Since I've already given you this week's S.E.C. picks, I guess I'm supposed to go ahead and provide you with this week's national picks, but, honestly, I can't help asking whether I'm obligated to do so. I mean, is giving you the noteworthy games around the country, like, a rule, or is it more of a guideline?
It's not that I did particularly poorly last week, when I went 5-1 in my continent-wide prognostications to improve my year-long record to 43-31. It's just that . . . well . . . I don't quite know how to say this, except to say that . . . I'm not sure there are any national games of interest.
To help explain this concept to Holden McNeil, Banky Edwards drew a diagram showing a crisp new hundred-dollar bill in the middle of an intersection with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and this week's national games of interest approaching the intersection from different angles.
Here are the games I have. You decide for yourself about this Saturday's slate, but, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!:
Florida State at Virginia Tech: Does this game really qualify as a national game of interest? Tomahawk Nation might argue otherwise, but this contest definitely has implications for the . . . um . . . Atlantic Division? Coastal Division? both? neither? Ah, heck if I know; honestly, I haven't figured out which division is which in the A.C.C. and I'm not going to bother looking it up, either. There's an old saying that the two defining characteristics of a refined gentleman are his ability to speak French and his refusal to do so; I'm beginning to think that the marks of an erudite college football fan are his ignorance of the Atlantic Coast Conference divisional structure and his refusal to learn it. Anyway, nothing in the Seminoles' recent trajectory suggests to me that their win over Boston College marked a sea change for F.S.U., so I like the Hokies to remain in the hunt in the Atlantic and/or Coastal Division chase with a win in Blacksburg this weekend.
When asked if he would be rooting for his alma mater this weekend, Michael Vick replied that he didn't have a dog in that fight.
Southern California at California: Does this game really qualify as a national game of interest? DC Trojan might argue otherwise, and I have to admit that he has a point. At various junctures this autumn---in the preseason, for U.S.C., and in the immediate aftermath of L.S.U.'s loss, for Cal---both squads looked like contenders for the national title, but both dropped off sharply thereafter. Two teams we thought could be No. 1 actually deserved to get the boot, making our erroneous opinion of the onetime Pac-10 frontrunners exactly the opposite of Larry King's misperceptions regarding "Seinfeld." If, as appears to be the case, Southern California is playing out the Miami (Florida) scenario, a 9-3 season is probable for the Trojans, who have had their struggles (to the admittedly limited extent that a team that has won 70 of its last 79 games can be said to have struggled) in Northern California under Pete Carroll, losing to the Golden Bears in Berkeley in 2003 and narrowly escaping against Stanford at The Farm in 2004. Jeff Tedford appears more nearly to have righted the ship than his counterpart in Troy, so I'm taking California to prevail at home.
Connecticut at Cincinnati: Does this game really qualify as a national game of interest? Sunday Morning Quarterback might argue otherwise, but the Huskies are this week's frontrunner in the Big East, which seems to have changed favorites at least once every couple of weeks since the preseason. Everyone appears to have had a turn at the wheel except Cincy and Syracuse, and surely not even this college football season could be sufficiently topsy-turvy to allow the Orange to slip into the driver's seat in the league. (Of course, crazier things than that could happen . . . like, say, a six-way tie for first place in the S.E.C. East by half a dozen teams that are 4-4 in conference play!) Why shouldn't the Bearcats have their chance to take first place in the Big East out for a spin? Cincinnati sneaked into the BlogPoll at No. 24 this week, so it isn't as though the squad is without accomplishment. What is there to keep UConn from wilting like every other would-be conference champion in the league not located in Morgantown? I'm going with the Bearcats to knock off the Huskies at home.
(Obligatory "WKRP" reference.)
Kansas at Oklahoma State: Does this game really qualify as a national game of interest? Both Rock Chalk Talk and MGoBlog might argue otherwise, but here the Jayhawks are, undefeated, even if their success has been attained against one of the weakest schedules this side of Hawaii's. The Cowboys, unlike the Chicago Bears, aren't who we thought they were in the preseason, but the Pokes have shown glimpses of becoming the team we anticipated. Maybe it's because I just can't wrap my brain around the idea of K.U. making the final four in the B.C.S. standings rather than in the N.C.A.A. tournament, but the opera ain't over 'til Mark Mangino sings and I think I hear him warming up, 'cause I think Oklahoma State is going to do this week what it didn't do last week: take care of business in Stillwater.
Michigan at Wisconsin: Do this game and the one following it really qualify as national games of interest? LD might argue otherwise, complete with numbers and everything, but the winds of change may be blowing, as Central Michigan's comeback win over Western Michigan last night made Purdue, owner of a victory over the 6-4 Chippewas, the only Big Ten team to have beaten a bowl-eligible out-of-conference opponent. In any case, the Badgers have faded down the stretch and I have faith in the Maize and Blue to continue their unblemished run through the league with a win in Madison.
You'd think Lloyd Carr would be in a better mood after I picked his team to win. Wait . . . that is Lloyd Carr in a good mood!
Illinois at Ohio State: You know Jim Tressel has to be worried just a little about facing a team wearing orange and blue that is coached by Ron Zook. That has to put the Fighting Illini a little too close to Gatorhood for the Buckeyes' comfort. If this game was being played in a warmer clime---in Florida, say, or in Arizona---there would be real cause for concern. As matters stand, though, Ohio State has the home field advantage over the invading Illini, which should be enough to enable the Buckeyes to prevail over Illinois.
Those are this week's (nominal) national games of interest. You'll want to stay tuned for the upcoming national game of disinterest, because any game that qualified for the designation "least intriguing college football game in Division I-A" in a week like this has to be bad.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to "shave and shower on consecutive days," which, by the way, is something I do regularly for my day job, you know, practicing law. (Also while practicing law, I avoid splitting my infinitives, which is not something the professional sportswriter Stewart Mandel can claim while animadverting upon me after a Google search of his name turned up my retort to his specious nonsense. My thanks go out to Year2 for calling my attention to Mandel's latest outburst of typographical diarrhea.)
Unlike Stewart Mandel, I know when to admit my own pervasive ignorance, which is why I warn you every week not to pay heed to my prognostications, which routinely are wide of the mark. This week's predictions are liable to be as faulty as usual, so please pay attention to my usual disclaimer: Don't Bet On It!