Carter, Spielman Crowned 1984 Recruiting Class

I thought I’d step into the Recruiting Wayback Machine again and take a look back a quarter-century ago at the Ohio State class of 1984.

Twenty-five years ago, the Buckeyes signed 25 high school players to national letters of intent and several of them turned to be stars. Two became among the top performers at their position in school history – some would even argue the best wide receiver and linebacker to ever suit up for the Scarlet and Gray.

OSU head coach Earle Bruce had just completed his fifth season in Columbus and was in the middle of a seven-year streak of three-loss campaigns, a stretch that had earned the coach the derisive nickname of “Ol’ 9-3 Earle.” However, lost over time is the fact the 1983 team came within an eyelash of contending for a national championship.

The Buckeyes went 9-3 that season, but their three losses came by a total of just 13 points, all to ranked teams and all on the road. As a result, OSU finished ninth in the final AP poll that season and eighth in the UPI rankings. The team that year featured such future NFL stars as offensive tackle William Roberts, tight end John Frank, center Kirk Lowdermilk, linebacker Pepper Johnson and quarterback Mike Tomczak. Just those five players alone went on to combine for 59 NFL seasons and seven Super Bowl championship rings.

Roberts and Frank were among those graduating after the 1983 season, so Bruce and his coaching staff put heavy recruiting emphasis on restocking the roster with offensive linemen and tight ends. At the same time, OSU broke tradition in a couple of different areas. The Buckeyes did well in the Cincinnati area, where Bruce had experienced trouble keeping top players away from Notre Dame, and they uncharacteristically signed a couple of junior college standouts.

Two of the most highly rated players came from Ohio. Recruiting analysts are often a hit-and-miss bunch, but even the most myopic of the gurus could have foretold future greatness for receiver Cris Carter of Middletown and Chris Spielman of Massillon Washington.

That duo was the foundation upon which the Buckeyes’ class of ’84 earned the grade of “B to B-plus” from West Virginia recruiting expert Doug Huff. Illinois was given Big Ten honors followed by OSU and Michigan in a tie for second place. The Illini, who were defending conference champions, were given top marks for signing so many college-ready athletes. Head coach Mike White signed a whopping 12 JUCO transfers, including 11 from California.

In addition to landing Carter and Spielman, Huff gave Ohio State upgrades for landing a bevy of talented offensive line prospects. He listed junior college transfer Ron Paulsen and Chicago-area high school star Mike Durham as major “gets” for the Buckeyes. (If you recall either player, consider yourself a real student of Ohio State recruiting history.)

Bruce and his staff followed their tried and true recruiting philosophy in 1984, concentrating most of their efforts on Ohio-grown talent. As a result, 20 members of the class came from the Buckeye State with OSU signing one player each from Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania as well as junior colleges in Kansas and California.

As with nearly every recruiting season, though, the Buckeyes couldn’t sweep Ohio completely clean. They fought hard for linebacker Frank Stams of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, but it those days it was extremely different to pry any credible SVSM player away from Notre Dame. (After all, St. Vincent-St. Mary also plays as the Fighting Irish). Stams indeed signed with Notre Dame and became an All-America defensive tackle, helping those Irish win the 1988 national championship. He later had a seven-year NFL career with the Rams, Browns and Chiefs.

Other top-rated Ohio players who got away from the Buckeyes in 1984 included Akron Garfield running back Charles Gladman, who signed with Pittsburgh, and Cleveland St. Joseph tight end Mike Kovac, who signed with Michigan. Gladman became one of only nine Pitt running backs to rush for 2,000 or more yards in his career. Kovac, meanwhile, never lettered for the Wolverines.

Huff rated USC’s class as the nation’s best for an all-around effort by head coach Ted Tollner and his staff. The Trojans were able to sign national player of the year Ryan Knight, a running back from Riverside (Calif.) Rubidoux. Knight lettered four years for the Trojans, but never turned out to be anything more than a backup. (His younger brother, Sammy, also played at USC and has been an NFL safety since 1997.) Also signing with the Trojans that season was quarterback Rodney Peete of Shawnee Mission, Kan.

Here is a complete list of Ohio State’s recruiting class of 1984. See if you can remember some of these names.

Tom Anderzack, OLB, Toledo (Ohio) Central Catholic – Anderzack was an athletic prospect who had been named Toledo’s defensive player of the year during his senior season. He was 6-3 and 210 pounds, a sprinter on the track team and president of his junior class. Unfortunately, none of that success carried over to his college career. He redshirted in 1984, played only sparingly during the next two seasons and never lettered for Ohio State.

Sean Bell, DB, Middletown, Ohio – Bell was the younger brother of Todd Bell, who starred for the Buckeyes from 1977-80 and then had a pro career with the Chicago Bears. Sean was the total package at 6-2, 185 pounds and 4.5 speed, but he could never match his older brother’s performance. Sean was a three-year letterman for OSU from 1985-87, but a broken leg suffered during the first week of fall practice in ’86 hindered his progress and he could never crack the starting lineup.

Mike Bloemer, OL, Cincinnati (Ohio) Aiken – An All-Ohio and honorable mention All-America offensive tackle, Bloemer was another excellent all-around prospect from the class of ’84. In addition to football, he played basketball for the Falcons and was an honor student, graduating 11th in a class of 345. Bloemer redshirted in 1984 and fought his way to No. 2 on the depth chart at tackle before an ankle injury slowed his progress. He never lettered for the Buckeyes.

