Admit it. You were worried at halftime last Saturday when Ohio State trailed Penn State by 11 points. You were the one throwing up his hands in disgust, wondering how you could stomach the Buckeyes playing in the Outback Bowl when many preseason predictions had them competing for a national championship.
I’ll admit to more than a little apprehension myself, especially since I knew no Ohio State team in the Jim Tressel era had ever come back to win after falling into a deficit larger than 10 points.
Of course, history can be a double-edged sword. Had any of us bothered to remember Penn State’s penchant for second-half collapses against the Buckeyes, the Pepto-Bismol could have stayed on the shelf.
First of all, the Nittany Lions have never played well in Ohio Stadium since joining the Big Ten and their 38-14 loss this season was their eighth in nine trips to the Horseshoe since 1993. Moreover, they have been outscored by 163 points in those nine games.
But it isn’t just that Penn State loses in Columbus – it’s how the Nittany Lions lose. Usually after taking a halftime lead and then pitching interceptions that the Buckeyes turn into touchdowns.
It should have come as no surprise, then, when Devon Torrence and Travis Howard returned interceptions for touchdowns this year. In the nine games at the Horseshoe against Penn State since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten, the Buckeyes have tallied 16 interceptions and returned six of them for touchdowns.
In addition to the good feelings the Buckeyes have whenever Penn State comes to town, history also bodes well for Ohio State in terms of their final two games of the regular season. The Buckeyes are 14-2-1 in their last 17 trips to Kinnick Stadium, and the program is in the middle of a six-game winning streak against archrival Michigan while Tressel has beaten the Wolverines in eight of his previous nine tries.
What’s more, history sides with the Buckeyes in their quest for a second consecutive Rose Bowl appearance. Their chief competition in the Run for the Roses is Wisconsin, but the Badgers must first successfully navigate a Nov. 20 trip to Michigan.
Before you dismiss the Wolverines’ chances in that contest, you should know Wisconsin hasn’t won in Ann Arbor since 1994 and one of Rich Rodriguez’s six Big Ten victories came against the Badgers – a 27-25 win in 2008 when Michigan overcame a 19-0 halftime deficit.
Also tied with OSU and Wisconsin for first place in the Big Ten standings is Michigan State, which finishes its regular season Nov. 27 at Penn State. The Spartans have lost five of the last six in that series, including eight in a row at Beaver Stadium – six of those by margins of at least 19 points.
Should all of the aforementioned historical data hold true these next two weeks, Ohio State could be headed for a Rose Bowl date with someone other than a Pac-10 representative since Oregon remains undefeated and focused squarely on the BCS National Championship Game.
However, while history sides with Ohio State down the stretch, it does not favor the Ducks. They haven’t finished a regular season undefeated since going 7-0-1 in 1916, and the only unblemished record in program history was a 4-0 mark in 1895.
Naturally, those at Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Oregon will tell you where you can stick your history lessons. Penn State was likely whistling the same tune before playing Ohio State.
All I can say is that we would all do well to heed long-dead English historian Edward Gibbon who once wrote, “I know no way of judging the future but by the past.”
** This will be the 63rd overall meeting between Ohio State and Iowa in a series that began in 1922. The Buckeyes enjoy a lopsided 45-14-3 advantage over the Hawkeyes, including a 17-6-2 record in Iowa City. OSU has won 11 of the last 12 in the series, and six of the last seven played at Kinnick Stadium.
** The game marks the 20th time in the series when both teams are ranked. The Buckeyes are 15-4 in those previous 19 games.
** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 4-1 against Iowa while Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is 1-6 all-time against the Buckeyes. Ferentz got his only victory over OSU in 2004 when the Hawkeyes knocked starting quarterback Justin Zwick out of the game and rolled to a 33-7 win in Iowa City.
** While at OSU, Tressel has a 38-14 overall record against ranked teams and a 13-7 mark on the road against the top 25. Ferentz is 19-25 overall against ranked teams and 10-5 at home against top-25 opposition. Ohio State enters the game ranked No. 7 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, No. 8 in the Associated Press writers’ poll and No. 9 in the BCS standings. Iowa is No. 20 in the coaches’ and BCS rankings and No. 21 according to the writers.
** Tressel is 27-4 in November games at Ohio State. Ferentz is 22-16 in November while at Iowa.
** Tressel and Ferentz are old adversaries from their Division I-AA coaching days. Tressel led Youngstown State to a 38-17 victory in the 1990 regular-season finale over Maine and Ferentz, who was in his first season with the Black Bears.
** Tomorrow’s game is the final road game of the 2010 regular season for the Buckeyes. All-time, they are 67-47-6 in the final away game of the season and 7-2 under Tressel.
** Ohio State has won 20 of its last 22 Big Ten road contests. Iowa has won only 13 of its last 21 conference home games.
** Iowa junior safety Tyler Sash is one of the top defensive backs in Big Ten history in terms of interceptions. With two picks this season, Sash has 13 career interceptions and 392 return yards. He needs five more picks to break into the Big Ten all-time top 10 and only eight more return yards to become only the fourth player in league history with 400 or more. The longtime conference career leader in interceptions is Al Brosky of Illinois (1950-52) with 30, while the all-time interception return yardage leader is Jamar Fletcher of Wisconsin (1998-2000) with 459.
** When the Buckeyes scored their 38-14 victory over Penn State last week, it marked the 100th time in 125 games during the Tressel era that OSU had held an opponent under 24 points. The team’s record in those 100 games is 94-6.
** The Ohio State defense is tied for the national lead with 17 interceptions, two more than Iowa. Each team has returned three of those picks for touchdowns this season.
** OSU and Iowa rank first or second in the Big Ten in eight different statistical categories – scoring defense, rushing defense, total defense, turnover margin, pass efficiency defense, red zone defense, kickoff returns and pass efficiency.
** Iowa has 13 Ohio natives on its roster including three starters – quarterback Ricky Stanzi (Mentor Lake Catholic), receiver Darrell Johnson-Koulianos (Youngstown Cardinal Mooney) and defensive back Micah Hyde (Fostoria). Ohio has no native Iowans on its roster.
** Stanzi ranks No. 3 nationally in pass efficiency at 167.2 while Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor is No. 5 at 166.4. Each is within striking distance of one of the longest standing Big Ten single-season records, established in 1947 when Michigan quarterback Bob Chappuis had a passer rating of 175.3.
** Pryor has moved into second place in career total offense at Ohio State with 7,324 yards, behind only Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81), and has moved past Schlichter into fourth place all-time with 52 touchdown passes. Only Bobby Hoying (57, 1992-95), Joe Germaine (56, 1996-98) and Troy Smith (54, 2003-06) have more.
** Pryor is also nearing the top five in career passing yardage at OSU. He currently occupies eighth place with 5,541 yards and needs only 29 more to pass Mike Tomczak (5,569, 1981-84) for seventh place. Steve Bellisari (5,878, 1998-2001) is currently fifth while Smith (5,720) is sixth.
** Pryor has bumped his season passing total to 2,136 yards and become only the sixth Ohio State QB with back-to-back seasons of throwing for 2,000 yards or more. The others are Jim Karsatos (1985-86), Greg Frey (1988-90), Hoying (1994-95), Craig Krenzel (2002-03) and Smith (2005-06).
** OSU junior tailback Dan “Boom” Herron moved closer to the 1,000-yard mark with his career-high 190-yard effort last week against Penn State. The 5-10, 202-pound junior now has 824 yards for the season with two regular-season games and a bowl contest remaining. At his present pace, Herron would finish with 1,071 yards.
** OSU junior receiver DeVier Posey has caught at least one pass in 24 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the Big Ten. Posey, however, is only halfway to the school record of 48 consecutive games with at least one pass reception held by Gary Williams (1979-82).
** OSU senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher and Posey are steadily moving up the school list in career receiving yardage. Sanzenbacher (1,647) and Posey (1,609) currently rank 15th and 16th all-time, but could move into the top 10 by season’s end. Brian Robiskie (1,866, 2005-08) is in the No. 10 spot followed by Ken-Yon Rambo (1,849, 1997-2000), Jeff Graham (1,809, 1988-90), Cedric Anderson (1,707, 1980-83) and Terry Glenn (1,677, 1993-95).
** OSU senior kicker Devin Barclay converted on five more PATs last weekend, giving him 52 in a row this season and 64 without a miss during his career. Tim Williams holds the school record for consecutive PATs with 86 between 1991 and ’93.
** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern, and the game will be televised in HD by ABC on a national basis. Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Matt Millen (color analysis) and Quint Kessenich (sideline reports) make up the announce crew.
** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 122 and 125 as well as XM radio channels 102 and 143.
** Michigan comes to town next week for the traditional regular-season finale. Kickoff will be shortly after noon Eastern and that game will be televised by ABC/ESPN on a reverse mirror basis.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY
** On Nov. 15, 1941, College Football Hall of Fame head coach Eddie Robinson earned his first career victory as he led Grambling to a 37-6 win over Tillotson (Texas). Robinson eventually directed the Tigers to 408 victories in 55 years at Grambling.
** On Nov. 16, 1872, Yale played its first-ever football game, beating Columbia by a 3-0 score.
** On Nov. 16, 1957, Notre Dame stopped Oklahoma’s NCAA-record winning streak at 47 games with a 7-0 victory over the Sooners in Norman.
** On Nov. 16, 1991, BYU and San Diego State combined to score 104 points, but finished deadlocked at 52-52, the highest-scoring tie in NCAA history.
** On Nov. 16, 1996, Washington running back Corey Dillon set an NCAA record with 305 total yards in one quarter – 222 rushing and 83 receiving – during his team’s 53-10 win over San Jose State. Dillon’s 222 rushing yards also established a new NCAA record for rushing yards in one quarter.
** On Nov. 17, 1906, Kansas took an 8-6 victory over Nebraska, beginning the longest continuous Division I-A series, one that ends next season when the Cornhuskers join the Big Ten.
** On Nov. 17, 1923, Kansas City University lost a 131-0 decision to St. Mary’s (Kan.), capping a winless 0-6 season in which KCU was outscored, 623-0.
** On Nov. 17, 1956, Syracuse halfback Jim Brown set an NCAA record for single-game scoring, accounting for 43 points (rushing for six touchdowns and kicking seven PATs) during a 61-7 win over Colgate. Brown’s record stood until 1990 and still stands third all-time.
** On Nov. 18, 1961, College and Pro Football Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen led Utah State to a 17-6 win over intrastate rival Utah in Salt Lake City. The win moved Utah State to 9-0-1 for the season, the Aggies’ best record in program history and their only undefeated regular season since 1936.
** On Nov. 18, 1978, Oklahoma running back Billy Sims rushed for 209 yards in a 62-7 win over Oklahoma State and broke the Big Eight’s single-season rushing record in the process.
** On Nov. 19, 1966, top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State played to a 10-10 tie in East Lansing, a contest that has often been called “The Game of the Century.” Fighting Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty was knocked out of the game in the first quarter after getting sacked by Spartans defensive lineman Bubba Smith, and starting Notre Dame running back Nick Eddy missed the entire game after hurting his shoulder getting off the train in East Lansing. The Irish had the ball on their own 30-yard line with 1:10 to go in the game, but head coach Ara Parseghian chose to run out the clock, preserving the tie and his team’s No. 1 ranking. Notre Dame went on to win the 1966 national championship while Michigan State finished second.
** On Nov. 19, 1983, Oregon and Oregon State battled to a 0-0 tie in Eugene, the final scoreless tie in NCAA history due to the institution of overtime beginning in 1994.
** On Nov. 20, 1976, Kentucky took a 7-0 victory over Tennessee and marked its first victory in Knoxville in a dozen years. Running back Greg Woods raced 68 yards with a pass from QB Derrick Ramsey for the only score in the game, and clinched the Wildcats’ first bowl bid since 1952.
