Before we get into the Ohio State-Michigan State game, I just have an observation to make. Two, actually.
Saturday proved, at least for me, why God invented college football and also why it stands as the greatest sport known to man.
You think about the heart Ohio State showed to pull out that game with Michigan State. Then, you look around the nation and see Michigan's heart stopping win over Penn State – perhaps the first time many of you every openly rooted for UM to score a touchdown.
And you have that amazing finish at South Bend, where top-ranked USC and quarterback Matt Leinart showed the heart of a champion in somehow pulling out that win over Notre Dame.
But then you also see West Virginia win a three overtime thriller over Louisville, UCLA scraping by Washington State, LSU nipping Florida, Alabama edging Ole Miss, Wisconsin escaping from Minnesota on a late blocked punt, Virginia's upset of Florida State and on and on and on.
This was definitely a weekend to remember.
Now, we can take a look at OSU's win over Michigan State:
On Friday, we posted our Ten Pressing Questions for the OSU-Michigan State game. Now we can provide some answers. Here we go:
1. Which Troy Smith will show up to play? -- As we said, Smith has been up and down more than the stock market in recent weeks. But leading indicators – not to mention a scouting report of the porous Michigan State defense – led us to believe that Smith's fortunes on the gridiron would be tracking up this weekend.
Those indicators were largely correct as Smith threw for a career-high 249 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for a score. Only a fourth-quarter fumble could dim Smith's otherwise fine day, and he got by that with a little help of his friends on defense and special teams.
Perhaps this is the game that sends Smith down the stretch in fine fashion. I guess you should come back in seven days at Indiana and see which way Smith is tracking then.
2. Can the OSU ground game eat up yards and control the clock? -- Well, OSU had a modest 137 yards rushing with 101 of those coming from tailback Antonio Pittman, who enjoyed his third 100-yard game of the season and fourth of his career.
But the "control the clock" part – one of Jim Tressel's biggest aims in life – was a colossal failure. OSU only had the ball for 19:01. That was due to a combination of things, of course. OSU's longest possession of the game was six plays, although the Buckeyes scored touchdowns on drives of five, four, five and three plays.
And the OSU defense allowed MSU to move between the 20's with impunity, but the Buckeyes did a strong job in the red zone to force field goal attempts – two of which were blocked. MSU unbelievably had the ball for 21:50 of the first half.
Would you believe OSU did not run a play in Michigan State territory until late in the fourth quarter? Unbelievable.
3. Is this the game where Ted Ginn Jr. gets it going? -- That could be. Ginn's scoreless string ended at four games as he caught a simple slant pass, made a couple MSU defenders miss and was gone on a 57-yard touchdown pass that was reminiscent of simpler times.
He still had the requisite 6-yard loss on a reverse and also a fumbled punt. But he finished with four catches for 78 yards and a score.
"You get a little confidence back, but you just have to believe in your team, do all the plays that they call and just have fun," Ginn said.
4. How will the offensive line hold up? -- After a five-sack showing at Penn State, the line held up reasonably well against MSU. There were no sacks and they gave Smith plenty of time to complete the handful of big pass plays that turned this game around.
"Up in the trenches, those guys were 320, 330 pounds," said offensive guard Rob Sims. "It was a heavyweight fight. They kept scoring and we kept scoring. Our defense kept playing well. It was a great game."
Freshman Alex Boone filled in admirably for the injured Kirk Barton at right tackle.
"Naturally, any time you have a guy step in like that, you're happy to win the game," said offensive coordinator Jim Bollman.
5. Who's better, the MSU offense or the OSU defense? -- Was this a great battle or what? Ohio State would sack MSU quarterback Drew Stanton or the Spartans would get a penalty and they would always bounce back.
When the Spartans jumped out to an early 17-7 lead, it looked like they may run away and hide from the Buckeyes. But OSU kept the pressure on and made just enough plays to pave the way to the win. The defense was on the field for almost 41 minutes and endured 87 MSU offensive plays.
But in this match-up of OSU's top-five defense and MSU's top-five offense, I think the Buckeyes got the nod. They held MSU to 24 points (three touchdowns below its season average) and 456 yards (over 100 yards below its season average).
The defense came through in the fourth quarter, holding MSU to just four first downs and 70 yards.
Linebacker A.J. Hawk led the way with 19 tackles.
"The thing that our guys always do is they keep coming after them," Tressel said. "We were coming after them good in the first half. I'm not sure we were rerouting receivers as well in the first half as we were in the second half. All of a sudden, he was standing up there in the second half and his receivers were knocked off course, so, at least from where I was standing, that looked like the difference.
"As the game goes on, good defenses are harder to go against and we have a good defense."
