Sunday Morning QB: Can Buckeyes Still Make BCS?

We get answers to Friday's edition of Ten Pressing Questions following the loss at Michigan. Plus, we look at the quarterback situation, OSU's bowl prospects and, as always, peruse the picture in the Big Ten and across the nation in college football.

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 game against Michigan:

* On Friday, I posed Ten Pressing Questions surrounding The Game. Obviously, by a look at the final score -- Michigan won 35-21 -- the answers to most of those questions will favor the Maize and Blue. But quickly, I shall recap those questions, how we felt they might be answered and what the real answers turned out to be.

1. Can Ohio State contain Michigan's powerful running game? We thought this would be, perhaps, the single biggest factor in this game, and, as it turned out it was.

After allowing their first 11 opponents to average roughly 51 yards a game on the ground, OSU stood idly by and watched Michigan trample them for 170 yards on the ground. Tailback Chris Perry had 154 of those yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries.

Why was that, you ask? Well, I thought UM's offensive game planning was balanced -- the Wolverines ran the ball 18 times and threw it 19 times in the first half. Their offensive line simply dominated at the point of attack. OSU's front seven had its worst game since ... maybe that 1999 game where Ron Dayne and Wisconsin trampled them.

2. Will OSU's B.J. Sander keep the ball away from dangerous punt returner Steve Breaston? Breaston averaged just shy of 10 yards a punt return. He did rip off a 33-yarder in the fourth quarter which helped shift the field position advantage. (And OSU's Chris Gamble was clearly shoved in the back to spring Breaston on that big return, anyway.)

It is hard to quibble with Sander. In the biggest game he has ever played in, he boomed nine punts for a 49.1 yard average. He put three of his punts inside the 20-yard line.

3. Can Ohio State's pass rush get to Michigan quarterback John Navarre? This was an emphatic no as OSU never sacked the 6-6 Navarre, who had all day to pick and choose from his various receivers. As a result, he completed 21 of 32 passes for 278 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Again, the UM offensive line did the job in neutralizing the pass rush and picking up OSU's (woefully ineffective) blitzes.

4. How will OSU's defensive backs hang with UM's Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant and Breaston? Edwards proved to be every bit as good as advertised. The OSU secondary had two huge breakdowns on his touchdowns, failing to tackle him after the catch on the first one and failing to cover him, period, on the second.

Avant went down with an injury early, so he wasn't a factor. Honestly, some of the biggest pass plays of the day went to Perry on screens (five catches for 55 yards) and to seldom-used tight end Tyler Ecker for a 30-yard gain that set up the backbreaking final touchdown.

I am going to say that secondary held its own -- other than those two Edwards plays. They had to play run support all day and were helped with no pass rush as they were left for dead, largely, by OSU's front seven.

5. How will the massive crowd impact the game? This was one of the liveliest crowds ever at The Big House. I think the UM faithful were more emotionally charged for this game than any in recent memory. I think the scene at Ohio Stadium last year and the nature of that 14-9 loss, which sent OSU to the Fiesta Bowl, had a factor in that.

OSU failed to do anything of note in the first 25 minutes of the game to take this NCAA record crowd of 112,118 out of the game.

6. What wrinkles do Tressel and Jim Bollman have up their sleeve? Once again, their hands were tied as tailback Lydell Ross and quarterback Craig Krenzel got dinged up and fullback Branden Joe proved ineffective with his touches as well.

Once OSU fell behind 21-0, Tressel had to scrap whatever he had planned and put the ball in the air. This looked the roles had been reversed from recent OSU-Michigan games as OSU abandoned the run (25 attempts, maybe a low for the Tressel era) and went to the air (46 attempts).

That they mustered three touchdowns against a pretty good defense must be considered a moral victory, in some respects.

7. Can Craig Krenzel help deliver a third win overMichigan? There is a reason no OSU QB since the early 1900s has led the Buckeyes to three straight wins over the Wolverines. Because it's hard. Krenzel did his best to try and make that happen, but he became a battlefield casualty with his shoulder injury.

Before he went down, Krenzel was playing his usual game -- great decisions on running and distributing the ball, occasional passes that were high, wide or underthrown. His two fades for touchdowns to Santonio Holmes -- the New Freak, as I like to refer to him -- were picture perfect, however.

