Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jackie Robinson's Impact Went Beyond Baseball

This is a noteworthy anniversary in the history of American professional sports. It is the 70th anniversary of the day that Jackie Robinson obliterated the color barrier in major league baseball.

Of course, it wasn't obliterated right away. Social change always takes time. But it got started on this day.

Robinson broke the color barrier long before I was born. I grew up aware of the segregation that continued to exist in my hometown until I was well into my elementary school years but unaware that professional sports had ever been segregated. It took a remarkable person to make it possible for blacks to play in integrated professional leagues — and Robinson was a special person in many respects. There may not have been a better choice to challenge the status quo in 1947.

USA Today honors Robinson's memory today by listing his five greatest achievements.

To no one's surprise, becoming the first black man to play major league baseball on April 15, 1947 is ranked as his greatest achievement of all — and that is surely what he will be remembered for by generations to come. The other four achievements were from his major league career — after the catcalls had ended and the resistance had receded.

But his greatest achievement may have come off the baseball field — before he made history with the Brooklyn Dodgers — when he demonstrated that he had what it took to withstand what he would have to face.

During World War II while stationed at Ford Hood, Texas, Robinson stared down the U.S. military and its pre–desegregation institutionalized racism. He faced a court–martial over an incident on an Army bus.

The Army had commissioned an unsegregated bus line, but the driver ordered Robinson to move to the back of the bus. Robinson would not do so, and the driver contact the military police when the bus reached the end of the line.

The court–martial had its roots in racist questioning of Robinson following the incident, not because of the incident itself. When Robinson proved his case in court, he was unanimously acquitted a nine–officer all–white panel.

It was during the period of his court–martial that Robinson demonstrated the qualities that served the civil rights movement so well in the years ahead. He was able to remain nonviolent in the face of virtually daily rough treatment by other teams, clearly taking a page from Gandhi's playbook in India and lending inspiration to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Baseball has found many ways to celebrate Robinson's memory. Of course, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility.

In 1987, 40 years after Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, the American and National leagues renamed their Rookie of the Year awards renamed the "Jackie Robinson Award." Robinson won the award following his rookie season of 1947 — at a time when the award covered both leagues.

On the 50th anniversary of the bashing of the color barrier, Robinson's No. 42 was retired by all major league clubs. Only one other athlete has been so honored by his sport — hockey's Wayne Gretzky.

"Jackie Robinson Day" is observed every year now on the anniversary, and every player on every major league team wears No. 42 in tribute to Robinson.

It is hard to imagine what America would look like today if Robinson had not broken baseball's color barrier 70 years ago today.

Monday, January 9, 2017

And the National Champion Will Be ...

National Championship
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide (14–0) vs. #2 Clemson Tigers (13–1)
Raymond James Stadium in Tampa
7 p.m. (Central)

I'm a history buff, and I tend to look at things from the perspective of history. The topic doesn't matter. Everything has a history, and that history can tell us a lot. It's a matter of recognizing what history is trying to tell you.

It is often said that history repeats itself. I tend to agree with Mark Twain, who said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." Usually, there's a lot of rhymin'.

The history of the Alabama–Clemson football series is that Alabama has dominated. To be fair, Clemson did win the first two meetings, which were in 1904 and 1905. Alabama has won the 13 games that have been played since — including last year's national championship game.

So history would suggest that Alabama will win the national championship in Tampa — because Alabama always beats Clemson.

But past performance is no guarantee of future results.

What is true of past seasons may prove to be true of the just–concluded regular season, but it is important to consider how these teams performed in that 2016 season. It has more relevance than what happened a century ago — although what happened in the past does contribute to mindset. As Vince Lombardi said, "We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible."

You can argue that Alabama will win tonight's game because it won a stronger conference — or, at least, one that is perceived to be stronger — than the conference Clemson won.

But Clemson's Atlantic Coast Conference has beaten Alabama's Southeastern Conference in three out of four bowl confrontations last month.

In most football games, the quarterback is regarded as the position that is most critical to a team's success. In the national rankings in nine categories, Alabama QB Jalen Hurts was in the Top 20 in only one — completion percentage. He was 16th. That's a good thing, right? It is — except that Clemson's Deshaun Watson, the Heisman runner–up, was ranked eighth.

Hurts, a freshman, and Watson, a junior, attempted almost the same number of passes so it is a valid comparison — and Watson was in the Top 20 in seven categories and was usually in the Top 10. He threw 38 touchdown passes, and Hurts threw 21, but Watson threw 17 interceptions (Hurts threw nine).

Junior wideout Mike Williams is the receiving target Alabama most needs to stop. Williams caught 90 passes for 1,267 yards for Clemson, but the Crimson Tide can't afford to ignore sophomore Deon Cain, who averaged 19.1 yards per catch.

Running back isn't the focus of either offense. Alabama's Damien Harris averaged 7.2 yards per carry — but he only averaged about 10 carries per game. Clemson's Wayne Gallman ran for 16 touchdowns (Harris ran for only two), but his rushing average was a more pedestrian 5.1 yards per carry.

On defense, Clemson senior defensive tackle Carlos Watkins had 10½ sacks this season. But, as a team, Alabama's defense was the best in the nation this season. The Crimson Tide was one of only three teams to give up less than 100 yards rushing per game (the other two were Wisconsin and Western Kentucky) and forced an average of 1.9 turnovers per game (same as Clemson).

And Alabama yielded an average of 11.4 points per game; no other defense gave up fewer points, on average, this season.

Ultimately, I am inclined to think that the defense will make the difference, but, while oddsmakers say Alabama is a 6½–point pick, I am more of the mind that Alabama will win by three points.

Last week: 9–7

Overall: 204–72

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 2–3

Overall upset specials: 14–24

Sunday, January 1, 2017

An Early Look at the National Championship

Now, we're down to one more game in college football. Well, it will be the last one after the final whistle blows tomorrow.

Clemson and Alabama are headed to Tampa for the rematch that few saw coming, and I'll be making my prediction on that game about a week from now.

Well, I saw it coming. I predicted both would win in my prediction column last week. True, Clemson was an upset special — at least as far as the bookmakers were concerned — but I was more impressed with what I saw from Clemson during the season than I was with what I saw from Ohio State. As I wrote, I had a feeling that Clemson would win.

Not sure if Clemson was 31 points better, although that sure is what it was last night.

Alabama and Washington combined for 31 points as well, but at least Washington was responsible for a touchdown — the first score of the game. I really thought the Ohio State–Clemson nightcap would be a good game.

And I am hopeful that the Alabama–Clemson rematch will be good. It was a 45–40 finish last year, and you know Clemson is eager to avenge that loss.

Dieter Kurtenbach of Fox Sports writes that it could be a long night for Alabama if Jalen Hurts doesn't get better throwing the ball in the next eight days.

'Bama is an early seven–point pick.

My guess is the spread will be closer by kickoff.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Choosing a Champion

My father and I were watching the Las Vegas Bowl on TV about a week ago. Please don't judge us. Withdrawal from college football does not come easily.

Anyway, the game ended (mercifully) and the broadcasting crew announced that, after a commercial break, the broadcast would resume with the presentation of the bowl trophy to the winning team. And it occurred to me that, even though I had watched most of the game, I had no real interest in watching a trophy being given to the winner.

I would guess that most bowl viewers feel the same way.

There are how many bowls now — 40? I suppose there will always be pockets of viewers who really do want to see the trophy being awarded after each bowl — mostly folks who have some connection to the winning school — but the only one that really matters, the only one that nearly all college football followers will want to see is the one that is awarded after the national championship game on Jan. 9, 2017.

At the risk of sounding like I have succumbed to good old days syndrome, I often think things were better when there were only a handful of bowls. All the extra games are great for hard–core fans who only want to see football, but only a handful have any real meaning, which is really the way that it used to be. The only difference is that, of the handful of meaningful games, only two will decide who will play for the national title. And we won't know who those two teams are until Saturday night.

Back when polls ruled, there was occasionally ambiguity about the national champion, but it was hard to beat the drama sometimes. When I was a boy, I recall a year when Texas was undefeated and ranked No. 1 going into bowl season. As the SWC champions, the Longhorns were the host team in the Cotton Bowl. All they had to do was win that game, which began around noon on Jan. 2 (New Year's Day fell on a Sunday that year so the New Year's Day bowls were played the following day), and they were sure to be national champs.

