Thursday, September 23, 2010

Don't Adjust Your TV -- The Stadium Is Rocking

I was surfing through the channels I knew to be showing college football games last Saturday afternoon, and I settled, for a couple of minutes, on a game in which one of the announcers made that statement.

I'm not sure which game it was. I had just finished watching my alma mater, the University of Arkansas, pull off a last–second road victory over Georgia. The Razorbacks are 3–0, they are in the Top 10, and the top–ranked Alabama Crimson Tide will come to Fayetteville this weekend.

I've heard that CBS will be on hand to televise the game. And I'm planning to be sitting in front of my TV when they kick things off on Saturday.

Will the Hogs win? I'll get to that in a minute. For now, it is satisfying to know that Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated, who expressed skepticism about Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett's legitimacy as a Heisman Trophy prospect, is now saying that Mallett had a "Heisman moment" with his game–winning TD pass in the final minute at Georgia last Saturday.

I have long respected Mandel's writing, so I am pleased to see that he thinks Mallett is living up to his preseason hype. I don't know if Mallett will win the award this year. I just hope he continues to play well, and Arkansas is competitive all season.

OK, I'll admit I'm something of a homer when it comes to the Razorbacks. Been that way all my life, don't you know. Even when it is obvious to just about all that Arkansas doesn't have a chance of winning, hope for a victory still springs eternal.

Arkies are like that. They've seen too many impossible dreams come true — and they have also seen too many sure things slip through their fingers. And beating the defending national champion clearly would be classified among the former, not the latter.

But, as much of a homer as I am, I don't think I'm quite up to the level of Joe Starkey, who writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune–Review that Pitt's game against Miami (Florida) tonight is huge for the Big East (undeniably) and that Pitt could be the conference's "savior" — which sorta overlooks West Virginia, the Big East's only currently ranked team.

Both schools face enormous tests this week (tests which, by the way, I think both will fail). Perhaps Big East supremacy will be on the line when the schools meet in late November.

Speaking of conference play, it is under way for most teams now, and, since multiple members of the so–called "power conferences" are in the rankings, that should mean that we will start seeing more clashes between ranked teams in the weeks ahead.

There are four such games on this week's schedule. Whether they're facing another ranked team or not, every member of the Top 25 is in action this week. All times listed are Central.

  • #19 Miami (Florida) at Pittsburgh, 6:30 p.m. on ESPN: The last time these teams met was in late November 2003, in Miami's final game as a member of the Big East.

    Like tonight's game, it was played in Pittsburgh, but the conditions should be different — and the outcome could be different as well, although I doubt it. Miami won on that occasion, 28–14.

    Actually, Miami has won its last six games against Pittsburgh. The Panthers' last win in the series came in 1997, which also happens to be the last time Pittsburgh beat Miami in Pittsburgh.

    Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post–Gazette thinks these teams are mirror images of each other, which would suggest a close game. And it may be.

    But I'm going with Miami.
  • #4 TCU at SMU, 7 p.m. on ESPN: It is known as the "Battle for the Iron Skillet."

    I've heard that, many years ago, an SMU fan was frying up some frog legs in a pregame event, supposedly in the 1950s, and a TCU fan took offense. Ever since, the winner of the game — which has been played nearly every season since 1915 — has been awarded an iron skillet trophy.

    TCU has won nine of the last 10 encounters and, in the process, has taken the lead in the all–time series, 41–39–7. There was a time when it was inconceivable to me that SMU could lose to TCU. Now the opposite is true.

    I'll take TCU.
  • #1 Alabama at #10 Arkansas, 2:30 p.m. on CBS: Today, as members of the same division of the same conference, Arkansas and Alabama play each other every year.

    But when I was growing up, they played in different conferences, and it usually took a date in a New Year's Day bowl game to get the teams together.

    In fact, that happened while I was in school at the University of Arkansas. The teams were invited to the Sugar Bowl. Alabama won the game, giving Bear Bryant his final national title.

    If the winner of this week's game is going to play for the national title, it will have to win many more games between now and January. And if Arkansas is going to win the game, it is going to have to overcome a three–year losing streak to Alabama — as well as the fact that Alabama is the defending national champion.

    It's worth pointing out, though, that before the current losing streak, Arkansas had a winning record against Alabama since the Razorbacks joined the SEC in the early 1990s.

    Kelly Whiteside of USA Today reports that there is a new attitude in Fayetteville. The Arkansas team that went to Alabama last year and, to paraphrase Whiteside, believed the game was over before it had begun has been replaced by a more mature, more experienced group.

    He suggests things are different this year. And I agree. Even though I'm an Arkansas grad, I would normally be inclined to pick Alabama, being the defending national champ and all. But how can I explain it? I saw something in the final minute of the Arkansas–Georgia game last weekend that made me think the Razorbacks can win this game.

    I know the fans will be pumped up. I expect Fayetteville to be worked up to a fever pitch. And I'm going to make Arkansas my upset special. Gotta admit, though, I'm nervous about it.

  • Eastern Michigan at #2 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: I'll be glad when Ohio State concludes its series of games against the Little Sisters of the Poor and starts playing Big Ten opponents.

    It really isn't much of a stretch for me to say I expect Ohio State to win the game.

  • #24 Oregon State at #3 Boise State, 7 p.m. on ABC: These schools have met four times since 2003. Each school has been the host twice, and the home team has won every time.

    The home field was Oregon State's salvation in 2005. Boise State was reeling from a road loss to Georgia the week before, all set up for the knockout punch that OSU tried to deliver. And OSU won the game by a field goal. But Boise bounced back and won seven in a row before falling to Fresno State.

    Likewise, it was fortunate for Oregon State that the game was played in Corvallis in 2003. The Beavers won the game by two points, Boise State's only blemish.

    Boise State won its home games against OSU in 2004 and 2006, both by wide margins. And, guess what? This year's game is also in Boise.

    And the recent history of the series may well be a factor. But I'm thinking the Broncos will be more motivated by the fact that James Madison's win over Virginia Tech robbed Boise of its signature win, the triumph it hoped could vault it into a national title game.

    Contrary to expectations, ESPN's "GameDay" broadcast will originate in Boise and ABC will provide Boise's first–ever regular–season network game coverage. As Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statesman says, "[T]he atmosphere should be electric."

    I think Boise State will win the game. And it won't be close.

  • #5 Oregon at Arizona State, 9:30 p.m. on FSN: Oregon has won five in a row against Arizona State, and the Ducks are ranked.

    I'll take Oregon.

  • South Dakota State at #6 Nebraska: I guess you could say Nebraska has been enjoying a somewhat leisurely stroll through the first month of the college football season, rolling up big wins over the likes of Western Kentucky, Idaho and Washington.

    I see no reason why South Dakota State will present much of a challenge to the Cornhuskers.

    Tougher games await when the Big 12 slate begins. And some of those opponents — Texas, for example, on Oct. 16 — will be considerably tougher to beat. For now, I'll take Nebraska.

  • UCLA at #7 Texas, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: Would it surprise you to know that UCLA has won its last two games with Texas? Or that Texas hasn't beaten UCLA since 1971?

    I've heard (and read) the rumblings about UT's offense. And I'm aware of the fact that Texas faces Oklahoma next week, which might prove a bit distracting for the Longhorns.

    Mandel has high praise for the Texas defense. "But can Texas expect to beat Oklahoma on Oct. 2 and Nebraska on Oct. 16 (I'm not that worried about UCLA this week) solely with its defense?" Mandel asks. "I doubt it, because those teams have pretty good defenses themselves."

    There have been rumblings in Austin, too. Kirk Bohls of the Austin American–Statesman has three observations to make about Texas — and all three have to do with the offense.

    For example, writing about Mac McWhorter, the offensive line coach, Bohls said he "has recruited some of the best offensive linemen in the state with very few positive results to show for it" and asserts that McWhorter "has to be on pink–slip alert."

    Like Mandel, I'm not concerned about the UCLA game. I think Texas will win the game. I'll be more interested in seeing what, if anything UT's offense can do against Oklahoma.

    Speaking of which ...

  • #8 Oklahoma at Cincinnati, 5 p.m. on ESPN2: I'm not really sure what to think of Oklahoma.

    Last week, the Sooners surrendered more rushing yards than at any time since Bob Stoops took over as head coach more than a decade ago. And they didn't give up all those yards to the teams that, historically, have been known to roll up big yardage on the ground. They gave up those yards to Air Force.

    The Sooners are sure to be tested in the weeks ahead, but I don't think they will be challenged much by Cincinnati. I think Oklahoma will win, perhaps by a couple of touchdowns.

  • Kentucky at #9 Florida, 6 p.m. on ESPNU: Florida has beaten Kentucky 23 straight times, sometimes by ridiculously wide margins.

    Kentucky last beat Florida in football on Nov. 15, 1986. Things were quite different in those day. Florida was 6–5 that year; Kentucky was 5–5–1.

    Today, Florida is a football powerhouse, a two–time national champion in recent years and a contender for the title in others. Kentucky occasionally has a team that is capable of keeping pace with the Gators for a couple of quarters, but I don't think the streak will be in jeopardy. After all, Kentucky hasn't won a game at Florida since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.

    I pick Florida.

  • Austin Peay at #11 Wisconsin, 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network: I'm not going to waste much time on this one. And, frankly, neither should you. There will be Saturdays this fall when Wisconsin will be tested. Just not this Saturday.

    I pick Wisconsin, by a significant margin.

  • #12 South Carolina at #17 Auburn, 6:45 p.m. on ESPN: These schools both play in the SEC, but they are in different divisions which means they don't play each other every year.

    In fact, I am only aware of four meetings between the schools, and Auburn won every one.

    If South Carolina is going to be a contender in the SEC, this is the kind of foe the Gamecocks must defeat. Perhaps they will. Someday. But not this Saturday. I pick Auburn.

  • San Jose State at #13 Utah: See what I said about the Austin Peay–Wisconsin game.

    And insert Utah wherever I wrote about Wisconsin.

    That includes picking Utah to win.

  • California at #14 Arizona: Since 2005, the home team in this Pac–10 matchup has emerged with the victory.

    I see no reason to go against that trend. I'll take Arizona.

  • #22 West Virginia at #15 LSU, 8 p.m. on ESPN2: If these two schools have ever faced each other in football, it was before my time.

    But based on their rankings, it ought to be a good game. And West Virginia's sophomore quarterback seems to have the passing game on an upward trajectory. Currently, the Mountaineers are in the Top 30 in the nation in passing offense.

    That sure does make the possibility of picking West Virginia to snap LSU's 30–game nonconference home winning streak enticing. And LSU is not a heavy favorite.

    But I'll stick with LSU in this game.

  • #16 Stanford at Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. on NBC: Notre Dame has lost only six of the last 20 meetings with Stanford.

    My guess is that Stanford will make that seven of 21 this Saturday.

  • Ball State at #18 Iowa, 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network: I just can't see Ball State winning this one.

    Gotta go with Iowa.

  • #20 USC at Washington State, 2 p.m. on FSNW: USC has won seven straight games against Washington State.

    I have to believe USC will make it eight in a row.

  • Bowling Green at #21 Michigan, 11 a.m. on ESPN2: I don't know if Michigan is "back" as a national contender.

    I suppose the Wolverines' performance in Big Ten play will tell us a lot. Are they better than the 5–7 team they were last year? Or the 3–9 team they were the year before that? We shall see.

    This weekend, though, I believe Michigan will be better than Bowling Green.

  • Temple at #23 Penn State, 2:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network: I simply can't imagine Penn State failing to beat Temple.

    The Nittany Lions have won 26 in a row against Temple, dating back to the mid–1970s, when Temple came up short by one point in the 1975 and 1976 games. Since that time, however, Penn State has routed Temple more often than struggled — and I'm anticipating another rout on Saturday.

  • Northern Colorado at #25 Michigan State, 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network: Back in the annals of college football, these two schools may have faced each other long before I was born.

    But would it matter? I can't see any way that Michigan State will lose this game, no matter what might have happened in the past.
Last week: 22–1.

Season: 59–6.

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