Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Gone at Last, Gone at Last ...

"Gone at last, gone at last
Gone at last, gone at last
I've had a long streak of that bad luck
But I'm praying it's gone at last."

Paul Simon, 'Gone at Last' (1975)

I don't often get the chance to brag about one of my upset specials. In fact, until last weekend, I had gone several weeks without one of my upset specials paying off.

But last weekend one did.

I picked Miami (Fla.) to beat Duke, and the Hurricanes did. That triumph is a bit tarnished by bad officiating, though. You see, Miami won the game on an eight–lateral, 75–yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Now the ACC has suspended the officials who worked that game for blowing the call.

Even so, though, I've been humming Paul Simon's tune "Gone At Last" ever since that prediction came through. Maybe I will do even better this week. After all, I'm picking four upset specials.

  • Northern Illinois at #20 Toledo, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These teams met for the first time less than four months after Apollo 11's historic trip to the moon.

    Toledo was the winner on that first occasion, and Toledo has won about 68% of the time — but Northern Illinois has had the upper hand in the last five meetings. Northern Illinois is no pushover; the Huskies lost to top–ranked Ohio State by a touchdown on Sept. 19, and they bring a 5–3 record into the game in addition to their winning streak.

    But I think undefeated Toledo will prevail at home.
  • #2 Baylor at Kansas State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports 1: Kansas State leads the all–time series, but Baylor has won five of the last seven meetings — and the last three in a row. Iowa State held Baylor to 45 points — a season low for the Bears — last weekend. Perhaps the Wildcats can do even better, but their offense would the best production against the Bears to date — and that wouldn't have been enough to beat Baylor last Saturday.

    Besides, 3–4 Kansas State is mired in a four–game losing streak. The Wildcats might win enough games to qualify for a bowl, but I don't think they will win this one. I pick Baylor.
  • #24 Mississippi State at Missouri, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams have met only twice before — the most recent encounter being in 1984, which may have been before the fathers of most of today's college football players were old enough to be in elementary school.

    History will be of little help in picking a winner in this game.

    The Bulldogs have won five of their last six games, but they've lost both of the games they have played against ranked teams. Consequently, Mississippi State should beat Missouri — but should be concerned about next week's game against seventh–ranked Alabama.
  • #23 Temple at SMU, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This doesn't look like much of a contest.

    Temple was undefeated until losing a close one to Notre Dame last week. Meanwhile, SMU has lost its last six games; if South Florida had managed to kick another field goal, each of those teams would have scored at least 41 points on the Ponies.

    At 1–7, the Mustangs are already eliminated from bowl consideration — even if they could somehow win their last four games.

    It's hard to see how SMU can get motivated enough to knock off the Owls. I'll take Temple in this one.
  • Minnesota at #1 Ohio State, 7 p.m. (Central): These teams have been playing each other since 1921, and Ohio State wins more than 86% of the time.

    The Gophers impressed everyone when they took TCU down to the wire in the season opener and when they came close to beating Michigan last weekend. But they didn't impress anyone when then–16th–ranked Northwestern shut them out — nor when unranked Nebraska nearly hung 50 points on them.

    The Gophers are 4–4, and they need two wins to qualify for a bowl. They will still need two wins after this game is done. I pick Ohio State.
  • #17 Florida State at #3 Clemson, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This may be the game of the year in the ACC. It seems to be the game that will decide who wins the conference this year — and it will establish if all the talk of Clemson being the best team in the country has any basis.

    The Seminoles have dominated this series, which began in 1970 but the teams haven't been playing each other annually all that time. They began playing each other every year when they became conference rivals in 1992. Florida State has won more than 71% of the time and has won six of the last eight encounters.

    Clemson has been tough for Florida State to beat on the road. The Seminoles won the last time they played at Clemson, but, before that, Clemson had won five straight against Florida State. They don't call it Death Valley for nothing.

    Nevertheless, I am going to pick Florida State in an upset special.
  • #4 LSU at #7 Alabama, 7 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This is, without a doubt, the game of the week — as it usually is when these teams square off.

    Alabama has won the last three meetings — but it is usually close. Outcomes like Alabama's 38–17 triumph over LSU two years ago are uncommon.

    So I'm expecting another close one — befitting the teams' Top10 rankings.

    Fact is, Alabama usually wins, no matter where the game is played. I'll take Alabama.
  • #5 TCU at #12 Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This has been a close series over the years, but, ultimately, the winner tends to be whichever team is the home team.

    This year, that is Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys haven't lost at home to the Frogs since 1991.

    That home team thing isn't infallible, though, and I'm inclined to pick TCU to win.
  • #6 Michigan State at Nebraska, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Nebraska leads the all–time series, but Michigan State holds the edge lately, having won the last two meetings.

    The 3–6 Cornhuskers could really use a win in this game, having lost four of their last five, but the Spartans probably will win this game. That observation is based more on the sloppy play of Nebraska than the uninspiring play of Michigan State this season.

    In truth, neither team probably deserves to win — but somebody has to. I'll take Michigan State.
  • #8 Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Typically, Notre Dame beats Pitt a little more than two–thirds of the time. Yet the last time they met, the Panthers won.

    Then as now, Pitt was the home team, and the 6–2 Panthers could be a problem for the Irish. Pitt's two losses came to teams who were not ranked at the time but have won their way into the rankings since — Iowa and North Carolina. In both games, Pitt was within a single score of winning or tying things up.

    In an upset special, I will take Pittsburgh at home.
  • #9 Stanford at Colorado, noon (Central) on Pac–12 Network: In spite of losing the season opener to Northwestern, Stanford has won seven in a row and is being spoken of as the gold standard of the Pac–12.

    Head to head, this is a streaky series. Colorado won the first three times they met, then Stanford won the last four, taking a 4–3 lead in the series with last year's 48–0 win at Boulder. Colorado is 4–5 and enters the game with four losses in its last five contests.

    I take Stanford. It's the momentum thing.
  • #10 Iowa at Indiana, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: OK, the Hoosiers are better this year than usual. They started 4–0, but they are mired in a four–game losing streak.

    They hung in there against Ohio State, but that loss seemed to take the wind out of their sails, such as it was. That was the first of Indiana's four straight losses. Another one seems likely against 8–0 Iowa this week, and the prospects don't look any better next week against 6–2 Michigan.

    Still the Hawkeyes lost the last time they visited the Hoosiers (in 2013), and, historically, the Hoosiers have been more competitive on their home field.

    But I don't think that is going to make a big difference this time. I pick Iowa.
  • Vanderbilt at #11 Florida, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Vandy took advantage of a rebuilding Florida program to record a 34–17 win in 1993, the last time the Commodores visited the Gators. That was Vanderbilt's only win over Florida since 1988 — and it was Vanderbilt's only win at Florida since 1945.

    Perhaps that gives you an idea of what an historically daunting assignment it is that Vandy faces at Gainesville. On average, the Gators beat the Commodores by more than 18 points on their home turf.

    These Gators (7–1) can clinch the SEC East title with a victory over 3–5 Vanderbilt. and I believe they will. I pick Florida.
  • #13 Utah at Washington, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Utah has never beaten Washington. The Huskies are 8–0 all time against the Utes, but most of those games were played before 1980.

    It is truly a challenge to try to figure out the Huskies. They are 4–4 and have played well in losing efforts against the likes of Boise State and Oregon. And Washington even managed to beat a then–ranked Southern Cal squad. But they lost to a California team that, only a couple of weeks later, staggered into what has become a three–game losing streak.

    I expect Utah to get its first win in the series.
  • Iowa State at #14 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: This will be the 80th time these teams have faced each other, and I can say without fear of contradiction that Iowa State almost never beat Oklahoma.

    In fact the Sooners haven't lost to the Cyclones since 1990.

    Not only does Oklahoma usually win but the score is usually lopsided as well. Unless you're an OU fan, you really have no reason to watch this one. I take Oklahoma.
  • Navy at #15 Memphis, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This is the first meeting ever between these schools.

    At 6–1, Navy seems quite capable of keeping up with unbeaten Memphis, who may well have trouble staying focused with the showdown with Houston looming next week.

    So I'm going to pick Navy as an upset special.
  • Rutgers at #16 Michigan, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: These teams met for the first time last year, and Michigan lost 26–24. If the Wolverines had kicked another field goal, they would have won the game and, if all the other games finished as they actually did, Michigan would have qualified for a bowl.

    This is a different Michigan team. The Wolverines are 6–2, and they have already qualified for a bowl berth. The question now is which one will it be? Each victory moves Michigan closer to playing on New Year's Day.

    I don't think 3–5 Rutgers will put up much of a fight in the Big House. I'll take Michigan.
  • Cincinnati at #18 Houston, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These schools have met 23 times, and Houston holds a slender 13–10 advantage.

    But Cincinnati has accumulated most of those wins since 1993. Prior to that time, Houston was 11–2 against Cincinnati.

    So even though Houston is 8–0 and Cincinnati is 5–3, I have to say the historical edge (since '93, at least) belongs to Cincinnati. On top of that, Houston may be distracted by thoughts of the showdown with undefeated Memphis coming up next week.

    As my upset special, I will take Cincinnati.
  • Arkansas at #19 Ole Miss, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: There was a time when this game was seen as a border rivalry, but then the schools let their annual showdowns lapse and, with the exception of the 1970 Sugar Bowl, nearly two decades went by before they played again.

    They resumed the series in 1981 as an annual nonconference game, but a decade later it became a conference game when Arkansas joined the SEC. Since that time, Arkansas is 13–10 against Ole Miss. The Hogs have been competitive in games played in Mississippi as well.

    I'd love to see the Hogs win because then they would only need one more victory to qualify for a bowl, but my head overrules my heart. I pick Ole Miss to win.
  • Duke at #21 North Carolina, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This will be the 95th consecutive season these teams have faced off. North Carolina leads the series, winning about 64% of the time. Lately, the Tar Heels have really dominated, winning 10 of the last 12 encounters.

    Duke is coming off its excruciating 30–27 loss to Miami (Fla.) that snapped a four–game Blue Devil winning streak. The 7–1 Tar Heels have won every game since losing their opener to South Carolina.

    Should be a pretty good game — even without the bitter basketball rivalry spilling over onto the gridiron. I'll take North Carolina.
  • #22 UCLA at Oregon State, 3:30 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: These teams have faced each other 61 times, and UCLA wins about 70% of the time.

    Lately, though, the Beavers have been in control of the series, winning on the road in the most recent meeting (in 2012) and defeating UCLA in three of their last five games.

    Still, Oregon State is 2–6 in 2015 and has lost its last five games. UCLA is 6–2 and seems likely to crush the Beavers. Consequently, I'll take UCLA.
  • Auburn at #25 Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: This series is more than 100 years old. The first game was played in 1911, then about three–quarters of a century went by before the teams faced off in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day 1986.

    In the games that have been played on the Auburn and Texas A&M campuses, the visiting team has always won, and it is tempting to pick Auburn to continue that trend. But the Tigers, who were ranked when the season began, have lost four of their last six games and look like longshots to earn a bowl bid. They just about have to win this game to remain in the running, but I don't think that will happen. I pick Texas A&M.

Last week: 15–2

Upset specials last week: 1–1

Season: 129–25

Upset specials overall: 3–9

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