Fickell, OSU Defense Beginning To Feel Heat

It began with just a few whispers, but Luke Fickell is rapidly coming under full-throated criticism for the performance of his defense.

Fans became accustomed to rock-solid units churned out year after year under Jim Heacock, but the truth is that down through the years Ohio State has more often than not boasted stellar defenses. Since 1970, the Buckeyes have been honored with 88 first-team All-Americans, and 49 of those have played defense.

Ohio State remains a hard-hitting unit which seems to have a penchant for coming up with a big play at just the right time. But this year’s defense also leads the league in its maddening number of missed tackles, blown assignments and personal-foul penalties.

During my years covering OSU, I have seen some struggling defenses. The 1980 unit was so porous in pass coverage that Illinois quarterback Dave Wilson established an NCAA single-game record by throwing for 621 yards against the Buckeyes. In 1988, when the Buckeyes stumbled to a 4-6-1 record, the defense surrendered a program-record 283 points. The following year, it re-established that mark when it gave up 297.

This year’s team is on pace to challenge that record, currently giving up an average of 24.6 points per game. In terms of total defense, the Buckeyes are surrendering 400.0 yards per game on average. To put those numbers in some sort of free-falling context, just two years ago during the 2010 season, Ohio State ranked among the top five defenses in the nation, giving up averages of 14.3 points and 262.2 yards per game. This year’s unit doesn’t rank among the nation’s top 50 in either category.

Yes, the defense is being decimated by injuries. Yes, the team is being asked to learn a new scheme under Fickell and first-year co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers. But Ohio State has signed 19 four- or five-star rated defensive players in its two most recent recruiting classes. Are they not being developed properly or did the Buckeyes whiff on those prospects?

Then there is the matter of two defensive starters basically admitting they took their foot off the gas pedal late in the game against Indiana. When you have so many problems with fundamentals and execution, you can’t afford to think all you have to do is show up with a shiny silver helmet in hand and the opposing team will simply shrink away.

On top of all that, your offensive-minded head coach says he is “going to increase (his) involvement with the defense.” That’s when you know you’ve got trouble.

The good news for Fickell and his defensive staff is that there are still five games to be played – five games in which improvements can be made. But the bad news is the next two games are against Purdue and Penn State, teams committed to spreading out and exposing a defense like Ohio State.

Stay tuned. This could get very interesting.

OSU-PURDUE TIDBITS

** This marks the 55th meeting between Ohio State and Purdue with the Buckeyes holding a 38-14-2 record in the overall series. That includes a 26-6-2 mark in Ohio Stadium. OSU has won seven straight at home in the series, with the Boilermakers last tasting victory in Columbus with a 31-26 decision in 1988.

** In the previous 54 meetings, the Boilermakers have never experienced more than a two-game win streak over the Buckeyes. OSU has enjoyed series winning streaks of seven and six games as well as mini-streaks of three in a row on five separate occasions.

** Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer will be facing the Boilermakers for the first time as head coach, but he is 5-2 lifetime against Purdue as an assistant coach. Meyer was on Earle Bruce’s coaching staff at OSU when the Buckeyes recorded victories over Purdue in 1986 and ’87, and he was on Bob Davies’ staff at Notre Dame when the Fighting Irish went 3-2 vs. the Boilermakers from 1996 to 2000.

** Purdue head coach Danny Hope is in his fourth season with the Boilermakers, compiling a 19-24 overall record and 10-16 mark in the Big Ten. He is 2-1 vs. the Buckeyes with his victories coming in 2009 and 2011 in West Lafayette. In ’09, Purdue took advantage of five OSU turnovers and scored a 26-18 upset over the seventh-ranked Buckeyes, while last year the Boilermakers blocked what would have been a game-winning PAT for Ohio State with 55 seconds remaining. Purdue went on to win a 26-23 overtime decision.

