Sunday Morning QB: A Week To Forget

In our weekly look at Ohio State, the Big Ten and college football in general, we examine whether the Maurice Clarett controversy impacted the Buckeyes in their loss at Michigan State. Click here for more.

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.

We start with a look at OSU's loss at Purdue:

* This loss capped a wild week of accusations and allegations against Jim Tressel, his football program and many others connected to The Ohio State University.

The latest Maurice Clarett controversy – which also includes ESPN-reported claims of misdeeds reported by several other former players – would be an easy excuse for the Buckeyes to blame their loss to the Boilermakers. After all, OSU hardly figured in the first half, falling behind 17-3 before making a valliant but ill-fated run at Purdue in the fourth quarter.

But Tressel was having none of that. He was asked afterwards if the controversy weighed on him and affected his team.

In keeping with his stance to hardly discuss the Clarett controversy, Tressel just shook his head no without uttering a syllable.

Reporters did get several players to discuss OSU's latest off-the-field crisis.

"It really wasn't difficult," linebacker Bobby Carpenter said. "It did not directly affect anybody on the team. We had all watched it on TV and heard about it, but I really didn't personally care about it because it doesn't affect me or anybody else."

Carpenter said the Buckeyes tried to rally behind their embattled coaching staff.

"We sat down together as a team and said we needed to do the best we could for the coaches because they're kind of on edge right now because there were a lot of allegations," he said. "But the coaches did their best to try and help us beat Purdue. I have the highest respect for Coach Tressel. He's been a great person since I've been here. I couldn't ask for a better head coach or assistants. They are high quality people and were a big reason in why I decided to come here."

Offensive tackle Rob Sims added, "Coach Tressel is really good at keeping us all focused, even with distractions. He's really good at doing that. We just go to work every day. Outside, we might think about it. But when we walk into the Woody Hayes, we're all business."

And flanker Santonio Holmes chimed in, "That didn't even occur around our locker room. I know a lot of guys were watching SportsCenter and hearing about what went on. But it never got talked about. We wanted to focus on what we needed to do for our team."

The Clarett saga is not going away any time soon. OSU athletic director Andy Geiger said the NCAA will begin a new investigation – or is it a continuation of the old one? – on Monday.

"I hope this is the most thorough investigation in the history of intercollegiate athletics because this is so bogus I can't even characterize it," Geiger said. "We welcome (the NCAA). We invited them. We asked them to, please, participate."

I thought Tressel should great class in agreeing to sideline interviews with ESPN's Holly Rowe. ESPN, in turn, showed a great deal of class by not trying to hijack Tressel's postgame press conference to pepper him with questions regarding their own media-driven crusade against him and OSU.

It will be interesting to see how OSU responds if ESPN asks to bring "College Game Day" to OSU this weekend for the Michigan game. You would think just for the sake of safety all involved would realize that would not be a good idea.

* My sidebar story to this game dealt with how Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr., for their hand in a combined four turnovers in the loss, kind of went from heroes to goats this week.

It is an easy analysis to make that putting the game in these talented players' hands led to the turnovers that cost OSU the game.

"I know I have to make better decisions," Smith said. "That's the bounce of the ball. Life is filled with trials and tribulations. Life is about how you respond to that. For my overall part, I feel OK."

I think it's notable that this game was probably lost in the first half, when OSU mustered just three first downs and 108 yards total offense. OSU went three-and-out on five of its first six possessions. Part of that was on Smith, obviously. But to pin this loss entirely on he (and/or Ginn) is somewhat short-sighted.

Two of Smith's picks went off his receivers' hands. He probably only made two bad plays – the underthrown pick toward Holmes and the ill-fated option pitch to Antonio Pittman.

He had only committed one turnover in his first three starts.

I think it was also interesting to see how the OSU offense has evolved. Several weeks ago, all the Buckeyes wanted to do was run between the tackles (with no results). OSU has all but abandoned the inside running game in favor of what we saw on Saturday. The turnovers illustrate that this is not "Tressel Ball," though.

