I know that I am doing my best to focus on Youngstown State, Todd Boeckman and the new season, but my mind keeps drifting back to those miserable 3½ hours on Jan. 8 when I sat with nearly 75,000 of my closest friends in a $450 million facility and watched a show that wasn't worth a nickel.
How could it all have gone so wrong for the Buckeyes? How could a season during which they played and vanquished 12 straight opponents finish on such a sour note? How could a team that performed so well for so long portray a team that couldn't beat a middle-of-the-road Division I-AA team?
I went back to re-read my column from after what I now refer to as The Bowl Game That Shall Not Be Mentioned, written from thoughts culled immediately after the contest and my mind hasn't changed much. Florida came to play, Ohio State obviously did not, and that combination usually produces a blowout.
But after forcing myself to watch a replay of the game, I was astounded by a couple of things.
First and foremost was the way that the Gators' defense manhandled the OSU offensive line. The only game that remotely resembles that kind of butt-whipping up front came in the 1998 Sugar Bowl when – forgive the antiquated simile – Andre Wadsworth and his Florida State defensive line mates were all over Ohio State QB Joe Germaine like a cheap suit.
The Seminoles jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead, the OSU offensive line was powerless to protect their quarterback, and Germaine barely escaped with his life. He somehow managed to throw for 173 yards and a touchdown, but he was picked off twice and sacked six times as Florida State ran away with a 31-14 victory.
The cover headline in BSB after that debacle: "Speed Main Factor In OSU's Sugar Bowl Crash."
One good thing came out of that loss. Then head coach John Cooper finally cozied up to the idea that speed wasn't an attribute only to be recruited at the skill positions. The Buckeyes began to look for speed at linebacker, safety and defensive end – something they continue to do to this day.
Now the onus must be on finding more active, more mobile, more nimble offensive linemen because you can bet every college coach in America watched that game and came away with a single thought – I have to find my own Derrick Harvey.
Secondly, I was shocked as I watched what passed for Ohio State's passing attack. To say it was ineffective is somewhat akin to saying the Pacific Ocean contains a lot of water. No spit, Sherlock.
What was most disconcerting to me was the overall simplicity of the attack, which mostly consisted of just two receivers in the pattern and a limited number of options for quarterback Troy Smith.
According to Florida head coach Urban Meyer, the one mismatch that concerned him was Ted Ginn Jr. in single coverage and in the kicking game. Obviously, Meyer's worst fears were realized once Ginn returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. But when Roy Hall fell on Ginn's ankle during the end zone celebration, knocking Ginn out of the rest of the game, the Buckeyes seemingly had no back-up plan.
All season, Smith had been able to work with a stable of receivers by spreading out opposing defenses and going to his second, third or fourth options. With Harvey and fellow defensive line terror Jarvis Moss leading a charge up front, Smith didn't have much time to go through his progressions.
But there were times when he had time and no receivers could get open. Anthony Gonzalez caught two passes for 11 yards and Brian Hartline had one catch for 13 yards. As far as the OSU receivers were concerned, that was it. Moreover, the Buckeyes registered exactly one first down in the passing game.
It wasn't just that Ohio State's offensive line had a bad game or that the passing game suffered an off-day. The Gators had a lot to do with that, you know.
On a couple of occasions during the game, I caught Florida safety Reggie Nelson backpedaling as much as 25 yards deep before the snap of the ball. When he did, the Buckeyes attempted to throw the ball. Other times, I noticed Nelson creeping closer to the line of scrimmage. Whenever he did that, it seemed the Buckeyes ran the ball.
It didn't take long for me to figure out that Florida's defense pretty much knew what was coming. It was the same way with their offense, and the day after the game, Meyer admitted as much.
"We watched every series that Ohio State played the entire year, and our staff did a great job of being very consistent in the way our defenses were called at the beginning of every series," he said. "We kind of had a feel for what they were going to do.
"It was the same on offense. They played more Cover-2 then they had in the past, but it was still pretty consistent in what we (knew we) were going to get. It is a very good defense, and it is not going to give you the big play.
