By week five the first serious guesses at conference pecking orders and long-term prospects for the season roll in just in time to get crushed, reformulated, and then proven wrong again in week six. A few teams will already have received the death ray treatment by fate at this point, having been reduced to cinders by a sudden, tragicomic loss that should have never happened; a few charlatans will ride 4-0s into matchups buffeted by easy schedules and irrational exuberance. After a lackluster week four, week five marks the point at which Darwinian law kicks in and starts bumping the less evolved creatures in college football into the dustbin. This is when you begin to discover if your team is a hardy street pigeon or doomed dodo of a squad.
You'll begin to know by week five.
Friday, Sept. 29th:
The Jersey Versus the Jersey Diaspora Game: Rutgers vs. USF
Fuck yeah! USF's in a weird spot, program-wise: it went from being the wiz kid n00b on the block in the Sunshine State to entering what is undoubtedly its adolescent phase as a program, ceding the new kid spot to the FIU and Florida Atlantic. Like most adolescents, USF can be alternately brilliant (last year's freak implosion of Louisville) or horrendously inconsistent (a 15-10 loss to UConn, for example.) RB Andre Hall is gone, so the offense will hinge on the continued development of Pat Julmiste, the jack of all trades who's just versatile enough to turn USF's offense into a run-based but still unpredictable melange of formations and schemes.
Rutgers ebbs closer and closer to respectability, so much so that one day in the forseeable future, you may see a preview of one of their games with nary a Sopranos reference to be seen. For the moment we'll simply state that their offense is a veteran group with Mike Teel, a VHT of the yet-unfulfilled-potential type, taking over at qb after the most successful offensive year in the school's history. The defense lost much to graduation, so Rutgers may have to rely more on scoring than they ever have before. Beating USF--who stifled good offenses all year last year and held Miami to 27--will be a game of steady hammering rather than long bombs.
Saturday, Sept 30th:
The Please Oh God Sweet Bloody Vengeance FLAMES! Game of the Week: Alabama at Florida. Losses come in different sizes. Some don't fit at all--the 2002 loss to LSU in the Swamp, for example. It seemed so disproportionate to what was happening on the field, a size too large for the nibbles, fake punts, and dribbling fumbles unfolding in front of us. Some seem too small, like Florida's loss to Nebraska in 1996, where the score, bad as it was, still didn't reflect the unholy demon asswhipping we'd just been handed.
It looked exactly as bad as it was.
And some losses just fit. 31-3 in Tuscaloosa? Just about right, even mathematically. Alabama looked exactly ten times better than Florida in every phase of the game. Only the "Leg Heard Round the World" injury to Prothro darkened what was otherwise a crystalline moment of perfection for Alabama. Unless under the influence of the most dire fan delirium or prescription medication, not a single Florida fan left the stadium thinking we were the better team.
Now Alabama's devoid of speed at wideout, banged to scrap on the o-line, and replacing seven starters on the defense. They're also breaking in a new starter at qb. In the Swamp.
We're struggling to describe how bad a beating would avenge the proper beatdown 'Bama gave us just last year. Yet it gets worse when you figure the streak of three losses to the Crimson Tide, dating all the way back to the Shaun Alexander "Superman" game in the Swamp. We present a list of things that would come close to avenging the three in a single game--not actual events, but a combination of images, phrases, and themes we'd combine into a single horrible maelstrom of football carnage:
1. Chuck Norris.
2. When Animals Attack.
3. Concussion Island
4. "I'll kill you last"
5. The music of Slayer
6. Beating John Parker Wilson like he was Peyton Manning.
7. Chong Li in Bloodsport
8. Mongols burning a city to the ground.
9. Alabama fans openly weeping not from embarrassment, but from pain.
Flames. Sorrow. Yes, that would be nice.
That said, this seems like a born 27-17 game if one ever existed. Hopefully we'll be the 27.
Subversive Pac 10 Curveball Game: Oregon at Arizona State.
Will Oregon still be rotating quarterbacks at this point?
Is Mike Bellotti that much of a masochist? Or is his offensive coordinator Gary Crowton just that much of a compulsive tinkerer with his offenses? And does he realize that Ryan Leaf plays for him? Or at least a significant portion of the same genes making up Ryan Leaf in the form of his brother?
