I have been covering Ohio State football for longer than I care to remember. There have been times when the Buckeyes have had off-the-field problems and times when they have struggled with their product on the field, but I cannot remember a time when they have had both.
Since December when it came to light five players had traded memorabilia for tattoos and/or cash, the OSU football program and its fans have been sitting under the sword of Damocles. In case you have forgotten your Greek mythology, a sword hangs precariously above a king’s throne, held in place by a single hair from a horse’s tail. It is meant to convey how precarious fame and fortune can be.
In the myth, just the threat of the sword hanging overhead was enough of a deterrent. Where Buckeye Nation is concerned, however, the sword has fallen repeatedly. It seems that every three weeks or so, another log gets thrown onto a smoldering fire that has already claimed several victims including Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor with Gene Smith, Luke Fickell and the program itself apparently in the line of the fire.
My first reaction when the latest revelations came to light regarding Boom Herron, DeVier Posey and Marcus Hall and questionable summer employment? Stand back and let the fire burn.
What is it going to take to get it through some thick skulls that the immediate future of Ohio State football is in the NCAA crosshairs? One would think the players know better, especially after Tattoogate and all that entailed. One would think the OSU compliance office would know better, taking whatever steps necessary to repeatedly drum into these guys’ heads that taking money under any circumstances is the wrong thing to do. And one would think Smith would know better than to publicly state, “We do not have a systemic problem.”
Really? Exactly what would you call it? It’s certainly not gangland 1930s Chicago, the foolish and mean-spirited comparison offered by CBSSports.com writer Dennis Dodd on Tuesday. But it certainly smacks of a problem systemic enough that athletic department officials come off looking reactive rather than proactive. Turning a deaf ear is one thing; incompetence is quite another.
As much as it pains me to write this, perhaps only something cataclysmic will get the attention of the players, the compliance department and the athletic department hierarchy. Perhaps the NCAA will discover it has no choice but to level a charge of lack of institutional control against Ohio State, and if that is the case, the Buckeyes as we have come to know them over the past decade will cease to exist.
For starters, Smith will be history as will compliance director Doug Archie. (That might happen anyway.) Fickell will almost certainly be gone (again, something that could already have been decided), but you can kiss Urban Meyer goodbye along with any other so-called big-name coach. None of those guys is coming to a wrecked program where collateral damage includes deep scholarship reductions and multiyear bowl bans.
Moreover, you can pretty much write off recruiting for the next couple of years. As with the big-name coaches, very few big-name prospects would to come to a school that has no chance to play in a bowl game. And before you believe a big-name program chock full of rich tradition can weather that kind of storm, I invite you to check out the recent history of Indiana basketball and tell me what you find.
Maybe I paint a picture much bleaker than reality will eventually show. I would like to think so. After all, I’m the same guy who has opined for much of the last 10 months that severe penalties from the NCAA would not fit Ohio State’s crimes. But when you continue to discover leaks after spending much of the last year patching other holes, pretty soon you come to realization that your boat is sinking.
I wrote several columns during the summer criticizing Ohio State for failing to get out in front of this situation and I cannot shake the feeling the university is still playing catch-up. According to reports, OSU has paid more than $1 million on public relations since the scandal broke last year. If that is the case, please release the name of the person who signed off on that expenditure. He or she needs to be summarily fired because the university PR on this matter has not amounted to 2 cents much less $1 million.
Making matters worse, the Buckeyes’ on-the-field problems have a direct correlation to what has transpired on the field. The Tressel situation was bungled so poorly that his sudden May 30 departure left the program scrambling for a replacement. It left the team with a head coach that had no previous head coaching experience and a bunch of longtime assistants tasked with much more responsibility that any of them had under Tressel.
Likewise, members of the team have been adversely affected by the tortuous ordeal that seemingly is without end. Pryor will be back after five games; no, he won’t be back at all. Herron and Posey will return after five games; no, they have to sit at least one more game, maybe more. Joe Bauserman is the starting quarterback; no, it’s Braxton Miller until he falters against Michigan State, in which case Bauserman returns.
Of course, nothing is so bad with the on-field product right now that a big win at Nebraska wouldn’t help come tomorrow night. But based upon what we have seen for the past couple of weeks, you wonder how that can possibly come to pass. Then you look at the remaining schedule and wonder how the Buckeyes can total enough victories to even get bowl-eligible.
