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.

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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.

Ranking OSU’s Best Tailbacks Redux

In the nearly 14 months since I listed my top 10 Ohio State tailbacks of all-time, I have received a steady stream of e-mails critical of the list. Most of what I have heard has to do with the omission of Chris “Beanie” Wells although most of my electronic pen pals don’t seem to realize I formulated my list before the 2008 season – which would be Wells’ final one as a Buckeye.

It seems like as good a time as any to go back and take a second look at my list with the first question being: Does Wells belong on it?

Of course he does. Wells finished his career with the fourth highest rushing total in Ohio State history. But I have to be honest. I can’t remember a player in recent history whose career in which I have been more disappointed.

You may think it sound ridiculous to criticize Wells, especially when you look at the raw numbers. Only Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Tim Spencer ever rushed for more yards in scarlet and gray. Wells put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, only the sixth OSU running back ever to accomplish that feat. His 222-yard effort at Michigan in 2007 is the most yards ever gained by an Ohio State runner in the long history of that series.

And still there is this nagging feeling in my mind that there could have been even more. In my mind, Wells could have gone down in history as one of the all-time greatest running backs in college football. He had the talent, the size, the speed. Somewhere along the line, it just didn’t happen.

First of all, there were the nagging injuries. Even so, you are never going to hear me say Wells was soft. Sometimes, injuries cling to a player like white on a baseball. Wells was one of those players. In only three seasons with the Buckeyes, he had hand, leg and wrist problems not to mention the toe injury he suffered in last season’s opener that cost him three games and parts of two others. Wells played with most of those injuries when lesser players would have not.

Still, the 6-1, 237-pounder was sort of a walking contradiction. He had some of the longest touchdown runs in recent memory, yet seemed strangely unable to pick up needed yardage on third-and-short. He had some three inches and nearly 40 pounds on teammate Maurice Wells, yet it was the latter that was often called upon in obvious passing situations because he provided the better pass protection.

Maybe Beanie is another one of the cautionary tales of recruiting. He was ranked second nationally by Scout.com in 2006 (behind only current USC quarterback Mitch Mustain) but ahead of such players as quarterback Matthew Stafford of Georgia, receiver Percy Harvin of Florida and quarterback Tim Tebow of Florida.

There is no doubt Wells had an excellent career at Ohio State. I guess maybe I was just expecting a little more.

With that, I have taken another look at my all-time top 10 Ohio State running backs and jumbled the list somewhat. See how it stacks up to yours.

1. Eddie George (1992-95) – I moved Eddie to the top of the list because he was a workhorse and always answered the bell. I wrote this the last time and it bears repeating: Watching George break through the line was like watching Secretariat break from the gate. The fact that he went on to such a productive NFL career was no surprise. His senior season in 1995, when he rushed for 1,927 yards and won the Heisman, is the gold standard for all Buckeyes who follow. Perhaps the most astounding thing about that season – every opposing defensive coordinator knew George was coming and was powerless to stop him. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 25.2 carries per game.

2. Archie Griffin (1972-75) – How do you measure heart? Archie was never going to be the biggest or the fastest running back on the roster, but you knew when you gave him the football that he was going to figure out a way to pick up the yards he needed. He maximized his talents through hard work and determination, and it didn’t hurt that he played behind a massive offensive line and one of the best blocking fullbacks (Pete Johnson) in college football history. Griffin’s career mark of 5,589 rushing yards still stands nearly 35 years after he played his last game at OSU – and no one has come within 1,800 yards of that record. Oh, yeah. He’s still the only guy ever with two Heismans.

3. Keith Byars (1982-85) – Byars was the top guy on last year’s list, but I took a second look and decided that he didn’t quite measure up to George or Griffin. IMHO, the senior season lost because of a foot injury costs him in the all-time rankings. Still, his 1984 season should never be diminished. He rushed for 1,764 yards and scored 22 touchdowns on 336 carries, a single-season workload that has never been equaled. Byars was also a dangerous weapon in the passing game, and he went on to catch 610 passes during a 14-year NFL career.

4. Howard “Hopalong” Cassady (1952-55) – Cassady has become a larger-than-life figure over the past 50 years, but many of today’s fans don’t know that he was a little guy by today’s standards. The freckle-faced, redheaded kid from Columbus Central High School was only 5-10 and about 170 pounds, but he could fly. He scored three touchdowns in his first college game and went on to become one of the greats in college football history. In 1955, he won one of the most lopsided Heisman votes in history, polling 2,219 points, nearly three times the total of the second-place finisher. Cassady was also the consummate teammate, leading Woody Hayes to say, “Hop is the most inspirational player I have ever seen.” Good enough for me.

5. Vic Janowicz (1949-51) – On sheer athletic ability alone, Janowicz had few equals. He could run, throw and kick a football with the best of them and had enough talent to become one of the few players to enjoy professional careers in both the NFL and Major League Baseball. The coaching change from Wes Fesler to Hayes in 1951 – and the philosophy change that went with it – robbed Janowicz of possibly becoming the first two-time Heisman winner. But those who remember his 1950 season remember a blur who ran past opponents and scored touchdowns in bunches. Oldtimers still talk in hushed tones about his performance in an 81-23 win over Iowa – he scored three touchdowns – two rushing and a 61-yard punt return – threw for four scores, recovered two fumbles on defense and kicked 10 extra points. Not a bad day’s work.

6. Tim Spencer (1979-82) – Spencer would likely have been higher on this list had he not served as a fullback for his first two seasons. And he was an excellent fullback, too, blocking for Calvin Murray and also carrying the ball with authority (back when OSU allowed the fullback to carry in tandem with the tailback.) Once Spence got the tailback spot to himself, though, he blossomed with a combination of speed and upper-body strength that blew through would-be tacklers. He totaled 1,217 yards in his first year as a starter and then upped that total to 1,538 in his senior year of 1982. That figure is still the fifth-best single-season total in school history.

7. Antonio Pittman (2004-06) – Largely the forgotten man in an offense that featured Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr., Pittman’s workmanlike approach to the tailback position allowed the Buckeyes to become a more multifaceted offense in 2005 and ’06. He was remarkably consistent during his two seasons as the starter – 1,331 yards as a sophomore and 1,233 as a junior – and turned himself into a pretty good receiver as well. Pittman would likely be higher on this list had he returned in 2007 for his senior season.

8. Chris “Beanie” Wells (2006-08) – And Wells would likely be higher, too, had he returned in 2009 for his senior season. Unfortunately, we never got to see him play an entire season injury-free. What we did get to see, however, was a guy who finished among the top five in nearly every career rushing category on the Ohio State record books.

9. Chic Harley (1916-17, 1919) – Simply put, Harley was the catalyst for what eventually became Ohio State football as we know it today. I could list his statistics, some of which would pale in comparison to the numbers average players put up these days. Rather, I’ll list just a handful for Harley’s accomplishments – Ohio State’s first three-time All-American, the first man ever to lead the Buckeyes to a victory over Michigan, the first to lead them to an undefeated season and the first to lead the Scarlet and Gray to a conference championship.

10. Robert Smith (1990, 1992) – Smith is another guy whose star would have burned much brighter if not for missed opportunities. He was an extremely gifted running back whose seemingly effortless strides allowed him to set the OSU freshman record in 1990 with 1,126 yards. Unfortunately, his college career got off-track for a variety of reasons – some of Smith’s own creation – and he never fully realized his great potential. Nevertheless, the all-too-brief flashes he showed in scarlet and gray make him deserving to be in my top 10.

One final note: There are those who are going to make the argument that players such as Cassady, Janowicz and Harley have no place on a list like this because of the advances football has made since they played the game. That is utter nonsense. Star power is star power, and those guys had it. Anyone who thinks they aren’t among the top 10 running backs in Ohio State football history simply doesn’t know much about Ohio State football history.

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

OSU’s Top 10 Quarterbacks

OSU’s Top 10 Fullbacks

OSU’s Top 10 Wide Receivers

OSU’s Top 10 Tight Ends

OSU’s Top 10 Offensive Guards

OSU’s Top 10 Offensive Tackles

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Among those celebrating birthdays this 6th day of August: Seventies TV actor Peter Bonerz (wisecracking dentist Dr. Jerry Robinson on “The Bob Newhart Show”) is 71; professional poker player Lyle Berman is 68; former MLB pitcher Andy Messersmith is 64; former MLB slugger Bob Horner is 52; former NBA star Dale Ellis is 49; actress Michelle Yeoh (Yu Shu-lien in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) is 47; Basketball Hall of Fame center David Robinson is 44; ESPN Radio personality Mike Greenberg is 42; film director M. Night Shyamalan is 39; ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell is 37; HBO boxing analyst Max Kellerman is 36; Eighties TV actress Soleil Moon Frye (“Punky Brewster”) is 33; and Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover girl Marisa Miller is 31.

AND FINALLY …

** You are no doubt aware that former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett has withdrawn his petition for early release from prison so that he could resurrect his NFL career. Clarett sent a letter Monday to the Ohio Parole Board explaining his decision, and while letters of those nature are not made public, speculation is that prosecutors in the case opposed the move, there was no chance Clarett was going to receive clemency at this time. The ex-Buckeye began in September 2006 serving a 7½-year sentence for a holdup outside a Columbus bar and a separate highway chase that ended with police finding loaded guns in his SUV. As part of a sentence agreement, he must serve at least 3½ years, which would keep him incarcerated until at least March 2010. “I’m a man and I struggle,” Clarett wrote Monday on his blog. “I’m not speaking of anything specific. I’m just talking in general. Depression comes and depression goes. … I personally believe that I’ve been aiming too low. A body and mind full of endless possibilities that I cannot and will not waste it back here.”

** The Big Ten has only two teams in the Sporting News’ preseason top 25 but five more in SN’s rankings of 26-50. Ohio State is the top conference team in the rankings, coming in at No. 9, while Penn State sits at No. 12. Then it’s a long way down to Iowa at No. 26 and Michigan State at No. 31. The head-scratcher is Michigan at No. 38 (because I don’t think the Wolverines will have a winning record in 2009). Wisconsin is at No. 47 and Minnesota is No. 50.

** When contacted about his team’s ranking, Minnesota defensive lineman Garrett Brown was more than a little miffed. “Everyone knows the Gophers should be ranked in the top 25,” he said. “Don’t make the Gophers angry. You all know the gopher as a happy, smiling little critter. But wait until that critter turns on his critics. He won’t be so happy then.” Sorry, Garrett, but I don’t think your team is going to finish above .500.

** College football kicks off its 2009 season later this month, and that means college basketball is also just around the corner. ESPN analyst Dick Vitale has released his preseason top 40 with Kansas leading the parade. Three Big Ten schools – Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois – are in the top 10 and Ohio State makes an appearance at No. 24. Vitale writes, “If B.J. Mullens had returned, the Buckeyes would have probably been in the top 15. They do have Evan Turner, though, who is one of the best players in the Big Ten.”

** ESPN analyst Andy Katz has also released his preseason top 25 and Katz thinks a little more of the Buckeyes than Vitale, ranking them at No. 16.

** As a Cincinnati Bengals fan, it is with a great deal of trepidation that I await the Aug. 12 premiere of HBO’s “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals.” I figure the series will be somewhere between a Jerry Springer episode and those other insipid reality shows that currently litter the airwaves. Let the train wreck begin.

Do You Know Who Harry Strobel Was?

Do you know how Harry Strobel was? You should – at least you should if you consider yourself an Ohio State football fan – since Strobel very nearly became head coach of the Buckeyes in the early 1950s.

Strobel was a native of Massillon, Ohio, and earned six varsity letters – three in football, two in baseball and one in basketball – at Miami University before his graduation in 1932.

He first made a name for himself in high school coaching, leading Bellevue to the Class AA state basketball championship in 1945, and then two years later piloting Barberton to the 1947 state football title. One of Strobel’s star players on that Barberton team was a lineman named Glenn Schembechler.

In 1949, Strobel moved to the college ranks and joined Wes Fesler’s staff at Ohio State as freshman coach. At the same time, Strobel also served as an assistant for basketball coach Floyd Stahl.

