Thursday, October 10, 2013

More predictions

Week Seven is one of those that features a number of college football's most intense mid-season rivalries. Here are my thoughts on how that troika will play out, along with some history about each:

Oklahoma vs. Texas
This is by far the most storied of the rivalries that will be on display Saturday. Oklahoma and Texas have faced each other in 107 of the last 113 seasons, and ever since 1932 their game has been held midway between the campuses, in Dallas's Cotton Bowl Stadium, while the Texas State Fair takes place outside the stadium walls. The two schools have accounted for 11 national championships and 76 conference championships while producing 128 consensus All-Americans. Where the sport's most prestigious individual honors are concerned, Oklahoma and Texas claim seven Hesiman winners, eight Outland Trophy winners, and five recipients of the Dick Butkus Award.

As it turns out, however, this year's edition of the Red River Shootout is the most likely rivalry game to be a dud this weekend. Texas has lost the last two in the series by a combined score of 118-38, and this year it is fielding a squad even worse than the ones that were on the receiving end of those whippings. On the other hand, Oklahoma enters the game 5-0 and brimming with more talent, character, and confidence than the boys in burnt orange -- a fact that will be reflected in the outcome. Sooners 32-16

Oregon at Washington
In the late 1980's and early 1990's, Washington bestrode the Pac-10 and won a national title. While Oregon did start to improve during that period, its program remained known for mediocrity and it was a mere shell compared to the one north of the state line.

Then came 1994, when Oregon DB Kenny Wheaton intercepted an out pass by Damon Huard and ran 97 yards to the end zone. It was not until player reactions to that play appeared on TV screens that the rest of America realized how much animosity flows between these schools.

Wheaton's pick-six not only defeated the heavily favored Huskies, it propelled the Ducks to their first Rose Bowl in 37 years and foreshadowed a wholesale changing of the guard in the Northwest. Since that play, Oregon has won four outright conference championships and two co-championships and come within four points of being the 2010 national champions. Meanwhile, Washington has not won a single outright conference title, and of the two co-championships it has managed to record, the last was 14 years ago. The Ducks have won 14 of 18 in the series since the pick-six, including the last nine in a row, compared to having lost five straight and 17 of the previous 20 before the pick-six.

This year Washington's pendulum has swung back to a position of strength, which is good for Husky fans, and Orgeon's has not swung away from its position of strength, which is good for Duck fans. Washington is the first real test Oregon has faced, and with this game taking place in Husky Stadium I expect them to drag the Ducks into deep waters they have yet to tread -- which is to say, I expect the outcome to be in doubt when the fourth quarter starts. I also expect this year's Oregon team to be more like 2010's (which eeked out a 15-13 win against California in its first test) than 2012's (which fell to Stanford by a score of 17-14 the first time it was tested). My mind sees a late touchdown being the difference and the final score being Ducks 38-33

Florida at LSU
Though it hasn't featured the same kind of oomph as the annual tilt between Auburn and LSU, this cross-divisional SEC battle is a longstanding bellwether in which the stakes are always high and the crowds are always in a tizzy. In one stretch during the previous decade, there were three consecutive years in which the winner of this game went on to win the national title.

This is how SI's Andy Staples sums up Saturday's meeting: "Now, we finally get to see if the entire SEC has shifted into a high-scoring, pitch-and-catch league. Florida's defense has held 13 consecutive conference opponents to 21 points or fewer. The Tigers have gained more than 400 yards in each of their first six games for the first time in school history."

But it would be shortsighted to look at this game simply as a match-up between the Gator defense and Tiger offense, for on the other side of the ball, a Gator offense with few playmakers will be going up against a Tiger defense that is far from chopped liver and is hungry to prove its worth.

I would give a slight edge to LSU on a neutral field, and since Saturday's game will be on its own turf you can expect them to prevail. Though not by much. I predict this to be the kind of slugfest that will bring smiles to the faces of purists like Staples and myself. Tigers 21-17

There are two other intriguing games this weekend that don't count as rivalries, and as a bonus, here are my thoughts about those:

Missouri at Georgia
Georgia's season has been nothing short of remarkable, with them facing three Top Ten teams and their only loss in those contests coming on the road, by three points, in the season opener, in a game in which eight of their defensive players were making their first career start. Usually I would pencil this in as a sure win for the Bulldogs, but lately they have been bitten not so much by an injury bug as by an injury shark.

By the end of last week's game against Tennessee, Georgia's top three receivers and top two running backs were out with injury. Of those five, only one (RB Todd Gurley) might play on Saturday, and even if he does, he won't be 100 percent. This wholesale loss of offensive talent is particularly troubling when you consider that Georgia's defense has been its weak link and Missouri's offense is one of the most potent in the country. Absent the injuries I would expect Georgia to win, and probably by a fair margin, but with the injuries my prediction is: Tigers 30-23

Northwestern at Wisconsin
Northwestern came within six or seven inches of beating Ohio State and putting themselves in the national championship race. They are undoubtedly one of the top fifteen teams in the country.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin is far and away the best two-loss team in America.

Unfortunately for Northwestern, they are facing a wounded predator on its home turf and the old adage is true: A wounded predator is the most dangerous. Badgers 33-30

No comments: