Thursday, November 8, 2012

National Championship Dreamin'

Alabama's Bear Bryant (left) and Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian
faced each other for the national championship on Dec. 31, 1973.

At this point, of course, no one knows who will play in the BCS National Championship game in January.

It's logical to assume that the top–ranked team, Alabama, will be in it — but Texas A&M might have something to say about that this Saturday.

Beyond that, I suppose, it is a matter of whimsy — but it is something in which every college football fan engages at some point in the season, and, with only a few weeks remaining in this one, most fans are already thinking about who might be playing for the national title.

It isn't hard to imagine Oregon playing in the big game. After all, the Ducks have been in the national championship conversation for the last few years.

Nor does it require a great deal of imagination to picture teams like Georgia or Florida State or LSU playing for all the marbles — although teams with two losses (like LSU) really need a lot of things to happen just so if they are to have a prayer.

Personally, I've been fantasizing about Notre Dame playing Alabama.

When I was a boy, those teams played for the national title in the 1973 Sugar Bowl, and there were those who said Notre Dame's 24–23 victory was one of the greatest games ever played.

That was quite a compliment, given all the other great games that were played between great teams led by great coaches over the years — but especially in those days.

And what else would one expect in a game that had Bear Bryant on one sideline and Ara Parseghian on the other?

Idle: #5 Ohio State

  • #8 Florida State at Virginia Tech, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN Before the season began, this was probably viewed as a marquee November matchup. The teams are perennial Top 25 squads who have met in ACC title games twice since 2005.

    Florida State is ranked and has hopes of landing a BCS bowl berth, but Virginia Tech has staggered to a 4–5 record.

    Frankly, Florida State just looks too powerful. The Seminoles have the fifth–ranked offense and the top–ranked defense.

    I don't think Virginia Tech will be able to compete. I pick Florida State.
  • #15 Texas A&M at #1 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: I have a friend who is a graduate of Texas &M, and he's been pointing to this game all season — initially, with dread, but, as the Aggies have gathered momentum, his mood has improved.

    "I guess we're the real deal," he said in an email following A&M's victory over Mississippi State last weekend.

    Well, this will be the ultimate test. Top–ranked Alabama has had the top–ranked defense most of the season — until it was replaced by Florida State recently. But the Crimson Tide is ranked second. (The Aggies, who have sometimes shown glimpses of their defensive DNA — going back to the "Wrecking Crew" of a few decades ago, are ranked 46th in that category.)

    The Aggies' offense, though, might give 'Bama its stiffest challenge to date. A&M is fifth in offense (Alabama is 48th).

    I expect a close game, but I'll give home team Alabama the nod.
  • #2 Oregon at California, 8:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Cal has a five–game edge in the series, but Oregon is 11–4 in the last 15 meetings. And, frankly, it's hard for me to see how Cal can be competitive in this game.

    Oregon has the fourth–best offense in the nation (Cal's is 64th). In a conference known historically for its offense, that is saying something. The Ducks also have a decent defense, ranked 50th (which is better than Cal at #73).

    Someone may prevent the Ducks from playing in the national title game, but I doubt it will be the Bears. Oregon will win this game.
  • #3 Kansas State at TCU: It's been a quarter of a century since these teams met, but a lot of things have changed.

    Both teams were bottom feeders when they last met, but K–State may well be playing for a national title at the end of the season, and TCU was in the national championship conversation not so long ago.

    If a few things had gone right for TCU this year, in fact, this game could have been a Top 25 showdown. Even so, unranked TCU has had some pretty good moments — like the Frogs' double–overtime win at West Virginia last week — and may yet be back in the rankings.

    (K–State won at West Virginia, too, but didn't come close to requiring an extra period to do it.)

    This game has real potential to be a trap for KSU. The Wildcats have a narrow advantage over the Frogs on offense, but the Frogs have a somewhat wider advantage on defense.

    It is worth noting, though, that KSU has scored 50 points or more in five of its nine games. TCU has exceeded 50 points twice — and once was in triple overtime.

    I think Kansas State will win, but the Wildcats have to be careful that they don't look ahead to their games with Baylor and Texas. TCU can be dangerous.
  • #4 Notre Dame at Boston College, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: A funny thing almost happened to Notre Dame en route to the national championship game. The Irish almost lost to upset–minded Pittsburgh last week, but they survived a real thriller in overtime.

