Saturday, November 3, 2012

Alabama, LSU Meet in National Title Rematch

Alabama celebrated the Crimson Tide's 14th national title
after a 21–0 victory over LSU in New Orleans last January.

The last time LSU and Alabama met on a football field, Alabama won the game, 21–0, and the national title.

That was in New Orleans — officially "neutral" territory — last January.

The last time the two teams met in Baton Rouge, in November 2010, the Tigers won, 24–21.

But that was the exception to the rule. Over the years, Alabama has compiled a 24–8–3 record at Tiger Stadium — which is actually better than the Tide's record against the Tigers in Tuscaloosa.

However ...

Baton Rouge hasn't been that cozy for the Crimson Tide lately. Alabama has won only two of the last six games the teams have played there.

They first met in 1902, but the series was sporadic until about halfway through the 20th century. Alabama dominated things during Bear Bryant's tenure, and it seems to me the series lost a bit of its luster until about 25 years after Bryant retired — when Alabama hired former LSU head coach Nick Saban, setting up the first "Saban Bowl" in 2007.

Considering that Saban has won a couple of national titles at Alabama since that time, I guess this is just the latest installment of the "Saban Bowl."

And for you trivia buffs out there ...

Since we are only a few days away from Election Day, I thought it would be interesting to see if there are any historical trends. Actually, one trend over the years has been that Alabama and LSU played each other a Saturday or two following an election. It is only in the last couple of election years that the teams have played just before an election.

But, just for kicks, I thought it would be interesting to see what the series might be able to tell us.

Alabama and LSU have played every year since 1964. In that time, 12 presidential elections have been held. Republicans have won seven, Democrats have won five.

In those presidential election years, Alabama has won eight of the head–to–head matchups with LSU, and LSU has won four. While there are exceptions, it appears that the Democrat usually wins if Alabama defeats LSU, and the Republican usually wins if LSU defeats Alabama.

And, in every election since 1984, the Republican has won the presidency if LSU defeated Alabama, and the Democrat has won the presidency if Alabama defeated LSU.

Idle: #9 Florida State, #11 South Carolina

  • #1 Alabama at #5 LSU, 7 p.m. (Central) on CBS: History favors the Crimson Tide in this series — wherever the game is played.

    But Alabama has also been better on both offense and defense. Considering that the Tide boasts the top–ranked defense in the nation and a quarterback who "does everything," in the words of his coach, it's hard to see how Alabama could lose.

    With a month to go in the season, it is still possible that LSU and Alabama could meet in a rematch for the national title, just as they did last year. But only if LSU wins this game — and that should give the Tigers some additional motivation.

    But I don't think LSU is going to win. My pick is Alabama.
  • #2 Oregon at #18 USC, 6 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Southern Cal has dominated this series — especially at home, where the Trojans are 24–6–1 against the Ducks.

    The Ducks did win the last time they visited the Trojans, but that was, well, the exception to the rule.

    Given their rankings, though, it would seem that the Trojans will need more than the home field advantage.

    Unfortunately, they lag behind the Ducks in both offense and defense — which makes me think the Ducks will once again buck the historical trend. I'm picking Oregon.
  • Oklahoma State at #3 Kansas State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Since they first met in 1917, Oklahoma State has won nearly two–thirds of the games played between these two schools.

    But not so much lately.

    Oh, sure, the Cowboys have won four of the last five. But K–State won nine in a row before that, and the Wildcats had won six straight at home before Oklahoma State won there in 2010.

    Honestly, I think this year's game could be a dandy. OSU has the top–ranked offense in the nation (KSU is ranked 43rd). Kansas State's 30th–ranked defense is better than Oklahoma State's (#43), but one wonders if it has what it takes to stop J.W. Walsh (the #11 passer in the land) and Joseph Randle (the #9 rusher).

    But I think Kansas State may be the most lightly regarded third–ranked team in recent memory. Look at what the Wildcats have done so far. They are undefeated through eight games, a schedule that has included trips to Oklahoma and West Virginia, and the remaining schedule includes (after today's game), trips to TCU and Baylor and a regular season–concluding home game against Texas.

