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Sunday, November 23, 2014

At long last, football season arrives

The concept of a college football offseason is an increasingly abstract one. The game itself doesn’t occupy the calendar year-round, but thanks to unimaginable amounts of money and our own sick passion, the culture does.There is a football season, and then there are recruiting seasons and spring games and realignment debates and arrests, a summer buoyed by media events all joined by a connective tissue of 24-hour news coverage (most of it pointless, banal noise).
But it is now officially college football season.
Ole Miss will occupy the nation’s eye for the first of two back-to-back season opening Thursday night games on ESPN. Next year’s Boise State game feels like it’s already looming large, but the embattled Vanderbilt program in front of the Rebels this week provides an interesting juxtaposition.
Just a year and change removed from the scorched remains of the Houston Nutt debacle, things are as (relatively) quiet as they’ve ever been in Oxford. Contrast that with the ongoing drama of a sexual assault trial against four now-former Vandy players that’s ensnared their second-best receiver Chris Boyd on a felony charge and lists (among other players) starting quarterback Austin Carta-Samuels as a witness for the prosecution.
Head coach James Franklin is furious that fans aren’t buying tickets, and the ‘Dores are set to follow up their most successful season in 98 years with new starters at running back and quarterback.
All that makes Nick Brassel look incidental. Indeed, Ole Miss is the calmer program of the two, focused solely on a slow rebuild despite an abnormally successful first rebuilding campaign under Hugh Freeze. There are already more talented bodies on this roster than just a year ago but still nowhere near enough to make any serious noise in the SEC.
The narrative all offseason has been patience and process. But now it’s the much ballyhooed toe-meets-leather time, and narratives are for February.
Game Prediction: Bo Wallace struggles with turnovers, but the Ole Miss offense is noticeably improved (read: faster) entering Year 2. Vanderbilt breaks a pair of misdirection running plays for touchdowns, but can’t find any rhythm passing the football and the Rebels are able to pressure with a creative blitz scheme. Ole Miss 31, Vanderbilt 20.
Around The SEC:
South Carolina (-11.5) vs. North Carolina: The preemptive favorites to face Alabama in December should have no problem disrupting Larry Fedora’s offense early and often. Jadeveon Clowney deserves to be the Heisman front-runner. USC 29, UNC 13
Alabama (-19.5) vs. Virginia Tech: New Hokies OC Scot Loeffler ended his Auburn run with a dismal performance vs. the Tide. Not much changes here. VT’s defense wants to force turnovers, Bama won’t allow any. Bama 41, VT 9
LSU (-4) vs. TCU: Jeremy Hill will more than likely play, but so too might the formerly suspended TCU DE Devonte Fields. Cam Cameron’s NFL passing offense might take off eventually, but not against Gary Patterson. Tigers will grind out an ugly one. LSU 19, TCU 14
Upset Pick:
Louisiana-Lafayette (+10.5) is the worst kind of Sun Belt foe a rebuilding Arkansas team wants to see — fast, mature and fearless. The Hogs’ new offense lacks dynamic playmakers in the power game. ULL might not win outright, but they’re certainly losing by 10 or more. (August 29, 2013, Page 9)

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