History Sides With Buckeyes Vs. Iowa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-IOWA TIDBITS

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

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

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

** Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is 1-5 all-time against Ohio State. That includes an 0-3 record against the Buckeyes in Columbus. Ferentz got his only victory over OSU in 2004 when the Hawkeyes knocked starting quarterback Justin Zwick out of the game and rolled to a 33-7 win in Iowa City.

** Tressel and Ferentz are old adversaries from their Division I-AA coaching days. Tressel led Youngstown State to a 38-17 victory in the 1990 regular-season finale over Maine and Ferentz, who was in his first season in Orono.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** Iowa sophomore safety Tyler Sash leads the Big Ten in interceptions with six and he has returned those picks for 203 yards. In only his second season, Sash already has 11 career interceptions with 350 return yards. He needs seven more picks to break into the Big Ten all-time top 10 and only seven more return yards to break into the top five. The conference career leader in interceptions is Al Brosky of Illinois (1950-52) with 30, while the all-time interception return yardage leader is Jamar Fletcher of Wisconsin (1998-2000) with 459.

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OSU Observing Myriad Of Major Milestones

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

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

Here are 10 landmark moments for this season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-NEW MEXICO STATE TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Redshirt Or Not To Redshirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEADING RUSHERS BY SEASON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-WISCONSIN TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

Here are the games we like this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focusing On Folly Of Fickle Fans

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

Think again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-TOLEDO TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title Aspirations Start With Ohio State Offensive Line

I don’t think it’s stretching it to say that the offensive line has been the Achilles heel for the Ohio State football team these past few years.

Since 2005, the Buckeyes have enjoyed almost unprecedented success with four consecutive seasons of 10 victories or more, tying a school record. During those past four seasons, the team has 43 victories in 51 games, a winning percentage of .843.

What most critics choose to focus upon, however – whether they’re right or whether they’re wrong – are the eight losses. Seven of them have come against ranked teams. (Only the home loss to Illinois at the tail end of the ’07 season came against unranked competition.) And six of the seven losses to ranked teams have come against opponents ranked among the nation’s top three.

More often than not, Ohio State has also been highly ranked in those games and one of the major tipping points in those contests has been the play of the Buckeyes along the offensive line. It couldn’t protect Todd Boeckman last year against USC and it couldn’t protect Boeckman in the 2008 national championship game against LSU. Likewise with Troy Smith in the title game against Florida. You could even argue that the offensive line was the major culprit in the losses to Penn State and eventual national champion Texas in 2005. Hurried quarterbacks at critical junctures led to game-changing turnovers in both of those games.

So, what have we learned? If Ohio State is to make a run at a national championship in 2009 – and I mean a serious run – the Buckeyes will need their offensive line to rise to the occasion. It also means that the team is going to have to solidify its starting tackle positions early in fall camp. Will it be Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts or Andy Miller on the left side? Will it be Jimmy Cordle on the right side? It should be an interesting battle, but the battle had better be decided quickly.

That said, here is my all-time top 10 Ohio State offensive tackles. All of the aforementioned players should aspire to get their names on this list – and if they do, this coming season could turn out to be very, very entertaining.

1. Orlando Pace – No less an authority than 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George sums it up nicely. “If it wasn’t for Orlando Pace,” George once said, “you’d have never heard of me.” Pace was the most decorated offensive lineman ever to play at Ohio State and he was a star from the first time he set foot on campus during his freshman season of 1994. Had he not left early for the NFL and returned for his senior year in 1997, he could have been the first lineman ever to win the Heisman Trophy. Simply put, he was just that good. As it was, Pace filled his trophy case with two All-America honors, back-to-back Lombardi Awards and the Outland Trophy. He was also named the 1995 Big Ten player of the year making him the only offensive lineman in the last 45 years to have been named conference MVP.

2. John Hicks – Hicks was 6-3 and 258 pounds, but had the mobility of a much smaller player. He was a rare blend of size, strength, speed, attitude and coachability that comes along only once every so often. In fact, Woody Hayes made a highlight reel of Hicks’ blocking technique and used it as a teaching tool for the remainder of his coaching career. Hicks topped off his college career in 1973 with a second All-America honor as well as the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award. He was finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting to Penn State running back John Cappelletti, the highest finish ever for a lineman in the Heisman voting,

3. Chris Ward – Ward began a three-year run as the starting left tackle for the Buckeyes in 1975 and paved the way for Archie Griffin to win his second Heisman Trophy before blocking for the likes of Jeff Logan in ’76 and Ron Springs in ’77, both of whom became 1,000-yard rushers. Ward was a two-time All-American who started 36 consecutive games and was part of an offense that piled up 1,469 points over four seasons – an average of 30.6 per game. He was also part of a team that won or shared the Big Ten championship every year he was a Buckeye.

4. Korey Stringer – Overshadowed somewhat by fellow offensive tackle Orlando Pace, Stringer was one of the reasons why Ohio State fielded such offensive powerhouses in the mid-1990s. The big, burly Warren, Ohio, native cleared opposing tacklers like a hot knife through butter and finished second in 1994 in both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award voting. Nevertheless, Stringer was a consensus first-team All-American that season, and then was selected in the first round of the 1995 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings. Before his tragic death in 2001, Stringer played six seasons in Minnesota, during which the Vikings made the playoffs five times including the NFC championship game twice.

5. Chuck Csuri – An All-American at tackle, Csuri was voted the team MVP during the 1942 national championship season. That year, he led a rushing attack that averaged 5.2 yards per carry and 281.2 yards per game in addition to 33.7 points per contest. Csuri left OSU after that season to join the military, but he returned to finish his collegiate career in 1946 and earned his third varsity letter. After graduation, he became a national leader in the field of computer graphics.

6. Dave Foley – Foley started at right tackle in 1966 and ’67 before moving to the left side in 1968. The move coincided with the Buckeyes rolling to the national championship and Foley was in the middle of the proceedings. He was one of the team captains that season and helped pave the way for fullback Jim Otis to rush for a then school-record 985 yards. Foley earned consensus All-America honors in ’68 and the third of his three Academic All-American honors. Following his college career, Foley was a first-round selection (26th overall) by the New York Jets in the 1969 NFL draft, and he played nine seasons with the Jets and Buffalo.

7. Bob Vogel – Vogel held down the left tackle spot for the Buckeyes from 1960-62, and was one of the guys who blew open holes regularly for All-America fullback Bob Ferguson. After finishing his college career, Vogel had a 10-year pro career with the Baltimore Colts blocking for the likes of Johnny Unitas and Tom Matte, and he made the Pro Bowl five times. Vogel played in two Super Bowls, including Super Bowl V when the Colts defeated Dallas, 16-13, on a last-second field goal by Cincinnati Aiken High School product Jim O’Brien.

8. Dick Schafrath – A two-sport star as a schoolboy in Wooster, Ohio, Schafrath turned down a baseball contract from the Cincinnati Reds to play college football at Ohio State. He played offense and defense for the Buckeyes, and teamed with future pro football hall of famer Jim Marshall to give OSU one of the top tackle tandems in the country. The duo anchored the line that helped the Buckeyes win the 1957 national championship. Schafrath was a team co-captain in 1958, and then became a second-round selection by Cleveland in the 1959 NFL draft. He was a fixture at left tackle for the Browns throughout his 13-year career, not only protecting the blind side of quarterbacks but opening holes for such Hall of Fame running backs as Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly. Schafrath was a seven-time Pro Bowler and was voted the Browns’ most valuable player in 1963.

9. Robert Karch – Karch was a tackle for the Buckeyes who helped blow open holes for Chic Harley during the 1916 and ’17 seasons, allowing Ohio State to claim their first-ever Western Conference championships. During his senior season in 1917, Karch was named to the All-America team.

10. Jim Tyrer – Tyrer was extremely versatile for Woody Hayes, starting at left tackle as a sophomore in 1958 and then switching to the right side in ’59 and ’60. Tyrer, a native of Newark, Ohio, blocked for fullbacks Bob White and Bob Ferguson during his college career, and he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior. Tyrer went on to enjoy an excellent professional career, mostly with the Kansas City Chiefs. He won three AFL championship rings with the Chiefs as well as Super Bowl IV following the 1969 season. Tyrer was named the AFL’s offensive lineman of the year in ’69. Unfortunately, Tyrer did not meet with the same success in his life after football. Following a series of business misfortunes and heavily in debt, Tyrer shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself on Sept. 15, 1980. He was only 41.

If you would like to take a look at my top 10 players at other positions, here are the links:

OSU’s Top 10 Quarterbacks

OSU’s Top 10 Tailbacks

OSU’s Top 10 Fullbacks

OSU’s Top 10 Wide Receivers

OSU’s Top 10 Tight Ends

OSU’s Top 10 Offensive Guards

BIG TEN BEEFS UP ’09 SLATE

A quick check of the 2009 nonconference schedules for Big Ten shows a little more bite than in recent years. Just two years ago, only one league team featured a nonleague schedule against teams that had combined for a winning record the season before. This fall, that number rises to seven.

Michigan State is picked by many as a dark horse candidate for the conference championship and the Spartans are going to battle-test themselves with a nonleague slate that features teams that posted a combined 31-20 record in 2008 – Western Michigan (9-4), Central Michigan (8-5), Notre Dame (7-6) and I-AA Montana State (7-5).

Close behind Sparty is Illinois with nonconference opponents that recorded a combined 31-21 mark a season ago. Taking on the Illini this year will be Cincinnati and Missouri, teams that combined to go 21-7 last year. Also on the docket: always-tough Fresno State (7-6) and I-AA Illinois State (3-8).

Illinois head coach Ron Zook is also preparing for the schedule expansion past Thanksgiving which goes into effect in 2010. Zook has switched around his team’s ’09 schedule to include a pair of open dates, including the week before taking on Ohio State in late September. The Illini will also wind up Big Ten play on Nov. 14 – a week before everyone else – and then finish their regular-season schedule at UC on Nov. 27 (the day after Thanksgiving) and in Champaign against Fresno State on Dec. 5.

As they have for the past couple of years, Penn State and Northwestern have fattened their nonconference diet with cupcakes. Neither team plays an opponent who finished over .500 last season while none of the Wildcats’ four nonleague opponents notched more than three victories.

The Nittany Lions play a trio of teams that finished 5-7 in 2008 – Akron, Temple and i-AA Eastern Illinois – as well as Syracuse, which posted a 3-9 record. Northwestern also has Syracuse on its schedule along with Eastern Michigan and I-AA Towson, each of which also finished 3-9. The Wildcats also play Miami (Ohio), which was 2-10 last season.

Nine of the 11 conference schools have Division I-AA opponents on their schedules for 2009, and some of those smaller schools are aiming to be this year’s version of Appalachian State. Wisconsin hosts Wofford, who finished 9-3 last season, while Iowa takes on instate rival Northern Iowa. The Panthers were 12-3 last year and made it to the I-AA semifinals before bowing 21-20 to eventual national champion Richmond.

Here is the full slate of nonconference games for Big Ten teams. Division I-AA teams are in italics.

Illinois: Missouri (10-4) @ St. Louis, Illinois State (3-8), @ Cincinnati (11-3), Fresno State (7-6)

Indiana: Eastern Kentucky (8-4), Western Michigan (9-4), @ Akron (5-7), @ Virginia (5-7)

Iowa: Northern Iowa (12-3), @ Iowa State 2-10, Arizona (8-5), Arkansas State (6-6)

Michigan: Western Michigan (9-4), Notre Dame (7-6), Eastern Michigan (3-9), Delaware State (5-6)

Michigan State: Montana State (7-5), Central Michigan (8-5), @ Notre Dame (7-6), Western Michigan (9-4)

Minnesota: @ Syracuse (3-9), Air Force (8-5), California (9-4), San Diego State (2-10)

Northwestern: Towson (3-9), Eastern Michigan (3-9), @ Syracuse (3-9), Miami-Ohio (2-10)

Ohio State: Navy (8-5), USC (12-1), Toledo (3-9) @ Cleveland, New Mexico State (3-9)

Penn State: Akron (5-7), Syracuse (3-9), Temple (5-7), Eastern Illinois (5-7)

Purdue: Toledo (3-9), @ Oregon (10-3), Northern Illinois (6-7), Notre Dame (7-6)

Wisconsin: Northern Illinois (6-7), Wofford (9-3), Fresno State (7-6), @ Hawaii (7-7)

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former running back Jonathan Wells who turns 30 today.

Wells was born July 21, 1979, in River Ridge, La., and became a star at John Curtis High School in his hometown. He rushed for more than 4,600 yards during his prep career and led his high school team to consecutive state championships as a junior and senior. J-Dub signed with Ohio State in 1998 and was a four-year letterman but didn’t break out until his senior season in 2001 when he rushed for 1,294 yards and 16 TDs. That included 129 yards and three touchdowns against Michigan as the Buckeyes pulled off a 26-20 upset of the 11th-ranked Wolverines. Wells was a fourth-round selection by Houston in the 2002 NFL draft and played four pro seasons, all with the Texans. His best year was as a rookie in 2002 when he led the team with 529 yards and three touchdowns. His career numbers included 1,167 yards and 10 TDs on 374 carries, and 44 receptions for 323 yards and two scores.

Among the other luminaries celebrating birthdays throughout the world this 21st day of July: Fifties singer Kay Starr (“Wheel of Fortune”) is 87; film and TV actor Paul Burke is 83; film director Norman Jewison (“The Cincinnati Kid,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Moonstruck”) is 83; former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is 71; actor Edward Herrmann is 66; film director Tony Scott (“Top Gun,” “Days of Thunder” and “Crimson Tide”) is 65; former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr is 63; singer songwriter Yusuf Islam (born Steven Georgiou and better known as Cat Stevens) is 61; Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau is 61; former MLB reliever Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky is 60; comedian and Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams is 58; comic actor Jon Lovitz is 52; Olympic gold medalist soccer player Brandi Chastain is 41; model/actress Ali Landry is 36; British pro golfer Paul Casey is 32; actor Josh Hartnett is 31; New York Yankees lefthander CC Sabathia is 29; and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow II is 26.

AND FINALLY …

** In case you missed it, former Ohio State assistant coach Dennis Fryzel died July 6 at his home in Duluth, Ga., after a battle with renal cancer. He was 67. Fryzel was a Cleveland native who was a star receiver at Garfield Heights High School and Denison University. He was an assistant on several college staffs including Columbia, Williams College, Air Force, Syracuse, Tampa and Ohio State, where he served from 1979-81 as Earle Bruce’s defensive coordinator. Fryzel, along with defensive line coach Steve Szabo and defensive backs coach Nick Saban, were fired by Bruce following the Buckeyes’ narrow victory over Navy in the 1981 Liberty Bowl. Fryzel left coaching after that and entered into successful business ventures in both commercial construction sales and telecommunications.

** Former Michigan State football coach and athletic director George Perles plans to enter next year’s Michigan governor’s race. He will place his name into the candidate pool for the Democratic primary. Perles coached the Spartans from 1983-94 and posted a 68-67-4 record. That included the Big Ten championship in 1987 and a Rose Bowl victory over USC.

** SMU is renovating its football offices, and the project includes the new Jerry LeVias Reception Area to honor the College Football Hall of Famer and SMU alum. LeVias was also the first African-American scholarship athlete and second African-American football player in the old Southwest Conference. Longtime Ohio State fans may remember LeVias from the 1968 season opener when he caught 15 passes for 160 yards in the Mustangs’ 35-14 loss to the Buckeyes in Columbus. SMU attempted 76 passes in that game, still a record for an Ohio State opponent.

