Sunday Morning QB: The Sea Is Parting For The Red

Last night's massacre of the BCS ladder's best and brightest leaves Ohio State in position to pick up the pieces and possibly defend its national championship. We examine what it might take for OSU -- beyond 2 more wins -- to get to Bourbon Street. We also look at yesterday's OSU win and, as always, survey the college football scene across the Big Ten and the nation.

Welcome to Sunday Morning Quarterback, a column I intend to stand each week as a quick read on the news, notes and opinion on Ohio State's weekly game as well as the Big Ten and the college football nation at large.

Here‘s what we have after yesterday's win over Michigan State:

* What was a seven-team race suddenly got whittled down to four late Saturday night with the latest bloodletting in the Bowl Championship Series.

Ohio State was sitting fifth in the BCS standings going into the weekend. The Buckeyes took care of business, dispatching Michigan State 33-23. Then, they watched as BCS No. 3 Florida State got drubbed at Clemson 26-10 and BCS No. 4 Miami (Fla.) dropped a 10-6 decision at home to Tennessee.

Heck, for good measure, BCS No. 6 Virginia Tech got stunned 31-28 at Pittsburgh (more on all these games below).

So, what do we have left? Top-ranked Oklahoma is playing a different game than everybody else after humbling Texas A&M 77-0. BCS No. 2 USC was idle and, with three games left, figures to still end up 11-1. OSU comes next, of course. But LSU, ranked seventh in the BCS coming into an idle weekend, is still in the hunt.

As those upsets were brewing last night, I sat down and did some calculating. Clearly, Oklahoma will still be No. 1 and I think USC will hang in at No. 2. The Trojans had 7.10 BCS points last week. Because of the various losses, they figure to subtract about a half a point in the computers to get down to the 6.50 range.

Based on where USC and OSU stood in the computers last week, it is my guess that OSU will be second in four of the computers and USC will be second on three of them. OSU had 11.47 BCS points last week. I see them gaining 0.7 or more in the computer rankings (the computers already were respecting OSU, it seems).

OSU's biggest area to jump is in the subjective polls. The Buckeyes were seventh in the AP poll and sixth in the coaches poll last week. They will move up to fourth likely in both polls this week (LSU still ahead of them, likely). That represents a gain of about three BCS points.

OSU will only get a slight 0.2 or so bump for strength of schedule.

So I have OSU paring its BCS ranking down to about 7.50. That puts them in the ballpark with USC. Obviously, if USC or LSU would lose and OSU can win out, that solves everything: OSU would be headed to the Sugar Bowl.

But if USC, in particular, does not lose, things could get murky for the Buckeyes.

Prior to this past weekend, USC enjoyed the slightest of advantages in strength of schedule. USC's opponents had a 38-30 (.559) record and their opponents' opponents were batting .545 (I know, we're getting deep). That gave USC the 15th-best schedule at .5542. OSU's opponents were slightly worse at 36-31 (.537), but the difference is in their opponents' opponents (.536). That leaves OSU at 20th nationally at .5368.

It helps that OSU played the BCS' No. 20 team Michigan State, now 7-3, yesterday. Plus, they have BCS No. 14-and-climbing Purdue (8-2) and No. 8-and-climbing Michigan (8-2) on the docket. Meanwhile, USC still plays at BCS No. 96 Arizona and hosts No. 38 UCLA and No. 32 Oregon State. projects that when all is said and done, OSU's schedule will be ranked roughly sixth. USC's is projected to drop to 23rd. I'm not sure if these changes will be enough to make a big difference, but they should be worth something.

The thing that stuns me is that if Ohio State succeeds in running the table, the Buckeyes would be 6-1 against AP ranked teams this season. USC, you ask? By my calculations, they would be 2-0 against ranked teams with wins over Auburn and Washington State. They have hung 35 or more on a slew of mediocre teams (their names are BYU, Hawaii, Arizona State, Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington).

How any rational individual could look at the two teams' cards and vote USC over Ohio State is beyond me. But William Rhoden of The New York Times just made the point on ESPN's "Sports Reporters" that can't be stated any other way. John Saunders said everybody thought OSU had been left for dead after the loss at Wisconsin.

Did Rhoden take OSU to task for its inconsistent offense? No. The very first words out of his mouth were, "I didn't like the way they handled the Maurice Clarett situation."

What in the hell does that have to do with this team and where it should be ranked and how it fits into the BCS picture? This is the uphill BS battle Ohio State is facing right now: People like Rhoden are predisposed to NOT give them their proper credit. What a freaking joke.

