College Football Overtime (cont.)
BYU is my pick to win the Mountain West (Max Hall and the Cougars get both TCU and Utah at home), but a recent bout of injuries and attrition do not bode well for Saturday's opener against No. 3 Oklahoma. The Cougars' secondary is in limbo after incumbent CB Brandon Howard left school just prior to fall camp and his expected replacement, Brandon Logan, broke his hand over the weekend. Think Sam Bradford might figure out a way to exploit this situation?
I worry that expectations may be running a bit too high in Nebraska for Bo Pelini's second season. The coach has his program headed in the right direction, but one very deceiving nine-win season -- the Huskers beat one BCS-conference foe with a winning record -- doesn't necessarily mean they're on the brink of returning to glory. Also, the recent dismissal of RB Quentin Castille (who figured to share carries with Roy Helu Jr.) was a significant blow.
Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly has been outspoken in his displeasure with the Big East for moving the Bearcats' conference road game against Rutgers to opening weekend -- Labor Day-afternoon ESPN exposure be damned. "It's a marquee matchup for the Big East. It's a television spot. Other than that, I couldn't have given you a list of great things [about the date]," said the coach, whose team lost 10 defensive starters from last year's Orange Bowl squad. Kelly said he had to drastically alter his preseason practice regimen, integrating preparation for Rutgers from the get-go at the expense of devoting more attention to his younger players.
In less than a week's time, ballyhooed Tennessee freshman Bryce Brown went from the brink of NCAA banishment to a potential starting nod Saturday against Western Kentucky. On the Vols' most recent depth chart, the starting tailback spot is listed as belonging to "Brown OR [senior] Montario Hardesty." Seven other true freshmen dot coach Lane Kiffin's two-deep, including starters or co-No. 1's WR Nu'keese Richardson, DT Montori Hughes and S Janzen Jackson.
Ohio State's opener Saturday against Navy will mark the first time a service academy has visited the Horseshoe since 1931 -- and the Buckeyes are rolling out the red carpet. Former astronaut and Ohio Sen. John Glenn, who trained as a naval cadet during World War II, will dot the "i" during Script Ohio. In addition, the school produced a two-minute video urging fans to stand up and cheer the visiting Midshipmen when they take the field.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel elevated himself from hot-seat status after his first five seasons to $2.3-million coach following the Tigers' 22-win run the past two years. Now comes the hard part: doing it without Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen (now at Wyoming). I'm eager to see Daniel's successor, sophomore Blaine Gabbert, go up against Illinois. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Gabbert was second only to Terrelle Pryor in Rivals.com's quarterback rankings in the class of 2008.
I have a feeling one of these three Pac-10 also-rans from a year ago -- UCLA, Stanford or Arizona State -- is going to sneak into the top three in the final conference standings. I just can't decide which one. The only thing that's certain: Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh will have the added benefit of more peaceful alone time than his competitors. According to San Jose Mercury News columnist Jon Wilner, a wealthy Stanford donor recently paid at least $50,000 for the coach to have his own private bathroom and shower. "It was something I'd asked for,'' said Harbaugh. "It cuts down on drag."
Former Nebraska national championship QB Scott Frost is now the wide receivers coach at Oregon. One of his new colleagues: Ducks tight ends and special teams coach Tom Osborne.
Finally, coaches are a paranoid bunch to begin with, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised Nick Saban and others are freaking out about the reported outbreaks of swine flu on several Southern campuses. (Five TCU players came down with it last week.) About 10 Alabama players came down with flu-like symptoms last week, causing Saban to "quarantine" them. (I don't even want to imagine what that was like.)
Granted, the timing is not ideal, but most reports indicate H1N1 is no more dangerous than the regular, annual flu -- especially among healthy, highly conditioned 18-to-22 year olds -- and the symptoms pass quickly. Wash your hands, fellas, and everything will be OK.
(Of course, by writing this I probably just guaranteed myself swine flu.)
Jake Locker meets Scottish hard rock
Saturday night against LSU, Jake Locker makes his long-awaited return to Washington's lineup following last year's season-ending thumb injury. If you forgot about the elusive QB sometime during the Huskies' 0-12 disastrous '08 season, here's a friendly refresher course -- set to the sounds of '70s one-hit wonders Nazareth.
Steve Spurrier: Master Motivator
Remember when the mere sight of The Visor struck fear in SEC opponents? Watch as the South Carolina coach talked after practice last Saturday about the state of his team heading into the Thursday night opener at NC State. Is this the sound of a confident coach?
Mini-previews for three of this week's biggest games.
Oregon at Boise State, Thursday (10:15 p.m.): Bad blood lingers in Eugene from last year's game at Autzen Stadium, in which two Broncos players were penalized (one of them ejected) for late hits against the Ducks. Most notably, now-departed safety Ellis Powers sent Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli out with a concussion. Said Ducks RB LeGarrette Blount to SI's Austin Murphy: "We owe that team an ass-whuppin'."
Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, Saturday (8 p.m.): In last year's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, Alabama's defense manhandled Clemson's inexperienced offensive line; a year later, the Tide risk the same thing happening to them. Juco tackle James Carpenter (who replaces Outland winner Andre Smith) and new center William Vlachos (who succeeds All-America Antoine Caldwell) couldn't ask for a much tougher initiation against Jason Worilds and the Hokies' defensive front.
Miami at Florida State, Monday (8 p.m.): After a two-year break, the ACC rivals return to opening weekend, but will they finally put on a primetime-worthy performance? In 2005, FSU won 10-7 when Miami botched the snap on a potential game-tying field goal. In '06, the teams combined for three yards rushing in a 13-10 'Noles victory. Apparently such drudgery took a toll on the fans -- Monday night's game at Doak Campbell Stadium is not expected to sell out.
That's it for this week. Enjoy the games, folks. Submit your questions for Wednesday's Mailbag, and look for my report from Thursday night's Oregon-Boise State showdown.
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