I heard some OSU fans were cheering when Krenzel went down. I would urge them to go back and look at OSU's first scoring drive in this game. He completed 8 of 9 passes for 63 yards and got the other 18 yards, himself, on the ground.

8. Will Ohio State be able to establish the run? This was an emphatic no. That was 25 attempts for 54 yards. Ouch. Of course, it hurt that Ross was hurt and Joe and Maurice Hall couldn't get anything going.

9. Can they go the distance? I surmised that OSU would stay in the game for the full 60 minutes. Well, they did and they didn't. As noted, they didn't do anything at all for the first 25 minutes.

Then, they played the next 21 minutes or so about as well as they have all year. But unlike past dramatic wins, OSU was unable to stay in it down the stretch as UM rebounded from a Navarre interception to slam the door with an eight-play, 88-yard scoring march.

10. Will Navarre deliver the goods? This guy deserves all the props. He has been much maligned for his inability to deliver in big games. Well, he put that theory to rest by riddling the Buckeyes. In so doing, he finally got the OSU bugaboo off his back and won his own Big Ten championship as well. I honestly did not think he had it in him and have to admit I thought the Chris Gamble interception was the beginning of the end for Navarre and the Wolverines.

That first touchdown drive, where UM went 89 yards in 18 plays, should be shown to quarterbacks everywhere. On the second possession of the game, Navarre was content to take what OSU was giving him. He completed 6 of 8 passes on that drive. Five of those passes gave UM a first down.

I thought he would get his 250 yards, and he did. He and the rest of Michigan's seniors also got that elusive title as well.

* I have to admit I was puzzled by a lot of things after this loss.

I did not understand why Ohio State did not call a timeout at some point in the 18-play scoring marathon ... er march. UM held the ball for 7:04 of clock time on that possession. The defense could have used a breather or something to regroup in there somewhere, certainly.

That's on the coaches. But the players deserve some blame, too. That drive was capped by Breaston's 3-yard run as he lined up at quarterback and ran the option for an easy score. I'm sorry, when a wide receiver -- who had not taken a snap all year, we're told -- lines up under center at the 3-yard line, somebody has to recognize that and call timeout. Clearly, the defense was on its heels and in reactionary mode.

In the second quarter, UM had taken a 14-0 lead. But the Buckeyes had the ball on third-and-2 at the Michigan 49. There appeared to be confusion as lineman Adrien Clarke did not seem to know where to line up. Then, Krenzel ran some type of ill-fated option play and was slammed for a 1-yard loss. Again, when you can't even get lined up properly -- and it is that big of a play -- you need to call timeout to regroup.

Two of my other questions dealt with OSU play calling on a pair of UM sacks. The Buckeyes trailed 28-7 and faced a second-and-14 on their own 32 midway through the third quarter. It was an obvious passing situation and UM had no reason to not bring the house, which it did. Krenzel was asked to execute what looked like 15 play fakes 10 yards deep. Result: He was sacked for a 10-yard loss.

Then, in what may have been one of the biggest plays of the game, Scott McMullen was sacked for a 2-yard loss on the third-and-8 play after the Buckeyes had cut the lead to 28-21. Again, it was an obvious passing situation. Tressel kicked himself afterwards for not going with a maximum pass protection.

* The quarterback situation bears some watching as OSU prepares for its bowl game.

Tressel has bent over backwards to keep Krenzel's spirits high even as the starter has had consistency problems.

But I think the coach owes it to McMullen as well as the team to throw him a bone in the bowl game. I believe Krenzel should start, McMullen should play the second quarter and then they should make a decision on who should play the second half.

Finishing 11-2 would be a great springboard toward next year. I don't think jockeying these quarterbacks, in the final analysis, will have a big impact on whether OSU wins or loses this next game -- particularly if this defense doesn't play worlds better.

* We will probably not know OSU's bowl assignment until the Bowl Championship Series releases its picks Dec. 7.

I think Ohio State is still in a strong position to get a BCS at-large bid, particularly after Washington State's loss to Washington on Saturday. There was talk that the Rose Bowl was getting heavy pressure from the Pac-10 to match the OSU-Michigan winner with Wazzu.