** It seems like Oregon unveils new uniforms every year. Guess that’s what happens when you are the guinea pig for hometown Nike. Anyway, this year’s Ducks will have the option of 80 different jersey combinations. Not sure why a team that plays a maximum of 13 games needs more than six times that many jersey combinations, but there it is.

** When Nebraska hosts Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 26, it will mark the 300th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium. The streak began in 1962 when the Cornhuskers hosted Missouri in front of a then-capacity crowd of 36,701. Memorial Stadium’s current capacity is 81,067.

** As it often does, ESPN recently made a mountain out of a molehill when Florida head coach Urban Meyer told the Gainesville Sun, “I’m not going to Notre Dame. Ever. I’m going to be the coach at Florida for a long time – as long as they want me.” The hubbub started last December when Meyer mentioned coaching the Fighting Irish would be his “dream job.” Of course, I would put Meyer’s comments about never going to Notre Dame in the same category as Gary Williams’ claim that he would not leave Ohio State for Maryland or Brett Favre’s annual retirement announcement(s).

Top Five Ohio State Football Stories Of 2008

Everyone has their year-end lists and I’m no different. Here are my top five stories in Ohio State football over the 2008 calendar year, offered in order of importance (at least IMHO).

1. BUCKEYES LOSE TITLE GAME … AGAIN

It was not the blowout that most of the national media continues to portray it as, but a host of mental and physical mistakes added up to a 38-24 loss for Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game.

OSU held an early 10-0 lead on LSU and looked to be the aggressor. But a blocked field goal in the second quarter caused the dam to burst as the Tigers reeled off 31 straight points. Along the way, the Buckeyes committed seven costly penalties for 83 yards – including a back-breaking, roughing-the-punter call early in the third quarter – and turned the ball over three times.

Worse yet, the outcome came just one year after Florida had pounded Ohio State in the national title game, and the loss to LSU perpetuated the notion that the Buckeyes were powerless against teams from the big, bad SEC.

The tarnished national reputation and rap that it has lost its edge in the so-called “big games” – deserved or not – continued to dog OSU throughout the 2008 season and follows the Buckeyes back to Arizona for the 2009 Fiesta Bowl.

2. PRYOR FINALLY SIGNS

Members of the Buckeye Nation held their collective breaths on Feb. 6 as Pennsylvania schoolboy phenom Terrelle Pryor got set to announce his college choice. But as National Signing Day came and went, the only decision Pryor announced was that he was going to postpone his decision.

Pryor waited another six weeks while he finished his basketball season at Jeannette, Pa., and then announced that he would attend Ohio State. The 6-6, 225-pounder, whose frame and playing style immediately evoked memories of former Texas QB Vince Young, chose the Buckeyes over Michigan.

Pryor’s decision had an almost immediate impact on the quarterback position at OSU. Backup quarterback Robby Schoenhoft had already transferred to Delaware in January, and in June, backup Antonio Henton announced he would transfer to Georgia Southern. With Schoenhoft and Henton on the roster, Pryor may have faced a little more competition for playing time. Or maybe not.

3. LOSS TO USC TRIGGERS QB SWITCH

Never in his previous 89 games as head coach of the Buckeyes had Jim Tressel ever done anything so drastic as to bench a senior starter in favor of a freshman. Nevertheless, that is what happened in the wake of Ohio State’s 35-3 loss at Southern California.

Todd Boeckman, one of four team co-captains and the reigning first-team All-Big Ten quarterback, had turned in a couple of lackluster performances in the team’s first two games against Youngstown State and Ohio. But when he threw two interceptions against USC – one of which was returned for a touchdown right before the first half ended, Tressel seemed to lose faith in Boeckman.

The following week against Troy, Pryor started under center for the Buckeyes and became the first freshman since Art Schlichter in 1978 to start at quarterback for Ohio State. Pryor helped lead the team to a fourth straight Big Ten championship and another BCS game berth. Meanwhile, Boeckman languished on the bench, throwing only 15 more passes in the team’s final nine games.

4. MOST SENIORS DECIDE TO RETURN

In this day and age, it is not only common for underclassmen to declare early for the NFL draft, it has become almost expected. That is why Buckeye fans rejoiced last January when most of Ohio State’s talented junior class opted to forgo financial gain and remain in scarlet and gray for their senior season.

James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins returned to anchor the OSU defense, and they played well enough to take home two of the top individual trophies in college football – Laurinaitis won the Lott Trophy and Jenkins captured the Thorpe Award. Meanwhile, the presence of such other seniors as Marcus Freeman, Alex Boone and Brian Robiskie helped the Buckeyes achieve another 10-win season.

Defensive end Vernon Gholston was the lone contrarian, and he cashed in on a five-year, $32.5 million deal after being selected with the sixth overall pick by the New York Jets. And while he has 32½ million arguments why he made the right decision, Gholston didn’t exactly have an easy go of it in his rookie season. Projected to make an immediate impact on the Jets defense, Gholston was relegated to mostly special teams play and made only 13 tackles in 15 games.

5. WELLS GETS HURT IN 2008 OPENER

The end of an old year is usually a time when we look back wistfully and wonder what might have been. OSU fans need go back only to Aug. 30 and the season opener against Youngstown State.

Midway through the third quarter, with the Buckeyes well in control over the Penguins, tailback Beanie Wells took a handoff and then fell to the ground as if he had been shot. The diagnosis was a torn toe ligament, an injury that sidelined the Heisman Trophy hopeful for the next three games.

That included the loss at USC, during which Ohio State totaled only 71 rushing yards. Based upon the final score, it is difficult to imagine that the presence of a healthy Wells would have made much of an impact in that game. Still, in his absence, the Buckeyes did several things early in that contest that were very much out of character. Most people forget that OSU held a 3-0 lead throughout most of the first quarter in that game, and trailed only 14-3 late in the first half. Maybe Wells wouldn’t have made a difference – but in the spirit of New Year’s Eve, maybe he would have.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Did you know that the Sugar, Orange and Sun bowls each celebrate their 75th anniversaries this week? Congratulations to them but they are mere pups in the overall bowl picture. When USC and Penn State square off on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, it will be the 95th Rose Bowl game. No wonder they call it “The Granddaddy of Them All.”

** The Fiesta Bowl, as part of its pregame festivities, will honor the most recent inductees to the College Football Hall of Fame. Representing Ohio State will be former head coach John Cooper, who was a member of the 2008 class of inductees. Meanwhile, Texas – which did not have a member of the ’08 class – will be represented by former linebacker Tommy Nobis, who was inducted in 1981. Nobis, who won the Outland and Maxwell trophies in 1965 for the Longhorns, went on to an all-pro career in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons.

** It’s a safe bet that Charlie Weis will be glad to say goodbye to 2008. After another tough season at the helm of the Notre Dame football program, Weis underwent surgery Monday to have his right knee replaced. That was not the knee Weis injured in mid-September when he was run over on the sideline during the Michigan game. The coach had planned to undergo surgery Feb. 24 on the left knee, which has tears in all four major ligaments – anterior cruciate, medial collateral, posterior cruciate and lateral meniscus.

** Someone recently starting beating the drum for Cal running back Jahvid Best to be the frontrunner for the 2009 Heisman Trophy. That, of course, was based upon Best’s 186-yard performance in the Emerald Bowl against Miami (Fla.). While I have no doubt that Best is a great back – he played against the Hurricanes with a dislocated left elbow and sprained right wrist – we would all do well to remember that the Miami defense struggled all season against the rush, finishing No. 76 nationally in that category. If Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy all return next year, Best will have to run for at least 2,000 yards just to get an invitation to New York.

** Where are they now? Pat Sullivan, who won the 1971 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at Auburn, just signed a five-year contract extension as head coach at Division I-AA Samford. The Bulldogs are 10-12 in two seasons under Sullivan, including a 6-5 record this year. That represents the best record since 2003 for Samford and a pretty nice personal comeback for Sullivan. In September 2003, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He underwent a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments and has now been cancer-free for 4½ years.

** There’s something to be said for old dogs. For example, Florida International head coach Howard Schnellenberger is now 6-0 lifetime in the college postseason after his team’s 24-21 win over Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl. The 74-year-old Schnellenberger, who played for the legendary Bear Bryant at Kentucky in the 1950s, came out of retirement in 2001 to build the FAU program from scratch and has a 41-42 record in eight seasons with the Owls.

** Speaking of old dogs, don’t be quick to count out Penn State against USC in the Rose Bowl. The Nittany Lions may be double-digit underdogs to the Trojans, but Joe Paterno has made a pretty nice living winning bowl games. His 23 postseason victories are an all-time NCAA record.

** As you ponder how many more victories Paterno can amass, here is a stat that can only be described as amazing. Since 1966, when JoePa was named head coach at Penn State, the rest of major college football has made 837 (and counting) coaching moves.

** One more Paterno-ism: The first All-American Joe Pa coached at Penn State was tight end Ted Kwalick, who later played nine years in the NFL with San Francisco and Oakland. Kwalick is now 61 years old.

** It seems like someone should have accomplished the feat before now, but when West Virginia beat North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, it made Pat White the first player in Division I-A history to lead his team to four consecutive bowl victories as a starting quarterback.

** Twenty-four years ago today, Virginia celebrated its first-ever postseason appearance with a come-from-behind victory in the Peach Bowl. On Dec. 31, 1984, the Cavaliers stormed back from a 24-14 halftime deficit and scored a 27-24 victory over Purdue. Virginia was led by quarterback Don “Magic Man” Majkowski and cornerback Ray Daly, who intercepted Purdue QB Jim Everett late in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 29, 1997, Cincinnati tallied its first postseason victory in 46 years, taking a 35-19 win over Utah State in the inaugural Humanitarian Bowl in Boise Idaho; on Jan. 1, 1925, Notre Dame scored a 27-10 win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl, capping a 10-0 season and giving head coach Knute Rockne his a fourth national championship; on Jan. 3, 2002, Miami (Fla.) claimed the national championship with a 37-14 win over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl, making Larry Coker the first coach since 1948 to win the national title in his first season as head coach; and on Jan. 4, 2005, USC put a 55-19 spanking on Oklahoma behind quarterback Matt Leinart’s Orange Bowl-record five touchdown passes. That game was the first ever to pit two Heisman Trophy winners against one another. Leinart was the 2004 winner while Oklahoma quarterback Jason White was the ’03 winner.

** This week also marks the 53rd anniversary of one of the wackiest finishes ever to a Rose Bowl. With Michigan State and UCLA tied 14-14 with time running out, legendary Spartans head coach Duffy Daugherty decided to pass up regular kicker Gerry Planutis and decided to let end Dick Kaiser attempt a 41-yard field goal. As Kaiser lined up for a practice kick, the ball was accidentally snapped. With the clock showing 0:07, Kaiser calmly split the uprights with his first career field goal and Michigan State walked off with a 17-14 victory.

** Ohio State fans will also be celebrating the sixth anniversary of their favorite team’s double-overtime upset victory over defending national champion Miami (Fla.). The Hurricanes had a 34-game winning streak and were installed as two-touchdown favorites, but they had no answer for a swarming OSU defense. Freshman tailback Maurice Clarett scored a 5-yard touchdown in the second overtime, and Miami could not answer as quarterback Ken Dorsey’s fourth-down pass attempt was batted down. The Buckeyes celebrated a 31-24 win, and the school’s first national championship since 1968.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Here is some advice for the new year: Do not – repeat do not – follow our bowl forecasts. It has gotten so bad this year that my wife, who doesn’t know diddly about college football and cares even less, is dogging me about my picks. As I turned the television off the other night on another meaningless bowl game, she asked, “Who won?” When I told her, she asked, “Did you pick them?” When I said no, she never looked up from her book as she replied, “Of course you didn’t.”

Had bad it is? Real bad. The bowl picks are a dismal 6-11 both straight-up and against the spread. Things have to get better … don’t they?

DEC. 31 GAMES

Armed Forces Bowl

Houston vs. Air Force: You couldn’t find two more divergent offensive attacks if you tried. The Cougars like to air things out while the Falcons use the triple option and stay primarily on the ground. These two faced one another earlier this season with Air Force hanging on for a 31-28 win after building a 31-7 lead late in the third quarter. In that game, the Falcons totaled every one of their 380 yards of offense on the ground while Houston QB Case Keenum threw for 326 yards and ran for 75 more. The old saying is that it’s tough to beat a good team twice in the same season, and Wake Forest already proved that this bowl season with a win over Navy in the EagleBank Bowl. Pass-happy teams are more prone to turnovers, and the Cougars are working on an eight-game postseason losing streak. Still, there’s an awful lot to like about them … Houston 34, Air Force 30. (12 noon EST, ESPN)

Sun Bowl

Oregon State vs. No. 18 Pittsburgh: With quarterbacks getting most of the attention this season, it will be a welcome respite to watch two of the nation’s top running backs square off against one another. Pitt has sophomore LeSean McCoy (1,403 yards, 21 TDs) while the Beavers have freshman Jacquizz Rodgers (1,253 yards, 11 TDs). Of course, Rodgers may not be 100 percent with an injury that has been described by some as a broken bone in his shoulder. If he can’t go, or is available for only a handful of snaps, it changes the complexion of the game. Oregon State will be without Rodgers’ main backup – his older brother James – as well as third-stringer Jeremy Francis, who will not make the bowl trip to tend to his ailing mother. The lack of a strong running attack cost the Beavers dearly in their season finale. With Jacquizz Rodgers sidelines and James knocked out early with a broken collarbone, OSU got outrushed 385-89 by instate rival Oregon, lost a 65-38 decision and missed out on its first Rose Bowl trip in 44 years. The injury situation and the mind-set of the Beavers would seem to tilt this contest in the Panthers’ favor … Pittsburgh 37, Oregon State 31. (2 p.m. EST, CBS)

Music City Bowl

Boston College vs. Vanderbilt: The Eagles specialize in close games – six of their 13 games were decided by seven points or less. Trouble is, they’re streaky. They had two separate four-game win streaks this season and still managed to lose four conference games, including a 30-12 decision to Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. Then there are the Commodores, who are simply happy to be away from home for the holidays. Not that it’s very far from home – it’s a simple bus ride across town to LP Field in Vandy’s hometown of Nashville. Still, it’s the team’s first bowl game in 26 years and virtual home contest. Unfortunately, the Commodores have had quarterback injury problems all season and that translated into scoring difficulties. Vanderbilt scored more than 14 points only once in its last eight games and ranked 113th nationally in pass offense. That doesn’t bode well against BC, which was sixth in the nation in total defense and seventh in pass efficiency defense … Boston College 21, Vanderbilt 10. (3:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Insight Bowl

Kansas vs. Minnesota: Neither of these teams sprinted to the finish this year. The Jayhawks dropped four of their final six games, surrendering 35 or more points in five of those contests. Meanwhile, the Gophers ended their regular season on a four-game losing streak punctuated by a 55-0 woodshed trip courtesy of Iowa in the finale. Aside from their late-season woes, these teams would appear to be evenly matched. They each have play-making quarterbacks, middle-of-the-road running games and average defenses. To be honest, this is a coin flip. The deciding factor may come down to the quarterbacks – senior Todd Reesing for Kansas (3,575 yards, 28 TDs) and sophomore Adam Weber for Minnesota (2,585 yards, 14 TDs) – and if that’s the case, always take experience over youth … Kansas 28, Minnesota 26. (6 p.m. EST, NFL Network)

Chick-fil-A Bowl

LSU vs. No. 14 Georgia Tech: The old Peach Bowl has a pretty good matchup of a team on the rise against one on the wane. The defending national champion Tigers were mere shadows of their former selves, losing five of their last eight games while allowing 38.4 points in those five losses. They will need to rectify their defensive problems in this one, especially since the Yellow Jackets are coming off a 45-42 win over archrival Georgia. That’s the same Georgia team that wore out the Tigers to the tune of a 52-38 decision in late October. Tech has dazzled its opponents with the triple option, and many of them have had no clue as to how to stop it. The Jackets were the No. 3 rushing team in the nation this season with an average of 282.3 yards per game. For all of their problems, the Tigers were stout against the run this season and that gives LSU fans hope for this game. Still, the Tigers’ weakness is at the quarterback position and Tech has nabbed 18 interception this year. Go for the upset … Georgia Tech 28, LSU 27. (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

NEW YEAR’S DAY GAMES

Outback Bowl

South Carolina vs. Iowa: About all you need to know about this game can be summed up thusly: Shonn Greene and the Iowa defense. Once Greene got untracked, the Hawkeyes suddenly got to the level of a pretty good football team. He probably should have gotten a whole lot more Heisman love than he did – which was nearly none – based upon a school-record 1,729 yards and the fact he was the only Division I-A back to rush for 100 or more yards in every game he played. Over on the other side of the ball, Iowa ranked among the top 12 teams in the nation in both total and scoring defense. The Hawkeyes’ four losses were by a total of 12 points and they are the only team to have knocked off Penn State this year. For the Gamecocks, it was an up-and-down season that included two straight November losses by a combined score of 87-20. Add to that the fact that the Old Ball Coach is changing quarterbacks again and I smell a rout … Iowa 38, South Carolina 13. (11 a.m. EST, ESPN)

Capital One Bowl

No. 16 Georgia vs. No. 19 Michigan State: The classic underachiever meets the classic overachiever. The Bulldogs were a consensus preseason No. 1, but then succumbed to several serious injuries and a brutal schedule to fall to 9-3. Up in East Lansing, no one gave the Spartans much of a chance to contend for a Big Ten championship, but they managed to finish only one game out of first place and earned their first New Year’s Day bowl berth in nine years. The contest features two excellent running backs – UGA’s Knowshon Moreno (1,338 yards, 16 TDs) and Javon Ringer (1,590 yards, 21 TDs). But Ringer is pretty much the entire Sparty offense. Shut him down and you shut down Michigan State. Georgia still has quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw for an SEC-leading 3,209 yards and 22 TDs, and receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Massaquoi, who combined for 112 receptions for 1,861 yards and 16 TDs. Still, the difference in this one could be how each defense plays against the run. The Bulldogs have surrendered an average of 129.2 yards rushing per game to 147.6 for the Spartans. A slim margin but one that could decide the outcome … Georgia 23, Michigan State 20. (1 p.m. EST, ABC)

Gator Bowl

Nebraska vs. Clemson: Perhaps no other team in college football had a more tumultuous season than Clemson. The Tigers were picked to win the ACC, and after two straight conference losses to Maryland and Wake Forest, longtime head coach Tommy Bowden was out. But new coach Dabo Swinnney righted the ship and Clemson won four of its last five games, including three wins over bowl-bound teams. Over in Lincoln, the Cornhuskers had a pretty good season under first-year head coach Bo Pelini. They won five of their last six, stumbling only against national title hopeful Oklahoma. Along the way, Pelini developed a pretty good offensive attack behind senior QB Joe Ganz (3,332 yards, 23 TDs). But the NU coach still has some work to do on his Blackshirts defense. It ranked only 84th nationally in scoring defense, but that might have been skewed a little because of playing in the Big 12. Clemson fared much better, ranking ninth in scoring defense. But the Tigers sometimes had trouble putting points on the board all year, making this another toss-up … Nebraska 24, Clemson 21. (1 p.m. EST, CBS)

Rose Bowl

No. 6 Penn State vs. No. 5 USC: No one gives the Nittany Lions much of a chance, and that’s probably because of Ohio State. While Penn State needed to convert a crucial turnover into a 13-6 win over the Buckeyes, the Trojans pummeled OSU by a 35-3 score in mid-September. I still think this is going to be closer than some people think. USC comes into the game riding a nine-game winning streak, but Pete Carroll’s team seemed to become a bit disinterested down the stretch. They can’t afford that kind of attitude against a Penn State team that topped the 40-point mark seven times this season while displaying the nation’s No. 3 scoring defense. Joe Paterno doesn’t get much attention these days as a big-game coach, but an NCAA-record 23 bowl wins speaks for itself. This is strictly a hunch, and the Nits will have to play a spotless game, but I’m going with the upset of upsets … Penn State 24, USC 23. (4:30 p.m. EST, ABC)

Orange Bowl

No. 12 Cincinnati vs. No. 21 Virginia Tech: These two teams have met once before in a bowl – the Bearcats took an 18-6 win over the Hokies in the 1947 Sun Bowl. Since then, Tech has enjoyed much more success on the football field. But that won’t mean much in Miami because Brian Kelly is turning UC into a formidable program. He is 20-5 in two seasons with the Bearcats, and he has done it by playing a stingy defense that covers up his team’s offensive deficiencies. Kelly and his team will be taking a step up in competition, however, when they take on Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech. Beamer delights in these kinds of matchups and has probably been spending most of the holiday season devising several different trick plays – most likely to be used on special teams. For some reason, though, Beamer’s teams have trouble playing in the national spotlight. The Hokies have suffered a host of upsets in recent years during prime-time games, and have lost eight of their last 12 bowls … Cincinnati 24, Virginia Tech 21. (8:30 p.m. EST, FOX)

JAN. 2 GAMES

Cotton Bowl

No. 20 Mississippi vs. No. 8 Texas Tech: They should rename this game the Rodney Dangerfield Bowl because neither team gets any respect at all. The Rebels won nine games – including a victory over Florida – after winning only 13 games in the previous four seasons combined. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders rode to a school-record-tying 11 victories on the arm of quarterback Graham Harrell (4,747 yards, 41 TDs) and a defense that held up well until giving up 65 to Oklahoma in the penultimate game of the regular season. This game will lend itself to the current argument among football fans as to which conference – the Big 12 or SEC – was better this year. Where you come down on that particular debate more than likely depends upon whether you like offense or defense. Tech wore out the scoreboard this season, averaging 44.6 points per game, while Ole Miss gave up an average of only 17.8. Normally, I’d pick the Raiders but I just have a feeling this is the kind of game in which Tech tends to struggle. Therefore … Ole Miss 31, Texas Tech 28. (2 p.m. EST, FOX)

Liberty Bowl

Kentucky vs. East Carolina: To say it has been an uneven season for the Pirates would be stating the obvious. ECU began the year with wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia, then lost three in a row and finally rebounded with victories in six of its last seven games. The Wildcats were a little more consistent albeit in a losing sort of way. They lost four of their last five games and are extremely lucky to have been invited to the postseason much less a January bowl. On paper, this would appear to be a mismatch. East Carolina gives up only 20.8 points per game and Kentucky ranks 87th nationally in scoring offense and 105th in total yardage. How’s that old saying go? You can’t win if you can’t score … East Carolina 23, Kentucky 17. (5 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Sugar Bowl

No. 7 Utah vs. No. 4 Alabama: Sugar Bowl officials swear this is not going to be another blowout akin to last year’s 41-10 win by Georgia over Hawaii. Maybe it won’t be that bad, but it is difficult to envision a Utah victory. I know it was way back in late August, but the Utes struggled in their season opener against Michigan. Of course all was forgotten when Utah finished the regular season undefeated. Still, it is difficult to see just how they can solve an Alabama team that spent several weeks at No. 1 and came within 15 minutes of playing for the national championship. The Tide is a blend of offensive and defensive power, scoring an average of 31.2 points per game while allowing only 13.0. Utah also that equation figured out – the Utes scored at a 37.4-point clip and surrendered only 17.3. But let’s be honest here. Can a Mountain West Conference schedule measure up to that of a team that plays in the SEC? The simple answer is no. The Utes would have to catch lightning in a bottle to beat the Tide, and lightning strikes are extremely rare inside the Superdome … Alabama 37, Utah 17. (8 p.m. EST, FOX)

JAN. 3 GAME

International Bowl

Buffalo vs. Connecticut: Buffalo has already proved it can bottle up one of the nation’s top passing threats; now it gets to test its mettle against the top running back. The Bulls got to their first-ever bowl by taking down Ball State in the MAC title game, forcing quarterback Nate Davis to commit a game-changing five turnovers. Now Buffalo has drawn the Huskies, who boast tailback Donald Brown and his nation-leading 1,822 yards, and the Bulls may need to create five more turnovers to stay in the game. While UConn averages 204.6 yards per game on the ground, Buffalo allows an average of 158.8. Also, when you consider that the Bulls’ eight wins came against teams that combined to go 42-54 this past season – and that counts 12-1 Ball State – you begin to wonder if Turner Gill did it with mirrors … Connecticut 27, Buffalo 21.(12 noon EST, ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Houston (-3½) vs. Air Force; Oregon State vs. Pittsburgh (+3); Boston College (-3½) vs. Vanderbilt; Kansas vs. Minnesota (+10); LSU (+4½) vs. Georgia Tech; South Carolina vs. Iowa (-3½); Georgia vs. Michigan State (+8½); Nebraska (+3) vs. Clemson; Penn State (+10) vs. USC; Cincinnati (-2) vs. Virginia Tech; Mississippi (+5) vs. Texas Tech; Kentucky vs. East Carolina (-3); Utah vs. Alabama (-9); Buffalo vs. Connecticut (-3).

Enjoy the games, stay safe tonight if you’re partying and have very Happy New Year.

My Christmas Wish List

With sincere apologies to Santa for its lateness, here is my Christmas list this year and it’s a fairly lengthy one.

For Jim Tressel: A bowl victory. That would stop a lot of the petty criticism for a guy who restored elite status to the Ohio State football program.

For Terrelle Pryor: The allowance to do what he was recruited to do. Watching a replay of Texas beating USC in the Rose Bowl, I saw Mack Brown saying that Vince Young’s career really took off “when we decided to leave him alone.” Sounds like pretty good advice where Pryor is concerned.

For Beanie Wells: One entire injury-free season. And as long as I’m wishing, here’s hoping that occurs in 2009 at Ohio State.

For Todd Boeckman: A shot at an NFL job. I’m still not sure what this poor guy did to deserve so much vitriol from fans, but it would be nice if he was a late-round draft selection next April. Certainly if there is room in the NFL for Ken Dorsey, there is a spot somewhere for Todd Boeckman.

For Archie Griffin: A statue outside Ohio Stadium. When is the university going to get off its duff and commemorate the world’s only two-time Heisman Trophy with a likeness outside the Horseshoe? While they’re at it, statues of Woody Hayes, Chic Harley and Bill Willis are long overdue as well. Are you telling me we can have 100 different sculptures of Brutus but nothing to signify the most important figures in Ohio State football history?

For university presidents: A set of better priorities. If you’re not going to give fans a Division I-A playoff, at least get a handle on the bowl season. Games strung out over a three-week period simply waters down the product.

For Troy Smith: A ticket out of Baltimore. I thought Troy proved at the end of last season he could play in the NFL. But it’s obviously not going to happen with the Ravens. Cleveland, perhaps?

For Jim Lachey: A bust in Canton. It seems ridiculous to me that Lachey keeps getting passed over for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He started 129 of 131 NFL games during a 10-year career, was named to three Pro Bowls, was a three-time All-Pro, and as a member of the Hogs helped Washington win Super Bowl XXVI.

For Thad Matta: Another trip to the Final Four. I don’t know why, but I have this feeling that a Matta team is going to make a Cinderella trip to the Final Four – and soon.

For Michael Jenkins: A Super Bowl ring. The Atlanta Falcons are one of the best turnaround stories of the year thanks to rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. One of Ryan’s favorite receivers is Jenkins, who has established a new career-high in yardage. A Falcons run to the Super Bowl would also mean a ring for tight end Ben Hartsock, truly one of the good guys, as well as former Buckeyes Simon Fraser and Alex Stepanovich.

For Donnie Nickey: A Super Bowl ring. In case you forgot, Nickey is in his sixth season as a backup safety and special teams player for Tennessee. If the Falcons can’t win, I’ll take the Titans.

For B.J. Mullens: The good sense to stay in college for at least one more year.

For Ray Small: A really loud alarm clock.

For Nathan Williams: A different set of friends.

For Jake Ballard: John Frank’s playbook, deposited on Jim Tressel’s desk.

For Boom Herron: A growth spurt. Two inches in height, 10 pounds in weight.

For Brandon Saine: Patience.

For any Ohio State fullback: An average of one carry per game.

For Jim Bollman: A healthy 2009 starting line of Mike Adams, Jim Cordle, Michael Brewster, Justin Boren and J.B. Shugarts.

For Bob Todd: A trip to Omaha. Probably a huge wish.

For Tom Ryan: A national championship. Probably not as big a wish as you might think.

For Joe Daniels, Lawrence Wilson, Andre Amos, Dan Potokar and David Lighty: Renewed health.

For Tyson Gentry: A miracle.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman is one of three finalists for the sixth annual Bobby Bowden Award, given by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for the top Division I-A player who conducts himself as a faith model in the community, in the classroom and on the field. The other finalists are Illinois center Ryan McDonald and Texas A&M running back Stephen McGee. The winner will be announced Jan. 6.

** Success is a relative thing. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe went just 4-8 in his first season with the Blue Devils. But because that was such an improvement over what the team had done in recent years – just four victories in the previous four seasons combined – Cutcliffe got a two-year contract extension to coach at Duke through 2015.

** If you can figure this one out, you’re doing better than me. Florida QB Tim Tebow got the most first-place votes in the Heisman Trophy balloting yet finished third behind Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Colt McCoy of Texas. The other day, the venerable Sporting News released its postseason awards and had a three-way tie for player of the year: Bradford, McCoy and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech. If you’re going to wimp out and have three players of the year, you may as well add Tebow and make it four.

** The deluge of college juniors declaring for the NFL draft has begun. Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis is among the first and the two-time All-Big Ten selection will likely be a rich man come April. The 6-0, 204-pounder led all conference cornerbacks with 78 tackles in 2008, and is projected to be taken in the first round of the draft.

** Ever hear that saying about how the rich only get richer? What about the poor? Coming off the worst season in its history, Michigan has already lost top running back Sam McDuffie, who is transferring to a school in his home state of Texas. Now comes word the Wolverines have lost verbally committed four-star quarterback Shavodrick Beaver of Wichita Falls, Texas. And to which college powerhouse has Michigan lost Beaver? Texas? Texas Tech? Oklahoma? Nope. Would you believe Tulsa? With all due respect to the Golden Hurricane, what does it say about your program when you are contending for players with – and losing them to – a school in Conference USA?

** Remember Trace Armstrong? He played his college ball at Arizona State and Florida before embarking upon a 15-year NFL career with Chicago, Miami and Oakland. After hanging up his cleats in 2003, Armstrong got into the agenting business. But he’s not a player rep although he served eight years as president of the NFL Players Association. Armstrong specializes in representing coaches and so far this season, he is doing pretty well for his clients. He placed Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley at New Mexico as the new head coach and successfully parlayed Brady Hoke’s big season at Ball State into a higher-paying gig as head coach at San Diego State. There will likely be plenty of presents under the tree tomorrow in the Armstrong house.

**Note to Browns fans: One of Armstrong’s other clients is Marty Schottenheimer, rumored as a possible successor to Romeo Crennel in Cleveland.

** Speaking of rumors, here’s one that is currently making the rounds from Miami to South Bend to Honolulu and back again. Should Notre Dame lose to Hawaii this evening in the Hawaii Bowl, the Irish will decide the Charlie Weis experiment is a failure and cut their losses. Who will they go after as a replacement? Urban Meyer, who told listeners to a South Florida radio show last week that Notre Dame is “still my dream job. That hasn’t changed.”

** Ron English was announced yesterday as the new head coach at Eastern Michigan. Yes, that’s the same Ron English who was defensive coordinator at Michigan, whose once-proud stop troops surrendered 32 or more points in six of their last 15 games under his tutelage. It is also the same Ron English who was defensive coordinator at Louisville this past season when the Cardinals allowed nearly 30 points a game, including 63 in their season finale against Rutgers. Now, English takes over a program at Eastern Michigan team that finished next-to-last in the MAC in total defense and 109th among 119 Division I-A schools in scoring defense in 2008. Hmmmmm.

** Have you ever heard of Doug Marrone? How about Reaves Baysinger? Maybe if you were an aficionado of Syracuse football, you’d know. Marrone just got hired as head coach of the Orange after spending the last three seasons as offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints. He is the first Syracuse alum to serve as head coach since Baysinger in 1948. For the Orange’s sake, let’s hope Marrone does better. Baysinger lasted only two seasons after posting a 4-14 record.

** Here’s another name to remember: Mark Hudspeth. He just left Division II North Alabama, where he had compiled a 66-21 record in seven seasons, to join Dan Mullen’s new staff at Mississippi State. Hudspeth will become passing game coordinator for Mullen, who was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Urban Meyer at Florida before replacing Sylvester Croom in Starkville. Anyone think the Bulldogs are fixin’ to throw the ball next year?

** So long to Sammy Baugh, who died Dec. 17 at the age of 94. Most people know that “Slingin’ Sammy” rewrote the NFL record books with the Washington Redskins, including becoming the first and only player ever to lead the league in passing, punting, and interceptions in the same season. But many don’t know that he was a star college player for TCU in the mid-1930s, leading the Horned Frogs to the 1935 national championship and finishing fourth in the 1936 Heisman Trophy balloting. TCU players wore a “45” sticker on their helmets during last night’s Poinsettia Bowl win over Boise State in memory of Baugh.

** Congratulations to Richmond, which cashed in on its first-ever appearance in the Division I-AA championship game. The Spiders rolled to a 24-7 victory over Montana last Friday night. Montana won the I-AA title in 2001 and was runner-up in 2004.

** Mount Union won its 10th national championship at the Division III level in the past 16 seasons, knocking off defending champ Wisconsin-Whitewater last Saturday by a 31-26 score. The two teams have met in the D-III title game for the fourth consecutive years with the Purple Raiders taking the 2005, ’06 and ’08 crowns.

** Mount Union running back Nate Kmic capped a record-breaking career with 88 yards and a touchdown, and became the first running back in NCAA history to crack the 8,000-yard mark. Kmic finished his career with 8,074 yards and also broke Division III postseason records for rushing yards, touchdowns and points scored.

** Despite Kmic’s heroics, it was Mount Union QB Greg Micheli who was named the Gagliardi Trophy winner as the outstanding NCAA Division III player of the year. Micheli was 12 for 19 for 262 yards and two touchdowns in the championship game against Montana, and finished the season with 3,749 yards and 36 touchdowns. His career totals: 568 completions in 780 attempts (72.8 percent), 8,479 yards, 81 TDs and only nine interceptions.

** Incidentally, the D-III player of the year award is named for longtime head coach John Gagliardi of St. John’s University in Minnesota. Gagliardi is college football’s all-time winningest coach with 453 victories in 60 (and counting) seasons. Gagliardi is also the only active coach who can call Joe Paterno “Sonny.” Gagliardi turned 82 on Nov. 1 while Paterno celebrated his 82nd birthday last Sunday.

** The University of Sioux Falls captured its third NAIA title last weekend with a 23-7 victory over defending champion Carroll (Mont.) College. Carroll, which defeated Sioux Falls by a 17-9 score in last year’s final, saw a 28-game winning streak end.

** Twenty years ago today marked a record bowl performance for an Alabama linebacker. On Dec. 24, 1988, the Crimson Tide wiped out a 28-20 fourth-quarter deficit and came back to beat Army 29-28 in the Sun Bowl. In that contest, Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas blocked two field goals to set an NCAA bowl record. Thomas, of course, went on to make the Pro Bowl nine times with the Kansas City Chiefs in a career that was tragically cut short by a fatal auto accident in 2000.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 22, 2003, North Carolina State quarterback Phillip Rivers set an NCAA record with his 54th collegiate start and celebrated by throwing for 475 yards and five TDs to lead the Wolfpack to a 56-26 win over Kansas in the Tangerine Bowl; on Dec. 25, 1899, Carlisle upset undefeated California, 2-0, in the East-West Championship game played in front of more than 15,000 fans in San Francisco; and on Dec. 27, 1971, Arizona State took a 45-38 victory over Florida State in the first-ever Fiesta Bowl. With the game tied 38-38, Sun Devils QB Danny White drove his team 57 yards, setting up a 2-yard touchdown run by halfback Woody Green with just 34 seconds remaining.

** This week also marks the birthday of one of this country’s most unsung college football and military heroes. Thomas Hamilton was born Dec. 26, 1905, in Hoopeston, Ill., (the same hometown as Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta), and grew up to become an All-America halfback at Navy. Hamilton helped lead the Midshipmen to a 9-0-1 record in 1926 while leading the country in drop-kicked field goals. Several years later, he ascended to the rank of admiral and founded the Navy V-5 preflight training program that was used in World War II. Hamilton later served two different stints as Navy’s football coach, was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1965 and served as commissioner of the Pacific 8 conference from 1959-71. Hamilton died in California in 1994 at the age of 88.

FEARLESS FORECAST

As we noted last week, we tend to stay away from bowl game for no other reason than what transpired over the weekend. Navy blew a 13-0 lead and lost by 10 to Wake Forest, Fresno State blew a 28-20 lead after three quarters and lost by five to Colorado State, and Troy enjoyed a 27-17 advantage heading into the third quarter and lost in overtime to Southern Miss. Naturally, we picked Navy, Fresno and Troy to win.

The first week of the bowl season was an excruciating one, but maybe things are looking up. We nailed last night’s TCU win over Boise State and that brought us to 2-4 both straight up and against the spread. Not great certainly, but at least somewhere to begin.

Here is the next week’s worth of bowl games and how we see them.

DEC. 24 GAMES

Hawaii Bowl

Hawaii vs. Notre Dame: Most people believe the Irish’s nine-game losing streak in bowl games – the longest in NCAA history – will finally come to an end. That’s probably because while Charlie Weis and his team stumbled down the stretch of the 2008 season, the Rainbows quietly won four of their last six, and one of the losses during that stretch was a 29-24 defeat to Orange Bowl-bound Cincinnati. Notre Dame lost four of its last five games, but to give the Irish their due, the defeats came against teams that combined to go 32-17 this year. Still, it’s difficult to see how such a shaky offense can navigate the sometimes-tricky Aloha Stadium winds. Plus, there is the small fact that the Rainbows are extremely tough at home – 45 wins in 55 games dating back to 2002 … Hawaii 27, Notre Dame 23. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

DEC. 26 GAMES

Motor City Bowl

Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan: If you like offense, this game is for you. FAU averaged 47.7 points in its final three victories while the Chippewas scored 30 or more points in six games this season. Couple that with a couple of teams who believe defense is something that goes between de-house and de-sidewalk, and you have the potential for a big-time fireworks display. The game will likely come down to which quarterback makes the fewer mistakes – Dan LeFevour of Central (2,531 yards, 21 TDs) or Rusty Smith of the Owls (2,918 yards, 22 TDs). If that’s the measuring stick, give me the Chippewas – LeFevour averaged one interception for every 67.2 attempts while Smith pitched picks at twice at that pace, one every 28.6 throws. Sit back and prepare to be entertained … Central Michigan 49, Florida Atlantic 42. (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

DEC. 27 GAMES

Meineke Car Care Bowl

West Virginia vs. North Carolina: At one time, these two teams were on track to meet one another in the Orange Bowl. Neither had any consistency during the season, however, and now they’re headed to a game in Charlotte that is ostensibly a home game for the Tar Heels. But as someone once said, “Not so fast.” North Carolina may have the better defense, but the Mountaineers still have quarterback Pat White, who is about as healthy as he has been in two years. White, who ran for 919 yards and eight TDs this season, is the NCAA’s all-time leader in career rushing among quarterbacks with 4,425 yards, including four 200-yard games. When you put him together with tailback Noel Devine, who had 1,228 yards this season for WVU, and then consider the fact that Carolina is only average against the run, you get the picture … West Virginia 30, North Carolina 23. (1 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Champs Sports Bowl

Wisconsin vs. Florida State: Talk about limping to the finish line. The Badgers struggled to beat Division I-AA Cal Poly by a single point in their season finale while the Seminoles lost two of their last three, including a 45-15 rout to Florida. These schools are meeting for the first time in history and – at least on paper – the game should be close. Both teams like to run the ball and both are pretty adept at shutting down the opposition’s passing attack. Like a lot of these bowl games, it could come down to turnovers and neither team has distinguished itself in that category – FSU is minus-3 for the season and U-Dub is minus-5. Flip a coin … Florida State 28, Wisconsin 24. (4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Emerald Bowl

Miami (Fla.) vs. California: The key matchup here pits Bears sophomore tailback Jahvid Best against the Hurricane’s young defense. Best ran for 1,394 yards and 13 touchdowns while Miami collapsed down the stretch, surrendering a combined 691 rushing yards in losses at Georgia Tech and North Carolina State to finish the season. Football can get complicated at times, but when you have one team that likes to run the ball playing against a team that has trouble stopping the run, things get a whole lot simpler … Cal 27, Miami 23. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

DEC. 28 GAMES

Independence Bowl

Northern Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech: The Huskies finished 6-6 this season under fist-year head coach Jerry Kill – nothing to write home about until you learn that they were 2-10 a year ago. Then when you find out NIU lost four of its six games by four points or less, and Kill’s team suddenly gets a little more respect. Meanwhile, Louisiana Tech is playing in its first bowl game since 2001 and should feel pretty much at home playing in Shreveport, just about an hour west of campus on I-20. Still, you have to watch those overachieving teams in bowl games who play like they have everything to gain and nothing to lose. That would seem to describe the Huskies to a T … Northern Illinois 31, Louisiana Tech 26. (8:15 p.m. EST, ESPN)

DEC. 29 GAMES

PapaJohns.com Bowl

North Carolina State vs. Rutgers: In early October, these two teams had combined for a 3-11 record. Then the Scarlet Knights won six in a row to finish 7-5 while the Wolfpack strung together four straight victories for a 6-6 record. Rutgers has relied on the experience of its senior quarterback Mike Teel, who is his school’s all-time leading passer. Meanwhile, N.C. State has ridden on the back of redshirt freshman QB Russell Wilson, who threw for 1,769 yards and 16 TDs and added 342 yards and four more scores on the ground. Normally, you would take experience over youth. But in the upside-down world of bowl games, nothing is normal. Also, there is the small matter of the Wolfpack working on a five-game postseason win streak … North Carolina State 29, Rutgers 23. (3 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Alamo Bowl

No. 21 Missouri vs. No. 23 Northwestern: If you can’t move the ball through the air in this game, you’re not trying. Mizzou QB Chase Daniel and Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bachér combined this season to throw for 6,263 yards and 51 TDs. Conversely, the Wildcats are 74th nationally in pass defense while the Tigers are 117th. Northwestern can play some ball control if senior tailback Tyrell Sutton can return from wrist surgery, and the Wildcats also possess a pretty good pass rush led by All-Big Ten defensive end Corey Wootten (9.0 sacks). One thing working against NU, however, is the fact that the school is working on a five-game losing streak in the postseason. The Wildcats haven’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl, a 20-14 win over Cal. Look for a few more points in this one … Missouri 47, Northwestern 41. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

DEC. 30 GAMES

Humanitarian Bowl

Maryland vs. Nevada: I still can’t get my head around a bowl game played outside in Boise, Idaho, in late December. But I guess a bowl game is a bowl game, and you certainly don’t hear any complaining from the Terrapins or Wolf Pack. This game shapes up to be a struggle between Nevada’s high-powered offense and Maryland’s stingy defense. The Terps may have their hands full against Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a two-way threat who accounted for 3,594 multipurpose yards this year, and bruising runner Vai Taua, a 225-pound bruiser who rushed for 1,420 yards and 14 TDs. There is little doubt that the ACC is a tougher conference than the WAC, but I just wonder how the Terps can manufacture enough offense to stay with the Wolf Pack … Nevada 27, Maryland 24. (4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Holiday Bowl

No. 13 Oklahoma State vs. No. 17 Oregon: You want another shootout, you’ve got another shootout. These teams each rank in the top eight nationally in scoring offense, combining to put up more than 83 points and 950 total yards per game. The Cowboys topped the 50-point mark five times this season while Ducks equaled that and even did a little better – they scored 60 or more on three different opponents. If you’re worried about defense spoiling this show, don’t bother. The teams allowed an average of 387.5 yards and 27.5 points per game. My advice if you’re going to watch this one: Hide the remote. If you start flipping, chances are you’ll miss a score or two … Oklahoma State 56, Oregon 52. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Texas Bowl

Western Michigan vs. Rice: Of course, if you do want to channel-surf – and you get the NFL Network on your big screen – you’ll probably want to take a look at this game featuring two of the unsung quarterbacks in college football. Chase Clement of Rice and Tim Hiller of Western Michigan combined this past season to complete 66.5 percent of their 926 attempts for 7,339 yards and 75 TDs against only 15 interceptions. As you might expect, though, neither team seems very interested in defense. Western finished the regular season ranked 83rd nationally in total defense while the Owls were 114th. It seems hard to believe a team could suddenly get that much better on defense during bowl practice, so barring turnovers, we’ll take the MAC over the WAC in another wild one … Western Michigan 48, Rice 45. (8 p.m. EST, NFL Network)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Hawaii (+2½) vs. Notre Dame; Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan (-6½); West Virginia (-1) vs. North Carolina; Wisconsin (+6) vs. Florida State; Miami-FL (+8½) vs. California; Northern Illinois (+1) vs. Louisiana Tech; North Carolina State (+7½) vs. Rutgers; Missouri vs. Northwestern (+13); Maryland vs. Nevada (-2); Oklahoma State (-3) vs. Oregon; Western Michigan (+3) vs. Rice.

Enjoy the games and have a safe and very Merry Christmas.