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Ohio State on shaky ground

Is this where Ohio State’s fantasy ride with coach Urban Meyer finally ends?

There’s a good chance, considering all of the close calls over the past two seasons and the fact this looks like the stiffest test the Buckeyes have faced since Meyer arrived.

Ohio State puts its 24-game win streak on the line Saturday as a 5½-point favorite over Michigan State in the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.

True, all the Buckeyes can do is beat the teams in front of them, but there are questions about the victims list and the Big Ten, which has a lot of soft spots. Many insiders believe that given a schedule like Louisiana State’s from the Southeastern Conference, Ohio State might have three or four losses this season.

After surrendering more than 600 yards to a Michigan offense that had been gaining less than a third of that amount in recent games, there are concerns about the quality of the Buckeyes’ stop unit.

The Spartans are 9-2 against the spread in their past 11 games as underdogs, and their highly ranked defense looks to have the proper ingredients to control the line of scrimmage and pressure Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller.

If Michigan State sophomore Connor Cook, who has thrown only three interceptions in his past seven games, keeps his mistakes to a minimum, the Spartans might be able to reverse last year’s bitter 17-16 loss to Ohio State.

A scouting report on more Saturday games:

■ South Florida at Rutgers (-5½): Bowl eligibility continues to remain elusive for fading Rutgers, which hasn’t won a game since before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won re-election early last month.

Based on respective efforts over the last half of the season, I’m not sure the Scarlet Knights deserve to be favored over South Florida, especially with rumors of coach Kyle Flood’s shaky status in light of the late-season collapse (1-5 straight up and ATS in the past six) coinciding with well-publicized internal controversies that have regional sources wondering if the program wants to make its move into the Big Ten next season with Flood in charge.

There also are quarterback issues that forced Flood to bench mistake-prone Gary Nova and turn to former starter Chas Dodd, who proceeded to complete only 16 of 35 throws with two picks in last week’s loss to lowly Connecticut. Meanwhile, the Bulls have shown life since freshman quarterback Mike White entered the lineup, and they have four covers in as many tries as road ’dogs under first-year coach Willie Taggart, whose teams at South Florida and Western Kentucky have covered 14 of the past 15 in that role.

■ Texas at Baylor (-15½): While there still is a scenario — involving an Oklahoma State loss to Oklahoma — that can give either of these teams a chance at the Big 12 crown, the bigger story involves the ongoing rumors at Texas about the future prospects of coach Mack Brown. His future, according to some sources, already might be decided, as several insiders believe that like Robert E. Lee once upon a time at Appomattox, Brown is in the process of agreeing to the terms of his surrender.

The Longhorns, never comfortable defending high-powered spreads like the Baylor offense, now are minus injured linebacker Steve Edmond, their top tackler. The stats of the quarterbacks, the Bears’ Bryce Petty (28 touchdown passes, two interceptions) and Texas’ Case McCoy (10 TDs, nine interceptions), plus the fact Baylor appears close to full strength with running back Lache Seastrunk’s return, bodes well for the Bears. Note Baylor’s 10 straight home covers and 66 points per game this season in Waco.

■ Duke vs. Florida State (-28½): I’m not looking for spots to go against the Seminoles, who have ascended to the top spot in the polls while effectively destroying opponents, covering 10 of 12 against the number. But Florida State’s prowess now is reflected in a price that tops four touchdowns in this Atlantic Coast Conference title showdown in Charlotte, N.C.

The Blue Devils, unlikely Coastal champions under coach David Cutcliffe, roared to eight straight wins (and ATS covers in their past seven) down the stretch to record the first 10-win season in school history. First-string quarterback Anthony Boone, who missed early-season action with a shoulder injury, is 10-0 in his career as a starter, although Cutcliffe has a change-of-pace option at QB in Brandon Connette, a jack-of-all-trades who has rushed for 13 touchdowns. And Cutcliffe’s well-conditioned team has dominated the fourth quarter in most of its games.

Don’t expect Duke to trade points against an airtight Seminoles stop unit that ranks fourth nationally in total defense (271 yards per game). But the Blue Devils don’t have to go toe-to-toe to stay within this generous line, either. Florida State is not going to be required to deliver the style points necessary to qualify for the Bowl Championship Series title game in Pasadena, Calif.

Las Vegas handicapper Bruce Marshall is editor of The Gold Sheet (goldsheet.com).

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