PostHeaderIcon FROM NASSAU TO HAWAII: BREAKING DOWN THE 38 BOWL GAMES (AS PLAYOFF AWAITS)

‘Tis the Holiday season already. For Christmas cookies, egg nog, Auld Lang Syne, plans for New Year’s resolutions -- and bowl games.

Plenty of bowl games.

More bowls than ever: Thirty-eight, in fact.

I remember just 20 years ago there were only 17 bowls and a team needed at least a 7-4 record to get invited to a lesser bowl, such as the good ol’ Independence or Sun Bowls. Hard to believe, but even some 8-3 teams were shut out back then.

Now if you finish 6-6 you are bowl eligible. And this season, 14 bowl teams have lost at least six games. One, Fresno State, even has a losing record (6-7) and had to receive a special NCAA waiver to play in a bowl.

This bowl season, as usual offers much intrigue, however, as it struggles to remain relevant next to the inaugural College Football Playoff.

From the oldest bowl – the Grandaddy of Them All enters a new era as part of the playoff – to the newest (Boca Raton, Miami Beach and Bahamas Bowls)…

From Annapolis to Hawaii and in between…

From Saturday December 20 to January 4…

From teams such as Louisiana-Lafayette to Alabama…

The four-team playoff (Ohio State-Alabama and Florida State-Oregon) may have grabbed all of the attention this college football season, but the bowls will grab center stage before New Year’s Day.

Here are a few highlights and lowlights as we rundown all of the bowls: As of today, six teams will be without their head coach, who has either been fired or moved on to greener pastures; Nine Big Ten teams are in bowls and nine are underdogs, including two of the largest point spreads (Maryland +14 vs. Stanford and Ohio State +10 vs. Alabama); On the other side, of 12 bowl teams, the powerful SEC is favored in nine bowls and an underdog in three;

And as I do annually, I rate them on the five-star rating for matchups: *Dog game; **Somewhat watchable; ***Good game; ****Must see; *****The Best College Football Has to Offer.

So here we go…

R+L Carriers Bowl

*New Orleans, Nevada (7-5) vs. UL Lafayette (8-4), Sat., Dec. 20 / 11 a.m., ESPN

THE SKINNY: The Ragin’ Cajuns have played in only three bowls in history – all the New Orleans Bowl – and have won all three. Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo has passed for more than 9,000 yards and run for more than 3,000 yards in his career.

THE LINE: Louisiana-Lafayette -1.
THE PICK: I’ll go with the home team, the Rajin Cajuns make it 4-0 in the New Orleans Bowl, 40-28.

Gildan New Mexico

*Utah State (9-4) vs. UTEP (7-5), Albuquerque, N.M., Sat., Dec. 20 / 2:20 p.m., ESPN

THE SKINNY: Jamiell Showers, who lost the QB job at Texas A&M to Johnny Manziel two years ago, has been steady for the Miners. He’s committed only one turnover in the past seven games. Utah State, the other Aggies, lost nine starters to injury this season, including three quarterbacks. UTEP hasn’t won a bowl game since 1967.

THE LINE: Utah State -10.5.
THE PICK: Utah State should win this one easily. Aggies 40-19.

Royal Purple Las Vegas

**(22) Utah (8-4) vs. Colorado State (10-2), Las Vegas, Sat., Dec. 20 / 3:30 p.m., ABC

THE SKINNY: Have to wonder how the Rams will respond to losing Jim McElwain as head coach. Quarterback Garrett Grayson passed for 3,779 yards and 32 touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin was named interim coach and may land the permanent job. The Utes played mostly close games throughout the season – win or lose.

THE LINE: Utah-4.
THE PICK: Utah 33-23.

Famous Idaho Potato

*Western Michigan (8-4) vs. Air Force (9-3), Boise, Idaho, Sat., Dec. 20 / 5:45pm ESPN

THE SKINNY: Call it the Improvement Bowl -- Air Force improved from a 2-10 season; WMU from a 1-11 season. The Broncos have never won a bowl, sporting an 0-5 record while the Falcons have lost five of their past seven bowl games.

THE LINE: Western Michigan -1.
THE PICK: How can you pick an average MAC team over the winner of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy winner? Air Force 31-27.

Raycom Media Camellia

*South Alabama (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (7-6), Montgomery, Ala., Sat., Dec. 20/ 9:15 p.m. ESPN

THE SKINNY: Can’t think of a less attractive matchup. Two six-loss teams battling in the cold weather of Alabama. It’s also South Alabama’s first-ever bowl game in its third season of FBS football. Follow this thread: Bowling Green beat Indiana, which beat Missouri, which beat South Carolina, which beat Georgia, which beat Auburn, which beat Ole Miss, which beat Alabama.

