Friday, September 15, 2017

The More Things Change ...



I mentioned last week that the visiting team always wins when Ohio State and Oklahoma play — and so it was again when the teams met in Columbus, Ohio, last Saturday.

The Sooners moved up to #2 in the poll with their victory and face a cupcake against Tulane in Norman this week. Tulane has only had one winning season since 2002.

Obviously it is still early in the season, and many things can happen, but it is certainly looking as though we could have two programs rich in tradition — Alabama and Oklahoma — facing each other in the national championship next January.

What a game that would be.

Idle: #11 Florida State, #17 Miami (Fla.)

Friday
  • Illinois at #22 South Florida, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: The Illini went 3–9 last year.

    I doubt they can keep up with the Bulls. I pick South Florida.
Saturday
  • Colorado State at #1 Alabama, 6 p.m. (Central): These schools' only previous meeting came almost exactly four years ago on Alabama's home turf. And the Crimson Tide rolled, 31–6.

    Alabama should win again.
  • Tulane at #2 Oklahoma, 5 p.m. (Central): In the old days, the fact that this game wasn't being televised would have hardly raised any eyebrows. But we live in an age when just about every team can have its games televised somewhere.

    The fact that no one is picking this one up suggests to me that the expectation is for a blowout — and that is not an unreasonable expectation.

    I expect Oklahoma to win.
  • #3 Clemson at #14 Louisville, 2:30 p.m. (Central): I'm not convinced that the defending national champs shouldn't be ranked #1, considering they have perhaps the toughest early season schedule of any of the national contenders.

    A trip to Louisville the week after a match with Auburn? That's more demanding than any other early schedule in college football.

    I think the Tigers are up to it. The pick is Clemson.
  • Texas at #4 Southern Cal, 7:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: If you're a football fan, you must remember the last time these teams faced each other — in the Rose Bowl for the national championship on Jan. 4, 2006.

    The schools had met four times before, twice in the '50s and twice in the '60s, and the Trojans won all four. But Texas triumphed in the Rose Bowl.

    Southern Cal might be good enough to play for the national title this year, but Texas clearly is not. I definitely believe Southern Cal will win.
  • Georgia State at #5 Penn State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: I can imagine no circumstances that could produce a Georgia State win in this game.

    My pick is Penn State.
  • Fresno State at #6 Washington, 8:30 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: I hope Fresno State is being compensated handsomely for starting the season with road games against Alabama and Washington.

    The Bulldogs lost to Alabama, and I am quite sure that Washington will win this one.
  • Air Force at #7 Michigan, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: You know, it really doesn't surprise me that Michigan is a 23½–point favorite at home.

    Air Force has been better in recent years. It's not my father's Air Force.

    But it will seem like old times when Michigan wins this game.
  • Army at #8 Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Ohio State is bound to be in a bad mood after losing to OU last week.

    Army had a pretty good year last year, but that came on the heels of several losing seasons. It seems a little unfair for Army to have to take the punishment Ohio State would like to inflict on Oklahoma. But that is the way things go.

    I expect Ohio State to prevail.
  • #9 Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Pittsburgh only lost by a touchdown at Oklahoma State last year — and might make it closer as the host team this year.

    But I expect Oklahoma State to win.
  • #10 Wisconsin at Brigham Young, 2:30 p.m. (Central): Wisconsin is favored by more than two touchdowns, which sounds about right to me.

    I pick Wisconsin.
  • #12 LSU at Mississippi State, 6 p.m. (Central): LSU has dominated this series, losing only twice since 1991.

    I see no reason to expect anything different this time. I pick LSU.
  • Samford at #13 Georgia, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: There really isn't anything to say about this one except ...

    I confidently pick Georgia.
  • Mercer at #15 Auburn, 3 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: I refer you to the prediction immediately preceding this one.

    I see even less reason to pick the visitor in this one.

    Auburn is my pick.
  • #16 Virginia Tech at East Carolina, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: This is a pretty good regional rivalry. The teams played for the first time in 1956, but they really started playing each other on a nearly annual basis in the late 1980s.

    Virginia Tech usually wins, but the games are frequently competitive, no matter who wins.

    In this case, I am inclined to pick Virginia Tech.
  • #18 Kansas State at Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: It's been more than 30 years since the only other time these schools faced each other.

    Times have certainly changed. Back in 1984, Vanderbilt won. But the programs have been going in opposite directions.

