Don't Bet On It: National Games of Interest

It was another middling weekend for my nationwide prognostications, as I went 5-3 in last week's national games of interest, leaving me with an overall record of 38-30 in games outside the S.E.C.

Accordingly, any faith you might happen to have in my ability to predict the outcomes of college football games is quite misplaced, which is why I have to hammer the point home each and every time by providing you with my usual disclaimer: Don't Bet On It!

This week's theme will be "picking one team to win in spite of the fact that I will be rooting for the other team." In honor of this theme, I present a poster from Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign.

These are the outings of greatest consequence, each of which is slated to be played on Saturday, November 3, because, honestly, the weeknight games didn't do much for me (despite the fact that I will watch every single minute of each and every one of them, because what I have is a sickness, really):

Navy at Notre Dame: I don't know if you noticed, but, last weekend, Navy lost to Delaware. The Struggling Irish are bad---truly, historically bad---but the Golden Domers never lost to the Blue Hens. I'll be pulling for the Midshipmen like a good American, but I have to admit that I think Notre Dame will emerge victorious for, like, the millionth time in a row.

I really didn't mean to incorporate back-to-back photographic references to 1964, but this guy was lining up under center in Annapolis the last time the U.S.N.A. beat the Irish.

Texas at Oklahoma State: Last year, this game qualified as the national game of disinterest, but the eyes of Bulldog Nation will be upon Texas . . . or, more specifically, upon the Longhorns' opponent. Peter Bean's detailed look at how the Burnt Orange can still make a B.C.S. bowl reminds us that, if Georgia wins out---admittedly, a huge "if"---the Bulldogs could make it into a major bowl game as an at-large team even if Tennessee also runs the table and represents the Eastern Division in Atlanta. Granted, such a possibility is a long shot at best, but it is worth paying at least passing attention to the Bulldogs' strength of schedule, which means rooting for the Cowboys, who are tied for first place in the Big 12 South. Enlightened self-interest (Milton Friedman would be proud) will lead me to pull for the Pokes, but it will all be in vain as the 'Horns claim victory in Stillwater.

Purdue at Penn State: It's about time for the Big Ten to get around to separating the wheat from the chaff. (We in the S.E.C. East plan to stretch that process out for a few weeks longer, by the way.) The Boilermakers are the poster children for ersatz excellence, creating the illusion of quality by beating up on mediocrity: Joe Tiller's team scored in the fifties against Eastern Illinois and Toledo, in the forties against Central Michigan and Minnesota, and in the thirties against Iowa, Northwestern, and Notre Dame, but the squad fell woefully flat against Michigan and Ohio State. If Purdue hadn't had to play the Buckeyes and the Wolverines, the Boilermakers would be Kansas right about now. It goes without saying that I will be rooting for the guests from West Lafayette, inasmuch as I still have not forgiven the Nittany Lions for the 1983 Sugar Bowl, but the home team will come back to dash my hopes yet again when Penn State chalks up another victory in Happy Valley.

Really, I had nothing to go with the Penn State-Purdue tilt, so I decided to stick with the 1964 motif and post a picture of Vince Dooley, whose first year as the head coach at Georgia was---you guessed it---1964.

Missouri at Colorado: The Tigers' only loss was at Oklahoma and the Sooners' only loss was at Colorado, so what will happen when Mizzou travels to Boulder to take on a Buffalo squad that is a win away from bowl eligibility? Missouri strikes me as probably the biggest parvenu in my top ten and Dan Hawkins clearly is well on the way to restoring Colorado to its previous heights, but I'm not convinced the Buffs will be able to sneak up on anyone any longer. I want C.U. to give me an excuse to boot the Tigers from my top ten, but I'm afraid Missouri is going to return home with a win after showing me that this team is for real.

Wisconsin at Ohio State: I don't know about you, but I'm ready to be done with the whole O.S.U. thing. It was one thing back when Woody Hayes was around to make things interesting; in those days, watching the Buckeyes play football was like watching Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers play basketball: the team was good at its assigned objective, but the main reason you were watching was to see the coach lose his cool. Ohio State was even interesting in the era of John Cooper---you know; one of those random non-great coaches like Mark Richt---because you were just waiting to see how he was going to blow another national title shot. Under Jim Tressel, though, Ohio State is consistent to the point of being robotic, which I suppose is admirable to the extent that it doesn't result from anything underhanded, but, frankly, it's just dynastic to the point of being dull. At least Barry Switzer's Oklahoma Sooners and Dennis Erickson's Miami Hurricanes had personality when they were competing for ill-gotten national championships; Jim Tressel's Ohio State Buckeyes are a minor league N.F.L. team, methodical and uninteresting except for the occasional encounter with an S.E.C. team in a bowl game. I'm ready for anyone, even the Badgers, to derail these guys, but, unfortunately, Wiscy has shown me nothing to make me believe it can go into Columbus and knock off this increasingly annoying team whose players (and any alumni who happen to be prominent members of the "College GameDay" panel) won't stop whining about how disrespected and underappreciated they are by the coaches and sportswriters who have made them the consensus No. 1 team in the land. Ohio State will keep it rolling at the Horseshoe this weekend.

Ladies and gentlemen . . . the Beatles! (Hey, I needed another 1964 reference and it was either that or a picture of Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act.)

Arizona State at Oregon: The Sun Devils have held seven of their eight opponents to 20 or fewer points. The Ducks limited Michigan to a single touchdown and kept Southern California from scoring more than 17 points. Bor-ing! Why can't these dull defensive-minded Pac-10 teams play some exciting offensive shootouts like the ones we see in the S.E.C.? Games like Alabama's 41-38 win over Arkansas, Kentucky's 43-37 win over L.S.U., Florida's 45-37 win over Kentucky, and Georgia's 42-30 win over Florida provide fans with an unending series of thrills, unlike the plodding three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football they play out on the West Coast. Folks out by the Pacific Ocean think Southeastern Conference teams can't play defense? Pshaw! That's not bad defense, it's just good offense. You'd know it if you saw it. Just kidding . . . the conference wars are inconclusive and, anyway, these two teams can score some points, as well: A.S.U. has scored more than 30 points seven times and more than 40 four times, while Oregon dropped 39 on Michigan, 48 on Houston, 52 on Fresno State, 53 on Washington State, and 55 on both Stanford and Washington. Naturally, I will be rooting for the Sun Devils, since I want Dennis Erickson's squad to win the national title. (The Bulldogs play Arizona State next September 20 and, as you know, Georgia is 6-1 against defending national champions since 1965.) However, I am going to place my faith in the Autzen Stadium mystique one last time and pick Oregon to win at home.

Now you know what I think will happen this weekend, although absolutely none of it is what I want to happen. This is actually a good thing, since it means that, in each national game of interest, I am bound to be either proven correct or pleasantly surprised. In either instance, though, you should know better than to trust my abilities as a prognosticator, so, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!

Coming Soon: The National Game of Disinterest.

Go 'Dawgs!

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