Thursday, September 18, 2014

Anything Still Can Happen

Nine teams in the Top 25 are idle this week, which makes this week perhaps the least interesting of the young season.

But not entirely.

Tonight's game between Auburn and Kansas State may be the game of the week. If Kansas State is going to be a contender for the national title, the Wildcats must defeat Auburn.

There are other games of varying levels of interest this Saturday — Clemson–Florida State, Florida–Alabama, Miami (Fla.)–Nebraska — and some games of regional interest.

The big showdowns are still weeks away, but this is the intriguing time of the season, when just about anything still can happen.

Idle: #7 Baylor, #9 Notre Dame, #10 Ole Miss, #12 UCLA, #15 Arizona State, #16 Stanford, #17 Southern Cal, #23 Ohio State, #25 Oklahoma State

  • #5 Auburn at #20 Kansas State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Auburn's record against Kansas State is 3–0, but the teams have only played once since the Carter presidency.

    Nevertheless, this is probably the top matchup of the week in college football. Auburn's offense (led by running back Cameron Artis–Payne) is rated much higher than Kansas State's; K–State's defense is rated higher than Auburn's, but not by nearly as much. I've got to pick Auburn.
  • #22 Clemson at #1 Florida State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Clemson seldom wins at Florida State — only once in the team's last 11 trips there.

    The Tigers have enjoyed more success against Florida State at home, but it is the Seminoles' turn to play hosts.

    They'll have to do so, at least in part, without Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who has been suspended for the first half for making sexually explicit comments on campus. Will that make a difference? It could — Clemson is ranked ahead of Florida State in both offense and defense — but I don't really think it will. It may make the final score closer than it ought to be. I take Florida State.
  • #2 Oregon at Washington State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Believe it or not, there was a time when WSU dominated this series. Not lately. Oregon has won seven in a row and 21 of the last 28.

    Still, Washington State has a pretty good offense (currently #15 in the country) — but not quite as good as Oregon's. Defense is mostly irrelevant in the Pac–12, but, for what it's worth, Washington State's defense is ranked higher than Oregon's.

    Last year, in a 62–38 loss to Oregon, WSU QB Connor Halladay attempted 89 passes and threw for nearly 700 yards. He's back and presently ranked #32 in passing efficiency.

    Historically, Washington State has been more competitive against Oregon at home. Will that help this time? I don's really think so. Give me Oregon.
  • Florida at #3 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Alabama leads this series — as it does just about every series. The Gators have lost six of the last eight meetings, including the last three in a row — but they have enjoyed more success on the road than at home in this series.

    Not so long ago, this was the premiere matchup in the SEC. They met for the conference championship in 2008 and 2009, with each team winning once.

    You'd think, with their history, these teams would play a lot of close games against each other, but the fact is their last six games were all decided by at least 11 points — usually a lot more.

    Florida has a lot more to prove. I'll take Alabama.
  • #4 Oklahoma at West Virginia, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This is Oklahoma's second–ever trip to West Virginia. The Sooners won a wild one the last time they visited West Virginia two years ago, 50–49.

    Based on the early numbers, the marquee matchup in this game will come when West Virginia's 13th–ranked offense (led by QB Clint Trickett, who is 20th in passing efficiency, and receiver Kevin White, who is averaging 11 catches per game) faces OU's 19th–ranked defense. Oklahoma's offense is ranked a respectable (but hardly eye–popping) 39th while West Virginia's defense is 55th.

    I have to pick Oklahoma.
  • #6 Texas A&M at SMU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: This is the second of three consecutive games against former Southwest Conference rivals for the Aggies. They faced Rice last week, they take on SMU this week, and they must tackle Arkansas next week.

    We'll talk about next week's game next week. This week, I take Texas A&M.
  • Mississippi State at #8 LSU, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools have been annual rivals every year but one since 1926. In all, they have faced each other 104 times in one of the nation's oldest rivalries. LSU has dominated the series, 67–34–3, and owns a 14–game winning streak against the Bulldogs.

    LSU rarely loses at home — especially against Mississippi State. MSU hasn't won in Baton Rouge in more than 20 years. I don't think it will happen this time. I'll take LSU.
  • Eastern Michigan at #11 Michigan State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Michigan State is 6–0 against Eastern Michigan. Each game has been played at Michigan State, presumably so Eastern Michigan can get a big payday for being the sacrificial lamb. Michigan State usually holds Eastern Michigan to single digits — and typically wins by four touchdowns. I'll take Michigan State.
  • Troy at #13 Georgia, 11 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: This is the first time these teams have met. Honestly, I can't think of a single reason to to pick the visitors. Georgia will win.
  • #14 South Carolina at Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: South Carolina has dominated this series, winning more than 80% of the time.

    It doesn't really matter where the teams play. South Carolina always wins — the last five in a row, 12 of the last 14, 19 of the 23 total games that have been played.

    So far, South Carolina has a much better offense, and Vanderbilt has a much better defense. But the opposition should be taken into consideration. South Carolina has faced currently sixth–ranked Texas A&M and currently 13th–ranked Georgia in the first three weeks; Vanderbilt has faced UMass and Temple (and, to be fair, currently 10th–ranked Ole Miss).

    I'd love to see Vandy win, but I just think South Carolina will win again.
  • Indiana at #18 Missouri, 3 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Missouri has a much better defense — but defense isn't really decisive in this game, given that the Tigers ranked 50th in the nation.

    That's better than the Tigers' national ranking on offense (#76). Unfortunately for Missouri, the Tiger defense must deal with Indiana's offense, which is ranked ninth in the nation after putting up 70 points in two games.

    Keep an eye on Tevin Coleman, who is rushing for more than 200 yards a game for the Hoosiers. In an upset, I'll take Indiana to win on the road.
  • Bowling Green at #19 Wisconsin, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Historically, Wisconsin has won all three previous meetings with Bowling Green by an average of nearly 20 points.

    Statistically, Bowling Green has a clear edge on offense; Wisconsin has a clear edge on defense. I have to take Wisconsin.
  • Virginia at #21 Brigham Young, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN or ESPNU: Believe it or not, Virginia leads this series, 3–1, and the Cavaliers won the only time they traveled to BYU — back in 1999. I'm not really inclined to think that Virginia will duplicate the accomplishment.

    BYU used to be synonymous with offense — but the Cougars are much more accomplished on defense these days. The Coogs are actually rated ahead of Virginia in both categories, but the ratings aren't too impressive on offense. I expect Brigham Young to win.
  • Miami (Fla.) at #24 Nebraska, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: The all–time series is tied, 5–5. The turning point in the series was the 1984 Orange Bowl, when Nebraska went for a two–point conversion late in the game — and about a decade before college football introduced overtime. Since (and including) that game, Miami has won four of the last five meetings.

    But the Hurricanes have never won at Nebraska, which is their assignment this weekend. Of course, they haven't been to Lincoln since 1976, either. Still, I pick Nebraska.

Last week: 14–4

Season: 54–8

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