In case you haven't noticed, this ain't your grandmother's opening week of football action. Look at all this. The new 12-game schedule will not automatically translate into 12 wins for any conference school, and, as Larry Munson might say, "all on the road." At least that's the case for Auburn, LSU, Vandy, Kentucky and Mississippi State this week.
Somehow or another, Jackie Sherrill finds his team flying way out west to Eugene, Oregon to take on the Mighty Ducks of the Pac-10. Don't know why he did this, but he did. And he and DC Joe Lee now have to figure out a way to deal with what was arguably the second-best team in the country last fall.
Sadly, Jackie's teams have resembled a slowly leaking front tire in recent years, with all the hot air hissing out of what was a very respectable program a just few years back. Last year, a 52-0 whopping in Gainesville set in motion a Bulldog collapse which finally culminated in a homecoming loss to Troy State, for gosh sakes.
Things had better get better quickly in Starkville, or Jackie and Joe Lee may be looking for early retirement in a time when some grandmothers are having to take on part-time work just to pay the rent. Dawg fans are hoping freshman running backs Nick Turner and Jerious Norwood can take up the slack created by the departure of Dicenzo Miller, who had quietly and methodically kept the State running game in the black for three and a half years. The rotund Dontae Walker returns to pound defenses, but his stamina, durability and quickness remain question marks again this season. Justin Griffith's return at fullback may be the biggest boost of all for State. QB Kevin Fant has shown he can pass--and win--while getting the ball to favorite targets Justin Jenkins and Ray Ray Bivines. TE Donald Lee can play too.
The question Coach Mike Bellotti's Oregon Ducks will answer Saturday, though, is how the Dawg defense compares with those of years past. Even without graduated QB Joey Harrington, the Duck offense will be formidable, led by former Tennessee RB Onterrio Smith, who tore up the Pac-10 last fall with 1,031 yards while sharing time with fellow 1,000-yard rusher Maurice Morris.
State has a way of playing well in situations like this, usually surprising unsuspecting far-away opponents with a stellar and physical brand of SEC West football. For all its uncertainties, this one's worth watching. Oregon 30, Mississippi State 21.
Kentucky used to play Louisville tough, but lately it's been the other way around. With a double barrel defense starring DE Dewayne White and a NFL-bound QB in Dave Ragone, the Cardinals will likely fend off at least one more Wildcat challenge. However, don't be surprised to see big ole Jared Lorenzen put up some numbers at QB in a game in which UK really has nothing to lose. Louisville 33, Kentucky 24.
New Tech Head Coach Chan Gailey will try to pick up the pieces from the suddenly-over with George O'Leary Era at Georgia Tech. And also beginning this Saturday in Atlanta, new coach Bobby Johnson will try to do what every Vandy coach before him has tried to do--win. In somewhat of a surprise move, Johnson has named redshirt freshman Jay Cutler as the starting quarterback for this game, ahead of mobile junior Benji Walker. Cutler is the better passer. But, despite improved discipline and a pretty sporty group of receivers, winning will not come any easier for the new Vanderbilt staff than it did for those of losing seasons past. Georgia Tech 41, Vandy 17.
Tech's 63-7 splattering of hapless Arkansas State last Saturday served notice that things have not really changed at all in Blacksburg. Great programs tend to stay that way, regardless of who stays or who leaves. Frank Beamer could be the best coach in college football, and LSU's fire-breathing Nick Saban is about to find out this Sunday just how tough a out-of-conference road trip can be.
With emerging stars like DE Marcus Spears and RB Joseph Addai added to an already loaded lineup, the defending SEC champs certainly have the talent to win this game, and win it easily. But a lot of teams, including the Miami Hurricanes, have come into this hill-top town thinking like that. Virginia Tech 24, LSU 20.
In a game against the college-formerly-known-as-Northeast Louisiana, the Ole Miss Rebels embark on what they hope will be a season of offensive amazement, starring favorite son Eli Manning at quarterback and a bevy of excellent pass-catchers. RBs Robert Williams and Ronald McClendon should surprise with their quickness behind a very capable offensive line.
Outscoring the Indians should not be a problem for the Rebels. Northeast gave up more than 32 points per game last year while finishing 2-9. They'll be off to another sterling start when the 2002 season begins this Saturday in Oxford. Ole Miss 55, Louisiana Monroe 19.
Even without a backup quarterback and a backup tailback, South Carolina will win this game. The new defense is quick, despite the loss of six starters from a year ago, and the offensive line is impressive. Big RB Andrew Pinnock will have field day on Saturday as should option QB Corey Jenkins, despite the fact that his receiving corps this year has some limitations. South Carolina 34, New Mexico State 19.
Rocky Top will not be home sweet home for the Tennessee Vols Saturday as they take their home show on the road to Nashville to the Coliseum--formerly known as Adelphia.
QB Casey Bramlett has been lighting it up in practice for the Cowboys this fall, so expect the Pokes to put up a few points in a flashy presentation of their Rocky Mountain honor, even in the face of some stiff Smokey Mountain defense.
UT WR Kelley Washington is out with a sore knee, but fellow receiver-mates Leonard Scott and Montrell Jones along with QB Casey Clausen should have little trouble connecting for big plays, while RBs Derick Tinsley, Jabari Davis and Cedric Houston should make the Big Orange Navy feel at home on the banks of the Cumberland, even if the end zones aren't painted like a box of Purina Dog Chow. Tennessee 48, Wyoming 27.
The new Florida offense has an old Gator at the helm, and fourth-year junior Rex Grossman is indeed the man behind center once again, even without his old ball coach around to see him through. Don't expect the same old Gator airborn blitzkrieg, despite pass-happy new offensive Coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher calling the plays for new Head Coach Ron Zook. Do, however, look for bullish-but-quick senior tailback Ed Graham to carry the load impressively at running back. This week will be easy for the new ball coach. Next week will not be. FLORIDA 45, UAB 13.
The preseason hype surrounding this year's edition of the Georgia football
A) the most audacious ruse ever pulled on the always-gullible Bulldawg fanbase.
B) The worst sports journalism lie put forth since Sports Illustrated picked Oregon State to win last year's college football National Championship or
C) a crystal-ball sighting of the most astonishing program ascendancy in SEC football history.
The answer comes this Saturday night in Athens as David Greene and now D.J. Shockley will try to make use of the SEC's best receiving corps to outscore Tommy Bowden's Clemson Tigers. The Dawgs may win. But don't count too heavily on the outcome. Georgia 31, Clemson 30.
Well, now, the school up the road has bitten off a sizeable chunk of schedule this year, but not before securing, for the next decade, a willing coach and some grateful new recruits for 2003. By the time November rolls around, all the hatches should be battened down and the turn-styles boarded up in preparation for the big blow from the NCAA, should she begin to huff and puff once again. Hold on to your helmets.
Meanwhile, Andy McCollum and his MTSU Blue Raiders get the first shot at dunking the clown this Saturday at Legion Field. Last fall the Big Blue opened up with a surprisingly easy face slapping of SEC and Middle Tennessee rival Vanderbilt in Nashville. This year Middle has Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky from the SEC, all in a row, to start the season. The Raiders are ambitious if nothing else.
MTSU star tailback Dwone Hicks, Alabama's Class 6A high school Player of the Year in 1998, is from Huntsville and would like nothing more than to prove his worth against a home state institution. He has suffered from a hamstring injury in fall practice, but should be fully ready by game time. Hicks will be accompanied by eight other starters from last year's offense which finished fifth in the nation.
Alabama, under coach Fran, has a way of turning these kinds of things into nail-biters, and one of these days, that's going to cost him a ball game that he should have won. But that won't happen this week. Alabama 44, MTSU 24.
I am writing this epistle to the myriad, kind-hearted SC football fans who have set browser on this board during the past summer. You guys may well have been the most civilized group of "foreign fans" to ever visit our boards. Your patient, polite and informative commentary about both our teams has been generally appreciated and well-received, which speaks well for both schools.
Perhaps, during your visits, you may have gained some valuable insight into our travails concerning our cross-state rivals. We are sorry you had to witness the debauchery, but, alas, the experience only promotes the fullness of your understanding of our football program, as well as clarifying for you the great obstacles to peace and tranquility we constantly face here in our Deep South society.
The education you have received from our Alabama antagonists is akin to that one might acquire during his first visit to the Chicken Ranch in Las Vegas. There will likely be a palpable stench, which you may carry not only on your skin and under your fingernails, but also in your dark sub-conscious as these grotesque images, virus-like, may have attached themselves to your "shadow side" and could remain there for some years to come. It has afflicted us all, and even damaged our self-esteem at times. If you have contracted any part of this disease, we can only say that we apologize for the inconvenience. But, I'm sure that, as Californians, you will agree that we all have to share in the bearing of society's social burdens.
As to the seemingly unlikely coexistence of genuine college football fanaticism and your laid back, West Coast philosophy of life, I applaud you. Somehow, some of you seem to have re-discovered your manhood just in time for the impending apocalypse. For that we can all thank, among other things, the great game of football and of course your own gift to our civilization, Ronald Reagan (God rest his weary mind). The ancient and blessed Celtic battles of the gridiron apparently have awakened in you a life-saving bloodlust in your now almost-desperate search for lost masculinity among the ruins of a 21st century gynocracy-run-amuck. In places like New York, Boston and the sprawling, earthquake-prone metropolis of your own Southern California proper, home now to the likes of Rodney King, O.J. and Whoopie Goldberg, timid thought seems to have taken over for heroic action amongst the ruling class. Only you few-the remnant-who truly understand what Hamlet so well-expressed so long ago can provide the seeds of a remedy for the spiraling socialism of our time and your region, presently so "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought." For our part in the great war against this introspective paralysis, we have benched the brooding Jason Campbell in favor of the nearly reckless, gun-slinging and swashbuckling Daniel Cobb. And you, what will you do in response? I recommend telling Trojan QB Carson Palmer to, "get rid of the dammm thing before Karlos Dansby breaks your neck!!" Auburn 19, USC 17.