Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rivalries on Menu for Thanksgiving

A handful of teams have regular season finales to play next week, but most of the attention will be focused on conference championship games — especially the one between Alabama and Florida. It will be a rematch of last year's game, which Florida won, 31–20.

If you need something else to whet your appetite, Gene Menez writes, for SI.com, that the Alabama–Florida game could be a "high stakes Heisman game" for Alabama's Heisman candidate, Mark Ingram.

In the meantime, we have plenty of rivalries being played out this week.

Five members of the Top 25 — all from the Big Ten and Pac–10 conferences — have no games to play this week. Eighth–ranked Ohio State, #10 Oregon, #11 Penn State, #13 Iowa and #18 Oregon State are idle.
  • Florida State at #1 Florida, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS — This is a series that has its ebbs and flows. The Gators have won the last five meetings with the Seminoles, but they lost five of the previous six. Unless Florida loses its concentration in anticipation of next week's SEC championship game with Alabama, the Gators should make it six wins in a row.

  • #2 Texas at Texas A&M, Thursday at 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN — Kirk Bohls wonders, in the Austin American–Statesman, if the Texas–A&M rivalry has lost its allure. It's a fair question. The Longhorns have beaten the Aggies in seven of their last 10 meetings, but the Aggies prevailed the last time the teams met in College Station. Considering that Texas is scoring an average of 42 points per game and the Aggies are giving up 31 points a game, I expect Texas to win the game by at least two touchdowns.

  • #3 Alabama at Auburn, Friday at 1:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS — Alabama snapped a six–game losing streak to Auburn with a shutout victory last season. It seems likely to me that this game will be decided by defense. The Tigers have actually outscored the Crimson Tide — barely — but Auburn has yielded nearly three times as many points as Alabama. I say Alabama will win by about six points.

  • New Mexico at #4 TCU, 12 p.m. (Central) on The Mtn. — Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star–Telegram anticipates a BCS berth for TCU after this weekend. And who can blame him? The numbers aren't good for New Mexico. The Horned Frogs have won four in a row against the Lobos since both have been members of the MWC. New Mexico hasn't beaten TCU since 1997, when TCU finished 1–10 and New Mexico went 9–4. This year, TCU is 11–0 and New Mexico is 1–10. I expect TCU to win by a substantial margin.

  • Illinois at #5 Cincinnati, Friday at 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC — My guess is that the 3–7 Illini are about ready for the season to be over — but they still have a Dec. 5 date with Fresno State. Unbeaten Cincinnati still has another game to play on Dec. 5 as well (against Pittsburgh), but the Bearcats should have plenty of motivation. I pick Cincinnati to win.

  • Nevada at #6 Boise State, Friday at 9:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2 — Boise State has won nine in a row against Nevada, and Nevada hasn't beaten Boise State on the road since 1997. This year, the winner wins the WAC crown. The Broncos still have a game to play against New Mexico State on Dec. 5, but a win over the Wolf Pack will give them the tiebreaker, even if they lose to NMSU. Nevada, on the other hand, will wrap up an undisputed WAC title with a win over Boise State. Which will it be? Both teams have scored a lot of points, but Boise has had the stiffer defense. That — and home field — give Boise State the edge.

  • Georgia at #7 Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC — Georgia had a seven–game winning streak against Tech until losing last year, 45–42, and Georgia Tech hasn't beaten Georgia at home since 1999. But Tech has had a stronger offense and defense than Georgia this year so I'll go with Tech. Party like it's 1999.

  • #9 Pittsburgh at West Virginia, Friday — In the last 10 years, this has been a competitive series. Each team has won five times since 1999. And no team has won more than two in a row in that time. Historically speaking, that should be bad news for the Panthers since Pittsburgh has won the last two games against West Virginia. The game features the Big East's top two rushers (Pitt's Dion Lewis and West Virginia's Noel Devine) and top two passers (Pittsburgh's Bill Stull and West Virginia's Jarrett Brown). Pitt has a better defense so I'm thinking the Panthers will break with recent tradition and win that third straight game.

  • #12 Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on FSN — David Ubben writes, in The Oklahoman, that OU coach Bob Stoops doesn't think it is fair to single out one player to blame for the team's offensive woes. And that's true. But, as far as Oklahoma football fans are concerned, it's irrelevant. This week's game is the renewal of an intrastate rivalry that is known as "Bedlam." As I understand it, the name originated during a wrestling match between the two schools. OSU has a huge edge in wrestling, but "Bedlam" has come to be associated with all athletic competition between the schools, and OU holds a 79–15–8 advantage over OSU in football, including victories in the last six contests. This will be the first time in 12 years that the Cowboys are ranked and the Sooners are not. OSU's last win in Norman was a 16–13 upset in 2001. It's always tough for visitors to win in Norman, but I don't think it will be an upset this time. I pick the Cowboys to win.

  • #14 Virginia Tech at Virginia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN — No matter what happens, writes Jay Jenkins in the Charlottesville Daily Progress, Virginia coach Al Groh is likely to be dismissed after the game is over. Perhaps the best he can hope for is to go out with a stunning win. Virginia has only beaten Virginia Tech once in the last 10 games (2003), but the Cavaliers were the home team that time, too. Tech's Ryan Williams has been rushing for 123 yards a game. He will present a significant challenge for Virginia's defense, which seems to be challenged by just about everything. I'll go with Tech.

