Playing the ‘What If …?’ Game

Some food for thought today …

What if Terrelle Pryor had signed with Penn State instead of Ohio State?

Would Pryor be leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency as he is this week for the Buckeyes? Would Daryll Clark be riding the bench for the Nittany Lions? Would Todd Boeckman have the Buckeyes on the inside track to a third straight outright Big Ten championship after leading OSU to a late-October win over Penn State?

What if Terrelle Pryor had signed with Michigan instead of Ohio State?

Would Pryor still be leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency? Would the Wolverines be headed for their first losing season since 1967? Would they be head for the postseason for a record 35th consecutive time? Would there be a little more buzz about the upcoming 105th renewal of The Game?

What if Ryan Hamby had caught that touchdown pass in the 2005 Texas game?

Would the Buckeyes have gone on to beat the Longhorns rather than lost a 25-22 decision? Would Justin Zwick, who was on the throwing end of Hamby’s drop, have retained the starting quarterback position? Would Ohio State, and not Texas, have gone to the Rose Bowl to play USC for the national championship that year?

What if Ohio State had beaten Michigan State in 1998?

Would the Buckeyes have gone on to win the national championship that season? Would John Cooper have used that championship to reap highly rated recruiting classes? Would Cooper still be head coach at Ohio State? Would Jim Tressel still be coaching at Youngstown State?

What if Keith Byars hadn’t broken his foot prior to the 1985 season?

Would the Buckeyes have won the national championship, their first in 17 years? You can certainly make the case that a healthy Byars could have made the difference in OSU’s three losses that season – 31-28 at Illinois, 12-7 vs. Wisconsin and 27-17 at Michigan. The year before, Byars had rushed for 274 yards against the Illini, 142 against the Badgers and 101 against the Wolverines.

While we’re on the subject, what if the Buckeyes had won the title in ’85? Would Earle Bruce have weathered the storm that came two years later? How long would he have remained head coach? Another five years? 10? Some people forget that Bruce had a 57-17 conference record at OSU, good for a .770 winning percentage.

What if Ohio State hadn’t hired Hayes in 1951?

If the legendary coach hadn’t become a Buckeye and still wanted to coach in the Big Ten, he would have had several schools from which to choose. Minnesota could have been a likely destination since the Gophers also made a change at the head coaching position following the 1950 season. Out was Bernie Bierman after six seasons, and Minnesota hired Wes Fesler, who had resigned under pressure from Ohio State.

Perhaps Hayes would have waited another couple of years and taken a look at Wisconsin. UW head coach Ivy Williamson resigned after the 1955 season, and enjoyed six winning seasons during his seven-year tenure in Madison. Could Hayes have kept that going and turned Wisconsin into the Big Ten powerhouse that Ohio State became?

Or maybe Hayes would have waited until after the 1958 season to make a move. He would have been at Miami (Ohio) for a decade and probably have won several Mid-American Conference titles. Would he have been a candidate for the opening at the University of Michigan? And had Hayes remained at Miami through the 1950s, where would College Football Hall of Famers Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler have started their head coaching careers?

What if Paul Brown had returned to Ohio State after World War II?

Would the Buckeyes have contended and possibly won the national championship in 1948, ’49 or ’50? Would Vic Janowicz have still won the 1950 Heisman Trophy? Would the Snow Bowl game have been played? Where would Woody Hayes have carved his coaching legend?

Finally, what if there had never been a Chic Harley?

How long would Ohio State have had to wait for a victory over Michigan? Before Harley led the Buckeyes to a 13-3 win in 1919, the Wolverines held a 13-0-2 advantage in the series. Would OSU officials have finally thrown up their hands in surrender and refused to play Michigan?

More importantly, would Ohio State have ever had the impetus to build a huge, U-shaped stadium on the banks of the Olentangy River? Because of Harley’s popularity, overflow crowds at old Ohio Field convinced university officials they needed a new facility and plans for Ohio Stadium were born.

Without Harley, who knows where the Buckeyes would be playing today … or if anyone would care as much?

OHIO STATE-ILLINOIS MINUTIAE

** Ohio State and Illinois will meet Saturday for the 95th time and the Buckeyes hold a 60-30-4 advantage in the series. OSU has a 32-12 edge in Champaign, including victories in each of its last six trips to Memorial Stadium. The Illini haven’t beaten the Buckeyes at home since a 10-7 decision in 1991.

** Four of Ohio State’s victories during their six-game win streak in Champaign have been by eight points or less – 20-12 in 1993, 24-21 in 2000, 23-16 in overtime in 2002 and 17-10 in 2006. The other two were blowouts – 48-0 in 1996 and 41-0 in 1998.

** OSU head coach Jim Tressel is 3-2 against Illinois while Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook is 1-2 vs. the Buckeyes. With Ohio State, Tressel is 20-4 during the month of November, good for a .833 winning percentage. Under Zook, Illinois is 4-7 in November.

** Zook was defensive backs coach on John Cooper’s staff at Ohio State from 1988-90. Although those weren’t exactly the glory years, the Buckeyes were 3-0 against the Illini during that stretch.

** When his team defeated Michigan earlier this season in Ann Arbor, Zook became only the second active Big Ten coach with victories at Ohio Stadium and Michigan Stadium. Joe Paterno of Penn State is the other.

** The Illini have faced a ranked OSU team on 35 previous occasions since 1942, and the Buckeyes have won 24 of those contests. In the Zook era, Illinois has a 3-10 record against ranked teams including 0-2 this season.

** Ohio State’s is currently working on a streak of 14 consecutive victories in Big Ten road games, the longest such streak in school history. That is three short of the league record, set at 17 by Michigan between 1988 and ’92. The Buckeyes last lost a conference road contest Oct. 8, 2005, when they dropped a 17-10 decision at Penn State.

** This is the final road game of the 2008 season for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has an all-time record of 67-47-6 in the final road game of the regular season, including 5-2 under Tressel.

** Last week’s loss to Western Michigan continued a trend for Illinois. Since beating East Illinois and Louisiana-Lafayette on back-to-back weekends in early September, the Illini have followed every victory with a loss and every loss with a victory.

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

** Three more turnovers last week against Northwestern pushed Ohio State’s turnover margin to plus-13. That is the second-best turnover margin in the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally. Minnesota leads the conference and is No. 2 in the country with a plus-15 turnover margin. Oklahoma is the nation leader at plus-16. Meanwhile, Illinois is minus-4 in turnover margin, which ranks eighth in the Big Ten.

** Illinois’ five victories this season have come against teams with a combined record of 21-28. The Illini’s five losses have come against teams that are a combined 37-13.

** With 11 tackles against Northwestern, OSU middle linebacker James Laurinaitis upped his career total to 346 and leaped all the way into seventh place on the Ohio State all-time list. Laurinaitis passed Glen Cobb (336, 1979-82), Ed Thompson (338, 1974-76) and Al Washington (345, 1977-80), and now has his sights set on Thomas “Pepper” Johnson (379, 1982-85).

** OSU running back Chris “Beanie” Wells had 140 yards against Northwestern and increased his career rushing total to 2,999 yards. That jumped him up to sixth place on the school’s all-time list and past Antonio Pittman (2,945, 2004-06), Michael Wiley (2,951, 1996-99) and Carlos Snow (2,974, 1987-89, ’91). Next up for Wells is Pepe Pearson, currently in fifth place with 3,121 yards from 1994 to ’97.

** Last week’s win over Northwestern was the 81st for Tressel at Ohio State, tying him for third place on the school’s all-time list with Earle Bruce (1979-87). Only Woody Hayes (205, 1951-78) and John Cooper (111, 1988-2001) have more victories as head coach of the Buckeyes.

** It was also victory No. 50 in Big Ten games for Tressel, making him only the 20th head coach in conference history to achieve that feat. Hayes is the all-time leader in that category with 152 league wins during his career.

** Illinois quarterback Juice Williams needs 326 more yards of total offense to break his school’s single-season record in that category. Former Illini QB “Champagne” Tony Eason set the mark in 1982 at 3,671. So far this season, Williams has amassed 3,346 yards of total offense – 2,769 through the air and 577 rushing.

** Williams has had two games this season in which he threw for 450 or more yards. Unfortunately, both were in losing efforts. Williams totaled 451 yards in a 52-42 loss to Missouri and established a career-high with 462 yards in a 27-20 loss to Minnesota. Those are the third and fourth-highest single-game passing totals in Illinois history. Dave Wilson holds the record with 621 yards against Ohio State in 1980. That, too, came in an Illini as the Buckeyes took a 49-42 win.

** Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn has 60 receptions worth 947 yards this season and needs 53 more to become the first Illini player since Brandon Lloyd in 2002 to top 1,000 yards receiving. David Williams set his school’s single-season record in 1984 with 1,278 receiving yards.

** Illinois has scored 42 or more points in four games so far this season. The last time the Illini achieved that feat was 1982.

** It wouldn’t do the Buckeyes much good to try and outguess Illinois senior center Ryan McDonald. That’s because McDonald is a rocket scientist. No, really. McDonald completed his undergraduate work in aeronautical engineering with a 3.84 grade-point average and has begun pursuit of a master’s degree in the same field.

** Kickoff for this week’s game is 12 noon EST, or 11 a.m. local time if you’re making the trek to Champaign. ESPN will have the telecast with the announce crew of Dave Pasch (play-by-play) and former Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware (color analysis) handling the call for the second week in a row.

** Next week’s game in the traditional season-ending showdown against Michigan. Kickoff will be at 12 noon Eastern and the game will be televised on ABC.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** In case you have lost count, there are 34 postseason bowls including the BCS National Championship Game. That means there are postseason spots available for 68 teams, and after last week’s action, 52 schools already have the requisite six victories to become bowl-eligible. There are another 12 teams that could qualify this week with a win, and 13 more that need two more victories to quality for the postseason. Among the current four-win teams in danger of missing a bowl: Texas A&M, Rutgers, Arkansas and Clemson. Perennial powers such as Tennessee and Michigan are already out of the bowl mix with seven losses apiece.

** Minnesota and Wisconsin resume this weekend the longest rivalry in major college football. The Gophers and Badgers first met in 1890 and have played one another every year since 1907. The two schools battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe, a trophy that was inaugurated in 1948. Before that, Minnesota and Wisconsin squared off for the Slab of Bacon Trophy. However, the trophy disappeared in the 1940s and was eventually replaced by the Bunyan axe.

** When Penn State bit the dust last week, it dropped the number of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level to five: Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, Texas Tech and Utah.

** Michigan State running back Javon Ringer currently has 4,310 yards for his career and needs only 84 more to move into the Big Ten’s top 10 career rushers. Currently in 10th place is Jamie Morris of Michigan (1984-87) with 4,393 yards. Ron Dayne of Wisconsin (1996-99) is far and away the conference’s career rushing leader with 7,125 yards. Archie Griffin of Ohio State (1972-75) is a distant second with 5,589.

** Texas Tech is 10-0 for the first time since the 1938 season. That year, the Red Raiders rolled to 10 regular-season wins and then suffered a 20-13 upset loss to tiny St. Mary’s (Calif.) in the Cotton Bowl.

** You no longer have to wonder about which teams will meet in the SEC championship game. Alabama and Florida wrapped up their respective division titles last week and will square off Dec. 6 in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Here’s a pretty good bet: The winner will get to play for the BCS national title.

** Boise State head coach Chris Petersen continues to come with innovative ways to keep his offense as entertaining as possible. During last weekend’s 49-14 win over Utah State, the Broncos had four different players throw touchdown passes – and only two of them were quarterbacks. Starting QB Kellen Moore threw for 362 yards and two TDs while backup Mike Coughlin pitched a touchdown on his only attempt of the game. The other scoring passes came on option throws by receivers Tanyon Bissell (57 yards) and Vinny Perretta (17 yards).

** If you like scoring by the bunches, you ought to love Conference USA. Tulsa, Rice and Houston rank among the top 14 scoring offenses in the nation. Tulsa is No. 1 with an average of 52.0 points per game, Rice is No. 8 at 40.8 and Houston is No. 14 at 37.8. During a four-game stretch earlier this season, Tulsa topped 60 points twice and hung a season-high 77 on conference rival UTEP.

** Houston quarterback Case Keenum is a major reason why the Cougars have such a potent offense. He threw for 384 yards and four TDs last week during his team’s 42-14 win over Tulane. It was Keenum’s 10th straight game of at least 300 passing yards.

** Missouri’s 2008 football senior class has set a school record with 35 career wins. That tops the 1963 team’s seniors, who finished their careers with 33 victories.

** Wake Forest’s seniors also established a school mark. They have 30 victories over the last four seasons, and the Demon Deacons have now tallied six games or more wins in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1946-48.

** Kentucky has also ended a drought with its third straight season of six or more victories. That is first time the Wildcats have enjoyed such a stretch since 1954-56.

** Washington State has already allowed 502 points this season, setting a new Pac-10 record for defensive futility. The old mark was 469 set by Oregon State in 1981. And the Cougars, who have given up 66, 69, 58 and 59 points over their last four games, still have three games left to play.

** Texas Tech owns Division I-A’s current longest win streak at 12 games. That pales in comparison to Tuskegee (Ala.) of Division II, which has won 26 consecutive games. That streak ties a school record established from 1925 to ’27.

** My Heisman Trophy ballot this week: 1. QB Graham Harrell of Texas Tech; 2. QB Sam Bradford of Oklahoma; 3. RB Javon Ringer of Michigan State. By sheer coincidence, all three players have this week off.

** Running back Nate Kmic of Division III power Mount Union scored three touchdowns last week during a 49-20 win over Otterbein and became the all-time NCAA scoring king. Kmic, who played his high school football at Delta (Ohio) High School, now has an amazing 111 touchdowns in his career, good for 666 points and the NCAA all-division record. Of course, Kmic is no stranger to the end zone. He crossed the goal line 89 times during his high school career, giving him an even 200 over the past eight seasons.

** Another new record-holder also plays his college football in Ohio. Cris Reisert, quarterback at Ohio Dominican, now owns the NAIA career marks for passing yards (13,174) and TD passes (117). Reisert, a Cincinnati Moeller product, pushed into the lead for the NAIA career marks with last week’s performance of 381 yards and four touchdowns during a 56-0 rout of Urbana.

** Twenty-two years ago today, one of the longest home winning streaks in college football history came to an end. On Nov. 13, 1982, Southern Mississippi engineered a 38-29 upset of Alabama, ending the Crimson Tide’s 57-game home win streak. The Golden Eagles were led by quarterback Reggie Collins, who rushed for 88 yards and three touchdowns, while tailback Sam Dejarnette added 153 yards and two scores. Before the loss to Southern Miss, Alabama hadn’t tasted defeat in Tuscaloosa since 1963.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 11, 1989, Duke scored a 35-26 upset of North Carolina State despite Wolfpack QB Shane Montgomery throwing an NCAA-record 73 passes for a school-record 535 yards; on Nov. 12, 1966, quarterback Bob Griese led Purdue to a 16-0 victory at Minnesota and secured the Boilermakers’ first-ever berth in the Rose Bowl; and on Nov. 14, 1992, Iowa State stunned seventh-ranked Nebraska with a 19-10 upset in Ames. Third-string quarterback Marv Seiler, starting only because it was Senior Day, bolted 78 yards to set up the game-clinching touchdown for the Cyclones.

** This week also marks a milestone in the way football is played today. On Nov. 15, 1879, Princeton unveiled the novel approach of using blockers to help the ball-carrier advance the ball down the field. The new angle evidently was successful as the Tigers scored a 1-0 victory over Harvard. (In those days, you had to score four touchdowns to score a single point.)

FEARLESS FORECAST

Just like the Buckeyes’ offense, it was get well week for the forecast. Despite missing on both Upset Specials – thanks LSU for spitting the bit against Alabama – we still managed a pretty good 10-4 finish straight up, and that pushes the SU season total to 74-28.

Against the spread, we finally stopped the bleeding with a nice 8-4 finish. After running out to a big advantage, the ATS picks were getting pretty close to breakeven but we’ve built up a decent cushion again at 54-45 for the season.

Here are the games we’re featuring this week (and remember that we’re using AP rankings).

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Indiana at No. 7 Penn State: Were the Nittany Lions exposed last week by Iowa or did they just have a bad day? Maybe a little of both although JoePa has never had much success against the Hawkeyes. Last week’s loss was his third in a row at Kinnick Stadium and fifth straight in the overall series. History has been much kinder against Indiana. The two teams have played 11 times and Penn State has won all 11. That includes five games in Happy Valley where the average margin of victory is 22.2 points. Perhaps the only thing that could keep this close is if the Lions are looking ahead to next week’s showdown with Michigan State … Penn State 34, Indiana 7. (12 noon EST, Big Ten Network)

No. 13 Georgia at Auburn: Everyone who talks about how great the SEC is should be forced to watch this game. These two teams were supposed to contend for the national championship, yet they have combined for a mediocre 13-7 record. You could give the Bulldogs a bit of a pass because they have had so many major injuries to frontline players. But what is Auburn’s excuse? The Tigers lost four of five games during one stretch, including a home game to a 4-6 Arkansas team, mostly because they are one of the most inept offenses in college football. One of the simple rules of football: If you can’t score, you can’t win … Georgia 30, Auburn 13. (12:30 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 4 Texas at Kansas: The Longhorns may have had their national championship plans derailed a couple of weeks ago at Texas Tech, but they still have a lot to play for. Not only is a BCS bowl berth still a possibility, but quarterback Colt McCoy remains in the running for a free trip to New York and the Heisman Trophy festivities. This week, they travel to Lawrence to take on Kansas for the first time since 2005, a game they won 66-14 during their national title run. The Jayhawks are a much better program now than they were then although they seem to have leveled off a little bit this season … Texas 42, Kansas 24. (12:30 p.m. EST, FSN Regional)

Toledo at Western Michigan: After WMU defeated Illinois last week, I wanted to know more about the Broncos. They have won seven of their last eight games and feature one of the best college quarterback you’ve never heard of. While Ball State’s Nate Davis has gotten most of the attention coming out of the MAC, Western Michigan junior Tim Hiller is a native of Orrville, Ohio – same place that produced Bob Knight and Smucker’s jams and jellies – and has thrown for 3,157 yards and 30 TDs this season. Hiller ought to pad those numbers this week against the Rockets, who rank 109th nationally in pass efficiency defense … Western Michigan 31, Toledo 10. (2 p.m. EST, No TV)

No. 17 North Carolina at Maryland: Ohio State fans might want to start paying attention to the ACC, especially if the Buckeyes run the table and play in the Orange Bowl. It would be an interesting matchup between the Buckeyes and UNC, piloted by former Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis. First things first for the Tar Heels, though, who will have their hands full at College Park this Saturday. The Terrapins have beaten North Carolina three times in a row at Byrd Stadium and five of the last six times in the overall series. But the Heels may benefit from tomorrow’s weather forecast – thunderstorms, overcast and cool. That should help UNC run the ball while helping to negate their sometimes-shaky pass defense … North Carolina 26, Maryland 23. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 24 South Carolina at No. 3 Florida: Think the Ol’ Ball Coach wishes he had never left the Swamp? The Gamecocks have won six of their last seven games to sneak back into the national rankings, but to be brutally honest, they don’t have nearly enough firepower to hang with the Gators. Since the upset loss to Ole Miss in late September, Florida has punished its opponents, winning each of the last five games by no fewer than 28 points. Also, since South Carolina joined the SEC, they are 1-15 against the Gators including 0-11 in Gainesville … Florida 41, South Carolina 10. (3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

No. 9 Boise State at Idaho: Did you know the Broncos began their recent run of success back in 2005 against their instate rivals? It’s true. When BSU torched the Vandals to the tune of a 70-35 win three years ago, it started a streak that has seen the Broncos beat 22 of their last 23 Western Athletic Conference opponents. This year, it could be 2005 revisited. Boise State has rolled over all five WAC opponents this season, winning those games by an average of 26.0 points. Probably all you need to know about this one is that the Broncos rank No. 2 nationally in scoring defense and the Vandals rank 92nd in scoring offense … Boise State 45, Idaho 10. (5 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 6 USC at Stanford: There is a slight possibility the Trojans may use revenge as a motivating factor this week against the Cardinal. They remember, as does nearly everyone else in the country, last year’s meltdown when Stanford rolled into the L.A. Coliseum as 42-point underdogs and rolled out with a colossal 24-23 upset. The Cardinal is a much better team this year than last year, but it’s doubtful that’s going to help. USC has been invincible lately, outscoring the last six opponents by a 231-23 margin and protecting a perfect November record (25-0) since Pete Carroll became head coach in 2001. And while the Trojans get most of their ink for offense, their defense is No. 1 nationally in total and scoring defense. No way the Cardinal pulls off the shocker this time … USC 45, Stanford 7. (7 p.m. EST, Versus)

Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama: The only thing that could derail the Crimson Tide before their SEC title showdown with Florida is the Crimson Tide themselves. Bama finishes the regular season against teams with a combined record of 8-11, starting this week with the 3-6 Bulldogs. You might think the Tide would put it on cruise control, but I doubt Nick Saban lets that happen. Mississippi State has been a recent thorn in Alabama’s side – the Tide haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in the last three games in the series and they lost a 24-16 decision when the Bulldogs last visited Tuscaloosa in 2006. Those history lessons should be more than enough incentive to stay focused … Alabama 27, Mississippi State 14. (7:45 p.m. EST, ESPN)

No. 25 Tulsa at Houston: Some of the shine is off the Golden Hurricane after absorbing a 30-23 loss to Arkansas two weeks ago. Maybe it was the best thing for them, though. Before that contest, Tulsa seemed like a team more interested in playing not to lose. This week, they travel to Houston for what should be a good, old-fashioned shootout. These are two of most prolific scoring offenses in the country, and neither team bothers much with defense. The difference-maker should be Tulsa’s running game, which compliments QB David Johnson very nicely … Tulsa 49, Houston 28. (8 p.m. EST)

No. 8 Utah at San Diego State: While the Utes are looking to stay undefeated and on track for a BCS bowl berth, the Aztecs are simply trying to get to the barn. They are 1-9 and have surrendered 35 or more points in each of their last six games. And in case you think Chuck Long’s team is simply deficient defensively, know that SDSU ranks 100th or worse nationally in the following categories: rushing, total and scoring offense, rushing, scoring and total defense, turnover margin and punt returns. At least they play their home games in nice weather … Utah 48, San Diego State 7. (8 p.m. EST, The Mtn.)

No. 10 Ohio State at Illinois: Is this redemption game for the Buckeyes? You bet it is. There are very few times during a football season when a team goes into a game thinking about little else than playing for its own self-worth, and that should be the mind-set for members of the Ohio State defense as they head to Champaign-Urbana this weekend. Last year, the defense simply could not get the Illini and QB Juice Williams off the field in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. While the Buckeyes have been on a roller-coaster ride with their offense the last couple of weeks, the defense has remained steady, and it’s hard to believe that guys like James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins will let what happened last year happen again this year … Ohio State 24, Illinois 17. (12 noon EST, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Indiana (+36) at Penn State; Georgia (-8) at Auburn; Texas (-13) at Kansas; Toledo at Western Michigan (-14); North Carolina (-2½) at Maryland; South Carolina at Florida (-21); Boise State (-34) at Idaho; USC (-20½) at Stanford; Mississippi State (+22) at Alabama; Tulsa (-4) at Houston; Utah (-28) at San Diego State; Ohio State at Illinois (+10).

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

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Other Teams Besides Ohio State Relying On Freshmen

While Ohio State fans continue to debate the merits of keeping freshman Terrelle Pryor as the one and only playing quarterback on the team, there are other coaches throughout the nation who have decided to make dazzling freshmen the focal parts of their teams.

That includes Boise State, the only other ranked team with a freshman at quarterback. Kellen Moore threw for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week as the Broncos went on the road for a 33-16 victory at San Jose State. Through seven games, Moore has completed 149 of 210 passes (71.0 percent) for 1,835 yards and 15 touchdowns against only four picks.

Additionally, his pass efficiency rating of 164.1 puts Moore seventh in the country in that category. He trails only David Johnson of Tulsa, Colt McCoy of Texas, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Zac Robinson of Oklahoma State, Chase Daniel of Missouri and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech.

Drawing comparisons between Moore’s production to that of Pryor is a bit unfair. After all, Moore operates a wide-open style of offense under Boise State head coach Chris Peterson while the suspicion remains that OSU’s Jim Tressel has been reluctant to open his playbook for Pryor. Nevertheless, if you would like to compare stats, Pryor has completed 75 of his 115 attempts (65.2 percent) for 879 yards and six touchdowns vs. three interceptions.

Pryor has a big edge over Moore in the rushing department. The Ohio State freshman has carried 97 times for 417 yards and scored five times. Moore has 28 carries for a net of minus-12 yards and no touchdowns.

Another outstanding first-year player is Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who had a breakout game against USC. Rodgers rushed for a season-high 186 yards during his team’s 27-21 stunner over the Trojans back on Sept. 25. Rodgers hasn’t been just a one-trick pony, though. He has rushed for 812 yards and nine TDs so far and is also a pass-catching threat with 19 catches for 176 yards.

Perhaps the most unheralded freshman in Georgia receiver A.J. Green. He has already had a couple of 100-yard games for the Bulldogs, and has totals of 39 catches for 662 yards and five touchdowns. His average of 17.0 yards per catch is pretty nice, too.

