Wednesday, November 20, 2013

That's the Way the Football Bounces ... Sometimes

Sometimes a single photo doesn't do justice to what happened.

That caption sums up how I felt when I looked for a picture of Ricardo Louis' game–winning catch for Auburn against Georgia last weekend. I was going to post such a picture here, then I decided my only real choice was to post the video.

You had to see it, the way the defenders tipped the ball and Louis caught it in stride and ran untouched into the end zone. A still photo simply doesn't do justice to the play.

Would it happen the same way every time? No. There's only one of those to a customer, I guess. Just like people get only one summer when they are 8 years old, and they can enjoy ice cream and bottle rockets and all the simple pleasures of childhood without being brought down by the increasing concerns of maturing years. It's not the kind of thing that can be duplicated.

You just never know, when you sit down to watch a football game, if a memorable moment like that will happen. It's always possible.

And my guess is that a moment like that could happen in a few of the games on this weekend's schedule.

Idle: #6 Auburn


  • #20 Northern Illinois at Toledo, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Toledo lost its first two games (to Florida and Missouri) and is 7–1 since.

    The Rockets still have a chance to win the division — and probably will if they beat 10–0 Northern Illinois. The only remaining obstacle would be 4–7 Akron next week.

    Toledo leads the all–time series and wins the majority of the time on either campus but has been particularly successful at home, winning 85% of the time.

    In recent years, though, Northern Illinois seems to have solved the Toledo riddle, going 2–2 there in the last four visits. And there have been some unbelievable scores of late. NIU won the last time it came to Toledo as the teams combined for 123 points.

    And that was in regulation.

    Northern Illinois might put a lot of points on the board again this time. The Huskies' offense is ranked fourth in the nation. Toledo's offense is good, too, but probably not good enough to win a shootout.

    Neither defense has been overly impressive, and I have to think offense will make the difference. I pick Northern Illinois by a touchdown.
  • Rutgers at #17 UCF, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Auburn's Ricardo Louis wasn't the only one who made a spectacular catch last weekend. He just got more attention.

    UCF's J.J. Worton made a terrific one–handed touchdown grab against Temple.

    Worton might be able to do something similar against Rutgers' 92nd–ranked defense. Blake Bortles is the seventh–best QB in the country, but none of UCF's receivers are among the leaders in receptions or yards per game. Clearly, Bortles spreads the ball around. But be advised what Worton can do when Bortles throws the ball to him.

    And he has the chance to do it tomorrow night on the ESPN stage.

    I pick UCF by a touchdown.
  • Chattanooga at #1 Alabama: Why waste time analyzing this one?

    The only way the Crimson Tide will lose this is if they get caught looking ahead to Auburn next week. I don't think that will happen. Give me Alabama.
  • Idaho at #2 Florida State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: See the above entry on Chattanooga vs. Alabama.

    Substitute Florida State for Alabama (and Florida for Auburn) — and you have my prediction on this one as well.
  • #3 Baylor at #11 Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Until last year, Baylor had lost 15 of its last 16 meetings with Oklahoma State — and you have to go back to 1942 to find Baylor's last win over OSU in the state of Oklahoma.

    Even RGIII didn't beat Oklahoma State.

    Of course, he didn't have the nation's top–ranked offense (the Bears are averaging more than 100 yards per game more than thesecond–ranked offense). OSU has struggled a bit on offense this year (ranked #54).

    I don't remember what kind of defense Baylor had a couple of years ago, but it is pretty good this year (11th in the country). OSU's defense is ranked higher than its offense — but not by a whole lot (#40).

    Common sense says the Bears should win it, but I sense an upset in the making. I'll pick Oklahoma State.
  • Indiana at #4 Ohio State: Ohio State has beaten Indiana 18 straight times and hasn't lost at home to the Hoosiers since October of 1987.

    Indiana does have a decent offense — ranked 16th in the nation — but Ohio State's is better (ranked #6). But the Hoosiers have the worst defense in the country.

    Ohio State should win by a wide margin.
  • #5 Oregon at Arizona: Oregon leads the all–time series largely because of what has happened since 1999. Oregon is 12–2 against Arizona in that time.

    We all know how good Oregon's offense is — second only to Baylor in the national rankings. The Ducks are also 25th in defense. Arizona has a competitive offense, but its defense should be no match for the Ducks.

    I expect a victory margin in double digits for Oregon.
  • Citadel at #7 Clemson, 11 a.m. (Central) on Hey, I've seen Clemson play a few times this season, and the Tigers are good — ninth–best offense with Tajh Boyd at the controls.

    It's hard to imagine the Citadel competing with that — and I can't imagine it. I expect Clemson to win.
  • #8 Missouri at #24 Ole Miss, 6:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the seventh–ever meeting between these teams, the first as conference rivals and possibly a preview of coming SEC championship game attractions.

    Not this year, of course. This year, either Alabama or Auburn will represent the West, but Missouri ought to be there as the representative of the East.

    Mizzou has won the last four games it has played with Ole Miss and brings the 17th–best offense to the game, but Ole Miss' offense actually is rated 15th.

    And Ole Miss' defense is ranked 42nd while Missouri is ranked 52nd.

    In other words, it's a pretty even match statistically.

    When Ole Miss has the ball, the Rebels' 19th–ranked passing game could be a real problem for Missouri's 112th–ranked pass defense. Likewise, but to a lesser extent, Missouri's 18th–ranked ground game for Ole Miss' run defense.

    There could be a lot of scoring. After losses to #1 Alabama, #9 Texas A&M and #6 Auburn, the Rebels really crave a win over a Top 10 team.

    Missouri, on the other hand, could be caught looking ahead to the Tigers' regular–season finale with Texas A&M next week. But the Tigers need to be careful about that. A loss in either game would hand the SEC East crown to #12 South Carolina, a double–overtime winner over Missouri last month.

    I expect Ole Miss to put up a great fight, but I think Missouri has more to lose and won't be caught napping.

    Missouri by a field goal.
  • #9 Texas A&M at #18 LSU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This is probably the game of the week.

    Most people are assuming that Johnny Manziel will enter the pros after this season is over. I think that is likely, regardless of whether A&M sweeps its last two regular–season games, loses both or splits them (#8 Missouri is waiting next week).

    I also think Manziel will jump to the NFL whether he wins another Heisman or not. His passing numbers have been better this year than they were last year. His rushing numbers are down, but he has already demonstrated his Brett Favre–like scrambling — and my guess is that, in today's NFL, the focus is on whether a quarterback can pass accurately.

    Manziel's completion percentage is 73.0% (up from 68.0% last year), his passing yardage is up more than 45 yards per game, and he's averaging three TD passes per outing (compared to about two last year). Unless he gets hurt in the last two regular–season games or the January bowl in which he is virtually certain to play, he may never be more bankable than he is right now.

    He already has a Heisman.

    I think this will be a great game with a lot of points scored. That's the way it is in Aggie games this year.

    But when the dust settles, I pick Texas A&M by a field goal.
  • California at #10 Stanford: This will be the 93rd meeting between these two Bay Area rivals.

    Stanford has won the last three, but California won seven of the previous eight. That's what this series has been like, one team dominates for several years, then it is the other team's turn.

    I think the numbers suggest that Stanford's streak will continue for another year. The Cardinal's defense is ranked in the Top 20 and should be able to stop Cal.

    I choose Stanford.
  • Coastal Carolina at #12 South Carolina: This one should be no problem for South Carolina.

    I don't know if these schools have ever played before, but I can't imagine the Gamecocks being intimidated by Coastal Carolina after running the SEC gauntlet.