THE LINE: South Alabama -2.5.
THE PICK: I’ll go with the more experienced bowl team, the Falcons. Bowling Green 28-27.

Miami Beach Bowl

**BYU (8-4) vs. Memphis (9-3), Miami, Mon., Dec. 22 / 2pm ESPN

THE SKINNY: Played in the new Florida Marlins’ stadium, the first time a football game has been played on the old Orange Bowl site in 10 years. The Cougars haven’t been the same since losing quarterback Taysom Hill to a broken leg.The Tigers, on the other hand, had one of the best turnaround seasons in college football. With a win, Memphis can win its seventh straight game for the first time since 1969 and its first 10-win season since 1938!

THE LINE: Memphis -1.
THE PICK: Memphis 34-29.

Boca Raton Bowl

***Marshall (12-1) vs. Northern Illinois (11-2), Boca Raton, Fla., Tue., Dec. 23 / 6 p.m. ESPN

THE SKINNY: A dandy matchup for the inaugural Boca Bowl, to be played in Florida Atlantic’s 32,000-seat stadium. There will be plenty of offense from two decent teams. Marshall QB Rakeem Cato has set all kinds of records this season, passing for 3,622 yards and 37 touchdowns. But the Herd lost 67-66 to Western Kentucky in the 12th game and then played poorly in escaping Louisiana Tech. The Huskies were very impressive in routing Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game.

THE LINE: Marshall -10.5.
THE PICK: I think Northern Illinois will definitely cover this large spread and keep it close. Marshall 39-36.

San Diego County CU Poinsettia

**Navy (7-5) vs. San Diego State (7-5), San Diego, Tue., Dec. 23 / 9:30 p.m. ESPN

THE SKINNY: Both teams will feel at home in the old Jack Murphy Stadium (the only stadium ever named after a sports writer). Navy is playing in its fourth Poinsetta Bowl and will have plenty of Midshipmen in the stands while it is the home stadium for the Aztecs, who have won their last nine in a row over the service academies. Navy’s Keenan Reynolds leads the triple-option offense, which gave Ohio State troubles in the season-opener.

THE LINE: San Diego State -2.
THE PICK: Navy 30-28.

Popeyes Bahamas

*Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Western Kentucky (7-5), Nassau, Bahamas Wed., Dec. 24 / Noon, ESPN

THE SKINNY: Spicy chicken in the Bahamas! The players had to scramble to get their passports in order for this out-of-the-country bowl. And a noon kickoff on Chirstmas Eve to boot! WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty led major college football with 4,344 passing yards. These two teams met in the Little Caesar’s Bowl two years ago in Detroit, with Central Michigan winning by three points.

THE LINE: Western Kentucky -2.5.
THE PICK: The Hilltoppers are explosive on offense and should go up and down the field. Western Kentucky 55-34.

Sheraton Hawai'i

*Fresno State (6-7) vs. Rice (7-5), Honolulu, Wed., Dec. 24 / 8 p.m., ESPN

THE SKINNY: Lose more games than you win and earn a trip to Hawaii? Talk about landing on your feet for the Bulldogs. Not a bad bowl trip for two mediocre teams, even if it is played on Christmas Eve. What are the odds that two teams which each started the season 0-3 could make a bowl matchup? About a million to one. Watch it for the scenery – of the islands.

THE LINE: Pick ‘em.
THE PICK: Rice 30-23.

Zaxby's Heart of Dallas

**Illinois (6-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4), Dallas, Fri., Dec. 26 / 1pm ESPN

THE SKINNY: The Illini were sitting at 4-6 and Tim Beckman was as good as fired before they upset Penn State and Northwestern to save his job and earn a bowl bid. La Tech won six of its final seven and narrowly lost to Marshall in the Conference USA title game.

THE LINE: Louisiana Tech -6.
THE PICK: The Bulldogs will dominate what was considered the Big Ten’s worst team back in September. Louisiana Tech 33-20.

Quick Lane

*Rutgers (7-5) vs. North Carolina (6-6), Detroit, Fri., Dec. 26 / 4:30 p.m. ESPN

THE SKINNY: When you watch the Scarlet Knights play, you really have to wonder how they won seven games. And they upset Maryland on the road in the final game, too. It was a tough welcome to the Big Ten, as Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State each clobbered the Knights. UNC had a truly up-and-down season, too, losing 70-41 to East Carolina, but whipped rival Duke 45-20 – on the road – and then suffered a 35-7 upset loss at home to NC State. Neither of these teams can play much defense.

THE LINE: North Carolina -3.
THE PICK: North Carolina 42-30.

