Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Weekend That Things Changed

And just like that ... everything changed.

Well, not everything. But nearly everything.

In the aftermath of Auburn's thrashing of Georgia and Miami's whipping of Notre Dame, the entire Final Four is up for grabs, it seems.

Well, not entirely.

Unless Auburn or Georgia can beat Alabama, I'm pretty sure the Crimson Tide will be in the college football playoff. And defending national champion Clemson will probably be there, too, although the path does not seem so straight or so clear for the Tigers.

But Georgia and Notre Dame probably won't be, which opens a couple of doors for the likes of Oklahoma, Wisconsin and, perhaps, Miami and/or Auburn, although the latter two would need to knock off the two apparent locks for the playoffs in their conference championship games.

In short, nothing seems quite as certain as it did last week.

Idle: #15 Washington State

  • Tulsa at #23 South Florida, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is only the second time these teams have met. The first time was three years ago at Tulsa, and South Florida prevailed by eight points.

    South Florida is favored to do it again this time by 23 points. My choice is South Florida.
  • Mercer at #1 Alabama, 11 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: You know, there really isn't any point in discussing this one much.

    It exists to fill the week before the Iron Bowl. That's all. If Alabama loses, the Crimson Tide will have no hope of being in college football's playoffs.

    Alabama will win.
  • Virginia at #2 Miami (Fla.), 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Miami has built a two–game lead in this series with wins in the last two seasons.

    It is a lot more competitive than you probably ever thought.

    But the oddsmakers don't think this edition will be too competitive. They have made Miami a 19½–point pick.

    It would certainly be dramatic if Virginia could pull off the upset, but I don't think that will happen. I choose Miami.
  • #3 Oklahoma at Kansas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Oklahoma has won 12 in a row against Kansas — last year the Sooners won 56–3 — and OU is picked by 37 points this time.

    It seems to be beyond dispute. Oklahoma should win handily.
  • The Citadel at #4 Clemson, 11:20 a.m. (Central) on ACCNE: You know, by this point in the season, you really hope that this kind of nonconference game is gone, but I guess you could see this one coming from a long way away.

    Clemson is the clear choice.
  • #19 Michigan at #5 Wisconsin, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox: This is the only game between two ranked teams this week, and it ought to be a good one.

    Michigan leads the all–time series by a wide margin, but Wisconsin has been competitive in their most recent meetings.

    However, it is worth noting that, until last year, the teams had not met since 2010. When the series was renewed last year, Michigan won by a touchdown.

    This time Wisconsin is the favorite by 7½ points.

    I take Wisconsin.
  • Louisiana–Monroe at #6 Auburn, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This is like the Mercer–Alabama game. It is there to take up schedule space.

    Auburn will win.
  • Kentucky at #7 Georgia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Georgia has won more than 80% of its meetings with Kentucky over the years. Currently Georgia has won nine of the last 10.

    The Bulldogs are favored by 21½ in this one. OK. I take Georgia.
  • Illinois at #8 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the 103rd meeting of these schools, and Ohio State leads by better than 2 to 1.

    The Buckeyes hold an eight–game winning streak, and they're favored by a whopping 41 points to make that nine.

    I pick Ohio State.
  • Navy at #9 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: For some reason, it still surprises people when you mention that Navy has a pretty good football team.

    I guess they get the Midshipmen confused with the other service academies, which have struggled in recent years. But Navy is 6–3 (incidentally Army is playing pretty well this year, but Air Force has to win its last two to qualify for a bowl).

    The 8–2 Irish appeared headed for college football's playoffs until they lost to Miami last week. They're apt to be a bit feisty after last week's game.

    Plus there is some decisive history working against Navy. The Midshipmen have won only twice at South Bend in the last 50 years.

    I pick Notre Dame.
  • Kansas State at #10 Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Oklahoma State has won three of its last four against Kansas State, but Oklahoma State really needs to win this one to be in the conversation for the Big 12 championship.

    At 5–5 Kansas State needs a win in its last two games to qualify for a bowl, but the Wildcats have Iowa State waiting next week. Fortunately for K–State, that game will be played in Manhattan, Kansas. The Wildcats can afford to lose this one.

    I think they will, too. The choice is Oklahoma State.
  • #11 TCU at Texas Tech, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: Tech leads this series, but most of those wins came during Tech's 3½ decades in the old Southwest Conference.

    TCU jumped out to an early lead in the series, winning the first five encounters, but Tech, as I say, made up for a lot after the Red Raiders joined the SWC. The teams met only twice from the time the SWC folded until TCU joined Tech in the Big 12 a few years ago. Now they meet regularly.

    Tech beat TCU by a field goal last year, but TCU comes into this year's game favored by 6½. If TCU does win, it would be only the third victory at Lubbock for the Frogs in more than 40 years.

