The National Football League makes its return this evening when the New Orleans Saints go marching into Indianapolis to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Colts.
As far as Ohio State fans are concerned, there are around 50 former Buckeyes to follow with various teams, including Indy rookie Anthony Gonzalez, one of three OSU players who became the latest in a long line of players deciding to pass on their final season of college football.
Gonzalez, Ted Ginn Jr. and Antonio Pittman weren't the first to leave school early and certainly won't be the last.
But the NFL landscape is littered with college underclassmen that left school early and washed out. Those names include such ex-Buckeyes as linebacker Lorenzo Styles, who won a Super Bowl ring with St. Louis in 2000 but whose six-year pro career was spent mostly on special teams; tight end Darnell Sanders, who has played only two games since 2003 and only 28 total since coming out the year before OSU won the national championship in 2002; and linebacker Craig Powell, who every Cleveland Browns fan could tell you was the most classic of classic first-round busts in 1995.
Without much hesitation, I could have made a case for Ginn, Gonzalez and Pittman to stay in college, hone their craft and move up the pro draft board next year. But since I'm not a professional NFL talent evaluator, I sought the counsel of someone who is. Turns out, I wasn't that far off base.
My contact, who works for a team that made the playoffs last season (but who understandably wishes to remain anonymous) told me that all three players would have been better served to have returned to Ohio State.
My NFL talent scout said that believed Miami was reaching a bit when it took Ginn with the No. 9 overall selection in April. Junior's obvious strengths are speed and athletic ability, and while he became a better route runner at Ohio State, scouts believe he will have to improve even more at the next level.
Where my contact remains leery is in the toughness category. He calls Ginn "a classic track guy" who doesn't particularly like contact, likening him to Santana Moss of the Washington Redskins – a player with blinding speed who has had a couple of excellent seasons but has never really shown consistency.
In the case of Gonzalez, my pro scout figured before the draft that the former Buckeye could be taken as high as the second or third round, but the fourth was much more realistic, saying, "Complete, productive college players that know how to play the game but lack the physical qualities to be impact players at our level – that is the fourth round of the NFL draft."
As we now know, Gonzo was the final pick in the first round by the Colts.
As far as Pittman is concerned, the talent evaluator with whom I talked said he assumed the 5-11, 195-pound Buckeye left school thinking he had a chance to sneak into the first round. But with a running back crop enhanced by the likes of underclassmen Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma, Marshawn Lynch of Cal and Michael Bush of Louisville, my NFL contact said he felt Pittman was likely to slide to the second round. He slipped all the way to the fourth round with New Orleans, who then cut him last week. Pittman has since signed with St. Louis.
Several months before the draft, just a few days after Pittman indicated he wanted to return to Ohio State in 2007 and win the Heisman Trophy, my contact said Pittman's people were making calls around the NFL to obtain information regarding agents and how to go about determining his draft status. The scout indicated that he thought Pittman was making a mistake about leaving Ohio State then and he hasn't changed his mind since.
How will Ginn, Gonzalez and Pittman fare in the NFL? That's anyone's guess. Less speculation is involved, however, in how they would have fared had each decided to complete his college eligibility. Not only would the players have benefited, but the Ohio State football program would have as well.
Don't believe me? Read on.
I know that the goal of everyone who excels in college football is to play at the next level. Unfortunately, many players are in a hurry to get started with their professional careers and leave college early – too early in many cases.
Following the 2004 season, A.J. Hawk contemplated leaving Ohio State early for the NFL. He was coming off a superlative junior season that included 141 tackles, Big Ten defensive player of the year honors and mention on several All-America teams.
But Hawk was one of those guys who truly enjoyed the college experience and he chose to return for his senior season in 2005. He didn't register as many tackles that year, but seemed to improve in every other facet of the game. As a result, Green Bay took him with the No. 5 pick of the 2006 draft and made him $37.5 million richer over the next five years.
He returned the favor by becoming a rookie starter for the Packers, registering 119 tackles, 3½ sacks and two interceptions, and even earned four votes for NFL defensive rookie of the year.
