Ready or not, here it comes. On Wednesday, Abilene Christian of the Other Ranks bootstraps onto the field with a just-barely I-A/FBS Georgia State to kick off the 2014 season in nobly inglourious fashion. We here at your LU Football Commentary Service are on the case, ready to enhance and amplify your fan experience.
Football Follies (an annual tradition at The Optimistic Conservative since 2010) focuses mainly on NCAA ball, at least until things heat up for the pros, and everybody knows who’s in the final hunt for the title formerly known, for a brief tarnished moment, as the “BCS Championship.” Consider this your Grand Central Terminal for moaning and complaining about the transitional hybrid process we’ll be enduring in 2014, as the BCS disappears in the rearview mirror and a shadowy cabal shrouded in cigar smoke picks the Final Four in the College Football Playoff.
We have our teams, here at your LU Football Commentary Service. Pride of place goes to my alma mater, the University of Tulsa: smallest-enrollment school in the entire FBS. The rest are a gaggle of teams beloved by loyal readers – and me – which has accreted over the years. We don’t discriminate, much, but it is asking a great deal to suggest that any of us get excited about the University of Texas or the University of Southern California. Still, we encourage an American spirit of tolerance in all these matters.
On Thursday evening, Tulsa, which beat Notre Dame 28-27 on 30 October 2010, opens its first season in the slowly-emerging American Athletic Conference (AAC) by hosting Tulane, a fellow legal immigrant from Conference USA. Tulane didn’t suck as badly in 2013 as it did in the preceding years; Tulsa, by contrast, sucked much worse, failing to even become bowl-eligible.
The Golden Hurricane was the C-USA and AutoZone Liberty Bowl champion for the 2012 season (defeating Iowa State 31-17), but lost a lot of seniors for 2013. Since QB G.J. Kinne graduated two years ago (he’s now with the Eagles behind Matt Barkley), Tulsa has had trouble settling on a reliable starter. Dane Evans didn’t set any records last year behind a youthful offensive line, but he’ll be starting on Thursday.
Stand-out RB Trey Watts – J.C.’s kid – graduated this spring and is now with the Rams. TU starts with a competent but slightly thin roster at the skill positions, with some improving returnees on the lines. The AAC will bring big-name challenges in Cincinnati and UConn, but the rest of the current field comes from C-USA or an equivalent background.
The Green Wave probably figures it’s about time they finally beat Tulsa. But the oddsbubbas are pessimistic, making Tulane a 6-point dog. Expecting upper 80s and humid for game time.
On Saturday, Oklahoma will host Louisiana Tech (Motto: “Why the heck were we ever in the WAC?”), now of C-USA, for what could turn out to be this year’s Stupid Loss to an Underdog event. The stars seem to be ominously aligned, with the #4 pre-season ranking, the shock-n-awe Sugar Bowl win over Alabama mere months ago, and an eerie, what-could-go-wrong oddsquad spread of 38. Young QB Trevor Knight shook out some major kinks last season, and Blake Bell has moved to tight end as nature intended, so we’ve at least got that going for us. Game’s only available on PPV, which stinks. Even Tulsa gets to play on a national broadcast this week.
Oklahoma State starts the season with a bang, facing off with #1 Florida State in Stillwater. The Pokes are getting no love from the polling audience, and that may or may not change after a marquee opener on Saturday night. The Cowboys, even with Mike Gundy on the sideline, are just too young and untested, reportedly with the fewest starters returning of any school in the NCAA FBS Bigs. Their neon-green secondary is predicted by most to be picked apart by the Seminoles’ Heisman-winning QB Jameis Winston. The oddsquad has FSU giving 18.
Navy shows up early for what should have been a quality thrashing from #5 Ohio State, at M&T Bank Stadium in Bal’mer on Saturday. Junior QB Keenan Reynolds is back at the helm. (In case you need help pronouncing the names on Navy’s roster, there’s a handy guide included with the Mids’ depth chart.)
Granted, the Buckeyes are still giving 14. But – ouch, ouch, baby – they’ve lost spark-plug QB Braxton Miller for the season to a shoulder injury, and will have to make do with a redshirt freshman. Urban’s got his work cut out for him.
Army’s season will start on 6 September at Buffalo. Air Force hosts Nicholls State (FCS, Southland) on Saturday, and we hear has come up with a starting QB who wasn’t recruited from the janitorial staff.
Virginia Tech opens in Blacksburg on Saturday afternoon against the Tribe of William & Mary (FCS, CAA), which wasn’t too terrible in 2013 (7-5), but of course is no match for the Hokie program even in a bad year. Logan Thomas is off being a rookie for the Cardinals now, and the late-breaking news is that Michael Brewer, who transferred in from Texas Tech, has been tagged over Thomas’s long-time back-up Mark Leal to start behind center. Brewer’s not the scrambler and play-maker Thomas is, but brings a strong, steady arm to a relatively mature offensive squad. Good practice for the Hokies’ meet with Ohio State next weekend.
