The Campus Game – Around the Nation

Welcome back to The Campus Game for the kickoff of the 2008 season.

Three features appear here each week.

First, my SEC Game of the Week will typically be posted on Tuesdays. The print version of the article appears in Game Day Weekly, the south’s premier weekly college football newspaper (contact info is linked to the right).

On Thursdays, Around the Nation and Professor’s Picks/SEC Report are posted.

Around the Nation is a brief overview of the weekend’s most prominent games, along with other college football national news.

The SEC Report includes information on the conference, plus Professor’s Picks … a quick overview of the week’s games plus a game prediction.

Enjoy!

Around the Nation

Opening weekend offers several games of national significance, but no true blockbusters.

The best pairing figures to be at the Georgia Dome where Alabama meets Clemson in the inaugural Chick-fil-A College Kickoff. The Tigers are favored, but the Tide has a lot of young talent. Watch for the college debuts of highly-touted freshmen DaQuan Bowers (DE-Clemson) and Julio Jones (WR-Alabama).

USC visits Virginia in an intersectional game – if Trojan QB Mark Sanchez is still mending, Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain might get playing time.

Illinois goes on the road to challenge Missouri.

Finally, Tennessee travels to Tinsel Town for a Labor Day night meeting with UCLA.

See you at kickoff!

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Professor’s Picks and Around the SEC Week 1

Welcome to the first issue of Around the SEC for the 2008 season.

Don’t know about you, but I have had enough swimming, gymnastics, and relay races to last another four years. Like old Hank, Jr., I’m ready for some football – SEC style.

So, ice down the coolers, heat up the grill, and tailgate with us each week for conference news and previews of upcoming games.

Before we get to the first week’s action, a quick review of last season and a glance at some of this year’s story lines is in order.

For a second consecutive season, an SEC team won the national title. LSU thumped Ohio State 38-24 in the BCS championship game, leading the league to a final bowl record of 7 wins and 2 losses. Mississippi State, Alabama, Kentucky, Auburn, Tennessee, and Georgia joined the Bengal Tigers as bowl victors.

Individually, QB Tim Tebow of Florida became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy after accounting for a conference-record 55 touchdowns last fall. Former Arkansas RB Darren McFadden was the runner-up and also the second selection in the NFL draft, going to Oakland.

This season several story lines prevail …

Georgia is the top-rated team in most national polls, with up to another half-dozen or more conference squads garnering Top 25 rankings depending on the source.

Houston Nutt moved from Arkansas to become head coach at Ole Miss, and the Rebels could be a surprise team in the West. Bobby Petrino, after a disastrous NFL stint with Atlanta, takes over for Nutt in Fayetteville, but most prognosticators pick the pigs to struggle.

The conference also signed a huge TV contract with ESPN this week to match an earlier commitment with CBS. More on those in future postings.

Here are our first set of weekly ratings (remember these fluctuate a lot during the year), followed by Professor’s Picks for Week One.

Enjoy!

The Campus Game Weekly Conference Ratings

1. Florida … Gators talent and schedule puts them atop heap to start season.

2. Georgia … talented Dogs are national darlings, but injuries and schedule cause concern.

3. LSU … defending champs have few questions; but the one at quarterback is big.

4. Auburn … Tigers are excited about fast-paced new offense.

5. Tennessee … last year’s East champs are being overlooked by many.

6. Alabama … Tide lost a bunch of close ones last season, but talent level is rising.

7. South Carolina … Spurrier’s Gamecocks look great on D, at quarterback not so much.

8. Mississippi State … Bulldogs have a bruising running game and rugged D.

9. Ole Miss … Don’t be surprised if Rebels surprise, but road schedule is a challenge.

10. Kentucky … Rich Brooks and the Wildcats will be hard-pressed to keep bowl streak alive.

11. Arkansas … Hogs lost a ton of offensive talent.

12. Vanderbilt … Tough to find more than four or five wins for Dores.

Professor’s Picks
2008 Record 0-0
(2007 Final Record: 73-21)

NC State at South Carolina (8:00 ESPN 8/28)
Tommy Beecher gets the start at QB for Carolina, but if he struggles it might turn into a Thursday night game of musical chairs with the quarterbacks. The Gamecocks figure to be very stingy on defense. Linebackers Eric Norwood and Jasper Brinkley are huge (both 270+), and corner Captain Munnerlyn could be an All-American. That should be the difference.
Game Ball: South Carolina

Vanderbilt at Miami (Ohio) (7:30 ET ESPNU 8/28)
Expect a low scoring game Thursday night as we have the unusual pairing of an SEC team traveling to play a MAC squad. The Commodores should have enough talent to get by the Red Hawks, even though Miami did play in the MAC championship game last season. Let’s call a close one for Vandy.
Game Ball: Vanderbilt

Alabama vs. Clemson (at Georgia Dome) (8:00 ET ABC 8/30)
See SEC Game of Week column.
Game Ball: Clemson

Western Illinois at Arkansas (7:00 ET 8/30)
The Petrino era starts in Fayetteville against the Leathernecks of WIU. While the Hogs cannot replace Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, veteran QB Casey Dick and RB Michael Smith should help get the new regime off to a nice start.
Game Ball: Arkansas

Louisiana-Monroe at Auburn (7:00 ET 8/30)
The Tigers will finally get to fight someone other than their own teammates when the Warhawks of LMU visit. The new spread offensive attack is what everybody is waiting to see. Also, think Tiger fans remember that LMU beat Alabama last year?
Game Ball: Auburn

Hawaii at Florida (12:30 ET Raycom 8/30)
The Gators enter the season as Game Day Weekly’s #1 team and a national title contender. Hawaii was last seen being blown out in the Sugar Bowl, and the Warriors have since lost their head coach and a bunch of players. The Gators have not.
Game Ball: Florida

Georgia Southern at Georgia (12:30 ET PPV 8/30)
The highly-hyped Bulldogs start the season against pass-happy Southern. The Bulldogs have some injuries and suspensions, so finally playing a game should be a fun release. Expect a 15-20 point win.
Game Ball: Georgia

Appalachian State at LSU (5:00 CT ESPN 8/30)
Everybody – including Les Miles and the Bengal Tigers – remembers what ASU did to Michigan at the Big House last season. The Mountaineers will provide a nice challenge to LSU’s vaunted defensive front, but don’t expect an upset.
Game Ball: LSU

Memphis at Ole Miss (7:00 ET 8/30)
Expectations are high in Oxford, with the debuts of coach Houston Nutt and QB Jevan Snead causing much of the excitement. Both lines are huge and have some talent, so the Rebels should have plenty to handle the Tigers, who must replace two-year starting QB Marty Hankins. Count on a nice start to the Nutt era.
Game Ball: Ole Miss

Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech (6:45 ET ESPN2 8/30)
State hopes to build on last season’s success, but a trip to Ruston is no picnic. MSU looks for QB Wesley Carroll to improve over his freshman season and RB Anthony Dixon (the first State soph ever to rush for 1000 yards) to continue his strong work. The defense should be able to handle La Tech, where coach Derek Dooley is the only head coach in Division I (FBS) to also serve as AD.
Game Ball: Miss State

Kentucky at Louisville (3:30 ET ESPN 8/31)
With only 13 starters returning, Kentucky will be hard-pressed to win (or even get to) a third straight bowl game. After years of relying on offense, the Big Blue defense may need to carry the load this year. Louisville disappointed in coach Steve Kragthorpe’s first season after being highly-rated in pre-season so the heat is on in Derby town.
Game Ball: Louisville

Hungry for the V in Atlanta

Alabama vs. Clemson
SEC Game of the Week

August 30, 2008
ABC 8:00 ET

“What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?”

When Clemson and Alabama fans hungry for the kickoff of college football season converge on the Georgia Dome Saturday night, thousands will stop by The Varsity – an Atlanta landmark on Spring Street famous for scrumptious chili dogs, tasty onion rings, and employee lingo more difficult to decipher than the spread offense.

The first words those fans will hear at the V is “what’ll ya have?”

How about a naked dog?

Not a bare Bulldog fan from Athens, just a plain hot dog on a bun (if you order a “hot dog” you’ll get it with chili and mustard).

Want to go PC?

Don’t worry about being politically correct with opposing fans … a PC is plain chocolate milk (over ice).

Care for an F.O?

This gets tricky. Typically at the Varsity that’s a frosted orange, a cold, creamy drink. However, if Clemson doesn’t win this game there might be another type of frosted orange in Atlanta. And, it will not be sweet.

Both squads will be hungry for the V (victory) in Atlanta.

Alabama is hungry like your growing teenager.

You know the Tide is getting bigger and stronger and soon may be able to handle most any item on the college football menu. You just are not sure if they are ready for a full course meal with the grown folks. A win over a Top Ten team in what will be a bowl-like atmosphere would announce that Nick Saban’s Bama boys are back in the big time.

On the other side, Clemson is hungry like the fellow who has not had dessert.

He has had the appetizers and salads of the December bowls, the meat and potatoes of a program with great talent, great fans, and grand expectations. Now, Clemson is ready to top it all off with the taste of a BCS bowl. The Tigers should win the ACC and could contend for a national title.

However, a loss in this game to a team projected by most to finish no better than third in the SEC West would cause Clemson fans more heartburn than two all-the-way dogs and a side of strings (2 chili dogs with onions and an order of french fries).

So who will feast and who will leave Atlanta famished?

These factors will determine a winning recipe:

Offensive Backfields: On paper, Clemson’s offensive backfield should be the dominant unit in the game. QB Cullen Harper makes few mistakes, and the running back tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller is possibly the best duo in college football. For Bama, senior QB John Parker Wilson holds a bunch of school records but can be plagued by big mistakes. His turnovers against FSU, LSU, and Mississippi State last season were significant in three close losses. Terry Grant is a serviceable running back, but not of Davis-Spiller caliber. Both units need to put points on the board.

Finish the Game: Neither of these teams was able to consistently clean its plate at the end of games last season. Clemson is a fine front-running team, but the Tigers were a middling 2-2 in games decided by seven points or less. Alabama was excruciatingly close to a terrific season in 2007. All six of the Tide’s losses were by a touchdown or less. This game might be determined by which team learned more from those close losses.

Confidence (SEC-ACC): There is no longer a serious debate about the supremacy of the SEC in college football. National championship game blowouts the past two seasons, the reigning Heisman winner, five coaches with national titles (including Saban) … SEC teams swagger onto the field with as much confidence as Michael Phelps diving into a swimming pool. On the other hand, the ACC struggles. Clemson is the only conference team being mentioned as a national title contender, yet the Tigers have many doubters because of the nasty habit of losing a game or two they shouldn’t each year.

So, what’ll ya have?

My gut tells me Alabama will win this game, but my head says Clemson is too good. I’ll go with the Tigers, but try to soothe my stomach by stopping at the Varsity before the game.

Game Ball: Clemson

2008 SEC West Best-Worst Scenarios

With the 2008 college football season just weeks away, enjoy The Campus Game’s “Best-Worst Scenarios” for the Southeastern Conference.

These are not overall predictions (those will be posted the week of August 30th when regular weekly columns begin); instead this is an analysis of reasonable best-worst case seasons for each SEC team.

Scenarios are listed alphabetically.

SEC West

Alabama: Best 10-2 … Worst 6-6

Probable Wins: Tulane, Western Kentucky, Kentucky, Arkansas State

Probable Losses: @Georgia, @Tennessee, @LSU

Swing Games: Clemson (@Atlanta), @Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn

Comment: Talent level is rising for Tide, but may be year away from conference elite status.

Arkansas: Best 6-6 … Worst 2-10

Probable Wins: Western Illinois, LA-Monroe, Tulsa

Probable Losses: @Texas, Florida, @Auburn, LSU

Swing Games: Alabama, @Kentucky, Ole Miss, @South Carolina, @Mississippi State

Comment: Bobby Petrino is likely to struggle for a year as the Hogs lost a ton of offensive talent.

