Thursday, November 18, 2010

College Football's Memorable Week

Last weekend was a memorable weekend in college football.

I don't mean it was memorable in the sense that the top–ranked team got knocked off. That didn't happen — although we have had a few of those this season.

For that matter, though, it did look, for a time, as if the #1 team just might go down. But Oregon, which has been doing its collegiate–level impression of the 1999 St. Louis Rams' point–a–minute offense this season, held on for a 15–13 win over California.

And it wasn't a milestone weekend, either. Not really. Certainly not when you compare it to Joe Paterno getting his 400th coaching victory the week before.

But last weekend was special in a number of ways:
  • For openers, it really is hard to top an 83–point performance.

    In regulation. Not overtime (and, typically, to score that many points requires multiple overtimes).

    But that is precisely what #6 Wisconsin did in its bludgeoning of Indiana. I guess the Hoosiers have had some experience giving up that many points — in basketball.

    It was a new experience in football. And it couldn't have been particularly pleasant.

    Even though Wisconsin turned matters over to its second– and third–teamers midway through the game, still there were whispers about the Badgers running up the score to get the pollsters' attention.

  • Big Ten fans may have felt last week that they were being slighted, what with all the stories emanating from the South — and few headlines from the Midwest. But there were other news stories in the region last weekend.

    One such story was the Iowa–Northwestern game, which had a lot of people talking. It was, as I predicted, decided by defense. But it turned out to be Iowa's defensive collapse that made news.

    And, as most people expected, #8 Ohio State defeated Penn State the week after Paterno's historic victory over that same Northwestern team that beat Iowa.

    But the Buckeyes didn't exactly win the game the way most observers expected.

  • In these parts, I guess there was no bigger story last Saturday than #12 Oklahoma State defeating Texas in Austin.

    That hadn't happened since Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency.

  • The 22nd–ranked South Carolina Gamecocks secured their first trip to an SEC championship game with their win over #24 Florida.

    In an ironic twist, South Carolina's coach, Steve Spurrier, enjoyed his greatest previous coaching triumphs at Florida.

  • Spurrier and the Gamecocks will face #2 Auburn in December. The Tigers earned their spot in the SEC championship game with their win over Georgia.

    But a lot can happen between now and then. In fact, a lot can happen, Tony Barnhart of CBS Sports reminds us, before Auburn faces its in–state rival Alabama on the day after Thanksgiving — including the possibility of some sort of disciplinary action against all–everything Cam Newton.

  • And, in Lincoln, Neb., the Cornhuskers continued their Big 12 farewell tour, closing out an uncomfortably one–sided series with Kansas.

  • Well, I suppose no rundown on the events of last weekend would be complete without mentioning that two of college football's proudest (and unranked) programs, Notre Dame and Southern California, defeated ranked opponents.

    Southern Cal, by the way, took care of that unranked business with its victory. Notre Dame, while on the verge of becoming bowl eligible, remains unranked.
So the drama continues in college football.

Idle: #1 Oregon, #2 Auburn, #4 TCU, #23 Arizona. All times are Central.

  • Georgia State at #10 Alabama, 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU: I just don't see how Alabama can lose this game — even if the Crimson Tide is looking ahead to next week's game with Auburn.

    Alabama will roll.
  • Fresno State at #3 Boise State, 8:30 p.m. on ESPN2: Boise State has won the last four meetings and would be 9–0 since becoming Fresno's conference rival in 2001 if the streak had not been interrupted by a Fresno victory in 2005.

    Boise is in the top 4 in the nation on both offense and defense. Fresno isn't even close. I pick Boise.
  • Ole Miss at #5 LSU, 2:30 p.m. on CBS: LSU has won seven of its last 10 against Ole Miss.

    But that tidbit overlooks a few things, one of which is that Ole Miss has won the last two meetings.

    Then again, those were Houston Nutt's first two seasons at the helm. Ole Miss played a lot better in those seasons.

    What do the numbers tell us about this season? Well, Ole Miss has been a lot better on offense than LSU, but LSU has been a lot better on defense. In fact, LSU is fifth in the nation on defense.

    And defense, along with the home crowd, will make the difference. I pick LSU.

  • #6 Wisconsin at Michigan, 11 a.m. on ESPN: In this series, it seems, the home team always wins.

    Well, at least it has been that way since 2002. Prior to that, Michigan won at Wisconsin fairly routinely but not vice versa. Wisconsin's last win at Michigan came in 1994.

    Both teams have been good on offense; Michigan has been spectacular, ranking fifth in the nation. But a wretched defense has been holding the Wolverines back. And it is Michigan's defensive deficiencies that I believe will allow Wisconsin to get its first win in Ann Arbor in the 21st century.

  • #7 Stanford at California, 2:30 p.m. on FSN: They call this the "Big Game," and it is one of the oldest of college football's rivalries.

    This has been a pretty even series for the last 20 years, but it does run in cycles. The 1990s belonged to Stanford. The last decade has belonged to Cal.

    This time, most fans probably will be interested in what happens when Stanford's 14th–ranked offense faces Cal's 10th–ranked defense. It's true that the stars will be on the field whenever Stanford has the ball.

    But I'm inclined to think the issue might be settled when Cal has the ball. The Bears are 86th in the nation on offense and should be easy for the Cardinal's 32nd–ranked defense to handle.

    I'll take Stanford.

  • #8 Ohio State at #21 Iowa, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: Ohio State is 16–3–1 in its last 20 games with Iowa, and, most of the time, the Buckeyes win at Iowa. But two of those losses (as well as the tie) have come in Iowa City.

    Both teams have Top 20 defenses, but Ohio State's D, which is second in the nation, should be up to the task of handling Iowa's somewhat average offense. I pick Ohio State.

  • #9 Nebraska at #18 Texas A&M, 7 p.m. on ABC: Nebraska is 5–2 against Texas A&M (including one Big 12 title game victory) since the Aggies joined the conference in the mid–1990s.

    By a very narrow margin, the Aggies have had a better offense than the Cornhuskers have had. But it is reasonable to conclude that the Aggie offense is where it is because of the recent emergence of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

    Still, A&M has scored 40 points or more five times this season so you can plausibly argue that Mike Sherman's offense deserves to be #12 in the nation.

    But a team that has yielded more than 21 points on five different occasions probably deserves to be where the Aggies' defense is — which is 55th in the nation. Nebraska's defense, on the other hand, is sixth in the nation.

    I expect the Aggies, who are currently 7–3, to finish the season at 8–4 with a respectable bowl bid. But I expect Nebraska to win this game.

  • Purdue at #11 Michigan State, 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network: Each school has had its ups and downs, its good seasons and its bad, but in their last 30 head–to–head meetings, the outcome has been an even split — 14–14–2.

    In recent years, Michigan State has won the last three meetings. Before that, Purdue won seven out of eight. Before that, MSU won four out of five. See what I mean about ebbs and flows?

    All the numbers seem to favor Michigan State to make it four in a row against Purdue. The Boilermakers are 4–6; Michigan State is 9–1 and was, for much of the season, mentioned regularly in national championship conversations.

    The Spartans may yet factor into discussions of the national title, but they'll need some help that they aren't likely to get. In this contest, they shouldn't need much help. They have been much better on both offense and defense than the Boilermakers and they have the home field, too.

    I pick Michigan State.

  • #12 Oklahoma State at Kansas, 11 a.m. on FSN: These schools were longtime rivals in the old Big Eight Conference, but they play in different divisions in the Big 12 and, therefore, don't meet every year.

    This will be their first meeting since 2007, when Kansas won at Stillwater. That snapped a five–game Oklahoma State winning streak. In fact, Kansas hasn't beaten Oklahoma State on the Jayhawks' home field since the teams' Big Eight days.

    And the numbers don't suggest that Kansas will win this time, either. Both teams are mediocre on defense, but OSU brings the nation's top–ranked offense to Lawrence. Kansas retaliates with the, er, um, 103rd–ranked offense.

    Oklahoma State should prevail.

  • #13 Arkansas at #22 Mississippi State, 6 p.m. on ESPN: Mississippi State won the last time these teams met in Starkville — in 2008.

    That ended a nine–year Arkansas winning streak.

    The teams have been SEC rivals since 1992, and their series really is a tale of two decades. In the 1990s, Arkansas lost on three of its first four trips to Starkville as a member of the SEC — at a time when the Arkansas program was struggling and the Mississippi State program was thriving. But, in the 2000s, the Razorbacks were 4–1.

    Arkansas comes into this game with an edge on both sides of the ball. The defenses are fairly similar, but there is a decisive advantage for the Razorbacks on offense.

    I pick Arkansas.

  • #14 Virginia Tech at #24 Miami (Florida), 2:30 p.m. on ESPN: These teams have faced off annually since 1992, and Virginia Tech holds a 10–8 lead in that time.

    Both teams have been successful on offense and defense; Miami has been better in both categories, especially defense, and I think Virginia Tech, no matter what kind of success it has enjoyed in recent weeks, may revert to that group that lost to James Madison earlier in the year.

    I pick Miami (Florida).

  • #15 Missouri at Iowa State, 6 p.m. on FSN: You might not think so, considering that Missouri is ranked and Iowa State is not, but this has been a pretty competitive series.

    Since 1980, Missouri holds a 15–13–2 advantage.

    That doesn't necessarily mean I think it will be competitive this time. Missouri has a considerable advantage on offense and a lesser one on defense.

    Home field won't make up for that. I pick Missouri.

  • #16 Oklahoma at Baylor, 7 p.m. on ESPN2: Oklahoma hasn't lost to Baylor since the two became conference rivals in 1996.

    That's 14 straight victories for the Sooners — 18, if you count the four victories OU rolled up over Baylor in the 1970s and 1980s, when the teams competed in different conferences.

    I don't believe Baylor has ever beaten Oklahoma, actually. Anyway, I have found no evidence of it.

    And, although Baylor has a slight edge over OU on offense, Baylor's defense has been much worse. Oklahoma's defense hasn't been spectacular this season, but it should be good enough. I'll pick Oklahoma.

  • Troy at #17 South Carolina, 11:21 a.m. on SEC Network: Troy has only been playing football on the Division 1–A level since 2001.

    Since that time, Troy and South Carolina have met twice, and South Carolina has won both games.

    Troy is a somewhat bipolar team, possessing a Top 20 offense (ranked 18th) and a pitiful defense (ranked 103rd). South Carolina may come across as a bit erratic this week as well, coming off an historic victory over Florida that may have made the Gamecocks the final hurdle to a national championship game appearance for Cam Newton.

    But South Carolina is more consistent on defense (50th) and more likely to score with its 52nd–ranked offense.

    I pick South Carolina.

  • New Mexico State at #19 Nevada: Nevada has won four of five against New Mexico State since 2005. The only blemish came two years ago — the last time the teams met in Reno.

    The numbers really don't suggest that anything like that is about to happen again. Nevada has the third–ranked offense. Its defense is only #69 in the nation — but there are at least 100 Division 1–A schools that are better than New Mexico State on offense and defense.

    I take Nevada.

  • #20 Southern California at Oregon State, 7 p.m. on ABC: There are two ways of looking at this series.

    You can look at it over the long term, which favors USC. The Trojans have won all but three of their last 20 games against Oregon State.

    Or you can look at it over the short term, in which the home team has won the last four games. Since this year's game is being played in Corvallis, that favors Oregon State.

    Or does it?

    Both teams have been awful on defense. OSU has been a little worse than USC, but, truth be told, both have been truly terrible on defense.

    That leads me to conclude that whichever team brings more to the table on the offensive side of things is likely to be the winner. And that is Southern California, 16th in the nation on offense (whereas OSU is 92nd),

    I pick Southern California.

  • #25 Utah at San Diego State, 9 p.m. on The Mtn.: Utah has won four straight against San Diego State, usually by ridiculous margins.

    But, between 1980 and 2005, Utah and San Diego State virtually split their series. Utah led, 11–10–1, during those years.

    I guess those years aren't really relevant. While San Diego State does have a modest edge over Utah on offense, the Utes have a pronounced advantage on defense.

    I pick Utah.
Last week: 17–5

Season: 179–39

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