Thursday, October 10, 2013

There's Nothing Quite Like the OU-Texas Game

This is Oklahoma–Texas week, a week that has always been significant in these parts. Frequently, it has had a considerable influence on the rest of the country, too.

Of course, it is always a huge thing here in Dallas. Literally millions of people descend upon this area every year not just for the game but for the state fair, which is always a boost for restaurants and hotels. And then there is OU–Texas weekend, which provides a boost upon a boost.

In fact, it is such an economic boost that there have been efforts to duplicate OU–Texas weekend on other weekends during the fair. The fair can't bring in OU and Texas every weekend, but it has brought in other regional teams for games. And that has As I have written here before, I grew up in Arkansas, and I always knew people who went to the OU–Texas game when I was growing up. Of course, in those days, both teams usually were ranked going into the game — this year, only Oklahoma is ranked.

In Arkansas, we knew that (nearly all the time) the Razorbacks would face Texas the next week, and we usually hoped that Texas would suffer an especially draining defeat to the Sooners — partly because, well, it was Texas, and partly because we figured if the Longhorns were emotionally distracted by the previous game, they couldn't prepare adequately for the next one.

That particular strategy never seemed to work, though, and I wouldn't recommend it to Texas' opponent next week — except there isn't one. Texas has next week off.

The Longhorns might be hoping that the Sooners will be distracted by their game next week with in–state rival (and idle this week) #22 Oklahoma State. But I lived in Oklahoma for four years, and I know that won't happen. OU's fans will never let the Sooners forget that this is Texas Week; I'm sure the same must be true in Austin.

Consequently, OU–Texas always has an intensity that is unlike any other game I have seen. Some rivalries are similar, but there is nothing quite like the OU–Texas game.

There's no denying it's lost some of its luster.

As Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star–Telegram points out, the spotlight doesn't shine as brightly on this game as it once did — but there's still plenty of pressure to win. Embattled Texas coach Mack Brown is said — by some — to be on the brink of being fired, which prompts this from Galloway ...

"With the Sooners as a two–touchdown favorite, if that spread is covered by mid–afternoon on Saturday, the immediate question becomes this: Will the lights be turned out on Mack before supper?"

Idle: #4 Ohio State, #6 Florida State, #13 Miami (Fla.), #21 Fresno State, #22 Oklahoma State

  • Rutgers at #8 Louisville, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: As conference rivals, these schools have faced each other every year since 2005.

    But their series predates that, and Rutgers won four meetings between 1976 and 1986. Louisville has won the last three in a row.

    Michael Grant of USA Today writes that it is a "rivalry of note." Be that as it may — and, for all I know, tonight's game will be a good one — I don't think it has the history — yet — to deserve that designation.

    Louisville's offense gets all the headlines, but it is the defense that is ranked third in the nation. The offense is ranked 18th. Of course, it is reasonable to observe that Louisville doesn't play a high–caliber schedule, and there certainly is truth in that.

    Tonight's opponent is probably as rough as it will get for Louisville (well, with the possible exception of the Nov. 16 showdown with currently unbeaten Houston). Even so, I pick Louisville.
  • #1 Alabama at Kentucky, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: It's a good thing for Kentucky this game is being played in Lexington.

    The Wildcats have never won in Tuscaloosa. They only managed a tie back in 1939. But, in Lexington, the Wildcats actually have beaten the Crimson Tide twice — in 1922 and 1997.

    Meanwhile, Alabama has beaten Kentucky 35 times. It's been practically automatic since 1940 — well, except for coach Mike DuBose, who was running the football team in 1997.

    This year, both teams have been better on defense than offense, but Alabama's been better than Kentucky in both categories.

    Alabama has frequently shut out Kentucky. I don't think that will happen this time, but I do think Alabama will win by a couple of touchdowns.
  • #2 Oregon at #16 Washington, 3 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports: A lot of people have been prematurely picking Oregon to be in the national championship game with Alabama in January, but there are still a few formalities.

    Alabama still needs to defeat LSU — and then the SEC East representative in the SEC's championship game.

    And Oregon has a few obstacles to face as well — one of which is this weekend's game with Washington. In the weeks ahead, the Ducks will have to face #11 UCLA and #5 Stanford as well as unranked (but still formidable) Washington State and Oregon State.

    Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated writes that the resurgent Huskies need "only apply the finishing touch by beating an elite opponent."

