Counting Down Ohio State’s 2010 Opponents

I’ll admit it. After the last couple of seasons, I was so ready for Ohio State football to be over I couldn’t see straight.

What a difference a postseason victory makes. Now, I find myself anticipating what could be a special season in 2010. Of course, we have to get through the rest of winter, spring football, summer conditioning and fall camp, but the fact remains that exactly 31 weeks from today, OSU will kick off the 2010 football season at home against Marshall.

The Buckeyes will be shooting for a sixth consecutive Big Ten championship, seeking to tie their own conference record set between 1972 and ’77. The team will also be shooting for an unprecedented seventh straight victory over archrival Michigan while attempting to extend their string of Bowl Championship Series berths to six in a row.

Those goals seem well within the Buckeyes’ grasp, but there are others. Terrelle Pryor will embark upon his third season as a starter and seek to build upon his Rose Bowl performance. Could he challenge Alabama running back Mark Ingram for the Heisman Trophy? Why not?

Then there is the holy grail for all Division I-A teams: the BCS National Championship Game. The title game will be played in a familiar venue, at least for the Buckeyes – University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. – and if Ohio State can get to the championship contest, it would become only the second team in BCS history to play in four title games. (Oklahoma is the other one.)

Before any of that can occur, of course, the Buckeyes must get through a 2010 season that features some tough road contests. For those of you experiencing football withdrawal, here is a breakdown of the team’s schedule next fall in reverse order of difficulty.

12. Eastern Michigan (Sept. 25) – Anything resembling success would be an improvement for the Eagles. Their 0-12 record this past season was only the tip of the iceberg. There are 120 schools playing Division I-A football, and EMU ranked near the bottom in several major statistical categories including 116th in total offense and 117th in scoring defense.

Things quite simply couldn’t have gotten much worse for first-year head coach Ron English, who spent five seasons on Lloyd Carr’s staff including three as defensive coordinator. The good news is that a lot of youngsters got extensive experience last season, including Alex Gillett at quarterback, one of nine freshmen who started multiple games for the Eagles.

The date with EMU will mark the second straight game for the Buckeyes against a team from the Mid-American Conference. The two teams have never met, but OSU is 26-1 against current members of the MAC with the only blemish a 12-6 loss to Akron in an 1894 game played at the Ohio State Fairgrounds.

11. Marshall (Sept. 2) – The Thundering Herd are coming off a 7-6 finish, their first winning record since 2004. That still wasn’t enough to save Mark Snyder, the former OSU defensive coordinator who resigned as head coach prior to the team’s Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl win over Ohio.

In Snyder’s place, Marshall hired John “Doc” Holliday, who knows a little bit about Ohio State. He was in charge of safeties on Urban Meyer’s staff at Florida when the Gators rolled to a 41-14 win over the Buckeyes in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.

Holliday was also recruiting coordinator for Meyer, and he has already attracted what many experts say is Marshall’s best recruiting class in years. That will help plug some holes created by the departure of such All-Conference USA performers as tight end Cody Slate, linebacker Mario Harvey and kicker Craig Ratanamorn.

10. Ohio (Sept. 18) – Frank Solich begins his sixth season in Athens looking for some consistency. The Bobcats won nine games last year, but have yet to put together back-to-back winning seasons under Solich. The fact of the matter is OU hasn’t experienced consecutive winners since 1979-80.

If Solich is going to break that streak, he is going to have to find some more offense. Despite winning nine games last year, the Bobcats had one of the most anemic attacks in college football including a running game that accounted for only 112.0 yards per game.

Ohio-based teams haven’t had much success against Ohio State over the last 90 years or so. The Buckeyes are working on a 38-game unbeaten streak against in-state rivals that stretches back to a 7-6 loss to Oberlin in 1921. The Bobcats are 0 for 6 lifetime against Ohio State, including a 26-14 loss in 2008.

