We begin this week with an inferiority complex, poker chips, and a shoulder to “wear” them.
For much of the last 40 years Michigan State has played a distant second fiddle to its intra-state Big Blue brother; Mighty Meeechigan.
And since taking over the program, Mark Dantonio, Sparty’s best head man since Duffy Daugherty, has played into that sense of inferiority better than a shark at a table at The World Series of Poker.
In the weight room the shirts of the Michigan State players have poker chips on the shoulders. And before one game last season, poker chips were handed out.
But when asked if his team embraced the role of underdog, Dantonio’s face grimaced as he snarled, “Underdog?” “We’re not an underdog.”
This week let’s see which teams, with apologies to Kenny Rogers, “Know When to Fold ‘Em,” and which cash in its winning chips, allowing its fat-cat alums to pompously parade around after another chest-puffing victory.
No.7 Oregon at No.5 Michigan State (Ch.5, 8 p.m.) Saturday night in East Lansing, it should be Kermit the Frog bobble head night, as the Green from Eugene pays a visit to the green-stamp clad Spartans of Michigan State.
As always, Oregon moves faster than its legendary alum Steve Prefontaine, and is directed by its latest dual-threat gunslinger Vernon Adams, the best known Adams since; Gomez and Morticia.
The flashy director of the Sons of Dan Fouts is assisted by a pair of starry backs Royce Freeman, who rolls like a Rolls, and his partner Kani Benoit, and chooses from a gaggle of receivers led by Byron Marshall, and Dwayne Stanford.
The D is anchored by end Deforest Buckner, nose Alex Balducci, and backer Joe Walker but concerns linger over an injury riddled secondary which is not a good recipe against MSU.
A potential playoff invite hangs on the outcome, making this the Spartans biggest battle since Thermoplae, or certainly since its 1966 legendary 10-10 tie in 1966 against Notre Dame. [Note: That is the last time a pair of top-10 teams has played at Spartan Stadium.]
These Sons of Duffy Daugherty are directed by its senior QB Connor Cook who has the ability and experience to “griddle” any defense.
The steady third year starter whose resume includes a Rose and Cotton bowl victory, targets wideout Aaron Burbridge, and a Prudential-sized (6-4, 250) tight end Josiah Price, while t- freshman tailback L.J. Scott, and his partner Madre London, are quality road graders.
All-America end Shillique Calhoun is the backbone of the ferocious D, with strong assists from his book-end Lawrence Thomas, backer Ricky Bullough, and tackle Joel Heath.
As the faithful are well aware there are some questions regarding a secondary, which is not the best recipe against Oregon.
In a game with major national implications, we think Mark Dantonio, one of the nation’s best, and most underrated, goes Duck hunting in Spartan Stadium.
No.14 LSU at No.25 Mississippi State (ESPN, 9:15 p.m.) In its opener the Tigers were expected to maul its season opening prey; McNeese State which would have served as a tasty hors d’oeuvre for this week’s tough SEC road contest.
But unfortunately after just a pair of series, Mother Nature stepped in, and the game was eventually called after a four hour weather delay.
It was a tough break for LSU sophomore QB Brandon Harris who is being handed the keys to the Baton Rouge Caddy, but for the Cowboys and Cowgirls of McNeese State it was a $500,000 payday without a check in the loss column.
The bottom line for the Sons of Billy Cannon hinges on the performance of Harris as LSU was a bottom feeding 114th throwing the ball in last year’s disappointing 5-loss season.
The new Baton-Rouge conductor will lean heavily on one of the nation’s best; sophomore tailback Leonard Fournette, who motors like an 18-wheeler zooming down the Mass Turnpike.
If the kid can stifle the jitters, wideouts Travin Duval, and Malachi Dupree are quality targets.
Newly hired d-coordinator Kevin Steele has, like Mr. Phelps, one mission; increase the number of sacks from last season’s miniscule total of 14.
And the strength of this eleven is anchored by backers Kendell Beckwith, Lamar Lewis, and safety Jalen Mills.
In Starkville, the cowbells welcoming its visitors will be clanging louder than a railroad crossing.
The Sons of Jackie Sherrill are directed by one of the nation’s most effective dual-threats in senior QB Dak Prescott, while tailbacks Brandon Holloway, and Ashton Shumpert are effective yardage churners.
The Starkville slayer also has a trio of field stretches; Gus Walley, Fred Ross and his tall-in-the-saddle (6-5,225) prime target; De’Runnya Wilson.
The D’s strength features a pair of linebackers Richie Brown, and Zach Jackson, with assists from tackle Chris Jones.
In a difficult game to get a handle we’ll give a slight edge to the Tigers of LSU.
No.19 Oklahoma at No.23 Tennessee (ESPN, 6 p.m.) After 16 years and an impeccable 168-44 record there is a feeling in Norman that this might be the last stand for Bob Stoops.
OU won its last league title in 2010, and is coming off an unacceptable five loss season.
In hopes of rectifying this “Boomer Sooner” malaise “Big Game” returned to his “air-raid” roots of Mike Leach hiring East Carolina o-coordinator Lincoln Riley.
QB Baker Mayfield, a TT transfer directs the Sons of Bud Wilkinson, with assists of from a pair of dynamic tailbacks Samaje Perine, and Joe Mixon, while wideout Sterling Sharp is a glue-fingered marvel.
The often undisciplined D, particularly in the secondary, is dotted with talent led by All-Americas backer Eric Striker, and corner Zack Sanchez, mixed with a solid dose of backers Dominique Alexander and Frank Shannon.
Expectations in Tennessee haven’t been this high since Al Gore appeared to have won (2000) the Presidency, as Coach Butch Jones has steadily molded the Volunteers into what may be a division challenging squad.
QB Josh Dobbs is the commander of the Sons of Johnny Majors, while the Gibraltar-hard tailback duo of Jalen Hurd, and Alvin Kamara charge like the bulls at Pamplona.
The rocket-armed signal caller has a host of field-stretchers featuring Pig Howard and Von Pearson.
The much improved Volunteers D is anchored by a pair of sack-master ends Curt Maggitt, and Derek Barnett, with a strong assist from backer Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
This will be the largest crowd Oklahoma has ever played before, and we think the Boys from Rocky Top capture its biggest win since its SEC/National Championship year of 1998 restoring the orange checkerboard brand back into national prominence.
Temple at Cincinnati (ESSN, 8 p.m.) The spotlight has found the Temple Owls.
But that’s what happens when a futility streak of 74 years (38-0-1 versus Penn State) that stretched back to the Administration of FDR (1941) comes to a crashing halt.
The Sons of Joe Klecko surge behind a suffocating sack-attack, anchored by a trio of marauding backers: Tyler Matakevich, Nate Smith, and Jarred Alwan.
Overall this eleven demonstrates more depth and substance than the entire announced Democratic Presidential field. And certainly has a higher defensive IQ than Sarah Palin.
Temple’s offensive side isn’t Buckeye electrifying, but under the direction of dual-threat sophomore QB P.J. Walker, patiently probes exploiting any weaknesses.
The quiet leader is assisted by tailback Jahad Thomas, and a three-pack of solid wideouts: Robby Anderson, Ventell Bryant, and tight end Kip Patton.
It took a while, but the Bearcats QB, Gunner Kiel, has finally found his home.
Initially “Mr. Indiana Football” made a commitment to IU, before changing to LSU, then at the last moment decided on ND.
He left South Bend after a single season, and moved into the welcoming arms of Cincinnati Coach Tommy Tuberville.
It has been a blissful match for the future Sunday performer who is assisted by a trio of game-breaking tailbacks; Tion Green, Hosey Williams, and Mike Boone.
When the gunner takes to the Queen City Skies, something he does early and often, the flame-thrower choses from field-stretchers: Shaq Washington, Alex Chisum, and Johnny Holton.
The D which features end Silverberry Mouhon, backer Bryce Edwards, and safety Zach Edwards is slower than Hanley Raminez, and often needs to the offense to bail it out.
In a game that is off the radar, but carries great intrigue, we think the Boys from the Queen City checkmate the Owls.
UMass at Colorado (95.9 FM, 2 p.m.) At least the other Division 1 team from the Bay State, the Minutemen of UMass, are opening its season against a “real” team and on the road no less.
And this season Mark Whipple’s Belle’s of Amherst are entertaining thoughts of a bowl invitation.
The Sons of Milt Morin (All-Pro: Cleveland Browns) are directed by its talented QB Blake Frohnapfel whose veteran offensive line provides better protection than Donald Trump’s posse.
Operating out of a pro-style alignment the gridiron poet has a trio of glue fingered targets in Tajae Sharpe, Jalen Williams, and Marken Michel.
The Minutemen’s pedestrian ground attack operates by committee alternating between Shadrach Abrokwah, and Lorenzo Woodley.
The D, which has more veterans than the bar at a VFW Post is led by one of the nation’s top tacklers; linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, with assists from mates Trey Seals, and Kassan Messiah.
The length of the Buffs rebuilding mode makes the Big Dig seem like the annual sand castle contest on Revere Beach.
But make no mistake CU has offensive weapons.
The Sons of Byron “Whizzer” White are directed by quarterback Sefo Liufau an equal opportunity destroyer, who can slice a defense by either firing a dart, or scampering over huge chunks of real estate.
He has a touchdown make in receiver Nelson Spruce (12TDs) and a burning partner, Shay Fields.
Colorado’s run-defense remains weaker than Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid and features end Derek McCarthy, Jordan Carrell, and Kenneth Olugbode.
We think with apologies to John Denver, “Whipple’s Wonders” celebrate a “Rocky Mountain High.”
Last week: 4-1 Season record: 4-1
That’s it from cyber-space. We’ll be up and running with our recap Sunday by noon. Until then, Peace, and listen to the music. PK