Sunday Morning QB: Another `Great' Year

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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 note or two about Ohio State:

* Jim Tressel is wrapping up his fourth season as the OSU head coach and I think, in any rational OSU fan's mind, he has had four "great" years with the Buckeyes.

Think about it. In Tressel's first year, 2001, the Buckeyes were 7-5, but they had that all-redeeming win at Michigan.

In 2002, OSU won the national championship. Enough said.

In 2003, the Buckeyes went 11-2, finished in the top five – ahead of Michigan, which beat them – and won a second straight BCS bowl over Kansas State. Hard to believe, but in some people's eyes that may have been Tressel's worst year at the helm.

Then you have this year which had "lost season" written all over it until last Saturday, when the Buckeyes blasted Michigan 37-21 (just repeat the score over and over and you'll smile). Think about all that UM had denied Ohio State through the years and you'll still get excited thinking about this game.

Even though OSU is 7-4 with the bowl game pending, this is still a "great" year just because the Buckeyes beat Michigan. A bowl win – which would be three in a row – would make it even "greater".

It's hard to imagine Tressel being able to keep this string of "great" years going forever. But all or most of the pieces will be in place next year for another big run. OSU has rebuilt the depth on both lines. Now it's time for the coaches to bring that quality out. Troy Smith figures to be the man at quarterback for the foreseeable future. His game at Purdue shows he isn't quite a finished product. But his game against Michigan shows his potential is endless.

The schedule stacks up nicely for OSU next year as well with three nonconference games at home – Miami (Ohio), Texas (no Cedric Benson) and San Diego State. The three early Big Ten road games seem winnable – Penn State, Indiana and Minnesota. The four home games seem winnable – Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois and Michigan State. That leaves that all-important 11th game at Michigan, where there will be no Braylon Edwards. Hmmm.

I think it's way premature to predict a 10-1 or 11-0 season next year. Boy, but that would surely be "great" if it happened, wouldn't it?

* Well, we thought we had the whole Alamo Bowl picture mapped out. Well, we were a bit off base.

We thought Oklahoma State would beat Texas Tech, but they didn't. We thought Iowa State would beat Missouri, but they didn't. We thought Nebraska would beat Colorado, but they didn't. We thought Texas would beat Texas A&M … OK, they did.

What does this leave us with? Well, we know Oklahoma goes to the Orange Bowl with a win over Colorado in next week's Big 12 title game. We believe Texas will be on the outside looking in at the BCS, despite ending up 10-1.

It seems unlikely that the Big 12 will agree to any deal to "place" its teams before next week's title game is played. After all, if Colorado beats Oklahoma, wouldn't OU be a strong case for an at-large bid in place of, say, Cal? I know that is unlikely. But did you know that since 1996, four top-five teams have lost the Big 12 title game?

So, we'll be sitting here a week from now, waiting for the BCS to place its teams. If Oklahoma wins, it will probably be cut and dried: Oklahoma to the Orange and Texas to the Cotton.

The Holiday Bowl will then have several teams to choose from: Colorado (which would be 7-5 with a loss to Oklahoma) as well as Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, all 7-4. It's hard to say which way the Holiday will go. Colorado has usually been a good Holiday Bowl attraction. But Tech or A&M would also make sense. My gut feeling is the Holiday will go with the name of Colorado, even with a loss to OU.

That gives the Alamo the choice between A&M, Tech and Oklahoma State. A&M is just two hours away and the Alamo had its highest attendance with A&M in 1999 against Penn State. That's the pick. And if, for some reason, the Holiday grabs A&M, then the Alamo will snatch Texas Tech in a heartbeat.

Of course, if Colorado wins this week …

Now for a look around the Big Ten:

* I went to sleep just past midnight last night with Northwestern ahead of Hawaii 13-0. Of course, I woke up this morning to see that Hawaii rallied from a 20-7 deficit with 28 unanswered points to take a 49-41 win real early this morning (at least on Eastern time). The decision knocks Northwestern (6-6) out of a bowl. Hawaii (6-5) can qualify for its own Hawaii bowl with a win over Michigan State this Saturday.

Hawaii's Chad Owens caught four touchdown passes from Timmy Chang and also returned a punt for a score in the win. Chang had a horrible start with two interceptions and six incompletions in his first 10 pass attempts. But he ended up 31 of 56 passing for 405 yards in becoming Division I-A's first 16,000-yard passer. He now has 16,251 yards for his career.

NU's Brett Basanez was 19 of 41 for 319 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

When asked about playing the Rainbows in Hawaii, NU coach Randy Walker said, "It's about 38 degrees in Chicago. I'd like to play them there right now."

