Tuesday, June 26

A stupidly long preview of the Vols

Get a snack. Heck, go make dinner. This is gonna be long.

Erik Ainge returns as the primary QB for the 2007 season. It's tough to overstate his improvement between 2005 and 2006; there's a few reasons for that improvement (not being on the Clausen / Ainge QB carousel, Cutcliffe's tutelage), but there's no reason to think his performance will regress. He showed plenty of resiliency and an incredibly accurate arm (67.0%). Jonathan Crompton will serve as the primary backup. Crompton offers more speed at the cost of a great decrease in accuracy. He'll be the rough equivalent of Brent Schaeffer - and considering he basically played himself out of the starting QB spot at Ole Miss, that's not necessarily a good thing.

Cutcliffe's 2006 system relied on the gamebreaking abilities of Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain, and Bret Smith - make short passes and let them take over with plenty of YAC. This year's talent will be well-suited to that system, but there aren't as many potential gamebreakers. I wouldn't expect Ainge to approach his nearly 3,000 yards passing (2,989, to be precise), but I do expect his accuracy to stay about the same. He may not throw for as many TDs (19 last year), but that will be because of an improved running game.

Running Backs
LaMarcus Coker enters the season as the primary starter in the deepest RB corps the Vols have seen in the past few years - probably since the Gerald Riggs / Cedric Houston 2004 season. However, this season will be a three-headed monster. Coker is the best pure runner and can quickly obtain separation; last year he averaged nearly 6.5 ypc.

Montario Hardesty is the strongest runner on the team - when he wants to be. Part of the reason he only averaged 3.6 ypc last year is due to his desire to cut back about 4 or 5 times behind his offensive line. If the coaching staff (read: Trooper Taylor) can get Hardesty to make a single cut and then hit the hole, look for a massive improvement in his numbers. He has the brute force to carry guys for 15-20 yards a pop; he's done it before. The talent is there, if he can harness it.

Arian Foster is actually the biggest RB in the three-deep (6'1", 225). However, while he definitely possesses talent at an equal level with the other two guys, he has to prove he can stay healthy. Last year he was derailed by an ankle injury in the 2nd game of the season (against Air Force), which then set him back for the next three weeks. He never got on track; if he can get on a roll, there won't be many teams that have a better three-deep than the Vols will haev.

Wide Receivers
Want a potential problem area on offense? Don't look further than this group. It's not that they're bad, necessarily. It's just that they're unproven. The team lost its top three WRs after the season (Meachem left for the draft, Swain and Bret Smith graduated), leaving Lucas Taylor as the primary returning WR. He's served as a KR the last two years, so at least he has experience playing; however, his average of 1 reception per game has to improve. It's a safe bet that it will, provided he stays healthy.

However, that's not to say there's not talent here. Quinton Hancock played fantastically in August of last year but was lost for the season in the Memphis game. Gerald Jones is the best pure incoming talent, but he was recruited as a DB. Ahmad Paige and Kenny O'Neal were at least WRs, and they're both talented in their own right, but like Jones, they have to learn the system. Austin Rogers has some starting experience.

One of those guys will have to emerge as a credible #1 threat. Taylor will probably set up as the deep threat on the team, but for this season it's looking a lot like the Vols will have a plethora of #2 / #3 type receivers. Again, it's not a bad thing that it's the case, but it presents some difficulties for the offense unless the Vols are consistently putting 4 WRs out there and forcing a mismatch. If a #1 doesn't emerge, then expect Cutcliffe to deploy a ball-control offense. Think a more effective version of 2002's passing offense.

Tight Ends
Here's some food for thought: both of the Vols' primary returning passcatchers are their TEs. Chris Brown and Brad Cottam are both very talented - Brown moreso than Cottam - and they'll likely have a big role in the offense this season. There's no reason for them not to be; they're both seniors, and they're both good enough to start.

Even with that, don't think that the TE rotation is top-heavy; Brad's younger brother Jeff is a solid talent in his own right. 4th-string TE Jeff Stocker is a redshirt freshman and probably still a year away at this point.

Heck, the team even has a couple of transfers that'll help next year in Brandon Warren (from FSU) and Brett Thomason (from Georgia). There's not a lot to worry about from this position, which is good - even moreso when you factor in the inexperience at WR.

Offensive Line
All-SEC LT Aaron Sears is gone. So is LG David Ligon. Still, that's about the only bad news on the front lines - everyone else from the 2-deep is back. Josh McNeil (C) and Eric Young (RT) anchor the line. The new starters are both on the left side; Jacques McClendon at LG and Chris Scott at LT. It'll be interesting to see how the line play unfolds; the experience is on the right side of the line (RG Anthony Parker started 12 games there last year), but McClendon and Scott are both incredibly talented.

There may be some reshuffling of the line (basically changing Young and Scott's starting spots), but it's a tested line. Their challenge will be simple: open up enough running lanes to support the ground game (and open up avenues for Hardesty if he's still juking 12 times behind the line) and protect Ainge long enough to get the quick-pass offense off the ground.

Offensive Outlook
Last year the team relied on the gamebreaking abilities of its WRs. This year, it's back to "normal" with the RBs expected to share an equal load. Until one (or two!) of the WRs show consistent ability to create separation after the catch, I expect the offense to be primarily ball-control. By this, I don't mean the run-run-screen-punt offense that Randy Sanders made famous until he resigned, but I do mean an offense set up around three feature backs and prominently involved TEs. Think a hybrid West Coast-style offense with the TEs functioning as heavy-duty pass catchers across the middle. Look for most of the runs to be to the right early in the season as well (again, the experience is there).

I do expect the Vols to deploy a fair amount of 4 WR sets to take advantage of their depth of talent at that position. As I've said, there's enough talent there to be able to create mismatches - provided that most of the guys shake out. The team does need one of the guys to emerge as a deep threat, though; otherwise there won't be any reason for teams not to put 8 in the box at all times and force the WRs to make plays.

Defensive Line
Last year the D-line was plagued with two problems: 1) inexperience and 2) a relative inability to stop the run. Once Justin Harrell was lost for the year, the only returning starter was J.T. Mapu - and I'm using the loose sense of the word "returning" here; Mapu last started in '03. Still, the loss that hurts going into this year was DT Turk McBride. He'll be replaced by Demonte Bolden. The good news is that both of the DEs return; Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds aren't the best guys out there, but thye're not bad. Mitchell's the better talent of the two (45 tackles, 4 sacks last year).

This unit should be better than they were last year; there's enough experience and the Vols will normally field a good rush D. I wouldn't expect this unit to have 3 games with over 200 yards rushing allowed like what happened last year (Air Force, LSU, Arkansas). However, I do expect their problem areas last year to continue. Mobile QBs and multiple backfield threats caused the line all sorts of trouble, and until I see the line consistently apply pressure against the run, I won't say they'll be able to stop that type of running game. The good news: simple feature-back sets should be eaten alive, even if the back is talented (see California and Alabama last year).

The Vols lose leading tackler Marvin Mitchell from the unit; however, that's their only loss in the two-deep. The returning players are all solid; Jerod Mayo was the team's leading sack artist (5 sacks). Mayo takes Mitchell's old spot in the middle and should only up his tackle total from there. Ryan Karl returns on the strong side (66 tackles, 8 tackles for loss), and Rico McCoy steps in as the weakside LB. He recorded 38 tackles last year as a backup.

The LBs will be the strength of the Vols' front 7, and it's not really even in question. Mayo has a shot at being the best LB in the SEC, and Karl was a plus performer last year - even though he had the least amount of tackles among LBs, he was still 5th on the team. The last few years the Vols have relied on the LB corps to keep things under control in the front, and this year looks to be much the same.

Defensive Backs
As good as the LB corps will be for the Vols, this group could be way more fun to watch. Jonathan Hefney returns at FS, and all he did last year was finish 2nd on the team in tackles (96, 3 for loss) and lead the team in INTs (5). In addition, Eric Berry will probably open his college career at CB. He was ranked anywhere from 1st to 6th as an incoming freshman, depending on which prep ranking you were using. The other two spots are unsettled as of yet; it could be Antonio Gaines, Marsalous Johnson, or JUCO DeAngelo Willingham at the other CB spot and Jarod Parrish, Nevin McKenzie, or Sinclair Cannon at SS. My votes are for Johnson at CB (most improved player on D in spring practices) and Cannon at SS (best name).

This unit will probably struggle a bit early; there's only one definite returning starter in Hefney, and while Johnson is a sophomore and has experience in DC John Chavis' system, he doesn't have any starting experience. It's going to depend on what the team wants out of that CB spot. If they want starting experience, it's Willingham; if they want system experience, it's Johnson. Either way, it could make for an interesting first few weeks. Expect the loser of that battle (or even Berry) to slot in as the nickel CB, and the unit will improve by the second half of the season. Jarod Parrish is the only SS with starting experience in the system; by comparison, McKenzie is the transfer. Expect that position to break down almost like the CB battle.

Again, I don't expect much out of these guys (save Hefney) for the first few weeks. Berry should make a few outstanding plays, but I don't expect the secondary to really gel until somewhere around the Mississippi St. game (Oct. 13, halfway through the season). The good news is that they'll probably be successful against the Alabama, South Carolina, and Kentucky pass games; the bad news is that they face what's probably their two best opponents' passing offenses in Cal and Florida in the first three weeks of the season. Uh-oh.

Defensive Outlook
Separately, two of the three units should be better than they were last year; both the DTs and the LBs will be at worst on par with their '06 performance. The secondary, as stated, will be interesting. Either they'll be shutdown by the end of the season or a disaster on par with '04, and there's not much in-between. If it's the latter, expect the youngsters to get plenty of PT in hopes of coming back strong for next year after they lose most of the front 7 to graduation.

I've learned over the years not to count out a John Chavis-coached D. He'll get the most out of them, and the D has a habit of stepping up when the offense is in trouble (their best numbers over the past 5 years have been in '02 when UT was playing without a quarterback, basically, and '05, when Randy Sanders' run-run-screen-punt offense was in full swing)), and as documented, that could be the case this year. The key components are in place: good DEs, a solid LB with a proven playmaker, and a plus secondary guy.

Like last year, expect the LBs to make the majority of the sacks / exciting plays. The tackles do need to show more speed, otherwise interior speed will be dangerous (read: Florida and Arkansas will eat them alive). Historically, the defense has been a little better than the sum of its parts and very smart to boot. That I don't see changing this year.

Special Teams
The K/P this year is ...well, the same guy. Not only that, he's the last of the Colquitt family to make his way through Neyland Stadium. Last year, Colquitt only averaged 44.9 yards per kick with 18 punts inside the 20 (out of 46 - 39%) and another 8 fair catches. Those numbers are clearly inferior; I expect him to be over 50 yards per kick with no touchbacks and no returns. In all seriousness, he'll be the best P in the SEC this year and may compete for the Ray Guy award as a juinor. He'll also be doing the placekicking; he has a ways to go to match the accuracy of departed K James Wilhoit (18-22 last year), but he should have comparible leg (51 yards was Wilhoit's long). He'll also be handling kickoffs, which will probably end up working in UT's favor with the tee moving back to the 30. Bottom line: the more Colquitt on the field, the better. Unless he's punting 120 times over the course of the season.

Oddly enough, the return games have been lackluster the last two years. LaMarcus Coker and Lucas Taylor will be the kickoff return men, but neither has been impressive; Coker "led" with 20.0 yards per return last year. He has the speed to be successful - as does Taylor. Jonathan Hefney isn't a bad punt returner at 12.1 yards per return last year.

I do expect the Vols to win the hidden yardage game most weeks, but that's primarily due to Colquitt's leg. With the return game continually underperforming, I'm left to wonder if it's either a problem with the talent or with the coverage teams / schemes. This isn't my specialty, honestly; I'm going to speculate more of the latter than the former. Taylor hasn't been too impressive either year he's been a return man, but I honestly don't see the average kickoff return topping 25 yards this season, either. Until there's a definite sign of improvement with the coverage and return games, I'm not signing on to people saying the unit's better.

Final Verdict
The return of David Cutcliffe to Rocky Top rejuvenated both the team and the fan base (which had been calling for Sanders' departure for the last few years - it got to the point where EVERYONE could predict the "run up the middle on 3rd and 8", which isn't a good sign), and Ainge's vast improvement from 2005 to 2006 can probably be mostly laid at Cutcliffe's feet. I only say mostly because of the move of Trooper Taylor from RB coach to WR coach last year - he's another underrated guy who has the tendency to get the most out of his players. Gerald Riggs finally turning it around in '04? Blame Taylor.

Still, this may be an even bigger challenge; the team's WR playmakers are gone, they lost their best CB in Jonathan Wade (13(!) pass breakups last year), their best lineman is gone, and their leading tackler left. Now they'll be breaking in a new WR corps and a likely true freshman CB at two nasty places to play in the first three weeks - @ Cal and @ Florida. Most of their big games are on the road this year; only Georgia, Arkansas, and South Carolina come to Rocky Top. (They also travel to a possibly rejuvenated Alabama.) The good news is the team avoids Auburn and LSU this year.

Last year the Vols went 2-3 in their games against ranked teams. They may potentially play 6 ranked teams this year, and they'll need to go at least 3-3 to keep the wolves at bay and maintain respectability. If the games were backloaded, that wouldn't be a problem - but Cal and Florida are in the first two games, which means the Vols could be staring at 2-2 going into the bye week before Georgia and dealing with a restless fan base to boot. If the Vols are 4-2 entering the game with Bama on the 20th, then they can probably challenge for 3rd (at worst) in the SEC East; if they're 5-1, they can go for the title. If they're 6-0, they're in the national title hunt. Realistically, I see 4-2 with losses to Cal and Florida and a 9-3 finish to the regular season.

Barometer Game: @ Florida, 9/15. Tebow gave the Vols fits last year; if a young D can shut down the Gators in the Swamp, then you may want to put this team on your BCS radar. If they can't, then it may be another 9-4 / 10-3 season, which isn't bad - unless you're in Knoxville.

Statement Game: @ Alabama, 10/20. Part of the reason Nick Saban was hired was because the Tide had gone 2-10 against the Vols over their last 12 games. This won't be an easy game; Alabama's D (and Simeon Castille) gave the Vols fits last year at Neyland Stadium, and now they get to go on the road to face a team that gets its best WR back (Tyrone Prothro) as well as basically its entire offense, a rejuvenated fan base, and a coach looking to make a statement that his program is back. This won't be an easy game, but a win for the Vols does wonders for the contentment of the fans and of the program.

Danger Zone Game: vs. Arkansas, 11/10. I almost put South Carolina here; Spurrier still causes concern among Vol faithful, even though he hasn't put the team up among the SEC East elite yet, you know it'll happen. Even with that, Arkansas just demolished the Vols last year; the final score was only 31-14, but it could've easily been more than that. Last year, the Vols knew what was coming and still couldn't stop it. This year will be the same - can they stop it at Neyland?

Final Verdict: All signs point to a 9-3 / 10-2 type season. If the big games were backloaded, I could maybe sign onto a 10-2 / 11-1 regular season, but the team - especially the passing game on both ends - has a lot of growing up to do. The team's success will be directly dependant on that. Of course, last year I expected 8-4, so what do I know?

Sunday, June 24

Memo to Phil Steele

Phil - before I get going with this, I want to say a few things. First off, I have no major problems with the info in your preview magazine. It's incredibly long and incredibly in-depth, which is a huge help for me. The two-page preview for each team is incredibly in-depth, and it's nice to have a plethora of info available for all teams. By the same token, it's nice to see a ton of different rankings (both for the team and the individual). There's a good amount of them.

However - and I say this nicely - it would be awesome if you backed down on the self-promotion a bit. For example, one of your lists talks about the teams most likely to improve between this year and last. The page of text describing this list only talks about the most improved teams from the last seven years, though, not the current season. I know that you have a good record of prediction over the last few years; I've heard it from both professional evaluators and amateur prognosticators. That's great, don't get me wrong.

It's precisely because I know of your track record that I don't need for you to tell me your track record. I know you're good at what you do; I don't need me to tell you that you're good at it. For example, on that page I was talking about, instead of mentioning your past history with the list, talk about why these teams are likely to improve. (If you want to talk about your past success, I'm okay with that too - but just don't make it the entire article.) If you're talking about surprise teams, why are you picking them? It doesn't help me learn why you're picking them when you talk about how a team you picked to surprise 3 years ago was indeed a massive national surprise. That just tells me you're good at figuring these things out - but I already knew that.

If you want to self-promote, that's fine - but please moderate it a bit. I'm spending money on your product because you're good at what you do; you don't need to sell me on the product I already bought. (By the same token, selling the regional previews? No problem with those - I haven't bought them yet.) I'll decide if I'm going to buy your preview next year based on the information contained in this year's, not by the sales pitch. If you promote - which you should do - promote to people that haven't bought it yet.

Again, it's a good product. I just think that it could be better if the self-promotion could be cut back a bit. Thanks.

Saturday, June 23


I've been behind lately (and, as James pretty much came out and said a few days ago, I'm the only person covering baseball here). With the recent move, life has basically gotten in the way the last few weeks - between the job searching and the apartment searching, that's taken up a lot of my time. Still, I've been trying to update in shorter bursts than what I've done in the past, so this only tells part of the story.

The second part? There hasn't been too much that's new about the team. They have won the season series over the Orioles - and I'm sure I'd care about that more if I had lived in DC longer. As of now, all that means is we have collective bragging rights over their fans for the next year. I'd care about that, but:

- I don't know any O's fans
- I wouldn't want to brag and/or gloat with someone who's sick of Angelos

Those two things mean I'd only rub it in to O's fans that support Angelos; has anyone seen those people, ever? I figure there's two of them, and they're probably in Germany.

In addition, the O's aren't even that good. They just fired their manager, hired Andy McPhail in the front office (last job was with the Cubs, IIRC), and Angelos has promised to lay off the baseball operations. I don't believe that for a minute, and I don't think anyone else does either. Still, that doesn't solve their bigger problem of needing to actually retool and reload offensively. There's a ton of issues with the team - not the least of which involve bringing in subpar crappy veterans as continual stopgaps. Anyone who's followed the team for any length of time could tell you that, too.

So what about the Detroit series? Well, that was a pasting - but the Tigers are damn good. Was anyone surprised about that? If anything, I was floored the Nats could even be in a position to win a game. Yeah, it was a flashback to April (and if anything, I've shown I seem to blog more as long as the team's losing, which means I should've had 12 updates over that time period), but we knew that was going to happen at some point.

Now the Nats are facing Cleveland. I'll be at the game tonight - it'll be my first non-Bascik start. I'm excited; Luis Ayala is back. While that seems an odd reason to be excited, Ayala was a fantasy baseball staple for a couple of years for me, and it was a shame to see him get injured for as long as he did. Still, now he's back - and now he's inducing Travis Hafner to ground into inning-ending DPs, which I can't complain about at all. Hell, even Cristian Guzman went yard last night - anything is possible now.

So what am I expecting tonight? Well, I'm not expecting anything out of Brandon Watson. He did go 2-for-4 last night, but that means he's 2-for-7 in limited exposure. That's better than he's done in either of his other ML stints. Eh, whatever. Right now the Nats are 15-27 against teams with a record over .500. Cleveland's 12 games up. I'll connect the dots.

EDIT: in another "milestone", we're finally over 100 posts here. Never saw that coming. In addition, I'm going to update with links to a couple of other articles and websites I write for as well. Stay tuned for those.

Monday, June 18

I don't really care about baseball, so here's this

It's true. Chris follows baseball fanatically, while I'm aware that the sport exists enough to sometimes watch in October.

College football, on the other hand, is just TWO AND A HALF MONTHS AWAY, and that's exciting. More exciting than, say, watching the Spurs beat the Cavs with the action-packed intensity of an Anaconda strangling a Caiman crocodile in the NBA Finals, which thank God are over.

But why should you care about an NCAA football season that doesn't kick off for another 73 days and whose most important games won't start for another 60+ days after that?


I have often thrown around the statistic that of the 13 teams from BCS conferences who have gone unbeaten over the past 9 years, 12 have gone on to play in the BCS championship game. Never has a BCS unbeaten been left out in favor of any team to have suffered losses during the regular season. But what about the flip side? The old adage is that it's better to lose early than late. Six teams who have lost one game have played in the BCS championship: 98 FSU, 00 FSU, 01 Nebraska, 03 LSU, 03 OU, 06 Florida.

1998 featured just one unbeaten team from a BCS conference, Tennessee, and six teams from BCS conferences with just one loss. The Noles, who were selected to play against Tennessee, lost on 9/12 to NC State. Arizona's only loss of the season came on 10/10 to UCLA. UCLA's lone regular season loss came on 12/5 to Miami. Wisconsin lost on 11/14 to Michigan, and Big Ten co-champ Ohio State lost on 11/7 to Michigan State. Kansas State's perfect season was ruined on 12/5 by Texas A&M in the Big XII championship.

The 00 Noles lost on 10/7 to Miami. That same Miami team lost their only game on 9/9 to Washington, who lost their only game on 9/30 to Oregon. Oregon State suffered their only loss on 10/7, also to Washington.

For the 01 Huskers, it was a loss on 11/23 to Colorado in the Big XII championship. They were selected over an Oregon team whose sole loss came on 10/20 to Stanford. Not a lot of people remember, but Illinois lost just one game that regular season (9/29 to Michigan) and Maryland also finished the regular season 10-1, losing to Florida State on 10/27.

03 LSU lost on 10/11 to Florida and their opponent OU lost on 12/6 to Kansas State in the Big XII championship. They were selected over a USC team who lost their only game on 9/27 to Cal.

06 Florida lost on 10/14 to Auburn. They were selected over a Michigan team who lost their only game on 11/18 to Ohio State. Wisconsin lost just one game as well, on 9/23 to Michigan. Louisville's sole loss came on 11/9 to Rutgers.

Well that's a lot of numbers! Here's what they boil down to:
In only four of nine years have their been two (or more) unbeaten BCS teams at the end of the regular season. In the other five years, a team with one loss has been given a second chance!

Each of those five years, there has been a team that lost its only game in September. That is a total of six teams who lost a game in September but MIGHT have been given a second chance. Only ONE of those SIX teams actually did get a BCS championship game berth, though! The FSU Seminoles in 1998. Of the five teams who didn't, one was left out in favor of a team who lost in November, and the other four were left out in favor of teams who lost in October. (03 USC was actually left out in favor of teams who lost in October and December, since no BCS conference had an unbeaten team in 2003)

Comparatively, THREE of SEVEN teams to have their only loss in October in a season without two BCS unbeatens were given a title game berth. Of the four that didn't, two were left out in favor of a team who lost in November, one who lost in October, and one who lost in September.

ONE of FIVE teams who lost their only game in November in such a season wound up playing in the BCS title game. Of the four who weren't, two were left out in favor of a team losing in October and two in favor of a team losing in September.

ONE of THREE team who lost their only game in December in a regular season with one of less BCS unbeatens wound up in the BCS title game. The two who didn't were both left out in favor of a team who lost in September.

Now, just one weekend of football is played in December and that is mostly conference championships, so we could say that TWO of EIGHT teams who lost after October and still had a chance to get into the title game actually did get into the title game.

In some cases, it was guaranteed that a team losing in that month would be left out. For example, in 2000 it was a certainty that a team losing in October would be left out, since only one of FSU and Oregon State could face unbeaten Oklahoma. Revising the numbers to accomodate for that, September losers got a second chance ONE out of a possible FIVE times, with NONE of the FIVE teams who didn't get that chance being left out in favor of a team who lost in the same month. THREE of a possible FIVE times an October loser got a second chance, with ONE of the FOUR who got left out being left out in favor of a fellow October loser. TWO of a possible FOUR times a Nov/Dec loser got a title berth, with NONE of the SIX teams who got left out being left out in favor of a team who lost in Nov/Dec.

The strange result is that it actually appears WORSE to lose a game in September than in any other month. In fact, if you are going to lose a game, October looks like the month to do it in. Why? While games in November and December are what's fresh on the voters' minds, games in September determine which teams are getting the hype in the first place. Last season in October, everybody was talking about Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, Louisville, USC, and West Virginia. One-loss Wisconsin was already long forgotten about, even though they'd go on to finish the year 12-1 with a January bowl win. The computers don't take dates, or even the order of games, into account. But computers do, albeit only in an indirect/abstract fashion, take into account the strength of your conference. Losing in September costs you valuable media hype during the second half of the season and usually hurts your conference as September features a lot of nonconference games. Losing in November/December is fresh on voters' minds, although losing in December sometimes comes after you've already virtually locked up a BCS title game berth or on a weekend when the other contenders have already finished playing. Losing a conference game in October minimizes the "damage."

This is a very roundabout way of saying that September will probably be most important in determining who's in the running for the championship game. So what's on for the first month of the greatest sport played in America?

Sept 1
Georgia Tech @ Notre Dame
Washington State @ Wisconsin
Tennessee @ California

Sept 8
Miami @ Oklahoma
Va Tech @ LSU
Oregon @ Michigan
Notre Dame @ Penn State
Nebraska @ Wake Forest
TCU @ Texas
Fresno State @ Texas A&M
Washington @ Boise State

Sept 15
Notre Dame @ Michigan
Ohio State @ Washington
USC @ Nebraska
Fresno State @ Oregon
Tennessee @ Florida
Arkansas @ Alabama

Sept 22
Texas A&M @ Miami (9/20)
Penn State @ Michigan
Georgia @ Alabama

Sept 29
Alabama @ FSU
California @ Oregon

And what about 2007's teams to watch? Who will have their title game or other BCS hopes dashed in September?

