Saturday, November 17, 2012

All Shook Up

The college football landscape shifted last weekend when Texas A&M upset the top–ranked team in the nation, Alabama.

And some Aggie hearts beat a little faster at the thought of playing in the SEC Championship game next month — but the fact is that Alabama, which is still the highest–ranked team in the SEC, almost certainly will be playing for the conference title.

Alabama has only one conference game remaining — against 2–8 Auburn in the 71st edition of the Iron Bowl next Saturday. Anything can happen in a rivalry game, but the notion that this Auburn team might hand Alabama its second conference loss is just a little far–fetched, it seems to me.

However, just to play devil's advocate, let's say that Auburn pulls off an upset. That could mean a tie in the SEC West with either Texas A&M or LSU or both. That much isn't clear yet. A&M might stumble against Missouri, and LSU might falter against Ole Miss or Arkansas. Neither is likely, but they remain possible until the games are played.

What would be clear is that the SEC's streak of six consecutive national titles will end.

That may be the case, anyway. Top–ranked Oregon may be playing for the national title in January, but the Ducks must beat three straight ranked teams to get there.

Kansas State might be able to punch its ticket for the January showdown in its last two games, but that remains to be seen — as it does for the nation's third–ranked team, Notre Dame.

The next couple of weeks promise to be very interesting.

Idle: #18 Texas, #20 Louisville

  • #14 Stanford at #1 Oregon, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: I know there is a lot of talk on the West Coast these days about Oregon possibly playing for the national championship.

    Such talk was going on even before Alabama lost to Texas A&M last weekend, but now that Oregon is in the top spot, I suppose it has accelerated.

    Certainly, Alabama's loss put additional pressure on the Ducks, who were sure to be feeling more stress this week, anyway, with their upcoming game against #14 Stanford — and, if the Ducks win that one, there will be even more pressure when they face their in–state rivals from Oregon State the following week.

    Then, of course, if the Ducks win those two games, there will be the pressure of the Pac–12 Championship game, which figures to be against the winner of today's game between USC and UCLA.

    Neither Kansas State nor Notre Dame will have to play in a conference championship game, but the Irish will have to play #21 Southern Cal on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

    In fact, K–State may have the easiest road to the national championship game of the top three. After facing Baylor this weekend, the Wildcats have the next week off before closing the season against #18 Texas. (Not that beating Texas will be easy, but at least the Wildcats will get to face the Longhorns on their home turf.)

    But back to the Oregon–Stanford game ...

    The historical record suggests that Stanford would be a lot better off playing this game at home where the Cardinal have beaten the Ducks nearly 63% of the time. When the game has been played in Eugene, the Ducks have been victorious more than half the time.

    Oregon has by far the better offense. Ranked third in the country, it is light years ahead of Stanford's 84th–ranked offense.

    It's not entirely bleak for Stanford, though. The Cardinal defense may pose the stiffest challenge that Oregon will face in Pac–12 play this year (even though the Oregon State game is looming next week).

    But I still think Oregon will prevail at home.
  • #2 Kansas State at Baylor, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Well, even though KSU is undefeated and Baylor is just barely flirting with the .500 mark, this might not be quite so easy for the Wildcats.

    KSU is 4–0 at home against Baylor, but the Wildcats are just 3–2 at Waco — and Baylor has beaten K–State the last two times they have played there.

    The Bears have the better offense by far. Baylor is #2 in the nation in that category (compared to K–State at #47). But defense, they say, wins championships, and the Wildcats' 34th–ranked defense is much better than Baylor's (#120).

    I figure KSU will have its ups and downs against Baylor's offense — but when the Wildcats have the ball, they almost can't help being productive against the Baylor defense. Only one of Baylor's 10 opponents has failed to score at least 23 points, and most have scored at least 35. Kansas State, on the other hand, has scored 44 points or more six times this season.

    (Some of those points were scored by the defense, but most of them were scored on offense.)

