Saturday, May 27, 2006

The College Football Season Laid Out in May

I've always liked Mark Bradley's columns more than anyone else's at the AJC. Aside from the fact that he doesn't make ill-reasoned arguments to advance a few pet causes (see: Terrence Moore, who wakes up in the morning and decides "do I want to accuse one of the local teams of racism today or do I want to say something nice about Notre Dame?") or make a series of tepid jokes (see: Jeff Schultz), he's the one guy who will make bold predictions and then re-visit them to remind his readers how wrong he can sometimes be. The basic level of accountability there is endearing. Anyway, he's put himself on record on how college football is going to go in 2006. I have to say that I agree with him on most of his predictions, even the more outlandish ones:

• We start with Georgia Tech, which will start and end the regular season in fine style. The Jackets will beat Notre Dame on Sept. 2 and will beat Georgia — finally! — in Athens on Nov. 25. Being its schizo self, Tech will still manage to lose three games, including one it shouldn’t — Virginia and Maryland, which bracket the Jackets’ trip to Blacksburg, look particularly scary — and will finish second to Miami in the winnable Coastal Division.

It isn't inconceivable that Tech could beat Notre Dame in the opener, given their history of playing well against their best opponents, but Notre Dame can only be beaten by a team with a good passing game that can take advantage of the Irish's weak secondary. Reggie Ball, despite my sympathy for the guy (see below), is not Drew Stanton, Matt Leinart, or Troy Smith. Calvin Johnson should own whomever is covering him, but he's going to need 200 yards to win this game and Reggie isn't the guy to make those throws consistently.

He's good.

• After a one-year cessation of BCS-inspired angst, full-throated howls will return when unbeaten West Virginia, scourge of the defoliated Big East, finishes unbeaten but is passed over for the Fiesta Bowl in lieu of once-beaten Auburn.

We do seem due for a BCS throw-down, but WVU isn't going to cause it. First, they're going to be overrated this year. If not for a miracle comeback against Louisville and catching Georgia not paying attention for a half, no one would be talking about them this year. They're a good team, but they have to go to Louisville and they're going to lose there. Second, if WVU does go unbeaten, then they'll finish ahead of Auburn because the BCS is weighted so heavily in favor of the polls and WVU is going to start the year in the top five, ahead of Auburn. Pollsters are notoriously unwilling to drop teams if they don't lose, which is why I kinda like the computers.

How dare I!

• Auburn will essentially win the SEC West on Sept. 16 when it beats LSU in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn’s loss will come against Georgia, which will dress up an ordinary (by Mark Richt’s lofty standards) season by winning in the epic series distinguished by its utter disdain for home-field advantage.

That all sounds pretty reasonable to me. Auburn is a clear favorite in the West, since they get LSU at home and I'm more confident in the Auburn coaching staff to fill in their holes (wide receiver and front seven) than I am LSU's to fill in their's (both lines).

• Notre Dame will lose three regular-season games, one more than last season, and one or two Irish fans will wonder if extending Charlie Weis’ contract through 2015 might have been a stretch. (In 2015, Weis will be coaching guys who aren’t yet in junior high.)

I wish I could be this negative about Notre Dame's chances, but they are going to score a ton of points, which means that the only teams that are going to beat them will be the ones that can throw for 300 yards. Michigan, Michigan State, and USC seem to fit that bill (although Michigan has lost six straight road openers and Lloyd has never won at South Bend, so picking UM to win that one requires the kind of leap of faith that would cause one to believe that a televangelist can leg-press a literal ton). Notre Dame will not have a national title-caliber defense, but they won't do worse than 10-2.

• Ohio State will win the national championship. Auburn will put up a Fiesta fight but lose by a field goal. Crestfallen West Virginia will lose its no-consolation bowl game to Texas, which will be dealt out of the Fiesta picture by an early loss to the Buckeyes in Austin but will still beat Oklahoma and take the Big 12 title.

Sounds reasonable enough. Ohio State has definite holes to fill (see: entire defense) and I find it hard to believe that a team could lose so many high Draft picks and not suffer, but they're as good a bet as anyone. I feel naked saying this without Phil Steele's mother's milk in my greedy little hands, but I'm going with USC because their defensive improvement is going to compensate for a slow-starting offense.

• Matthew Stafford won’t start against Western Kentucky on Sept. 2. After Georgia loses to South Carolina the next week, Stafford will be promoted to No. 1. He’ll beat Tennessee and Auburn but will lose to Florida and Tech. The Bulldogs will finish behind the Gators in the SEC East.

That all sounds very reasonable. I've been preaching the "beware of Columbia" line for a while and with JTIII under center and Daniel Inman in skivvies, that pick looks better now. If Georgia's far superior 2002 and 2004 teams struggled in Columbia, how's this team going to do?

• Even so, Florida will enter its bowl game with four losses — two to Auburn (the second in the SEC championship game), one to Florida State and one to LSU. And the burning question — Is Urban Meyer the next Spurrier or the next Zooker? — will flame ever hotter.

An excellent question. Meyer is facing an absolutely brutal schedule that makes a mockery of his analysis that he's more likely to win a national title at Florida than at Notre Dame. The Irish schedule pales in comparison, the typical caterwauling of their fans aside. (Notre Dame fans remind me of Religious Right voters [and not in the obvious way]. Religious Right voters think that Christians are a persecuted minority in this country, even though the U.S. is overwhelmingly Christian and quite comfortable with public displays of religiosity. Notre Dame fans think that their team is persecuted, even though they have the largest fan base, the greatest media reach, and the richest TV contract in college football.)

They would surely agree that forces are conspiring against Notre Dame to make the Irish play BOTH Michigan teams in the same month.

I'll take Georgia Tech-Michigan-Penn State-Michigan State any day over Florida's Alabama-LSU-Auburn-Georgia stretch. Meyer is also facing this stretch with a new offensive line, new corners, and a flag football QB. In year four, when he has an experienced Tim Tebow and a good offensive line, then Meyer will have a chance to have a great season against that schedule. Right now, Florida will have to be very good to go 9-3.

• Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson will win the Heisman. Auburn’s Kenny Irons will finish third. Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn will finish fifth.

Peterson has no offensive line coming back. I'll be boring: give me Quinn (and then I'll write a Terrence Moore piece about the racism of the Heisman process that it ignored Troy Smith. Seriously, why should Quinn be a front-runner and Smith should be an also-ran at this stage? Does it have anything to do with Golden Boy White QB at Notre Dame syndrome?)

• For all the mileage the ACC got from its draft-day success, the expanded league will struggle to generate a single top 10 team. Clemson and Virginia Tech lost their quarterbacks. Miami fired half its coaching staff. Florida State is in clear decline.

Yup. Bradley should also mention that the resurgences at Virginia, NC State, and Maryland all seem to have stalled.

• That said, the ACC championship game will be the one the ACC hopes to get every season — FSU against Miami. For no real reason, FSU will win.


• For the second year in a row, Miami and LSU will meet in the bowl formerly known as the Peach — it’s now just the Chick-fil-A, and really, what signifies Atlanta more than a chicken sandwich? — and the Hurricanes will well recall the Tigers’ two fake kicks at the end of last season’s 40-3 wipeout. LSU will again win the game but will lose the 10-minute fight that ignites at the coin toss.

This brings up an interesting point: I have no problem with corporate naming rights if they are for a product that has a connection to the named entity and they are for a product that people like. I wouldn't be mad at all if the Braves sold the naming rights to the Ted to Coke. (I would have felt the same way about Delta before they let their product go to shit.) I thought it was cool when Newcastle United had Newcastle Ale as their jersey sponsor. Hell, it was fitting that Candlestick went through a series of failed dotcom names. The Chik-Fil-A bowl...hell, it just makes me want a chicken biscuit and there ain't nothin' wrong in that.

Looks much better in my hand.

• As a freshman, Reggie Ball was knocked out of the Georgia game in the first half. As a sophomore, he infamously lost track of downs. As a junior, he threw a killing interception in the Red Zone. As a senior, he’ll throw a fade that Calvin Johnson snatches for the winning touchdown with 10 seconds to play. That detailed enough for you?

This is a sign that I'm not a committed Georgia fan: I read this paragraph and thought to myself "you know, part of me would be annoyed, but part of me would feel good for Reggie Ball." I need a shower.


Ski said...

started salivating halfway through this post...arena league and T.O. drama aren't enough to get me through the offseason

Ed said...

Oh those silly paranoid Notre Dame fans! What are they thinking?

The Media focuses a lot of attention on Notre Dame, because it has a large fan base and that equals lots of money. That's a pretty simple formula.

But simply because the media gets maximum coverage out of ND's football team doesn't preclude the notion of an "anti-Notre Dame bias."

ESPN, Sporting News, CNNSI etc. will run 300 million articles about Brady Quinn this fall. Many of them will be positive. But on the "serious" issues (Ty Willingham's firing, Notre Dame's continuing independence, Charlie Weis's extension etc.), one finds a decidedly similar tone to many of the articles written on these subjects. It usually reads like this:

Notre Dame is a privileged, insular little midwestern school living in the past. It has a holier-than-thou attitude towards other schools, but incident x clearly shows that it has always been, or has become,(here's where there is a slight difference of opinion) no different than the Miami's or the Ohio State's of the world. For all of its hot air about academics and Catholic values, Notre Dame is simply in it for the bottom line.

But try telling that to its fans, who are a bunch of uneducated working class stiffs who think that good ole Catholic Notre Dame is the center of the universe, even though they're probably too stupid to find South Bend on a map.

I exaggerate only a little bit (and yeah, I could a cite a ton of articles written by people at ESPN, CNNSI, to prove my point). I have not read a sportswriter who has had anything good to say about the Notre Dame the institution in a long, long time.

But that would make sense wouldn't it? The above manner of coverage combines two fundamental tendencies in the way in which educated people (or, at least, semi-educated with the pretense of worldliness) perceive the world today. There is the surface anti-elitist skepticism of any institution with an "exceptionalist" sense of itself. Yet, once one scratches a little, one finds a vigorous elitism towards those dumb enough to still believe in the old myths.

Hence the ubiqitous, healthy contempt for those dumb, anthem-chanting fundamentalist christians living in Texas Georgia who serve as the last bulwark for America's flagging sense of superiority.

So, I guess this is my roundabout way of saying that your Notre Dame/Religious Right analogy is spot-on, though certainly not in the way you intended. But maybe I've spent too many years in the happy, progressive halls of academia not to give a little credence to the persecution complex of traditional christians.

Anonymous said...

Way off course for this response, but any chance we can get some type of World Cup Preview from you....or at least a summary of the USA's last three friendly matches and what we should take from them?

I watched the Latvia game and thought the US just dominated, even though the score was 1-0.

Michael said...

Ski, TO drama deters me from missing the fall.

Ed, your post is too full of interesting ideas for me to address in the comments section. I'll blog a response tomorrow.

Ryno, consider it done. I've got World Soccer magazine and the weekend ahead of me.

Astronaut Mike Dexter said...

Reggie Ball, yecch. Kid's a douche. It's been a long time since I've seen someone do that much trash-talking while having done so little to back it up. (Well, I take that back; it's been since Casey Clausen left.) I don't think it would be possible for me to feel happy for him, and certainly not if it came at Georgia's expense.