addition to Dantonio’s relationship with Tressel which began at Youngstown State, Michigan State quarterbacks coach Dave Warner had Tressel as his position coach at Syracuse in 1981. MSU offensive line coach Mark Staten was a graduate assistant on Tressel’s staff at Ohio State in 2002 and ’03, and running backs coach Brad Salem’s older brother, Tim, was Cooper’s quarterbacks coach at OSU from 1997-2000. Finally, Spartans linebackers and special teams coach Mike Tressel is the son of OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel, which obviously makes him Jim Tressel’s nephew.
** But wait … there’s more. Michigan State strength coach Ken Mannie was a graduate assistant on Earle Bruce’s OSU staff in 1984, MSU director of personnal/player development and relations Dino Folino began his coaching career as a GA for Woody Hayes in 1974 and ’75, and the Spartans’ head trainer Jeff Monroe spent four years as a student trainer for the Buckeyes from 1969-72.
** The synergy isn’t limited to Michigan State coaches. OSU offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Bollman spent three seasons in East Lansing from 1995-97 coaching the line for Nick Saban. And Ohio State safeties coach Paul Haynes spent the 2003 and ’04 seasons coaching MSU cornerbacks.
** Michigan State receiver B.J. Cunningham has a streak of 38 consecutive games during which he has logged at least one reception. That is tied for the fourth longest active streak in Division I-A, trailing only Tyron Carrier of Houston (43), Ryan Broyles of Oklahoma (42) and Kendall Wright of Baylor (40).
** Cunningham is one of those 24 Ohioans on the Michigan State roster. He prepped in suburban Columbus at Westerville South.
** MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins ranks second in his school’s history for most passing yardage at 6,762, He is far behind the all-time leader, however. Jeff Smoker (2000-03) threw for 8,932 yards during his career.
** With his next touchdown pass, Cousins will move into second place by himself on MSU’s all-time list. He is currently tied with Bill Burke (1996-99) with 46 scoring tosses. Smoker is the career leader with 61.
** Ohio State punter Ben Buchanan ranks only seventh in the Big Ten in average, but the junior has dropped 11 of his 19 kicks inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. That is nearly twice as many as any other Big Ten punter. Even more impressively, seven of Buchanan’s punts inside the 20 have actually landed inside the opponents’ 10.
** Michigan State hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher against Ohio State since 1988 – and that year the Spartans had two. Hyland Hickson (179) and Blake Ezor (135) each cracked the century mark as MSU piled 372 yards on the ground during a 20-10 victory over the Buckeyes in Spartan Stadium. No Michigan State running back has run for 100 yards against OSU in Columbus since 1983 when Keith Gates went for 101 during a 21-11 loss to the Buckeyes.
** OSU senior center Mike Brewster will make his 41st consecutive start this week for the Buckeyes. He needs to stay healthy and his team to play in the inaugural Big Ten championship game as well as a bowl contest to have a shot at tying the all-time school record of 50 straight starts – a record held since 1996 by Fickell.
** Longtime NFL kicker Morten Andersen was one of the five former MSU athletes inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame last week. In addition to kicking for five different teams over an amazing 25-year pro career, Andersen booted a 63-yard field goal for the Spartans during their 27-13 loss at Ohio State in 1981. It is the longest field goal by any OSU opponent – by seven yards – and still stands as the longest three-pointer in Big Ten history.
** This week marks the final game in the five-game suspensions of OSU tailback Boom Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas.
** The OSU-Michigan State game will be televised by ABC/ESPN using the reverse mirror. (The game should be televised by your local ABC affiliate and if the game is not on that channel, look for it on ESPN.) Veteran play-by-play man Sean McDonough will have the call with former Penn State All-America linebacker and four-time Super Bowl champion Matt Millen providing color analysis. Former University of Pacific volleyball star Heather Cox will report from the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern.
** The game is also available on satellite radio station channel 91 for both Sirius and XM subscribers.
** Next week, Ohio State travels to Nebraska for the first time ever. The teams have only met twice previously – in 1955 and ’56 – and both games were OSU victories in Columbus. The game from historic Memorial Stadium, set for a kickoff shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern, will be telecast nationally by ABC featuring the broadcast crew of Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit and Erin Andrews.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL
** On Sept. 28, 1968, Oregon State running back Bill Enyart established school records by rushing 50 times for 299 yards during his team’s 24-21 win over Utah in Salt Lake City.
** On Sept. 29, 2001, No. 18 Northwestern took a wild 27-26 victory over No. 24 Michigan State in Evanston. MSU wide receiver Charles Rogers gave his team a 20-17 lead on a 64-yard punt return with 4:42 to play before Northwestern QB Zac Kustok rallied the Wildcats with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kunle Patrick to make it 24-20 with 29 seconds remaining. However, Herb Haygood returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown to retake the lead for the Spartans at 26-24. NU blocked the extra point and then with 18 seconds left, Kustok completed a 54-yard pass to get his team within field-goal range and kicker David Wasielewski did the rest. His 47-yarder as time expired gave the Wildcats the victory.
