Friday, September 11, 2015

I Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda Picked Northwestern

I damn near got off to a perfect start last week. I picked Texas A&M to beat Arizona State in an upset special, and that one came through for me. I almost picked a second upset special. I was going to take Northwestern over Stanford, but, at the last minute, I went with Stanford. Then Northwestern won the game.

That was the only blemish on my record — and it really should have been avoided. That isn't sour grapes, either. I'm not the kind of guy who claims to have seriously considered picking an unpopular choice after that choice pulls off the upset if I really didn't. But in this case I did. I really did sit and think about that one longer than most of the others. I really did think Northwestern could do it. I just wasn't sold on Stanford.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda. But, in the end, I didn't. That's the kind of game that makes college football the fascinating and unpredictable sport that it is.

Speaking of unpredictable ...

LSU's game with McNeese State was canceled by stormy weather and will not be made up. It is said to be the first cancellation of an LSU game since 1918, when World War I caused the cancellation of LSU's entire schedule. LSU's 2015 season opener will now be this week's conference game at Mississippi State.

Other than those two games, things got off to a great start for me. We'll see if that trend continues this week. The schedule seems to be a little more serious this week. Alabama–Wisconsin was the only matchup between two ranked teams last week. This week we have three.

  • Utah State at #24 Utah, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: With only five exceptions, these teams have played each other nearly every year since 1912 — and Utah has won more than 70% of the time.

    In fact, Utah State has beaten Utah only once since 1998.

    Clearly it has been a lopsided series. But don't let that keep you from watching. Sometimes Utah State has been capable of being competitive with Utah (like last year, for example, when Utah won by only four points).

    But I'd still bet on Utah to win the game — that is, if I happened to be a betting man.
  • Hawaii at #1 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: This is going to be the first chapter in the story of this series. And, when the game is over, I think Hawaii is apt to be averse to writing another chapter.

    Hawaii has a 14–36 record over the last four seasons. In addition to being the home team, Ohio State is 44–10 in the same time span and won the national championship last year. My choice is easy — Ohio State.
  • Middle Tennessee at #2 Alabama, 3 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: The history of this series really isn't very instructive. The schools have met twice before and, as you would probably expect, Alabama won both games. The first meeting wasn't as lopsided as you might think, though. Alabama won by five points. And neither game was played with Nick Saban on the sidelines.

    So this will be a first in the Saban era. And I completely expect Alabama to win.
  • Stephen F. Austin at #3 TCU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FOX Sports 1: When I was growing up, I would have regarded this matchup as a tossup. But not today. TCU has proven itself to be a quality football program, and I fully expect a TCU victory.
  • Lamar at #4 Baylor, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on FOX Sports Network: There will be times this season, I am sure, when Baylor will struggle. I am not convinced, at this point, that the Bears will remain in the Top 10 all season. But they will remain there for at least another week. I pick Baylor to win the game.
  • #7 Oregon at #5 Michigan State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: I'm pretty sure the Spartans haven't forgotten their loss to the Ducks on Sept. 6 of last year. Their only other loss was to eventual national champion Ohio State. In fact, the Spartans played the two teams who played for the national title last season — and lost to both. Since those were Michigan State's only losses last year, it stands to reason that Michigan State could have been in the four–team playoff last January if the Spartans had won one of those games.

    They will have their chance to avenge last year's loss to Oregon this weekend — and, in the process, possibly take a giant step toward making this year's national playoffs. Avenging the Ohio State loss will have to wait until the weekend before Thanksgiving.

    This one ought to be entertaining for awhile; I think there are more questions about Oregon than about the Spartans, though, so I will take Michigan State to win at home.
  • Jacksonville State at #6 Auburn, 11 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: I don't see any reason to devote much space to this one. I choose Auburn.
  • Idaho at #8 Southern California, 7 p.m. (Central) on Pac 12 Network: These teams have played eight times, and the Trojans have won them all.

    I've heard nothing to suggest that will change. I pick Southern Cal.
  • #9 Notre Dame at Virginia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Lou Holtz was the coach of the Irish when Notre Dame beat Virginia in their only other meeting. Virginia really is more of a basketball school. Notre Dame has, at times, excelled in both football and basketball but seldom in the same year. Currently, they same to be enjoying a revival of the football program.

    I have to take Notre Dame.
  • #10 Georgia at Vanderbilt, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This will be the 72nd meeting between these schools, and Georgia wins more than 75% of the time.

    Usually, there isn't much suspense. Vanderbilt has only beaten Georgia twice since 1995; the rest of the time, Georgia has tended to win by lopsided margins (except for the 2006 and 2007 games, which were decided by a field goal or less — and Vandy won one of those games).

    If Vanderbilt wins this game, it will really shake things up in the SEC. That won't happen. I pick Georgia.
  • South Florida at #11 Florida State, 10:30 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: In this series, each team has hosted the other once — and the visiting team has won each time.

