Rea's Say: Crunching Recruiting Numbers

How many recruits can OSU head coach Jim Tressel sign in February? We do the math for you along with the weekly features: Random Thoughts, OSU-Illinois tidbits, news from Around The Country and the Fearless Forecast, which seems to be getting well just in time for the stretch run.

One of the burning questions in the minds of Ohio State fans these days doesn't have anything to do with Illinois or even Michigan. They want to know how Jim Tressel can possibly fit every high school prospect he wants into the 2008 recruiting class.

Good question.

First of all, let's look at the Buckeyes currently on scholarship. From my count, the minimum number of players Ohio State can sign in February will be 15. How do I arrive at that number? Simple, really, when you look at the number of scholarship players per class. Here is my "official unofficial" count of players currently on scholarship:

Seniors (9) – Barton, Daly, Dye, Grant, D.Johnson, Lisko, Makridis, Robinson and Whaley.

Juniors (25) – Abdallah, Barrow, Boeckman, Boone, Dukes, Freeman, Gholston, Jenkins, Lane, Laurinaitis, Lyons, Mitchum, Nicol, O'Neal, Patterson, Person, Pretorius, Rehring, Robiskie, Skinner, B.Smith, Terry, Trapasso, M.Wells and Wilson.

Sophomores (18) – Amos, Ballard, Coleman, Cordle, Denlinger, Gant, Hartline, Homan, Pettrey, Rose, Russell, Schoenhoft, Small, Spitler, Thoma, D.Washington, C.Wells and Worthington.

Redshirt Freshmen (12) – Browning, Chekwa, Gibson, Henton, M.Johnson, Kerr, Larimore, Miller, Moeller, Olson, G.Schwartz and C.Smith.

True Freshman (15) – Blankenship, Clifford, Evege, Herron, Heyward, Hines, Oliver, Pentello, Rolle, Saine, Sanzenbacher, Scott, Thomas, Torrence and T.Washington.

(Note: I have already moved Curtis Terry to the junior class because the OSU coaching staff has indicated he will take a redshirt year because of his injury situation. I have not moved either Lawrence Wilson or Ross Homan out of their respective classes because it is still unknown whether they will receive – or want to accept – redshirt seasons.)

The Buckeyes have 79 players on scholarship right now, and since the NCAA limit for scholarships is 85, simple math tell us that OSU is six short of the maximum. When you add that number to the total of departing seniors, the team can offer a minimum of 15 scholarships this year.

We know that Tressel already has promised 13 scholarships in this year's class and at least a half-dozen other blue-chippers – players that would undoubtedly push the Ohio State recruiting class into top three of the national rankings – could decide to become Buckeyes any time between now and national signing day, set for Feb. 6.

How is Tressel going to be able to fit guys like Terrelle Pryor, Josh Jenkins, Willie Mobley, Brandon Thompson and Etienne Sabino all in this class?

The OSU head coach has always been most comfortable signing classes numbering in the 16-20 range. That way, he never has to worry about large classes one year and smallish classes the next. Of course, next year will deviate from that normal practice because there are 25 members in it. But you would have to believe that at least three or four players in that class will not be members of the Buckeyes next year.

You could make a case that perhaps at least one or two, and maybe as many as four players could opt to leave school early for the NFL. There could be grayshirting options or the practice of having early-graduating prospects counted back against last year's class, which numbered only 15. And you never know about possible transfers, injuries or academic difficulties that could present themselves in the coming months. That would not only free up spots next year, but for this year's class as well.

My advice for those of you wringing your hands on how the Buckeyes are going to make room for all the blue-chippers they want this season: relax. I rarely toe the company line, but in this case I do believe you have to trust Tressel. If all of those guys and a couple more want to join up, he'll find a way to make it happen.

SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS

Here are some other random thoughts:

• Saturday night, an era ends. The Miami Hurricanes will play for the last time in the Orange Bowl, a stadium that has long since lost its original luster. It is the place where John F. Kennedy once spoke, where Joe Namath made good on his Super Bowl guarantee and where the Dolphins and Hurricanes won championships. But the old girl has lost her charm. I was there twice when I lived in Florida in the mid-1980s – once to watch Art Schlichter play for the Colts against the Dolphins, and the other to see Bruce Springsteen during his "Born In The USA" tour. I remember thinking both times, "Boy, what a dump." It's also in one of the most dangerous parts of Miami, and after 70 years has simply outlived its usefulness. It is slated for demolition – probably about 20 years late.

• My feeling about the BCS National Championship Game is that if Ohio State and Kansas finish their respective seasons undefeated, they should play in New Orleans on Jan. 7. Now before you scream about Oregon and LSU, and use the Jayhawks' soft schedule as an argument, understand a couple of things. If Kansas is to remain undefeated, that means it will have to beat one-loss Missouri in its regular-season finale and then probably Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. If Mark Mangino's Jayhawks can do that, I think it would deserve to play for the national championship over any one-loss team.

• Of course, the above statement is strictly my opinion. It doesn't take into account things like strength of schedule. But the BCS does, so it already knows that Oregon is No. 1 in SOS while LSU is No. 5. That compares to No. 51 for Ohio State and No. 79 for Kansas.

• Nebraska gave up 76 points last week to Kansas, the most points ever surrendered in a single game by the Cornhuskers in their 117-year history. But you don't have to go back very far to find the last time NU gave up at least 70 points in a game. That was in 2004 – head coach Bill Callahan's first season in Lincoln – when Texas Tech scored 70. The question is not whether interim AD Tom Osborne is going to fire Callahan. The question is how much longer the Nebraska faithful will allow this kind of carnage to continue before Callahan has to leave town under the coverage of darkness and a police escort.

• As long as we're dumping on Callahan, you might as well know that the loss to Kansas gave Nebraska its first five-game losing streak since 1958. That was six seasons before Osborne joined head coach Bob Devaney's staff as an unpaid volunteer assistant.

• Speaking of Kansas, they're selling T-shirts in Lawrence that read, "Our Coach Beat Anorexia." If you're not sure what that means, maybe you don't follow college football enough.

• My Heisman ballot this week: Dennis Dixon of Oregon, Todd Boeckman of Ohio State, Darren McFadden of Arkansas.

• Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.

OSU-ILLINOIS TIDBITS

• Ohio State and Illinois have one of the oldest rivalries in college football, playing one another 93 times since 1902. The Buckeyes hold a lopsided 60-29-4 advantage in the overall series, including the last three in a row. But the Illini have had success at Ohio Stadium in recent years. Since 1988, they have won six of the last nine times they have visited Columbus. The last time the Illini were in town, however, it resulted in a 40-2 win for Ohio State.

• The Big Ten features more than a dozen trophy games, but the rivalry with Illinois is the only one in which Ohio State participates with a trophy on the line. The winner of the game receives a wooden turtle known as the Illibuck, which is sponsored by junior honorary societies – the Bucket and Dipper at OSU and Sachem at Illinois. The traditional game began in 1925, making it the second-oldest trophy game in the Big Ten behind only the Little Brown Jug contest between Michigan and Minnesota.

• Between 1968 and 1982, Ohio State enjoyed a 15-game winning streak over the Illini. During that stretch, the Buckeyes outscored Illinois by a 564-194 margin. Further evidence of the dominance over that period was the fact OSU limited the Illini to seven points or less in eight of those games, three of which were shutouts.

• One of the closest games during that period was a 49-42 victory by the Buckeyes in 1980. In that game, Illinois quarterback Dave Wilson set the NCAA single-game record with 621 yards passing. Wilson's record has been surpassed several times since then, and is now owned by David Klingler of Houston, who threw for 716 yards against Arizona State in 1990. In the same game that Wilson threw for 621 yards and six touchdowns, Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter threw for 284 and four TDs.

• Twelve seniors will appear in scarlet and gray at Ohio Stadium for the final time on Saturday. Taking part in the annual Senior Day festivities will be defensive lineman Brett Daly, offensive tackle Daniel Dye, kicker Andrew Good, linebacker Larry Grant, long snapper Jackson Haas, receiver David Lisko, long snapper Dimitrios Makridis, fullback Trever Robinson, receiver Brett Ullery and fullback Tyler Whaley, and co-captains Kirk Barton and Dionte Johnson. Also taking one last bow will be receiver Devin Jordan, safety Curt Lukens and receiver De'Angelo Haslam, each of whom suffered career-ending injuries.

• Last week's victory over Wisconsin allowed Ohio State to establish a new Big Ten record with a 20th consecutive conference win. A victory over Illinois on Saturday would allow the Buckeyes to break another league record, this one for longest regular-season win streak. They are working on a 28-game regular-season streak, tying them for the conference record with Michigan, which had its streak in 1901-03.

• OSU is also protecting another couple of streaks. The Buckeyes own the nation's current longest win streak in Division I-A at 10 games, and they have been atop the Bowl Championship Series standings for a record 12 straight weeks dating back to last season.

• Illinois hasn't had the greatest of success against the nation's No. 1 team, winning only three of its previous 17 contests against top-ranked competition. That record includes an 11-game losing streak against No. 1 teams. The last time the Illini upset the top-ranked team was in 1956 when they scored a 26-10 victory over Michigan State.

• This marks the 10th time in history that Illinois will be going against a No. 1-ranked Ohio State team. The team's record in those contests is 1-8 with the only victory coming in the first of those games, a 14-7 decision in 1950. The Buckeyes have won the last eight in a row by a combined score of 249-65.

• With its victory last week over Minnesota, the Illini posted their seventh win of the season, the most since the team's 2001 Big Ten championship team won 10 games.

• The game will feature the old immovable object against the irresistible force. Ohio State ranks first in the Big Ten and third nationally in rush defense while Illinois is the best team in the conference at running the ball and ranks No. 6 in the country in that category.

• Part of the reason why the Illini run the ball so well is junior running back Rashard Mendenhall. He ranks eighth in the country in rushing with a 131.4-yard average and needs only 17 more yards to establish a new Illinois single-season rushing record. The current mark is 1,330, set by Antoineo Harris in 2002.

• Illinois gets a lot of notice due to its offense, but the Illini play a pretty good brand of defense as well. They have held four teams under 100 yards rushing this season and have forced 19 turnovers – eight fumbles and 11 interceptions. If you want to know how good they can be, look back at their season opener against Missouri. The Tigers came away with a 40-34 win, but Mizzou has gone three-and-out only 13 times all season and Illinois forced five of those.

• Pay special attention to how the game announcers do with Illinois tight end Michael Hoomanawanui's name. (Just so you know, it is pronounced "huh-oh-MAN-ow-uh-noo-ee.") The Illinois coaches simply call him "Huh-oh."

• If the Buckeyes win their final two regular-season games and their bowl contest, it would make the Ohio State program only the fifth in college football history to reach 800 victories. The five winningest programs are Michigan (868), Notre Dame (822), Texas (817), Nebraska (807) and OSU (797).

• In case you missed it, OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis has been named one of the four finalists for the Lombardi Award. The others are Jake Long of Michigan, Chris Long of Virginia and Glenn Dorsey of LSU.

• Sophomore tailback Chris Wells exploded past the 1,000-yard mark with 169 yards last week against Wisconsin. That gives him 1,165 yards for the season and that is already the 20th best single-season rushing total in school history. Eddie George set the OSU record with 1,927 yards in 1995.

• Don't look now, but it is Wells who leads the Big Ten in rushing when considering conference games only. His average of 137.3 yards per game leads Javon Ringer of Michigan State (135.5), Mendenhall (133.8), P.J. Hill of Wisconsin (96.6) and Rodney Kinlaw of Penn State (92.7).

• Junior quarterback Todd Boeckman needs only 35 more yards to reach the 2,000-yard mark, and only nine other Ohio State QBs have ever done that in one season – Art Schlichter, Jim Karsatos, Greg Frey, Bobby Hoying, Joe Germaine, Steve Bellisari, Craig Krenzel and Troy Smith. Karsatos, Hoying, Krenzel and Smith each had a pair of 2,000-yard seasons while Frey is the only Ohio State quarterback ever to throw for 2,000 or more yards in three seasons. Germaine is the single-season record-holder with 3,330 during the 1998 season.

• Junior kicker Ryan Pretorius is only nine points away from scoring 100 points for the season and that would make him only the 12th Buckeye and third Ohio State kicker ever to accomplish that feat. His 17 field goals rank as the sixth-highest single-season total in school history and needs eight more to catch Mike Nugent, who kicked an OSU-record 25 three-pointers in 2002.

• The Buckeyes rank among the top 25 teams nationally in 12 different statistical categories – first in total and scoring defense, second in pass defense, third in rushing defense and pass efficiency defense, fifth in sacks, seventh in pass efficiency, 10th in tackles for loss, 17th in fewest sacks allowed, 18th in net punting, 22nd in rushing offense and 25th in scoring offense. If there is a glaring weakness on this year's team, it could be kickoff returns – OSU ranks 118th of 119 Division I-A teams in that category.

• This week's game will be telecast by ABC and feature the announce crew of Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Bob Griese and Paul Maguire (analysis) and Bonnie Bernstein (sidelines). Kickoff is at set for approximately 3:37 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

• The game will also feature the so-called reverse mirror from ABC/ESPN. If the game is not broadcast on your local ABC station, switch over to watch it on ESPN.

• Kickoff for next week's regular-season finale at Michigan will be shortly after 12 noon Eastern. The game is scheduled to be televised by ABC to a nationwide audience.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

• As we reach the homestretch of the college football season, only three teams remain undefeated at the Division I-A level. After losses by Arizona State and Boston College last weekend, the only ones that remain unscathed are Hawaii, Kansas and Ohio State.

• Further proof that the Big Ten isn't quite as weak as the national media would have you believe – it is one of only two conferences in the country to boast at least 10 teams with .500 records or better. The only other one is the SEC.

• Wisconsin will retire jersey No. 33 in honor of Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne during halftime ceremonies of this week's game against Michigan. Dayne becomes the sixth Badger to have his jersey retired. Among the others are running back Alan "The Horse" Ameche, receiver Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch and receiver and former athletic director Pat Richter.

• Last week, Ohio Stadium played host to 105,449 fans who were on hand to watch the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin. That qualified as the fifth-largest crowd in the Horseshoe. Some 2,500 miles away in Eugene, Ore., Oregon and Arizona State played before a record crowd in Autzen Stadium. The attendance there was 59,379.

• Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno became only the second freshman in school history to have a 1,000-yard season, breaking the barrier with 196 yards in the Bulldogs' 44-34 win over Troy last weekend. The other freshman running back to break the 1,000-yard mark in a season for Georgia was Herschel Walker in 1980.

• Wide receiver Percy Harvin became the first Florida player ever to have 100 yards of rushing and receiving in the same game when he ran for 113 yards and caught nine passes for 110 in the Gators' 49-22 win over Vanderbilt last week.

• Seven Big Ten teams are already bowl-eligible and 10 are on pace to qualify for the postseason. The conference has sent seven teams to bowl games in each of the last two seasons, and set a league mark in 2003 when it had eight teams accept postseason invitations.

• FWIW, CBSSportsline.com envisions eight Big Ten teams getting to bowls. The website predicts Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game (against LSU), Michigan in the Capital One, Penn State in the Outback, Wisconsin in the Alamo, Illinois in the Champs Sports, Purdue in the Insight, Iowa in the Motor City and Indiana in the Las Vegas. If the Hoosiers make it to a bowl, it will end the longest current postseason drought by a Big Ten school. IU hasn't gone bowling since the 1993 Independence Bowl.

• Despite the fact its television partner is the SEC, someone at the CBS website likes the Big Ten. On its College Football home page, there is a countdown clock to the Ohio State-Michigan game.

• Notre Dame's pitiful season gets more pitiful by the week. Last week's triple overtime loss to Navy snapped an NCAA-record 43-game winning streak in the series. What's worse is that it was the Fighting Irish's fifth straight loss at home, which is a school record. For a little historical perspective, the last Navy captain to beat Notre Dame was a guy by the name of Roger Staubach. The NFL Hall of Famer turned 65 years old last February.

• Minnesota and Iowa will square off in a trophy game this week, and the winner gets to take home the Floyd of Rosedale trophy. Floyd is a bronze pig, and the genesis of the trophy game generated from a 1935 bet between Gov. Clyde Herring of Iowa and Gov. Floyd B. Olson of Minnesota. After the Hawkeyes lost the game, Herring presented Olson with a champion pig. Olson commissioned a statue of the pig, which was named Floyd of Rosedale, which resulted in a bronze pig that is 21 inches long and 15 inches high. The two schools have played for the statue ever since with Minnesota holding a 39-31-2 advantage in Floyd games.

• Time to take a look at the Division I-A leaders in various individual stats after 10 weeks of the 2007 season. Matt Forte of Tulane is the nation's leading rusher with 1,642 yards; Graham Harrell of Texas Tech is the top passer with 4,412 yards and 38 TDs; Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech is the No. 1 receiver with 104 catches for 1,512 yards and 18 TDs; Kevin Huber of Cincinnati leads all punters with a 46.4-yard average; running back Kevin Smith of Central Florida is the leading scorer with 114 points (19 TDs); George Selvie of South Florida and Greg Middleton of Indiana are tied for the national lead in sacks with 13½; and the leading punt returner is Leodis McKelvin of Troy, who averages 21.2 yards per return and has taken three to the house this season.

• Former NFL head coaches Dick Vermeil and Mike White were recently selected to coach in the East-West Shrine All-Star Classic. That annual game will be held Jan. 19, 2008, in Houston's Reliant Stadium.

• College football traces its roots to an event that occurred 138 years ago this week. On Nov. 6, 1869, students from Rutgers College (now Rutgers University) and the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) got together in a field in New Brunswick, N.J., and played what has been described as the first game in college football history. Rutgers won the game, 6 "runs" to 4.

• Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 9, 1912, the lateral pass was used as an offensive weapon for the first time by head coach William F. Carney of Worcester Tech in a 14-13 win over Amherst (Mass.); on Nov. 11, 1939, in a torrential downpour, Texas Tech and Centenary (La.) played to a 0-0 tie in a game that resulted in an NCAA-record 77 punts; and on Nov. 12, 1994, Penn State clinched its first- ever Big Ten championship with a come-from-behind 35-31 win over Illinois.

• Quote of the week: In Pac-10 country, much of the focus on college football was taken away by the devastating October wildfires that charred more than 500,000 acres, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and cost at least seven lives in California. That makes what Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson said after his team's 35-23 loss to Oregon last week a little on the insensitive side. "I have to give Oregon credit," he said. "They came out like wildfires on offense."

FEARLESS FORECAST

Whatever I'm doing, I need to keep on doing it. The forecast has really picked up some steam in the last couple of weeks as we nailed wins like Oregon over Arizona State, Connecticut over Rutgers, and Arkansas over South Carolina. We even had the Michigan-Michigan State score right on the nose at 28-24 in favor of the Wolverines. Overall, it was a 21-4 straight-up week to move the season total to 194-59.

We also had the best week in a while against the spread with a 14-9-1 ledger. That moves the ATS record for the season to 103-116-5 – better but still with lots of room for improvement. Let's see how we do this week.