* The defense deserves some blame. Early in the game, the defense allowed Purdue to convert seven of its first 10 third downs. Those conversions helped the Boilers put together two sustained touchdown drives.

Then, when the Boilers needed a spark, they went to relief ace Kyle Orton, who had missed last week's loss at Iowa with a hip injury. After going three-and-out once, Orton came back and led Purdue on the game-winning 80-yard TD drive. He ended up 7 of 8 passing for 54 yards.

"They have good players – good receivers and a good quarterback," Carpenter said. "They picked up our zone blitzes well. We were giving up so many outside throws and they just took advantage of it.

"I didn't think we would see (Orton) at all. But he's a senior and was a Heisman Trophy candidate. He led his team to the victory."

The defense could have made plenty of excuses. Playing without three-fourths of its starting secondary, OSU did the best it could to hang in there. But the Boilers got first downs and, ultimately, touchdowns when they had to have them.

And, when you look at the final stats, you see that the defense played great in the second half up until that touchdown drive. OSU forced Purdue into four three-and-outs in six possessions. The Boilers only had 77 yards total offense in the second half until that drive.

* The scenario coming up this week is eerily similar to what we saw in 2001, when OSU needed a win at Michigan to salvage what had been an otherwise forgettable 6-4 first season under Tressel.

As with that game, Michigan will be playing for a BCS bowl berth. (In 2001, it was an at-large berth because the Rose Bowl was hosting the national title game. This time, it will be for the Rose Bowl since Wisconsin was drubbed at Michigan State.)

Of course, Wisconsin can still get into the Rose if it beats Iowa and OSU beats Michigan. UM, which has already wrapped up at least a tie for its 42nd Big Ten championship, would still get the Rose with a Wisconsin loss at Iowa – regardless of what it does against OSU.

Playing at home, the Buckeyes have a fighting chance. But Michigan's 42-20 win over Northwestern Saturday served notice that the Wolverines mean business.

With what's at stake, it should be a pretty neat scene Saturday at the Horseshoe.

* Everybody's bowl projections have been turned upside down by Michigan State's win over Wisconsin. That game – as well as Iowa's win at Minnesota Saturday – has some major implications.

As noted, if Michigan wins at OSU next Saturday, the Wolverines go to the Rose Bowl. That makes the Wisconsin-Iowa game a de facto play-in game for the Capital One Bowl. The loser will probably go to the Outback.

Under this scenario (where OSU ends up 6-5), Purdue would have the inside track to go to the Alamo Bowl. The Boilers have to be a big favorite to end up 7-4 with a final week win over Indiana.

Ohio State, barring something unforeseen, would then be ticketed to the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 in El Paso. Michigan State and Northwestern are also becoming stronger bowl possibilities. They each need to win out (MSU faces Penn State and Hawaii, while NW has Illinois and Hawaii). They would likely be tabbed to fill the Music City and Motor City bowl bids.

An OSU win over Michigan would change the bowl rotation, possibly. Wisconsin could steal the Rose with a win, while a loss to Iowa would still send UM to Pasadena. Michigan would fall to the Cap One with a loss. It would then be a tossup between Iowa, OSU and Purdue for the Outback, Alamo and Sun spots. My feeling is the Buckeyes would have a minor shot, at best, at the Outback and would have to be a strong Alamo choice with a win over Michigan.

* The Purdue "faithful" rolled out some of their best comedic material to capitalize on the allegations against OSU and Tressel.

Hecklers behind the OSU bench came up with some of these gems:

"Tressel cheats! Tressel cheats!"

"Hey, Tressel, I need your brother to help find me a job."

"Hey, Tressel, know where I can get a free car?"

"The Ohio State University, integrity personified."

"Hey, Tressel, did you have salary cap issues this year?"

Now for a look around the Big Ten:

* No. 4 Wisconsin had visions of the Rose Bowl in its head, but Michigan State stepped up big and obliterated the previously unbeaten Badgers 49-14 in East Lansing.

