We present our viewing guide to week one of the season, which you'll take and like no matter how bad it is.
The "Starving Man Receives a Box of Raisins" Game: Tulsa versus UL-Monroe, 8/30/07, 7 p.m., ESPN2 Technically, the first toes to touch turf in official college action this year will be those of Tulsa and UL-Monroe. These teams, in case you are not familiar with the game of college football, are simply the two best teams in college football, perennial powerhouses steeped in tradition. That's why they put it first!
How this happens each year is something we can only attribute to the necessarily anarchic world of college football scheduling, which functions a lot like the primary system in American politics or orifice slotting at an orgy. ("Hey, no cutting!")
Tulsa, at least, does not enter the game without its own charms and intrigues.
Seeing if Todd Graham will actually coach three quarters before seizing the opportunity to coach at another school is one, since he ditched Rice just days after signing a contract extension to take the Tulsa job, vacated by Steve Kragthorpe for the Louisville job. We say he takes a gig to coach the Nashville Kats halfway into the fourth quarter.
Another storyline is the return of Gus Malzahn, alleged no-huddle spread master who fled Arkansas for Tulsa following the reduction of his role as offensive coordinator and the benching of his prize prospect, Mitch Mustain, at qb. The no-huddle should pass, like, 50 times on last year's 6th place Sun Belt Conference holders the University of Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks. If you wanted quantity over quality, then the season kicks off with a bang for you, glutton: the game should last four hours plus thanks to clock stoppage.
The Sylvester Croom Put Babies on Pikes In a Past Life Game: LSU vs. Mississippi State, 8:00 p.m., ESPN 8/30/07. Like most games of chess, mainline, big-conference college football has begun with the same move for the past three years: a pawn is moved to the middle of the chess board and willingly sacrificed to start the real game. And again, this year that pawn is Sylvester Croom and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who as a secret part of their deal to atone for Jackie Sherrill's sins with the NCAA now open each college season by getting waxed at home by another SEC team for the bemusement of desperate football fans binging for a fix--anything, anything at all, up to and including three and a half hours of watching Croom's offense run, bootleg, and fumble their way toward the climax of a wobbly thirty-five yard punt.
It's the football equivalent of watching a man hack his way out of a sandtrap after six drinks, and nowhere near as entertaining. The highlight of last year's overgrown rugby match with South Carolina was watching Michael Henig bust up his shoulder on a hellacious hit from a Gamecock defender. This year, Mississippi State faces LSU, a team popping at the seams with talent and installing a new offense, meaning the game could be close off a few turnovers until exactly 9:00 into the first quarter. Mississippi State, however, will not score in the first half. It's simply not done.
At least Mississippi State fans have realistic expectations of their football fates.
We don't know what shitpail of bad karma Croom's carrying around from a past life, but this annual blood sacrifice to the football gods is one of the most goading penalties for his vagabond warrior life of centuries past. In Benin, you'd kill a chicken and bury it under your doorstep to get rid of this kind of curse.
The "Warning: Possible Football Content Included" Game: Utah @ Oregon State 10:00 p.m. FSN Regional. If you get it, the plus belle matchup of opening night is this one, if only because it will feature actual scoring, a measure of competition, and all of the quack-wackery you'd expect from a Mountain West team meeting a middling, offense-first Pac-10 team in the first game of the season. Brian Johnson returns from a year fronting AC/DC to qb the Utes offense, which maintains strong elements of the Meyer spread while passing with the friskiness you expect from a MWC team.
Oregon State should, in theory, roll. They became the nation's most undercover ten-win team last year with a 39-38 victory over Missouri (again--why, oh why does anyone trust Gary Pinkel?) and return a mess of starters (15 total) They do, however, have a dogged habit of making early season games of logical predicated dominance very, very difficult for themselves: the past three years with Boise State and the 2004 game with LSU come to mind, especially the LSU game where Alex Serna missed three extra points in an eventual 22-21 overtime loss.
Oregon State also replaces one particularly important starter: the quarterback. Sean Canfield's an experienced sophomore, though, which is about as reassuring as someone telling you they're a novice brain surgeon just before they tighten the screws on your skull and put you under. The Beavers' number one offensive threat, wideout Sammie Stroughter, is still MIA on "personal business," though he did appear at Beavers' practice the other day.
Defense could end up being the order of the day with a rusty returning qb for Utah, a stout run game for OSU, and the Beaver's returning much of a unit that ranked third in the nation for sacks. Plus you can warm up your giggle box each time the announcers say something like "The Utes are really pounding the Beavers right now. I mean, just putting it wherever and however they want it."