TONIGHT'S GAME

Louisville at No. 6 West Virginia: If you're looking for a defensive struggle, you've come to the wrong place. This will be a showcase of offensive talents as the Mountaineers feature their one-two punch of QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton, who have combined to run and pass for 2,561 yards and 31 TDs, against the Cardinals' one-time Heisman candidate QB Brian Brohm (3,229 yards, 26 TDs). Last year, Louisville took a 44-34 victory, while two years ago in Motown, West Virginia prevailed 46-44 in overtime. For those of you mathematically challenged, that is a total of 168 points between these two teams in the last two games. There should be plenty of action in store tonight … West Virginia 34, Louisville 27. (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

TOP TEN

Louisiana Tech at No. 2 LSU: After an exhausting four-game stretch that saw them squeeze out three victories by a total of 17 points and lose a triple-overtime thriller, the Bayou Bengals finally get a breather against the Bulldogs. Tech does have some offense to throw at LSU, including a running attack featuring Patrick Johnson and Daniel Porter, who have combined for 1,332 yards and 14 TDs. But unless the Tiger train completely jumps the track, they should have no problem protecting their No. 2 rankings in the national polls and BCS standings … LSU 38, Louisiana Tech 7. (8 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

Baylor at No. 4 Oklahoma: Pity the poor Sooners. All they hear about is LSU and Oregon with no one outside of Norman believing OU can get into the mix for the national championship game. While they pondered their on-the-outside-looking-in situation, the Bears come to town in search of something they have never been able to accomplish. Oklahoma is 16-0 all-time against Baylor, and that includes nine straight wins at home. The Bears have come close – in 2005, they lost 37-30 in Sooner Stadium and fell by a scant 24-23 margin in 1997. But the other seven games in Norman have been won by OU by an average of nearly 24 points, and that's about what it looks like this time as well … Oklahoma 41, Baylor 17.(6:30 p.m. EST, FSN)

No. 5 Kansas at Oklahoma State: How historic has this season been so far for the Jayhawks? Consider that last week's 76-39 drilling of Nebraska was only the program's second win over the Cornhuskers in the last 39 games. Consider that Kansas is now 9-0 for the first time since 1908. And consider they haven't opened a season with 10 straight victories since William McKinley was serving his first term in the White House. That was 1899. This week, the Jayhawks will probably have even more history on their minds. They probably remember last year's 42-32 loss to the Cowboys during which Okie State gained 603 yards. And they more than likely will be reminded that they haven't beaten the Pokes since a 22-17 win in Stillwater in 1995. What's the famous line about those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it? It seems Mark Mangino's team has learned its history lessons well for this season … Kansas 37, Oklahoma State 24. (8 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

Texas A&M at No. 7 Missouri: The Tigers probably feature the best team in college football that no one talks about. They have lost only once – a 10-point defeat at Oklahoma – and need just one more victory to reach nine wins for the first time in 38 years. They are also led by an excellent quarterback in Chase Daniel, who has completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 2,954 yards and 23 touchdowns. Embattled A&M head coach Dennis Franchione will try to attack Mizzou with his triple-option offense, featuring quarterback Stephen McGee and running backs Jovorskie Lane and Mike Goodson. But along with their potent offense, the Tigers also know a thing or two about defense, giving up just 117.1 yards per game on the ground. Look for Mizzou to keep it going and win their 15th out of the last 16 in Columbia … Missouri 34, Texas A&M 24. (12:30 p.m. EST, FSN)

No. 8 Boston College at Maryland: After suffering its first loss of the season last week, the Eagles have suddenly shifted focus from the BCS to the ACC. They have a chance to win their first Atlantic Coast Conference championship, but still have plenty left on their plate – after this week, they finish the season at Clemson and at home against Miami (Fla.) before even entertaining a possible league championship game. First things first, however, as they take on their instate rivals. The Terrapins are struggling this season because of an anemic offense that ranks 85th in the nation in scoring and 102nd in total yardage. Add to those sorry facts that BC has won three out of four in the all-time series, and you get this kind of prediction … Boston College 24, Maryland 14. (8 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 9 Arizona State at UCLA: How do the Sun Devils regroup from their first loss? A trip to the Rose Bowl to take on the banged-up Bruins might be just the right kind of tonic. ASU didn't play that badly during last week's 35-23 loss to Oregon, but couldn't make a play down the stretch when it needed to. It is doubtful that if the Devils play the same way this week that they'll need any late-game heroics. Because of a litany of injuries – the team is now on its fourth starting quarterback of the season – UCLA has fallen to the likes of Washington State and Arizona the past two weeks, teams with a combined record of 7-12. And let's not forget that Notre Dame's only win so far this season was in the Rose Bowl. The Bruins have won four straight home games in this series, but I don't foresee that streak getting to five … Arizona State 31, UCLA 21. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 18 Auburn at No. 10 Georgia: Talk about your storied rivalries. These two meet Saturday for the 111th time with the winner still in the mix for SEC championship honors. Auburn, which last won the conference in 2004, believes it may have the edge. The Tigers have a 53-49-8 advantage in the all-time series, hold an 18-9 margin in games played in Athens and have won six of the last seven meetings in Georgia. If Auburn is to win, however, it must contain UGA quarterback Matthew Stafford (1,798 yards, 15 TDs) and freshman running back Knowshon Moreno (1,003 yards, 9 TDs). The Tigers also have to work through the fact that the Dawgs beat them last year at Jordan-Hare by a 37-15 score. This ought to be another SEC barnburner, and I'll pick the upset … Auburn 24, Georgia 23. (3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