    Now the Irish must face 2–7 Boston College. It would be tempting to take BC lightly, but the memory of the Pitt game is too fresh and the goal of an unbeaten season is too close to fruition.

    Notre Dame's 10th–ranked defense should have little trouble with BC's 90th–ranked offense. And, while Notre Dame's offense has struggled at times, it should be able to handle BC's 109th–ranked defense.

    Notre Dame should remain undefeated.
  • #5 Georgia at Auburn, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These teams first met in 1892, and the series has become known as the "Deep South's oldest rivalry."

    And if Auburn could win the game, it would have 51 victories — the same number of victories Georgia has — in the series.

    But Georgia has won five of the last six games, and the teams are heading in different directions this season. Georgia is on course for a showdown with top–ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship game while Auburn is winless in SEC play.

    Georgia also enjoys decided advantages on both sides of the ball. Even the home field won't help Auburn in this one. I believe Georgia will win.
  • Louisiana–Lafayette at #7 Florida, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: You know, I could go into all the reasons why Florida should win this game.

    But why bother? It should be obvious. Florida will win.
  • #22 Mississippi State at #9 LSU, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is a tough assignment for LSU, coming off its emotional loss to Alabama last week.

    The twice–beaten Tigers are now out of the national championship picture and the conference championship picture — and they must face Mississippi State, also a recent loser to Alabama.

    On offense, there appears to be little difference between these two teams. LSU is ranked #71, Mississippi State is #73. That leads me to believe that the game will be decided by defense. And if that is the case, there seems to be no question that LSU, ranked third in that category, will have the edge. Mississippi State's defense is adequate, but it is not really comparable to LSU.

    LSU is 19–1 against Mississippi State since 1992 and hasn't lost to the Bulldogs at home since 1991. The Tigers also haven't lost two games in a row since the 2008 season — and that was the first time they lost two in a row since 2002. It just doesn't happen.

    I feel safe in picking LSU to win.
  • Maryland at #10 Clemson, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: These teams have been playing annually since 1952, and success has come in waves for both.

    The waves were a little stronger and lasted a little longer until about a decade ago. Before the new millennium, it wasn't unusual for one team to roll up five straight wins or more against the other. Since 2000, though, the longest winning streak for either has been three, and two straight wins have been the norm.

    Clemson has won the last two meetings so recent history would suggest that it is Maryland's turn. And the Terps have won two of the last three games they have played at Clemson so it isn't as if this is an impossible assignment. In this series, Maryland has been almost as successful on the road as it has been at home.

    But Clemson has the nation's ninth–best offense — which should be challenged by Maryland's 11th–ranked defense. Maryland's big problem is its defense, which would be the worst in the land if not for Kentucky.

    When all is said and done, I think Clemson will prevail.
  • #11 Louisville at Syracuse: There was a time in this series when Syracuse clearly had the upper hand, but, since 2003, Louisville has won six of eight contests.

    The most intriguing moments of the game seem likely to come when Syracuse's #26 offense takes the field against Louisville's #29 defense. But they might be just as evenly matched, although not as talented, when Louisville's #45 offense has the ball against Syracuse's #42 defense.

    I'm tempted to take Syracuse at home, but Louisville is unbeaten and Syracuse is 4–5. Louisville might get sloppy the week before the season finale against #24 Rutgers, but that is three weeks from now. I'll take Louisville.
  • Arkansas at #12 South Carolina, 11 a.m. (Central) on CBS: My alma mater returns to the Top 25 — but as a visitor.

    That's a far cry from what I expected. Based on what they had returning this year, I figured they would be in the Top 10 at this point in the season. I sure didn't expect them to be 4–5.

    While I was as horrified as anyone at the injury to Marcus Lattimore, I would be foolish not to recognize that it can only help the Hogs if he isn't in the lineup.

    Currently, Arkansas has the edge on offense. In spite of some dreadful early season performances, the offense seems to have mostly righted itself, and the Hogs enter this game ranked 46th in that category while South Carolina is 86th.

    But South Carolina has the #12 defense in the nation whereas Arkansas is #72.

    In the 20 times the teams have played since joining the SEC back in 1992, the Hogs lead the series, 13–7, but they've built their advantage at home. On the road, the teams are tied, 5–5.

    And, although it pains me to say, I think South Carolina will make it 6–5 at home.
  • #13 Oregon State at #16 Stanford, 2 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Oregon State is one of the Cinderella stories of the year.

    Oregon State was 8–16 in the last two seasons, but if the Beavers can defeat Stanford, they will have won as many games this season as they won in the last two combined.

    And they will set themselves up as the last realistic challenger to in–state rival Oregon in their Pac–12 division.

    But Stanford won't be an easy win for Oregon State. In a conference that is known for offense, these teams have been succeeding with good defense. Stanford's is ranked 15th, Oregon State's is ranked 30th.

    The Beavers have a much better offense than Stanford, but the defenses are the stars, and I think Stanford's will turn back the challenge.
  • Baylor at #14 Oklahoma: In this series, the 20th time was the charm for Baylor.

    Baylor and Oklahoma played for the first time in 1973, and the Sooners won the first 19 games they played. But last year, Baylor finally got its first victory over Oklahoma as Robert Griffin III probably secured his Heisman Trophy with a 45–38 triumph in Waco.

    Well, RGIII is gone now, and the rematch will be in Norman, where the Sooners are 10–0 against the Bears.

    But Baylor is doing just fine on offense. In fact, the Bears are ranked #1 in the nation in total offense (the Sooners are 14th). But Oklahoma's defense, ranked 17th in the nation, may be better equipped to handle Baylor than Baylor is to handle OU. The Bears' defense is currently the worst in the nation.

    This ought to be an entertaining game, and I pick Oklahoma to win it.
  • #17 UCLA at Washington State, 8:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: UCLA leads the all–time series by more than 20 games.

    I'm inclined to think the Bruins will add to their advantage. They've won the last four meetings, and they've been better on both sides of the ball this season. I pick UCLA.
  • Penn State at #18 Nebraska, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the 15th time these teams have faced each other, and the winner will break a 7–7 tie in the all–time series.

    Both teams have been successful against the other at home. This year, Penn State's defense has been slightly better than Nebraska's. Nebraska, on the other hand, has been much more successful on offense. That, along with the home field, should lift Nebraska to victory.
  • #19 Louisiana Tech at Texas State, 6 p.m. (Central) on Longhorn Network: I'm not sure why this game is being televised.

    I know nothing about Texas State, and I can't imagine why anyone would pick against Louisiana Tech in this game. I certainly won't.
  • Iowa State at #19 Texas, 11 a.m. (Central) on Longhorn Network: This will be the 10th time that these teams have played, and Iowa State won only once — when they met in Austin two years ago.

    This time, there will be a certain emotion in the air as the Longhorns and their fans pay tribute to the late Darrell Royal, who died yesterday.

    Neither defense has been very impressive this season, but the Longhorns have been much better than Iowa State on offense. I don't think it matters, though. I expect Texas to prevail.
  • Arizona State at #21 Southern Cal, 2 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12: Over the years, Southern Cal has won nearly two–thirds of its contests with Arizona State.

    The location of the game — Arizona or California — doesn't really matter although Southern Cal has had more of a tendency to win the home games than the road ones.

    In 2012, Southern Cal has the 25th–rated offense, but ASU isn't far behind in that category at #31.

    And the Sun Devils have a distinct advantage on defense, where they are #24 (compared to Southern Cal at #65).

    While it bucks the historical trend, I'll go with Arizona State.
  • #23 Toledo at Akron: In the eight times these teams have met, Akron has won twice — but those wins bookended the other six.

    Akron won the last time these teams faced each other, on Nov. 5, 2008, ending a six–game losing streak.

    They seem pretty evenly matched. Both have had poor defensive units, and their offensive units are separated in the national rankings by fewer than 10 spots. It may be regarded as something of an upset, but I will pick Akron to win.
  • Army at #24 Rutgers: Army has lost eight straight games to Rutgers, and, believe me, there is nothing I would like more than to be able to predict an underdog victory.

    And, believe it or not, Army actually has a higher–rated offense than Rutgers.

    But the Scarlet Knights have a Top 20 defense, and that should put them over the top. I take Rutgers.
  • Kansas at #25 Texas Tech, 11 a.m. (Central) on FSN: In 13 previous contests, Kansas beat Texas Tech only once.

    But that unlikely victory came on the road. The Jayhawks beat the Red Raiders in Lubbock on Oct. 6, 2001.

    That doesn't seem likely to happen again. Kansas is 1–8, Tech is 6–3, and they're miles apart on both sides of the ball.

    I pick Texas Tech.
Last week: 16–3

Season: 157–40

No comments: