SATURDAY FOOTBALL: Expect Buckeyes, Tigers roll in openers

·19 min read

Sep. 2—(Editor's note: Each week we will be running this column promoting the biggest and best college football games each week.)

We begin the first full NIL slate (see $$$$) of the 2022 college football season with a worldwide helium shortage, continuous problematic supply chain issues, and the war in Ukraine, each of which has played a role in the "deflation" of a high-flying cherished Nebraska football tradition.

It began in Lincoln, the home of the Cornhuskers, on September 23, 1963, a mere two months before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, when "Blue Velvet" by Bobby Vinton topped the charts, and Sonny Liston reigned as the world heavyweight champion.

The now suspended ritual is choreographed in the following way.

When the ubiquitous red-cladded Husker faithful streamed into a perennially sold-out Memorial Stadium, each was handed a fire engine red helium filled balloon, and instructed that it was not to be released until the "Sons of Tom Osborne" scored its first touchdown.

In those heady Big Eight Springsteen-like glory days that usually occurred on Nebraska's first possession. Then on cue, the balloons would float in "Fifth Dimension" style, up, up, and away filling the Lincoln skies and signaling to the surrounding farms and towns that Big Red was officially on the scoreboard.

But alas, as with many things interlaced in the era of Covid-19, Trev Alberts, Nebraska's athletic director and former legendary linebacker, decided to pop the tradition for the '22 season in response to the worldwide shortage of helium, much to the dismay of the grumbling Husker faithful.

On this opening college football weekend, let's see which teams perform so poorly that it leaves its followers in a state of utter deflation, and which exit the stadium in a euphoric state soaring like "Mary Poppins" after watching its team's convincing victory.

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State

(Ch.5, 7:30 p.m.)

Bagpipe kudos to the "Sons of Knute Rockne" for opening with such a glittering Vogue cover worthy matchup.

For many reasons this will be a season of intrigue for the highly regarded Irish, but in all honesty, there must be a cannabis shop located near the Associated Press offices, how else to explain ND's exceedingly generous No. 5 national ranking.

The intrigue revolves around Everett native Brian Kelly, Notre Dame's all-time winningest (113 victories) coach who is known for playing more angles than Euclid, (the Father of Geometry) or pool legend Willie Mosconi.

Last season as the Irish were getting ready to play in the Fiesta Bowl, Kelly abruptly and stunningly abandoned the South Bend coaching perch that he occupied for a dozen years, accepting a Vito Corleone 10-year $95 million offer to change his address and take over, at of all places, Death Valley in Baton Rouge, to lead the Tigers of LSU. WOW!

With apologies to Monty Python, it gives Kelly a much better opportunity in his quest to capture his personal Holy Grail of a national title, and "Mr. Angles" is also well aware that the last three Bayou Bengal coaches; Nick Saban, Les Miles, and Ed Orgeron, each won that coveted national championship.

In response to his quick sayonara, the Irish made a Bobby Fisher-type of counter move hiring its 36-year old defensive coordinator, and first time head coach Marcus Freeman, a former Buckeye linebacker to be the 31st leader of the "Touchdown Jesus" brigade.

On an historical note: The three previous coaches hired to lead Notre Dame without any headman experience — Gerry Faust, Bob Davie, and Charlie Weis, were all eventually given their walking papers after less than stellar tenures.

Triple Yikes!

But, with apologies Andrew Lloyd Webber, weep not for the Boys from South Bend as its disruptively aggressive and anvil-hardened front seven, the backbone of the team, might be as good as any in the country.

This intimidating stonewall assembly, featuring its All-America sack-mastering end Isaiah Foskey, tackle Jayson Ademilola, and a quartet of stalwart backers led by Bo Bauer, along with All-America safety Brandon Joseph, a Northwestern transfer, hit with the concussive force of a Tommy Hearns right hand, and are as suffocating as Albert DeSalvo.

These eleven angry men are choreographed by a pair of defensive masters, Coach Freeman, and his highly regarded new coordinator Al Golden, and its performance will be the determinant factor to the ultimate success of the Notre Dame season.

