The end of the College World Series, probably literally and certainly practically, marks the end of intercollegiate athletics until Labor Day weekend. That gives us a lot of time to await the arrival of college football season with mounting anxiety and anticipation, producing a surfeit of nervous energy as we speculate about the autumn that is to come.
Although I’ve already begun giving thought to my preseason BlogPoll ballot, the recent arrival of the preview magazines has made me keenly conscious of the fact that I’m not sure any team outside of Austin, Gainesville, Los Angeles, or Norman will be any good at all (whatever team I rank No. 5 is likely to be a very distant fifth behind the Florida Gators, Texas Longhorns, Southern California Trojans, and Oklahoma Sooners); nevertheless, every game must produce a winner and a loser, so I am bringing you the first installment of my early forecasts in the form of . . .
Clemson Tigers: Forget about James Davis and Cullen Harper. As we in Bulldog Nation learned the hard way last year, games are won and lost in the trenches, and C.J. Spiller will have lots of room to run behind an offensive line that returns five starters. Defensively, the Country Gentlemen lose one of four starters on the line, one of three starters in the linebacking corps, and one of four starters in the secondary. Anyone who doubts former Tiger receivers coach and Alabama Crimson Tide player Dabo Swinney needs to remember this fact: the last three times Clemson chose a head coach by promoting a former ‘Bama player who already was on the Orange and Purple staff, the Tigers hired Frank Howard, Charley Pell, and Danny Ford.
Michigan State Spartans: Once you get past the Ohio State Buckeyes, you find a power vacuum in the Big Ten. (Insert your "giant sucking sound" jokes here.) The Penn State Nittany Lions will take a step back from last year, the Iowa Hawkeyes and Wisconsin Badgers have fallen off after appearing to emerge as challengers for conference hegemony, and the Michigan Wolverines have dropped off the edge of the earth. Mark Dantonio’s Spartans appear poised to fill the void, at long last shedding their "choke artist" image by winning three of their last four regular-season games in 2008. With no Ohio State on the schedule, Michigan State has a solid shot at a second-place finish in the league.
Pittsburgh Panthers: I can’t believe I’m actually believing in these guys, but, in a depleted Big East, someone has to come out on top, and it might as well be Pitt. Granted, we may be looking at another one of those 2004 tiebreakers-decide-which-team-wins-the-right-to-get-throttled-in-the-bowl-game scenarios, but the Cincinnati Bearcats lost everyone on defense, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights lost everyone you’ve ever heard of, the South Florida Bulls have shown no ability to close the deal, the West Virginia Mountaineers lost Pat White and kept Bill Stewart, and Dave Wannstedt’s Panthers bring back eight offensive starters and seven defensive first-teamers from a squad that won nine regular-season games in 2008.
Did I really just pick Clemson, Michigan State, and Pitt to be better in 2009? Son of a gun, I just did. I am so ready for some football. . . .