Back To The Graveyard, With A Twist

Most of you know about my ritual the week before the Ohio State-Michigan game.

I always swear this will be the year I don’t do it and somehow my car always seems to wind up driving past that simple two-story white house on Cardiff Road anyway. Then since it’s only a mile or so farther north, I head up Olentangy River Road to Union Cemetery.

Most years it’s cold and windy or spitting snow but this year was a little different. The ground was wet from intermittent rain all day, and there was a cool breeze blowing from the north, but all in all not bad for a mid-November evening in Columbus. So, I made my annual pilgrimage to Section 12, Lot 37, Space 4 and parked the car near one of the pine trees that shade a simple black granite marker.

I stood there, hands in my coat pockets, staring at the monument and listening to the wind as it rustled through what leaves remained on the nearby maple trees. I looked around at the darkening sky and waited … and waited … and waited.

I’d been there almost a half-hour and nothing. Maybe who or what I had seen before – or what I thought I had seen before – was a figment of my imagination. I looked around again and found no one in that cemetery but me. I shook my head, smiled and shrugged my shoulders.

Then as I was walking back to my car, I saw a figure walking along the roadway. But this wasn’t who I expected. It certainly wasn’t who I had come to see. This was an older gentleman, dressed in a full-length gray overcoat with the collar turned up. I could make out an old-style, pinstripe suit under the overcoat as he shuffled along with his head down. He looked small and frail but still walked at a brisk pace.

Despite the fact he wore a brown fedora, I could make out hollow cheeks, thin lips and horn-rimmed glasses perched upon a thin nose. He was older, probably in his mid- to late 70s, I guessed, and was probably taking an evening stroll perhaps to visit a loved one who had passed on.

“Good evening,” I said as we passed.

He stopped abruptly, straightened up and looked at me with squinted eyes. Then he looked past me at the gravesite I had been visiting.

“Great man,” he offered in a rather high-pitched, scratchy voice. “Never met him but I would have liked to. Are you a relative?”

I shook my head. “No, just a fan. I come here every year about this time.”

The old man’s eyes narrowed. “About this time? What’s so special about this time of year?”

“Oh, you know. It’s Ohio State-Michigan week.”

“Oh, yes,” the man replied. “I always seem to forget they moved the game to late November.”

I laughed. “Forgot they moved it to late November? They only did that in 1935.”

“Yes, well, we used to play them in late October. Of course, that was a long, long time ago.”

I’m a sucker for Ohio State football history, so by now I was getting more and more intrigued by the little old man. “Sounds like you know your Buckeyes,” I said.

“A little,” he said with a chuckle. “Not so much the past few years but I know a little bit about the early days. Ohio Field. Coach Wilce. Mr. St. John. Those were the days. I’d give anything just to be able to … If I could have just one more … Well, we played because we loved it.”

I did some quick addition in my head. Ohio Field was demolished 87 years ago. John W. Wilce resigned as head coach of the Buckeyes following the 1928 season. And Lynn St. John served as AD longer than any other man – but he has been dead since 1950. The little man in the overcoat I had originally pegged to be about 75 years old had to have been much older.

“How long has it been now?” he continued. “Ninety years? Yes, the year was 19-and-19. Ninety years ago this very year when we first beat Michigan. And, oh, let me tell you that was quite a game. Took the train up there to Ferry Field and thought we were ready and ol’ Pete fumbled the opening kickoff.”

“Ol’ Pete?” I asked.

“Pete Stinchcomb,” he said as his eyes began to twinkle. “Gaylord Roscoe Stinchcomb. Greatest guy you’d ever want to meet and a better teammate you could never hope to have.”

I leaned in closer toward the old man with a puzzled look on my face. Stinchcomb played for the Buckeyes in the early 1920s and died in 1974 at the age of 78. I started to ask how in the world he could have possibly known so much about Stinchcomb when he cleared his throat and said, “That’s what the old-timers always said about him anyway.”

“OK,” I said, that look of puzzlement still on my face. “You were talking about ol’ Pete fumbling the opening kickoff.”

“Oh, yeah. Well, we dodged that bullet and then blocked a punt at the end of the first quarter for a touchdown. Then I ran for … I mean we got another touchdown in the second half and I had … we had four interceptions and we wound up beating those guys 13-3. What a great feeling that was. Beating Michigan for the first time? Nothing quite like it. Well, I guess that kind of broke the spell so to speak. They weren’t so invincible after that. We beat ’em again the next couple of years and the rivalry has been pretty close ever since.”

“You sure know a lot about the early days,” I said. “What do you think about the rivalry today?”

“Anyone who has ever played in that game loves it. I know I still do. I don’t much care for the people who try to say that it doesn’t mean as much because Michigan hasn’t played very well the last couple of years. So what? You have to respect this rivalry because it’s the greatest one in all of sports. And just because we won last year doesn’t mean we’ll win this year. Every game is different, and winning this game means everything. Ask the senior players if you don’t believe me. They know it. The last thing you ever want to do is lose that game, especially if it’s the last one of your career. It’ll haunt you forever if you do. I can attest to that. Never, ever, take this game for granted.”

The wind began to pick up and he said slowly, “Well, I’d better be getting on my way. It’s been a nice little visit with you.”

He offered a cold, bony hand and I shook it.

“My name is Mark,” I said, “and it was a pleasure, Sir.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” he replied.

He started to walk away and I called out, “I’m sorry. I didn’t get your name.”

He turned and smiled. “It’s Charles,” he said, “but all my friends just call me Chic.”

OSU-MICHIGAN TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Michigan will buckle it up tomorrow for the 106th renewal of what is known simply as The Game. The teams first met in 1897 and have played every season since 1918. The Wolverines lead the overall series by a 57-42-6 margin, including a 30-19-4 advantage in Ann Arbor.

** The Buckeyes have won three of their last four trips to Michigan Stadium. They haven’t enjoyed that kind of streak in Ann Arbor since winning four of five between 1973 and ’81.

** Ohio State has won seven of the last eight games in the series for the first time ever. The Buckeyes are also gunning for an unprecedented sixth straight victory over Michigan.

** Since 1925, the overall series is dead even at 41-41-3.

** OSU head coach Jim Tressel is currently 7-1 against Michigan, and he is one of only four Ohio State head coaches in history with a winning record against the Wolverines. The others: Woody Hayes (1951-78) at 16-11-1, Earle Bruce (1979-87) at 5-4 and Francis A. Schmidt (1934-40) at 4-3. Hayes, Bruce and Schmidt are all members of the College Football Hall of Fame.

** Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez is experiencing his second game in the rivalry. Last year, Rodriguez became the first U-M head coach to lose his first game against Ohio State since Harry Kipke’s team dropped a 7-0 decision to the Buckeyes in 1929. No Michigan head coach has ever lost his first two games in the series against Ohio State.

** Tressel is 35-13 in his OSU career against ranked opponents. Rodriguez is 13-18 lifetime against top-25 competition, including 2-5 with the Wolverines.

** Tressel is 25-4 with the Buckeyes in November. Rodriguez is 1-5 with the Wolverines in November.

** With a victory over the Wolverines, Ohio State would win the outright Big Ten championship for the third time in the last four seasons. It would give the Buckeyes their 18th outright title, more than any other team in conference history. Michigan has 16 outright championships and Illinois is third with eight.

** If Ohio State captures its third outright title in four years, it would be the best streak of undisputed Big Ten championships since Michigan won four in the five-year span between 1988 and 1992.

** The Buckeyes have already clinched a share of their fifth consecutive Big Ten title, marking the eighth straight season in which either OSU or Michigan has won or shared the conference crown. The last time neither team had at least a share of the trophy was in 2001 when Illinois took home the outright championship.

** Tressel has locked up his sixth Big Ten championship, placing him eighth on the conference all-time coaching list. Woody Hayes of Ohio State (1951-78) and Bo Schembechler of Michigan (1969-89) share the career record with 13 championships each. Fielding Yost of Michigan (1901-23, ’25-26) had 10, Henry Williams of Minnesota (1900-21) had eight, and Amos Alonzo Stagg (1896-1932) of Chicago, Robert Zuppke of Illinois (1913-41) and Bernie Biermann of Minnesota (1932-41, ’45-50) each had seven.

** With a victory, Ohio State would become only the second team in Big Ten history to record five consecutive years with 10 or more wins and the first in more than a century. Michigan had five seasons with 10-plus victories from 1901-05.

** If the Michigan team is searching for something on which to hang its winged helmets, how about this: The Buckeyes have lost to the Wolverines each of the last three times they have gone into The Game having already clinched the Big Ten championship. That occurred in 1986, 1993 and 1996.

** That 1993 game was the last time a ranked OSU team lost to an unranked Michigan squad. The Wolverines rolled to a 28-0 victory in Ann Arbor, and that game marks the most recent shutout in the overall series. The Buckeyes haven’t recorded a shutout over U-M since a 28-0 win in Ann Arbor in 1962.

** During a 13-year span from 1979 to 1992, the record for the team entering this game with the higher ranking was 9-3-1. In the 16 years since, the higher-ranked team has managed only an 8-8 mark.

** Since the two teams met in 1923 for the Ohio Stadium dedication game, a total of 7,527,129 fans have attended The Game. That’s more than any other college football game in America. Fifty-eight of those 86 games have been sold out, including the last 41 in a row.

** Michigan has an overall record of 298-121-20 in November. That’s a .702 winning percentage. Meanwhile, Ohio State in 286-132-19 during the month of November, good for a winning percentage of .676.

** This season will mark the third time in the past five years that a Michigan team will not be ranked in the final Associated Press poll of the season. Before 2005, the Wolverines had appeared in 35 of 36 final AP polls.

** Michigan has lost six straight conference games for the first time since losing six in a row between 1958 and ’59. The Wolverines have not lost seven consecutive Big Ten games since a 10-game league losing streak between 1935 and ’37.

** Here is how the teams stack up against one another in a variety of the national statistical categories:
Rushing offense – Michigan 21st (195.8); Ohio State 22nd (194.2)
Passing offense – Michigan 90th (195.6); Ohio State 102nd (174.9)
Total offense – Michigan 56th (391.4); Ohio State 65th (369.1)
Scoring offense – Michigan 27th (31.3); Ohio State 38th (30.0)
Rushing defense – Ohio State 4th (83.7); Michigan 84th (164.7)
Pass defense – Ohio State 16th (174.6); Michigan 82nd (235.5)
Total defense – Ohio State 5th (258.3); Michigan 89th (400.2)
Scoring defense – Ohio State 6th (12.4); Michigan 84th (28.1)
Net punting – Michigan 2nd (41.3); Ohio State 42nd (36.8)
Turnover margin – Ohio State 7th (plus-12); Michigan 102nd (minus-8)
Punt returns – Michigan 50th (9.9); Ohio State 65th (8.6)
Kickoff returns – Michigan 28th (24.0); Ohio State 35th (23.5)

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 12 noon Eastern. The game will be televised nationally by ABC with a broadcast crew that is rapidly becoming familiar to Ohio State fans. For the third week in a row, Sean McDonough will have the play-by-play, Matt Millen will provide color analysis and Holly Rowe will file reports from the sidelines.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 122 (Ohio State) and 155 (Michigan).

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Twenty-seven years ago, the Pony Express made one of its final rides in Texas. 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” aka “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 occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 16, 1872, Yale played its first-ever football game, beating Columbia by a 3-0 score; on Nov. 17, 1906, Kansas took an 8-6 victory over Nebraska, beginning the longest continuous Division I-A series; on Nov. 19, 1983, Oregon and Oregon State battled to a 0-0 tie in Eugene, the last scoreless tie in NCAA history due to the institution of overtime beginning in 1994; 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; and 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

** The number of Division I-A undefeated teams remains at six: Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Texas and TCU.

** Here is this week’s fun fact: TCU has 3,700 male students, meaning roughly 3.2 percent are on the football team. If Ohio State had that same percentage, the Buckeyes would have a football roster exceeding 1,000 players.

** If you think Boise State and its BCS argument are going away after this season, think again. There are only three seniors listed among the 44 players on the Broncos’ depth chart. Among those underclassmen is sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore, who has thrown for 2,558 yards and 32 TDs against only three interceptions.

** Iowa and Minnesota square off tomorrow for one of the most unusual trophies in college football – Floyd of Rosedale. After the Hawkeyes lost the 1935 game, Iowa Gov. Clyde Herring presented Minnesota Gov. Floyd B. Olson with Floyd of Rosedale, a full-blooded champion pig, as the result of a bet made prior to the contest. Olson commissioned a statue to capture Floyd’s image, which resulted in a bronze pig that measures 21 inches long and 15 inches high. The two teams have played for the statue ever since.

** In Pete Carroll’s first 110 games at USC, he had a 94-16 record and those 16 losses were by a combined 68 points, or an average of 4.3 points per game. His team’s recent blowout losses to Oregon and Stanford have come by a combined 61 points, an average of 30.5 per game. The Trojans allowed 93 points all of last season – the Ducks and Cardinal combined for 102.

** Jim Harbaugh obviously hasn’t changed. When he was quarterback at Michigan, Harbaugh got the well-earned reputation for being outspoken and often playing with a chip on his shoulder. Last week, he caused some controversy during his Stanford team’s win over USC by going for a two-point conversion with a 48-21 lead and 6:47 remaining. Harbaugh and Carroll reportedly got into a heated discussion during the postgame handshake, but Harbaugh brushed off the tiff in typical fashion. “I felt like it was the right thing to do, knowing SC would have at least two more possession opportunities, not including onside kicks,” he said. “We wanted to be full throttle all game.”

** Harbaugh is pulling out all the stops for tomorrow’s game against Cal. He has named Tiger Woods as the team’s honorary captain, and Woods will be honored on the field at halftime at which time he will be presented with a plaque signifying his induction into the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame.

** My weekly top five for the Heisman Trophy changed only at the bottom where Pittsburgh QB Bill Stull took over the No. 5 spot for Houston QB Case Keenum. My top five looks like this: 1. Texas QB Colt McCoy; 2. Alabama RB Mark Ingram; 3. Boise State QB Kellen Moore; 4. Florida QB Tim Tebow; 5. Stull. This week’s dark horse: Stanford RB Toby Gerhart.

** Congratulations to Rice, which got its first victory of the season last weekend with a 28-20 win over Tulane. That leaves only Eastern Michigan, Western Kentucky and New Mexico on the Division I-A winless list for 2009. Of those teams, Eastern perhaps has the best shot of winning one of its final two games. The Eagles travel tonight to Toledo (4-6 and losers of four of their last five) and wind up the season Nov. 27 at Akron (2-8 and losers of seven of their last eight).

** If New Mexico wants to get off the schnied, it had better do so this week against a 3-7 Colorado State team that has lost seven in a row following a 3-0 start. The 0-9 Lobos finish their season Nov. 28 at TCU against a team that will be trying to make one final statement for the BCS.

** Tarleton State (Texas) led a charmed existence last week in its Division II playoff game against Texas A&M-Kingsville. Tarleton won a 57-56 decision in double overtime after gambling successfully on a two-point conversion. The game went into overtime when Tarleton kicker Garrett Lindholm kicked a 64-yard field goal as time expired. Lindholm’s three-pointer was the second-longest in Division II history. Tom Odle of Fort Hays State (Kan.) holds the record. He booted a 67-yarder in 1988 during his team’s 22-14 win over instate rival Washburn.

** First-round Division III playoff games begin tomorrow, and not surprisingly defending champion Mount Union (Ohio) is the No. 1 seed. The Purple Raiders have won a record 10 national championships under head coach Larry Kehres, who has a career mark of 285-21-3 (a winning percentage of .925). Since 1993 when Mount Union won its first national title, Kehres’ record is an almost unbelievable 215-8. That computes to a .964 winning percentage.

** Hanover College (Ind.) didn’t make the Division III playoffs with a 3-7 record, but the Panthers still made news last week during their 42-28 loss to instate rival Franklin. Hanover sophomore receiver Daniel Passafiume set a new NCAA single-game record with 25 receptions in the game. That broke the old mark of 24 established in 1983 by NFL Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice when he was at Mississippi Valley State, and equaled in 2002 by Chas Gessner of Brown.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It’s been a pretty good last couple of weeks with the straight-up picks. We missed last week’s Upset Special (thanks, Arizona) but that was one of only two misses on a 10-2 slate. The yearly SU total is now 85-22.

Another 5-7 week against the spread makes us 42-52-2 for the season and the prospects of breaking even this year more and more unlikely. Nevertheless, we’ll hang with it and try to get back to respectability with an expanded slate of games this week. Be forewarned, though – there really is only one meaningful game in college football and it will occur in Ann Arbor. That’s why we’ll keep our comments on the rest of the games short and sweet.

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 6 Boise State at Utah State: The Broncos have beaten the Aggies eight times in a row. Look for Boise QB Kellen Moore to pad his already Heisman-worthy stats … Boise State 48, Utah State 10. (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Minnesota at No. 13 Iowa: If several teams ahead of them lose, the Hawkeyes could still get into a BCS bowl. Incentive enough for Senior Day at Kinnick … Iowa 24, Minnesota 13. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

No. 20 Miami (Fla.) at Duke: The Hurricanes are up and down this season, but they should have enough to take a fifth straight victory in this series … Miami 37, Duke 23. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)

Chattanooga at No. 2 Alabama: These two schools have met 10 times over the years with the Crimson Tide winning all 10 by a combined score of 369-88. It’s Senior Day in Tuscaloosa and statement time for Bama … Alabama 47, Chattanooga 3. (12:20 p.m. ET, SEC GamePlan)

Florida International at No. 1 Florida: The Gators haven’t had the spectacular run everyone envisioned, but they remain undefeated. Meanwhile, FIU has never finished with a winning record since starting the program in 2002 … Florida 49, Florida International 10. (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Memphis at No. 24 Houston: The Cougars spit the bit last week against Central Florida. Look for them to get back on track this week against the Tigers, who have already fired head coach Tommy West … Houston 48, Memphis 34. (1 p.m. ET, CSS)

No. 4 TCU at Wyoming: The Horned Frogs, arguably the best team in the nation, will likely not get a chance to play for the national championship. Look for them to keep making a statement on why they should get that chance … TCU 51, Wyoming 10. (2 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)

No. 14 Penn State at Michigan State: The Nittany Lions, who have not been playing well lately, have lost four of their last six trips to Spartan Stadium. I hate to pick Sparty because he has been so uneven this season. But I need an Upset Special, so here it is … Michigan State 34, Penn State 31. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 16 Wisconsin at Northwestern: Can the Wildcats slow down the Badgers’ two-pronged attack of QB Scott Tolzien and RB John Clay? Maybe the better question is whether UW can slow down the multifaceted attack led Northwestern QB Mike Kakfa. Upset Special No. 2 … Northwestern 31, Wisconsin 28. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 8 LSU at Mississippi: The Rebels pulled off a huge 31-13 upset in Baton Rouge last year, but they haven’t beaten the Tigers in Oxford since 1998. Ole Miss struggles against good defenses and LSU has a good defense … LSU 20, Mississippi 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Virginia at No. 23 Clemson: Behind Heisman hopeful running back C.J. Spiller, the Tigers have averaged 42.0 points over their last five games. You wonder how the Cavaliers (106th nationally in scoring and 118th in total offense) can keep up. Answer: They can’t … Clemson 37, Virginia 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

Air Force at No. 22 BYU: Max Hall is one of the best quarterbacks you’ve probably never heard of. The BYU senior has thrown for 2,857 yards and 23 TDs, and he has never lost in his career to the run-oriented Cadets … BYU 35, Air Force 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

North Carolina State at No. 15 Virginia Tech: Good Hokies offense + porous Wolfpack defense = Tech victory … Virginia Tech 38, N.C. State 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

San Diego State at No. 21 Utah: The Utes were manhandled last week by TCU, but they get to try and rebound against the Aztecs who rank 94th nationally in scoring defense. Utah also returns home to play at Rice Eccles Stadium where they have won their last 16 in a row … Utah 41, San Diego State 17. (4 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 19 Oregon State at Washington State: The Beavers still have a shot at the Rose Bowl and it’s doubtful the punchless Cougars can do anything about that this week … Oregon State 48, Washington State 14. (5 p.m. ET, No TV)

No. 25 California at No. 17 Stanford: The Bears scored a total of six points against Oregon and USC while the Cardinal rolled up 106 points against the Ducks and Trojans. What more do you need to know? … Stanford 44, Cal 27. (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

Kansas at No. 3 Texas: The Longhorns are zeroing in on the national championship game while Jayhawks head coach Mark Mangino is suddenly under fire in Lawrence. Colt McCoy becomes the all-time winningest quarterback in NCAA history with a win … Texas 35, Kansas 7. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 11 Oregon at Arizona: The Wildcats couldn’t get it done last week against a Jahvid Best-less Cal, so what makes anyone believe Mike Stoops’ troops can beat the Ducks? … Oregon 48, Arizona 35. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 10 Ohio State at Michigan: Anyone connected with OSU who chalks up this game as an automatic victory should remember what the Wolverines have on the line. They need this win to avoid a second straight losing season. They need this win to avoid staying home during bowl season when they had made 33 straight bowl appearances prior to 2008. They need this win to prevent their head coach from becoming the first Michigan coach in history ever to lose his first two games in this series. I’m also sure that Rich Rodriguez has told his team that this game begins the program’s resurgence. A victory over the Buckeyes would not only send the Wolverines to a bowl but also give them a foundation on which to build. Nothing to play for in Ann Arbor? I think not. It’s still the greatest rivalry game in American sports and if you have a chance to step on the throat of your rival, you do it. Assuming that is the mind-set of the Ohio State players, you get this prediction … Ohio State 45, Michigan 14. (12 noon ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-22) at Utah State; Minnesota at Iowa (-9½ ; Miami-FL at Duke (+20); Florida International (+45) at Florida; Memphis (+24) at Houston; TCU (-28) at Wyoming; Penn State at Michigan State (+3); Wisconsin at Northwestern (+7); LSU (+4½) at Mississippi; Virginia at Clemson (-20½); Air Force at BYU (-9½); N.C. State at Virginia Tech (-21); San Diego State at Utah (-20); Oregon State (-29) at Washington State; Cal at Stanford (-7); Kansas at Texas (-27½); Oregon (-4½) at Arizona; Ohio State (-11½) at Michigan.

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History Sides With Buckeyes Vs. Iowa

To say Iowa has struggled over the years against Ohio State would be akin to pointing out that they speak mostly French in Paris. No kidding, Sherlock.

The cold, hard truth for the Hawkeyes is that they are on the business end of one of the most lopsided series in Big Ten history. They have only 14 wins and three ties to show for 61 previous games against the Buckeyes, a shockingly bad winning percentage of .254 – or perhaps more aptly put, a 746 losing percentage.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that Herky has had his problems over the years with Brutus. Ohio State’s all-time Big Ten record is 455-190-28, a .696 winning percentage that leads the conference. Iowa has a lifetime record of 284-344-25 in league games, a .454 winning percentage.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is regarded as one of the top coaches in his profession and he has that new seven-year, $21 million contract to back that claim. And yet he has only a pair of Big Ten co-championships during his previous 10 seasons in Iowa City and he is a rather pedestrian 48-38 in conference play. Meanwhile, OSU head coach Jim Tressel has won one national championship, five league titles – including the last four in a row – and has a 57-13 Big Ten record.

Head-to-head matchups between Ferentz and Tressel are about as close as the overall Iowa-Ohio State series. Tressel holds a 4-1 advantage – including a 1990 contest when his Division I-AA Youngstown State team beat Ferentz-coached Maine – and the average margin of victory for Tressel victories has been 19.0 points. To be fair, Ferentz’s lone win against Tressel was a 33-7 trip to the Iowa City woodshed in 2004.

Tomorrow, the two teams and their head coaches square off again with the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth on the line. Since Ohio State and Iowa hold all the tiebreakers over any other team that could tie for the conference title, tomorrow’s outcome will determine which team goes to Pasadena and which heads for Orlando and the Capital One Bowl.

Despite the loss of starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi, the Hawkeyes remain confident they will emerge victorious. After all, they are only one week removed from being the No. 4 team in the country and still boast a defense ranked among the top 15 in the country.

And yet, Iowa just seems to have a bugaboo about playing Ohio State when the stakes are high. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

1954 – The fourth-ranked Buckeyes led 20-14 late in the fourth quarter when the No. 13 Hawkeyes drove inside the OSU 5-yard line. With the clock ticking under two minutes, Iowa couldn’t get into the end zone as the Buckeyes’ goal-line stand preserved the victory. The six-point win would be the smallest margin of victory for Ohio State as it captured its first national championship under head coach Woody Hayes.

1957 – After losing star halfback Don Clark to a leg injury, sixth-ranked Ohio State was installed a touchdown underdog to No. 5 Iowa. The Ohio Stadium record crowd of 82,935, which included U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon, was treated to a seesaw match that saw four lead changes. The Hawkeyes held a 13-10 advantage heading into the final period when OSU fullback Bob White took over, accounting for most of the yardage on a 68-yard touchdown march that set the final score at 17-13. “We knew what was happening,” Iowa head coach Forest Evashevski said, “but we were just powerless to stop it.”

1958 – The Hawkeyes were ready for revenge in ’58. They were the nation’s No. 2 team and 14-point favorites over the 16th-ranked Buckeyes. A record crowd of 58,463 jammed into Kinnick Stadium and the teams traded touchdowns back and forth until the score was tied 28-28 after three periods. But OSU established itself in the fourth quarter, getting a 1-yard touchdown run from White and a 19-yard field goal from Dave Kilgore with only 12 seconds remaining to register the 38-28 upset win.

1961 – Ninth-ranked Iowa had beaten Ohio State in back-to-back seasons and was trying to become the first team to beat Hayes three times in a row. But the Hawkeyes ran into a defensive buzz saw as the fifth-rated Buckeyes forged a 12-0 halftime lead before cruising to a 29-13 victory. Defensive end Tom Perdue returned an interception 55 yards for OSU’s first touchdown, and a fourth-quarter touchdown run by fullback Bob Ferguson was set up by a 53-yard interception return by defensive lineman Gary Moeller.

1984 – The 14th-ranked Hawkeyes came to Columbus boasting the Big Ten’s top defense, but four costly turnovers put them behind the 8-ball and the No. 5 Buckeyes rolled to a 45-26 win. Iowa had more first downs (23-17) and outgained Ohio State by a 458-335 margin, but the turnovers were too much to overcome. Iowa QB Chuck Long threw for 275 yards and two TDs, but he also pitched two interceptions and fumbled once as Ohio State scored in every quarter. Keith Byars was the offensive star for OSU. He rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns, and caught five passes for 55 yards and another score.

1985 – Iowa was positive it was going to win in 1985. Long was a Heisman Trophy candidate, the defense was the best it had been in years and the Hawkeyes were the No. 1-ranked team in the country. But OSU had other plans. Protecting a 19-game home winning streak, the eighth-ranked Buckeyes dominated Iowa during a 22-13 victory. The defense, which had been ninth in the Big Ten against the pass, intercepted Long four times and held the QB to only 169 yards through the air, more than 150 below his average. Pepper Johnson and Chris Spielman led the Ohio State defense with 19 tackles each, and Spielman snagged two of the four INTs.

1986 – The Hawkeyes were once again the higher ranked team in ’86 and boasted the conference’s best offensive attack. But the No. 17 Buckeyes exploded for 21 points during a six-minute span in the second quarter and ran away with a 31-10 triumph over No. 11 Iowa. It was another defensive gem for OSU, which held the Hawkeyes’ powerful attack to 192 yards of total offense, including only 79 on the ground. Spielman was once again the spearhead for the Buckeyes, recording 18 tackles.

1990 – OSU head coach John Cooper was in third season and still looking for a signature win when his unranked Buckeyes scored a 27-26 stunner over the sixth-ranked Hawkeyes in Iowa City. Ohio State erased a 26-14 deficit in the final 11 minutes as Greg Frey threw a pair of touchdown passes to Bobby Olive, the second a 3-yard toss with 0:01 showing on the clock. The victory was career No. 100 for Cooper.

1997 – Defense ruled the day again when the seventh-ranked Buckeyes took a 23-7 win over the No. 11 Hawkeyes. Iowa running back Tavian Banks entered the game as the nation’s leading rusher, averaging a whopping 209 yards per game, but he was held to only 82 yards on 22 attempts as Ohio State built a 16-0 halftime advantage. Pepe Pearson had a game-high 109 yards while Michael Wiley added 85 yards and two touchdowns.

2003 – The two teams were as evenly matched as possible but the No. 8 Buckeyes squeezed out a 19-10 decision over the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes. Neither team managed an offensive touchdown as defenses carried the day. Iowa scored on a 36-yard field goal and 5-yard run off a fake field goal while Ohio State tallied a 53-yard field goal by Mike Nugent, a 54-yard punt return by Michael Jenkins, a blocked punt recovered in the end zone by Donte Whitner and a team safety.

2006 – Once again, Iowa was convinced of victory. The Hawkeyes were undefeated and ranked 13th in the country, and they laid in wait for the No. 1 Buckeyes with a rare night game at sold-out Kinnick Stadium. But Ohio State scored in the first four minutes with a touchdown pass from Troy Smith to Anthony Gonzalez and it was all Buckeyes from there in a 38-17 romp. Smith threw for four scores while the OSU defense created four turnovers. That included three interceptions of Iowa QB Drew Tate, who completed only 19 of 41 attempts for 249 yards.

In addition to the aforementioned games, there was the 83-21 shellacking of Iowa administered by the Buckeyes back in 1950. That was the game in which future Heisman Trophy winner Vic Janowicz went absolutely wild. He threw for four touchdowns, rushed for one, returned a punt for another, kicked 10 PATs, recovered two fumbles on defense and averaged 42.0 yards punting in one of the most electrifying one-man shows ever seen in Ohio Stadium.

Why the history lesson? Because it’s worth noting that when Iowa has faced Ohio State – many times armed with a lofty national ranking – the Hawkeyes have usually come out on the wrong end of the final score. For whatever reason, the team plays extremely tight against the Buckeyes, allowing the OSU defense to create turnovers and providing plenty of scoring opportunities for the offense.

The combination of a quarterback making his first career start in the Horseshoe against one of the top defensive units in college football would seem to indicate a similar scenario playing out tomorrow afternoon. As we have noted in this space countless times, a very good way to forecast the future is by examining the past.

OSU-IOWA TIDBITS

** This will be the 62nd overall meeting between Ohio State and Iowa in a series that began in 1922. The Buckeyes enjoy a lopsided 44-14-3 advantage over the Hawkeyes, including a 27-8-1 record in Columbus. OSU has 10 of the last 11 in the series, including the last five played at Ohio Stadium. Iowa has not tasted victory in Columbus since a 16-9 win in 1991.

** The game marks the 19th time in the series when both teams are ranked. The Buckeyes are 14-4 in those games.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 3-1 against Iowa. That includes a 2-0 record in Columbus, including a 31-6 victory in 2005.

** Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is 1-5 all-time against Ohio State. That includes an 0-3 record against the Buckeyes in Columbus. 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.

** 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 in Orono.

** Last week’s victory over Penn State was the 57th Big Ten win for Tressel. That puts him in a five-way tie for 13th on the all-time conference list. The other coaches with 57 conference victories – Bennie Bierman of Minnesota (1932-41, ’45-50), Fritz Crisler of Michigan (1938-47), Jack Mollenkopf of Purdue (1956-69) and Earle Bruce of Ohio State (1979-87).

** A victory over Iowa would sew up at least a share of the Big Ten championship for Ohio State and give Tressel his sixth title. Only seven other coaches have won as many as six conference championships, including Woody Hayes of Ohio State and Bo Schembechler of Michigan, who share the Big Ten record with 13 titles each.

** Iowa will be wearing “EVY” stickers on their helmets in honor of former head coach and athletic director Forest Evashevski, who died Oct. 31 at the age of 91. Evashevski coached the Hawkeyes from 1952-60 and won three Big Ten championships and two Rose Bowl titles. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

** The Hawkeyes saw their 13-game winning streak snapped with last week’s 17-10 loss to Northwestern. It was the second-longest active win streak in the nation and the longest winning streak for Iowa since the team won 20 games in a row between 1920 and 1923.

** Iowa still has one streak intact. The Hawkeyes come to Columbus having won their last six games away from Kinnick Stadium.

** How stifling is the OSU defense? It had eight three-and-outs last week against Penn State and currently leads the nation in forcing three-and-outs. Opponents have gone three-and-out an amazing 60 times in 10 games against the Buckeyes. No other defense in the nation has more than 49.

** Ohio State is one of only six Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) teams that has not allowed an opposing rusher to crack the 100-yard mark. The others are Alabama, Arkansas State, Nevada, Penn State and Texas. The Buckeyes have allowed only seven 100-yard rushers since 2005, the lowest number among all I-A schools during that stretch.

** Don’t expect Tressel to try any special teams trickery against the Hawkeyes. Opponents have attempted four onside kicks, one fake punt and one fake field goal and every one of those tries has failed. Additionally, Iowa has blocked three kicks and one punt this season. The blocked punt came in the 20-10 win over Penn State and was returned 53 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

** Iowa sophomore safety Tyler Sash leads the Big Ten in interceptions with six and he has returned those picks for 203 yards. In only his second season, Sash already has 11 career interceptions with 350 return yards. He needs seven more picks to break into the Big Ten all-time top 10 and only seven more return yards to break into the top five. The 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.

** The game will be the final home contest of the season for the Buckeyes. They are 72-44-3 all-time in home finales.

** It will also be Senior Day in the Horseshoe with 19 senior players scheduled to get their traditional hug from Tressel and high-five from Brutus. This year’s list of seniors: Andre Amos, Jake Ballard, Kurt Coleman, Jim Cordle, Todd Denlinger, Joe Gantz, Tom Ingham, Andrew Moses, Aaron Pettrey, Dan Potokar, Rob Rose, Anderson Russell, Ryan Schuck, Ray Small, Austin Spitler, Jon Thoma, Marcus Williams, Lawrence Wilson and Doug Worthington.

** If the Buckeyes beat Iowa and Michigan, and are also victorious in their bowl game, the senior class would finish its career with 44 wins. That would break the school record of 43 currently held by the classes of 1995-98, 2002-05 and 2005-08.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The game will be televised using the reverse mirror meaning viewers will be able to watch the game either on their local ABC station or ESPN. And for the second week in a row, the broadcast crew will be Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Matt Millen (color analysis) and Holly Rowe (sideline reports).

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 122 and 123 as well as XM radio channel 144.

** Next week’s game against Michigan will kick off shortly after 12 noon Eastern. It will be televised nationally by ABC.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Sixteen years ago today, ESPN College Gameday made its first-ever on-campus broadcast. The popular college football pregame show debuted in 1987, but it wasn’t until Nov. 13, 1993, that GameDay got out of the studio and hit the road. The first telecast was from South Bend, Ind., to cover the 1-vs-2 matchup between Florida State and Notre Dame, and featured host Chris Fowler and analysts Lee Corso and Craig James. The result was an upset victory by the second-ranked Irish, who took a 31-24 win over the No. 1 Seminoles. (Corso picked Florida State to win, by the way.) The Seminoles managed to rebound from the loss, going on to beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and capture the national championship.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 10, 1984, backup quarterback Frank Reich of unranked Maryland engineered the biggest comeback in NCAA history at the time, leading the Terrapins from a 31-0 halftime deficit to a 42-40 victory over Miami (Fla.) in the Orange Bowl; on Nov. 12, 1983, UCLA needed only a tie against Arizona to secure a Rose Bowl bid, but kicker John Lee’s field-goal attempt sailed wide as time expired and the Bruins dropped a 27-24 decision; on Nov. 14, 1998, second-ranked Kansas State took a 40-30 win over No. 11 Nebraska to clinch the Big 12 North title, the first football championship of any kind for the Wildcats since 1934; and on Nov. 15, 1890, Minnesota and Wisconsin squared off for the first time in what has become the most-played series in college football history. The Gophers took a 63-0 victory in Minneapolis that day, and the two teams have played one another every year since.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Iowa’s loss to Northwestern dropped the number of Division I-A undefeated teams to six. They are Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Texas and TCU.

** We know at least one of the aforementioned undefeated teams is going to lose in the SEC championship game, but there could be five teams that go through the entire regular season with unbeaten records. That would be the first time that has happened since 1979. Ohio State, Alabama, Florida State and BYU each finished 11-0 while USC was 10-0-1. Only Alabama and USC won their bowl games and the Crimson Tide were named national champions.

** Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly has a full-fledged quarterback controversy on his hands. Regular starter Tony Pike is ready to play again but backup Zach Collaros has been lights-out since Pike has been sidelined. Is Kelly really going to send Collaros back to the bench after he has completed 80 percent of his passes and thrown for 998 yards, eight TDs and no interceptions in three starts? Apparently not yet. Collaros is scheduled to be the starter this evening against West Virginia.

** When Purdue came from behind for a 38-36 victory at Michigan, it marked the Boilermakers’ first win in Ann Arbor since 1966. The Wolverines are now 1-5 in Big Ten play, meaning they have lost 13 of their last 16 conference games. (That’s not all Rich Rodriguez’s fault; Lloyd Carr lost his final two Big Ten games to Wisconsin and Ohio State in 2007). Even so, Michigan is in the throes of its worst conference slide in nearly 75 years. The Wolverines lost 16 of 18 Big Ten games between the start of the 1934 season and the middle of the 1937 campaign.

** Despite the fact it gets maligned more than any other major conference, the Big Ten heads into the final stretch of the season with each of its 11 teams remaining in the hunt to become bowl-eligible. Not 11 teams will make it to the postseason, of course. Illinois must win its remaining three games against Northwestern, Cincinnati and Fresno State, teams with a combined record of 21-7. Meanwhile, Indiana and Purdue must also win both the remaining games on their respective schedules – and they square off against one another Nov. 21 in Bloomington.

** Here is a fun stat: After last weekend’s 17-10 victory in Manhattan, Kansas State is now 14-4 against instate rival Kansas with Bill Snyder as head coach. Without him, the Wildcats are 23-61-5 against the Jayhawks.

** Do you enjoy thrill rides? Then you’d love being a Houston fan. Despite giving up 88 points in their last two games, the Cougars have posted back-to-back victories in the final seconds. They took a 50-43 win over Southern Miss on Oct. 31, getting a 46-yard touchdown pass with 21 seconds left, and then beat Tulsa last week by a 46-45 score when kicker Matt Hogan nailed a 51-yard field goal as time expired. Hogan’s career longest three-pointer to that point had been 34 yards.

** Of the five top passing yardage games in Division I-A this season, Houston QB Case Keenum has two of them. He threw for 559 yards in that win over Southern Miss and also had 536 earlier this season during a 58-41 loss to UTEP. Rounding out the top five: Tyler Sheehan of Bowling Green (505 vs. Kent State), Steven Sheffield of Texas Tech (490 vs. Kansas State) and Greg Alexander of Hawaii (477 vs. UNLV). Keenum leads the nation in passing through Nov. 7 with 3,815 yards and 28 TDs.

** My weekly top five for the Heisman Trophy got a little jumbled last week, but the name at the top of my ballot didn’t change. Texas QB Colt McCoy is still my favorite followed by Alabama RB Mark Ingram and Boise State QB Kellen Moore, who flip-flopped spots. Rounding out the top five are Florida QB Tim Tebow and Houston QB Case Keenum. This week’s dark horse: Pittsburgh QB Bill Stull.

** Ever wonder what happened to Terry Bowden? He resurfaced this season at Division II North Alabama, which finished 10-1 and earned one of eight first-round byes in the 24-team division playoffs. Bowden’s team narrowly missed a perfect regular season, losing a 31-28 decision in four overtimes last weekend to rival West Alabama.

** Iowa was not the only team to lose a lengthy winning streak last week. Defending Division I-AA national champion Richmond dropped a 21-20 decision to fourth-ranked Villanova, ending the Spiders’ winning streak at 17 games.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Straight-up picks were solid again, including another Upset Special with Ohio State beating Penn State. We also mentioned possible trap games for Iowa at Northwestern and Oregon at Stanford but didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger on either one. Nevertheless, those were the only two misses in a 10-2 week that pushed the yearly total to 75-20, a winning percentage of .789. It’s been a while since we finished a season at .800 or better, so that’s certainly something to shoot for.

As far as the spread picks, we’re still trying to stay within shouting distance of breakeven. Not enough hits and too many misses gave us a 5-7 ledger for the week, dropping the season line to 37-45-2 with not a whole lot of time to make up the difference.

But we’re not quitters here at the forecast, so here are the games we like this week. (All rankings are BCS standings.)

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 25 West Virginia at No. 5 Cincinnati: The Bearcats finally roll into the meat of their schedule with as much confidence as anyone in the nation. They have stumbled upon a backup quarterback who may be even better than their starter, they are third in the nation in total offense (482.6 yards per game) and fifth in scoring (40.0), and need only one more victory to set a new school record for best start ever. Standing in the way of that 10th straight win are the Mountaineers, who are facing a must-win situation in terms of the Big East championship. WVU has the horses to keep up with Cincinnati’s offense, but 1,000-yard runner Noel Devine sprained an ankle during last week’s 17-9 win over Louisville and is questionable for tonight’s game. The Mountaineers are the last visiting team to beat UC at Nippert, and they have a defense that is at least capable of slowing down the Bearcats. With Devine less than 100 percent, however, they probably won’t have enough offense to keep up … Cincinnati 31, West Virginia 20. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Temple at Akron: Here’s your chance to see the Owls, one of the surprise teams in all of college football. They are on track for their first bowl appearance since 1979, are currently on a seven-game winning streak that is their longest since 1973 and seek their first undefeated conference regular season since 1967 during their first go-round as MAC members. Meanwhile, the Zips are on the other end of the spectrum. They are 2-7 this season although both of their victories have come at their new home at InfoCision Stadium. But even when the Owls were struggling, Akron had its troubles in the series. Temple leads the overall series by an 11-7 margin, and that includes a 5-3 record in Akron. Look for one of the nation’s top freshmen in Temple running back Bernard Pierce, who has already set school records for a freshman with 1,211 yards and 14 TDs. Since the Zips have had trouble putting points on the board all season, Pierce should be enough for the Owls … Temple 27, Akron 10. (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 3 Texas at Baylor: It’s stat-padding time for Texas QB Colt McCoy, and there is no team he’d rather play than the Bears. In three previous contests against Baylor, McCoy has thrown for 844 yards and 12 TDs while the Longhorns have posted victories by a combined score of 139-62. While the focus in Waco will be on McCoy, the Texas defense has quietly become one of the toughest units in the country. The Longhorns are No. 1 in total defense and No. 8 in scoring, and that’s not a good combination for Baylor. Because of injuries, the Bears are down to their third-string quarterback and two weeks ago Nick Florence was sacked seven times in a 20-10 loss to Nebraska. The Longhorns are working on an 11-game win streak in the series, and have beaten the Bears by an average of more than 37 points in those contests. Sounds like the spread as been set … Texas 44, Baylor 7. (12 noon ET, FSN)

No. 13 Houston at Central Florida: UH head coach Kevin Sumlin must believe defense is something you put around de-backyard. The Cougars give up an average of 30.1 points per game (that ranks 96th nationally) and allow 469.8 yards each week (that’s a lowly 116th among 120 Division I-A teams). How in the world could they be 8-1 and ranked 13th in the latest BCS standings? Thank QB Case Keenum and his high-powered offense that leads the nation with averages of more than 42 points and 575 yards per contest. Over the last two weeks alone, Keenum has completed 84 of 114 passes for 1,081 yards and eight TDs. Central Florida would appear to be Houston’s toughest opponent left on the regular-season schedule, but the Knights have their problems defending the pass. During last week’s 35-3 loss to Texas, they allowed Colt McCoy to throw for 470 yards. UCF is also hurting on offense – starting quarterback Brett Hodges and running back Brynn Harvey missed last week’s game against the Longhorns and are questionable for this week … Houston 45, Central Florida 28. (12 noon ET, CBS College Sports)

Michigan at No. 20 Wisconsin: The Wolverines passed Last Ditch Gulch last week and Rich Rodriguez may be headed for Death Valley. Last Saturday’s home game against Purdue represented Michigan’s last best chance to get bowl-eligible. Now the Wolverines are faced with finishing at Camp Randall and at home against Ohio State, needing to win one of those games to finish with the bowl-eligible required six victories. Unfortunately for Rodriguez and his team, the buzzards are circling. U-M hasn’t beaten a I-A opponent since a late September win over Indiana, and losses in the final two games would give the Wolverines their first last-place finish in the conference standings since 1962. In addition to all that, the Badgers still remember last year’s game when they blew a 19-point second-half advantage and wound up with a 27-25 loss in Ann Arbor … Wisconsin 34, Michigan 31. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 1 Florida at South Carolina: The Gators are getting a lot of criticism lately because their victories haven’t been very pretty. The bottom line, however, is that they remain undefeated and haven’t lost since Tim Tebow’s famous speech last September following a loss to Ole Miss. You would think the Ol’ Ball Coach would have something up his sleeve is terms of an upset this week, but the Gamecocks are in the middle of a late swoon for the third season in a row. Unfortunately, Florida usually contributes to that slide. Steve Spurrier hasn’t beaten his old team since 2005, losing the last three games in the series by a combined score of 124-53. South Carolina’s offense has fizzled for much of the last month, and that doesn’t bode well going against the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense … Florida 31, South Carolina 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Idaho at No. 6 Boise State: Someone opined that this game is the biggest thing to hit Idaho since French fries. The undefeated Broncos are trying their best to secure a BCS bid while the surprising Vandals stand in their way. Idaho is 7-3 this season after losing 26 of its previous 29 games. But the Vandals are beginning to crack a little bit, losing two of their last three and giving up an average of 45.0 points the past three weeks. It’s not going to help that they may also be without starting quarterback Nate Ederle, who is nursing a rotator cuff injury. Meanwhile, Boise still has QB Kellen Moore (2,259 yards, 27 TDs), a stingy defense that allows only 14.0 points per game, and a 53-game regular-season winning streak on the Smurf Turf … Boise State 47, Idaho 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 17 Arizona at California: The Wildcats continue the quest for their first-ever Rose Bowl appearance, but they may have to carry on without top running back Nic Grigsby, who has a sprained right shoulder. Meanwhile, Cal will also be without their best running back as Jahvid Best recovers from a concussion after a nasty head-first fall last weekend. Best’s loss will be difficult for the Bears to overcome especially since Arizona boasts the No. 11 rush defense in the country. The Wildcats could use any help they can get. They have lost their last three trips to Berkeley by a 114-41 margin. In terms of the Rose Bowl bid, this game really doesn’t have any bearing since Zona still needs to beat Oregon and USC to earn its trip to Pasadena. Still, you have to believe Mike Stoops’ team would like a little momentum heading into those final two contests. Here is your Upset Special … Arizona 26, Cal 17. (7 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 16 Utah at No. 4 TCU: The Horned Frogs may have altered their postseason goal. A BCS berth isn’t going to be good enough – they want the whole enchilada. The obstacles remain huge for them to get to the national title game, though, since they will probably need all three teams ahead of them in the rankings to lose while remaining unbeaten. They must also not lose sight of the task at hand, which features the 8-1 Utes. Last year, Utah scored a late touchdown and took a 13-10 victory in Salt Lake City, and it is the last team to beat TCU in Fort Worth. The Utes switched last week to freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn, and he responded with 297 yards and two TDs in a 45-14 win over winless New Mexico. We suspect Wynn will have a little more trouble making his first road start against a ferocious Frog defense … TCU 23, Utah 10. (7:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

Notre Dame at No. 12 Pittsburgh: Somewhere, sometime, Charlie Weis is going to have to secure a signature victory in order to maintain his job in South Bend. In his first season with the Fighting Irish, Weis was victorious in his first three games against ranked teams. Since then, his record against ranked competition is 1-11. The Panthers have one of the best one-two offensive punches in college football this season. QB Bill Stull has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 1,879 yards and 17 TDs against only four INTs, while sophomore RB Dion Lewis has 1,139 yards and 12 TDs. If Notre Dame entertains any thought of an upset, it will have to play its best defensive game of the season. The Irish rank a lowly 79th nationally in total defense and an even-worse 88th against the pass. Notre Dame has beaten Pitt in both of its previous visits to Heinz Field, including Weis’ debut with the Irish, but a lot has happened since then … Pittsburgh 34, Notre Dame 30. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

Arizona State at No. 13 Oregon: The Ducks have been on an emotional roller-coaster ride for much of the season. They lost their opener to Boise State after which top running back LeGarrette Blount was suspended for punching a BSU player. Then Chip Kelly’s team ripped off seven straight victories, including a 47-20 statement over USC, before last week’s 51-42 loss at Stanford. This week, Blount returns from suspension as the Ducks return home and try to get back on track for a Rose Bowl bid. On the other sideline, the Sun Devils are playing well on defense despite a 4-5 record. They lead the Pac-10 and are sixth nationally against the run, giving them at least a chance against Oregon’s wide-open run attack. Unfortunately, ASU has trouble manufacturing points. They have lost three straight, rank near the bottom of the conference in total offense and scoring, and head coach Dennis Erickson has changed starting quarterbacks from struggling veteran Danny Sullivan to freshman Brock Osweiler. Adding to the Sun Devils’ misery is the fact they are 3-28 against ranked teams since 2000 and winless in their last four in this series … Oregon 41, Arizona State 17. (10:20 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 10 Iowa at No. 11 Ohio State: As we mentioned above, the Hawkeyes rarely have much success against the Buckeyes and the loss of quarterback Ricky Stanzi makes their task in Columbus that much more difficult. One would have to assume Kirk Ferentz will have something figured out for new QB James Vandenberg, and the Hawkeyes remain one of the most solid defensive units in the Big Ten. Still, it’s extremely difficult to win when you can’t put points on the scoreboard and it is difficult to image how Iowa can score unless the Buckeyes turn the ball over like they did at Purdue. Short of that kind of performance, things should be coming up roses for OSU … Ohio State 28, Iowa 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Cincinnati (-8½) at West Virginia; Temple (-4) at Akron; Texas (-23) at Baylor; Houston (-4½) at Central Florida; Michigan (+9) at Wisconsin; Florida (-15½)  at South Carolina; Idaho (+32) at Boise State; Arizona at Cal (+2½); Utah (+20) at TCU; Notre Dame (+7) at Pittsburgh; Arizona State at Oregon (-17½); Iowa at Ohio State (-16½).

You will probably want to know that Iowa is 1-7 ATS in its past eight games against OSU while the Buckeyes are 5-0 ATS in their last five home contests with the Hawkeyes. Enjoy the games.

And Down The Stretch They Come

The old coach once said, “September is for pretenders; November is for contenders,” and he was never more right than this season.

Let a couple of the Big Ten teams go through the motions and extend their seasons into December. Iowa, Penn State and Ohio State know the real season ends Nov. 21, and each school enters the three-game November stretch drive with a chance at the Big Ten championship.

The Hawkeyes have the inside track, of course, courtesy of their 9-0 start, the best in program history. They may also be one of the most entertaining teams to watch – at least from afar. I’m not sure how much more the Iowa fans can take since four of their team’s victories have come after the Hawkeyes were trailing after three quarters.

Nevertheless, every coach’s preseason objective is to win all of his games, and Kirk Ferentz is three-quarters of the way to accomplishing that goal. His team finishes the season at home with Northwestern tomorrow, at Ohio State next week and back home against Minnesota on Nov. 21, and that would seem to be a manageable schedule. There are hurdles, however.

Before you dismiss the game against the Wildcats, a look at recent history would seem to indicate a potential land mine for Iowa.

Although the Hawkeyes hold a decisive 46-21-3 advantage in the overall series, Northwestern has won three of the last four meetings including two in a row at Kinnick Stadium. Additionally, head coach Pat Fitzgerald sports a 2-1 record head-to-head against Ferentz.

Should the Hawkeyes get past Northwestern, they would enter Ohio Stadium unbeaten and with their highest national ranking in many years. OSU fans can quote chapter and verse on their favorite team’s recent struggles against top-five competition, but the shoe may be on the other foot this time around. Iowa has often been a highflier before facing the Buckeyes only to fall to pieces in spectacular fashion.

The most memorable of those crash-and-burns came in 2006 when the Hawkeyes were undefeated and ranked No. 13 in the country. They hosted OSU in a nationally televised night game but were unceremoniously dumped in a 38-17 trip to the woodshed. That lashing sent Iowa spiraling into a tailspin from which they never recovered. The team lost seven of its last nine games that season.

Of course, the Hawkeyes have never had much success against the Buckeyes. They have only 14 wins and three ties against 44 losses since the teams began playing one another in 1922. Ohio State has padded its advantage by winning 10 of the last 11 games in the series and five out of six against Ferentz. What’s more, Iowa is winless in its last five trips to Columbus and hasn’t beaten the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium since a 16-9 squeaker in 1991.

If Iowa can somehow figure out a way to get over its Ohio State bugaboo, it could be in for smooth sailing to an undefeated regular season. Although the Hawkeyes have a losing record in their all-time series with Minnesota, they have beaten the Gophers seven of the last eight times overall and eight of the last nine times Goldy has visited Iowa City.

Meanwhile, Penn State and Ohio State will decide tomorrow afternoon who stays in the race and who drops out when they face one another in Happy Valley. After that, the Nittany Lions are home against Indiana next Saturday and they finish the season Nov. 21 at Michigan State.

Penn State and Ohio State have split 24 previous games right down the middle, but the Buckeyes have a slight edge in recent contests. Jim Tressel has beaten Joe Paterno in five of their eight meetings, and OSU has won two of its last three trips to Beaver Stadium.

You can probable count on the game being a close one. The winning margin has been seven points or less five times in the last eight games between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.

Should Penn State get past Ohio State, it will likely cruise to an 11-1 finish. The Nittany Lions have never lost to Indiana in 12 previous meetings, and they have taken four of their last five from Michigan State.

On paper, it is the Buckeyes and their backloaded schedule who have the toughest November road to navigate. Ohio State must play two of its final three games on the road, and it will face opponents over the final stretch that have a combined record of 22-5, good for an .815 winning percentage. Iowa’s final three opponents are a combined 17-10 (.660) while Penn State squares off against opposition that is 15-12 (.556).

We’ve already touched on the challenges OSU will face at Penn State and at home against Iowa. If the Buckeyes can run that gantlet, they would head for Ann Arbor with a lot on their minds.

They would be playing for an unprecedented sixth straight victory over the Wolverines and a fifth consecutive Big Ten championship, not to mention the team’s first trip to the Rose Bowl in 13 seasons and a probable date with Pac-10 front-runner Oregon.

Anyone who watched the Ducks systematically dismantle USC on Halloween night needs to be careful of wishing for a bowl matchup with Chip Kelly’s team. But I’m sure Tressel will worry about that when and if the time comes. The challenge now is to gear up for what should be an entertaining trifecta of games with championship implications.

After all, most coaches know September and October games merely position your team for a late-season run. And you should know Tressel has a lifetime 81-22 record in November and December – 57-18 at Youngstown State and 24-4 at Ohio State.

OSU-PENN STATE TIDBITS

** This marks the 24th overall meeting between Ohio State and Penn State. The series is split evenly with each team claiming 12 victories. The Nittany Lions have a 5-4 advantage in games played at Happy Valley, while the Buckeyes enjoy a 10-6 edge in games played since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 5-3 against Penn State. That includes a 2-2 record at State College, including a 37-17 victory in 2007.

** Penn State head coach Joe Paterno is 8-12 all-time against Ohio State. That includes a 5-4 record against the Buckeyes at State College.

** Both coaches are noted for getting their teams to peak at the right times. Tressel is 24-4 in November games at Ohio State (a .857 winning percentage) while Paterno is 112-33-2 (.768) during the month.

** Five of the last eight games in the series have been determined by seven points or less. However, there have been some notable blowouts over the years. Penn State rolled to a 63-14 win at Beaver Stadium in 1994, and Ohio State returned the favor six years later in Ohio Stadium with a 45-6 wipeout. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes in their 12 wins is 15.3 points. When the Nittany Lions win, the average margin is 15.1.

** Several series trends would seem to favor Penn State. The higher ranked team has won 17 of the last 18 meetings and the home team has won 12 of the 16 games played since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten.

** The game pits two of the nine winningest programs in college football since 2005. Ohio State ranks fifth with a 50-10 record over that span while Penn State is ninth at 48-12. Texas is the winningest program since ’05 with a 52-7 record.

** The game will be the first-ever regular season matchup between coaches who have combined for 600-plus career wins. Paterno (391) and Tressel (225) currently total 616 career victories. That breaks the previous record of 591 set last season when Florida State’s Bobby Bowden squared off against Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech. At that time, Bowden had 377 career victories and Beamer had 214.

** The Nittany Lions are ranked first or second in 20 of the 30 statistical categories the Big Ten compiles. They are first in 13 of those categories – pass efficiency and total offense; rushing, pass, total and scoring defense; total sacks and fewest sacks allowed; third-down conversions and third-down defense; fourth-down defense; red-zone defense; and PAT kicking efficiency.

** This week’s game will mark the 300th game in Beaver Stadium’s 50-year history, and the Nittany Lions usually do well in milestone home contests. They won their first game at the facility, a 20-0 victory over Boston University on Sept. 20, 1960, and have followed with wins in the stadium’s 100th, 150th, 200th and 250th games. The only blemish on that slate came in game No. 50 – a 24-7 loss to Syracuse in 1970.

** Speaking of milestone victories, last weekend’s 34-13 win over Northwestern gave Paterno his 144th victory as a member of the Big Ten. That pushed him past former Iowa head coach Hayden Fry and into fourth place on the conference’s all-time wins list. The four winningest coaches in Big Ten history are Woody Hayes of Ohio State (205, 1951-78), Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago (199, 1896-1932), Bo Schembechler of Michigan (194, 1969-89) and Fielding Yost of Michigan (165, 1901-23, ’25-26).