  • #19 Utah at #15 BYU, 4 p.m. (Central) on The Mtn. — Since 1979, BYU leads the series, 19–11, but much of that advantage was accumulated in the 1980s. The series has been pretty evenly divided in the last 20 years. Utah won last year, snapping a two–game losing streak. It's possible that the winner will share the MWC title with TCU, but even if TCU loses to New Mexico, the Horned Frogs already hold the tiebreaker over both Utah and BYU so, realistically, this game will decide the conference runnerup. BYU's Max Hall leads the MWC in passing, Utah's David Reed leads the league in receiving and the schools bring the MWC's top two rushers (Utah's Eddie Wide and BYU's Harvey Unga) to their game. I'll take BYU to win.

  • #16 Clemson at South Carolina, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN — In the last 20 years, Clemson has built a 15–5 advantage over South Carolina. If South Carolina wins, it will be an upset, but the 6–5 Gamecocks have been competitive, even though they have lost four of their last five. Earlier this season, they beat Ole Miss and they played respectably against the teams that will square off for the SEC crown next week. And South Carolina hasn't lost a nonconference game all year. Clemson, meanwhile, has won six in a row, but the Tigers' thoughts may well be on next week's ACC title game against Georgia Tech, a team that beat the Tigers by a field goal in September. I'm going to predict that Clemson will be distracted and South Carolina will improve its record in its quest for a better bowl bid.

  • Arkansas at #17 LSU, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN — In the battle for the Golden Boot, Arkansas has beaten LSU in their last two meetings, but LSU holds a 10–7 edge since the Hogs joined the SEC in 1992. On paper, it looks like a competitive game. The Razorbacks are averaging 38 points a game, but LSU's done a better job of keeping opponents from scoring. One thing that is hard to factor in is the effect of LSU's loss to Ole Miss last Saturday — in which LSU completed a Hail Mary pass in the final seconds, putting the Tigers in a position to kick a dramatic game–winning field goal with one second remaining. But astonishingly poor game management at the end kept them from even making the attempt, and Ole Miss won, 25–23. Gary Laney of the Baton Rouge Advocate writes that there is plenty of blame to go around. That may be so. It sure was an ugly finish if you're an LSU fan — and Clay Travis writes, for FanHouse.com, that LSU coach Les Miles is a "wild card on the sideline." Well, the Tigers already were out of the running for the SEC championship game so will there be a hangover this week? I'm inclined to say no. As an Arkansas alum, it pains me to say this, but I'll give a very narrow edge to the home team.

  • Rice at #20 Houston — Rice's win over Houston last year snapped a three–game losing streak, but I expect Houston to be back on top this year. The 9–2 Cougars are scoring 42 points a game (with the league's leading passer, Case Keenum) and the 2–9 Owls are giving up 40 points a game. To make matters worse for Rice, the Owls are only scoring 18 points a game. Rice may hope for a repeat of Houston's stunning loss to UTEP last month, but don't count on it.

  • #21 Miami (Florida) at South Florida, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC — This is only the second meeting between the two schools — Miami won, 27–7, in 2005. I have no reason to believe South Florida will win the second encounter.

  • UCLA at #22 USC, 9 p.m. (Central) on FSN — UCLA dominated the series in the 1990s, but (with the exception of the 2006 game) USC has dominated the series in this decade. USC won't be in the Rose Bowl this year, but I'll pick the Trojans to win the crosstown rivalry for the third straight time.

  • #23 Nebraska at Colorado, Friday at 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC — When I was a teenager and a young adult, Nebraska routinely beat Colorado every year. In those days, Nebraska was a fixture in the Top 10. The Cornhuskers haven't finished a season in the Top 10 since 2001, but they have continued to dominate the series with the Buffaloes, holding a 13–6–1 advantage since 1989. Nebraska will play Texas for the Big 12 title on Dec. 5, and Brian Christopherson reports, in the Lincoln Journal Star, that coach Bo Pelini insists that the team's "full focus" is on Colorado this week. A win over Texas might give the 'Huskers a chance to crack the Top 10, but first they have to get past this week's trip to Boulder. Can they do it? Yes.

  • #24 North Carolina at North Carolina State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2 — This intrastate rivalry has been competitive in the last 10 years, but there have been times, like the decade of the 1990s, when North Carolina has beaten State on a regular basis. The numbers from this season are both intriguing and telling. State has scored more points than North Carolina, but UNC's defense has been much better. Season records aside, State has won the last two meetings, and North Carolina has lost two of its last three games at State's Carter–Finley Stadium in Raleigh. All things considered, I will pick North Carolina to win — but only by about two or three points.

  • #25 Ole Miss at Mississippi State, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network — This is the 106th meeting of what is the 10th–longest uninterrupted series in America. Since 1927, it has been known as the "Battle of the Golden Egg" (also known as the "Egg Bowl"), and Ole Miss holds a 60–39–6 advantage, although it's been pretty competitive in the last 10 years. Since 1999, the Rebels are 6–4 against the Bulldogs, but they have lost four of their last five games in Starkville. Even so, I can't imagine that the 8–3 Rebs are going to lose to the 4–7 Bulldogs. I'll give MSU credit for being at home, which might make the game closer than it ordinarily would be, but I expect Ole Miss to win by a touchdown or so.
Last week: 18–4.

Season: 183–43.

No comments: