Friday, August 31, 2007
For the college flavor, check out Wright Thompson's ESPN.com piece - aptly subtitled "A Love Letter to Southern Football" - that deals with the anticipation leading up to this very moment, the cusp of a new football season.
For NFL variety, Peter King's article from this week's Sports Illustrated, featuring the NFL Preview, Peyton Manning on the cover for the 9th time (don't get excited - the next time Michael Jordan is on the cover, it'll be #50), and a player rating system that ranks Manning as the single best player in the NFL. But you knew that already.
However, the interview between King and Manning really turns into simply Manning shooting straight for the bulk of the entire piece. It's exceptional, and lucky for you, you don't even have to be a subscriber.
For the Braves
While Atlanta was taking two of three from the Marlins, they got some bigtime help from the Fightin' Phillies, who swept a four game set with the division leading Mets. With 28 games to play, the last real sense of Atlanta controlling its own destiny will unfold over the next two weeks, but specifically in the next six days - the Braves begin a weekend series with the Mets tonight at Turner Field, then welcome the Phillies to Atlanta for three more starting Monday.
The Braves are 4.5 out in the NL East, with the Mets in the lead and the Phillies just two back. The Braves are also 4.5 out in the NL Wild Card, with the Padres in front and the Phillies and Dodgers also ahead of them. Atlanta will play two road series with the Mets and the Phillies later in September, but right now is their best chance to make a move for the division crown.
Atlanta is 8-4 against the Mets this year, winning each of the previous four series 2-1. NYM has lost five straight, including three heartbreakers in a row against the Phillies to close that series. And the Braves have restructured their rotation to send their three best pitchers to the hill this weekend. The Mets will counter with two of their best.
It starts tonight, with Tim Hudson (15-6, 3.23) going against John Maine (13-8, 3.68) which should be excellent baseball. On Saturday, if you can pull yourself away from the 3:30 college football games like Georgia Tech/Notre Dame and Boston College/Wake Forest, you can catch the Braves and Mets nationally on Fox, where Chuck James returns from the DL to face a Mets Triple A pitcher of the month. And Sunday afternoon, it's another showdown between John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.
Winning the series would move Atlanta to within 3.5. And obviously, a sweep and then a series win against the Phillies might put them in first place by Wednesday. Or the Mets could wake up, beat Atlanta as they've been mostly unable to do this year, and knock the Braves out of the East race and in a big hole in the wild card. Between the Mets and Phillies, they can take Atlanta out. Or the Braves could answer the bell and take the lead. These are the most important six days of baseball so far.
For Alcoa High School
If you're in the East Tennessee area and you're looking for something to do tonight, I'd highly recommend the single best rivalry in Tennessee high school football, when Maryville and Alcoa lock up at AHS tonight. And this continues to be one of those extremely rare moments where both teams are unquestionably at the top of their games - Maryville has won three straight State Championships and seven of the last nine, Alcoa has won three straight State Championships and four this decade. Both schools have sent multiple players to major conference division 1 football. And the matchup tonight will be equal parts talent and emotion. There is simply nothing like it in Tennessee high school football. If you're going, I'd show up early.
Maryville has won six straight (for the uneducated, Maryville is a 4A school, Alcoa a 2A) and 13 of the last 15. But we're still getting behind the alma mater on this blog, and holding out some halfway legitimate hope that tonight is the night that Alcoa busts the streak. I'd be flying my torn Rebel flag outside my door right now, but someone might try and set my house on fire.
For the WWE
There's bad, and then there's bad, and then there's this:
The WWE has suspended 10 wrestlers for one month for violating the Wellness Policy (read: steroids). This comes at the same time as an SI.com report that names names of clients of Signature Pharmacy in Orlando who received shipments of steroids and other banned substances. On ESPN2's First Take this morning, the SI reporters who broke the story said that the suspensions came not as a result of positive drug tests, but in talks with investigators.
While there is room to talk about the potential effects it could have on other sports through a perceived steroid pipeline, and the sorry state of wrestling in general, the immediate problem for the WWE is if the names in the SI.com article are true, then you're looking at one month suspensions for the following competitors:
Charlie Haas, Chavo Guerrero, Edge, Funaki, Gregory Helms, John Morrison, Mr. Kennedy, Randy Orton, Umaga, William Regal
Just looking at it from a storyline standpoint, which is to look at it from a ratings standpoint, which makes it most important...good grief, who's going to be on television for the next month? I mean, maybe Triple H and John Cena can wrestle in every main event between now and then, if the suspensions are immediate...but at a time where wrestling was already in a low talent point and swimming in it from the Chris Benoit tragedy (whose name was also on the list, along with Eddie Guerrero and Brian Adams who both also passed away)...things have gone from bad to worse for Vince McMahon. How are they going to respond? How are they going to come out of it? Reaction must be as immediate as Monday night, with fresh direction. And you're running out of shots to take care of this overall problem.
For Erik Ainge's pinky
The power of Christ compells you! The power of Christ compells you! Be healed!
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
1. Southern Cal
They'll probably be hanging out up here until someone beats them. No doubt the best.
Look at the schedule - by far the easiest road to New Orleans
Best offense in college football? Can they beat Ohio State?
4. West Virginia
We know they can play offense...can they play enough defense and avoid the upset?
And why are we all so convinved that West Virginia is so much better than them?
Top five talent no doubt and great defense, but tough to escape the SEC alive...
7. Virginia Tech
May not stay America's Team long with Sept. 8 date in Baton Rouge
Defending champs have a brand new defense and a QB ready to prove himself
Experienced Badgers may still make it three straight trips to Orlando...
I'm not so sold on the idea that it's just that easy to replace Paul Thompson & A-Pete
11. Ohio State
Chris Wells must carry the offense...OSU is always a factor in the Big 10
12. Boise State
Alright, so maybe I will rank them higher than 24...
13. Penn State
Darkhorse candidates to make the BCS, lots of experience on both sides of the ball
It's make or break right away for the Vols; could be Top 5 or out of the poll by Oct.
Offensive line and defensive questions must be answered quickly for title run
Once again, big opportunity right away to prove they're worth it
Marcus Monk m-u-s-t get healthy for this offense to work right
No team in the country returns more starters than the upstart Bruins
Last year was special, now's the time to prove they belong with an NYC pull behind them
The forgotten player in the SEC race
Big Red Nation won't settle for average; Callahan must keep improving
We'll see how long this lasts (at Texas, September 8)
23. Boston College
Gritty, experienced team with ACC Player of the Year Matt Ryan back at QB
If they don't go 12-0, something went really wrong...if they do, Brennan can win the Heisman
25. South Carolina
I believe in Steve Spurrier the same way I believe in the devil
Will's Top 10 Players
1. Darren McFadden RB Arkansas
2. Brian Brohm QB Louisville
3. Glenn Dorsey DT LSU
4. Mario Manningham WR Michigan
5. Vince Hall LB Virginia Tech
6. Steve Slaton RB West Virginia
7. John David Booty QB Southern Cal
8. Colt McCoy QB Texas
9. Mike Hart RB Michigan
10. Dan Connor LB Penn State
Thursday, August 30
Louisiana-Monroe vs. Tulsa - 7:00 PM - ESPN2
Probably not what you were expecting, but believe it or not this marquee matchup kicks off the 2007 season, so we're picking it. But there's more here to like than you think. The matchup of two of the best nicknames in college football - the ULM Warhawks, last seen as the Indians and taking a 70-7 beating at the hands of the Vols in 2000, and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane is guaranteed to be more exciting than the Boston College-Central Michigan kickoff last year. Both teams score points - ULM lost to Kentucky 42-40 last year, and Tulsa is installing the spread offense. Steve Kragthorpe was hired away by Louisville when Bobby Petrino headed south to the Falcons - wonder if he regrets that one now - so Tulsa picked up Todd Graham from Rice, who spent only one year there after serving as the defensive coordinator in Tulsa from 03-05. But in that one year, he got Rice in a bowl game, so he should be able to keep up the small run that the Golden Hurricane have been on and make it three straight bowls. Helping with the new spread offense is Gus Malzahn, who landed in Tulsa after one turbulant season in Fayetteville. The points should be on the scoreboard in this one. ULM should be better than last year. That's the best I can do.
