Rea's Say: How Tressel Built A Program

Three games at Penn State, only one of which was a win, helped Jim Tressel mold the kind of program he has at Ohio State. Check out what we mean along with the Random Thoughts of the week, info from the OSU-Penn State rivalry, tidbits from Around The Country and the Fearless Forecast.

If Ohio State goes to Penn State on Saturday night and comes back with a victory, it will mark Jim Tressel's 71st victory in six-plus seasons with the Buckeyes.

That 71st win will have come in Tressel's 85th game as OSU head coach, making him the quickest to that particular milestone. The closest to that achievement in school history is Earle Bruce, who won his 71st game in his 92nd contest. It took Woody Hayes 100 games before achieving win No. 71.

The point isn't that Tressel has been in charge of one of college football's elite programs since he came from Youngstown State. That's no revelation. The question is not how Tressel was able to breathe new life into a program that was up and down throughout predecessor John Cooper's tenure – it's how Tressel's teams remain so good year after year.

You need look no further than Tressel's three games at Penn State to learn a lot about how a program is built and sustained.

In his first season with the Buckeyes, Tressel was in charge of a roster that still was unsure about their head coach. Cooper was a delegator; Tressel was a hands-on micromanager. Still, the players had yet to buy into his way of thinking, and there was probably no better example than the game against the Nittany Lions in 2001.

Joe Paterno wasn't fielding one of his better teams that season. Penn State would finish with a 5-6 record and was ranked 84th in Division I-A in scoring and 98th in total defense. Yet, the Nits were able to come back from a 27-9 second-half deficit for a 29-27 victory. QB Zack Mills had the game of his life that afternoon, accounting for a school-record 418 yards of total offense.

What did Tressel take away from that loss? Shore up the defense, especially up front and in the linebacking corps to take care of mobile quarterbacks like Mills. The following year when the Nittany Lions paid a visit to Columbus, Tressel was waiting for him. Mills threw for only 98 yards and was intercepted three times as the Buckeyes got the better of a defensive battle, 13-7.

When the Buckeyes went back to Happy Valley in 2003, they were on the wrong end of a 17-7 scoreboard late in the first half. Making matters worse, starting quarterback Craig Krenzel had been knocked out of the game with a concussion.

Enter backup Scott McMullen, a happy-go-lucky fifth-year senior who went by the nickname Scottie Mac. He led the Buckeyes on an 80-yard touchdown drive to open the second half, and then drove them 72 yards in the final 5:55, throwing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins with 1:35 remaining. Mike Nugent added the winning extra point in a 21-20 victory.

What did Tressel take away from that win, Ohio State's only one in Beaver Stadium since 1995? It helped hammer home a point that his father, the legendary Lee Tressel, probably voiced thousands of times. Stay fluid throughout the game, think on the fly, stay ahead of your opponent. There are countless numbers of coaches who can recruit great athletes. There are only a handful of them who can make those great athletes better through coaching. Tressel is one, and in 2005, he made the necessary halftime adjustments – with his starting quarterback out of the lineup – that allowed his team to score a pair of touchdowns in the second half on a Penn State defense that finished that season 30th in the nation in scoring defense.

Two years ago, the Buckeyes got a lesson in Football 101 – hang onto the football in tight games or expect a loss. Yes, Beaver Stadium was loud. Yes, the nighttime atmosphere and the "White Out" added to the drama. But when you boil things down to the bone, it was a Troy Smith interception midway through the second quarter and a Smith fumble late in the game that cemented the 17-10 victory for the Lions.

What did Tressel take away from that loss? Well, for one thing, he finally got through to his mercurial quarterback that as he went, so went the team. After that game, Smith directed the Buckeyes to 19 consecutive victories and won the Heisman Trophy. Tressel also seemed to learn that keeping the wraps on a potentially explosive offense is not necessarily the way to win games in the Big Ten where all of the good teams have good defenses. After that game, Tresselball has largely gone the way of the dinosaur.

Three games producing only one win and all distinctive in their own right. But three games that present a microcosm of how a coach – no matter how long he has been practicing his craft – can learn and grow.

You can't win every game. In an age of parity and reduced scholarships, that is nearly impossible. But if you learn and grow like Tressel, especially taking away something from your failures, your winning percentage can stay in the mid-80s.

That is how you build a program and that is how you sustain success.


Here are some other random thoughts:

• In case you missed it, the NFL just tightened the definition of the term "first-day draftee." The league has approved shortening the time between picks in the first round from 15 to 10 minutes, and has decided to fit only the first two rounds – instead of the first three – into the opening day of the draft. That is in response to a first round that took more than six hours this past April.

• Anyone who reads this column should know that I do not like night games. You want to rail about something un-American? How about college football games played at night. Yet, I know they're here to stay because they're worth truckloads of money to the networks and universities. So, I took a peek at next year's Ohio State schedule and found at least three games on it that I figure will be primetime affairs – Sept. 13 at USC, Oct. 4 at Wisconsin and Nov. 8 at Northwestern. File this away for next spring and see if I'm close.

• I know a lot of you get hot under the collar about the Big Ten Network televising Ohio State games. But at least you have the choice to switch to a satellite provider or go to a friend's house or sports bar to watch the game. There are two games this week involving ranked teams that are not televised, including a Big 12 conference matchups. Even if you wanted to, you couldn't watch Iowa State take on No. 13 Missouri or stay up for New Mexico State at 16th-ranked Hawaii.

• One related question: If your team doesn't play on TV, how can Heisman voters like me get behind the candidacies of guys like Chase Daniel of Mizzou or Colt Brennan of Hawaii? Maybe that's why the award usually goes to the member of a team that's a little more well-known. No TV coverage means no SportsCenter highlights.

• In celebration of the ESPN College GameDay crew coming to town, there is a poll on the Penn State football website where fans can vote for their favorite gameday personality. Last time I looked, it was no contest. Kirk Herbstreit was polling 50.5 percent of the vote. Lee Corso was a distant second at 21.6 percent while Chris Fowler was third at 13.3. Interestingly, Lou Holtz – technically not a member of the crew – was polling better than gameday fifth wheel Desmond Howard.

• Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?


• Ohio State and Penn State have played 22 times and the overall series is split at 11 wins each. The Nittany Lions hold a 5-3 edge in games played at Beaver Stadium, including wins in two of the three last games held there. All three have been close affairs, including 2001 when Penn State rallied from behind for a 29-27 victory. That win allowed longtime head coach Joe Paterno to pass Paul "Bear" Bryant and become the winningest coach in major college football. Paterno has 369 career victories, and that puts him currently one behind Bobby Bowden of Florida State on the all-time list.

• By the way, the operative term in the Paterno-Bowden battle is "major college football." The winningest coach in college football history is John Gagliardi of Saint John's (Minn.) University, who has won 451 games in a head coaching career that began in 1949. Gagliardi continues to add to his streak each week – the Division III Johnnies are 8-0 this season and have outscored their opponents by a 216-95 margin.

• OSU head coach Jim Tressel is 4-2 against Penn State while Ohio State is one of the few school against which Paterno has a losing record. In 18 tries against the Buckeyes, the longtime coach is 7-11. Eight of those 18 games have been decided by eight points or less.

• Since the guy has been head coach for 41 years, Paterno has put up some staggering numbers. Here is one that perhaps stands out above the rest: Since being named head coach in 1966, there have been 799 head coaching changes in Division I-A football – an average of six per school.

• JoePa's most recent victory over Tressel came in 2005 and was a 17-10 verdict in Happy Valley. That represents the last time OSU lost a regular-season game, a streak that has now reached a school-record 26 victories in a row. The Buckeyes are also playing with an 18-game winning streak in Big Ten games, and that's just one off the conference record of 19 set by Michigan (1990-92).

• The Nittany Lions are ranked No. 22 this week in the USA Today coaches' poll and No. 24 in The Associated Press writers' poll. Ohio State has a 120-100-12 all-time record against ranked teams, and a 34-39-7 mark on the road against ranked opposition. Tressel is 26-9 overall and 6-4 on the road against ranked teams.

• OSU has any number of reasons to feel pretty good heading into Saturday's game, but here's an interesting stat that should make the Buckeyes feel even better: The higher ranked team has won 15 of the last 16 games in the series. The only aberration in that span was the 2005 game when Penn State was ranked No. 16 and Ohio State was No. 6.

• With the win last Saturday against Michigan State, the Buckeyes are now 65-9-1 while playing as the nation's No. 1 team.

• The victory was also Ohio State's eighth of the season. No other team at the Division I-A level has more than seven wins so far.

• Believe it or not, this marks only the second time ever that Penn State has hosted the nation's No. 1 team. The only other occasion was in 1989 when top-ranked Notre Dame took a 34-23 victory in Beaver Stadium. All-time, the Lions are 4-9 against top-ranked teams. Their last win over a No. 1 team was a 24-21 victory at Notre Dame in 1990.

• Ohio State is once again atop the Bowl Championship Series standings this week. After topping each of last year's eight rankings and sitting No. 1 for each of the first two this season, the Buckeyes have now been atop the standings a BCS-record 10 straight times.

• The primetime game marks the third night contest for OSU this season (all on the road) and the second for Penn State (both at home). The Buckeyes previously took wins at Minnesota and Purdue in back-to-back weeks, while the Nits beat Notre Dame 31-10 in their only night game.

• This week's game will be telecast by the American Broadcasting Company to the entire nation by its primetime broadcast crew of Brent Musberger (play-by-play), Ohio State alum Kirk Herbstreit (color) and Penn State alum Lisa Salters (sideline). Kickoff is at set for about 8:07 p.m. Eastern.

• The game will also be available on both major satellite radio providers. Look for it on Sirius channel 123 and XM channel 197.

• ESPN College GameDay will be on hand in State College with its entire circus maximus led by Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Herbstreit. This marks the fourth time GameDay has visited Penn State, but the first time since the OSU-PSU matchup two years ago.

• Kickoff for next week's home game against Wisconsin is still to be determined. ABC and ESPN have exercised their option to withhold a decision on starting time until next Monday. That likely means the Nov. 10 home game against Illinois will be on the Big Ten Network.

• ABC has already locked up the OSU-Michigan game, set for Nov. 17 in Ann Arbor. It will have a 12 noon Eastern kickoff.


• And then there were five. The only undefeated teams remaining in Division I-A are Arizona State, Boston College, Hawaii, Kansas and Ohio State.

• South Florida missed a chance to have the nation's longest current winning streak at Division I-A. Heading into their game against Rutgers, the Bulls shared the streak with Hawaii and Boston College at eight. Since neither the Warriors or Eagles played last week, their streaks remain intact.

• The more things change, the more they stay the same. With a month left in the season, it would take a minor miracle for one of the other nine Big Ten teams to wrestle the championship away from Ohio State or Michigan. The "Big Two" rest comfortably atop the standings at 4-0 while every one of the "Little Nine" has at least two conference losses already.

• Recent voting for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award reveals that the top five vote-getters are Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, Joe Paterno of Penn State, Jeff Tedford of Cal, Jim Leavitt of South Florida and Skip Holtz of East Carolina. Jim Tressel is currently 10th in the voting while none of the other head coaches of undefeated teams – Dennis Erickson of Arizona State, Jeff Jagodzinski of Boston College, June Jones of Hawaii or Mark Mangino of Kansas – are even in the top 25. Head-scratching as that may be, realize that the voting is done completely online and by fans. If you want to do something about the vote, you can go and cast your ballot.

• Speaking of coaches, Lloyd Carr of Michigan and Joe Tiller of Purdue each achieved career milestones last week. With his team's win over Illinois, Carr took part in his 100th Big Ten game and joined Bo Schembechler (1969-89) as the only Michigan head coaches to take part in 100 or more conference games. Meanwhile, Tiller notched his 50th league win last week when his Boilermakers beat Iowa. He became only the second Purdue coach to notch 50 Big Ten victories, joining Jack Mollenkopf (1956-69).

• In the largest single gift ever to the Minnesota athletic department, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community will donate a cool $10 million for the Gophers' new $288 million football stadium. The community, flush with cash because of casino properties in the Twin Cities area, will get naming and landscaping rights to the stadium's main plaza. A personal aside: I visited one of the casinos during my trip to Minnesota, so I guess I'm responsible for $100 of that $10 million donation.

• A couple of Big Ten players are moving up the career top 10 lists in the conference. Michigan quarterback Chad Henne needs 10 more touchdown passes to equal the Big Ten record of 90 set by Drew Brees of Purdue (1997-2000), and 965 more yards to become only the fourth league QB to throw for at least 10,000 yards. His backfield mate for the Wolverines, tailback Mike Hart, needs 243 more yards to become the fourth Big Ten player to rush for 5,000 yards or more. Indiana receiver James Hardy needs only nine more touchdown catches to become the all-time conference leader in that category. He is currently eight behind Braylon Edwards of Michigan (2001-04). And, Purdue receiver Dorien Bryant needs 260 more yards to pass Edwards on the all-time list in receiving yards. That would make Bryant third in Big Ten history behind a pair of fellow Boilermakers – Taylor Stubblefield (3,788, 2001-04) and John Standeford (3,629, 2000-03).

• While Ohio State and Penn State gear up in Happy Valley under the lights, Saturday also marks the 84th anniversary of the first night game ever played in the Big Ten. Illinois scored a 29-0 victory over Northwestern under portable lights that were set up at Chicago's Soldier Field.

• Think Tennessee just started losing games it shouldn't have when Phil Fulmer got to Rocky Top? Think again. Thirty-two years ago today, little ol' North Texas stunned the Volunteers by going into Knoxville and coming away with a 21-14 victory. RB Sears Wood scored all three touchdowns for North Texas, including the game-winner on a 98-yard kickoff return with 4:25 left in the game to break a 14-14 tie. Who was the coach at North Texas that engineered the upset win? None other than our old friend Hayden Fry, who would later spend 20 seasons at Iowa.

• Also happening during this week in college football history: On Oct. 21, 2000, Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle-El became only the fifth player in major college history to run and throw for 200 or more yards in a single game when he accounted for 473 total yards in a 51-43 win over Minnesota; and on Oct. 23, 1930, a couple of future U.S. Presidents took the field for their respective teams in different games. Ronald Reagan started at guard in a win by Eureka (Ill.) over Illinois Wesleyan while Richard Nixon played as a backup end for Whittier (Calif.) in its 13-0 loss to San Bernadino (Calif.).

• Quote of the week: Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly said one of the reasons why he left a cushy job like Grand Valley State, where he coached 13 years and won a Division II national title, was the lack of competition. "When you're up 45-0 at half, and you know you're just flat-out better," Kelly said, "it's almost like playing 1-on-1 in the backyard with your sister."


Each week, I thank my lucky stars that I do not bet real money on college football games. I have been unable to navigate this year's wacky twists and turns, and as a result am having the worst season picking games since I've been doing this.

Last week, we were 14-8 straight to move that season total to 158-50. But we got crushed again against the spread, losing several one-pointers to finish the week at a sickly 5-15-1. That means the record ATS for the year is 79-99-3 and in danger of getting so far behind there is no chance of catching up.

And still we press onward with a brand new system. Let's see how that works during a week that features six different games featured ranked teams playing one another. (By the way, we're still using AP rankings.)


No. 2 Boston College at No. 8 Virginia Tech: The Worldwide Leader has come up with another Thursday night game that should be extremely entertaining to watch. Can the high-flying Eagles keep their magical season going on the road at Blacksburg? QB Matt Ryan is going to get his biggest test so far this season from the ferocious Tech pass rush. But it's the Hokies' offense that worries me. Freshman quarterback Tyrod Taylor has a bad ankle, and although he has had 12 days to rest, bad ankles are bad things for quarterbacks. Also, Tech running back Brandon Ore seems to be having an off year – in seven games, he is averaging just over 50 yards per contest. I think this is a relatively low-scoring affair, but I look for BC to keep on rolling … Boston College 23, Virginia Tech 21. (7:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN)


No. 6 West Virginia at No. 25 Rutgers: The Mountaineers are the latest team to discover that the road to the Big East championship goes directly through Piscataway. Former No. 2 South Florida discovered that wins are hard to come by in Rutgers Stadium, especially when that raucous crowd gets going. You may recall the triple-overtime classic these two played last year in Morgantown when WVU ruined the Knights' shot at the conference title. This year, Rutgers would like nothing more than to return the favor. The game features two of the best running backs in college football – Ray Rice of Rutgers (999 yards, 13 TDs) and Steve Slaton of West Virginia (752 yards, 10 TDs) – but two quarterbacks who are not 100 percent. Pat White of WVU has shoulder and thigh problems while Rutgers QB Mike Teel has a bad thumb. If the Scarlet Knights can score, they can win. But can they score? … West Virginia 30, Rutgers 27. (12 noon EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 18 California at No. 7 Arizona State: Are the Sun Devils for real? After notching seven straight wins against competition that has a combined record of 20-31, we'll find out just how good the Fighting Ericksons really are when they entertain the Bears. Of course, these Bears are not the same team as they were two weeks ago. First, there was the tough loss to Oregon State which clearly carried over to last week's inexplicable loss to UCLA. Head coach Jeff Tedford has never lost three in a row since taking over the Cal program in 2002, but he is in danger of losing the handle on another promising season if he can't figure out a way to get the Bears turned around. Accomplishing that task isn't going to be easy, but Cal has had recent success against ASU. Tedford has never lost to the Sun Devils, and the Bears have won four straight in the series. My gut says take Cal, but my gut has been wrong so often this year … Arizona State 31, Cal 24. (10 p.m. EDT, FSN)

No. 9 USC at No. 5 Oregon: Here is another marquee game in the Pac-10, which has already proven several times this season that on any given Saturday, any team can win. Both teams continue to entertain thoughts of getting to the BCS title game with the Rose Bowl as a nice consolation prize. On paper, the Trojans would appear to have the better team, but the Ducks are the one that is playing better at this juncture of the season. QB Dennis Dixon is having a Heisman-worthy season (69.3 completion percentage, 1,728 yards, 16 TDs) and he is complemented by running back Jonathan Stewart (940 yards, 7 TDs). Southern Cal is still banged up with starting QB John David Booty still questionable with a broken finger on his throwing hand. The Trojans have won three in a row in the series, but this is a college football season turned on its ear. Quack, quack, quack … Oregon 31, USC 28. (3 p.m. EDT, FSN)

No. 9 Florida vs. No. 20 Georgia: The national love for the Gators continues – they are the highest-ranking two-loss team in the country as they head to Jacksonville for the annual renewal of the World's Largest Cocktail Party. But the defending national champions are hurting. Safety Major Wright (thumb) and receiver Riley Cooper (finger) each had surgery on Monday while multipurpose QB Tim Tebow has various aches and pains that has kept him out of contact drills this week. Last time I checked, though, the Urban Legends still had guys like Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell and Derrick Harvey. That doesn't bode well for the Dawgs, who have lost 13 of the last 15 series in this series .. Florida 30, Georgia 26. (3:30 p.m. EDT, CBS)


No. 11 South Florida at Connecticut: Lost amid the publicity surrounding several other Big East schools, the Huskies have quietly become a pretty good team. They've lost only once in seven games and did a pretty good throttling a still-potent Louisville offense last week, coming from 10 points behind in the fourth quarter to take a 21-17 win. That defensive effort was no fluke, either. UConn sits at No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense, right behind Ohio State and Kansas. Of course, you have to factor in the Huskies' 0-11 all-time record against ranked opponents. But this is such a weird season, I'm going with the upset … Connecticut 24, South Florida 23. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 12 Kansas at Texas A&M: I keep picking against the Jayhawks and they just keep winning. I guess I've forgotten that Mark Mangino was a pretty good offensive coordinator under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma (as well as an assistant for two years under Jim Tressel at Youngstown State). I guess I've always ignored the fact that Kansas ranks third in the country in scoring offense (45.9) and second in scoring defense (10.1). That's pretty lethal combination even if you are headed to College Station for the weekend. Most people think this one will be close. I'm not most people … Kansas 34, Texas A&M 21. (7 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)

Iowa State at No. 13 Missouri: No upset here. The Cyclones have lost seven of eight and can't stop anyone on defense. Meanwhile, the Tigers are riding high after shutting down Texas Tech last week to the tune of 41-10. That was their 13th win in the last 14 games at Faurot Field, and with QB Chase Daniel (69.2 completion percentage, 2,283 yards, 17 TDs) still in the wide-open Heisman race, it stands to figure that the air in Columbia is going to be filled with footballs. I'd point out a couple of other things to watch, but as previously mentioned, the game will not be televised … Missouri 45, Iowa State 10. (2 p.m. EDT, No TV)