Following the 1950 season, and after a third consecutive loss to Michigan, Fesler resigned amid mounting pressure from local businessmen, donors and alumni. Several prominent candidates were mentioned for the opening, most notably longtime Missouri head man Don Faurot. He accepted the job in Columbus on a Friday and went home to clean out his office. Less than 48 hours later, however, Faurot changed his mind and remained at Missouri.

With spring football only a few weeks away, Ohio State officials quickly reorganized and settled on a field of seven candidates – one professional coach, four coaches from the college ranks and two Ohio high school coaches.

The pro coach was Paul Brown, who had previously coached the Buckeyes from 1941-43 and produced the school’s first national championship in 1942. Brown had already flirted with returning to Ohio State following World War II but instead took a job as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. The coach had led the Browns to championships in each of his first five seasons in Cleveland – four in the All-America Football Conference and the 1950 crown in the NFL.

Brown was the hands-down favorite of Ohio State fans and students to replace Fesler. Approximately 1,500 fans cheered his arrival in Columbus for a meeting with the search committee in late January, a meeting during which Brown reportedly told OSU athletic director Richard Larkins that he was “anxious to leave professional football.”

Larkins was not swayed, however. The AD later revealed that a number of influential Columbus businessmen did not want Brown to return. They felt he had reneged on a deal to return to Ohio State after the war, and that he signed with Cleveland without notifying the university.

Nevertheless, newspaper reports continued to trumpet Brown as the front-runner for the vacancy. Also receiving formal interviews were Cincinnati head coach Sid Gillman, Warren Gaer of Drake, Woody Hayes of Miami and Strobel as well as high school coaches Chuck Mather of Massillon and Jim McDonald of Springfield.

In early February, the field had reportedly been pared to three: Brown, Mather and Hayes with Strobel remaining as a possible dark horse candidate. Brown was the choice of the fans and Mather was backed by the Ohio High School Coaches Association. Meanwhile, Strobel was the original choice of the athletic department, but Hayes had supplanted him after a stellar interview.

An announcement was to be made around Feb. 14 – Hayes’ 38th birthday – but all seven members of the Ohio State Board of Trustees had to agree on the new coach and the university couldn’t seem to get the entire panel together at the same time. In the mean time, the six-man search committee and 12-member athletic board had settled on Hayes.

The official decision was postponed for another week as speculation ran rampant. What if Hayes was rejected by the trustees? Would the athletic board then throw its support behind Strobel, or would some back-room maneuvering pave the way for Brown to return to Columbus after all?

The OSU Board of Trustees finally got together to end the speculation on Sunday, Feb. 18. Thanks to an impassioned speech from Sen. John W. Bricker, the board formally hired Hayes as the university’s 19th head football coach. Hayes received a one-year, $12,500 contract in accordance with university policy, but received a five-year “gentleman’s agreement” from university president Howard L. Bevis.

Before its Sunday meeting, the board reportedly remained split between Hayes and Brown. That was until Bricker made a 10-minute speech to his fellow trustees opposing Brown and boosting Hayes.

Despite the days and weeks of wrangling before being offered the job, Hayes didn’t seem the least bit dismayed by the decision.

“I have wanted this job very much,” he told reporters. “It’s the greatest coaching opportunity in the country.”

When Hayes moved to Columbus and formed his new staff, he promoted Strobel from freshman coach to a varsity position overseeing interior offensive linemen.

Other members of Hayes’ first OSU staff reads like a who’s who of coaching. The new coach retained former Buckeye fullback Gene Fekete and longtime kicking coach Ernie Godfrey as well as Strobel and former Ohio State All-America lineman Esco Sarkkinen from Fesler’s staff, and hired Upper Arlington High School coach Doyt Perry while bringing offensive line coach Bill Arnsparger with him from Miami. Perry, of course, went on to a College Football Hall of Fame career as head coach at Bowling Green while Arnsparger enjoyed a long career as a college and NFL assistant, most notably as Don Shula’s defensive coordinator in Miami.

Strobel remained in charge of guards and centers for Hayes until poor health caused by diabetes forced his retirement following the 1967 season. His 17 years with Hayes ranked him second only to Sarkkinen for longest tenure with the legendary head coach. Sarkkinen, who began his Ohio State coaching career in 1946 under Paul Bixler, served Hayes for 27 seasons from 1951-77.

During his time with the Buckeyes, Strobel coached such All-Americans as Mike Takacs, Jim Reichenbach, Aurealius Thomas, Doug Van Horn and Ray Pryor. He was also in charge of the development of Jim Parker, who was Ohio State’s first Outland Trophy winner, taking home the trophy in 1956.

After his retirement, Strobel became assistant director of intramurals at Ohio State. He remained in that position until his death of a heart attack on Nov. 28, 1971. He was 63.

In his book “You Win With People!” published two years after Strobel’s death, Hayes praised his longtime assistant, characterizing him as a much-needed calming influence whenever things got tense.

“Harry has been considered seriously for the head coaching position in 1951, and it was a rather awkward situation for both of us,” Hayes wrote. “(But) Harry became an extremely efficient guard and center coach. Most important, he understood me better than any coach on our staff. When I’d be uptight about something, he’d come up and put his hand on my arm and say, ‘C’mon, Coach, now it really isn’t that important, is it?’ and we’d go on from there. He could quiet me down and understand my moods and tensions better than anyone else.

“When he passed away in 1971, his widow, Marge, honored me by inviting me to give the eulogy to my friend. Bo Schembechler, who had played for Harry at Barberton High School, and Jim Parker were among many from Ohio State who came to pay their respects.”

Two years later, when Parker was to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame following an illustrious career with the Baltimore Colts, he asked Hayes to formally introduce him during induction ceremonies in Canton.

Hayes accepted, but told Parker, “Jim, I know I’m second choice. If Coach Harry were alive, I know you’d want him to do the honors.”

Parker laughed for a few seconds before nodding his head. “You’re right, Coach,” the former Buckeye said. “If it wasn’t for Harry Strobel, nobody would have ever heard of Jim Parker.”

BIG TEN EXPANSION?

