As hard as it is to believe, a new college football season is nearly upon us. The teams have taken the practice field, the cheerleaders are limbering up and the stadiums are being prepared, all to the tune of fight songs blaring over public address systems accompanied by the hoarse screaming of assistant coaches.
Fans who have been busily occupying themselves with jobs, families and vacations over the summer have suddenly awakened to find the new college football season looming, less than a week away. Camp followers from all points within the country are preparing to do vicarious battle with widely divergent goals:
USC fans will be holding their collective breath while their Chow-free team tries to earn an unprecedented third straight national title;
Oklahoma fans are eager to see how newly-anointed quarterback Paul Thompson will perform on game day; they are also nervously waiting to see if their defensive secondary will return from a hiatus which began with the 2004 Sugar Bowl;
Washington fans do not know what to expect from Tyrone's first season;
Pittsburgh fans have high expectations of the Dave Wannstadt / Matt Cavanaugh collaboration;
Texas fans are, once again, hoping against better judgment that the Longhorns will live up to their lofty pre-season ranking;
California fans are already pointing toward that huge November 12 match with the Trojans;
Notre Dame fans are whistling past the graveyard as Charlie Weis tries to breathe life back into the corpse;
Michigan fans are hoping that the whispers of Lloyd Carr's mediocrity are exaggerated;
Ohio State fans are hoping the skeletons will remain in the closet;
Navy fans are still pinching themselves and praying that the dream won't end;
Colorado State fans are licking their chops in eager anticipation of their opener against a limping Colorado team;
Colorado fans are being very quiet these days;
Alabama fans are still burning Dennis Franchione dolls in effigy;
LSU fans still can't believe Les(s) Miles is in charge;
Florida fans are deliriously happy;
Utah fans are not;
South Carolina fans don't know what to make of Spurrier's regal reign thus far;
Florida State fans are wondering if Bobby is ready for Meals-on-Wheels;
Penn State (see: Florida State comment re: JoePa);
Miami, Florida fans are beginning to worry about Larry Coker;
Boise State fans know that if they get past Georgia and Oregon State a probable top-ten finish awaits;
Louisville fans, thanks to Brian Brohm, are filled with eager anticipation for 2005;
UCLA fans fear that Karl Dorrell still has them on the ol' Bob 'Holy' Toledo roller coaster;
Auburn fans are fastening their seat belts for that downhill plunge;
Georgia fans are still waiting for an SEC title under Mark Richt;
Iowa fans hope other teams continue to underestimate their team;
Texas Tech fans are hoping Mike Leach finally learns that there are two sides to a line of scrimmage;
Texas A&M fans are still suffering from Longhorn envy;
Kansas fans are hoping Mark Mangino will finally lead them out of the college football wilderness;
Tennessee fans are wondering which Phil Fulmer will show up this year - the one who can coach or the one who can't;
Kansas State fans are hoping for a resurgence of the Manhattan Miracle;
Arizona State fans are happy that they aren't Arizona fans;
Arizona fans are eagerly awaiting another Stoops miracle; and
Nebraska fans are not answering their cell phones.
But before you put the big bucks on your favorite team, remember two things: First of all, Smith's Picks were conceived over ten days prior to the first kickoff. Secondly, these college teams are difficult to predict for the first couple of weeks. Bottom line? Anything can and usually will happen before the third weekend in September. So prior to taking my picks to Vegas, do some last minute research on your own to make sure that an earthquake hasn't leveled Palo Alto or that another one of Bowden's boys haven't been arrested.
Otherwise, you're good to go.
Temple at Arizona State (-26 ½). How can I put this tactfully…hmmm…let's see…nope, I can't. Temple is a terrible team. No other way to put it. And Arizona State is up 'n coming. The only negative that might come out of this game for the Sun Devils is that they might develop a hugely exaggerated sense of their own abilities.
Arizona State by 35, at halftime.
Arizona at Utah (-7). What better way to open the picks' new season than with an upset? The Utes are still reeling from Urban's departure and have not established a new identity. The offense under new coordinator Andy Ludwig intends to eventually become a pro-style set with some triple option tossed in but will probably settle in the short term for a modified version of Meyer's spread attack. Both offense and defense have lost key personnel. Meanwhile, in the desert…Mike Stoops' 2005 model will be sleeker, stronger and faster than last year's issue. The Wildcat's weight program is thought to have paid huge dividends on both lines and the multiple offense is one year older and one year saltier. The new football season will begin with a bloody nose for new Utah headman Kyle Whittingham.