The Crimson Tide are fresh off a 6-7 season, and have won six or less games in three of the last four seasons. They return 9 offensive starters but just 5 starters on defense. Nonetheless, there's a group of people who believe that Nick Saban can turn this team into title contenders. They're called "residents of the state of Alabama."
9/1: Western Carolina
9/8: at Vanderbilt
9/15: Arkansas
9/22: Georgia
9/29: vs Florida State in Jacksonville

In 2006, Arkansas reversed two straight losing seasons to finish 10-4. Despite the high number of losses, each team to beat them won at least 11 games, including national champion Florida, nonconference foe USC, and bowl foe Wisconsin. They had to defeat a 11-win team, Auburn, to get their own ten wins. This season's schedule is much more forgiving. They return just six starters on each side of the ball, but with McFadden running more Wildcat and unsung fullback Hillis healthy again, their offense should be fearsome. In September, they will only be challenged by a road trip to Alabama. Win that, and they're looking at a 5-0 start before hosting Auburn.
9/1: Troy
9/8: at Alabama
9/15: Kentucky
9/22: North Texas
9/29: UT-Chattanooga

After being left out of the championship in 2004, Auburn has a 20-5 record over the past two years. Three losses have come in conference play, though not to any team twice. They return most of their defense and most of the offensive skill players, but must replace four offensive linemen! September includes nonconference games with Kansas State and USF who both played in bowl games and a trip to Florida on the 29th. They will realistically have their sights on a 5-0 start pending a favorable outcome in the Florida game.
9/1: Kansas State
9/8: South Florida
9/15: Mississippi State
9/22: New Mexico State
9/29: at Florida

Boise State
From 2002-2004, the Broncos had three straight one-loss seasons, with losses only to Arkansas, Oregon State, and Louisville. The following season was a down year, with four losses including an 0-2 start and a loss in their bowl game to Boston College. In 2006, the Boise State Broncoes became just the second non-BCS team to finish a perfect season that included a win in a BCS bowl. While leading rusher Ian Johnson returns, the Broncos lose their top four receivers and star QB Jared Zebransky. The Broncos lose 11 starters overall. September is a forgiving month with only Washington to worry about.
8/30: Weber State
9/8: at Washington
9/15: Wyoming
9/22: bye
9/27: Southern Miss

Cal is in an interesting situation. Since USC started getting the #1 recruiting class every year since 2003 (according to Steele's which combines all the major recruiting serices' data), only Cal has had much success among the rest of the Pac 10. They have managed a top 25 class each of the past four years. However, they return just five defensive starters in 2007, and this team was already weak defensively for the past two seasons... in fact, their defense has been awful pretty much every season in the BCS era other than 2004. The September schedule includes a visit from Tennessee and a trip to Oregon.
9/1: Tennessee
9/8: at Colorado State
9/15: Louisiana Tech
9/22: Arizona
9/29: at Oregon

Last year the Florida Gators became the 3rd SEC team to win a BCS championship and the first team with a loss entering the BCS game to upset a previously unbeaten. Florida has won two national titles in the last eleven seasons, but has never finished a season unbeaten! The Gators will have a QB with little experience and 9 new defensive starters, and must host Tennessee and Auburn in September.
9/1: Western Kentucky
9/8: Troy
9/15: Tennessee
9/22: at Mississippi
9/29: Auburn

Florida State
Though the Seminoles finished last season 7-6, Tallahassee is very excited about their 2007 potential. The Noles crushed UCLA 44-27 in an Emerald Bowl that was supposed to determine the leading darkhorse candidate for this season. Their 14 returning starters is the most the team has had since their championship year of 1999. But they may be more excited about who's not coming back, which is offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden replaced by Jimbo Fisher. An opening game visit to Clemson and a later hosting of Alabama are the Noles greatest worries.
9/1: at Clemson
9/8: UAB
9/15: at Colorado
9/22: bye
9/29: vs Alabama at Jacksonville

Fresno State
Since Pat Hill took over Fresno State, the program has built itself up to be one of the premiere mid-major powers. They are known for being willing to play anyone, anywhere. Indeed in the past six seasons, they have played nonconference games against teams from the Pac 10 primarily but also the ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, and SEC. While this tough scheduling has brought its share of losses, the not-that-infrequent wins have brought real respect to the program. Last season, though, the Bulldogs finished a disappointing 4-8 with a new QB. They return just 11 starters, 4 on defense, and travel to Texas A&M and Oregon in their opening three weeks.
9/1: Sacramento State
9/8: at Texas A&M
9/15: at Oregon
9/22: Louisiana Tech
9/29: at Nevada

Georgia could be called the best program in the BCS era never to have won a title. Their 9-4 finish last season snapped a streak of four straight 10+ win seasons with a record totalling 53-13 from during the past five seasons. This includes a 4-1 record in bowl games and a 2-1 record in the SEC championship. In the past five seasons, they have lost just one game in September, to BCS champ LSU in the 2003 season. They return seven starters on offense but Stafford at QB is a major concern. Only four starters return on defense. Hosting South Carolina may be surprisingly challenging and they travel to Alabama in the season's opening month.
9/1: Oklahoma State
9/8: South Carolina
9/15: Western Carolina
9/22: at Alabama
9/29: Mississippi

While not generating as much publicity as Boise State or Fresno State, Hawaii has been a third strong team from the WAC in recent years. Despite a losing record in 2005, the Warriors have won 52 games from 2001 on, culminating with a 11-3 2006 record. During that time their bowl record is 3-1. Hawaii returns 8 defensive starters and offensive star Colt Brennan at QB. The Warriors have a cupcake September and I would be shocked if they are not 5-0.
9/1: Northern Colorado
9/8: at Louisiana Tech
9/15: at UNLV
9/22: Charleston Southern
9/29: at Idaho

Louisville, or "Lawlvull" as it is pronounced in Kentucky, was recruited by the Big East after an impressive 11-1 season in CUSA, including spoiling Boise State's perfect season in the Liberty Bowl, in a effort to offset some of the talent and prestige lost to the ACC as three schools bolted the conference! West Virginia shocked the Cardinals in 2005, coming back from 20 points down to win in triple OT. The Cards still had a shot at a 10-win season, but blew a lead against Va Tech in the Gator Bowl to finish 9-3. In 2006, everyone knew the Cardinals were serious after they embarassed Miami 31-7 and won a 44-34 shootout without injured star Michael Bush against West Virginia. The Cardinals appeared on their way to ending Rutgers' dream season when they blew a 25-7 lead, and even at 25-25 Rutgers needed a rekick of a FG (due to penalty) to win the game. Lousiville finished 12-1 with a BCS bowl win over Wake Forest. The offense returns 8 starters including Heisman hopeful QB Brohm and the entire WR corps. Though they have a new starter at RB, in reality three backs have significant game experience and good stats. The defensive line and secondary must each replace two starters, and a defensive recovery stands between them and a perfect season. They should easily be 5-0 in September as their schedule is not even worth discussing until November.
9/1: Murray State
9/8: Middle Tennessee
9/15: at Kentucky
9/22: Syracuse
9/29: at North Carolina State

The LSU Tigers have gone 44-8 in the last four years, including their BCS championship season of 2003. During that span they are 3-1 in bowl games including 2-0 in the Sugar Bowl, and 1-1 in the SEC championship. Their lone bowl loss came on a desparation play by Iowa as time expired. The Tigers return most of their potent defense save for the two stars at safety, and while Flynn is a first year starter at QB he has significant game experience including a Peach Bowl victory over Miami. LSU are picked to finish the season #2 after USC by most preseason mags. Their September schedule includes a visit from Virginia Tech and two weeks later South Carolina. If the team plays to its potential, 5-0 is a likely result.
9/1: at Mississippi State
9/8: Virginia Tech
9/15: Middle Tennessee
9/22: South Carolina
9/29: at Tulane

