Friday, September 29, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 5

Alternate title: Wherein I Lament that Southern Cal at Washington State is Tonight Instead of Tomorrow Night.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

  • Northwestern @ Wisconsin (ABC): Week 5 is pretty brutal, but I'll try to shepherd you through the best I can. We'll start in Madison, for what might be an interesting nooner, but probably not. Going with the Badgers.
  • Vanderbilt @ Florida (ESPN): Gators are a favorite I guess but AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
  • North Carolina @ Georgia Tech (ESPN2): I thought we might look rusty last week, so naturally we kickoff and immediately allow Pitt to march down the field. "Here we go again", thought everyone in gold and white, but after that it was sort of... all Tech? Of course, it was helpful the Pitt offense immediately regressed after that drive. This week's game is against a moribund but still dangerous Carolina team that we haven't beaten since 2013.
  • Maryland @ Minnesota (FS1): Minnesota's handled themselves well so far in 2017. Maryland now sports a win over Texas and a loss to UCF. Going with the Gophers at home.
  • Houston @ Temple (ESPNU): While this isn't the same Houston of the past few years, this is really not the good Temple we've had the past few years. Going with Houston.
  • New Mexico State @ Arkansas (SEC): If you, like me, listen to Podcast Ain't Played Nobody, then you know all about these New Mexico State Aggies. Normally one of college football's most hapless teams, they're 2-2 with a win over their biggest rival (New Mexico) and a pretty good shot at a bowl, all in a season that will see them get kicked out of the Sun Belt after it ends. But... it'll still take a minor miracle for them to upset Arkansas.
  • South Florida @ East Carolina (CBSS): ECU is, uh, bad this year. Bulls.
  • Rice @ Pittsburgh (ACC/RSN): Pitt has no offense, but they should be able to handle Rice.
12:20: Syracuse @ North Carolina State (ACC): NC State better be awake after knocking off FSU last week, because while they should be Syracuse they're still armed and dangerous (on offense).

  • Georgia @ Tennessee (CBS): Georgia should win this game, and they probably will, but if there's any game this week with the highest potential of ending in hilarious fashion (by which I mean Georgia losing in hilarious fashion) this is it.
  • Florida State @ Wake Forest (ABC/ESPN2): Given what's going on the real world, I still haven't seen any statements from Winston-Salem that would allow me to call Wake Forest "Woke Forest" unironically, much to my disappointment. Anyway, Wake is 4-0 but it's a full-calorie soda 4-0, full of sweet but unfulfilling wins. I still like FSU here.
  • Baylor @ Kansas State (ABC/ESPN2): K-State.
  • Navy @ Tulsa (ESPNU): This may be the actual best game in this time slot, and it's on the much easier to find ESPNU and not CBS Sports Network. But still, that's saying a lot because Tulsa is 1-3 this year and isn't really bombing like they used to, at least not bombing it well. I like the Midshipmen here.
  • Indiana @ Pennsylvania State (BTN): Penn State will need to keep their guard up in this one, but they shouldn't have any issues.
  • Texas-El Paso @ Army (CBSS): Army, I guess?
  • Iowa @ Michigan State (FOX): Sparty is still better than they were last year, even after getting pasted by Notre Dame last weekend. Suffice it to say, though, I like the Hawkeyes here.
  • Connecticut @ Southern Methodist (ESPNEWS): SMU?
  • Eastern Michigan @ Kentucky (SEC): Maybe Kentucky will remember to cover EMU's receivers in this one.
  • Arizona State @ Stanford (Pac12): You can fool me Arizona State! I saw you beat Oregon last week, but I still don't believe you. Going with the Cardinal here.
5:00: Miami @ Notre Dame (NBCSN): No, this isn't Catholics vs. Convicts, and not even in the sense that hasn't been true since like the 80's. It's the Miami that's like an hour outside of Cincinnati. Notre Dame should roll.

6:00: Mississippi State @ Auburn (ESPN): Miss State! You were all poised to be one of the other good teams in the SEC and then... you lose 31-3 to Georgia. :( I have to like Auburn here, I guess.

  • Memphis @ Central Florida (ESPN2): Okay, now we're getting to the staggered games zone. This is the one you should watch until halftime, and then switch to the beginning of Clemson-VPI. You win! Now as for who will win this game... I like UCF?
  • Troy @ Louisiana State (ESPNU): LSU is still trying to figure some things on offense, and this should give them a chance to.
  • Air Force @ New Mexico (CBSS): I like Air Force here.
  • Middle Tennessee @ Florida Atlantic (Stadium): It's not going good for Lane Kiffin in Year 1 of being a head coach again, which naturally means he'll probably get the Texas A&M job this offseason. I like MTSU here.
  • South Carolina @ Texas A&M (SEC): TAMU has been on a bit of a roll of late, and I think that will continue until they play Alabama in their next game, two weeks from now. Rest up, Aggies!
  • Ohio State @ Rutgers (BTN): Buckeyes.
  • Oklahoma State @ Texas Tech (FOX): The 'Pokes looked legit, and then TCU went and stole all their thunder. Can they get the magic back against an improving Texas Tech team? It's Lubbock at night, so anything's possible, but I still like Oklahoma State here.
  • Clemson @ Virginia Tech (ABC): Man this game better be good because Week 5 doesn't have a whole lot else going for it. Lane Stadium at night is fantastic of course, and VPI's looked pretty good this year. Clemson, meanwhile, is just as dominant, if not more, on defense this year and their offense that was supposed to be rebuilding this year seems to have more or less reloaded. The Tigers have already proven themselves, and I think they'll still be one of the best teams in the country even if the lose as long as they don't get blown out. That said, I don't think it will be a concern.
  • Washington @ Oregon State (Pac12): UDub.
9:00: Mississippi @ Alabama (ESPN): Bama. (Ole Miss is bad, y'all.)

