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Q: Hey Webslave - Will Dr. Football bless us with his presence this year? Has he returned from his excursion to the South Pole with Rip Taylor? Should we start flooding his inbox with questions on the season?
A: I am back, and I do want to clarify that Rip Taylor and I are good friends, but not in "that way." I had been uncertain about whether to churn out another season's worth of pigskin prognostications and ponderings, but the great webmaster RR tracked me down at my favorite spot for meditation - in other words, he found me at the Cheetah III ordering another Jack and Coke. As I watched Charmayne and Lexie shake their thangs, RR prevailed upon me to have a another go at it (writing the column, that is). "You'd be a real boob if you quit doing the column now," he tittered. "You owe it to the Hive readers to keep them abreast of the latest developments in college football." I had meant to stand firm behind my original plan to retire, but my resolve softened as RR convinced me to come back. It was a split decision, so to speak, but I gave in to his request to take another crack at it and, hey, who knows, it really does look like a very promising season ahead for the Jackets. So here we are.
You could hardly ask for a more inspiring way to open the festivities than to be at home, against a highly ranked Notre Dame team, with ESPN doing College Football Gameday from the Tech campus. It doesn't get much better than this.
I'm one of those old farts who's been around so long I once got chased out of practice by John Heisman himself, so I have some fond memories of past Notre Dame games. I was lucky enough, in fact, to have tickets in 1978 when the Irish came to Grant Field for the big game on Nov. 18 (a bright, sunny day on which all things seemed possible).
Tech had whipped the Irish two years earlier in that memorable 23-14 victory where the Jackets did not throw a single pass. In 1977, a Notre Dame team headed for a national championship returned the favor in South Bend by running up a 69-14 score in a revenge win. The 1978 rematch turned out to be the infamous armageddon where frozen fish, empty liquor bottles and heartfelt curses were rained upon Coach Dan Devine and the Notre Dame players (for some reason, they were upset by the Tech fans' behavior).
Tech came into that matchup off a seven-game winning streak, including one stretch where they beat South Carolina, Miami, Auburn and Florida on consecutive weekends. Coach Pepper Rodgers had junked the wishbone for a more pro-style offense run by freshman quarterback Mike Kelley. Tech had two of its most exciting players ever on offense with Eddie Lee Ivery at running back and Drew Hill, later to have a productive NFL career, catching passes and returning kicks. The week before the Notre Dame game, Tech had traveled to Colorado Springs and spanked Air Force on a cold afternoon where Ivery skittered across a frozen field to set a record by rushing for 356 yards.
All the elements seemed to be in place for another Tech upset. You could tell the home crowd was geeked up even before the kickoff, because some monsignor was brought in from the archdiocese of Atlanta to give the pre-game prayer over the loudspeaker system. The good father's last "amen" hadn't even faded away when I heard someone in the rat section yell, in a thundering voice that echoed all over the stadium, "F--- You!" This crowd, by golly, was serious!
The big upset, alas, was not to be. Notre Dame kept running Vagas Ferguson (who gained 255 yards) and Jerome Heavens between the tackles for big yardage, Tech's offense could never really get untracked, and the Irish put another whipping on the Jackets, 38-21. The game was never in doubt.
I don't think it'll be a runaway like that on Saturday. As hyped as Notre Dame might be with its number two ranking, this is a team with a really stinky defense that gave up more than 600 yards to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. The fact that Bill Lewis is coaching Notre Dame's secondary ought to knock a couple of points off the spread right there.
(But wait a minute, Doc, you might be saying right about now. Doesn't Tech have an inexperienced secondary trying to defend against a Heisman-quality quarterback and an All-American receiver? Well, yes. But indulge me in my fantasy for a while.)
One thing Chan Gailey has always done well is get the team ready for those games against a highly ranked team where Tech is the big underdog, whether it was Auburn in 2003, Clemson in 2004, or Auburn and Miami in 2005. I'd also throw in the FSU game from 2003 where Tech led most of the way before losing 14-13. I see no reason to think that Gailey won't have them similarly prepped for Notre Dame this weekend.