Now, it seems likely that Michigan might face LSU, Texas, Florida State or Miami (Fla.) in the Rose Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl welcomed 50,000 OSU zealots to the Valley of the Sun last year and you would have to think would love to have OSU back. The Orange Bowl has also made its feelings known that it would love to have Ohio State as well.

But the Buckeyes need the BCS bowls to work together this year. If the Rose Bowl somehow sticks to its guns and still wants Washington State (that is unlikely because ABC has some input here, too), OSU would probably be on the outside looking in. Texas, with a win over Texas A&M this week, is a cinch for a BCS at-large bid.

There are so many different scenarios to all of this. The first card that has to fall is Miami (Fla.) clinching the Big East against Pittsburgh this week. Then, the Orange Bowl must decide if it wants Miami or Florida State -- or both -- as its host school.

The Fiesta Bowl, which figures to lose top-ranked Oklahoma, will then have the first pick in the rotation. The logical choices would be LSU, Texas or Ohio State, who all travel well. The Rose, which figures to lose No. 2 USC to the Sugar, would then decide who it wants to play Michigan.

The Orange and Fiesta would then fill their games with the remaining teams that have not been picked.

At worst, I think OSU is guaranteed the Capital One Bowl. They haven't been to Orlando since the 1995 season. But after the game against Michigan, they were hoping for a little more.

When asked if he thought OSU was still a BCS team, offensive tackle Shane Olivea said, "I think so. To come in here -- I don't think anyone gave us a shot -- we had an opportunity to win this game. I'm not trying to go back to the Outback Bowl.

"We want to go to a BCS bowl. We feel like we're a BCS team. We've proven that. In two years, we've had two losses."

"I think we deserve (a BCS bid)," added receiver Michael Jenkins. "We're 10-2 with a tough schedule. We'll have to wait and see what the computers say."

Jenkins admitted the sting of losing to Michigan will linger.

"It will last for a while," he said. "We've got about a month until the bowl game. I think we'll be able to recover and get ready for that game."

Olivea said he expects his teammates to gear up for an opportunity to play one more time.

"You have to get up," he said. "It's a pride factor. It will be the last time we wear this jersey. That means a lot to all of us. You don't need a lot of speeches. For a lot of us, we'll treat it like a Michigan game because it will be the last 60 minutes we get to wear this jersey. There's not a lot of motivation the coaches will have to do.

"We'd like to be playing on Jan. 4, but we're not going to be. That doesn't mean we're not going to play as hard or prepare as hard just because we're not playing for the national championship."

Krenzel agreed with that sentiment.

"Our season is not over," he said. "We've had a pretty good year. We still have a bowl game in January. We don't know where and we don't know who. We need to take the next couple of weeks and make sure we get better. Then we'll prepare for whoever it's going to be.

"The season is not over until January. We've got a senior class that has worked really hard and busted their butts. We're not about to go out on a losing note."

* In the Buckeye Grove, I made an assertion that the Big Ten offensive player of the year award could come down to this OSU-Michigan game. I felt it was a three-man race between Navarre, Perry and Edwards.

They all played great games, certainly, against OSU. But the Wolverines do not win that game without Perry's incredible running. Navarre stayed away from mistakes and Edwards, as always, was explosive. But Perry stood on his head in this game. He's my pick as the POY.

I also debated the coach of the year award. I think that's a tossup between Michigan's Lloyd Carr and Minnesota's Glen Mason. (Watch them give it to Michigan State's John L. Smith.)

Now, for a look around the Big Ten

* No. 16 Purdue won the Old Oaken Bucket for the sixth time in seven years and also locked up a second-place tie in the Big Ten with OSU by defeating rival Indiana 24-16 in Bloomington.

Kyle Orton threw two touchdown passes to John Standeford, then found him again late for a 56-yard pass play to seal Purdue's victory. Purdue should be ticketed for, at worst, the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 and perhaps the Capital One if OSU gets picked for a BCS bowl.

Standeford had six catches for 151 yards and moved within four grabs of passing Illinois' David Williams for the Big Ten career record. Indiana tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis wrapped up a fine freshman season with 155 yards.

