Handicapping Week 1

We begin this week with a president, a coach, and a scandal.

The year was 1969, the 100th anniversary of college football, and the latest incarnation of the; “Game of The Century,” was about to unfold.  It pitted a pair of unbeatens;  #1 Texas, coached by Darrell Royal against #2 Arkansas, coached by Frank Broyles.  Originally scheduled for an October date, the powers at ABC Television, moved the game to the first weekend in December, making it the only game played that Saturday.  It proved a wise decision, as the game was a ratings bonanza.

The game’s magnitude also caught the attention of the nation’s number one football fan; President Richard Nixon.  The “Trickster” and a little known congressman, by the name of; George H.W. Bush (41), came to Fayetteville to witness the spectacle.  Nixon in his wisdom also decided he was going to present a plaque to the winning team, proclaiming it the national champion; despite the fact they still had a bowl game to play.  Texas won 15-14 scoring a pair of late fourth quarter touchdowns and a two point conversion, and was thusly proclaimed national title winners by the President.  This always bothered Penn State’s Joe Paterno, as his Nittany Lions also finished its season undefeated. 

Some five years later Paterno gave a PSU commencement address, and during the course of his speech asked the following: “How could Nixon know so much about college football in 1969, and so little about Watergate in 1973?”  JoPa deserved a plaque for that biting wisdom.  This weekend, let’s see which teams deserve special recognition by laying some presidential lumber, and which play, as if a burglar swiped its play book. 

No.3 Boise State at No.10 VaTech (Landover, Md. – Mon Labor Day, ESPN, 8 p.m.This is an opener worthy of Broadway acclaim.  Coach Chris Peterson’s Boise State, a jaw-dropping 49-4 over its last four seasons, has won 26 of its last 27, including 14 in a row.

And unlike the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, BSU is a legitimate candidate for the national title.  Directed by its near flawless All-America junior QB Kellen Moore (39 touchdowns – 3 interceptions), and sporting a roster that returns 22 starters, the Broncos have more offensive firepower than a cave filled with Taliban.

The starry gunslinger chooses from a passel of jet-fueled wideouts, but focuses on a pair of TD makers; Austin Pettis and Titus Young.  BSU can also gallop behind a 1000 yard tailback; Jeremy Avey.  The muscle of the D is its line, flexed by a pair of disruptive ends; Ryan Winterswyk and Shea McClellin, with assists from sack master tackle, Bobby Winn.

Iconic, or as Boston Mayor Tom Menino says, “ionic,” Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer begins his 24th year as the head man of his alma-mater.    The Hokies feature an attack that runs with arguably the best tailback tandem in the land; All-America Ryan Williams and his running mate: Darren Evans.  In addition, dual-threat senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor has finally developed a passing touch.  The QB also has the luxury of focusing on a pair of field-stretching targets: Jarret Boykins and Danny Coale.  The D, backboned by backer Barquell Rivers (doubtful quad) is young, which could be a problem against the multiple shifts of the Broncos, but if anyone can mature a defense quickly,  it’s coordinator extradinaire; Bud Foster.  This is a game dripping with national implications, and will have more hits than a hemp festival. In a very tight game, we think, and we’ve gone back and forth on this, the Tony eventually goes to Boise State.

UConn at Michigan (Ch.5, 3:30 p.m.Who knows, by season’s end, Huskies coach Randy Edsall could be switching sidelines to become the next head man of the Wolverines.  The attack by the Storrs eleven pounds behind tailback Jordan Todman and an offensive line, led by All-America guard Zach Hurd, that opens holes wider than a pipe in a BP oil spill.  UConn’s leader is senior QB Zack Frazier, who isn’t flashy, but gives Edsall a steady presence under center.  The D, which last season ranked last in the Big East, returns eight starters, and does have some quality, featuring All-America backer Lawrence Wilson, his partner Scott Luturus, and end Greg Lloyd, but Connecticut’s secondary remains as shaky as an FDA approval on eggs, or Paris Hilton’s “pocket-book” defense.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Where’s Lloyd Carr when you need him?  Mighty Meeechigan is coming off its worst Big Ten finish since the Kennedy Administration,    and Big Blue has failed to go bowling for two consecutive years.  This season, the pundits place Coach Fraud, I mean, $Rod’s boys in the eighth spot in the league, as Rodriguez’s coaching seat is hotter than a New York sidewalk in July. 

But despite the Ann Arbor gloominess (a two year record: 8-13, and 3-13 in the Big Ten has a tendency to depress), there is reason for optimism.  Sophomore QB Tate Forcier is a talented, charismatic force, as is his main QB challenger Denard Robinson.  Rodriguez is expected to start the season using three quarterbacks with the more dynamic Robinson as the starter.   Michigan’s wideout tandem; Darryl Stonum and Roy Roundtree although lacking game experience, are equally gifted.  Unfortunately, the D, led by end Mike Martin, and nose Ryan Van Bergen, remains, like the Administration of Barak Obama, a work in progress.  Despite all the uncertainty in the Big House, even though UConn’s Edsall is the better coach, we think coach Fraud/$Rod has more talent, but more importantly, much more desperation, and opens the season with a close victory.  But if Big Blue should go down, the betting is; Coach $Rod will not be far behind.

No.18 UNC at No. 21 LSU – Georgia Dome, Atlanta (Ch.5, 8 p.m.The optimism for Coach Butch Davis’s fourth season in Chapel-Hill was as bountiful as the expectations for the state’s annual tobacco crop.  But that all changed when the NCAA started an investigation first into starry tackle Marvin Austin (suspended indefinitely by Davis) for his attendance at a Miami party sponsored by agents.  It has since expanded into John Edwardsian territory, and now involves allegations of an academic fraud involving a tutor writing term papers for some of the players.  Unless the situation is quickly resolved – which is doubtful – Davis’s job, and the once promising UNC season, may go up in smoke.  Despite that uncertainty, the talent on D still smolders, lit by a pair of All-Americas; corner Kendric Burney and safety Deunta Williams.  The D, when fully engaged, is harder to crack, than a Vatican archive.  The Tar-Heels Achilles is the consistency of its offense.  The quarterback job, as least for now is under the direction of three year starter T.J Yates, who has shown a disturbing proclivity for throwing it to the opposition.  If he falters red-shirt freshman Bryan Renner will get the call.  The running attack is by committee, but a seasoned offensive line, should provide an added boost.

Like the marshes of the Gulf, it is getting stickier for LSU head man Les Miles, who is 8-8 in his last two SEC seasons.  The Bayou-Bengals roar behind a blitzing D that attacks with a pair of All-Americas; backer Kelvin Sheppard and corner Patrick Peterson.  It’s the offense that causes the agita among the Tiger- faithful.  These Sons of Billy Cannon finished last season; ranked 76th in scoring, and if that number is going to improve, the Tigers must have more consistent play from junior quarterback Jordan Jefferson.  The QB has a pair of talented targets, Terrance Toliver and Russell Shepard, but LSU must also have a bigger contribution from its running game.  And Coach Miles is counting on tailbacks Richard Murphy and Stevan Ridley to carry the load.  Despite the justifiable Baton-Rouge angst, we think it will be ‘Hold That Tiger,’ as LSU lights up a victory smoke against, the now reeling, and possibly imploding, Boys from Tobacco Road.

No. 24Oregon State vs. No. 6 TCU – Arlington, Texas (Cowboys Home) aka – Jerry-World (ESPN, 7:45 p.m.This is another Park Avenue match-up.  The Beavers offense chews behind the best Rodgers this side of Will, Ginger, Roy, (ignore the spelling, it’s for effect) or (correct spelling) Boston Billy.  All-America tailback Jaquizz, who is on pace to become the PAC 10’s second all-time leading rusher, along with his wideout brother Jarvis, are the most dynamic fraternal pairing since the brothers Marx.  The biggest question for the Corvallis faithful remains at quarterback.  Is mobile sophomore Ryan Katz capable of handling the responsibility?  The D, backboned by tackle Stephen Paea, end Gabe Miller and towering safeties Cameron Collins and Lance Mitchell isn’t flashy, but solidly efficient.

After last year’s 12 win season in Forth Worth, Coach Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs, (an eye-popping 53-11 since 2005), are hoping to leap even higher.  In fact these Sons of Sammy Baugh, who return seventeen starters, may be the best football team in the Lone Star State.  The Frogs identity is its Kryptonite D, which has been the top ranked unit in the nation for the past two seasons.  These guys, moored by its All-America backer Tank Carder, with assists from ends Wayne Daniels and Braylon Broughton, are anything like Clark Kent.  When TCU wins the turnover battle, they are an astounding 45-1 in its last 46 games, and are 9-2 against BCS Conference teams.  The offensive side is of similar quality.  Senior QB Andy Dalton, who is a potential All-America, and a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate, has the luxury of choosing from a plethora of targets led by All-America Jeremy Kerley.  The Frogs can also run behind a pair of sophomore backs Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker.  In a close battle, we think the TCU wins the turnover battle and ultimately dams the Beavers chances.

Washington at BYU   In Jake we trust.  The Huskies faithful are hoping its starry dual-threat QB, Jack Locker will end Washington’s seven year bowl drought.  The NFL’s projected first pick, and Heisman Trophy contender, is assisted by tailback Chris Polk, and a twosome of glue-fingered receivers; Devin Aguilar and Jermaine Kearse.  But the biggest asset in Seattle is the organizational and enthusiastic atmosphere created by UW’s second year coach Steve Sarkisian.  Unfortunately the D, led by linebacker Mason Foster and corner Desmond Trufant is weaker than ordering a decaf at the home of Starbucks.  It could ultimately grind UW’s bowl hopes into a hill of beans.

The mission in Provo is to find its new quarterback.  It is a priority, if coach Bronco Mendenhall (49-15) is to have any chance at a fifth consecutive 10 win season.

That search has morphed into a dual armed mission, as true freshman Jake Heaps and junior Riley Nelson will share the duties.  That decision is quite a departure for Coach Mendenhall and BYU reputation as: Quarterback U.  The ground attack is a communal of tailbacks, and the QB duo can rely on a pair of field-stretching wideouts; McKay Jacobson and O’Neill Chambers.  The D behind backer Jordan Pendleton and corner Brian Logan will need a heavy dose of missionary intervention if the Cougars are to once again crack that 10-win barometer.  But don’t sell Mendenhall short, he is a heck of a coach.  Fully aware of the difficulty in winning in Provo, we think it’ll be: See Jake run, See Jake throw, See UW leave Provo with the W. 

Make sure and read our Sunday recap which will be up and running by noon, and we’ll be back with week two on Wednesday night.  Until then peace, and stay safe.  pk

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