  • Colorado @ California-Los Angeles (ESPN2): What do we even do with this UCLA team? They don't seem to be good or anything, but Josh Rosen is a good QB. Colorado is also kinda meh right now, too, so maybe skip to the next game. I'll take the Buffs, I guess.
  • California @ Oregon (FS1): Now here's the game that you'll tune into after Clemson-VPI. It'll still somehow be in the first half after the other game ends. It'll be 32-29 at the half. Which way, I don't know. Probably the Ducks. But this should be fun.
  • San Jose State @ Nevada-Las Vegas (ESPNU): I'm as much of a College Football Hipster as anyone, but... you have my permission to skip this one. UNLV, I guess?
  • Northern Illinois @ San Diego State (CBSS): Besides, if you're going to watch a G5 matchup in this time slot, then this is the one to watch anyway. If you squint hard, you'll see Nebraska @ Stanford here, but probably more interesting than that game would actually be! I like the Aztecs here, though.

Friday, September 22, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 4

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

  • North Carolina State @ Florida State (ABC/ESPN2): NC State was a bit of hipster pick this year, but we're not quite sure how that's turned out yet. In the meantime, thanks to various weather calamities we don't really know what a Deandra Francois-less Florida State looks like quite yet. So plenty of uncertainty here, but I'm still talking about going with the 'Noles.
  • Texas Tech @ Houston (ABC/ESPN2): From all appearances, these teams appear to be rather similar. Beat a bad pair of Arizona teams and then blowout a cupcake. That said, Texas Tech's offense appears set on saving their coach's job, so I'll take them, at least for now.
  • Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (@Arlington, TX; ESPN): It's the 2017 edition of the Hot Seat Bowl! This one feels especially precarious, in the sense that both might get canned regardless of the result either way. I have no idea what to expect out of this game. Arkansas has looked listless at best on offense, while more than one observer has notice that TAMU doesn't seem o care. I'd avoid this one. I consider it essentially a coinflip, so I'm going with TAMU I guess.
  • West Virginia @ Kansas (ESPNU): Kansas is still completely awful, so the pick here is pretty straightforward.
  • Massachusetts @ Tennessee (SEC): Vols.
  • Nevada-Las Vegas @ Ohio State (BTN): Buckeyes.
  • Army @ Tulane (CBSS): ... I'm picking Army here.
  • Kent State @ Louisville (ACC/RSN): Provided he's recovered from facing Clemson's defensive line, Lamar Jackson should look like Lamar Jackson again.
12:20: Pittsburgh @ Georgia Tech (ACC): And we're back after last week's non-game against UCF. It's hard enough to know what kind of team you have here in Week 3, but it's even harder when you've played two games of wildly varying difficulty. The Jacksonville State game played out roughly as I expected, with GT struggling a bit in the early going and then pouring it on the second half. So I'm not sure we learned much. However, I expect to have the offense operating at full strength in this one after having an extra week off. Hopefully that turns out to be the case instead of, you know, the other scenario where they come out rusty.

3:00: Central Florida @ Maryland (FS1): Lack of information rules the day! Maryland has a scheduled off week last week, so they've only played two games. UCF has only played one, a romp over Florida International to start the season, so see above. In their first two games at least, this doesn't look like the hapless Maryland of the last few years, so let's go with the Terps.