Miami FL
Larry Coker's tenure at Miami began with a 12-0 national championship season with many considering this team to have been the best ever. The following year they were robbed in the Fiesta Bowl by a phantom PI call that prevented Miami from becoming the first repeat champions of the BCS era. Back-to-back losses in 2003 started the cries for Coker's head, despite a 35-3 total record at Miami! The following season the Canes lost three more games and Coker arguably saved himself by winning the Peach Bowl against Florida. But a 2005 season without ten wins and with a humiliating bowl blowout at the hands of LSU probably sealed his fate. Coker was fired in 2006 and a one-point bowl victory over Nevada prevented the Canes first losing season since 1997. This season Miami returns 16 starters, including 9 on offense and a senior QB. If the offensive line's weaknesses can be fixed, this will be a powerful unit, and the defense is always solid. In September they face two Big XII foes, travelling to Oklahoma and hosting Texas A&M. Fans will expect 5-0 and would be devastated by 3-2. Winning in Norman is probably too much to ask of these Canes, but on the other hand this is Oklahoma in September.
9/1: Marshall
9/8: at Oklahoma
9/15: Florida International
9/20: Texas A&M
9/29: Duke

After sharing the 1997 national championship, Michigan has gone 84-28 in the BCS era with no fewer than 7 wins in a season (usually 9 or 10) but also no fewer than 2 losses (usually 3). Chad Henne has caught some flak for a 0-3 record against Ohio State and 0-3 record in bowl games, but little of that is his fault. The defense has twice given up 37 or more points to the Buckeyes to negate good offensive stats, and the defense has given up at least 32 points in each bowl loss, with the loss to Nebraska also having numerous officiating errors which cost Michigan timeouts. Indeed, in their 10 losses under Henne, the offense has put up at least 20 points in eight of those games, with only the Notre Dame loss in 2005 resting squarely on the QB. Despite just returning 10 starters, Michigan returns most of their offensive talent and should be very potent. They will miss Ecker as a safety valve and Breaston for explosive plays. Defensively is where they must worry. Nearly all of their big names from 2006 are gone, although they will not have to start any freshmen. Michigan's defense had been porous in 2004 and 05 before a strong showing in 06, so this is a legitimate concern. September opens with a visit from the defending champions... of division I-AA. Then they host Oregon, Notre Dame, and Penn State before travelling to Northwestern. Oregon's defense was in shambles in 2006, Notre Dame lost the bulk of their offensive talent, and Penn State does not play well on the road. Still that is a tough three-game stretch.
9/1: Appalachian State
9/8: Oregon
9/15: Notre Dame
9/22: Penn State
9/29: at Northwestern

Nebraska had an amazing streak from 1969-2001 in which they won no fewer than 9 games in any season. After a shaky 2002, they again won 10 games in 2003. It has been trying times since then for the Huskers faithful, as in 2004 they had a losing season for the first time anyone could remember. The 2005 team improved to 8-4 with a number of close wins and close losses, and a controversial win in the Alamo Bowl over Michigan. Last season the Huskers made it back to the Big XII championship game but were handled easily by Oklahoma and lost the Cotton Bowl to Auburn. They return just 11 starters but should have an improved QB with Sam Keller now eligible. Their September schedule includes visits from Nevada, USC, and Iowa State and a trip to reigning ACC champ Wake Forest before an October showdown with Missouri that could determine the Big XII North champion.
9/1: Nevada
9/8: at Wake Forest
9/15: USC
9/22: Ball State
9/29: Iowa State

Notre Dame
In Charlie Weis' first season at Notre Dame, the Fightigh Irish started the season 4-1 with victories over three ranked teams before losing at the last second to juggernaut USC in what was a great execution of a near-perfect gameplan. The Irish rolled on to a 9-2 record and a controversial selection over Pac 10 runners-up Oregon, who were 10-1 and ranked higher than Notre Dame in the BCS standings! The Irish faced off against Ohio State in the Fiesta and were run out of the stadium on defense. In 2006, the Irish climbed to #2 before being embarassed by Michigan, and spend the rest of the season hovering around #10. ND would reach a record of 10-1 before back to back blowout losses against USC and LSU. At 10-3, each team to defeat ND did go on to win 11 games, and the Irish themselves beat three teams with 9 wins. However, this season ND will return just 9 total starters and lost their stars at QB, RB, and two WRs. September will be grueling with trips to Penn State and Michigan, and they could be upset by Ga Tech or Purdue as well.
9/1: Georgia Tech
9/8: at Penn State
9/15: at Michigan
9/22: Michigan State
9/29: at Purdue

Ohio State
In Jim Tressel's second year at Ohio State, the Buckeyes surprised the country by going 14-0 and upsetting heavily favored Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, following up a modest 7-5 campaign the season before. The team was heavy with NFL talent and would set a record for number of draft picks in a single year. The Buckeyes were on the outside track of a title game race in 2003 before losing to Michigan to ruin any small hopes they had. 2004 was a tough season as three consecutive losses dropped them from the top 25 until after the bowl games, but they would return to the top in 2005 with a nasty defense and speedy WRs, winning 10 games and a BCS bowl. Last year the Buckeye defense was supposed to struggle, but instead it shone brightly allowing just 86 points in their first 11 games. They got into a shootout victory over Michigan before being shocked and humiliated against Florida in the BCS championship game. The Buckeyes return just 11 starters in 2007 and have questions at QB and WR. But a trip to Washington is their only possible challenge in September, as with Glen Mason gone Minnesota should struggle to find its way in a new spread scheme.
9/1: Youngstown State
9/8: Akron
9/15: at Washington
9/22: Northwestern
9/29: at Minnesota

In 2003 and 2004, OU lost two national championship games in which their invitation was somewhat controversial. In 2005 they opened the season with a new QB and a 2-3 record but won six of their final seven including a bowl upset of Oregon to finish a respectable 8-4. In 2006 they felt robbed by poor officiating in Oregon, then lost a game to Texas in which they outgained the Longhorns by 110 yards but lost the turnover battle by five! Again they would wright the ship by winning their final 8 including the Big XII championship, before losing to Boise State's amazing series of trick plays and 4th down conversions. Despite returning 15 starters, the Sooners will once again have a new face at QB which has not boded well for them in the early season. Of their seven losses in the past two years, five have come in September or in the Red River Shootout the first weekend in October. OU must host Miami and an away game at Tulsa which is only interesting considering the Sooners' recent September woes.
9/1: North Texas
9/8: Miami FL
9/15: Utah State
9/22: at Tulsa
9/29: at Colorado

