Saturday, October 26, 2013

It's Put Up or Shut Up Time in College Football

There were a lot of upsets in the Top 25 last week. I got nearly half of my picks wrong — by far my worst week this season.

Nearly every outcome in the Southeastern Conference was a surprise — except, of course, for the game that involved my alma mater. As expected, Arkansas lost to top–ranked Alabama — but #6 LSU, #7 Texas A&M, #11 South Carolina, #15 Georgia and #22 Florida all went down to defeat.

Georgia and Florida dropped out of the Top 25 as a result. The other three tumbled but remained in the rankings.

The SEC wasn't the only conference that had upsets (or, at least, victories for lower–ranked teams over higher–ranked ones), but it had the most, and the SEC went into last weekend with a record number of conference members in the Top 25.

In the ACC, #5 Florida State whipped #3 Clemson. In the American Athletic Conference, #8 Louisville lost to Central Florida. In the Pac–12, #13 Stanford beat #9 UCLA, and Arizona State hammered #20 Washington.

Idle: #22 Wisconsin, #24 Michigan


  • Tennessee at #1 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: They call this old rivalry the Third Saturday in October. The fact that this is actually the fourth Saturday in October apparently is irrelevant.

    Alabama leads the series, of course, as it does with just about every team it has ever faced. Tennessee has enjoyed periods when it held the upper hand (most recently, 1995–2001), but Alabama has won seven of the last eight encounters.

    Recent history doesn't favor the Volunteers. Even more recent history is even less encouraging.

    The 'Bama defense is fifth in the nation. Tennessee is 75th. Alabama's offense is ranked 35th in the country; Tennessee's is 89th.

    I'm inclined to think that Tennessee, which is coming off an impressive victory over South Carolina, will give Alabama a good game, perhaps the closest since the teams met in Tuscaloosa four years ago, and Alabama won by two points. But I still think Alabama will win.
  • #12 UCLA at #2 Oregon, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: UCLA leads the series, but the momentum has been with Oregon in the 21st century.

    Since the year 2000, Oregon is 8–2 against UCLA.

    Given the statistics that have accumulated this season, I'm inclined to think Oregon will continue to have the edge. But UCLA has been quite successful this year — in spite of last week's loss to Stanford.

    Oregon's offense is second only to Baylor in the national rankings, but UCLA is 15th in offense, which suggests a high–scoring game especially since neither team has been particularly impressive on defense, at least when compared to the offenses. UCLA's defense ranked 32nd; Oregon's is 42nd.

    I expect Oregon to win by a touchdown, maybe more.
  • North Carolina State at #3 Florida State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: The Wolfpack beat the Seminoles last year, but they have to travel to Florida today, and they have only won there twice since 1969.

    On top of that, Florida State has the sixth–best defense in the country, and it should be capable of stopping North Carolina State (#56 in offense).

    N.C. State isn't bad on defense (#26), but one has to wonder how successful it will be against the fifth–best offense in the country — even without its star running back James Wilder.

    I pick Florida State by 15.
  • Penn State at #4 Ohio State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These schools have been Big Ten rivals for 20 years, but the series goes back a century — to a time when Ohio State wasn't a 1–A school.

    Ohio State leads the series, 15–13, and I would be inclined to pick the Buckeyes to win this game even if they were't playing in Columbus. That part is merely a bonus.

    Ohio State is in the Top 25 in both offense and defense. Penn State (4–2) isn't bad — the Nittany Lions, after all, are coming off a four–overtime victory over Michigan (which has this weekend off to lick its wounds) — and its defense is pretty good (#17 in the nation), but I don't believe its offense (#49) can keep up with the Buckeyes.

    The Associated Press says Penn State will be ready for the Buckeyes. We'll find out tonight.

    I pick Ohio State by 11.
  • #20 South Carolina at #5 Missouri, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This is a game I've had my eye on all week. It is homecoming at Missouri, which adds a little extra incentive, as if one is needed.

    South Carolina came into the season expecting to contend for the SEC East title, but losses to Georgia and Tennessee have pretty much pushed the Gamecocks out of the conversation. They certainly can't afford to lose in Columbia today.

    It&aspos;s hard to see how they can avoid it, though. Mizzou has been averaging more than 44 points per game (slightly less in conference play). That translates to a #11 ranking nationally. That should be a challenge for South Carolina's defense, which is good (#21 in the nation) but perhaps not quite that good.