    There aren't many breathers on Kansas State's schedule, but the Wildcats seem to keep each other emotionally balanced — especially at home, where they have seldom lost in recent years.

    I'll take Kansas State.
  • Pittsburgh at #4 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: A week after what had to be an emotional road win over Oklahoma, Notre Dame faces Pittsburgh, a team the Irish have beaten 46 times.

    But the series (recently, at least) has been nothing if not competitive. Seven of the last eight meetings were decided by a single score.

    My guess is that, if today's game is that competitive, it's likely to be a low–scoring game dominated by the defenses. And Notre Dame, with its 11th–ranked defense, gets the nod.
  • Illinois at #6 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: The good news for the Illini in this series is they have actually fared better on the road (where they have won about 39% of the time) than at home (where they have won about 25% of the time). In fact, Illinois has won three of the last five games that were played in Columbus.

    But there is plenty of bad news — on so many levels. For one, Ohio State has dominated the series (winning about 67% of the time). For another, the Buckeyes are 12–3 against Illinois since 1995. For yet another, Ohio State has won the last four in a row.

    And one more thing, as Columbo used to say ...

    Ohio State's offense (ranked 45th in the land) is infinitely better than Illinois' (109th).

    Illinois' defense is ranked higher than Ohio States's, but the difference is so modest (45th and 59th, respectively) that it seems likely that offense will determine the winner. I think it will be Ohio State.
  • Ole Miss at #7 Georgia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: With Georgia's win over Florida last week, the Bulldogs are in the driver's seat in the SEC East.

    All they really have to do is win their last two SEC games — against Ole Miss and Auburn — and they will be in the SEC Championship game for the second consecutive year.

    That shouldn't be too much of a challenge as far as the Auburn game is concerned. The Tigers, who won the national title a couple of years ago with Cam Newton at quarterback, have fallen on hard times (their only win this year was in overtime against Louisiana–Monroe).

    But Ole Miss might be another matter. The 5–3 Rebels are a respectable 47th in both offense and defense. They aren't ranked ahead of the Bulldogs in either category, but they could be capable of giving Georgia some fits. QB Bo Wallace has completed about two–thirds of his passes, and Jeff Scott is averaging better than five yards per carry.

    Georgia, however, holds the historical advantage. The Bulldogs have won more than 70% of their encounters with Ole Miss, including their last nine games.

    But Ole Miss' last win over Georgia came in Athens in 1996. The Rebs have struggled on the road against Georgia, though, and the Bulldogs might have enough momentum to overwhelm them this time.

    I'm inclined to think Georgia will win. But I also think it will be an entertaining game, and I plan to watch it.
  • Missouri at #8 Florida, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These teams have played each other only once before — and that was nearly 50 years ago, in the 1966 Sugar Bowl.

    It was a good game, probably better than the one that will be played today. Neither team has been particularly impressive on offense this year (Florida is 100th nationally, Missouri is 109th) so if you like offense, this game probably isn't for you.

    But the Gators have the sixth–best defense in the nation, and Missouri's defense is ranked 25th so I would expect some defensive fireworks.

    I also expect Florida to prevail.
  • #10 Clemson at Duke, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This will be the 53rd time these teams have met since 1934, and Clemson has won 68% of the time.

    Duke has already qualified for a bowl berth, its first in nearly 20 years, and, if everything falls together just right, these teams might meet for a second time this season — in the ACC Championship game.

    But much work remains to be done before that happens. Duke is currently tied with North Carolina and Miami (Florida) for the lead in the ACC's Coastal Division, and Clemson trails Florida State (who beat the Tigers in September) by half a game in the Atlantic Division.

    Both teams have sufficient motivation, but the marquee unit in this game is Clemson's offense, which is 14th in the nation.

    Duke has every reason to be proud of what it has achieved — and what it may yet achieve — this season. But Duke's 75th–ranked defense figures to have trouble with Tajh Boyd (who has completed more than 67% of his passes) and Andre Ellington (who is averaging better than five yards a carry).

    I have to choose Clemson.
  • Temple at #12 Louisville, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams have played five times in the past — three times in the '80s.

    And their most recent meeting came in 2006 so there really isn't anything in their history that could be considered relevant to the current squads — except for the fact that Louisville has won the two meetings between the schools in the 21st century (Temple hasn't beaten Louisville since 1983).

    Along with having a two–game winning streak in the series, Louisville is ranked higher in both offense and defense — but note that this isn't your father's Louisville team that had such a fearsome offense. Louisville is middlin' (as folks often said about people and places and things when I was growing up) in that category these days — defense is Louisville's strong point in 2012.

    Defense is Temple's strength as well, but the Owls are only middlin' in that category, and their offense is one of the worst in the land. I believe Louisville will prevail.
  • Arizona State at #13 Oregon State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Unexpectedly, Oregon State has been a contender in the Pac–12 North this season. Ditto for Arizona State in the Pac–12 South.

    Both trail in their respective divisions by only ½ a game. The leaders in their respective divisions, USC and Oregon, will meet earlier in the day so, by the time this game kicks off, one squad will know that it really has its back to the wall.

    And that should give one of these teams a real sense of urgency.

    But, right now, the identity of that team is the unknown factor.

    I must make my pick based on what is known. And this is what is known:

    These teams first met in 1961, and they have been playing annually (with the exceptions of two seasons) since 1987. In all, Arizona State has won nearly 70% of the time, and the Sun Devils almost never lose to Oregon State at home.

    But there's the catch. This year, the game is in Corvallis, Ore., and the Beavers have won the last three times the teams have played there. In fact, if Oregon State wins, it will knot up the all–time series in Oregon.

    The outcome may be decided when Arizona State (with the nation's 18th–best offense) has the ball. Oregon State will counter with the 33rd–ranked defense. Can the Beavers handle the fifth–best passer (Taylor Kelly)? They'd better because Arizona State's defense is also in the Top 20, and Oregon State's offense is middlin' at #55.

    I think it will be a close game, but I believe Oregon State's home crowd — and the fact that I think Oregon will beat USC — will motivate Oregon State to defeat Arizona State.
  • #14 Oklahoma at Iowa State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: I've mentioned before that OU had probably its worst football teams during the time when I was on the faculty there.

    It was certainly the worst the football team has played in my lifetime.

    But even in those days, the Sooners always beat the Cyclones. Always. This will be their 77th meeting, and OU has won all but seven of those games (two were ties). OU hasn't lost to Iowa State since 1990, and its winning percentage in Ames, Iowa, is even higher than it is in Norman, Okla.

    Oklahoma probably has a Top 10 football team. The Sooners lost a close one to Kansas State in September and lost by a wider margin to Notre Dame last week. With two losses, OU is out of the running for the national title — and probably out of the running for the conference title.

    But I expect Oklahoma to win the game. As always.
  • #15 Stanford at Colorado, 1 p.m. (Central) on FX: If this was the World Series, it would be the seventh and deciding game.

    These teams have played six times, and the series is knotted at 3–3. It would certainly be a dramatic story if this was baseball. Stanford has won the last three games — after Colorado won the first three.

    But, in reality, Colorado hasn't beaten Stanford since 1990. And both teams are undefeated on their home turf. Stanford welcomed Colorado to the conference with a 48–7 blowout at Stanford. But now Stanford must travel to Colorado — without Andrew Luck, who has moved on to the NFL.

    Even so, Stanford really hasn't missed a beat, and I expect a Stanford win today.
  • #16 Texas A&M at #17 Mississippi State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: The Aggies have truly enjoyed a remarkable first season in the SEC.

    Sure, they have lost to LSU and Florida, but those are two perennial powers in the conference. They have exceeded everyone's expectations and can only qualify for better bowl bids with each win.

    But Mississippi State has had a pretty good season, too — an unexpectedly good season, and the Bulldogs have a 3–2 historical advantage against the Aggies. But, with the exception of the 2000 Independence Bowl, all the other games were played before World War II.

    Nevertheless, this will be the first time the teams have faced each other in Starkville. A new chapter in the series will be written there today.

    The marquee matchup should come when the Aggies (ranked fifth on offense) have the ball against Mississippi State's 28th–ranked defense. If the Bulldogs can stop the Aggies, they might have a chance (MSU's offense is 66th while A&M's defense is 35th).

    Texas A&M should win by a touchdown.
  • San Diego State at #19 Boise State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: These teams met for the first time last year, and Boise State won, 52–35.

    It doesn't seem like a lot has changed. I think Boise State will win.
  • Texas at #20 Texas Tech, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams are old rivals, going back long before Tech joined the Southwest Conference in 1960.

    It is a spirited rivalry, as Tech coach Tommy Tuberville told the Dallas Morning News, because so many players have friends on the opposite sideline, and at least one of the teams (usually Texas) has often been ranked when they have met.

    But seldom — if ever — has Texas Tech been the ranked team when the teams have played.

    In this series, I guess the most memorable moment came when the Red Raiders beat the Longhorns on the last play of the game in 2008. But the Longhorns have won the last three, including their return to the scene of the crime — Lubbock — two years ago.

    And now, here they are in Lubbock again, but the Longhorns are unranked while the Red Raiders are #20. And Texas Tech has the 11th–ranked offense in the country (Texas' is 38th). Texas Tech also has the #12 defense in the country (Texas' is 96th).

    I think Texas Tech will win, but it might be closer than these numbers would suggest.
  • #21 Nebraska at Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Historically, these teams have met six times (including twice when Michigan State was not yet classified Division 1–A). Nebraska has won all six games.

    When this season began, a lot of people probably figured these teams would be fixtures in the Top 25. But both fell out of the rankings fairly early, and Nebraska has only recently worked its way back in.

    The highlight–reel moments should come when the Cornhuskers have the ball and their 15th–ranked offense must face MSU's #5 defense. Nebraska's defense (ranked 26th) should have no trouble with Michigan State's 96th–ranked offense.

    Nebraska should improve to 7–0 against Michigan State.
  • Texas–San Antonio at #22 Louisiana Tech, 3 p.m. (Central) on ESPN–Plus: UTSA is really more of a basketball school.

    There isn't much to say about this one. I pick Louisiana Tech.
  • TCU at #23 West Virginia, 2 p.m. (Central) on Fox: These teams have played only once before — in the 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl, which was won by West Virginia, 31–14.

    Now that the schools are in the same conference, this might be the beginning of a pretty intense series.

    In spite of recent setbacks, West Virginia still has one of the best offenses in the college game. The Mountaineers are 13th; the Horned Frogs are 48th.

    But the catch is on defense. TCU is 23rd in the nation while West Virginia is 114th (I suspect that ranking is in large part due to the fact that West Virginia has yielded 212 points in its last four games — victories over Baylor and Texas and losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State).

    I guess the question (well, it's a two–parter) is this: Is West Virginia's defense as good as the statistics from September would lead you to believe? Or is it as bad as it has appeared in its last four games?

    I'm going to go with TCU. My rationale is based on some common opponents.

    The Frogs didn't look particularly good in their loss to Iowa State (who will play West Virginia in three weeks) in early October, and their defense did give up a touchdown more to Texas Tech than the Mountaineers did — but the Frogs played three OT periods with Tech.

    And the Mountaineers gave up three times as many points to Baylor as TCU did.

    I think it will be close, but I will go with West Virginia at home.
  • #24 Arizona at #25 UCLA, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12: This could be the most intriguing Pac–12 game of the week.

    The Oregon–USC game probably will get more attention, but Arizona is coming off a big win over USC — and it was accomplished in spite of an apparent concussion suffered by Arizona's quarterback.

    It doesn't get much more dramatic than that, even if the drama was realized in hindsight.

    Aside from all that, Arizona has won the last two times it visited UCLA. In fact, the Wildcats have won the last five in a row — and are 6–1 against UCLA since 2005.

    But UCLA has a few things in its favor. The Bruins' defense is ranked higher (but that, as my father likes to say, is like the Polish beauty contest — there are no winners. UCLA's defense ranks 76th in the nation and Arizona's is 110th).

    However, Arizona has a decided advantage on offense. The Wildcats are fourth in the country (again, UCLA ranks 76th). On that basis, I pick Arizona to beat UCLA.
Last week: 12–7

Season: 141–37

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