** Also 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 Sept. 30, 1944, North Carolina State set an NCAA record for the fewest yards ever gained by a winning team. During their 13-0 win over Virginia, the Wolfpack totaled only 10 yards of offense and had no first downs.
** 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 interceptions 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.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** Twenty-two unbeaten teams remain at the Division I-A level (Football Bowl Subdivision, if you prefer). The alphabetical list is Alabama, Baylor, Boise State, Clemson, Florida, Georgia Tech, Houston, Illinois, Iowa State, Kansas State, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, South Florida, Stanford, Texas, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin.
** Stanford enjoys the nation’s longest winning streak at 12. Meanwhile, San Jose State snapped its losing streak at 13 last week with a 34-24 win over New Mexico State. That means New Mexico now has the longest losing streak in the nation at seven.
** The Lobos are one of only seven winless I-A teams so far. The other six: Florida Atlantic, Miami (Ohio), Middle Tennessee, Oregon State, UAB and Western Kentucky.
** The aforementioned futility by New Mexico has claimed the first coaching casualty of the 2011 season. Lobos head coach Mike Locksley was dismissed following last week’s 48-45 overtime loss to I-AA Sam Houston State. Locksley, who compiled a 2-26 record in his two-plus seasons in Albuquerque, was replaced by defensive coordinator George Barlow.
** There is little doubt LSU is a legitimate national championship contender. The Tigers are 4-0 with a record that includes double-digit road victories against Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia – three ranked teams at the time from three different conferences.
** If you like offense, you might want to skip the SEC matchup between Alabama and Florida tomorrow night. The Crimson Tide rank No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense giving up an average of 8.0 points in their four games. Meanwhile, the Gators surrender only 9.0 and are tied for No. 4 in the nation.
** If it’s offense you seek, check out Hawaii tomorrow night when the Rainbows travel to Louisiana Tech. Last week during a 56-14 win over UC-Davis, Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz threw for seven touchdowns in the first half. The total tied an NCAA record for most TD passes in a half. Moniz, who sat out the entire second half, completed 30 of 40 passes for 424 yards and the seven scores and added five carries for 50 yards. There might be a similar show this week. La Tech currently ranks 107th nationally in pass defense.
** The nation’s leader in pass efficiency continues to be Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, who three games into his junior season has 13 touchdowns against only 12 incompletions. Griffin is 70 for 82 (85.4 percent) for 962 yards, 13 TDs and no INTs, good for a passer rating of 236.23. Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson is the only other I-A quarterback with a rating north of 200. Wilson is 69 of 91 (75.8 percent) for 1,136 yards, 11 TDs and one pick for a rating of 218.38.
** Think the Boise State football program just got good in the past couple of years? Think again. The Broncos were a powerhouse in the 1970s as well under head coach Tony Knap, who died Sept. 24 at the age of 96. Knap guided what was then known as Boise College to a 71-19-8 record during eight seasons between 1968-75, a tenure that included three consecutive Big Sky conference championships from 1973-75. Knap left Boise after the ’75 season to take over the program at UNLV and spent six seasons with the Runnin’ Rebels. He was inducted into the UNLV athletics hall of fame in 1989.
When you roll the dice, sometimes everything comes up 7 or 11. That’s what happened last week with a perfect 10-0 week in the straight-up picks. That makes us an almost unbelievably prescient 38-4 on the season so far.
Before you think the heads are swelling out of control here at Forecast World Headquarters, understand that the money picks were a less-than spectacular 5-5. That makes us 24-15-1 against the spread for the year – still pretty good but we’re determined to do better this week.
Here are the games we’ll be watching:
Kentucky at No. 1 LSU: Would you believe LSU ranks only three spots ahead of Ohio State in the national rankings for total offense? It’s true. The Tigers are 88th in the nation while the Buckeye are 91st. What the Bayou Boys have over just about everyone else in college football, though, is a growling defense that’s No. 4 against the run and No. 14 in scoring defense. And that’s after playing three of their four games away from home against ranked opponents … LSU 31, Kentucky 0. (12:20 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)
No. 3 Alabama at No. 12 Florida: These teams are near mirror images of one another. Both teams like to run the ball and both teams are pretty good at stopping the run. Gators head coach Will Muschamp was one of Nick Saban’s top assistants at LSU and with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. And the starting quarterbacks feature almost identical numbers through four games. So who wins this battle? Alabama has a slight edge in special teams and has won five of the last seven in the series. Whoever wins, this should be a good one … Alabama 20, Florida 17. (8 p.m. ET, CBS)
Nevada at No. 4 Boise State: The Wolf Pack knocked Boise out of the national championship picture last season and there are a lot of folks around college football who wouldn’t mind seeing a repeat this year. This isn’t the same Nevada team, however. QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Vai Taua are both in the NFL now, and the Pack has lost two of its first three games. Compounding their problems is the fact they cannot stop opposing teams from running the ball – Nevada ranks 108th nationally in run defense, allowing nearly 210 yards per game on the ground. All of that is music to the ears of the Broncos, who in addition to having beaten the Pack six straight times at home, have revenge on their minds … Boise State 42, Nevada 14. (2:30 p.m. ET, Versus)