Tulsa 38 - Louisiana-Monroe 17
Mississippi State vs. #2 LSU - 8:00 PM - ESPN
And now, for what you'll actually be watching. First, you'll be watching to see if Mississippi State has any chance. Then, you'll be watching so see how good LSU actually is. Does MSU have a chance? All of their offensive weapons from last year - Michael Henig, Anthony Dixon, all the receivers and four offensive linemen - but that ain't saying much for a team that averaged 18.4 points per game in 2006. Five starters back on defense, including potential All-SEC Derek Pegues at free safety. Eh.
Okay, so they're not going to win...but I submit for your approval the following: one, Mississippi State closed well, relatively speaking, in 2006 - after get blown out by West Virginia, they beat 1AA Jacksonville State, lost to Georgia and Kentucky by three points, beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, lost to Arkansas by only two touchdowns and to Ole Miss by three. Two, LSU does not play well in at the start of the year. In 2004, LSU needed a missed extra point to beat Oregon State. In 2005, LSU needed special teams miracles to beat Arizona State, then lost to Tennessee in the Ralley at Death Valley. Last year, the Tigers lost to Auburn in a 7-3 struggle. These guys don't know anything about starting strong. Three, any team, but especially an SEC team, doesn't care about LSU's mystique and talent and the like, and will come out ready to play. In Starkville...I think this game is going to be much, much, much closer than people think. I'm still picking LSU...but you'll be watching in the 4th quarter.
LSU 24 - Mississippi State 21
Oregon State vs. Utah - 10:00 PM - Fox Sports Net
This one's going to be good too, and both of these teams are better than you think. Oregon State won 10 games last year and return 17 starters, including RB Yvenson Bernard, both starting receivers, and four linemen on offense. QB Sean Canfield saw time in 10 of 14 games last year, and the job now belongs to him. The defense returns eight, and OSU's got a chip on their shoulder - last year in the second game, they went to Boise State on a Thursday night and got absolutely hammered 42-14. Their national respect didn't come back after that, even when they beat Southern Cal. This team could be a Top 25 group by the end of the year, but they need to win this one first. And Utah could be in the same boat - after getting equally smacked by Boise last year (36-3), they return almost their entire offense and five on defense. In a game like this with a hostile environment involved, you go with the home team. Should still be quality footba ll either way.
Oregon State 30 - Utah 24
Friday, August 31
Syracuse vs. Washington - 8:00 PM - ESPN
Bet this one looked a lot better when they signed the contract a few years ago. UDub started 4-1 last year, then lost six straight before "salvaging" the year by winning the Apple Cup. New QB Jake Locker is supposed to be the future of the program, but you wonder about that future: here's UDub's opening schedule - at Syracuse, Boise State, Ohio State, at UCLA, Southern Cal, at Arizona State, Oregon. If they win one of those games, it'll be an upset. And actually, you can argue that the easiest one to win will be this one, in the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome, where the Orange faithful are longing for their program to be relevant again as well. SU was even worse last year, 4-8, and the two coaches, Greg Robinson and Ty Willingham, are 12-34 combined in their first two seasons at these once-important programs. Either team that wins will pick up a huge W here. Syracuse will also be breaking in a new quarterback. You ca n argue that Washington is the better team here, even though both are bad. But you don't pick against the 'Cuse in the Carrier Dome...at least not against UDub.
Syracuse 24 - Washington 23
Saturday, September 1
#9 Virginia Tech vs. East Carolina - 12:00 PM - ESPN
Skip Holtz' boys get to be the guinea pigs in the "how will VaTech respond?" game. Actually, all seriousness of the tragedy aside, I think it's going to be totally irrelevant once the ball is kicked, or at least in this game. Should VT be in it in the 4th quarter next week in Baton Rouge, maybe then it will kick in. But there should be no extra motivation needed against the Pirates, who of course, aren't terrible as usual, but are replacing all of their offensive weapons and doing so against one of the three best defenses in all of college football. ECU has a solid defense with seven back, and the biggest question mark here is how efficiently Sean Glennon can lead the Hokies. Don't expect a sparkling performance here - when VT wins they win ugly, and defense and special teams will once again be the theme of the day and the year. Hokies win easy, but still not sharp enough on offense to make fans feel great about next week. Too soon for Mike Vick jokes?
Virginia Tech 27 - East Carolina 7
Colorado vs. Colorado State (at Denver) - 12:00 PM - Fox Sports Net
The Rocky Mountain showdown features ex-Boise State head coach Dan Hawkins, who I'm sure wept a tear or two last January while watching the Fiesta Bowl, in his second year with the Buffaloes after a disastrous 2-10 season in 2006 that included only a win over Iowa State and a stunning 30-6 win over Texas Tech when they were 0-6. The whole offense is back except the QB position, where Cody Hawkins - yep, that's Dan's son - will take the reigns as a redshirt freshman. The defense wasn't terrible last year and should be better this year, to make CU more than competitive again and hopefully pick up more than two wins.
The Rams, meanwhile, get RB Kyle Bell back after he missed all of last year with an ACL tear, and are trying to get the program back on MWC championship-level. They too were terrible last year - started 4-1, finished 4-8. 19 starters return from a team that beat Colorado 14-10 last year. This one too is key for both teams, who real ly need to get off to a great start. Colorado probably has more talent, CSU has more senior experience both need a win in a big way...I'll take the seniors at CSU to steal the win in an ugly football game. Much like Syracuse/Washington, these are two sub-par teams who desperately need a win to start 2007.
Colorado State 21 - Colorado 20
#6 Florida vs. Western Kentucky - 12:30 PM - LF Sports
In the first D1 game in the history of the program, Western Kentucky faces the defending National Champions in The Swamp. Florida will be playing the "don't get anybody hurt" game once again for two weeks, facing WKU and Troy in Gainesville to open things up. Even with the 9 new starters on defense, shouldn't be much to worry about here, and all eyes will be on Tim Tebow with expectations at a fever pitch. Since they're the newcomers, it might not be a stretch to suggest that WKU is the worst team in D1 football...against the defending National Champions...this one might go beyond "name it."