Unfortunately, in the early stages of the season, the offense led by its first-time starter, dual-threat sophomore QB Tyler Buchner is expected to be as unpredictable as the Red Line or bus service of the MBTA.

Outside of its All-American tight end Michael Mayer, the young receiving corps, just got considerably weaker with the seasonal loss (ACL) of its captain Avery Davis which places additional emphasis on earthmovers, Logan Diggs, and his jet-fueled partner Chris Tyree, making the job of o-coordinator Tommy Rees, who quarterbacked the Irish from 2010-13, that much more trying.

In Columbus the situation is the mirror opposite.

The Buckeyes offense is bursting with more explosive firepower than the neighborhoods of Chicago, or Philadelphia, making it the envy of Ukrainian President Zelensky and his country's military.

And despite last season's 11-2 record, which included a Rose Bowl victory, the mollycoddled faithful of the "Sons of Archie Griffin," who expect Secretariat perfection every year, were dismayed by the Buckeyes first multi-loss season since 2017. Oh the humanity!

That disappointment is also shared by the Buckeyes Svengali ringmaster, coach Ryan Day, who during his short three-year residence at the Horseshoe, has compiled an otherworldly 34-4 resume, including an astonishing eyebrow arching 23-1 record against Big Ten opponents.

"We expect to win every game," said Day emphatically.

At most campuses those Apple-like stock numbers would be statue worthy, but for one of the signature programs in America, it fell far short of a thirst-quenching season, as the Bucks failed to capture the Big Ten title for the first time in five years, while enduring the added indignity of losing to its bitter rival Michigan for the first time in a decade.

Day has made it his searing mission to "correct" that ledger by firing behind an offense that showcases more talent than a Victoria Secret runway show.

Heisman contending QB CJ Stroud, who hits his target with the pin-point precision of Annie Oakley, is the Bernstein-like maestro of this blitzkrieging points-a-palooza, and lasers onto the best receiving corps in America, featuring All-America wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and his equally dynamic partners, Marvin Harrison Jr., and Emeka Egbuka, all the while protected by one of the nation's best offensive lines.

And when TreVeyon Henderson, the Bucks elusive and steamrolling All-America tailback gets stirred into this offensive stew, it creates a Hitchkockian "Nightmare at the Horseshoe" for opposing D-coordinators.

But if the "Sons of Woody" are to return to that final-four "promised land," its defense, which has more questions than Jeopardy, will be the decisive factor if the Boys from Columbus are going to achieve its goal.

Last season's embarrassing eleven was as leaky as the early Big Dig tunnels, surrendering a jaw-dropping minimum of 30-points on five separate occasions more closely resembling the matadors of Madrid's Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas and displaying more holes than a cheese factory in Switzerland.

In attempting to rectify that cheese cloth dilemma, Day hired d-coordinator Jim Knowles, who arrived from Stillwater courtesy of the Cowboys of Oklahoma State.

The master defensive technician is totally transforming the Buckeyes approach by attacking in an aggressive less predictable style, leaning heavily on ends J.T. Tuimoloau, Zach Harrison, and backer Tommy Eichenberg. It will be interesting to see how quickly his vision translates onto the playing field.

Apologies all around to the faithful of Touchdown Jesus," but we give the Irish about as much of a chance against the Ohio State, as Larry Brid did when he told the media after the Celts lost game 5 of its'86 Championship against the Rockets sending the series back to the Garden with the C's up 3-2, "They have a better chance of seeing God than beating us."

And by game's the end scarlet and grey attired Ohio State partisans will be serenading the Irish with a rousing rendition of "Goodbye Columbus" as "Woody's Boys" corral the glittering Vogue worthy victory.

LSU vs Florida State — Superdome

(Sunday, Ch. 5, 7:30 p.m.)

With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel "On a winter's day in a deep and dark December" Brian Kelly, as previously cited, heard the clarion call of John Fogerty and drifted down to the Bayou continuing his Diogenes-like search for that elusive national championship.

