Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oregon-Stanford Showdown Set

College football fans may be feeling something of a letdown with the LSU–Alabama game reduced to a memory, but there's another major showdown this weekend — the Pac–12 battle between #3 Stanford and #6 Oregon.

Stanford is unbeaten and boasts the front runner for this year's Heisman Trophy. But the Ducks, who beat Stanford by three touchdowns last year, have only lost once — to currently top–ranked LSU on Labor Day weekend.

And, while Stanford may have the top candidate for the Heisman on its roster, Oregon's offense has been just as productive.

If there is one thing that is clearly in Stanford's favor, though — besides the fact that the game is being played in California — it is that Stanford's defense has been so much better — and, consequently, may prove to be the difference.

The winner will almost certainly be the champion of the Pac–12 North and will play USC, Arizona State or UCLA for the conference crown in December.

Idle: #7 Oklahoma

  • #10 Virginia Tech at #20 Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is the ninth time these teams have played each other, and the first eight games have followed a recognizable pattern.

    Georgia Tech won the first encounter, then Virginia Tech won the next two. Georgia Tech won their fourth encounter, then Virginia Tech won the next two. Georgia Tech won their seventh meeting, then Virginia Tech won last year.

    Consequently, Virginia Tech should win this time, right? But two of Georgia Tech's three victories over Virginia Tech have come when it was the host team, as it is this week.

    The numbers favor Georgia Tech, though. The Yellow Jackets have a far better offense, and their defense is close to Virginia Tech's.

    So I'm going to take Georgia Tech.

  • #11 Houston at Tulane, 7 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: Most teams can only wish they dominated another the way Houston dominates Tulane.

    The teams have been conference rivals since 1996. Houston has won 10 of their 14 meetings, including the last eight (in five of those games, UH has scored more than 40 points; Tulane has exceeded 30 points only once in that time — and lost on that occasion).

    Houston's best–in–the–nation offense is light years ahead of Tulane's. Tulane has a slight edge on defense, but it isn't nearly enough to make up for the gap on offense.

    I pick Houston to win.
  • Western Kentucky at #1 LSU, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: What a time for Western Kentucky to be making its first–ever trip to Baton Rouge — the week after LSU's dramatic overtime victory over Alabama.

    Not much else to say, really. It would be an enormously shocking upset if Western Kentucky won, but I don't think that will happen. I pick LSU.

  • #2 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Most people probably don't realize it, but these teams were playing each other long before the refugees from the old Southwest Conference (of which Texas Tech was one) joined the old Big Eight Conference to form the Big 12.

    They played each other for the first time during Franklin Roosevelt's first term as president. They even played in Japan once — during Ronald Reagan's last year in the White House.

    This will be the 39th meeting in the series and the 20th to be played in Lubbock. The Red Raiders are 13–3–3 against the Cowboys in Lubbock — but Oklahoma State won there last year, snapping a winless streak in Lubbock that went all the way back to the days of World War II, and Oklahoma State, with its third–ranked offense, looks too powerful.

    Historically, it would be much better for OSU to be playing this game in Stillwater, where the Cowboys are 10–8 against Texas Tech.

    Nevertheless, I pick Oklahoma State.

  • #6 Oregon at #3 Stanford, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: In addition to being the marquee matchup of the week (probably nationally, certainly in the Top 25), this is an old series that began a few days before Warren Harding was elected president.

    This is the 72nd meeting between these schools, and Stanford holds a decisive edge, 41–29–1 — but Oregon has been far more successful in their head–to–head meetings in recent years. In fact, Oregon has won nine of the last 11 and handed Stanford its only loss last year.

    The Pac–12 is known as an offense–oriented conference, and both teams have top–notch offenses. Oregon is seventh in the country, and Stanford is eighth.

    Thus, the key to victory may be with the better defense, and that would be Stanford, ranked 18th nationally while Oregon is 62nd.

    I'll pick Stanford to win at home.

  • #4 Alabama at Mississippi State, 6:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools have been playing each other since a few years after the turn of the last century, and Alabama almost always win.

    The Tide has rolled over the Bulldogs in both Tuscaloosa and Starkville, but the percentages are slightly more favorable for Mississippi State at home.

    I don't really think that will mean anything this time, but you never know. The SEC is the kind of conference in which the team with the worst record can beat the team with the best on, as they say, "any given Saturday."

    But Alabama won't be giving away anything this time, and I expect Alabama to win.

  • TCU at #5 Boise State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Versus: All three of the previous meetings between these schools came in bowls so all were neutral sites — technically.

    However, their first meeting was in the 2003 Fort Worth Bowl, which was played in Fort Worth, home of TCU. TCU won that game by a field goal, then lost the rematch in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl, then won the third game in the next season's Fiesta Bowl.

    A brand–new chapter will be written in the series' history in Boise, and I pick Boise State, ranked 13th in both offense and defense, to prevail.

  • Tennessee at #8 Arkansas, 5 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Tennessee has won 10 of its last 12 games against Arkansas, but those two losses came in their last three trips to Fayetteville.

    What's more, Tennessee is winless in five SEC games while Arkansas' only SEC loss came against Alabama in September.

    The Razorbacks have the 23rd–best offense in the nation (easily superior to Tennessee, ranked 97th). Tennessee's defense is 31st and may be able to keep pace with Arkansas' offense, but the 55th–ranked Arkansas defense appears more than capable of stopping the Volunteers.

    I'll take Arkansas.

  • Wake Forest at #9 Clemson, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Clemson has owned Wake Forest in this series, winning more than 75% of the time, and the dominance has been even more pronounced in the games at Clemson, where the Tigers are 34–7 against the Demon Deacons.

    In fact, Wake Forest has won only one of the last eight games it has played in Clemson.

    Is there any reason to think Wake Forest will be competitive in this game? Well, no, not really. Clemson is 15th in the nation in offense, far ahead of Wake Forest. On defense, Wake Forest has the edge, but it is so slight that it is hard to see the Deacons' defense turning things around.

    I'll take Clemson.

  • #19 Nebraska at #12 Penn State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams are meeting as conference rivals for the first time, but they are hardly strangers to each other.

    However, no one has really been talking about that.

    The first–ever conference clash between these two perennial powers has been overshadowed by the sex scandal that has rocked Penn State — and resulted in the firing of Joe Paterno — even though the Nittany Lions are the top contenders for the Leaders Division's berth in the Big Ten title game — and, with a record that is currently 8–1, could snare a spot in a BCS bowl game.

    That speaks volumes about the priorities in Happy Valley.

    There is no question that what has been unfolding at Penn State is a tragedy of immense proportions.

    These teams seemed to be permanently entrenched in the Top 10 when I was growing up, and they even played in the very first edition of the now–defunct Kick–off Classic in East Rutherford, N.J., but, oddly enough, they've never met in a bowl game.

    Nevertheless, this will be the 14th time they've played.

    Historically, the series is quite close. Nebraska has won six, Penn State has won seven. Typically, the home team wins. Nebraska is 4–2 at home against the Nittany Lions, and Penn State is 5–1 at home against the Cornhuskers.

    That would appear to favor the Nittany Lions — were it not for the distraction caused by this scandal.

    I don't know, at this point, who will be running the team on Saturday, but my personal guess is that Nebraska will buck the historical trend and win at Penn State.

  • #13 Michigan State at Iowa, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Since 1990, Iowa is 10–5 against Michigan State and has won four of the last five.

    And a victory could put Iowa right smack in the middle of the Legends Division race. A loss would just about seal the currently 6–3 Hawkeyes' fate — and perhaps all but clinch the division title for the Spartans.

    Neither team has been terribly impressive on offense so defense may be decisive. If so, the advantage appears to belong to Michigan State, which is second only to Alabama in total defense. Iowa is 72nd in defense.

    I pick Michigan State to record a rare win in this series.

  • #24 Auburn at #14 Georgia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: South Carolina's loss to Arkansas last week put Georgia in the SEC East driver's seat, but the Bulldogs are hardly home free.

    Speaking of home, the defending national champion Auburn Tigers will be coming to visit on Saturday. They can't possibly win the national title again, but they are ranked and there is a lot of history in this series that doesn't work in Georgia's favor.

    For one thing, the home team loses more often than it wins. Auburn is 22–15–2 at Georgia, and Georgia is 14–12–2 at Auburn. (Between 1916 and 1958, the teams played on neutral fields 39 times.)

    However, the Bulldogs have been much better on both sides of the ball, so I will pick Georgia to win at home — even though the home team doesn't usually win this game.

  • Florida at #15 South Carolina, 11 a.m. (Central) on CBS: These teams have met 31 times, and Florida has won 23.

    But times may be changing in this series. South Carolina won at Florida last year for the first time — ever. Before that, Florida was 18–1 against South Carolina since 1964.

    This year's game is in Columbia, where the Gamecocks have beaten Florida four times, most recently on Nov. 12, 2005. But you have to go back to the 1930s to find the only time when South Carolina won consecutive games against the Gators.

    That's the kind of history South Carolina is chasing this weekend. And if the Gamecocks can do it — and Georgia loses to Auburn — South Carolina could well be on its way to its second straight SEC Championship game.

    Neither offense has been impressive, and both teams have Top 20 defenses. South Carolina has an edge in both categories so I'll pick South Carolina in what should be a competitive game.

  • #16 Wisconsin at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on the Big Ten Network: The series that eventually became known as the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe is in its third century, but only slightly more than half of the games between these two schools have actually been for that particular prize.

    The rest of the time, I suppose, it has been about pride and bragging rights.

    The Badgers appear to be significantly better on both sides of the ball so I'll take Wisconsin.

  • Texas A&M at #17 Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: There are two ways of looking at this series, I guess.

    On the one hand, it's been pretty competitive. The teams have played 14 times. A&M has won eight, Kansas State has won six.

    On the other hand, Kansas State has fared better — slightly — at home against the Aggies.

    The Aggies have a Top 10 offense (KSU's is 86th). The Wildcats are better on defense, but that really isn't saying much.

    If Texas A&M can manage to keep up its intensity in the second half — something the Aggies have struggled to do this year — I'll pick Texas A&M to win a mild upset.

  • Washington at #18 USC, 2:45 p.m. (Central) on FX: Over the years, USC has had a decided advantage in this series.

    But, in recent years (well, the last two, anyway), it has been Washington that has been the winner.

    From 2002 to 2008, USC won every year, sometimes by ridiculous margins (56–0 in 2008, 51–24 in 2005) and sometimes by heart–stoppingly close ones (27–24 in 2007, 26–20 in 2006).

    Since the series began in the 1920s, USC has won more than 60% of the time. And I expect USC to get back on the winning track on Saturday.

  • #21 Texas at Missouri, 11 a.m. (Central) on FX: Like most of the schools Texas has played, Missouri has compiled a losing record in its series with the Longhorns.

    This will be the 19th time the teams have played, and Texas has won all but three. But the bad news for Texas is that all three of those losses came in Columbia, where Saturday's game will be played.

    But Missouri hasn't beaten Texas since 1997 and has lost the last three games the two have played in Columbia. Since Missouri is heading for the SEC, this might be the Tigers' last chance to defeat Texas at home.

    The numbers say Missouri is marginally better on offense and Texas has a significant advantage on defense. That being the case, I will take Texas.

  • #22 Michigan at Illinois, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These schools have been playing since 1898, and Michigan has won about three–quarters of the time — no matter where the game has been played.

    Michigan has a much better offense, and Illinois has a marginally better defense.

    I'll take Michigan to win.

  • West Virginia at #23 Cincinnati, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: This game will test Cincinnati's legitimacy as a Top 25 team.

    For one thing, the Bearcats are facing a formerly ranked team that would certainly like to return to the rankings — and beating a currently ranked team is probably the quickest route.

    For another, West Virginia has owned Cincinnati in this series. The Mountaineers have gon 7–1 in Cincinnati, but they lost there for the first time in their last visit (it was by only a field goal).

    This has the potential to be the most entertaining game of the weekend. West Virginia is better on both sides of the ball, and I think West Virginia will win the game.

  • #25 Southern Miss at UCF, 7 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: These teams have only been playing each other since 2005, but it's been a lopsided series in Southern Miss' favor.

    Southern Miss has won three in a row against UCF and is 5–1 overall. UCF is 0–3 at home in the series. That's dominant — albeit limited.

    Southern Miss has a much better offense, but UCF has a pronounced edge on defense, where it is ranked fifth.

    This will probably be considered an upset, but I'll take UCF.
Last week: 13–4


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