Thursday, September 29, 2005

We Believe!

Expecting to win. While some may say doing so hinders a person from ever coming to grips with the reality that his team is not quite as untouchable as the optimistic fan would care to confess, it is this hope that sustains him during his team's times of struggle and despair. But this is how many fans of all sports across the world view each game. How else could you explain the loyalty of Cubs fans or Clippers fans or even Ole Miss fans? There can be no other way. In fact, to be a true fan, one must not just merely root for his team to win, but he must trust that it will actually be so. Thus, this explains the origin of the "wait 'til next year" assertion that supporters of losing teams cry at the end of each season as they fully believe that when the next season arrives, all of their team's incompetencies will be resolved and their losing ways will be no more. But what is it that gives such hapless romantics the perseverance to continue in their blind allegiance against the voice of reason? It is the example of others who have overcome. Just look at last year's Boston Red Sox or this year's Vanderbilt Commodores. It is teams like them that give fans everywhere the affirmation that "it could happen for me, too." So, as another weekend of college football approaches, many underdogs (Alabama, Arizona State, Missouri, etc...) find themselves hanging onto hope in the face of insurmountable odds as they believe that this is their turn for them to pull off the upset. So, whether you're from the era of Kirk Gibson or Curt Schilling, George Michael or Limp Bizkit, the same truth applies to you--"You gotta have faith." With that said, let's see whose faith is going to be rewarded this weekend...

Alabama 24, Florida 20. The anxious anticipation and uncertainty around the state of Alabama caused by the arrival of a 5th ranked Florida Gator football team can be compared only to that of a young boy making his first trip to Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch: he is highly excited, but in the back of his mind he knows something might go wrong. Throughout the 90's, these 2 teams were the stalwarts of the SEC, meeting each other in 5 of the 1st 8 SEC Championships. Six years and a combined 5 coaches later, not much has changed as the Tide and Gators are back on top of their respective divisions. This time, though, it's Shula vs Meyer. Ever since Urban Meyer took the reins in Gainesville during the offseason, there have been many questions concerning how effective his innovative spread option offense can be in the SEC. While his Gators are off to a 4-0 start, including 2 wins against conference opponents, this question still may have not been answered because even though they put up 49 in the 1st half last week against Kentucky, it was against Kentucky. For a better idea of how successfully this scheme works, it might be helpful to recall Florida's game against Tennessee 2 weeks ago in which the Gators only produced 1 touchdown and 3 field goals. In Meyer's 2nd game against a ranked opponent this season, don't expect Joe Kines' defense (7th in the Nation) to be much more generous, especially since star receiver Andre Caldwell is now out for the season with a broken leg. Therefore, when the Tide hosts a Top 5 opponent in Bryant-Denny for just the 6th time in history, look for 2 major streaks to be ended: 1) Bama's 0-5 record in games against teams ranked 5th or better in T-town, and 2) Urban Meyer's 20 game win streak as Mike Shula exposes the Gator coach to be merely an urban myth and Bama pulls off another upset over the Gators, taking an unblemished record into its bye week.

Auburn 31, South Carolina 13. For the 3rd consecutive week, the Gamecocks kick it off against a team from the state of Alabama. While they were embarrassed by the Tide 2 weeks ago, Steve Spurrier's ball club regained its composure last week by scoring 45 against Troy. But this week, it's back to the SEC. After a shaky opener against Georgia Tech, Auburn has had 3 exhibition games against Mississippi St., Ball St, and Western Kentucky to figure out how to move past their dream season of a year ago. And it seems like the old addage "practice makes perfect" has shown true again as Tommy Tuberville's team has outscored its opponents in these games by 111 points in spite of Brandon Cox's "sickness" last week. This week, though, it's Auburn's opponent whose #1 QB will be sitting it out. Last Saturday, Blake Mitchell (3rd in the SEC in Passing Efficiency) sprained his ankle and will not be in the lineup for Saturday's game, so backup Antonio Heffner will be calling the shots. Since Heffner is a run-1st QB, don't expect Spurrier's "cock-n-fire" offense to be on display under the Tiger Eyes in Jordan-Hare as Spurrier's return to the Heart of Dixie will fare no better than his former team's, leaving the Tigers unbeaten in SEC action.

USC 59, Arizona St. 47. Where did that score come from? It's the average score of both teams this season, which should tell you all you need to know about how much fans tuning into this one will be wanting to see defense. Another Pac-10 opponent for the Trojans should translate into another victory for Pete Carroll's team since they're 23-2 in conference games dating back to the 2002 season. So, is this game even worth covering? ESPN's College Gameday sure thinks so since it picked it over the Bama-Florida showdown as this week's venue. And Sam Keller (1443 yds passing, 16 td, 2 int) and Derek Hagan (26 rec, 431 yds, 5 td) are going to do everything they can to corroborate that choice. While it definitely should be exciting, in order to beat a team like USC, you have to be able to control the ball. But this is not exactly the Sun Devils' strength since they like to score as early and often as possible. So, don't expect Dirk Koetter's team to be the one to knock off the #1 team in the land this year since they have about as much of a chance of outscoring Bush and Leinart as Kate Moss does of kicking her cocaine habit.

Notre Dame 38, Purdue 34. After looking at Notre Dame's schedule before the season began, there were few, if any, people outside of South Bend who thought that Charlie Weis' football team had a chance of being 4-1 after the first 5 games, especially since 4 out of these 5 games were scheduled away from Notre Dame Stadium. However, coming into this week's matchup against Purdue, that is exactly where the Irish stand. While its 3 wins are not as impressive as they could've been since preseason Top 25 teams Pittsburgh and Michigan have fallen faster than Phil Fulmer in a parachute, all 3 did come on the road, and the Golden Domers are still ranked 13th in the nation. On the other side of the ball, Joe Tiller's Boilermakers are also listed among the nation's best 25 teams thanks to a balanced attack led by QB Brandon Kirsch and RB's Jerod Void and Kory Sheets that eerily resembles the balance displayed by ND. Another similarity also exists between these 2 teams because both of their losses have come in overtime. Therefore, both squads have been battle-tested and fought for more than the usual 60 minutes. So, when they meet head-to-head in West Lafayette this weekend, expect it to be close until the bitter end as the Irish squeak out a win and avenge last year's loss to the Boilermakers that spoiled a 3-1 start to the 2004 season, giving the Fighting Irish its 50th win over their fellow footballers from Indiana and 4th win away from home this season.

Delta St. 27, Valdosta St. 21. For the 2nd week in a row, a Top 10 team from Georgia is traveling to play an underdog team from Mississippi. However, this matchup is in the GSC, not the SEC. This Saturday, the heated rivalry between Statesmen and Blazers returns to Travis Parker Field in Cleveland, MS, for the 25th meeting between these 2 Division II heavyweights. In the last 5 years, both DSU and VSU have won the Gulf South Conference Championship en route to becoming national champions (DSU in 2000 and VSU in 2004) proving that taking care of business in this conference is of paramount importance. But this season, both teams have already stumbled in conference play, so there is no more room for error. While Chris Hatcher's squad has been playing smothering defense by allowing just over 12 points per game, Rick Rhoades' Fighting Okra have been scoring over 30 a game led by veteran QB Scott Eyster (league leading 11 TD passes). Therefore, when these 2 foes square off Saturday night in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, expect another 5th ranked team in the nation to fall as the 24th ranked Statesmen stay alive in the conference hunt.

There you have it. So much for my critics' accusing me of not stepping out on a limb. Let me know what games you expect to see upsets in this weekend. Hopefully, your team will. But just remember, a true fan would never tear down the goal posts after an "upset" win b/c he expected them to win all along...Don't forget to nominate your pimp/wimp--since no one ever does, and be ready for a special edition next week as I celebrate the Alabama off week.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A Saturday 5K...Sort of

Running enthusiasts have often claimed that the 5K race is the perfect distance to test any runner. For the runner who prefers sprint races, it's just enough of an endurance test to make him uncomfortable. And for the runner who prefers distance races, it's just enough of a sprint to raise his heart rate. Thus, to be a good 5K racer, one has to not only have rapid leg turnover, but he must also be able to mimick the little bunny and "keep going and going." So, how does this relate to college football in any way you may ask? Well, if you look closely at the breakdown of a 5K, the similarities readily appear. For those of you who are metrically handicapped, 5 kilometers is equal to 3 a little more. Comparably, the college football season is equal to 3 a little more. During a 5K, the runners use the 1st mile to position themselves for the rest of the race. Throughout the 2nd mile, the runners hope to not lose any ground but instead, to maintain their good standing. And in the 3rd mile and last few yards, for however many are still in the lead pack, it's pretty much an all-out sprint and fight to see who's going to cross the line first. Similarly, September is used by college football teams as a tune-up month to get ready for the rest of the season, while October is where things become a little more difficult as the pressure builds. In November and the 1st week of December, as the pack of true contenders has thinned out, teams pull out all of the stops to either be a champion or to keep their opponents from becoming one...So, the next time you feel intimidated at the gym by all of those fit people talking about their PR's (personal record time), tell them that you prefer to run a 5K the easy way by watching college football all season long. Don't worry if they don't get it. Ralph Friedgen, Phil Fulmer, and Mark Mangino will all have your back because there's no way they're running a real one either...Anyways, with that said, let's see who's still got a shot at winning after the first mile is passed this weekend.

Alabama 30, Arkansas 15. What a difference a knee makes. Last season, without Brodie Croyle in the lineup against the other USC, the Crimson Tide offense was shutout of the endzone as Spencer Pennington completed more passes to the Gamecocks than his own receivers en route to a 20-3 embarrassment, resulting in thousands of fans leaving the game early and entering into a mild state of depression. This season, with Croyle back in the saddle, the Tide found the end zone 4 times and added 3 more field goals against the Gamecocks on its way to its best offensive performance and biggest win in the Mike Shula era thus far, resulting in thousands of Bama fans beginning to plan trips to Atlanta in December. But slow down BamaNation. While Steve Spurrier may have been on the other sideline, it was his unranked team with a losing record on the field. However Tide Fans, don't let your bubble be burst just yet because another unranked team with a losing record is on the docket for this week. So, even with the much anticipated matchup against the top 5 Florida Gators on tap for next weekend, don't expect the Razorbacks to catch the Tide looking ahead because Mike Shula's 0-6 record against teams from the West not from the state of Mississippi proves he still has some work to do in his own division before he starts looking to the East. So expect Alabama to control the game but to keep it low scoring by playing conservative against a demoralized Arkansas team with a coach who's approval rating has dropped below W's--if that's even possible.

Ohio St. 23, Iowa 14. Two weeks after the Big 11 was exposed as an illegitimate selection for the nation's toughest conference, its overrated members will finally play each other. And none of the first round of Big 11 games is more important than this one. Along with Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa were both picked to be in Pasadena on January 4th by different analysts. Now, if anyone of these three stumbles again, that prediction is history. Thanks to overtime now eliminating the possibility of any game ending in a tie, this 2nd loss is inevitable for one of the 2 teams playing in Columbus Saturday afternoon. Although the Buckeyes have some of the most explosive playmakers in the country with Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr and the Hawkeyes have put up at least 45 points twice this season, this game will be all about the defenses as 4 of the starting linebackers on these teams should be selected within the 1st 2 rounds in next Spring's draft. So, which team's defense is tougher? Last week, after giving up an 80 yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, Jim Tressel's team allowed only 99 more yards the entire game, including just 13 yards rushing. Also, Ohio State has given up more than 2 touchdowns only once--to the #2 team in the nation. On the other hand, Iowa let Division IAA Northern Iowa score 21 a week after losing to Iowa State 23-3. Therefore, Kirk Ferentz's ball club has about as much chance of giving the Scarlet and Gray their second loss in the Shoe as Senate Democrats do of blocking the John Roberts confirmation.

Virginia Tech 28, Georgia Tech 17. The former pride of the Big East and the current pride of the "Anybody Care?" Conference, Virginia Tech welcomes Georgia Tech to Blacksburg this weekend for its first home game against a conference opponent. While the Yellow Jackets have already proved they can win big games on the road by knocking off the other school in Alabama in week 1, they did so with a healthy quarterback and against an inexperienced quarterback. Make no mistake, though. Chan Gailey's passing attack featuring NFL prototype receivers Calvin Johnson and Demarius Bilbo (26 catches and 3 TD's between them) is just as good as anybody's if Reggie Ball is running on all cylinders. But he's not. A case of viral meningitis that forced Ball to miss last week's game against powerhouse UConn (they play football?) in a rematch of the 2003 NCAA basketball championship left Taylor Bennet under center resulting in all of 142 yards through the air. With Ball just being released from the hospital on Monday of this week, don't expect him to "be like Mike" during His Airness' game with flu-like symptoms. Instead, look for that guy named Vick to steal the show by continuing to play like a veteran and not a 1st year starter as the Hokies claim their 10th victory in 11 games in their new conference.

USC 45, Oregon 28. The Men of Troy (sorry ladies, but we're not talking about Brad Pitt) head north this weekend to play the "Oregon Ducks brought to you by Nike." While many people are pointing to this game as the possible end of the USC dominance because of the hostile environment of Autzen Stadium in which Pete Carroll's team will have to play, it'll take more than a 41,000 seat stadium to slow down Matt Leinart and friends. After just 2 games, the Trojans are averaging 66.5 points per game while giving up just 17. Furthermore, Leinart has already thrown for over 700 yards and 7 touchdowns. In fact, in the 16 series that the first team offense has been on the field, they have produced 13 touchdowns and 1 field goal. Better still, they haven't punted yet. Therefore, the only thing that might be able to help Mike Bellotti's team is if they can pursuade Nike CEO and Oregon alum Phil Knight to force all of his shoe company's athletes to suit up and play for his alma mater (but please not in those "highlight yellow" uniforms). There's probably some eligibility issues here somewhere, though. So, since that isn't going to happen, here's what is. Southern Cal will "Fight On" and retain its #1 spot in the polls for a record breaking 23rd consecutive time. The Ducks will be the first team to hold USC below 60, though--if that's any consolation.

