Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rounding the Stretch

I apologize if any of my readers are growing tired of seeing Razorback photos here, but I am an Arkansas graduate, and I'm so proud of the Hogs for beating LSU last week.

As I observed last week, Arkansas almost never beats LSU in consecutive seasons — since that would, by definition, require the Hogs to win on the road, which they rarely do when the home team is LSU. But last week, they did it, and they didn't even need overtime in a 31–14 romp. I should have picked them for an upset special. But I admit that I didn't think they could do it. Boy, am I glad I was wrong!

I really figured the Hogs, who became bowl eligible with the win, would be in the Top 25 this week. But they aren't.

I bet they will be ranked if they beat Mississippi State tonight.

There is also a slim — very slim — chance that Arkansas could share the SEC West title. If Arkansas and Ole Miss win out and Alabama loses to Auburn next week, the three teams will tie for first in the SEC West. Ordinarily, I suppose, the tiebreaker would be the results of their head–to–head confrontations, but Arkansas beat Ole Miss and lost to Alabama, Alabama lost to Ole Miss and beat Arkansas, Ole Miss lost to Arkansas and beat Alabama. There is no advantage for anyone.

I recall a similar situation in the days of the old Southwest Conference. Arkansas, Texas and Texas A&M all tied for the title; the winner of the SWC always went to the Cotton Bowl, but the tie was not broken by the head–to–head results. Arkansas beat A&M and lost to Texas, Texas lost to A&M and beat Arkansas, A&M lost to Arkansas and beat Texas. The next tiebreaker was simply to let the team whose last appearance in a Cotton Bowl was more remote than the others be the champion. Consequently, Arkansas went to the Cotton Bowl that year.

These days, conferences have all sorts of tiebreaking tiers. If head–to–head doesn't do it, they'll go into all kinds of statistical gymnastics. When those have been exhausted, they turn to a coin flip.

Actually, in the current SEC scenario, LSU could conceivably be one of the teams to tie for first. The Tigers, who lost to Alabama, play Ole Miss today; if they beat the Rebels, they could replace Ole Miss in a three–way tie, but they lost to the two teams with whom they would be tied — so, for all intents and purposes, if Ole Miss loses today, Alabama clinches a berth in the SEC title game against Florida.

  • Wake Forest at #1 Clemson, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Clemson has won eight of its last nine games with Wake Forest.

    With a 3–7 record, Wake Forest seems like an unlikely candidate to topple Clemson, and, with only Wake Forest and South Carolina remaining on the season schedule, Clemson looks like a virtual lock to finish the season unbeaten. But the Tigers should not let thoughts of their likely opponent in the ACC title game, North Carolina, distract them. They have to be focused.

    I think they will be. Clemson should win.
  • #9 Michigan State at #2 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This probably looked a lot more attractive to broadcasters when the season began. But Michigan State stumbled against Nebraska a couple of weeks ago so it is not the battle of the unbeatens that the networks probably assumed it would be.

    Even Ohio State has failed to live up to expectations. The Buckeyes are undefeated, but they have underperformed against the likes of Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota and Northern Illinois.

    Michigan State has underperformed as well. The Spartans have struggled on the road — losing to Nebraska and barely getting past Michigan and Rutgers.

    The Buckeyes are 14–4 against the Spartans since 1991.

    I think it is probably pretty even so I will go with the home team, Ohio State.
  • Charleston Southern at #3 Alabama, 3 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: There really isn't any point in going into this, is there?

    Alabama should roll.
  • #10 Baylor at #4 Oklahoma State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Can Baylor get back into the national championship conversation? Doubtful, but if it is going to happen, a win at Stillwater this week will be necessary.

    And that's a tall order. Baylor has lost the last 11 times it has played in Stillwater. You have to go back to 1939 — more than 75 years ago — to find Baylor's last win at Oklahoma State.

    Can Baylor end its losing skid in Stillwater? Possibly, but I doubt it. I expect Oklahoma State to win and stay on track for next week's showdown with Oklahoma — in which the Big 12 title and a possible berth in the nation's Final Four could well be on the line.
  • Boston College at #5 Notre Dame, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: This has been a streaky series in recent years. Boston College won six in a row from 2001 to 2007, then Notre Dame has won the last four. Their last meeting was in 2012 so anyone on either side who took part in the last meeting would have to be a senior today — and there ain't many seniors left in collegiate athletics anymore. My guess is that practically no one wearing a uniform on either sideline took part in Notre Dame's 21–6 victory at Boston College on Nov. 10, 2012.

    Boston College appears to be ill equipped to snap its losing streak against Notre Dame. BC is 3–7 overall and winless in ACC play.

    The 9–1 Irish can expect a challenge from Stanford next week — but not from Boston College this week. I pick Notre Dame.
  • Purdue at #6 Iowa, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: The first time these teams met was in 1910. They have played 85 times in all, and Purdue actually leads the series. Of course, many of the Boilermakers' wins came in the '60s and '70s.

    Iowa has won seven of its last nine games with Purdue, and this game looks like a huge mismatch. Iowa is 10–0; Purdue is 2–8.

    But Purdue has been somewhat deceptive. Most of the time, the Boilermakers have been hard pressed to score 20 points or more — and they've been even harder pressed to hold opponents under 20 points. Yet somehow they scored 55 points on Nebraska.

    So beware, Iowa. Purdue is capable of rising up every once in awhile. You can ask Nebraska — when you travel to Lincoln next week.

    Will you still be unbeaten? I think you will. I pick Iowa.
  • #11 TCU at #7 Oklahoma, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: When the season began, this game had the potential to be even bigger than it is.

    But TCU, after an 8–0 start, got slapped around by Oklahoma State, then barely got past Kansas. The Horned Frogs are staggering; with a date with Baylor looming next week, TCU faces the real possibility of ending the season with three losses in the final four regular–season games. The Frogs have already fallen from the Top 10. Three losses in the final four games might knock them out of the Top 25 entirely.

    OU lost its annual grudge match with Texas but has rolled in every game since. Baylor, in last week's game, was the first team since Texas to hold the Sooners under 52 points.

    And Oklahoma is 5–0 at home this year. The TCU team that struggled with Kansas last week is not up to the challenge of facing the Sooners in Norman. I take Oklahoma.
  • Florida Atlantic at #8 Florida, 11 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: I refer you to my Charleston Southern–Alabama evaluation.

    Florida will win.
  • #12 North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is an old rivalry. The first game between these schools was played in Roanoke, Va., in 1902. It was a 0–0 tie.

    They've played 31 times since, and Virginia Tech has won about two–thirds of the time.

    But I am sure that rarely has North Carolina been the ranked team and Virginia Tech has been the unranked one.

    To say it has been a rough year for Tech is an understatement. Tech is 5–5 and needs to win at least one of its last two games to qualify for a bowl. Considering that next week's opponent is woeful Virginia, it seems likely that Tech will qualify. But a win over a ranked team would look good on Tech's postseason resume — especially since Tech is 0–2 against ranked teams this year.

    The Tar Heels, meanwhile, are riding a nine—game winning streak — and might be a lot tougher to put away in the ACC title game than Clemson is inclined to believe. They've scored at least 41 points in six of those nine games — and they have scored 50 points or more four times.

    I pick North Carolina.
  • #13 Houston at UConn, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Houston has one of the best teams it has had in years. UConn is a basketball school, plain and simple.

    I have to take Houston.
  • #14 Michigan at Penn State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Michigan is trying to break a three–game losing streak at Penn State.

    For serious college football fans, this is a clash between two great college football programs, stirring up memories of Paterno and Schembechler — even though I don't believe they ever faced each other.

    The 7–3 Lions could pose a problem for 8–2 Michigan. The Wolverines might get caught looking ahead to next week's rivalry game with Ohio State. In an upset special, I pick Penn State.
  • Cal at #15 Stanford, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Stanford comes into this game with a five–game winning streak.

    Cal, though, has qualified for a bowl — its first since 2011 — and the Bears might be feeling a little feisty. A win over Stanford could get them a spot in a premiere bowl — in addition to bringing bragging rights back to the Cal campus for the first time since 2009.

    But I expect Stanford to win this game at home.
  • Chattanooga at #16 Florida State, 2 p.m. (Central) on ESPN3: For the third time this week, I really have nothing to say about this one. Florida State is the clear choice.
  • #17 LSU at #25 Ole Miss, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: In a series that goes back to 1902, LSU beats Ole Miss 60% of the time.

    LSU's advantage has been even more pronounced since the dawn of the 21st century. Since 2000 the Tigers have won 11 of 15 meetings.

    But they lost the last time they played in Oxford.

    Even though both teams are ranked, it has to be a disappointing season for both. Before the season began, expectations for this game probably were quite high as both teams were mentioned as possible SEC West champions. LSU comes in 7–2 and Ole Miss comes in 7–3, which are respectable records, but both teams have two losses in SEC play and appear unlikely to share the SEC West title with Alabama — unless the Crimson Tide falters against Auburn next week.

    This should be a good game — and, when it is a close call, as this one is, I usually go with the home team, but I'm taking the visitor this time, LSU.
  • UCLA at #18 Utah, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This is the 14th meeting between these schools, and UCLA has won more than three–fourths of the games that were played before.

    Utah has managed to win about one–third of the games played in Utah, including two of the last three that were played there. In fact, when you realize that UCLA won the first eight games played between these schools, the inescapable conclusion is that Utah is on the rise in this series.

    Utah's national ranking seems to confirm that. I pick Utah.
  • #19 Navy at Tulsa, 6 p.m. (Central) on CBS Sports Network: This is the third time these teams have met, and the visitor prevailed in the previous two.

    That suggests that Navy should win this one, and that makes sense considering that the Midshipmen are ranked.

    But the 5–5 Golden Hurricane might complicate things. After all, Tulsa only needs to win one of its last two games to qualify for a bowl. Tulsa doesn't have to get the win against Navy. It could get it next week against 3–7 Tulane, but a win over Navy would look so much better on Tulsa's postseason resume.

    Not going to happen. I pick Navy.
  • #20 Northwestern at #21 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Historically this series belongs to Wisconsin. Over the years the Badgers have won more than 62% of the time.

    But the Wildcats have had the upper hand in recent seasons, winning four of the last seven.

    However, Northwestern has lost the last four times the Wildcats have played at Wisconsin.

    It ought to be a good game. Too bad only the folks in Big Ten country will get to see it. I pick Wisconsin at home.
  • #22 Southern Cal at #23 Oregon, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Oregon is back in the Top 25 following its upset win over Stanford. Likewise, Southern Cal is back in the Top 25, riding a four–game winning streak.

    But one will lose today, and that team likely will fall from the Top 25 next week.

    I guess the recent momentum in the series belongs to Oregon, winner of three of the last four encounters, but the all–time leader — by a 2–to–1 margin — is Southern Cal.

    It really should be a good game, but I will pick Oregon at home — even though Southern Cal has won there more than 60% of the time.
  • Colorado at #24 Washington State, 9:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Washington State lost the only other time the Cougars hosted Colorado, and this looks like a perfect time to get even. Colorado is 4–7 while Washington State, at 7–3, is bound for a bowl somewhere.

    I think Washington State will win at home.

Last week: 16–5

Upset specials last week: 1–0

Season: 159–38

Upset specials overall: 5–12

No comments: