Have you voted? All right, you can stay. If not, go vote and don't come back 'til you've done your civic duty like a good American. (Vote for Burnt Orange Nation's Peter Bean while you're at it.)
The balloting is far from over and, while you can't just sit there and cast multiple votes in succession at a single sitting like Casey McCall attempting to get the better of his much cooler co-anchor, you aren't limited to casting just one vote per computer, either. The polls will remain open through Saturday night, so please vote at least once a day from every computer to which you have access. (If you're in a University of Georgia computer lab, by all means, go vote from every terminal in the room!)
Now that you've exercised the franchise and kept the world safe for democracy, I'll let you in on a little secret. Although, unfortunately, there are some non-conference games you think will be good that won't, this fact is made up for by the reality that some games that look like laughers won't wind up as lopsided as you imagine.
In literary circles, we call this "foreshadowing."
I'm not necessarily forecasting any upsets, you understand; I just think there are some heavy favorites in non-marquee out-of-conference contests that are going to get some serious scares put into them. It wouldn't surprise me if an underdog pulled off a shocker, but I'm predicting that the outcomes of each of the following contests will remain in doubt in the fourth quarter as I bring you . . .
The Top Five Non-Conference Games You Think Won't Be Good . . . But Will:
Central Michigan at Clemson (October 20): After back-to-back conference outings against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, the Tigers will get an October 13 open date before beginning a stretch run that includes games against Boston College and Wake Forest sandwiched between road trips to Maryland and South Carolina in four of the season's last five weeks. Hold on a minute, though . . . Tommy Bowden's squad managed to shoehorn a home date with the Chippewas into the second half of their slate. Defending M.A.C. champion Central Michigan is coming off of a 10-win season capped off by a Motor City Bowl victory and the Chippewas scored 31 or more points in six of their last seven games in 2006. If you think Central Michigan can't put a serious scare into an A.C.C. squad, you weren't watching the Chippewas' near-upset of Boston College last August.
Oregon State at Cincinnati (September 6): Believe it or not, this is a clash of B.C.S. conference opponents. Folks forget that, but the Big East's Bearcats upset surging Rutgers last season and concluded the campaign with a victory in a January bowl game. (All right, it was the International Bowl, but still. . . .) The Beavers, meanwhile, posted a 10-4 season complete with a win over Southern California and a Sun Bowl victory, but Oregon State absorbed drubbings from Boise State (42-14), California (41-13), and U.C.L.A. (25-7) while skating by with five wins by a touchdown or less. In fact, in their last 11 road games, the Beavers are 6-5, with only one of their wins (over lowly Stanford) coming by more than 10 points. Oregon State simply does not play well on its opponents' home fields and, the last time the Beavers played a Big East team on the road, Louisville handed them a 63-27 setback. Cincinnati isn't Louisville, but the Bearcats will give the Beavers all they can handle.
The foregoing mention of the Scarlet Knights obligates me to post a photograph of State University of New Jersey alumna Kristin Davis.
Florida State at Colorado (September 15): Plenty of talent remains on hand in Tallahassee and the coaching staff has been improved by the addition of Jimbo Fisher and the return of Chuck Amato, so the Seminoles appear on the verge of a resurgence, perhaps even a renascence. The Buffaloes have lost 14 of their last 16 games and last year's two-win season was the worst endured by a Colorado team since the 1-10 debacle that was Bill McCartney's third campaign in 1984. However, Dan Hawkins's inaugural squad in Boulder was competitive, sustaining half of its 10 losses by single-digit margins and handing Insight Bowl champion Texas Tech a 30-6 whipping. After winning 10 or more games in each season from 1987 to 2000, Florida State has lost four or more games in four of the last six years. The 'Noles haven't beaten a current Big 12 opponent by a double-digit margin outside of the borders of the Sunshine State since New Year's Day 1990 and the Buffaloes will give F.S.U. a game in Boulder this time, as well . . . particularly if Bobby Bowden is caught looking ahead to his September 29 showdown with the Crimson Tide in Jacksonville.
Ohio State at Washington (September 15): Last year, Washington lost to Hawaii Bowl-bound Arizona State by three points, fell at Rose Bowl champion Southern California by six points, and dropped a seven-point decision at Holiday Bowl champion California. Had the Huskies won any one of those games, Tyrone Willingham's team would have been bowl-eligible just one season removed from a 30-game run in which U-Dub went 6-24. Despite that recent downcycle, Washington's last home loss to a Big Ten team came in the third game of Don James's second season in Seattle in 1976; since that time, the Huskies have gone 11-0 against the Big Ten on the U.W. campus, posting wins over Indiana in 2003, Michigan in 1983 and 2001, Minnesota in 1976, Northwestern in 1980 and 1984, Ohio State in 1986 and 1994, Purdue in 1987 and 1989, and Wisconsin in 1992. The Buckeyes have only five seniors on scholarship, none of whom happens to be named Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez, Antonio Pittman, or Troy Smith. I still expect Ohio State to win, but Washington will let the defending Big Ten champions know they've been in a fight.
Remember that foreshadowing thing I mentioned earlier?
Texas Christian at Texas (September 8): I'll admit that I felt better about this forecast before I found out that it had been scheduled for a 6:00 kickoff, but I have never before failed to give the Horned Frogs their due, so I'm sticking with my prediction. T.C.U. clearly is the class of the Lone Star State squads that were kicked to the curb after the Southwest Conference folded in 1995; in their post-S.W.C. vagabond existence, the Frogs have leapt from league to league while attending eight bowls in the last nine seasons and winning 10 or more games five times in the past seven years. Gary Patterson's teams certainly have not shied away from staring down Big 12 opponents, claiming victories at Oklahoma, over Iowa State in the Houston Bowl, at Baylor, and against Texas Tech during the course of the 2005 and 2006 campaigns. A victory over the Longhorns, obviously, would give the Horned Frogs their signature win over a B.C.S. conference opponent and, while I don't think Texas Christian quite has the muscle to pull it off, I certainly think the Frogs will make a respectable showing and I give them at least a puncher's chance to land a knockout blow.
As always, I welcome dissenting opinions . . . but, first, be sure to cast your vote in blind obedience to my command! (Please.)