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LSU-Alabama In Top Two Heavyweight Bout

It may seem like it's the only game this week, but it isn't

by Dave Congrove
November 1, 2011

A 53-game schedule kicks off on Tuesday night, but the hype would seem to indicate that nothing else matters except LSU's trip to Alabama. Certainly, a BCS No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle is impossible to ignore, but I promise to bring you up to speed on some of those "other" games.

Among them are South Carolina-Arkansas, Kansas State-Oklahoma State, Cincinnati-Pittsburgh, Louisville-West Virginia, Texas A&M-Oklahoma, Oregon-Washington, and Texas Tech-Texas. But wait, that's not all.

The undercard includes TCU-Wyoming, Michigan-Iowa, Notre Dame-Wake Forest, Virginia-Maryland, Army-Air Force, Southern Miss-East Carolina and Louisiana Tech-Fresno State. I'll explain a little further down the column why anyone should care.

The week opens with a couple of key MAC games as Northern Illinois visits Toledo on Tuesday and Ohio hosts Temple on Wednesday. All are in contention for the MAC Championship game. The Rockets lead the Huskies by a game in the MAC West and the Owls lead the Bobcats by a half-game in the MAC East.

But first things first.

Alabama and LSU have combined to win three BCS titles since 2003. Current Alabama head coach won in 2003 when he was the head coach at LSU, and then again in 2009 with his current team. LSU head coach Les Miles led the Tigers to the 2007 season title.

Not only are LSU and Alabama at the top of the polls and BCS Standings, they also rank 1st and 4th nationally in total defense with the Tide topping that statistical category. The glaring difference is on offense where Alabama is 22nd and LSU ranks 81st. Therefore, it shouldn't be a big surprise that the Congrove Computer Rankings project 'Bama as a 4.52-point winner which isn't far off of its preseason forecast of the Tide winning by 4.69.

Now, let's take a brief look at what impact those other games will have.

South Carolina is a 3.99-point underdog at Arkansas which means the Gamecocks would fall out of first-place in the SEC East and hand the lead to a border rival Georgia team that they beat earlier this year.

Kansas State was booted out of the undefeated club in grand fashion by Oklahoma last week, but if the Wildcats can recover from that 58-17 thrashing and beat Oklahoma State on Saturday, they will be right back in the race. However, the Cowboys are a 20.84-point computer pick to prevail and stay on track to make their Bedlam rivalry date with the Sooners a de facto conference championship game.

Oklahoma has to avoid another unlikely home slip-up for it to stay in the thick of the Big 12 race. The Sooners host Texas A&M this week as a 13.29-point projected winner.

Texas Tech-Texas is important because both need a win to become bowl eligible and their remaining schedules are not easy. The computer likes the 'Horns this week by, but only by 5.08 points.

The Big East race is its usual mess with Cincinnati leading at 2-0 and Pitt, West Virginia and Louisville trailing at 2-1. The Panthers are a 2.54-point home underdog to the Bearcats while the Mountaineers are an 11.87-point favorite over the Cardinals.

In another Big East game, UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni faces Syracuse whom he coached for 14 seasons from 1991-2004 and became their second all-time winningest coach with a 107-59-1 record. His Huskies are a 1.15-point computer choice.

Oregon-Washington is huge in the PAC-12 as the Ducks face their most challenging game away from home since the season opener at Cowboys Stadium against LSU, which they lost. Will Oregon get caught looking ahead to next week's showdown at Stanford? The computer says "no", though the 11.06-point forecasted margin falls a little short of being emphatic.

TCU (3-0), Boise State (2-0) and Wyoming (2-0) are all undefeated in Mountain West play and the Horned Frogs have to visit the surprising Cowboys this week. Even though Wyoming sports a 5-2 record, the computer sees this as a fairly easy Horned Frogs victory by 17.53 points.

Michigan is tied with Nebraska atop the Big Legends division and needs to avoid a stumble at Iowa this week. The Hawkeyes are reeling after a 22-21 upset loss at Minnesota which cost them the Floyd of Rosedale (bronze pig) trophy for the second straight year. Iowa is 4-0 at home this year and 0-3 on the road. The computer says that perfect home record will come to an end, as will its 2-game winning streak over the Wolverines, with an 8.26-point Kinnick Stadium loss.

It's Catholics vs. Baptists when Notre Dame heads to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to face tiny Wake Forest on Saturday. WFU has an undergrad enrollment of just 4,600 students and the stadium has a capacity of 31,500. Of course, Notre Dame isn't huge with only 8,400 undergrads, but its football program is among the most-storied in the history of the sport. The Irish are a 13.36-point choice by the computer to win the first-ever meeting between these two private schools.

Virginia controls its destiny in the ACC Coastal and could be headed toward a season-ending showdown at home with Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers are a 1.82-point underdog at Maryland this week, even though they are coming off a 28-21 win at Miami and Maryland just lost at home to struggling Boston College 28-17. The Terrapins have taken half of the last 10 meetings after losing the previous 9 in-a-row.

Air Force and Army are the only teams that can win the Commander-In-Chief's trophy after the Falcons knocked Navy out of the race earlier this season. The Falcons are a 12.30-point home favorite over the Black Knights which would secure the coveted hardware for the second year in-a-row.

Southern Miss visits East Carolina with the CUSA East division lead on the line as both teams are 3-1 in conference play. The Golden Eagles are on a 6-game tear and sit at No. 25 in the BCS Standings with a 7-1 overall record. East Carolina has won 3 in-a-row to square its overall record at 4-4. USM is the computer's forecasted winner by 14.17 points.

Rising Louisiana Tech visits slumping Fresno State in a key WAC confrontation. The Bulldogs from Ruston are 3-1 in the conference and 4-4 overall, while the California Bulldogs are 2-1 in WAC play and just 3-5 overall. Nevada leads the league at 3-0 in the WAC and 5-3 overall. Fresno State has lost 3 of its last 4 games but is still a 2.37-point computer pick over a Louisiana Tech team that has won 3 in-a-row for the first time since 2008.

The computer's projected margins for this week's games range from a low of 0.01 for Utah over Arizona to a high of 44.47 for Boise State over UNLV.

WOE IS US
New Mexico fired head coach Mike Locksley on September 25th and had its top offensive output against an FBS team in the very next game when it lost 42-28 to rival New Mexico State. Since then, the Lobos have scored a total of 7 points in three games and have been held scoreless in the last two. Picked in the preseason to go 3-9, New Mexico would have to win three of its last four to achieve that not-so-lofty goal and the upcoming opponents are San Diego State, UNLV, Wyoming and Boise State. The only game that looks winnable at all is the only remaining home date with the Rebels. The Lobos are a 30.76-point computer underdog this week at the Aztecs, led by former New Mexico head coach Rocky Long.

Tennessee has scored a total of 16 points in its last three games that resulted in losses of 38-7 to LSU, 37-6 to Alabama and 14-3 to South Carolina. The Vols get a reprieve this week that from that insanely difficult gauntlet when they host Middle Tennessee State as a 17.21-point favorite.

Navy has lost six straight games for the first time since 2002 and must win its final four games to become bowl eligible. Unfortunately for the Midshipmen, the computer doesn't project that to happen. They're okay this week with a 5.80-point home edge on Troy, but Navy is currently a projected 9.04-point loser at SMU next week.

LOOKING UP
Western Kentucky has won 4 straight, including 2 in overtime, after starting 0-4 and winning just 4 of its previous 47 games. The Hilltoppers are a half-game out of first in the Sun Belt as they prepare to host FIU on Saturday as a 2.89-point computer underdog. The Golden Panthers are 2-3 in their last five games after opening the season with three straight victories.

FBS vs. FCS:
One FBS team plays an FCS school this week with Mississippi State hosting Tennessee-Martin. FBS teams are 86-6 (.935) for the year and 633-55 (.920) since 2003 vs. FCS teams.

Here are the results of the FBS losses to FCS schools this season:
9/24: North Dakota St. 37, Minnesota 24
9/24: Sam Houston State 48, New Mexico 45 (OT)
9/24: Southern Utah41, UNLV 16
9/17: Indiana State 44, Western Kentucky 16
9/3: Richmond 23, Duke 21
9/3: Sacramento State 29, Oregon State 28

93 FBS teams play a total of 97 games against FCS foes this year. Four schools play two such games - Air Force, Eastern Michigan, N.C. State and Wyoming.

STREAKS:
Boise State - The Broncos have streaks of 9 overall wins, 35 home wins, 65 regular season home wins, and 47 straight conference home victories. BSU joined the Mountain West this season. The Broncos were 40-0 in home conference games as a member of the WAC from 2001-2010. Boise State's last home loss to a conference foe occurred in 1998 when they were a member of the Big West and fell to Idaho in the final regular season game. The Broncos are 7-1 in their last eight matches with BCS conference schools. The Broncos visit UNLV on Saturday.

Stanford - 16 straight wins overall. The Cardinal visit Oregon State on Saturday.

Alabama - 9 straight wins overall. The Tide hosts LSU on Saturday.

LSU - 9 straight wins overall. The Tigers visit Alabama on Saturday.

Oklahoma State - 9 straight wins overall. The Cowboys host Kansas State on Saturday.

TCU - 20 straight conference wins. The Horned Frogs visit Wyoming on Saturday.

Virginia Tech - 11 straight road wins. The Hokies are idle this week and visit Georgia Tech on November 10 (Thursday).

New Mexico - 11 straight losses overall and 19 straight road losses. The Lobos visit San Diego State on Saturday.

FAU - 10 straight losses overall. The Owls host Arkansas State on Saturday.

Colorado - 21 straight road losses. The Buffaloes host USC on Friday.

NEW COACHES:
Latest firings:
Mike Stoops from Arizona on October 10th. Named defensive coordinator Tim Kish as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The Wildcats are 1-1 under Kish.

Mike Locksley from New Mexico on September 25th. Named defensive coordinator George Barlow as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The Lobos are 0-4 under Barlow.

At the start of the season, 24 FBS teams had a new head coach. Last season saw 23 new head coaches, only 8 of whom matched or exceeded the W-L record of their predecessors' final season.

Stanford is the only school with a new head coach that remains undefeated. Only 16 teams with a new head coach have defeated at least 1 school from a "Big 6" conference - Ball State, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Texas, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Stanford, Temple, Vanderbilt and West Virginia.

Two games this week pit new head coaches against each other as Ohio State hosts Indiana and Florida entertains Vanderbilt. George Barlow, who became interim head coach of New Mexico on 9/25, visits San Diego State's Rocky Long.

Here is how each of the new head coaches is faring this season:

Team Coach Game
Arkansas State Hugh Freeze (6-2) at FAU
Ball State Pete Lembo (5-4) at Eastern Michigan
Colorado Jon Embree (1-8) vs. USC (Friday)
Connecticut Paul Pasqualoni (3-5) vs. Syracuse
Florida Will Muschamp (4-4) vs. Vanderbilt
Indiana Kevin Wilson (1-8) at Ohio State
Kent State Darrell Hazell (2-6) vs. Central Michigan (Friday)
Louisiana-Lafayette Mark Hudspeth (7-2) vs. Louisiana-Monroe
Maryland Randy Edsall (2-6) vs. Virginia
Miami (Fla.) Al Golden (4-4) vs. Duke
Miami (O.) Don Treadwell (3-5) vs. Akron (Thursday)
Michigan Brady Hoke (7-1) at Iowa
Minnesota Jerry Kill (2-6) at Michigan State
North Carolina Everett Withers (Interim) (6-3) at N.C. State
North Texas Dan McCarney (3-6) Idle
Northern Illinois Dave Doeren (5-3) at Toledo (Tuesday)
Ohio State Luke Fickell (Interim) (5-3) vs. Indiana
Pittsburgh Todd Graham (4-4) vs. Cincinnati
San Diego St. Rocky Long (4-3) vs. New Mexico
Stanford David Shaw (8-0) at Oregon State
Temple Steve Addazio (5-3) at Ohio (Wednesday)
Tulsa Bill Blankenship (5-3) at UCF (Thursday)
Vanderbilt James Franklin (4-4) at Florida
West Virginia Dana Holgorsen (6-2) vs. Louisville