Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sixth-ranked Tigers Return to Aggieland

Unless you're over 25, you probably don't remember, but LSU–Texas A&M was quite a rivalry once upon a time.

Sure, LSU has always had a rivalry with Alabama, and A&M is best known for its rivalry with Texas, and, for many years, those rivalries were played out within the conferences in which LSU and A&M competed.

But, outside the conference, few rivalries could match the intensity of LSU against Texas A&M. Unfortunately, they let the rivalry lapse for several periods over the years.

They renewed their rivalry in the 2011 Cotton Bowl (won by LSU, 41–24). It was the first time they had played since 1995.

But now that they're in the Southeastern Conference together — and in the same division — they'll be playing each other every year.

Idle: #25 Ohio

  • #2 Oregon at Arizona State, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams have faced each other 32 times since meeting for the first time in 1966, and each team has won 16 times.

    That's about as close as a series can be.

    It's been pretty one–sided for the last seven years, though. Oregon has won all seven of the encounters since 2005, including the last four in Tempe.

    Arizona State's fourth–ranked defense might have something to say about that, though. Since the Sun Devils will be facing the nation's eighth–ranked offense, that will make the occasions when Oregon has the ball well worth watching.

    Not that it will be time to take out the trash or use the restroom when ASU has the ball, but the rankings aren't as gaudy. ASU's offense is pretty good (#24 in the nation); Oregon's defense is good but not great (#43).

    Nevertheless, I think Oregon will prevail.
  • #1 Alabama at Tennessee, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Alabama has many rivals, but, historically, there are three main rivals — Auburn, LSU and the team the Crimson Tide will face this Saturday, Tennessee.

    It is known as the "Third Saturday in October," which has been, traditionally, the calendar date on which the game has been played. Alabama leads the series, 48–38–7 — and, thanks to the Tide's triumph in Missouri last week, Alabama has won at least as many as it has lost to every team in the Southeastern Conference.

    Missouri, of course, just joined the SEC this year (as did #20 Texas A&M) and had only played Alabama three times. Of the current SEC members, only Mississippi State has played Alabama more often than Tennessee — and no SEC school has beaten Alabama more often than Tennessee.

    But Alabama has won the last five meetings.

    You know, it is really hard for me to predict that the nation's best defense will be defeated. And that is what I would have to do if I picked Tennessee to win.

    I think the Volunteers are an improved team this year, and they will again be factors in the SEC in the years ahead, but I have to pick Alabama to win this game.
  • #9 South Carolina at #3 Florida, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel writes that there is much excitement in Gainesville, Fla., about the South Carolina–Florida game that will be played there this weekend.

    Part of the excitement, no doubt, has to do with the fact that South Carolina practically never wins at Florida.

    The teams have played 16 times in Gainesville, and South Carolina has left there with a victory only once (there were ties in Tampa and Jacksonville, both of which were considered home games for the Gators, in 1921 and 1931).

    On offense, Florida has a narrow edge — the Gators are ranked 82nd and the Gamecocks are ranked 83rd — but Ben Kercheval of NBC Sports reports that South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore has a hip injury and may not play.

    That could make a big difference, especially since the teams are just as close in the defensive rankings — South Carolina is ranked 12th, Florida is ranked 13th.

    I think Florida will win, even if Lattimore can play.
  • #4 Kansas State at #17 West Virginia, 6 p. m. (Central) on Fox: Both these teams were well regarded before the season began, but hardly anyone had this game circled on the schedule as a must–see matchup.

    Nevertheless, it is a very big game in the Big 12 with potential significance for the national title picture. Not bad for a couple of schools that haven't faced each other in more than 80 years.

    Dave Skretta of the Associated Press writes that K–State has "a pretty good blueprint for success."

    We'll see, I suppose. KSU does have a better defense, by far, and the Wildcats will need it, given that they will be facing Geno Smith and the nation's sixth–ranked offense.

    I'm inclined to think West Virginia will win this game.
  • Brigham Young at #5 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: These teams have only met six times previously, and the Irish have won four of them.

    What's more, Notre Dame is 3–1 against BYU at South Bend.

    Actually, BYU is ranked slightly ahead of Notre Dame in total offense — but neither team has been particularly strong on offense. Defense is where both teams have stood out and, so far, BYU is ranked sixth in the nation while Notre Dame is 11th.

    Perhaps the home field advantage will boost the Irish in this one, but, right now, I'm picking Brigham Young to pull off the upset and win in South Bend for the first time in nearly 20 years.
  • #6 LSU at #20 Texas A&M, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the 50th time these teams have played, but it will be their first encounter as conference foes.