But patience, a virtue that is as rare of a commodity in Death Valley, as a fellow republican criticizing Donald Trump, will be essential, if LSU is going to once again stand alone at the top of the college football world.

That is clearly evidenced by the fact that for the first time since the election of George W. Bush in 2000, LSU was not included in the preseason top-25 polls, hamstrung and disorganized by its woeful 11-12 record since the Joe Burrow championship team of 2019.

In order to accelerate that rebuilding process, the newly minted coach of the "Sons of Billy Cannon" scoured the transfer portal like an unemployed actor circling the want ads in search of a waiter's or bartending gig, bringing in thirteen quality transfers to help and fortify both sides of the ball.

Kelly is also adamant about returning LSU to its traditional identity, namely a feared, rib-cracking defense that hits with the force of a Joe Frazier left, as well as a pounding downhill rushing attack that chews up yardage with the same intensity as a Nor'easter chewing into a Cape Cod dune.

The foundation of that D is being welded by ends Ali Gays, B.J. Ojulari, backer Greg Smith, and tackle Masson Smith, whose size, athleticism, and speed with keep the "Sons of Tommy Casanova" in every game, and counted upon to hold the fort while the offense slowly jells into form.

In a close QB competition between Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels, who has 29-starts under his belt, and sophomore Garrett Nussmeier, Kelly, said he has made the decision, but will not disclose his choice until game time holding his cards like Doc Holliday for a perceived advantage.

[We are betting that it will be Daniels.]

Whomever is under center he'll be assisted by tailbacks Noah Cain, the touted transfer from Penn State, and Ari Goodwin both of whom are dangerous receivers swinging out of the backfield, while a passel of explosive targets featuring All-America Kayshon Boutte and Malik Nabers provide comforting targets for the new LSU field general.

In Tallahassee, once again with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, "Where have you gone Bobby Bowden, a Seminole Nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo, woo, woo!"

Between 1987 and 2000, the once mighty and feared Seminoles, under the guidance of the late "St. Bobby" went a stunning 14-consecutive seasons without finishing the year ranked lower than fifth in the nation. How about a "Wow!"

But with apologies to Mary Hopkin, "Those were the days my friend," as this latest edition of the Florida State footballers is saddled with four consecutive losing seasons, thus relegating FSU to the dreaded "Filenes Basement" discount bin of irrelevance, which is the college football equivalent of the Ninth Circle of Dante's Inferno.

Those uninspiring performances have made Coach Mike Norvell's job as tenuous as that of Bob Cratchit's in Dickens "A Christmas Carol" before the spirits paid its visit to Ebenezer Scrooge.

And the overwhelming sentiment of its skeptical faithful is that this is the "prove it" year for its beleaguered headman.

But "Hopes springs eternal" as Alexander Pope wrote and the 'Noles believe that it has finally found a high-cotton quarterback in Jordan Travis, who in last season's final six games tossed 9 TDs versus only a skinny interception.

And with the addition of four transfer receivers, anchored by Oregon's Mycha Pittman, and ASU's 6-7 Johnny "drops" Wilson, its passing attack should be even more lethal, while its road grinding committee of tailbacks; Trey Benson, Treshaun Ward, and Lawrence Toafil are a defense testing load.

On D, the 'Noles opportunistic eleven, anchored by end Jared Verse, backer Kelen Deloach, tackle Fabian Lovett, and nose Robert Cooper are talented enough to roll that job-saving seventh victory, but anything less, and Norvell's front yard will be littered with more for sale signs than the Raynham Flea Market.

In what is virtually a home game for the Bayou Bengals, Kelly, who has never been one of our faves, notches his initial victory adorned in purple and gold, as his Baton Rouge "Holy Grail" quest officially gets underway.

No. 3 Georgia vs No. 11 Oregon

(Ch. 4, 3:30 p.m.)

Atlanta After joyously hoisting its first National Championship trophy since the election of Ronald Reagan (1980), the Bulldogs, and its faithful, are snarling and scratching for an Updike-like redux, which hasn't happened since Alabama captured consecutive titles in the 2011-12 seasons.

But Coach Kirby Smart, who is a Park Avenue 66-15 during his six seasons of roaming the Athens sidelines, has as much interest in rehashing last year's championship season, as a commuter enjoys crawling along on the Southeast Expressway during rush hour.

"We are burning the boats," said Smart with emphasis.

In other words, there will be no rearview mirrors hanging in Sanford Stadium, as the Bulldogs begin the '22 season with a sparkling clean power-washed slate.

And although Smart may not want to hear it, the consensus is that his Peach State eleven has a lively shot of emulating the Tide by raising that second consecutive championship trophy.

The director of the Dawgs, QB Stetson Bennett IV is better known in this space as the "Joe Hardy" of college football, how else to explain his Bob Beamon-esque leap from an anonymous walk-on, to the MVP of the last year's championship game?

It just doesn't happen in the rugged SEC, where rosters are bursting with 5-star pedigree, hence the perfectly tailored reference to Joe Hardy from the 1955 Tony Award winning musical "Damn Yankees."

And like the Bulldogs legendary alum, HOF QB Fran Tarkenton, Bennett remains ever dangerous on the run, while exuding more leadership qualities than anyone currently sitting in the United States Congress.

The peppermint-cool field general, who is tougher than a $10 steak, is assisted by a pair of John Deere earth movers, Kendall Milton, and Kenny McIntosh, while luxuriating by targeting an explosive corps of receivers led by All-America tight end Brock Bowers, and his wideout partners Adonai Mitchell, Ladd McConkey, and Kearis Jackson.

Dan Lanning, the architect of last season's record shattering defense, which had five of its players selected in the first round of the NFL draft, has changed his address, and is currently residing in Eugene, Oregon, as the newly minted head man of the Oregon Ducks.

His replacements, former head coach Will Muschamp (Florida, South Carolina) and Glen Schumann have been charged with the mandate of maintaining that Gramercy Tavern standard of excellence.

On D, its stifling anvil-hardened roster features a trio of All-Americans; tackle Jalen Carter, backer Nolan Smith, and corner Kalee Ringo, and along with backer Jamon Dumas-Johnson would indicate that those five-star standards are in "Allstate" hands.

Lanning, the new Oregon sheriff perfected his craft under the tutelage of two of the masters of the college game Alabama's Nick Saban, and Georgia's Kirby Smart (Smart was on Saban's staff before being hired by Georgia) and this opening game return to Atlanta against the "Sons of Vince Dooley," is, with apologies to Yogi Berra, "A déjà vu experience all over again.

But making the transition from coordinator to drum major, is akin to moving from a line cook at Sullivan's at Castle Island to the head chef at Abe and Louis, seldom is there smooth sailing.

Last season the Ducks were grounded by a pair of glaring weaknesses; a shocking lack of overall speed which directly contributed to the absence of any big-play ability. [Note: Last year Oregon had a miniscule total of ten plays of over 40-yards or more. Yikes!]

In order rectify those deficiencies, Lanning hit the lottery by landing Auburn's leather-toughened, and battle tested three-year starter Bo Nix, who gets a much needed refresh from the Plains and its restrictive offensive schemes, and he just may be the perfect antidote to spark the Ducks moribund offense.

The traffic controller of this new offensive approach is coordinator Kenny Dillingham, who preaches the "Curtis LeMay" bombs away philosophy of taking shots down field, and Nix will gladly attempt to accommodate those wishes by targeting wideouts Chris Huston, Steve McGee, and UCLA transfer Chris Cota, while a protective seasoned o-line opens holes for tailback Byron Cardwell.

On D, the Ducks beastly Gibraltar chiseled disruptors, anchored by All-America backer Noah Sewell, his partner Justin Flow, and tackle Brandon Dorius, are harder to penetrate than the vault protecting Donald Trump's tax returns, and could make for a trying day for Bennett and the Bulldogs.

That said, we think the "Mr. Burning the Boats" begins his Updike redux defense by putting a check in the win column, as Georgia begins its hunt for another final four invite.

No. 7 Utah at Florida

(ESPN, 7 p.m.)