We really don't want to make this writeup a typical "yo, looks at the mad scorin' Pac-10" post. But with Arizona State coming off a likely loss to Cal and Oregon coming off a breezy game with Stanford, both teams will likely be in prime scoring mode against two...permissive defenses, right? Nope. This game usually ends up being a rather professional looking affair with a professional sounding NFL caliber score. They've split this game the past two years, with Oregon running shamelessly all over the Sun Devils last year for a 31-17 victory.
What promises to be a shootout will likely be decided--by all things!--defense. Watch, but only if you would like to be very confused about your basic assumptions of the college football world, which we're all too happy to be.
The Larded People's Brisket Game: Kansas at Nebraska. Fearless Leader Callahan's lowest moment of his Glorious People's Struggle for Supremacy came last year in a 40-15 basting, broiling, and tasty flambe at the hands of the Kansas Jayhawks. This game would be a nice clean-up job for Callahan if Kansas didn't possess one of the Big 12's most covert squads of excellent defenders and the ever-improving offense. Kansas hasn't crossed the frontier from headkickee to headkicker, but 40-15 doesn't happen if there's something your team does that another team somehow can't handle. A lurker for undervalued game of the day.
A big problem for Callahan.
The Social Security Game (first one to 65 wins!): Sam Houston State at Texas
Sam Houston's pulling this one out. If we're right, we're the only people who called it. If not, we're joking. How's this: someone's scoring 60...we're just not saying who.
The Yet Another Caption About How Little We Trust Reggie Ball Under Center Game: Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech just named Sean Glennon as starter. If he does everything we expect from Virginia Tech QBs, he'll hand off forty times, roll out and pass on the run 6-8 times, and attempt some extremely tame, safe drop back pases on short routes 10-12 times.
Georgia Tech has Reggie Ball at quarterback. If he does everything we expect from him, he'll pass thirty times, complete less than fifty percent of his passes, throw two picks with catastrophic timing and placement, and run for no gain ten times.
Bonus note: we'll continue to wager, as we'll do with any other GT game of significance, that if Tech somehow beats Notre Dame that they will lose this one. The idea of them pulling out two big wins in a season under Chan Gailey is a mathematical impossibility.
The Don't Mess With Moobs Game: Texas Tech at TAMU.
Worth watching not only for the flag football game that will break out in Texas Tech's favor in the third quarter, but it will be the first game since this happened:
Now Texas Tech had a 39-point lead over A.&M. and the ball and was moving forward as rapidly as ever. To minimize its humiliation, the A.&M. offense had been running plays meant to use up time and get the team out of Lubbock. The governor of Texas slipped away early and was on his way back to Austin. The guys dressed up as soldiers in the Aggie end zone had run out of military drills to perform. Up in the sky boxes, the wife of an Aggie assistant coach insulted every female Red Raider in earshot by saying that at least she lived in College Station instead of Lubbock. ("First of all, we just beat them, 56-17," Leach says when told of the incident. "By rights she should now be a Red Raider slave.") For everyone but Mike Leach, the game was over, but he jumped onto the field and called a timeout. The referees did not notice: they were too busy throwing yellow flags at the extra Texas Tech players who had tried to get into the game. Tech was penalized, and in the subsequent confusion, Leach let the clock run out. "There was 23 seconds on the clock," he told me later. "That's more than enough time. I think we all had a level of disappointment we didn't score one more touchdown."
Yarr, Sir. Yarrr indeed. Watch just to see if Coach Fran doesn't attack Mike Leach at the concluding handshake.
Skullknuckle,TN Game Of the Week:Ohio State at Iowa
The Skullknuckle Game of the Week for a reason: these two teams will knock each other's eyebrows off before the bell sounds. Why does an Iowa victory suddenly feel like biblical truth as we type this? Because of OSU's defeat on the road in a similar environment against Penn State last year? Or because Drew Tate's blood runs somewhere in the constant temperature range of the 50s, even when he's down by thirty points? (That would explain his strange habit of sunning himself on his driveway, at least.)
Of all the games that could puncture OSU's preseason bubble, this one sticks out, most notably because Iowa usually provides Ohio State with all it can handle and occasionally more.