Friday, August 29, 2008

For Informational Purposes Only

Before we get to this week’s predictions, I have to offer a few observations on the dawn of the Paul Johnson era at Georgia Tech. First of all, Jacket fans have to keep things in perspective and remember that we squared off with a I-AA opponent that was athletically outmatched at every position. That being said, it is hard not be optimistic and excited about the Jacket’s opening night performance. Coach Johnson’s much talked about offense looked very good in its debut. Some plays were slower to develop than you would like to see, and the ball touched the ground too often, but on the whole the signs were encouraging. Josh Nesbitt looked fairly comfortable in making his reads and running the option. Jonathan Dwyer and Roddy Jones looked pretty explosive in space. And, ultimately, yards came fairly easily, as they should against an overmatched opponent.

More than the performance of the team on the field, the most important thing to come out of tonight was the intensity of the team and the coaches, especially the head man. Johnson, unlike his predecessor, was animated on the sideline, was up in his players' faces, and, as expected, was simply unwilling to accept anything less than perfect execution. Coupling all that with the fact that Johnson was more than willing to send his offense out on the field on fourth down, there is an aggressiveness on the Flats we haven’t seen in nearly two decades. Again, you have to keep things in perspective and keep in mind the level of the opponent, but for those of us that felt that the Jackets too often played not to lose under Chan Gailey, it is obvious that we will have no such concerns under the new regime. Only time will tell whether this new found intensity will lead to the success we crave, but for the time being we can take heart in the fact that we won’t have to look at the sideline and wonder if the man wearing the headsets wants to win as badly as we do.

So, now that the Jackets are safely in the Week 1 clubhouse, it’s time to give you my ten stone cold locks for the first weekend of the season. And, in case you’ve forgotten the rules, let me remind you that if you are the type of person that likes to place the occasional wager (when, of course, visiting Las Vegas) it is always a good idea to go against my picks. Enough disclaimers, here’s the goods:

1) Va. Tech -10 @ E. Carolina

2) Wisconsin -26.5 v. Akron

3) Pitt -13 v. Bowling Green

4) Hawaii @ Florida OVER 67.5

5) Michigan -3 v. Utah

6) Memphis +7.5 @ Ole Miss

7) B.C. -9.5 @ Kent State

8) Texas -24 v. Florida Atlantic

9) USC -19.5 @ UVA

10) Auburn -26 v. UL Monroe

11) Michigan St. +4.5 @ Cal

12) Alabama +4.5 v. Clemson

13) Illinois +9 v. Missouri

14) Kentucky +3.5 @ Louisville

15) UCLA +7.5 v. Tennessee

Thursday, August 28, 2008

This Seaons' Top 7 Regular Season College Football Games

As we continue our march towards the kickoff of the ’08 college football season, which begins tomorrow night at historic Bobby Dodd Stadium at Grant Field, I am defying Joe Biden, and I am giving you more of the same. That’s right boys and girls, another Top 7 list. This time I give you the Top 7 games of the ’08 regular season in descending order:

7) Alabama v. Clemson, 8/30 at @ 8:00 P.M. in the Georgia Dome – I know you are asking, “how can a game on the first Saturday of the season be one of the biggest games of the season?” Well, there are a few reasons: 1) The neutral field concept between two historic powers with irrational and insane fans makes this a special game on its face; and more importantly 2) Look at Clemson’s schedule. If they can survive a Week 1 challenge and all the pressure that comes with the novelty of this game, they will be favored in all of their remaining 11 games. Now, if you read my preview earlier this week, you know that I have already picked Va. Tech to win the ACC and play in the national title game, but if Clemson wins Saturday and does what they SHOULD do the rest of the season, I may feel differently in early December. In other words, if Clemson wins this game, they may very well find themselves with a chance to play for the crystal ball. If, however, they fall this Saturday, those dreams go out the window before the season even really gets started.

6) West Virginia @ Auburn, 10/23 @ 7:30 P.M. - West Virginia should have challenges in the last two weeks of the season against Pitt and South Florida, but they should be undefeated when they take on the Tigers (I say “should” instead of “will” because they have a very interesting game on Sept. 18 at Colorado that could cause problems. If you don’t believe me, just ask Bob Stoops what can happen in Boulder). If, however, they can march into Auburn and knock off the likely western division champs of the mighty SEC, any questions arising from their strength of schedule will become a non-factor, and they will have built a strong case for inclusion in the title game if they run the table. In addition to the potential BCS Title ramifications, this is just a great inter-sectional game fairly late in the season, which is something I wish we would see more of.

5) Va. Tech @ Nebraska, 9/27 - You already know who I think is going to win this game, and you also know that Nebraska isn’t what they used to be, but with Bo Pellini running the ship, you can expect a Nebraska that will compete on defense and won’t make things easy for the Hokies. Again, this is just a tremendous inter-sectional game, and this will be the most hostile environment the Hokies have to survive. I expect this one to be close, and I also expect it to show us how good the Hokies are and how good the Huskers will soon be.

4) Texas Tech @ Oklahoma, 11/22 - The Red Raiders are the trendy “dark horse” pick to win the Big 12. Well, you don’t win the Big 12 without getting past the Sooners. OU will be undefeated, and if T. Tech is as good as the pundits think they will be, this game could end up being the game of the year. Combine with the potential conference and national title ramifications with the fact that Stoops is the man that gave Mike Leach his big break, and you have enough story lines to draw the nation’s attention to Norman.

3) Missouri @ Texas, 10/18 - With all do respect to Kansas and Nebraska, Missouri should only really fear two games on their schedule: 1) this Saturday in St. Louis against the Fighting Zookers; and 2) at Texas. A potential undefeated regular season and a chance for Chase Daniel to make his strongest case for the Hesiman against the home state team that didn’t want him…Do I really need to say any more?

2) UGA v. Florida, 11/1 in Jacksonville - Despite my prediction of three losses for UGA, there can be no question that this game will, in some way, impact the SEC Championship and National Championship races. Plus, after what UGA did after their first TD against the Gators last year, this game is going to reach a level of hatred never seen before. I don’t know who will win this game, but I do know three things about this game for a certainty: 1) the teams will fight; 2) dozens of grown men in the stands will engage in fist fights in front of their wives and children (SEC fans call it passion); and 3) this will be the greatest collection of athletic talent ever on the field at the same time in the long and storied history of this rivalry. If you are a college football fan, this is a game you simply cannot miss.

1) Ohio State @ USC, 9/13 - The team that wins this game will play for the national championship. It’s hard to top that.

With another Top 7 in the books, I will tell you to check in Friday morning for a brief recap of Paul Johnson’s debut on the Flats as well as this year’s first installment of “For Informational Purposes Only”, which, of course, will be nothing but winners….and losers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

We Finally Made It

We live in a world of turmoil. The country is divided down the middle in the throes of a heated presidential election. Home sales are down 18% in the South and no end is in sight. The stock market plunged over 200 points Monday. Mike and the Mad Dog have ended the greatest run in sports talk history. And, The University of Georgia is the unanimous Number 1 team in the nation heading into the ’08 season. In other words, I’m pretty certain we are standing on the doorstep of the apocalypse. I simply cannot think of another explanation for all these terrible things happening all around us. Okay, that is a little dramatic, it’s not like I listen to Mike and the Mad Dog that often anymore.