Florida 56 - Western Kentucky 0
#7 Wisconsin vs. Washington State - 3:30 PM - ABC
Here's another matchup that probably looked better a few years ago. Wisconsin is a very legitimate national championship contender, while Washington State might be the worst team in the Pac-10. Fortunately for those of us on the eastern half of the US, we'll be seeing the one below this...because this one shouldn't be close.
Wisconsin 30 - Washington State 9
Boston College vs. Wake Forest - 3:30 PM - ABC
Come December, we could be looking back at this matchup as the game that determined the ACC Atlantic Division. Last year, Wake shocked the world in winning the conference, including a 21-14 win over BC along the way. This year, in the division that includes these two teams along with Florida State and Clemson, the winners of these two opening weekend games will have a huge leg up on the competition. And even though neither of these teams are ranked, they both arguably could/should be.
Wake brings back all the important pieces from its offense, but will need to retool their secondary. That could be easy pickings for Matt Ryan and the Boston College offense, who also return most of their weapons, plus a much more experienced defense. I expect this one to be very close and competitive...there are a bunch of people, including me, who think Wake Forest was a one year wonder and won't be relevant in the ACC title race come November. ; ; ; ; ; Winning at Chesnut Hill right away would shut all those voices up. However, I think Boston College is the better team, and playing at home...there's just too many reasons to pick the Eagles. Good football game.
Boston College 28 - Wake Forest 23
Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech - 3:30 PM - NBC
This one, for me, is the toughest call of the opening weekend. I've gone back and forth on this one all summer - Georgia Tech has two holes to fill on offense, one good and one bad. The bad news is, there's no replacing Calvin Johnson. The good news is, Reggie Ball is already a distant memory. Taylor Bennett did that by throwing for 326 yards and 3 TDs in the Gator Bowl. Granted, that was West Virginia's defense, but are we really suggesting that Notre Dame's is any better? And the focus of the offense will now shift to Tashard Choice, who (surprisingly) led the ACC in rushing last year with almost 1500 yards. The Ramblin Wreck defense returns eight starters from a unit that allowed only 18.4 points per game last year - these guys are good.
For the Irish...well, at least it's at home right? ND squeaked by GT 14-10 in Atlanta last year, and of all the big name programs in college football, Notre Dame returns the least - 3 st arters on offense, 5 on defense. The names are all new on offense, as the returning starters are the tight end and two linemen. Charlie Weis is keeping his mouth shut on who the starting QB will be, though Jimmy Clausen's trip to the liquor store probably didn't help his chances. Evan Sharpley and Demetrius Jones may/will also see action. On defense...well, Tom Zbikowski is still punching away back there, but is there anything else around him? Notre Dame will need a whole heap of that Irish mystique early and often, and an 0-3 start isn't at all out of the question with trips to Happy Valley and Ann Arbor following this one. So how much do you believe in Notre Dame at home?
Georgia Tech 24 - Notre Dame 21
Missouri vs. Illinois (at St. Louis) - 3:30 PM - ESPN2
A new rivalry potentially emerging here, and these are two very interesting teams. Missou started hot last year, winning their first six before landsliding to an 8-5 finish. However, the Tigers return all of their offensive weapons - QB Chase Daniel, RB Tony Temple, and all the pass catchers - from a team that averaged 425 yards per game last year. With their '07 schedule void of Texas, the Tigers are legitimate threats to win the Big 12 North. Meanwhile, Illinois has the most exciting player on a bad team - QB Juice Williams - but they'll have to find a new running back. Otherwise, all the offensive pieces return here as well, but the Illini were 2-10 last year. The defense returns 9 starters, and it's Ron Zook's team, so they've recruited well...but are they good enough to come in right away to a neutral site game and upset Missouri? Illinois should definitely improve this year and may even get to a bowl for the first time since winn ing the Big 10 in 2001, but Missouri is good right now, and definitely good enough to hold off the Zookers.
Missouri 34 - Illinois 20
Memphis vs. Mississippi - 3:30 PM - CSS
It's farewell, Brent Schaeffer at QB, as the ex-Vol stud will be playing wide receiver, maybe. The job falls to Seth Adams, who saw work in Ole Miss' last two games in 2006 and has a Rick Clausen quality about him, take that for what you will. BenJarvus Green-Ellis does return, and against Tiger High the Rebels may simply give it to him about 40 times and stand back. The Rebs won a shootout 28-25 in this game last year, but as the scene shifts to the Liberty Bowl, is Memphis the better team? Martin Hankins returns under center with Joe Doss behind him at tailback to give the offense plenty of experience. The defense returns seven and may not be overly challenged by the Rebels in the opener. This is big for two coaches in Ed Orgeron and Tommy West who will find the seat a little warm if they don't perform in 2007. The Rebels especially, in a year where the SEC rotation deals them both Florida and Georgia on the schedule, need to win thi s one desperately. I refuse to pick Memphis against an SEC school, but the Tigers, playing at home, might be the more logical choice.
Mississippi 20 - Memphis 17
#13 Georgia vs. Oklahoma State - 6:45 PM - ESPN2
Why Oklahoma State could win: the Cowboys have an explosive offense in QB Bobby Reid, RB Dantrell Savage, and preseason All-American WR Adarius Bowman. The Cowboys were 7th in the nation in scoring last year at 35.2 points per game, and all the major pieces are back. Six of the back seven return on defense, including all three linebackers. This is a team that lost to Texas A&M in overtime, hung 41 points on Nebraska in a win, took Oklahoma to the wire and beat Alabama in the Independence Bowl last year. OSU won't be intimidated by The Hedges the way Boise State was two years ago.
Why Oklahoma State won't win: the Cowboys are replacing their entire defensive line, which means if Georgia's retooled offensive line comes together, Kregg Lumpkin and company will run all day. If that happens, Matthew Stafford and Mohammed Massaquoi will hook up in the passing game, and Georgia's defense, which will get baptized by fire here, should be just good enough to win at home. This one might be even more dangerous for UGA than Cal is for Tennessee, because at least the Vols know what they're getting into. Don't be fooled into thinking this is anything resembling an easy win for Georgia - I think Okie State will take them to the wire. But it's a win nonetheless.
Georgia 27 - Oklahoma State 24
#18 Auburn vs. Kansas State - 7:45 PM - ESPN
Why Kansas State could win: reasons are harder to come by here, though KSU QB Josh Freeman has the potential to be a star after leading the Wildcats down the stretch last year, including the upset win over Texas. The defense is adequate, the running game is experienced but needs improvement, but Kansas State lacks the same raw talent and explosiveness that Oklahoma State has, and Auburn's defense is better than Georgia's. So, in the final hurrah for Brandon Cox and Carl Stewart, Auburn should be able to get off to a good start here. It's not a gimmie, but Auburn, at home, should have more than enough for the Wildcats. It's the one next week with South Florida that you've got to worry about more.
