Whit Watson Blog: Trust Me

You'll have to forgive me this week - I'm feeling just a little saucy.

Every week on Rec Warehouse College Kickoff (Fridays, 7pm, Sun Sports, shameless plug), Brady Ackerman, Terry Norvelle and I are asked to pick the winners of three or four major college football games. The games are chosen by our senior producer, Jamie Shapiro, and usually include at least one Florida school, one top-25 matchup, and one conference matchup that matters to fans of UF, FSU, Miami, and the like. We do have some advance knowledge of which games we'll be picking, but my schedule just doesn't allow me to do much homework on those games. I'm a gut prognosticator, always trusting my first instinct. And my gut went 3-0 last week.

My rationale for each pick should give a clear picture of how I go about this. The first game was Cal against UCLA. Thought process: UCLA is on a roll, having beaten Oklahoma two weeks prior and bringing back memories of the Good Old Days among Bruin faithful. Cal was ranked in the top ten, but they're still Cal. As in Berkeley, the school that counts Stanford as its biggest rival. Last year, the average SAT score of the incoming freshman class at Cal was a robust 1310, and their average high school GPA was 4.1. Not saying that smart kids can't play football, just giving you my thought process. Jeff Tedford is a marvelous coach, and has thrust the Golden Bears into the national picture, but in my mind, there was no way they were beating a hot UCLA team, on its way up with a bullet. Correct. 1-0.

Next was Georgia at Tennessee. As I stated on the show, Georgia had to be the quietest undefeated team in the country. While the national media was swooning over Southern Cal, Texas, and Penn State, the Bulldogs were flying under radar, storing energy for their SEC run. Tennessee, on the other hand, still couldn't settle on a quarterback, and looked pretty awful offensively against Florida. If the Vols got down in that game, I didn't see anything to suggest they could get back up. Correct again. 2-0.

Last was Ohio State at Penn State. Sorry, but I am not sold on the Buckeyes this year, especially since I went "all in" on the Bucks to beat Texas in one of these pick segments a few weeks ago. No way I was taking them again. Plus, the game was at State College, among the frenzy of 100,000 Nittany Lion faithful who have been waiting a decade to see a meaningful national-picture game at Happy Valley. The players are kids, ages 18 to 22, and emotion matters. Playing Ohio State at home, on national television, with a chance to remain undefeated? No-brainer. Correct again. 3-0 for the week, and 14-6 for the season (all picks are straight up). Brady and Terry are specks in my rear-view mirror.

Tooting my own horn? Hardly. Heck, I'm admitting that I do zero research on these picks. There's something to be said for trusting your instincts, I guess. That's a life lesson, too, but you didn't come here to read a Tony Robbins essay.

If I was a gambling man (and as has been discussed in this space, I am not), I would never bet on college football. Too much emotion, too many hormones, too many swings in momentum. Sure, Duke will never upset Miami - but USF will shock Louisville, TCU will knock off Oklahoma, and UCF will win three in a row. One way or another, it happens every year. Sports radio shows and television networks like ours love to include "pick segments" as part of the show, because it generates discussion, e-mails, and phone calls, which means listeners and viewers. I wouldn't place too much stock in who picks whom each week.

But did I mention that I'm 14-6?

That being said, here's a few more gut instincts for the season, and a halftime report card:

The Florida Gators have LSU, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Florida State remaining on the schedule. Of those, I think South Carolina is the only sure thing - but I'm not exactly on the Vandy bandwagon, either. That leaves LSU, Georgia, and FSU. Two out of three is not impossible, but will require Gator performances vastly different from those of the last two weeks. And don't ask me to explain this, but if Florida State enters the Florida game at 10-0, I think the Gators have a better chance of winning than if the Seminoles come in with a loss already on their record. There's just no logic to the UF-FSU series - for proof, go back and watch the videotape of Ron Zook being carried off Bobby Bowden Field last year. Emotion matters, especially when you're playing your most hated rival.

Florida State's biggest hurdle in their quest to enter that Florida game in November at 10-0 appears to be either Maryland or North Carolina State. Wait, those are both home games at Doak? Never mind. Still, something tells me that the Seminoles will trip somewhere along the line. Virginia, as bad as they've looked the last few weeks, is a benchmark game for these young Noles. If FSU pounds the Cavs, I believe the runway is clear until Gainesville, when all bets are off.

Miami plays Virginia Tech on the road on November 5th. The winner of that game will be your Coastal Division representative at the first-ever ACC Championship game in Jacksonville in December. Will Miami get tripped before or after the Hokies? You tell me - combined record of the other five teams on Miami's remaining schedule is 10-17. Beat Va Tech, and punch your ticket. A tall order. That game will turn on a freak play.

South Florida will beat Pittsburgh, but lose to either Rutgers (seriously) or Connecticut. Both are road games, and any native Floridian (like me) who has ever spent a November in New England (like me) will understand my angle here. Seven wins in a first-ever Big East campaign would be a great year. Eight wins would require a parade. Nine wins, and they better start building that Jim Leavitt statue outside Raymond James Stadium. But it won't happen.

UCF, winners of three in a row and your first-place team in the Eastern Division of Conference USA, will go from 0-11 to bowl eligible in one season. Book it. Seriously, is there a better story in college football right now? Check out these numbers from the win over Memphis last Saturday: 38 points, a season high and the best output for the Golden Knights since November 30th, 2002. 540 total yards, their best effort since October of 2003. Steven Moffett passes for 290 yards, 157 of those to Mike Walker, who had all of 9 catches and 191 receiving yards in 11 games last season. And Kevin Smith runs for 153 yards, outgaining DeAngelo Williams of Memphis by 20-plus - and Williams leads the country in yards per game. UCF won't win out, but they'll win enough.

Believe it or not, after an 0-5 start, Florida Atlantic can still compete for the Sun Belt title. The Owls have five conference games left, against teams with a combined overall record of 7-15. Three of those teams - Troy, Arkansas State, and four-time league champ North Texas - are ahead of FAU in the Sun Belt standings. The problem is, your league leader is Louisiana-Monroe, who beat the Owls by a touchdown on September 22nd. When the 2005 story is written for FAU, that loss will loom as the turning point in the season.

Florida International, with Louisiana-Monroe, FAU, Troy, Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and North Texas still on their Sun Belt schedule, can not only play spoiler to any of those teams, but can actually salvage their conference season. However, it would take a heroic effort from the Golden Panthers. FIU is still a year away from competing on a weekly basis.

Grounded in statistics? Nope. Not this time, even though I'm an admitted stat-lover. Pure speculation. If I'm wrong, I'll admit it, gladly. But if I'm right, you better believe that Brady and Terry are gonna hear about it.


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