Today is the day that has been circled on so many of our calendars. When South Carolina and NC State kickoff tonight, the 2009 college football season will officially arrive.
Recent history says that it will be a wild ride for the next four months. Parity reigns supreme, as small market teams aren't afraid of traditional powerhouses anymore. Everyone has a shot at glory.
Obviously, I'm an Auburn fan. But above that, I'm a college football fan.
A fan who has opinions and loves the sport as much as anyone. So I want to cover the national landscape on a broad scale, and the Auburn landscape on a closer, more specific scale.
Each Thursday, I'll provide a list of five things for Auburn fans to watch for in the upcoming game. Things that I feel will determine the outcome. Then, I'll provide a look at the top five storylines or games around the country that are worth any college football fan's attention.
On Sundays, I'll have a recap article talking about Saturday's Auburn game, in addition to the other big time stories in college football. I would love for anyone reading this to check back and comment whenever possible.
Please comment, debate, and discuss what I say and what others say. That's what makes this sport great. Keep it clean; keep it classy. But always share your opinion. Now to this weekend:
Things To Watch For: Auburn vs. Louisiana Tech
1. Know Your Opponent
Auburn fans need to understand the danger in this season opener. Louisiana Tech is a team that won eight games (including a bowl game) last year, including a victory in Starkville, and returns nine starters to an offense that averaged almost 200 rushing yards per game in 2008. They will not be intimidated walking into Jordan Hare Stadium.
I have no doubts that the coaches and players understand this. But I do worry about fans not understanding how good Louisiana Tech is. It's a game Auburn should win.
But don't think for a minute that it's one you can show up to and win because of the name on the front of your jersey.
2. Auburn's Running Game
Gus Malzahn insists he wants to run the ball. History backs that claim up. With running back being the most reliable position on offense, expect to see heavy doses of Ben Tate, Mario Fannin, and Onterio McCalebb.
How successful that running game is will tell a lot in this game. It will take the pressure off Chris Todd and the defense. It will allow the offensive line to get back to what they have all admitted they prefer. If Auburn doesn't run the ball more than they pass it, that's not a good sign for the final score.
3. Who Plays at Linebacker
Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes will start and play a great deal. After that, the position of linebacker is mostly unknown. If Eltoro Freeman is healthy, he will start opposite Stevens. Behind those three, walk-on Wade Christopher and inexperienced players, like Adam Herring and Spencer Pybus, will all find the field if healthy. Freshmen Harris Gaston and Jonathan Evans might even get in the action.
Almost all of those players have been injured at some point this summer. And because of Chizik's preference not to talk about injuries, we know very little about the status of quite a few of those guys.
Look for who plays and who doesn't, and what that means for the next few weeks.
Even at other positions, there's a lot of questions to be answered about who is available to play at game speed. Be watching for who plays and who is not. And be praying that Auburn can make it through the first game without any severe injuries to starters.
5. An Attitude
Do Auburn's players believe last year was a fluke caused by bad attitudes and conflict among coaches and philosophies?
How the team comes out of the tunnel and the way they play in the first quarter will answer a lot of questions that I have about the season.
This team, especially the defense, needs to play with a swagger; an attitude that they're going to turn things around. I would imagine the returning players are going to be incredibly excited to get back on the field with a clean slate. Hopefully, that energy spills over to the newcomers and the fans, creating a great opening day atmosphere.
Things To Watch around the Country
1. Thursday Night Showdowns
The first night of college football provides two huge games for this early in the season. Both South Carolina and NC State would benefit greatly from a nationally televised win before heading into seasons where they're both expected to improve.
Oregon and Boise State are both in the top 20. Oregon is the toughest test standing in the way of another 12-0 Boise State regular season. Oregon could make a huge splash by winning on the blue turf, a feat that is rarely accomplished.
2. Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
How important is this game? Just look at Alabama and Clemson's records after week one.
Virginia Tech is the only legitimate title contender from the ACC, and absolutely needs this one for their own goals and to provide some legitimacy to the top tier of their conference.
Alabama is out to put back-to-back, 10-win seasons for the first time in a long time. A loss in Week One would be a huge setback.
Will Virginia Tech be able to have any offensive success against what should be a dominant Alabama defense? Will Virginia Tech score on special teams and/or defense? Those are my keys.
3. Georgia @ Oklahoma State
A huge stage for the Cowboys in Stillwater. Are they a legitimate contender in the Big 12 south?
They get a chance to prove that they are against a Georgia team with talent. But they're breaking in a lot of new key pieces, especially on offense. Can Georgia regain a defensive swagger and keep the score somewhat moderate with OK State? A shootout wouldn't be good news for the Bulldogs.
There will be a team that completely overlooks their opponent and loses, causing a huge blow to their season. I have no idea who it will be. But watch the scores wherever you are on Saturday. Keep up with those games that are too close for comfort for their favorites. That's where the greatness of college football lies.
5. Swing Games
There are a few games this weekend that will send the two teams in completely opposite directions. One team gets shot towards a great season, one falls miserably short of expectations.
A few games that fit in this category are Miami @ Florida State, South Carolina @ NC State, and possibly even BYU @ Oklahoma. All these teams need a big opening day win to get where they want to go. They will play in a physical, emotional way, making for some good television.
Like I said earlier, I hope you'll check out this bi-weekly "blog." Feel free to comment, second-guess, or ask a question. I hope you all are as excited as I am for this 2009 football season. It should be a great one! War Eagle!
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