Quackitty quack quack quack. If you know any Oregon fans, you hear this sound almost EVERY September. Anytime someone mentions 2001 Miami as an all-time great, you hear how they didn't have to play Oregon. (That 2001 team did get a raw deal.) Since then, Oregon has opened 6-0 in 2002 to finish 7-6, 4-0 in 2003 to finish 8-5, 1-3 in 2004 to finish 5-6, 3-0 in 2005 to finish 10-2, and 4-0 in 2006 to finish 7-6. Seven starters return on both sides of the ball, and receiving is the only question on offense as their #2 and #4 yardage gainers are gone. Their top two tacklers are gone but numbers 3-7 all return. But while previous Ducks teams have fared well in September and crumbled later on, this team faces a road trip to Michigan and home matches with Fresno State and Cal in their opening month.
9/1: Houston
9/8: at Michigan
9/15: Fresno State
9/22: at Stanford
9/29: California

Penn State
After two losing seasons, the Nittany Lions rose from the ashes and posted a 11-1 record in 2005, losing their perfect season on a last second play by Michigan and going on to defeat Florida State in an ugly Orange Bowl. They dropped to 9-4 in 2006, but all four losses came to teams with 10 or more victories, they ended the season on a positive note with a January bowl win over Tennessee, and the defense actually allowed fewer points total in more games than 2005. This season, though, they must replace three defensive linemen and five defensive starters overall! While the offense returns 8, it will miss leading rusher Tony Hunt. The September schedule includes a visit from Notre Dame and a trip to Michigan. Notre Dame is a weakened team and should not win in Happy Valley. But I question Penn State's ability to keep up with Michigan's offense in Ann Arbor.
9/1: Florida International
9/8: Notre Dame
9/15: Buffalo
9/22: at Michigan
9/29: at Illinois

In 2006, Rutgers returned to the top 25 for the first time since the 70s en route to a 11-2 season and the school's first ever bowl victory! They rode the backs of star RB Ray Rice, FB Brian Leonard, and a stingy defense that yielded 30+ points just twice all season, both losses. Leonard is gone but Rice should be even better, and Teel is supposed to have made big improvements in passing in the offseason. In all, 13 starters return and the schedule is very favorable.
8/30: Buffalo
9/7: Navy
9/15: Norfolk State
9/22: Maryland
9/29: Cincinnati

South Carolina
OK, I wouldn't call South Carolina title contenders, or even a darkhorse team, but Steve Spurrier's third season at the other USC is going to be interesting. The team returns 7 offensive starters including the QB, and 10 defensive starters. They went 8-5 in 2006 but had losses to Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Florida all by a TD or less. SC reminds me of the situation Ohio State was in heading into 2002, with the strong returning defense, experienced QB, great coach, and so many close losses the year before. September features three very winnable games but also road trips to Georgia and LSU! Two early conference losses would put a blocker on the Cocks' hopes of winning the SEC East, but even a 4-1 start would have them firmly above the pack. As LSU still looks a bit too hard for them to match up with talent-wise, divisional foe Georgia will be who they hope to defeat to take a step towards penetrating the barrier holding them back and thrust themselves into the SEC elite. Penis.
9/1: UL-Lafayette
9/8: at Georgia
9/15: South Carolina State
9/22: at LSU
9/29: Mississippi State

TCU has had three 11-win seasons in the past four years and four 10+ win seasons in the last five. They have gone 3-1 in bowl games since 2002, ironically with their lone bowl loss coming to Boise State after they backed out of a GMAC matchup with Ben Roethlisberger and MAC champion Miami, citing conflicts with their exam schedule which the university was able to ignore in a Poinsettia Bowl matchup last year with Northern Illinois. They return 9 defensive starters from a team that gave up just 160 points in 13 games, but return just five on the offensive side and will have to replace QB Ballard. TCU boasts every year of being the #2 team in Texas and complains of voter bias against them. After an opening game hosting Baylor, TCU will travel to Austin to see who the best team in Texas is. Unless it conflicts with parents' weekend or something.
9/1: Baylor
9/8: at Texas
9/15: at Air Force
9/22: SMU
9/29: Colorado State

I don't know that I have ever seen a team with as ugly a mascot as that dog of Tennessee's. The Vols went 5-6 in 2005 with a late-season loss to Vanderbilt costing them bowl eligibility. In 2006 they rebounded to open the season by blowing out highly ranked California in a game that wasn't as close as the 17 point margin indicates. They lost heartbreakers to Florida and LSU before getting run over by Arkansas and having their offense fall apart vs Penn State in the Outback Bowl. Since winning the national championship in 1998, Tennessee is just 2-5 in bowl games and 0-2 in the SEC championship. The Vols return just 11 of 22 starters but have significant experience at QB, with most losses coming to the receiving corps and secondary. Their September schedule includes visits to California and Florida but two easy wins and a bye week as well. The first three weeks will make Tennessee a national title contender if they go 3-0.
9/1: at California
9/8: Southern Miss
9/15: at Florida
9/22: Arkansas State
9/29: bye

Rarely has the college football world been graced by the presence of a truly great player such as Vince Young. A moment of silence please. The Texas Longhorns won their first national title in 35 years when their 2005 squad upset the USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl. A repeat title was all but a mathematical certainty until Young declared that he would be making the NFL a better place after completing his junior year. After a bad loss to Ohio State, the 06 Horns appeared to still have BCS hopes as they were 9-1, but following an injury to Colt McCoy lost their last two conference games. A close win salvaged their streak of 6 straight 10+ win seasons. While returning just six starters from a defense with coverage problems last season, the offense may be the best in the country and, so long as McCoy stays healthy, should be able to blow through a September schedule in which only TCU should provide a minor challenge.
9/1: Arkansas State
9/8: TCU
9/15: at UCF
9/22: Rice
9/29: Kansas State

Texas A&M
They're being talked about, so I might as well write about em. After losing in the Sugar Bowl to Ohio State in 1998, Texas A&M had seven seasons of irrelevance. If you know much about Aggie culture, this is like 100 years to them. Finally, last season, A&M broke through to win 9 games. They started out 8-1 and playing the Citadel, UL-Lafayette, Army, and La Tech had a little to do with that. Upsetting Missouri was a big deal, but if Colt McCoy didn't get injured against K-State, A&M would have lost their final three games of the regular season... which at least would have meant they wouldn't have to play Cal in the Holiday Bowl and get embarassed. ABC kept hyping up the Holiday Bowl as some big offensive matchup, but only one of these teams had a decent offense; A&M's stats were padded by a cupcake September schedule. Or perhaps they meant that playing against Cal gives you a good offense by default, but that's not the way the game turned out. A&M returns 9 starters from their overrated offense and 6 starters from a defense that gave up 21 ppg. They won't win 9 games this year, but with their mostly easy September schedule, the only game they'll have to worry about that month will be against Miami.
9/1: Montana State
9/8: Fresno State
9/15: UL-Monroe
9/20: at Miami FL
9/29: Baylor