* Michigan State's Jeff Smoker threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns in his team's 41-10 victory over Penn State. The loss ended the worst season in Joe Paterno's 38 years as the PSU coach. The Nittany Lions (3-9) lost nine games for the first time in school history and are only the fourth losing team in Paterno's career.

"This is as bad a football game as we've played in a long time," Paterno said afterwards, giving no indication he is close to throwing in the towel. "I want to get out of here, get on a plane, go home and hug my wife."

* Northwestern's Jason Wright ran for 251 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-20 victory over Illinois, which finished a dismal 1-11. NU (6-6) would be ticketed for a bowl game if Ohio State gets picked by the BCS and the Wildcats would be needed to fill a Big Ten bowl tie-in.

* Iowa free safety Sean Considine broke up John Stocco's pass in the end zone on the final play to preserve No. 17 Iowa's 27-21 victory over Wisconsin in Madison. Considine, whose interception of Matt Schabert's pass in the third quarter led to the Hawkeyes' go-ahead score, batted down Stocco's throw intended for Jonathan Orr on fourth-and-goal from the 4 with no time left.

The Hawkeyes (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) avoided an 0-4 conference road record by scoring the game's final 20 points. The Badgers dropped to 7-5 overall and 4-4 in conference play.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* The Game of the Week was obviously Ohio State-Michigan. But the runner-up may have been LSU's 17-14 win at Ole Miss. The victory puts LSU, with a win at Arkansas Friday, on course to represent the West in the SEC title game.

LSU held Eli Manning and Ole Miss under wraps until the fourth quarter. Jonathan Nichols, who had missed only one of 24 field goal attempts coming in, was wide right on a 36-yarder that would have tied the game at 17 with 4:15 left.

The Rebels got one last chance with 2:15 left, but Manning was incomplete on three straight passes and on fourth down he was tripped pulling away from center by one of his linemen. Manning was 16-for-36 for 200 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

* Top-ranked Oklahoma completed its 10th unbeaten regular season in 65 years with a 56-25 trouncing of Texas Tech. Jason White threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns. The Sooners have won 13 straight, the longest current streak in Division I-A, and surpassed the 50-point mark for a school-record seventh time this season. Oklahoma beat its five Big 12 South foes -- Texas, Texas A&M, Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State -- by a combined score of 291-50.

Texas Tech's B.J. Symons broke the NCAA Division I-A single-season record for passing yards in the second quarter. His 5,336 yards surpassed Ty Detmer's previous record of 5,188 yards in 1990 with BYU. But the record could not offset five interceptions in the loss.

* Oklahoma will likely face Kansas State in the Big 12 title game Dec. 6 in Kansas City. K-State's Darren Sproles ran for a school-record 273 yards on 43 carries, and scored two touchdowns in the No. 19 Wildcats' 24-14 victory over Missouri. With two receptions for 12 yards, he outgained the entire Missouri team 285-264.

* Boston College upset No. 12 Virginia Tech 34-12 as Derrick Knight ran for 197 yards and two touchdowns.

* Auburn's Carnell Williams came up big in his team's 28-23 Iron Bowl win over Alabama. Williams had 204 yards and two scores, including an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.

The game marked the first time the two teams entered this game with a combined 12 losses. Brandon Brooks' 96-yard kick return to start the second half for Alabama was the first time either team had returned a kick for a score in an Iron Bowl since 1969.

Auburn coach Tom Tuberville was due to meet with his school's president Sunday to discuss his future.

* California beat Stanford 28-16 in the 106th Big Game, winning the Axe for the second straight year.

* Oregon knocked off Oregon State 34-20 in the 107th Civil War.

* Duke reclaimed the Victory Bell with a 30-22 win over North Carolina. Duke ended a 13-game losing streak against North Carolina. The Blue Devils hadn't beaten the Tar Heels since 1989, when Steve Spurrier was coach.

* Washington won its sixth straight Apple Cup, stunning No. 8 Washington State 27-19 in Seattle.

Cody Pickett threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Corey Williams with 1:10 to play for the winning score. It saved the Huskies (6-6, 4-4 Pac-10) from their first losing season since 1976. Marquis Cooper sealed the win for Washington when he intercepted a pass by freshman Josh Swogger and returned it 38 yards for the final TD. The Cougars ended the regular season 9-3 and may be denied a BCS at-large bid after this loss.

* Clemson scored its most points ever in the 101-game series with South Carolina, routing the Gamecocks 63-17. South Carolina surrendered the most points in the rivalry since the Tigers' 51-0 win in 1900.

It was unclear whether the lopsided win in Columbia would be enough for Clemson coach Tommy Bowden to save his job.

* No. 21 Pittsburgh set up a showdown for the Big East title next week with No. 13 Miami (Fla.) at Heinz Field by defeating Temple 30-16.

Brandon Miree, sidelined since Sept. 20 with a stress fracture in his right leg, ran for a career-high 188 yards and two touchdowns in his first game in two months. Also, Larry Fitzgerald had seven catches for 102 yards and extended his NCAA record for consecutive games with a touchdown to 17.

* Utah became the first team to shut out Brigham Young in 28 years with a 3-0 victory. The Cougars hadn't been shut out since losing at Arizona State 20-0 in 1975 -- an NCAA-record span of 361 games.

* No. 2 Southern California's 47-22 win was its fifth straight over UCLA, the Trojans' longest win streak in the 73-game series. USC needs a win over Oregon State Dec. 6 to likely lock up a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

* No. 18 Miami (Ohio) won its 10th straight game, defeating rival Ohio U. 49-31. The winning streak is Miami's longest since 1975.

* TCU's hopes of a BCS at-large bid went by the wayside with a 40-28 loss at Southern Miss on Thursday night. The Horned Frogs fell to 10-1, leaving Oklahoma as the nation's only unbeaten team.

* My new Heisman Trophy ballot (subject to change, of course, before I have to send it in): Oklahoma's Jason White, Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald, Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones, Michigan's Chris Perry and Ole Miss' Eli Manning.

* My new top 15: Oklahoma, Southern California, LSU, Michigan, Texas, Georgia, Ohio State, Tennessee, Miami (Fla), Purdue, Florida State, Iowa, Miami (Ohio), Kansas State, Michigan State.

* Games to watch next week include: Ole Miss-Mississippi State (Thursday), Arkansas-LSU (Friday), Texas-Texas A&M (Friday), Miami (Ohio)-Central Florida (Friday), Toledo-Bowling Green (Friday), Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida State-Florida, Miami (Fla.)-Pittsburgh, Notre Dame-Stanford.

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 (6-6), beat Washington State 27-19, Nov. 22; season complete

Sept. 6, San Diego State (6-6), beat Air Force 24-3, Nov. 22; season complete

Sept. 13, N.C. State (7-5), lost to Maryland 26-24, Nov. 22; season complete

Sept. 20, Bowling Green (9-2), beat Ball State 41-14, Nov. 22; vs. Toledo, Nov. 28

Sept. 27, Northwestern (6-6), beat Illinois 37-20, Nov. 22; season complete

Oct. 11, at Wisconsin (7-5), lost to Iowa 27-21, Nov. 22; season complete

Oct. 18, Iowa (9-3), beat Wisconsin 27-21, Nov. 22; season complete

Oct. 25, at Indiana (2-10), lost to Purdue 24-16, Nov. 22; season complete

Nov. 1, at Penn State (3-9), lost to Michigan State 41-10, Nov. 22; season complete

Nov. 8, Michigan State (8-4), beat Penn State 41-10, Nov. 22; season complete

Nov. 15, Purdue (9-3), beat Indiana 24-16, Nov. 22; season complete

Nov. 22, at Michigan (10-2), beat Ohio State 35-21, Nov. 22; season complete

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Michigan (10-2, 7-1)

Ohio State (10-2, 6-2)

Purdue (9-3, 6-2)

Minnesota (9-3, 5-3)

Iowa (9-3, 5-3)

Michigan State (8-4, 5-3)

Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4)

Northwestern (6-6, 4-4)

Penn State (3-9, 1-7)

Indiana (2-10, 1-7)

Illinois (1-11, 0-8)

Nov. 22 Schedule

Michigan 35, Ohio State 21

Northwestern 37, Illinois 20

Michigan State 41, Penn State 10

Purdue 24, Indiana 16

Iowa 27, Wisconsin 21

Regular Season Complete

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