In many ways, the 2011 Oklahoma Sooners are the Rodney Dangerfields of college football.
They don't get no respect.
It's tough, as I have observed here recently, to be the preseason #1, as the Sooners were this year, with all the expectations that designation carries with it — and many sports writers have been speculating about when, not if OU would lose.
That isn't unreasonable. The Sooners will face several quality opponents this season, most of whom are ranked and some others who could be if things fall just right.
I, too, am skeptical about their chances of having a perfect season. I believe the top–ranked Sooners can be beaten, possibly more than once.
But I'm skeptical of all the perceived contenders' chances of going undefeated. Frankly, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the national championship game doesn't come down to two one–loss teams this year.
I don't know — and neither does anyone else — whether Oklahoma will be one of those two teams. But I think it is definitely possible that, if it is OU's destiny to be one of two one–loss teams playing for the national title, this game with Florida State could be OU's one loss.
For that matter, it could be Florida State's only loss.
John Shinn of the Norman (Okla.) Transcript writes that the Sooners are eager to make a statement in this road trip.
I'm sure their hosts are just as eager to make a statement. Should be a fun game to watch.
No one in the Top 25 is idle this week.
- #3 LSU at #25 Mississippi State, 7 p.m. on ESPN: LSU has won 11 in a row against Mississippi State.
MSU's last victory in the series came in 1999 in Starkville, Miss., where they will be playing this year.
Mississippi State gave Auburn a good run for its money last week, and I'm inclined to think the same thing will happen this week. LSU usually beats MSU by a double–digit margin, but I think MSU will keep it within a TD this time.
LSU still will win.
- #4 Boise State at Toledo, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These two schools met last year, and Boise State won easily, 57–14.
It won't be that easy this time, but I still think Boise State will prevail by 10 points, at least.
- #1 Oklahoma at #5 Florida State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the second time these teams have met since OU beat FSU for the national title on Jan. 3, 2001. They played in Norman on Sept. 11 last year, and the Sooners cruised to a 47–17 victory.
I think this will be the first time Florida State has ever hosted Oklahoma. They met in a couple of Orange Bowls in the late 1970s and early 1980s (OU won both), and the Sooners won a home game against the Seminoles in 1976, but that's it.
I'm not convinced that OU can go unbeaten, but, at this stage of the season, I think the Sooners can beat Florida State by, perhaps, a touchdown.
- North Texas at #2 Alabama, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on FSN: I got my B.A. at Arkansas and my M.A. at North Texas.
Those are Alabama's next two foes — starting with North Texas this week — so I expect to be pulling against Alabama a lot in the foreseeable future.
Alabama and Arkansas are Southeastern Conference rivals so they have been playing every year for nearly two decades now. North Texas is not in the SEC, but 'Bama and UNT have met before — in 2009, in fact, North Texas came to Tuscaloosa and got hammered, 53–7, in Alabama's most recent national championship season.
Six years earlier, North Texas came to Alabama and lost, 33–7.
The last meeting before that was in 1995. Again, Alabama prevailed, 38–19. And that, I believe, is the extent of this series.
Most football fans probably aren't interested, but UNT happens to have one of the largest student bodies in the state of Texas. A new stadium has been unveiled on campus this season.
I suppose the one I used to go to when I was a graduate student there has been demolished, and my guess is that the new facility has a number of advantages over the old one, but I suspect that the seating capacity is not that much greater than it was in the old one.
And most of those seats were empty when the football team played.
I went to several games there when I was a graduate student, and — at best — about one–third of the seats were filled on any occasion. That is because UNT, being so close to Dallas and Fort Worth, was mostly a commuter school when I was there, and I imagine it remains that way today. Relatively few students remained in town on weekends; thus, a small segment of the student population attended football games there.
If the UNT football team could bring big–name opposition to Denton, it would be a huge boost for the school and the city. But that probably isn't economically feasible for any major football team that can't get there by bus in a few hours.
Nevertheless, I think a pattern has been established from the games that have been played between the schools. And no one in Denton seems to be suggesting that North Texas might be on the verge of reversing that pattern. The Denton Record–Chronicle sees week–to–week improvement in UNT's 0–2 start — but nothing that even remotely suggests that North Texas has a prayer of leaving Tuscaloosa without that goose egg in the win column.
Considering that Alabama is a contender for the national title and UNT is a contender for, well, nothing much, I expect Alabama to win by a wide margin.
- #6 Stanford at Arizona, 9:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Stanford has had the upper hand lately, but this series has been quite competitive in the last 20 years. Arizona holds a 9–7 edge.
Arizona, which actually has been more successful at Stanford than at home, did beat Stanford the last time they played at Arizona, 43–38 in 2009.
I don't expect history to repeat itself. I expect Stanford to win the game, but I think the margin might be just as close.