Jim Carroll, TE, Berea, Ohio – The 6-4, 238-pound Carroll was supposed to be in line to succeed Frank at tight end after catching 51 passes during his high school career, including 20 for 350 yards as a senior. He saw action in two games as a true freshman in 1984 and entered the ’85 season in contention for the starting position. But he never earned a letter at OSU.

Cris Carter, WR, Middletown, Ohio – Carter exploded onto the scene as a true freshman in 1984 and continued to get better every year he was a Buckeye. He led the team in receiving as a sophomore and junior, becoming the first OSU receiver ever to record a 1,000-yard season when he caught a school-record 69 passes for 1,127 yards in 1986. Improper dealings with a sports agent cost him his entire senior year, but despite playing only three seasons, Carter remains second all-time at Ohio State in career receptions with 168. He went on to a Hall of Fame-worthy career in the NFL, earning eight Pro Bowl berths in 16 seasons with Minnesota, Philadelphia and Miami. Carter ranks third in league history in receptions (1,101), fourth in touchdown catches (130) and seventh in receiving yards (13,899). In 2009, his son Duron will join Ohio State as a receiver.

Gary Clift, QB, Brunswick, Ohio – Clift was a three-sport star in high school, but excelled as a dual-threat quarterback on the gridiron. He completed 190 passes for 2,286 yards during his final two years for the Blue Devils and added another 12 rushing touchdowns as a senior. A torn tendon in his throwing shoulder that required surgery forced Clift to move to defense in 1985 and then to a receiver position in the spring of ’86. He remained there for the remainder of his OSU career and Clift won his only letter in 1987.

Jeff Compton, PK, Ottawa (Ohio) Ottawa-Glandorf – Compton was a converted soccer player who didn’t play football in high school until his junior year. He was a quick learner, however, and earned a scholarship based on making 12 of 15 field-goal attempts as a senior. Compton was locked in behind veteran kickers Rich Spangler and Matt Frantz during the early part of his career and wound up never lettering for the Buckeyes.

Jim Davidson, OLB, Westerville (Ohio) North – The 6-5, 225-pounder was the son of former OSU captain and All-America tackle Jim Davidson. Jim Jr. earned second-team All-Ohio honors as a high school senior and was also a standout in the classroom, graduating as valedictorian of his class and serving as president of the National Honor Society. He lettered in 1985 as an outside linebacker, but was moved to the offensive line to bolster depth there. Davidson eventually was forced to accept a medical waiver prior to the 1987 season because of chronic neck and shoulder injuries. His brother, Jeff, later became a two-year starter at guard for the Buckeyes in 1988 and ’89 and is currently offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers.

Dino Dawson, WR, Detroit (Mich.) Cooley – Dawson was a quick all-star prospect who had 4.46 speed and was a championship hurdler. He caught 48 passes for 925 yards and 12 TDs as a senior, and was projected along with Carter to give the Buckeyes a pair of deep threats for many seasons to come. After lettering in 1984, however, Dawson left OSU and transferred to Kent State, where he led the team in receptions in 1989. Dawson finally earned his degree from Wayne State in 1991 and began a college coaching career that has included stops at Wayne State, Illinois State, Bowling Green, Toledo, Cincinnati, Tuskegee and Illinois. He is currently offensive coordinator at Alcorn State.

Mike Durham, OL, Evanston (Ill.) Loyola Academy – An excellent prospect who was a two-year starter at Loyola Academy, the 6-6, 254-pound Durham earned Chicago area All-Catholic and Catholic All-America honors in 1983. Injuries plagued him throughout his OSU career and he never lettered.

Alex Higdon, TE, Cincinnati (Ohio) Princeton – The 6-5, 234-pound Higdon was an excellent all-around athlete. In addition to football, he played forward on the Vikings’ basketball team, was a pitcher on the baseball team, threw the discus and ran hurdles for the track team and even dabbled in boxing. After a prep All-America career, he became a four-year letterman for the Buckeyes, who used his versatility all over the field. Higdon won his first letter as a backup tight end, his second as a defensive tackle and his third as an outside linebacker before returning to tight end and taking over the starting position as a senior. Higdon tied for second on the team in receptions in 1987, grabbing 26 balls for 252 yards.

Frank Hoak, WR/TE, Richeyville (Pa.) Bethlehem Center – Hoak was another excellent all-around athlete in the class of ’84. The 6-2, 205-pounder caught 100 passes for 1,989 yards and 24 TDs during his high school career, punted for a 38.1-yard average and converted 45 of 50 PAT attempts. Hoak, who is the nephew of former OSU tight end and assistant coach Fred Pagac, also lettered in basketball and baseball and enjoyed playing golf. After redshirting in 1984, Hoak was switched to the fullback position and spent a year there before returning to tight. He won his only letter in 1987.

Jamie Holland, WR, Butler County (Kan.) Community College – Holland was a speedster originally from Wake Forest, N.C., who became a JUCO star. He had been an all-state running back in high school before being converted to a receiver who used his speed to score 11 touchdown on only 31 receptions in 1983. Holland won his only OSU letter in 1986. That year, he led the Buckeyes in kickoff returns, averaging 20.9 yards on 24 runbacks. Holland also caught eight passes for 142 yards and one TD in ’86.

Tim James, OL, Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder – James was following in the footsteps of his father, Dan, who played center for Woody Hayes at Ohio State from 1956-58 and then spent eight years in the NFL, mostly with San Francisco. Tim earned All-Ohio honors as a guard for Elder, and was an athletic prospects who also enjoyed softball, golf and rugby. He redshirted in ’84, but was considered a candidate for one of the starting guard positions the following season. It was not to be, however, and James never won an OSU letter.

Mike Madigan, OL, Wapakoneta, Ohio – Madigan was twice named his league’s lineman of the year and he earned honorable mention all-state honors as well as being named to play in the Ohio North-South All-Star Game. He redshirted in 1984, and then broke his arm during spring practice in ’85. He never lettered at Ohio State.

Michael McCray, OLB, Dayton (Ohio) Dunbar – McCray had an excellent prep career at two different high schools. As a freshman and sophomore, he attended Dayton Roth and started on the team that won the 1982 state championship in basketball. He later transferred to Dunbar, where he was a prep All-American in basketball and track. McCray earned three letters during his OSU career and was a two-year starter at linebacker in 1986 and ’87. But he is probably best remembered for recovering a fumble in the 1987 Michigan game, a turnover that began Ohio State’s comeback from a 13-0 deficit. McCray’s recovery led to a 61-yard touchdown pass from Tupa to Everett Ross and touched off the Buckeyes’ eventual 23-20 win in Bruce’s final game as head coach.

Ron Paulsen, OL, Norwalk (Calif.) Cerritos Community College – After an all-state career as an offensive tackle in Long Beach, Calif., Paulsen played two JUCO seasons before joining the Buckeyes in ’84. He was redshirted that year with an eye toward contending for one of the starting guard positions the following season. But a knee injury that required minor surgery set his progress back, and although Paulsen managed to win a letter in 1985, he left the team before the ’86 season began.

Scott Powell, QB, North Canton (Ohio) Hoover – Powell first made a name for himself as an outside linebacker, but when the Vikings needed a quarterback, he switched positions before his senior year and completed 119 of 220 passes for 1,580 yards and 17 TDs. That was good enough for the Buckeyes to offer him a scholarship, which he accepted. Powell was equally versatile for Ohio State, playing a variety of positions during his career including returning to an outside linebacker position and serving as the holder on PATs and field goals. He earned three letters from 1986-88.

Greg Rogan, DB, Urbana, Ohio – Rogan was generously listed at 5-10 and 180 pounds, but he oozed athleticism from every pore. He won All-Ohio honors as a defensive back but just as easily could have won them as a running back after gaining 1,800 yards as a senior. Rogan was a four-year starter at cornerback for the Buckeyes from 1984-87, but his senior season was cut short after only five games. Rogan sustained a broken left ankle early in the fourth quarter of his team’s 31-10 loss to Indiana.

Dwight Smith, DB, Middletown, Ohio – Smith was a two-sport star for the Middies, playing for championship football and basketball teams. He bounced back and forth between cornerback and safety during the early part of his Ohio State career before finally settling in as a backup safety and special teams player. He earned letters in 1987 and 1988.

Chris Spielman, LB, Massillon (Ohio) Washington – Spielman was born to play football and proved that assertion at an early age. After tearing up his parents’ house and the sandlots around Canton, Spielman moved with his family to Massillon and became an outstanding star for the Tigers. He earned prep All-America honors and was even pictured on the front of a Wheaties box while still in high school. Once he reached the college ranks, he never slowed down. Spielman begged Bruce to start him as a freshman and then spent the next four years as one of college football’s best linebackers. By the time his OSU career was over, Spielman had established a still-standing school record with 283 solo tackles, earned back-to-back consensus All-America honors and won the 1987 Lombardi Award. Detroit made him its second-round selection in the 1988 NFL draft, and Spielman played eight seasons with the Lions, averaging 127.5 tackles per year and making four Pro Bowls. He spent two years in Buffalo before a neck injury ended his career. Spielman is currently a college football analyst on Columbus radio as well as for ESPN, and is a tireless fundraiser for breast cancer research.

Tom Tupa, QB/P, Broadview Heights, Ohio – Tupa quarterbacked his high school team to the Ohio state championship in 1983, and then concentrated on punting when he got to Ohio State and wound up the school’s career leader in punting average at 44.7 yards per kick. (Andy Groom later broke the record with his career mark of 45.0.) Tupa also has the best two single-season punting averages in OSU history – 47.1 as a freshman in 1984 and 47.0 as a senior in 1987. Tupa doubled as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback in ’87, completing 134 of 242 passes (55.4 percent) for 1,786 yards and 12 TDs. He was a third-round pick by the Phoenix Cardinals in the 1988 NFL draft and spent 15 seasons in the NFL with the Cardinals, Patriots, Jets, Browns, Buccaneers and Redskins. His career punting average of 43.4 yards ranks 28th all-time in NFL history. Tupa also threw for 3,430 yards and 12 TDs as a pro quarterback.

Jeff Uhlenhake, OL, Newark (Ohio) Catholic – Uhlenhake anchored the offensive and defensive lines for the Green Wave teams that made three consecutive state finals and won the title in 1982. When he got to Ohio State, Uhlenhake started at guard as a sophomore and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. The following year, he switched to center and was named a first-team All-American at that position as a senior. Uhlenhake was drafted by Miami in the fifth round of the 1989 NFL draft and started for five seasons for the Dolphins. He later spent two years each with New Orleans and Washington, and started for both of those teams. He retired following the 1997 season after starting 112 of the 119 NFL games in which he had played. After his playing days were over, Uhlenhake got into coaching and was an assistant at Cincinnati and with the Cleveland Browns. In 2007, he returned to his alma mater has spent the last two years as coordinator of strength and conditioning on Jim Tressel’s staff at Ohio State.

William White, DB, Lima (Ohio) Senior – Overshadowed by some of the other names in the class of ’84, White was one of the best cornerbacks Ohio State has ever produced. He was a dangerous tailback and punt returner in high school before concentrating on defense when he became a Buckeye. White was a rare four-year starter at cornerback and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior in 1987. He finished his career tied for third on the career interceptions list with 16, is one of only six OSU players ever return two picks for touchdowns during his career, and one of only nine Buckeyes ever to record three interceptions in a single game. White was a fourth-round selection by Detroit in the 1988 NFL draft, and he played 11 pro seasons with the Lions, Chiefs and Falcons. When he retired after the 1998 season, White had totaled 20 career interceptions, averaging 15.5 yards per return, and recovered three fumbles, returning two of those for touchdowns.

Greg Zackeroff, OL, Warren (Ohio) Harding – A hard-working, lunch-bucket kind of guy, Zackeroff came to the Buckeyes after winning All-Ohio honors and being named Trumbull County offensive lineman of the year. He toiled away on the scout team during his first season before earning his first of four letters in 1985. The following season, Zackeroff was inserted into the starting lineup at right guard and anchored that position for the next three seasons.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former defensive end Matt Finkes.

Matthew Scott Finkes was born Feb. 12, 1975, in Piqua, Ohio, and starred for his hometown high school, earning Division I all-state and district lineman of the year honors as a senior. Finkes signed with Ohio State in 1993 and made an immediate impact. He broke into the starting lineup in ’94 as a sophomore and teamed with fellow defensive end Mike Vrabel to terrorize Big Ten quarterbacks for the next three years. The duo combined for 125 career tackles for loss – 66 by Vrabel and 59 by Finkes – and those totals remain first and second in OSU history. Finkes also had 25 sacks during his career, and that ranks third in school history behind only Vrabel (36) and Jason Simmons (27½). Finkes was a sixth-round selection by Carolina in the 1997 NFL draft, but never played for the Panthers. He was signed off waivers by the Jets and appeared in eight games for New York during the ’97 season. Finkes later played for Scotland in NFL Europe before returning to his hometown of Piqua where he owns his own construction business.

Also celebrating birthdays this 12th day of February: former baseball player and broadcaster Joe Garagiola is 83; Fifties quiz show scandal figure Charles Van Doren is also 83; U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is 79; NBA Hall of Fame center Bill Russell is 75; veteran character actor Joe Don Baker is 73; children’s author Judy Blume is 71; three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford is 71; The Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek is 70; Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak is 67; actress and two-time Bond girl Maud Adams (“The Man With The Golden Gun” and “Octopussy”) is 64; former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett is 59; singer, former Doobie Brothers frontman and (some say) Mark Rea lookalike Michael McDonald is 57; TV actress Joanna Kerns (Maggie Seaver on “Growing Pains”) is 56; former talk show host Arsenio Hall is 54; Oscar-nominated actor Josh Brolin is 41; Wilson Phillips singer Chynna Phillips is also 41; model/celebrity wannabe Anna Benson is 33; and actress Christina Ricci is 29.

Also, Happy 200th Birthday today to Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

Congratulations are also in order today for our friends in East Lansing. On this date in 1855, Michigan State University was established as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan. Happy birthday, Sparty.

AND FINALLY

** College football is evidently serious about cracking down on taunting, so much so the NCAA rules committee is considering disallowing a touchdown if a player is flagged for taunting during a scoring play. Citing an increasing concern over unsportsmanlike conduct, rules committee chairman and Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti said yesterday that the group is considering a major change to the taunting rules. Taunting, baiting or ridiculing an opponent verbally is currently considered a dead-ball foul with penalty yardage assessed on the next kickoff. If the rule is changed, penalty yardage would be marked off from the spot of the foul and the touchdown would be nullified. I don’t like taunting but I also dislike wringing every drop of emotion out of college football. There has to be a better way.

** I still love baseball despite all of its flaws. But I guess I’m numb to the steroids issue because the owners and their puppet commissioner looked the other way when they knew players were taking performance-enhancing drugs. That’s why everyone should just shut up about Alex Rodriguez and how his admittance of taking PEDs will ruin the game. A-Rod is a great player, and just like Barry Bonds, he was great before he took steroids. But no one player is “the game.” It was being played more than a hundred years before A-Rod arrived on the scene and it will be here long after his shadow has faded.

** While we’re on the subject, why not release the other 103 names from 2003 who tested positive for steroids? I have no particular affinity for Rodriguez, but why must he be the only one made to pay a price?

** The Washington Nationals are rapidly becoming an eastern version of the Cincinnati Reds. When Adam Dunn signed a two-year, $20 million deal Wednesday with the Nats, he joined fellow ex-Cincinnati players Austin Kearns, Aaron Boone, Dimitri Young, Wily Mo Pena and Ryan Wagner in the Washington organization. Nationals GM Jim Bowden has also invited several other former Reds such as Javier Valentin and Corey Patterson to the team’s spring training camp.

** The most recent mock draft from NFL draft analyst Chad Reuter has Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford going to Detroit with the No. 1 pick. Reuter has Cleveland taking outside linebacker Aaron Curry of Wake Forest at No. 5 and Cincinnati taking Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin at No. 6. Reuter forecasts cornerback Malcolm Jenkins as the first Ohio State player taken, going to Green Bay with the No. 8 selection. Two others Buckeyes are projected first-round selections: linebacker James Laurinaitis at No. 20 to Detroit and running back Beanie Wells to Philadelphia at No. 21.

Greatest Booster Woody Ever Had

When Wayne Woodrow Hayes was born Feb. 14, 1913 – the same day as Baseball Hall of Fame announcer Mel Allen and former Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa – the baby became the youngest of three children born to Effie Jane and Wayne Benton Hayes.

Mary was the oldest child by eight years and Isaac was two years older than Woody. Mary was an accomplished pianist and studied classical piano at the Ithica (N.Y.) Conservatory. When she completed her studies, she went to New York and found work in vaudeville. She later became a leading lady on Broadway, acting in such hits as “The War Song” starring alongside George Jessel.

In later life, Mary became the first female radio announcer at WMCA in New York and wrote radio shows for several years until her retirement.

Meanwhile, Isaac turned a boyhood love for horses into a lucrative career in veterinary medicine. Woody once said, “The most colorful person I have ever known was my brother Ike. He had three loves in this world – horses, football and family.”

When Ike was in high school, he got a part-time job, saved his money and spent it all on a riding mare. When he got out of college, he began to buy racehorses, and when he was married, he sold half-interest in one of his horses to get money to purchase furniture.

Ike volunteered for military duty in 1941 five months before Pearl Harbor, and as a captain in the cavalry division was in charge of some 1,500 horses at a base in New Guinea.

In between, Ike was an excellent football player. “Ike was the most intense and the most competitive football player I ever knew,” Woody wrote in his renowned 1973 book “You Win With People.” “In high school after the season was over, he cried because he couldn’t play more football.”

After he graduated from high school, Ike didn’t want to continue his education. Woody always reasoned that his older brother refused to go to college because of trouble Ike had had growing up the son of a school superintendent. Tired of having education shoved down his throat, Ike decided to go with his heart and worked with horses for three years.

Finally, after being persuaded by a local farmer on the advantages of a college degree, Ike relented and enrolled at Iowa State. Not only did he become a distinguished student in veterinary medicine, earning distinction as the “Most Representative Man” in his class, Ike resumed his football career and became a star guard for the Cyclones. Despite his diminutive size (5-6, 158 pounds), Ike earned first-team all-conference honors in 1934 and ’35, and received second-team All-America mention in ’35. He also served as team captain of the Iowa State squad.

To say Woody Hayes idolized his older brother would be something of an understatement. “Each person who met him regarded Ike as his closest friend,” Woody wrote. “He had a personal aura about him that was unbelievable, and it was not the least bit phony. Friends of mine who met him would immediately spend more time with him than they would with me. I have to believe that if it weren’t for his attitude and relationship to me, I wouldn’t have amounted to much. … He was the greatest booster that I ever had.”

Not that Ike coddled his younger brother. After watching a game between Miami (Ohio) and Cincinnati, a game in which the Woody-coached Redskins absorbed a lopsided loss, Ike was waiting outside the stadium. He told his brother, “Wood, you got outcoached today and your team got outfought. I’m going to be on this exact spot a year from today, and if you don’t beat them, I’m going to beat the hell out of you!”

Woody later said, “Would he have done it? No, but he would have tried. The next year, he had no reason to try for we won, 28-0.”

After his graduation from Iowa State, Ike Hayes settled in Waterloo, Iowa, and set up a successful veterinary practice. Periodically, he returned to Ohio to watch his brother coach football teams at New Philadelphia (Ohio) High School as well as Denison, Miami and Ohio State.

Ike traveled with his family to Pasadena for the 1955 Rose Bowl and watched the Buckeyes roll to a 20-7 win over USC to sew up the 1954 national championship. He returned home to resume his veterinary practice. Less than a month later, he was dead.

“No one enjoyed that (Rose Bowl) victory more than Ike did,” Woody said. “Then a couple of weeks later, I got a call one morning from his wife, Lucy, and she said very simply, ‘I’m sorry to tell you but your brother just passed away.’”

Ike had gotten up early on the morning of Jan. 25, 1955, and complained that he wasn’t feeling well. A few moments later, he suffered a massive heart attack. He was 43.

The funeral was attended by a huge number of people, all of them touched in some way by Ike. Upon returning to Columbus, Woody related the eulogy of a man who helped his brother with horses. “I can’t understand why Ike’s been taken from us,” the man said, shaking his head. “I guess the Lord has a mighty sick horse.”