Bitcoin St. Petersburg

**N.C. State (7-5) vs. Central Florida (9-3), St. Petersburg, Fla., Fri., Dec. 26 / 8 p.m. ESPN

THE SKINNY: The Knights are coming off a Hail Mary win over East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference title game. NC State, after starting 3-0 and then losing four straight seem to have straightened things out and played their best football down the stretch, winning three of the last four and clobbering rival UNC 35-7 at Chapel Hill in the season-finale. Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett has been brilliant at times at QB and sloppy at others.

THE LINE: Central Florida -1.5.
THE PICK: I like George O’Leary to find a way to win given three weeks time. Central Florida 40-33.

Military

***Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6), Annapolis,, MD Sat., Dec. 27 / 1pm ESPN

THE SKINNY: Two teams that played Ohio State. The highlight of the Hokies’ season was the shocking 35-21 win in Columbus, before the wheels fell off. Va Tech rallied to beat rival Virginia to extend their bowl streak to 22 consecutive seasons. Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats, meanwhile, were blown out in the second half by the Buckeyes 50-28. It’s a matchup of great defense (Hokies) versus a wide-open offense (Bearcats).

THE LINE: Cincinnati -3
THE PICK: I like Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s ability to scheme with three weeks to slow down Cincinnati. Lower scoring than expected. Virginia Tech 23-17.

MORE TO COME...

MO


Last Updated (Thursday, 18 December 2014 03:49)

 

PostHeaderIcon OHIO STATE's 59-0 WIN COULD BE BUCKEYES' BEST PERFORMANCE -- IN 125-YEAR HISTORY

There have been several beat-downs of mediocre to decent Michigan teams, including 1961 and ’68 when Woody Hayes’ Buckeyes scored 50 points over the Wolverines. There were wins over No. 1 Purdue in 1968 and No. 1 Iowa in 1985. There were impressive wins over ranked teams and a few lopsided wins in bowl games.

But nothing like this.

I am not exaggerating one bit when I state that Ohio State’s 59-0 blowout of 13th-ranked Wisconsin Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game was the most-complete, finest performance over a quality (highly ranked) opponent in the 125 years of Buckeye football history.

Fifty-nine to nothing.

In fact, if you examine the record books and all eras of Ohio State history, from the Chic Harley years to Francis Schmidt to Paul Brown to the modern era and 28 years of Woody, to Earle Bruce, John Cooper and 10 great years of Jim Tressel’s teams (9-1 against Michigan), no singular game even comes close.

This was a Wisconsin team that had won 10 games and was ranked second nationally in total defense. A Badger team that possessed the nation’s finest running back in Melvin Gordon, who entered the game having gained more than 2,200 yards this season.

The Buckeyes’ defense, which had trouble slowing down Michigan’s backup tailback before he was injured a week ago, held the Big Ten’s best running game to 71 yards and a meager 1.9 yards per attempt.

They forced four turnovers and committed none.

The offense played with a quarterback making his first career start, a guy who entered the season as third-string on the depth chart.

They outgained Wisconsin 558-258 and the game was never in doubt from Ohio State’s opening touchdown drive.

It was the first time the Badgers’ had been shut out since 1997 and their worst loss since Ohio State beat them 59-7 in 1979. But that was before Wisconsin became Wisconsin.

“There is no doubt we are one of the four best teams in the nation,” Urban Meyer declared.

No matter what, I think it was the best performance in Ohio State football history in a game of crucial importance.

And that is why today, the Buckeyes are in the inaugural college football playoff.

 

Last Updated (Sunday, 07 December 2014 20:51)

 

PostHeaderIcon JONES LEADS GAME-WINNING DRIVE TO SAVE BUCKEYES SATURDAY AGAINST WISCONSIN -- AND FLORIDA STATE LOSES

So it comes down to this: Ohio State is forced to start a third-string quarterback, someone whom third-year Coach Urban Meyer thought would quit the team soon after he took the job, to beat a 10-2 Wisconsin team to win the Big Ten championship.

It’s certainly not a desirable position to be in, considering the Buckeyes were rolling on offense a week ago entering the game against Michigan, led by a Heisman Trophy candidate and record-setting quarterback in redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett.

You just don’t replace a guy who accounted for a Big Ten-record 45 touchdowns with one week of preparation.

Just as you don’t replace Braxton Miller in a few weeks of preparation. Hence, the disaster on Sept. 6 against Virginia Tech – Barrett’s second career start.

Developing a quarterback takes time and experience, something Cardale Jones just doesn’t have right now.

But the Buckeyes (11-1) have no other option right now, but to build a game plan around what Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman believe Jones can do best against the Badgers’ defense, which just happens to be the Big Ten’s best, at least statistically.

Surely, you can expect Ohio State coaches to use other options at times too, such as Jalin Marshall in the wildcat formation with either Jones spread out wide or on the sidelines. I would expect the Buckeyes to try to stretch Wisconsin’s defense – to the sideline with an array of jet sweeps, etc., and vertically with several deep balls from Jones, who is said to have the strongest arm of any Buckeye quarterback in some time.

The object will be to get Wisconsin’s defense not to load the so-called box with eight and nine defenders to stop Ohio State’s running game. If the Buckeyes can call – and execute – enough plays to keep the Badgers’ guessing and not loading up to stop the run, then Ohio State has a chance to score enough points to win.

And of course, on the other side of the ball, Ohio State’s defense needs to slow down Heisman candidate and the nation’s best running back, Melvin Gordon, enough so he doesn’t become a one-man show as he did in the 59-17 win over Nebraska. And forcing a turnover or two wouldn’t hurt, either. I would expect the Buckeyes to take a similar approach defensively as Wisconsin will – load up to stop the run and play man coverage often since Badgers’ quarterback Joel Stave is no world-beater.

So what to expect?

I think this game could go one of two ways: Gordon runs wild, Jones naturally struggles in his first start and commits a few turnovers, and subsequently the Buckeyes cannot run against a loaded front as Wisconsin wins by 14 to 21 points.

Or Meyer and Herman come up with enough creativity to keep the first-down chains moving and the Buckeyes’ defense hangs in enough to keep it close. With Wisconsin holding a slight lead and the game on the line, Jones puts together one final drive and turns in a big play that either wins the game or sets up a game-winning field goal for freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger, who missed two short field goals in the 35-21 loss to the Hokies three months ago.

It’s redemption time and I’ll take the latter – Ohio State survives 23-21.

As for the other games that will affect the inaugural College Football Playoff….

OREGON vs. ARIZONA (Friday): If anyone has the formula to upset the explosive Ducks, it’s RichRod’s Wildcats who have done it twice – last season at home and earlier this season in Eugene. But this one doesn’t set up as an upset. I think the Ducks will run wild to win, something like 44-21.

MISSOURI vs. ALABAMA: I don’t see any scenario involving the Tigers shocking the Tide in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game. For starters, Missouri is only a good, well-coached team … but one that lost to lowly Indiana at home and later to Georgia 34-0. The Tigers would need several turnovers just to stay close. Alabama 30-13.

KANSAS STATE at BAYLOR: I can and do see the Wildcats pulling off an upset. Especially since Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty is coming off a game in which he sustained a concussion. Kansas State’s defense controls Petty and the Bears’ electric offense, which commits a few turnovers. Kansas State 27-23.

GEORGIA TECH vs. FLORIDA STATE: This is the upset that could Ohio State into the playoff, should the Buckeyes’ win. The Yellow Jackets’ triple option will run all over the Seminoles’ defense, which will wear down as the game goes on. And Jameis Winston will continue to turn the ball over. Georgia Tech 33-22.

If all these occur, Jones and Neurnberger would be a heroes, the Buckeyes would jump from its No. 5 ranking into the first-ever playoff. And Winston, the subject of so many off-the-field investigations, and the Seminoles would end the season in miserable fashion.

 

After all, isn’t it normal for karma to flex its muscles once in a while?

 

PostHeaderIcon IF BUCKEYES BEAT WISCONSIN, THEY DESERVE PLAYOFF SPOT -- PERIOD!

Count me among the people who think it would be completely absurd, ridiculous, unreasonable and almost criminal if the College Football Playoff committee would hold Ohio State out of its four-team playoff field because of J.T. Barrett’s season-ending ankle injury.

That is, if, and this is a big if at the moment, the Buckeyes survive the Big Ten championship battle with Wisconsin (10-2).

Just for perspective, the Badgers opened as a four-point favorite Monday over the Buckeyes (11-1), who will start redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones at quarterback. Jones, the Cleveland Glenville product, had entered August camp as the Buckeyes’ third-string quarterback but has never started a game.

With Barrett, the Buckeyes would probably be a four- or five-point favorite Saturday, illustrating his importance. After all, the redshirt freshman accounted for a Big Ten-record 45 touchdowns this season and is a Heisman Trophy and Big Ten Player of the Year candidate.

“We’re underdogs for this game?” Urban Meyer asked the media Monday. “I didn’t know that.”

I am not saying the committee would think this way, but many have suggested such, wanting to place the four best teams going forward into the playoff, rather than the most-deserving teams which won despite injuries or suspensions.

