Schlichter Belongs In OSU Hall Of Fame

With all due respect to Andy Katzenmoyer, Pandel Savic and the rest of the most recent class of inductees into the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame, it has always seemed a bit strange that the school’s all-time leading passer remains on the outside looking in.

Your powers of deduction don’t have to be much to figure how why Art Schlichter remains a hall of fame outsider. Nothing besmirches a reputation quite like a decade-long stretch in prison for a much-publicized gambling addiction.

In 1977, the athletic department, in cooperation with the Varsity “O” Alumni Association, established the hall of fame. According to the Varsity “O” constitution and bylaws, the hall was established “to pay tribute and extend the recognition to those individuals who through the years have contributed to the honor and fame of The Ohio State University in the field of Athletics, and who have continued to demonstrate, in their daily lives, the values learned in Intercollegiate Athletics.”

There are several specific qualifications for nomination to the hall and Schlichter meets nearly every one of them. It has been five years or more since the graduation of his class, he earned the minimum of one varsity letter, and his records are so outstanding that there is no question as to the qualifications necessary for induction.

Schlichter continues to be Ohio State’s career leader in passing yardage despite the fact he played his final game in scarlet and gray more than a quarter-century ago and passing attacks have evolved greatly since his career ended. By way of comparison, Schlichter’s career total of 7,547 yards is more than Rex Kern, Kirk Herbstreit and Cornelius Greene – combined.

Additionally, he remains the only quarterback in school history ever to have a 400-yard passing day, shares the single-game mark for completions at 31 and is just one off the all-time career record with 497 completions.

Perhaps he falls short in the interpretation of Chapter VIII, Section 3, Paragraph F of the hall of fame qualifications, which reads, “Consideration shall be given for personal conduct in life and personal contributions to the high ideals of Intercollegiate Athletics.”

Then again, the final sentence of the preceding Paragraph E reads, “The selections shall be on merit only and never of a political nature.”

If it’s contrition the Varsity “O” hall of fame board wants, Schlichter has issued a number of apologies over the years. Surrendering his freedom for so many years, not to mention the toll his gambling addiction inflicted upon his family, was also an expensive price to pay.

No one knows if Schlichter can continue to handle his addiction and lead a productive life. From all indications, he is making a supreme effort. He gives regular talks on the evils of gambling, provides counseling for others who are haunted by the same demons, and has co-authored a new book on his life titled, “Busted: The Rise and Fall of Art Schlichter.”

Public perception on how Schlichter’s problems may have somehow sullied the university’s reputation really isn’t the point. When you’re part of a family, you’re supposed to forgive. It seems to me it’s time to welcome Schlichter back into the fold and find room in the OSU Athletic Hall of Fame for the greatest quarterback in school history. 

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former basketball co-captain Je’Kel Foster, who turns 26.

Born July 22, 1983, in Natchez, Miss., Foster was star for his hometown high school team before playing one year at Howard Junior College in Big Spring, Texas, and one year at Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla. At Chipola in 2004, Foster was the Florida JUCO player of the year after averaging 17 points, 5.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds. He played for the Buckeyes in 2005 and ’06, serving as team co-captain for the 2006 squad that won the school’s first outright Big Ten championship in 14 years. Foster finished his two-year career as a Buckeye with averages of 10.0 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Foster is currently in his fourth season playing pro basketball in Europe and beginning his second year with a team in Oldenburg, Germany. Last season, he averaged 12.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in the German league and sank the game-winning free throw to lift Oldenburg to its first championship ever.

Foster is joined by a host of celebrities celebrating birthdays this 22nd day of July: former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole is 86; film and TV actor Orson Bean is 81; fashion designer Oscar De la Renta is 77; Oscar-winning actress Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”) is 75; novelist Tom Robbins (“Even Cowgirls Get The Blues”) is 73; Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek is 69; funkmaster George Clinton is 68; Triple Crown winning jockey Ron Turcotte is 68; U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) is 66; Sixties teen heartthrob Bobby Sherman is 66; Supertramp co-founder and keyboardist Rick Davies is 65; former MLB reliever Albert “Sparky” Lyle is 65; actor/activist Danny Glover is 63; screenwriter Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “Auto Focus”) is 63; Palau President Johnson Toribiong is 63; comic actor Albert Brooks is 62; Eagles co-founder Don Henley is 62; Oscar and Tony winning composer Alan Menken is 60; four-time Olympic gold medal distance runner Lasse Virén is 60; film and stage actor Willem Dafoe is 54; seven-time MLB All-Star MLB pitcher Dave Stieb is 52; Indigo Girls singer/musician Emily Saliers is 46; film and stage actor John Leguizamo is 45; comic actor and Saturday Night Live alum David Spade is 45; pro wrestler Shawn Michaels (born Michael Shawn Hickenbottom is 44; 1987 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown is 43; former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson is 37; singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright is 36; 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon is 29; and St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson is 26.

YOUR REPUTATION PRECEDES YOU

An online sports betting service, BetUS.com Sportsbook, posted odds recently on the colleges most likely to commit the next major violation. Winning the dubious honor was USC with odds of 8-to-1. It was unclear if the website actually meant the program “most likely to commit the next NCAA violation” or “the next program most likely to be found guilty of major violations.” In that case, USC is a no-brainer with the Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo cases pending.

Next on the list with 9-to-1 odds? Ohio State.

The Buckeyes were followed by Florida, Memphis and Ole Miss at 10-to-1, with North Carolina, Connecticut, Michigan State and Florida State each at 12-to-1.

BetUS.com Sportsbook claimed it included football and basketball programs in determining its odds.

AND FINALLY …

** Based upon what I know right this second, it’s going to be awfully difficult for me to cast my Heisman vote for anyone else but Tim Tebow. His Florida team – at least on paper – looks very much capable of marching to another national championship. If that happens, I don’t know how you keep the trophy out of Tebow’s hands.

** If the Gators do win the title this year, they would become only the third team to win three championships in four years since the wire services became the authority on such matters in 1936. The others are Notre Dame (1946-47, ’49) and Nebraska (1994-95, ’97).

** Head-scratcher of the week? Iowa extending head coach Kirk Ferentz’s contract through the 2015 season at more than $3 million per year. Ferentz is a solid coach and a solid guy, but what exactly makes him worth three mil? In his 10 seasons, the Hawkeyes have no outright Big Ten championships (they have shared the title twice) and averaged only seven wins per year. Easy math tells you that if your team is averaging only seven victories, it’s also averaging five losses. Three million bucks for an average record of 7-5 every year seems a bit steep.

** Speaking of coaching contracts, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops – the guy working on a five-game losing streak in BCS contests – is also getting a new deal. Stoops’ new contract calls for the university to pay him (bonuses included) more than $30 million through the end of 2015. That computes to an annual average of about $5 million.

** Stoops’ compensation begs this question: If he’s worth $5 million, how much is Florida going to have to pony up if Urban Meyer wins another national championship this year? In case you wondered, Meyer’s current contract pays him $3.25 million per year. That’s pretty good but only third highest in his own league. Nick Saban of Alabama ($3.9 million) and Les Miles of LSU ($3.75 million) make more.

** As if you didn’t already know, college football is right around the corner. Watch lists for 10 of the major awards are scheduled to be announced on ESPN’s College Football Live show beginning Aug. 3. The watch lists for the awards will be announced one per day at 3:30 p.m. Eastern for two weeks.

** To say the College Football Hall of Fame likes to stretch its induction ceremonies would be a bit of an understatement. Last Sunday, more than a year after it was first announced, the 2009 class of inductees was finally and formally enshrined into the hall during ceremonies in South Bend, Ind. It was nice to see Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George in attendance to help celebrate the induction of former Ohio State head coach John Cooper.

** Army and Notre Dame have announced they will play one another in the new Yankee Stadium on Nov. 20, 2010. It is the first college football game scheduled for the new facility, located right across from the original.

** Did you know that Walter Cronkite got his start by covering high school and college football games for his hometown newspaper? He did so while growing up in the Houston area and continued after he attended the University of Texas. In 1937, he got his start in radio by broadcasting Oklahoma football games.

Advertisements

Buckeyes Underdogs To Texas, And Deservedly So

Since appearing on the NFL Network last week and opining that Ohio State’s chances in the Fiesta Bowl would be greatly enhanced if Texas was distracted in some way, I have acquired a few new pen pals.

To say my new best friends agreed with me would be inaccurate. Likewise, vilification is little too strong. Let’s just say the state of my mental health has been called into question.

I take no delight in feeling the way I do, and I really hope my gut instincts are dead wrong. But after all the big-game collapses of the past couple of years, you’ll have to forgive my scarlet-and-gray tinted glasses for being a little on the foggy side.

Let’s stipulate right now that there aren’t many head coaches in college football I’d rather see at Ohio State than Jim Tressel. You can count them on the fingers of one hand. Likewise, you cannot dispute the man’s accomplishments in eight seasons with the Buckeyes – one national championship, one Heisman Trophy winner, two undefeated regular seasons, three trips to the national title game, five Big Ten championships, 24 first-team All-Americans, and perhaps most importantly, an unprecedented 7-1 record against Michigan.

Those who roundly criticize Tressel tend to forget the state of the program when he was hired. There were only five conference championship in the previous 17 seasons, the Wolverines had won 17 of the previous 25 games over the Buckeyes, and a national championship banner hadn’t been raised in Columbus in more than three decades.

Unfortunately for him, Tressel set the bar impossibly high, including wins in eight of his first 10 games against top-10 opponents. Anything less than perfection is seen as something akin to abject failure.

Expecting to win every single game – not to mention looking good in the process – is simply unfair. However, the 2002 national championship game and the euphoria attached to it is now six years in the history books. For some, that’s an eternity. The nature of college football today is what have you done lately, and what Ohio State has done lately is lose whenever a highly ranked team is on the opposite sideline.

That kind of pronouncement always angers the diehard members of the Buckeye Nation. They parade out the old mantra of “In Tress We Trust” and point to the coach’s excellent 32-11 record against ranked opposition. Yet, while Tressel’s mark against elite competition – teams in the top 10 – remains above the breakeven mark at 8-6, he is on a four-game losing streak. The cold, hard truth is that Ohio State has not taken down a top-10 team since that wild 42-39 win over second-ranked Michigan in the 2006 regular-season finale.

That performance was followed a month and a half later by a 41-14 spanking at the hands of Florida in the BCS National Championship Game, a mugging so severe that the argument could be made the Buckeyes as a team and their head coach in particular have never fully recovered for it.

How else can you explain the subsequent games against top-ranked competition? Against LSU in last year’s title game, and this year’s losses to Southern Cal and Penn State, the Buckeyes have played tighter than a new shoe. Obviously, the competition was tough and no team can beat top-ranked opposition with any kind of regularity.

But here are some stats from those three games.

Ohio State converted only 39.5 percent of its third-down situations (17 of 43) while LSU, USC and Penn State combined to convert 52.3 percent (23 of 44). The Buckeyes surrendered 11 sacks while getting to the Tigers, Trojans and Nittany Lions quarterbacks a total of only three times – once in each contest. Furthermore, OSU committed 21 penalties for 209 yards while their opponents were flagged 12 times for 112 yards, and the combined turnover margin was 8-2 against Ohio State.

I don’t know how you would describe those numbers, but the word “alarming” immediately comes to my mind.

And now the Buckeyes wade headlong into another big game on a big stage against a big-time opponent. Based upon their recent performances with those parameters, it’s no wonder they are double-digit underdogs.

Ohio State desperately needs a postseason victory this year and not for the reason you might think. National reputation and what the media thinks be damned. The Buckeyes need a win if only for a bit of their own personal redemption. Playing a team that should be considered one of this season’s best is a tough assignment. Likewise, there aren’t exactly sweet memories for veteran team members from their last trip to the Phoenix area.

A win over Texas won’t be easy but in the words of Woody Hayes, “Nothing worth a damn is ever easy.”

Can the Buckeyes beat the Longhorns? Of course, they can.

Will they? Good question.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** For those of you who can’t wait until the start of the 2009 college football season, the folks over at NationalChamps.net have released their annual “Early Bird Preview.” Their pre-preseason top 10 for ’09: 1. Florida, 2. Alabama, 3. Texas, 4. Oklahoma, 5. USC, 6. Oklahoma State, 7. Ohio State, 8. Georgia Tech, 9. Georgia, 10. Penn State. Two other Big Ten teams made the top 25 – Iowa at No. 15 and Minnesota at No. 18.

** I had him second on my ballot, so I have no problem with Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford winning the Heisman Trophy. Bradford shaded runner-up Colt McCoy of Texas by only 122 points, the tightest margin of victory since 2001. That year, Nebraska quarterback Eric Couch best Florida QB Rex Grossman by a mere 62 votes.

** The closest finish in Heisman history occurred in 1985. Auburn running back Bo Jackson beat Iowa quarterback Chuck Long by only 45 votes. BYU quarterback Robbie Bosco was a distant third, finishing 1,005 votes behind Long.

** Florida quarterback Tim Tebow became the first player since 1956 to finish in third place in the Heisman voting despite being named on more first-place ballots than anyone else. This year, Tebow was named on 750 total ballots while Bradford was on 811. McCoy’s name appeared on 784 ballots.

** The player who finished third in 1956 despite garnering the most first-place votes was Oklahoma halfback Tommy McDonald. He earned 205 first-place votes to 197 for winner Paul Hornung of Notre Dame. Second-place finisher Johnny Majors of Tennessee – yes, that Johnny Majors – had 172.

** McDonald’s other claim to fame? At just 5-9 and 176 pounds, he is the smallest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

** Third place in the Heisman voting hasn’t been a bad place to be in recent years. Some of the third-place finishers over the past decade: Brady Quinn of Notre Dame, Eli Manning of Ole Miss, Larry Johnson of Penn State, Drew Brees of Purdue and Leinart.

** Note to Bradford and his Oklahoma teammates. The last three Heisman Trophy winners have the bowl game immediately after their selections. USC quarterback Matt Leinert, the 2004 winner, led his team to a 55-19 victory over Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl.

** Of the last 10 Heisman winners before Bradford, only four won their bowl games – Ricky Williams of Texas, Ron Dayne of Wisconsin, Carson Palmer of USC and Leinart.

** In case you couldn’t keep track of all the postseason individual awards, here are the winners: Heisman, Davey O’Brien – Sam Bradford, Oklahoma; Maxwell – Tim Tebow, Florida; Walter Camp National Player of the Year – Colt McCoy, Texas; Bednarik – Rey Maualuga, Southern California; Biletnikoff – Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech; Groza – Graham Gano, Florida State; Ray Guy – Matt Fodge, Oklahoma State; Outland – Andre Smith, Alabama; Thorpe – Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State; Doak Walker – Shonn Greene, Iowa; Lott – James Laurinaitis, Ohio State; Rimington – A.Q. Shipley, Penn State; Nagurski and Lombardi – Brian Orakpo, Texas; Butkus – Aaron Curry, Wake Forest; Johnny Unitas Golden Arm – Graham Harrell, Texas Tech; Mackey – Chase Coffman, Missouri.

** Senior center Alex Mack of California took home the Draddy Award, known as the academic Heisman. Mack has already graduated magna cum laude from Cal with a 3.61 grade-point average and a degree in legal studies. He is a two-time All-Pac-10 selection, a two-time Rimington Trophy finalist and a four-team Academic All-Pac-10 honoree. Oh, yeah … he is also projected as a first-round pick in next April’s NFL draft.

** Speaking of the draft, here’s wondering if there will be room in it for running back Bernard Scott of Abilene Christian. After finishing second last year, Scott was named winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy, symbolic of the Division II player of the year. The 5-11, 200-pounder rushed for 2,156 yards and 28 touchdowns this past season and added 48 receptions for 826 yards and six scores.

** Bowling Green, San Jose State, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette. Remember those schools and dazzle your friends with trivia at your holiday party. That foursome were the only Division I-A bowl-eligible teams in 2008 who did not get a postseason invitation. A record 68 other teams filled the 34 postseason spots.

** Since we’re on the subject of trivia, here are a couple of BCS tidbits. USC will play in a record seventh consecutive BCS game while Cincinnati is the only school making its first BCS appearance this year. The Bearcats are the 43rd different team to play in a BCS game.

** So much for the argument that Utah doesn’t have a fan base willing to travel. Demand from Utah for online ticket purchases for the Sugar Bowl was so heavy last week that the server had to be closed down for part of last Friday. Orders were taken by phone and in person.

** There is no doubt that Turner Gill and his Buffalo team are a feel-good story. Gill led the Bulls to a victory over Ball State in the MAC championship game and has gotten his program well on the way to respectability. But one winning season does not a Vince Lombardi make. Gill’s three-year record at Buffalo is still only 15-22 and he has never been an offensive or defensive coordinator at any level. If he keeps the Bulls in the MAC title hunt for the next couple of years, then he might be ready for a step up to the likes of Iowa State or maybe even Auburn. Not yet, though.

** The first axe has fallen at Michigan and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer’s head was the one on the chopping block. Shafer resigned Tuesday after only one season on the job, a season that saw the once-proud Wolverines rank 10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense. “I take full responsibility for the demise of where Michigan’s program is at this time,” the assistant coach told the Detroit Free-Press. While that was admirable from someone who just lost his job, it wasn’t exactly on the mark. Shafer didn’t have anything to do with the Michigan offense, which ranked dead last in the conference in total yardage and scoring.

** Ole Miss is playing in its final Cotton Bowl since 1956, and the Rebels will help Texas Tech close down the old facility on the Texas State Fairgrounds. Next year, the Cotton Bowl moves to the new $1 billion Cowboys Stadium in suburban Arlington.

