Back To The Graveyard … For The Last Time

Some years, I tell myself that I don’t need to go. Driving past a house where strangers live and then chasing ghosts in a graveyard … Well, that doesn’t seem to be the best use of one’s time. Yet I always seem to find myself performing the same ritual each year about this time.

This year, I looked forward to it more than any other. I didn’t know why until later, after I had driven past the small little white house on Cardiff Road and large concrete expanse of Ohio Stadium. It was uncharacteristically warm for late November in Columbus, and I rolled my car window down as I made my way up Olentangy River Road and turned left into Union Cemetery.

Dusk had fallen and a cool breeze had coupled with the warmth of the day to create a thin layer of fog near the ground. I slowed down just as I passed the entrance of the cemetery as a caretaker waved at me. “Don’t be too long,” he shouted. “We’re closing soon.”

I nodded and waved, then made my way up the small hill and turned left toward Section 12. And there, tucked into a corner between several others beneath a rustling pine tree was the familiar black granite marker at Lot 37, Space 4.

I got out of my car and approached the headstone, always decorated this time of year with mementoes that passersby have left. This time, there were buckeyes and small figurine of Brutus as well as a book of the collected works of Emerson. The pages fluttered in the breeze as I heard a voice behind me.

“You again?”

I wasn’t startled because it was a familiar voice. And I didn’t even have to turn around as an older man stepped forward on my left, a gray-haired man wearing a black baseball cap, red windbreaker and gray trousers.

“Yes, it’s me,” I replied. “I just thought I’d come over and see what you … I mean, I thought I would come over and see if I could figure out what he would think about this year’s game.”

“And what did you come up with?”

“Well, I think he would probably be a little fired up because of what happened last year. I think he would probably be a little fired up because a perfect season’s on the line this year.”

The old man scowled and shook his head.

“You sportswriters are a stubborn bunch of SOBs, you know that?” he said. “You haven’t seemed to learn much from our little visits over the years. With this game, it doesn’t matter what happened last year. It doesn’t matter what your record is. The only thing that matters is the game you’re going to play. That game, that opponent, that moment. Nothing else means a damn.”

He paused for a few seconds and then continued.

“No one ever went into this great game thinking about anything other than the game itself. What are the tendencies, where are the weaknesses? Who can you depend on when things get rough and who shies away from the spotlight? Xs and Os and game-planning, you can do those things until you’re blue in the face. And don’t get me wrong: They have their place. You’d had damned well better be prepared. But you have to know your team. You have to know who you can count on and who you can’t. To my good fortune, I had some outstanding young men who more often than not rose to the occasion in this great game. A coach is only as good as his players and I was blessed with some great ones.”

I nodded and then said, “What do you think of Ohio State’s new coach?”

“My kind of man,” he replied. “Tough, hard-working, not afraid to speak his mind.”

“Sounds like someone else I know,” I said.

The old man squinted through his silver-rimmed glasses. “Don’t patronize me, Son. I never did suffer fools well and I don’t aim to start now.”

I looked down and shuffled my feet sheepishly as he continued.

“The simple fact of the matter is that things are good hands – very good hands as far as I can tell. This great university and these great fans should be proud to have such an outstanding young man as their head coach. They should be proud of such an outstanding group of young men who have turned this thing around. To go from where they were last year to where they are now? That’s quite an accomplishment. You betcha it is. And no one gave them anything. They earned every damned thing they’ve gotten, including respect. And let me tell you something: When you earn respect, that’s everything. That’s something they can never take away. No sir. They can never take that away.

“The greatest thing in the world is Ohio State football. And the second greatest thing in the world is Ohio State beating That School Up North. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. Sixteen times we beat those bastards and there wasn’t anything that compared with the feeling. But when you lose that game, it’s the lowest low you can ever experience. Happened 11 times and it just makes you sick to your stomach. That’s why you work so damned hard throughout the year to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“And then, when all your hard work and all your sweat and all your preparation and all your game-planning come together, when all of that comes together and you beat those sons-a-bitches … well, I don’t care whatever you go on to accomplish. There’s no greater feeling you get than beating That School Up North. None.”

The old man clenched his jaw and looked skyward.

