Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Return of the Red River Rivalry

For a long time, it was known as the "Red River Shootout."

But then I guess someone objected to the use of the word shootout. I suppose it evoked imagery that was too violent.

Too violent for football? That is kind of a strange concept, isn't it?

Well, anyway, for the last five or six years, it has been known as the "Red River Rivalry."

I guess that minor name change doesn't really mean anything. I mean, I've lived in Oklahoma and I live in Texas, and I know one thing about the series between OU and UT — the fans of the respective schools will hate each other no matter what their annual clash in the Cotton Bowl is called.

A rose by any other name ...

But it just wouldn't be the same if the game wasn't played in Dallas. Oklahoma and Texas have been playing in Dallas since Herbert Hoover was president. It's a tradition. The actual Cotton Bowl game is no longer played in the Cotton Bowl stadium, but the OU–Texas game is and, for some folks, that's all that matters.

Nevertheless, the schools apparently are talking about moving the game when the current contract expires in a few years.

Idle: #4 Wisconsin

  • California at #9 Oregon, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Oregon generally beats California — but not always and not always easily, either.

    Last year, for example, when Oregon went unbeaten during the regular season and played Auburn for the national title, Cal barely lost to Oregon, 15–13, It was, by far, Oregon's worst scoring performance of the year.

    I don't really expect that this time. Last year, Oregon was known for its explosive offense. Being held to 15 points by the Bears was like a slap in the face, and I expect Oregon to make up for that in a big way.
  • #5 Boise State at Fresno State, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Boise State has won nine out of 10 games with Fresno State since 2001.

    But that single exception came where they will meet on Friday — Bulldog Stadium in Fresno.

    Fresno, however, couldn't top a woeful Ole Miss team there last week. It would take a miracle worthy of inclusion in the Bible for the Bulldogs to win this game. And I don't think that's in the cards.

    Some people will tell you that miracles happen all the time, and, if that is true, then there is reason for Fresno to hope. But I expect Boise State to win by more than three touchdowns
  • #17 Florida at #1 LSU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Fans of the SEC like to point out that teams from the conference have won five consecutive national titles.

    Fans of the LSU and Florida programs will tell you that, in three of those five years, the winner of the LSU–Florida game went on to win the national championship.

    Back in the 1990s, Florida tended to dominate this series — as it dominated most of its series with SEC teams.

    But, in the last 10 years, each team has won five times, and each has won on the other's home field. When Florida last traveled to Baton Rouge, the Gators beat the Tigers; in fact, they have won four of the last six times they've visited LSU.

    But the good news for the top–ranked Tigers is that, when they won the national title in 2007, they played Florida in Baton Rouge and won. It was close — 28–24 — but the Tigers still won the game and, as I say, went on to win it all.

    It was probably always going to be a challenge for the Gators to think they could face down this LSU team on the road, but the task became even greater this week when it was revealed that the Gators' starting quarterback, a senior, is injured and a freshman will be pressed into service.

    The Gators are good — better than the score of last week's Alabama game would suggest — but they aren't good enough to overcome that. I expect LSU to win by a couple of touchdowns.

  • Vanderbilt at #2 Alabama, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: In the last couple of weeks, the Alabama defense has made the potent offenses of Arkansas and Florida look like the Keystone Kops.

    If the Hogs and the Gators could fare no better than they did against the Crimson Tide, I can't imagine any scenario that might present itself on Saturday that could permit Vanderbilt to leave Tuscaloosa with a victory.

    Alabama has beaten Vanderbilt 20 consecutive times. The last time Vandy upended Alabama, Ronald Reagan was campaigning for a second term as president.

    I think Alabama will win this game and it might be out of hand by halftime.

  • #3 Oklahoma vs. #11 Texas at Dallas, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Only once since 2000 have these teams taken the field and only one was in the rankings.

    But this is Oklahoma–Texas. Rankings mean nothing in this game. Even so, it just seems wrong when either team enters this game unranked, which happened regularly in the mid– to late 1980s and early 1990s.

    It seems worse when neither team is ranked. When that happens — and it's only happened twice since the late 1960s — this game has no meaning at all except to the students and fans — and that really doesn't seem right.

    No chance of that this year, though. OU, once ranked #1, has dropped a few spots in the last few weeks only because LSU and Alabama have been so impressive and OU has been, well, rather ordinary. But OU is unbeaten and, if the top four or five remain basically unchanged, things will shake down eventually in the SEC — after all, somebody has to win the Alabama–LSU game on November 5, right? — and OU will be positioned to face the winner for the national title.

    But the Sooners have to be careful. Thoughts like that can lead to complacency, and that is precisely what you don't want in Red River Rivalry week.

    Texas is ranked 11th — not exactly what the Orangebloods would like but better than they had any right to expect when the Longhorns spun out of control in the last half of the 2010 season.

