Thursday, August 28, 2014

A few brief thoughts on college football

Cam McDaniel was only saying what you'd expect a guy to say when it's late August and he's at Notre Dame and he's a captain on the football team, which is about to embark on yet another autumnal excursion Steeped In Legend And Various Other Hoo-Ha.

McDaniel promptly declared that Notre Dame was going to win the national title. Because, you know, how could it be otherwise with all that statuary passing its silent judgment outside Notre Dame Stadium?

And so Notre Dame will win the national title, and, down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama will win the national title, and, out in L.A., UCLA will win the national title. Florida will bounce back from 4-8, run the table and win the national title.  Florida State will repeat, unless Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston gets a hankerin' for crab legs again.

Closer to home, Purdue will turn 1-11 into 8-4 or something. And Indiana, which will score on anyone, will find a way to stop someone for once and go 8-4, too, thereby qualifying it for a nice juicy Dot Com Bowl down in Dumbwaiter, Texas, or some such place.

In other words: Everyone's gonna do something big this year, as college football rolls into the post-BCS era this week. It's the meme of late August, the official Labor Day weekend canon.

No one wants reality to disturb this with the gridiron version of belching in church. But the Blob is contrary to its marrow, and so ... here goes:

* Sorry, Cam McDaniel. Notre Dame will not win a national title.

Not even the benefit of playing fearsome Rice right out of the gate -- the school of whom Lou Holtz, old Dr. Poormouth himself, once famously said he was "scared to death" -- will rescue the Irish from a likely 8-4 run or an even more likely 7-5 jaunt. The loss of  shutdown corner KeiVarae Russell and linebacker Ishaq Williams to academic issues turns an already green defense even greener, with Russell's loss the most devastating.

Add the loss of top wideout DaVaris Daniels, and the Irish will have nine freshmen, six on the defensive side, on the two-deep.   That's a heavy load of inexperience with which to face a schedule that includes five teams ranked in the initial AP top 25, including No. 1 Florida State and two others (Stanford and USC) in the top 15 -- and even a Rice team that, by the way, went 10-4 last year and is no longer the side dish it once was.

So ... 7-5.

* Indiana will go to bowl game this year. Write it down.

You can write it down because all it takes to go to a bowl game these days is a .500 season, and the Hoosiers seem to be hovering right on that mark. They'll score on anybody, and there's huge buzz in Bloomington over new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr's attacking scheme. But having for decades watched teams go through Indiana's "D" like Mario Andretti tearing around Indy, 6-6 is as optimistic as I'm willing to be -- especially with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State all piled up in the Hoosiers' division.

Bottom line, they just don't have the depth up front yet. A chronic Hoosier condition.

* Write this down too: Purdue will not go 1-11 again.

That happened last year because Darrell Hazell threw his kids to the wolves, and the wolves did what wolves tend to do. It was a rough character-building experience, as they say, and it will pay some limited dividends this year.

But don't look for Hazell to duplicate what he did the second year at Kent State, when he took the Flashes from 5-7 to 11-3 in one gulp. The Boilermakers are still young and still thin, and they've still got Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa, Nebraska in Lincoln, Minnesota in Minneapolis and Indiana in Bloomington to deal with.

In which case, 4-8 seems about right.


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