Buckeyes Elbowing Their Way Into National Title Talk

This is beginning to get really interesting.

When the Ohio State football team bolts onto the Ohio Stadium field tomorrow afternoon, it will do so as members of the No. 6 ranked team in college football according to the latest Associated Press writers’ poll.

The Buckeyes haven’t been so highly regarded since they finished the 2010 season at No. 5 in both the AP and USA Today coaches’ poll. Of course, that was the season that has since been vacated by the same NCAA sanctions that preclude this year’s team from competing for a Big Ten championship.

Those sanctions also prevent the Buckeyes from competing for the 2012 national championship – at least the one that is decided on the field by the Bowl Championship Series format. That title is likely to be waged between Alabama (or some other SEC team seeking to extend the conference’s national championship streak to seven) and any one of a handful of other possibilities.

That Ohio State is disqualified from competing for the BCS title is a bitter pill, but the Buckeyes are taking that medicine in the wake of the yearlong scandal that cost former head coach Jim Tressel his job and his legacy.

But while the team cannot win the national championship that is decided on the field, there is no reason why Ohio State can’t contend for the AP version of the crown.

First and foremost, the idea of actually winning the national championship on the field is a relatively new idea. Before the BCS began in 1998 – and prior to the Bowl Coalition (1992-94) and Bowl Alliance (1995-97) – college football awarded its national championships based solely upon polls and rankings, and titles were very often split between two teams.

For example, any Ohio State fan worth his scarlet and gray salt knows the Buckeyes have won five national championships based upon major polls. But OSU shared two of those titles – with UCLA in 1954 and with Auburn in 1957.

The most recent example of a split national championship came just nine years ago in 2003 when No. 2 LSU won the BCS national championship by virtue of a 21-14 Sugar Bowl win over No. 3 Oklahoma while the AP awarded its version of the title to top-ranked USC, which defeated fourth-ranked Michigan by a 28-14 final in the Rose Bowl.

There is even precedent for a team on NCAA probation to win the title. Oklahoma was serving the second year of a two-season bowl ban when it finished 11-0 in 1974 and won the AP’s version of the national championship.

The Sooners were the nation’s only undefeated team that season, but Barry Switzer’s team didn’t exactly play a monster schedule. They vanquished only two ranked teams that year, nipping No. 17 Texas at home by a 16-13 final and then going to Nebraska and dealing the sixth-ranked Cornhuskers their third loss of the season, a 28-14 decision in late November.

There is the slightest chance that Ohio State could engineer a repeat of the Sooners’ accomplishment of 38 years ago by finishing the 2012 season as the nation’s lone unbeaten team.

Heading into November, the Buckeyes are one of only six teams remaining at the Football Bowl Subdivision level without a loss. Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State, Notre Dame and Louisville are the other five. And while the remainder of the schedule features a pair of archenemies to finish the season, Ohio State has by far the easiest path to an undefeated season. The Buckeyes play Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan to complete their schedule, teams that have combined for a decidedly average 13-12 record.

Two teams rated above OSU will mix it up tomorrow night when top-ranked Alabama visits No. 5 LSU. If the defending champion Crimson Tide win that game and finish the season undefeated, no one would (or could) criticize their bona fides for another consensus national championship. But if the Tigers prevail, all bets are off. They will have the inside track to the SEC title game, where they would likely have to play Georgia or Florida.

Second-ranked Oregon has been extremely impressive in its first eight games, but the Ducks’ schedule is back-loaded with a date tomorrow at No. 18 USC and a Nov. 24 trip to instate rival Oregon State, which is ranked No. 13 in the AP poll.

No. 3 Kansas State and fourth-ranked Notre Dame also have some unfinished business if they plan to finish the season unbeaten.

The Wildcats finish their season with Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor and Texas, while the Fighting Irish travel to USC for their season finale Nov. 24 with hopes for playing in their first BCS National Championship Game likely riding on the outcome.

And what happens if each of the five teams ahead of Ohio State suffers a loss? As I mentioned earlier, things begin to get really interesting.

I am on record as believing some AP voters will find a way not to give the national championship to any team on probation. For example, can you imagine the righteous indignation emanating from ESPN during a title discussion involving a one-loss SEC team and an undefeated Ohio State?

Still, if the Buckeyes run the table and finish the season as the only unbeaten team in the nation, it’s at least going to make that title discussion one worth having.

OSU-ILLINOIS TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Illinois will meet for the 99th time since the series was inaugurated in 1902. The teams played every season for 89 consecutive years until the series was interrupted by scheduling quirks in 2003-04. The Buckeyes hold a 64-30-4 advantage in the overall series, including a 37-18-4 edge in Columbus.

** Despite the lopsided home advantage in the series for Ohio State, the Fighting Illini have won seven of their last 11 games inside the Horseshoe. That includes a 28-21 upset of the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes in 2007.

** Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer will be facing the Illinois for the first time as a head coach. Meyer was 2-0 against the Illini during his tenure as an OSU assistant coach in 1986 and ’87.

** First-year Illinois head coach Tim Beckman served two seasons on Jim Tressel’s Ohio State staff, coaching cornerbacks in 2005 and ’06. As a head coach, Beckman is 0-2 vs. the Buckeyes. His Toledo team dropped a 38-0 decision to OSU at Cleveland Browns Stadium in 2009, and the Rockets lost a 27-22 heartbreaker at Ohio Stadium last season. Beckman was also a member of the Bowling Green coaching staff in 2003 when the Falcons dropped a 24-17 decision to the Buckeyes in Columbus.

** Beckman was an assistant at Bowling Green from 1998-2004, serving under three different head coaches – Gary Blackney (1998-2000), Meyer (2001-02) and Gregg Brandon (2003-04).

** Meyer has a 1-1 record against former staff assistants with both games coming against Dan Mullen, who was Meyer’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Florida. Mullen became head coach at Mississippi State in 2009, and his Bulldogs lost a 29-19 decision to the Gators in Starkville in 2009 before coming back for a 10-7 win in Gainesville the following year.

** Ohio State has started the season with a 9-0 record for only the 13th time in program history. The Buckeyes also began the 1944, 1954, 1968, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1979, 1995, 1996, 2002, 2006 and 2007 seasons with nine straight victories.

** The Buckeyes have not been shut out in the series since a 9-0 win by Illinois in 1959. Since that time, OSU has thrown nine shutouts against the Illini – 44-0 in 1961, 26-0 in 1964, 41-0 in 1969, 30-0 in 1973, 35-0 in 1977, 14-0 in 1986, 48-0 in 1996, 41-0 in 1998 and 30-0 in 2009.

** Illinois has held Ohio State to less than 100 yards passing in each of the last four games in the series, and it should be noted that the Buckeyes enter this year’s matchup ranked ninth in the Big Ten and 102nd nationally in pass offense.

** With three games remaining, Ohio State is poised to rush for more touchdowns than it has in 30 years. The Buckeyes already have 29 rushing TDs this season, the fourth highest total since 1983. OSU totaled 35 rushing touchdowns in both 1983 and ’84, and had 31 during the 2002 national championship season. The school record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season was set in 1974 when the Buckeyes had 48.

** Despite their 2-6 record, the Fighting Illini ranks first in the Big Ten and 12th in the nation in third-down defense. Opponents have converted only 30.0 percent (30 of 100) third downs against Illinois this season. UI is even better on fourth down. The Illini are sixth in the nation in fourth-down defense, allowing only one conversion in five tries.

** Illinois junior QB Nathan Scheelhaase is already among his school’s all-time leaders in several categories. Scheelhaase is fourth in passing efficiency (129.2), sixth in total offense (6,427 yards), eighth in TD passes (34) and ninth in passing yardage (4,774).

** If you notice Illinois players sporting two different kinds of helmet stickers, you’re not seeing things. Beckman awards both blue and white stickers in the shape of the state of Illinois. Blue stickers reward on-field performance and go on the left side of the helmet, while white stickers honor off-the-field work and are worn on the right side.

