Friday, December 8, 2017

A Look at the Postseason in the Top 25

Well, like it or not, the national college football playoff field has been set.

The bowl games get underway next week. Not counting the national semifinal games on New Year's Day, eight bowl games will match two ranked teams. If you add in the three playoff games, there will be 11 postseason games in which ranked teams will go head to head. Lots of quality clashes.

What follows are my predictions in all the bowls featuring ranked teams — except for the national championship. I'll have to wait until after the semifinals have been played before I can write about that.

Look for my prediction in early January.

Saturday, Dec. 16
  • Las Vegas Bowl: #25 Boise State vs. Oregon, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These schools have met twice before, and Boise State won both.

    But they haven't met since 2009, and they have never faced each other in a bowl.

    Oregon (7–5) is favored over 10–3 Boise State by 7½ points. I pick Boise State as an upset special.
Saturday, Dec. 23
  • Birmingham Bowl: #23 South Florida vs. Texas Tech, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the first meeting between these two schools.

    South Florida (9–2) is a 2½–point pick over Tech (6–6). South Florida should be able to cover the spread.
Thursday, Dec. 28
  • Valero Alamo Bowl: #15 Stanford vs. #13 TCU, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: TCU leads the series 2–0, but it has been nearly 10 years since the schools faced each other on the gridiron.

    The Frogs are favored by 2½ points to notch their third win over Stanford. I choose TCU.
  • Camping World Bowl: #17 Oklahoma State vs. #22 Virginia Tech, 4:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the third time these schools have met.

    Each team won an encounter at home, but they have never faced off in a bowl.

    The Cowboys are favored to win this game by 6½ points. I expect Oklahoma State to prevail.
  • SDCCU Holiday Bowl: #18 Michigan State vs. #21 Washington State, 8 p.m (Central) on FS1: This will be the eighth time these schools have faced each other — but the last time was more than 40 years ago.

    The 9–3 Spartans lead the series 5–2, but Washington State, also 9–3, won the last time they met. Washington State is favored by a field goal, but I'm taking Michigan State in an upset special.
Friday, Dec. 29
  • Goodyear Cotton Bowl: #5 Ohio State vs. #8 Southern Cal, 7:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the eighth time these teams have faced each other in a bowl. The first seven times were in the Rose Bowl; Southern Cal won four of those clashes.

    They have played four times since their last bowl encounter, and Southern Cal won all four. In all, Southern Cal has won seven in a row against the Buckeyes and leads the series 13–9–1. Ohio State hasn't beaten the Trojans since the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1974.

    But the 11–2 Buckeyes are favored to win this time by 6½ points. My only question is whether the Buckeyes can put the disappointment of being left out of the college football playoffs behind them. I say they can. Ohio State is my pick.
  • Franklin Amer. Mort. Music City Bowl: #20 Northwestern vs. Kentucky, 3:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools have met only once before — on Oct. 20, 1928, about a year before the Stock Market Crash.

    Needless to say, it was a different game — and world — nearly 90 years ago. There was only one score on that occasion. Northwestern scored a touchdown and won 7–0. Common sense says there will be more scoring than that when the teams meet in Nashville.

    Coincidentally, 9–3 Northwestern is favored by a touchdown in this contest with 7–5 Kentucky.

    The schools are clearly going in different directions. Kentucky has lost four of its last six games while Northwestern is riding a seven–game winning streak.

    The pick is Northwestern.
Saturday, Dec. 30
  • Capital One Orange Bowl: #6 Wisconsin vs. #11 Miami (Florida), 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: The Badgers were one win away from capping an undefeated season with a trip to the college football playoffs. Miami was also one win away from being in the playoffs.

    Both came up short.

    This will be the fifth meeting for these schools. They split the first four so the winner will take the lead in the series.

    The Badgers are favored by 6½ points. I think they can cover. My pick is Wisconsin.
  • PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: #9 Penn State vs. #12 Washington, 3 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Penn State has beaten Washington twice, but the teams haven't met in 34 years.

    The teams are both 10–2, but Penn State was more impressive in its losses than Washington. The Nittany Lions are favored by2½ points, and I think Penn State will prevail.
  • AutoZone Liberty Bowl: #19 Memphis vs. Iowa State, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ABC: These schools have never faced each other before, and few, if any, observers expected to see them square off at the end of the season.

    Nevertheless here they are.

    Iowa State had a great year, beating both of the Big 12 finalists, but the Cyclones staggered to the finish line, losing three of their last four games (their only victory during that stretch came against hapless Baylor).

    Memphis, on the other hand, won its last seven regular–season games before losing the American Athletic Conference championship in double overtime.

    Memphis is favored by a field goal. I choose Memphis.
  • TaxSlayer Bowl: #24 Mississippi State vs. Louisville, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Mississippi State is 4–0 against Louisville — but all four games were played in the '70s. It is safe to say things have changed in 40 years.

    Louisville is favored by 6 points. I can go along with that. The pick is Louisville.
Monday, Jan. 1, 2018
  • National Semifinal: Allstate Sugar Bowl: #1 Clemson vs. #4 Alabama, 7:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Oddsmakers established Alabama as a 2‐point pick, and perhaps that makes sense, given that Clemson beat Alabama for the national title last January. Vengeance is sure to be a theme in Alabama's preparations for the game.

    Of course, that was Clemson's revenge for losing the national title to Alabama the year before.

    So they meet for the third straight time in the national playoffs. The rubber match — but the national crown won't be on the line this time.

    Historically Alabama has dominated the series, but it had been dormant since 1975 when the teams faced off in 2008. They met again in the last two national championship games. Now they will play to see which team will be in the championship game for a third straight year.

    I pick Clemson in an upset special.
  • National Semifinal: Rose Bowl: #2 Oklahoma vs. #3 Georgia, 4 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is an intriguing match and, based on the point spread, potentially the best of the bowls.

    These schools have never faced each other before, and the Sooners are 1½–point favorites.

    I agree with the oddsmakers. I expect this to be a close contest.

    Georgia's competition in the SEC East did not turn out to be as strong as expected, and I don't think the Bulldogs are prepared for the Sooners, whose defense has been just good enough with Baker Mayfield running the offense. Unless Mayfield gets hurt, that should continue. He makes the defense look good even when it isn't. My pick is Oklahoma.
  • Chick–fil–A Peach Bowl: #7 Auburn vs. #10 Central Florida, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Auburn faced Central Florida three times in the '90s and won all three.

    The Tigers are favored to win this time by 9½ points.

    I don't think there is any doubt that Auburn has the superior talent. But I have to wonder if Auburn will be in this game mentally after losing the SEC title game and missing a trip to the college football playoffs.

    The Tigers have a lot of youth in starting roles, including at quarterback. I wonder if they have the maturity to handle a disappointing loss like that. I doubt it. My choice is Central Florida in an upset special.
  • Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: #14 Notre Dame vs. #16 LSU, noon (Central) on ABC: Notre Dame leads the all–time series 6–5, but LSU is favored by a field goal to even the series.

    Notre Dame's last two games against ranked teams didn't turn out too well. The Irish lost to Miami and Stanford at the end of the season. LSU went 2–1 against ranked teams and won six of its last seven games.

    I favor LSU.
Championship week: 7–0

Overall: 213–48

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 1–0

Overall upset specials: 14–23

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Drop the Pretense

"The selection committee ranks the teams based on the members' evaluation of the teams' performance on the field, using conference championships won, strength of schedule, head–to–head results and comparison of results against common opponents to decide among teams that are comparable."

College Football Playoff website

Let's just stop pretending that conference championships really matter now when deciding who will play for the national championship.

Conference championships used to matter back in the days of the BCS.

But in the days of a four–team playoff field, what matters is rankings and records, not conference titles.

Just ask Ohio State. The Buckeyes beat previously undefeated Wisconsin to claim the Big Ten crown, but they lost two games this season.

I've been wondering for weeks if the committee would permit a two–loss team to participate in the college football playoffs, and now we have our answer. In the brief history of the college football playoffs, no two–loss team had been included. It will remain that way this year.

As today dawned, it was common knowledge that Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia had secured spots in college football's playoff. The drama centered on whether Ohio State, the Big Ten champ with two losses, or Alabama, a one–loss team that did not play for its conference crown, would round out the field.