** On Nov. 20, 1982, SMU quarterback Lance McIlhenny drove his team 80 yards for a touchdown in the late going to forge a 17-17 tie with ninth-ranked Arkansas. SMU running back Eric Dickerson – who teamed with fellow running back Craig James to form the “Pony Express” (a.k.a. “The Best Backfield Money Could Buy”) – rushed for 81 yards in the contest to break the all-time Southwest Conference career record held by Earl Campbell of Texas. The tie denied SMU a perfect season and the national championship, but the Mustangs still finished the season ranked No. 2 with an 11-0-1 record.
** Also on Nov. 20, 1982, Stanford band members entered the field to celebrate what they believed was an upset victory over California. As time expired, however, the Golden Bears used five lateral passes while weaving through the Cardinal band to score a touchdown as Kevin Moen mowed down a Stanford trombone player in the end zone. After five minutes of deliberation, officials awarded Cal the 25-20 victory, resulting in one of the most unorthodox victories in college football history.
** On Nov. 20, 1999, TCU running back LaDanian Tomlinson set the NCAA single-game rushing record when he carried 43 times for 406 yards during a 52-24 win over UTEP in Fort Worth. Tomlinson’s 287 second-half yards also tied an NCAA record for rushing yards in one half.
** On Nov. 21, 1981, BYU tight end Gordon Hudson set an NCAA record for tight ends with 259 receiving yards during a 56-28 win over Utah.
** On Nov. 21, 1992, Washington State QB Drew Bledsoe threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns during a snowstorm in Pullman, leading the Cougars to a 42-23 upset of fifth-ranked Washington.
** On Nov. 22, 1875, Harvard took a 4-0 victory over Yale in the first-ever meeting of the Ivy League schools. They will celebrate their 127th meeting tomorrow in a series led 65-53-8 by the Elis.
** On Nov. 22, 1969, Michigan defensive back Barry Pierson returned a punt for a touchdown and intercepted three passes as the No. 12 Wolverines shocked defending national champion Ohio State with a 24-12 upset in Ann Arbor. It was the opening game in what became known as the legendary “Ten-Year War” between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** A couple of them were a bit shaky last Saturday, but Auburn, Boise State, Oregon and TCU remain the only unbeaten teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (a.k.a. Division I-A) level this week.
** Auburn QB Cameron Newton’s father, Cecil, admitted last week that he tried to shop his son’s talent to the highest bidder but that Cam had no knowledge of the plan. Meanwhile, Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports tweeted last weekend, “Interesting note about Auburn, they have hired ex-NCAA (Committee on Infractions chairman) Gene Marsh to work on Cam Newton issue. They intend (to) fight it all the way.” Robinson, by the way, is the guy who broke the Reggie Bush story in 2006 and nailed ex-North Carolina assistant John Blake earlier this fall. In other words, he is an extremely credible source who knows a little something about NCAA investigations.
** For what it’s worth, SI.com football writer Stewart Mandel has both Wisconsin and Ohio State winning out, predicting the Badgers to the Rose Bowl against Boise State and the Buckeyes to the Sugar Bowl for a rematch of the 2007 national title game with LSU.
** Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema made no apologies for his team’s 83-20 victory last week against Indiana. Even though the Badgers scored on a 74-yard pass play in the fourth quarter while leading the Hoosiers by 56 points, Bielema said the long TD was a broken play made by a second-string quarterback who “needed the work.” People would probably accept that explanation/excuse had the Badgers not still been throwing the ball earlier this season while enjoying a 42-3 lead over Division I-AA Austin Peay. Bielema also instructed his team to attempt a two-point conversion Oct. 9 after taking a 41-16 lead over Minnesota with 6:39 remaining in the game.
** The 83 points scored by the Badgers was the most in a game since an 85-0 victory over Marquette in 1915.
** Thanks to starting quarterback Dan Persa rupturing his Achilles’ tendon, redshirt freshman Evan Watkins will make his first career start for Northwestern tomorrow when the Wildcats square off against Illinois at Wrigley Field. Making the start even sweeter for Watkins? He is a suburban Chicago native.
