Thursday, October 17, 2013

Another Great Weekend On Tap for College Football Fans

Last week was my roughest one yet this season. Lots of surprises.

Texas knocked off Oklahoma. Missouri upset Georgia. Utah upended Stanford. Penn State stunned Michigan in four overtimes.

And, while some people weren't surprised that LSU beat Florida, I was.

Saturday was a great day to be a college football fan. I was talking to an old friend about it on Sunday, how I jumped from channel to channel all day, and he said he did the same.

This Saturday might be just as great.

Idle: #19 Virginia Tech

  • #10 Miami (Fla.) at North Carolina, 6:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Things could get ugly when Miami has the ball in this game. Miami's offense, led by quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson, is ranked 21st in the nation, but North Carolina's defense is 94th.

    It might not be much better when the Tar Heels have the ball. The North Carolina offense, ranked 76th in the country, must contend with the nation's 12th–best defense.

    In a series that predates the time when these schools became conference rivals, Miami trails by two, nine wins to seven.

    Most of the games between the teams have been played in Miami, but tonight, for only the sixth time, Miami is visiting North Carolina, a place where the Hurricanes have lost 80% of the time.

    Miami was winless at North Carolina until the Hurricanes visited two years ago. I expect Miami to make it two in a row tonight.
  • Central Florida at #8 Louisville, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the first paragraph in a new chapter in the history of both football programs.

    And while it is probably tempting for Central Florida fans to be mesmerized by Louisville's offense (#16 in the land), they would be wise not to overlook the defense, which is second in the country.

    UCF's 32nd–ranked defense might make things interesting when Louisville has the ball, but I really don't think Central Florida's 66th–ranked offenese will be much of a challenge for Louisville.

    I pick Louisville.
  • Arkansas at #1 Alabama, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: OK, I'm an Arkansas graduate. I always want to see the Razorbacks win. But they have really been struggling this season, and now they must travel to Alabama to take on the top–ranked, two–time defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide.

    These schools have faced each other 23 times, the last 21 as members of the same conference. Alabama has beaten Arkansas the last six times they met. It's been 10 years since Arkansas won in Tuscaloosa.

    Well, that's the historical record. The numbers from this season aren't encouraging, either. Alabama's defense is eighth in the nation; Arkansas' is 44th. On offense, Alabama is 44th; Arkansas is tied with Air Force for 91st.

    So, as much as I would like to see Arkansas win, I have to choose Alabama.

  • Washington State at #2 Oregon, 9 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Are you convinced that Oregon is one of the nation's best? I'll bet the Ducks make believers of the Cougars.

    Oregon has the second–best offense in the nation. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is part of every Heisman discussion these days with 17 passing touchdowns and zero — that's right, zero — interceptions.

    These teams have been playing each other almost every year since 1917. Oregon has won eight of the last nine meetings; in fact, with a few exceptions, Oregon has dominated the series for the last 30 years. Washington State has enjoyed its moments, but this isn't likely to be one of them.

    I'm going with Oregon.
  • #5 Florida State at #3 Clemson, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This has the potential to be the best game of the weekend.

    Florida State is in the top 10 in both offense (#4) and defense (#7), but Clemson is no slouch, ranking 13th in offense and 21st in defense.

    The home team has won the last six meetings between these schools, and Florida State hasn't won at Clemson since 2001.

    This should be close, very competitive, but I'll take Clemson by a field goal.
  • Iowa at #4 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: These teams don't play each other every year, but they meet in most of them. They've met 20 times since 1985, and Ohio State has won all but four (three losses and one tie).

    Statistically, Ohio State has a decisive advantage on offense while Iowa has a modest edge on defense. I think Ohio State will be able to score while Iowa will struggle so I pick Ohio State to win by at least a touchdown.
  • #6 LSU at Ole Miss, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Don't let either the absence of a ranking or the failure to score against Alabama fool you. This is a good Ole Miss football team — as Texas A&M learned last week.

    The Aggies had to rally in the fourth quarter and kick a last–second field goal to beat the Rebels.

