Thursday, September 19, 2013

Clemson Seeks Redemption at North Carolina State

Alabama QB A.J. McCarron had a lot to celebrate against Texas A&M last weekend.

Sportswriters were heaping praise on top–ranked Alabama last weekend after the Crimson Tide knocked off #6 Texas A&M in College Station.

Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was magical, wrote Kevin Armstrong for the New York Daily News, but Alabama simply was better. Some got a little carried away. Matt Hayes of Sporting News, for example, asserted that the rest of Alabama's season will be "anticlimactic."

Please. Alabama plays in the Southeastern Conference. Heading into Week 4 of the season, there are half a dozen other SEC teams in the Top 25, three of them in the Top 10 — and the Tide have played only one (A&M) so far this season. They're guaranteed to play two more in their division (LSU and Ole Miss) — and, if they get to the SEC Championship game, they are likely to play one of the other three (Georgia, South Carolina or Florida).

Besides, the competition in the SEC really can be so fierce that literally anyone can beat anyone on any Saturday. I'll grant you, it isn't likely that Alabama will lose more than one game before the SEC Championship game — but the games aren't played on paper. A lot can happen in the next couple of months.

Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated had some encouraging words for the Aggies and their fans: "Given what they showed ... against a veteran defense that has been among the nation's best for the past five seasons, the Aggies should feel confident that they can obliterate any normal defense."

I missed as many of my picks in Week #3 (four) as I missed in Weeks #1 and #2 combined.

It started with TCU's loss a week ago tonight to Texas Tech. In the old Southwest Conference days, that wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. Today it was enough to catapult the Red Raiders into the Top 25.

I also missed the UCLA–Nebraska game. As I mentioned last week, the outcomes of games in this series have often been harbingers of things to come. Based on the fact that UCLA won the game, historically speaking, that should mean a mediocre campaign for Nebraska. We shall see.

I wasn't sold on Ole Miss last week, and I picked Texas to win their game. Obviously, that was a mistake. I have more respect for the Rebels now.

And the other one I missed was the Wisconsin–Arizona State game. That was simply a case of mismanaging the clock, as you can see in the video I have attached below.

Idle: #2 Oregon, #11 Oklahoma State, #12 South Carolina, #14 Oklahoma, #21 Ole Miss

  • #3 Clemson at North Carolina State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools have faced off every year since 1971 — and 80 times in all since 1902.

    Clemson has dominated the series, 51–28–1, and has won eight of the last nine.

    But that single loss came the last time these teams played in Raleigh, N.C., and the similarities between those teams and the ones who will play tonight are striking. Then, as now, Clemson was ranked in the Top 10 in the nation, and everyone assumed the Tigers would win.

    N.C. State cruised to a 37–13 victory.

    I think Clemson has what it takes to win convincingly this time.
  • Colorado State at #1 Alabama, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2 or ESPNU: I suppose it is always possible that Alabama will have some kind of emotional letdown after defeating Texas A&M last Saturday.

    Possible ... but not very probable. Colorado has had four straight losing seasons. In that same time span, Alabama has won three national championships.

    It is possible that Alabama will lose a game, maybe two, this season. But this won't be one of them. Alabama will win.
  • Florida A&M at #4 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten: Since the dawn of the 21st century, only two schools outside the Big Ten (Texas and Southern Cal) have visited Ohio State and emerged victorious.

    I can't see Florida A&M joining that exclusive club. I pick Ohio State.

  • #23 Arizona State at #5 Stanford, 6 p.m. (Central) on Fox: I've been wondering if Arizona State's strange victory over Wisconsin last Saturday night will have any effect on this week's game with #5 Stanford.

    Arizona State leads this Pac–12 series, thanks to a winning record at home, but this year's game is being played at Stanford — and Stanford has won five of the last six against ASU at home.

    The Sun Devils need to be wary of tumbling into the delusional trap that beating Wisconsin set for them. Had the Badgers been better at clock management, they could have kicked a field goal and beaten ASU.

    But that is part of the game, and I'm thinking this could be a close one. If this one goes down to the wire, I'm inclined to think Stanford can handle the challenge. I'll take Stanford to win.
  • Auburn at #6 LSU, 6:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: By any measure, Auburn would be expected to lose to LSU. But perhaps the most compelling is LSU's record at home in this series.

    Auburn has a narrow historical advantage over LSU in its own stadium, but LSU absolutely owns Auburn when they play in Baton Rouge. That's where the teams will play on Saturday; LSU hasn't lost at home to Auburn since 1999.

    This is an unavoidable test for any team in the SEC West if it harbors hopes of achieving national prominence, and, as Greg Ostendorf writes for ESPN, Auburn's defensive line will face a major test from LSU's high–octane offense.

    I have the feeling that Auburn might make this competitive game until perhaps the end of the third quarter, but, when the final gun sounds, I expect LSU to win.
  • Florida International at #7 Louisville: Thank goodness conference schedules will be in full swing soon.

    This is yet another game in which I simply can't see the visiting team winning. Louisville should win this one easily.
  • Bethune–Cookman at #8 Florida State, 5 p.m. (Central) on There really isn't anything to say about this game.

