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Don't Bet On It: Around the S.E.C.

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The worst work week of the year is about to begin. You know there's a football game on ESPN on Thursday night . . . you know the 'Dawgs will be kicking off between the hedges on Saturday night . . . yet still you have to get up and go in to the office this morning.

This is especially stressful for those of us in the legal field for whom "private practice" does not involve hanging out with ridiculously good-looking people at the Oceanside Wellness Center.

Maintaining your focus will be difficult, but all of us have to do it, so here's what I can do to help you through the toughest Monday of 2007:

It's time once again for the regular segment we here at Dawg Sports call . . . Don't Bet On It!

The concept is simple. I pick the outcomes of college football games. I'm bad at this. I'm so bad at this, I don't even fool with point spreads, I just pick 'em straight up and tell you which team I think will win and which team I think will lose. Nevertheless, I'm still bad at it.

How bad am I at this? I'm so bad that, last year, despite picking such total turkeys as Southeastern Conference contenders' clashes with Division I-AA teams---yes, that's right, I pick every game involving an S.E.C. squad, as well as certain national games of interest---I posted a 72-13 record in games featuring an S.E.C. participant.

For the visual learners among you, this is a graphic representation of how often I am right.

Please bear this in mind when assessing my predictions. These are for entertainment purposes only and are not to be relied upon as in any way accurate forecasts of the outcomes of particular games. In other words, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!

Here are this week's S.E.C. outings, excluding Georgia's, which gets a post all its own. All games are slated to be played on Saturday, September 1, unless otherwise indicated:

Western Kentucky at Florida: Don't worry, folks; I get the bad games out of the way first and save the best for last. This explains why I'm kicking off this fall's set of prognostications with the Hilltoppers' visit to Gainesville. Let's see . . . Western Kentucky will be playing its first game as a Division I-A team and Florida is the defending national champion. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that, unless Kanu shows up on the sideline in the Big Red costume, the Gators are going to have the starters on the bench by the midpoint of the third quarter.

Western Carolina at Alabama: There is no excuse for this. I'm sorry, but a storied program from the S.E.C. has no business whatsoever scheduling a lousy team like the Catamounts, who are picked to finish last in the Division I-AA Southern Conference. This is nothing short of shameful. This is an embarrassment. This is absolutely . . . just a sec. Georgia plays Western Carolina on September 15? In that case, I will be as mortified when my team wins three weeks from now as Crimson Tide fans will be when their team wins on Saturday.

If an S.E.C. team is going to play a directional Carolina school whose name does not refer to an actual state, shouldn't it at least be "CSI: Miami" star Emily Procter's alma mater?

Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky: Finally, we get an S.E.C. team that went to a bowl game last year and has the guts to open the season with a genuine opponent! Kudos to the Wildcats, who have had the courage to open the autumn with their in-state rivalry showdown every year since 1994. The S.E.C. is full of such out-of-conference classics for local bragging rights as Clemson-South Carolina, Florida-Florida State, and Georgia-Georgia Tech and this annual showdown is beginning to claim its rightful place alongside these highly anticipated contests. Once again, the battle to be the best in the Bluegrass State is on between Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky . . . wait a minute. That's not right. I'm thinking of Louisville. Yeah, that's it . . . Louisville is Kentucky's in-state rival, right? Well, who the heck is Eastern Kentucky, then? What's that? Eastern Kentucky is a Division I-AA team from the Ohio Valley Conference? Oh, for crying out loud, people! When Kentucky gets done winning, the U.K. athletic administration needs to apologize to Truzenzuzex, who's been doing his darnedest to get revved up for Wildcat football and deserves better treatment than this.

Richmond at Vanderbilt: There's a joke to be made about a team from the capital of the Confederacy visiting the campus of the university at which the Fugitive-Agrarians matriculated, but I'm not about to start that again by making it. The Commies (who have been pushing to have a reference to the bad guys from the Cold War replace a reference to Jim Morrison's band as the accepted shorthand for a nickname which is a reference to Lionel Ritchie's band) squandered a 4-0 start and, ultimately, bowl eligibility in 2005 by dropping a two-point decision at home to Middle Tennessee State. With 18 returning starters and a team that has pulled off S.E.C. East upsets in each of the last two seasons, Bobby Johnson's squad isn't going to stub its toe against a visiting team from the Colonial Athletic Association. The Spiders will visit Nashville and treat the 'Dores (sorry; old habits die hard) to a Barry Manilow kind of game: they'll come and they'll give without taking, then the home team will send them away, oh, Vandy.

Louisiana-Lafayette at South Carolina: Hey, it could happen. Michael Desormeaux is no Jake Delhomme, but, if the Ragin' Cajuns could find a way to upend a Texas A&M team that had gone 28-5-1 in its previous 34 games (which they did in 1996), surely they can find a way to steal a win in Columbia. Cajun Field is called "The Swamp" and teams from venues bearing that nickname have tended to do rather well against the Gamecocks. The Palmetto State Poultry have offensive line issues and, if U.L.L. catches the East Coast U.S.C. looking ahead to Georgia . . . ah, who am I kidding? South Carolina is going to win this one in a walk.

