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More Heisman Hi-Jinks - and Early Bowl Scraps...By Nelson Lardner

He's your prototypical Heisman Trophy winner - a skill-position player (as is so often the case, the quarterback) of one of the nation's most prominent Div. 1-A teams.

As the man under center for the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes, Troy Smith is one to a zillion to take home the Heisman Saturday night.

Give him his due, he's a helluva college quarterback, and he's come up big when it's mattered most this season. More in the cookie-cutter NFL QB mold, Brady Quinn is a living cinch to be drafted higher, and figures to get a rapid chance to make good if, say, the Lions or Raiders take him with their high pick . . . "making good" in those outposts being a relative term, of course. And given his gifts, were Arkansas RB Darren McFadden a senior rather than a sophomore, there'd have been some heated discussions this week.

Going to the same school as did cellblock resident Maurice Clarett (currently working off the earliest stages of his thirty-month-minimum sentence), Smith's been in the spotlight from the get-go, and it hasn't all been nifty and pretty. He accepted that $500 gratuity from a booster in the spring of '04, which earned him a suspension and kept him out of a couple of games. But this year's certainly gone smoothly, Smith's been a team guy, said all the right things in public, graduated with a communications degree this past spring, and is striving for a second bachelor's degree in black studies.

Good thing . . . he's an exception, highlighting the current Ohio State trend. In a study of graduation rates of this year's 64 college bowl teams published this week in the Boston Globe, the Buckeyes ranked second-from-the-bottom in percentage of black football players graduating at 32%. Only Georgia's Bulldogs, at 24%, were worse.

And it doesn't HAVE to be that way. You expect non-service-academy institutions with good reputations to shine in this area, and they do: Boston College (93%), Wake Forest (90%), Notre Dame (90% -- and a 100% graduation rate among whites!) . . . even some of the "factories" check in with snappy numbers: Nebraska (80%), Penn State (77%) and Clemson (76%) are clearly doing creditable jobs in this sector. And believe me, we're not looking to bore you with sociology - we have gaming points to make in relation to these numbers, and will do so, momentarily.

So, is The Ohio State University "reaching" for the academically-borderline black athlete (vis a vis TOSU's curriculum standards), even so soon after the Clarett debacle? You be the judge.

An interesting wrinkle of Columbus' gridiron history is their broad record in bowl games versus SEC teams. We'll present the bare bones, then make a few observations:

2001 South Carolina 28-31 L
2000 South Carolina 7-24 L
1994 Alabama 17-24 L
1992 Georgia 14-21 L
1989 Auburn 14-31 L
1977 Alabama 6-35 L

That's not a little bit pretty - but it's relevant, considering the identity of this season's BSC Championship Game opponent. Note that that drubbing by 'Bama came in the next-to-last year of Woody Hayes' rule - and the second Gamecock loss occurred in Jim Tressel's first year. The others were played under Cooper, a 3-8 bowl coach whose teams frequently underperformed in those spots.

The polar opposite of Cooper in this regard, forgive Tressel that first loss - he's been nails in bowls since, running up four straight wins, and goin' for five.

But . . . not saying it is . . . but just maybe, this segment of OSU's bowl record IS significant, and the Midwestern boys have cause to be concerned about matching up athletically with a top SEC team? Nah - couldn't be . . . Tressel's made it a point to recruit for speed under his reign, and this team boasts it in abundance, on both sides of the ball.

We'd be neglectful, in a piece headed by Heisman heraldry, if we didn't make reference to a prevailing against-the-spread trend which gains great currency during the festive holiday season. To wit: the reigning Heisman winner's team is on an 8-22-1 ATS run in its bowl game. Only USC's Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer have cracked that jinx this millennium, as the mental burden and distraction of the win continues to take prisoners at a steady 70%+ clip.

Bowl handicapping is subtle, in large part because of the huge time gap between a team's final regular-season game, and the holiday-festival finale. Obviously, you can count on teams getting broadly healthier, but communal mindset can be a tricky read, and a determination of broad squad attitude is no less important than statistical qualifications.

Meanwhile . . . looking to buck that Heisman black cat? You're a braver man than me, Charlie Brown.

Nelson Lardner

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