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany addressed a number of topics during his annual “State of the Conference” talk with media members at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. One topic leftover from last year (and the year before, and the year before that) was expansion of the conference to 12 teams.

Whenever the subject has been broached in the past, conference coaches have given it lukewarm attention. That is, until this year when Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster told reporters, “I look forward to the day when we add a team, split the divisions and play for a championship on national TV on a Saturday night in December.”

It is unclear whether Brewster voiced a consensus among most Big Ten coaches since many of them, including OSU head coach Jim Tressel, seem to remain skeptical of just how expansion would benefit the conference.

“I’m certainly not opposed to it,” Tressel said, “but it would have to add value to the conference. When I coached at Ohio State in the mid-1980s, we had 10 teams and when I returned in 2001, the number was 11. The conference had added Penn State and that added value to the conference and I think it also added value to Penn State. If we can find a way to do that again, I would certainly be in favor of it.”

Delany said that he has heard the coaches discuss the idea of expansion but doesn’t see it on his immediate horizon.

“A positive would have to be associated with expansion if you felt expansion on its own merits was the right thing to do,” the commissioner said. “But I wouldn’t think you would expand unless you had a whole other series of reasons to do so. I understand we’re out of the mainstream (after the end of the regular season) for a week to 10 days, and I don’t think that’s good. But I don’t think it by itself is the reason why you would go forward (with expansion.)”

Delany also discussed the subject of an expanded conference schedule. Each team currently plays an eight-game conference season, annually missing two league rivals. This season, for example, Northwestern plays neither Ohio State nor Michigan. Some coaches have floated the possibility of a ninth conference game, but the commissioner warned them of being careful of what they wished for.

“The issue that it revolves around is the five-four mix – the five home games, four away,” Delany said. “For some institutions like Iowa with Iowa State and then Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue with Notre Dame and a couple of other cases where you have a long-standing home and away rivalry, those would have to be sequenced.

“In football, because of scheduling and the impact of a home gate, and some of the home gates in our conference are worth $3 million or $4 million, it has a dramatic effect. By losing a home gate and going from eight to nine (conference) games, you actually lose four home games in an eight-year period. That’s $12 million in revenue if you’re averaging $3 million a game. If you’re averaging $5 million, that’s $20 million of revenue.

“It has a profound effect on budgeting, and you’re going to have to figure out exactly how you’re going to manage that.”

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Among those celebrating birthdays this 4th day of August are several world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, who is 48. Others blowing out candles today: longtime White House reporter Helen Thomas is 89; Iraqi religious leader Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani is 79; Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is 68; former New York Mets outfielder Cleon Jones is 67; actor/comedian Richard Belzer (Det. John Munch on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) is 65; Pro Football Hall of Fame running back John Riggins is 60; former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is 54; actor/musician Billy Bob Thornton is 54; distance runner Mary Decker Slaney is 51; actress Kym Karath (little Gretl Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music”) is 51; Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is 49; seven-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Roger Clemens is 47; Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt is 44; four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon is 38; and 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch is 31.

AND FINALLY …

Here are some leftover quotes from last week’s Big Ten Media Days:

** Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald on expanding the conference schedule to nine or 10 games: “I’m a traditionalist. I like where things are. The Big Ten is already hard enough as it is.”

** Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany on teams with .500 seasons earning bowl bids: “I’m starting to think in my own mind – and I haven’t concluded one way or another – that while a 6-6 record and going to a bowl game is a good thing for some programs at some times, it’s really not a welcome development at all because they went in a year when they didn’t have a winning season. For every good news story for somebody that hasn’t been to a bowl in a while, there are also 6-6 bowl teams which I think maybe aren’t good for that school and good for the system. It’s something that we’re going to continue to discuss.”

** Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez on the pressure to improve upon last year’s 3-9 record: “There’s no more pressure now than there was a year ago. There’s pressure all the time. But that’s OK. When the pressure to perform well ends, it’ll be time for me to start looking for something else to do.”

** Rodriguez on his first taste of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry: “It was fun. It’ll be a lot more fun when we’re playing better.”

** New Purdue head coach Danny Hope when asked his favorite joke about the Purdue-Indiana rivalry: “I’m not foolish enough to say that today.”

** Fitzgerald when asked if quarterback Mike Kafka will have a chance this season to break his quarterback rushing record of 217 yards: “Well, we have 12 games and hopefully a 13th, so those are his odds.”

** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel on having his team selected as a preseason favorite to win another Big Ten championship: “Being the favorite is an honor, of course, but it’s also a pretty good reminder of what’s expected.”

** Indiana head coach Bill Lynch, talking about a campus outreach program that had him speaking at several IU fraternities and sororities: “The sororities were a lot better than the fraternities. At the sororities, they paid attention and listened. The fraternity guys wouldn’t even look up from eating.”

** OSU tight end Jake Ballard when asked about quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s offseason improvement: “He’s improving by leaps and bounds. He’s getting better all the time.”

** Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman on conference teams playing weeknight contests: “We like having a Thursday night game to open the season. I think it gives the Big Ten an interesting position to kick off uniquely from others, and we can really get behind that kind of a launch. We’re really not looking forward to airing Thursday night games on a regular basis. Kicking off the football season, though, on a Thursday is something that I think has some merit going forward.”

Counting Down OSU’s Toughest ’09 Opponents

Exactly 13 weeks from tomorrow – 91 days to be even more exact – Ohio State will kick off the 2009 football season with a couple of goals in mind.

The Buckeyes will be shooting for their fifth consecutive Big Ten championship, only one off the conference record of six in a row set by OSU between 1972 and ’77. The team will also be shooting for an unprecedented sixth straight victory over archrival Michigan while attempting to extend their string of Bowl Championship Series berths to five in a row.

Those goals are certainly within the Buckeyes’ grasp. So, too, could be other loftier goals such as Terrelle Pryor becoming the third sophomore quarterback in a row to win the Heisman Trophy. There is also the ultimate goal of every team – earning a trip to the BCS National Championship Game. If Ohio State accomplishes that one, it becomes only the second team in BCS history to play in four title games. (Oklahoma is the other one.)

Before any of the aforementioned can occur, however, the Buckeyes have to navigate their way through a 2009 season that features a handful of tough games and more than a couple of gimmes. Here is a breakdown of that schedule in reverse order of difficulty.

