Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Welcome to Rivalry Weekend

It wasn't so long ago that people were speculating that Georgia and Alabama both would be in college football's four–team playoff — even though one would have to defeat the other in the conference championship game.

That question was rendered moot when Auburn trounced Georgia, but everyone knew it hadn't been permanently put to rest — that one day two teams from the same conference would pose the same dilemma for the NCAA even though one team probably would have to defeat the other in the conference championship game.

Who knew that one day would come so soon?

But attention has shifted from the SEC to the ACC.

Defending national champion Clemson and the University of Miami are in the top four and will meet for their conference championship on Dec. 2. Unless one team wins by about five or six touchdowns, the odds are that both teams will be in the playoff.

Well, that's what some people say. Personally, I am skeptical.

Of course, there is still the possibility that Miami and/or Clemson could lose in their final regular–season games this week. Miami faces 4–7 Pittsburgh, and Clemson tangles with 8–3 South Carolina. That would land us right back where we were after Auburn downed Georgia.

Speaking of Auburn, the Tigers and the Crimson Tide gorged themselves on cupcakes last weekend in anticipation of the main course this weekend — the annual Iron Bowl.

Fans of both teams should remember that nothing is a done deal in the SEC. Auburn could throw a wrench into the works by beating Alabama, then Georgia could throw a wrench into the works by beating Auburn in the SEC Championship.

And where would that leave the college football playoffs? All season, everyone assumed Alabama would be one of the four teams to compete for the national title. But what if the Tide doesn't even play for its conference championship?

For a national championship playoff to be truly representative of a nation as large as this one, it has to be geographically balanced — even if that means leaving out teams that may be more deserving because their regions already have representatives in the playoff field.

Until the college football playoff field is expanded to at least eight teams — as I believe it should be — I will be skeptical that a single conference can produce two of the four finalists.

Until it happens, of course.

In the meantime, this is rivalry week. Enjoy.

Idle: #11 Southern Cal

  • Ole Miss at #16 Mississippi State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Ole Miss leads the Egg Bowl 61–43–5 but Mississippi State has won seven of the last 12 meetings.

    The 8–3 Bulldogs know there is a bowl in their immediate future while the 5–6 Rebels need to win this game to be bowl eligible. The oddsmakers don't think they can do it. They have made Ole Miss a 16–point underdog. I agree that Mississippi State will win.
  • #2 Miami (Florida) at Pittsburgh, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Miami has won 18 of its last 20 games with Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes are 13½–point favorites to do it again.

    I have to take Miami.
  • Baylor at #10 TCU, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: These old Southwest Conference rivals are meeting for the 107th time. TCU leads the series 53–48–5 and notched a big win over Baylor two years ago that kept the Bears from playing for the national title.

    The Bears have been sinking ever since and come into their season finale with a 1–10 record. The 9–2 Frogs can secure a spot in the conference championship game with a victory. You can punch their ticket for next week's game. TCU will win.
  • #22 South Florida at #13 Central Florida, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: South Florida leads Central Florida in this series 6–2 and has only lost at Central Florida once — by three points in 2013.

    But the oddsmakers made the higher–ranked Knights 11–point favorites this time. I concur. Central Florida will win.
  • #24 Virginia Tech at Virginia, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Virginia Tech has beaten Virginia in 17 of their last 18 meetings, but the sole exception came in a game played in Charlottesville in 2003.

    Virginia Tech (8–3) is favored to win this time, but only by a touchdown. At 6–5 Virginia is already assured a bowl bid, but a win in this game certainly would improve the Cavaliers' destination.

    I choose Virginia Tech.
  • #1 Alabama at #6 Auburn, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Until about 20 years ago, this game was played at Birmingham. Since that time, games have been played on each school's home field.

    As a result, there really isn't much history on the home fields in this series, but Alabama has won three of the last four games that were played at Auburn and leads the all–time series 44–30–1.

    The oddsmakers think Alabama will win again, but they are tepid in their endorsement, favoring the Tide by only four points. Perhaps they know that Nick Saban is 0–6 against Auburn when the Tigers have a nine–win season. Saban was 0–3 against nine–win Auburn teams when he was at LSU, and he is 0–3 against nine–win Auburn teams at Alabama.

    It is tempting to pick Auburn, but my gut tells me Alabama will win. After all, seven is a lucky number.
  • West Virginia at #3 Oklahoma, 2:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is the 10th meeting between these schools, and OU leads the series 7–2. West Virginia last beat OU at the Fiesta Bowl in January 2008. Before that the only West Virginia victory over the Sooners came in 1982.

    Losses to Oklahoma State and Texas have knocked West Virginia out of the running for a spot in the Big 12 title game. The Mountaineers are 7–4 and know they are headed for a bowl game, but a win over Oklahoma could propel them into an upper–tier destination.

    Not likely, though. The Sooners are favored by 22½ at home. I agree. Oklahoma will win this one.
  • #4 Clemson at South Carolina, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the 110th edition of this series, which has been known as the Palmetto Bowl since 2014.

    Clemson has won the last three games and leads the series 64–41–4. The oddsmakers say the Tigers are 14–point picks to make it four in a row.

