Rea's Say: Conversation In A Graveyard

An annual pilgrimage before the OSU-Michigan game results in an unusual conversation. In addition, we have the regular weekly features including Random Thoughts, info about the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, news and notes from Around The Country and the Fearless Forecast.

I've never told anyone this before, but there is a little ritual I perform each year during the week before the Ohio State-Michigan game.

I get in my car and drive past a simple two-story, white house on Cardiff Road. It's only a couple of miles west of Ohio Stadium, tucked onto a little side street off Lane Avenue. After going past the house, I drive another mile north on Olentangy River Road and head into Union Cemetery.

Chic Harley was laid to rest there. So was Lynn St. John, the athletic director at Ohio State when the Horseshoe was built and the guy for whom St. John Arena is named. I usually go at dusk, right before the cemetery is closing. You may think that's a strange place to go, but amid all of the hype that goes with OSU-Michigan week, it's a good spot to get some peace. After all, it is the quietest place in Columbus.

Yesterday, I nearly didn't make the trip. It was unseasonably warm, there were lots of other things I needed to get done, and it seemed pointless to again drive past a house owned by someone I didn't know and then walk past countless graves of people I never met. But I did it anyway, wondering how I would feel come Saturday night if the Buckeyes had lost and I hadn't made my annual pilgrimage.

I drove past the Cardiff Road house before making my way to the cemetery and on to Section 12, Lot 37, Space 4. There are pine trees around a black granite marker, and as I stood beneath one of those tall trees to shield me from the drizzle, I was startled by a voice.

"Pretty big game this Saturday, huh?"

I whirled around to see a stocky man standing about 10 feet away. He wore a plain, red windbreaker – the kind men stopped wearing in the 1970s – and he had both hands shoved in the pockets. He had gray hair, wore silver, horn-rimmed glasses and scrunched his face into a grimace where his lips seemed to almost disappear.

"Uh, yeah," I stammered. "I guess so."

"You guess so?" he repeated as he stared at the gravestone. "We're still playing for the conference championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl and you guess so?" He shook his head and grunted. "What are you doing here anyway?" he grumbled.

"I don't know," I answered. "I come here every year about this time. I guess it's just my way of getting ready for the game."

"Getting ready for the game? Why do you need to get ready for the game? What do you do?"

"I'm a sportswriter."

The old man rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Goddamned writers," he said. "I can't get away from the sonuvabitches."

"What was that?" I asked.

"Nothing," he said. "Nothing. I suppose you're one of those kind who wants to dig up the past. Wants to stir up a little controversy."

"No, not really. If you really want to know the truth, I just wonder what the old man would think of all this. He helped make this thing the biggest rivalry in sports. I just sometimes wonder what he'd say."

"Oh," the man said with a sigh, "Sometimes, I just don't know. It's a newfangled game nowadays – lots of trick plays and coaches trying to outguess one another. Too much money, too. Money ruins people. I can remember when we played 'cause we loved it. Didn't give a damn about the money. You can't take it with you after all."

"Yeah, but the game itself has changed," I said. "The way they play it has changed. I just don't think the way he did things would fly today."

"Oh, you don't think I … I mean, you don't think he could adapt, huh? Well, let me tell you something. He could adapt. He was always adapting. Football is a game of adaptation. If you don't adapt, you won't stay around very long. He adapted. He adapted just fine. You betcha.

"He surrounded himself with some of the best assistant coaches in the game, and when one left, another would come along and he'd bring new wrinkles. You think he ran the same offense with Hop Cassady that he did with Bob Ferguson? Or that he did with Arch?

"All I ever hear is that three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust bull. I wish I'd … I wish he'd never said that. Sure, running the ball is the only tried and true method of controlling the tempo of the game, and it's true that three things can happen when you throw the ball and two of them are bad. But he never gets credit for recruiting guys like Corny Greene or Art Schlichter. He never gets credit for recruiting guys like Billy Anders or Doug Donley.

"All I hear is how he did nothing but run the ball. It just so happened that most of the best athletes we had in those days were suited to be running backs. If he'd had the kind of talent that's on this year's team, well …"

"You think Woody would've liked this team?" I asked.

"Let me tell you something," he said, his hollow eyes looking off into the mist. "This team is pretty good. Don't let what happened last week fool you. They're good and you can tell it. Know how I know? Because of the way they act on and off the field. There's none of that dancing crap on the field, no drawing attention to yourself. That's not football. That should be reserved for the circus. I'm telling you, some of these SOBs playing today should paint their faces, wear a big, red nose and come out of the locker room in a little goddamned car.

"But not this team. You can tell in the way they walk and the way they talk. But most of all, it's in the way they carry out their business. And that's what it is – a business. All these bleeding hearts who want to call it a game can go to hell. It's all business out there, and if you don't take care of your business, the other guy sure as hell will. This team has a lot of talent and a lot of guys that I would have loved to coach."

"You?"