    Historically, LSU does not have a good record at College Station. The Aggies lead the series there, 9–2–1, and haven't lost to LSU at home in 25 years.

    LSU will be bringing the nation's second–best defense to Texas. The Aggies, on the other hand, have the sixth–best offense, which should make for some intriguing moments when A&M has the ball.

    It will be interesting — albeit sloppier — when LSU has the ball. The Tigers are 73rd in offense; the Aggies are 72nd in defense.

    LSU still has one of the best teams in the country, but I'm not sure they're good enough to win on the road against a good opponent — and A&M is a good opponent.

    Consequently, I pick Texas A&M to win.
  • Purdue at #7 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Ohio State has owned Purdue historically — but the Buckeyes' dominance has been especially pronounced in Columbus.

    Ohio State is 26–6–2 against the Boilermakers at home — and Purdue hasn't won there since 1988.

    But what about 2012? Well, Ohio State is currently 34th in total offense, thanks to Braxton Miller; Purdue is 77th. Neither team has been particularly impressive on defense. Ohio State ranks 69th; Purdue is 76th.

    I don't see how Ohio State can be denied.
  • Utah at #8 Oregon State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Last week, I said I wasn't sold on the Beavers yet.

    But I'm getting there.

    In the matter at hand, Oregon State leads Utah all time, mostly on the strength of their record in Corvallis. The Beavers are 6–2–1 against Utah at home.

    Offense has long been the dominant characteristic of Pac–12 teams. Oregon State isn't quite at the level of in–state rival Oregon, but the Beavers are ranked 32nd (thanks largely to Sean Mannion's 63% pass completion rate), which is well ahead of Utah at #114.

    Utah's defense, though, is rated higher than Oregon State's (#35 and #45, respectively), but it seems to me the Beavers are more than ready to shut down the Utes. I pick Oregon State to win.
  • Kansas at #10 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. (Central) on FSN: When I was a journalism professor at OU, I used to have season tickets to see the basketball team play.

    Those were the only times a KU–OU ticket was really hot when I lived in Norman. Kansas' football team has only had seven winning seasons in the last 30 years — but the Jayhawks still managed to beat the Sooners twice in the four years I was there.

    (Suffice to say I did not live in Oklahoma during the Sooners' glory years.)

    The Sooners have won 69 of the 102 football games the schools have played, including the last seven in a row. And I can't come up with a plausible reason why Kansas would win. I pick Oklahoma.
  • Colorado at #11 Southern California, 5 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: These teams have played six times through the years, and the Trojans have won all six games.

    Southern Cal's offense is only ranked 57th (Colorado's is 103rd), but the Trojans are 25th in defense (Colorado is 113th).

    Can Colorado get its first win over Southern Cal? No. I have to go with Southern Cal.
  • #12 Florida State at Miami (Fla.), 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams have played each other almost every year since the mid–1950s — and Miami holds a 29–25 lead.

    But Florida State has won five of the last seven meetings. I think it will be six of the last eight. My money is on Florida State.
  • #13 Georgia at Kentucky, 6 p.m. (Central) on FSN: Look high and low, but you won't find many series that have been as one–sided as this one.

    These teams first played each other in 1939, and they have been meeting annually since 1956 — 65 meetings so far. And Georgia has won 80% of them.

    So is there any hope for Kentucky in the numbers? Not really. Thanks to QB Aaron Murray and running back Todd Gurley, Georgia is #20 nationally in offense (Kentucky is 113th). The teams are a little closer on defense — Georgia is ranked 50th, Kentucky is 77th.

    I just can't see any way the Wildcats can win this game, even at home. My pick is Georgia.
  • Virginia Tech at #14 Clemson, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the 31st time these teams have faced each other, and Clemson has won 18 of the previous meetings.

    Considering Virginia Tech's reputation, that may come as a surprise. But Clemson, behind QB Tajh Boyd and halfback Andre Ellington, has a decisive edge on offense. Ranked #13 on offense, the Tigers may prove to be too much for Virginia Tech, which has the edge on defense but is only ranked 55th nationally.

    I like Clemson in this one.
  • Middle Tennessee at #15 Mississippi State, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2 Mississippi State is 4–0 all time against Middle Tennessee — with an average victory margin of three touchdowns.

    Middle Tennessee actually has the 43rd–ranked offense in the nation (compared to Mississippi State's #59 unit), but Mississippi State has the #25 defense in the land (Middle Tennessee's is 94th).

