(Todd Boeckman) is most definitely staring his destiny squarely in the eye. If he cannot produce Saturday night against USC, he must know that Tressel may try to jump-start the offense with freshman Terrelle Pryor.
If that happens, the writing is on the wall for Boeckman no matter how Pryor performs. If he can't get anything going, it probably spells defeat for the Buckeyes. If the freshman succeeds, it could mean the beginning of the end of the Boeckman era. And if you don't think they replace senior co-captains as the starting quarterback at Ohio State, ask Greg Hare. He started for the Buckeyes in 1972 and was voted team captain in 1973 only to cede his position to sophomore Cornelius Greene.
The bottom line is this: Is Boeckman the next Craig Krenzel or the next Greg Hare? Most people think they already know the answer. We'll see on Saturday night.
I'm not trying toot my own horn as much as I'm trying to make a point. In his seven-plus seasons as head coach at Ohio State, Jim Tressel has made no secret of his affinity for upperclassmen, especially seniors who have paid their dues. He has stuck with several of them over the years when it seemed the more prudent thing to do – at least in terms of winning ballgames – was to replace those seniors with a more talented underclassman.
Now comes the all-too-clear indication that Tressel is not only thinking about supplanting Boeckman as his starting quarterback, he is sharing those thoughts with the media.
Earlier this week, when asked about the starting quarterback situation, the coach first reverted to his tried-and-true mumbo jumbo known in most circles as Tresselspeak: "The nice thing about football," he said, "is you probably need to think that the only thing that's important is what I need to do better. But the reality is what we all need to do better is going to make the difference and all of that will help Todd, all of that will help Ohio State, all of that will help our defense and on and on."
Later, he stripped away a little of the varnish.
"If we had a game last (Monday) night with what we were planning to do," Tressel said, "we envisioned that it would be 50/50 (playing time between Boeckman and Pryor). But it will be affected by what we do in practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and obviously what occurs during the course of the game."
Then Tressel became even more to the point, praising Pryor's play last weekend against USC and underlining Boeckman's mistakes.
"Terrelle has progressed with the lack of snaps in practice and the game more than you think he would," the OSU head coach said. "I've seen a freshman get thrown into the fire and grow every practice and grow every game because he got so much experience. (But) I've seen (Terrelle) grow with a little bit less experience, which means he's done a good job of learning by observing, which is the hardest thing for a player to do. … That's been impressive to me about Terrelle – he's had limited snaps yet considerable improvement."
As for his senior co-captain, Tressel mentioned the sack that caused Boeckman's fumble in the third quarter. While some offered the opinion that left tackle Alex Boone missed a block or tailback Dan Herron blew a blitz read, Tressel confirmed the mistake was made by Boeckman.
"It was the quarterback's hot read, and unfortunately the play before they had brought a similar look, but they peeled off on the back," Tressel explained. "Todd incorrectly assumed that they were coming with the same one, and so as he peeked at his hot read, he thought, ‘Oh, he's going to peel off on the back again,' and he thought, ‘OK, I'm safe back there.' He took his eyes off of it, and he erred."
Finally, we got as close to public criticism of a player that we have ever gotten from Tressel. When asked if he was surprised at how the quarterback situation between Boeckman and Pryor has evolved so quickly, he replied, "I don't think at the outset I thought, ‘OK, now this might happen because what you practice and what you talk about and so forth is not having interceptions and is not missing a read, a hot throw or whatever."
There is no doubt that Tressel is still in firm control of the Ohio State football program. Those who opined in the aftermath of the USC loss that he would be forced to make changes in his approach or coaching staff were either talking out of their hats or guilty of wishful thinking. While losses in the last two national championship games and the big nonconference battle at USC are troublesome for the national perception of OSU football, the fact remains that Tressel's team remains positioned for a fourth straight Big Ten championship and a seventh victory in eight years over archrival Michigan.