    When South Carolina has the ball, the Gamecocks' 29th–ranked offense is capable of scoring some points, too. Missouri's defense isn't as good as its offense (#50), which leads me to believe Missouri will win, but it will be very close, perhaps decided by a last–second field goal.
  • #6 Baylor at Kansas, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Baylor leads the series, 8–4, but the majority of the Bears' wins have come in Waco. Kansas leads, 4–2, in Lawrence.

    Well, Baylor's top–ranked offense should take care of things today. The 6–0 Bears have been averaging nearly 65 points a game (they've scored 70 or more four times and came up one point short of that once). The smart money says Kansas' #71 defense won't have much success stopping that.

    When Kansas' 118th–ranked offense has the ball, my guess is Baylor's 11th–ranked defense won't have much trouble.

    Bottom line? Baylor by a couple of touchdowns.
  • Wake Forest at #7 Miami (Fla.), 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: As one would expect, Miami leads this series. In fact, the Hurricanes have the advantage wherever they have played, but Miami is unbeaten on Wake Forest's turf while Wake Forest could knot the series in Miami with a win today.

    Let me be clear here. I don't expect that to happen. Miami has beaten Wake Forest six straight times and hasn't lost to the Demon Deacons since World War II.

    Miami has the 16th–best offense and the 18th–best defense in the nation. Wake Forest isn't bad on defense (#38) but is absolutely horrid on offense (#112).

    Because of the latter weakness on Wake Forest's part, I expect Miami to win by at least 10 points.
  • #8 Stanford at Oregon State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: In a series that goes back to 1919, Stanford is far ahead of Oregon State. The Beavers have rarely enjoyed the advantage in the series, usually only an occasional victory.

    But Stanford should not be complacent. While everyone has been ooohing and aaahing over the offense of that other Oregon team, Oregon State has been quietly rising to #8 in the nation in offense. In the offense–rich Pac–12, Stanford is a dismal 73rd.

    Stanford makes up for it, I suppose, with a defense that is 34th in the land (Oregon State is a modest #62).

    This should be a close, competitive game, but, in the end, I don't think Oregon State will have one of its occasional victories over Stanford. I expect Stanford to win by, perhaps, a field goal.
  • #9 Clemson at Maryland, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: I have to feel sorry for the Terps.

    Their record isn't bad (5–2), but they haven't beaten anyone who is highly regarded. In fact, one of their losses was a 63–0 blowout at the hands of Florida State. Of course, it is no disgrace to lose to Florida State, but previously unbeaten Clemson is coming off a 55–14 loss to the Seminoles and is bound to be looking for some kind of redemption this week.

    Maryland could be just what the doctor ordered for the Tigers.

    Historically, Clemson leads the series (33–26–2) and has won the last three meetings. The Tigers, with QB Tajh Boyd, have a Top 25 offense, and Maryland has a Top 25 defense.

    I think it will be an interesting game, and I'll pick Clemson by a touchdown.
  • #10 Texas Tech at #17 Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FOX: Some are calling this the game of the week.

    These schools have faced off every season but one since 1992, and OU has won 70% of the time. The last time the Red Raiders came to Norman, though, they left with a 41–38 victory.

    Oklahoma is proud — and deservedly so — of its ninth–ranked defense, but the Sooners shouldn't be complacent. The Red Raiders, behind QB Davis Webb and his top receiver, Jace Amaro, have the sixth–best offense in the country whereas the Sooner offense is ranked 60th (and Tech's defense is 30th in the nation).

    I expect this to be another close one — with Oklahoma prevailing ... barely.
  • Florida Atlantic at #11 Auburn, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on FSN: These schools have met only once before — two years ago, when Auburn beat visitor Florida Atlantic, 30–14.

    Auburn was coming off its first loss in the post–Cam Newton era then. This time, it is coming off an important victory over Texas A&M.

    Next up for Auburn is a date with my alma mater, the University of Arkansas. The Razorbacks should be a greater challenge than Furman — and, unless FAU pulls off an upset today, I'll be writing about the Auburn–Arkansas game next week.

    In the meantime, I expect Auburn to win by more than a couple of touchdowns.
  • Furman at #13 LSU: There really isn't much to say about this one.

    LSU seldom loses at home, and it is hard to imagine Furman winning in Baton Rouge. I expect LSU to win — big.

  • Vanderbilt at #14 Texas A&M, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: There is no doubt that, when you switch on a Texas A&M football game, you're going to see a lot of scoring.

    The Aggies have scored nearly 47 points a game — on average. They scored 42 points against the two–time defending national champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide. To put this in perspective, no one had scored 40 points or more against Alabama since LSU in 2007. In fact, in the last 2½ seasons, most teams haven't been able to score 20 points against the Tide, let alone 40. The Aggie offense is currently third in the nation — and deservedly so.

    But the Aggies have a problem with their defense. It is ranked 118th in the nation. It's been giving up nearly 34 points a game. Most of the time, the Aggie offense has been able to overcome that, but there have been some narrow escapes this season. And, last week, the Aggies weren't able to escape the Auburn Tigers.

    This week's opponent should be easily vanquished, but that is what the Georgia Bulldogs thought last week — and Vanderbilt beat them.

    The Commodores will have a considerable challenge on their hands, and they won't have the home crowd on their side. It should be an interesting game — not to mention entertaining. Vandy might well score 30 or more — the Commodores hung 31 on Georgia last week — but I predict Texas A&M will prevail.
  • #15 Fresno State at San Diego State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Historically, San Diego State has dominated this series, 14–7, but the numbers seem to favor Fresno State, which has won two of the last three.

    But Fresno State hasn't won at San Diego State in nearly 20 years.

    Nevertheless, Fresno State brings the nation's fourth–best offense into this game. Quarterback Derek Carr has completed more than 70% of his passes and should cause problems for San Diego State, which has struggled against the pass. I pick Fresno State.
  • Duke at #16 Virginia Tech, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Historically, Virginia Tech is a practical shoo–in.

    Tech has beaten Duke 12 straight times and has never lost to Duke in Blacksburg. In fact, the only time Duke won at Virginia Tech, the game wasn't even played in Blacksburg. It was played in nearby Roanoke 65 years ago.

    My thinking is that defense will decide the outcome. The most interesting moments may come when Duke has the ball. Virginia Tech's defense is second in the nation, but the Hokies may be challenged by Duke's 40th–ranked offense. When Tech's 110th–ranked offense has the ball, it will have to contend with Duke's 54th–ranked defense.

    I pick Virginia Tech to win.
  • #18 Louisville at South Florida, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This series is knotted up at 5–5.

    Never has one team beaten the other three consecutive times, but that is precisely what will happen if Louisville wins today.

    However, both teams are 4–1 at home so if Louisville does win, it will buck yet another historical trend.

    Louisville should win by a couple of touchdowns.
  • #19 Oklahoma State at Iowa State, 11 a.m. (Central) on FSN: This strikes me as a potential "trap" game.

    OSU wins nearly 70% of the time when they play in Stillwater, but Iowa State has a narrow historical edge at home.

    The Cowboys have the edge on both sides of the ball, but the edge is more decisive on defense. I pick Oklahoma State to win by 10.
  • Connecticut at #21 UCF, 11 a.m. (Central) on Altitude and MASN2: Folks attending this game will see the first–ever meeting between these schools.

    UCF has the advantage on both sides of the ball and should win by 10 points.
  • Eastern Michigan at #23 Northern Illinois, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CSN–CHI: All the numbers seem to favor Northern Illinois in this one.

    NIU leads the all–time series 19–5–2. The schools have faced off in each of the last 16 seasons, and NIU has won all but three.

    Northern Illinois' seventh–ranked offense is likely to cause problems for Eastern Michigan's 112th–ranked defense. And Eastern Michigan's offense (90th in the land) probably will be evenly matched with Northern Illinois' defense (ranked 100th).

    I think Northern Illinois will win by a couple of touchdowns.
  • #25 Nebraska at Minnesota, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools are meeting as conference rivals for only the third time, but this is the 54th meeting in a series that dates back more than 100 years.

    The Golden Gophers have won more than 60% of the time when they have played in Minnesota, but that was in the early years of the series. The Cornhuskers haven't lost in Minnesota since 1954, and Nebraska has beaten Minnesota 16 straight times.

    The Cornhuskers have a decided advantage on offense (#21 to #111) while the Gophers hold a smaller edge on defense (#45 to #72). My guess is Nebraska will win by a slim margin.
Last week: 11–9

Season: 126–26

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