Coaching matters … and it matters a lot. That was driven home like a golden spike Oct. 20 when Ohio State faced an eight-point deficit to Purdue with only 47 seconds to do something about it.
Sure, give Kenny Guiton credit for coolly directing a 61-yard touchdown drive. Give Chris Fields credit for making crucial catches the junior receiver heretofore hadn’t made during his college career. Give Tom Herman credit for dialing up a perfect two-point conversion call. And give the much-maligned Ohio State defense its due for managing to hold off the Boilermakers in overtime.
But if you ever wondered why Urban Meyer is worth $4 million a year, you need look no further than the Buckeyes’ 29-22 victory over Purdue. The reason Guiton was so cool, Fields was so clutch, Herman was so confident and the defense was so able to rise to the occasion could be summed up in one word: leadership.
No offense to last year’s coaching staff, but there was no way Ohio State would have beaten Purdue last season given the same set of circumstances. In fact, the Buckeyes faced similar circumstances last year in West Lafayette, and while they rallied at the end of the game, they were the ones who made the crucial mistakes and they were the ones who went home losers.
Meyer had already laid the groundwork for OSU’s comeback this year with his unique style of break-’em-down and then build-’em-back-up philosophy.
The coach has admitted Guiton was practically on a bus back to Houston last winter before he decided to buy into Meyer’s system. Likewise, Fields was buried so far down the depth chart at receiver that the junior needed a flashlight and a compass to find his way out.
Yet with Braxton Miller and Corey “Philly” Brown sidelined down the stretch, it was Guiton and Fields upon whom Meyer relied to get the job done – Guiton, Fields and his own coaching acumen.
The fact is no one could have scripted the final moments of regulation any better than Meyer did.
Purdue milked the clock to 59 final ticks before punter Cody Webster launched a 48-yard effort that bounced to the Ohio State 30. But mindful of his head coach’s “Plan to Win” mantra, Fields saved a few precious seconds by scooping up the ball and then got the Buckeyes 9 yards closer to the end zone with a return to the OSU 39.
With 47 seconds remaining, Meyer and Herman quickly drew up two plays on the sideline. The first was designed to get sophomore receiver Devin Smith open between Purdue’s intermediate and deep zones, and Guiton found his intended target for 39 yards to the Boilermakers’ 22.
Then instead of immediately spiking the ball to save time, the Buckeyes sprinted to the line of scrimmage where Guiton connected with sophomore Evan Spencer on an 8-yard sideline pass. Spencer went out of bounds following the catch to give his team a second-and-2 from the 14-yard line with 0:28 to go.
On the next play, Guiton faded in the pocket but found all his receivers covered. Rather than trying to force something, he threw the ball away – as he had been taught – setting up third-and-2 with 23 seconds remaining.
That was when Meyer really started to put on a clinic.
Despite the fact he had no timeouts, the coach put his faith in his offensive line and junior tailback Carlos Hyde, who pounded up the middle for a 3-yard gain and a first down to temporarily stop the clock. Guiton followed with a spike and the Buckeyes were at the Purdue 11 with 15 seconds left.
The next play called for Guiton to hit Spencer as he raced toward the end zone, peeling off in front of his defender just before reaching the goal line. But Guiton threw too low and too wide, and a diving Spencer couldn’t come up with the reception.
Third down, 12 seconds left. Time for two more plays.
This time, Meyer called for a fade route in the end zone to Spencer, but while the pass seemed to sail on Guiton, Purdue cornerback Josh Johnson had his hands all over the OSU receiver and drew a pass interference call.
That gave the Buckeyes the ball at the Purdue 2-yard line, but with only 0:08 showing on the clock. That’s when Fields made a diving catch of a ball only he could have caught just over the goal line for the touchdown.
Now, with just 0:03 remaining, Meyer needed one more clutch call to achieve the tie. He got it from Herman, who overruled his linemen who were lobbying for a run.
The play called for tight end Jeff Heuerman to block initially and then break away from the line of scrimmage and drift into the end zone. Heuerman nearly carried out his decoy too long, allowing pressure to bear down on Guiton before the QB flipped a rainbow that the Ohio State tight end gathered in for the two-point conversion.
After the game, Herman confirmed the team had been practicing that play for just the right time.
“When the game is on the line is not the time to go against what you’ve practiced,” the offensive coordinator said. “We knew they’d been playing man coverage all game and knew it would be there eventually. It took (Heuerman) awhile to get out. I was holding my breath. But everybody who was on the field did a helluva job.”
In overtime, Guiton led the Buckeyes to a quick touchdown before a rejuvenated defense clamped down on a demoralized Purdue offense.
Game, set, match, and Ohio State moved to 8-0, stealing a game that most likely would have been lost with anyone else but Meyer at the controls.
OSU-PENN STATE TIDBITS
** This marks the 28th overall meeting between Ohio State and Penn State, and the Buckeyes enjoy a slight 14-13 advantage. The teams are deadlocked at 5-5 in games played at Beaver Stadium, although OSU has won three of the last four played in Happy Valley.
** Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is 1-0 during his career against Penn State. In his final game as Florida head coach, the Gators scored a 37-24 triumph over the Nittany Lions in the 2011 Outback Bowl.
** Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien has never faced Ohio State as a player, assistant coach or head coach.
** Ohio State will face a Joe Paterno-less Penn State squad for the first time ever in Happy Valley. Paterno, who died in January from complications due to lung cancer, had been on the Nittany Lions sideline as head coach for all 10 of the previous games in the series played at Beaver Stadium.
** O’Brien is only the third head coach in Penn State history to experience a five-game win streak during his debut season with the Nittany Lions. Only George Hoskins (1892) and Dick Harlow (1915) won five straight games in their first season as head coach at Penn State.
** NCAA sanctions prevent either team from competing in the Big Ten Championship Game, but both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions remain eligible to win the Leaders Division championship trophy. Ohio State enters the game with a 4-0 conference record while Penn State is 3-0.
** The game pits two of the winningest college football teams in history against one another. Counting vacated seasons, Ohio State ranks fifth all-time with 845 wins while Penn State ranks sixth with 832. Michigan is first all-time with 900 followed by Texas (863), Notre Dame (860) and Nebraska (851).
** Six of the last 11 games in the series have been determined by seven points or less, but 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. In 2010, the Buckeyes erased a 14-3 halftime deficit to secure a 38-14 win. Throughout the overall series, the average margin of victory for OSU is 16.0 points. When the Nittany Lions win, their average margin is 14.4 points.
** Ohio State will be looking to keep things close tomorrow. The Buckeyes are 4-0 this season while the Nittany Lions are 0-1 in games decided by seven points or less.
** One series trend would seem to favor Ohio State while another works better for Penn State’s hopes. The higher ranked team has won 19 of the last 21 meetings, and OSU enters tomorrow’s game ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press writers’ polls while the Nittany Lions are unranked. Meanwhile, Penn State can take solace in the fact the home team has won 13 of the 19 games played in the series since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten.
** With the exception of Ohio State, Penn State has pretty much had its way with Ohio teams over the years. The Nittany Lions are 20-3-1 against other Ohio schools with the lone blemishes an 8-8 tie at Western Reserve in 1895, a 14-3 loss to Cincinnati in 1983, a 24-6 loss to Toledo in 2000, and a 24-14 loss to Ohio in this season’s opener back on Sept. 1.
** Something has to give tomorrow. Ohio State is tied for 23rd nationally in red zone offense, having scored 30 times in 34 trips inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. Meanwhile, Penn State ranks No. 6 in the nation in red zone defense. The Nittany Lions have allowed opponents to score on only 12 of 20 trips inside their 20-yard line.
** The Ohio State defense is always looking for interceptions, of course, but especially so against Penn State tomorrow. Since 2002, the Buckeyes have returned seven interceptions for touchdowns against the Nittany Lions – Chris Gamble in 2002, Tyler Everett in 2004, Malcolm Jenkins and Antonio Smith in 2006, Jenkins in 2007 and Devon Torrence and Travis Howard in 2010. Best of all, Ohio State won each of those five games.
** Penn State is traditionally one of the least penalized teams in the nation and that is true again in 2012. The Nittany Lions are tied for the fewest penalties in the Big Ten with 32 through seven games and they average only 44.9 penalty yards per game. In its last six games played against the Buckeyes, Penn State has incurred only 17 penalties for 121 yards. During the same six games, Ohio State has been flagged 37 times for 315 yards.
