A Love Letter to the Chiefs

I can’t really describe my relationship with the Kansas City Chiefs outside of any terms besides a pair of lovers. I mean, I could try some different analogies. I’m just not sure they’d fit very well.

You really want something different?

…ok, I’ll try to change it up a bit. Here’s a few, tell me what you think:

  • My relationship with the Chiefs is like a farmer and a cow. All they do is violate my udders every time I’m unprepared.
  • My relationship with the Chiefs is like a bee and a flower. I am a beautiful creature that dies every time the Chiefs bumble over to suck out my nectar.
  • My relationship with the Chiefs is like being robbed at the Dollar Store. It’s terrible and frightening until you realize there’s not really anything they can take from you anymore.
  • My relationship with the Chiefs is like watching Batman vs Superman. It’s quite a long process that is mostly painful; partly hilarious in its ineptitude when Lex Luthor-Matt Cassel shows up asking for Jolly Ranchers; but pretty good for those brief moments when Wonder Woman-Jamaal Charles appears to kick ass and chew Amazonian bubble gun.

Hmmm. Pretty good. Let’s see what you guys think:

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Ah. I see. Romance analogy it is.

There are times I cannot stand the Chiefs. They can just be the absolute worst. They’re needy, incompetent, sloppy, and generally unable to support themselves. I have to do all the work. have to wake up and be there on Sundays. have to invest all my emotions and quite a bit of my money. Don’t give me this nonsense about “you don’t play on the team.” Sir, I am a fan. I am basically the team.

Then there’s the times I just can’t get enough Chiefs. Nobody is nicer, funnier, more entertaining, sexier and genuinely more awesome. The moments this team has given me over the years become moments because despite all the tough times we go through, me and my baby still click. We just get each other, you know?

We have a connection, me and the Chiefs. An unbreakable bond strengthened and forged in the fires of love. Despite my grumbling and complaining, the years have been good to us. So many good memories. You know, like-

Ok, not that, but what about-

Alright, that’s not great, but how ’bout-

&*((%^&*)%(%&($&%^*($^*$^(!!!!!!!!!

…why do I like this team again.

Seriously. I think it’s a fair question. What reason do I have for enjoying nothing but soulless, unending pain?

Year after year, I put myself through this. I accept that life is simply unfair and that I am meant to forever wear a jersey of some guy no one will know 30 years from now and get real excited when it’s 14-0 against the Houston Texans (who have a mascot that looks like an overweight, 40-year old demon wearing face paint) and think, “Yup, this is the year! This year they won’t suck as bad! I can feel it!” only to see the Texans erase this deficit on their way to another triumphant season of winning the worst division in sports with a 5-8-3 record and a $72 million dollar failed surfboard model that calls himself a “quarterback.”

I know who Eddie Kennison is. Do you know who Eddie Kennison is? I do. Because I have no life.

“But what about Tony Gonzalez, the greatest tight end ever? What about Priest and LJ? Trent Green? Dante the Human Joystick?” Congratulations, you remember the little bit of fun we had in 2003. You tasted the good life, but only a sip. You were there when we flew too close to the sun. We got burned, ironically by a man who has to put an inordinate amount of SPF 40 on his forehead.

2003 is not the highlight. It is the tragedy that defines this tragic team. It is my burden.

Eddie Kennison. Sammie Parker. Scott Fujita. Kawika Mitchell. Jamell Fleming. The Rotting Corpse Formerly Known as Dunta Robinson.

Junior Hemingway. Jonathan Baldwin. Mike McGlynn. Jackie Battle.

Damon Huard. The aforementioned Whitest Cassel. Elvis Grbac. Steve Bono. Brodie Croyle. Tyler Thigpen. Tyler F. Palko. TYLER F. PALKO.

I know who these people are. I know them because I was supposed to love them.

But how on earth are you supposed to love something that’s not going to love you back?

I need a drink. I’m getting something from the fridge.

(Gets up, trips over the Internet)

…what

…I…I like that.

Heh. Hehehehe. Hahahahaha. Yes. Yes. More.

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YES. YES. MORE. MORE.

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AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA MORE MORE!!!!!

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AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

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COME HERE, BABY. I’M SO SORRY I EVER SAID THOSE THINGS ABOUT YOU.

Alex Smith, sweet naive Alex, never willing to make a mistake to a point where I forget how good you are.

Travis Kelce, lord of the dance, Zeus, the man-beast that puts Gronk to shame on and off the field.

Ware and West. Mitch (both of them) and Big Fish. J-Mac. Conley. The Sausage.

Tyreek. I know the past isn’t great. I also know you’ve been a first-class guy from the moment you came to town, on top of being a first-class playmaker.

And when the lights come on, Tyreek. Ohhhhhhh, Tyreek.

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MMMMMMM YEAH BABY THAT’S IT.

Chris Jones, the Big Dawg. Nacho. Zombo. Ramik. Ghost Parker. Dirty Dan. Eric Murray. Steve Nelson.

Terrence Mitchell, the surprise hero. Tamba, the old vet. Dee Ford, the emerging star.

Marcus Peters, the next great shutdown corner. Eric Berry, the purest definition of man and warrior. Justin, the pass rusher that makes you wonder if DT came back for one last run. Hungry Pig.

HUNGRY PIG.

SNORT IT UP.

I even have room in my heart for you, Demetrius Harris, Albert Wilson and Phil Gaines. It’s not a lot of room, but it’s there.

Ever since Andy Reid and John Dorsey came to town four years ago, Big Red is not just a nickname or a guy with a costume and a Chinese menu. It’s who we are. It’s what we’ve become. Being a Chiefs fan used to be worse than the scarred histories of Cleveland or Detroit, always so close but falling just short. The Chiefs don’t come close. They’re just boring.

Being a Chiefs fan is not boring anymore. It’s not predictable, it’s not orthodox, and it’s not good for my heart. But it’s also not soul-crushing, not joyless, and it’s actually the best heart medication ever.

The epic comebacks against San Diego and Carolina. Ron Parker’s Peanut Punch to beat the Saints. EB’s epic homecoming in Atlanta. The doink in Denver. The Hungry Pig Christmas. Slobberknocking the Raiders when they’re supposed to be good again.

2016 has been the height of a new era of the Kansas City Chiefs, but the last four years all together have been magical. We take for granted what we’re witnessing. And now, with the best offense on a storied franchise coming to the biggest game Arrowhead has hosted in almost 20 years and God himself trying to intervene, waving his Terrible Towel and shaking down ice upon the earth, I’m not worried. I’m not scared. Sunday is not the most terrifying experience of my life.

Well, ok, that’s a lie, it’s absolutely terrifying.

But I also know it’s not the be-all end-all. The Chiefs might win that thing that would have Hank Stram’s name on it if that stupid Lombardi hadn’t coached the greatest team ever. They never win it. They might not.

And at the end of it all, it won’t matter to me. Because the Chiefs have won the battle and the war. The Chiefs aren’t just good, they’re good to me. It’s fun to love the Chiefs again. And what’s the point of being in love if it’s not fun?

Here’s to us, baby. 20 years and still going strong. I wouldn’t want anyone else by my side. See you Sunday.

Five for Five: Week One

This is a weekly series of five lists of essential information for the coming college football weekend. This week, we look at the most loaded opening week ever.

Five Burning Questions

Is Alabama really that much better than everyone else? Well, kind of. It’s not going to surprise anyone if the Tide roll everybody on their way to Nick Saban’s fifth title at the school. But it is important to note that Alabama will be breaking in new players at not only quarterback, but also running back. Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris are going to be the primary ball handlers for the Crimson Tide offense, so they need to be ready to step into Derrick Henry’s shoes right away. After that, ‘Bama looks like the best team at pretty much every position, in some cases by a wide margin.

What does Houston have to do to beat Oklahoma? Other than Greg Ward Jr leading the offense down the field and scoring lots of points, since that’s sort of the objective of the game, it’s crucial that defensive coordinator Todd Orlando get the Cougars to key in on Sooner RBs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, who should get a lot of reps due to an inexperienced group of wide receivers. Given the performance against Dalvin Cook and Florida State in last December’s Peach Bowl, following that game plan is a smart move.

Is Tennessee really on upset alert? I love Fox Sports’ Stewart Mandel, one of the best college football reporters in the country, saying the Volunteers can get beat by Appalachian State, mostly because it perfectly sums up what 2016 will mean to the Vols: Unless Butch Jones can finally get all the talent on his roster to translate to staying in the hunt for championships, this season is a total failure. Plain and simple. Plus, would you trust a team that’s lost 11 straight times to Florida?

Which conference has the most to lose from Week One? Amongst all these flashy non-conference matchups is a slew of the typcial season-opening cupcakes, but no conference seems to boast more than the Big Ten. Aside from Wisconsin taking on LSU, the next best matchup might be Bowling Green-Ohio State. Good job not getting left out in the rain, Jim Delaney.

Is Les Miles really going to make LSU players hitchike home if they do the Lambeau Leap? This is a little uncharateristic of the fun-loving Mad Hatter, and a big missed opportunity for the players in my opinion. This is the first-ever college football game at historic Lambeau Field. Why wouldn’t you take the chance to make it memorable? Where’s Kliff Kingsbury with a dance contest when I need it?

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Five Must-See-TV Players

Steven Taylor, OLB, Houston The senior pass rusher was a steady presence last season with 10 sacks. But Taylor posted six of those sacks in back-to-back weeks against SMU and Tulane, meaning there’s room for improvement. Ward Jr might be the star of the show for the Cougars, but if they really want to knock off Oklahoma, Taylor must be the main event and get in Baker Mayfield’s face all afternoon long.

Sony Michel, RB, Georgia Yes, Nick Chubb is back from a gruesome knee injury that cut a potentially dynamic 2015 season short, but we’re still not sure if he’s all the way back. And if Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart isn’t either, there’s always the 5’11”, 222-lb junior who stepped in for Chubb last season and strolled to a casual 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. He also averaged 10 yards per reception last year, so expect a lot of explosive plays from Michel against North Carolina.

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M Hey, does your favorite NFL team stink at getting to the quarterback? Well then, meet your future superstar, a 270-lb ball of pure power that smashes offensive tackles’ dreams on the reg and has a pretty good in partner in Daeshon Hall to take the pressure off of him, thus meaning he could do better than last year’s 12.5 sacks. UCLA QB Josh Rosen may not think Kyle Field is loud, but his ears are gonna be ringing if Garrett gets a hold of him.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford Inevitable he ends up on this list almost every week, but hey, whatcha gonna do? Biggest question is if he breaks the 350-mark in all-purpose yardage.

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State Another guy that could be on here every week, with the same going for Deshaun Watson and Leonard Fournette, but we’ll have plenty of time to talk about them this season. Right now, let’s talk about how the Seminoles are sending a redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois up against the veteran Land Shark defense in his first career start. Sounds like we’re gonna get a heaping helping of DAAAAAMM DALVIN. BACK AT IT AGAIN WITH THE 20-PLUS YARD RUNS.

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Five Coaches that Could Really Use a Win This Week

Jim Grobe, Baylor It’s not that the Bears won’t win, they’ll try to beat Northwestern State by a thousand, it’s that Grobe has a giantic overhaul in culture that has little to do with football ahead. Sometimes winning is the best medicine, sometimes it makes the situation worse, the point is people could use a distraction.

David Beatty, Kansas  Beatty could use a win this week, next week, any week. Kansas sucks. They need a win. Period.

Barry Odom, Missouri Speaking of schools in the middle of cultural overhaul, beating West Virginia on the road to begin Odom’s tenure would mean the Tigers are at least taking steps towards being a good football team again.

Steve Addazio, Boston College Like Mizzou, Addazio had a great defense accompianied by an offense direct from Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell. If the Golden Eagles at least score a few more points, that would probably make things much better, especiall against…conference rival Georgia Tech in Dublin, Ireland WHO PUT THIS SCHEDULE TOGETHER.