9. Indiana (Oct. 9) – The Hoosiers have lost 14 of their last 16 conference games and things may not get much better in 2010 if IU can’t figure out a way to stop their opponents. Two-time team MVP Jammie Kerlew is gone along with defensive end running mate Greg Middleton, not exactly the best news for a unit that ranked 10th in the Big Ten in both yardage and points allowed last season.

On the plus side, head coach Bill Lynch is beginning to embrace a power attack on offense and has a potential stud in running back Darius Willis, who had 607 yards as a freshman. If the offensive line can jell, and quarterback Ben Chappell can continue to build a rapport with talented young receivers such as Tandon Ross, the Hoosiers could at least be entertaining on that side of the ball.

The early portion of IU’s schedule is a soft one, including a Big Ten opener at home with Michigan. But then the Hoosiers must travel to Columbus, where they have lost 29 of their last 31 games, including eight in a row.

8. At Illinois (Oct. 2) – On the heels of another disappointing season in Champaign, Fighting Illini fans will likely have little patience with Ron Zook. The head coach enters his sixth season with a 21-39 record at Illinois, a mark that is skewed to the upside by the 2007 Rose Bowl season.

The pressure to win and win quickly won’t be eased by an early nonconference schedule that features Missouri and Cincinnati before mid-September. The Illini get a mini-break with an open week before hosting the Buckeyes, and they’ll likely need it. UI has lost seven in a row at home to Ohio State. Another break in scheduling is the fact that neither Iowa nor Wisconsin are on Illinois’ Big Ten slate in 2010.

Still, Zook is going to have to plug several big holes in his starting lineup, specifically on offense with the losses of playmaking receiver Arrelious Benn, who left early for the NFL, and veteran quarterback Juice Williams. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, who left his brother Bobby’s staff at Arkansas, heads a coaching staff overhaul.

7. Purdue (Oct. 23) – The Boilermakers certainly got plenty of mileage from their 26-18 victory over Ohio State in mid-October. That signature win ended a five-game losing streak and propelled Purdue to victories in four of their last seven contests.

For all of that late-season success, however, the Boilermakers still finished with a 5-7 record, their second straight losing season. Purdue hasn’t experienced three consecutive losing campaigns since posting 12 in a row between 1985 and 1996, a stretch that cost three head coaches their jobs.

If Danny Hope expects to escape the same fate that befell Leon Burtnett, Fred Akers and Jim Colletto, he will have to find a suitable replacement for senior quarterback Joey Elliott, who threw for 3,026 yards and 22 TDs last season. It also wouldn’t hurt if the Boilers boilered up a little more on defense. They surrendered 29.1 points per game last year to rank ninth in the conference in scoring defense.

6. At Minnesota (Oct. 30) – The Golden Gophers opened their new on-campus TCF Bank Stadium last season but took what was perceived to be a step backward. The team finished 6-7, and that dropped head coach Tim Brewster’s three-year mark to 14-24.

Part of the problem has been a lack of consistency with the coaching staff, particularly on offense. Former Detroit Lions quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton will become Brewster’s third offensive coordinator in as many years, and it remains to be seen what kind of attack Horton will run.

Anything would be an improvement over last season. Despite the presence of several veterans including third-year starting quarterback Adam Weber, Minnesota finished dead last in the conference in rushing, scoring and total offense.

5. Michigan (Nov. 27) – Several Big Ten coaches would seem to be on the hot seat, but none more than Rich Rodriguez. Although his team improved its overall record to 5-7, the cold, hard truth remains that the Wolverines have lost 13 of 16 conference games under Rodriguez. That is the program’s worst stretch since the mid-1930s.

Despite last year’s uptick in terms of overall wins, there is reason to believe the Wolverines aren’t really making many strides toward overall improvement. The offense got better last year, finishing 59th in the country, but U-M was still a lowly 82nd in total defense and 115th in turnover margin.

