The occasion was our annual fantasy baseball draft, it was my turn to pick a player, and somehow the collection of experts in the room had all overlooked Sammy Sosa. As I said, this was some years ago, when Sammy, aided by a steady diet of Flintstone vitamins, was swatting homers by the dozens—making him a huge point-generator in fantasy leagues.
Just as important to me personally was the inescapable fact that he played for the north-siders. As a fourth-generation Cubs fan—I certainly wouldn't choose such a fate—I was eager to scoop up the rare Cub who also could help me escape the shame of another last-place finish in my fantasy league.
As I recollect, my instincts were correct: with Sammy's help, I finished at least one or two spots from the bottom. Even better, throughout the season I was able to cheer for Sammy and the Cubs without any reservation, since there was no clash between my desires as a fan and my needs as a would-be general manager.
Most die-hard sports fans who dabble in fantasy leagues know what I'm talking about—those inevitable moments when hot emotion and cold logic come into conflict; when your team isn't really your team, the one you root for; when you contemplate adding another stat-producing Yankee or Packer but wonder if that makes you a brilliant operator or an immoral cheat.
Which brings me to the subject of the hour. When I put together my highly influential set of college football predictions each week, I inevitably agonize over what to do with the teams and games I really, really care about. That is, just because I can't stand the thought of Northwestern losing or Notre Dame winning, does that mean I should pick their games accordingly? Should I simply trust my analytical reasoning to cut through the haze of emotional attachments? Or, acknowledging my ability to curse even the most formidable teams, should I tag NU as losers and ND as winners so the reverse might come true?
After much consideration, I've determined that I have no freaking clue.
But I do know this: Last week I guessed that the Wildcats would lose to Nebraska, and then hoped like hell I would be wrong. I even boasted to my colleague Jerome Ludwig that the pick was part of my winning strategy. And for three and a half quarters of the game, I appeared to be the lousy prognosticator I aspired to be.
Then the Huskers came from behind and won by a point. I've never been so sorry to be right.
On to the games.
Thursday night special:
No. 14 Clemson over Wake Forest: You know why? Because Clemson's better.
Friday night lights:
Louisville over Cincinnati: This was going to be a matchup of undefeateds until Cincy was snagged by Toledo. Too bad—that happened to me once too, when I took a wrong turn on the way home from vacation.
Indiana over Illinois: When two teams battle for their elusive third win, who doesn't come out losing?
Northwestern over Iowa: The stadium will be full of disappointed fans, and that's before kickoff.
Purdue over Minnesota: The winner is a near-lock for a bowl game no one will attend.
Wisconsin over Michigan State: This looks like a great game last year.
Penn State over No. 8 Ohio State: There ought to be a law. Actually, there is, and they both broke it, which is why this has become the Bowl-Banned Bowl.
Nebraska over Michigan: Which erratic quarterback will play like he has all season?
No. 3 Florida over No. 12 Georgia: Georgia's been really good except when they lost to South Carolina by something like 412—the same South Carolina team that Florida thrashed, routed, dominated, and chomped.
No. 4 Kansas State over No. 15 Texas Tech: K State may very well be the nation's best team of Wildcats in purple—and I don't say that lightly.
No. 8 Oklahoma over No. 5 Notre Dame: The Irish are still undefeated, which leaves me thinking something previously untenable: It's up to Oklahoma to set things right.
No. 2 Oregon over Colorado / No. 7 Oregon State over Washington: What, there are only two undefeated top-ten teams in Oregon?
No. 1 Alabama over No. 13 Mississippi State: The Bulldogs could be the first team to come within 19 points of Alabama, but I doubt it.
NIU over Western Michigan: But don't start getting cocky, because my mother and grandmother went to Western and they'll kick your ass.
U. of C. over Case Western: Both have beaten up on the same weaklings and been treated as weaklings by others. Man up, Maroons!
Last week: I went 10-3 (thank you very little, Indiana, Iowa, and West Virginia). Season: 80-22.