Wisconsin had been allowing 9.1 points a game -- lowest in the nation -- before the loss. The Spartans rolled up 551 yards of total offense, including 430 on the ground. Jehuu Caulcrick had 146 yards and a TD, while Jason Teague had 112 yards and a TD on the ground and also caught a 30-yard TD pass on a trick play from receiver Aaron Alexander. MSU moved ahead 28-14 in the third quarter after recovering a surprise onside kick and the rout was on.

What We Learned: It is hard to win on the road in the Big Ten … It's even harder to go undefeated in the Big Ten … John L. Smith is a pretty good doggone coach … There is no substitute for being able to run the ball effectively (hint hint).

* With Wisconsin's loss, No. 9 Michigan clinched at least a share of its 42nd Big Ten championship with a 42-20 win over Northwestern. Michael Hart ran for 151 yards and a season-high three touchdowns. Hart now has 1,311 yards on the year. Steve Breaston scored twice in 35 seconds, catching a 10-yard TD pass and returning a punt 67 yards for another TD.

Michigan has won 15 straight home games and 13 consecutive Big Ten games.

What We Learned: Michigan just won the Big Ten title with a freshman at quarterback and tailback. So much for rebuilding … The off week did not hamper UM, which is on a real roll … It could get ugly at the Horseshoe if the Wolverines end the day next Saturday dancing on the field with roses.

* No. 19 Iowa kept its hopes of stealing a piece of the Big Ten title alive with a 29-27 win at Minnesota. Kicker Rhys Lloyd's 51-yard field goal was wide left with 28 seconds left, denying the Gophers the win.

Iowa's Drew Tate was 24 of 39 for 333 yards and two TDs for Iowa, which has won four straight games by a total of 16 points.

For Minnesota, Laurence Maroney ran 19 times for 156 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, and Marion Barber III carried 29 times for 167 yards. Barber surpassed 1,000 yards for the second straight season, joining Maroney as the first pair of teammates to accomplish that in NCAA history. Iowa, which entered with a conference-best average of 68.2 yards rushing allowed per game, gave up 337 yards on the ground to the Gophers.

What We Learned: Kirk Ferentz, whose team won despite losing its fifth tailback to injuries this year, may be the Big Ten coach of the year … Tate is probably neck and neck with Purdue's Kyle Orton and Michigan's Chad Henne for All-Big Ten honors at quarterback … The Gophers, losers of five of their last six games, go into the postseason on somewhat of a downer.

* Penn State stopped Indiana four times from inside the 1-yard line in the final two minutes to hold on and take a 22-18 win at Indiana. The win was PSU's first in Big Ten play this year and averted the school's first seven-game losing streak since 1931. PSU, now 10-0 all-time against Indiana, also snapped a 10-game losing skid away from home.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* The Game of the Week was at Notre Dame, where the 24th-ranked Fighting Irish were unable to sustain momentum after their win at Tennessee. ND needed a win to lock up a Gator Bowl berth. But visiting Pittsburgh pulled out a 41-38 win. Tyler Palko became the first quarterback to throw five touchdown passes against Notre Dame, four in the first half alone. Pitt won on Josh Cummings' 32-yard field goal with 1 second left.

Pittsburgh won at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since 1986. It was just Pitt's second win in its last 13 games against the Irish.

* Auburn's Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown combined for 260 yards of total offense and each scored a touchdown in the third-ranked Tigers' 24-6 victory over No. 8 Georgia. The impressive win may be enough for poll voters to move Auburn up and help them challenge No. 2 Oklahoma for the second spot in the BCS rankings.

What We Learned: Auburn wrapped up the outright SEC West title … Tommy Tuberville, who was almost out of a job a year ago, may be the national coach of the year.

* No. 14 Boise State improved to 9-0 and clinched a tie for the WAC title, but it wasn't easy. BSU outlasted San Jose State 56-49 in double overtime. Jon Helmandollar scored his third touchdown in the second overtime. Boise State extended the nation's longest winning streak to 20 games.

