Buckeyes Cannot Afford To Take Anything For Granted

“We’ve just got to stop taking stuff for granted.” – Terrelle Pryor following Ohio State’s 31-18 loss to Wisconsin.

Remember last week’s blog with the cautionary wine-drinking vs. grape-stomping tale? Evidently someone over at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center wasn’t listening.

Instead of taking care of business at Camp Randall Stadium, Ohio State wound up on the business end of a 31-18 decision Oct. 16 that was a borderline blowout by Wisconsin.

Forget the national championship. Bye-bye Heisman Trophy. The greatest dreams of the Buckeye Nation went up in smoke as its favorite football team fell victim once again to a lesser opponent who simply wanted it more.

It must be extremely difficult to always be the hunted because every time – and I mean each and every time – the Buckeyes play with a target on their backs, they seem to trip themselves.

The only consensus national championships the team has won in the past half-century came in 1968 and 2002, teams that no one really expected to be title contenders at the beginning of the season.

Forty-two years ago, the Buckeyes were coming off a 1967 campaign that saw them post a 6-3 overall record and finish in fourth place in the Big Ten standings. Sure, Woody Hayes had a star-studded class of super sophomores coming in, but no one expected a national championship right out of the box. OSU played its first game that 1968 season ranked No. 11.

Back in 2002, Ohio State was supposed to be positioning itself for a title run the following year. They played Texas Tech in that season’s opener as the nation’s No. 13 ranked team.

If you would like to go back even further, the 1954 and 1957 national champions each began their respective seasons unranked.

A sharp contrast are the seasons during which the Buckeyes have begun the year ranked among the nation’s top five teams. Over the past half-century, that includes 1962, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1987, 1998, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

That is 17 (and counting) seasons when OSU has started a campaign at No. 5 or higher in the national polls and come home an also-ran in the national championship race.

The glass-half-full crowd will say that you have to at least be in the race to win it, and there is some veracity to that. Ohio State has been one of college football’s elite programs for much of the last six decades and is one of only a handful of schools that can boast such a winning résumé over such a protracted period of time.

On the other hand, all of the aforementioned seasons – and several others when the Buckeyes reached the top five in midyear – represent an awful lot of crushed hopes and dreams.

Things were supposed to be different in 2010, however. The Buckeyes had learned their lesson from losses last year to USC and Purdue, teams they should have beaten. After a mistake-filled trip to West Lafayette, the team circled its wagons and won six games in a row, finishing things off with a masterful Rose Bowl victory over five-point favorite Oregon.

Everything set up perfectly this year for Ohio State including a favorable schedule. The toughest games on the slate appeared to be a home game in week two with an improving Miami (Fla.) and road tests at Wisconsin and Iowa.

When the Buckeyes demolished the Hurricanes in a game that was not nearly as close as the final score of 36-24 indicated, OSU seemingly had everything going its way. Sure, Wisconsin always played them tough, but the Buckeyes had won four of their last five trips to Madison. They have had similar recent success in Iowa City, winning 14 of their 17 visits there.

Ohio State was going to storm through the last six games of its regular season the same way it stormed through the first six and once again head to the Arizona desert to play for the national championship – with a brief stop in New York City long enough for Pryor to pick up the Heisman Trophy.

At least that was the way it was supposed to be. Now, the Buckeyes and their fans are left not to ponder what might have been but what is. Purdue comes to town tomorrow for homecoming, and while the Boilermakers do not seem to be on par with Wisconsin, they have made a habit of making things interesting against Ohio State teams in the recent past.

The Buckeyes have won four of the last six meetings, but OSU has scored 16 points or fewer in three of those four victories. Last year, the Buckeyes scored 18 and it wasn’t enough against the upset-minded Boilermakers.

But, of course, everything was supposed to change after that game. Everything is always supposed to change after a loss. Too many times this season, I have heard one Buckeye or another say, “We made a lot of mistakes out there but we’ll get those things fixed.”

Yep. Every year, every new team says the same thing – this time things will be different.

And somehow, to nearly everyone’s amazement, it usually turns out the same.

OSU-PURDUE TIDBITS

** This marks the 53rd meeting between Ohio State and Purdue with the Buckeyes holding a 37-13-2 record in the overall series. That includes a 25-5-2 mark in Columbus, including 14 of the last 15. Since 1968, the Boilermakers’ lone victory in Ohio Stadium was a 31-26 decision in the 1988 homecoming game.

** The series began in 1919 but the Buckeyes and Boilermakers have played only sporadically over the years. As a result, Purdue has never beaten Ohio State in back-to-back seasons.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 5-2 against the Boilermakers, including a 16-3 victory in 2008 on Purdue’s most recent visit to Columbus. That 13-point win was par for the course. Tressel’s five victories in the series have come by an average margin of 12.4 points.

** Purdue head coach Danny Hope is in his second year with the Boilermakers. He is 1-0 vs. the Buckeyes, making him one of only two Purdue head coaches in history to enjoy a winning record against Ohio State. The other is Cecil Isbell, who coached the Boilermakers from 1944-46. His team took a 35-13 win over the Buckeyes in 1945 and played to a 14-14 tie the following season. Both games were played in Columbus.

** In games following the 21 previous losses during the Tressel era, Ohio State has a 19-2 record. Thirteen of those games were at Ohio Stadium where the Buckeyes are 12-1 following a loss. OSU has dropped back-to-back games only once under Tressel – the team lost three straight in 2004 to Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa.

** Ohio State returns to the Horseshoe this week for the annual homecoming game. The Buckeyes are 64-19-5 all-time on homecoming, including 7-2 under Tressel. The lone blemishes are a 20-17 loss to Wisconsin in 2001 and a 13-6 defeat to Penn State in 2008. Last year on homecoming, the Buckeyes posted a 38-7 victory over Minnesota.

** Dating back to last season, Purdue is riding a three-game Big Ten winning streak. The Boilermakers haven’t won four conference games in a row since winning the final three of the 2006 season and their league opener in 2007.

** The Boilermakers are also seeking their first 3-0 start in Big Ten play since 2003. They finished 9-4 overall and 6-2 in the conference that season under head coach Joe Tiller. Purdue hasn’t won that many Big Ten games in a single season since.

** Purdue quarterback Rob Henry is coming off a performance against Minnesota that earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. During his team’s 28-17 win over the Golden Gophers, Henry accounted for all four Boilermaker touchdowns. He completed 13 of 20 passes for 183 yards and a score, and added 57 yards and three TDs on the ground.

** Purdue features one of the top pass-rushing defenses in college football. The Boilermakers lead the Big Ten with 18 sacks and 45 tackles for loss, and respectively rank 11th and 12th nationally in sacks and TFL.

** Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is tied for his school’s career record with 12 forced fumbles, a figure that is also No. 2 all-time in the Big Ten. The conference mark of 13 is shared by Illinois linebacker Simeon Rice (1992-95) and Iowa safety Bob Sanders (2000-03).

** Purdue has many distinguished alumni including astronauts Neil Armstrong (the first man to set foot on the moon) and Eugene Cernan (the last man to set to set foot on the moon).

** It’s no understatement that Ohio State needs quarterback Terrelle Pryor to perform well if the Buckeyes expect to win. OSU is 14-1 overall when Pryor rushes for at least one touchdown and 22-1 when he has at least one touchdown pass. Last week in the loss to Wisconsin, Pryor had no rushing touchdowns and no touchdown passes.

** Pryor needs 90 more passing yards to reach 5,000 for his career, and that would make him only the seventh active QB in Division I-A with at least 5,000 yards through the air and 1,000 on the ground. The others are Colin Kaepernick of Nevada, Andy Dalton of TCU, Jake Locker of Washington, Austen Arnaud of Iowa State, Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech and Diondre Borel of Utah State.

** Pryor also needs 154 yards of total offense to take over third place on the Ohio State all-time list. He currently sits fourth with 6,730 while Troy Smith (2003-06) is third with 6,888. The school’s top two in total offense are Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81) and Bobby Hoying (7,151, 1992-95).

** OSU senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher needs 46 more yards to crack the school’s all-time top 15. He currently has 1,436 yards while John Frank (1980-83) is 15th with 1,481.

** This week’s game will be telecast once again by the Big Ten Network with an announce crew that should be familiar to Ohio State fans. Eric Collins (play-by-play), Chris Martin (color analysis) and Charissa Thompson (sideline reports) are working their fourth OSU game of the season. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 113 and 125 as well as XM channels 102 and 197.

** Next week, Ohio State will get its first look at Minnesota’s two-year-old TCF Bank Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Eastern and the game will be televised by ESPN.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Oct. 20, 1917, Washington beat Whitman College by a 14-6 score, extending its unbeaten streak to 63 games, an NCAA record that still stands.

** On Oct. 20, 1944, Maryland and Michigan State combined for the fewest pass attempts in the modern era of college football during an 8-0 win by the Spartans. The Terrapins threw only one pass during the game while Michigan State attempted none.

** On Oct. 20, 1956, Texas A&M scored a 7-6 upset over No. 4 TCU is what has been called “The Hurricane Game.” Played in 90-mph wins, the Horned Frogs got inside the A&M 5-yard-line three times in the first half but failed to score.

** On Oct. 21, 1989, Alabama QB Gary Hollingsworth set a school record for completions, going 32 for 46 for 379 yards and three touchdowns as the Tide rolled to a 47-30 win over Tennessee.

** On Oct. 21, 2000, Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El had a history-making performance during his team’s 51-43 win over Minnesota. Randle El threw for 263 yards and ran for 210 to become the first player in Big Ten history to crack the 200-yard mark in both passing and rushing in the same game.

** On Oct. 21, 2006, Michigan State engineered the biggest comeback in NCAA history, erasing a 38-3 deficit on the way to a 41-38 victory over Northwestern in Evanston.

** On Oct. 22, 1904, Minnesota’s Bobby Marshall set an NCAA record by scoring 72 points during the Golden Gophers’ 146-0 victory over Grinnell (Iowa).

** On Oct. 22, 1983, Nebraska scored 41 points in less than three minutes of possession time on its way to a 69-19 rout of Colorado.

** On Oct. 23, 1965, Virginia Tech was riding high with a new facility and a victory over its instate rivals. The Hokies, known then as the Gobblers, opened their new Lane Stadium with a 22-14 win over Virginia. Tech rushed for 323 yards in the contest, but the decisive touchdown came on a 71-yard pass from quarterback Bobby Owens to receiver Tommy Groom late in the fourth quarter.

** On Oct. 23, 1976, Pittsburgh running back Tony Dorsett pushed his season rushing total past the 1,000-yard mark during a 45-0 victory over Navy. Dorsett became the first running back in NCAA history to post four 1,000-yard seasons, and he also broke the NCAA career rushing record previously held by two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin.

** On Oct. 24, 1981, Stanford became the first team in college football history to have two players throw for 250 yards or more in the same game. Steve Cottrell threw for 311 yards while John Elway added 270, but it didn’t do the Cardinal much good. They lost a 62-36 decision to Arizona State.

** On Oct. 25, 1947, Columbia scored a 21-20 upset over Army, ending the Black Knights’ unbeaten streak at 32 games.

** On Oct. 25, 1980, SMU freshman quarterback Lance McIlhenny celebrated his first start by engineering a 20-6 upset of No. 2 Texas in Austin. Halfback Craig James, now a college football analyst for ESPN, ran 53 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put the Mustangs ahead for good.

** On Oct. 26, 1985, seventh-ranked BYU saw its 25-game conference winning streak end when UTEP handed the Cougars a 23-16 loss in El Paso. Miners DB Danny Taylor returned a Robbie Bosco interception 100 yards for a touchdown to provide for the winning points.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level is down to 10. The alphabetical list includes Auburn, Boise State, LSU, Michigan State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, TCU and Utah.

** Boise State pushed the nation’s longest current winning streak at 20 with last weekend’s 48-0 stampede over San Jose State. Meanwhile, Western Kentucky remains on the other side of the spectrum. The Hilltoppers squandered a 24-7 lead after three quarters and wound up with a 35-30 loss to Louisiana-Monroe, extending the nation’s longest losing streak to 26 games.

** When it ascended to the No. 1 spot in this week’s Associated Press poll, Oregon became the 43rd team to hold the top spot in the media poll which began ranking college football teams in 1936. The last time a team was No. 1 for the first time was Virginia, which rose to the top spot on Oct. 14, 1990.

** The Ducks’ 60-13 win over UCLA last night avoided something that hasn’t happened in 50 years. Oregon protected its top ranking in the Associated Press writers’ poll after former No. 1s Alabama and Ohio State had gone down in successive weeks. The last time the AP No. 1 team lost in three consecutive weeks was November 1960 when Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri fell in succession.

** Michigan State has won its first seven games for the first time since opening the 1966 season with nine victories in a row. The Spartans are also off to 7-0 start for only the sixth time in school history. Four of the five previous times Michigan State began a season with seven wins, the team brought home a national championship.

** Last week’s 10-7 loss to Mississippi State marked the third defeat in a row for Florida, something that hasn’t happened in Gainesville since 1988 when the Gators lost four in a row under then head coach Galen Hall. (That’s the same Hall who has been Joe Paterno’s offensive coordinator at Penn State since 2004.) Florida head coach Urban Meyer is also navigating uncharted waters. Meyer has never before experienced a three-game losing streak in his head coaching career that began at Bowling Green in 2001.

** Boise State continues to lose even when it wins. Despite a 48-0 pounding of San Jose State, the Broncos’ strength of schedule took another hit Saturday night when No. 19 Nevada dropped a 27-21 decision at unranked Hawaii. It was the Wolf Pack’s first loss this season but their sixth straight to the Rainbow Warriors in Honolulu since joining the WAC in 2000.

** Since Rich Rodriguez became head coach at Michigan, the Wolverines have lost 15 of their 19 conference games. Michigan hasn’t suffered through that kind of futility in Big Ten play for more than 70 years. U-M dropped 16 of 18 league contests during a stretch between 1934 and 1937.

** Indiana head coach Bill Lynch will be gunning for career victory No. 100 tomorrow when his Hoosiers travel to Illinois. Lynch’s 17-year coaching résumé contains 36 wins at Butler, 37 at Ball State, eight at DePauw and 18 at Indiana.

** The supposed top three in this week’s Heisman Trophy race: Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton, Oregon running back LaMichael James and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict none of those three will win the award. Who would top my ballot if I had to turn it in today? I honestly have no idea.

** Probably the best player in America you’ve never heard of plays for Troy. He is receiver Jerrel Jernigan, who returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown and caught the game-winning TD in the Trojans’ 31-24 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Jernigan leads the Sun Belt and ranks fifth nationally with 178.3 all-purpose yards per game.

** Miami (Ohio) will unveil its first three “Cradle of Coaches” statues tomorrow before the game against Ohio University, honoring outstanding former players who went on to distinguished coaching careers. Carmen Cozza, Paul Dietzel and the late Weeb Eubank will be the first three former Miami players honored. Next season, the RedHawks will unveil statues of the late Earl “Red” Blaik, Ara Parseghian and the late Bo Schembechler.

** Speaking of Parseghian, he also coached at Northwestern before becoming an icon at Notre Dame and he has been invited by current head coach Pat Fitzgerald to give a pregame talk to the Wildcats before tomorrow afternoon’s game against Michigan State.

** Another bowl game has changed sponsors. The GMAC Bowl, scheduled for Jan. 6 and featuring Mid-American Conference and Sun Belt teams, will henceforth be known as the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Obviously, that means there will be copious amounts of commercials featuring racecar driver Danica Patrick during the telecast. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Missing only the two big upsets of the week – Texas over No. 4 Nebraska and Wisconsin over top-ranked Ohio State – the straight-up picks posted an 8-2 record that puts the yearly mark at 65-11. Against the spread, we kept rolling right along with an identical 8-2 mark and that pushes us to a lofty 46-27-3 ATS for the season.

Here are the games we like this week. (Rankings are now BCS standings.)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 7 Michigan State at Northwestern: Are the Spartans for real? We may get a little better handle on that question this week when they play outside their home state for the first time all season. MSU has a nice blend of offense and defense, including two of the best players in the Big Ten. Quarterback Kirk Cousins (1,617 yards, 11 TDs) has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 14 straight games while linebacker Greg Jones was named national defensive player of the week for his performance during Sparty’s 26-6 win over Illinois. Michigan State beat Northwestern last season, 24-14 in East Lansing, but the Spartans would do well not to overlook the Wildcats. Dual-threat quarterback Dan Persa (1,663 yards, 10 TDs) leads the country with his 78.0 percent completion rate, and NU took last week off to prepare. Still, Northwestern remains suspect at times on defense and that should make the difference … Michigan State 31, Northwestern 23. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Duke at No. 25 Virginia Tech: Since being left for dead following season-opening losses to Boise State and I-AA James Madison, the Hokies have become a pretty good football team. They have won five in a row by an average of about three touchdowns per game and have averaged 41.2 points every time out. That kind of performance should probably continue this week against the Blue Devils, who have quarterback problems. Sophomore Sean Renfree (1,621 yards, 10 TDs) is the starter, but he has thrown 14 interceptions in the past five games. Not coincidentally, Duke has lost all five. The Hokies lead the all-time series by a 10-7 margin but that’s a little deceiving since they’ve won the last nine in a row … Virginia Tech 31, Duke 10. (12 noon ET, ACC Network)

No. 6 LSU at No. 4 Auburn: The number of undefeated teams will be reduced by one in this matchup of SEC rivals who have reached 7-0 in much different ways. The Bayou Bengals have had several cardiac finishes while the War Eagles have tried to bludgeon opponents with Heisman Trophy candidate Cam Newton at quarterback. While Newton has passed and rushed for a combined 2,138 yards and 25 TDs, LSU head coach Les Miles has employed a two-quarterback system with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. Maybe it doesn’t matter since both QBs have beaten Auburn during their careers – Lee two years ago and Jefferson last year. The onus will be on the LSU defense to try and stop Newton, who hasn’t lost a game as a starting QB since leading Blinn College (Texas) to last year’s JUCO national championship … Auburn 23, LSU 18. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 13 Wisconsin at No. 15 Iowa: Now that the Badgers have had their way with the Ohio State defense, they must travel to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes, who rank sixth nationally in scoring defense (13.2 points per game) and seventh against the run (83.3 yards). Wisconsin should roll into Kinnick Stadium with plenty of confidence but the Badgers never seem to be at their best there. Iowa has won three of the last four in the series at Kinnick and held UW’s potent offense to an average of only 12.5 points in those games. It may come down to the quarterback play between Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien and Ricky Stanzi of Iowa. Both complete around 70 percent of their passes and have combined to throw only five interceptions in 293 attempts this season. Buckle your chinstraps because this ought to be a good one … Iowa 20, Wisconsin 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

Washington State at No. 12 Stanford: This has all the makings of a blowout if the Cardinal can simply retain their focus. They had last week off to savor a 37-35 victory over USC, a win during which sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck went 20 of 24 passing for 285 yards and three touchdowns. Luck directs an offense that averages 43.3 points and 471.0 yards per game, figures that respectively rank fifth and 12th nationally. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Cougars surrender 40.1 points and 493.9 yards per contest. Those figures respectively rank 118th and 120th out of 120 schools playing Division I-A football. The final score in this one all depends upon Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh and how big a statement he wants to make … Stanford 45, Washington State 13. (5 p.m. ET, FCS)

Eastern Michigan at Virginia: Just in case you missed it, the Eagles and head coach Ron English celebrated their first victory together last week with a 41-38 overtime win over Ball State. QB Alex Gillett, who turned in an admirable performance earlier this season against Ohio State, exploded for 414 yards of total offense and five touchdowns as EMU snapped an 18-game losing streak. Now, it’s back to reality and a trip to Charlottesville to face the struggling Cavaliers in their first year under head coach Mike London. Since beating up on VMI at the end of September, Virginia has lost three in a row by an average of 22.0 points per game. The Cavs’ offense has been sputtering, but you would have to believe a mid-level ACC team can still put some points on the board against the worst defense in the MAC … Virginia 34, Eastern Michigan 21. (6 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Colorado State at No. 9 Utah: The Utes would like to elbow their way alongside Boise State and TCU into the national title conversation, but they’re going to have to do a better job than they did last week. During a rather lackluster 30-6 win over Wyoming, Utah turned the ball over three more times to give the team 12 for the season. Coupled with only six takeaways by their defense, the Utes are a lowly 108th nationally in turnover margin. They are certainly going to have to shore up that part of their game before welcoming TCU to Salt Lake City in two weeks, especially since the Horned Frogs rank No. 16 in turnover margin. This week, however, Utah shouldn’t have to worry much. The Rams have turned the ball over 13 times themselves while their pass efficiency defense ranks dead last in the nation … Utah 45, Colorado State 13. (6 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)

No. 8 Alabama at Tennessee: Even though the Volunteers are 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the SEC, expect them to get Alabama’s full attention. Last year, the Crimson Tide barely escaped with a 12-10 victory that was secured only after DT Terrence Cody blocked a 44-yard field goal attempt at the end of the game. Most observers believe ’Bama will cruise this time around but the defending national champions have had their problems the last couple of weeks. Their vaunted ground game is stuck in second gear and their pressure defense has produced only eight sacks in seven games. Still, Tennessee is struggling so mightily on both offense and defense that it shouldn’t make any difference … Alabama 31, Tennessee 7. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Purdue at No. 10 Ohio State: As the Buckeyes try to pick up the pieces from last week’s loss at Wisconsin, they have an opponent coming to Columbus for homecoming they had better not overlook. Obviously, the Boilermakers scored a huge 26-18 upset over Ohio State last season but there is every reason to believe Purdue is better now than it was then. The Boilermakers try to spread the field on offense much more than they have in the past – sort of a Michigan Lite if you will – and try to let redshirt freshman QB Rob Henry make a play. So far, so good, since Henry has 399 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in his team’s Big Ten victories over Northwestern and Minnesota. Meanwhile, OSU defenders are dropping like flies as top tackler Ross Homan is sidelined with a foot injury and nickel back Christian Bryant is out with a foot infection that required surgery. A much better performance than last week is paramount for both the Ohio State defensive line and quarterback Terrelle Pryor, or the Buckeyes had better be on upset alert again … Ohio State 34, Purdue 20. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Michigan State (-5) at Northwestern; Duke (+27) at Virginia Tech; LSU (+6) at Auburn; Wisconsin (+6) at Iowa; Washington State (+35) at Stanford; Eastern Michigan (+24½) at Virginia; Colorado State at Utah (-30); Alabama (-16) at Tennessee; Purdue (+24) at Ohio State.

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

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Buckeyes Merely Need To Take Care Of Business

If there is one sure thing about college football, it is that there is no such thing as a sure thing.

“One week you’re drinking the wine, the next week you’re stomping the grapes” was one of former Ohio State head coach John Cooper’s all-time great sayings and Ol’ Coop sure knew what he was talking about.

Over the course of a few short hours last Saturday, the college football landscape turned upside down as one head-scratcher after another revealed itself.

South Carolina turned defending national champion Alabama from an invincible dynasty-in-the-making to just another one-loss team. Meanwhile, Michigan State exposed seemingly superhuman Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson as just another Clark Kent, and lowly Illinois took advantage of several Penn State mistakes to post an unlikely 33-13 victory over the Nittany Lions, who were celebrating homecoming in Happy Valley.

Making those outcomes even more astounding was the historical significance of each game.

Before its 35-21 win over Alabama, South Carolina had never beaten a top-ranked team in four previous tries. Michigan State’s 34-17 win over Michigan was the Spartans’ third straight over their in-state rivals, and they haven’t enjoyed a three-peat in the series since 1965-67. And the Fighting Illini won for the first time in seven trips all-time to Happy Valley, and Joe Paterno lost for only the sixth time in 45 homecomings.

Want more proof of how topsy-turvy college football can be from week to week? On Sept. 18, California was brutalized by upstart Nevada of the WAC during a 52-31 blowout. One week later, UCLA traveled to Austin and handed then No. 7 Texas a 34-12 loss, the worst home defeat for the Longhorns since Mack Brown took over as head coach in 1998. So what happened when Cal and UCLA got together Oct. 9 for a Pac-10 showdown in Berkeley? The Bears raced out to a 28-0 first-half lead before putting the Bruins away by a 35-7 final.

What’s the point of all this? Simply a few cautionary tales for the suddenly No. 1-ranked Ohio State football team who would do well to remember another Coop-ism: “About the time you’re feeling pretty good about yourself, it’s time to check your hole card.”

There is little doubt in my mind that Ohio State deserves to be ranked the No. 1 team in the nation. I have maintained since the team’s Rose Bowl win over Oregon that I fully expect the Buckeyes to be playing for the national championship come next January. Now, halfway through the 2010 regular season, there is no reason to change my mind. Every team that remains on the schedule has been exposed in one way or another, and OSU will be favored – and rightfully so – in each of those final six games.

Wisconsin has been susceptible to the pass all season, and the Badgers allowed Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins to throw for 269 yards and three touchdowns. No offense to Cousins, but I’d take Terrelle Pryor over him every day of the week and twice on Saturdays.

Purdue has been decimated on offense by injuries and Ohio State will be seeking revenge for last year’s upset loss. Minnesota could be the worst team in the Big Ten right now, and a rebuilding Penn State might not be that much better than the Gophers.

That leaves Iowa and archrival Michigan.

The Hawkeyes have lost 11 of their last 12 against OSU as well as 14 of their last 17 to the Buckeyes in Kinnick Stadium, and the jury remains out on whether the Wolverines are truly back or not. They looked pretty good early last season, too, before finishing 5-7.

Of course, the national naysayers would have everyone believe the Buckeyes are too flawed to be a legitimate No. 1 team. Many of them are picking Wisconsin to upset OSU tomorrow night. The pompous prattlers believe there are too many underlying issues with Ohio State including an offensive line that is perceived to be underachieving, a relatively punchless running game, injuries that are depleting the defensive secondary and the ticking time bomb that is kickoff and punt coverage.

Granted, I have been among the chronic complainers about all of the aforementioned warts and blemishes. But it could very well be a case of nitpicking at unrealistic expectations.

The Buckeyes are currently the No. 6 team in the nation in scoring offense, so the offensive line must be doing something right. It may also interest you to know that the lackluster run game is generating 217.3 yards per game, and that ranks 20th in the country.

Season-ending injuries to C.J. Barnett and Tyler Moeller were bitter pills to swallow, but the OSU defense continues to soldier on and excel. It ranks third nationally in total defense and is the country’s sixth-toughest unit to score on.

And then there are the kick coverage units. Since allowing a 99-yard kickoff return to Ohio’s Julian Posey – a touchdown that was wiped out by a penalty – the Buckeyes have not only shored up their coverage, they have shut down the opposition. Over the past three games, they have allowed an average of only 15.8 yards on 24 kickoffs, and the punt coverage has been even better. Eastern Michigan, Illinois and Indiana averaged 2.4 yards on 10 punts.

Every team at every competitive level in every competitive sport has some flaws, and Ohio State has its share. But if the Buckeyes can simply play to the level of their own talent – and not down to the level of their competition – they can not only march their way to the national championship game, they can win it no matter the opponent.

They simply have to keep in mind how much better it is to drink the wine than to stomp the grapes.

OSU-WISCONSIN TIDBITS

** This marks the 76th meeting of Ohio State and Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes hold a decidedly lopsided 53-17-5 record in the overall series including 24-10-2 in Madison. OSU has won four of its last five trips to Camp Randall Stadium. Since 1999, however, the series has been tight with the Buckeyes holding a slight 5-4 advantage.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is in his 10th season with the Buckeyes. He has an 100-21 overall record, including 4-3 against Wisconsin. He is 61-13 in the Big Ten and 35-14 against ranked teams. The Badgers are ranked No. 16 in this week’s USA Today coaches’ poll as well as the Harris Interactive Poll. They are No. 18 in the Associated Press writers’ poll.

** Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is in his fifth season with the Badgers. He has a 43-15 overall record, including 0-3 against Ohio State. He is 21-13 in the Big Ten and 5-10 against ranked teams. That includes an 0-4 mark against teams ranked in the top 10. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 1 this week in all three national polls.

** With 43 wins, Bielema is already sixth all-time in career victories among Wisconsin head coaches. He needs only four more to move into fourth place past Dave McClain (46, 1978-85) and Harry Stuhldreher (45, 1936-48). Barry Alvarez (1990-2005) is the school’s all-time winningest coach with 118 victories.

** Wisconsin hasn’t had much success over the years against top-ranked teams. The Badgers are 14-58-2 all-time against top-five opponents, a mark that includes 3-16 against teams ranked No. 1. However, all three of Wisconsin’s victories against top-ranked teams have come at Camp Randall Stadium.

** The last time the Badgers played a No. 1 team was in 2007 when they lost a 38-17 decision to Ohio State in Columbus. The last time Wisconsin beat a No. 1 team came in the 1981 season opener when the Badgers handed Michigan a 21-14 upset loss in Madison.

** The Buckeyes made their 94th appearance at the No. 1 spot in the AP poll this week, the third-highest total since the AP began ranking college football teams in 1936. Only Oklahoma (98) and Notre Dame (95) have been atop the poll more.

** Ohio State has an all-time record of 66-11-1 playing as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team.

** Wisconsin has played Ohio State six times when the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 and have a 1-5 record in those games. The only UW victory came in 1942 when the Badgers took a 17-7 win at Camp Randall Stadium in what has become known as “The Bad Water Game.” Several members of the OSU squad became ill after drinking tainted water on the train to Madison and the game wound up as the only blemish on the Buckeyes’ 1942 record. They still went on to win the school’s first-ever national championship that year.

** In the Tressel era, Ohio State is 13-6 on the road against ranked teams. The Buckeyes also have an eight-game winning streak in Big Ten road games against teams ranked in the AP top 25.

** Ohio State has won 19 of its last 20 conference road games. The only blemish during that streak was last year’s 26-18 upset loss to Purdue last season.

** OSU has a 27-13 record away from home in night games. Under Tressel, the Buckeyes are 16-10 after dark overall and that includes an 8-3 mark in Big Ten night games played on the road.

** Wisconsin has won 40 of its last 44 games at Camp Randall Stadium. That includes 13 of the last 14 with the only blemish a 20-10 loss to Iowa last season.

** The Badgers will be trying to get an early upper hand in the game. They are 32-4 under Bielema when they score first.

** Former All-America receiver Lee Evans will serve as honorary captain for the Badgers. Evans caught a 79-yard touchdown pass to give Wisconsin a 17-10 victory over Ohio State in 2003, a night game at Camp Randall that snapped the Buckeyes’ 19-game winning streak.

** 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 second in the Big Ten in rushing with an average of 240.8 yards per game while Ohio State ranks second in the conference against the run, surrendering an average of only 78.7 yards per contest.

** Wisconsin has been pretty good against the run this year as well. The Badgers rank third in the Big Ten, giving up an average of 108.2 yards per game, and they have allowed just one rushing touchdown so far in six games.

** In Tressel’s 121 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 two years ago during a 20-17 loss to Ohio State in Madison.

** UW quarterback Scott Tolzien is completing 69.7 percent of his attempts so far this season and his career percentage of 65.8 is the best in school history. Tolzien has the third-best career completion percentage among active Division I-A quarterbacks who have played 20 games or more. Only Case Keenum of Houston (68.9) and Kellen Moore of Boise State (66.8) rank ahead of the Wisconsin QB.

** You should not expect a shutout in tomorrow night’s game. Wisconsin hasn’t been shut out since a 34-0 loss to Syracuse in the 1997 season opener and the Buckeyes haven’t been blanked since a 28-0 loss at Michigan in the 1993 regular-season finale.

** Wisconsin has 13 Ohio natives on its roster. Ohio State has no Wisconsin-born players.

** Camp Randall Stadium, which opened in 1917, is the fourth-oldest on-campus stadium in Division I-A. The only older facilities are Bobby Dodd Stadium at Georgia Tech (1913), Davis Wade Stadium at Mississippi State (1914) and Nippert Stadium at Cincinnati (1916).

** With last week’s win over Indiana, Ohio State became one of only seven bowl-eligible teams so far this season. The others are Auburn, LSU, Michigan State, Nevada, Oregon and TCU.

** Wisconsin senior David Gilreath is one of the most prolific kickoff return men in Big Ten history. He already holds the conference record with 116 career kickoff returns and is third all-time in kickoff return yardage with 2,514. Derrick Mason of Michigan State (1993-96) is the Big Ten career leader with 2,575 yards on kickoff returns.

** With 315 yards of total offense last week against Indiana, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor increased his career total to 6,518 and moved past Steve Bellisari (6,496, 1998-2001) into fourth place on the school’s career list in that category. The top three are Art Schlichter (8,850, 1978-81), Bobby Hoying (7,151, 1992-95) and Troy Smith (6,888, 2003-06).

** With his sixth career game of 300 or more yards of total offense, Pryor tied the school record set by Joe Germaine (1996-98).

** Pryor also increased his career passing yardage to 4,754 and pushed his way past Craig Krenzel (4,493, 2000-03) into ninth place on the school’s all-time list. Jim Karsatos (5,089, 1984-86) is currently eighth.

** OSU kicker Devin Barclay is currently tied for the nation’s third-longest streak of consecutive games with at least one field goal. Barclay has had at least one field goal in seven straight games. Georgia kicker Blair Walsh is first with 14 in a row while Dustin Hopkins of Florida State is second with eight. Danny Hrapmann of Southern Mississippi and Collin Wager of Penn State are tied with Barclay at seven.

** This week’s game will be telecast by ESPN with the marquee primetime announce crew of Brent Musberger (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (color analysis) and Erin Andrews (sideline reports). The game will also be telecast by ESPN3-D with Dave Lamont, Tim Brown and Ray Bentley on the call. Kickoff is set for shortly after 7 p.m. Eastern. (That is 6 p.m. local time if you’re in Madison.)

** Madison will this week’s site of ESPN’s College GameDay, which begins at 9 a.m. Eastern on ESPNU and continues at 10 a.m. on ESPN.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 90 and 122 as well as XM channels 143 and 196. Sports Radio USA will also broadcast the game with Rich Cellini and former Northwestern head coach Gary Barnett on the call.

** Next week, Ohio State returns to Ohio Stadium to Purdue in the annual homecoming game. Kickoff is set for 12 noon Eastern and the game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Oct. 11, 1975, Division II schools Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) and Davidson (N.C.) College combined to set an NCAA single-game rushing record as the Bears topped the Wildcats, 69-14. Lenoir-Rhyne rushed for an amazing 837 yards while Davidson added 202, establishing a new NCAA record with 1,039 combined rushing yards on 111 attempts.

** On Oct. 12, 2002, Northern Illinois trailed Miami (Ohio) by a 27-14 score entering the fourth quarter. The Huskies proceeded to score 34 points in the final period to rally for a 48-41 victory, establishing a MAC record for most points scored in a fourth-quarter comeback win.

** On Oct. 13, 2007, Houston became the only team in NCAA history to have a 300-yard receiver and a 200-yard rusher in the same game as the Cougars scored a wild 56-48 victory over Rice. Houston wide receiver Donnie Avery caught 13 passes for 346 yards – a school and Conference USA record – while tailback Anthony Aldridge added 205 yards rushing.

** On Oct. 14, 1978, Cornell running back Joe Holland rushed for 244 yards on an Ivy League-record 55 carries to lead the Big Red to a 25-20 victory at Harvard.

** On Oct. 15, 1910, officials at the University of Illinois decided it would be a good idea to invite alumni back to the campus for a football game. More than 1,500 returned to Champaign and watched as the Fighting Illini beat Chicago, 3-0, in what is recognized as the first official homecoming game in college football history.

** On Oct. 15, 2005, USC quarterback Matt Leinart was pushed across the goal line in the final seconds by teammate Reggie Bush and the top-ranked Trojans escaped South Bend with a 34-31 win over No. 9 Notre Dame. The play has come to be known as the “Bush Push.”

** On Oct. 16, 1976, Texas A&M kicker Tony Franklin showcased his strong right leg and set an NCAA record in the process. Franklin became the first kicker in college football history to boot a pair of field goals from 60 yards or longer in the same game. He had three-pointers of 64 and 65 yards during a 24-0 victory over Baylor in College Station. Franklin’s 65-yarder established a new NCAA record for the longest field goal in college football history, but the mark didn’t last long. Later that same day, Abilene Christian kicker Ove Johansson booted a 69-yarder against East Texas State. Johansson’s record still stands.

** On Oct. 17, 1970, Southern Miss went into Oxford and engineered a 30-14 upset over fourth-ranked Mississippi and Heisman Trophy candidate Archie Manning.

** On Oct. 18, 1958, No. 2 Auburn’s 17-game winning streak came to an end with a 7-7 tie against unranked Georgia Tech. The Tigers went on to close the 1958 season with six straight victories, but the tie with the Yellow Jackets cost Auburn a second consecutive national championship.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The number of undefeated teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level is down to a lucky 13. Alphabetically they are Auburn, Boise State, LSU, Michigan State, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, TCU and Utah.

** With Alabama’s loss last weekend, Boise State now owns the nation’s longest current winning streak at 19. Western Kentucky, which lost a 28-21 decision Oct. 9 to previously winless Florida International, ran its losing nation-long losing streak to 25.

** Michigan State has started 6-0 for the first time since 1999 and will be looking for a win this week against Illinois to push that mark to 7-0. The Spartans haven’t won that many games to start a season since they were 9-0 at the beginning of the 1966 campaign, a season that resulted in the second of their back-to-back national championships under head coach Hugh “Duffy” Daugherty.

** The Big Ten leads all conferences with five quarterbacks currently ranked among the nation’s top 12 in pass efficiency. Rick Stanzi of Iowa, who leads the conference and is third nationally, is followed Dan Persa of Northwestern (fourth), Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor (sixth), Kirk Cousins of Michigan State (ninth) and Michigan’s Denard Robinson (12th). The SEC has four quarterbacks ranked among the top 12 while the WAC, Pac-10 and Big 12 have one each.

** TCU has been one of the top defensive teams in the country for several years but the Horned Frogs accomplished a rare feat last weekend with their 45-0 win over Wyoming. It was TCU’s second straight shutout, something that hasn’t occurred for that program in 55 years. The Frogs last posted back-to-back shutouts in 1955 when they blanked Texas Tech, Arkansas and Alabama in succession on their way to the Southwest Conference championship.

** Is LSU a team of destiny or are the Tigers getting by on pure luck? Half of their wins have come cardiac style – a goal-line stand against North Carolina, a last-second penalty against Tennessee and a favorable review following a fake field goal against Florida. The Bengals from the Bayou should have no trouble getting to 7-0 since they play I-AA McNeese State this week. After that, it’s make or break time – at Auburn on Oct. 23 and home with Alabama on Nov. 6.

** There was no luck involved in Utah’s 68-27 dismantling of Iowa State last week. The Utes piled up a staggering 1,026 yards when you add their total offense to kickoff, punt and interception returns.

** Congratulations to Army, Air Force and Navy. The military academics are currently 12-5 after victories by all three last Saturday. Air Force (5-1) rolled to a 49-27 win over Colorado State, Army (4-2) went on the road to take a 41-23 victory over Tulane, and Navy (3-2) scored a touchdown with 26 seconds remaining to squeeze out a 28-27 win at Wake Forest. The key to the academies’ success this season? Running the football. Air Force is No. 1 nationally in rushing while Army is No. 9 and Navy is No. 10. By the way, the last time all three service academies finished the season with winning records was 1999.

** Congratulations also to South Carolina. When the Gamecocks knocked off top-rated Alabama, it completed a rare trifecta for the school. In the same calendar year, the SC basketball team defeated No. 1 Kentucky and the baseball team downed top-ranked Arizona State. The only school to knock off No. 1 teams in those three sports in the same calendar year was Florida in 2007.

** Figure this one out (if you can): In its first five games, Alabama averaged 229.8 yards per game on the ground. In its previous game before upsetting the Crimson Tide last week, South Carolina gave up 334 rushing yards to Auburn. Then last Saturday, Alabama had only 36 yards on the ground.

** Call it the power of television. Boise State received 138 new student applications after its Sept. 25 football game against Oregon State was broadcast nationally in primetime by ABC. That may seem like a modest number but it was nearly double the amount received by the school after a typical weekend.

** The team you don’t want to play after they’ve had a week off? Oklahoma. The Sooners are 14-3 under head coach Bob Stoops after a week off and that includes a perfect 12-0 mark at home. Bear that in mind if you’re thinking Iowa State has a chance to go into Norman this week and pull the upset. OU had last week off after a 28-20 victory over Texas on Oct. 2. One more thing: The Sooners are also 11-0 during Stoops’ tenure in games that have immediately followed the Red River Shootout.

** The Pasadena City Council on Monday approved a $152 million renovation plan for the 88-year-old Rose Bowl stadium. Construction will run in three phases beginning in January and ending in 2013 to avoid disrupting games. The number of luxury seats will be increased from about 550 to 2,500, and the facility will get a new scoreboard, safety improvements, more restrooms and more concession stands. The city plans to pay for the upgrade with federal stimulus funds, a bond issue, money from the Tournament of Roses and profits from previous games.

** Kent State will honor former quarterback Josh Cribbs on Oct. 30 by retiring his No. 9 jersey. Cribbs, who holds the NFL record with eight kickoff returns for touchdowns, set several marks during his four seasons with the Golden Flashes from 2001-04, including the career passing record with 7,169 yards. Cribbs will be only the fourth former Kent player to have his jersey retired. The others are running back Eric Wilkerson (40), Canadian Football Hall of Fame defensive end Jim Corrigall (79) and Pro Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert (99).

** Also taking advantage of the Cleveland Browns’ off week will be the University of Texas, which plans to retire the jersey No. 12 worn by former quarterback Colt McCoy on Oct. 30. The Longhorns’ career leader in touchdown passes and passing yardage, McCoy will become the sixth Texas player to have his number retired. The others – quarterback Vince Young (10), Heisman Trophy winners Earl Campbell (20) and Ricky Williams (34), Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne (22) and College Football Hall of Fame linebacker Tommy Nobis (60).

** NAIA rivals Union College (Ky.) and Bethel University (Tenn.) had a good old-fashioned shootout last Saturday that featured 139 points and 1,501 yards of total offense. When the dust finally settled, Union had scored an 84-55 victory behind tailback Armond Smith, who rushed for 312 yards and five touchdowns on only 16 carries. Amazingly, the combined point total was not an NAIA record. That was set at 141 in 1994 when Southwestern College (Kan.) scored a 79-62 victory over Sterling (Kan.) College.

** The initial BCS standings of the 2010 season will be released Sunday. They will be revealed on ESPN at 8:15 p.m. Eastern. And just so you know: Only six of 12 times has the team ranked No. 1 in the first BCS standings of the season gone on to play in the national championship game.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It was wild last weekend across the college football landscape with plenty of upsets. We still managed to perform fairly well but slipped to a season-low 9-4 week straight up that puts the yearly ledger at 57-9. Against the spread, we were back above water again with an 8-5 mark. The ATS scoreboard is now a pretty stellar 38-25-3 for the season.

Here are the games we’ll be watching this week.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Boston College at No. 16 Florida State: Would you believe the Seminoles are the highest ranked team in Florida this week for the first time since 2005? That’s right. After rolling to a 45-17 victory over Miami (Fla.) last weekend, the Fighting Jimbos are looking at their best start in five years. On the other side of the field will be the Eagles, who are headed in the opposite direction. BC has lost three in a row, its longest losing streak since losing six straight in 1998. What’s worse is that the Eagles haven’t even been in any of those three games, losing to Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and North Carolina State by a combined score of 94-30. Those are all decent teams but none that would be confused for a powerhouse this year, so it stands to reason BC’s struggles will continue when it visits Tallahassee … Florida State 31, Boston College 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Illinois at No. 13 Michigan State: The next time someone tries to explain away a loss because a team was distracted, bring up the Spartans. How much more of a distraction can you have than your head coach suffering a midseason heart attack and being away from his full-time duties? That is exactly what has happened with Mark Dantonio, and yet his team is off to its best start since 1999. This week the Spartans will try to keep things going against the upstart Fighting Illini, who played Ohio State tough two weeks and took Penn State to the woodshed last week. This should be a battle of strong defenses with veteran MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins figuring to outplay freshman counterpart Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois … Michigan State 23, Illinois 13. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Texas at No. 5 Nebraska: How good are the Cornhuskers? We don’t really know for sure because although they have rolled to a 5-0 start by outscoring their opponents, 208-64, Nebraska has played five teams with a combined 10-15 record. How much of a step up in competition does Bo Pelini’s team take this week? Again, we really don’t know for sure. The Longhorns are unranked for the first time since 2000 and staring at their first three-game regular-season losing streak since 1997. One thing we do know for sure: Nebraska has had this game circled ever since a 12-10 loss to Texas in last year’s Big 12 Championship Game. The Longhorns have won eight of the past nine meetings in the series, but history isn’t going to be of much help to the Mack Attack this time around … Nebraska 41, Texas 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

No. 15 Iowa at Michigan: The Wolverines get a shot at redemption this week after their high-flying offense was grounded last week in a 34-24 loss to Michigan State. Unfortunately for U-M, the Hawkeyes come to Ann Arbor with a defense that is one of the best in college football. Iowa ranks No. 1 in scoring defense and No. 4 in total defense, allowing only 10.2 points and 242.2 yards per game. Michigan QB Denard Robinson cannot afford to make the mistakes he made last week and expect to do anything against the Hawkeyes. He led a second-half comeback last year against Iowa, but threw a pick in the final minute before the Hawkeyes finally salted away a 30-28 victory. Could it be that close again this year? Michigan is 23-5-3 at home against the Hawkeyes and has won 11 of the last 15 in the overall series. But it’s just difficult to believe the Wolverines can find enough holes in that Iowa defense to outscore the Hawkeyes … Iowa 27, Michigan 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

No. 10 Utah at Wyoming: You think potential BCS busters Boise State or TCU get no respect? How about the Utes? They have been bludgeoning opponents without remorse the past couple of weeks, averaging 60.0 points over their last three games. Of course, their marquee win so far is a 27-24 victory over an underachieving Pittsburgh team, so maybe Utah is getting more respect than it deserves. On the field, things don’t figure to be much different this week as the Cowboys should be the Utes’ latest victim. They have already played Boise and TCU, losing those games by a combined score of 96-6. Wyoming has one of the worst attacks in college football this year, ranking 120th of 120 Division I-A teams in rushing and total offense and 118th in scoring. It all spells blowout … Utah 62, Wyoming 6. (6 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)

McNeese State at No. 9 LSU: Thanks to some good fortune – some would say divine intervention – the Tigers have managed to claw their way to six victories in as many games and need a win this week for the program’s best start since 1973. Lost amid all the talk of how lucky LSU has been is the fact that Les Miles has himself a pretty stout defense. The Tigers rank fifth nationally in total defense and sixth against the run, allowing an average of only 80.7 yards per game. That doesn’t bode well for their Division I-AA opponents, who will be without leading rusher Marcus Wiltz, who has undergone season-ending knee surgery. After all those close calls the past couple of weeks, the Bayou Bengals should be able to breathe a little easier this week … LSU 34, McNeese State 3. (7 p.m. ET, FSN Regional)

Iowa State at No. 6 Oklahoma: The Sooners are flying under the BCS radar – as much as the undefeated No. 6 team in the nation can fly under the radar. It could be that OU hasn’t exactly been dazzling so far, winning four of its five games by eight points or fewer. For some reason, the Sooners aren’t getting much out of their running attack even though senior tailback DeMarco Murray (551 yards, nine TDs) is generally regarded as a future NFL star. Murray should be able to find some holes this week since the Cyclones rank 102nd nationally against the run and gave up 239 yards and four touchdowns to Utah’s ground game during a 68-27 loss last week … Oklahoma 38, Iowa State 14. (7 p.m. ET, FSN Regional)

No. 3 Boise State at San Jose State: So you wanna be a college football coach do you? Take the plight of first-year San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre. His team has already faced Alabama, Wisconsin, Utah and Nevada, and lost to those ranked teams by a combined score of 166-33. Now the high-flying Broncos invade northern California looking to make a statement so they can stay in the forefront of the BCS national championship discussion. Pity MacIntyre and his Spartans, who have had trouble moving the ball this year no matter who the opponent has been … Boise State 52, San Jose State 3. (8 p.m. ET, WAC Sports Network)

Mississippi at No. 8 Alabama: It really doesn’t seem fair that nearly every Crimson Tide opponent this year plays Alabama after an off week. South Carolina used that formula – along with a withering run defense – to knock off the defending national champions last week. This week, Ole Miss gets its turn after taking last week off to prepare for its trip to Tuscaloosa. The extra week of preparation was probably a welcome one. The Rebels have lost six in a row in the overall series, nine in a row at Bryant-Denny Stadium and 23 of their last 24 in Tuscaloosa. First-year quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is getting more and more comfortable running the Rebels offense, and Ole Miss has won four of its last five against ranked opponents. But you have to believe the Tide players will be in foul mood after last week’s loss and looking for someone on which they can take out their frustration … Alabama 31, Mississippi 13. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 1 Ohio State at No. 18 Wisconsin: Ranked teams. Night game. Nationwide television audience. How much hype do you need as the Buckeyes try to stay atop the national rankings with a trip to rowdy and raucous Camp Randall Stadium? There are about a thousand storylines but really only one key – the Ohio State defense against the Wisconsin running game. Simply put, if the Buckeyes can stonewall the one-two punch of John Clay and James White ( a combined 1,177 yards and 17 TDs), the OSU offense that has been purring so well behind Terrelle Pryor has the ability to run away with the game. How practical is it to believe the Buckeyes can stop Clay and White? Michigan State drew up the blueprints when Sparty held the Badgers to a season-low 165 yards on the ground in a 34-24 win two weeks ago. When the UW run game sputters, quarterback Scott Tolzien struggles. That means turnovers and that means this one won’t be nearly as close as most people think … Ohio State 41, Wisconsin 17. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boston College(+22) at Florida State; Illinois at Michigan State (-7); Texas at Nebraska (-10); Iowa (-3) at Michigan; Utah (-20) at Wyoming; McNeese State at LSU (N/L); Iowa State at Oklahoma (-21½); Boise State (-40) at San Jose State; Mississippi (+20½) at Alabama; Ohio State (-4) at Wisconsin.

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

Tressel Had It Right (Again) At Illinois

When Jim Tressel retreated into his ultraconservative shell in the second half of last weekend’s 24-13 victory at Illinois, old complaints that always seem just on the fringes of the Buckeye Nation began anew.

It’s pretty much a given that fans always want more offense. (In the spirit of full disclosure, most sportswriters do, too.) But exactly what did you expect from Tressel when his franchise quarterback went down in a heap early in the third quarter?

The gripe always seems to be that Tressel is way too conservative on offense, and compared to the go-for-the-jugular mentalities of most college coaches today, the OSU boss is too nice for his own good. It wasn’t very surprising, then, that the old grumblings about Tressel surfaced when Terrelle Pryor suffered what initially appeared to be a serious leg injury against Illinois.

Most critics figured it was the same old, close-to-the-sweater-vest Tressel using Pryor’s injury as an excuse to button up his offense in a tight game. Even when Pryor returned after only a handful of plays, the quarterback seemed to be OK despite a visible heavy wrap on his left thigh. Still, the coach wouldn’t let him do much of anything other than hand the ball to tailback Boom Herron.

My rebuttal? Tressel did exactly what he should have done in that situation. In fact, he turned in one of his better coaching jobs.

Anyone can look like a genius when his team is scoring 73 points and throttling weaker opponents without working up a sweat. Coaches earn their salaries – and I mean really earn them – by figuring ways to get their teams across the finish line in the toughest of situations.

Ohio State was on the road in its Big Ten opener playing against an Illinois team that had two weeks to prepare what looked like a pretty innovative game plan. Pryor, who had set up both of the Buckeyes’ first-half touchdowns with long runs and had already accounted for 150 of his team’s 167 yards of total offense, lay grimacing on the Memorial Stadium turf.

That’s when you expected Tressel to get fancy?

The OSU head coach did exactly what he should have done in that situation. He quickly scrapped the prepared game strategy for one that provided maximum protection for his team’s slight scoreboard advantage. Losing your Heisman Trophy candidate was like a bolt of lightning, so Tressel simply reverted to his worst-case-scenario philosophy – play ball-control on offense and rely on your defense to stop the opposition.

The bottom line for any head coach is winning, and any head coach will tell you they couldn’t care less how that winning is achieved as long as it is achieved. The Buckeyes were in a battle away from home, already without their starting tight end and now without their star player.

In that situation, you win the surest way by reducing your potential for making mistakes. You stay out of the air as much as you can – especially when the wind was howling like it always seems to do in Champaign – and you certainly don’t rely on untested players to handle the football.

You also err on the side of caution with your franchise quarterback no matter how close to 100 percent he tells you he feels.

Over the years, I have been as critical as anyone when it comes to Tressel and his conservative nature. All things being equal, I have often wondered why he sometimes likes to keep his fireworks wrapped in a plain brown wrapper.

But all things were not equal at Illinois. Not even close. In that situation, any coach worth his salt would do exactly what Tressel did – milk the clock as long as possible and then go play defense.

Throwing the football all over the lot and racking up style points certainly have their place, but winning trumps both every time. And no matter how they are achieved, no matter what else happens around the country, a win every Saturday remains the goal for every college football team.

Reach that goal at Ohio State and it doesn’t matter what happens with Boise State, Oregon, TCU, Oklahoma or Nebraska. You’re playing for the national championship.

OSU-INDIANA TIDBITS

** Ohio State and Indiana will be meeting for the 84th time on Saturday with the Buckeyes holding a lopsided 66-12-5 advantage in the series. That includes a 42-10-4 record in Ohio Stadium, including wins in each of the last eight games played in Columbus.

** The Buckeyes are currently enjoying a 15-game winning streak in the overall series. You have to go back to a 27-27 tie in 1990 to find the last time Ohio State failed to come away with a victory over Indiana. The Hoosiers’ most recent win in the series was a 41-7 decision in Bloomington in 1988.

** Since the Hoosiers took a 32-10 victory at Ohio Stadium in 1951, they have a 1-29-1 record in the Horseshoe. The lone victory was a 31-10 decision in 1987 and the tie was a 0-0 deadlock in 1959.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 6-0 against the Hoosiers. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes in those games has been 28.5 points.

** Indiana head coach Bill Lynch is in his fourth season with the Hoosiers and is playing the Buckeyes for the second time. He will be attempting to become only the second IU coach in the past 58 years to claim a victory over Ohio State. Bill Mallory, who coached the Hoosiers from 1984-96, claimed back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes in 1987 and ’88.

** Tressel has an 8-1 record in Big Ten home openers, including wins in each of the past five seasons. The only blemish on that mark is a 24-13 loss to Wisconsin in 2004.

** All-time, Ohio State is 68-23-4 in conference home openers. That includes a 14-1-1 mark against the Hoosiers.

** Tressel will be seeking his 100th career victory tomorrow at Ohio State. If he reaches that milestone, he do so in his 121st game with the Buckeyes. Only Michigan head coaches Fielding Yost and Bo Schembechler have reached 100 career wins quicker at a Big Ten school. Yost and Schembechler accomplished 100 wins in 119 games with the Wolverines.

** Tressel is making a rapid rise up the ladder in terms of all-time Big Ten victories. Last week’s win over Illinois was the coach’s 60th conference victory, making him only the 13th man in history with 60 or more Big Ten wins. Seven more league victories would move Tressel into the all-time top 10 and past George Perles of Michigan State (66, 1983-94), Murray Warmath of Minnesota (66, 1954-71) and Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin (65, 1990-2005). Legendary Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes (1951-78) is the career leader in conference victories with 152.

** Lynch is in his fourth season with the Hoosiers and his 18th year as a head coach. He has a 98-91-3 career record with stops at Butler (his alma mater), Ball State and DePauw as well as Indiana.

** Ohio State ranks first or second in the Big Ten in scoring offense, total offense, fourth-down conversions, total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, pass defense, turnover margin, PAT kicking and time of possession. Meanwhile, Indiana ranks first or second in the league in pass offense, kickoff returns, third-down conversions and PAT kicking.

** The Buckeyes have been remarkably consistent on offense this season regardless of the down. They are averaging 6.l yards on first down, 6.9 on second down and 6.8 on third down. OSU is averaging only 2.8 yards on fourth down, but the Buckeyes are a perfect 5 for 5 in fourth-down conversions.

** Indiana has 17 native Ohioans on its roster – three of which are projected to start against the Buckeyes – while Ohio State has only two players from Indiana. They are senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore, who hails from Merrillville, and freshman tailback Rod Smith of Fort Wayne.

** IU quarterback Ben Chappell set single-game school records last week for completions (45), attempts (65) and yardage (480). Chappell is among the top six at Indiana all-time in completions, passing yardage, attempts, touchdown passes and total offense as well as being the most accurate passer in program history with a career completion percentage of 62.4. That is far ahead of second place occupied by Babe Laufenberg (1981-82) at 58.6.

** One Indiana passing record Chappell did not eclipse last week was the school’s longstanding mark for touchdown passes in a single game. Freshman quarterback Bob Hoernschemeyer threw six TDs during a 54-13 victory over Nebraska in 1943.

** While an Indiana upset of Ohio State would be surprising enough, the odds of the Hoosiers shutting out the Buckeyes would be astronomical. Indiana hasn’t pitched a shutout since a 10-0 win over Michigan State in October 1993 while Ohio State hasn’t been shut out since a 28-0 loss at Michigan in November 1993. The Buckeyes haven’t experienced a shutout loss at home since a 6-0 defeat to Wisconsin in October 1982.

** With 180 yards of total offense last week against Illinois, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor increased his career total to 6,203 and moved up two more notches into fifth place on the school’s career list in that category. He passed Greg Frey (6,098, 1987-90) and Joe Germaine (6,094, 1996-98). Next up is Steve Bellisari (6,496, 1998-2001).

** Pryor also now has 4,420 career passing yards and needs only 74 more to move past Craig Krenzel (4,493, 2000-03) into ninth place on the school’s all-time list.

** This week’s game will be telecast by ESPN with Dave Pasch handling the play by play, Bob Griese and Chris Spielman providing color analysis, and Quint Kessenich reporting from the sidelines. The game will also be telecast by ESPN3-D with Dave Lamont, Tim Brown and Ray Bentley on the call. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 90 and 127 as well as XM channels 102 and 197.

** Next week, Ohio State visits Camp Randall Stadium to play Wisconsin. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Eastern and the game will be televised by either ESPN or ESPN2.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** On Oct. 5, 1940, Michigan star Tom Harmon led his team to a 21-14 victory over Michigan State in Ann Arbor. The win was the Wolverines’ third in a row over the Spartans and was part of a streak that stretched to 10 games before the Spartans won in 1950.

** 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. 6, 1956, Penn snapped a 19-game home losing streak with a 14-7 win over Dartmouth. It was the Quakers’ first official Ivy League game, while Dartmouth’s lone touchdown came from quarterback Mike Brown, the same Mike Brown who is now owner of the Cincinnati Bengals.

** On Oct. 7, 1995, Texas Tech scored a 14-7 upset over eighth-ranked Texas A&M in Lubbock. The Aggies entered the contest with a 29-game Southwest Conference unbeaten streak, but Tech linebacker Zach Thomas returned an interception 23 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

** On Oct. 7, 1996, College Football Hall of Fame coach Wallace Wade died in Durham, N.C., at the age of 94. Wade was head coach at Alabama in 1925 when the Crimson Tide became the first Southern school invited to the Rose Bowl. A guard for Brown during his playing days, Wade became the first man ever to play and coach in a Rose Bowl. His Brown team lost to Washington State, 14-0, in the 1916 game, but his Alabama squad took a 20-19 thriller over Washington a decade later. Wade later coached at Duke – the football stadium there bears his name – and led the Blue Devils to their only Rose Bowl appearance, a 20-16 loss to Oregon State in the 1942 game.

** 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, 1966, Wyoming kicker Jerry DePoyster made NCAA history during his team’s 40-7 victory over Utah. DePoyster connected on field goals of 54, 54 and 52 yards and became the first kicker in NCAA history with three field goal of 50 yards or more in a single game. The Cowboys went on to a 10-1 season in ’66 that included a WAC championship and Sun Bowl victory over Florida State.

** 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.

** On Oct. 9, 1943, Indiana 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.

** On Oct. 9, 1999, Michigan and Michigan State entered their instate rivalry with undefeated records for the first time in nearly 20 years and those in attendance at East Lansing got their money’s worth. The Spartans stormed out to an early lead before U-M head coach Lloyd Carr replaced starting quarterback Drew Henson with backup Tom Brady. Brady went on to complete 30 of 41 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, but his rally fell just short as the Spartans held on for a 34-31 victory.

** On Oct. 9, 2004, California QB Aaron Rodgers established a new NCAA record for consecutive completions. Rodgers completed his first three attempts against USC to run his streak to a record 26 completions in a row. Unfortunately, that was all Cal had to celebrate that day. The seventh-ranked Bears dropped a 23-17 decision to the No. 1 Trojans.

** 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.

** On Oct. 10, 1987, Oklahoma State took a 42-17 victory over Colorado to open its season with five straight wins for the first time since 1945. Leading the way for the Cowboys was a pair of fairly decent running backs – Thurman Thomas rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown while Barry Sanders added a score on a 73-yard punt return.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Seven more unbeaten teams have fallen by the wayside since last week’s blog, leaving 17 with perfect records at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) level. Alphabetically, they are Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Boise State, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Northwestern, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, TCU and Utah.

** If you’re keeping score by conference as far as the undefeated teams are concerned, the Big 12 and Big Ten lead the way with four each. The SEC has three and the Pac-10, WAC and Mountain West each have two undefeated teams remaining.

** On the other side of the ledger, six Division I-A teams remain winless: Akron, Eastern Michigan, Florida International, New Mexico, New Mexico State and Western Kentucky. That list will be pared by at least two tomorrow when New Mexico and New Mexico State square off in Las Cruces while Western Kentucky travels to Florida International for a Sun Belt conference battle. Akron and Eastern Michigan are Mid-American Conference rivals but they do not meet this season.

** Alabama owns the longest current winning streak in I-A with 19 wins in a row. Western Kentucky has the longest current losing streak at 24.

** Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has run (and thrown) himself into the Heisman Trophy race. When he ran for 217 yards and threw for a career-best 277 last Saturday against Indiana, Robinson became the first player in I-A history to pass and rush for 200 yards in a game twice during the regular season. Robinson leads the nation in rushing (905 yards, eight TDs), is fourth in pass efficiency (1,008 yards, seven TDs, one INT) and ranks No. 2 nationally in total offense with an average of 382.6 yards per game.

** Robinson’s 905 rushing yards is already the third-highest single-season total for a Big Ten quarterback. Antwaan Randle El of Indiana holds down both of the top spots with 1,270 yards in 2000 and 964 in 2001.

** Texas has the week off after last week’s 28-20 loss to Oklahoma. The Longhorns will head to seventh-ranked Nebraska on Oct. 16 trying to avoid their first three-game regular-season losing streak in the Mack Brown era. No Texas team has lost three games in a row during the regular season since 1997 when the Longhorns dropped four in a row under head coach John Mackovic and finished 4-7. Mackovic was let go after that season and Brown was hired away from North Carolina.

** Here’s a totally off-the-wall stat: Oklahoma and Alabama have each played two ranked opponents and have won both games. The 17 other schools that have played two ranked opponents so far this season are a combined 0-39.

** ESPN may be second-guessing its exclusive contract to telecast BYU games when the Cougars leave the Mountain West and go independent next season. The Cougars are now 1-4, their worst start to a season since 1973, and defensive coordinator Jaime Hill got pink-slipped after last Saturday’s 31-16 loss to Utah State. The Aggies had lost 10 in a row in the series with BYU, and beat the Cougars for the first time since a 58-56 thriller in 1993.

** Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray is chasing a pair of longstanding school records. Murray has 55 career touchdowns and needs three more to pass the career mark held for more than 40 years by Steve Owens (1967-69). Murray is also bearing down on the school mark for all-purpose yards currently owned by Joe Washington (1972-75). Murray heads into this weekend with 5,478 all-purpose yards; Washington holds the OU career mark with 5,881.

** Congratulations to William & Mary, who ended defending Football Championship Subdivision national champion Villanova’s 12-game win streak against I-AA opponents last weekend. W&M scored a 31-24 victory that was especially sweet since the Tribe lost a 14-13 decision to Villanova in last year’s national semifinals.

** By the way, there are only four unbeaten teams left at the I-AA level. They are Appalachian State, Bethune-Cookman, Delaware and Jacksonville State, and one of the those teams already owns a victory over a Division I-A team this year. Jacksonville State defeated Mississippi, 49-48 in double overtime, earlier this season and Appalachian State gets its crack at the big boys Nov. 20 when the Mountaineers travel to No. 12 Florida.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The picks slipped ever so slightly last week, misfiring on Wisconsin-Michigan State as well as the Upset Special when Stanford couldn’t hold an early 21-3 lead over Oregon before getting blown out by a 52-31 score. Still, we were 9-2 straight up for the week and that makes us 48-5 for the season.

Against the spread, we suffered the first real hiccup of the season as a 4-7 week dropped the ATS mark to 30-20-3 for the season. We’re still well above water but need to do much better this week to stay that way.

Here are the lucky 13 games we’ll be watching this week.

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 22 Oklahoma State at Louisiana-Lafayette: Among the four undefeated teams in the Big 12, no one seems to be talking about Oklahoma State. The Cowboys overcame a 21-7 halftime deficit last week to take a 38-35 thriller over Texas A&M, and now they hit the road for some primetime nonconference action. OSU features a potent passing attack with quarterback Brandon Weeden (1,259 yards, 13 TDs) and receiver Justin Blackmon (34 receptions, 558 yards, nine TDs) although the Cowboys are prone to mistakes. That shouldn’t really matter tonight although the Ragin’ Cajuns have won their last two against Big 12 opponents … Oklahoma State 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 14. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Minnesota at No. 20 Wisconsin: How to beat the Badgers isn’t any big secret. Hold down their running game and they struggle. That’s exactly what happened last week when Michigan State held Wisconsin running back John Clay under 100 yards and out of the end zone during a 34-24 win for the Spartans. It’s difficult to see how the Gophers can duplicate that game plan, though. They enter tomorrow’s contest ranked 10th in the Big Ten and 96th nationally against the run. Look for Clay and the Badgers to bounce back and make Tim Brewster’s seat that much hotter in Minneapolis … Wisconsin 37, Minnesota 21. (12 noon ET, BTN)

Wyoming at No. 5 TCU: Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman did no favors for his football team when making out the 2010 schedule. The Cowboys have already absorbed a 51-6 whipping courtesy of Boise State and now they embark upon a two-week stretch that includes TCU and Utah. The Horned Frogs haven’t had any trouble racing out to a 5-0 start, outscoring their opposition by a 205-62 margin, and it could be more of the same against Wyoming. The Cowboys rank 119th out of 120 Division I-A schools in total offense and they’re 110th in total defense. Add to those ugly numbers the fact that Wyoming has lost 12 in a row to ranked teams and you get the recipe for a blowout … TCU 55, Wyoming 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports)

No. 11 Arkansas vs. Texas A&M: The Razorbacks and Aggies renewed their rivalry last year when Arkansas rolled to a 47-19 victory in then-new Cowboys Stadium. That probably warmed the heart of former Razorbacks player Jerry Jones, and the Dallas Cowboys owner will be on hand again tomorrow afternoon when the teams return to his $1 billion playhouse. Not much has changed from last year other than the fact the Razorbacks are actually a little better than they were in ’09. They couldn’t quite hang on against Alabama a couple of weeks ago, partly because star quarterback Ryan Mallett pitched three interceptions. But since then Mallett has been on the money and he threw for 271 yards and four TDs last year against A&M. The Aggies can chuck the ball around pretty well, too, but not well enough … Arkansas 31, Texas A&M 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 South Carolina: Can anyone derail the Tide’s march to another national championship game? The Gamecocks are next in line to try, coming off an open week following their 35-27 loss to Auburn on Sept. 25. You have to know that Steve Spurrier will have a few tricks up his sleeve and he’d better, especially on defense. SC gave up 334 yards to Auburn and that’s a big sign heading into a game that will feature Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson on the other side. The duo has already combined for 774 yards and 10 touchdowns not to mention a collective average of 7.6 yards per carry. That is potentially lethal against the Gamecocks, who make too many mistakes to entertain any thought of an upset … Alabama 34, South Carolina 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 17 Michigan State at No. 18 Michigan: The Spartans and Wolverines enter their rivalry match undefeated for the first time since 1999. MSU is also trying to extend its win streak in the series to three in a row, something that hasn’t happened since 1965-67. If Sparty wants that victory, he’s going to have to figure out some way to stop Michigan QB Denard Robinson. No one else has as the sophomore has dazzled his way into the Heisman race. Load up to stop Robinson from running like Indiana did last week and he’ll beat you through the air. Hang back and he’ll carve up your defense like a Thanksgiving turkey. Robinson’s critics claim he hasn’t faced a defense as strong as the one he’ll see tomorrow but from what little I’ve seen from the Spartans’ D, it’s a read-and-react unit and that plays right into Robinson’s strengths … Michigan 35, Michigan State 31. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

No. 3 Oregon at Washington State: Fireworks from the Quack Attack ought to continue this week with the high-flying Ducks visiting the Palouse. Oregon features the No. 1 offense in the nation (56.6 points, 569.2 yards per game) while the Cougars have one of the worst defensive units in college football. Among the 120 teams at the I-A level, Wazzu ranks 101st in pass defense, 109th in pass efficiency defense, 116th in scoring defense, 117th in rushing defense and 118th in total defense. As bad as defensive those numbers are, the Cougars aren’t very good on offense, either – they’re 109th in rushing and 92nd in scoring. It all adds up to a beatdown that will likely leave some nasty bruises … Oregon 63, Washington State 0. (5 p.m. ET, CSN)

Oregon State at No. 9 Arizona: Oregon is getting all the hype in the Pac-10 but the Wildcats are quietly putting together something special. While the Ducks dazzle with their offense, Arizona does it the old-fashioned way with defense and solid special teams. Mike Stoops’ team ranks second in the nation in total defense and third in scoring defense, and it’s ranked No. 1 in kickoff returns. The Wildcats come off an open week to entertain the Beavers, who cranked up some offense last week during a 31-28 win over Arizona State. But Oregon State still ranks 10th in the Pac-10 in total offense, and when you combine that with an eighth-place standing in total defense, you can see why Arizona is favored to break the Beavers’ current four-game win streak in Tucson … Arizona 20, Oregon State 10. (6 p.m. ET, Versus)

