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

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Conference Clashes Are Underway

We have entered the part of the college football season that will be mostly made up of conference games.

And, since every conference has a few top–tier programs and a few bottom feeders, there will be mismatches — and possible upsets — every week for the rest of the season.

Last week was a good example.

Typically the Southern Cal–Washington State game means little. The Trojans usually win, sometimes by wide margins.

But not this year. Washington State pulled off a 30–27 upset last week and zipped past the Trojans in the rankings. Both are still in the poll this week, but that might not last. We will have to see what the rest of the season has in store.

Idle: #15 Oklahoma State, #18 South Florida

  • #17 Louisville at #24 North Carolina State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Louisville has won five of six meetings with North Carolina State, including three in a row since Louisville joined the ACC in 2014.

    The oddsmakers think it will be a close one; Louisville is favored by four points. But I've seen the Wolfpack play, and I am impressed. Make North Carolina State an upset special.
  • #1 Alabama at Texas A&M, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: It is a given that Alabama is always one of the best college football teams around.

    The Aggies, though, have had a particularly difficult time with the Crimson Tide, losing seven of nine meetings.

    But what is especially galling for Aggie fans is that Alabama is unbeaten at College Station.

    The oddsmakers seem to think this encounter will be brutal. The Tide is favored by 26½ points. I don't think an upset is in the cards. My pick is Alabama.
  • Wake Forest at #2 Clemson, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: After facing down mostly ranked opponents in the first month of the season, this should seem like a breather for Clemson.

    The Tigers have dominated the series with Wake Forest. In recent times, the Tigers have won 10 of the last 11 meetings; currently they are favored by more than three touchdowns.

    I have to pick Clemson.
  • Iowa State at #3 Oklahoma, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox: It's been more than a quarter of a century since Iowa State beat Oklahoma.

    That last victory came at Norman, but I don't expect a repeat this Saturday. Neither do the oddsmakers, who have established OU as a four–touchdown favorite. Oklahoma should prevail easily.
  • #4 Penn State at Northwestern, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Northwestern has only beaten Penn State five times in 18 encounters, but the Wildcats won the last two meetings.

    The oddsmakers think the streak ends here. They've made the Nittany Lions 15–point picks, and I agree. My choice is Penn State.
  • #5 Georgia at Vanderbilt, 11 a.m. on ESPN: Georgia almost always wins this game.

    The Bulldogs have won eight of the last 10, and they have won more than 75% of the games that have been played all time.

    But Vandy won when they met last year — so beware.

    Georgia is an 18–point pick in this game. While this could be a trap I expect Georgia to win.
  • California at #6 Washington, 9:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Washington has a solid lead in the all–time series and has won eight of the last 10 meetings — pretty decisively most of the time, too.

    Last year, for example, the Huskies won 66–27 on the road. Now the scene shifts to Washington, but the oddsmakers don't think there will be much change. Washington is favored by 27½ points. I have to take Washington.
  • Michigan State at #7 Michigan, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is a good rivalry on the field. It is frequently competitive, but Michigan usually wins.

    Not always but most of the time, especially in Ann Arbor.

    The Wolverines are favored to win again, and I see no reason to expect otherwise. My pick is Michigan.
  • #23 West Virginia at #8 TCU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Based on the rankings and the point spread, TCU should be an easy winner in this game.

    But West Virginia has been underestimated before, and that seldom ends well for the other guys.

    I expect this to be closer than the 13½ points the oddsmakers have established as the point spread, and West Virginia might even win this game, but I will pick TCU to prevail.
  • #9 Wisconsin at Nebraska, 7 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: It wasn't so long ago that a road trip to Nebraska would be regarded as a certain loss.

    But times have changed. Don't misunderstand; Nebraska is still competitive at home, but wins are not automatic. Less than a month ago, Northern Illinois beat the Cornhuskers on their own turf, 21–17.

    And Wisconsin won the last time the Badgers traveled to Lincoln, 23–21. The oddsmakers have made Wisconsin a 12½–point favorite to do it again. I agree. I like Wisconsin in this one.
  • Maryland at #10 Ohio State, 3 p.m. (Central) on Fox: If this wasn't a conference game, I doubt that these schools would ever face each other. And, in fact, they never did face each other until Maryland joined the Big Ten a few years ago.