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt If the Commodores don’t beat South Carolina, who will they beat? Guess I’ll find out. Yeah, I’m gonna watch this game. Yeah, I know I have a sickness.

Five Uniforms that You’ll See Worn This Weekend

Georgia and North Carolina I thouroughly endorse the use of both home jerseys whenever possible, and nothing looks sweeter than powder-blue vs red.

Tulane ANGRY CARTOON WAVE ALERT

Toledo Faded helmet pattern done right? Take notes, Jaguars

UCLA Thank God, one of the best unis in sports looks like itself again

Idaho OH GOD MY EYES (quickly searches for acid, throws at face)

Five (or More) Stone-Cold Locks

Kansas State at Stanford (-14) Three touchdowns coming for McCaffrey, who’s so good, Bill Snyder might pull a Steve Spurrier and retire right after the game. Stanford 38, Kansas St 17

Oklahoma (-11.5) vs Houston The Cougars are for real, and they will make that loud and clear to the rest of the nation in the best game of the weekend. Houston 44, Oklahoma 31

UCLA at Texas A&M (-3) The Aggies are much better than you think. Coordinator John Chavis has the defense turned around, now it’s just up to former Sooner QB Trevor Knight to stabalize a talented offense. Texas A&M 31, UCLA 21

LSU (-10) vs Wisconsin Even if Fournette isn’t fully recovered from the foot injury that nagged him in fall camp, Darius Guice is fine backup who can get some additional reps, and man, could this defense be scary. LSU 24, Wisconsin 7

Georgia (-2.5) vs North Carolina Like A&M, the Dawgs might be poised to breakout and sneak into the playoff conversation, especially with a tandem like Chubb and Michel running the damn ball (miss you, Mike Bobo). Georgia 31, North Carolina 17

USC vs Alabama (-11.5) That massive spread is being generous. The Trojans are good, but this just sucks to have to be the game you break in new starting QB Max Browne. Alabama 34, USC 14

Clemson (-7.5) vs Auburn Dangerously tempting line that you should probably ignore but maybe not. Clemson is breaking in a lot of new defensive starters against a Gus Mahlzahn, so the potential for the over is there. But Deshaun Watson’s not losing this thing. Clemson 34, Auburn 21

Notre Dame (-3.5) vs Texas Lord have mercy on my soul, but I’ll take Texas. I have a very stupid hunch this might be the year Charlie Strong gets the Horns turned around. Either that or it’s indigestion. Texas 31, Notre Dame 28

Ole Miss vs Florida State (-4) Another really small line that is being really nice. The ‘Noles are real good, and they’re gonna let everybody know come Labor Day. Florida St 38, Ole Miss 17

Mizzou and Being Human

Human.

What does it mean to be human? What makes us different from the beasts? The line between intelligent life and organisms without said intelligence can sometimes be blurred. Famed philosopher B.F. Skinner’s model of behavioral technology, while demonstrating some feasible ideas, is often claimed to be guilty of doing so, an explanation of the world that demeans humanity to be merely dogs engaged in Pavlov’s famous experiments of conditioning.

Yet we are more than animals, far more than animals. We are human. We think. We feel. We laugh. We cry. We love. We hate.

Hate.

For every act of good that the human being is capable of, there is a reciprocal action that he/she can perform which causes the most dreadful of harm. This, often, is hate.

It’s very odd, given the serious nature of the events that have taken place at the University of Missouri the last few months, that the first thing that comes to my mind is an ugly, green Muppet. That would be Yoda, in the first Star Wars prequel film, explaining the origins and effects of hate.

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate…leads to suffering.”

So we fear. When we fear, the response often becomes frustration towards the continued prevalence of our fear. The frustration builds until it becomes loathing. And if we wallow long enough in the mire of our loathing, we eventually lash out, in a way that is often the farthest thing from humane.

The chain of events is a descent, a downward spiral from being human to basic, instinctual, inhumane living. At the bottom of that spiral, we lose humanness all together. We become animals.

Animals.

That world was probably thrown around at Mizzou in the last few months. So too were other words that meant the same thing. Words, as well as actions, meant to degrade, to brutalize, to abuse and to dehumanize.

Dehumanize. Less than human. Like some animal. When and why does it go that far?


 

It’s fairly easy to understand why Tim Wolfe is no longer president at MU and why others with executive power are nervously looking over their shoulders. Concerned Student 1950 and the Jonathan Butler hunger strike were movements gaining serious movement, but the administration at Mizzou did not have a stirring enough reason to listen to their complaints of racism running rampant on campus.

Then the football players stepped in. Once the majority of black players stepped forward to say they were boycotting all team activities until Wolfe resigned (and head coach Gary Pinkel publicly supported his players’ decision), the university suddenly was compelled into drastic action.

Had the football team not played its game Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City against Brigham Young, the university would have owed BYU more than $1 million to compensate for the contract signed between both schools and other attorney fees.

Whether or not Wolfe had done enough to address the issue of racism at Mizzou was never a question asked by administration. But when the almighty football dollar was at stake, the administration’s actions were never in question. Wolfe’s job, and the moral compass that comes it, was never worth the revenue football generates.

And so the grand demand made by those tired of the racial climate in Columbia has been met. The football team will play again. A victory has been won. All is well.

Yeah, sure.

Tim Wolfe did not do what was necessary to avoid the continued display of blatant hatred at MU. There is too much evidence to dispute that fact. But calling for the man to step down, to lose his job, is an extreme measure. Even someone involved with the cries of change would tell you so.

But extreme times call for extreme measures. And herein lies the central problem of this entire saga, a problem that was not solved despite what occurred today.

Tim Wolfe would not have had so many crying for his head if he had exhausted every avenue possible to combat the hate that was purveying his jurisdiction. Had he been a genuinely useful resource for students who were feeling suppressed in their everyday environment, he would have not become a victim.

Tim Wolfe did not fix the problem. Someone else must now come in and attempt to do so. It is to that person, if I were to speak to him or her, I would say what I am about to say.

In his press conference Tuesday morning, Tim Wolfe said he loves Columbia and he loves MU. I don’t doubt that. But even the most loving parent will admit that their child is not perfect. And if Tim Wolfe loves Missouri the same way I do, he would admit its flaws, which today have become fatal.


 

 

I like where I grew up. It’s a nice place. It’s a small farming town called Concordia. The population is probably right around 2,500. The people are friendly, religious, hard-working and stubborn.

Everyone knows everyone. Families, like the buildings on Main Street, stay in the same location from hundreds of years ago when they were first erected by Anglo-Saxon and German immigrants. The weather is unpredictable. The schools are small. There is a great deal of pride in this little community amongst its citizens.

I would happily tell you all these things about where I was born and raised if I was asked. But I like to think that I’m a honest person, so if you asked me to completely describe where I came from, I’d tell you more.

For instance, I’d tell you that about close to ninety percent of the population are white. I’d tell you I have friends I grew up with who proudly display the Confederate flag. I’d tell you about the ugly things I’ve heard said by my elders about how uncomfortable they are with people of a different skin color.

I think I’d especially tell you about the autumn fair the town holds every year. Everyone seems to come back to Concordia for the fair. It’s a marvelous time to reconnect and celebrate with friends and family.

Well, most of the time.

On the Friday evening of the fair, they hold the Concordia Comical Crew parade. Concordia is a German word that loosely translates to “harmony.” In some spellings of the word in German, the word is spelled with a K first instead of a C.

When the tradition of the parade was first conceived, those in charge decided it would a fun play on words to have all three words in the title start with a K. So, every year at the fair, folks would head down to Main Street on Friday night to watch the K-K-K parade.

This seems like a harmless mistake, a simple faux pas in etiquette from a few misguided hillbillies. You might be right. But you should also that it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that the name was changed. People were actually stunned that a change was called for.

But the naming problem is really just the tip of the iceberg. The parade itself is a sight to behold. People design floats that are intended to be humorous. That form of humor happens to be the Blue Collar Comedy Tour on steroids and drunk off its ass. Nothing is off limits. The image that sticks out to me is a float called “Osama bin Laden’s Family Album,” which featured several crude renderings of Arabic people.

I’m not going to go into much detail of it other than that, but I would hope the picture is clear. The notion of being obscene, of displaying other cultures in derogatory terms, is encouraged and celebrated. A night filled with the scent of liquor in the air and loud slurs ringing through the night sky is a proud part of the culture where I come from.


 

I would imagine this is not different from the many other small towns where so many young people aspire to attend college at Mizzou. These are places very much removed from the world, hovels sheltered away from common thinking. In some ways this benefits a person greatly. But in this particular instance, it has proved to be the source of a disaster.

In these communities, change is often less of an unwelcome guest so much as a reviled enemy. The old joke goes that you’ll never know how many Germans it takes to change a light bulb because they refuse to do so. What is different is unknown, unfamiliar. The general response to people from these communities to the unknown and unfamiliar is uneasiness. People are plain scared of that which they cannot comprehend.

The instant reaction is fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. You know the rest.

When we fear something, we try to belittle it to feel superior. So it has gone throughout human history. But where this fear becomes a tool for destruction is when the act of becoming superior squashes out another human being. Life of all kinds in humanity should be valued of the highest order. This gets lost in a mad scramble to eliminate something that is different for small reasons: skin color, language, culture, etc.

And so it goes as many people leave their little towns to go out into the real world. They discover that nothing is as simple as it once was. They encounter new ways of thinking, new people with new backgrounds and new styles of living. The amount of uniqueness in the world stuns and dizzies them. They suddenly face a choice: embrace the new unknown around them, or be paralyzed with fear and try to fight for a return to simpler times when change was unlawful and people didn’t act in a different manner than their own.

One of these two choices ends poorly, especially when the cost to attain it is the demonization of human life. But sometimes that doesn’t matter to people. They see an animal when they should see a person. It’s a shame, because to claim another person is not worthy of the basic rights of being human is to be the closest thing to being an animal.

And so, when black students could not have their voices heard above the loud cries of a majority terrified at something that is the unholy complex known as “different,” they went to extreme lengths. The plan worked, but as many involved with the movement have noted, the work is not done. I would thinks this is largely because the hope would be that such a measure as having to demand Tim Wolfe be fired would never once be considered.

But because people were so unwilling to embrace something different; because rednecks set in their vile, backwards ways could not do anything but project their fear of something they could not immediately relate to with destructive hate; and because those in a position of power to make changes that created a safer environment for students did not fulfill that duty to the fullest extent, the students at the University of Missouri feeling oppressed by racism had no choice but to make a power play.

They were forced to drastic strategy, and they were not just forced there by Tim Wolfe. They were forced there because of you and me.

You and I are also the reason why the work is not done. Every one of us who does not suffer the burden of being a minority and instead abuses those who are for the sake of calming our own fears is the real problem. The preconceived notions we have put in place about those who aren’t anything like what we grew up understanding have to be put aside. If you are a proud Missouri citizen and you often wonder why the world laughs at us, I encourage you to actually look in to the events that led to Butler’s hunger strike and the formation of Concerned Student 1950. These are words and acts of war, often done under the cover of anonymity, on human life of a different variety simply because it is different.

I said and did terrible things in my younger years against people of different cultures because I was scared like you. Days like today remind me how foolish I was. If it does not do the same for you, I would suggest you go back to your gated communities where you were raised. The rest of us don’t need you and your bile.

However, it was in my little home town where I went to church, two places people try to associate consistently with intolerance. It was in church I learned the Fifth Commandment: “You shall not murder.” While this seems quite straightforward, I learned in church that this statement was not only meant to discourage murder in purely the physical sense. Murder, rather, could be committed simply by saying hateful words, by discriminating against others, by doing anything in word or deed that devalued another human life.

Those who have committed the vile atrocities that led to today’s events have committed murder. Anyone who discriminates is guilty of attempting to harm life, and that is unacceptable, at the University of Missouri or anywhere else.