    Kansas State should win.
  • #19 Stanford at San Diego State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: Stanford's football players must feel wistful when they look at the current rankings — and realize they might have been in the Top 5 if they had beaten Southern Cal.

    It's bound to be a sore spot.

    Beating San Diego State won't alleviate that, but nevertheless I pick Stanford.
  • SMU at #20 TCU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: These are not just old Southwest Conference rivals, they are regional rivals. Depending on traffic Dallas and Fort Worth are less than an hour apart. With a 2:30 kickoff, the Mustangs can sleep in, then board a bus and be at the stadium in plenty of time.

    They might as well. I don't expect much from SMU in this game.

    TCU should win.
  • Oregon State at #21 Washington State, 4:30 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Historically Washington State holds the advantage in this Pac–12 series, which is 92 games old.

    In recent times, though, the edge belonged to Oregon State — until Washington State won the last two meetings.

    The Cougars are on the upward trajectory, and I pick Washington State to win.
  • #23 Tennessee at #24 Florida, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: These SEC East rivals have faced each other nearly 50 times over the years, and the Gators have won nearly 58% of the time.

    They have had some good games — two of their last three meetings were decided by a single point — and they have had some blowouts.

    This one could probably go either way, and that seems to be reflected in the point spread. The Gators are only favored by 4½ at home.

    In an upset special, I will take Tennessee.
  • #25 UCLA at Memphis, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: These teams have met only once before — three years ago in Los Angeles. UCLA won the game by a touchdown.

    Like Pittsburgh in its game with Oklahoma State, I expect Memphis to keep it close.

    But I also expect UCLA to prevail.
Last week: 15–2

Overall: 35–5

Postponed by hurricane: 4

Last week's upset specials: 1–2

Overall upset specials: 1–4

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The King Isn't Quite Dead



Well, I told you so.

Last week it was the trendy thing to do to pick #3 Florida State to turn back #1 Alabama in their much–ballyhooed season–opening battle.

A victory for the Seminoles, it was said, would accomplish two things — it would dislodge Alabama as the king of college football (even though, technically, Clemson is the defending national champion) and the SEC as the dominant football conference. It would be the dawn of a new era, they said, in which Florida State and the ACC would be college football's gold standard.

And there were a lot of folks jumping on the Florida State bandwagon.

But a funny thing happened en route to this brave new world.

Alabama beat Florida State soundly 24–7, just as I predicted last week. OK, maybe I didn't anticipate the margin, but the king clearly isn't dead and likely only faces two or three legitimate challenges — if that many — between now and what probably will be the Crimson Tide's 12th appearance in the Southeastern Conference's championship game.

No, the outcome in Atlanta didn't surprise me.

And I wasn't really surprised that Maryland gave #23 Texas a rough time. As I wrote about a month ago, I thought Texas was overrated — and I definitely still think so after Maryland's victory in Austin last weekend.

In an email conversation with a friend of mine the next day, we agreed that new Texas coach Tom Herman was bound to be on the hot seat after such a dismal debut and with Southern Cal, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State looming in the not–so–distant future.

The sports writers in Austin seem to be giving Herman some room, acknowledging that the Longhorns are "the same players that lost to Kansas" last season.

But I grew up in this part of the country, and I know how impatient Longhorn fans can be. They might not be saying it right now, but the honeymoon is over for Herman. Now comes the hard part. It was always going to be the hard part, but it was made harder still by a 10–point loss to an 18–point underdog.

Kirk Bohls of the Austin American–Statesman wrote that Herman (only the third head coach in UT history to lose his very first game — and one of the prior two had a legitimate excuse, having lost on the road to an Auburn team that would lose only once that season) was baffled by Texas' tendency to be its own worst enemy.

I am tempted to compare the Longhorns to Donald Trump and his inclination to send out Tweets at the drop of a hat. Both seem to have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot, and it is far from clear whether either will be able to right the ship in time to save it.

The Longhorns' long–time rival Texas A&M appeared to be on the brink of a major road upset, but the Aggies allowed UCLA to rally from a 34–point deficit for a 45–44 victory.

Looks like both coaches will be squirming on the hot seat this season.

Friday
  • #11 Oklahoma State at South Alabama, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This is the first–ever meeting between these schools. South Alabama will probably hope it will be the last.

    I pick Oklahoma State.
Saturday
  • Fresno State at #1 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Alabama has only lost three games at home since 2012 — and each loss was to a national contender (at least after that team beat 'Bama).

    Fresno is coming off a 1–11 season. I hardly think Fresno will be 'Bama's fourth home loss since 2012.

    I pick Alabama.
  • #5 Oklahoma at #2 Ohio State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: It's been almost 40 years to the day since Oklahoma's only other visit to Ohio State. The Sooners won that game, 29–28, on Uwe von Schamann's 41–yard field goal with only a handful of seconds remaining.

    Then as now, the game featured two teams from the Top 5. On that day, Oklahoma was ranked third and Ohio State was ranked fourth.

    I'm expecting another good, close game. And since the visiting team always wins in this series (when the teams played in Norman in 1983, Ohio State won, and the Buckeyes won again in Norman last season, 45–24), I choose Oklahoma in a modest upset special.
  • #13 Auburn at #3 Clemson, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: For the first half of the 20th century, these teams faced each other nearly every year.

    But they have only met five times since the 1971 season — and two of those games were in postseason bowls.

    Historically Auburn has dominated the series, winning more than 70% of the time. But Clemson has won the last two meetings.

    And my guess is that Clemson will make this its third straight win.
  • Pittsburgh at #4 Penn State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: For most of the 20th century this was an annual in–state rivalry that got national attention every November, but it has been almost 17 years since their last meeting.

    Pittsburgh has been good but not great for the last several years. Penn State struggled for awhile in its transition from the Joe Paterno era but seems to be back on track. I expect home–field advantage to lift Penn State to victory.
  • #14 Stanford at #6 Southern Cal, 7:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Historically Southern Cal beats Stanford about two–thirds of the time.

    But Stanford has won seven of the last 10 meetings, including the Pac–12 Championship Game in 2015.

    I pick Stanford in an upset special.
  • Montana at #7 Washington, 7 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Washington is on its way up.

    I don't know anything about Montana, but I doubt that it will be much of a game.

    Washington is the choice.
  • Cincinnati at #8 Michigan, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: After the way the Wolverines manhandled Florida last week, I'm a believer.

    I choose Michigan.
  • Florida Atlantic at #9 Wisconsin, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: I can't see this one staying close for long.

    I pick Wisconsin.
  • Louisiana–Monroe at #10 Florida State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: After losing to Alabama last week — and it is certainly no disgrace to lose to Alabama — I expect the Seminoles to bounce back.

    Florida State should have no problems.
  • Chattanooga at #12 LSU, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: It's hard for any visitor to win at LSU.

    For Chattanooga it should be impossible.

    I choose LSU.
  • #15 Georgia at #24 Notre Dame, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: It has been more than 36 years since the last time these teams met. It was New Year's Day 1981, and top–ranked Georgia beat seventh–ranked Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, 17–10.

    The setting is not nearly so dramatic this time — and Georgia clearly has no Herschel Walker in the backfield this time — but I predict the same outcome. I choose Georgia.
  • #16 Miami (Fla.) at Arkansas State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: I grew up in Arkansas, and this may be the highest–profile team to play in Jonesboro.

    I don't know if Arkansas State is any good, but I can't imagine ASU staying in this one for long.

    I pick Miami.
  • #17 Louisville at North Carolina, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: This one might actually be close for awhile.

    North Carolina has been to bowls in the last four seasons and even had an 11–win season in 2015.

    Louisville holds a 4–3 lead in the series, but the teams are tied at 2–2 in games played at North Carolina.

    While the home field may help the Tar Heels for awhile, my pick is Louisville.
  • Delaware at #18 Virginia Tech, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ACC Network: There is no reason why this one should be close.

    Virginia Tech will win.
  • Charlotte at #19 Kansas State, 11 a.m. (Central): The oddsmakers don't think this will be competitive, and neither do I. The oddsmakers make Kansas State a 35–point favorite. I agree.

    The pick is Kansas State.
  • Boise State at #20 Washington State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Washington State has won all four of the previous meetings with Boise State, but the teams haven't met since 2001.

    In the interim Boise State has had some pretty good teams. Only recently has Washington State been regarded as one of the nation's best.

    The Cougars are favored by 10. I can go along with that. The pick is Washington State.
  • #21 South Florida at Connecticut, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNEWS: UConn went 3–9 last year. One of those losses was by 15 points at South Florida.