"So, instead of forcing it, we were trying to move it. You saw all those bubble screens early in the game. I think our guys just were very well-prepared."
Meyer also discussed Ohio State's tendency to blitz in certain situations. When a reported asked if he was surprised the Buckeyes didn't try to blitz more, the Florida coach replied, "As a matter of fact, they did early. They have a tendency to do that after a third or fourth play of a drive. That's when they will bring pressure.
"But that's one of the big ones we hit. Those were some of the plays that we hit."
Why? Because the Gators knew it was coming. Football becomes an exponentially easier game when you know what's coming.
One major difference was the fourth-and-1 call over which Jim Tressel got a lot of grief. That play, called on the OSU 29-yard line with less than four minutes remaining in the first half, came with Florida holding a 24-14 lead and the Buckeyes still holding a glimmer of hope.
After the Gators stuffed the play, however, Ohio State was through. Florida converted that possession into a field goal, then got a touchdown seconds later after Moss sacked Smith and caused a fumble that Harvey pounced on at the OSU 5. It turned a still-manageable game into a burgeoning blowout although Meyer refused to second-guess Tressel's call.
In fact, the Florida coach said he would have done the same thing given the same circumstances.
"I probably would have," Meyer said. "When things share going bad, you start … you feel like you're playing on a field that's tilted. When we were at Arkansas, we were like that and it's hard to get it back.
"Am I surprised they did that? No, not at all. I thought they would try to draw us offside. We kept telling our defensive line that's what they were going to try to do. But we stayed composed, just like the entire game. I think our defensive line dominated the game, and that play was a perfect example of it."
Some fans continue to bemoan the fact that the loss in the national championship game casts a shadow over an otherwise successful season. After all, there was another victory over Michigan and the program's first outright Big Ten championship since 1984.
But the cold, hard truth is that such a pitiful performance in the national title contest – in front of several million fans – does put the 2006 season in a different light. It points out just how soft Ohio State's schedule was in comparison to the one Florida played. The Buckeyes' 12 regular-season opponents were 76-75, a winning percentage of .503. Meanwhile, the Gators were playing teams that finished with a 98-69 combined record and .587 winning percentage.
Moreover, OSU's performance underscored another poor postseason performance for the Big Ten that included just two wins in seven contests, including losses of two touchdowns or more in three of those five losses. That doesn't even take into consideration Minnesota's record-setting collapse after leading Texas Tech by 31 points, a loss that ultimately cost head coach Glen Mason his job.
Meanwhile, the SEC was enjoying a 6-3 record in its bowl games, including BCS blowouts by LSU over Notre Dame and Florida over Ohio State.
However, the only thing that really matters – at least in this corner of the world – is how the Buckeyes respond as a program. Following that whipping at the hands of Florida State in the 1998 Sugar Bowl, Ohio State came within a whisker of winning the national championship later that year. That team, however, returned nine starters on offense – 10 if you count Germaine, who took over fulltime in '98 – and seven more on defense.
When the Buckeyes kick off their 2007 season on Saturday, they welcome back nine players who started on defense in the national championship game, but the offense will face a major overhaul, most notably at quarterback where Smith exits and leaves the inexperienced Boeckman in his place.
Despite all of the success the program has enjoyed over the past five seasons – including three Big Ten titles, one national championship, one runner-up finish and a glittering 55-9 record – the program still seems at a crossroads.
Can it come back from the devastating knockout it suffered at the hands of the Gators and continue its winning ways? Or will that blow to the psyche be one that lingers into 2007?
We are all about to find out.
OSU-YOUNGSTOWN STATE TIDBITS
• Ohio State kicks off its 118th season of intercollegiate football against Youngstown State on Saturday. The Buckeyes have won 28 consecutive home openers, and are a glittering 114-10-4 all-time in home games during the month of September.
• Something has to give since YSU is working on a 10-game winning streak in season openers. They last lost an opener in 1995, a 17-14 defeat at the hands of Kent State. That also marked the last time the Penguins began the season on the road.
• Tressel, of course, is facing off against the program that he led to four Division I-AA national championships between 1986 and 2000. His record with the Penguins was 135-57-2 and they won I-AA titles in 1991, '93, '94 and '97. They were also national runners-up in '92 and '99.
• The last Ohio State head coach to face a team he previously led was John Cooper. His team took on Arizona State in the 1997 Rose Bowl and defeated the Sun Devils 20-17 thanks to a late touchdown pass from Joe Germaine to David Boston.
• Did you know the Buckeyes and Penguins are the two winningest football programs in the state of Ohio since 1990? Since that time, OSU has 161 victories and YSU has 155. Also, Ohio State is two-time defending champion of the Big Ten, while Youngstown State is two-time defending champion of the Gateway Conference.
• The Buckeyes are 171-48-25 all-time against opponents from the state of Ohio. They haven't lost to an in-state opponent since a 7-6 defeat at the hands of Oberlin back in 1921.
• No one gives Youngstown State any chance to topple the Buckeyes, but the Penguins are a very respectable 19-20-1 over the years against Division I-A competition. Their last win against a I-A program came in 2000 over Kent State.
• There are lots of familiar faces in the contest. In addition to Tressel's ties to YSU, Penguins head coach Jon Heacock is the younger brother of OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock. Additionally, Youngstown State tight end Louis Irizarry is a former Buckeyes while fullback Ben Lane is the younger brother of Ohio State cornerback Shaun Lane.
• Serving as honorary captain for Ohio State will be former linebacker Greg Bellisari, who played for the Buckeyes from 1993-96. Bellisari was a four-year letterman, co-captain of the 1996 team and two-time Academic All-American.
• If you have access to the Big Ten Network, you will be treated to the team of longtime broadcaster Roger Twibell with the play-by-play and former OSU quarterback Mike Tomczak providing the color commentary. It does not appear that the BTN will employ a sideline reporter. Kickoff is set for 12 noon Eastern.
• If the BTN is not a viable option for you, there are others. The game will be broadcast on a variety of radio stations, including Channel 126 on Sirius Satellite.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
• Just in case you're interested, Ohio State isn't the only game in town. For the upcoming season, there are 620 colleges and universities competing in NCAA football. That is an increase of four from 2006. Welcome Birmingham (Ala.) Southern, Gallaudet (Washington, D.C.), St. Vincent's (Pa.) and UNC-Pembroke to the party.
• In 2006, NCAA football attendance was 47.9 million for 616 schools, which topped the previous record, which was set in 2003 at 46.2 million. If you figure an average of about $35 per ticket – on the conservative end of the scale – that means member schools raked in a cool $1.67 billion (with a "b") last year on attendance alone.
• Speaking of big-time money, if you have a cool million burning a hole in your pocket, you could spend a day with Florida head coach Urban Meyer and his staff, eat a meal at Meyer's home or even run onto the field with the Gators at a home game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. That is what they have come up in Gainesville for contributors of $1 million or more.
• Give Cincinnati credit for taking on all comers. The Bearcats just signed a home-and-home deal to play Oklahoma in 2008 and 2010. On the other side of the ledger, Penn State has inked deals to host Coastal Carolina and Arkansas State, both in 2008.
• Ten Division I-A programs are changing helmet logos this season, including Big Ten members Michigan State and Minnesota. The Spartans are returning to their classic design from the 1970s and late 1990s that features the outline of a Spartan soldier while the Gophers are displaying their new, larger "M" logo.
• Good news for those of you planning to visit Miami when the Buckeyes play the Hurricanes in 2011. The U is finally going to vacate the crumbling Orange Bowl following this season, and beginning next year will play its games in North Miami at Dolphin Stadium.
• It may interest you to know that Texas is ranked No. 1 in sales of college sports merchandise for the second year in a row, according to research by Collegiate Licensing Co. Notre Dame is second, followed by Florida, Michigan and Georgia. It may also interest you to know that Ohio State was not ranked among the top 75 schools while the likes of Montana, UTEP and Delaware were.
• During the OSU-Washington game in a couple of weeks, keep your eyes peeled for what liquids the Husky trainers will be giving their players. The school has reportedly added chilled chocolate milk to the team's fluid replacement menu along with sports drinks and ice water.
• Finally, in case you're not hyped up enough about another Ohio State-Michigan game, HBO Sports will broadcast a documentary on the storied rivalry on Nov. 13. As they say in the electronic biz, check your local listings for times.
Often imitated but never duplicated, the Fearless Forecast returns for another year of prodigious prognostications. For the third year in a row, college football spreads its opening weekend out over five days – thanks to no NFL interference yet – and I offer this annual solution: Get your wife, girlfriend or significant other interested in the games. Of course, if that fails, spread the credit cards out on the kitchen table, tell her to pick two and you'll see her next week.
How did we do last year? Picking straight up wasn't too bad at 248-66 while we cashed more tickets than we tore up against the spread at 151-127-6. In case you're interested, for the last four years combined, we're 941-273 straight-up (77.5 percent) and fairly well above water in the ATS picks at 408-343-10.
But as I say every year, please don't bet the kid's college fund money on what I think. It's just for fun and you probably know more about it than I do. Nevertheless, off we go for what we hope will be an outstanding season that winds up in the Big Easy. (By the way, the rankings are from the AP.)
No. 2 LSU at Mississippi State: Not too much suspense here. The Tigers figure to be a player in the national championship picture while the Bulldogs are searching for respectability and their first winning season since 2000. The SEC schedule-maker evidently has no love for Mississippi State, however, starting the Bulldogs out with a team to which they have lost seven straight by a combined score of 295-81. LSU does have some holes to fill in its lineup, especially at quarterback where fifth-year senior Matt Flynn takes over for top NFL draft pick JaMarcus Russell. But Flynn has a decent résumé – his only other career start was when the Bayou Boys stomped Miami (Fla.) 40-3 in the 2005 Peach Bowl and he won offensive MVP honors … LSU 42, Mississippi State 10. (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
Murray State at No. 10 Louisville: The Cardinals believe they are going to be in the national championship chase this season, and they think QB Brian Brohm has a shot at the Heisman. Both of those things are doubtful, but don't sell Louisville short just because they have changed coaches from Bobby Petrino to Steve Krapthorpe. The high-wire, point-a-minute offense is still intact and kicking off against instate rival Murray State shouldn't prove to be too much of a test. After all, the Racers are coming off a 1-10 season in 2006 and have lost 11 of their last 12 on the road … Louisville 52, Murray State 6. (7:30 p.m. EDT, ESPNU)
Buffalo at No. 17 Rutgers: New Jersey State enjoyed what was probably its best football season in history last year. The big question for 2007 is what the Scarlet Knights can do for an encore. They welcome back RB Ray Rice, who rushed for 1,794 yards and 20 TDs a year ago, as well as quarterback Mike Teel, who is 12-3 in two seasons as a starter. On the other sideline, the Bulls are coming off a 2-10 season and hoping that the return of 16 starters is the harbinger of good things to come. Buffalo could be a little better this season, but it seems difficult to believe they can go into Piscataway and steal a victory … Rutgers 35, Buffalo 10.
Weber State at No. 24 Boise State: Anyone who remembers last year's Fiesta Bowl and how Boise State stole victory from powerhouse Oklahoma knows the Broncos have one of the up-and-coming programs in college football. Now, they want to take another step up. They lost a lot of their offensive firepower with the graduation of QB Jared Zabransky and three top receivers, but Heisman hopeful RB Ian Johnson is back along with innovative head coach Chris Petersen, who signed a five-year, $4.25 million contract extension in the offseason. Add playing on the Smurf Turf, and the fact that Weber has lost four in a row and 22 of 29 in the series, and you come up with the recipe for a good start for Broncos … Boise State 32, Weber State 14.