* In the key Big East game of the year, No. 23 Boston College defeated No. 13 West Virginia 36-17 in Morgantown. The Golden Eagles will be in the BCS for the first time ever with wins over Syracuse and Temple. DeJuan Tribble returned a first-quarter punt 41 yards for a score and Will Blackmon went 71 yards for a TD with a punt return in the fourth quarter for BC.

This was the first November defeat for the Mountaineers under fourth-year coach Rich Rodriguez. West Virginia also had its 10-game conference and home winning streaks broken.

* Top-ranked USC rolled to a 49-9 home win over Arizona. Matt Leinhart threw for 280 yards and three TDs – two of them to freshman Dwayne Jarrett – and LenDale White rushed for 117 yards and three TDs.

* No. 2 Oklahoma wrapped up the Big 12 South with a 30-3 win over former longtime rival Nebraska in Norman. QB Jason White, playing his last home game for the Sooners, completed 29 of 35 passes for 377 yards and three TDs. White hit on 18 straight passes – a school record – at one point.

"You always want to go out with a bang," White said.

Nebraska, which fell to 5-5, averted the shutout with a field goal with 33 seconds left. OU (10-0) visits Baylor before playing in the Big 12 title game.

* Texas QB Vince Young had 409 combined yards, including a 22-yard scramble on a fourth-and-18, and threw the winning TD pass with 11 seconds remaining in No. 6 Texas' 27-23 victory over Kansas. Cedric Benson had 161 yards and set an NCAA record with his 36th game with a touchdown.

The late win, predicated on a controversial pass interference call against the Jayhawks, did not sit well with Kansas coach: "You know what this is all about, don't you? BCS. That's what made a difference today in the game. That's what made the difference in a call in front of their bench. Dollar signs."

I imagine Mangino will be hearing from the Big 12 office on Monday.

* No. 22 Texas A&M got a 32-25 overtime win over Texas Tech. Courtney Lewis scored on a 25-yard run on A&M's first play of OT. The Aggies then held Tech on downs, swatting away a Sonny Cumbie fourth down pass in the end zone to end the game.

* No. 18 Miami (Fla.) snapped its two-game losing streak with a 31-21 win over No. 10 Virginia. Frank Gore ran for 195 yards and a touchdown, while Roscoe Parrish returned a punt for a touchdown and caught a clinching touchdown pass in the final minute. The Canes can still steal their first ACC title and the conference's BCS berth with closing wins over Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.

* The race is heating up in the MAC West, where Bowling Green joined Toledo and Northern Illinois in a three-way logjam at 6-1 with a 56-35 win over Marshall. QB Omar Jacobs passed for 389 yards and five touchdowns. Jacobs leads the nation with 32 TD passes.

That result followed Toledo's 31-17 upset at Northern Illinois on Tuesday. Toledo can win the West Division's berth to the MAC title game with a win over BG Nov. 23 at the Glass Bowl.

* Bryson Sumlin rushed for 220 yards and three touchdowns and Wendell Mathis added 176 yards and three more scores in Fresno State's 70-14 victory over Hawaii on Friday night.

* On Thursday night, Florida State's Bobby Bowden became the first Division I-A coach to reach 350 wins with a 17-10 triumph at N.C. State. The loss dropped N.C. State to 4-6 and denies the Wolfpack a bowl bid for the first time in six years.

* No. 7 Utah clinched the Mountain West title with a 45-28 win over Wyoming. QB Alex Smith threw for 244 yards and three TDs and also rushed for 105 yards and a score for the Utes, who improved to 10-0.

* Heisman Watch: I promised to rank my Heisman picks this week, so here goes. If I had to fill out my ballot today, I'd probably have to go with Oklahoma's Jason White as a repeat pick. It's an unpopular choice in some circles, but White has done it all this year with 2,513 yards and 28 TDs against four interceptions.

Some are favoring White's OU running mate, freshman RB Adrian Peterson. But Peterson saw his string of 100-yard games end as he only got 58 yards and 15 carries against Nebraska due to a shoulder injury. He's still my No. 2. For the year, Peterson has 1,431 yards and nine TDs.