Kudos to the footballers from Salt Lake City for journeying across the country and landing in the "Swamp" to face the Florida Gators in a game, that by any measure, is most definitely not of the cupcake variety.

It also carries Prudential-sized credibility implications for both Utah, and the entire Pac-12 conference.

Coach Kyle Whittingham (144-70 .673) the Utes grizzled architect of a program that runs as flawlessly and silently as a fine Swiss timepiece, is embarking on his 19th season of prowling the sideline of Rice Eccles Stadium, tying him with Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, as the second longest tenured headmen in America, only Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (23 years) has resided at the same location longer.

But despite that Goldman Sachs standard of excellence, the Wizard of Salt Lake remains one of the most anonymous coaches in America, making him an ideal poster boy for the Witness Protection Program which is precisely the way he likes to operate. (Did you take notice Urban Meyer!?)

The "Sons of Alex Smith" are commanded by former Longhorn QB Cameron Ring, a swashbuckling dual-threat sharpshooter, who targets a pair of "Store 24" (open all the time) tight ends Brant Kuithe, and Dalton Kincaid, considered by many to be best twosome in the nation.

Utah's brutish protective offensive line also gives its field general the added time to zero on a pair of Linus-blanket receivers, Devaughn Vele, and Solomon Enis, while his a punishing road tilling tailback Tavon Thomas, has the ability to soften any defense.

On D, even though the majority of last season's highly decorated "Iron Curtain" eleven was lost to graduation, Whittingham, a renown defensive whisperer, will be able to forge forward behind host of migraine punishers; featuring Florida transfer backer Mohamoud Diabate, tackle Junior Tafuna, and ends Van Fillinger, and Miki Suguturaga, on a group that hits harder than the pilots of an Air France cockpit, or Will Smith at the Oscars, and is still considered one of the better elevens in the nation.

In Gainesville, with apologies to the song writers Milton Ager, and Jack Yellen, there is a "Happy Days are Here Again" esprit de corps flowing amongst the Gator faithful regarding the hiring of its new Coach Billy Napier.

He arrives in "Steve Spurrier Country" by way of the "Raging Cajuns" of Louisiana, where he compiled a superb four-year (40-12) S&P 500 run of excellence, with his last two squads' finishing ranked in the top-25.

But upon closer inspection, Florida's roster is as shallow as the present state of the Colorado River, which puts the kibosh on those Rooseveltian hopes for a 2022 breakthrough season, especially with its mid-season gauntlet of LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, and the rapidly improving Gamecocks of South Carolina. OUCH!

QB Anthony Richardson, its cannon-armed dual-threat field general is expected to thrive in Napier's wide open spread attack, but it's imperative that he tighten his dismal interception ratio of 1 for every 12 passes.

On offense the strength of the "Sons of Emmitt Smith" lies with the production of its road-tilling attack, featuring Nay'Quan Wright, Montrell Johnson, a transfer from Louisiana, Trevor Etienne, and speedster Lorenzo Lingard comprising one of the best backfields in the conference.

Unfortunately Florida's receivers are far less dynamic, as it touts only a single proven commodity, Justin Shorter, and that may make life very difficult for Mr. Richardson.

On D, the co-coordinators of the "Sons of Jack Youngblood" Patrick Toney, and Sean Spicer, have given that unit a better makeover than Tammy Faye Baker, and will attack from a 3-3-5 formation, anchored by backer Ventrell Miller (6th year), safety Trey Dean, tackle Gervon Dexter, and backer Brenton Cox, but its overall depth remains as thin as Chris Sale or a marathoner from Kenya.

On a historical note, the last time Florida opened its season against a team ranked seventh or higher was 53-years-ago in the Woodstock, and Moon Landing year of 1969, a 59-34 blowout over Houston.

Unfortunately for Gator Nation that will not happen on this Labor Day weekend in the Swamp, as Napier's debut falls short giving the Utes and the Pac-12 a message delivering season opening victory.

That's it from cyber-space. We'll be up and running Wednesday night with week two. Until then, Peace, and more than ever, listen to the music.