Meanwhile, Ohio State has continued its unprecedented streak of success in the series. The Buckeyes have won six in a row and eight of the last nine, and that includes a 4-0 mark in Columbus under Tressel.

4. Penn State (Nov. 13) – Joe Paterno needs six more wins to reach 400 for his career, and that may be easier said that done. After compiling 40 victories over the past four seasons, 2010 could be a rebuilding year in Happy Valley.

JoePa will have to find replacements for six starters on defense, including star linebackers Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee as well as tackle Jared Odrick. Penn State also will have a quarterback competition entering spring practice featuring untested redshirt freshmen Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin along with true freshman Paul Jones, who enrolled in classes early.

The schedule isn’t very friendly, either. After several years of fattening themselves on nonconference cupcakes, the Nittany Lions visit defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 11. Three weeks later, Penn State opens Big Ten play at Iowa.

3. Miami, Fla. (Sept. 11) – The Hurricanes hope to continue the rebuilding process that began last season with a 5-1 start that elevated them as high as No. 8 in the Associated Press poll. A pedestrian 4-3 finish followed that hot start, but plenty of reasons to be optimistic remain around Coral Gables.

Jacory Harris threw for 3,352 yards and 24 TDs in 2009 and is one of the top young quarterbacks in college football. He will have to make better decisions, however. Harris pitched 17 interceptions and was sacked 34 times. That latter number may not get much better next season if Miami can’t find suitable replacements for starting tackles Jason Fox and Matt Pipho, who are off to the NFL.

There is no doubt the Hurricanes as well as their fans have this game circled. Many in the Hurricane Nation cling to the belief that the 2002 national championship was unjustly taken from them, making this not only a rematch but a revenge game.

2. At Wisconsin (Oct. 16) – After a couple of so-so seasons, Bret Bielema appears to have the Badgers back on track. In fact, many observers believe the fifth-year coach will field his best team in 2010.

Wisconsin always seems to find a bruiser to play tailback and John Clay certainly fits that bill. He carried the mail 287 times – 82 more than anyone else in the Big Ten – and led the conference with 1,517 yards and 18 TDs. The Badgers also benefited from the play of quarterback Scott Tolzien, who didn’t wow anyone with over-the-top talent but still managed to lead the conference in pass efficiency while throwing for 2,705 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Clay and Tolzien are only two of 10 starters returning to the Big Ten’s No. 1 offense, and Bielema also welcomes back several defensive starters including linebacker Chris Borland, who earned conference freshman of the year honors.

1. At Iowa (Nov. 20) – Following an 11-2 season that included an Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech, the Hawkeyes believe they will be serious national championship contenders in 2010. Part of the reason is because nine starters return to the No. 8 scoring defense in the nation, including star defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

The Hawkeyes will also welcome back six starters on offense, including quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who had led the team to an undefeated season before injuring an ankle at Northwestern. However, one possible chink in the armor could be the offensive line. Iowa loses four of five starters up front.

Even so, the schedule sets up perfectly for the Hawkeyes. Penn State, Wisconsin and OSU all have to visit Kinnick Stadium. Of course, looks can be deceiving. While the Hawkeyes have owned Penn State and Wisconsin recently – a combined 11-3 overall since 2002, including 5-1 in Iowa City – the same cannot be said for Iowa’s fortunes against the Buckeyes. The Hawkeyes have lost 11 of their last 12 overall in the series with OSU, and 14 of their last 17 to the Buckeyes at Kinnick.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former All-American offensive lineman and current OSU staffer Jeff Uhlenhake.

Jeffrey Alan Uhlenhake was born Jan. 28, 1966, in Indianapolis, but moved at a young age to Newark, Ohio, where he helped lead Newark Catholic to one high school state championship and two runner-up finishes. He was a two-time All-Ohio selection and Class A Lineman of the Year as a senior before signing with Ohio State in 1985. Uhlenhake went on to earn All-Big Ten honors at both guard and center, and received All-America honors at center in 1988. He was a fifth-round selection by Miami in the 1989 NFL draft, and played nine pro seasons with the Dolphins, Saints and Redskins. After his playing career ended, Uhlenhake got into coaching and spent one season on Mark Dantonio’s staff at Cincinnati and two as offensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns under Romeo Crennel. In 2007, Uhlenhake returned to Ohio State and is currently a strength and conditioning assistant on Jim Tressel’s coaching staff.