** Illinois has 16 players from Ohio on its roster, including six starters and five more players who are on the two-deep. Ohio State has three players from Illinois – defensive linemen Garrett Goebel (Villa Park) and Tommy Schutt (Glen Ellyn) as well as wide receiver Evan Spencer (Vernon Hills).

** The Buckeyes and Illini square off for one of the most uncommon trophies in college football. Illibuck is a wooden turtle that goes to the winner of the game each year. The tradition began in 1925 with a live turtle being exchanged between the two schools. The turtle was selected because of its supposed long life expectancy, but the original Illibuck died only two years after the trophy game was inaugurated. Since 1927, nine wooden replica Illibucks have been carved, each with the scores from games on its back. The Illibuck is the second oldest trophy game in the Big Ten, surpassed only by the Little Brown Jug that Minnesota and Michigan have been playing for since 1903.

** With his 134-yard effort against Penn State, Miller increased his season rushing total to 1,093 and became the first Ohio State quarterback in program history to break the 1,000-yard mark in a single season.

** Miller already has the fourth highest single-season rushing total for a quarterback in Big Ten history. Denard Robinson of Michigan set the conference record in 2010 with 1,702 yards, surpassing Antwaan Randle El of Indiana, who rushed for 1,270 yards in 2000. Robinson also has the third highest QB rushing total in league history with 1,176 yards last season.

** Miller moved into 38th place on Ohio State’s career rushing list, motoring past Bob Watkins (1,788, 1952-54), Scottie Graham (1,768, 1988-91), John Wooldridge (1983-86) and Rex Kern (1,714, 1968-70).

** Miller chalked up his ninth career 100-yard game and became only the 15th player in Ohio State history with that many 100-yard rushing performances. The list of Buckeyes with exactly nine 100-yard performances is an impressive one that includes 1955 Heisman Trophy winner Howard “Hopalong” Cassady and 1961 Heisman runner-up Bob Ferguson.

** Miller also moved into 12th place on OSU’s all-time passing list. He now has 2,686 yards and moved ahead of Stan Jackson (2,660, 1994-97). Next up is Todd Boeckman (3,085, 2005-08).

** OSU senior defensive lineman John Simon had another sack against Penn State, increasing his career total to 38 tackles for loss. He needs one more to jump into a tie with Eric Kumerow (1984-87) and Na’il Diggs (1997-99) for ninth place all-time in school history.

** Simon currently has 15½ career sacks, which ties him for 12th in school history with Cameron Heyward (2007-10). Simon needs two more sacks to break into the all-time top 10. Tenth place is currently occupied by Andy Katzenmoyer (1996-98) and Rodney Bailey (1997-2000), each of whom had 17½ career sacks.

** Kickoff this week is set for shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern with ESPN handling the telecast. For the third time this season, the announce crew will feature Beth Mowins (play-by-play), former OSU receiver Joey Galloway (color analysis) and Lewis Johnson (sideline reports).

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 113 and XM channel 197.

** Next week, Ohio State will be off. The Buckeyes return to action Nov. 17 at Wisconsin. Time and broadcast partners for that game have yet to be announced.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Nov. 2, 1935, the original “Game of the Century” featured the first-ever meeting between Ohio State and Notre Dame. The Buckeyes held a 13-0 lead after three quarters, but the Fighting Irish scored 18 points in the fourth quarter for a stunning 18-13 victory at Ohio Stadium. ND backup quarterback Bill Shakespeare connected on a 19-yard touchdown pass to end Wayne Milner with 32 seconds remaining to cap the comeback. The game featured six future College Football Hall of Fame members – Shakespeare, Milner and head coach Elmer Layden for the Fighting Irish, and guard Gust Zarnas, center Gomer Jones and head coach Francis Schmidt for the Buckeyes. For highlights of the game, click here: Game of the Century.

** On Nov. 2, 1985, eighth-ranked Ohio State toppled No. 1 Iowa by a 22-13 score in Ohio Stadium. Future College Hall of Fame linebacker Chris Spielman totaled 19 tackles, capped by a late fourth-down stop of Hawkeyes tailback Ronnie Johnson inside the OSU 10-yard line. Spielman also had two interceptions as the Buckeyes pressured Iowa QB Chuck Long into throwing four picks.

** On Nov. 3, 1962, third-ranked USC handed No. 9 Washington its first loss of the season with a 14-0 shutout in Los Angeles. Quarterback Pete Beathard threw for a touchdown and ran for a score to carry the Trojans to victory. The win helped propel USC to the first of four national titles won under College Football Hall of Fame head coach John McKay.

** On Nov. 3, 1979, Yale scored a 23-20 victory over Cornell and became the first school to reach 700 college football victories. QB John Rogan threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Bob Rostomily with 47 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs the win and keep them on track on an eventual Ivy League championship.

** On Nov. 3, 1984, Ohio State rolled to a 50-7 victory over Indiana, giving future College Football Hall of Fame head coach Earle Bruce his 100th career win.

** On Nov. 4, 1967, Miami (Fla.) ended Virginia Tech’s regular-season winning streak at 14 with a 14-7 upset in Blacksburg.

** On Nov. 4, 2000, No. 23 Northwestern upset No. 12 Michigan in a 54-51 shootout in Evanston. Northwestern tailback Damien Anderson, who carried for 268 yards and two scores, dropped a fourth-down pass in the end zone late in the game that seemingly sealed the Wildcats’ fate. But on the ensuing Michigan possession, cornerback Sean Wieber forced Wolverines tailback Anthony Thomas to fumble, which was recovered by cornerback Raheem Covington. The turnover set up an 11-yard touchdown pass from NU quarterback Zak Kustok to wide receiver Sam Simmons with 20 seconds to play to clinch the victory.

** Also on Nov. 4, 2000, Utah State running back Emmett White established a new NCAA single-game record with 578 all-purpose yards as the Aggies took a 44-37 win over New Mexico State. White rushed for 322 yards, totaled 134 receiving and added another 122 on kickoff and punt returns.

** On Nov. 5, 1938, sixth-ranked Tennessee began a streak of 17 consecutive regular-season shutouts with a 45-0 win over Chattanooga. During the streak, the Volunteers won three SEC championships and two national titles while outscoring their opposition by a 479-0 margin.

** On Nov. 5, 1955, three future College Hall of Famers – coaches Bowden Wyatt of Tennessee and Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech as well as UT tailback Johnny Majors – were all at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville as the Volunteers and Yellow Jackets played to a 7-7 tie.

** On Nov. 5, 1960, third-ranked Minnesota forced three turnovers and scored a 27-10 upset of top-ranked Iowa.

** On Nov. 6, 1869, Rutgers and Princeton squared off in Brunswick, N.J., for what has often been described as the first-ever game of American football. The 1869 game – won 6 “runs” to 4 by Rutgers – bore little resemblance to what football is known as today. For example, each side used 25 men on a 120-yard field and the rules were said to be a mixture of rugby and soccer. Players attempted to score by kicking the ball into the opposing team’s goal, while throwing or carrying the ball was not allowed.

** On Nov. 6, 1971, Colgate and Bucknell combined to run the ball 141 times, setting an NCAA record for the most single-game rushes in college football history. The Raiders ran 82 times while Bucknell racked up 59 carries, and the teams combined for 440 total rushing yards. Colgate won the game by a 47-24 score.

** On Nov. 6, 1976, Houston highlighted its first season as a member of the Southwest Conference with a stunning 30-0 victory over Texas. The Cougars were led by defensive tackle Wilson Whitley as the Longhorns were limited to only eight first downs in their worst conference loss ever under legendary head coach Darrell K Royal.

** On Nov. 7, 1925, Andy “Swede” Oberlander threw a then-NCAA-record six touchdown passes as Dartmouth rolled to a 62-13 win over Cornell. One week later, the Big Green took a 33-7 victory over Chicago to finish the season with a perfect 8-0 record and the national championship.