** Hope is trying to become the first Purdue head coach in 45 years to win two in a row against Ohio State. Jack Mollenkopf led his team to a 24-21 upset of the third-ranked Buckeyes in 1960, but then had to wait seven years because of scheduling quirks to claim a 41-6 win in 1967.

** With his 2-1 record vs. Ohio State, Hope is one of only two Purdue head coaches to have winning records against the Buckeyes. Cecil Isbell, who coached three seasons in West Lafayette from 1944-46, had a 1-0-1 record vs. Ohio State. The Boilermakers scored a 35-13 win in 1945 and the teams played to a 14-14 tie in ’46. Isbell’s successor, Stu Holcomb, came close with a 2-2 record against the Buckeyes. Holcomb played his college football at Ohio State, lettering from 1929-31 and captaining the ’31 squad that finished 6-3 under head coach Sam Willaman.

** Ohio State is off to a 7-0 start for the first time since 2007 when that team won its first 10 games. In the past 20 seasons, the Buckeyes have gotten off to a 7-0 start eight times.

** Meyer is only the third head coach in Ohio State history to win his first seven games. Carroll Widdoes won his first 12 in 1944-45 and Earle Bruce won 11 in a row in 1979. Meyer is also only the third Big Ten coach since 1946 to win as many as seven games to begin his debut season. The others were Bruce and Bennie Oosterbaan of Michigan, who posted a perfect 9-0 season in 1948.

** Purdue is 8-5-2 all-time on Oct. 20 while Ohio State is 10-6. The two teams have met twice previously on that date. In 1945, the No. 9 Boilermakers dealt a 35-13 upset loss to the fourth-ranked Buckeyes in Columbus. Then in 1990, when both teams were unranked, OSU traveled to West Lafayette and administered a 42-2 thumping to Purdue.

** The Boilermakers have not scored a touchdown in Ohio Stadium since 2003 when running back Jerod Void scored on an 11-yard run during No. 10 Purdue’s 16-13 loss to fourth-ranked OSU. To be fair, the Boilermakers have played only twice in Columbus since then – a 16-3 loss in 2008 and a 49-0 loss in 2010.

** Purdue hasn’t scored a touchdown through the air in Ohio Stadium since 1999 when quarterback Drew Brees threw a 12-yard scoring pass to Kevin Sutherland in the first quarter of a 25-22 OSU victory.

** The Buckeyes have combined to score 115 points the past two weeks, their second-highest total ever in back-to-back games against Big Ten opponents. OSU tallied 131 points against Minnesota (48) and Iowa (83) in 1950.

** In addition to all of that scoring vs. Nebraska and Indiana, Ohio State racked up a combined 724 rushing yards against the Cornhuskers and Hoosiers. That pushed the Buckeyes to No. 8 in the nation in rushing offense with an average of 263.6 yards per game.

** Purdue currently ranks 11th in the Big Ten and 97th nationally in rush defense, surrendering an average of 199.5 yards per game. In their last two games, the Boilermakers have given up 771 yards on the ground – 467 to Wisconsin and 304 to Michigan.

** Ohio State piled up 578 total yards last week against Indiana, the team’s highest total since piling up 645 during a 73-20 victory over Eastern Michigan in 2010. It was also the highest total yardage figure against a Big Ten opponent since OSU gained 603 yards on Indiana during a 35-6 win at Bloomington in 2003.

** The 52-49 win over the Hoosiers coupled with a 63-38 win against Nebraska on Oct. 6 marked the first time since November 1984 that the Buckeyes had topped the 50-point mark against back-to-back Big Ten opponents. That season, Ohio State took a 50-7 win over Indiana in Columbus one week before rolling to a 52-3 victory at Northwestern.

** OSU has already matched a single-season program record with three games in which it has scored 50 or more points. That has happened only three previous times – 1969, 1973 and 1983. No Ohio State team has ever topped the 50-point mark four times in a season.