Following the 2005 season, cornerback Ashton Youboty was faced with the same decision as Hawk was in '04 and opted to forgo his senior year. He became a third-round selection by the Buffalo Bills, signing a four-year deal that was worth just over $2 million. He saw no action during the first three-quarters of last season before getting into three games down the stretch, including one start in early December against the New York Jets.
One plus for Youboty is that he is with the Bills, who have a history of taking their time with young defensive backs and developing them into All-Pros. However, who is to say that if the former Buckeye had stayed in college another year that he wouldn't have been a first-rounder in this year's draft – there were only three first-round corners selected – and due a whole lot more than $2 million.
My point is this: Either you're ready for the NFL or you're not. Those guys are big and mean, fast and lean, and if you're not ready, you're not going to play. Next year, another crop of young bucks are coming to take your job and it doesn't take much to get shuffled out of the mix and quickly all the way out of the league.
Not everyone would benefit from another year at the college level, of course. Donte Whitner and Santonio Holmes, Ohio State's other two players who came out early following the 2005 season, had excellent rookie campaigns in the NFL. Whitner started 14 games for the Bills at strong safety, totaling 104 tackles and one interception, while Holmes appeared in all 16 games for Pittsburgh, grabbing 49 receptions for 824 yards and two TDs, and returning 26 punts for a 10.2-yard average.
Perhaps best of all for Whitner and Holmes were the financial windfalls each received as newly minted professional athletes. As the Bills' top pick and the No. 8 overall selection in the '06 draft, Whitner signed a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $14 million. Holmes inked a five-year deal worth $8.1 million after the Steelers traded up to make him their first-round pick, the first wide receiver drafted and the 25th selection overall.
And as long as we're looking back, I couldn't help but wonder what the outcome would have been Jan. 8 had Youboty, Whitner and Holmes still been on the Ohio State roster.
With a veteran Youboty at cornerback and Whitner at safety, would Florida have had such success on the pass plays it ran repeatedly over the middle? If not, would that have changed the complexion of the game and allowed the Buckeyes to get more pressure up front on quarterback Chris Leak, something he never dealt with well during his collegiate career?
And after Ginn went to the sidelines, wouldn't Holmes have provided OSU with protection both at receiver and on kick returns?
The Gators played so well in the national championship game that it's difficult to believe any team could have beaten them that night. Still, I can't help but think the Buckeyes would have given them a much better game had Youboty, Whitner and Holmes been in the lineup.
Of course, Ohio State has been the victim of early defections to the NFL many times before and those defections may well have altered the course of college football history.
Could the presence of Robert Smith and Roger Harper have changed the outcome of the 1993 season? The Buckeyes finished 10-1-1 that year, but a win over Wisconsin rather than a 14-14 tie would have sent Ohio State to the Rose Bowl to face a beatable UCLA team.
Might Terry Glenn have made a difference in the 1996 Michigan game? The Wolverines ruined a perfect season – and possible national championship – with a 13-9 decision in Columbus.
And would a level-headed Maurice Clarett returning in 2003 have given the Buckeyes a shot at defending their national championship? OSU lost twice that season – by seven points at Wisconsin and 14 at Michigan – but failed to gain 100 yards as a team in either of those games.
A couple of things to ponder this evening as you watch Gonzalez begin his NFL career and wonder if he would make a difference in Ohio State's season had he chosen to stick around.
• Ohio State holds a 172-48-15 record all-time against opponents from the state of Ohio. That includes a 5-1 record against Akron, including a 28-14 victory in 2001. The last time the Buckeyes lost to an instate team was in 1921, a 7-6 defeat to Oberlin.
• You have to go all the way back to 1926 to find OSU opening its season with back-to-back games against instate opponents. That season began with a 40-0 win over Wittenberg followed by a 47-0 whitewash of Ohio Wesleyan.
• Akron holds the distinction of being the most recent team currently affiliated with the Mid-American Conference to knock off the Buckeyes. Of course, "most recent" is a relative term. The Zippers beat Ohio State by a 12-6 score back in 1894 when the school was known as Buchtel College. Their coach that year was a guy by the name of John W. Heisman.
• For the second week in a row, Jim Tressel squares off against a team he used to coach. Tressel's coaching career began in Akron in 1975 as a graduate assistant. He served as a full-time assistant for the Zips from 1976-78, coaching offensive backs and serving as kicking game coordinator, before moving on to Miami (Ohio). He was described in the school's 1977 media guide as "one of the brightest young coaches in the profession." Akron is also the university from where Tressel earned his master's degree in education.
• With 153 yards, Brian Robiskie tied for the fourth-best output among the country's receivers during college football's opening weekend. Robiskie tied with Indiana's James Hardy, who had 153 in his team's win over Indiana State. The only three receivers who did better in their openers were Tiquan Underwood of Rutgers (248), Earl Bennett of Vanderbilt (223) and Luke Swan of Wisconsin (170).
• This week's honorary captain will be OSU speed coordinator Butch Reynolds. The 1991 Ohio State graduate is a former track All-American and competed in three Olympics, winning gold as a member of the 1,600-meter relay and taking an individual silver medal in the 400 meters at the 1988 Games in Seoul. Reynolds also held the world record in the 400 for 11 years until it was broken by Michael Johnson in August 1999.
• For the second week in a row, the television broadcast will emanate from the Big Ten Network. Play-by-play will be handled by Thom Brennaman, who had the TV call for Fox at the BCS National Championship Game in January. Color analysis will be provided by Charles Davis while Charissa Thompson will report from the sidelines. On Sirius Satellite Radio, you can find the broadcast on channel 140.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
• Despite the loss to Appalachian State, no one seems convinced Michigan will go into the tank. A poll on ESPN.com asked its readers which team that lost its opening game would finish the season with the best record. More than 18,000 votes were cast and the Wolverines polled 46 percent. Right behind was Tennessee, which lost its season opener to a pretty good Cal team, at 37 percent. Bad news for Notre Dame, however. The Fighting Irish, who were summarily thumped by Georgia Tech, got only 4 percent of the vote.
• Former Michigan defensive back Marlin Jackson, now with Indianapolis in the NFL, has been getting a number of text messages since last weekend. "Every text message I get just says, ‘Appalachian State.' That's all it says," Jackson said. "We lost to a I-AA program, and we were a top-five team. To go out and be the first team in history to lose to a I-AA team, it hurts." Jackson added that teammates Gonzalez, Mike Doss, Quinn Pitcock and Roy Hall aren't the ones busting his chops. "The Ohio State guys have been all right," he said. "It's everybody else around here. Even Coach Dungy said something to me about it."
• In addition to having what is probably the most talented roster in America from top to bottom, USC gets to play an extremely favorable schedule this season. After last week's opening win over Idaho, the Trojans take a breather this week before traveling to Nebraska next week. It is one of three breaks in their 12-game schedule of at least nine days or more.
• Has the pass overtaken the run as the first offensive option for college coaches around the country? According to the first week, the answer is yes. A total of 51 different quarterbacks threw for 200 yards or more in their season-opening games. Eleven topped 300 and two threw for more than 400 – Colt Brennan of Hawaii (416) and Matt Ryan of Boston College (408). Meanwhile, only three running backs in I-A cracked the 200-yard barrier in their openers – Marlon Lucky of Nebraska (233), Kevin Smith of Central Florida (217) and Anthony Alridge of Houston (205).
• Jane Hoeppner, the widow of former Indiana head coach Terry Hoeppner, and her children and grandchildren were honored guests and received a five-minute video presentation during a pregame tribute to Hoeppner during last week's contest in Bloomington against Indiana State.
• If you happen upon the TCU-Texas game while channel surfing Saturday night, you might notice the Longhorns wearing a commemorative bluebonnet logo on their helmets. That is the program's tribute to the life of Lady Bird Johnson, a UT grad and wife of former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. There are not many more eye-pleasing experiences than driving through Texas while the bluebonnets are in full bloom.
• The Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award has added fan voting this year. You can visit www.DaveyOBrien.com to vote for college football's top quarterback, an award won last year by Heisman winner Troy Smith.
• A happy 101st birthday this week to the forward pass. On Sept. 5, 1906, Saint Louis quarterback Bradbury Robinson threw the first legal forward pass in football history to Jack Schneider as the Billikens downed Carroll College by a 22-0 score. That first pass evidently caught everyone by surprise, including the intended receiver – it fell incomplete.
