Saturday, October 21, 2006

College Football Week 8 Preview

After my 'Friday Night Lights' evening with my 9-year-old son last night I got real hungry for some big time college football.

Maybe that's because he kept asking me things like why there were no colors painted in the end zones, where were the little white lines between the yard lines, and do the players run out of a tunnel & onto the field through smoke? Also, why the guys (kids, actually) could only punt the ball about 20 yards and why wasn't the game on TV?

All very good questions coming from a boy who (obviously) was attending his first high school football game and only knows the sport of football from the glamorized and stylized NFL & NCAA versions.

" This is where it all begins" I told him. "Every guy you see playing on Saturday & Sunday started out on a field like this playing under these conditions."
"Oh" he replied, unimpressed.

And it got me thinking: what's the best part about the sport, the raw reality of high school competition, or the flashy, gimmicky theatrics of the NFL?

For me it's the middle ground- college football. The players are still young enough to be called kids and most of them are still playing for the love of the game. But then you also have your high-livin', paycheck-collectin', "I'm basically in the NFL already" players like Reggie Bush and every member of the University of Miami, past & present.

So let's dig in to some of the best the sport has to offer today. And can I get a little smoke with that, please?

5 Texas @ 17 Nebraska 12:00 EST
The top two teams in the Big 12 (both are 6-1, 3-0) square off as the Longhorns finally travel outside the Lonestar state for the first time this season. Although they are road warriors, having won 15 in a row and 27 of 28 away from home, this is the first road game for redshirt freshman QB Colt McCoy. It will be interesting to see how the Longhorn greenhorn, who is 5th in the nation in passing (1,229 yds & 18 TDs) stands up to the stout 'Husker defense, a unit which has allowed only 7 TD passes in 7 games. Nebraska QB Zac Taylor is no slouch either (1,547 yds, 14 TDs, and even though the 'Horns have won 5 of 6 meeting since both teams joined the Big 12 in 1996, the Sea of Red in Lincoln should pose a formidable obstacle to McCoy & his mates.
MY PICK: Nebraska 28-27

Alabama (5-2) @ 7 Tennessee (5-1) 3:30PM
At first glance this tilt between the high scoring Vols (34PPG, 13 in NCAA) and 2-loss Tide looks like a mismatch. Then you look a little deeper and discover that this border war has been played since 1901 and Tennessee is coming off a humiliating 6-3 loss last year in Tuscaloosa. In that game RB Cory Anderson was going in for a score but fumbled out of the end zone and the Tide marched down the field for the winning FG. So the Vols will be out for revenge, and with 109,000+ orange-clad fans urging them on, something tells me they are going to get it on the 'Third Saturday in October.'
MY PICK: Tennessee 38-17

13 Georgia Tech (5-1) @ 12 Clemson (6-1) 3:30
At the beginning of the year you can't tell me anyone outside of Atlanta & Death Valley thought that these two teams would be ranked higher than FSU, Miami, BC & Va. Tech. True, G.Tech has returning electric QB Reggie Ball & exciting WR Calvin Johnson (ACC leading 559 yds & 8 TDs), but c'mon, these guys are no powerhouse squad. Clemson is even more of an enigma; they lost half of their team from last year, including record-setting QB Charlie Whitehurst, but all they have done is fill in with seldom-used senior Will Proctor (1,302 yards, 10 yards) and the ACC's leading rusher James Davis (745 yds, 14TDs) and are averaging an NCAA-best 44 PPG. So this is now the marquee matchup in the reshuffled ACC. Enjoy it.
MY PICK: Clemson 41, GTech 35

22 Boston College (5-1) @ FSU (4-2)
You read that opening line correctly- BC is ranked, FSU is not. Both teams can be called major disappointments in the newly rebuilt Atlantic Coast Conference. Both teams, along with Miami & Va. Tech, were supposed to be the cream of the league when it was reformed 2 years ago. Yet here we are with FSU, Tech & Miami unranked and BC hanging on at the bottom of the poll. Yikes. Needless to say the Noles need this game BADLY if it does not want a repeat of last year's horrendous 5 loss season and end up in the ACCellar. BC is making its first visit to Tally since 1980, so the intimidation factor could be high; at least from the stadium, not from the harmless Noles offense. But BC QB Matt Ryan is nursing a sore ankle and might not get the start in this one. If he doesn't, the banged up Seminole defense might survive this one. If Ryan plays, it could be an embarrassing home loss for the once proud Florida State squad. The Eagles have been involved in a lot of close games this season, and this one should be no different.
MY PICK: Noles 24-21

19 Rutgers (6-0) @ Pitt (6-1) 5:45, ESPN2
First things first. Tell me which one you think should be the ranked team: Pitt averages more YPG (413-340), more passing YPG (256-146) and more PPG (37-31), yet they are unranked, primarily due to their early loss to now-horrible Michigan State. The one stat the Scarlet Knights bests the Panthers is the ground game: Rutgers, behind the strength of the nation's 7th leading rusher, Ray Rice (899yds, 11TDs) averages 194 YPG, 14th in the NCAA, to Pitt's 158 (41st.) They both also have solid defenses, as RU allows only a measly 8PPG, Pitt only 13PPG.
And both teams have leadership at the QB position: Pitt senior Tyler Palko is the top rated passes in the nation with 1661 yards & 17 TDs, and Rutgers soph Mike Teel is making a name for himself with games like last week at Navy, where he threw for 215 yards & 3 TDs to compliment Rice's running. All in all this shapes up to be a doozy of a battle for supremacy in the overachieving Big East, with plenty of running, passing, and excitement to qualify as the Game of the Day (I hope.)

After jumping off the Rutgers bandwagon and nearly breaking my leg last week, much to the chagrin of my buddies Ira & Butchie, I'm climbing right back on this week. Although Ira, an RU alum, says that the Knights aren't quite ready to win a game like this, I'm going on the strength of their top-ranked defense and incredible ground attack to grind out a hard-fought, classic Big East dogfight. And if Pitt wins, they will be ranked.
Rutgers 21-17

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