“When I first came here, I just wanted to make sure everyone still understood the importance of this game. With all of the tradition that are being trampled on for the sake of a goddamned dollar, I wanted to stress the importance of just how much The Game has meant to generations of fans – how much it still means. How much it will always mean. There are a bunch of us here, you know, and there isn’t anything any of us wouldn’t do to be able to experience it just one more time …”

A church bell chimed in the distance and we both knew what that meant.

“Well, I have to be getting back,” the man said.

I nodded and said, “I always look forward to our visit. See you next year?”

“I don’t think so,” he replied.

Stunned, I stammered, “Wh-what? What do you mean?

“Well,” he said with a sigh, “it gets a little harder every year. And there are rules.”

“Rules?” I asked.

“What? You think I don’t have to go by the rules?” he said as he leaned toward me.

Then I saw the faint flicker of a smile as the old man reflected on the joke he had just told on himself.

“But there was so much more I wanted to ask and our time always seems so short,” I said.

“Oh, I’ll be around,” the man said. “Like whenever the team runs out of the tunnel at the old Horseshoe, I’ll be there. Whenever that sousaphone player dots the ‘i,’ I’ll be there. Whenever that victory bell rings loud and clear, I’ll be there. Whenever someone in some far-flung corner of the globe yells “O-H!” and someone yells back, “I-O!,” you’d better believe I’ll be there.

“And whenever we beat that goddamned school up north, you betcha I’ll be there.”

With that, he turned and began to walk off into the foggy evening.

And then I did something I had never done before. I ran after him.

“I just wanted to thank you,” I said. “Not just for these visits these past few years, but for what you’ve done for all of us who consider ourselves Ohio State football fans.”

The man stood up straight, clenched his jaw and stuck out his hand.

“The pleasure was mine,” he said. “Always was and always will be.”

OSU-MICHIGAN TIDBITS

** Tomorrow will mark the 109th renewal of what is known simply as The Game. The teams first met in 1897 and have played one another every season since 1918. The Wolverines lead the overall series by a 58-44-6 margin, including a 27-24-2 advantage in Columbus.

** Ohio State actually has a home advantage in the series in games played at Ohio Stadium where the Buckeyes are 23-21-1 against Michigan. OSU was 1-6-1 vs. the Wolverines at old Ohio Field.

** In the last 50 meetings overall, Ohio State holds a 25-23-2 advantage.

** The Buckeyes have won each of the last five games in the series played at Ohio Stadium, their longest home winning streak ever against the Wolverines.

** Ohio State has beaten Michigan in eight of the last 10 meetings for the second time in the series. The Buckeyes also had an 8-2 record against the Wolverines between 1955 and 1963.

** OSU head coach Urban Meyer is in his first season with the Buckeyes. He has a career record of 115-23 in 11 seasons as a head coach, including 0-1 against Michigan. His Florida team was on the losing end of a 41-35 decision to the Wolverines in the 2008 Capital One Bowl. Meyer also faced Michigan six times as an assistant coach, posting a 2-4 record against the Wolverines. He was 1-1 against U-M as an Ohio State assistant coach from 1986-87, posted a 0-1 record at Colorado State from 1990-95, and was 1-2 at Notre Dame from 1996-2000.

** Only four Ohio State head coaches have enjoyed winning records against Michigan – Woody Hayes (1951-78) at 16-11-1, Jim Tressel (2001-10) at 9-1, 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 Brady Hoke is in his second season with the Wolverines. He has a career record of 66-55 in 10 seasons as a head coach, including 19-5 at Michigan. Hoke is 1-0 against Ohio State as a head coach, and 6-3 lifetime against the Buckeyes. He spent eight seasons from 1995-2002 on Lloyd Carr’s coaching staff at U-M.

** Seven Michigan head coaches have winning records against Ohio State. They are Fielding Yost (1901-23, ’25-26) at 16-3-1, Bo Schembechler (1969-89) at 11-9-1, Herbert “Fritz” Crisler (1938-47) at 7-2-1, Gary Moeller (1990-94) at 3-1-1, and Gustave Ferbert (1897-99), George Little (1924) and Hoke at 1-0 each.

** Last week, Michigan completed a perfect 6-0 home record with a 42-17 rout of Iowa. That made Hoke the first U-M head coach to go undefeated at home in his first two seasons since Yost in 1901-02.