Idaho at No. 1 USC: The Vandals have the unenviable task of being the first sacrificial lamb for the Trojans this season. With an absolute embarrassment of riches on offense, USC head coach Pete Carroll can probably name whatever score he chooses – and in games like these, against opponents like Idaho, he usually chooses big numbers. It doesn't help that the Trojans have outscored the Vandals 215-20 in their previous seven meetings … USC 62, Idaho 6. (10:15 p.m. EDT, FSN)
Western Michigan at No. 3 West Virginia: The Mountaineers are boasting a high-powered offense with QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton, but they had better shore up the defense because the Broncos are no slouch. They finished 8-5 last season, including a win at Virginia and a narrow loss at Florida State, and are picked to win their division of the MAC this season. Look for WMU to test the Motown secondary with new QB Tim Hiller, who missed all of last season with a knee injury after winning MAC freshman of the year honors in 2005. I'm not picking the upset because the game is in Morgantown, but don't be surprised if the outcome is much closer than the experts predict … West Virginia 34, Western Michigan 27.
Arkansas State at No. 4 Texas: Year No. 2 of the Colt McCoy Era begins in Austin, and the Orangebloods are expecting great things from their sophomore quarterback. Even though he missed some playing time last year with a pinched nerve in his neck, McCoy still managed to throw for 2,570 yards and an NCAA freshman-record 29 touchdowns. If the Mack Attack can find a running game – the Longhorns failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher last year for first time since 1994 – Texas could be tough to handle this season. They shouldn't break much of a sweat in this game. The Indians are 0-14 all-time against Big 12 opponents … Texas 45, Arkansas State 7.
Western Kentucky at No. 6 Florida: The Urban Legends open defense of their national championship by entertaining the Hilltoppers, a program making the leap from Division I-AA to I-A. The Gators will be a markedly different team personnel-wise than the one last seen rolling over Ohio State, including Tim Tebow taking over the starting quarterback position. Nine starters are gone from that swarming defense, too, although defensive end Derrick Harvey is back to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. I don't expect Florida to repeat – fact is, I expect them to struggle a bit in the SEC. But that doesn't start this week … Florida 37, Western Kentucky 14.
North Texas at No. 8 Oklahoma: The Sooners get to experience life without star tailback Adrian Peterson, who packed up his obvious talents and went to the NFL. It wasn't like OU hadn't prepared, however. After all, Peterson missed several games last year after breaking his collarbone, and head coach Bob Stoops has a stable of thoroughbreds he plans to pick up the slack. As far as their competition is concerned, the Mean Green enjoys mixing it up with the big boys. This marks the fifth time in the past six years that they have opened the season against top-10 competition. Unfortunately, they're winless in each of those games and 0-6 all-time against the Sooners … Oklahoma 45, North Texas 3.