  • Southern California @ California (ABC): Texas managed to give the Trojans everything they could've wanted last week, but USC managed to pull it out. Ultimately, I view that as a battle of two teams with an awful lot of talent. "Awful lot of talent" is not a term usually used to describe Cal, though the Bears have looked pretty good early as well. I've got USC here, but my advice to the Trojans would be: watch out.
  • Alabama @ Vanderbilt (CBS): Okay so I want Vandy to pull off the upset here as much as anyone, but if we're talking about a battle of two teams that play a lot of defense and score when they can... well, it's hard to out-Alabama Alabama. (Ask Michigan State a few years ago about that.)
  • Texas Christian @ Oklahoma State (ESPN): This is quietly (or maybe not-so-quietly?) the game of the weekend. This should be entertaining. TCU features a defense-first coach who was mad at his team last week for not putting up 80. Oklahoma State's coach is celebrating the tenth anniversary of declaring his manhood and is in year two of a mullet. So yeah, expect this game to be Big 12 AS HELL. I like the Pokes here though.
  • Boston College @ Clemson (ESPN2): Boston College has no real offense to speak of, and Clemson has probably a top-two defense this year. Is it possible for team to score negative points? We may be about to find out.
  • Louisiana Tech @ South Carolina (SEC): Well, ours fears that South Carolina might have an offense were short-lived. Turns out that scoring 31 on Mizzou isn't a big deal this year. But do the Bulldogs have a chance here? Ehh....
  • Rutgers @ Nebraska (BTN): Rutgers may not be as desperately bad as they were last year, but even this flailing Nebraska team should still beat them. 
  • Cincinnati @ Navy (CBSS): Navy struggled a bit of with Tulane last week, but I'm not going to hold that against them. I like the Midshipmen here.
  • Toledo @ Miami (ACC/RSN): 'Canes.
4:00: Michigan @ Purdue (FOX): Michigan's done what they needed to this year, but will they be able to stop this newfound burst of offensive confidence down in West Lafayette? You may want to keep an eye on this one, but I'm still going Michigan.

6:00: Nevada @ Washington State (Pac12): Still waiting for the other shoe to drop for Wazzou, because it doesn't seem conceivable we'll be talking about a 4-0 Washington State hosting USC in Pullman next week, right? Right? (It does seem pretty probable, though.)

6:30: Alabama-Birmingham @ North Texas (beIN): Could we be looking at 3-1 UAB after this? That'd be really nice, but, well... actually, it's not North Texas is a bunch of world-beaters or anything, so why not?

  • Mississippi State @ Georgia (ESPN): We're about to find out a lot more about this pair of Bulldogs. Miss State's shellacking of LSU last week confirmed what we should've already realized: Miss State under Dan Mullen has been the most consistent second-tier team in the SEC for a while now. They can cement that status between the hedges, and I think they will.
  • Syracuse @ Louisiana State (ESPN2): Okay LSU, you can recover from this! Just, you know, fend off an aerial barrage for the next four hours while you still look like you struggle to field a competent offense... oof. This one is tough to think about. I think I have Syracuse here.
  • San Diego State @ Air Force (CBSS): SDSU is living up to its spoiler billing so far, but to keep it up they'll need to win this, their toughest remaining road contest. I think they will.
  • Ball State @ Western Kentucky (Stadium): The Hilltoppers should still have enough remaining traces of Jeff Brohm to throw it around and over a still kinda-not-good Ball State team, right?
  • Pennsylvania State @ Iowa (ABC): As is usual with Iowa, it feels like of they're going to win this game the final score will be something like 15-12, while if they lose it'll be 60-10. Penn State just seems too good so far this year, like the latter score is more likely than the former.
  • Auburn @ Missouri (ESPNU): Bill Connelly knows a lot more about college football than I do, and so when he writes a column saying that Mizzou is pretty much done for the year, well...
  • Florida @ Kentucky (SEC): On November 15th, 1986 Kentucky beat Florida 10-3. On that day, Boston's "Amanda" was the #1 single in the United States, the Iran-Contra Affair was in full swing, and I was a little over a year old. Also, it was the last time Kentucky beat Florida. This version of Kentucky looks kind of competent and Florida is scuffling, so this could be the year. But I'm not going to call it.
8:00: Notre Dame @ Michigan State (FOX): While we still try to figure out what will be this year's version of 2016's Michigan State @ Notre Dame, we'll have to deal with the reality of the 2017 version of this game, wherein there are basically no expectations for either of these teams. I'm leaning Notre Dame a bit, since they beat up on a decent Boston College defense last week.

  • Washington @ Colorado (FS1): Here's an early test for UDub, having survived their non-conference slate with ease. The problem, in terms of predictions, lies in that Colorado also easily disposed of their non-conference slate, so we've got to go to... THE NEXT LEVEL. And the next level likes the Huskies, like, a lot.
  • Oregon @ Arizona State (Pac12): The Pac-12 is a little more fun when Oregon is good, so welcome back, Ducks! I like them a lot of get their first conference win courtesy of a somewhat hapless Arizona State team.
10:15: Hawaii @ Wyoming (ESPN2): Josh Allen needs to get his mind right, you know what I mean? I mean, in the sense that maybe all the NFL stuff and preseason hype might have placed an unreasonable set of expectations upon the erstwhile Cowboys signal caller. Fortunately, the Rainbow Warriors provide a pretty good chance to do so.

10:30: California-Los Angeles @ Stanford (ESPN): No body clock this time. UCLA comes back to the West Coast after having their bubble burst in a major way at Memphis. And, uh, Stanford maybe was up past their bedtime last weekend when they lost at San Diego State. So... I'm going with the mild upset here and going with UCLA. Don't make me regret this, Bruins.

Friday, September 15, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 3

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

  • California-Los Angeles @ Memphis (ABC): BODY CLOCK! Okay, with that out of the way, we're now two years removed from the Justin Fuente era at Memphis and ultimately I think the Bruins will be too much for the Tigers.
  • Oklahoma State @ Pittsburgh (ESPN): Pitt has looked like, well, they're not the fun, tricksy team from the salad days of #PutPittIn. I like the Pokes here.
  • Connecticut @ Virginia (ESPN2): Sometimes I'm given to describe cheap beer as having "certain beer-like properties". I like to think I'm less of a football snob than beer snob, but it's hard to think of this game has having anything other than "certain football-like properties". Uh, UVA here, I guess.
  • Northern Illinois @ Nebraska (FS1): Nebraska.
  • Kansas @ Ohio (ESPNU): KU already lost to another MAC team, can they make it two? Sure, why not.
  • Louisiana-Lafayette @ Texas A&M (SEC): I think TAMU will be okay, at least this weekend.
  • Air Force @ Michigan (BTN): Michigan is just going to be too much for the Falcons.
  • Iowa State @ Akron (CBSS): I'm still coming to terms with the fact the Iowa State-Iowa game was actually exciting. Hopefully the Cyclones aren't, because they'll need to be focused to prevail here.
12:30: Baylor @ Duke (ACC/RSN): Duke, I guess?

  • Tennessee @ Florida (CBS): Is this going to be a good game? Eh, probably not. Will you watch it anyway? Yeah, probably. In fairness, there's not much else going for this timeslot. I like the Vols, since they actually play offense.
  • Wisconsin @ Brigham Young (ABC): I'll admit I was definitely thinking about whether or not Wisconsin fans could drink Provo dry. Dry is also a pretty good description of BYU's offense so far this season, which gives Wisconsin a decided advantage in this road contest.
  • Notre Dame @ Boston College (ESPN): Speaking of offensively challenged, Notre Dame should be able to pick off a team worse at moving the ball than they are.
  • North Texas @ Iowa (ESPN2): Iowa.
  • Southern Methodist @ Texas Christian (ESPNU): This old Southwest Conference matchup may be interesting for a bit, but I'm not sure SMU will be able to keep up with TCU.
  • Middle Tennessee State @ Minnesota (BTN): MTSU lost badly to Vandy but beat Syracuse on the road, so maybe they're good? Minnesota has sailed through their OOC schedule so far, but nonetheless the Gophers will need to not sleepwalk through this one.
4:00: Purdue @ Missouri (SEC): Okay, we're existing in a universe where in the middle of the afternoon we're hoping for a Purdue-Minnesota shootout. That's just the deal now. The thing is, this game may very well deliver. Considering the 3:30 slate, just flip over to this one ASAP. Also, I kinda like the Boilermakers? Picking all these road teams makes me nervous, though.

4:30: Army @ Ohio State (FOX): Buckeyes.

5:30: Oregon State @ Washington State (Pac12): Wazzou. (Seriously, Oregon State is so bad y'all. Of course, it's Wazzou we're talking about, so they could blow this after otherwise looking great, but you can't really predict that, you know?)

  • Louisiana State @ Mississippi State (ESPN): Here's a game where the rubber meets the road for these two teams. Will Miss State be any good this year? Will Dacoacho have made acceptable progress only three weeks into his first season? That said, LSU has the edge in talent, and so far the new coaching staff seems better able to take advantage of it. Picking another road team...
  • Colorado State @ Alabama (ESPN2): Well, yeah, Bama.
  • Oregon @ Wyoming (CBSS): Come for the gloriously ugly uniforms, stay for the potentially compelling football! That said the Ducks seem to, uh, have their ducks in a row again? Yeah.
  • Louisiana Tech @ Western Kentucky (Stadium): I think I get Stadium? I'll need to check. And you may want to actually check this one out, if you can find it. I like LT here.
  • Kansas State @ Vanderbilt (ESPNU): Speaking of games where we may learn something about the teams, boy howdy we don't have much to go on for these two. I still like K-State slightly.
  • Kentucky @ South Carolina (SEC): I'm not sure I'm prepared for the universe where a Will Muschamp team actually has a good offense, but there's enough else going on at this timeslot that I hopefully won't have to think about it. Taking USC here.
  • Georgia State @ Pennsylvania State (BTN): Penn State.
  • Clemson @ Louisville (ABC): I like Lamar Jackson as much as the next person, and I think he'll get his shots. But if there's any defense he's going to face this year that can contain him, it's Clemson's. Clemson's superiority on the defensive line will just be too much of an issue for Louisville's line to deal with, and Lamar just won't be able escape enough.
  • Arizona State @ Texas Tech (FSN/RSN): Arizona State looks so bad, y'all. TTU.
8:30: Texas @ Southern California (FOX): The hype should be enough to get USC up for this game, and this Texas team just isn't fully formed yet. USC all the way.

9:30: Fresno State @ Washington (Pac12): U-Dub.

10:00: San Jose State @ Utah (ESPN2): Utah.

  • Mississippi @ California (ESPN): Kind of tempted to get some tickets for this one for some prime people watching over in Berkeley. And it's a night game, too! This one could be fun, but I like Cal here just because Ole Miss is so depleted at this point.
  • Stanford @ San Diego State (CBSS): The Aztecs were definitely a trendy mid-major pick, and with good cause! But while USC was just able to straight out-athlete the Cardinal, I don't think SDSU will be able to do that.

Friday, September 08, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 2

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

  • Cincinnati @ Michigan (ABC): It's a pretty full slate of games for Week 2, so these noon-time games aren't going to get a lot of love. Unless you're a fan of one of these teams, I release you to do something else with these three and a half hours. Wolverines.
  • Louisville @ North Carolina (ESPN): Losing to Cal is, well, it's not a good look Tar Heels. Louisville wound up handling Purdue, but it was a bit too close for comfort, but going with the Cardinals is still the pick.
  • Iowa @ Iowa State (ESPN2): It's the best worst rivalry game, at least when the Apple Cup doesn't hold that title. The way I'd describe this matchups is not much happens, but when something does happen, boy howdy. That said, Iowa looks like they've returned to form, but might still be worth watching just in case.
  • Northwestern @ Duke (ESPNU): Perhaps more interesting than one might expect, but at the end of the day it's still Northwestern and Duke. Going with the Cats here.
  • Florida Atlantic @ Wisconsin (BTN): Still on here, for now. Apparently FAU plans on remaining in Wisconsin until it is safe to go home, but still: why play? Going with Wisky.
  • Buffalo @ Army (CBSS): Army had a pretty fantastic year last year, all told, and this would be a good first step toward following it up. Going with the cadets here.
12:30: Jacksonville State @ Georgia Tech (ACC/RSN): For nearly every season since 2007, I have been in Seattle for PAX. What this generally means is that I don't really catch Week 1 of college football. I occasionally miss things, but at least my team, Georgia Tech, doesn't usually play anyone. So naturally this year we play Tennessee on Monday night. Since the moment the game was announced, I'd been planning in my head how I would watch it. "Okay, the Omegathon finale is at 5:00 or 5:30, the game kicks at 5:00, so if I rush to bar immediately afterward..." What wound up happening was that one of my buddies from out here was in town, so we decamped for his aunt and uncle's place across Lake Washington afterward for dinner. Dinner was delicious, but it didn't take my mind off the game for long. Fortunately, they had recorded it, but I probably didn't start watching it until at least 2.5 hours after it'd kicked off. With my phone in airplane mode since 5:00, though, I had no idea what had happened. Naturally, the recording cut off after we scored in the first overtime, so I asked my buddy for the result and got the bad news. I told him I didn't want to see the last play and that when you miss two field goals and give up two fumbles it's hard to win, even if you out gain the other team by like 300 yards.
Basically, I really hope the team hasn't been thinking about this game all week long.

2:00: Texas State @ Colorado (Pac12): Colorado dispensed of a solid Colorado State team with ease, and they should do the same with Texas State.

  • Pittsburgh @ Pennsylvania State (ABC): It's good to see at least one rivalry game back in this post-realignment era, but nonetheless it's hard to see this depleted Pitt offense winning in Happy Valley.
  • Texas Christian @ Arkansas (CBS): Speaking of old rivalries, it's what seems like the annual Southwest Conference Rematch game. Take a second to tune in for the CBS theme music and the realization that it'll be Brad Nessler instead of Uncle Vernce, and then switch back to Pitt-Penn State or Nebraska-Oregon, 'cause I like TCU here.
  • Fresno State @ Alabama (ESPN2): Fresno might be lucky to score.
  • Indiana @ Virginia (ESPNU): This is definitely a game that will take place and you can watch. Uh, Indiana?
  • Western Michigan @ Michigan State (BTN): Yeah, Michigan State looked competent against Bowl Green, but Western Michigan is a trendy pick due to hanging with a vastly more talented Southern Cal until the fourth quarter. In the interests of making this game interesting, I'll say that it'll hold over for a victory this week.
  • Tulane @ Navy (CBSS): Navy.
4:30: Nebraska @ Oregon (FOX): Is Oregon back? We're about to find out... maybe. That's just the way things work in Week 2, but seriously giving up 36 points to Arkansas State is not a good look. I'll take the Ducks here.

5:00: Hawaii @ California-Los Angeles (Pac12): It would be hilarious if UCLA needed another epic comeback to beat Hawaii, but... yeah no.

  • Auburn @ Clemson (ESPN): This game should be fun! However, I'm not sure I'm as high on Auburn as national opinion seems be? Like, I'm not entirely sure where this idea that they're going to hang with the reigning national champions (at home!) comes from.
  • South Carolina @ Missouri (ESPN2): If South Carolina really does have kind of an offense now, then Mizzou is basically boned.
  • Georgia @ Notre Dame (NBC): There's just so many other options around this time, maybe you can just watch one of them? Seriously, I can't endorse this game, which considering how much I hate Georgia should tell you something. Not as bad as UGA playing Alabama, though, so I guess I'll go with the Domers.
  • Oklahoma @ Ohio State (ABC): This game is a coin flip for me, with the a slight edge going to the Buckeyes for playing at home. I think there'll be enough talent on display here for this game to fun, though.
  • Mississippi State @ Louisiana Tech (CBSS): Probably Miss State? I dunno, the whole concept of this game is weird.
  • Texas-San Antonio @ Baylor (FSN/RSN): Baylor surely can't lose to what should be a vastly inferior team two weeks in a row, right? Right?
  • Western Kentucky @ Illinois (BTN): Western Kentucky has to be favored here, right? If they aren't, then I'm favoring them.
  • Montana @ Washington (Pac12): I don't normally list these games, but it'll be on HD on my TV and there is an every-so-slight potential for wackiness here.
8:30: Stanford @ Southern California (FOX): As if there weren't enough fun matchups in the four hours proceeding this, have fun with this early battle of Pac-12 favorites! The trendy pick is Stanford due to USC's struggles with Western Michigan, but it's not like Western Michigan suddenly got awful because their coach left and it was Week 1. I think the Trojans just have too much offensive talent for the Cardinal to cope.

10:00: Minnesota @ Oregon State (FS1): This game may be somewhat, er, offensively challenged. You have my permission to skip this one. Going with the Gophers.

10:15: Utah @ Brigham Young (ESPN2): It's the Holy War all right, but it doesn't look like BYU has any sort of offense this year, which may make this an easy one for Utah once they settle into the game a bit.

  • Boise State @ Washington State (ESPN): Fun fact: Wazzou is closer to Boise than it is to Seattle, so these matchups are usually fun. And indeed, something does feel amiss in that the Cougars actually managed to beat their Week 1 FCS opponent this year, but it's still tough to pick against them right now.
  • Houston @ Arizona (ESPNU): Houston is probably the better team here, seriously.
11:00: San Diego State @ Arizona State (Pac12): Arizona State made it way too close against New Mexico State last week, and the Aztecs are a better team than the Aggies. Going with SDSU here.

2018 World Cup Update: "Near Disaster" Might Be Giving Us Too Much Credit

And we're back! The September phase of 2018 World Cup qualifying just completed, so we're entering the home stretch. In this edition, we'll review the events of the past week, and then in a separate post we'll talk about qualification scenarios entering the final matches.

First, let's congratulate those who just punched their ticket to Russia: Japan, Mexico, Belgium, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

Next, our condolences to the countries that were eliminated: Gibraltar, Latvia, Faroe Islands, Andorra, Libya, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Hungary, Belarus, Romania, Armenia, Norway, Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Guinea, Estonia, Israel, Solomon Islands, Venezuela, Bolivia, Congo, Cameroon, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, China, and Uzbekistan.

We start, as usual, in Asia.


The AFC Third Round concluded, with four teams qualifying, six being eliminated, and another two moving on to a playoff. In Group A, Iran and South Korea topped the group, with Syria eking out Uzbekistan on goal differential. On the one hand, Uzbekistan couldn't punch a goal at home against South Korea, but on the other this is the second qualification cycle in which the Uzbeks have come up short. (In 2014, they made the playoff round, which was tied 2-2 after both legs, necessitating penalty kicks. After nine rounds, Jordan prevailed 9-8.) China also finished only a point behind Syria and Uzbekistan, which is by far their best result since making the 2002 World Cup. 2022 hosts Qatar went out with a whimper, finishing last in the group and dropping their last two matches to Syria and China.

In Group B, the three that were expected to finish in the top three finished in the top three, but perhaps not in the order expected: Japan won the group with 20 points, but Saudi Arabia and Australia finished with 19, with the Saudis prevailing on goal differential.

Thus, Syria and Australia will play two matches in October to determine who gets to play the fourth-placed team from CONCACAF. Who will that be? Well, read on.


African qualifying resumed after a nine-month hiatus, and it was a doozy. We'll cover each of the five groups.

In Group A, the bottom two teams were eliminated. Group leaders Tunisia and DR Congo played each other twice, with Tunisia coming out ahead with 4 points to DR Congo's 1. They'll each go on the road in October and then return home in November. If Tunisia can hold serve, they'll punch their ticket to the World Cup.

Group B saw the highest-rated team in Africa at the time of the draw get eliminated, as Algeria only has 1 point through four matches. Instead, it'll be either Nigeria or Zambia, with Nigeria currently up by 3 points. Nigeria gets Zambia at home in October, so they can clinch qualification with a win.

Group C is a bit tighter, with the Ivory Coast holding a one-point lead over Morocco and a two point lead over Gabon. This group will likely come down to the Ivory Coast's home game against Morocco in November.

Group D is the most competitive group in Africa, with Burkina Faso and Cape Verde tied on six points, and Senegal right behind with five. However, there was even more drama introduced recently when South Africa's 2-1 win over Senegal was annulled in a recent decision due to the referee having been banned due to "unlawful influence" of the result. The upshot of which is that the match will have be replayed in November, so if Senegal can't clinch before then, they'll have one last chance to do so, unless Burkina Faso or Cape Verde win both of their upcoming qualifiers. Either way, no one can clinch this group before November.

In Group E, the headline isn't that Egypt is on nine points and topping the group, it's that Ghana has only five points. Egypt gets a home match against last-place Congo in October, while Ghaha has to go on the road to Uganda, likely needing a win and an Egypt loss or tie to stay alive.


Sigh. Things had gone well so far this year for the US national team: a 6-0 drubbing of Honduras, points on the road at Panama and Mexico, and a Gold Cup win. Relatively speaking, we'd been rolling, the shame of the losses last November nearly erased. Then we couldn't do anything offensive against Costa Rica in New Jersey and lost 2-0. For the first 84 minutes in San Pedro Sula, it looked like disaster was the order of the day. A loss would make it very hard for the US to qualify directly and even making a fourth place finish questionable. Then this happened:
And thus, our bacon was saved. At least for now.

Mexico qualified and is leading the table with 18 points. Costa Rica nearly qualified, but their 1-1 draw at home against Mexico prevented them from sealing the deal. Panama is in third with 10 points after beating last place Trinidad and Tobago, which enabled them to pass the US, who are now in fourth with 9 points. Honduras also has nine points, but the US is still ahead on goal differential.

Overall, the main surprising result was Costa Rica's 2-0 win over the US. This makes for plenty of drama in the final set of qualifiers to be played next month, which we'll discuss further as get closer.


There will be no greater casualty of World Cup expansion than the loss of the South American qualifiers. I've talked about this before, but there is a certain elegance in its simplicity. 10 teams play a double round-robin (so 18 matches). The top four teams qualify, while the fifth place team also will probably qualify, just they have to go to New Zealand first. You, as a wisecracking American sports fan, may note that half the teams will qualify, just like in the NHL and NBA's diluted playoffs. And you'd be correct. Except that World Cup bids aren't really distributed fairly, because if they were South America would probably have more bids. This article covers the intensity in better depth, but the upshot is that six of the top 20 teams in the world are in South America per FIFA's Rankings, which is better than any of the highest ranked African or Asian teams.

While order may seem restored at first, with Brazil at the top of the table 10 points clear of the next closest team, Uruguay. And yes, that's the case. But seven point is all that separates the second place team and the eight placed team, Ecuador. The current Copa America champions, Chile, are in sixth, which means if the qualification ended today they wouldn't be in the World Cup. The best player in the world might have to fly to New Zealand to see his team through. Venezuela and Bolivia are eliminated, but that doesn't mean they're just laying down. Venezuela forced third placed Colombia into a 0-0 draw at home, and then went on the road and were actually leading 1-0 over Argentina before conceding an own goal for a 1-1 draw. Bolivia? Yeah, they lost on the road at Peru, but all they did after that was beat the continental champions Chile 1-0 at home. Like I said, these two teams have already been eliminated.

In other words, unless you're Brazil in this cycle, nothing is easy. We'll talk scenarios in a few weeks.


New Zealand formalized their advancement to the inter-confederation playoffs by thumping the Solomon Islands 8-3. They'll play the fifth placed team from South America in November.


The wheat started to separate from the chaff a little bit in Europe, but no one other Belgium clinched. Let's go over the groups real quick-like, and we'll talk shop on what the remaining teams need to do in a couple of weeks.
  •  In Group A, group leaders Sweden and France faltered a bit. Sweden lost 3-2 to Bulgaria on the road, and France somehow couldn't produce a goal at home against Luxenbourg, which has to be somewhere up there on the all-time list of international soccer upsets. Nonetheless, time is running out for the Dutch, who lost 4-0 on the road to France. Three points behind Sweden, they no longer control their own destiny going into the final two matches.
  • In Group B, Switzerland leads Portugal by three points, with all other teams eliminated. Provided nothing unexpected happens, Switzerland's trip to Portugal will be the deciding contest.
  • Group C is all but decided, with Germany and Northern Ireland advancing, and the Germans five points clear of the Irish.
  • In Group D, Serbia is certain to advance, but Wales and Ireland lurk four and five points behind, respectively. Most likely, Wales and Ireland will be playing off for the second place spot in Cardiff.
  • What's going on in Group E? Well, a lot. Poland, Montenegro, and Demark are on 19, 16, and 16 points. Montenegro probably controls its own destiny the most, since it will get to play both of its competitors in October. Nonetheless, the Poles still control their own destiny.
  • In Group F, England is probably secure, sitting on a five point advantage over Slovakia with two matches to play. Right behind Slovakia and tied on 14 points are Slovenia and Scotland.
  • Group G remains Spain, Italy, and then everyone else. Spain emphasized the point by beating Italy 3-0 in Madrid, which means that the group is almost certainly going to finish in that order.
  • In Group H, Belgium qualified, so that leaves Bosnia and Herzegovina up a point over Greece and four points above Cyprus for the possible playoff spot.
  • And then there's the Group of Chaos, Group I. Croatia and Iceland are tied on 16 points, but Croatia has the goal differential tiebreaker. Turkey and Ukraine are right behind with 14 points, and for those two you need to go the goals scored tie breaker. These teams all held serve at home in the last set of matches, which means that just about anything can happen in October.
That's it for now. The list of teams should be updated soon, most likely by the time you read this. Soon, we'll look ahead to what will be final chance for the rest of the field. Until then, stay tuned!