** Ohio State is currently No. 4 in the Associated Press writers’ poll while Michigan is 19th in the BCS standings and 20th in the AP and USA Today coaches’ polls.

** Meyer enters tomorrow’s contest with a 23-10 career record against ranked teams, including 2-0 at Ohio State. Hoke has a 4-9 career mark against ranked opponents, including a 3-3 mark at Michigan. He is also 0-2 record vs. teams ranked in the top five, including 0-1 with the Wolverines. U-M lost a 41-14 decision in this year’s season opener to then-No. 2 Alabama.

** Ohio State has already clinched an outright Leaders Division championship. Michigan needs a victory and a Nebraska loss at Iowa today to claim the Legends Division title and advance to the Big Ten Championship Game.

** Should Michigan not advance to the conference title game, it would mark the second year in a row neither the Wolverines nor the Buckeyes had won or shared the Big Ten championship. The last two-year stretch when neither team was involved in the league title was in 1994-95.

** Ohio State is trying to complete only the sixth perfect record in program history. The only unbeaten and untied seasons in OSU history came in 1916, 1944, 1954, 1968 and 2002.

** The Buckeyes could conceivably have had four more perfect seasons, but Michigan ruined undefeated OSU campaigns in 1969, 1993, 1995 and 1996.

** The game will feature two of the winningest college football teams in history. Michigan ranks first all-time with 903 wins while Ohio State is fifth with 848. Texas is second with 866, Notre Dame is third with 864 and Nebraska is fourth with 855.

** This marks the 19th time in series history that Ohio State and Michigan have played after Thanksgiving. The Wolverines hold a slight 9-8-1 advantage when the game has been played after Turkey Day, including last year’s 40-34 decision in Ann Arbor.

** Ohio State enters tomorrow’s contest ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press writers’ poll while Michigan is unranked. The last time a ranked OSU team lost to an unranked U-M squad was 1993 when the fifth-ranked Buckeyes suffered a 28-0 loss to the unranked Wolverines at Michigan Stadium.

** The higher ranked team has won each of the last six meetings in the series. The last time the higher ranked team lost was in 2004 when unranked Ohio State toppled the seventh-ranked Wolverines by a 37-21 final.

** You probably should not expect a shutout tomorrow. The Wolverines haven’t blanked the Buckeyes since that 28-0 victory in Ann Arbor in 1993. OSU hasn’t recorded a shutout over U-M since a 28-0 win in Ann Arbor in 1962.

** Ohio State will pit its prolific scoring offense against Michigan’s stingy defense. The Buckeyes rank 18th nationally in scoring offense with an average of 38.2 points per game, while the Wolverines are 17th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 18.1 points per contest.

** The game will feature a pair of slow-starting teams. Only 65 of Ohio State’s 420 total points (15.5 percent) have come in the first quarter. Only 52 of Michigan’s total of 339 points scored (15.3 percent) have come in the opening period.

** That said, both teams will be looking to score first. They are each 6-0 this season when putting the first points on the board.

** The second quarter is when things begin to liven up for both teams. The Wolverines have outscored their opposition by a 124-74 margin in the second period while the Buckeyes have outscored their opposition by a 139-44 margin in the second quarter.

** Since the two teams met in 1922 for the Ohio Stadium dedication game, a total of 7,857,674 fans have attended The Game. That’s more than any other college football game in America. Sixty-two of those 90 games have been sold out, including the last 43 in a row.

** The Wolverines have 24 native Ohioans on their roster including six starters – defensive end Frank Clark (Cleveland Glenville), center Elliott Mealer (Wauseon), strong safety Jordan Kovacs (Oregon Clay), offensive guard Patrick Omameh (Columbus DeSales), receiver Roy Roundtree (Trotwood-Madison) and linebacker Jake Ryan (Cleveland St. Ignatius). That number would be seven had running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (Youngstown Liberty) not suffered a season-ending leg injury last week.

** The Buckeyes have two players from Michigan – senior tight end Reid Fragel (Grosse Pointe South) and junior defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins (Detroit Southeastern).

** In the previous 108 contests between OSU and Michigan, only 40 have been decided by seven points or fewer. In those 40 games, each team has 17 wins and there have been six ties.