** That game at Wrigley Field will be the first college football game played in “The Friendly Confines” since 1938 when DePaul used to play its home games there. The last time Wrigley Field hosted a football game on any level was December 1970 when the Chicago Bears played their final home game there before relocating to Soldier Field.
** Another MLB venue will host a college football game this weekend when Army faces Notre Dame tomorrow at Yankee Stadium. It marks the first college game for the new facility which opened in 2009, but the Black Knights and Fighting Irish played nearly two dozen times at old Yankee Stadium between 1925 and 1969. Tomorrow’s game will be the first college football game at any venue called Yankee Stadium since 1987 when Central State (Ohio) took a 37-21 win over Grambling in front of a crowd of 29,411.
** While Northwestern and Illinois play at Wrigley Field tomorrow, Indiana and Penn State will square off at FedEx Field, the Landover, Md., home of the NFL’s Washington Redskins. The two league games will mark the first time Big Ten contests have been staged at neutral sites since 2000. Penn State took a 27-24 victory over Indiana that year at the old Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis.
** Congratulations to Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone. His team’s 13-10 win last Saturday over Rutgers came him 11 victories in his first two seasons with the Orange. Marrone’s predecessor Greg Robinson had only 10 wins in four years on the job.
** When Notre Dame toppled No. 14 Utah last week, it ended a particularly ugly 11-game losing streak against top-15 teams. The Fighting Irish hadn’t beaten a top-15 team since a 17-10 win over Michigan in September 2005.
** How bad have things gotten for Texas? After a 33-16 home loss to Oklahoma State last weekend, the Longhorns dropped to 4-6 and have to win their remaining games against Florida Atlantic and instate rival Texas A&M to avoid becoming the first team ever to fail to qualify for bowl eligibility the year after playing in the BCS championship game.
** Division III Williams (Mass.) finished off a magical season last Saturday with a 31-16 victory over instate rival Amherst. The Ephs completed a perfect 8-0 victory and normally would be headed to the NCAA playoffs. However, they are part of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, which for some reason bars its members from postseason play.
** It could be the same old, same old for the Division III playoffs this season. Mount Union (Ohio) and Whitewater (Wis.) finished the regular season undefeated again and were placed on opposite sides of the 32-team bracket. The Purple Raiders and the Warhawks have met in the D-III championship game each of the past five seasons. Mount Union won the title in 2005, ’06 and ’08 while Whitewater took home the trophy in 2007 and ’09.
** On the flip side of the Division III coin, Maranatha Baptist Bible College (Wis.) had the NCAA’s longest losing streak at 33 games until a 14-6 win last Saturday afternoon Rockford College (Ill.). The Crusaders intercepted four passes in the victory, and ran one back 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The Forecast is stuck in a rut – albeit a pretty good one. We were 8-2 again with last week’s straight-up picks, missing only the Upset Special that had Georgia beating Auburn and the inexplicable Notre Dame win over Utah. The yearly record is now 97-18 in straight up picks.
Against the spread, the bubble finally burst. It was a losing week although not too bad at 4-6. We’re still well above the money line at 69-42-4 ATS for the season, but looking to end the losing streak at one.
Here are the games we’re watching this week.