    Do I think that trend will continue? No. I pick Florida State.
  • Appalachian State at #12 Clemson, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ESPN3: This will be the first meeting between these schools, but I just can't see Clemson losing this game.

    It wouldn't matter where the game was being played. The fact that Clemson is playing at home makes a blowout seem more likely.
  • #13 UCLA at UNLV, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS Sports Network: This is the kind of matchup I could easily see happening on a basketball court — but not a football field. And, while these schools may well have faced other before in basketball, this is their first meeting on the gridiron.

    In the last five years, UNLV is 15–49. That's a winning percentage of .234. UNLV's winning percentage at home during that time is better but not by a lot — .375. UCLA is 39–27 during the same five–year period. That's a winning percentage of .591. The Bruins have broken even on the road, 15–15. I'll take UCLA.
  • #14 LSU at #25 Mississippi State, 8:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools have faced off more than 100 times, and the only home field advantage belongs to LSU. Mississippi State is 5–14–1 at home against LSU. The Bulldogs have lost seven straight times to the Tigers in Starkville.

    I guess everyone remembers that Mississippi State beat LSU last season and reeled off nine straight wins, even rising to the top of the polls, before losing to Alabama and Ole Miss. I'm sure LSU remembers its loss last September, if not the losses that Mississippi State endured in November. LSU, after all, went 1–2 last November and finished the regular season 8–4, which is acceptable at many schools but not in Baton Rouge.

    I pick LSU.
  • Tulane at #15 Georgia Tech, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN3: Georgia Tech and Tulane revived a long–dormant rivalry last year as Georgia Tech won 38–21 in the first meeting between the teams in more than 30 years. Georgia Tech won on that occasion, too.

    This will be the 50th meeting between these schools, and Tech usually wins — more than 73% of the time.

    I have to go with Georgia Tech.
  • Ball State at #16 Texas A&M, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: This will be the first game between these two schools. I saw the Aggies play Arizona State last week, and I saw a team that has a lot of upside — a lot more than will be needed to handle the likes of Ball State, who is coming off a 5–7 season.

    Texas A&M went 6–6 last year and won its fourth straight bowl game. I pick Texas A&M.
  • Fresno State at #17 Ole Miss, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2/ESPNU: This will be the third time these teams have met since 2010, and Ole Miss won the first two.

    In recent years, Fresno has tended to put together seasons with enough wins to qualify for bowls, but those wins have come at the expense of college football's bottom feeders. Ole Miss, on the other hand, has been steadily improving in spite of playing in the best division in the best conference in college football. I have to pick Mississippi.
  • Toledo at #18 Arkansas, 3 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: These schools have never faced each other before. If they had met a couple of years ago, I probably would have had to pick Toledo to win.

    But the Razorbacks are ascendant now, looking to take the next step, and I really don't expect Arkansas to have any trouble in this game — unless they get caught looking ahead to Texas Tech, Texas A&M or the killer SEC lineup they will have to face in October and November.
  • #19 Oklahoma at #23 Tennessee, 5 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams played each other almost precisely one year ago — in Norman, Okla., where the Sooners took apart the Volunteers, 34–10.

    Tennessee is a more seasoned squad this time around, and the Vols will have the home field advantage this time. Based on the rankings — and what I know of each squad's personnel — it should be a good game. In my upset special, I pick Tennessee.
  • #20 Boise State at Brigham Young, 9:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This is another one of those games that seemed like a natural regional rivalry, but they have only played each other five times since (and including) their first–ever meeting in 2004, and Boise State has won all but one — the exception just happens to be the last time they played at Brigham Young two years ago.

    Well, recent history suggests Boise State will win this time. After all, Boise has had double–digit wins in eight of the last nine seasons. Double–digit victory seasons used to be almost as routine at BYU, but not lately. Nevertheless, I expect an entertaining game.
  • #21 Missouri at Arkansas State, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN3: These teams have met three times in the past, and Missouri won each meeting. But this will be the first time that Arkansas State has been the host team. Will that make a difference?

    I'm inclined to think it won't. Missouri won by at least three touchdowns in each of those previous meetings, and I expect roughly the same this time.
  • #22 Arizona at Nevada, 6 p.m. (Central) on CBS Sports Network: I would have thought these schools would be natural border rivals, and they would meet every year, even though they don't play in the same conference.

    But the truth is that they only met for the first time a few years ago — in a bowl game. Arizona won a wild one, 49–48, then won the rematch at Arizona last year, 35–28. I'd like to think their third meeting will prove to be as competitive as the first two, but I don't expect a different outcome. I have to go with Arizona.

Last week: 22–1

Upset specials last week: 1–0

Season: 22–1

Upset specials overall: 1–0

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