Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Battle for the Iron Skillet

TCU's student body president presents the first
Iron Skillet to his SMU counterpart in 1946.

One of the great things about college football is the rivalries that have developed over the years.

Some are always important to the national rankings, like OU–Texas and Ohio State–Michigan. Others are only important to the schools and their alums.

But they are traditions that must be experienced. They bring excitement to sleepy campuses and energy to fading programs — if only for one week.

In my undergraduate days at Arkansas, there was nothing like Arkansas–Texas week, no matter what the teams' records were.

By this point in the season, several rivalries have been renewed, and many, many more will be played out in the weeks to come.

One such rivalry is right here in the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex.

TCU and SMU have been playing each other since 1915 — just about every year, too. On Saturday, they will meet for the 91st time, but the first 27 were not known as the "Battle for the Iron Skillet." That tradition apparently started with the game that was played on Nov. 30, 1946.

All time, TCU holds a slight edge over SMU, 44–39–7, but the advantage has been more pronounced since SMU came off the NCAA–imposed death penalty in 1989. The Horned Frogs are 16–6 against the Mustangs since that time.

I'm not entirely sure about the origin of the rivalry's name. Legend has it that an SMU fan was frying frog legs before a game in the 1950s — in what I presume was a precursor to modern tailgate parties. A TCU fan took exception and said the winner of the game should get the skillet and frog legs.

However, as the above photo and this article from The TCU Magazine show, the skillet was presented to the winner starting in the 1940s.

Well, whenever the tradition began, it is still a fairly heated rivalry. There are many TCU and SMU graduates living in both Dallas and Fort Worth, and the short distance between the two cities — approximately 35 miles — makes the game a hot topic of conversation locally. It has been a significant point of pride even on those occasions when neither team was very good.

Idle: #7 Kansas State, #10 Notre Dame, #11 Florida, #13 Southern Cal, #16 Oklahoma, #21 Mississippi State, #23 Rutgers

  • #8 Stanford at Washington, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Woodrow Wilson was in his final year as president when these teams met for the first time in 1920.

    Washington hold an overall edge in the series, 40–37–4, but Stanford has won six of the last seven meetings. At home, Washington is 20–18–3 against Stanford, but the Huskies haven't beaten Stanford there in nearly a decade.

    I don't they will win this one, either. I pick Stanford.
  • Ole Miss at #1 Alabama, 8:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These old rivals will be meeting for the 56th time, but the rivalry factor may not mean much.

    'Bama has dominated the series, especially at home, where the Crimson Tide has lost to the Rebels only once (in 1988) — but it hasn't been much better at Ole Miss, where Alabama's record is 14–6–1.

    The Rebels may find themselves longing for the friendly confines of Vaught–Hemingway Stadium, but the truth is that, in the last few years, they have been more competitive at Alabama's Bryant–Denny Stadium.

    Do I think the Rebels will be competitive in this one? No. Alabama will roll.
  • #2 Oregon at Washington State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Oregon was more impressive last week than LSU, and, consequently, the Ducks leaped past the Tigers in the rankings.

    History says they will probably leap past Washington State on Saturday, too, but the series record is reasonably close. Oregon's record against WSU is 44–33–6, and they have winning records at home and on the road.

    I guess most college football fans know how successful Oregon was last year. Washington State has been the reverse — with only one winning season in the last nine years.

    If that's going to change this season, it will have to do so without the benefit of a victory on this Saturday. I pick Oregon.
  • Towson at #3 LSU, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: This is like taking candy from a baby.

    Sure, I know, LSU was uninspiring in its win over Auburn. And the Tigers may give a lackluster performance this weekend.

    But, hey, come on. LSU has to win this game.
  • #4 Florida State at South Florida, 5 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: South Florida has a program that is on the rise.

    And the crowd at South Florida might cause some problems for the Seminoles.

    But, really, with the fourth–ranked offense, this one should be a fairly easy win for Florida State.
  • Tennessee at #5 Georgia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This isn't the oldest series in the SEC, but it is bound to be one of the most competitive.

    Tennessee has the edge at both sites — with identical 10–9–1 marks.

    Georgia actually has won the last two meetings, but Tennessee was 4–2 in the six previous games.

    If the Bulldogs were to win for the third straight time, it wouldn't be unprecedented. In fact, winning streaks have played a prominent role in the series.

    Georgia won four straight from 2000 to 2003 (Tennessee won the nine games prior to that). And Georgia won four straight before that — in 1973, 1980, 1981 and 1988.

    I expect this to be an entertaining game, but I think Georgia is in a better position to go the distance.
  • #6 South Carolina at Kentucky, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: South Carolina is 11–1 against Kentucky since the 2000 season — but that single loss came the last time the teams played in the Bluegrass State.

    On that occasion, the Wildcats managed a 31–28 victory over the Gamecocks.

    The personnel is different, though, and I just can't see Kentucky managing to win this one. I choose South Carolina.
  • #25 Baylor at #9 West Virginia, 11 a.m. (Central) on FX: This will be the first time these teams have met, and the conditions could hardly be better, with both teams ranked in the Top 25.

    Neither defense has been particularly impressive so I expect something of a shootout. And, if that is the case, I have to pick Baylor and its sixth–ranked offense — although West Virginia is 14th in offense and could be quite dangerous if Baylor stumbles.
  • #12 Texas at Oklahoma State, 6 p.m. (Central) on Fox: OSU has only beaten Texas four times in their previous 26 meetings, but the Cowboys have won the last two, both in Austin.

    The Longhorns are 6–1 in Stillwater, but I'm not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Most folks know how good OSU's offense has been in recent years. Well, many of the Cowboys' players have gone on to the NFL, but OSU's offense is currently ranked #1 in the nation.

    It's almost as if they haven't skipped a beat in Stillwater.

    Texas' defense is 34th in the nation — which, statistically, may not mean much after only a few games. At the moment, that is only marginally better than OSU's defense, which only has to deal with the nation's 16th&ndsh;ranked offense.

    I pick Oklahoma State in an upset.
  • #14 Ohio State at #20 Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Michigan State snapped a seven–game losing streak against Ohio State last year.

    If the Spartans beat the Buckeyes on Saturday, they will have accomplished something — beating Ohio State at home — they haven't accomplished since 1999.

    It would also be the first time Michigan State has won two consecutive games against Ohio State since the 1998 and 1999 seasons.

    The outcome may depend on Michigan State's defense, which is ranked sixth in the nation and seems capable of handling Ohio State's 52nd–ranked offense.

    The Spartans' offense is even worse, ranked 65th, but it is likely to have an easier time with the Buckeyes' defense, which is 71st.

    I'll take Michigan State at home.
  • #15 TCU at SMU, 6 p.m. (Central) on FSN: As I mentioned earlier, TCU is 16–6 against SMU since the Mustangs came off the death penalty.

    TCU has been especially successful in games played in Dallas since the dawn of the 21st century. The Frogs are 5–1 in those games.

    TCU's strongest point is its defense, which is ninth in the country. It should have little trouble with the #79 offense. When TCU has the ball, though, it will have quarterback Casey Pachall, currently the nation's leading passer, peppering the SMU defense, which is currently the worst in the land.

    I pick TCU.
  • #17 Clemson at Boston College, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Historically, the home team has a slight edge in this series.

    And, statistically, Boston College does have the advantage on defense. But neither team has been impressive on that side of the ball. So the question comes down to offense, and Clemson has a decisive edge in that category.

    I'll take Clemson.
  • #18 Oregon State at Arizona, 9 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12: Oregon State has won five of the last six in this series, and the Beavers haven't lost at Arizona since 1997.

    Furthermore, Oregon State has been much more successful on both sides of the ball. I take Oregon State.
  • #19 Louisville at Southern Miss, 7 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: Louisville has been much better — on both sides of the ball — than Southern Miss.

    Historically, Southern Miss holds the edge, but Louisville has won the last five meetings.

    Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has completed nearly three–fourths of his passes so far. He might improve that figure against Southern Miss' weak defense.

    I'll take Louisville.
  • Wisconsin at #22 Nebraska, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: When these two schools met as conference rivals last year, it was their first meeting in nearly four decades.

    They were never regular opponents, just occasional ones, but, when Nebraska beat Wisconsin last year, it knotted up the all–time series at 3–3.

    Who will break the tie?

    Well, Wisconsin has a better defense, which could come in handy against the ninth–ranked offense. Cornhusker QB Taylor Martinez has thrown only one interception so far and figures to test the Badgers.

    I pick Nebraska.
  • #24 Boise State at New Mexico: Boise State is 3–0 against New Mexico all time and will be making only its second appearance in Albuquerque.

    Boise's last trip there — in 2000 — resulted in a 31–14 triumph.

    So far, neither team has been impressive on offense so I anticipate a defensive struggle. And that should favor Boise State, with its 18th–ranked defense.

    I choose Boise State.
Last week: 16–3

Season: 74–12

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