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

A middling 2-2 record in last week’s national picks left me sitting at 4-6 in forecasts of non-SEC outings, and, while I am looking to improve this weekend, honestly, no one expects me to fare too much better this time around, either, because, frankly, I’m not very good at this, which is why I always remind you . . . Don’t Bet On It!

We have a curious slate of national games before us, as there are several contests that appear intriguing on paper, yet I’d be surprised if more than a couple of them ended up being terribly competitive on the field. These are they, and each of them will be played on September 19 unless otherwise indicated:

Utah Utes at Oregon Ducks: Is it too early to start a rumor that Bobby Petrino will be replacing Chip Kelly at the helm in Eugene, or would that be petty, uncreative, and boring? (Sorry, Ron, but, when a guy coaches 81.25 per cent of a season for the NFL franchise nearest to where I live, he’s going to catch a little flak over it for a while. You can’t spell "Robert ‘Bobby’ Petrino" without P-E-T-T-Y.) The Ducks’ transition to the new regime has been just short of disastrous, but I have had my doubts about the Utes after all that they lost from last year’s undefeated team. There is no disputing the great run Utah has been on during the six-plus years of the Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham eras in Salt Lake City, but, during that time, the Utes have gone 3-4 in regular season road games against BCS conference opponents, with the three wins coming against Arizona in 2004, Louisville in 2007, and Michigan in 2008. Those three teams went 3-8, 6-6, and 3-9, respectively, and this year’s Utah outfit does not figure to be quite as stout as the previous units who won the Fiesta, Poinsettia, and Sugar Bowls. I might pick this game differently at Rice-Eccles Stadium, but, at Autzen Stadium, I’m going with Oregon. If I’m wrong about that, Chip Kelly may make the most ignominious exit after one year on the job since David Caruso’s Detective John Kelly left "NYPD Blue."

Cincinnati Bearcats at Oregon St. Beavers: The other Division I-A outing taking place in Oregon on Saturday involves a successful head coach named Kelly; viz., Brian Kelly, who appears to be building himself a program at Cincinnati. Maybe I’m underestimating the Bearcats, but it seems to me that taking a team with one returning defensive starter on a 2,400-mile cross-country trip to play an opponent that is lurking in the weeds waiting for revenge after suffering a 34-3 thrashing in Nippert Stadium in 2007 is a bad idea. Why do I think that? Let’s see . . . a red-and-black-clad team from a BCS conference hosts an orange-and-black-clad OSU team early in the 2007 season and beats the visitors silly, then travels to return the game two years later; that sounds eerily familiar, and it ends badly. I’m leaving it to the Beavers to get the better of the Bearcats.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Miami Hurricanes (Sept. 17): Based on what I saw of the Engineers’ offense last Thursday night and the ‘Canes’ defense the previous Monday, this could be the game that lets us know what happens when the resistible force meets the movable object. In the festering morass of putrescence that is the Atlantic Coast Conference, this actually qualifies as a big game and may qualify as a division showdown, although, really, who would bother with learning the ACC divisions, anyway? I don’t think Georgia Tech is all that good, but I’m thoroughly convinced that Miami is just that bad, so I’m going to side with the Ramblin’ Wreck on this one. I just threw up in my mouth a little when I typed that.

Boise St. Broncos at Fresno St. Bulldogs (Sept. 18): It’s a Friday night showcase game for the program known across the land as the giant-slaying perennial WAC contender! Also, Fresno State will be there. The Golden State Bulldogs made a name for themselves with their "anybody anytime anywhere" scheduling philosophy and their "shut up and hit somebody" attitude, but the West Coast FSU has lost a lot of its luster nationally since putting a serious scare into the USC Trojans in 2005. Starting with that gut-wrenching loss to Southern California, Fresno State has gone 3-8 in regular season meetings with BCS conference teams. The Broncos, in the meantime, have been on cruise control, with wins over Oregon in consecutive campaigns to spruce up their regular razing of the Western Athletic Conference. I generally refrain from doubting Boise State and I’m siding with BSU this time, too.

Nebraska Cornhuskers at Virginia Tech Hokies: The Big Red Machine hasn’t been fear-inducingly good in nearly a decade, while VPI has been a model of methodically consistent competence. Why, then, am I more inclined to believe in the ‘Huskers than in the Hokies? Nebraska is a better team statistically, but all that proves is that Nebraska is superior to the Sun Belt. The Gobblers clearly were the inferior team against Alabama, but at least they have faced legitimate opposition. My heart says Nebraska, but my heart is remembering a bygone era that ended with the back-to-back beatdowns at the end of the 2001 season. My head knows better, and my head selects Virginia Tech.

Michigan St. Spartans at Notre Dame Fighting Irish: I predict they’ll play for a tie. Just kidding. I just wanted to throw in a reminder of how Ara Parseghian wimped out in 1966 and was rewarded for his cowardice. This, by the way, is why people hate Notre Dame. Well, that, and that insufferable self-promoting Daniel Ruettiger. You know . . . Rudy, who became an inspiration for millions as a walk-on in South Bend, where he took the field for two plays in the final moments of a lopsided game during the only season between 1972 and 1978 that did not end in a bowl game for the Golden Domers. Rudy took part in a tackle for which Jay Achterhoff shared partial credit and the thrilling unprecedented experience of being a college walk-on who took the field for two meaningless snaps in a game that already was decided and making half a tackle prompted him to devote the next decade of his life to getting some film producer to turn his story into a movie. That whole Notre Dame thing irritates me so dadgum much that I’m picking Michigan State to win in South Bend again.

Florida St. Seminoles at BYU Cougars: I hate to say it, but this is it. This game represents the final piece of evidence (as if further evidence were needed) that will convince even those fans who are most thoroughly impervious to facts that the Florida State we knew for years is a mere memory having no more relevance to the here and now than the Holy Roman Empire. The ‘Noles are going on the road to get scalped by their Mormon hosts. Brigham Young will win, the last vestiges of the Florida State mystique will be left in the Beehive State as shattered shards of tarnished armor, and, to top it all off, Bobby Bowden will arrive at midfield for the postgame handshake and be overheard asking Bronco Mendenhall, "Who the heck are you and where the heck is LaVell?"

Texas Tech Red Raiders at Texas Longhorns: Although last year’s edition of this Big 12 South showdown was memorable, no one in Austin recalls it at all. If anyone at Texas remembered the Longhorns’ loss to Texas Tech, there wouldn’t have been so much griping and so many citations of "45-35" as though it were an argument that was not utterly refuted by "39-33." This year, though, the game is at Texas and the Red Raiders come in without Graham Harrell or Michael Crabtree. I’m taking the ’Horns to hook ‘em.

I’m pretty sure I’m wrong about half of that, but I’m not sure which half. I’m pretty sure six of those eight games will be blowouts, but three of them are liable to be blowouts in the other direction. There’s just no telling, which is why I remind you every time: Don’t Bet On It!

Coming Soon: National Game of Disinterest.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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