College Football 2011: Red River Rivalry Still Runs

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The conference carousel breeds excitement among college football elites. For a fleeting moment this week, the world was flat and athletic directors were certain that the sports landscape could reach a Saturday afternoon without more realignment.

But when The Associated Press crashed the party on Thursday with a report that the Big 12 could add Texas Christian to its ranks, fans were treated to the dominant theme of the 2011 season: uncertainty.

The Big East -- already reeling from the loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the possible departure of Connecticut -- was smattered with the muck of a lost Texas-based program that could have brought stability to a floundering football conference.

Then, right when you started to feel pity for the Big East, sources said that the conference was rumored to have courted Air Force, Navy, East Carolina and Central Florida.

What does it all mean? Well it means boatloads of money is getting shipped to different ports, but the money is still there. The six BCS conferences have gotten fatter and the smaller conferences have had to suffer as their teams have fled to grab a piece of the pie.

On the hallowed stadium grounds of college football, though, it's business as usual. Louisiana State and Oklahoma still have to win crucial games this weekend in order to claw toward conference championships, and Notre Dame is still an FBS independent in spite of all the shifts.

So who cares about where Missouri will be in 2012, or what Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy knows about ACC expansion ? It's October, and that means Texas has a state fair unfolding around some local football rivalry. Click through, or rake your leaves. It's fall pigskin in full swing! -- Joe Deaux

No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 10 Texas, 12 p.m. ET (ABC): As I've written on many occasions, I need to make something painfully clear at the outset. I am a Longhorn fan. Actually, that's not quite right. I have what some might diagnose as an "unhealthy relationship" with the team (and when I say "some," I mean my wife). If my house was burning to the ground, and I had to save one thing, it would be a toss up between my Earl Campbell signed photo (steely-eyed, holding the ball like a loaf of bread in his hand in one of those iconic shots, representing everything I ever wanted to be as a kid before adulthood hit me in the face) and just watching the whole place burn ... just so I could see the color burnt orange illuminated in its all glory.

Given that this team so easily throws me into fits of delusion, you might wonder how any 'Horns fan could rationally conclude a win is in the cards on Saturday. Well, here's the truth: I can't.

On paper, this game should be a lopsided affair. The Sooners bring yet another high octane offense to the Dallas fairgrounds, averaging nearly 380 yards of offense through the air alone. They're also holding opponents to a little over two touchdowns per. They're most recent effort (against Ball State) was startling on multiple fronts. In getting the 62-6 win, OU racked up an astounding 655 yards of offense, while holding Ball State to a mere 214 yards. This despite the Cardinals beating the Sooners in possession time.

What does that mean? OU can score a lot, score in a blink and dominate a game before the opposing team even has time to tie up their shoelaces.

Still, both teams are undefeated and that has to count for something. Despite a two-headed quarterback quandary (some would say advantage) and youth on most fronts, the Longhorns still boast the conference's top-ranked defense and one of the nation's best pass defenses.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. OU came into the season ranked No. 1 for a reason and they've done nothing to make people question that (though LSU and Alabama have shown plenty to create doubt).

Despite that, I still have this belief that the Longhorns can not only win, but that something magical can happen.

You see, this is what makes sports different from anything else you'll ever see on TV. Most reality shows are edited so thoroughly by editors and TV execs who have such simplistic tastes of what makes a story "good," it's not just getting hard to tell the difference between real and fake anymore. It's getting harder and harder to see why that distinction matters at all.

But then, sports (the ultimate reality show) reminds us why that distinction does matter. Because there's nothing more real than watching the Detroit Lions shake off years of neglect and abuse and jokes to begin their season 4-0. There's nothing more authentic than seeing the Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino. There's nothing more tangible than seeing Appalachian State pull off a once-in-a-lifetime win over Michigan.

Sports is defined by moments like those and, more importantly, the anticipation for moments like those. And it's that anticipation that some might call delusional. But sports history is on the deluded's side.

We're all lunatics for watching games where the outcome appears all but certain. But there's a reason why we watch anyways and it has more to do with hope than anything else. Corner's choice: Oklahoma 24, Texas 17 (Dave's delusional pick -- Oklahoma 18, Texas 21) -- David Moss

No. 23 Auburn (4-1) at No. 12 Arkansas (4-1), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN): Auburn refuses to believe the truth: they're simply not that good. Yet, five games into the 2011 season, the Tigers are 2-0 in Southeastern Conference games and tied with Alabama and Louisiana State in the SEC West division.

Arkansas is coming off a dramatic victory against old Southwest Conference rival Texas A&M a week after a game that saw the Razorbacks whipped by Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

But the question of consistency applies to both of these teams as Auburn has struggled in games against Utah State and Clemson, but has looked veteran against Mississippi State and South Carolina.

So what's the recipe for these two unconventional winners? Probably raw talent.

Auburn quarterback Barrett Trotter and Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson both backed up phenomenal starters last year, but both have found comfort in the pocket this season. Wilson is a stud with more than 1500 yards passing on 10 TDs, while Trotter has relied on efficiency to navigate the Tiger offense. But without Wilson, it's likely that Arkansas wouldn't have more than three wins.

Trotter has the explosive power of running back Michael Dyer and the soft hands of wide receiver Emory Blake. Dyer and Blake know how to find the end zone. Their scores might not look pretty, but points all look the same on paper.

Auburn managed to shut down South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore and stifle the Gamecocks passing game, but the fading Stephen Garcia is nothing when compared to Arkansas' Wilson. The biggest question will be whether or not Auburn shows up with a defense that makes critical third down stops.

The Tigers allow 27.4 points per game, which isn't that much worse than Arkansas' 22.8 points per game allowed, but Arkansas averages almost 40 points on offense against Auburn's 31. The kicker for this game is that Arkansas gets to play at home -- a place where they've lost only two times in the past three seasons (Louisiana State hasn't won in Fayetteville since 2006.) Corner's choice: Arkansas 38, Auburn 30 -- Joe Deaux

No. 11 Michigan (5-0) at Northwestern (2-2), 7 p.m. ET (BTN): It's the first road game for the Wolverines, whose fans have to be ecstatic with the undefeated start in Coach Brady Hoke's first season. College football needs a strong team in Ann Arbor, so the reversion to the mean (Michigan is the winningest major college football program of all time) is welcome. Big Blue is getting it done on both sides of the ball -- scoring 37 points a game while giving up only 10 -- and of course has the incomparable Denard Robinson at quarterback, who has accounted for almost 1,400 yards of offense and 14 touchdowns already.

The Wildcats have a pretty decent quarterback themselves in Dan Persa, who is just starting to come around from an Achilles injury. The 'Cats suffered a last-minute (38-35) loss at unbeaten Illinois last week, demonstrating that they can play with strong opponents.

Hoke isn't content with what Michigan has done so far.

"We're not playing the football that we need to play," he said at his weekly press conference Monday. "We're not playing well enough. We're not finishing things well enough. There's a lot of fundamental things. We get two penalties that bring us back. There are six to eight plays in a game that are going to determine the outcome, period. That's going to happen, especially when you're playing in a conference like ours."

Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald has much respect for his coaching adversary.

"He's a D-line guy like I'm a linebacker guy," Fitzgerald said. "There's that toughness; you can see the physicality they are playing with, especially up front on both sides; you can tell the fundamentals that they've worked on, on both sides of the ball. Dynamic playmakers on the perimeter on both sides have always been there. But to see the way they are playing fundamentally up front is obvious."

Can't quite put my finger on it, but something is telling me that Persa is going to have a signature game at Ryan Field to spring a big upset. Corner's choice: Northwestern 30, Michigan 28 -- William Hennelly

Missouri (2-2) at No. 21 Kansas State (4-0), 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC): Kansas State's much vaunted defense handled Baylor last week, only if you mean by "handled" that they didn't allow Heisman trophy candidate Robert Griffin to go completely off. He managed 346 yards through the air and five touchdowns, but it was the one interception the defense forced that clinched the Wildcats razor thin 36-35 win.

Now, the Wildcats are ranked (as ESPN notes, for the first time in four years) and remain undefeated. But in order to go from "fluky undefeated start" to "real deal," K-State needs to get past a Missouri squad that sports one of the nation's best offenses (over 500 yards per game).

To do that, the Wildcats will be relying on the running and throwing of junior quarterback Collin Klein, who had a national coming out party of sorts against Baylor. In racking up 146 yards through the air, another 113 yards on the ground (along with 3 TDs) and leading his squad in a series of ridiculous comebacks, Klein is making the Wildcats seem legit. He doesn't have the most outstanding arm, but he promises to keep defenses off balance, which is more than enough to earn victories in the Big 12 North this year.

Leading the way for Missouri will be Henry Josey, who currently sits atop the Big 12 rushing charts at 133 yards per game.

Despite their underdog status, look for K-State to plug up Josey, while keeping Mizzou honest by allowing Klein to roam with his legs. Corner's choice: Kansas State 24, Missouri 17 -- David Moss

No. 18 Florida at No. 2 Louisiana State, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS): I grew up a 1990s Gator fan. I bled orange and blue. I mimicked former Heisman quarterback Danny Wuerffel when he clasped his hands in prayer after a touchdown pass. I pitched my hat in disgust when former head coach Steve Spurrier ditched his visor. And I greedily chuckled every time the boys from old Florida smashed Louisiana State (9 wins in the 90s). But the days of a weak Southeastern Conference are long gone and the perennial punch line called the SEC West is now the royal home of college football.

And I probably forgot to mention that LSU is the best team in the country these days. Saturday's showdown in Baton Rouge, La. means that the Gators will oppose a team ranked No. 2 in the Coaches Poll for the second week in a row as Alabama was tied for second with LSU last week. Like the result of the Oct. 1 home game against Alabama, this one won't favor Florida.

LSU strides in with a rested defense -- arguably the nation's best -- and with the return of its highly touted quarterback, Jordan Jefferson. Jefferson had missed the first four games of the season on allegations that he had been involved in a bar fight, but returned last week after a grand jury absolved him of second-degree battery charges and rushed the ball for 29 yards and a touchdown against Kentucky.

Jefferson will not receive LSU's quarterback duties -- that's Jarrett Lee's responsibility as he has led the Tigers to a 4-0 start and a No.1 rank in The Associated Press poll. LSU head coach Les Miles has said that Jefferson will play an offensive role, but it is uncertain as to how Jefferson will be used.

"We're so early into the plan that it is difficult to figure. I can tell you that Jarrett Lee is our starter and our vision first and foremost takes Lee into mind," Miles told the media on Monday. "We'll get to the other aspects of the offense later down the road."

The powerful LSU running tandem of Michael Ford and Spencer Ware could menace the Gators more yards than Alabama's backs, which means that Florida can't give up 220 rushing yards again. If Ford and Ware run for their combined season average, this one will be over before halftime.

The Gators are stuck with true freshman Jeff Driskel at quarterback after the team lost senior John Brantley against 'Bama. Driskel has made two mid-game appearances in 2011 to muster 73 yards passing on two INTs.

Driskel will be the target of standout LSU sophomore cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and the rest of the Tigers' defense, especially if the Gators running game is as horizontal as it was against the Crimson Tide last week.

Running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps combined for 15 yards against 'Bama's defense, which is as talented as Louisiana State's. If Gator head coach Will Muschamp can't figure out a vertical ground attack, Driskel will likely find himself pinned to the ground by LSU's swarming defense for most of Saturday afternoon. Corner's choice: Louisiana State 35, Florida 14 -- Joe Deaux

If you liked this article you might like

Monster Beverage Stock Soars as Coca-Cola Opens Refreshing Partnership

Monster Beverage Stock Soars as Coca-Cola Opens Refreshing Partnership

Gold Pares Losses as Ukraine Says Its Troops Attack Russian Convoy

Gold Pares Losses as Ukraine Says Its Troops Attack Russian Convoy

Cisco Stock Biggest Dow Loser as Company Cuts 6,000 Jobs

Cisco Stock Biggest Dow Loser as Company Cuts 6,000 Jobs

Gold Demand Slumps as Increasing Prices Slow Asian Demand

Gold Demand Slumps as Increasing Prices Slow Asian Demand

Gold Demand Shrinks a Year After the Infamous Market Collapse

Gold Demand Shrinks a Year After the Infamous Market Collapse