It was a wild weekend. Any time Duke wins a road game against a B.C.S. conference opponent, Kentucky beats a team ranked in the top 10, Mississippi State wins a conference road game, and Vanderbilt wins an S.E.C. contest all on the same Saturday, it's a wild weekend.
That, rather than my obvious innate inability to predict successfully the outcomes of college football games, is my excuse for the fact that I went 3-4 in S.E.C. forecasts, dropping my season-long league ledger to 20-5. Whatever the reasons for my shortcomings as a prognosticator, though, you would do well to learn from this example and recognize that I mean it when I say . . . Don't Bet On It!
Warning: West Wing references (both real and fictitious) forthcoming.
Here are this week's Southeastern Conference picks. Don't say I didn't warn you:
Gardner-Webb at Mississippi State: After winning consecutive contests for the first time since October 2004, the Bulldogs have nothing to fear from their next opponent. Gardner-Webb hasn't been that good since Sam Seaborn left to write speeches for Jed Bartlet's presidential campaign. Hang on . . . that was Gage Whitney, wasn't it? You're telling me Gardner-Webb is a university in the North Carolina Piedmont whose sports teams are called the Runnin' Bulldogs? I don't care how bad M.S.U. may be; Gardner-Webb ain't going on the road and beating an S.E.C. team in football. Baseball, maybe, but football? Never! Mississippi State makes it three in a row for the first time since George W. Bush and Al Gore were arguing over which one of them got to be president next.
Arkansas State at Tennessee: I don't know whether there is such a thing as an A.S.U. Indian weblogger, but, if such animals exist, I'm guessing every single one of them is offering to make a wager with Holly about Saturday's showdown in Knoxville. If I were her, I wouldn't answer any of their text messages . . . not as long as the Volunteers are ranked last in the S.E.C. in scoring defense. Tennessee has surrendered 15 touchdowns . . . as many as Alabama, Florida, L.S.U., and South Carolina combined. The Big Orange have allowed the opposition 6.8 yards per snap . . . more than Georgia and Louisiana State are giving up between them. Things are looking a little rough up on Rocky Top, but, fortunately for Phil Fulmer, they aren't so rough that Arkansas State has any chance in the world of knocking off Tennessee.
Just for the record, this man is 16-13 in his last 29 games, including an 8-10 mark in S.E.C. contests during that span. I'm just saying.
New Mexico State at Auburn: I know, I know, I know . . . it's too much for which to hope, isn't it? After Terry Bowden was run out of town on a rail, the scheduled meeting between the Plainsmen and Bobby Bowden's Seminoles to open what was to be Florida State's undefeated 1999 national championship season was dropped and the Tigers instead scheduled Appalachian State in their place. The Mountaineers had not yet made a name for themselves as giant-killers, but they came close, falling by a 22-15 final margin at Jordan-Hare Stadium. That near-miss came at the outset of Tommy Tuberville's inaugural campaign at Auburn, and, since suffering through a five-game losing streak in the middle of that awful autumn, the Tigers have dropped more than two games in a row just once. That won't change, no matter how much I might wish it otherwise. The Plainsmen will right the ship against the Aggies. I hate Auburn.
Florida at Ole Miss: How many times will we be reminded between now and Saturday that the Gators have gone 0-3 against S.E.C. West opponents in games played in the Magnolia State since the Orange and Blue last won there in 1994? Believe it or not, it's true: U.F. fell to Ole Miss in Oxford in 2002 and to Mississippi State in Starkville in 2000 and 2004. Add to that another setback to the Bulldogs at Scott Field in 1992 and a home loss to the Rebels in 2003, and you have all the ingredients for a full-fledged week-long Urban Meyer whine about the irrelevance of history. When the Urban Legend starts getting snippy, opposing defenses ought to start getting nervous. The fact that the game is being played by The Grove instead of in The Swamp will improve the attractiveness of the co-eds in the stands but it will not detract from the performance of the Saurians on the field. The Gators will roll.
Meanwhile, am I the only one who's truly troubled by the resemblance between Ed Orgeron and Robert Blake in "Lost Highway"?
South Carolina at Louisiana State: During the summer, Les Miles infamously said this was the game he wanted: U.S.C. versus L.S.U. in the Pelican State. Wait a minute . . . come to think of it, he may have meant the West Coast U.S.C. That would be a heck of a football game, wouldn't it? This one, by contrast, will not be. Blake Mitchell is the lowest-rated passer on the Gamecock quarterback depth chart and he has offset his three touchdown passes with a trio of interceptions. On Saturday, the Palmetto State Poultry will square off against a Bayou Bengal defense that leads the league with seven picks, four of which have been snagged by Craig Steltz. This one could get ugly. The over/under on visor tosses by the Evil Genius is four, because L.S.U. is going to spank South Carolina something fierce.
Kentucky at Arkansas: How did this get to be the best game in the league outside of Tuscaloosa? Being the head coach of the Razorbacks has caused Houston Nutt to do more aging in a four-year period than anyone except Jimmy Carter during his presidency and he can expect to be given a few more grey hairs by the visiting Wildcats, who boast a scoring offense second only to Florida's as the best in the league. That's bad news for the Hogs, who are surrendering 33.5 points per game. This one ought to be entertaining to watch, if only for the periodic camera shots of the respective head coaches as Rich Brooks scowls and grumbles his way through a convincing impersonation of Lloyd Carr when his lumbago is acting up while Houston Nutt fidgets and fumbles like Solomon Grundy hyped up on Red Bull and three hours overdue for his heroin fix. Kentucky ought to be good for 350 yards through the air, but Arkansas ought to be good for 350 yards on the ground and the Wildcats must contend with the disconcerting fact that, since the resumption of the series with Louisville in 1994, the Blue and White have never won both their in-state rivalry showdown and their S.E.C. opener in the same season. They won't do it this time, either, as the Hogs will win a shootout in Fayetteville or Little Rock or wherever the heck they'll be playing this thing.
For all I know, they'll be playing this thing at Evening Shade and Wood Newton will be calling the plays. Hey, that isn't any weirder than anything else that's happened at Arkansas in the last year and a half, is it?
That, at least, is how I see it, but, in this topsy-turvy college football world of 2007, night is day, black is white, and 2 + 2 = 5, so who knows what will happen on Saturday? This much is certain, though: I am bad at forecasting football games, so, please, for your own safety and sanity, listen to what I'm telling you and, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!
Coming Soon: National Games of Interest. . . .