    I'm inclined to think Mississippi State will win rather handily.
  • South Florida at #16 Louisville, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: If Louisville can win this game, it will knot up the all–time series at 5&ndsh;5.

    And history favors it. Louisville is 3–1 at home against South Florida. The hitch is that South Florida won in 2010, the last time South Florida visited Louisville.

    Will history repeat itself? Well, there really isn't much difference between the two on offense — Louisville is ranked 62nd; South Florida is 67th. But the numbers on defense really make you think. Louisville is #24 in the nation; South Florida is #60.

    Louisville appears ready to even up the series.
  • #18 Texas Tech at TCU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams have only met twice since they stopped being members of the same conference in the mid–1990s — and both times, the home team won.

    They're in the same conference again, and the outcomes of their last two games are really typical of this series. Each has a winning record at home — which might be a good omen for TCU except that Texas Tech looked really good against West Virginia last week and TCU has looked really bad without its starting quarterback.

    (I mean, TCU lost at home to the same Iowa State team that Tech beat on the road the week before.)

    Texas Tech currently has the nation's 10th–best offense whereas TCU's is 45th. Now, that wouldn't be so bad — if it weren't for the fact that the Red Raiders rank fourth in defense. TCU is a respectable 15th in defense, but the fact remains that Tech is ahead of TCU in both categories — and the Red Raiders have already played Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma (both schools have yet to play Texas and Kansas State).

    It seems to me that TCU is a team on the way down while Tech is a team on the way up. I figured things might be rough for the Frogs, this being their first Big 12 season and all, but it might get really rough for them this weekend. I pick Texas Tech.
  • #19 Rutgers at Temple, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big East Network: This is the 35th time these teams have faced each other, and Rutgers holds a narrow 18–16 lead.

    Both teams have the advantage at home. In Rutgers' case, the record is 12–7.

    Rutgers also has been more productive on both sides of the ball, but neither offense has been exceptionally impressive. Rutgers, however, has the nation's 18th–best defense — much better than Temple's #61 defense.

    On the strength of its defense, I pick Rutgers.
  • #21 Cincinnati at Toledo, 3 p.m. (Central) on Cincinnati has been showing up a lot on lately.

    It's only been a three–game series so far with only one of those games — the first one, back in 1993 — having been played in Toledo. That is the only time Cincinnati has beaten Toledo, by the way.

    Home field has not been an advantage for either side. Toledo won the rematch in Cincinnati (and the 2001 Motor City Bowl).

    Offense might be the key, and both teams are ranked in the Top 30. Cincinnati's 39th–ranked defense should be better prepared to handle Toledo's offense than Toledo's #108 defense will be to stymie Cincinnati's offense.

    Accordingly, I have to pick Cincinnati.
  • #22 Stanford at California, 2 p.m. (Central) on Fox: The "Big Game," as this rivalry is called, is the oldest rivalry in the Pac–12.

    This will be the 92nd time they have met on the football field since 1918, a streak that was interrupted only by the war years of the 1940s. Stanford leads the series and has won the last two.

    In the first year of the post–Andrew Luck era, Stanford's offense has struggled (currently ranked 91st). Cal's, meanwhile, has been good but not great (#56).

    The edge on defense belongs to Stanford (ranked 48th; Cal's is 76th).

    Anything can happen in a rivalry game like this one, and I pick California to take what will most likely be regarded as an upset.
  • Michigan State at #23 Michigan, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: The battle for Michigan has been fought 86 times, and the Wolverines have won most of the time (52–30–4), but it has definitely been a streaky series in recent years.

    Michigan State has won the last four games in a row (and, according to the Detroit News, the Spartans, who have been disappointing this year, are eager to make it five in a row); before that, Michigan was the winner in six consecutive contests.

    Michigan State has never won five straight against Michigan. The Spartans had won four in a row three separate times before last year's victory — and, in their most recent such streak, they could have won seven in a row had it not been for a tie in one of their games.

    It's been a disappointing year for the Spartans, and I know it would make up for a lot if they could win this game, but I don't think they will. I pick Michigan.
  • UNLV at #24 Boise State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBCSN: These teams met for the first time last year, and Boise State won, 48–21, at Las Vegas.

    Boise State was once one of the nation's most exciting offensive units, but UNLV enters this game with an edge in total offense. On the other hand, Boise has a significant edge in total defense — along with the home field advantage.

    I pick Boise State.
Last week: 16–2

Season: 113–25

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