Thursday, September 1, 2016

And We're Back

The return of the college football season always puts me in mind of my college days at the University of Arkansas.

I lived off campus, but I lived close enough to walk to my classes — unless the weather was just dreadful, and the weather in Fayetteville certainly could be rough, especially in the winter. In late August and early September, of course, inclement weather was not an issue.

I can remember walking through the campus in the afternoons and hearing the sound of pads slapping into each other from the football stadium at the bottom of the hill. If the Razorbacks were scheduled to play at home that weekend, campers started appearing on that hill around Wednesday, and retired alumni could be seen socializing around town at night and sitting in front of their campers by day.

I usually had a ticket to home games, and I enjoyed walking to them and then walking home when they were over. I often figured that I got home before most fans got out of the stadium parking lot. That was good, especially late in the season when it was frequently cold and wet.

Ah, those were the days, my friend.

It isn't as mild in Dallas at this time of year as it tended to be in Fayetteville, but I still feel a sense of continuity when football season begins again. The first ranked teams will be in action tonight.

  • Appalachian State at #9 Tennessee, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: You'd think that these schools, located in neighboring states, would have played each other at least once over the years, but this season opener will be a series opener for them.

    They've never met before, though, and, at this point in the season, all you really have to go by is head–to–head history. But we don't even have that.

    I think Tennessee may be overrated, but the Vols are almost sure to win a game at home against Appalachian State. My pick is Tennessee.
  • Charlotte at #19 Louisville, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN3: See above for the same reasoning and prediction. Louisville should win.
  • Kansas State at #8 Stanford, 8 p.m. (Central) on FS1: And yet one more first–time match. This one, though, matches two teams with recent reputations for success in football. K–State may not be ranked, but it is never wise to underestimate a Bill Snyder–coached team.

    I don't think that Stanford is overrated. Neither do I think Stanford will duplicate last season's surprising season–opening loss to unranked Northwestern. I must take Stanford.
  • Furman at #12 Michigan State, 6 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: This is most likely a payday for Furman. No expectation of coming away with a win. That is what Michigan State will get out of this game.
  • Northwestern State at #23 Baylor: Offseason turmoil has raised many questions about the Baylor program.

    Those questions won't be resolved in this game, but Baylor should have enough left, even after defections and coaching changes, to win.
  • #20 Southern Cal vs. #1 Alabama, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These programs have met seven times, twice in bowls, but this is their first meeting in more than 30 years.

    Southern Cal beat Bear Bryant twice, both times in Birmingham, which is the only place USC has ever beaten Alabama. This game will be played in Arlington, Texas.

    Right now, Alabama is the defending national champion, and the Crimson Tide should remain #1 until they lose. I'm not inclined to think they will lose this game, although Alabama's victory margin might be small.
  • #2 Clemson at Auburn, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams first played when Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House. They don't meet every year, but they have played 48 times in all, and Auburn has been the winner more than 70% of the time.

    However, Clemson has won the last two meetings — in 2011 and 2012 — so I suppose the momentum is with Clemson. But few, if any, of the players on either side were on the rosters when the teams last met on Sept. 1, 2012.

    Clemson is coming off a losing appearance in the national championship game. Auburn was 7–6 last year. They had two common opponents and went 1–1 against them. They both beat Louisville and both lost to Alabama. Auburn beat Louisville by seven points; Clemson beat Louisville by three. But Clemson only lost to Alabama by five points whereas Auburn lost the Iron Bowl by 16 points.

    I'll take Clemson.
  • #5 LSU vs. Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These schools have met three times, most recently in 2014 when LSU prevailed in Houston. This one is at a neutral site, too, but it's much closer to the University of Wisconsin — fabled Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

    The schools' only common opponent last year was Alabama — and both lost to the eventual national champions. Wisconsin lost by 18 points; LSU lost by 14.

    Not much else to go by. Judging by the rankings, LSU is the better team, but Wisconsin should have homefield advantage. As an upset special, I will take Wisconsin.
  • Bowling Green at #6 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: This is the fifth time these schools have faced each other — most recently 10 years ago. Ohio State has won all four of the previous matches, which, like this year's edition, were played at Ohio State.

    I have no reason to expect a different outcome this year. Ohio State is the pick.
  • Hawaii at #7 Michigan, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools have met twice before, both times in Hawaii, and the Wolverines won both games. This time they're meeting in the Big House.

