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Don't Bet On It: Championship Games of Interest (Blue State Edition)

Hey Jenny Slater's Doug Gillett is a friend of mine, but we see some things quite differently. For instance, Doug wouldn't be worried if Georgia Tech hired Will Muschamp, but he would be concerned if the Yellow Jackets replaced Chan Gailey with Rick Neuheisel.

I could not more completely disagree with Doug's sentiment. I have already made my feelings about Rick Neuheisel known, but the point deserves amplification: I would love to see the North Avenue Trade School hire Slick Rick, even more than I would love to see George O'Leary re-hired.


Rather than be bored by a coach who led the Ramblin' Wreck to six straight bowl games, why not bring in a guy who will run the program into the ground and get the N.C.A.A. to re-open its file on the Institute?

Just to recap, here is Rick Neuheisel's coaching record from Colorado:

1995 - 10-2, Cotton Bowl, A.P. No. 5
1996 - 10-2, Holiday Bowl, A.P. No. 8
1997 - 5-6, no bowl, unranked
1998 - 8-4, Aloha Bowl, unranked

Here is Rick Neuheisel's coaching record from Washington:
1999 - 7-5, Holiday Bowl, unranked
2000 - 11-1, Rose Bowl, A.P. No. 3
2001 - 8-4, Holiday Bowl, A.P. No. 19
2002 - 7-6, Sun Bowl, unranked

More seasons of finishing unranked than finishing in the top ten? Clear downward trajectories from early success with the previous coach's players to subsequent mediocrity with his own? Eight or fewer wins per year five times in eight seasons, including five of the last six? Invariably leaving a program in a shambles after four years? If that's Georgia Tech's idea of a coach, sign me up for some of that!

Another area in which Doug and I respectfully disagree with one another is in the political arena, but, out of respect for conscientious liberals like Doug and in the interests of balance, I will follow up yesterday's right-wing national games of interest with this evening's left-wing conference championship contests of consequence.

Be forewarned that trusting me to predict the outcome of a college football game is as foolhardy as trusting Karl Rove when he tells you there are weapons of mass destruction.

Here are Saturday's league title tilts:

Mid-American Conference: Central Michigan v. Miami (Ohio): If you happen to be fully awake for this one---kickoff is slated for 11:00 a.m.---you should not expect to see a defensive struggle. The Chippewas surrendered 31 points to Toledo, 31 points to Western Michigan, 32 points to Akron, 32 points to Kent State, and 38 points to Ball State . . . and those were in the games C.M.U. won. In their losses---in which they gave up 44 points to North Dakota State, 45 points to Purdue, 48 points to Eastern Michigan, 52 points to Kansas, and 70 points to Clemson---the Chippewa D was brutal even by Bill Callahan's standards. The RedHawks, on the other hand, showed at least some signs of being able to play defense, winning games by such margins as 20-13 over Kent State, 17-14 over Syracuse, 14-13 over Ball State, and 7-0 over Akron. You don't have to have been reading this weblog for very long to know that I believe defense wins championships, and, besides, you don't think I'm considering picking a team that lost to North Dakota State, do you? Central Michigan will bite the dust as Miami brings the conference crown back to (Ohio).

Speaking of central Michigan, Michael Moore would like to remind you that the auto workers in Flint totally got hosed.

Conference USA: Central Florida v. Tulsa: Can this be right? Surely Southern Miss is in this game, right? No? East Carolina, maybe? How 'bout Houston? Memphis, perhaps? Really? That's not a typo, then? Wow . . . who knew that the Golden Hurricane rebounded from a 62-21 home loss to Oklahoma to post a 9-3 record and the Golden Knights overcame a 64-12 setback at South Florida to go 9-3 themselves? Well, I'll be darned. Good for them. That's just swell. As far as picking this game, though, well, U.C.F. has won six straight games, scoring 34 or more points in each of them, and the Knights whipped Tulsa by a 44-23 final margin on October 20. I know of no reason why Central Florida can't pad George O'Leary's resume (sorry; couldn't resist) by doing it again.

Atlantic Coast Conference: Boston College v. Virginia Tech: Wait a minute . . . that can't be right, either, can it? It should say "Big East," right? This is the Big East championship game, isn't it? Yeah, that's it . . . the Eagles and the Hokies play in the Big East, along with Miami. . . . Hang on; they went and fiddled with the conferences again, didn't they? My bad. B.C. got lucky the last time the Eagles tangled with V.P.I., but everyone's luck has to run out sometime. I expect "sometime" to start around 1:00 on Saturday afternoon as Virginia Tech lays claim to the A.C.C. crown.

Historically, though, contestants from the Old Dominion have not fared well against northern opposition, even when competing with the benefit of home field advantage.

Big 12: Missouri v. Oklahoma: The Tigers are the No. 1 team in the country for a reason and there is a lot to like about Mizzou, which features an explosive offense and is a good bet to win a shootout with a Sooner squad that has put up its best numbers against bad defenses. 49 points against Oklahoma State? 51 against Miami (Florida)? 52 against Baylor? 54 against Utah State? 79 against North Texas? Yeah, who didn't hang a ton of points on those teams? There's every reason to prefer Missouri in this game . . . except for this one thing: Bob Stoops's troops have been here before, as O.U. has appeared in five of the last seven Big 12 championship games. Missouri, meanwhile, is enjoying its first ten-win season since 1960 and is coming off of its biggest win since . . . oh, for crying out loud; I'm not spending that much time leafing through the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia. Let's just say it's been a while. The bright lights are liable to prove distracting for the Tigers, who are in a position that has proven too pressure-packed for many a top-ranked team this season, even for programs with far more experience at center stage than Mizzou can claim. Unless Gene Hackman happens to show up with a tape measure to re-create the scene from "Hoosiers" in which he demonstrated to his team that the dimensions of the arena were no different from those back home, I expect Missouri to be overwhelmed by the spectacle and outdueled on the field by the victorious Sooners.

Southeastern Conference: Louisiana State v. Tennessee: It goes without saying that Saturday's showdown in the Georgia Dome holds slightly less appeal for me than it would have if, say, Kentucky or South Carolina or Vanderbilt could kick a dadgum game-winning field goal against the Big Orange. Nevertheless, we have the game we have and it is liable to be one of emotional swings and physical lethargy as the Volunteers arrive in Atlanta on a celebratory high, the Bayou Bengals labor beneath the burden of the double-downer of losing their national title shot and (very likely) their head coach, and both combatants come into the game weary from draining multiple-overtime outings last weekend. This is liable to be as ugly as a bout between a pair of aging boxers and I expect Louisiana State to be the last man standing.

Al Gore will be attending the S.E.C. championship game for two reasons. First of all, he will be there to cheer for his home state Volunteers. Secondly, he will attempt to educate the L.S.U. faithful about the adverse effects the gaseous emissions produced by their spicy tailgate fare are having on global warming.

Well, there you have it, folks . . . those are the conference championship games of interest, with respect to which my likelihood of being wrong is so high that the only prudent thing for you to do is to heed my usual advice: Don't Bet On It! Not even if your gambling is legal, state-sponsored, and raises funds for education.

Up next, of course, will be the national game of disinterest . . . and, since I elected to keep the political commentary fair and balanced by leaning leftward for this set of picks after veering rightward for the preceding installment, I suppose it is only right that the weekend's least compelling college football contest features students from the campus that best epitomized the changing face of the left in the 1960s. Stay tuned. . . .

Go 'Dawgs!