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Don't Bet On It: National Games of Interest

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Now that I'm done being wrong about conference championships and suchlike, it's time to get back to being wrong about particular games. As before, all the games forecast below are slated to be played on Saturday, September 2, unless otherwise noted.

I have already forecast the outcomes in this weekend's S.E.C. action and, as I now turn to the games of interest around the country, I would reiterate that my usual caveat still applies, so, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!

My predictions fall under the heading of knowing when to fold 'em.

Nevada at Fresno State (Friday, September 1)---It may have escaped your notice, but last year's season-ending showdown between the Bulldogs and the Pack determined the W.A.C. championship, which Fresno State and Nevada shared, thanks to the Reno school's 38-35 home win over the West Coast F.S.U. This is an exciting way to get your Labor Day weekend underway, as Nevada's high-flying offense goes up against Pat Hill's slobberknocking defense. Fresno State faded down the stretch after putting all their emotion into last year's U.S.C. game and the Bulldogs are anxious to get back to their winning ways. They'll do it as Fresno State prevails.

Rutgers at North Carolina---Don't laugh! All right, you can laugh just a little. Feel better? Good. Now listen up: Greg Schiano is building something at the State University of New Jersey and John Bunting is accomplishing little in Chapel Hill. The Scarlet Knights made it into postseason play last year on the strength of their offensive firepower, of which the Tar Heels have little or none . . . as evidenced by games last year that ended in American League baseball scores: a 14-5 loss to Wisconsin and a 7-5 win over Virginia. U.N.C. must fill holes at quarterback, wide receiver, and fullback, as well as on the offensive line, and the five starters who are coming back played on an offensive unit that was held to 16 or fewer points in five of the Heels' last seven games. North Carolina simply can't score enough to keep up with Rutgers.

Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis appears thrilled at my decision to pick the Scarlet Knights to beat North Carolina.

Northwestern at Miami (Ohio) (Thursday, August 31)---Although this game may be a bit off the radar screen for many fans, it's one you'll want to watch. If it were up to me, membership in the Midwestern Conference would be on the line, but it is sufficient that the RedHawks have displayed the class to pay tribute to the late Randy Walker. Although Miami has owned the Wildcats in recent years, I believe emotion will carry Northwestern to victory in this, the team's first outing since losing their coach.

Marshall at West Virginia---This one might have been interesting around 1999 . . . when the Thundering Herd went 13-0 and the Mountaineers went 4-7. Now, though, these programs are moving in opposite directions. Marshall, which won 10 or more games 11 times in 12 seasons between 1991 and 2002, stumbled to 8-4 in 2003, 6-6 in 2004, and 4-7 in 2005. Last year was the Herd's first losing season since 1983 and, after going from M.A.C. contender to Conference U.S.A. also-ran, Marshall's immediate future does not appear bright. The opposite attitude prevails in Morgantown, where three straight conference crowns and a trio of consecutive January bowl berths have the W.V.U. faithful dreaming of a national title. Emotion will keep this one close for the first few series, but, in the end, talent will tell and West Virginia will win handily.

Yes, I picked your team to win, Coach Rod, but don't get a big head about it!

Utah at U.C.L.A.---Of all the national games for which I am offering prognostications, this is the one with which I struggled the most. Partly, that's because the proprietors of Block U and Bruins Nation are friends of mine . . . and I certainly wouldn't want either of them to accuse me of having an East Coast bias (although, since Nestor picked Tennessee over Cal and Arkansas over U.S.C., maybe he's the one with a prejudice against the Pac-10!). I go back and forth over whether there is trouble Bruin or whether Ute will be served. (Sorry.) The home team will be breaking in new starters at quarterback and tailback, which puts U.C.L.A. in the precarious position of having to rely upon a defense that gave up 35 or more points in six of the squad's last eight games. The visitors have proven that they can play with the big boys; in the last three years, Utah has beaten Arizona (twice), Cal, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Oregon, Pitt, and Texas A&M . . . but only one of those wins, over the hapless 3-8 Wildcats, came on the opposing team's home field. In fact, the Utes' last non-conference road win over a then-B.C.S. conference team that would finish the season with a winning record was a 17-10 win at Stanford a decade ago against a Cardinal squad that went 7-5 that year (and reduced its stadium capacity by 35,000 this year). They can fit 91,136 folks in the Rose Bowl and I am assured by reliable sources that Pac-10 fans are more passionate than they are given credit for being. I'd pick this game differently if it were being played in Salt Lake City, but, in Los Angeles, I'm going with U.C.L.A.

Notre Dame at Georgia Tech---Will Jon Tenuta's affinity for the blitz throw Brady Quinn out of synch or free the Heisman Trophy frontrunner to pick the Yellow Jackets' suspect secondary apart? Resident Atlanta Journal-Constitution home team lapdog Mark Bradley, who never met a local cloud for which he could not concoct a silver lining, has forecast the upset, but this is also the same dufus who recently told us that the Atlanta Falcons would win 10 games. I hope Bradley is right---about the Yellow Jackets, that is, not about the sorry Falcons---but I don't think the Golden Tornado has a prayer against the Golden Domers. Yes, Notre Dame is overrated, but the Ramblin' Wreck isn't catching an Auburn team breaking in Brandon Cox this time. Notre Dame rolls up big yardage on the way to victory.

On Monday night, their 15 minutes of fame officially expire.

Florida State at Miami (Monday, September 4)---Prior to last year's ugly win in Tallahassee, the Seminoles had dropped six straight games to the Hurricanes, all but one of which were settled by eight or fewer points. Before that, though, F.S.U. beat U.M. five years running and claimed victory six times in seven years in this streaky series. The point is that wins in this rivalry seldom occur in isolation, as the pendulum swings back and forth between Coral Gables and the state capital. The 'Noles broke the hex last year and that's good enough reason for me to believe Florida State will win at the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1998.

As always, you should feel free to let me know where I'm right and where I'm wrong. Be sure to look for the upcoming national game of disinterest, but, in the meantime, bear in mind: Don't Bet On It!

Go 'Dawgs!