Nevada hosts Southern Utah (FCS, Big Sky) for a Saturday kickoff, and – not to lay a jinx on the Pack – may be in for a big year, with senior QB Cody Fajardo healthy and on an upward trajectory. Nevada went 4-8 in 2013, but there’s good reason to hope for better this season, Coach Brian Polian’s second after the long reign of Chris Ault.
Among other crowd faves, #13 LSU heads to Houston to take on #14 Wisconsin on neutral territory in a Saturday night showdown. Freshman RB phe-nom Leonard Fournette will debut for the Tigers and is already wafting along in a cloud of Heisman buzz, although we hear he’s a grounded and humble young man. If Les Miles has chosen a starting QB, however, we haven’t heard about that. The Badgers won’t be chopped liver, with a tough and agile running game and a defense that may be able to get by on Saturday by specializing in stopping Fournette. Tigers give 5.
TCU will host sacrificial lamb Samford (FCS, Southern) in Fort Worth on Saturday. And our good buddies at Wyoming will host Montana (FCS, Big Sky) for a Saturday afternoon face-off.
Around the top 10, #2 Alabama hosts West Virginia, pride of the Big 12, and gives 26. #3 Oregon hosts South Dakota (FCS, MVFC). #6 Auburn will entertain Arkansas, giving a mere 20. #7 UCLA may be a tad overranked, and may or may not get a good test of that theory from Virginia. (Probably not. Yahoos stink on ice.) Visiting Bruins give 21. Michigan State, clocking in at #8, won’t get a test from good sport Jacksonville State (FCS, OVC). That’s OK. We expect the Spartans to pass tests later.
We are gratified to report that the SEC will kick off in style when #9 South Carolina (Motto: The Other USC) hosts #21 Texas A&M on Thursday evening. Imagine A&M with a quarterback named Kenny Hill, and your mind will adjust to the 11-point give by the Gamecocks.
#10 Baylor hosts SMU on Sunday evening, it being Labor Day weekend and all. Not holding out a lot of hope for the Mustangs, who have migrated with Tulsa and Tulane to the AAC.
Best of the rest
We can’t fit in everybody each week, and there’s usually a somewhat random character to the Best of the Rest summary. We do note that one of our all-time favorite FCS teams, the Presbyterian Blue Hose (Big South), will be playing Northern Illinois on Thursday. NIU had the distinction of being weirdly overranked for much of 2013.
We’d feel bad not mentioning the Clemson (#16) at Georgia (#12) game on Saturday, because of course it’s two great teams, and they’re playing peers and not creampuffs in Week 1. Bulldogs give 7.
The state of Colorado’s getting the Rocky Mountain Showdown for the Centennial Cup out of the way early, with Colorado (Motto: “We take a pounding!”) meeting Colorado State on neutral territory – Mile High in Denver – on Friday.
Michigan is venturing to host Appalachian State again, apparently recovered from their unfortunate encounter in 2007.
Several firsts erupt in Week 1. Boise State will be at #18 Ole Miss on Thursday for a first meet between the two. Could be a pretty good game. (Boise State partisans are taking no prisoners: the bettors have the Broncos giving about 11.) Idaho will play Florida for the first time in those teams’ histories, and Utah State and Tennessee will have their first meeting – on Sunday.
There’s even some quality ACC ball lurking for Monday evening, when Miami (Da U) will head for Louisville. Not bad for Labor Day entertainment. The Cardinals are favored by about 3, and this one’s likely to get feisty.
Your LU Football Commentary Service does follow a few non-FBS teams as well. This is where we mention the Cornhuskers in Week 1, because reader fave McNeese State (FCS, Southland), of Lake Charles, LA, will be hitting the gridiron in Lincoln on Saturday to take on #22 Nebraska. Hey, it’s a shot at broadcast glory, with the game being aired on ESPNU in some markets. We, um, wish both teams a good game.
Jumping the divide to Div III, we’ll be following mighty mite Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (RHIT), terror of Terre Haute, which plays in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. HCAC action kicks off next weekend; Rose-Hulman’s Fightin’ Engineers will open the season on 6 September.
Likewise, for our other Div III team, the season starts on the 6th. The Captains of Christopher Newport University, in Newport News, VA, play in the USA South Conference.
When the spirit moves us, we even dig down into high school action, because that’s just how much we heart our football. All you need is a love of the game to play along. So don’t be shy: toss your team’s helmet in the ring, and let’s get this party started.