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Hooley's NFL Picks: Fun in the sun

Oct 19, 2014 -- 10:45am

By Bruce Hooley |



There might be something to this Random Factor thing when it comes to picking NFL games. Using absolutely zero input regarding X's, O's, injuries or anything else relevant, I've gone 11-3 each of the past two weeks picking on restaurants and traffic, respectively, in the competing cities.

That raises the season's total to 53-32 entering a week in which the choices boil down to the weather. What could be more random than that?

Miami at Chicago -- Having lived in Miami, I can vouch that the charm of torrential rains almost every summer afternoon quickly loses its charm. However, it never piles up and requires shoveling. Pick: Miami

New Orleans at Detroit -- Oh, it might seem New Orleans would be the choice here, but the stifling humidity makes anything the Motor City throws at you better by comparison. Pick: Detroit

Carolina at Green Bay -- Frozen Tundra. Case closed. Pick: Carolina

Cleveland at Jacksonville -- Is there any possible way I can twist this to make Cleveland's weather sound better than Jacksonville's? Not without lying, and so, because I have no choice... Pick: Jacksonville

Atlanta at Baltimore -- The average temperature in Baltimore exceeds 90 degrees one month out of the year. This is a rout. Pick: Baltimore

Minnesota at Buffalo -- Coldest I've ever been in my life...University of Minnesota campus. Coldest I've ever been in a press box...Ralph Wilson Stadium. So, it's a push. Pick: Buffalo

Cincinnati at Indianapolis -- Average annual rainfall in Cincy...41.9 inches. Average annual rainfall in Indy...40.8 inches. Should be about that close. Pick: Indy

Tennessee at Washington -- I'll take a place where the temperature averages 60 or above 10 months out of the year, as opposed to a place where the cherry blossoms make it beautiful for two weeks. Pick: Tennessee

Seattle at St. Louis -- If you like rain, you'll love Seattle. I don't, but it sure beats tornados. Pick: Seattle

Kansas City at San Diego -- The noted crime author Joseph Wambaugh once described one of these places as, "the most beautiful city in the most beautiful county in the most beautiful state in the most beautiful country in the world." He wasn't talking about Kansas City. Pick: San Diego

Arizona at Oakland -- You'll never make me believe 115 degrees with no humidity is preferable to 80 degrees and humid. Been in both. Take the former. Pick: Arizona

N.Y. Giants at Dallas -- It doesn't snow in Dallas. Unless it's Super Bowl week. Pick: Dallas

San Francisco at Denver -- Can't get out of my mind the mental picture of folks showing up for baseball games in June at Candlestick with their parkas in hand. Pick: Denver

Houston at Pittsburgh -- The Air Quality Index of Pittsburgh may not reflect accurately the stench of Steeler hubris, but you can survive that more easily than a hurricane off the gulf. Pick: Pittsburgh


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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Buckeyes thump Rutgers, 56-17