East Carolina at No. 9 Virginia Tech: With the tragic school shootings in April, and the downfall of favorite son Michael Vick, it hasn't been the easiest of offseasons for the Hokies. They're eager to play a game and further put the past in the past. Unfortunately for the Pirates, they draw the opening-day assignment against a team to which they have lost five straight times. Add to that: East Carolina starting QB Rob Kass has been suspended and will not play, and the Hokies have won 25 straight at home against nonconference opponents … Virginia Tech 35, East Carolina 7. (12 noon EDT, ESPN)
REST OF THE BEST
No. 15 Tennessee at No. 12 Cal: It might be a little early in the season for a revenge game, but that's exactly what the Bears have on their minds. They entered last season full of promise and were summarily woodshedded by the Volunteers to the tune of 35-18. No wonder why Cal has this game circled. In addition to traveling to Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Tennessee may also have to play without starting QB Erik Ainge, who has a broken finger on his throwing hand. Two other signs that point to the Bears gaining their revenge: the Vols are 2-6-1 all-time in the state of California, and the Bears were a perfect 8-0 at home last year … Cal 24, Tennessee 17.(8 p.m. EDT, ABC)
Oklahoma State at No. 13 Georgia: The Bulldogs suffered a boatload of growing pains last season while fashioning a 9-4 season. They won their first five games and won their last three, but had an ugly 1-4 streak in between. This year, they hope they can be a little more consistent. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are off everyone's radar and maybe they shouldn't be. They have an excellent offense behind QB Bobby Reid and no fear about opening on the road against a ranked opponent. The decisive factor will be how well former Ohio State assistant coach Tim Beckman has improved the OSU defense. It's another tempting upset pick although I'm going to pass … Georgia 17, Oklahoma State 14. (6:45 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)
No. 14 UCLA at Stanford: These two teams kick off their Pac-10 seasons with hopes of rebounding in 2007. The Bruins stumbled to a disappointing 7-6 record last year, but their spirits were buoyed by a 13-9 victory over then second-ranked USC. And they have the bulk of their team back, including QB Ben Olson, who missed eight games last season with a knee injury. Meanwhile, the Cardinal starts over again with new head coach Jim Harbaugh, and tries to erase a three-game losing streak in the series … UCLA 31, Stanford 14. (3:30 p.m. EDT, FSN)
Kansas State at No. 18 Auburn: Everyone seems to forget that the Tigers were the team to beat in the SEC last year for most of the season. They finished 11-2 and gave Florida its only loss. Somehow, though, no one expects much from Tommy Tuberville's bunch in '07 because four offensive line starters, including NFL first-round pick Ben Grubbs, are gone as is RB Kenny Irons, a second-round pick. The one could get a little dicey in Jordan-Hare Stadium since the Wildcats haven't lost a season opener since 1989. However, they haven't played a ranked opponent on the road in an opener since 1973 – a 21-10 loss to Florida … Auburn 23, Kansas State 14. (7:45 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
Nevada at No. 20 Nebraska: It's kind of hard to figure the Cornhuskers under head coach Bill Callahan. Just when it seems like they are back to prominence, they stumble like at the end of last season when they lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game and then to Auburn in the Cotton Bowl. One thing Callahan has done is improve the offense. It went from 67th in the nation in scoring in 2005 to 17th last season, and should receive a boost from new quarterback Sam Keller, who transferred from Arizona State. No upset here since the Huskers have won 21 season openers in a row while the Wolf Pack has lost its last three. Nebraska 30, Nevada 7. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional)
Troy at No. 21 Arkansas: The Razorbacks are hopeful of getting a little quicker start in 2007 than they did a year ago. They won 10 games for the first time in 16 seasons, but absorbed a 50-14 rout at the hands of USC in the opener. This year, the schedule-maker is a little more friendly with a different set of Trojans invading Fayetteville. These Men of Troy should not be confused with their counterparts on the West Coast, but they're not to be overlooked. The team went 8-5 last season and returns a bunch of starters, including QB Omar Haugabook, who was the Sun Belt's player of the year. Still, a heaping helping of running back Darren McFadden ought to be enough for the Hogs … Arkansas 37, Troy 10.
Baylor at No. 22 TCU: Here is just about all you need to know about this matchup between former Southwest Conference rivals: The Horned Frogs are going for their third consecutive 11-win season, and the Bears have totaled only 12 wins over the last three years. Throw in the fact that Baylor is a robust 2-34 against ranked teams since 1996 and I think you're smelling what I'm cooking … TCU 34, Baylor 10.(6 p.m. EDT, CSTV)
Montana State at No. 25 Texas A&M: The Aggies are a lot like some Big Ten teams we know – good offense, suspect defense. If A&M expects to contend in the Big 12 this year, it will have to get better at stopping the opponent. The Fighting Franchiones allowed more than 330 yards in five of their last seven games, including 476 in a 45-10 Holiday Bowl loss to Cal. That plays right into the I-AA Bobcats' game plan because they return their starting quarterback, two top receivers and leading running back from 2006. Still, it will be a tough assignment to go into College Station and snatch a win. After all, the Aggies have won 21 home openers in a row … Texas A&M 34, Montana State 9.
