Saturday, September 18, 2010

Some Setbacks, But I'm Still Standing

I sorta took it on the chin in my Top 25 picks last week after a nearly perfect opening week.

That was probably to be expected. I went out on a limb and picked Florida State to win at Oklahoma. Of course, the Seminoles did not come close to winning that game.

And I didn't anticipate that Kansas would defeat Georgia Tech. I don't think most observers saw that one coming, either.

And never in a million years did I think James Madison would upend Virginia Tech.

I am glad both of those things happened, though, because now my alma mater, Arkansas, has moved up to #12 in the rankings. Some people don't think the Hogs deserve to be among the nation's best dozen, but they have a chance today, against Georgia, to prove that they are legitimate.

Idle this week: #17 Miami (Florida)

All times are Central.

  • #1 Alabama at Duke, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: The last time these teams met was in Alabama in 2006. The Crimson Tide won the game, 30–14.

    Before that, you have to go back to the Bear Bryant era to find a time when the schools met in football. And you'd probably have to go back even farther to find the last time Alabama traveled to Duke to play a football game.

    If this was a basketball game, Duke probably would be the favorite. But this is football. And Alabama is ranked #1. I'll take Alabama.

  • Ohio U. at #2 Ohio State, 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network: I can't believe this game will be on TV anywhere. Ohio State is sure to win.

  • #3 Boise State at Wyoming: Since 2002, the schools have met four times, and Boise has won each time.

    You know what? I'll make that five in a row for Boise State.

  • Baylor at #4 TCU, 3:30 p.m. on Versus: There was a time — back when the Southwest Conference still existed — when Baylor and TCU played to avoid the cellar in the conference standings.

    They're no longer conference rivals, and TCU is now routinely a member of the Top 25. But they have faced other in recent years. In fact, they opened the regular season against each other in 2006 and 2007 — TCU won both contests.

    Before that, their last meeting came in 1995, the last year of the SWC's existence. Baylor won that one.

    Well, 1995 is ancient history now. But it was the last time Baylor had a winning season. Meanwhile, TCU has had winning seasons every year since 2005 — and 2004 is the only losing season TCU has had since 1998. The programs are moving in opposite directions, and I'll pick TCU to remain on its established trajectory with a win.

  • Portland State at #5 Oregon: Let's see. Portland State played at Oregon in 2006 — and lost, 55–12. Before that, Portland State came to Oregon in 2006 — and lost, 41–0. Before that, Portland't last visit was in 1994. Oregon won, 58–16.

    I think a pattern has been established. I'll take Oregon.

  • #6 Texas at Texas Tech, 7 p.m. on ABC: I'm sure everyone remembers the 2008 match between these two teams. The Red Raiders enjoyed a rare victory on Michael Crabtree's late TD reception — and could have played for a national title if not for a loss to Oklahoma later that November.

    Texas has been playing Texas Tech every year since 1960, but it's been a Jekyll‐and–Hyde series. When the game has been played in Austin, Texas has been dominant, winning 21 of 25, often by wide margins. In Lubbock, the Longhorns hold a 15–10 advantage, and the game almost always seems to be close, no matter which team wins.

    I'll pick Texas to win, but, if you're a Longhorn fan, don't be surprised if it goes down to the wire.

    On the other hand, if you are a Longhorn fan, I'm sure I don't have to tell you that.

  • Air Force at #7 Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m. on FSN: Air Force has one of the most potent running attacks in America and might be capable of pulling off the upset — as long as no one reminds the Falcons that the only other time they were in Norman, Okla., in 2001, OU won, 44–3, or that the Sooners are ranked in the Top 10.

    Still, it might be an entertaining game. It might even be close for awhile. But I'll pick Oklahoma to pull away at some point.

  • #8 Nebraska at Washington, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: It's been more than a decade since these teams faced each other.

    In the late '90s, they faced off in each other's stadiums in 1997 and 1998, with Nebraska winning both times.

    They did the same thing in the early '90s, with Washington winning both times.

    Before that, one must go back to the '60s to find a time when the teams played each other. Obviously, the series' history is extremely limited.

    History does suggest, though, that it is Washington's turn to win. And Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated thinks it will.

    But I'm not sold. I think it will be a good game, but I think Nebraska will prevail.

  • #9 Iowa at #24 Arizona, 9:30 p.m. on ESPN: These two teams don't play each other often, but when they do, it tends to go down to the wire.

