Don't Bet On It!: National Games of Interest

Calling the weekly picks segment "Don’t Bet On It!"---the name my co-host, Travis Rice, and I used during the six-year run of "The Dawg Show" on local cable access---is intended to be a wry nod to my lack of actual expertise. On a good day, the title ought to rise to the level of genuine cleverness.

These, however, are not good days---cue Robin Williams’s opening narration from "The Best of Times"---so, now that I have taken you around the S.E.C., it is my sad duty to report that my 3-2 record in last week’s national forecasts only managed to boost my overall record in non-S.E.C. prognostications to 21-16 for 2008.

21-16 . . . the final score of every Virginia Tech football game ever played!

At this point, I suppose it goes without saying, but I will reiterate it anyway: Don’t Bet On It! Except where otherwise indicated, the following contests all are slated to be played on Saturday, October 18:

Georgia Tech at Clemson: Admittedly, I’m picking this game essentially for the same reason that people slow down when passing car wrecks, but it’s always interesting to see how a team performs immediately after the announcement that its head coach has gotten the axe. I have seen my team win a game because our head coach had just been fired (over Georgia Tech in 1995), I have seen my team lose a game because the other team’s head coach had just been fired (to Kentucky in 1996), and I have seen my team win a game over a team whose head coach had just been fired which my team probably would have won anyway (against Florida in 2004). If Cullen Harper’s reaction to Tommy Bowden’s departure is any indication, the Country Gentlemen will play hard for their interim skipper. Given that, and the fact that the game will be taking place by the shores of Lake Hartwell rather than across the street from the Varsity, and the fact that the Tigers still are a talented team, and the fact that the Orange and Purple didn’t almost lose to Gardner-Webb, I’m going to go with Clemson.

Ohio State at Michigan State: Don’t look now, America, but the Buckeyes are back in the hunt. Jim Tressel’s team stands at 6-1 and O.S.U. is getting ready to face the perfect foil, a ranked club with a fine record and a penchant for folding like a lawn chair. It’s time for the Spartans to begin their collapse and the Bucks to start to roll, right? Wrong. Ohio State has dithered about for 60 minutes in four of its last five wins, needing a late comeback to defeat a Wisconsin team which subsequently was demolished by Penn State before being outgained by the hapless Boilermakers in a lackluster win in Columbus, and now the Bucks must play without Lawrence Wilson. It will be hard for O.S.U. to avoid looking ahead to the de facto Big Ten title game against the Nittany Lions on October 25, so Michigan State may have something less than the Buckeyes’ undivided attention. For their part, the Spartans have the advantages of playing in East Lansing and being coached by Mark Dantonio, who spent eight years as a defensive assistant to Cheatypants McSweatervest at Youngstown State and Ohio State. (If you doubt that this familiarity gives Coach Dantonio insights into Coach Tressel’s approach, consider the fact that, in 2007, a Buckeye club on a course for the national championship game hosted the first-year M.S.U. coach’s Champs Sports Bowl-bound Spartan squad at the Horseshoe and came away with only a seven-point win.) To top it all off, Sparty has shown a propensity for collapsing (a) in the most head-scratching fashion and (b) against Michigan. Guess where M.S.U. travels on October 25? Yep, Ann Arbor, to face a Wolverine team Little Brother ought to beat, but won’t. The Spartans will finish the regular season with four straight losses, but they have one more win left in them, and Michigan State will get it this weekend.

Maybe this obnoxious chucklehead ought to make a documentary about Spartan football and call it "Fahrenheit 7-5."

Kansas at Oklahoma: This fact has been somewhat obscured by the simultaneous rise to prominence of division rival Missouri, but the turnaround that has taken place in Lawrence is nothing short of remarkable. In the 21 seasons from 1982 through 2002, the Jayhawks attended all of two bowl games, both of which were played in Hawaii. (Around these parts, we fire a guy for getting our team to a bowl game in Hawaii.) Since then, though, K.U. has made it into postseason play three times in a five-year span. How have the ‘Hawks built up their record of success? The same way Mark Mangino has built up his physique: with lots and lots of cupcakes. Kansas’s last regular season win over a Division I-A team with a winning record came in last year’s Oklahoma State game over a Cowboy club that made it to 7-6 by virtue of an Insight Bowl win over Indiana. The Sooners are good; therefore, the Jayhawks will not beat them.

Brigham Young at Texas Christian (Thursday, October 16): It’s put up or shut up time in the Mountain West as the Mormons and the Disciples square off to settle their denominational differences. As a Methodist, I don’t have a dog in this fight, but, last week, I gave B.Y.U. the benefit of the doubt and experienced pollster’s remorse. This week, I elevated T.C.U.; will I feel similar regret come Friday morning? It’s quite possible that I will, inasmuch as the Cougars have scored at least 28 points in five of the past six games while giving up a total of just 17 points in their last four contests combined. The Horned Frogs haven’t been as dominant as that, although they have yet to surrender more than seven points to a non-B.C.S. conference team. At a time when squads from the Beehive State are getting all of the national attention paid to the league, though, Gary Patterson and his T.C.U. squad have to be feeling a wee bit disrespected. After all, Texas Christian posted double-digit win totals in four of the five seasons from 2002 through 2006 before dropping to 8-5 last year, and 2008 represents the seventh consecutive autumn in which T.C.U. has beaten a B.C.S. conference opponent. Jilted by the Big 12 and overlooked by the national news media, the forgotten Frogs have a chance to make a statement on national T.V. tomorrow night, and they will snap the nation’s longest winning streak by beating Brigham Young.

The team, that is, not the guy.

Missouri at Texas: This is just my perspective from outside Big 12 country, but the quarterback matchup in this game intrigues me for reasons having nothing to do with either quarterback’s ability to play football. The Longhorns field the most aptly-christened signal-caller in the sport; had Tom Wolfe written a novel about college football and set his story at a fictitious Lone Star State university with an athletic director named DeLoss Dodds, a head coach named Mack Brown, and a quarterback named Colt McCoy, you’d shake your head at how far over the top the New Journalist had gone. On the other side of the field, Chase Daniel rapidly is descending into ridiculous self-parody. Even leaving aside the fact that a Division I-A quarterback that chubby ought to have a plethora of nicknames calling attention to his heft (a la Jared Lorenzen, a/k/a "The Round Mound of Touchdown," a/k/a "The Battleship Lorenzen," a/k/a "J-Load," a/k/a "The Pillsbury Throw Boy"), I have to wonder what is up with Daniel’s painfully lame attempt to appear as hip as Warren Buffett and ask myself why the Tiger quarterback fails to heed the advice Chris Rock gave to the G.E.D. class of 1999 and take off that silly hat. There’s some interesting psychology to this showdown---will Texas have a letdown after its big win in the Red River Shootout? how will Mizzou respond to last weekend’s blow to the Tigers’ title hopes?---but, when push comes to shove, I abide by the following formula:

Better Coach + More Talent + Established Tradition of Winning + Home Field Advantage + Will Muschamp = Victory

Back in August, I predicted a Missouri loss in Austin and I see no reason to deviate from that forecast now. The ’Horns hook ‘em once again.

Honestly, even I don’t believe I’m doing better than 2-3 with that set of picks, so you should greet these prognostications exceedingly warily. My forecasts are solely for entertainment value (although even that is open to debate) and they should not be taken seriously by anyone, which is why I feel compelled to offer the weekly disclaimer: Don’t Bet On It!

Coming Soon: National Game of Disinterest.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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