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In hindsight, it wasn't pretty

Readers force accountability for opening-week picks

Posted: Wednesday September 7, 2005 12:06PM; Updated: Wednesday September 7, 2005 1:37PM
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Darrell Blackman
Is N.C. State's Darrell Blackman upset with his team's loss to Virginia Tech ... or the quality of Stewart's predictions?
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There was a lot of ugly football played last weekend, but nothing was quite as hideous as my season-opener in the predictions department, as several readers were kind enough to point out -- the most vivid letter coming from Jim Griscavage of Bristow, Va.:

To: Stewart Mandel, SI.com (so-called college football authority)

In my effort to keep sportswriters honest and not let them "forget" their mistakes, let me dredge up the article with your predictions for the opening weekend of 2005 college football. Ready?

1. N.C. State knocks off Virginia Tech. WRONG.

2. Georgia handles Boise State more easily than expected. RIGHT.

3. Miami wins another ugly, defensive struggle with the Seminoles. WRONG (but close).

4. Auburn's defense stifles Georgia Tech. WRONG.

5. Reggie McNeal lights up Death Valley. WRONG.

6,7. Northern Illinois puts a scare into Michigan, as does Miami of Ohio against Ohio State. WRONG/WRONG.

8. Bowling Green spoils the party at the newly renovated Camp Randall's christening. WRONG (but close).

9. Dave Wannstedt spoils Charlie Weis' Notre Dame debut. WRONG.

I'll admit it -- I stunk. While I do find it amusing how people think that, because writers follow the sport so closely, we should be able to predict the future (if we could, we would be in another profession: gambling), I won't make any excuses for such a poor showing. Opening weekend is always tough to forecast, because you have nothing to go on other than returning starters and practice reports ... but you can't do much worse than I did.

The thing is, all those picks (besides the Ohio State and Michigan games) involved matchups that could have swung in either direction. Therefore, I can't say I'm surprised Clemson beat Texas A&M, though I am surprised McNeal was such a non-factor (either he's struggling to grasp A&M's new Urban Meyer-infused offense, or Clemson's defense is a lot better than we expected). I'm not surprised the Badgers fended off BG, but I am surprised UW was able to do so in an offensive shootout. I'm not surprised Georgia Tech beat Auburn, but I am surprised at just how dominant the Jackets were on defense. I'm not surprised Virginia Tech prevailed, but I am surprised the Wolfpack gained 438 yards and still lost. And while I'm not surprised Weis' offense had its way with Pittsburgh's defense, I am downright stunned how well the Irish defense played against Tyler Palko and the Panthers' offense.

While we're on the topic of opening-weekend surprises, others that caught my attention: the fact that Nebraska still doesn't know what it's doing on offense (notching a whopping 16 points and 313 yards against Maine, a I-AA team), how much better Washington QB Isaiah Stanback looked from a year ago, how badly Virginia struggled against a woeful Western Michigan team and how good Kentucky QB Andre Woodson looked in his debut against Louisville.

In conclusion, I apologize for letting everybody down, and promise to do better next week. Hopefully by the end of the season I'll be throwing at a higher percentage than Drew Weatherford.

With the close win my Maryland Terps had over Navy, is this a sign of a strong Navy team or a weak Maryland team?
--Patrick, Aberdeen, Md.

Now here's a game that went about as I expected (Maryland prevailed 23-20 on a last-minute touchdown). Patrick, you have to keep in mind that Navy has been a pretty strong mid-major team for two years now, and few teams have been able to slow down the Midshipmen's triple-option. With that in mind, I wouldn't be discouraged in the slightest about the Terps' defense. However, as you know, offense was Maryland's crux last season, and while new QB Sam Hollenbach was impressive in leading the game-winning, 82-yard touchdown drive, his performance was average at best, and Navy is far from the toughest defense he'll face this season. I'd say the game signals that Navy has the potential to reach a third straight bowl game, and that the Terps should be better than last year's 5-6 team but still have a lot of work to do.

How about all that talk two years ago of pulling Jason White for Paul Thompson in the Sugar Bowl? Ah, never mind.
--Bob B., South Bend, Ind.

Yep, just the latest example of college football fans' bizarre fascination with backup quarterbacks, always the most popular guys on the team. Sometimes you never fully appreciate a Jason White -- or, for that matter, a Jason Campbell, Ken Dorsey or Matt Mauck -- until he's gone. All three aforementioned quarterbacks received varying degrees of criticism throughout their careers, and their teams all soon found out -- or are currently finding out -- just how hard it is to replace them.

I missed your usual dose of 'Nole-hating in your most recent column. Do you still see FSU as a team that will finish third in its conference for the first time in the history of the program?
--Scroggins, Boynton Beach, Fla.

Did you watch Monday night's game? I'd say third would be an admirable goal. A win's a win, but unless every team the 'Noles play this season muffs as many punts, field-goal snaps and easy interceptions as Miami did, FSU is going to need its freshmen quarterbacks to improve by light years if it hopes to win the ACC. Which is not to say the Hurricanes don't have their own problems, but at least their young QB, Kyle Wright, showed promise as the game went on. Personally, the three most promising ACC teams I saw over the weekend were Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and N.C. State.