Fifteen cups of coffee later, we're awake and getting all jittery about the possibilities this coming season: upsets, collapses, new stars, a playoff system...well, you can't get everything you want. But we do have the following ten games that make us even more jumpy than we already are just thinking about them.
(Note: these aren't the most important games, mind you: we're not putting Ohio State-Michigan on here, but we are commending Dan Hawkins' huge testicles for putting Boise State on the line with a brutal schedule that opens in Athens playing UGA. And yes, that's brutal for the WAC, but what isn't relative in a system with no playoff? And yes, we're unhealthily obsessed with the topic, no thanks to a thrilling weekend of basketball, a sport I care nothing about that becomes high drama thanks to way their season's end is constructed. Point being: these games just look interesting, dammit.)
1. September 3: Boise State at UGA. With an undefeated season and a freeze out from the big bowl games, the message to Dan Hawkins and Boise was simple enough: fuck off until you get a big fish on the hook. Enter UGA, looking to solidify their BCS strength of schedule, and you have an inspired matchup for both schools. UGA gets a chance to bolster their rep without risking too much-it's not like they invited So Cal-and Boise gets a shot at the big fish they need to emerge from the hinterlands of the WAC onto the national scene. Dan Hawkins is 40-6 since taking over, including an undefeated regular season last year before losing a shootout to the other premier offense in the country, Louisville. Boise has a chance to put a sizeable nail in the coffin of college football convention on September 3 with a game between the hedges. UGA just lost one of their starting RBs, graduated their all-timers in Davids Greene and Pollack, and lost their mad dog defensive coordinator to the NFL. Their offense has trouble getting six in the redzone in the best of conditions, and new starter D.J. Shockley has a knack for putting the ball in the wrong place at the wrong time in big games. Even though Dan Hawkins looks like a large, angry fetus most of the time, he could be smiling in Athens if UGA doesn't come out of tunnel ready to play.
2. September 17: Alabama at South Carolina. We have already mentioned this one, but we think it bears repeating for a number of reasons, not the least of which we think is this: this will be the beginning of the end for Mike Shula and the first big win for Spurrier at South Carolina. There are a slew of games this year that could be interesting for Carolina-Spurrier at Florida? Or versus his old bete noire, Phil Fulmer?-but we pick this one for the far-reaching effects the outcome of the game will have for both teams. If Bama wins, Shula will get another year on the job, provided they fill out the rest of the schedule respectably. If they lose, Shula will be run out on a rail, literally, just like the guy in the final scene of O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Spurrier will either come out of this with a victory and inflate expectations going into a likely loss at Auburn, or lose and go into a likely loss at Auburn with lowered expectations. Either way we think Spurrier comes out the better for it. Poor Mikey can't win either way with the lynch mob waiting at home for him in Tuscaloosa. Then again, we can't feel that much pity for Shula, since he's had to overcome so much in life to get where he is...especially that whole, "last name is Shula" thing he's got going on there.
Mike Shula: Could have Cock Trouble in September.
3. September 17: Tennessee at Florida. September 17th, by the way, will be a very busy day in the SEC, as well as a banner day for the fried chicken and liquor industry. Oh, we may have picked this one for sentimental reasons, since after the UT-UF game someone always ends up drunk and crying on the floor, holding their ass and calling out to God "Why, why?" in a tear-choked scream. But enough about our childhoods: this game is a real nut breaker for either team. For Florida, this is the litmus test for year one of Urban Renewal: will the Gators be able to shake off the miasma of the Zook years and play the kind of disciplined ball Meyer demands from his teams, or will the ghost of Mr. Positivity hang around for another stultifying performance against their true rival? Our guess is that the cobwebs will hang around for a bit longer, with Meyer doing everything shy of physically assaulting players after the loss to reshape the program in his own image. That might very well include a change at qb if the loss is bad enough. For UT, a loss here would be much, much worse, though. Expectations, the great executioner of coaches and programs alike, are brimming in Knoxville. By law this means at one point UT is due for a letdown, which is just as likely in the Swamp as anywhere else (although we've picked UT's more likely letdown a bit further down the page.) Eric Ainge throws picks under pressure, and it will cost them one game this season, either at Notre Dame or at Florida. A loss and UT's season is shot/shit/shat. A loss for UF means Urban Meyer makes his players toss boulders in practice and fight unmuzzled bears for a starting spot. Either way, this is going to be a fight like The Story of Rikki-Oh, with the winner choking the loser to death with their own intestines.