    It seems obvious to me that Kansas State will win this game.
  • Wake Forest at #3 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: These teams met for the first time last season, and Notre Dame, en route to an 8–5 mark, won the game, 24–17.

    That game was played at Wake Forest. This time, the teams meet in South Bend.

    As I mentioned, Notre Dame has the challenge of facing USC next week, but, as long as the Irish don't overlook the 5–5 Demon Deacons, they ought to be undefeated when they face the Trojans.

    After all, Notre Dame's eighth–ranked defense should dispose of Wake Forest's 111th–ranked offense. And, while Notre Dame's offense has been adequate but not great, Wake Forest's defense appears ill–equipped to stop it.

    Notre Dame should win.
  • Western Carolina at #4 Alabama, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: I can't understand why anyone would want to televise this game — but, for some reason, many teams in the Top 25 are facing non–Division 1–A opponents this weekend — and, barring any extremely unforeseen developments, they should have no trouble.

    One would think that Alabama, with the second–best defense in the land, would be unimpressed with Western Carolina. I fully expect Alabama to win.
  • Georgia Southern at #5 Georgia: This game has a lot in common with the Alabama game — one of the best SEC teams is playing at home against a non–Division 1–A team.

    Unless something really unexpected happens, I believe Georgia will win.
  • #6 Ohio State at Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams almost always have winning records when they face each other.

    And Ohio State almost always wins.

    The Buckeyes have been much more successful at home, but they've been successful against Wisconsin wherever the game has been played. At Wisconsin, Ohio State is 25–11–2 — but the Badgers have won two of the last three games that were played there.

    And logic suggests that, if Wisconsin can make it three of four, the Badgers (who would then be 8–3) will return to the Top 25.

    I think it should be a good game. Ohio State has the better offense, but Wisconsin's defense currently ranks in the Top 20 nationally — and should be up to the task of stopping the Buckeyes.

    I'm probably going out on a limb, but I'll pick Wisconsin in a mild upset.
  • Jacksonville State at #7 Florida: Like the Alabama and Georgia games, I see no reason why the home team should lose to this non–Division 1–A team.

    Florida should win easily.
  • Ole Miss at #8 LSU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Known as the "Magnolia Bowl," this rivalry dates back to the 19th century.

    Its heyday came in the 1950s and 1960s, when both teams brought lofty rankings and winning records into their annual clashes (they even met in the Sugar Bowl once).

    In a sort of general view of sports history, not much has changed for LSU, which is ranked eighth in the land, but Ole Miss (5–5) has struggled.

    Ole Miss has the better offense, but LSU's defense (#3 in the nation) seems well prepared for it.

    That — and home field, where LSU is 37–23–1 against Ole Miss — seems likely to propel LSU to victory.
  • Sam Houston State at #9 Texas A&M: This must seem like a real breather to the Aggies, who have won eight of their last nine games (the exception being a five–point loss to LSU last month).

    And, after winning on the road against the top–ranked team in the nation last week, Texas A&M simply can't be impressed with Sam Houston State.

    A BCS bowl berth is possible for the Aggies if they keep their eyes on the prize, and I see no reason why they shouldn't do that today. Texas A&M should win this game.
  • #10 Florida State at Maryland, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: There really isn't much reason, frankly, for Maryland fans to watch this game — either in person or on TV.

    Historically, Florida State has won 20 of the 22 meetings between the schools and has never lost at home — so I guess there is one good thing about this game for Maryland fans. It's being played in College Park, not Tallahassee.

    It could be depressing for Terps fans when they have the ball. Maryland's offense is the worst in the land while Florida State's defense is the best. Things might be much better for Maryland when Florida State has the ball. The Seminoles are #11 in the country in offense, but the Terps, who are 16th in defense, might be able to stop them.

    One wonders, though, if the Terps might stop themselves. Statistically, Maryland's offense is –10 in turnovers, and the thought of cashing in on that and beefing up the defensive statistics must be motivating for FSU's defense.

    On the flip side, I wonder if Florida State can maintain its focus, knowing that its annual rivalry game with #7 Florida is only a week away.