** The final score vs. Indiana marked the second straight game in which the combined total in an Ohio State game topped 100. Before this season, the Buckeyes had been involved in only two games that had produced more than 100 points – an 83-21 win over Iowa in 1950 and a school-record 128-0 win over Oberlin in 1916.

** When Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde each rushed for more than 100 yards, and Devin Smith cracked the century mark in receiving vs. Indiana, it marked the first time in Ohio State program history that the Buckeyes had two 100-yard rushers and a 100-yard receiver in the same game.

** Miller and Hyde each eclipsed the century mark in rushing against Nebraska and Indiana, marking only the fifth time in Ohio State history two players have rushed for 100 or more yards in back-to-back games. It was also the first time in 37 years the feat had been accomplished. During a 35-6 win at Purdue on Oct. 25, 1975, fullback Pete Johnson rushed for 131 yards while tailback Archie Griffin added 130. The following week at home vs. Indiana, Johnson and Griffin rumbled for 150 yards apiece during a 24-14 Buckeye victory.

** Miller has established a new school record for quarterbacks with his eighth career game of 100 or more yards rushing. His 149 yards vs. Indiana also pushed his career total to 1,627, good enough for fourth all-time among Ohio State quarterbacks behind Terrelle Pryor (2,164, 2008-10), Cornelius Greene (2,080, 1972-75) and Rex Kern (1,714, 1968-70).

** Miller also moved into 34th place on Ohio State’s all-time rushing list. He needs 121 more to move into the top 30 past Butler By’not’e (1,644, 1990-93), John Brockington (1,663, 1968-70), Kern and John Wooldridge (1,747, 1983-86).

** Hyde had his fourth career 100-yard game and upped his career total to 1,161. He needs eight more yards to pass Troy Smith (1,168, 2003-06) and move into the top 50 on Ohio State’s all-time rushing list.

** With his performance against Indiana, Miller became only the 14th player in program history to move past the 4,000-yard mark in career total offense. Currently with 4,057 total yards, Miller needs only 102 more yards to move past Kern (4,158) and into 13th place on OSU’s all-time list.

** Miller also needs only 231 more passing yards to move into the school’s top 12 in that category. The sophomore QB currently has 2,430 yards, which ranks just behind Stan Jackson (2,660, 1994-97), Don Unverferth (2,518, 1963-65), Kern (2,444) and Kirk Herbstreit (2,437, 1989-92).

** Purdue senior receiver Antavian Edison is working on a streak of 27 consecutive games with at least one reception.

** OSU has blocked four kicks – two punts and two PATs – this season, adding to Meyer’s total as a head coach. In 11 seasons with Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and OSU, Meyer-coached teams have blocked 55 kicks in 134 games. Since 2005, Meyer is a spotless 18-0 in games when his team has blocked an enemy punt. That includes a 2-0 record this season.

** Speaking of blocking kicks, Purdue senior defensive end Kawann Short has blocked eight kicks during his career – two PATs and six field-goal tries. Short, who has started all 42 games of his Purdue career, helped Central High School in East Chicago win an Indiana state basketball tournament during his junior year. The 6-3, 315-pounder reportedly can still dunk.

** Purdue has returned three interceptions for touchdowns this season, the second-best total in the nation. One of those was turned in by junior cornerback Ricardo Allen, who chalked up his fourth career pick-six against Marshall on Sept. 29. Allen is tied with Tim Wilbur of Indiana (1978-82) for the second-most interception returns for touchdowns in Big Ten history. Wisconsin cornerback Jamar Fletcher (1998-2000) had five during his career.

** After finishing last year 11th in the Big Ten in penalties, Hope talked extensively during the offseason about addressing that issue. Message sent, message received. The Boilermakers have committed the second-fewest penalties of any conference team this season, averaging 4.8 penalties for a Big Ten-low 36.0 yards per game.

** Ohio State is currently the most penalized team in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes average 8.0 penalties per game for 70.3 yards. OSU has been flagged 56 times in seven games, including 18 personal foul penalties.

** The Boilermakers have been snakebitten recently in terms of knee injuries. Running back Ralph Bolden and quarterback Robert Marve have suffered three ACL injuries each while running back Brandon Cottom and quarterback Rob Henry have sustained one apiece.

** Kickoff this week is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern. Disney will handle the telecast on ABC/ESPN2 using its reverse mirror. That means if the game isn’t carried by your local ABC affiliate, it will be on ESPN2 and vice versa. Beth Mowins will call the play-by-play with former Ohio State receiver Joey Galloway providing color analysis. Lewis Johnson will report from the sidelines.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channel 112 and XM channel 190.

** Next week, Ohio State travels to Penn State for a contest now scheduled to kick off at 5:30 p.m. Eastern. That game will also be telecast by ABC/ESPN2.

OLDEST SURVIVING BIG TEN COACHES

Not sure how we stumbled upon this topic, but while doing some research recently we uncovered a list of the oldest surviving former Big Ten coaches.

Topping the list is 98-year-old Bill Glassford, who was head coach at Nebraska from 1949 to 1955.

Of course, if you are a purist, you know that Glassford never coached a day in the Big Ten. That would mean the mantle of oldest surviving former Big Ten coach who actually coached in the Big Ten would be 89-year-old Ara Parseghian, who piloted the Northwestern program between 1956 and 1963.

Here is a school-by-school list of the oldest surviving coaches from each of the current Big Ten members along with their ages and years they coached.

Bill Glassford, 98, Nebraska (1949-55)

Ara Parseghian, 89, Northwestern (1956-63)

Chalmers “Bump” Elliott, 87, Michigan (1959-68)

Frank Lauterbur, 87, Iowa (1971-73)

Pete Elliott, 86, Illinois (1960-66)

Bob DeMoss, 85, Purdue (1970-72)

Bob Hicks, 85, Indiana (1957)

Earle Bruce, 81, Ohio State (1979-87)

George Perles, 78, Michigan State (1983-94)

Jim Hilles, 76, Wisconsin (1986)

Lou Holtz, 75, Minnesota (1984-85)

Tom Bradley, 56, Penn State (2011)

Yes, Bump and Pete Elliott are brothers, born 20 months apart. Pete is also the second-oldest surviving former Nebraska head coach. He succeeded Glassford and coached the Cornhuskers during the 1956 season.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Oct. 19, 2002, Oklahoma State scored a 24-21 victory over Nebraska, marking the Cowboys’ first win over the Cornhuskers in 41 years. QB Josh Fields fueled the victory by throwing for 192 yards, most of it going to receiver Rashaun Woods, who finished with 11 catches for 134 yards. Later that season, Oklahoma State upset No. 4 Oklahoma, marking the first time in school history the Cowboys had beaten both NU and OU in the same season.

** 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. 20, 1990, No. 6 Notre Dame scored a 29-20 upset of second-ranked Miami (Fla.) thanks to 268 all-purpose yards from wideout Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. Trailing 22-20 in the fourth quarter, the Hurricanes lost a chance to take the lead when tailback Leonard Conley fumbled at the 2-yard line. Miami defensive tackle Russell Maryland shook off a sprained foot to register 20 tackles, including three for loss, but Ismail rushed for 100 yards and returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown to lead the Fighting Irish.

** On Oct. 21, 1950, Tom Powers of Duke set an ACC single-game scoring record when he accounted for 36 points in a 41-0 win over Richmond. Powers ran for three touchdowns and also caught three TD passes against the Spiders.

** On Oct. 21, 1978, third-ranked Arkansas fell 28-21 victim to No. 9 Texas in Austin. The Longhorns were led by a trio of players with the same name. Tailback Johnny “Jam” Jones led Texas in rushing against the Razorbacks, fullback Johnny “Ham” Jones rushed for a touchdown and a two-point conversion, and wide receiver Johnny “Lam” Jones nabbed a pair of TD catches, including the eventual game-winner with 6:15 to play.

** 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 Crimson 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, 1966, UTEP rolled to a 35-0 win over San Jose State in a game during which the Spartans accounted for minus-102 rushing yards. UTEP wasn’t much better, totaling only 78 yards on the ground. The team’s combined total of negative 24 rushing yards set an NCAA single-game record for futility.

** On Oct. 22, 1983, Nebraska scored 41 points during a stretch of fewer 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, 1953, winless Purdue pulled a stunning 6-0 upset of second-ranked Michigan State behind fullback Dan Pobojewski’s fourth-quarter touchdown plunge. The game ended the Spartans’ 28-game winning streak and marked the first time MSU had been shut out in 59 games.

** Also on Oct. 24, 1953, Minnesota handed No. 5 Michigan a 22-0 loss in the 50th installment of the Little Brown Jug series. The Golden Gophers were led by tailback Paul Giel, who rushed for 113 yards and two TDs while also throwing for 169 yards and a touchdown.

** 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 ran 53 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put the Mustangs ahead for good.

** Also on Oct. 25, 1980, Purdue quarterback Mark Herrmann threw for 340 yards during his team’s 36-25 victory over Michigan State. Herrmann finished the game with 8,076 career passing yards which broke the NCAA all-time record. By the time he graduated, Hermann totaled 9,188 passing yards and 707 career completions, both of which were NCAA career records.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated Football Bowl Subdivision teams has been pared to an even dozen with Ohio, Ohio State and Oregon leading the pack at 7-0. Alabama, Florida, Kansas State, Louisville, Mississippi State, Notre Dame and Rutgers are all 6-0, while Cincinnati and Oregon State are 5-0.

** The nation’s longest streak ended for the second week in a row. TCU had its 12-game streak snapped Oct. 6 with a 37-23 loss to Iowa State, and South Carolina’s 10-game streak ended last Saturday night with a 23-21 heartbreaker at LSU. That means Alabama now owns the nation’s longest streak with 10 straight wins.

** Congratulations to Tulane, which ended the nation’s longest losing streak at 15 games with last Saturday’s 27-26 win over SMU. Eastern Michigan takes over the dubious honor of the nation’s longest losing streak. The Eagles lost a 52-47 shootout to Toledo on Saturday, marking their eighth straight loss.

** SMU rebounded from its loss to Tulane with a 72-42 rout of Conference USA rival Houston last night. The Mustangs established a new single-game scoring record, eclipsing a 70-0 victory over Daniel Baker College in 1920. SMU also had the highest point tally ever for a Houston opponent. The Cougars had given up 66 points twice previously – a 66-10 loss to UCLA in 1997 and a 66-45 defeat to Louisville in 2003.

** In retrospect, maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised about Texas Tech’s 49-14 upset of No. 5 West Virginia. Red Raiders head coach Tommy Tuberville moved his lifetime record to a stellar 6-2 against top-five opponents. Double-T gets another shot at a top-five team Oct. 27 when it travels to No. 4 Kansas State.

** Wisconsin running back Monteé Ball rushed for a career-best 247 yards and scored three touchdowns during last week’s 38-14 win over Purdue. Ball moved his career touchdown total to 72 and his career point total to 434, breaking the Big Ten records formerly held by fellow Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne. Ball is now six TDs away from the all-time FBS record of 72 held by Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio).

** Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz reached a pair of milestones with his team’s 19-16 double overtime victory over Michigan State. Ferentz notched win No. 100 with the Hawkeyes, making him only the second Iowa head coach to crack the century mark. Hayden Fry (1979-98) is the school’s all-time leader with 143 wins. Additionally, the win over the Spartans marked Ferentz’s 60th Big Ten victory, making him only the 14th man to reach 60 conference wins. The all-time leader in that category is Woody Hayes of Ohio State, who compiled 152 Big Ten victories from 1951-78.

** If you thought the four-hour marathon involving Ohio State and Indiana was a doozy, Louisiana Tech and Texas A&M waged a back-and-forth war for 4½ hours before the Aggies finally came away with a 59-57 victory. Louisiana Tech fought its way out of a 27-0 hole, and then scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes to pull within two points. But the Bulldogs missed on a two-point conversion try with 38 seconds remaining and couldn’t recover the ensuing onside kick. Tech QB Colby Cameron threw for 450 yards and five TDs, but he was overshadowed by A&M counterpart Johnny Manziel, who racked up an SEC-record 576 total yards in the game. Manziel threw for 395 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 181 yards and three more scores.

** Things are going from bad to worse for Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley. The Volunteers posted back-to-back losing records under Dooley in 2010 and 2011, marking the first time the program had consecutive losing seasons since three in a row from 1909 to 1911. Last weekend, Tennessee lost a 41-31 decision to Mississippi State to drop Dooley’s record to 4-15 in SEC games. And just to add a little injury to insult, Dooley had to coach that game from the press box after undergoing midweek hip surgery.

** Speaking of Mississippi State, it has started the season with a 6-0 record for the first time since winning its first eight games in 1999. Dan Mullen is in his fourth season as head coach of the Bulldogs, and is angling for the team’s third consecutive winning campaign. That hasn’t happened in Starkville since Jackie Sherrill strung together four straight from 1997 to 2000.

** Florida QB Jeff Driskel rushed for 177 yards during his team’s 31-17 win at Vanderbilt last weekend, breaking the school’s single-game rushing record by a quarterback. The previous mark of 166 was set in 2007 by Tim Tebow during the Gators’ 30-24 win over Ole Miss.

** Oregon State is the surprise of the Pac-12 so far this season. The No. 10 Beavers are 5-0 for the first time since 1939 and play unranked conference foes Utah, Washington and Arizona State the next three weeks. Oregon State has been playing football since 1894 and has never started a season better than 6-0. That happened in 1907 when the Beavers won all six games they played that year.

** Ole Miss snapped its 16-game conference losing streak with last week’s 41-20 win over Auburn. Extra credit for those of you who know the Rebels are coached by a guy named Hugh Freeze, whose previous coaching stops include Arkansas State, NAIA Lambuth University (Tenn.) and Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. One of Freeze’s players at Briarcrest was current Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher, the subject of the best-selling book and hit movie “The Blind Side.”

** You probably missed the fact that New Mexico scored a 35-23 victory at Hawaii in a game that ended early Sunday morning Eastern time. It marked the Lobos’ first win outside their home state since a 20-17 win at San Diego State on Oct. 20, 2007. In his first season in Albuquerque, Bob Davies has guided the Lobos to four victories already – pretty good for a team that went 3-33 during the previous three seasons combined.

** The longest running series in the country stages its 122nd renewal tomorrow when Wisconsin hosts Minnesota in the annual battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Goldy and Bucky have been battling for the axe trophy since 1948 with Wisconsin holding a 38-23-3 advantage, including wins in each of the last eight meetings. In the overall series, Minnesota leads by a 58-55-8 margin.

** Ohio garners most of the attention directed toward the Mid-American Conference these days, but East Division rival Kent State is off to a 5-1 start under second-year head coach and our old friend Darrell Hazell. That is the best start since 1973 for the Golden Flashes and part of the reason is junior speedster Dri Archer. The 5-8, 175-pounder with 4.21 speed currently leads the nation in all-purpose yardage (229.2 yards per game) and kickoff returns (47.7 yards per return), and ranks fifth in scoring (12.0 points per game). In case you’re interested, Kent hosts Ohio on the day after Thanksgiving – the regular-season finale for both teams.