It’s true that the national attention this story has gained makes it very easy to step in and take a stand against racism. But I hope whoever becomes the next president at Mizzou realizes that he or she is walking into a territory where people are born and raised with a sense of ignorance. The problem is not Mizzou. The problem isn’t even Missouri. The problem is the majority, the people who have given up on the value of humanity’s existence, variety and spontaneity out of fear. Fear has led to anger, anger to hate, hate to suffering.

But out of every nightfall there is a sunrise. There can come healing from the suffering. The first step is to end the fear, to embrace the uniqueness of being human in all facets. I know that where I come from, my Missouri and Ol’ Mizzou, can be a great place that embraces the joy of life. Only when the fear is dealt with can the anger and the hate subside, and the suffering disappear.

We aren’t animals. We are human, black or white, tall or short, from the west or the east. We are all different, we are all special, we are all worth it. We need to own that fact with pride while not stepping on others who vary from us. Only when we see that can we truly call ourselves human.

Desire: Yet Another College Football Preview (Or The Sequel to 50 Shades of Grey)

Everyone wants something, if you think about it.

That’s your cue to think about it, if you haven’t.

If you have, I’m sure you want something, maybe even right this moment. For me, that’s 3 more readers (share with your friends!), the Big Pig from Jack Stack in Kansas City (SO MUCH BARBCUE SAUCE REQUIRED), and a reality show on truTV where Donald Trump and Will Ferrell’s Saturday Night Live version of George W. Bush help single moms hit the dating scene. You’d watch, don’t deny it.

Oh, speaking of reality shows, I also want college football to start. Like, right now.

Wait…IT DOES START! TODAY!!!!

YEAH LET’S DO THIS THANG

Yet even as college football returns, it should be noted that the theme of wanting…stuff is actually still pertinent (I only use scientific terms). Oregon wants to take that one final step and claim a national title. TCU wants to avenge a loss to Baylor that kept them on the outside looking in of the first College Football Playoff. Baylor wants to avenge getting snubbed by the CFP committee (even though they may have totally deserved it, given how well things went when they were up 20 in the Cotton Bowl to Michigan State and subsequently forced a reporter to come up with the unholy pun “Scary World”).

Arkansas and Tennessee want respect as programs on the rise. Georgia and Clemson want respect as programs that won’t blow it every single time. Arizona and Texas A&M want to surprise you again. USC and Notre Dame want to disappoint you once more, for old time’s sake (I kid, I kid, at least about the Irish. You become Seven-Win Sark, you only upgrade at best to Seven-Shot Sark).

Cardale Jones and JT Barrett want to know who’s starting. Connor Cook and Leonard Fournette want to know if they’ll have a year that makes them members of the exclusive Heisman fraterninty. Bret Bielema wants to get hot and heavy watching the bowl game against Texas while also enjoying the number seven from Whataburger.

Michigan just wants to contend for a title. Alabama is sick of just contending for a title (and it’s only been two years). Ohio State…hell, they won everything last year, they just want a damn appendix that doesn’t explode.

And us? We, the people? We want more. If you get specific, we want more playoff football. The first CFP was a roaring success, and it’s already got us dreaming of expanding the field. Let’s make it eight, 16, 64 teams. Whatever it takes to produce exciting, big-time football that determines a national champion. Bill Hancock and his crew won’t be adding additional spots to the playoff any time soon. They also won’t be moving those semifinal games off of New Year’s Eve (so apologies in advance to the Black Eyed Peas, since this is the only day of the year they still work).

Frankly, that’s ok. Because what we truly want, deep down, is just for college football to be back. To roar with thousands of crazed, peppy dreamers like us who know this is our year. To be dazzled by incredible acts of athleticism. To feel the thrill of a big-game Saturday night. To storm the field (and pay the appropriate fines). To revel when our school, our team wins it all.

We want our game back. We got it back. We’re never letting go.

Well, maybe for just a little while, BERT looks a little too into this.

BUMP THE LECRAE AND LEGGO


 THE STORYLINES

  • Why won’t Ohio State repeat? – This is an excellent question, mostly because, while every indicator leans towards the Buckeyes winning the playoff for a second straight season, there is one bit of evidence that doesn’t exactly bode well for the folks in Columbus: history. Going back to the inception of the BCS in 1998, Alabama in 2011-2012 remains the only school to repeat as national champions (the list of “official” national champs is unbelievably fascinating if only for the fact of Bernie Bierman’s FIVE titles at MINNESOTA. What a world). Ohio State has to deal with an emerging pack of contenders in the Big Ten led by Michigan State, the unnamed syndrome that ailed Urban Meyer’s 2009 Florida Gators, and a much-tougher-than-you’d think Week 1 visit to Virginia Tech after the suspensions of Joey Bosa, Jalin Marshall and Dontre’ Wilson.
  • Which Power 5 conference is poised to get snubbed by the committee this year? – In order to keep as much of the BCS around as possible, school presidents and bowl executives (the people actually in charge of things in the sport) put a restriction on athletic directors and conference commissioners creating a playoff format: leave somebody out and keep the daily debate of “Who’s In?” raging (what a brilliant slogan!!!). Thus, a major conference champ is going to get left out. The ACC seems to be the easy choice here, but don’t discount this: there is potential for a major drop-off in talent after TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma in the Big 12. If it happens, only an undefeated campaign would get the champ in to the CFP. Yep, they’d do the exact same thing as last year.
  • What happens if Notre Dame goes undefeated? – The College Football Playoff, like anything else in college athletics, is a business pretending it’s not a business. Naturally, the product shines a little brighter when there are recognizable brands at the forefront (like Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State). Enter Brian Kelly’s most talented squad in years. The Irish probably have to go unbeaten to make the playoff due to their lack of conference membership, but if they pull if off, an ACC won by Clemson or Georgia Tech or a Pac-12 won by USC would be the likeliest suspects to get left out of the playoff party. After that, all bets are off.
  • Who’s going to pull a TCU and come out of nowhere to be in the playoff race? – This is the question we ask before every season and, of course, get wrong. A team is a surprise because you didn’t even think about them before the season began. They…surprise you. That said, don’t sleep on Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer’s trying to keep his job, and a really good defense is coupled with a second season under center for transfer quarterback Michael Brewer.
  • Who’s going to pull an Oklahoma and be an utter disaster with all the expectations in the world? – This one’s easy for me personally, just because I’m not quite sure how Florida State is a top 10 team in the AP preseason rankings. The Seminoles need a new quarterback, new #1 receiver, new tight end and entirely new offensive line. Also, those first three guys were All-Americans who racked up a ton of individual awards and FSU records. Not even a veteran defense can’t overcome those types of losses (ask Will Muschamp how it works out when your defense is great and your offense is similar to a Nickelback concert without “Rockstar”)(that’s being generous let’s just go with a Nickelback concert period).

THE CONFERENCES

AMERICAN

Who’s Hot: Houston – This has a chance to be a really fun team after Tom Herman left the offensive coordinator position at Ohio State to run the Cougars’ emerging program, one that is A) full of offensive talent led by quarterback Greg Ward and running back Kenneth Farrow; and B) probably still pretty juiced about their INSANE comeback against Pitt in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Who’s Not: Memphis – Paxton Lynch returning at quarterback does not change the fact that Justin Fuentes has to replace a lot of talent from a really good 2014 defense. If Kansas has success scoring on the Tigers in Week 2, everyone will.

Let’s Get Real: Navy – The Midshipmen will keep winning under Ken Niumatalolo (SPELLING ACHEIVMENT UNLOCKED). Keenan Reynolds will break a bunch of school records. It’s just going to cause an even greater level of apathy than normal now that the kids from Annapolis could win a conference title, but they’ll likely come up short. Still, they’re a consistently good team that’s fun to watch, so maybe don’t be too indifferent.

Best Player: Gunner Kiel, QB, Cincinnati – Once the top quarterback prospect in the nation, Kiel ditched his original digs at Notre Dame in hopes he would get a chance to be a starter earlier. The Bearcats gave him that shot, and Kiel did not disappoint, throwing six touchdowns in his first career start and the school-single-season record with 31 TD passes. If he avoids the small injuries that nagged him throughout 2014, a deep and experienced group of receivers has Kiel poised to post even better numbers in year two in the Queen City.

Champion: Cincinnati – Kiel pushes the Bearcats past Houston with help from senior wideout Shaq Washington and junior safety Zach Edwards, who could somehow improve on last year’s 121(!!!)-tackle output.

ACC

Who’s Hot: Georgia Tech – Shhhh. Paul Johnson don’t want no talk ’bout no playoff. His boys don’t need no crazy ideas in their heads. You best be gettin’ to gettin’ before Paul gets to gettin’ his problem stick. Or at least y’all best not get to thinkin’ quarterback Justin Thomas can get better, or that the defense is loaded with returning talent, or (crowbar hits you in the back of the head, cut to Johnson carrying a large trash bag and stuffing it in the back of a 2000 Buick Regal)

Who’s Not: Miami – Not even the continued progress of Brad Kaaya can keep Al Golden from his destiny as a Houston Nutt impersonator when his contract with CBS runs up (sorta like when your kid’s hamster dies and you buy him a new one without telling you).

Let’s Get Real: Virginia Tech – A lot of folks think the Hokies will be better in 2015. The definition of better is what ultimately causes a lot of questions about this upcoming campaign. Personally, I think this looks like a big-time sleeper playoff team, with Brewer back to run an offense that has better depth at receiver and tight end led by Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges. If Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams can get healthy, VaTech boasts a solid offense to go along with what will surely be another standout defense under Bud Foster. Luther Maddy and Dadi Nicolas can wreak havoc inside as well as Kendall Fuller and Donovan Riley can on the perimeter. This seems to have all the ingredients of this year’s TCU…but it could also all go up in smoke after losses to Ohio State and maybe either Purdue and East Carolina. I mean…

Best Player: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson – Two things you need to read: Holly Anderson’s outstanding profile of the Tigers’ sophomore standout, and the Bovada betting odds that have Watson at 16-1 to win the Heisman Trophy. Considering these were once 33-1, it’s pretty clear folks are buying into the hype train. You should too, given that Watson posted great numbers in limited playing time last year. Oh, and once he became the starter, he played through A TORN ACL in the final games of the season. If Watson is 100-percent healthy and does the same things he did to South Carolina, he should have no problem surpassing his nearly 1,700 yards of offense and 19 total TD’s-or winning a certain bronze statue.

Champion: Clemson – This one’s a real tossup. Virigina Tech can win 10 games this year and overtake Georgia Tech in the Coastal Division, which means the Tigers might face the Hokies in an elimination game for the playoff in the ACC Championship. In the end, Clemson’s weapons around Watson, like running back Wayne Gallman and wide recievers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, are a year older. And just like Watson, that means their best is still yet to come.

BIG 12

Who’s Hot: Oklahoma – Bob Stoops has you right where he prefers: not giving a lick about his team; completely unaware how good the hire of Lincoln Riley from East Carolina to run the Air Raid offense was; and adjusting your spectacles because you swear you’ve heard of quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Samaje Perine. Mayfield and Perine? Was it the name of a buddy cop series on TNT? It quite possibly was (FRANKLIN AND BASH FOR LIFE).

Who’s Not: TCU – TORCHES AND PITCHFORKS DOWN PLEASE. Trevone Boykin is a Heisman frontrunner, Aaron Green has found his groove at tailback, Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee are big-play targets. These are the prime reasons that make us say the Horned Frogs are going to score a lot of points and be very good. They will probably score a lot of points. They will probably be very good. But if the goal is to win the whole enchilada this year for TCU-and that’s what it looks like-you’re going to have to do some convincing to sway me in these regards: senior safety Derrick Kindred is the only impact player returning on defense, and even that unit for all its talent was tied for 75th in the nation in passing yards allowed. They also posted an absurd plus-18 turnover margin, a feat incredibly hard to repeat with so many new faces on defense. TCU will be very good. They just won’t be as good as many think.