That was the choice — Ohio State or Alabama. No other options.

I have also been wondering whether the committee would allow two teams from the same conference to be in the playoff field. With a field that is restricted to only four teams, I have believed that more balance was required to build national support for the playoff concept.

Again, the choice came down to Ohio State or Alabama. No other options.

Ohio State could have provided the diversity that was needed, and the Buckeyes won their conference, but they lost twice during the regular season.

With Alabama, the field leans heavily toward the South. The Crimson Tide did not win the Southeastern Conference, but Alabama did lose only once — to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

So the integrity of the record was upheld, but the integrity of conference championships and geographical balance was not.

I have been an advocate of a larger playoff field for a long time. I believe that would provide the committee with plenty of opportunities to generate geographical balance and allow other deserving teams to have a shot at winning it all.

If you take today's rankings as an example, a playoff field involving the top eight teams would produce plenty of balance this season, driving up fan interest from coast to coast. As it is, I have to wonder how high the ratings will be in the Upper Midwest or on the West Coast.

Today's selection of Alabama and exclusion of Ohio State hastens the day when the playoff field will be expanded to eight teams. I don't know when that will happen. It could be as soon as next season, or it might be a few years beyond that, but it is coming.

Of that I am sure.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Making a Case for Inclusion in the Playoff

Rivalries operate outside the norm.

I guess that is true for games that are merely scheduled during rivalry week — even if the games themselves do not qualify as rivalries.

Take Miami (Florida), for example. The Hurricanes have longstanding rivalries with Florida and Florida State and had a pretty intense rivalry with Notre Dame in the late '80s. They also have a rivalry with Virginia Tech.

The 'Canes played Pittsburgh last week. The schools had met three dozen times since 1950, but it wasn't really a rivalry game — at least not from Miami's point of view. Maybe the folks at Pitt see it differently.

It's likely the folks at Miami will see Pitt differently when the schools face off again. Pittsburgh knocked off previously unbeaten and second–ranked Miami last week, potentially knocking Miami out of the national championship playoff.

But you never really know about these things. A few weeks ago most people thought Alabama and Georgia would grab two of the four slots in the college football playoff. I was skeptical that two teams from the same conference could be included in a four–team field. Then Georgia lost to Auburn, and all such talk ended — until people started zeroing in on Miami and Clemson, who will meet for the ACC title this weekend.

Miami, of course, is coming off the loss to Pitt, which immediately ended the talk of Miami and Clemson holding half of the spots in the playoff field.

Speaking of Alabama, the top–ranked Crimson Tide took it on the chin last week, too, dropping the Iron Bowl to sixth–ranked Auburn 26–14.

Thus, the top two teams fell last week, and it's hard to say what will happen as far as the college football playoff is concerned. The possibilities appear to be endless, and with so many sure things going down in flames in the last few weeks, there are no guarantees that this weekend's conference championship games will pan out as expected.

The same people who thought Alabama and Georgia were locks for the playoff, then thought the same thing about Miami and Clemson, now believe Oklahoma will be in the final four — but the Sooners could very well lose the Big 12 championship game to TCU. The Frogs, after all, lost to the Sooners a few weeks ago and would love to even the score.

And if they do, the Frogs would be Big 12 champs with two losses. No two–loss team has been selected for the college football playoff field yet. The Sooners, who lost to Iowa State a couple of months ago, would also have two losses.

Most people think the winner of the Miami–Clemson game will be in the playoff since that winner will have only one loss. But what about the SEC? Auburn beat Georgia a few weeks ago, and the Bulldogs would love to avenge that defeat. If they do, they should be headed for the playoff with only one loss, but Auburn has two losses. If the Tigers beat the Bulldogs, will they be in the final four? Or will the committee select one–loss Alabama, even though the Tide did not play for the conference title?

Granted, these outcomes are long shots. But wasn't Pittsburgh's win over Miami a long shot, too?

The selections will be made in a few days. Stay tuned.

Idle: #5 Alabama, #9 Penn State, #13 Washington, #15 Notre Dame, #17 LSU, #18 Oklahoma State, #19 Michigan State, #20 Northwestern, #21 Washington State, #22 Virginia Tech, #23 South Florida, #24 Mississippi State

  • Pac–12 Championship: #14 Stanford vs. #11 Southern Cal, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN from Santa Clara, Calif.: When these teams met early in the season, Southern Cal won by 18 points.

    That is roughly the margin of victory the Trojans have enjoyed in three of the last four games in the series. The one exception was USC's 10–point triumph in 2015.

    That kind of margin appears to be a rather recent phenomenon in this series. Although Southern Cal enjoys a wide lead in the series, previous scores tended to be much closer.

    The Trojans are favored by a field goal this time. I'll take Southern Cal.
  • ACC Championship: #7 Miami (Florida) vs. #1 Clemson, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC from Charlotte, N.C.: This series is not extensive. The teams played a few times in the '50s, then didn't play again until 2004 after the teams became conference rivals. They don't play each other every year, though, so Clemson holds a 3–2 edge in games played since 2004.

    The top–ranked and defending national champion Tigers are pretty solid favorites to win again. Oddsmakers favor Clemson by 9½ points. I also pick Clemson.
  • Big 12 Championship: #10 TCU vs. #2 Oklahoma, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on Fox from Arlington, Texas: TCU only lost twice this season, but both of those losses came in the Big 12, and one came against the team the Frogs face for the conference crown this weekend — Oklahoma.

    The Sooners won their earlier encounter this season by 18 points, which is higher than the norm for this series. Six of the previous seven meetings were decided by seven points or less.

    Oklahoma is the favorite by ... seven points!

    Good enough for me. I take Oklahoma.
  • Big Ten Championship: #8 Ohio State vs. #3 Wisconsin, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox from Indianapolis: Ohio State has thoroughly dominated Wisconsin in their all–time series.

    The Buckeyes lead the series 58–18–5, whipped the Badgers (59–0) when they played for the Big Ten crown in 2014 and have only lost once to the Badgers in their last nine games. It really seems as if Ohio State has Wisconsin's number.

    Speaking of numbers, the oddsmakers have made the 10–2 Buckeyes 6½–point picks over the 12–0 Badgers.

    And while I would really like to see an undefeated team with a chance to be national champion, I just don't think the Badgers can pull this one off. My pick is Ohio State.
  • SEC Championship: #6 Georgia vs. #4 Auburn, 3 p.m. (Central) on CBS from Atlanta: Auburn slammed Georgia 40–17 when they squared off a few weeks ago.

    Before that, though, Georgia had won nine of the previous 11 encounters with Auburn. Given that kind of history, the Bulldogs can be forgiven for treating a date with Auburn as a foregone conclusion.

    But the oddsmakers don't see it that way. They made Auburn a 2½–point pick.

    If you use the game a few weeks ago as your guide, the choice is obvious. But I think it will be a hard–fought, down–to–the–wire battle. And I make Georgia an upset special.
  • American Athletic Championship: #16 Memphis at #12 Central Florida, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Unbeaten Central Florida is the only team to beat Memphis this season.

    In fact, Memphis has only beaten Central Florida once — in the teams' first meeting in 1990. Central Florida has won all 10 of the subsequent meetings including all five played at Central Florida. What is more Central Florida is favored by a touchdown.

    Central Florida is my pick.
  • Mountain West Championship: #25 Fresno State at Boise State, 6:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Until last week, these schools had not faced off since 2014.

    They met twice that year, too, as they will this season. The second game was for the Mountain West title.

    Boise swept the games in 2014. Now Fresno, fresh from last week's 28–17 triumph, hopes to return the favor. But Boise comes into the game a 9½–point favorite.

    A program's history becomes important at this stage of the season. Boise State has been quite successful in recent years; Fresno was 1–11 last year and 3–9 the year before that.

    Fresno has had some success but not as much as Boise, and I expect the more experienced Boise State to prevail.
Last week: 16–4

Overall: 206–48

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 2–1

Overall upset specials: 13–23

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Welcome to Rivalry Weekend

It wasn't so long ago that people were speculating that Georgia and Alabama both would be in college football's four–team playoff — even though one would have to defeat the other in the conference championship game.

That question was rendered moot when Auburn trounced Georgia, but everyone knew it hadn't been permanently put to rest — that one day two teams from the same conference would pose the same dilemma for the NCAA even though one team probably would have to defeat the other in the conference championship game.