Saturday, September 02, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 1

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong:

  • Akron @ Pennsylvania State (ABC): It's on ABC, sure, but the Zips should give the Nittany Lions little trouble.
  • Kent State @ Clemson (ESPN): Again, this is the downside of Week 1. I hope you get Big Ten Network!
  • Maryland @ Texas (FS1): This vaguely interesting, but then you remember the talent disparity at work here and go with Texas.
  • Bowling Green @ Michigan State (ESPNU): Sparty going 3-9 last year definitely didn't seem to gain the, er, cachet that Notre Dame going 4-8 did, but still, it was a pretty shocking result for a consistently successful program. At a minimum, though, they should have this one.
  • Wyoming @ Iowa (BTN): Okay, so this is a trendy looking game, and I think it has the most potential to be fun out of all the games in this time slot. Will it be, though? Well, if it follows the typical Iowa blueprint, and it probably will, then maybe not so much.
12:20: California @ North Carolina (ACC): As noted in my OOC schedule previews, I enjoy inter-sectional matchups like this imminently. Nonetheless, one of these teams at least enjoys a semblence of a defense, and Cal doesn't provide a lot of hope that situations gotten better. So I'm going with Carolina here.

3:00: North Carolina State vs. South Carolina (@Charlotte, NC; ESPN): I'm going with the Wolfpack here, mostly because the alternative scenario where the Gamecocks win seems pretty unpalatable.

  • Michigan vs. Florida (@Arlington, TX; ABC): I saw on the ESPN bottom line earlier today that this it the first time Florida has opened away from home since 1987. Which I knew the Gators didn't around much, OOC-wise, but that's kind of ridiculous. Anyway, while the conventional wisdom is that Michigan is a year or two away from contending again, I still like them here, especially when you factor in all of Florida's suspensions.
  • Temple @ Notre Dame (NBC): Temple is actually kinda good now, but even after using this as one last chance to remind you Notre Dame went 4-8 last year, we'll say that ND can pull this out.
  • Texas-El Paso @ Oklahoma (FOX): Not sure how UTEP has a chance here.
  • Nevada @ Northwestern (BTN): Nevada used to be decently exciting, but the chance seems to have passed.
  • Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical @ Alabama-Birmingham (Stadium): I'm listing this because UAB football is back, y'all. It's of course a fiasco that it was canned in the first place, but still. Go Blazers!
3:45: Troy @ Boise State (ESPNU): I feel like I should go with Boise all the way here, but still, my gut says Troy. But my brain says Boise, so that's what I'm going with.

4:00: Kentucky @ Southern Mississippi (CBSS): I don't think USM is actually that good, but you never know with these kinds of teams. Sticking with UK though.

5:15: Western Michigan @ Southern California (Pac12): This might be fun. Real fun. Or... it might not. Going with USC.

6:15: Appalachian State @ Georgia (ESPN): This would be hilarious, but yeah sticking with UGA.

  • Louisville vs. Purdue (@Indianapolis, IN; FOX): This is a neutral site game for some reason? Also Purdue will have to prove itself to me, so sticking with UL.
  • South Alabama @ Mississippi (ESPNU): See "Appalachian State @ Georgia" above.
  • Florida State vs. Alabama (@Atlanta, GA; ABC): Hopefully this turns out to be the absolute cracker of a game that it should be. I keep going back and forth on who I like in this game and I think the line (Alabama by 7) is crazy. Does the likely rematch in December hurt this one a bit? Yeah, sure. But this should still be a great game even on its own merits. I'm going with FSU.
  • Arkansas State @ Nebraska (BTN): That said, if you wanted to see if anything wacky was going on, the BTN's got you. Nebraska though.
  • Vanderbilt @ Middle Tennessee State (CBSS): Vandy improved last year, but this one feels ike a trap. Going with MTSU.
9:30: Brigham Young vs. Louisiana State (@New Orleans, LA; ESPN): I also find this one hard to pick. I think we'll find out a lot about both teams, but it's still looking good for LSU and DaCoachO.

  • Texas A&M @ California-Los Angeles (FOX): I find this game impossible to pick mostly because of these teams recent penchant for underachieving. For now, going with TAMU.
  • West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (@Landover, MD; ABC): By all rights, this one should be a home-and-home, not played at the NFL's most soulless venue. I really like VPI this year so I'm going with them.
8:00: Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee (@Atlanta, GA; ESPN): Tennessee is Georgia Tech's 8th most played opponent, despite this game having not been played since 1987. The Vols also lead the all-time series 24-17-2. Change is afoot for the Jackets, with a new QB and a new B-back core. It could be awesome or it could be really bad, and hopefully Tennessee's own inexperience at key positions (especially QB) looms larger than ours.