Don't Bet On It: National Games of Interest

Wow, is it Thursday already? If that's the case and I've only posted this week's S.E.C. picks, I am way behind, so it's time to get caught up with all deliberate gusto, ere one of the national games of interest kicks off later this very evening.

My middling 4-4 ledger in last week's national picks dropped my record for the season to 32-22 in non-S.E.C. outings, rendering essentially superfluous my usual disclaimer: Don't Bet On It!

Me being right about at least half of my predictions? About as likely as a major Hollywood studio green-lighting a package deal to produce sequels to these two pictures starring the original cast.

Here are this week's prominent outings around the country, all of which are scheduled to occur on Saturday, October 20, unless otherwise noted:

California at U.C.L.A.: We have reached the point in the season at which the firing vigils have begun. Nowhere is this more true than in Westwood, where possible replacements already are being vetted by the Bruin faithful. (Incidentally, I fully support U.C.L.A.'s desire to hire Steve Spurrier, but Bruin fans don't even need to think about Mark Richt . . . he's ours, and we're keeping him, so keep your dirty mitts off our coach.) Boosters of the Berkeley Bears are confident despite a quarterback transition and noteworthy parallels to another disappointing season, but should Cal fans be worried? After all, Jeff Tedford is 3-0 against U.C.L.A. at home but 0-2 against the Bruins in Los Angeles . . . but, then again, I made much the same argument when explaining why I thought the Ducks would defeat the Golden Bears in Autzen Stadium, and we all know how wrong I was on that call. I won't be fooled again; in this clash of ursine mascots from competing campuses of the University of California, Cal will get the better of the home team.

I make my pick with trepidation, for the wrath of Bruins Nation is not a thing with which to trifle.

Kansas at Colorado: Don't look now, but it's mid-October and Dan Hawkins's Buffaloes are above .500, both overall (4-3) and in conference play (2-1). Granted, three of their wins came against Colorado State, Miami (Ohio), and Baylor, teams with a combined record of 7-13, but the boys from Boulder also upended Oklahoma along the way. Kansas has gotten to 6-0 against the softest slate sported by any team this side of Honolulu, although, to be fair, the Jayhawks haven't just beaten the teams they've played . . . they've beaten up the teams they've played. The national attention this has garnered for the squad from Lawrence will reach a crescendo this weekend, as the Kansas City Star reports: "The Jayhawks will play their first regular-season game on ESPN since 1995 on Saturday at Colorado." The Kansas faithful are justifiably pumped over this . . . but Jayhawk fans should be careful what they wish for, because they're about to get it. A win on Saturday would assure K.U. of its third straight non-losing season, but just its third such season since 1995. The Buffs may be coming off of a 2-10 campaign, but C.U. attended four Big 12 championship games between 2001 and 2005, whereas Kansas has only a Fort Worth Bowl victory over Houston to show for the last decade. Because the home team is accustomed to the spotlight, the Buffaloes will thrive under the glare that will cause the Jayhawks to wilt as Colorado remains standing over the flattened form of bleeding Kansas.

Miami (Florida) at Florida State: This one almost qualified as the national game of disinterest, but I figured I had to throw a bone in the direction of the A.C.C., which has come to be known as "Boston College and the Eleven Dwarves." (O.K., it hasn't, but it could. How sad is that?) Here's a hard cold reality that may be difficult to grasp: there is no rule that says either of these teams has to be good. F.S.U. still had an all-female enrollment when most of the traditional college football powers already had 50 years' worth of gridiron experience to their credit and the school's rise to prominence was the handiwork of one great coach who now finds himself playing the role of Henry II in a theatrical adaptation called "The 'Nole in Winter." The squad from Coral Gables came to power due to a confluence of circumstances unlikely to be duplicated in the future, as the combination of a wealth of local talent that did not have to be shared with another Division I-A program in the immediate vicinity, a complete absence of standards in the days before Oklahoma and Southern Methodist caused N.C.A.A. enforcement to get more serious, and the relative autonomy enjoyed by private schools not subject to some of the regulations imposed upon public universities collectively created the perfect storm from which sprang the Hurricanes. The Alabamas, Michigans, and Southern Californias of the world will always be able to find a way to win; no such storied pedigree prevents either of these programs from backsliding into the marginal positions they occupied as recently as the 1970s. Face it . . . this game will settle nothing more pressing than third place in the Sunshine State. Barring an errant field goal, that dubious distinction will be claimed by the Seminoles.

Also, Sebastian the Ibis looks like Howard the Duck from the really bad '80s film version of the satirical '70s comic book.

Texas Tech at Missouri: Last week, I declared that the Red Raiders were participants in the national game of disinterest, but I also warned you that late-season fades by Gary Pinkel-coached Tiger teams were so predictable that Mizzou had become the Michigan State of the Big 12. I doubt whether Texas Tech is on the rise, but I am confident that Missouri is in decline, so I'm taking the Red Raiders to hang 40 on a home team that will prove incapable of keeping up with Mike Leach's squad.

Southern California at Notre Dame: Andy Warhol got it wrong. His most famous quotation should have been rendered thusly: "In the future, everyone will be a genius for 15 minutes." That sentiment certainly applies to this football game. With 32 games under what must be an exceedingly lengthy belt, Charlie Weis has posted a 20-12 record at Notre Dame. After an equal number of games on the job in South Bend, Tyrone Willingham was . . . an absolutely identical 20-12. While Pete Carroll certainly does not suffer from comparisons to his predecessor---Paul Hackett was 19-18 in three mediocre seasons with the Trojans---the bloom may be off the Rose Bowls. At this point, though, the Struggling Irish are just playing out the string and the Men of Troy are girding themselves for their brutal stretch run. U.S.C. will take a win back to the City of Angels because the onetime Pac-10 frontrunner cannot afford a loss and the Golden Domers cannot hope to beat two L.A.-based teams in the same season.

I'm guessing a game-saving shove won't be necessary this time.

South Florida at Rutgers (Thursday, October 18): Yeah, I know, that's, like, tonight, or something, so I'd better get this game picked and posted in a great big hurry. A part of me thinks I should just cut and paste my Kansas prediction here and simply substitute the Bulls for the Jayhawks as the Johnny-come-lately unable to handle its own success. This, however, does not seem to be the case. Since knocking off Louisville last November 9, the Scarlet Knights have defeated no team more noteworthy than Navy, whereas U.S.F. has grown its program in steady steps (organically, you might say) and demonstrated an ability to do something the State University of New Jersey has not: beat West Virginia. The Bulls subjected themselves to national media scrutiny after defeating Auburn in overtime, and they were thrust into the college football consciousness with their win over the Mountaineers, but they have not faltered yet. It remains to be seen how the upstarts from Tampa fare in November, but, tonight, I believe South Florida will acquit itself nicely.

There are this week's picks, which arrived not a moment too soon. Fear not; the national game of disinterest will be coming your way shortly . . . only, this week, you'll be getting the national games of disinterest, plural. Stay tuned. . . .

Go 'Dawgs!

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