** Penn State is tied for second in the Big Ten lead in fewest sacks allowed with eight. Ohio State ranks ninth in the conference in that category, having surrendered 15 sacks this season.
** Penn State has three native Ohioans on its roster – running back Michael Zordich (Youngstown Cardinal Mooney), offensive lineman Nate Cadogan (Portsmouth) and offensive lineman Anthony Stanko (Warren Howland). The Buckeyes have four players from Pennsylvania – defensive back Corey Brown (Monroeville), receiver Corey “Philly” Brown (Upper Darby), running back Jordan Hall (Jeannette) and defensive end Noah Spence (Harrisburg).
** The game is expected to be a defensive battle, but will feature several of the top offensive players in the Big Ten. Penn State QB Matt McGloin leads the conference with an average of 255.4 yards passing per game while WR Allen Robinson has a league-best 47 receptions. Meanwhile, Ohio State QB Braxton Miller is second in the Big Ten in total offense (292.9 yards per game) and is tied with teammate RB Carlos Hyde for third in the league with 10 touchdowns.
** McGloin is already No. 7 on Penn State’s career list for touchdown passes with 36. He needs only eight more to break the school record of 43 held by Daryll Clark (2006-09). McGloin also ranks seventh all-time in passing yardage with 4,907, but he is still a ways away from Zack Mills, who threw for 7,212 yards during his career from 2001-04.
** Robinson needs only one more reception to crack the Penn State top 10 for most catches in a single season. O.J. McDuffie set the school record with 63 receptions in 1992, a mark that was equaled three years later by Bobby Engram.
** With his 91 yards last week against Purdue, Hyde upped his career rushing total to 1,252 yards. That ties him with Ricardo Volley (1977-79) for 45th on Ohio State’s all-time rushing list.
** Purdue sophomore Akeem Hunt’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the first one surrendered by Ohio State during the regular season since David Gilreath of Wisconsin took one back 97 yards on the game’s opening kick during a 31-18 win by the Badgers in Madison in 2010.
**The 100-yard return by Hunt was the longest against the Buckeyes since Bobby Weber of Minnesota had a 100-yarder vs. OSU in 1977. Weber’s return represented the Golden Gophers’ only touchdown during a 38-7 loss to the Buckeyes in Columbus.
** Garrett Goebel’s blocked extra point in the first quarter vs. Purdue and Johnathan Hankins’ blocked field goal in the second period gave the Buckeyes six blocked kicks for the season – two punts, one field goal and three PATs – and they added to Meyer’s total as a head coach. In 11 seasons with Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and OSU, Meyer-coached teams have blocked 57 kicks in 135 games.
** Kickoff this week is set for shortly after 5:30 p.m. Eastern with ESPN handling the telecast. Veteran play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough will have the call alongside color analysis from former Ohio State All-America linebacker Chris Spielman. Sideline reports will be filed by Quint Kessenich.
** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius satellite radio channels 92 and 136 as well as XM channel 192.
** Next week, Ohio State returns home to face Illinois. Time and broadcast partners remain TBA.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL
** On Oct. 26, 1907, one of the all-time greats made his college football debut. The legendary Jim Thorpe took the field for the first time with the Carlisle (Pa.) Indian Industrial School, and led the Indians to a 26-6 upset of fourth-ranked Penn. The game was held before a crowd of 22,800 at Philadelphia’s historic Franklin Field.
** On Oct. 26, 1968, All-America defensive back Jake Scott returned two interceptions for touchdowns and led eighth-ranked Georgia to a 35-14 win over Kentucky in Lexington, Ky. Scott, who went on to become MVP of Super Bowl VII with the Miami Dolphins, set a UGA record with 10 interceptions that season and he still holds the school career mark with 16 picks.
** On Oct. 26, 1985, seventh-ranked BYU saw its 25-game conference winning streak end when UTEP handed the Cougars a 23-16 loss in El Paso. Miners DB Danny Taylor returned a Robbie Bosco interception 100 yards for a touchdown to provide for the winning points.
** On Oct. 26, 1991, Northwestern tried to change its luck by wearing purple pants against No. 17 Illinois. Wildcats head coach Francis Peay remarked that his team “looked like a bunch of grapes,” but NU registered a 17-11 upset victory, their first defeat of a ranked team in 20 years.
** On Oct. 27, 1923, the first night game in Big Ten history was held as part of a day-night doubleheader in Chicago. During the afternoon, Chicago took a 20-6 win over Purdue at Stagg Field, and then portable lights were installed at Soldier Field as Illinois shut out Northwestern, 29-0.
** On Oct. 27, 1956, seventh-ranked Texas A&M traveled to Waco and came home with a 19-13 victory over No. 8 Baylor. A&M halfback John David Crow threw a 5-yard touchdown to John Tracey, and then scored the winning TD himself on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter. The Aggies, coached by the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, went on to win the Southwest Conference championship and finish No. 5 in the Associated Press rankings with a 9-0-1 record.
** On Oct. 27, 1979, Pittsburgh 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. 28, 1967, UTEP quarterback Brooks Dawson set an NCAA record for most consecutive passes completed for a touchdown when he threw six in a row during a 75-12 victory over New Mexico. Making the feat even more remarkable was the fact that the six touchdowns came on Dawson’s first six attempts of the game.
** On Oct. 28, 1989, Ohio State overcame a 31-0 second-quarter deficit at Minnesota and rallied for a 41-37 victory in the Metrodome. QB Greg Frey threw for 362 yards and three touchdowns while tailback/kick returner Carlos Snow accounted for 278 all-purpose yards and tallied three scores in what was at the time the largest comeback in NCAA history.
** On Oct. 28, 2000, Louisiana Tech quarterback Luke McCown set an NCAA freshman record with 72 passing attempts during the Bulldogs’ 42-31 loss at No. 2 Miami (Fla.). McCown completed 42 of 72 passes for 418 yards and three touchdowns in the game. His 72 attempts remain a single-season school record.
** On Oct. 29, 1960, future College Football Hall of Fame member Pervis Atkins sparked New Mexico State to a 27-24 victory over Arizona State. Atkins returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and then raced 70 yards to set up the game-winning score. Atkins went on to break the NCAA single-season record for most yards per play, averaging an amazing 14.7 yards on 110 combined runs, receptions and kick returns. The previous record was held by Army’s Glenn Davis, the 1946 Heisman Trophy winner.
** On Oct. 29, 1988, Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders rushed for 320 yards to lead his No. 12 Cowboys to a 45-27 win over Kansas State. The performance began a five-game stretch during which Sanders rushed for 1,472 yards, the most rushing yards accumulated over a five-game span in NCAA history. Sanders also became only the second player in college football history to gain more than 200 rushing yards in five consecutive games, and the streak propelled Sanders to an NCAA single-season record 2,628 rushing yards and the 1988 Heisman Trophy.
** Also 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.
** On Oct. 30, 1971, future College Football Hall of Fame tailback Ed Marinaro of Cornell became the first running back in college football history to break the 4,000-yard barrier, doing so during his team’s 24-21 win over Columbia. Marinaro ran for 1,881 yards that season for the Big Red – still a single-season Ivy League record – and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Auburn QB Pat Sullivan. Marinaro went on to play six seasons in the NFL after which he became a successful actor, best known for his portrayal of Officer Joe Coffey on “Hill Street Blues.”
** On Oct. 30, 1982, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie threw for a school-record 520 yards, but it wasn’t nearly enough as Penn State scored a 52-17 blowout over the Eagles in Chestnut Hill. The Nittany Lions were led by quarterback Todd Blackledge, who threw for 243 yards and three TDs, and running back Curt Warner, who rushed for 183 yards and two scores.
** On Oct. 30, 1999, Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo was a one-man wrecking crew against Stanford. 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.
** On Oct. 31, 1992, seventh-ranked Nebraska rolled to a 52-7 victory over No. 9 Colorado in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers piled up 373 yards on the ground and scored touchdowns in a variety of ways, including a 16-yard fumblerooski rumble by offensive guard Will Shields.