    Sounds about right, even though UConn is at home this time. My pick is South Florida.
  • Northern Colorado at #22 Florida, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: The bookies aren't taking bets on this one anymore, and who can blame them?

    Florida should win easily.
  • #23 TCU at Arkansas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: When I was growing up, these two teams played in the Southwest Conference, which meant they faced each other every year.

    It was practically an automatic win for the Razorbacks, who lost to TCU for the first time in my lifetime when I was in college.

    Things have changed for both schools, and they have only met once since the SWC disbanded, but Arkansas won that encounter. I predict that Arkansas will win this one, too. It's another upset special since TCU is picked by a field goal, but it seems like old times ...
  • Indiana State at #25 Tennessee, 3 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: The only time that I can recall that Indiana State had a team worthy of national attention was when Larry Bird played basketball there.

    I fully expect Tennessee to triumph.
Last week: 18–3

Overall: 20–3

Last week's upset specials: 0–2

Overall upset specials: 0–2

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The First National Glimpse of a New Stadium



All eyes will be on Atlanta's brand–new $1.6 billion Mercedes–Benz Stadium Saturday night as it makes its debut hosting a game of any kind that means something.

It actually hosted its first sports event last weekend when the Atlanta Falcons, who will be calling the facility home starting this year, hosted the Arizona Cardinals in an NFL preseason game. The Cardinals won that game so local fans may have to wait until Sept. 10, when Atlanta United FC of Major League Soccer plays its first home game in the venue, or until Sept. 17, when the Falcons host Green Bay in a rematch of last season's NFC championship game, to celebrate a regular–season victory for a home–based team.

The wait may be longer than that.

Nevertheless all eyes will be on the stadium Saturday when top–ranked Alabama faces third–ranked Florida State in a game that many — including ESPN's Lee Corso — believe the Seminoles can win.

Now, there could be a touch of bias involved there. Corso, after all, did play for Florida State when he was in college.

But that doesn't change the fact that Corso isn't the only one who thinks the Seminoles could win.

Apparently, it wouldn't be a surprise. Nor, apparently, would it be a surprise if the loser of Saturday night's game, whoever that may be, becomes the first team with two losses to make college football's Final Four.

So who will win Saturday? I will get to that shortly. Our immediate attention will be on Top 25 games that will be played tonight and tomorrow night. Then we can turn our attention to Atlanta.

Seems we have a little bit of everything this week. We have three games matching ranked teams head to head, we have some rivalries being renewed (in some cases for the first time in quite awhile), and we have several first–time matchups.

Idle: #14 Stanford

Thursday
  • #2 Ohio State at Indiana, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: A conference game as the season opener is very unusual — but not unheard of.

    When I was in college, my alma mater, the University of Arkansas, agreed to open a season with a conference game against the University of Texas on Labor Day weekend. That decision was made because the TV networks wanted a rivalry for Labor Day evening.

    In those pre–cable days, national TV appearances were few and far between. The opportunity for national exposure must have seemed like pure gold to football players for either school who wanted to play in the NFL.

    No doubt network money also influenced the schools' decision to face each other on Sept. 1 — in Austin, Texas, where the temperature was in the 90s after sunset — instead of in mid–October, as they usually did.

    So I can understand moving a conference game to a Thursday night for a national broadcast. They aren't as rare as they used to be, but they're still pretty valuable, especially for a nation of football fans who have been waiting several months for football to return.

    But couldn't ESPN have found a more interesting matchup? Historically Ohio State wins nearly nine out of every 10 confrontations with Indiana on the football field. In fact, the Buckeyes haven't lost to the Hoosiers in football since Oct. 8, 1988.

    Indiana hasn't had a winning season since 1993. Ohio State has won 10 or more games in 11 of the last 12 seasons. Even when the Buckeyes have had losing seasons, they have still beaten the Hoosiers like a drum.

    It really isn't difficult to pick a winner in this game. I choose Ohio State.
  • Tulsa at #10 Oklahoma State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Oklahoma State has won nine of the last 11 meetings with Tulsa, but the teams haven't faced each other since 2011.

    What's more, Tulsa has only won three times in Stillwater, the last time being in 1951. I don't think that streak will end tonight. My pick is Oklahoma State.
Friday
  • #8 Washington at Rutgers, 7 p.m. (Central) on FS1: A few years ago, Rutgers had a pretty good team. But no more. The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 2–10 cmpaign.