REST OF THE BEST

Florida State at No. 11 Virginia Tech: It's been a lengthy dry spell for the Seminoles, who have lost at least three games every season since winning the 1999 national championship. That streak will remain intact this season since FSU already has three losses. But Bowden's Bunch has showed signs of life lately, including last week's big upset over No. 2 Boston College. This week, they invade Blacksburg and play a team that has never beaten Grandpa Bobby in 15 previous tries – 12 with the Seminoles and three times when he was at West Virginia. But if this wacky season has taught us anything, though, it is to expect the unexpected. Therefore … Virginia Tech 27, Florida State 23. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 12 USC at No. 24 Cal: This game was supposed to have national championship implications, but midseason swoons by both teams have taken the shine off the proverbial apple. With Oregon seemingly on its way to the Pac-10 championship, the Trojans and Bears are left to fight for the leftovers. It's been a long, hard road for Cal since it went to Eugene and knocked off the Ducks – three straight losses followed and the Bears barely righted the ship last week with a 20-17 win over lowly Washington State. Meanwhile, the Trojans are trying to pick up the pieces of what was supposed to be a national championship season. But while their offense is in disarray, they have been playing pretty good defense. In fact, they're tops in their conference in total and scoring defense. That should make the difference here … USC 27, Cal 17. (8 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

Fresno State at No. 14 Hawaii: I finally get to see what I've been missing. The Warriors finally get a national television spot, and the entire country can sample the quarterbacking styles of Colt Brennan. He has fallen off the Heisman radar after an ankle injury caused him to miss a couple of starts during the middle of the season. But there is certainly nothing wrong with Brennan's arm. The Colt Cannon has accounted for 2,820 yards and 26 TDs in just seven games while Hawaii keeps percolating along as the nation's most prolific offense, averaging 51.9 points per game. Giving this game a little more jazz is the fact that Fresno is right in the thick of the race for the mighty WAC title. The Warriors need this win to stay undefeated, keep pace with Boise State in the conference chase and stay on track as a possible BCS team. Stay up, tune in and see what all the fuss is about … Hawaii 38, Fresno State 24. (11:05 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

Texas Tech at No. 15 Texas: If the Longhorns want to keep winning and have a say-so in the Big 12 race, they are going to have to figure out a way to slow down the Red Raiders. That won't be easy for two reasons. First of all, Double-T's high-flying offense is No. 1 in the country in total offense (549.5 yards per game) and No. 5 in scoring (42.2 points per game). Secondly, the Orangebloods have developed serious leaks in their defense. The last two weeks have produced wins over Nebraska and Oklahoma State, but Texas gave up a whopping 1,134 yards in those two games. Tech has lost four in a row in this series, including 35-31 last year in Lubbock despite 519 yards and three scores from QB Graham Harrell. But I just think UT-Austin is ripe for the picking … Texas Tech 34, Texas 30. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 16 Connecticut at Cincinnati: Because of West Virginia, South Florida, Louisville and Rutgers, no one talked much about these two Big East rivals before the season began. But the Huskies are 8-1 and atop the conference standings by a game and a half over the Mountaineers. Whether they can finish what they have started is the million-dollar question. They have a showdown circled Nov. 24 in the regular-season finale at West Virginia, but must first travel to the Queen City and the Bearcats are no picnic. They have already beaten two ranked teams this season, and have never lost in three previous games with U-Conn. The Huskies are more multi-dimensional on offense than they have been in the past with QB Tyler Lorenzen (1,723 yards, 11 TDs) and a two-pronged running attack featuring Donald Brown and Andre Dixon (1,166 yards, 8 TDs). But I still think the Bearcats knock them off in a close one at Nippert … Cincinnati 27, Connecticut 26. (3:30 p.m. EST, ESPNU)

No. 17 Florida at South Carolina: There is probably no other team in college football that gets Steve Spurrier's competitive fires burning like Florida. After all, he played there, won the Heisman there and returned as head coach to win a national championship. On the other side of the coin, there is probably no one in college football that Urban Meyer would rather beat than the Ol' Ball Coach. Neither team is exactly running on all cylinders, though. The Gators have three of their last five while the Gamecocks have dropped three in a row since rising as high as No. 6 in the national polls. The difference-maker here will be the quarterback position – and at least on some level, that should make Spurrier proud. He continues to tinker with his starting QB while Meyer simply relies on the considerable talents of Tim Tebow. That should be more than enough to keep the defending champs' flickering SEC title hopes alive … Florida 27, South Carolina 17. (7:45 p.m. EST, ESPN)

