And no I’m not talking about the trophies that kids are giving just for showing up and playing. Most of the conferences in the country have sporadically started conference play, but it really starts to get going this weekend as the Big Ten plays nothing but conference games the rest of the year. And no one does trophies quite like the Big Ten. There are no less than 15 games among Big Ten teams that have trophies associated with them. From Minnesota and Wisconsin playing for Paul Bunyon’s Axe, to Michigan and Minnesota playing for the Little Brown Jug, and to Iowa and Minnesota playing for “Floyd of Rosedale” which is nothing more than a statute of a pig. This weekend brings us the first such game of the year as Wisconsin plays Iowa for the Heartland Trophy. There’s nothing wrong with these trophy games because unlike the little leaguer whose team loses all it’s games, but still gets a trophy, only the winner gets to keep the hardware.
The hardware is going to get a little harder to come by as the year moves along with some of these teams. In fact, you can call this an elimination Saturday in some respects. If Alabama loses to Georgia, any playoff hopes they have are gone whether they rally to win the SEC or not. Arkansas is already eliminated from the National Championship race and probably the SEC race as well. Tennessee is in the same boat, but make no mistake that the winner of Saturday night’s game in Knoxville between the Hogs and Vols has a chance to right the ship. The loser may be headed for a long season. So with that, our picks for the first football Saturday of October which looks just plain soggy in the Southeast. I’m interested in the Clemson-Notre Dame game on Saturday night if no other reason that I’m tired of Clemson telling me how good they are and never doing a damn thing to back it up. The won the ACC Championship a few years ago and promptly lost in the Orange Bowl by letting West Virginia score 70 points. Last year, they had Florida State beaten until they let FSU and its back-up quarterback rally to win. I know Clemson is at home, but I just think Notre Dame has better talent and goes on the road and gets it done. Just as interesting though is Oklahoma hosting West Virginia. This is the time we find out if West Virginia actually has something or they are just a fraud in beating three lesser opponents (and I’m including Maryland on that list). Oklahoma has a tendency to zone out at times and look disinterested (see last year’s bowl game against Clemson), and West Virginia could certainly make a case that they are a player in the Big XII. I just can’t see WVU going on the road and beating Oklahoma in Norman. I’ve thought all along that Oklahoma could win the Big XII and I’m not changing that view now.
Tonight there are three games. Memphis over South Florida, Temple over Charlotte and BYU over Connecticut. Tomorrow starts early with another game you should skip as Iowa State keeps Kansas winless; Michigan State prolongs Purdue’s misery; Interesting game in Evanston, Illinois as unbeaten Northwestern hosts Minnesota. This is actually a Big Ten game without a trophy, but really is a Big Ten West elimination game as the loser probably has very little chance to win the conference. Northwestern just seems to have something special about it this year so I’ll take them to win at home. Wisconsin takes the Heartland Trophy over Iowa, Va. Tech slogs its way to a win over Pitt, Houston over Tulsa, TCU nearly blew its National Championship chances against Texas Tech last week, but they won’t do that this week against Texas. Missouri over South Carolina, Louisville hands N.C. State its first loss, Ohio over Akron, Toledo over Ball State, U-Mass over Florida International, Northern Illinois over Central Michigan, Ga. Tech over North Carolina, Bowling Green over Buffalo, Appalachian State beats Wyoming at home, Kent State over Miami, Ohio, Western Kentucky over Rice, Navy beats Air Force to take the early lead for the “Commander-in-Chief’s” trophy, I like Georgia to beat Alabama at home, Duke over Boston College and right now the Blue Devils are probably the best team in the ACC Coastal Division, Nebraska over Illinois, Ohio State over Indiana, Baylor over Texas Tech, Marshall over Old Dominion, Florida State goes on the road to beat Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, Kansas State over Oklahoma State, California continues to surprise with probably the best quarterback going now in Jared Goff to beat Washington State, Auburn over San Jose State, East Carolina over SMU, Florida over Ole Miss, Arkansas State over Idaho, La. Tech over La. Lafayette, Middle Tennessee State over Vanderbilt, LSU big over Eastern Michigan, Sothern Miss over the “Mean Green” of North Texas, Troy over South Alabama, Ga. Southern over La.-Monroe, Colorado State over Utah State, Nevada over UNLV, Texas A&M over Mississippi State, UCLA over Arizona State, UTEP over UT-San Antonio, New Mexico over New Mexico State, Oregon over Colorado, Boise State big over Hawaii, and San Diego State over Fresno State in the “battle for the oil can.” Don’t ask, I couldn’t begin to explain it. And officially as of Saturday night at 11, Tennessee fans can come off suicide watch and quit calling into the talk shows asking when Jon Gruden is coming to coach here. As an aside, HE’S NOT. He’s an NFL guy and absolutely no one gives a flip that his wife was once a cheerleader here. Tennessee beats Arkansas.
Our FCS Game of the Week takes us to Vermillion, South Dakota where the Coyotes of the University of South Dakota host the Penguins of Youngstown State in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both teams. The Missouri Valley Football Conference is not to be confused with the just plain Missouri Valley Conference which doesn’t sponsor football although a few of the teams cross over into the Football version. This matches two recently fired FBS coaches in South Dakota’s Joe Glenn who was shown the door at Wyoming a few years ago, and Youngstown’s Bo Pellini, recently fired at Nebraska. Glenn’s pedigree is a tab bit better with two Division II National Titles as Northern Colorado and one FCS title at Montana. Pellini is best known as a “hot head” who was once carrying about a cat at the Nebraska spring game. This game also occurs during South Dakota’s annual Dakota Days whatever that is.
Division II takes us to Hickory, North Carolina for 3-1 Carson Newman and 3-1 Lenoir Rhyne in a South Atlantic Conference game. Carson Newman coach Ken Sparks has 328 career wins in 36 years at the school. Lenoir Rhyne has won three straight conference titles and this is old school football at it’s best. Lenoir Rhyne runs Ga. Tech’s triple option offense and calls in the “bear bone.” Carson Newman grinds out yards and points out of the Veer.
For Division III it’s off to Belton, Texas on the road between Austin and Waco where third-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor hosts Bellhaven. Mary Hardin-Baylor is a 3-0 and a Division III power. They didn’t start their football program until 1998, but from 2000 – 2014, they boast a record of 163-23, an average of 10 wins per season.
NAIA features Second Ranked Southern Oregon on the Road at Montana Western. Last week Southern Oregon, the defending NAIA champs scored 82 points in its victory.
Finally, Junior College takes us to California where the College of the Sequoias hosts Santa Rose. College of Sequoia is named after the large trees which grow in the neighboring Sierra Nevada Range, so naturally their nickname is the Giants. They are 4-0.
For those of you in the Southeast, stay dry and everyone else enjoy the games….