Thursday, September 9, 2010

I Have Mixed Emotions About Ole Miss' Loss

As a graduate of the University of Arkansas, I enjoyed the Razorbacks' season opener against Tennessee Tech the other day, especially since it helped vault them to #14 in the latest Associated Press poll.

But, as a graduate of the U of A (and a lifelong Razorback fan, on top of that), I must confess that I had mixed emotions over the outcome of the Ole Miss–Jacksonville State game. It matched two former Arkansas coaches — Jack Crowe, who once coached Arkansas in a humiliating season–opening loss to The Citadel (which cost him his job the next day), and Houston Nutt, who led the Razorbacks for about a decade before leaving for SEC rival Ole Miss a couple of years ago.

My friends in Arkansas have a different opinion of Nutt than I have, and perhaps that is to be expected. I've been gone from Arkansas for a long time. My friends see the Arkansas coaches up close and personal, warts and all; I get considerably less Razorback coverage here in Dallas.

Anyway, all of a coach's shortcomings are magnified in a place like Arkansas. From my vantage point, I watched Nutt lead Arkansas to bowl games, which was something that didn't happen very much in the years before he arrived.

And a Razorback was a legitimate candidate for the Heisman Trophy in Nutt's last two seasons at Arkansas. I can't remember the last time a Razorback was a contender for that award — if ever.

Nutt may have had his faults, but I will always be grateful for the success he brought the program. And I don't wish him ill.

Certainly, I didn't wish for what happened on Saturday.

I guess I should be happy for Crowe. But he wasn't at Arkansas long enough for me to develop any kind of loyalty to him. The rest of the college football world has been abuzz about the accomplishment, the way it always is when something like this happens.

For their part, Jacksonville State's Gamecocks are relishing their moment in the spotlight.

This week, Nutt and the Rebels have been in a lot of pain. They lost to Jacksonville State on Saturday. After going to the Cotton Bowl in Nutt's first two seasons there, I'm certain Rebel fans expected better than this.

Well, Ole Miss will bounce back — eventually. And Jacksonville State probably will never have another win like this one. Inevitably, the football world will return to normal.

But I'm guessing that college football won't witness a bigger upset for the rest of the season.

All but one of the teams in the Top 25 will be in action this weekend, and four games actually match two ranked teams. Third–ranked Boise State is idle this week. The Broncos get an extra week to savor their triumph over Virginia Tech on Monday.

All game times are Central.

  • #21 Auburn at Mississippi State, 6:30 p.m. on ESPN: In the last 10 years, Auburn has won eight times against MSU. The Bulldogs' most recent glory days in this series came in the late 1990s, when they won four in a row over the Tigers.

    Auburn went through a rough spell, but the Tigers seem to be back on track. The Bulldogs are not. I still believe MSU will upset someone in the SEC this year, but it won't be Auburn, not this early in the season.

    But later this season, when MSU is about to face a team that's a little dinged up, watch out.
  • #23 West Virginia at Marshall, 6 p.m. on ESPN: Marshall has lost five in a row to West Virginia. Make that six.
  • #18 Penn State at #1 Alabama, 6 p.m. on ESPN: There was a time when Penn State and Alabama only met in bowl games. Both were usually highly ranked, and even if they didn't meet in a bowl, there was always talk that they might. Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno were roaming the sidelines in those days. I even watched them play in person once.

    Some things are different now. For one, Bryant isn't around anymore (although Paterno still is); for another, this isn't a bowl game. Actually, though, the last time the teams faced each other, in 1990, Penn State prevailed, 9–0, in a regular–season clash just before Halloween.

    In fact, the teams faced each other every year back in those days. 'Bama won in 1989, 1988 and 1987; Penn State won in 1986 and 1985. And the schools played during the four seasons prior to that.

    It's possible that these two teams may face each other in a bowl game again, perhaps this year. But, at this point in the season, I'm inclined to think the home field and a pretty sharp squad will carry the day for Alabama, even if the defending Heisman Trophy winner won't be able to play.

  • #12 Miami (Florida) at #2 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: Back in January 2003, these two teams met in a thriller of a national championship game. Ohio State won the game in double overtime.

    This will be the first time the schools have met since that night. Prior to that, the teams met in the "Kickoff Classic" in East Rutherford, N.J., to open the 1999 season. Miami won that one. Before that, you have to go back to 1977 to find a time when these teams played each other.

    It ought to be a good game, but I'll give the edge to Ohio State.

  • Tennessee Tech at #4 TCU: I watched the Arkansas–Tennessee Tech game online last weekend, and I can only reach one conclusion. Tech will get a second straight big payday for showing up, but TCU will get the win.

  • Wyoming at #5 Texas, 6 p.m. on FSN: En route to their national championship date with Alabama last January, the Texas Longhorns traveled to Wyoming, where they cruised to a 41–10 victory.

    Meetings between the schools have been infrequent, to say the least. You have to go back to 1978 to find their last time the teams faced off in Austin, where Saturday's game will be played. Texas won that one, too, 17–3.

    They also played in Austin in 1974. The Longhorns won, 34–7.

    Will the fourth time be the charm for Wyoming? No. I expect a result similar to last year's — Texas by a comfortable margin.

  • Idaho at #6 Nebraska: I don't think these two teams have played before, but I don't think it matters if we don't have a previous game to use as a comparison.

    I expect Nebraska to win with no trouble.

  • #7 Oregon at Tennessee, 6 p.m. on ESPN2: I don't think these schools have faced each other in football before. Oregon is in the Top 10; Tennessee is not ranked. That would suggest an advantage for the Ducks.

    But the Volunteers are the home team, and, in Knoxville, that means something. Tennessee can pack more than 100,000 people into its stadium, and most of them will be wearing orange. I anticipate an Oregon victory, but it may not be easy.

  • South Florida at #8 Florida, 11:21 a.m. on SEC Network: This is another match that has never occurred before.

    I've heard that South Florida has a decent program — and might even give Florida a real game of it. But it's mighty tough to win in Gainesville — unless you play for Florida, and I do expect the Gators to win.

  • Iowa State at #9 Iowa, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: This series has been going on for a long time, and, historically, Iowa usually wins.

    You do have the exceptions, especially in the last decade — 2007 (when ISU won, 15–13), 2005 (a 23–3 win for ISU), 2002 (ISU's last win at Iowa, 36–31), 2001 (a 17–14 win for ISU and the last of four consecutive victories).

    The last three games at Iowa have resulted in Iowa victories — but not blowouts. Iowa's average margin of victory has been about 10 points.

    It ought to be a good game, but I'll take Iowa.

  • #17 Florida State at #10 Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: Do you remember the last time Florida State faced Oklahoma? It was Jan. 4, 2001, and the teams were meeting in the national title game in the Orange Bowl. OU won the game, 13–2.

    That was the first time the teams had met since Jan. 1, 1981, when OU beat Florida State in the Orange Bowl, 18–17. The year before that, OU beat FSU in the same bowl game, 24–7.

    But you have to go back to Sept. 25, 1976, when Florida State (then competing as an independent) and Oklahoma (then a member of the Big Eight) last met in the regular season. On that occasion, they played in the same place where they will play on Saturday — Norman, Okla. — and OU was the winner, 24–9.

    1976 was a comparatively down year for the Sooners, who had put together a record of 53–3–1 between 1971 and 1975. And, while they've enjoyed some success in the past decade, it hasn't really come close to what they achieved in the 1970s.

    And, while the Sooners come into this game ranked ahead of the Seminoles, I am more impressed by how unimpressive OU was in its season opener against Utah State.

    I agree with the Miami Herald that both teams have a lot to prove. But I think Florida State is ready to win. I'm not sure about Oklahoma.

  • San Jose State at #11 Wisconsin, 11 a.m. on ESPN: I don't think San Jose State and Wisconsin have ever faced each other in football.

    So there is no historical comparison to be made. But all you really need to know is that SJSU — which plays in the WAC — has a record of 25–35 in the previous five seasons while Wisconsin — which plays in the Big Ten — has a record of 48–17.

    I pick Wisconsin.

  • James Madison at #13 Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech last played James Madison in 2003, when Tech rolled to a 43–0 triumph. Before that, they met in 1999, when Tech prevailed, 47–0.

    Prior to that, they faced each other in two straight season openers (1992 and 1991). Tech won both games, 49–20 and 41–12. And Tech concluded its 1987 season with a 27–6 win over JMU.

    There was one other meeting before that, in 1980, which Tech won, 38–6.

    I see no reason why Virginia Tech should not make it seven in a row.

  • Louisiana–Monroe at #14 Arkansas, 6 p.m. on FSN: Louisiana–Monroe played Arkansas two years ago and almost escaped with a win (but lost, 28–27). The teams met three straight years from 2004 to 2006, and Arkansas won by lopsided margins each time.

    Before the start of the new millennium, the teams squared off four other times, and the Razorbacks won each time, giving Arkansas an 8–0 mark against Louisiana–Monroe. Can Louisiana–Monroe win this encounter? I don't think so. Give me Arkansas.

  • #15 Georgia Tech at Kansas, 11 a.m. on FSN: Georgia Tech–Kansas might be an intriguing match in basketball, but they haven't met in football since the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day in 1948.

    Kansas went 5–7 last year while Tech has gone to a bowl game 13 years in a row. I'll pick Georgia Tech.

  • Virginia at #16 USC, 9:30 p.m. on FSN: These teams play on opposite coasts. They seldom face each other.

    But they did meet two years ago in the season opener, which USC won, 52–7.

    I think that is the only time the schools have faced each other on the gridiron — which means this weekend's trip to Los Angeles to face USC will be a first for Virginia.

    The Cavaliers went 3–9 last year. USC has had its troubles during the offseason, but I still think the Trojans will win the game.

  • #19 LSU at Vanderbilt, 6 p.m. on ESPNU: LSU and Vanderbilt play in different divisions in the SEC so they don't meet every year.

    In fact, you have to go back 20 years — to a time when the teams in the SEC weren't split into divisions — to find Vandy's last victory over LSU. The Tigers have won the last six meetings. And they've won 25 of their last 30 games in Baton Rouge.

    I expect LSU to prevail this time as well.

  • UNLV at #20 Utah: Utah and UNLV have faced each other every year for the last 11 years. Utah has won all but one.

    And I expect Utah to win again.

  • #22 Georgia at #24 South Carolina, 11 a.m. on ESPN2: Georgia and South Carolina are in the same division in the SEC so they play each other every year. Most of the time, it is a close game, no matter who wins.

    And the rankings suggest another down–to–the–wire finish this year.

    It's been 10 years since Georgia lost at South Carolina. And I'm going to predict that Georgia will make it five straight wins at South Carolina.

  • #25 Stanford at UCLA, 9:30 p.m. on ESPN: The times they may be changing in this series.

    In the last 30 years, UCLA beat Stanford 19 times, including five in a row before Stanford beat UCLA last year, 24–16. But UCLA is coming off a 31–22 loss to Kansas State on the road last weekend. Stanford, meanwhile, is favored in some quarters to win the Pac–10. I'll go with Stanford to make it two in a row against UCLA.
Last week: 21–1.
Season: 21–1.

No comments: