4th and inches …

Fourth and inches …

► Say what? You might be going on a mission? The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that California Golden Bears QB Nate Longshore is contemplating when he will serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the Mormons. The operative word in the article is “when,” not “if.” The 6-foot-5, 233-pound Longshore, who is currently rated one of the top college quarterbacks (151.7 passer rating, 1,877 yards, 17 TDs, seven INTs) and rapidly growing into an NFL-caliber signal caller with every new game under his belt, is quoted as saying: “I’m definitely going to go at some point, but timing is really the issue.” His older brother Nick served a two-year mission to the Philippines and is currently on BYU’s roster, listed as a senior offensive lineman.

But why didn’t Longshore opt to go on his mission after breaking his leg in last year’s season opener? Allowing healing time for his leg before departing, he could have returned in time for the 2008 season with three years of eligibility remaining. In hindsight, the redshirt sophomore’s timetable for serving a mission seems a bit off-kilter, now that he is leading one of the most potent scoring machines in college football to possibly its first ever BCS bowl appearance. Nevertheless, if he is truly intent on serving a mission, it would seem that the timing dictates leaving after this season. That would give him two more seasons to play after he returns from his voluntary service.

Jeff Tedford, who welcomed All-American center Marvin Philip (now with the Steelers) back to the Cal program following the completion of his mission in 2003, might also have to recruit his starting quarterback all over again, since 18 months into his two-year mission, Longshore would become eligible to transfer without penalty to any other Division I-A program. If you don’t think that could happen, take a look at Ben Olson, UCLA’s redshirt sophomore QB. He spent his freshman year riding the bench at BYU, served a two-year mission in Canada, and then transferred to UCLA upon his return to the States. Arguably, Longshore’s situation is dramatically different, in that he has already claimed the starting QB slot at Cal and has ably proven himself during the course of the Bears’ 7-1 start this season. The success of this season could very well weigh heavily upon his decision-making, especially if Cal finally busts into the BCS.

For the record, most LDS student-athletes plan to begin their missions soon after they turn 19 years of age, the minimum age limit for Mormon missionaries. Can you imagine the headaches BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall faces with this situation affecting 15 to 20 of his student-athletes each year? A few years ago, Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti lured Haloti Ngata to the Ducks program with promises to let him take leave for a mission. As it turned out, Ngata never did see the mission field. His father was killed in a tragic auto accident during his freshman season, and the following year, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Ngata turned in an All-American performance as a junior in 2005, and feeling the weight of responsibility to provide for his siblings, opted to join the pro ranks as an underclassman. He was a first-round pick (12th overall) to the Baltimore Ravens in this year’s NFL draft. Serving a mission after Longshore graduates from Cal would appear to be out of the question, considering that a guaranteed multi-million dollar contract from an NFL team would not sit on the table for two years.

►Jacksonville is a neutral site for the annual Georgia Bulldogs-Florida Gators clash? Can someone please explain to me how Jacksonville can be considered a neutral site for this game? The Gators’ home in Gainesville, Fla. is just 73 miles from Jacksonville, while the Bulldogs’ hometown of Athens, Ga. is 342 miles to the north. Formerly known as the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” it still fits the bill–we’re just not supposed to call it that anymore. In May of this year, the SEC requested that the nickname be dropped in order to distance the schools from any connections to the lush life. Wikipedia says that the official name of the annual contest is the “Georgia-Florida/Florida-Georgia Game.”

►Charlie Weis, a.k.a. the Roundtable Pizza spokesguy’s dad is quickly becoming one of the whiniest coaches on the D-IA circuit … during his press conference this week, he lamented Notre Dame’s one-slot drop in the AP poll and questioned how that could possibly happen after the Irish eeked out a 20-17 last-second home win over the UCLA Bruins. Uh, coach, anyone watching the Irish play against UCLA last weekend saw your team get whipped for 59 minutes and 20 seconds … we’re talking about a 4-3, middle of the pack, Pac-10 Bruins team playing with a second-string quarterback on the road in Golden Domer heaven … do you want to explain to us how that could possibly happen?

►Michigan State’s shocking comeback win over Northwestern last weekend is another tangible example of how momentum plays a huge role in college football outcomes. The Wildcats controlled the first half of the game and held the momentum well into the third quarter when they climaxed with a 38-3 lead. Slowly, the Spartans inched their way back into the game, seizing the momentum for good in the fourth quarter when Slade Larscheid’s punt was blocked and Ashton Henderson scooped it up and returned 33 yards to make the score 38-24. Everyone is saying that this comeback will save John L. Smith’s job at MSU, but I think he’s still on his way out. The sting of blowing the Notre Dame game and getting punked by Illinois is far greater than any new juice this game can give Smith. The Spartans are on track for a 7-5 or 6-6 season, good enough for one of the Big Ten’s low-tier bowl games.

►A quick must-read …SI.com’s Stewart Mandel has an item called “The Agony of Defeat – A First Hand Account” at the end of his column this week … Northwestern fans will, no doubt, be able to relate, but so will anyone else who has witnessed their team lose a nerve-jangling shocker.

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: What is the origin of the use of the word “gridiron” in football terminology? Be quick and be correct. The first email received with the correct answer wins you an official RealFootball365.com t-shirt. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches…

►And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is…Rich Grabmeier, of Shawnee, Kan. becomes our first back-to-back winner…Rich was the first to correctly answer the question: “What is the motivational reminder on the yellow sign that Notre Dame Fighting Irish football players always touch before running onto the field?” The answer was: “Play Like a Champion Today.” By the way, Rich, we just want to warn you that you may be in danger of morphing into the next Ken Jennings.

►Heisman’s Dark Horse Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois Huskies…You read it here last week…I put the Wolfe Man on probation and he was stuffed a second week in a row, this time by Temple. Yes, that Temple…so goodbye, G.W…it was fun while it lasted…unfortunately, not even a 200-yard game against Iowa this week would resurrect your Heisman chances…it’s too late in the season and Troy Smith’s train has left the station…

►Stats Padding Games of the Week: Boston College Eagles (plus 36) sink their talons into some 1-6 Buffalo Bulls…Hawaii Warriors (plus 25.5) ambush the Idaho Vandals…and the Arkansas Razorbacks (plus 37) sink their tusks into the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.

►Best Games of the Week: Clemson Tigers @ Virginia Tech Hokies … UTEP Miners @ Tulsa Golden Hurricane … Oklahoma Sooners @ Missouri Tigers … Georgia Bulldogs @ Florida Gators … Miami Hurricanes @ Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets … Texas Longhorns @ Texas Tech Red Raiders … Tennessee Volunteers @ South Carolina Gamecocks … BYU Cougars @ Air Force Falcons … Ohio Bobcats @ Kent State Golden Flashes … Wyoming Cowboys @ TCU Horned Frogs … Washington State Cougars @ UCLA Bruins … USC Trojans @ Oregon State Beavers …

►Upset Specials of the Week…It’s a Thursday night game and Virginia Tech is the host…ba-da-bing! Hokies over the Clemson Tigers … the Baylor Bears are getting their act together with their new spread offense and I can see them laying a few more points on the Texas A&M Aggies than their defense surrenders … here’s one more stretch-o-matic pick: South Carolina Gamecocks over the Tennessee Volunteers … if Steve Spurrier can’t get his boys up for this one, the season’s in the toilet with no better than a 6-6 record. Look at the ‘Cocks last four games: Arkansas, at Florida, breather, at Clemson. Ouch.

Fourth and inches …

USC’s shocking loss to Oregon State last week opened the door to the national title game wide open for West Virginia, Florida, and a handful of other contenders. We’ll know if the Mountaineers are going to accept the gift before this weekend ever hits. Their huge conference bout with Louisville is perhaps one of the most anticipated Thursday night games on ESPN in years. You’d think Cal would be ecstatic with the USC loss, now that they are sitting in first place in the Pac-10 all by their lonesome, but it doesn’t quite work that way. Unless USC loses another conference game, the Golden Bears will have to beat the Trojans in the Los Angeles Coliseum on November 18. It’s an ABC Sports Saturday Night special, with the opening kick-off scheduled for 8PM Eastern.

USC fans who operate L.A. area hospitality-driven businesses were hoping to see their beloved Trojans playing in the Tostitos national championship game on January 8, while being able to welcome two sets of out-of-town fans flooding into the area for the Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day … USC’s loss pretty much wiped out their hope for the title game, but a Rose Bowl appearance is still theirs to lose … Cal hasn’t made an appearance in the Rose Bowl Game since 1959 and their fan base is counting on invading the Los Angeles basin twice within a six week period this winter.

Individual game tickets for the Buckeyes season ender with Michigan are ranging from $350 per seat up to more than $1,200 each.  Some students are reporting offers of $2,000 for their tickets.  Do you think the Big Ten Conference just might renew the idea of expanding to 12 schools so they can stage a conference championship game in football each year? Imagine the revenues they could reap from a TV contract and sellouts for the title game every year at Chicago’s Soldier Field (61,500 seats). Gross revenues from ticket sales alone would easily exceed $7.5 million annually … play the game at a north or south division champion’s home field each year (as in Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State) and you could conservatively figure an additional $5 million in ticket sales alone, thanks to the seating capacities at those campus stadiums.

Make a note of these up and coming freshmen QBs …You’ve been hearing a lot all season long about some super frosh quarterbacks like Colt McCoy (Texas) Mitch Mustain (Arkansas) and Tim Tebow (Florida) but here’s a few freshman quarterbacks you probably haven’t heard of yet—but you will in the coming years … Juice Williams, Illinois … Jake Christensen, Iowa … Nick Graziano, Nevada.

Last week, Graziano, a hard-nosed 6’1” 220 freshman who also excelled at middle linebacker in high school, was 7 for 9, 69 yards, 1 TD, plus 31 yards rushing off one carry against New Mexico State in the first action he’s seen this year for the Wolf Pack. He will probably be leaving on a LDS mission for two years after this season, but he’s got a bright future ahead of him. He comes from the same high school conference that produced former Miami All-American and current Cleveland Browns back-up QB Ken Dorsey.

Christensen, a 6’1”, 205 southpaw prep All-American from Lockport, Illinois, became the first redshirt freshman signal caller to start for Iowa since 2000. He was 19 of 30 passes, 256 yards, and 2 TDs in the Hawkeyes’ win last week over Northern Illinois. He is projected to be Iowa’s starting QB next year.

Williams is a 6’2”, 220 lb. true freshman out of Chicago’s Vocational High … he was thrown into the fire for the struggling Illinois Fighting Illini this season.  He’s thrown for 1,252 yards and rushed for 535 yards in 9 games this season…I expect him to be a Troy Smith-type impact player before his college days are over.