Northern Colorado at No. 23 Hawaii: If you live in the Eastern time zone, this is technically a Sunday game since kickoff is a 12:05 a.m. Unfortunately, we will not get to watch the exploits of Rainbows QB Colt Brennan, who should get more than a few Heisman votes this year. Regardless of the competition against which he plays, Brennan is an excellent passer. Last year, he completed 72.6 percent of his passes for 5,549 yards and an NCAA-record 58 touchdowns, and ought to get a head start on approaching those numbers again. The Division I-AA Bears were 1-10 last season, and have lost 15 of their last 16 road games … Hawaii 56, Northern Colorado 13.
No. 19 Florida State at Clemson: The Seminoles continue to have a quarterback controversy between Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee, finished last season unranked for the first time in 20 years and are unsettled on defense. It's not much better on the Clemson side where the Tigers rose as high as No. 10 last season before fading with four losses in their last five games. It's another renewal of the Bowden Bowl, and Tommy is getting the upper hand on his old man. He has won each of the last two times the game has been played at Death Valley, and since I've been looking for an Upset Special, here goes nothing … Clemson 20, Florida State 16. (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
Northeastern at Northwestern: No one is giving the Wildcats much of a chance to do anything in the Big Ten this season. Most of that is because the team went 4-8 last year and the jury remains out on just what kind of a coach Pat Fitzgerald is going to be. Meanwhile, the Huskies (5-6 last season) are making the move from the old Atlantic 10 to the new Coastal Athletic Association. Just thought you'd like to know … Northwestern 33, Northeastern 12. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)
UAB at Michigan State: The Blazers didn't exactly tear up Conference USA last season, finishing with a 3-9 record. They lost their last six games and some experts have dropped them into the bottom 10 programs in the country. That certainly bodes well for the beginning of Mark Dantonio's tenure in East Lansing. Of course, Michigan State has never had a problem getting off to a quick start. It's that speed bump about mid-October that Sparty needs to worry about … Michigan State 35, UAB 10. (12 noon EDT, ESPN2)
Missouri vs. Illinois: This one is a quasi-home game for the Tigers since it is being played in Edward Jones Stadium in St. Louis. It also marks the first step for Ron Zook in his quest to get the Illini back to respectability. A lot of whether or not he can accomplish that rests with QB Juice Williams, who was electrifying at times last season and downright awful at other times. Williams ran and threw for more than 2,000 yards in 2007, but he completed less than 40 percent of his passes, threw as many interceptions as touchdowns, and led his team to only two wins in 12 games. It's asking a lot for the Illini to win this one, but I think they can. Upset Special No. 2 … Illinois 31, Missouri 28. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)
Iowa at Northern Illinois: To intimate that Kirk Ferentz was embarrassed by last year's 2-6 conference record is a little like saying fire is hot. It's grossly understating the obvious. Ferentz wants his team to get back to playing the kind of stingy defense it did while winning 31 of 38 games between 2002 and 2004. The Huskies, who put up a little bit of a struggle last year before bowing 35-12 to Ohio State in the season opener, are not the same team without all-purpose back Garrett Wolfe … Iowa 34, Northern Illinois 7. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPNU)
Purdue at Toledo: The Boilermakers take their high-powered offense on the road, playing the Rockets at the Glass Bowl under the lights. Look for Purdue QB Curtis Painter to put the ball in the air early and often, and hope that guys like Dorien Bryant can run under all of those passes. Toledo is hoping to rebound from last year's 5-7 finish after winning three of their last four. But they haven't played a Big Ten team since a 63-21 loss to Minnesota in the 2004 season opener … Purdue 45, Toledo 24. (7 p.m. EDT, ESPNU)