LSU 27, Tennessee 20. After all of the preseason hype sorrounding the Vols this summer, Phil Fulmer's team is staring straight down the barrell of a 1-2 record coming into this weekend. So to say that Saturday's contest against the Bayou Bengals is a must win is like saying the Olsen twins need to eat a little more--a slight understatement. Therefore, Fulmer finally woke up and realized he needed to name a starting QB and stick with him, so Erik Ainge will finally get his chance to play without looking over his shoulder between series to see if his buddy Rick Clausen is warming up. While this might not result in an offensive explosion by the Vols, it will enable them to score more than their 12 point average and cover more than 19 yards on a play from scrimmage for the 1st time this year. On the other side, LSU didn't look so impressive in their only other game against Arizona St. for the first 3 quarters. But a 28 point 4th quarter against a Top 20 team on the road including a last minute touchdown reassured everyone that this team will answer the call in the clutch this season as Les Miles' players are now playing for more than just their university--they're playing for the entire state. So, with the opportunity of actually getting to play inside the Louisiana borders for the 1st time this year, expect the emotional night crowd at Tiger Stadium to be too much for the Vols as they are eliminated from a Rose Bowl possibility.

And so goes the last weekend of the first month of the 2005 season. Time flies doesn't it? In closing, I'd like to say how much I've really enjoyed all of the feedback--about 40 comments last week, but please, don't waste everyone's time by arguing about the 2nd tier SEC teams or a Division 2 team that loses by 5 touchdowns...Also, I'd like to make it known that I'm going for the rare double header this weekend by going to the Bama game at 11:30 and the Mississippi State game at 8:00. However, as of right now, I still need tickets for the night cap, so if anybody knows of anything, you know where to find me. Thanks, and let me know what games you want to see next week besides the Bama (& probably Notre Dame) game of course...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Start Your Engines...

The conference championship races are about to begin and with many supposed contenders' national title hopes presumably squandered in just the first 2 weeks of the season (Oklahoma, Miami, all of the "Big 11"), winning the conference crown and securing an automatic BCS bid in one of the "also ran" bowls is all they can hope for--except of course for the Sooners who seem to always get a shot, regardless. But, accomplishing such a feat is not all that bad of a consolation prize for these teams with high preseason hopes; still, for others it would be just as rewarding as winning it all. So, the next 2 weeks of this 2005 season can be anticipated even more than the first 2 weeks since by the time October rolls around every team will have played at least one opponent from its own conference. While there will always be heated debate over which of the major conferences is indeed the toughest to not only play in but also to win (SEC hands-down), watching these races unfold is just as exciting regardless of the region of the country in which they're being run. Therefore, let's take a look and see who will be this year's frontrunners...

Alabama 24, South Carolina 20. If you read the top of the page, you might think that my only justification for picking the the Tide in this one is because I'm somewhat biased. However, there is some legitmate reasoning why it's a safe bet to pick Bama to win even after a seemingly less-than-impressive 2-0 start. Last Saturday night, Mike Shula's team did what Crimson Tide fans never thought possible: overcome a double digit deficit. Even though the offensive line and kicking game may have reached an all-time low, the Bama defense did its job once again by not letting the game get out of reach, and the offense finally appeared to have found a groove in the passing game as career numbers were put up by Brodie Croyle, Tyrone Protho, and DJ Hall. However, Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks accomplished another near impossible feat by playing Georgia to a close game "between the hedges." But we're not playing horseshoes, and we're definitely not throwing hand grenades. Therefore, even in spite of a valiant effort by SEC passing leader Blake Mitchell, the best South Carolina could do was bring home a moral victory. So, when the Tide kicks it off against Steve Spurrier on Saturday for the first time since beating him twice in 1999, maybe Darth Visor can pull out another moral victory to start off 2-0 in SEC play.