    Can Maryland win? I doubt it. I pick Florida State.
  • North Carolina State at #11 Clemson, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: When North Carolina State beat Clemson last year, it snapped a seven–game Clemson winning streak against the Wolfpack.

    But the 6–4 Wolfpack still have plenty to play for — like a more prestigious bowl appearance — and Clemson could well be distracted by next week's game with South Carolina.

    But if Clemson's offense (seventh in the nation) remains focused, it should be able to dominate N.C. State's defense (61st in the country) and give the Tigers the winning edge. I figure Clemson's defense (#57 in the land) is evenly matched with N.C. State's offense (#59).

    I pick Clemson.
  • Wofford at #12 South Carolina: I really thought South Carolina would struggle after losing its marquee running back to an injury a few weeks ago.

    But the Gamecocks have persevered, and they should be 9–2 after beating this non–Division 1–A foe — if they don't start daydreaming about their game next week against #11 Clemson.

    I don't think they will. I think South Carolina will win.
  • #13 Oklahoma at West Virginia, 6 p.m. (Central) on Fox: It should be rather cold in West Virginia tonight.

    I used to live in Oklahoma so I know the OU players are accustomed to the cold weather, but this isn't like what they have been dealing with lately. It's going to be in the mid–50s (at best) during the day, and temperatures are expected to decline rapidly after the sun goes down.

    It's a modest series to date — only four games have been played — and the teams have never played in Morgantown so this will be a first — and a chilly one at that.

    The offenses are pretty even — OU is #16, West Virginia is #18 — so that means defenses probably will be decisive — and that is where OU (#20) has a huge edge over West Virginia (#110).

    I predict that Oklahoma will win.
  • California at #15 Oregon State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12: I'm sure it must be tempting for the Beavers to overlook the Bears with the showdown with #1 Oregon coming up next week, but a loss to the Bears would knock Oregon State out of the running for the Pac–12 championship game.

    Well, they're probably out of the running for that, anyway, what with Stanford and Oregon playing each other today. Oregon is undefeated and Stanford only has one loss in Pac–12 play whereas Oregon State has two conference losses. Logic says the winner of the Oregon–Stanford game will represent the division in the conference championship game.

    But, as this day begins, a three–way tie at the top of the division is still mathematically possible and, if that happens, I don't know what the Pac–12's tiebreaker would be.

    If there is to be such a tie, two things must happen this week: Stanford must beat Oregon this afternoon and Oregon State must beat California tonight.

    I have already predicted that Stanford will not hold up its end of the bargain, but Oregon State has a significantly better defense than California. Both offenses are rather average so defense figures to dominate in this game.

    Consequently, I will pick Oregon State.
  • Minnesota at #16 Nebraska, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: I have found that many people mistakenly believe that, because Nebraska is a newcomer to the Big Ten, its series with most of the members of the conference are rather sparse.

    That may well be the case with some of the schools, but Nebraska has a long history with Minnesota. They've played 52 times — but last year, Nebraska's first in the Big Ten, was the first time the teams had faced each other in more than two decades.

    Nebraska's win in 2011 was its 15th straight against Minnesota. The Gophers haven't beaten the Cornhuskers since 1960, and it is hard to imagine 6–4 Minnesota topping an 8–2 Nebraska team that has lost only to #17 UCLA and #6 Ohio State.

    Especially since Nebraska enjoys such a huge advantage on offense (the Cornhuskers are #17 in the country while Minnesota is #96). Minnesota actually has the edge on defense, but it is narrow (Minnesota is #25; Nebraska is #28).

    On the strength of a superior offense and the home field advantage, I choose Nebraska.
  • #21 USC at #17 UCLA, 2 p.m. (Central) on Fox: When I was a kid, the USC–UCLA game was one of the top rivalry games that was televised every year — usually during the Thanksgiving season.

