By Dave Hershorin
November 21, 2006


The game of the year lived up to all of the hype, didn’t it? I mean, that was a toe-to-toe slugfest that was up for grabs until the end. The Buckeyes won the running battle (187 yds vs. 130) and were a hair ahead most of the last three quarters. Michigan converted two of OSU’s three turnovers for 10 points, but even winning the TO battle 3-0 didn’t mean winning this classic. It was Jim Tressel’s fifth win in six tries against Lloyd Carr. Who didn’t think that the spirit of Bo Schembechler could possibly guide the Wolverines to an uplifting upset in Columbus after he passed Friday, the day before the game? It seemed like a fairy tale scenario for this to take place, and Michigan scoring right off the bat must have woken the snoozing Buckeyes as they then reeled off 21 straight points after that. Senior QB Troy Smith shored up the Heisman by going 29-of-41 for 316 yards and four TDs, his first 300+ effort of the season. He has always saved his best for Michigan. Smith was sacked only once and threw his fifth interception of the year, but he also has 30 TD passes to offset that modest INT total. Let me be the first to tell anyone who has been living under a stump somewhere for the past 12 weeks that Troy Smith has been such a rock of consistency and has run the Buckeye offense with the precision a senior should have by now. Troy goes out 3-0 against UM, and he leads OSU to three-straight against UM for the first time since 1960-63. Ted Ginn had eight catches, but it was junior Antonio Pittman and freshman Chris Wells that gashed the Wolverines for a combined 195 rushing yards after UM’s then-No.1 rushing D had been allowing an average of under 30 yards per game (now they rank second to Texas by one yard per game). The Wolverines played too many in the box, which allowed Wells to get a 52-yard TD run in the second and Pittman a 56-yarder for six in the third. But, regardless of how many big shots each landed, what concerns me is how much this game reminded me of the Louisville-WVU game – no defense!!! The two team combined for 900 yards (503 for OSU and 397 for UM) and 81 points, making one wonder what a solid defensive team could do against them. OSU was held under 30 by three teams – Texas (24), Penn State (28) and Illinois (17) – and isn’t a lock in any way in the BCS national championship game in Glendale, no matter who proves to gain the second spot. Ohio State hadn’t won an outright Big Ten title since 1984, and this is their 31st overall. Ohio State (12-0, 8-0) has the nation’s longest winning streak with 19 games, which constitutes the second longest winning streak in school history (the longest was 22 games from 1967-1969, broken by Michigan 24-12 in the classic second epic battle of the Hayes-Schembechler 10-year war). The Buckeyes have a 12-game home winning streak as well as a 14-game steak in the conference and have scored at least one TD in 125 straight games. When any No.1 team has played the No.2 team, the No.1 holds a 23-13-2 edge in those 38 instances. OSU will get its third No.2 opponent of 2006-07 in the big finale, and they will set a single-season record by doing so. And the latest polls have not seen Michigan fall one single notch!!! The rematch everyone has been trying to avoid may just loom. I think the Wolverines need to fall a few more places, no matter how much respect pollsters are giving them for playing OSU so tight. A second meeting is unfair to the other one-loss teams that deserve their shot, as well as the Buckeyes. Michigan had their shot and missed, and should fall to somewhere around 5th. UM could then still rise back up if/as each one-loss team falls again before 2006 closes out, but to stay No.2 is not cool and cries for a better system to be found so as to avoid the profit-making entities from promoting such a redundancy for profit’s sake.

Wisconsin has quietly crept up to the No.8 spot in the latest BCS poll. These Badgers finished 11-1, but not much is to be made of their prowess with non-cons like Buffalo and Western Illinois defining a pedestrian schedule. No Ohio State meant their only blemish came in a 27-13 drubbing at Ann Arbor. Wisconsin will wait to see how the rest of the country does in some key matchups before allowing hope to make any BCS promises. They will be rooting for Southern Cal and LSU this weekend, to be sure.

What else is to be made of Michigan not slipping even one slot in the BCS standings? Southern Cal is definitely now in the spotlight against Notre Dame. The Trojans will have to win big to convince enough of the computer polls that they deserve the second spot, something that the human polls already realize. I figure USC has to win by at least four TDs to overcome the .0075 deficit presently separating them from the Wolverines. Michigan already beat the Irish 47-21 in South Bend, ergo the needed point spread to convince pollsters. Pete Carroll & Co. proved they are the best in the west by beating Cal, the only other team that had a shot at the Pac Ten title, 23-9 in Los Angeles. Cal hasn’t worn the conference crown since 1958, and they gave three quarter’s worth of resistance to keep USC from their fifth-straight automatic BCS bid (first team to win five in a row). Ahead 9-6 at the break and tied 9-9 after three, Cal was held to 111 second half yards, 18 yards on four of their six possessions, and lost the last 30 minutes 17-0. Southern Cal has a much more impressive array of non-cons than Michigan, having beaten Nebraska and Arkansas (in Fayetteville) while Michigan has handled Central Michigan and Vandy, but struggled to beat Ball State. This may just wind up being one of those years when injustice prevails enough so that we inch closer to a playoff in some of the chancellors’ minds. Just like in politics, things often have to mess up going one way so that we finally see the light to embrace another way, and only the BCS not working like a charm will eventually push us into a needed playoff system.

LSU and Arkansas will play out their big rivalry this Friday. It won’t be for a spot in the SEC title game, for the Hogs already have that sewn up and face Florida December 2nd in Atlanta. But it could be part of a sequence of results that lands another SEC team in the BCS. SEC teams have pretty much beaten each other up in their round-robin action, with the UA-UF winner likely getting the conference’s only spot in the BCS. So Arkansas has to win against the Bayou Bengals and then play a close one with the Gators for neither team to dip far enough in the polls (ala Michigan this past weekend) so as to be out of the final BCS tally. Florida and Arkansas also have to hope Notre Dame loses to take their at-large spot away, for Michigan already seems to have one of the four at-larges, as does Boise State. No.8 Wisconsin and No.9 Louisville are primed for the UA-UF loser to drop below them, hence the need for the SEC finale to be a close, well played contest and for the Razorbacks to win this weekend. The jockeying won’t end until the first weekend in December, so keep your eyes on the prize as you follow along at home.

Rutgers had its bubble burst in Cincinnati Saturday by losing 30-11 to the upset-minded Bearcats. The Scarlet Knights were trying to set up a winner-goes-to-the-BCS scenario for their game with West Virginia, and that can still be true if Rutgers can beat the Mountaineers and then find themselves ahead of Louisville in the final regular season BCS poll. But losing to Cincinnati was the one thing that now gives pollsters an excuse to keep these New Jersey upstarts out of the 10-team BCS hierarchy. No.6 heading into Cincy, Rutgers was outplayed on both sides of the ball. The Bearcats turned four INTs into 13 points while holding Rutgers to only three points after they had committed their three fumbles. So now, even in the case that Rutgers wins out, they will still have one conference loss and will then be in a tie with Louisville (who they beat 28-25) atop the Big East. The tie-breaker will be which team is ranked higher in the BCS, most likely ushering in the Redbirds and keeping the flash-in-the-pan Scarlet Knights out of position for an at-large bid. If WVU wins this season-ender, the Mountaineers would get the automatic Big East birth over Louisville since they are ranked higher, even though UL beat WVU. This time, the computers seem to get it right – all six have one-loss Louisville ranked higher than one-loss West Virginia, while the Cardinals trail the Mountaineers in both the Harris Interactive and USA Today/Coaches polls. What in the world are some of these pollsters smoking to not have Louisville ranked higher…did they somehow miss the November 4th nationally televised Thursday night tilt? What could possibly justify one team claiming to be better than another more than a head-to-head result? Both UL and WVU lost to a team that had previously been undefeated, so the transparency of any other reasoning falls to the wayside against the logic listed here. As listed in the above-paragraph, sometimes the pendulum has to swing far to one illogical side before prevailing fairness is then applied to make it swing back the other way. It is just too bad – especially for deserving teams like Rutgers and Louisville – that their efforts are not deemed worthy due to archaic systems of thought and, moreover, idiotic pollsters.

With little implications towards the BCS other than their one guaranteed spot, the ACC took another step towards straightening out who will be its representative come January. The high-octane showdown between Maryland and BC played itself out, revealing the Terps as wanna-be’s in their 38-16 loss to the Eagles. Boston College now looks to Maryland to beat Wake Forest while BC has to go into Coral Gables to face the surprisingly marginal Hurricanes. Boston has to win, of course, and hope that the Terps can pull it out over the Demon Deacons so that the Eagles will wind up in the ACC title game against Georgia Tech. BC hasn’t beaten their former Big East brethren in 15 tries, since they went down south for a 47-45 win in 1984, when both were independents. And with only three total wins ever against the Canes, this down year for them seems a perfect opportunity for the Eagles to make it four. WF has dropped seven straight to the Terps, so hopefully last Saturday’s 27-6 wakeup call against Virginia Tech will have them ready for UM this time. Wake held their destiny in their own hands going into the home tilt with the Hokies, but they can still pull it out with a win this week. The Ramblin’ Wreck goes into Athens to face a UGA team strife with inconsistencies and question marks, and without a win against their in-state rivals since 2000, this year seems ripe for senior GT QB Reggie Ball to finally earn this important stripe. The No.16 Yellow Jackets are at the top of a four-team log jam in the AP featuring two-loss ACC squads ranked 16th to 21st. This will mark the third consecutive year that the ACC has failed to produce one of the nation’s elite teams. Clemson might have been in the top 10, but, like in the SEC, all of the top teams in this conference showed too much parity in beating each other so that the monkeys remain in the barrel clawing at each other. With the Canes sitting 5-6 and the Noles 6-5 – both unranked - and Virginia Tech an unthreatening No.17, it may be a few more years until this conference can get back to being top-heavy in the national scene. Trivia Question – When was the last time FSU, Miami and Virginia Tech all failed to finish in the top 20 of the AP Poll? And when was the last year all of them finished with losing records? -see answers below-

The only other BCS conference still uncertain as to who gets its automatic bid is the Big 12. Texas collides with in-state nemesis Texas A&M at home while Oklahoma faces State in Stillwater to decide who plays the Cornhuskers for the league title. Only a Sooner win coupled with a Longhorn loss sends OU to the title game against Nebraska in Kansas City December 2nd. This possibility was all set up courtesy of Kansas State edging Texas 45-42 two weeks ago. Kansas then won their in-state rivalry with KSU 39-20 this past weekend, taking any elite luster off of Texas’ claim of belonging in the BCS sans a conference title. Texas has beaten A&M dating back to last millennium (11/26/99 produced 20-16 Aggie win at College Station). Like the ACC, the Big 12’s best all seemed to beat each other just enough to keep all one step away from national prominence. Whether it’s Nebraska, Oklahoma or Texas in the BCS with the conference’s automatic bid, the Big 12 still offers no pushover for a top five team in a major bowl.

Lagniappe

Florida-Florida State used to hold more suspense, but this weekend’s game stands out only for the No.4 Gators, due to how bad they have to win to keep any hopes of a national championship alive. FSU can obviously play bigtime spoiler. The Noles are 6-5 in the last ten years (they played twice in 1996), but Urban Meyer is 1-0 so far in this rivalry and he finds a 6-5 FSU squad searching for consistency on offense ready to be lit up…Auburn won the fifth Iron Bowl in a row 22-15 in Tuscaloosa (6-0 all-time there), matching their longest streak in series history (1954-58). Bama now leads the overall tally 38-32-1. The Tigers are 62-4 under Tommy Tuberville when scoring 20 points or more…LSU scored what seemed like the go ahead TD with :14 seconds left only to have the extra point blocked, keeping the score with Mississippi level at 20 and headed to OT. The Tiger D caused a fumble on Mississippi’s first OT possession, and then LSU relied on a 26 yard FG to survive…West Virginia ran for 371 of its 438 rushing yards in the second half of their 45-27 romp in Pittsburgh. WVU went in at the half down 27-24, but then it all came together as they won the second half 21-0…Miami had never lost to Virginia before last weekend’s 17-7 result…Northern Illinois senior Garrett Wolfe broke out of his slump just in time to keep WVU sophomore Steve Slaton at bay for the I-A rushing title. Wolfe ran for 203 yards on 33 carries to help carry NIU to a 31-10 win against Central Michigan. Slaton had 215 yards on 23 carries (130 receiving yards) in the ‘Backyard Brawl’. Wolfe runs for 157.82 ypg while Slaton earns 157.80 ypg…Six of the top ten I-A rushers are underclassmen – four sophomores and two freshmen…Hawai’i has scored 75 TDs this season, and they are approaching the single season record of 89 which Nebraska set in 1983. That was in 12 games, though Army set the ‘per game’ record of 8.2 when they had 74 in nine games in 1947. The Warriors score 6.8 TDs per game through their first 11, the fairest way to measure such records when different numbers of games have been played…Virginia Tech has allowed only 11 TDs so far in their 11 games. OSU had allowed only nine TDs in 11 games before allowing five to Michigan…Trivia answers– 1978 was the last time Virginia Tech, Miami and FSU all failed to finish in the AP Top 20. 1973 was the last time they all had losing records in the same year.