    The Buckeyes won 62–3 last year. The oddsmakers made OSU a 39–point favorite. I have to go with Ohio State.
  • #11 Washington State at Oregon, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Between 1998 and 2014, these schools met 17 times, and Oregon won all but three.

    But the tide has turned in this series. Washington State won by a touchdown in 2015 and by 18 points last year.

    Now the Cougars are trying to win their third in a row against the Ducks for the first time since the early '80s. The oddsmakers have made them narrow favorites — by 1½ points — to do so.

    But I'm thinking that WSU might have something of a hangover after upending Southern Cal last week, and I like Oregon in an upset special.
  • Ole Miss at #12 Auburn, 11 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: There are several reasons to think that Auburn will win.

    The Tigers have won nearly three–quarters of the meetings between the two schools and typically only lose to the Rebels in clearly down years. This doesn't appear to be one of those.

    The oddsmakers have made Auburn a 21½–point favorite, and I am inclined to go along with that. I expect Auburn to win.
  • #13 Miami (Fla.) at Florida State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Florida State has been a thorn in Miami's side.

    Miami leads the all–time series, 31–30, but Florida State has narrowed the gap with seven consecutive wins.

    The oddsmakers think Miami will turn that around. They've made the 'Canes favorites by a field goal. But I'm going to pick Florida State in an upset special.
  • Oregon State at #14 Southern Cal, 3 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: You have to go all the way back to 1960 to find the last time Oregon State won a game at Southern Cal. Since that day the Trojans have beaten the Beavers 23 times when they have come to call.

    In fact, Oregon State has won less than 10% of the road meetings with USC. The oddsmakers don't think that will change. They have made the Trojans 34–point favorites. I like Southern Cal.
  • #16 Virginia Tech at Boston College, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Virginia Tech has won more than two–thirds of the meetings between these schools — including two showdowns for the ACC title.

    The Hokies are favored by 16½ points. That's good enough for me. I take Virginia Tech.
  • #19 San Diego State at Nevada–Las Vegas, 9:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This has been a conference clash for more than 20 years — and one that San Diego State has dominated of late, winning nine of the last 11 meetings.

    That isn't surprising, given that UNLV has only had one winning season since 2000.

    If the Rebs win this one, it will be a shock. My pick is San Diego State.
  • Stanford at #20 Utah, 9:15 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Don't let the rankings fool you. Stanford was ranked before falling victim to Southern Cal and San Diego State, both of whom are ranked.

    But Stanford still has a good football team.

    So does Utah, and the Utes have won their last three meetings with Stanford. The oddsmakers think Stanford will snap that skid this weekend; they have made Stanford a 5½–point pick.

    While this probably seems contradictory to what I said a few paragraphs ago, I'm going to take Utah in an upset special.
  • LSU at #21 Florida, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This is a competitive series and should be entertaining to watch.

    LSU has had the hot hand lately, winning six of the last seven meetings, but the Gators lead the all–time series.

    The Tigers are looking for their fourth straight win over Florida, but the Gators are favored by a field goal. I can come up with lots of reasons why either team will lose, but I can't seem to come up with a single reason why either team will win.

    Although neither team is intimidated by the other's home field, I'll go with the home team, Florida, in this one.
  • #21 Notre Dame at North Carolina, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the 20th meeting between these schools.

    It was a series that lay dormant for more than a quarter of a century, then was revived in 2006. They haven't played every year — and if the game was being played in South Bend, I would have no trouble picking the Irish. Notre Dame is 12–0 there against the Tar Heels. But when Carolina is at home, the Tar Heels have actually won a couple of times including the last time they met there (in 2008).

    So that makes me pause — but only for a second or two. The Irish are two–touchdown favorites. My pick is Notre Dame.
  • #25 Central Florida at Cincinnati, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: This marks the third meeting between these schools. The home team won the previous two contests, which should mean that Cincinnati will win this game. But I have some serious doubts about that.

    Central Florida is favored by 17 points. I will go along with that. Central Florida is the pick.
Last week: 15–2

Overall: 82–18

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 0–1

Overall upset specials: 1–9

Thursday, September 28, 2017

In Search of Upsets

In my mind, I guess September is a little too early for conference clashes.

It was always that way when I was growing up — and it is still that way for many teams.