Auburn 28 - Kansas State 14
#12 California vs. #15 Tennessee - 8:00 PM - ABC
It's interesting to try and project how last year's 35-18 drubbing in Knoxville will affect both teams. I'm sure Cal has been pointing to this one all offseason, but some of that is negated by the fact that the Bears are six point favorites, which will serve to motivate Tennessee in similar fashion. I do think that if Tennessee can jump on Cal early, the Bears will fall right back into panic mode - none of Cal's big victories, including the big bowl win over Texas A&M, have fallen into that elite category that will give them the "been there done that" confidence to effectively bounce back against the Vols if they get behind.
So while a lot of this will be between the ears stuff, between the lines you've got a Cal team that's experienced and explosive, especially on offense. Nate Longshore, Justin Forsett, and DeSean Jackson - even though none of them played particularly well against Tennessee - are all all-conference candidates. Jackson especially has the look and the sound of a future NFL star, but until he proves it on the field against a team like Tennessee, he hasn't earned the right to talk the way he does. The problem there may be Tennessee's secondary - Jackson won't be facing Jonathan Wade, Inky Johnson, Demetrice Morley, Antwan Stewart or even Roshaun Fellows. Instead, Antonio Gaines, Marsalous Johnson, and the young stud Eric Berry will get a look at stopping Jackson. Berry has absolutely lived up to his billing as the best incoming defensive back in college football all throughout fall practice, but once again, until you see it on the field, you question it . The lone bright spot in the secondary is preseason All-American Jonathan Hefney at free safety, who needs to make plays.
The rest of the defense must stop the run - the LB corps appears solid, and I believe in at least the potential of Antonio Reynolds, Demonte Bolden, JT Mapu and Xavier Mitchell on the line. Forsett isn't a bruiser at 5'8" 185, so the Vols need to bruise him. Tennessee defenses have a tendency to not disappoint, no matter the personel. So until proven otherwise, I'll take my chances with our defense.
Cal's biggest question mark is its defensive front seven, which lost DT Brandon Mebane and LB Desmond Bishop, and returns only two starters. The Vols m-u-s-t exploit this and run the football effectively to win. They've preached it and practiced it, they've got the horses in the backfield, and the offensive line should be ready. If Tennessee can control the line of scrimmage and not turn it over, we'll all breathe easier. Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty need to have big days and wear this defense out.
When the Vols do have to go to the air, you trust David Cutcliffe and you probably trust Erik Ainge at this point, but my question is this: if the Vols are down four with 2:00 to play and 80 yards in front of them, do they have the playmakers to make it happen? Regardless of what I've said about him before, I think Austin Rogers will end up being just fine, in a Craig Faulkner mold, but someone else has to emerge or the Vols will go nowhere all year. We keep hearing about Lucas Taylor, now it's time to see it. We keep hearing about these freshmen - and the reality may be that 2008 is the real year to expect something from these guys - but any positive contributions would be welcome.
At the end of the day, as usual, it's going to take a solid effort on both sides of the ball to win this one. This may turn into one of those "the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win" games, though I don't anticipate Tennessee's offense being too risky in that department, and we've seen firsthand that Longshore can be rattled. If we have to do it old school, with 45 rushing attempts and south of 200 passing yards and eat up the clock, that's just fine with me. I don't believe for a second that Cal's talent is six points better than us, I'd call it an even matchup. And even if I was completely unbiased, I'd say that until you see that Cal is capable of winning a game like this, you don't pick them, even at home, against a team that's proven time and again that they can get it done. Since I am biased, I'll throw in that the last time the Vols played on ABC was 2003 at Miami, and the last time the Vols opened on the road at 1998 at Syracuse. And those turned out alright.
Tennessee 24 - California 21
#1 Southern Cal vs. Idaho - 10:15 PM - Fox Sports Net
The obligatory #1 team in the nation pick, giving you all a chance to pick the upset...Idaho lost Dennis Erickson, return 14 starters from a 4-8 team last year that finished 6th in the mighty WAC, and it's too bad they aren't playing this game at home in the 16,000 capacity Kibbie Dome, where the rocking atmosphere might be enough to make you think upset. Instead, it's in LA, and Southern Cal will get to feel all good about themselves. The only real bad news for the Trojans here is that this one probably won't be an adequate tune-up before they take next week off, then head to Nebraska on the 15th. We'll see...
Southern Cal 63 - Idaho 7
Monday, September 3 - Labor Day
Clemson vs. #19 Florida State - 8:00 PM - ESPN
Bowden Bowl IX will feature the Tigers going for their third straight in the series and fourth in the last five years. So there will be no intimidation factor when the Noles come rolling into Death Valley, SC. Clemson has a terrible habit of doing the exact opposite of what I pick them to do, so read on and then don't take my advice. James Davis and CJ Spiller are back in the Tiger backfield, and new QB Cullen Harper is the new face under center. The Tigers were very one dimensional last year - 5th nationally in rush offense, 67th in pass offense - and without Chansi Stuckey the receiving game may be in even worse shape this year. The Tigers are also breaking in four new starters on the offensive line. The news is a little better on defense, even though Gaines Adams is playing in the NFL now. Six starters return, two in each unit. And Jad Dean finally graduated after a dozen years at Clemson, so they'll be breaking in a new kicker.
And then there's Florida State. The Noles are ranked because they're Florida State, much like the Vols slipping in the preseason poll last year. And because they're Florida State, they do have talent - De'Cody Fagg and Greg Carr (6'6") are solid WR options, and there's a lot of potential in RB Antone Smith. But the offense will once again come down to the Drew Weatherford or Xavier Lee question, which has gone on for way too long and may continue to haunt FSU. The defense is a Florida State defense, which will be as good and as fast as you'd expect. Eight starters return, including the entire defensive line, which is trouble for Davis and Spiller. And Chuck Amato is back on staff, bringing his mafia tactics to the LB corps once more.
Remember the Labor Day game last year between the Noles and Miami, and how ugly it was? Better get used to it - FSU's defense will be tough to score on all year, and their offense will probably continue to struggle. Clemson is the home dog in this case, but I like their atmosphere and their talent to pull them through. Florida State has been too uncertain for me in the last two years, so I'm not picking them to go on the road in the opener and beat a team that none of the current players have handled well in the past. Clemson, ugly but effective.
Clemson 20 - Florida State 17
I read yesterday that Mack Brown had signed a contract extension thru something like 2017. And after years of saying otherwise, here in 2007 we can say that's a very good thing for Texas.
The Longhorns have been in the hunt almost every year this decade, and did pickup the elusive National Championship in 2005. They've also played in and won BCS bowls in 2004 and 2005. Keep in mind, however, that their neighbors in Oklahoma have won four conference titles this decade, while Texas only has one. So even though Texas has beaten OU the last two seasons in the Red River game, the Longhorns have to try and establish themselves as the decade's dominant Big 12 team before there's any talk about them being the nation's dominant team.
You can forgive the Ohio State loss last year because they were relatively young at critical positions. You can't forgive the late-season tailspin, losing to Kansas State and Texas A&M in games that first cost them a potential shot at the National Championship, and then cost them the Big 12 South Division. You can also argue that the Longhorns were headed for another loss to Iowa, until Drew Tate mocked the "Hook 'em Horns" symbol after throwing a TD pass, and woke up the Horns in what became a 26-24 victory.
