College Football Professor’s Picks Week 1

Around College Football Week 1
Professor’s Picks

Thank goodness.

We can rack the realignment discussions. Banish bar fights and boat rides with bizarre boosters to the backs of our brains. Perish pondering the perversity of poisoning trees. Divest ourselves of the delusion that we can memorize the lists of Legends and Leaders. Forget that the Big Ten boasts twelve, that the Big Twelve now stands at nine, or that Texas Christian University is soon to join the Big East.

Instead, let’s turn our thoughts to dotting the i, toe meeting leather, horns hookin’ em, playing like a champion today, football time in Tennessee, rammer jammer yellow hammer, we … are … Penn State, ringing the cowbells, and to Ralphie, Uga, Traveler, Bevo, Chief Osceola, and the Sooner Schooner.

College football – the game, not the silly season, is back … and for us fans it’s a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Welcome back to The Campus Game and to the 2011 college football season.

Around the Nation

Opening weekend features more big games than usual. The most prominent matchups take place in Dallas and Atlanta. At the Jerry Dome, the #4 Bengal Tigers of LSU meet #3 Oregon in a pairing of top five teams. The Tigers will be without starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson (suspended). At the Georgia Dome, the home state Bulldogs try to regain some national recognition against #5 Boise State. Both games kick off at 8:00 PM.

Here are some of the other interesting games of Week One. Scroll down for Professor’s Picks.

East

Wake Forest travels to Syracuse and the Carrier Dome on Thursday night for an ACC-Big East clash. Another inter-conference tilt sees Northwestern of the B1G at Boston College of the ACC. A Miami Hurricane squad decimated by suspensions (see boosters and boat rides above) heads to Maryland in a contest that welcomes new coaches Al Golden (Miami) and Randy Edsell (Maryland) to the ACC.

Midwest

A Holtz will be coaching on the Notre Dame sidelines Saturday afternoon, but it’s not Dr. Lou. Instead, Skip and the South Florida Bulls face Brian Kelly’s second edition of the Fighting Irish.

Southwest

Friday night features a fine contest when TCU wanders to Waco for a game against the tough Baylor Bears. The Bruins of UCLA venture deep in the heart of Texas to play the high-scoring Houston Cougars. Watch the Sunday night game between SMU and Texas A&M at College Station. The Aggies want out of the Big 12 and the Mustangs want in … an interesting vibe for this one.

West

Minnesota and new coach Jerry Kill (a favorite at The Campus Game) go west to tangle with the Trojans of USC. Lane Kiffin and company are in the second year of some severe sanctions … will those penalties be felt this season?

Around the South

Perhaps you have not heard, but the SEC has won the past five BCS national championships. America’s conference gets another chance to enhance its platinum reputation with the two mammoth kickoff classic showdowns. Here is a complete rundown of this week’s SEC slate.

GAMES OF THURSDAY, SEPT. 1
(2010 RECORDS)

Mississippi State (9-4) at Memphis (1-11)
7 p.m. CT • SportSouth
Memphis, Tenn. • Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (62,506)
Comment: Dan Mullen and the Bullies hope to build on their strong 2010 finish and should have no problems with the Tigers.
Professor’s Pick: MSU

Kentucky (6-7) vs. Western Kentucky (2-10)
8:15 p.m. CT • ESPNU
Nashville, Tenn. • LP Field (67,000)
Comment: Two teams from the Bluegrass state head south. The setting (LP Field – home of the Tennessee Titans) is probably going to outshine the game, but it’s a chance to see how Joker Phillips has his squad progressing in year two.
Professor’s Pick: Kentucky

GAMES OF SATURDAY, SEPT. 3
(2010 RECORDS)

Utah State (4-8) at Auburn (14-0)
11 a.m. CT • ESPN2
Auburn, Ala. • Pat Dye Field / Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451)
Comment: The defending BCS champs retake the field, but have to replace a lot of offense. Utah State will not roll over, but Tigers plenty tough enough for this test.
Professor’s Pick: Auburn

Kent State (5-7) at Alabama (10-3)
11:21 a.m. CT • SEC Network / ESPN3.com
Tuscaloosa, Ala. • Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821)
Comment: Tuscaloosa gets a much needed boost as the town’s beloved Crimson Tide plays for the first time since the devastation from last spring’s tornadoes. Tide gives everybody plenty to cheer about.
Professor’s Pick: Alabama

Brigham Young (7-6) at Ole Miss (4-8)
3:45 p.m. CT • ESPN
Oxford, Miss. • Hollingsworth Field / Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (60,580)
Comment: A game flying under the national radar just a bit. Houston Nutt’s squads often confound prognosticators, so the professor is tempted to go with a mild surprise here. Nah.
Professor’s Pick: BYU

Montana (7-4) at Tennessee (6-7)
6 p.m. ET • Tennessee PPV / ESPN3.com
Knoxville, Tenn. • Shields-Watkins Field / Neyland Stadium (102,455)
Comment: Derek Dooley sends out a very young Volunteer team against a solid opponent from a lower division. We do remember Appalachian State-Michigan don’t we? Vols do too.
Professor’s Pick: Tennessee

Missouri State (5-6) at Arkansas (10-3)
6 p.m. CT • Arkansas PPV / ESPN3.com
Fayetteville, Ark. • Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000)
Comment: The Hogs suffered some heartbreak with the loss of Knile Davis (an All-SEC pick on The Campus Game ballot), but Petrino’s pigs still have ample firepower for Mizzou State.
Professor’s Pick: Arkansas

Florida Atlantic (4-8) at Florida (8-5)
7 p.m. ET • ESPNU
Gainesville, Fla. • Florida Field / Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (88,548)
Comment: This is one I am interested to see – not so much for competitiveness (there will be little in this game) but to learn. New Florida coach Will Muschamp has taken a cue from his mentor (Nick Saban) and pretty much blacked out any news on the Gators. If the offense scores, watch out because there is plenty of talent for this Sunshine State squad.
Professor’s Pick: Florida

East Carolina (6-7) vs. South Carolina (9-5)
7 p.m. ET • FSN
Charlotte, N.C. • Bank of America Stadium (73,504)
Comment: The old, head ball coach seems to be pretty excited about this year’s team, the pick of most to win the SEC East. ECU is a nice opening opponent. The Pirates should be good enough to make the Gamecocks work, but not good enough to knock them off before SC heads between the hedges next weekend.
Professor’s Pick: South Carolina

Elon (6-5) at Vanderbilt (2-10)
6:30 p.m. CT • CSS
Nashville, Tenn. • Vanderbilt Stadium (39,773)
Comment: Quick, what is the nickname for Elon? IF you said the fighting Phoenix, give yourself an attababy. Vanderbilt is such a football factory (for this week).
Professor’s Pick: Vandy

Oregon (12-1) vs. LSU (11-2)
7 p.m. CT • ABC / ESPN3.com
Arlington, Texas • Cowboys Stadium (71,167)
Comment: In some quarters (including these), LSU did not lose much with the loss of QB Jordan Jefferson. His replacement, senior Jarrett Lee is a better passer, and has plenty of experience. The loss of standout wide receiver Russell Shepard, ineligible pending an appeal for discussing an NCAA investigation with a teammate, leaves a void not so easily filled. The Ducks arrive as a well-established national title contender, having lost a close championship game to Auburn last season. QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James jump start the fast paced offense. A tough call since the stadium will be about 80% filled with LSU backers, but I’m quacking on this one.
Professor’s Pick: Oregon

Boise State (12-1) vs. Georgia (6-7)
8 p.m. ET • ESPN
Atlanta, Ga. • Georgia Dome (71,147)
Comment: Boy, does Georgia need this game. The Dogs have fallen from the national spotlight when virtually every surrounding neighbor is lifting a crystal trophy. There are a multitude of reasons Dog fans can cite for the current state of affairs … coaching, discipline, injuries, schedule, whatever. Bottom line is Georgia has been mediocre for the past two seasons. Several seasons ago, I sat in the pressbox at Sanford Stadium and watched Boise get physically taken apart between the hedges. Things have certainly changed since then … but tough to get forget that scene. Georgia takes a step toward regaining national prominence.
Professor’s Pick: Georgia

National Picks

Wake Forest at Syracuse … Doug Marrone and the Orange defeat the Demon Deacons. Professor’s Pick: Syracuse

Northwestern at Boston College … This is a better game than one might think at first glance. BC is always tough, and Pat Fitzgerald is a really good young coach. Slight upset. Professor’s Pick: NW

Miami at Maryland … Al Golden’s debut with the Canes is not an accurate indicator of the program’s talent. Tilt goes to Terps. Professor’s Pick: Maryland

South Florida at Notre Dame … I think USF may win the Big East and ND may go to a BCS bowl, so two good teams. Irish have a chance to be really good. Professor’s Pick: Notre Dame

TCU at Baylor … loss of Andy Dalton is too much to overcome for Horned Frogs as the unpredictable Bears break out with a win. Professor’s Pick: Baylor

UCLA at Houston … a win here might help Rick Neuheisel and the Bruins to a much-needed contending season in the PAC-12. Professor’s Pick: UCLA

SMU at Texas A&M … one of my favorite opening weekend games because of the palace intrigue of one wanting out and one begging to get in … Aggies start their SEC audition tour in fine fashion. Professor’s Pick: A&M

Minnesota at USC … Jerry Kill may do a nice job with the Gophers, but I doubt he has enough talent to knock off the Trojans. Professor’s Pick: USC

See you at kickoff!

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Baseball Marathons

Notes on the Passing Scene

So, when did watching a Major League Baseball game turn into a viewing marathon?

My teenage son is a big Red Sox fan, so I decided to sit down with him late Sunday night to catch the end of the Sox-Yankees game on ESPN. Honest to goodness, I tuned in for the 8th inning at 10:17 PM (ET) and that inning alone took around twenty-five minutes to complete … and there was only one baserunner! Dan Wheeler struck out the side for the Sox in the top of the 8th and just the half-inning took right at fifteen minutes (5 minutes a hitter?). The nine innings of regulation took over four hours to complete and then the game went to extra innings and – well, that was enough for me; I found another TV to watch the late HBO showings of Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm. A true fan, the kid hollered with pleasure when the BoSox won in the 10th well after midnight.

Over four hours for nine-inning games? Those are marathons.

You could watch a top-level runner complete a marathon quicker than you can watch an MLB game. You could actually watch two full marathons in the time it takes to play some regulation MLB games. You might have been able to watch Phidippides run the 25 miles from Marathon to Athens and announce victory over the Persians quicker than you could see a nine-inning game in the glacially slow American League. And the marathons might be more exciting that watching a guy step out after every pitch to tighten his batting gloves, adjust his helmet, look at a couple girls in the bleachers, check for signs, tap the dirt … you get the picture.

Don’t get me wrong. I love baseball and have since my boyhood team St. Louis whipped Boston in the ’67 World Series (you never saw Bob Gibson take three or four hours to pitch a game … he hardly went over two), but how can children or working people stay tuned for these marathons? It’s got to be hurting the game.

Welcome back to The Campus Game and sorry for the baseball rant. As we sweat through the dogs days of summer, those marathon baseball games make me long more than ever for college football’s kickoff.

National Treasure

Do the good folks up at Penn State not realize they have a national treasure that needs protecting?

The great Joe Paterno, whose face would adorn any Mt. Rushmore of college football, remains hospitalized as I write after getting run over during a Nittany Lion practice this past weekend. Good grief – where are the managers? I roomed with and knew a whole bunch of guys that worked as graduate assistants, team managers, trainers, and the like at Georgia and Tennessee and by gosh I don’t believe any one of them would have been so inattentive as to let the great man get stampeded. Wake up fellows and realize the guy is incomparable but not invincible!

The Joy of Long Blogs

Ever read Joe Posnanski or Peter King?

You probably do, and I think they are both terrific. One of the reasons I like them is because they write long (and I mean give yourself twenty minutes) blogs that are informative. King’s Monday Morning Quarterback at SI’s website is imperative reading for pro football fans, but everybody can get a lot out of it. I only started reading it a couple years ago and now rarely miss it. I don’t even drink coffee, but MMQB almost makes me want to find the nearest Starbucks. If you read MMQB you get the reference. You know a whole lot more about pro football and sports in general too.

Posnanski also writes for SI (not a coincidence I suppose), primarily – but not exclusively – about baseball and he’s probably my favorite guy to read right now. Among the many pleasures of the internet is having the world’s best newspapers, magazines, columnists, and essayists a click away.

Professor’s Bookcase

Speaking of lengthy, I finally got around to reading These Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN.

It’s nearly 800 pages, and a compilation of interview excerpts that the authors (James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales) attempt to weave into a narrative about the origins and development of the media beast. When my buddies and I first learned of ESPN back around 1980 or so, we thought it was the greatest thing ever. Before class or in the evenings, we’d tune in to watch Chris Berman’s baseball highlights and crack up as Boomer banged out the nicknames (Jose “Won’t You Take Me On A Sea” Cruz for example). I guess it’s still great; it’s certainly everywhere (although the past few years, I’ve soured on ESPN a bit because the company seems too powerful).

The book has interesting sections and some that are tiresome (OK we get it – ESPN was a combination of nerds and frat boys bored stiff living in what was apparently the outback of Bristol, CT, so they occasionally acted stupid). I most enjoyed learning about the origins of the network. The originators envisioned it as a cable network that would carry Connecticut high school and small college sports … they had a hard time grasping that their satellite transponder could just as easily beam them around the world for the same costs. What a difference thirty-odd years makes.

The book is certainly worth reading for sports or American culture fans, but it is not a page-turner.

Next up will probably be either Wonder Girl (about Babe Didrikson) or David McCullough’s The Greater Journey (non-sports). I’ve started both but am leaning toward finishing the McCullough book first.

Gotta Love Golf

While awaiting college football season, golf gains more and more of my sports attention.

To me, the old stick and ball game carries the most compelling stories and most enjoyable competitions. Where else can you see a non-participant steal the spotlight and garner a post-event interview? Stevie Williams, the bully on the bag for Tiger Woods for the past dozen or so years, did just that when CBS funnyman David Feherty quizzed him on the 18th green after Stevie’s man Adam Scott won the Bridgestone World Golf Championship Sunday.

At least I think Scott won.

Listening to Williams proclaim the victory his career highlight (along with reciting the number of “his” wins), maybe Scott just hit the shots while Williams did all the work. Of course, Williams got the prime-time treatment because of his rift from Woods. For perhaps the first time since Thanksgiving 2009, Tiger came across as the sympathetic person. I never liked Stevie’s bullying antics … and like him less for his animosity toward a guy who earned him more than $10 million by most estimates. Oh … that’s right; Tiger didn’t win that money – Stevie did.

Past all the soap opera stuff, you have guys that really have to earn their keep on tour.

Yes the money is terrific and too much (hey – that’s professional sports in America) … but only the guys who play well win the big bucks. Just 125 players are assured their tour cards in any given year, if they don’t make a cut they hardly earn expenses for that week. They pay for their own transportation, lodging, caddies (sorry Stevie) … hey, it’s a great life, but compared to most professional athletes golfers are under tremendous financial pressure. By the way, I’ve never seen the PGA tour go on strike or have a labor lockout. Play well – win money. I like it!

Less than a month to kickoff – check back soon as we focus on football!