** The Game will be televised for the 46th consecutive year and 57th time overall. The first OSU-Michigan game ever televised was a 21-0 win by the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in 1947.

** Ohio State will wear specially-designed Nike uniforms for the game. The uniforms feature enlarged jersey numbers and stripes as well as more utilization of the color black. Jerseys will also feature seven Buckeye leaves along the back collar and a Block “O” on the front collar. The Buckeyes will also wear special gloves, the same sort of which got the team repeated unsportsmanlike conduct penalties following touchdowns during Ohio State’s 37-7 victory over Michigan in 2010.

** Twenty-one Ohio State seniors will make their final appearance on Senior Day. Due to get their traditional hug from the head coach and high-five from Brutus are Zach Boren, Dalton Britt, Ben Buchanan, Zach Domicone, Reid Fragel, Garrett Goebel, Adam Homan, Travis Howard, Orhian Johnson, Storm Klein, William McCary, Ross Oltorik, Vincent Petrella, Taylor Rice, Etienne Sabino, Justin Siems, John Simon, Stewart Smith, Kharim Stephens, Jake Stoneburner and Nathan Williams.

** The university will also honor members of the 2002 national championship team between the first and second quarters. Head coach Jim Tressel is expected to be among the former players and coaches in attendance.

** Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern. ABC will televise the game to most of the nation with the announce crew of Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Chris Spielman (color analysis) and Quint Kessinich (sideline reports).

** The game will also be broadcast on Sirius and XM satellite radio channels 86 and 91.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Nov. 23, 1918, one of the great World War I-era games was played when the Great Lakes Naval Training Station team traveled to Annapolis to take on the U.S. Naval Academy in a battle of undefeated teams. Following a scoreless first half, Navy All-America end Wolcott Roberts caught a touchdown pass from Bill Ingram for a 6-0 lead. The Midshipmen missed the ensuing extra point, but it didn’t seem important as they moved to the Great Lakes 1-yard line on their next possession. But Ingram fumbled into the end zone and the loose ball was scooped up by Bluejackets defender Harry Eileson, who head the other way along the Navy sideline. Suddenly, Middies reserve William Saunders jumped off the bench and tackled Eileson before trying to sneak back to the sideline. Officials ruled that Eileson would have scored on the play, and awarded Great Lakes a touchdown. The Bluejackets then added the extra point and claimed a 7-6 victory.

** On Nov 23, 1957, Princeton knocked off unbeaten Dartmouth, taking a 34-14 victory and claimed the Ivy League title in the process. Princeton star Danny Sachs threw a touchdown pass, returned an interception 40 yards to set up another score and returned a punt 60 yards for fourth-quarter TD to lead the Tigers.

** On Nov. 23, 1984, Boston College quarterback hurled a 48-yard “Hail Mary” TD pass to wide receiver Gerard Phelan on the game’s final play, giving the Eagles a 47-45 win over Miami (Fla.) and sewing up the ’84 Heisman Trophy for Flutie.

** On Nov. 23, 1985, Iowa quarterback Chuck Long became the first player in Big Ten history to throw for more than 10,000 career yards when he led the Hawkeyes to a 31-9 victory over Minnesota.

** On Nov. 24, 1938, Texas scored a 7-6 upset win over Texas A&M, allowing the Longhorns to avoid a rare winless season.

** On Nov. 24, 1956, College Football Hall of Fame coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf made his final game a memorable one when his California team scored a 20-18 upset win over Stanford.

** On Nov. 24, 1973, undefeated and top-ranked Ohio State played unbeaten and fourth-ranked Michigan to a 10-10 tie, touching off a controversial vote among Big Ten athletic directors over which team should represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes won a 6-4 vote with many believing OSU got the nod because Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin had broken his collarbone late in the game against the Buckeyes and would not have been able to play on New Year’s Day. Ohio State went on to roll to a 42-21 win over USC in the Rose Bowl, but the tie against Michigan cost the Buckeyes the 1973 national championship. They finished second in the AP poll behind Notre Dame and third in the UPI rankings, trailing Alabama and Oklahoma. Michigan finished sixth in both polls.

** Also on Nov. 24, 1973, No. 20 Kansas took a 14-13 win over No. 19 Missouri in the Border War. The Tigers held a 13-0 lead entering the fourth quarter, but Jayhawks QB David Jaynes threw a pair of late touchdown passes to secure the win. The one-point victory allowed Kansas to set an NCAA record by playing their sixth game of the season decided by two points or less. The Jayhawks beat Colorado and Iowa State by two points, beat Missouri by one, lost to Nebraska and Tennessee by one and tied Oklahoma State.

** On Nov. 24, 1979, third-ranked Nebraska and No. 8 Oklahoma squared off for the Big Eight championship in a battle of the unbeatens. The Sooners, led by tailback Billy Sims and his 247 rushing yards, eventually prevailed with a 17-14 win for their fourth outright conference title in seven years.

** On Nov. 25, 1916, Ohio State took a 23-3 victory over Northwestern to cap a 7-0 season and earn the school’s first Big Ten championship. It was the first of a league-record 18 outright championships and 34 overall conference titles for the Buckeyes.

** On Nov. 25, 1920, Texas defeated instate rival Texas A&M by a 7-3 score in the first college football game ever broadcast live on radio.

** On Nov. 25, 1950, Michigan and Ohio State combined for a Big Ten-record 45 punts during a game played in a driving snowstorm. The Wolverines won the game 9-3 in what has become known as the “Snow Bowl.”

** On Nov. 25, 1961, Rutgers completed its first undefeated season since 1876 with a 32-19 win over Columbia. The Scarlet Knights overcame a 19-7 deficit after three quarters, roaring to the victory by scoring four times in the fourth quarter.

** On Nov. 25, 1971, top-ranked Nebraska and No. 2 Oklahoma waged an epic back-and-forth battle on Thanksgiving Day that resulted in a 35-31 victory for the Cornhuskers. NU took an early 14-3 lead, thanks in part to a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown by Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers, but the Sooners stormed back to take a 31-28 lead in the fourth quarter. Nebraska responded with a late touchdown lead to take the victory and eventually went on to capture the 1971 national championship under College Football Hall of Fame head coach Bob Devaney.

** On Nov. 26, 1955, Tennessee halfback Johnny Majors and backup halfback Al Carter each threw fourth-quarter touchdown passes to rally the Volunteers to a 20-14 victory over No. 19 Vanderbilt. The outcome prevented the Commodores from winning the SEC championship and securing a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

** On Nov. 25, 1989, Bo Schembechler coached his final game in Ann Arbor, guiding his third-ranked Michigan team to a 28-18 win over Ohio State. The victory gave Schembechler’s Wolverines their second consecutive outright Big Ten championship, becoming the first team to win back-to-back undisputed league titles since Michigan State in 1955 and ’56.

** On Nov. 26, 1938, Georgia Tech became the first team in college football history to play back-to-back scoreless ties when the Yellow Jackets battled instate rival Georgia to a 0-0 draw in Athens. The previous week, Tech and Florida had played to a scoreless tie in Atlanta.

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

** On Nov. 27, 1982, Auburn running back Bo Jackson rushed for 114 yards and led the Tigers to a 23-22 victory over Alabama. It was the final regular-season game for Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who finished a 38-year career with 323 victories. The game also marked a milestone for Auburn head coach Pat Dye. He became the first of 30 former Bryant assistants who had tried to beat the legendary coach since 1970.

** On Nov. 27, 1998, Texas tailback Ricky Williams sewed up the Heisman Trophy with a 259-yard performance during a 26-24 upset of sixth-ranked Texas A&M. Williams broke off a 60-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to break Tony Dorsett’s NCAA career rushing record.

** On Nov. 28, 1942, unranked Holy Cross scored a 55-12 rout of No. 1 Boston College, the most lopsided loss ever for a top-ranked team.

** On Nov. 28, 1975, Texas A&M protected its No. 2 national rating with a 20-10 win over fifth-ranked Texas, the Aggies’ first win at home over the Longhorns in eight years.

** On Nov. 28, 1981, No. 11 Penn State trounced No. 1 Pittsburgh by a 48-14 score, the largest winning margin in NCAA history for a ranked team over a No. 1 team.