There are also a couple of standout freshmen on defense. Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis had 15 tackles and two interceptions last week in the Sooners’ 58-35 win over Kansas State, and he now leads his team with 84 tackles through eight games. Meanwhile, defensive back Sean Baker is starring for unbeaten Ball State. He leads the 8-0 Cardinals in both tackles (64) and interceptions (4).

Slightly off the radar is Louisville running back Vic Anderson. Although the Cardinals are much better known for their passing game, Anderson has jumped into the starting lineup as a freshman and responded by averaging 103.9 yards in his first seven games. He has also scored six touchdowns.

As for a freshman who is not currently a starter but will be soon: Alabama running back Mark Ingram. He was part of Nick Saban’s killer recruiting class earlier this year and has rushed for 420 yards and six TDs so far as backup to Tide starter Glen Coffee. Best of all, Ingram is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

And then there is perhaps the best freshman you’ve never heard of. That would be receiver/kick returner T.Y. Hilton of Florida International, and he is, in a word, explosive. He is averaging 28.4 yards on 17 receptions, 17.8 yards on 11 punt returns and 24.7 yards on 22 kickoff returns. Hilton has also scored one touchdown for every 10 times he has touched the ball so far this season.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to All-American offensive tackle Dave Foley. Born Oct. 28, 1947, in Cincinnati, David Edward Foley was a three-year starter at Ohio State between 1966-68. He played right tackle in 1966 and ’67, then moved to left tackle in ’68 and earned All-America honors. Foley was also team co-captain that year as the Buckeyes captured the national championship. He finished his college career as a three-time Academic All-American – the only player in OSU history to achieve that feat – and then became a first-round selection in the 1969 NFL draft by New York Jets. After two seasons with the Jets, Foley was traded to Buffalo where he played until 1977. In 1973, Foley was part of the Bills’ offensive line that helped O.J. Simpson become the first NFL rusher to gain 2,000 yards in a single season. Foley earned his only All-Pro selection that season. After 110 games, including 68 starts, Foley retired from pro football after the 1977 season. He returned to Ohio and settled in Springfield, where he is currently owner of the Foley Benefits Group LLC. Earlier this season, Foley returned to Columbus and was honorary captain for the Buckeyes when they played Ohio.

Also celebrating birthdays this 28th day of October: Southern rock and country music legend Charlie Daniels is 72; all-time winningest NBA coach Lenny Wilkens is 71; TV actor Dennis Franz is 64 (he was Andy Sipowicz on “NYPD Blue”); Olympic decathlon gold medalist turned reality TV star Bruce Jenner is 59; Microsoft founder and gazillionaire Bill Gates is 53; Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is 52; professional poker player Scotty Nguyen is 46; comic actor Andy Richter is 42; Oscar-winning actress Julia Roberts is 41; former NFL running back Terrell Davis is 36; country singer Brad Paisley is 36; actor Joaquin Phoenix is 34; St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Braden Looper is 34; and American Idol season one runner-up Justin Guarini is 30.

AND FINALLY

** Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said a replay official mistakenly awarded Michigan a touchdown during its game against Michigan State on Saturday. “The people in the replay booth made a mistake,” Delany said at the conference’s basketball media day Sunday. “It wasn’t a mistake of judgment, it was a mistake of an application of the rule. They applied the wrong rule and they applied it improperly.” Delany said the decision was “not acceptable” and added discipline could follow. Could follow? How about will follow. How many more blown calls are going to cost teams before the Big Ten does something about its shoddy officiating? It is long past time the conference replaced officials who can’t seem to get calls correct even with the benefit of replay.

** Tyrone Willingham is out as head coach at Washington. There seems to be some question, however, as to whether he resigned or was fired. Seeing that U-Dub will give Willingham a $1 million buyout on contract, I don’t see how that can be classified as a resignation.

** One of the names that quickly popped up on Washington’s wish list was Mike Leach of Texas Tech. The rumor is that Leach would be interested. I doubt that Leach’s personality would be a good fit in laid-back Seattle but you never know. Leach’s sometimes nuclear disposition certainly would be a 180-degree turn from Willingham’s cool demeanor.

** The so-called Pickens Plan to wean the United States off its dependency on foreign oil seems to be working – at least for its creator. Longtime oil man T. Boone Pickens recently announced he will give $63 million to his alma mater Oklahoma State. Pickens previously gave the university $165 million in January 2006. However, it may be awhile before the Cowboys get any more donations from their No. 1 benefactor. The current economic downturn as cost Pickens’ energy hedge fund an estimated $282 million since July.

** In honor of the World Series, did you know that 24 members of the Hall of Fame who played at least five years after 1902 never appeared in the Fall Classic? That list includes such immortals as George Sisler, Nap Lajoie and Willie Keeler as well as more contemporary stars as Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Jim Bunning, Ferguson Jenkins and Phil Niekro.

** One more World Series tidbit: Yogi Berra still owns series records for games played (75), at bats (259), hits (71), singles (49) and doubles (10). Berra appeared in 14 Series with New York between 1947 and 1963 and owns an astounding 10 championship rings.

** In honor of Yogi, remember one of his famous sayings: “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Top 10 College Football Coaches

While on vacation last week, I visited one of my favorite Southwest Florida establishments and overhead a discussion about college football coaches. Being in SEC country, most of the argument centered on coaches from the conference that has won the last two national championships.