Who knew that one day would come so soon?

But attention has shifted from the SEC to the ACC.

Defending national champion Clemson and the University of Miami are in the top four and will meet for their conference championship on Dec. 2. Unless one team wins by about five or six touchdowns, the odds are that both teams will be in the playoff.

Well, that's what some people say. Personally, I am skeptical.

Of course, there is still the possibility that Miami and/or Clemson could lose in their final regular–season games this week. Miami faces 4–7 Pittsburgh, and Clemson tangles with 8–3 South Carolina. That would land us right back where we were after Auburn downed Georgia.

Speaking of Auburn, the Tigers and the Crimson Tide gorged themselves on cupcakes last weekend in anticipation of the main course this weekend — the annual Iron Bowl.

Fans of both teams should remember that nothing is a done deal in the SEC. Auburn could throw a wrench into the works by beating Alabama, then Georgia could throw a wrench into the works by beating Auburn in the SEC Championship.

And where would that leave the college football playoffs? All season, everyone assumed Alabama would be one of the four teams to compete for the national title. But what if the Tide doesn't even play for its conference championship?

For a national championship playoff to be truly representative of a nation as large as this one, it has to be geographically balanced — even if that means leaving out teams that may be more deserving because their regions already have representatives in the playoff field.

Until the college football playoff field is expanded to at least eight teams — as I believe it should be — I will be skeptical that a single conference can produce two of the four finalists.

Until it happens, of course.

In the meantime, this is rivalry week. Enjoy.

Idle: #11 Southern Cal

  • Ole Miss at #16 Mississippi State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Ole Miss leads the Egg Bowl 61–43–5 but Mississippi State has won seven of the last 12 meetings.

    The 8–3 Bulldogs know there is a bowl in their immediate future while the 5–6 Rebels need to win this game to be bowl eligible. The oddsmakers don't think they can do it. They have made Ole Miss a 16–point underdog. I agree that Mississippi State will win.
  • #2 Miami (Florida) at Pittsburgh, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Miami has won 18 of its last 20 games with Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes are 13½–point favorites to do it again.

    I have to take Miami.
  • Baylor at #10 TCU, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: These old Southwest Conference rivals are meeting for the 107th time. TCU leads the series 53–48–5 and notched a big win over Baylor two years ago that kept the Bears from playing for the national title.

    The Bears have been sinking ever since and come into their season finale with a 1–10 record. The 9–2 Frogs can secure a spot in the conference championship game with a victory. You can punch their ticket for next week's game. TCU will win.
  • #22 South Florida at #13 Central Florida, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: South Florida leads Central Florida in this series 6–2 and has only lost at Central Florida once — by three points in 2013.

    But the oddsmakers made the higher–ranked Knights 11–point favorites this time. I concur. Central Florida will win.
  • #24 Virginia Tech at Virginia, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Virginia Tech has beaten Virginia in 17 of their last 18 meetings, but the sole exception came in a game played in Charlottesville in 2003.

    Virginia Tech (8–3) is favored to win this time, but only by a touchdown. At 6–5 Virginia is already assured a bowl bid, but a win in this game certainly would improve the Cavaliers' destination.

    I choose Virginia Tech.
  • #1 Alabama at #6 Auburn, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Until about 20 years ago, this game was played at Birmingham. Since that time, games have been played on each school's home field.

    As a result, there really isn't much history on the home fields in this series, but Alabama has won three of the last four games that were played at Auburn and leads the all–time series 44–30–1.

    The oddsmakers think Alabama will win again, but they are tepid in their endorsement, favoring the Tide by only four points. Perhaps they know that Nick Saban is 0–6 against Auburn when the Tigers have a nine–win season. Saban was 0–3 against nine–win Auburn teams when he was at LSU, and he is 0–3 against nine–win Auburn teams at Alabama.

    It is tempting to pick Auburn, but my gut tells me Alabama will win. After all, seven is a lucky number.
  • West Virginia at #3 Oklahoma, 2:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is the 10th meeting between these schools, and OU leads the series 7–2. West Virginia last beat OU at the Fiesta Bowl in January 2008. Before that the only West Virginia victory over the Sooners came in 1982.

    Losses to Oklahoma State and Texas have knocked West Virginia out of the running for a spot in the Big 12 title game. The Mountaineers are 7–4 and know they are headed for a bowl game, but a win over Oklahoma could propel them into an upper–tier destination.

    Not likely, though. The Sooners are favored by 22½ at home. I agree. Oklahoma will win this one.
  • #4 Clemson at South Carolina, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the 110th edition of this series, which has been known as the Palmetto Bowl since 2014.

    Clemson has won the last three games and leads the series 64–41–4. The oddsmakers say the Tigers are 14–point picks to make it four in a row.

    I agree. Clemson will win.
  • #5 Wisconsin at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is the nation's most–played rivalry. It is the schools' 125th meeting.

    Wisconsin has won 13 in a row (a record for this series) and needs to win this game to cap an undefeated season. The Badgers are favored by 17.

    My pick is Wisconsin.
  • #7 Georgia at Georgia Tech, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: This is a rivalry that is more than a century old. The Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets are meeting for the 107th time, and Georgia Tech won last year by a single point.

    The series is called Clean, Old–Fashioned Hate, and I'm sure there is a lot of intensity on both sides. But you could forgive Georgia for being a bit distracted. After all, once the Bulldogs finish this game, Alabama and Auburn will be squaring off with a slot against Georgia in next week's SEC Championship on the line. The Bulldogs are bound to be more interested in the outcome of that game.

    But they shouldn't take this one for granted even though they are favored by 11 points.

    I pick Georgia.
  • #8 Ohio State at Michigan, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox: This is one of college football's greatest rivalries, and it is being renewed for the 101st time this weekend.

    Ohio State leads 49–47–4. Michigan had a chance to even the series last year but lost a close one in Columbus 30–27. Now the Wolverines have a chance to wreck Ohio State's slim chances of playing for a national championship as the scene for this game shifts to Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines lead all time but have only beaten the Buckeyes once since 2003.

    It would be dramatic if the Wolverines could win this game, but the Buckeyes are favored by 11½ points. I have to go with Ohio State.
  • #9 Notre Dame at #20 Stanford, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is a series that dates back to the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day 1925.

    The Irish lead the series 19–12, but they have lost six of their last eight games with Stanford.

    Notre Dame is only favored to win this one by two points, and I think the 8–3 Cardinal are up to the test. In an upset special my choice is Stanford.
  • #12 Penn State at Maryland, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: This will be the 41st meeting between these schools, and Maryland has won only twice.

    Granted, most of the Nittany Lions' triumphs in the series came with Joe Paterno as coach — but so did Penn State's only loss at Maryland — in 1961. The oddsmakers say Penn State will win this time by 21. I see no reason to go against that. My pick is Penn State.
  • #14 Washington State at #15 Washington, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This will be the 98th time these schools have met for the Apple Cup. Washington has owned seven of the last eight meetings and leads the series 63–30–4.

    The Huskies are favored this time, too — by nine points. But Washington State beat Southern Cal and Stanford; the Trojans will be in the Pac–12 title game next week, and Washington State could face them by beating Washington and sharing the North Division title with Stanford. Washington, on the other hand, hasn't played Southern Cal and lost to Stanford so a Washington victory would mean the title game would be a rematch of USC's 42–24 triumph over Stanford early in the season.

    Washington State has more motivation and is an upset special.
  • East Carolina at #17 Memphis, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: East Carolina owns a seven–game winning streak against Memphis.

    But the oddsmakers don't think it will continue. They have made the 9–1 Tigers four–touchdown picks over the 3–8 Pirates.

    I agree. Memphis will win.
  • Kansas at #18 Oklahoma State, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: It's been a fairly typical football season for Kansas. The Jayhawks go into their season finale with a 1–10 record; it's been nearly a decade since Kansas had a winning record.

    Oklahoma State, meanwhile, is 8–3 and probably not a contender for a spot in the Big 12 championship game, but the Cowboys could still land a decent bowl bid. They have won 12 of their last 13 confrontations with the Jayhawks, but that one loss came in Stillwater about 10 years ago.