Let’s Get Real: Texas – Here’s the thing about Charlie Strong: he’s a really good football coach. He made football at Louisville relevant enough again for Bobby Petrino to come back (don’t worry, he’s plotting to leave for Jay Gruden’s job in Washington aaaany day now). But the reason Strong had success was that the school gave him time to build the program back to winning ways. Texas is part of college football’s Manifest Destiny Fraternity, a very loud place filled with Bibles that have all the passages changed to make any miraculous deed performed by a legendary coach (“So Darrell K. Royal stretched out his hand, and the sea was parted…”). They don’t wait for winning because winning is just supposed to be happening all the time. There’s not going to be a tolerance for even this season to be another with just six or seven wins. It’s not Strong’s fault, he just has to deal with the fact his sweet gig involves trying to please people who think God’s eternal, universal plan includes a breakout year for Tyrone Swoopes.

Best Player: Eric Striker, OLB, Oklahoma – The impact the senior has for the Sooners’ defense is unparalleled. Coordinator Mike Stoops mixes and matches Striker all over the field, allowing him to wreak havoc against either pass or run all game long. 27.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks usually mean you’re a nightmare for opposing offenses, and with lots of other talented linebackers at OU, Striker will be able to avoid seeing a lot of double teams.

Champion: Baylor – Circle November 14. If Oklahoma is still undefeated by this date, their visit to Waco starts a brutal three-game stretch including hosting TCU and heading to Oklahoma State for Bedlam and a shot at the playoff. However, the Bears should win at home behind a loaded defense and the continued emergence of running back Shock Linwood and wideout KD Cannon, which would enable them to pretty much seal up a third straight Big 12 title at TCU…and it still might not matter if they drop a game they shouldn’t on another tissue-thin schedule (Art Briles flies into picture and suplexes random media member, scream-sings “THIS AIN’T NO TALKIN’ THANG, RIGHT BRAIN, LEFT BRAIN”).

BIG TEN

Who’s Hot: Penn State – James Franklin does nothing but win. Christian Hackenberg needs a star turn to prove to NFL scouts he’s not Jay Cutler back from the grave (shhhhhh, don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to). DaeSean Hamilton and Kyle Carter are massive, physically imposing targets. The defense is loaded and features one-man wrecking crew Anthony Zettel (17 tackles for loss, eight sacks and HOLY SHNIKES A TEAM LEADING THREE INTERCEPTIONS. JJ WATT, MEET THE COMPETITION). Maybe it’s only a one-win improvement, maybe it’s four. Either way, the Nittany Lions are very close to being back.

Who’s Not: Michigan – HARBAUGH. HARBAUGH HARBAUGH HARBUAGH HARBAUGH HARBAUGH HARBAUGH. Ok, now that that’s out of our system, let’s discuss reality. Jake Rudock is not an instant savior. There is no depth of talent at running back in a run-heavy offense. Jabril Peppers may very well have to play every offensive position to give the Wolverines a chance to score 20 points every game. There are some good veterans returning on defense, but not even HARBAUGH can fulfill the immediate wishes of another member of the Manifest Destiny Fraternity (“And lo, Bo changed the water into wine”).

Let’s Get Real: Ohio State – It’s easy to put Illinois here given that a terrible program had to fire its terrible coach not because he was terrible at coaching football, but hear me out. The Buckeyes are either going to be as great as we all think, they’ll become the reincarnation of the great early-2000s Miami and early-80’s Nebraksa teams, they’ll win all the awards, stomp through the Big Ten, cruise through the playoff. Or…they’ll do none of that, and, if you take into account the history we’ve already discussed, it won’t be that big of a surprise. Call me crazy for thinking the defending champs won’t be interesting, but I remember how un-fun it was to watch Urban Meyer’s last repeat attempt.

Best Players: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State & Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State – Straight up tie between two fearsome pass rushers that also do essentially everything well. It’s a fair argument to make that Bosa and Calhoun are the two best overall prospects heading into next spring’s NFL Draft. Whoever is playing on the conference champ will have a spotlight to display their enormous talent….

Champion: Michigan State – …and that guy will be Calhoun. Connor Cook could win the Heisman and become every QB-starved NFL team’s knight in shining armor. Left tackle Jack Conklin and safety RJ Williamson are also back to pad their pro scouting reports. This team is maybe a running back away from great things, so highly-recruited freshman LJ Scott needs to emerge as the typical star runner that Mark Dantonio seems to conjure out of a hat (Rabbits would be unpredictable, which if you know MSU would be way out of character).

CONFERENCE USA

Who’s Hot: Louisiana Tech – QB Jeff Driskel transfers from Florida to run an offense powered by the running of Kenneth Dixon OH WHO AM I KIDDING SKIP HOLTZ WILL FIND A WAY TO SCREW THIS UP.

Who’s Not: Marshall – Not even last year’s discovery of running back Devon Johnson will be able to replace Rakeem Cato’s record numbers the last two years or a defense quietly in flux

Let’s Get Real: Rice – Meh. Never really liked Rice. Not sure why it’s so big with Chinese food (Jerry Sienfeld wrote that joke for me. Not really, but I just wanted to take a moment to remind you that Jerry Seinfeld is a dangerously insane human being).

Best Player: Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana – Almost 1,700 total yards and 28 TD’s. Similar in his skill set to Matt Forte, whose alum, Tulane, is in C-USA and MAN SKIP HOLTZ IS GONNA SCREW THE POOCH ON THIS ONE. DON’T KNOW HOW, IT’S GONNA BE HARD, BUT SKIP’S GONNA FIND A WAY

Champion: Western Kentucky – They’re favored on the road at Vanderbilt to open the season. Most people have taken this as saying that Vanderbilt is terrible. They are. But don’t dismiss the Hilltoppers. Brandon Doughty throwing to Jared Dangerfield is the best pass-catch combination you’ve never heard, unless you remember that AWESOME shootout with Marshall.

INDEPENDENTS

Who’s Hot: Notre Dame – WAKE UP THE ECHOS (basically just a code to tell all the old people who live in South Bend and think they’re still students to actually wake up). The Irish are really, really talented. Running back Tarean Folston has a chance to rush for over 1,000 yards and will get some help from converted receiver CJ Prosise. Will Fuller leads a deep receiving corps that can be dangerous if Chris Brown and Corey Robinson have breakout years. Linebacker Jaylon Smith headlines a defense with 10-ten-returning starters, and KeiVarae Russell is back after being suspended for all of last season to fill the #1 corner role. All that seems to stand between the Irish and the playoff is the development of Malik Zaire in his first full season as the starter and a crazy demanding schedule.

Who’s Not: Army – They haven’t been that good for a while, but that’s ok. Navy likes it that way. Plus, I think they have more important things to focus on besides football.

Let’s Get Real: BYU

Best Player: Taysom Hill, QB, BYU – Once upon a time, the senior star was going to win the Heisman Trophy and lead the Cougars to an undefeated gate-crashing of the playoff. That’s not a reasonable goal this season, but Hill is back after a gruesome broken leg that halted BYU’s 4-0 start, and all Bronco Mendenhall does is win. Another eight or nine victories is not out of the question, but that’s the peak with 10 new starters on defense and a soft schedule that won’t warrant an invite to a bigger bowl.

MAC

Who’s Hot: Toledo – The Rockets are soooooo close to winning the West division. Getting healthy in the secondary might close that gap. Jordan Martin, Chaz Whittaker and Chris Dukes are joined by 2013 starters Cheatham Norrils (ALL-NAME TEAM) and Cameron Cole, which should cause a massive upgrade from last year’s 123rd-ranked pass defense.

Who’s Not: Eastern Michigan – Mr. Gorbachov, TEAR DOWN. THIS WALL

Let’s Get Real: Northern Illinois – Fine. Just asume the Huskies won’t win 10 or more games. Just assume that Drew Hare won’t be even better in year two as the starting QB. Just assume Rod Carey isn’t an elite mid-major coach (cc @PFTCommenter). I don’t make such mistakes. Which is why I will laugh when the Huskies are playing on New Year’s, and you won’t know who these dudes are because THEY DIDN’T TEAR DOWN. THIS WALL.

Best Player: Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo

1,600 yards rushing a season ago as just a sophomore equals a very high ceiling. If his young offensive line can gel early, Hunt will stare down 2,000 yards and NFL scouts and boldy declare…”TEAR DOWN. THIS WALL.”

Champion: Northern Illinois – I’m on to you. Rod Carey. Keep an eye on senior defensive backs Marlon Moore and Paris Logan. They can effect all facets of the game OH WHO AM I KIDDING TEAR DOWN THE FREAKIN’ WALL ONE MORE TIME.

MOUNTAIN WEST

Who’s Hot: Boise State – Get used to the above image of Darian Thompson interfering with a pass, as well as Kamalei Correa sacking quarterbacks and Donte Deayon shutting down the opposition’s best wide receiver. They happened a lot in 2014, and Bryan Harsin’s second year taking over for Chris Petersen should be no different. The defense around the Broncos’ stars should improve overall, giving Boise a shot at perfection.

Who’s Not: Hawaii – More teams should schedule road games in Honolulu. Not only is Aloha Stadium a beautiful venue, but the program hasn’t been good since June Jones left, which means you can take one of the travel days to just let your kids enjoy, you know, a free trip to Hawaii (Better question I just now though of: why aren’t more teams hoping for an invite to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl? Why isn’t one of the playoff semifinals at the Hawaii Bowl every year? How would you NOT enjoy your bowl week?).

Let’s Get Real: Fresno State – Speaking of scheduling, does anyone have a reasonable cause as to why the Bulldogs have become the children of Israel, wandering the earth and hoping to find a big, bad bully to play in non-conference? They’ll have chance to win the West division and go to another bowl, but it’s not like this is some fabulous addition to Ole Miss or Utah’s strength of schedules.

Best Player: Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State – Remember how Amari Cooper and Kevin White were the best receivers in the country and that was it? Higgins had better numbers than both as a sophomore (1,750 yards and 17 TD’S both led the nation). He’s back to improve his draft stock, and he should see plenty of touches given new head coach Mike Bobo’s history of NOT RUNNING THE DAMN BALL (Start the link at 2:17:00 if you’re unsure what I mean).

Champion: Boise State – They just don’t lose, even if they have to plug in a new quarterback in Ryan Finley. Tight end Jake Roh is an emerging threat as a receiver who could be big early as Finley’s security blanket (I have to hit pause here because I don’t know if, even when I was a child, I’ve had one particular blanket I could designate like this. If you have, you should tell people about it. It would help explain the descriptor and they definitely won’t make fun of you because of their own insecurities).

PAC-12

Who’s Hot: Arizona State – Todd Graham has built Tempe into a place people actually want to go (in the football sense, the tourism industry is still just awful). Mike Bercovici showed flashes of brilliance filling in when Taylor Kelly was injured. Now the unquestioned starter at quarterback, he’ll have Mr. Everything, D.J. Foster, at his disposal, although Foster will primarily play wide receiver. Also watch out for safety Jordan Simone, who posted 100 tackles last year and has the type of name Jordin Sparks probably wanted to use originally as her pop-star alias before she found out it was taken.

Who’s Not: USC – If Cody Kessler puts this team on his back and leads the Trojans to a conference title, he will win the Heisman. Write it down in stone. I’m that confident because Kessler’s situation looks a lot like Robert Griffin III’s in 2011: other than one big-time receiver, he’s going to do this without a whole lot of help. The offensive line is really good, and Su’a Cravens and Adoree’ Jackson are studs in the secondary. That said, this team has expectations to win the league title and maybe a national championship too. There are too many holes for my taste to see that coming, which is why if it does, it’ll be because Kessler becomes a superhero (complete with sweet-ass superhero socks).