    They met in Iowa last year, and Iowa won, 27–17.

    Arizona did win the meeting before that, back in 1998 — which was the last time the teams played in Arizona. In 1996, Iowa won a squeaker at home, 21–20. Prior to that, they played in Arizona twice — in 1987, when Iowa winning another close one, 15–14, and in 1982, when Iowa won by a slightly larger margin, 17–14.

    In 1980, Iowa hosted the meeting and won a defense–oriented 5–3 decision.

    In the last two or three decades, Iowa has often been ranked, but today's Iowa–Arizona game is the first of which I am aware that features two teams in the Top 25. And I expect Arizona, an up–and–coming program, to have an excited crowd in its favor.

    But Iowa brings plenty of experience to the table. Arizona has the potential to pull off the upset, but I think Iowa will win the game.

  • #10 Florida at Tennessee, 2:30 p.m. on CBS: It's fair to say that both programs are in a bit of a transitional period.

    Florida is adjusting to life without Tim Tebow. Tennessee is merely trying to get its winning ways back.

    Eventually, I am sure, Tennessee will be a competitive program again. But, even at its best, it was never completely competitive with Florida in the last two decades. Tennessee won only six of 20 games with the Gators during that time.

    Even though the Gators probably will go through some more growing pains before they truly return to national prominence, I think they're a lot farther along that road than Tennessee. So I'll pick Florida.

  • Arizona State at #11 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: From the "I've Heard That Tune Before" category ...

    I've been reading some articles lately that try to make the case that Arizona State is back. Mostly, the case is made on the basis of high offensive output in home wins over — drum roll, please — Portland State and Northern Arizona.

    Well, that's fine and dandy. Let's see how the Sun Devils do against a team from a power conference that is ranked and is playing at home.

    Someday, perhaps, Arizona State will be in a position to win in that situation. But not today. I pick Wisconsin.

  • #12 Arkansas at Georgia, 11 a.m. on ESPN: Georgia and Arkansas play sporadically, being in different divisions of the SEC.

    But the Bulldogs have won six straight against the Razorbacks, including an SEC title game in December 2002.

    Arkansas' last win over Georgia came nearly 17 years ago, in October 1993. Before that, Georgia prevailed in three straight contests. In all, Georgia has beaten Arkansas nine out of 10 times since the Razorbacks triumphed over the Bulldogs in the Jan. 1, 1976 Cotton Bowl.

    This is a crucial game for the Razorbacks. A win would send them into their showdown with Alabama with a 3–0 record — and possibly a Top 10 ranking, assuming that someone who is ranked ahead of them loses this weekend.

    I don't know if that will happen, but I will predict that Arkansas will beat Georgia.

  • Furman at #13 South Carolina, 6 p.m. on ESPN3: As nearly as I can tell, these teams haven't met in nearly 30 years — before South Carolina joined the SEC.

    Furman won, 28–23, on Oct. 16, 1982. Can it happen again? We've already seen two stunning upsets in college football this season so it's certainly possible that it will happen for a third straight week. But it isn't very probable.

    I'll take South Carolina.

  • #14 Utah at New Mexico: As talented as Utah has been in recent years, the natural assumption is that it has dominated New Mexico in football. And, for the most part, the Utes have.

    But New Mexico has enjoyed success from time to time — like when the Lobos won five of seven from 2000 to 2006. In some of those years, Utah clearly had the better team. But New Mexico won, anyway.

    And recent trips to New Mexico have been unexpectedly challenging for Utah. The last two contests there were won by a single field goal. Utah enjoyed a comparatively lopsided win (28–7) in New Mexico in 2004, but that was unusual for games in this series that have been played on the Lobos' field since the dawn of the current millennium.

    Typically, those games have been decided by a single score. And that could be what will happen today.

    Yes, it might be close today. But I still think Utah will win.

  • Mississippi State at #15 LSU, 6 p.m. on ESPNU: LSU has won 10 in a row against Mississippi State, which really isn't too surprising.

    Through most of the last decade, LSU has been a contender for the national title, winning two of them. Mississippi State has had only two winning seasons since its last win over LSU (which came in the previous millennium).

    And that win came at Mississippi State. It's been even longer since Mississippi State won at LSU. The Tigers have held serve at home in nine straight contests, and I believe LSU will extend that streak to 10 today.

  • Clemson at #16 Auburn, 6 p.m. on ESPN: For some reason that I can't begin to explain, it seems to me that Clemson and Auburn play each other in football a lot more often than they actually do.

    But since 1971, the teams have played each other only twice, and both were bowl games — the Peach Bowl in January 1998 (won by Auburn, 21–17) and the Chick–Fil–A Bowl in December 2007 (also won by Auburn, 23–20).

    Now, in the late '60s and early '70s, the teams really did face off every season. They met for five straight years, from 1967 to 1971, and Auburn won every time. In fact, you'd have to go back to the days of the Truman administration to find the last time Clemson beat Auburn, regardless of the venue.

    I'll take Auburn.

  • #18 USC at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m. on ESPN: Based on my research, these teams haven't faced each other in 30 years. And they haven't played in Minnesota since the year before that.

    USC won both of those games — and most of the games between the schools prior to that as well. Minnesota hasn't beaten USC in Minnesota in more than half a century.

    Can Minnesota do it today? I don't think so. Give me USC.

  • Wake Forest at #19 Stanford, 10:15 p.m. on ESPN2: These teams met at Wake Forest last year, and Wake Forest won the game, 24–17.

    Now, Wake Forest had some good teams a few years back, but the Demon Deacons have been struggling in recent years. Meanwhile, Stanford, after many years of mediocrity, appears to be on its way up.

    So the rankings appear to be a reasonable reflection of the public's perception of these two programs. Stanford is seen as the better team. It is also the home team this time, which means Wake Forest is the one that must contend with the jet lag that comes from a coast–to–coast commute this time.

    Seems to me the factors favor Stanford.

  • Massachusetts at #20 Michigan: There was a time when Michigan was feared in college football. It was taken for granted that the Wolverines might go undefeated until they met up with the Buckeyes of Ohio State at the end of the season, then the two would square off with a trip to Pasadena awaiting the winner.

    There were occasional exceptions to this rule, but, ordinarily, that's about how it played out.

    But times have changed. Ohio State has remained ranked among the nation's elite, but the Wolverines have struggled of late. In 2007, they opened the season with an astonishing loss to Appalachian State. They ended up going 8–4 that season and capping the campaign with a Capital One Bowl win over Florida, but, in hindsight, the bell began tolling for the program that year.

    In 2008, Michigan skidded to a 3–9 record, its lowest win total since 1963 (when the team played only nine games). And last year was only marginally better.

    So it is safe to say I am skeptical when anyone tells me that Michigan is back. Historically speaking, OK, they tend to rebound after one or maybe two bad seasons. But these last two seasons were exceptionally bad for Michigan. And I am not convinced that the Wolverines are competitive again because they have beaten Connecticut and Notre Dame.

    Things are apt to get difficult for the Wolverines when the Big Ten season begins. But, for now, I'm inclined to think that Michigan will remain unbeaten after playing Massachusetts today — and probably after playing Bowling Green next week.

  • Maryland at #21 West Virginia, 11 a.m. on ESPNU: Until the last two seasons, these two schools had faced each other every year since 1980.

    I don't know why the practice stopped after the 2007 season — or why it is being resumed today. What I can say is that West Virginia has won its last four encounters with Maryland and that Maryland's last win at West Virginia was in 1994.

    And I can also say that I think West Virginia will win.

  • Kent State at #22 Penn State, 11 a.m. on ESPN2: This shouldn't be a contest. I'll take Penn State.

  • #23 Houston at UCLA, 9:30 p.m. on FSN: The last time these schools faced each other was in 1998. Houston was the home team; UCLA was the winner, 42–24. They met the year before that, too, in Los Angeles, and UCLA won by an even wider margin, 66–10.

    Houston's last victory over UCLA was in 1979, when the Cougars opened the season with a 24–16 win in Los Angeles. Houston went on to win the Southwest Conference title and played Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl. UCLA went 5–6.

    The '70s were good to Houston, at least as far as its football games with UCLA were concerned. In 1977, Houston beat UCLA, 17–13, even though the Cougars limped to a 6–5 finish that year.

    But the fact remains that Houston hasn't beaten UCLA in more than 30 years. Can the Cougars win this time? I'm going to say no. UCLA will win.

  • Louisville at #25 Oregon State: These schools last met in 2005, when Louisville prevailed at home, 63–27. Now Oregon State gets to return the favor and be the host.

    There are some other differences, too. This time, Oregon State is ranked and Louisville is not.

    I'll go with Oregon State.
Last week: 16–4.

Season: 37–5.

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