Thursday, October 27, 2016

College Football Enters Its Stretch Run

I went over to my father's house last Saturday to watch the Arkansas game.

We both graduated from the University of Arkansas so we have a strong rooting interest in the Razorbacks. Unfortunately, that game got out of hand quickly.

So we switched to the Houston–SMU game. SMU is the local team and, besides, Dad also has a degree from SMU.

We had no idea we were about to see the upset of the season, but my guess is it won't be the last surprise. There will be plenty of drama in the weeks ahead.

We're getting to the point in the season when games become critical for those teams that believe they can qualify for the national championship playoff. We have three games matching two ranked teams this week, and all three involve teams in the Top 5 of the Associated Press weekly rankings. It should hardly be considered an upset if Nebraska beat Wisconsin or Florida State beat Clemson. Michigan and Michigan State is a rivalry game — and anything can happen in those games.

Idle: #1 Alabama, #17 Western Michigan, #18 LSU, #21 North Carolina, #23 Colorado

  • #24 Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: If Pittsburgh can win this game, the all–time series will be tied at 8–8.

    Virginia Tech is the favorite, but the Hokies are battling history. They have lost the last four times the game has been played in Pittsburgh.

    Still the Hokies are favored to win, and I believe Virginia Tech will prevail.
  • #20 Navy at South Florida, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These teams met for the first time last year, and Navy won at home by 12.

    Both teams sit atop their American Athletic Conference divisions, but I'm guessing there is more pressure on South Florida than Navy in this game. Navy has the top spot all to itself while South Florida is tied with Temple, the team that beat the Bulls last week.

    South Florida is favored by about a touchdown, but I like Navy in an upset special.
  • #2 Michigan at Michigan State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is a rivalry game, and I have written about rivalry games here before. You never know what will happen in a rivalry game.

    Historically Michigan leads the series, winning nearly two–thirds of the time and nearly 69% of the time when the game has been played in Ann Arbor. But when it has been played in East Lansing, the outcome has been less certain. The Wolverines have a winning record there, too, but the percentage is around 58%.

    What's more, the Spartans have won the last four times they have hosted the Wolverines.

    Michigan is a heavy favorite (23½ points) to end that skid, and I am inclined to agree. I pick Michigan.

    But don't be surprised if it is closer than 23½ points.
  • #3 Clemson at #11 Florida State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: If Clemson is to make another run for the national title, the Tigers must do something they haven't done very often — beat Florida State.

    And they will have to win at Tallahassee, which is an even rarer achievement. Clemson has beaten Florida State on the road only once in the last 12 attempts.

    Apparently the oddsmakers think the Tigers can do it. Clemson is a 4½–point favorite.

    And with the divisional tiebreaker by virtue of its win over Louisville, Clemson holds the advantage in the ACC's Atlantic Division. The Tigers won't relinquish that if Florida State manages to win, but the Tigers can all but wrap up the division crown if they win.

    I like Clemson.
  • #4 Washington at #16 Utah, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Utah had never lost to Washington until last year.

    Was that a sign of a shift in the balance of power or just a temporary thing? The oddsmakers think it is the former, having made the Huskies 10–point favorites.

    But I'm not sold yet. I pick Utah in an upset special.
  • #5 Nebraska at #9 Wisconsin, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Wisconsin has seized the lead in this series in recent years after losing three of the first four contests.

    The Badgers have won five of the last six meetings with Nebraska, including a 70–31 romp in the 2012 Big Ten championship game (retribution, I suppose, for a three–point loss to Nebraska earlier in the season).

    So perhaps it isn't surprising that Wisconsin is an 8½–point favorite at home. I expect it to be closer than that, but I still think Wisconsin will win at home.
  • #6 Louisville at Virginia, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: These teams have played four times, twice at each school, and Louisville will be trying to do something it has never done — win at Virginia.

    The story of this brief series is that the home team always wins. But that is about to change. The oddsmakers give Louisville a 31½–point advantage. I don't know if the margin will be that great, but I do think Louisville will win.
  • Northwestern at #7 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Few series in college football are as lopsided as this one.

    Ohio State has won more than 80% of its games with Northwestern and has only lost once to the Wildcats since Richard Nixon was president.

    That was the last time Northwestern won at Ohio State — Nov. 13, 1971.

    I pick Ohio State.
  • New Mexico State at #8 Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: This is the first meeting between these schools and it doesn't seem likely to be competitive.

    New Mexico State is 2–5. The Aggies are 6–1 coming off a loss to the top–ranked team in the country.

    Shouldn't be close. I pick Texas A&M.
  • #10 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox: This is the eighth meeting between these schools, and the games are usually pretty close.

    Oh, sure, you have an occasional blowout, but mostly they have been decided by less than 10 points.

    The oddsmakers apparently think this will be another close one. The Mountaineers are favored by 3½ points. I like West Virginia, too.
  • #12 Boise State at Wyoming, 6 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: These teams have met 10 times, and Boise State has won each time.

    I have to go with Boise State.
  • #13 Baylor at Texas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: When I was growing up, a game against Baylor was a gimme, especially for Texas.

    For a long time the Longhorns almost always beat the Bears, sometimes by outrageous margins. They have met every year since 1945, and the Longhorns have been dominant. To cite a recent example, between 1993 and 2009, the Longhorns only lost once to the Bears.

    But Baylor has been bouncing back, winning four of the last six meetings, including two of the last three played in Austin. Coming into this game, Baylor is ranked and Texas is not. Such a thing was unthinkable only a few years ago.

    The Bears are favored by a field goal, but I think Baylor will win by more than that.
  • #14 Auburn at Ole Miss, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Auburn usually beats Ole Miss, and the Tigers have won eight of the last 11, but they lost to the Rebels last year.

    Both teams are good, and I expect this one to go down to the wire. Auburn is a 4–point favorite, but I pick Ole Miss to win in an upset special.
  • #15 Florida at Georgia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This is an old rivalry — just how old it is depends on which side you're on, I guess. Georgia counts a game it played against one of Florida's four predecessor schools in 1904, a year before the University of Florida was established in Gainesville. Florida's records show the series beginning in 1915.

    Either way, Georgia leads the series, but the Gators have won the last two meetings.

    I pick Florida.
  • Kansas at #19 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. (Central) on FS1: It is routine for Oklahoma to beat Kansas in football. The Sooners have beaten the Jayhawks 11 straight times, and they have won about three–quarters of the games ever played between the schools. Kansas hasn't beaten Oklahoma in Norman since 1996.

    The Sooners are favored by 40 points. Yes, you read that right. If Kansas wins, it really will be an upset. But Kansas won't win. Oklahoma will.
  • #22 Tennessee at South Carolina, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Historically Tennessee has dominated this series. Lately the Volunteers have won the last three meetings. They won the last time they played there, but they lost the previous two games at South Carolina, and while they have a winning road record against South Carolina, those games have been more of a struggle for Tennessee than the ones played in Knoxville.

    Oddsmakers don't seem to think this will be much of a struggle. Tennessee has been established as a 13½–point favorite.

    I like Tennessee, too.
  • #25 Penn State at Purdue, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Penn State has beaten Purdue seven straight times and hasn't lost at Purdue in more than a decade.

    I see no reason for that to change. Penn State is the pick.
Last week: 13–4

Overall: 115–35

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 0–2

Overall upset specials: 6–11

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