UCLA at No. 6 Stanford: Here are a pair of programs headed in opposite directions. Despite losing head coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL, the Cardinal seemingly hasn’t missed a beat under new boss David Shaw. They still have QB Andrew Luck, the odds-on Heisman Trophy favorite who directs an offense that averages 46.0 points and 481.3 yards per game. And Stanford also has the No. 1 run defense in the country. Meanwhile, UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel is on the hot seat because his team always seems to take one step forward and two steps back. He is 2-2 this season and 17-24 in three-plus years with the Bruins, and fans still remember last year’s 35-0 home loss to the Cardinal. There is very little to believe things will change much this year … Stanford 34, UCLA 7. (10:30 p.m. ET, FSN)
No. 8 Nebraska at No. 7 Wisconsin: The Badgers have the welcome mat out for the Cornhuskers, who begin life in the Big Ten after 83 years as members of what finally become known as the Big 12. NU has no doubt played in some hostile environments, but here is a lead-pipe guarantee – they ain’t seen nothing like the Camp Randall crazies after dark. This game seems strangely similar to last year’s OSU-Wisconsin game when the top-ranked Buckeyes went to Madison for a night game and mugged almost from the time they stepped off the bus. The Badgers don’t have the same kind of defense they boasted last year, and the Huskers might give them some problems with their spread option attack. But look for Bucky to be more physical and wind up with a hard-fought win … Wisconsin 23, Nebraska 17. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
Minnesota at No. 19 Michigan: One of the great mysteries in all of college football is why opposing defenses continue to try to play it straight against the Wolverines. QB Denard Robinson is one of the most electrifying players in the game, and still opponents act like he’s a pocket passer who runs only on occasion. As a result of that wrongheaded strategy, Robinson torched Notre Dame for 108 yards, Eastern Michigan for 198 and San Diego State for 200. That might change this week since defending the run is about the only thing the Golden Gophers do well at this point. Keeping Robinson in the pocket, however, would be a double-edged sword for Minnesota since it ranks dead last in the Big Ten in pass defense … Michigan 35, Minnesota 14. (12 noon ET, BTN)
No. 21 Georgia Tech at North Carolina State: You probably wouldn’t guess that the Wreck ranks No. 1 in the country in total offense and scoring as well as No. 2 in rushing. Not that Tech has been playing the greatest of competition, but it has still bludgeoned opponents to the tune of 630.5 yards per game and an average winning margin of 27.3 points. As scary as that might sound, those numbers could actually improve this week. The Wolfpack is scuffling on offense and has been downright awful at times on defense. Last week during a 44-14 loss to Cincinnati, they gave up 503 yards to the Bearcats. We smell a rout … Georgia Tech 52, N.C. State 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)
Penn State at Indiana: The Nittany Lions are likely one of the weakest 3-1 teams in college football, and they have lost arguably the best player on their team – linebacker Michael Mauti – to a season-ending knee injury. Nevertheless, this time next week, the Lions will be one of the weakest 4-1 teams in college football because they are playing IU. Under first-year head coach Kevin Wilson, the Hoosiers could be described somewhere between a hot mess and a dumpster fire. Their only win so far this season is over a Division I-AA team, and they lost last week to a North Texas team that had won only eight of its previous 53 games. Add that to the fact the Hoosiers are 0-14 lifetime against the Lions and you see where we’re headed … Penn State 32, Indiana 7. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)
Notre Dame at Purdue: These two teams have played one another every season for the past nine years with the Fighting Irish going 6-3 during the stretch including three wins in a row. The Boilermakers have a pretty good offense – at least as far as anyone can tell after playing the likes of Middle Tennessee, Rice and Southeast Missouri State. They have had a week off to prepare for the Irish, who seem to play well one series and awful the next. Notre Dame really has put together only one complete performance this year and that resulted in a solid 31-13 win over Michigan State two weeks ago. If the Irish ever shore up their secondary and hold onto the football, they can be a decent football team. Until then, however, every game they play will be closer than it needs to be … Notre Dame 26, Purdue 23. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Michigan State at Ohio State: These two have charted extremely similar paths so far this season. Each has beaten up on lesser competition, each has stubbed its toe against the best team it has played so far. OSU has the edge in rushing, MSU has the better passing game. Defensively, the Spartans have the edge in most categories; on special teams, the Buckeyes have performed better. So who do you pick when the teams appear so evenly matched? Go to the history books where you’ll find Ohio State with a 27-12 advantage in the overall series, including seven victories in a row – four of those in Columbus. Of course, there’s this little historical nugget, too – when Michigan State is the higher ranked team, it is 5-0 in the series. Coin flip time … Ohio State 23, Michigan State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Kentucky at LSU (-27½); Alabama (-3½) at Florida; Nevada at Boise State (-26½); UCLA at Stanford (-20½); Nebraska (+10) at Wisconsin; Minnesota at Michigan (-19½); Georgia Tech (-9½) at N.C. State; Penn State (-14½) at Indiana; Notre Dame at Purdue (+12½); Michigan State (+3½) at Ohio State.
Enjoy the games and we’ll visit again next week.