Let’s Get Real: Oregon – The status of the Ducks is such nowadays that if they don’t win 10 games, it’s been a disaster of a year. That shouldn’t be a problem again this year, but getting back to the playoff will be a little trickier. Vernon Adams won’t be as good as Marcus Mariota, but he’ll be an excellent replacment. Royce Freeman is essentially the giant boulder from Raiders of the Lost Ark barreling through defenders. Lineman DeForest Buckner (ALL-NAME TEAM) and linebacker Tyson Coleman are talented returners on defense. If Oregon didn’t have to hit the road for matchups against Michigan State, Arizona State and Stanford, I’d be more optimistic about their chances to do more than winning the North division (remembers last year’s preseason evaluation of Oregon, is ashamed, goes to work at Smoothie King).

Best Player: Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona – Think about this for a minute: Two-Star Scoob posted 163 total tackles, 29 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. Now think about how all those numbers came in the same season. Now think about how he plays in a base 3-3-5 defense, where linebackers don’t normally post good sack numbers. Finally, think about this; Wright is a junior who hypothetically COULD GET BETTER. There’s not a better pure football player in America, and if it wasn’t for a fascination with all the glorious offensive stats in the game, Scooby wouldn’t have to solve the mystery of why he’s not a big early favorite to reach a certain ceremony in New York City. (CUE THE BEST PLAY AND BEST QUOTE BY A COLLEGE FOOTBALL ANNOUNCER FROM LAST YEAR).

Champion: Arizona – The super-soph QB-RB tandem of Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson is back and should be better than ever in Rich Rodriguez’s spread attack. Cam Denson and DaVonte’ Neal are converted receivers who can need to become studs at corner in a hurry if the Wildcats want to improve on last year’s 118th-ranked pass defense. Scooby & The Gang (up front) will give them time to adjust.

SUN BELT

Who’s Hot: Georgia Southern – Willie Fritz put together a spectacular debut into the FBS for the Eagles. If they upset West Virginia on Saturday, they could dream of 10 wins (Considering they almost knocked off Georgia Tech last year and whipped up on poor ol’ Florida in the Swamp they year before that, it’s fair to say that couches were being burned in Morgantown when this decision was made).

Who’s Not: Georgia State – Potentially four or five teams withtin the league could win eight games, so when your lone victory in the last two years was a one-point win over Abilene Christian, you’re gonna have a bad time (STILL DOESN’T MEAN WE CAN’T GET PUMPED FOR CHARLOTTE COMING TO VISIT FRIDAY NIGHT. CATCH THE FEVER).

Let’s Get Real: Arkansas State – Nine returning starters on offense, including QB Fredi Knighten and 1,100-yard back Michael Gordon, does not change the fact that there is only two starters back on a defense that gave up over 205 yards rushing per game. The Red Wolves will be entertaining (see above), just not consistent (probably still gonna beat Mizzou though).

Best Player: Matt Breida, RB, Georgia Southern – Nearly 1,500 yards and 17 TD’s rushing as a sophomore. If he improves, the Eagles could actually surpass their 381 rushing-yards-per-game and 39 points-per-contest outputs, both Sun Belt bests in 2014.

Champ: Appalachian State – A whopping 21 starters return on both sides of the ball. Marcus Cox will challenge Breida for the league’s rushing title. Linebacker John Law is a tackling machine (beyond surprised this was not the name of a Clint Eastwood character in a western at some point).

SEC

Who’s Hot: Texas A&M/Missouri – The Aggies got the steal of the offseason in convincing defensive coordinator John Chavis to leave LSU and come to College Station in hopes of fixing their ragged unit. If that happens, Kyle Allen can build off his solid freshman season at QB and sling the ball all around the yard to a number of talented receivers. Defensive end Myles Garrett and safety Armani Watt are super-soph weapons that Chavis will adore using. The Tigers are also here because, well, Georgia and Tennessee should be in this spot but, deep down in my gut, I know Gary Pinkel’s demon hoarde fundamentally sound football team will win the East again, mostly due to constant sacrifice to pagan gods Maty Mauk and stuff (still probably gonna lose to Arkansas State though).

Who’s Not: Mississippi State – Dak Prescott is a wonderful quarterback that deserves to have his name on several preseason award-watch lists. He also did not play his best football in the second half of last season, a key contribution to the Bulldogs falling out of the playoff. Now this weapons are limited, it’s going to take the best version of Prescott we’ve ever seen to carry MSU’s offense, and even that might only yield eight wins.

Let’s Get Real: Auburn/Alabama – THIS WAS ALL JUST A LONG, DRAWN OUT RUSE TO MAKE THE PEOPLE OF ALABAMA ANGRY, AND IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT. But before Finebaum’s dangerously unstable loyal callers try to eat my flesh dismiss me, let me say this: there are two glaring holes for these teams, For Auburn, it’s the defense, which has been so bad in recent years not even Gordon Ramsay was willing to swear his way to fixing it. Everyone scores on Auburn, which counteracts how well Auburn scores on everyone. In desperate times like these, there only a few men you can look to. For Auburn, it was clear. There was only man who could save them:

(Subconsciously, I probably did all this for SB Nation’s Spencer Hall. If you can fill his timeline on Twitter with pictures and GIFs like this after you’re done reading, I’ll be very proud)

For Alabama, the need at quarterback would stick out like a sore thumb if it weren’t for the fact that Nick Saban wins championships with produce managers from Piggly Wiggly playing QB. Rather, Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart (both of whom are probably more dangerously insane than Jerry Seinfeld) have to figure out how to stop giving up the big play in the passing game. Last year’s defense was arguably the best against the run, but the secondary gave up 34 pass plays of 25 or more yards according to cfbstats.com. Sophomore Tony Brown has reportedly been a standout in camp, but in the era of spread offenses trying to throw for 300 yards every game, it’s going to take more than just one player to fix the Crimson Tide’s long-ball problWAIT LOOK HE’S ALREADY YELLING AT HIS NEW JOB TOO:

Best Player: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Apparently, it was too early to pull out the Heisman pose, that being his first career touchdown in a easy win over FCS opponent Sam Houston State. Alright, that’s fine, I understand. No reason to jump headlong into rash expectations.

JUMP HEADLONG INTO RASH EXPECTATIONS. JUMP HEADLONG INTO RASH EXPECTATIONS. All the hype Georgia’s Nick Chubb has gotten this offseason, but Fournette is the cream of the crop amongst college running backs. He lived up to the enormous hype surrounding his freshman season as best he could, rushing for 1,034 and 10 touchdowns while also proving to be a explosive kick returner. He broke Howard Matthews in two. He made the Tigers’ offense somewhat threatening despite rather poor QB play. He ran through a defender AFTER THEY RIPPED HIS FACEMASK OFF:

The only thing he didn’t do that so many predicted was win the Heisman Trophy. If LSU hangs around in the West, he’ll accomplish that feat as well.

Champion: LSU – For the second straight year, we can be confident in saying the conference champ will come out of the West. That’s all we really feel confident in saying. For the second straight year, I’ll take a once-in-a-generation, Adrian Peterson-type player like Fournette to push the kids from Baton Rogue over the top (I also picked UCLA to win it all last year, so put everything you have on anybody I haven’t said good things about).


THE RANKINGS

How they finish outside the CFP

25. WISCONSIN – Paul Chryst returns to Madison, this time as head coach, to help Joel Stave turn it around. Redshirt frosh running back Taiwan Deal becomes the next great Badger back. Wiscy puts a scare in ‘Bama on opening night.

24. TENNESSEE – Josh Dobbs is the real deal at quarterback, and Jalen Hurd is already a star tailback. Still, Butch Jones’s squad is young. Can they handle the early-season spotlight with Oklahoma coming to Neyland Stadium Week 2?

23. USC – Kessler does what he can, but the losses along the defensive front seven and little help at receiver alongside JuJu Smith prove to be too much.

22. PENN ST – Hackenberg has a tremendous season and just misses out on the Heisman ceremony, but the Nittany Lions aren’t quite ready to compete with Ohio State and Michigan State in the East division.

21. GEORGIA – Nick Chubb is a fantastic running back who will be in the Heisman discussion all year. He’s also a man who wouldn’t mind a quarterback that didn’t require IKEA assembly.

20. MISSOURI – Got to keep giving props to Gary Pinkel, dark prince of the underworld a great football coach.

19. ARIZONA STATE Here’s to another exciting season of #Pac12AfterDark, and to another year of the Sun Devils just coming up short in the South division.

18. ARKANSAS – Bielema has the things he wants most in the world: a big, physical, winning football team and endless eating options. However, losing Jonathan Williams hurts enough

17. GEORGIA TECH – Justin Thomas needs a little more help and the defense has to get a whole lot better to duplicate last season’s double-digit win total.

16. UCLA – Freshman phenom QB Josh Rosen is expected to do big things in Westwood and he should, but I learned my lessons about a team with high expectations coached by Jim Mora Jr. last year.

15. TCU – No one is safe from the Wrath of My Rankings. The Horned Frogs might give up as many points as they score, not a great formula in the Big 12. Minnesota can trip them up in the opener if they’re not careful.

14. ALABAMA – NO ONE IS SAFE FROM THE WRATH OF MY RANKINGS. Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake are terrific backs, and the defensive front seven is the best in the country, led by A’Shawn Robinson and Reggie Ragland. That said, the Crimson Tide get knocked off at Texas A&M, fall asleep and also get upset at home vs. LSU, then lose in the Iron Bowl too, causing the Internet to explode with thousands of videos of Phyllis from Mulga trying to burn down the bronze statue of Saban with a military-grade flame thrower (the plausibility of this is actually quite frightening, and I’m not talking about the football team anymore).

13. OKLAHOMA – The Sooners were a subpar team that still managed to win eight games in 2014. They will be a far better team in 2015, but the peak is probably 10 wins and falling just short of a Big 12 crown.

12. VIRGINIA TECH – Frank Beamer saves his job with a Coastal Division title and wins 10 games, including an season-opening upset of Ohio State on Labor Day night (made everything bold so I can find the mistakes easier this season).

11. BOISE STATE – If absolute chaos breaks out and there are multiple two-loss conference champions, the selection committee will take a long, hard look at the undefeated Broncos for a playoff slot (normally, I’d make a snide joke here because of the non-Power 5 status, but I can’t. That’s where we’re at with Boise. They have that type of respect…What made Chris Petersen ever think leaving there for Washington’s perpetual invitation to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl was a good idea).

10. AUBURN – Despite a breakout year from QB Jeremy Johnson and the star power of WR Duke Williams, losing on the road at LSU and Texas A&M, like their in-state brethren, will hurt the Tigers deeply. Winning the Iron Bowl against said brethren will assuage many of the tears and cause more tears from people who give up their children’s wedding days for ROLL TIDE (these people are all insane and it will never stop being funny).

9. TEXAS A&M  – Allen becomes a star, Speedy Noil is an explosive playmaker, Tra Carson adds some beef to the running game, and the defense is better than good thanks to Chavis’s tinkering. If they get by Arizona State in the opener, a home-friendly schedule will set up wins over both schools from the state of Alabama. Start circling the season-ending visit to Baton Rouge on November 28. The West-and the playoff-could be on the line.

8. OREGON – A night game in East Lansing in the second game of the season might not be too much to ask of Vernon Adams, but the new faces on defense are a different story. The offseason has left the Ducks looking for depth at receiver. They worked around that problem early last year. They won’t get so lucky this time around.

7. CLEMSON – The Tigers are young, fun and explosive with a fully-healthy Watson at the helm. Unfortunately, they drop a certain home game that keeps them out of the playoff despite an ACC title and Watson’s fourth-place finish in the Heisman race.

6. BAYLOR – The Big 12 misses out on the playoff (again) because the Bears drop just one game, but it’s a game they’re not supposed to (again). New QB Seth Russell will fit into the offense fine, Shock Linwood will run well, KD Cannon will have a ridiculous amount of 20+ yard TD catches, and the defense will be the best in the league. That said, a loss at Oklahoma State derails playoff hopes. BU at least holds on for a third straight league title by winning at TCU.

5. OHIO STATE – You just don’t repeat. It’s too hard. Ezekiel Elliot carries the Buckeyes all season long regardless of who’s playing quarterback, but an energized Virginia Tech pulls an upset in front of an electric Blacksburg crowd, and a conference rival gets revenge with a win at the Horseshoe.