"I mean Coach Hayes, of course. Gholston, for instance. He's a tough sonuvabitch that keeps coming and keeps coming. Reminds me a lot of Stillwagon. And that Laurinaitis kid. Wow, has he come a long way fast. I don't want to compare him to Gradishar because Grad was the best I ever saw. But if he continues working hard, he can get close. Damned close.

"Then there's Robiskie, Hartline and Small? Speed out of three receivers. What a luxury to have. And Todd Boeckman. He's OK in my book because he's my kind of quarterback. Does exactly what is asked of him – another coach on the field, really. And that Wells. It just puts a smile on my face every time he puts that stiff-arm out there. Hope he's healthy and ready to go on Saturday.

"And then, of course, you have to have someone in charge and I admire Jimmy Tressel so much. He does things the right way. And he's another guy who doesn't draw much attention to himself. He seems to have his head on straight."

"What about last week? Tough to try to turn it around in just one week."

"Tough?" the man said. "Son, if you think it's tough to get yourself ready to play in the greatest rivalry in the history of college football, you might as well go play tiddly-winks. This game is for men. It's not a cocktail party. The faint of heart need not apply."

I cocked my head to one side. "You know a lot about football," I said. "How do think the old man would game-plan for Saturday?"

"He'd stay with the basics," the man immediately replied. "He'd study film until he knew the other team's tendencies like he knew his own – things like how they like to use the tight end, which direction their running backs like to run and which arm they carry the ball in. He'd know where to bring the pressure because he'd know whether their quarterback likes to go to his left or right when he's flushed out of the pocket. He'd know exactly which of their defensive linemen was the weakest link and that's the gap where he'd send Wells."

"Michigan has been getting better on defense these past couple of weeks," I interrupted. "I think they're still in the top 30 in the country in total defense."

"Sportswriters," he said disgustedly as he shook his head. "I'll let you in on a little secret: You can get your yards against anyone. Anyone. You just have to know where to attack 'em. And once you find their soft spot, you exploit the hell out of it. And keep exploiting the hell out of it until you destroy the other team's will to win. After that, it's easy. I think that's the way it will happen Saturday. We'll start running the ball, then we'll throw for a couple of touchdowns, and that other team will never know what hit 'em. "

Far off in the distance, I heard a church bell chime the hour.

"Well," the man sighed. "I suppose I should be getting back."

As he turned to leave, I noticed for the first time that he was wearing a black baseball cap. As he walked away, I called out, "Hey, Mister. I didn't catch your name."

He stopped and turned. "Wayne," he said. "My name is Wayne. But everyone just calls me Coach."

In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote this column last year. But I got such a positive response that I decided to update it and post it again for those of you who didn't get a chance to read it last year.

SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS

• Some of the posts this week on our message boards have been truly amusing. Others have been borderline mental. I guess I don't understand why it is so difficult to come to grips with the fact that Ohio State made too mistakes to beat a legitimate opponent. And if you don't think Illinois is legitimate, you simply haven't been paying attention.

• When my wife offered me some orange juice on Sunday morning, it suddenly hit me. Orange. Florida. Illinois. Juice. I politely took the glass, and when she wasn't looking, poured the contents down the sink.

• The most well-reasoned take I saw over the weekend was this one on the Dispatch website: "I take Buckeye losses pretty hard, but of course after the beer wears off and I start to think about it I have to come to my senses and remember two things: 1. You can't win them all, even the best teams lose sometimes. 2. If the biggest misfortune I had all weekend was my team losing a football game, then I'm really doing all right in life, I'm a pretty lucky guy and I need to quit being such a baby. BEAT MICHIGAN!

• It's not probable, but Ohio State could still go to the BCS National Championship Game. How here that works. First and foremost, the Buckeyes must beat Michigan on Saturday. Then they have to wait around and hope – hope that LSU loses to Georgia in the SEC title game, hope that Cincinnati stops West Virginia, and hope that Oklahoma stumbles against Texas Tech or Oklahoma State and then beats Kansas or Missouri in the Big 12 championship game. If all of that happens, the Buckeyes head to New Orleans to take on Oregon – that is if the Ducks can win their last three games. It's not probable, but in this wackiest of college football seasons, nothing seems impossible.

• My Heisman ballot this week: Dennis Dixon of Oregon, Todd Reesling of Kansas and Chase Daniel of Missouri. Coming up quick: Tim Tebow of Florida.

• My choice for national coach of the year? You have to give a lot of credit to Mark Mangino of Kansas, who hung in there through some lean years with the Jayhawks when a lot of people said he made a mistake for leaving Bob Stoops' staff at Oklahoma. But if there is a sentimental favorite, it would have to be Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State. The first black coach in the SEC, Croom has rebuilt the program at Starkville and has the Bulldogs bowl-eligible for the first time since 2000.