But they lost.

At that point, speculation began about who might move up in the polls the next day and claim the national crown. The top contenders were Oklahoma, Alabama and Michigan, all of whom played after the Cotton Bowl concluded. Oklahoma and Michigan lost their bowls. Alabama won its bowl, but the Crimson Tide lost to Nebraska (9–3 that year) earlier in the season.

The pollsters picked Notre Dame — the team that beat Texas — to be national champ in a year that saw half a dozen teams finish with a single loss.

When the bowl games were done and the nation awaited the pollsters' verdict, there was an excitement in the air. Who would be named national champion? There were several plausible contenders, and supporters of each could make good cases.

Under the current playoff arrangement, the only similar drama might occur when a playoff field is chosen and a deserving team (or more) fails to make the cut — and all that really proves is that the playoff field as it exists is not adequate.

Now I know this would add about a week to the season, but the field should at least be doubled to eight teams.

College football wants to replicate college basketball's phenomenally popular national tournament, but a huge reason for its popularity is the number of teams who are given the chance to compete. You can't start with the Final Four. Teams must earn their way in.

Expanding the field would add more drama to the playoffs. I absolutely believe college football will acquiesce on this — eventually.

Once the final gun sounds on the night of Jan. 9, though, there won't be any drama. The winners of the New Year's Eve semifinals will meet that night, and the winner of that game will be proclaimed the champion. Just like the Super Bowl, really. No muss, no fuss. And maybe that is as it should be.

But it isn't nearly as much fun.

Tuesday, Dec. 27
  • Military Bowl: #23 Temple vs. Wake Forest, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: You have to go back to the year after the Stock Market Crash to find the only time these schools have met.

    But with Temple coach Matt Rhule leaving for Baylor, there is an element of intrigue in this game.

    Temple, after all, is coming off a season–ending win over Navy, and the Owls are favored by 13½ points. It's a good job opportunity for Ruhle — and a good opportunity to impress the folks in Waco even though Rhule won't be coaching against Wake Forest. Still, the team's performance will speak volumes about Rhule's coaching skill — and whether Baylor hired the right guy. I pick Temple to win.
Wednesday, Dec. 28
  • Russell Athletic Bowl: #14 West Virginia vs. Miami (Fla.), 4:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is the 20th time these schools have met but only the first since 2003.

    For a couple of decades, they were conference rivals, and Miami dominated the series. The 'Canes have only lost to West Virginia three times.

    The oddsmakers think Miami will win again, having established the 'Canes as 3½–point favorites. But I am making West Virginia an upset special.
  • New Era Pinstripes Bowl: #22 Pittsburgh vs. Northwestern, 1 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools have faced each other half a dozen times, and each team has won three.

    But they haven't met in more than 40 years.

    Pitt is favored by 5½ points, and that is good enough for me in this one. I pick Pittsburgh.
Thursday, Dec. 29
  • Valero Alamo Bowl: #13 Oklahoma State vs. #11 Colorado, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools were members of the same conference for decades until Colorado left for the Pac–12.

    They will meet for the first time since 2009. Colorado leads the all–time series, but Oklahoma State has won three of the last four encounters.

    What is more, Oklahoma State seems to be playing better than Colorado here at the end of the season. Well, that is what I think. The oddsmakers think Colorado is a three–point favorite. I will make Oklahoma State an upset special.
  • Belk Bowl: #18 Virginia Tech vs. Arkansas, 4:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: SEC schools have won the last two Belk Bowls, but this will be Arkansas' first visit to the Charlotte, N.C., bowl.

    It will also be Virginia Tech's first appearance in the Belk Bowl.

    And it will be the first meeting between the schools. Oddsmakers have made Virginia Tech a seven–point favorite, but I'll take Arkansas as an upset special.
  • Birmingham Bowl: #25 South Florida vs. South Carolina, 1 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: South Carolina won the only previous meeting between these schools in September 2004.

    South Florida is favored by 10½ points. The spread might be smaller than that, but I agree that South Florida should prevail.
Friday, Dec. 30
  • Capital One Orange Bowl: #6 Michigan vs. #10 Florida State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams have faced each other twice, but the last meeting was more than 25 years ago.

    Michigan was one of the better teams in the country this year. Until the Wolverines lost to Ohio State, I thought they would be in the college football playoffs.

    I guess the Orange Bowl isn't bad compensation for missing the playoffs.

    I wasn't overly impressed with Florida State, and apparently neither were the oddsmakers. They make the Wolverines 6½–point favorites. I agree. Michigan should win.
  • Hyundai Sun Bowl: #16 Stanford vs. North Carolina, 1 p.m. (Central) on CBS: These teams played twice in the '90s with each team winning once at home.

    This is their first meeting in nearly 20 years and their first meeting ever on a neutral site.

    Stanford is a 31½–point pick. I'd like to pick the Southern team (my father always told me, all things being equal, pull for the Southern team), but I have to take Stanford in this one.
  • Franklin Amer. Mort. Music City Bowl: #24 Nebraska vs. Tennessee, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is a meeting between two storied programs.

    Both of their previous meetings were in bowl games. Nebraska was the winner on both occasions.

    Tennessee is a 3½–point pick this time, but I'm not convinced, mainly because I have seen both teams play this year, and I know that both have flaws. I honestly feel this game could go either way.

    It is almost a home game for the Volunteers. On that basis, I will pick Tennessee.
Saturday, Dec. 31
  • Semifinal #1, Chick–fil–A Peach Bowl: #4 Washington vs. #1 Alabama, 2 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: I grew up in the South, and my father taught me to support the Southern teams. Arkansas was the football team where I grew up, and that meant the Southwest Conference, but the Razorbacks left the SWC for the Southeastern Conference in the early '90s.

    Alabama is a charter member of the SEC, much as Arkansas was a charter member of the SWC. For many reasons, I should pull for Alabama — but somehow I find it hard to do that. It wasn't hard for me to pull for Alabama when Bear Bryant was the coach. I admired him. I even got to see him coach in person once.

    But things are different now. I am not sure why that is so.

    What isn't different is that Alabama wins — a lot. And the Crimson Tide is likely to win this one, too. The oddsmakers clearly think so. They have made Alabama a 15–point favorite.

    It is hard to argue with that one, really.

    Alabama has a very good team. It is already being compared to some of the greatest college football teams of all time. I can't find a single reason to predict a loss for the Crimson Tide. I'll be pulling for the other team, but I predict that Alabama will prevail.
  • Semifinal #2, PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: #2 Ohio State vs. #3 Clemson, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams have met twice, and Clemson won both meetings.

    The first time was in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Clemson sealed the win with a late interception, and Ohio State coach Woody Hayes sealed his fate by punching the Clemson player who picked off the pass. That ended Hayes' 28–year career as the Buckeyes' coach.

    The second meeting was in the 2014 Orange Bowl. Then as now, Ohio State has a higher ranking and the oddsmakers' blessing. In the Orange Bowl, the Buckeyes were 2½–point favorites. This time they're 3½–point favorites.

    I suppose most people are picking Ohio State to win. But don't underestimate Clemson's motivation — the Tigers want to avenge last year's 45–40 loss to Alabama in the national championship game. Of course, by the time they kick off in Arizona, everyone will know whether Alabama beat Washington; if the Huskies pull off the upset, it might deflate Clemson somewhat. But I don't think that will happen.

    I have a hunch, and I'm going to make Clemson an upset special.
  • Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: #19 LSU vs. #15 Louisville, 10 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Ever since the bowl lineup was announced, I thought this one had the potential to be the most entertaining bowl game of the bunch. It might even outshine the two national playoff games that will be played later in the day.

    It's intriguing to note that, while LSU lost four games, it did so by a combined 23 points — and nearly half of those points were scored by top–ranked Alabama. Louisville lost three games, but the last two were by a combined 29 points.

    In an upset special I take LSU.
Monday, Jan. 2, 2017
  • Rose Bowl: #5 Penn State vs. #9 Southern Cal, 4 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the 10th time these schools have faced each other — and the third time they have faced each other in the Rose Bowl.

    Their first Rose Bowl encounter was nearly a century ago on New Year's Day 1923. Southern Cal won that one 14–3.

    That was the first time they ever faced each other. The most recent time they faced each other was in Pasadena on New Year's Day 2009. Southern Cal won that one, too, by 38–24.

    Oddsmakers like Southern Cal to win this time as well, but the point spread is in single digits — 6½ points. But I like Penn State in this one. I won't call this one an upset special because Penn State is the higher ranked team, but clearly it would be an upset in the eyes of the oddsmakers.
  • Allstate Sugar Bowl: #17 Auburn vs. #7 Oklahoma, 7:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This ought to be one of the better bowls this year.

    It has been 45 years since the only time these schools met — in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day 1972. Oklahoma won by 18 points on that occasion. Oddsmakers think the Sooners will win by about half that. I pick Oklahoma.
  • Goodyear Cotton Bowl: #8 Wisconsin vs. #12 Western Michigan, noon (Central) on ESPN: These schools have faced each other four times, but the last time was in 2000.

    Wisconsin won three of those four contests, and the Badgers are favored to win this one by 7½ points, which suggests a close contest, but it's hard for me to imagine this game generating much interest locally.

    I used to work with a guy from Wisconsin. If he is so inclined, I imagine he can get tickets to this one pretty easily — and they could be pretty good seats, too. If he does go, I expect him to enjoy himself. I pick Wisconsin to win.
  • Outback Bowl: #20 Florida vs. #21 Iowa, noon (Central) on ABC: These schools have met three times, each time in a bowl game, and this will be their third straight meeting in the Outback Bowl.

    Florida won the last time, 11 years ago to the day, and Iowa won the time before. The one non–Outback meeting was in the 1983 Gator Bowl. Florida won that one.

    So the Gators hold a 2–1 lead in the series. Oddsmakers have made the Gators favorites to make it a 3–1 advantage, but Iowa, it is worth noting, defeated Michigan and then hammered Nebraska in the season finale. I pick Iowa in an upset special.
I shall predict the national championship game on Jan. 9.

Last week: 6–2

Overall: 195–65

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 0–0

Overall upset specials: 12–21

Friday, December 2, 2016

Are Conference Championship Games the Path to College Football's Playoff?

Alabama and Florida have faced each other for the SEC Championship eight times since meeting in the first one in 1992. Each school has won four times. The winner of Saturday's game will be 5–4 in title games against the other.

No one else in the Southeastern Conference has even been in the conference championship game more than five times — let alone won it that many times.

The conference championship game has been in existence for a quarter of a century, and it is hard to remember now that there was a time when people said the conference championship game wouldn't last. It was seen by some as something of a fad — which is what a lot of people thought about the Super Bowl at first. The NFL was too good for the AFL, the experts said. Joe Namath broke the glass ceiling for the old AFL with the Jets' win over the Colts in Super Bowl III; ironically, it was Broadway Joe's alma mater, Alabama, that broke the conference championship game's glass ceiling.

College football's postseason playoff began with the 2014 season, and it has been a given that conference championship games are the route to the the playoff — but that hasn't necessarily been the case. Last year, for example, Oklahoma was the fourth seed in spite of the fact that the Big 12 does not have a championship game.

And this year, there is talk that Ohio State will be in the four–team field in spite of not playing in the Big Ten's conference championship game.

Lately, though, there has been more emphasis on strength of schedule, which has led to more quality nonconference games early in the season. It has been said that strength of schedule is one of the first things — if not the first thing — considered by the selection committee.

Idle: #2 Ohio State, #5 Michigan, #10 Southern Cal, #12 Florida State, #16 Louisville, #17 Stanford, #18 Auburn, #21 LSU, #22 Iowa, #23 Nebraska, #24 (tied) South Florida, #24 (tied) Pittsburgh

  • Pac–12 Championship: #9 Colorado vs. #4 Washington, 8 p.m. (Central) on Fox: These teams first met more than a century ago, but they weren't annual foes until they became conference rivals a few years ago.

    Ironically they haven't faced each other this year — until now. Another irony — both teams lost to Southern Cal, whose losses to Stanford and Utah kept the Trojans from playing for the league title.

    Washington has won six straight against Colorado. The Huskies haven't lost to the Buffs since the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30, 1996. Oddsmakers have made Washington a 7½–point favorite to beat Colorado for the seventh straight time. I also think Washington will win (and secure a berth in college football's four–team playoff), but it might be closer than 7½ points.
  • Mid–American Championship: #13 Western Michigan vs. Ohio, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These schools first faced each other in 1962. This will be their 44th meeting.

    The momentum in the series has belonged to Western Michigan with five wins in the last six confrontations.

    The oddsmakers favor Western Michigan by 19 points. I agree. The pick is Western Michigan.
  • SEC Championship: #1 Alabama vs. #15 Florida, 3 p.m. (Central) on CBS: The things that Florida needs in order to have a chance of winning this game are simply too improbable. The Gators need a couple of scores from their defense and a couple of scores from their special teams. It wouldn't hurt to get a score or two from the offense, but that may be the most unrealistic expectation of them all. Florida had a good scoring defense (second only to Alabama), but every team in the SEC West scored more on offense than did Florida.

    Alabama is favored by 24 points. I find it hard to imagine anyone beating the Crimson Tide. Alabama may not win by 24, but Alabama will win.
  • ACC Championship: #3 Clemson vs. #19 Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is the second time these schools have played for the ACC title. The first time was five years ago to the day, and Clemson won by four touchdowns.

    Tech performed better in scoring defense in conference play, but Clemson's scoring offense was much better. The Tigers come into the game favored by 10 points. I'm inclined to think Clemson will win, and the margin might be larger than that.
  • Big Ten championship: #6 Wisconsin vs. #8 Penn State, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This is the championship game that no one saw coming — at least not until recently.

    Everyone probably expected to see Ohio State or Michigan representing the Big Ten East. Certainly not Penn State.

    Wisconsin was probably one of the favorites in the Big Ten West, but most people may not have expected the Badgers to be second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (behind Michigan).

    Penn State, on the other hand, was tied for second (with Michigan) in scoring offense.

    If the title game turns into an offensive show, Penn State will win. But I have always believed that defense wins championships so I pick Wisconsin, a 2½–point favorite, to win.
  • #11 Oklahoma State at #7 Oklahoma, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on Fox: I worked on the OU campus for four years, and when they call this matchup Bedlam, that is precisely what it is — especially if Oklahoma State happens to win.

    Oklahoma has won nearly 80% of the time when these teams have faced each other, but it has been more balanced of late. OSU has beaten Oklahoma two of the last five times they have met — including the last time they played in Norman.

    Few schools have beaten OU twice in a row at home, which is what Oklahoma State will be trying to do. In fact, OSU has won two in a row in Norman, but it was more than 20 years ago. Oklahoma State is good enough to do it this year, but the Sooners are pretty good, too. Oddsmakers have concluded that the Sooners are too good for the Cowboys, making Oklahoma a 12–point pick.

    I think Oklahoma will win, but I feel like the margin will be closer than that.
  • Baylor at #14 West Virginia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: This is the fifth time these teams have met. In the brief history of the series, the home team always wins.

    Before the season began, I thought Baylor was overrated. And I have been proven correct. Turned out West Virginia was underrated. Not anymore. Oddsmakers are picking West Virginia by 17 points.

    I pick West Virginia, too, but I think Baylor has enough left in the tank to keep it closer than 17 points.
  • American Athletic Championship: Temple at #20 Navy, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Navy has won five of its last six meetings with Temple.

    But Navy is only favored by a field goal. Why? Well, Temple is better than you think. After starting the season 1–2, the Owls won eight of their last nine to get into the championship game. Temple is riding a six–game winning streak — and the Owls won the last time they played in Annapolis.

    It should be a good game, and it wouldn't surprise me if the margin turned out to be three points, but I do think Navy will prevail.
Last week: 12–5

Overall: 189–63

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 1–1

Overall upset specials: 12–21

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Turkey and Football: Who Could Ask For Anything More?

This is the kind of college football weekend that stirs up all sorts of memories from my childhood.