    They began last season with a loss (by five TDs) to Washington. I'm not saying the Huskies will win by five TDs. But I still expect Washington to win.
  • Utah State at #9 Wisconsin, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams have met twice before, both times at Wisconsin.

    The Badgers won the first meeting, back in 1968. Utah State won the rematch in 2012. Utah State was 3–9 last year. Wisconsin was 11–3.

    Wisconsin is the clear choice.
Saturday
  • #3 Florida State vs. #1 Alabama at Atlanta, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: If you don't think Florida State can beat Alabama, think about this: Alabama hasn't beaten Florida State in more than 40 years.

    Of course, the teams have only played four times — and only once since the Tide beat the Seminoles in 1974 — so that really isn't as impressive as it sounds.

    Still I have no doubt that someone with Florida State ties — a coach, a player, a fan — has been using that to rally the faithful this week. But it isn't as if Florida State has been beating Alabama each year for the last 42 years — only once.

    While I know there are people who honestly believe Florida State can win this game, too, you're gonna have to show me. I pick Alabama.
  • Western Michigan at #4 Southern Cal, 4:15 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Western Michigan had a successful season last year — 13–1 — but none of the teams they beat could be said to be on the same level as Southern Cal.

    I have to take Southern Cal to win this one.
  • Kent State at #5 Clemson, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Defending national champs don't always get the top spot going into the next season, but they're usually in the top two or three.

    It must be disappointing — to say the least — for Clemson to go into this season ranked #5.

    But sometimes champs have to prove themselves all over again. This is the first step in that process for the Tigers.

    I predict that they won't stumble. Clemson is my pick.
  • Akron at #6 Penn State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: The Nittany Lions are 5–0 against Akron in a series that has been played exclusively in Happy Valley — as it is this time.

    I was never entirely sold on Penn State last year, even though the Nittany Lions won the Big Ten title and lost the Rose Bowl to Southern Cal by a mere field goal.

    And I'm not entirely sold on the Nittany Lions this year, either, but they have enough in the tank to beat Akron. I take Penn State.
  • Texas–El Paso at #7 Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Oklahoma is 3–0 all time against UTEP.

    The first two games were played in Norman, where OU simply rolled over the Miners. In their last meeting, which was played in El Paso, UTEP only lost by 17 points.

    My guess is the margin will be considerably larger in this encounter. The pick is Oklahoma.
  • #11 Michigan vs. #17 Florida at Arlington, Texas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: In three previous meetings — all New Year's Day bowls — Michigan has swept Florida.

    I've heard talk about how good the Gators are supposed to be this year, and I'm inclined to think it's mostly talk. I expect Michigan to win handily.
  • Georgia Southern at #12 Auburn, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: A lot of people think Auburn could beat Alabama when they meet at the end of the season.

    I'm not sure if the Tigers are that good, but I'm pretty sure they're good enough to be a Sun Belt team that went 5–7 last year. I choose Auburn.
  • Brigham Young vs. #13 LSU at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This game was originally supposed to be played in Houston — but Hurricane Harvey changed those plans.

    It was announced on Monday that the game has been moved to New Orleans. There is more than a touch of irony in this. A dozen years ago, after Hurricane Katrina hammered New Orleans, the New Orleans Saints played part of their home schedule in San Antonio, and thousands of displaced residents of New Orleans were taken to Houston.

    At this stage of the season, it is impossible to know what to expect from most teams, but I did see BYU play last weekend, and I wasn't impressed. I pick LSU.
  • Appalachian State at #15 Georgia, 5:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is probably a good regional matchup, but I have to think Georgia will win by a wide margin.
  • #16 Louisville vs. Purdue at Indianapolis, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Nearly 30 years ago, on Sept. 19, 1987, these two schools met and fought to a 22–22 tie in those days before college football began permitting overtimes.

    So it will be a first for whoever wins. And, being as that first meeting ended in a tie, it would be appropriate if this game ended up tied at the end of regulation, and the teams had to play at least one overtime period.

    But I don't think that will happen. Purdue has won only nine games in the last four seasons. Louisville won nine games last season alone.

    The choice is Louisville.
  • Bethune–Cookman at #18 Miami (Fla.), 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ACC Network: This is one of those cupcake games, the ones that the visitors schedule to get a nice payoff, knowing that the home team will be using them to pad their stats and put up a big score.

