The first matchup I need to cover this week, as it is integral to the success of all the others, is Beard +14 vs. Itch. See, after I got laid off a couple months ago I made a vow that I wasn't going to trim my beard until I got a formal job interview, and while I had achieved a pretty cool Mountain Man/Taliban look as of this past weekend, I really couldn't point to a single good thing that's happened since I started growing it out (the Dawgs' loss to Okie State and last week's atrocious picks record being only the latest miseries). So on Tuesday I risked a week's worth of acute itchyface by sawing it back to a nice, manageable Colin-Farrell-stumbling-out-of-some-random-chick's-apartment-at-6-a.m. scruff, and I have yet to regret it:
Bad beard mojo, begone! Let the healing (and better picks) begin!
RISK LEVEL 1: Drinking a Starbucks venti French Roast and eating two Burrito Supremes from Taco Bell before going on a long car trip: South Carolina +7 at Georgia, 7 p.m. Saturday
Considering how extraordinarily lucky either of these teams were to have even scored seven points on opening weekend, the touchdown spread in this matchup already looks a little shady. And this series has been a defensive slugfest in even the most favorable of circumstances: Only twice in the Mark Richt era has the margin of victory in this game been more than one score, and the average outcome has been a Georgia victory by a mere 6.5 points.
Even the starry-eyed Georgia homer in me cannot say with any degree of certainty that this game will not devolve into a "Yakety Sax"-worthy simulacrum of last year's Auburn-Mississippi State shenanigans, so do yourself a favor and take the underdog and the points. Given the kind of trouble Stephen Garcia is sure to attract in downtown Athens, you're gonna want to have a little extra cash to contribute to his legal defense fund, because you're a giver like that.
RISK LEVEL 2: Leaving the airport only an hour before your flight is scheduled to leave: Southern California -7 at Ohio State, 8 p.m. Saturday
You don't have to be a blinkered, Yankee-hating SEC chauvinist to know that Ohio State craps the bed like clockwork in big intersectional games. Southern Cal, on the other hand, has played a slew of ranked out-of-conference opponents and still managed to lose to only one OOC team since 2002. That was the '05 Texas Longhorns, with whom some of you might be familiar; in their other 12 games against ranked non-conference foes, they've won by an average of three touchdowns. Behind a true-freshman QB getting his first road-trip experience in front of 102,329 profanity-spewing, styrofoam-cooler-shitting Buckeye partisans, I don't know that I can quite pick USC to win by that much this time around, but they'll win by enough. The law of averages -- or maybe just the law of an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters -- says that Ohio State will eventually restore its good name in a high-profile out-of-conference matchup, but it ain't gonna happen this weekend.
RISK LEVEL 3: Going to a bar with Redskins TE Chris Cooley and matching him shot for shot Houston +16 at Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Look, I'm as impressed as anyone with the degree to which Okie State handled the Dawgs on Saturday; particularly with the Sooners sustaining a haymaker to their title chances, it might be time to start considering the Cowboys as the real deal (or at least a real deal) in the Big 12. But real deal or no, a letdown opportunity is a letdown opportunity, and this is a big one: Not only does Houston bring back eight starters from an offense that was even more prolific than the Cowboys' last season, their coach is Kevin Sumlin, who spent two years as OSU's co-offensive coordinator before taking the top job with the Cougars. Not that that means Houston will be putting any major crimps in the Cowboys' offensive onslaught, but if this game devolves into a shootout in which Zac Robinson and Case Keenum are matching each other touchdown bomb for touchdown bomb, it's that much less likely that anybody will be putting 16 points' worth of distance between anybody else. Drop a fifty on the Cougars plus the juice, then sit back and let the basketball-on-grass begin.
RISK LEVEL 4: Paying for a hooker with a personal check Tulane +17 vs. Brigham Young, 10:15 p.m. Saturday
Jesus Christ, you beat one alleged national-title contender with a rebuilt offensive line and a QB who spends half the game in a shoulder sling and all of a sudden people are penciling you in for the BCS national-title game. Let's not forget how many extraordinarily lucky breaks BYU had to get just to beat Oklahoma by one point, nor the fact that Tulane, situated between a monster upset of a top-five team and a home date with Florida State, sets up to be as dicey a trap game as anything the Cougars will face all season. (Or is it a sandwich game? Maybe a trap sandwich. Y'all play with that one for a little bit and get back to me.) Tulane may suck, but they've handily beaten the spread against the last five ranked teams they've faced, whereas BYU went 3-9 against the line last year. Look at it this way: Win this one and you'll have a nice fat wad of cash to go blow on booze and debauchery in the French Quarter after the game, and it's not like you're gonna have to be climbing over Brigham Young fans to get to the bar, either.
RISK LEVEL 5: Mailing an envelope full of white powder to the White House "as a joke": Iowa State straight up vs. Iowa, noon Saturday
OK, so maybe this one isn't that risky: Despite being the state's demonstrably superior program in the grand scheme of things since Kirk Ferentz arrived, Iowa is only 4-6 against ISU under Ferentz, and even their victories (12 points on average) have been lackluster considering that only one of them has come against a Cyclone team with a winning record. Sure, there's ample evidence that current Auburn head man Gene Chizik left the ISU program in tatters, but they weren't the ones who spent last Saturday dicking around with an FCS squad to the point where they had to block two game-winning field-goal attempts in the final seven seconds to escape with a win. Sure, it's a risk, but what else are you gonna do for excitement if you live in Iowa?
LOCK OF THE WEEK: IHOP's football-themed stuffed French toast -32.5 vs. Hunger
IHOP isn't necessarily known for its consistency in crunch time, so I don't blame anyone for being dubious about their ability to cover that kind of line, even at home. But you're just going to have to trust me on this one: The football-themed stuffed French toast, which joined IHOP's lineup just in the past couple weeks, is a blue-chip performer destined to dominate from the moment it steps onto the field. I had a chance to experience it in action at an IHOP in Knoxville on Monday night, and was amazed enough to conclude that starting the stuffed French toast in place of pancakes might just be one of those risky personnel changes that actually makes this a stronger team. Do not hesitate to plunk your $6.99 down on the favorite in this one, folks. You won't regret it.