* Illinois pulled the trigger on Ron Turner after last week's season-ending loss to Northwestern. That was to be expected.

The initial word I heard was that Pittsburgh's Walt Harris, not exactly the favorite guy in the Iron City, would be next at Champaign. But some things have happened since then. Harris and the Panthers stunned West Virginia Thursday night and now, after Syracuse's upset of Boston College, Pitt may be headed to its first-ever BCS bowl. Harris may be "stuck" at Pittsburgh after all of this sudden success. The guy won a Big East title, after all.

Some names making the rounds are former Iowa quarterback and current Oklahoma assistant Chuck Long (an Illinois native) and former Illinois tight end Tim Brewster, now a San Diego Chargers assistant.

* The Penn State situation bears watching. Joe Paterno now claims to have an exit strategy. I wonder if it might involve waiting until after signing day or until the eve of spring practice to walk away, making it so one of his assistants must take over because of continuity. Tom Bradley seems to be the choice.

But you wonder if the PSU hierarchy, if given the chance, may want to blow the program up, go outside and get somebody new, regardless of the timing. Hmmm.

* It does not appear that Paterno's successor will be Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. He recently agreed to a lucrative contract extension that will keep him in Iowa City through 2012.

That deal is well deserved. Unlike Illinois and Turner, which were a one-hit wonder with their outright title in 2001, Iowa and Ferentz have now won Big Ten titles in two of the last three years.

"It feels good, quite obviously," Ferentz said. "I just feel quite fortunate. I learned back in 1981 that this is a pretty special place. My family and I have invested 15 years here now. We know a lot better now than we did in that first year. I have had so much fun coaching the last few years. It boils down to a couple of things.

"First and foremost, I am around tremendous people everyday, which I enjoy and appreciate. No matter where you look, the people on this campus, the student athletes, the fans that we have; I have been extremely fortunate. I am excited about the building that has been done in the program, and that started five-plus years ago. The guys that came through here in 1999; our record wasn't very pretty, but the train was on the track. We improved during the course of that season and really played our best game of the year at the end of that season. To me, that has set the stage for everything since that time."

And a glance at headlines nationally

* No. 1 USC rolled to a 41-10 win over visiting Notre Dame. QB Matt Leinhart threw for a career-high 400 yards and a school-record tying five touchdowns to lead the Trojans, who wrap the regular season next week at UCLA. The win was USC's 20th straight and 21st straight at home at the Memorial Coliseum. It was USC's third straight 31-point win in the series with Notre Dame.

Leinhart's five TD passes tied a school record held by Rodney Peete and Carson Palmer.

* The picture in the ACC tightened as No. 11 Virginia Tech rallied for a 24-10 win over No. 16 Virginia. Senior QB Bryan Randall threw a pair of TD passes in the win. Tech can win the ACC title outright with a win at Miami (Fla.) next Saturday. A loss would create a four-way tie for the conference crown and send the ‘Canes to the BCS.

* No. 15 Tennessee may have been looking ahead at next week's SEC title game with No. 3 Auburn.

Gerald Riggs ran 12 yards for a touchdown with 38 seconds remaining and the Vols rallied to beat Kentucky for the 20th consecutive time, 37-31.

* Colorado downed Nebraska 26-20 to end up 4-4 in Big 12 North play and deny the Huskers (5-6) a bowl bid for the first time since 1968. It is also NU's first losing season since 1961.

Then, a day later, Missouri shocked Iowa State 17-14 in overtime to allow Colorado to represent the Big 12 North in the conference title game against No. 2 Oklahoma, which was idle. ISU kicker Bret Culbertson missed a 24-yard field goal with 1:02 left. The Cyclones then saw a potential game winning touchdown pass dropped in overtime.

Missouri's Adam Crossett made a 25-yard field goal in overtime, the first of his college career, and A.J. Kincade had an interception on the final play for the Tigers.

* Syracuse routed Boston College 43-17 a day after Pittsburgh edged West Virginia 16-13. Those four teams tied for the Big East title at 4-2. Pittsburgh, with a win over South Florida next week, would likely represent the conference in the BCS.

Syracuse safety Diamond Ferri was pressed into service at tailback due to injury. He ran for 141 yards two touchdowns and scored again on an interception. The win may have saved Paul Pasqualoni's job at SU and denied ACC-bound BC its first BCS bowl bid.

"If they want to leave the conference, we wanted to send them out with a loss," Ferri said.

