Saturday, September 7, 2013

One More Time For All of the Old Times

What is probably the last game (for awhile, anyway) in the Notre Dame–Michigan series to be played in the Big House is the headliner for this week's action.

There are other rivalries on the schedule. Twelfth–ranked Florida plays at Miami (Fla.) in an early ACC showdown, and sixth–ranked South Carolina visits 11th–ranked Georgia in the SEC opener for both schools.

But Notre Dame–Michigan is the big one this week, and it has been pretty entertaining in recent years. There is no reason to think it won't be entertaining tonight as well.

Unless you're Chris Mahr. I'm assuming that Mahr won't be watching. In a recent post at Lost Lettermen, Mahr asserts that the Notre Dame–Michigan rivalry is overrated.

Be that as it may ...

This is the 18th time these schools have played in Michigan Stadium. There have been some good games played there, but this will be the last time — at least for awhile.

It's worth tuning in for.

Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free–Press writes that Michigan will need to fill the slot in the schedule, and I agree. I disagree with his suggestion that scheduling "SEC middle–of–the–pack Arkansas" isn't the answer. Arkansas is my alma mater and, while "middle of the pack" may be a generous assessment now, when the teams are scheduled to meet on the playing field in about four or five years, things might be different.

Sharp acknowledges, though, that it is "a start."

Speaking of starts ...

I felt pretty good about my predictions last week. For awhile, I even flirted with perfection!

I predicted that the #8 Clemson Tigers would defeat the #5 Georgia Bulldogs — and they did. I picked the 12th–ranked LSU Tigers to beat the #20 TCU Horned Frogs — and they did.

I also picked unranked Washington to defeat #19 Boise State — and that, too, came to pass.

But I stumbled on Eastern Washington–Oregon State. Darn it.

Idle: #1 Alabama, #10 Florida State, #18 UCLA, #20 Washington

  • #2 Oregon at Virginia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Oregon and Virginia have never faced each other in football.

    Virginia is the home team so the Cavaliers won't have to contend with the jet lag that the Ducks are sure to encounter. But Oregon has been one of the most fearsome football teams in America the last few years. A little jet lag doesn't seem likely to slow them down.

    The Cavaliers have begun the last two seasons at 2–0, but it doesn't look likely that they can extend that streak to three straight years.

    Admittedly, the Ducks' first opponent was Nicholls, but they still rolled up 66 points and nearly 800 yards on offense. That's going to get your attention.

    Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post observes that the Cavs "had little time to savor their season–opening victory," a 19–16 win over Brigham Young that would probably get noticed in almost any other year.

    In recent years, Virginia typically has opened the season against a non–IA school — and hasn't always been able to win. Beating a school like BYU in the opener is an achievement, but Giannotto is right. There is no time to savor it. Perhaps when the season is over.

    But not now. Now is a time to be focused. But, no matter how focused Virginia may be, I expect Oregon to win by double digits.
  • San Diego State at #3 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These schools have met three times since 2001 — each game was played in Columbus, Ohio, and each game was won by Ohio State by an average of about two touchdowns.

    Today, for the fourth time, the teams will play in Columbus. And I predict that, once again, Ohio State will win — probably by about two touchdowns.
  • South Carolina State at #4 Clemson, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on The last time these schools met on the gridiron was in 2008. South Carolina State came to Clemson in September and was thrashed, 54–0.

    I expect something similar this time. That Clemson team finished 7–5 and went on to lose the Gator Bowl to Nebraska. This Clemson team looks much better.

    I pick Clemson to win.
  • San Jose State at #5 Stanford, 10 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12: Stanford was the only member of AP's Top 25 that did not play last weekend — and the Cardinal lost ground in the rankings.

    Last week, Stanford was ranked fourth. But Clemson, thanks to its victory over highly regarded Georgia, leaped past Stanford into the #4 slot, and Stanford fell back to fifth.

    Now Stanford has an opportunity to regain that lost ground against a familiar foe. Stanford and San Jose State have met 59 times, and Stanford has controlled the series, 44–14–1.

    Stanford actually has been more dominant on the road than at home. The Cardinal have won two–thirds of the time at home, more than three–fourths of the time on the road.