Among the luminaries observing birthdays this 28th day of January: six-time Emmy winner Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo is 76 (you probably know him better as actor Alan Alda); San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is 61; evangelical Christian minister and author Rick Warren is 56; French president Nicolas Sarkozy is 55; American televangelist Creflo Dollar is 48; former Anthrax lead guitarist Dan Spitz is 47; two-time Grammy winner Sarah McLachlan is 42; comedian Mo Rocca is 41; Detroit Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordóñez is 36; Detroit Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper is 33; former *NSYNC member Joey Fatone is 33; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay is 33; and Backstreet Boys member Nick Carter is 30.

Also on this day in history: the Yale Daily News became the first daily college newspaper in the U.S. in 1878; abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollack was born in 1912; the U.S. Coast Guard was created in 1915; the Lego Co. patented their design of toy bricks in 1958; actor John Banner (Sgt. Schultz in “Hogan’s Heroes”) died on his 63rd birthday in 1973; and the Challenger space shuttle exploded shortly after takeoff in 1986. All seven astronauts on board were killed, including New Hampshire social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe.

AND FINALLY

** Former Ohio State great Bill Willis was among those honored as “Great Ohioans” on Jan. 20 at the Ohio Statehouse. The Great Ohioan Award goes to individuals who played a significant role in Ohio, U.S. and world history. To qualify, they must be an Ohio native or have lived in the state for at least five years, and at least 25 years must have passed since the event for which they were nominated. Willis, who died in 2007, joins former Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller, former Ohio Gov. James M. Cox and Florence Ellinwood Allen, the first woman to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court, as the 2010 honorees.

** Earle Bruce has gotten a start on his second generation of coaching prodigies. After helping begin the careers of such coaches as Pete Carroll and Nick Saban, both of whom served as Ohio State assistants, Bruce is no doubt proud that Zach Smith landed his first full-time coaching job earlier this month as wide receivers coach at Marshall. Smith didn’t coach on any of Bruce’s staffs – he is the grandson of the former Ohio State head coach and College Football Hall of Famer.

** Former Virginia head coach Al Groh didn’t spend much time in the unemployment line. Groh, who was fired after nine seasons with the Cavaliers, has been hired by Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson to be his new defensive coordinator.

** In case you missed it, former Ohio State assistant weight coach Mike Cochran has been hired by new Akron head coach Ron Ianello as director of strength and conditioning.

** ESPN has launched a new informational website the network hopes will serve as a sports archive. ESPNDB.com currently in its infancy with its lone profile currently covering the NBA, but the network has said it will expand its compendium to all sports in the near future.

** You can still purchase copies of my book “The Die-Hard Fan’s Guide to Buckeye Football” online at Amazon. Or if you like a signed copy, they are available for $19.95 plus $5 for shipping and handling. Make out your check or money order to Columbus Sports Publications and send it to: Mark Rea Book, c/o Buckeye Sports Bulletin, P.O. Box 12453, Columbus, OH 43212.

Advertisements

Buckeyes Should Be Proud Of What They Are

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, Tresselball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

OHIO STATE-OREGON TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

OUTBACK BOWL, JAN. 1

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

GATOR BOWL, JAN. 1

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

CAPITAL ONE BOWL, JAN. 1

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

ROSE BOWL, JAN. 1

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

SUGAR BOWL, JAN. 1

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

INTERNATIONAL BOWL, JAN. 2

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

PAPAJOHN’S.COM BOWL, JAN. 2

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

COTTON BOWL, JAN. 2

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

LIBERTY BOWL, JAN. 2

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

ALAMO BOWL, JAN. 2

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

FIESTA BOWL, JAN. 4

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

ORANGE BOWL, JAN. 5

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

GMAC BOWL, JAN. 6

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

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, JAN. 7

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

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

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

Back To The Graveyard, With A Twist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good evening,” I said as we passed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ol’ Pete?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The pleasure was all mine,” he replied.

