Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Seems Like Old Times

This weekend brings a revival of some great rivalries in college football.

Notre Dame and Michigan will face each other this weekend in the latest chapter of a rivalry that goes back to the 19th century, and the Southeastern Conference will be showcasing a couple of important clashes, too.

But Penn State and Alabama has to be the most magical matchup of the weekend.

For some folks, the cup is half empty. Steve Greenberg of The Sporting News complains that it is the only game between two ranked teams, but, after all, that is hardly by design. Schedules are made months, if not years, ahead of time.

What's more, it wouldn't be the only game between ranked teams if not for the fickle nature of early poll voting. Defending national champion Auburn won its opener — unimpressively — and fell from the rankings.

Two games between ranked opponents would be pretty good for this stage of the season — when most conference schedules have not yet begun and most contenders are content to play clearly inferior foes as a way to pad their individual statistics.

Penn State–Alabama, coming one week after the LSU–Oregon and Boise State–Georgia tilts, isn't too shabby for the second weekend in September.

Alabama coach Lou Saban has been respectful of the Nittany Lions. He is 3–3 against Penn State and says he expects a challenge when the Crimson Tide takes the field in Happy Valley.

It may be the only Top 25 matchup this week, but it's not a bad one. Enjoy.

Idle: #1 Oklahoma, #4 Boise State, #7 Texas A&M, #20 Baylor.

  • Arizona at #9 Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This was the matchup that concluded both teams' seasons last year — a date in the Alamo Bowl, which Oklahoma State won, 36–10.

    Two meetings in the same calendar year is a clear trend in this series. Before that Alamo Bowl, I think you have to go back to FDR's administration to find the last time they met on the gridiron.

    But little attention is being paid to it in Stillwater, Okla., where OSU coach Mike Gundy has been emphasizing the Cowboys' long–term future in the Big 12 and the short–term outlook for quarterback Brandon Weeden, who threw three interceptions against Louisiana–Lafayette last week — two of which were returned for touchdowns.

    Gundy thinks Weeden will be just fine — and I'm inclined to agree. I expect Oklahoma State to win the game.
  • #21 Missouri at Arizona State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: It's been more than 20 years since Missouri and Arizona State played a football game.

    They met in a two–year, home–and–away series in 1989 and 1990, with each team winning its home game. Neither team was very good in those days.

    They're better now, and I think the game will be better than many people think it will. I'll take Missouri — but by a touchdown or less.
  • Northwestern State at #2 LSU: This won't be the first time the teams have faced each other, but it might as well be. They last met in 1942; LSU won, 40–0.

    Before that, they met in 1937. LSU won that one, too, 52–0. Before that, they played in 1926. LSU won that one as well, 47–0. LSU also won in 1925 (27–0), 1924 (40–0), 1923 (40–0), 1922 (13–0), 1921 (78–0) and 1920 (34–0). LSU also won in 1911 (46–0).

    Like the game this Saturday, all those other games were played in Baton Rouge. And I am certain that, like all those other times, LSU will win. The only question is, will Northwestern State finally score?

  • #3 Alabama at #23 Penn State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: It's funny how things change over the years.

    When I was growing up, Alabama–Penn State was a marquee matchup: the Bear vs. JoePa, both teams in the Top 10 if not the Top 5, probably a Heisman candidate or two.

    It's still a big–name game, but it has lost some of its luster. When I was growing up, for example, you never saw those two teams on the same field unless they were playing in a bowl game (and those bowl dates were pretty rare).

    A couple of years before Bear Bryant retired (and then died), Alabama and Penn State started playing each other during the regular season, and they continued to do so until 1990 — but they didn't meet again until last season, when Penn State visited the defending national champion Crimson Tide and got walloped, 24–3.

    I think both teams are overrated, but Alabama deserves to be in the Top 10. I'm not sure Penn State belongs in the Top 25. And I'll pick Alabama to win.

  • Charleston Southern at #5 Florida State, 5 p.m. (Central) on I don't think these schools have a history.

    But does it matter? I expect Florida State to win handily.

  • #6 Stanford at Duke, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: It's been nearly 40 years since Duke hosted Stanford in a football game.

    The schools met in 1971 and 1972, just after the only Heisman Trophy winner in Stanford history (quarterback Jim Plunkett) made his professional debut. Today, Stanford has what may be its second Heisman–winning quarterback in Andrew Luck.

    Could that be a lucky sign for Stanford? Could be. I'll take Stanford.

  • Oregon State at #8 Wisconsin: Oregon State has played some quality nonconference opposition in recent years — TCU and Boise State last year, Cincinnati and BYU in 2009, Utah in 2008, not to mention Oregon and Southern Cal darn near every year.

    And Oregon State usually gives as good as it gets — but rarely do the Beavers win those games. And, frankly, I think the Badgers have more than they need to win this one — including their typically boisterous home crowd. I'll take Wisconsin.

  • Fresno State at #10 Nebraska, 6 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Fresno State tends to field a competitive team, but let's be candid here.

    When you're playing at Nebraska, you're playing on a big–time stage, and Fresno doesn't usually win those. Sometimes, FSU comes close, but I don't expect that to happen this time. I'll go with Nebraska.