** HD is great, but 3-D? A California-based company said earlier this week that it had won the contract to shoot the BCS National Championship game in 3-D. The game between Florida and Oklahoma will be broadcast live in 3-D to 80 to 100 movie theaters in about 30 U.S. cities with tickets expected to cost $18 to $22. My question: Would you pay money to go to a theater and watch what you can watch at home for free?

** This item was buried in the national news sections, far away from the sports page. Now that O.J. Simpson is a convicted felon, the College Football Hall of Fame plans to review his status. National Football Foundation president Steve Hatchell has said that while Simpson’s status will be reviewed, there are no plans to remove him from the hall.

** Congratulations to Minnesota-Duluth, which completed a perfect 15-0 season last weekend to capture the Division II national championship. The Bulldogs capped one of the biggest one-season turnarounds in NCAA history after posting a 4-6 record a year ago. They finished off the turnaround with a 21-14 victory in the title game of Northwest Missouri State, which lost in the final for the fourth consecutive year. Those four defeats have come by a combined total of 19 points.

** Richmond will make its first appearance in the Division I-AA championship game after knocking off Northern Iowa last weekend. The Spiders scored with just 14 seconds remaining to pull out a 21-20 win, and will take on Montana in the championship game, set for Friday in Chattanooga, Tenn. Montana, the 2001 national champs and 2004 runners-up, got to this year’s title contest thanks to last Friday night’s 35-27 upset over top-seeded James Madison.

** It’s a clash of titans for the Division III championship. Defending title-holder Wisconsin-Whitewater meets nine-time champion Mount Union on Saturday in Salem, Va. The two teams are meeting in the D-III title game for the fourth straight year – Wisconsin-Whitewater won last season after Mount Union had beaten the Warhawks in 2005 and ’06.

** Mount Union running back Nate Kmic rushed for 310 yards last week in his team’s semifinal win over Wheaton (Ill.) and became the all-time, all-division career rushing leader in NCAA history. Kmic now has 7,986 yards, eclipsing the mark of 7,962 set between 2004 and ’07 by Danny Woodhead of Division II Chadron (Neb.) State.

** Today marks the 27th anniversary of a remarkable Holiday Bowl victory by BYU. On Dec. 18, 1981, the Cougars jumped out to a 31-7 advantage in the third quarter and then weathered a Washington State storm, hanging on for a wild 38-36 win. BYU quarterback Jim McMahon, the nation’s leading passer and winner of the inaugural Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, threw for 368 yards and three touchdowns to help keep the Cougars in front.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 15, 1962, Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker accounted for the game’s only points on a record 99-yard run in Oregon State’s 6-0 Liberty Bowl win over Villanova; on Dec. 19, 2001, Marshall engineers the biggest comeback in bowl history, wiping out a 30-point deficit before claiming a 64-61 double overtime win over East Carolina in the GMAC Bowl; and on Dec. 21, 1946, North Texas scored with nine seconds remaining to steal a 14-13 decision away from the University of Pacific in the first and only Optimist Bowl. The contest was the final game in the fabled career of legendary head coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, who piled up 314 victories over a 57-year career with Springfield College, Chicago and Pacific.

** This week also featured a significant milestone in the career of Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel. On Dec. 17, 1994, Tressel captured his second consecutive Division I-AA national championship as Youngstown State took a 28-14 victory over Boise State. The Penguins successfully defended their 1993 national title, and also took home championships under Tressel in 1991 and 1997.

FEARLESS FORECAST

As a rule, we tend to stay away from bowl games. It’s simply impossible to gauge how teams will play when they face opponents they’ve never faced before. Add in the myriad of other factors such as coaching changes, whether or not a particular team feels slighted about playing in what they perceive as a lesser bowl, and the emotion of senior players playing the final game of their college careers, and you never know what you’re going to get.

That said, we wade into the first week of action armed with regular-season records of 98-37 straight up and 70-60-1 against the spread.

DEC. 20 GAMES

EagleBank Bowl

Wake Forest vs. Navy: Hard to believe anyone was clamoring for a rematch of these two teams, but the first game of the 2008 postseason is exactly that. The Midshipmen took a 24-17 victory over the Demon Deacons back on Sept. 27, an outcome that was considered an upset at the time. Since then, Navy has become the best rushing team in college football while Wake has struggled with its consistency on offense. The Deacons won seven games this year, but were held to 17 points or less on six occasions. It all would seem to point to a win for the Middies, especially since their win earlier this season broke a four-game losing streak in the series. We might as well get the Upset Specials started early … Navy 24, Wake Forest 20. (11 a.m. EST, ESPN)

New Mexico Bowl

Colorado State vs. Fresno State: It has been an excellent year Steve Fairchild, who became the first coach in Colorado State history to get to the postseason in his first season. Meanwhile, longtime Bulldogs boss Pat Hill, fresh off a brief dalliance with Washington about its head coaching position, will seek a fifth victory in six bowl games since 2002. The Rams won their last two games to secure bowl eligibility, and those victories came at the expense of New Mexico and Wyoming, teams that combined to go 8-16 this season. There is also the small matter of Colorado State not having won a bowl game since 2001 … Fresno State 30, Colorado State 27. (2:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

St. Petersburg Bowl

Memphis vs. South Florida: After a 5-0 start, USF fell off the radar and lost four of its last five games. What happened to the Bulls’ vaunted defense, their opportunistic offense and head coach Jim Leavitt’s genius? And how will their psyche be affected by playing a bowl game only about 30 miles away from campus? They have never seemed overly motivated in bowl games, losing two of their last three including last year’s lopsided 56-21 decision to Oregon in the Sun Bowl. Meanwhile, Memphis has a pretty good offense that averages better than 430 yards per game. Trouble is, the Tigers don’t do much in the way of defense and their six victories this year came against teams with a combined record of 19-47. Look for plenty of points in a game that should be dictated by the USF defense. But will it? … South Florida 27, Memphis 20. (4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

Las Vegas Bowl

BYU vs. Arizona: Three things are given in life – death, taxes and BYU playing in the Las Vegas Bowl. This marks the fourth straight year for the Cougars in Sin City, but they don’t seem to mind. After losing to Cal in 2005, they beat Oregon in 2006 and UCLA last year. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are limping into their first postseason berth since 1998. They did beat instate rival Arizona State in the regular season finale, but had lost three of four games before that. Arizona has trouble stopping the run, and may have no answer for BYU sophomore Harvey Unga, a 239-pound bully who rushed for 1,061 yards and 10 TDs. The Wildcats can score pretty handily themselves, averaging 37.0 points per game. But a lot of that production came against lesser opponents – Zona played only four teams with winning records this season and lost three of the four … BYU 34, Arizona 31. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

DEC. 21 GAME

New Orleans Bowl

Southern Mississippi vs. Troy: Maybe you didn’t know that Southern Miss is playing in its seventh straight bowl game. Maybe you didn’t know the Golden Eagles had to win their last four games to qualify for the postseason. Maybe you didn’t know they have the best freshman receiver in the nation in DeAndre Brown (92.3 yards per game). Maybe you didn’t know any of those things but rest assured Troy and longtime head coach Larry Blakeney are well-acquainted with Southern Miss. They are also aware that Louisiana has not exactly been kind to their team this year – excruciating losses at Louisiana-Monroe and LSU, the latter a 40-31 defeat after leading the defending national champs 31-7 late in the third quarter. What do they say about the third time being the charm? … Troy 27, Southern Miss 24. (8:15 p.m. EST, ESPN)

DEC. 23 GAMES

Poinsettia Bowl

Boise State vs. TCU: This is the best matchup on the early portion of the bowl-game schedule and it isn’t even close. The Horned Frogs, who get absolutely no respect despite a 40-10 record over the past four seasons, present an extremely tough out for the undefeated Broncos. TCU plays defense with the best of them, ranking No. 2 nationally in both total and scoring defense, allowing only 215.1 yards and 10.9 yards per game. Anyone familiar with Boise and its high-wire offensive act knows that trick plays are possible at any juncture. What you may not know is that the Broncos have a pretty fair defense as well, ranking third nationally in scoring and 16th in total defense. This should be a pretty good game with turnovers making the difference … TCU 23, Boise State 21. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

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 reach 10 this year. 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)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Wake Forest vs. Navy (+3); Colorado State vs. Fresno State (+2½); Memphis (+12½) vs. South Florida; BYU (+3) vs. Arizona; Southern Miss (+4) vs. Troy; Boise State (+2½) vs. TCU; and Hawaii (-1½) vs. Notre Dame.

Enjoy the start of bowl week everyone and we’ll visit again next week.

How Can Buckeyes Beat Texas?

Please don’t say the BCS got it right. It didn’t.

During a season in which there are only two undefeated teams remaining and neither get a chance to play for the national championship, it was impossible to “get it right.”

During a season in which there are a half-dozen one-loss teams, each of which is worthy of playing for the national championship, it was impossible to “get it right.”

What makes Oklahoma and Florida so special? Are they really the best teams in college football this year? Obviously, the pollsters think so – but the emphasis is on the “think so.” No one knows for sure.

What disqualifies Texas? The last-second loss to Texas Tech? Maybe you want to discount what the Red Raiders have accomplished this season, and maybe that is a salient argument in light of their 44-point loss to Oklahoma. I just have a tough time believing the Sooners belong in the national championship game just because they ran up the score on their last half-dozen opponents.

Didn’t Texas beat Oklahoma? By 10 points? On a neutral field? And because freshman safety Blake Gideon couldn’t hold onto a fourth-quarter interception and on the next play sophomore cornerback Curtis Brown was unable to prevent the best receiver in college football from catching the winning pass, the rest of the Longhorns’ marvelous season is relegated to every other also-ran team? Tell me how that’s fair and how the BCS got everything “right.”

Now that my mini-rant is over, I have to admit I wasn’t that thrilled when the bowl invitations were announced. Ohio State desperately needs a postseason victory this year – for a bit of national redemption as much as anything else – and going to play a team that could/should be considered one of this season’s best is a tough assignment. Likewise, there aren’t exactly sweet memories for the Buckeyes from the last trip to the Phoenix area.

I didn’t like the matchup any better when I started looking a little more in-depth at the Longhorns.

For starters, Texas is the No. 3 ranked team in the nation and Ohio State is 0-2 against top-five competition this season. The Longhorns also have the No. 2 defense in the country against the rush. The Buckeyes’ offensive strength is their running game but in their two losses this season, they averaged only 66.0 yards per game and 2.0 yards on 132 rushing plays. UT also has a balanced offense that averages 43.9 points per game. OSU got its offense in gear toward the end of the season but only twice scored more points in a single game than the Longhorns averaged all year.

At first blush, it seems to be the recipe for more postseason heartache in your particular persuasion happens to lean toward scarlet and gray.

If you dig a little deeper, however, there are some chinks in the Texas armor. Yes, the Longhorns held eight of their 12 opponents to less than 50 yards rushing. That included Oklahoma, which gained only 48 yards. Two teams, however, figured out a way to run the ball against UT. Baylor managed 201 yards in a 45-21 loss in early November, and Oklahoma State piled up 217 yards in a narrow 28-24 defeat.

In that game, Cowboys running back Kendall Hunter rolled for 161 yards, a season-high total for a Texas opponent. As a means of comparison, Hunter finished the 2008 regular season ranked sixth in the country with an average of 126.5 yards per game. Ohio State tailback Beanie Wells finished one tick behind Hunter in the No. 7 position thanks to his 121.2-yard average.

There is no question that Texas quarterback Colt McCoy had a tremendous season, one that I think was Heisman Trophy worthy. (We’ll get to that later.) In terms of raw numbers, McCoy completed a ridiculous 77.6 percent of his 375 pass attempts for 3,445 yards and 32 touchdowns.

One facet of McCoy’s game that does not get enough attention is his ability to run – he rushed for 576 yards and 10 TDs this season. But opposing defenses that played sound fundamental football had success keeping the Texas QB corralled. The Longhorns surrendered 22 sacks this season. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes tallied 13 of their 24 sacks in the final five games. Maybe it’s no coincidence that when the sack total started to increase, they began to pull away from their opponents. Point differential in the first seven games: plus-70 for Ohio State. Point differential in the final five: plus-111.

One more possible way for the Buckeyes to attack Texas would be through the air. For all of their obvious strengths, the Longhorns rank a dismal 109th of 119 Division I-A schools in pass defense. Unfortunately, OSU ranks 104th in pass offense.

Naturally, the Orangebloods will argue their numbers are skewed because of playing in the pass-happy Big 12. They did face four quarterbacks who rank among the country’s top nine in passing efficiency.

What is Ohio State’s excuse? Well, in reality, the Buckeyes have none. Head coach Jim Tressel has been reluctant to allow freshman QB Terrelle Pryor to use the pass as much of a weapon, fearing too many passes would lead to too many mistakes. Guess what? Playing the likes of Texas, Tressel now has little choice but to open the entire playbook to his gifted young quarterback.

I have heard the knocks against Pryor’s arm and they come from people who have not seen him play. He can make all the throws – short, long and in between. My guess is that he will have to throw more than 15 times – his average number of attempts as a starter – if the Buckeyes have any hopes of beating the Longhorns.

There is one other possible advantage for Ohio State but it is such an intangible facet, no one will know whether it came into play until the game is over. It is the mind-set with which Texas will approach the game. Will the Longhorns seek to prove something to the country at large for their national title game slight? Or will their minds be in Miami and on Oklahoma and Florida rather than in Phoenix and on the Buckeyes? I have covered countless teams that have said all the right things leading up to the game and then played as though their minds were clearly elsewhere. Will that happen to the Longhorns? We’ll find out in exactly 25 days.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** I waited until the last minute before electronically filing my Heisman Trophy ballot yesterday. I finally settled on McCoy at the top because he has achieved a truly remarkable season on a team that features no outstanding supporting cast. I put McCoy ahead of Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford for three reasons: I felt Bradford had the better supporting players, McCoy beat Bradford in the head-to-head matchup, and some of Bradford’s stats were inflated as the Sooners and head coach Bob Stoops went for the inane NCAA record of six straight 60-point games. I stayed with my conviction for third place, filling out the ballot with Wells. Where would the Buckeyes have been without him? Not 10-2 and going to the Fiesta Bowl, that’s for sure, and that’s what got my third-place vote.

** McCoy is the leader in a poll of Heisman voters taken by the Rocky Mountain News. McCoy edged Bradford by a single point with Florida quarterback Tim Tebow finishing eight points back in third. The newspaper has correctly predicted the winner 18 of the past 21 years.

** Over at StiffArmTrophy.com, which has accurately predicted every winner since 2002 by gleaning actual votes from actual Heisman voters, Bradford enjoys a fairly healthy lead with McCoy and Tebow neck and neck for second. StiffArmTrophy.com is so accurate because they count actual votes.

** Congratulations to Buffalo head coach Turner Gill. The guy turned around a moribund program, engineered an upset of previously undefeated Ball State and has his school going to the International Bowl. What makes the postseason invitation even sweeter is that the school’s only previous bowl chance was aborted 50 years ago when it turned down a Tangerine Bowl berth because its African-American players would not be allowed to participate.

** Did you see the end of the Buffalo-Ball State contest? In a me-first world, Gill taught us all a little lesson in how to win with humility. When asked he could take the Bills from perennial doormats to MAC champions, tears came to Gill’s eyes when he answered, “It wasn’t me. They did it. The players did it. They deserve the credit.”

** Next time you get all bent out of shape because your favorite team doesn’t make the preseason top 25, consider what came of these teams that were ranked before the year began. Auburn, Clemson and Tennessee each fired their head coaches; Michigan had the worst season in its history; LSU lost more regular-season games than any defending national champion in six decades; Arizona State and Illinois each finished with losing records.

** When Oklahoma finished at the top of the Bowl Championship Series standings, it extended the Sooners’ all-time lead in the rankings. OU has made 18 appearances atop the BCS rankings, three more than Ohio State and USC. Florida State and Miami (Fla.) round out the top five with seven No. 1 appearances each.

** Did you know that the Big Ten was the only major Division I-A conference this year with co-champions? It’s true. Ohio State and Penn State tied for the Big Ten crown while every other conference had a sole champion. Virginia Tech won the ACC, Cincinnati took the Big East, Oklahoma won the Big 12, East Carolina took home the Conference USA title, Buffalo won the MAC, Utah was the Mountain West winner, USC took the Pac-10, Florida won the SEC, Troy took home the Sun Belt trophy and Boise State won the WAC.

** Of course, many of the aforementioned conferences have championship games and that makes it impossible to have co-champions. Still, Big Ten is pretty good about determining its champion without benefit of a title game. Over the past 25 seasons, including 2008, the conference has produced 15 outright champions – Ohio State (1984), Iowa (1985), Michigan State (1987), Michigan (1988-89), Michigan (1991-92), Penn State (1994), Northwestern (1995), Michigan (1997), Wisconsin (1999), Illinois (2001), Michigan (2003) and Ohio State (2006-07).

** USC receiver Keyshawn Johnson, Michigan quarterback Chuck Ortmann and Rose Bowl game manager Virgil Lubberden are this year’s class of inductees into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. Fans of Ohio State football history may remember Ortmann as the quarterback on Michigan’s 1950 team that beat the Buckeyes, 9-3, in the famous Snow Bowl. In that game, Ortmann punted a Big Ten record 24 times, a single-game mark that still stands.

** While the Big 12 and SEC continue to get most of the love from the national media, how about a round of applause for the ACC? Ten of the conference’s 12 teams earned bowl invitations this season, including all six members of the Atlantic division.

** USC and Penn State will meet for the third time in the Rose Bowl. The first was in 1923 when the Trojans took a 14-3 victory. How long ago was that? So long that Joe Paterno wasn’t even born yet.

** Turnovers came in bunches last weekend. Undefeated Ball State committed five and lost to Buffalo in the MAC championship. High-scoring Tulsa grounded itself with seven turnovers in a C-USA title game loss to East Carolina. And three-time defending Division I-AA champion Appalachian State also committed seven turnovers and lost a 33-13 quarterfinal decision to Richmond.

** We’ve talked about turnovers. How about turnarounds? Southern Miss started this season 2-6, which included a five-game losing streak, the school’s longest in 32 years. The Golden Eagles closed with four straight wins and will play Troy in the New Orleans Bowl.

** Oregon State was 0-2 and giving up an average of 40.5 points per game. Then the Beavers upset USC and came within a whisker of making their first Rose Bowl in 44 years. They got a consolation prize of playing Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl.

** And then there was Rutgers, left for dead at 1-5 following a 13-10 loss Oct. 11 to Cincinnati. The Scarlet Knights rebounded with six straight victories and will face North Carolina State on Dec. 29 in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

** The Division II and III playoffs have familiar feels to them. Northwest Missouri State made the D-II championship game for the fourth straight season with last week’s 41-7 semifinal win over North Alabama. In D-III, defending champion Wisconsin-Whitewater is in the semifinals as is Mount Union, which reached the final four for the 14th consecutive season.

** Nothing has changed in the NAIA, either. Carroll College (Mont.) and the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.) will square off for the championship for the second year in a row. Last year, the Fighting Saints of Carroll knocked off the defending champion Cougars by a 17-9 score in the title game.

** Today marks the 37th anniversary of the first and only East-West Black All-Star Game. The contest, which was held Dec. 11, 1971, in Houston, featured all-star teams comprised of African-American players. The East took a 19-10 victory over the West before only 5,156 fans.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 8, 1914, representatives from Oklahoma and Rice attended a meeting in Houston and joined as charter members of what became the Southwest Athletic Conference; on Dec. 12, 1981, Eastern Michigan celebrated its first (and still only) postseason appearance with a 30-27 win over San Jose State in the California Bowl; and on Dec. 14, 1995, overtime was used for the first time ever in a Division I-A game. Toledo took a 40-37 win in OT over Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl.

** This week also featured the first awards ceremony to honor the outstanding individual player in college football. On Dec. 9, 1935, Jay Berwanger of Chicago was named the first recipient of the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy. The award would be renamed the following year in honor of legendary coach and innovator John Heisman. The Heisman Memorial Trophy was awarded to the top college player by the Downtown Athletic Club until 2001 when it declared bankruptcy. The trophy is now awarded annually by the Yale Club of New York City.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The forecast will take a couple of weeks off until bowl season heats up and it isn’t a minute too soon. Thanks to a boatload of turnovers by Ball State and Tulsa, the weekend started off poorly and didn’t get any better. Straight up, we were only 5-3 to move the season total to 98-37.

Against the spread, it was just one of those weeks with a season-worst 1-6 finish. Thanks to Oklahoma for running up the score and preventing a total wipeout. The ATS ledger for the season is now 70-60-1.

Remember: The bowl season officially begins in just nine days with four games on the docket.

Fiesta or Sugar? Pick Your Poison

I don’t want to look any gift horse in the mouth but if Ohio State is truly going to go to the Arizona desert for the fifth time in seven years, the Buckeyes had better do everything different this time.

No more staying at the palatial Scottsdale Princess hotel. No more practicing at Pinnacle High School in Scottsdale. No more white jerseys – wear the scarlet ones even if it means giving up one team timeout per half. And, please, please, please, no more midnight runs to In-N-Out Burger.

If we’re reading the tea leaves correctly, it appears the Buckeyes are going to make another trek to the Fiesta Bowl this season and will probably play Texas. (That, of course, means everything has to go according to plan this weekend. Should Missouri somehow find a way to upset Oklahoma, all BCS bets are off.)

Pitting Ohio State against Texas would seem to be a dream matchup for the Phoenix-area folks who stage the bowl – two of the winningest programs in college football history meeting for only the third time ever and the first time in a bowl.

If it turns out to be OSU vs. the Longhorns in the Fiesta Bowl, neither team will travel to Phoenix with pleasant memories of their last trip to the desert. UT-Austin has made only one previous appearance in the Fiesta Bowl and that was a 38-15 loss to Penn State in the 1997 game. Ohio State, of course, was skewered to the ugly tune of 41-14 decision by Florida in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.

There is another reason why the Longhorns may envision a Fiesta Bowl trip as something less than ideal. They probably should be playing the Big 12 championship game this Saturday with an eye toward the national title game, and anything less is likely to be a downer.

As for the Buckeyes, they should be elated about securing a sixth Bowl Championship Series berth in seven seasons. They also should send Oregon a Christmas card to thank the Ducks for knocking off Oregon State last weekend. That bumped the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl picture, supplanted USC in their place and paved the way for Ohio State to move into the big-money BCS mix.

Speaking only for myself, I would prefer a trip to the Orange Bowl. OSU has not played a postseason game in travel-friendly Florida since 2001 and it hasn’t appeared in the Orange Bowl since the 1977 game. (How long ago was that? It was the final bowl victory in Woody Hayes’ career.)

But the way the various BCS games pick their teams is about as convoluted as the way their standings are determined. The Orange seems destined to have Big East champion Cincinnati pitted against the ACC title game winner, leaving the Buckeyes available to be selected by either the Fiesta or Sugar bowl committees. To me, that’s a pick-your-poison scenario.

Not many OSU fans I talked with last year had a very good opinion of New Orleans. I have been to the Crescent City several times – both before Hurricane Katrina and after – and it is pretty much the same kind of touristy destination it has always been. Stay in the French Quarter and you’ll be OK. Venture elsewhere and take your chances.

Having acknowledged that, I would just as soon take a few more years off from going to the Fiesta Bowl. For one thing, it is a much different animal now that the game is played in suburban Glendale as opposed to quaint little Tempe. The game-day atmosphere around Sun Devil Stadium was lively and spirited with plenty of local establishments waiting with open arms to welcome fans of the participating teams. That was most likely because Tempe is a college town and Sun Devil Stadium is a college football venue – in other words, they know how to stage a college football game.

Glendale and its state-of-the-art University of Phoenix Stadium have all the charm of a school bus. Supposedly, there are more eateries and attractions that have been built in proximity to the stadium since last Ohio State and its fans visited for what is universally known as “The Debacle in the Desert.” That would be an improvement since amenities were nearly non-existent last time.

I also wonder just how many OSU fans will return to the desert after last time. There were reports of price-gouging – not only around town but at the sanctioned events and official tailgate parties for the Buckeyes themselves. I guess when you charge $10.50 for a single beer, you’re leaving yourself open for criticism. Of course, you have to pay for a $455 million retractable-roof stadium somehow.

While the amenities and attractions of the host city are important – especially to fans making the trip – the bottom line this year is simple. Pass-happy Texas, BCS buster Utah, defense-minded Alabama, high-scoring Florida and pesky Cincinnati each would bring something unique into a game against the Buckeyes.

But whoever the opponent, whatever the destination, after the last two years, there is only one option for Ohio State this time around. SEC redemption? A Big 12 beatdown? Defending the Big Ten’s honor? Who cares? Just win, baby.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Here are my BCS game predictions: Oklahoma vs. Florida in the championship game, Ohio State vs. Texas in the Fiesta, Alabama vs. Utah in the Sugar, Boston College vs. Cincinnati in the Orange and USC vs. Penn State in the Rose. That’s two spots each for the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten, one each for the ACC, Big East and Pac-10 and one for a so-called BCS buster.

** Did you know that USC and Penn State have not met in the postseason since the 1982 Fiesta Bowl? The then-independent Nittany Lions scored a 26-10 decision over the Trojans and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen.

** I’m flipping the top two on my Heisman Trophy ballot from last week. This week, I moved Texas QB Colt McCoy to the top, leapfrogging Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford? My reasoning is simple (and, no, it is not some sort of protest due to the BCS jumping OU over UT-Austin in its standings). I believe the Sooners would be a comparable team to what they are today without Bradford in the lineup while McCoy is far and away the most valuable player on the Longhorns. There really isn’t a whole lot of difference in the two but I have to break the tie somehow. My third pick will still probably be Ohio State running back Chris “Beanie” Wells although I could be persuaded to throw a bone to someone like Ball State QB Nate Davis or Boise State DB Kyle Wilson, who had eight interceptions to go along with three punt returns for touchdowns.

** Anyone who has read any of my stuff since 1990 knows how I feel about former Ohio State running back Robert Smith. However, with regard to Florida QB Tim Tebow and his Heisman candidacy this year, Smith and I agree. Yes, Tebow is the quarterback for a team likely headed to the BCS title game. Yes, he has picked things up down the stretch. But his overall numbers – 2,299 yards and 25 TDs through the air, 507 yards and 12 scores on the ground – are hardly Heisman-worthy.

** Saturday’s SEC championship game between Alabama and Florida will mark the 40th time that the top two teams in the Associated Press poll have met with the top-ranked team holding a 23-15-1 edge. This is, however, the first 1-vs.-2 matchup ever to be waged in a conference championship game.

** Oklahoma has put up some ridiculous offensive numbers this season. To wit: The Sooners have 47 touchdown passes this season; Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan combined for 45. The Sooners are averaging 53.3 points per game this season; Auburn, Tennessee and Mississippi State of the invincible SEC combined to average 49.9. And OU leads the nation with only nine turnovers; at the other end of the spectrum is Washington State, which committed 38.

** When Boston College takes on Virginia Tech this week in the ACC Championship Game, play attention to the Eagles and not just when they have the ball. BC is working on a streak of seven consecutive games in which it has scored a non-offensive touchdown. The streak continued last week in a 28-21 win over Maryland when the Eagles scored on a 9-yard touchdown pass off a fake field goal and a 36-yard interception return. The INT return made it four games in a row that BC has had a pick-six.

** USC will wear its home cardinal red jerseys Saturday in the Rose Bowl when it takes on UCLA. Because that violates an NCAA rule that requires visiting teams to wear white, the infraction will cost the Trojans one timeout per half.

** While offense continues to get the publicity (see above), playing able to play a modicum of defense still determines the difference between winning and losing. Houston quarterback Case Keenum threw for 494 yards and five touchdowns Saturday against crosstown rival Rice. Keenum also completed an NCAA-record 25 straight passes at one juncture. Final score: Rice 56, Houston 42. There were 57 first downs in the game not to mention 1,225 yards of total offense.

** By the way, Keenum is just one game shy of equaling another NCAA record. The 6-1, 210-pound sophomore’s performance against Rice pushed his streak of consecutive 300-yard passing games to 13. The NCAA record-holder with 14 is Tulsa QB Paul Smith, who finished his career last season with 312 yards in the Golden Hurricane’s 63-7 GMAC Bowl romp over Bowling Green. In case you wondered, Smith was signed as an undrafted free agent by Jacksonville is currently on the Jaguars’ practice squad.

** More individual passing records were set last weekend. Eastern Michigan quarterback Andy Schmitt was 58 for 80 for 516 yards and five touchdowns during a 55-52 upset of Central Michigan. The 58 completions were an all-division NCAA record for a single game.

** Texas teams have gotten a lot of ink this season for producing big offensive numbers. But you have to go one state north to find the best offenses in college football. Oklahoma and Tulsa finished one-two in scoring offense this season, combining for 190 touchdowns. The entire SEC West Division – which includes No. 1 Alabama and defending national champion LSU – combined to score only 221 TDs .

** While you ponder all of those dizzying passing stats, here is a stat for you to underline how important running the ball remains in the Big Ten. Of the top 100 quarterbacks in the country, four conference QBs are ranked in the bottom 15 in terms of pass efficiency. They are Brian Hoyer of Michigan State (85th), C.J. Bachér of Northwestern (86th), Kellen Lewis of Indiana (94th) and Steven Threet of Michigan (96th). The highest rated passer in the Big Ten: Daryll Clark of Penn State at No. 22.

** LSU’s fourth-quarter meltdown at seven-loss Arkansas last Saturday gave the Tigers a 7-5 record, the most regular-season defeats for a defending national champion in the AP poll since Ohio State went 3-6 in 1943. At least the Buckeyes had an excuse – their roster from ’42 was decimated by players enlisting in the military to fight in World War II. Les Miles’ excuse this season? Anyone? Anyone at all?

** Congratulations to kicking specialist Louie Sakoda of Utah, the only player in the nation who is a finalist for both the Lou Groza and Ray Guy awards. Sakoda, who has converted 21 of 23 field-goal tries this season while averaging 41.7 yards per punt, is only the second player in history to be named a finalist for both awards. Travis Dorsch of Purdue was the first – he won the 2001 Guy Award and finished behind Tulane’s Seth Marler for the ’01 Groza Award. Dorsch is currently punting for Winnipeg in the CFL while Marler is kicking for Tampa Bay in the arena league.

** Cal Poly will have a bad taste in its mouth for the entire offseason. The Mustangs missed three PATs in their regular-season finale, allowing Wisconsin to escape with a 36-35 overtime win in Madison. Then, Cal Poly bowed in the first round of the Division I-AA playoffs last weekend by committing five turnovers and losing a 49-35 decision to Weber State. The Mustangs entered the game with only six turnovers all season.

** Speaking of Division I-AA teams, evidently they can throw the ball, too. Appalachian State got a school-record 433 yards from QB Armanti Edwards as the Mountaineers cruised to a 37-21 victory last weekend over South Carolina State.

** Mount Union is on track for another Division III national championship and running back Nate Kmic is a major reason. In last week’s second-round win playoff win over Hobart (N.Y.), Kmic pushed his career rushing total to 7,449 yards and that is a new D-III record. Kmic needs 514 more yards to break the NCAA all-division record, established just last year at 7,962 by Danny Woodhead of Division II Chadron (Neb.) State.

** If the Purple Raiders keep winning, Kmic could have as many as three more games in which to break the record. Mount Union, the No. 1 seed in the D-III playoffs, is seeking its 10th national championship in the last 16 seasons.

** It wasn’t a good weekend to be a top seed in the Division II playoffs. All quarterfinal hosts lost, including top seed Grand Valley State (Mich.). The Lakers, who won the D-II national title four times during a five-year period between 2002 and 2006, lost a 19-13 decision in double overtime to unbeaten Minnesota-Duluth.

** Twenty years ago today, the Heisman Trophy winner was nowhere near New York when he learned he had won college football’s top individual award. On Dec. 4, 1988, Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders was preparing for a game to be played in Tokyo, Japan, when he received the news he had won the ’88 Heisman. Sanders celebrated by rushing 44 times for 332 yards and four TDs as the Cowboys took a 45-42 victory over Texas Tech. Sanders’ performance allowed him to establish a new NCAA single-season rushing record with 2,628 yards in 11 games.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 2, 1972, Army blocked a field goal and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown during a 23-15 win over Navy and won the first-ever Commander-In-Chief Trophy; on Dec. 3, 1999, Marshall QB Chad Pennington threw a touchdown pass on the final play of the game and the Thundering Herd came back to beat Western Michigan, 34-30, in the MAC Championship Game; and on Dec. 6, 1969, top-rated Texas overcame a 14-0 fourth-quarter deficit and rallied for a 15-14 win at No. 2 Arkansas.

** This week also featured one of the early landmark victories in Joe Paterno’s long career. On Dec. 7, 1968, Penn State took a 30-12 win over Syracuse, extending its regular-season winning streak to 18 straight games. The Nittany Lions were led by halfback Bobby Campbell, who rushed 24 times for 239 yards and set a school record with an 87-yard touchdown run. The win also secured Penn State’s first undefeated and untied season since 1947 and the first of five perfect seasons (so far) under Paterno.

** Today also marks a milestone birthday for my wife Lisa. She may be 50 but she looks 30 and makes me feel like I’m 20. Anyone who knows her knows what a lucky guy I am. A very, very happy birthday to my biggest fan.

FEARLESS FORECAST

It wasn’t that difficult to forecast last week’s games as the top teams jockeyed for those BCS style points. Straight up and against the spread, we finished with 6-1 records and that makes us 93-34 SU and 69-54-1 ATS.

With the final week of the college football regular season comes conference championship games and another Saturday filled with good entertainment. Here is what we’ll be watching this weekend:

FRIDAY’S GAME

MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 12 Ball State vs. Buffalo: These teams are enjoying their best seasons in many years. The Cardinals recorded their first perfect regular season since 1949 while the Bulls are bowl-eligible for the first time since moving up to Division I-A in 1999. Ball State QB Nate Davis (3,095 yards, 25 TDs) has been getting most of the publicity this year but Buffalo has a pretty good quarterback, too, in senior Drew Willy (2,885 yards, 22 TDs). The game will also feature two of the nation’s top running backs, both juniors – MiQuale Lewis, who ranks fourth in the nation for the Cardinals with an average of 130.8 yards per game, and James Starks of Buffalo, who ranks sixth at 122.6. The difference in the game will likely be on defense where Ball State is 10th in the country in scoring defense (16.7 points per game) while the Bulls are 77th (27.8). There is also the small fact that Buffalo is 0-8 against ranked teams since joining I-A … Ball State 31, Buffalo 17. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Army vs. Navy: To be able to call yourself a true fan of college football, you have to watch at least a little of the Army-Navy game each year. If the pageantry of the Cadets and Midshipmen entering the stadium doesn’t give you a chill, check your pulse. This year, the Middies would appear to have the upper hand, especially since they continue to run the same kind of triple-option offense they did under former head coach Paul Johnson. Navy is the No. 1 rushing team in the nation and had four different running backs who gained 480 or more yards this season. That quartet also combined for 24 rushing touchdowns. The Black Knights can run the ball, too, with senior Collin Mooney totaling 1,307 yards. Unfortunately for Army, most of its damage was done between the 20-yard lines – it ranks 114th out of 119 Division I-A teams in scoring … Navy 28, Army 14. (12 noon EST, CBS)