Amen to that.
6. Can OSU contain MSU quarterback Drew Stanton? -- It took a while, but the Buckeyes pulled the plug on Stanton in the second half. The Buckeyes ended up registering 12 quarterback sacks, including four by Bobby Carpenter and three by David Patterson.
The piece de resistance came late in the game when Marcus Green clearly forced a Stanton fumble at the MSU 1, but he was inexplicably ruled down. Michigan State netted just one touchdown on seven second-half possessions, and that has to be some kind of record or something.
"We knew coming in that we had a good pass rush, but the key to us getting pressure today was the play of the defensive backs," said defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock. "They held coverage and freed us up to make plays. We just kept on playing hard and good things happen when you play hard."
7. Can OSU force any MSU turnovers? -- No, for the second game in a row, the Buckeyes were unable to force any opponent turnovers. They did the next best thing, though, with a pair of blocked field goals.
8. Will the OSU special teams contribute any game changing plays? -- This was kind of a mixed bag. Ginn fumbled a punt and Santonio Holmes fumbled a kickoff, giving MSU possession at the OSU 4-yard line.
But Nate Salley blocked a field goal that Ashton Youboty returned 72 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half. That 10-point swing meant OSU trailed just 17-14 instead of 20-7. Then, Youboty set the tone for OSU's late comeback by blocking an MSU field goal with the Buckeyes trailing 24-21 with 7:12 left.
9. How will the Buckeyes bounce back from last week's tough loss? -- Ohio State had to dig down deep to pull this one out. The mounting turnovers had given MSU every opportunity to put the game away. But MSU's own mistakes on the field goal unit gave OSU the opening it needed.
The Buckeyes knew a loss meant a 3-3 record – the same as a year ago – and likely little chance at an elusive Big Ten championship.
"(Former Buckeye) Glen Cobb talked to us this morning at our captain's breakfast about how competition reveals character," Tressel said. "I've always known this group has character, but maybe it was revealed again. With them being down and it not looking so wonderful, but they have character and they keep playing. They believe in each other and so that was revealed."
10. Is Ohio State truly a Big Ten championship caliber team? -- Yeah, I think so. However, three of OSU's last five games are on the road, and the Buckeyes need to devise a formula for winning away from home (particularly when it comes down to that Big House place on Nov. 19).
After Saturday's games, the Buckeyes are among a group of five Big Ten teams with one loss in conference play. Obviously, whichever teams are able to win out, those will be the champion or co-champions.
Of that group at one loss, OSU and Penn State each face one other one-loss team, while Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin each face two one-loss teams.
It also a very real possibility that the conference championship could go to two, three or four teams tied at 6-2 at the end of the year.
We are constantly asked about bowl destinations. Ohio State still has a chance to be in the BCS (Orange, Fiesta or Sugar) as the Big Ten's designee. The easiest scenario for that to become a certainty is for the Buckeyes to win out and for Penn State and Wisconsin to lose at least one more game.
OSU would lose head-to-head tiebreakers with Penn State (because of the loss) and to Wisconsin (because UW would have a superior overall record).
However, even if OSU would tie PSU or Wisconsin for the title and finish 9-2 overall, the Buckeyes could still wriggle a BCS at-large bid.
Barring either of those scenarios, OSU seems almost a mortal lock to do no worse than the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, where the Buckeyes have not been since the 1995 season. Of course, come back in a week or two and another stream of upsets and fantastic finishes will jumble the entire mess.
Around the Big Ten:
* Nothing like the competition for a Big Ten championship to make strange bedfellows, huh?
But I'm sure there you were, just after 7 p.m. last night, cheering with everything you have for Michigan to go the length of the field and score a touchdown to hand No. 8 Penn State. And that is precisely what happened as the Wolverines pulled out a 27-25 win.
Penn State's Michael Robinson scored his second touchdown with 53 seconds left to give the Nittany Lions a 25-21 lead, but UM's Steve Breaston returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield to set up the game-winning score.
As I go back and think about it, UM coach Lloyd Carr won that game. He successfully lobbied the officials to put two more seconds on the clock with 30 seconds left. It came down to the final play with one second left and Chad Henne hit Mario Manningham – yes, that Mario Manningham -- for the 10-yard touchdown on the final play for the win.
The Big House was delirious as UM avoided a 3-4 start and defeated Penn State for the seventh consecutive time. The crowd of 111,249 went wild and it seemed like Michigan's entire team piled on Manningham at Penn State's 25.
PSU's modest eight-game winning streak was also snapped.
* No. 23 Wisconsin pulled out a 38-34 win at No. 22 Minnesota as Jonathan Casillas blocked a punt and Ben Strickland recovered it in the end zone with 30 seconds left to complete a stunning rally for Wisconsin.