Mississippi State at No. 14 Kentucky: How the Wildcats rebound from last week's gut-wrenching loss to Florida will go a long way toward determining if they can get back in the SEC East race. After taking on LSU and the Gators back to back, UK is likely looking for some kind of a breather. But the Bulldogs are vastly improved over what they've been the last couple of years, and they nearly beat the Wildcats last year before falling by a 34-31 score. Still, I don't see Kentucky losing focus in Lexington, especially with QB André Woodson (2,201 yards, 26 TDs) playing so well … Kentucky 34, Mississippi State 24. (12:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 15 South Carolina at Tennessee: Speaking of the SEC East, these two teams also have two losses and cannot afford another. The Gamecocks are suffering with an anemic offense right now, one that has produced only two field goals in the last six quarters. Meanwhile, the Volunteers are all over the place. One week, they're taking Georgia to the woodshed, and last week it was their turn to smacked around, losing 41-17 at Alabama. There is no doubt that Tennessee plays much better at home, and there is no getting around the fact that Phil Fulmer sports a handsome 13-1 record against the Roosters. I'm feeling another upset … Tennessee 24, South Carolina 23. (7:45 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

New Mexico State at No. 16 Hawaii: I doubt the fact that we won't get to watch Colt Brennan in action is going to affect his performance. After all, he operates the nation's No. 1 scoring offense and it is squaring off against the Aggies, who rank 98th in scoring defense. Unfortunately, we also don't get to see NMSU quarterback Chase Holbrook, who has completed 72.8 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,123 yards and 17 TDs. Too bad we miss out on the aerial circus … Hawaii 45, New Mexico State 30. (12:05 a.m. EDT, No TV)

Nebraska at No. 17 Texas: While the Cornhuskers head to Austin, the Bill Callahan Watch continues back in Lincoln. There probably is very little the NU coach can do now to keep his job – short of winning the rest of his games, of course. It's doubtful that will happen since Callahan appears to have lost the handle on a team that has given up 122 points in the last three games while scoring only 34. Meanwhile, the Mack Attack has righted itself after becoming the first Texas team to lose its first two conference games in nearly 50 years. Obviously, there are no sure things this year in college football. But this one is pretty close … Texas 37, Nebraska 14. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 21 Virginia at North Carolina State: Talk about being off the radar. Who knew the Cavaliers were hanging around with only one loss and leading the ACC Coastal Division? How have they done it? With a stout defense that allows an average of only 18.4 points per game. That has helped mask some real offensive deficiencies, not the least of which is a ranking of 101 nationally in total offense. Also, the Cavs have yet to hit the meat of their schedule. After traveling to Raleigh to meet the 2-5 Wolfpack, they wind up the regular season with Wake Forest, Miami (Fla.) and Virginia Tech. Enjoy this one and then buckle the seat belts … Virginia 20, N.C. State 14. (4:30 p.m. EDT, ESPNU)

Mississippi at No. 23 Auburn: The Tigers are just happy to get back home to Jordan-Hare Stadium after a brutal four-week stretch that took them to Gainesville, Fayetteville and Baton Rouge. The good news is that they won two of those three games, but an upset loss to Mississippi State earlier in the year has put them behind the 8-ball in the SEC West standings behind LSU and Alabama. That means they can afford no more slip-ups and that includes overlooking the 2-6 Rebels. Ole Miss has lost 10 of 12 games at Auburn, and if Tommy Tuberville knows what's good for him, he'd better stretch that to 11 out of 13 … Auburn 27, Mississippi 10. (6 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)


Ball State at Illinois: I suppose he learned it from Steve Spurrier, but I still don't like the way Ron Zook has suddenly begun to play musical chairs with QBs Juice Williams and Eddie McGee. He did too much tinkering like that at Florida and it eventually got him fired. The Illini raced out of the blocks with five wins in their first six games, but back-to-back losses have them trying to regroup to get that elusive victory that will make them bowl-eligible for the first time since 2001. Most experts have them getting the easy win this week against the Cardinals, but those so-called experts evident don't realize that David Letterman U. can score with just about anybody. Unfortunately, their defense is not Big Ten-caliber, so the Orange and Blue can begin making holiday plans … Illinois 30, Ball State 24. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Jim Kelly, Chris Martin, Rick Pizzo)

Indiana at Wisconsin: This game is off everyone's radar, but it features some of the top offensive players in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers boast QB Kellen Lewis (1,952 yards, 19 TDs) and WR James Hardy (45 catches, 748 yards, 11 TDs) while the Badgers will counter with tailback P.J. Hill (1,009 yards, 13 TDs). It will be interesting to watch how the respective defenses – suspect at best – take on those challenges. Indiana is ninth in the conference against the run; Wisconsin is fifth against the pass. The Hoosiers have lost four of their five at Camp Randall, but I'm still going with the Hoosiers to squeak one out … Indiana 29, Wisconsin 28. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Wayne Larrivee, Charles Davis, Charissa Thompson)

Northwestern at Purdue: Let's hope the scoreboard operator at Ross-Ade has a fresh supply of light bulbs on hand because I'm thinking the first one to 70 might win this one. You have two teams that love to throw the ball around although they attack the passing game a little differently. The Wildcats like the quick-hitting short stuff while the Boilermakers would just as soon chuck it downfield on every other play. The results are pretty much the same, though – NU quarterback C.J. Bachér has a conference-best 2,514 yards to go along with 14 TDs while Purdue's Curtis Painter has thrown for 2,238 yards and 22 TDs. Since they're at home and have the better defense, the Boilermakers should win this one fairly easily. But word up to Joe Tiller: No lead is safe with the Wildcats and by all means don't let them get to you to overtime … Purdue 44, Northwestern 35. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Mark Neely, Glen Mason, Marshall Harris)

Michigan State at Iowa: For the second week in a row, the Spartans go up against one of the best defenses in the country and they need to perform better than they did in Columbus. The Hawkeyes rank 14th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 17.1 points per game. But Iowa is pretty punchless on offense, averaging a measly 15.0 points and ranking 117th of 119 Division I-A teams in scoring. For the life of me, I can't figure these two teams out so I'm going to stop trying. I simply flipped a coin and came up with … Michigan State 16, Iowa 10. (12 noon EDT, ESPN2 – Announcers: Dave Pasch, Andre Ware, Erin Andrews)

Minnesota at No. 19 Michigan: Tim Brewster got more than a few laughs at the annual Big Ten Media Day when he said, "You tell Lloyd that we're coming to get the Jug." That, of course, was a reference to the Little Brown Jug, the trophy contested each year by the Gophers and Wolverines. Of course, Brewster was being a little facetious since the new Minnesota head coach had to know his program had taken the Jug exactly once in the last 18 years. Now, with the Gophers reeling under the weight of a one-win season, and coming off a loss to I-AA North Dakota State, the prospects of winning in Ann Arbor are slim and none. And as they say, Slim is out of town … Michigan 35, Minnesota 17. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN Classic – Announcers: Clay Matvick, Bill Curry)

No. 1 Ohio State at No. 24 Penn State: If you like good, old-fashioned defensive football, this one should be for you. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions have the top defensive units in the Big Ten, and both rank among the top 10 nationally in nearly every category. Both offenses are better than they're given credit for, and the coaching matchup features one of the best X's and O's guys of today with one of the winningest coaches of all-time. Sounds pretty even, doesn't it? Then, when you consider the hostile environment of Beaver Stadium at night, perhaps the scales tip in Penn State's favor. I'm not buying, though. I look for the Buckeyes to throw the ball effectively against the Lions and then shut down their running game much like they did last week against Michigan State. All they have to do is eliminate the turnovers and it's win No. 9 with a final score that may look familiar to those who remember 2005 … Ohio State 17, Penn State 10. (8 p.m. EDT, ABC – Announcers: Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit, Lisa Salters)


I'm cutting way back on the chalkies but I'll still lay the points here: Cal at Arizona State (-3); USC at Oregon (-2½); Kansas (-2½) at Texas A&M; Iowa State at Missouri (-24½); Nebraska at Texas (-20½); Virginia (-3) at North Carolina State; Michigan State (-2½) at Iowa; and Ohio State (-3½) at Penn State.

I like the points I'm getting in these games: Boston College (+3½) at Virginia Tech; West Virginia at Rutgers (+6½); Florida vs. Georgia (+9) @ Jacksonville; South Florida at Connecticut (+4½); Mississippi State (+14) at Kentucky; South Carolina (+3) at Tennessee; New Mexico State (+28) at Hawaii; Mississippi (+17½) at Auburn; Ball State (+14) at Illinois; Indiana (+7½) at Wisconsin; Northwestern (+13½) at Purdue; and Minnesota (+23½) at Michigan.

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

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