** On Nov. 7, 1959, unranked Tennessee stopped Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon on a fourth-quarter two-point conversion run and preserved a 14-13 upset over No. 1 LSU, ending the Tigers’ 19-game unbeaten streak.

** On Nov. 7, 1970, Northwestern fullback Mike Adamle set a new Big Ten record for carries by rushing 48 times for 192 yards and four touchdowns as his Wildcats took a 28-14 win over Minnesota.

** On Nov. 7, 1987, Paul Hewitt of San Diego State became the first player in college football history to rush for three touchdowns in five consecutive games. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, Hewitt’s exploits couldn’t avoid a 38-21 loss to BYU. Ironically, Hewitt’s streak was matched just one year later by Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State, but it has not been equaled since.

** On Nov. 8, 1947, Wisconsin and Iowa became the first teams to combine for three punt returns for touchdowns in a single game during a 46-14 win by the Badgers in Madison.

** On Nov. 8, 1975, unranked Kansas ended No. 2 Oklahoma’s 28-game winning streak by going into Norman and carving out a 23-3 upset victory. The defending national champion Sooners committed seven second-half turnovers and were held to their lowest scoring output in nine seasons. They rebounded, however, and went on to defeat Penn State in the Orange Bowl for a second consecutive national title.

** Also on Nov. 8, 1975, freshman cornerback Savann Thompson’s interception with 59 seconds left set up the game-winning field goal as Stanford shocked No. 9 USC, 13-10, in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

** On Nov. 8, 1997, No. 4 Michigan sailed into Happy Valley and put a 34-8 hurting on third-ranked Penn State. The Wolverines dominated from the first play of the game when defensive lineman Glen Steele sacked Lions QB Mike McQueary. Michigan quarterback Brian Griese connected on 14 of 22 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, including a 37-yard score to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Last weekend was a rough one for undefeated team as Florida, Mississippi State, Ohio, Rutgers and Oregon State all went down. That leaves only six unbeaten teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision level – Ohio State at 9-0 and Alabama, Louisville, Kansas State, Notre Dame and Oregon each at 8-0.

** Alabama extended the nation’s longest streak to 12 last Saturday night with a 38-7 win over previously undefeated Mississippi State. The Bulldogs had come into that game having won nine in a row.

** The nation’s longest losing streak was extended to eight when Southern Miss dropped a 44-17 decision at Rice. The Golden Eagles, who finished 12-2 last year and are working on a streak of 16 consecutive winning seasons, have now been outscored by a 317-154 margin.

** Scoring points in bunches and setting offensive records certainly grabs the attention of most college football fans, but you still have to play at least a little defense if you hope to contend for a championship. USC found that out (again) last Saturday night when Arizona wiped out a 28-13 second-half deficit on the way to a 39-36 upset victory. Despite the loss, USC quarterback Matt Barkley threw for a career-high 493 yards while wideout Marqise Lee caught 16 passes in the game for a Pac-12 record 345 yards. The Trojans piled up 618 total yards, but yielded 588 to the Wildcats, who are now 5-3 under first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez.

** Tim Beckman didn’t exactly leave the cupboard bare at Toledo. The Rockets are 8-1 with their lone defeat a 24-17 overtime loss to Arizona in the season opener. Since then, first-year head coach Matt Campbell has directed the team to eight straight victories and a tie with Northern Illinois for first place in the MAC West. Of course, Campbell – at 32 the youngest coach at the FBS level – should know a thing or two about winning. As a player and assistant coach at Mount Union, he won four Division III national championship rings.

** Staying in the MAC, how about the job our old buddy Darrell Hazell has done at Kent State? The Golden Flashes have had exactly one winning season since finishing 7-4 in 1987, but Hazell has Kent atop the MAC East with a perfect 4-0 conference slate and 7-1 overall record. The Flashes are coming off a 35-23 win over previously unbeaten Rutgers – the program’s first-ever win over a ranked opponent – and return home this week to face a struggling Akron team. If Kent wins that one, it would be 8-1 for the first time since 1940.

