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College football: Week 12

Things rarely are easy in Starkville for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Four years ago, I went to Starkville to watch the Razorbacks wrap up the SEC West title against the Bulldogs. The Hogs won, but there was nothing easy about it.

Most of us remember when Arkansas made the trip to Starkville in 1998 with only one loss (the Stoerner Stumble the previous week at Tennessee) and lost to the Bulldogs.

In 2002, an 8-3 Arkansas team left Starkville with only a 26-19 victory over a 3-8 Mississippi State team.

Arkansas did exactly what it was supposed to do against UTEP last Saturday night in Fayetteville. And the previous week’s win over South Carolina looked more impressive than ever in light of the Gamecocks’ thrashing of Florida in The Swamp.

So Arkansas should win in Starkville on Saturday night. Just don’t expect a rout. Yes, it’s fun to look forward to a 10-1 LSU team taking on a 9-2 Arkansas team in Little Rock on the Saturday after Thanksgiving with a possible spot in the Sugar Bowl on the line. But there’s business on the road to take care of first.

I only went 5-4 last weekend. That makes the record 63-24 for the season. Arkansas State and UCA were disappointments last Saturday with losses to teams they should have defeated.

And I made a mistake I should never make — underestimating the strength of the Division II schools from Arkansas. I had picked North Alabama to defeat Harding in Searcy and Southwest Baptist to defeat Arkansas Tech in Russellville. Both of the home teams won.

Of the six Division II schools in Arkansas, three of them (Henderson, Ouachita and Harding) finished with teams strong enough to compete effectively in the Division II playoffs. Unfortunately, none of those teams were selected.

Congratulations to Henderson for winning a share of the Gulf South Conference championship. The Reddies especially ought to be in the playoffs. Just think, they would have been the outright champion if not for a bad decision to put time back on the clock at the end of a game at West Alabama.

The new conference consisting of the six Arkansas Division II schools and three schools from Oklahoma is going to be great.

When I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1986 to serve as the Washington correspondent for the Arkansas Democrat, I decided I needed to adopt a college football team since I love the sport. I adopted the U.S. Naval Academy as my team since my sister’s husband had played football there. Afternoon games in Annapolis are something special. I rarely missed one during the four years I lived in Washington.

You can enjoy the pageantry of the midshipmen marching in to watch the game. You can see a college football game. You can then go down to the harbor for some seafood. It always made for a great day.

Where other teams might have a “ring of honor” with the names of past players, Navy has the names of famous naval battles in U.S. history — Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, etc.

When Lou Holtz was the head coach at William & Mary, he took his team to play Navy in Annapolis.

He later quipped, “When I went into the stadium and saw the schedule they play, I knew we didn’t have a chance.”

The Navy program now is much stronger than the one that played in that stadium in the late 1980s. And the Red Wolves will play Saturday on a field named after Arkansas’ own Jack Stephens, a graduate of the academy.

On to this week’s picks:

Arkansas 35, Mississippi State 24: The Bulldogs didn’t show it in a 30-10 loss last week at Alabama, but this is a quality Mississippi State team. The other two losses were by only three points to Auburn at home and by 22 points to LSU in Baton Rouge. The seven wins have come over Memphis, Georgia, Alcorn State, Houston, Florida, UAB and Kentucky. Just think where this program would be if Cam Newton had indeed ended up in Starkville? Perhaps headed for probation but with maybe nine rather than seven victories. Watch out for those Mississippi state troopers on your drive east Saturday. They just love to ticket Arkansans.

Navy 31, Arkansas State 28 — I’m not sure how else to say this: The Red Wolves had no business losing to Western Kentucky in Jonesboro last Saturday afternoon. ASU overcame a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take a 28-21 lead, but the Hilltoppers (who had the nation’s longest Division I losing streak prior to a victory over Louisiana-Lafayette a few weeks ago) scored a touchdown as time expired in regulation. A two-point conversion play in overtime then gave Western Kentucky a 36-35 victory. That dropped the Red Wolves to 4-6 on the year. The Hilltoppers are 2-8. Navy is a solid 7-3. The losses were to Maryland, Air Force and Duke. The wins have come over Georgia Southern, Louisiana Tech, Wake Forest, SMU, Notre Dame, East Carolina and Central Michigan.

Texas Southern 27, UAPB 20 — An up-and-down season for the Golden Lions ends in Houston on Saturday. UAPB is 5-5 overall and 4-4 in the SWAC following a 52-30 loss to Jackson State in Pine Bluff last Saturday. To secure a winning season, Monte Coleman’s squad must upset a Texas Southern team that’s 7-3 overall and 7-1 in conference play. Texas Southern upset Grambling, 41-34, in overtime last week. The other wins have been over Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State and Southern University. Texas Southern has won six consecutive games.

McNeese State 24, UCA 17 — The Bears must also take on a hot team when they host a 6-4 McNeese State squad that has posted four consecutive victories. Those wins have come over Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State, Sam Houston State and Texas State. UCA is also 6-4 after a 20-13 loss in Conway last Saturday afternoon to Sam Houston State. A week after rushing for 246 yards in a win over Texas State, the Bears had only 57 yards on the ground. Sam Houston State led 20-6 after three quarters. Like UAPB, UCA has been inconsistent in 2010.

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