    I mean, excluding the rivalry series with Florida (which really belongs in a separate category), Florida State has lost only three home games to non—conference foes in the last decade. I don't think Bethune–Cookman can stay with Florida State.
  • North Texas at #9 Georgia, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC: This will be the first time these schools have met in football.

    As a graduate of UNT, I would love to see the Mean Green beat Georgia. But I am a realist, and I know that North Texas really only has two chances of winning — slim and none. I have to pick Georgia, but I will be pulling for North Texas.
  • SMU at #10 Texas A&M, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2 or ESPNU: This is an old Southwest Conference series.

    Prior to this game, the teams have met 79 times — with A&M winning nearly 60% of the time. The Aggies have been particularly dominant at home, where they have won the last seven times against SMU (and, historically, they have won nearly two–thirds of the time).

    The last time SMU beat A&M in College Station, SMU's offense was known as the Pony Express.

    But it's the Aggies who have the high–powered offense this time, and I'm inclined to agree with E.J. Holland of the Dallas Morning News, who writes that Johnny Manziel will be too much for the Mustangs. Anyone who watched that Alabama–Texas A&M game last week almost certainly would agree. I pick Texas A&M.
  • New Mexico State at #13 UCLA, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12: New Mexico State hasn't had a winning season since 2002.

    The Lobos are 0–3, they're on a 14–game losing streak, they've lost 20 of their last 22 games, and they haven't beaten a Division I school since November 2011.

    Meanwhile, UCLA is coming off a big win at Nebraska. After struggling for several years, the Bruins played in the Pac–12 title game last year and narrowly lost to Stanford.

    I think UCLA can handle New Mexico State.
  • #15 Michigan at Connecticut, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: There doesn't seem to be much to say about this game.

    UConn is really a basketball school, and home field seems to be just about the only thing working in the Huskies' favor. But it won't be enough. I'll take Michigan.
  • Savannah State at #16 Miami (Fla.), 6 p.m. (Central) on Miami was established as a 60–point favorite over Savannah State earlier this week.

    During all those glory years in the 1980s and 1990s, the Hurricanes beat up on several teams, and their margins approached 60 points on some occasions, but I don't think they were ever favored by that many.

    I don't know if the Hurricanes will cover the spread, but I'll take Miami to win the game.
  • Idaho State at #17 Washington, 2 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12: In another one of those games that are nothing more than big paydays for the visitors and big statistical days for the home teams, there's nothing much you can say except that Washington is sure to win.
  • Maine at #18 Northwestern, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten: When I was growing up, Northwestern was the doormat of the Big Ten.

    The Wildcats are better now. They've qualified for bowls in five consecutive seasons, three of them on New Year's Day. Maine is probably best known for its unofficial fight song, "Stein Song," made famous by Rudy Vallée.

    I'll take Northwestern.
  • Tennessee at #19 Florida, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: There was a time — not so long ago, really — when this was one of the best, most closely contested series in the SEC, capable of producing cliffhangers on a regular basis.

    But the Gators have won nine of the last 11 against Tennessee, and only two of the games played in that time span have been decided by a single score.

    Neither offense has been impressive so far, but the Gators bring the third–ranked defense — and that might be enough considering that the Volunteers served up a point a minute to Oregon last week.

    Still, I can't shake the feeling that we're overdue for another cliffhanger in this series. I do expect Florida to win. The Gators might win by a wide margin, or it might be by a field goal in the final seconds.
  • Louisiana–Monroe at #20 Baylor, 3 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports: Baylor has the nation's #1 offense. Back in the days of the Southwest Conference, that would have been unthinkable.

    Another thing that was unthinkable was Baylor with a Top 20 defense — but that is exactly where the Bears' defense ranks nationally. Yes, sir, back in those days, Baylor could barely manage a win or two each season. The Bears are a lot better now.

    Oh, sure, I know. Most of the early games are mismatches. But I still say the Bears are better today, and I expect Baylor to win.
  • Michigan State at #22 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: In the last 12 seasons, this series has been split right down the middle.

    Since 2001, neither school has won three straight against the other — but the Fighting Irish will do precisely that if they beat the Spartans on Saturday.

    It's going to be a challenge. Michigan State boasts the top–ranked defense in the land, but, of course, that has been achieved through victories over Western Michigan, South Florida and Youngstown State. Notre Dame is in an entirely different league.

    I expect a close game, possibly decided by a field goal. I'll take the home team, Notre Dame.
  • Purdue at #24 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Wisconsin tends to beat Purdue wherever they are playing, but the Badgers have been especially hard to beat at home.

    In fact, since 1996, Wisconsin is 10–3 against Purdue. If there is a bright spot for the Boilermakers, it is that two of those victories came in Madison.

    Purdue's offense has struggled so far this season; Wisconsin's offense is in the Top 20. Neither defense has been impressive.

    My thinking is that the Badgers have something to prove after letting that game get away from them at Arizona State. I pick Wisconsin to win at home.
  • Texas State at #25 Texas Tech, 6 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports Network: The Red Raiders got a big win last week when they knocked off TCU.

    That kind of thing has been known to produce a letdown in the next game, and that might be the case with Texas Tech this week. But I think the Red Raiders can handle Texas State.

    I'll go with Texas Tech.
Last week: 14–4

Season: 51–8

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