We projected in last week’s column that John L. Smith was not long for his job in East Lansing … sure enough, Michigan State handed Coach Smith his walking papers yesterday. He will finish out the season while MSU searches for his replacement. We projected the Spartans would end up 7-5 or 6-6, however 7-5 is highly unlikely as it would require three consecutive wins over Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State to close out the season. Do you think Coach Smith wishes he were back in Louisville again right now? He was 41-21 with the Cardinals and made five consecutive bowl appearances from 1998 to 2002 before leaving for the Big Ten Conference coaching opportunity with the Spartans.

Heisman Watch … 1. Troy Smith, Ohio State, 2. Pat White, West Virginia,  3. Erik Ainge, Tennessee, 4. P.J. Hill, Jr., Wisconsin, 5. John Beck, BYU.

Pad the Stats Games of the Week: Boise State Broncos (plus 25) over Fresno State Bulldogs … USC Trojans (plus 29) over Stanford Cardinal … Auburn Tigers (plus 31) over Arkansas State Indians … Notre Dame Fighting Irish (plus 27.5) over North Carolina Tar Heels … Michigan Wolverines (plus 33.5) over Ball State Cardinals.

Best Games of the Week: West Virginia Mountaineers @ Louisville Cardinals … Boston College Eagles @ Wake Forest Demon Deacons … Oklahoma Sooners @ Texas A&M Aggies … LSU Tigers @ Tennessee Volunteers … Arkansas Razorbacks @ South Carolina Gamecocks … Missouri Tigers @ Nebraska Cornhuskers … Penn State Nittany Lions @ Wisconsin Badgers … Virginia Tech Hokies @ Miami Hurricanes … Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets @ North Carolina State Wolfpack … Tulsa Golden Hurricane @ Houston Cougars

This Week’s Upset Specials … I really have to go out on a limb this week to find a couple possibilities … Let’s say Texas A&M over Oklahoma, thanks to the Aggies’ home field advantage… and, Arizona State takes the wind out of Oregon State’s sails in Corvallis just one week after the Beavers’ big upset over USC.

Fourth and inches …

► One week and counting to the Ohio State-Michigan clash… it’s difficult to believe this will be the first time both teams have been undefeated and holding down the top two rankings heading into their rivalry game. Geez, I could swear when I was a kid the Buckeyes and Wolverines were always undefeated … that’s what it seemed like … Let’s not forget they both have to take care of business this weekend first … Michigan travels to Bloomington to take on Indiana … Ohio State visits Northwestern … both underdogs are capable of pulling off the upset, but it just doesn’t seem like it will happen this year … last week’s unusually close brushes with disaster served as a good wake-up call for both squads.

► Tickets for the Ohio State-Michigan game are 10 times more valuable than tonight’s Louisville-Rutgers game … as reported here last week, single seat tix are going for as much as $2,000 for the Nov. 18 game in Columbus … $200 for a single ticket is the top price the Big East’s Numero Uno and Numero Dos are fetching.

►Don’t think for one minute tonight’s game will settle the Big East … The Cardinals still have South Florida and Connecticut at home and they play at Pitt … Rutgers still has Cincinnati, Syracuse and West Virginia on its calendar … WVU still has Pitt, South Florida and Rutgers …

►The Ohio State-Michigan game will settle the Big Ten championship next week … There is really only one other conference that might be in line to crown its champion that early this season … that would be the Mountain West Conference … the BYU Cougars can clinch a share of the title tonight when they host conference-rival Wyoming and win it outright with another win over the New Mexico Lobos next week … as detailed above, the Big East Conference won’t be figured out for a few more weeks … the WAC appears to be wrapped up by Boise State (although if you want to drink the Kool-Aid I’m pouring in my Upset Specials this week, San Jose State will pull off the improbable on Saturday) … There is one scenario that would allow the California Golden Bears to claim the Pac-10 title this weekend, and it’s so difficult to imagine, I couldn’t bring myself to include it in the Upset Specials … If Oregon were to defeat USC this weekend and Cal beats Arizona, Cal would have the conference title in its back pocket with a two-game lead over the Trojans. The Bears could afford to lose to USC next week and they would still have the title sewn up (because beating Stanford in Berkeley this year is a foregone conclusion). All the other conferences will have to wait until their title games on Dec. 2 to anoint this year’s champions.

►The shocking murder of Miami defensive lineman Bryan Pata will undoubtedly cause many football fans out there to shrug their shoulders and chalk up the tragedy to some sort of comeuppance for the Hurricanes’ program … the perception of Miami being “Thug U.” might be well-deserved on some accounts, but Pata was a young man who represented the good among NCAA student-athletes across the country … the 22-year-old senior was actively involved with steering youth in the Miami community away from drugs and violence … he had hopes of playing in the NFL. We hope his family and friends will find solace in the knowledge that he was not only a well-disciplined and dedicated teammate, but also a powerful force for good in the Miami community … the Hurricanes will play the rest of the season with number “95” decals on their helmets in memory of their fallen teammate.

►Downward trends … Pitt’s Tyler Palko was leading the NCAA in QB passer rating until last week when the Panthers lost to Central Florida, 22-12. Palko’s passing stats for the game? 12 for 25 (48 percent) for 189 yards, one TD and three picks … last season’s passer ratings leader, ASU’s Rudy Carpenter, is ranked sixth in the Pac-10 among QBs with more than 50 passing attempts. Carpenter isn’t even ranked in the NCAA’s Top 25 … when you take a look at the type of numbers he was throwing up last week in Corvallis, Ore. against the Beavers, you can see why: 9 for 27, 124 yards, two interceptions … last year, Carpenter tossed a total of two interceptions in nine games …

►National awards organizations are beginning to zero in on their finalists … the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award which honors the top senior quarterback in the country has zeroed in on its final five: Brady Quinn (Notre Dame) John Beck (BYU) Kevin Kolb (Houston) Troy Smith (Ohio State) and Drew Stanton (Michigan State). The Davey O’Brien Awards committee revised its starting list to 18 semi-finalists and will name its finalists on Nov. 21. RealFootball365.com will have a rundown and player capsules for all the major award finalists later this month … stay tuned …

►DI-A head coaching vacancies … get those resumes out and polished up … North Carolina, Iowa State and Michigan State are all looking for a new head coach … other vacancies rumored to be on the horizon include Arizona State University, University of Miami and North Carolina State.

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: The Air Force Academy Falcons have defeated Notre Dame five times in the past 25 years, including four years in a row during one stretch. List the dates, the game locations and the scores. Be quick and be correct. The first email received with the correct answer wins you an official Rose Bowl Game T-shirt. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches…

►And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is… Once again, we had you baffled and confused as nobody came up with the correct answer to this question: “In what year was the rule introduced that prohibited players who wore numbers 50 – 79 from catching a forward pass?”

►Heisman Watch … 1. Troy Smith, Ohio State (holding on precariously after last week…) 2. Pat White, West Virginia (proved he’s the main catalyst in the Mountaineers’ offense last week when Slaton sat…) 3. P.J. Hill, Jr., Wisconsin (has carried the Badger offense on his back this season…) 4. John Beck, BYU (quietly restoring the Quarterback U tradition at BYU…) 5. Brian Brohm, Louisville (rapidly rising on this list with each big win…)

►Pad the Stats Games of the Week: Boston College Eagles (plus-28) over Duke Blue Devils … Nevada Wolfpack (plus-29.5) over Utah State Aggies … Hawaii Warriors (plus-38) over Louisiana Tech Bulldogs … and yes, even JoePa’s Nittany Lions will get some stats padding in this year as they are (plus-36) on the Temple Owls.

►Best Games of the Week: Louisville Cardinals @ Rutgers Scarlet Knights … Wyoming Cowboys @ BYU Cougars … Miami Hurricanes @ Maryland Terrapins … Wisconsin Badgers @ Iowa Hawkeyes … Wake Forest Demon Deacons @ Florida State Seminoles … Nebraska Cornhuskers @ Texas A&M Aggies … Tennessee Volunteers @ Arkansas Razorbacks … South Carolina Gamecocks @ Florida Gators … Texas Christian Horned Frogs @ New Mexico Lobos … Texas Tech Red Raiders @ Oklahoma Sooners … Oregon Ducks @ USC Trojans … Oregon State Beavers @ UCLA Bruins …

►Upset Specials of the Week… After enjoying some upset success during October, the rug was pulled out from under my crystal ball last week … Texas A&M came really close to knocking off Oklahoma, falling a point short …we won’t even revisit the other game, thanks to Dirk Koetter’s Sun Devils’ utter failure to show up in Corvallis last week … Let’s have some fun this week and call for two top 15 teams to get knocked off … the crystal ball says that the Air Force Falcons manage to control the ball and the clock at home to win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish … Dick Tomey is quietly turning around a once-proud San Jose State program … restoring pride and dedication in his players … they will take a gigantic leap ahead this week when they upset the Boise State Broncos..

Fourth and inches …

► Can The Rivalry Game be hyped any more than it already is? Not if you’re a Michigan or Ohio State fan. By now, you know that it’s the first time in the history of this storied rivalry where the Wolverines and the Buckeyes have met at the end of the season ranked #1 and #2 in the country. It will be only the fourth time they’ve met as undefeated squads at the end of the season. The winner will take home the Big Ten title and an automatic invite to the Tostitos National Championship game in Arizona on January 8 …

► ***Breaking News Nov 17***: Bo Schembechler passed away today … My sincere condolences to Coach Schembechler’s family, colleagues and former players. He was one of the greatest coaches ever. More importantly, he was a man of integrity and principles. It was my distinct privilege to interview Bo last summer for a book recapping the last 50 years of the Rose Bowl Game. He was gracious and funny, and the love he had for his family, his student-athletes, and his colleagues was obvious.

► Some consolation prize … The team with less points at the end of this year’s Rivalry Game gets the consolation prize of playing in the Rose Bowl Game. There’s something really wrong with college football when “The Granddaddy of Them All” is relegated to the role of a consolation bowl, three out of every four years, thanks to the BCS schedule. And if USC runs the table and winds up playing the Big Ten champion in Arizona, you can thank the BCS brains (how’s that for an oxymoron?) for robbing college football of its greatest postseason tradition and packing the real Rose Bowl Game off to Glendale, Arizona. The beloved ABC Sports play-by-play announcer Keith Jackson aptly referred to the BCS as a “transgression” committed by the college football elitists.

► So, if the BCS didn’t exist … this weekend’s two biggest games, the Pac-10 clash between USC and Cal and the Big Ten showdown between Ohio State and Michigan, would decide which two teams were headed to the Rose Bowl Game. The winner of the Rose Bowl would, of course, have an excellent chance of being voted the national champion by the AP sportswriters and the other polls, but it wouldn’t be like that every year. That’s part of the mystique and suspense of the pre-BCS bowl system. Some years you’d get championship caliber match-ups that seemed like they were made in heaven; and other years, you wouldn’t. But you always knew that the Big Ten champion and the Pac-10 champ would be meeting each other on New Year’s Day.

► Bo Knows: “I never set a goal for us to be the national champions. The way I figured it was you win the Big Ten and then you go to the Rose Bowl and you win that game and let the voters figure it out afterward. Our season was a complete success if we won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl Game.” (excerpted from Road to the Rose Bowl, 2005). By the way, Buckeye fans, Woody Hayes preached the same philosophy.

► The BCS decision makers have taken human intelligence and experience (i.e. professional sportswriters who can comprehend and weigh all the nuances that make up a team’s season including SOS, injuries, and such) and turned it over, for the most part, to computer programs incapable of such judgment. That’s why the computers currently have Rutgers ranked ahead of Ohio State and Boise State ahead of Texas and West Virginia … In other words, the computers cannot distinguish between Texas playing without their starting quarterback at Kansas State from Boise State struggling to eek out a victory over San Jose State. Right.

► Terry Bowden’s loopy playoff idea … I’m a bowl game traditionalist and make no apologies for it, but I also believe there is a reasonable way to stage a postseason playoff and preserve the major bowl game traditions. Take a look at the Top 10 Team Playoff idea at the very end of this column and compare it with Terry Bowden’s loopy idea currently being touted as an “exclusive” on Yahoo Sports. Bowden has the Rose Bowl Game being played on December 24 as a quarterfinal game … ditto for the Orange Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl would be on December 23. The national championship would be played in the Emerald Bowl on Jan 9. The Emerald Bowl? Is he nuts–as in Diamond Foods (Emerald Nuts) the sponsor of the bowl? Aside from his total lack of respect for the major bowl game traditions (i.e. tie-ins with New Year’s Day or holiday parades) Bowden fails to account for the decades of experience organizations like the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association have in hosting national championship events. Furthermore, the Emerald Bowl is played in a freakin’ baseball park … does T.B. have any idea what the weather can be like at night in San Francisco in early January? Can you say Mud Bowl?

►One more favorite Bo quote … “I was excited about coaching against Woody because I knew how he thought and how he acted. I told my staff in our very first meeting, ‘We’re not here to beat Indiana, Illinois, or Northwestern because this is the Big Two and Little Eight. We’re here to beat Ohio State and we’re going to do something about it every day to make that happen.’ Woody’s favorite play was off-tackle. We ran that all year long in scrimmage so our defense would recognize it easily when Ohio State ran it.”

► Must reading about The Rivalry … The Ann Arbor News published a colorful, fascinating, and objective history of the Wolverines – Buckeyes rivalry last year in a book titled Unrivaled: Michigan vs Ohio State. Many never-before-seen photos of Woody and Bo and the big games from the 1970s. If you’re a college football fan, it’s a must for your library.

► More RIvalry Game hype–love those ESPN ads … you can download them for free with iTunes right now. You can also purchase the TV telecasts for the 1973, 1997, and 2002 Rivalry Game for a buck-99 each, or all three games, plus this Saturday’s game for $5.99.

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: What was Bo Schembechler’s career won-loss record against his mentor and greatest rival, Woody Hayes? Be quick and be correct. The first email received with the correct answer wins you an official Rose Bowl Game t-shirt. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches…

►And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is… Congratulations to Jim Collins, Denver, Colorado. Jim came up with the correct (and lengthy) answer to this question: “The Air Force Academy Falcons have defeated Notre Dame five times in the past 25 years, including four years in a row during one stretch. When, where, and what were the scores?”

1982: Air Force 30-17 in Colorado Springs
1983: Air Force 23-22 in South Bend
1984: Air Force 21-7 in South Bend
1985: Air Force 21-15 in Colorado Springs
1996: Air Force 20-17 OT in South Bend

►Brady Quinn for Heisman? Here’s what Air Force linebacker Drew Fowler had to say to the Denver Post after facing Quinn the week after BYU’s John Beck visited Colorado Springs: “I think John Beck of BYU is just as good,” Fowler said. “I put Beck right up there with him (Quinn). They’re a good team, but I don’t think they’re any better than BYU from my perspective.” Air Force lost to BYU (33-14) and Notre Dame (39-17) during the past two weeks.

►Heisman Watch … 1. Troy Smith, Ohio State 2. Pat White, West Virginia 3. Ray Rice, Rutgers 4. John Beck, BYU 5. P.J. Hill, Jr., Wisconsin -TIE- 5. Darren McFadden, Arkansas

►When a suspension really isn’t a suspension … Florida Gators head honcho Urban Meyer imposed a one-game suspension on star defensive lineman Jarvis Moss this week for undisclosed reasons. “Ouch, Coach, that really hurts–what are you doing keeping me out of the big game against the 2-8 Division 1-AA Western Carolina Catamounts?” Hey, Urban: You want to send a strong message to your players that you really mean business regarding team rules? Let Moss play this week and suspend him for next week’s Florida State game.

►Pad the Stats Games of the Week: Notre Dame Fighting Irish (plus 32) over Army Black Knights… Boise State Broncos (plus 37.5) over Utah State Aggies … Wisconsin Badgers (plus 38) over Buffalo Bulls … Florida Gators (no line, duh!) over D-2 Western Carolina Catamounts …

►Best Games of the Week: Michigan Wolverines @ Ohio State Buckeyes … California Golden Bears @ USC Trojans … Virginia Tech Hokies @ Wake Forest Demon Deacons … Auburn Tigers @ Alabama Crimson Tide … Maryland Terrapins @ Boston College Eagles … Utah Utes @ Air Force Falcons … New Mexico Lobos @ BYU Cougars … Oklahoma State Cowboys @ Texas Tech Red Raiders … Tennessee Volunteers @ Vanderbilt Commodores …

►Upset specials of the week… SJSU’s Spartans failed to finish last week with an 8-point lead at the six-minute mark and punked my upset special over Boise State … Air Force sputtered out of the gate and fell behind too far too soon to challenge the Irish … let’s go with the Falcons again this week over the Utah Utes … and Vandy over the Vols.

►Top 10-Team Playoff … This idea restores conference affiliations with traditional bowl game partners and it places a focus on winning a conference title as the ticket to participate. Quality non-conference wins would be used as bonus points and tie-breakers in the system. Losses to low-rated teams would also affect some of the scoring in order to encourage credible scheduling of out of conference opponents. Here’s how it works:

The six major conference champions are automatically assigned to bowl games hosting the Elite Eight.

The Cotton Bowl and Holiday Bowl would host play-in games to reach the Elite Eight … the four teams playing in these two qualifier bowls would have to be ranked in the final Top 15 Playoff poll. A mid-major conference champion has priority over any other team in the Top 15 providing they also have Quality Win points from their non-conference schedule. Historically, you will note that there usually wouldn’t be more than one team from this pool…Boise State would miss out this year because they don’t have any quality wins.

The teams used here are only illustrative:

December 23
Holiday Bowl: Michigan versus West Virginia:
Winner goes to Sugar Bowl
Dec 24
Cotton Bowl: Florida versus Notre Dame:
Winner goes to Fiesta Bowl

Your Elite Eight match-ups would look like this:

Jan 1
Rose Bowl: Big Ten champion (Ohio State) versus Pac-10 champion (USC)
Orange Bowl: ACC champion (Ga. Tech) versus Big East champion (Rutgers)

Jan 2
Sugar Bowl: SEC champion (Arkansas) versus Holiday Bowl winner
Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 champion (Texas) versus Cotton Bowl winner

Final 4 slots:

Jan 7
Rose Bowl winner versus Fiesta Bowl winner, with Rose and Fiesta alternating each year as host for the semi-final
Jan 8
Orange Bowl winner versus Sugar Bowl winner, with Orange and Sugar alternating each year as host for the semi-final

The host site for the national championship game would alternate between the four sites each year…this means that each major bowl site would host a final 4 game two of every 4 years, a national title game once every four years, and sit out once every four years…

National title game:

Jan 15
Winner of the Jan 7 and Jan 8 games

This playoff idea only adds a week to the season, and it allows for all the other bowl games to be played … one other key addition to this scenario that adds vitality to the other bowl games … Each conference’s bowl game record could add bonus points to their conference champion’s final Top 15 Poll score the following year…this gives all the teams playing in minor bowls extra incentive since they could be helping their own cause the following year. Another plus is that a playoff scenario entailing this amount of extra games would generate, by conservative estimates, $1.35 million more per school than what they are now receiving. That would allow the NCAA to cut back the regular season to eleven games and keep conference championship games intact.

The negatives to this or any other playoff schedule? A handful of teams would end up playing 15 or 16 games in a season which could be considered unfair to the rest of the schools. Many of these schools would be the same participants, year in, year out. The additional games would also create greater exposure and risk of potential injuries. Feel free to add more in the comments box below.

Fourth and inches …

► One-half of the title game equation is solved … but it’s interesting to see the arguments being bandied about around the country regarding whether Michigan should have the right to play Ohio State again for the national championship. The loudest whiner is Florida’s Urban Meyer … compare his rants with the classy responses coming from USC’s Pete Carroll … Carroll lets the Trojans’ schedule speak for itself, something Meyer cannot possibly rest his case on when the Gators’ schedule has them playing powers like the Division II Western Carolina Catamounts … anyway, there’s still two more weeks of games to play, so let’s just sit back and see what happens …

► Folks, wake up and thank the BCS … it’s the system’s computer ranking formulas that are to blame for much of the problems that still exist … do you think the BCS will ever release how those computer rankings are programmed? Like I mentioned last week, computers cannot comprehend or take into consideration key injuries, rivalries and other important factors that qualified sportswriters are able to weigh in their voting. Have you ever checked out the CollegeFootballNews poll at CFN.Scout.com? They’ve got Ohio State, Michigan and USC in their top three … no shock there, but then they rank Wisconsin at No. 5 and BYU at 11th … Boise State is at No. 24 on their list …

► The USC-Notre Dame game this weekend … is conjuring up some of those lame “Bush Push” complaints from last year’s thrilling 34-31 Trojan victory in South Bend … I’ve watched that play over and over and I still fail to see how Bush can be accused of really PUSHING Matt Leinart across the goal line. Sure, his hands push against Leinart’s back slightly, but look at his posture … there’s no way he is really putting an effort forth … besides, Leinart didn’t need the help. His legs are doing the work to get across the goal line.

► The rumors are pretty strong that this could be the last straw for Arizona State’s Dirk Koetter, Miami’s Larry Coker, and North Carolina State’s Chuck Amato. Coker needs a win for Miami to become bowl eligible as the ‘Canes try to play spoiler this weekend in the ACC and knock Boston College out of contention for the conference title game … Koetter’s Sun Devils play archrival Arizona on the road, and the Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the country … ASU is already bowl eligible, but a loss will render the Devils a dismal 6-6 on the season heading into a third-tier bowl game … Amato cannot afford NC State losing to East Carolina …

► Rivalry Games almost always live up to their hype … you can take whatever stats and tendencies are on paper and throw them out the window. Ohio State and Michigan proved that once again last week when the majority of experts thought their clash would be a low-scoring affair. USC and Notre Dame proved it last year and they’ll do it again this year … this weekend’s rivalry games worth watching include Texas A&M at Texas, Brigham Young at Utah, South Carolina at Clemson, Georgia Tech at Georgia, and Oregon at Oregon State …

► Bowl game matchup predictions … Tostitos National Championship Game: Ohio State and USC will break the Rose Bowl’s heart, thanks to the BCS, and play in Glendale, Ariz. on Jan. 8 … The Rose Bowl Game will end up featuring Michigan and Notre Dame, a first for their rivalry … The Fiesta Bowl will offer a Texas and Boise State pairing … The Sugar Bowl will have Arkansas and West Virginia … The Orange Bowl will feature Georgia Tech and Louisville …

►MWC Commish Craig Thompson … has detractors mounting around the conference and it was no more apparent than when he was soundly booed by BYU fans last week as he presented the conference trophy to coach Bronco Mendenhall following the Cougars’ 42-17 victory over New Mexico. MWC fans, and particularly those backing BYU, TCU, San Diego State and UNLV, are still irate over the horrible mess that’s been made of their former TV deal with ESPN …

► the mtn debacle … Thompson led the MWC school presidents and athletic directors to believe that a better deal could be had with the fledgling CSTV network … Indeed, things were looking pretty swell when CBS Sports bought CSTV, but CBS hasn’t brought anything substantial to the mix so far … CSTV ended up partnering with Comcast to launch a Mountain West Conference channel called “the mtn.” Nice idea, poor execution, as “the mtn.” failed to get a satellite deal secured that would offer instant national coverage … as a result, “the mtn.” cannot be seen in any west coast state, such as Arizona, Texas and Nevada. In other words, BYU’s huge fan base in California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona cannot see their team on a traditional television channel for most games … ditto for SDSU, UNLV and TCU fans. CSTV responded by offering games online at $14.95 a pop a few weeks ago … and so, the MWC football schedule winds up this week without having a satellite deal in place to carry “the mtn.” … stay tuned (except for you MWC fans living in California, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, Nevada or Texas)…

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: Who were the first two teams to play into overtime in a bowl game–and what was the bowl and final score? Be quick and be correct. The first email received with the correct answer wins you an official Rose Bowl Game T-shirt. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches…

►And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is… Congratulations to Jamie Southwick of New York … Jamie correctly answered the question: “What was Bo Schembechler’s career won-loss record against his mentor and greatest rival, Woody Hayes?” Bo was 5-4-1 against Woody Hayes.

►Heisman Watch … 1. Troy Smith, Ohio State; 2. Pat White, West Virginia; 3. Darren McFadden, Arkansas; 4. John Beck, BYU; 5. P.J. Hill, Jr., Wisconsin.

►Pad the Stats Games of the Week: West Virginia Mountaineers (plus-21) over South Florida Bulls … Hawaii Warriors (plus-18–and it should be more) over Purdue Boilermakers … Rutgers Scarlet Knights (no line) over Syracuse Orange …

►Best Games of the Week: Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ USC Trojans … BYU Cougars @ Utah Utes … LSU Tigers @ Arkansas Razorbacks … Texas A&M Aggies @ Texas Longhorns … Florida Gators @ Florida State Seminoles … South Carolina Gamecocks @ Clemson Tigers … Oklahoma Sooners @ Oklahoma State Cowboys … Wake Forest Demon Deacons @ Maryland Terrapins … Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets @ Georgia Bulldogs … Louisville Cardinals @ Pittsburgh Panthers …

►Upset Specials of the Week… Florida State awakens from its coma and surprises Florida … Oklahoma State defends its home turf successfully against the invading Sooners …

Fourth and inches …

Beginning with tonight’s MAC championship game between Central Michigan and Ohio, the final weekend of college football’s regular season will be underway and within 72 hours we’ll know who and where the final pieces of the bowl puzzle will fit in. It appears pretty that a USC victory over UCLA will catapult the Trojans into the national title game in Glendale, Arizona. That would mark the second time in four years that the Rose Bowl Game had been robbed of its traditional Big Ten/Pac-10 match-up … you’ll recall the 2003 Orange Bowl Game featured the Carson Palmer-led Trojans against the Iowa Hawkeyes in a game that was dubbed “Rose Bowl East.” The Rose Bowl ended up with a rather boring Washington State versus Oklahoma match-up that year …

And if USC and Florida both win this weekend … you’ll continue to hear whining from Gainesville about instituting a playoff system … yes, that would be the Gators’ Urban Meyer … it’s amazing how gracious and respectable Steve Spurrier now appears in comparison to Meyer …

Speaking of head coaches … we were dead-on last week regarding North Carolina State’s Chuck Amato, Miami’s Larry Coker and ASU’s Dirk Koetter. Identifying someone whose time is up is the easy part, though. Predicting their replacement is far more difficult … USC’s Steve Sarkisian is one of the candidates being mentioned for the Arizona State job, along with his former mentor at BYU and coaching colleague at USC, Norm Chow …

One mid-major coach who is showing up on virtually everyone’s hot list is Jim Harbaugh … the former NFL and University of Michigan star quarterback is currently in his third year as head coach at the University of San Diego, and his 10-1 Tereros have won 26 of their last 28 games, including a record 19 straight wins at home and two consecutive Pioneer Football League titles … Harbaugh’s team is ranked Number 1 in the 1-AA Mid-Major Poll and Number 16 overall among all 1-AA teams … they play Monmouth this Saturday at the Gridiron Classic in New Jersey for the 2006 Sports Network Cup.

Rivalry “week” now stretches over three weeks, thanks to the new 12-game regular season schedule … the Ohio State – Michigan game and several other rivalry match-ups took place on November 18 … last weekend’s rivalry games such as Texas A&M’s 12-7 upset over Texas, Brigham Young’s 33-31 win on the last play of the game at Utah, South Carolina’s close shave 31-28 win over Clemson, Georgia Tech’s heart-wrenching 15-12 loss at Georgia, and Oregon State’s 30-28 nail-biter over Oregon all proved, once again, that anything can happen in a rivalry game … This week’s rivalry games include USC at UCLA, Stanford at Cal, and Army at Navy.

How the mighty have fallen … who would have thought at the beginning of this season that the Miami Hurricanes would be cooling off in the MPC Computer Bowl in Boise, Idaho this coming bowl season?  The average temperature for this highly sought after bowl game is 34 degrees. Frankly, I’m surprised the Hurricanes even accepted the invitation to play the WAC’s third place Nevada Wolf Pack in the dead of winter on that atrocious blue clown carpet at Boise State’s home field.

Confirmed Bowl game match-ups

Poinsettia Bowl, San Diego, CA

Northern Illinois and Texas Christian

The NCAA’s top rusher, Garrett Wolfe will find the yards are tough to come by against one of the best rush defenses in the country …

Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas, NV

Brigham Young and Oregon

One of the best match-ups you’ll see this bowl season, the game comes with ready-made intrigue … former BYU head coach Gary Crowton is now the Ducks’ offensive coordinator. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall was hired by Crowton as his defensive coordinator in 2003.

New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque, NM

New Mexico and San Jose State

yawn …

Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, TX

Utah and Tulsa

If the real Utah and the real Tulsa teams show up to play in this game, it could be a shoot-out.

Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu, Hawaii

Hawaii and Arizona State

Speaking of shoot-outs … Rudy Carpenter vs. Colt Brennan … expect 1200 yards in combined offense–minimum.

Emerald Bowl, San Francisco, CA

UCLA and Florida State

The Bruins and Seminoles have never met before … this could be fairly interesting if the weather holds out and it doesn’t turn into a bath like previous bowl games in the San Francisco Bay area …

Holiday Bowl, San Diego, CA

Cal and Texas A&M

This should be another great Holiday Bowl clash … Cal is now familiar with the setting and they’ll have a chip on their shoulder … A&M is a solid team that will give the Bears fits.

MPC Computers Bowl, Boise, ID

Miami and Nevada

Should be fun to watch the Miami players freezing their butts off!

24 more bowl match-ups will be decided by December 3.

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills:  Why doesn’t the NCAA recognize the individual postseason statistics for players prior to 1992 in the record books? Be quick and be correct. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches

And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is… Congratulations to Denny Rasmussen, Minneapolis … Denny correctly answered the question: “Who were the first two teams to play into overtime in a bowl game–and what was the bowl and final score?”  The first-ever Division I overtime game took place at the 1995 Las Vegas Bowl when the Toledo Rockets edged the Nevada Wolf Pack 40-37.

Heisman Watch … 1. Troy Smith, Ohio State 2. Darren McFadden, Arkansas 3. John Beck, BYU 4. P.J. Hill, Jr., Wisconsin 5. Dwayne Jarrett, USC

Pad the Stats Games of the Week: There’s only one of these babies left this season … California Golden Bears (plus 29) over arch rival Stanford Cardinal.

Best Games of the Week: Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Ohio University Bobcats for the MAC championship … USC Trojans @ UCLA Bruins … Oklahoma Sooners vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers for the Big 12 title … Rutgers Scarlet Knights @ West Virginia Mountaineers … Oregon State Beavers @ Hawaii Warriors … Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons for the ACC title … Florida Gators vs. Arkansas Razorbacks for the SEC championship … plus two classic rivalries that are always worth a mention: Stanford Cardinal @ Cal Bears and Army Black Knights @ Navy Midshipmen …

This Week’s Upset Specials … Nebraska over Oklahoma (there used to be a time when this wasn’t considered an upset) … Rutgers over West Virginia … Pat White playing with an injury suddenly makes the Mountaineers one-dimensional and vulnerable to a very hungry Scarlet Knights squad …