THE PLAYOFF

Who’s in and who wins it all

4. ARIZONA – Solomon and Wilson power a Wildcat offense that scores in a variety of ways. Junior wideout Cayleb Jones has another standout season. Scooby wins every defensive award imaginable by being even better than last year and finishes second in the Heisman voting. The ‘Cats vanquish USC at the Coliseum, retain the Territorial Cup against Arizona State, and avenge last year’s Pac-12 title game thrashing from Oregon by stealing the crown from the Ducks and going undefeated en route to a conference title. ALL HAIL RICH ROD, SUPREME LEADER AND MASTER OF ALL.

3. MICHIGAN STATE – Cook has a dream season, becoming the best quarterback in the country and finishing third in Heisman voting behind Wright. Scott combines with freshman Madre London and sophomore Gerald Holmes to form a bruising backfield-by-committee. Josiah Price emerges as a weapon at tight end. Calhoun and fellow senior DE Lawrence Thomas invade quarterbacks’ nightmares. The losses of Ed Davis at middle linebacker and Pat Narduzzi at coordinator don’t phase the Spartans, who return the favor against Oregon; pound Michigan in Harbaugh’s first taste of the rivalry; and surprise Ohio State in Columbus to complete the revenge tour. An undefeated Big Ten title results in a playoff bid.

2. LSU – Fournette is great, and his team’s overall improvement helps him capture the Heisman. Brandon Harris settles in at quarterback and does a little better than just good enough. Malachi Dupre has a breakout year at receiver alongside Travin Dural. Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander aren’t phased by position changes along the offensive line and become All-Americans. Linemen Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux and linbackers Lamar Louis and Kendell Beckwith lead a stingy run defense. Tre’Davious White, Jalen Mills and Jamal Adams become the next great Tiger defensive backs. An early message with a blowout win at Mississippi State is followed by a home victory over Auburn. LSU squeaks by at Alabama and at home versus Texas A&M to set up a good ol’-fashioned butt-whoopin’ of the sign of the Apocalypse Mizzou and an undefeated SEC crown.

1. NOTRE DAME – Malik Zaire fits in perfectly at quarterback and thrives in ways Everett Golson never could. Folston and Prosise help Zaire establish a dangerous option attack. When they do throw, Fuller, Brown and Robinson make big plays. Brian Kelly’s best offense at South Bend is equaled by a fearsome defense. Sheldon Day looks like a first-round pick at tackle. Smith and Joe Schmidt pile up 80+ tackles each. Russell and safety Elijah Shumate lead a ball-hawking secondary. The Irish don’t just survive their brutal schedule, they thrive. Texas and Georgia Tech go down harmlessly, and a huge road win against Clemson shuns the Tigers from the playoff. a 12-0 mark sets up a semifinal showdown with Michigan State. Sparty doesn’t have the same weapons as ND, nor does LSU in the national championship game. The echos are awoken, and a title long desired is returned to Touchdown Jesus.

Blockbuster: A College Football Preview

Preparing for an outstanding season of college football that promises to have a Hollywood ending

It might be the start of the semester, but there is already one course we are up until 2 a.m. studying for. College football is a final exam for an honors course on the history of Newtonian physics, and the last month has been finals week. Despite all the studying, all the research, all the bibliographies that you have cited and re-cited credible sources like Football Outsiders or Fake Bo Pelini (“You may not believe this but Taylor Swift has a new song about how some people don’t like her but she doesn’t care”), you are going to fail. Binge watch replays of last year’s games on ESPNU and the newly minted SEC Network like they’re Adderall. It will do you no good. Come January 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in North Texas, we will all get a big fat F.

And that’s just great.

Division I FBS college football is a lot like a James Cameron movie. The high-profile names of both the driector and his cast is what gets you into the theater. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Todd Gurley, Ameer Abdullah, Nick Marshall and a cast of well-known thousands return to make the NFL scouts salivate and wonder why they thought drafting that Manziel guy was a good idea. Enigmatic coaches like Steve Spurrier, Dabo Swinney, Kliff Kingsbury, and (of course) Les “Mad Hatter” Miles provide the right dashes of hard-headedness, bravado, and insanity to fit the bill of comedic lead. Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio do their best Russell Crowe impressions as impassioned, dramatic leaders of men.

Once the movie starts, you begin to the notice the immense granduer of the visual spectacle you are witnessing. Admit it, there is no party like a fall Saturday at one of the hallowed tailgating grounds across the country that have become the stuff of bucket lists, like the Grove in Oxford, Mississippi, between the hedges in Athens, Georgia, or at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The color and pageantry of college football is undeniable and often breath-taking, whether it’s touching Howard’s Rock, jumping around at Camp-Randall, hitting your mark on every yell you practiced at midnight at Kyle Field, dotting the “i” at the Horseshoe, letting Ralphie lead the Buffs on the field, chomping like a Gator, chopping like a Seminole, screaming “Roll Damn Tide” or “War Damn Eagle” at the other guys, or just having your ears flat out blown off by the supersonic boom of a night in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, AKA Death Valley

But Michael Bay makes big, visually stunning films with superstar casts that have all the hype Paramount Pictures’ marketing department can buy. So why do we constantly go the cinema expecting him to throw acidic poison on our favorite Hasbro toys or ’80’s cartoons and are sadly correct (just because he produced it doesn’t mean Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t look like they took the Transformers “blow everything up” mantra and substituted Autobots for weird, Shrek-looking things with the hots for Megan Fox)?

Michael Bay can’t write a screenplay to save his life. The story a great film tells is far more important than whether or not ILM will be doing the special effects. James Cameron has found ways to bring captivating stories to the silver screen, like a peasant boy in love with a wealthy girl on a doomed ship, or a primitive culture defeating a more technologically advanced civilization to save their home (Star Wars fans wish Avatar had been around when George Lucas was coming up with Ewoks).

College football’s “Power 5” conferences may have been given the power this offseason to change rules like ticket prices, but the grand epic that will play out over the next 4 plus months is always worth the price of admission. The struggle to achieve perfection, the senior taking one last shot at glory, the freshman coming out of nowhere to become a star, the intensity of the most meaningful and the best regular season in sports, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, the upsets that blow your mind, the miracles that leave your jaw sore from the cartoonish drop it just suffered, the…well, whatever the hell you call this:

This madness, this perfect script, this magic story, this never-ending maze of plot twists and turns, is why we keep coming back.

And yet, the script always seemed to be missing one element, barred from enhancing the story by a brick wall of greed, producer rights, and sheer stupidity. The presidents of major universities are like Hollywood producers. They may not make the movie, but they put the production together, and their lone concern is how much the box office sales profit. The Bowl Championship Series was doing a fine job of making mega-millions and holding massive audiences captive while a facade of what could be played out. But the audiences did not stay quiet for long. An arbitrary system that used computer polls and the opinions of often uninterested voting coaches provided a unsatisfying result to the question of who was king of college football. The BCS became M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. It all seemed headed towards a spectacular ending, until it swiped the rug from under your feet to try and make you feel inferior, but only left you feeling betrayed and ripped off.

No more. Go ruin Avatar: The Last Airbender again, Shyamalan-a-ding-dong. James Cameron is making the movie this time around, and the script’s climax has just what we’ve all been yearning for: settling the debate of national champion on the field. Behold, the College Football Playoff:

Does the inaugural CFP have its flaws? It surely will. We don’t much about how the 13-person selection committee will determine the best teams in the land. The system’s ownership of historical bowls as the “New Year’s Six” seems to suggest that the main motive continues to be cash flow, and not determining a true champion. No one continues to question the absurdity of having a month to prepare for a semifinal, but only 12 days after for a national title tilt. And I still believe that more than four teams should be included in a championship tournament.

But complaining will get us nowhere, as the current system is under contract for 12 years and no discussion of changes can really be had until we actually kick off games and play this drama out. So enough about student-athlete unions, lawsuits from Ed O’Bannon, arrests and suspensions to potential essentials, or even what really happened to Josh Shaw’s ankles. Let’s put aside the debates, the questions, the concerns, and let’s instead to look the hopes, the dreams, and the promise that another Labor Day weekend brings.

Get your ticket, get to the theater, and, as a wise man once said, “Get ‘cho popcorn ready.” The show’s about to start.


Conference by Conference

American

On The Rise: East Carolina

New member will bring one of the nation’s most potent passing attacks led by QB Shane Carden and WR Justin Hardy (328.1 YPG was good for 12th in the country, 40.2 PPG was 9th).

Cruisin’ For a Brusin’: South Florida

Tempting to pick SMU, but it’s been just so bad at USF since Jim Leavitt was fired January 2010, highlighted by Willie Taggart’s inaugural 2-10 campaign.

Player to Watch: William Stanback, RB, Central Florida

The 6-1, 225 lbs sophomore will have his work cut out trying to replace Storm Johnson, but he showed flashes of potential last season in spot duty, rushing for 443 yards and 6 TDs. Plus, He almost broke Rutgers’ Anthony Cioffi:

Champ: Cincinnati

UCF has the talent returning defensively to repeat, but I like what Tommy Tubberville has put together in just a year’s time. Gunner Kiel will step in under center and could end up being the league’s best quarterback. A September 27th showdown at Ohio State recently became a lot more winnable with the season-ending shoulder surgery for Buckeyes All-Everything QB Braxton Miller. How the Bearcats perform in Columbus will be indicative of whether or not they’ll take the non-Power 5 spot in the New Year’s Six bowls.

ACC

On The Rise: North Carolina

Before DeVante Parker’s foot surgery, I would have said Louisville. But it’s hard to ignore the Tar Heels’ 7-1 finish to last year and their tissue-soft schedule for this year. Junior QB Marquise Williams has not yet been named the starter, which would be a huge blow because the potential dual threat he could be. We’ll learn more about UNC after a September 27th visit to…

Cruisin’ For a Bruisin’: Clemson

Last year, 4-8 Florida proved that having a top-flite defense means nothing when the offense is gutted of its talent. Dabo Swinney can recruit, but not even he can replace virtually every top offensive weapon that the Tigers had during last year’s Orange Bowl championship campaign, especially now that tailback Zac Brooks is out for the year. Vic Beasley & Co. will be worth the watch, but this still feels like a 8-win team at best. Of course, they could beat Georgia and make the rest of this article pretty obsolete.

Player to Watch: Ryan Switzer, WR/PR, North Carolina

Being a Kansas City Chiefs fan, I have a soft spot in my heart for great punt returners like Dante Hall and Dexter McCluster. If you are of sound mind and body, YOU WILL NOT KICK TO RYAN SWITZER IN ANY CIRUCMSTANCE:

Coastal Division Champ: UNC

Hey, you really think DUKE  is gonna win this thing again? Well let me tell you…you might not be wrong. Yeesh.

Atlantic Division: Florida State

After FSU and Clemson, even more yeesh.

ACC Champ: Florida State

They will be clunkier on defense than you would think, with much of the leadership from last year gone to the pros, but the absurdity of returning riches on offense (Rashad Greene, Nick O’Leary, Karlos Williams to name a few) will keep them at an elite level that no one else in the conference seems ready to attain. Oh, and that Jameis Winston guy is back to play QB. I heard he won some big award last year. Must have been a big deal, because now he thinks he can just take crab legs whenever he wants (SHOTS FIRED!!!!!).