• Other notable events that occurred during this week in college football: On Sept. 6, 1997, Florida QB Doug Johnson tied a Division I-A record by throwing seven touchdown passes in the first half of a 82-6 victory over Central Michigan; on Sept. 8, 1973, Tom Osborne leads Nebraska to a 40-13 win over UCLA in his first game as head coach of the Cornhuskers; on Sept. 9, 2000, TCU recorded a NCAA-record 15 quarterback sacks as the Horned Frogs scored a 41-10 victory at Nevada; and on Sept. 10, 1994, Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair threw for 491 yards and eight TDs and added 155 yards rushing during a 54-28 win at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Most of the country's college team filled up on cupcakes during the first week of the season and so did the forecast. Straight up, the picks were a sterling 28-3, good for 90.3 percent. The only exceptions – Illinois, which fell on the road to a pretty good Missouri team; Minnesota, which lost at home in overtime to Bowling Green; and You Know Who, which lost at home to a Division I-AA team.
We didn't fare quite as well against the spread at 13-8, but any week above .500 is a winner and we'll take it. Let's see what the crystal ball has in store for this week.
Middle Tennessee State at No. 8 Louisville: I'm not exactly sure what the Cardinals are thinking by scheduling so many walkovers this early in the season. Sure, big wins like last week's 73-10 pummeling of Murray State might look good to the national pollsters and gain QB Brian Brohm some Heisman votes, but what does another glorified scrimmage do for your team when it gets into a real fight down the line? … Louisville 66, Middle Tennessee State 7. (7 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)
Navy at No. 15 Rutgers: Running back Ray Rice gets most of the publicity but Scarlet Knights QB Mike Teel is a major reason why his team keeps rolling along. Last week, Teel threw for a career-best 328 yards in Rutgers' 38-3 win over Buffalo. Add to that the fact that he likes to play against the Middies. During last year's 34-0 win, Teel threw for 215 yards and three scores. New Jersey State has won five the last six in this series, and the Academy hasn't beaten a ranked team since 1985 … Rutgers 31, Navy 7. (7 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
No. 9 Virginia Tech at No. 2 LSU: Some experts are looking for an upset here but I must confess that I just don't see one coming. The Hokies were obviously distracted last week with the tribute to the victims of the mass shooting from last April. But they cannot afford to remain distracted when they invade a stadium where the Tigers have won 13 in a row. This game comes down to Tech's offense against LSU's defense, and I simply think that is a mismatch … LSU 27, Virginia Tech 7. (9:15 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
No. 3 West Virginia at Marshall: Speaking of mismatches, the Mountaineers rolled up 542 yards last week during a 62-24 blowout of Western Michigan. At the same time, the Herd was pitching four interceptions and giving up six sacks during a 31-3 loss to Miami. With Pat White at the controls for the Mountain Men and Steve Slaton running the football, this one will get out of hand early … West Virginia 63, Marshall 13. (11 a.m. EDT, ESPN2)
Troy at No. 4 Florida: The defending national champions are 1-0 but have yet to play an entire game. Last week's 49-3 win over I-AA Western Kentucky was called with 8:23 left in the fourth quarter because of lightning. In case you didn't pay attention, QB Tim Tebow had a nice debut as the starter, completing 13 of 17 for 300 yards and three TDs. The Trojans may hang around for awhile, especially if Florida gets caught looking ahead to next week's game with Tennessee. But the outcome shouldn't be in doubt … Florida 41, Troy 14. (6 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)
Miami (Fla.) at No. 5 Oklahoma: Are the Hurricanes back? They certainly took care of business in their opening game under new head coach Randy Sherman, easily running past Marshall by four touchdowns. But the competition gets a little tougher this week when the U invades Norman to play a team that rolled up 79 points and 668 yards of total offense in its opener. These two teams played some classic games in the 1980s, usually with national championships on the line. This year, however, only one of those teams has legitimate title aspirations and that is the team that should win rather easily … Oklahoma 31, Miami 10. (12 noon EDT, ABC)
No. 19 TCU at No. 7 Texas: The pesky Horned Frogs have been waiting for this game for 12 long years in the belief that they finally have a shot to knock off the mighty Longhorns. If they can pull off the upset, it would erase a 14-game losing streak they have in Austin and put some salve on the sting of a 20-60-1 record in the overall series. Two years ago, TCU knocked off then No. 5 Oklahoma, and after watching Texas struggle in its opener against Arkansas State, the Frogs truly believe they can drive down Interstate 35 and come back with a win in this one. I think it will be close, but … Texas 23, TCU 14. (7 p.m. EDT, FSN)
No. 10 Cal at Colorado State: The Bears showed me something last week that I hadn't seen from them before. After nearly blowing a big early lead against Tennessee, they showed enough resiliency to keep piling on the points and eventually carved out a 45-31 victory. Now, they need to show that they can back that kind of performance up with a road victory. If Cal truly intends upon being a national championship contender, it must improve on the road where it had lost five of its last eight. Turning that tide can begin this week in their first trip ever to Hughes Stadium … Cal 38, Colorado State 21. (2 p.m. EDT, CSTV)
REST OF THE BEST
South Carolina at No. 11 Georgia: Most rivalries occur at season's end. This one gets renewed every year as the SEC opener for both teams and the Bulldogs have had their way, winning five in a row and 11 of the last 15. The Old Ball Coach may have a trick or two up his sleeve, though, not the least of which would be getting back starting QB Blake Mitchell, who missed last week's opener while serving a suspension. I just don't think Spurrier's defense is good enough to keep UGA from controlling the tempo of the game … Georgia 23, South Carolina 14. (5:45 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)
BYU at No. 13 UCLA: The Bruins got off to a flying start last week, but they didn't learn much in a 45-17 rout of hapless Stanford. This week, they entertain the Cougars, who are not getting much notice around the country despite being a pretty good team. BYU went 11-2 last year, including a 38-8 beatdown of Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl. Then they shut down Arizona last week, 20-7, giving them victories over Pac-10 opponents in each of their last two games. Can they make it three in a row? Can you say Upset Special? … BYU 23, UCLA 20. (6:30 p.m. EDT, Versus)
No. 16 Nebraska at Wake Forest: This has all the makings of an upset, too. The Cornhuskers may get caught looking ahead to USC next week while the Demon Deacons are coming off a strong 11-3 season a year ago. However, two of Wake's three losses last season came at home against ranked teams, they blew a 14-point lead last week in their opening loss to Boston College, and they may be without starting QB Riley Skinner, who has a separated shoulder. So much for the upset talk … Nebraska 24, Wake Forest 14. (12 noon EDT, ESPN)
South Florida at No. 17 Auburn: Neither of these teams distinguished itself despite season-opening wins. The Bulls scored a lackluster 28-13 win over I-AA Elon while the Tigers had to rally late and come from behind to beat Kansas State by 10. Both teams believe they are better than what they showed last week, but it is Auburn that had better beware. They are sometimes susceptible to early season upsets, and South Florida shocked Louisville two years ago and West Virginia last year. Therefore, here is your second Upset Special … South Florida 23, Auburn 20. (9 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)
No. 20 Hawaii at Louisiana Tech: If you enjoy passing teams, this is the game for you. Watch how Rainbows QB Colt Brennan continues his assault on the record books, going for an eighth consecutive 400-yard game. The Bulldogs may put up a bit of a fight – after all, they grabbed five interceptions in their season-opening win over I-AA Central Arkansas. But they are only 1-4 all-time against the Warriors and have also lost 27 of their last 30 contests against ranked opponents … Hawaii 49, Louisiana Tech 14. (7 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)
Samford at No. 21 Georgia Tech: Here is another I-AA vs. I-A matchup – just don't expect Samford to impersonate Appalachian State. The Bulldogs are 0-7 lifetime against the Wreck as well as 0-11 against I-A schools since dropping down a division in 1988. Meanwhile, Tech is feeling pretty good about itself since popping Notre Dame last week, a 33-3 whipping in South Bend that served as the worst season-opening defeat in Irish history. It's a pretty good beat that good feeling stays around Atlanta for at least another week … Georgia Tech 37, Samford 0. (2:30 p.m. EDT, ESPNU)