But some conference schedules do get underway in September. My alma mater, Arkansas, opened its 2017 conference schedule last weekend, losing in overtime to Texas A&M.

So, too, did TCU and Oklahoma State in the Big XII.

They've been in the same conference for five years now, but they played each other quite a few times before that. TCU hadn't won at Stillwater since 1991 (when Oklahoma State went 0–10–1).

I'm sure no one in their right mind picked the Horned Frogs to win that game — and yet they did, pretty convincingly.

It would have been great if I had made TCU one of my upset specials. I've really been struggling in that department — and I have only picked one upset special this week.

The way things have been going, there will be several upsets in the Top 25 — but the one I picked won't be one of them.

Idle: #3 Oklahoma, #8 Michigan, #9 TCU, #20 Utah, #23 West Virginia

  • #5 Southern Cal at #16 Washington State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Southern Cal has won nine of the last 10 meetings with Washington State — which is just a little better than the Trojans' all–time winning percentage in the series.

    Nevertheless the oddsmakers only favor USC by four points. What do they know that I don't?

    The Trojans have won five straight at Washington State. Make that six in a row for Southern Cal.
  • #14 Miami (Fla.) at Duke, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is a comparatively young series. Most of the games have been played in the 21st century.

    Of the 14 games that have been played, Miami has won 12 — and is 7–1 at Duke. Oddsmakers favor the Hurricanes by six points.

    Seems like this could be a trap game, but I will pick Miami, anyway.
  • Ole Miss at #1 Alabama, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: It was very dramatic in recent years when the Rebels beat the Tide — twice — but Alabama got the upper hand back last season.

    Historically Alabama has dominated the series. This will be the 61st meeting and the Tide will be looking for its 50th win over Ole Miss.

    I have to pick Alabama.
  • #2 Clemson at #12 Virginia Tech, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This must be the marquee game of the weekend.

    And it is one more challenge for a Clemson team that keeps rising to the occasion.

    This is a conference rivalry but not a divisional one, which means these teams do not face each other every year. Nevertheless they have faced off 32 times before, and the clear trend — at least in the last 30 years — has been for one team to win several in a row before yielding to the other.

    The team that is currently on a winning streak is Clemson, but the Tigers, who have won four in a row from the Hokies, haven't five in a row since the 1980s.

    Thus the Tigers are battling history in this one. Can they do it? I believe they can. Clemson is the choice.
  • Indiana at #4 Penn State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: These teams have played 20 times, and Indiana has been the winner only once.

    But that was at Penn State.

    Will lightning strike twice? No. I pick Penn State.
  • #6 Washington at Oregon State, 7 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Washington has won six of the last seven meetings with Oregon State.

    On paper this looks like a sure thing. I pick Washington.
  • #7 Georgia at Tennessee, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: With last year's 34–31 victory, the Volunteers slipped ahead of Georgia in the all–time series.

    They had just pulled even in the series with a 38–31 victory in Knoxville the year before. So the Vols are looking to make it three in a row against the Bulldogs. Tennessee hasn't beaten Georgia that many times in a row since the '90s, when the Vols won nine in a row — and Peyton Manning was in the lineup for awhile.

    Knoxville is a tough place to play, which Georgia fans know all too well, but I think Georgia will pull this one out.
  • Northwestern at #10 Wisconsin, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Wisconsin leads the all–time series with Northwestern by more than 20 games.

    But the schools have split the last 12 meetings right down the middle — and in those 12 games, the home team has been the winner two–thirds of the time.

    So I guess history is saying that Wisconsin will probably win. The oddsmakers are saying so, too. They make the Badgers 14–point favorites.

    I will go with Wisconsin as well.
  • #11 Ohio State at Rutgers, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: These schools have played three times, and the Buckeyes have won by lopsided margins every time.

    I expect nothing to change this time. Ohio State will win.
  • #24 Mississippi State at #13 Auburn, 5 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Historically speaking, Auburn has Mississippi State's number. The Tigers have won about two–thirds of the time, including 12 of the last 16 meetings.

    And the oddsmakers think they will do so again — but the SEC is so balanced that year that it seems anyone can beat anyone (unless that second anyone is Alabama) on any given Saturday.

    This one seems to be a good candidate for an upset so I make Mississippi State my upset special choice — and given my record in upset specials so far this year, that means Auburn should be a lock to win the game. Place your bets!
  • #15 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Oklahoma State has won eight in a row against Texas Tech, but the Red Raiders' last win over the Cowboys came at Lubbock.

    Oklahoma State needs to reassert itself in the wake of its surprising loss to TCU last week — and the Cowboys are 9½–point picks to do just that.

    The Cowboys have won eight in a row against the Red Raiders, but the games are always entertaining. Last year OSU won by a single point, 45–44. The year before that, in the most recent game between the two in Lubbock, the teams combined for more than 120 points.

    I pick Oklahoma State.
  • Murray State at #17 Louisville, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ACCNE: I can't see Murray State hanging with Louisville for four quarters. This one should be lopsided.

    I pick Louisville.
  • #18 South Florida at East Carolina, 11 a.m. (Central) on CBSSN: This is a young series. The teams have only met seven times, but South Florida has dominated, winning six of those contests.

    And East Carolina's only win came at South Florida in 2014. The Pirates are 0–3 at home against South Florida.

    The oddsmakers favor South Florida to make ECU's home record in the series 0–4. They have established the Bulls as 23½–point favorites. I have to take South Florida.
  • Northern Illinois at #19 San Diego State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: In their four previous meetings, San Diego State emerged victorious every time.

    The oddsmakers make SDSU an 11–point pick this time. If Northern Illinois beats the spread, it will be the closest game the teams have ever played.

    I take San Diego State.
  • Vanderbilt at #21 Florida, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Talk about a lopsided series.

    Florida has won all but one of the last 26 meetings — but the good news for Vandy is that that single victory came at Florida in 2013, which happens to be the Gators' worst season since 1979.

    It doesn't seem likely that this season will be worse than that one was — nor does it seem likely that the Commodores will win this one. My pick is Florida.
  • Miami (Ohio) at #22 Notre Dame, 4 p.m. (Central) on NBCSN: This is the first–ever meeting between these schools.

    The oddsmakers don't think it will be much of a game. The Irish are favored by 21½ points.

    OK. I'll take Notre Dame.
  • Troy at #25 LSU, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: These two teams have played each other twice, both times at LSU, and the Tigers won both times.

    LSU doesn't seem to be as good as it often is, but I think LSU has enough in the tank to win this one.
Last week: 16–6

Overall: 67–16

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 0–3

Overall upset specials: 1–8

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The First Lady of Thoroughbred Racing

Secretariat is a name that has been known by hundreds of millions of people for more than 40 years — but most probably never heard of Penny Chenery until the Walt Disney Co. made a movie about Secretariat.

Chenery, who died last Saturday at the age of 95, was Secretariat's owner — but she was more than that, really. She was a tough old bird.

If you didn't grow up in the South, you may not know that is about the highest compliment one can pay. To be a tough old bird suggests that you have lived a long life and fielded everything life threw at you. Penny Chenery was a pioneer, and pioneers always have to be tough old birds.

They rarely win popularity contests.

In Penny Chenery's case she took over her father's once–successful horse breeding business when he became disabled and, applying what she had learned in business school, revived it and pursued her father's dream of winning the Kentucky Derby.

She had her father's love of horses, but she knew that horse breeding was not the kind of business she had studied in school. She encountered plenty of resistance along the way, but she achieved her father's goal with Riva Ridge in 1972.

In fact, with Secretariat, she went beyond her father's dream. She won all three of the Triple Crown races the following year, and Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner in a quarter of a century.

Even now when I watch the footage of Secretariat's astonishing victory in the third and final jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, I feel that same sense of awe and excitement that I felt on that Saturday afternoon in June of 1973.

A decade after that accomplishment, Chenery became one of the first three women to be admitted as members of The Jockey Club, which is the breed registry for thoroughbred horses in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. A few years earlier she became a member of the Executive Committee of the American Horse Council, the horse industry trade association.

When the Disney movie was in the theaters seven years ago, some complained that it was more about Penny Chenery than it was about Secretariat, and there is some truth in that.

But the greater truth is that no movie could fully tell the story of Penny Chenery's remarkable life.

Rest in peace.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Separating the Pretenders From the Contenders

It may seem early in the season for college football to be drawing the dividing line between its pretenders and contenders, but that is how it looked last week with several teams falling to what seemed like upsets on the surface but may really have been symptoms that things are not what they may have appeared to be.

UCLA, for example, lost to Memphis, which was pretty highly regarded when the season started but still belongs to a lower–echelon conference, one that certainly shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath with the Pac–12. Memphis had to prove itself — and it did.

Similarly San Diego State upset another ranked team from the Pac–12, slipping past Stanford by a single point. And Southern Cal needed two overtimes to subdue Texas, the same team that lost to Maryland two weeks earlier.

Suddenly the Pac–12 isn't looking so strong.

But all wins by teams from lower–tier conferences over teams from the power conferences are not treated equally. The pollsters didn't reward Memphis with a spot in the rankings — unlike San Diego State.

LSU lost to Mississippi State. The Tigers have dominated the series over the years — but they have been particularly dominant in Starkville, where they have won nearly 75% of the time — and had not lost since 1999. But the Bulldogs partied like it was 1999, winning by 30 points.

There were surprises among the unranked as well. I'm sure no one expected Northern Illinois to prevail at Nebraska. Nevertheless ...

Idle: #9 Wisconsin

  • Temple at #21 South Florida, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: South Florida's last loss was at Temple on Oct. 21, 2016.

    The Bulls have won eight in a row since then (it probably would have been nine in a row if Hurricane Irma hadn't postponed South Florida's game with UConn), but my guess is that everyone on that squad wants to even the score — as well as the all–time series (which Temple leads 2–1).

    I pick South Florida.
  • #23 Utah at Arizona, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Utah had lost four straight to Arizona before winning their Pac–12 matchup last year.

    This will be the teams' 43rd meeting, and Arizona holds a narrow edge at home against Utah. In fact, Utah has won at Arizona only once in more than 20 years.

    I think the tide is turning in this series. My pick is Utah.
  • #1 Alabama at Vanderbilt, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Until Vanderbilt knocked off Kansas State last week, this game got little, if any, attention.

    After all, Alabama hasn't lost to Vanderbilt since 1984 — and hasn't lost at Vanderbilt since 1969.

    There really isn't a reason to expect anything different this time. I pick Alabama to win.
  • Boston College at #2 Clemson, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: After facing down ranked teams the last couple of weeks, I imagine that Clemson will enjoy this one. This series dates back to the 1940 Cotton Bowl, but it has only been an annual meeting since the teams became conference rivals in 2005.

    Since then Clemson has won two–thirds of its meetings with Boston College and has only lost at home twice in that stretch — both times by a field goal.

    The choice is Clemson.
  • #3 Oklahoma at Baylor, 5:30 p.m. (Central): The Sooners won by 10 the last time they visited Waco, but the Bears won the previous two meetings.

    That's a pretty big deal, considering that Baylor had never beaten Oklahoma until 2011.

    The previous order seems to be in the process of being restored. I think Oklahoma will win this one.
  • #4 Penn State at Iowa, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Last week Iowa hammered the school where I got my master's, North Texas. This week the Hawkeyes face the fourth–ranked team in the land.

    In the words of Dire Straits, sometimes you're the windshield. Sometimes you're the bug.

    I pick Penn State.
  • #5 Southern Cal at California, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Southern Cal has beaten California 13 straight times and has won more than 72% of the games in what is now a 97–game series.

    I expect nothing to change this week. The pick is Southern Cal.
  • #16 TCU at #6 Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This has always been a competitive series.

    OSU seized control by winning five of the last six meetings, and it will be tough for TCU to narrow the gap this weekend. Stillwater is a tough place for visiting teams.

    Oklahoma State is favored by 11½ points, and that sounds about right to me.

    My pick is Oklahoma State.
  • #7 Washington at Colorado, 9 p.m. (Central): After eight straight losing seasons, not much was expected from Colorado last year. But the Buffaloes went 10–2 before losing the Pac–12 championship game to Washington.

    Can Colorado win the rematch? Colorado hasn't beaten Washington since the 1996 Holiday Bowl and hasn't beaten Washington at home since 1990. And Washington is favored by 10 points.

    But something tells me it isn't quite as certain as it may seem. I will take Colorado in an upset special.
  • #8 Michigan at Purdue, 3 p.m. (Central): Talk about your one–sided series.

    These teams have played 57 times, and Michigan has won 43. In fact, Purdue has beaten Michigan only five times since 1980.

    But they're playing at Purdue, which may be the saving grace for the Boilermakers. They've been more successful there than Ann Arbor, where Purdue has won only once since 1966.

    Well, I suppose it might be close for awhile. But the oddsmakers make Michigan a 10–point favorite. I agree. Michigan will win.
  • Nevada–Las Vegas at #10 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central): What can I say

    Ohio State is favored by nearly 40 points. No wonder it isn't being televised.

    My choice is Ohio State.
  • #17 Mississippi State at #11 Georgia, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: I expect this one to be an interesting game.

    I probably wouldn't have said that when the season began, but Mississippi State's victory over LSU last week opened my eyes.

    Apparently it opened the oddsmakers' eyes, too. They made Georgia a 4½–point favorite at home.

    Make Mississippi State an upset special.
  • North Carolina State at #12 Florida State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Sometimes North Carolina State can pull off the upset, but Florida State has won about 70% of their meetings over the years, and I am just not inclined to pick North Carolina State in this one.

    The Wolfpack has won only twice at Florida State in the last 50 years.

    The pick is Florida State.
  • Old Dominion at #13 Virginia Tech, 1 p.m. (Central) on ACCNE: The oddsmakers have made Tech a 26½–point favorite at home. Good enough for me.

    I pick Virginia Tech.
  • Toledo at #14 Miami (Fla.), 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ACCNE: These teams have played only once before — in November of 1987.

    Miami went undefeated that season, and Toledo was 3–7–1, but Toledo only lost by 10 points in a game that was played at Miami. Only three schools — Florida State on the road, South Carolina and Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl — came closer to beating the Hurricanes that year.

    Miami is favored to win by nearly two touchdowns. And even though Toledo has been better in recent years, I expect Miami to win.
  • #15 Auburn at Missouri, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: These teams have met twice before, but this will be the first time they have played in a month other than December.

    Missouri is a relative newcomer to the SEC and doesn't compete in Auburn's division. This will be the first time they have met in the regular season.

    But they faced each other in the 2013 SEC Championship in Atlanta, and Auburn won by 59–42. Forty years earlier, Missouri won the first meeting in the Sun Bowl, 34–17.

    Auburn is favored by nearly three touchdowns. I take Auburn.
  • Nevada at #18 Washington State, 5 p.m. (Central): These schools have met three teams before, each time at Washington State.

    Washington State won the first two, but Nevada claimed their most recent meeting — on Sept. 5, 2014.

    Will lightning strike twice? I don't think so. Washington State is my choice.
  • Kent at #19 Louisville, 11 a.m. (Central) on ACCNE: These schools were regular rivals in the '60s, but they haven't met since 1973.

    Kent went 3–9 last year. I expect Louisville to romp.
  • #20 Florida at Kentucky, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: You could probably expect a pretty good game from these two if the sport was basketball.

    But in football the Gators have thoroughly dominated the series. They lead it 50–17 and haven't lost at Kentucky since 1986.

    I expect the dominance to continue. The pick is Florida.
  • #22 San Diego State at Air Force, 6 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: History leans heavily toward San Diego State in this series. The Aztecs have won the last six meetings (frequently by wide margins) and haven't lost at Air Force since 2009.

    But the oddsmakers have made San Diego State a mere 3½–point favorite. Could the Aztecs be suffering from something of a hangover following the win over Stanford?

    I will take Air Force in an upset special.
  • #24 Oregon at Arizona State, 9 p.m. (Central): Arizona State once dominated this series, but Oregon has won 10 in a row to take the lead in the series, 19–16.

    The oddsmakers think Oregon will make it 11 in a row, having established the Ducks as 15½–point favorites.

    I agree. I pick Oregon.
  • Syracuse at #25 LSU, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These schools have met three times before.

    The first two times were bowl games — the 1965 Sugar Bowl and the 1989 Hall of Fame Bowl. Two years ago, they finally faced other in a non–bowl setting, and LSU won on the road.

    Now Syracuse has a chance to even the score and the series. But the oddsmakers don't think Syracuse has much of a chance to win in Death Valley. They made LSU a 23½–point favorite.

    I expect LSU to win.
Last week: 16–5

Overall: 51–10

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 0–1

Overall upset specials: 1–5

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.)

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • #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.
  • 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

  • #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.
  • #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.
  • #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.
  • #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.
  • #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

  • #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.