Robert Meachem and the Vols embarrassed Cal in last season's opening weekend.
Stewart Mandel's first book, Bowls, Polls and Tattered Souls:
Tackling the Chaos and Controversy that Reign Over College Football
, is now available for purchase.Order your copy
There's football this weekend, folks. Real, actual, meaningful football games. Let's not beat around the bush. Here are 10 questions I'm most eager to have answered by this time next week:
1) Is Cal ready to reclaim its manhood?
There's no sugar-coating it -- the Bears got absolutely humiliated in Knoxville last year, and the cloud never fully vanished, even amid a 10-win season. Saturday night, they get their chance at revenge on friendly turf. I don't think it's a stretch to call it the most important game to date in the Jeff Tedford era.
2) Will the SEC walk the talk?
Having heard non-stop for the past eight months how undeniably superior their conference is to all others, it's time for the Southern powers to back it up. In addition to Cal-Tennessee, the conference hosts two other high-profile matchups in Week 1: Kansas State-Auburn and Oklahoma State-Georgia. After all that bragging, I'm going to be highly disappointed if I don't see at least three-touchdown margins in both.
3) Will we see an offensive explosion Monday night from Florida State?
Clemson's Death Valley is hardly the ideal location to debut a new offense, but if you believe the buzz out of Tallahassee, nothing's getting in the way of the re-energized 'Noles. Which is good, because as tough as FSU's defense usually is, even they can't be expected to shut down both James Davis and C.J. Spiller.
4) Who is USC's top running back?
The No. 1 Trojans' once-enviable tailback depth has taken a hit with the transfer of Emmanuel Moody and injuries to Chauncey Washington, Joe McKnight and Hershel Dennis. Which of the remaining candidates (C.J. Gable, Allen Bradford, Stafon Johnson and Desmond Reed) will get the first carry Saturday night against Idaho? (Not that it's likely to affect the outcome.)
5) How good is Matt Ryan?
Good enough to be voted preseason ACC offensive player of the year, apparently, but it's not like BC's senior quarterback tore the roof off last year (2,942 yards, 15 touchdowns, 10 interceptions). Nevertheless, new offensive coordinator Steve Logan loves him and NFL scouts are high on him. Let's see what he does against defending conference champ Wake Forest.
6) How good (or bad) is Notre Dame?
Charlie Weis insists this is not a rebuilding year for the Irish. Pretty much every prognosticator this side of Lou Holtz insists it is. On Saturday, Georgia Tech may provide a good litmus test. There's really no shame in losing to the Jackets (though a blowout would be troubling), while a win would be highly encouraging.
7) Missouri or Illinois?
Both are among the most trendy picks for "surprise team" in 2007, with the Tigers picked to win their division and the Illini widely expected to jump from 2-10 to bowl team. But is it really possible to put too much faith in teams coached by Gary Pinkel and Ron Zook? Maybe we'll have a better idea after they play each other.
8) Who's made more progress -- Tyrone Willingham or Greg Robinson? Both are entering their third year at once-proud programs, Washington and Syracuse, respectively, that had hit rock bottom, and both have had little tangible success to date. At least we know one of them gets to start this season 1-0, and he gets to do it a night earlier than most everyone else.
9) Did sports bars in Columbus and Ann Arbor order enough beer?
In homes all across Big Ten country this weekend, TVs will be silent and couches empty as fans go in search of someplace -- anyplace -- that gets the Big Ten Network. It will be interesting to see whether sports bars with DirecTV suddenly find themselves way more crowded than they normally would for games involving Florida International and Youngstown State.
10) Is this going to be freaking awesome or what?
According to SI.com's national TV schedule, there will be a staggering 40 games broadcast from Thursday through Monday (although admittedly, the ones on The Mtn. and ESPN360 really shouldn't count.) Hope you got any remaining yard work done last weekend -- here's guessing the only time many of you are going to see daylight this weekend is when you go to restock the fridge.
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