The best of the rest would be Utah's Alex Smith (2,440 yards passing, 27 TDs, 2 INTs), USC's Matt Leinhart (2,348 yards passing, 23 TDs, 5 INTs), Texas' Cedric Benson (1,600 yards rushing, 16 TDs) and Michigan's Braylon Edwards (76 catches, 11 TDs).

* My new top 15: The intrigue is building as three major conference unbeatens try to shoehorn into two spots at the BCS title game at the Orange Bowl. It's a tough call, but I will stick with USC and Oklahoma as my top two teams, although my No. 3, Auburn, was extremely impressive with its win over Georgia.

Besides Michigan, the biggest winner from Wisconsin's loss was probably Utah, which may now have a better shot of finishing in the top six in the BCS standings and nailing down an automatic BCS berth.

My new top 15, then, would be: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, California, Michigan, Utah, Texas, Florida State, Wisconsin, Boise State, Louisville, Miami (Fla.), Virginia Tech, Georgia, Iowa.

My latest bowl projections would be USC-Oklahoma in the Orange, Auburn-Boston College in the Sugar, Michigan-Cal in the Rose and Utah-Miami in the Fiesta. Kind of ugly, isn't it?

* Games to watch next week: Maryland-Virginia Tech (Thursday), Virginia-Georgia Tech, Michigan-Ohio State, Auburn-Alabama, Wisconsin-Iowa, Florida-Florida State.

We will wrap up each week with a look at how OSU's opponents fared and check out who they face next week.

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

Sept. 4, Cincinnati (5-4), idle, Nov. 13; South Florida, Nov. 20.

Sept. 11, Marshall (5-5), lost to Bowling Green 56-35, Nov. 13; vs. Western Michigan, Nov. 20.

Sept. 18, at N.C. State (4-6), lost to Florida State 17-10, Nov. 11; idle, Nov. 20; vs. East Carolina, Nov. 27.

Sept. 25, idle

Oct. 2, at Northwestern (5-5), lost to Michigan 42-20, Nov. 13; vs. Illinois, Nov. 20.

Oct. 9, Wisconsin (9-1), lost to Michigan State 49-21, Nov. 13; at Iowa, Nov. 20.

Oct. 16, at Iowa (8-2), beat Minnesota 29-27, Nov. 13; vs. Wisconsin, Nov. 20.

Oct. 23, Indiana (3-7), lost to Penn State 22-18, Nov. 13; at Purdue, Nov. 20.

Oct. 30, Penn State (3-7), beat Indiana 22-18, Nov. 13; vs. Michigan State, Nov. 20 .

Nov. 6, at Michigan State (5-5), beat Wisconsin 49-21, Nov. 13; at Penn State, Nov. 20.

Nov. 13, Purdue (6-4), beat Ohio State 24-17, Nov. 13; vs. Indiana, Nov. 20.

Nov. 20 (1 p.m., ABC), Michigan (9-1), beat Northwestern 42-20, Nov. 13; at Ohio State, Nov. 20.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Michigan (9-1, 7-0)

Wisconsin (9-1, 6-1)

Iowa (8-2, 6-1)

Northwestern (5-5, 4-3)

Michigan State (5-5, 4-3)

Purdue (6-4, 3-4)

Ohio State (6-4, 3-4)

Minnesota (6-5, 3-5)

Indiana (3-7, 1-6)

Illinois (3-7, 1-6)

Penn State (3-7, 1-6)

Nov. 13 Schedule

Michigan 42, Northwestern 20

Iowa 29, Minnesota 27

Penn State 22, Indiana 18

Michigan State 49, Wisconsin 21

Purdue 24, Ohio State 17

Nov. 20 Schedule

Illinois at Northwestern, noon (ESPN-Plus)

Michigan State at Penn State, noon

Indiana at Purdue, noon

Michigan at Ohio State, 1 p.m. (ABC)

Wisconsin at Iowa, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)

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