Sunday Morning QB: Michigan Means Everything

In this week's edition of Sunday Morning Quarterback, we have notes on the showdown with Michigan, the OSU offense and defense, Santonio Holmes' future, the Big Ten and bowl picture and, as always, the Big Ten and college football world at-large. 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.

First, let's take a look at OSU's win over Northwestern (or rather, OSU's game next Saturday with Michigan):

* The clock inside Jim Tressel's head is easy to reconcile now: There are six days and counting until Ohio State plays Michigan in Ann Arbor and for a piece of the Big Ten championship, no less.

I was asked on a Michigan radio station already this morning – yep, the hype has already begun – about how Tressel (3-1 against UM) has been able to do a better job against Michigan than his immediate predecessor, John Cooper (remember him?).

The answer was easy.

As you will recall, when Ohio State defeated Michigan 14-9 in 2002 to clinch a bid in the BCS national title game at the Fiesta Bowl, Tressel put The Game in proper perspective.

"Today was not about the Fiesta Bowl," he told ABC's Jack Arute as thousands mobbed the field for a postgame celebration unlike any other. "Today was about the Ohio State-Michigan game."

Tressel, of course, is a disciple of Earle Bruce, who was seated at the right hand of one Wayne Woodrow "Woody" Hayes. Beating Michigan was what drove Hayes morning, noon and night. It pushed him in January, July and October. It consumed him.

Some of that has trickled down to Tressel. He gets it.

John Cooper understood that he had to beat Michigan, but he was never able to consistently push the right buttons to get that done.

But Tressel and his players understand. They have had a good year. They are 8-2 with a three-point loss to No. 2 Texas and a seven-point loss to new No. 5 Penn State.

It can become a great year, though, with a win at Michigan – particularly a win in Ann Arbor, where OSU has won once in eight tries since 1987.

"The Michigan-Ohio State game is just about the rivalry," said OSU linebacker Bobby Carpenter. "We realize that Michigan is one of the toughest places to play in the nation. It is a very hostile environment and they are a dangerous team. As a senior, it is my goal to go out with a winning record against Michigan."

Linebacker Anthony Schlegel is a senior. But as a transfer from Air Force, Schlegel has never taken the field at The Big House. He is looking forward to it.

"Last time we went up there, we got beat with a lot at stake," Schlegel said of OSU's 2003 loss that cost the Buckeyes a spot in the BCS title game at the Sugar Bowl. "We're just going to have a great week of practice and get ready for them. They're going to be ready for us. They've got a great ballclub. They're playing real well right now. Everybody is rising up and we're meeting in the Ohio State-Michigan game. That's what it's all about.

"We are honored to be in this postion. This is what it's all about being a Buckeye. We will do everything in our power to live up to the standard set by the guys before us."

Now lest you believe that Michigan is all Tressel thinks about, he let it be known that there are at least a few other things in life. He said, for instance, he had no intention of going back to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center after the game to study Michigan tape.

"I don't want to foul up our coaches and go watch too much film and give them some crazy ideas so I'll go home and probably do the dishes and vacuum a little," Tressel said, eliciting laughter from the press corps.

"And we'll be at it hard. Of course, we'll be thinking about it. It's what you dream about when you're coaching at Ohio State or playing at Ohio State and coaching at Michigan and playing at Michigan, you dream of the weeks you get to play in what has been clearly defined as the greatest game in college football.

"But, no, we'll try not to screw it up by watching too much film."

Now that is some perspective.

* If you have not noticed, Ohio State has developed an offense to match its oppressive defense. OSU hit the 380-yard mark in total offense for the sixth time in conference play, finishing with 422 yards in Saturday's 48-7 win over Northwestern. Coincidentally, OSU has won all six of those Big Ten games when the offense has shown up.

This offensive awakening has been recognized far and wide. OSU held the ball for over 34 minutes against NU.

"When they are controlling the ball like that, it does a lot for this team," said OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk. "They have the capability of doing that every week."

Quarterback Troy Smith attempted just 12 passes in the win over NU, completing seven for 77 yards. He also carried 11 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns.

Tailback Antonio Pittman overcame some early injuries to hit the 100-yard mark for the sixth time this year. Backups Maurice Wells and Erik Haw also came to the forefront as they each scored a touchdown.

"That was a great game," Smith surmised. "The defense beared down and got it done. Offensively, we got it done on the ground. We still need to improve on the passing game."

* One unsung hero on Saturday was fourth-year junior split end Santonio Holmes. He had three catches for 49 yards to go with a 35-yard kick return and a 24-yard punt return.

