Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tide, Aggies Brace for Showdown

Eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M runs against Alabama in 2012.

The marquee college football matchup this week is, without a doubt, #1 Alabama vs. #6 Texas A&M.

It is a rematch of the only game Alabama lost in 2012 en route to its second consecutive national championship, and it is the hottest regular–season college football ticket ever, reports Business Insider. Tickets are selling for more than $750 on the secondary market.

Dan Wolken of USA Today reports that Alabama is ignoring the "hype" surrounding the game and the revenge factor, which is probably a wise public stance to take. No sense in giving the opposition some bulletin board material.

But the fans are a different matter.

A tavern owner in Alabama erected a Johnny Manziel piñata to whip up some enthusiasm and has been astonished to discover that it has received national attention.

Similar things are sure to be going on in Aggieland.

Last week was an example of how the early polls can't be entirely trusted. Only two games matched ranked teams, and I believe I picked all ranked teams against all unranked teams in all the other games, which would be the safe way to go, I suppose, rather like picking the favorited in horse races.

Nevertheless, three ranked teams lost to unranked teams last week — #12 Florida lost to Miami (Fla.), #15 Texas lost to BYU, and #25 Southern California lost to Washington State. Florida remained in the Top 20; the other two dropped out.

So we have a couple of newcomers in the AP rankings this week — Washington at #19 and Ole Miss at #25. And as fate would have it, newly ranked Ole Miss gets to play recently ranked Texas this weekend.

Idle: #3 Clemson, #9 Georgia, #15 Miami (Fla.), #18 Florida, #22 Baylor

  • #24 TCU at Texas Tech, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These former Southwest Conference rivals were playing football games against each other when Calvin Coolidge was in the White House.

    The history of the series seems to favor the home team. This year, that is Texas Tech, and that is bad news for the Horned Frogs. They haven't won in Lubbock since 1991.

    Actually, it has been awhile since the Frogs beat the Red Raiders anywhere. Tech won in Fort Worth last year — and the Red Raiders are 11–3 against the Frogs since 1985.

    I think TCU will win — but only by a point or two.
  • #1 Alabama at #6 Texas A&M, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This is only the second time Alabama has visited Texas A&M — and Alabama won the first meeting at Kyle Field in December 1988.

    Alabama leads this series — as it does most series — but the Aggies can even it up with a victory. Last year's victory was A&M's first over 'Bama since the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day 1968.

    Frankly, I don't think the Aggies can make it two in a row. Alabama has had a couple of weeks to prepare (in all honesty, though, A&M has had the last two weeks to prepare, too — interrupted by a scrimmage with Sam Houston State last Saturday), not to mention several months to stew over last year's loss.

    I expect it to be a good game, but I think that, ultimately, Alabama will prevail.
  • Tennessee at #2 Oregon, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams have met only once before — in 2010 when Oregon visited Tennessee and won by five touchdowns, 48–13.

    In all candor, not a lot has changed since then. Oregon is still one of the highest–ranked teams in the land, and Tennessee is struggling to return to its former glory.

    Not gonna happen for the Vols on this occasion. I pick Oregon.
  • #4 Ohio State at California, 6 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Cal won the first–ever meeting between these schools, back on New Year's Day 1921 in the Rose Bowl.

    Ohio State has gone on to win the next six meetings, five of which were played more than four decades ago. In fact, the last time these teams played at California was in 1972 (Ohio State, which was then coached by Woody Hayes, won 35–18).

    Forty–year–old game film is of no value in this one, but it seems clear to me which team is going to win.

    But I don't think it will be as lopsided as some folks think. Ohio State should win — but by about a touchdown.
  • #5 Stanford at Army, 11 a.m. (Central) on CBSSN: This long–dormant series is all knotted up, 5–5, so the winner will take the lead.

    In such a situation, you'd probably want to look at recent meetings to get an idea of which team has the momentum. But these teams haven't faced each other since Sept. 22, 1979. Army only won two games that year, but the game with Stanford was one of them.

    Of course, a lot of things have changed since 1979. Stanford was 5–5–1 that year; the Cardinal are ranked fifth in the nation today.

    Army, on the other hand, went 2–10 last year. Well, maybe some things haven't changed.

    I'll take Stanford by three touchdowns.
  • #7 Louisville at Kentucky, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Natural rivals in basketball, these schools met on the gridiron for the first time in 1994, and it's been an annual event ever since.

    Louisville leads the series, 11–8, and has a winning record at Kentucky. Louisville also is ranked seventh in the nation.

    Kentucky was 2–10 last year and hasn't had a winning season since 2009.

    I'll take Louisville.
  • Kent State at #8 LSU, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: You know, there really isn't much I can say about this game.

    LSU hasn't lost at home to a nonconference foe since 2000. Kent had a good season last year, but, ordinariiy, the Golden Flashes do rather poorly in football.

    I don't think they're the ones to end the Tigers' dominance at home. I pick LSU.
  • Nevada at #10 Florida State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This is one of those games I find it hard to be enthusiastic about. I mean, Nevada hasn't had a bad football team in recent years, but it is ludicrous to think that the Wolf Pack could possibly win at Florida State.

    Oh, well, I guess stranger things have happened, but that's a little too strange for my taste. I expect Florida State to win.
  • Akron at #11 Michigan, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten: Michigan hasn't been as dominant lately as man of its fans remember, but the Wolverines have been doing a lot better than the Zips, who have won a total of 20 games since 2005 and endured three consecutive 1–11 seasons (and haven't beaten a nonconference Division I–A foe since 2008).

    I pick Michigan by three touchdowns.
  • Lamar at #12 Oklahoma State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Mid–Atlantic Sports: This is one of those games that should be interesting until, oh, about midway through the first quarter.

    I expect Oklahoma State to win — and by a wide margin.
  • Vanderbilt at #13 South Carolina, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: South Carolina leads this series, 18–4, and has won the last four meetings.

    But don't get the wrong idea. Those last four games have been reasonably competitive, not blowouts at all.

    And that is usually the case in this series — not always, but usually.

    Actually, I expect another close one. I expect South Carolina to win — but it won't be easy.
  • Tulsa at #14 Oklahoma, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This will be the 20th time these schools have faced each other on a football field.

    The Sooners have won 11 of the last 12 meetings. In fact, if not for Tulsa's victory over a subpar OU squad in 1996, Tulsa's last win over Oklahoma would be the Hurricanes' 20–6 triumph in Oklahoma City almost 70 years ago.

    I don't think they'll get another one today. I pick Oklahoma.
  • #16 UCLA at #23 Nebraska, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: With the exception of the Alabama–Texas A&M showdown, I think this might be the most entertaining college game of the week.

    Considering that two time zones separate them, these teams have played each other quite a bit (11 times) and never in a bowl game.

    UCLA actually won the first three meetings, two of which were played in California, and the Bruins were among the few who beat Nebraska during the Cornhuskers' greatest glory years in the early 1970s.

    But they have lost all four of their games in Lincoln since that initial win, and I expect Nebraska to extend its home winning streak against UCLA.
  • Western Michigan at #17 Northwestern, 8 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten: Western Michigan is coming off a 4–8 season.

    That's kind of unusual for WMU. It usually wins more than it loses.

    Of course, it doesn't play ranked teams often, and it beats them even more rarely. Based on that, I'm going to pick Northwestern, the ranked team, to win by about 10 points.
  • #19 Washington at Illinois, 5 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten: This will be the 10th time these schools have met on the gridiron, and, if the Illini win, the series will be tied.

    But Illinois' last win over Washington came in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day in 1964. The Illini haven't beaten Washington in a regular–season contest since 1952.

    Of course, this series has been dormant since 1972 so this is really a whole new series for both teams.

    And I think Washington will win the first meeting of the second series.
  • #20 Wisconsin at Arizona State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Compared to other rivalries being renewed today, the Wisconsin–Arizona State rivalry is a fledgling.

    This is only the fourth time they have met — and only the second time at Arizona State. Wisconsin lost that first trip to the Southwest back in 1968.

    I think Wisconsin will avenge that defeat, but I think the score could be a lot closer than most people think — perhaps with a field goal separating the two.
  • #21 Notre Dame at Purdue, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the 82nd time these schools have faced each other, and Notre Dame leads the series, 54–25–2.

    It's been a bit more competitive when they've played at Purdue, but the Irish have still managed to win 63% of the time.

    Notre Dame has only lost once to Purdue since 2005 — but that loss came on Purdue's field.

    That may be the only good news for Purdue. The Boilermakers have only had one winning season since 2008.

    This time, I think Notre Dame will leave the field with the victory.
  • #25 Ole Miss at Texas, 7 p.m. (Central) on Longhorn Network: Until they squared off in Mississippi last year, Ole Miss and Texas had not met in football since the 1966 Bluebonnet Bowl.

    And Saturday's game will be the first played between these teams in Austin since 1925.

    I don't know if they have ever met when Ole Miss was ranked and Texas wasn't. Nevertheless, that is the situation today.

    All kinds of firsts If Texas loses, the Longhorns will be 1–2 and may need to do something spectacular to get back into the rankings.

    And that could happen. But I think it is more likely that Texas will squeak out a narrow victory.
Last week: 16–3

Season: 37–4

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