** On Nov. 28, 2008, Eastern Michigan quarterback Andy Schmitt connected on an NCAA single-game record 58 of 80 pass attempts during a 56-52 victory over Central Michigan. The performance came six days after Schmitt went 50 for 76 in a 55-52 loss to Temple, and his 108 completions over a two-game span is also a college football record.

** On Nov. 29, 1935, Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger was named the winner of the inaugural Downtown Athletic Club Trophy as the outstanding college football player of the year. The following year, the award would be renamed the Heisman Trophy.

** On Nov. 29, 1958, Auburn protected its No. 2 ranking and extended its winning streak to 24 consecutive games with a heart-pounding 14-8 win over Alabama. The Tigers needed a defensive stop with 1:26 remaining in the game to preserve the victory.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** And there were two. Heading into the next-to-last weekend of the regular season, only Notre Dame and Ohio State remain undefeated at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

** For the second week in a row, the nation’s longest winning streak ended at 13 games. Two weeks ago, Texas A&M snapped Alabama’s streak and Stanford topped Oregon last Saturday night. That means Notre Dame and Ohio State are not only the only undefeated teams in the nation, they share the longest winning streak at 11.

** The nation’s longest losing streak moved to 11 games when Southern Miss head coach Ellis Johnson rolled the dice and came up craps against UTEP. The Golden Eagles marched 86 yards for a touchdown to pull within one point of the Miners at 34-33 with 2:48 remaining. But rather than tie the game, Johnson elected to go for the win and QB Arsenio Favor’s two-point conversion pass was intercepted. The Golden Eagles never got the ball back and UTEP closed out the 34-33 victory. Southern Miss has one more opportunity to avoid its first winless season since 1925. The Eagles travel to Memphis tomorrow to take on the 3-8 Tigers.

** Notre Dame is 11-0 for the first time since 1989 and seeks to finish with a perfect regular season for the first time since its 1988 national championship season. The Fighting Irish have had 12 previous unbeaten and untied seasons – 1889, 1912, 1913, 1919, 1920, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1947, 1949, 1973 and 1988.

** To finish off their perfect regular season, the Fighting Irish must get past USC, which is hurting in more ways than one. The Trojans are coming off a 38-28 loss to crosstown rival UCLA – only their second loss to the Bruins in the past 14 meetings – and quarterback Matt Barkley will miss Senior Day at the Coliseum with a shoulder injury. USC holds a 43-35-5 all-time advantage over Notre Dame, including nine wins in the last 10 meetings.

** West Virginia running back Tavon Austin registered 576 all-purpose yards, including a school-record 344 rushing on 21 carries, last week against Oklahoma. But it wasn’t enough as Sooners QB Landry Jones launched his sixth touchdown pass of the game with 24 seconds left to give Oklahoma a 50-49 win. Jones finished with 554 yards through the air, a new school record for a single game. The two teams combined for 1,440 total yards, including 778 for the Mountaineers, the most ever surrendered by an Oklahoma defense.

** Austin broke a bunch of longstanding records with his performance. His rushing total bested the old mark of 337 yards set by Kay-Jay Harris during a 56-23 win against East Carolina in 2004. He also shattered both the school record of 356 all-purpose yards in a game set by Garrett Ford during a 63-48 win over Pittsburgh in 1965.

** Syracuse senior Ryan Nassib is one of the best college quarterbacks you’ve never heard of. During last week’s 31-27 win by the Orange at Missouri, Nassib raised his career passing total to 8,845 yards and became his school’s all-time leader in that category. Nassib has led Syracuse to a 6-5 record, making the Orange bowl-eligible for the second time in three years.

** Missouri’s loss to Syracuse snapped an 18-game winning streak for the Tigers against nonconference opponents. Mizzou is 5-6 overall and 2-5 in its first season in the SEC. It needs a victory at No. 9 Texas A&M tomorrow night to avoid a first losing season since 2004.

** Another quarterback having a spectacular under-the-radar season is Tajh Boyd of Clemson. Not only as the junior QB directed the Tigers to a 10-1 record, Boyd has thrown for 3,367 yards and 33 TDs and added another 466 yards and eight scores rushing. Makes you kind of wonder why a guy who is No. 2 in the nation in pass efficiency and No. 7 in total offense doesn’t get more Heisman mention.