** How times has the practice of icing the kicker really worked? With the score tied 31-31 in overtime last Friday night, Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones called a last-second timeout to try and ice Louisville kicker John Wallace before a potential 30-yard field goal attempt. But the joke was on Jones when the Cardinals botched the snap just as the UC coach called timeout. When the teams lined up again, Wallace calmly booted the game-winner to keep Louisville undefeated and hand the Bearcats their first loss.

** Talk about seesaw battles. North Carolina raced out to an early 25-7 lead over instate rival North Carolina State last week only to see the Wolfpack claw back for a 35-25 lead after three quarters. But the Tar Heels scored 18 unanswered points in the final period, including a 72-yard punt return from Giovani Bernard with just 13 seconds remaining for a wild 43-35 victory. The teams combined for 48 first downs and 1,104 total yards.

** Another back-and-forth battle took place on the West Coast when UCLA outlasted Arizona State by a 45-43 final. The Bruins held a 35-26 lead after three quarters, but the Sun Devils came back to take a 43-42 advantage with just 1:33 left. But UCLA freshman quarterback Brett Hundley drove the Bruins back down the field to set up a game-winning 33-yard field goal from Ka’imi Fairbairn as time expired. The teams combined for 54 first downs and 1,021 total yards.

** Perhaps the wildest college football game last weekend was played between a couple of Texas schools at the Division III level. Hardin-Simmons scored an 86-42 win over Sul Ross State in a game that featured 1,714 combined total yards. Hardin-Simmons piled up 900 of those yards on its own, setting a new single-game D-III record.

** Another week, another update on just how far Auburn has fallen since winning the national championship two short seasons ago. The Tigers were blown out to the tune of a 63-21 rout at home by Texas A&M, the most points allowed by an Auburn team since a 68-7 loss to Georgia Tech in 1917. The Tigers are now 1-7 for the first time since 1952, but they might get a respite this week when New Mexico State comes calling. The Aggies have lost seven in a row after a 49-19 win over FCS member Sacramento State in their season opener. Even better news for Auburn: It is 15-0-1 all-time vs. current WAC members, including 2-0 against New Mexico State.

** As bad as things are at Auburn, it’s been an even tougher season for quarterbacks at Maryland. The Terrapins have lost each of their top four QBs to season-ending injuries, including three in the past two weeks. Maryland is now so desperate at the position that head coach Randy Edsall said freshman linebacker Shawn Petty will move under center tomorrow against Georgia Tech. Petty played quarterback in high school.

** Congratulations to Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson, who finally got his Big Ten victory last week when the Hoosiers rolled to a 31-17 victory over Illinois. Since 2009, IU is 3-25 in conference games and Illinois has been the victim in two of those three wins.

** Utah snapped a four-game losing streak last week with a 49-27 victory over California. In the game, Utes senior Reggie Dunn had a pair of 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns.

**Oklahoma set a Memorial Stadium record crowd last Saturday night when 86,031 witnessed Sooners’ 30-13 loss to Notre Dame. It was also the largest crowd ever to see a sporting event in the state of Oklahoma. By the way, the Sooners – seemingly a preseason national champion favorite every year – will finish their eighth straight season this year with at least two losses.

** Boise State’s 45-14 win over Wyoming last weekend kept the Broncos undefeated during the month of October for the 11th consecutive year. Boise hasn’t lost an October game since a 45-14 loss at Rice on Oct. 6, 2001. Since then, the Broncos have won 48 October games in a row.

** My Heisman ballot right now looks like this: 1. Alabama QB A.J. McCarron; 2. Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o; 3. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller.

** I’ve seen some gruesome injuries in my time, but video of South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore dislocating his knee last week against Tennessee ranks right up there with Miami (Fla.) running back Willis McGahee taking the full brunt of a Will Allen tackle in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Other replays I simply cannot watch: Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Tim Krumrie snapping his leg during Super Bowl XXIII and New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor essentially ending the career of Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann on a Monday night in 1985.

FEARLESS FORECAST

While we’re taking our lumps this season, we’re slowly beginning to figure out some things. For example, Kansas State and Notre Dame are for real; Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin are not.

As a result of this late-season learning curve, we did about as poorly as we have ever done with straight-up picks, going 4-6 last week. At least we broke even against the spread at 5-5 to make the season totals 70-20 SU and 45-43-2 ATS.

This is no shortage of marquee games this week and here are the ones we’ll be watching.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Michigan at Minnesota: The bad news for the Wolverines is that QB Denard Robinson has a nerve problem in his throwing elbow. The good news is that the injury will likely lead to more running by Robinson, an area of the game where he is much more dangerous. Meanwhile, the Gophers might have found something last week in freshman QB Phillip Nelson, who threw for 246 yards and three TDs during his team’s 44-28 romp over Purdue. Believe it or not, these teams are fairly evenly matched with the exception of the fact the Gophers have not had much success in the overall series. Michigan has won four in a row, 20 of the last 21 in the series and 28 of the last 30. Both of Goldy’s victories during that 30-game stretch came in Ann Arbor, meaning he hasn’t tasted victory at home against the Wolverines since 1977. That’s a little too much history to pick against … Michigan 31, Minnesota 17. (12 noon ET, BTN, DirectTV 610)

Temple at No. 12 Louisville: If you’re thinking Ohio State gets no love for being undefeated, imagine life as the Cardinals. They are 8-0 to start the season for the first time since 2006 and can’t even crack the top 10. Maybe that’s because Louisville is playing things so close to the vest – it has trailed in each of its last five games. This week, Charlie Strong’s team should have things a little easier since it returns home to face Big East rival Temple, a team coming off back-to-back blowout losses. The Owls are offensively challenged, especially in the passing game that ranks 116th in the nation with a puny average of 132.7 yards per game. A win for the Cards not only would likely move them into the top 10, but it would also make them 9-0 for the first time in program history … Louisville 31, Temple 23. (12 noon ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

No. 14 Oklahoma at Iowa State: After last week’s disappointing showing against Notre Dame, the Sooners had better beware of a letdown against the Cyclones. Iowa State has more than held its own against ranked teams in recent years, including a 37-23 win at then-No. 15 TCU in early October. Of course, an ISU victory over Oklahoma would be noteworthy since the Cyclones have lost 13 in a row in the series including the last two by a combined score of 78-6. Iowa State’s cause won’t be helped any by the loss to a season-ending shoulder injury of star linebacker Jake Knott, the Big 12 leader in tackles. But Oklahoma is banged-up, too, making this game probably a lot closer than many people think … Oklahoma 31, Iowa State 21. (12 noon ET, ABC)

Ole Miss at No. 7 Georgia: Underachievers nearly all season, the Bulldogs decided to show up last weekend – at least defensively – and dealt Florida its first loss of the season. This week, UGA returns home to meet an Ole Miss team that is playing as well as it has in several years. Under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels are trying for their first three-game conference winning streak since 2008. In order to extend that streak, however, they have to end another one. Ole Miss has lost nine in a row in the series, and is 4-17-1 all-time in Athens. The only real question in this game is whether the Dawgs will show up two weeks in a row … Georgia 24, Ole Miss 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Pittsburgh at No. 4 Notre Dame: Coming off a solid triumph at Oklahoma, the Fighting Irish return home to take on an ever-improving opponent. Since dropping its first two games of the season – including a 14-point decision to FCS member Youngstown State in the opener – Pitt has rebounded to win four of its last six, including a 47-17 romp over Temple last Saturday. Of course, the Owls are not to be confused with the Irish, who have the No. 2 scoring defense in the nation. Notre Dame is also opportunistic, playing to a plus-10 in turnover margin. And now the Irish seem to be jelling on offense with QB Everett Golston coming off perhaps the best game so far of his young career. The Panthers know how to win in South Bend, taking two of the last three games in the series played there. But if this year’s Irish can maintain their focus, Pitt should be no problem … Notre Dame 24, Pittsburgh 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

UTSA at No. 22 Louisiana Tech: We focus our attention on the WAC while we can as the Bulldogs try to remain undefeated in conference play. Tech QB Colby Cameron is one of the best college football quarterbacks you’ve never heard of. In eight games, Cameron has completed 225 of 319 attempts for 2,598 yards, 21 TDs and no interceptions. Meanwhile, the Roadrunners have lost three in a row after starting the season with five straight wins. Bob Davies’ team got outscored by a 134-55 margin in three October games, and that is a scary trend when you’re facing a Bulldogs team that ranks second only to Oregon in scoring … Louisiana Tech 41, UTSA 28. (4 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan, DirectTV 640)

No. 2 Oregon at No. 18 USC: It’s never a good thing when you face a must-win game against the Ducks. Yet that is precisely the situation the Trojans find themselves facing after blowing a 15-point lead in the second half last week and losing to Arizona. At least USC gets the Quack Attack at home, although that didn’t help in 2010 when Oregon  pounded out a 53-32 win in the Coliseum. The cold, hard truth is that the Trojans just make too many mistakes. They are the most penalized team in the nation and have committed 18 turnovers in eight games. That simply won’t get it done against a Ducks team that averages an amazing 53.4 points per game … Oregon 45, USC 28. (7 p.m. ET, Fox)

Oklahoma State at No. 3 Kansas State: The Wildcats have been impressive this year in just about every way a team can be impressive. They went on the road in late September and won a tight defensive struggle at Oklahoma, and then last week bludgeoned a pretty good defense with a 55-24 win over Texas Tech. This week, K-State faces an opponent much like it did two weeks ago when it went to West Virginia and came back with a 55-14 win. The Cowboys can score points with the best of them, but their defense is susceptible to a team that throws a lot as evidenced by a 59-38 loss to Arizona and a 42-36 loss to Texas. The Wildcats are led by QB Collin Klein (1,630 yards, 12 TDs), nearly everyone’s Heisman frontrunner, who has topped the 300-yard mark in total offense the past two weeks … Kansas State 34, Oklahoma State 17. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 1 Alabama at No. 5 LSU: How good is the Crimson Tide? How can anyone be sure since their 8-0 record has been produced against teams with a combined mark of 35-29? Of course, the Tide might also just be making everyone else look extremely average. Whichever the case may be, any lingering questions should be answered tomorrow night when the Tigers entertain prodigal son Nick Saban and try to derail his team’s drive to a third national title in four years. LSU head coach Les Miles is 36-1 in Saturday night games at Death Valley with the only loss a 13-3 decision against top-ranked Florida back in 2009. Of course, the Tigers are seeking some kind of redemption for their 21-0 spanking administered by Alabama in January in the national championship game, and they have the kind of defense that could slow down the Tide. But LSU just doesn’t generate enough offense to be able to contend against the nation’s No. 1 defense. Bama’s just too good … Alabama 21, LSU 7. (8 p.m. ET, CBS)

Illinois at No. 6 Ohio State: Is this a trap game for the Buckeyes? Flying high and feeling good about being ranked No. 6 by the AP, there could be a tendency to look past the struggling Illini, the same team that came into Ohio Stadium in 2007 and shocked the No. 1 team in the nation. Truth be told, Illinois has no business being 2-6. QB Nathan Scheelhaase has always performed reasonably well against Ohio State, but he’s never been able to put that many points on the board. The same has been true this year – the Illini rank dead last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally in scoring. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have been playing better on defense the last couple of weeks. Couple that with a Braxton Miller-led offense and you get the feeling OSU will cruise into the open week with an easy, breezy victory. Remember, though. The Buckeyes are only 3-5 this season covering the spread … Ohio State 49, Illinois 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Michigan (-12) at Minnesota; Temple (+16½) at Louisville; Oklahoma at Iowa State (+13); Ole Miss (+17½) at Georgia; Pittsburgh (+19) at Notre Dame; UTSA (+32) at Louisiana Tech; Oregon (-7) at USC; Oklahoma State at Kansas State (-7); Alabama (-8½) at LSU; Illinois (+27½) at Ohio State.

Ohio State is off next week and so are we, so we’ll visit again in two weeks. See you then.

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