August 7, 2005

Opening thoughts

It's 3:40 AM on Monday morning here in Syndey, Australia, as I begin the first entry. It's not exactly 4:30 AM on a Tuesday (to borrow from the Counting Crows), but it's close enough. In other words, it doesn't get much worse than this.

What am I doing awake at 3:40 AM, and, more importantly, why am I not completely inebriated at this hour? Well, you see, I'm getting on a plane at 1:45 PM tomorrow and am hoping to sleep for most of the nearly 20 hour flight, so I thought it'd be a good idea to stay up all night.

One good thing about such an idea is that it has given me the time to get the ball rolling here. I'm not yet sure what route this exactly will take and who will all be involved, but hopefully at least a few people will read it and be interested in what I (maybe we) have to offer.

For now, without further adieu, I give you the top eight things I'm looking forward to this year in college football:

8) Laurence Maroney's Heisman bid: I'm rather certain that Maroney could have garnered much more serious attention last year had Marion Barber III not been around to steal his carries. Maroney gives you so much more than Barber: he has the toughness to go inside, but he's also got more quickness and ability to bounce things for big gains. His 6.2 yards per carry on 217 carries is absolutely huge, and his 12 touchdowns led the team. Meanwhile, Barber carried 231 times for 1269 yards and 11 TD's. You can't expect Maroney to pick up all of that slack, but he better be above 1800 yards for the Gophers to make any noise. He's more talented than Barber and he's got the same great offensive line with another year of experience and practice. It's hard to believe that anyone that plays for Minnesota could be considered for the Heisman with guys like Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, Vince Young, and so on, but Maroney is a legit contender. Believe me.

7) Finding out what happens with Urban Meyer, Ron Zook, and Charlie Weis: In last year's ill-fated attempt at maintaining this site while I was working 40 hours a week and taking 18 credits, my last entry was a seething indictment of Florida AD Jeremy Foley for the way he cut the legs out from under Ron Zook. Naturally, I was happy when he made an ass out of himself trying to get Mr. Spurrier back, and then ended up overpaying a rather unproven Urban Meyer (by the way, Urban is all at once an amazingly stupid and yet hip name. I won't name my son Urban, but I'm thinking of Rural. Yes, I know that's horrible, but the joke had to be made). Anyways, the point is that I was happy to see Zook come to Illinois where the pressure won't be as high and he can actually meet (and probably surpass) the low expectations there. He seems like a genuinely good guy, and as much as I know good guys often don't make good coaches, I hope he does well there. Hell, he can't do any worse.

As for the other two, I'm sort of hoping that they fail. It will be pretty much impossible for Charlie Weis to succeed (as the expecations are so out of whack at Notre Dame that success is only attained with a national title), so I'm looking forward to hearing more whining from Irish fans. Meyer, too, has similar expectations. He seems like a slimeball to me (his whole courtship with Notre Dame reminded me of the way that I wish girls had teased me in high school, but that's a whole other entry), but I actually think he'll do well at Florida. As anyone close to me can tell you, I had a bit of a "man-crush" on Chris Leak at the start of the last season (I played an entire season of NCAA 06 where I only passed with him and, in the case of a run, he was the only player allowed to carry it). But anyways, I was amazingly disappointed in how Leak's season turned out. Of course, the whole Florida situation last year made me sick (Foley pulling the plug on Zook so prematurely after such tough losses, so I wasn't all that surprised in how it turned out. This year, though, with Meyer (who HAS proven that he can develop quarterbacks), I expect Leak to be a Heisman candidate. Anything less will be a disappointment.

In short: I like Ron Zook and Chris Leak and can't wait to see how they do this year; I don't like Urban Meyer and Charlie Weis. Oh if I could only go back to last year's Florida team...