No. 10 Utah at Iowa State: Here are a few pertinent numbers. The Utes are coming off an open week and they are 5-0 coming off open weeks under head coach Kyle Whittingham. Utah has an 11-game win streak going against unranked opponents. Iowa State is 3-0 at home this season and 4-0 all-time against Utah. Of course, the Cyclones’ victories in the series came in 1970s when the Utes bore no resemblance to the team that has been one of the top offensive units for the better part of the last decade. This year, Utah not only scores points (44.3 per game), it also has a smothering defense that allows only 12.8 points per game. For an Iowa State team that has struggled at times on both sides of the ball, that is a scary proposition … Utah 43, Iowa State 14. (7 p.m. ET, Fox College)

Purdue at Northwestern: How much harder could the injury bug bite the Boilermakers? All-Big Ten receiver Keith Smith, running back Ralph Bolden and quarterback Robert Marve are all out with season-ending knee injuries leaving Purdue scrambling. Marve’s backup, Rob Henry, is raw – he just started playing the quarterback position four years ago. Meanwhile, the Wildcats will likely be without star tight end Drake Dunsmore but that shouldn’t make for much of a slowdown in the NU offense. QB Dan Persa has already accounted for more than 1,600 yards of total offense and ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 3 nationally in pass efficiency. The Wildcats needed a late field goal to beat Minnesota last week but shouldn’t need any comeback magic this week … Northwestern 27, Purdue 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 8 Auburn at Kentucky: If you haven’t been paying attention to the Tigers, perhaps it’s time you did. They have their own version of Denard Robinson in quarterback Cam Newton, a JUCO transfer who is second nationally in pass efficiency while averaging 94.8 yards rushing per game. As a result of Newton’s play, Auburn is looking to start 6-0 for the first time in six years. Standing in the way – as they usually do – are the Wildcats, who scored a 21-14 upset win at Auburn last year. Kentucky has a couple of electrifying players in its own right in running back Derrick Locke and receiver Randall Cobb, but the Wildcats are 11th in the SEC both in rushing defense and total defense. Watch them struggle trying to corral Newton … Auburn 31, Kentucky 17. (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Toledo at No. 4 Boise State: By now you know the story. Despite a 59-0 win over New Mexico State, the Broncos got jumped in the polls by Oregon, a penalty Boise paid for its weak schedule. Things don’t figure to get much tougher this week when the Rockets invade the Smurf Turf, where the Broncos enjoy a 57-game winning streak. Boise State QB Kellen Moore is a legitimate Heisman candidate (1,069 yards, 11 TDs) and he ought to be able to pad those numbers and Toledo which ranks 11th in the 13-team MAC in pass defense. Even more to the point is the fact the Rockets are coming off a 20-15 loss to Wyoming, the same Wyoming team that two weeks earlier absorbed a 51-6 beating administered by the Broncos … Boise State 52, Toledo 3. (8 p.m. ET, WAC Network/Sports Time Ohio)

Indiana at No. 2 Ohio State: Brandon Saine, Boom Herron, Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde should be licking their chops this week as the Buckeyes take on an Indiana defense that ranks dead last in the Big Ten defending the run. To be blunt, if you can’t run on the Hoosiers you need to take a serious look at how your running game does business. That said, Indiana comes to Columbus loaded for bear on offense. IU quarterback Ben Chappell ranks fifth nationally in total offense and 12th in pass efficiency, and he has some big, physical receivers who could give fits to some of the smaller OSU defenders. Still, if the Buckeyes can control the tempo of the game by running the ball, and if Terrelle Pryor is anything close to 100 percent, Ohio State should be able to continue its mastery in this series. The Buckeyes are looking for their 16th consecutive win over the Hoosiers and their 42nd victory in the past 43 home games against unranked opponents … Ohio State 41, Indiana 24. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Oklahoma State (-21) at Louisiana-Lafayette; Minnesota (+22) at Wisconsin; Wyoming at TCU (-34); Arkansas (-5) vs. Texas A&M; Alabama (-6½) at South Carolina; Michigan State (+4½) at Michigan; Oregon (-35½) at Washington State; Oregon State at Arizona (-7½); Utah (-6½) at Iowa State; Purdue (+9½) at Northwestern; Auburn (-6) at Kentucky; Toledo at Boise State (-38½); Indiana (+22½) at Ohio State.

Enjoy the games and we’ll see you next week.

Buckeyes Should Be Proud Of What They Are

Someone once coined the phrase, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

That old axiom fits any number of everyday life situations, but it is especially true for Ohio State football fans. They look at Oregon and its pinball-style offense, and they get all misty-eyed. They wonder why their favorite team can’t score points in bunches. They wonder why the Buckeyes can’t be that fun to watch.

Now with the Ducks on the horizon, fans wonder if maybe – finally – Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel will unleash his arsenal of weapons and allow his thoroughbreds to run free.

Many theorize Tressel has to open the playbook tomorrow afternoon. Oregon won 10 of its last 11 games, and scored 40 points or more in seven of its final nine contests. The only blemish down the stretch for the Ducks was a loss at Stanford, and the Cardinal had to score 51 points to pull that off.

There is another way, of course. Rather than trying to beat Oregon at its own game, Ohio State should not try to be anything but its normal self. Solid, straight-up defense coupled with a power running game and mistake-free special teams. No tricks, nothing fancy, just good old-fashioned fundamental football.

In other words, Tresselball.

All anyone every wants to talk about is the boring nature of that style of offense, yet no one seems to dispute the success rate of the basic philosophy. When the Buckeyes had their backs against the wall following the 26-18 loss at Purdue in mid-October, the team returned to basics and Tresselball carried OSU all the way to Pasadena.

After returning home from West Lafayette, the defense turned things up a couple of notches, the running game kicked into high gear and Ohio State closed out the regular season with five straight victories – including wins over Penn State and Iowa, both of which had 10-win seasons.

In vanquishing those final five foes, the Buckeyes outscored their opponents by a 155-48 margin. Moreover, OSU improved its running attack to the tune of an average of 257.8 yards per game down the stretch. Meanwhile, the defense allowed no team in those last five games to rush for more than 123 yards, and none of Ohio State’s final four opponents – including Penn State and Iowa – cracked the 100-yard mark.

I’ve heard so many times over the past month how difficult it will be for the Buckeyes to beat Oregon if they don’t pump up the offense. I really don’t think that is necessary. One reason why the Ducks score so many points is because they have to. Their defense surrendered 283 points this season and gave up 33 or more points four times.

Ohio State really doesn’t have to do anything differently on offense to beat Oregon. The one thing Terrelle Pryor and Co. cannot do, however, is turn the ball over. Give the Ducks’ offense gift possessions and they will win the game. Short of that, the Buckeyes simply need to be themselves.

And when it comes right down to the nitty and the gritty, that’s the way it should be. Since when should you apologize for doing what you do best?

OHIO STATE-OREGON TIDBITS

** Ohio State holds a 7-0 advantage in the all-time series, including a 10-7 victory in the 1958 Rose Bowl. The teams haven’t met since 1987 when the Buckeyes took a 24-14 win over the Ducks in Ohio Stadium.

** This will be the first meeting between OSU head coach Jim Tressel and Oregon boss Chip Kelly, who is in his first season as head coach of the Ducks. Tressel is 14-1 during his Ohio State tenure against first-year head coaches. The lone blemish on that slate came earlier this season against Purdue’s Danny Hope.

** Tressel has a lifetime 27-10 record in the postseason, including 4-4 in bowl games while at Ohio State. He was 23-6 in Division I-AA playoff games while at Youngstown State, including national championships in 1991, ’93 and ’94.

** In overall meetings, the Buckeyes are 50-25-2 against teams currently in the Pac-10. In addition to being a perfect 7-0 against Oregon, OSU is 3-1 vs. Arizona, 2-0 vs. Arizona State, 5-1 vs. California, 2-0 vs. Oregon State, 2-3 vs. Stanford, 4-4-1 vs. UCLA, 9-13-1 vs. USC, 8-3 vs. Washington and 8-0 vs. Washington State.

** Oregon is 15-26 all-time against the Big Ten. In addition to an 0-7 slate against Ohio State, the Ducks are 2-1 vs. Illinois, 2-1 vs. Indiana, 2-1 vs. Iowa, 2-3 vs. Michigan, 1-3 vs. Minnesota, 2-2 vs. Michigan State, 0-1 vs. Northwestern, 1-3 vs. Penn State, 2-1 vs. Purdue and 1-3 vs. Wisconsin.

** Tressel is 3-3 all-time against Pac-10 schools. He is 2-0 vs. Washington, 1-0 vs. Washington State, 0-1 vs. UCLA and 0-2 vs. USC.

** Kelly is 1-0 all-time against Big Ten schools. His team won a 38-36 victory over Purdue at Autzen Stadium in Eugene on Sept. 12.

** The Buckeyes have lost three consecutive bowl games and are 18-22 overall in the postseason. The team’s most recent bowl victory was a 34-20 win over Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. Since then, OSU lost back-to-back national championship games (to Florida in 2007 and LSU in 2008) and dropped a 24-21 decision to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl last January.

** Oregon is working on a two-game bowl winning streak and is 9-13 overall in the postseason. The Ducks took a 42-31 win over Oklahoma State in last year’s Holiday Bowl and were 56-21 winners over South Florida in the 2007 Sun Bowl. Oregon hasn’t lost a postseason game since a 38-8 loss to BYU in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.

** The Buckeyes are making their fifth consecutive BCS game appearance and seventh overall. Oregon is making its second BCS appearance. The Ducks tallied a 38-16 win over Colorado in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl.

** Ohio State will be seeking to even its lifetime Rose Bowl record. The Buckeyes are 6-7 in previous trips to Pasadena, including a win during their most recent visit. OSU knocked off second-ranked Arizona State with a thrilling 20-17 victory in the 1997 Rose Bowl.

** Oregon is making its fifth Rose Bowl appearance and first since 1995. The Ducks are 1-3 in their previous trips to Pasadena, including losses to two Big Ten teams. In addition to the 10-7 loss to Ohio State in 1958, they lost by a 38-20 score to Penn State in 1995. The team’s lone Rose Bowl victory came in 1917 with a 14-0 win over the University of Pennsylvania.

** The Ducks boast of a pair of Rose Bowl game records. Quarterback Danny O’Neil threw for 456 yards against Penn State in 1995, establishing the single-game record for passing yardage. And defensive halfback Shy Harrington grabbed three interceptions in the 1917 game against Penn to establish a single-game that has been equaled but never surpassed.

** Despite winning their respective Big Ten and Pac-10 championships outright, neither team seemed to garner much in the way of all-league recognition from their own conference coaches. Ohio State and Oregon had just one player each earn first-team honors on the all-conference teams voted on by coaches. For the Buckeyes, it was defensive back Kurt Coleman while Oregon’s lone representative was tight end Ed Dickson.

** Kelly was named Pac-10 coach of the year in his first season heading the Ducks. Tressel has never been voted Big Ten coach of the year despite six league championships and one national title in nine seasons.

** Tressel is 35-13 against ranked opposition during his tenure at Ohio State. Kelly is 4-1 this season with the Ducks against top-25 teams.

** Kickoff for the 96th Rose Bowl Game is scheduled for 5:10 p.m. Eastern. That is 2:10 p.m. local time. The game will be telecast to a nationwide audience by ABC with the venerable Brent Musberger handling play-by-play duties with color analysis from former OSU quarterback Kirk Herbstreit. Lisa Salters will report from both sidelines.

** The game will also be broadcast by ESPN Radio on Sirius/XM satellite radio channels 120 and 140. The broadcast crew will consist of Mike Tirico (play-by-play), Jon Gruden (color analysis) and Shelley Smith (sideline reports).

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** When Florida lost in the SEC championship game, it ended the Gators’ winning streak at 22 games. Texas’ win streak of 17 straight games is now the longest in the so-called Football Bowl Subdivision (aka Division I-A).

** Following the regular season, Texas rewarded head coach Mack Brown by making him the highest paid coach in college football. Brown became the first $5 million coach after having made approximately $3 million this past season. The university also included a clause that pays the coach an additional $450,000 if the Longhorns beat Alabama on Jan. 7 in the national championship game. According to reports, the bonus is more than 27 Division I-A head coaches made this entire season.

** Utah’s win over California in the Poinsettia Bowl extended the nation’s longest bowl winning streak to nine. You may remember the Utes scored a 31-17 upset win over Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl.

** Utah’s nine-game bowl winning streak is tied for the second-longest ever. Florida State won 11 in a row between 1985 and 1996 while USC won nine straight from 1923-45.

** With that Poinsettia Bowl victory, the Utes improved to 12-3 all-time in bowl games and their .800 winning percentage is the best in the nation of the 74 schools with at least 10 bowl appearances.

** When Mike London left Richmond to become head coach at Virginia, he became the seventh man to win a Division I-AA national championship and then move on to become a head coach at the I-A level. Only one of the previous six has gone on to win a Division I-A national title. That would be Jim Tressel, who won four I-AA rings at Youngstown State before guiding Ohio State to the 2002 national championship.

** The other coaches with I-AA championships to make the jump to I-A: Joe Glenn (Montana to Wyoming); Paul Johnson (Georgia Southern to Navy and then Georgia Tech); Jim Donnan (Marshall to Georgia); Jim Criner (Boise State to Iowa State); and Dave Kragthorpe (Idaho State to Oregon State).

** You could make the case that the jump from I-AA to I-A is a tough one. Tressel and Johnson have excelled, but the tenures of Glenn, Donnan, Criner and Kragthorpe each ended in termination.

