In six seasons of making "The Dawg Show," my co-host, Travis Rice, and I only once offered an on-air movie review. That occurred when we held our hands aloft, giving the officials' sign denoting a successful field goal attempt, and said of "Remember the Titans": "It's good!" Before turning to this week's topic, though, I feel the need to offer a brief critique of "The Dukes of Hazzard."
If you were a fan of the T.V. show when you were twelve years old . . . if you enjoyed the car chases and car crashes of such Burt Reynolds films as "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Cannonball Run" . . . if you enjoyed the gritty authenticity of such Burt Reynolds films as "White Lightning" and "Gator" . . . if you enjoy the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Willie Nelson . . . if you enjoy movies with explosions and pretty girls . . . if you believe the governor of Georgia should conclude his public addresses by saying, "Go 'Dawgs!" and the audience should respond by barking . . . if, in other words, you're the sort of person who enjoys this weblog, you're probably the sort of person who would enjoy this movie. If you haven't seen it, go see it.
Now, to the matter at hand. I used to be a regular viewer of "The McLaughlin Group," so I have a particular affinity for the predictions segment of the program. Since Independence Day, I have tried to address some of the major issues facing the sport as we enter the 2005 college football season, but the time has come for me to offer my preseason forecasts.
Who will win the Big Ten, M.A.C., Pac-10, W.A.C. (give a dog a bone), and the other Division I-A conferences? What surprises does the season hold in store for us? What events should we anticipate in the world outside of college football and even in the world outside of sport? Here are my answers to those questions, which you may compliment me on, or mock me for, after the season is over.
Conference Championship Predictions:
A.C.C.: The first A.C.C. championship game should have a distinct Big East flavor as Atlantic Division champion Boston College takes on Coastal Division champion Virginia Tech. Florida State isn't the team it used to be and the Seminoles are even less well-stocked at quarterback this year than they were when they had the dysfunctional Chris Rix, who (like Nuke LaLoosh in "Bull Durham") had a million-dollar arm but a ten-cent head. Larry Coker's losses have increased every year he has been at Miami and the Hurricanes also have to replace a mercurial signal-caller. None of the rest of these guys have proven that they can get by F.S.U. consistently, even when the 'Noles are down. That just leaves the defending champion Hokies and the newly arriving Eagles as the division winners. It may sound like sacrilege to suggest that no Sunshine State squad will play by the St. John's River, but it should be noted that the Seminoles must travel to Chestnut Hill and the Hurricanes must travel to Blacksburg. I look for V.P.I. to claim a second straight A.C.C. title by beating B.C. in Jacksonville.
Big East: Louisville. Duh! When you have to poach teams from Conference U.S.A. to shore up the legitimacy of your league, you need to quit pretending you're a major conference. If college football kicks the Big Least out of the B.C.S., maybe the conference will disband and we can begin referring to it in the past tense as the Big Ceased.
Big Ten: The Buckeyes must travel to Ann Arbor and the Wolverines must travel to Iowa City. Over the course of the last three seasons, Kirk Ferentz has made a believer out of me and I am picking the Hawkeyes to capture the conference championship.
Big Twelve: Colorado backed into the North Division championship in 2004 and the Buffaloes will back into the North Division championship again in 2005. The Longhorns are the trendy pick to win the South Division now that the Sooners are without the services of Jason White, Mark Clayton, Antonio Perkins, and Jammal Brown. However, when I look at the sidelines in Austin and in Norman, here is what I see: Texas has 17 returning starters and Oklahoma has 17 returning starters; Mack Brown has won 70 games in seven seasons at U.T. and Bob Stoops has won 67 games in five years at O.U.; Coach Stoops and Saturn have what Coach Brown lacks: rings. Regardless of what happens in Dallas on October 8 (more about which below), I'm banking on the Sooners to claim the division and conference crowns.
Conference U.S.A.: The West Division of Conference U.S.A. is the Big 12 North with a Southern accent. U.T.E.P. will win the division because someone has to and it might as well be the Miners. The race for the East Division championship figures to be much more competitive, with everything coming down to the November 19 meeting between Memphis and Southern Miss. Although the Tigers have DeAngelo Williams, the Golden Eagles have home field advantage and an eleven-day layoff during which to prepare. Memphis, on the other hand, must travel to Hattiesburg seven days after travelling to Knoxville. That's a pretty tall order, so I'm taking Jeff Bower and U.S.M. to win the East Division and Conference U.S.A. championships.
M.A.C.: Who will win the Midwestern equivalent of the N.I.T.? Miami (no, not that Miami) returns 17 starters (15 of whom are seniors) and hosts Bowling Green (newly returned to the East Division) in Oxford (no, not that Oxford and, no, not that Oxford, either). That gives me confidence in selecting the RedHawks to win the East, while defending West Division and Mid-American Conference champion Toledo looks like a good bet to get back to the title game, as well. However, since the Rockets lost eight starters and both coordinators from last year's squad, I'm guessing Toledo will come up short in the showdown between division champions and Miami (Ohio) will win the league title.
Mountain West: Utah. Double duh! Conference foes Air Force, B.Y.U., Colorado State, and T.C.U. all are coming off of losing seasons and just about everyone else---from New Mexico to San Diego State to Wyoming---must travel to Salt Lake City. The 13-to-18-year-old demographic will be well served this season, as the Miners win the Conference U.S.A. West Division and the Utes win the Mountain West Conference. (Oh, wait . . . not that kind of minors and not that kind of "yewts." My bad.)
Pac-10: Southern Cal. Triple duh! The Pac-10 is starting to resemble the A.C.C. in the Seminoles' heyday: one garnet giant surrounded by numerous pesky dwarves. The only difference is that, in this league, the one that's good at football is also the one with the academic standards.
S.E.C.: Georgia, of course! If not the Bulldogs, though, I believe Florida will win the East. Tennessee may be the popular pick, but the Volunteers have always tended to overachieve in years in which they are underrated while falling flat in years they are expected to contend. Besides, Ron Zook left too much talent in Gainesville for me to doubt the ability of Urban Meyer, who specializes in winning with other coaches' players, to expose the Big Orange in the Swamp. In the other division, L.S.U. looks like a mortal lock, which, given the unpredictability of the wild, wild West, probably means the Bayou Bengals will go 4-7. In any case, when East meets West in the Georgia Dome, the champion of the oceanfront division will defeat the first-place finisher in the Gulf Coast division.
Sun Belt: Florida International or Florida Atlantic, whichever one is coached by Howard Schnellenberger. Just kidding. Until someone else proves they can win this league, I'm sticking with North Texas, assuming Kathy Ireland, Sinbad, and that guy from "Quantum Leap" who played the captain on "Enterprise" still have some eligibility left after "Necessary Roughness."
W.A.C.: Fresno State may win the battle (on November 12), but Boise State will win the war (for the conference crown). Other than the Bulldogs from the Peach State and the Bulldogs from the Golden State, what competition do the Broncos face?
The outcome of the Alabama-Auburn game will not determine the winner of the S.E.C. West.
No team from a non-B.C.S. league will play in a B.C.S. bowl game.
Only one Division I-A independent will finish with a winning record.
The Atlanta Falcons, who have never in their history posted consecutive winning seasons, will not have a regular-season record of better than 8-8 in 2005.
When the head coaches of Ole Miss and Mississippi State meet at midfield following this year's Egg Bowl, neither coach's job will be in jeopardy but neither school's fans will be happy.
The Purdue Boilermakers, who face neither Michigan nor Ohio State and who host Iowa and Notre Dame in West Lafayette, will post a deceptively high number of victories, receive an invitation to play in the Sunshine State in January, and lose their bowl game by a double-digit margin.
At the end of the season, Lou Holtz will be recognized publicly as the Least Competent E.S.P.N. College Football Analyst of the Year, ending Lee Corso's run of ten such awards in a row.
2005 will be Rich Brooks's final year as the head coach at Kentucky.
As December approaches, North Carolina fans will begin displaying banners emblazoned "HANG BUNTING" . . . and they won't be talking about Christmas decorations.
Judge John G. Roberts, Jr., will be confirmed as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States prior to the first Monday in October.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Arkansas Razorbacks will face one another in the Independence Bowl.
The Big East will not have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill its postseason allotment.
Despite the fact that both men deserve it, neither Burt Reynolds (who capped off his career in the fast-driving Southern good ol' boy genre as Boss Hogg in the same way that Clint Eastwood capped off his career as a Western gunslinger in "Unforgiven") nor Willie Nelson (who did the best job of playing a character exactly like himself in a movie since Henry Fonda portrayed the crotchety estranged father of Jane Fonda in "On Golden Pond") will be nominated for an Academy Award for "The Dukes of Hazzard."
The Vanderbilt Commodores will win more football games than the Kentucky Wildcats.
Texas will beat Oklahoma, but the Longhorns will not head into New Year's Day undefeated.
The Atlanta Braves will end their season with a loss.
Georgia will defeat two conference champions this season.
Southern Cal will not win a third consecutive A.P. national championship.
Next Week: Predictions for all the big games being played on Labor Day weekend and a complete breakdown of the Boise State game. Stay tuned. . . .