Thursday, September 20, 2012

Irish Take On Wolverines Saturday

If you are a college football fan, there are many games on this weekend's schedule that should attract your attention.

But, of all the appealing contests, I think the one that intrigues me the most is Michigan and Notre Dame. It's got it all — tradition, devoted fans and, this year, both teams are ranked in the Top 25. When was the last time that happened?

It will also be intriguing to observe the atmosphere in South Bend. Notre Dame has been openly trying to make its home field advantage more of an advantage.

Idle: #9 Stanford, #12 Texas

  • Brigham Young at #24 Boise State, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams played each other in 2003 and 2004. Boise State won both contests — by an average of about 20 points.

    I pick Boise State.
  • Florida Atlantic at #1 Alabama: These two schools have never met, but the odds against a Florida Atlantic victory must be somewhere in the millions or billions.

    For awhile after Bear Bryant retired, Alabama ceased to be a factor in the national championship conversation, but those days are long gone. Alabama should win this one.
  • #2 LSU at Auburn, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This series dates back to 1902, and Saturday's game will be the 45th meeting.

    Both teams have the advantage at home. This year's game is being played at Auburn, where the home team is 14–10. In fact, Auburn has won five of the last six games it has played against LSU at home.

    One of those wins came two years ago when Cam Newton was Auburn's quarterback. He has moved on to the NFL, and Auburn has been struggling ever since.

    LSU, meanwhile, has consistently been ranked in the nation's Top 5, and, once again, college football fans have begun to anticipate LSU's annual showdown with Alabama.

    Such talk will continue after this weekend. I expect LSU to win the game — even though this week's campus bomb scare disrupted practice in Baton Rouge.
  • #22 Arizona at #3 Oregon, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Arizona always struggles against Oregon — especially when the teams play at Oregon.

    Oregon is 12–5 at home against Arizona; in fact, Oregon has won eight of its last nine home games against Arizona.

    But this year might be different. Both teams are in the Top 10 nationally in total offense (Arizona is fourth, Oregon is seventh), and neither team has been particularly impressive on defense.

    Do I think Arizona can win? Not really, but I think the Wildcats can make it interesting. Bottom line: Oregon will win the game.
  • #10 Clemson at #4 Florida State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams have been playing off and on since 1970, annually (as conference rivals) since 1992, and Florida State has dominated the series.

    Actually, Florida State won 14 of the first 16 times the teams met, but Clemson has won six of the last nine. Unfortunately, only one of those wins came at Florida State — a 27–20 decision in 2006.

    There's a lot for college football fans to like in this game. Both teams are in the Top 25 in total offense, but Florida State has a decisive edge in total defense; the Seminoles havethe top–ranked defense in the nation while the Tigers' defense is ranked 56th.

    Advantage: Florida State.
  • Vanderbilt at #5 Georgia, 6:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This is one of the oldest series in the South.

    These teams first played in 1902. They have played 68 times in all, and Vandy has won only 15. In fact, Georgia has only lost to Vanderbilt twice in their last 20 encounters — but the good news for Vandy fans is that the Commodores' two wins in the last two decades came at Georgia, where they will be playing Saturday night.

    Hey, you gotta take encouragement where you find it, but Vandy has more than that.

    The Commodore defense is ranked 11th. That should make for some interesting moments when Georgia's 20th–ranked offense is on the field.

    I pick Georgia, but it just might be a lot closer than most people think.
  • #15 Kansas State at #6 Oklahoma, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: These teams will be meeting for the 92nd time when they kick off this Saturday.

    K–State has pulled off some surprising wins over the Sooners, but the Wildcats have lost eight of the last nine meetings, and they have really struggled in Norman, where OU holds a 35–6–3 advantage.

    The Sooners also have the #10 defense and #11 offense, both considerably better rankings than KSU has. That, with the home field, should be enough for Oklahoma to win.
  • Missouri at #7 South Carolina, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: These teams have played twice before, but never during the regular season.

    Missouri beat South Carolina in the 1979 Hall of Fame Classic and the 2005 Independence Bowl.

    On Saturday, they will meet for the first time as conference opponents, and TV cameras will be on hand.

    If you're familiar with the SEC, it should come as no surprise to you that four of the Top 20 defenses are in the SEC, and one of them will be playing in this game. But you may be surprised to know that SEC newcomer Missouri, not South Carolina, is ranked in the Top 20 in total defense.

    Neither school is currently ranked in the Top 20 in total offense. South Carolina is in the Top 50, and Missouri is in the Top 80.

    Missouri will have the edge if it is a defensive game — and I'm kind of inclined to think it will be. South Carolina struggled against Vanderbilt, then beat East Carolina and Alabama–Birmingham. With a schedule like that, shouldn't the Gamecocks be higher than 48th in total offense?

    I pick Missouri.
  • Maryland at #8 West Virginia, 11 a.m. (Central) on FX: This will be the 49th encounter in this series, and the record is pretty tight.

    West Virginia holds a slight advantage, 25–21–2. The Mountaineers also have won the last three times the teams have played in West Virginia.

    The most interesting moments figure to be when West Virginia's third–ranked offense takes on Maryland's eighth–ranked defense. Maryland has one of the worst offenses in the nation, and West Virginia has one of the worst defenses.

    I'll take West Virginia.
  • #18 Michigan at #11 Notre Dame, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: These schools have been playing each other — sporadically — since 1898, and the home team usually has the edge.

    At South Bend, Ind., Notre Dame is 8–6–1 against Michigan and enjoys a three–game winning streak there over the Wolverines.

    Wherever the game is played, the final score is frequently close, often within a single score.

    And this year's game figures to be a battle between Michigan's offense and Notre Dame's defense. In a low–scoring decision, I pick Notre Dame.
  • California at #13 USC, 5 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Southern Cal really tumbled in the polls after the Trojans' loss to Stanford last week.

    A game with California might be just the thing to lift their spirits. These teams have played each other 97 times, and Southern Cal has won 63 — including 10 of the last 11.

    California has been more impressive on offense, and Southern Cal has been more impressive on defense. I've always been a believer in the value of a strong defense so I'll give USC the edge in this one.
  • Kentucky at #14 Florida, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Florida has ruled this series, especially at home, where the Gators are 27–7 against the Wildcats.

    What's more, Florida hasn't lost to Kentucky since 1986, and the Gators haven't lost at home to Kentucky since 1979.

    Recent history doesn't suggest that Kentucky is ready for the prime time of Gainesville. Florida has been held under 38 points only twice in the last 18 meetings, and Kentucky has managed to exceed 30 points only four times.

    I fully expect Florida to win.
  • Alabama–Birmingham at #16 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: I'm really astonished that this game is being televised.

    I am confident that Ohio State will win — and probably by a wide margin.
  • Virginia at #17 TCU, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: This has been a rather modest series. There have been only two meetings — in Shreveport, La., for the 1994 Independence Bowl and at Virginia in 2009.

    Virginia won the Independence Bowl. TCU won the rematch in 2009. This will be the first time the teams have played in Fort Worth.

    Statistically, TCU enjoys huge advantages on offense and defense. That may not mean much at this point in the season, but it confirms my gut feelilng, which is that TCU should win the game.
  • Oregon State at #19 UCLA, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Since these teams first met in 1930, UCLA has dominated the series.

    The Bruins have won 41 of 60 contests, and, lest you think most of those wins were compiled in the early years of the series, UCLA has won seven of the last nine meetings.

    UCLA should have the advantage in this game.
  • Florida International at #20 Louisville: I can't justify spending much time on this one.

    Louisville should win handily.
  • Eastern Michigan at #21 Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: The Spartans are 5–0 against Eastern Michigan, and the score is usually lopsided.

    Michigan State has never scored fewer than 42 points, and Eastern Michigan has never scored more than 20. And neither extreme was achieved on the same occasion.

    I don't need any more convincing. I pick Michigan State.
  • South Alabama at #23 Mississippi State: I know it is still fairly early in the season, but Mississippi State has got to be feeling like Rodney Dangerfield. The Bulldogs don't get no respect.

    They finally crack the Top 25, and no one is televising Saturday's game, not even on, which is kind of like the Mikey of sports broadcasting in reverse.

    They'll televise anything.

    Sure, it's against South Alabama, and that really does qualify as a Who cares? kind of foe, but we live in a different age than the one in which I grew up. In those days, teams were limited in the number of televised appearances they could make during the regular season.

    But there are so many TV options out there today that just about every team in the rankings (and a bunch of teams that are not ranked) can be on TV on a given Saturday.

    You can debate whether Mississippi State deserves to be ranked. The Bulldogs are 3–0 for the first time since 1999, and that record includes a fairly decisive win over Auburn. Of course, it also includes wins over Jackson State and Troy.

    But I think they will make some noise this weekend. After that, they have a bye week, and then we'll see if anyone wants to televise their game with Kentucky on Oct. 6 or Tennessee the week after that.

    I pick Mississippi State.
  • Idaho State at #25 Nebraska, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Based purely on reputation, Nebraska should have no problems in this game.

    In fact, if Idaho State wins at Nebraska, it would almost certainly qualify as one of the major upsets of this year, if not all time.

    I'll go with Nebraska.
Last week: 18–3

Season: 58–9

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