As Holmes joined his teammates to sing "Carmen Ohio" after the game, fans in the south stands serenaded Holmes with chants of "One more year!" Holmes smiled and waved to those fans. He remains noncommittal on whether he will come back or declare for the NFL draft.

After the game, Smith was asked if he would lobby Holmes to return.

"Of course," he said. "But I'm a firm believer that we play the game because we love the game. Don't get me wrong. Everybody's situation is not the same. I would love to throw the ball to him again next year. But he's a grown man and he'll make his own decisions."

* There may have been some uneasy moments early in the NU game as QB Brett Basanez drove the Wildcats to a quick score. The drive was eerily reminiscent of what we saw in last year's overtime loss to NU in Evanston.

But the Buckeyes slammed the car door shut on NU's head the rest of the way – hey, it was the best analogy I could come up with.

"We just had to be more patient," Schlegel said. "They had a good game plan and they executed it well on the first drive. They had the one big pass play. They caught us in a coverage that we really weren't working. We came back and had an outstanding game the rest of the game."

OSU's defense held NU to less than half of its season average of 508.1 yards per game. Defensive end Mike Kudla summed up what makes this defense so special.

"We have such a good balance with seniors on each group," Kudla said. "We blend so well together. The DBs know what the defensive line is doing. The defensive line knows where the linebackers are. We are so intertwined. We have a preconceived notion of where guys should be. We understand what's happening and we're able to adapt to things."

Defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock said the Buckeyes never panicked when Northwestern made its early march.

"They came out and they went right down and scored on us," he said. "We made the mistakes but after that we just started to play our game. We had some confidence. We knew we were missing some assignments and missing some tackles. We knew if we could eliminate those we would be all right."

Pitcock, of course, helped score one for the defense with his blocked punt that Hawk picked up and returned for a score. It will go down, technically, as a special teams score. But the first-team defense was on the field in what OSU calls its Safe Punt formation.

"We feel if we can score on defense it helps the offense out and it helps us to win games," Pitcock said.

* The pregame ceremony was touching as the Buckeyes recognized their 16 seniors. Then, with the game in hand, Tressel called timeout with 4:49 left and pulled his senior defensive starters off the field one at a time to a huge ovation.

The idea that OSU would send its seniors out with a resounding win in a feel-good game was a no-brainer.

"I felt something today I have never felt on the field before," Smith said. "I'm not a senior, but these are the guys I came in with. I felt it to the heart. As soon as they announced Rob Sims, I lost it. They announced Nate (Salley), I just lost it. That really touched me today.

"I was talking to Steve Snapp when I was coming in and I realized I only have seven (home games) left. You spend all that time playing around and it comes up on you real fast."

The seniors shared some of their thoughts on their last Horseshoe appearance:

Schlegel -- "There was a lot of emotion today with my family here. It's hard to leave here. But it's fun to get out there and compete with these guys here one last time."

Rob Sims – "I think most of it really started for me when we kind of walked into the Skull Session, kind of walking and hearing everybody cheering for us like they always do, walking into the Skull Session and being up front and just really realizing, you know, this is it for me and I really won't have this opportunity to walk through the Skull Session again, that's when the tears really started for me.

"After that, I was cool, my mom and dad, they were cool out there on the field and I couldn't ask to play for a better university or a better team for a better coach with better teammates. So, you know, the emotions were high and I'll remember this for the rest of my life."

Nick Mangold – "I think for me, it started when I saw my mom right before the Skull Session. She was all red-eyed and you could tell she'd been crying and that's when it really got emotional for me. You just try to take every moment, and we're walking through the Skull Session, getting dressed, going through pregame, I will never forget it. I didn't hear the "four more years" (chant) but it's really appreciative of what the fans. I love when they're cheering and everything and I really appreciate how much they've cheered for us."

Nate Salley – "It really began to hit me once I got into the locker room, you know, and started putting my stuff together and my pads and my pants and just started thinking about it like, you know, this is going to be like the last time. And Mike Roberts was sitting right next to me, oh, that's the last time you're going to take your shoes off and this is the last time you're going to do this, giving me a hard time. That made me think about it a little more. Guys telling me, how much they appreciated being my teammate, me telling them the same thing, and just looking at everybody and realizing that this is the last time we're going to be in that locker room together like that and that's when it began hitting me. Like they said, to hear the fans chant ‘four more years,' that's great. We definitely appreciate them and it's been a great time here."

Kudla -- "We learned from great players. A.J. learned from Cie Grant and (Matt) Wilhelm and Robert Reynolds. I had Will Smith, Darrion Scott and Tim Anderson. I think we fell into that mold of this is what's expected. This is the way it's supposed to be done. Give everything you have because you're only here for a short time and you can't take anything for granted.

"It is so special and I feel very lucky to be a part of this class. It has just been such an honor and it seems like it has all happened in a whirl wind."

Tressel added his two cents on this class that has a combined record of 41-8, including 27-2 at home.

"We were so proud when all of these guys chose Ohio State because we knew they were special kids and they were going to do a great job in our community and they were going to do a great job on the field and they were going to enjoy the heck out of it," Tressel said. "They didn't even know how much they were going to enjoy it because it's a special place.

"Just to see the broad spectrum that they've encountered and enjoyed and fought through and been there for each other, it's very rewarding to see the kind of men that we have here at Ohio State. And as A.J. said, you know, you feel a little bit incomplete because you know you've got a huge one coming up, and save a little bit of emotion for that one."

* When Hawk came out for his senior introduction – with his helmet on, no less – he was spotted handing Tressel something. What was it?

"It was a flag from the Lima Company, the Marines who just came back from the war," Hawk said. "They gave it to us and wanted us to carry it out. We told them we would carry it out for them and we did."

* OK, now that we have the Michigan game in the proper perspective, we can discuss the various bowl scenarios and Big Ten championship ramifications.

Iowa's win over Wisconsin really simplified the picture. There can not be a four-way tie for the conference title. And that result probably assures OSU of a Jan. 2 bowl bid.

Here's what you need to know:

If Penn State defeats Michigan State, the Nittany Lions go to the BCS. They would win any tiebreaker with Ohio State on the head-to-head win.

OSU can clinch a share of the title with a win and would have to wait and see about a possible BCS bid. If MSU beats PSU and OSU wins, OSU gets the BCS bid.

If MSU beats PSU and Michigan beats OSU, then Michigan would be the BCS rep on head-to-head wins over both PSU and OSU and – get a load of this -- OSU would still get a share of the title at 6-2.

Keep in mind, the OSU-UM game is at 1 p.m. and PSU-MSU is at 4 p.m., so it may not be until 7:30 p.m. before we get the verdict on all of this.

If Penn State wins and OSU wins, OSU could still get into the BCS as an at-large team if things fall the Buckeyes' way. They would be assured of no less than the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.

If OSU loses, it is my feeling that OSU would be headed to the Outback Bowl in Tampa with Penn State and Michigan taking the BCS and Capital One slots.

Kudla talked about how the Buckeyes were able to resurrect their season after a 3-2 start.

"I think we have come leaps and bounds across the board – offense, defense and special teams," he said. "That was a rough loss up there to take at Penn State. A lot of us took that to heart and that motivated us, from the seniors down to the underclassmen. We've got a shot at this Big Ten title and that's what it comes down to.

"We knew our shot at the national title was probably on the outside. We said if we could win the Big Ten and play as well as we can, that would be fine, too.

"It's going to be a huge game. It's up there and we all know that and what that means. We will savor this one tonight and get back to work tomorrow. It's for a title and we're going to go out and give everything we've got."

Around the Big Ten:

* Fittingly, we will start with No. 21 Michigan, which came off a bye week and blistered visiting Indiana 41-14. Chad Henne threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns as UM built a 41-7 halftime lead and coasted to the win.

The Wolverines won their fourth straight, while the Hoosiers fell out of bowl contention with their fifth consecutive setback, and 14th in a row to Michigan.

Kevin Grady rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns in place of the ailing Michael Hart, while Steve Breaston had 201 all-purpose yards.

* Iowa went into Madison and spoiled the sendoff for Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez. The Hawkeyes upset the 19th-ranked Badgers 20-10, ending UW's hopes of snagging a piece of the Big Ten title. Iowa became bowl eligible in the process.

Albert Young ran for 127 yards for the Hawkeyes, who rallied from a 10-0 deficit. Drew Tate had a pair of TD passes for Iowa.

In the loss, Wisconsin running back Brian Calhoun became just the second player in Big Ten history to register 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season. Iowa's Ronnie Harmon was the other. Calhoun did it despite being held to a season-low 18 yards on 15 carries.

* With Laurence Maroney out, Amir Pinnix came to play for Minnesota. He had 205 yards and one touchdown on 33 carries in the Gophers' 41-18 win over Michigan State. Gary Russell added a pair of TD runs for Minnesota.

Michigan State fell to 5-5 and needs a win over Penn State on Saturday to become bowl eligible.

* Illinois dropped its eighth straight game in a 37-3 loss to Purdue, clinching at least a tie for last place in the Big Ten. The Illini avoided being shut out when Jason Reda kicked a 30-yard field goal with 7:37 left. Purdue QB Curtis Painter threw a TD pass and ran for two scores.

And a glance at headlines nationally:

* This was the weekend that the SEC was in the spotlight. It would be hard to pick a Game of the Week just from the three marquee games in that conference. Let's look at them in chronological order.

The wild day in the SEC began as Steve Spurrier led South Carolina to a 30-22 win over 12th-ranked Florida in his first meeting against the school where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1966 as a quarterback and a national championship in 1996 as coach. The victory broke the Gators' 14-game winning streak in the series -- a run Spurrier contributed to by going 10-0 vs. the Gamecocks. South Carolina had not beaten Florida since 1939.

Then, No. 5 LSU stunned No. 4 Alabama 16-13 in Tuscaloosa, dropping the Crimson Tide from the ranks of the unbeaten as well as contention for the national championship. LSU gained control of its own destiny in the SEC West race and can clinch a berth in the conference title game with wins over Ole Miss and Arkansas.

LSU QB JaMarcus Russell threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe in overtime to give the Tigers the victory.

Finally, No. 15 Auburn stunned No. 9 Georgia 31-30 in an incredible finish in Athens. Auburn's Devin Aromashodu went 62 yards with a fourth-down pass, setting up John Vaughn's 20-yard field goal with 6 seconds left that gave the Tigers the win.

Crazier yet, Aromashodu fumbled at the end of his big play, but teammate Courtney Taylor bailed out the 15th-ranked Tigers by recovering the ball before it rolled out of the end zone. However, a fumble can not be advanced for a touchdown, so Auburn got the ball at the Georgia 3.

Auburn was able to run the final minute down and set up Vaughn's kick. In hindsight, Georgia would have been ahead had Aromashodu scored or even if the Tigers had scored on one of their ensuing plays. They would have at least gotten the ball back.

Amazingly, Georgia can still clinch the SEC East with a win over sadsack Kentucky next Saturday.

Texas QB Vince Young threw for 281 yards and a career-high four touchdowns and became the second-ranked Longhorns' career total offense leader in a 66-14 rout of Kansas. Young's 8,269 total career yards breaks the school mark of 8,059, set by Major Applewhite from 1998-2001. Texas won its 17th straight game and clinched a spot in the Big 12 title game.

USC also crossed some milestone achievements in its 35-10 win over nemesis Cal. The Trojans became the first team in Division I-A history to have a 3,000-yard passer (Matt Leinart) and two 1,000-yard rushers (LenDale White and Reggie Bush).

Leinart passed for 246 yards and ran for two touchdowns, and White ran for three more scores in USC's 32nd straight win. Bush ran for 82 yards for the Trojans, while USC defense intercepted Joe Ayoob four times and kept Cal out of the end zone until 1:34 remained.

The Trojans, who haven't lost since their 34-31 triple-overtime defeat at Memorial Stadium in 2003, have the sixth-longest winning streak in Division I history, matching Miami's 32-game run from 2000-03.

* No. 3 Miami (Fla.) moved a step closer to a rematch with Florida State in the ACC title game with a 47-17 win over Wake Forest. QB Kyle Wright tied a school record with five touchdown passes.

* Speaking of No. 17 Florida State, the Seminoles were routed 35-14 at Clemson in the latest Bowden Bowl. Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst threw for 269 yards and three touchdowns. The win marked the second time in three meetings that Tigers coach Tommy Bowden has beaten father Bobby in the Bowden Bowl.

* Notre Dame's Brady Quinn completed 22 of 31 passes for 284 yards and four touchdowns -- extending his school record of games with TD passes to 14 straight -- in the seventh-ranked Fighting Irish's 41-21 rout of Navy. Quinn now has 2,931 yards passing for the season and 52 career TD passes, tying the school mark set by Ron Powlus. He needs 254 yards passing in the Irish's final two games to pass the school career mark of 7,602 set by Powlus from 1994-97.

Notre Dame extended its NCAA-record winning streak over Navy to 42 straight games.

* No. 13 Texas Tech's hopes of its first 10-win season since 1976 were spoiled with a 24-17 loss to Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders (8-2) tied the game when Chris Hudler jumped on Bobby Reid's fumble in the end zone, but Al Pena scored on a 1-yard run with 23 seconds remaining to stave off a rally.