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former Ohio State quarterback Greg Frey. Born Jan. 29, 1968, in Cincinnati, Frey was a prep All-American at Cincinnati St. Xavier and earned Ohio offensive player of the year honors as a senior. He was also a two-time Cincinnati area player of the year in baseball. Frey signed with Ohio State in 1986 and after a redshirt year served as backup to Tom Tupa in 1987, coming off the bench to complete a critical third-down pass during the Buckeyes’ comeback win over Michigan that season. Frey took over the starting QB job in 1988 and led OSU to some memorable wins over the next three seasons. In ’88, he rallied the Buckeyes from 13 points down in the final four minutes to a 36-33 win over LSU, and the following year led the team out of a 31-0 hole against Minnesota to a thrilling 41-37 victory. Frey is the only quarterback in Ohio State history ever to throw for 2,000 or more yards three times. He is currently a private quarterbacks coach, having tutored such QBs as Brady Quinn, and also has provided color commentary for Arena Football League and Ohio high school games.

Also celebrating birthdays this 29th day of January: actor John Forsythe (the voice of Charlie on the “Charlie’s Angels” television show) is 91; actress Katherine Ross (“The Graduate” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”) is 69; actor Tom Selleck is 64; talk show host Oprah Winfrey is 55; two-time Olympic diving gold medalist Greg Louganis is 49; former MLB second baseman Steve Sax is 49; actor Nicholas Turturro (Sgt. James Martinez on “NYPD Blue”) is 47; pro wrestler Hardcore Holly (born Robert William Howard) is 46; former Buffalo Bills receiver Andre Reed is 45; former NHL goaltender Dominik Hašek is 44; actress Heather Graham is 39; Grammy winning singer Jonny Lang is 28; and Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol is 24.

AND FINALLY

** When the Bowl Championship Series committee holds its annual spring meeting in late April, it will not be discussing a playoff. It will, however, consider a request from the Mountain West Conference which seeks an automatic bid to the BCS. This is as good a time as any for the MWC to lobby their case after Utah’s undefeated season coupled with TCU finishing 11th and BYU at No. 16. No teams from the ACC or Big East – each of which have automatic BCS berths – finished above No. 12 in the final polls.

** Here’s a novel idea for the BCS: How about adding the Mighty Mountain West as well as the WAC, where Boise State has become a perennial champion, to the big-money bowl mix? Throw in Conference USA and the MAC, too. Then, when/if Notre Dame ever gets its act together again, the BCS can determine who gets the automatic bids to the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls by simply taking the top eight rated teams in the final regular-season BCS rankings.

** It didn’t take former Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Mel Tucker long to land a new job. Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio hired Tucker to take over his defense. The Jaguars were 17th in the NFL this past season in total defense. The Browns ranked 26th.

** Did you see the flap about ESPN hiring Magic Johnson as an analyst for their NBA coverage on ABC? This is the same Magic that is part-owner and vice president of the Los Angeles Lakers, and some believed he might be a little partial when analyzing his own team. Then again, since when did ESPN start worrying about impartiality?

** Just a hunch, but I’d take Arizona and the points (currently at plus-7) on Sunday.

** Kurt Warner? In the Pro Football Hall of Fame? C’mon. I’ll concede his two league MVP trophies and the fact that he will have led two different teams to Super Bowl victories if the Cardinals pull off the upset on Sunday. But Warner doesn’t rank among the NFL’s top 35 in career passing yardage, completions or TDs. Isn’t the Hall of Fame supposedly reserved for the very best of the very best?

My Christmas Wish List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Ray Small: A really loud alarm clock.

For Nathan Williams: A different set of friends.

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

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

For Brandon Saine: Patience.

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

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

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

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

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

For Tyson Gentry: A miracle.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

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

DEC. 24 GAMES

Hawaii Bowl

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

DEC. 26 GAMES

Motor City Bowl

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

DEC. 27 GAMES

Meineke Car Care Bowl

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

Champs Sports Bowl

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

Emerald Bowl

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

DEC. 28 GAMES

Independence Bowl

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

DEC. 29 GAMES

PapaJohns.com Bowl

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

Alamo Bowl

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

DEC. 30 GAMES

Humanitarian Bowl

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

Holiday Bowl

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

Texas Bowl

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

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

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

Snell Fondly Remembered By Two Fan Bases

Before he ran to fame as a member of the New York Jets in Super Bowl III, Matt Snell was a battering-ram of a fullback at Ohio State in the early 1960s.

Snell, who celebrates his 67th birthday today, was born Aug. 18, 1941, in Garfield, Ga., and spent most of the first part of his life as a wrecking ball, tearing down opposing defenses with his straight-ahead, run-right-over-the-top-of-you style.

After football, Snell turned his attention from the destruction of would-be tacklers to the construction of office space as the owner of a construction company in New York.

Despite the fact he played his final down of football more than 35 years ago, Snell is fondly remembered by two of the most loyal alumni bases in the sport: Ohio State and the New York Jets.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Snell said with a laugh about the way he is remembered. “I was pretty fortunate to play on some pretty good teams with some pretty good players in my time. But that’s been a long time ago. I haven’t even been around a football since 1972.”

Despite Snell’s contention that he gave up thinking about football when he retired from the game, his memory about certain aspects of his career remain vivid. For instance, he can still remember the impact of being recruited by and playing for Woody Hayes.

“It wasn’t always this way, but when I got to Ohio State in 1960, Woody was under a tremendous amount of pressure,” Snell said. “He had won a national championship a couple of years before that, but then people got to expecting that every year. The year before I got there, they had a losing season and that was just unheard of. So it was very tough playing for Woody in those days because he was really pressing.

“But I can also tell you that he wanted every one of his players to do the work that was necessary in the classroom. He always said that if you go to Ohio State and don’t get a degree, you’ve cheated yourself.

“Now, in my family, I was the first to go to college. I was the first one to graduate from high school, but I didn’t have good study habits. I guess I was like most football players in that I just wanted to do enough to get by so I could play football.

“Woody wouldn’t have that. He placed a tremendous emphasis on education and it was tough for me in the early going. But that education meant everything to me after football, and after me, all of my family has gone to college. I like to think that I set that standard for them and I’m proud of that. But part of that was because Woody challenged me to get that education.”

Snell was one of the first out-of-state recruits lured to Columbus by Hayes. He moved with his family at a young age from Georgia to Locust Valley, N.Y., where he became the 1959 winner of the prestigious Tom Thorp Award, given annually to the outstanding prep football player in Nassau County, N.Y. Former winners of the award include NFL Hall of Fame legends John Mackey and Jim Brown.

After spending the 1960 season on the OSU freshman squad, Snell got his first taste of varsity action as a sophomore the following season. Playing in a loaded backfield that featured All-America fullback Bob Ferguson and fellow sophomore Paul Warfield, Snell got only occasional carries but proved himself to be a valuable blocking back, often leading Ferguson into the line.

Ferguson won All-America honors for a second straight season in 1961 after rushing for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns. Four of those TDs came in the final game of the season as the Buckeyes rolled to a 50-20 victory over archrival Michigan.

In 1962, Snell switched to defensive end and was a member of the defensive unit that shut out Michigan 28-0 in Columbus that year. That is the last time the Buckeyes blanked the Wolverines.

The following year, he was back on offense and became a focal point of the backfield. Snell led the team in rushing that season and was voted the team’s most valuable player by his teammates. And he topped off his college career with a 14-10 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“Of course, in those days there was no bowl if you weren’t going to the Rose Bowl,” Snell said. “But I guess beating Michigan three times and beating them in your last game is a pretty good way to go out.”

Following his college career, Snell was drafted in the third round of the NFL draft by the New York Giants, the team he had followed as a boy. But the New York Jets of the upstart American Football League also selected him – in the first round. It was before the proliferation of television money and bidding wars between the two leagues for talent, so Snell’s decision ultimately came down to which team provided the best chance to play.

“The Giants had taken another running back – Joe Don Looney – in the first round,” Snell said. “They also still had Frank Gifford and Alex Webster and they wanted me to come in, sit behind them and learn for a year or two. I didn’t want to do that. I think you learn by doing and I saw the Jets as an opportunity to play right away.”

He joined the Jets for the 1964 season and earned AFL Rookie of the Year honors after rushing for 948 yards and five touchdowns. One year later, the team drafted a brash, young quarterback out of Alabama. Four years later, Joe Namath would lead New York to victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and change the face of professional football forever.

“We really had no fear of Baltimore in that game,” said Snell, who rushed 30 times for a game-high 121 yards while scoring the Jets’ lone touchdown in the 16-7 victory. “Baltimore played a zone defense in the secondary that we knew we could beat. We really thought very early in the week that we were going to win that game.”

In fact, Snell remembered that Namath’s famous guarantee of victory stemmed from something he’d heard from a teammate earlier in the week.

“We’d been watching film for a couple of days,” he said, “when (tight end) Pete Lammons stood up and told (Jets head coach) Weeb (Ewbank), ‘Don’t show us any more of that. We’re going to get overconfident. I guarantee we’ll beat those guys.’

“A day later, Joe is out at some function and says the same thing. Of course, he said it in public and that’s when it hit the newspapers.”

Namath, Snell and the rest of the Jets backed up the guarantee with the AFL’s first Super Bowl victory. A year later, Kansas City defeated Minnesota in Super Bowl IV and hastened the merger between the two leagues.

Earning the Super Bowl championship ring was the pinnacle of Snell’s NFL career and he made the Pro Bowl three times. But injuries became to take their toll. One year after the Super Bowl win, he injured a knee and had to have reconstructive surgery. Then he tore the Achilles tendon in his other leg the following year. After rehabbing that injury, he returned only to suffer a ruptured spleen.

“That made three years in a row that I would have had to rehab the entire offseason,” Snell said. “In those days, we had to have other jobs in the offseason to supplement our incomes. I just figured I was 32 years old and tired of rehabbing. I just decided to hang it up.”

Snell left Shea Stadium for Wall Street, and in 1973 became one of the partners for new stock issues for Defco Securities Inc. That same year, he was approached by an advertising firm to cash in on his football fame. He agreed and became the first television pitch man in the long-running “Tastes Great, Less Filling” ads for Miller Lite beer.

He remained with Defco throughout the 1970s before switching to construction after sitting on the board of directors for a construction company. In the early 1980s, he formed SCI Construction Ltd., headquartered in Jersey City, N.J.

Despite the fact he has not been back to Columbus for several years, Snell still remembers his alma mater with fondness.

“I haven’t been back since about 1995,” he said. “That’s when I bought my daughter there to look at the campus. She was getting ready to go to college and she was talking about all the places she was interested in. I told her she had to at least go look at Ohio State, and she did.

“It was a really nice visit and I enjoyed it very much. I’m usually not one to look back, but that was real nice.”

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s other Buckeye birthdays belongs to former defensive lineman and current linebackers coach Luke Fickell as well as former wide receiver Jimmy Redmond.