    If not for the Huskies' ranking, the Ducks might be lulled into a crippling sense of complacency. After all, Oregon has beaten Washington nine straight times, sometimes by ridiculously lopsided margins (52–21 last year, 53–16 in 2010, 44–10 in 2008), but this is a series that predates World War I. Washington has the all–time edge, 51–38–4.

    And Washington's program has the upward momentum right now. Oregon has been near the top lately, but Washington has struggled to go 7–6 the last three years (following a seemingly endless stretch of losing seasons). I wrote a few weeks ago (just before the Huskies beat a then–ranked Boise State squad) that I thought Washington was poised for a breakout season. So far, I'm right. The Huskies are 4–1 with their only loss being to Stanford last week.

    Everyone knows Oregon has a great offense; it is ranked second in the country. But did you know Washington's offense is ranked fifth? On defense, the advantage belongs to Washington (10th in the nation), but Oregon is still quite good (21st).

    It could add up to the most entertaining game of the weekend — but, actually, I think that of several matchups on the weekend schedule. And I pick Oregon to win this one — but just barely.
  • Boston College at #3 Clemson, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: I guess Boston College has been something of a thorn in Clemson's side.

    The series is close; in fact, since the teams have been conference rivals, each has won four times, and, if Boston College wins on Saturday, the series at Clemson will be tied, just like the series at Boston College, which would mean the difference between the teams would be Clemson's Cotton Bowl victory over Boston College in 1940.

    But this season's numbers suggest that won't happen. Clemson's 14th–ranked offense, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, looks capable of handling Boston College's 78th–ranked defense. And, when Boston College has the ball, Clemson should have no trouble.

    I think Clemson will win by at least two touchdowns.
  • #5 Stanford at Utah, 5 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Over the years, these teams have met four times but never as conference rivals.

    Stanford is returning to Utah for the first time in nearly 20 years — since Stanford won in its only trip to the Utah campus.

    Stanford's offense is only ranked 66th. Statistically, Utah's is actually better (ranked 27th). On defense, Stanford has the edge (ranked 49th); Utah's defense is ranked 70th. Obviously, defenses aren't likely to make much of a statement in this game.

    Stanford should win by a touchdown.
  • #25 Missouri at #7 Georgia, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Missouri has never beaten Georgia, but the series only consists of two games, anyway — the 1960 Orange Bowl and their first meeting as SEC rivals last year.

    Georgia will be hard for Missouri to stop. With quarterback Aaron Murray (currently the seventh–best passer in the country) at the controls, the Bulldogs are 11th in the country in offense. Stopping them would be a challenge for a good defense, but Missouri's, ranked 76th in the nation, is mediocre at best.

    Statistically, though, Georgia's defense is only marginally better and faces an equally daunting task since Missouri is seventh in offense. The Tigers' quarterback, James Franklin, is the nation's 20th–best passer, and he is dangerous, scattering his passes to a wide range of receivers, but it can be argued that Missouri hasn't really been tested yet. The Bulldogs have, which leads me to believe that Georgia will win, perhaps by a narrow margin.
  • #9 Texas A&M at Ole Miss, 7:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: If Ole Miss had beaten Alabama a couple of weeks ago, this might have been a match between two Top 25 teams.

    But Ole Miss was blanked by Alabama and staggered through a loss to Auburn the following week. I really have to think the first loss contributed heavily to the second.

    The Aggies also lost to Alabama in September, but they had a week off to regroup. Not that they needed one. They hammered SMU and Arkansas in the weeks after the loss to the Crimson Tide — and should be well rested for their trip to Oxford this weekend.

    Historically, the Aggies have never lost to Ole Miss. They made their first–ever trip to Oxford last year, and they left with a three–point victory.

    That was in early October — before Johnny Manziel became Johnny Football.

    I expect another close one this year. Texas A&M's offense is ranked third in the nation and should be able to handle Ole Miss at least part of the time, even though the Rebels are ranked 40th in defense.

    The Ole Miss offense isn't nearly as good (ranked 52nd), but the Aggies' defense leaves a lot to be desired (ranked 112th).

    I anticipate a high–scoring game with Texas A&M logging a narrow win.
  • #17 Florida at #10 LSU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This has the makings of a truly entertaining game.

    Florida has the second–best defense in the nation. I watched it strangle my alma mater, Arkansas, on Saturday night — which, I'll grant you, is not necessarily a difficult assignment for most teams this year — and I had hoped that the loss of the Gators' star defensive player would make it easier for offenses to move the ball. No suck luck, at least for Arkansas. The Razorbacks scored a touchdown early, but Florida adjusted and smothered the Hogs from that point on.

    LSU's offense will be more of a challenge. It is ranked 23rd in the nation, and it is led by Zach Mettenberger, the fourth–best quarterback in the country, and Jeremy Hill, the nation's 11th–best runner.

    This is really a tough game to pick — and could go either way. I'll go with Florida.
  • California at #11 UCLA, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2 or ESPNU: This is a match of really good offenses.

    UCLA's offense is ranked fourth in the nation, thanks primarily to running back Jordon James, but Cal is ranked 17th.

    However, Cal has one of the worst defenses in the country, which leads me to believe UCLA will prevail.
  • #12 Oklahoma vs. Texas at Dallas, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: I guess I have about said all that really needs to be said about this game.

    And anything I didn't say is surely covered in the dozens of books that have been written about these programs.

    It's funny how far the mighty can fall, isn't it? Not long ago, Texas was playing for national championships. Now the Longhorns are underdogs to their greatest rival, and their coach may be struggling for survival. The point spread that favors OU is probably pretty accurate. I think Oklahoma will win.
  • #14 South Carolina at Arkansas, 11:21 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: This series didn't exist when I was a student at Arkansas. It began the first year Arkansas was a member of the Southeastern Conference, and the teams have met annually since.

    Arkansas has won more than 60% of the games with South Carolina, but the Gamecocks won last year. The Razorbacks, on the other hand, have won the last three times the teams have met in Arkansas. In fact, the Razorbacks have only lost twice to the Gamecocks when playing at home.

    I think that will change this year. Arkansas may be able to put up a struggle for a half or so, but the absence of depth on Arkansas' roster is likely to give South Carolina the victory.
  • #15 Baylor at Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Top–rated quarterback Bryce Petty leads Baylor's top–ranked offense into Manhattan, Kan.

    That is an important point to remember. The Bears have fared pretty well when they have played the Wildcats in Waco, but they've never won in four trips to Manhattan.

    Actually, the series has favored the home team in the last six meetings between these schools. The last time the road team won was in 2002.

    Unless the offense suffers a setback, though, I expect Baylor to win a close one.
  • #18 Michigan at Penn State, 4 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: The historical record doesn't offer much insight.

    Historically, Michigan is just as likely to win on the road as at home against Penn State.

    Penn State has won the last three meetings, but all three were with Joe Paterno on the sideline. This will be the first time someone other than Paterno has led the Nittany Lions into battle with Michigan.

    Both defenses are in the Top 20; the offenses have been much less impressive.

    I think Michigan will win by a touchdown in a relatively low–scoring contest.
  • #19 Northwestern at Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This series goes back to 1892.

    Over the years, Northwestern has enjoyed its successes, but Wisconsin has dominated the series. Of late — that is to say, in the last six years — the trend has favored the home team.

    The Badgers are unranked, but they have performed better on both sides of the ball than Northwestern. As always seems to be the case, the ground game carries Wisconsin. Melvin Gordon is averaging nearly 140 yards rushing per game, and Northwestern's defense is giving up 144 yards on the ground per game.

    I predict a low–scoring game — and a Wisconsin victory.
  • Iowa State at #20 Texas Tech, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox Sports: Texas Tech has dominated this series since the teams first met in 1967, but Iowa State has won two of the last three meetings.

    In fact, Iowa State got its first–ever win in Lubbock the last time the teams played there in 2011.

    But I don't expect a repeat. Tech's offense is ranked 13th, and I feel confident that the Red Raiders will score enough points to win.

    I really don't think it will be lopsided, though. Texas Tech should win by six or seven.
  • Akron at #23 Northern Illinois, 4 p.m. (Central) on Northern Illinois is back in the rankings — first appearance this season, I believe — and NIU's first assignment as a ranked team is against conference rival Akron.

    Northern Illinois is undefeated, but that really isn't as impressive as it sounds — well, except for a 31–point win over Big Ten team Purdue. Even so, NIU has the 12th–best offense (statistically) in the country.

    I think Northern Illinois will win — probably by about 10 points.
  • Pittsburgh at #24 Virginia Tech, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Pittsburgh enjoys a four–game winning streak in this series, but this year's game is being played on Tech's turf — where Pitt last lost to Tech back in 2000.

    Tech also has the fifth–best defense in the land (Pitt's is 54th). Neither offense has been particularly impressive, and my guess is that Tech's defensive prowess will be decisive. I pick Virginia Tech.
Last week: 18–3

Season: 103–12

No comments: