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Don't Bet On It: National Games of Interest (Red State Edition)

All right, this is getting completely out of hand here. I mean, really. I know I call it "Don't Bet On It!" and all, but, honestly, I went 4-3 in last week's S.E.C. picks and 4-3 in last week's national predictions, which brings my season-long prognosticating records to 61-23 in league play, 49-42 in out-of-conference outings, and 110-65 overall. That's just embarrassing, so much so that I'm not even going to bother with my usual disclaimer.

Since there is only one regular-season game remaining featuring Southeastern Conference contestants, this week's forecasts will be divided into generic national games of interest, followed by conference title tilts of note, with respect to a couple or three of which "interest" might be too strong a term.

The M.A.C. championship game, for instance, qualifies as a game of "interest" in the same sense that a commencement address by Walter Mondale qualifies as an event of "interest" . . . which is to say, we'll call it that to be polite, only not really.

Here is the opening round of this week's picks, all of which are slated to be played on Saturday, December 1, unless otherwise noted:

Pitt at West Virginia: The annual "Backyard Brawl" is the biggest event of the year within, like, a 20-mile radius inhabited exclusively by people whose lifestyles were portrayed either in "Coal Miner's Daughter" or in "Flashdance" (before the parts about appearing on the Grand Ole Opry and getting into ballet school, of course). I know this has been the "season of the upset" and everything, but surely there's a point at which being a talented, well-coached national title contender playing at home trumps being a total train wreck of a program led by the worst coach in college football not to have been fired within the last four or five days. That being the case, I'm going with the Mountaineers to get the better of the Panthers in a classic battle of rugged outdoorsman versus feral beast.

That last rhetorical flourish may have been a bit much, but the man-against-nature theme seemed appropriate, in light of Rich Rodriguez's uncanny resemblance to Hoss Cartwright. Also, it was intended to pay homage to the scene at the end of "Talladega Nights" in which the grandmother reads William Faulkner's "The Bear" to Ricky Bobby's sons. Mostly, though, it was just an excuse to make a Hoss Cartwright joke.

Rutgers at Louisville (Thursday, November 29): How in the world did this game dodge being declared the national game of disinterest? There was a time when I thought the Scarlet Knights were a team on the rise, but that could just be because the State University of New Jersey's most famous alumna is the best-looking woman on the face of the planet. Meanwhile, the Cardinals remain what I said they were a month ago; namely, the Dippin' Dots of college football. Dippin' Dots have been the "ice cream of the future" for 20 years and U. of L. has been "on a collision course with the national championship" since Howard Schnellenberger arrived in the Bluegrass State, but neither of them ever quite turned the corner to full-fledged present relevance. When Louisville fans are expressing regret at the announcement that their head coach won't be taking another job, that situation isn't apt to change anytime soon. In their last nine outings, the Cardinals have surrendered 38 points to Syracuse, 38 points to West Virginia, 40 points to Kentucky, 44 points to Utah, and 55 points to South Florida. Unsurprisingly, those point totals all came in Louisville losses and they represent defensive breakdowns only Bill Callahan could defend. Meanwhile, Rutgers has given up more than 28 points just thrice this season, so, in spite of the fact that last year's Cinderella story has stumbled this season, I'm going with the Scarlet Knights to prevail.

Army v. Navy: I understand that some people do not watch the Army-Navy game. I have two questions for such people: "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" and, "Why do you hate America?" This is basically the only college football game in America where the jet fighter flyover and the parachuting into the stadium with the game ball could be performed by any student at either of the competing institutions, so, yeah, it's kind of a big deal. (I will admit, however, that, if I ever attended an Army-Navy game, my natural Statler-and-Waldorf-style crotchety irreverence probably would cause me to yell, "Down in front!" to the cadets standing in front of me in the stands.) Both teams are shadows of what they were in, say, 1944, when the final A.P. poll ranked the Black Knights first and the Midshipmen fourth . . . and also included 2nd Air Force, 4th Air Force, Bainbridge N.T.S., the El Toro (Calif.) Marines, Fort Pierce, Great Lakes N.A.S., Iowa Pre-Flight, Norman N.A.S., Randolph Field, and St. Mary's Pre-Flight in the top 20. (Hey, look it up if you don't believe me.) Nevertheless, Navy is getting it done with the ground game and I look for the Midshipmen to make short work of their opponents from West Point.

You can watch this game and root for the latest generation of honorable, heroic, clean-cut American young men, or I can serve you with this subpoena from the House Committee on Un-American Activities. It's your call . . . comrade!

Oregon State at Oregon: When the gaudy meets the garish in this season-ending in-state showdown, "College GameDay" won't be on hand, but "What Not to Wear" might be. So many Ducks are among the waddling wounded that the team has plummeted from contending for a national title to bordering on a complete collapse. Jake, noting that Brady Leaf has two sprained ankles, asked rhetorically, "How do you even limp?" While the dramatic drop in Oregon's fortunes due to injuries bolsters Dennis Dixon's case for the Heisman Trophy---if your absence from the field transforms your team from the frontrunner for the national championship into a team that can't score on the Bruins, how are you not the best player in the country?---it represents a poor omen for the home team heading into the annual "Battle of the Webbed Feet." (Sorry, fellows, but "Civil War" ain't a term we use around these parts.) I don't care how loud it gets in Autzen Stadium; when two of the Ducks' starting linebackers, three of their four best receivers, and their first-, second-, and third-string quarterbacks all have been sidelined, there's no way they're beating the Beavers.

Washington at Hawaii: How bad have things gotten in Seattle? Amid this season of rampant coaching dismissals, Huskies fans want Tyrone Willingham gone . . . so they can turn the program over to Jim Mora. Dude. Dude! Jim Mora?!?! Trust me, you don't want any part of that. However, I, too, will be on the "Fire Ty Willingham" bandwagon if, as expected, Washington fails to find a way to make the most of its chance to be the team that finally knocks Hawaii out of B.C.S. bowl contention. Go Huskies!

However profanely (and unsafely for work), Carl speaks for me. Except for the part about the Giants. I really couldn't care less about the Giants.

Arizona at Arizona State: Before the season started, I shared my thoughts on the two Pac-10 programs from the Copper State. "Arizona State," I wrote, "deserves a look because Dennis Erickson's complete lack of ethical or moral standards guarantees that the Sun Devils will improve rapidly." I went on to observe regarding Arizona, "The Wildcats, in short, are a team on the rise and I've got my eye on them." Well, I guess one out of two ain't bad. Mike Stoops, who seems to mistake poor anger management skills for good coaching, only has one job-saving late-season upset per year in him and he's already gotten that one out of the way, so this is an easy call: Arizona State will win handily at home.

U.C.L.A. at Southern California: I badly want the Trojans to win this game, for four reasons. First of all, Nestor and I are kindred spirits, so I want to see the visitors suffer the setback which will end Karl Dorrell's tenure and give Bruins Nation what it wants and deserves. Secondly, last year's U.C.L.A. upset over U.S.C. opened the door for Florida to win the national title and I don't want anything to happen to give me flashbacks to the "year of the Gator." Thirdly, I felt a bit gypped when Georgia missed out on a shot at the Men of Troy in a bowl game following the 2002 season, so I, like ProfDawg, want to see the Bulldogs take on Southern California in a Rose Bowl clash of top-tier teams. (There is also the small matter of the Trojans' having beaten Georgia 60-0 in Los Angeles in 1931, which continues to be a sore spot with me.) Finally, I strongly disagree with U.C.L.A.'s efforts to promote its radical liberal agenda by taking advantage of judicial activism to obtain through litigation results our republican form of government would never allow them to obtain through legislation. Oh, wait . . . that's the A.C.L.U., not U.C.L.A. My bad. O.K., so there are only three reasons why I'll be rooting for Southern California. Even so, that's enough for me to pick the Trojans.

Sorry about that A.C.L.U. thing, but, seriously, I couldn't have been the only one who watched "The American President" and spotted the glaring hypocrisy of this guy saying, essentially, "I'm proud to be a member of an organization that defends the Bill of Rights . . . and that's why I'm introducing legislation to gut the Second Amendment!"

You may or may not agree with the political sentiments that seem to have found their way into this posting; if you do, chances are you considered Michael Douglas the hero of "Wall Street" and thought both "Easy Rider" and "Thelma & Louise" had happy endings. Irrespective of your partisan affiliation, though, surely you know enough not to agree with the foregoing prognostications, which assuredly are doomed to prove substantially erroneous. Consequently, I feel compelled to warn you . . . Don't Bet On It!

My conference championship picks will be forthcoming shortly.

Go 'Dawgs!