Did I tell you not to bet on it? Well, O.K., then, don't hassle me for going 1-5 in last week's national picks to drop my record for the season to 33-27 in contests not involving a Southeastern Conference participant.
Shouldn't that tell you something? What it tells me is that, when it comes to outings outside the S.E.C., it is imperative that you pay close attention to my regular disclaimer and take me seriously when I forewarn you: Don't Bet On It!
Not even if Cousin Eddie tells you my picks are right.
These are this weekend's notable national matchups, all of which will be played on Saturday, October 27, unless otherwise indicated:
Nebraska at Texas: Were it not for fear of inciting retribution from Corn Nation, I almost certainly would have declared this the national game of disinterest. (A blogger whose on-line handle is "Corn Blight" is not a man with whom to trifle.) It is nothing short of astonishing how inconsequential this pairing has become, featuring as it does two teams that have played in national championship games since the turn of the millennium. The Longhorns are notably mediocre; the Cornhuskers are stupefyingly horrible, a reality which the Big Red Machine's soon-to-be-ex-coach has elected to address by insulting the intelligence of his constituency. If Bill Callahan's latest egregious error---borrowing a page from the Jim Donnan handbook on forging friendly fan relationships---isn't enough to drive the final nail into what must, by now, be the finest hand-hewn coffin constructed in the continental United States since Cash methodically set to work on the box in which Addie Bundren was to be buried, surely a seventh loss to the Longhorns in eight tries since 1996 will do the job.
The 1997 coaches' poll notwithstanding, it's been all downhill from here, hasn't it?
West Virginia at Rutgers: Ever since Boston College's defection officially made the A.C.C. the most geographically bizarre major conference in college football, the Big East has gotten a free pass on most of its oddities, but this one takes the cake. West Virginia at Rutgers. Think about that for a minute. John Denver at Tony Soprano. Not quite the Old Dominion at not quite the Big Apple. Coal miners who marry their cousins in order to keep their children from being illegitimate at mobsters who kiss their siblings on the lips to indicate an intention to have them killed as soon as they effectuate their escape from Cuba on New Year's Eve. Then again, maybe there aren't that many differences between Appalachia and the Garden State . . . the banjo-playing kid from "Deliverance" certainly bears some similarities to Fredo Corleone, after all. Likewise, Rich Rodriguez and Greg Schiano are two no-nonsense football coaches intent on winning a conference crown. The Scarlet Knights have enjoyed a marked lack of success against the Mountaineers and, if the State University of New Jersey's reaction to this year's South Florida win in any way mirrors the squad's reaction to last year's Louisville win, West Virginia should find New Brunswick to be almost Heaven.
Boise State at Fresno State (Friday, October 26): There's only so much media hype the W.A.C. is ever going to receive in a single season and the Hawaii Warriors are the recipients of almost all of it this autumn. Why this is so is anyone's guess; June Jones's squad has gotten to 7-0 by beating two Division I-AA teams (Charleston Southern and Northern Colorado) and five nominally Division I-A units (Idaho, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, U.N.L.V., and Utah State) with a collective record of 8-30 and wins over a trio of Division I-AA teams (Cal Poly, Central Arkansas, and U.C.-Davis), Idaho, New Mexico State, Utah, and Utah State (twice). Meanwhile, the Broncos and the Bulldogs have run their records to 6-1 and 5-2, respectively and respectably, while remaining well below the national radar. I don't care what's going on with those parvenus in Honolulu; this is the W.A.C. championship game and, even with the showdown taking place in the Raisin Capital of the World instead of on the Smurf turf, I like Boise State to take care of business.
Sorry, coach . . . I call 'em like I see 'em.
California at Arizona State: Dennis Erickson holds all the cards in this one. The Sun Devils are coming off of an open date. A.S.U. gets to host Cal at home. The former Miami (Florida) skipper has gotten his squad to 7-0 in his usual manner, by promoting a lawless thugocracy worthy of a tiny Central American nation that exports bananas and cocaine under the watchful eye of a military dictator who, despite being his country's absolute ruler, cannot manage to get himself promoted past the rank of colonel. Do you really expect to see Jeff Tedford's team lose three in a row for the first time since his arrival in Berkeley, though? I don't; the Golden Bears will maul the home team.
South Florida at Connecticut: Who knew this game would have significant implications for the Big East's automatic B.C.S. bowl bid? The Bulls head to New England for a crucial conference game and a journey many Sunshine State snowbirds regard as a homecoming. The U.S.F. players are not apt to be distracted when they trade in the pastel gaudiness of the credits to "Miami Vice" for the soporific scenery of shots straight out of the "Newhart" opening and the U.Conn. squad is unlikely to benefit from another blown call on a fair catch. The Huskies are living on borrowed time and the Bulls are a solid team looking to resume their winning ways. I like South Florida to win big at Rentschler Field.
How can I pick Connecticut to win when the team's coach is named after the most spectacular disaster in the history of the automotive industry?
Boston College at Virginia Tech (Thursday, October 25): Is it just me, or have nationally-televised Thursday night games on ESPN been where Atlantic Coast Conference championship dreams have gone to die since Florida State's first league loss to Virginia in 1995? Thursday nights are the La Brea Tar Pits of A.C.C. competition, as the Hokies well know and as the Eagles are only just about to find out firsthand. In this battle of the birds, I believe the fictitious fowl will get the better of the national emblem as V.P.I. ambushes B.C. in Blacksburg with the whole world watching.
Southern California at Oregon: A week ago, I told you to buy the Ducks and sell the Trojans. Particularly now that the Golden Bears have sustained two straight conference losses, I like the gang in green that hails from Eugene to run the table and capture Oregon's first Rose Bowl berth since 1994. In six victories this season, the Ducks have scored 48, 39, 52, 55, 53, and 55 points, respectively, but they have surrendered 31 or more points in three of their four conference games. U.S.C., meanwhile, has allowed more than 24 points just once, but the Men of Troy have seen their scoring dwindling in each of their four Pac-10 outings, from 47 points against Washington State to 27 against Washington to 23 against Stanford to 20 against Arizona. With Pete Carroll's crew suddenly mortal and Mike Bellotti's squad enjoying home field advantage, I like Oregon to get it done in Autzen Stadium.
The only real question is, "In which atrocious attire will the Ducks go about humbling the Men of Troy?"
Ohio State at Penn State: Two crucial questions will be answered in this game. The first is: "How good are the unbeaten Buckeyes?" The squad from Columbus, which leads the nation in scoring defense and in total defense, has given up seven touchdowns in eight games, but O.S.U.'s only meaningful test of the season so far has come against Purdue. A return trip to Happy Valley, where Penn State two years ago dealt the Buckeyes their only road loss of 2005, poses a daunting challenge of a different order. This brings us to the second significant question: "When Joe Paterno looks up into the stands and sees the blinding brightness of the 'white out,' will he think he's having a near-death experience and begin swimming into the light?" No, wait, that's not right . . . the second question is: "How impressed ought we to be with a Nittany Lion offense that scored 59 points against Florida International, 45 against Buffalo, 36 against Indiana, and 31 against Notre Dame . . . but was held to 20 against Illinois and nine against Michigan?" Yeah, I think we know the answer to that question already. Ohio State may be overrated, but the Buckeyes will remain undefeated for one more week.
Those are the national games of note, as they appear from my vantage point here at Dawg Sports, but, hey, what do I know? We're all playing a guessing game at this point, so my opinion isn't any more deserving of credence than anyone else's. In short, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!
Coming Soon: The National Game of Disinterest . . .