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Don't Bet On It: National Games of Interest

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Denizens of Bulldog Nation in search of positive developments need look no farther than the latest BlogPoll, in which Georgia has risen three spots to No. 13, despite being pegged as the fourth-best team in the S.E.C. East, behind Kentucky at No. 8, Florida at an incomprehensible No. 9, and South Carolina at an entirely valid No. 12.

Louisiana State tightened its grip on the top spot; although Sunday Morning Quarterback offered an expert exegesis on the outlying example of Southern California's deceptive three-point win over Washington, SMQ still was among the 45 BlogPollsters who ranked L.S.U. No. 1, for reasons he explained. Dawg Sports was not a factor in the distribution of the extracurricular awards, which is a good thing . . . so much so that it even makes up for the fact that Orson Swindle went and brought Barney into the whole Soulja Boy discussion.

I therefore move forward in a favorable frame of mind as I take up the task of forecasting this week's national games of interest. I previously provided you with my S.E.C. prognostications and, ere I proceed to cast the net more broadly, I must confess that I posted a dreadful 3-5 record in last week's continent-wide predictions, bringing my season-long ledger in non-Southeastern Conference outings to a middling 23-15.

"Read my lips: Don't Bet On It!"

Here, without further fanfare, are this week's picks:

Kansas at Kansas State: Will the real pretender please lay flat? This is an in-state showdown played before the end of November, so I would have included it, anyway, as a reminder that there is no particularly good reason why we can't get the Georgia Tech game out of the way early and go back to ending the Bulldogs' annual slate against an historic conference rival. However, this battle for Sunflower State bragging rights carries intrigue uniquely its own. The Jayhawks sport a 4-0 record after routing their initial opponents by a combined 214-23 margin, which would be impressive as all get-out were it not for the fact that those lopsided scores came in Lawrence against Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo, and Florida International in succession. How will they fare on the road against a 22nd-ranked B.C.S. conference opponent? The Wildcats, meanwhile, lost a tight game on the Plains against an Auburn team that now appears better than we thought and beat Texas by 20 in Austin. Is K-State for real and have the 'Cats come down from last week's stunner? In light of the fierce nature of this rivalry, will these factors even matter? Honestly, I haven't a clue, so I'm going with the home team. Kansas State is liable to have a letdown after last weekend, but Kansas has yet to be tested and I don't like the Jayhawks' chances to take Manhattan. I'm picking the Wildcats.

Georgia Tech at Maryland: This is the easiest call in all of sports. Chan Gailey's Yellow Jackets just dismantled a highly-ranked opponent to whom the Ramblin' Wreck was a fairly substantial underdog. A fourth-quarter collapse and a four-point loss to a mediocre A.C.C. squad the Golden Tornado should have dispatched handily is inevitable. Georgia Tech will lose, which, by definition, means the Terrapins will win.

Do you have any idea what kind of pressure this man faces? He has just seven games to go and he can only win four of them if he hopes to get to five losses for the sixth straight season!

Notre Dame at U.C.L.A.: We're starting to get into the vengeful portion of this week's picks, as this and the next couple of contests feature rematches of last-minute comebacks, eye-opening upsets, and other outcomes that no doubt caused the losers to circle this season's showdowns on the calendar. The Bruins had last year's game won before folding in the final seconds and now the Struggling Irish must travel to the City of Angels in search of their first win. While I question Charlie Weis's "genius" status, the available evidence suggests that he's a better coach than the Ray Goff of the West Coast and we all know the Golden Domers aren't going 0-12, much as I would like to see that happen. Somewhere along the way, the Irish have to get their act together well enough and long enough to take down a more talented opponent and this is just the sort of game the Bruins have had a penchant for losing under the Karl Dorrell regime. I hope Bruins Nation will forgive me for doing so, but, even though I'll be rooting for U.C.L.A., I'm picking Notre Dame.

Cincinnati at Rutgers: Last November 18, the Scarlet Knights were riding high. Greg Schiano's squad was 9-0 and nine days removed from a nationally televised 28-25 win over Louisville, but the Bearcats ambushed the State University of New Jersey, handing the paladins from New Brunswick a 30-11 setback in a game in which Rutgers never really looked like it belonged. In terms of potential, Cincy has as much to gain from membership in the Big East as South Florida, but the Bearcats are not getting nearly as much public adulation as their conference coevals among college football's nouveau riche. Could this be 17th-ranked Cincinnati's chance to plant its flag on the national map? Perhaps . . . but the Scarlet Knights' anticipation of this grudge match is attested to by their costly lack of focus against Maryland last weekend. Spitting mad and playing at home, Rutgers will take out its frustrations on the Bearcats.

Rather than elicit constructive criticism by posting a picture of Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis or risk celebrating violent thug culture by posting a picture of Rutgers alumnus James Gandolfini, I decided to go with a picture of 1932 Rutgers graduate Milton Friedman. Bring it on, all you Keynesians!

Virginia Tech at Clemson: Last October, the Tigers throttled Georgia Tech at home before turning right around and getting throttled by Virginia Tech on the road. After losing at The Flats in a game that was not as close as the score indicated, what will Tommy Bowden's team do in Death Valley against the Hokies? Here's a clue: between the time the Yellow Jackets joined the A.C.C. in 1983 and last Saturday, Clemson went 13-12 against the Golden Tornado and the Tigers have posted a record of 8-3 in outings immediately following their previous 11 losses to the Ramblin' Wreck. The Atlantic Coast Conference is the most enigmatic of the B.C.S. leagues, so it only makes sense to expect the unexpected. Clemson winning would be unexpected, so I'm going with that to be what happens.

Nebraska at Missouri: As I have noted on my BlogPoll ballot for weeks now, I haven't the faintest clue whether the Tigers are any good at all. I know this much, though: if Mizzou arrived at a 4-1 record by being outgained by Wake Forest in a three-point ballgame, falling behind U.S.C. by a 42-10 margin at home, being outgained by Ball State at home in a one-point ballgame won more on luck than on skill, and being outgained by Iowa State at home, the thought of ranking the Tigers wouldn't get within three feet of entering your head. If you think Nebraska is a good football team, it's because you have a lifetime's worth of memories that tell you Nebraska is a good football team . . . only that's not what those memories mean. Those memories just mean that Nebraska was a good football team. One day, probably, the Cornhuskers will be good again. Saturday, however, will not be that day, for, on Saturday, Missouri will win at home.

It ain't 1997 any more, fellows.

Ohio State at Purdue: I have nothing against Purdue. In fact, I rather enjoy seeing the Bulldogs face the Boilermakers in Sunshine State bowl games. I wouldn't be surprised to see such a thing again this season. (If that comes to pass, by the way, let's just go ahead and skip the first 60 minutes, declare a tie, and proceed straight to overtime.) Nevertheless, I don't believe in Joe Tiller's squad, which has arrived at 5-0 by facing a schedule only slightly superior to the Jayhawks' slate. The moustache is no match for the sweatervest and the Buckeyes will cruise to victory.

Oklahoma v. Texas: The rivalry! The pageantry! The history, which was chronicled so hilariously by Orson Swindle in The Eyes of Texas! There's only one problem: Texas isn't a very good football team. Burnt Orange Nation's Peter Bean is a friend of mine, so I hate to have to tell him so . . . although, judging from Peter's BlogPoll ballot, he knows it already. Barring the best coaching performance of Mack Brown's career and a sequence of events as unexpected as that occurring in last year's Georgia-Auburn game or, you know, any of a half-dozen games last weekend, a Longhorn loss is nearly certain and the only real question is whether it gets ugly. I'm talking 63-14 ugly. I'm talking 65-13 ugly. Unless Vishnu spends another weekend at the lake, it won't take Long(horn) for this one to turn into a beatdown, as the outcome will be decided Sooner rather than later.

This is the best-case scenario.

Those are my forecasts, but, as we have seen demonstrated repeatedly, I don't have the slightest idea what the heck I'm talking about, so don't put any stock in what I have to say. I mean, read my picks for entertainment purposes, sure, but, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!

Coming Soon: The National Game of Disinterest. . . .

Go 'Dawgs!