One of the marks of a champion is that he gets the job done, sometimes in spite of himself.
Such was the case with Mississippi State last weekend. The Bulldogs were hosting my alma mater, the Arkansas Razorbacks, in Starkville. It was the Bulldogs' first home game since being voted #1 in the nation, and they experienced something of a letdown.
But once they got their engines going, they were able to prevail, 17–10. That is what it will take to get into this year's college football playoff.
Idle: #15 Nebraska
- #19 Clemson at Wake Forest, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: If you tune in to this game, you'll get to see the nation's second–ranked defense (Clemson). Well, Clemson does have an offense — it's ranked 48th in the land. QB Deshaun Watson is ranked second in passing efficiency with a 67% completion rate and six TD passes for every interception. His favorite receiver, Artavis Scott, has three TD receptions so far.
Wake Forest doesn't seem likely to challenge Clemson. The Demon Deacons' offense is dead last in the national rankings. But Wake Forest does have a decent defense, ranked 40th in the country. It might make things competitive when Clemson has the ball.
Historically, Clemson has thoroughly dominated Wake Forest, winning 16 of the last 20 (80%) and nearly 78% of all the games in the series.
It might be interesting for awhile, but, barring something unforeseen, I really expect Clemson to win.
- UT–Martin at #1 Mississippi State, 3 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: You know, I could go through all sort of stats and such to logically pick the winner, but it comes down to a few points: (1) Mississippi State is ranked #1; (2) Mississippi State is at home; (3) Mississippi State hasn't lost a home game to a nonconference opponent since Oct. 10, 2009, when the Bulldogs lost to Houston, and (4) UT–Martin just isn't good enough to be the one to break that streak. Never mind the names of UT–Martin's previous opponents. As a fellow I used to work with would say, only their relatives would recognize them.
Let's move on, shall we? I pick Mississippi State.
- Virginia at #2 Florida State, 5:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Statistically, Florida State hasn't really played up to expectations. The Seminoles have a better offense, but the Cavaliers have the better defense — and plenty of motivation. This will be their 18th meeting, but Virginia has only won three times.
They did win their last meeting, back in 2011 — but, historically, the Cavaliers have never beaten the Seminoles in consecutive meetings.
This is the kind of game a champion must win — and I think Florida State will.
- Texas A&M at #3 Auburn, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Texas A&M began the season in what looked like a powerful way, but the Aggies have slid from the Top 25 with lackluster performances.
The opponent and setting are not good for reversing the trend.
Nevertheless, both teams have Top 25 offenses, and they are pretty close on defense, too. I think it should be a fun game to watch. I pick Auburn to win it in the final minutes.
- #4 Alabama at #14 LSU, 7 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Two of the top 15 defenses in the country will be on display in this game. 'Bama is ranked fourth, LSU is ranked #15.
Not too long ago, this would have been the game of the year in the SEC. More likely, that designation goes to Alabama's upcoming clash with Mississippi State — assuming the Crimson Tide wins this game.
And I do believe Alabama will win.
- #5 Oregon at #20 Utah, 9 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: QB Marcus Mariota and the nation's fifth–best offense should be quite a challenge for Utah's defense (57th in the nation).
Should be a good game, but I pick Oregon.
- #9 Kansas State at #6 TCU, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: TCU's offense is ranked third in the nation. K–State's defense is ranked is ranked 16th. I expect fireworks when TCU has the ball.
It shouldn't be quite as lively when K–State has the ball. Once again, TCU looks to have the edge — albeit a slight one — with a defense that is ranked 48th facing an offense that is ranked 56th.
Should be a good one. I'll take TCU at home.
- #13 Ohio State at #7 Michigan State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: A lot of good defenses are featured in games this weekend, but this might be the best match of the bunch. Michigan State's defense is ranked fifth, Ohio State's is ranked eighth.
The offenses are pretty good, too. Michigan State's is ninth in the nation, and Ohio State's is tied for 14th.
Historically, Ohio State has dominated this series. In fact, the Buckeyes have won four in a row on the Spartans' turf.
But change is in the air this week. I pick Michigan State to snap the skid.
- #8 Notre Dame at #11 Arizona State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: In three previous meetings, Notre Dame has won all three by a margin averaging 17 points.
Statistically, they seem to be evenly matched. Arizona State has the higher–ranked offense, and Notre Dame has the higher–ranked defense — although neither is too far behind the other in either category.
At the end of the day, though, I expect Arizona State to prevail.
- #10 Baylor at #16 Oklahoma, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: The Bears' greatest foe in this game is history. Baylor is winless in 11 trips to Norman.
The weak spot in this matchup is Oklahoma's defense (ranked 57th in the nation). It's obvious. Both of the Sooners' losses were games in which they gave up more than 30 points (to TCU and Kansas State). The OU offense kept both games close, but, in the end, it just couldn't score enough to overcome either team (both of whom are in the Top 10 today).
Both offenses are very good — Baylor's is the best in the country, and OU's is ranked 18th. On defense, Baylor is ranked 17th.
I'll go with Baylor in what might be the most entertaining game of the week.
- Presbyterian at #12 Ole Miss, 11 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Like Mississippi State's mismatch with UT–Martin, I see no point in going through all sorts of stats to support my pick in this one. I'll go with Ole Miss.
- #17 Georgia at Kentucky, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Since 1997, Georgia is 15–2 against Kentucky, and that is fairly representative of the whole series, in which Georgia has been the winner more than 80% of the time.
Georgia has been better on both sides of the ball, especially on defense, and should win its 16th out of the last 18 against Kentucky.
- #18 UCLA at Washington, 6 p.m. (Central) on FS1: UCLA has won 12 of the last 15 meetings with Washington, and the Bruins have a decisive advantage on offense, which is the name of the game in the Pac–12.
Washington has the better defense, but that isn't saying much. I'll go with UCLA.
- Colorado at #21 Arizona, 7 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: The defenses are about the same — mediocre — but both offenses are pretty good, especially Arizona's (13th in the nation).
I pick Arizona.
- #22 Duke at Syracuse, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ACC Network: Duke is 2–0 all time against Syracuse, but here's the catch: The last time they played, "Gone With the Wind" was two months from its grand premiere in Atlanta. That was 75 years ago.
These days, this would probably be a darn good basketball matchup. In football, Duke (7–1) has the better offense, Syracuse (3–6) has the better defense.
I pick Duke to remain unbeaten against Syracuse.
- #23 Marshall at Southern Miss, 6 p.m. (Central) on Sinclair and ASN: It may be the quality of the opposition's defenses, but Marshall has the second–best offense in the country.
How good does it have to be against 3–6 Southern Miss? I'll go with Marshall.
- #24 West Virginia at Texas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: In three previous meetings between these schools, the visiting team has won every time. That's good news for West Virginia.
West Virginia's offense is ranked 12th; Texas' is 99th. Texas has the higher–ranked defense (#37 to #62), but West Virginia's offense can score and Texas' offense can't. Well, it can, but not enough. Certainly not against a good team, and West Virginia has demonstrated, in its wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State and its narrow loss last week to TCU, that it is a good team. I pick West Virginia.
- #25 Wisconsin at Purdue, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Wisconsin has an eight–game winning streak against Purdue and has won five in a row on Purdue's home turf.
The nation's top–ranked defense will be featured when Purdue has the ball, but Purdue's offense is ranked 101st in the nation so I wouldn't expect too much from that. Wisconsin's offense, ranked 24th in the country, should be up to the challenge of Purdue's #77 defense.
I'll take Wisconsin.
Last week: 13–3