Okay I'll admit, I don't understand why people are picking UCLA to finish #2 in the Pac 10. Well obviously, returning 10 offensive and 10 defensive starters has something to do with it. That means they'll be a better version of a team that went 7-6 including 4 conference losses all by 10 or more points, a blowout Emerald Bowl loss to Florida State, and yes an upset of USC in their rivalry game. In the BCS era the Bruins have had just two 10-win seasons and are 2-5 in bowl games. In September their biggest challenges will probably be BYU and Utah, though Oregon State could be decent. With their toughest games all coming later in the season, even 4-1 might not be a good enough start for the Bruins if they have BCS hopes, so they cannot afford to slip up.
9/1: at Stanford
9/8: BYU
9/15: at Utah
9/22: Washington
9/29: at Oregon State

Since 2002, the USC Trojans have won an outright title, shared another, and come 3 points short of a third. They are 4-1 in BCS bowls in the past five years and have won the last four Pac 10 titles including sharing one with Oregon State and Cal in 2006. They have finished each season since 2002 ranked no lower than 4th. Returning 10 defensive starters and with the only offensive questions being at WR, they are as close as there is to being a lock to play in the BCS title game. After opening a home game with Idaho, USC's schedule gets down to business as they travel to Nebraska and finish the season with 9 conference games plus a trip to Notre Dame. The marquee matchup of September is the trip to Nebraska, whose supposedly improved offense might test USC, but who pobably lost too much defensive talent to actually win the game.
9/1: Idaho
9/8: at Nebraska
9/15: Washington State
9/22: at Washington
9/29: Stanford

Va Tech
The Hokies have managed to win 10+ games each of the last three seasons without generating a lot of hype. Last season the defense was excellent but the offense struggled in a conference loss to Boston College and a bowl loss to Georgia, where points were mostly given up by turnovers. The Hokies return 16 starters, and with Glennon and Ore now being more seasoned, the offense should be more consistent. Va Tech is a darkhorse title contender and September features four games they should win easily and a big trip to LSU.
9/1: East Carolina
9/8: at LSU
9/15: Ohio
9/22: William and Mary
9/29: North Carolina

Wake Forest
The Deamon Deacons were the surprise ACC champs in 2006, after three straight losing seasons! Despite not having great stars, they won three games by 3 or less and another two by 7 points. But in their three losses, the offense managed just 12 ppg and must do a better job. Fortunately, they return 9 offensive starters and starting QB Skinner, who played as a true Freshman in 06, has big game experience now. Unfortuantely, the defense that anchored so many wins returns just 5 starters and 4 of the 6 leading tacklers are gone. Wake Forest opens at Boston College then hosts Nebraska before hosting Army, then must host Maryland. BC is very experienced and Nebraska should simply have more talent, so it will be very hard for Wake to start off unbeaten.
9/1: at Boston College
9/8: Nebraska
9/15: Army
9/22: Maryland
9/29: bye

West Virginia
The White-Slaton era began in Morgantown back in 2005, a season of offensive brilliance marred by the inconsistency you'd expect from relying on two freshmen. Only an early season loss to Virginia Tech kept them from a perfect season, as the Mountaineers won an impressive comeback against Louisville and defended the conference's tarnished image with an upset of SEC champion Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Last season the Cardinals got their revenge on WVA, but it was a surprise loss to South Florida that ended their hopes of an at-large BCS berth. Despite a questionable defense, the offense was one of the most feared in the nation, and should be even moreso in White and Slaton's junior years as they add speedster Noel Devine into the mix. The Mounties return 15 starters and should be better on both sides of the ball than they were in an 11-2 2006 season. USF, who upset WVA last year, is on the September schedule, but realistically they will go 5-0.
9/1: Western Michigan
9/8: at Marshall
9/13: at Maryland
9/22: East Carolina
9/28: at South Florida

Wisconsin has a history of going unmentioned. In 1998, they were one of six teams to finish the regular season with one loss, Big Ten co-champs featuring the nation's stingiest defense and best running back, but were hardly an afterthought in the title game discussion. The following year they went 10-2 and won a second consecutive Rose Bowl, before sinking into obscurity. In the last two years they have risen back to the top, first going 10-3 then 12-1, uncluding two bowl victories over tough SEC foes in the Capital One Bowl! The 2006 defense allowed a shade over half as many points as the 2005 unit in HC Bret Bielma's first year. The Badgers return 16 starters and while they must break in a new QB, he is a senior so he has plenty of practice time in the system if little game experience. PJ Hill should have an outstanding year running the ball, and with Michigan and Ohio State somewhat depleted they could win the Big Ten. Wisconsin hosts Washington State their opening week, a team which could challenge their defense but struggle to slow down Hill. Iowa is a decent matchup, but with the Hawkeyes starting a new sophomore QB and playing in Madison, the Badgers should have the edge in that one.
9/1: Washington State
9/8: at UNLV
9/15: the Citadel
9/22: Iowa
9/29: Michigan State

Predictions coming later...

Sunday, June 3

Feast and Famine

It's tough to get an accurate read on an inconsistent team. Right now, that's the current version of the Nats - I saw them lay a giant egg on Wednesday. Of course, they follow that up by taking the Dodgers out back on Thursday (knew I should've gone to that game instead!). They follow that up by beating up on Jake Peavy the first couple of innings on Friday night and eventually prevailing with a 4-3 win in 10 innings. If you haven't been paying attention, that's pretty impressive; the Padres' bullpen doesn't give up anything. Ever, really.

And then ...well, you have the first inning of Saturday's game. I still can't (or won't) blame Speigner for that. It wasn't his fault Nook pulled a circa 1999 Andruw Jones-style play, pulling up in front of a flyball he should've caught. It wasn't his fault that Guzman on the next play thought A-Rod was behind him yelling, "HAAA!" or "MINE!" or "OMGPWNED!" or a bunch of other random things which caused him to balk at a pop fly which would've been an infield fly had he looked like he was going to, y'know, catch it. It's not his fault Zimm rushed a throw that would've gotten an out at second. Now, it is his fault he gave up all the hits after those plays, but it's not his fault he had to get six outs in one inning. Of course, none of those plays were errors, meaning that the official record blamed Speigner. It wasn't his fault.

I missed the first inning today; I should probably reword that "missed" the first inning today (air quotes!). Micah Bowie promptly ate it, as far as I can tell. Of course, the Nats did come back, only to give it back late and end the Padres series the same way they ended the Dodgers series: with a 1-2 record.

Coming up next? The Pirates, who feature a predominantly lefty rotation and no offense to speak of. I'm going to the game on Tuesday, which means that, yes - I'm seeing two Mike Bascik starts in a row.

Why'd I move here again?