Big 12

On The Rise: Kansas State

I almost said Texas, but the recent round of suspensions by Charlie Strong makes me wonder if 8 wins isn’t enough to be a solid year. Meanwhile, Bill Synder just keeps winning. K-State is in the same class as North Carolina and Washington, those hot teams at the end of last year that carry over much of their talent to this season. Having Jake Waters throwing to Tyler Lockett for a full season and Ryan Mueller terrorizing opposing QBs will be a welcome sight for the Wildcats, whose schedule sets up for a potentially special year if they take out Auburn on a Thursday night in September

Cruisin’ For a Bruisin’: Oklahoma

Yes, the Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama was impressive. And yes, this team should probably still win 9-10 games. But no team was more overrated this offseason than the trendy-national-title-pick Sooners. Trevor Knight played the game of his life against ‘Bama, but he didn’t show that ability to throw the ball in games beforehand. Who’s to say he’ll develop into a Heisman Trophy winner in his first full season as the starter? The defense will be the best in the Big 12, but the WR corps is depleted, and the backfield took a major hit with the suspension of highly-touted frosh Joe Mixon.

Oklahoma looks primed to lose at least one of the tough home games they have (Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Tennessee) and maybe even a game away from Norman (at TCU, at West Virgina, vs Texas in Dallas), which would be enough to spell doom for their national title dreams in a weakly-scheduled Big 12.

Player To Watch: Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor

When Lache Seastrunk got hurt last year, Art Briles made the 5-9 true freshman his feature back and kept his Ferrari offense humming, highlighted by back-to-back games with 180+ yards rushing against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. After posting 881 yards and 8 TDs as the second fiddle, Linwood could emerge as one of the nation’s top backs that nobody’s talking about.

Champ: Baylor

I’m not saying this just because I want to eat BBQ while sailing on the Brazos River to the palace that is McLane Stadium (hint, hint @RoepIce22). There is no better returning offense statistically in the history of the universe. The Bears won’t duplicate their nearly 619 YPG and 52.4 PPG, mostly because they could surpass it. Bryce Petty has Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood back to sling the rock to, and a veteran group that was the most improved defense in the land last year is also back, which could mean the Bears come through where they haven’t yet proven themselves under Briles: Winning on the road when the national spotlight is on (see: at Ok St, 2011, 2013).

Big Ten

On The Rise: Iowa

The schedule is paper thin until the end of the year, when the Hawkeyes host Wisconsin and Nebraska in back-to-back weeks. Jake Rudock should be solid in year two as a starter, especially when throwing to Kevante Martin-Manley. Plus, head coach Krik Ferentz’s strength continues to be building brick wall defenses (9th in scoring last year). Don’t be surprised to see Iowa in Indianapolis the first weekend in December.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Ohio State

It would be easy to say Maryland and Rutgers here, but you knew how bad their introductory season to the conference would be. Ohio State’s fortunes changed literally in seconds when Miller, a senior and Heisman Trophy favorite, tore his labrum in practice. The Buckeye offense lives and breathes because the quarterback is the heart pumping the blood, especially when it’s an athlete as dynamic as Miller.

Urban Meyer’s recruiting prowess will need to show up in a hurry, now that Ohio State must replace last year’s top 4 rushers, top passer, top receiver, top offensive lineman, top three tacklers, most of their secondary, and their starting place kicker. Suddenly, the opener with Navy in Baltimore has serious intrigue.

Player to Watch: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

He went from being the game manager who avoided the mistakes that Andrew Maxwell was making to suddenly being the key to upset victories over stingy defenses from Ohio State and Stanford (combined 636 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs). Having a full offseason under his belt and the return of 1,000-yard rusher Jeremy Langford means Cook will not feel the pressure to play like an All-American. But if he improves on last year and scores high-profile wins like September 6th at Oregon, he could very well earn a trip to New York in December.

East Champ: Wisconsin

It’s hard to not go with Iowas as a sleeper, but the power running game Gary Andersen brings to the the table is the same-old, same-old in Madison, as is elite backs like Melvin Gordon and 10 wins.

West Champ: Michigan State

The division comes down to Ohio State’s visit to East Lansing on November 8th.

Big Ten Champ: Michigan State

The defense will be nasty as long as Mark Dantonio  and Pat Narduzzi coach ’em up, and that’s with the return of potential All-Americans Shilique Calhoun, Trae Waynes, Kurits Drummond, and RJ Williamson. Cook can continue to utilize the deep ball off of play action to Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphrey. If the Spartans win their monster showdown with the Oregon Ducks in Autzen Stadium, the door is open to a shot at perfection and a CFP bid.

Conference USA

On the Rise: Western Kentucky

Bobby Petrino got a team 8+ wins and then left them high and dry for another job…What else is new? Former offensive coordinator and new head coach Jeff Brohm should keep the offense rolling along with the return of senior QB Brandon Doughty, who needs to build off of performances like the season finale win against Arkansas State (255 yds, 3 TDs). This team has the best chance of anyone in C-USA of ending Marshall’s dreams of perfection when they travel to Huntington, West Virginia for the final game of the regular season.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’:  Middle Tennessee

A huge amount of luck (+12 turnover margin) led the Blue Raiders to 8 wins. That reliance on good fortune was exposed by Navy in a 24-6 thrashing at the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Lucky breaks will be harder to come by with three-year starting quarterback Logan Kilgore gone.

Player to Watch: Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall

Yes, this a cop-out, but it’s also the top reason you should watch the Thundering Herd (and, honestly, C-USA in general). Cato’s career numbers make the Heisman exploits of guys named Manziel, Winston, and Griffin look cute. Cato will need to not only duplicate his 3,916 yards and 39 TDs from last year, but he’ll need to (gulp) improve on those marks and go undefeated to have a shot at becoming a Heisman finalist

East Champ: Marshall

Playing Louisville would have been the only impediment to perfection.

West Champ: UT-San Antonio

Head coach Larry Coach made games against divisions foes his priority last year (5-1)

C-USA Champ: Marshall

Even on paper, this seems far too easy, which is why, regardless of perfection, Marshall won’t end up representing non-Power 5 schools in the New Year’s Six bowls.

Independents

On the Rise: BYU

When was the last time Bronco Mendenhall didn’t field a quality team? Nine years ago, apparently, also known as the last time the Cougars didn’t go bowling. Prepare to be dazzled by one of the nation’s most potent rushing attacks, powered by Heisman darkhorse QB Taysom Hill (1,344 yds, 10 TDs rushing to go with 2,938 yds, 19 TDs passing), tailback Jamaal Williams (1,233 yds, 7 TDs), and the entire starting offensive line from last year. The schedule affords some spotlight wins with road games at UCF, Boise State, California, and (in the MACK BROWN SMACK DOWN!!!!!!) Texas. An undefeated campaign is not out of the question, but (in the first major flaw of the CFP) the Cougs have to steal a bid from a Power 5 team to play in the New Year’s Six bowls.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Notre Dame 

The suspensions handed out this last week to DaVaris Daniels, Ishaq Williams, KeiVarae Russell and Kendall Moore are devastating. The Fighting Irish lose their top receiver, top corner and two key role players in the defensive front seven. Even with Everett Golson’s return, this schedule is too demanding to expect a return to gunning at a national title.

Players to Watch: Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy & Taysom Hill, QB, BYU

Roger Staubach, the guy who won a Heisman Trophy and is considered the greatest quarterback in the history of the United States Naval Academy, has said he thinks Keenan Reynolds will end up as the greatest quarterback in the history of the United States Naval Academy.

Woah. Heavy.

Ricky Dobbs might stand up and argue, but Roger the Dodger may not be wrong. Reynolds lead the nation with 29 rushing scores last year, and he should post yet another 1,000+ yards rushing this season. The recent pitfalls for Ohio State and Notre Dame suggest Navy is poised to join BYU in the hunt for perfection, which Reynolds would need if he has any chance of joining Mr. Staubach at the Heisman ceremony.

Taysom Hill, meanwhile, seems headed for greatness of his own. Nobody has a better shot of joining the Johnny Football club (3,000+ yds passing, 1,000+ yds rushing), considering he nearly pulled the feat off last year WHEN HE WAS STILL LEARNING THE OFFENSE. BYU should play in the CFP if they run the table, but they probably won’t. And that’s just stupid. Because there will be very little television as entertaining as Hill. I mean, if he’s only supposed to get better…IS THERE EVEN SUCH A REALM OF POSSIBILITY AS BETTER THAN THIS?!?!?

Mid-American

On the Rise: Akron

Terry Bowden’s revival job has been outstanding, as veteran presence on both sides of the ball mean this could be the first winning Zips team since 2005.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: UMass

I wanted to say Northern Illinois because of the loss of Jordan Lynch, but you can’t ignore what is easily the worst FBS program in the country. You know what their combined turnover margin is the last 6 years? Minus 45. Forget what I said earlier about TO margin and luck. It takes skill to reek this bad. When does hoops start in Springfield?

Player to Watch: Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green

Not a bad debut. Johnson threw for 3,467 yards and 25 TDs in his first year as the Falcons’ starter. But that was in the wildy successful system implemented by head coach Dave Clawson, who is now at Wake Forest. How Johnson fares with new head man Dino Babers, who brings an up-tempo attack similar to Baylor’s, will be the key to BGU’s hopes at repeating as MAC champs

East Champ: Bowling Green

Akron makes a push, but the return of Johnson and stud back Travis Greene (1,594 yds, 11 TDs) are too much

West Champ: Toledo

Normally, losing players the caliber of T.O. Owens and David Fluellen would be a killer, but Darrell Hazell keeps building winners behind a potent rushing attack and returning burners like Kareem Hunt and Alonzo Russell.

MAC Champ: Bowling Green

Aha! You thought the picture indicated the conference champ and you wouldn’t have to read this worthless pile of opinionated crap (your words cut me deep).

Bowling Green brings back more talent on offense and could actually be more explosive in Babers’s system. Plus (in the “Wow, what a stat” department), the Falcons were 9th in the country last year in scoring D (15.9 PPG). If it wasn’t for their September 20th trip to Wisconsin, they’d have a good shot at an undefeated season.

Mountain West

On the Rise: Utah State

So what if the offensive line is brand new and 1,000+ yard rusher Joey DeMartino is gone? Chuckie Keaton is back at QB, and the Heisman darkhorse talk is already buzzing. Opening the season with a road win against Tennessee would be the statement needed to prove the Aggies are not messing around.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Fresno State

Welcome to life after Derek Carr (5,082 yds, 50 TDs…ouch). The nation’s best passing offense a season ago will take a massive hit with the absence of Carr and top target Davante Adams (1,718 yds, 24 TDs…OUCH). Duke transfer Brandon Connette must prove he can run the show or the Bulldogs’ tough schedule will eat them alive (road trips to USC and Nebraska…SO MUCH PAIN).

Player to Watch: Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State

The ultimate workhorse back, Ajayi will most likely have to build on his 2013 numbers (1,425 yds, 18 TDs) to help the Broncos win a conference title with a new starting quarterback. If he gets off to the right start tonight against Ole Miss, he could start thinking about winning the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top back

Mountain Champ: Boise State

That new starting quarterback is Grant Hedrick, who actually filled in halfway through last year when Joe Southwick got hurt. Hedrick stepped in and didn’t miss a beat, completing 69% of his passes and capping off the year with standout performance in a Hawaii Bowl loss to Oregon State (73% completion, 382 yds, TD). He should pick up where he left off.

West Champ: Nevada

No one else seems primed to win this division, so I’ll take senior QB Cody Fajardo to lead a turnaround from last year’s 4-8 anomaly.

Mountain West Champ: Boise State

Bryan Harsin is a Chris Petersen disciple, so not much is expected to change around Boise. Bringing back leading receiver Matt Miller (1,140 yds, 12 TDs) completes a potentially lethal offense that could be enough to get by the Broncos’ toughest opponents (Ole Miss in Atlanta, home vs BYU) and make 13-0 seem like a reachable goal.

Pac-12

On the Rise: Washington

This could have easily been USC before the Josh Shaw madness became Distraction-apalooza 2014, but it’s hard not to argue with the coaching upgrade made by hiring Chris Petersen. Doing nothing but winning apparently causes you to suffer chest pains when you don’t, which is how Petersen described the losses that became more frequent during his final years at Boise in a recent interview.