The old proverb states, “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” and perhaps that is true. Unfortunately, as dark as the storm clouds have been over the Ohio State football program, they appear to be growing ever darker.
** This marks only the third ever meeting between Ohio State and Nebraska. The Buckeyes won both of the previous game – 28-20 in the 1955 season opener and 34-7 a year later in that season’s opener. Both games were played at Ohio Stadium.
** The contest will be played in historic Memorial Stadium where the Cornhuskers are working on a prodigious streak of sellouts. The game against Ohio State will mark the 315th consecutive sellout, a streak that goes back to November 1962.
** The game pits two Ohio State alums against one another. OSU head coach Luke Fickell was a four-year defensive starter for the Buckeyes from 1993-96, while Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini started at safety for Ohio State in 1989 and ’90. Pelini was also a team co-captain during the 1990 season.
** Pelini has coached twice before against his alma mater and he is 2-0. In 1991, while Pelini was a graduate assistant on Hayden Fry’s staff at Iowa, the Hawkeyes took a 16-9 victory over Ohio State in Columbus. Then, in January 2008 just before taking over at Nebraska, Pelini was defensive coordinator at LSU when the Tigers scored a 38-24 win over the Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship Game.
** Since Pelini took over in Lincoln prior to the 2008 season, his team is 29-5 against unranked teams. However, the Cornhuskers are only 7-6 in October with Pelini as head coach.
** The Cornhuskers are 34-5 at home under the lights since the first night game at Memorial Stadium in 1986. That record includes wins in each of the last eight night games in Lincoln, a streak extended with a 42-29 victory over Fresno State earlier this year.
** Ohio State is 32-17 all-time in night games, including a 26-14 mark away from home. That includes the 24-6 loss at Miami (Fla.) earlier this season.
** The game will serve as homecoming for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska is 3-3 in its last six homecoming games after winning 35 in a row.
** Ohio State and Nebraska are two of the winningest teams in college football history. The Cornhuskers are fourth all-time with 841 victories while the Buckeyes are right behind with 834. Michigan (889), Texas (854) and Notre Dame (848) are the top three winningest programs in NCAA history.
** The Cornhuskers and Buckeyes are the top two winningest teams in college football since 1970. NU has 407 victories and OSU has 382 since then. Oklahoma is third (380) followed by Michigan (372) and Penn State (370).
** Since joining the Big Ten in 1913, Ohio State is 61-32-5 in conference road openers. The Buckeyes haven’t lost a league road opener since a 17-10 loss at Penn State in 2005.
** Nebraska has lost its last three conference home openers. As a member of the Big 12, the Huskers lost to Missouri in 2008, Texas Tech in 2009 and Texas last season. Before that, NU had won 30 straight league home openers. All-time, Nebraska is 84-13-4 in the first conference home game of the season, an .851 winning percentage.
** The Cornhuskers are 16-1 at home since 1962 vs. current Big Ten members. The only blemish on that record is a 30-24 loss to Penn State in 1981 before the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten.
** Nebraska’s 48-17 drubbing at Wisconsin continued an alarming trend for the Cornhuskers. Since 1997, NU is 0-8 on the road against top-10 opponents and the defense has allowed an average of 44 points in those games.
** OSU is in the middle of a four-week stretch when it will play ranked teams. The Buckeyes have not played four ranked teams in a row since 2003.
** Ohio State has featured a top-20 scoring defense in each of the last nine seasons, including top six every year since 2005. Heading to Lincoln, the Buckeyes rank No. 11 nationally in scoring defense.
** OSU has been installed by oddsmakers as an 11½-point underdog to the Cornhuskers. It marks only the third time in the past decade that the Buckeyes have been double-digit underdogs. They were 10½-point dogs in 2008 against top-ranked USC and wound up with a 35-3 loss, and they were 13½-point underdogs in the 2002 BCS National Championship Game to No. 1 Miami (Fla.) before taking a 31-24 double overtime win over the defending national champion Hurricanes.
** Nebraska sophomore QB Taylor Martinez needs only 99 more total yards to reach 4,000 for his career. He also needs to rush for 87 more to move past Scott Frost (1,533, 1996-97) into fifth place on the school’s all-time list for career rushing yards by a quarterback. First place belongs to 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, who rushed for 3,434 yards during his career from 1998-2001.
** Junior I-back Rex Burkhead needs 187 more yards to become the 26th player in NU history with at least 2,000 career rushing yards. Mike Rozier, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1983, is Nebraska’s all-time leading rusher with 4,780 yards.
