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Don't Bet On It: National Games of Interest

Consequential college football is but one day away, so it is time for me to follow up on my S.E.C. predictions and the national games of disinterest by offering my forecasts of the national games reasonable readers are apt to find intriguing.

I posted a 4-1 record in last week's national picks to improve my ledger for the season to 69-23 in nationwide prognostications and 131-33 overall. Those numbers may not look half-bad, but I assure you that they are indicative of lame games and dumb luck rather than any particular skill on my part. I would caution you, therefore: Don't Bet On It!

Two ways to avoid spending your hard-earned money are betting on my prognostications and investing in eight-track tapes.

Each of this week's national games of interest will be played on Saturday, November 18, unless otherwise noted. These are they:

West Virginia at Pittsburgh (Thursday, November 16)---The Mountaineers and the Panthers will square off in the Steel City in the latest installment of the Backyard Brawl. They'll be dragging smoldering couches out of the coal mines and bringing in lady welders from the ballet schools for this showdown. Hoss Cartwright lookalike Rich Rodriguez still has a shot at guiding W.V.U. to at least a share of the Big East crown and Bill Cowher stunt double Dave Wannstedt has reversed Pitt's fortunes from a year ago. By "reversed," of course, I don't mean "improved" . . . I mean that, last year, the Panthers started out 1-4 before finishing 4-2, while, this year, they began 6-1 before entering an 0-3 skid. Let's go ahead and make that a four-game losing streak as the Mountaineers take care of business against their nearby rivals.

Maryland at Boston College---I am going to give serious consideration to dropping every A.C.C. team from my BlogPoll ballot if somebody in this clunker of a conference doesn't step up to the plate and distinguish themselves in some form or fashion. The Terrapins are 8-2, with wins over Clemson and N.C. State but losses to Georgia Tech and West Virginia. The Eagles are 8-2, with wins over Clemson and Virginia Tech but losses to N.C. State and Wake Forest. Of the 20 games played by these two teams in 2006, 13 have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Terps haven't played a game since September 14 in which the margin was greater than six points. What does all that mean? You've got me; I don't know, so I'm picking Boston College because they're playing this game at Chestnut Hill.

"I dare you to pick an A.C.C. game! I double-dog dare you!"

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest---The Hokies are like a box of chocolates . . . you never know what you're going to get. Frank Beamer's team gave up 23 total points in the squad's first four games, pitching a pair of shutouts in the process. V.P.I. promptly turned right around, surrendered a cumulative 60 points in back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Boston College, then immediately returned to form, holding the Hokies' next four foes to a collective 23 points, including a blanking of Kent State. In the meantime, I'm hearing good things about the Demon Deacons' offense, yet Wake has scored more than 27 points against a Division I-A opponent just once this season. Much like the Gators, the Deacs are consistent (and consistently underwhelming) on offense, having put up 20, 14, 24, 27, 17, 25, 24, 21, and 30 points, respectively, on their B.C.S. conference competition. However, unlike Florida, the closest Wake Forest can claim to a quality win is a seven-point victory over Boston College at home. Even with the Eagles thrown into the mix, the Demon Deacons' eight Division I-A victims have a combined record of 27-52. I can't believe I ranked Wake Forest 12th. I'm picking Virginia Tech to win this game so I can drop the lot of them.

Rutgers at Cincinnati---This game is huge for the Scarlet Knights. Yeah, sure, there's the fact that the State University of New Jersey is looking to (a) avoid a letdown after arguably the biggest win in the program's history, (b) post its first 10-0 start since 1976 and its second ever, and (c) keep itself (however remotely) in the running for the national championship . . . but there's another consideration, as well. For all of the difficulties Rutgers endured while posting 18 losing seasons between 1981 and 2004, the Knights' all-time gridiron ledger from November 6, 1869, to November 9, 2006, stands precisely at equilibrium: 578-578-43. With a victory over the Bearcats on Saturday, Rutgers will claim an all-time winning record. That should silence the naysayers who view the State University of New Jersey as the poster college of football futility. I'm taking Rutgers to keep the winning streak alive for at least another week.

If Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis ever wondered, wondered whatever became of me, I'm picking her alma mater to win in Cincinnati and bring a 10-0 record back to Jersey.

California at Southern California---As a general rule, it's a good idea to pick State to beat Portion of State, as when Michigan plays Western Michigan, Georgia plays Georgia Southern, or Tennessee plays Middle Tennessee. There are, however, exceptions for universities named for cities within the state (Alabama v. Auburn, Florida v. Miami, or Ohio v. Toledo) . . . and for this game. Pete Carroll is 4-1 against the Berkeley Bears and I'm guessing the Trojans will make it five out of six over Cal and 33 in a row at home.

Michigan at Ohio State---Boy, it's too bad we don't have a playoff in Division I-A college football, isn't it? Here we are, late in the campaign, and two storied programs are getting ready to play one of the most significant contests---arguably, the most significant contest---in their ancient and heated rivalry, ranking alongside such epic regular-season struggles as Notre Dame-Michigan State in 1966, Southern California-U.C.L.A. in 1967, Arkansas-Texas in 1969, Nebraska-Oklahoma in 1971, or Florida State-Miami in 1991, as the top-ranked Buckeyes host the second-ranked Wolverines in what is certain to determine a berth in the national championship game and what may, in practical consequence, determine the national title. This is as big as it gets, but just think . . . if we had a playoff system in place, we could strip all the pageantry, majesty, and importance from this stirring clash. If major college football had an eight-, 12-, or 16-team playoff, both of these teams already would be assured of making it into postseason play and probably would be guaranteed of a top seed and (in an N.F.L.-style format) maybe even a first-round bye, so Lloyd Carr and Jim Tressel might rest their starters in preparation for the games that really counted. Even if college football had a four-team playoff, it's hard to believe that the loser of this game could be beaten badly enough to fall as far as No. 5, so there'd be every reason to believe these two teams would meet in the championship game for the victory that really mattered. If you're a playoff advocate, do yourself a favor and don't watch this game. The cognitive dissonance involved in supporting a playoff while simultaneously enjoying a game as terrific as this, the mere existence of which refutes all that playoff nonsense, will make your head explode. This game will prove yet again that, in Division I-A college football, the playoff is the regular season because every game counts. My head tells me to go with the home team, but, in my heart, I prefer the interregional non-conference opponent I would most like to see Georgia play to the Auburn of the Midwest . . . and, lately, going with gut feelings over hard facts has worked out pretty doggone well in games pitting good versus evil, so I'm picking Michigan. Go Blue!


There hasn't been a Michigan-Ohio State game this big since the days of Bo and Woody.

Those are my takes on the major games occurring around the country this weekend. Feel free to let me know which picks you think I have gotten right and which picks you think I have gotten wrong, but, whatever you do, take my advice . . . Don't Bet On It!

Go 'Dawgs!