These are crazy, crazy times in the Southeastern Conference. Bobby Petrino has accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas, a move so bizarre on his part that there can be only one explanation: a Razorback athletic official, using a corner pay phone to skirt the inevitable F.O.I.A. request for his cell phone records, called Coach Petrino to offer him the job, and, because of the poor connection, Coach Petrino heard "Auburn" instead of "Arkansas" and leapt at the job after asking, "Are you sure he's really fired this time?"
Football fans were left poleaxed by the announcement, so much so that we scarcely noticed the fact that Al Borges, who totally shifted the S.E.C. paradigm with his revolutionary West Coast offensive innovations, resigned after guiding the Plainsmen to a 2007 season in which Auburn was 101st in the country in total offense. Offensive Chic, where is thy sting?
It was a bad year to be a morbidly obese offensive genius.
Fortunately, there are some constants in the college football universe, even in this topsy-turvy season, among them being my complete inability to predict successfully the outcomes of gridiron games. My bowl picks already are underway, so I will get right down to the next round of prognostications after offering you the gentle reminder . . . Don't Bet On It!:
Liberty Bowl: Central Florida v. Mississippi State (December 29): You have to be pretty darned cynical not to consider Sly Croom's success in Starkville the feel good story of the 2007 season. It was nice to see M.S.U. bounce back to earn its first bowl bid of the 21st century, but now the Western Division squad is looking to cement its resurgence with a postseason win in Memphis. Are the Golden Knights up to the challenge of preventing that from happening? Well, let's see . . . will U.C.F. be fielding multiple academically ineligible athletes and benefiting from obvious blown officiating calls regarding key fourth-quarter fumbles? No? Well, then, picking this game is easy, since there's no evidence to suggest that a George O'Leary-coached team is capable of beating a band of Bulldogs without one or both of those things occurring, now, is there?
Still, a Liberty Bowl win would look good on his resume. . . .
Alamo Bowl: Penn State v. Texas A&M (December 29): The Nittany Lions' bowl trip should be an emotional one for Joe Paterno, who hasn't been back to San Antonio since Penn State lost a postseason date there following the 1835 campaign, when Santa Anna outcoached the young P.S.U. skipper in just his third year as the head man in Happy Valley. Although I believe the Lions aren't as good as the record they compiled against a diluted Big Ten, I have even less faith in the Aggies after the damage done to the Texas A&M program by the scourge that is Dennis Franchione. Besides, when it comes to games played at the Alamo, I know better than to pick the Texans to win, so I'm going with Penn State in this one, if only because JoePa paid $1,200 a year to get Fran's secret injury update e-mail newsletter.
Independence Bowl: Alabama v. Colorado (December 30): The world has turned a few times since the Crimson Tide capped off an 11-1 campaign to springboard a 1992 national title run with a win in the 1991 Blockbuster Bowl over the defending national champion Buffaloes. Colorado is a marginal bowl team at best and 'Bama failed to contend in the Sun Belt. All that is at stake for either team is a winning record, but Dan Hawkins has less to lose than his counterpart, as the Tide faithful are acutely aware---and their head coach is acutely aware of their awareness---that his predecessor was fired for the unpardonable sin of going 6-6, falling to Auburn, and losing a minor bowl game in Shreveport. If the Red Elephants come up short in this one, the message boards will light up with the inevitable observation that, if you look at the name "Nick Saban" and squint, it starts to look an awful lot like "Mike Shula." Despite Coach Saban's dubious record of success in bowl games, he'll win this one because he can't afford not to win this one, which will translate to an Alabama victory. This brings us to the most ironic postseason pairing on this year's bowl schedule. . . .
After learning that some students from the University of California had been called upon to participate in the Armed Forces Bowl alongside Air Force Academy cadets, undergraduates at Berkeley burned their draft cards in protest.
Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force v. California (December 31): It could have been worse, I suppose; this game could have pitted a service academy against Kent State. In the alternative, this matchup might have occurred while Fisher DeBerry was still in charge of the program in Colorado Springs, in which case he might have noted that tree-hugging hippies "can run very, very well." As it stands, though, the emblematic educational institution of the antiwar protest movement of the 1960s will be sending its student-athletes to tussle with the future flyers of the American military. Something about this pick doesn't quite seem right, but I have a hard time believing that the pilots from Air Force are the only ones capable of pulling out of a tailspin, so I like Cal to end its disappointing season on a high note by emerging victorious from Fort Worth. All the Bears are saying is give peace a chance.
We now find ourselves officially halfway through the postseason lineup and we are on the verge of getting into the meat of the New Year's Eve bowl schedule. My greater familiarity with some of the teams whose games are upcoming, however, should not be taken as an indication that I am any more likely to predict the outcomes of their showdowns correctly, so my regular disclaimer still stands: Don't Bet On It!