    Make Texas Tech an upset special.
  • UCLA at #12 Southern Cal, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This was a rivalry game that I always enjoyed watching when I was a kid. There was always so much color on both sides. And the games were usually competitive, too.

    But Southern Cal usually won, and the Trojans are favored this time by 16 points. I have to take Southern Cal. But it's still worth watching.
  • Nebraska at #13 Penn State, 4 p.m. (Central) on FS1: There was a time when this would have been a marquee game, whenever it was played. It would have made a great bowl game some years, but they have never met in the postseason.

    Nebraska has fallen on hard times, but, believe it or not, the Cornhuskers have won their last four encounters with the Nittany Lions.

    It is hard to see how that streak can continue. Nebraska is 4–6 and needs to win its last two to qualify for a bowl. Penn State is 8–2, already assured of a bowl but looking to beef up its record and improve its postseason destination. The oddsmakers favor Penn State by nearly four touchdowns. I have to take Penn State.
  • #14 Central Florida at Temple, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: The historical record in this series is brief and does not really provide much guidance.

    They have played four games, two on each team's home field. Both teams are 1–1 at home.

    But Central Florida is 9–0 and Temple is 5–5. The oddsmakers have made UCF a 13½–point favorite. Good enough for me. I choose Central Florida.
  • Utah at #16 Washington, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Utah has only beaten Washington once, but that came on Washington's home field, where they will play this weekend.

    The series predates Utah joining the Pac–12, but all the games prior to that were played in Seattle. The one and only time that Utah hosted Washington was after Utah joined the conference.

    Didn't really matter. Washington won that game in Salt Lake City and has won nearly all the games played in Seattle. The oddsmakers think the Huskies will win this one, too, and so do I. Washington is the pick.
  • #17 Mississippi State at Arkansas, 11 a.m. (Central) on CBS: Arkansas snapped a four–game losing streak against Mississippi State last year, but the oddsmakers think the Bulldogs will get back on the winning track this weekend.

    They're favored by 11½ points.

    Naturally, I would like to see my alma mater win, but I have to be realistic. The Hogs haven't been good this year, and they're likely to lose by a wider margin than 11½ points. I must choose Mississippi State.
  • SMU at #18 Memphis, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNews: This is the 10th game between these teams. The series has gone in threes — Memphis won the first three, SMU won the second three, and Memphis won the most recent three. The logical progression would mean that SMU will win this time, but the oddsmakers don't think so. They made Memphis an 11½–point favorite.

    I think it will be closer than that, but I agree that Memphis will win.
  • California at #20 Stanford, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Stanford has beaten Cal seven straight times and leads the all–time series by 10 games.

    But as lopsided as the series record is, the games have tended to be surprisingly close. When Stanford won by two touchdowns last season, that was actually a closer margin than the teams have produced in recent years, but more typical of the series is the famous finish of the 1982 Big Game.
    OK, they aren't always so dramatic, but the final margin (in this case, five points) has a lot in common with most games.

    The oddsmakers favor Stanford to extend the streak. I agree. I pick Stanford.
  • #21 LSU at Tennessee, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Tennessee already has enough distractions with the dismissal of head coach Butch Jones last weekend.

    And now LSU comes to town.

    These teams haven't faced each other since 2011, and Tennessee leads the all–time series, but LSU has won the last four encounters and six of the last eight. On top of that, LSU is clearly on an upward trajectory while Tennessee is tumbling into the abyss.

    LSU is a 15½–point favorite. It would be hard to justify picking the Volunteers, and I don't. LSU is my choice.
  • Maryland at #22 Michigan State, 3 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This will be the ninth meeting between these teams, and Maryland won last year for only the second time.

    I don't think Maryland can pull it off again. My pick is Michigan State.
  • Texas at #24 West Virginia, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams have met six times, all but the first one coming since 2012.

    And the pattern is that one team wins back–to–back encounters, then the other team wins two, then the first team wins two.

    By that pattern, it should be Texas' turn. The Mountaineers have won the last two games.

    But West Virginia is favored by 11 points. I think West Virginia will win at home.
  • #25 North Carolina State at Wake Forest, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: N.C. State has won three in a row against Wake Forest and six of the last nine.

    The Wolfpack have a significant lead in the all–time series, but the Deacons won six in a row at home before the Wolfpack halted the skid with a 35–17 win at Winston–Salem in 2015. It's been more than 20 years since the Wolfpack won back–to–back games at Winston–Salem. Can they do it again?

    The oddsmakers don't think so. They have made Wake Forest a 1–point favorite. I disagree. North Carolina State is an upset special.
Last week: 13–3

Overall: 171–40

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 3–1

Overall upset specials: 11–20

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