I apologize in advance for the synthesizer in your head for the rest of the weekend, but:
Some occasions can only properly be celebrated with 80's Swedish hair rock, and the first day of the first month of college football season is one of them (along with your brother-in-law getting released early for good behavior and your schnauzer's bark-mitzvah).
So with no further ado, the top 5 things I'm looking forward to in the S.E.C. this season.
#5 Intersectional scheduling. Perhaps we can finally be rid of the nattering nabobs of nontravelling after this season. I still don't understand how going cross-country to play Washington State would somehow be better than travelling right up the road to play Clemson (even if said university [sic] is the root of all evil and the only campus on which overalls are still worn with a straight face). Believe me, 11 weeks out of 12, Jim Harbaugh's Stanford squad stinks to high heaven whether you're across the country or across town. Distance travelled is totally unrelated to quality of schedule.
Be that as it may, if Georgia goes to Tempe to play Arizona State, Tennessee goes to L.A. to take on UCLA and Auburn travels to Morgantown to play West Virginia all within a span of 60 days, will that make you happy, oh ye of little faith? I'm predicting that the S.E.C. squad wins each one of these matchups. I just think that Neuheisel doesn't have the personnel yet to play with Fulmer's crew, even if the gang from Road Crew U. are breaking in new quarterbacks and coordinators. The Georgia-Arizona State game will be tough and reasonably could go either way, but having survived encounters with prolific offenses in the past, I'm not overly concerned. And Auburn should have their new offense and typically smothering defense rounded into shape by the time they play Bill Stewart's club in October.
#4 The new Matt Stafford. A lot has been made about Coach Bobo's goals for Matt Stafford this season. A lot has also been made of the possibility that Matt Stafford, if he puts it all together, could have a season that propels him toward the top of the NFL Draft. Numbers don't necessarily tell the story with quarterbacks. If they did, Dan Marino would be acclaimed as the greatest signalcaller of his era and Joe Montana would be considered merely pretty darn good. But even Georgia partisans have to admit that Matt Stafford, two years into his time in the Classic City, has not yet had the kind of season that you expect the top quarterback in his class to eventually put together. The coaches have praised his leadership, journalists have praised his conditioning. Orson Swindle has stood in awe of his unrelenting machismo. Now it's time for Matt Stafford to live up to the billing.
#3 Payback. As I've said before, in accordance with site policy, I hate Auburn. I hate Florida more. But few teams annoys me quite like the University of Tennessee. Last year's game of which we do not speak dropped Mark Richt to a mere 3-1 at his personal hideaway by the Tennessee River. The previous season's embarassing come-from-ahead loss in Athens seemed to shake the confidence of a young team that didn't quite recover until at least late October. This year, we get Fulmer and company at home, coming off a bye, and thirsty for redemption. I am looking forward to this one like you wouldn't believe.
#2 The Cocktail Party. Yeah, we're in your head because we're making fun of your coach because we're in his head. OK, maybe that's not necessarily true. And it's definitely poor form. But this game brings out the white hot poker of contempt like no other for me (see #3 above). If by chance both teams come into this one undefeated (a very real possibility especially for the Gators, whose toughest matchups coming in are LSU at home and at Tennessee coming off a bye week), this one could be the regular season matchup of the year. You know what the storyline will be leading up to it. I would even argue that a victory for Mark Richt in this one puts him out in front of Urban Meyer in the race to be the SEC's national media darling wundercoach. For the future of this rivalry, this one could be the biggest game in recent memory. Big. BIG.
#1 Bowl Season. Unless you've been trapped on a Greyhound bus with a homicidal lunatic, you're probably already aware that the University of Georgia will begin the season ranked #1 in the Coach's Poll for the first time since Burt Reynolds was skinny and Kyle King didn't have a beard (or at least a noble growth of stubble). I view this with both a sense of pride and a sense of dread. Pride because it means that we're officially back in the national champioship dialogue. Dread because many pundits will remind you that preseason #1's haven't fared so well in the BCS era. I'd remind you however that it's a lot easier in this day and time to get to #1 from #1 than to get there from #18. Ask Tommy Tuberville.
I have confidence in Mark Richt as a motivator and manager, so I trust he'll keep our players hungry. He's been on national championship contenders and winners. He knows the drill. And while every team is different, not just in terms of personnel but psychology, I can't think of another guy I'd rather have tasked with captaining this team in 2008. Am I saying that the University of Georgia Bulldogs will be playing for a national championship in Miami on January 9, 2009? Not exactly. It's a tough road ahead, for sure. But for the first time in a while we've got as good a chance as anybody and a better chance than most. Who's ready for kick off?