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After all the good, Michigan State’s bad puts it in a tough spot

Michigan State Spartans center John Stipek (R) is consoled by a teammate while sitting on the bench during the second half of the Capital One Bowl college football game against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Orlando, Florida, January 1, 2011. REUTERS/Phelan M. Ebenhack (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Before the month of October started, Michigan State was staring at a brutal conference gauntlet of four straight games against Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Somehow, the Spartans found a way to win those first three, pushing themselves near the top 10 of the BCS rankings and taking control of the Big Ten Legends Division.

But with today’s loss to Nebraska, the Spartans and their very respectable 3-1 record during the month, need help to get to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.

It’s a cruel fate for a team that found different ways to win against three of the Big Ten’s top six teams, and somehow was able to get emotionally ready to play all three of them. Apparently four is too much to ask for, however, as the Spartans — especially offensively — looked listless in the loss.

Kirk Cousins was terrible, the run game was non-existent and the defense was tired from spending most of the game on the field after the offense yet again failed to do anything.

So now Nebraska is in the Legends driver’s seat, holding the head-to-head tie-breaker against MSU and having the luxury of its one conference loss (at Wisconsin) coming outside of the division. The road is not easy, however, as Nebraska finishes the season at home against Northwestern, at Michigan, at Penn State and at home against Iowa. With as erratic as the Nebraska offense is, any one of those games is losable.

Michigan State’s road wasn’t a guarantee, but it was much easier than Nebraska’s, they substitute Michigan and Penn State for Indiana and Minnesota, the conference’s two worst teams.

It’s amazing how quickly the euphoria from a miracle last-second win against an unbeaten, top 10 opponent can wear off in college football. But I suppose that’s part of the reason we all love it so much.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Russell Wilson can vault to top of Heisman lists tonight

Russell Wilson is not unknown to Heisman voters. Three (I, II, III) of the major “Heisman Watch” lists have him in, or around, the top five.

That’s probably a good spot for the Wisconsin quarterback, who has been great early on, but against suspect competition.

Through four games, Wilson — who spent his first three seasons at NC State before taking advantage of the NCAA’s graduate-level transfer rule — has completed 75.8% of his passes for 1,136 yards and 11 touchdowns, while throwing just one interception. He’s leading a Wisconsin offense that’s sixth in the nation scoring 48.5 points per game, and he’s done this while the Badgers have taken their foot off the gas pedal late in games thanks to huge leads.

Tonight, Wilson and Wisconsin play Nebraska in their Big Ten opener, and with a great performance, Wilson could find himself near, if not at the top of those lists. Nebraska is a big-time, storied program that has long been known for its defensive prowess. Even if the Huskers finish the season around where they are in scoring defense (46th at 22 points per game), putting up big numbers against them is going to cause voters’ eyes to light up.

It’s also the weekend’s showcase game, as it will be on ABC at 8 p.m. (EST). If Alabama does to Florida what I’m expecting it to, most of the country’s eyes will be on this game and this game alone. That’s the perfect storm for Wilson’s Heisman campaign. Of course it could also work against him. If Wilson has a bad game in a loss, it will be remembered by voters into December. If his running back Montee Ball goes nuts — which he is certainly capable of — voters might question the importance Wilson to the Badgers.

That’s not going to happen, though. Expect Wilson to be let loose, both through the air and with his feet, and expect to wake up Sunday hearing his name mentioned with “Heisman frontrunner” attached to it.

2011 College Football Program Power Rankings

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor hands off the ball to tailback Dane Sanzenbacher in the third quarter at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans during the 77th Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl January 4, 2011. The Buckeyes won 31-26 UPI/Dave Fornell

Almost a year ago we decided to try to quantify the stature of college football programs so that we could rank them against one another. (Click here for the 2010 Rankings.) Then our football guru, Anthony Stalter, wrote a little bit about each program and the direction that it’s headed.

Here’s how the total points are determined — 20 points for a national championship, 10 for a BCS title game loss, seven for a BCS bowl win, five for a BCS bowl loss, five for a BCS conference championship, three for a mid-major conference championship, two for a BCS conference runner-up and one for a major bowl appearance (i.e. a bowl that has a recent payout of more than $2 million, so for 2011 that would be Capital One, Outback, Chick-fil-A, Cotton, Gator, Insight, Holiday, Champs Sports and Alamo.) You’ll see the total points in parenthesis after the team’s name.

We put some thought into the point values for each accomplishment, paying special attention to how the point values are relative to one another. For example, we figured that one national championship would equate to four BCS conference championships, or three BCS bowl wins. We only looked at the last five years, as college football has increasingly become a fluid and fickle sport, and that’s about how far back a recruit will go when deciding amongst a list of schools.

Lastly, since a program is so dependent on the guy in charge, we added or subtracted points if the program saw an upgrade or downgrade at the head coach position in the last five years. A max of 10 points would be granted (or docked) based on the level of upgrade or downgrade. Again, we tried to quantify the hire relative to the program’s other accomplishments. For example, hiring Nick Saban is probably worth two BCS bowl appearances, or 10 points. (Sure, he might lead Alabama to more, but he also might bolt for another job in a year or two.)

So, without further ado, here are the rankings. Every year we’ll go through and update the numbers based on what the program did that year (while throwing out the oldest year of data), so don’t fret if your team isn’t quite where you want them right now. Everyone has a chance to move up.

1. Ohio State (58)

Previous Rank: #2 (+1)
Some college football fans will take issue with the Buckeyes being No. 1 because of their “soft schedule.” But this is a team that has dominated its conference five of the past six years and has finished no worse than second in each of the past six seasons. They’ve also appeared in two title games (though they lost both) and nine straight BCS bowl games, winning the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl in the past two years. They’ve got an interesting season coming up though. Five of their players including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron and receiver DeVier Posey will miss the first five games next year after being suspended. Can the Buckeyes stay unscathed until those players return?

2. Florida (51)

Previous Rank: #1 (-1)
If it weren’t for Urban Meyer leaving the program (and their lousy 2010 season), the Gators would probably still be ranked No. 1. They have three conference championships and two national championships in two years, but the lose of Meyer hurts big-time in these rankings. But don’t fret Florida fans, if Will Muschamp gets the program back on the right track then the Gators won’t be at No. 2 for long.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bo Pelini and Miami? It doesn’t make sense…until you look at his resume.

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 25: Coach Bo Pelini of the Nebraska Cornuskers eyes his defensive coaching slaff during second half action of their game against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at Memorial Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska Defeated South Dakota State 17-3. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

The Bo Pelini-to-Miami talks are starting to heat up (and getting a little controversial to boot). The Miami Herald first reported that Pelini had been given permission to talk to Miami about its open coaching vacancy, but Nebraska AD Tom Osborne says that he gave no such permission. Then the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that Pelini had spoken to Miami AD Kirby Hocutt about the Canes’ job, although the position has not been offered to him yet.

But why would Pelini want to coach at Miami? Nebraska has more fan support, gave him his first head coaching job and his roots are firmly planted in the Big Ten – where the Huskers will be playing next season and beyond. It just doesn’t add up.

Until you look at his coaching background, that is.

Pelini’s resume is littered with three-year stints. He was with the 49ers as a DB coach for three years (1994-1996). He was the Patriots’ linebacker coach for three years (97-99). He was the Packers’ linebacker coach for three years (2000-2002). He spent one year at Nebraska (as its defensive coordinator) and one year at Oklahoma as a co-defensive coordinator, but then got back onto his three-year plan when he was LSU’s DC from 2005 to 2007.

Now, after three years spent in Lincoln, his name is being brought up for another head coaching position. What does any of this mean? Maybe something, maybe nothing. Just because he has a habit of leaving a team after three years doesn’t mean he’s going to leave Nebraska. But given the reports that are coming out of the Miami area, it makes you wonder if Pelini is starting to pack his bags again.

In August, Pelini said that Nebraska isn’t a “steppingstone job” and that he’s happy. But he went on to say, “Am I going to say you would never ever look or talk to somebody? That’s crazy to make an ultimatum like that. But we’re not looking.”

But again though, that was back in August. Maybe he’s looking now.

Baseball fields rule an otherwise lackluster day of college football

CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 18: A general view of the east end zone and a goalpost mounted to the right field wall as the Northwestern Wildcats practice for a game against the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday November 20 at Wrigley Field on November 18, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Remember the first time you saw this picture — if you’ve seen it — and thought to yourself, “someone’s going to get killed catching a post pattern.”? Well, apparently the Big Ten — and the NCAA — thought the same thing, and Illinois and Northwestern will play their game today at Wrigley Field like you used to play in your backyard — always going toward the “good” end.

No, your eyes aren’t fooling you there. That is the goalpost attached to the wall at Wrigley. The wall that literally cuts into the paint of the end line.

The good news for Northwestern, Illinois and the Big Ten is that this mess of a field has drawn a lot of attention to a game that really doesn’t mean anything. People will tune in to see the wall in the endzone, and how the teams react to always going the same way.

It’s not the only game that is using a baseball field to create attention and ratings, as Notre Dame will play Army at Yankee Stadium tonight. The thought of these two playing at Yankee Stadium — even though it’s the new Yankee Stadium — has evoked a lot of memories of this historical rivalry. And these are two programs that love it when you’re focusing on history, because their history is a lot better than their present.

Both games are pulling in huge money for tickets, probably just for the spectacle. But even on a weak day in college football, neither game is big enough to crack the top five games of the week. Read the rest of this entry »

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