Oct 18, 2014 -- 8:19pm

By Bruce Hooley |



Repitition has its charms, even when you know what's coming.
After all, no one ever tired of Larry, Moe or Curly taking a pie in the face, Wile E. Coyote faceplanting from a mountain plunge or Kramer bursting through Jerry's apartment door.
To this timeline of classic comedy pratfalls we can now safely add this year's edition of the Ohio State Buckeyes, fresh from their 56-17 evisceration of Rutgers Saturday in Ohio Stadium.
We weren't sure about these Buckeyes just a month ago, when Virginia Tech came into the venerable Horseshoe and shook the foundation of the old place with a two-touchdown victory before a suitably-lubricated prime-time audience.
But, rest assured, order has since been restored.
Four consecutive opponents have since faced off against Urban Meyer's squad and all four have now had Lucy yank the football away from poor old Charlie Brown just in time to send him sprawling.
It never gets old, folks.
At least not to the assembled 106,795, the largest crowd ever to see Rutgers play football.
Or whatever that was the Scarlet Knights engaged in yesterday.
Not to question the veracity of the Ohio State media package, but the way Meyer and his charges treated Rutgers, you had to wonder if maybe this wasn't really the first time these schools or these coaches had crossed paths.
It sure looked like Kyle Flood might have done something sinister to Urb way back when after OSU, leading 42-7, late in the third quarter, bypassed a field goal attempt on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line and went for the score.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett scrambled in for his second rushing touchdown, then stuck around awhile longer to throw his third touchdown pass before departing with OSU in front, 56-17, with still 8:33 left.
Rutgers, shockingly, could not muster the five touchdowns and accompanying two-point conversions for the 40-point rally it would have taken to mess up the Buckeyes' Homecoming festivities.
The guess is Rutgers' invitation to future Homecomings will be waiting in Monday morning's mail.
Let's be clear here: there is absolutely nothing wrong with OSU's bloodlust for points or an outlandish victory margin at the expense of Rutgers or any other opponent.
In this era of a four-team playoff decided by a voting panel, the eye test matters and so do as many lopsided victories as a team can accumulate.
The problem for Ohio State stems from the Big Ten's cumulative ineptitude relative to the Buckeyes' hard-to-define improvement.
Looking at their scores since the Virginia Tech loss, OSU can plausibly argue it is maturing into a team capable of a special season.
But the magnitude of the margins against Kent State (66-0), Cincinnati (50-28), Maryland (50-24) and Rutgers give credence to those labeling OSU as nothing more than the smartest guy at a dunce convention.
Two weeks ago, OSU stood No. 15 nationally, behind six other one-loss teams.
Last week, on the heels of embarrassing then 4-1 Maryland on the road, Ohio State moved up just two spots to No. 13 and trailed seven one-loss teams in the polls.
Seven more one-loss teams fall immediately behind the Buckeyes in that voting.
There's a school of thought that won't hurt OSU because some of those one-loss teams will lose, as Oklahoma did Saturday, and other will cannibalize themselves by playing each other.
That's true, but it's also true there will be a winner among some of those future matchups of one-loss teams, and those victories will carry considerably more influence with the playoff committe than another ho-hum dissection of Penn State, Illinois, Minnesota or even Michigan.
The Wolverines, 3-4 as the embark on their Green Mile Walk to East Lansing next week, will supply OSU no season-ending street cred this year, not after losing at Rutgers last week, 26-24.
Michigan State on the road Nov. 8 looms as the Buckeyes last viable opponent, and the Spartans' credentials are already compromised by their lopsided loss at Oregon.
As long as the Ducks continue to win, or should a one-loss team vanquish them and emerge from the Pacific 12, it will be dicey for OSU to get in front of them.
That's not to say Ohio State isn't every bit as worthy of playoff inclusion as other candidates who stumbled on one unfortunate Saturday this season.
It's just that the not everyone has the same appetite for the slapstick that passes for OSU's schedule.
Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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PREVIEW: Ohio State vs Rutgers

Oct 18, 2014 -- 9:27am

By Bruce Hooley |



RUTGERS (5-1 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) at OHIO STATE (4-1, 1-0)

KICKOFF: 3:30 p.m., Ohio Stadium, Columbus


COACHES: Urban Meyer is 28-3 in three years at OSU and 132-26 in 13 seasons. Kyle Flood is 20-12 in three years at Rutgers.

SERIES: First career meeting

OHIO STATE: Two weeks after routing another newbie to the Big Ten, 13th-ranked OSU takes aim at duplicating its 52-24 victory over Maryland against Rutgers. The Buckeyes haven't been challenged in three games since their surprising 35-21 los to Virginia Tech in Week Two. Since then, OSU has hammered Kent State (66-0), Cincinnati (50-28) and Maryland. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is creating sizeable buzz nationally with a 270-yard per-game passing output. Tailback Ezekiel Elliott has emerged as the team's top threat in the backfield, with 321 rushing yards in his last two games. Expect to hear plenty of J.J. Watt comparisons today when DE Joey Bosa makes his presence felt. Bosa has set up an OSU score in three games this season by forcing opposing fumbles. Buckeyes have won 17 straight Big Ten games, which is four shy of matching the school record set from 2005-07.

