When you try to predict the outcomes of games involving Top 25 teams, this is the part of the season when the picking is the easiest. Most of the ranked teams play easy marks — there aren't many head–to–head battles between ranked teams in the first month or so — and you're usually in safe territory if you pick the ranked team to win.
Unless you happen to be my alma mater — Arkansas — and you're playing an apparent pushover like Toledo. It should go without saying that unranked Toledo's 16–12 victory over #18 Arkansas in Little Rock was a shock. It would have been a great upset special. I doubt that many people made that prediction, though. I certainly didn't.
I grew up in Arkansas, so I ought to know how this thing works by now. Arkansas frequently has had its best seasons when little was expected — and the Hogs tend to stumble out of the gate when expectations are high. It hasn't always turned out that way, but it has quite often.
The fans expected little when last season began, and, for the first half of the season, the Hogs seemed to be living down to expectations. But then they reeled off some impressive wins in the second half of the season and ended up beating an old Southwest Conference rival, the Texas Longhorns, in a bowl game.
The end of last season naturally gave rise to unrealistic expectations for this season. The Hogs whipped UTEP in the opener, but then they never got going against Toledo. They face Texas Tech this week, then #17 Texas A&M, followed by the Monsters of the SEC West.
My upset special didn't come through. If you want to know which game that was, just look at my column from last week.
Idle: #5 Baylor
- #11 Clemson at Louisville, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams met for the first time last year, and Clemson pulled off a 23–17 win at home. Now, Louisville is looking to return the favor. It should be fun to watch.
I hope it will be close again, and I will take Clemson to win.
- #9 Florida State at Boston College, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These ACC rivals have played each other every year since 2005. Florida State has won the last five meetings. The series actually dates back to the late '50s. Boston College has been the home team seven times and has beaten Florida State only twice.
I haven't heard much about Boston College. In the absence of any information, I have to pick Florida State.
- Northern Illinois at #1 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: In their only previous meeting (which was also played in Columbus), Ohio State hammered Northern Illinois, 35–12, in 2006.
Nearly a decade later, Northern Illinois is back — and I expect Ohio State to win again.
- #15 Ole Miss at #2 Alabama, 8:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: The first game in this series was played in 1907. Since then, the schools have squared off on the gridiron a total of 58 times.
And Ole Miss has won on Alabama's turf only once in all those years. That was in 1988.
Alabama fans aren't likely to remember that one. They are far more likely to remember last year, when Ole Miss handed then 4–0 Alabama its only loss of the regular season. That broke a 10–year Alabama winning streak against Ole Miss and, temporarily, appeared to derail 'Bama's hopes for playing in the national championship game. Alabama wound up making college football's Final Four after winning the rest of its games but lost to eventual national champion Ohio State on New Year's Day.
Most teams struggle to win at Alabama. For Ole Miss, it's like trying to climb Mount Everest. I pick Alabama.
- SMU at #3 TCU, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports Network: This will be the 93rd meeting of these schools. It's been called the "Battle for the Iron Skillet" since 1946, but that is just about all that folks agree on. TCU fans will tell you one story about how it came to be known as the "Battle for the Iron Skillet," and SMU fans will tell you another.
From what I have seen, SMU just doesn't have the horses to compete for long in this game. I pick TCU.
- Air Force at #4 Michigan State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Air Force was a lot better than its reputation last year, going 9–3 in the regular season and winning a bowl game. It was the first time Air Force was in double digits in wins since 1998.
Everyone, I guess, knows about Michigan State. Great season. Just happened to lose to the two teams that made it to the national championship game. Double–digit victory years haven't been nearly as uncommon in East Lansing as they have been in Colorado, though. The Spartans have had 10 or more victories in four of the last five seasons, and they're probably expecting another one this year.
I don't expect Air Force to soar very high in this game. I predict a victory for Michigan State.
- Stanford at #6 Southern Cal, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Before Northwestern upset Stanford on the first weekend, I'm sure ABC was licking its chops over this early Pac–12 showdown. It will still be a good game, but it won't have nearly as much riding on it.
This will be the 93rd meeting of these schools since 1918. Southern Cal has dominated on both fields, but, from the perspective of history, if you're Stanford, you want this game to be played in Southern Cal. Stanford has been more successful there. Stanford has won three of the last four times the teams have played on Southern Cal's turf.