** Nebraska senior defensive tackle Jared Crick enters the game with 20 career sacks, good enough for eighth on the school’s all-time list. NU’s all-time leader in sacks is Trev Alberts (29½, 1990-93).
** Nebraska is one of a handful of college teams with two different mascots – Herbie Husker and Lil’ Red. Herbie is the older of the two, making his first appearance in 1974. Following a 2003 makeover, Herbie wears a perpetual smile as well as a red cowboy hat adorned with a white “N,” red workshirt, blue jeans and workboots. Lil’ Red appeared on the scene in 1993 and can be best described as a smaller, ground-based version of the balloons featured in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
** The OSU-Nebraska game will be televised nationally by ABC. For the second week in a row, the announce crew will feature Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Matt Miller (color analysis) and Heather Cox (sideline reports). Kickoff is set for shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern. (That is 7 p.m. local time if you’re traveling to Lincoln.)
** The game is also available on satellite radio station channel 91 for both Sirius and XM subscribers as well as Sirius channel 92. Nationally syndicated Westwood One will also broadcast the game featuring Brian Davis with the play-by-play and 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George providing color analysis.
** Next week, Ohio State is on the road again, traveling to Illinois for the second year in a row. The game is set for 3:30 p.m. Eastern and will be telecast by ABC/ESPN using the reverse mirror.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL
** On Oct. 5, 1940, Michigan star Tom Harmon led his team to a 21-14 victory over Michigan State in Ann Arbor. The win was the Wolverines’ third in a row over the Spartans and was part of a streak that stretched to 10 games before the Spartans won in 1950.
** 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.
** On Oct. 5, 1991, Fresno State kicker Derek Mahoney tied the NCAA record for most PATs in a game when he went 13 for 13 as the Bulldogs rolled to a 94-17 win over New Mexico.
** On Oct. 6, 1956, Penn snapped a 19-game home losing streak with a 14-7 win over Dartmouth. It was the Quakers’ first official Ivy League game, while Dartmouth’s lone touchdown came from quarterback Mike Brown, the same Mike Brown who is now owner of the Cincinnati Bengals.
** On Oct. 6, 1980, Northern Illinois tailback Stacey Robinson rushed for a school-record 308 yards during his team’s 73-18 romp over No. 24 Fresno State. Including in Robinson’s performance was an NCAA-record 287 yards in the first half – 114 in the first quarter and 173 more in the second period.
** On Oct. 7, 1995, Texas Tech scored a 14-7 upset over eighth-ranked Texas A&M in Lubbock. The Aggies entered the contest with a 29-game Southwest Conference unbeaten streak, but Tech linebacker Zach Thomas returned an interception 23 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
** Also on Oct. 7, 1995, fifth-ranked Ohio State squeezed out a 28-25 decision over No. 12 Penn State in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions grabbed an early 10-0 lead behind the first of three touchdown runs by fullback Jon Witman, but OSU rallied behind quarterback Bobby Hoying, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns, and Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George, who scored the winning touchdown with 1:42 to play. Hoying’s performance represented the fourth highest single-game passing total in Ohio State history.
** On Oct. 7, 1996, College Football Hall of Fame coach Wallace Wade died in Durham, N.C., at the age of 94. Wade was head coach at Alabama in 1925 when the Crimson Tide became the first Southern school invited to the Rose Bowl. A guard for Brown during his playing days, Wade became the first man ever to play and coach in a Rose Bowl. His Brown team lost to Washington State, 14-0, in the 1916 game, but his Alabama squad took a 20-19 thriller over Washington a decade later. Wade later coached at Duke – the football stadium there bears his name – and led the Blue Devils to their only Rose Bowl appearance, a 20-16 loss to Oregon State in the 1942 game.
** On Oct. 7, 2000, No. 7 Miami (Fla.) upset top-ranked Florida State, 27-24, when Seminoles kicker Matt Munyon’s last-second field goal attempt from 49 yards sailed wide right.
** On Oct. 8, 1949, Brown set a college football record with 11 interceptions during a 46-0 win over Rhode Island. Bears defensive back Walt Pastuszak grabbed five of the picks, another NCAA single-game record.
