I've never been a football coach, but I would guess that the last thing you would want your team to do the week before the game with probably your school's biggest rival would be to lose a game.
Yet that is exactly what the Oklahoma Sooners did last week. Ranked third in the nation at the time, the Sooners lost to Iowa State, a perennial doormat in the old Big Eight and now the Big 12. The Cyclones won in Norman for the first time since 1990 and beat the Sooners for only the second time since the Kennedy administration.
The now 12th–ranked Sooners are in Dallas this weekend for the annual grudge match with the University of Texas. And, as I say, I wouldn't want to go into that game on the heels of a loss.
But that ain't necessarily so. The last six times that OU came into the Texas game following a loss, the Sooners wound up the winners. You have to go back to 1999 to find the last time OU lost the game before the Texas game and then went on to lose the Texas game as well. (By the way, 1999 was Bob Stoops' first season as OU's head coach. He retired earlier this year as one of four OU head coaches with at least 100 career victories.)
Still, I don't think any coach would recommend losing before a big rivalry game — or at any other time, for that matter.
Idle: #3 Penn State, #17 Virginia Tech, #19 Notre Dame
- #2 Clemson at Syracuse, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: The oddsmakers established Clemson as a three–touchdown favorite shortly after the most recent rankings were revealed.
If the Tigers win, it would be their fifth straight win over Syracuse. A Clemson win isn't hard to accept — nor is the possibility of Clemson winning by 21 points. After all, the Tigers beat Syracuse last year 54–0.
I pick Clemson to win.
- #9 Washington State at California, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: California has dominated this series, especially lately, winning 10 of the last 12.
But Washington State turned the tables on Cal last year, winning at home by four touchdowns. Now the challenge is to win in a place where, historically, WSU wins only 30% of the time.
The oddsmakers think WSU can do it. They have made the Cougars 14–point favorites. I think Washington State will win.
- Arkansas at #1 Alabama, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: I got my bachelor's degree at the University of Arkansas, and I have been a Razorback fan all my life.
There is nothing I would like more than to see the Hogs beat Alabama. But I have to be realistic. Arkansas has lost 10 in a row to Alabama and hasn't won at Tuscaloosa since 2003 — and Alabama was established as a 30½–point favorite last weekend.
It only makes sense to pick Alabama.
- #4 Washington at Arizona State, 9:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Washington snapped a 10–game losing streak against Arizona State with its 44–18 win at home last year.
But this game is at Arizona State, and the Sun Devils haven't lost to the Huskies there since October 2001.
The Huskies are heavily favored this time, though, and I will go along with that. Washington will win.
- Missouri at #5 Georgia, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Georgia is 5–1 all time against Missouri, but Mizzou's only win in the series came at Georgia.
Could it happen again? Nah. The pick is Georgia.
- Purdue at #6 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: The Boilermakers have lost 11 in a row to the Badgers, and Wisconsin is a 17–point pick to win again.
I'll go with the favorite. Wisconsin is the pick.
- #7 TCU at Kansas State, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: Not so long ago, this would have been a great game, but K–State hasn't held up its end of the deal, losing to Vanderbilt and Texas.
TCU is a 6½–point pick to avenge last year's 30–6 loss at home, which knotted the all–time series at 5–5. The Frogs are better this year than they were last year, and they won the last time they played at Kansas State so I will pick TCU in this one.
- #8 Ohio State at Nebraska, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: This would have been a great game if it had been played when both these teams were at the top of the polls.
But the prime time for that probably would have been in the 1970s. The first two meetings between these schools were played in the '50s, and the other three have been played since 2011.
Ohio State won by 59 points in their meeting at Columbus last year, and the Buckeyes just might win by that many this year. They are favored by 24½ points.
That is good enough for me. My pick is Ohio State.
- Georgia Tech at #10 Miami (Fla.), 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: It may surprise you to know that this series is all knotted up at 11–11 — until you realize that more than half of Tech's victories came before Miami won its first national championship in 1983.
Miami has won seven of the last eight against Tech, though, and is favored to win this one by 6½ points. I, too, expect Miami to win.
- #11 Auburn at LSU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: LSU has won nearly 60% of the time these schools have faced each other, but Auburn won last year.
In fact, Auburn has won two of the last three meetings, but both were played at Auburn. LSU has beaten Auburn eight straight times in Baton Rouge, though.
Auburn is favored by a touchdown, but I'm going to take LSU in an upset special (even though, historically speaking, it really wouldn't be an upset).
- #12 Oklahoma vs. Texas at Dallas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Well, not much to add to what I have already said except that OU is favored by nine points.
I expect Oklahoma to prevail.
- #23 Utah at #13 Southern Cal, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is an intriguing series.
Southern Cal has won two–thirds of the meetings all time, but Utah has won two of the last three encounters.
The Trojans are favored by 13 points — and they usually beat Utah at home. Utah hasn't come away from Southern Cal with a win in more than 100 years, and it sure would be a big story if the Utes did so this time.
But I don't think that will happen. I pick Southern Cal.
- Baylor at #14 Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. (Central): These programs are going in opposite directions.
A couple of years ago Baylor appeared positioned to threaten college football's elite, but today the Bears are back to their winless ways and are 25½–point picks to lose. It's hard for visitors to win in Stillwater, anyway.
I pick Oklahoma State.
- Cincinnati at #15 South Florida, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Cincinnati leads the all–time series but has lost three of the last four meetings including the last two that were played at South Florida.
The oddsmakers are convinced that South Florida will make that four of the last five. They've made USF a 24½–point favorite. Good enough for me. I pick South Florida.
- #16 Michigan at Indiana, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: The Wolverines have beaten the Hoosiers 21 straight times, but Indiana's last win over Michigan came at home almost to the day — on Oct. 24 — in 1987.
Could lightning strike twice? Well, not really, since it has been 30 years since that last strike, but the oddsmakers anticipate a much closer score than you might expect. They have made the Wolverines 6½–point favorites.
It is tempting to go for an upset special on this one, but I will take Michigan to extend its winning streak.
- Boise State at #18 San Diego State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: This series is knotted at 2–2, and, with the exception of their first meeting in 2011, the games have been decided by single–digit margins.
The oddsmakers apparently think it will be that way again as they have made San Diego State a 7–point favorite.
I also think it will be close, but I am inclined to pick Boise State as an upset special.
- #20 North Carolina State at Pittsburgh, 11 a.m. (Central) on ACCNE: History favors Pitt in this one, but the oddsmakers like State.
The Panthers lead the series 5–3–1 and have never lost at home to North Carolina State. The Wolfpack gets the nod from the oddsmakers by 12 points.
I will take North Carolina State.
- East Carolina at #21 Central Florida, 6 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: East Carolina dominated this series until the two schools ended up in the same conference. Since then, East Carolina holds only a 6–4 edge.
Central Florida is favored — by 34 points — to narrow that gap even more, and I see no reason to go against that. Central Florida is my pick.
- #22 Michigan State at Minnesota, 7 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: The Spartans leaped into the Top 25 with their win over their in–state rivals, the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan State has won four in a row against Minnesota, and the Spartans are 10½–point favorites to do it again.
But the series has been tight when Minnesota has been the home team. The Gophers have beaten MSU in two of the last three games played at Minnesota.
Michigan State can't afford to overlook this one — although the 3–2 Gophers have been giving out mixed signals this year. They started out 3–0 (including a win at Oregon State) but lost the last two.
I'm not sold on the Spartans yet, but there are greater challenges farther up the trail. I will pick Michigan State to win this one.
- #24 Navy at Memphis, 2:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Navy has won both of the previous encounters, including last year's 42–28 decision.
But Memphis has been playing quite well so far and was established as a 4½–point favorite last weekend. I was prepared to pick the Tigers, anyway, whether they were favored or not. As it is, they are favored, and I pick Memphis to win.
- Oregon at #25 Stanford, 10 p.m. (Central): Since 2010, the pattern in this series has been for one team to win back–to–back games, then the other team would win two games back to back.
Stanford won last year and, in keeping with that pattern, should be due another victory this time before turning it over to Oregon. OK. I'll go with that. My pick is Stanford.
Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4
Last week's upset specials: 1–3
Overall upset specials: 2–12