With the Gophers leading 34-31, Justin Kucek lined up to punt at the Minnesota 5. Kucek dropped the snap, picked up the ball and tried to get the punt off, but Casillas raced through for the block. Strickland then recovered it for the winning score. With the win, Wisconsin won Paul Bunyan's Axe.
The Badgers appeared headed toward their second straight loss, trailing by 10 with 3:27 left. But they drove 71 yards in 1:17 and scored on a 21-yard TD pass to Brandon Williams, setting the stage for the punt block.
"When you think you've seen it all, you haven't seen it all," said UW coach Barry Alvarez, sharing a sentiment that was likely repeated all over the country on Saturday.
* Northwestern prolonged Purdue's losing streak to four straight with a 34-29 win at West Lafayette. Tyrell Sutton – yes, that Tyrell Sutton – scored the game winner on a 1-yard TD run with 1:50 left. Brett Basanez threw for 463 yards and three touchdowns for the Wildcats.
Purdue's Dorien Bryant had 16 catches for 153 yards to go with 95-yard kick return touchdown. Brandon Kirsch threw for 360 yards despite being benched for part of the second half.
* Iowa survived Indiana's strong passing attack for a 38-21 win in Iowa City. Drew Tate threw two touchdown passes and Albert Young had a 26-yard TD run.
IU quarterback Blake Powers completed 37 of 57 passes for 360 yards and two TDs. James Hardy caught 12 passes for 203 yards for the Hoosiers.
* Looking to next week: Michigan's newfound momentum will be tested at Iowa, which needs a win over the Wolverines to stay on the lead lap in the conference race.
Plus, just imagine the offensive fireworks at East Lansing as Northwestern visits Michigan State. The teams figure to combine for about 90 points and 1,100 yards total offense. Again, NU needs the win to stay in a first-place tie.
Purdue's season and any hope of a bowl bid are probably on the line as the Boilers visit Wisconsin, which also must win.
And Penn State gets a strong chance to rebound from the Michigan loss by visiting Illinois.
And a glance at headlines nationally:
* Top-ranked USC rallied to defeat No. 9 Notre Dame 34-31 in the Game of This Year or Any Other Year.
The Trojans boldly won their 28th straight game, gambling repeatedly and making clutch play after clutch play. Of course, USC also benefited from one small break from the officials in pulling out the win in South Bend.
ND quarterback Brady Quinn had given the Irish a 31-28 lead with a 5-yard touchdown run with 2:02 left. But the Trojans drove for the win as Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart hit Dwayne Jarrett for a 61-yard gain on fourth-and-9 from the USC 26 with 1:32 left.
With time running out, Leinart then ran for it on first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. But he was hit just shy of the goal line and the ball squirted out of bounds. In mass confusion, the clock kept running and expired. Fans and ND players rushed the field before the officials huddled. The officials put seven seconds back on the clock.
But this is where they erred: Instead of placing the ball at the 2, where it went out of bounds, USC was given the ball inside the 1.
The Trojans then had the option of setting up a field goal or going for the game-winning score. Leinart attempted a quarterback sneak and was hit at the goal line. He spun and twisted his way into the end zone for the touchdown that decided the game with three seconds left.
"It's one of those games you'll always be proud you were a part of," said Leinart, who threw for 301 yards and sloughed off two costly interceptions. Reggie Bush added 160 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 15 carries.
* Texas QB Vince Young ran for three touchdowns and passed for two more in the No. 2 Longhorns' 42-17 win over No. 24 Colorado. UT claimed its 13th straight win and continued its cruise toward the Big 12 championship game and, possibly, the Rose Bowl.
* No. 4 Florida State's run through the ACC was snapped with a 26-21 loss at Virginia. Cavaliers quarterback Marques Hagans threw for a career-best 306 yards and two touchdowns and Connor Hughes kicked four field goals. Virginia beat a top-five team for just the second time in school history, the last time coming against FSU in 1995.
* No. 6 Alabama also needed late heroics as Jamie Christensen kicked a 31-yard field goal as time expired to give the Crimson Tide a 13-10 win over Mississippi. Alabama QB Brodie Croyle converted three third downs on the winning drive and the Tide remained unbeaten in the SEC West.
* No. 10 LSU ended a three-game home losing streak to No. 11 Florida with a 21-17 victory. Joseph Addai ran for a career-high 152 yards and a touchdown and JaMarcus Russell threw two TD passes. Alabama and Auburn are still unbeaten in SEC West play, but LSU plays Auburn next week and Alabama next month, meaning the Tigers still control their fate in the division race.