    Stanford has won nine straight against San Jose State and hasn't lost at home in the schools' practically annual game since 2000.

    Sounds like just the thing to revive Stanford's ranking. San Jose probably won't roll over, but I think Stanford will win by at least a touchdown.
  • #6 South Carolina at #11 Georgia, 3:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Last week's loss to Clemson must have been a bitter pill for Georgia to swallow.

    But the Bulldogs have no time to grieve the loss. Sixth–ranked South Carolina comes to visit today, and the Gamecocks have their eyes on an SEC championship, too.

    These schools have been SEC rivals for a couple of decades, but their series goes back to the turn of the century. This will be their 61st game, and Georgia has dominated the series (42–16–2) but lost the last three encounters.

    Georgia has been particularly dominant at home, winning 75% of the time, but South Carolina has won two of the last three games played there.

    As I mentioned last week, Georgia was regarded by many observers as a potential national champion before the season began. The Bulldogs could still be in the national title conversation at the end of the season, but they will need to win the SEC East, and beating South Carolina would go a long way toward re–establishing the 'Dawgs nationally.

    I pick Georgia to win by a very narrow margin.
  • Sam Houston State at #7 Texas A&M, 6 p.m. (Central) on Jesse Yomtov writes in USA Today that A&M is ripe for an upset.

    Maybe so, considering that national champion Alabama will be coming to College Station next Saturday, but I really don't think Sam Houston State is the team to do it. I expect Texas A&M to win.
  • Eastern Kentucky at #8 Louisville, 11 a.m. (Central) on This is probably an important game in Kentucky, but it just doesn't mean much to me.

    The history of the series favors Louisville. So do the college football rankings. I just can't imagine that the Colonels will win this game. I pick Louisville.

  • Alabama–Birmingham at #9 LSU, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Judging from what I saw in LSU's opener with TCU last week, LSU is set to challenge for the SEC West crown.

    But the Tigers would be advised not to overlook UAB. That may have been the problem the only other time the teams faced each other. In 2000, UAB upset LSU, 13–10, in Baton Rouge, where the teams will face other today.

    Keep in mind, though, that this is a different LSU team. In the two seasons prior to that game, LSU's record was 7–15. In the previous 10 seasons, the Tigers had had far more losing seasons than winning ones.

    But, in two–thirds of the seasons since that 2000 season, LSU has won 10 or more games (including the last three seasons) and gone 2–1 in national championship games.

    I expect this LSU team to win — assuming, of course, that 2000 mindset doesn't show up instead.
  • #12 Florida at Miami (Fla.), 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: These two schools have played 54 times, and Miami holds a paper–thin series edge, 28–26.

    But Miami has seized the series advantage by winning six of the last seven games. The Hurricanes haven't lost to Florida at home since 1985.

    Florida's glory days in the series probably came between 1968 and 1977, when the Gators won nine out of 10.

    I expect a close game — which would be appropriate, given how close the series is. I give a very slight edge to Florida.
  • #13 Oklahoma State at Texas–San Antonio, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox Sports: After Oklahoma State opened the season in Houston last week, Berry Tramel and Gina Mizell of The Oklahoman ask, "Why is OSU playing Texas–San Antonio in San Antonio?

    It is a reasonable question. The Alamodome is, after all, a little bigger than Boone Pickens Stadium ‐ but seating capacity is not the issue. Tramel and Mizell observe that it is a 2–for–1 deal. In exchange for playing today's game in San Antonio, the Roadrunners are obligated to play two games in Stillwater.

    Home field shouldn't make much difference in this game. I pick Oklahoma State.
  • #14 Notre Dame at #17 Michigan, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This could be the very last time these teams face other in the Big House, and you can watch it.

    Even though Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says it isn't an "historic rivalry."

    Well, I suppose that is a matter of opinion.

    Head to head, Michigan has won five of the last seven meetings, but the Wolverines lost in South Bend last year, 13–6. Until Alabama beat Notre Dame in the national championship game last January, only three teams had come closer to beating the Fighting Irish during the 2012 season — Purdue, Brigham Young and Pittsburgh.

    Actually, these two bitter rivals have managed to put on a pretty good show of late. The outcomes of each of their last four matchups could have been changed by a single score.

