It’s Week 2. Already, the plot thickens.
No. 6 Stanford at Duke – Saturday September 10
This could be a gentlemen’s contest between two of the country’s finest institutions of higher learning, but boys will be boys. They’re going to slap each other around.
One team plays a competitive schedule, is picked to finish favorably in its conference, and has an offense essentially intact with its star quarterback returning.
The other team is Stanford. Advantage: Stanford
Missouri at Arizona State – Friday September 9
This game between two Teams of Intrigue involves a pair flying under its conference’s radar, but are able to inflict some damage. Arizona State, with Southern Cal out of the running, is picked by many to win the otherwise weak Pac 12 South division. Missouri is projected to be a Big 12 mid-packer, largely due to the nearly impossible conference road schedule with Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Baylor.
The Tigers have four starting offensive linemen back to protect brand new sophomore quarterback James Franklin as he throws to all five returning ball handlers. The Sun Devils happily welcome back all five linemen required to bring oft-injured 6-8 athlete signal-caller Brock Osweiler back to speed.
With that much firepower, Missouri and Arizona State may turn in an entertaining game. Mizzou, however, has the offense intact that tallied a healthy plus 11 takeaway margin in 2010. That could be too much for the home team to handle. Advantage: Missouri
On Deck Notre Dame at Michigan – Saturday night September 10
Nearly 110,000 football fans will experience The Big House under lights for the first time in history, not considering of course last weekend’s lightning.
The University of Michigan rid themselves of head coach Rich Rodriguez, a Michigan Man’s more tolerable alter ego, and picked up Brady Hoke, yet another head football coach who is not an alumnus. This time it’s different, it has been said.
The Wolverines have not put together four quarters of football this season. Neither has the Irish. The irony is that the 2011 editions of these two schools with undoubtedly the best programs in the history of the college game have much to overcome, maybe too much.
Michigan welcomes back 16 starters to Ann Arbor, 9 on offense, but they’re Rich Rod’s starters and therefore have to learn different sets. Notre Dame returns 17, but they’re the ones who last weekend suffered five South Florida takeaways.
All mores, folkways, and unspoken customs to which alumni of Michigan and Notre Dame proudly adhere are this season out the window. Last weekend, the Fighting Irish lost a football game in South Bend to a school that first opened its doors the same year Paul Hourning won the Heisman Trophy.
You can wake up all the echoes and fill the stadium shoulder-to-shoulder with Michigan Men and it still won’t be like it was. Advantage: Notre Dame in a tight game between mistake-prone teams and their red-faced coaches.
No. 18 South Carolina at On Deck Georgia – Saturday September 10
Barring any comments or threats by anyone from Gainesville, Florida, and its surrounding metropolis, South Carolina at Georgia could be the Southeastern Conference East Division championship game.
The Gamecocks have a superb rush game returning. Tailback Marcus Lattimore runs behind an offensive line with three starters and a unit with a lot of total starts among the two-deep. And, head coach Steve Spurrier’s quarterback punishment fortunately failed just in time to beat East Carolina in Charlotte.
Spurrier has to ignore the wife of the athletic director and play quarterback Stephen Garcia. If there ever is a place the South Carolina offense positively needs to get some momentum, it’s between the hedges. Georgia head coach Mark Richt has a load of experience in the secondary, with returning bookend defensive ends Abry Jones and DeAngelo Tyson, both 290 plus, bringing it off the edges in a 3-4 scheme.
Think again about the beer-swilling, mooning Garcia. This is SEC football. It’s not nice out there. We all can’t be like the Mannings. If you have a bad boy quarterback with swashbuckling moxie, put him in the pistol formation and give him the ball.
With a fresh-faced offense led by young, talented, well-mannered sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray, Richt has to hope his defense can keep the score low until the attack gets some oil. Advantage: South Carolina with Lattimore running on young Georgia linebackers.
No. 2 Alabama at No. 19 Penn State – Saturday September 10
I’m so old, I could go on ad nauseam about the successes of Alabama and Penn State.
So, give me three:
a) when No. 2 Penn State’s defense dropped the hammer on No. 1 Miami’s explosive offense in the Nittany Lion Fiesta Bowl victory for the 1986 national title,
b) when No. 2 Alabama, the eventual champion also over No. 1 Miami, embarrassed the Hurricanes in the 1992 Sugar Bowl as ‘Bama corner George Teague actually took the ball out of the hands of Miami wideout Lamar Thomas headed for a sure touchdown, and
c) when the No. 2 Alabama defense absolutely stuffed the offense of No. 1 Penn State in one of the classic goal line stands in all of football, winning the 1978 Sugar Bowl and the national championship.
I don’t think anything like those exemplary games will happen this weekend in the shadows of the beautiful central Pennsylvania mountains.
Penn State will shoehorn 108,000 crazed white shirts in Beaver Stadium, and the fans just may carry their beloved Lions past halftime. However, the gridiron will eventually be subjugated and controlled by a Crimson Tide defense that resembles, true to the team nickname, a storm surge. The starters for the Tide D were solidified in the 2011 spring game and will overrun a Nittany Lions offense that simply has not settled on which signal-caller will be quarterback.
Tempted as we writers may be to call it such, this is not a matchup between head coaches old and young. This is Alabama and its incredibly talented athletes invading the home of Penn State football who, in spite of all the pride and desire that defines the white hats and black shoes, just will not be able to do anything about it.