    And Cedric Golden writes in the Austin American–Statesman that the Longhorns relish their underdog role.

    "Texas has the look of an up–and–coming team after four straight wins," Golden writes, "but the Sooners have the look of a team that's already arrived."

    The fact that both teams are unbeaten and ranked makes this year's game must–see TV, writes Stewart Mandel in Sports Illustrated, and he is correct.

    But, when the smoke clears and the dust settles, I expect Oklahoma to prevail by a margin in double digits.

  • Kansas at #6 Oklahoma State: OSU has defeated Kansas in six of their last seven meetings. But the exception occurred in Stillwater, where the teams will meet on Saturday.

    I don't expect Kansas to duplicate that achievement. In fact, I expect Oklahoma State to win — and I don't think it will be close.

  • Colorado at #7 Stanford, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Versus: This will be the first meeting between these schools as conference rivals, but it won't be their first–ever encounter.

    They've met periodically over the years, the last time in 1993, when the schools squared off at Stanford, as they will on Saturday, and Stanford won the last time.

    I expect Stanford to win this time, too — and by about three touchdowns.

  • Boston College at #8 Clemson, 2 p.m. (Central) on RSN: After playing (and beating) Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech in succession, the undefeated Tigers are entitled to a breather.

    And 1–4 BC, with only a win over UMass to its credit, seems to fit the bill nicely.

    But wait a minute. The Eagles are 4–2 against the Tigers since 2005, including a 16–10 win last year, so a Clemson victory is hardly guaranteed.

    I think it will be closer than the records would suggest. I think Clemson will win — but by about 10 points.

  • #15 Auburn at #10 Arkansas, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: The first time these teams played as SEC rivals, the game ended in a tie.

    Perhaps that was a sign of things to come. In the 18 games they have played since then, Auburn holds a 10–8 lead over Arkansas. The Razorbacks did beat Auburn the last time the Tigers played in Fayetteville. But, overall, Auburn holds a 5–4 advantage over Arkansas in Fayetteville, and the Tigers won the three contests there before they lost the 2009 game.

    Home field really doesn't mean a lot in this series. Each team has beaten the other at home only twice in the last decade.

    Auburn won at home last year, but the game was enormously entertaining, with the teams combining for 108 points and more than 1,000 yards in total offense. The quarterbacks who started that game are in the NFL now, but Arkansas' new QB, Tyler Wilson, shattered his predecessor's school single–game passing record in the victory over Texas A&M last week.

    Wilson actually made his Razorback debut a year ago against Auburn, throwing for four touchdowns and more than 300 yards, but he was pressed into service when the starter, Ryan Mallett, went down with an injury and Auburn was already leading.

    He received plenty of credit for bringing Arkansas to within a single score, but Auburn pulled away in the end.

    He'll get to play from the first whistle this time, and I think he will be the difference, too, as Arkansas prevails by 13 points.

  • #12 Michigan at Northwestern, 6 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Michigan is 10–4 against Northwestern since 1991, but Northwestern won their last meeting.

    However, Michigan has not lost at Northwestern since 2000.

    And I don't think the Wolverines wil lose this one, either. I think the game will be close, and I think they will be beaten, perhaps more than once, before the season is over, but I believe Michigan will win this game.

  • Maryland at #13 Georgia Tech, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Maryland has struggled at Georgia Tech, winning only two of its last 10 games there.

    Maryland might give a valiant effort, but, in the end, I see no reason to think that the Terrapins can win the game. I believe Georgia Tech will win by eight points.

  • Ohio State at #14 Nebraska, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be Nebraska's first home game as a member of th Big Ten.

    It won't be the first time the Cornhuskers have played the Buckeyes — but it might as well be. Their last encounter, at Columbus, Ohio, was in 1956 — the day before the first anniversary of James Dean's fatal crash, for you trivia buffs out there. And, while it hardly has any relevance to 2011 and the teams that will take the field in Lincoln, Neb., Ohio State won that game more than 50 years ago, 34–7.

    Ohio State beat Nebraska in Columbus a couple of years before that — but I don't believe the Buckeyes have ever played in Lincoln.

    I think Nebraska will play better at home this week than it did last week at Wisconsin. And I think Ohio State is clearly not as good as it was last year.

    The margin may be in single digits, though. Give me Nebraska by about nine points.

  • Connecticut at #16 West Virginia, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big East Network: Connecticut is 1–6 against West Virginia since joining the Big East, and the Huskies have never beaten the Mountaineers on the road.

    UConn might have the horses to stay with West Virginia until the second half, but I expect West Virginia to win by about 12 points.

  • Kentucky at #18 South Carolina, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: When Kentucky upset South Carolina last year, it snapped a 10–year losing streak.