Well, I admit, last night's slew of upsets notwithstanding, it does look a little bit bleak and I will argue until the cows come home that the Rose Bowl is no consolation prize. (In fact, it appears OSU, even at 9-3, will do no worse than the Capital One Bowl. Another win should cement a BCS at-large bid to either the Orange or Fiesta. Two wins get you either the Sugar or the Rose.)

But there are four things to look for if Ohio State is to improve its station in life. They are:

First, the poll voters must elevate them to at least No. 3. That means they must win impressively the next two weeks (good luck) and/or LSU must lose. I like the second option. The Tigers just about have to win out to get to the SEC title game. They visit Alabama and front running Ole Miss next two weeks before hosting Arkansas. Then, they'll play a dangerous East team -- either red hot Tennessee or Florida or possibly Georgia, which already beat LSU -- in the SEC title game. That is a tough road to hoe.

Second, the upheaval will put Michigan firmly in the BCS top five and may elevate Purdue to the top 10. A Purdue loss to OSU would eliminate possible quality win for beating the Boilers. But they should get at least a slight deduction if they can beat Michigan, which should stay in the top 10 even with a loss to the Buckeyes. Every tenth of a point counts in December.

Third, they need the computers to make them a solid No. 2. As I said, I see four of the seven computers taking OSU to No. 2. If they can make that a clean sweep -- and they should, given who they're playing and who USC is playing -- that would be a big boost as well.

Finally, they need the strength of schedule to stay true to form. Washington is kind of a wash because it's on both OSU and USC's card. So we won't crab about the fact the Huskies, picked to win the Pac-10, couldn't beat Nevada or lowly Arizona. San Diego State gutted out a 7-0 win over UNLV to get to 5-5. That helps. Bowling Green and N.C. State have done well for OSU. It helps that most everybody OSU has played has drubbed Illinois. It doesn't help when the teams OSU beats lose to Minnesota, who the Buckeyes will not play. In fact, an Iowa win over Minnesota this week would be great.

And, there's a fifth thing you always have to say -- if OSU doesn't win all of this stuff is academic anyway.

* It seems like every week I come out and jock the offense for (finally) getting it together. I'm going a different route this week. The OSU defense turned in another great performance in "containing" MSU's Jeff Smoker.

Yes, MSU got 373 yards passing. Smoker had 351 of them and also caught a 22-yard "pass back" from Aaron Alexander. But the Spartans only netted 5 yards on the ground on 17 attempts. You want more stats? MSU had 287 yards total offense at halftime. They only got 91 more yards the rest of the game.

What does that say? It tells me that OSU needed a half to gauge how Smoker was attacking them. Then, they made the proper adjustments and turned the Spartans -- like so many others over the last two seasons -- away.

"They got some yards in the first half," said OSU's masterful defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio. "We made some adjustments in the second half and played a lot better. (Smoker) is great quarterback. He gets the ball off quick. We tried to pressure him. He was throwing on rhythm."

Dantonio shared the big change: "We decided to play a little bit more dime and put a sixth defensive back in the game. We played a little bit of that early. But we extended the package in the second half."

After facing ground oriented teams the last few weeks, OSU had to summon the skills it takes to shut down a spread team (a la Washington, N.C. State).

"Our players did a good job of adjusting to the speed of the game," Dantonio said. "Sometimes when you play an offense like this, I think it's like playing an option team. You have to get used to it a little bit. I'm proud of our players for hanging in there. We made some big plays with some turnovers and we hit the quarterback some in the second half."

Smoker threw a school-record 55 passes in the loss. But he gained some admirers with this performance.

"If you have a guy who can pull the trigger and make things happen, he makes everybody around him better," Dantonio said. "He goes to a lot of different receivers."

But it was OSU's defense, with people like Will Smith and Tim Anderson and Darrion Scott getting after it up front, A.J. Hawk and Robert Reynolds controlling the middle of the field and young guys like Tyler Everett and Donte Whitner making big picks on the back end, that ruled the day.

After what seemed like another trip to the dentist's chair, Dantonio was just glad to have the win.

"All I looked at was we won," he said. "Our offense played well today. They took control of the game and that was the reason we won the game today."

* Wait, there's more. Lydell Ross has been banged up. Get the poor guy a rubdown … and get him back in there. That seems to be OSU's plan with the junior tailback, who isn't necessarily making people forget Maurice Clarett but at least causing them to mention the recalcitrant one less and less with each passing week.