    I agree. Clemson will win.
  • #5 Wisconsin at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is the nation's most–played rivalry. It is the schools' 125th meeting.

    Wisconsin has won 13 in a row (a record for this series) and needs to win this game to cap an undefeated season. The Badgers are favored by 17.

    My pick is Wisconsin.
  • #7 Georgia at Georgia Tech, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: This is a rivalry that is more than a century old. The Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets are meeting for the 107th time, and Georgia Tech won last year by a single point.

    The series is called Clean, Old–Fashioned Hate, and I'm sure there is a lot of intensity on both sides. But you could forgive Georgia for being a bit distracted. After all, once the Bulldogs finish this game, Alabama and Auburn will be squaring off with a slot against Georgia in next week's SEC Championship on the line. The Bulldogs are bound to be more interested in the outcome of that game.

    But they shouldn't take this one for granted even though they are favored by 11 points.

    I pick Georgia.
  • #8 Ohio State at Michigan, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox: This is one of college football's greatest rivalries, and it is being renewed for the 101st time this weekend.

    Ohio State leads 49–47–4. Michigan had a chance to even the series last year but lost a close one in Columbus 30–27. Now the Wolverines have a chance to wreck Ohio State's slim chances of playing for a national championship as the scene for this game shifts to Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines lead all time but have only beaten the Buckeyes once since 2003.

    It would be dramatic if the Wolverines could win this game, but the Buckeyes are favored by 11½ points. I have to go with Ohio State.
  • #9 Notre Dame at #20 Stanford, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is a series that dates back to the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day 1925.

    The Irish lead the series 19–12, but they have lost six of their last eight games with Stanford.

    Notre Dame is only favored to win this one by two points, and I think the 8–3 Cardinal are up to the test. In an upset special my choice is Stanford.
  • #12 Penn State at Maryland, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: This will be the 41st meeting between these schools, and Maryland has won only twice.

    Granted, most of the Nittany Lions' triumphs in the series came with Joe Paterno as coach — but so did Penn State's only loss at Maryland — in 1961. The oddsmakers say Penn State will win this time by 21. I see no reason to go against that. My pick is Penn State.
  • #14 Washington State at #15 Washington, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This will be the 98th time these schools have met for the Apple Cup. Washington has owned seven of the last eight meetings and leads the series 63–30–4.

    The Huskies are favored this time, too — by nine points. But Washington State beat Southern Cal and Stanford; the Trojans will be in the Pac–12 title game next week, and Washington State could face them by beating Washington and sharing the North Division title with Stanford. Washington, on the other hand, hasn't played Southern Cal and lost to Stanford so a Washington victory would mean the title game would be a rematch of USC's 42–24 triumph over Stanford early in the season.

    Washington State has more motivation and is an upset special.
  • East Carolina at #17 Memphis, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: East Carolina owns a seven–game winning streak against Memphis.

    But the oddsmakers don't think it will continue. They have made the 9–1 Tigers four–touchdown picks over the 3–8 Pirates.

    I agree. Memphis will win.
  • Kansas at #18 Oklahoma State, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: It's been a fairly typical football season for Kansas. The Jayhawks go into their season finale with a 1–10 record; it's been nearly a decade since Kansas had a winning record.

    Oklahoma State, meanwhile, is 8–3 and probably not a contender for a spot in the Big 12 championship game, but the Cowboys could still land a decent bowl bid. They have won 12 of their last 13 confrontations with the Jayhawks, but that one loss came in Stillwater about 10 years ago.

    No one thinks lightning will strike again. The oddsmakers favor the Cowboys by 40 points. My pick is Oklahoma State.
  • Texas A&M at #19 LSU, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: This will be the 55th time these schools have faced each other, and the Aggies have only won 19 times.

    Obviously the Aggies' problem with LSU didn't start with A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who is rumored to be on his way out. In fact, none of the program's problems originated with Sumlin. But they haven't improved much during his tenure. That isn't a lack of effort; it's a lack of results.

    Texas A&M hasn't beaten LSU since 1995. The Tigers are favored to win again, this time by 10½ points. My pick is LSU.
  • #21 Michigan State at Rutgers, 3 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Michigan State leads the series, but the teams are knotted at 1–1 at Rutgers.

    The 8–3 Spartans are favored to win this one over 4–7 Rutgers by 13 points. I pick Michigan State.
  • #23 Northwestern at Illinois, 3 p.m. (Central) on FS1: This will be the 110th meeting between these schools, and Illinois holds a six–game advantage.

    But Northwestern has won 10 of the last 14 games between the schools.

    The Wildcats are favored by 16½ points. I pick Northwestern.
  • #25 Boise State at Fresno State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: These teams have met 16 times and Fresno State has only won three.

    But all three wins came at Fresno — including the most recent time they played there.

    These teams have won their respective divisions so this amounts to a warmup for next week's conference championship game. If Fresno wins this game, it would hold the tiebreaker over Boise — and could be awarded the home field for the championship game.

    Boise State is favored by a touchdown, but it is important to remember that two of Fresno's three losses came against Alabama and Washington. I'm making Fresno State an upset special.
Last week: 19–4

Overall: 190–44

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 0–2

Overall upset specials: 11–22

No comments: