Aside from the biggies (war, poverty, famine, etc.), there are five things in the world that truly, utterly stink: wet socks, Monday mornings, Atlantic Coast Conference football, my skills as a prognosticator, and the September 6 slate of college gridiron games not involving Southeastern Conference competitors.
The penultimate item on that list deserves inclusion despite the fact that, in last week’s national picks, I posted an 8-0 record that included predictions of East Carolina’s and Utah’s upset victories. Evidence in support of the final contention listed above is offered in the following slate of contests of national (for want of a better word) significance, with respect to which I must caution you that my luck obviously is about to run out after a perfect opening weekend, so, please, whatever you do . . . Don’t Bet On It!:
Brigham Young at Washington: The beleaguered Huskies, formerly the bellwether of the Pac-10 during the height of the Don James era, hit rock bottom last weekend, losing 44-10 at Oregon in a game embattled U.W. coach Tyrone Willingham guaranteed his team would win. The Cougars are expected not only to win the Mountain West but to make a run at a B.C.S. bowl game. You can’t see me right now, but this is what my face looks like when I ain’t buying it. In 2006, Washington hosted W.A.C. giant-killer Fresno State, which was one year removed from nearly upending top-ranked Southern California. The Huskies won. In 2007, Washington hosted Boise State, which was one year removed from its classic Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma and riding a 14-game winning streak. The Huskies won. In 2008, Washington will host B.Y.U., which is one year removed from an 11-2 campaign featuring a second straight Las Vegas Bowl triumph over a Pac-10 opponent. The Huskies will win.
Oregon State at Penn State: Am I the only one who finds it odd that the Beavers are traveling all the way across the continent just so they can play a road game at Beaver Stadium? Who’ll be singing the national anthem, Jerry Mathers? Western swings have not been kind to S.E.C. squads, but we’re not the only ones, as road trips to the eastern half of the country have caused O.S. problems in recent years. The Beavs’ most recent regular-season trips have resulted in an autumn-opening heartbreaker at L.S.U. in 2004, a 63-27 setback at Louisville in 2005, and a 34-3 loss at Cincinnati in 2007. It will be a moral victory for Oregon State if the Beavers just manage to be competitive, but, if I said I thought the team that coughed it up to Stanford was capable of going on the road and beating P.S.U., I’d be Lion.
Admittedly, that was a bad joke, but it wasn’t as bad as Oregon State’s uniforms.
Cincinnati at Oklahoma: Speaking of the Bearcats, I told you already that this will be a good game (and I was right on the first two such forecasts I made, wasn’t I?). Most of the attention focused on the Big East’s current incarnation has been directed elsewhere---at Louisville initially; at Rutgers and South Florida more recently; at West Virginia since 2005---but, in the meantime, Cincy quietly has constructed a respectable program. The ‘Cats will prove they belong, but O.U. will walk away with the win, even if the home team starts to pull away later rather than Sooner. (All right, that’s two in a row; I’ll cut it out now, I promise.)
Houston at Oklahoma State: Quick . . . renewal of a dormant conference rivalry or first meeting between the two teams? Although they missed out on being Southwest Conference competitors---the Cowboys left the league after 1924; the Cougars joined up in 1976---they actually overlapped in the Missouri Valley Conference for half a dozen seasons, from 1951 to 1956. (During that span, Houston took five of six from O.S.U., but no more than eight points separated them in four of those contests. The two teams continued to play annually through 1961, the Cowboys’ second season in the Big Eight.) New Houston coach Kevin Sumlin is looking for his first Division I-A victory after a home date with Southern in which the Cougars won the game but lost the halftime show. As much as I’m tempted to take Houston in the upset---the Cougs scared Alabama last year and Miami (Florida) the year before that---I don’t think the Conference USA frontrunner can close the deal against a B.C.S. conference school on the road. The Pokes will rope the Cougars.
West Virginia at East Carolina: Can the Pirates come down from their program-defining win over Virginia Tech in time to pull off an even bigger upset over the Mountaineers in Greenville? Nope. The depleted Hokies were ripe for being beaten, as V.P.I. fielded a team noticeably light on returning starters in many areas (especially on defense) yet possessing one returning starter too many in Sean Glennon. W.V.U., despite similarly large losses on the defensive side of the ball, brings back Noel Devine and Pat White. The Mountaineers lately have made a habit of beating E.C.U.---twice in the last five years, they have handed the Pirates setbacks by 48-7 final margins---and I believe that is one trend West Virginia will continue this autumn.
Georgia Tech at Boston College: Ah, yes. Two teams that traded down when leaving major conferences, each near the bottom of the sports pecking order in its own hometown and coached until a season or so ago by a sideline stalker with the resting heart rate of an oak tree, both sharing their cities with prestigious private institutions by which they fear they are overshadowed and possessing recent wins over Notre Dame that are more devalued than the dollar. Welcome to the bland dull world that is A.C.C. football! With another in a series of what charitably are described as "down" years evidently in store for the league, this could be a preview of the conference title game, assuming the Eagles and the Yellow Jackets play in different divisions. (I could look that up, but I refuse to do so on general principle.) If only because I will enjoy seeing the Ramblin’ Wreck set up for a subsequent fall, I’m picking Georgia Tech, although I will be rooting for Boston College.
Those are the picks for this week, but, as always, my prognosticating ability, which is not impressive even in the S.E.C. arena, is even worse when it comes to other conferences, so proceed with caution and, no matter what, remember: Don’t Bet On It!
Coming soon: National Game of Disinterest.