Vanderbilt 17, Ole Miss 14. BOb Dylan's famOus lyric, "the times, they are a changing," might be the best way tO summarize what's been happening in the Vanderbilt fOOtball prOgram this seasOn. Usually, a hOme date against Vandy is a certain "W," but sOmehOw, BObby JOhnsOn's team has changed its lOsing ways as Vanderbilt has nOt Only wOn its first 2 games, which were bOth On the rOad, but the Commodores have alsO dOne sO in dramatic cOmeback fashiOn. Behind the leadership Of 10th year seniOr Jay Cutler (SEC leader in tOtal Offense), the COmmOdOre passing attack has becOme One Of the best in the SEC averaging 276.5 yds per game. TherefOre, this will be a stark cOntrast tO what the Rebels saw in their Opener against a Memphis team playing withOut its starting QB and leading wide receiver, sO Michael SpurlOck and CO. better prOduce mOre than their 262 yards and One TD drive of less than 20 yards that they had against the Tigers in Order tO beat Vandy this year. But with the OppOrtunity Of having its first 3 game winning streak since 1999 and first 3-0 start since 1984, dOn't expect Vanderbilt tO blOw anOther clOse One with Ole Miss. Therefore, when the Rebels leave Nashville this weekend, "COach O" will mean "COach O-1 in the SEC" as Vanderbilt gets clOser and clOser tO bOwl eligibility.(Note: If the capitalized "O's" threw you for a loop, refer back to week 1's picks.)

Notre Dame 30, Michigan State 21. There may not be a conference title for the Fighting Irish to chase. But after the last couple of weeks many fans have started talking about a national title. Let's not put the cart before the horse, though, as Charlie Weis' team still has games against Purdue, USC, and Tennessee on the schedule. And this week Notre Dame is pitted against the ever feisty nemesis of Michigan State, a team that abruptly ended Wisconsin's run for a title last November. This season the Spartans have outscored their opponents 105-31, but this lopsided margin was posted in home games against the 102nd and 103rd ranked teams in the nation. On the other hand, the Irish have gone on the road into 2 hostile environments and knocked off what were at the time a Top 25 team and a Top 5 team, respectively. Therefore, when Notre Dame plays its first game under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus on Saturday, it'll be Michigan State who's sending up the prayers.

Boston College 26, Florida State 17. The Eagles of Boston College are lucky enough to get to play their first ever ACC contest against Florida State, a team that didn't suffer its first ACC loss until its 4th season in the conference. And the Seminoles haven't lost many since, either, which is exactly why the "Almost Champions Conference" went out and stole reputable football programs from the Big East 2 summers ago. This move by the conference to gain more respect on the gridiron paid off in its first season a year ago as Virginia Tech took home the conference trophy in its first tour. Now, BC arrives looking to do the same. In order to keep that dream alive, though, Tom O'Brien's squad must first beat Bobby Bowden's. This, however, shouldn't be as tough as it might've been in years past, primarily because there's no Charlie Ward, Warrick Dunn, Peter Warrick, et. al. to run Papa Bowden's offense. Instead, there's a Drew Weatherford who, in his only other game of the season against a Division IA team, threw for all of 67 yards on 7-24 passing. And last week against an explosive Citadel team, Weatherford was able to lead his team to an impressive first half score of 13-10. Therefore, it might be harder for a fan to get a ticket to get in minute Alumni Stadium (capacity 44,500) than for BC to take down Free Shoes University.

Florida 31, Tennessee 21. After having the week off (funny how the Vols always have the week off before the Florida and Alabama games) to correct the mistakes that almost cost them the game against UAB a couple of weeks ago, Tennessee begins its 2-week road trip to Top 10 powerhouses Florida and LSU. This time around though, when Phil Fulmer goes to the swamp, he won't be facing a Gator team coached by a man that inspired the first ever "fire(insert coach's name here).com." Instead, he'll be facing a team coached by the Urban Legend, himself. But does a coach really matter that much? Or is it really the players that win games? Well, if you ask the pollsters, they would definitely say the former. Just look at the difference between the final 2004 rankings and the 2005 preseason rankings. At the end of last season, Urban Meyer's Utah squad was ranked 4th in the nation while Florida was not ranked. However, in the opening polls of this season, the Utes were nowhere to be found in the Top 25, but the Gators had miraculously moved up to number 10. Since that time, Florida has done nothing but affirm the media's partiality to Meyer by winning its first 2 games by an average of 30 points, thereby moving up to the 6th spot in the AP poll. While the Gators won't be playing a juco team this week, the Vols may have spells where they resemble one if Erik Ainge gets his time under center. Since Fulmer has already said that Ainge will get to share some of the snaps, the 2 quarterback system will gain another victim as Florida, led by just one quarterback who happens to be a Heisman candidate, will roll to victory and give Urban Meyer his 19th straight win and 1st in the SEC. Good news for UT fans though, when drowning in the swamp, Phillip Fulmer may be used as a floatation device.

Well, that's what I have for this week. As you read this, I'll have started my weekend early as I am embarking on Road Trip #1 of the 2005 season to Columbia. So, feel free to leave your comments, but I might not be able to see them for a couple of days. I'm sure that someone else will disagree with you though if you have a bone to pick. Anyways, some possible games for next week are Alabama vs Arkansas, Georgia vs Mississippi St, Tennessee vs LSU, Iowa vs Ohio State, and Notre Dame vs Purdue. Let me know what games you'd like to see. The votes really do matter as evidenced by the Vandy-Ole Miss game making this weeks docket. Also, be sure and nominate your pimp/wimp. Until next time...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Back to the Drawing Board

The opening weekend of college football has come and gone--even if it did last for a full 5 days--and has brought exposure to many teams that usually fly below the radar, while other supposed powerhouses were just exposed. Therefore, while most of us were spending our Labor Day at the lake or cooking out, many coaches across the country spent theirs trying to figure out how to avoid failing to live up to preseason expectations. It seems that after a full off-season of wandering what the 2005 season would bring, the answers that we were sure would come with Week 1 were instead replaced by still more questions. Are half of the Top 25 teams that overrated? Have more starting quarterbacks ever looked so rusty? Is the Big 12 South no longer the toughest division? Has the ACC truly become the best football conference? Will USC now have to actually prepare for the Notre Dame game? Is it possible that Phillip Fulmer is getting fatter?...But be patient. The answers will come as there's much more football to be played. So if your team spent much of this week back at square one, don't count them out just yet b/c they still might actually make a run once they get things figured out. However, if they don't show much promise this week, you might want to start to panic. With that said, let's see what will happen...

Alabama 31, Southern Miss 10. In his 3rd attempt, Mike Shula finally got his first win over a Tennessee team. It's just to0 bad that they weren't from Knoxville. While Tide fans were happy to get the victory, the return of Brodie Croyle and Ken Darby did not exactly lead to the offensive fireworks that were anticipated. However, ESPN commentator Rece Davis wouldn't put all of the blame on the shoulders of the backfield because he thinks Shula is "so conservative (on offense) that some people think he could be the love child of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter." While that might be a couple many of us could do without, if they produced championship children, it just might be worth it. Anyways, this week Jeff Bower will bring his Southern Mississippi team to Tuscaloosa for what has now become their season opener after their game with Tulane had to be postponed. This means that Sr. QB Dustin Almond will be making his first start against the Tide instead of the Green Wave. Don't think that he hasn't ever played, though. Last year, he threw for over 1800 yards and 12 touchdowns. On the other end of most of his passes will be a seasoned veteran in Antwon Courington who had close to 50 catches last year as a junior. However, Southern's TB Larry Thomas is also making his first start after rushing for only 350 yards last season. Therefore, look for the inexperienced running game to keep the Golden Eagle offense from ever really getting in gear and for the Tide offense to run a little more smoothly than last week resulting in Alabama winning the last scheduled game in this annual series.

Auburn 28, Mississippi State 20. There's an old saying in football that teams will show their most improvement between the 1st and 2nd games. For Auburn fans, that means that this game could be the most important one on the schedule. Tre Smith's measely 53 yards on 12 carries definitely reminded Tiger fans what they miss from a year ago, but Brandon Cox's 342 passing yards (even if they were overshadowed by 4 INT's) did offer a glimmer of hope. In Starkville, the Bulldogs have some newfound hope as well as they scored over 35 points for just the 4th time since 2000. And the emergence of WR Keon Humphries (TD catches of 34 and 49 yds) has also given State supporters reason to cheer. So what did we learn about these 2 teams last week? Auburn will not blow out anybody this year, and Mississippi St. will not be blown out by anybody this year. Therefore, this should be a close one. Since only 2 defending SEC champs have lost their conference opener since 1990 (bonus points if you can name who and when), one has to think Auburn will pull it out. However if they don't, everyone keep a close eye on the Chancellor's private jet.

Michigan 35, Notre Dame 24. After the Golden Domer's opener, Irish fans are wondering why Charlie Weis wasn't voted to be the Pope a year ago instead of Benedict. However, Tyrone Willingham also got off to a fast start in 2002. He even beat Michigan. BUT that game was played in South Bend, and this one is in Ann Arbor where Notre Dame hasn't won since 1993 . While Weis might be one of the best offensive minds ever, Lloyd Carr knows a little something about defense. And with Chad Henne and Mike Hart balancing the offense, the Wolverines will protect their Big House. Don't count Notre Dame out yet, though, because they will probably win their next 3.

Georgia 35, South Carolina 14. When Steve Spurrier announced in the offseason that he would be coming back to the SEC, fans of Florida, Georgia, and especially Tennessee tried to wake themselves up becuse they thought they were caught in the worst nightmare of their lives. Actually it was Spurrier who was in the nightmare as the "ol' Ballcoach" soon learned he didn't have his "ol Ballplayers." While Blake Mitchell did put up some good numbers in the Gamecocks opener against a team on a 16 game losing streak, it was nothing compared to the assualt displayed by Georgia's DJ Shock-and-Awe-ley. After last weekend, it's pretty clear that Georgia is no longer a dark horse in the East and also that South Carolina is not quite yet a contender. That's why the Bulldogs should roll in their conference opener, and the Gamecocks will have to try again next week to get their first SEC win.

Texas 30, Ohio St 28. Ever since January 1, everyone has been wanting to see if Vince Young could do to the Buckeyes what he did to their archrivals in the Rose Bowl. In what was one of the greatest performances ever displayed by a college quarterback, Young propelled the Longhorns onto many experts' short list of national title contenders even if Mack Brown is still the coach at Texas. But for the UT faithful to have their California dreams come true, they first have to beat Ohio State in a game that former Buckeye Kirk Herbstreit has said is bigger than the Michigan game if that is even possible. While Texas no longer has Cedric Benson to keep defenses honest, a tailback committe led by Selvin Young seems to work just as well. On the other hand, Ohio State has somewhat of a QB controversy as Justin Zwick has shined during Tony Smith's suspension. Therefore, Ohio State might have some difficulty in its offensive scheme, leaving Ted Ginn Jr. (OSU's counter to Vince Young) unable to make the big plays he's known for unless he can find a way to make them on special teams (an area Texas struggled in last week). Add in the fact that Jim Tressel's team must also overcome the SI cover jinx this week, and it could be a cold walk back to the locker room after this one's over. It's a good thing Tressel will have his sweater vest to keep him warm.

Well, that's it for this week. In closing, I'd like to point out the new addition of Pimp/Wimp of the Week. Be sure and come back Sunday or Monday and give your nomination for next week's winners to be awarded on Tuesday. Also, some games on the list for next week are Alabama-South Carolina, Tennessee-Florida, Arkansas-USC, and Notre Dame-Michigan State. Let me know what the 5th game should be. I'll be taking suggestions until Tuesday, and every vote does count...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A New Beginning

A new beginning...sure, at different points in our lives, we've all wanted one...A fresh start...A clean slate...Anything to help us forget our past, so that we can proceed into the future more successfully and victoriously. Well, it seems that college football programs are no different, except that they can actually make their wishes come true by simply ousting one coach for another that will "get their program going in the right direction." In fact, this seems to be the modus operandi for many of today's major programs. Look in the SEC alone, 7 of the 12 head coaches have been at their respective schools for less than 3 years while only 3 (Fulmer, Nutt, and Tuberville) have been in their current positions for over 5 years. But if simply erasing the past and starting anew was the recipe for winning, then the seemingly revolving door that coaches walk through these days would not exist. For those of us whose team did not employ this logic this season (even though we may have wanted them to) we get a new beginning as well this Labor Day Weekend as all 119 Division 1A teams are still undefeated and "theoretically" still have a chance at the national title--if only for a few more hours. So with a newfound hope and excitement for this year's season, let's see what the opening weekend holds in store for your team...

Alabama 42, MTSU 10. Crimson Tide fans have been waiting for their new season ever since that infamous evening of September 18, 2004 when all of their hopes were lost with one faulty step by Quarterback Brodie Croyle that resulted in a season-ending ACL injury. The time has now come. When the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee St. come to Tuscaloosa Saturday night, the Tide will finally be back at 100% for what seems to the be the 1st time in years. Altough MTSU QB Clint Marks completed an astounding 70% of his passes a year ago for over 2700 yards, he did have 14 interceptions AND he was playing in the Sun Belt Conference. With 9 of 11 starters from the #2 defense in the nation returning for Bama, Marks should get a quick jump on surpassing last year's total of 14 INT's. However, the lack of experience from the offensive line and relatively young back-ups at key offensive skill positions for Alabama could cause one to be anxious about the Tide's scoring productivity in their season opener. Not to worry, though Coach Andy McCollum's team surrendered almost 300 points last season against teams not even worthy of the distinction of being called a "mid-major." Therefore, expect Croyle to revive Mike Shula's offense and Demeco Ryans to the lead the Bama defense in a blowout win.