Lucas Fickell was born Aug. 18, 1973, in Columbus, and became a standout football player and wrestler at St. Francis DeSales High School. He was a four-year starter at Ohio State from 1993-96 and established a school record of 50 consecutive starts, a mark that still stands. After graduation, Fickell spent a year on injured reserve with the New Orleans Saints before beginning his coaching career as an OSU graduate assistant. He got his first full-time position at Akron in 2000 before returning to his alma mater in 2002 as special teams coordinator. Fickell was named linebackers coach in 2004 and co-defensive coordinator in 2005 … and some opine that he will eventually succeed Jim Tressel whenever the head coach decides to retire.

James Louis Redmond III was born Aug. 18, 1977, in Kansas City, and was an excellent receiver and state long champion out of Blue Springs South High School in Lee’s Summit, Mo. He signed with Ohio State in 1995 and spent much of his career as a backup to David Boston and Dee Miller. Unfortunately, his time as a Buckeye was also marred by leg injuries and run-ins with the law. Redmond missed all of the 1997 season with a broken leg, an injury that continued to plague him for two years. He also was cited four times for a variety of driving violations over a five-month period between September 1998 and January 1999. Redmond eventually left the Buckeyes and completed his college career at McNeese State in 2001. He played two NFL seasons with Jacksonville, mostly on special teams, finishing his career after the 2003 season with three receptions for 67 yards.

Also celebrating birthdays today: former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter; Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski; attorney/best-selling author Vincent Bugliosi; 1960 Olympic decathlon gold medalist Rafer Johnson; former Cleveland Browns running back Greg Pruitt; New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey; iconic film actor and Oscar-winning director Robert Redford; comic actor Martin Mull; actor Patrick Swayze; actor/comedian Dennis Leary; actor/director Edward Norton; actress Madeleine Stowe; actor Christian Slater; actor Malcolm Jamal-Warner (Theo Huxtable on “The Cosby Show”); Saturday Night Live funnyman Andy Samberg (who actually won a creative arts Emmy for “Dick in a Box”); ABC newsman Bob Woodruff; rapper and former House of Pain frontman Everlast (born Erik Schrody); and BSB staffer Jeff Svoboda.

Today would also have been the 74th birthday of baseball legend Roberto Clemente. Born Aug. 18, 1934, in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Clemente became the first Latin American superstar in Major League Baseball, collecting 3,000 hits and carrying a .317 lifetime average over 18 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was a 12-time All-Star, won a dozen Gold Gloves as a sleek right fielder, and was voted the 1966 National League MVP. Clemente was killed on New Year’s Eve 1972 when the airplane in which he was riding crashed while delivering medical supplies to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua. The following year, MLB waved its normal waiting period and Clemente was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

AND FINALLY

** I am pretty sure that I have no clue how to judge a gymnastics routine. But I am absolutely sure the sport’s point system ought to be scrapped with its convoluted tiebreaker system. In case you didn’t stay up late last night, China’s He Kexin and Nastia Liukin of the United States had identical scores on the uneven bars, but because something called execution marks were closer to perfect for the Chinese gymnast, she got the gold medal and Liukin had to settle for the silver. Meanwhile, there was a dead heat for second place over in the women’s 100-meter dash and the medals were not dispersed according to running style. Each competitor was awarded a silver.

** Earlier in the evening, U.S. gymnast Alicia Sacramone finished behind another Chinese gymnast in the vault competition despite the fact the Chinese woman fell to her knees on her second dismount. Again, the difference was supposedly in degree of difficult. But at least Liukin got a silver medal in her event. Sacramone went home with no medal, getting bumped to fourth place.

** Before yesterday’s rare win over St. Louis, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker told reporters, “We’re going to get this together. I’m convinced of that. We’re going to do it.” Look, I’m not as down on Baker as a manager as some others, but the dude is out of touch with reality. The team has no left fielder, no center fielder, no shortstop, no catcher, no bona fide leadoff hitter and no real cleanup hitter. Add to those holes the fact that the Reds’ supposed ace is 3-13 with a 5.59 ERA, and the fact that there is no real help on the way from the minor leagues. I have no idea how this team is going to be able to contend in 2009 and I suspect Baker doesn’t either.

** Apparently, the European economy is good. Six-time NBA all-star Shawn Kemp is making a comeback in Italy. The 38-year-old, who last played in the NBA during the 2002-03 season, will be suiting up this season for Premiata Montegranaro team in Italy. Contract terms were not disclosed but it is assumed the money is real good. You may remember Kemp as the guy who by 1998 had fathered at least seven children by several different women.

** CBS must really like its partnership with the Southeastern Conference and vice versa. The network recently signed a new 15-year contract for the rights to SEC football and basketball, marrying the two through 2023.

** Did you know that when former manager Dick Williams was recently inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at the age of 79, he was only the 11th oldest inductee? The oldest enshrine was former Philadelphia and Cleveland outfielder Elmer Flick, who was inducted in 1963 at the age of 87. Flick, a native of Bedford, Ohio, got to enjoy his Hall of Fame status for another eight years before dying in 1971 just two days shy of his 95th birthday.

** I’m not sure who decided this, but Friday, Aug. 29, has been designated as National College Colors Day, encouraging football fans nationwide to wear their favorite college’s colors all day. Not sure how that will jibe with Casual Friday, so best to check with the boss before painting your face.

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