Having great experience on both lines will only help ease new QB Cyler Miles into the starting role, where he could be a dynamo by year’s end and have the Huskies making noise in the North.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Oregon

Again, could have been USC, as their season feels like a toss-up, but I’ll take the other most overrated team this offseason. I love Marcus Mariota as much as the next pundit, but who in the world is he going to throw the ball to? Keanon Lowe is the only of the top four receivers returning after the injury to Bralon Addison.

Throw in the loss of left tackle Tyler Johnstone, the relative youth defensively that won’t get coached up by now-retired coordinator Nick Aliotti, and the monster schedule that gets going Week Two with a visit from Sparty, and this feels like another Duck team destined to win every preseason national title, but then come up with 10 wins and an Alamo Bowl title.

Player to Watch: Myles Jack, LB/RB(?), UCLA

The nice thing about the Pac-12 becoming maybe the best conference in college ball is all the potential stars that could light up the cosmos. USC QB Cody Kessler and WR Nelson Agholor, Washington LB Shaq Thompson, Oregon State QB Sean Mannion, Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly and RB DJ Foster, Oregon RBs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, Stanford WR Ty Montgomery and LB Kevin Anderson…You catch my drift? Lots of talent, and those are technically the second-tier guys.

But let’s face it, what’s more exciting (and more fueling to Heisman hype) than a two-way player? For crying out loud, Stanford’s Owen Marecic finished 10th in voting in 2010, and he played fullback on offense! Imagine what happens if UCLA not only has one of the top edge linebackers in the nation, but then he goes back on the field on offense and scampers for a 40-yard TD?

This could be potentially be the greatest display of athleticism in the history of the universe, but coach Jim Mora is saying THE Jack of All Trades will play on defense only for now. C’mon Jimmy. Call us when Jordan James doesn’t work out and Brett Hundley is running too much for your taste, and we’ll direct you to the treasure chest of YouTube glory that is Myles Jack.

North Champ: Stanford

They’ve won it the last two years, and the style that got them there is not changing any time soon. Head coach David Shaw brings in one the most highly touted offensive lines in the school’s recruiting history to protect QB Kevin Hogan and the newest group of backs that will mash opponents into tiny bits. The pass rush still has big Henry Anderson, and the corner combo of Dwayne Lyons and Alex Carter will make last year’s number 10 scoring defense fearsome again. A third straight win against Oregon gets the job done.

South Champ: UCLA

I never thought my man crush on Marcus Mariota would be matched, until I saw Brett Hundley last season. The funny thing is, Hundley’s numbers actually dropped off from his redshirt freshman season. A return to form is enough to take the division for the third time in four years.

Pac-12 Champ: UCLA

Mora is building a heyday-SEC defense with Jack, Eric Kendricks, and Eddie Vanderdoes among others. There will be no shortage of bruises and cuts when the Bruins and Cardinal play in back-to-back weeks, but having the star QB in Hundley is enough.

SEC

On the Rise: Ole Miss

Fine, I’ll drink the annual “one of the Mississippi teams will make noise in the SEC West” Kool-Aid. But the Heisman hype is in the wrong part of the state. Bo Wallace is more experienced than Dak Prescott, has more returning weapons like Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram, and has the more fearsome defense with studs like Robert Nkemdiche and Cody Prewitt.

Home games against Alabama, Auburn, and Miss. State set the Rebels up nicely, but Hugh Freeze’s team has not yet learned to win consistently. Winning tonight against Boise State is the first step.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Auburn

They are more talented than last year on offense, and Elliot Johnson’s defense should slightly improve, but let’s get real. They were handed the most unthinkable combination of luck, magic, fate, divine intervention, miracles and pure coincidence. That type of lightning does not strike twice.

Even an improved Nick Marshall and a deeper receiving corps with the addition of juco transfer D’haquille Williams won’t overcome the short comings of a weak secondary. Throw in their nasty schedule chock full of revenge-fueled opponents like Georgia and Alabama, and the Tigers might even have a hard time reaching the New Year’s Six.

Player to Watch: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

DEAR. GOD. HELP US ALL.

Remember when Adrian Peterson came to Oklahoma as a true freshman, went wild against Oregon and never stopped? But, he didn’t take home the Heisman, because the voters were old and stubborn. No freshman should be allowed to come to New York, they seemed to state, let alone win the award.

No more. Now that back-to-back redshirt froshs have seized the most coveted individual award in sports, it’s time a kid step off his high school field and into the history books. Fournette is big and strong enough to be the feature back for a Cam Cameron offense that emphasizes the power running game, but he’ll get help from Terrance Magee and Kenny Hilliard to get breathers now and again.

The ball-carrier vision is the most stunning thing about Fournette. He’s got a Gale Sayers- type ability to see everything that’s going on before it happens. Throw in outstanding speed, and you can see why coach Les Miles is already putting his new toy’s name next to Michael Jordan. Fournette will need to display greatness like His Airness if LSU wants to survive an inexperienced receiving group and an ongoing quarterback battle.

East Champ: Georgia

Don’t go feeling too bad for Huston Mason. Aaron Murray’s replacement will have plenty of time to learn the offense while handing off to Todd (CENTAUR) Gurley and Keith (Satyr?) Marshall. New D-coordinator Jeremy Pruitt must have seen something he liked in the young Bulldogs to leave national champ Florida State. Having edge rushers like Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd might have Pruitt thinking he can duplicate the Seminoles’ success in Athens.

West Champ: LSU

I know, all the great QBs are gone, and it’s really easy to pick chalk with Alabama. So why go with the most inexperienced team in college football’s toughest division?

Because it’s college football’s toughest division. NO ONE knows what’s going to happen.

LSU won’t go undefeated, but the strength of returners on defense like Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White will let the super-talented youth on offense catch up. This feels a lot like the 2011 team that knocked off ‘Bama in a close game, won the conference title and reached the BCS championship game. Regardless of whether Anthony Jennings or Branden Harris starts at QB, the talent and a lot of big games at home will get the job done.

SEC Champ: LSU

Like I said, NO ONE knows what’s going to happen in this conference. It’s a total crap shoot with all the veteran quarterbacks gone. I’m just getting the feeling Fournette will be incredibly special and the vets on defense will step up. Plus, if you’re going to take a flier on this upcoming season, last year’s SEC division winners proved this is the conference to do so.


 

How It All Plays Out

Heisman Trophy

The 5 finalists and the big winner

5. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

Too many weapons for him to not at least duplicate his 2013 production. Repeating, however, just doesn’t happen.

4. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU

This will probably be Bryce Petty’s slot, but I don’t care what you think. He’s the best dual-threat QB in the game. It’s not going to happen, but, hey, Jordan Lynch got to New York last year, and somebody has to represent the small schools here (Jay Ajayi, Chuckie Keeton, Rakeem Cato, etc.)

3. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Almost rushed for 1,000 yards during an injury-shortened season. The sky’s the limit for maybe the best all-around running back in the nation and the key cog to a Georgia team with very real national title hopes.

2. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Can anyone live up to this type of hype? If Fournette does, Barry Sanders, Bo Jackson, and Herschel Walker may need to watch their backs – a legend is about to be born in Baton Rouge.

1. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

I don’t know whether to be mad with Grantland’s Matt Borcas or thank him. He’s as excited about Fournette as I am, yet claims the best quarterback in the Pac-12 is “efficient to the point of being boring, and that’s not going to fly with the thrill-seeking voting panel.” SO WAS JAMEIS WINSTON LAST YEAR!!!!! Being utterly more gifted and precise than the rest of superstars around you is the very essence of the award.

Plus, Hundley plays in a better league, has national-title-or-bust goals, and allegedly (really big gulp) needs to improve these marks to win the Heisman

  • 67.2% completion, 8.32 YPA, 3,071 yds, 25 TDs, 82.3 adjusted QBR
  • 160 carries, 748 yds, 4.67 YPC, 11 TDs

How on earth does he get better? By putting up passing numbers (3,745 yds, 29 TDs) similar to 2012 to go with rushing totals near last year’s marks. Post those stats while staying in the national title hunt, and Hundley should have no problem becoming the 5th straight QB to take home college football’s highest individual honor

The Top Twelve

Who Makes It To the New Year’s Six

3rd Tier – Just getting in will be a shocker to some

12. BYU

Like I said, I don’t care what you think. I want them here because I want Taysom Hill on my TV, so the undefeated Cougs take a bid away from Oklahoma or Oregon.

11. Cincinnati

BYU is the better team, but the Bearcats at worse will have one loss and grab the non-Power 5 spot.

10. Kansas State

There’s a weird buzz around Manhattan, just like Seattle or Chapel Hill. The difference here is that Sir Billiam Synder has done this before. They’ll knock off Auburn and stun Oklahoma in Norman to get 10 wins.

9. Wisconsin

The move to make mobile Tanner McEvoy the starting QB suggests Gary Andersen wants an offense similar to the one he ran at Utah State. That offense never had elite runners like Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. There’s a sleeper CFP team here if they improve on defense.

2nd Tier – You are really going to begin to question my sanity…

8. Stanford

Call me when David Shaw stops winning and his defenses stop being anything but top five in the nation. Third straight win over Oregon means they get 11 wins (you: “He’s a little crazy, but that’s not unrealistic”).

7. Florida State

Last year was the exception to the modern rule that the ‘Noles will blow at least one road game in conference every year. Despite the embarrassment of riches on offense, Winston & Co. will keep tradition alive by dropping a Halloween visit to Louisville, and one loss in this weak ACC  is enough to shut you out of the CFP (you: “Maybe he just forgot to take his pills, that’s all”).

6. Georgia

If the lone tough road game is against overrated South Carolina, I’m kind of at a loss as to how the Bulldogs don’t have a shot to get to 12-0 (you: “Okay, so this is nuts, but it’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever read”). Their opener this weekend with Clemson is tricky, as is the trip to see the Gamecocks and a visit to Missouri, but winning the East should not as much of a problem with Gurshall shouldering the load.

5. Alabama

(You: “Okay, now that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. You’re frickin Looney Tunes, dude. Go see a doctor.”)

They are so close to being in it pains me to leave them out of the CFP. Top to bottom, nobody is probably more talented in the nation. TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Amari Cooper, OJ Howard, A’Shawn Robinson, Trey DePriest, Landon Collins…the list goes on. It seems ulimately insane to leave the most decorated team in college football history out of this historic first playoff.

But history also tells us that the Crimson Tide get pushed around every time they visit Death Valley in Baton Rogue. Last time was the first regular-season meeting between Alabama and LSU since 2006 that wasn’t decided by single digits, and the last three games in Baton Rogue have been decided by a combined 13 points. LSU has ‘Bama’s number, and regardless of who starts at QB, Jake Coker and/or Blake Sims will be thrown into a hostile environment in a huge game. I’m not sure if they’ll make the plays AJ McCarron made two years ago.

If a conference champ slips up and loses 2, Alabama will swoop in and take their place. For the time being, though, I don’t see that happening. Call me crazy, but crazy has happened to Alabama before.

3rd Tier – Your inaugural College Football Playoff

4. LSU

They’ll lose one, but beating ‘Bama will be enough to win the West. Fournette goes bonkers all season, especially against Gurley and Georgia in an epic SEC championship and de-facto CFP play-in (Playoff for a playoff? If it’s inside of a playoff, I’m calling Leonardo DiCaprio).

3. Baylor

Bryce Petty may not get the individual awards he deserves, but his team is better than a season ago. The second-best defense in the Big 12 combines with its best offense to beat Oklahoma in Norman, go 12-0 and win a second straight conference title.

2. Michigan State

A statement win at Oregon propels Sparty to an elite defense, improved offense led by Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford, and a 13-0 Big Ten title. Plus, how awesome is a Baylor-Michigan State national semifinal?!?

1. UCLA

Brett Hundley’s too good, the defense is too stout, and Brett Hundley’s still to good. Pac-12 play toughens them to the point of tree bark, and they’ll go undefeated in the process. Not only do they grab the top spot, but they win the first-ever College Football Playoff with two massive games from their Heisman-winning quarterback.

Because hey, every good story needs a Hollywood ending.