Handicapping Week 1

We begin week one with a unique lunar – football experience

America recently celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon.  If not for the vision and leadership of President John Kennedy, who helped open the way with his famous; “We choose to go to the moon” speech, given at Rice University, on September 12, 1962, that historic journey may never have occurred. 

In the course of the speech the President said, “But why, some say, the moon?  Why choose this as our goal?  And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain?  Why thirty-five years ago, fly the Atlantic?  Why does Rice play Texas?  There it is – the moon and college football forever intertwined.  On this opening weekend, let’s see which teams soar to new heights, and which get eclipsed, dropping like a doomed rocket.

No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech in Atlanta at Georgia Dome (Ch.5, 8 p.m.)                      How strong is the SEC?  Kryptonite strong.  Alabama, despite having what many experts consider, one of the nation’s best defenses, is picked to finish third in its own division, behind Mississippi and LSU.  Coach Nick Saban’s whose All-America senior laden D can smother an offense better than the Chief in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The leader of the pack is mountain-sized nose tackle Terrence Cody (6’5, 356 pounds) followed by backer Rolando McClain and left corner Javier Arenas.  It’s the offense that leaves the Tide faithful with a queasy crimson feeling.  These Sons of Joe Namath will be led by untested junior quarterback Greg McElroy and he’ll need big assists from his mercury fueled wideout Julio Jones and the slicing running of tailback Mark Ingram.  But it will be the D, at least for the early part of the season that will determine the success of the Tuscaloosa footballers.

The Boys from Blacksburg are loaded for bear.  “Beamer Ball” just keeps on rolling as Coach Frank Beamer’s VaTech Hokies is one of only three schools (Texas, USC) to win at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons.  The Hokies undisputed offensive leader is junior quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, whose stable of thoroughbred tailbacks is now a little gimpy now that  star sophomore Darren Evans, is out for the season with an ACL.  It could prove to be a big loss for VaTech’s title dreams.  In addition to that loss, the receiving corps causes the most concern for the Tech faithful, and remains, very much, a work in progress.  Bud Foster’s D led by end Jason Worilds and All-America corner Stephan Virgil will blitz and attack from all angles, and once again, will be cornerstone of VaTech’s success.  In a tight game that will have more hits than a Michael Jackson retrospective, we think the Tide goes out on the Boys from Blacksburg. 

No. 20 BYU at No. 3 Oklahoma in Dallas (ESPN, 7 p.m.)  In Provo, BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall, has channeled the spirit of coaching legend LaVell Edwards in returning the Cougars back into a top 25 program.  The director of this Mormon gathering is Heisman Trophy contending senior quarterback Max Hall, who is ably assisted by the hard pounding of tailback Harry Unga and pass catching ability of his All-America tight end Dennis Pitta.  Unfortunately for the BYU faithful, both of Lane’s favorite targets from last season have graduated, leaving the dependability of the receiving corps in the hands of a higher power.  The D, which against Oklahoma could use some Divine Intervention, is led by sack leader end Jan Jorgensen, and a trio of experienced backers in Matt Bauman, Coleby Clawson, and Shawn Doman. 

Unfortunately the Cougar faithful are going to find out quickly, with apologies to Dorothy, “They aren’t in Provo anymore.”  The Sooners are a remarkable 109-24 during the ten year tenure of coach Bobby Stoops, and an astounding nation’s best 54-2 when playing at Memorial Stadium.  Yet amazingly, the red festooned faithful continue to grumble about BCS bowl losses.  OU is led by the reigning Heisman Trophy winner; junior quarterback Sam Bradford (50 touchdowns – 8 interceptions) with assists from a pair of Plain whistling thousand- plus yard tailbacks in Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray.  The QB also gets a big assist from a Linus blanket All-America target in tight end in Jermaine Gresham.  The questions in Norman revolve around a young offensive line and a new crop of receivers, which will feature Ryan Broyles and a converted running back in Mossis Madu.  Last season’s D wasn’t vintage Stoops, but there is great optimism in Norman that the attacking Red Menace is back.  This group is led by All-America tackle Gerald McCoy, his fellow tackle Adrian Taylor and a pair of crushing backers in Travis Lewis and Ryan Reynolds.  In the “Big D,” visions or Mitt Romney could be the nightmare awaiting the Mormon Missionaries from Provo.

No. 13 Georgia at No. 9 Oklahoma State (Ch. 5, 3:30 p.m.)   Georgia coach Mark Richt has returned to his roots, – and what he does best – coach.  Despite entering his tenth season in Athens, a time when a lot of coaches adopt more of a CEO mentality, Richt is taking a “get your hands dirty”, disciplinarian approach, which has garnered rave reviews from the players.  Senior quarterback Joe Cox will provide the Dawgs with steady, if unspectacular leadership, while sophomore wideout A.J. Green will provide the fireworks.  Georgia has one of the nation’s best o-lines, but its best runner may be its bulldog mascot UGA VI, as highly touted runner Caleb King has yet to achieve his potential.  The D, led by tackles Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens, along with All-America backer Rennie Curran, will determine the early season success for the Dawgs.

If the Cowboys can ride over this SEC power, there could be a new sheriff in the Big 12 South.  Coach Mike Gundy’s pokes are led by one of the country’s best in quarterbacks in  Zac Robinson (leg), who has been dealt the snake-eyes hand of playing in a conference with a pair of Heisman Trophy candidates in Colt McCoy of Texas, and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma.  The Cowboys starry QB can rely on a pair of dynamic All-Americas in receiver Dez Bryant and tailback Kendall Hunter.  While the D, which has always been a disappointment to the OSU faithful, does have some talent in backer Andre Sexton and All-America corner Perrish Cox.  In Boone Pickens Stadium, in another “big game” season opener, we think the well runs dry for the visitors from Athens, but regardless of the outcome, kudos to Richt and Georgia for leaving the friendly confines of the South, and taking on a quality and very dangerous opponent.

Maryland at No.12 California (ESPN, 10 p.m.)   The “Fridge”- aka “the skinny” -Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen – could use some shelf replenishing groceries, particularly on the defensive side.  Newly minted D-coordinator Don Brown, the former head man of UMass, must replace seven starters, leaving him longing for one more leaf changing fall in Amherst.   On offense QB Chris Turner, his starry tailback Da’Rel Scott and wideouts Tony Smith and Ronnie Tyler will stretch any defense, but these Sons of Boomer Esiason, much also retool its offensive line.

This is a payback game for the Boys from Berkeley after last years 27-35 sleepwalk loss at College Park.  Cal is led by the nation’s best (over 8 yards a carry) namely its All-America playmaking tailback Jahvid Best, and a dominant offensive line.  It is that combination that leaves the Bears with its best chance to punch its ticket to the Rose Bowl in over a half-a-century.  The key to the success of coach Jeff Tedford’s Golden Bears, will be the consistent play of junior quarterback Kevin Riley.  The feisty D is led by its bookend ends in Tyson Alvalu and Cameron Jordan, with assists from backer Michael Mohammed.  With the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock fresh in the “minds” of the Haight-Ashbury leftovers, and with apologies to Grace Slick, “It Up Against the Wall,” as the Boys from Berkeley make soup out of the Terps.

Missouri at Illinois (ESPN, 4 p.m.)  The Illini feel that last year’s  five win season was an anomaly and are “juiced” for a big year in Champaign.  This is also a payback game for the “Fighting Zookers” who are directed by its erratic, yet wonderfully talented dual threat quarterback Juice Williams.  If Illinois is to make some legitimate noise in the Big Ten, he must improve his consistency.  The QB has one of the best receiving trios in America featuring All-America Arrelious Benn, and teammates Jeff Cumberland and tight end Michael Hoomanawanni.  Illinois will also trot out a passel of backs, which features senior Daniel Dufrene.  The athletic and experienced D, attacks behind tackle Corey Liuget and backer Martez Wilson, but must show improvement over last season’s performance.

After winning 22 games the last two seasons, the college football nation wants to know if the anchor school from the “Show Me State” is real or Memorex.  Unlike the past two seasons, it will be the D that will determine the success for Coach Gary Pinkel’s Missouri Tigers.  That squad is directed by the “hit man,” All-America backer Sean Weatherspoon, along with his fellow backers Andrew Gachkar and Luke Lambert.  The offense boasts a solid o-line, and a stud back in junior Derrick Washington, but untried sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert remains a work in progress.  We think Zook’s Boys gets its revenge and shows the Tigers by popping the bubbly in Champaign, Illinois.

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