• Stewart Mandel of SI.com currently projects Ohio State to beat Michigan and then to play Arizona State in the Rose Bowl. He has the Wolverines falling all the way to the Champs Sports Bowl to play Boston College. Meanwhile the folks over at CBSSportsline.com have the Buckeyes playing USC in the Rose Bowl and U-M playing Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.

• The Big Ten has 10 bowl-eligible teams, but no one believes all of them are going to get invitations. Mandel projects Michigan State and Northwestern on the outside looking in while CBS says it will be Indiana and Northwestern getting left at home. I realize that even though there are seemingly hundreds of bowls, there may not be enough spots to accommodate every bowl-eligible team in the Big Ten. But no way do the Hoosiers get left out. With the way they have regrouped in the wake of Terry Hoeppner's death, plus the fact they haven't been to the postseason since 1993, Indiana is one of the most compelling stories in college football this year.

• In case you missed it, for the second year in a row OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis is up for the Walter Camp Award, an honor second only to the Heisman as the top college player of the year. Joining Laurinaitis on the Camp watch list are Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, Penn State linebacker Dan Connor, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon, LSU defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey, Tulane running back Matt Forté, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, Rutgers running back Ray Rice, Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, South Florida defensive lineman George Selvie, Central Florida running back Kevin Smith, Kansas defensive back Aqib Talib, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and West Virginia quarterback Pat White. The winner will be announced Dec. 6.

• I wonder what University of Miami apologist and alum Dan Le Batard thought of his alma mater taking the 48-0 gaspipe against Virginia in their last-ever game at the Orange Bowl?

• If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?

OSU-MICHIGAN TIDBITS

• Ohio State and Michigan will buckle it up Saturday for the 104th renewal of what is known around these parts simply as The Game. The Wolverines lead the overall series by a 57-40-6 margin, including 30-18-4 in Ann Arbor. But the Buckeyes have won two of the last three at Michigan Stadium, and the overall series is dead even at 28-28-3 since 1948.

• Michigan's record in Ann Arbor against OSU is a bit misleading since 11 of the games were played at Ferry Field before Michigan Stadium opened in 1927. The Wolverines' advantage over the Buckeyes in the so-called Big House is only 22-16-3.

• With a 5-1 record, Jim Tressel is trying to become the first Ohio State head coach ever to beat the Wolverines six out of his first seven tries. That would also mark the first 6-for-7 showing in the series for the Buckeyes since 1957-63. Meanwhile, after beginning his career with five wins in his first six tries against OSU, Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr's record in the series is now even at 6-6.

• If the suppositions are true and Saturday represents Carr's final regular-season game with the Wolverines, the odds of a Michigan win are not in his favor. Three of the four men who preceded him as U-M head coach lost their finale to Ohio State – Bennie Oosterbaan in 1958, Bump Elliott in 1968 and Gary Moeller in 1994. Only Bo Schembechler won his final game against the Buckeyes, a 28-18 triumph at home in 1989.

• Ohio State has won two of its last three games in Ann Arbor. If they win on Saturday, it will mark the first time the Buckeyes have taken three out of four in Michigan Stadium since a stretch between 1975 and '81.

• Michigan Stadium hosted the largest crowd ever to watch an NCAA football game when 112,118 squeezed in to watch the 2003 version of The Game. The stadium's official capacity is 107,501. It is the largest football stadium in the U.S. and the fifth largest stadium in the world, surpassed only by soccer stadiums in North Korea, India and Mexico and a cricket stadium in India.

• Lost amid the talk about losing out on a shot at the national championship is the fact that a victory Saturday would give Ohio State back-to-back outright Big Ten titles for the first time in more than 50 years. The Buckeyes last won back-to-back crowns in 1954 and '55. As disappointing as its season has been, Michigan could still capture the outright championship and the Wolverines haven't done that since 2003.

• The two teams have won 33 outright Big Ten championships between them – 16 for Michigan and 15 for Ohio State. Minnesota is next with six and the Gophers last won the title by themselves in 1941.

• The number 43 has special significance in this year's game. The 2007 game represents the 43rd time in the series that Ohio State and Michigan have played to decide the Big Ten championship. And if they win, the Wolverines would capture their record 43rd conference title.

• During a 13-year span from 1979 to 1992, the record for the team entering this game with the higher ranking was 9-3-1. In the 14 years since, the higher-ranked team has managed only a 6-8 mark.

• Now in his seventh year with the Buckeyes, Tressel has a 28-8 record (.778) against all ranked teams. Carr is completing his 13th season in Ann Arbor and his record against top 25 teams is 40-23 (635). Break it down even further to games in November and you have Tressel at 19-4 (.826) and Carr at 29-13 (.690).

• When it comes to playing top 10 opponents, Tressel is 8-3 (.727) in his OSU career while Carr is 17-8 (.680). The U-M coach does, however, reserve his best efforts for the home crowd. Carr is 9-1 in his career at home against top-10 opposition. The only blemish was the 25-21 loss two years ago to Ohio State.

