THE RED SEA between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa sometimes is given a red appearance by certain zoophytes floating in it, but those waters undoubtedly would appear faded in comparison with the sea of scarlet scheduled to flood the 'Shoe Saturday.
Fans are being encouraged by The Ohio State Department of Athletics "to dress scarlet to show your pride for the team and to display a unity that only 100,000-plus fans in scarlet can accomplish" as the Buckeyes face the Wisconsin Badgers in the night game.
And that isn't the only cause for celebration.
Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George will be honored at halftime because his upcoming induction into the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame in December and his official enshrinement during the summer in South Bend, Ind.
Saturday also will be OSU's 90th homecoming, and the Buckeyes will wear Nike Pro Combat-style uniforms to honor the 1961 football team. Among the features on the distinctive uniforms will be a deep scarlet stripe on the steel-gray helmets, and the jerseys also will be scarlet. Pants and socks will be dark gray.
The 1961 team, which includes some area residents, finished the season 8-0-1, defeated Michigan, 50-20, won the Big Ten championship and was named national champion by the Football Writers. That was the year that a Rose Bowl invitation to OSU wasn't accepted by a narrow margin because of a bitter dispute among the college's faculty council. Coach Woody Hayes was livid and claimed for years that decision hampered recruiting efforts.
George, who will become the 23rd OSU player to enter college football's HofF, holds the single season and single game rushing records for Ohio State and is second only to Archie Griffin in career yards. In addition to the Heisman, he received the Doak Walker Award, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year honor, Jim Brown Award, Big Ten MVP and All-America. He was 1996 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Buckeye head coach Luke Fickell said that George was "a big running back from the get-go, but things don't always go your way. I don't know in my time here that there was anybody that outworked him. That's why he is where he is today."
At OSU, George is one of only six individuals with his name honored in lights in the north end zone of the stadium, and he was inducted into The Ohio State University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006.
Tim Spencer, a former St. Clairsville resident who became running backs coach for the Chicago Bears in 2004,was the position coach at OSU for George during his Heisman Trophy-winning season of 1995.
I remember when George's No. 27 jersey was retired by the university's athletics department in 2001. Surprisingly, at least to me, he was seated in the same row as the seat designated for The Times Leader in the press box. Former head coach John Cooper and his wife, Helen, along their daughter, Cindy, came down from the press box's top floor to talk to him.
Those are just some of the entertaining highlights of an important game in which the unranked Buckeyes will face the Badgers, ranked 15th in the BCS standings. OSU's record is 4-3 and 1-2 (Big Ten) while Wisconsin is 6-1 and 2-1 after its loss last week to Michigan State.
Wisconsin head football coach Bret Bielema has a positive attitude despite that loss. "When you are faced with adversity, you go back to what you believe in more than ever," he said. "You don't try to flinch or you don't try to change what you're doing. You go back to what you know is good and to get that to come out, and that's what we've got to have."
TV's Ben Matlock used to remark, "Ain't nothing easy," and it appears that way for this week's game. The Badgers lead the Big Ten in scoring offense and rank second in scoring defense. Wisconsin and Stanford are the only two teams in the nation to rank among the top 10 in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
In addition, Wisconsin's 27-6 record over the last three seasons is the fifth best record in the country.
Junior running back Montee Ball, a Badger who is a Doak Walker Award candidate, leads the nation in scoring at 16.29 points per game. He is 15th in the nation with 109.7 rushing yards per game, and this is second best in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes, however, are improving, and they have become a contender.
As to whether it was difficult to maintain the momentum built up after the Buckeyes' biggest win, Fickell said, "This game is a game of emotions and momentum. Being at home, being a night game, I don't think we'll lose any of that. The most important thing is we have to maintain it and keep it. Our guys have the right attitude. They have the right focus. Now it's time to just do it."
OSU defensive lineman John Simon said the Buckeyes know Wisconsin is a great team and added, "They're not going to back down or anything like that. We know we're up for a fight on Saturday. We're looking forward to it.
The Badgers this season has defeated UNLV, 51-17; Oregon State, 35-0; Northern Illinois, 49-7; South Dakota, 59-10; Nebraska, 48-17; and Indiana, 59-7. I
In the games between the two teams, dating back to 1913, OSU has a 53-17-5 lead.
FICKELL during this week's press conference was asked whether he had been told what he had to do to keep the coaching job or what officials want to see from him. He replied, "My wife tells me all the time what she wants to see from me. That's all I have to worry about.
"Again, it's day-to-day. My focus is those men, this program, this team. Everything else will take care of itself." ...
SATURDAY'S game, which is being televised by ESPN, will begin at 8 p.m.
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