As for the big-play guys, Notre Dame has the edge at quarterback with Brady Quinn over Reggie Ball, but at running back I think Tashard Choice matches up well with Darius Walker, and at wide receiver Calvin Johnson is light years ahead of Jeff Samardzija.
A win over Notre Dame? It's certainly doable. And even if Tech should lose, I still see them breaking out of the seven-victory rut that they've been stuck in for the past four seasons. It wouldn't surprise me at all if both Tech and Georgia finish with identical 8-4 records this year (which would leave Tech fans feeling satisfied and Georgia fans ready to commit suicide).
Let's respond to a few inquiries.
Q: My first question this year is, who do you consider the sexiest in the nude? Brady Quinn's sister, Ernest Borgnine, Terence Moore, Ted Valentine, or "None of the above"?
A: The answer, of course, is Jessica Biel, who's so hot she got banished from that cheesy TV show about a minister who refused to use condoms for religious reasons whenever he and his wife made whoopee, which resulted in them having seven kids. Or something like that.
Q: I think you were really unfair to Chan Gailey last year. Are you going to keep beating up on him?
It's true that I was a bit critical of the old ball coach, a stance that prompted some folks to send me emails so radioactive that I couldn't open them until after I put on a haz-mat suit. I will give Gailey credit, however. It appears that he has been taking to heart some of the criticisms of his coaching regime and has reacted to them in a constructive way. He revised the recruiting staff, and the results are evident in the unprecedented number of early commitments Tech is getting from quality players inside Georgia. He has transferred the play-calling responsibilities to Patrick Nix. He has hired a new special teams coach. Those were three areas that were obviously in need of major changes and Gailey was savvy enough to make those changes. I figure he deserves a clean slate from me and everyone else who was critical of him last year.
Q: How do you see the offensive line shaping up this year, particularly after a tough August?
A: The offensive line was considered by many to be one of the weak links last year because of its inexperience, so the fact that the players have a season under their belts is reason enough to believe it will be improved. Actually, I thought the OL did a passably good job last year in most of its games. Tech's running backs rushed for an average of more than 150 yards a game, which should be adequate in most situations. More importantly, Tech's quarterbacks were only sacked 10 times last season (compared to the 36 sacks registered by Tenuta's defense). Now, that may be a deceptively low number because Reggie Ball is a nimble scrambler and he also was careful to throw the ball away more quickly last year rather than take a sack. But still, when you only get sacked 10 times in a season, that tells me the OL must have been doing something right.
Q: What do you see in your crystal ball as the biggest difference between the offense that Patrick Nix will call and coach Gailey?
A: I hope that Nix will start utilizing all of the weapons that an offensive coordinator can call on, particularly the tight end. During the Gailey era, the tight end has become basically a third tackle on the offensive line. The defense never had to worry about covering him because Gailey almost never called for the quarterback to throw to him. Other schools like Miami and Georgia have used their tight ends as potent offensive weapons who will catch 30 or 40 balls a season. Tech never does this, which means it is going up against an 11-man defense with the equivalent of a 10-man offense. If there is any area where we see a significant difference between Nix and Gailey in their offensive philosophy, I hope it's with that position. I'd also like to see Nix call Calvin Johnson's number more often - I don't think there's any sane reason for Calvin catching only two passes against Georgia and Utah last year.
There are a lot of Tech people who are uncertain about how well Nix will do as he expands his responsibilities into gameday play calling. I must admit that I'm a little nervous myself, because Nix has been calling the two-minute offense in recent seasons and I still remember the debacle at the end of the Tech-Georgia game in 2004. If Nix truly has the potential to be an effective offensive coordinator - and I hope he does - we should find out for sure this season.
Q: I saw on the Hive this summer that we should not be disappointed with the events that happened last year against Utah (in the Emerald Bowl) and that Utah was a top-tier program that just "doesn't get respected." Am I missing something?
A: I don't think so. Utah admittedly had a better-than-average team in 2004 under Coach Urban Meyer with the gifted Alex Smith at quarterback, but Tech was playing the 2005 version of Utah, which had a different coach, less-talented players, and had to win its last game of the season to even qualify for a bowl. There is just no glossing over the fact that Tech went in the tank against a team it should have whipped by two touchdowns.
This week's picks
South Carolina (-6.5) at Mississippi State. The Maroon Bulldogs may be able to beat the spread if Steve Spurrier can't keep the Gamecocks from looking ahead to next weekend's game in Columbia against Georgia.
Florida Atlantic at Clemson (-34). This is the kind of game that could drive Florida Atlantic Coach Howard Schnellenberger to drinking. Again.
Northeastern at Virginia Tech (no line). Frank Beamer should be ashamed of himself for agreeing to play this one.
Vanderbilt at Michigan (-26). I think Vanderbilt swapped a previously scheduled home game against Middle Tennessee State for this one. What the hell were they thinking? If Michigan doesn't cover the 26, then Lloyd Carr really does deserve to be run out of the Big House.
Western Kentucky at Georgia (no line). If this is the kind of matchup we're going to get by going to a 12-game schedule, then I'd just as soon keep the 11-game schedule. I was amused last weekend when I heard Georgia fans babbling on talk radio about how their fifth-year senior, Joe Tetrazzini VI, was a better quarterback than Reggie Ball. The reason? "He may not be the most talented player out there, but he's not going to lose a game for you," was a typical comment. Excuse me? Have we forgotten about the outcome of the only game that young Joe started last year? I seem to recall he did a very good of losing that game to Florida. Reggie Ball has made some mistakes that have been quite thoroughly rehashed by the Hivesters, but he has also directed Tech to two victories over Auburn and a road win over Miami. And Georgia's quarterback has done what, exactly? Well, he lost the only game he ever started. And, uh, well . . . that's it.
Rutgers at North Carolina (-5.5). Three years ago, this would have been a gimme for John Bunting and the Tar Heels. Now, they're catching Rutgers at a time when the program is actually respectable. Rutgers might be a good bet here.
Southern California (-8) at Arkansas. With the loss of so many high-profile players at USC, this is a game I would be hesitant to bet. If the Trojans can find a quarterback from amongst the likes of John David "Shake Your" Booty, they may be able to cover.
California at Tennessee (- 1.5). I'd be tempted to pick the Vols here, except for the fact that they will be without the services of reserve quarterback Jim Bob Cooter, who has the greatest name ever bestowed upon a southern collegiate football player. I'll bet you anything that he has a brother named Harry and cousins named Billy Joe Beaver and Tom Paul Pootietang.
Jim Bob (whose real name is James Bob Cooter) was arrested for drunk driving in June after he allegedly registered a 0.19 on the breathalyzer test. You have to figure that he could only have gotten himself into that situation because he'd been sippin' some of daddy's latest distillations down by the creek.
"That ain't like Jim Bob," commented his father, Jim Tom "Bub" Cooter. "I told that boy I'd whup him if he got to actin' up right smart like that. I intend to introduce my foot to his ass real quick."
While the Tennessee coaching staff acted quickly and decisively to suspend Jim Bob from the season opener against Cal, other members of the coaching community were a little more forgiving of the young lad's transgression.
"Drunk driving?" commented Jim Donnan. "Hell, that's nothing. At Georgia, that would get you put on the Dean's List."
Head Coach Phil Fulmer was rumored to be so upset by the incident that he ratted out Alabama two more times to NCAA investigators. You have to think that the Tennessee players are even more upset that Jim Bob won't be on the sidelines waving in plays from the pressbox (or running to the package store for another case of Rolling Rock). For that reason, I look for Cal to win this one.
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