Now, for this week's festivities. The college football season begins its final stretch, and there is a vicious fight for positioning in the bowl races. Let's take a conference-by-conference look at the races and where I think the teams might be headed as of today.
Big East: West Virginia will be the weakest BCS qualifier in the short history of the alignment. The Mountaineers should be 10-1, but their record will be misleading. I see them headed to the Fiesta Bowl. Boston College has the best shot at finishing second and is favored for the Gator Bowl. I think Connecticut, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame will all finish 6-5, whereas Rutgers will miss at 5-6. The Irish lead for the Insight.com Bowl, and Pittsburgh has the edge for the Continental Tire Bowl. UConn is the odd man out, but the Huskies could benefit from another conference's woes.
ACC: Miami should be able to win at Virginia and finish 11-0. They may be headed to a date in the Sugar Bowl against another undefeated team. Florida State finds itself in the familiar position of finishing 10-1 after a near miss with Miami. Because Utah appears headed to a BCS at-large bid, the Seminoles may be left with a Gator Bowl spot. Virginia Tech may edge Virginia and get the Peach Bowl. Virginia would fall to the Tangerine Bowl. North Carolina St. would be available for the Continental Tire Bowl. I have a feeling Georgia Tech and Wake Forest could both come up one win shy, so the MPC Computers Bowl would have to look for an at-large team.
C-USA: This conference gets five bowl bids. Louisville and Southern Miss. don't play each other and could easily finish as co-champs. Place the Cards in the Liberty Bowl and USM in the GMAC Bowl. Memphis looks good for a spot in the Hawaii Bowl. UAB should give Watson Brown his first bowl bid. The New Orleans Bowl would be a great fit. As for the Ft. Worth Bowl, they sure would like TCU. However, I think the Horned Frogs could slip to 5-6. The surprise team who might sneak in at 6-5 is Army. Bobby Ross's cadets started 0-4 and have now won two in a row. The schedule is favorable for a dark horse run.
MAC: The Eastern Division looks to be Marshall's once again. However, lurking in the bushes is Akron. If the Zips can upset the Herd at home, they actually have a clear path to the title game. Miami of Ohio still has a chance. In the West, there are three very good teams in Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Bowling Green. I think NIU will win it all and get the Motor City Bowl bid, while Marshall wins out in the battle for the GMAC Bowl. Four other teams could be bowl eligible in a year where more than one bowl could be forced to look for an at-large team.
BIG 10: I have a gut feeling that Wisconsin will be upset in one of their final two games, with Michigan State being the prime culprit. That means Michigan could get the Rose Bowl Bid by winning out. Wisconsin would have to settle for the Capital One Bowl. Purdue is in line for the Outback Bowl. Michigan State and Minnesota can both win eight games, and the Alamo and Sun Bowls would choose between them. Iowa looks to be the favorite to come to Nashville and the Music City Bowl. As strange as it sounds, Ohio State could finish 5-6 and miss out. In that case, the Motor City Bowl would have to look for an at-large team. Connecticut would look good here.
SEC: Auburn looks tough enough to run the table and meet Miami in the Sugar Bowl. Tennessee could go 10-2 and get the Capital One Bowl. LSU and Georgia at 9-2 each would be chosen for the Cotton and Outback Bowls. South Carolina looks good for the Peach Bowl. Florida and Alabama might both finish 6-5. Pencil the Tide for the Independence and The Gators for the Music City Bowl. Arkansas and Ole Miss don't look like 6-win teams, so the Houston Bowl may have to look elsewhere for an at-large team.
Sunbelt: The race for the New Orleans Bowl will go to the winner of the North Texas & Louisiana Monroe game, unless Louisiana Lafayette gets hot and wins out. N. Texas has won this league every year of its existence.
Big 12: Oklahoma is on a mission. There are still two teams who could spoil the Sooner's party, but let's pencil them in for the Orange Bowl. Texas or Texas A&M would fill the seats at the Cotton Bowl, with the other headed to the Holiday Bowl. Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Missouri could finish with identical records. The Red Raiders would look good in the Alamo Bowl; The Cowboys would head to the Houston Bowl; and Mizzou would be left for the Independence Bowl. Nebraska and Colorado should both finish 6-5. The Huskers would be the choice of the Ft. Worth Bowl, while the Buffs would head to the Tangerine Bowl.
Mountain West: Utah is on the cusp of becoming the first "outsider" team to crack the BCS. The Utes still have two road games in the MWC, and this is a conference where it is tough to go undefeated on the road. At 11-0, Utah gets the Fiesta Bowl Bid. Brigham Young and Wyoming are in shape to finish 6-5. Air Force will have to win at Army, or else go 5-6 and stay home. I think it could happen. BYU gets the Las Vegas Bowl bid, and Wyoming gets the Emerald Bowl Bid. As for the Liberty Bowl, I think a deal will be worked out to let another team from outside the MWC get the bid. See the WAC.
WAC: Boise State is looking at an 11-0 finish. If Utah goes 11-0, the Broncos could replace them in the Liberty Bowl in some type of deal. That would leave the MPC Computers Bowl to UTEP, and the Silicon Valley Bowl to Fresno State. As for the Hawaii Bowl, the home team Rainbows only need beat Louisiana Tech, Idaho, and either Northwestern or Michigan State (all at home) to guarantee that spot.
PAC-10: Southern Cal isn't a 100% lock to run the table, but the Trojans sure look like the best team in the land for the third year in a row (that's right, I said 3). USC should get the Orange Bowl Bid, but the date in Corvalis, Oregon, against the Beavers could be a toughie. California can win out and get their first Rose Bowl bid in 46 years. Arizona State would be a good pick for the Holiday Bowl. Oregon and UCLA are fairly even. Give the Bruins the Sun Bowl bid and the Ducks the Insight.com Bowl bid. That leaves three more bowls (Las Vegas, Emerald, and Silicon Valley). I think the PAC-10 is going to run into trouble here, especially if Cal gets a BCS at-large bid. Oregon State, Washington State, and Stanford are all staring at 5-6 or worse records. Each team will need at least one upset to get the magic 6th win.
Independents: Navy should finish no worse than 9-2 and will most definitely get an at-large bid. Florida Atlantic could finish 10-1 but will only get a bid if they are the last available bowl eligible team.
At-Large Ideas: There could be four or five at-large slots open. This would be a feather in the cap of the MAC, where four teams could be bowl eligible with no automatic bid. Connecticut at 6-5 could get a bid if the bowl is in the eastern half of the country. There is a very remote chance that one bowl may have to look at Florida Atlantic or a second team from the Sunbelt. If Troy could get to 6-5, they could pick up the last available berth.
This Week's Vandy - LSU Game
Vanderbilt hasn't won an SEC road game in four years. Breaking that losing streak at the Tiger's Den in Baton Rouge is about as likely as John Kerry carrying Texas and George W. Bush carrying New York on Tuesday. Vanderbilt can play its best game of the year and lose by 7 to 10 points, or play its worst game of the year and lose by 30-40. I will split the difference and say the Dores lose by 20-25 points. 34-14 to 35-10 is the expected score.
This Week's Picks
I came back to Earth last week and went 2-2 for the week. That leaves me at 31-11 for the year. I'm sticking with teaser parlays this week, as I am hitting these at about an 80% success rate for the season.
3-team, 10-point teaser parlay: Michigan -1 vs. Michigan State, Ohio State + 3 1/2 vs. Penn State, and Iowa -1 1/2 vs. Illinois. Michigan State is going to be sky high when this game kicks off. That scares me, as the Spartans have enough talent to pull off the upset. I am going with the odds here in picking The Wolverines to win at home. Penn State has to shut out Ohio State to win by more than 3 1/2. By the way, the last team to score four points in a game was Florida against Miami in 1987. The Buckeyes should win 12-7 or something like that. Ron Turner is in the final stages as coach of the Illini. Iowa should win with ease.
3-team, 10-point teaser parlay: Colorado State +7 1/2 vs. New Mexico, Florida State -1 vs. Maryland, and Marshall - 16 1/2 vs. Central Florida. The Rams have been improving the last few weeks, and this is a must win if they have any chance of getting to 6-5. Getting 7 1/2 points at home is enough. Maryland's offense has gone south, and their defense won't hold the Seminoles in check. FSU should win by at least two touchdowns. Marshall hosts UCF. George O'Leary's winless Golden Knights are out of their league here.
3-team, 10-point teaser parlay: South Carolina +11 vs. Tennessee, Baylor +32 vs. Texas A&M, and Northern Illinois -10 vs. Ball State. The South Carolina-Tennessee game should be a good one that goes down to the wire. USC getting 11 points at home looks good. Baylor lost at Texas A&M last year 73-10. The Bears will be mad enough to keep the score much closer. 32 points will be hard for the Aggies to top. NIU should rip Ball State to shreds until they empty the bench. The 10-point spread could be satisfied in the first quarter.
4-team, 13-point teaser parlay: Miami (F) -8 1/2 vs. North Carolina, West Virginia -2 vs. Rutgers, Auburn -4 1/2 vs. Ole Miss, and Oklahoma State +26 vs. Oklahoma. Miami needs a few slaughters if they are going to jump back over Oklahoma. They should beat the Tar Heels by four touchdowns. West Virginia could meet some resistance against Rutgers, but I think the running game will mow the Scarlet Knights down. Auburn is due for a close game; let's hope it isn't closer than a touchdown. I don't think Oklahoma State can score much against Oklahoma, but I think the Sooners will win by no more than 30-7.
4-team, 13-point teaser parlay: Mississippi State +10 vs. Kentucky, Colorado + 27 vs. Texas, California - 2 1/2 vs. Arizona State, and San Diego State +32 vs. Utah. Can this Kentucky team beat Mississippi State's cheerleaders by 10 points on the road? Colorado should play the Longhorns close in Boulder, so 27 points seems too much for UT to overcome. The Cal-ASU game is my pick for the best match up of the week. Quarterbacks Andrew Walter and Aaron Rodgers should put on quite a show, but I'm going with the Bears to win at home by more than a field goal. Utah has two MWC road games left. The Aztecs should threaten with the upset for a while, but I see the Utes winning. I just don't see the spread being more than three touchdowns.
A Funny From The Pen of Fred Russell
Fred Russell wrote several excellent funny anecdotal books in his day. One of my favorite anecdotes was about a big, raw tackle at the University of Iowa. The Hawkeye coach, in his first pep talk to the team one year, explained the importance of the tackle position, calling it the one position on the field where most games were lost. After talking for a few minutes more about the tackle's responsibilities, the coach noticed his big young bruiser wasn't paying attention. The coach turned to the big brute and asked him where most games were lost. The tackle responded, "Right here at Iowa coach."
Tuesday Night Prediction
I am picking the President to win re-election with 297 electoral votes to 241 for Senator Kerry. I'm picking the GOP to retain both the Senate (53-46 with one independent) and the House (by 10-15 seats). Of course, there are sure-fire ways to determine who is going to win. For the last 17 elections, if the Washington Redskins win the Sunday before election day, the incumbent is 17 for 17. In every election up to now, the candidate with the most royalty in his blood has won. Kerry wins this royal battle, although Bush is not far behind. They are actually fairly close cousins to themselves. Both are direct descendants of Vlad the Impaler. Trick or Treat.