Thursday, October 3, 2013

College Football Enters Next Phase of Season

We're about one–third of the way through the college football season, and conference games are the vast majority of the games on the schedule.

That will be the case for the remainder of the season.

Now it gets really interesting. Now we'll see who will be competing for conference championships — and who will not.

There are always going to be lopsided games, and we have a few of those this week. Alabama had the highest point spread I had ever seen earlier this week — 55½ points — but most of the games look to be competitive.

Idle: #9 Texas A&M

  • #12 UCLA at Utah, 9 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports: Utah should be glad this game is being played where it is.

    The Bruins are undefeated against Utah when they play in Los Angeles. In Utah, the Utes are down only 2–3 — and could, conceivably, knot the series on their home field. Conceivably.

    Lya Wodraska of the Salt Lake Tribune writes that Utah needs a "signature win" in conference play. The Utes, who were acknowledged as giant killers not long ago, have fallen on hard times against ranked foes. Beating UCLA would go a long way toward changing that.

    Both teams have been pretty good on offense. UCLA is ranked second in the nation, Utah is ranked 16th. UCLA isn't as dazzling on defense, but the Bruins are ranked 36th (Utah is tied with San Jose State for 74th).

    My guess is that UCLA's defense will be a little more successful at stopping the 3–1 Utes than Utah's defense will be against the 3–0 Bruins.

    I think UCLA will win.
  • Georgia State at #1 Alabama, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: It's hard to imagine undefeated Alabama stumbling against winless Georgia State — especially after turning back Texas A&M and Ole Miss.

    If that happens, it will be the biggest upset in college football in many years. Guess what? It ain't gonna happen. Alabama will win easily.
  • #2 Oregon at Colorado, 5 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Colorado can tie the all–time series with a win.

    But that doesn't seem likely to me.

    Oregon is much better than Colorado. The Ducks are third in the nation in offense, scoring more than 50 points a game. Colorado's 63rd–ranked defense appears unlikely to contain that kind of attack.

    By comparison, Oregon's 23rd–ranked defense is positively pedestrian, but it should be adequate to stop Colorado's 61st–ranked offense.

    I pick Oregon.
  • #3 Clemson at Syracuse, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Syracuse won the only previous meeting of these two schools — a 41–0 romp in the 1996 Gator Bowl.

    Clemson has been far better on offense (#22 to #54), but Syracuse has an edge on defense (#32 to #38).

    I'm inclined to think Clemson will avenge that Gator Bowl loss, probably by 10 points or more.
  • #4 Ohio State at #16 Northwestern, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the first time these schools have faced each other since 2008.

    But it is safe to say that Northwestern hasn't missed having to play Ohio State. The Wildcats have beaten the Buckeyes only once in the last 40 years, but that win (in 2004) came at Northwestern.

    Both teams have highly regarded offenses (Ohio State is #17, Northwestern is #30), but Ohio State has a huge edge on defense (#18 to #88).

    I think Ohio State will win, but the home team will keep it close.

  • #15 Washington at #5 Stanford, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This has to be one of the most interesting games of the day.

    A tight series (Washington leads 41–37–4), the Huskies had lost six of the last seven to Stanford before winning last year. I've been saying all along that I think Washington is ready to take the next step, and the Huskies' ranking confirms it, but Stanford is probably their greatest test thus far. With that loss last year, Stanford probably got the message before most of the other Pac–12 schools that Washington is ready to compete.

    So far, the numbers support that. Washington is fifth in the country in offense (Stanford is 50th) and 13th in defense (Stanford is 35th).

    To be fair, Stanford has faced #22 Arizona State whereas Washington hasn't really been tested. That will change.

    I pick Stanford to claim a narrow win.
  • #6 Georgia at Tennessee, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This series is about as close as a series can get.

    This will be the schools' 42nd meeting, and Tennessee leads the series, 20–19–2.

    The game probably won't be won on defense. Georgia's defense is 69th in the country; Tennessee's is 78th. But Georgia's seventh–ranked offense has a decisive edge over Tennessee (#93).

    I pick Georgia.
  • #7 Louisville at Temple, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN Reg: Believe it or not, this series is tied 3–3 and the winner takes the lead.

    There's an interesting pattern in this series, though. Each team has won three in a row. Temple won the first three, Louisville won the next three.

    Statistically, Louisville has a much better offense (#14 to #94) and an infinitely better defense (#3 to #120), and I expect the Cardinals to exceed that three–in–a–row thing. I pick Louisville — and it could get ugly.
  • #25 Maryland at #8 Florida State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Ordinarily, it is rare for an ACC matchup to be between ranked teams. It seems to be even more of a rarity this season.

    However, that is what they have today in Tallahassee.

    Maryland has worked hard to crack the Top 25 — and now, as the Terps' reward, they get to face Florida State. Historically, that's been a tough assignment. In 23 previous meetings, Maryland has only beaten Florida State twice — and both those wins came at home.

    Maryland is 0–12 in Tallahassee.

    But history doesn't tell you everything. The numbers from this season have some things to tell you — one of which is that both teams have pretty good offenses. They're both ranked in the Top 20 in that category. And Maryland appears to have the edge on defense, with a unit that is ranked sixth in the nation (FSU is a respectable 14th).

    This has the potential to be one of the best games of the weekend, but I think Florida State will win what could be a very close contest.
  • #10 LSU at Mississippi State, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: LSU wins nearly two–thirds of the time these teams play, and that is likely what will happen this time, but Mississippi State only needs five wins to even the record in Starkville.

    Bulldog fans would be well advised not to hold their breath. Or would they? There isn't a huge gap on offense (LSU is 36th, Mississippi State is 41st), and Mississippi State actually leads in defense (the Bulldogs are 17th in the land while the Tigers are 39th), but LSU has had to face #6 Georgia whereas Mississippi State's stiffest challenge has been #21 Oklahoma State.