RUTGERS: Senior QB Gary Nova passed for a career-high 404 yards and three touchdowns in a 26-24 win over Michigan last week. His 267 passing yards per-game ranks third in the Big Ten. OSU must be aware of freshman linebacker Kemoko Turay, who leads the Big Ten with 5.5 quarterback sacks and 3 blocked kicks, including Michigan's game-winning attempt. Rutgers best win came in the season-opener at Washington State, 41-38, where Nova led the sixth fourth-quarter comeback of his career. He also threw five interceptions in Rutgers' lone loss, 13-10 at home against Penn State.

NEXT FOR OSU: at Penn State at 8 p.m. Oct. 25.


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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Hooley's NFL Picks: Gridlock

Oct 12, 2014 -- 10:47am

By Bruce Hooley |



A season-best 11-3 mark resulted from picking last week's games solely on the city in which I've eaten the best meal. That hikes the Random Factor season mark to 42-29, entering a week in which the easier city to commute from the suburbs to downtown decides the pick.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland -- They say Pittsburgh is really a beautiful place to live. Maybe so, if they ever finish building it. Tell me, did they weld those orange cones to the pavement around the Fort Pitt Tunnel? Pick: Browns

Green Bay at Miami -- Having lived in Miami, I can tell you there's nothing more charming than the two-hour mid-afternoon commute from Coral Gables to downtown because the sight of an abandoned car along the tollway so captivates the locals. Pick: Green Bay

Jacksonville at Tennessee -- I've driven through Jacksonville once. Or attempted to. It rained so hard folks stopped their cars in the middle of the Interstate in broad daylight. You could not see at all. No issues getting from the Opryland Hotel to Music Row. Pick: Tennessee

Carolina at Cincinnati -- The Research Triangle is easily navigable. The same would never be said about I-71 or I-75 into downtown Cincinnati. Pick: Carolina

Detroit at Minnesota -- Time was when Detroit was a nightmare commute. When, you know, people actually worked there. In Minneapolis, bridges occasionally collapse and I-35W takes a nasty turn near downtown. Pick: Detroit

Baltimore at Tampa Bay -- I've never tried to commute in Baltimore. It can't be worse than Dale Mabry Boulevard at rush hour, or the causeway from St. Petersburg into Tampa. Pick: Baltimore

New England at Buffalo -- Kirk Douglas once made a movie called, Once is Not Enough. I can guarantee it was not about commuting in Boston, or they would have called it, Once is Way Too Often. Pick: Buffalo

Denver at N.Y. Jets -- Neither commute is pleasant, but at least in Denver you have mountains, not concrete, to look at as you sit in traffic. Pick: Denver

San Diego at Oakland -- Again, it's all about the view. Ocean and no humidity beats the Bay Bridge and getting crushed from the next earthquake. Pick: San Diego

Chicago at Atlanta -- Unless you work remotely from home, your life will be appreciably shortened by the commute either place. Forget the car and go mass transit. Gimme the El over MARTA, if only because one is slightly-less sweltering in the summer than the other. Pick: Chicago

Dallas at Seattle -- Assuming you have an umbrella and an operable emergency break to withstand the rain and extreme hill-side parking, this is a no-brainer. Pick: Seattle

Washington at Arizona -- The best thing about rush hour in the desert isn't that it begins at 4 a.m. and 2 p.m., it's that you're actually in Phoenix and not in Washington D.C.  Pick: Arizona

N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia -- Lousy traffic both places, so pick the least-congested locale. Pick: Philly

San Francisco at St. Louis -- You have to cross either a bay or a river. The swim-challenged among us like our odds with the smaller body of water.  Pick: St. Louis


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce

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Can Brian Hoyer flip the switch against the Steelers?

Oct 11, 2014 -- 2:28pm

By Bruce Hooley |



There are several still-unattained achievements in front of the Browns as they prepare for kickoff Sunday against Pittsburgh, and the answers both individually and collectively will tell us much about what to expect from Mike Pettine’s team the remainder of the season.

First, it’s long since past the time to vanquish the Ben Roethlisberger mystique and sully Big Ben’s 18-1 record against the Browns.

Ruling the AFC North going forward demands ending the mastery the Browns’ chief division rival has enjoyed since Roethlisberger came of Miami of Ohio in 2004 and Butch Davis deemed Kellen Winslow II a wiser choice than a potential franchise quarterback.

It shows you how much the NFL has changed in a decade, because now there is no way a potential franchise-changer like Roethlisberger would last until the 11th overall selection.

The Browns’ quest for a similar leader, one who can cover the mistakes of a porous offensive line, an injury-depleted or aging defense and shaky special teams—all things Roethlisberger’s excellence has excused from time to time—continues to this day.

Or, not.

Many believe Brian Hoyer is the guy to lead the Browns out of the quarterback wilderness into the promised land of perennial playoff contention.

I hope so, but to believe that, I have to soon see four consecutive quality quarters from Hoyer in the same game.

There is no better time for that than Sunday in a winnable game against an opponent that has been vulnerable both in a home loss to Tampa two weeks ago and a shaky road win at Jacksonville last week.

Hoyer cannot be slow to get sharp, as he and offense were in the season-opener at Pittsburgh or last week at Tennessee.

He cannot hit a mid-game speed bump as he did against New Orleans, or late against Baltimore.

If Brian Hoyer is the leader of this offense, and a guy talented enough to cover the shortcomings of those around him, he will never have a better time or a more-friendly stage on which to prove that than against Pittsburgh at First Energy Stadium.

What I see in Hoyer so far is enough promise to have hope, but enough inconsistency to have doubt.

I likened it Friday on my show to two scenes in the Oscar-winning movie, Castaway.

In the first scene, Tom Hanks’ character is new to the deserted island on which he’s stranded, and recognizes his need to build a fire both to cook food and to signal rescuers.

Hanks labors to rub sticks together to generate the necessary heat to spark the fibrous material he’s gathered from FedEx packages foraged from the ocean.

When the material smokes, he becomes extremely excited, and furiously re-doubles his efforts to rub the sticks such that a flame will result.

Eventually, his purpose accomplished, you see him waving blanches aflame and celebrating his achievement of building an enormous fire on the beach.

“I build FIRE!” he exults, in his best caveman impersonation.

Later in the movie, after he’s rescued, Hanks is alone in a hotel suite after his Welcome Home party at FedEx headquarters in Memphis.

He looks around the room and sees all the leftover food, a bounty beyond his capabilities as he scratched out a living on the island. Then Hanks holds up a butane lighter and flicks the switch.

A flame suddenly, and effortlessly, appears.

The irony of how hard he worked to build a fire when stranded, and the ease of obtaining fire with one flick, is clearly not lost upon him.

So far, winning with Hoyer has been like building a fire with sticks on the island—it’s do-able, but it’s really, really hard.

Winning with a quarterback whose decisions, arm strength, touch and leadership cover a multitude of shortcomings and whatever adversity the opponent musters, that’s winning the flick-of-a-butane-lighter way.

Let’s hope Brian Hoyer finally flicks his switch against the Steelers.

Meanwhile, Ben, no sticks for you.

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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Hooley's NFL Picks: Good Eats

Oct 05, 2014 -- 11:10am

By Bruce Hooley |


Photo/Fleming's Prime Steakhouse

Last week's 6-6 record keeps the Random Picks season mark above .500 at 31-26.

We'll choose this week based solely upon which city I've had the best meal in over years of work-related travel, or where I'd prefer to eat if given the choice.

On to the selections:

Chicago at Carolina -- Italian food at Harry Caray's and a chili dog at Mustard's Last Stand in Evanston proves too much for Greensboro's best fare on many a trip to NCAA first-round games. Pick: Chicago

Buffalo at Detroit -- Got sick on what's supposed to be the first restaurant ever to serve chicken wings, the Anchor Bar, in Buffalo. That's way worse than the turkey on sourdough at Zingerman's Deli. Pick: Detroit

Houston at Dallas -- Landry's Seafood is fine, but it can't beat the New Year's Night steak at the historic Hotel Texas in Downtown Fort Worth, where JFK stayed the night before his assassination. Pick: Dallas

Baltimore at Indianapolis -- The crab cakes weren't memorable enough to hang with Rock Bottom Brewery or St. Elmo's in downtown Indy. Pick: Indianapolis

St. Louis at Philadelphia -- The means I've eaten in St. Louis don't linger in my mind like the lust I have for an authentic cheesesteak. Pick: Philadelphia

Cleveland at Tennessee -- The salmon at Fleming's, anything from the dearly-departed Champp' beats anything on the menu at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, live entertainment not included. Pick: Cleveland

Pittsburgh at Jacksonville -- The only time I've been through Jacksonville it rained so hard cars had to pull off the highway in midday. That'll your appetite even more than the buffet at Eat 'n Park. Pick: Pittsburgh

Tampa Bay at New Orleans -- The steak at Berne's and the pulled pork at LeRoy Selmon's were fabulous, but no match for the blackened redfish at K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. Pick: New Orleans

Atlanta at N.Y. Giants -- There's nothing memorable dining-wise about multiple trips to Atlanta, but dinner at Windows on the World in the North Tower of the World Trade Center was unforgettable, even before history rendered it so. Pick: New York

Arizona at Denver -- The chips and salsa tree pool-side at Rita's Kitchen in Scottsdale is a great way to pass a sunny afternoon, particularly when followed by house tacos around the fire ring once the sun sets. But as great as that is, it can't beat the kitschy allure of cliff-divers while you dine on enchiladas and sopapillas at Casa Bonita. Pick: Denver

N.Y. Jets at San Diego -- Broadway prix fixe sets the stage for a great evening, only it can't match the salty air and morning sunshine on the rooftop at the Firehouse Beach Cafe, where the western omelette and pancakes are sublime. Pick: San Diego

Kansas City at San Francisco -- Barbeque, no matter how good it is, is only barbeque next to the atmosphere and to-die-for crab-stuffed tilapia at Peohe's Coronado at Ferry Landing. Pick: San Diego

Cincinnati at New England -- Whatever I ate at Faniel Hall many years ago is no match for Montgomery Inn ribs and Saratoga Chips, which never get old. Pick: Cincinnati

Seattle at Washington -- The seafood at Rock Creek brightened the gray skies and rainy days of an extended weekend trip for the Final Four. Nothing in our nation's capital has measured up. Pick: Seattle


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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Ohio State spoils Maryland's Big Ten Debut