Troy at Arkansas: You really have to hand it to Houston Nutt. After his team got blasted by the Trojans in each of the last two years, in games in which the Men of Troy outscored the Hogs by a combined 120-31 margin, it took a lot of guts for him to have his Razorbacks return to the lion's den yet again. Pete Carroll and his U.S.C. squad are loaded, ranked No. 1, and . . . wait, what? The Troy Trojans? Oh, give me a break! No Sun Belt squad is going to bump off the home team in Fayetteville or Little Rock or Evening Shade or wherever the heck Arkansas is playing this game. The only thing that'll make this one even vaguely interesting is watching Coach Nutt's sideline gesticulations. College football's most aptly-surnamed sideline stalker twitches and fidgets like a snake-handling minister preaching a revival in a circus tent by the river while taking crystal meth and being jabbed in the backside by a cattle prod . . . and that's on a good day. It's been a while since Coach Nutt had a good day, but, Houston, you'll have no problems as the Hogs root on Saturday.

Rumor has it that, when Houston Nutt scheduled Troy, he thought he was getting Zac Efron's character from "High School Musical 2."

Ole Miss at Memphis: If William Faulkner is to be believed, young men seldom make the trek from Oxford to Memphis with good intentions in mind. The gridiron series played alternately in the shadows of Graceland and The Grove, however, has seen its share of barn-burners, as the clashes between the two schools seldom have produced such lopsided scores as the Rebels' 61-7 win in 1980. More often, the scores have been along the lines of 7-3, the final margin from both the 1977 and 1981 meetings, or 20-13, which occurred in 1989 and recurred in 2004. Since that aforementioned 1989 game, eight out of 14 showdowns between Memphis and Mississippi have been decided by a touchdown or less, including each of the last three. While the Rebs have struggled since the last Manning standing was tripped up on fourth down in the biggest game in a generation, Ed Orgeron doesn't face a rebuilding job anything like the one that confronts Tommy West. The Tigers went 2-10 last year and they enter 2007 with six new assistants, including a pair of incoming coordinators, and a decimated secondary expecting to be bolstered by a transfer (Dontae Reed) from the very team Memphis will be hosting this weekend. The bottom line is that last place in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference is a far cry from last place in the Eastern Division of Conference USA. I like the Rebels to win a two-score game.

Louisiana State at Mississippi State (Thursday, August 30): Finally! After all of this crummy scheduling, we get something substantial . . . an actual conference game! Hang on, though . . . we're talking about the best team in the league taking on the worst team in the league, aren't we? Well, where's the fun in that? Do you really need me to tell you that L.S.U. is going to lay a whooping on the Bulldogs in Starkville?

Kansas State at Auburn: Let me be the first to congratulate the Wildcats on this upcoming Saturday's contest. When Bill Snyder took over the K-State program in 1989, the team hadn't taken Manhattan or much of anyplace else. K.S.U. was riding a 27-game winless streak dating back to 1986---the skein would reach 30 games before the 'Cats claimed their lone win of Coach Snyder's rookie season---and the squad had been to one bowl game in the preceding 93 years. (No, that is not a typo.) By 1993, Coach Snyder had Kansas State winning nine games a year with regularity and he capped off the turnaround with a run during which the Wildcats posted 11-win campaigns in six of the seven seasons from 1997 to 2003. He led his team to such lofty heights, in part, by the use of a practice he euphemistically described as "stairstepping into the season." In other words, he scheduled the patsies that other teams' patsies scheduled for homecoming. (K-State's lone Big 12 title came in a year in which the 'Cats played back-to-back-to-back games against Troy State, McNeese State, and UMass.) Accordingly, I would like to congratulate Kansas State on this Saturday's achievement . . . and, by that, I mean, of course, the achievement of scheduling a road game against a real team. I won't be congratulating the Wildcats on their victory because Auburn will win and it won't be close. (I hate Auburn.)

Tennessee at Cal: This is the one marquee game being played by a Southeastern Conference squad this weekend that won't take place in the Classic City. The Volunteer faithful will be invading the Golden State in a scene straight out of "The Beverly Hillbillies" and, since I called this game incorrectly last year, I'm pretty sure I'm going to call it incorrectly this year, too. Tennessee has concerns at wide receiver and on the defensive line, as well as at running back during the temporary and mysterious absence of LaMarcus Coker. Last year, Coker tallied 696 yards on 108 attempts, while his understudy, Montario Hardesty, garnered virtually an identical number of carries (107) yet racked up far fewer yards (384). The Golden Bears, meanwhile, have holes to fill on defense, particularly with only one returning starter on the line, but Cal has talent available to shore up the secondary, in addition to eight returning starters on offense. The Vols are no strangers to the West Coast, as Tennessee has played at U.C.L.A. five times in the last 40 seasons, but the Big Orange now find themselves on an altogether different campus of the University of California with an entirely distinct ursine mascot. Both teams should be able to run the ball, but I question Tennessee's ability to match the host squad through the air. Davy Crockett may have killed him a bear when he was only three, but I like the Bears to get the better of that battle this time.

That's right, I went with a Fess Parker reference. Yeah, I know it's, like, 50 years out of date, but give me a break. . . . I just gave you "CSI," "Private Practice," and "High School Musical" references!

Those are my picks for this week's Southeastern Conference action, which are almost certain to be wrong in any instance in which a mistaken prediction is possible. Be sure to tune in for my forthcoming forecasts for the national games of interest, but, in the meantime, do not forget to heed my weekly admonition: Don't Bet On It!

Go 'Dawgs!