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GOING BACK TO SCHOOL FOR ANOTHER YEAR
August 29, 2007

SCS.com Sitting down to watch the Little League World Series the past week, I realized that what is so compelling about watching 12-year-olds play baseball is the same thing that makes college football so compelling. When push comes to shove, college football is still one of the purest sports out there. In this summer alone: a home run record gets tainted by possible steroid use, pro football reels from superstars running dogfights and shooting up strip clubs, and the sanctity of basketball referees is shaken by gambling admissions. While college football and the NCAA have their problems, the sport is huge right now because there are no significant negative controversies outside of the BCS/playoff debate. Enjoy this respite from the world of steroids, gambling, federal indictments, and other sports distractions for the few months we have college football.

I would be remiss if I did not thank all my readers for giving me so many good comments and questions throughout last season and this yearís previews. Please continue the feedback! I also need to admit that while everyone here on SCS.com was wrong about the BCS title game last season, props go out to Florida for deserving the football and basketball titles. It is highly unlikely that the Gators will continue this dominance of both major sports into 2008, but still those were amazing accomplishments. Seems to make the whole Michigan or Florida debate completely moot, but letís not forget the great seasons Ohio State, Michigan, USC, and the Big East had last year. It looks even more competitive nationally in 2007.

Going into September, there are more true national title contenders than in recent memory. USC, LSU, Michigan, Texas, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Miami, and Florida all know what it takes to win a national title and have done so in the past ten seasons. All eight of these teams are definitely in the mix in 2007, and most of them feature the top coaches in the business (Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Jim Tressel, Bob Stoops, Mack Brown...all scary coaches to go against). There are also quite a few teams good enough to fight for a title despite no recent success, such as Wisconsin, Louisville, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Auburn, and UCLA. Although the pattern of the past few years has been one completely unexpected team in the title game, this year there are so many teams to consider that nothing will be unexpected.

Last year at this time the rule changes were my primary subject going into week 1. Thankfully Wisconsin proved the error of starting the clock on the kickoff rather than the reception, and that rule designed to burn a few extra seconds has been revoked. Also revoked is the rule starting the clock on a change of possession when the ball is placed on the field as opposed to at the first down snap. These rules were designed to make the college game more streamlined and shorter to comport with pro football, but the loss of time was really a loss of plays in each game. Each game lost 8-10 offensive snaps because of these rules, and the NCAA rules committee has realized that there are better ways to shorten a game.

One new rule added is the kickoffs moving back to the 30 yard line so that there is more excitement and scoring with fewer touchbacks. Each of these rules is good for college football because the 8-10 plays lost on silly rule changes last year should come back in 2007, and more excitement in special teams is a long-needed improvement as college kickers get more and more like their pro counterparts. If only the BCS guys could figure out their mistakes so quickly, the national title picture might be less controversial than most seasons.

Most of the major conferences should see more wide-open competition than in 2006. In the Pac-10, USC will continue to be truly challenged by the second-tier teams such as UCLA, California, and Oregon State. The Big XII still may be decided in the Red River Shootout, but Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma State are making that league much more than Texas and Oklahoma this season. The Big East was wide open last season with WVU, Louisville, and Rutgers. Expect more of the same from that conference, with the added wrinkle of South Florida joining the elite teams.

The other three major conferences are even more wide open going into 2007. The ACC has to be wondering who is going to take over after Miami and Florida State fell to the likes of Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest in 2006. The Big Ten features the same three top teams as last season (Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin), but Penn State will contend for the league title, and teams like Illinois, Iowa, and Purdue will be much more dangerous than in 2006. Finally, the mess that is the most competitive league in college football, the SEC, continues to be compelling. Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas are each good enough to win the entire league this season. With the increased parity, expect most, if not all, of the major conference champions to have one or more losses going into bowl season. This could be a real make or break year for the BCS, as a plus-one playoff game has been finally getting serious discussion.

All of the above sentiments show that the state of the college football game is great right now. There will always be improvements to be made, but the nation will likely be captivated by 14 weeks of do-or-die dramatic football starting this Saturday. I personally will be sitting in Ohio Stadium looking to see the rebuilt Buckeyes try and recover from the big slice of humble pie served to them Gator-style in January. Hopefully many of you out there will either be screaming for your favorite team at the stadium or having a bunch of friends over for a long day of football on the television. Either way, football and school is back in session...and thatís a beautiful thing.

And now we finally dive into the top 3 games and picks of the week. The first choice is Oklahoma State at Georgia. This game matches two sleeper teams who might be the third or fourth choice to win their respective conferences, so look for each team to try to win this statement game and start on the right foot in 2007. Oklahoma State finally has enough athletic talent to run against anybody, but expect Georgia to key in on the big threat, WR Adarius Bowman. Georgia is always tough to beat between the hedges, and the real question will be whether the Cowboys live up to all their new talent. While Oklahoma State will make progress in the Big XII South this season, this opener looks like a mighty trap. Georgia by 3.

The second game of the week is Missouri at Illinois, a battle between teams with rising expectations. Each of these programs has its most talented team in many years, but Illinois is still very young and inexperienced talent under newer head coach Ron Zook. The Tiger faithful are putting a lot of pressure on Coach Pinkel to produce a real Big XII contender this season, and Missouri needs to win games like this one away from home to become that contender. Missouri should be able to exploit a short passing game all day against the youthful Illini defensive front. Juice Williams may be a great quarterback of the future, but he needs to prove he can pass effectively to keep the Missouri defense honest. Missouri needs to take control and put this game out of reach early, as Illinois gets stronger and stronger as the game goes along if they hang around. Iím calling for a big upset to jump start the Illini. Illinois by 4.

The third game of the week is the Saturday night showdown, Tennessee at California. This is the only game of the opening weekend with two nationally ranked teams battling each other, but the real storyline is how California will perform on the big stage. Last season Tennessee danced to a lot of Rocky Top at home in the opener when the Volunteers blasted the Bears 35-18. Look for a lot of offense as California breaks in a lot of new defensive starters, while Tennessee matches a green defensive backfield against a talented Bear receiving corps. Expect the Volunteers to give California all they can handle, but a west coast road trip to start the season will be a little too tough for the Tennessee defense to overcome. California by 10.

2007 GOTW Record to-date: 0-0 (.000)
Last Week: N/A
2006 Season: 30-12 (.714), 2005 Season 25-14 (.641)

Fitz Preseason Top 10
1. USC (0-0)
2. LSU (0-0)
3. Michigan (0-0)
4. Wisconsin (0-0)
5. Louisville (0-0)
6. Texas (0-0)
7. Ohio State (0-0)
8. Oklahoma (0-0)
9. Miami (0-0)
10. West Virginia (0-0)
Just Missed: Virginia Tech, Auburn, Florida, UCLA, Rutgers

Weíll see you here next week, so enjoy those opening kickoffs!

U.S.A.
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