** On Nov. 1, 1880, legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice was born in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Considered one of the greatest American writers of the first half of the 20th century, Rice penned arguably the most famous line in college football history when he wrote, “Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again,” dubbing the famed Four Horsemen of Notre Dame in 1924. Rice later joined with U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Army head coach Earl “Red” Blaik to create the National Football Foundation in 1947.
** On Nov. 1, 1969, Toledo clinched the first of its three consecutive Mid-American Conference championships with a 14-10 win over Miami (Ohio) in Oxford. The winning score was a 52-yard touchdown pass from QB Chuck Ealey to wideout Don Fair in the second quarter. The win was the seventh in a row for the Rockets in a streak that would eventually reach 35 games, the fifth-longest winning streak in college football history.
** 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
** Cincinnati dropped its first game of the season last Saturday, a 29-23 decision at Toledo, and that pared the number of undefeated Football Bowl Subdivision teams to 11. Ohio State is the only team at 8-0 while Alabama, Florida, Louisville, Mississippi State, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Ohio, Oregon and Rutgers are 7-0. Oregon State is 6-0.
** Alabama extended the nation’s longest streak to 11 last weekend with a 44-13 rout of Tennessee. Oregon is nipping at the Crimson Tide’s heels with a 10-game winning streak while Mississippi State has won nine in a row. One of those streaks has to end tomorrow since Mississippi State visits Alabama.
** The nation’s longest losing streak ended for the second week in a row. Tulane snapped a 15-game slide Oct. 13 with a 27-26 win over SMU, and then Eastern Michigan broke its eight-game losing streak Saturday with a 48-38 win over Army. Southern Miss, a 12-2 team just a year ago, now owns the longest losing streak in the nation. The Golden Eagles dropped a 59-24 decision to Marshall on Saturday, marking their seventh loss in a row.
** Who said you need to throw for 600 yards and score 70 points to make a statement? Third-ranked Florida stomped its way to a 44-11 win last Saturday over No. 7 South Carolina despite gaining only 183 total yards. The Gators forced four turnovers – three fumbles and one interception – and limited the Gamecocks to only 191 total yards. Meanwhile, Florida QB Jeff Driskel threw for only 93 yards, but he was extremely efficient. Driskel had four touchdown passes, equaling his total from the previous six games.
** Oregon gets more than its share of love for a pinball offense that ranks No. 2 in the nation in scoring at a 51.0 points-per-game clip. But the Ducks can play a little defense, too. During their 43-21 rout at Arizona State last weekend, the Quack Attack held Wildcats QB Taylor Kelly to only 93 yards while intercepting him twice and sacking him five times. Kelly had entered the game as the nation’s No. 3 quarterback in pass efficiency.
** Notre Dame has ridden on the back of its defense to its first 7-0 start since beginning the 2002 season with eight straight victories. Going back to the last half of the 2011 season, the Fighting Irish are 11-2 and have surrendered more than 17 points in only three of those games.
** With the Heisman Trophy race about as wide open as it has ever been at this stage of a season, keep your eye on a certain dark horse candidate. Alabama gets a lot of buzz for its No. 1-rated defense – and deservedly so – but quarterback A.J. McCarron has quietly ascended his way to the top of the national charts in pass efficiency rating. McCarron has completed 106 of 154 attempts (68.8 percent) for 1,476 yards, 16 TDs and no interceptions. And he is the quarterback for the undefeated defending national champions.
** Congratulations to Duke, which became bowl-eligible at 6-2 with a last-second 33-30 win last Saturday over North Carolina. The Blue Devils haven’t made a postseason trip since the 1994 Hall of Fame Bowl, but that’s only part of the story. Duke is trying to break a streak of 17 consecutive losing seasons, a stretch during which the team posted a horrid combined record of 37-158. The Blue Devils have gone bowling only eight times in program history (they started playing in 1888), and haven’t won a postseason game since a 7-6 decision over Arkansas in the 1961 Cotton Bowl.
** To say Kansas is struggling in its first season under head coach Charlie Weis would be understating the obvious. The 1-6 Jayhawks rank 114th out of 120 FBS schools in scoring offense and 118th in pass efficiency. Weis’ defense isn’t anything to write home about, either, ranking 85th in yardage allowed and 89th in points surrendered. And then there’s special teams. Kansas gave up a 90-yard punt return and a 100-yard kickoff return for touchdowns during last Saturday’s 52-7 loss at Oklahoma.
** Speaking of teams that need help and lots of it, Colorado jumps from the frying pan into the fire this week. Fresh off last week’s 50-6 spanking at the hands of USC, the Buffaloes roll into Oregon this Saturday night. The Ducks are the No. 2 scoring offense in the country 51.0 points per game while Colorado ranks 119th in scoring defense, allowing an average of 42.6 points per game. Oregon raced out to a 29-0 lead after the first quarter in last year’s meeting before the Ducks took their webbed feet off the gas pedal and coasted home with a 45-2 victory.
** Auburn’s collapse is reaching historic proportions. Following their 17-13 loss at Vanderbilt last week, the Tigers dropped to 1-6, giving them the worst record for a team just two years removed from a national championship since the Associated Press poll was incorporated in 1936. The record also represents Auburn’s worst start to a season in 60 years. In 1952, the Tigers started 1-7 on their way to a 2-8 finish.
** How close is Northwestern to being 7-0 instead of 5-2? That depends upon your definition of the word “close.” In their two losses, the Wildcats have coughed up double-digit leads in the fourth quarter. On Oct. 6, they held a 28-17 lead over Penn State before the Nittany Lions scored three touchdowns in the final 9:49 for a 39-28 victory. Then last weekend, NU scored with 8:31 remaining to take a 28-16 lead over Nebraska. But the Cornhuskers tallied twice inside the final six minutes to pull out a 29-28 win.
** West Virginia QB Geno Smith broke the NCAA in-season record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception when he reached 273 shortly before throwing his first pick of the season last Saturday against Kansas State. Unfortunately for Smith, he didn’t hold the record for very long. Later in the day, Louisiana Tech QB Colby Cameron increased his total to 275 during his team’s 70-28 win over Idaho.
** Cameron would likely be a Heisman candidate if he didn’t play in the fading-away Western Athletic Conference. The senior has completed 196 of 275 attempts this season (71.3 percent) for 2,306 yards, 20 TDs and no picks. During the Bulldogs’ win over Idaho, Cameron was 29 for 37 for 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns while running back Kenneth Dixon rushed for 232 yards and six TDs. Tech rolled up a school-record 839 yards of total offense in the game and moved to 6-1 for the first time since 1975.
** Idaho’s loss to Louisiana Tech led to the firing of Vandals head coach Robb Akey, who was dismissed with a record of 20-50 in seven seasons. Akey, who became the first coaching casualty of the 2012 season, was replaced by offensive coordinator Jason Gesser. The 33-year-old Gesser is probably best known as the quarterback who led Washington State to a Pac-10 co-championship and Rose Bowl berth in 2002.
** South Alabama killed two birds with one stone last weekend. The 37-34 win in double overtime over Florida Atlantic represented the Jaguars’ first conference victory as Sun Belt members and the program’s first-ever win over an FBS opponent. South Alabama has been playing intercollegiate football only since 2009, and this is the school’s first season at the FBS level. The Jaguars become full-fledged members of the Sun Belt Conference next season.
** A couple of milestone victories from last weekend. Michigan’s 12-10 win over instate rival Michigan State allowed the Wolverines to become the first college football program to reach 900 wins all-time. Also, Division III powerhouse Mount Union clobbered Otterbein by a 51-0 final to give head coach Larry Kehres his 324th career victory. That moved him past Paul “Bear” Bryant and into fifth place all-time in terms of wins among NCAA football coaches. Kehres’ career record of 324-24-3 gives him a winning percentage of .927, and that’s the highest in college football history.
** Speaking of Mount Union, the Purple Raiders’ win over Otterbein last weekend marked their 70th consecutive regular-season win and their sixth shutout in a row. The shutout streak ties an all-time NCAA Division III record. Mount Union is 7-0 this season and has outscored its opponents by a 387-7 margin.
** Kudos to Division III Wilmington College, which snapped a 32-game losing streak with last week’s 13-12 victory over Marietta. Senior kicker Max Gabbard kicked a 35-yard field goal with 31 seconds remaining, and then sophomore Joe Knecht sealed the Quakers’ victory with an interception in the end zone with 0:02 showing on the clock. By the way, Mount Union and Wilmington have already played one another this season. The Purple Raiders eked out a 66-0 win over the Quakers on Oct. 6.
** Mark your calendars. The 2014 BCS Championship Game is scheduled for Jan. 6. That game, the final title contest for the Bowl Championship Series before the new playoff format is incorporated, will be played at the Rose Bowl.
Little by little, we’re making progress. We went 8-2 last week straight up, admittedly because we have underestimated both Florida and Penn State all season. But we had an acceptable 6-4 record against the spread, including nearly picking the Notre Dame-BYU final on the nose. We had it 17-14 for the Irish; the actual final was 17-13.
The season totals are now 66-14 SU and just above water at 40-38-2 ATS.
We’ll try to keep on keepin’ on with these games. (And remember, we use AP rankings.)
Colorado at No. 2 Oregon: If you are the Ducks, you have two ways to approach this game. You can either roll up the score on the Buffaloes or you can race out to a comfortable lead and then put things on cruise control knowing you have to travel to USC next Saturday. Either way, it’s not going to be pretty for Colorado, which ranks 119th of 120 FBS schools in scoring defense and has been outscored by a 143-37 margin in just its last three games. … Oregon 63, Colorado 10. (3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)
No. 3 Florida vs. No. 12 Georgia: The 90th renewal of the World’s Largest Cocktail Party in Jacksonville features a pair of teams seemingly headed in opposite directions. Despite there is another month of the season to be played, the Gators can clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game with a win. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs haven’t looked the same since taking a 35-7 sucker punch from South Carolina three weeks ago. UGA leads the overall series by a 47-40-2 margin, and the Dawgs took home a 24-20 victory last year. But the Gators have won 18 of the last 22 in the series and they are the team that has been playing much better of late … Florida 30, Georgia 23. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 15 Texas Tech at No. 4 Kansas State: The Wildcats rolled into Morgantown last week and rolled back out again following a 55-14 rout of West Virginia. This week, the Fighting Snyders return home to face a surprisingly efficient Double-T defense that ranks No. 7 nationally in total defense. K-State quarterback Collin Klein (1,397 yards, 10 TDs) isn’t the flashiest QB around, but he is deadly accurate and is second in the country with a 10.1-yard average per attempt. But the Red Raiders have a couple of things going for them. First is the fact that the Wildcats have lost nine of their last 11 games at home to ranked teams. And then there is this nugget: Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville is 6-2 lifetime against top-five teams. That would seem to point toward an Upset Special … Texas Tech 23, Kansas State 20. (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox)
No. 23 Ohio at Miami (Ohio): The Bobcats are enjoying life right now. They are 7-0 for the first time since 1968 and have earned their first-ever appearance in the BCS standings, coming in at No. 24 this week. If Ohio truly wants to become a BCS buster, however, it is going to have to stop playing things so close to the vest. Four of the Bobcats’ victories have come by seven points or less, and close games against the likes of Marshall (3-4), Massachusetts (0-7), Buffalo (1-6) and Akron (1-7) are not winning any style points. This week’s opponent is another sub-.500 team that gave Ohio State some problems back on Sept. 1 before succumbing to a 56-10 final. It’s doubtful the Bobcats can put up that many points on the RedHawks, but a double-digit win would look a lot better to the pollsters … Ohio 34, Miami 23. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)
Michigan State at Wisconsin: This has been a remarkably competitive rivalry over the years with the series split at 15-15 since 1979. More recently, the teams have split the last six games with no one winning by more than 10 points. But Sparty hasn’t enjoyed going on the road to play Bucky in recent years. Including a pair of neutral-site games – a game in Tokyo in 1993 and last year’s Big Ten Championship Game – MSU has lost eight of its last nine to Wisconsin away from East Lansing. In a series as close as this one has been, those are the kinds of trends you use to come up with this kind of pick … Wisconsin 20, Michigan State 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)
No. 22 Texas A&M at Auburn: About the last thing Gene Chizik’s beleaguered Tigers needed this week was to face a dual-threat quarterback, but that’s exactly what they’re going to get when A&M redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel comes to town. Manziel is No. 3 in the nation in total offense, averaging 379.9 yards per game, and Auburn is currently ninth in the SEC in scoring defense and 11th in total defense. But as bad as the Tigers are on defense, they’re even worse on offense, ranking 119th in the country in yardage and 118th in scoring. One has to wonder how the Tigers have fallen so hard so quickly after winning the national championship two years ago, a title that earned Chizik a contract extension worth $3.5 million a year through 2015 … Texas A&M 38, Auburn 10. (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU, DirectTV 208)
No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 8 Oklahoma: These teams meet for the first time as ranked opponents since 1968 when the third-ranked Irish rolled to a 45-21 win over the fifth-rated Sooners. Notre Dame has an 8-1 edge in the overall series and many observes believe if they can move that record to 9-1, the Fighting Irish will position themselves for a drive toward the BCS National Championship Game. The Irish have yet to allow more than 17 points to any opponent this season, but they have yet to face an offense as potent as the one piloted by Sooners QB Landry Jones (1,644 yards, 12 TDs). Oklahoma is not invincible by any means – Kansas State proved that with a 24-19 win in Norman last month. But the Sooners still represent an extremely tough out for any team, and that’s why we believe they will end Notre Dame’s dreams of an undefeated season … Oklahoma 27, Notre Dame 20. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
No. 20 Michigan at Nebraska: The Wolverines are making their first trip to Lincoln since a 6-6 tie in 1911, and they are headed to a venue where the Cornhuskers have made a recent living on fourth-quarter comebacks. Last year, NU crawled out of a 27-6 hole for a 34-27 win over Ohio State, and this year the Huskers took a 30-27 decision over Wisconsin after trailing 27-10 early in the third quarter. In other words, no visiting team’s lead is safe at Memorial Stadium. But the Huskers are having trouble stopping anyone this season, and that is evidenced by the fact they have allowed 118 points over their last three games. That includes allowing 63 points and 498 total yards to Ohio State, which has an offensive attack similar to that of U-M. The oddsmakers have installed NU as slight favorites, so that makes this Upset Special No. 2 … Michigan 42, Nebraska 28. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)
No. 13 Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama: The Crimson Tide will not have the luxury of looking ahead to next week’s showdown at LSU with the surprising Bulldogs coming to town tomorrow night. Dan Mullen’s team is off to its best start since 1999 and has done it with a stingy defense that allows only 14.4 points per game and a team that is No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Alabama surrenders only 8.3 points per game and is No. 3 nationally in turnover margin. Neither team has really been tested this season, but the Bulldogs rarely do well on the road in this series. They have come home losers on 23 of their last 25 trips to Tuscaloosa, and are expected to do so again … Alabama 31, Mississippi State 14. (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)
No. 9 Ohio State at Penn State: These two teams couldn’t care less that some are referring to their matchup as the “Banned Bowl.” Neither the Buckeyes nor the Nittany Lions can go bowling this year, but they can win a Leaders Division championship and the winner puts himself in the driver’s seat for that trophy. Penn State has made a remarkable turnaround after dropping its first two games of the season, and that revival has come mostly because of a stout defense and the play of QB Matt McGloin (1,788 yards, 14 TDs). But while the Lions are second in the Big Ten in scoring defense, they have not faced an attack the likes of which Ohio State features with Braxton Miller. The sophomore quarterback has rebounded well from last week’s neck injury and is eager to make up for last year’s performance against Penn State, which included a 9-yard scramble on fourth down with 1:41 remaining that came up a yard short in the Buckeyes’ eventual 20-14 loss. Somewhere along the line, Miller makes that yard this year … Ohio State 27, Penn State 24. (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Colorado at Oregon (-45½); Florida (-3½) vs. Georgia; Texas Tech (+8) at Kansas State; Ohio (-7) at Miami-OH; Michigan State (+6½) at Wisconsin; Texas A&M (-7) at Auburn; Notre Dame (+11) at Oklahoma; Michigan (+2½) at Nebraska; Mississippi State (+24) at Alabama; Ohio State (-1) at Penn State.
Enjoy the games and we’ll visit again next week.