Wildcats in the upset, by 2
Georgia Tech at Auburn (-7). Let's see now…Chan Gailey coaching against Tommy Tuberville…what's that malodorous scent wafting through the air? Given Gailey's reputation as a second-rate coach one might be sorely tempted to take out a second mortgage and bet the farm on Auburn. But not so fast, sports fans. After a number of disappointing years, Tuberville n-e-a-r-l-y grabbed the brass ring in 2004. However as they say, close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades (and at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln). Auburn will still be good this season, but not as good as they were last January. And as woeful as Gailey has proven himself to be, Georgia Tech wasn't bad in '04. The line's about right.
Auburn by 6 ½
Texas A&M (-1 ½) at Clemson. Much has been made during the off-season of Reggie McNeal's prowess as quarterback. And every word of that praise is well-deserved. McNeal went through a trying junior season and emerged better than ever. In '05 McNeal will enjoy the benefits of both strong running in the backfield from Courtney Lewis and a daunting o-line. If these Aggies can overcome their old Southwest Conference inferiority complex (which came from losing to Texas every year like clockwork) they will inflict an opening game loss upon Tommy Bowden in what should prove to be his final year at Clemson.
Aggies by 8
Colorado State at Colorado (-7 ½). After an uncharacteristic 4-7 season, Sonny Lubick will bring his Rams into Boulder with every intention of inflicting another early season loss on Gary Barnett. And Barnett will be very accommodating. This line give entirely too much credit to the Folsom Field perceived advantage.
CSU by 4
Wyoming at Florida (-23). This game won't be the mismatch it seems. Wyoming wasn't a bad team last season and will be better in '05. The Cowboys return eight defensive starters, both kicking specialists and nine offensive starters. If they can overcome the Meyer mystique (his Utes beat them 45-28 in '04) they have a good chance of hanging with the Gators for three quarters.
Florida by 21
USC (-34) at Hawaii. The Trojans shouldn't be as susceptible to the usual distractions in Hawaii as most other teams. For instance…
• Visiting teams are distracted by the beautiful Hawaiian beach - LA's got a beach.
• Visiting teams are distracted by the beautiful Hawaiian girls - LA's got girls.
• Visiting teams are distracted by the parties - LA's got a lot of girls.
• Visiting teams are distracted by the Luaus - LA's got Big Kahuna Burgers.
And the long flight to the islands which negatively affect so many Midwestern and Eastern teams won't bother the Trojans; a flight to Honolulu from LA doesn't take a lot longer than a flight from LA to South Bend. And the Warriors will miss Timmy Chang. Badly.
USC by 28
Maine at Nebraska. Maine? Maine?? Hold the phone for a sec…let me go get my reading glasses. Didn't help..Nebraska's schedule still lists Maine. The same Maine that lost to Hofstra last year by eleven; the same Maine that allowed forty-three points to Delaware; the same Maine that allowed half-a-hundred to New Hampshire. Yes, that Maine. I mean, I know the Huskers were embarrassed last year by losing at home to Southern Mississippi, but this is going a bit too far. Can't even find an early line on this silly ‘whack-a-mole' mismatch, but I wouldn't dignify it with a pick anyway.
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (-3 ½). Though the current Irish players are probably about as patriotic as any other college football team, they aren't Patriots. Charlie Weis is in for a very tough year. For all you bettors out there…put it on Pitt, sit back and enjoy.
Panthers by 14
TCU at Oklahoma (-26 ½). This game could be a little risky for the Sooners. Although Brandon Hassell has departed, senior quarterback Tye Gunn should be every bit as effective. The Horned Frogs were able to move the ball effectively in '04 and could be dangerous in '05 if Oklahoma doesn't do something to plug the holes in its defensive backfield. Unquestionably, the Sooners have an abundance of talent on defense but what they do not have is either an abundance of experience or confidence in stopping exactly the kind of offense that hurt them on numerous occasions last season. And they've also lost Larry Birdine. Still, Crimson and Cream will rise to the top.
OU by 21 at the end of the third quarter; OU by 35 at game's end.
Miami (-3) at Florida State. Florida State hasn't beaten Miami since 1999 and this year promises to be no different. In spite of Coker's recently developed knack for losing to teams that his 'Canes should be caning, he still appears to have Bowden the Elder's number. With Wyatt Sexton out prospecting for gold in the rings of Saturn and roughly 15% of the remaining starting FSU lineup under house arrest, look for Miami to extend their dominance for one more year. At least.
Hurricanes by 6
Wann Smith has served two years as national columnist for the Pigskin Post, contributed to the College Football News (a contributor to Fox Sports and the Sporting News) and is currently the editor of the College Football Gazette. Smith lives in St. Louis with his family.
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Smith's Picks: Week One
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