After over seven months of having to convince ourselves that the NBA, early season Major League Baseball, golf's four major championships, hockey and even the World Cup somehow passed for sports, it's time for what we've been craving since Florida State's exciting victory over Auburn. COLLEGE FOOTBALL!
And to think that finally, the conclusion to the upcoming season will be a four team (soon to be eight teams) playoff that will give us a true champion of the sport. Florida State goes into the season as the odds on favorite, but that's usually just a kiss of death. But if the Seminoles can get out of North Texas (for those that don't know, it used to be known as Dallas) with an opening victory over Oklahoma State, who besides Clemson will really be able to derail them until they face Virginia Tech (okay, that's just blatant homer talk) in the ACC Championship game?
Although the opening weekend is mostly made up of FCS schools looking for big paydays to lose to high powered FBS programs, there are a few big early season matchups that could ultimately influence who will be in that final four come season's end.
As in seasons' past, I include all games that involve top 25 teams, plus selected games of the power conference teams. As an alum of Virginia Tech and a resident of Northwest Arkansas, games involving the Hokies and the University of Arkansas Razorbacks are always included in the predictions.
Thursday, August 28
(21) Texas A&M @ (9) South Carolina: Both teams lost high profile athletes that dominated any coverage last season. But Johnnie Football and Jadeveon Clowney are both at the next level, so we'll see what's left in College Station and Columbia. Manziel was able to compensate for a terrible Aggie defense, while the Gamecocks have balance on both sides of the football. This one won't even be close. South Carolina 34 Texas A&M 20.
Boise State @ (18) Ole Miss: If Ole Miss wasn't in the SEC, would anyone think they were a top 20 team? So you lose to really good teams. You have to win games to impress me, and they won't win this one. Boise State 27 Ole Miss 24.
Weber St. @ (19) Arizona State: I really like Arizona State, but we won't get a good gauge of their team this week. Weber St. has won four games in the last two years and replaced their coach after last season's 2-10 campaign. Arizona St. 57 Weber St. 10
Rutgers @ Washington State: Rutgers begins their first season in the Big Ten by traveling across the country to face the Cougars. Both teams had identical 6 - 7 records last season. I'll go with the home team in this one. Washington St. 27 Rutgers 24
Friday, August 29
Jacksonville State @ (8) Michigan State: Jacksonville State advance to the second round of the FCS playoffs last season, so the Spartans need to be paying attention to this one. Big Ten teams have proved to be vulnerable to these apparent walk overs in the past. But I think the Michigan State defense will prevail. Michigan State 31 Jacksonville State 14
Colorado State @ Colorado: We don't usually see big rivalry games to open the season, but this one traditionally comes in week 1. Last year, Colorado kicked off what ended up being a disappointing 4 - 8 year by defeating the Rams, who finished with a bowl victory over Washington State. Look for a different result this time. Colorado State 30 Colorado 27
Saturday, August 30
(5) Ohio State @ Navy (Baltimore): Navy's ground oriented offense can always cause problems for opponents. Ohio State will be starting a freshman QB following Braxton Miller's season ending injury. The game will be in Baltimore before a large crowd, many of which will be looking for an inspiring performance from the home standing underdog. Navy is a formidable opponent that won games against Big Ten and ACC opponents last year. They also gave Notre Dame all they could handle in a 38 - 34 loss. Surprise in Kingstown. Navy 27 Ohio State 24
(7) UCLA @ Virginia: There are real problems with Virginia's football program and Jim Mora has UCLA on the rise. This will be an old fashioned butt kicking in Charlottesville. Of course, my Hokie roots have no impact on this pick. UCLA 51 Virginia 14
West Virginia @ (2) Alabama: At some point you have to figure the Crimson Tide will stub a toe. But after struggling through a 4 - 8 season, it's hard to believe the Mountaineers will provide the door jam that will get in the way of Alabama's big toe. Alabama 34 West Virginia 13.
Rice @ (17) Notre Dame: As usual, the Irish are grossly overranked, especially this season as they are in the midst of an academic scandal within their football program. Rice was an overachiever last season, going 9 - 3 in the regular season and advancing to the Liberty Bowl where they got ripped by Mississippi State. If there was a time for the Owls to surprise Notre Dame, this would be it. But not this time. Close, but no cigar. Notre Dame 30 Rice 27
South Dakota State @ (24) Missouri: Another game matching a strong FCS division team against a top 25 (okay, according to the polls) program. I don't think Missouri will come close to their success of a season ago, and there's a good chance that the Jackrabbits, yes, the Jackrabbits, could be a formidable opening week foe for the Tigers. But as much as I think Missouri will fail to follow up on 2013, they'll probably prevail in this one. Missouri 31 South Dakota State 20
Florida Atlantic @ (22) Nebraska: The FCS Owls finished last season with four consecutive victories and even defeated FBS South Florida after losses to Miami and East Carolina to start the 2013 campaign. I'm not a huge Nebraska fan, mainly because the team reflects the inconsistency and volatility of head coach Bo Pelini. But the 'Huskers should be able to get by FAU.
