I went completely crazy in last week's national picks. This development, while not itself atypical, nevertheless occurred a bit earlier in the season than usual. I called upsets right and left, some of which I called correctly (if by "some" you mean "one") but most of which I got absolutely wrong.
Consequently, my record for the week was a middling 5-3, which dropped my season-long ledger in prognostications not involving Southeastern Conference squads to a meager 11-4. After such a sorry performance on my part, do I even need to offer my regular weekly warning? Just to be on the safe side, I guess I'd better: Don't Bet On It!
How wrong am I when forecasting football games? Robert McNamara in Vietnam kind of wrong.
Here are this week's wildly misguided picks. Unless otherwise noted, the following games are scheduled to be played on Saturday, September 15:
West Virginia at Maryland (Thursday, September 13): There may be no longstanding rivalry in all of sports flying more completely under the national radar than this one. The Mountaineers and the Terrapins have squared off every autumn since 1980, the year Don Nehlen took over the W.V.U. program and the year Mountaineer Field opened. The 'Eers and the Terps even staged a postseason rematch in the 2004 Gator Bowl. Nevertheless, every season, without fail, I look at the schedule and think to myself, "Huh . . . Maryland and West Virginia are playing each other this year?" It won't surprise me if Ralph Friedgen's offense scores 30 points on the Mountaineer defense . . . but it will shock me if Rich Rodriguez's squad doesn't hang 50 on the Terrapins in an easy West Virginia win.
Pitt at Michigan State: This was brilliant scheduling on someone's part. If asked to name two programs that enjoyed some success back in the day before falling so completely off the map that they were struggling to regain even so much as relevance in the present, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better pair of answers than "Pitt" and "Michigan State." The Spartans certainly appear to have been re-energized by their change of coaches, but M.S.U.'s M.O. has always been to leap out to a 4-0 start before limping to a 6-6 finish . . . in a good year. The inevitable collapse has not yet commenced, so Sparty gets to bask in the illusory glow of the falsehood that is its usual fast start for another week as Michigan State reaches the midpoint of its season-long victory tally.
Sorry, Dave, but you stink . . . and I've never forgiven your team for beating the Bulldogs in the 1977 Sugar Bowl.
Iowa at Iowa State: As always, in my ongoing campaign to get the Georgia-Georgia Tech game moved to an earlier point in the season, I am picking this, the latest in a series of in-state rivalry showdowns played prior to Thanksgiving. Cyclone fans are getting geared up and Hawkeye fans feel the hatred is more than mutual. The intensity of the competing sides' disdain for one another helps to explain how I.S.U. has gotten the better of its more noteworthy neighbor more often than one might have expected, but the 'Clones are in rebuilding mode in 2007 in the way that Europe was in rebuilding mode after the Second World War. Gene Chizik may well have the Marshall Plan underway, but it's going to be a long road back to respectability for Iowa State and, in the course of that journey, the squad from Ames will take a few lumps. The Hawkeyes will administer more than a few of those on Saturday.
Boston College at Georgia Tech: Pop quiz, S.E.C. fans . . . are these division rivals? If so, which division? I could go look that up, but why bother? The A.C.C.'s divisional split couldn't be more ridiculous without the direct involvement of major league baseball and last weekend's losses by league standard-bearer Virginia Tech, defending champion Wake Forest, and Yellow Jacket punching bag Notre Dame all served to diminish further the reputation of college football's most suspect major conference. Besides, what possible logic could justify having schools in Atlanta and Boston share a conference affiliation, short of bringing in a university from Milwaukee and using a shared National League franchise as the connecting thread they all have in common? This ought to be a good game, as long as you ignore the throbbing in your temple caused by the bizarre notion that this game isn't a laudable example of marquee non-conference scheduling. I'll be pulling for the Eagles, of course, but I believe fortune favors the Ramblin' Wreck at home.
Unfortunately, even if Georgia Tech wins, this loser still has no shot at getting the girl.
Ohio State at Washington: Both this game and the next one made my preseason list of games that will be more competitive than you think and, all of a sudden, taking the Huskies seriously doesn't seem quite so crazy, does it? Tyrone Willingham's U-Dub club has won eight of its last 16 games, which may not seem like much, but it represents a huge step in the right direction for a team that lost 18 of the 20 outings just prior to its recent .500 run. Buckeye fans are nervous, as well they should be: Big Ten teams have gone 0-11 in Husky Stadium since Indiana won there in 1976. I'd like to take Washington in the upset, and I certainly will be rooting for the Huskies, but, while I think the home team will keep it close, I like the Buckeyes to emerge victorious from a nerve-wracking nailbiter.
Florida State at Colorado: I'm very impressed with what Dan Hawkins is doing in Boulder. Of course, that may just be because I'm too dumb to read a box score correctly. The Buffaloes have struggled on the road, losing seven straight away games since beating Kansas State in Manhattan in 2005, but they've won two in a row within the borders of the Centennial State. Hey, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Meanwhile, the Seminoles have lost seven of their last 13 outings and F.S.U. is coming off of a game in which a 50-yard touchdown pass with no time remaining on the clock was all that prevented Bobby Bowden's squad from going into the fourth quarter tied with U.A.B. Both of these programs won national championships in the 1990s and, despite making conference title game appearances recently, both have struggled in the 21st century. The Buffs simply look like they're farther along the road to redemption than the 'Noles, who aren't used to playing above sea level. The bad news for Florida State fans is that I think this is the game in which Coach Hawkins's squad gets it all turned around, but the good news for them is that no one will have to clean the porta-potties in Tallahassee after the Seminoles experience a Rocky Mountain low when Colorado wins.
Of course, if I turn out to be wrong on that one, the Buffaloes can go play intramurals, brother.
Southern California at Nebraska: Two storied programs. 16 major bowl berths and five national championships between them since 1990. A pair of failed N.F.L. coaches attaining redemption in the college ranks. What could be better than this? Uh, actually, just about anything. The Trojans are coming off of a bye week and the Cornhuskers barely got by Weak Forest. U.S.C. lives for the chance to look good in these kinds of games and the Men of Troy will make the most of their opportunity.
That, at least, is how it looks to me, but, then, what do I know? I am famously perennially wrong about such things, so you shouldn't lend the slightest degree of credence to my forecasts. Stated more succinctly, the rule is a simple one: Don't Bet On It!
Coming Soon: The National Game of Disinterest. . . .