Saturday, September 15, 2012

How NOT to Bounce Back From a Shocking Loss

It was — beyond any doubt — the upset of the young college football season.

There may well be other upsets in the weeks ahead. As a matter of fact, experience tells me there will be other upsets. It's the nature of the beast.

But none will tear at my heart the way the upset in my one–time hometown of Little Rock did last Saturday night.

The beginning of any sports season brings with it fresh optimism for the future. That optimism is eventually dashed for most teams — earlier for some than for others — and, having been a fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks most of my life, as well as a graduate of the school, I long ago grew accustomed to the idea that, no matter how good the Razorbacks were, someone would knock them off.

(They have only had one unblemished season in my lifetime — but I was far too young to appreciate it.)

Usually, that someone was Texas. There were a couple of years in there in which Texas was the only team to beat the Razorbacks, but, mostly, the Texas loss was merely one of several. It wasn't always the first blemish. It was just the one you could always count on.

But sometimes the first loss came at the hands of a completely unexpected nemesis. I remember one particularly brutal season in which The Citadel, of all schools, upset the Razorbacks in the season opener — and cost the head coach his job.

None of those surprises could match Arkansas' overtime loss to Louisiana–Monroe last Saturday, though, and the voters in the Associated Press poll seem to agree with me. After all, Arkansas fell from #8 completely out of the poll.

But the Razorbacks will remain in the Top 25 conversation for at least another week. Top–ranked Alabama is in town today, and my guess is it won't be pretty.

On the other hand ...

This reminds me of my senior year at Arkansas. In early October, the Razorbacks lost to TCU for the first time in my life. A couple of weeks later, top–ranked Texas came to Fayetteville.

The general consensus was that Texas would win easily. My girlfriend and I had tickets to the game, but we considered — briefly — not going. In the end, though, we couldn't stay away. It was the only time the Arkansas–Texas game would be played in Fayetteville during our college careers, and we decided to go. If the game was out of hand by halftime, we agreed, we would leave.

As it turned out, the Razorbacks won, 42–11.

That's what it's always been like — at least, as far back as I can remember. Arkansas wins when it is supposed to lose and loses when it is supposed to win.

I'm not saying that is what will happen today. I'm just saying it has happened before — and I know because I was there.

I'll also say that playing the top–ranked team in the land the week after a shocking loss to an inferior foe is not the way to revive a team — especially one that gave up an average of 436 yards per game to the likes of Jacksonville State and ULM.

Makes me dread seeing what Alabama QB A.J. McCarron, currently the third–best passer in the country, is going to do to the Arkansas secondary.

This may be a brutal experience for Arkansas fans.

Idle: #5 Oklahoma

  • #1 Alabama at Arkansas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: When I was in school at the University of Arkansas, the Razorbacks played the Alabama Crimson Tide for what was only the second time — ever.

    That really surprised me when I first heard it. The schools seemed like natural regional rivals. They just never scheduled each other.

    They've been playing each other regularly for the last 20 years, though, ever since Arkansas joined the Southeastern Conference. And Arkansas has performed pretty well, at times, but Alabama has owned the series since 2007.

    Most folks probably expect Alabama to extend that streak, given that Arkansas lost last week to a team it should have hammered — and, in the process, apparently lost its quarterback.

    ESPN has been reporting that QB Tyler Wilson, who suffered a head injury in last week's loss, will not play against Alabama. Former coach Bobby Petrino seems to have kept a stable of talented quarterbacks on his roster so there are some good backups available — but they lack the experience to remain cool in the face of Alabama's tenacious defense.

    And, although I really would love to see the Razorbacks win, I'm afraid that it just isn't in the cards this year. I pick Alabama.
  • #2 USC at #21 Stanford, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: These schools first played each other 90 years ago — when Warren Harding was president.

    USC won seven of the first 10 meetings and has dominated the series overall, but Stanford has won four of the last five. Of course, that was accomplished with Andrew Luck in the lineup. Without him, I have to go with USC.
  • Idaho at #3 LSU, 7 p.m. (Central) on These schools have met once before, in Baton Rouge in 1998, and LSU won, 53–20.

    Today's game is in Baton Rouge as well, but expectations are exceedingly low for Idaho.

    Actually, I don't think it would matter if the game was being played in Idaho — or if they had never faced each other before. I expect LSU to win by a wide margin.
  • Tennessee Tech at #4 Oregon, 2 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12: Another first–time matchup that shouldn't be close.

    Oregon should have no trouble winning this one.
  • Wake Forest at #5 Florida State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools became conference rivals 20 years ago, but they were already familiar with each other, having met 10 times as nonconference opponents.

    In all, they have played 30 times, and Florida State has dominated the series about as thoroughly as is possible. The Seminoles are 23–6–1 in the series — but, ironically, Wake Forest has won two of the last three games played at FSU.

    Can Wake Forest make it three of the last four? Well, I guess anything is possible — but not necessarily probable. I expect Florida State to win handily.
  • Florida Atlantic at #7 Georgia, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on CSS: These schools are meeting for the first time.

    And I refer you to the Tennessee Tech–Oregon game. Using the same logic, I pick Georgia.
  • Alabama–Birmingham at #8 South Carolina, 6 p.m. (Central) on FSS: South Carolina dodged a bullet in the opener against Vanderbilt.

    But UAB hasn't had a winning season since 2004. I expect South Carolina to trounce UAB tonight.

  • James Madison at #9 West Virginia, 3:30 p.m. (Central) on ROOT: I'm not sure if West Virginia is a Top 10 team.

    But I cannot imagine the Mountaineers losing this game. I pick West Virginia.

