SOUTH CAROLINA at Virginia
Last Saturday, Lou Holtz felt a queasiness not familiar in Columbia during the past couple of seasons. The Gamecock defense shook and stuttered in an unimpressive 34-24 win over New Mexico State. Of course, it was an opening game, and the offense played well, especially new starting QB Corey Jenkins.
This week, the Cocks travel to Charlottesville, where they face Al Groh's up-and-coming Virginia Cavaliers. What a perfect time and place for an upset. Virginia 30, SOUTH CAROLINA 27.
Boise State is the former coaching venue for current Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt. For some reason they haven't forgotten him, nor he them. And the scary thing about Big Sky Boise is they are offensive enough to give the Pigs a lickin'. The Broncos rushed for 238 yards against rival Idaho last week and QB Ryan Dinwiddie is a great team leader and solid passer.
Criticism of Nutt concerning the lax disciplining of star players Ken Hamlin and Cedric Cobbs for off-field incidents this past year could play into a morale problem for the Razorbacks this season, but that remains to be seen. Meanwhile we'll just watch how the Hog DL holds up against a potent Bronco rushing offense on Saturday night in Fayetteville. ARKANSAS 33, Boise State 27.
Speaking of old friends, almost everybody on new Commodore Coach Bobby Johnson's staff has some connection with this week's opponent, Furman. Most of Johnson's assistants, including new head coach Bobby Lamb, worked with him at the Southern Conference school last year when the Paladins played in the Div I-AA title game.
To tell the truth, Johnson gave up the good life in the Southern Conference for the hard life of the SEC. Taking the Vandy job was definitely a downward move careerwise for Johnson, who is probably already having second thoughts after last week's season-opening 45-3 thrashing at the hands of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Furman 28, VANDY 27.
The egg-laying began in Blacksburg for LSU's 2002 football team, when life without Josh Reed left QB Matt Mauck and friends looking mighty mediocre. Of course, the competition had something to do with that game. And something to do with this one too. LSU 48, The Citadel 7.
The Blue Raiders fired and fell back against the Tide in Birmingham last week, and the fans got a bird's eye view of what it means to be at the mercy of SEC officials. MTSU Coach Andy McCollum couldn't believe his own eyes and ears either, when it was made clear to him that the Raider player guilty of a crucial late-game holding infraction (No. 58) was back home in Murfreesboro. Whoa, talk about remote control. Well at least it wasn't as crooked as the "lights-out" game in Las Vegas last week when Wisconsin fans were denied a point spread cover when the stadium lights mysteriously went out with seven and a half minutes left in the game, thus allowing Nevada bookmakers to declare the game a "no-bet" with the Badgers easily on their way to a blow-out win over UNLV. Hey, we're in a recession around here, alright?
There can be no doubt about the strength of McCollum's Middle team this year, but a trip to Knoxville to play in-state rival Tennessee this week isn't necessarily what the doctor ordered. The Vols are loading up for a September visit from Florida, and despite a few nicks and cuts from last Saturday's season-opening 47-7 shellacking of Wyoming, the Big Orange Navy should be on red-alert when the Blue Raiders land in Neyland Stadium. TENNESSEE 45, MTSU 20.
This game has trouble written all over it for Eli and the Rebels. All summer long, the word around Memphis has been that the Tigers have a ringer, capable of winning Conference USA, or perhaps some others for that matter. Doesn't sound possible, but Memphis has surprised before, knocking off SEC heavyweights with some regularity in times past. Seventeen starters return for Coach Tommy West, and the Tigers should have a stifling defense. And Ole Miss should make it appear that Memphis has an offense as well.
This could go either way, but the Rebels are in lock down mode and should have all hands on deck for this bitter state-line brain buster. Watch it if you can. OLE MISS 27, Memphis 24.
The Blue Mist is back. Or at least they've re-established dominance in the Bluegrass State with last week's nifty 22-17 upset of ranked Louisville. Secret weapon RB Artose Pinner pin-balled his way for a hundred yards in the upset and served notice that the stocky 235-pounder will be a force to be reckoned with in the SEC this season.
What is especially different about Guy Morriss' second UK squad, though, is the defense, where down linemen Dwayne Robertson and Jeremy Caudill comprise a formidable front line for former Texas Tech Defensive Coordinator John Goodner. Up next for the Wildcats is one of college football's most truly pathetic representatives, Texas -El Paso. The Miners were so bad last year that they won only two games and were outscored by an average of 16.2 points per game. Man, surely even Kentucky can handle that, despite the fact that 16 starters return for El Paso. KENTUCKY 38, UTEP 21.
This game is a lose-lose for Florida. Win it, and the alarm bells will sound in Knoxville for the big SEC East showdown with Tennessee two weeks hence. Lose it, and, well, you lose. Florida will likely win one of those two games, but probably not both. So which will it be?
The Ron Zook era got off splendidly last week with an impressive win over a much-diminished UAB team. That game showed little of any significance, save the stepped up ball-carrying of senior TB Earnest Graham who plowed for 182 yards. Everybody already knew Rex Grossman could pass.
The Hurricanes are the big mystery this week, however. How will the loss of most of the offensive line, RB Frank Gore and the entire secondary from last year's national title team affect the Canes? We shall soon see. My guess is that the Gators may shock and surprise here, but I would not be shocked and surprised if they didn't. FLORIDA 31, Miami 27.
Speaking of shocking and surprising, what if Alabama marched into Norman and took out national title contender Oklahoma on its own turf this Saturday? Wouldn't that be something? The Tide could be on its way to an undefeated season and its 666th National Championship in the modern era (AD). If Alabama is to transfer the mark of the beast to its blood-red brethren of the Sooner State, it'll have to show more on offense than Arkansas did in last year's shutout loss to OU in the Cotton Bowl.
Bob Stoops knows defense like Bo knows Diddley, so Fran, Tyler, Santonio and the boys will certainly need some help. Just how much holding the Alabama offensive line can get away with may determine whether or not the Tide will score at all. What must be considered here, though, is the importance of this game for an Alabama program on the edge of the abyss. Lose it, and what is left to play for? Lose any more starters to injury, and what will Alabama be able to play for? Come to think of it, considering what their athletic supporters did in Memphis, what are they playing at all for? Oklahoma 24, ALABAMA 23.
While it's true that Auburn is currently on a four-game losing streak, it's also true that the USC defense is likely the toughest that the Tigers will see this season outside of a still-tougher road trip to Gainesville, Fla., in October. On Labor Day in Los Angeles, the Trojans lived up to their decades-old reputation for scoring prevention, both in the red zone and at the goal line, and aren't likely to get banged up in the Pac 10 race this season on account of a leak in the defensive hardware.
If the 2002 AU team learned anything tangible about itself on the West Coast, it's a familiar lesson in co-dependency: the Tiger defense is dependent on the Tiger offense, and the Tiger offense is dependent on the health of sophomore RB Carnell Williams, at least until the young WRs grow up. Sixth-year senior QB Daniel Cobb saw it all Monday night, through a scratched and glittering right eye made bloody by the hand of the SC defense. He completed passes, missed receivers, threw an interception, hit the bomb, fumbled twice, ran the ball, rolled out and watched teammates drop his passes. He also watched, helplessly, as the USC offense marched methodically goalward in the waning moments of the game, sapping precious seconds off a clock which wound well past Auburn's two-minute capabilities.
No, it didn't work out the way the Tigers had hoped, but this game was no post-trauma trip to New York either. The Tigers bore teeth and learned a little bit about their manhood under the pressure of a big-city atmosphere and a national television audience. No, Auburn didn't win, but they played the part of Serena Williams to sister Venus. No cigar, but there will be a next time, guaranteed.
Meanwhile there is a two week waiting game as Auburn must turn its attention toward this week's Division I-AA opponent, Western Carolina, and next week's distraction, SEC Dore-mat Vanderbilt. Both should be easy prey for the Tigers, though a very experienced Catamount team may be the more difficult challenge of the two. AUBURN 38, Western Carolina 13.