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

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

OSU-MICHIGAN TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** Twenty-seven years ago, the Pony Express made one of its final rides in Texas. On Nov. 20, 1982, SMU quarterback Lance McIlhenny drove his team 80 yards for a touchdown in the late going to forge a 17-17 tie with ninth-ranked Arkansas. SMU running back Eric Dickerson – who teamed with fellow running back Craig James to form the “Pony Express” aka “The Best Backfield Money Could Buy” – rushed for 81 yards in the contest to break the all-time Southwest Conference career record held by Earl Campbell of Texas. The tie denied SMU a perfect season and the national championship, but the Mustangs still finished the season ranked No. 2 with an 11-0-1 record.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 16, 1872, Yale played its first-ever football game, beating Columbia by a 3-0 score; on Nov. 17, 1906, Kansas took an 8-6 victory over Nebraska, beginning the longest continuous Division I-A series; on Nov. 19, 1983, Oregon and Oregon State battled to a 0-0 tie in Eugene, the last scoreless tie in NCAA history due to the institution of overtime beginning in 1994; on Nov. 21, 1981, BYU tight end Gordon Hudson set an NCAA record for tight ends with 259 receiving yards during a 56-28 win over Utah; and on Nov. 22, 1969, Michigan defensive back Barry Pierson returned a punt for a touchdown and intercepted three passes as the No. 12 Wolverines shocked defending national champion Ohio State with a 24-12 upset in Ann Arbor. It was the opening game in what became known as the legendary “Ten-Year War” between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Down The Stretch They Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-PENN STATE TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

** The game of football traces its roots to an event held 140 years ago today. On Nov. 6, 1869, Rutgers and Princeton squared off in Brunswick, N.J., for what has often been described as the first-ever game of American football. The 1869 game – won 6 “runs” to 4 by Rutgers – bore little resemblance to what football is known as today. For example, each side used 25 men on a 120-yard field and the rules were said to be a mixture of rugby and soccer. Players attempted to score by kicking the ball into the opposing team’s goal, and throwing or carrying the ball was not allowed.

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

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

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 3, 1984, Ohio State rolled to a 50-7 victory over Indiana, giving future College Football Hall of Fame coach Earle Bruce his 100th career win; on Nov. 4, 2000, Utah State running back Emmett White established a new NCAA single-game record with 578 all-purpose yards as the Aggies took a 44-37 win over New Mexico State; on Nov. 5, 1960, third-ranked Minnesota forced three turnovers and scored a 27-10 upset of top-ranked Iowa; on Nov. 7, 1959, unranked Tennessee stopped Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon on a fourth-quarter two-point conversion run and preserved a 14-13 upset over No. 1 LSU, ending the Tigers’ 19-game unbeaten streak; and on Nov. 8, 1975, unranked Kansas ended No. 2 Oklahoma’s 28-game winning streak by going into Norman and carving out a 23-3 upset victory. The defending national champion Sooners committed seven second-half turnovers and were held to their lowest scoring output in nine seasons. They rebounded, however, and went on to defeat Penn State in the Orange Bowl for a second consecutive national title.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

TONIGHT’S GAME

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU Observing Myriad Of Major Milestones

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

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

Here are 10 landmark moments for this season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-NEW MEXICO STATE TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Do Buckeyes, Pryor Go From Here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-MINNESOTA TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

SATURDAY’S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Redshirt Or Not To Redshirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEADING RUSHERS BY SEASON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU-WISCONSIN TIDBITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

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

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

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

Here are the games we like this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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