The Blitz: Are Buckeyes and Big Ten being disrespected?

Buckeye bashing has become the national pastime.

How else to explain Ohio State being ranked fourth in the AP Top 25? It opened the season at No. 2, only to get passed up by Oregon, Clemson, Florida State, and this week Baylor.

There’s no winning for the Buckeyes, even as they continue to do so week after week.

No, allowing 35 points to now 3-7 Illinois isn’t going to gain any style points. But the reality is we may be undervaluing the Buckeyes, who seem to be paying the penance for the overall perception of the Big Ten.

Ohio State has an average margin of victory (30.9) higher than top-ranked Alabama’s (28.6); it boasts a better schedule (72nd in Jeff Sagarin’s ratings) than Baylor (85th) and more wins over ranked teams (two) than the Bears’ one; and has a win over Wisconsin, which per Sagarin, currently ranks as the best of any team ahead of the Buckeyes in the AP poll.

Unimpressed?

Numbers can be spun any which way to back up an argument, but even the Big Ten’s perception may be more hype than truth.

The league has three teams in the current Top 25 with Ohio State, No. 13 Michigan State and No. 16 Wisconsin. That’s more than the ACC and equal to the Big 12. Oh, and the Big Ten is 37-11 in non-conference games, including 27-11 vs. FBS teams, wins that among the Big Five leagues rank only behind the SEC (42-7 overall and 32-7 vs. FBS) in both categories.

Simply put, the Big Ten isn’t the wasteland so many are making it out to be — and it could wind up being key for the Buckeyes in the rankings that truly matter.

While the human polls involved in the BCS formula — the Harris and Coaches Poll — showed the Buckeyes some love, ranking third in each, it’s the computers that hurt them. Ohio State has an average ranking of fifth, with Baylor and Auburn tied for third.

The Buckeyes have just a 0.0013 lead on Baylor, an advantage that they could lose a week from now. If the Bears beat Oklahoma State (10th in the BCS) on Saturday, Ohio State is sure to be passed again.

Should that happen, its season would largely ride on the strength of the Big Ten. The Legends Division-leading Spartans could be a top-10 team going in the conference title game if they beat unranked Northwestern and Minnesota, giving the Buckeyes a potential trump card in reclaiming the third spot or moving up should BCS No. 6 Auburn knock off Alabama or the Seminoles fall.

*Think how different things might be had Pac-12 officials not lost control in the closing seconds of Wisconsin-Arizona State back on Sept. 14. Had the Badgers won their only loss would be by seven points to the Buckeyes, giving Ohio State a win over a team would conceivably be in the top 10 (currently, Wisconsin is 16th in the AP and 19th in the BCS), but this gaffe, for which the officials were reprimanded, could wind up having a direct effect on the Big Ten’s postseason.

But if Ohio State does goes undefeated for a second straight season and misses the championship game, there would be more than a little irony in it.

In the 16 years of this system, just three times has a team opened the year ranked No. 1 or No. 2, had one or fewer losses and not played for the national championship: Ohio State in 1998 and 2010 and Florida in 2009, which was coached by Urban Meyer.

Without some help, it Ohio State may be resigned to the role of Milton Waddams in this season. If we wait long enough, Meyer, Braxton Miller and Co. will be working out of the basement, undervalued and stammering around about their missing stapler, even as their winning streak continues to grow.

Give Orgeron credit, but not the job

The calls are already coming to remove the interim tag and make Ed Orgeron USC’s next coach.

“Coach O needs to be here next year … we want Coach O next year,” freshman safety Su’a Cravens said after the Trojans’ stunning 20-17 win over then-No. 5 Stanford. “Forget the hiring, forget all that. We got Coach O and that’s all we need.”

Then there’s this tweet from Heisman Trophy-winning Trojans quarterback in Matt Leinart, who was on hand for the win over the Cardinal.


Don’t do it, Pat Haden. Don’t do it.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround as Orgeron has led the Trojans to four wins in five games since Lane Kiffin’s firing, getting them back into the Top 25 at 23rd. But USC’s athletic director can’t afford to get caught up in the emotion of what’s going on in Troy.

He only need look toward Morgantown for a reminder of what can happen when a feel-good story is the backbone of a hiring.

Bill Stewart led West Virginia to a win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl after Rich Rodriguez packed his bags for Michigan. Three years later, Stewart was set adrift, as the program was unable to take the next step under his direction.

These are different situations with Orgeron offering up a much larger sample size than Stewart did before he was hired. But with more time under Orgeron, it may be harder to not believe in it all, especially if the Trojans continue to win, with Colorado and No. 13 UCLA standing between them and a 10-win regular season.

We’ve seen what Orgeron can do with a program, going 10-25 in three seasons at Ole Miss (2005-07), a period in which he won a combined three SEC games. While he may be better equipped six years later to be a head coach, are Haden and USC really willing to bank on “may be?”

The Trojans are reportedly willing to pay up to $6 million a year to its next coach, more than Alabama is paying Nick Saban. If USC can get a coach on its short list — which is to believed to be topped by Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin — how can it not, even with Orgeron’s success?

Keeping the Trojans together, and making them more consistent than Kiffin ever could, carries weight but it’s not an emotion Haden and USC brass can allow themselves to get caught up in. Chances are, Orgeron has shown enough to get himself another head coaching job if he wants it, but despite this run he isn’t the answer for the Trojans.

Charlie Weis

UPS AND DOWNS

UP: Kansas

To quote Peter Venkman, it’s dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria! The Jayhawks won their first Big 12 game under Charlie Weis (coming on the 16th try) as they beat West Virginia 31-19, resulting in what must be the sweetest Gatorade bath of Weis’ career. But the drought went back much further than the hiring of Weis, as this was the program’s first conference victory since Nov. 6, 2010 over Colorado, a span of 27 consecutive losses. If Kansas should beat Iowa State or Kansas State in the last two games, it would be its best Big 12 mark since 2008 when it went 4-4.

DOWN: N.C. State

Dave Doeren was brought in to revitalize a program that had grown stale under Tom O’Brien, but the results have been a step back, as the Wolfpack dropped to 4-6 and 0-7 in the ACC with a 28-14 loss to Boston College. With Doeren’s old school, Northern Illinois, in contention for a second straight BCS game, is anyone in Raleigh wondering if they made the wrong choice?

UP: UCF

Having already beaten the two best teams behind them in the AAC, the Golden Knights could almost sleep walk to the finish line and get a BCS berth — almost. They needed two Blake Bortles-to-J.J. Worton touchdowns (one of which was completely insane) and Shawn Moffit’s 24-yard field goal as time expired to beat Temple, which is 0-for in the conference. Still, the Knights moved that much closer to an automatic bid and are now in a position where they can drop one of their last three league games (Rutgers, South Florida and SMU) and win the AAC, but needing to eke out a win over one of the nation’s worst teams should be a wakeup call.

DOWN: Washington

Since rising to No. 15 after a 4-0 start the Huskies (6-4) were dealt their fourth loss in six games and the third straight vs. a ranked opponent in falling to No. 13 UCLA. Bishop Sankey managed just 3.4 yards per carry, his second-lowest average of the season and QB Keith Price’s status is up in the air after suffering a shoulder injury. Next up, a defense that has allowed at least 31 points four times faces FBS’ No. 2 passing offense in Oregon State. Steve Sarkisian and Co. could be limping going into the Apple Cup vs. Washington State.

UP: Vanderbilt

For the third straight year, James Franklin has the Commodores bowl eligible as they beat Kentucky 22-6. To put that run into perspective, Vanderbilt had been to the postseason four times before Franklin, ever. By closing out the regular season with victories over Tennessee and Wake Forest, the ‘Dores will have a chance to equal last season’s nine wins in the bowl game. At this point, enough can’t be said about the job Franklin has done in Nashville and it’s almost a given his name is going to be bandied about for a number of high-profile openings. How much more can he accomplish at Vanderbilt? It is enough to keep him there?

DOWN: Northwestern

The Wildcats have more interceptions than any Big Ten team (18) and more turnovers gained (22) than anyone in the league. But it’s mattered little as a 78th-ranked offense has failed to score more than 24 points in more than a month. As a result, they’ve dropped six straight, the latest coming 27-16 in triple overtime against Michigan and now, Northwestern finds itself needing to win out against No. 14 Michigan State and Illinois just to reach a sixth consecutive bowl game.