    USC usually won the game as it has throughout history (the Trojans have won about 61% of the time, and they've won 12 of the last 13) — but the thing that should concern this USC football team about this UCLA team is that UCLA has the #13 offense in the nation — and the third best in the Pac–12, a conference that is known for flashy offenses.

    Southern Cal has a pretty good offense, too (#28), and logic says it shouldn't have much trouble with UCLA's #75 defense. But neither should UCLA's offense have too much difficulty with USC's #58 defense.

    It seems to me to be a matter of which offense executes its game plan the most effectively. I'm guessing it will be UCLA.
  • Utah State at #19 Louisiana Tech, 3 p.m. (Central) on Here's something I'll bet you didn't know — Louisiana Tech has the top–ranked offense in the nation.

    OK, maybe you did know it, but even if Utah State knows it, it can't be very encouraging — especially since Louisiana Tech has won six of the last seven meetings between the schools.

    Tech (9–1) should not take the 8–2 Aggies lightly, though. That Bulldog offense will be taking on the 12th–best defense in the nation. And Tech's offense better come through because Tech has one of the worst defenses in the nation while Utah State's offense is 28th.

    I pick Utah State.
  • #22 Rutgers at Cincinnati, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big East: This series dates back to 1980, but it has really only been a regular thing since the teams became conference rivals.

    It's one of those series that goes in waves. Back in the 1980s, Rutgers was the regular winner, then they played a couple of times in what was, in hindsight, a transitional period in the 1990s (split decision), and Cincinnati has been the dominant program in the early 21st century (although Rutgers did snap a five–game Bearcat winning streak in the series last year).

    If it is true that defense wins championships — or, at least, wins games — Rutgers, with its 14th–ranked defense, should have no trouble with Cincinnati (98th in the nation in offense).

    Cincinnati's defense (#44) might be able to compete with Rutgers' offense (#33), but if the Rutgers defense forces Cincinnati to commit turnovers (and Rutgers has been particularly good at making the other team fumble the ball away this season), it really might not matter what happens when Rutgers has the ball.

    I pick Rutgers.
  • #23 Texas Tech at Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FSN: This really should be an entertaining game.

    Both offenses are in the Top 10. OSU's is slightly better, but it will have the challenge of facing Tech's 18th–ranked defense.

    Tech's three losses have been to ranked teams (Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas). OSU has lost to Texas and K–State, too; OU is coming up next week. The Bedlam Series is always a big attention grabber in Oklahoma, and OSU has been good enough — and successful enough — in recent years (the Cowboys snapped an eight–game losing streak to the Sooners last year) to make folks in Oklahoma wonder if OSU can win two in a row against OU for only the seventh time in the last century.

    The Cowboys can't afford to be distracted by such thoughts this week — but my guess is they will. Texas Tech in what may well be regarded as an upset.
  • Iowa at #23 Michigan, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: This series is more than a century old, and Michigan has been in the driver's seat practically from the beginning.

    Well, Iowa did win the first encounter back in 1900 — but then won only one of the next 16. A pattern was set.

    Iowa fans are not accustomed to experiencing losing seasons, but the prospect is suddenly very real, now that the 4–6 Hawkeyes are on a four–game losing streak and must defeat both Michigan today and #16 Nebraska next week to finish 6–6.

    Michigan's offense hasn't been too horrifying, but the Wolverines' defense, which is 11th in the nation, has been.

    And it is because of the defense that I pick Michigan to win.
  • #25 Kent State at Bowling Green, 11 a.m. (Central) on These teams have faced each other every year since 1962, and Bowling Green has thoroughly dominated the series, 40–9.

    Only recently has Kent made a series of it, winning the last two and three of the last six.

    And Kent (9–1) might make it three in a row with its superior offense.

    But Bowling Green (7–3) has the sixth–best defense in the country. The Falcons have only given up 20 points or more three times — but they have lost on all three occasions.

    I tend to favor good defenses, especially when the weather turns cold — as it is sure to be in Ohio this weekend.

    Consequently, I pick Bowling Green.
Last week: 17–4

Season: 174–44

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