Don't Bet On It: National Games of Interest

A modicum of success last weekend led me to go completely crazy in this week's S.E.C. picks, so I am hopeful that my mediocre 5-3 record in my most recent set of national predictions will bring me back down to earth in the way that only a 28-18 ledger in non-S.E.C. forecasts can.

As I embark upon the enterprise of offering prognostications concerning games from sea to shining sea, I scarcely need to remind you that I am unfailingly awful at picking college football games, so much so that I feel morally and legally obligated to issue an unequivocal warning. Let us not mince words; when it comes to my predictions, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!

For the benefit of the visual learners among you, this is me picking college football games. Oh, the humanity!

These are Saturday's national games of note:

Oregon State at California: Beavers and Bears at Berkeley! Oh, my! All right, I'll admit it: I only included this game so I could make that joke. While Oregon State halted a two-game skid to even its record at 3-3 last weekend, the three decisive factors in determining the outcome of this game are the same ones applicable to selling real estate . . . location, location, and location. In their last 49 outings, the Beavers are 16-8 in Corvallis, 3-0 at neutral sites, and 9-13 on the road. That would add up to a California victory even if Jeff Tedford's squad was not a top-tier team . . . which it is.

Louisville at Cincinnati: The Big East, at least, is shaping up pretty much as anticipated. One of these two teams is undefeated; the other is 3-3 and struggling mightily against B.C.S. conference competition. That's basically what we expected . . . unless, of course, you take into account the facts that the Cardinals have lost three of their last four games and the Bearcats just beat a decent Rutgers team on the road. Can Cincy bump off two preseason conference heavyweights on consecutive Saturdays? Well, let's see . . . the 'Cats rank seventh in the land in scoring offense and the Cards rank 89th in the nation in scoring defense. Yeah, I think Cincinnati can take care of business against U. of L.

With Steve Kragthorpe at the helm, better ingredients do not necessarily make a better pizza.

Georgia Tech at Miami (Florida): Will we see the Yellow Jackets who beat Clemson or the ones who lost to Maryland? Will we see the Hurricanes who throttled Texas A&M or the ones who were humbled by Oklahoma? We could be in store for a football game as schizophrenic as Sally Field in "Sybil." This, though, is just the sort of game the Ramblin' Wreck finds a way to win that it has no business winning, so, in a showdown better suited for the Weather Channel than for ESPN, I'm going with the Golden Tornado to get the better of the Hurricanes.

Wisconsin at Penn State: There is an argument to be made for the proposition that the Badgers, who were at least somewhat exposed last weekend, remain overrated. When it comes to Big Ten teams being given too much credit, though, the Nittany Lions are in a class by themselves. (Well, O.K., maybe Penn State and Purdue are in that class together.) Joe Paterno's squad has lost a great deal of ground in a little over a month, going from scoring 59 points against Florida International on Labor Day weekend to scoring 56 points in the last three games combined. P.S.U. has appeared solid against the likes of F.I.U., Notre Dame, Buffalo, and Iowa---four teams with a collective record of 5-19---but the squad from State College has fallen flat against competition of the caliber of Michigan and Illinois. Wisconsin is nearer to the latter than to the former, which is why I'm taking the Badgers to outduel the Lions in a battle of animal mascots that would turn out very differently in the wild.

(Insert your "I've fallen and I can't get up!" reference here.)

Colorado at Kansas State: Do you know what distinguishes Dan Hawkins's Buffaloes from every non-conference opponent the Wildcats scheduled during the Bill Snyder era? IT'S DIVISION ONE FOOTBALL! K-State came up short against the Jayhawks last weekend and the 'Cats have no time in which to right the ship, as a resurgent Colorado squad comes to town intent on taking Manhattan. The Buffs will get it done and K.S.U. will be forced to go play intramurals, brother.

Boston College at Notre Dame: Although the Eagles and the Irish are natural rivals, their series got rather a late start, commencing in 1975 and featuring just three series meetings---all victories by the Golden Domers---through 1991. The rivalry was renewed the following year and it became particularly heated after B.C. deprived Notre Dame of a shot at the national title in 1993. Doug Flutie's alma mater has claimed victory over the Fighting Irish seven times in the last 12 meetings, winning five out of six since 1999 and four in a row in the 21st century. With the Eagles soaring and the Irish struggling, I have misgivings about picking Boston College, if only because, in this crazy season, an upset seems particularly probable. I am heartened, however, by the alleged presence of curses against, and the confirmed absence of encouragement for, the Irish, so I am going out on a limb and predicting that the favorite will win. The Eagles will extend their string of victories over Notre Dame.

Leprechaun-boys, prepare to meet Touchdown Ignatius Loyola.

Purdue at Michigan: The Boilermakers will always hold a special place in my heart. In 1999, my brother-in-law, Travis Rice, and I began co-hosting a weekly program, "The Dawg Show," on local cable access. Each week during the autumn, we would devote half an hour of television time to picking games, breaking down Georgia's upcoming matchup, and, basically, doing the T.V. version of Dawg Sports. There would always be a segment devoted to mocking and belittling the other team, which was pretty easy during the regular season, when we simply trotted out the conventional jokes about the Bulldogs' annual rivals. When the bowl game rolled around and the Red and Black received a bid to play Purdue, however, Trav and I realized that we didn't know the first thing about the Boilermakers, so we hopped on that new-fangled internet and searched for mocking and belittling material. (These were the days before "Google" entered the lexicon as a verb.) That was how we discovered that Purdue's sports teams also were known by such nicknames as "Farmers," "Rail Splitters," "Hayseeds," "Pumpkin Shuckers," and "Cornfield Sailors." After that, the bit practically wrote itself. I will always be grateful to the Boilermakers for teaching me how to use the internet to demean other college football teams and their fans; in a way, I passed through the gateway to the blogosphere on that day. Accordingly, I am deeply saddened to report that the Hayseeds are going to take the field in Ann Arbor and get their rails split, their pumpkins shucked, and their corn fields sailed upon by the victorious Wolverines.

Missouri at Oklahoma: The seventh season of the Gary Pinkel era in Columbia is off to a splendid start, capped off by a crushing of the Cornhuskers last Saturday. Has Mizzou finally turned the corner? Uh . . . no. Coach Pinkel's track record has spoken for itself, year after year, from 2001 (3-3 start, 1-4 finish) to 2002 (3-1 start, 2-6 finish) to 2003 (4-0 start, 4-5 finish) to 2004 (4-1 start, 1-5 finish) to 2005 (5-2 start, 2-3 finish) to 2006 (6-0 start, 2-5 finish). Gary Pinkel has turned the Tigers into the Michigan State of the Big 12. The inevitable collapse begins in Norman this weekend, when the Sooners will dispel Missouri's championship aspirations.

That is how the national landscape appears from my vantage point, but, of course, I haven't the foggiest notion of what I'm talking about, so, by all means, feel free to ignore and ridicule the foregoing prognostications. At a minimum, you certainly should heed my weekly advice, which routinely is the soundest portion of the posting containing my picks; namely: Don't Bet On It!

Coming Soon: The National Game of Disinterest. . . .

Go 'Dawgs!

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