Andre Williams
Andre Williams has a chance to be the first 2,000-yard rusher since UConn’s Donald Brown in 2008. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

BMOCs

OFFENSE: Andre Williams, RB Boston College, Sr.

Williams more than left his mark in his last game in Alumni Stadium. The nation’s leading rusher racked up 339 yards on 42 carries in the 38-21 win over N.C. State to run his season total to 1,810, breaking Mike Cloud’s single-season school record of 1,726 and the ACC mark of 1,798 yards set by Thomas Jones in 1999. With two regular-season games to play, and a bowl game, which he helped Boston College become eligible for in the win, chances are Williams will become FBS’ first 2,000-yard back since UConn’s Donald Brown in 2008.

HONORABLE MENTION: Ricardo Louis, WR Auburn, Soph.

He had four catches for 131 yards and one of the most memorable TD receptions in recent memory, somehow hauling in Nick Marshall’s desperation heave to sink No. 25 Georgia 43-38 and set up the first Iron Bowl in history that will decide the SEC West. As Louis said afterward, “I’ve dreamt about it all the time, making big plays … I believe that’s my legacy, that play there.”

DEFENSE: Robert Nelson, CB Arizona State, RS Sr.

There wasn’t much Nelson didn’t do in the Sun Devils’ 30-17 win over Oregon State. He picked off Sean Mannion twice, the second of which he returned 23 yards for a touchdowns to all but ice the win, he recovered a muffed punt and he had five tackles. Nelson, who is tied for fourth in FBS with six picks, has at least one interception in four of the last five games.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Andre Heidari, K USC, Jr.

After nearly losing his job twice this season, Heidari delivered the Trojans their biggest win in nearly two years. He overcame a missed extra point to nail a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play, and proceeded to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for running the length of the field to celebrate it. “They all said, ‘We know you got this. You do it every day in practice,'” Heidari said of his teammates. “They believed in me.”

Myles Jack
Primarily a linebacker, Myles Jack has become major weapon in UCLA’s running game with five TDs in the last two games. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

CRYSTAL BALL

No. 19 Arizona State at No. 14  UCLA

Barring further chaos, the Pac-12 South will likely be decided by this showdown in Pasadena. While the Bruins’ banged-up running game has gotten a lift from linebacker Myles Jack (five TDs the past two games), the Sun Devils’ 17th-ranked rush defense (120.6 ypg), will be the best unit they’ve seen since Stanford on Oct. 19. UCLA is 5-0 at home and winning those games by an average of 24.6 points, but look for Arizona State to end that streak.
The Pick: Arizona State 31, UCLA 24

No. 9 Texas A&M at No. 18 LSU

Should Florida State’s Jameis Winston falter — by his play or an investigation that could see him charged and ruled ineligible by the school — Johnny Manziel can further position himself to become the second two-time Heisman Trophy winner. He has two high-profile matchups to do it in, the first coming this week at LSU before closing against No. 8 Missouri. The Bayou Bengals defense has been bad in their losses, giving up 449 yards to Georgia, 525 vs. Ole Miss and 372 against Alabama. Manziel, who is second in the nation in total offense (392.4), will only add to those woes and give the Aggies’ struggling defense more than enough cushion to work with.
The Pick: Texas A&M 45, LSU 34

No. 3 Baylor at No. 11 Oklahoma State

Bryce Petty and the Bears have met each challenge in resounding fashion, thumping then-No. 12 Oklahoma 41-12 and blowing away Texas Tech 63-34. The Cowboys will be the highest-ranked opponent Baylor has faced and the most balanced, scoring 40.4 per game (13th) and allowing 19 (14th). QB Clint Chelf and his 71.2 rushing yards the last four games present a dimension the Bears haven’t seen since Kansas State’s Daniel Sams, who ran for 199 yards on them. It was Oklahoma State that was picked as the preseason favorite to win the Big 12; they’ll restore that order and in the process bring an end to Baylor’s BCS title aspirations.
The Pick: Oklahoma State 38, Baylor 35

Last Week: 3-0
Overall: 25-7