    And I just can't see Kentucky defeating South Carolina in football in consecutive years, especially since the rematch will be in South Carolina. I have no problem picturing Kentucky dominating South Carolina in basketball — but not in football.

    South Carolina should win this game by about 16 points.

  • #19 Illinois at Indiana, 1:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Illinois is 10–6 against Indiana since 1995.

    These schools have probably been accustomed to having their share of attention when they have played in basketball, but an experience like this during football season has ben rare, indeed.

    (I thought it was revealing that the Champaign–Urbana (Ill.) News–Gazette featured a picture of Hoosier ex–coach Bobby Knight throwing a chair at a basketball game as the illustration for the prediction in the football game. I would have thought the newspaper would post a photo of the 19th–ranked Illini in action.

    (I suppose that, if it weren't for the recent success of the NFL franchises in Chicago and Indianapolis, football season would have little meaning for many folks in those two states.)

    Well, I'll pick Illinois to win this game by about 13 points.

  • Missouri at #20 Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Missouri has beaten Kansas State five consecutive times, and that includes two straight wins at KSU.

    But, prior to that, KSU won eight straight home games against Missouri.

    Missouri seems to be slipping while K–State seems to be on its way up. For that reason, I'll take Kansas State

  • Miami (Fla.) at #21 Virginia Tech, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the 20th straight year these schools have met on the football field.

    In such a time period, few schools in recent decades can say they have beaten Miami more frequently than they have lost — but Virginia Tech can make that claim. The Hokies are 11–8 against Miami since 1992.

    What's more, the Hokies have won six of the last eight meetings.

    Virginia Tech should continue to dominate a Miami team that has plenty of distractions these days.

  • #22 Arizona State at Utah, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FSN: Utah is joining the Pac–12 this year so this is Utah's first conference game with Arizona State. But it isn't the first time the schools have faced each other.

    Their last encounter came in September 1993, when Arizona State blanked visiting Utah, 38–0. They also played in 1991 and four times in the 1980s — each time in Tempe — and Arizona State won each time.

    Things weren't any different when they played in Salt Lake City. The last time they did that, though, was in 1977. ASU won by nearly 30 points.

    The last time Utah beat ASU was about a week and a half after Jimmy Carter was elected president. The last time Utah beat ASU at home was nearly 40 years ago.

    While all those games are part of the fairly distant past, it's still going to be a challenge for the Utes, who have been much better in recent years, to win this game. They've struggled to a 2–2 record this year, but I'll predict a modest upset — Utah by a field goal.

  • #23 Florida State at Wake Forest, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ACC Network: It's a little hard for me to understand why Florida State is still in the Top 25.

    I mean, the Seminoles got off to a 2–0 start (with wins over Louisiana–Monroe and Charleston Southern), but then they lost to Oklahoma and Clemson and had a bye week last week.

    So FSU hasn't won a game since Sept. 10 and has been beaten twice by other ranked teams.

    Wake Forest has a better record (3–1) but is not ranked. Of course, the Demon Deacons haven't faced a ranked opponent yet, either — and, whereas Wake Forest had some good seasons in the middle of the last decade, they have been more apt to succeed in basketball than football.

    Head to head, Florida State is 16–3 against Wake Forest since 1992 and is 7–1 at Wake Forest during that time.

    I don't expect that trend to change. Florida State should defeat Wake Forest by about 12 points.

  • #24 Texas A&M at Texas Tech, 6 p.m. (Central) on FX: The Aggies must be reeling after blowing two significant halftime leads in the last two weeks and tumbling from the Top 10 to #24. Meanwhile, Tech has been quietly compiling a 4–0 mark.

    Since they have been members of the Big 12, Tech has won two–thirds of its games with A&M, and the Red Raiders have been even more dominant at home, winning six of seven meetings.

    Practically the reverse was true in the last 15 seasons of the Southwest Conference. The Aggies beat the Raiders 60% of the time in those years, and they won in Lubbock half the time.

    I expect the margin to be close, but, when all is said and done, I believe this game will more closely resemble the ones from the SWC days. Texas A&M will win by about five points.

  • Iowa State at #25 Baylor, 6 p.m. (Central) on FSN: Since they became Big 12 rivals, Iowa State has won its head–to–head series with Baylor, 5–3. In Waco, however, the series is tied, 2–2.

    They played once before that, in 1988, when Iowa State came to Waco and lost, 35–0, so Baylor does enjoy a slight edge at home in its all–time series with the Cyclones. But this is an opportunity to seize the advantage in the series as conference rivals.

    Of course, no one knows how long the Big 12 will continue to exist.

    But if this turns out to be the last time Baylor hosts Iowa State, I expect it will be a good experience for the Bears. Baylor will win.
Last week: 14–4

Season: 89–14

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