One ESPN columnist wrote Monday: “If you're the committee, what do you make of the Buckeyes? Do you downgrade them because they're on their third quarterback in four months? Do you look at their season body of work or at Barrett's injured body part?

“And even if OSU beats the Badgers, can the committee really consider the Buckeyes one of the four "best" teams in the country, knowing Jones' second career start would come in the CFP semifinals?”

So many people want to project forward what Ohio State will or won’t be in the playoff without Barrett, as if that should be a factor.

The fact remains: If Ohio State beats Wisconsin, to win the Big Ten title, and finish 12-1 with its original backup quarterback playing 12 games, and then have its third-string quarterback winning game No. 13, the Buckeyes surely deserve to be one of the four playoff teams – because of those factors, not in spite of them.

Of course, should Georgia Tech upset Florida State, or Missouri upsets Alabama, or Arizona upsets Oregon, the Barrett/Ohio State worthiness becomes a moot point – should the Buckeyes win Saturday.

They surely would be ranked fourth ahead of one of the Big 12 teams – TCU or Baylor – while the other will make the field.

As a side note, the sad part of Barrett’s injury was an apparent mis-read by the quarterback. He had faked the jet sweep to Jalin Marshall, then kept the football and headed between the tackles, being promptly tackled as his right ankle was bent backwards under a Michigan defender.

If he had handed the ball to Marshall, it appeared the play would have gained at least 10 yards or more and Barrett would have remained healthy.

In another related issue, expect Marshall to get plenty of snaps Saturday night in the wildcat formation. Whether he throws the ball out of the wildcat will be intriguing question.

And what about the unthinkable?

And given that Ohio State’s quarterback is always so prominent in the running game, what would Meyer do should Jones get injured in the game? The Buckeyes have planned to redshirt the only other quarterback on the roster, Stephen Collier. He will dress for the game just in case, but would an entire season be burned should Jones get hurt? Would he stick with Marshall and a one-dimensional attack and try to pull a game out against all odds?

“We don’t know what we’ll do if that happens,” Meyer said, “but we will talk about it in the next few days.”

ON PELINI’S EXIT FROM NEBRASKA

Many have criticized Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst’s decision to fire Bo Pelini following a 9-3 season, but I have to agree with Eichorst.

When you discover, or can tell, or you decide that a football coach cannot get your team to the championship level, and that’s what your program aspires to be, then it is time to go in a different direction.

The fact is, most Nebraska fans and administrators don’t want to be an 8-4 or even 9-3 team. They want to compete for Big Ten and national championships, and given their history, tradition, resources and facilities, etc., I don’t blame them.

And there’s little denying that Pelini isn’t the coach to take them there, despite his 67-27 career record for the Cornhuskers. His teams have sustained several embarrassing, blowout losses in their biggest games over the past three years, most recently the 59-17 humiliation at Wisconsin three weeks ago when the Cornhuskers were in contention for the Big Ten West title.

Pelini wll receive approximately $7.5 million in his buyout, quite a nice golden parachute for a guy who never sniffed a Big 12 or Big Ten title.

It would seem that Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost would be an obvious choice as his replacement, given that he was a popular and successful quarterback under Tom Osborne and that the Ducks’ offense is as prolific as any.

OTHER COACHING NEWS AND NOTES…

I expected Michigan to fire Brady Hoke on Monday, but it didn’t happen. Every day the Wolverines’ administration wastes is a day the subsequent new coach loses in assembling his staff and organizes for recruiting. So now it appears the axe will fall Tuesday.

Even though it appears Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers will part ways after the NFL season, I don’t expect him to end up as head coach of the Wolverines. When he re-married, Harbaugh wedded a California girl and it’s unlikely he would uproot his new family and relocate to Ann Arbor, no matter how much money Michigan offers…

Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer is safe for at least another year. The Hokies rallied to beat Virginia 24-20 Friday, their 11th consecutive win over their state rivals and the win continued the school’s NCAA-leading bowl streak to 22 years.

Many in the Virginia media had speculated new Hokies Athletic Director Whit Babcock would force Beamer – major college football’s winningest and longest-tenured head coach – to retire if the Hokies had lost to the Cavaliers. (Ohio State travels to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech next September in a rematch of this season’s game – the Buckeyes’ only loss of the season)…

A sure casualty three weeks ago, Tim Beckman surprisingly rallied Illinois to three upset wins down the stretch, beating Minnesota, Penn State and rival Northwestern, to finish 6-6 and save his job…

I was surprised to see South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier announce he would return for 2015 and also for ’16. The Gamecocks lost badly to Clemson, their first loss to their state rivals in six years, to finish 6-6. And the close losses – to Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky in which South Carolina blew fourth-quarter leads – took their toll on Spurrier this season. The 69-year-old Florida legend has said repeatedly that this is his final job and he will retire to his condo in Crescent Beach when he tires of coaching…

Apparently, Miami’s Al Golden is safe for now, even after losing the final three games to finish 6-6. Most of the fan base, however small it is, and former players have turned on Golden this season.

 

Last Updated (Tuesday, 02 December 2014 04:37)

 

PostHeaderIcon IT IS TRUE: WOODY HATED MICHIGAN, BUT HE DIDN'T ORDER TWO-POINT CONVERSION in '68

Ohio State’s legendary coach, the one and only Wayne Woodrow Hayes, was surrounded by many myths.

He was at times called “heartless” and a “Neanderthal” while the truth was he was probably the most-giving, most-educated men to ever coach the game of college football.

There was the one about him pushing his car across the Ohio-Michigan border in order to avoid spending money on gas in that state up north.

It never happened. I know because I once talked to the man in the car with him at the time, Ed Ferkany, who was an assistant coach at the time. The two were returning to Columbus in a rental car after a recruiting trip to Detroit in February of 1972. Ferkany had just been hired weeks earlier and didn’t know Hayes very well at the time.

“It was about 9:30 or 10 that night and it was snowing,” Ferkany recalled. “When we left Detroit, I looked at the gas gauge and it was just below the one-eighth mark. Then we got down to I-75 and the needle was just on the top side of empty.

“I said, ‘Coach, we had better pull over and get some gas.’

“’No, no, keep going,’” he told me.

“The gauge kept getting lower and lower and finally I said, ‘Coach, we have to get some gas!’

Woody blew up at Ferkany, to the point of what many of his players would label a ‘megaton.’

“No goddamit! We do not pull over and fill up! And I’ll tell you exactly why we don’t. I won’t buy one goddamn drop of gas in this state. I will push this goddamn car to the Ohio line before I give this state a dime of my money! The tax of this gas we pay for will just wind up supporting that football team up here and that is NOT going to happen!”

It was pure Woody, who had a perspective all his own.

Ferkany put his head down and continued driving, watching that gauge needle edge parallel with the floor of the car, as the snow flew outside. As soon as they crossed the state line, he pulled into the first gas station he saw, wiped the sweat from his forehead and probably wondered what he got himself into with his new job.

“There couldn’t have been but a few drops in the tank,” he recalled. “Over the years, that story has grown and been twisted so much. I even read once that we had to push the car across the state line. That never happened. But it was true that Woody never wanted to buy gas in the state of Michigan. I was a witness to it!”

It’s a good story, but the most-famous myth of all involving Woody was born from the 1968 game against Michigan at Ohio Stadium.

Ohio State, behind all of those super sophomores such as Rex Kern and Jack Tatum, entered the game ranked No. 1 with an 8-0 record. The Wolverines entered the game 8-1.

The Buckeyes, who hadn’t played a close game throughout the season, held a 37-14 lead when fullback Jim Otis scored his third touchdown of the game with 3:37 remaining. After an interception, the Buckeyes were in the red zone again as the clock ticked down.

Woody didn’t plan on taking a knee to run out the clock – he wanted another touchdown. The starters were on the sideline now. Backup fullback Paul Huff got stuffed at the line of scrimmage on first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. Otis was standing behind Woody and noticed he was agitated.

He tapped the coach on the shoulder.

“Coach, do you want another touchdown?” Otis asked him.

“He just said, ‘Go in and get it and you call the play!’

“So I went in and looked around the huddle and the best lineman I saw was Dave Cheney at left tackle. I looked at Dave and said, ‘Now Woody wants this touchdown and he wants (the play) over you!’ I got the touchdown over Dave’s hole and the old stadium was rocking like it never was before.”

It was Otis’ fourth touchdown of the day, 17th of the season and it made the score 50-14 with only 1:23 remaining. After the score, Otis stood up and fired the football deep into the crowd in the closed end of the Horseshoe. You could do that in those days without so much as a sideways look from an official.

As the Buckeyes huddled for the PAT kick, there was confusion about who was in the huddle and who was not.

“Here’s why there was confusion,” backup quarterback Billy Long told me years ago. “Our long-snapper had been hurt earlier and he wasn’t in the huddle. Jim Roman was our kicker and he had to fill in at center to do the long-snapping, so we didn’t have a kicker in the huddle.”

Chances are, the Buckeyes had only 10 men on the field, too, but nobody knows for sure.

