Thursday, November 19, 2009

Arizona, BC Are My Upset Picks

When we reach this point in the college football season, it becomes more difficult to pick an upset or two. The schedules are almost played out, most of the bowl–bound teams are known and the ones that aren't headed for the postseason are mostly eager to get it over with.

I'm picking a couple of "upsets," though — Arizona over #11 Oregon and Boston College over #25 North Carolina. I'm not sure if they would count as upsets except for the rankings.

There are a few good rivalries on this week's schedule. Ohio State–Michigan certainly has a lot of tradition behind it, but it doesn't have the appeal it once did. In fact, Christine Brennan of USA Today writes that it is "a shell of its former self." Ohio State does bring a 9–2 record into the game, but Michigan, at 5–6, is no longer the national power it was. In fact, the Wolverines will have to win merely to become bowl eligible.

Another rivalry game this weekend is between LSU and Ole Miss. When it comes to rivalries, people talk about LSU's rivalries with Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas, but Ole Miss is LSU's truly traditional SEC rival. Only recently has the game been given a name — "Magnolia Bowl" — and a trophy that is awarded to the winner.

They call the California–Stanford game the "Big Game," but it seems highly unlikely the game will produce the kind of dramatic finish the 1982 edition did.

Fifth–ranked Cincinnati, #7 Georgia Tech, #9 Pittsburgh and #21 USC are off this week.
  • Florida International at #1 Florida — If Florida International beats Florida, it would have to be considered one of the greatest upsets of all time in any sport.

  • Kansas at #2 Texas, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC — Texas has won all seven games with Kansas since the teams have been in the same conference. Sometimes the Longhorns have scored 50 points or more. The last time the teams played in Austin, Texas won, 66–14. I think it's a safe bet to pick Texas to win. Need something else to encourage you to watch? A victory will make Texas' Colt McCoy the winningest quarterback in college football history.

  • Chattanooga at #3 Alabama, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network — The only way Alabama can lose this game is if the Crimson Tide is too distracted by thoughts of the upcoming rivalry game with Auburn and the SEC championship game with Florida the week after that. If Alabama takes care of business, it should be a lopsided victory for the Tide.

  • #4 TCU at Wyoming, 1 p.m. (Central) on The Mtn. — Since joining the MWC in 2005, TCU is 3–1 against Wyoming, but the Frogs lost by a field goal the last time they visited Laramie. The Cowboys need one more win to become bowl eligible, but I don't think they'll get it against TCU. The unbeaten Frogs are focused on more significant matters. TCU should win the game.

  • #6 Boise State at Utah State, 8:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2 — Boise State has won eight in a row against Utah State, frequently scoring 40 points or more. I have no reason to think they won't roll up another big margin this time.

  • #8 Ohio State at Michigan, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC — This may be one of the most bitter rivalries in college football, but it's been a bit one–sided in recent years. Ohio State has won the last five meetings, and I would be surprised if the Buckeyes don't make it six in a row.

  • #10 LSU at Ole Miss, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS — The Rebels snapped a six–game losing streak to the Tigers last year. Ole Miss has put a lot more points on the board this season than LSU, but the Tigers' defense has allowed fewer points than the Rebels' defense has. I'll predict that LSU will win the game, but I'd be more confident of that prediction if they were playing in Baton Rouge.

  • #11 Oregon at Arizona, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC — It isn't absolute, but Oregon can just about count on a Rose Bowl date with Ohio State with a win over Arizona. Winning the Pac–10 is more difficult for the Wildcats, but it can be done. I think Arizona may be a little more motivated — in part because they narrowly missed being in the Top 25 following their loss to unranked California. And I sort of feel the Wildcats are due, even though they won the last time they played host to Oregon. They've lost eight of their last 10 encounters, which suggests that Oregon has the series under control. But I'm going to take Arizona as my upset special.

  • #12 Penn State at Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC — Penn State has won three–quarters of its games with Michigan State since joining the Big Ten in 1993, but the Spartans have won four of the last six in East Lansing. I think the Nittany Lions are positioned to win this year's game. It may be by a single score, but the Lions' defense should be up to the task of stopping Michigan State.

  • Colorado at #13 Oklahoma State, tonight at 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN — Colorado has won seven of its last 10 games against Oklahoma State, but there is an important factor to bear in mind: When OSU is enjoying a winning season and Colorado is on the schedule, OSU wins the game. When OSU is in the throes of a losing season and Colorado is on the schedule, Colorado wins. This is clearly an "up" year for OSU. Therefore, the sensible thing to do is to predict an Oklahoma State win. And so I shall.

  • #14 Wisconsin at Northwestern — The schools have split their last 10 meetings right down the middle. The home team has won the last four contests. Will Northwestern make it five? Possibly, but I'm going to pick Wisconsin to win — by a very slender margin.

  • Minnesota at #15 Iowa, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN — Iowa is 7–3 in the last 10 games against Minnesota. What's worse for Minnesota is that the Gophers haven't beaten the Hawkeyes on the road since 1999. I think Iowa will improve its home winning streak over Minnesota by a margin of, oh, five or six points.

  • North Carolina State at #16 Virginia Tech, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU — In the last 20 years, the two schools have met half a dozen times, and Tech owns a 3–2–1 edge. The home team has won the two encounters since 2004, and both games were decided by a single score. I think the margin will be wider in this game, maybe 10 points, but I think the home team (in this case, Virginia Tech) will win again.

  • California at #17 Stanford — The Cal–Stanford game is known as the "Big Game," and there probably was never a bigger finish in any of the games in the series than the one in 1982. In recent times, Cal has won six of the last seven meetings, but the exception was two years ago, the last time Stanford was the host school. I'll pick Stanford to win — and the Cardinal won't have to duplicate Cal's astonishing return from 1982 to do it, either.

  • Air Force at #18 BYU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSCSN — BYU has won five straight against Air Force. The last time Air Force won was also the last time the Falcons beat the Cougars at Provo (in 2003). I think the Cougars will keep the streak going.

  • Virginia at #19 Clemson, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC — In the last 20 meetings between the schools, Clemson is 11–8–1, but Virginia has tended to be competitive. This year, the teams are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Clemson is 7–3 and headed for a bowl. Virginia is 3–7. I pick Clemson to win by 10 points or more (not unlike the Tigers' 13–3 win over the Cavaliers last year).

  • #20 Oregon State at Washington State — Oregon State has won the last two time it has faced Washington State, rolling up huge margins both times. The streak continues.

  • Memphis at #22 Houston — The teams have met 10 times since 1978, and Memphis holds a 6–4 advantage. Against a couple of intriguing conference foes, both teams have lost to Central Florida this season, but Memphis beat UTEP the week after UTEP beat Houston. Since that time, the teams have been going in opposite directions. Memphis has lost four in a row since that victory while Houston had a five–game winning streak before last weekend's loss at UCF. The Cougars are unbeaten at home, and they're ranked. I'll take Houston.

  • San Diego State at #23 Utah, 3 p.m. (Central) on Versus — Utah has dominated the series in the last 10 meetings, winning eight. Utah has won the last three, including a 63–14 triumph on the road last season. I expect the Utes to win again.

  • Duke at #24 Miami (Florida), 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU — Miami has won five in a row against Duke, the last four since Miami joined the ACC in 2004. The schools played occasionally as nonconference foes, but Duke hasn't beaten Miami since 1976, several years before the Hurricanes won their first national title. I don't think Duke will end its skid this weekend. I expect Miami to win by at least a touchdown.

  • #25 (tie) North Carolina at Boston College, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2 — Boston College has lost two straight to North Carolina since joining the ACC in 2005. BC actually beat North Carolina in 2004, in the Continental Tire Bowl. Before that, it had been 20 years since their last meeting (also a BC victory). They both have 7–3 records so both should be playing in bowls when the regular season is over, but North Carolina has no chance of playing for the ACC title. Boston College does, although it is slim. BC needs to win its last two games and hope that Clemson loses to Virginia. I don't expect Clemson to lose, but the Tigers won't kick off their game until after BC's game is over so BC will still have plenty of motivation. I'll take Boston College as an upset special.

  • Kansas State at #25 (tie) Nebraska, 6:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN — Nebraska has won four straight against Kansas State. Nebraska leads KSU by ½ a game in the Big 12 North, but the Cornhuskers can clinch a berth in the Big 12 title game with a win. On the other hand, KSU can clinch a share of the North Division title — and the tiebreaker — with a win. The likely opponent will be #2 Texas. KSU's offense might be tougher to defend, but Nebraska's defense has been even stingier than Texas'. I'll pick Nebraska to win at home.
Last week: 17–5.

Season: 165–39.

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