We all did puzzles when we were growing up, starting with four-part wooden cutouts in preschool and advancing to designs of 500 pieces and more.
And not just puzzles. As we got older we put together creations from Erector or Lego that contained conglomerations of hundreds of pieces. (My grandson has Lego sets that seem to require an electron microscope just to examine the parts — heaven forbid you drop one on the floor.)
When we reach adulthood, we realize what all that work was for: to prepare us for putting together furniture out of a box from Ikea and other manufacturers. Of course, when you build a Lego Star Wars set, you don’t have to worry about watching it fall apart two weeks later because you missed a screw or a peg somewhere, sending bookshelves crashing down with the urn full of Uncle Irv’s ashes spilling to the floor.
These things come with instructions, but those never provide as much help as needed. They are either too complicated, too simple or in the wrong language.
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However, for all of these things, there is one saving grace: the picture on the box. I don’t know how many times I have found myself scratching my head trying to figure out where a part goes, only to pick up the box and instantly see the solution. (Apparently, for most of us our brains work best with images, but this obviously is not a science column so we move on.)
These examples on the box show us just how something will look if we use all the pieces correctly and everything fits together just right. This can be applied to sports, of course. Our local college teams got the rare chance to look at the picture on this season’s box last week in a trio of blowout wins. Now when they line up, they won’t have to wonder how things will turn out if they follow the coaches’ plans to the letter. They can just pull out the box.
Now, obviously it’s not all that simple. Their future opponents probably will be of a higher quality, and they will try to do things to muddle the instructions (does anyone here understand Portuguese?). But for one week, the players could see everything clearly, the ultimate goal presented in a 5k high-res image. That could help them visualize a victorious future.
Kansas State at Oklahoma: The Wildcats’ surprising home loss to Tulane took some of the luster off this week’s conference opener. K-State struggled on offense and gave up a late TD in 17-10 loss. Meanwhile, Sooners blew the ears off the Cornhuskers in Lincoln with their best performance of the season. The Wildcats are better than they showed last week, but expect the Sooners to get a solid victory. OU 35, K-State 20.
Tulsa at Ole Miss: Hurricane has a chance here if it continues its tradition of playing up (or down) to the level of its competition. The Rebels are off to a strong 3-0 start; they led Georgia Tech 42-0 after three quarters last week. Their defense has put up good numbers, but TU should be a higher level of challenge. The Rebels’ run game could be the difference. Ole Miss 38, TU 21.
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M: This one’s actually in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Aggies bounced back from their loss to Appalachian State with a win over Miami (Florida) last week, while Hogs nearly gave away the pig farm to Bobby Petrino. Hogs have an offense that can hurt you through the air or on the ground. I think Rocket Sanders will be the name to remember here. Arkansas 27, A&M 24.
Baylor at Iowa State: A tough call. Give a slight edge on offense to Baylor, but Iowa State’s skills against the run — as well as home-field advantage — could give it just enough of an edge. Iowa State 24, Baylor 21.
TCU at SMU: The Battle for the Iron Skillet, or something like that. The Mustangs won a wild one between these teams last season. Sonny Dykes has changed jobs and now roams the TCU sidelines instead of SMU’s. But Tanner Mordecai still plays QB for the Ponies, so we give SMU the edge. Team Claiming to be the New Pony Express 35, Short-legged Reptiles 32.
Texas at Texas Tech: Stop me if you heard this one before: Texas almost beat Alabama, so the Longhorns are back! Knowing the recent history of football in Austin, forgive us for being skeptical, but the Longhorns get the win here. Orange Beef 33, The Masked Rider’s Raiders 27.
Duke at Kansas: Duke must still be sky-high after its earlier win over Northwestern; Kansas fans have to be praying they don’t wake up from the dreamy start to their season. Some call Duke the “Harvard of the South.” For us, the smart money here is on Kansas. Jayhawks 38, Blue Devils 28.
Florida at Tennessee: The Billy Napier Experience in Gainesville has followed an opening win over Utah with a loss to Kentucky and an escape against South Florida. Josh Heupel may be feeling that his Vols are about to announce themselves as real SEC contenders. Heupel’s Volunteer Hounds 40, Napier’s Gator Taters 24.
Clemson at Wake Forest: Clemson’s offense is not back to a Trevor Lawrence level, but when paired with the Tiger defense it may be enough to return to the playoffs. Both teams have played pillow-soft schedules; Demon Deacons miss their wake-up call here. Tigers on top: Clemson 30, Wake Forest 21.
Green Bay at Tampa Bay: Winner looks like a Super Bowl contender; loser might spend January sittin’ by the dock of the bay (a cold situation in Wisconsin). Expect Aaron Rodgers to be more relaxed after a big road win. Packers 24, Buccaneers 21.
LA Rams at Arizona: Cardinals won last week after staging a miraculous comeback against the Raiders. They might need another one here to beat the defending Super Bowl champions — if Rams QB Matthew Stafford stops tossing the ball to opposing defenses (he has five interceptions so far). Rams 27, Cardinals 22.
Kansas City at Indianapolis: The Colts may be off to the worst start in NFL history (tie with Texans, 24-0 loss to Jacksonville). At this rate, Indy Blues may be a hot new barbecue style. Kansas City 34, Indy 17.