This is the kind of college football weekend that stirs up all sorts of memories from my childhood.
Thanksgiving weekend is always a big weekend for football, but I think of the epic showdowns that have been played over the years when families gathered for Thanksgiving dinner and the weekend that followed. In truth it's been many years since we've had a Thanksgiving game of that caliber.
I grew up in rural Arkansas, and my family had a large stone fireplace in our living room. My memories of Thanksgiving are of cold overcast days with a roaring fire in the fireplace and college football on the TV.
In my memory all those games were significant nationally. Perhaps they only seem more significant to me now because they were so special then. There were only three networks in those days, and only one carried college football during the regular season. Many games were shown on a regional basis, but by Thanksgiving the games were mostly national.
It was a truly shared experience.
I grew up following the Razorbacks, but I seldom got to see them play on TV. Most of the time I had to listen to the games on the radio. Today I can watch just about every game — but they so rarely seem to live up to the memory I have of the mental images I created listening to the radio play by play.
Sometimes I think the quality of seeing a favorite team play is diluted by the frequency of viewing. I remember the excitement of knowing that a Razorback game had been selected for TV broadcast. These days it is expected that any given team, even the bad ones, can be seen on TV just about every week.
Some of the games on the Top 25's schedule this week have the potential to stir up some excitement and be shared national experiences, but I'm afraid that is a designation that only national title games receive now.
Still, enjoy the action this week.
Idle: #7 Oklahoma, #10 Oklahoma State
- #25 LSU at #22 Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This game has tried to fill the vacancy left in Aggie Thanksgivings ever since Texas and Texas A&M stopped playing each other a few years back.
LSU has beaten Texas A&M five straight times, dating back to the Cotton Bowl in January 2011. That victory snapped a five–game Aggie winning streak against the Tigers.
You have to go back more than 50 years to find the only time that either school has beaten the other six straight times in a series that is being renewed for the 54th time. LSU beat Texas A&M every year from 1960 to 1965.
That is LSU's challenge — to win its sixth straight against A&M for only the second time.
Rankings and location suggest that Texas A&M will snap the skid tonight, but it's important to remember a few things about LSU. The Tigers have gone 4–2 since Les Miles was fired. They might well have been 5–1 if the weather had not forced school officials to postpone their game with Florida from early October until just past mid–November. In October, LSU had not yet played Alabama and still hoped to make it to the SEC championship game. By this past weekend, LSU no longer had that as a viable goal — but Florida did. Timing, they say, is everything. Florida won and will face Alabama in the SEC title tilt.
With the exception of their 10–0 loss to Alabama a few weeks ago, the Tigers have been playing well since Miles was replaced, and I'm going to take LSU. According to the oddsmakers, though, it won't be an upset. LSU is favored by five points.
- #6 Washington at #23 Washington State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: This has been a pretty lopsided rivalry. Washington wins about two–thirds of the time, and the Huskies have won six of the last seven, including the last time the game was played in Pullman.
Washington is a 6–point pick to win this time, too, and I can't argue with that. I pick Washington.
- Toledo at #14 Western Michigan, 4 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: These teams have been conference rivals since 1962 and have played each other every year since that time. This will be their 55th meeting. Toledo leads the series, with winning records at home and on the road (and in the one game they played at a neutral site back in 1975). At Western Michigan, Toledo has a .593 winning percentage.
It is a series that tends to produce close finishes. One time, a handful of years ago, Toledo won 66–63. The last time the game was played at Western Michigan it was won by Toledo 20–19. This year Toledo comes in with a 9–2 record, hoping to knock off unbeaten Western Michigan.
I pick Western Michigan.
- #17 Nebraska at Iowa, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This will be the 37th time these teams have played each other, and Nebraska wins nearly 71% of the time.
They have only been conference rivals for a few years, but the series dates back to the days of Teddy Roosevelt. In more modern times, Nebraska hasn't lost at Iowa since the first year of the Reagan presidency.
Still, though, I am going to make Iowa an upset special. The 7–4 Hawkeyes beat then–undefeated Michigan a couple of weeks ago. They're already bowl eligible, but another win over a ranked team at the end of the season could give the Hawkeyes a berth in a pretty decent bowl.
- #18 Houston at Memphis, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: The first meeting between these schools came one week after the assassination of President Kennedy. This will be their 25th confrontation, and Houston wins more than 60% of the time.
I have to figure that Houston will win this one, too. After all, the Cougars have beaten Oklahoma and Louisville — but then I remember that this Houston team also lost to SMU. I suppose all bets are off.
Houston has won three in a row at Memphis. The Cougars did that before, winning games in 1968, 1971 and 1973, but Houston has never won four in a row at Memphis. I think Houston will win its fourth in a row in Memphis this year.
- #20 Boise State at Air Force, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: These teams have only played four times, but a pattern has been set. Boise won the first two games, Air Force won the next two.
Air Force has had some rough seasons in the not–so–distant past, but it has put together a respectable 8–3 record. That will be more than good enough for a bowl bid, but not good enough to keep the streak against Boise alive. I pick Boise State.
- #16 Auburn at #1 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: The Iron Bowl is one of the great rivalries in college football, literally dividing families all across Alabama. We already know that Alabama has won the SEC West and will play Florida for the conference crown.
But Auburn and its fans don't care. They would like nothing better than to knock off Alabama any time in anything under any circumstances — if it happens to cost the Crimson Tide a berth in the national playoffs, so much the better.
The oddsmakers don't think that will happen, though. They think Alabama will win by 17 points. I have to agree on the winner if not the margin. Alabama is the pick.
- #3 Michigan at #2 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: This is another great college rivalry. It always brings back memories of my childhood, when Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler roamed the sideline. Look at the top of this post to see a photograph that was taken of the two of them before one of their epic battles.
For the first time in a long time, both teams will enter the game ranked in the top five. The winner is almost sure to go on to the college football playoffs. That will be the likely reward for surviving this clash. But it's a bit complicated. If Michigan wins, the Wolverines will be in the Big Ten title game. But if Ohio State wins, the Buckeyes will have to wait and see who wins the Michigan State–Penn State game. If Penn State wins, the Nittany Lions go to the title game by virtue of holding the tiebreaker over Ohio State.
Ohio State is favored to be the survivor of the Michigan game by 6½ points. I pick Ohio State at home, where the Buckeyes have beaten the Wolverines seven straight times.
- South Carolina at #4 Clemson, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools will face each other for the 108th straight year. It is a series in which Clemson claimed an early lead, winning nine of the first 11 meetings.
Clemson has won the last two meetings in the series, but South Carolina has enjoyed its moments, too, such as winning five in a row between 2009 and 2013.
I really don't think 6–5 South Carolina has a prayer in this one. The 10–1 Tigers are favored by 24 points. I think it will be a little closer than that, but I still think Clemson will win.
- Minnesota at #5 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: These teams have been playing each other nearly every year since 1892, and if Minnesota wins, the series will be knotted.
That doesn't seem to be in the cards. Minnesota does have an outside shot at sharing the Big Ten West title, but Wisconsin is favored to win its 13th straight against the Gophers by 15 points. I, too, favor Wisconsin.
- Michigan State at #8 Penn State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: By the time this game begins, the Ohio State–Michigan game will be over, and the outcome of that game could very well influence the outcome of this game.
If Penn State wins, the Nittany Lions know they will share the Big Ten East title. Penn State holds the tiebreaker over Ohio State but not over Michigan. Consequently, Penn State wants Ohio State to win.
The Nittany Lions' entire mentality could be affected, for good or ill, by knowing how that game in Columbus turned out.
Historically the home team wins more than 60% of the time in this series, and Penn State is likely to win this one as well. Michigan State has struggled this year, and Penn State is favored by 12½ points. I pick Penn State, but, as I say, the game could well turn on what happens at Ohio State earlier in the day.
- #21 Utah at #9 Colorado, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: To win the Pac–12 South, Colorado must beat Utah. If Utah wins this game, Southern Cal will win the division and represent it in the conference championship game next week.
Colorado is favored by 10 points. History is against the Buffs. Utah has beaten Colorado in six of their last seven meetings, but this is a different Buffaloes squad. I think Colorado will win.
- Kentucky at #11 Louisville, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Louisville has beaten Kentucky five straight times and is favored to win its sixth by nearly four touchdowns. That's good enough for me. I pick Louisville.
- Notre Dame at #12 Southern Cal, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is an old rivalry. The teams first met when Knute Rockne coached the Irish. They haven't played every year since then — but just about. This will be their 88th meeting, and Notre Dame has had the upper hand in recent years, winning four of the last six.
Oddsmakers think Southern Cal will prevail. The Trojans are 17–point favorites. And Southern Cal did win the last time the teams met in California — but don't think that home field carries any kind of special advantage in this series. Both teams have won at home more frequently than they have lost but not by much. After 45 games in Los Angeles, Southern Cal's winning percentage against Notre Dame is less than 54%.
The Trojans have more to play for than the Irish, but no doubt they will be more interested in the outcome of the Utah–Colorado game later in the day. That game will determine whether Southern Cal gets to play in the Pac–12 title game.
That, of course, is completely out of the Trojans' control, and they may be preoccupied with what will happen in Boulder, artificially lowering the margin of victory. But make no mistake. I do think that Southern Cal will win — but perhaps not by 17 points.
- #13 Florida at #15 Florida State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: It seems like it has been a long time since this game had any real significance — and, in the end, it may have no bearing on what happens in January, anyway. Florida still has to beat Alabama in the SEC title game, which is a considerable assignment, and Florida State has no chance of being in the ACC's championship game, having lost three conference games.
But both teams are ranked, and Florida State is favored by about a touchdown. I've seen both teams play this year, and I think both are flawed, but each is capable of beating the other. It depends on who gets the breaks.
I'm going to make Florida an upset special. Logically, the Gators, as the higher–ranked team, should be the favorites. I guess the oddsmakers are going in part on the basis of home field — but the Gators have a .519 winning percentage in Tallahassee. Still since the oddsmakers have made FSU the favorite, Florida is my upset pick.
- #19 West Virginia at Iowa State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: These teams had never played each other until West Virginia joined the Big 12.
West Virginia has won three of the four encounters since then — and both of the games played in Ames.
If West Virginia had beaten Oklahoma last week, this game would have more meaning. As it is, though, West Virginia is no longer a contender for the league crown, even if it wins this week and beats Baylor next week.
In other words, don't expect West Virginia to be highly motivated in this one. Still, I pick West Virginia to prevail.
- #24 Tennessee at Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Tennessee probably views the Vanderbilt game as an automatic win.
The Volunteers have only lost to the Commodores three times in the last 30 years.
Historically, however, Vandy has played better in Nashville — even though Tennessee wins there two–thirds of the time — so the Vols need to stay on their toes. Take nothing for granted. They are only favored by a touchdown.
Sounds about right, though. I take Tennessee.
Last week's upset specials: 2–1
Overall upset specials: 11–20