Thanksgiving weekend is always a big weekend for football, but I think of the epic showdowns that have been played over the years when families gathered for Thanksgiving dinner and the weekend that followed. In truth it's been many years since we've had a Thanksgiving game of that caliber.

I grew up in rural Arkansas, and my family had a large stone fireplace in our living room. My memories of Thanksgiving are of cold overcast days with a roaring fire in the fireplace and college football on the TV.

In my memory all those games were significant nationally. Perhaps they only seem more significant to me now because they were so special then. There were only three networks in those days, and only one carried college football during the regular season. Many games were shown on a regional basis, but by Thanksgiving the games were mostly national.

It was a truly shared experience.

I grew up following the Razorbacks, but I seldom got to see them play on TV. Most of the time I had to listen to the games on the radio. Today I can watch just about every game — but they so rarely seem to live up to the memory I have of the mental images I created listening to the radio play by play.

Sometimes I think the quality of seeing a favorite team play is diluted by the frequency of viewing. I remember the excitement of knowing that a Razorback game had been selected for TV broadcast. These days it is expected that any given team, even the bad ones, can be seen on TV just about every week.

Some of the games on the Top 25's schedule this week have the potential to stir up some excitement and be shared national experiences, but I'm afraid that is a designation that only national title games receive now.

Still, enjoy the action this week.

Idle: #7 Oklahoma, #10 Oklahoma State

  • #25 LSU at #22 Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This game has tried to fill the vacancy left in Aggie Thanksgivings ever since Texas and Texas A&M stopped playing each other a few years back.

    LSU has beaten Texas A&M five straight times, dating back to the Cotton Bowl in January 2011. That victory snapped a five–game Aggie winning streak against the Tigers.

    You have to go back more than 50 years to find the only time that either school has beaten the other six straight times in a series that is being renewed for the 54th time. LSU beat Texas A&M every year from 1960 to 1965.

    That is LSU's challenge — to win its sixth straight against A&M for only the second time.

    Rankings and location suggest that Texas A&M will snap the skid tonight, but it's important to remember a few things about LSU. The Tigers have gone 4–2 since Les Miles was fired. They might well have been 5–1 if the weather had not forced school officials to postpone their game with Florida from early October until just past mid–November. In October, LSU had not yet played Alabama and still hoped to make it to the SEC championship game. By this past weekend, LSU no longer had that as a viable goal — but Florida did. Timing, they say, is everything. Florida won and will face Alabama in the SEC title tilt.

    With the exception of their 10–0 loss to Alabama a few weeks ago, the Tigers have been playing well since Miles was replaced, and I'm going to take LSU. According to the oddsmakers, though, it won't be an upset. LSU is favored by five points.
  • #6 Washington at #23 Washington State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: This has been a pretty lopsided rivalry. Washington wins about two–thirds of the time, and the Huskies have won six of the last seven, including the last time the game was played in Pullman.

    Washington is a 6–point pick to win this time, too, and I can't argue with that. I pick Washington.
  • Toledo at #14 Western Michigan, 4 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: These teams have been conference rivals since 1962 and have played each other every year since that time. This will be their 55th meeting. Toledo leads the series, with winning records at home and on the road (and in the one game they played at a neutral site back in 1975). At Western Michigan, Toledo has a .593 winning percentage.

    It is a series that tends to produce close finishes. One time, a handful of years ago, Toledo won 66–63. The last time the game was played at Western Michigan it was won by Toledo 20–19. This year Toledo comes in with a 9–2 record, hoping to knock off unbeaten Western Michigan.

    I pick Western Michigan.
  • #17 Nebraska at Iowa, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the 37th time these teams have played each other, and Nebraska wins nearly 71% of the time.

    They have only been conference rivals for a few years, but the series dates back to the days of Teddy Roosevelt. In more modern times, Nebraska hasn't lost at Iowa since the first year of the Reagan presidency.

    Still, though, I am going to make Iowa an upset special. The 7–4 Hawkeyes beat then–undefeated Michigan a couple of weeks ago. They're already bowl eligible, but another win over a ranked team at the end of the season could give the Hawkeyes a berth in a pretty decent bowl.
  • #18 Houston at Memphis, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: The first meeting between these schools came one week after the assassination of President Kennedy. This will be their 25th confrontation, and Houston wins more than 60% of the time.

    I have to figure that Houston will win this one, too. After all, the Cougars have beaten Oklahoma and Louisville — but then I remember that this Houston team also lost to SMU. I suppose all bets are off.

    Houston has won three in a row at Memphis. The Cougars did that before, winning games in 1968, 1971 and 1973, but Houston has never won four in a row at Memphis. I think Houston will win its fourth in a row in Memphis this year.
  • #20 Boise State at Air Force, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: These teams have only played four times, but a pattern has been set. Boise won the first two games, Air Force won the next two.

    Air Force has had some rough seasons in the not–so–distant past, but it has put together a respectable 8–3 record. That will be more than good enough for a bowl bid, but not good enough to keep the streak against Boise alive. I pick Boise State.
  • #16 Auburn at #1 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: The Iron Bowl is one of the great rivalries in college football, literally dividing families all across Alabama. We already know that Alabama has won the SEC West and will play Florida for the conference crown.

    But Auburn and its fans don't care. They would like nothing better than to knock off Alabama any time in anything under any circumstances — if it happens to cost the Crimson Tide a berth in the national playoffs, so much the better.

    The oddsmakers don't think that will happen, though. They think Alabama will win by 17 points. I have to agree on the winner if not the margin. Alabama is the pick.
  • #3 Michigan at #2 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: This is another great college rivalry. It always brings back memories of my childhood, when Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler roamed the sideline. Look at the top of this post to see a photograph that was taken of the two of them before one of their epic battles.

    For the first time in a long time, both teams will enter the game ranked in the top five. The winner is almost sure to go on to the college football playoffs. That will be the likely reward for surviving this clash. But it's a bit complicated. If Michigan wins, the Wolverines will be in the Big Ten title game. But if Ohio State wins, the Buckeyes will have to wait and see who wins the Michigan State–Penn State game. If Penn State wins, the Nittany Lions go to the title game by virtue of holding the tiebreaker over Ohio State.

    Ohio State is favored to be the survivor of the Michigan game by 6½ points. I pick Ohio State at home, where the Buckeyes have beaten the Wolverines seven straight times.
  • South Carolina at #4 Clemson, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools will face each other for the 108th straight year. It is a series in which Clemson claimed an early lead, winning nine of the first 11 meetings.

    Clemson has won the last two meetings in the series, but South Carolina has enjoyed its moments, too, such as winning five in a row between 2009 and 2013.

    I really don't think 6–5 South Carolina has a prayer in this one. The 10–1 Tigers are favored by 24 points. I think it will be a little closer than that, but I still think Clemson will win.
  • Minnesota at #5 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: These teams have been playing each other nearly every year since 1892, and if Minnesota wins, the series will be knotted.

    That doesn't seem to be in the cards. Minnesota does have an outside shot at sharing the Big Ten West title, but Wisconsin is favored to win its 13th straight against the Gophers by 15 points. I, too, favor Wisconsin.
  • Michigan State at #8 Penn State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: By the time this game begins, the Ohio State–Michigan game will be over, and the outcome of that game could very well influence the outcome of this game.

    If Penn State wins, the Nittany Lions know they will share the Big Ten East title. Penn State holds the tiebreaker over Ohio State but not over Michigan. Consequently, Penn State wants Ohio State to win.

    The Nittany Lions' entire mentality could be affected, for good or ill, by knowing how that game in Columbus turned out.

    Historically the home team wins more than 60% of the time in this series, and Penn State is likely to win this one as well. Michigan State has struggled this year, and Penn State is favored by 12½ points. I pick Penn State, but, as I say, the game could well turn on what happens at Ohio State earlier in the day.
  • #21 Utah at #9 Colorado, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: To win the Pac–12 South, Colorado must beat Utah. If Utah wins this game, Southern Cal will win the division and represent it in the conference championship game next week.

    Colorado is favored by 10 points. History is against the Buffs. Utah has beaten Colorado in six of their last seven meetings, but this is a different Buffaloes squad. I think Colorado will win.
  • Kentucky at #11 Louisville, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Louisville has beaten Kentucky five straight times and is favored to win its sixth by nearly four touchdowns. That's good enough for me. I pick Louisville.
  • Notre Dame at #12 Southern Cal, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is an old rivalry. The teams first met when Knute Rockne coached the Irish. They haven't played every year since then — but just about. This will be their 88th meeting, and Notre Dame has had the upper hand in recent years, winning four of the last six.