Consequently, this will be my upset special — Stanford over Southern Cal.
- South Carolina at #7 Georgia, 5 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Georgia has dominated this series, no matter where the game has been played. In a series that dates to 1903, Georgia has won 71% of the time.
In recent years, though, it's been pretty competitive. Since 2005, each team has won five times, and six of the games have been decided by a touchdown or less. So don't be fooled by the absence of a ranking for South Carolina. That could change quickly if South Carolina comes away with a win.
But I don't think that will happen. I pick Georgia.
- #14 Georgia Tech at #8 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: These are pretty old foes, having faced each other nearly three dozen times since the Knute Rockne days — and Notre Dame has won more than 80% of the time.
It really ought to be a good game, and, being the lifelong Southerner that I am, I'd like to see Tech win. But I expect a Notre Dame victory.
- #19 Brigham Young at #10 UCLA, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports 1: This will be the 11th time these teams have faced each other. UCLA won six of the first seven, but BYU has won two of the last three. But you have to go back to that very first game, back in 1983, to find BYU's only win at UCLA.
I don't think BYU will win this time. I have to take UCLA.
- Georgia State at #12 Oregon, 1 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: These schools have never faced each other, but I think I have a pretty good handle on what is likely to happen.
Oregon played in the national championship game last season (and got hammered, too). Last week, the Ducks played at Michigan State. The Spartans might have been in college football's first–ever Final Four if they had beaten Oregon; they got their revenge last week.
Now Oregon comes home to face Georgia State. The Ducks have a lot to prove, mostly to themselves, and I think they'll do it. I'm sure Oregon will win. I can't imagine a different outcome.
- #18 Auburn at #13 LSU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Auburn beat LSU at home last year, but Auburn hasn't won at LSU since 1999. The teams have played 15 times since that game, and Auburn has won six times — all at home.
Home field really is important to SEC schools. Uncharacteristically, LSU lost twice at home last year — to Mississippi State and Alabama. Really, losses at home have been rare for LSU of late. LSU hadn't lost twice at home in a single season since 2009.
It's largely on the strength of that record that I pick LSU to win this game.
- Tulsa at #16 Oklahoma, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox Sports 1: Tulsa has an uninspiring record of 1–11–1 at Oklahoma. Tulsa's only win there came in 1996.
I doubt that Tulsa will improve that record. I predict an Oklahoma victory.
- Nevada at #17 Texas A&M, 11 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: It's been 65 years since the only other meeting between these schools. That one was played at a neutral site (Sacramento, Calif.) and A&M crushed Nevada 48–18.
I expect Texas A&M to win this time, too.
- Northern Arizona at #20 Arizona, 10 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Arizona has looked good every time I have seen the Wildcats play in the last couple of years.
I pick Arizona to win.
- #21 Utah at Fresno State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS Sports Network: These teams have met twice, and it's been a competitive — but sorta streaky — series that was renewed last year for the first time in the 21st century. Utah has won the last three meetings; Fresno State hasn't won since 1997.
Not so long ago, Fresno State was putting up gaudy winning records with even gaudier wins. But Fresno has fallen on hard times, going 6–8 last year. Utah was 9–4 last year and averaged more than 30 points a game. I'll take Utah.
- Connecticut at #22 Missouri, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: In the last four years, Connecticut has won 10 games (a .313 winning percentage) and only three of those wins came on the road.
It doesn't seem likely that Connecticut will win. It does seem likely that Missouri will win.
- #23 Northwestern at Duke, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ESPN3: These teams have faced each other 16 times in the past, and each team has won eight times so this game will decide who leads the all–time series — until they meet again. They don't face each other every year. They last met in 2008, and Duke hasn't beaten Northwestern at home since 1989.
I pick Northwestern to win.
- Troy at #24 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: I could waste a lot of time on this, but there is really only one thing you need to know.
Wisconsin has only lost at home six times since Nov. 12, 2005. I don't think Troy will be the seventh team to hand Wisconsin a loss at home.
I choose Wisconsin to win.
- Texas–San Antonio at #25 Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports 1: These teams faced each other in 2013 and 2014, with OSU winning by wide margins both times.
Now they meet for the third time. Oklahoma State usually wins by 25 points.
Last week: 19–3
Upset specials last week: 0–1
Upset specials overall: 1–1