    The obvious choice is Miami.
  • Stony Brook at #19 South Florida, 3 p.m. (Central) on ESPN3: Please refer to the prediction immediately preceding this one.

    Except substitute Stony Brook for Bethune–Cookman — and South Florida for Miami. South Florida is my pick.
  • Central Arkansas at #20 Kansas State, 6:10 p.m. (Central) on ESPN3: I grew up in Conway, Ark., which is where Central Arkansas is located. My father taught for UCA's crosstown rival, Hendrix College, which did not compete in football when I was growing up. It was a fierce rivalry in basketball but nonexistent in football. As a result, I went to several UCA football game when I was younger and felt free to pull for the Bears each time.

    I will probably be pulling for the Bears in this one, too, but it is extremely unlikely that UCA will win this game. I pick Kansas State.
  • Maryland at #23 Texas, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: These schools have met three times before, and Texas shut out Maryland every time.

    Of course, it has been nearly 40 years since their last meeting, and Maryland might very well score this time, but I doubt the outcome will be much different. Texas is the pick.
  • Montana State at #24 Washington State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Washington State is something of a newcomer to the national rankings.

    The Cougars won eight straight last year before losing their last three including the Holiday Bowl. They won nine games the year before — and beat Miami in the Sun Bowl.

    Before that WSU endured eight consecutive losing seasons (11 if you count the 2006 season, when the Cougars went 6–6).

    So is Washington State for real? You won't get the answer against Montana State. I pick Washington State.
Sunday
  • #22 West Virginia vs. #21 Virginia Tech at Landover, Md., 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is a regional rivalry, but it has been more than a decade since the schools met.

    Between 1915 and 2005, the schools met 50 times with the Black Diamond Trophy on the line. West Virginia leads the all–time series, but the Mountaineers have lost six of the last eight meetings.

    On a neutral field, I think West Virginia can pull off the upset. Make the Mountaineers an upset special.
Monday
  • #25 Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech at Atlanta, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: It is hard for me to believe that it has been almost 30 years since these schools met on the gridiron.

    For some reason I always figured they, too, were natural regional rivals, being less than a three–hour drive apart.

    But, although they have played 43 times in all, they haven't met since Oct. 24, 1987.

    Georgia Tech's football program has been kind of schizophrenic, sandwiching a dismal 2015 campaign (3–9) between two winning seasons in which Tech won bowl games.

    Tennessee has been doing pretty well the last couple of years, but the Volunteers struggled for a long time before that.

    Tennessee is a 3–point favorite, but I'm taking Georgia Tech in another upset special.
Last week: 2–0

Overall: 2–0

Last week's upset specials: 0–0

Overall upset specials: 0–0

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Kickoff Has Arrived



College football is back — a week earlier than usual. The season usually kicks off on Labor Day weekend.

And only two ranked teams are playing today. But what the heck? Football is back!

In fact, as I finish this, games have already begun. But my focus in these posts is on the games involving the ranked teams — and we have two of those tonight.

You'll have to wait until next week to see games involving two ranked teams — and we do have some then.

Fasten your seat belts.

Idle: #1 Alabama, #2 Ohio State, #3 Florida State, #4 Southern Cal, #5 Clemson, #6 Penn State, #7 Oklahoma, #8 Washington, #9 Wisconsin, #10 Oklahoma State, #11 Michigan, #12 Auburn, #13 LSU, #15 Georgia, #16 Louisville, #17 Florida, #18 Miami (Florida), #20 Kansas State, #21 Virginia Tech, #22 West Virginia, #23 Texas, #24 Washington State, #25 Tennessee

Saturday
  • #14 Stanford vs. Rice in Sydney, Australia, 9 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: From 1957 to 1964, these schools met four times, with Rice winning the first three encounters.

    But they haven't met since.

    What's more, they have always played on one campus or the other. A game in Sydney, Australia, is most unusual.

    I grew up in the old Southwest Conference, and Rice was never very competitive. The Owls didn't win an undisputed Southwest Conference championship in my lifetime — and shared an SWC title after my alma mater, the University of Arkansas, had joined the Southeastern Conference and I no longer paid attention to the SWC.

    Things are different for Stanford. Now, Stanford has had its share of failure on the football field, too, but things have been looking up in recent years. Stanford has had 10 wins or more in six of the last seven seasons and is clearly the team that is on the way up.

    I pick Stanford.
  • #19 South Florida at San Jose State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: This is the first–ever meeting between these schools.

    There are exceptions from time to time, but San Jose State doesn't usually have much of a team.

    Meanwhile, South Florida has been competing only since 2000 and went through the growing pains one would associate with an expansion team in professional football. But the Bulls went 11–2 last year and are now coached by Charlie Strong, who spent the last three seasons on the University of Texas' hot seat.

    I expect South Florida to win.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Frank Broyles Is Dead



"The game of life is a lot like football. You have to tackle your problems, block your fears and score your points when you get the opportunity."

Frank Broyles

I've been writing my blogs for close to 10 years now, and anyone who has read them for any length of time should know that I grew up in Arkansas.

And if you grew up in Arkansas in the latter half of the 20th century, Frank Broyles was an ever–constant presence. He was the coach of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks football team from 1958 to 1976 and the school's athletic director from 1974 to 2007.

He died of Alzheimer's disease today at the age of 92.

People outside Arkansas were probably more likely to know of my home state's politicians — John McClellan, Bill Fulbright, Wilbur Mills, Orval Faubus — than Broyles. But the opposite was probably true of the people who lived in the state.

Oh, sure, most Arkansans probably knew who their governor was or who their senators were. All three were in office so long it would be hard not to know who they were.

But Broyles was different. Frank Litsky wrote in The New York Times that Broyles put Arkansas on the map. A lot of people probably think Bill Clinton did that when he became president — or maybe that Faubus did it during the Central High integration crisis in the late '50s — but it really was Broyles.

Arkansas had been playing football for more than half a century when Broyles took over as head coach but had appeared in only four bowls. In less than 20 years at the helm, Broyles took the Razorbacks to 10 bowl games and won four.

Broyles even won a national championship at Arkansas. It wasn't undisputed. He had to share it with Bear Bryant and Alabama back in the days when the polls determined the national champion, but it still counts as a national championship, and all my friends in Arkansas still speak of it as if Arkansas had been the undisputed champ.

As athletic director, Broyles knew how to hire championship–caliber coaches. He hired Lou Holtz as his successor. Holtz led the Hogs to a #3 national finish in his first season at Arkansas and went on to win a national championship at Notre Dame.

And Broyles hired Nolan Richardson to coach the basketball team. Richardson did win a national championship at Arkansas and took the Razorbacks back to the championship game the following year.

In Northwest Arkansas — around Eureka Springs, to be precise — atop a place called Magnetic Mountain there is a 65–foot statue called Christ of the Ozarks. It depicts a Christlike figure with his arms outstretched on each side. It was supposed to be part of a religious theme park — a dream that never really came to fruition — but a large amphitheater was built on the property, and it hosts performances of "The Great Passion Play" every year.

One of the truly great editorial cartoonists, George Fisher of the Arkansas Gazette, drew a cartoon with Broyles' face superimposed on a drawing of that statue. The concept of "Frank of the Ozarks" really was spot on. If ever there was a messianic figure in Arkansas, it was Frank Broyles.

Broyles is part of many fond memories for me, most involving football games (some of which ended well, some of which did not), but perhaps my fondest memory is from my days as a journalism student at the University of Arkansas. I was writing for the student newspaper, the Arkansas Traveler, and I called the athletic department one day to follow up on stories we had been hearing of the Razorbacks possibly scheduling one of their games overseas.

It turned out that there was far more rumor than fact to that story, but I soon found myself on the phone with none other than Frank Broyles himself. He was busy that day, but he took the time to speak to a campus reporter, and he did so with grace and patience.

The interview didn't last long — no more than five or 10 minutes, I guess — but what a thrill it was for me to be talking to someone I had grown up watching on TV. It was a Sunday afternoon ritual for me during football season to watch Frank Broyles going over footage from the game the day before on his coach's show (in those days, that was the only way to see most of the games so I never missed an opportunity to watch the Broyles show).

I could tell from our conversation that the Frank Broyles I had seen on TV was the genuine article. It wasn't an act.

With Frank Broyles, what you saw truly was what you got.

After graduation, I went on to work at the Arkansas Gazette and I got to meet some famous people when they came to town — but I never felt the same thrill I felt when I interviewed Frank Broyles.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Football Returns, But How Is Texas in the Top 25?

No matter what your thermometer may say, today is an important day for football fans.

For one thing, the NFL's Hall of Fame game is being played tonight between the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals. The game means nothing in the standings, and few starters — if any — will play tonight, but its importance is more symbolic than anything else.

It tells football fans — who have suffered through basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis and golf since February's Super Bowl to get to this point — that football is back.

For another, USA Today released its preseason college football poll today.

And that always has a few eyebrow–raising items.

Like, for example, the fact that the University of Texas, 5–7 last year (including a loss to lowly Kansas), is ranked No. 23.

Considering their records last year, I suppose the rest of the Top 25 deserved to be there — at least, most of them did.

But I can't justify the Longhorns being in the Top 25. Admittedly, Sports Illustrated reports that UT is doing better at recruiting than it has in awhile, and that definitely will be a factor in the future. But it won't have an impact on this season — and it may not have much of an impact on the 2018 season, either.

If Texas is ranked in the Associated Press poll, which will come out shortly before the season begins, my guess is it will be short lived. The Longhorns play at Southern Cal (No. 4 in the USA Today poll) on Sept. 16 and host Kansas State (No. 19 in the poll) on Oct. 7 before the annual battle with Oklahoma (No. 8 in the poll) on Oct. 14 — followed by a home game against Oklahoma State (No. 11 in the poll) and a trip to Baylor.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Changing of the Guard at Wimbledon?



I did something today I haven't done much since I was a child; as I have written here before, it is something I used to do with my mother.

I watched the women's tennis final at Wimbledon.

Mom's been gone for 22 years so, clearly, it has been awhile since we watched Wimbledon together. But I remember when I was a child and Mom would buy fresh strawberries for us to eat while we watched (a nod to the Wimbledon tradition of strawberries and cream). I did my part this morning. I typically eat oatmeal for breakfast, and I buy these boxes of instant oatmeal that have two packets each of five different flavors, one of which is strawberries and cream. That was my breakfast this morning.

Garbiñe Muguruza, a 23–year–old Venezuela–born player who represents Spain and lives in Switzerland, won her first Wimbledon championship, defeating 37–year–old Venus Williams in two sets.

That was reminiscent of some of my times with Mom. We watched some Wimbledon finals when frequent champions fell — to time as much as their opponents — and I definitely had that déjà vu sensation today.

Venus has won five women's championships at Wimbledon, and she played a tough first set against Muguruza — but simply failed to capitalize on enough opportunities and lost 7–5. Then she seemed to hit the wall in the second set as Muguruza blanked her 6–0.

How astonishing was that? Well, Muguruza's other five opponents at Wimbledon all managed to win at least one game in the second set. Last year's runnerup, Angelique Kerber of Germany, even took Muguruza to three sets in Monday's Round of 16. But Muguruza prevailed.

Williams was dealing with plenty of distractions, primarily the June 9 car accident in which she was involved that led to the death of a 79–year–old passenger in the other car. Questions about that accident persist, but it appears that Williams will no longer be held responsible for what happened. Ultimately that should be a relief, but it is sure to be a constant presence in her thoughts these days.

And she lost her very first set at Wimbledon on July 5, but she seemed like the old Venus after that, winning 10 straight sets before encountering Muguruza today.

Venus may well return to competitive play, but time waits for no one. Eventually she will have to step aside and let the next generation have its moment in the sun.

In her post–match remarks, Muguruza unwittingly hinted at that, observing that she had grown up watching Williams play. Then, realizing the implications of her words, she tried to backtrack, adding that facing her in the final was "incredible."

But many observers must have wondered, as I did, if we were witnessing the changing of the guard. Muguruza has long been said to be the next big thing in women's tennis. She even made it to the Wimbledon final two years ago and lost to Williams' sister.

Now, with two Grand Slam titles under her belt (she won the French Open last year), she may be fulfilling those expectations and leaping to tennis' elite level.

And Williams may have at last reached the end of a long and successful career.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jackie Robinson's Impact Went Beyond Baseball



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

And the National Champion Will Be ...



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

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

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

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

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

But past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last week: 9–7

Overall: 204–72

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 2–3

Overall upset specials: 14–24

Sunday, January 1, 2017

An Early Look at the National Championship



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Bama is an early seven–point pick.

My guess is the spread will be closer by kickoff.