What else explains what we saw on Saturday? Ross was clearly hobbled in the first half, to the point where quarterback Craig Krenzel was also serving as OSU's tailback with 10 first-half carries. At the break, Ross had just 11 yards on six carries. But he put it together in the second half, netting 114 more yards in the final 30 minutes to help OSU put the game away and finish with 125 yards on 24 carries. He only had 2 negative yards, which must be a record for an OSU opponent other than Indiana.

Everything we've seen from Ross the last three weeks is a precursor to what comes next with stingy defenses from Purdue and Michigan in the offing. Will he and the offense rise to the challenge?

* And how about Craig Krenzel? The senior just generally helped Ohio State win the game. Was this his best game as a runner? No. Was he deadly accurate with his passes? No. But he did everything OSU needed to win this game in convincing fashion.

I read the message boards and saw the critiques: "He missed a wide open guy here, he threw behind a guy there."

But, come on, his day looks like a career one if Chris Gamble holds on to a sure touchdown. That was a great deep ball, the defender never touched it and No. 7 needs to put that one away and take it to the house.

Ohio State was teetering on the brink early in the second quarter when Krenzel stepped up and hit tight end Ben Hartsock on the crossing route for the touchdown on third-and-10 from the MSU 17. Settling for a field goal there could have been disastrous as MSU could have then driven and extended its 7-6 lead to 14-6. Instead, OSU charged ahead 10-7.

Krenzel is now 22-2 as the starting quarterback at OSU. He is down to his last two regular season games and a bowl game. Maybe he and Michael Jenkins will reprise their heroics against Purdue this Saturday (wouldn't that be fun?). Then, does anybody think this guy doesn't stand a good chance of ending up 3-0 against the University?

If you could go to sleep now and wake up on, say, Jan. 5 and hear that Krenzel ended up 25-2 as the starting quarterback, he would have led the Buckeyes to a second straight Big Ten title (and first outright since 1984 -- a big Jim Tressel goal), another win over Michigan (I know, that one's gonna be tough) and then either OSU's first Rose Bowl win since 1997 (and just seventh ever, to even OSU's Pasadena mark at 7-7) or the school's sixth consensus national championship (eighth overall) with a Sugar Bowl win.

Oh, man, it's all there to play for, isn't it?

Now, for a look around the Big Ten

* No. 16 Purdue stayed in a three-way tie for the conference lead with Michigan and Ohio State at 5-1 in Big Ten play after jumping on No. 10 Iowa for a 27-0 lead and hanging on a for a 27-14 win in West Lafayette.

Tailback Jerod Void ran for a career-high 120 yards and two touchdowns, including a 1-yard TD that put the Boilermakers ahead 27-0 in the third quarter. Void had just one fewer rushing touchdown than the Hawkeyes had allowed all season. The Boilermakers also piled up 77 rushing yards by halftime, more than any team had managed against Iowa in the previous seven games.

"We wanted to run the ball and we did just that," said Purdue coach Joe Tiller. "That is the best Jerod has run, in terms of power running, all season."

QB Kyle Orton threw for 164 yards and a score for Purdue, which reached 5-1 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1979. Purdue can win the Big Ten outright if it can defeat Ohio State next week, then finish with a win at home over rival Indiana, and also have OSU go to Michigan Nov. 22 and get a win.

* No. 24 Minnesota appeared to have Paul Bunyon's Axe wrapped up early when it led Wisconsin 24-6. But the Badgers, playing without star tailback Anthony Davis, rallied to tie the game at 34-34 on Jim Sorgi's 26-yard TD pass to Owen Daniels with 7:15 left.

But the Gophers grabbed the Axe and so much more when Rhys Lloyd booted a 35-yard field goal on the final play for a 37-34 win at the Metrodome.

"The last thing I told (Lloyd) before the kick was, `Don't forget the Axe,' " Minnesota coach Glen Mason said.

Sure enough, Lloyd watched his kick split the uprights, then led a stampede of Minnesota players to the Wisconsin sideline to grab the Axe.

"I'm just glad he didn't go for the Axe before he kicked the ball," Mason joked.

The victory shows this season has been no joke for Minnesota: The Gophers reached nine wins for the first time since they were 11-0 … in 1904. Minnesota wraps up the year at Iowa next week. A win could cement a New Years‘ Day bowl for Minnesota.