    Michigan should win easily.
  • South Dakota State at #13 TCU: It's hard to imagine the Horned Frogs losing at home, especially to someone like South Dakota State.

    Stranger things have happened, but I still expect TCU to prevail.
  • Rutgers at #14 Washington, 1 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: This is the first–ever meeting between these schools.

    Rutgers has had a reputation for beating big–name opponents, but it's hard to travel three time zones and be at your best.

    I pick Washington.
  • #3 Oklahoma vs. #15 Houston, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: I know that Houston had a good season last year, but let's face a few facts here.

    Oklahoma plays in a power conference. Houston does not.

    Oklahoma played in the national playoffs last year. Houston did not.

    Oklahoma is a big favorite to return to the playoffs. Houston is not — even if the Cougars go undefeated.

    Of course, that could change if Houston wins this game. The teams have met twice, and Oklahoma won both times. They first met in the Sun Bowl on the day after Christmas in 1981. Their second meeting was in Norman in 2004.

    This isn't exactly a home game for Houston, but it's close. The game will be played at NRG Stadium, home of the NFL's Houston Texans, who barely existed the last time the Sooners faced the Cougars.

    I don't think the location matters, though. The Cougars may well be the better team, but they'll have to prove it, and until they do I take Oklahoma.
  • #16 UCLA at Texas A&M, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: These schools have met four times before, and each team has won twice. They haven't met since New Year's Day 1998 in the Cotton Bowl. The Bruins won on that occasion.

    Texas A&M hasn't beaten UCLA since 1951, and they have never played in College Station before so this game will be a first. I'm going to pick UCLA to extend its all–time winning streak over the Aggies to three games.
  • Miami (Ohio) at #17 Iowa, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: These teams have faced each other three times, and Iowa has won all three. Still it has been 13 years since their last meeting. The players for each team were barely in elementary school the last time they played.

    I have no special reason for this pick other than rankings and general reputations. I pick Iowa.
  • #18 Georgia vs. #22 North Carolina, 4:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools once played each other frequently, but they haven't met since the Gator Bowl on New Year's Eve 1971.

    Historically, Georgia usually wins this game. In fact, North Carolina hasn't beaten Georgia since 1963 — three weeks before the Kennedy assassination.

    The rankings suggest this will be a good game, and I hope it is. But I'm going to take Georgia because, well, as I say, Georgia usually beats North Carolina (even if they haven't played each other in 45 years).
  • Southeastern Louisiana at #21 Oklahoma State: I have no special reason for this pick, either, except for where the game is being played — and the host team's identity.

    I pick Oklahoma State.
  • UC–Davis at #24 Oregon, 4 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: This is clearly one of those games that is meant to be nothing more than a scrimmage for the home team.

    Got to take Oregon.
  • Massachusetts at #25 Florida, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: This is another first–time meeting. I'm not sold on the Gators, but I know that UMass isn't a football school.

    Actually, this would have been a great match in basketball at one time.

    But this is football and, while I'm not sold on the Gators, I still have to take Florida at home.
  • #10 Notre Dame at Texas, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: I can remember a time when this was a national championship–caliber match. In fact, there was a time when it really was a national championship game — played in the Cotton Bowl, of all places.

    This one won't be played in the Cotton Bowl, and it isn't for the national title. But that Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day 1970 was the last time Texas beat Notre Dame. The Irish have beaten the 'Horns five straight times since then, including two subsequent Cotton Bowls, one of which cost Texas a national title. Paybacks really are hell.

    I expect Notre Dame to make it six in a row.
  • #11 Ole Miss at #4 Florida State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: It has been nearly 55 years since the only other time these schools met.

    Ole Miss won that one, 33–0, a year before the legendary Johnny Vaught coached the Rebels to a national championship.

    I don't know if either of these schools will be playing for the national championship when this season is over, but this game might be the best one of the opening weekend. I ought to take Florida State — if only because the Seminoles are at home, and they haven't lost at home since 2012.

    The Rebels, on the other hand, lose on the road about as often as they win — but last year they pulled off one of the big surprises of the season when they won at Alabama for only the second time — ever.

    Will lightning strike twice (in a manner of speaking)? In my second upset special, I pick Ole Miss.

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