Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl tickets sold separately):
Welcome to the Forde-Yard Dash Third Quarter, where we come out with renewed intensity after the halftime break.
Now it’s time to chop up a great opening weekend. The College Football Playoff continues to be a great boon to average fans by producing more quality non-conference games. The first weekend of the season has become a blast when it used to be a bore.
FIVE OPENERS TO WATCH, ONE TO BET
Alabama-Florida State (21). Where: Atlanta. When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET. Line: Alabama by 7.
Combine the Nos. 1 and 3 teams in the preseason polls and the shiny wonder of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and you have one of the most anticipated openers of all-time. Interestingly, Alabama staff and players have alluded to a breakdown of sorts last year between the SEC championship and the playoff – perhaps a combination of the intrusion of NFL thoughts for players and the Lane Kiffin schism. Whatever it was, the Tide believes it let one get away against Clemson. “I’m not going to say our leadership was bad last year,” said receiver Calvin Ridley. “It was just kind of careless. We lost ourselves that last game.” ‘Bama now must find itself against a team Nick Saban said “probably has as many good players returning as anybody in the country.”
Florida-Michigan (22). Where: Arlington, Texas. When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET. Line: Michigan by 3½.
The Nobody Knows Anything Bowl. The Gators won’t say who is their starting quarterback and have a boatload of suspended players to do without. The Wolverines won’t even produce a roster. Paranoia and secrecy are alive and well, but eventually both teams have to come out of hiding and play. And as it was announced Monday, Michigan will play in all-maize uniforms, which sound pretty cool. So at least we know that much.
UCLA-Texas A&M (23). Where: Pasadena, California. When: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET. Line: UCLA by 4½.
The Dash already feels bad for the losing coach, who is going to be enthusiastically fired in the court of public opinion after all of one game. UCLA’s Jim Mora and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin are both on the hot seat (although firing either would be costly). Winner gets a temporary reprieve, loser feels the heat more than ever. Sumlin is 8-1 in season openers and has covered the spread in the last three.
West Virginia-Virginia Tech (24). Where: Landover, Maryland. When: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET. Line: Virginia Tech by 5.
Hardy hillfolk get together for the first time in 12 years, after playing 51 times between 1912 and 2005. Will Grier comes out of cold storage to play quarterback for the Mountaineers, nearly two full seasons after his last appearance (he served a one-year suspension for a positive PED test and transferred from Florida). WVU is doing a major rebuild on defense, which could mean a big night for Tech running back Travon McMillian and receiver Cam Phillips.
Tennessee-Georgia Tech (25). Where: Atlanta. When: Monday, 8 p.m. ET. Line: Tennessee by 3.
If Butch Jones wants an inch of breathing room, he needs to win this one. Volunteers return eight of their top nine tacklers from 2016 and have had abundant time to prepare for the Tech option. The question is what kind of play they get at quarterback, now that do-everything Josh Dobbs has moved on. The Yellow Jackets, who also are breaking in a new QB, have become nearly impossible to predict, generally performing inversely to their preseason expectations.
One to bet: Ohio State is laying 21 points at Indiana Thursday night. That’s a lot in a road conference game, but the Buckeyes’ new offensive coordinator is Kevin Wilson, whose sudden and acrimonious departure from Indiana last winter surely will present some motivation (and a thorough scout of the IU defense). If Urban Meyer lets Wilson try to run it up, he’ll run it up. Ohio State to cover.
Every fan base is excited for the season to begin. But some schools might be more excited than others, if only because actual football games will change the subject from unpleasant headlines during the offseason:
Mississippi (26). The coach went from pious to embattled to gone, in the amount of time it took interested parties to check his phone logs. And Houston Nutt’s lawyer isn’t finished yet. The NCAA case is in its final stages, with the school leaking documents to supportive writers in an 11th-hour effort to frame the Committee on Infractions hearing as a Mississippi State problem, too. After this mind-boggling melodrama, South Alabama can’t show up soon enough for the Saturday opener.
Michigan State (27). Quarterback Damion Terry termed the offseason “horrible” last month. It’s an accurate adjective. There were sexual assault allegations against four players, and a coach who was part of that investigation was let go in the spring. For a program staggering off a 3-9 disaster of a year in 2016, this offseason didn’t exactly calm the waters.
Florida (28). Seven Gators were suspended earlier this month for reportedly taking part in a bookstore credit scam, including star receiver Antonio Callaway. Then last week, two highly touted freshmen were cited for marijuana possession in a campus dorm. One of them, Ventrell Miller, already was among the seven suspended. The other, James Robinson, also was cited for marijuana possession during an official recruiting visit to Ohio State.
Virginia (29). Through no fault of the football program, the town of Charlottesville and the university became the stage for a tragic, ugly weekend of protest and confrontation earlier this month. The Cavaliers took part in a massive candlelit vigil a few days later and have projected a unified theme, trying to help the community recover and move on.
Baylor (30). It’s getting better at Baylor, one settled lawsuit at a time. There is a new coach, Matt Rhule, who is saying all the right things. More importantly, there is new leadership over his head. But when a book that includes the words “Rape at Baylor” in the title is published in August, it’s clear that the past cannot be wished away quite so easily. Nor does it help when the Bears’ opening opponent is Liberty — the very school that shamelessly hired former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw to the same position last winter.
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