Indiana at Indiana State: The Hoosiers will begin a tough season in the wake of Terry Hoeppner's death. The program was on the verge of turning things around last year, but no one knows how Hoeppner's passing will impact the relatively young team. Luckily, they shouldn't have much problem in the opener. The I-AA Sycamores were 1-10 last year and got outscored 438-219 … Indiana 44, Indiana State 7. (8 p.m. EDT, Big Ten Network)
Bowling Green at Minnesota: Some experts believe that Glen Mason left new head coach Tim Brewster a pretty good roster. That was, of course, until Brewster had to kick four players off the team for their part in a sexual assault case. Meanwhile, the Falcons are venturing into the Big Ten again for the third year in a row. How has that worked out for them? Not so well. They are 0-3 and have surrendered an average of 42 points per game. Do I think the Gophers can score 42? No, I don't. Do I think the Gophers will win? Yes, I do … Minnesota 31, Bowling Green 14. (8 p.m. EDT, Big Ten Network)
Florida International at No. 17 Penn State: As soon as the opening kickoff is airborne, Joe Paterno breaks Amos Alonzo Stagg's record for longevity at one school. Stagg served 41 seasons at the University of Chicago from 1892-1932, and Paterno begins his 42nd season at the helm in Happy Valley this year. The milestone should be marked with a victory since the Golden Panthers were 0-12 last season and were picked to finish last again this year in the Sun Belt Conference … Penn State 42, Florida International 0. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)
Washington State at No. 7 Wisconsin: Did you know that the Badgers are 31-7 over the last three seasons, and that represents the most victories of any Big Ten school during that period? Not exactly music to Wazoo, who has never beaten a top 10 opponent in a season opener in five previous tries. The Cougars are also 19-25-2 all-time when beginning the year on the road. That all sounds good for U-Dub, which returns tailback P.J. Hill, the Big Ten's leading rusher from a year ago, as well as most members of a defense that ranked second in the nation scoring defense last season. Wisconsin 31, Washington State 3. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional)
Appalachian State at No. 5 Michigan: The Wolverines are ready to begin what they believe will be a march to the BCS National Championship Game. However, they had better not overlook the I-AA Mountaineers, however, who are the nation's No. 1-ranked team in their division and two-time defending I-AA national champions. Appalachian State has everything to gain and nothing to lose, so Lloyd Carr's troops had better be ready to play. Look for the tailback battle between U-M's Mike Hart (1,562 yards, 14 TDs) and the Mountaineers' Kevin Richardson (1,676 yards, 30 TDs), and keep an eye on the Wolverines' rebuilt defense … Michigan 37, Appalachian State 10. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)
Youngstown State at No. 11 Ohio State: No Troy, no Teddy, no Gonzo, no Antonio. Everywhere you look on the offensive side of the ball, and the Buckeyes have an important role to fill. Of course, they are playing a Division I-AA squad and no one gives the Penguins much of a chance – except that Youngstown State knows how to win. It's doubtful they will be intimidated by the Ohio Stadium crowd, and you know head coach Jon Heacock wants to make a good impression in front of his former boss and older brother. I expect this game to unfold as so many others do against instate rivals. It may be close for a little while before OSU begins to pull away … Ohio State 38, Youngstown State 7. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)
AGAINST THE SPREAD
Laying the points here: LSU (-17½) at Mississippi State; Arkansas State at Texas (-37); North Texas at Oklahoma (-38); East Carolina at Virginia Tech (-24); Tennessee at Cal (-4); UCLA (-14) at Stanford; Nevada at Nebraska (-21); Troy at Arkansas (-22½); Baylor at TCU (-20½); UAB at Michigan State (-21); Iowa (-11½) at Northern Illinois; Purdue (-6½) at Toledo; Bowling Green at Minnesota (-13½); Florida International at Penn State (-37½); and Washington State at Wisconsin (-13½).
Taking the points here: Buffalo (+32½) at Rutgers; Western Michigan (+24½) at West Virginia; Oklahoma State (+9) at Georgia; Kansas State (+13½) at Auburn; Florida State at Clemson (+3½) and Missouri vs. Illinois (+5½).
Remember: there are no lines on games with Division I-AA teams. Enjoy the games and see you next week.