* Virginia became bowl eligible by beating No. 24 Georgia Tech for the fourth consecutive season, 27-17.

* The news was not as good for Vanderbilt, which failed to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1982 with a 48-43 loss to Kentucky. The Commodores trailed 34-10 at halftime, but three touchdown catches by Earl Bennett in the fourth quarter -- he had five for the game -- got them within five points.

* After missing postseason play last year for the first time since 1968, Nebraska became bowl eligible by beating Kansas State 27-25. Jordan Congdon kicked a 40-yard field goal with 1:05 left to snap the Cornhuskers' three-game losing streak.

* Pittsburgh finished its home schedule with five consecutive victories, beating Connecticut 24-0. The Panthers must upset No. 16 West Virginia on Thanksgiving to avoid their first losing season since 1999 and to play in a sixth consecutive bowl game.

* Buffalo beat Kent State 10-6 to snap a 10-game losing streak dating to last season and get its first conference win on the road since it joined the Mid-American Conference in 1999.

* Heisman Watch: I like Vince Young. But USC quarterback Matt Leinart is still my guy. Maybe I'm in the minority. Others in the mix would be USC's Reggie Bush and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn.

* My new top 15: We don't have to worry about Florida being in front of OSU anymore: USC, Texas, Miami (Fla.), Penn State, LSU, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Alabama, Auburn, Oregon, Georgia, West Virginia, Michigan, TCU.

* My new bowl projections: I have moved things around: Rose, USC-Texas; Orange, Miami (Fla.)-Ohio State; Sugar, LSU-West Virginia; Fiesta, Penn State-Notre Dame; Capital One, Wisconsin-Alabama; Outback, Michigan-Georgia.

* Games To Watch: Bowling Green-Miami (Ohio) (Tuesday), Northern Illinois-Toledo (Wednesday), Fresno State-USC, Georgia Tech-Miami (Fla.), Alabama-Auburn, Penn State-Michigan State, Syracuse-Notre Dame, Ohio State-Michigan, Minnesota-Iowa, Cal-Stanford.

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) (5-3), idle, Nov. 12; vs. Bowling Green, Nov. 15.

Sept. 10, Texas (10-0), beat Kansas 66-14, Nov. 12; idle, Nov. 19.

Sept. 17, San Diego State (4-6), beat Colorado State 30-10, Nov. 12; vs. Wyoming, Nov. 19.

Sept. 24, Iowa (6-4), beat Wisconsin 20-10, Nov. 12; vs. Minnesota, Nov. 19.

Oct. 8, Penn State (9-1), idle, Nov. 12; at Michigan State, Nov. 19.

Oct. 15, Michigan State (5-5), lost to Minnesota 41-18, Nov. 12; vs. Penn State, Nov. 19.

Oct. 22, at Indiana (4-6), lost to Michigan 41-14, Nov. 12; vs. Purdue, Nov. 19.

Oct. 29, at Minnesota (7-3), beat Michigan State 41-18, Nov. 12; at Iowa, Nov. 19.

Nov. 5, Illinois (2-8), lost to Purdue 37-3, Nov. 12; vs. Northwestern, Nov. 19.

Nov. 12, Northwestern (6-4), lost to Ohio State 48-7, Nov. 12; at Illinois, Nov. 19.

Nov. 19, (1 p.m., ABC) Michigan (7-3), beat Indiana 41-14, Nov. 12; vs. Ohio State, Nov. 19.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Penn State (9-1, 6-1)

Ohio State (8-2, 6-1)

Michigan (7-3, 5-2)

Wisconsin (8-3, 5-3)

Minnesota (7-3, 4-3)

Northwestern (6-4, 4-3)

Iowa (6-4, 4-3)

Michigan State (5-5, 2-5)

Purdue (4-6, 2-5)

Indiana (4-6, 1-6)

Illinois (2-8, 0-7)

Nov. 12 Results

Ohio State 48, Northwestern 7

Michigan 41, Indiana 14

Minnesota 41, Michigan State 18

Purdue 37, Illinois 3

Iowa 20, Wisconsin 10

Nov. 19 Games

Minnesota at Iowa, noon (ESPN2)

Northwestern at Illinois, noon (ESPN-Plus)

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

Penn State at Michigan State, 4 p.m. (ESPN)

Purdue at Indiana, TBA

Nov. 25 Game

Wisconsin at Hawaii

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