Fresno State at No. 4 Boise State: The question no longer seems a matter of whether the Broncos will get a BCS invitation – it’s which one they will receive. It could be the Rose Bowl should Oregon win out and play for the national championship. Or it could be the title game should the Ducks and/or Auburn slip up sometime in the next couple of weeks. Either way, if the Broncos keep winning, they should be in line for a big-money BCS game for the second year in a row and third time in the last five seasons. First things first, though, and the Bulldogs are no slouch at 6-3. They have a pretty good offense and can score some points, plus they know how to win on the Smurf Turf. Fresno beat Georgia Tech on the headache-inducing blue carpet in the 2007 Humanitarian Bowl. The Bulldogs are less effective when playing the Broncos in Bronco Stadium, though, losing their last four visits there by an average of 34.5 points … Boise State 41, Fresno State 17. (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
No. 7 Wisconsin at Michigan: Do you think it’s possible Bret Bielema has been running up scores all season in preparation for an anticipated track meet with the Wolverines? Bielema’s team has topped the 30-point mark seven times this season and comes off an 83-20 win last week over Indiana, the highest point total for the winning team in a Big Ten contest since 1950. The Badgers may need all the points they can score against the Wolverines, who average 37.7 points and 521.8 yards per game. U-M also runs the kind of finesse offense that can negate some of Wisconsin’s power. Can Michigan score enough points to win, though? That’s the big question as a leaky defense that has given up 30 or more points six times this season goes against a team that seemingly has no problem keeping its foot on the accelerator for 60 minutes. Ann Arbor hasn’t exactly been friendly to the Badgers over the years, and their 6-21-1 record there is proof of that. There is an indication that Michigan QB Denard Robinson has finally hit the proverbial wall, but maybe he has one more superlative performance in him. Here is your Upset Special … Michigan 49, Wisconsin 45. (12 noon ET, ESPN)
No. 10 Oklahoma State at Kansas: There has been a changing of the guard at the top of the Big 12 South this season and the Cowboys are leading the way. With Texas and Texas Tech at the bottom of the standings, and Oklahoma visiting Stillwater on Nov. 27, Okie State needs victories in its final two games to have what it hopes will be a rematch against Nebraska in the conference title game. Before any of that can happen, though, the Cowboys have to take care of business this week in Lawrence. The Pokes have who could be considered the best college quarterback nobody knows in Brandon Weeden (3,391 yards, 27 TDs), and a receiver everyone knows in Justin Blackmon, who leads the nation with 1,430 yards and 16 touchdowns. Those numbers don’t bode well for the Jayhawks, who rank 104th nationally in pass defense … Oklahoma State 38, Kansas 10. (12 noon ET, FSN)
Purdue at No. 11 Michigan State: If the Spartans win their final two games, the worst they can do is a share of the Big Ten championship which would be their first title since 1990. For that to happen, QB Kirk Cousins is going to have to get things back in gear. Three weeks ago, the junior QB threw three interceptions in the team’s 37-6 loss to Iowa, and he followed that with a season-low 131 yards plus another pick during a 31-8 win over Minnesota. Now, after an open week last Saturday, Cousins will try to conjure up good thoughts against the Boilermakers. He threw for 208 yards and three TDs last season when Michigan State pulled out a wild 40-37 decision over Purdue in West Lafayette, a game the Boilermakers led 34-23 early in the fourth quarter. Inconsistency on both sides of the ball cost Purdue dearly in that game, and the Boilers are having the same kind of problems against this year. They are in the middle of a four-game slide that has seen them outscored by a 154-39 margin … Michigan State 34, Purdue 10. (12 noon ET, BTN)
Troy at No. 23 South Carolina: While Auburn, LSU and Alabama have gotten most of the headlines this season, perhaps the most intriguing story in the SEC comes out of the East as the Ol’ Ball Coach and his Gamecocks have clinched a spot in the conference championship game. Now the assignment is to avoid a letdown since the team finishes its regular-season schedule with a pair of nonconference games. South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore has slowly made a name for himself this season, and the freshman workhorse (202 carries so far) needs only 36 more yards to crack the 1,000 mark. That would make him only the sixth player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season and the first since Derek Watson had 1,066 in 2000. Lattimore shouldn’t have any problem getting his yards against the Trojans, who allowed 448 yards on the ground last week in a 52-35 home loss to Florida International … South Carolina 34, Troy 20. (12:21 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)