No. 22 Boise State at Washington: Here's a little something that might interest Ohio State players, coaches and fans alike. We all get to find out just how good the Huskies are. After coming off an impressive road victory at Syracuse last week, U-Dub kicks off its home schedule by entertaining the always-entertaining Broncos. Huskies head coach Tyrone Willingham also gets to see what kind of team he has since this game begins a brutal four-week stretch that also includes UCLA and USC. Maybe I'm underestimating Washington, but I just don't think they have the horses to stay up with Broncs …. Boise State 38, Washington 23. (3:30 p.m. EDT, FSN Regional)
Fresno State at No. 23 Texas A&M: Closer scrutiny of the Aggies' 38-7 win over Montana State last weekend reveals a game in which A&M was actually outgained 403-390. That kind of performance likely won't cut it against the Bulldogs, who snuffed Sacramento State 24-7 on the strength of a defense that recovered three fumbles and held the opposition to a 3-for-14 performance on third down. Still, history is against Fresno in this one. They are just 2-8 all-time against Big 12 teams while the Aggies are 10-1 against nonconference foes at Kyle Field under head coach Dennis Franchione, including the last eight in a row … Texas A&M 23, Fresno State 13. (3:30 p.m. EDT, FSN)
Southern Mississippi at No. 24 Tennessee: Rocky Top is a tough place for Phil Fulmer these days as he tries to pick up the pieces from his team's opening loss to Cal. It's probably a good thing to come home to host the Eagles, however, who have never beaten the Volunteers in four previous tries. Fulmer is also pretty solid in Neyland Stadium openers, winning his last 12 in a row, so the hot seat cools down a little bit this week … Tennessee 31, Southern Miss 7. (7 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)
Louisiana-Monroe at No. 25 Clemson: The Tigers squeeze their way back into the rankings after dispatching Florida State in Bowden Bowl IX. After watching that game, I came to the conclusion that the Seminoles were vastly overrated. Be that as it may, Clemson gets a chance to stay in the top 25 for awhile, hosting a team that lost its season opener 35-17 at home to Tulsa … Clemson 35, Louisiana-Monroe 7. (1 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)
Nevada at Northwestern: The Wildcats got off to a good start last week with an easy shutout win over I-AA Northeastern. Meanwhile, the Wolf Pack were being manhandled at Nebraska, losing a 52-10 verdict. Northwestern does not quite have as much talent as the Cornhuskers, but it's still going to be tough for Nevada to play its second straight road game. I'll give the nod to the Wildcats … Northwestern 24, Nevada 17. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)
Bowling Green at Michigan State: Give credit to the Falcons for pulling out an overtime victory over Minnesota last week. They will need to dig a little deeper into their bag of tricks to stop the Spartans, though, who should turn the ball over to running back Jehuu Caulcrick and watch him pile up the yardage … Michigan State 35, Bowling Green 14. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)
Miami (Ohio) at Minnesota: New Gophers head coach Tim Brewster found the going a little tougher than expected with that opening loss to BG. Mistakes and turnovers are what killed Minnesota, problems you would figure Brewster has already addressed. Still, the RedHawks' season-opening win over MAC foe Ball State aside, the Gophers should win this one. In fact, you could almost say the Gophers must win this one … Minnesota 28, Miami 7. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)
Western Illinois at Illinois: The Fighting Illini appeared to settle back into their 2006 mentality against Missouri – getting just close enough to tantalize the fan base before losing. They shouldn't have the same problem this week, returning to Champaign-Urbana for the home opener against the I-AA Leathernecks, who had to go four overtimes last week to beat South Dakota State. There should be no getting just close enough this week, and therefore no reason for any overtimes … Illinois 34, Western Illinois 14. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)
Eastern Illinois at Purdue: This one ought to be a pretty good game between two teams that like to pass. The Panthers have QB Cole Stinson, who threw for a career-high 318 yards last week in his team's opening win over Tennessee Tech, while the Boilermakers counter with Curtis Painter, who set the Big Ten single-season passing record a year ago with 3,985 yards. Neither team worries much about defense, but Purdue can probably force enough mistakes from its I-AA opponent to make this a laugher … Purdue 51, Eastern Illinois 24. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)
Oregon at Michigan: Speaking of teams that apparently treat defense as an afterthought, Lloyd Carr says his team is "starting from scratch" after last week's colossal stumble. It had better find a way to eliminate the fundamental mistakes it made or the Ducks will add to the Wolverines' misery. Oregon rolled to a 48-27 win over Houston in its opener, getting a big game from QB Dennis Dixon, who threw for 134 yards and two TDs while running for 141 yards and another score. Unfortunately for the Ducks, their defense allowed a boatload of rushing yards to the Cougars, giving this game the potential to be another scoring marathon … Michigan 38, Oregon 31. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)
Indiana at Western Michigan: The Hoosiers got off to a good start last week, punishing lowly I-AA Indiana State by a 55-7 score. This week, they have to go on the road to face the Broncos, who are still smarting from the spanking they received in their opener from West Virginia. The competition here is a little more evenly distributed between the teams although IU can show flashes of explosiveness on offense. It is a tough assignment to go into Waldo Stadium and come out with a win, but I'm thinking maybe the Hoosiers can pull it off. Upset Special No. 3 … Indiana 27, Western Michigan 24. (8 p.m. EDT, ESPNU)
Syracuse at Iowa: The Orangemen were supposedly on the comeback trail – then came last week's crushing defeat in their home opener to Washington. Things aren't going to get any better in Iowa City where the Hawkeyes are seeking to improve on their lackluster opener, a 16-3 win over Northern Illinois. Unlike some other games this weekend, don't look for a whole lot of scoring in this one – at least from the visitors … Iowa 31, Syracuse 7. (8:05 p.m. EDT, Big Ten Network)
Notre Dame at No. 14 Penn State: I wouldn't trade places with Charlie Weis for any number of reasons, but especially this week. Weis takes his Fighting Irish into Happy Valley to face a Joe Paterno team bent on revenge in the wake of last year's 41-17 loss at South Bend. It could be the reverse this year – probably worse – considering Penn State's stingy defense is going up against a Notre Dame offense struggling to find its identity. Ballyhooed freshman quarterback Jimmy Claussen gets the start for the Irish and I hope he has a good pair of shoes. He'll be running for his life most of the game … Penn State 41, Notre Dame 7. (6 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
No. 5 Wisconsin at UNLV: Before the season began, I predicted that the Badgers would be hard to handle if they solved their quarterback quandary. It appears that they already have. In last week's 42-21 win over Washington State, QB Tyler Donovan threw for 284 yards and three scores and added another touchdown on the ground. This week, look for tailback P.J. Hill to get untracked. The Rebels allowed an average of 160 yards rushing per game last year … Wisconsin 34, UNLV 14. (10 p.m. EDT, Versus)
Akron at No. 12 Ohio State: This should be just another tune-up for the Buckeyes as they get more game experience for guys like Todd Boeckman, Jimmy Cordle, Rob Rose and Kurt Coleman. I would like to see an elimination of the silly penalties from a week ago along with a much better push by the offensive line. A victory and incremental improvement over a week ago will be satisfactory enough heading into a much bigger test next week in Seattle … Ohio State 34, Akron 13. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)
AGAINST THE SPREAD
Lay the points in these games: Middle Tennessee State at Louisville (-39); Navy at Rutgers (-14); Virginia Tech at LSU (-8); West Virginia (-21) at Marshall; Troy at Florida (-26); Miami-FL at Oklahoma (-10); Cal (-14) at Colorado State; South Carolina at Georgia (-4½); Nebraska (-7½) at Wake Forest; Hawaii (-27) at Louisiana Tech; Boise State (-3) at Washington; Southern Miss at Tennessee (-11); Louisiana-Monroe at Clemson (-23); Nevada at Northwestern (-5); Bowling Green at Michigan State (-15); Miami-OH at Minnesota (-9); Oregon at Michigan (-6); Syracuse at Iowa (-22) and Notre Dame at Penn State (-14½).
Take the points in these games: TCU (+10½) at Texas; BYU (+7½) at UCLA; South Florida (+7) at Auburn; Fresno State (+18) at Texas A&M; Indiana (+3) at Western Michigan; Wisconsin at UNLV (+26½); and Akron (+29½) at Ohio State. Enjoy the games and we'll see you next week.
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