** Penn State is traditionally one of the least penalized teams in the nation and that is true again in 2009. The Nittany Lions are No. 4 nationally this week with only 36.7 penalty yards per game. In its last three games played against the Buckeyes, Penn State has incurred only five penalties for 29 yards. During the same three games, Ohio State was flagged 14 times for 135 yards. During last season’s 13-6 victory in Columbus, the Nittany Lions had no penalties.

** OSU is 128-104-12 all-time against ranked teams, including 39-41-7 on the road. Under Tressel, the Buckeyes are 34-13 overall and 12-6 on the road against ranked competition.

** Midway through his sophomore season, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor is on pace to shatter the school’s all-time record for total offense. Pryor has already eclipsed the 4,000-yard mark and needs only 383 more to pass Rex Kern (4,158, 1968-70) and Cornelius Greene (4,414, 1972-75) and into 11th place on the career list. Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81) is the longtime school record-holder for career total offense.

** The Buckeyes have forced 24 turnovers this season, a total that ties them for second in the Big Ten. OSU forced 29 turnovers all of last year.

** Paterno has two coaches on his staff who have been with him more than 30 years. Offensive line coach Dick Anderson is in his 32nd year with Paterno while defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is in his 31st season with the Nittany Lions.

** One final note on last week’s game against New Mexico State. The Aggies were paid $850,000 to play the Buckeyes – about $13,710 for each of the 62 yards of total offense they gained.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The game will be televised using the reverse mirror meaning viewers will be able to watch the game either on their local ABC station or ESPN2. Veteran play-by-play man Sean McDonough will call the game, former Penn State All-America defensive tackle Matt Millen will provide color analysis and Holly Rowe will be the sideline reporter.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 123 and 127 as well as XM radio channel 144.

** Next week’s Senior Day game against Iowa will kick off from Ohio Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. That game will also be televised using the ABC/ESPN reverse mirror effect.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** The game of football traces its roots to an event held 140 years ago today. 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, and throwing or carrying the ball was not allowed.

Purists believe the first real game of college football occurred in 1874 between Harvard and McGill University of Montreal. Others contend college football began in 1880 when Yale head coach Walter Camp devised a number of major changes in the game, including establishing rules for scrimmage as well as down and distance.

Nevertheless, it is the game that occurred 140 years ago today in New Jersey that has become accepted as the first step in the evolution of American college football.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 3, 1984, Ohio State rolled to a 50-7 victory over Indiana, giving future College Football Hall of Fame coach Earle Bruce his 100th career win; 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; on Nov. 5, 1960, third-ranked Minnesota forced three turnovers and scored a 27-10 upset of top-ranked Iowa; 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; and 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.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The seven undefeated teams at the Division I-A level are hanging in there. Congratulations so far to Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Texas and TCU. Perhaps if we finish the season with five or six undefeated teams, a playoff system will come that much faster.

** Maybe this is the decade I lived in Texas talking, but wouldn’t Texas vs. TCU be an intriguing matchup for the national championship? The Longhorns lead the country in scoring and are third in total defense; the Horned Frogs are 11th in scoring and first in total defense.

** Think Iowa is a second-half team? After being outscored by a combined 88-83 in the first half, the Hawkeyes have swamped opponents after intermission to the tune of 148-54. In the fourth quarter alone, Iowa has outscored the opposition by a 100-38 margin.

** If Iowa can win out, it will capture its first Big Ten championship since tying for the 2004 crown. It would also be the Hawkeyes’ first outright title since 1985.

** Just when things were turning around at Michigan, the Wolverines hit a brick wall. The defense surrendered 377 rushing yards to Illinois last weekend – the same Illinois team that hadn’t beaten a Division I-A team all season – during a 38-13 loss. Coupled with last year’s 45-20 loss in Ann Arbor, Michigan has now lost to Illinois in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1957 and ’58. This year’s defeat also means the Wolverines must win out to avoid the program’s first consecutive losing Big Ten seasons since 1962 and ’63.

** Congratulations to my father-in-law’s alma mater. After beginning the season with eight straight losses, Miami (Ohio) finally got into the victory column last week with a 31-24 win over Toledo at Yager Stadium. Quarterback Zac Dysert ran for two touchdowns and threw for another as the RedHawks snapped an overall 13-game losing streak and avoided their first winless season since 1988.

** The win by Miami left the Division I-A winless list at four: Rice, Eastern Michigan, Western Kentucky and New Mexico. Pity the Lobos. They still have to play Mountain West Conference rivals Utah, BYU and TCU.

** In case you haven’t noticed, there is a definite Yellow Jacket buzz in the ACC. Georgia Tech has quietly moved into the national rankings with an 8-1 record that includes last week’s 56-31 dismantling of SEC member Vanderbilt in Nashville. Tech rolled up 597 yards of offense on Vandy, including 404 on the ground, proving once again that head coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack can be successful at the BCS level.

** A tough season for Syracuse got tougher Monday when leading receiver Mike Williams decided to leave the team. Williams, who had 49 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns in seven games this season, was ranked sixth in the nation in receiving yards per game. Unfortunately, he has had myriad off-the-field problems. He didn’t play last season because of academic problems, and Williams was suspended for the Oct. 24 game against Akron for violating team policy. Williams finishes his career with 20 touchdown catches, tying him with Marvin Harrison (1992-95) for the second-most in Syracuse history. Rob Moore (1987-89) is the Orange career leader in touchdown receptions with 22.

** Speaking of Moore, he later became an NFL receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, and played a vital – if unaccredited – role in the 1996 film “Jerry Maguire” starting Tom Cruise. Cuba Gooding Jr. won a best supporting actor Academy Award for playing Arizona receiver Rod “Show Me The Money!” Tidwell in that movie. Both Moore and the fictional Tidwell wore No. 85 for the Cardinals, and it is actual game footage of Moore that you see in the film.

** My weekly top five for the Heisman Trophy didn’t change for the first time in a while. I still have Texas QB Colt McCoy in the top spot followed by Boise State QB Kellen Moore, Alabama RB Mark Ingram, Florida QB Tim Tebow and Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen. This week’s dark horse: Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli.

** What has happened to the mighty SEC? Only three teams remain in the national rankings – Florida at No. 1, Alabama at No. 3 and LSU at No. 9. There is no doubt that the SEC features a couple of the best teams in the country, but let’s dispense with the notion it is the best conference from top to bottom. Just like most every other league, the teams in the middle of the SEC standings are merely average and the bottom-feeders are bottom-feeders.

FEARLESS FORECAST

For the second week in a row, we were nearly perfect with the straight-up picks, including the Upset Special of Oregon over USC. We were 9-1 with last week’s picks, pushing the yearly total to 65-18.

Against the spread, we were not as fortunate. It was another losing week at 4-5-1, dropping the season line to 32-38-1.

Here are the games we like this week. (All rankings are BCS standings.)

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 7 Boise State at Louisiana Tech: Here’s a fun fact regarding the Broncos. In their last two games, they forced eight turnovers while helped them beat Hawaii and San Jose State by a combined score of 99-16. In their previous two games, Boise produced no turnovers and defeated UC-Davis and Tulsa by a combined score of 62-37. Obviously, creating turnovers makes a big difference for any team, and the Broncos may need a couple tonight. The Bulldogs are only 3-5 but they have a pretty good offense with QB Ross Jenkins (1,467 yards, 11 TDs) and RB Daniel Porter (640 yards, 7 TDs). Unfortunately, their defense is not quite up to the task of corralling the Broncos … Boise State 37, Louisiana Tech 24. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Northwestern at No. 4 Iowa: As mentioned above, the Hawkeyes have had their problems recently with the Wildcats. However, it may have been last year’s 22-17 home loss to Northwestern that served as a springboard for this year’s Iowa team. In that game, QB Ricky Stanzi drove his team to the NU 8-yard line for a potential go-ahead score but then threw four straight incompletions. Stanzi and the Hawkeyes obviously took away something valuable from that lesson because they’ve learned how to win those close games – Iowa has trailed in eight of its nine victories this season. Meanwhile, Northwestern is hoping QB Mike Kafka recovers quickly from the hamstring problem that forced him out of last week’s loss to Penn State. Kafka’s presence would help the Wildcats’ cause, but we’re not sure they have enough defense to keep Stanzi and the Hawkeyes in check … Iowa 26, Northwestern 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Western Michigan at Michigan State: The Spartans are the anti-Iowa this season. While the Hawkeyes find a way to win, Mark Dantonio’s team has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory countless times. Of course, Sparty apologists will point to the team’s five losses and say they are a mere 23 points from being undefeated. The bottom line? They have five losses and Dantonio needs to get his late-game management under control if he wants to avoid his first losing season in East Lansing. Job one is to take care of the Broncos and history is certainly on Michigan State’s side. The Spartans are 8-2 all-time against Western, and haven’t lost in the series to WMU since 1919 … Michigan State 26, Western Michigan 14. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 21 Wisconsin at Indiana: The Badgers dropped off everyone’s radar screen – and rightfully so – after back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Iowa, but they have a very good chance to win out and record a 10-win season. Their final four opponents are a combined 16-19, and they begin this week with the Hoosiers. IU is reeling with five losses in their last six games, and the Hoosiers surrendered second-half leads in three of those contests. Defensively, Indiana is giving up more than 400 yards per game and that won’t be helped any by the loss of senior cornerback Ray Fisher to a season-ending knee injury. The Badgers have won four straight and 10 of the last 12 in the series by simply pounding away with their running attack and we don’t see any reason why that formula shouldn’t work again this year … Wisconsin 34, Indiana 14. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Syracuse at No. 13 Pittsburgh: While everyone has conceded the Big East championship to Cincinnati, the Panthers are purring along with an offense featuring the nation’s third-rated passer and fourth-leading rusher. QB Bill Stull has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 1,654 yards and 16 TDs against only two picks, while RB Dion Lewis has quietly rushed for 1,029 yards and 11 TDs. But for once, Dave Wannstedt’s team isn’t all offense. Pitt also leads the nation in sacks and ranks among the nation’s top 25 in rushing, total and scoring defense. That is not exactly the recipe for a Syracuse upset, especially since the Orange rank 106th nationally in total offense. Making matters worse – leading receiver Mike Williams left the team and first-year head coach Doug Marrone suspended three other players this week … Pittsburgh 38, Syracuse 14. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)

No. 8 Oregon at Stanford: The Ducks couldn’t have looked much better while skewering USC last Saturday night. This week, they need to avoid a letdown on their way to their first Rose Bowl since a 38-20 loss to Penn State in the 1995 game. The Cardinal is no pushover, especially in Palo Alto. Jim Harbaugh’s team is a perfect 4-0 at home this season and has won nine of its last 10 at Stanford Stadium. QB Andrew Luck is an underrated talent with 1,825 yards and nine TDs while Cardinal RB Toby Gerhart has 994 yards and 13 TDs. With Stanford trying to protect its home turf and playing to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2001, this has all the makings of a trap game for Oregon. After watching the Ducks last week, though, it would be difficult to pick against them … Oregon 34, Stanford 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, FSN)

Wake Forest at No. 10 Georgia Tech: Some fans are never satisfied. The Yellow Jackets are leading the ACC Coastal Division and angling for their first-ever BCS bowl and their fans are criticizing their defense. True, Paul Johnson’s team ranks no higher than seventh in the conference in any of the major defensive categories. But when you have a juggernaut of an offense, you can simply bludgeon most of your opponents into submission. Because of the nation’s No. 2 running attack, Tech is averaging more than 35 points and 440 yards per game. That should be more than enough to get past the Demon Deacons, who are ninth in the ACC against the run and 10th in total defense … Georgia Tech 41, Wake Forest 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

No. 9 LSU at No. 3 Alabama: Chicks may dig the long ball but football purists still embrace a good, old-fashioned defensive struggle and this game should be one of those kinds of brawls. The Crimson Tide have the No. 5 scoring defense in the nation while the Tigers are No. 7. You could make the case that the Bama offense hasn’t played well for a month, averaging a mere 18.0 points over its last three games. During that same stretch, however, the defense has given up an average of only 6.3. Meanwhile, LSU has scored 30 or more five times this season and has averaged 36.5 over its past two games. Still, the Tigers struggled mightily in their only loss, a 13-3 defeat against Florida. Coupled with the Tide playing at home and coming off an open week, the edge would seem to tilt slightly Bama’s way … Alabama 10, LSU 6. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 6 TCU at San Diego State: The Horned Frogs’ task is pretty simple: win all of your games and maybe you’ll get a BCS bid. Seemingly no one outside Fort Worth believes TCU belongs in the big-money bowls, but the Frogs are doing their part. They moved up to No. 6 in the AP poll this week, their highest ranking since 1956, but that No. 6 spot in the BCS standings is more important. This week, TCU travels to sunny San Diego where the Aztecs are experiencing something of a renaissance. Under first-year head coach Brady Hoke, they are 4-4 and hopeful of a first winning record since 1998. (To be fair, they did finish 6-6 in 2003.) Unfortunately for Hoke and the Aztecs, they are winless in four games against the Frogs since TCU joined the Mountain West. That streak likely goes to five … TCU 45, San Diego State 3. (4 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 12 USC at Arizona State: It’s not very often a Pete Carroll-coached team has to pick up the pieces after a devastating loss. Then again, no one has beaten a Carroll team like Oregon did last week. That 47-20 loss to the Ducks was the most lopsided loss for a USC team in 12 years, and the 613 yards allowed by the Trojans was the second-most in program history. It’s a good time to get out of town, and the perfect destination is Tempe. The Trojans haven’t lost back-to-back games since 2001 – Carroll’s first season in Tinseltown – and USC is working on an eight-game winning streak in its series with the Sun Devils. What’s more is the fact that Arizona State has lost its last 13 games at home against top-15 competition. Sounds a lot like a bounce-back opportunity for the Trojans, doesn’t it? … USC 34, Arizona State 21. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

Connecticut at No. 5 Cincinnati: While backup quarterback Zach Collaros has gotten most of the recent attention, the Bearcats’ defense has gone largely unnoticed. It shouldn’t because UC’s last two opponents have combined for only 17 points and neither Louisville nor Syracuse totaled 300 yards. Collaros will likely be under center again Saturday night as regular starter Tony Pike continues to struggle following forearm surgery a couple of weeks ago. The Huskies are still reeling from the Oct. 18 stabbing death of cornerback Jasper Howard, and last week lost starting quarterback Cody Endress with a season-ending shoulder injury. That doesn’t bode well for UConn, which has lost by double digits in all three of its previous visits to Nippert Stadium, where the Bearcats have won 10 in a row and 20 of their last 22 … Cincinnati 38, Connecticut 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

No. 16 Ohio State at No. 11 Penn State: Many observers believe this game should look a lot like the one last year when one mistake – Terrelle Pryor’s fumble – meant the difference in the Nittany Lions’ 13-6 victory in Columbus. A couple of things to remember, though: Penn State’s defense is not quite as good as it was last year, and Ohio State’s defense is better than it was a year ago. Add that to the fact Pryor returns to his home state and wants to win this game more than any other on the schedule, and you get a victory for the Buckeyes that isn’t as close as some think it’s going to be. Here is your Upset Special … Ohio State 20, Penn State 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State at Louisiana Tech (+21½); Northwestern (+16½) at Iowa; Western Michigan (+20½) at Michigan State; Wisconsin (-10) at Indiana; Syracuse at Pittsburgh (-21); Oregon (-6) at Stanford; Wake Forest at Georgia Tech (-15); LSU (+8) at Alabama; TCU (-24) at San Diego State; USC (-10) at Arizona State; Connecticut at Cincinnati (-16); Ohio State (+4) at Penn State.

In the interest of full disclosure, we are flying in the face of recent history with the Upset Special. In its past five trips to Happy Valley, Ohio State is 1-4 ATS. Enjoy the games.

OSU Observing Myriad Of Major Milestones

Since Ohio State is a 44-point favorite to beat New Mexico State, and the howling wolves figure to stay away from Terrelle Pryor’s doorstep for at least another week, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the many milestone anniversaries the OSU football program is celebrating this year.

There is no doubt the Buckeyes have a long and storied history and nearly every year marks a significant historical milestone. However, seasons ending in “4” and “9” seem particularly special.

Here are 10 landmark moments for this season.

First Undefeated Team – This year marks the 110th anniversary of the first undefeated team in Ohio State history. John Eckstorm took over as head coach in 1899 and guided the Buckeyes to a 9-0-1 season. All nine victories were shutouts, and the only blemish was a 5-5 tie at Case. Ohio State outscored its 10 opponents by a 184-5 margin.

First Win Over Michigan Ninety years ago this year, the Buckeyes finally broke through against “That School Up North.” OSU scored a touchdown on a blocked punt and the legendary Chic Harley added a 42-yard touchdown run for a 13-3 victory in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes entered the game with a 0-13-2 record in the series, having been outscored 369-21 by the Wolverines.

Gold Pants Club – When he was hired prior to the 1934 season, one of new head coach Francis A. Schmidt’s task was to figure out a way to beat archrival Michigan. The Wolverines had won three of the four previous meetings, but when Schmidt was asked about the rivalry, he replied, “They put their pants on one leg at a time – same as us.” The following November, the Buckeyes rolled to a 34-0 win over Michigan and at the awards banquet, Schmidt gave each team member a gold pants charm symbolic of the victory. It was the beginning of a tradition that celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

First Heisman – Sixty-five years ago, Les Horvath was actually an ex-Buckeye when he was coaxed away from dental school into returning to football. He gave the team a dose of much-needed leadership and helped OSU to a 9-0 season and the 1944 national civilian championship. The Buckeyes finished second nationally to Army in the AP voting. Horvath rushed for 905 yards (ranking second in the nation in rushing) and threw for 345 more, bringing home Ohio State’s first Heisman Trophy.

First Rose Bowl Victory – Ohio State celebrates the 60th anniversary of its 1949 season which ended in the school’s first-ever Rose Bowl win. On Jan. 1, 1950, the Buckeyes erased a 7-0 halftime deficit and took a 17-14 win over third-ranked California. Jimmy Hague kicked a 27-year field goal with less than two minutes remaining for the game-winning points.

Woody’s First Title – This marks the 55th anniversary of the 1954 national championship team, the first of three (some say five) under legendary head coach Woody Hayes. The Buckeyes rolled to 10 straight victories topped off with a 20-7 win over USC in the Rose Bowl, and featured a star-studded roster that included such all-time greats as Jim Parker and Howard “Hopalong” Cassady.

Archie’s First Heisman – It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it has been 35 years since Archie Griffin took the college football world by storm. He broke his own OSU single-season rushing record with 1,695 yards and won the first of his two Heismans in a landslide over Southern Cal running back Anthony Davis. The Buckeyes had a powerful team in 1974, outscoring opponents by a 437-129 margin and finishing 10-2, the only losses a 16-13 final at Michigan State and an 18-17 heartbreaker to USC in the Rose Bowl.

Earle’s First Team – This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Rose Bowl team, a squad that came within an eyelash of winning the national championship. Earle Bruce took over for Hayes as head coach and the Buckeyes rolled to 11 straight regular-season victories. They ascended to the No. 1 position in the national polls before dropping a 17-16 decision to USC in the Rose Bowl.

Talent-Laden Buckeyes – It is the 25th anniversary of the 1984 Rose Bowl team featuring one of Bruce’s most talented rosters. A host of future NFL stars wore scarlet and gray that season including tailback Keith Byars, who smashed Griffin’s single-season rushing record and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Pepper Johnson led the team in tackles and freshmen Chris Spielman and Cris Carter made immediate impacts. Although the team finished with a 9-3 record, the three losses were by a combined total of only 10 points. That included a tough 20-17 loss to USC in the Rose Bowl, a game in which the Buckeyes outgained the Trojans, 403-261. Despite the loss, Carter set new Rose Bowl records with nine receptions for 172 yards.