* Boise State QB Jared Zabransky passed for 244 yards and three touchdowns to lead the No. 10 Broncos to their 22nd straight victory, 58-21 over Nevada. The win capped BSU's 11-0 regular season and perfect 8-0 WAC championship. Boise State's next stop could be the Liberty Bowl -- if it can't crack the top six in the BCS rankings.

* Montrell Jones caught two touchdown passes and returned a punt for a score, and No. 7 Louisville clinched its third Conference USA championship since 2000 with a 70-7 rout of Cincinnati. Brandon Johnson returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and Tiger Jones recovered another blocked punt in the end zone for Louisville, which reached 70 points for the first time since a 72-0 win over Wayne State in 1955. Both teams are headed for the Big East next year.

* Fresno State set a record for quickest touchdowns, scoring twice within an eight-second span, en route to beating San Jose State 62-28. After Wendell Mathias scored on 2-yard run with 13:21 left in the half to make it 21-7, Jaron Fairman recovered an onside kick, the Bulldogs first attempt of the season, on the Spartans 33-yard line. Stephen Spach caught Paul Pinegar's pass on the next play to make it 28-7 at 13:13.

* Toledo rallied for a 49-41 win over Bowling Green on Tuesday, allowing the Rockets to represent the MAC West against MAC East champion Miami (Ohio) on Thursday night in the MAC title game.

* Heisman Watch: This race is too close to call. But USC's Matt Leinhart just inched ahead after riddling the Irish. One more big day against UCLA next week at the Rose Bowl could cinch it.

Of course, Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson and Jason White will get one more shot against Colorado in the Big 12 title game. The hay is in the barn for Utah's Alex Smith and Texas' Cedric Benson.

* My top 15 remains the same: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, California, Utah, Texas, Boise State, Louisville, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Georgia.

My latest bowl projections are still pretty much the same (subbing Pitt for BC). They would be USC-Oklahoma in the Orange, Auburn-Pittsburgh in the Sugar, Michigan-Cal in the Rose and Utah-Miami in the Fiesta.

I see that most have the Big East champ against Utah in the Fiesta and the ACC champ against the SEC winner in the Sugar. I guess I'm unclear what order those last two games will select their picks – Fiesta then Sugar or Sugar then Fiesta. Rest assured, the Big East rep (likely Pitt) will be the last pick.

* Games to watch next week: Toledo-Miami (Ohio) (Thursday, MAC title game at Oxford), Virginia Tech-Miami (Fla.) (1 p.m., ABC), Army-Navy, USC-UCLA (4:30 p.m., ABC), Auburn-Tennessee (SEC title game at Atlanta; 6 p.m., CBS), Cal-Southern Miss (7:45 p.m., ESPN), Oklahoma-Colorado (Big 12 title game at Kansas City; 8 p.m., ABC).

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 (6-5), lost to Louisville 70-7, Nov. 27; regular season complete.

Sept. 11, Marshall (6-5), beat Western Michigan 31-21; season complete.

Sept. 18, at N.C. State (5-6), beat East Carolina 52-14, Nov. 27; season complete.

Sept. 25, idle

Oct. 2, at Northwestern (6-6), lost to Hawaii 49-41, Nov. 27; season complete.

Oct. 9, Wisconsin (9-2), lost to Iowa 30-7, Nov. 20; Outback Bowl, Jan. 1.

Oct. 16, at Iowa (9-2), beat Wisconsin 30-7, Nov. 20; Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1.

Oct. 23, Indiana (3-8), lost to Purdue 63-24, Nov. 20; season complete.

Oct. 30, Penn State (4-7), beat Michigan State 37-13, Nov. 20; season complete.

Nov. 6, at Michigan State (5-6), at Hawaii, Dec. 4.

Nov. 13, Purdue (7-4), beat Indiana 63-24, Nov. 20; Sun Bowl, Dec. 31.

Nov. 20 Michigan (9-2), lost to Ohio State 37-21, Nov. 20; Rose Bowl, Jan. 1.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Michigan (9-2, 7-1)

Iowa (9-2, 7-1)

Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2)

Northwestern (6-6, 5-3)

Michigan State (5-6, 4-4)

Purdue (7-4, 4-4)

Ohio State (7-4, 4-4)

Minnesota (6-5, 3-5)

Penn State (4-7, 2-6)

Indiana (3-8, 1-7)

Illinois (3-8, 1-7)

Nov. 27 Schedule

Hawaii 49, Northwestern 41

Dec. 4 Schedule

Michigan State at Hawaii, 11 p.m.

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