12. NEW MEXICO STATE – OCT. 31

The Aggies will be breaking in a new offensive system as well as a new head coach this season. Gone is pass-happy Hal Mumme (Tim Couch’s mentor in the late 1990s at Kentucky) and his successor, DeWayne Walker, has decided to install a run-oriented offense.

That’s not exactly music to the ears of fans because New Mexico State finished 10th in Division I-A last year in passing yards. Even so, the Aggies won only three games last season and were 3-9 overall because of an abysmal running attack that averaged a measly 54.2 yards per game. The defense wasn’t much better – NMSU surrendered an average of 34.1 points per game and that ranked 105th out of 119 I-A schools.

Walker, who was a two-year letterman at Minnesota in 1981-82, will likely begin to get things turned around in Las Cruces but not quickly enough to pull an upset over Ohio State. It is likely to be a scary Halloween night in the Horseshoe for the Aggies.

11. AT INDIANA – OCT. 3

Terry Hoeppner’s death two years ago derailed the Indiana program which seemed to be enjoying a renaissance. Now the Hoosiers appear ready to extend a streak that has produced losing records in 12 of the past 13 seasons.

Head coach Bill Lynch enters the 2009 season with a depleted roster after kicking quarterback Kellen Lewis off the team for multiple team infractions. Lewis was easily the Hoosiers’ best player, but even with him the team was likely to struggle. The schedule-makers didn’t do IU any favors either with road games at Virginia, Iowa and Penn State.

One of the Hoosiers’ marquee games will be a prime-time contest when the Buckeyes travel to Bloomington for the first time since 2005. However, Ohio State is working on a 15-game winning streak in the series, including 6-0 under Jim Tressel. The average score in just those six games is 37-10.

10. NAVY – SEPT. 5

There could be more here than meets the eye, especially since Navy has had the No. 1 rushing offense in the country for two years running. It’s difficult for most teams to defend the triple option since they don’t see it much anymore and certainly don’t practice against it very often.

That will be a little different for the Buckeyes, who have all summer to gear up to stop such an attack. When the Midshipmen cannot run the ball, they simply do not win. In their eight victories last season, they averaged 331.9 yards rushing. In their five defeats, that average dropped to 229.2.

Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has more than his share of critics, and many of them point to last year’s ranking of 18th in the nation against the run. That was the Buckeyes’ worst showing in run defense since ranking 35th in 2004. Still, one would think OSU will be ready to go. After all, the team hasn’t lost a season opener at home since 1978, outscoring the opposition by about three touchdowns over that 26-game span.

9. TOLEDO AT CLEVELAND – SEPT. 19

Don’t be fooled by the fact the Rockets were 3-9 last year and finished tied for last place in the MAC West. Toledo has a returning starter at nearly every position, including quarterback Aaron Opelt and exciting tailback Morgan Williams. Opelt has thrown for 4,807 yards and 30 TDs during his career while Williams burst on the scene last year to rush for 1,010 yards while averaging 6.0 yards per carry.

Former OSU cornerbacks coach Tim Beckman takes over the head coaching position in Toledo this season, his first shot at running a program after serving as an assistant since 1988. If history proves anything, he’s not going to have an easy time of it in this contest. Former Tressel assistants such as Mark Snyder and Mark Dantonio are winless against their old boss since he got to Ohio State.

In addition to Beckman, there are a couple of other intriguing storylines that go along with this game. The Rockets, of course, beat Michigan in Ann Arbor last season, leading the players to believe they can pull a similar upset this year. And the game will be played in Cleveland Browns Stadium, and Toledo needs only to look back to 2002 when Cincinnati nearly upset the Buckeyes in Paul Brown Stadium. Will all of that be enough to become the first Ohio team to beat Ohio State since 1921? Probably not.

8. AT PURDUE (OCT. 17)

Purdue could be the poster child for why it is a bad idea to name a coach-in-waiting. During Joe Tiller’s final season in West Lafayette, the Boilermakers threw up all over themselves (polite way of saying they quit on ol’ Uncle Joe) and finished 4-8 overall. That was only the second losing season for Tiller in a dozen years at Purdue.

Now that bunch of underachievers is new head coach Danny Hope’s problem and he has to find a way to jump-start an offense that tanked in 2008. The bad news is that he has to begin by finding eight new starters on offense. The good news? The guys he had to replace were seemingly going through the motions at times last year, so a fresh start may be good for everyone.

Lost amid Purdue’s season of a year ago was the fact it played Ohio State about as tough as it played anyone in a 16-3 loss in Columbus. But the Boilermakers never seem to have the same fire at home – they have lost seven of their last nine to the Buckeyes in West Lafayette.

7. WISCONSIN – OCT. 10

The Badgers have taken a mighty tumble since Bret Bielema took over as head coach. After Bielema went 12-1 in 2006 as Barry Alvarez’s hand-picked successor, the Badgers slipped to 9-4 in ’07 and just 7-6 last season. That drop-off, along with a rumored penchant for the nightlife in Madison, may make the coach’s seat extremely hot this season if he doesn’t get the ship headed back in the right direction.

Unfortunately for Bielema, the Badgers are not much more than a question mark as they embark on the 2009 season. Job one will be to figure out who the starting quarterback is going to be – fifth-year senior Dustin Scherer or redshirt freshman Curt Phillips. Next, Bielema has to find replacements for five members of the defensive front seven.

Ohio State and Wisconsin have had a spirited rivalry for past decade or so with the teams splitting eight games since 1999. During that span, the Badgers have won three of four in Ohio Stadium, including two of three against Tressel.

6. AT MICHIGAN – NOV. 21

I flip-flopped back and forth with the rankings of the Michigan and Wisconsin games. While how good the Badgers are going to be remains anyone’s guess, it doesn’t seem likely the Wolverines will be much better in Rich Rodriguez’s second year than they were in his first.

There is, however, that little thing about a rivalry that goes back to 1897 – a series during which the perceived weaker team has won more than its fair share of games. Therefore, on sheer sentimentality alone, I put this game at No. 6 although even ranking it that low is testament to how much the Wolverines are expected to struggle again.

By the time the traditional season finale rolls around, the Buckeyes could have an awful lot to play for while their rivals may face the same problems they did last year – keeping enough healthy bodies in the lineup to put up a representative fight.

No one expects Ohio State’s winning streak against Michigan to last forever. There is a reason why the Buckeyes have never before won six straight in the series. That’s because it isn’t easy. Likewise, there is a reason why the Wolverines have a 30-19-4 record in Ann Arbor against OSU. An upset isn’t out of the question, of course. It just isn’t very likely.

5. MINNESOTA – OCT. 24

Call me crazy but I think Minnesota is one of the dark horse teams in the Big Ten this season. Many believe last year’s six-game improvement from 1-11 to 7-5 in the regular season was a fluke. But head coach Tim Brewster has his team believing in his rah-rah style, and the Gophers are about as talented as they have been in quite some time.

For starters, nearly everyone is back for Brewster, including quarterback Adam Weber, wide receiver Eric Decker and eight others on offense. The Gophers are so loaded that talented youngster MarQueis Gray may steal some snaps from Weber. The only problem is finding any kind of consistent running attack, and Brewster said he addressed that with the hiring of new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Not sure how Fisch helps the running game, though. He has spent most of his 11-year career as a receivers coach, including last year with the NFL’s Denver Broncos.

If Fisch can get any kind of running game started to take the heat off Weber and/or Gray, that will leave the defense as the only thing standing between the Gophers and championship contention. For all of its improvement in 2008, Minnesota still ranked only 10th in the conference in total defense. That must improve if the Gophers are to successfully navigate the two-week stretch that takes them to Happy Valley the Saturday before they come to Columbus for the Buckeyes’ homecoming.

4. ILLINOIS – SEPT. 26

The Illini are about as close to Jekyll and Hyde as you’re going to get in the Big Ten. Are they the team that shocked everyone and went to the Rose Bowl in 2007? Or are they the team that stumbled its way to a losing season last year?

Critics are going to say the latter, of course, and use as ammunition the fact that Illinois has posted losing records in six of the last seven seasons. Still, head coach Ron Zook has amassed a lot of talent in Champaign and his team has as many good players at key positions as any other in the conference. That is especially true on offense where Juice Williams returns at quarterback and receiver Rejus Benn is one of the top young playmakers in college football. Williams has to cut down on his mistakes, though. During his career, he has thrown 44 TDs but pitched 37 interceptions.

Defensively, the Illini are a bit of a mystery. With studs like Martez Wilson, who moves to middle linebacker in 2009, the team ought to be one of the Big Ten’s best. Yet last year, it ranked only in the middle of the pack.

There is no doubt Zook – an Ohio native who spent three seasons on John Cooper’s OSU staff from 1988-90 – wants this game desperately. But although his team knocked off the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes in Columbus two years ago, history is not on his side. Tressel is 4-2 against the Illini, and the Buckeyes have won nine of the last 12 in the series. This game is the Big Ten opener for both teams, and Illinois will be coming off an open week.

3. IOWA – NOV. 14

In my humble opinion, the Hawkeyes are going to have a boatload of trouble finding a suitable replacement for tailback Shonn Greene. Not only that, the offensive line that blew open so many holes for Greene last season loses both guard Seth Olsen and center Rob Bruggeman.

Secondly, when was the last time a Kirk Ferentz team threw an actual scare into the Buckeyes? Since 2003, the Hawkeyes have been ranked three times entering their game against Ohio State and lost all three times. Not only that, the games were never really close, including 2006 when No. 13 Iowa was gunning for an upset in Iowa City and took a 38-17 trip to the woodshed.

Since sharing the 2004 Big Ten championship with Michigan, the Hawkeyes have perhaps been as disappointing as any other team in the conference. The past four seasons have produced a middling 28-22 record along with a litany of off-the-field problems for Ferentz and his program.

Having noted all of that, the Hawkeyes couldn’t be in a better spot schedule-wise despite not having tasted victory at Ohio Stadium since 1991. They come to Columbus after a two-week home stand with Indiana and Northwestern while the Buckeyes will be coming off a trip to Penn State.

2. AT PENN STATE – NOV. 7

In each of the past two years, Ohio State has lost a Big Ten home game it should have won. Two years ago, Williams led Illinois to a 28-21 victory. Last year, it was Darryl Clark, who came through for Penn State while leading his team to a 13-6 win. Williams couldn’t capture lightning in a bottle two years in a row, and now Clark gets to try. It won’t be easy since the Nittany Lions lost several offensive linemen and receivers to graduation and the NFL.

But the old master still has a thing or two up his sleeve. Joe Paterno would rather play defense anyway, and with a linebacking crew that features Josh Hull, Navarro Bowman and Sean Lee, the Lions should be nasty on D. Also, Clark has enough holdovers from last year – including 1,000-yard rusher Evan Royster and steady backup Stephfon Green – that Penn State should score enough.

A trip to Happy Valley is never a picnic although Tressel’s record is 2-2 there. A couple of other factors may tilt in Ohio State’s favor. First, the game will not be a nighttime affair, making the Beaver Stadium crazies just a little less so. Secondly, if Terrelle Pryor has any game circled on his calendar, it’s this one. His late fumble did the Buckeyes in last year and he knows it. I would guess the OSU quarterback has a little payback in mind.

1. USC – SEPT. 12

No surprise here. The Traveling Trojan Show starring Pistol Pete Carroll rolls into town in week two for another prime-time game that nearly no one gives Ohio State a chance to win. That stands to reason since every remaining member of the Buckeyes still has 35-3 tread marks on their backsides.

This will be a different USC team, of course. Gone are quarterback Mark Sanchez as well as linebacker Rey Maualuga and seven other defensive starters. But if the old saying “We’re don’t rebuild; we reload” is true of any college team, it is true of the Trojans. Carroll signs more five-star prospects than almost anyone and has plenty of them left over for 2009.

For the Buckeyes to entertain any thought of winning this game, they will have to figure out a way to move the ball consistently against USC. Last year, in case you have forgotten, Ohio State totaled 207 yards of offense against the Trojans – 69 of it on a 17-play drive early in the first quarter. In the second half, the Buckeyes were absolutely pathetic – 21 plays from scrimmage, 25 total yards.

Pryor could make the difference, of course. He played in last year’s game, rushing for 40 yards and throwing for 52 on 7-for-9 passing. But he can’t be the only Buckeye who’s on his game Sept. 12. It doesn’t matter who USC has on defense – if the offensive line can’t at least neutralize the line of scrimmage, Ohio State will be in for another long night.

DID YOU KNOW?

Did you know that NCAA Bylaw 13.10.5 prevents universities from “publicizing an athlete’s visit or allowing the visitor to “participate in team activities that would make the public or media aware of the prospective student-athlete’s visit to the institution (e.g., running out of the tunnel with team, celebratory walks to or around the stadium/arena, on-field pregame celebrations).”

Did you know that Auburn had its “Big Cat Weekend” last week during which the Tigers hosted a bunch of blue-chip prospects on unofficial visits, and that the event was advertised on all three major websites that cover Auburn with push-pinned message board posts urging fans to attend? (The posts did not attribute the information to coaches or other Auburn staff members, but many fans showed up for what was clearly a planned event with Auburn police providing crowd and traffic control and school mascot Aubie helping lead cheers.

And did you know that when ESPN college football writer Bruce Feldman contacted a college administrator about the incident, he got a strange reaction?

“That is one of the biggest problems I have with the NCAA,” the administrator told Feldman. “All of the prospects enjoyed it, and they leave the campus having a great time. Auburn will report a secondary violation, which is nothing. In the end they will probably get some of those players.”

And then he added, “(The NCAA) should put in a rule that if you have multiple reported violations with a prospect you are not allowed to recruit him.”

The NCAA rule book is 412 pages thick and that’s not in there?

HAPPY! HAPPY!

On that happy note, we mark today’s Buckeye birthday which belongs to former OSU defensive end Vernon Gholston. He turns 23 today.

Gholston was born June 5, 1986, in Detroit, and was recruited as a linebacker out of Cass Technical. It didn’t take long for Ohio State to move the chiseled 6-4, 260-pounder to a defensive end spot and Gholston flourished there, setting a single-season school record with 14 sacks and earning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year honors. He opted to skip his final year of college eligibility and the New York Jets took him with the sixth overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. Gholston experienced a tough rookie season with the Jets, playing mostly on special teams and registering only nine tackles in 15 games (eight of them assists). Gholston is expecting bigger and better things in 2009 under the schemes of new head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Also, Gholston has been working during the offseason with Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Evidently, so far so good.

Other luminaries celebrating birthdays this 5th day of June: Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Art Donovan is 84; journalist Bill Moyers is 75; Sixties television actress Connie Hines (Wilbur Post’s wife, Carol, on “Mister Ed”) is 73; New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is 68; novelist Ken Follett is 60; financial advisor Suze Orman is 58; Grammy winning musician Kenneth Gorelick (better known as Kenny G) is 53; singer/songwriter Brian McKnight is 40; actor/singer Mark Wahlberg is 38; Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Torry Holt is 33; Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz is 30; Ottawa Senators center Mike Fisher is 29; Cincinnati Reds lefthander Bill Bray is 26; and New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston is 26.

Also sharing birthdays today are Olympic gold medal sprinter Tommie Smith, who is 65, and bronze medalist John Carlos, who is 64. Smith and Carlos created a stir during the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City after placing first and third in the 200-meter finals. On the medal stand, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists during the playing of the national anthem. The “Power to the People” salute created a great deal of controversy in 1968 and led to the sprinters being suspended by the International Olympic Committee and ostracized for several years by the U.S. sports establishment.

The runners landed on their feet, however. Smith played three years in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals and later became track coach at Oberlin. More recently, he has been a faculty member at Santa Monica College, a two-year community college in Santa Monica, Calif. Carlos also played pro football – one year in the NFL and two in the Canadian league – and is currently a high school track coach in Palm Springs, Calif. Ironically, Carlos worked for a time for the U.S. Olympic Committee and was a member of the organizing committee for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

AND FINALLY

** Here’s an interesting little nugget that could conspire to keep Ohio State and any other deserving Big Ten school out of the Rose Bowl for the foreseeable future. There is reportedly a clause in the new BCS contract with ESPN – which will begin after the 2010 regular season – that says if the Rose Bowl loses one of its champions to the BCS National Championship Game that opening will be automatically filled by a “coalition” (non-BCS conference) team if one has qualified. For example, let’s say some year that an 11-1 Ohio State team ties for the Big Ten championship but doesn’t get the conference’s automatic berth in the Rose Bowl. Let’s say that same year that a team like Boise State or Hawaii goes undefeated. If that team doesn’t get into the national title game (and what are the chances of that?) it would automatically go to the Rose. The new clause is the Bowl Championship Series’ sneaky little way of increasing access of the five coalition conferences to its games. That way, should the BCS get sued and hauled back before Congress, it is another way it can counter the claim that the coalition schools don’t have enough access.

** Minnesota plans to dedicate its new TCF Stadium in style by honoring some of its greats from the past during the Sept. 12 opener against Air Force. The Gophers will honor former head coach Murray Warmath as well as former players Bobby Bell, Billy Bye, Bob McNamara, Sandy Stephens and Bud Grant (yes, that Bud Grant). Warmath, who is 96 and directed the school’s national championship team in 1960, will be the honorary coach for the game. The five ex-players have been named honorary captains.

** It seems that everyone’s favorite sideline reporter, sugary-sweet Erin Andrews, has a burning desire to compete on “Dancing With The Stars.” That revelation came during a recent Q&A with Washington Post writer Dan Steinberg.

** One of the other nuggets in the story reveals that Andrews’ stylists is Paige Geran, who has also dressed Britney Spears, Wayne Brady, the Spice Girls and American Idols on-tour among many others. Andrews said her work clothes arrive at the hotels where she’s staying and that she trusts they’ll be appropriate to the sporting event she’s covering. She’s wrong. They’re not. A short skirt during a windy Home Run Derby? Skin-tight pants and knee-high boots at the Big Ten basketball tournament? I like a pretty girl as much as the next red-blooded American guy, and there is no questioning Andrews’ attractiveness. But I’ve seen her at some venues where she looks like she’s dressed to go clubbing. That may be easy on the eyes of the spectators and players, but trust me when I tell you it is not appropriate work attire. Erin is fairly good at what she does, but she’s never going to be taken seriously if she continues to show up for work looking like she’s on her way to a night on the town.

** The Washington Nationals on Tuesday fired pitching coach Randy St. Claire. Not that St. Claire was the sole problem, but he was a convenient scapegoat. At the time of his firing, the Natties had an MLB-worst 13-36 record with a bloated 5.69 team ERA. They had also allowed the most runs (308) and recorded the fewest saves (eight) of any team in baseball. Washington’s 12 blown saves were also a league high.

** Also, Nationals outfielder Adam Dunn had 16 home runs through Wednesday while the Nationals had only 14 victories. In case you’re wondering, no player has ever finished the season with more home runs than his team had victories.

Top Individual Performers In The Game

There have been some huge individual performances in the Ohio State-Michigan game, beginning with Tim Biakabutuka’s 313 rushing yards during the Wolverines’ 31-23 win in Ann Arbor in 1995.

Biakabutuka is the only rusher on either side to crack the 300-yard mark in The Game, and his effort against the Buckeyes in ’95 was a career-high. It was not, however, a single-game record for Michigan. That still belongs to Ron Johnson, who rushed for 347 yards against Wisconsin in 1968.

Chris “Beanie” Wells established a new single-game record for OSU in the Michigan game last year when he pounded his way for 222 yards. That eclipsed a longstanding mark for Ohio State rushers vs. the Wolverines. Senior fullback Dave Francis rushed for a career-high 186 yards and led the Buckeyes to a 28-0 victory in 1962.

The only other running back besides Biakabutuka and Wells to eclipse the 200-yard mark in The Game was Michigan tailback Jamie Morris. He had 210 yards in his team’s 26-24 win in Columbus.

Rounding out the top five behind Biakabutuka, Wells, Morris and Francis is Ohio State tailback Carlos Snow, who rushed for 170 yards during a roller-coaster 34-31 loss to the Wolverines in 1988.

As far as quarterbacks go, there have been six 300-yard games in the long rivalry – and two of them belong to one guy. Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith threw for 316 yards during his team’s wild 42-39 victory in 2006 and also passed for 300 yards when the Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines by a 25-21 score in 2005.

Holding the single-game passing record in the series is Michigan QB Tom Brady, who piled up 375 yards despite a 31-16 loss to the Buckeyes in 1998. That performance represented Brady’s career-best game at U-M, but it ranks only second in school history. John Navarre threw for 389 yards against Iowa in 2003.

OSU’s top passing performance came that same year as Joe Germaine threw for 330 yards against the Wolverines in ’98. That ranks as only the fifth-highest single-game total in Germaine’s career and only 10th best on the school’s all-time list. Art Schlichter has held the single-game mark since 1981 when he threw for 458 yards against Florida State.

Ranking third behind Brady and Germaine is Michigan’s Chad Henne, who threw for 328 yards in a 37-21 losing effort in 2004. Smith’s 316-yard performance is fourth and Drew Henson of Michigan rounds out the top five. He threw for 303 yards in the 2000 game, helping the Wolverines to a 38-26 win in Columbus.

Germaine’s big game in 1998 led the way for the largest single-game for a receiver in the series. David Boston rolled up 217 yards for the Buckeyes that season, becoming the first and only receiver to break the 200-yard mark in the OSU-Michigan game.

U-M receiver Braylon Edwards occupies two spots in the top five. He had 172 yards against the Buckeyes in that 2004 loss and also had 130 yards in 2003, the Wolverines’ 35-21 win in 2003, their lone win so far in the Jim Tressel era.

Ranking third on the single-game list is Marquise Walker of Michigan, who had 160 yards in his team’s 28-20 loss to Ohio State in 2001. Walker also set a single-game series record in that contest with 15 receptions, a record that is also the Michigan single-game mark.

Fourth is OSU receiver Michael Jenkins, who gathered in passes worth 132 yards in the 2003 game.

Defensively, tackle statistics are sketchy before the 1970s but since that time, there have been eight instances when a defender recorded 20 or more tackles in The Game. Not coincidentally, they were all linebackers.

Chris Spielman has the single-game series record with 29 stops in the Buckeyes’ 28-24 loss in 1986. That effort also represents the all-time single-game record in Ohio State history. Second on the list is OSU’s Arnie Jones, who recorded a career-high 24 tackles against Michigan during a 14-11 win in 1972.

The top effort for U-M came in 1968 when Tom Stincic had 23 tackles for the Wolverines during the Buckeyes’ 50-14 romp.

Tom Cousineau of Ohio State had a pair of 20-tackle performances against Michigan. He had 22 stops in 22-0 loss in 1976 and 21 tackles two years later when the Buckeyes lost a 14-3 decision in Columbus.

The other 20-tackle performances in the OSU-Michigan series: Marcus Marek of the Buckeyes had 21 tackles in a 24-14 win in 1982; Ohio State’s Ed Thompson recorded 21 stops in the same ’76 game when Cousineau had 22; and U-M’s Ron Simpkins had 20 tackles in 1977 when the Wolverines took a 14-6 decision in Ann Arbor.

THE BEST OHIO STATE-MICHIGAN JOKE

I’ve heard plenty of OSU-Michigan jokes in my time but this is my all-time favorite:

One day in an elementary school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a teacher asks her class if the Michigan Wolverines are their favorite football team. The whole class says yes except for Little Jimmy.

The teacher asks, “What’s your favorite football team Jimmy?”

Little Jimmy says, “The Ohio State Buckeyes.”

The teacher asks, “Well, why is that?”

Little Jimmy says, “Well, my dad is a Buckeye fan, my mom is a Buckeye fan, I guess that makes me a Buckeye fan.”

The teacher angered by his reply says, “If your dad was a moron and your mom was an idiot what would that make you?”

Little Jimmy says, “Well, I guess that would make me a Michigan fan.”

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