- #7 Wisconsin at Northern Illinois, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN3.com: This will be the fourth time since 1992 that these schools have met, and Wisconsin has won all of the previous three games.
It may be hard to believe now, but Northern Illinois actually enjoyed a period of dominance over Wisconsin, beating the Badgers in 1977, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1988. NIU also got the better of Wisconsin in the early 1970s.
But that's ancient history in this series. I think Wisconsin will make it four in a row, probably by a margin of a couple of touchdowns.
- #8 Oklahoma State at Tulsa, 9 p.m. (Central) on FSN: Tulsa has lost four straight to OSU, with its last win coming at home in 1998.
In fact, on the occasions when these teams have played in Tulsa, it's been quite competitive since the mid–1970s. In the last 35 years, Tulsa is 6–4 on its home turf against Oklahoma State (in Stillwater, OSU is 13–0 against Tulsa during the same time period).
I don't expect Tulsa to win — I believe Oklahoma State will win — but I do expect it to be close. Might come down to a field goal.
- Idaho at #9 Texas A&M: Idaho has had one winning season in the last decade. The Aggies, meanwhile, appear to be on the upswing.
All things considered, I expect Texas A&M to win the game by close to 30 points.
- Washington at #10 Nebraska, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the teams' seventh regular–season meeting since 1967, and Nebraska has won the last three.
That would suggest that the Cornhuskers, who have won at least nine games in each of the last three seasons, should be able to handle Washington, which hasn't won nine or more games in a season in more than a decade.
But Washington actually won the teams' last encounter — in last December's Holiday Bowl. Was that an aberration? Or was it a sign of an impending shift in the times?
I'm inclined to say it was the former. Nebraska should win at home.
- Navy at #11 South Carolina, 5 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These schools last met in 1988 when South Carolina was still an independent. The Gamecocks won that game, 19–8.
South Carolina also won a home game with Navy in 1985, 34–31 — but lost at Annapolis in 1984, 38–21. And South Carolina beat Navy at home in 1982 and 1983.
If Navy wins at South Carolina, it will be the first time that has happened since 1955.
I feel pretty confident in asserting that South Carolina will win.
- Missouri State at #12 Oregon: I really don't expect much from Missouri State in this one.
And there really isn't much to say about it.
The Oregon media doesn't seem to have much to say about it. And, when the game is over, I doubt the Missouri State players will be eager to repeat it.
I pick Oregon.
- Arkansas State at #13 Virginia Tech, 3 p.m. (Central) on FSN: These teams haven't faced each other since the Hispanic Coaches Classic in August of 2002. Virginia Tech won that game, 63–7.
Prior to that, Tech beat ASU 50–0 in 1997 and 34–7 in 1994.
My point is that they don't play each other often, but, when they do, Tech usually wins by a wide margin.
And, unless the Hokies take their eyes off the ball, I expect Virginia Tech to win this one, too — again, by a wide margin.
- Troy at #14 Arkansas, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on CSS: The Razorbacks are 3–0 against Troy since 2002, and they have rolled up more than 50 points in each of their first two games of 2011.
Troy should not be overlooked, though. While its football program has only been in Division I–A for 10 years, it defeated a BCS school in its fifth game as a I–A school — and it beat a ranked BCS foe in its fourth season. Troy capped that fourth season with its first–ever bowl appearance and is currently 3–3 in postseason bowls.
A trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala. — Arkansas' first road trip of the season — looms next week, but as long as the Razorbacks remain focused on the task at hand, I think they will win by about three touchdowns.
- #15 Michigan State at Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: The buildup for this game is almost sure to focus on the recent death of Bubba Smith, who led Michigan State's defense in the infamous 1966 clash with Notre Dame.
This game won't be #1 vs. #2 like it was 45 years ago, but it is usually exciting, and the Notre Dame coach insists that the Irish are moving in the right direction. That could be dismissed as a coach's bravado, but I think he makes some valid points.
Michigan State has won 10 of the 14 games between the schools since 1997, but more than half of those games have been decided by a touchdown or less.
I think this one will be close, too — and, despite the fact that Notre Dame has stumbled to an 0–2 start, I'm going to predict that Notre Dame will pull off the upset.
- Tennessee at #16 Florida, 2:30 p.m. on CBS: Florida has a six–game winning streak in this series and has won 75% of the time since 1991.
I think that says a lot about the current state of both schools' football programs, especially in recent years. Florida has contended for — and won — both team and individual recognition while Tennessee has struggled to break even in most of the last six seasons.
It's rare for any SEC team to dominate another as consistently as Florida has dominated Tennessee — and it is important to remember that Tennessee was a frequent contender for national titles in the 1990s, even when the Volunteers lost to the Gators.
The Volunteers insist they are not intimidated by the fact that Tennessee hasn't beaten Florida since 2004. I believe a victory in this game would signal a genuine turning point for the Tennessee program, but I don't believe that is going to happen. Not in Gainesville, where Florida is 10–2 against Tennessee since 1977.
Florida should win by 10.
- #17 Ohio State at Miami (Florida), 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be only the second time these schools have met since their thrilling overtime battle for the national championship in January 2003.
They played in Columbus last year, and OSU prevailed, 36–24.
They didn't have an extensive history before that Fiesta Bowl game in 2003. They met in the 1999 Kickoff Classic, and Miami won that game, 23–12. Before that, their last meeting came when Woody Hayes was still the coach of the Buckeyes.
But this year they are bound by their mutual reputations for being college football's bad boys — and the (arguably) worst of the bad boys, the Hurricanes of Miami, will have the home field advantage.
Sometimes, life doesn't seem fair especially since Ohio State knew before last year's Sugar Bowl that the Buckeyes would be without nearly half a dozen players in the first half of the 2011 season, including one–time Heisman hopeful Terrelle Pryor.
But, even though Ohio State doesn't have Pryor anymore — he went back on his pledge to stay in Columbus for his senior year and jumped to the NFL's Oakland Raiders, the bad boys of pro football — it hardly matters since he would have been serving his five–game suspension, anyway.
I expect the game to be close, but, in the end, I think Ohio State will win the game.
- #18 West Virginia at Maryland, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: West Virginia owns a five–game winning streak against Maryland.
But that's rather long in this series, which usually sees success shift from one side to the other in two– or three–year bursts.
And I'm going to predict that the pendulum will swing back in Maryland's direction. After all, the Terps have won three of their last five home games against West Virginia.
- Stephen F. Austin at #19 Baylor: I think these teams haven't met since 1947.
But I doubt that it matters. Even if SFA had a decade's worth of recent Baylor game footage, I doubt that it would alter the outcome. I expect Baylor to win the game.
- Florida A&M at #20 South Florida, 6 p.m. (Central) on Big East Network: South Florida cruised past Florida A&M the last time they met — in 2005.
I have no reason to think South Florida will not do so again.
- #21 Auburn at Clemson, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: It might seem to you that this is something of a natural regional rivalry. Well, it seemed that way to me, anyway — until I looked into the history of the series.
And the truth is that this will be only the fifth time these teams have met in the last 40 years — and two of those games were postseason bowls.
There was a time when they played somewhat regularly — in the late 1940s, early 1950s and most of the 1960s — but things were so lopsided in Auburn's favor that I suppose Clemson decided there really was no upside. And, in fact, Clemson hasn't beaten Auburn in more than 60 years.
Will that change this Saturday? I'm inclined to think that it will. Despite its recent success, Auburn is not the team it was last year when it won the national title — and Clemson appears to be a better team than the 6–7 team it was last year. In what may be a mild upset, I take Clemson — by a point or two.
- #22 Arizona State at Illinois, 6 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: No matter what happens the rest of this season, Arizona State earned a spot on the 2011 highlight reel with its exciting victory over Missouri last week.
Whatever the Sun Devils may have in mind for their encore probably won't make it, though, simply because the schedule did not bless ASU with a bitter rival or a highly ranked foe this week. Arizona State and Illinois haven't played since 1988 — and the Illini haven't been too accomplished in recent years (this season, they might be best remembered for being the most recent team to defeat Baylor, which they did in last year's Texas Bowl).
I think Arizona State has what it takes to turn back Illinois, but I think it will be close.
- Louisiana–Monroe at #23 TCU, 1 p.m. (Central) on The Mtn.: When I was growing up, if you wanted to know how a TCU football team would respond to a loss, you simply looked at its performance the previous weekend.
But that was the old TCU, not the one that went 36–3 in the last three years. The modern TCU responds to losses like its opening–weekend loss at Baylor, by punishing its next opponent — and the Horned Frogs did that against Air Force, which is probably more impressive than it sounds.
Folks of my generation and earlier remember the Air Force squads that habitually struggled to win three or four games a year, but, like TCU, Air Force has enjoyed more success in recent years, winning at least eight games in each of the last four seasons.
Beating Air Force was an accomplishment for TCU. Beating Louisiana–Monroe will not be, but that's who is next on the schedule, and I expect TCU to win by a wide margin.
- #24 Texas at UCLA, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: UCLA has beaten Texas the last three times the schools have faced each other.
And some folks in California think the key to a fourth straight win may be the Longhorns' instability at quarterback.
Historically, Bruins fans may have no reason to worry. You have to go back four decades — to 1971 — to find Texas' last victory over UCLA.
Forty years of futility don't go down well in Texas, even as rarely as these schools play, and folks in Austin are probably more interested these days in avoiding a severe wildfire threat, but the Longhorns seem to be intent on rekindling their last experience at the Rose Bowl.
There may be no good reason for doing so, but I'm going to predict that Texas ends that 40–year drought.