** Finally, a word about Urban Meyer. I can only surmise that his reasons are legitimate for taking a leave of absence at Florida. My question is the timing of his announcement. If Meyer already knew he would be leaving the team after the Sugar Bowl, why didn’t he wait until then to make his announcement? Or better still, why didn’t he wait until after the national championship game? I understand there is stress in the fish-bowl world of college football. Universities do not hand out $5 million contracts with no strings attached. The pressure to win isn’t an everyday kind of thing – it’s an every second of every minute of every day kind of thing. Still, I can’t help thinking some of the stress felt by such ego-driven coaches as Meyer is self-inflicted.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The old crystal ball got a little cloudy down the stretch, finishing 121-37 for the year with the straight-up picks and a lamer than lame 64-79-2 mark against the spread.

We decided to skip most of the bowl season because, well, most of it has been rendered irrelevant by the BCS. Secondly, bowl games are the last place you want to try and pad your stats because you never know how the teams (or individual players for that matter) are going to react after a protracted layoff.

Nevertheless, we’ll take on the games that begin tomorrow and move on through the national title game.

OUTBACK BOWL, JAN. 1

Northwestern vs. Auburn: If history is any indicator, Auburn would seem to have the edge. The Tigers are looking for their sixth victory in their last eight bowl games while the Wildcats haven’t won a New Year’s Day bowl since 1949. NU has the momentum, however, with three straight wins to close out the regular season, including victories over Iowa and Wisconsin … Northwestern 31, Auburn 23. (11 a.m. ET, ESPN)

GATOR BOWL, JAN. 1

No. 16 West Virginia vs. Florida State: Everything points to a win by the Mountaineers, but the Seminoles can’t let Bobby Bowden ride off into the sunset on a losing note, can they? … Florida State 34, West Virginia 31. (1 p.m. ET, CBS)

CAPITAL ONE BOWL, JAN. 1

No. 13 Penn State vs. No. 12 LSU: As long as the Nittany Lions can hold onto the football, they can beat an offensively-challenged LSU team … Penn State 24, LSU 14. (1 p.m. ET, ABC)

ROSE BOWL, JAN. 1

No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Oregon: I am reminded once again of the old coaching adage that offense gets the headlines, but defense wins championships. The postseason losing streak ends … Ohio State 35, Oregon 28.  (4:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

SUGAR BOWL, JAN. 1

No. 3 Cincinnati vs. No. 5 Florida: We were pretty sure the Bearcats would have kept things close until the Urban Meyer situation was disclosed. Now, with Meyer and Tim Tebow both exiting the stage, we think the Gators will want to make a statement … Florida 41, Cincinnati 21. (8:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

INTERNATIONAL BOWL, JAN. 2

South Florida vs. Northern Illinois: Look for the Bulls to rally around embattled head coach Jim Leavitt – unless, of course, the report of Leavitt hitting a player in the face is true. Even so, USF ought to have enough to beat the Huskies … South Florida 27, Northern Illinois 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

PAPAJOHN’S.COM BOWL, JAN. 2

South Carolina vs. Connecticut: Two teams that couldn’t even finish .500 in their respective conferences and we can’t have a playoff because of the sanctity of the bowl structure. Whatever … Connecticut 34, South Carolina 31. (2 p.m. ET, ESPN)

COTTON BOWL, JAN. 2

No. 19 Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi: Remember when the Rebels were supposed to be national title contenders? They’ll show why in the first Cotton Bowl to be played in the new Dallas Cowboys palace … Ole Miss 37, Oklahoma State 30. (2 p.m. ET, Fox)

LIBERTY BOWL, JAN. 2

Arkansas vs. East Carolina: We’re not sure we buy the whole concept of the SEC being the head-and-shoulders best conference in college football, but we do buy the concept that it is better than Conference USA … Arkansas 27, East Carolina 17. (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

ALAMO BOWL, JAN. 2

Michigan State vs. Texas Tech: The Spartans are 96th nationally in pass efficiency defense and 103rd in pass yardage defense. Pass-happy Double-T was the No. 2 team in the country in pass offense. Anything else you need to know? … Texas Tech 41, Michigan State 37.  (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

FIESTA BOWL, JAN. 4

No. 6 Boise State vs. No. 4 TCU: If you have any doubt about these teams’ legitimacy regarding the national championship picture, you owe it yourself to check out this game. It ought to be a pretty entertaining affair featuring two of the country’s best … TCU 23, Boise State 21. (8 p.m. ET, Fox)

ORANGE BOWL, JAN. 5

No. 10 Iowa vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech: Many teams around the country tend of have problems defending the Yellow Jackets and their triple-option attack. The Big Ten doesn’t seem to have those same problems … Iowa 28, Georgia Tech 20. (8 p.m. ET, Fox)

GMAC BOWL, JAN. 6

Central Michigan vs. Troy: Between CMU quarterback Den LeFevour (3,043 yards, 27 TDs) and Troy signal-caller Irv Brown (3,868 yards, 22 TDs), the scoreboard at Land Peebles Stadium may resemble a Las Vegas slot machine … Central Michigan 47, Troy 45. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, JAN. 7

No. 2 Texas vs. No. 1 Alabama: No one give the Longhorns much of a chance against the Crimson Tide, looking for their first national title since 1992. We just have this feeling, though, that Texas is going to pull off the shocker. The Longhorns are 7-0-1 all-time against the Tide and returning to Pasadena, site of their thrilling victory over USC four years ago. We think they can do it again … Texas 24, Alabama 21. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads: Northwestern (+8) vs. Auburn; West Virginia vs. Florida State (+3); Penn State (-2½) vs. LSU; Ohio State (+5) vs. Oregon; Cincinnati vs. Florida (-13); South Florida (-6½) vs. Northern Illinois; South Carolina vs. Connecticut (+5); Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi (-3); Arkansas (-8) vs. East Carolina; Michigan State (+8) vs. Texas Tech; Boise State (+8) vs. TCU; Iowa (+5) vs. Georgia Tech; Central Michigan vs. Troy (+4); Texas (+4½) vs. Alabama.

Enjoy the games and here’s wishing you and yours a safe and prosperous new year.

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.

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.

Where Do Buckeyes, Pryor Go From Here?

I try to avoid posting my columns from Buckeye Sports Bulletin on this blog, but I received a lot of positive feedback this week so I thought I would share it here. Like many others around the country, the column deals with Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and where the Buckeyes are headed following last week’s loss to Purdue.

There is nothing like a four-hour drive on a meandering black ribbon of interstate highway to clear the mind – that is, of course, unless you are making your way back home after witnessing something wholly unexpected.

I suppose there will be those who claim they expected Ohio State and its clogged artery of an offense to someday cause the team to stumble and fall. I doubt very seriously, however, if any of those self-proclaimed psychics foretold that occurring in the form of an eight-point loss at Purdue.

There were any number of finger-pointing moments during the 26-18 loss to the unranked Boilermakers, although there is no doubt the white-hot glare of the spotlight shone squarely on quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Many of us – me included – failed to recognize just how much Pryor remains a work in progress. Ardent critics of Jim Tressel and the way he goes about his business will likely dismiss that assessment as a convenient excuse to cover up something far more sinister. Perhaps Pryor is secretly hiding an injury. Maybe he’s angry at the way he’s being used. Maybe he’s really an alien from the planet Mxyzptlk and he’s been sent here to destroy Ohio State football.

Much to the dismay of the conspiracy theorists, however, the plain truth is that Pryor is a gifted athlete going through a stretch where he simply isn’t playing well.

Why is that? There are plenty of theories but they’re really only that – theories.

On that drive back from West Lafayette, my BSB colleagues and I bounced around our opinions about Pryor’s ongoing problems, and I’d be willing to bet our concerns mirror those of most of the Buckeye Nation.

We discussed poor mechanics and that Pryor’s performance continually suffers every time he allows his mechanics to stray. When he squares his shoulders to the target or plants his feet in the proper position, his throws are usually on the money. When he gets flushed from the pocket, or when he is scrambling laterally, he is much more erratic and prone to incompletions and interceptions.

We discussed the possibility that Pryor is perhaps struggling as he tries to digest an expanded playbook. There is little question Tressel kept things much simpler for his quarterback last season when Pryor was inserted into the starting lineup in week four. As a result, much of what the then-freshman did was on instinct and sheer athleticism. Now, as opposing defensive coordinators have caught on to Pryor’s strengths and weaknesses, they scheme against the former and seek to exploit the latter.

To explain it another way, Pryor is like the young slugger who knocks the cover off the baseball during a late September call-up to the major leagues. The following spring, when opposing pitchers learn his tendency to crush fastballs and wave at sliders in the dirt, his production plummets. The young players who can adapt their games and adjust to the adjustments made against them are the successful superstars of tomorrow.

So far, Pryor has not adapted, nor has he made the necessary adjustments.

We discussed Pryor’s state of mind with regard to the mental aspects of playing the quarterback position at one of the elite programs in college football. In its long and glorious history, Ohio State has had but one four-year starting quarterback. The reason? Because it’s damned hard for any young player to assume a leadership role on what very often is a veteran team gunning for a championship.

Sure, there are plenty of programs around the country who entrust their programs to freshman quarterbacks, but how many of them expect that first-year player to guide them into the national championship picture? The jump to major-college football from the high school level is a quantum leap. That is underscored even more when the player comes from a low-division high school program.

In a period of 24 short months, Pryor has ridden the roller coaster of fame. While still a high school student in tiny Jeannette, Pa., his name was on the lips of every college football recruiting nut in the country. When he signed with Ohio State, his constituency was pared to the Buckeye faithful. Now, many of those same fans who felt the program couldn’t go on without Pryor’s name on a national letter of intent scream for someone else – anyone else – to play in his place.

Criticism comes with the territory, of course. I’ve swallowed what I consider to be my fair share over the years and have gotten fairly used to it. But I’m 51 and there are times when criticism – warranted or not – still gets to me. With everything else on a 20-year-old’s plate – from schoolwork and social activities to just plain growing up and being away from home for the first time – the criticism leveled at Pryor must be quite a burden to bear.

Personally, I think Pryor is one of the most confused football players I have ever been around. He seems to be caught in a personal vortex between the quarterback he is and the quarterback he wants to be, and the more he tries to be one or the other, the more confused he seemingly becomes.

Since he first began playing the position full time as a high school sophomore four short years ago, Pryor has relied on his instincts first and everything else followed. More often than not, that meant he’d beat you with his legs long before he’d beat you with his arm. That approach was plenty good enough for a state championship at Jeannette and even good enough to make him one of the most talked-about freshmen in college football last year.

Suddenly, though, it’s not good enough. Not nearly.

What has changed? Pryor’s role in the offense for starters.

Last year, he was content in his role as just another guy in an attack led by Chris “Beanie” Wells. With Wells doing most of the heavy lifting throughout the season, pretty much all that was asked of Pryor was to be himself and protect the football.

When Wells decided to leave early for the NFL, both Tressel and Pryor lost their security blankets. Since Tressel no longer had the luxury of relying on a workhorse tailback to ease the pressure from his young quarterback, he likely reasoned that opposing defenses would try to negate Pryor’s mobility. So Tressel went about the task of trying to remake his budding star into a passing prodigy. So far, that strategy has had its ups and downs for one of two reasons: Either Pryor has yet to grasp the concept or he has yet to fully embrace it.

My guess is that he wants to embrace it but old habits die painfully hard. Case in point: The final play on Ohio State’s final drive against Purdue. Fourth-and-14 at the Purdue 38. Trailing by eight. Clock winding under three minutes. Do or die.

Pryor took the shotgun snap, waited a split-second for the Boilermakers to stage the same kind of furious pass rush they had shown the entire second half and then bolted toward the left side of the line. After a few steps toward the line of scrimmage, Pryor saw traffic in front of him and suddenly slowed.

On fourth-and-14, it is doubtful the play call was a quarterback draw. Then again, with the way the Purdue defensive ends were coming on almost every play, the strategy could have been for Pryor to try to create something with his legs. Earlier in the fourth quarter, he had broken off a 35-yard scramble against a similar rush.

But he had committed to that early run and had broken containment quickly. This time, as he tried to quickly process the moment, Pryor saw Ray Small crossing to his left about 20 yards downfield. You could almost see the conflict going on inside the quarterback’s helmet. Run it or throw it? Throw it or run it? In the end, he committed to neither. Rather than tucking the ball under his arm or taking the time to set his feet, Pryor shuffled and then heaved a pass in Small’s direction as a couple of Boilermaker defenders closed in.

The ball fluttered a bit – it had way too much air under it – and never came close to Small. Purdue cornerback David Pender crossed in front of the OSU receiver and easily swatted the ball to the ground to end the Buckeyes’ potential rally.

Would Pryor have picked up the necessary 14 yards for a first down had he committed to the run in that situation? Who can tell? I only know that he clearly was not in command of what he wanted to do. And if that was the case, how can he possibly be in command of what he needs to do?

Am I in favor of sitting him for a while in favor of backup Joe Bauserman? No. That would be the worst thing Tressel could do. About the only thing Pryor still has going for him is a kind of inner confidence that he’s going to work this out. You sit him down now and you send him the message that you don’t think he can work it out.

The best thing Tressel could do for his young quarterback is commit to making him either a runner or a passer – not both. Not now.

If part of the offensive game plan is going to be predicated on Pryor running the football, concentrate on that. Stop monkeying around with the option, put Pryor in a form of the wildcat formation and run the football from the different variations of that kind of attack.

If, instead, the game plan is to feature a pro-style passing attack, put on the red light and instruct Pryor that he can run only as a last resort. You must make him commit to stopping, setting and firing the football rather than stopping, starting, shuffling and trying to get something out of nothing. In that scenario, you not only get your quarterback to commit to the passing game, your offensive line becomes more comfortable in what it’s trying to accomplish.

There is no doubt in my mind that Pryor can become a more complete quarterback. But he is much more of a raw commodity than anyone envisioned, and his maturation process at the position is going to take some time.

In the interim, the question becomes which is more important to Tressel: Mold your quarterback into an NFL-ready player or take what you’ve got and try to go win yourself another Big Ten championship.

At this point, it seems the Ohio State head coach can have one or the other but not both.

OSU-MINNESOTA TIDBITS

** This marks the 49th meeting between Ohio State and Minnesota with the Buckeyes holding a decisive 41-7 record in the overall series. OSU is 21-3 against the Golden Gophers in Columbus, including victories in 18 of the last 19 games played at Ohio Stadium. The lone blemish during that stretch was a 29-17 loss to Minnesota in 2000.

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a perfect 6-0 against the Gophers, including last year’s 34-21 victory in Columbus. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes in those six games has been 21.3 points.

** Tressel is now 88-21 in his eight-plus seasons with OSU. In the games immediately following the coach’s 20 previous losses, the Buckeyes are 18-2. Only once in the Tressel era have the Buckeyes ever lost back-to-back games. That was in 2004 when Ohio State dropped three straight Big Ten contests – at Northwestern, at home against Wisconsin and at Iowa.

** Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster is 0-2 against the Buckeyes and 1-6 against ranked teams in his two-plus seasons with the Gophers. The lone victory was a 17-6 win at Purdue last season when the Boilermakers were ranked 25th.

** Don’t go to sleep on Goldy. Minnesota has come from behind in all four of its victories this season, including three when the Gophers were trailing at the end of three quarters.

** The game will serve as Ohio State’s annual homecoming contest. The Buckeyes are 63-19-5 all-time on homecoming, including 6-2 under Tressel. Last year’s homecoming game resulted in a 13-6 loss to Penn State.

** In addition to homecoming, the annual Captains’ Breakfast will be held with former OSU flanker Mike Lanese giving the address. Additionally, several teams will hold reunions, including the surviving members of the 1942 national championship squad. Also, members of the 1954 team will celebrate the 55th anniversary of their national championship and will be honored during Saturday’s game.

** Pryor needs two more yards to become only the fifth OSU quarterback to rush for 1,000 or more yards in his career. The other four: Cornelius Greene (2,066, 1972-75), Rex Kern (1,714, 1968-70), Art Schlichter (1,303, 1978-81) and Troy Smith (1,168, 2003-06).

** Last week’s loss at Purdue snapped Ohio State’s conference road win streak at 16. That was one shy of the all-time Big Ten record set by Michigan between 1988 and 1992. The Buckeyes also have the conference’s third-longest road winning streak in terms of league games. OSU won 11 in a row between 1974 and 1977.

** Think turnovers make a difference? In the Buckeyes’ last 20 road games against Big Ten competition, they are 16-4. In those 16 victories, the team has committed 20 turnovers, an average of 1.25 per game. In the four defeats, OSU has turned the ball over 14 times, an average of 3.5 per game.

** Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker is moving up several all-time Big Ten statistical lists. He has 224 career receptions and needs 29 more to move into the top five in league history. Decker also needs only 376 more receiving yards to crack the Big Ten’s career top five in that category, and six more touchdown catches to become only the 10th player in conference history with at least 30 TD grabs.

** Minnesota sophomore Troy Stoudermire boasts a career kickoff return average of 25.7 yards, and that is good enough for sixth all-time in the Big Ten. The longstanding conference leader in career kickoff returns is Stan Brown of Purdue, who averaged 28.8 yards per return from 1968-70.

** The Gophers have a lethal punt return game and lead the Big Ten with a lofty average of 19.0 yards per return. That figure ranks sixth nationally. But it is a bit of a misnomer since Minnesota has returned only three of its opponents’ 30 punts all season. That could make for a bit of a boring afternoon tomorrow. Ohio State opponents have returned only three of 30 punts this season.

** Kickoff for tomorrow’s game will be shortly after 12 noon Eastern. ESPN will have the telecast with Dave Pasch doing the play-by-play while former Ohio State All-America linebacker Chris Spielman will share color analysis duties with former Purdue All-America quarterback Bob Griese.

** The game is also available on Sirius satellite radio channels 122 and 129 as well as XM channel 196.

** The Buckeyes complete the two-week home stand next Saturday when they host New Mexico State. Kickoff set for 12 noon Eastern and the game will televised by the Big Ten Network.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Forty-four years ago today, Virginia Tech was riding high with a new facility and a victory over its instate rival. The Hokies, known then as the Gobblers, dedicated their new Lane Stadium on Oct. 23, 1965, and celebrated with a 22-14 win over Virginia. Tech rushed for 323 yards in the contest, but the decisive touchdown came on a 71-yard pass from quarterback Bobby Owens to receiver Tommy Groom late in the fourth quarter.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 20, 1917, Washington beat Whitman College by a 14-6 score, extending its unbeaten streak to 63 games, an NCAA record that still stands; on Oct. 21, 2006, Michigan State engineered the biggest comeback in NCAA history, erasing a 38-3 deficit on the way to a 41-38 victory over Northwestern in Evanston; on Oct. 22, 1983, Nebraska scored 41 points in less than three minutes of possession time on its way to a 69-19 rout of Colorado; and on Oct. 25, 1947, Columbia scored a 21-20 upset over Army, ending the Black Knights’ unbeaten streak at 32 games.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** The weekly count of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level is down to seven: Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Iowa, Texas and TCU. Of those seven, it’s anyone’s guess who makes it to the national championship game. Last Saturday, Florida and Texas survived by a field goal, Boise State held on by a touchdown and Alabama couldn’t put away South Carolina until the fourth quarter. Anyone want to forecast a Cincinnati-Iowa championship game?

** Iowa looks to improve to 8-0 this week with a road contest at Michigan State. The last time the Hawkeyes started a season with eight straight victories? Never.

** To say Oklahoma is having a strange season would be putting it mildly. The Sooners have outscored their opposition by a 188-58 margin, yet sport a 3-3 record. Their three losses are each to ranked teams by a combined total of five points.

** With Sam Bradford done for the season, and Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow not exactly lighting things up, we Heisman Trophy voters have gone searching for new blood. The popular candidate of the moment is Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram, who had 246 yards last Saturday against South Carolina. Ingram, the son of former NFL receiver Mark Ingram, has rushed for 905 yards and eight TDs for the Crimson Tide, who moved past Florida into the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press writers’ poll.

** The triple option is alive and well and Georgia Tech used it to perfection to hand Virginia Tech a 28-23 upset loss last Saturday. The Yellow Jackets completed exactly one pass in the game for 51 yards – they also ran 63 times for 309 yards against the Hokies’ supposedly impenetrable defense.

** Georgia Tech’s victory over the fourth-ranked Hokies was the first at home for the Yellow Jackets over a top-five team since 1962. That season, Georgia Tech scored a 7-6 victory over top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama, ending the Crimson Tide’s 26-game unbeaten streak. The two head coaches patrolling the sidelines that day were legends – Bobby Dodd for Georgia Tech and Bear Bryant for Alabama.

** In case you wondered, his team’s loss to USC last weekend sent Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis’ record to 4-11 against ranked teams.

** Not that much of anyone is going to notice, but Illinois and Purdue square off this week in an unusual trophy game. The teams play for the Purdue Cannon. Not a trophy. A real cannon. In 1905, a group of Purdue students somehow thought it was a good idea to take the cannon to Champaign in anticipation of firing it after a victory. Although the Boilermakers won the game, Illinois officials confiscated the cannon and kept it. It was later moved to a farmhouse in Milford, Ill., before the universities agreed in 1943 to play for possession of the cannon. Purdue holds a narrow 29-26-2 advantage in previous cannon games.

** Illinois went to the Rose Bowl following the 2001 and 2007 seasons, going 13-3 in the conference those two years. Heading into tomorrow’s game, the team’s combined league record for the remainder of the decade is 11-49.

** You probably haven’t noticed it, but the best turnaround story in college football this season is happening at Idaho. After going a combined 3-21 the past two seasons, the Vandals are already bowl-eligible with six victories in seven games. Three of their victories have been by four points or less as the team averages 29.6 points per game on offense and gives up 25.1 on defense.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It seems whenever Ohio State loses, the old forecast suffers. After a great start on Friday night, picking the Pittsburgh-Rutgers final score on the nose, things went south in a big-time hurry.

Straight up, we were 6-3 while we suffered for the second straight week against the spread, finishing at 2-7. That puts the yearly ledgers at 48-15 SU and 20-31-1 ATS. All we can say is that we’ll try to do better this week.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Illinois at Purdue: The Fighting Illini are no doubt eager to get out of Champaign for an afternoon so they don’t have to answer any more questions about how much longer Ron Zook will be their head coach. Not that those questions are going to go away anytime soon, especially if Illinois can’t stop its slide. Perhaps they can catch the Boilermakers still feeling good after last week’s upset of Ohio State, but it’s doubtful … Purdue 27, Illinois 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

Louisville at No. 5 Cincinnati: The Bearcats are riding high with the best poll ranking in program history, and have some believing they have a real good shot at making the national championship game. We like Brian Kelly and what he’s doing at UC, but the Bearcats still have a lot of ground to cover before they can think about the title game. First and foremost is the health of quarterback Tony Pike, who had surgery this week to repair a dislodged metal plate in his non-throwing arm. With or without Pike, the Bearcats ought to be able to handle the Cardinals, who have lost nine of 11 dating back to last season … Cincinnati 31, Louisville 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Tennessee at No. 1 Alabama: The Crimson Tide celebrate their ascendancy to the top of the AP poll by hosting the Volunteers, a team that more than held its own in last year’s 29-9 loss at Knoxville. Alabama running back Mark Ingram has a little something to prove, especially if he is going to be a bona fide Heisman contender. He rushed for a career-low 1 yard on four carries last year against Tennessee. Of course, this is a different Vols team under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin, a team that seems more preoccupied with offense. UT has had an extra week to prepare after its 45-19 pasting of Georgia, and the fact the Tide has several ailing defensive players may make this game a lot closer than some think … Alabama 26, Tennessee 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 13 Penn State at Michigan: If there is one Big Ten team Joe Paterno doesn’t like to play, it’s the Wolverines. He is 4-10 lifetime against them, including 2-5 in Ann Arbor. Even last year’s 46-17 win that snapped a nine-game skid in the series wasn’t as easy as the final score may have indicated. Michigan led 17-14 at halftime before fading. All of that should give the Wolverines some comfort as they seek to snap their two-game conference losing streak. Unfortunately, all of the offensive fireworks they enjoyed last week during a glorified scrimmage against I-AA Delaware State (63 points and a team-record 727 total yards) won’t do them much good against JoePa’s defense, which has given up only three points in its last eight quarters … Penn State 31, Michigan 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

No. 7 Iowa at Michigan State: Lost amid the euphoria of the Fighting Ferentzes’ undefeated start is just how close they have been skating to the edge. Six of their seven victories have been by 11 points or less, and they have had to come from behind in five of their games. The high-wire act could begin to stumble this week. The Spartans seem to have ironed out the problems that caused them to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in September, and the Green and White are now on a three-game winning streak. Add that to the fact the Hawkeyes have lost four in a row in Spartan Stadium and you get this week’s Upset Special … Michigan State 17, Iowa 16. (7 p.m. ET, BTN)

No. 10 TCU at No. 16 BYU: Rather than simply talking about how it should be in the BCS mix, the Horned Frogs actually try to do something about it. TCU takes on the ranked Cougars, who are trying to protect a Mountain West Conference-record 13-game home winning streak. That includes a 27-22 win over the Frogs in 2007. This should be an interesting matchup featuring the nation’s No. 4 team in total defense (TCU) against the No. 6 team in the country in scoring offense (BYU). The Cougars would seem to have the cards stacked in their favor, and they hold a 5-3 edge in the all-time series. Still, we like the overall strength of the Frogs … TCU 26, BYU 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, The Mtn)

No. 2 Florida at Mississippi State: The Gators remain undefeated but you get the distinct impression they may be living on borrowed time. They are not the offensive or defensive powerhouse from a year ago, and quarterback Tim Tebow (their spiritual leader on and off the field) is playing hurt. Will this be the week the defending national champs crumble under the strain? First-year Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen knows Florida almost well as he knows his own team – he was Urban Meyer’s longtime offensive coordinator at Florida, Utah and Bowling Green. It reminds me a lot of the Washington-USC game earlier this season when first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian exploited all the weaknesses of the offense he used to run for Pete Carroll. You may also be interested in the fact Florida is winless in its last four trips to Davis Wade Stadium. Get ready for a shocker in Starkville. Here’s Upset Special No. 2 … Mississippi State 26, Florida 23. (7:30 p.m., ESPN)

Oregon State at No. 4 USC: The Beavers had their way with the Trojans last season, costing USC a shot at playing for the national championship with a 33-31 upset win in Corvallis. Oregon State usually plays the Trojans tough at their place. In the L.A. Coliseum? Not so much. USC will be looking for its 22nd consecutive home win in the series. It knows it will have to do a much better job containing OSU running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s meeting. Rodgers is coming off a career-high 189 yards and four TDs two weeks ago against Stanford, and stopping him will be the Trojans’ top priority. Boasting the nation’s No. 4 rush defense should help get that done … USC 27, Oregon State 23. (8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)

No. 6 Boise State at Hawaii: The Broncos don’t get much respect in their quest for BCS recognition, but one thing you can’t take away from them – they’re willing to get on a plane and play anywhere in the nation. The team that has already made road trips this year to Fresno State, Bowling Green and Tulsa heads for Honolulu this week to take on Hawaii. Unfortunately, a game against the 2-4 Rainbows isn’t going to count for many style points. It could, however, push the Heisman candidacy of Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, who currently leads the country in pass efficiency. Moore has completed 69.5 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,404 yards and 16 TDs against only two interceptions this season, and if he can solve the swirling winds of Aloha Stadium, those numbers should go up. The Rainbows rank 101st nationally in total defense … Boise State 38, Hawaii 17. (11 p.m. ET, ESPN 360)

Minnesota at No. 18 Ohio State: A week of overcritical analysis of Terrelle Pryor and the struggling OSU offense has overshadowed a few small facts: The Buckeyes still average 28.0 points per game on offense and surrender only 14.0 on defense. The last thing Ohio State needs to do with its young quarterback and offensive attack is panic. Simplify the playbook a little, return to establishing the run and continue to rely on defense. All ingredients for making things a little sunnier next week in the Buckeye Nation … Ohio State 34, Minnesota 14. (12 noon ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Illinois at Purdue (-9½); Louisville (+18) at Cincinnati; Tennessee (+14½) at Alabama; Penn State (-4½) at Michigan; Iowa at Michigan State (+1); TCU (-2½) at BYU; Florida at Mississippi State (+23½); Oregon State (+21) at USC; Boise State at Hawaii (+24½); Minnesota at Ohio State (-16).

In case you care, Minnesota is 3-8 ATS in its last 11 games against Ohio State while the Buckeyes are 4-2 ATS at home in their last six vs. Goldy. Enjoy the games.

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