CONFERENCE USA CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

East Carolina at Tulsa: Be forewarned that we have yet to pick Tulsa correctly this season. Still, how can you go against a team that averaged nearly 50 points per game this year? You may not have heard of Golden Hurricane QB David Johnson, but he is one of the nation’s best pure passers. Johnson tops the nation in pass efficiency, and he has thrown for 3,671 yards and 42 TDs. Where things get dicey for Tulsa is on defense. The Hurricane simply try to outscore the opposition, and they’ve given up 30 or more points in half of their 12 games. It seems difficult to believe the Pirates can keep up, especially since they have scored 30 or more points only twice all season … Tulsa 45, East Carolina 31. (12 noon EST, ESPN2)

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 18 Boston College vs. Virginia Tech: In nearly every game, there are key matchups to consider. Not here. The winner of this game will be predicated on how many mistakes the other team makes. BC has depended on defensive and special teams touchdowns all season, including a 65-yard punt return for a score in its 28-23 win over the Hokies earlier this year. But the game shouldn’t have been that close – the Eagles committed five turnovers and Tech returned two interceptions for TDs. If its a mistake-free game, Boston College should win this one easily. Trouble is, no one expects a mistake-free game … Boston College 27, Virginia Tech 23. (1 p.m. EST, ABC)

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Florida: If both of these teams bring their “A” games, this contest should be very entertaining. The Tide have stayed undefeated by sticking to a philosophy of ball control and defense. Meanwhile, the Gators have bludgeoned their opponents, winning their last seven games by an average of 40.9 points. As good as it has been on defense, no one believes Alabama will be able to stop Florida’s attack even without receiver Percy Harvin, whose gimpy ankle leaves him questionable for Saturday. Even if the Tide finds a way to slow down the Gators, the UF defense should be able to force a couple of miscues out of Bama QB John Parker Wilson. Look for the Urban Legends to make a second trip in three years to the national championship game … Florida 23, Alabama 17. (4 p.m. EST, CBS)

No. 5 USC at UCLA: Could this be one of those games in which the Trojans completely lose focus? Not very likely. Those kinds of games typically occur in midseason, and Pistol Pete has done a pretty good job lately of keeping his team motivated because of its perceived BCS slight. The cold, hard truth of the matter is that the Bruins are probably no better matchup for USC than Notre Dame was last week. In fact, the Uclans are worse – they rank 107th in the country in scoring offense and 116th in rushing. The Trojans should roll while getting very comfortable with their Rose Bowl surroundings … USC 41, UCLA 3. (4:30 p.m. EST, ABC)

Big 12 CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 19 Missouri at No. 4 Oklahoma: If revenge is truly a dish served better cold, the Tigers had better hope for one of those Alberta clippers to hit Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night. Putting the Sooners in the deep freeze might be the only way Mizzou can get payback for getting knocked out of the national championship game by OU last year. There are tiny cracks in Oklahoma’s armor. QB Sam Bradford has torn ligaments in his non-throwing left hand and the injury led to a couple of bad snaps last week. Also, the Sooners aren’t exactly stellar on defense, ranking only 66th in the country in total defense and 98th in pass defense. Those rankings are better than Missouri, though, which is 91st in total defense and 116th against the pass. If you like your scores big and bad, this game is for you … Oklahoma 56, Missouri 35. (8 p.m. EST, ABC)

No. 13 Cincinnati at Hawaii: On the off-chance that Ohio State falls into the Orange Bowl, it’s worth scoping out the Bearcats as they take a victory lap to the land of balmy breezes and swaying palm trees. UC is led by junior quarterback Tony Pike, who despite playing with a painfully bruised sternum and a broken bone in his non-throwing hand, has managed to throw for 2,060 yards sand 17 TDs. Where Brian Kelly’s team has really distinguished itself, however, is defensively. The Bearcats give up an average of only 19.8 points per game, and that matches up well against a rebuilding Hawaii offense that has turned the ball over 33 times in 12 games … Cincinnati 27, Hawaii 17. (11:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Ball State (-13½) vs. Buffalo; Army vs. Navy (-10½); East Carolina at Tulsa (-11); Boston College (-1) vs. Virginia Tech; Alabama (+10) vs. Florida; USC (-27) at UCLA; Missouri at Oklahoma (-14½); Cincinnati (-6½) at Hawaii.

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

BCS = Blundering Crass Stupidity

Congratulations to Ball State, which dispatched Western Michigan on Tuesday night and completed its first undefeated regular-season finish since 1949.

What wonderful prize does the NCAA have for the overachieving Cardinals contingent on their victory over Buffalo in the MAC championship game? How about a lovely trip to the Motor City Bowl to play the seventh-place finisher in the Big Ten?

Boise State runs one of the most innovative and entertaining offensive attacks in college football, playing the kind of game fans love to watch. The Broncos have already sewed up their sixth Western Athletic Conference title in the last seven years, and proved their worth on the national stage in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl by stunning Oklahoma. What will their reward be this year if the Broncos’ can knock off Fresno State and complete an undefeated regular season record? Would you believe staying home to play in the Humanitarian Bowl against the ACC’s eighth-place finisher?

Texas is ranked No. 2 in the current Bowl Championship Series rankings and needs only a win Thankgsiving night over a 4-7 Texas A&M team to clinch an 11-1 regular-season finish. Yet the Longhorns could get passed over for the national title game by Oklahoma, a team they beat by 10 points in October on a neutral field. Meanwhile, the Sooners somehow get rewarded for running up the score – a practice almost universally recognized as unsportsmanlike.

The perfect storm has finally hit college football. There are four remaining undefeated teams at the Division I-A level, but only one of them is going to get a shot at playing for the national championship. That would be SEC leader Alabama, the lone team from a so-called BCS conference. The other three – Utah of the Mountain West, Ball State of the MAC and Boise State of the WAC – are from non-BCS conferences, meaning only one can qualify to play in the BCS. That would be Utah, which has already completed a 12-0 season and has a three-spot lead on Boise State in the later BCS rankings.

Meanwhile, there are five one-loss teams – Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State – who have legitimate claims to the national championship. However, because of something called “style points,” at least three of those teams have no shot at playing for the title.

I have complained for years about how the BCS should remove the “C” from its name, but this year has truly become BS.

If you put a blanket over the top of Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State, you wouldn’t find much difference in any of those teams. Yes, their styles are as divergent as night and day, but no one ever questions how you get your victories. They only care how many victories you get.

The 2008 college football season literally screams for a Division I-A playoff and it screams for a 16-team format that includes the top teams from the top conferences as well as any team – yes, I said any team from any I-A conference – that manages to go through its entire season undefeated.

That is the only way to give teams such as Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State a shot at the title alongside teams like Utah, Ball State and Boise State.

First of all, you get a ranking system that works – and that eliminates human polls. No more posturing by the talking heads at ESPN to get the matchups they believe deserve to play for the national championship. To hell with what they think. Give us a bunch of computerized rankings, average them together and make the top 10 teams immediately eligible for the playoff.

Then you take all of the remaining undefeated teams and then fill out the bracket starting with the team ranked No. 11 in the BCS poll. Seed the teams where No. 1 plays No. 16, No. 2 plays No. 15 and so on, and give the higher-seeded team home field advantage through the semifinals. You play for four weeks leading up to a Super Bowl-esque national championship game, played at a neutral site on a Monday night and put it one of the major networks.

Fans get a true champion decided on the field while college football (and television) reaps financial benefits beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. First, there is ESPN’s new contract to televise the BCS games through 2013. Secondly, it makes way too much sense – therefore the same university presidents who allow their schools to prostitute themselves by playing every night of the school week continue to criticize a playoff because of the time it would take student-athletes away from their studies.

It’s a shame that college football will crown a national champion Jan. 8 knowing full well there are a handful of other teams out there who could have and should have had the right to play for that crystal football.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** CBSSportsline.com projects a national championship game between Oklahoma and Florida. Other BCS game predictions: Texas vs. USC in the Fiesta, Alabama vs. Utah in the Sugar, Boston College vs. Cincinnati in the Orange and Oregon State vs. Penn State in the Rose. The website has Ohio State and Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.

** My Heisman Trophy ballot really got jumbled last week after Oklahoma throttled Texas Tech. Here is my new working top three: 1. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma; 2. Colt McCoy, Texas; 3. Chris “Beanie” Wells, Ohio State. Yeah, the third-place vote is kind of a homer pick but imagine where the Buckeyes would have been this year without Wells. Now do you see where I’m coming from?

** Maybe my Heisman ballot ought to make room for Florida State safety Myron Rolle. All he did last week was participate in a successful interview to win a Rhodes scholarship, and then hop a plane, suit up at halftime and help his Seminoles beat Maryland. With all the negative news we have to report in college sports, Rolle is a nice respite of fresh air. Rolle, who aspires to be a neurosurgeon and build clinics in his parents’ native Bahamas, is also a potential first-round NFL draft pick.

** How about this for a stat: Penn State’s 49-18 win over Michigan State last weekend was the 800th victory in program history. As a head coach or assistant, Joe Paterno has been associated with 487 of those wins. That is 60.9 percent.

** Paterno is now home after undergoing hip replacement surgery the day after his Nittany Lions beat Sparty and sewed up the Rose Bowl bid. He was released after only two days and expects to resume his coaching duties on Monday. Say and think what you will of JoePa, but never question the 81-year-old guy’s toughness.

** Wisconsin is going to get a bowl invitation thanks to Cal Poly’s inability to kick extra points. The I-AA Mustangs missed three PATs last week, including one in overtime, to allow the Badgers to escape with a 36-35 victory at Camp Randall Stadium.

** Minnesota played its final game in the Metrodome last weekend after 27 seasons in the facility. The Golden Gophers will meet Air Force to dedicate TCF Stadium on Sept. 12, 2009, for the first on-campus game since 1981.

** In case you thought it was bad enough for Notre Dame to lose to Syracuse, a closer look inside the numbers make you scratch your head why the Orange had to make a comeback to win. For instance, the Irish had four possessions inside the Syracuse 24 and came away with six points. In addition, they were held to 41 yards rushing. The previous season low recorded up by the Syracuse defense was 90 yards rushing allowed to Division I-AA Northeastern, which finished 2-10.

** Talk about playing to the level of your competition: Maryland is 7-4 this season – 4-0 against ranked teams and 3-4 against unranked competition. The Terrapins are also afraid of the dark. They were 0-4 at night this season. They finish their regular season with a daytime affair Saturday at Boston College – 20th-ranked Boston College, that is.

** Did you lose track of Appalachian State this year? The Mountaineers couldn’t match last year’s upset of Michigan this season with a 41-13 loss to LSU back in August. But they did come back to win 10 of their next 11 games and the three-time defending Division I-A national champions are the No. 2 seed in the so-called Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. James Madison (10-1), the 2004 champs, is the top seed. The 16-team playoff – there’s a novel idea – begins Saturday.

** Scoring points in bunches isn’t limited to the Texas teams in Division I-A. Last week, Abilene Christian outlasted West Texas A&M by a 93-68 score in a Division II playoff game. ACU piled up 810 total yards and the Wildcats scored touchdowns on 13 of 15 possessions. Meanwhile, West Texas A&M quarterback Keith Null set new NCAA single-game playoff records by throwing for 595 yards and seven touchdowns. The 161 combined points is a new NCAA all-division record. The old mark of 149 points was set in last year’s playoffs when Abilene Christian lost a 76-73 decision in four overtimes to Chadron (Neb.) State.

** No one in the NAIA wants to face Sioux Falls (S.D.) this season. The Cougars have recorded seven shutouts this season with the latest coming last week in a 28-0 win over St. Ambrose (Iowa) in the first round of the NAIA playoffs. The NAIA season record for shutouts is eight. Sioux Falls has made the NAIA semifinals eight of the last 12 years, including national championships in 1996 and 2006.

** Occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 24, 1956, College Football Hall of Fame coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf made his final game a memorable one when his California team scored a 20-18 upset win over Stanford; on Nov. 28, 1975, Texas A&M protected its No. 2 national rating with a 20-10 win over fifth-ranked Texas, the Aggies’ first win at home over the Longhorns in eight years; on Nov. 29, 1958, Auburn protected its No. 2 ranking and extended its winning streak to 24 consecutive games with a heart-pounding 14-8 win over Alabama. The Tigers needed a defensive stop with 1:26 remaining in the game to preserve the victory.

** This week also featured a battle of unbeatens in a longstanding series. On Nov. 26, 1988, for the first time in series history, Notre Dame and USC squared off undefeated and occupying the top two spots in the national polls. Irish quarterback Tony Rice rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown while cornerback Stan Smagala intercepted USC quarterback Rodney Peete and returned the pick for a score as No. 1 Notre Dame took a 27-10 victory.

FEARLESS FORECAST

What were we thinking when we picked Texas Tech to beat Oklahoma in Norman? Not sure but the Red Raiders did pick a terrible time to play their worst game of the season. As things turned out for the forecast, we were only 3-3 straight up last week and 3-3 against the spread. That means for the year we are 87-33 with the SU picks and 63-53-1 ATS.

As Ohio State takes a rest from competition, it means we can take a look at some other games this weekend, including a pretty big one Saturday in the Pacific Northwest that not only has Rose Bowl implications but likely impacts the Buckeyes’ BCS possibilities as well.

TONIGHT’S GAME

Texas A&M at No. 4 Texas: The Longhorns are concentrating on trying to keep their national championship hopes alive but they had better not overlook their instate rivals. The Aggies have upset UT-Austin two years running and nothing would look better on first-year head coach Mike Sherman’s résumé that to knock the Orangebloods out of the title picture. It will be a tough order, though, since Texas QB Colt McCoy has played about as well as he can play this season, throwing for 3,134 yards and 30 TDs. Those numbers aren’t exactly music to the ears of an A&M team that ranks 100th in the country in pass efficiency defense … Texas 42, Texas A&M 7. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

TONIGHT’S GAME

Fresno State at No. 9 Boise State: To say the Broncos are on a bit of a roll would be a bit of an understatement. They have scored 40 points in four straight games, clinched a sixth WAC title in seven years and have won 48 consecutive regular-season games in Bronco Stadium. In this particular series, BSU has taken six of seven from the Bulldogs since joining the WAC in 2001, including all three meetings in Boise by an average of 29.0 points. Fresno always puts up a fight wherever it goes, but the Broncos with QB Kellen Moore (3,051 yards, 23 TDs) and RB Ian Johnson (610 yards, 10 TDs) are just too tough … Boise State 37, Fresno State 14. (6 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Auburn at No. 1 Alabama: It’s the annual renewal of the Iron Bowl and would you believe the Crimson Tide has a six-game losing streak against their instate rivals? If Bama wants to keep the faith, as well as preserve a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup against Florida in the SEC championship game, it can steel itself with the knowledge that every one of its six straight losses to Auburn have been by 10 points or less. The Tide can also figure they’re home free if they can score 20 points – the Tigers rank a dismal 108th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging only 18.9 points per game. Bama averages almost double that at 31.7. That should put the final score at right around … Alabama 31, Auburn 17. (3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

No. 2 Florida at No. 23 Florida State: Who knew the Seminoles were 8-3? Florida State, once one of the pre-eminent powers in college football, hasn’t had a nine-win season since 2004 and hasn’t finished in the top 10 since 2000. This weekend, Grandpa Bobby’s Bunch has a chance to ruin the Urban Legends’ run toward a possible second national title game appearance in three years. Unfortunately, that chance is not a great one. The Gators are running the highest-scoring offense east of Oklahoma, averaging 55.2 points over their six games. FSU just doesn’t have enough firepower to keep up with that kind of attack … Florida 42, Florida State 23. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional)

No. 19 Oregon at No. 17 Oregon State: The so-called Civil War heads to Corvallis where the Beavers are trying to win one more game and get to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 43 years. They certainly seem like a team of destiny, overcoming injuries last week to their starting quarterback and star running back as well as a botched fourth-quarter PAT to score a thrilling 19-17 win at Arizona. It is certainly the popular pick to take the Ducks in an upset, but the Beavers have been resilient since knocking off USC and they have won each of their last five home games in this series … Oregon State 26, Oregon 23. (7 p.m. EST, Versus)

No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 11 Oklahoma State: This one is called the Bedlam Series although that seems a bit of a misnomer since the Sooners lead the all-time series by a lopsided 78-17-7 margin. It would be difficult to envision how OU could play much better than it has since that 45-35 loss to Texas on Oct. 11. In the five games since, the Sooners have outscored their opposition by an average of 31 points per contest. And they haven’t been held under 60 in three games this month. We just don’t see how the Cowboys can slow them down, especially when Okie State bowed to Texas Tech by 36 points and then the Sooners turned around and beat the Red Raiders by 44 … Oklahoma 56, Oklahoma State 28. (8 p.m. EST, ABC)

Notre Dame at No. 5 USC: You want a blowout, you’ve got one. USC head coach Pete Carroll knows there are only two ways his team can reach the national title game – the Trojans need teams in front of them to lose and they need “style points” in their final two games of the season. Pity the poor Irish, who head to the Coliseum free off that excruciating loss to Syracuse. Embattled ND head coach Charlie Weis probably put it best last year after his team lost a 38-0 decision to USC: “You see where they are; you see where we are. We’re at different ends of the spectrum at this point.” That is not where you want to be when you get the full attention of Carroll and his Trojans … USC 49, Notre Dame 7. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Texas A&M at Texas (-36½); Fresno State at Boise State (-21½); Auburn (+14½) at Alabama; Florida (-14) at Florida State; Oregon (+3½) at Oregon State; Oklahoma (-7) at Oklahoma State; Notre Dame at USC (-29).

Enjoy the games everyone and have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Playing the ‘What If …?’ Game

Some food for thought today …

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if Ohio State had beaten Michigan State in 1998?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OHIO STATE-ILLINOIS MINUTIAE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Teams Besides Ohio State Relying On Freshmen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY! HAPPY!

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

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

AND FINALLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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