    Ole Miss was ranked earlier in the season, but the Rebels have fallen to 3–3 — and probably will be 3–4 after LSU comes to town. The Tigers have a record of 10–3 against Ole Miss since 2000, and they have won nearly 60% of the time when the teams have played in Oxford.

    Statistically, LSU has the advantage on both sides of the ball. Good thing for Ole Miss that the Rebels are at home. If this game was in Baton Rouge, I'd predict a blowout, but, since it will be in front of the home folks, I'll predict a narrow LSU victory.
  • #24 Auburn at #7 Texas A&M, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This isn't Cam Newton's Auburn team — but it's probably the best team Auburn has had since Newton won the Heisman and left for the NFL.

    Texas A&M wasn't a member of the Southeastern Conference when Newton was directing Auburn's offense. In fact, the series is quite brief — only three meetings in more than a century, but the Aggies have won all three.

    None of the games have been played in College Station so this will be a first. The teams played in Dallas in October of 1911, then again in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day 1986, then last year at Auburn. Now they meet in College Station.

    That's not a good thing. Auburn may be 5–1, but the Tigers' sole loss has come when they traveled to LSU last month in their only road game so far. And this road trip may be even tougher. Auburn must face the third–best offense in the country, and defending Heisman winner Johnny Mantiel.

    I expect Texas A&M to win.
  • #9 UCLA at #13 Stanford, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Last year, these teams met twice in the space of a week, and Stanford won both.

    Their first meeting was on Nov. 24 in the regularly scheduled season finale. The second meeting was the following Friday for the Pac–12 championship.

    This series has a history of shifting patterns. Stanford has won the last five meetings; UCLA won the five before that. Prior to that, the home team won six straight games.

    Consequently, it's time to begin a new pattern. What will it be? Will UCLA start a new winning streak? Will Stanford win and break the current pattern with a sixth straight victory?

    I pick UCLA.
  • #11 South Carolina at Tennessee, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Tennessee has dominated this series, which began long before these schools were in the same conference together.

    Tennessee has won regularly, whether at home or on the road, but the Volunteers have been particularly successful at home, winning 14 of 16 meetings there. However, both of South Carolina's road wins in the series have come in the Gamecocks' last four trips to Knoxville. The times appear to be a–changin'.

    I pick South Carolina by a touchdown.
  • Iowa State at #12 Baylor, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would live to see Baylor ranked #1 in the nation in offense.

    But that is where the Bears are, thanks to Bryce Petty, the top–rated quarterback and running back Lache Seastrunk, and that has to be bad news for Iowa State's defense, which isn't even in the top 100.

    Things should be better — but only marginally so — when Iowa State has the ball.

    This is the 12th time these teams have met, and, if Baylor wins, the series will be all tied up.

    Iowa State has won two of the last three games, but Baylor hasn't lost to Iowa State in Waco since 2004. It seems unfair for Baylor to have so many advantages. But that's how it works out sometimes.

    Baylor will win — comfortably. (And that's something else I never thought I would say.)
  • #22 Florida at #14 Missouri, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: This is only the third time these schools have met.

    For a long time, their only meeting was on New Year's Day 1966 when Missouri beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Then, last year, they met for the second time during Missouri's inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference. That game was played in Gainesville, and Florida won by a touchdown.

    This weekend, for the first time ever, Florida will travel to Columbia, Mo., to visit the 14th–ranked Tigers, who pulled off an astonishing win over Georgia last weekend but lost their quarterback in the process. Turns out, it isn't as bad as it could be. James Franklin suffered a sprained shoulder and will be out 3–5 weeks.

    Franklin will definitely miss the games against #22 Florida, #11 South Carolina and Tennessee. He may be back for the Nov. 9 game with Kentucky; after that, the Tigers have a bye week so fans should expect him to be back for the season–ending games with Ole Miss and #7 Texas A&M.

    The freshman who will be filling in for him will be making his first collegiate start against the third–ranked defense in the nation. The Missouri offense is 12th in the country with Franklin, but it remains to be seen how effective it will be without him.

