Rea's Say: First Trimester Grades

The first one-third of the 2007 season is history and we pass out trimester grades to OSU's individual units. If that isn't exhaustive enough, we have lots of information about the Ohio State-Minnesota rivalry, tidbits from Around The Nation and the Fearless Forecast.

Seems like we just got started, but the 2007 regular season is already one-third complete. Playing around with the likes of Youngstown State and Akron has given way to a solid road win at Washington and a systematic pounding of Northwestern as Ohio State gets ready to play back-to-back night games on the road for the first time in program history.

As the Buckeyes cross the one-third pole in this race, what better time than to take stock of what has transpired and analyze the successes and what still needs some work. There's no better place to start than the marquee position on any football team.

Quarterback – Since he has been in the program so long, it's sometimes difficult to remember that Todd Boeckman is only four games into his career as a starting quarterback. That means he is still very much a work in progress. But it's hard to get much better than a 4-0 record and No. 1 in the Big Ten in terms of pass efficiency.

It is evident that Boeckman has spent a lot of time studying over these past few years because his recognition of defensive alignments is that of a seasoned veteran. He doesn't have the strongest arm on the team, struggles some with his arm slot, still has a tendency to get happy feet when feeling the rush, holds the ball a little too long on occasion and locks in on a primary receiver too often. But he can also throw a deep ball with excellent accuracy, and that helps to stretch the field, keep the opposing team honest and help the OSU running attack.

Perhaps best of all, he has the confidence of his teammates. You cannot ask any more from a new quarterback.

First trimester grade: B.

Running back –
Between Beanie Wells' bothersome ankle and Brandon Saine's knee, the Buckeyes are going to be whistling past the graveyard for the next couple of weeks. Because Camp Tressel is so tight-lipped about injuries, no one knows for sure how serious Wells' ankle problem really is. I contend that he was favoring it against Youngstown State – therefore his comments about his head not being in the game. When he decided to throw caution to the wind was when he began to really showcase his talent.

Saine was pushing his way into the No. 2 tailback spot before a torn meniscus sidelined him. Tressel says he is 50-50 for Purdue, which means Saine probably won't be back until Kent State or more likely Michigan State. That leaves the coaching staff looking squarely at Maurice Wells to pick up the slack. I like the kid and always have, but it seems whenever he has had the opportunity to break out – like last spring when Beanie was sidelined – he didn't take advantage.

I still believe Mo Wells can be an asset to the Ohio State offense, but only if they allow him to do what he can do – run in space, take advantage of misdirection plays, run counters and catch bubble screens. He's just not made to run between the tackles. Against Minnesota, it's not going to matter much. Moving forward, OSU needs to get their running back stable healthy again – or seriously consider taking the redshirt off Boom Herron.

First trimester grade: B.

Receivers –
Before the next person criticizes Tressel's recruiting practices, look up what was being said about Brian Robiskie and Dane Sanzenbacher. The prevailing thought was that these two guys were nothing but throw-ins and had about as much chance of seeing the field one day as I do. Of course, we know that Robiskie has become one of the top receivers in the nation so far and Sanzenbacher was on his way to becoming a valuable contributor before sustaining a concussion in the Washington game.

Because Robiskie has performed so well – tied for third in the Big Ten in receptions and atop the conference stats for receiving yards per game – he has overshadowed his teammates. Unfortunately, his fast start has also caused Boeckman to look for him a little too often when going through progressions would often find another more open receiver. Still, Brian Hartline has played the Anthony Gonzalez role well and the return of Ray Small will give the OSU quarterback an additional weapon that can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. When Sanzenbacher returns, he will be a viable fourth target.

The Buckeyes have also shown they can use the tight end in the passing game, but have barely scratched the surface in terms of what Rory Nicol or Jake Ballard could do if given a chance. Nicol has six catches for only 35 yards while Ballard has just one for 11 yards.

Robiskie: A+. Everyone else: B+. First trimester grade: A-.

Offensive line –
It's a good thing we weren't passing out grades after the first two games because there was only one word that described the line's play against YSU and Akron – sloppy. Since then, however, veterans Alex Boone, Steve Rehring and Kirk Barton have turned in solid performances, and even better, have meshed into more of a unit with rookie starters Ben Person and Jimmy Cordle.

Because the Buckeyes have had three of their four victories well in hand by the middle of the third quarter, Tressel and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman have rotated a lot of offensive linemen in and out of the lineup. For that reason, it's a little difficult to gauge exactly who are the first choices to play for the starters in case of emergency. You could make cases for any of the second-team members, especially Bryant Browning and Connor Smith. I really like Smith because he does what I think all good offensive linemen should do – he drive blocks opponents backward all the way to the whistle.

One area where the OL still needs some work is in short-yardage situations. That seemed to go away against Northwestern, especially on the goal line when Mo Wells popped two short touchdowns. But the Buckeyes were going against a much weaker defensive line, and even then, Wells didn't bother to look for holes. He went airborne for both scores. In short, how your offense line goes, so goes your entire offense. As a result, as the Ohio State offensive line has shown signs of improvement, so has the whole offensive unit. That upward trend simply needs to continue right through to Ann Arbor.

Grade after first two weeks: D. Grade for games 3 and 4: B. First trimester grade: C

Defensive line –
It's very difficult to describe just how well this part of the defense has played so far, but look at it this way: Before the season began, OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock had to find replacements for three-year starters Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson, starting defensive end Jay Richardson and longtime backup Joel Penton. Then, in the first game of the season against Youngstown State, he lost the services of budding star Lawrence Wilson for the rest of the season.

Most programs couldn't withstand the loss of one of those players much less all four. And yet Heacock has plugged in lunch-bucket guys like Todd Denlinger and Dexter Larimore inside, talked Doug Worthington into moving from his more natural end position to an interior spot, coaxed Nader Abdallah to start playing like the prep All-American he was when he was signed, and allowed youngsters Rob Rose and Cameron Heyward to move seamlessly into Wilson's spot. Heyward is already a beast and getting beastlier.

That doesn't even take into account Vern Gholston, who seems to get better and better with each passing week. Gholston was a man among boys in the Northwestern game, registering two sacks and returning a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown. But while he is the face of the defensive line, those other guys are putting in the kind of effort that allows the linebackers to attack. In other words, they're putting the gunpowder in the Silver Bullet attack.

First trimester grade: A-

Linebackers –
James Laurinaitis gets most of the publicity and rightfully so. He is, after all, the team leader in tackles and interceptions and co-leader (with Gholston) in sacks. His motor is always churning and the rest of the defense feeds off his seemingly boundless energy.

But if you think Laurinaitis is a one-man band, you haven't been paying attention. Larry Grant is beginning to prove how he became national JUCO player of the year in 2005 – nine of his 10 total tackles have been solo jobs and he leads the team with 4.0 tackles for loss. Marcus Freeman has also improved over the past couple of weeks. He isn't out of position nearly as much and the game seems to have finally slowed down for him enough that he can allow his natural abilities to take over instead of being so mechanical.

And as well as those front-liners have played, I'd go to war any Saturday with their backups. Austin Spitler would most likely start at middle linebacker for most Big Ten schools, and Ross Homan could very well be the best outside linebacker who doesn't start in all of college football. A slightly banged-up Homan is better than half of the players holding down starting jobs in this league. I also like the way Thad Gibson has embraced his role of lining up on the edge in the dime package, and look for more teeth-chattering hits by Brian Rolle as the season goes on.

First trimester score: A

Secondary –
This was supposed to be the perceived weakness of the Ohio State defense. That is still possible, of course. The supreme test comes Oct. 6 when the Buckeyes travel to West Lafayette to take on pass-happy Purdue. But so far so good for the secondary, which like the offense, appears to be getting more and more confident with each passing week.

There is little more to add regarding Malcolm Jenkins, one of the best lockdown corners in the America. The best thing about Jenkins is that he seems to be rubbing off on Donald Washington, who has gone from being rather tentative in the early going to a more confident cover man and sure tackler in the last two games. It might be nice to see D-Dub-III take part a little more in run support, but let's not be too picky as this point.

Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell have been everything you want in safeties so far. Everyone knew Coleman was going to start early in his career, and he has not disappointed anyone with his heads-up play. Russell is perhaps a bit of a surprise, only because he has progressed so quickly after tearing up a knee almost exactly a year ago. He has boundless talent, a nose for the football and a head for the finer points of the game. Together, those two have combined for 37 tackles, 2½ tackles for loss, one sack, three pass break-ups and a forced fumble. And listen up, opposing Big Ten offensive coordinators – they have the potential to get even better.

First trimester grade: B.

Special teams –
I'll have to admit to some trepidation when I heard Ryan Pretorius had gone past a struggling Aaron Pettrey on the depth chart in fall camp. But I will also admit that Pretorius has exceeded my expectations. He is perfect on PATs – which any good kicker should be – and has converted 6 of 8 field-goal attempts. He hasn't had to kick one in a pressure situation, however, and I'd still like to see how the 28-year-old former rugby player handles that. Kickoffs had been another plus until Northwestern took one back 99 yards for a touchdown. That was hardly Pretorius' fault, though – unless, of course, you want to blame him for making a rather weak attempt at the tackle.

A.J. Trapasso went into the 2007 season with an eye toward making himself more consistent. Mission accomplished so far as Trapasso has averaged a career-best 42.2 yards so far, with only three of his 12 attempts returned by the opposition. Even better than that – and sweet music to Tressel's ears – is the fact that the Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in net punting and are No. 9 in the country in that statistic.

The return game was always going to be in rebuilding mode with the loss of Ted Ginn Jr. Robiskie and Jenkins took turns bringing back punts while Russell and Mo Wells tried kickoff returns – with little success. With Small now back in action, he may breathe some new life into the return game. He has already returned four punts for an 11.0-yard average and just needs for someone to open a lane on a kickoff return. Can he be as good as Ginn? That's going to be very difficult since Junior rewrote the Big Ten record books. But I envision Small breaking at least two returns – one punt and one kickoff – and some point this season.

First trimester grades: Kicking: B. Punting: A. Return game: C.


• If you are going to the game, take a good look around the Metrodome. It will be the last time Ohio State will ever play a game there because Minnesota is scheduled to move into its new open-air TCF Bank Stadium in 2009. The Buckeyes are a perfect 10-0 in the Homer Dome.

• That lopsided advantage helps give OSU a 39-7 lead in the overall series, which includes a 19-4 edge in Minneapolis. The last time the Gophers beat the Buckeyes at home was in 1981 – a 35-31 decision in old Memorial Stadium.

• Minnesota probably won't be too sorry to say goodbye to the Metrodome. Not only is it located away from campus, but the Gophers don't have much of a home field advantage there. Going into this week, they are only 82-73-2 inside the dome.

• Tressel is a perfect 4-0 against Minnesota, including a 44-0 victory in Columbus last season. The Buckeyes' average margin of victory in those four games is 23 points.

• The Gophers count six national championships among their achievements, but five of those titles came between 1934-41 and the most recent one came in 1960. All-time, Minnesota is only 24-118-3 against ranked opponents. That includes a 13-74-2 mark against the top 10. The program's last victory against a top-10 opponent came in 2000 when the Gophers knocked off sixth-ranked Ohio State by a 29-17 score in Columbus.

• Through four games this season, the Buckeyes have played in front of more than twice as many fans as Minnesota. OSU's average attendance for three games has been 97,365 while the average crowd for a Gophers game is 38,220. To be fair, one of Minnesota's games was on the road at Florida Atlantic, a game which had an announced attendance of only 10,759.

• Despite losing more than 95 percent of its offensive production from a year, Ohio State has scored and scored with lightning quickness in its first four games. Ten of the Buckeyes' last 12 scoring drives have taken less than two minutes. Six of them have taken 57 seconds or less.

• While the offense is striking quickly, the OSU defense is smothering opponents. Through four games, the Buckeyes have forced a total of 27 three-and-out possessions. That goes a long way toward explaining why the team is No. 3 nationally in scoring defense.

• Ohio State's school-record 22 consecutive regular-season victories represents the longest such streak for a Big Ten team in nearly 60 years. Michigan won 24 in a row between 1946 and '49.

• While watching the game, you may notice a pair of commemorative patches on Minnesota's uniforms. The first contains the initials "FK," and honors longtime university compliance director Frank Kara, who died of cancer in July. The second is an Interstate 35W patch, which is worn in tribute of the victims who died in the Aug. 1 bridge collapse.

• The game will be telecast by ESPN2 with Mark Jones handling the play-by-play, Bob Davie with color commentary and Stacey Dales reporting from the sidelines. Kickoff is 8 p.m. Eastern. (That's 7 p.m. Minneapolis time.) If you want to tune into the radio broadcast, Sirius will bounce it off its satellite and it will be available on channel 140.

• Next week's game at Purdue will be telecast to most of the nation on ABC. Game time is 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. local time).


• Who says the Big Ten is down? The conference has five teams in the national rankings for the first time since 2005. Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State are in both national polls while Michigan State and Purdue are ranked in the coaches poll. Only the SEC has more ranked teams this week with six.

• You may have noticed that Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall earned Big Ten offensive player of the week honors for his career-high 214-yard performance against Indiana. What you may not know is that Mendenhall became the first Illini to win the conference's weekly offensive honor since September 2003.

• After just four weeks, only 23 Division I-A teams remain undefeated. In alphabetical order, they are Arizona State, Boston College, California, Cincinnati, Clemson, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, LSU, Michigan State, Missouri, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Purdue, Rutgers, South Florida, Texas, USC, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

• Welcome Cincinnati back to the national rankings. The Bearcats were No. 24 in this week's AP poll, the program's first appearance in the rankings since October 1976. Remember what I said about UC head coach Brian Kelly when it comes time for Michigan to go looking for Lloyd Carr's successor.

• If the Bearcats can go to San Diego State and come back with a victory, they will be 5-0 for the first time since 1954. Their coach that season was the legendary Sid Gillman, the NFL Hall of Fame coach who was an All-American at Ohio State in the 1930s.

• Bar bet of the week: Name the two winningest I-A programs since 1998. Your friends might come up with Texas at No. 1 with 97 wins, but here's wagering that it takes several tries before guessing that Boise State is second with 94.

• Kentucky QB André Woodson goes into this weekend having thrown 296 consecutive passes without an interception. Woodson broke the old NCAA record of 271 set held by Trent Dilfer of Fresno State.

• Happy anniversary to Brian Forster. Don't know who that is? Eleven years ago tomorrow, Forster set the NCAA record for receiving yards in a game by a tight end. Playing for Rhode Island, Forster gathered in 18 catches for 327 yards as the Rams defeated Brown, 28-13. The receiving yards is still the Division I-AA record for a single game, and was one of four 200-yard games Forster had that season for Rhode Island.

• How are headline writers going to deal with the traditional Southern Methodist vs. Texas Christian matchup beginning this year? State Farm Insurance has agreed to sponsor the game, and it will now be known as the SMU-TCU State Farm DFW Duel/Battle For The Iron Skillet.

• Note to Michigan: While you're looking around for a I-AA team you can beat, better skip over Wofford. The Terriers beat two-time defending national champion Appalachian State last week, 42-31, ending the Mountaineers' 17-game winning streak.

• Seven I-AA teams have beaten I-A teams this season. North Dakota State became the latest with a 44-14 drubbing of Central Michigan last week, the Chippewas' worst home loss in six years. North Dakota State has a chance to make it two victories over I-A opponents this season – the Bison play at Minnesota on Oct. 20, and nearly beat the Gophers last year before bowing 10-9 in the Metrodome.


The deeper we go into the season, the tougher the competition gets. Conference rivalries replace cupcake buffets and it make the crystal ball a little cloudy. Still, the forecast went 20-5 last week straight up, and our season total of 96-19 still puts us above an 83-percent success rate.

If only we were doing as well against the spread. After three consecutive winning weeks, the house took back some chips with a 10-12 ledger for the week. The ATS season total is still above water at 49-42-2, but we're looking for a good week to give us a little buffer zone. Here is what's on the menu for this weekend.


No. 5 West Virginia at No. 18 South Florida: No one has been a bigger supporter of the Bulls than I have. I picked them to upset Auburn earlier this year, and the job head coach Jim Leavitt has done is remarkable. But let's step back for just a second before we call for another upset. Even with last year's huge win in Morgantown, South Florida still won by only a 24-19 margin. And it seems that the Mountaineers are a better focused group this season. This may be the sexy upset pick of the week, but not for me … West Virginia 31, South Florida 21. (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)


No. 1 USC at Washington: After this game, Huskies QB Jake Locker will be in a unique position to say which is better against the run – Ohio State or Southern Cal. Against the Buckeyes, he accounted for 102 of his team's 142 yards on the ground. The Trojans came into the game as the No. 8 team in the country against the run, giving up an average of only 64.3 yards per game. Locker is terrific player and a budding superstar. But he couldn't do it alone against the Buckeyes, and he can't do it alone against the Trojans … USC 42, Washington 14. (8 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 2 LSU at Tulane: Here is an interesting stat as the Tigers try for their 16th straight win over the Green Wave. LSU's defense has been so good in its first four games that no opposing starting quarterback has been able to finish the game. That doesn't bode too well for Tulane QB Scott Elliott, who has completed only 45.6 percent of his passes so far, and has one touchdown vs. four interceptions … LSU 45, Tulane 0. (12 noon EDT, ESPN2)

No. 3 Oklahoma at Colorado: It's not Louisville, Texas Tech or Hawaii that leads the nation in scoring offense. It's the Sooners, who are averaging a dizzying 61.5 points after four games. It makes you wonder how in the world the Buffs are going to keep up since they average only 23.3 points per game. The Red River Shootout with Texas comes next week, so look for OU to keep the scoreboard humming … Oklahoma 45, Colorado 13. (1:30 p.m. EDT, FSN)

Auburn at No. 4 Florida: The Gators have three things going for them here: (1) With losses to South Florida and Mississippi State, the Tigers are not nearly as strong as once thought; (2) Florida wants revenge against the only team that beat them last year; (3) Urban's Legends want to make a statement before traveling to LSU next week … Florida 37, Auburn 13. (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

No. 6 California at No. 11 Oregon: Which of these teams takes the inside track to challenge USC for Pac-10 dominance? Will it be the Golden Bears, who many people forget shared the conference title with the Trojans last year? Or will it be the upstart Ducks, who rolled over Michigan and then struggled with Stanford? I'm tempted to pick Cal, but my gut says the Quack Attack, which hasn't lost to the Bears in Autzen Stadium since 1987 … Oregon 31, Cal 28. (3:30 p.m. ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

Kansas State at No. 7 Texas: No one thought the Wildcats had much a chance last year, but they shocked the Longhorns. Of course, that game was played in Manhattan and Texas QB Colt McCoy left the game in the first quarter after injuring his shoulder, and still K-State barely survived a 45-42 verdict. This year, with the game in Austin and McCoy fully healthy, the game won't be nearly as close and the winning team won't be the same … Texas 34, Kansas State 14. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

Maryland at No. 10 Rutgers: Let's see now – the Scarlet Knights have scored 30 or more points in six straight games while the Terrapins have given up 31 points in back-to-back games. It's also the fourth straight home game for New Jersey State, which has a 10-game winning streak going in Piscataway. Note to Greg Schiano: Give the ball to Ray Rice and get him back in the Heisman race … Rutgers 35, Maryland 17. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)


Massachusetts at No. 12 Boston College: Before you start yawning about another I-A vs. I-AA matchup, you might want to know that the Minuteman lost in the I-AA title game last year to Appalachian State and have won 17 of their last 19 games. In fact, UMass features every bit the offense that Boston College does, led by quarterback Liam Coen, who has thrown for 814 yards and nine TDs. Of course, Coen has already been sacked nine times in four games and hasn't played any defensive front near the caliber of BC. That's the difference-maker right there … Boston College 34, Massachusetts 10. (1 p.m. EDT, ESPN360)

No. 13 Clemson at Georgia Tech: The Tigers could have the best one-two running punch this side of Southern California. Last week against N.C. State, James Davis totaled 166 yards and a touchdown while C.J. Spiller added 114 and another score. And just for good measure, receiver Jacoby Ford added 60 more on a pair of reverses as Clemson tore the Wolfpack apart in Raleigh to the tune of 42-20. This week, they're on the road again with a little tougher defense to handle. But the Ramblin' Wreck is coming off back-to-back losses and is making too many mistakes to be considered a threat against the Tigers … Clemson 27, Georgia Tech 13. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

Florida Atlantic at No. 14 Kentucky: Another little-known fact – FAU quarterback Rusty Smith has actually thrown for more yardage this season than Kentucky sensation André Woodson. Smith has 1,105 yards to go along with eight TDs and only one pick while Woodson has 1,008 yards and 11 scores with no INTs. Woodson has it over his counterpart in a couple of other areas, though, such as a running game behind Rafael Little that allows the Wildcats to rank 14th nationally in total offense at 502.5 yards per game. UK just has too much firepower to let the Owls entertain thoughts of an upset … Kentucky 41, Florida Atlanta 23. (1 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)

Mississippi at No. 15 Georgia: Just when you think the Dawgs are dead, they pull off an overtime win at Alabama and are right back in the SEC race. They have to keep it going, though, because while Ole Miss is 1-3, it is playing better and was nipping at Florida's heels before dropping a 30-24 decision to the Gators. If they are to pull the upset in this one, however, the Rebels will have to shore up their defense, which ranks near the bottom of the conference giving up an average of 30.0 points per game. UGA's rejuvenated offense should be too much for the Rebs … Georgia 24, Mississippi 14.

Mississippi State at No. 16 South Carolina: Here's a news flash – Steve Spurrier is changing starting quarterbacks after a loss. Fifth-year senior Blake Mitchell takes a seat this week in favor of freshman Chris Smelley in the wake of the Gamecocks' 28-16 loss to LSU. Unfortunately for the Ol' Ball Coach, his defense also let him down last week and now he's lost star middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley for the rest of the season with a knee injury. That is going to make the game more interesting because the Bulldogs feature a pretty good running game and South Carolina has struggled to stop their opponents on the ground. Still, I just don't envision an upset here if only because Spurrier's head would likely explode … South Carolina 23, Mississippi State 20. (12:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)

North Carolina at No. 17 Virginia Tech: When he was at Miami (Fla.), Butch Davis had his problems beating Frank Beamer. Davis won only one of five meetings then, and you'd be hard-pressed to believe he can do any better this year as he continues to try and rebuild at Chapel Hill. Last week against South Florida, the Tar Heels totaled only 164 yards and committed four turnovers. Don't expect much better against a swarming Hokies defense, who scored on an interception return last week … Virginia Tech 31, North Carolina 10. (12 noon EDT, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 19 Hawaii at Idaho: The Warriors are coming off a 66-10 win over I-AA Charleston Southern and star QB Colt Brennan didn't even play. Brennan has a balky ankle and was held out of last week's game as a precautionary measure. There's nothing wrong with the senior gunslinger's arm, however, and he'll be back in action this week against the Vandals to prove it. Brennan has completed 77 percent of his passes for 1,262 yards and 12 TDs with just one interception this year while Idaho has already given up 10 TDs through the air in four games. Sounds like another rout in the making … Hawaii 52, Idaho 17. (5 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 22 Alabama vs. Florida State: These two old rivals are getting back together after 33 years apart. The Crimson Tide and Seminoles have played one another since 1974, and Bama took an 8-7 victory at Tuscaloosa. The renewal will be played at a neutral site – sort of – in Jacksonville where a record crowd is expected at Municipal Stadium. The Tide are coming off an overtime loss to Georgia while FSU has had a week to prepare. They needed it because their offense has been woeful so far this season, and it's doubtful it's gotten any better during the layoff … Alabama 23, Florida State 13. (5 p.m. EDT, CBS)

No. 23 Arizona State at Stanford: Dennis Erickson has re-invented himself for the umpteenth time and has the Sun Devils at 4-0 for the first time since 2004 and in the national rankings for the first time in more than a year. Of course, Erickson has experienced good starts before at places like Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, Miami (Fla.) and Oregon State. I don't mention his NFL stops in Seattle and San Francisco because they didn't begin or end well. But I digress. One of the reasons why Erickson was brought to Tempe was to stop embarrassing losing streaks like four straight losses in Palo Alto … Arizona State 31, Stanford 20 (10 p.m. EDT, FSN Regional)

No. 24 Cincinnati at San Diego State: Not only are the Bearcats ranked for the first time since 1976, they are 4-0 for the first time since 1954. To keep that streak going, all they have to do is fly cross-country and take down the 1-2 Aztecs, who are coached by former Iowa QB Chuck Long. SDSU has been pretty generous about giving up points so far this season, so the only thing that looks like it could trip up UC would be looking ahead to next week's matchup against Rutgers … Cincinnati 34, San Diego State 17. (10 p.m. EDT, Versus)

Iowa State at No. 25 Nebraska: Will the real Cyclones please stand up? Are they the ones that hung on to beat rival Iowa two weeks ago or the ones that blew a double-digit lead in the last five minutes last week and lost a 36-35 decision to Toledo? Does it really matter? The Cornhuskers are looking to get well after a big loss to USC two weeks ago and a 41-40 win over Ball State last week in a game they should have lost. The once-feared Blackshirts allowed 1,067 yards in those two games, but should do better against offensively challenged ISU … Nebraska 37, Iowa State 14.


Indiana at Iowa: It's time for the Hawkeyes to act like they mean business. They had Wisconsin right where they wanted them last week, and then let the Badgers slip away because they couldn't muster any offense. This week, they face the Hoosiers, who gave up seven sacks last week in a loss to Illinois. IU beat the Hawkeyes last year in Bloomington, but have lost eight of their last 10 visits to Kinnick Stadium. I look for that streak to continue … Iowa 23, Indiana 17. (12:05 p.m. EDT, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Mark Neely, Glen Mason, Marshall Harris)

Notre Dame at Purdue: This one could get out of hand very, very quickly. The Boilermakers are tied for No. 7 national in scoring offense, averaging 48.5 points per game. The Irish are 91st in scoring defense, giving up an average of 33.3 points per game. It doesn't take a nuclear physicist to determine that points are going to come in bunches from the home team … Purdue 52, Notre Dame 28. (12 noon EDT, ESPN – Announcers: Dave Pasch, Andre Ware, Erin Andrews)

Northwestern at Michigan: It appears the Wolverines have plugged the holes in their sinking ship after back-to-back wins. They should have little trouble making it three in a row based upon what we saw from the Wildcats last weekend in Columbus. Northwestern has beaten U-M only 14 times in 67 tries over the years, and they haven't posted a win in the series since a wild 54-51 affair in Evanston in 2000. I still think the Wolverines are suspect on defense, but not enough to get worried in this one ... Michigan 34, Northwestern 13. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Wayne Larrivee, Chris Martin, Dara McIntosh)

No. 21 Penn State at Illinois: To say the Nittany Lions' performance last week against Michigan was disappointing would be an understatement. JoePa's team fumbled away one possession inside the red zone, and later went for a field goal inside the five-minute mark rather than going for a touchdown and potential game-tying two-point conversion. This week, we start to separate the contenders from the pretenders, and it might be time to jump aboard the Illini bandwagon … Illinois 17, Penn State 14. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, Charissa Thompson)

Michigan State at No. 9 Wisconsin: The Badgers have been skating very near the edge this year as evidenced by narrow wins over UNLV and Iowa. Still, they seem to come up with a play at the end of the game when most needed. On the other sideline, Sparty sputtered a little last week before putting Notre Dame away, and that came a week after sputtering before a narrow home win over Pittsburgh. I have to admit that I'm not yet convinced either of these teams is a bona fide title contender, but I guess I'm less convinced about the Spartans … Wisconsin 21, Michigan State 17. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan – Announcers: Brad Nessler, Bob Griese, Paul Maguire, Bonnie Bernstein)

No. 8 Ohio State at Minnesota: If the Buckeyes would have an off day – or night as the case may be – they could be forgiven. It is difficult to gear yourself up two weeks in a row for opponents you know you can beat. On the other hand, championship teams do not take weeks off. They motivate themselves for the Minnesotas of the world just as they would for anyone else. And if what I have seen over the last couple of weeks continues, this team in coming together as one of championship caliber. Stay up to watch the fireworks … Ohio State 47, Minnesota 7. (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN2 – Announcers: Mark Jones, Bob Davie, Stacey Dales)


Here are the games where I'll lay the points: West Virginia (-6½) at South Florida; USC (-20½) at Washington; LSU (-39½) at Tulane; Oklahoma (-21½) at Colorado; Auburn at Florida (-17½); Kansas State at Texas (-14); Maryland at Rutgers (-13½); Clemson (-2½) at Georgia Tech; North Carolina at Virginia Tech (-17); Hawaii (-24) at Idaho; Cincinnati (-13½) at San Diego State; Iowa State at Nebraska (-20½); Notre Dame at Purdue (-20½); Northwestern at Michigan (-16½); and Ohio State (-22) at Minnesota.

These are the ones where I'll take the points: Cal (+5½) at Oregon; Florida Atlantic (+24½) at Kentucky; Mississippi (+16½) at Georgia; Mississippi State (+16½) at South Carolina; Alabama (+3½) vs. Florida State @ Jacksonville; Arizona State at Stanford (+16½); Indiana (+12½) at Iowa; Penn State at Illinois (+3½); and Michigan State (+8½) at Wisconsin.

Enjoy the games and we'll see you again next week.

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