It seems like only 28 short weeks since we celebrated Super Bowl 50 and said goodbye to all that.
True, pre-season football and its regrettable politics have been keeping us entertained. But now football season proper is upon us once again, and it’s time to get serious. The annual Oklahoma Meltdown Spectacular can’t be more than weeks away, and may be only days. Virginia Tech faces East Carolina in less than a month, and we have to gear up for that. Michigan is starting out in the top 10, which of late has been a jinx. Can Blue break the barrier this fall?
Plus, there’s quality FBS football bombing the cable trons as we speak, on this Thursday evening, competing with the NFL’s pre-season marquee shows, the (tennis) U.S. Open, and MLB. If you ain’t watchin’ the Citadel-Mercer duel right now, you just ain’t.
(We’re also intrigued by what’s happening in Knoxville, where Appalachian State is up 13-3 on #9 Tennessee in the 3Q. Whoa whoa – who just saw that pick by Vol corner Cameron Sutton? Don’t worry, you’ll see it in the sports wrap-ups tonight. PURTY. …But seriously. After an epic pick like that, Tennessee can’t punch it over, and has to settle for 3? …And the Vols survive, with a 20-13 OT climb-out.)
Breaking: Minnesota just beat Oregon State. Very interesting.
Fall is in the air. Strap in, LU Nation, and let’s get this show on the road. This week’s Follies will be more verbose than usual, because we have to lay some groundwork for the season.
We begin, in accordance with our ground rules, with the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane, which beat Notre Dame 28-27 on 30 October 2010. Tulsa is my alma mater, and remains to this day the smallest-enrollment school in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (motto: Often renamed. Never satisfied). The last handful of years TU has been one of the suckiest schools on the gridiron too. Although we did give Virginia Tech a run for their money in Shreveport on Boxing Day in 2015.
There are high hopes for Philip Montgomery’s second year as head coach, a job he came to from a stint in Baylor’s OC slot. Under Montgomery, Tulsa’s back in more than respectable production territory with the offense, led by senior QB Dane Evans. Insanely productive WR Keyarris Garrett has gone on to Carolina to catch Cam Newton, but Tulsa has an excellent receiver pair this fall in Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson.
It’s on defense that Tulsa has underexcelled in the last few years. The largely senior linebacker corps comes in with a healthy experience level this year, which should help. We’ll be hoping to see more basic execution and less Flying Wallendas theater from the Tulsa D on Saturday, when the Golden Hurricane hosts Mountain West’s San Jose State for the season-opener. Perhaps Tulsa opponents can dispense this season with the offensive mantra “Why open up holes for your running backs, when Tulsa will do it for you?”
The Spartans are giving 5-ish in the line.
The #3 University of Oklahoma Sooners will be invading Houston to meet the #15 Cougars on Saturday in NRG Stadium. (Note: we use the AP poll in the pre-CFB weeks, because we do.)
It’s all Baker Mayfield (OU QB) in the news coverage, and we’re big fans. But with WR Sterling Shepard off to the Giants now, the Sooners have some proving to do down field.
If Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon stay healthy, the running game will be sturdy and explosive. Unlike Tulsa, meanwhile, Oklahoma’s lost key seniors from the linebacker corps. The D line has lost some top talent too. The sportsbabblers are over the moon about Oklahoma, but I’m not sure the defense is ready for top 4 billing this fall. #6 Oregon State and #13 TCU both come up in the next month, early in the season.
I’ll be happy to be proved wrong. Bright spot on D: safety. Sooners give 11.5.
#21 Oklahoma State hosts Southeastern Louisiana (FCS, Southland) on Saturday in Stillwater. Although the Lions won’t do more than make for a good scrimmage, that’s just what the Cowboys need as rangy Mason Rudolph goes solo at QB. More of an in-the-pocket guy, he’s not the short-yardage tuck-and-run threat the Pokes have been used to for a long time. That will be an adjustment. James Washington will be back as a favorite WR target.
SE Louisiana does bring an option threat, something the OSU defense won’t face in its FBS play this fall. I have a feeling Mike Gundy (nickname: Semper Gundy), the most visibly adaptable head coach in FBS ball, as far as I’m concerned, thinks that’s all good. Stretch, learn, adapt till it hurts. Then get ready for next week. No line on this one, of course.
In our FBS service academy action, Navy hosts Fordham (FCS, Patriot League) on Saturday, and in theory shouldn’t have a lot of trouble with the Rams. That said, with the loss of 200-pound spark plug QB Keenan Reynolds, the Mids have some adapting to do themselves. The team’s biggest score since last year was hanging onto top-performing head coach Ken Niumatalolo (Indian name: Needs a Nickname), who is heavily recruited each season. Go NAVY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Army will be at Temple on Friday evening, kicking off a (for Army) tough, competitive 2016 schedule. That’s likely to mean a sub-6 season for the Black Knights, but we wish them well. The Owls give 15.
With Air Force, we have to start with the sad news that a Falcon great, 1980s wishbone QB Dee Dowis, was killed in a traffic accident in South Carolina on 29 August. He was 48. Dowis was a Heisman finalist in 1989, and with 3,612 total yards is still the Air Force all-time leading rusher. He didn’t stay in to pursue an Air Force career, and was a representative for Pfizer in recent years. He left behind a wife and two children. RIP, airman.
Air Force will host Abilene Christian (FCS, Southland) on Saturday. The Wildcats tend to run as a sub-50% team and shouldn’t give AFA too much trouble.
Moving on to our LU Nation faves, Virginia Tech kicks us off hosting Liberty (FCS, Big South) on Saturday. For our hard-core Hokie fans, we recommend having a visit with Mighty Fahvaag and Blue Lone Wolf at Gobbler Country, who this week took a gander (yes, I’m proud of that) at a samizdat copy of the Hokie depth chart. We know well enough from just-named starting QB Jerod Evans (JC transfer from Texas), here at your LU Football Commentary Service. But the father-son team of Fahvaag and Blue keeps much closer tabs on things like depth.
We do note that Bud Foster is still DC, and now associate head coach, in the new Justin Fuente regime – and that can only be a good thing. Year in, year out, Bud Foster Ds are convincing (spotting him last year, of course). The Hokies scored getting Fuente, at a time when for multiple reasons they’ve got some rebuilding to do. They outclass Liberty any day of the week, and twice on Sunday, so we’re not worried about this weekend. Should be an interesting season.
Nevada hosts Cal Poly (FCS, Big Sky) Friday evening, and we’ll just get it out of the way right now: yes, Nevada is the alma mater of anthem-sitter Colin Kaepernick. We can assure you, Reno is not where he learned that nonsense.
We’ll want to see better passing stats from senior QB Tyler Stewart this year. Fortunately, RB James Butler is a load-carrier, and Stewart will have the returning duo of Hassan Henderson and Jericho Richardson to throw to. On the other side of the ball, the news isn’t quite so good. The secondary is in good shape, especially with Al-MWC interception-threat Dameon Baber, but the line is short of experience.
Since they play #10 Notre Dame on 10 September, Nevada may have a little trouble keeping their heads in this one. We are terribly sorry to report that it will be about 70, with a light breeze, in Mackay Stadium at game time tomorrow night.
#5 LSU hits the road for a top-quality cross-conference match-up with Wisconsin on Saturday. No telling if our Tiger-fan correspondent CKH will be able to join us for the Follies in the next few weeks, as the great Louisiana Dig-Out continues. The LSU fan base has a lot of distractions right now.
But Les Miles, whatever his concerns down the line about Saban and Alabama, will have to be focused on the Badgers going into the weekend. The Tigers bring back RB Leonard Fournette, who has a genus-species all to himself, and competent if not spectacular QB Brandon Harris. And, OK, so nobody outside Wisconsin knows the names on the Badger offense at the moment. (It’s Bart Houston, fifth year senior QB, and Corey Clement, if you want the technical counterparts to Harris and Fournette.)
But Wisconsin is never chopped liver. Not even when they lose Outland contender Dan Voltz to an injury a week before the season starts. LSU gives 11 in the line.
Kansas State comes roaring out of the gate Friday evening with a yuuge game at #8 Stanford. The Wildcats and the Candy Pink have never met before, believe it or not.
The marquee name in the mix is of course the Muted Mauve’s RB Christian McCaffrey, who is writing yardage history out from under legends like Barry Sanders. The K-State D, injured and inexperienced last year, will have to find ways to frustrate him.
KSU’s Jesse Ertz was knocked out for the season in Game 1 last year, but is coming back this season as the starting QB again, and carrying some high hopes on his shoulders. If he can find the groove Bill Snyder thinks he has, the Stanford D could have its own hands full containing him. Defense not being the name of the PAC-12 game, there’s a good potential for fireworks in this one. The line has Stanford giving 15.
#13 TCU hosts South Dakota State (FCS, Missouri Valley Asylum) on Saturday evening. We like the FCS SDSU, partly because they’re pretty good at reaching the FCS playoffs (if not the equal of the NDSU Wehrmacht to the north), and partly because they’re Jackrabbits (which may not be quite as cool as Chanticleers or Catamounts, but still kicks tail).
Horned Frog QB Kenny Hill is a transfer from Texas A&M, making his first start in purple this weekend. As the Aggie starter in 2014, he threw for over 2,600 yards and 23 TDs. The Frogs will clearly continue their air-attack profile with Hill and returning WR KaVonte Turpin.
Like most Big 12 teams, TCU has its challenges on D this year, but will benefit from top-performing returnees in DEs Josh Carroway and James McFarland. After McFarland was out the entire season with an injury last year, Coach Patterson will have them on the field together for the first time.
And Wyoming rounds out our inner circle, hosting Northern Illinois on Saturday evening. The Cowboys had a rough time last year, and their prospects don’t seem a whole lot better this year. Out of conference, they’re facing Nebraska (next weekend) and Eastern Michigan, as well as NIU. But really, in Laramie, Wyoming, how bad can life be, outside of a few losses on the gridiron each fall? We wish them and their crazy fans the very best.
As opening weekends go, this one is yuuge for the FBS top 10. It really couldn’t be yuuger, with #1 Alabama hosting #20 USC for a ridiculously Hollywood-ready match-up in the marquee slot on ABC Saturday evening. Tide gives 11.5. We’ll Learn A Lot From This One, at least as the SoCal sportscasters tell it.
#2 Clemson’s opponent may be unranked, but it’s Auburn, at home, in the Storied Auburn-Clemson rivalry. Holy Tigers, Batman. Clemson gives 7 in this one.
Special Monday Madness will erupt on Labor Day evening, with #11 Ole Miss visiting #4 Florida State – two teams that some sportsbabblers think can rain on Alabama’s parade. This one has a good shot at being Game of the Week: a Game That Will Tell Us A Lot, and Set The Tone For The Season.
#6 Ohio State won’t be quite that busy hosting Bowling Green in the early slot on Saturday. Buckeyes give 28 in that one.
And #7 Michigan will have Hawaii to kick around, in Ann Arbor, at the same Bat-time. Wolverines give 41.
But there’s a chance #10 Notre Dame at Texas will be interesting, in a rare Sunday game. We see that the oddsquad has a healthy jolt from Longhorn fans, who have Notre Dame giving only 3.5 at this point. Another game we can expect to Learn A Lot From; who can tell what’s been going on down there in Austin of late. Seems like it’s about time for the Burnt Orange to start playing actual “football” again.
Best of the rest
We’d be remiss not to acknowledge that the Presbyterian Blue Hose scored 3 points in their loss to Central Michigan this evening. Just mentioning, because we like the Blue Hose.
And somebody will probably get mad if we don’t note that #19 Louisville beat Charlotte 70-14.
Meanwhile, #18 Georgia will head to #22 North Carolina for some quality ball on Saturday. Bulldogs give 3.
Colorado (motto: “We take a pounding!”) hosts Colorado State for the Storied Rocky Mountain Showdown and the Centennial Cup – a trinket they have to play for early in the season now, due to the Buffaloes’ defection to the PAC-12. Colorado, which in the last couple of years hasn’t had to take quite as much of a pounding as it once did, gives 8.5 in this one.
#16 UCLA at Texas A&M on Saturday should give pretty good football. A&M gives 3, interestingly enough.
In other PAC-12 action, BYU at Arizona probably won’t be a snoozer (BYU gives 1), and a couple of sentimental faves for LU Nation will meet when Northern Arizona (FCS, Big Sky) trots down to Tempe to have it out with ASU Saturday night.
We follow a few teams from other ranks regularly here at your LU Football Commentary Service, and we’ll follow your FCS, Div II, or Div III team too, if you speak up.
In FCS, our big fave is McNeese State, a Southland Conference leader which has spent a lot of time in the Coaches Poll top 10 in the last couple of years, but whiffed in the playoffs. This year they start the season ranked #11.
The McNeese State Cowboys host Tarleton State (Div II, Stephenville, TX) on Saturday evening in Lake Charles, LA. According to the McNeese State website, the stadium is fully a go for the season. Muggy and 80-ish for the 6 PM Central kickoff.
Pride of place in Div III always goes to a long-time favorite, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (RHIT), which lives in Terre Haute and plays in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC). RHIT’s Fightin’ Engineers host an out-of-conference foe on Saturday, the Blueboys of Illinois College (Jacksonville, IL; Midwest Conference). We love it when they play the Blueboys. The Engineers tend to win.
Rose-Hulman racked up an 8-2 record last year, the best for the squad in quite a while. Sunny and right around 80 for the afternoon kickoff on Saturday.
Next up: Christopher Newport U., whose Captains play in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC). The Captains completed their first year in the NJAC in 2015, with a 4-6 record and coming in 7th overall. (Prior to the conference switch, they were the conference champs in the USA South in 2014.)
CNU is scheduled to host conference rival Kean U. (Union, NJ) on Saturday in Pomoco Stadium in Newport News, VA. But with Hermine driving up the coast, it’s supposed to be wild and woolly in Newport News Saturday evening, with 100% chain of rain and strong winds. So we’ll see what they decide about this one.
Our final Div III obsession is the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, playing in the Liberty League. Their season will start a week from Saturday with the grand opener against rival Coast Guard (New England Football Conference), the game for the Secretaries’ Cup. They’ll be playing on the Coasties’ (Bears’) turf in New London this year. But USMMA’s Mariners have their own digs in Kings Point, NY.
We talk about ‘em, when there’s something to say. The vulnerability window for that opens up PDQ. Our LU Nation faves include the Cowboys, Redskins, Steelers, Broncos, Saints, and some combination of miscellaneous Ohio teams, depending on how we’re feeling. Haven’t decided if we’ll suddenly need to give a lot of thought to the Rams this year.
Exit question: did Kaepernick justify sucking up O2 on the football field this evening?
We wish everyone the best for the 2016 season. Play ball!