Oct 04, 2014 -- 3:59pm

By Bruce Hooley |



It's getting harder to know whether Ohio State is that good or it's competition is that bad after the Buckeyes wasted Maryland, 52-24, Saturday at sold-out Byrd Stadium.
The only certainties after OSU hammered a third straight opponent in the wake of an increasingly-inexplicable loss to Virginia Tech are, yes, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany really is that boring. And, yes, those Maryland uniforms really are that ugly.
Otherwise, what do we make of the Buckeyes, now 4-1 after riding quarterback J.T. Barrett's 267 passing yards to an easier-than-expected victory?
Kent State, Cincinnati and now Maryland have born the brunt of a Buckeyes offense that would likely be getting more national respect if it had an electric catalyst like Braxton Miller operating it.
Barrett is as fast or as flashy as Miller, but he is increasingly showing himself to be much better than expected as a dual threat. He accounted for five touchdowns against the Terrapins (4-2), four passing and another on a 9-yard run.
He's now rushed for 360 yards this season and has now thrown 14 TD passes against only one interception since getting picked off three times in the loss to Tech.
It could be argued that's the last time the Buckeyes faced a representative Division I defense, since Maryland (89th), Cincinnati (122nd) and Kent State (112th) didn't rank close to the upper half of the 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams through the month of September.
But it could also be argued that Ohio State is growing exponentially more difficult to stop as Barrett matures, Ezekiel Elliott emerges at tailback and wide receivers Devin Smith, Michael Thomas and Dontre Wilson develop as reliable receiving threats.
OSU sharply moved to touchdowns on both of its first two possessions and expanded that 14-0 lead to 24-3 early in the second quarter to effectively end the suspense against Maryland.
Just to make sure, ESPN inexplicably devoted almost nine minutes to an in-booth interview of Delany, who droned on with his talking points about the genius of adding Maryland and Rutgers in an infomercial not even the programming-challenged Big Ten Network would stoop to air.
No sooner -- and it should have been MUCH sooner -- had Delany left the booth than Maryland coach Randy Edsall defied convention and paid dearly.
Trailing by two touchdowns, heading into the wind, 93 yards from the end zone and set to receive the second-half kickoff, Edsall allowed quarterback C.J. Brown to throw.
Darron Lee intercepted and returned the ball inside the 10, then fumbled to teammate Raekwon McMillan, who recovered at the 1-yard line.
Barrett's TD pass to Nick Vannett made it 31-10 at halftime, making the second half more formality than necessity and eliminating Maryland's hoped-for upset in its first Big Ten home game.
Now the Buckeyes get their second bye week in a month as they prepare for the other of Delany's headline-grabbing additions, Rutgers, which took a 4-1 record into its game against visiting Michigan on Saturday.
After that, it's a road trip to Penn State and a home game against Illinois before the Buckeyes get their stiffest test in conference at Michigan State on Nov. 8.
Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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PREVIEW: Ohio State at Maryland

Oct 04, 2014 -- 9:27am

By Bruce Hooley |



OHIO STATE (3-1) at MARYLAND (4-1)

KICKOFF: 12:05 p.m., Byrd Stadium, College Park, Md.


COACHES: Urban Meyer is 27-3 in three years at OSU and 131-26 in 13 seasons. Randy Edsall is 17-25 in four years at Maryland and 91-95 in 16 seasons.

SERIES: First career meeting.

OHIO STATE: Buckeyes pass defense remains a concern after allowing TD passes of 19, 60, 78 and 83 yards last week in a 50-28 victory over Cincinnati. OSU's offense had its way with the Bearcats, piling up 710 offensive yards and 45 first downs on 101 plays. QB J.T. Barrett passed for 330 yards and four TDs, while rushing for 83 yards. He leads the Big Ten in total offense with a per-game average of 323 yards. TB Ezekiel Elliott gained 182 yards and scored once on 28 carries. DE Joey Bosa has forced three fumbles, leading to 23 OSU points. Buckeyes have won 16 straight Big Ten games, which is four shy of matching the school record set from 2005-07.

MARYLAND: QB C.J. Brown's status is a mystery as the Terrapins prepare for their first home Big Ten game. He injured his left wrist last week in a 37-15 victory at Indiana. Backup Caleb Rowe threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns in that win. Brown has surpassed 4,000 career passing yards and 1,400 career rushing yards. Maryland is averaging 36.8 points. WR Stefon Diggs has caught a pass in 23 consecutive games and is the best of a deep receiving corp. Maryland's defense has intercepted six passes and recovered five fumbles. Byrd Stadium is sold out in advance of kickoff for the first time since Florida State visited in 2008.

NEXT FOR OSU: Rutgers at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 18.


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




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