I give the Auburn Tigers a hard time because I consider them the Georgia Bulldogs' biggest rival. However, no matter how strongly I root against the Plainsmen any time they take the field, there are, of course, more important things in life than college football.
In that spirit, I am sure I speak for the entire Bulldog Nation when I say that we send our thoughts and prayers to Auburn freshman defensive tackle Alonzo Horton, a New Orleans native who lost members of his immediate family in the flooding following Hurricane Katrina (http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=2152670).
Our deepest sympathies go out to the young man and his family in the wake of this tragedy, against which even the most heated of athletic rivalries are utterly insignificant.
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Like Boise State, I'm just trying to see if I'm ready to run with the big boys. Hopefully, I'm faring a bit better than the Broncos.
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Last week, I picked 31 games, not counting Georgia's win over Boise State or the national game of disinterest, for which I refuse to make a choice between two teams about whom I couldn't care less. Two of those games (North Texas at Louisiana State and Tulane at Southern Miss) were taken off of the Labor Day weekend schedule as a result of the devastation in Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of the storm. In the remaining 29 games, I posted a respectable record of 24-5.
Admittedly, that ledger was bolstered somewhat by the presence of some patsy games, although, as it turned out, some of what were expected to be patsy games (such as, for instance, Tennessee-U.A.B.) were anything but that. In any case, I will be tackling a more manageable slate of contests this week and, lest you be inclined to take my success in week one as a cause for confidence in my horrendous skills as a prognosticator, I feel it is my duty to forewarn you . . . Don't Bet On It!
Around the S.E.C.:
Idaho State at Kentucky - There'll be some scratching and some clawing in Lexington as the Bengals and the Wildcats take part in the most noteworthy exchange of feline fisticuffs since that embarrassing backstage brawl at the cast party for an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I like the home team in this one, and not just because Kentucky showed me something against Louisville. I.S.U. is apt to be a bit disoriented upon arriving at Commonwealth Stadium: the game, after all, is being played in the Bluegrass State and football teams from Idaho take the term bluegrass literally. While the Bengals are adjusting to the fact that Kentucky's field is green, the Wildcats will be leaping out to an early lead and Idaho State will be unable to keep up with the home team. U.K. wins its easiest victory since the Falkland Islands war.
Louisiana Tech at Florida - At Kansas State, they call it "stair-stepping into the season." Everywhere else, they call it "weak scheduling." Urban Meyer continues his tour of mid-major also-rans as the Gators conclude their exhibition season against Louisiana Tech. Afterwards, Coach Meyer will declare smugly, "See? I'm just as good as Steve Spurrier; I beat the Bulldogs, too!" A U.F. alumnus will have to pull Urban Legend aside to explain to him that there's a big difference between Louisiana Tech and Georgia. In any event, the Gators will win again and, sooner or later, they'll get around to playing an actual opponent.
Mississippi State at Auburn - To no one's surprise, one team comes into this Western Division showdown winless and the other arrives undefeated. What no one expected, of course, was that M.S.U. would be the unbeaten and A.U. would be the one searching for the season's first victory. The last time the Tigers suffered an early season loss to Georgia Tech, the Plainsmen went into a tailspin and proceeded to lose to everybody who was anybody. Of course, the last time an S.E.C. coach clad in orange and blue lost to Mississippi State, he was fired in the tunnel on the way from the sideline to the locker room. Should Bobby Petrino begin updating his resume? I don't think so; Auburn ain't all that, but the Tigers are better than these Bulldogs, at any rate.
Vanderbilt at Arkansas - Bobby Johnson, who looks like Steve Martin but lacks the won-lost record compiled by the comedic actor in "Cheaper by the Dozen," has improved Vanderbilt's toughness as a team, although that has not translated into victories on the field. Houston Nutt, whose sideline demeanor resembles that of a tent revival preacher on crack after he has been zapped in the neck with a cattle prod, entered the 2005 campaign on the hot seat after a losing season and a dalliance with L.S.U. last year. After this game, Coach Nutt's Razorbacks begin a brutal stretch run: in the span of five Saturdays between September 17 and October 22, the Hogs take on Southern Cal in Los Angeles, Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Auburn in Fayetteville, and Georgia in Athens. The Commodores may be 1-0, but Arkansas needs the win worse, so I like the Razorbacks to gore the 'Dores.
Southern Miss at Alabama - One of these days, we're going to have to get around to kicking Vanderbilt out of the S.E.C. and giving the Golden Eagles their spot. One thing is for sure: if we did so, the Crimson Tide wouldn't play U.S.M. any more often than they do already. Southern Miss has pulled off some upsets over the years and, unless you happen to have coached the Miami Dolphins to an undefeated season, you know that Jeff Bower is a better football coach than Mike Shula. Although an upset wouldn't surprise me, I'm sticking with 'Bama until the Red Elephants give me a reason to pick against them.
Arizona State at Louisiana State - The Sun Devils went down to the bayou. They were looking for a game to win. The home team they feared. The S.E.C. appeared to be better than their own Pac-10. Both teams were beset by tragedy before the season started: former Arizona State football player Brandon Falkner was shot to death and another player, Loren Wade, was charged in connection with the incident, whereas Baton Rouge had to deal directly with the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Katrina. The Sun Devils won their opening game convincingly and it was clear that the victory was a cathartic experience for the team; I expect the Tigers also will use this occasion to get a lot of pent-up emotion out of their systems. One way or another, Louisiana State will find a way to win. The Bayou Bengals'll have this to say after A.S.U.'s hides they've tanned: "We done told you once, you Sun Devil team: we're the best league in the land."
National Games of Interest:
Utah State at Utah - It is no secret that I do not believe the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets should be given pride of place as the final opponent on the Bulldogs' regular season slate. Since Georgia's in-state rivalry ceased being a conference game four decades ago, the series has lost none of its intensity but much of its luster. From an historical standpoint, the 'Dawgs never closed out the campaign against the Ramblin' Wreck before 1927, the 34th season in which the Red and Black fielded an intercollegiate football team. Tech did not become the Bulldogs' permanent season-ending opponent until 1953, more than 60 years after Georgia played its first football game. Vince Dooley was just the second head coach in University of Georgia football history to end the regular season against the Georgia Institute of Technology each year of his tenure in Athens. Meanwhile, the Auburn Tigers are the Bulldogs' oldest rival; the Red and Black have faced the Plainsmen more times than any other opponent in Georgia's history and, in the first 23 seasons of Georgia football, the 'Dawgs finished the season by tangling with the War Eagle 18 times. A.U. is a conference opponent and the S.E.C. championship (or a berth in the title game) often is on the line when the Bulldogs and the Tigers meet. In short, Auburn, not Georgia Tech, is Georgia's traditional season-ending opponent and is the Bulldogs' biggest rival; accordingly, the Georgia Tech game should be moved to September or October so that the Georgia-Auburn series can be restored to its rightful prominence as the Red and Black's final regular season game. (As an added bonus, since A.U. insists upon ending its regular season against Alabama, Georgia could play Auburn last, on the Saturday before the Alabama-Auburn game, which would give the 'Dawgs a built-in open date before the S.E.C. championship game every year.) As part of my perennial campaign to get the Tech game rescheduled for earlier in the year, I call my regular readers' attention to other in-state rivalry games that are played before---and, in some cases, well before---Thanksgiving, just to let folks know that it can be done. For that reason, I am including Utah-Utah State among this week's picks. Oh, by the way, the Utes are going to obliterate the overmatched Aggies.
Iowa at Iowa State - See Utah State at Utah, supra. The Hawkeyes are contenders in the rugged Big Ten. The Cyclones are contenders in the dismal Big 12 North. Iowa wins.
Boise State at Oregon State - Honestly, I'm not picking this game to be mean; I genuinely am interested to see how the Broncos will react to their recent setback in the Classic City. There can be no doubt that, last Saturday night, B.S.U. was unmasked on national television like a "Scooby Doo" villain who would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for those meddling Bulldogs. Although the Broncos' bid to join the nation's elite was set back quite a bit, the fact remains that Boise State has won ten or more games in five of the last six seasons and the Broncos still have a lot to play for this year. In 2003, B.S.U. dropped a 26-24 decision to Oregon State in Corvallis; last year, the Broncos beat the Beavers by a 53-34 margin in Boise; will 2005 be the year Boise State wins its second straight over O.S.U.? I think not: last year's Boise State-Oregon State game was played on the Smurf turf and the Broncos have never won a road game against a Pac-10 team. Moreover, B.S.U.'s 2004 victory over O.S.U. partly resulted from the fact that the Beavers had lost to L.S.U. in a game Oregon State ought to have won. Last year, the Beavers couldn't recover from the missed extra points that caused them to lose an overtime game in Baton Rouge the week before; this year, the Broncos will be the ones struggling to rebound after a crushing defeat at the hands of an S.E.C. opponent. I believe Boise State will come back to win the W.A.C., but I look for Oregon State to hand the Broncos their second straight setback.
Texas Christian at Southern Methodist - Not to be overly technical or anything, but, since all Texans are also Southerners and since all Methodists are also Christians, it's entirely possible that these two could be the same team without any of us ever knowing it. If T.C.U. had to take on even a halfway decent opponent this week, I'd pick against them because I can't imagine the Horned Frogs have come down from the clouds yet after beating Oklahoma. Fortunately for Texas Christian, S.M.U. is awful. In a match-up that sounds like it came out of a Mark Twain short story, the Horned Frogs will outrace the Mustangs.
Notre Dame at Michigan - Wake up the echoes? How 'bout waking me up when there's a reason why I ought to care about this game. The Fighting Irish and the Wolverines finish at or near the top of the college football world in several important categories: all-time winning percentages, famous fight songs, and, most notably, how sick and tired I am of hearing about either one of them. The Truculent Leprechauns renew their rivalry with the team named for the coolest X-Man and Charlie Weis is the talk of the town in South Bend. As Tyrone Willingham learned the hard way, though, a 1-0 start doth not a successful Notre Dame head coach make. This one will be a hard-fought battle, but the Maize and Blue bring much more to the table defensively than the hapless Pittsburgh Panthers, so the significance of the Fighting Irish's season opener should not be overestimated. By the way, you don't suppose anyone in Ann Arbor asked Michigan alumnus Tom Brady for a copy of Charlie Weis's playbook, do you? I don't expect the margin to be more than a touchdown, but, in the end, Hugh Jackman will use his adamantium claws to maul Rudy and the Wolverines will win.
Texas at Ohio State - U.T. locks 'Horns with the Buckeyes at the Horseshoe in the most eagerly anticipated intersectional match-up of the young season. Two ranked opponents with designs on an undefeated season face off in an intriguing clash of teams from different regions. That sounds exciting, right? Yeah, well, so did Georgia-Boise State a week or so ago. I ain't buying this as a ball game. There's a point at which my regional bias kicks in and renders me incapable of believing that a good team from the South could lose to a good team from somewhere else. (What about the top-ranked Trojans, you may ask? I would direct your attention to the fact that they are, after all, the University of Southern California.) Not to sound like Pat Dye or anything, but I don't believe the Buckeyes are man enough to take down the Longhorns. When one team's greatest game day tradition is to dot the "I" in the script "Ohio" and the other team's greatest game day tradition is to park a longhorn steer on the sidelines, well, I'm taking the guys who bring their beef on the hoof to beat the guys who get a charge out of writing in cursive. No conference crown, no national title, and no bragging rights are on the line, so there's no reason for Mack Brown to choke. I look for the 'Horns to hook 'em and I don't look for it to be close.
National Game of Disinterest:
Wake Forest at Nebraska - The Cornhuskers have maintained several impressive streaks throughout my lifetime, all of which have ended during the last couple of years. The Demon Deacons just lost to Vanderbilt at home, which is the sort of thing that ought to get a guy fired. (It should be noted that the last two Georgia head coaches who lost to the Commodores at home---Johnny Griffith in 1961 and Ray Goff in 1994---were, in fact, fired.) In short, this is a clash between the has-beens and the never-weres. Nebraska has gone from great to good to bad. Wake Forest has gone from bad to good and back to bad. Both squads aspire to mediocrity. The only bragging rights accompanying a victory in this game will be, "We still have a shot at playing a bowl game in December!" Watching these two teams square off will be about as much fun as watching a made-for-T.V. movie on the Lifetime Network starring Judith Light and Gerald McRaney. I refuse to offer a prognostication because it would obligate me to find out the final score afterwards and that's a commitment I'm just not prepared to make.
Those are my predictions for the upcoming weekend of college football, for whatever they might be worth. I may have lurched uncontrollably into the truth in some of last week's picks, but that is all the more reason for you to believe that I am overdue to stink it up next Saturday.
If that is not enough to scare you away from relying too heavily on my forecasts, allow me to express myself more explicitly: Don't Bet On It!