Sunday Morning QB: Who Is OSU's MVP?

We are back with our weekly look at Ohio State football, the Big Ten and college football at large. Today, we ponder OSU's team MVP award, the Buckeyes' Alamo Bowl opponent, the BCS conundrum and the current climate for college coaches. 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 note or two about Ohio State:

* Before we get into all of the bowl ramifications, I want to make note of Ohio State's postseason awards banquet, which is scheduled for today.

Obviously, the big award presented at the banquet will be the team MVP award. In our December issue of Bucknuts The Magazine, I made the case for senior kicker Mike Nugent to be the team's MVP, and I'll stick with that notion.

Nugent was 20 of 23 on field goals. His final-play field goal won the Marshall game. He outscored N.C. State single-handedly with five field goals and a PAT kick in that 22-14 win. Plus, all of the touchbacks he had throughout the year were valuable in pinning opponents back deep. Nobody on this team was more consistent (or beloved, it seemed) than the Nuge.

I know it's weird that a kicker would be a team captain. But Nugent was.

I know it's weird that a kicker would be the team MVP. But Nugent should be.

After Nugent, I think you have to look at linebacker A.J. Hawk, who was a prolific defensive force with 136 tackles and two big interceptions.

Who would come next? Well, I think third on this list would be Ted Ginn Jr. We don't have any stats on this, but did anybody in the country have more 50-plus yard touchdowns this season? If we credit Nugent with "wins" over Marshall and N.C. State, then Ginn gets the nod, certainly, for Michigan State.

After Ginn, you have the field. This would include Ashton Youboty and Bobby Carpenter (each had a great year), Santonio Holmes (great start and great finish) and Troy Smith (a real good half year and one phenomenal game).

Maybe it will be one of those magical Craig Krenzel/Chris Gamble ties from two years ago, but my feeling is it will be Nugent. Besides, that will give Hawk and Ginn something to shoot for next year.

* It seems I've been off-base about OSU's Alamo Bowl opponent all along. Everybody under the sun believes it will be Texas Tech. (I had surmised Texas A&M.)

The Big 12 picture played out correctly with Oklahoma waxing Colorado. The only dramatics at this point are whether Cal's so-so win at Southern Miss will drop the Golden Bears from No. 4 and allow Texas to move into the BCS. (The Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl so do not want that.)

More likely, though, the polls will stay just how they are and Texas, among others, will get the screw job of screw jobs (again) and be relegated to the Cotton.

The prevailing thought is the Holiday Bowl will then choose Texas A&M. That leaves the Alamo to take Texas Tech and its high octane offense (No. 1 nationally in passing) to oppose Ohio State's pretty good defense.

Obviously, the Red Raiders veterans will want to atone for the rude treatment they experienced at Ohio State in the 2002 Pigskin Classic. (Rude as in the score, 45-21; nothing untoward toward the Techsters.)

That's a nice storyline, certainly. With Nate Salley and Donte Whitner back healthy in the secondary, OSU should have the horses back there to at least try and contain Tech's passing attack. If anything, it should be an entertaining game.

We'll get the official word at around 6 p.m. tonight and we'll have coverage from both sides. Stay tuned.

Now for a look around the Big Ten:

* Michigan State closed out the college football regular season with a bitter 41-38 loss at Hawaii. (Big Ten teams should think twice about a Hawaii vacation after Northwestern and MSU got dealt in consecutive weeks.)

MSU was penalized 16 times for 119 yards with seven holding penalties. MSU's DeAndra Cobb had a 75-yard TD run a 98-yard kick return – each supposed touchdowns – called back because of penalties. The Spartans blew a 21-point lead.

"It seemed like the referees wanted them to win," said MSU quarterback Drew Stanton, who threw for 330 yards and a touchdown.

Hawaii's Timmy Chang completed 29 of 49 passes for 416 yards. All four of his TD passes went to Chad Owens, who scored five touchdowns the week before against Northwestern. Owens finished with 13 catches for 283 yards. Hawaii improved to 7-5 and qualified for the Hawaii Bowl against UAB. MSU ended up 5-7.

* The Internet forced Lloyd Carr's hand Saturday.

Stand up and take a bow if you helped propagate rumors that the Michigan coach would be leaving his post in the weeks ahead due to health reasons. Carr, 59, has been the UM coach for 10 seasons. He says he plans to coach the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl and beyond. Well beyond.

"I'm not sick, and I'm not retiring," said Carr, whose contract runs through 2007. "I love what I'm doing. As long as my health is good and my desire to do this job doesn't waiver, then I intend to coach."