First Tunnel Of Pride – Fifteen years ago, hundreds of former Buckeyes lined up on a cold November afternoon to form a tunnel through which the 1994 team passed before its rivalry game against Michigan. That first Tunnel of Pride helped Ohio State end its six-year winless streak in the series and the 22-6 final score gave head coach John Cooper his first victory over the Wolverines.

OSU-NEW MEXICO STATE TIDBITS

** This marks the first-ever meeting between Ohio State and Western Athletic Conference member New Mexico State.

** The Buckeyes have previously played two WAC opponents – Fresno State (twice) and San Jose State. Against Fresno State, OSU took a 34-10 victory in the 1994 season opener at the Disneyland Pigskin Classic and a 43-10 win at Ohio Stadium in the first game of the 2000 season. The Buckeyes scored a 50-7 win over San Jose State in 2002.

** New Mexico State has previous played two Big Ten opponents and didn’t have much success either time. The Aggies dropped a 69-13 decision at Wisconsin in 1962 and a 59-21 contest at Iowa in 1995.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 24-2 at Ohio Stadium against nonconference teams. The two losses have come by a combined six points – 25-22 to second-ranked Texas in 2005 and 18-15 to third-rated USC earlier this season.

** New Mexico State head coach DeWayne Walker is in his first season with the Aggies. The 49-year-old is getting his first chance to run a program after 20 years as a college and NFL assistant. Although his team hasn’t played a team from the Big Ten in more than a decade, Walker knows a little bit about the conference. He was a two-year starting cornerback at Minnesota in 1981-82.

** During his tenure at Ohio State, Tressel is 13-1 against first-year opposing coaches. The lone blemish on that record came just two weeks ago with a 26-18 loss to Purdue under first-year head coach Danny Hope.

** The Buckeyes are 359-126-28 all-time in October including 246-63-20 at home. OSU is 27-9 during October under Tressel.

** It might interest you to know that Ohio State is averaging 30.0 points per game in its five Big Ten contests this season. That ranks No. 1 in the conference in scoring offense.

** The Buckeyes are a perfect 52-0 when scoring 30 points or more since Tressel took over in 2001.

** CBSSports.com ranks all 120 Division I-A teams and New Mexico State comes in at No. 109 this week. The Aggies are the lowest-ranked team with at least three wins mostly because of a weak schedule, which ranks 119th in the nation. NMSU’s victories this season have come against No. 104 Utah State, No. 116 New Mexico and Division I-AA Prairie View A&M.

** After rushing for 104 yards against Minnesota last week, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor logged his third career 100-yard rushing game. That is one off the school record for quarterbacks. Only Cornelius Greene (1972-75), Rex Kern (1968-70) and John Mummey (1960-62) had four career 100-yard games for the Buckeyes.

** Pryor ranks No. 4 this week in the Big Ten in total offense and has moved up to No. 5 in pass efficiency. (Psssst: That’s five spots higher than Michigan QB Tate Forcier.) Pryor is also the conference’s fifth-leading rusher with 471 yards.

** Ohio State has allowed only seven opposing players to rush for 100 or more yards in a game since 2005. That is the lowest total in Division I-A over that span. Kansas, Boston College and Alabama have each allowed eight opponents to crack the century mark since 2005.

** The 1974 Big Ten champion Buckeyes are holding their 35th anniversary reunion this weekend. That team finished with a 10-2 record and boasted seven first-team All-Americans including Archie Griffin, who won his first Heisman Trophy that year.

** Scheduled to be honored during pregame festivities tomorrow are veteran equipment truck driver Ken Blair and longtime Ohio Stadium clock operator Fred Beekman. Blair began providing a commercial vehicle and driving OSU football equipment to away games in 1982. Beekman retired last year after 60 years as a member of the stadium clock crew. He served 47 years as director of recreational sports at Ohio State, and if his name sounds familiar it is probably because you have driven past Fred Beekman Park on your way to Ohio Stadium. It is the 43-acre park at the corner of Kenny Road and Lane Avenue.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 12 noon Eastern as the Buckeyes make their final appearance of the year on the Big Ten Network. Matt Rosen will handle play-by-play duties with former Minnesota head coach (and former OSU assistant) Glen Mason providing color analysis. Former Iowa defensive lineman Anthony Herron will file reports from the sidelines.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channel 122.

** Next week’s game at Penn State will kick off at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The game will be televised using the reverse mirror effect meaning some will get it on their local ABC station while others will be able to view it on ESPN2.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Ten years ago today, Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo was a one-man wrecking crew against Stanford. On Oct. 30, 1999, Tuiasosopo became the first player in NCAA history to throw for at least 300 yards and rush for 200 or more in the same game. He threw for 302 yards and added 207 on the ground in a 35-30 victory over the Cardinal.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 26, 1985, unranked UTEP used an unusual 2-9 defensive alignment for a 23-16 upset of seventh-ranked BYU, ending the Cougars’ 25-game WAC winning streak; on Oct. 27, 1979, Pitt freshman quarterback Dan Marino came off the bench to throw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, leading the No. 12 Panthers to a 24-7 victory over No. 17 Navy; on Oct. 28, 1950, Nevada’s Pat Brady booted an NCAA-record 99-yard punt during a 34-7 loss to Loyola Marymount; on Oct. 29, 1988, Washington State scored 28 second-half points during a 34-30 upset win over top-ranked UCLA and its All-America quarterback Troy Aikman; and on Nov. 1, 1986, Long Beach State’s Mark Templeton set an NCAA single-game record for receptions by a running back with 18 catches for 173 yards during his team’s 14-3 win over Utah State.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level remained at seven this week. Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Texas and TCU continue with unblemished records as the 2009 season hits the three-quarter pole.

** Here are the toughest remaining regular-season tests for the aforementioned seven teams:

** Alabama at home Nov. 7 with No. 9 LSU (6-1).

** Boise State at home Nov. 14 with Idaho (6-2).

** Cincinnati at home Nov. 13 with No. 21 West Virginia (6-1); at No. 15 Pittsburgh (7-1) on Dec. 5.

** Florida at No. No. 22 South Carolina (6-2) on Nov. 14.

** Iowa at No. 17 Ohio State (6-2) on Nov. 14.

** Texas at No. 14 Oklahoma State (6-1) on Oct. 31.

** TCU at home Nov. 14 with No. 16 Utah (6-1).

** On the other end of the spectrum, there are five remaining winless teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. In reverse alphabetical order, they are Western Kentucky, Rice, New Mexico, Miami (Ohio) and Eastern Michigan. That fantastic fivesome is a combined 0-30 this season and has been outscored by a 1,429-539 margin. That’s an average losing margin of about 30 points per game. Since Miami and EMU are Mid-American Conference rivals, one of these teams can avoid a winless season, right? Wrong. The RedHawks and Eagles are in different divisions in the MAC and don’t play one another this season.

** With all due respect to our friends at Iowa and Cincinnati, you can forget the national championship game if Florida, Alabama and Texas continue to win. Yes, I know the Gators and Crimson Tide would face one another in the SEC championship game, but I believe the powers-that-be would rig the system in order to send a one-loss SEC champion or a one-loss USC to face an undefeated Texas in the title game long before they would send an unbeaten team from either the Big Ten or Big East.

** Iowa established a new school record with its 15-13 victory over Michigan State. The Hawkeyes are now 8-0 to start a season for the first time in program history. Their No. 4 ranking in the BCS standings also represent a new program high. Iowa had been ranked as high as fifth in the final three BCS standings of the 2002 season.

** Starting the season with an 8-0 mark may be unusual in Iowa City, but it isn’t that rare in the Big Ten. This marks the fourth straight season, and fifth in the last six, that a conference team has posted at least an 8-0 start. Wisconsin started the 2004 season with a 9-0 record while Ohio State and Michigan were 11-0 heading into their traditional regular-season finale in 2006. The Buckeyes started with 10 straight victories in 2007 and Penn State was 9-0 last season.

** With its victory last weekend at Michigan State, Iowa became the first Big Ten team in 12 years to notch victories at Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State in the same season. The 1997 Michigan national championship team was the last to pull off that trifecta. If the Hawkeyes can complete the superfecta with a win at Ohio State on Nov. 14, they would become the first opposing team in history to achieve victories at Happy Valley, Madison, East Lansing and Columbus in the same season.

** Northwestern is one victory away from achieving bowl eligibility. After last year’s trip to the Insight Bowl, the Wildcats are seeking back-to-back postseason trips for only the second time in program history.

** Last weekend’s 35-10 win over Michigan gave Penn State head coach Joe Paterno his 143rd victory as a member of the Big Ten. That ties him with former Iowa head coach Hayden Fry for fifth place on the conference’s all-time wins list. The top four winningest coaches in Big Ten history are Woody Hayes of Ohio State (205, 1951-78), Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago (199, 1896-1932), Bo Schembechler of Michigan (194, 1969-89) and Fielding Yost of Michigan (165, 1901-23, ’25-26).

** It hasn’t been the best week to be an ESPN analyst. First, the Steve Phillips sex scandal and then Bob Griese’s idiotic utterance during Saturday’s Ohio State-Minnesota telecast. In case you have been on safari and missed it, ESPN was cross-promoting its NASCAR coverage during the football game and showed a graphic of the top five drivers in the points standings. Analyst Chris Spielman noted that Colombian-born driver Juan Pablo Montoya was not on the list and wondered aloud, “Where is Montoya?” Griese replied, “Out having a taco.” Griese later apologized twice on air but has been suspended for a week. Montoya had the perfect response to the brouhaha. When asked about Griese’s comments, the driver replied, “I don’t even know who he is … And I don’t really care.”

** Here is my weekly top five for the Heisman Trophy: 1. Texas QB Colt McCoy; 2. Boise State QB Kellen Moore; 3. Alabama RB Mark Ingram; 4. Florida QB Tim Tebow; 5. Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen. Dark horse: TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes.

** Congratulations to Temple. The Owls have come out of nowhere to lead the MAC East standings thanks to a five-game win streak, their longest in 30 years. Temple is now 5-2 and looking for its first winning season since 1990 when it went 7-4. Between that season and the beginning of their current winning streak, the Owls were 40-165, a .195 winning percentage.

** The streak is finally over in Terre Haute. Thanks to 160 yards on the ground and two touchdowns from quarterback Ryan Roberts, Division I-AA Indiana State snapped the nation’s longest losing streak at 33 with a 17-14 win last Saturday over Western Illinois. Only Prairie View A&M (80 games), Columbia (44) and Northwestern (34) have ever lost more games in a row than the Sycamores, who hadn’t won since a 28-22 win over Missouri State on Oct. 21, 2006.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The crystal ball was nearly crystal clear last week. Beginning with picking a 10-point win for Purdue over Illinois (the final score was 24-14 in favor of the Boilermakers), the straight-up picks finished at 8-2. The only misses were the Upset Specials, and both Michigan State and Mississippi State hung tough before finally succumbing to Iowa and Florida. The yearly total straight up is now 56-17.

Things were just as rosy against the spread. After a couple of weeks of stomping the grapes, we were definitely sipping the wine with an 8-2 finish. Our heads are still below the water line at 28-33-1 for the season but at least the bleeding has stopped – for a week anyway.

Here are the games we like this week. (All rankings are now courtesy of the BCS standings.)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Indiana at No. 4 Iowa: The Hawkeyes have overcome adversity all season, playing through some key injuries and winning several games in come-from-behind fashion to remain unbeaten. Roster attrition continues to be Iowa’s worst enemy. During last week’s knock-down, drag-out affair with Michigan State, the Hawkeyes lost freshman tailback Adam Robinson and senior offensive lineman Dace Richardson for the rest of the regular season. Those losses may not affect the Hawkeyes this week as they host the Hoosiers, although they had better be careful. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is only 4-4 against Indiana, and that includes a 38-20 loss to the Hoosiers the last time they visited Kinnick Stadium … Iowa 24, Indiana 13. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Purdue at Wisconsin: The Boilermakers are still riding the crest of their upset of Ohio State two weeks ago while the Badgers have been on a different tack since their game against the Buckeyes. A 31-13 loss to OSU on Oct. 10 was followed by a 20-10 loss to Iowa, so Wisconsin went into last Saturday’s off week contemplating a two-game losing streak. The Badgers traditionally get well against Purdue, however. UW has won three in a row in the overall series and five of the last seven. If the Boilermakers continue to play well on defense, this game will be a lot closer than many believe. The key should be Wisconsin running back John Clay, the Big Ten’s leading rusher, because teams that have committed to running the ball against the Boilers have done well … Wisconsin 26, Purdue 23. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

No. 8 Cincinnati at Syracuse: The Bearcats continue to take advantage of a soft schedule as they await the return of quarterback Tony Pike. Against the Orange, backup Zach Collaros should be more than enough since Syracuse has lost 27 of its last 30 Big East games including a pair at home this season to South Florida and West Virginia. In each of those conference losses in the Carrier Dome, the Orange surrendered 34 points. How do you think that will square with the fact UC possesses the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense with an average of 40.7 points per game? Not well … Cincinnati 41, Syracuse 10. (12 noon ET, ESPNU)

Georgia vs. No. 1 Florida: The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party returns to Jacksonville where Tim Tebow believes he needs to make a statement. The Florida quarterback criticized his own offense this past week, knowing that it needs to raise its level of play if the Gators are going to be able to play for that third national title in the last four years. As for Tebow, he returns to his hometown needing one more rushing touchdown to break the all-time SEC record held by Bulldogs legend Herschel Walker. Georgia would love revenge for the Gators running up last year’s 49-10 score, but it’s doubtful the Bulldogs can pull off the upset. They rank 84th nationally in scoring defense and 90th in total offense, and have lost 16 of the last 19 in the series … Florida 30, Georgia 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Michigan at Illinois: I’m not sure whether Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther’s vote of confidence for Ron Zook was a good or bad thing. The Illini have been mailing it in for several weeks now and perhaps their only chance of showing some life was to play for their embattled head coach’s livelihood. Now that Zook is presumably safe, we assume the Illini players will continue to simply go through the motions. Meanwhile, the Wolverines remain in search of a defense. In conference games only, they are last in the Big Ten in scoring defense. Fortunately for Michigan, the Illini are ninth in that category. Neither team has beaten a I-A opponent since September, neither plays much defense, and it’s sort of mystifying why ABC chose this game for one of his regional broadcasts. Nevertheless, someone’s got win, so we’ll take the team currently playing better offense … Michigan 31, Illinois 26. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

UNLV at No. 6 TCU: If you like defense, the Horned Frogs are definitely for you. They rank in the top eight nationally in sacks as well as rushing, total and scoring defense, and they are No. 10 against the pass. Not that TCU is any slouch on the offensive side of the ball – 22nd in total offense and 14th in scoring. Contrast that to the Runnin’ Rebels, who are 94th in the country running the ball and 107th stopping the run. The Frogs have won all three games in this series played in Fort Worth by a combined score of 127-47. Enough said … TCU 42, UNLV 10. (4 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 12 Penn State at Northwestern: After their mistake-riddled loss to Iowa a month ago, the Nittany Lions were pretty much relegated to the scrap heap. They have rallied with four straight victories, outscoring their victims by a 142-30 margin in the process. Defense has gotten most of the attention in Happy Valley, but the resurgence of quarterback Daryll Clark has been a major reason why JoePa’s team hasn’t been challenged in a month. Clark is back atop the Big Ten in pass efficiency and he has thrown for a conference-leading 17 TDs. Meanwhile, Northwestern QB Mike Kafka leads the Big Ten with 2,067 passing yards, and he is the conference leader in total offense. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Kafka throws the ball to the other team too often – seven TDs vs. nine INTs – and that is a recipe for disaster against a Paterno defense … Penn State 31, Northwestern 17. (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Washington State at No. 23 Notre Dame: Despite the fact they have yet to beat a ranked team, the Fighting Irish continue their quest for a BCS berth by fattening up on another cupcake. Notre Dame has won five games against opponents with a combined record of 19-20, and with victories in their final five contests, the Irish would qualify for a BCS bid. First up are the 1-6 Cougars, who rank 116th nationally in rushing and have exactly 1 net yard on the ground in their last two games. Compounding Wazuu’s problems – the Irish are 14-0 all-time on Halloween. Look for Jimmy Clausen to pad his already impressive stats and the Irish to finally win one comfortably … Notre Dame 41, Washington State 10.(7:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

No. 5 USC at No. 10 Oregon: With all due respect to Arizona, this game is probably for the Pac-10 championship and the conference’s automatic berth in the Rose Bowl. Despite their loss at Washington, the Trojans remain media darlings and retain their outside shot at the BCS title game. But they have been spotty on defense lately, especially during last week’s 42-36 win over Oregon State. After displaying one of the nation’s stingiest defenses early in the season, USC has surrendered 62 points and 849 total yards in its last two games. That should be music to the Ducks’ ears. They welcome back starting QB Jeremiah Masoli, who brings another dimension to the offense when he is healthy. The team has averaged 45.7 points and 484.7 yards in the last three games Masoli has played. We missed with our Upset Specials last week but came close. We’ll try again here … Oregon 24, USC 20. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

New Mexico State at No. 17 Ohio State: Since there is a threat of rain in Columbus, look for the Ohio State offense to keep the ball on the ground – a lot – and let the defense dictate tempo. The Aztecs are dead last in Division I-A football in total offense and next-to-last in scoring, so it’s pretty much up to Jim Tressel to name his own score. Beware of that bloated point spread, however. In Tressel’s previous 110 games with the Buckeyes, his team has won by 40 or more points only eight times … Ohio State 48, New Mexico State 7. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Indiana (+18) at Iowa; Purdue (+7½) at Wisconsin; Cincinnati (-14½) at Syracuse; Georgia vs. Florida (-14½); Michigan at Illinois (+7½); UNLV (+35) at TCU; Penn State at Northwestern (+15½); Washington State at Notre Dame (-27); USC at Oregon (+3); New Mexico State (+44) at Ohio State.

You are going to want to know that Ohio State is 2-5 ATS in its past seven games at home as a double-digit favorite. Enjoy the games.

To Redshirt Or Not To Redshirt

There was a spirited debate this week among Ohio State football fans regarding whether or not to take the redshirt off freshman tailback Jaamal Berry in week six of the regular season.

In case you have forgotten, Berry is a 5-11, 195-pound slasher/dasher out of Palmetto High School in Miami who has heretofore been unable to showcase his skills as a Buckeye because of a nagging hamstring injury. The injury had subsided, Berry had reportedly been lighting things up in practice, and head coach Jim Tressel indicated on Tuesday he would be inclined to use the freshman running back tomorrow against Wisconsin.

That was until yesterday when reports that Berry’s hamstring problem had flared up again. He likely will not be ready for action against the Badgers and his status moving forward remains firmly up in the air.

Nevertheless, the argument for and against taking the redshirt off Berry at the midway point of the regular season was one worth having. Before the hamstring injury recurred, opinions were running about 9-to-1 in favor of letting the freshman play. Among the many arguments for getting Berry on the field was the perhaps most salient one – if the young tailback is another piece in a championship puzzle, he needs to play. No one knows what the future may hold, so you win as many games every season as you possibly can. If playing Berry is a means to that end, play him. “Fire all of the bullets in your arsenal” was the way one poster put it.

Originally, I was in the minority. I have always felt that if a freshman didn’t play by week three of the regular season, he probably should be redshirted. In other words, if he wasn’t good enough to crack the rotation by the time one-quarter of the season was in the books, he probably wasn’t going to be able to contribute enough down the stretch to warrant the cost of a full season of his eligibility.

Berry is a unique case, of course. First and foremost, the hamstring injury is evidently the sole reason why he hasn’t been playing. From all indications, he would have been in the lineup long ago had he been at or near 100 percent. Secondly, if Berry is as good as his advance billing, saving an additional year of his eligibility could be moot. Whether he plays this season or not, NCAA rules would permit him to leave school early for the NFL following the 2011 season. If he does turn out to be as good as advertised, he may want to explore that option and the Buckeyes would do well to maximize his college playing time as much as possible.

Then, of course, there is the position Berry plays. Ohio State has gotten a mixed bag from its tailback spot this season. Dan “Boom” Herron started the first four games of the season and leads the team in touchdowns scored. But he sustained a sprained ankle against Illinois and didn’t play at all last week. The injury only underscores the whispers about Herron that perhaps his 5-10, 193-pound frame is not big enough to withstand an entire Big Ten season as the leading ball-carrier.

Brandon Saine had what could be described as a breakout game last Saturday night, powering his way to a career-high 113 yards against Indiana. The 6-1, 217-pound junior features a nice blend of power and speed – not to mention pass-catching abilities – and most people don’t realize he currently ranks second in the Big Ten only to Wisconsin’s John Clay in rushing average per conference game. The knock against the junior running back, of course, is an injury-checkered past, and the unfortunate truth is that no one knows if a healthy Saine can make it through an entire season.

The third man in the tailback mix has been freshman Jordan Hall, who didn’t see action until week three against Toledo. Since then, he has shown some flashes that he can be a very good complimentary back although at 5-10 and 190 pounds, he faces some of the same durability questions as Herron. It probably isn’t a coincidence that Herron and Hall have combined for an average of 3.8 yards per carry.

Herron, Saine and Hall have done well as a trio this season. Together, they average 126.0 yards per game – and when you throw Terrelle Pryor’s yardage into the mix, the Buckeyes are purring along at 187.2 yards rushing per game. Last season, with Beanie Wells as the primary back, the team was only slightly better at 192.5 yards on the ground per game.

So why do so many people believe Berry is needed? Maybe it’s because they know tailback depth in the Big Ten is a fleeting thing. Wells, Mike Hart of Michigan and P.J. Hill of Wisconsin were all tremendous running backs, but they each missed their share of playing time with injuries. When those big guns were on the sidelines, their respective teams suffered. That was partly due to a lack of depth but more so because the running backs behind them on the depth chart suffered from inexperience.

This season is looking more and more like the first since 2004 that Ohio State will have no 1,000-yard rusher. The problem five years ago was lack of depth at the position and subsequently the Buckeyes scuffled their way to an 8-4 finish.

This year, especially if/when Berry joins the backfield, depth at the running back depth could be one of the team’s strengths. Every team seeks that one dependable every-down running back, but who’s to say that approach trumps one where five or even six players on your roster have somewhere between 300 and 600 yards apiece?

That’s never happened in the Tressel era. (See stats below.) But as the offensive game plan continues to evolve this year, the head coach must believe it’s a path worth exploring.

LEADING RUSHERS BY SEASON

Here is a list of Ohio State’s leading rushers, by season, through the Tressel era so far. Listed are carries and net yards.

2008 – Chris Wells 207-1,197; Terrelle Pryor 139-631; Dan Herron 89-439; Maurice Wells 39-129; Brandon Saine 26-65.

2007 – Chris Wells 274-1,609; Maurice Wells 103-367; Brandon Saine 60-267; Todd Boeckman 56-63; Ray Small 4-49.

2006 – Antonio Pittman 242-1,233; Chris Wells 104-576; Troy Smith 72-128; Maurice Wells 46-171; Anthony Gonzalez 2-28.

2005 – Antonio Pittman 243-1,331; Troy Smith 136-611; Maurice Wells 61-199; Ted Ginn Jr. 12-83; Erik Haw 14-61.

2004 – Lydell Ross 117-475; Antonio Pittman 72-381; Troy Smith 82-339; Maurice Hall 52-216; Branden Joe 50-162.

2003 – Lydell Ross 193-826; Maurice Hall 97-316; Craig Krenzel 109-255; Branden Joe 27-99; Ira Guilford 28-64.

2002 – Maurice Clarett 222-1,237; Lydell Ross 166-619; Maurice Hall 78-370; Craig Krenzel 125-368; Chris Gamble 3-49.

2001 – Jonathan Wells 251-1,294; Lydell Ross 120-419; Sammy Maldonado 39-168; Steve Bellisari 83-107; Jamar Martin 22-86.

OSU-WISCONSIN TIDBITS

** This marks the 75th meeting of Ohio State and Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes hold a decidedly lopsided 52-17-5 record in the overall series, including 27-7-3 in Columbus. However, the Badgers have won three of their last four trips to Ohio Stadium and that has allowed them to close the overall gap in recent years. Since 1981, OSU has only a 13-10-1 advantage and the team have split their last eight games.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is in his ninth season with the Buckeyes. He has an 87-20 overall record, including 3-3 against Wisconsin. He is 54-12 in the Big Ten and 32-13 against ranked teams. The Badgers are ranked No. 25 in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll.

** Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is in his fourth season with the Badgers. He has a 33-11 overall record, including 0-2 against Ohio State. He is 17-9 in the Big Ten and 4-7 against ranked teams. That includes an 0-3 mark against teams ranked in the top 10. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 8 in this week’s coaches’ poll and No. 9 in the Associated Press writers’ poll.

** As it has been so many times in this series, the game will feature a classic matchup between the irresistible force and the immovable object. Wisconsin ranks first or second in the Big Ten in rushing, pass efficiency and scoring offense while Ohio State ranks first or second in each of those defensive categories.

** The Badgers have been able to achieve an almost unbelievable offensive balance over their first five games. They have 1,086 yards rushing and 1,080 yards through the air.

** In Tressel’s 107 games with the Buckeyes, opposing teams have totaled 175 or more yards on the ground only 11 times. Wisconsin has three of those 11 performances, including 179 last year. However, the Badgers weren’t so successful on the ground the last time they were in Columbus. Wisconsin netted only 12 yards rushing during a 38-17 loss in 2007, the team’s lowest total in the Bielema era.

** Wisconsin tailback John Clay, who leads the Big Ten and is fifth nationally with an average of 116.4 yards per game, will be trying to join an elite group on Saturday. Only 16 running backs have gained 100 or more yards in a game against the Buckeyes during the Tressel era – none so far this season and only three over Ohio State’s last 32 games. USC tailback Joe McKnight, who rushed for 105 yards in his team’s 35-3 win in 2008, was the last opponent to crack the century mark against the Buckeyes.

** Clay has a conference-leading 112 carries this season. Only five have gone for negative yardage.

** UW quarterback Scott Tolzien leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency and is completing 65.6 percent of his attempts so far this season. Tolzien has been especially lethal on third downs – he is 29 for 41 for 340 yards and three touchdowns on third down this year. On third and less than 10 yards to go, Tolzien has completed 23 of 29 pass attempts, and 21 of those 23 completions have gone for either a first down or touchdown.

** Ohio State has two shutouts this season, the most of any single season in the Tressel era so far. If the Buckeyes entertain any notions of getting a third whitewash of the year against the Badgers, they should know Wisconsin hasn’t been shut out since a 34-0 loss to Syracuse in the 1997 season opener. No Big Ten opponent has blanked the Badgers since Iowa posted a 31-0 win on Nov. 16, 1996.

** The Buckeyes haven’t been shut out since a 28-0 loss at Michigan in the 1993 regular-season finale. That represents a span of 195 games.

** Ohio State and Wisconsin are the most successful teams in the Big Ten since the beginning of the 2004 season. The Buckeyes are 55-13 (.809 winning percentage) during that span while the Badgers are 52-17 (.754). Wisconsin has also made seven straight bowl trips, and that is second in the conference only to OSU, which has gone bowling nine years in a row.

** Wisconsin has nine Ohio natives on its roster. Ohio State has no Wisconsin-born players.

** Last week’s win over Indiana was the 54th Big Ten win for Tressel and he moved into a tie for 17th place on the league’s all-time conference victories list with Ray Eliot of Illinois (1942-59). Tressel needs three more league wins to join a four-way tie at 57 wins with Bennie Bierman of Minnesota (1932-41, ’45-50), Fritz Crisler of Michigan (1938-47), Jack Mollenkopf of Purdue (1956-69) and Earle Bruce of Ohio State (1979-87).

** When freshman Zach Boren scored on an 8-yard touchdown pass last week against Indiana, he became only the third full-time fullback to cross the goal line in the Tressel era. In the 2007 season opener against Youngstown State, Trever Robinson scored on a 1-yard pass reception, and before that you have to all the way back to Tressel’s first game with the Buckeyes. Jamar Martin scored on a 10-yard pass from QB Steve Bellisari in the first quarter of a 28-14 win over Akron in the 2001 season opener.

** OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor had 222 yards of total offense against the Hoosiers and moved past the 3,000-yard mark for his young career, becoming the 21st player in school history to break the 3,000-yard barrier. Now with 3,094 yards, Pryor needs 49 more to move into 20th place all-time, currently occupied by Pepe Pearson (3,142, 1994-97). The OSU career leader in total offense is Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81).

** Kickoff for Saturday’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. ABC will broadcast the game on a regional basis with Sean McDonough handling play-by-play duties, Matt Millen providing color analysis and Holly Rowe reporting from the sidelines. The game will employ the reverse mirror, so if you don’t get the contest on your local ABC-affiliated station, it will be available on ESPN.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channel 127.

** The Buckeyes are back on the road next week to visit Purdue. Kickoff from West Lafayette is set for 12 noon Eastern, and the game will televised by the Big Ten Network.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Sixty-six years ago today, an Indiana freshman quarterback celebrated a record-setting day. On Oct. 9, 1943, IU quarterback Bob Hoernschemeyer set an NCAA record for touchdown passes in a game by a freshman when he threw six as the Hoosiers took a 54-13 win over Nebraska in Bloomington.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 5, 1991, Fresno State kicker Derek Mahoney tied the NCAA record for most PATs in a game when he went 13 for 13 as the Bulldogs rolled to a 94-17 win over New Mexico; on Oct. 7, 2000, No. 7 Miami (Fla.) upset top-ranked Florida State, 27-24, when Seminoles kicker Matt Munyon’s last-second field goal attempt from 49 yards sailed wide right; on Oct. 8, 1977, seventh-ranked Alabama squeezed out a 21-20 victory over No. 1 USC when the Trojans scored a touchdown with 38 seconds remaining but their subsequent two-point conversion try failed; and on Oct. 10, 1936, trumpet player John Brungart became the first member of the Ohio State Marching Band to dot the “i” in Script Ohio.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** You probably know that Florida currently has the nation’s longest winning streak at the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Gators have won 14 in a row. Did you know which team currently owns the second-longest streak? That would be Iowa, which has won nine consecutive games.

** The weekly count of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level was whittled last week to 13. The list in alphabetical order: Alabama, Auburn, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, LSU, Missouri, South Florida, Texas, TCU and Wisconsin.

** Auburn head coach Gene Chizik has the Tigers off to a 5-0 start in his first season after posting only five victories total in two years at Iowa State. What’s the difference? Perhaps that Chizik hired Gus Malzahn away from Tulsa to be his offensive coordinator at Auburn. In five games this season, the Tigers have scored 207 points. They scored 208 all of last season.

** In addition to being undefeated, Wisconsin and Iowa are among the eight teams that are currently 5-0. This is old hat for the Badgers, who are 5-0 for the fifth time in the last eight seasons. On the flip side, the Hawkeyes are enjoying their first 5-0 start since 1995. The last time Iowa began a season with more than five victories was 1985 when the team started 7-0 on the way to the school’s last outright Big Ten championship.

**When Michigan State defeated Michigan last weekend, it gave Sparty his first back-to-back victories over the Wolverines since winning three in a row from 1965-67.

** I guess it’s never too early to make projections about bowl season. This week’s forecast, courtesy of CBSSports.com, has Florida and Texas on a collision course for the BCS National Championship Game, set for Jan. 8 in Pasadena. The other four BCS matchups – Oregon and Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, USC and Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, Alabama and Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl and Virginia Tech and Iowa in the Orange Bowl.

** With his team’s victory last weekend over Illinois, Penn State head coach Joe Paterno moved into a fifth-place tie on the all-time Big Ten conference win list. JoePa now has 81 league victories and that ties him with Lloyd Carr of Michigan (1995-2007). The top four coaches in terms of Big Ten victories are Woody Hayes of Ohio State (152, 1951-78), Bo Schembechler of Michigan (143, 1969-89), Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago (116, 1896-1932) and Hayden Fry of Iowa (98, 1979-98).

** A week ago today, Notre Dame unveiled a bronze sculpture of legendary Knute Rockne outside its stadium. The statue of Rockne, who was 105-12-5 with the Fighting Irish for an NCAA-record .881 winning percentage, shows the coach in his sweatshirt and baseball pants with his hands on his hips. Rockne is the fourth sculpture to be unveiled outside Notre Dame Stadium after Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz. Yes, you read that correctly. Notre Dame actually put up a statue of Lou Holtz before getting around to putting up one of Knute Rockne.

** ESPN.com has something it calls “The Heisman Predictor,” updated each week with standings based upon a formula that takes into account 11 different variables and awards points in a variety of ways. That may sound scientific until you realize you automatically get extra credit for playing quarterback at a BCS conference school. Anyway, this week’s standings have preseason favorites Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy in the top two spots followed Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike, Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen, running back Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech and Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier.

** If your cable or dish provider carries CBS College Sports Network, and you like service academy football, Saturday is your day. The network will televise a service academy tripleheader tomorrow beginning with Vanderbilt at Army at 12 noon Eastern. That will be followed by Navy at Rice at 3:30 p.m., and wind up with TCU at Air Force at 7:30 p.m.

** Former Nebraska offensive lineman Aaron Taylor has revealed that he is bankrupt and will be auctioning off assets which include his 1994, 1995 and 1997 national championship rings as well as his 1997 Outland Trophy. The Oct. 31 auction was forced by the failure of the Husker-themed Scarlet and Cream Letter Club restaurant Taylor started in Omaha with other former players. Proceeds from the auction will help pay some of Taylor’s debts, estimated at more than $100,000, including $69,000 in federal and state taxes owed to the IRS.

** In case you missed it, former Muskingum College head coach and athletic director Ed Sherman died Sept. 29 at the age of 97. Sherman spent 22 years as head coach of the Muskies, capturing six Ohio Conference championships and compiling a 141-43-7 record from 1945 to 1966. When he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996, Sherman became the first Division III coach to be so honored.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Don’t know what it is about Houston. Last year, when we finally gave the Cougars some love, they lost. This year, same thing. We picked them to blow out a weak UTEP team and the Miners hung 58 on UH one week after it failed gain 58 total yards against Texas. Thankfully, that miss was not the norm and we finished with a 5-2 record. That moved us to 32-11 straight up for the season.

Against the spread, we didn’t do so well. After briefly popping our heads above water, we went 3-4 last week and are now a flat 16-16-1 ATS for the year.

Here are the games we like this week.

Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan: It’s homecoming for the Chippewas, who are seeking to go 5-1 for the first time since 1988. Although they are at the top of the MAC West standings and EMU is tied with Ball State at the bottom, these two teams usually wear out the scoreboard when they meet. In fact, Eastern has won the last two meetings – 48-45 in 2007 and 56-52 last season. I’m not sure those kinds of fireworks can be repeated, especially since the Eagles are struggling on offense. They rank 114th out of 120 Division I-A schools in total offense. On the other side, CMU still has quarterback Dan LeFevour, who is now the MAC’s all-time leader in total offense. He should be more than enough to keep the Chippewas rolling … Central Michigan 41, Eastern Michigan 24. (12 noon ET, ESPN 360)

Miami (Ohio) at Northwestern: There is a lot of synergy between these two schools not the least of which is the fact Ara Parseghian was head coach of both programs. Before gaining fame at Notre Dame, Parseghian followed Woody Hayes at Miami and compiled a 39-6-1 record from 1951-55. Then came eight seasons in Evanston from 1956-64 where he went 36-35-1 with the Wildcats. That may seem like a fairly pedestrian record, but Parseghian is the last Northwestern head coach to compile a winning record … at least until Pat Fitzgerald came along. Fitz is currently 22-20 with the Wildcats and he figures to better that mark this week against the winless RedHawks, who are 119th nationally in scoring defense and a dead-last 120th in scoring offense … Northwestern 34, Miami 10. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Eastern Illinois at No. 14 Penn State: What does it say about the Nittany Lions’ nonconference schedule that the I-AA Panthers are the best team on it? EIU is 4-1 this season, thanks in part to a pretty good offensive attack led by quarterback Jake Christensen (1,090 yards, 11 TDs). If that name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same Jake Christensen who was the starting QB at Iowa in 2007 before losing his job last year to Ricky Stanzi. It did seem that Penn State got itself untracked last week against Illinois, but we’re not sure how much of an indicator that is since the Fighting Illini seem to already be circling the drain. JoePa’s team still has some injury issues on defense, most notably linebacker Sean Lee’s continued knee problems, but the Lions – if they stay engaged – should have no problem with the Panthers … Penn State 31, Eastern Illinois 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN Classic)

Georgia at Tennessee: This game marks the first time since 1937 that these SEC rivals square off while neither is ranked by the AP or the coaches. Not that either of them seem to care. Fresh from a game against LSU that was all but taken from them by the officials for a ludicrous celebration penalty, the Bulldogs head to Rocky Top in a sour mood. That doesn’t exactly bode well for the Volunteers, who are 2-3 and trying to avoid their first back-to-back losing seasons in nearly a century. First-year Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin is getting his initial taste of the rivalry while UGA head coach Mark Richt is 5-3 against the Volunteers, and the Dawgs have won three of their last four overall at Neyland Stadium. Georgia has had a difficult time scoring points this season and that won’t change this week since UT has a pretty good defense. The home team is a slight favorite, but I have a feeling the Bulldogs get it done. Here is a mini-Upset Special … Georgia 17, Tennessee 14. (12 noon ET, SEC Network)

No. 3 Alabama at No. 20 Mississippi: There are a lot of college football observers who believe the Crimson Tide is the best team in the nation right now. They will get to prove it Saturday when they travel to Oxford. Bama appears to be the total package with a potent offense (40.0 points per game on average) and a punishing defense (14.4 points) that has smothered most of its opponents so far this season. That isn’t exactly music to the Rebels’ ears since one-time Heisman hopeful QB Jevan Snead has struggled lately. He has completed only 51.4 percent of his passes this season and pitched three interceptions last weekend in a 23-7 win at Vanderbilt. Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt usually has something up his sleeve – i.e. last year’s 31-30 upset of Florida in Gainesville – and that should at least keep things closer than some are forecasting. We don’t see an upset, though … Alabama 23, Mississippi 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 13 Oregon at UCLA: The Ducks are suddenly the sexy pick in the Pac-10, but if Oregon is to avoid its annual swoon it will have to keep starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli healthy. Masoli banged up a knee during last week’s over Washington State and he is questionable for this week’s game. He ran for a career-high 170 yards in last year’s win over the Bruins, and it would be a decidedly different kind of Quack Attack if Masoli can’t go on Saturday. Even so, Oregon might be able to get by on defense. The Ducks completely shut down Cal and Heisman hopeful Jahvid Best two weeks ago, while UCLA has been struggling on offense. That is especially true when it comes to throwing the ball. The Bruins are last in the Pac-10 in passing … Oregon 24, UCLA 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

