Thursday, October 31, 2013

Every Saturday is a Chance for Something Memorable in College Football

College football has often provided inspirational moments in my life, but there may have been none better than Duke's upset win over Virginia Tech last weekend.

Of course, each weekend is a new opportunity to see a dramatic chapter written in the history of college football. I'll grant you, the opportunities are fewer this weekend because roughly one–third of the nation's Top 25 teams are idle. Even so, there are three games matching two ranked teams, and there may be none more compelling than the Miami–Florida State game.

But Oklahoma State will be playing Texas Tech and Michigan will be playing Michigan State. Not bad for the first weekend in November, huh?

Idle: #1 Alabama, #2 Oregon, #5 Baylor, #6 Stanford, #11 LSU, #13 Oklahoma, #19 UCF, #20 Louisville

  • #25 Arizona State at Washington State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Arizona State has won eight of its last nine games with Washington State, but the last time the Sun Devils were the visitors, two years ago, they lost.

    The same thing could happen this year.

    Everyone focuses on offense in the Pac–12, but it is really on defense where there is a noticeable gap between these teams. Arizona State's defense is 21st in the country (and should be able to handle Washington State's 54th–ranked offense). Meanwhile, Arizona State's 14th–ranked offense (led by quarterback Taylor Kelly) should have little trouble with Washington State's mediocre defense (95th in the land).

    I pick Arizona State by a narrow margin.

  • #7 Miami (Fla.) at #3 Florida State, 7 p.m. on ABC: Rankings aside, I expect this to be the best game of the weekend.

    Both teams are in the Top 10, of course, but, beyond that, both are in the Top 25 in both offense and defense. I think it's fair to say this game has it all.

    Want to see great college quarterbacks? Florida State has Jameis Winston, currently second only to Baylor's QB in the national rankings. Miami has Stephen Morris, who doesn't get as much media attention, but he has completed nearly 60% of his passes. The bad news for both is that they must face a Top 10 pass defense.

    Do you prefer great college running backs? Miami has Duke Johnson, who needs less than 200 yards for a 1,000–yard season (and has five regular–season games to get them). Florida State is 29th in run defense.

    Miami leads the all–time series, but the Hurricanes have lost to the Seminoles three consecutive times. Make that four straight. I pick Florida State.
  • #4 Ohio State at Purdue, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Ohio State leads the all–time series, 39–14–2, but, in seven of the last eight games, the home team has ended up winning.

    That's good news for Purdue, but the Boilermakers will need to score to win, and one wonders how the 120th–ranked offense can move the ball against Ohio State's 14th–ranked defense. When the Buckeyes' eighth–ranked offense has the ball, it is likely to struggle a bit against Purdue's 69th–ranked defense. My thinking is QB Braxton Miller will find a way.

    I pick Ohio State by two touchdowns.
  • #8 Auburn at Arkansas, 5 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Arkansas' new coach, Bret Bielema, can be blunt — and I like that. He needs to make it clear that he runs the program, not the other way around, and he's constantly looking out for its well being. I think he is doing that.

    This week, for example, he said the video that was provided by Auburn gave an incomplete picture of the Tigers in action. As an Arkansas graduate, I like the fact that he stands up for his team. One of these days, that's going to pay off with a big, unexpected victory. I really believe that.

    If Arkansas could win this game, the Razorbacks would even the all–time series between the schools, and, believe it or not, recent history is in their favor (Arkansas has won four of the last five meetings).

    But this season's statistics are not.

    Auburn's 13th–ranked offense should be able to handle Arkansas' #55 defense. Auburn's defense is only ranked 75th, but that seems capable of stopping Arkansas' 100th–ranked offfense.

    As much as I would like to see the Razorbacks win, I have to pick Auburn.
  • #9 Clemson at Virginia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is the first time these teams have faced off since 2009, but they are historically familiar with each other, having met 46 times since 1955.

    Clemson has won more than 81% of the time, but neither team has won more than two in a row against the other since the 1980s.

    QB Tajh Boyd has led Clemson to its #18 ranking in offense, but it is important to remember that, while Virginia's defense is ranked 64th nationally, its ranking against the pass is 29th. That should make things interesting when the Tigers have the ball.

    When the Cavaliers have the ball, Clemson's 38th–ranked defense should be adequate to stop Virginia's #83 offense.

    I pick Clemson by 10.

  • Tennessee at #10 Missouri, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Last year's meeting in Knoxville was the first ever between these two schools. It was a high–scoring affair, and Missouri won by a field goal, 51–48. Now the Volunteers are coming to Columbia to take on the Tigers a week after South Carolina bested Mizzou on that field in two overtimes.

    If this game turns into another high–scoring affair, my money is on Missouri again. Tennessee's 70th–ranked defense is bound to have problems with Missouri's 16th–ranked offense.

    And when Tennessee has the ball, the action on the field might more closely resemble the Keystone Kops. Tennessee's offense, ranked 96th, might be up against the only defense that will permit it to score. Missouri's defense is ranked 112th.

    I pick Missouri by a touchdown.
  • Texas–El Paso at #12 Texas A&M, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These teams have met only twice before — in 1984 and 2000 — and the Aggies won both.

    I don't really expect anything different in this game. I pick Texas A&M by three touchdowns.
  • Mississippi State at #14 South Carolina, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: This game really could be a lot more competitive than most people think it will be.

    South Carolina has owned this series in the 21st century. The Gamecocks are 6–0 against the Bulldogs since 2000.

    Prior to 2000, though, Mississippi State won six of eight.

    Carolina is 4–3 as host and visitor so if Mississippi State wins, the series will be even in Columbia. Don't bet the rent money on it.

    South Carolina's offense and defense are ranked higher than Mississippi State's, but there isn't much separating them, especially on defense. If Mississippi State was the home team, I would be tempted to pick the Bulldogs.

    But, in spite of their victory over Missouri last week, which gave them the tiebreaker over the Tigers, the Gamecocks face a must–win situation every week while they have to hope the Tigers stumble once more. That's not likely to happen this week or the next, but it could still happen around Thanksgiving, when Missouri has to play Ole Miss and Texas A&M on consecutive weekends.

    Things should be considerably clearer by that time — and South Carolina could still be eliminated from the race in the SEC East by losing to the Bulldogs this weekend or Florida in a couple of weeks — but, for now, the Gamecocks are still in the hunt, and I think South Carolina will win this one.
  • #18 Oklahoma State at #15 Texas Tech, 6 p.m. (Central) on FOX: This has the potential to be an entertaining game.

    Texas Tech has the fifth–best offense in the nation, but it is more of a team effort than an individual one. On defense, OSU may be up to the challenge with its #26 ranking.

    When the Cowboys' 48th–ranked offense has the ball, it might be evenly matched with Tech's 41st–ranked defense.

    Historically — and this is a series that goes back to 1935 — the home team is favored, although Oklahoma State has won the last four meetings, regardless of where they were played.

    Before that streak began, Tech had beaten OSU in nine straight contests in Lubbock.

    I think Oklahoma State will extend its current two–game winning streak there.
  • Nevada at #16 Fresno State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN Networks: After 18 meetings, this series is knotted at 9–9.

    And, no matter who breaks the tie, it is probably safe to say that the defenses will have little to say about it. Fresno's defense is ranked 90th; Nevada's is 117th.

    Fresno, behind QB Derek Carr, has the nation's seventh–best offense. Nevada is ranked 52nd.

    I pick Fresno State by two touchdowns.
  • Colorado at #17 UCLA, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: UCLA leads this series 6–2, has won the last two meetings and hasn't lost at home to Colorado in more than 10 years.

    More recent history is even less favorable for the Buffaloes. In the offense–rich Pac–12, UCLA is outranked by only three other schools (#2 Oregon, #25 Arizona State and Washington). Neither defense has been terribly impressive, but it's safe to say Colorado's 112th–ranked defense throws no real scares into the Bruins.

    I pick UCLA to win by 10.
  • #21 Northern Illinois at Massachusetts, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN Regional, These teams met for the first time last season, and UMass comes into the second encounter still looking for its first points. NIU won, 63–0.

    We might see a repeat of that outcome. Neither team has much of a defense (NIU is 89th; Massachusetts is 92nd) so it appears to be a question of which offense is better — and of that there seems to be no doubt. NIU is tied for fifth in the nation in offense while Massachusetts' offense is one of the nation's worst (119th).

    I pick Northern Illinois by 20 points.

  • #22 Wisconsin at Iowa, 11:06 a.m. (Central) on ABC and ESPN2: This has to be one of the most competitive series in college football.

    This will be the 87th meeting of these two schools. Both have won 42, and there were two ties in the pre–overtime days.

    Recent history favors the Hawkeyes. They have won two–thirds of the games played since 2002.

    The numbers, however, give the edge to the Badgers. Both teams have solid defenses — Wisconsin's is ranked sixth, Iowa's is ranked 12th. On offense, though, Wisconsin (behind Melvin Gordon's 144 rushing yards per game) is 11th in the nation while Iowa is 74th.

    I pick Wisconsin by a field goal.
  • #23 Michigan at #24 Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: It probably doesn't take a genius to conclude that defense will play a big role in this game.

    This week, USA Today fantasized about having the Michigan offense and Michigan State defense on a single football squad.

    I don't get it, though.

    Michigan State does have the top–ranked defense in the nation. Michigan isn't bad (#27), but when you're playing the #1 defense in the land, your defense is going to seem pale by comparison.

    And Michigan's offense is better than Michigan State's, but that really isn't saying much. The Wolverines are 45th — nothing special — and the Spartans are 87th.

    Everyone knows about Michigan's rivalries with Notre Dame and Ohio State, but the rivalry with Michigan State is a natural one for the state. I suppose that lends itself to such flights of fancy.

    The series dates back to the late 19th century, but the winner has been receiving the Paul Bunyan Trophy since 1953, the year Michigan State became a full member of the Big Ten.

    The Spartans dominated the series in the 1950s and 1960s — in spite of the fact that Michigan hosted the game 88% of the time until 1957. Since that time, the game has been played in alternating cities — and this year, it is being played in East Lansing, where Michigan State has won the last two encounters.

    I'll go with Michigan State and its defense in this one.
Last week: 17–3

Season: 143–29

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