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Published: Thursday, 11/25/2004

Even on Thanksgiving, turkeys not always welcome

There were a lot of things to be thankful for during the Big Ten football season, but there were just as many turkeys out there.

With Thanksgiving upon us today, what better time to offer some food for thought.

As you load turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie onto your plate, try to digest some of following low-carb thoughts and low-fat observations.

Five reasons to be thankful:

●1. No one ever likes to see a player get injured, but Ohio State fans - as much as they hate to admit it - probably cheered after Justin Zwick separated his right (throwing) shoulder against Iowa.

Otherwise, the Buckeyes' season probably would have gone in the tank - they were 0-3 in the conference at the time and appeared to be headed for disaster - had coach Jim Tressel not been forced to play backup Troy Smith.

All Smith did was lead Ohio State to a 4-1 finish, a win over hated Michigan, and a berth in the Alamo Bowl. It's hard to imagine Zwick not transferring to another school once the season is over.

●2. Freshman speedster Ted Ginn Jr. may have had more to do with the Buckeyes' strong finish than Smith did. Ginn became a difference-maker once Tressel finally decided to utilize his talents. This dude has Heisman potential.

●3. Not even a season-ending loss at Ohio State can taint what quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Mike Hart did for Michigan. The two freshmen played key roles in leading the Wolverines to a share of the Big Ten title and a berth in the Rose Bowl.

Henne went 9-2 as the starter and directed three game-winning drives. And Hart was named Big Ten freshman of the year after leading the conference in rushing.

●4. Tressel improved his record to 3-1 against Michigan. He's already 1-up in the win column on John Cooper - the man he replaced. Cooper went 2-10-1 in 13 games against the Wolverines and was fired after the 2000 season.

●5. Michigan blew a chance to win the Big Ten championship outright and take the front door to a berth in the Rose Bowl by losing to Ohio State. But the Wolverines ended up getting in anyway after Iowa beat Wisconsin.

Four turkeys:

●1. Maurice Clarett. No further explanation needed.

●2. Lydell Ross. The senior tailback and captain was suspended for two games after being accused of using fake money at a Columbus strip club. He later was stripped of his starting job - no fake.

●3. Ohio State athletic department for using police and police dogs to search the bags of Michigan's players and coaches, when they didn't do it to any other visiting team. Does anyone smell a rat?

●4. Illinois coach Ron Turner. Since a 10-2 record, a Big Ten championship and a Sugar Bowl appearance in 2001, the Illini were just 9-25 the last three years, leading to Turner's firing earlier this week.

Three teams that were stuffed:

●1. Wisconsin was 9-0, ranked No. 4 in the polls and poised to win a Big Ten title and a spot in the Rose Bowl. But then the Badgers were hammed in their last two games, getting outscored a combined 79-21 by Michigan State and Iowa.

●2. Minnesota was 5-0 and ranked No. 13 in the country when it lost to Michigan. The Golden Gophers ended up losing five of their final six games.

●3. Purdue was 5-0, ranked No. 5, and quarterback Kyle Orton was a serious Heisman candidate. But in four short weeks it all came crashing down for Joe Tiller's Boilermakers with four losses by a total of 10 points.

Gravy train:

●1. Michigan will play in its 30th consecutive bowl game, the second-longest streak in Division I-A.

●2. Iowa, 22-4 in its last 26 Big Ten games, gave coach Kirk Ferentz a three-year extension that runs through 2012. He will be paid $1.2 million per season.

Stale bird:

●1. Penn State coach Joe Paterno. It's time for the man with the die-colored jet black hair, flood pants, white socks and black cleats to retire. He is more outdated than his wardrobe.

Paterno, who turns 78 next month, already has lost 33 games halfway through the 2000s, after losing just 26 in the 1990s, 28 in the '80s, 22 in the '70s, and seven in the final four years of the '60s.

Since losing to Minnesota on Nov. 6, 1999, the Nittany Lions are 16-27 in Big Ten play. Five of those victories have come against hapless Indiana.



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