** On Oct. 8, 1966, Wyoming kicker Jerry DePoyster made NCAA history during his team’s 40-7 victory over Utah. DePoyster connected on field goals of 54, 54 and 52 yards and became the first kicker in NCAA history with three field goal of 50 yards or more in a single game. The Cowboys went to a 10-1 season in ’66 that included a WAC championship and Sun Bowl victory over Florida State.
** On Oct. 8, 1977, seventh-ranked Alabama squeezed out a 21-20 victory over No. 1 USC when the Trojans scored a touchdown with 38 seconds remaining but their subsequent two-point conversion try failed.
** On Oct. 9, 1943, Indiana quarterback Bob Hoernschemeyer set an NCAA record for touchdown passes in a game by a freshman when he threw six as the Hoosiers took a 54-13 win over Nebraska in Bloomington.
** On Oct. 9, 1976, USC tailback Ricky Bell set new Pac-8 single-game records by rushing 51 times for 346 yards as the Trojans took a 23-14 win over Washington State. It was the first college football game staged at Seattle’s then-new Kingdome.
** On Oct. 9, 1999, Michigan and Michigan State entered their instate rivalry with undefeated records for the first time in nearly 20 years and those in attendance at East Lansing got their money’s worth. The Spartans stormed out to an early lead before U-M head coach Lloyd Carr replaced starting quarterback Drew Henson with backup Tom Brady. Brady went on to complete 30 of 41 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, but his rally fell just short as the Spartans held on for a 34-31 victory.
** On Oct. 9, 2004, California QB Aaron Rodgers established a new NCAA record for consecutive completions. Rodgers completed his first three attempts against USC to run his streak to a record 26 completions in a row. Unfortunately, that was all Cal had to celebrate that day. The seventh-ranked Bears dropped a 23-17 decision to the No. 1 Trojans.
** On Oct. 10, 1936, trumpet player John Brungart became the first member of the Ohio State Marching Band to dot the “i” in Script Ohio.
** On Oct. 10, 1987, Oklahoma State took a 42-17 victory over Colorado to open its season with five straight wins for the first time since 1945. Leading the way for the Cowboys was a pair of fairly decent running backs – Thurman Thomas rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown while Barry Sanders added a score on a 73-yard punt return.
** On Oct. 11, 1975, Division II schools Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) and Davidson (N.C.) College combined to set an NCAA single-game rushing record as the Bears topped the Wildcats, 69-14. Lenoir-Rhyne rushed for an amazing 837 yards while Davidson added 202, establishing a new NCAA record with 1,039 combined rushing yards on 111 attempts.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** The list of unbeaten teams at the Division I-A level shrunk from 22 last week to 15. Those remaining are Alabama, Boise State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Houston, Illinois, Kansas State, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Texas, Texas Tech and Wisconsin.
** Stanford’s 45-19 victory over UCLA on Saturday extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 13. Meanwhile, New Mexico dropped a 42-28 decision to rival New Mexico State to extend the nation’s longest losing streak to eight games.
** Congratulations to Middle Tennessee, which got its first win of the season last weekend with a 38-31 win over instate rival Memphis. Then the Blue Raiders returned the favor last night, dropping a 36-33 double overtime decision to Western Kentucky to give the Hilltoppers their first victory of 2011. That leaves only five winless I-A teams – Florida Atlantic, Miami (Ohio), New Mexico, Oregon State and UAB.
** Congratulations are also in order for Illinois and SMU. The Fighting Illini are 5-0 for the first time since starting the 1951 season with seven straight victories. And the Mustangs knocked off TCU on Saturday, ending the Horned Frogs’ streak of 22 straight victories at home. SMU is 4-1 for the first time since 1986 – pre-death penalty.
** Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins had a career day during his team’s 38-35 win over Northwestern. Jenkins had 12 receptions for a school-record 268 yards and three touchdowns. It was the most receiving yardage totaled by a Big Ten player since 2003 and ranked fourth all-time behind Chris Daniels of Purdue (301 in 1999), Thomas Lewis of Indiana (285 in 1993) and Charles Rogers of Michigan State (270 in 2001).
** How good is Alabama’s defense? Florida entered the game averaging 259 yards and managed only 15 against the Tide. The 38-10 defeat represented the worst home loss for the Gators since a 36-7 decision against LSU in 2002. That LSU team was coached by Nick Saban – same guy that’s currently Alabama’s head coach.
** Texas A&M has every intention of leaving what’s left of the Big 12 to join the SEC next year. The question is why? The Aggies blew a 35-17 halftime lead against Arkansas on Saturday, eventually losing by a 42-38 final. That marked A&M seventh straight loss to an SEC team since 1995.
** Oklahoma’s offense got most of the attention following a 62-6 blowout of Ball State, but Sooners safety Tony Jefferson had a monster game as well. Jefferson intercepted passes on three straight Ball State possessions in the second quarter.
** South Carolina had a bad day get worse Saturday with a 16-13 upset loss at home to Auburn. SEC officials working the game made the Gamecocks change out of their UnderArmour Wounded Warriors uniforms before kickoff because the numbers were too hard to read.
** There are nice debuts and then there is the performance turned in by West Virginia freshman tailback Dustin Garrison. After getting only 13 carries in the Mountaineers’ first four games, Garrison rushed for a school-record 291 yards and 32 totes as WVU rolled to a 55-10 win Oct. 1 over Bowling Green.
** Utah State has begun to slowly turn things around under third-year head coach Gary Andersen. The Aggies haven’t had a winning season since 1996 and are currently 1-3, but they have been competitive. They simply haven’t learned how to win yet. How close is USU to being 4-0 for the first time since 1978? The Aggies led BYU by 11 points in the fourth quarter, Auburn by 10 points with less than three minutes remaining and Colorado State by eight in the final minute and lost all three games. “We’re learning a lot of life lessons,” Andersen said.
** The Big Ten Network has resurrected its “Icons” series with profiles on legendary coaches from each of the conference schools. The list is a pretty impressive one that includes Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Joe Paterno, Bob Knight, Jud Heathcote, Herb Brooks, Dan Gable and Tom Osborne. The only member of the list worth questioning comes from Northwestern, which chose women’s lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte-Hiller over College Football Hall of Fame coach Ara Parseghian. But when you realize Parseghian had much greater success at Notre Dame, and Amonte-Hiller has led the Wildcats to six national championships in seven seasons, you understand the selection was a no-brainer for NU.
If only we had stayed with our head instead of our heart, we’d be crowing about a second perfect week in a row with the straight-up picks. As it was, we changed our Ohio State-Michigan State pick at the last minute and wound up with the Buckeyes causing the only blemish in a 9-1 week. We can’t cry too much, though. We’re 47-5 SU for the season so far and that’s better than 90 percent.
Against the spread, we’re stuck in a rut with another 5-5 week. We’re still well above breakeven at 29-20-1 for the season, but we’d like to do better.
Let’s see if that can happen with these games.
No. 5 Boise State at Fresno State: The Bulldogs would seem to be a better team than their 2-3 record might indicate, but they won’t improve until they stop giving up big plays. Earlier this season, they had Nebraska on the ropes until giving up a 100-yard kickoff return and a 46-yard touchdown run. Last week against Ole Miss, Fresno surrendered a 69-yard TD run and gave up an average of 26.8 yards per completion. That simply will not get it done against the Broncos despite the fact QB Kellen Moore had an uncharacteristically poor performance last week … Boise State 41, Fresno State 20. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 17 Florida at No. 1 LSU: Both of these teams have quarterback quandaries although the Gators have the bigger problems. Starting QB John Brantley sustained a leg injury during last week’s 38-10 loss to Alabama, and Florida head coach Will Muschamp will start freshman Jeff Driskel in his place. On the other sideline, Les Miles is trying to figure out how he can get Jordan Jefferson involved in the LSU offense after the starting QB’s suspension was lifted last week. Jefferson will continue to back up Jarrett Lee, but it really doesn’t matter that much. The Tigers’ defense gives up next to nothing on the ground, putting the onus on Driskel to win the game for his team through the air. It is probably also worth noting that LSU ranks fourth nationally in turnover margin … LSU 23, Florida 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Vanderbilt at No. 2 Alabama: Pity the Commodores. They enter this game ranked 117th out of 120 Division I-A schools in total offense while the Crimson Tide are among the top five in every major defensive statistic. That includes No. 1 against the run and in scoring defense. Then, there is the small matter of Vandy’s recent struggles against ranked teams – 0 for its last 11. Add that to the fact the Commodores have lost 43 of the last 45 in the series and you get the impression the Tide can name whatever final score they want … Alabama 35, Vanderbilt 6. (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 Texas: The two archrivals descend upon the Cotton Bowl once again, this time with each team undefeated. If you put any stock in national rankings, you might be led to believe the Longhorns are the team to beat. They started the season unranked and have ascended all the way to No. 11. Meanwhile, the Sooners are down two notches from being preseason No. 1 despite winning four games by a combined score of 170-61. Up and down the rosters, though, it still looks like Oklahoma has the better team both offensively and defensively. No upset here – not even close … Oklahoma 34, Texas 14. (12 noon ET, ABC)
Kansas at No. 6 Oklahoma State: The Cowboys had a week off to enjoy their heart-pounding 30-29 win over Texas A&M, and now they rev up the motor on their high-powered offense against a team that has struggled mightily on the road. OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden engineers the nation’s No. 3 offense, which averages 571.8 yards per game, against the Jayhawks who surrender 545.0 yards per game. That ranks 119th nationally among 120 Division I-A schools. Making matters worse for Jayhawks, they have lost nine straight conference games on the road. We can’t think of a single reason to think this will be anything short of a blowout … Oklahoma State 45, Kansas 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, FSN)
Colorado at No. 7 Stanford: There’s not much to say about this one. The Cardinal are trying to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 13 while the Buffaloes seek to avoid losing their 19th consecutive road loss. Suffice it to say Stanford QB Andrew Luck (1,013 yards, 11 TDs) will continue to pad his Heisman résumé while Colorado continues its slide to a sixth straight losing season … Stanford 42, Colorado 10. (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus)
Boston College at No. 8 Clemson: The Tigers are one of the surprising teams of 2011 so far, starting the season 5-0 for the first time since winning their first eight games in 2000. That’s pretty good for a team that finished 6-7 last year. This week, Clemson should be able to keep things going against a BC squad that ranks 98th nationally in total offense and 99th in scoring. The Tigers might be induced to overlook the 1-4 Eagles, but they shouldn’t. Boston College has won three of the last five in the series and Clemson failed to score an offensive touchdown in either of the last two games. That should be incentive enough to take care of business … Clemson 28, Boston College 7. (3 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)
No. 12 Michigan at Northwestern: The Wolverines are starting to get their old swagger back, especially after last week’s 58-0 drubbing of lowly Minnesota. That marked U-M’s first shutout of a Big Ten opponent since 2001 and its first shutout against any opponent since 2007. Before they get too full of themselves in Ann Arbor, however, they should realize the Gophers are about as punchless as any team in the country. Michigan gets a much stiffer test this week under the lights in Evanston. Electrifying QB Dan Persa is back for the Wildcats, and he threw for four touchdowns last week against a decent Illinois defense. Unfortunately for Persa, his defense doesn’t help him much and the Achilles injury that ended his 2010 season prematurely still seems to bother him. That prevents this one from becoming as high-scoring as it could have …Michigan 45, Northwestern 35. (7 p.m. ET, BTN)
No. 19 Illinois at Indiana: Did anyone see this coming? Did anyone look at the Fighting Illini before this season and say, ‘Yeah, there’s a team with a chance to make a BCS bowl’? Yet here we are, nearing the midway point of the regular season with Illinois one of a handful of undefeated teams left standing. Look at the Illini schedule after this week and you see winnable games all the way to a Nov. 19 matchup with Wisconsin. By that time, the Fighting Zooksters could be a top-10 team. On the flip side of that is IU, a team that is pretty much right where everyone thought it would be … Illinois 37, Indiana 13. (2:30 p.m. ET, BTN)
Ohio State at No. 14 Nebraska: Given the way the offense has performed lately, it is imperative the Buckeyes play lights-out on defense if they entertain the slightest notion of winning this game. That means playing assignment football against Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez and forcing him to throw the football. On the other side of the ball, Ohio State has to devise some way of keeping the Blackshirts off young quarterback Braxton Miller. If Miller can find some operating room and gain a little confidence, he can be dangerous. But if he is smothered this week like he was last week vs. Michigan State, the Buckeyes have no chance to win this game no matter how well their defense plays. Seeing is believing, but we remain unconvinced … Nebraska 16, Ohio State 9. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-20½) at Fresno State; Florida at LSU (-12); Vanderbilt at Alabama (-28½); Oklahoma (-9½) vs. Texas; Kansas at Oklahoma State (-29); Colorado at Stanford (-29); Boston College at Clemson (-20); Michigan (-7) at Northwestern; Illinois (-14) at Indiana; Ohio State (+11½) at Nebraska.
Enjoy the games and we’ll visit again next week.