Appalachian State at No. 22 Florida: The giant killers from Division I-AA get another shot at Goliath this week when the Mountaineers invade the Swamp and try to take down the Gators. By now, every college football fan knows Appalachian State went into Ann Arbor in 2007 and knocked off Michigan. Since then, however, the Mountaineers have struggled against I-A competition, losing a 41-13 decision to LSU in 2008 and a 29-24 verdict to East Carolina last year. Year in and year out, however, Appalachian State is a I-AA national title contender and 2010 is no different. The Mountaineers are 9-1 and rank fourth nationally in scoring offense. That should be a source of concern – at least a little bit – to Florida head coach Urban Meyer, whose team has underachieved in its first year after Tim Tebow ascended to the NFL. Still, despite being only 6-4, the Gators are still pretty good on defense and special teams and that will more than make the difference in this game … Florida 31, Appalachian State 14. (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)
Mississippi at No. 5 LSU: The Tigers have gotten mighty full of themselves since their 24-21 win over Alabama two weeks ago. Head coach Les Miles says his team should have the chance to play for the national championship – big talk for a team that isn’t even going to play for its own conference title. LSU would probably do well to keep its mouth shut and simply tend to its own business, which includes trying to solve the Rebels who have beaten the Tigers two years running. This year’s Ole Miss team bears little resemblance to the ones of 2008 and ’09, however, as Houston Nutt’s team is smack dab in the middle of a 4-6 rebuilding season. The Rebs have had trouble scoring points all season and that won’t get any easier against an LSU unit that ranks sixth in the nation in scoring defense … LSU 34, Mississippi 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 20 Virginia Tech at Miami (Fla.): After season-opening losses to Boise State and I-AA James Madison, the Hokies have slowly climbed back up the polls with a workmanlike eight-game win streak. They can clinch another berth in the ACC title game with a win over the Hurricanes, who have overcome some adversity of their own this year. Miami, which got punked early in the season by Ohio State and then destroyed Oct. 9 by Florida State, lost quarterback Jacory Harris three weeks ago in an upset loss to Virginia. Harris remains out with a concussion but the Hurricanes have won two in a row behind freshman QB Stephen Morris. Of course, those two victories came against Maryland and Georgia Tech, teams with defenses that rank seventh and ninth respectively in the ACC. The Hokies are No. 7 nationally in pass efficiency defense and have the services of CB Jaron Hosley, who leads the nation with seven interceptions … Virginia Tech 21, Miami 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
New Mexico State at No. 21 Nevada: The Wolf Pack need to avoid any slipups this week if next Friday night’s encounter with Boise State is to mean anything. That shouldn’t be a problem since the Aggies’ defensive weaknesses fit snugly into Nevada’s wheelhouse. Behind QB Colin Kaepernick (3,017 total yards, 32 TDs), the Pack ranks third in the nation in total offense and fourth in scoring while New Mexico State is 101st in total defense and 110th in scoring defense. Making matters worse for the Aggies is the fact starting quarterback Matt Christian will miss his second game in a row with an undisclosed injury. If you’re thinking Nevada could get caught looking ahead, you could hang your hat on the fact New Mexico State went into Mackay Stadium in 2008 and came out with a 48-45 victory. But the Aggies have lost 10 straight WAC road games since then, so don’t get your hopes up too high … Nevada 52, New Mexico State 20. (4:05 p.m. ET, No TV)
No. 9 Ohio State at No. 13 Iowa: To be brutally honest, there is no way the Hawkeyes should have three losses this season. You can explain away one flat performance per year, and the Buckeyes certainly had theirs at Wisconsin. But Iowa has had at least four so-so outings this season and it has lost three of those four. (The fourth was an 18-13 win over Indiana, a game the Hawkeyes really should have lost.) The cold, hard truth is that Iowa hasn’t played especially well since its 37-6 drubbing of Michigan State three weeks ago. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the team has been away from home since then, and perhaps it’s not. After all, the Hawkeyes have never played particularly well at home against Ohio State with only two victories over the Buckeyes in Kinnick Stadium in 17 tries since 1964. Those facts, along with Jim Tressel’s halftime speech from last week still ringing in his team’s ears, all spell only one thing – another win for Brutus and more heartache for Herky … Ohio State 31, Iowa 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Fresno State (+30½) at Boise State; Wisconsin at Michigan (+4½); Oklahoma State (-24) at Kansas; Purdue at Michigan State (-20); Troy (+22) at South Carolina; Appalachian State at Florida (N/L); Mississippi at LSU (-16); Virginia Tech (-2) at Miami-FL; New Mexico State (+38) at Nevada; Ohio State (-3) at Iowa.
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday. Save a drumstick and some pumpkin pie for me and we’ll talk again next week.