Auburn: Best 11-1 … Worst 8-4

Probable Wins: LA-Monroe, Southern Miss, @Vanderbilt, Arkansas, UT-Martin

Probable Losses: None

Swing Games: @Mississippi State, LSU, Tennessee, @West Virginia, @Ole Miss, Georgia, @Alabama

Comment: Auburn should probably be favored in the West, but the visits to the Mississippi schools and to Bama will not be easy.

LSU: Best 11-1 … Worst 8-4

Probable Wins: Appalachian State, Troy, North Texas, Mississippi State, Tulane, Alabama, Ole Miss, @Arkansas

Probable Losses: @Florida

Swing Games: @Auburn, @South Carolina, Georgia

Comment: Road trips to Florida and Auburn should determine whether defending champs repeat as division winners.

Ole Miss: Best 8-4 … Worst 5-7

Probable Wins: Memphis, Samford, Vanderbilt, LA-Monroe

Probable Losses: @Florida, Auburn, @LSU

Swing Games: @Wake Forest, South Carolina, @Alabama, @Arkansas, Mississippi State

Comment: Don’t be surprised if the Rebels surprise. Ed Orgeron left much talent in Oxford … still, those five road games are tough and finding more than 8 wins seems a stretch at this point.

Mississippi State: Best 8-4 … Worst 5-7

Probable Wins: SE Louisiana, Vanderbilt, MTSU, Kentucky, Arkansas

Probable Losses: @LSU, @Tennessee

Swing Games: @LA-Tech, Auburn, @Georgia Tech, @Alabama, @Ole Miss

Comment: The two Mississippi schools are intriguing in the West. Sylvester Croom has built a solid program and several of those swing games are winnable.

2008 SEC East Best-Worst Scenarios

With the 2008 college football season just weeks away, enjoy The Campus Game’s “Best-Worst Scenarios” for the Southeastern Conference.

These are not overall predictions (those will be posted the week of August 30th when regular weekly columns begin); instead this is an analysis of reasonable best-worst case seasons for each SEC East team (West will be posted within the week).

Scenarios are listed alphabetically.

SEC EAST

Florida: Best 12-0 … Worst 9-3

Probable Wins: Hawaii, Miami, Ole Miss, @Arkansas, Kentucky, @Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Citadel

Probable Losses: None

Swing Games: @Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, @FSU

Comment: Schedule is favorable for Gators but beware trip to Rocky Top early.

Georgia: Best 12-0 … Worst 8-4

Probable Wins: Georgia Southern, Central Michigan, Vanderbilt, @Kentucky, Georgia Tech

Probable Losses: None

Swing Games: @South Carolina, @Arizona State, Alabama, @LSU, Tennessee, Florida, @Auburn

Comment: Doggone tough schedule may keep Georgia from SEC title game.

Kentucky: Best 7-5 … Worst 4-8

Probable Wins: Norfolk State, MTSU, Western Kentucky, Vanderbilt

Probable Losses: @Alabama, @Florida, @Mississippi State, Georgia, @Tennessee

Swing Games: @Louisville, South Carolina, Arkansas

Comment: Wildcats will be hard pressed to continue bowl streak after significant personnel losses.

South Carolina: Best 9-3 … Worst 6-6

Probable Wins: NC State, @Vanderbilt, Wofford, UAB, Arkansas

Probable Losses: @Florida, @Clemson

Swing Games: Georgia, @Ole Miss, @Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee

Comments: Gamecock defense should be stout, but QB questions persist for The Visor.

Tennessee: Best 10-2 … Worst 8-4

Probable Wins: UAB, Northern Illinois, Mississippi State, Wyoming, @Vanderbilt, Kentucky

Probable Losses: None

Swing Games: @UCLA, Florida, @Auburn, @Georgia, Alabama, @South Carolina

Comment: Defending division champs being overlooked by many, but could be dangerous.

Vanderbilt: Best 5-7 … Worst 2-10

Probable Wins: Duke

Probable Losses: South Carolina, @Ole Miss, Auburn, @Mississippi State, @Georgia, Florida, Tennessee

Swing Games: @Miami (Ohio), Rice, @Kentucky, @Wake Forest

Comment: I do not see a .500 season for Commodores.