LITTLE ROCK — Updated each Sunday, the handwritten weekly to-do list includes a couple of change of address notifications, bill paying, gift buying, a birthday dinner, a chauffeur obligation, a vet visit, golf, and a NAP on Thursday afternoon.
The 45-minute snooze is preparation for a late night of television. The Oregon-Stanford kickoff is shortly after 8 p.m. and I am planning for the outcome to be in doubt in the fourth quarter.
Not that long ago, college football on Thursday was dismissed as an opportunity for second-rate teams from low-level conferences. This week, the BCS title game in January will be shaped by what happens in Stanford, Calif., and Waco, Texas. Tack on LSU at Alabama on Saturday night — hopefully our 7:10 p.m. ETA in Little Rock from a trip to Oxford is right and a co-worker is wrong that the Tigers are much inferior to the Crimson Tide.
Starting on the West Coast with the Nike-backed guys in weird uniforms, the BCS matchups are Nos. 3 vs. 5; 6 vs. 10, and 1 vs.13 and it is a toss-up as to which is most compelling. I’m leaning toward Oregon-Stanford because of the ramification double whammy.
If the Ducks win, they will pass Florida State in the BCS standings and be 4-0 away from a trip to the national title game and quarterback Marcus Mariota can schedule a December flight to New York to pick up his Heisman Trophy. Supposedly, the Ducks are unstoppable with Mariota. A year ago, we heard the same thing and Stanford won in overtime in a statistical dead heat in number of plays, first downs, and total offense. Not always telling — see Arkansas with a 8:28 edge over Auburn — time of possession was tilted 37:05 to 22:55 in favor of the Cardinal, a key component in why the Ducks scored only 14 in 60 minutes.
This year, Oregon is averaging 55.6 per game, second only to Baylor at 63.9.
The winning recipe for Stanford and the other underdogs starts with defense, but includes an efficient outing by the second banana quarterback. The Cardinal’s Kevin Hogan is to Mariota as OU’s Blake Bell is to Bryce Petty and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger is to A.J. McCarron.
A year ago, Hogan did his part, bettering Mariota’s passing numbers with 25-of-36 and running eight times for 37 yards. The epitome of a dual threat, Mariota ran 12 times for 89 yards, but 77 came on one play and that keeper produced zilch when the Ducks failed on fourth-and-2.
Although erratic, the strong-armed Mettenberger is the one most equipped to engineer an upset. To support that theory, I am willing to forgive his 19-of-33 and three interceptions in a loss to Ole Miss.
Wagering lines from Las Vegas are given only a cursory glance, but I am surprised that both Oregon and Alabama are favored by 10 points and that Baylor is even a bigger favorite. By the same token, I was shocked that Florida State was favored by three touchdowns over Miami and won by 27 last week.
LSU’s defense and the running game gives the Tigers the best chance of an upset. That said, I believe that McCarron will do whatever it takes to get Alabama to the winner’s circle.
Oregon figures to do its part to provide the speed half of the match-up with Alabama in Pasadena that is the apparent choice of media and fans except those in Tallahassee and Columbus. The Sooners would be the most difficult to circle as a winner, but Baylor is still apt to stumble vs. Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, or Texas.
The winner of each of the three games is immaterial; the hope is for entertainment. Otherwise, a nap and a hurry-up return from Oxford will be wasted.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.