    No one thinks lightning will strike again. The oddsmakers favor the Cowboys by 40 points. My pick is Oklahoma State.
  • Texas A&M at #19 LSU, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: This will be the 55th time these schools have faced each other, and the Aggies have only won 19 times.

    Obviously the Aggies' problem with LSU didn't start with A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who is rumored to be on his way out. In fact, none of the program's problems originated with Sumlin. But they haven't improved much during his tenure. That isn't a lack of effort; it's a lack of results.

    Texas A&M hasn't beaten LSU since 1995. The Tigers are favored to win again, this time by 10½ points. My pick is LSU.
  • #21 Michigan State at Rutgers, 3 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Michigan State leads the series, but the teams are knotted at 1–1 at Rutgers.

    The 8–3 Spartans are favored to win this one over 4–7 Rutgers by 13 points. I pick Michigan State.
  • #23 Northwestern at Illinois, 3 p.m. (Central) on FS1: This will be the 110th meeting between these schools, and Illinois holds a six–game advantage.

    But Northwestern has won 10 of the last 14 games between the schools.

    The Wildcats are favored by 16½ points. I pick Northwestern.
  • #25 Boise State at Fresno State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: These teams have met 16 times and Fresno State has only won three.

    But all three wins came at Fresno — including the most recent time they played there.

    These teams have won their respective divisions so this amounts to a warmup for next week's conference championship game. If Fresno wins this game, it would hold the tiebreaker over Boise — and could be awarded the home field for the championship game.

    Boise State is favored by a touchdown, but it is important to remember that two of Fresno's three losses came against Alabama and Washington. I'm making Fresno State an upset special.
Last week: 19–4

Overall: 190–44

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 0–2

Overall upset specials: 11–22

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Weekend That Things Changed

And just like that ... everything changed.

Well, not everything. But nearly everything.

In the aftermath of Auburn's thrashing of Georgia and Miami's whipping of Notre Dame, the entire Final Four is up for grabs, it seems.

Well, not entirely.

Unless Auburn or Georgia can beat Alabama, I'm pretty sure the Crimson Tide will be in the college football playoff. And defending national champion Clemson will probably be there, too, although the path does not seem so straight or so clear for the Tigers.

But Georgia and Notre Dame probably won't be, which opens a couple of doors for the likes of Oklahoma, Wisconsin and, perhaps, Miami and/or Auburn, although the latter two would need to knock off the two apparent locks for the playoffs in their conference championship games.

In short, nothing seems quite as certain as it did last week.

Idle: #15 Washington State

  • Tulsa at #23 South Florida, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is only the second time these teams have met. The first time was three years ago at Tulsa, and South Florida prevailed by eight points.

    South Florida is favored to do it again this time by 23 points. My choice is South Florida.
  • Mercer at #1 Alabama, 11 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: You know, there really isn't any point in discussing this one much.

    It exists to fill the week before the Iron Bowl. That's all. If Alabama loses, the Crimson Tide will have no hope of being in college football's playoffs.

    Alabama will win.
  • Virginia at #2 Miami (Fla.), 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Miami has built a two–game lead in this series with wins in the last two seasons.

    It is a lot more competitive than you probably ever thought.

    But the oddsmakers don't think this edition will be too competitive. They have made Miami a 19½–point pick.

    It would certainly be dramatic if Virginia could pull off the upset, but I don't think that will happen. I choose Miami.
  • #3 Oklahoma at Kansas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Oklahoma has won 12 in a row against Kansas — last year the Sooners won 56–3 — and OU is picked by 37 points this time.

    It seems to be beyond dispute. Oklahoma should win handily.
  • The Citadel at #4 Clemson, 11:20 a.m. (Central) on ACCNE: You know, by this point in the season, you really hope that this kind of nonconference game is gone, but I guess you could see this one coming from a long way away.

    Clemson is the clear choice.
  • #19 Michigan at #5 Wisconsin, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox: This is the only game between two ranked teams this week, and it ought to be a good one.

    Michigan leads the all–time series by a wide margin, but Wisconsin has been competitive in their most recent meetings.

    However, it is worth noting that, until last year, the teams had not met since 2010. When the series was renewed last year, Michigan won by a touchdown.

    This time Wisconsin is the favorite by 7½ points.

    I take Wisconsin.
  • Louisiana–Monroe at #6 Auburn, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This is like the Mercer–Alabama game. It is there to take up schedule space.

    Auburn will win.
  • Kentucky at #7 Georgia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Georgia has won more than 80% of its meetings with Kentucky over the years. Currently Georgia has won nine of the last 10.

    The Bulldogs are favored by 21½ in this one. OK. I take Georgia.
  • Illinois at #8 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the 103rd meeting of these schools, and Ohio State leads by better than 2 to 1.

    The Buckeyes hold an eight–game winning streak, and they're favored by a whopping 41 points to make that nine.

    I pick Ohio State.
  • Navy at #9 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: For some reason, it still surprises people when you mention that Navy has a pretty good football team.

    I guess they get the Midshipmen confused with the other service academies, which have struggled in recent years. But Navy is 6–3 (incidentally Army is playing pretty well this year, but Air Force has to win its last two to qualify for a bowl).

    The 8–2 Irish appeared headed for college football's playoffs until they lost to Miami last week. They're apt to be a bit feisty after last week's game.

    Plus there is some decisive history working against Navy. The Midshipmen have won only twice at South Bend in the last 50 years.

    I pick Notre Dame.
  • Kansas State at #10 Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Oklahoma State has won three of its last four against Kansas State, but Oklahoma State really needs to win this one to be in the conversation for the Big 12 championship.

    At 5–5 Kansas State needs a win in its last two games to qualify for a bowl, but the Wildcats have Iowa State waiting next week. Fortunately for K–State, that game will be played in Manhattan, Kansas. The Wildcats can afford to lose this one.

    I think they will, too. The choice is Oklahoma State.
  • #11 TCU at Texas Tech, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: Tech leads this series, but most of those wins came during Tech's 3½ decades in the old Southwest Conference.

    TCU jumped out to an early lead in the series, winning the first five encounters, but Tech, as I say, made up for a lot after the Red Raiders joined the SWC. The teams met only twice from the time the SWC folded until TCU joined Tech in the Big 12 a few years ago. Now they meet regularly.

    Tech beat TCU by a field goal last year, but TCU comes into this year's game favored by 6½. If TCU does win, it would be only the third victory at Lubbock for the Frogs in more than 40 years.

    Make Texas Tech an upset special.
  • UCLA at #12 Southern Cal, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This was a rivalry game that I always enjoyed watching when I was a kid. There was always so much color on both sides. And the games were usually competitive, too.

    But Southern Cal usually won, and the Trojans are favored this time by 16 points. I have to take Southern Cal. But it's still worth watching.
  • Nebraska at #13 Penn State, 4 p.m. (Central) on FS1: There was a time when this would have been a marquee game, whenever it was played. It would have made a great bowl game some years, but they have never met in the postseason.

    Nebraska has fallen on hard times, but, believe it or not, the Cornhuskers have won their last four encounters with the Nittany Lions.

    It is hard to see how that streak can continue. Nebraska is 4–6 and needs to win its last two to qualify for a bowl. Penn State is 8–2, already assured of a bowl but looking to beef up its record and improve its postseason destination. The oddsmakers favor Penn State by nearly four touchdowns. I have to take Penn State.
  • #14 Central Florida at Temple, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: The historical record in this series is brief and does not really provide much guidance.

    They have played four games, two on each team's home field. Both teams are 1–1 at home.

    But Central Florida is 9–0 and Temple is 5–5. The oddsmakers have made UCF a 13½–point favorite. Good enough for me. I choose Central Florida.
  • Utah at #16 Washington, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Utah has only beaten Washington once, but that came on Washington's home field, where they will play this weekend.

    The series predates Utah joining the Pac–12, but all the games prior to that were played in Seattle. The one and only time that Utah hosted Washington was after Utah joined the conference.

    Didn't really matter. Washington won that game in Salt Lake City and has won nearly all the games played in Seattle. The oddsmakers think the Huskies will win this one, too, and so do I. Washington is the pick.
  • #17 Mississippi State at Arkansas, 11 a.m. (Central) on CBS: Arkansas snapped a four–game losing streak against Mississippi State last year, but the oddsmakers think the Bulldogs will get back on the winning track this weekend.

    They're favored by 11½ points.

    Naturally, I would like to see my alma mater win, but I have to be realistic. The Hogs haven't been good this year, and they're likely to lose by a wider margin than 11½ points. I must choose Mississippi State.
  • SMU at #18 Memphis, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNews: This is the 10th game between these teams. The series has gone in threes — Memphis won the first three, SMU won the second three, and Memphis won the most recent three. The logical progression would mean that SMU will win this time, but the oddsmakers don't think so. They made Memphis an 11½–point favorite.

    I think it will be closer than that, but I agree that Memphis will win.
  • California at #20 Stanford, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Stanford has beaten Cal seven straight times and leads the all–time series by 10 games.

    But as lopsided as the series record is, the games have tended to be surprisingly close. When Stanford won by two touchdowns last season, that was actually a closer margin than the teams have produced in recent years, but more typical of the series is the famous finish of the 1982 Big Game.
    OK, they aren't always so dramatic, but the final margin (in this case, five points) has a lot in common with most games.

    The oddsmakers favor Stanford to extend the streak. I agree. I pick Stanford.
  • #21 LSU at Tennessee, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Tennessee already has enough distractions with the dismissal of head coach Butch Jones last weekend.

    And now LSU comes to town.

    These teams haven't faced each other since 2011, and Tennessee leads the all–time series, but LSU has won the last four encounters and six of the last eight. On top of that, LSU is clearly on an upward trajectory while Tennessee is tumbling into the abyss.

    LSU is a 15½–point favorite. It would be hard to justify picking the Volunteers, and I don't. LSU is my choice.
  • Maryland at #22 Michigan State, 3 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This will be the ninth meeting between these teams, and Maryland won last year for only the second time.

    I don't think Maryland can pull it off again. My pick is Michigan State.
  • Texas at #24 West Virginia, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams have met six times, all but the first one coming since 2012.

    And the pattern is that one team wins back–to–back encounters, then the other team wins two, then the first team wins two.

    By that pattern, it should be Texas' turn. The Mountaineers have won the last two games.

    But West Virginia is favored by 11 points. I think West Virginia will win at home.
  • #25 North Carolina State at Wake Forest, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: N.C. State has won three in a row against Wake Forest and six of the last nine.

    The Wolfpack have a significant lead in the all–time series, but the Deacons won six in a row at home before the Wolfpack halted the skid with a 35–17 win at Winston–Salem in 2015. It's been more than 20 years since the Wolfpack won back–to–back games at Winston–Salem. Can they do it again?

    The oddsmakers don't think so. They have made Wake Forest a 1–point favorite. I disagree. North Carolina State is an upset special.
Last week: 13–3

Overall: 171–40

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 3–1

Overall upset specials: 11–20

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Keep an Eye on the SEC Collision Course

Alabama and Georgia still appear to be on a collision course in the SEC Championship on Dec. 2. They occupy the top two spots in the college football playoff rankings, and they are 1–2 in the AP poll.

And if they win out, they will meet for the SEC title.

Personally, I still think a loss in that game will disqualify the loser from the four–team playoff field — but I have heard more and more people lately who think they will both be in the playoff regardless of who wins on Dec. 2.

And that may well turn out to be true. If they are both unbeaten going into that game, the loser will only have one loss. And there won't be many one–loss teams left when the dust settles so perhaps Alabama and Georgia will already have qualified before their game begins.

On the other hand, there are still three weeks left in the season, and both teams still must face Auburn. That's going to be a tough assignment.

If the season ended today, Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame and Clemson would be in the playoff.

But the season doesn't end today.

Idle: #20 Memphis, #22 South Florida

  • #9 Washington at Stanford, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Washington beat Stanford last year, the Huskies' third win over Stanford in the last 12 meetings.

    Historically, though, Washington still holds the edge in the series, and the Huskies are favored to win this time, too — by 6½ points. But Washington has only won once at Stanford since the dawn of the 21st century and hasn't won two in a row in the series in 14 years.

    I'm taking Stanford as an upset special.
  • #1 Alabama at #18 Mississippi State, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Alabama has won nine in a row against Mississippi State and hasn't lost in Starkville since 2007.

    Alabama is favored by 14 points, which might be about right on the road. At home, the margin would almost certainly be higher. The pick is Alabama.
  • #2 Georgia at #10 Auburn, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This is the 113th meeting between these schools, and Georgia holds a 55–51–6 lead.

    Both teams aren't always in the Top 10. Sometimes neither team has been in the Top 10. But both are there this time — and it is even possible that they will meet again in the SEC Championship game in December.

    Judging from the point spread the oddsmakers have assigned this game, it should be a good one. Georgia is favored by 2½ points. I'll take Georgia.
  • #3 Notre Dame at #7 Miami (Fla.), 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: If you don't like Notre Dame, this may be your last chance to see the Irish get knocked out of this season's college football playoffs.

    The 8–1 Irish face Navy (currently on a three–game losing streak) and Stanford in their last two games — and most likely will be favored to win both.

    Two losses probably will keep most teams out of the playoffs, but history doesn't suggest that Notre Dame is going to lose to Miami. The Irish lead the series with Miami 18–7–1 and have won four in a row. Miami hasn't beaten Notre Dame since 1989.

    But while Notre Dame has dominated at home and at neutral sites, it has been another story in Miami. The oddsmakers think it will be another struggle as the Irish are favored by a field goal.

    I'm going to take Miami as an upset special.
  • Florida State at #4 Clemson, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Back when the season began this was expected to be one of the big games of the year, but the Seminoles haven't held up their end of the deal.

    Florida State has dominated this series by winning 80% of the time at home. The Seminoles are 8–6 at Clemson but have lost six of the last seven games played there.

    Clemson is favored to win this time, too. The point spread is 16 points.

    My pick is Clemson.
  • #8 TCU at #5 Oklahoma, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This has to be the game of the week. We know Alabama and Georgia are probably on a collision course, and I think that is likely to knock the loser out of the running for the four–team playoff field.

    The Big 12 seems likely to send someone to the championship field, and the winner of this game will probably be in the driver's seat for that.

    And if that is the case, then history says OU will prevail. So do the oddsmakers. They have made the Sooners 7–point favorites.

    I expect Oklahoma to win.
  • #25 Iowa at #6 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Wisconsin grabbed the lead in this longstanding series with a 17–9 victory last season. Now the scene shifts to Wisconsin, where Iowa has won four of the last five encounters.

    Iowa is a recent entry in the Top 25 whereas Wisconsin has been in the rankings all season and really needs to stay unbeaten to have a shot at the playoffs, now that both Penn State and Ohio State has been beaten for the second time — which apparently will prevent the Badgers from facing a team in the conference championship gae with a record impressive enough to propel Wisconsin into the Top Four.

    But that is farther down the road.

    Wisconsin is favored to win this game by 12. I take Wisconsin.
  • #13 Michigan State at #11 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox: The clear pattern in this series in the last seven games has been that whichever team won the previous meeting has lost the next one. Ohio State won last season by a single point — even though Michigan State was struggling through a 3–9 capaign and Ohio State went on to play in the college football playoffs.

    The Buckeyes are favored to buck the recent trend as they go into this game favored by 16 points. That seems a little excessive to me, but I still think Ohio State will win.
  • #12 Oklahoma State at #24 Iowa State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Oklahoma State has won eight of the last 10 meetings with Iowa State — but the Cowboys ought to be wary of the Cyclones. They may be coming off a loss, but they have engineered some pretty impressive upsets this season.

    The oddsmakers favor Oklahoma State by a touchdown. Both teams are coming off losses that may well prevent them from playing in the conference title game. I pick Iowa State to produce another upset.
  • Connecticut at #14 Central Florida, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: This is a young series, but it has been competitive.

    The teams have split their first four meetings, with both teams going 1–1 at home, and Connecticut won the last time it played at Central Florida.

    Central Florida is favored by more than five touchdowns. The choice is clear — Central Florida.
  • #15 Southern Cal at Colorado, 3 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This will be the 12th meeting between these schools, and Southern Cal has won all 11 of the previous games.

    Southern Cal is favored by nearly two touchdowns to make its record against Colorado 12–0.

    I pick Southern Cal.
  • Rutgers at #16 Penn State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Rutgers beat Penn State the first time they met — back in 1918. Since then the teams have faced each other 26 times, and Rutgers has won only once — in 1988.

    Since this year doesn't end in an 8 — and the Nittany Lions are favored by 30 points — I choose Penn State.
  • #17 Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, 11:20 a.m. (Central) on ACCNE: Georgia Tech beat Virginia Tech last year. It was the Yellow Jackets' fourth win over the Hokies since they became conference rivals in 2003.

    Georgia Tech has never beaten Virginia Tech in back–to–back meetings, but the Yellow Jackets might have a chance this time. The Hokies are only favored by a field goal. It's tempting to predict an upset special, but I think Virginia Tech will win.
  • #19 Washington State at Utah, 4:30 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: This series is tied at 7–7.

    Washington State has won the last two meetings, but neither team has ever beaten the other three straight times.

    Nevertheless the oddsmakers apparently think Washington State will do precisely that — but the Cougars are only favored by a single point. That's OK. I take Washington State.
  • #21 Michigan at Maryland, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Maryland is a relative newcomer to the Big Ten so the series with Michigan isn't very old, but in the last two seasons, Michigan has outscored Maryland 87–3.

    The oddsmakers favor the Wolverines by 15½ points. If I placed a bet on this game, I would give the points because I believe Michigan will win by a lot more.
  • #23 West Virginia at Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: West Virginia beat Kansas State last year for the first time since 1930. It was a struggle, but the Mountaineers prevailed by a single point.

    The teams haven't met every year since 1930. They faced each other in 1931, then not again for more than 80 years.

    This time Kansas State is favored by a single point. I expect it to be a good one, but I am inclined to favor West Virginia as an upset special.
Last week: 14–4

Overall: 158–37

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 2–2

Overall upset specials: 8–19

Friday, November 3, 2017

Nothing Is Written in Stone Yet

If you watched the broadcast of the first–of–the–season college football rankings, it would appear that Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson are headed for the national playoffs in January.

And perhaps they are.

But it isn't likely that all four will be in the playoffs because Georgia and Alabama are all but sure to have to face each other for the SEC championship in early December. Since one is certain to lose, the likelihood of both teams still being in the top four is very slim after they face off. It isn't impossible, just very unlikely.

Notre Dame and Clemson are not scheduled to face each other this season and so both teams could be in the Final Four.

But Oklahoma is #5 and has a game coming up against #8 TCU. The winner of that game almost certainly will be in the mix. So, too, could be #6 Ohio State, fresh off a victory over #7 Penn State. And don't forget undefeated Wisconsin. The Badgers are #9 in the rankings but could zoom into the Top Four by beating Ohio State for the Big Ten title.

There is still a month's worth of football to be played. Nothing is settled yet. Stay tuned.

  • #22 Memphis at Tulsa, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Based on the rankings, you would think that Memphis leads its series with Tulsa.

    And the truth is that it does.

    But Tulsa has won five of the last seven meetings.

    Memphis is favored by 12½ points to win this one. I agree. My pick is Memphis.
  • #19 LSU at #1 Alabama, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Since Alabama beat LSU for the national championship in January 2012, the Crimson Tide have won five of six meetings.

    But the Tigers' only victory during that stretch came where the teams will face each other on Saturday — in Tuscaloosa.

    That's a tough place for a visitor. Alabama has only lost there four times in the last 10 years, and the Crimson Tide is favored to win this one by three touchdowns.

    I have to take Alabama.
  • South Carolina at #2 Georgia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: These teams first played each other when Teddy Roosevelt was president.

    Georgia has so dominated the series that South Carolina has claimed nearly one–third of its victories over the Bulldogs in the last decade.

    The oddsmakers have made Georgia a heavy favorite in this one. I, too, pick Georgia to win.
  • #3 Ohio State at Iowa, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Ohio State has won 15 of the last 17 meetings with Iowa and currently owns a five–game winning streak against the Hawkeyes.

    The oddsmakers favor Ohio State by 18 points. Good enough. I pick Ohio State.
  • #4 Wisconsin at Indiana, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Wisconsin has beaten Indiana nine times in a row, but the Hoosiers' last win in the series came at Indiana.

    Will it happen again? The oddsmakers don't think so, and neither do I. Wisconsin is the choice.
  • Wake Forest at #5 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: Notre Dame has won all three of the previous meetings with Wake Forest.

    The oddsmakers think Notre Dame will make it four in a row. I think so, too. I pick Notre Dame.
  • #6 Clemson at #20 North Carolina State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Outside of the ACC, I suppose this clash between ranked teams is getting little attention.

    And, even though North Carolina State is ranked this year, it is still probably regarded as a foregone conclusion that Clemson will win. After all the Tigers have beaten the Wolfpack in 12 of the last 13 meetings.

    But that sole exception was played where this year's game is being played — at N.C. State. And the 8–point spread doesn't suggest invincibility for Clemson. In fact, I am going to take North Carolina State in an upset special.
  • #7 Penn State at #24 Michigan State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox: Penn State knotted this series at 15–15–1 with last year's 45–12 victory.

    Penn State is favored by 9 points in this one. I think the Nittany Lions will win, but I think it might be closer than that. My pick is Penn State.
  • #8 Oklahoma at #11 Oklahoma State, 3 p.m. (Central) on FS1: In Oklahoma they call this game Bedlam, and I can assure you, from having lived in Norman and been on the OU faculty for four years, that is exactly what it is.

    Oh, sure, it isn't the Texas game. But what is?

    Oklahoma has won nearly 80% of the games that have been played, including 12 of the last 14. What's more, Oklahoma State has struggled more at home than on the road; the Cowboys have beaten the Sooners only seven times in 48 previous meetings in Stillwater.

    And yet Oklahoma State is favored by 2½ points. Oklahoma is an upset special for me.
  • #13 Virginia Tech at #9 Miami (Fla.), 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: For about the last 20 years, this series has gone back and forth, with neither team winning more than three in a row.

    Overall, Miami leads the series and has dominated at home — but not lately. Virginia Tech has won six of the last 11 games played in Miami.

    And Virginia Tech is favored to win this one, too — by 2½ points. Miami is an upset special at home.
  • Texas at #10 TCU, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: How much has Texas dominated TCU over the years?

    Well, the Longhorns won 24 meetings in a row from 1968 to 1991 — and even if you took all those games out of the equation, Texas would still lead the series by a comfortable margin.

    But times have changed. TCU has won the last three in a row, but the Frogs have always struggled against the Longhorns at home.

    The Frogs are favored by a touchdown in this one, and I pick TCU to make it four straight wins against Texas.
  • Oregon at #12 Washington, 9 p.m. (Central) on FS1: In life the pendulum is constantly moving. What is old truly does become new again.

    The Oregon–Washington football series is a good example. This will be their 98th meeting, and Washington dominated in the early years, building up a series advantage that it has held since the 1950s.

    But in recent years Oregon was the dominant one, winning 12 in a row before losing — in a big way — to the Huskies last year.

    The Huskies are 17–point favorites this time; I have to take Washington.
  • #14 Iowa State at West Virginia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Iowa State has to be the surprise team of the year so far — certainly the surprise of the Big 12.

    The Cyclones have beaten long–time nemesis Oklahoma this season and just bumped off TCU last weekend. The West Virginia series is not as old as either of those other two, but the Mountaineers have been just as dominant. West Virginia is 4–1 against Iowa State.

    West Virginia is favored by 2½ points. I'm tempted to take Iowa State as an upset special, but I keep thinking the Cyclones' bubble has burst. My pick is West Virginia.
  • #15 Central Florida at SMU, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Central Florida leads the all–time series 6–1 — but UCF's only loss came at SMU in 2011.

    The undefeated Knights have a good team — the only team to beat Memphis thus far.

    I think Central Florida will win.
  • #16 Auburn at Texas A&M, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: The Aggies lead the all–time series 5–2, but Auburn won the only other two times that the teams met in College Station.

    And Auburn is favored by 15 points this time. Seems pretty clear. My pick is Auburn.
  • #23 Arizona at #17 Southern Cal, 9:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Southern Cal has won 13 of the last 15 meetings with Arizona.

    This should be a slam dunk, right? Well ... Southern Cal is only favored by 7½ points.

    There is a lot on the line — primarily, the driver's seat in the Pac–12 South.