Long was scared to death to get a delay of game because there was nothing Woody hated more -- outside of an ill-timed fumble, or a stupid question from a out-of-town reporter, or a blown officials’ call, or the color blue, or … well … never mind -- than his offense being penalized for a delay of game. Even if it was before a meaningless PAT while holding a 36-point lead in the final minutes of a game.

Hey, it was against Michigan.

So as the offense broke the huddle and headed to the line of scrimmage, then-assistant coach Earle Bruce said he was screaming into the offensive headset from the pressbox: “No, no, don’t go for two!”

But it was too late.

Long had called a play to run.

“So I had called ’27 pass’ and we lined up and ran the play,” Long said. “It was designed to go to the halfback but nobody was open, so I threw it into coverage and it was incomplete.”

As proof, the official play-by-play sheet from that game reads: “Long’s pass intended for (Bill) Pollitt incomplete, too long.” You can even find the play on Youtube, showing Long rolling to his left and firing over the head of his intended receiver in the back of the end zone.

The game ended 50-14 and Woody was giddy afterward. His undefeated team had just won a Big Ten championship and was headed to the Rose Bowl to play USC and O.J. Simpson for the national championship on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif.

Afterward, a reporter asked Hayes, “Coach, why did you go for two points with a 50-14 lead?”

Ever quick with a quip, Hayes didn’t even pause for a second …. “Because they wouldn’t let me go for three!”

The room broke into laughter and Woody beamed with that ear-to-ear smile beneath those signature silver, wire-rimmed glasses.

The Buckeyes went on to beat USC 27-16 to win the national championship – the fifth and last of Hayes’ career. Michigan Coach Bump Elliott resigned soon after the loss to Ohio State and the Wolverines hired former OSU assistant/Hayes’ protégé’ and Miami of Ohio Coach Glenn “Bo” Schembechler.

“I always said that Bo used that two–point play for motivation the next year,” Bruce said.

Which is true: Everywhere the Wolverines looked during Bo’s first season in Ann Arbor they saw the numbers “50-14” -- it resulted in a 24-12 upset of the No. 1 Buckeyes, a team Woody often called his best team ever, a year later in Ann Arbor in the first game of the famed “Ten-Year War.”

But that’s another story for another time.

Over the years, the legend has blossomed into Woody desperately wanting to pile points onto Michigan by calling for the two-point conversion -- and even most people believe today that it was converted. (It was only the second time in history the Buckeyes had scored 50 points or more against Michigan and they haven’t done it in the 46 years since.)

In the first time, the Buckeyes beat Michigan 50-20 in Ann Arbor in 1961 in a game in which Hayes actually decided to go for two points after the final touchdown. The Buckeyes converted that one.

A few years ago, I had asked Bruce about the two-point conversion in ‘68. He was adamant that Woody had called for the play and that it was successful. It shows how the legend grew over the five decades since even from people who were at the game.

But the facts are indisputable: Hayes never called for the two-point play in the first place and really had no idea why the Buckeyes weren’t kicking the PAT (although he did indeed want that final touchdown). And the two-point play was not successful.

“That thing has gotten so blown out of proportion over the years,” Cheney recalled recently. “I sometimes even wonder if Woody ever said that line, ‘Because they wouldn’t let me go for three.’”

Woody just didn’t like that team up north and didn’t care much if he offended it, its coaches, administrators or its fan base.

Nevertheless, one of the most unrecognized facets of the legendary coach was this: He had one hell of a quick mind and a vastly underrated sense of humor.

So it was, on November 23, 1968, when those ingredients and one of Ohio State’s greatest all-time victories cooked up one of the greatest all-time lines in sports history.

THE MICHIGAN MESS

Barring a stunning upset – Ohio State is favored by 20 points – Saturday’s game in Columbus will be Brady Hoke’s final game as head coach of Michigan.

The Wolverines have already announced that interim athletic director Jim Hackett will make the call on Hoke’s future and a reasonable deduction would have him announcing the firing Sunday or Monday. That would give Michigan the maximum amount of time to begin research to hire a new coach who could put together a staff and somewhat salvage a decent recruiting class.

As it is, verbal commitments are jumping from the Wolverines’ sinking ship, which reached bottom with a 5-6 record in the 23-16 home loss to Maryland. UM has lost to Utah, Minnesota, and the Terps at Michigan Stadium this season.

The Wolverines own only seven verbal commitments, with one a very “soft verbal,” down from a high of 13 when the season began.

One prominent running back, who had committed to Michigan more than three months ago, announced via twitter that he had de-committed because the Wolverines have reached “rock bottom.”

By the way, the 20-point point spread is believed to be the largest in the series history.

And if the Wolverines turn the ball over often, as has been their habit the past three years, I fully expect the Buckeyes to cover that spread and perhaps score 50 or more points for only the third time in the series’ rich history – especially considering the lackluster performance at home against Indiana a week ago.

Should the Buckeyes win, as expected, Hoke would finish his career 1-3 against the team he labels “Ohio.”

His lone win came in his first season, 40-34, in Ann Arbor against a 6-5 Ohio State team coached by Luke Fickell. In that game, the Buckeyes had one final possession to win the game but freshman quarterback Braxton Miller overthrew Devier Posey, who was wide open streaking down the left sideline, during the final minute of the game.

NCAA SINGLE-GAME RUSHING RECORD FALLS – AGAIN

College football has been played at most major universities in this country for at least 125 years.

So it’s amazing to think that one of the game’s major records just was broken in back-to-back weeks.

Just one week after Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon broke LaDainian Tomlinson's 15-year-old FBS record for rushing yards in a game with 408 yards against Nebraska, Oklahoma true freshman Samaje Perine did it again. TCU’s Tomlinson had rushed for 406 against lowly UTEP back in 1999.

Perine then ripped off 427 yards in the Sooners’ 44-7 blowout of Kansas.

In some ways, Gordon had to feel almost cheated, having only six days to sit back and relish being an NCAA record-holder.

“It lasted so short, but I congratulated him and just told him there's going to be pressure that comes with that,” Gordon said. “People are going to look for, every game, they're going to look for you to be explosive and make plays. And I just told him that, ‘Don't worry about that too much. Don't worry about the media and the expectations because the expectations are going to be high for you and all eyes are going to be on you’ ...

THE UNEXPECTED…

Every football season brings us huge surprises for teams who were expected to be mediocre to poor but turned into winning teams as well as those teams expected to contend for conference championships which turn into major disappointments. My list….

BIGGEST SURPRISES

1. Mississippi State (10-1) – Whoever thought the Bulldogs could become a major player for a national title?

2. Colorado State (10-1) – Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain has become big-time candidate for a major job.

3. Memphis (8-3) – Two of the Tigers’ three losses were to UCLA and Ole Miss.

4. Minnesota (8-3) – Jerry Kill continues to work his magic.

5. Air Force (8-3) – Falcons won the Commander’s Trophy, whipping Navy and Army.

MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENTS

1. Virginia Tech (5-6) – The Hokies left Columbus Sept. 6 with a 2-0 record and sudden contenders for the inaugural playoff. They have lost six of nine games since, including some very ugly losses – like a scoreless tie through regulation in the 6-3 double-overtime loss at lowly Wake Forest.

2. South Carolina (6-5) – Steve Spurrier talked about taking the next step, contending for a national title. The Gamecocks just clinched a bowl game last week with a win over South Alabama.

3. Stanford (6-5) – These Cardinal, although coming off one of their best games in the rout at rival Cal, don’t scare anybody.

4. LSU (7-4) – Granted, all four losses came within the SEC West, the toughest division in football. But this wasn’t what Les Miles had in mind.

5. Oklahoma (8-3) – You know you have a great program when fans are disappointed with an 8-3 season, but these talented Sooners were labeled a national title contender in September.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: Ohio State 52, Michigan 13 – The Buckeyes hang half a hundred on the Wolverines for the first time in 46 years.

Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 21 – Badgers win the Big Ten West to earn right to play Buckeyes next week.

Mississippi State 29, Ole Miss 23 – It’s hard to pick the upset since the Rebels were beaten 30-0 last week at Arkansas.

Alabama 34, Auburn 31 – That’s right, the Tigers give the Tide a battle in Tuscaloosa.

Florida State 23, Florida 17 – Ditto for the Gators in Will Muschamp’s final game.

USC 40, Notre Dame 17 – Irish are out of gas.

Virginia Tech 21, Virginia 16 – Hokies need win to keep 22-season bowl streak alive.

South Carolina 30, Clemson 27 – The Gamecocks beat the Tigers for the sixth straight season.

Louisville 30, Kentucky 20 – Mark Stoops’ team slumped badly during the second-half of the season.

Michigan State 27, Penn State 6 – Nittany Lions won’t score much against Spartans.

UPSET OF THE WEEK: Georgia Tech (+13) over Georgia – The Yellow Jackets shock Goergia in Athens.

BLOWOUT OF THE WEEK: Kansas State 44, Kansas 7 – Jayhawks had their high with upset of Iowa State three weeks ago.

BEST BETS: Washington (-4) at Washington State; Texas (+6) against TCU (Thursday); Iowa (-1) against Nebraska.

 

Last Updated (Tuesday, 25 November 2014 15:05)

 
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