When reporters asked exactly how long that could be, Carr replied, "I don't think it'll be more than 20 more years."

Carr said he was responding to Internet-based rumors that led one recruit to question him about his future.

"I'm not particularly comfortable talking about myself," he said. "But because of recruiting and some things related to this job and to our program, I felt it necessary to make that statement again. I just want to say that none of these rumors are accurate."

Carr said opposing coaches may be to blame for planting such rumors: "Certainly, a part of it is within the coaching fraternity in terms of the competition and people who are using it in recruiting. I know who some of those people are. John Kennedy had a saying, `Forgive your enemies but remember their names.' "

* Florida newspaper reports say that Illinois has tagged ousted Florida coach Ron Zook to replace Ron Turner in Champaign. That's great to see this former OSU assistant land on his feet.

Zook's time at Ohio State was around the time I started covering the Buckeyes. He was always regarded as an energetic coach and, certainly, he did a bang-up job recruiting as the head coach at Florida. Illinois has really fallen on hard times as any number of programs have come into the Land of Lincoln and taken its best players right out from under the nose of the Illini.

Zook will put a fence up around that state and keep the Wisconsins, Purdues, Michigans and others out. (I'd say Ohio State, but who was the last meaningful recruit OSU got from Illinois? Joe Montgomery in like 1993?)

* Indiana also fired Gerry DiNardo this past week. Just like Notre Dame and Tyrone Willingham, he didn't even get four years to see how his recruits would fare. Pretty sad when it's come to that, although Notre Dame can't handle being embarrassed by USC year after year and neither can Indiana at the hands of Purdue over and over again.

Your guess is as good as mine as to who, in their right mind, would take the IU job, when they've now proven they will not stay the course. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, "Good luck with all of that."

And a glance at headlines nationally

* Championship Week left the Bowl Championship Series with one more embarrassing conundrum in its seventh year of existence.

The regular season ended Saturday with five major college unbeaten teams, including three (USC, Oklahoma and Auburn) from the BCS conferences. USC's all-too-tight 29-24 win over UCLA will probably not knock the Trojans out of the top spot in the BCS. Likewise, Oklahoma solidified its spot in the title game at the Orange Bowl with an emphatic 42-3 pounding of Colorado in the Big 12 title game.

That left Auburn and its fans somewhat flat after they completed a dream 12-0 season with a 38-28 triumph over a game Tennessee team in the SEC title game.

"This is our system and it's not perfect," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville.

Since university presidents seem dead set against a Division I-A playoff, this is the situation you will be looking at when the season ends with any more or less than two unbeaten teams. Somebody will always feel like they were left on the outside.

In 2001, everybody bristled when Nebraska lost the Big 12 title game, but still had enough points to go to the title game. Last year's snub of consensus No. 1 USC caused the BCS to revamp its selection criteria.

But there is nothing they can do to solve this scenario where three deserving teams finish undefeated.

The only way to get around this would be the so-called "plus one" scenario, which would be a de facto four-team playoff. Teams 1 and 4 would meet in one semifinal bowl game and teams 2 and 3 would meet in the other with both games on or about Jan. 1. A week later, the winners would meet in a third bowl game for the championship.

Of course, what good is that format in a year like 2002, when Ohio State and Miami (Fla.) were the only two unbeatens? Putting them in separate semifinal games risks one or both of them losing before the final. How fair would that have been?

And, with the news that FOX will broadcast the Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowls and ABC will keep the Rose through at least 2009, this format is not changing – other than the bowl hosting the title game will get a second game with two other teams a week earlier.

That concession was made to appease the non-BCS crowd. Looks like Utah will already have that covered when it makes history later today.

* Which game do you want to see? We'll be forcefed USC-Oklahoma, and it should be a great one nonetheless. Two of the game's top coaches will be going head to head.

But would Auburn-USC or Auburn-Oklahoma be a better game or a better barometer of this year's national championship team? We'll, never know I guess, will we?

* Speaking of Utah, Urban Meyer gave Notre Dame a big lump of coal in its Christmas stocking when he agreed to the Florida job. ND offs Willingham in an effort to secure Meyer's services, and he does this. According to Meyer, the deal with Florida – correction, lucrative deal with Florida – was already in motion when ND fired Willingham "at the 11th hour."

He admitted on Saturday that he met with ND officials. But it sounds like when they did not immediately offer, Meyer took the sure thing and grabbed the brass ring at Florida. He gets a seven-year deal worth $14 million. (Hey, that's Spurrier money.)