    I'll go with the home team, Southern Cal.
  • #18 Stanford at #25 Washington State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Washington State snapped an eight–year losing streak against Stanford last year, but Stanford hasn't lost at Washington State since 2007. Historically Stanford has won nearly 70% of the time in Pullman.

    But Washington State is a narrow favorite. Can the Cougars pull it off?

    I make Stanford an upset special.
  • UMass at #21 Mississippi State, 11 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: These schools met for the first time ever last year, and Mississippi State prevailed 47–35.

    The Bulldogs are huge favorites — by 32 points — to win again. Mississippi State is my pick.
Last week: 13–5

Overall: 144–33

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 1–3

Overall upset specials: 6–17

Thursday, October 26, 2017

An Early Peek at the Prospective Playoff Field

The college football playoff rankings haven't started coming out yet — the first one is slated to be released on Halloween — so the only clues as to who we may see playing in early January come from the polls.

And current polls are suggesting that Alabama (of course) will be one of the four teams in the New Year's Day semifinals. Probably the top seed. The third–ranked Georgia Bulldogs, who are the presumptive champs of the SEC East, could shake things up by beating Alabama in the SEC championship game. They don't figure to be in the national Final Four unless they manage to do that.

There will probably be a representative from the Big Ten, and Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin are the leading candidates for that. Penn State and Ohio State face each other this weekend, and the winner will likely be in the driver's seat in the Big Ten East (although #16 Michigan State will face both in the first couple of weeks of November and may grab the top spot on the field).

Wisconsin leads the Big Ten West and is not scheduled to play any of the Big Ten East contenders in the regular season. Logic says that whoever survives the conference championship game between Wisconsin and one of those other three teams will be in the playoff field.

It seems likely that the Big 12 will be represented in the Final Four, too, and right now that slot would have to go undefeated and fourth–ranked TCU. The Frogs are 4–0 in the Big 12, and there are a whole bunch of teams who are a single game back at 3–1 — #10 Oklahoma, #11 Oklahoma State, #22 West Virginia and #25 Iowa State. TCU plays Iowa State on Saturday, then Oklahoma on Nov. 11. The Frogs have already beaten Oklahoma State.

The fourth and final slot should go to the conference in which the defending national champion resides — the Atlantic Coast Conference. The champions, the Clemson Tigers, are in a battle with #14 North Carolina State for the lead in the ACC's Atlantic Conference. If they survive that, they probably will face the currently eighth–ranked team, Miami (Florida), in the ACC's title tilt.

In the ACC's other division, Miami could have problems of its own with its leading challenger, unranked Georgia Tech, who faces Clemson this weekend. Tech already lost to Miami (by a single point) and needs Miami to lose at least twice for Tech to sneak in and grab the Coastal Division crown. A win over Clemson would give Tech momentum and national prestige, but Tech will need help from Miami if it is to compete for the national title.

Idle: #1 Alabama, #19 Auburn, #23 LSU

  • #20 Stanford at Oregon State, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Stanford holds a seven–game winning streak against Oregon State and has won more than two–thirds of the games these schools have played against each other since 1919.

    What's more Stanford is a three–touchdown favorite to win this time.

    Good enough for me. I pick Stanford.
  • Tulane at #24 Memphis, 7 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: Memphis has won 10 in a row against Tulane and hasn't lost at home to Tulane since 1998.

    The oddsmakers have established Memphis as a 10½–point favorite.

    I think the choice is clear. I pick Memphis.
  • #2 Penn State at #6 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This is probably the game of the week.

    Penn State beat Ohio State last year, but now the Nittany Lions face the challenge of doing something they haven't done in nearly 40 years — beat Ohio State in consecutive seasons.

    Can they do it? The oddsmakers don't think so. They made Ohio State a 6½–point favorite. But I do think they can do it. I make Penn State an upset special.
  • #3 Georgia at Florida, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: When the season began, this looked as if it might be the game of the year in the SEC East.

    But in advance of this year's game, the speculation has been about the future of Florida's football coach. Of all the hot seats in college football, his may be the hottest right now.

    Florida has beaten Georgia three straight times, but I suspect that the Bulldogs have the momentum. My choice is Georgia.
  • #4 TCU at #25 Iowa State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Few people would have picked Iowa State to be ranked at this point in the season. In fact, few people probably would have picked Iowa State to be ranked at any point in the season.

    And yet here they are.

    The Cyclones had better enjoy it while they can, though. TCU leads the series 7–1, and the Frogs have looked pretty good. But the Cyclones haven't been too shabby, either, upsetting Oklahoma a week before the Sooners were to play their rivals from the University of Texas.

    TCU is only favored by 6½ points.

    So I'm going to do what few people are probably doing. I pick Iowa State in an upset special.
  • #5 Wisconsin at Illinois, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Historically this has been a tight series with Wisconsin holding a 40–36–7 advantage.

    But the Badgers have seized the lead in recent years, winning the last seven in a row and 11 of the last 12 meetings.

    Wisconsin is favored by more than three touchdowns. I have to pick Wisconsin.
  • Georgia Tech at #7 Clemson, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Over the years, these schools have faced each other 80 times, and Tech holds nearly a 2–to–1 advantage in the series.

    But most of Tech's wins came before the teams became conference rivals. In recent years Clemson has won four of the last five over Tech, and the Tigers are favored to win this one by more than two touchdowns.

    I have to take Clemson.
  • #8 Miami (Fla.) at North Carolina, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This is a pretty competitive series.

    Miami had a chance to even things up last year but lost at home. Now the Hurricanes travel to North Carolina, where they have struggled in the past but have won the last two times they played there.

    Oddsmakers say that Miami will win by 20 points, and I think Miami will win as well — but that does not mean they should take the Tar Heels lightly.
  • #14 North Carolina State at #9 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: North Carolina State probably enjoys a unique status — the Wolfpack may be the only team that has played Notre Dame more than once and has not lost to the Irish yet.

    They first met in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day in 2003, which N.C. State won 28–6. Then the Wolfpack won at home last year 10–3.

    The oddsmakers think that will change. They have made Notre Dame a 7½–point favorite this time.

    As the rankings suggest, this ought to be a good game. I give the edge to the home team, Notre Dame.
  • Texas Tech at #10 Oklahoma, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: You can always expect a lot of scoring when these two teams meet.

    Last year was the wildest yet, with OU surviving by 66–59.

    The oddsmakers clearly expect the Sooners to do some scoring. They made OU a 20–point pick at home, where they have lost to Tech only twice in a dozen previous meetings.

    I think it will be closer than that, but I agree that Oklahoma will win.
  • #11 Oklahoma State at #22 West Virginia, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Oklahoma State evened up this series at four wins apiece with the Cowboys' 37–20 victory in Stillwater last year.

    But now the scene shifts to Morgantown, which is a tough place for visitors to play.

    Oddsmakers have made OSU a 7½–point pick to win for the third straight time against West Virginia.

    But I'm going to take West Virginia in an upset special.
  • UCLA at #12 Washington, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Washington has had its moments in this series that dates to 1932, but the Bruins have tended to hold the upper hand.

    The latest trend has the Bruins winning 13 of the last 16 meetings — but all three of the Huskies' wins came when they were playing at home, as they are this year.

    And the Huskies are favored to win this time by 17 points.

    UCLA has been questionable at times this season, and I have to think that Washington will win this one.
  • Duke at #13 Virginia Tech, 6:20 p.m. (Central) on ACCNE: It should come as no surprise that Tech leads this series, but it might surprise you to know that Duke was the dominant one in the first half of the 20th century.

    But between 1982 and 2012, Tech seized control of the series with 12 straight wins.

    The teams have met four times since with both teams winning twice. While Tech won last year's meeting, the margin was only three points.

    And that was the widest margin of victory in those four games. That suggests that this year's game might be close, too — but the oddsmakers don't think so. They pick Tech by 15½ points.

    I'm inclined to pick Virginia Tech as well.
  • #15 Washington State at Arizona, 8:30 p.m. (Central): Arizona has dominated this series, but Washington State has won three of the last four meetings. And last year's outcome was the worst for Arizona fans — a 69–7 drubbing.

    Washington State has a two–game winning streak at Arizona, and Washington State is a three–point pick to make it a three–game winning streak. This will be the 43rd meeting between these schools, and Washington State has only won three in a row against Arizona once.

    I pick Washington State.
  • #16 Michigan State at Northwestern, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Historically Michigan State has beaten Northwestern nearly 75% of the time, but Northwestern has been competitive in recent years. In fact, the Wildcats won 54–40 at East Lansing last year.

    But that leads me to one of the quirks of this series. The Wildcats actually fared better in East Lansing than they have at home. Michigan State has won five in a row at Northwestern, and the oddsmakers have made the Spartans 2½–point favorites to make that six in a row.

    I'm inclined to look at last season's 3–9 campaign as an anomaly for the Spartans, who have been much more likely to log 10 wins or more in a season in recent years.

    So while it is tempting to take Northwestern as an upset special, I have to go with Michigan State in this one.
  • Houston at #17 South Florida, 2:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Both teams are 1–1 at each other's home field.

    South Florida is a 10½–point favorite. I can go along with that. South Florida is the pick.
  • Austin Peay at #18 Central Florida, 4 p.m. (Central): There really isn't much to say about this one.

    Except ...

    Central Florida should win.
  • #21 Southern Cal at Arizona State, 9:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Southern Cal leads this series 21–12, but the Trojans largely built their lead by sweeping the annual showdowns between 2000 and 2010.

    The series was competitive between 1978 and 1999, just as it has been since 2011, a period in which each team has beaten the other three times.

    It is hard to get a reading on Southern Cal. Some weeks the Trojans look invincible, but then there are weeks when they look incapable of almost anything.

    The oddsmakers favor Southern Cal by 2½ points, but I'm going to take Arizona State in an upset special.
Last week: 15–2

Overall: 131–28

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 1–2

Overall upset specials: 5–14

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

There Were Upsets A-Plenty Last Week; What Does This Week Hold?

I got both of my upset specials last week, but I could hardly miss. There were upsets galore in the Top 25, starting with the two games played on Friday night — both defending national champion Clemson and Washington State bit the dust, and there were even more upsets the following day.

As you would expect, that led to a considerable shakeup in the rankings. Alabama remained on top, of course, but everything was shuffled after that. Yes, sir, there was a major makeover in the rankings this week, and it is quite possible we will see even more of a shakeup this week.

It might be a good week for a team to have off — and, as it turns out, six of the Top 25 teams are idle this week — including a couple of teams that fell victim to upsets last week.

Idle: #3 Georgia, #6 Ohio State, #7 Clemson, #12 Washington, #16 North Carolina State, #22 Stanford

  • #25 Memphis at Houston, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: I advise the student newspaper at one of the local community colleges. A fellow who advises with me is a native of Memphis, and he's proud of the Tigers' performance in football so far this year.

    Remarkably, Memphis comes into this game a 2½–point underdog, but that's OK. I'll go with Memphis as an upset special.
  • Tennessee at #1 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Tennessee has lost 10 in a row to Alabama and hasn't won at Tuscaloosa since 2003.

    The oddsmakers don't think the Vols are likely to win this one, either. They have made Tennessee a 36–point underdog.

    Yep. I pick Alabama.
  • #19 Michigan at #2 Penn State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This has to be the marquee matchup of the week.

    Common sense tells you that the winner of the Big Ten is likely to end up in the national championship playoff in January — unless that champion has two losses. The Wolverines already have one loss (to Michigan State) with confrontations with Wisconsin and Ohio State still on the schedule. Penn State is undefeated, but the Nittany Lions must face Michigan State and Ohio State in the weeks immediately after their game with the Wolverines.

    Clearly, neither team can afford to lose this one — but just as clearly someone will.

    Penn State is favored by 10, but I'm thinking that Michigan will win this one in an upset special.
  • Kansas at #4 TCU, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox: It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Horned Frogs are favored by 37½ points in this game.

    And it shouldn't be a surprise when TCU wins this game handily.
  • Maryland at #5 Wisconsin, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox: This is only the third time these schools have faced each other. Wisconsin won the first two meetings by impressive margins.

    The oddsmakers think the same thing will happen this time. They have made Wisconsin a 24½–point favorite. Sounds right. I pick Wisconsin.
  • Syracuse at #8 Miami (Fla.), 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Miami has won 13 of 15 meetings with Syracuse since 1990, and the oddsmakers expect Miami to win again.

    Now, Syracuse did defeat the defending national champion Clemson Tigers last week, but I just don't think the Orange can beat two Top 10 teams in a row. My choice is Miami.
  • #9 Oklahoma at Kansas State, 3 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Since Kansas State beat Oklahoma 35–7 in the 2003 Big 12 championship game, the Sooners have beaten Kansas State in eight of 10 meetings.

    They're favored to win this time by two touchdowns. OK. I take Oklahoma.
  • #10 Oklahoma State at Texas, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Until fairly recently Texas dominated this series.

    But the Cowboys have won five of the last seven meetings, and they have won four in a row in Austin.

    Oklahoma State is favored to win this one, too — by 6½ points. I think that is being generous. I expect Oklahoma State to win by a wider margin.
  • #11 Southern Cal at #13 Notre Dame, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: There are many rivalries in college football, but only a handful stand as the elite rivalries, the ones that define what a Saturday in the autumn months is all about.

    The Southern Cal–Notre Dame rivalry is one of those rivalries — with roots in the Knute Rockne era.

    Historically the home field favors the home team. Southern Cal was at home last year and beat Notre Dame by nearly three touchdowns. But Notre Dame has won the last two at South Bend and is favored to win again, this time by 3½ points. I hope that means it will be a good game.

    I expect Notre Dame to win.
  • North Carolina at #14 Virginia Tech, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: I expect this to be a good game.

    Virginia Tech has roughly a 2–to–1 advantage in the all–time series, but they're knotted at 4–4 in games played at Virginia Tech.

    The oddsmakers don't think it will be so good. They pick Tech by 21 points. And I have to admit that, even though their all–time record in Blacksburg isn't bad, I don't think the Tar Heels have the horses to stay with Tech for 60 minutes.

    My pick is Virginia Tech.
  • Colorado at #15 Washington State, 9:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: The pattern of the last six games in this series has been that the teams alternate as the winner.

    Colorado won last season's meeting so that should mean that Washington State will win this time, right? The oddsmakers think so, too. They have established Washington State as a 10–point favorite.

    I also think Washington State will win.
  • #16 South Florida at Tulane, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These schools have never faced each other before, but I have the feeling it could be a bit one–sided.

    So do the oddsmakers. They have made South Florida an 11½–point favorite. Good enough for me. I take South Florida.
  • Indiana at #18 Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Until last year, Indiana had lost 11 of the last 12 meetings with Michigan State. But the Hoosiers won, 24–21.

    That game, though, was played at home. This game will be played in East Lansing, where Indiana hasn't won since Nov. 10, 2001.

    The oddsmakers don't think the Hoosiers will win this time, either. The Spartans are favored by 6½ points. While it is tempting to pick the Hoosiers to beat the Spartans for the second straight time, which they haven't done since the late '60s, my choice is Michigan State.
  • #20 Central Florida at Navy, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: This is the first–ever meeting between these schools.

    Central Florida is favored by a touchdown, but Navy was in the Top 25 before losing to Memphis last week.

    I like Navy as an upset special.
  • #21 Auburn at Arkansas, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Auburn is favored by 15½ points.

    As much as I would like to see the Razorbacks turn things around, they won't do it this week. My pick is Auburn.
  • #23 West Virginia at Baylor, 7 p.m. (Central): These teams have met five times since becoming conference rivals, and each time they have played, the home team has been the winner.

    But winless Baylor really doesn't seem likely to beat West Virginia — unless the Mountaineers get caught looking ahead to Oklahoma State next week. West Virginia is favored by 9 points. I'll take West Virginia.
  • #24 LSU at Ole Miss, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: LSU has the upper hand in the all–time series, and the Tigers are favored to win this one by 6½ points.

    But the Rebels have beaten the Tigers three of the last four times LSU has visited Ole Miss.

    I think it could be close — maybe even closer than the spread — but I think LSU will prevail.
Last week: 18–3

Overall: 116–26

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 2–0

Overall upset specials: 4–12

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Sooners and 'Horns Are Back in Town

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.
Last week: 16–5

Overall: 98–23

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 1–3

Overall upset specials: 2–12