* The loss by Florida allowed No. 5 Georgia, a 34-17 winner over Vanderbilt, to take a commanding two-game lead in the SEC East.
* No. 19 Louisville was picked by many to run through the Big East. But the Cardinals are 0-2 in their new conference after a miraculous 46-44 triple overtime loss at West Virginia. The Mountaineers rallied from down 17 to force overtime. Steve Slaton scored six TDs after halftime, including all three in overtime, for the Mountaineers. Slaton finished with 188 yards on 31 carries, while Michael Bush had 159 yards and four TDs on 37 carries for UL.
* Boston College fell behind 17-0 early to Wake Forest and trailed 30-21 with 3:24 to play, but scored twice under backup QB Matt Ryan, who made a 26-yard TD throw to Kevin Challenger with 1:18 left for a 35-30 win.
* California's 10-game home winning streak came to an end when Oregon State beat the 18th-ranked Golden Bears 23-20.
* No. 13 Texas Tech is 6-0 and off to its best start after beating Kansas State 59-20. Cody Hodges threw for a career-best 643 yards and five touchdowns. The Red Raiders have outscored their opponents 322-99, but their next game is at Texas next Saturday.
* Maurice Drew had a 1-yard touchdown run in overtime and Drew Olson threw for five scores as No. 12 UCLA came from 21 points down to remain unbeaten and beat host Washington State 44-41 in overtime. The Bruins snapped a four-game losing streak to the Cougars and posted their first win in Pullman since 1993.
Olson completed 31 of 45 passes for 338 yards. He connected twice with Marcedes Lewis for TDs. Drew, Marcus Everett and Gavin Ketchum also caught scoring passes from Olson.
* Heisman Watch: Barring a USC loss somewhere along the line, this is all Matt Leinart and only Matt Leinart once again. Wow.
* My new top 15: USC, Texas, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Alabama, UCLA, Florida State, Miami (Fla.), LSU, Arizona State, Texas Tech, Penn State, Ohio State, Florida, Notre Dame.
* Games To Watch: Virginia Tech-Maryland (Thursday), USC-Washington, Texas Tech-Texas, Tennessee-Alabama, Georgia Tech-Miami (Fla.), Auburn-LSU, Louisville-Cincinnati, Purdue-Wisconsin.
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. 3, Miami (Ohio) (3-3), beat Akron 51-23, Oct. 15; at Eastern Michigan, Oct. 22.
Sept. 10, Texas (6-0), beat Colorado 42-17, Oct. 15; vs. Texas Tech, Oct. 22.
Sept. 17, San Diego State (3-4), beat Utah 28-25, Oct. 15; vs. New Mexico, Oct. 22.
Sept. 24, Iowa (5-2), beat Indiana 37-21, Oct. 15; vs. Michigan, Oct. 22.
Oct. 8, Penn State (6-1), lost to Michigan 27-25, Oct. 15; at Illinois, Oct. 22.
Oct. 15, Michigan State (4-2), lost to Ohio State 35-24, Oct. 15; vs. Northwestern, Oct. 22.
Oct. 22, (noon, ESPN-Plus and ESPN or ESPN2) at Indiana (4-2), lost to Iowa 37-21, Oct. 15; vs. Ohio State, Oct. 22.
Oct. 29, at Minnesota (5-2), lost to Wisconsin 38-34, Oct. 15; idle, Oct. 22.
Nov. 5, Illinois (2-4), idle, Oct. 15; vs. Penn State, Oct. 22.
Nov. 12, Northwestern (4-2), beat Purdue 34-29, Oct. 15; at Michigan State, Oct. 22.
Nov. 19, Michigan (4-3), beat Penn State 27-25, Oct. 15; at Iowa, Oct. 22.
Big Ten StandingsTeam (Overall, Big Ten) Penn State (6-1, 3-1) Wisconsin (6-1, 3-1) Iowa (5-2, 3-1) Ohio State (4-2, 2-1) Northwestern (4-2, 2-1) Minnesota (5-2, 2-2) Michigan (4-3, 2-2) Michigan State (4-2, 1-2) Indiana (4-2, 1-2) Purdue (2-4, 0-3) Illinois (2-4, 0-3)
Oct. 15 Games
Ohio State 35, Michigan State 24Wisconsin 38, Minnesota 34 Iowa 38, Indiana 21 Northwestern 34, Purdue 29 Michigan 27, Penn State 25
Oct. 22 Games
Michigan at Iowa, noon (ABC, ESPN or ESPN2)Northwestern at Michigan State, noon (ABC, ESPN or ESPN2) Ohio State at Indiana, noon (ESPN-Plus and ESPN or ESPN2) Purdue at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m. (ABC) Penn State at Illinois, 6 p.m. (ESPN)