* Poor Joe Paterno. Penn State lost a sixth game in a row for the first time since 1931, falling at Northwestern 17-7. NU prevailed on a 41-yard Brett Basanez TD pass to Brandon Horn, which was tipped to the receiver by a PSU defensive back.

"You let people hang around and they're going to beat you," said Paterno, whose team missed two field goals in the first half but still led 7-0 in the final quarter.

Noah Herron had 180 yards for Northwestern, which at 5-5 needs a win over Michigan or at Illinois to become bowl-eligible with six wins.

* Indiana snapped an 11-game Big Ten losing streak with a come-from-behind 17-14 win over Illinois in Bloomington. QB Matt LoVecchio scored on an 8-yard run with 24 seconds left to give the Hoosiers their elusive win.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* With apologies to Tennessee, the Game of the Week was at Pittsburgh. The homestanding Panthers gave Virginia Tech one more going away present to the ACC with a dramatic 31-28 win over the Hokies, whose sudden national title hopes again went by the wayside.

Pitt's Lousaka Polite finished off a 70-yard drive with a second-effort 2-yard touchdown run with 47 seconds remaining to rally the 25th-ranked Panthers over the fifth-ranked Hokies. Pitt beat the Hokies for the third straight season. Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones scored on runs of 80 and 13 yards barely two minutes apart. Jones scored all four Tech touchdowns and ran for a school-record 241 yards.

Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford was 24-for-31 for 303 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a score. The win puts Pitt (6-0 Big East) in the driver‘s seat for the league‘s BCS bid.

Pitt star receiver Larry Fitzgerald made three catches for 49 yards in the final drive. He also extended his own NCAA record by recording a TD catch in his 15th straight game.

* Miami (Fla.) flamed out figuratively and literally with its 10-6 loss to Tennessee at the Orange Bowl. The stunning UT win ended the nation's longest home winning streak at 26 games. Miami failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 1997 and failed to score one at home for the first time since 1984.

Derrick Tinsley scored the winning touchdown in the second quarter as coach Philip Fulmer gambled on fourth-and-goal at the 2.

"We came here to win," Fulmer bellowed.

Miami's Brock Berlin threw two interceptions and fumbled once. Berlin's first interception led to the game-tying field goal. Miami also hurt itself with 12 penalties for 120 yards, including a roughing the punter call that led to the lone touchdown. Plus, Miami "star" tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. committed a personal foul by removing his helmet on the ‘Canes late attempt to take the lead, costing his team field position. Sean Taylor fumbled a UT punt in the final two minutes to seal the deal.

Afterwards, loose cannon Winslow Jr. was fit to be tied: "I hate refs. They were looking at me the whole time. I can't even get hyped up after a play. I can't even get my crowd hyped up."

He also showed no remorse for injuring a UT player with a legal crack back block.

"It's kill or be killed," he said. "I'm pissed. I don't give a …"

* Perhaps the day's most poignant moment was at Clemson, S.C., where Tommy Bowden may have saved his job by finally beating his record-setting dad, Bobby, and No. 3 Florida State 26-10. It was Tommy's first win in five tries against dad and, while fans poured on to the field, they met for a brief moment at midfield. Meanwhile, FSU‘s national title hopes again went up in flames.

"I asked if he did that on purpose," Tommy Bowden joked after the meeting with his dad.

Charlie Whitehurst threw for one touchdown and ran for another and Clemson posted its first victory ever over a team ranked in the top. The Tigers snapped an eleven-game losing streak to the third-ranked Seminoles. Fans tore down both goalposts after Clemson's biggest win in years. Aaron Hunt added four field goals and the Tigers held the Seminoles to their fewest points of the season. Florida State, still on track to win the ACC and go to a BCS game with a win over N.C. State next week, managed just 11 yards rushing.

* Top-ranked Oklahoma buried Texas A&M 77-0 in Norman, avenging a 30-26 loss to the Aggies a year ago that cost OU a shot at the national title. Jason White tied a school record with five touchdown passes. He was 16-of-18 for 263 yards. Mark Clayton grabbed seven passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns as the Sooners went over the 50-point mark for a school-record sixth time this year. It was A&M‘s worst loss ever.

OU and its fans can make nonrefundable reservations for New Orleans. They host Baylor this week before visiting Texas Tech and wrapping the regular season in the Big 12 title game, likely against Nebraska, a 24-3 winner over Kansas on Saturday.

