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Well football fans, the season is officially upon us.
We here at SI.com figured you might enjoy even more football-related reading material on Monday mornings. So beginning this week, and continuing every Monday throughout the season, join me here as I revisit important events from the previous weekend, reset the ever-shifting national landscape and begin looking ahead to the next set of games.
Since there's nothing to recap yet, it's time to focus on opening weekend.
Prepping for battle
Many of you have presumably been staring at that first name on your team's schedule for the past eight months. Behind the scenes, coaches have been staring at hours upon hours of the opponent's game film.
In a typical week, coaches have only about 24-to-48 hours to break down an opponent and prepare a scouting report for their players. For the season-opener, they've had since January -- or very close to it. I was curious to find out how coaches' preparation for the opener differs from preparation for a regular game. To find out, I spoke to Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez and Minnesota co-defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove.
There are several intriguing matchups this first weekend -- Oregon-Boise State, Alabama-Virginia Tech, Oklahoma-BYU -- but Georgia-Oklahoma State and Minnesota-Syracuse will be near the top of my radar.
Georgia-Oklahoma State could be a season-defining opener for both teams. The Cowboys have never been ranked this high entering a season (their previous best: No. 16 in 1985), and they're a near-touchdown favorite over last year's preseason No. 1 team. They need a big non-conference win like this to be taken seriously as a national player. For Georgia, an upset would go a long way toward restoring confidence after last year's disappointing finish; conversely, another blowout in a high-profile game would not bode well for a team that again faces one of the nation's toughest schedules.
Minnesota-Syracuse, meanwhile, hardly belongs on the A-list, but there's an undeniable curiosity factor surrounding ex-Duke point guard Greg Paulus. It's not every day one of the most visible (and ridiculed) college basketball players of the past four years suddenly shows up on the gridiron -- for another school. Plus, the game kicks off at noon EST on ESPN2 on the first Saturday of the season. You'll be watching, too.
Let's start, though, with Georgia-Oklahoma State. Martinez, whose 13th-ranked Bulldogs jump immediately into the fire against the No. 9 Cowboys, may be more familiar at this point with Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter than anyone outside of Stillwater. He said the staff first began scouting the Cowboys in detail shortly after Signing Day last February.
"Anybody we play that we don't play on a regular basis, we spend more time in preparing," said Martinez. "We prepared all offseason."
Georgia's coaches aren't completely unfamiliar with Mike Gundy's team -- they faced them in the 2007 opener, winning 35-14 in Athens -- but much has changed since then. Current Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora was still the offensive coordinator (Gundy now calls his own plays). Neither Bryant nor Hunter, who were both freshmen at the time, saw the field that day. Most importantly, Robinson had yet to take over for Bobby Reid as starting quarterback.
With the dual-threat Robinson (3,626 total yards last year) at the helm, Hunter (1,555 rushing yards) in the backfield and Bryant (1,480 receiving yards) split wide, Oklahoma State averaged nearly 41 points per game last season en route to the Holiday Bowl.
"It all starts with [Robinson]," said Martinez. "We prepare for running quarterbacks more often than not nowadays, so we're used to that, but it doesn't negate the fact we have to defend him. And it makes it tougher that he's got a guy in the backfield [Hunter] that's extremely talented. They run the ball so well that you've got to start there."
Martinez has been catching heat in Athens ever since his normally stingy defense gave up 40-plus points in its three losses last year to Alabama, Florida and Georgia Tech. A road opener against one of the nation's most prolific offenses from a year ago would not seem like an ideal way to start.
However, over the course of head coach Mark Richt's eight-year tenure in Athens, Georgia has performed notably well in season-openers. Among the highlights: a 30-0 rout at Clemson in 2003, a 48-13 demolition of Boise State in 2005 and the aforementioned Oklahoma State win in '07. They must be doing something right to prepare.
"The problem with the first game is you don't know what new stuff they may give you. You've got to be careful that you don't spend too much time chasing ghosts," said Martinez. "You feel better in that you have more time to ask questions. You're constantly asking around [the office] -- 'What do you think of these guys? What would you do here?'"
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