While it is the order of the day to level criticism at the program, it is doubtful that many in the Buckeye Nation ever want the day to come when winning the Big Ten title and beating Michigan every year isn't good enough.
But make no mistake here: We may be seeing a significant change in the Jim Tressel we think we've come to know. He has had talented freshmen on his roster before and been reluctant to use them in place of more veteran players. That philosophy may have gone out the window at USC.
As interesting as watching a potential national championship season unfold would have been, it may be even more intriguing to watch the transformation of a veteran head coach who appears ready to get the future of the Ohio State football program started immediately.
OHIO STATE-TROY TIDBITS
• During the Tressel era at Ohio State, the Buckeyes are 14-2 in games following a loss. Ten of those games were in Ohio Stadium, where the team is 9-1 in games following a loss. Only once under Tressel has OSU recorded back-to-back losses – a three-game losing streak to Northwestern, Iowa and Wisconsin in October 2004.
• This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools, each of which is defending champion in their respective conference. Ohio State is working on a streak of three consecutive Big Ten titles while Troy has won back-to-back championships in the Sun Belt conference.
• This will also mark the first meeting between Tressel and Troy head coach Larry Blakeney despite the fact they piloted two of the most successful Division I-AA programs throughout the 1990s. Youngstown State and Troy (which was then referred to as Troy State) qualified for the I-AA playoffs four times in the same season between 1993 and 2000 but never played one another.
• Blakeney is far and away the winningest coach in school history with 138 victories. Second on the list is Billy Atkins, who was 44-16-2 with the Trojans in six seasons from 1966 to 1971.
• The Trojans haven't had much success when taking on ranked opponents. They are 1-13 in previous contests against top 25 teams, with the lone win coming in 2004 over Missouri.
• Troy will taking on only its second Big Ten team ever. In 2003, Minnesota rolled to a 48-7 victory in the Metrodome.
• The Trojans are 2-1-1 all-time against schools from Ohio. They last played a team from the Buckeye State in 1999, beating Cincinnati by a 31-24 score. Troy also lost to the Bearcats in 1994, and had a win and a tie in two meetings with former NAIA rival Central State.
• Troy University is located in – strangely enough – Troy, Ala., located about an hour southeast of state capital Montgomery. Ohio State is winless all-time against teams from Alabama. The Buckeyes are 0-3 against Alabama and 0-1-1 against Auburn.
• OSU fans should not expect the Buckeyes to shut out the Trojans, and not just because the team is coming off a 65-0 win over Alcorn State during which it amassed a school-record 736 yards of total offense. Troy has been blanked only five times in 207 games under Blakeney and have not been shut out since a 56-0 loss to Nebraska in September 2006.
• With a sellout crowd in excess of 105,000 expected at Ohio Stadium on Saturday, Troy will play in front of its largest audience ever. Its previous record is 92,746 at Georgia in November 2007.
• Troy junior center Windham Rotunda and Ohio State senior linebacker James Laurinaitis have a long family history, mostly between their fathers. Rotunda's father, Mike, is a former world tag-team wrestling champion, often teaming with uncle Barry Windham. Laurinaitis is the son of another former world tag-team champion, Joe Laurinaitis, who was better known as Road Warrior Animal. The two fathers crossed paths in the ring on multiple occasions during their careers. Rotunda teamed with "Dr. Death" Steve Williams in 1989 to take the NWA tag titles from the Road Warriors, and also teamed with Ted DiBiasi to defeat the Road Warriors for the WWF tag titles in 1992. Rotunda also lost in matches to Animal, including being eliminated by Animal in the 1991 Survivor Series.
• Members of the 1968 Ohio State team will be in town hold a 40th reunion of their national championship Friday night in Columbus and then receive an on-the-field salute during the game against Troy. Also scheduled to be honored during the game are members of the 1973 team which finished No. 2 in the final rankings after a 42-21 victory over USC in the Rose Bowl.
• Kickoff against the Trojans is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern Daylight Time. The Big Ten Network will televise the game with its top announce crew of Thom Brennaman (play-by-play), Charles Davis (color analysis) and Charissa Thompson (sideline).
• Next week's home game against Minnesota will also feature a 12 noon kickoff and will also be telecast by the Big Ten Network.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
• When third-ranked Georgia travels to Arizona State this weekend, it will mark the Bulldogs' first regular-season trip west of the Central Time Zone in nearly 50 years. UGA last traveled west during the regular season in 1960 when the Bulldogs fell 10-3 to Southern Cal in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
• Former Arizona State and Ohio State head coach John Cooper will be honored during that contest in recognition of his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Cooper, who coached the Buckeyes from 1988-2000, was head of the Sun Devils' program from 1985-87.
• Despite almost constant national criticism, the Big Ten features six of the remaining 39 undefeated teams at Division I-A. Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin are each 3-0 while Indiana is 2-0. The Big 12 and SEC lead the way nationally, each with eight undefeated teams.
• Think there might be something to this SEC media bias thing? Five conference teams are ranked in the AP top 10 this week – No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 Florida, No. 6 LSU, No. 9 Alabama and No. 10 Auburn. That marks the first time in history that's ever happened for the SEC.
• Care to hazard a guess as to the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation so far? That would be Iowa, which has given up only eight points so far in three games.
• Is it time to begin a Heisman Trophy campaign on behalf of Michigan State tailback Javon Ringer? After rolling up a career-high 282 yards last week against Florida International, Ringer has 498 yards in three games and ranks third in the nation in rushing with an average of 166.0 yards per contest. He is also the nation's top scorer after three weeks with nine touchdowns. Another big performance this week against a still-suspect Notre Dame defense should begin to get Ringer some notice.
• Last week's victory over Washington gave Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops his 100th career win with the Sooners. Only three other OU coaches have ever eclipsed the century mark in victories – Barry Switzer (157, 1974-88), Bud Wilkinson (145, 1947-63), and Bennie Owen (122, 1905-26). Switzer, Wilkinson and Owen are all College Football Hall of Fame members.
• A record Jones Stadium crowd of 53,383 turned out in Lubbock last Saturday to watch Texas Tech roll to a 43-7 win over SMU. The fact that the game was played at all was a minor miracle. Crews from the Lubbock Fire Department assisted school officials in pumping out over 300,000 gallons of water from the playing surface after torrential rains from Hurricane Ike overwhelmed the stadium's drainage system.
• Air Force had 380 yards of total offense – all of it on the ground – last Saturday in a 31-28 win over Houston. Because of windy and rainy conditions caused by Hurricane Ike, the Cadets ran the ball 71 times in the game and failed to complete any of their seven pass attempts.
• Boise State has evidently started a trend with its blue "Smurf Turf" playing surface in Bronco Stadium. In preparation for resurrecting its football program in 2009, the University of New Haven, a Division II school whose alumni include Dallas Cowboys head coach Tony Sparano, recently installed the blue Sprinturf surface in its Ralph F. DellaCamera Stadium.
• Nine years ago today, Cincinnati engineered one of the biggest upsets in program history. On Sept. 18, 1999, the Bearcats stunned ninth-ranked Wisconsin at Nippert Stadium, stopping the Badgers and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne by a 17-12 score. It marked the first victory in UC program history over a ranked opponent. Wisconsin went on to finish No. 4 in the final rankings while the Bearcats wound up with a 3-8 record.
• Also occurring this week in college football history: On Sept. 15, 1973, Northwestern snapped a six-game losing streak in season openers with a 14-10 win over Michigan State in Evanston; on Sept. 20, 1997, Florida State receiver Peter Warrick rolled up 372 all-purpose yards during a 35-28 win over Clemson, giving head coach Bobby Bowden his 200th win at FSU; and on Sept. 17, 1994, UNLV receiver Randy Gatewood set new NCAA single-game records with 23 receptions for 363 yards. The Rebels established six other national or conference records for offense in the game, but they somehow lost a 48-38 decision to Idaho.
Over the course of a long season, you're bound to have weeks that aren't quite up to snuff. It was that way last Saturday for a lot of college football teams, and it was that way for the forecast. After starting the season extremely well, we slipped to a 4-3 record straight up, making us 16-5 for the year. Included in the misses were our two upset specials – OSU over USC and Fresno State over Wisconsin. At least the Bulldogs made it close in their game. Three missed field goals by Fresno allowed the Badgers to escape with a 13-10 win.
Against the spread, we were an identical 4-3, putting the ATS record for the season so far at 14-6. Here's what we're looking at this week.
No. 3 Georgia at Arizona State: I'm still not totally sold on the Bulldogs as national championship contenders, especially in light of the number of major injuries they have already sustained. But they should have even firepower to take care of the Sun Devils, who were stunned last week by UNLV in overtime … Georgia 28, Arizona State 14. (8 p.m. EDT, ABC)
No. 4 Florida at Tennessee: The Volunteers rebounded last week after their collapse at UCLA, scoring a feel-good 35-3 win over UAB. But they'll need to play their best to beat the Gators, who crushed them 59-20 last year in Gainesville. Phil Fulmer has never had much success against Florida, and he's never beaten Urban Meyer in three previous tries. Make that four … Florida 32, Tennessee 23. (3:30 p.m. EDT, CBS)
Buffalo at No. 5 Missouri: The Bulls have continued their improvement under head coach Turner Gill, winning two of their first three games this season. But traveling to Columbia and taking on Chase Daniel & Co. may be a little bigger bite than Buffalo can chew … Missouri 52, Buffalo 14. (2 p.m. EDT, No TV)
No. 6 LSU at No. 10 Auburn: The big, bad SEC begins to cannibalize itself with one of the top matchups of the week. There is an awful lot of love out there for the defending national champion Tigers, especially after Auburn's lackluster 3-2 win last week over Mississippi State. Still, LSU hasn't won at Jordan-Hare Stadium since 1998, and I smell an upset brewing … Auburn 17, LSU 13. (7:45 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
No. 9 Alabama at Arkansas: They may have to expand the field at Razorback Stadium to accommodate the egos of both Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino. It's quite possible that the Crimson Tide have come a little too far a little too fast in terms of the rankings this season, but that doesn't mean they won't enough to beat Arkansas … Alabama 27, Arkansas 20. (12:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)
Temple at No. 16 Penn State: The Nittany Lions are beginning to get people's attention with lopsided victory after lopsided victory. Are they for real? The jury is still out on that one as the Fighting JoePas take one final tuneup before hosting Illinois next week in the Big Ten season opener … Penn State 45, Temple 7. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)
Notre Dame at Michigan State: Just because the Fighting Irish have won two in a row doesn't mean they're back to being one of the nation's elite teams. Personally, I don't buy the argument that the Spartans are a Big Ten championship contender, either, but they should have more than enough offense to win this one … Michigan State 35, Notre Dame 27. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)
Troy at No. 13 Ohio State: This was always perceived as a trap game for the Buckeyes, but perhaps not so much after the woodshed experience at USC. Despite their explosion last week against Alcorn State, the Trojans remain relatively young and inexperienced on offense. That should play into the hand of OSU, which can use defense to keep things close while the retooling of the offense continues … Ohio State 30, Troy 7. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network)
Here are the early week spreads for the aforementioned games: Georgia (-6½) at Arizona State; Florida (-7) at Tennessee; Buffalo at Missouri (-33½); LSU at Auburn (+3); Alabama at Arkansas (+9½) ; Temple at Penn State (-28); Notre Dame (+8½) at Michigan State; and Troy at Ohio State (-21½).
Enjoy the games everyone and we'll visit again next week.