How interesting will that Fiesta Bowl be with Meyer already halfway working for Florida and Pitt, with its coach Walt Harris one foot out the door, too. Makes you wonder if they'll even discuss their present teams during the bowl week press conferences.

* Notre Dame showed this week it is no better than Alabama, USC or any other big-time program that ran a number of coaches in and out of its grist mill over the last 20 years in hopes of finding the right one.

The Golden Dome and the Fighting Irish used to stand for all the things that are right in intercollegiate athletics. Not anymore.

After Bob Davie, George O'Leary and now this Willingham mess, athletic director Kevin White better hit a home run with his next hire. Hey, the Golden Gnome, Lou Holtz, is available.

Some have asked if all the turmoil surrounding the ND program might drive the Irish to join the Big Ten. That will only happen when NBC tells ND it is no longer interested in televising its home games.

* Of course, Pittsburgh – No. 19 Pittsburgh, that is – got Championship Saturday under way with a 43-14 rout of South Florida. QB Tyler Palko threw for a career-high 411 yards and five touchdowns to help the Panthers secure the Big East's automatic BS … er BCS bid.

Sources have indicated to that, barring a major change of heart on somebody's part, that the Harris staff will still be out. Unbelievable.

I got to know Harris when he was at OSU in 1995-96. He is a pretty nice guy, as far as I'm concerned. Is he perfect or have his teams been worldbeaters? No and no. But he's put Pitt back on the national map (somewhat, at least). He does not deserve this kind of treatment.

* The day continued as No. 10 Virginia Tech continued its recent dominance of No. 9 Miami (Fla.), pulling out a 16-10 win at the Orange Bowl to win the ACC title outright and gain a berth likely in the Sugar Bowl. The Hokies stung Miami for the seventh time in 10 years.

"There's no question who the champions are, who's the better team or who should have won this game," said Tech QB Bryan Randall, who threw two TD passes in the win. His 39-yard TD pass to Eddie Royal with 11:29 broke a 10-10 tie.

Miami's string of four straight BCS appearances was broken. The Canes will probably meet in-state rival Florida at the Peach Bowl.

* The scene then shifted to Philadelphia, where President Bush attended the Army-Navy game for the first time since 2001 at Veterans Stadium. Bush took part in the coin toss by flipping a commemorative coin sent from the Iraqi city of Fallujah before Navy's 42-13 win. Unbelievably, the win evened the all-time series between the two service academies at .

* Top-ranked USC came next at the Rose Bowl against crosstown rival UCLA. After being spurned a year ago, the Trojans punched their ticket to the title game with a hard-earned win over the Bruins.

Reggie Bush had two long touchdown runs, Ryan Killeen kicked five field goals and USC got a late interception to stop a last-ditch UCLA comeback. At the game's conclusion, USC fans in both end zones threw oranges on the field. Bush and QB Matt Leinhart each took turns directing the USC chant as well.

* No. 3 Auburn then realized its first SEC championship in 15 years by sliding by No. 15 Tennessee in the SEC title game in Atlanta. The Tigers held a 21-7 halftime lead, but watched the Vols tie the game early in the second half before pulling away.

The star was QB Jason Campbell, who completed 27 of 35 passes for 374 yards and three TDs.

"I know we'll have one first-place vote," said Tuberville, referring to his own ballot in the coaches poll.

* No. 4 Cal scraped by Southern Miss 26-16 in Hattiesburg. J.J. Arrington ran for 261 yards for the Golden Bears. Southern Miss pulled within one at 17-16 on Dustin Almond's 1-yard touchdown run with 5:56 to play. But Darren McCaleb's potential tying extra-point attempt was blocked by Thomas DeCoud. Wendell Hunter returned it 85 yards for two points, giving Cal a 19-16 lead.

That late turnaround should be enough for Cal to hold off Texas in the final BCS rankings and hold on to an at-large berth to play Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

* No. 2 Oklahoma then routed Colorado in the Big 12 title game in Kansas City. QB Jason White made his last bid for a repeat Heisman Trophy with 254 yards and three touchdowns passing. Freshman RB Adrian Peterson added 172 yards and three touchdowns. It was his 11th 100-yard game, a record for a freshman.

The result capped a season where no Big 12 North team defeated a Big 12 South team other than sadsack Baylor. And, worse yet, many of the game results were lopsided like this one.

"Our team is embarrassed by our performance," said CU coach Gary Barnett, whose year has been anything but easy. "We were inept at best."

* Somewhere in there, seventh-ranked Louisville became the first team in NCAA history to score at least 55 points in five straight games, beating Tulane 55-7 Saturday. The Cards bid adieu to Conference USA and turned their sights toward dominating the Big East beginning next year.

* Heisman Watch: They may need a photo finish to separate Oklahoma's stars White and Peterson. The hope is that voters choose the player(s) they truly believe were the best and not necessarily penalize one or the other of these two guys for being on the same time. My ballot, out to five guys, would be White (2,961 yards passing, 33 TDs, 6 INTs), Peterson (1,843 yards rushing, 15 TDs), Leinhart (2,990 yards passing, 28 TDs, 6 INTs), Texas' Cedric Benson (thank God he's a senior, 1,764 yards rushing, 19 TDs) and USC's Bush (15 total TDs, one passing TD).

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

* December Madness: I'm sure I'll be back with a bowl edition of the QB on or about Dec. 26. But there is plenty to be thankful for this holiday season with some of these great match-ups. Here are some that have caught my eye (bowls marked with an # symbol are already set):

Fort Worth#, Dec. 23 -- Marshall vs. Cincinnati. Mark Dantonio gets a legit shot to win his first bowl game.

Insight, Dec. 28 – Notre Dame vs. UCLA. Two big names … on paper. Will draw at least casual interest, kind of like an ND regular season game.

Holiday, Dec. 30 – Texas A&M vs. Arizona State. The injury to Andrew Walter takes some luster off, but interesting still nonetheless.

Liberty#, Dec. 31 – Louisville vs. Boise State. The Liberty loses unbeaten Utah, but comes out smelling like a rose with unbeaten Boise State as the replacement. The over-under must be, what, 150? There will be an NBA game this year with fewer points than this one.

Music City, Dec. 31 – Minnesota vs. Alabama. Good game for the Gophers, who want to get some respectability back after their late-season swoon.

Peach#, Dec. 31 – Miami (Fla.) vs. Florida. Speaking of lucky bowl committees. This is a marketer's dream and, really, a match-up of two like squads, pretty much. Miami peaked on opening night against Florida State. Florida peaked on closing night against Florida State.

Cotton, Jan. 1 – Texas vs. Tennessee. Great match-up, but the Longhorns have to be the clear fave.

Outback#, Jan. 1 – Wisconsin vs. Georgia. Badgers end with back-to-back losses and now they get a team that thinks it should be somewhere in the BCS. Egads.

Capital One#, Jan. 1 – Iowa vs. LSU. This should be a fun game. Kirk Ferentz is tough in bowls. He and Nick Saban have met just once, with Saban's MSU team pummeling Iowa 49-3 in Ferentz's first year at Iowa in 1999.

Gator#, Jan. 1 – Florida State vs. West Virginia. Bobby Bowden gets to go back to his roots with WVU.

Rose, Jan. 1 – Michigan vs. Cal. This is the one the Tournament of Roses committee wanted, and it looks like it's coming true. Can UM contain Aaron Rogers? Hmmm.

Fiesta, Jan. 1 – Utah vs. Pittsburgh. The Utes get their invitation to the Big Dance … and Pitt is their dance partner. Not Texas, not Georgia, not Louisville, not Boise State. Oh well, should still be a good one with Tyler Palko coming on for Pitt.

Sugar, Jan. 3 – Auburn vs. Virginia Tech. Ought to be an entertaining game. Don't sleep on the Hokies. They're doggone tough.

Orange, Jan. 4 – USC vs. Oklahoma. Oh, the star power on each side is really something. Ought to be a great one.

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), regular season complete.

Sept. 11, Marshall (6-5), regular season complete.

Sept. 18, at N.C. State (5-6), season complete.

Sept. 25, idle

Oct. 2, at Northwestern (6-6), season complete.

Oct. 9, Wisconsin (9-2), regular season complete; Outback Bowl, Jan. 1.

Oct. 16, at Iowa (9-2), regular season complete; Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1.

Oct. 23, Indiana (3-8), season complete.

Oct. 30, Penn State (4-7), season complete.

Nov. 6, at Michigan State (5-7), lost to Hawaii 41-38, Dec. 4; season complete.

Nov. 13, Purdue (7-4), regular season complete; Sun Bowl, Dec. 31.

Nov. 20 Michigan (9-2), regular season complete; 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)

Purdue (7-4, 4-4)

Ohio State (7-4, 4-4)

Michigan State (5-7, 4-4)

Minnesota (6-5, 3-5)

Penn State (4-7, 2-6)

Indiana (3-8, 1-7)

Illinois (3-8, 1-7)

Dec. 4 Schedule

Hawaii 41, Michigan State 38

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