4. September 24: Iowa at Ohio State. Speaking of choking people with their own innards, this one could be very similar in character: two teams with their eyes on conference supremacy who play brutal, plodding, and calculating Big Ten ball. Last year Iowa did bad things to Ohio State on the road, pounding them 33-7. This year it's in the Horseshoe, important because Iowa hasn't been all that great on the road, and also because the home crowd will be screaming bloody murder in between Ohio State's offensive drives, which will take longer than Warhol's experimental movies of people sleeping and clouds moving. This one won't be fun, per se: lots of punting, lots of grinding drives, less similar to a kung fu exposition than a UFC fight between two grapplers. In the end, we predict the Evil Sweater Vest will prevail, pounding the Hawkeyes' face against the chain link until the ref calls the fight. It won't be pretty, but that's Tresselball at home for you.
The Iowa-OSU game will probably feel a lot like this.
5. October 1: Kansas State at Oklahoma. Oklahoma's debut in the post-Jason White era, which will be fine since White had no knees and never came through for the Sooners after November.(Really, think about it: it's amazing the Sooners have done as well as they've done. Their QB had good intentions holding his legs together and they made it to the national championship two years in a row. Larry Coker's had all the talent in the world at the position and still can't pick a starter, much less a Heisman winner.) Kansas State has a special kind of voodoo for the Sooners, most likely because Bill Snyder, when he's not holed up feeling grumpy in a dark room in Manhattan, knows the holes in Bob Stoops' defensive schemes better than anyone. The Sooners should be able to run their way out of this one with Adrian Peterson, but don't discount the mercurial Wildcats. They have a way of pissing in a team's Cheerios, a la the Big 12 championship game 2 years ago. Also a test for whomever the Sooners pick at qb...
6. October 9: Cal at USC. Though we've professed a complete lack of concern for West Coast football, we do pay attention to a few games strictly for principle's sake.(I know, we're humanitarian like that; someone has to do it.) This one has transcended that academic interest, though: both times we've watched this one in the Tedford/Carroll era a great game broke out, both times with Cal losing narrowly despite running all over the vaunted USC defense and doing everything teams aren't supposed to be capable of versus the Trojans. Tedford is breaking in a new qb, but never mind the formalities: Tedford does that mind-meld thing with qbs few other coaches can do, turning raw talent into efficient, aggressive performance on the field. The other coaches working who can do that? Spurrier and Norm Chow who, by the way, just left USC to coach with the Tennessee Titans. Tedford has something figured out about USC, and we're wagering-strictly in a figurative way, of course-that this is the year it shows up in the win column. If USC wins again, though, it faces a weak Pac-10 schedule and a home game against rebuilding Notre Dame before finding its third straight slot in the national championship. The X-factor is Matt Leinart, who will show the nation whether he's just the physical extension of Norm Chow's brain or a truly great college qb in this game.
7. October 29: Maryland at FSU. It's a struggle to find a key game in the muddled ACC. Yep, it's stronger for the addition of Miami and Va. Tech, but without-you guessed it-a playoff system, the ACC will continue to burn itself down before the bowl season without the benefits entailed in a tougher schedule. We settled for Maryland-FSU for a few reasons. First, the ongoing trial of Jeff Bowden will find a key piece of evidence introduced here, particularly in contrast to the masterful Ralph Friedgen and his thousand variations on the option. It's not just that you can't predict Friedgen; even if you get him right on pass/run, there's no telling which variation you're going to get. And that's before goes in at the half and makes adjustments, which are some of the best you'll see in the college game. On the opposite sideline, Bowden's offense has tanked, and not just thanks to the periodic schizophrenia that was Chris Rix. (Always thought he looked like the mutant love child of Eric Estrada and Ricky Martin, by the way. It was the teeth, really...) Conspiracy theorists see Jeff Bowden as the anchor that will drag FSU into the late stage of single coach dominance, much like what Penn State's going through with JoePa right now. A loss here would solidify that theory in a very nasty way. It is in Tallahassee, though, so FSU's continued defensive brilliance and all those rednecks cheering a fake Indian chant for three hours might be enough to frustrate the Terps into a loss. It's killed better teams before. Then again, FSU lost their last game to Ron Zook, which means they can lose to anyone, anytime now. That is decline, people.
Attention FSU fans: You lost to this guy. At home. Sound the alarm.
8. November 5: Tennessee at Notre Dame. How can you satisfy two thinly veiled personal agendas with a single blow? How about by predicting the first major win of the Charlie Weis era over Tennessee, thus throwing a bone to the ND hopeful (who we feel deep sympathy for) and hating on the Volunteers and their coach, who we've disliked ever since they intimidated a whistle blowing professor off the faculty and offered a scholarship to Jason Respert, a guy who pled to simple battery and trespassing after groping a woman in her bedroom during a recruiting trip to Gainesville? Oh, and after I was spit on at UT games? We're happy to do it. ND fans dream about trouncing USC in LA, but we sometimes dream about driving a Maybach through the streets of Prague with a valise full of confidential documents and cash in multiple currencies. Neither's happening anytime soon. But the Volunteers at home? When they'll likely be undefeated coming into the Notre Dame game? Oh, very doable, especially given ND's sound defensive talent, the home crowd, oooh, and tons of spooky, gloomy Midwestern Catholic mystique. Given that and the coaching advantage-always go with the smarter coach, and I would bet my left kidney that Charlie Weis is a smarter coach than Phil Fulmer-and this is a very, very dangerous game for UT. The danger for UT only heightens with our Dan Brown theory that Notre Dame is one of the homes of the Vatican's secret underground clone factories, and that all this football business is just a business cover. They'd only be in danger if they were smart enough to figure it out, of course, which Phil Fulmer and his coaching staff are in no danger of doing. If you see Robert Landgon and his Harris Tweed on the UT sidelines, though, run for the exits and call the Illuminati.
9. November 25: Tezas at Texas A&M. We have to respect both schools here. Texas has the greatest mascot in college sport, Bevo, an animal that weighs nearly a ton and doesn't do much but eat, shit, and occasionally bellow lazily in between being led around by the nose. For those services it isn't slaughtered and is pampered, fed, and beloved by thousands. In other words, we're a little jealous of Bevo, actually; if he gets to mate every now and then, we'll say he's got the best job in the nation. Like their mascot, Longhorn fans are pretty genial, too, drinking a lot, not crapping themselves over Mack Brown's grandmotherly playcalling and periodic inexplicable losses (see Arkansas 2003 for the textbook example of both the "Mack Brown Inexplicable Loss" and the "Houston Nutt Inexplicable Victory" theories, which we're hoping to tie together in some kind of "Grand Unified Theory of Coaches of Former SWC Teams. We're working on the math as we speak.)
On the other hand, A and M fans lead a dark, burdened, and tortured existence. It's like they're the Doozers to UT's Fraggles: they build stuff, they have no fun, and in the end the Fraggles come along and trash their work without remorse. The Fraggles even get top billing, just like UT and A and M. When you're whole fight song is about hating UT, you know you need some collective therapy. The chanting in unison and bonfires just creep us out a little further, actually-hellooo, anyone seen Triumph of the Will in College Station? Anyone?
This represents year three of the Franchione era, the year when his teams have traditionally come into form. The Doozers have a lot to hope for, and not just because of the charismatic Reggie McNeal and the Aggie offense. Mack Brown should offer just as much hope to Aggie fans, since this will likely be the year when UT gets over Oklahoma and cruises into the A&M game undefeated. When will the old Mack Brown surface? We imagine it will happen here, with unimaginative play-calling and galling conservatism downing the Longhorns in front of the crazed screaming of the Home of the 12th man. Oh, and since it's Franchione, there will be a fake punt. It's just what he does.
Bevo: living the dream.
10. Nov. 26: Arizona State at Arizona. The only other Pac-10 game that catches our eye, mostly because of the surprise factor either team could become. Mike Stoops got the Wildcats up by the last few games of the season last year, which constituted a Herculean feat for a program ravaged by the "military discipline" of John Mackovic-something we can only take to mean "total dickheadedness" in a football context, since a third of the team quit on him midseason and left Arizona in no-man's land for 2003. They should continue that this season, if only because a Mike Stoops team will be one of only two or three teams in the Pac-10 playing any defense at all. ASU, already picked in this site as a boom or bust team of 2005, has gotten off to an auspicious start already this year: their backup rb shot someone in the face outside a nightclub and has been arrested for suspicion of murder. The game could be very interesting since, by the time it happens, Dirk Koetter will either have rallied the troops and put together a pretty good season going into the biggest game on their schedule, or will be throwing the ball sixty yards downfield every other play in a desperate attempt to save his job. It should be fun to watch in either case.