    One is tempted to pick LSU on reputation, and, with a single conference loss already in the books, the Tigers cannot afford to stumble in this one. I pick LSU.
  • TCU at #11 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Oklahoma has dominated this series, but here is the really interesting point. While the Sooners are undefeated at TCU, the Horned Frogs have a one–game advantage in Norman.

    The numbers suggest that OU will even things up in this game. The Sooners are 17th in the nation in defense; the Horned Frogs are 40th. On offense, Oklahoma is 33rd; TCU is 99th.

    I pick Oklahoma.
  • Kentucky at #13 South Carolina, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on FSN: Kentucky hasn't won at South Carolina since 1999. That's six straight losses in Columbia as the teams head into this weekend's game.

    It's going to be quite a challenge for Kentucky. The numbers betray just how tough it will be. Although Kentucky's defense has been slightly better than Carolina's, the two are both ranked in the 50s.

    On offense, however, Carolina is ranked 32nd. Kentucky is 62nd. I'll go with South Carolina.
  • Georgia Tech at #14 Miami (Fla.), 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Historically, this is a pretty close series. Tech leads, 10–8, but has lost the last four.

    This game looks like it might be a defensive struggle. Both teams are in the Top 10 defensively — Tech is ninth, Miami is 10th.

    Miami has the edge on offense. The Hurricanes are ranked 38th in the nation; Tech is ranked 51st.

    I'm going to pick Miami by a field goal.

  • West Virginia at #17 Baylor, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports: West Virginia was playing in its first Big 12 season (in fact, its first Big 12 game) when it met Baylor last year — but the teams made Big 12 history.

    They combined for 133 points, and West Virginia won by a single touchdown.

    On Saturday night, the teams will meet in Waco, Texas, for the rematch.

    And Baylor is poised to take revenge. The Bears' offense is ranked #1 in the nation (West Virginia is 78th); the Baylor defense is ranked 15th (West Virginia's is a respectable 37th, but respectable won't be enough). I think Baylor will win.

  • Arkansas at #18 Florida, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: On New Year's Eve 1982, these schools met in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Arkansas won. That was the first time the teams had ever met on a football field.

    Ten years later, they were members of the same conference, the Southeastern Conference. In the last two decades, they have faced each other on eight occasions (twice with the SEC title on the line), and Florida has won them all.

    Their last meeting was four years ago in Gainesville, Fla. The Gators rallied for a three–point win with the help of an interference call that is still the subject of fierce debate.

    I definitely think the Hogs' new coach has the team moving in the right direction, but they weren't up to Texas A&M's level last week, and I don't really think they'll be up to the Gators' this week.

    The Gators have their own issues — a mediocre offense and a defense that was a lot better before its best player was injured — but Florida should be able to win this one.
  • Minnesota at #19 Michigan, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: This is the Battle for the Little Brown Jug, the oldest trophy game in the United States.

    The winner has been taking home the Little Brown Jug for more than 100 years — and, in 21 of the 22 games the teams have played since the mid–1980s, that winner has been Michigan.

    Neither team has been particularly impressive on offense (especially Minnesota), but the Wolverines do have the #21 defense in the land, and I expect that to be enough for Michigan to prevail.
  • #20 Texas Tech at Kansas, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox Sports: Kansas is a perennial power in basketball; in football, not so much.

    These two schools have met in football 14 times, and Kansas won only once — ironically, though, the Jayhawks won on the road, not at home. The closest Kansas has come to beating Tech at home was in 2004, when the Red Raiders won by a single point.

    Not much chance of that this year. The defenses are pretty close (Kansas is 48th, Tech is 51st), but Tech has a huge advantage on offense with the 12th–ranked unit in the nation (Kansas is 97th). I take Texas Tech.
  • Kansas State at #21 Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These schools first played a football game nearly a century ago. Kansas State won that first encounter.

    They haven't played every year since then, but OSU has won nearly two–thirds of the time, including the last three times they played in Stillwater.

    Oklahoma State has been stronger on both offense and defense than K–State this season, but the gap is more pronounced on offense. I'll take Oklahoma State by about a touchdown.
  • #22 Arizona State at Notre Dame, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: These two teams have played twice, in the years just before the dawn of the new millennium. Notre Dame won both by wide margins.

    But Arizona State comes into this game with the 15th–ranked offense (compared to Notre Dame at #88). Will that be enough to overcome Notre Dame's 46th–ranked defense? ASU's defense is 59th, by the way.

    I think Arizona State will win a close one.
  • #23 Fresno State at Idaho: This is the 10th time these teams have met, and Fresno State has won all nine of the previous meetings.

    Only once has the final margin been a single score or less — in 2010 when Fresno State was the host. When the game has been played at Idaho, Fresno State's margin of victory has been in double digits. Always.

    Defense isn't at the heart of either squad; neither is ranked in the Top 100. But Fresno State's offense is in the Top 25 while Idaho's is ranked 89th. I'll pick Fresno State to win, probably with a margin in double digits.
  • #24 Ole Miss at Auburn, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Ole Miss certainly has struggled against schools from Alabama.

    The Rebels were shut out by the Alabama Crimson Tide last week and now must face Auburn. Admittedly, Auburn is only a shell of what it was when it won the national championship a few years ago, but, historically, Ole Miss has won a little more than one–fourth of its contests with Auburn.

    Intriguingly, the Rebels have struggled more at home in this series than they have on the road. But they were doing so much better. Auburn has won the last four meetings at home.

    Statistically, there isn't much separating the teams on offense. On defense, though, Ole Miss has a clear advantage so I will pick Ole Miss to break its losing streak at Auburn.
Last week: 14–1

Season: 85–9

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