Living in Interesting Times

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It's nearly time to start the party!

 

     War Eagle, everybody! I thought it might never arrive, but the start of college football is once again upon us. The opening week of college football awaits, starting with a sprinkling of games tonight. I believe most fans are ready to cast off the histrionics of the off-season, and enjoy the crack of pads and the roar of the crowds. The old Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times," certainly applies in the SEC this season.

 

     Frankly, both Auburn and the league in general have nowhere to go but down. The Auburn Tigers might be the most lightly regarded defending national champion ever. A streak of five straight national championships for the SEC is on the line starting this week. There three easily losable games on the schedule Saturday, and a couple more possible upsets in the offing. I think the national media would love to see the SEC take some lumps to open the season. It has become clear that other conferences are using realignment to secure huge television contracts. The SEC television package secured just a few years was the biggest in history at that time, but now it's starting to look skimpy compared to what the PAC-12 and the B1G have put together for themselves. Esteemed blogger Jerry Hinnen takes a critical look at the "below market value" SEC TV package over at CBS Sports. Finally, the SEC appears ready to welcome Texas A&M into the league, in one of the most shocking stories in college football history. The Texas – Texas A&M divorce makes Bear Bryant and Bobby Dodd's feud in the 1960s look penny-ante.

 

     Let's table the business, and talk football! Of most interest to Tiger fans of tonight's games will be Mississippi State taking on Memphis at the Liberty Bowl. Auburn plays the Bulldogs next week, and it will be a good opportunity to see what sort of team they'll have. The game is at 7:00 PM on Fox Sports South. The Bulldogs should have little trouble with Memphis, who finished dead last in Conference USA, and 1-11 overall last season. Memphis was beaten by an average score of 40-14 over the course of the season. Still, we'll get to see if MSU drops balls, turns the ball over, and picks up silly penalties.

 

     Also on tap tonight is Western Kentucky at Kentucky. That one is on ESPN-U at 8:15 central time. It's another tilt against a Conference USA  Sun Belt bottom feeder, and the Wildcats should have little trouble with the Hilltoppers, who finished last season 2-10.

 

     In the SEC Saturday, Auburn starts the schedule with Utah State at 11:00 AM on ESPN-2. Many think the Tigers will struggle this season, starting with the Aggies, who took Oklahoma to the wire last season before losing 31-24. It's just more misplaced venom towards the Tigers. Utah State will be breaking in a quarterback platoon, rotating a JUCO transfer and a freshman who've never played a college snap. They'll be headed into an early game in tropical conditions with a raucous crowd on hand. Worse yet, they'll run into a buzz saw of talented young football players eager to prove themselves. The Aggies will pick up a good paycheck, and hope to survive with no starters injured.

 

     At 11:15 PM, Alabama dips into the MAC to host Kent State, who finished 4-4 in the league and 5-7 overall. The game is on The SEC Network, and we'll get our first glimpse of the Tide's quarterback situation post-McElroy. The Tide should roll.

 

     The first real test for the SEC comes at 3:45 PM on ESPN. Ole Miss hosts Brigham Young. We'll find out if coach Houston Nutt has repaired the porous Rebel Bear secondary. If Jacksonville State can score 40+ points on Ole Miss in the opener, how much damage can BYU do? The Cougars started slow last season, but went on a tear down the stretch. BYU averaged 39.6 points per game over their last 6 games, including a 52-24 win over Mike Price's UTEP team in the New Mexico Bowl. It's Brigham Young's first game as an independent, and they'll want to look good, as they seem to be shopping themselves to the PAC-12 and the disintegrating Big-12.

 

     Montana travels to Neyland Stadium at 5:00 PM central time to take on the Tennessee Vols. This should be just a practice scrimmage for the Vols.

 

     At 6:00 PM on Fox Sports South, another upset special awaits when East Carolina visits South Carolina. Folks expect big things out of the Gamecocks this season, but the Gamecocks have yet to even decide upon a starting quarterback. Steve Spurrier's Gamecock teams have been known to struggle in openers. ECU, one of Conference USA's better teams, would love to spring the big upset.

 

     Also at 6:00 PM, Missouri State travels to Arkansas on pay per view. This game will be as ugly as coach Bobby Petrino cares to make it.

 

     Florida takes on Florida Atlantic at 6:00 PM, in Howard Schnellenberger's farewell tour. That game is on ESPN-U. Florida will unveil new schemes under rookie head coach Will Muschamp. Auburn plays both teams later in the year, so this one might be interesting to watch.

 

     Vanderbilt dips down to the FCS to take on Elon at 6:30 PM, on CSS. Elon started slow last season, but finished strong in the Southern Conference. They beat Chattanooga, the Citadel, Furman and Western Carolina down the stretch. Given how woeful the Commodores have been the last two seasons, another embarrassing loss is possible here.

 

     The big games start at 7:00 PM. On ESPN, Georgia plays Boise State in the Georgia Dome. All mid-major eyes will be on this matchup, as perennial BCS-buster Boise takes on the Bulldogs. Some folks believe that the Bulldogs will quiet once and for all talk of non-AQ teams having a chance to play for the national title. I think Mark Richt/Todd Grantham's defense had better be ready. Boise is a matchup nightmare to prepare for. It's an offense that burns folks who can't play disciplined coverage and maintain good gap control. The Broncos also have a solid defense, and given Georgia's precarious offensive personnel situation, I think Boise has a good chance in this one.

 

     Also at 7:00 PM, defending PAC-10 champion Oregon takes on LSU in death valley Jerry Jones' Death Star in Arlington Texas on ABC. This is a pair of good teams who've stumbled though an off-season minefield courtesy of agent woes and embarrassing arrests. Oregon is minus a starting DB who told a police officer "we smoked all the weed," and LSU is missing their starting quarterback who was arrested after a bar brawl. Both head coaches are known for making wacky gametime decisions. This could be a wild one.

 

     There you have it. This certainly may be the most entertaining opening SEC weekend in some time. At the end of it, one might see Ole Miss, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Georgia and LSU as losers. It's highly unlikely for all of that to unfold, but I think the SEC can count on at least two losses this weekend. Should the league emerge unscathed, I can imagine a lot of crowing in offices around the southeast Monday morning! In any event, college football is back! It's the greatest time of the year!

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