FEARLESS FORECAST

This is more like it. We finally picked out some games we could win, and went a perfect 10-0 straight up and 6-2-2 against the spread. (Gotta stop taking Ohio State to cover, though.) The season totals are now 58-12 straight up and we’re back to .500 ATS at 34-34-2.

We’ll try to build on last week with these games.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Minnesota at Wisconsin: The Gophers really don’t have much going for them as they head into the 122nd renewal of one of college football’s oldest rivalry games. Head coach Jerry Kill had another seizure following last week’s loss to Northwestern, injuries are preventing electrifying QB MarQueis Gray from staying in the lineup, and history has not been kind to Goldy. Wisconsin is 38-23-3 since the teams started playing for the Paul Bunyan Axe Trophy in 1946, and the Badgers haven’t lost to Minnesota at home since 1994. Add in the fact that Wisconsin seems to have righted the ship after a shaky start and you have the recipe for a blowout … Wisconsin 42, Minnesota 17. (12 noon ET, ESPNU, DirectTV 208)

No. 9 South Carolina at No. 3 Florida: The Gators are probably getting more credit than they deserve for beating a mediocre Vanderbilt team last week while the Gamecocks are getting more criticism than they deserve for a razor-close 23-21 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge. South Carolina could be without star RB Marcus Lattimore (bruised hip) while normally reliable QB Connor Shaw was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter last week by LSU. Meanwhile, the Gators welcome back three offensive linemen who were sidelined last week. Steve Spurrier would like nothing more than to return to the Swamp and beat his former team, but the Gamecocks are a lowly 1-12 all-time in Gainesville. That lone victory came in 2010 and we just have this inkling that Spurrier can somehow work his magic again … South Carolina 23, Florida 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

BYU at No. 5 Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are getting a lot of pub for their defense, but the Cougars are no slouch on D. While Notre Dame ranks 11th nationally in total defense (287.0 yards per game), BYU is No. 5 at 260.9 yards per contest. The Cougars have held four of their seven opponents to seven points or fewer, while the Irish have limited their last four opponents to a combined total of four field goals and no offensive touchdowns. Neither team has much of an offense to write home about, so that means this game will likely hinge on turnovers. And that is where Notre Dame has the edge. The Irish are plus-8 in that department while the Cougars are minus-5 … Notre Dame 17, BYU 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

MichiganState at No. 23 Michigan: The Spartans are working on a four-game winning streak against the Wolverines, their longest win streak in the series in 50 years. If MSU is to increase that streak to a record five in a row, it is going to have to find a way to play much better than it has in recent weeks. Since losing a 17-16 home heartbreaker to Ohio State, Sparty scuffled around at Indiana before pulling out a 31-27 win and then looked extremely sloppy at times during last week’s 19-16 double overtime loss to Iowa. Meanwhile, Michigan seems to have fixed whatever ailments it was experiencing during the first part of the season, piling up 936 total yards combined the last two weeks vs. Purdue and Illinois. Expect the Spartans to put up more of a struggle than the Boilers or Illini, but also expect their series winning streak to come to an end … Michigan 27, Michigan State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN, DirectTV 610)

Colorado at No. 11 USC: After hitting the road for four of their last five games, the Trojans get to relax a little bit at home tomorrow evening. Coming to town are the struggling Buffaloes, who are 1-5 and are probably not even that good. Colorado ranks 103rd in the nation in scoring offense and 117th in scoring defense, a deadly combination going against a team like USC desperate to get back on track after a handful of subpar performances. QB Matt Barkley has 93 career TD passes and needs only four more to establish a new Pac-12 career record. He might do in the first quarter against the Buffs … USC 42, Colorado 17. (6 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)

No. 1 Alabama at Tennessee: How good is the Alabama defense? Good enough to rank No. 1 in the nation in every major statistical category. Unfortunately for the Volunteers, the only way they have a chance in this game is if their offense can score enough points to make up for a porous defense. Tennessee averages 38.0 points per game, and has scored 44 or more three times in seven games. But the Vols can’t stop anyone. They surrender 31.5 points per game and that just won’t get it done against the defending national champs … Alabama 41, Tennessee 10. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

Kansas at No. 10 Oklahoma: Since a mistake-prone loss to Kansas State on Sept. 22, the Sooners seem to have figured things out. OU took a week off and came back to run roughshod through Texas, slicing up a pretty good Texas Tech defense to the tune of a 41-20 win and then exposing Texas last week in the annual Red River Shootout, cruising to a 63-21 victory. The Boomer Sooner will likely keep rolling this week against a Kansas defense that allows an average of 28.0 points and 433.7 yards per contest. But the Jayhawks did limit a potent Oklahoma State offense to only 20 points last week, so maybe things are looking up for Charlie Weis. Then again, the Jayhawks are managing only 19.0 points per game on offense … Oklahoma 49, Kansas 7. (7 p.m. ET, FSN, DirectTV 692)

Penn State at Iowa: First-year Nittany Lions head coach Bill O’Brien has maximized his talent pool, taking a team that had only four starters remaining from last season and leading it to four consecutive wins. So far, Penn State has played very well on defense and just well enough on offense to beat the likes of Illinois and Northwestern. Now, the Lions begin to reach the meat of their schedule beginning with a trip to Iowa City tomorrow night. The Hawkeyes have won eight of the last 10 games in the series, including each of the last four played at Kinnick Stadium. Since these teams appear to be mirror images of one another, we’ll go with the home team in a defensive battle … Iowa 13, Penn State 10. (8 p.m. ET, BTN, DirectTV 611)

No. 12 Florida State at Miami (Fla.): The Hurricanes’ chances in this game would be greatly enhanced if starting QB Stephen Morris can shake off a sprained ankle that was keeping him off the practice field. Even with Morris, however, Miami faces a tall task in taking down the Seminoles. The U’s defense is still spotty, having allowed 32 or more points five times in seven games and at least 498 total yards four times. And knowing that the E.J. Manuel-led Florida State attack averages 46.0 points and 530.6 yards per game makes Morris even more important to the Miami cause. FSU has won two in a row in the series and five of the last seven … Florida State 41, Miami 20. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Purdue at No. 7 Ohio State: There has been a lot of talk about how the Boilermakers have had Ohio State’s number since Danny Hope has been head coach. And while it is true Hope owns a 2-1 record against the Buckeyes, both of his victories occurred in West Lafayette. The only time a Hope-coached team came to Columbus, it limped back across the Indiana border after a 49-0 waxing. No one expects this year’s game to be a 49-point blowout, mainly because Purdue likes to spread things out on offense and the Buckeyes have given up a truckload of points to teams that spread them out. Still, one has to believe that Urban Meyer got into the grill and under the skin of his defensive players and coaches after last week’s near-collapse at Indiana. Still, don’t expect a runaway … Ohio State 49, Purdue 38. (12 noon ET, ABC/ESPN2, DirectTV 209)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Minnesota at Wisconsin (-17½); South Carolina (+3½) at Florida; BYU (+14) at Notre Dame; Michigan State (+11½) at Michigan; Colorado (+41) at USC; Alabama (-18½) at Tennessee; Kansas at Oklahoma (-34½); Penn State at Iowa (-1½); Florida State (-17½) at Miami-FL; Purdue (+19) at Ohio State.

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

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1 Comment

  1. Bar NONE, THIS is the W-o-r-s-t Ohio State defense that I have seen in the last 40 years of rooting for the Buckeyes. ABYSMAL/Atrocious/Pathetic come to Mind. Whether it is The Players,Coaches or the Scheme a COMPLETE Overhaul is IN ORDER. Until there is respectable DEFENSIVE Effort, I would NOT even consider OSU to be a Top 20 Team. What the HELL is the problem?


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