• Todd Boeckman will be trying to accomplish something Saturday that has been done in 20 years. A first-year starting quarterback hasn't led an Ohio State team to victory in Michigan Stadium since Tom Tupa did it in 1987. Even then, Tupa got some help from freshman Greg Frey, who relieved him during a crucial third-quarter series. Before '87, you have to go all the way to Don Unverferth in 1963 to find a quarterback who went to Ann Arbor and won as a first-year starter for the Buckeyes.

• Despite giving up 17 or more points in each of its last four games, Ohio State is still No. 1 nationally in scoring defense. Here is how the teams stack up against one another in a variety of the national statistical categories:
Rushing offense – Ohio State 24th (198.7); Michigan 35th (179.8)
Passing offense – Michigan 65th (219.4); Ohio State 74th (209.1)
Total offense – Ohio State 46th (407.8); Michigan 53rd (399.2)
Scoring offense – Ohio State 30th (33.6); Michigan 53rd (28.2)
Rushing defense – Ohio State T-4th (82.7); Michigan 54th (143.6)
Pass defense – Ohio State 2nd (154.7); Michigan 20th (191.5)
Total defense – Ohio State 2nd (237.5); Michigan 29th (335.1)
Scoring defense – Ohio State 1st (11.4); Michigan 27th (20.8)
Net punting – Ohio State 14th (38.0); Michigan 56th (35.4)
Turnover margin – Michigan 38th (+5); Ohio State T-58th (+0)
Punt returns – Ohio State 52nd (9.2); Michigan 73rd (8.2)
Kickoff returns – Michigan 109th (18.4); Ohio State 119th (16.8)

• Just in case you thought they might have been forgotten, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler will be at Saturday's game. A commemorative coin featuring Woody on one side and Bo on the other will be used in the pregame coin flip.

• If you haven't watched the HBO special called "Michigan vs. Ohio State: The Rivalry," you owe it yourself to check it out. It is running several times on the various Home Box Office channels between now and Saturday, and it is also available to watch anytime (or repeatedly) on HBO on Demand.

• ESPN College GameDay will be at the game with Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit. That Howard guy who won some big award for Michigan several years ago will also put in an appearance. That telecast begins at 10 a.m. Eastern.

• ABC will telecast the game to a nationwide audience with its prime-time announce crew of Brent Musberger (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (color analysis) and Lisa Salters (sideline reports). Game time is set for 12 noon Eastern, which means the kickoff will be around 12:07 p.m.

• Many assume that it was Musberger who gave Michigan Stadium its nickname of "The Big House." In reality, it was longtime announced Keith Jackson who first coined the phrase in the early 1990s.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

• Only two teams remain undefeated at the Division I-A level. In the old days, you could have been headed for a national championship game between Kansas and Hawaii.

• The Jayhawks and Warriors also boast the nation's longest current winning streaks at 10. Boise State is next at eight, and then you have to go down to BYU and Utah, each of which has won six in a row. Did someone mention the word parity?

• Larry Csonka had his jersey number 39 retired by Syracuse last Saturday at halftime of the Orange's game against South Florida. Most people remember Csonka as the bruising fullback of the Miami Dolphins, but before that he was one of the top college running backs in the country in the mid-1960s. He broke the career rushing records of such Syracuse standouts as Ernie Davis, Jim Nance, Floyd Little and Jim Brown, and achieved a rare hat trick in 1967 when he was named MVP of the East-West Shrine Game, the Hula Bowl and the College All-Star Game. Csonka was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. One other thing you may not know about Csonka – he is a native Ohioan, born on Christmas Day 1946 in Stow.

• Wyoming head coach Joe Glenn has had better weeks. First, he guaranteed that his Cowboys would beat Utah, then watched as his team lost a 50-0 decision. Late in the game with the Utes leading 43-0, they lined up for and executed an onside kick. That was when frustration got the better of Glenn, who gave opposing coach Kyle Whittingham a one-finger salute. The gesture got Glenn in hot water with the Mountain West Conference officials, and he was forced to make a formal apology.

• Baylor appears ready to make a head coaching change. The word out of Waco is that Guy Morriss is out and the favorite to replace him is former Chicago Bears all-pro linebacker Mike Singletary. One small problem: Singletary doesn't have any head coaching experience at any level. But he is a former Baylor standout and perhaps that's enough. Singletary can walk in the footsteps of such other luminaries who have piloted the Bears since the legendary Grant Teaff left in 1992 – guys like Morriss, Kevin Steele, Dave Roberts, Chuck Reedy.

• A pair Division III teams from upstate New York combined for 142 points in four overtimes Saturday and set the NCAA all-division record for most points. Hartwick College beat Utica College by a 72-70 score in a game that featured 20 touchdowns, 1,042 yards of total offense and 52 first downs. The most remarkable thing about the offensive outburst? Utica entered the game averaging only 14.0 points against its previous 10 opponents.

• Yesterday marked the 37th anniversary of one of the saddest days in college football history. On Nov. 14, 1970, a charter jet carrying Marshall University's football team crashed near Huntington, W.Va., on a return trip from a game with East Carolina. Everyone on board, including head coach Rick Tolley, team members, coaching staff and several Thundering Herd boosters, died in the single worst air tragedy in college sports history.

• Today is the 117th anniversary of the longest rivalry in Division I-A history and it just so happens that the teams are Big Ten conference members. On Nov. 14, 1890, Wisconsin and Minnesota met for the first time with the Golden Gophers rolling to a 63-0 victory. The teams have played every year since with the exception of 1906 when the game was canceled by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who had decided upon a one-year cooling off period for heated football rivalries because of serious injuries and deaths on the field. Despite losing 10 of its last 12 games to the Badgers, Minnesota still leads the overall series by a 59-49-8 margin.

• Also happening this week in college football history: On Nov. 13, 1982, Southern Mississippi upset Alabama by a 38-29 score in Tuscaloosa, ending the Crimson Tide's 57-game home winning streak and dealing Bama its first home loss in 19 years; on Nov. 16, 1957, Notre Dame stopped Oklahoma's NCAA-record winning streak at 47 games with a 7-0 victory over the Sooners in Norman; on Nov. 16, 1991, BYU and San Diego State combined to score 104 points, but finished deadlocked at 52-52, the highest-scoring tie in NCAA history; and finally, just in case you wondered why Kansas City University doesn't play football any more, it might have something to do with the 1923 season. On Nov. 17 of that year, KCU lost 131-0 to St. Mary's (Kan.), capping a winless 0-6 season in which Kansas City was outscored 623-0.

• Quote of the week: Maybe Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster has been watching too many horror films. After his team lost a 21-16 decision at Iowa to drop its record to 1-10 for the season, Brewster said, "I asked them in the locker room after the game, ‘Who feels like they've been stuck in the gut with a searing knife?'"

• Quote of the week II: Ohio State defensive back Jamario O'Neal when asked about his team's lost chance at getting back to the national championship game: "If we have to go to the Rose Bowl, that's what it is." Have to go to the Rose Bowl? That was the holy grail in the Big Ten for 60 years before this convoluted BCS system came along.

FEARLESS FORECAST

I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that the crystal ball has developed some serious flaws. And like teams at Minnesota, Florida International and Notre Dame, I'm just trying to get to the barn without sustaining any major injuries.

After a couple of weeks that gave us hope, the wheels fell off again with a 16-10 week picking them straight up and a 12-14 ledger against the spread. In case any of you still care, our records are 210-69 SU and 115-130-5 ATS.

Picking them out of a hat would seem a last resort, but here goes nothing.

TONIGHT'S GAME

No. 2 Oregon at Arizona: The Ducks are coming off a pretty productive off week. They managed to move up to the No. 2 position in the BCS standings, and QB Dennis Dixon had a week to rest some minor injuries. And they get to play the Wildcats, and they've beaten them five times in a row in Tucson. Maybe the only thing Oregon has to fear is getting rusty. Because of a scheduling quirk, this is their only game in a 21-week span. Zona has a couple of things going for it, including QB Willie Tuitama (3,145 yards, 24 TDs), who is the best quarterback you've never heard of. The other thing is the fact that the Wildcats handed the Ducks a 37-10 thumping last year. Thursday night has seen some upsets already, but I just can't bring myself to pull the trigger … Oregon 35, Arizona 23. (9 p.m. EST, ESPN)

FRIDAY'S GAME

No. 13 Hawaii at Nevada: Neither of these teams makes any bones about it – they like to play offense and defense is merely an afterthought. Warriors QB Colt Brennan became the NCAA's new career touchdown pass king in last week's win over Fresno State, but he suffered a mild concussion (is there really any such thing?) and is questionable for this contest. Hawaii can turn to backup Tyler Graunke, who has already filled in a couple of times for Brennan. But there is no question head coach June Jones would rather have his star available against the Wolf Pack, especially since Brennan has completed 65 of 90 passes for 828 yards and seven TDs in his previous two games against Nevada. If you watch this game, you will also get to see Nevada redshirt freshman QB Colin Kaepernick, who has led the Pack to three straight wins. It's on the mainland, so that makes a difference. But if Brennan plays, the Warriors should be OK … Hawaii 43, Nevada 30. (11:05 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

TOP TEN

No. 1 LSU at Mississippi: Everyone has contended all season that the Tigers are No. 1, and I can only assume that everyone is happy now. With Ohio State's loss to Illini, LSU rose back to the top of the polls and now hopes to stay there a little longer. This week shouldn't too difficult to handle despite a road trip to Oxford. Ole Miss can't stop anyone (96th nationally in total defense) and they have trouble scoring points (103rd in scoring offense). Those are two lethal combinations against a team that ranks in the nation's top 11 in both that categories. Look for the Bayou Bengals to score early and often, and then if he's smart, Les Miles to get his starters out of there and start preparations for next Friday's game against Arkansas … LSU 44, Mississippi 7.(3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

No. 3 Oklahoma at Texas Tech: If the Sooners are going to meet their Waterloo before the Big 12 championship game, Lubbock could be it. Jones Stadium is a scary place to play at night with that masked Red Raider standing on the roof. And Double-T head coach Mike Leach is already so mad he can't see straight – Leach got hit in the wallet for 10 large after criticizing officials following last week's 59-43 loss to Texas. Tech is only 3-11 against the Sooners all-time, and has lost six of the last seven in the series. The Raiders did, however, manage a 23-21 upset two years ago when OU came to Jones. It should be an entertaining battle, featuring a dueling quarterbacks Graham Harrell of Tech and Sam Bradford of Oklahoma. They have combined for 7,387 yards and 71 TDs this season (and no that's not a misprint) … Oklahoma 35, Texas Tech 30. (8 p.m. EST, ABC)

Iowa State at No. 4 Kansas: As they have remained undefeated, the Jayhawks have been on a tremendous offensive roll. They have topped the 50-point mark in half of their 10 games, including 58 against Baylor, 62 against Southeastern Louisiana and 76 two weeks ago against Nebraska. How do you think that makes ISU head coach Gene Chizik feel when he knows his Cyclones have surrendered 35 or more in half of their 10 games? If Kansas is serious about playing in the BCS title game, it cannot afford to go to sleep in this one. It would only be human if the Jayhawks did, though, with Missouri looming next week and a possible berth in the Big 12 championship game after that. But it is Senior Day in Lawrence, and Kansas has been able to retain its focus all season on the task at hand … Kansas 48, Iowa State 10. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 5 West Virginia at No. 21 Cincinnati: Isn't it funny how the Mountaineers never get mentioned in the BCS title game talk? They have lost only once this season, survived stretches when both star QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were less than 100 percent and have won four games in a row by an average of better than 25 points. But here's the reason why no one wants to put the Mountain Men and New Orleans in the same sentence – West Virginia has to run a gantlet these next two weeks against Big East brethren Cincinnati and Connecticut, teams with a combined 16-4 record. First up are the Bearcats, who have been downright nasty on defense this season. They have won close games against Rutgers and South Florida, and they shut down U-Conn last week to the tune of 27-3. In addition to West Virginia's potent offensive attack going against UC's stingy defense, this game also features two of the most opportunistic teams in college football. They are a combined plus-27 in turnover ratio, and Cincinnati leads the nation with 22 interceptions. It will be a game of mistakes, and I think the Mountaineers make more of them. Here is your Upset Special … Cincinnati 28, West Virginia 27. (7:45 p.m. EST, ESPN)

No. 6 Missouri at Kansas State: Speaking of the Tigers, they also cannot afford to look a head as they head to Manhattan. To say K-State is a little beat up would be kind. The Wildcats surrendered 73 points last week to that same Nebraska team that everyone else in the Big 12 had been kicking around. Don't be fooled by that game, however. Kansas State can rise up on any given week. The Wildcats took a 41-21 bite out of Texas in late September and put a 47-20 whipping on the same Colorado team that upset Oklahoma early this season. And they have won eight straight at home in this series. But clearly, something has happened to Ron Prince's team. One week before last week's collapse against NU, it provided Iowa State with one of its two wins this year. Look for another good game by Mizzou QB Chase Daniel (3,306 yards, 26 TDs) to set up next week's Big 12 North showdown with Kansas … Missouri 35, Kansas State 24. (12:30 p.m. EST, FSN)

No. 22 Kentucky at No. 8 Georgia: The Bulldogs have undergone a radical change in recent weeks, going from a conservative team to one that now features a go-for-broke mentality. It all began three weeks ago in the wake of a blowout loss to Tennessee following by a narrow win over Vanderbilt. Since then, UGA has averaged nearly 44 points per game – and two of those wins came over Florida and Auburn. That kind of production is going to tax an already-suspect Kentucky defense that has given up an average of better than 34 over its last five games. QB André Woodson (2,653 yards, 29 TDs) remains one of the top players in America at his position, but he can't do it alone … Georgia 41, Kentucky 28. (12:30 p.m. EST, Lincoln Financial Sports/ESPN GamePlan)

REST OF THE BEST

Miami (Fla.) at No. 10 Virginia Tech: If the Hurricanes can't sack up enough to prevent losing by 48 points in their last-ever game in the Orange Bowl, how in the world do they expect to make a game of it in Blacksburg? After starting the season 4-1, Miami has lost four of its last five – including three to unranked teams – and is in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time in a decade. The Hurricanes don't have any continuity on offense, and that plays right into the hands of the Hokies who rank eighth nationally in total defense (297.0 yards per game) and third in scoring defense (15.0 points) behind Ohio State and Kansas. What's more, Tech gets linebacker Vince Hall (61 tackles) back after he missed the last four games with a broken hand … Virginia Tech 35, Miami 14. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

Florida Atlantic at No. 14 Florida: This could be the game where Heisman voters are swayed to pick Florida QB Tim Tebow as the first sophomore to win the award. In addition to 2,532 yards and 23 TDs through the air, the 6-3, 235-pounder also has rushed for 718 yards and 19 scores. It is difficult to believe the Owls have anything on defense to counteract that kind of weapon. They surrender an average 409 yards per game and rank as the nation's No. 94 defense in scoring (32.3 ppg). Florida Atlantic does have a representative offense led by sophomore quarterback Rusty Smith (2,441, 20 TDs). But Smith has a propensity to throw interceptions – four in the last two games – and the Owls aren't exactly keen about playing another SEC team. They've already lost this year to Kentucky by a 45-17 count … Florida 44, Florida Atlantic 17. (12 noon EST, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 18 Boston College at No. 15 Clemson: I confess that I can't figure out the Eagles. They fly all the way to the No. 2 spot in the polls only to lose in consecutive weeks to Florida State and Maryland, teams that have a combined record of 11-9. Of course, it's hard to get a read on the Tigers. Little Brother Bowden's Bunch has put together two different four-game win streaks this season, and is averaging 47.8 points per game over the last month. Their average margin of victory in their eight wins is nearly four touchdowns. But you just never know which team is going to show up on any given Saturday. That's why it's worth mentioning that these teams have played to a 7-7-2 deadlock in the all-time series, but that Clemson hasn't won since 1958. Take the Tigers at your own risk … Clemson 29, Boston College 24. (7:45 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

Idaho at No. 17 Boise State: They sure seem to have fun in Boise. They play on the blue field known as the Smurf Turf, they run a wide-open offense called "Pete's Poison" after head coach Chris Peterson, and they love to elbow their way into the Bowl Championship Series despite playing in the WAC. This week, the Broncos would appear to have more frivolity in store when they host the 1-9 Vandals, who rank 95th nationally in pass offense, 92nd in total offense and 92nd in scoring offense. While you ponder how Idaho could possibly keep up with the Boise State scoring machine, understand that the Vandals aren't very good on defense, either. They rank 106th out of 119 Division I-A schools in scoring defense. One team's fun equals another team's misery … Boise State 52, Idaho 17. (3 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

Vanderbilt at No. 19 Tennessee: The Commodores are in a familiar spot. For the past couple of years, they have won a couple of games early only to falter down the stretch. The same problem has befallen them this season as they head into their final two games, probably needing to win them both to end a 25-year postseason drought. The unfortunate thing for Vandy is that the first test is on the road in Knoxville. The task is not impossible. After all, the Commodores won the last time they scaled Rocky Top, taking home a 28-24 victory two years ago. But that was a one-game aberration. Tennessee has won 23 of the last 24 in the overall series, and with a berth in the SEC championship game still possible, you have to believe the Fighting Fulmers will keep their recent success going … Tennessee 28, Vanderbilt 24. (2 p.m. EST, ESPN GamePlan)

Syracuse at No. 25 Connecticut: Ohio State wasn't the only team that picked last weekend to have its worst performance of the season. The Huskies suffered the same fate and it cost them just as dearly, losing 27-3 at Cincinnati and putting their march to the Big East championship in serious jeopardy. U-Conn still leads the conference race by a half-game, but it has no margin for error with a showdown looming next week at West Virginia. First, however, the Huskies must finish up their home schedule against the Orange, who are scraping the bottom of the Big East once again. All you really need to know about this one is the fact that the Huskies are No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense (15.0 ppg) and Syracuse is 117th in scoring offense (15.9). College Football 101 teaches us that if you can't score, you can't win … Connecticut 35, Syracuse 14. (12 noon EST, ESPN2)

BIG TEN

Western Michigan at Iowa: Just three weeks ago, the buzzards were circling in Iowa City as the Hawkeyes were 3-5. Then Michigan State gift-wrapped an overtime game and gave it to Iowa as an early Christmas present, touching off a winning streak that now has Kirk Ferentz's team bowl-eligible. The Hawkeyes have completed their Big Ten schedule and wind up the season with the Broncos, who are headed in the opposite direction. WMU has lost three games in a row and has struggled on defense all season, beginning with allowing 62 to West Virginia in the season opener. That's not all that bad because the Mountaineers have such a good offense. But the Broncos gave up 39 points to Akron earlier this season, and the Zips rank 94th nationally in scoring … Iowa 31, Western Michigan 10. (3:30 p.m. EST, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Mark Neely, Glen Mason, Marshall Harris)

Purdue at Indiana: Rumors emanating from West Lafayette are that Joe Tiller is ready to trade in his headset for a fishing pole and ride off into the sunset. I'm not sure I buy those rumors because Tiller is just three wins shy of becoming Purdue's all-time winningest coach. However, his team has played the last couple of weeks like it's getting ready to go fishing. A seven-point loss at Penn State wasn't so bad, but losing by 17 last week in their final home game of the season to a porous Michigan State defense was ugly. IU would like nothing more than to win another game and become a slam-dunk bowl selection, but the Hoosiers haven't had a lot of success winning the Old Oaken Bucket. The Boilermakers hold a 68-35-6 lead in the series, and have won nine of the last 10 meetings. I think they hold serve again … Purdue 30, Indiana 28. (3:30 p.m. EST, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, Charissa Thompson)

No. 24 Wisconsin at Minnesota: It's Senior Day in the Metrodome and I'm wondering how many hardy souls are going to show up. It's not that the senior Gophers don't deserve their day in the sun – or fluorescent lights in this case. But Minnesota fans are not exactly embracing the Tim Brewster Era, especially since the Gophers are headed for their first winless conference record since a 0-6-2 slate in 1988. The Badgers roll into Minneapolis fresh off a 37-21 win over Michigan that wasn't quite the blowout the final score might have indicated. Still, the Badgers will get tailback P.J. Hill (1,080 yards, 14 TDs) back this week and that's not good news for the Gophers, who seek to avoid their first 11-loss season in history … Wisconsin 35, Minnesota 21. (3:30 p.m. EST, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Wayne Larrivee, Chris Martin, Dara McIntosh)

No. 23 Penn State at Michigan State: Will the real Spartans please stand up? Are you the guys who cleaned Purdue's clock last week or are you the guys who allowed Northwestern to score 48 points in early October? A quick look at MSU's schedule finds five losses, but none of those defeats were by more than seven points. Unfortunately, as a direct opposite to the way head coach Mark Dantonio would like it to be, Sparty has to rely on outscoring the opposition because of a leaky defense. I'm not sure that's a good strategy against the Nittany Lions, who rank second in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation in scoring defense. The all-time series is very close with Penn State holding a scant 12-11-1 lead. But eight of the Spartans' wins came before 1967, and since the series resumed in 1993, the Lions have won 11 of 14 and six of the last seven … Penn State 27, Michigan State 20. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC/ESPN (reverse mirror) – Announcers: Terry Gannon, David Norrie, Jeannine Edwards)

Northwestern at No. 20 Illinois: The Fighting Illini make their triumphant return to Champaign-Urbana, fresh off one of their biggest upsets in program history. Now, Ron Zook's team wants to finish off a resurgent season with a victory over instate rival Northwestern, a task that hasn't been so easy over the years. The two teams have played 100 times before with Illinois holding a 51-44-5 edge in the series. But the Wildcats took a 27-16 victory last year and padded their recent success over the Illini to four consecutive wins. It would be the easiest thing in the word for Illinois to experience a letdown, but with Zook's intensity now off the charts after last week's win at Ohio State, I can't see that happening … Illinois 31, Northwestern 26. (12 noon EST, ESPN – Announcers: Dave Pasch, Andre Ware, Erin Andrews)

No. 7 Ohio State at No. 23 Michigan: You can analyze this game a hundred different ways and come up with a hundred different outcomes. The fact of the matter is that these games are very seldom decided on the 100 yards between the respective goal lines. They are decided by the six inches between each player's ears. If you go out and play your game, chances are your team will be victorious. It has been the lesson learned throughout the series, a lesson Troy Smith taught us again over the past three years. However, if either team puckers up and plays not to lose, chances are they will make a mistake – either physical or mental or both. On paper, there is no question that Ohio State has the better team. Yes, Michigan has an excellent roster and some bona fide weapons on offense. I'm simply stating that if both teams play solid, mistake-free football, the Buckeyes will come out on top. In a series of this magnitude, and especially with the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth on the line, the chances of mistake-free football by either team are remote. Still, I just can't help but think that for once, an Ohio State team that is supposed to go to Ann Arbor and win will do exactly that … Ohio State 27, Michigan 20. (12 noon EDT, ABC – Announcers: Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit, Lisa Salters)

AGAINST THE SPREAD

I'll pick the favorites here: Oregon (-11½) at Arizona; Hawaii (-7) at Nevada; LSU (-18½) at Mississippi; Iowa State at Kansas (-26); Missouri (-7) at Kansas State; Kentucky at Georgia (-7½); Miami-FL at Virginia Tech (-16½); Idaho at Boise State (-34); Syracuse at Connecticut (-18); Western Michigan at Iowa (-13); Purdue (-1½) at Indiana; Wisconsin (-13½) at Minnesota; Penn State (-2½) at Michigan State; and Ohio State (-3½) at Michigan.

I'll take the points here: Oklahoma at Texas Tech (+8½); West Virginia at Cincinnati (+6½); Florida Atlantic (+34½) at Florida; Boston College (+8) at Clemson; Vanderbilt (+13) at Tennessee; and Northwestern (+13½) at Illinois.

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


Buckeye Sports Top Stories