One guy was absolutely convinced that Florida head coach Urban Meyer was the best in the entire country. His buddy argued that while Meyer was very good, he wasn’t even the best coach in his own conference. That distinction, he argued, was reserved for former Florida boss and current South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

Neither could agree on much with one notable exception – their mutual hatred for Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer despite 147 wins over the last 15 seasons including the 1998 national championship.

Naturally, the discussion got me to thinking about the best college coaches in the country. Here is my top 10. See how it compares with yours.

1. Pete Carroll, USC – Most people forget that Carroll was damaged goods when he surfaced in L.A. in 2001. He was basically run out of the NFL, fired by the New York Jets and the New England Patriots. But the Trojans couldn’t exactly afford to be choosy at the time they hired Carroll. They were coming off a five-year stretch during which they were 31-29, and Carroll’s first season in 2001 produced a 6-6 record and tie for sixth place in the Pac-10. Since then, the Men of Troy have had six straight seasons with 11 or more victories, have never finished lower than No. 4 in the final AP poll during that stretch and won back-to-back national titles in 2003 and ’04. All that plus the top winning percentage among all active I-A coaches at .844 – throw out that first season and it’s a stratospheric .897.

2. Jim Tressel, Ohio State – Let’s forget for a second that Tressel’s team has lost consecutive BCS title games. Let’s also forget that he doesn’t court media attention, making him less than desirable for the national outlets like ESPN and more susceptible to their potshots. Despite all of that, it is the black and white of Tressel’s résumé that sets him apart from most of his contemporaries. He is one of a handful of Division I-A coaches with 60 or more wins over the past six seasons. His team is shooting for a historic third straight outright Big Ten championship. And he has beaten his archrival six out of seven times, and that hadn’t happened in nearly 50 years. Then throw in the fact that his teams have played for the national championship nine times over the past 17 seasons – winning five titles – and you begin to see why Tressel belongs near the top of this list.

3. Urban Meyer, Florida You may not like his smug demeanor, and you may not like it that he always seems to looking for an opportunity to fatten his wallet. But make no mistake – Meyer is a bona fide winner. So far, he has turned around the fortunes at three different schools. He was 17-6 in two seasons at Bowling Green after the Falcons had gone 24-42 in the preceding six years. He was 22-2 at Utah after the Utes were 17-17 in their previous three seasons. And after the three-year Ron Zook experiment produced a mediocre 23-15 record at Florida, Meyer has won 31 of 39 games in three seasons while producing the 2006 national championship and 2007 Heisman Trophy quarterback Tim Tebow, the first sophomore ever to win the award.

4. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma You think Tressel and his team have had a rough go lately in the postseason? After winning his first three BCS bowl games, Stoops is now working on a four-game losing streak, the most recent a particularly ugly 48-28 loss to West Virginia in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. Nevertheless, Oklahoma annually seems to be a player in the national championship story. Maybe that’s because Stoops has led his team to 90 victories since the start of the 2000 season, the most at the Division I-A level during that span. Of course, his résumé also boasts the 2000 national title as well as a career winning percentage of .815 that is second among active coaches only to Carroll.

5. Mark Richt, Georgia Fourth among active I-A coaches with a .791 winning percentage, Richt is one of only six coaches to win a pair of SEC crowns in his first five seasons. His Georgia teams have won nine or more games in each of the past six years, won five of their last six bowl games and finished among the country’s top 10 teams five of the past six seasons. One other thing about Richt – he was the architect of Florida State’s potent offensive attacks throughout the 1990s. When he was QBs coach and offensive coordinator with the Seminoles, they went 120-15-1 (.886) with two national titles. Since he left, FSU has a combined record of 58-32 (.644) including 3-5 in bowl games.

6. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech – Has anyone done more with less over the past two decades than Beamer? Blacksburg is nice enough, but when you have to contend with the likes of conference foes such as Florida State, Clemson, Boston College and Miami (Fla.) – not mention all of the SEC rivals in the area – recruiting players to Virginia Tech isn’t exactly easy. Yet, Beamer has managed to post 164 victories at his alma mater, including 10 wins or more in seven of the past nine seasons. He is also acknowledged as one of the top special teams coaches in the game, and his 208 career wins rank him 12th all-time and third among active I-A coaches behind Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno.

7. Jim Leavitt, South Florida While offense usually gets the headlines, defense is typically what wins football games and Leavitt understands that concept perfectly. He was a successful defensive coordinator, most notably at Kansas State in the early 1990s, before taking over South Florida’s brand new football program in 1997. Playing four seasons as a I-AA independent before making the leap to I-A in 2001, Leavitt is the only coach the Bulls have ever known. The team took a major step last year, rising to No. 2 in the polls before losing three straight games. But Leavitt has said that was a learning experience and you get the feeling USF may come back even stronger in 2008.

8. Greg Schiano, Rutgers You to be doing something right to make Rutgers one of the must-see teams in the nation. Thanks to a couple of excellent recruiting classes – not to mention an agreement to play several games in front of a Thursday night national television audience – the Scarlet Knights have become one of the most entertaining acts in college football. After beginning his career in Piscataway with a dismal four-year record of 12-34, Schiano has turned things around these past three seasons. Since 2005, the Knights have gone 26-12, including a pair of impressive bowl wins the last two years. If Schiano continues to win at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey is going to find it difficult to keep him under contract.

9. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech – The proof is how good Johnson really is will become clearer starting this year when he takes over the Yellow Jackets, a team that has won more than seven games only once in the past seven seasons. But it’s not like Tech is going way out on a limb with Johnson, who turns 51 on Aug. 20. His throwback triple-option offense got Navy to five straight bowls and captured back-to-back Division I-AA national titles at Georgia Southern. The first of those championships came in 1999 against Youngstown State, then coached by Tressel.

10. Jeff Tedford, Cal Some of the shine may be off the 46-year-old Tedford after the Bears stumbled to a 7-6 season last year. But there is every indication that was a one-year aberration. Before Tedford got to Berkeley, the Bears hadn’t had a winning season in eight year. Since he arrived in 2002, Cal is 50-26 with four bowl victories and the program’s first Pac-10 championship in 31 years. Among the coach’s many attributes is churning out NFL quarterbacks. Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington, Billy Volek, A.J. Feeley, Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers are all Tedford protégés.

Honorable mention – Pat Hill, Fresno State; Gary Patterson, TCU; Brian Kelly, Cincinnati; Tom O’Brien, North Carolina State.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to one of the most underrated receivers in Ohio State history. Bruce Jankowski was born Aug. 12, 1949, in Patterson, N.J., and was a star running back at Fairview High School. He was converted to receiver when he got to Columbus and became a member of the Super Sophomores, who helped carry OSU to the 1968 national championship. That season, Jankowski led the Buckeyes with 31 catches for 328 yards and three TDs, and finished his three-year career with 66 receptions for 968 and nine touchdowns. After graduation, Jankowski played two seasons in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs before retiring in 1972. He currently lives in Kansas about a half-hour south of Kansas City.

Also celebrating birthdays today: two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All The President’s Men”); race car driver and owner Parnelli Jones; overly tanned actor George Hamilton; guitarist extraordinaire and Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler; self-proclaimed psychic Miss Cleo (born Youree Dell Harris); rapper Sir Mix A Lot (born Anthony Ray); comedian/actor/writer Michael Ian Black (born Michael Schwartz); actor Casey Affleck (Ben’s little brother); Wheel of Fortune announcer Charlie O’Donnell; Memphis Grizzlies forward Antoine Walker; New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress; San Diego Chargers receiver Chris Chambers; and 14-time Grand Slam tennis champion Pete Sampras.

Today would also have marked the 73rd birthday of character actor John Cazale. You may not recognize the name, but Cazale played supporting roles in several classic films of the 1970s. In addition to portraying, Stan in “The Conversation,” Stosh in “The Deer Hunter” and Al Pacino’s bank robber accomplice Sal in “Dog Day Afternoon,” Cazale was hang-dog older brother Fredo Corleone in “The Godfather” trilogy. Sadly, Cazale died of bone cancer in 1978 at the age of 42 just as his career was taking off. Each of the five films in which he appeared during his lifetime – as well as “The Godfather: Part III,” which used archival footage of Cazale’s performance as Fredo – were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

AND FINALLY

** If you see yesterday’s trade by Cincinnati of outfielder Adam Dunn to Arizona as anything more than a salary dump, better check your eyesight. I have been a Reds fan all my life, but the last few years of listening to fans and their constant whining about Dunn and future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. is about all I can stand. Maybe it’s simple karma that Cincinnati fans haven’t been able to cheer for a World Series champion since 1990. They don’t deserve it.

** When the 2008 baseball season comes to a close, and the last game has been played in historic Yankee Stadium, the team will put several items from the park up for public auction. As unbelievable as this sounds, one of the items slated to be sold is the iconic Babe Ruth Monument situated behind the centerfield fence. Noted sports memorabilia appraiser Leila Dunbar estimates the monument could bring somewhere between $250,000 and $2 million.

** Speaking of sports memorabilia, there is a “Favre Comeback Special” advertisement in the September issue of Sports Collectors Monthly. Signed items include a mini-helmet for $159.95, an authentic jersey for $389.95 and a ProLine authentic full-size helmet for $439.95. Yes, each of those items are from Green Bay.

** If this truly is Joe Paterno’s final season at Penn State, it would seem pretty much of a lock that his successor will be Greg Schiano of Rutgers. Schiano, a Bucknell grad who spent six seasons in the 1990s on Paterno’s staff in Happy Valley, won’t be that difficult to get. According to conflicting reports, Schiano either has a relatively small $500,000 buyout clause in his current contract with the Scarlet Knights or no buyout clause at all.

** ESPN recently announced that Chick-fil-A has signed on as a sponsor for the College GameDay show featuring Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit. I suppose there is some joke in there about the synergy between the eponymous show and chicken, but you can probably come up with your own.

** Jack Rockne died Sunday in South Bend, Ind., of throat cancer at the age of 82. He was the last surviving child of legendary Notre Dame head coach Knute Rockne, who died in a plane crash in 1931. Jack is survived by four children, including daughter Jeanne Anne, who lives in Columbus.