Tennessee 38, UAB 13. A program that definitely doesn't have a revolving door in it's coaching office is the Tennessee Volunteers...That's because theirs is in the county jail as they've had 20 players arrested in the last 18 months. Anyways, that's for another day...Phillip Fulmer enters his 13th season as the Vols head man boasting a more than impressive record of 11-1 in season openers even if he did do it the All-SEC way of scheduling cupcakes to start off with. This year's opener could be tough, though, simply because of the day on which it is being played. In the storied history of Tennessee Football, the Vols have never won a game played on September 3 (They're 0 for 4). Luckily, Fulmer had the wherewithall to put "U Ain't Bama" in 2005's opening slot. While Watson Brown's club is the pick of many people to win the C-USA, it's only because Louisville moved to the Big East. Expect the Vols to make a big statement this Saturday as they begin their journey that many experts believe could end in Pasadena, no matter who's playing quarterback.

Mississippi St. 9, Murray St. 7. Does that score look familiar? Here's a hint: it was the final score of the game the last time the Bulldogs played a IAA team, except the numbers were reversed. It's a good thing that "Maroon is all that matters" in Starkville because if winning actually mattered, then Sylvester Croom would not be enjoying the 2nd year of his perpetual grace period at Mississippi State. It's hard to remember any coach who has been given the benefit of the doubt as much as ol' Sly just because he kicks off all of his players. Anyways, the Bulldogs will be a much improved team this season, and this will be evident right from the start as they avenge their loss to Maine vicariously through their IAA counterpart. Look for All-SEC tailback Jerious Norwood and quarterback Omar Conner to really thrive in the backfield and Tee Millons to finally have a break-through season in his final year as the MSU offense begins to turn the corner this season. Auburn 24, Georgia Tech 17. For the Auburn Tigers, this season begins just as last year's ended, with Tommy Tuberville's squad looking to make some believers of the rest of the nation. The disrespect shown towards the other school in Alabama last season could be somewhat tied to the Yellow Jackets for 2 reasons. 1) Until last season, Georgia Tech had just as many SEC championships (5) as Auburn even though they left the conference over 40 years ago & 2) it was Georgia Tech who beat Auburn 17-3 during week 2 of the 2003 season in which the Tigers entered with a Top 5 preseason ranking. While the defense remains largely intact ,this task of proving the skeptics wrong yet again is compounded even more as Auburn must replace a 2004 offensive backfield with 3 first round draft picks. However, if anyone has the potential to make Tiger fans forget about Jason Campbell and Co., it's former Mr. Alabama QB Brandon Cox. While Cox has experienced extensive soreness throughout fall camp, don't expect the pain to bother him Saturday night in what could be the weekend's most entertaining game. Expect DE's Quentin Groves and Stanley McClover to slow down Reggie Ball's highly touted offense in this intense season opener as the Tigers earn their 16th consecutive victory.

Ole Miss 27, Memphis 24. (NOte: Due tO the University Of Mississippi's ObnOxiOus referring tO their new cOach simply as "COach O," every time the Rebels are previewed this seasOn every "O" in the paragraph will be capitalized tO stress hOw ridiculuOus this is.)...The past 2 seasOns the Memphis Tigers have made a ritual Of embarrassing the Rebels early in the seasOn. This has been largely a result Of the exceptiOnal play Of the mOst hyped athlete in Memphis since Penny Hardaway: Heisman hOpeful DeAngelO Williams. While Ole Miss was able tO recOver and gO On to experience a "magical seasOn" in 2003, David Cutcliffe's team never did quite find it's step last seasOn. Enter Ed OrgerOn. The self-prOclaimed wild man has brOught a new spark tO the fOlks in Mississippi this seasOn, even if it dOes invOlve instructing grandmOthers tO gO thrOugh drills in summer bOOster meetings (true stOry). While "O's" style may be questiOnable, the fervOr Rebel fans and players alike have fOr their new man, fOr whatever reasOn, isn't. TherefOre, Ole Miss shOuld be expected tO play this year's Opener w/ an unprecedented zeal. With a questiOnable passing attack tO suppOrt Williams' Overwhelming running game, the Rebels suspect secOndary wOn't suffer tOO much and the JOe Lee Dunn defense Of Memphis shOuld be mOre than generOus tO either RObert Lane Or Michael SpurlOck.

Well folks, that's all I have for this week...Hope I didn't miss any "o's" in that last one...Be sure and post your comments. Some other games to consider are Notre Dame vs Pitt and FSU vs Miami. Both should be excellent. I'll take the latter in both cases. Let me know what you think...