Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Reason to Watch

This season hasn't gone as I had hoped.

As a graduate of the University of Arkansas, I believed enough pieces were in place for the Razorbacks to compete for at least the SEC West title.

Unfortunately, the Hogs have lost four of the seven games they have played. Yet, even in the midst of a disappointing season, there are shining moments — like last weekend's four–overtime victory over Auburn.

The Hogs had lost to the Tigers the last two years — and three of the last five times they had met. It seemed like an impossible task, given that the Razorbacks came into the game with a 2–4 record, but they beat Auburn, a recent national championship winner, by a score of 54–46.

I wish I could have seen it, but it was shown on the SEC Network, which is not carried by my cable provider.

Nevertheless, this is one of the many things I love about college sports, especially football. Even when you think there is no point in playing the rest of the schedule, something happens that gets your blood pumping again. I know the Hogs won't play for the national title. They probably won't be in a New Year's Day bowl, might not be in a bowl at all.

But if their games are televised in this area, I will watch them.

Idle: #1 Ohio State, #2 Baylor, #4 LSU, #6 Michigan State, #7 Alabama, #20 Toledo, #25 Mississippi State

  • West Virginia at #5 TCU, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports 1: This is the fourth year these teams have been conference rivals, and the home team has never won (their first meeting was in the 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl).

    West Virginia has lost three straight to ranked teams, though. Make that four straight. I pick TCU.
  • North Carolina at #23 Pittsburgh, 6 p.m. (ESPN): North Carolina has dominated this series, winning six of nine previous contests &mdash and four of the last five.

    In fact, you have to go back to 1978 to find the last time North Carolina lost at Pittsburgh. Until now. I pick Pitt.
  • #3 Clemson at North Carolina State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This series began in 1902, and Clemson wins about 65% of the time.

    Lately, the Tigers have done better than that, winning nine of the last 10 meetings.

    The Wolfpack's most recent win in the series came in 2011 — on the same field in Raleigh, N.C., where this year's game will be played.

    N.C. State enters the game 5–2 and is probably not in the running for the ACC title since both of the Wolfpack's losses have come in conference play. I figure N.C. State probably won't beat 7–0 Clemson, either, but most likely will win at least one of its last four games and qualify for a bowl.

    Clemson, meanwhile, keeps on rolling.
  • #8 Stanford at Washington State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: History points to a Stanford win in this game.

    Stanford has won the last seven meetings with Washington State, doubling its advantage in the all–time series. Being a road team isn't a problem for Stanford in this series, either. Stanford's winning percentage is actually higher on Washington State's than on Stanford's.

    But the 5–2 Cougars should not be overlooked. They lost a close one to Cal a few weeks ago and haven't lost since. Stanford has been scoring in bunches — except for their meager 6–point output in the opener against Northwestern.

    I'll take Stanford.
  • #9 Notre Dame at #21 Temple, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: When these teams met for the first time a couple of years ago, the Irish cruised to a 28–6 win. Anyone who witnessed that game probably never would have predicted that, when they met again, both teams would be ranked.

    Yet that is the case, and it should make for an interesting game for the viewing audience.

    Notre Dame this week and Memphis in three weeks are really the only remaining challenges for unbeaten Temple. Notre Dame isn't undefeated, but the Irish can stay in the national championship conversation with a convincing win over Temple — especially if they can top that in November with wins over two other currently ranked teams, Pitt and Stanford.

    First things first, though. Notre Dame needs to beat Temple, and I think that will happen. I pick Notre Dame.
  • Maryland at #10 Iowa, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams met for the first time last year, Maryland's first season in the Big Ten, and the Hawkeyes won by a touchdown.

    The Terrapins come into this game 2–5 and seem ill equipped to stop the 7–0 Hawkeyes. I'll go with Iowa.
  • Georgia vs. #11 Florida at Jacksonville, Fla., 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: With only one conference loss to date, the Gators can all but secure a berth in the SEC title game by beating Georgia, which they did last year.

    They lost the previous three, so it certainly isn't a sure thing.

    The Bulldogs enter the game with only two SEC losses, and winning their division probably will require Georgia to win all of its remaining conference games. The Bulldogs are probably capable of that, but it's still a tall order. It will be much easier all the way around if Florida wins the game, and that is what I expect. I pick Florida.
  • #12 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Texas Tech had the upper hand when these teams started playing each other back in the 1930s.

    But thanks to nine Oklahoma State victories in the last 12 meetings — and three ties in the 1940s and 1950s — the advantage belongs to Oklahoma State, 21–18–3.

    The Cowboys haven't been very successful in Lubbock, where they have won less than one–third of the time — but they have won the last three times they have played there. I think they will do it again, although this game could be pretty close for awhile. I pick Oklahoma State.
  • Oregon State at #13 Utah, 6 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Utah is probably in the best possible frame of mind for this game.

    Oregon State is the other Oregon team, the one that wasn't in the four–team national championship playoff in January. Sometimes the Beavers have been good enough to qualify for bowls. More often, they haven't been good enough.

    It's looking like 2015 is one of the latter. The Beavers are 2–5 with UCLA, Cal, Washington and Oregon remaining on their schedule. It's safe to say they aren't lining up to buy bowl tickets at OSU.

    Even so, Oregon State has the historical edge on Utah, having won 11 of their previous 19 matchups. Coming off last week's loss to Southern Cal, I figure Utah will be hungry — and ready to pull that Oregon State thorn from its side. I pick Utah.
  • #14 Oklahoma at Kansas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports 1: This will be the 100th meeting of these two schools in football.

    When I was on the faculty at OU, I attended a few OU–Kansas basketball games. They tended to be pretty good games, too.

    But I have often said that OU's football team may have been its worst when I was there. Historically, the Sooners beat Kansas about 75% of the time, but when I was on the OU faculty, the Sooners won twice and Kansas, which must have had a couple of its best teams ever during that time, also won twice.

    Well, those days are over, and the schools are back where they belong — based on their football histories. The Sooners are in the Top 25, and the Jayhawks are 0–7. The Sooners have beaten Kansas 10 straight times. I expect them to make it 11. I pick Oklahoma.
  • #15 Michigan at Minnesota, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This series dates to the late 19th century. The teams have played each other 101 times, and the Wolverines have won almost 74% of the time.

    It's been about as close to a lock as you can get in college football. All but four of Minnesota's victories over Michigan came before 1968, and Michigan hasn't lost at Minnesota since 1977.

    The 4–3 Gophers are entering a period that can make or break their season. After the 15th–ranked Wolverines come trips to #1 Ohio State and #10 Iowa as well as a season–ending game with Wisconsin.

    I don't think home field will be an advantage for Minnesota. I pick Michigan.
  • Tulane at #16 Memphis, 6 p.m. (Central) on CBS Sports Network: This series goes back to 1954, and Memphis leads it 19–11–1.

    In fact, the Tigers almost never lose at home to Tulane. They've only lost once since 1981. I'm not inclined to think that 2–5 Tulane can change that.

    I choose Memphis to remain undefeated.
  • Syracuse at #17 Florida State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Syracuse beat Florida State the first time they played — back in 1966. They have played seven times since then, and Florida State has won every time. That includes a 3–0 mark on their home field.

    Syracuse comes into this game having lost its last four after opening the season with three consecutive wins. They're probably more than ready for the start of basketball season at Syracuse, but even though 6–1 Florida State is probably out of the national championship conversation following its loss to Georgia Tech last week, Florida State has some work to do to remain in the conversation for a prominent bowl bid.

    I pick Florida State.
  • Vanderbilt at #18 Houston, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: The only previous meeting between these schools was in the January 2014 BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

    Vanderbilt won that one, but now the Commodores will face the challenge of playing on Houston's home field. That may not be much of a challenge these days, but it was pretty significant when I was in school at Arkansas, and Houston was a Southwest Conference rival.

    At 3–4 Vanderbilt probably isn't too imposing. Some people will point to the Commodores' 10–3 triumph over Missouri last weekend as evidence that Vandy is better than usual this year, but remember that I wrote earlier this season that I thought Missouri was overrated. I would also remind you that this Vanderbilt team lost its season — and home — opener to Western Kentucky.

    People are already anticipating a showdown between Houston and Memphis in a couple of weeks. I expect 7–0 Houston to hold up its end of the deal and remain unbeaten. I pick Houston.
  • #19 Ole Miss at Auburn, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Auburn has owned this series, winning about three–quarters of the time. The Tigers have been especially dominant since 1971, going 29–5 against the Rebels.

    Not to mention the fact that Auburn has won the last five games against Ole Miss that were played at Auburn, as this year's game will be.

    The 6–2 Rebels have had their ups and downs. The win at Alabama was definitely an up, but losses to Florida and particularly Memphis were downs. The season hasn't exactly gone according to the script for Auburn, either. The 4–3 Tigers were expected to contend for the SEC West crown but have lost to three rivals in the West — LSU, Mississippi State and Arkansas — and face a tough schedule the rest of the way. A team once expected to be in the hunt for a New Year's Day bowl now may be hard pressed to qualify for a bowl now.

    If Auburn is to get back on track, the Tigers must win this game. Because it is a must–win situation, I will make Auburn an upset special.
  • Miami (Fla.) at #22 Duke, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Until the last time these teams met on Duke's turf, Miami had only lost to Duke once — ever.

    But Miami isn't the powerhouse it once was. Last week's 58–0 loss to Clemson was ample proof of that.

    Still, I'd like to think the Hurricanes can defeat Duke — although at a time when the likes of TCU and Baylor are at the top of the polls, I suppose anything is possible.

    This will probably be r4egarded as an upset so I'll make it my upset special. Miami over Duke.
  • Colorado at #24 UCLA, 2 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: UCLA is unbeaten against Colorado since they first met as conference rivals in 2011.

    The series predates that, but it hasn't mattered. UCLA is 8–2 all time Colorado. They're better at home, winning by an average of more than three touchdowns whereas theire average margin of victory at Colorado has been about two touchdowns.

    I really don't think 4–4 Colorado can keep up with 5–2 UCLA. I'll take UCLA.

Last week: 15–3

Upset specials last week: 0–1

Season: 114–23

Upset specials overall: 2–8

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