Nebraska 28 Florida Atlantic 17
Arkansas @ (6) Auburn: This game is compelling for a number of reasons. Can Auburn duplicate last season's success, much of which came in close (okay, some call lucky) wins? Is Arkansas coach Bret Bielema playing it close to the vest or are the Razorbacks just not very good? Auburn is coming off a season where they were 13 seconds from a national championship. Arkansas was horrible, losing its final nine games to finish 3 - 9. Auburn QB Nick Marshall will sit this one out, but it probably won't matter. Auburn 27 Arkansas 17.
UC Davis @ (11) Stanford: If this was a wine making competition, then my money would be on the Aggies. Unfortunately, this is big time college football and the only stomping will be by the Cardinal. Stanford 45 UC Davis 14.
(16) Clemson @ (12) Georgia: In what both teams hope will be a national championship elimination game, the outcome could come down to a big play late in the game. Clemson lost a couple of big weapons on offense and will need to find replacements quickly to derail the Bulldogs. I'm not sure they can do it. Georgia 24 Clemson 20
Liberty @ (23) North Carolina: I don't think I buy into the Tar Heels' preseason ranking, but they'll have enough to defeat the Flames, coming off a respectable 8 - 4 season in FCS.
North Carolina 34 Liberty 16
Louisiana Tech @ (4) Oklahoma: The Sooners shouldn't have much to worry about as they attempt to carry that number four rating to the playoffs in January. Oklahoma 41 La. Tech 14
Stephen F. Austin @ (20) Kansas St.: The Lumberjacks give up a lot of points, not a great formula for pulling a big opening week upset on the road against a ranked opponent.
Kansas State 45 Stephen F. Austin 14
Fresno State @ (15) USC: This contest is a replay of the Las Vegas Bowl in which the Trojans overwhelmed Fresno State, a team I thought was overrated all season long. I don't see this one ending much differently, especially since new USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has had a full preseason to put his stamp on the team. USC 34 Fresno State 14
(1) Florida State vs. Oklahoma State (Arlington, TX): Jerry Jones' billion dollar house will play host to this game, a pretty good one to gauge whether the Seminoles have what it takes to repeat as national champions. The crowd should be overwhelmingly partisan for the Cowboys, who despite a lot of recent success, enters the season unranked. Florida State 30 Oklahoma State 20
(14) Wisconsin vs. (13) LSU (Houston, TX): LSU is ranked pretty highly for a team that lost a lot of talent from last season. Both teams played brilliantly at times last season, and looked rather average at others. Despite what will be a big LSU crowd in Reliant Stadium, I like Wisconsin to pull a minor upset. Wisconsin 27 LSU 24
(25) Washington @ Hawaii: Steve Sarkisian left Chris Peterson a Washington program that is on the rise. The Rainbows are considering dropping football. This doesn't bode well for Hawaii.
Washington 37 Hawaii 13
South Dakota @ (3) Oregon: This game won't do anything in Oregon's attempt to make the playoffs. South Dakota is a mediocre FCS team and running up the score won't help the Ducks' cause.
Oregon 47 South Dakota 10.
William and Mary @ Virginia Tech: It wasn't that long ago that the highly regarded Hokies lost to FCS James Madison following a close loss to Boise State. Although the Tribe is a pretty good FCS team, I look for the Hokies to have enough for an opening victory. Virginia Tech 27 William and Mary 13.
Sunday, August 31
SMU @ (10) Baylor: SMU went 5 - 7 a year ago and at times gave up a lot of points. Baylor went 11-2 and except for their loss for Oklahoma State, scored a lot of points. This one could be ridiculously lopsided. Baylor 56 SMU 27
Miami, FL @ Louisville: In another bowl game rematch, the Cardinals are welcoming back Bobby Petrino and playing their first game in the ACC against a former national power that has yet to win an ACC title. The Hurricanes are trying desperately to recapture that past glory. The fact that Louisville would hire Petrino again will be the subject of an upcoming blog. The Hurricanes rose to #6 in the rankings last season before getting drilled by Florida State and Virginia Tech. Charlie Strong left Louisville in very good shape so I don't see how much could have changed in the last eight months. Louisville 30 Miami, FL 28