Colorado at No. 2 Texas: The Longhorns haven’t been tested all season, outscoring their four opponents by an average of 34.3 points. Coincidentally, the last four games in this series have each resulted in Texas wins by an average margin of 35.0 points. That is somewhat skewed by a 70-3 blowout of the Buffaloes in the 2005 Big 12 championship game. On the other hand, a similar stomp job is not totally out of the question this year. The Longhorns are the No. 1 team in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 49.5 points per game, while the Colorado defense has surrendered 28.0 points on average. That ranks 86th in the nation. Then when you consider the CU defense ranks 102nd or lower in every other major defensive category, you begin a smell a big-time rout … Texas 52, Colorado 7. (7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 10 TCU at Air Force: The Horned Frogs are eager to prove their top-10 ranking is deserved and they face a major hurdle Saturday night in Colorado Springs. Not only will TCU will taking on a pretty good Air Force team, it will also have to battle the elements. The weatherman is calling for game-time temperatures in the low-20s, gusty winds and a rainy-icy mix of precipitation. That sounds like weather that favors the defense, and that’s where both teams excel. TCU is the nation’s No. 1 defense in terms of stopping the run which should make for some interesting moments since the Cadets feature the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense. But Air Force is also adept at stopping other teams – it is ninth nationally in scoring defense and No. 1 in turnover margin. The thing that sets the teams apart is the passing game. TCU has a big advantage there although it might be negated by the weather … TCU 24, Air Force 14. (7:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

No. 1 Florida at No. 4 LSU: With Tim Tebow’s status still uncertain until game time, it’s really anyone’s guess how this game will turn out. The Tigers have struggled mightily on offense all season, yet remain undefeated on the strength of a defense that allows only 14.8 points per game. There is also this little nugget – LSU has won 32 consecutive Saturday night games at Tiger Stadium. To win, however, you have to score and that has been difficult for any Florida opponent so far this year. The Gators are the nation’s No. 1 team in total defense and they’re No. 2 in scoring defense. Even so, their heart and soul plays on offense and they are a completely different team without Tebow. That nasty concussion he suffered was two weeks ago, and since the quarterback began practicing again on Tuesday, we expect Tebow to play. That makes the difference in what should be an entertaining battle of two heavyweights … Florida 16, LSU 7. (8 p.m. ET, CBS)

Michigan at No. 12 Iowa: As well as the Hawkeyes played while upsetting Penn State, they have been maddeningly inconsistent. That includes last week’s uninspired 24-21 win over Arkansas State in which the team nearly blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter. Most of the inconsistency has come on the offensive side of the ball, however, as the defense ranks 10th nationally, surrendering only 13.4 points per game. Meanwhile, Michigan is coming off its first loss of the season, a 26-20 overtime defeat at the hands of instate rival Michigan State. Freshman QB Tate Forcier, who had engineered last-minute wins over Notre Dame and Indiana, rallied his team again last week with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to get the game to OT. However, it was Forcier’s interception in overtime that cost the Wolverines the game. Was that a product of growing pains from a first-year starter playing his first road game or something more troublesome? We’ll see soon enough … Iowa 23, Michigan 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Wisconsin at No. 9 Ohio State: The game plan for the Buckeyes is pretty simple. Stop Wisconsin from running the ball and win the game. That’s easier said than done, of course, since the Badgers possess the Big Ten’s best rushing attack behind bruising tailback John Clay. Unfortunately for UW, their power pretty much begins and ends with Clay. Although he has some excellent numbers, quarterback Scott Tolzien is only slightly above average while the Badgers rank no higher than sixth in the conference in any of the major defensive categories. Look for the Buckeyes to hold Clay to about half his league average (163.0 yards per game) and keep their defensive roll going … Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional/ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Eastern Michigan (+23) at Central Michigan; Miami (Ohio) at Northwestern (-19½); Georgia (+1½) at Tennessee; Alabama at Mississippi (+7); Oregon (-5) at UCLA; Colorado at Texas (-32); TCU (-9) at Air Force; Florida (-6) at LSU; Michigan at Iowa (-7½); Wisconsin (+16) at Ohio State.

You would probably like to know that the Buckeyes are 1-4 ATS in their last five home games against Wisconsin. Enjoy the games.

Focusing On Folly Of Fickle Fans

You may think Jim Tressel apologized yesterday for comments he made Tuesday about Ohio State fans.

Think again.

In case you need to be reminded, during his weekly press luncheon, Tressel mentioned some of the nasty comments and e-mails he had fielded in the wake of last Saturday night’s loss to USC. Of his poison pen pals, the coach said, “They’ve got to be some of the most unhappy people in the world, and I feel bad because we just made them less happy. I hate to be a part of making someone less happy. I mean, they’re already miserable.”

I don’t believe for a second the coach was talking about all Ohio State fans. Just the dim bulbs who think it’s OK to challenge Tressel’s coaching acumen, his approach to his chosen profession and probably even his manhood behind the anonymity of electronic mail.

Yesterday, the coach was asked about his Tuesday comments, and his reply was, “My dad taught me a long time ago, you’ll have a thousand chances to keep your mouth shut. Use every one of them.”

Later he added, “No one could have better fans than we do, and if anyone was half as miserable as we were on Sunday (and) Monday, I could understand them being miserable.”

A tinge of regret for what he said on Tuesday? Perhaps. An apology? I hope not because Tressel has nothing for which to apologize.

The truth is that a slice – thankfully a very small one – of the Ohio State fan base is radically fanatical, but that didn’t begin with Tressel.

Wes Fesler was a three-time All-American with the Buckeyes in the late 1920s and early 1930s, a conquering hero on the football field who was eventually enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. But when he returned as head coach of the team in 1947, the pressure from fans and alumni to win became so great that Fesler quit after only four seasons.

There were several times during Woody Hayes’ tenure when the seat under him got especially warm. That was never more true than the spring and summer months between the 1953 and ’54 seasons. In his first three years with the Buckeyes, Hayes compiled a 16-9-2 record and his team hadn’t finished higher than third in the Big Ten. A serious movement was afoot to get rid of Hayes before the 1954 season, a movement abated only by Ohio State athletic director Richard Larkins pledging to give the coach one more season to prove himself. The Buckeyes went on to win the national championship in 1954 and Hayes became a coaching legend. Imagine, however, what the Ohio State football program might look like today had the impatient critics gotten their way.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The whispering campaign questioning Tressel and his program that began following the BCS title game loss to Florida has been ratcheted up a few decibels. And things are getting nasty. Tressel would never share what is contained in the e-mails he receivers, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to figure it out. I get e-mails, too, and I can guarantee you that there is a definite slice of the Buckeye Nation who could only be described as miserable. Their vitriol is exceeded only by the lack of civility with which they spew it.

We shouldn’t be surprised, I guess. After watching the likes of Serena Williams, Joe Wilson and Kanye West fill our television screens for more than a week, we can surmise that if civility isn’t dead it must certainly be on life support.

Personally, I have any number of beefs with the way Tressel game-planned against USC. The fact of the matter is I wonder if he had much of a game plan at all. The offensive attack seemed to have no flow, and there were long periods of time when it seemed the coach was simply trying different things just to see if they would work.

The decision to punt rather than attempt a long field goal in the fourth quarter, the reluctance to put the ball in Terrelle Pryor’s hands – either on a sneak or on the edge – at the goal line in the third quarter, and the sequence of plays at the end of the first half that left USC enough time to drive for a tying field – I take exception to all of those things from Saturday night.

Those are kinds of things we should be discussing – civilly – rather than engaging in a debate only a fringe handful think we ought to have.

As I wrote in this week’s BSB, it is simply the ramblings of a handful of dull-witted know-nothings who suggest that Tressel is nothing more than a I-AA coach, that he won his national championship with players recruited by another coach, and that the time has come for Ohio State to begin looking in another direction.

Get a clue, folks. Tressel isn’t going anywhere nor should he. These big-stage losses notwithstanding, he has accomplished every goal he was hired to do.

Don’t believe me? How would you like to go back to the days of players assaulting one another in practice? How about the days of players registering 0.00 grade-point averages? Maybe you prefer four Big Ten championships spread out over a 15-year period rather than four in a row? How about a win over Michigan just every so often rather than one year after year after year?

There is no way to soft-sell the fact that Tressel has lost each of his last six games against top-5 opponents and that the offensive output in those games has been woefully inadequate. There is no getting around that and I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending there is.

Likewise, don’t insult mine by suggesting the university fire a guy who does everything he’s been asked to do and has done it with class.

OSU-TOLEDO TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Toledo are squaring off for only the second time in history. The Buckeyes rolled to a 49-0 win over the Rockets in Columbus in 1998. The teams are scheduled to play again in Columbus in 2011.

** Ohio State is making its first-ever appearance at Cleveland Browns Stadium and playing its 16th game in Cleveland all-time. The Buckeyes have an 8-6-1 record in C-town. Their most recent appearance was in 1991 when they took a 34-3 victory over Northwestern at old Municipal Stadium. OSU hasn’t lost in Cleveland since a 30-7 defeat to fifth-ranked Purdue in 1943.

** Following last week’s loss to USC, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is now 28-4 against regular-season nonleague opponents. His record with the Buckeyes is 52-7 against nonranked competition.

** Toledo head coach Tim Beckman is his first season with the Rockets and his first as a head coach. His team has split its first two games – a 52-31 loss at Purdue and a 54-38 victory over Colorado.

** Tressel and Beckman are both products of Berea (Ohio) High School and that isn’t the only synergy between the two. Beckman served as cornerbacks coach on Tressel’s staff at Ohio State in 2004 and ’05 before leaving to become defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State for two years. Beckman’s father, Dave, was also an assistant coach at Baldwin-Wallace when Tressel’s father, Lee, was head coach there.

** The Buckeyes own a 176-48-5 all-time record against Ohio schools and are 25-1 against members of the Mid-American Conference. The only blemish on that record against the MAC is a 12-6 loss to Akron in a game played Sept. 15, 1894, and the Ohio State Fair.

** OSU hasn’t lost to an Ohio school since a 7-6 defeat to Oberlin in 1921. The closest any instate rival has come since was a 7-7 tie achieved by Wooster in 1924.

** Toledo is only 5-13 all-time against Big Ten schools, but all five of those victories have come since 1992. The Rockets have defeated Purdue twice (1992 and ’97) as well as Penn State (2000), Minnesota (2001) and Michigan (2008).

** Ohio State last played a nonconference opponent in an NFL stadium in 2002 when the Buckeyes escaped with a 23-19 win over Cincinnati in Paul Brown Stadium. Toledo’s most recent appearance at an NFL venue came in 2006 when the Rockets dropped a 45-3 decision to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

** OSU sophomore tailback Dan “Boom” Herron has a nice little streak going. His 2-yard scoring run against USC last weekend marked the sixth straight game in which Herron has rushed for a touchdown.

** The game will be televised by ESPN-Plus and will be available throughout on Ohio on various local stations. For those of you who live outside Ohio, ESPN GamePlan may be your only option. Michael Reghi will have the play by play and Doug Chapman will provide color commentary. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** Seventeen outlets sprinkled throughout the country are listed as outlets for the ESPN-Plus telecast. Those include six in Ohio – WEWS (Channel 5) in Cleveland, WSYX (Channel 6) in Columbus, WKRC (Channel 12) in Cincinnati, WRGT (Channel 45) in Dayton, WTVG (Channel 13) in Toledo and WYTV (Channel 33) in Youngstown.

** Ohio State returns home next week to kick off the Big Ten schedule against Illinois. Game time is 3:30 p.m. in the Horseshoe and the telecast will be handled by the ABC/ESPN reverse mirror. That means the game will be shown on a regional basis by ABC throughout Big Ten country while the rest of the country will see the game on ESPN or ESPN2. As they say in the TV biz, check your local listings.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Forty-three years ago today, Joe Paterno made his debut as head coach at Penn State. On Sept. 17, 1966, Paterno led the Nittany Lions to a 15-7 victory over Maryland in Happy Valley. The Terrapins, coached by Lou Saban, made a last-ditch effort to ruin Paterno’s debut but backup quarterback Phil Petry threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter. That victory was JoePa’s first of a Division I-A record 385 and counting.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: on Sept. 14, 1991, San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk set an NCAA single-game record for freshmen by rushing for seven touchdowns during his team’s 55-34 win over Pacific; on Sept. 18, 1965, UTEP quarterback Billy Stevens established a new NCAA record for most total yards gained in a debut game with 483 yards in a 61-15 rout of North Texas; and Sept. 20, 1986, unranked Miami (Ohio) stunned eighth-ranked LSU, 21-12, in Baton Rouge. The Tigers committed seven turnovers in the game and had a punt blocked as Miami pushed its all-time record against SEC teams to an impressive 8-0-1.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** ESPN analysts may love to bash Ohio State but the Buckeyes continue to be moneymakers for the self-appointed Worldwide Leader. The OSU-USC telecast on Saturday netted a whopping 7.3 rating, making it the network’s most-viewed college football game in history. The game was also the highest-rated program of the night on any network. The 7.3 rating was the highest for a college game – regular season or bowl game – in 15 years.

** From the file titled “At Least They Knew They Were In A Fight” comes this report from USC. Freshman QB Matt Barkley (bruised shoulder) and All-America safety Taylor Mays (sprained knee) were on the limited-duty roster for at least three days. Barkley was injured when OSU defensive end Nathan Williams planted him while Mays was injured on a sideline play when he tried to deliver a big hit against OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Mays says he’s going to play this week at Washington, but look for the Trojans to rest Barkley and use backup Aaron Corp against the Huskies.

** One week after throwing the football all over the lot, the Big Ten reverted to tradition. Eight conference wideouts had 100 or more receiving yards during week one while only one running back cracked the century mark. Last year, the running backs wrestled the spotlight back with six performances of 100 yards or more. They were led by John Clay of Wisconsin with 143 yards in his team’s win over Fresno State. Purdue tailback Ralph Bolden ran for 123 yards against Oregon, and he leads the Big Ten and the nation with an average of 178.5 yards per game.

** Here’s a little trivia game you can play at your next tailgate. Name the four active coaches who are in the College Football Hall of Fame. The answer comes later.

** The Big Ten boasts several excellent kickers, including Philip Welch of Wisconsin, who booted a 57-yard field goal last week against Fresno State. As good as that kick was, it still is only the second-longest of the young season by a conference kicker. Purdue’s Carson Wiggs blasted a 59-yarder in the opener against Toledo.

** Welch’s field goal was the third-longest in Wisconsin program history. John Hall kicked a 60-yarder in 1995 while Pat O’Dea has held the school record for more than a century. O’Dea kicked a 62-yarder in 1899, and perhaps even more amazingly, it was a drop kick. O’Dea also drop-kicked a 60-yard field goal in 1899, giving two of the six longest field goals in Big Ten history.

** Speaking of kickers, Brett Swenson of Michigan State needs only four more field goals to become only the 10th player in Big Ten history with 60 or more career three-pointers. Swenson also needs only four more points to reach 300 points only nine conference kickers before him have reached that career plateau.

** Anniversary wishes to historic Franklin Field in Philadelphia. This weekend, the venerable old facility will kick off its 115th season of football when Penn hosts Villanova. Franklin Field is the NCAA’s oldest stadium still operating for football games.

** Longtime Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Rick Telander recently had an interesting take on major college programs feasting on soft nonconference schedules. He said the small schools serving as sacrificial lambs should extract the maximum amount from their hosts: “Delaware State, a cupcake with a home stadium with a capacity (7,000) that would fit into Michigan Stadium (106,000) 15 times, is playing the Wolverines next Saturday in Ann Arbor and is taking home, for the sad satisfaction of all those whooping, belly-dragging, I-love-to-tear-the-wings-off-flies Michigan fans, $550,000. Not bad, but come on, Hornets – where’s your negotiating skill set? Montana State got $650,000 for lying down in front of Michigan State and allowing itself to be eviscerated. And Western Kentucky (that’s the part near Missouri, I believe) got $700,000 to let Tennessee eat its liver.”

** Here is your trivia answer: The four active coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame are Joe Paterno of Penn State, Bobby Bowden of Florida State, Chris Ault of Nevada and John Gagliardi of Division III St. John’s. The quartet has combined to win a mind-boggling 1,412 games during their collective careers.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The forecast got off to a shaky start, thanks mostly to late fourth-quarter leads neither Notre Dame nor Ohio State could hold. As a result, we were only 4-3 straight up and 3-4 against the spread.

We hope to do better this week, and we’ve got a full slate of games beginning with tonight’s West Coast battle.