* While LSU may be in the top five, the SEC West will come down to the Nov. 22 game between the Tigers and Ole Miss in Oxford. The Rebels pulled out a 24-20 win at Auburn, going ahead on Brandon Jacobs' 1-yard TD run with 2:39 left. Auburn then drove down to the Ole Miss 3 in the closing minute, but could not get the ball into the end zone.

* Forty was the magic number for Notre Dame as walk-on kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Irish to a 27-24 win over Navy. It also extended the nation's longest winning streak over an opponent to 40 straight games over the Midshipmen. Julius Jones had 221 yards and two touchdowns for ND.

"This is reason to celebrate," said ND coach Tyrone Willingham, whose team improved to 3-6.

* B.J. Symons of Texas Tech was 32-of-47 for 428 yards and seven touchdowns in just 2 1/2 quarters of the Red Raiders' 62-14 win over Baylor. Symons also extended his NCAA record with his ninth straight game with at least 400 yards of total offense.

* Quotable: "I guess it's better than being at the bottom," said St. John's coach John Gagliardi, who became college football's career victory leader with No. 409, a 29-26 win over Bethel.

* My new Heisman Trophy ballot (subject to change, of course, before I have to send it in): Oklahoma's Jason White (they may continue engraving), Virginia Tech‘s Kevin Jones and Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald (these guys deserve their own trophies, and I think they‘re called Doak Walker and Fred Biletnikoff), Ole Miss‘ Eli Manning.

* My new top 15: Oklahoma, Southern California, Ohio State, LSU, Michigan, Texas, TCU, Georgia, Purdue. Tennessee, Minnesota, Washington State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Miami (Fla.) (Sorry Florida State, third to 16th, ouch.).

* Games to watch next week include: Wednesday we have the MAC East on the line between Miami (Ohio) and Marshall. Plus, we get BYU-Notre Dame (I know, yawn), Auburn-Georgia, N.C. State-FSU, Purdue-Ohio State, Kansas State-Nebraska, Michigan State-Wisconsin and Minnesota-Iowa.

We will wrap up each week with a look at how OSU's opponents fared and check out who they face next week, followed by the Big Ten standings.

Date (Time, TV), Opponent (Record), This Week's Result, Next Week's Game

Aug. 30, Washington (5-5), lost to Arizona 27-22, Nov. 8; at California, Nov. 15

Sept. 6, San Diego State (5-5), beat UNLV 7-0, Nov. 8; at Colorado State, Nov. 15

Sept. 13, N.C. State (7-3), idle, Nov. 8; at Florida State, Nov. 15

Sept. 20, Bowling Green (7-2), lost to Miami (Ohio) 33-10, Nov. 4; vs. Kent State, Nov. 15

Sept. 27, Northwestern (5-5), beat Penn State 17-7, Nov. 8; vs. Michigan, Nov. 15

Oct. 11, at Wisconsin (6-4), lost to Minnesota 37-34, Nov. 8; vs. Michigan State, Nov. 15

Oct. 18, Iowa (7-3), lost to Purdue 27-14, Nov. 8; vs. Minnesota, Nov. 15

Oct. 25, at Indiana (2-8), beat Illinois 17-14, Nov. 8; at Penn State, Nov. 15

Nov. 1, at Penn State (2-8), lost to Northwestern 17-7, Nov. 8; vs. Indiana, Nov. 15

Nov. 8, Michigan State (7-3), lost to Ohio State 33-23, Nov. 8; at Wisconsin, Nov. 15

Nov. 15 (3:30 p.m., ABC), Purdue (8-2), beat Iowa 27-14, Nov. 8; at Ohio State, Nov. 15

Nov. 22 (noon, ABC), at Michigan (8-2), idle, Nov. 8; at Northwestern, Nov. 15

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Ohio State (9-1, 5-1)

Michigan (8-2, 5-1)

Purdue (8-2, 5-1)

Minnesota (9-2, 5-2)

Michigan State (7-3, 4-2)

Iowa (7-3, 3-3)

Wisconsin (6-4, 3-3)

Northwestern (5-5, 3-3)

Indiana (2-8, 1-5)

Penn State (2-8, 0-6)

Illinois (1-10, 0-7)

Nov. 8 Results

Northwestern 17, Penn State 7

Ohio State 33, Michigan State 23

Indiana 17, Illinois 14

Minnesota 37, Wisconsin 34

Purdue 27, Iowa 14

Nov. 15 Schedule

Michigan State at Wisconsin, TBA

Purdue at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Michigan at Northwestern, TBA

Minnesota at Iowa, TBA

Indiana at Penn State, TBA

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