Thursday, October 27, 2011

Redemption Saturday

I suspect that the thoughts of most college football fans this weekend will be on the LSU–Alabama showdown that is coming up next weekend.

And, in the aftermath of Oklahoma's loss to Texas Tech last week, talk has even surfaced that LSU and Alabama might meet again for the national championship. But, in the spirit that has led previous weekends to be dubbed things like "Road Test Saturday," I think this weekend should be known as "Redemption Saturday" because so many teams can find at least a modicum of redemption in their games.

Just because they can find redemption in those games does not mean, of course, that they will. And that, I suppose, is what keeps us tuning in.

Idle: #1 LSU, #2 Alabama, #5 Boise State, #24 Cincinnati

  • Rice at #18 Houston, 7 p.m. (Central) on FSN: "Home field advantage" really seems like a misnomer for this series.

    I mean, both campuses are in the city of Houston so it is never much of a road trip for the visiting team — whichever team that happens to be.

    The schools have been playing annually since 1999, and it's been a pretty even series — 7–5 in Houston's favor.

    But I really can't see how this year's version can be close. I expect Houston to win by a margin in double digits.
  • Baylor at #3 Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Baylor has lost five in a row to Oklahoma State and hasn't won at Stillwater since 1939.

    There haven't been many times when OSU has been ranked higher than its in–state rival from Norman, especially when OU has a team that is clearly talented and may well be better than OSU. That question will be answered when the teams play in early December.

    In the meantime, the Cowboys can be forgiven for enjoying their present position ahead of OU in the national food chain. And my guess is they will be extremely hesitant to yield it — even though the Bears, who opened the season strongly but stumbled in recent weeks, have some redemption of their own in mind.

    The Bears might find some redemption against other teams on their remaining schedule, but I don't think they will find any in Stillwater. Oklahoma State should prevail.

  • #4 Stanford at #20 USC, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: In the last 20 years, this series has been about as close as it can be, with USC winning 11 times and Stanford winning nine.

    In recent years, it has tilted to Stanford. The Cardinal have won the last two meetings and have only lost at USC twice since 1999.

    History, rankings and general statistics all suggest this game will be won by Stanford — and so do I — but I think the final margin might be closer than a lot of people think.

  • #6 Clemson at Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: If Saturday truly is a day of possible redemption, Georgia Tech must certainly be near the top of the list.

    The Yellow Jackets were 6–0, but consecutive losses to Virginia and Miami (Florida) knocked them out of the Top 25.

    Now, Clemson is coming to town — where Tech is 53–22 overall since 2000 and 7–3 against Clemson in the last two decades.

    It won't be an easy game for the Tigers. In fact, I'm going to predict that Georgia Tech will win in an upset.

  • Washington State at #7 Oregon, 2 p.m. (Central) on FSN: Since 1991, Oregon is 14–6 against Washington State.

    And, frankly, there is no reason for anyone to think that Washington State is capable of winning this time.

    What baffles me is why anyone — other than Oregon fans — would want to spend time watching this game when there are so many more intriguing options.

  • #8 Arkansas at Vanderbilt, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: This is only the sixth time these teams have played since becoming conference rivals in 1992.

    Arkansas is 4–1 against Vandy in those previous encounters — with the only setback coming in Fayetteville. The teams played three times before becoming members of the same conference, and Arkansas won two of those games. The loss came in Little Rock.

    So, since 1949, Arkansas is 6–2 against Vanderbilt overall — and 3–0 in Nashville — and I'm not inclined to think the Commodores are going to end their skid. They may be 4–3 so far, but their only SEC win has come against Ole Miss.
    The Razorbacks might struggle if they don't remain focused, but I think Arkansas should win by a couple of touchdowns.

  • #9 Michigan State at #13 Nebraska, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Michigan State's victory over Wisconsin must have been intoxicating for the Spartans, but they should not be too carried away.

    Their record against Nebraska is not extensive — only three games, including the 2003 Alamo Bowl — but they are still looking for their first win over the Cornhuskers.

    Being at home might help, but, in the end, I expect Nebraska to wear down the Spartans — and that would be true wherever the game was being played.

  • #11 Oklahoma at #10 Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Oklahoma certainly will be seeking at least a measure of redemption after losing at home to Texas Tech last week.

    Kansas State seems like a good place for the Sooners to start seeking redemption, too. They've won more than three–quarters of their games with the Wildcats and, even though they have been more successful in Norman than Manhattan, in the long run, it really doesn't matter. Oklahoma has won its last six regular–season games with KSU.

    And I believe the streak will continue. Oklahoma by 10.

  • #12 Wisconsin at Ohio State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Wisconsin, most assuredly, will be seeking redemption after losing to Michigan State on a truly weird play, but history does not suggest that Columbus, Ohio, is the place for the Badgers to find it.

    Wisconsin will be playing its 39th game in Columbus and will be seeking only its eighth win.

    That knowledge might encourage some Ohio State fans. It might even motivate some of the Buckeye players. But the truth is that this is not the most talented team Ohio State has fielded in recent years — not even close, really — and emotion can only carry a team so far.

    In the end, I think that Wisconsin will win — but Ohio State will hold the margin to single digits.

  • #14 South Carolina at Tennessee, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Historically, Knoxville is not the place a South Carolina team wants to play, whether it is seeking redemption or not.

    The Gamecocks are 1–14 all time on Tennessee's field.

    It's a tough choice for me, but I'll stick with Tennessee at home.

  • #15 Virginia Tech at Duke, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ABC: It might come as a surprise to you, but Duke actually has a slight edge over Virginia Tech in games that have been played in North Carolina.

    But Tech has beaten Duke on the last four occasions that the Hokies visited the Blue Devils and hasn't lost to Duke since 1981.

    I expect Virginia Tech to win by a couple of touchdowns.

  • Missouri at #16 Texas A&M, 11 a.m. (Central) on FX: Nearly two–thirds of the games between these schools have been played since they became conference rivals in the mid–1990s.

    A&M won the first six games, but Missouri has won four of the last five.

    Missouri also was more highly regarded earlier in the season and might be seeking a measure of redemption of its own. If so, I don't think the Tigers will find it in College Station.

    But I don't think it will be an easy win for the Aggies. Give me Texas A&M by six.

  • Purdue at #17 Michigan, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: I can't remember the last time Michigan was ranked this deep into the football season.

    It was probably before Purdue's most recent victory in Ann Arbor, which was in 2009.

    That's a little misleading, though. Before that win in 2009, Purdue hadn't won a game at Michigan since the 1960s.

    In fact, Purdue's record in Ann Arbor is pathetic — only five victories in 31 games.

    Purdue was having a largely unimpressive season until the Boilermakers upended Illinois last week. They aren't ranked — and they aren't likely to be, even if they beat Michigan on Saturday — but they can get some momentum going.

    Can and will are two different things, though. Yes, the Boilermakers can, but, no, they won't. Michigan by a couple of touchdowns.

  • Iowa State at #19 Texas Tech, 6 p.m. (Central) on FSN: This will be the 10th game between these schools, and Iowa State has never beaten Tech in Lubbock.

    Iowa State has beaten Tech twice — most recently, last year — but both of those wins came at home. The Cyclones are 0–5 in Lubbock.

    I think it is highly unlikely that the Cyclones will win this time, either. I expect Texas Tech to win by 20 points.

  • Illinois at #21 Penn State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: The Illini probably rated as most people's surprise team of 2011 as they got off to a 6–0 start, but consecutive losses to Ohio State and Purdue dropped them from the rankings.

    Meanwhile, Penn State has re–emerged as a member of the Top 25 after dropping out in the wake of the Nittany Lions' loss to Alabama last month.

    This seems like a good opportunity for the Illini to redeem themselves. If they win at Penn State, it will be their second in a row — after losing in their first six trips there.

    Yep, that would be a great story line. A winning streak at Happy Valley certainly would suggest that times are changing at Illinois. And maybe they are.

    But ... not so fast, my friend, as Lee Corso would say. The times aren't changing that quickly. And I think Penn State will win by six.

  • #22 Georgia vs. Florida at Jacksonville, Fla., at 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: I don't know if it predates tailgating, but the Georgia–Florida rivalry has become known as "the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."

    It is one of the few neutral–site rivalries that is still played, and it has been called "the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" since a Florida sports editor coined that phrase more than half a century ago — which means it probably does predate the concept of tailgating if not the actual practice (whether it had a name or not).

    Anyway, this will be either the 89th or 90th edition of this rivalry — the schools can't agree on whether to count the very first game, which was played in 1904 in Macon, Ga. The Georgia athletic department counts it, but Florida does not because it was not the University of Florida that we know today but one of its ancestor institutions, Florida Agricultural College.

    The schools do agree that Georgia has won more games than Florida, and it is a matter of record that Florida is 18–3 against Georgia since 1990 — with victories in five of the last six games.

    I think this game will be very competitive, very entertaining. And I think it will go down to the wire. But the momentum is with the Gators in this series these days so I'll take Florida — but only by a point or two.

  • Colorado at #23 Arizona State: This is only the third meeting between these two schools, but Colorado is still looking for its first victory over the Sun Devils.

    My guess is that the Buffs will still be looking for that first victory when the weekend is over. I'll take Arizona State.

  • #25 West Virginia at Rutgers, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: West Virginia has thoroughly dominated its series with Rutgers — to an extent that few teams dominate another.

    The Mountaineers have won 16 straight against Rutgers. Make that 17 for West Virginia.
Last week: 12–6

Season: 132–28

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