Thursday, August 30, 2012

Let the Games Begin

Ninth–ranked South Carolina and Vanderbilt bring
Top 25 football back to your living room tonight.

I grew up in the South so it probably goes without saying that I am a football fan.

By the same token, I suppose it would also go without saying that I am a NASCAR fan — except I am not. I also don't care for iced tea or chicken–fried steak.

So I don't fit the Southern stereotype precisely — although I do like watermelon, biscuits and gravy, grits, cornbread, turnip greens and fried catfish. Not to mention peach cobbler.

And I do enjoy watching football games — especially college football games.

And Top 25 college football returns tonight. Some are renewals of rivalries. Most appear to be first–time meetings. Most of the time, Top 25 teams roll over their early foes, and I expect that to happen a lot this weekend.

But there are a few nuggets scattered about for the discerning football viewer.

Whatever. Football is back. Let the games begin.

Idle: #20 TCU

  • #9 South Carolina at Vanderbilt, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams have faced each other 21 times, and South Carolina has won 17. As members of the SEC East, they have been meeting every year since South Carolina joined the conference in 1992.
    The Gamecocks have won 10 of the last 12 meetings between the schools and own a three–game winning streak. I have to go with South Carolina.
  • #24 Boise State at #13 Michigan State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is the first–ever meeting between these schools, and it is the first meeting of the season between two ranked teams. There's another one coming up on Saturday night between Michigan and Alabama.
    Boise State has enjoyed considerable success in recent years, but Michigan State plays in a more high–profile conference. And the Spartans are at home besides. I expect Michigan State to win by 10.
  • San Jose State at #21 Stanford, 9 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12: These two West Coast teams are familiar foes, having played each other 58 times since 1950.
    Stanford has dominated the series, 43–14–1, with most of the games having been played at Stanford. In fact, San Jose State hasn't won at Stanford since Sept. 9, 2000.
    I don't think that will change. Give me Stanford.
  • Hawaii at #1 USC, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on FOX: I'm not sure how I feel about USC.
    I honestly think the Trojans are overrated, but I really think they should beat Hawaii. USC has played Hawaii five times before and won each time by double–digit margins.
    Absent any reason to do otherwise, I pick USC to win this game, but things will get tougher for the Trojans as the season wears on.
  • #8 Michigan at #2 Alabama, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These schools have faced each other three times in the postseason (with Alabama winning each time), but they have never played during the regular season.
    I think it will be close — with a final margin of three or four points — but I'll take the defending national champion, Alabama.
  • North Texas at #3 LSU, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: LSU is 4–0 all time against North Texas, and each victory was lopsided (LSU's win in their last meeting — in 2008 — was the closest, and LSU won that game by nearly 40 points).
    The Tigers are sure to be thinking about being in the national championship game this year — and may not be as focused on North Texas as they should. It might be a prime opportunity for an upset, but I'm not sure North Texas has the horses to pull it off.
    I'll go with LSU.
  • #4 Oklahoma at UTEP, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on FSN: Oklahoma buried UTEP in the teams' other two encounters, but both of those games were played at OU.
    Will the change of scenery make a difference? I doubt it. I take Oklahoma.
  • Arkansas State at #5 Oregon, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the first meeting between these schools.
    As I have written here many times, I grew up in Arkansas. And ASU was never really much in football.
    Oh, occasionally, ASU would enjoy flashes of success, but I have heard nothing that suggests the Ducks will have any problem in this game. I pick Oregon to win.
  • Buffalo at #6 Georgia, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: These schools are meeting for the first time.
    Many observers believe Georgia will have a great season, and perhaps the Bulldogs will. Beating Buffalo will mean little — except that Georgia is taking care of business as expected.
    And I believe Georgia will take care of business.
  • Murray State at #7 Florida State, 5 p.m. (Cental) on ESPN3: I don't think these schools have ever played a football game against each other.
    But, honestly, it hardly matters. The Seminoles are in the Top 10. They're playing at home.
    I fully expect Florida State to win the game.
  • Jacksonville State at #10 Arkansas, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN3: I believe this is the first meeting between Jacksonville State and Arkansas.
    To be honest, I always feel a little uneasy about picking an Arkansas game because I think I will come across as biased if I pick the Hogs — being a graduate of the school and all.
    But, frankly, I can't see Jacksonville State winning this one. The Razorbacks might very well lose to Alabama or LSU — or anyone else in the SEC on any given Saturday — but I can't see any circumstances that would permit Jacksonville State to win.
    I pick Arkansas.
  • Marshall at #11 West Virginia, 11 a.m. (Central) on FX: You'd think these schools would natural rivals, wouldn't you?
    The campuses, after all, are only about 160 miles apart.
    But the teams have only met seven times. West Virginia has won them all, usually by wide margins although the game at Marshall two years ago was won by a field goal.
    I expect West Virginia to improve to 8–0 against Marshall.
  • Northern Iowa at #12 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: This is another one of those matchups that looks, on paper, like a natural neighborhood rivalry — the schools are about 160 miles apart, but they have never played each other before.
    And I just can't see Northern Iowa winning this one. I pick Wisconsin.
  • Auburn at #14 Clemson, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This series goes back more than a century.
    The teams met for the first time in 1902, and they have played 46 times since.
    The advantage in the series belongs to Auburn, nearly three to one. And, until Clemson beat Auburn last season, Auburn had won 14 straight times (including two bowl games).
    But it is Clemson that enters the game this year ranked in the Top 25, thanks in large part to the ACC title Clemson won last year. Sports Illustrated reports the Clemson coach wants to build on that achievement, the Tigers' second ACC crown in three years.
    To borrow a word that is probably more often associated with basketball, Auburn is a bubble team in college football in 2012.
    The Tigers are generally well regarded, but they need some quality wins — and the Clemson game gives them an early opportunity — before they can crack the Top 25.
    If Cam Newton was still wearing an Auburn uniform, I might be inclined to pick Auburn. But I'm going to go with Clemson.
  • Wyoming at #15 Texas: This will be the fifth time these teams have played.
    Texas won all four of the previous games, three of which were played in Austin.
    The teams are back in Austin this weekend, and I expect Texas to prevail.
    I'm certainly no devotee of the Longhorns, and I have my doubts about whether they deserve to be ranked where they are, but I am pretty sure they can handle Wyoming.
  • Southern Miss at #17 Nebraska, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Nebraska won the first two games between these schools, and Southern Miss won the third and most recent game.
    But none of the players on either roster has any experience playing the other school. Their last meeting was in 2004.
    I really don't know much about either team yet, but, going strictly on reputation, I'll take Nebraska.
  • Miami (Ohio) at #18 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: This will be the third meeting between these schools — but the first since 2005.
    Ohio State is 2–0 in the series. And I have heard nothing that suggests that Miami (Ohio) could pull off a road upset.
    I'll go with Ohio State.
  • Savannah State at #19 Oklahoma State: Troy Hambrick and Shannon Sharpe are Savannah State exes who went on to have careers in the NFL. But, otherwise, Savannah State hasn't been very noteworthy in athletics.
    In fact, the only time I can recall that the school made sports news was back in 2005 when its basketball team became the first Division I team to lose all its games. That isn't much of a legacy.
    Oklahoma State, on the other hand, has been one of the nation's top programs for several years. If not for a late–season loss to Iowa State, OSU might have played for the national title.
    Even so, the Cowboys beat Baylor, Oklahoma and Stanford last year. I see no reason why Oklahoma State should not prevail over Savannah State.
  • Missouri State at #22 Kansas State: Missouri State was Southwest Missouri State for many years.
    The name was changed to Missouri State in 2005, and these two schools have played each other twice since then (with KSU rolling to victory both times). I don't know if they played each other when the school was still known as SMSU.
    But that doesn't really matter. I expect Kansas State to win the game.
  • Bowling Green at #23 Florida, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams are meeting for the first time ever.
    Over the years, Bowling Green has had its moments, but Florida plays in the SEC. The Gators' returning players are always conditioned by their conference experience; by definition, that makes them better prepared for the start of a new season.
    And Florida is at home. Need I say more? I'll take Florida.
  • Kentucky at #25 Louisville, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the 22nd meeting of these rivals, and it's been about as close as it could be. Kentucky holds a narrow 11–10 advantage in the series.
    It's a lot more intriguing as a basketball rivalry, but it's still a rivalry — and it is a game I expect Louisville to win.
  • Georgia Tech at #16 Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools first met in 1990, and they've been playing annually since 2004 — a total of nine games, and Virginia Tech has won two–thirds of them.
    An interesting pattern has emerged, however. Georgia Tech won the first game, then lost the next two meetings. In 2006, Georgia Tech won for the second time — and then lost the next two games.
    Once again, in 2009, Georgia Tech snapped its two–game losing streak to Virginia Tech — and Virginia Tech went on two win the next two after that.
    Consequently, it is Georgia Tech's turn — so I'm going to take Georgia Tech in an upset special.
    Most people — certainly the preseason polls — regard Virginia Tech as the better team, but, you see, this pattern doesn't respect records.
    The last time that Georgia Tech beat Virginia Tech, the Hokies went 10–4, and the only time that Georgia Tech won at Virginia Tech, the Hokies went 10–3.

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