6) Seeing Steve Spurrier back on the SEC sidelines: Obviously, I'm interested in how all the new coaches do, but Steve deserves a point all by himself. Simply put, he makes the SEC a hell of a lot more interesting. Lou Holtz took a reasonably talented program at South Carolina and pretty much drove it into the ground, and now Steve-o only has eight starters returning and, according to reports, a rather disenchanted group of players. But he'll open it up and if he can get his players' heads in the right place, South Carolina might be able to pull a few mild upsets. Steve goes on the road against Georgia, Auburn, and Tennessee, so don't expect too much, but the Gamecocks' Nov. 12 home game against Florida is a sexy matchup if I've ever seen one. No matter what happens, seeing Steve and his visor on an SEC sideline again will be worth flipping the channel every couple minutes when he's on, if only for comic relief when it looks like he's squeezing out a rather large deuce while someone else is angrily knocking on the door because he's been in there far too long already, but no matter how much he wants the pain to stop, it just keeps coming. We've all been there, so don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about.

6) Early season upsets: One of my favorite memories from last season was the Missouri - Troy State matchup. If you don't recall it, at the time, Missouri was ranked in the top 10 and QB Brad Smith was being mentioned as a big-time Heisman candidate. In typical early season fashion, Troy kept hanging around, made a few big plays, and sent Missouri to a loss and quite a dismal season. The example here is rather irrelevant, but I'm sure you remember one from last year that had an impact. Nothing can replace your best friend screaming "Holy shit" from the living room and kicking the hell out of your mother's coffee table as San Diego State romps all over Michigan (of course the Wolverines ended up winning that game and somehow salvaging their season, but you get the point). Early season surprises and uncertainty is one of the things that makes college football so great.

5) The Big 12: Year in and year out, only three conferences ever really interest me. First and foremost is the Big Ten, which is covered extensively below. Secondly is the ACC, especially now that Miama and Virginia Tech are involved. Finally is the Big 12, simply because of the Red River Shootout and consistent bickering between Texas and Oklahoma. While I love Texas Tech's style of play (I jumped on the bandwagon when Kliff Kingsbury was setting all those records and have refused to jump off since), the drama and intrigue lies solely with the Longhorns and the Sooners. This year, Texas is the team to beat. Of course, that should be the case most seasons, but the Longhorns have continually underachieved. With Cedric Benson out of the picture (by the way, I thought his crying fit and subsequent rant about people labeling him at the draft was way out of line. It's not the crying I had a problem with, it was the way he complained about being in the spotlight. Well, at least he'll go to Chicago where nobody will care how he does. Right? No? Oh well, at least the Bears will have another Anthony Thomas), it's all on Vince Young's shoulders this year. While he is undoubtedly nearly unstoppable in the hands of Marc Desjarlais running the Option Pass, he needs to be more consistent this year for Texas to maintain their No. 2 ranking.

I love the fact that Texas is playing at Ohio State on Sept. 10th. Even IF the Longhorns were to stumble (I don't think they will...the Buckeyes are one of my overrated teams another feature to be released in a subsequent entry), they'll be battle tested by the time they get to Oklahoma on Oct. 8th. And Mr. Brown better get his boys past the Sooners this time around I'm not familiar with his contract status, but coming off their big 38-37 win in last year's Rose Bowl and with Vince Young and a stout defense coming back, I wouldn't be surprised if Brown is gone if he loses to the Sooners again.

4) Watching USC lose to Fresno State on Nov. 19: Okay, it probably won't happen, but I had to say something about the two-time defending national champions. You couldn't ask for an easier schedule than the Trojans have this year, which is nice considering that they have the two best offensive players in the country. I got a little sick when I looked at the ease of their schedule, because it hit me that the Trojans will probably sweep their way through the regular season yet again and not really be tested in a bowl game while another worthy team watches. I'll probably write about this in another entry so I won't get into it too deeply here, but couldn't there at least be a four team playoff? Would that really be so bad? Picking the top two teams can be tough, as the debacles the past two years have proven...I don't think picking the top four has ever been so difficult. They could even use the BCS ratings for all I care, just make it four teams instead of two that have a chance for the title.

But that's enough of that. Why do I say Fresno State can do it? They've got Paul Pinegar, a quarterback who is quite solid and has compiled a 24-8 record in his career. What's more, they've got a stable of backs that rival almost anybody and recievers to boot. If nothing else, the Bulldogs should be able to hang w/USC even if it becomes an all-out shootout. Plus, USC will be coming off their rivalry game w/Cal, so I'm sticking with Fresno on Nov. 19.

3) The ACC: You have to love any league with Florida State, Miami, and Virginia Tech. When you throw in solid teams like Boston College, Virginia, N.C. State and Clemson, it gets even better. I don't really have much to say about this conference, but just the fact that the Hokies came in last year and upstaged the Seminoles and then Bobby Bowden's boys had such a rough offseason intrigues me. I used to be a huge Seminoles fan (back in the wide right days), so I'm pulling a bit for my boy (or, more correctly, old man). That's all, really. The ACC is great, it speaks for itself.

2) Finding out which Minnesota team shows up: After all, this blog is hosted by the University of Minnesota, so I've got to address the Gophers at least briefly. As usual, you can expect a 3-0 start. Then things get hairy. In my eyes, a 4-7 finish is certainly within the realm of possibility. On the other hand, Minnesota didn't really lose anyone from last year's team that had Michigan on the ropes in the Big House. Yeah, they lost Marion Barber III, but Laurence Maroney is better anyways (see No. 8). The talented if erratic and unspectacular Bryan Cupito has another year of experience and the defense has another year. Again, a few guys were lost in the defensive backfield, but that's probably a good thing as their confidence couldn't have been high after last season.

Anyways, they get No. 16 Purdue at home on Sept. 24th. Purdue lost Kyle Orton, but Brandon Kirsch gives them more in some respects anyways (he played nearly all game as a freshman against Ohio State with Maurice Clarett in that disgusting game that Craig Krenzel won 7-6 en route to a national championship by hooking up with Michael Jenkins for a 40-yard touchdown on 4th and 1). In fact, we booed Orton and requested that Kirsch be put in a lot, so this isn't necessarily a bad development for the Boilermakers.

But this isn't all about Purdue. It's about what Minnesota can do. I'll put it this way if Glen Mason doesn't win three of the four following games, he should be fired: Purdue, @Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State. I won't include Iowa in there, although I think they're overrated, too (sure, Drew Tate made one of the most amazing plays in recent memory against LSU in their bowl game, but preseason offensive player of the year seems like a stretch to me). Three home games and a road game at the Big House against a team they should have beaten the past three years. I'm hoping Minnesota can finish with just one loss, but I think Gophers fans should be happy with 7-4 or even 6-5. Although Minnesota is stronger this year than perhaps any other, so is the rest of the Big Ten.

1) How the Big Ten pans out: I don't think you can say that any other conference is stronger than the Big Ten. Three teams are ranked in the top 10, four in the top 20. Four more teams are recieving votes. Other than Indiana, Illinois and Northwestern, all teams are legitimate threats to any team they face. Additionally, I think that seven of the teams are capable of winning the title (everyone but the above three, Michigan State and Wisconsin). Even Penn State, a team that has, frankly, sucked quite a bit over the past few years, can really do damage if JoePa can invigorate that offense at all. Minnesota's rushing attack can control the game. Purdue has balance and solidity at all the major positions. Iowa has Drew Tate and, FAR more importantly, Kirk Ferentz. Ohio State has the nation's most electrifying player and, finally, Michigan might start their run of solo Big Ten titles this year with Chad Henne and Michael Hart.

Sadly, I think Michigan takes it because, let's face it, they're Michigan. I like:
2) Iowa
3) Purdue
4) Ohio State
5) Minnesota
6) Penn State
7) Wisconsin
8) Michigan State
9) Northwestern
10) Illinois
11) Indiana

It's truly a stacked conference, though, I think anything can happen. I just can't wait for the fun to get underway.

Until next time, I'm cherrypickin' it...

- Bob

Posted by woth0003 at August 7, 2005 2:27 PM