Fast forward to 2007. The Horns are a year older and have all the weapons you could ask for on offense - QB Colt McCoy is a legitimate Heisman candidate, and RB Jamaal Charles and WR
Limas Sweed could easily earn All-Big 12. The offensive line, which will replace its entire interior, needs to come together to make the whole package run. But there's little doubt that Texas will again put up big numbers - the Horns were 6th nationally in scoring offense last year at 35.9 PPG, and should see similar numbers in 2007.
On defense, it's a mixed bag. The defensive line, especially the tackles, should be great with Frank Okam and Derek Lokey anchoring the middle. The linebackers should also be set, with Robert Killebrew and Rashad Bobino returning. The secondary sent Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin to the first round of the NFL Draft, so there's work to be done there. Surprisingly, the Longhorns were 99th nationally against the pass last year. That's bad news.
But it's not an abundance of talent or experience that's landed the Longhorns at #2 on this poll. It's the schedule:
2007 Texas Schedule
09/01 - vs Arkansas State
09/08 - vs TCU
09/15 - at Central Florida
09/22 - vs Rice
09/29 - vs Kansas State
10/06 - vs Oklahoma (at Dallas)
10/13 - at Iowa State
10/20 - at Baylor
10/27 - vs Nebraska
11/03 - at Oklahoma State
11/10 - vs Texas Tech
11/17 - off week
11/23 - at Texas A&M (Friday)
Of all the potential National Championship contenders, Texas has the easiest road to an undefeated season, and it's not even close. They'll try and tell you to watch out for TCU, but I'm not buying that. The upsets that dogged this team last year won't happen in 2007 because the players are still more talented and a year more experienced. Even their most difficult opposite division game, Nebraska, is in Austin.
So once more, it's a one game season in the making: if Texas beats Oklahoma, they'll be in great shape. And after half a decade of picking Oklahoma and being right, things have swung the other way. If you like offense, you pick Texas. If you like defense, you pick Oklahoma. When the two are about even, as they appear to be this year, you give the edge to Texas to make it three in a row.
If the Horns win that one, it should be all the incentive they need to finish 12-0. That would send them to the Big 12 Championship Game with the North Team of the Moment, probably Nebraska, where the Horns would again be massively favored. I'm taking Texas to win the Big 12, and to be sitting pretty at 13-0 when the bowls are selected. With only two projected undefeate teams, that'll be more than enough to get them to New Orleans and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. No team has an easier road to glory, and no team will be better at capitalizing on it.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
The Hokies will be America's Team early, no doubt. But the rise and fall of their season will still probably come down to the second week, under the lights at Baton Rouge. If VT wins there, no matter the mystique or talent of this team, they'll be capable of beating anybody. And if they lose there, no matter the mystique or the talent of this team, they're still not going to get the national elite respect that the fanbase here in southwestern Virginia so desperately want. It's as simple as that.
When VT had its most successful season in 2000, the face of that story was Michael Vick. Oops. Now that the Hokies would just as soon disassociate with #7 (and, in a twisted way, the shootings story will prevent GameDay and others from speaking heavily of Vick's influence and star power in Blacksburg and the surrounding area, which was/is very heavy), they'll have to answer the questions and play with the strength and pressure the presumed magical season everyone expects them to deliver.
And for the Hokies, it starts with QB Sean Glennon. No single player in America on an elite team will have more to do with that team's success or failure than Glennon. And what I mean by that is this: if you took the starting quarterback from any of the other Top 15 teams on this blog and put him under center in Blacksburg, the Hokies would be a preseason Top 5 team in both polls. VT has the running back in Branden Ore. They have the receivers in Josh Morgan and Eddie Royal. They return three starters on the offensive line.
The defense last year? First in scoring (11.0 points per game allowed). First in pass defense
So it all comes back to Glennon. Last year, he single-handedly gave the Chick-fil-A Bowl to Georgia in the second half when Tech was cruising. He's the poster boy for "don't get us beat!" And once again, you'll find out right away - if Glennon can survive Death Valley, he can carry the Hokies to the promised land. As America's Team, winning the ACC or winning it all wouldn't be a cinderella story, it would be a quarterback becoming the leader his team needs to become the final piece of the puzzle.
2007 Virginia Tech Schedule
09/01 - vs East Carolina
09/08 - at LSU
09/15 - vs Ohio
09/22 - vs William & Mary
09/29 - vs North Carolina
10/06 - at Clemson
10/13 - at Duke
10/20 - off week
10/25 - vs Boston College (Thursday)
11/01 - at Georgia Tech (Thursday)
11/10 - vs Florida State
11/17 - vs Miami
11/24 - at Virginia
The schedule is in two parts, before and after the off week. Beforehand the emphasis will be on Death Valley early, and then a trip to Clemson, who the Hokies ruined last year in Blacksburg. Of course, Hokie Nation wants to win them all, but if they make it to later October having only lost to LSU, they'll be in great shape. After the off week, it's the gauntlet - the Hokies are capable of getting beat all five games, including the don't-sleep-on-it in-state battle with Virginia in Charlottesville to close the regular season. If they win their division, they'd make it a six game gauntlet in the ACC Championship Game.
The pieces are in place if Glennon grows up. And as I've told people up here and wrote above, beat LSU, get all the respect you want. But it's not going to happen. Death Valley is hard to win for SEC foes; for Virginia Tech, who, bless their hearts, don't know much about playing in front of 90plusthousand on a Saturday night. You can't imitate what you see in the SEC on the road. VT can't duplicate it because they lack the manpower in Blacksburg. And playing with the weight of the world usually doesn't work out - LSU blew a 21 point lead over the Vols post-Katrina, the Yankees lost Game Seven of the World Series post-9/11, and the Hokies simply aren't good enough or expereinced enough to walk into Baton Rouge and win, in what will probably be a 14-13 game.
But they're going to win the rest of them. Glennon will be just fine eventually, and there's no one in the ACC that's going to have enough to take out this Hokie team. The experience and the emotional push will help them avoid the upset, and even taking all emotion out of the equation, they're the best team in the ACC. The Hokies will win their division, then beat Clemson again to finish 12-1 and win the ACC. That'll earn them a spot in the Orange Bowl and a chance to meet their old friends West Virginia. And they'll win again.
Virginia Tech is capable of winning them all, LSU included, even though I don't think they will. Either way, it should be a special season in Blacksburg.
The Bears serve a lot of purposes here at #5, four days before kickoff. So you could call this a scouting report, or you could call this proof that, no matter what I say during the emotionally-charged gameweek, I'm not underestimating Cal. And I promise you I'm not the only Vol fan or expert on board that ship.
Talent is unquestioned with the Golden Bears, especially with RB Justin Forsett and WR DeSean Jackson. It's the ability to win the big game that's haunted them (see today's column from John Adams in the Knoxville News-Sentinel). Last year, ranked 9th in the preseason AP poll and picked by Lee Corso to win the National Championship, on a team that was more talented than this one and featured Marshawn Lynch, Brandon Mebane, Desmond Bishop and Daymeion Hughes, the Bears rolled into Knoxville and were down 35-0 midway through the third quarter. One big play turned into four - the Vols scored 4 TDs in a span of 7 offensive snaps - and Cal had nothing left to stop the bleeding. The Bears rebounded well, as a well coached team will do, and were rolling through the Pac-10 into November. They beat Arizona State by 28, beat Oregon
Then two things happened. First they looked ahead to Southern Cal, and lost at Arizona 24-20. Then they actually played Southern Cal, and once again forgot how to play football against the Trojans: a team that was averaging 35 points a game scored 9 at Southern Cal, and lost all hopes of making the BCS. The Bears rebounded again in the Holiday Bowl, destroying Texas A&M 45-10 to finish 10-3.