    South Carolina should win by a wide margin.
  • #13 Michigan State at Northwestern: It took some trickery by Michigan State last week, but the Spartans defeated Nebraska and seized control their destiny in the Big Ten.

    Compared to all–time outcomes, Northwestern has been a little more successful against Michigan State since 2002. In that time, Northwestern has won one–third of the time — the Wildcats even won last year. But Michigan State hasn't lost at Northwestern since 2001.

    Michigan State has the best defense in the nation and should stop Northwestern's offense with ease.

    I pick Michigan State by a field goal.
  • #19 Arizona State at #14 UCLA: This series has been a little more lopsided since 2000 than it has been all time. Since 2000, UCLA is 8–4 against Arizona State, which is a little better than UCLA's all–time winning percentage against ASU (.638).

    Arizona State struggles on the road in this series — with only one road win against UCLA in the 21st century.

    The Sun Devils have the better offense, though, and a substantially better defense. This one could be a lot more exciting than you might think.

    Thanks to the home field advantage, I will go with UCLA.
  • New Mexico at #15 Fresno State, 3 p.m. (Central) on ESPNews: Fresno State has won seven of its last eight games with New Mexico, but that one exception came at Fresno State in 1994.

    Neither defense has been terribly productive this year, giving the edge to the better offense. That would be Fresno State, ranked fifth nationally.

    I have to go with Fresno State.
  • #16 Wisconsin at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Wisconsin has a nine–game winning streak in the series, but the Gophers' last win over Wisconsin came at Minnesota in 2003.

    Is that significant? Probably not. Wisconsin is in the Top 12 in both offense and defense. Minnesota's defense is average at best, and its offense is worse than mediocre.

    I pick Wisconsin.
  • Memphis at #21 Louisville: These teams have been playing each other almost every year since their first meeting back in 1961.

    Louisville has the advantage both at home and on the road. The Cardinals are 12–2 against Memphis since 1992 — but Memphis' most recent victory in the series came at Louisville. Granted, that was in 2003, but Memphis' football team needs all the encouragement it can get.

    I don't think Memphis will be too encouraged by the outcome of this game. I pick Louisville.
  • #22 Oklahoma at Kansas State, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: If Bob Stoops can beat the Wildcats, he will have the record for most coaching wins with the Sooners all to himself.

    The Sooners' victory over Iowa State last week pulled Stoops even with Barry Switzer at 157 wins each.

    The odds are in his favor. Stoops is 8–2 against Kansas State, but one of those losses came in Norman last year.

    Both offenses have struggled at times this year, and I think the game will come down to defense. OU's defense is ranked 13th in the country. K–State's defense is good, just not as good.

    I pick Oklahoma.
  • #23 Southern Cal at Colorado: These teams have played seven times since 1927, and Southern Cal has won all seven.

    It's really hard to imagine USC stumbling on this one, either. Colorado (4–6) is 86th in offense — at 76th, USC isn't much better — and 110th in defense (USC is 17th).

    There was a time when this would have been an exciting matchup. Not so much now. I expect Southern Cal to win easily.
  • #25 Duke at Wake Forest, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This series dates back to 1922, but seldom has much been riding on the outcome.

    Typically, if a Duke–Wake Forest game has meant anything, it has been in basketball. Duke's football team hasn't had a winning season since 1994. Wake Forest had some successful campaigns from 2006–2008, but, for the most part, the Demon Deacons have been right there with the Blue Devils, enduring football season to get to basketball season.

    But, after beating Miami for the first time since 1976, Duke is in the driver's seat for a berth against Florida State in the ACC championship game. Basketball will have to wait awhile longer.

    For a long time, Wake Forest owned Duke in football. Until last year, in fact. Wake Forest had won 12 in a row against Duke until the Blue Devils beat the Demon Deacons in September 2012.

    Now it looks as if Duke will have two straight wins in this series for the first time since 1998–1999. Well, that's what I expect to happen.
Last week: 17–2

Season: 188–34

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