A full slate of intriguing games awaits us this weekend and, since I have already taken you around the S.E.C., it is now time for me to highlight the national games of interest.
I posted an 8-1 record in last week's nationwide forecasts, bringing my season-long ledger for non-S.E.C. contests to 47-15 and my overall won-lost tally to 90-23. Even though I had a fairly good weekend of predictions, my intermittent good fortune should not give you cause for confidence in my picks, so, as always, I feel the need to remind you: Don't Bet On It!
The odds of me getting eight out of nine predictions correct are approximately as remote as the odds of one of these guys flipping a coin 90 times in a row and having it come up heads each time.
Here are this week's national games of interest, each of which will be played on Saturday, October 21, unless otherwise indicated:
North Carolina at Virginia (Thursday, October 19)---We begin with the Unemployment Bowl. Actually, that's a bit unfair . . . I doubt whether even the winning coach will keep his job. The real question is whether either of these schools will succeed in luring either Larry Coker or Jon Tenuta to Chapel Hill or Charlottesville for the A.C.C. head coaching jobs each man is all but certain to have next season. As a clash of storied academic institutions in pastoral settings, this contest is hard to beat, but, as football games go, this one should stink out loud . . . so much so, in fact, that this almost qualified as the national game of disinterest. As it stands, though, I'm going with the slightly less putrid Tar Heels to defeat the truly abysmal Cavaliers.
Boston College at Florida State---The Brahmins and the Indians take to the field of battle to renew a rivalry dating back to the French and Indian War, prior to Florida State's acquisition of a conference affiliation and before Boston College declared itself an independent. The Seminoles found a way to ward off the Eagles in Chestnut Hill last autumn, but I like Boston College to return the favor in Tallahassee this fall.
West Virginia at Connecticut (Friday, October 20)---There may be no larger intra-conference cultural divide than that between the Nutmeg State, home to "Newhart"-style snowscapes dotted with cozy Colonial bed-and-breakfast inns, and the Mountain State, home to coal mines and smoldering couches. The wild men of Morgantown invade stately Storrs under the Friday night lights and the color commentator had better bring a bagful of anecdotes with him because he isn't going to get much of a game as West Virginia continues its dominant run through the Big East.
West Virginia produced Chuck Yeager. Connecticut elected Joe Lieberman. Uh, yeah, I'm, like, going with West Virginia.
Wisconsin at Purdue---If it's October and this is the Big Ten, there must be some moldy 100-year-old corrugated cardboard box of trash that somebody found at the bottom of a well in the middle of a field on an abandoned farm somewhere in the Midwest on the line as these two teams clash to decide custody of an axe or a jug or a statue of a pig or some such . . . oh, and, also, to settle who wins a football game, too. The Badgers will upend the Boilermakers and take home the barrel or the cannon or the toaster oven du jour.
Washington at California---For a while there, the Huskies looked like they were starting to put it back together, but that was then and this is now. It's hard to believe this these days, but, prior to Jeff Tedford's first year in Berkeley, the Bears hadn't beaten U.W. since the Bicentennial. The tables have turned in the 21st century and Cal simply is the better team.
Iowa at Michigan---A few weeks ago, this looked like it was going to be a major Big Ten showdown, but, now, it looks like another opportunity for the resurgent Maize and Blue to cement their position in the national championship hunt. Honestly, at this point, wouldn't you be disappointed if Michigan-Ohio State wasn't a clash of unbeatens, old school-style? Fear not; we can hang onto that hope for at least another week, as Michigan wins in the Big House.
Both are good with sharp instruments, but Wolverine has been known to get a bit nastier with his claws than Hawkeye ever did with his scalpel.
Georgia Tech at Clemson---The Bulldogs' biggest non-conference rivals square off by the shores of Lake Hartwell for what could be a preview of the A.C.C. championship game . . . assuming, of course, that these two teams are in different divisions . . . but, if they're not, then it could settle first place in the Atlantic Division . . . unless it's the Coastal Division. . . . Anyway, this is a big game in the A.C.C. and it is the sort of marquee matchup the league desperately needs after its bid to become the next "superconference" fizzled badly. This should be just what the doctor ordered, as the Yellow Jackets and the Tigers have a long history of playing close games. For six straight years, from 1996 to 2001, each series meeting between these conference rivals was decided by exactly three points. In 2002, when Clemson won by five points, angry Ramblin' Wreck fans accused Tommy Bowden of running up the score. (O.K., not really.) Only once in the last decade has either team beaten the other by as many as six points and, although Clemson clearly is the better team, something is bound to happen in this fluky, streaky series to make it close. I'm going with the Tigers to outlast the Golden Tornado in Death Valley, but it'd be just like Georgia Tech to win this game just to annoy me.
U.C.L.A. at Notre Dame---On a purely personal level, I'm really torn on how to root in this game. On the one hand, there is my fundamental belief that it is objectively a good thing for the Fighting Irish to lose, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances. On the other hand, Nestor has been doing such a fine job of excoriating Karl Dorrell that I almost hate to have the Bruins win a game and deny Nestor the opportunity to see his dream of a coaching change realized. I suspect Nestor will be happy in his misery on Saturday, as Notre Dame is going to win this one going away.
Rutgers at Pittsburgh---Who knew this would be a legitimate big game? The Panthers have overcome the dismal stumbling start of the Dave Wannstedt era and the Scarlet Knights have emerged from a rebuilding period that dated back to Reconstruction. The State University of New Jersey is off to its best gridiron start since 1976, when the Knights went 11-0 in a year in which Johnny Majors's fourth and final Pitt team went 12-0 and captured the national championship. This likely is just wishful thinking on my part, but I'm going with Rutgers to keep its unbeaten season alive a little while longer.
You know who else went to Rutgers? Harriet Hayes from "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," that's who. See? I can pay attention to a T.V. show and pick football games at the same time! (Photograph from Yahoo! T.V.)
Texas at Nebraska---This ought to be the marquee matchup of the weekend. It won't be. Honestly, I have no particular reason to think the 'Huskers can hang with the 'Horns for four quarters.
Those are my predictions for this week's significant national contests. Please bear in mind, however, that I am bad enough at forecasting the outcomes of college football contests played in the region of the country in which I was born, in which I grew up, and in which I live, so how could I possibly know what I am talking about where games played elsewhere are concerned?
In other words, take my advice . . . Don't Bet On It!