** Boyd was a one-man wrecking ball last Saturday during his team’s 62-48 win over North Carolina State. The junior quarterback threw for five touchdowns and ran for three more, setting school and ACC single-game records by accounting for eight TDs. Boyd also directed an offense that ran a school-record 102 plays for 754 yards, only two shy of another school mark. The Tigers have now won 10 regular-season games for the first time since 1981.

** Speaking of guys who get no Heisman love, how about Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch. During his team’s 31-24 win over Toledo last week, Lynch became the first player in NCAA history to rush for more than 150 yards and throw for more than 400 in the same game. For good measure, Lynch also added a 62-yard punt. The fourth-year junior is currently third in the nation in rushing, third in total offense and 10th in pass efficiency. Lynch has accounted for 4,086 yards and 38 TDs for the Huskies, who have won 10 games in a row since a season-opening 18-17 loss to Iowa. NIU last had a double-digit winning streak in 1964-65 when it strung 11 victories in a row over two seasons.

** Finally, a tip of the cap to John Gagliardi, the legendary head coach at Division III St. John’s (Minn.), who Monday announced his retirement after 64 years as a coach, the last 60 with the Johnnies. The 86-year-old Gagliardi finished his career as the all-time winningest coach in college football history, amassing a 489-138-11 record. Among his many accomplishments: NAIA national championships in 1963 and ’65 and NCAA Division III national titles in 1976 and 2003. His teams also won 30 conference championships, including 27 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles. Gagliardi was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Like a championship contender, we are peaking at the right time here at Forecast World Headquarters. On the heels of a 10-0 week, we were nearly perfect at 9-1 in the straight-up picks. Better still, we picked Baylor to upset Kansas State and that helped toward a 7-3 record against the spread.

The season totals are 89-21 straight up and 57-51-2 ATS and we’ll look to keep our late-season winning streaks going with these games.

TODAY’S GAMES

No. 17 Nebraska at Iowa: The Cornhuskers, who have been Big Ten members for two seasons, need one more victory to advance to their first conference championship game. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes – who have been in the league since 1900 – contemplate a multimillion-dollar buyout of longtime head coach Kirk Ferentz. Iowa has fallen and fallen hard this season, losing five in a row for the first time since 1999 when it dropped its last eight that season. Nothing the Hawkeyes have done for the past month indicated they can even slow down the Huskers much less beat them … Nebraska 38, Iowa 14. (12 noon ET, ABC)

No. 8 LSU at Arkansas: Remember when the Razorbacks were ranked No. 10 in the preseason polls? That was long before the season spiraled into a 4-7 record so far, a campaign that with a loss this week would mean the first eight-loss season in Fayetteville since 1990. It seems difficult to see how the Hogs will avoid that, especially with LSU still hoping out a sliver of hope of playing the SEC title game. The sad truth for Arkansas was that deposed head coach Bobby Petrino took his offense with him when he was fired. The Razorbacks are 88th in the country in scoring, a statistic made even more glaring when you consider the Tigers have the 12th best scoring defense … LSU 37, Arkansas 10. (2:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Illinois at Northwestern: While Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is currently enthralling moviegoers, these two teams will battle for The Land of Lincoln Trophy tomorrow. We mention the Oscar-worthy movie only because it features infinitely more interesting subject matter than this football game. The Wildcats are headed for a second nine-win regular season win in five years while the Fighting Illini are experiencing another losing campaign, their eighth in the past 11 seasons. Illinois leads the overall series by a 54-46-5 margin, and that includes a 38-35 win last season. But if the Wildcats play the way they have been playing the last month or so, there isn’t much hope the Illini has of avoiding their first winless Big Ten season since 2005 … Northwestern 34, Illinois 27. (12 noon ET, BTN, DirectTV 610)

Georgia Tech at No. 3 Georgia: Talk about flying under the radar. No one is giving a second thought to the Bulldogs, who will play for the national championship if they can pick off the Yellow Jackets and then beat Alabama in the SEC title game. Of course, UGA can thank a baby-soft schedule for its lofty ranking. The Dawgs didn’t have to play the Crimson Tide and their only cross-divisional SEC games were against a struggling Ole Miss and an even-more-struggling Auburn. Meanwhile, Tech is 6-5 and always represents a tough out with its triple-option attack. The Wreck, which has already qualified for the ACC championship game, averages 38.6 points per game, good for 16th-best in the nation. But the Bulldogs have won 10 of 11 in the series, mostly by simply outscoring the Yellow Jackets. Look for that to happen again … Georgia 38, Georgia Tech 24. (12 noon ET, ESPN, DirectTV 206)

Auburn at No. 2 Alabama: About the only thing riding on this year’s version of the Iron Bowl is Auburn head coach Gene Chizik’s job. Just two years removed from a national championship season, the Tigers have cratered to a 3-8 record overall and 0-7 mark in the SEC. To avoid a first winless conference record since 1980 and save their head coach’s job, all the Tigers have to do is knock off the Crimson Tide, which appears headed for its third national championship game in four years. Despite its misstep two weeks ago in the loss to Texas A&M, Alabama still boasts the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, a pretty handy weapon against an Auburn team that ranks 107th in scoring offense … Alabama 45, Auburn 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 6 Florida at No. 10 Florida State: After beating the likes of Texas A&M, LSU and South Carolina during the first two months of the season, the Gators haven’t been the same team since a 17-9 loss to Georgia on Oct. 27. They have strung together three lackluster wins since then to move to 10-1, but lackluster won’t get it done against the Seminoles. FSU’s defense is as stingy as they come, and the Seminoles rank among the nation’s top five units in every major statistic. That includes No. 1 in total defense, something that should get the attention of Florida and its 104th ranked offense. The Gators still hold an edge in the overall series, but the Seminoles have won the last two meetings and expect to make it three in a row … Florida State 30, Florida 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Wisconsin at Penn State: Congratulations are in order for the Nittany Lions putting together a winning season against a stacked deck of player defections and NCAA sanctions. Unfortunately, most of the team’s success has come against lesser opponents. Only two of Penn State’s seven victories have come against teams with winning records. Wisconsin is on its way to the Big Ten Championship Game, and still has some unfinished regular-season business including getting running back Monteé Ball another touchdown to set the NCAA career record. The Badgers didn’t exactly play lights-out last week against Ohio State, but their power game should be enough to take care of the Lions … Wisconsin 31, Penn State 21. (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)

Missouri at No. 9 Texas A&M: The Tigers are trying to avoid their first losing season since 2004 and draw the explosive Aggies in College Station. Redshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel has become a Heisman candidate by accounting for 3,047 yards of total offense and 38 TDs. To be brutally honest, Mizzou has nothing that can counterbalance that. The Tigers have scored 20 points or fewer in five games this season, and all of those have been losses. Meanwhile, the Aggies have topped 50 points four times already and rank sixth nationally in scoring. Watch Johnny Football punch his ticket to New York City at the Tigers’ expense … Texas A&M 42, Missouri 24. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, DirectTV 209)

No. 1 Notre Dame at USC: We were ready to pull the trigger on another Upset Special when we learned USC quarterback Matt Barkley would miss the game with a shoulder injury. That, of course, changes everything. The Trojans will now trot out backup Max Wittek, a talented freshman who is no doubt the future of the USC franchise. But asking a freshman to make his first start against the nation’s top-ranked team – a team that features the nation’s top scoring defense – is asking a little much. Look for the Fighting Irish to finish off its perfect regular season and then sit back to find out which SEC team it will face for the BCS championship in January … Notre Dame 24, USC 17. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 20 Michigan at No. 4 Ohio State: You can analyze this game a thousand different ways from matchups to Denard Robinson’s throwing elbow to how well the OSU defense can stand up to the U-M spread. None of it really means much as the Buckeyes seek to close out a perfect season. Simply put, the one thing we keep coming back to is that it is Urban Meyer’s first shot at the Wolverines as Ohio State head coach and we just don’t see how he lets victory escape his grasp … Ohio State 34, Michigan 30. (12 noon ET, ABC)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Nebraska (-14½) at Iowa; LSU (-11½) at Arkansas; Illinois (+19½) at Northwestern; Georgia Tech at Georgia (-13½); Auburn at Alabama (-32½); Florida at Florida State (-7); Wisconsin (+3) at Penn State; Missouri at Texas A&M (-16½); Notre Dame (-5½) at USC; Michigan at Ohio State (-3½).

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