    Florida may have the toughest second–half schedule of any team in the SEC — with three ranked teams (including Missouri) left to play. The Tigers might have won if Franklin was running the offense, but since he won't, I think Florida will win.
  • #15 Georgia at Vanderbilt, 11 a.m. (Central) on CBS: After last week's loss to Missouri, a trip to Nashville might be just the thing to get the Georgia Bulldogs back on track.

    Historically, Georgia has won nearly three–quarters of the time when they have visited Vanderbilt. They're more successful at home, but if you have to go on the road the week after losing at home, that's the kind of history you want to have.

    Georgia has won 10 in a row at Vanderbilt, and common sense says the Bulldogs will make it 11. I pick Georgia.
  • #16 Texas Tech at West Virginia, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: Way back in 1938, these teams met in the Sun Bowl. They didn't meet again until last year when West Virginia joined the Big 12, and the Red Raiders hammered the Mountaineers in Lubbock.

    Texas Tech brings the sixth–ranked offense to West Virginia, which is 75th in that category. On defense, Tech is a respectable 21st while West Virginia is a mediocre 93rd.

    I expect Texas Tech to win by about a touchdown.
  • UNLV at #17 Fresno State, 9 p.m. (Central) on Mountain West Network: This is a revival of a series that has been dormant for 16 years.

    When last they met, Fresno State was winning its ninth straight against UNLV, which, until recently, was known mostly for its basketball program. In fact, UNLV hasn't beaten Fresno State in nearly 30 years.

    The numbers suggest UNLV won't win this time, either, although both teams should be able to score quite a bit. Fresno State is seventh in offense (UNLV is 86th in defense). UNLV is a modest 46th in offense, but Fresno State is 98th in defense.

    I pick Fresno State by about two touchdowns.
  • #18 Oklahoma at Kansas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: OU has dominated this series over the years, winning nearly three–quarters of the time. The Sooners haven't lost to the Jayhawks since 1997, which was also the last time OU lost in Lawrence.

    Historically, the Sooners have been more prone to lose at Kansas than at home, but they have won at least 70% of the time in both places — and I expect that trend to continue. Oklahoma (5–1) has been stronger on both offense and defense than 2–3 Kansas. My guess is that the real challenge for OU will be to avoid thoughts of next week's home date with unbeaten Texas Tech.

    I pick Oklahoma by 10 points.
  • #20 Washington at Arizona State, 5 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Arizona State has a seven–game winning streak in this series, and Washington hasn't won in Phoenix since 2000.

    Washington has been better on both sides of the ball this year, but Arizona State hasn't been too bad. Both offense, in fact, are ranked in the Top 20 so the potential is there for a lot of scoring.

    Defense never has been a priority in the Pac–12, but Washington is in the Top 20 nationally in that category. I expect Washington to win by, perhaps, a field goal.
  • TCU at #21 Oklahoma State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox: This series began nearly a century before these teams became conference rivals.

    OSU won at home last year. This year, the game remains in Stillwater, where OSU has lost to TCU only once since 1948.

    TCU has a better defense but a considerably worse offense. That might be a problem.

    I think it will be a close game, and I will pick Oklahoma State to win it.
  • #23 Northern Illinois at Central Michigan: If Central Michigan wins this game, the series will be tied.

    And Central Michigan does have the advantage on defense, which really isn't saying much. Neither team has a great defense.

    On offense, though, Northern Illinois has a decisive advantage. NIU is ranked 14th in the nation; Central Michigan is 105th.

    I think Northern Illinois will win by at least a touchdown.
  • #25 Wisconsin at Illinois, 7 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: This is the 80th meeting between these schools, and the series is tied, 36–36–7.

    Wisconsin has won seven of the last eight games to pull even with the Illini, who have struggled through a 3–3 campaign so far.

    On offense, Wisconsin is ninth in the country; Illinois is 39th, which isn't bad but appears to be no match for Wisconsin's fifth–ranked defense. Defense is clearly Illinois' weakness (the Illini are 102nd in the land).

    I pick Wisconsin.
Last week: 12–5

Season: 115–17

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