Thursday, October 8, 2015

Must-Win Games Midway Through the Season ...

It is time again for the Oklahoma–Texas game. In the past, that game often decided which team stayed in the national championship conversation. This year, if speculation is correct, it may determine whether Texas, currently 1–4, is still in the chase for a bowl bid.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

My alma mater, the University of Arkansas, isn't doing much better at 2–3 so a lot is at stake for the Razorbacks when they travel to Alabama this weekend.

College football always seems to be that way, though. Every game seems to be a must–win game now. Heck, I heard some people talking about must–win games back on Labor Day weekend.

Idle: #9 Texas A&M, #16 Stanford

  • Washington at #17 Southern Cal, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Southern Cal wins nearly two–thirds of the time it faces Pac–12 rival Washington — about three–fourths of the time when they play in Los Angeles.

    In their last 13 meetings, Southern Cal has won 10. The weight of history is clearly against the Huskies.

    But every once in awhile they pull off an upset, as they did in 2010 when they claimed a one–point triumph in L.A.

    I really don't think that will happen this time. I have to take Southern Cal.


  • Maryland at #1 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Ohio State barely survived hapless Indiana last week and will be looking for an impressive victory over the Terps to justify the Buckeyes' continued presence atop the polls.

    This will be only the second meeting between the Buckeyes and the Terps. They met last season in College Park, Md., where Ohio State cruised to a 52–24 victory. I expect a similar result in Columbus. I have to take Ohio State.
  • #2 TCU at Kansas State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: In eight previous meetings, each school has won four times so the winner will take the lead in the all–time series.

    It's a series that favors the home team; TCU is 3–1 at home, and so is Kansas State. I don't think that will matter in this year's game. Five of the eight previous encounters occurred at least 30 years ago.

    The rankings are more telling, and I expect TCU to prevail.
  • #3 Baylor at Kansas, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox Sports 1: This one looks like a mismatch.

    Even in the days when Baylor had little in the way of a football team, the Bears beat the Jayhawks — who never have much of a football team.

    Baylor has won seven of the last nine meetings and is 10–4 all time against Kansas. Baylor's current five–game winning streak against Kansas has included some particularly brutal scores. Last year, for example, Baylor won at Waco, 60–14.

    If there is one thing in Kansas' favor, it is the fact that the Jayhawks are 4–3 at home against the Bears. All their previous wins have come in Lawrence.

    I don't think that will be enough, though. I pick Baylor.
  • #4 Michigan State at Rutgers, 7 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Believe it or not, this series is tied 3–3, and Rutgers actually has won two of the last three meetings.

    The Spartans are undefeated, but they haven't been as impressive as they needed to be. They have a chance to win at Rutgers for the first time in school history and avenge that five–point loss back in 2004.

    I think Michigan State will win. Whether it will be impressive remains to be seen.
  • #23 California at #5 Utah, 9 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Cal leads the all&ndashltime series — narrowly and largely on the strength of its record at home. Utah has dominated on its turf.

    Of course, it is important to remember that these teams have played at Utah only three times before, and it has been more than 50 years since Cal won at Utah.

    I think it should be a good game, but I don't think Cal will end the skid. I pick Utah to win.
  • Georgia Tech at #6 Clemson, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the 79th meeting of these schools since 1902, and Georgia Tech has won about two–thirds of the time.

    That mirrors precisely the last 12 encounters between these teams. Georgia Tech has won two–thirds of the time, including six years ago when Georgia Tech beat Clemson for the ACC title.

    Georgia Tech has lost its last three games and appears to be no match for the undefeated Tigers, especially on Clemson's field, where the Tigers have lost only 16 times since the start of the 2003 season.

    I predict a Clemson win.
  • #7 LSU at South Carolina, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams have played 20 times. South Carolina won the first meeting in 1930 — and has only won once since.

    That other win, which came in 1994, was South Carolina's only home win against LSU.

    It is one of the most lopsided series in college football. and 2–3 South Carolina hasn't given me a reason to think this game will turn out any differently than the last five times these teams have played. Lately, it's been "close but no cigar" for South Carolina.

    I take LSU.
  • Arkansas at #8 Alabama, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: As an Arkansas graduate, I would really like to think that the Razorbacks can win this game.

    But I'm a realist. Arkansas hasn't beaten Alabama since 2006. And the Hogs haven't won at Alabama since 2003. In fact, Arkansas has rarely won at Alabama — the Hogs' record there is 3–8.

    I'd love to see Arkansas win, but I have to pick Alabama.
  • Texas vs. #10 Oklahoma at Dallas, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: This is one of those games in which people will say, "The records don't matter." And they are right about that.

    When OU and Texas take the field for their annual grudge match, it really doesn't matter what the records are — or whether one team is ranked and the other isn't.

    I grew up in the South, and I have seen as many underdogs as favorites win in this series. But I really don't think the 1–4 Longhorns have a prayer against the undefeated Sooners in this year's edition. I take Oklahoma.
  • #11 Florida at Missouri, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: I'm pretty sure that, when the season began, most observers would have picked a reversal of team roles when this game came up. Missouri was sure to be ranked and Florida was not.

    Yet here we are. Florida is barely out of the Top 10 and Missouri is completely out of the rankings.

    Does Missouri have anything in its favor in this game? Well, actually, the Tigers won the only other game they played at home against the Gators — two years ago.

    Home field can be an awesome thing, but it isn't foolproof. The Gators got an important home win over Ole Miss last week, but I'm still not sold on Florida. I will take Missouri as an upset special.
  • Miami (Fla.) at #12 Florida State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is one of those traditional Southern rivalries. Florida State's rivalry with Florida probably gets more attention, but there was a time when games matching these two schools were the hottest tickets around.

    Florida State has beaten Miami five straight times and in eight of their last 10 meetings.

    It is intriguing to note, though, that the visiting team has had the edge in this series. Miami has won nearly 61% of the games it has played at Florida State.

    Both teams would be undefeated going into this game if Miami had not lost at Cincinnati last week.

    It is tempting to pick Miami as an upset special, but I have to take Florida State.
  • #13 Northwestern at #18 Michigan, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: The Wolverines have won 12 of their last 14 games with the Wildcats, but that was then and this is now.

    If 5–0 Northwestern is going to establish that it is for real, it needs to win this game. The same could be said of 4–1 Michigan in spite of its two consecutive shutout wins. This is a must–win game for both schools, and history is not on Northwestern's side. The Wolverines are 34–6–2 at home against Northwestern.

    I've got to take Michigan.
  • New Mexico State at #14 Ole Miss, 11 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: This is the first game between these schools so there is no history to study. But all you need to know is New Mexico State is 0–4; Ole Miss, although coming off a loss to Florida, has a win at Alabama to its credit this season.

    I expect Ole Miss to win.
  • Navy at #15 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: These are old foes. They've been playing each other annually since 1927, and the Irish have won more than 85% of the time.

    Navy is undefeated, but the Midshipmen's record boasts of no impressive trophies. The Irish are 4–1 following last week's loss at Clemson — which would have turned out differently if the Irish had been able to add a field goal to their score.

    I'm taking Notre Dame at home.
  • #19 Georgia at Tennessee, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This series dates to 1903, almost 20 years before the cavernous Neyland Stadium in which this year's game will be played was built.

    So the teams won't be returning to the site of that first game (which Georgia won 5–0). That game was played at a place named Baldwin Park, which probably doesn't exist anymore.

    The teams haven't played every year. This will be their 44th meeting since that first one more than a century ago, and Georgia narrowly leads the all–time series 21–20–2; the series is knotted in Knoxville 10–10–1.

    Series momentum is with Georgia. The Bulldogs have won six of the last seven meetings, and since the start of the 21st century, Georgia is 5–2 at Tennessee. The Volunteers have been hit pretty hard in the first month of the season and desperately need a win to get back on track. Georgia was undefeated until losing at home to Alabama last week. It is too steep of a climb for Tennessee; Georgia, on the other hand, can regain much of its lost ground with a bounce–back win on the road. I pick Georgia.
  • #21 Oklahoma State at West Virginia, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: West Virginia has won its last two games against Oklahoma State. The 5–0 Cowboys, meanwhile, have struggled at times en route to their #21 ranking.

    In all the teams have played each other six times — but the first two times were more than 85 years ago. Even so, Oklahoma State has never won at West Virginia.

    For 3–1 West Virginia, this is the second of four consecutive games against Top 25 teams. West Virginia lost to Oklahoma last week and faces #3 Baylor and #2 TCU in the next couple of weeks. The Mountaineers need to win one of these games, so I'll make West Virginia my upset special this week.
  • Kent State at #24 Toledo, 2 p.m. (Central) on ESPN3: Toledo is a newcomer to the Top 25, but the Kent–Toledo series is not a new one. The teams have played each other 37 times, and Toledo has won nine out of 11 times since 1988.

    Toledo has won nearly 85% of its home games against Kent State, and I see no reason for that to change. I pick Toledo.
  • #25 Boise State at Colorado State, 6 p.m. (Central) on CBS Sports Network: All four games in this series have been played in the last four years, and Boise State has won them all.

    I just don't think 2–3 Colorado State can beat Boise State, even at home. I pick Boise State.

Last week: 13–5

Upset specials last week: 0–1

Season: 73–10

Upset specials overall: 2–4

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