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Troubled Ohio State on verge of collapse

Ohio State's Braxton Miller, top, is sacked by Michigan State's Johnny Adams during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State's Braxton Miller, top, is sacked by Michigan State's Johnny Adams during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
By Ralph D. Russo
AP College Football Writer / October 2, 2011

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In a few weeks, it is likely that the only thing left to talk about concerning Ohio State is whether Urban Meyer will be the Buckeyes' next coach.

What began in December with the NCAA suspending Terrelle Pryor and four other Buckeyes for swapping championship rings, trophies and other memorabilia for tattoos has left one of the elite programs in college football poised to have its worst season in 23 years.

The Buckeyes are 3-2 after an ugly 10-7 loss at home against Michigan State on Saturday. Next up is a treacherous three-game stretch: at No. 14 Nebraska on Saturday, at No. 19 Illinois the week after and home for No. 4 Wisconsin after an off week.

The Buckeyes haven't missed the postseason since 1999, haven't finished below .500 since 1988 when they went 4-6-1 in John Cooper's first year as coach, and haven't lost four straight games since 1943. To say those things won't happen this season is to indulge in wishful thinking and hoping for the best.

Ohio State ranks 108th in the nation in total offense and 110th in passing. Without Pryor, the Buckeyes simply have nobody prepared to be a starting quarterback for a big-time team.

No grand plan at Ohio State had senior quarterback Joe Bauserman starting this season. Braxton Miller was not supposed to be leading the team as a freshman. But that's what coach Luke Fickell has been left with.

Of course, the grand plan also never had Fickell running the team -- at least not so soon.

Fickell was handed this mess when Jim Tressel was ousted for covering up the violations that got Pryor and company suspended.

A small bit of good news for the Buckeyes comes this week when the other players who were suspended with Pryor become eligible to play in Lincoln.

The additions of receiver DeVier Posey, running back Dan Herron and tackle Mike Adams should provide a boost, but it might already be too late.

The mix in Columbus is volatile. Players normally accustomed to competing for Big Ten titles and BCS bids could quickly be relegated to vying for a trip to Detroit for the bowl season. Will talented seniors such as Posey and Adams already be thinking more about their draft stock than beating the Illini?

With Fickell and the rest of the coaching staff not guaranteed a job beyond this season, do underclassmen tune out coaches they figure won't be around next year?

To say the Buckeyes seem to be on their way to getting what they deserve isn't quite right. Surely there are players on that roster and coaches on that staff who deserve better than a five-win season. No doubt there are many who could be paying from crimes they did not commit while Pryor and Tressel collect NFL paychecks.

And there just might be enough talent in Columbus to prevent the collapse that appears to be inevitable.

"This team has some great players. I know some of these guys are doing the best job they can to step up," center Mike Brewster said. "I know Joe came in and did a good job at the end of the game and I know Braxton's doing the best he can. It was a hard day, but you've got to keep fighting."

Maybe Brewster, a senior, is one of those guys who deserves better.

But for leaders such as Athletic Director Gene Smith and University President Gordon Gee, who allowed a star coach and star players to believe they could skirt the rules, and all those boosters, supporters and fans so blinded by loyalty that they actually believe the Buckeyes have been victimized, this season is exactly what they had coming.

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PAC-12 PASSERS

Andrew Luck isn't the only Pac-12 quarterback off to a great start.

Including Luck, six of the top 25 rated passers in the nation are from the Pac-12, more than any other conference.

Like Luck, much was expected of some of the guys having big years.

USC's Matt Barkley has thrown for 1,587 yards, Arizona's Nick Foles has passed for 1,877 yards and Oregon's Derron Thomas has 12 touchdown passes in only 108 attempts.

Joining those established stars are Washington's Keith Price, Jake Locker's replacement who has guided the Huskies to a 4-1 start and thrown 17 touchdown passes, and Washington State's Marshall Lobbestael, who has the Cougars 3-1 after stepping in for injured starter Jeff Tuel.

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

San Jose State has a two-game winning streak for the first time in three years.

The Spartans also snapped a 16-game road losing streak by beating Colorado State 38-31 in Fort Collins on Saturday.

Coming off a victory against Western Athletic Conference rival New Mexico State, San Jose State beat the Rams of the Mountain West Conference on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Matt Faulkner to Jabari Carr with 54 seconds left.

Considering the way the MWC has gutted the WAC in the last year -- luring away Boise State, Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State -- the Spartans' victory had to feel good for longtime WAC Commissioner Karl Benson.

On the other side, CSU coach Steve Fairchild, 16-26 in his fourth season at his alma mater, could be in trouble.

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QUICK HITS

--The national championship race looks like an eight-team contest between LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Stanford, Oklahoma State, Boise State and Clemson.

--The only teams undefeated and still unranked in the AP Top 25 are Texas Tech and Houston. Why no love for the Red Raiders and Cougars? Texas Tech (4-0) has beaten three FBS teams with a combined record of 3-10 and none better than .500. Houston (5-0) has four victories against FBS teams with a combined record of 6-14, none better than 2-3.

--Sticking with the Cougars, their schedule doesn't get substantially tougher. If healthy, Case Keenum should break the NCAA's career passing mark in the next three or four games -- he's 1,482 yards behind former Hawaii star Timmy Chang, averaging 401 yards -- and nine wins should be a worst-case scenario for the Cougars.

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LOOKING AHEAD

For only the second time in the last seven years, Oklahoma and Texas are both unbeaten going into the Red River rivalry. But that's not the only reason why the game at the Texas State Fair is especially intriguing this year.

In the sideshow of conference realignment, OU has been trying to assert itself and show that the Texas does not actually run the Big 12. The Sooners might have an easier time putting the Longhorns in their place on the field.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at http://Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP