The college football season officially kicks off this weekend and two SEC programs play in marquee, prime time matchups.
Georgia faces Boise State in the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, and LSU squares off against Oregon in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Tex. Two golden opportunities to showcase the SEC’s continued dominance of the college football landscape. I think.
Fans of these historically highly competitive programs expect big things, but there’s uncertainty surrounding the Bulldogs and, more recently, the Tigers.
No subject is beyond scrutiny just days before kickoff. Even uniforms are raising the anxiety level among fans. Georgia’s threads for Saturday’s showdown have sparked controversy, and LSU’s quarterback may very well don an orange jumpsuit rather than a Tiger uniform this year. More on these pressing topics a little later, but it’s safe to say that a sort of uncomfortable, shaky confidence can be felt among Georgia and LSU fans.
While UGA and LSU begin the football season on Saturday, the rest of the SEC teams are off, or they might as well be. Florida plays Florida Atlantic. Come on, Gators. Florida Atlantic? I know only two things about that school. It’s in Florida, and it’s probably near the Atlantic Ocean.
Alabama has a touch football game with Kent State. Tennessee faces a stiff test against Montana. Luckily, they’ll get the Grizzlies at night, providing Vols fans ample "preparation" time to cheer their team to victory.
And of course, what would an opening-week SEC schedule be without a few directional schools in the mix? Kentucky plays Western Kentucky and South Carolina faces East Carolina. In other words, the only SEC schools with moxie to schedule real games right off the bat are Georgia and LSU. Will they carry the conference banner and make the SEC proud?
Georgia enters the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game ranked No. 22 in the coaches’ poll and No. 19 in the AP poll, while Boise State is ranked No. 7 and No. 5, respectively. UGA will sport special uniforms provided by Nike, and this has roused ire among UGA fans. The internet message boards have been overloaded with uniform comparisons to Power Rangers and comic book characters. The unis are certainly a hit with all Georgia fans under 10. If Georgia wins this weekend, the school can raise some decent cash by auctioning off the uniforms; if not, it’s free Power Ranger helmets for 10-year-old boys.
The Vegas oddsmakers have installed the Broncos from Idaho (Boise is in Idaho, isn’t it?) as a 3-point favorite, meaning UGA is an underdawg in its own backyard. The national pundits are raving about Boise State, as usual. After they beat Georgia, these talking heads say, Boise will have an easy path to the BCS title game. Georgia, on the other hand, mystifies the national media and the consensus seems to be "Let’s wait and see."
Freshman sensation Isaiah Crowell, the top-rated running back recruit in the nation last year, will make his debut on Saturday night. Expectations about a running back have not been higher in Athens since Herschel Walker arrived on campus. Or Garrison Hearst. Or Knowshon Moreno. Well, you get my point. The Dawgs should also enjoy success through the air as it’s unlikely Boise State will face a QB all year as talented as Aaron Murray. But if Georgia struggles to move the ball early, expect a chorus of "What the *#@^ are you doing, Mike Bobo?!" outcries from the UGA faithful.
Defensively, the Dawgs will have their paws full containing the speedy Broncos offense. Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, a Heisman hopeful, has a 38-2 record as a starter. Sounds impressive until you consider the Broncos play virtually no teams with any talent, size, speed, or coaching. (Okay, that’s unfair. All of Boise State’s opponents do have coaches.) Moore loses his top two receivers from last year, but the have-no-fear Boise offense will find ways to score. Georgia must count on tackle Kwame Geathers to make noise in the Boise State backfield. Geathers is a 6-foot-6, 350-pound beast with an NFL pedigree, and word out of Athens is that he’s unblockable.
I’ll take UGA in an "upset" over Boise State, setting the stage for an epic early-season tilt against the Gamecocks next week.
An even bigger game this weekend with national title implications pits the LSU Tigers against the Oregon Ducks. The contest will kick off Saturday night in Cowboys Stadium, perhaps the most expensive, over-the-top stadium in history. I’m told that a draft beer, hot dog, and fries will cost over 21 fun tickets during the game. Ouch. LSU fans may want to forego the pricey fare at the stadium and contribute instead to the Jordan Jefferson Legal Defense Fund.
The Tigers’ senior starting quarterback was arrested last week on second-degree battery charges stemming from his role in a bar fight in Baton Rouge. During the police investigation of Jefferson’s role in the late-night fisticuffs, the running joke among Tiger fans was that Jefferson would be cleared of any charges because he only landed two of 10 punches thrown — and those two hit the wrong person. Alas, the authorities determined that Jefferson was more accurate with his punches than passes, and Coach Les Miles, after consulting his magic headwear, suspended Jefferson indefinitely.
The Tigers will turn to senior backup quarterback Jarrett Lee who, you may recall, has a penchant for throwing an uncanny number of "pick-six" interceptions. Les Miles’s squads customarily have a flair for the dramatic and this year, the drama is well under way on the bayou. Expect the Tigers to run the ball early and often to take some pressure off Lee’s fragile psyche.
I’ll take LSU with its backup QB over Oregon in a wild Texas shootout.
So, after barely breaking a sweat in pre-season scrimmages against the Southwestern-Tech-Never-Heard-Of-Before-Cupcake-Schools, the rest of the SEC should pull for the Dawgs and Tigers to represent the conference on their respective national stages. There’s just no way a team from the Mountain Whatever It’s Called Conference strolls into the heart of SEC country — the venue in which the SEC Championship is played — and walks out a winner. And that team from the Pacific Northwest with space-age Nike uniforms just can’t hang with the athletes from LSU. The SEC is poised to defend its rightful throne atop the college football world this weekend. Right?
Ben Prevost, a lawyer in Atlanta, is a lifelong fan of SEC football. Send him your thoughts at SECbanter@hotmail.com.