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Don't Bet On It!: National Games of Interest

All right, I’ve put it off long enough. I was able to take you around the S.E.C. with some measure of pride, but I feel nothing but shame regarding last week’s national picks. My 3-3 ledger in non-S.E.C. prognostications put my 2008 record for such contests at a thoroughly mediocre 33-28. In light of that fact, I shouldn’t even have to tell you, but I will, anyway: Don’t Bet On It!

Ere I get to this week’s games, I have to tell you that Dr. Saturday was right: they should have served up this slate for Thanksgiving, because there are some turkeys being played this weekend. Given that these were what qualified as the national games of interest, you should shudder at the thought of which contest qualified as the national game of disinterest:

Arizona at Oregon: Don’t look now, but, for the first time in recent memory, the Wildcats don’t stink! Mike Stoops’s troops are 6-3, bowl-eligible, and tied for fourth place in the Pac-10. I told you Arizona might not be bad this year! Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they’re traveling to Eugene to face a team that has revenge on its mind after last year’s season-shattering loss in Tucson. The good news for Coach Stoops is that, after engineering an impressive turnaround, he does not enter this game as a lame duck; the bad news for Coach Stoops is that, after facing an injury-riddled Oregon team a year ago, he no longer gets to go up against a bunch of lame Ducks.

"It’s a lame duck joke, see? Get it? Get it?"

Notre Dame v. Navy: I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Charlie Weis will be taking a more active role in the offense, which ought to get this whole not-being-able-to-beat-anybody-with-a-winning-record thing turned right around in South Bend. The Fighting Irish and the Midshipmen will meet in Baltimore for a game that will not extend the nation’s longest series winning streak. As much as I’d like to believe the U.S.N.A. is going to make it two in a row, that would also make it two for my lifetime, and I just don’t see that happening. I’m rooting for Navy, but I’m picking Notre Dame.

North Carolina at Maryland: In a league in which every game seems to cause head-scratching, the Terrapins appear to be the most puzzling club of them all. How many teams struggle to beat Division I-AA Delaware by a skinny seven-point margin yet wallop Wake Forest in a 26-0 smackdown? How many teams lose to Middle Tennessee State one week before knocking off Cal? How many teams score a surprising win over Clemson in Death Valley seven days before being drilled by Virginia to the tune of 31-0? Maryland probably has no business beating the Tar Heels, but, after a nine-day layoff, I’m going with them anyway, because that seems to be the way to bet in the A.C.C. this autumn. I’m taking the Terps.

Fear the girdle.

California at Oregon State: The Golden Bears are 6-3. The Beavers are 6-3. Why, then, does it feel like O.S. is about twice the team Cal is? It could be because Oregon State is in sole possession of second place in the Pac-10, stands a half-game behind a league-leading U.S.C. squad over whom the Beavs hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, and has won six of its last seven games, including five consecutive conference contests. Of course, four of Oregon State’s Pac-10 wins were over the four worst teams in the league, and the Beavers’ lone loss in conference play came against sixth-place Stanford, so it could all be smoke and mirrors, but O.S. has a history of starting slow against stiff competition and getting better later in the year, and the game is being played in Reser Stadium---which I believe is the only venue in college football whose name is a palindrome---so, in a result that would never happen in the wild, I’m taking the Beavers to beat the Bears.

Boston College at Florida State: The Eagles are an enigma. They handled their schedule fodder (Kent State, Central Florida, and Division I-AA Rhode Island) in methodical fashion, fell by three touchdowns in Chapel Hill, and won comfortably but not overwhelmingly against a Fighting Irish squad that displayed a sincere commitment to being blown out by a B.C. team that seemed determined to keep it close. The rest of Boston College’s games have been nailbiters decided by three, seven, five, and six points. Now that the ‘Noles appear to be hitting something resembling their stride, I question the ability of the Eagles to win on the road in Tallahassee, so I’m taking F.S.U. to get the job done at home.

Unfortunately for Jimbo Fisher, Saturday’s win still will count towards Bobby Bowden’s career victory total. No, I can’t justify that, either.

Brigham Young at Air Force: Is this the battle of the overrated against the ignored? The Mountain West pecking order appeared pretty clear after a couple of Thursday night outings demonstrated that Utah is marginally better than T.C.U. and Texas Christian is significantly better than B.Y.U. What, though, are we to make of the Falcons, who seem committed to winning without any of that new-fangled "forward pass" business? I suspect the military men of the Air Force Academy are beginning to feel a bit slighted, and this is their chance to take it out on an opponent with a familiar name. The Falcons will grind out another victory over the Cougars.

That, in my estimation, is how the national games of (nominal) consequence will play out, but, of course, I routinely make a hash of my attempts to predict the outcomes of football games, particularly when they do not involve S.E.C. squads, so permit me to reiterate the rule you should feel obliged to follow: Don’t Bet On It!

Coming Soon: National Game of Disinterest.

Go ‘Dawgs! Auburna delenda est!