  • #11 Virginia Tech at East Carolina, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FSN: This will be the fifth straight year these schools have played each other in football — and East Carolina did win one, in 2008 when they opened the season in Charlotte, N.C.

    But Virginia Tech has won the last two meetings and I suspect the Hokies will win this one, too.

  • #12 South Carolina at Georgia, 3:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: South Carolina is only 6–13 against Georgia since joining the Southeastern Conference in 1992.

    But, after advancing to their first SEC Championship game last season, the Gamecocks (who beat Georgia at home last year) appear to be on the brink of their second win at Georgia in the last 10 years.

    I believe South Carolina will win the game — but narrowly.

  • Nevada at #13 Oregon, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FX: These schools have never been regular opponents, but this meeting will end an eight–year drought.

    Their last meeting was on Sept. 6, 2003, on Oregon's turf, the same place where they will play this Saturday. Oregon won that one, by the way, 31–23. Prior to that, the schools opened the 2000 season (again, on Oregon's field), and the Ducks prevailed that time, too, 36–7.

    They met the year before that, in 1999, and Oregon recorded what is probably the most lopsided win in the series' history — 72–10.

    I think Oregon will win this time, too, but not by 62 points — probably more like 10.

  • New Mexico at #14 Arkansas, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: These teams haven't faced each other since 1987, when Arkansas beat a winless New Mexico squad in Little Rock, the same place they will meet on Saturday.

    They played in Little Rock in 1983 — and Arkansas won that one, too.

    And, as nearly as I can tell, that's been it for the series. Not much to go on.

    But here is something that is worth remembering: Arkansas doesn't play as many games in Little Rock as it did when I was growing up, but, with the exception of a couple of losses to LSU, Arkansas hasn't lost in Little Rock since 1997, and it hasn't lost a nonconference game there since 1993.

    Arkansas should win by a wide margin.

  • Toledo at #15 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: These schools have met twice before — in 1998 and 2009 — and Toledo has yet to score on the Buckeyes.

    I expect Ohio State to win by at least three touchdowns — and I haven't a clue whether Toledo will finally score.

  • #16 Mississippi State at Auburn, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: There have been times in the history of this series when Mississippi State has held the upper hand, but not in the first decade of the 21st century.

    Auburn won nine of the last 10 meetings (the exception was 2007), but many people think that period of dominance may be about to end. MSU has been on the rise, and observers felt all along that Auburn would drop off after losing Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton to the NFL — but I don't think anyone expected Utah State to take Auburn to the wire in the opener.

    That suggests to me that Auburn's 16–game winning streak is in jeopardy. The Tigers' stay in the Top 25 has already ended, and I'll take Mississippi State to prevail.

  • Florida Atlantic at #17 Michigan State: This will be the third time these teams have met since 2008.

    Michigan State won the first two games, and I fully expect the Spartans to win this time, by four or five touchdowns.

  • UAB at #18 Florida, 6 p.m. (Central) on FSSouth: On Aug. 31, 2002, UAB and Florida met in the season opener, and Florida roared to a 51–3 victory.

    Florida won a couple of national titles and a Heisman Trophy in the years that followed. UAB had one winning season.

    I expect Florida to win.

  • Norfolk State at #19 West Virginia, noon (Central) on Big East Network: There really isn't much to say about this game — except that something is wrong if West Virginia doesn't beat Norfolk State by about five touchdowns.

  • Ball State at #22 South Florida, 6 p.m. (Central) on Big East Network: Ball State is hardly a football powerhouse, having won more games than it lost only five times in the last 20 years.

    South Florida, however, may well be an emerging powerhouse.

    Granted, beating Notre Dame doesn't necessarily qualify as the ultimate test for a program — but it was when Lou Holtz, who happens to be the father of South Florida's coach, was running the show in South Bend.

    Anyway, while Notre Dame probably does not deserve to be in the rankings, South Florida probably does — and I expect South Florida to defeat Ball State by about 20 points.

  • Brigham Young at #24 Texas, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These schools haven't faced each other since the waning days of the Reagan administration.

    BYU was considered something of a powerhouse in those days; Texas, not so much. Anyway, BYU beat UT in back–back seasons in 1987 and 1988.

    Things are a bit different now. Texas comes into this game with a Top 25 ranking and BYU comes into it unranked so I suppose the roles have been reversed — but BYU got some support in the latest poll and could catapult into the rankings by knocking off the Longhorns.

    I think that is possible because I believe that Texas, which lost seven of its last nine games in 2010, is overrated — and BYU is the kind of team that could expose the Longhorns for what they are. You can't really learn anything from a Texas squad that opened the season with a home win over Rice.

    This week's game is a much greater test, and I think Brigham Young will pass it.

  • #25 TCU at Air Force, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Versus: TCU has won five of six games with Air Force since they became conference rivals in 2005.

    And TCU, which was 36–3 from 2008 to 2010, is smarting from its loss to Baylor last week.

    As I have mentioned here before, neither school was very strong when I was growing up. But times have changed, and TCU hasn't lost back–to–back games since September 2007.

    TCU has struggled in its games at Air Force. The Frogs won a 20–17 battle in 2009 and lost by the same score in 2007. I expect another close one, but I'll pick TCU to prevail.
Last week: 21–2

Season: 21–2

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