All kidding aside (and much love to my UGA friends and readers), let us all rejoice that we have finally completed the journey through the dessert that is the sports world beginning with the end of the NBA Finals, and we have finally made it to the oasis that is the start of college football (Yes, I realize the Olympics just ended, and they were nice, but they don’t count. I cannot articulate why they don’t count in any coherent manner so you will just have to take my word for it). To mark this blessed moment and to commence what will be five consecutive months of WAD entries (for the record, “five consecutive months” means either “five consecutive months” or “until work gets busy again”), I am resisting the temptation of breaking down every conference from top to bottom, and instead I give you the following 7 predictions:

1) Virginia Tech is going undefeated and playing for the national championship. I have to admit that I am well aware of my uncanny ability to talk myself into believing something despite evidence to the contrary. This is one of the occasions where I wish I could make this happen, but I just can’t. Here are the hard facts: As recent as five years ago, you would look at road games at Nebraska, FSU, and Miami and chalk those up as three losses for even the most elite teams. Now, it looks to me like three games in which the Hokies will be favored and that they will win. Sure, the Hokies have 30 players on their roster that have never played a college game, but this prediction is more of a testament to Frank Beamer and the program he has built. Since 2004, the Hokies have won 10, 11, 10, and 11 games respectively. Even more telling is their losses in those seasons:

2004 – No. 1 USC 24-13 at home; unranked N.C. State by a point; and No. 2 Auburn by a field goal in the Sugar Bowl;

2005 – No. 5 Miami 27 - 7 at home; and at No. 22 FSU 27 – 22;

2006 – No. 24 Ga. Tech 38 – 27 at home; at unranked B.C. 22-3; and No. 23 Georgia 31- 24 in the Peach Bowl;

2007 – at No. 2 LSU 48-7; No. 2 B.C. 14-10 at home; and No. 8 Kansas 24-21 in the Orange Bowl.

The point? Well, in the past four years, Va. Tech has averaged 10.5 wins/season, and, other than N.C. State in ’04 and B.C. in ’06, all their losses have been legit. In other words, this is an elite program that doesn’t have the best team in their conference (Clemson) on the schedule, and whose toughest games are on the road against three teams that are about 5 years past their prime. Couple all this with the fact that this is the first year since Mike Vick’s Sugar Bowl performance that nobody is really expecting anything from the Hokies and it just feels like the perfect storm. Teams like Ohio State, USC, UGA, Oklahoma, LSU, Missouri, Florida, etc… are all going to knock each other off in a fierce battle royal, and the Hokies never have to get into that ring until only one of the others is left standing. And yes, if this prediction comes through like my Celtics in 6 with Pierce as the MVP, I will get T.T. tattooed on my lower back in tribute to Tyrod Taylor.

2) Chase Daniel will win the Heisman Trophy. I know it’s not creative, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else taking home the hardware. Fite and I had the opportunity to see this guy in person in the Big 12 Title Game last year, and he is the real deal. In the end, the Tigers couldn’t hold off the Crimson and Cream, but Daniel went toe to toe with the Sooner D, and time and again he made plays that left Fite nervous and me amazed. His campaign starts off on the turf in the dome in St. Louis this Saturday at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN. The Tigers avoid OU and Texas Tech in the regular season, and Daniel will have his signature moment on the field at DKR - Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin. For those of you that don’t know, Daniel was a Texas high school star that UT didn’t want until after Ryan Periloux dissed them for LSU. When the Horns came calling, Daniel stayed true to his commitment to Mizzou, and on October 18 he will play in Austin for the first time. I’m putting the over/under at 400 total yards and 4 touchdowns. Any takers? Stats?

3) UGA will lose three games. Settle down Dawg fans, you can’t blame this prediction on my alma mater. If you are looking for someone to blame, look no further than the schedule makers. There are two fatal flaws in UGA’s schedule:

1) Scheduling your first cross country trip in decades (maybe centuries, I'm not sure) the week after a trip to Columbia. The UGA/South Carolina game was a always a war before Spurier went to Columbia. Now, it’s every bit as emotional as the games against Florida, Auburn, and yes, even Tech. You have to figure UGA will get out of Columbia with a win, but if it is anything like the wars we are used to seeing over the past several years (4 point win in ’04 in Columbia, 2 point win in ’05 in Athens, solid 18-0 win in ’06 in Columbia, and a 16-12 loss last year in Athens), is the next week when you really want to take your team across country to play a very good team with an exceptional quarterback in sweltering heat? Frankly, this is a no win situation. Either UGA is so focused on the big trip west of the Mississippi that they overlook the ‘Cocks, or they are so beat up from the trip to Columbia that they have to muster an enormous effort to beat the Sun Devils.

2) After the trip out west, UGA travels back home and turns right around and plays Alabama at home the next weekend. That’s right, no off week. So, in three weeks, UGA goes and fights a war in Columbia, flies across the country and faces Dennis Erickson, Rudy Carpenter, and a very fast and capable ASU team, and then flies back across country to face Nick Saban and a team led by a senior quarterback. Alabama’s two preceding weeks? Western Kentucky at home and at Arkansas. And, in case you’ve forgotten, Darren McFadden isn’t walking through that door.

You combine that brutal stretch with the fact that, in a 21 day stretch later in the season, UGA plays at LSU, in Jacksonville against Florida, and at Auburn, and I just don’t see any way they come through with less than three losses. And, for the record, even if they survive with only two losses, we will not see a repeat of last year with a two loss team in the title game. Between Mizzou, OU, Va. Tech, Clemson, Ohio State, USC, and West Virginia, there will be at least one undefeated team and more than one single loss team. So, in order for UGA to play for it all, they have to run the gauntlet with only one loss. I don’t think it is possible, but if they do it, I will be the first person to say it is the greatest run to a title game I will have ever seen.


4) Ohio State will beat USC. The reason? Ohio State is every bit as talented, fast, and athletic as any team in the country, and they are more experienced than any other team. They have lived with the talk that they aren’t fast enough, etc… since losing to LSU in the Championship game. The truth is that Florida picked Ohio State apart with their spread offense. Well, in last year’s title game, LSU put Matt Mauck in the shot-gun, ran the spread and did the same thing. Here’s a secret, USC doesn’t run the spread. This will be an epic game, but the Buckeyes will escape with a victory that will set up the biggest Big Ten game since Michigan and Ohio State’s classic two years ago in the Horseshoe. On October 4, OSU will roll into Camp Randall Stadium for a prime time battle with Wisconsin, and the team that comes out on top will beat Virginia Tech in the National Title Game. Can’t you just feel the Fox exec’s praying for anything other than a Va. Tech v. Wisconsin Title Game?

5) This will be Joe Pa’s last year in Happy Valley. The rumors are already swirling about Greg Schiano’s buyout clause with Rutgers. I don’t know what his contract says, but I do know he’s not staying at Rutgers forever. I also know he didn’t turn down Miami without something else in mind. His patience won’t last forever, however. Can Penn State really live with seeing Schiano take a monster deal at some place like Syracuse or the N.Y. Jets? That’s a free NFL prediction for you: Favre and Mangina will go down together (I can hear Fite giggling).

6) Clemson will go 10-3, the fans will hate Tommy Bowden even more but you can’t fire a coach that wins ten games (just ask Nebraska how that turned out for them), and Tommy will continue into his second decade of being on the “hot seat” at Clemson. Bowden is kind of like your buddy in college whose grades are bad enough every semester to land him on academic probation but never bad enough for him to flunk out. Not that I knew anybody like that.

7) Finally, Georgia Tech will play 12 regular season games. Other than that, I am not willing to predict anything else about this season. I will, however, tell you that I am very excited about the Paul Johnson era. I think the offense is going to be fun to watch when it gets rolling, and it will give us a very solid niche in which to recruit. Most of all, in his interviews, Johnson strikes me as kind of an a-hole that is obsessed with winning. In other words, he is everything I want in a football coach.

Well, that’s all I have for now. Check back on a daily basis as the articles will be coming fast and furious as we enter the time of year that makes the other 8 months worth enduring.