    Oddsmakers think Southern Cal will prevail. The Trojans are 17–point favorites. And Southern Cal did win the last time the teams met in California — but don't think that home field carries any kind of special advantage in this series. Both teams have won at home more frequently than they have lost but not by much. After 45 games in Los Angeles, Southern Cal's winning percentage against Notre Dame is less than 54%.

    The Trojans have more to play for than the Irish, but no doubt they will be more interested in the outcome of the Utah–Colorado game later in the day. That game will determine whether Southern Cal gets to play in the Pac–12 title game.

    That, of course, is completely out of the Trojans' control, and they may be preoccupied with what will happen in Boulder, artificially lowering the margin of victory. But make no mistake. I do think that Southern Cal will win — but perhaps not by 17 points.
  • #13 Florida at #15 Florida State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: It seems like it has been a long time since this game had any real significance — and, in the end, it may have no bearing on what happens in January, anyway. Florida still has to beat Alabama in the SEC title game, which is a considerable assignment, and Florida State has no chance of being in the ACC's championship game, having lost three conference games.

    But both teams are ranked, and Florida State is favored by about a touchdown. I've seen both teams play this year, and I think both are flawed, but each is capable of beating the other. It depends on who gets the breaks.

    I'm going to make Florida an upset special. Logically, the Gators, as the higher–ranked team, should be the favorites. I guess the oddsmakers are going in part on the basis of home field — but the Gators have a .519 winning percentage in Tallahassee. Still since the oddsmakers have made FSU the favorite, Florida is my upset pick.
  • #19 West Virginia at Iowa State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: These teams had never played each other until West Virginia joined the Big 12.

    West Virginia has won three of the four encounters since then — and both of the games played in Ames.

    If West Virginia had beaten Oklahoma last week, this game would have more meaning. As it is, though, West Virginia is no longer a contender for the league crown, even if it wins this week and beats Baylor next week.

    In other words, don't expect West Virginia to be highly motivated in this one. Still, I pick West Virginia to prevail.
  • #24 Tennessee at Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Tennessee probably views the Vanderbilt game as an automatic win.

    The Volunteers have only lost to the Commodores three times in the last 30 years.

    Historically, however, Vandy has played better in Nashville — even though Tennessee wins there two–thirds of the time — so the Vols need to stay on their toes. Take nothing for granted. They are only favored by a touchdown.

    Sounds about right, though. I take Tennessee.
Last week: 17–5

Overall: 177–58

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 2–1

Overall upset specials: 11–20

Thursday, November 17, 2016

College Football Playoff Berths Are Still Up for Grabs

There were quite a few upsets in college football last week. I even managed to pick a couple of them.

But, like most people, I failed to pick the big ones. Top–ranked Alabama stayed unbeaten, but the next three teams in the rankings — Clemson, Michigan and Washington — all went down to defeat.

All three stayed in the top 10, though. In fact, Michigan remained in the top four so the Wolverines will remain in the hunt for a college football playoff spot — at least until they face the Ohio State Buckeyes a week from Saturday.

The four–team college football field is not yet set in stone — well, except for Alabama. The next few weeks will go a long way in deciding which teams play for the national championship.

Looks like another great weekend in the Top 25. I will be watching. Will you?

  • #3 Louisville at Houston, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: After 14 matchups over the years, this series is tied 7–7.

    It ought to be a good game, with Louisville (9–1) ranked third in the nation and Houston having fallen from some pretty lofty heights but still in possession of a pretty good record (8–2). Houston won last year and might have been favored to win this year if the Cougars had not lost to SMU a few weeks ago.

    Nevertheless Louisville enters the game a 13½–point favorite. I think it will be closer than that, but I still think Louisville will win.
  • Arkansas State at #25 Troy, 8:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Arkansas State beat Troy the last two times they met.

    This is a big game. Both teams are 5–0 in Sun Belt Conference play, and the winner will most likely be the conference champion — although two games still remain on each team's schedule.

    I'm going to go with the home team and pick Troy.
  • Nevada–Las Vegas at #22 Boise State, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These teams have met three times before, and Boise State won every time.

    UNLV has played reasonably well this season and could become bowl eligible by winning its last two regular season games.

    But I just can't see Boise losing this game at home. I choose Boise State.
  • Chattanooga at #1 Alabama, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: At this point in the season, I am not sure anyone can beat Alabama, least of all Chattanooga.

    I pick Alabama.
  • #2 Ohio State at Michigan State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Ohio State has won more than two–thirds of its games with Michigan State, but the Spartans have beaten the Buckeyes in three of their last five meetings. That includes the 2013 Big Ten Championship.

    But Ohio State beats Michigan State 75% of the time when the game is played in East Lansing. Oddsmakers think Ohio State will win by more than three touchdowns. I agree. My pick is Ohio State.
  • Indiana at #4 Michigan, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Indiana hasn't beaten Michigan since 1987. The Wolverines have won 20 in a row against the Hoosiers since that time.

    Make that 21 in a row. I pick Michigan.
  • #5 Clemson at Wake Forest, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Clemson has beaten Wake Forest more than 78% of the time since they first met in 1933.

    The Tigers have won the last seven in a row, and oddsmakers pick them to make it eight in a row. I concur. The pick is Clemson.
  • #6 Wisconsin at Purdue, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Wisconsin has beaten Purdue 10 straight times.

    The 8–2 Badgers seem likely to play in the Big Ten title game. The 3–7 Boilermakers probably just want the season to be over.

    I choose Wisconsin.
  • Arizona State at #7 Washington, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Arizona State comes into this game on a 10–game winning streak against Washington. In fact, the Sun Devils haven't lost at Washington since 1997.

    But the 9–1 Huskies are emerging as a force in the Pac–12, and oddsmakers pick them to beat 5–5 Arizona State by nearly four touchdown.

    I agree. I pick Washington.
  • #8 Oklahoma at #10 West Virginia, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is sure to be the game of the week in the Big 12. Oklahoma is 8–2 and unbeaten in league play. West Virginia is 8–1 with that one loss being to Oklahoma State last month.

    West Virginia could win the conference by winning out. Oklahoma still has the Bedlam battle with Oklahoma State. Any one of the three could still win the conference.

    I pick Oklahoma to remain unbeaten in the Big 12.
  • #9 Penn State at Rutgers, 7 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Penn State lost its first game against Rutgers nearly 100 years ago and has gone 24–1 in the series since.

    The Nittany Lions have beaten Rutgers the last nine times they have played, and Penn State has never lost at Rutgers. Granted, the teams have faced each other at Rutgers four times, but oddsmakers seem certain that Penn State will win there again. I am, too. I pick Penn State.
  • Oregon at #11 Utah: Historically, Oregon has dominated this series 20–9, and the Ducks have won six of the last eight meetings.

    But Utah won last year by six touchdowns and is favored to win this time by 14½ points. I think it might be more lopsided than that. The pick is Utah.
  • #20 Washington State at #12 Colorado: Why isn't anyone televising this game? This is probably the game of the week in the Pac–12, which is quite an accomplishment when you consider that one of the games on this week's schedule is Southern Cal vs. UCLA.

    It's been a competitive series. Colorado holds a 5–4 edge all time, and the teams have taken turns winning in the last six games. If that trend continues, it is Colorado's turn to win.

    But Washington State has a winning record at Colorado and hasn't lost there in 20 years. Oddsmakers favor Colorado to halt its skid at home by 4½ points. I'm going to make Washington State an upset special.
  • #13 Oklahoma State at TCU, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: Oklahoma State leads the series (narrowly) and has beaten TCU four of the last five times they have played.

    I figured the Cowboys would be the favorites, but I figured wrong. TCU is the oddsmakers' choice by 4½ points.

    I'll have to make Oklahoma State an upset special.
  • Buffalo at #14 Western Michigan, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Western Michigan leads this series 5–2. Trouble is, those two losses came in the last two meetings between the schools.

    But 2–8 Buffalo is all but sure to lose to 10–0 Western Michigan on the road. I pick Western Michigan.
  • #15 Southern Cal at UCLA, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: After a 12–year stretch in which USC pounded UCLA nearly every year, UCLA has the upper hand in this series with wins in three of the last four meetings.

    That single exception came last year when Southern Cal won 40–21. It was almost like old times — except neither team is near its old dominant self. Oddsmakers have made Southern Cal an 11½–point pick. I'll go along with that. My choice is Southern Cal.
  • #21 Florida at #16 LSU, noon (Central) on SEC Network: Florida leads the all–time series, but LSU has won five of the last six meetings, including the last three in a row.

    What's more, Florida has managed to win at Baton Rouge only once in the last 12 years.

    Still the games are usually competitive. The historical momentum is with the Tigers, though, so I will pick LSU to prevail at home.
  • #17 Florida State at Syracuse, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: These teams met for the first time just about 50 years ago, on Nov. 12, 1966, and Syracuse won.

    They have met eight times since, and Florida State has won each time. I expect Florida State to win again.
  • Alabama A&M at #18 Auburn, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: This is only a tuneup for next week's Iron Bowl against Alabama.

    I pick Auburn.
  • Maryland at #19 Nebraska, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNNews: These schools have never met, but Nebraska needs to win to stay in contention for a berth in the Big Ten title game. Nebraska lost to Wisconsin and will lose the West Division if the teams end up in a tie for the division title when the regular season ends. Wisconsin will probably beat cellar dweller Purdue this weekend and would then only need to beat Minnesota next week to secure a spot in the title game.

    It's an uphill climb for Nebraska, but it is still possible so the Cornhuskers need to win this game. And I believe Nebraska will win this game.
  • Texas–San Antonio at #23 Texas A&M, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: These teams have never met before. When the final whistle blows, UTSA is likely to wish it was still that way.

    The pick is Texas A&M.
  • #24 San Diego State at Wyoming, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: This is the 36th time these schools have faced each other on the gridiron. If San Diego State wins, the series will be tied at 18–18.

    The momentum appears to be with San Diego State, having won three of the last four meetings and being ranked and all that.

    It's possible these teams could meet in the Mountain West Conference championship game on Dec. 3. For that to happen, though, Wyoming must beat San Diego State. I'll take Wyoming in an upset special.
Last week: 18–6

Overall: 160–53

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 2–1

Overall upset specials: 9–19

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Pursuing Clarity in College Football's Playoff Picture

All eyes — or almost all — will be on the election results tonight.

But for college football fans things are coming down to the wire.

Who will be in college football's playoff? Most folks believe Alabama, Michigan and Clemson will take three of the spots. The fourth is more iffy. Until last weekend, Texas A&M was the pick to take the fourth spot, but it is up for grabs following the Aggies' loss to Mississippi State.

Baylor and Oklahoma meet in the only game featuring two ranked teams, but the other games in the top 25 should provide some clarity on the playoff picture.

  • #14 Western Michigan at Kent State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These teams have been playing each other since 1962. Until the late '90s it was an annual event — one that Western Michigan usually wins.

    But not in three of the last four meetings. Kent has won those games.

    But Kent is 3–6 while Western Michigan is 9–0. Western Michigan is the clear choice.
  • #15 North Carolina at Duke, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Even in football, this is a huge rivalry. It just never means as much in football as it does in basketball.

    The Tar Heels win more than 60% of the time, and it's been especially bad for the Blue Devils of late. The Tar Heels have won 10 of the last 12, and they have only lost once at Duke since 1988.

    Picking North Carolina to win this one is easy.
  • #13 Utah at Arizona State, 8:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: The historical momentum is with Arizona State in this one. While the Utes did win last year's game, they had lost the previous 11 — and they haven't won at Arizona State in 40 years.

    History changes this year. I choose Utah.
  • Boston College at #20 Florida State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Florida State comes into this game riding a six–game winning streak against Boston College.

    Florida State hasn't been as impressive as many people expected before the season began, but the Seminoles should have enough for this one. I pick Florida State.
  • Mississippi State at #1 Alabama, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Alabama has only lost to Mississippi State three times since the dawn of the 21st century.

    It is a series the Crimson Tide has almost thoroughly dominated, winning more than 80% of the time.

    Mississippi State is coming off a stunning win over Texas A&M. I don't think the Bulldogs can pull off a second consecutive upset. The pick is Alabama at home.
  • #2 Michigan at Iowa, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Historically, Michigan has dominated this series, but Iowa has held the upper hand, winning four of the last five meetings.

    But Michigan is a much improved team this year. I pick Michigan to prevail in what could well be a close contest.
  • Pittsburgh at #3 Clemson, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams have met only once before — in the 1977 Gator Bowl. Pittsburgh won that one by 31 points.

    Clearly, the teams are different today. Clemson is the national power while Pitt is struggling. It's a no–brainer. Clemson will win.
  • Southern Cal at #4 Washington, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Southern Cal has won 63% of its meetings with Washington, but the momentum is with the Huskies, who find themselves on the brink of qualifying for college football's four–team playoff.

    My pick is Washington.
  • Wake Forest at #5 Louisville, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Wake Forest is 0–3 against Louisville.

    Not much chance of snapping that streak. I choose Louisville.
  • #6 Ohio State at Maryland, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Ohio State has won both of its previous games with Maryland. The Buckeyes usually double whatever Maryland's score is. Sounds about right.

    I pick Ohio State.
  • Illinois at #7 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Wisconsin has won 10 of the last 11 games with Illinois and hasn't lost at home to the Illini twice in the last quarter of a century.

    I pick Wisconsin.
  • #8 Auburn at Georgia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This will be the 112th meeting in what has been a remarkably tight series.

    In fact, an intriguing trend in this series is that the home team usually loses. That should favor Auburn. But Georgia has won eight of the last 10 games it has played with Auburn.

    Georgia has had a rough year, but I think the Bulldogs have enough left in the tank to handle the Tigers. In an upset special, I pick Georgia.
  • #25 Baylor at #9 Oklahoma, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Until 2011, Oklahoma had never lost to Baylor.

    But Baylor has now won three of the last five games with Oklahoma.

    However, the Bears have lost their last two games — narrowly to Texas week before last and then by a huge margin to TCU. It is safe to say Baylor is struggling right now.

    Meanwhile, OU has won six straight. Make that seven. I pick Oklahoma.
  • Ole Miss at #10 Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Texas A&M leads what is a short series — only eight games played between these schools going into Saturday night's tilt — but Ole Miss has won the last two.

    The Aggies didn't look particularly good last week, and one must wonder if they have slipped a bit.

    In an upset special, I pick Ole Miss on the road.
  • #11 West Virginia at Texas: The series between these schools is tied 2–2 since West Virginia joined the Big 12, but Texas won the last time they played in Austin.

    Even when the Longhorns are having a down year, Austin is a tough place for visiting teams to play.

    I think West Virginia will win, but it will be a battle.
  • #12 Penn State at Indiana, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Indiana has only beaten Penn State once, but the Hoosiers were the home team on that occasion, just as they are this time.

    Still the Nittany Lions are playing surprisingly well this season. I have to pick Penn State.
  • #16 Colorado at Arizona, 9 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Colorado leads the series but has lost the last four to Arizona.

    I can't see 2–7 extending that streak against 7–2 Colorado. I choose Colorado.
  • Texas Tech at #17 Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Oklahoma State has beaten Texas Tech seven straight times and hasn't lost to Tech in Stillwater since 2001.

    Oklahoma State is probably better than the rankings suggest. Oklahoma State has been paying the price for a fluke loss earlier in the season. I pick Oklahoma State.
  • Georgia Tech at #18 Virginia Tech, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Georgia Tech has lost five of the last six games it has played with Virginia Tech and seems ill–equipped to win on the road.

    But it is worth noting that Georgia Tech's only win in those last six games came at Virginia Tech.

    I don't think lightning will strike again. Virginia Tech is 7–2; Georgia Tech is 5–4.

    I pick Virginia Tech.
  • #19 LSU at Arkansas, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: When I was growing up, Texas was Arkansas' big rival. Since the Razorbacks joined the SEC, LSU is probably their biggest rival.

    And Arkansas has won its last two games with LSU. In fact, the last time the game was played in Arkansas — in 2015 — Arkansas shut out the Tigers.

    I don't think this will be a shutout, but I will pick Arkansas as an upset special.
  • Minnesota at #21 Nebraska, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: These teams have met 56 times, but only a handful of those games have been as conference foes.

    Minnesota leads the all–time series, which goes back to November 1900, but the Cornhuskers have dominated since 1963, winning 17 of 19 confrontations.

    Nebraska is coming off a crushing loss to Ohio State, but the Cornhuskers should get back on track. I choose Nebraska.
  • South Carolina at #22 Florida, 11 a.m. (Central) on CBS: Florida beats South Carolina more than three–quarters of the time, but the Gators have lost four of their last six meetings with the Gamecocks, including two of the last three games played at Florida.

    I just can't see 5–4 South Carolina winning this game. The pick is Florida.
  • California at #23 Washington State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: California leads the all–time series with Washington State, but the Cougars have the advantage when the game is played on their turf.

    Washington State is in the hunt for the Pac–12 North crown. On top of that, a victory over Cal would give Washington State its eighth straight win in a single season, something the Cougars haven't done since 1930, and the school's first–ever 7–0 start in conference play with Colorado and in–state rival Washington remaining on the schedule.

    I think Washington State will win.
  • #24 Boise State at Hawaii, 6 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: Boise State has beaten Hawaii five straight times and has won more than 78% of the games they've played.

    But it has been rough for Boise State at Hawaii. Every time Hawaii has beaten Boise State the game was being played in Hawaii.

    So Boise State is battling history in this one. I think the Broncos are up to it. I pick Boise State.
Last week: 17–5

Overall: 142–47

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 1–4

Overall upset specials: 7–18

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Plenty of Upsets Last Week, But I Didn't Pick Any

If not all eyes, I figure that most eyes will be on the Alabama–LSU game this Saturday. At least part of the time.

Last week was a rough week for my predictions. It especially hurt that all three of my upset specials failed to come through.

Oh, there were upsets in college football, and the Top 25 was not immune. Oklahoma State beat #10 West Virginia. Wyoming topped #12 Boise State for the first time — ever. Texas turned back #13 Baylor. South Carolina upended #22 Tennessee.

But none of the upsets that I predicted came to pass. I'm picking a season–high five upset specials this week. (Hey, with that many, I'm bound to hit at least one, right?)

We're getting an early start on the week's action with the Western Michigan–Ball State game tonight.

Idle: #16 Utah

  • #17 Western Michigan at Ball State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Western Michigan has beaten Ball State the last two times the teams have met, but Ball State has a narrow edge when the games have been played at Ball State.

    Western Michigan (8–0) clearly has the better team, though, and should have no trouble with 4–4 Ball State.
  • #12 Oklahoma at Iowa State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the 81st time these teams have met, and Iowa State has won only five times.

    Oklahoma has beaten Iowa State 17 straight times and hasn't lost on the Cyclones' turf since 1960.

    Oklahoma is the clear pick.
  • UCLA at #21 Colorado, 8 p.m. (Central) on FS1: UCLA has dominated Colorado, winning nine of 11 contests over the years and the last five in a row. UCLA nearly always scores 40 points against Colorado.

    Colorado, though, is a 12–point favorite.

    Maybe Colorado is as good as people say, but I think UCLA will win an upset special.
  • San Jose State at #24 Boise State, 9:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Boise State is undefeated all time against San Jose State.

    However, I observed that Boise State was undefeated all time again Wyoming, too, but Boise State fell victim to an upset.

    I don't think lightning will strike twice. I choose Boise State.
  • #1 Alabama at #15 LSU, 7 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This has been the marquee game of the season just about every year in recent times. LSU is not as highly ranked as it has been, but that takes nothing away from this contest.

    'Bama is only favored by a touchdown. I think it ought to be more. My pick is Alabama.
  • Maryland at #2 Michigan, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: It isn't easy for a team to come into the Big House and leave with a win, but that was what unfolded on the only occasion when Maryland beat Michigan. That was two years ago when the teams met as conference rivals for the first time.

    Maryland had the good fortune on that occasion to face a Michigan team that was struggling. Michigan isn't struggling this time. In fact, the Wolverines are favored by 31 points. I don't know if they&a[\pos;ll cover the spread, but I am pretty sure Michigan will win.
  • Syracuse at #3 Clemson, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Clemson has beaten Syracuse all three years they have been conference foes. I expect the Tigers to make that four straight.

    Clemson should win.
  • #4 Washington at California, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Washington had won seven of the eight previous games against California — until California pulled off a 30–24 win in Seattle.

    Now Cal needs to do something it hasn't done since 2008 — win at home against the Huskies.

    The oddsmakers don't think the Bears can do it, and neither do I. The pick is Washington.
  • #5 Louisville at Boston College, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These teams have been conference rivals for only two years, but the series predates that by decades.

    Boston College hasn't beaten Louisville since 1994 and hardly seems likely to do so this year. I pick Louisville.
  • #9 Nebraska at #6 Ohio State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Aside from the Alabama–LSU game, this has to be the biggest game of the weekend, and college football fans can flip between ABC and CBS to watch both games. It should make for an entertaining night.

    Ohio State is favored by 17½ points, but I think it will be closer than that. I'm tempted to pick Nebraska. Still I have to take Ohio State at home.
  • #7 Texas A&M at Mississippi State, 11 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Mississippi State could even the all–time series with a win if the Bulldogs can beat the Aggies at home.

    But Mississippi State simply isn't the same team without Dak Prescott, who is now behind the wheel of the Dallas Cowboys' surprising offense.

    The Aggies are favored by two touchdowns. I'm inclined to agree. Texas A&M will win.
  • #8 Wisconsin at Northwestern, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: This series dates back to 1892. The teams haven't played each other every year, but they have come close. This will be their 95th confrontation.

    The Badgers have won nearly 62% of the time, but Northwestern has won the last two. But Northwestern hasn't beaten Wisconsin three straight times since the late 1960s.

    The Badgers are favored by a touchdown. I expect Wisconsin to win by more than that.
  • #10 Florida at Arkansas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This will be the fourth time these teams have met in Fayetteville. The Gators won the first three.

    In fact, Florida has won nine in a row against Arkansas. They first met in 1982 in the Bluebonnet Bowl, and Arkansas won. It is Arkansas' only win over Florida to date.

    But the Razorbacks had last week off while Florida had to fend off Georgia. I pick a rested Arkansas to win in an upset special.
  • Vanderbilt at #11 Auburn, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: In the last two seasons, when Auburn was struggling, Vanderbilt pulled off single–score margin victories.

    Auburn is one of this season's surprises, bouncing back into national contention. The Tigers most likely won't play in the college football playoffs, but I'm pretty sure Auburn will win this one.
  • TCU at #13 Baylor, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: TCU's dramatic win over Baylor at the end of last season may have prevented the Bears from playing in the college football playoffs. Most likely, Texas took care of that for this year last week.

    Baylor is probably highly motivated for this one. It' in Waco, where Baylor has beaten TCU in two of the last three games they have played there.

    I like Baylor to win this one, too.
  • Kansas at #14 West Virginia, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Kansas has played at West Virginia three times and lost all three times.

    I see no reason to expect a different outcome this time. I pick West Virginia.
  • Georgia Tech at #18 North Carolina, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ACC Network: North Carolina has won the last two meetings, but Georgia Tech holds the lead in the series.

    North Carolina is a big favorite to win this one, too, and I see no reason to pick against the Tar Heels. I pick North Carolina.
  • #19 Florida State at North Carolina State, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Florida State has dominated this series, especially lately, winning seven of the last nine meetings.

    But those two losses came at North Carolina State, where this yearapos;s game is being played.

    Florida State is only favored by six points. I haven't been overly impressed with the Seminoles this year, and I'm going to take North Carolina State in an upset special.
  • Iowa at #20 Penn State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: This has been a competitive series. This is the 26th time these teams have met. If Iowa can pull off a win, the series will be tied at 13 wins apiece.

    Another interesting tidbit about this series. The visiting team has the winning record in both places. This year's game is at Penn State, where Iowa is 7–5. It is hardly inconceivable that the Hawkeyes could win this game.

    Penn State is favored by eight points, but I'm going to make Iowa an upset special.
  • #22 Oklahoma State at Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Oklahoma State has the edge in the series and has won two–thirds of the last nine meetings, but K–State has won eight of the last nine games played in Kansas.

    I expect a close game, and so do the oddsmakers. Oklahoma State is favored by 2½ points, but I'm going to take Kansas State at home in an upset special.
  • #23 Virginia Tech at Duke, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Virginia Tech seldom loses to Duke in football, but Duke has beaten Tech in two of their last three encounters.

    Nevertheless, I expect Virginia Tech to prevail.
  • Arizona at #25 Washington State, 3 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Arizona leads the series, but Washington State has won two of the last three meetings.

    Is Washington State for real? Real enough, I suppose, to beat Arizona. I pick Washington State.
Last week: 10–7

Overall: 125–42

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 0–3

Overall upset specials: 6–14

Thursday, October 27, 2016

College Football Enters Its Stretch Run

I went over to my father's house last Saturday to watch the Arkansas game.

We both graduated from the University of Arkansas so we have a strong rooting interest in the Razorbacks. Unfortunately, that game got out of hand quickly.

So we switched to the Houston–SMU game. SMU is the local team and, besides, Dad also has a degree from SMU.

We had no idea we were about to see the upset of the season, but my guess is it won't be the last surprise. There will be plenty of drama in the weeks ahead.

We're getting to the point in the season when games become critical for those teams that believe they can qualify for the national championship playoff. We have three games matching two ranked teams this week, and all three involve teams in the Top 5 of the Associated Press weekly rankings. It should hardly be considered an upset if Nebraska beat Wisconsin or Florida State beat Clemson. Michigan and Michigan State is a rivalry game — and anything can happen in those games.

Idle: #1 Alabama, #17 Western Michigan, #18 LSU, #21 North Carolina, #23 Colorado

  • #24 Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: If Pittsburgh can win this game, the all–time series will be tied at 8–8.

    Virginia Tech is the favorite, but the Hokies are battling history. They have lost the last four times the game has been played in Pittsburgh.

    Still the Hokies are favored to win, and I believe Virginia Tech will prevail.
  • #20 Navy at South Florida, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These teams met for the first time last year, and Navy won at home by 12.

    Both teams sit atop their American Athletic Conference divisions, but I'm guessing there is more pressure on South Florida than Navy in this game. Navy has the top spot all to itself while South Florida is tied with Temple, the team that beat the Bulls last week.

    South Florida is favored by about a touchdown, but I like Navy in an upset special.
  • #2 Michigan at Michigan State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is a rivalry game, and I have written about rivalry games here before. You never know what will happen in a rivalry game.

    Historically Michigan leads the series, winning nearly two–thirds of the time and nearly 69% of the time when the game has been played in Ann Arbor. But when it has been played in East Lansing, the outcome has been less certain. The Wolverines have a winning record there, too, but the percentage is around 58%.

    What's more, the Spartans have won the last four times they have hosted the Wolverines.

    Michigan is a heavy favorite (23½ points) to end that skid, and I am inclined to agree. I pick Michigan.

    But don't be surprised if it is closer than 23½ points.
  • #3 Clemson at #11 Florida State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: If Clemson is to make another run for the national title, the Tigers must do something they haven't done very often — beat Florida State.

    And they will have to win at Tallahassee, which is an even rarer achievement. Clemson has beaten Florida State on the road only once in the last 12 attempts.

    Apparently the oddsmakers think the Tigers can do it. Clemson is a 4½–point favorite.

    And with the divisional tiebreaker by virtue of its win over Louisville, Clemson holds the advantage in the ACC's Atlantic Division. The Tigers won't relinquish that if Florida State manages to win, but the Tigers can all but wrap up the division crown if they win.

    I like Clemson.
  • #4 Washington at #16 Utah, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Utah had never lost to Washington until last year.

    Was that a sign of a shift in the balance of power or just a temporary thing? The oddsmakers think it is the former, having made the Huskies 10–point favorites.

    But I'm not sold yet. I pick Utah in an upset special.
  • #5 Nebraska at #9 Wisconsin, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Wisconsin has seized the lead in this series in recent years after losing three of the first four contests.

    The Badgers have won five of the last six meetings with Nebraska, including a 70–31 romp in the 2012 Big Ten championship game (retribution, I suppose, for a three–point loss to Nebraska earlier in the season).

    So perhaps it isn't surprising that Wisconsin is an 8½–point favorite at home. I expect it to be closer than that, but I still think Wisconsin will win at home.
  • #6 Louisville at Virginia, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: These teams have played four times, twice at each school, and Louisville will be trying to do something it has never done — win at Virginia.

    The story of this brief series is that the home team always wins. But that is about to change. The oddsmakers give Louisville a 31½–point advantage. I don't know if the margin will be that great, but I do think Louisville will win.
  • Northwestern at #7 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Few series in college football are as lopsided as this one.

    Ohio State has won more than 80% of its games with Northwestern and has only lost once to the Wildcats since Richard Nixon was president.

    That was the last time Northwestern won at Ohio State — Nov. 13, 1971.

    I pick Ohio State.
  • New Mexico State at #8 Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: This is the first meeting between these schools and it doesn't seem likely to be competitive.

    New Mexico State is 2–5. The Aggies are 6–1 coming off a loss to the top–ranked team in the country.

    Shouldn't be close. I pick Texas A&M.
  • #10 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox: This is the eighth meeting between these schools, and the games are usually pretty close.

    Oh, sure, you have an occasional blowout, but mostly they have been decided by less than 10 points.

    The oddsmakers apparently think this will be another close one. The Mountaineers are favored by 3½ points. I like West Virginia, too.
  • #12 Boise State at Wyoming, 6 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: These teams have met 10 times, and Boise State has won each time.

    I have to go with Boise State.
  • #13 Baylor at Texas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: When I was growing up, a game against Baylor was a gimme, especially for Texas.

    For a long time the Longhorns almost always beat the Bears, sometimes by outrageous margins. They have met every year since 1945, and the Longhorns have been dominant. To cite a recent example, between 1993 and 2009, the Longhorns only lost once to the Bears.

    But Baylor has been bouncing back, winning four of the last six meetings, including two of the last three played in Austin. Coming into this game, Baylor is ranked and Texas is not. Such a thing was unthinkable only a few years ago.

    The Bears are favored by a field goal, but I think Baylor will win by more than that.
  • #14 Auburn at Ole Miss, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Auburn usually beats Ole Miss, and the Tigers have won eight of the last 11, but they lost to the Rebels last year.

    Both teams are good, and I expect this one to go down to the wire. Auburn is a 4–point favorite, but I pick Ole Miss to win in an upset special.
  • #15 Florida at Georgia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This is an old rivalry — just how old it is depends on which side you're on, I guess. Georgia counts a game it played against one of Florida's four predecessor schools in 1904, a year before the University of Florida was established in Gainesville. Florida's records show the series beginning in 1915.

    Either way, Georgia leads the series, but the Gators have won the last two meetings.

    I pick Florida.
  • Kansas at #19 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. (Central) on FS1: It is routine for Oklahoma to beat Kansas in football. The Sooners have beaten the Jayhawks 11 straight times, and they have won about three–quarters of the games ever played between the schools. Kansas hasn't beaten Oklahoma in Norman since 1996.

    The Sooners are favored by 40 points. Yes, you read that right. If Kansas wins, it really will be an upset. But Kansas won't win. Oklahoma will.
  • #22 Tennessee at South Carolina, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Historically Tennessee has dominated this series. Lately the Volunteers have won the last three meetings. They won the last time they played there, but they lost the previous two games at South Carolina, and while they have a winning road record against South Carolina, those games have been more of a struggle for Tennessee than the ones played in Knoxville.

    Oddsmakers don't seem to think this will be much of a struggle. Tennessee has been established as a 13½–point favorite.

    I like Tennessee, too.
  • #25 Penn State at Purdue, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Penn State has beaten Purdue seven straight times and hasn't lost at Purdue in more than a decade.

    I see no reason for that to change. Penn State is the pick.
Last week: 13–4

Overall: 115–35

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 0–2

Overall upset specials: 6–11