So that brings us to 2007. Nate Longshore is a year older, Justin Forsett becomes the feature back, and DeSean Jackson is showing up on Heisman lists. The defense is more questionable, without the 06 anchors at all three position units, though still pretty solid in the secondary. And the schedule will once more afford them an opportunity to make noise right away:
2007 California Schedule
09/01 - vs Tennessee
09/08 - at Colorado State
09/15 - vs Louisiana Tech
09/22 - vs Arizona
09/29 - at Oregon
10/06 - off week
10/13 - vs Oregon State
10/20 - at UCLA
10/27 - at Arizona State
11/03 - vs Washington State
11/10 - vs Southern Cal
11/17 - at Washington
11/24 - off week
12/01 - at Stanford
Alright, so you've figured out by now that I'm not picking Cal to beat the Vols. I don't understand, all due respect, why a team that lost as much as Cal did and lost the way they did to the Vols last year, is such a sure-thing six point favorite - I've seen one "expert", Mark May, pick the Vols to beat Cal.
From there, you already know they can pick up the pieces. And this time around, even with less raw talent, I don't think they'll make the same mistakes. That doesn't mean they'll necessarily go 11-1. They still could slip up against a rising Pac-10 schedule. But I do think they'll beat Southern Cal this year, playing at home. And I think the game with UCLA will actually be the one that ends up deciding the Pac-10, which the Bears will also win. So even the early loss to the Vols or one additional stumble along the way, I'm taking Cal to win the Pac-10.
The Penn State vs. California projected Rose Bowl matchup you probably won't find anywhere else - though both Corso and Herbstreit also picked PSU to win the Big 10 - but I like the Golden Bears in that contest as well. By January, this will be one of the five best teams in America, and this should be the year that Jeff Tedford takes the program to the next level, and brings home a conference championship and a BCS win. It's just that their ascent to the top will have to wait until after September 1.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Five Days to Kickoff
Or three days if you like your football LSU/Mississippi State style. Or four days if you'd like to see Alcoa and Maryville in Tennessee's best high school football rivalry (though AHS kicked off in a rain-shortened 21-0 win at Spring Hill last Friday).
The Vols have reinstated LaMarcus Coker, but he won't be making the trip to Cal. The Vols will be looking for, and hopefully finding some, answers at wide receiver, but there's really no point in writing anything more about those guys until we actually see them. Britton Colquitt's leg keeps healing. Eric Berry keeps pressing the first string depth chart. And this is the week, my friends, when I will fully convince myself that the Vols will win the National Championship (as you'll see when we finish the SESB Preseason Top 25 over the next three days). In college, they used to tell us that we could make an argument that the sky was green, as long as the argument was solid. The week before the season starts, my delusions of grandeur are about as solid as they'll ever be.
Meanwhile, lost in the football shuffle...
The Braves are on life support
And the first victim is Bob Wickman, who got the guillotine after picking up an extra innings loss on the road trip that continues tonight, as a three game set begins in Florida. When the Braves score 7 runs, they give up 9. When the pitching is solid, they can't hit. And instead of closing on the Mets while the schedule was in Atlanta's favor, the Braves woke up this morning and checked the paper to find themselves seven games back in the NL East, and four games back in the NL Wild Card race that's suddenly being dominated by San Diego.
It's not over - the Braves do play at Florida (the worst team in the NL) for three this week while the Mets and Phillies play each other in Philadelphia. So if Atlanta takes care of business in Miami, they're going to gain ground on somebody. Then the real test comes over the weekend, when New York comes to Atlanta for three, followed by the Phillies and Nationals in ATL for three, followed by three more at Shea. But we've run out of room for error.
The pitching staff, outside of Smoltz and Hudson, has regressed over the course of the year - it hasn't been just Wickman. Mike Gonzalez is hurt, Rafael Soriano has gone from potential all-star to huge liability, Chuck James is currently on the DL, there's no timetable for Octavio Dotel's return, and when the starting rotation currently includes Jo-Jo Reyes (0-2, 8.31) and Lance Cormier (0-4, 9.00), you can see why we've got a problem.
But it's not over yet. With 31 games to play, the time continues to be now.
John Cena is still the champ
And I'm still not paying to watch that.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
The defending National Champions are a tale of two cities here in August 2007, where it's the best of times on offense - at least that's what they want you think about Tim Tebow - and it's the worst of times on defense - and at least that's what they want you think by underestimating them. One thing's for sure - there will be no more questions about Urban Meyer's ability to win a big game or two, and there are plenty of faces in Gainesville who know what it's like to make the right plays at the right time to stay on that championship drive. With three straight major national championships in two sports at Florida, it would be unwise to lower your defenses and expectations when it comes to the 07 Gators.
One thing, however, is for sure - and it's a testament to the strength of the SEC: Florida didn't win it all last year because they were so much more talented than everybody else. They were simply better at the right time, and better at the right time more often than anyone else. The Gators beat Tennessee in Knoxville by one point where an intentional grounding penalty helped seal it, trailed at home against Alabama in the 4th quarter before ultimately winning, watched LSU completely self-destruct the way they tend to do against the Gators, lost at Auburn, beat Georgia by seven and Vanderbilt by six, beat South Carolina by blocking a last second field goal that would've won it, and beat Florida State by seven. The Gators, to their credit, saved the best for last: a 38 point effort in the SEC Championship Game over Arkansas by 10, and the total annihilation (after the opening kickoff) of the Buckeyes for the crystal football. The Gators were and are a deserving National Champion, but they were two points away from being the third best team in the SEC East.
You make some of your own breaks and your own luck, but some of it simply falls your way. Florida got more than enough of it last year, and deservedly so against the nation's most difficult schedule. But you can't count on it this or any year, and Florida's schedule is once again deadly. So Florida will again be capable of winning the SEC and competing for the whole thing. And Florida will again be capable of losing four or five games. But that's really no different than how it was last year, or how it is for the rest of the top tier of the SEC.
What is different starts with the full reigns being given to Tim Tebow, who, as it's been said, is a better Heisman candidate than quarterback right now. Tebow's got the sizzle, now he needs the
steak - the initial test with the Vols will be huge in mid-September as the first shot to see if he can lead this high-powered offense to victory. Tebow's got the look and feel of a bigtime college football player, and I think he ultimately will be - but remember, the kid's only a sophomore and has lots of football in front of him; if it doesn't all come together immediately, it shouldn't necessarily be a total surprise.
But he will have weapons. Kestahn Moore is experienced, and he'll find his niche in the spread option. The real threats are again the deadly wide receivers, with Percy Harvin and Andre Caldwell leading the way and a wealth of other experience behind them. Florida's scheme may be easier to stop for fast SEC defenses - in the regular season against SEC foes, the most the Gators ever scored was 28 points - but it's very capable of scoring in the blink of an eye as well. Tebow is groomed for this system, and more naturally adept to it than Chris Leak was. The four returning starters on the offensive line may be the real glue that holds this whole thing together; I'd wager the Gators average more than the 22 points per game they scored against SEC regular season competition, and look more like the offense that scored 38 on Arkansas and 41 on Ohio State.
The flip side of that coin is the Gator defense, 6th in the nation last year in scoring and total defense, but breaking in nine new starters. It's a Florida defense, coached up by Charlie Strong and recruited well by Meyer, so by the end of the year I expect them to be more than adequate, with lots of young faces stepping up and Meyer unafraid to play freshmen. However, this is one of those years that it's going to be much better for a team like the Vols to catch Florida early.
Two places where there are no question marks are at one end, with Derrick Harvey, who almost stopped Ohio State's offense by himself, and at one safety, where Tony Joiner roams the field. Seven of the other nine projected starters on the depth chart are freshmen or sophomores. Those holes must be filled quickly, and Florida may not get much of a tune-up playing Western Kentucky and Troy before starting the SEC grind with the Vols and Auburn bookending a trip to Oxford in September. The talent and the speed are there. But this is a defense that can be exploited early.
The schedule is what you'd expect, which isn't good news for the young defense:
2007 Florida Schedule
09/01 - vs Western Kentucky
09/08 - vs Troy
09/15 - vs Tennessee
09/22 - at Ole Miss
09/29 - vs Auburn
10/06 - at LSU
10/13 - off week
10/20 - at Kentucky
10/27 - vs Georgia (at Jacksonville)
11/03 - vs Vanderbilt
11/10 - at South Carolina
11/17 - vs Florida Atlantic
11/24 - vs Florida State
I think those who are predicting a total collapse for the Gators and their young defense are way off base - I don't think this is a team that takes a dive in games they normally win (Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt) and if they're beaten, it'll be by a top tier team with equal talent. I think Florida will handle Florida State, I think they'll take care of Spurrier's boys in Columbia, and I don't think Auburn's got what it takes to beat them in Gainesville. The two games I'd circle for them to be most vulnerable in are Tennessee and LSU. If you're looking at this from a Florida perspective, you like their chances against the Vols because it's in Gainesville, and you like their chances against LSU because the Tigers save their worst and most self-destructive football for the Gators every year - you can make the argument that Florida should've won the last three against LSU, the Tigers have played so poorly against them.
Those two, however, are the only two games I think the Gators will lose. I'm picking the Vols because that's what I do, but also because it'll be the first true test for that brand new defense, facing a senior quarterback with a loaded backfield and a solid offensive line, and Tennessee's defense has handled Meyer's spread option well, for the most part, and would've won three in a row in The Swamp if not for special teams disasters in 2005. And I'm picking LSU because I simply think they're too talented and playing at home, and Florida's defense may still not quite be up to speed by the first week in October.
A 10-2 (6-2) regular season will be very solid, though it won't be enough to get Florida back to Atlanta, and if the Vols and Tigers both have solid years, it won't be enough to get Florida in the BCS under the "only two teams per conference" rule. But if the Gators do land in Orlando, they'd be the better team there regardless of opponent, and so I'm picking an 11-2 finish and a spot just outside the Top 5. That's still a solid year, though it may not feel like it coming off a National Championship. However, this team is young - barring NFL defections, it would lose three starters on the offensive line, but aside from that, only Andre Caldwell and Tony Joiner among players with significant experience at this point. The Vols, Dawgs, and Gators should all be monstrous in 2008, which is what makes 2007 so hard to figure out along the way.
Friday, August 24, 2007
SummerSlam is important. Not just the 97 edition has shone bright through wrestling history: before my time, there was the return bout in a ladder match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, the Boiler Room Brawl between Undertaker and Mankind, and lots of Bret Hart highlights. Even the first SummerSlam had an epic main event of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage against Andre the Giant and Ted DiBiase. The road exiting WrestleMania leads directly to SummerSlam, which usually sets the table for greatness.
Since 97, I've seen more greatness at SummerSlam. The Rock and Triple H in a ladder match for the IC belt in 98 (the infamous "Highway to Hell" SummerSlam that makes every WWE fan hate that song now). Shane McMahon taking the leap of death against Test in 99, the same night where Gov. Jesse Ventura would officiate an Austin/HHH/Foley main event. In 2000, we saw the first ever Tables, Ladders & Chairs match, the first of three classics between the Hardys, Dudleys and Edge & Christian. That same night saw another triple threat match with names that would become legends, as The Rock defeated Triple H and Kurt Angle.
SummerSlam in 2001 is known less for what happened that night and more for what happened in the weeks before, when WWE bought WCW, making SummerSlam the first time that many former WCW superstars competed in a WWE ring. And while the big guns wouldn't come WWE's way until the following years, SummerSlam '01 featured The Rock vs. Booker T, Edge vs. Lance Storm, and Undertaker/Kane vs. DDP/Kanyon, matchups that had never been seen before.
If there's one SummerSlam that I remember more fondly than 1997, it's 2002. The undercard was loaded - Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio, Ric Flair vs. Chris Jericho, Edge vs. Eddie Guerrero, Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Benoit - but it was the double main event that exceeded all expectations. Shawn Michaels stepped into a WWE ring for the first time since March 1997, and then lived up to his name in an epic and emotional streetfight with Triple H, proving with no doubt that he was back. Then The Rock competed as WWE Champion and a full-time performer for the last time, passing the torch to Brock Lesnar in the main event before heading off to Hollywood. 2002 was both important and good.
I missed SummerSlam and most of wrestling in general for the next three years, but when I go back and read about the double main event in 2003 - Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar for one title, and an Elimination Chamber consisting of Triple H, Goldberg, Kevin Nash, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, and Shawn Michaels for the other (won by HHH) - it makes me wish I did see it. Many have called 2003 wrestling's best all around year.
2004 I'm glad I missed. The card was void of star power, much like today, with Rock and Austin having retired and the younger guys yet to fully emerge. The main events saw JBL beat Undertaker, and Randy Orton beat Chris Benoit. Even so, I get the feeling that the 04 card will end up being better than 07.
The last PPV I paid for before this year's WrestleMania was SummerSlam 05, to watch Shawn Michaels face Hulk Hogan. And it was highly disappointing - Hogan wouldn't sell or lose, couldn't take bumps, and Michaels did his best to carry him before ultimately losing in an unsatisfying fashion. Last year saw some quality matches, as Edge defeated John Cena in the main event, the newly reformed DX beat Vince & Shane McMahon, and Hulk Hogan competed in what so far has been his last match, beating Randy Orton.
Which brings us to this year.
The main event - John Cena, who's been champion since a little after SummerSlam a year ago - against Randy Orton, has less heat than any major PPV main event I can remember. The fans are tired of Cena but not fully behind Orton; if Cena wins people will expect it and still be relatively bored, if Orton wins I doubt he can carry it for long. The other title match features Batista vs. The Great Khali. If you make it through this one without yawning, congratulations. Even if they let Khali win to try and drag the feud out, it's got no large upscale with the fans.
The biggest reason to get "excited" about it this year is the return from injury of Triple H and Rey Mysterio, plus the teased return of Undertaker. Those three constitute roughly half of the injured WWE main event talent - with Shawn Michaels, Edge, and Bobby Lashley still on the shelf - and they'll help things overall. When this roster is at full strength, it's really not that bad, though it lacks that Hogan/Austin/Rock figure that can carry the company and the ratings by themselves. Still, this lineup feels like one of those old In Your House PPVs, except they're not building towards anything bigger, because this is it. There aren't even really any matches that lack the charisma of the fanbase but you know will deliver from a wrestling standpoint.
So I'm passing on SummerSlam - though I do expect Randy Orton to finally end Cena's reign, and am happy to see Triple H again. Hopefully, for WWE, it's all looking up from here.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
LSU at Mississippi State - LSU by 17
Wake Forest at Boston College - Boston College by 7
Ole Miss at Memphis - Ole Miss by 3
Georgia Tech at Notre Dame - Notre Dame by 3
Oklahoma State at Georgia - Georgia by 7
Kansas State at Auburn - Auburn by 14
Tennessee at California - California by 6
Florida State at Clemson - Florida State by 3
Monday, August 20, 2007
As if they needed any more reason to make noise, Cal will be passing out 50,000 mini-megaphones before the season opener against Tennessee at Memorial Stadium. "It's going to be loud," said DeSean Jackson. "Everyone's been waiting to play Tennessee. Just like Tupac said, it's going to be 'all eyes on me.' "
Alright, first of all...is that even legal? If they can't have cowbells at Mississippi State, why in the world are they allowed to have mini-megaphones at Cal? And second...if you need to give your fanbase megaphones to make the crowd a "factor"...let's just say I'm quite sure the Vols won't be using the words "loud" or "intimidating" when asked to describe the Memorial Stadium experience in comparison to the weekly SEC grind.
You can read more about the Bears in that SI feature. The Vols, meanwhile, will hold their final scrimmage tomorrow and look to set the depth chart and start prepping for gameweek.
12 days until we all get to stare at DeSean Jackson.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Preseason AP Top 25
1. Southern Cal
3. West Virginia
9. Virginia Tech
11. Ohio State
17. Penn State
19. Florida State
24. Boise State
25. Texas A&M
Friday, August 17, 2007
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
How quickly things can change at a five-star program like Michigan. In 2005, the Wolverines came into the season with high expectations, then lost three of its first six. And it could've been worse - Michigan beat Michigan State and Iowa in overtime, and beat Penn State on the last play of the game. Just when it looked like things had turned about, Michigan lost to Ohio State (again) and lost to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl. Lloyd Carr was on the hot seat, and I predicted the 2006 season would be his last.
Then Carr took the flames under his chair and turned them loose on the college football world. They dusted Top 5 Notre Dame 47-21 in South Bend (which is why Mike Hart looks so happy).
They handed Wisconsin what would become their only loss of the season 27-13. They busted Michigan State 31-13. They won at Happy Valley, and turned away Iowa. And by late October, ESPN was running an Armageddon graphic for the Michigan-Ohio State showdown, which would become a 1 vs. 2 epic.
Then things changed again. Michigan had played well on defense all year, then gave up 42 points to Ohio State in a three point loss. Then the Wolverines still went to the Rose Bowl, though feeling that somehow they deserved a rematch with Ohio State for the National Championship, and playing a Southern Cal team that, having lost two Pac-10 games and playing outside the National Championship conversation few gave a chance against Michigan, the Wolverines took a beating in a 32-18 game that wasn't as close as the score appears. And suddenly the 11-0 start and #2 ranking the Wolverines enjoyed in mid-November was a distant memory.
So turning the page to 2007, thanks to massive losses in Columbus and the fact that Wisconsin doesn't get the same level of national respect as the boys in maize and blue, Michigan finds itself the favorite to win the Big Ten. And when you look at it on paper, this is a Top 5 talent team - Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Mario Manningham, and Jake Long all return on an offense that brings back 7 starters in all, and will field six seniors in the starting lineup. The defense returns only four, but Shawn Crable is capable, and the Wolverines picked up the National Junior College Defensive Player of the Year in LB Austin Panter (Lindy's tells me he's the first JuCo player in a decade for Michigan). Playing in the extremely top-heavy Big Ten, you've gotta like Michigan's chances as well as anyone.
The legacies of Henne and Hart will be written in stone this year. Both have been talented since they stepped on the field, and carried the promise of championships. But during their tenure, Michigan hasn't beaten Ohio State and hasn't won a bowl game. CFN has an interesting sentence: "Michigan has become the Peyton Manning of college football (before his Super Bowl)."
Among the unanimously agreed National Championship contenders - USC, LSU, Michigan, Texas, Florida, West Virginia and Oklahoma - none will field a more effective offense (on paper) than Michigan. Henne-Hart-Manningham behind a line that returns four starters gives Michigan legitimate All-America candidates at all three skill positions, and a fourth in OT Jake Long. This offense will score points, period.
Will they score enough points? Well, it's still the Big Ten, so the defense doesn't have to be exceptional if things become a grind-it-out affair every week. But Michigan's defense is probably going to end up being better than you think in August - DT Terrance Taylor joins Crable and Morgan Trent and Jamar Adams in the secondary as returning starters. Especially by season's end, I think Michigan's defense will be fine...the problem is what's coming down the pipe in September:
2007 Michigan Schedule
09/01 - vs Appalachian State
09/08 - vs Oregon
09/15 - vs Notre Dame
09/22 - vs Penn State
09/29 - at Northwestern
10/06 - vs Eastern Michigan
10/13 - vs Purdue
10/20 - at Illinois
10/27 - vs Minnesota
11/03 - at Michigan State
11/10 - at Wisconsin
11/17 - vs Ohio State
Well, I'll say this...if they do manage the table run, they'll make mid November interesting with the trip to Camp Randall followed by the home date with the hated Buckeyes. Michigan has the talent to do it, too...but that's a bit too much to ask in September with the defense coming together. They are all at home, but among the dates with Oregon, Notre Dame, and Penn State, I think Michigan will lose one of them (and it ain't the one in the middle). From there, I still think this team is experienced enough and talented enough to pull together...I think Michigan will win the rest of them. That includes at Wisconsin, who they're just better than. And that includes beating Ohio State for the first time since 2003.
That would leave Michigan at 11-1 and in the BCS for sure, though whether or not it's as Big 10 Champions would depend on who they lost to. That will also leave them as one of those teams that's hoping no one finishes the year undefeated. But since I think there will be a clean finish this year with two undefeated teams left standing, it leaves Michigan out in the cold for the national title, and relegated to another BCS bowl. I'm picking the team you'll see next to win the Big 10, so that puts Michigan at-large in the Fiesta Bowl. And given the long bowl losing streak and the dashed hopes of playing for it all, I'm picking another Michigan bowl loss for them to end the year down here around #9. I think they're very good and will be right there at the end of the year, but one loss along the way will cost them their shot at the big prize.