    I think it will be another close one, and I give the edge to the home team, Michigan.
  • #15 Texas at Brigham Young, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: It was almost 25 years ago — to the day — that Texas paid its only visit to BYU.

    The Longhorns lost that game decisively, 47–6.

    Well, they've had a quarter of a century to get over that. The Cougars, on the other hand, have only had a week to get over last week's loss at Virginia.

    But, as Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune writes, it is the kind of game BYU's students and fans were promised when the program went independent a couple of years ago — games against elite national programs.

    Texas certainly qualifies. The Longhorns aren't what they were when they beat Southern Cal for the national crown — or even when they lost one a few years back — but they do occupy a special place in college football.

    It would be a tremendous achievement if BYU could win this game. But I don't think they will. I pick Texas.
  • West Virginia at #16 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This should be an interesting game to watch. At least, I think so.

    Historically, OU holds the edge, as one might expect. But the Sooners needed a narrow, one–point (50–49) victory at West Virginia last year to break a series tie.

    They only played four times before last season (once in the Fiesta Bowl). The Sooners won the first two games, both of which were played in Norman, then lost the third game, which was also played in Norman.

    And today they meet in Norman again.

    It's been 30 years since West Virginia won that game in Norman. Can the Mountaineers do it again? It would be huge for them if they could, but I don't think they will. I expect the teams to score a lot of points — maybe about half as many as last year — and I expect the margin to be a single score, but I predict that Oklahoma will win.
  • Syracuse at #19 Northwestern, 5 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten: This will be the 11th game in this series, and these teams have split the first 10 games right down the middle.

    Both teams are 3–2 at home so that would appear to favor Northwestern even though the Wildcats have only beaten Syracuse at home once in nearly 30 years.

    Make that twice. I think Northwestern will prevail.
  • Tennessee Tech at #21 Wisconsin, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten: Wisconsin is adjusting to a first–year coach.

    I understand this because my alma mater (Arkansas) is also adjusting to a first–year coach, and he happens to be Wisconsin's former coach. Neither team seems to be suffering from the transition — at least, not yet.

    Both teams won last week, and both teams will probably win this week.

    Wisconsin's opponent rarely plays teams from power conferences like the Big Ten, and my expectation is that Wisconsin will win handily.
  • Southern Mississippi at #22 Nebraska, 5 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten: These schools have met four times, and the results have been pretty reliable indicators of the kind of season Nebraska had.

    The Cornhuskers have won three of the games, and each time they won, they finished the season with at least 10 wins. On the one occasion when Southern Miss was the winner, Nebraska finished the season 5–6.

    I think Nebraska will win handily this time, possibly foreshadowing a big season for the Cornhuskers.
  • Buffalo at #23 Baylor, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports: I don't see that there is much to say about this game.

    Baylor was regarded as a perennial pushover when I was a child, but even those teams were better than Buffalo has been. The Bulls have had only one winning season since 1999 — 2008 when they won the MAC title.

    Last year, they were 4–8. They lost seven of their first eight games, then finished the year with three wins and one loss.

    I've heard nothing to suggest they can win in Waco. I pick Baylor.
  • SE Louisiana at #24 TCU, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox Sports: There was a time — in my lifetime — when having TCU on the schedule meant an easy win.

    It isn't that way anymore. Hasn't been for awhile. But I'm not sure it ever would have been an easy win for SE Louisiana.

    It won't be today. I predict TCU will win.
  • Washington State at #25 USC, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports: These schools have been conference rivals since 1922, and WSU has recorded nearly half of its eight victories over USC since 1997.

    They haven't played since 2010, but the Trojans blew out the Cougars on that occasion, 50–16. In fact, USC has an eight–game winning streak against WSU.

    The Trojans have dominated this series, 58–8–4, and they have been particularly dominant at home. They've won the last four meetings in Los Angeles.

    It's been 10 years since WSU won more than six games in a season. Southern Cal won 10 games or more in seven of those seasons and won a national title.

    The Trojans had an off–year last year, going 7–6. I expect them to be better this year. The Cougars were 3–9 last year — which was better than many of their recent seasons.

    I expect Southern California to win.
Last week: 21–1

Season: 21–1

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