  • #20 Notre Dame at #10 Michigan State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams first met just before the turn of the century — including that day back in 1899, they have played 69 games in all.

    Folks with long memories will tell you the teams fought to a 10–10 tie when they were the top two teams in the country in 1966. Notre Dame has been the winner more frequently, regardless of the venue, but the Irish have lost the last two times they have visited Michigan State.

    And my instincts tell me they will lose for the third straight time. It may be a relatively close score, at least when compared to some of the other matchups in the Top 25 this week, but when that final gun sounds, I expect Michigan State to be the winner.

  • Furman at #11 Clemson, 2 p.m. (Central) on RSN: Another first–time matchup, and I just can't see Furman staying with Clemson long enough to make it interesting.

    I expect Clemson to win easily.

  • California at #12 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: It's been 40 years since these schools last met on the football field.

    It's been even longer (more than 90 years) since California beat Ohio State. Since that lone victory for the Bears over the Buckeyes, Ohio State has won five straight.

    Make that six for Ohio State.

  • #13 Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: This is actually a more extensive series than you might think.

    These schools have faced each other 11 times since 1993, and Tech has won seven of them, including the last three in a row.

    Times have changed. The teams were competing in the same conference in all their previous meetings but no more so they haven't played in nearly a decade.

    But this year they are renewing their series as a nonconference game for both schools. I don't expect a change in the outcome, though. I pick Virginia Tech.

  • #14 Texas at Ole Miss, 8:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools have played six times — but this will be their first encounter since 1966.

    Texas won all but one of those previous games.

    It would be nice to think that this game will be a throwback to the 1960s, when both schools were forces in football. But, with only eight wins in their last 26 games, the Rebels face quite a challenge against the Longhorns.

    And I don't think they're up to it. I pick Texas.

  • North Texas at #15 Kansas State: This is an intriguing match for me — but not because I think it will be close. I don't.

    But it intrigues me because I hold degrees from Arkansas and North Texas. Arkansas beat Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl last January, and now KSU is hosting North Texas.

    It will be the second time in the last four games that one of my alma maters has faced K–State. I fully expected Arkansas to win the Cotton Bowl, and, likewise, I fully expect North Texas to lose today.

    Obviously, my pick is Kansas State.

  • #16 TCU at Kansas: When I was growing up in Arkansas, a game between TCU and Kansas would have been regarded as the Toilet Bowl of college football.

    The TCU football program is more highly regarded today, and some of the teams the Frogs will be facing in their new conference will be first–time foes. But TCU and Kansas have played each other 28 times in the past.

    It's safe to say they know each other — or, at least, they know a lot about each other.

    They haven't faced each other in 15 years, and TCU hasn't beaten Kansas since 1994.

    I've found that history is frequently a useful guide in anticipating the outcomes of future events — when it is applied to some human endeavors — but such history in sports is practically ancient history and has little, if any, bearing on what will happen.

    Having said that, though, I expect TCU to win.

  • Massachusetts at #17 Michigan, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: I would expect this to be a much more competitive matchup if it was in basketball.

    But in football — in the Big House of Ann Arbor — I expect Michigan to win by a substantial margin.

  • #18 Florida at #23 Tennessee, 5 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Before the season began, I never would have predicted that both of these schools would be ranked when they played each other in mid–September.

    Nevertheless ...

    Each team holds a slight advantage at home. If there is a genuine historical edge for either team, it may be the fact that Florida has won seven consecutive games against Tennessee.

    The Volunteers have only had three winning seasons since the last time they beat the Gators. Florida, meanwhile, won two national championships and a Heisman Trophy — and the Gators haven't been through a season in which they lost more games than they won since 1979.

    Having said that, I suppose it is to be assumed that I pick Florida to win this game — which, in fact, I do — but I think it will be very entertaining, and I expect the score to be close.

  • North Carolina at #19 Louisville, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: History says this game should be entertaining.

    Louisville is 1–1 at home (Carolina is 2–2). Half of the games in the series have been decided by a touchdown or less; of course, there have also been blowouts (such as the time in 2005 when Louisville won, 69–14, or the game the year before that Louisville won, 34–0).

    As Forrest Gump might say, you never know what you're going to get. Still, I will go with the favorite — Louisville.

  • Houston at #22 UCLA, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: This will only be the seventh time these schools have met, but there is a definite pattern. The home team is 2–1, which means that history favors the Bruins.

    So, too, I suppose, does common sense. UCLA, after all, is coming off what appears to be a major victory over Nebraska, and is ranked in the Top 25. That's pretty heady stuff for a program that has won only three bowl games in the last 14 years.

    But I'm inclined to think UCLA will be up to the challenge and will defeat Houston.

  • South Carolina State at #24 Arizona, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: It's hard to imagine South Carolina State traveling across the country to Arizona — and emerging with a win.

    Of course, as last Saturday's game in Little Rock demonstrated, anything really can happen. But I don't think anything like that will happen at Arizona tonight. I pick Arizona to win by a wide margin.

  • #25 Brigham Young at Utah, 9 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This will be the 88th edition of this series, and Utah has dominated it — although the Utes have been far more successful at home (34–16–3), where this year's game will be played.

    That should work in the Utes' favor, right?

    Actually, I think it will.

    Look, it's still early in the season, and, let's face it, many teams are ranked simply because they were successful in the past. But, aside from a handful of early tests, most teams remain unknown quantities.

    So the fact that BYU is ranked and Utah is not does not mean much to me.

    I predict a very close game, and I pick Utah to win it.
Last week: 18–6

Season: 40–6

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