No. 19 Boise State at Utah State: This is going to be short and sweet. The Broncos average 41.8 points per game on offense and the Aggies give up an average of 35.3 points on defense. I'm not saying an upset is impossible. If Appalachian State and Stanford have taught us anything this year, it is to take nothing for granted. But Utah State is winless this season and winless in its last 15 games. And it has lost 18 straight to ranked opponents, including 54-3 to Oklahoma and 52-37 at Hawaii earlier this year. Miracles do happen, but it seems improbable at best to believe any will be on display Saturday at Romney Stadium … Boise State 45, Utah State 10. (3 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

Wake Forest at No. 20 Clemson: It's almost impossible to predict the ACC from week to week, and I sometime wonder why I even try. The teams that seem so invincible one Saturday play like losers the next. For example, I look at a team like Clemson and wonder if it is the team that has beaten seven opponents by an aggregate score of 300-115 or is it the team that stumbled and bumbled around in back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. I do know that the Tigers have more talent up and down their roster than Wake, but sometimes Deacons head coach Jim Grobe squeezes more out of his team than does Little Brother Bowden. Still, I'm going to hang my hat on the fact that Wake has lost each of the last three times it has visited Death Valley … Clemson 26, Wake Forest 20. (12 noon EST, ESPN2)

No. 21 Alabama at Mississippi State: The Crimson Tide can't afford to anguish for very long about last week's heartbreaking loss to LSU. They have to travel to Starkville and try to avenge last year's loss to the Bulldogs, a defeat that probably sealed head coach Mike Shula's fate and wound up bringing Nick Saban to Tuscaloosa. Avenging last year's loss won't be easy. Sylvester Croom appears to have finally got Mississippi State headed in the right direction, and he's had an extra week to prepare after his team's big upset win over Kentucky. If the Tide is going to win, it's going to have to have a good game out of hot-and-cold QB John Parker Wilson (2,110 yards, 14 TDs). Two weeks ago, he was flawless against Tennessee. Last week, to be honest, he didn't play well at all and Wilson had a similar game to that last season against the Bulldogs. I'll go with Bama but it wouldn't be a shock if things go the other way … Alabama 29, Mississippi State 23. (12:30 p.m. EST, Lincoln Financial Sports/ESPN GamePlan)

Arkansas at No. 22 Tennessee: It is difficult to fathom how the Volunteers are going to be able to slow down the Razorbacks' running attack. Darren McFadden (1,314 yards, 12 TDs) exploded with an SEC-record 321 yards last week against South Carolina, and he appears to be making another late-season Heisman push. And as if McFadden wasn't enough to handle, the Hogs have another 1,000-yard rusher in Felix Jones (1,029, 11 TDs). What do the Fighting Fulmers have to combat that? A defense that ranks 74th in the country against the run, 75th in scoring and 80th in total yardage. As I said before, it is difficult to fathom how the Volunteers are going to be able to show that Fayetteville freight train down … Arkansas 27, Tennessee 23. (12:30 EST, Lincoln Financial Sports/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 23 Virginia at Miami (Fla.): The Hurricanes close the curtain on the Orange Bowl by hosting the Cavaliers, who have made a habit out of winning close games this season. UVA is 8-2, and five of its wins have been by two points or less. That is a new single-season NCAA record for victories by a margin of two or fewer, and it keeps Al Groh's team in a virtual tie for their ACC divisional lead with Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, Miami has had some ups and downs this season under first-year head coach Randy Shannon. But most of the ugliness – both on and off the field – seems to have disappeared from the place its players like to refer to as "The U." Look for another close game that would give the edge to Virginia. But it seems unthinkable that the Canes could lose in their Orange Bowl finale … Miami 23, Virginia 21.(7:15 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

No. 25 Kentucky at Vanderbilt: Maybe the Wildcats have the rankings figured out. They dropped out of the polls after two straight losses, then crept back in after an open week. On Saturday, they head to Nashville to take on the Commodores, who are one win away from becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 1982. Kentucky gets some more good news with the return of running back Rafael Little (682 yards, 3 TDs) who has missed the last three games with a bruised thigh. His absence has made the Cats too one-dimensional and should take some of the pressure off QB André Woodson (2,431 yards, 28 TDs). UK has won three straight in the series, including last year's 38-26 victory in which the Wildcats rolled up 597 total yards … Kentucky 34, Vanderbilt 24. (2 p.m. EST, No TV)