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 10 Boise State at Fresno State: The Broncos have been pretty much unbeatable in the WAC since 2002, winning 54 of their 56 conference games over the past seven seasons. One of their losses was in Fresno back in 2005 when the Bulldogs were ranked in the top 25. A lot has transpired since then – Boise has gotten better while Fresno has perhaps taken a step back. That was never more evident than in last year’s 61-10 blowout on the Smurf Turf. And the Broncos may be even better this season … Boise State 49, Fresno State 10. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAME

Tennessee at No. 1 Florida: Consider this week one in Lane Kiffin’s ongoing education. You may remember back in March when Kiffin, shortly after being hired at Rocky Top, said Florida head coach Urban Meyer was a cheater when it came to recruiting. Kiffin later apologized and received a reprimand from the SEC, but if you think Meyer and his team have forgotten, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I’ll sell you real cheap. Expect the Gators to take Kiffin to school before taking his team out back to the woodshed for a different kind of lesson. I look for Meyer to put his foot on the gas coming out of the locker room and never let up … Florida 64, Tennessee 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Texas Tech at No. 2 Texas: This going to be short and sweet. No Lubbock, no Michael Crabtree, no chance … Texas 45, Texas Tech 24. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 3 USC at Washington: Several teams need to be on upset alert this week and the Trojans are one of them. First-year Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian was formerly offensive coordinator in Hollywood for Pete Carroll, and if there’s anyone who should know USC and how they go about things, it would be Sarkisian. The question is whether he has enough talent to do anything about it. U-Dub quarterback Jake Locker is still one of the best-kept secrets in college football and he could do some damage with his arm and his legs. The Trojans went to Oregon State last year after their win over Ohio State and we all remember how that turned out. Something tells me Carroll will not let that happen again although this is going to be closer than a lot of people think … USC 34, Washington 13. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

North Texas at No. 4 Alabama: The Crimson Tide haven’t exactly looked like the No. 4 team in the nation so far, and that probably continues this week. Their season-opening win over Virginia Tech was tidy enough but last week’s 40-10 victory over Florida International was not representative of the final score. This weekend, Bama gets another team from the Sun Belt Conference, and while there should be no upset alert, how interested Nick Saban gets his team will dictate the final margin of victory. North Texas is 0-13 against ranked teams since 1996, and the Mean Green has been outscored by a whopping 297-23 margin in its last five games against top-10 competition … Alabama 41, North Texas 7. (12:20 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Temple at No. 5 Penn State: There really isn’t much to say about this one. You have to go back to 1941 to find a Penn State loss in this series. (Contrary to popular belief, Joe Paterno was not yet patrolling the sidelines in Happy Valley.) Since that loss 68 years ago, the Nittany Lions are 33-0-1 in the series and have outscored the Owls by a 122-3 margin in their last three meetings. Temple has had a week off to prepare, but the team might have been working on fundamentals after blowing a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead and losing to Sept. 3 to Villanova. This gets as ugly as JoePa wants it to get … Penn State 41, Temple 3. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Florida State at No. 7 BYU: The Cougars are riding the crest of two huge road victories to get their 2009 season started. Now, they return to Provo to see if they can protect their lofty ranking and an 18-game winning streak at LaVell Edwards Stadium. It shouldn’t be difficult. The Seminoles are but shadows of their former elite selves, losing in week one to Miami (Fla.) and then needing a pair of late scores last week to avoid a monumental upset loss at home to Division I-AA opponent Jacksonville State. BYU doesn’t get enough credit for its defense, which is giving up an average of only 77.5 yards on the ground this season. That doesn’t exactly bode well for FSU, which has a running game that is ranked 99th in the nation. Old Man Bowden will have to rely on quarterback Christian Ponder to get it done, and you remember what the Cougars did to Heisman winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma in week one … BYU 28, Florida State 7. (7 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 8 Cal at Minnesota: The Bears are one of the sexy picks as a dark horse for the national championship. Before that happens, of course, they’re not only going to have to get past USC, they’re going to have to learn how to win on the road. Jeff Tedford’s team has lost four in a row on the road and eight of its last nine. This week, they travel cross-country to take on the Gophers, who haven’t exactly set the world on fire. Nevertheless, Goldy has found a way to win its two season-opening contests. Syracuse and Air Force aren’t exactly in Cal’s league, though. The Bears, led by running back and Heisman hopeful Jahvid Best, are averaging 293.0 yards rushing so far this season. The Gophers are dead last in the Big Ten against the run, surrendering an average of 175.5 yards per game … Cal 31, Minnesota 21. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Eastern Michigan at No. 25 Michigan: Are the Wolverines really back? My jury is still out because I don’t think a come-from-behind victory at home against Notre Dame is all that impressive. Still, to give Michigan its due, it didn’t fold against the Domers and any victory at this point in the Rich Rodriguez era is a good victory. The Wolverines had better guard against feeling too good about themselves, though. The Eagles gave Northwestern all it could handle in Evanston last week before losing on a late field goal, and Eastern head coach Ron English – Lloyd Carr’s defensive coordinator from 2003-07 – would like nothing more than to prove Michigan made a mistake when it passed him over to hire Rodriguez. This smells like a possible upset but U-M is 8-0 all-time against Eastern and it’s tough to go against that much history … Michigan 27, Eastern Michigan 24. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Michigan State at Notre Dame: Neither of these teams are where they thought they’d be heading into their annual showdown. Both suffered late hiccups last week at home and are looking for redemption. Sparty’s loss to Western Michigan exposed the relative youth and inexperience of Mark Dantonio’s team while the Irish defense collapsed late against Michigan and remains a work in progress. That doesn’t exactly bode well for the home team since MSU boasts quarterback Kirk Cousins. He leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency and is sixth nationally. The visitor has gotten the best of this series of late, winning seven of the last eight, and Michigan State is currently working on a six-game winning streak in South Bend, the longest of any opponent in the 78-year history of Notre Dame Stadium. Quite honestly, I don’t know what the oddsmakers are thinking about as they install the Irish as prohibitive favorites. I guess it just means this is your Upset Special … Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Northern Illinois at Purdue: I wonder if anyone else out there is wondering if the Boilermakers are truly for real. In their first two games under new head coach Danny Hope, the team skewered Toledo and then gave Oregon all it wanted last week before dropping a 38-36 decision. If you know anything about the Ducks, it is that there are nearly unbeatable in Eugene, so a two-point loss is nothing for Purdue to hang its head about. This week, Hope’s Eternals return to West Lafayette to host the Huskies, who have only one win and one tie to show for 34 previous games against Big Ten competition including a 28-20 loss to Wisconsin in the season opener. The Boilers are trying to start 3-0 for only the fourth time in the past 10 seasons … Purdue 31, Northern Illinois 20. (12 noon ET, BTN)

No. 11 Ohio State at Toledo: After last week’s loss and the ensuing wave of criticism enveloping their head coach, I believe the Buckeyes will do something they haven’t done in quite some time. I think they will avoid looking past a perceived lesser opponent and get the job done in Cleveland. If you’re looking for something else to hang your hat on, understand that the last four times a former Jim Tressel assistant has gone up against his old boss, Tressel has won every time and by an average margin of 24.0 points … Ohio State 38, Toledo 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN GamePlan)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-7) at Fresno State; Tennessee at Florida (-29); Texas Tech at Texas (-17½); USC (-18) at Washington; North Texas at Alabama (-32); Temple at Penn State (-28); Florida State at BYU (-6½); Cal at Minnesota (+14); Eastern Michigan (+25) at Michigan; Michigan State (+10½) at Notre Dame; Northern Illinois (+13) at Purdue; and Ohio State (-20½) at Toledo.

Just so you know, the Buckeyes are 5-0 ATS in their last five road games. Enjoy the games.

New Year, Different Team, Same Goals For Ohio State

Everyone seems to think Florida will repeat as national champions this season and I can certainly see why. The Gators return a veteran team, including quarterback Tim Tebow and all 22 members of the defensive depth chart for last year’s title game.

The question is how badly the Gators want another title. There is a reason why no team has ever won back-to-back BCS championships: it’s damned hard. If wanting the title and fielding a veteran team was all there was to the equation, Ohio State would be defending the championship.

I went back to read what I wrote about the Buckeyes heading into last season and a lot of it is downright painful. Under the headline “Time For Ohio State To Prove It’s The Best,” I wrote an open letter to the 2008 team, a squad filled with veterans who had watched other teams before them squander national championship possibilities.

“No team in college football in 2008 has more talent than you,” I wrote. “No team has more experience than you. No team has more returning starters than you. No team has more candidates for postseason awards than you. And no team has the chance to make more history than you.

“I know that you have already made the sacrifices necessary to go for a national championship. I know about the countless hours in the weight room since late January, the gallons of sweat you’ve spent on the practice field during 7-on-7 drills this summer, the hours upon hours of film study.

“But listen up, guys. Every young man who plays major college football makes those sacrifices. Those things alone don’t make national champions. You have to want it. You can’t just talk about wanting it. You have to want it – you have to want it so deep within your bone marrow that you’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to get it.

“If you don’t want it that badly, you can resign yourself to personal glory and soothe yourself with a nice, fat NFL contract next year. After all, only one of Ohio State’s six Heisman Trophy winners ever won a national championship ring. Most of them came close, of course, but no one gets a trophy for getting close.

“If you want it – truly want it – go out and get it. No team on your schedule – not even supposedly mighty USC – is as good as you are.

“On paper, you are the best team in college football. All you have to do is go out and prove it.”

Hindsight being 20/20, we know that the 2008 Buckeyes did not “go out and get it.” On paper, they may have stacked up well against any other team in America, but where it mattered – on the playing field – there were three losses. Last time I checked, you don’t win a national championship with three losses.

Now, in less than 24 hours, the 2009 title chase begins. The championship talk centers around Florida, and if by some off-chance the Gators stumble, most of the so-called experts look for No. 2 Texas or third-ranked Oklahoma to make a title run. (Can’t be both, of course. They play one another Oct. 17.)

The rest of the top 10 is a flawed bunch, which includes No. 6 Ohio State and its relatively inexperienced lineup.

On the surface, the preseason No. 6 ranking would seem a little high. Where are the points going to come from? No proven tailback, no proven receiver and a young, still-improving quarterback working behind a revamped offensive line. Even the defense, which should be considered the strength of the team, must shake off the losses of All-America linebacker James Laurinaitis and Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Malcolm Jenkins.

Of course, trying to figure out which teams will peak in which years is kind of like trying to time the stock market. Every member of the Buckeye Nation knows the team was primed for a national championship run in 2003, yet won it all a year before. On the surface, OSU would appear to be a stronger candidate for BCS honors in 2010 that it does this season.

And yet there are possibilities.

The schedule is certainly friendly enough. With the exception of the Nov. 7 visit to Penn State, the games against the perceived toughest opponents – USC, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa – will all be in Ohio Stadium.

Additionally, with all of the inexperience comes a boatload of talent. According to Scout.com, over the past three recruiting seasons, the Buckeyes have signed 41 players with four- or five-star ratings. Over the same span, Big Ten rival Penn State has signed 29. Meanwhile, Texas has signed 45 players with four or five stars, Florida has signed 44, USC has signed 41 and Oklahoma has signed 33.

I know that recruiting is an inexact science, but you, me and Aunt Martha can pretty much separate the four- and five-star performers from the rest of the pack. And you’re telling me Ohio State shouldn’t be able to compete for the national championship against those other media darlings?

Why not this year? Terrelle Pryor is a superstar in the making. Neither Dan Herron nor Brandon Saine are the bruiser Beanie Wells was, but they have a lot of talent and both seem eager as hell. For all of the hand-wringing we’ve done since spring about the offensive line, do you honestly think guys like Justin Boren and Jim Cordle are going to let that unit underachieve?

Likewise on defense. Who wants to be the guy who misses an assignment and has to go back into the huddle to face down Doug Worthington or Thad Gibson or Kurt Coleman?

I don’t want to want to climb out on any limbs and predict a national championship run for the 2009 Buckeyes. There are just too many variables, too many things that have to fall into place, too many bounces that have to bounce the right way. Besides, take another look at what I wrote about last year’s team and tell me how adept I am at telling the future.

Somehow, though, I just have this nagging feeling that this could be a season where the Buckeyes confound their critics. I guess we’ll begin to find out starting tomorrow.

PLAYING SERVICE ACADEMIES

Throughout the first part of its existence, and especially during World Wars I and II, Ohio State squared off against many teams made up of military personnel. However, when the Buckeyes host the Midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy on Saturday, it will mark only the second time a service academy team has played at Ohio Stadium and only the fifth time ever Ohio State has played an academy team.

OSU and Navy have met three times previously in football matchups with the Buckeyes holding victories in all three games.

The teams first met in 1930 when the Buckeyes took a 27-0 win over the Midshipmen. The game, played at the old Municipal Stadium in Baltimore, snapped a three-game non-winning streak for Ohio State. After beginning the 1930 season with home shutouts over Mount Union and Indiana, the Buckeyes lost a 19-2 decision at Northwestern and a 13-0 verdict at home to Michigan before playing Wisconsin to a 0-0 tie.

Against the Middies (who know prefer to be known simply as the Mids), Ohio State rediscovered its offense and scored four touchdowns. One of those was a scoring pass from three-time All-American Wes Fesler to receiver Dick Larkins, who would later serve 23 years as OSU athletic director.

The following season in 1931, Navy came to Columbus and was victimized by another well-known Ohio State All-American. Sid Gillman gathered in a tipped pass for a 35-yard touchdown reception as the Buckeyes rolled to a 20-0 homecoming victory in Ohio Stadium.

OSU and Navy would not meet again for 50 years until the Liberty Bowl matched the two schools following the 1981 season. The underdog Midshipmen erased an early 10-0 deficit and stormed to a 20-17 lead midway through the third quarter.

But the Buckeyes came back with a 2-yard touchdown run by Jimmy Gayle to regain the lead with two minutes left in the third period, and then Art Schlichter threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Cedric Anderson early in the fourth quarter. It was Schlichter’s 50th career TD pass, a school record that would stand until Bobby Hoying broke it in 1995.

Navy made things interesting with a touchdown and two-point conversion with eight seconds left to make it 31-287, but OSU recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock. The win snapped a string of four consecutive bowl losses for the Buckeyes and began a postseason stretch that saw Ohio State win five of six bowl games.

OSU’s other contest against service academy competition would just as soon be forgotten by most Buckeye fans. That one occurred after the 1990 season and resulted in a 23-11 Liberty Bowl loss to Air Force.

The Buckeyes had missed out on a chance to go to the Rose Bowl that season following a 31-3 loss to Michigan, and the team was bitterly disappointed at being relegated to the Liberty Bowl. That disappointment showed in their performance although OSU actually enjoyed an early 5-0 lead in the game. They got a safety in the opening minutes and a 28-yard field goal from Tim Williams later in the opening period, but the Falcons scored touchdowns in the second and third quarters to build a 13-5 lead.

OSU cut the margin to 13-11 early in the fourth quarter on tailback Robert Smith’s 29-yard run, but the Buckeyes would get no closer. Air Force sealed the win in the final three minutes with a 47-yard field goal and a 40-yard TD on an interception return.

The Buckeyes totaled only 214 yards of offense in the game, including 80 on the ground. Meanwhile, the Falcons’ wishbone attack was worth 254 rushing yards.

The outcome had far-reaching repercussions for head coach John Cooper’s program at Ohio State. The Buckeyes suffered through one of their worst recruiting seasons in recent memory – many experts rated their efforts as only sixth-best in the Big Ten.

OSU-NAVY TIDBITS

** Ohio State kicks off its 120th season of intercollegiate football against Navy on Saturday. The Buckeyes have won 30 consecutive home openers, not tasting defeat since a 19-0 loss to Penn State in the 1978 season opener. OSU is also 2-0 all-time on Sept. 5 – a 20-19 win over Louisville in the 1992 home opener and a 34-17 victory at West Virginia in 1998.

** OSU head coach Jim Tressel is 17-5-1 in season openers, including a perfect 8-0 at OSU. The last time he walked off the field with a loss in an opener was 1995 when Kent State handed Youngstown State a 17-14 defeat.

** The Midshipmen are led by second-year coach Ken Niumatalolo who is 8-6 overall at Navy. Niumatalolo is the first coach to lead Navy to a bowl game in his inaugural season as head coach.

** Navy has won three straight season openers and is 6-1 in the triple option era. The only loss during that span was a 23-20 defeat to Maryland in 2005. This, however, is the first time since 1999 the Mids have opened the season against a ranked opponent. That season, Navy dropped a 49-14 decision to No. 10 Georgia Tech.

** While the Buckeyes are 3-1 all-time against service academies, the Midshipmen are 26-40-3 all-time against teams from the Big Ten. Navy last played a Big Ten opponent in 2002 when it lost a 49-40 shootout against Northwestern in Annapolis. The Mids haven’t enjoyed a victory over a Big Ten team since 1979 when they took a 13-12 win at Illinois.

** Navy last defeated a top-10 team on Nov. 17, 1984, when the Mids upset No. 2 South Carolina, 38-21, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

** Ohio State is 385-106-20 in Ohio Stadium since the facility opened in 1922. That is a .773 winning percentage. All-time in Columbus, the team is 528-153-35, good for a winning percentage of .762.

** Over the past six seasons, the Buckeyes have enjoyed a 38-4 record at home, good for a .905 winning percentage. Since 2003, that is the fourth best home mark in the Football Bowl Subdivision (better known as Division I-A). Only Boise State (38-1, .975), Oklahoma (37-1, .974) and USC (35-1, .972) have done better over that same timeframe.

** No one gives Navy much of a chance to topple the Buckeyes, but everyone who takes the Midshipmen lightly does so at their own risk. Not only has the Naval Academy led all Division I-A teams in rushing in each of the past four seasons, it is also working on a streak of six consecutive years with eight or more victories.

** Navy is trying to win a record fifth straight NCAA rushing title this year. Before the Midshipmen’s current streak, no team had ever won the rushing title more than twice in a row.

** The Mids own 13 victories over BCS-conference opponents since 2003. That number is tied with Utah for the most by a non-BCS team over the last six seasons.

** Congratulations to Ohio State’s newly minted captains – defensive lineman Doug Worthington, linebacker Austin Spitler and safety Kurt Coleman. The last time the Buckeyes had an all-defensive lineup at captain was in 2002 when Donnie Nickey and Mike Doss helped lead the team to the national championship.

** ESPN will have the telecast of the Ohio State-Navy game. The announce team will feature Dave Pasch with the play-by-play and a pair of former Big Ten All-Americans – OSU’s own Chris Spielman and Bob Griese of Purdue – providing the color commentary. Kickoff is set for 12 noon Eastern.

** In addition to his ESPN duties, Spielman will be honored at the Navy game for his election to the College Football Hall of Fame. On hand to help honor Spielman will be National Football Foundation board member and Hall of Fame running back Archie Griffin.

** Saturday’s pregame will also feature a flyover conducted by The Fighting Bengals of VMFA(AW)-224 stationed at MCAS Beaufort in Beaufort, S.C. The Fighting Bengals just returned from a deployment to Iwakuni, Japan. One of the pilots will be former Navy offensive lineman Grant Moody, who lettered for the Midshipmen in 2003.

** Next week, Ohio State stays home to host Southern California in one of the most eagerly anticipated matchups of the young season. That game will also be televised by ESPN with a kickoff scheduled shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** Twenty-five years ago today, Miami (Fla.) notched its second straight victory over a No. 1-ranked team. Eight months after knocking off top-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and winning their first-ever national championship, the Hurricanes dealt preseason No. 1 Auburn a 20-18 loss in the 1984 Kickoff Classic, held at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands. A late fumble by Auburn running back Bo Jackson led to the go-ahead field goal by Miami freshman kicker Greg Cox.

** Also occurring during this week in college football: On Sept. 2, 1989, Southern Mississippi quarterback Brett Favre threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns, including a 2-yard score with 23 seconds remaining, to lead the Golden Eagles to a 30-26 win over No. 6 Florida State; on Sept. 4, 1993, Penn State scored its first Big Ten victory with a 38-20 win over Minnesota; and on Sept. 5, 1981, Lamar (Texas) University engineered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, beating defending SWC champion Baylor, 18-17, in Waco. Lamar kicker Mike Marlow booted a 42-yard field goal with three seconds left to account for the winning points. It was the first time in history that a Division I-AA school had beaten a I-A school. Lamar, which ended its football program in 1989, is scheduled to resume intercollegiate play in 2010.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** You may want to keep tabs on Lane Kiffin’s first season as head coach at Tennessee. The Volunteers currently hold the distinction of being the major college program with the longest streak since back-to-back losing seasons. Tennessee, which went 5-7 last year to get Phil Fulmer fired, hasn’t had back-to-back losing seasons since 1910 and ’11. Which team currently has the second-longest streak? That would be Ohio State, which hasn’t posted back-to-back losing campaigns since 1923 and ’24.

** College teams playing in NFL stadiums is becoming popular. Colorado and Colorado State recently agreed to play the next 10 games in their series at Invesco Field, home of the Denver Broncos. A little closer to home, Indiana and Penn State will play in 2010 at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. That is technically a home game for the Hoosiers even though FedEx Field is some 700 miles from Bloomington.

** Fact: NCAA rules stipulate no football player can spend more than 20 hours per week, and no more than four hours per day, during the season on “controlled activities.” Fact: The 20-hour rule is one of those “don’t ask, don’t tell” rules that every program bends. Fact: The excuse that “everyone else does it” is no excuse at all. Fact: Michigan should have gone ahead, bit the bullet and hired Les Miles. Fact: Rich Rodriguez should have remained at West Virginia.

** Welcome to five institutions who field intercollegiate football programs for the first time in 2009. The newbies are Old Dominion in Division I-AA, the University of New Haven (West Haven, Conn.) and the University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio, Texas) in Division II, and Anna Maria College (Paxton, Mass.) and Castleton (Vt.) State College in Division III. Anna Maria and Castleton kick off their inaugural seasons playing one another Saturday in Castleton.

** In case you haven’t heard, I have a book coming out. It is called “The Die-Hard Fan’s Guide to Buckeye Football,” and is scheduled for release Sept. 8. You can purchase it now (at a discount) at such online booksellers as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.