BIG TEN

Minnesota at Iowa: These two teams compete each year for the coolest trophy in college football – outside of the crystal football, of course – with the Floyd of Rosedale bronze pig up for grabs. The Gophers possess Floyd right now by virtue of their victory last season in Minneapolis, but the Hawkeyes had the pig for the five years previous to that and will likely get it back this season. It just hasn't been the Gophers' year and that will just be topped off by having Floyd slip through their fingers like … well, a greased pig … Iowa 28, Minnesota 14. (12 noon EST, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Wayne Larrivee, Chris Martin, Marshall Harris)

Indiana at Northwestern: Now that the Hoosiers have qualified for the postseason, they don't want to take any chances of getting left behind. And since a season finale against instate rival Purdue is anything by a gimmee, you can expect Indiana to go to Evanston with a seventh victory on its mind. It won't be as easy as you might think, however. IU hasn't won as many as seven games in a season since 1993, and the Wildcats actually lead the overall series by a 41-33-1 margin. Even so, it's going to be very difficult for Northwestern's defense to slow down the combination of Kellen Lewis and James Hardy … Indiana 31, Northwestern 26. (12 noon EST, ESPN Classic – Announcers: Eric Collins, Bill Curry)

Michigan State at Purdue: Speaking of bowl eligibility, the sand is beginning to run out in Sparty's hourglass. After posting a 4-0 record, MSU has performed its annual swan dive with five losses in its last six games. That leaves the team stuck on five victories with the Boilermakers and Penn State left on the schedule. The all-time series is all even at 28-28-3, which might give Michigan State reason for optimism. But a closer look shows that Purdue has won seven of the last eight meetings, including each of the last four in West Lafayette. Sorry, Sparty … Purdue 32, Michigan State 27. (12 noon EST, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, Charissa Thompson)

Penn State at Temple: Back when the Nittany Lions were winning 10 games every year and playing for national championships, the Owls were the kind of team they feasted upon. Partly because of that reason, JoePa has always had a soft spot in his heart for Temple and kept the school on his schedule even after joining the Big Ten. Of course, his record of 32-3-1 in the all-time series could have something to do with that, too. The Owls are holding their own this year as one of the newer members of the MAC, and they've won three of their last four games. But for a team that ranks 107th nationally in total offense and 108th in scoring, don't expect any miracles … Penn State 35, Temple 10. (12 noon EST, ESPNU – Announcers: Clay Matvick, Larry Coker)

No. 13 Michigan at Wisconsin: This could have been a lot closer affair if Badgers didn't keep dropping like flies. Already without the services of starters WR Luke Swan, RB P.J. Hill and OG Andy Kemp, Wisconsin came out of its 38-17 loss to Ohio State with three more significant injuries – both defensive tackle Jason Chapman and cornerback Allen Langford will miss the remainder of the season with knee injuries, and right tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel has been listed doubtful with a foot injury. On the other side of the field, the Wolverines are getting healthy for their stretch run. QB Chad Henne is close to being 100 percent and tailback Mike Hart's ankle seems to be healing well. I think U-Dub gives it every it has on Senior Day in Camp Randall, but falls a tad short to set up another classic Ohio State-Michigan showdown next week … Michigan 27, Wisconsin 24. (12 noon EST, ESPN – Announcers: Dave Pasch, Andre Ware, Erin Andrews)

Illinois at No. 1 Ohio State: And, of course, for that showdown to happen, the Buckeyes must take care of their own business. It's also Senior Day in the Horseshoe, and it's difficult to imagine all of those streaks going by the wayside courtesy of the Illini. Stranger things have happened, and Illinois came as close as any team last year to knocking off Ohio State in the regular season. I just can't get past the fact, however, that the Illini's spread option attack scored only six points against Iowa and only 17 against Michigan. It's been a pretty familiar score the past couple of weeks, but I envision another outcome like Penn State and Wisconsin … Ohio State 38, Illinois 17. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN (reverse mirror) – Announcers: Brad Nessler, Bob Griese, Paul Maguire, Bonnie Bernstein)

AGAINST THE SPREAD

I'll pick the favorites here: Kansas (-5) at Oklahoma State; Boston College (-5½) at Maryland; Arizona State (-6½) at UCLA; USC (-3½) at Cal; Florida (-6) at South Carolina; Boise State (-24) at Utah State; Alabama (-4½) at Mississippi State; Arkansas (-1) at Tennessee: Kentucky (-3) at Vanderbilt; Indiana (-1) at Northwestern; Michigan State at Purdue (-4); Penn State (-23½) at Temple; Michigan (-2½) at Wisconsin; and Illinois at Ohio State (-15½) .

I'll take the points in all these games: Louisville (+16) at West Virginia; Louisiana Tech (+36½) at LSU; Baylor (+40) at Oklahoma; Texas A&M (+19½) at Missouri; Auburn (+1½) at Georgia; Florida State (+6½) at Virginia Tech; Fresno State (+17½) at Hawaii; Texas Tech (+6½) at Texas; Connecticut (+6½) at Cincinnati; Wake Forest (+9) at Clemson; Virginia (+4) at Miami-FL; and Minnesota (+15½) at Iowa.

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


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